Bum Doctor

Posted: March 25, 2014 in humor, humour, Life
Tags: , , ,

I felt an inward flinch as I approached what looked like a set of mahogany doors.

I’d been both looking forward to this visit, and dreading it.  Something was wrong with me, but I had no idea what it was.  All I knew was that a Google of my symptoms all concluded with the ominous warning “get thee to a doctor – pronto!” And so I had.  First to my family doc, who then set up a referral to a bum doctor.  Okay, a proctologist.

bumdoc

Feeling squirmy yet?

You can imagine how I felt. I only had to wait a month – which, believe me, was just fine as far as I was concerned.  I didn’t want unwelcome news coming my way.  And the potential varieties of prognosis was just too awful to think about:  it could be cancer, it could be something to do with my prostate.

And then there were the cures to consider: from chemo to radiation to removal of parts.  My imagination – with the kind help of WebMD – had no limits.  So I waited out the month and tried not to think about it.

Which brought me to today, and those dark, dark doors. I walked in to a reception area which was similarly dark.  One might say “rich” in tone.  Dark wood reception desk, muted lighting, and classical music playing on the P.A.

I kind of expected a maître d’ to come out and look me up and down with disapproval. “No, no, no.  This won’t do”

And then he’d hand me a smoking jacket.  “Would you like to try one of our cigars?  And please, have a brandy while you’re at it.”

The frowning receptionist thrust a questionnaire at me and intoned “fill this out.  Front and back.  Sign it and return it to me.”

I sat down.  Looked around.  The guy closest to me was slim, and probably my age.  He wore a denim jacket and jeans, and was watching his iPhone with rapt concentration. The lady sitting across from me looked like a frightened bird.  Her carefully coiffured head turned this way and that.  Looking, I think, for a way out. She knew she was trapped.  Maybe I was projecting my state of mind.

I completed the form and handed it back.  “Have a seat.  Someone will be with your shortly.”

Eventually I was ushered into the doctor’s sanctum sanctorum.  I sat on a little black stool.

Presently he entered. A more genial and welcoming doctor you couldn’t imagine.  This small smiling thin guy looked like he was in his 80′s.  I felt my stress evaporate almost immediately. Still, I kept glancing around, looking around for cattle prods and other instruments of torture.  I wasn’t born yesterday.  I know what goes on in these offices.

My stupid ADD brain of course kept a running commentary of smart remarks, all of which I kept to myself. I mean, that doctor asked me a lot of questions.  So when he asked “are you gay or straight?” and I answered “straight”, my brain added “yup. It’s a steel trap back there doc, so you’re gonna have your work cut out for you trying to invade it.”

I smirked, and hoped he didn’t notice.

After ten minutes of discussion about my medical history, my eating habits, my family history and the current Maple Leaf standings in the NHL, he was able to give me even more relief by saying “I’m pretty sure your problem is one that involves your diet.  Put simply, the food you’re eating is all wrong, and it’s irritating you down there.”

“So…” my brain added “not cancer then?”

“But I’ll need to examine you to see what exactly is going on.”

Oh. I had hoped that just our discussion would be enough.  Guess not. I swallowed.  It was time for the Big Reveal.

In front of us was an examination table.  I looked but couldn’t find the stirrups.  Maybe he was going to have me lie on my side, like my regular doc has me do when I’m getting my annual physical. No such luck.

“I want you to kneel there, and then pull your pants and underwear down.”

“Shit” said my brain.  “Okay” I said aloud.

I kneeled on the kneeler (which I hadn’t noticed until he pointed it out) that was attached to the table.  The table was for me to lay face down on. Perfect praying position.

After pulling everything down, a female nurse (or someone, I have no idea what her role was) sauntered into the room, nonchalant and uncaring. My brain said “HEY! DID YOU GET A GOOD LOOK, BITCH??” She wandered over to the sink and got busy….doing dishes I guess.  Seemed this was going to be a community event.

The doctor said “okay you’re going to feel some pressure” I laid there on the table, ass in full flower display, just waiting for the moment.

Then I heard a buzzing sound.   Brain: “WTF???”

He was raising the table up. It was on hydraulics. I nodded to myself.  Made sense.  He’d have had to kneel himself otherwise, if he wanted to get a good look. The buzzing stopped.  Another buzzing sound began.  The table was rotating slightly, so that my ass could be fully pointed in his direction.  Lovely.

Finally it stopped.  And the prodding began.

I could feel something slimy going on back there and realized I was being medically violated. “Okay” said the doc.  “I want you to squeeze my finger”

“Fine” said my brain.  “Just give me your hand and—-oh.  I see what you mean.” I squeezed.  My brain confessed “I know it’s not much, but frankly you can’t blame me – I’ve been slacking on my kegels lately.”

He removed his finger and inserted the scope.  I felt that.  I really really felt that.

“You’re going to feel even more pressure, because I have to get some air in there so I can see better.”  I heard him squeezing a bladder as my insides pushed sideways.

*plop*

“You can pull your pants up now”.  Oh good, it was done.   And the nurse was still over there, washing her dishes.

He took about fifteen minutes to educate me on what I should and shouldn’t eat.  Additionally he wants me to come in for three treatments to correct a few things that are wrong up there.  Nothing major, and the end result *cough* will be very positive.

