Taxes: A series of Haiku.

Oh God. Tax time looms.
I’ll think about something else.
Maybe I’ll be fine.

April Twenty-seventh.
Shit. I have to do this now.
Guts cramp in terror.

The very next day
I go to the Post Office.
Get two packages.

Friday. I can’t add.
I should clean the bathroom now.
Maybe pet the cat.

Saturday cocktails.
I should be doing taxes,
But drinks are more fun.

Sunday. Deadline dooms.
Come home and collect papers.
Christ! Where’s a pencil?

Third time adding sums.
Numbers always different.
My shoulders hunch up.

God, the numbers twitch.
I’m stupid. This is why I
Got two packages.

First package is gone.
Ripped to shreds in frustration.
Math shreds my ego.

Second package. Breathe.
Slow and easy. I will
Conquer my return.

Chateau Blue.

It occurs to me as I drive along River Road that the reason Dad doesn’t want to go get the glass is that he doesn’t want to see Bridget.

Poor, crazy Bridget, whose glass shop in Kits was one of the few places Dad would ever go to hang out. She was a blonde beauty, with a ringing laugh and a broad Irish accent that made me think of sunlight, streaming green down through willow leaves. I remember going there as a very small child, petting the anemic-looking Maltese and surreptitiously licking the bright glass rounds Dad used as grapes, in our stained glass grape lamp. Purple should have tasted grapey, but it was only the smooth nothing of rounded bumps of glass under my tongue.

When we went to get some glass for a replacement lamp in my brother’s bedroom, my mother had been dead for a year and a half. The sun snaked through the grass on the dyke and I loved how close to the boats Bridget’s new shop was. There had been others in the interim, between Kits and River Road, but Dad had been too busy for glass.

Bridget had clearly come undone. Her son had perished in (was it?) a mountain-climbing accident, and her peat-soft brogue was stronger with whiskey and that strange, Celtic brand of religion that comes only to those grieving hard. Dad had come to her for comfort and all she gave was madness.

Today I drive past the address. I can see heavy-duty construction going on inside, but no glass.

Stopping, I walk back and ask one of the labourers about it. He speaks like a Beatle, and he doesn’t know where Bridget’s gone. I suspect that her insanity has sucked her down a black hole, down, down into nothingness, where the pain can’t get her any more.

Since neither dad nor I know another glass shop to go to, I have to re-orient and grab a phone book.

I find the other place. The palm-sized samples are up on lighted racks. There are hundreds of different colours and colour combinations. For a while, I simply enjoy the colors: Celadon, Cerulean, and Cerise swirl. Eggplant and Ebony entice. Cobalt and crimson make me dizzy with their vividity.

As much as I want to play my old game of walking around using different panes for glasses, and looking at the world, I am looking for a specific shade. It’s got to match the arborite in the kitchen. It’s got to go with what Mom picked out: Chateau Blue.

The year I turned ten, the palaver over what colour arborite should go in the kitchen dominated our house. Mom had several little panels with slightly different shades of blue on them. She’d pore over them at the kitchen table with coffee and a cigarette. She asked my father, my brother and me daily which one we liked. She asked friends, strangers in the doctor’s waiting room, and people at Welco Market, our local grocery store.

She settled on Chateau Blue. I can sill her her voice, declaring, “A blue and white kitchen always looks fresh!” She was right. It does.

I should explain: I am buying stained glass to replace a pane in a custom-fitted window. The glass that was there was purloined on some outing before I was born, smuggled home in Dad’s MG Midget. That glass was fitted into a custom-built, east-facing window in our kitchen, where the rising sun would light it in a blaze of colour every morning. That glass was special: It was a magical splashy swirl of every colour ever invented. It glowed like a jewel in or kitchen. Now, one day it’s destined to grace a window in my brother’s house, when he and Carol are married and living professorial lives.

So, thus, my here-and-now search for Chateau Blue.

I find something that’s not perfect, but I think it will do. I look long and hard at it, not thinking about resale value, but thinking about those little panels of colour my mother stared so hard at. Which one is perfect?