I walked out of that office with a smile on my face and a relieved spring in my step. I even thought about whistling.  A glance at the frowning receptionist made me reconsider.

Penny

Posted: March 23, 2014 in humor, humour, living, show business
Tags: , , , , , ,

She died a few weeks ago and was laid to rest the following Saturday.

While it’s a shame when any friend or family member passes on, the fact is she left us while she was still young.  She had many more years of sowing oats ahead of her.  I think (but am not sure) that she was in her early thirties at most.

Penny* was a hard nut to crack.  I first saw her in my improv comedy class some years ago. She was a tiny thing who tended not to say much.

I couldn’t get a read on her: maybe she was just naturally introverted; maybe she disliked me; maybe she didn’t like men in general.  I wasn’t sure.  Funny how that works: how quiet people are often misinterpreted as anti-social.  I’d seen that happen a few times before with other shy people, so was loathe to make assumptions about her.  She remained, for me, somewhat of a question mark.

Another friend, Lisa* (who was married at the time), invited me into their small gang.  All of them were in the same improv class as I was, and all of them were hilarious and friendly.  Penny was part of the group too.

Maybe back then I had a natural need to make people warm up to me.  I was usually successful too:  all it took was reading them to find out what makes them tick, and then finding something in common.  Often, humour worked for me.  For some reason, it just never worked with Penny. It bugged me a little bit – but only because I wasn’t sure if she hated me, or just tolerated me or what.  I had to try and stop guessing and stop trying to figure her out.

The main reason I enjoyed being in our little improv gang, actually, was that I couldn’t read any of them.  Not at all.  This usually meant they were self-aware, typically self-confident, and curious as hell about the world.  That described the gang perfectly.

The corporate training man in our group, who had the same name as me – Wolf* – was friendly, gregarious and welcoming.  He could switch on a dime though. I was certain of that.

I remember going with the gang to his huge condo in Toronto after improv class one night. We were joking and having a good time, and, needing to say something I blurted out something about pot.

“Well we have some” someone said.

“What?  Pot?”

“Yeah, maybe we should smoke up.”

I looked around at them, thinking.  Finally:  “I’ve never done it”

Everyone’s eyes widened with disbelief.  Including Penny’s.

Wolf said “you haven’t?  Wow.  Really?  Not once in all your life?”

“Never” I said.  “I grew up as a religious guy all during my teens.  Didn’t even drink back then.”

“Well we need to get you going then.  Do you want to try it?”

I did, and said so.  I could tell they were pleased.

Someone lit up a joint, and we passed it all around.  I coughed.

Lisa said “that’s good.  That means it’s working.”

The only sensation I got was a sore throat.

“It’s not working” I said.  “I feel the same”

Wolf replied “well that often happens with the first toke.”

I nodded.

Penny said “next time you puff, trying holding it in longer”

I nodded, happy that she was talking to me.

Wolf blurted “oh my God!  We have to get you some munchies!”

And with that, he jumped up and opened up his cupboards, looking for some snacks.

“Here.  Try some Doritos”.

I took a chip, obedient to the core.  I wasn’t actually hungry but didn’t want to destroy any illusions.

Penny laughed.  I grinned.

Ever afterward, I joined them after improv class, and we went on some typical late night adventures.

Once, we went to a Vietnamese restaurant at 3:00 in the morning to have some soup. None of the servers seemed to speak English, so we ordered off the menu according to the number assigned to each dish.

Another time, we all went to a strip club.  Wolf bought a VIP lap dance for Lisa.  After she went to the VIP lounge, Wolf said “let’s go watch!”  And so we did.  I can’t recall if Penny was there.  It seems likely that she was.

I recall the bunch of us going up to the roof of Wolf’s condo late one night after improv class, and looking up at the stars. This was the first time that pot had a negative effect.  I looked at the edge of roof and had the sudden thought that they could so easily push me over it, if they wanted.  My paranoid brain thought “why wouldn’t they?  It’d be a perfect crime.  No one knows I’m here.”   I got nervous, and couldn’t wait to go back to his condo apartment.

In later weeks, I only recall Penny and I doing an improv routine together just once.  We were playing a couple of friends who were riding the subway while standing. Subways tend to shake a bit, so we had to shake to create the illusion.  Penny looked at me and said “nice tits”.

This was so unexpected that I broke character.  Near as I could tell, though overweight I had yet to develop man-breasts.  She had triggered my Achilles Heel.  I looked down.  I forget what I said, but just remember that it was lame.  What I should have said was “I just had them done.  You like?”   And then I should have put one of her hands on my chest.  “Here. Feel.”

Penny invited a few of us over to her place after class. I knew I was finally on her approved list when she said to me “listen, I know you commute into Toronto every day. How would you like to room here with us instead?”   I was honestly taken aback and so grateful that she asked.

“Um, thank you!” I said. “I’ll have to think it through, figure it out.  How are you guys with cats?  I have two of them”

“Oh” she said, looking at her roommate. “That might not work.  Jake* is allergic.”

“Well, thanks so much for the offer!” I said.  I was truly grateful and touched that she even asked.

“What are your cats’ names?” she asked.

I smirked.  “Um, well one’s named Princess”.

We all laughed.

“You’re not going to believe the name of the second one” I said, through my tears.

“Tell me!”

“Muffin”

They roared.

Wiping her eyes, Penny asked “so who named them?  Your wife?”

“No……” I began. “Uh.”

“Not you” she said, incredulous.

“Yeah.  Me.”

The laughter increased once again.  I have no idea why it was so funny, even though I smile now, remembering it.

Once, when I moved into my small apartment in Oshawa after separating from my wife, I invited the gang in for a house-warming party.  Wolf brought his girlfriend, and Lisa and Penny came too.

While waiting on the pizza delivery, Penny checked out the books on my bookshelf.  I was a little embarrassed, as some of them were swords and sorcery novels.  I noticed her smiling.

We plowed into the pizza and got some beer going.  All night long we laughed and talked about everything.  I don’t know what it was: there were no egos involved, no holding back on anything.  We were free with each other.   That little group of ours was magic to me.  I’ve never grown quite so close to a group of people as I did to them.

The improv classes ended, and we all drifted apart, as friends sometimes do.

I heard that Penny had changed her name and had gone into standup.

Lisa did some standup too, right before she traipsed on down to California to break into the acting world there.  She eventually came back to Canada and we became Facebook friends.

I was shocked when Lisa messaged me one day a few years later and said “Penny died yesterday”.

It was a death through illness.  And it was a ripoff to the world.

Damn it. It should not have happened.

*all names have been changed, as per usual

In case you missed it, it seems that a large number of folk in France dislike the whole subject of gays and homosexuality.  They would prefer their children not be taught about the differences in people.

Isn’t it amazing how fast news goes around the world?

connected

We’ve come such a long way in just a few short years.  Seems that way anyway. 

After the first plane hit one of the twin towers back in 2001, most of the world tuned in to watch the second one hit, in real time.  Reactions were mixed: most folk were horrified.  Some actually shot their guns off into the air, rejoicing.

No wonder newspapers are having a hard time of it, and struggling to stay afloat.  In an instant-gratification, instant-access world, the fate of the traditional news rag is to stand as an anachronistic beacon; a signpost to another, calmer era.

Who knew that when the internet became available, the thoughts and trends of faraway countries would transmit to those of us in the U.S. and Canada, in the blink of an eye?  Who knew that libraries too would become dusty relics, at a time when Google provided access to all of the information you could possibly need or want?  About anything!

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.  All of this has been obvious for a while.  I’m just struck by the effects of the increased access to knowledge, to news, and now to culture.

Living in Toronto, I find I’m used to the presence of multiple cultures involving nationalities and sexualities.  Every summer we have food weekends, which celebrate Greece or Italy (and a host of others, I’m sure). 

Like many large cities, we also have Gay Pride week, which also involves at least two parades.

I’m used to a culture of tolerance here.  So it seems surprising when I read about what’s going on in France, and how gay marriage has been enshrined in law, despite the outrage of many of its citizens.

Not so surprising, given Russia’s autocratic supposedly he-man leader (the great, the wonderful, the amazing, the virile and often shirtless Vlad – the Vladimir – Putin) is the anti-gay culture enshrined in that society.  A culture which promotes a passive acknowledgement and appreciation of anti-gay violence, while hypocritically giving lip service to a decidedly tepid tolerance of gays.

Despite Toronto’s enshrined tolerance, there are a few conservative newspapers which (unwittingly? unintentionally?) provide a forum in that same city for those who find gays disgusting.

“I don’t want to hear about what they do with each other’s penises”.  Trust me – no one does.  Just as no one wants to know about how your grandfather services your grandmother.  But then again – that’s a red herring, isn’t it?  Of all of the gay people I know, not one of them has ever expressed any interest in vocalizing any details about their nightly romantic escapades.  (Not that I’ve asked, mind you). But then, I don’t ask my hetero friends about how much hot wax their girlfriends poured on their naughty bits either.

The intolerant in our society are barking about what gays do with each other, but this isn’t information based upon what gay folk are actually saying to straights.  It seems to be mostly based upon what they imagine gays are doing to each other beneath the sheets.

This aversion to the gay culture stems from religious intolerance.  Religion has always had a problem with sexuality in general though. Ask a preacher about masturbation and watch the sparks fly. 

When I was entering adolescence, I didn’t know who to turn to, so I asked my Baptist preacher about it.  You never saw a face turn so quickly turn red.  After mumbling a few words about “the sin of Onan”, he shut the door.  He just couldn’t get rid of me fast enough.

Back then, we didn’t have Google or the internet, so I had to search elsewhere to find out what he was talking about.  (You, on the other hand, had full access to Google, so have it. I won’t explain it here.  Search phrase: “sin of Onan” “spilling seed”).

I could lay all of the angst about sexuality at the feet of religion, and I supposed I’d probably be correct in doing so.  The sad fact though is that change and acceptance goes largely unappreciated, as part of the human condition.  It goes beyond mere religion.