Driving away, I get a flash of memory. I’m about eighteen and I’m watching the colours of the window change as sun and cloud move across them. My eyes are drawn, mesmerized by a little spot on the panel of glass.

I’ve found it, right there in the glass: Chateau Blue.

Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare!

Back when I was an English teacher in a big high school in Burnaby, my friend Jen and I used to do a ‘Shakespeare’s Birthday’ week. We dressed up as Elizabethan ladies, talked in (hammy) Shakespearean English, and gave prizes to kids who could recite lines of Shakespeare. On his actual birthday, we gave out cake. It was all good fun.

The best part was the after school movies. In Jen’s room (I was a ‘gypsy teacher’, itinerant, as there weren’t enough classrooms for me to have one of my own), we showed movies of Shakespeare’s plays, and of adaptations like “Ten Things I Hate About You.” We ferried bags of popcorn from the bookroom microwave across the hall and Jen and I sat at the back of the class, marking (And perving on Heath Ledger, but doesn’t everyone?).

We were surprised at the turnouts at the movies. One student, Kate, never missed one, even the crappy ones. She LOVED Shakespeare Week. Dressed up, was linguistically more competent in archaic language than either Jen or myself, and could recite seven sonnets from memory.

Long after she graduated, I ran into her. We started talking about how much fun we’d had with ‘Willy Week’. She said, “Those were the times, in that school, when I felt like I wasn’t a freak. Because the cool teachers were doing it. How could I be a freak?”

Kate of Kate Hall, Most Comestible of Kates, bless you. I hope all is well.

The GodSquad.

I belong to a group of women who pray for people.

That’s not right. We pray or meditate or positive-vibe, depending on our own faiths or creeds. Many of us are atheist. Doesn’t matter. We still do what we do.

Almost none of us ‘know’ each other. Wouldn’t know if we passed one another on the street. But we still do this, every weekend.

The one thing we have in common is that we post on the off-topic boards of a wedding website. Most of the others are married, but I liked the level of good grammar on the site, as well as the kindness I saw, so I read and I stayed.

One of us is a physics prof. One’s a typing teacher. One lives in the United Arab Emirates, taking three-hour shopping lunches and living inside a walled compound. One owns a dress shop in Wales. There are others, but I can’t think, off the top of my head, what they do or where they are.

The schtick is always the same. The woman who sends the email posts on Tuesday or Wednesday, asking for submissions for vibes or prayers. People email because of job interviews and cancer. Dead dogs, grandpas, or mental health issues. Anything goes. Then the woman who asks for submissions mails The GodSquad (that’s us) on Friday.

There are no rules, just that we do our thing for these people as we go through the weekend.

I don’t know if what we do makes a difference to the people we think about as we go through the weekend. But it makes a difference to us. Because we’re holding a part of the world in our hearts.

Saan Lot.

Beside the discount store, the vacant lot was full of scrub alder and bushes. It was too dense for dog walking, too dense for kids to play in. But we played.

The rules at the Saan lot were fluid. Sometimes it was Sardines, sometimes more like Capture the Flag, sometimes just plain old Tag.

It always involved beer.

We’d each hide a couple cans there before going to the bar up the road. If you saw someone else, you had to studiously ignore them. That was important, so they could hide their beer properly. That was only fair.

After the bar closed and drunk small-towners spilled out into the parking lot, calling to each other as they disseminated down toward the water or out up Hospital Hill, looking for late night munchies at Esso or PayLess, or over to Stink Creek Park for drunken fumbling and blow jobs, we all made our way down to the lot.

We thought we faded seamlessly into the bushes. Really, we probably made a hell of a racket. But no matter. Invariably, someone would stage-whisper, “Cops!” And we dove into the bushes, crawling commando-style, and usually giggling to ourselves. The night air, the slap of alder switches, the wink of stars overhead was wonderfully refreshing after the asphyxiating combination of Budweiser, Obsession perfume, and cigarette smoke in the bar.