We like things to stay the way they are.  We like our values to be static.  Right is right and wrong is wrong.   We cheerfully rejoice when a thief is jailed, and even more so when we learn that someone in a far away land has been hung for his crimes.  Some of us don’t even mind when we hear about a thief having his hand chopped off.  We’re not really interested in the sick child he had at home, or in any of the circumstances which precipitated his crime.

There was a time when it was acceptable to own slaves, or to treat people with different coloured skin differently.  It took a long time to change all of that – and it didn’t happen without a lot of blood being shed first. 

Seems almost crazy to think that there are still evolving cultures out there where people still have to stay in the closet, or hide their nationality.  You’d think that with the advent of the internet, we’d all come together and cast off our prejudices.

The Olympics has given us yet an opportunity to do so.  Putin’s announcements and laws about homosexuality has given him somewhat of a Pyrrhic victory, as he has opened the door to discussion, to debate, and to protest.

Cities around the world are raising the gay pride flag, in support of the Olympics and in support of the gays who participate, and in support of the gays who live in fear in Russia.  Those with entrenched hatred of gays are complaining loudly about it.  This includes our Toronto mayor, who is vehemently protesting, and trying to get the Pride flag removed. 

“I’ve done everything I can to ge the Canadian flag back up” he said.  What he didn’t say was that a Canadian flag had not actually been removed.

I have to admit that it’s fun to see genuine hypocrisy hard at work. One has to tweak logic pretty hard on the nose in order to get it to support one’s prejudice.

Someday, the brotherhood of man will be understood and embraced.  Until then, we’ll continue to have mobs, and lynchings and wars. 

Still, there’s a catharsis in knowing that the fight for tolerance is persistent.  No matter how badly folk want people to shut up about it, it’s just not going away.

“You are so cold”

I was thus informed, at the end of a heated discussion.   The topic wasn’t worth remembering, which is why I can’t tell you what it was. 

What she meant though was “you’re not taking my side; you’re not offering me comfort.”

Also: “you’re not willing to spend your time listening to me complain without offering suggestions.  I don’t want your suggestions, I want you to listen.  And I’m quite okay with staying miserable – I’ve been this way for months.  Why can’t you understand that?”

For all of our wealth, it seems our society is filled with pockets of the pity-people: folk who are miserable, and have no intention of doing anything about it.

Part of the problem, for some, comes from their mental illness: there is absolutely zero to be gained by telling a clinically depressed person to cheer up.  It’s like asking a banana to peel itself. 

Or like telling a diver, in mid-dive “please don’t get wet”.

Shit’s gon’ get wet, yo.

I think everyone handles such unfortunate people differently.  My preference – and this is not a perfected process yet – is to mention some ideas they should consider so that they won’t be miserable anymore, and then vacate the area.

I’m not talking about the person who just lost his job, or the woman whose husband just left her.  Offering helpful “next steps” to either – especially immediately after the moment of crisis – borders on insane, not to mention cruel.  I truly think that you need to feel the pain and the hurt before you can carry on.  Before you should carry on, in most cases.

And to be fair, the “I just want you to listen” complaint mentioned above is often fair.   It seems to be a male-female thing.  A lot of women seem to want us guys to listen without offering suggestions.  Many of us guys just see a problem that needs fixing.  This issue isn’t about that.

The bedraggled person I’m talking about has been miserable for months, and seems unable or unwilling to extricate himself from his pain.  My experience – based upon years of trying to help various people - is:  he or she needs professional help.

I’m not equipped.  I haven’t had the training.  Even if I did, I would imagine that being close to such a person (related or friend) would preclude my ability to provide any kind of effective help. 

doctor

If one is a warm, inviting person, one becomes a target for the marginalized and hurting person.  This is acceptable.  What’s not okay is the person who wants to bend one’s ear, for days and weeks on end, about the same topic, and with the same result.  Which is: nothing.  Stasis.

It’s a hard thing, saying “no” to such a person.  I’ve employed a technique similar to the ones used on me, when being rejected as a date companion. 

“I like you, just not in the way you like me.”
“We can certainly meet.  I’ll get back to you when I can figure out a date that’ll work.”
“Sorry.  I’m at work right now. Can we talk later?”
“Listen, it’s been great chatting, but I’m late for an appointment/work/washing my hair.”
“Can I get back to you on that?”

(Just kidding about the first one)

Coming right out and saying “I agree that what happened to you was unfair and wrong, but you need to get help”, might be the right answer, but I’ve never known it to work. The minute you say something like that, you get:

“So…you think I’m crazy!”
“No, I don’t think you’re crazy.  I—”
“Only crazy people need counselling!”
“Um, I’ve gone for counselling.  Am I crazy?  Also – did I say you were crazy?”

I’m frankly amazed that there’s still such a stigma about mental illness.  Some people are honestly in need of help, and would benefit so greatly from it – whether that helps comes in the form of chemical balancing (drugs) or cognitive therapy. 

Have you noticed – there are still some adults walking around who have no idea who they are.  Some are quite okay and are functioning well in their ignorance.  Some may go their graves that way, and that’s fine. 

Others will experience just one thing going wonky in their carefully constructed utopia, and their world will crash.  They have no idea what happened, or what to do, or why they became such a target for pain.  They just know something isn’t right, and that someone else should pay.  And, not seeing that person/company receive justice, they become embittered and enraged and inconsolable.

And they want to talk about it.  At high volume.

They have no idea they’re broadcasting at such a high volume, and so when you decide you’ve heard enough, and you want to help them, what they see is you coming along, offering a Pollyanna answer, sure that what you’ve told them will bring sunlight and butterflies to their miserable existence.  How dare you. 

In effect, offering such a response means you’ve become their mortal enemy.  Just like the company/person whose offended them, you are against them.

They’ll continue to vent to you (if you let them) but they will watch you with a now jaundiced eye, expecting you to continue offering advice – because it’ll prove to them that you’re still against them.  This time they’re ready, and they will lash out.

You’ve now got a toxic friend.

The only thing left – at least when I face such a person – is to cut him off.  Regretfully.

It’s necessary to do so, I think, if you want to maintain your own sanity. 

I wish I had hope for such people, but I frankly don’t.  I get the sense that many of these folk will go their graves, still toxic.  Their gravestones will read “I died alone, you bastards.”

I still see a lot of people dealing with toxic folk by continuing to be their sounding board, day after day, year after year.  You can see the lines of stress on their face, as they’re sure they’re not doing enough for their friend.  How could they be, since their friend is still miserable?

I wonder at these long-suffering and patient friends.  On occasion I’ve asked them “what’s the point?”

They shrug, resignedly.  There is no point.  Not really.  They’re building after-life credits, I suppose.  They prefer to see themselves as helpful and kind, and are worried that others will see them as cruel if they’re not there for their friend.

What they are not doing, from where I stand, is living.

I could be wrong though.

I wasn’t late.

I never really intend to be late anyway, but normally I am, despite my best efforts to plan ahead of time, for traffic, for getting ready.  Despite the understandable outrage of those who are forever punctual, lateness doesn’t represent a lack of respect on my part, nor does it mean I think my time is more important than theirs.

It’s a function of a brain that works in kaleidoscope, rather than lines, the latter of which has starting points and focused destinations.  Didn’t find that out until the diagnosis I received a few years ago.

But I digress.  This was a rare victory, and I was relieved.

I even had time to relax for a bit.  Sit down and watch the automatic doors as they briefly opened, and burped out a few people before closing again.

I could feel my heart starting to race, and found that I could no longer sit.  So I stood up and watched the doors, until my little girl sauntered out, smiling.

She rolled her suitcases to the end of the ramp where I stood waiting.  Both of us dropped our stuff and we grabbed each other for a huge and tearful hug.

I honestly forgot how long it had been since we last saw each other in person.  We keep in contact all the time via phone (and occasionally by Skype) but hadn’t spent time together since, I’m guessing perhaps two years ago, when we went on a camping/canoeing trip together.  And where I learned the importance of only camping with a trailer that features a Craftmatic adjustable bed.  She on the other hand could camp out on the floor and not be affected.  The brat.

After the hug, she stood back and mapped out my face, checking for imperfections.  To her delight (and to my tolerant amusement) she found one.  There was a single hair growing on my cheek, which it had no business doing.  Mind you, there was like, a million of them growing on my chin and beneath my nose.  But I guess those were okay, as they were only following instructions.  So she plucked that one hair, saying “hold still, Dad.  Take a deep breath”

I didn’t. I pluck hairs all the time from errant locations.  I’m used to it, and the performance no longer brings tears or even flinching.  I smiled.  She plucked and missed.

Horrified, she said “oh I’m sorry. Let me try again. Are you okay?”

I nodded, still smiling.  She plucked again and this time she got it.

Grooming all done, we turned and began walking.  “How are you doing?” I asked. “Are you hungry? Did you get a bite to eat on the plane?”

She thought for a moment. “Well I could use a tea, Dad. Is there a coffee shop nearby?”

There was, and so we went, chattering as if we hadn’t spoken in a year.  (Well, she chattered. I added an observation here and there).

Our relationship has always been like that though.  We can not talk on the phone for weeks at a time, and when we connect, it’s as if we just spoke yesterday.  I never realized how rare that was until encountering some folk who feel rejected if you don’t check in with them in scheduled intervals.

Afterward, and after dumping her suitcases into a limo-SUV (I really don’t know what to call those things: it’s a limo service, but our ride took the form of an SUV), I warned her about my place.

“You’re going to hate it” I said. She looked at me, grinning.  We both knew she would be making some changes, even though she would only be there for a few days.

And change it she did.  Prior to her arrival, I had the perfect bachelor setup: big-ass plasma TV, front and center, Lazy-boy chair right in front of it. Dolby surround-sound speakers placed in such a way as to make the chair the “sweet spot” for….well, for pretty much everything. 

man_cave.jpg

Not exactly like this, but you get the idea.

The sofa was to my right, along the wall.

As soon as we walked in the door, I braced myself.  This wouldn’t do.  Not at all.  And she confirmed it fairly quickly.

She also didn’t like my office setup, which was situated in the dining room.  It was too closed off for her liking, and “no one can see the beautiful screensavers – all they can see is the back of the monitors and all of the wiring”.

“No problem” I thought.  “It’s just me looking at the stuff, and I really don’t care.”

“Trust me, dad”, she said. “If you don’t like what I do with it, you can put it all back.”