We were searching for the hidden beer. If a person found a beer, they had to drink it, and share it with whoever found them when they were drinking it. Then we’d go off and find some more beer. Sometimes we’d split up, sometimes crawl around together until we’d either found all the beer or run out of steam.

Sometimes we lay on our backs, passing beer back and forth, staring up at the stars. Those were my favourite times. It was like I was a puppy who’d found my litter. Kevin’s head on my stomach, my head on Billy’s leg, we’d worked hard, played hard, and now, the reward: That final, slack-limbed bliss that sometimes happens at 3am.

Eventually we got cold. Then, we struggled out, grass-stained, tipsy and laughing, and wended our happy way home.

Zep CD Help.

Okay. My latest student needs to hear some Zeppelin. I am convinced that within his slightly chubby torso beats the heart of a true rock and roll aficionado.

He hasn’t had much exposure to rock, owing to the fact that he is a twelve-year-old Korean boy. But six months ago, when he won the free CD draw at Thriller, the skate shop in UBC village, the CD changed his life. He won a CD by some band called Silverstein, and they have since become his rock gods. They sound a lot like POD and Green Day. So I want to give him the best gift of all: The gift of more guitars, a CD of Led Zeppelin songs.

As Eric laughingly points out, “You can’t make a Led Zeppelin Greatest Hits CD, because they’re all greatest hits!” It’s true. But some of their songs are more challenging to listen to than others.

Personally, when I am a kafroogleillionaire, I am going to create a special extended mix of The Immigrant Song. (Also, I will listen to it while I lounge around all day on a chaise longue covered in crushed black velvet and have someone tickle my face with a loose powder brush, but the Immigrant Song is most important.)

My question to you: What Zep songs do you love most?

Fricketty Frack.

So I’d been having a kind of itchy, weepy left eye when I woke up in the mornings. Yesterday I woke up to the most horrific crusties and-ta daaa! Pinkeye!

Never thwarted, I hied myself to the pharmacy and got some Polysporin eye drops, which are the cure for bacterial pinkeye.

I’ve been using them for 24 hours and there’s no difference. Today I started getting a light headache, you know when your eyes can’t close enough for the light? Add to that the fact that I have been tireder than Tired McTired of the Clan McTired over the past week, and what do you have?

Utter terror that I may be having a sarcoid relapse.

OK, not terror because there are certainly worse things that could happen to a person. But let’s look at the things I’ll have to endure as they cure me, that I don’t need right now:

1. The eye relaxer drops. You know, the ones you get when you have an eye exam? They need to give them to people with sarcoidosis in the eyes, because what’s happening is the pupils of the eyes are trying to contract past the point of contractability. As a result, you get muscle spasms in your eyes. Yes, this can happen. They’re quite painful, and the only solution is the eye relaxers, which make your already light-sensitive eyes even more sensitive. Plus, you have no focal ability or depth perception. I spent the summer of 1999 falling off curbs and walking into things, because I had no idea where my body was, within the space around me.

2. Sure, the drops are a pain, but I also don’t want the extreme sensitivity to light. Seeing as we’re coming into summer hours, and there will be more light around, I don’t want to have to sit in a darkened room, reading large-print books and being unable to look at a TV or computer screen.

3. The lack of focal ability creates a kind of low grade nausea, because you can’t tell where anything is. I imagine it’s kind of like being on mushrooms. With no respite. For three months.

4. The steroids. They cure you with steroids. Massive doses. Doses that make your waist thicken and encourage your cortisol levels to fly through the roof. Yes. And when the topically-applied steroids didn’t work fast enough, last time, they (TMI ALERT) stuck a needle full of steroids into my eye itself!

Please send my any good vibes going. I do NOT need a relapse. On the other hand, won’t I be interesting? Apparently, this specific set of symptoms is exciting for doctors. There must be a new crop of interns at the eye clinic that should see this, huh?

On The Bus With Andrew.