We spent most of her second day there, going to town.  I was assigned the task of sorting out the bookcase.  I have no idea why I still have a bookcase, actually, since I buy all of my books in e-book format, and have no need of physical books anymore.  Right now the bookcase serves as a drop-off point for stuff that lacks a home. Receipts that I haven’t shredded, the odd flyer, pennies and pens that I pick up off of the floor.

My apartment isn’t nearly as bric-a-brac as I’m making it sound.  It’s just that when I have something in my hand, and no time to figure out where it goes, the bookcase is my instant repository.  I put stuff there, knowing that I’ll get around to sorting it someday.

“Someday” is right.  When I started sorting, I found a lot of outdated stuff that belonged in the trash.  Stuff I hadn’t seen in a couple of years actually. It was a little embarrassing, particularly since I’ve made it my life’s goal to de-clutter.  The protocol is: if you don’t see or use it within a year, you don’t need it.

I had a lot of stuff there that qualified for the green bin.  Still do, actually, since I didn’t make that much of a dent in it.

Daughter however did just fine with her tasks – which was pretty much everything else.  She shoved everything around, made it all tidy, grabbed whatever twist ties she could to make the entertainment center and desk wiring all serene, if not beautiful.  When she ran out of twist ties, I became the scotch tape caddy, doling it out as she needed.

When she was done, my place looked presentable again.  The big chair was kitty-corned to the TV set, with the couch forming the other part of the scene.  The TV itself was in a corner.  And my office space was transformed such that any visitors could clearly see everything I was working on. I don’t plan to have many visitors.

“What do you think, Dad?”

I stood in front of my office desk, looked up at her and gave her a small wave and a smile.

She laughed out loud and went to grab her camera.  So I had to hold that pose for a while. Such jocularity loses its pizzazz when you have to pose for it.  I think we both knew that.

Our time together ended way too soon.  I saw her off the next day, when she left me to go visit her mother for the other two days she would spend in Ontario.  And now she’s off to western Canada, there to provide massage treatments for tired skiers.

I miss her already.

Funny thing, isn’t it?  When you’re young you have all of the time in the world, so nothing seems all that important.  You go out with your friends, have some pizza, run around the city all night and sleep until noon or late afternoon.  Life is good, despite the fact that you have just a few dollars to your name.  You have a roof over your head and there’s food on the table.

It’s only later on, when you get older that you begin thinking “you know, I should be doing something with my life.  I should be ‘here’ by now.”  “Here” meaning “owning a house” or “advanced in my career”.

If you’re not careful, you can go your whole life thinking that you’re constantly in a race to play catch-up.

I have to confess: my stance on life has always been like a car on a hill.  I didn’t need to do much, just let off the brakes and just coast.  Didn’t even have to turn the key. In some instances, I’ve allowed too much to happen without my consent, with the mistaken assumption that stuff was being “done to me”.  The horrible and stark fact is: I made the choice – even by doing nothing – to accept the circumstances life threw at me.

Photo is entitled "Chevys".  Photography by Noel Kerns. Visit his website at http://www.noelkernsphotography.com

Maybe this is why I still believe in God, though not religion.  The stuff that’s been thrown at me has been pretty good, with a few exceptions.  I’ve always had good-paying jobs, for example.  And when life in a factory got to be too stressful, I took a small buyout and quit (despite the fact that I had a family to support), and within a few months had another job in an office that paid almost as well.

I remember my wonderful boss at that job gathering us together for a regular meeting. (Man I loved that woman.  She was bright, articulate, generous and helpful, not just to her employees but to our clients.  But I digress).

At the start of the meeting, she asked us all to talk about what we were thankful for.  I recall one young woman sharing a look with another one, and then rolling their eyes.  Both participated though, and gave the usual responses.

“I’m thankful for my family.”

“I’m thankful for the new motorcycle I’m getting next week.”

Then it was my turn.

“I know you’re not going to believe this but I’m thankful for my job.”

That got a derisive laugh – mostly from the two women.  I was serious though.

“Honestly, you don’t know what it was like for me before I got this job.  I worked in a place that was hell for me before coming here.  One time the stress was so bad they called in an ambulance.  I couldn’t wait to leave that place.”

The room got quiet.

“And then I got the call to come in here, and was tasked with helping people.  People who would otherwise end up on the street.  I’m being paid to guide them to a better life.  How awesome is that?”

The two women were silent, and watching.

“Plus” I added, “I get to play with computers.  And I get paid to do it!”  I smiled.  “And I get to work with you guys, in the best work environment ever.  Yeah, I’ve got lots to be thankful for.”

I wasn’t that comfortable expressing emotions openly so I stopped right there.  My boss noticed my discomfort, smiled and then called on the next person.

Another “coasting” experience involved kids.  Specifically, I didn’t want us to have any.  When my then-wife went in to the doctor’s office to get tested, the girls at the front desk got the news first.  One of them called me over.  “Do you want to have kids?” she asked, smiling.

“Sure” I said.  “I guess so”

Then my wife came out and gave me the news and we hugged.  Inwardly, I was aghast. I didn’t know myself all that well back then, but inside I was all like “back up, back up, BACK UP”.  The problem was that I wasn’t into my marriage at all, and was unconsciously looking for a way out.  (That’s a story for another day, but long story short: we got married way too young and for the wrong reasons.).  The bottom line was that anything permanent at all, like kids, pretty much put the nail in the coffin.  I felt trapped.  It was a scary place, the inside of my brain, back then.

A couple of days ago, I saw a YouTube video interview featuring Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint.  In it, she discussed her favourite Disney character – Ariel, from “The Little Mermaid”.  She said “my dad would kill me for saying this, but for my fifth birthday he dressed up as King Titan..” and here she started laughing “…which is so cool.”  She then went on to explain that her little brother was dressed as Sebastian.

As I drove to work the next day, I thought about that interview and about what her relationship with her dad must be like, and concluded that it had to be pretty amazing.  And that brought back some memories of my relationship with my daughter.

FLASH: I’m in the hospital, in the hallway waiting area. (I wasn’t allowed in to see the birth, as the baby was being delivered via C-section).  The doors open and out comes a nurse, pushing an incubator.  I can see through the window of the machine, and notice there’s a skin-coloured oblong thing in there.  “Sir?” she says, looking at me. “This is your baby.”  I walk over while she opens the top.  The thing has some hair on its head.  I look at the nurse.  She smiles “it’s a girl.  This is your daughter.” I look down at her, laying there.  She’s not moving, though she is breathing. I look back at the nurse.  “You can touch her”, she says. “Go ahead.”  The universe holds its breath, waiting.

I look down and reach my hand in and feet her arm.  It’s warm. And like that, my entire world rocked on its edge.  The change in me was imperceptible but strong.  As articulate a writer as I might be, I have no words for this.  I didn’t then and I still don’t now.  It’s like my brain turned itself inside out, shook out the crumbs of depression and angst and re-asserted itself.  I love this child. That’s the truth. It’s also an understatement.

Like I said.  No words.  The power of that moment has stayed with me, all of these years.  And I find I still can’t tell the story without feeling emotion.

FLASH: I’m in my living room, and my little girl is now five, maybe six.  I’m not sure. The TV is on and she’s standing there in front of it, looking at a commercial.  She seems completely unaware of anything except the TV, and she begins to mimic the announcer.  She does it perfectly and I suddenly burst out laughing.  My little princess has character!  And she’s hilarious.  Wow.

FLASH: Both of my kids are in trouble, and I’m angry.  They’ve done something wrong (I forget what it was, which shows you how important it is), and I need to bring the hammer down.  “YOU GUYS SHOULD NOT HAVE DONE THAT. I, UH…” I’m so angry I can’t speak properly. “THAT IS, IF YOU…IF I…”  My mistake was in chastising them both at the same time.  My son is laughter personified, looking for any excuse to let loose.  Put them together and they’re like gasoline and a struck match.

As I struggle to get the words out, my daughter suddenly bites her lip, then looks at her brother and they both start giggling then quickly dissolve into helpless laughter.  “THIS ISN’T FUNNY” – but it’s no use.  They’re too far gone.  And then, despite my damnedest, I can’t help joining in.  Hopeless.

FLASH: it’s about ten or eleven years later.  We’re in the new apartment and my daughter’s just come home from school.  She’s smiling (it’s kind of her thing: she smiles an awful lot, all the time).  she says “hey dad.  I went to the store and saw something.  I bought it right away because I just have to give it to you.”

I’m smiling in response. “Really?”  She grins.  “Yeah.  Let me get it out of my pocket”.  She reaches in and seems to struggle to get whatever it is out, and then she finally gets her hand out and flips me the bird, laughing hysterically.  I can’t help it – I start laughing too.

All of these memories flash through my consciousness on my ride to work, I get a small glimpse of what life would have been like had I not married and had kids.  Sort of a “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment, if you will.  I imagine a life of utter boredom, a life of greyness.  An okay life perhaps, but missing such a golden seam of bright and blinking joy.  It hits me hard, this revelation. and I realize what is for me a grand truth: even if I’m not precisely where I want to be in my life, I feel such an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

I’ve no real complaints.  Not really.

parking-lot

The sun sneered down at me, with the wrath of a thousand carcinogenic volcanoes.   (Didn’t know that did you?  I’ll bet volcanos are totally cancer-causing.  That is, if you survive the slight burn you get from the magma)

I was on my way to a birthday party, and this was the second car of the day.  And I was late.

The first car – a Mini Cooper – had betrayed me in the worst possible way.  It had winked its “check engine” light at me.  At least, I think it was “check engine”.  Might have been “engine is on its way to blowing up big time and you have ten seconds to get out”.  I have no idea.  It was just a symbol, really.  It looked like what some engineer thought an engine should look like.  If I wasn’t a guy, I might mistake it for a badly cut piece of pie though. 

(Wordage helps, people.  Let that be a lesson.  Say what you mean.  Don’t just draw a stupid picture and hope your readers can glean the meaning.)

Oh and the light behind the symbol was yellow.  Which means “caution”, I guess.  It wasn’t glowing red.  It wasn’t pink either.  “You have a ridiculously sparkly and entirely fabulous piece of pie waiting for you, right where the engine should be.”