When you take the same buses a lot, and live in basically the same place you’ve lived all your
life, you start to see a lot of the same people. The neighbourhood characters as familiar as the
storefronts. Fellow bus passengers are unspoken allies, as you endure the indignity of public transit.

That’s why it was strange to see Andrew on the bus today. It took me a few minutes to place him, and my first reaction was, “That guy’s in the wrong place.” Weedy redheaded kid, sour expression, a kind of vague diappointment in his eyes. Plugged into a walkman, wearing a baggy shirt and chinos.

Then it twigged. I know him! The guy was the best writer I ever saw while teaching in Burnaby. Lots of kids can develop proficiency, even skill. But Andrew? Andrew always hit exactly home.

I sit on the bus and study the back of his head. The hair’s still just plain carroty, still messy. The kid hasn’t evolved any style in the three years since I’ve seen him.

I remember the essay held out to all of us at the marking meeting, for how we were going to grade Mock Provinical Exam essays. Give some kids an hour to write three undred words amd they fall apart. Not Andrew. He wielded his ability to write a character like he was holding an epee. His satire made Alexander Pope look a bit damp. The kid was really something.

He wrote his Mock Provincial from the viewpoint of a twentysomething Italian thug. With a passion for Cyndi Lauper. And that kid made us markers laugh and gasp and shriek with outrage at the persona he created.

I want to tap him on the shoulder, riding the bus behind him, and ask, “Hey, how are you?”

But his rumpled solitude is such that I think it would bother him or maybe even unnerve him.

So when I get off the bus, I walk straight by, and don’t say anything at all.

Father Anselm

I met Father Anselm when we moved my grandmother into her nursing home. Youville Care Home is
affiliated with the Catholic church, but you don’t have to be Catholic to go there. Just very lucky.
Father Anselm was lucky. In conversation with the care aides and receptionist there, I learned a
little of his story.

He had spent his life at the mission in Mission, you know the one up on the hill, that you can see
when you drive the straggly hinterlands of Highway 7?

I dont know what he did at the mission, but I remember being indignant that the Catholic church would shunt him off to a nursing home, albeit a Catholic one. What price charity, hey, Catholics?

Then I learned that one of his early stages of Alzheimer’s made him wander at night. And he wasn’t just wandering within the walls of the mission. He was wandering down the hill, out in the woods he walked all of his adult life. Now, a walk in the woods is a fine thing, but when you’re
eighty-something, and it’s dark out, and you can’t remember where you are, and there are coyotes in the woods, it’s not such a good idea anymore.

So they sent him to Youville. When the weather was warm, he spent lots of time on the Fourth
Floor balcony, gazing at Queen Elizabeth Park. He loved the cherry blossoms in springtime, the tour buses in the summer, and the foliage in the fall.

He was also a great music lover. His knowledge of religious music tghrough the ages was
encyclopedic. But to him, the most holy music of all was The Beatles, especially the early stuff.

Living in the mission his whole life he had a keen sense of order and community. He knew that we worried that Grandma wasn’t eating much, so he’d whisper to us as we said hi to him, “She had lots of potatoes at lunch”, or “She had two desserts,” with his eyebrows raised in significant arches. Even living up there on the hill all his life, he loved people, loved communicating, loved being able to make contact.

His was a long slide into the invitable helplessness that Alzheimer’s brings. He was coherent for
several years, recognizing all the residents and most of the family members who were regular
visitors.

He died about two weeks ago.

Father Anselm, wherever you are now, I hope they’ll let you listen to The Beatles.

I Heart My Job.

So I was looking at a reading comprehension exercise with a student, hoping to also give her a little more info about wild animals in Canada.

Me: Do you know what these animals are?
A: Deer are…deer. I know. But not elk. Or caribou.
Me: They are also kinds of deer. Caribou are like reindeer, but bigger. (I holod my hand about three and a half feet off the ground)Elk are really big. (I hold my hand out about four and a half feet high) About this big.
A: That big? Why don’t we ride them?

Totally good question. I, for one, would like to tame and ride an elk.

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