Anyway, it was a rental, and so the rental agency offered to set me up with a replacement Mini. “After you drop it off, you’ll have to go to one of our other lots to pick up the replacement Mini.  It’s all set up for you.”  And with that, they gave me the address and off I went.

The lot was (they said) at the corner of Finch and Yonge.  They were right.  There surely was a parking lot there.  It didn’t have just one rental car though.  It had pretty close to a million shiny cars, all parked cheek by jowl.  I was supposed to go to the section of the lot that had the rental agency’s cars, but I didn’t know where that was.  Usually the company has signs up near the cars, featuring the name of the company emblazoned in hard to miss lettering.

I looked at that vast vista of chrome and sunlight and wondered where to start.  Did I mention the carcinogenic light?  Okay so it wasn’t a volcano but it was just as bad.  It was the sun.  That thing I used to worship when I was younger, which all of the doctors now say can kill me.

I remember the time I went to a dermatologist.

“Have you used a tanning bed?” he asked.

“Why yes, I have” I answered proudly, as I turned my profile so he could better glimpse all of my tan beauty. “Why do you ask?”

“I ask because you’re a moron” he grunted.  “Those things will kill you.”

“Oh” I said.  “I didn’t know that.”

“WELL DON’T DO IT AGAIN” he barked.

Seriously, the guy was upset with me.  Like I’d stabbed his grandmother in the eye or something.

I took his warning to heart and, since that time, I’ve been religious about applying sun block before heading out the door in the summer time.  Every time.

Except that morning.  I was in a rush, and I figured that my sunlight exposure would be minimal:  I’d be either underground or on a bus until those few minutes when I would move from the bus to my rental car. 

Never realized I’d have to spend an obscene amount of time under the blazing meatball hunting down an elusive tiny little car in a reflective death chamber parking lot.

Ten minutes into my concrete nature hike a mildly helpful thought sauntered brazenly across my consciousness, hands in its pockets.  “Maybe” it said “you should call the rental company to get their help in finding at least the correct quadrant of this maze.” 

Like all good thoughts, it didn’t intrude too far.  I replied with “I’ll find it.  I don’t need anyone’s help.”  The helpful thought wandered off while whistling a carefree tune, unoffended by my manly obstinence.  Clearly it knew I needed help but wasn’t yet ready to admit it.

Anyway, I was in luck.  I had an app on my iPhone that would allow me to unlock the rental car, or honk its horn.  I took it out and pressed the horn icon.  The car horn honked twice. 

“There!” I thought. “I heard it!”  I was overjoyed.  This wouldn’t take long at all.  I knew where the car was.  It was down on the bottom right quadrant of the lot, about a mile away from where I started.  So I began the walk to that point, using the app to re-honk every few minutes.

Weird thing.  As I got closer and closer to my destination, the honks began to change.  They were no longer emanating from the northwest corner, so much as the north-middle corner.  So I changed trajectory and headed due north, honking all the way.

When I reached the northern limit of the lot, and pressed the horn icon again, I heard the sound coming from the exact opposite side of the lot.  The southern side, middle.  So I started walking toward it again, still honking.

As I progressed, the honking changed direction and this time, it was back at the northwest corner again.

About a half an hour later, the concept of “echo” finally dawned on me.  So I broke down and called the car company.

The lady was nice.  “Are you at the corner of Yonge and Finch?” she asked.

“Well yes.” I answered.   “Sort of.”

“Sort of?”

“The instructions said to go to the subway station at Finch and Yonge, and that’s where I got off.  Directly across the road is a parking lot.  But I just noticed that there are no signs for Finch.  Is it possible I’m in the wrong lot? I keep honking the horn with the app, and I hear it.”

“You hear it?  Then maybe you’re where you should be.  I’ll stay on the line and honk the horn from my console until you find it.  How about that?  Would that help?”

“Tremendously” I replied.  “Thank you so much.”

“No problem” she said.  “I’m honking now.”

“You’re honking? Have you seen a doctor about that?” I blurted.

“What?”

“Sorry.  Nothing.  I don’t hear the car horn though.”

We finally figured out that I wasn’t in the right lot at all.  Forty-five minutes had passed under the blazing evil orb and I was in the wrong lot.  I had to walk a full block south to get to the right one.  And there it was, sitting in the tiniest little parking lot ever.  And it had signage!  Big bold signs.  “Here’s your rental car, dude.  Right here.  Right between these two signs. Honestly, I couldn’t have made it clearer if I’d painted little devils all over the place, with their pitchforks all pointing at the car”.

(Not really.  The signs just had the name of the rental agency.  But yes, it was pretty obvious.)

I pressed the horn icon just to make sure.  The replacement Mini honked back with severe cheerfulness.  It sounded different than what I’d heard before though.  Seemed kind of odd.  And how could I hear this tiny little horn honking from such a great distance away, yet not hear it when the help line woman honked it from her application?

I squeezed my sweat-soaked sunburnt body into the seat, started the car, turned on the air conditioner and took off.

A few hours later I realized that the horn I had heard honking wasn’t coming from the car, nor was it coming from an echo of the car.  It was coming from the iPhone app itself.  The app mimics the sound of a horn honking.  I had been following my own silly ghost around all afternoon.