Archive for May, 2008

Taking notes

May 31, 2008

Things are speeding up a bit as projects both at work and on the home front slide into high gear. When this happens, I try to keep my proverbial ducks in a row by taking notes. My handwriting is mostly illegible but the actual exercise of pen against paper seems to seal some loose brain cells in place.

Each major project requires, for my wit’s sake, a small notebook. For the past five or six years I’ve been using Clairefontaines for the most part; these come in various sizes (including varying amounts of sheets in ones of different and the same dimension) and a small group of really scary colors like chartreuse and apricot. My friend Pam teases me about these notebooks (kindly, gently, as ever Pam is).

At present I have one being filled front to back with one project (the house) and also back to front (my son’s various visa needs). I used to care about what kind of pen I used, but that was when I was young and disposed to cutting an image. Instead, now I collect pens in hotel rooms and fill in between times with the most basic of Bics. My mother would be pleased. (She would be less pleased that they no longer cost 19 cents each as did the first one she bought at Nudo’s corner store, in about 1963.)

One aspect of the grocery and drug stores here that confound me still is that I cannot buy small notebooks in either. This means I must be careful to leave home prepared for note taking, even if I have no idea what will happen to create the immediate need. However, to date, I have not become so obsessed as to write myself notes about remembering the notebook. Yet.


Loonies, toonies, and Looney Tune business practices

May 30, 2008

Living with the use of a coin-operated washer for the first time in more than a dozen years, I’ve developed a practical, rather than economic, view of dollar coins–they are all that work in my apartment building’s three washers and dryers. I know people who don’t use their change as it develops from broken paper money, but instead store up jars and dishes of pennies, quarters, and nickels. I’ve “never” done that; years ago when I was coin-operated machine-dependent, I purchased rolls of quarters for the task. But here I’ve been “keeping” a jam jar, hoarding any loony that comes across the counter to me in change.

It gives me respect for the fact that Canada has managed to convert to the use of coins for low denominations, where Americans, for the most part, can’t be trained to use dollar coins. Canadians, on the other hand, seem to deal with dollar coins but have also quite happily adjusted to two-dollar ones as well. This seems to be in keeping with their go-along-and-get-along outlook.

In a vain attempt to spend some loonies and toonies–well, not really, but it was going cost me a few–I tried, at the beginning of the week, to acquire a couple rental audiobooks from a company (in the US) whose online form indicated that they could and would ship either overnight or two-day to Canadian as well as US addresses. This being for a project with some time pressure, I needed these two titles by midweek and the site indicated that if I got the order placed by 11:30 am EST, second day shipping would be mine. I got the order in–and acknowledged–by 5:30 am EST. A full four days later, I received an email asking if I “really” wanted what I’d requested. I wrote back and said yes and I had expected delivery within the promised two days. Which then elicited a voicemail message from them another day later, asking, again, if I really really really wanted them to send the stuff second day delivery. Well, it now being the fifth day since the order for second day delivery was confirmed, I have an imponderable question to answer–yes, I did want second day delivery, but do I now want seventh day delivery? Not so much.


May 29, 2008

One of my few out and out disappointments upon arriving to live in Halifax was the discovery that the Public Gardens are closed through the winter. Yesterday evening then, became the first time I got to walk through them since last July. It was a bright and shiny day, with crystalline skies. The Gardens’ lawns were as green as the sky was blue, and the sweeping species of trees–tulips, willows, etc.–looked newly groomed. Around the bandstand–its fresh pain signs still attached–were beds of tulips arranged like so many layers of bonbons in a fancy candy box: lavender creams, peppermints, dark cherry, lemon, and rich vanilla. Even the reeds in a pond stood as though having just been commanded to attention.

Lest I had not a sufficiency of Victorian formality last thing in the day, I got a new dose first thing this morning. Cruising down Inglis at 7 am, I ran smack into a piper and a drummer, both in full mufti–right up through the drummer’s fur helmet. Their boots clicked on the sidewalk behind me as we all progressed north along Barrington, all turning in at the Superstore, where, wholly inappropriate to the prevailing theme of 1888, the Rolling Stones were being blasted to greet us.

Burn the British! literarily speaking….

May 28, 2008

I get frequent packets of forwarded mail from Bob, usually in assortments that are united in the mailing by size rather than substantive relationship.  However, the selection arriving in yesterday’s mailer proved to have certain and odd details that presented a theme:

There was the galley of an upcoming book.  The bottom right corner of it had taken a long soak in a puddle somewhere and then dried, so water stains crept an eighth of the way up the first 30 pages or so.

Then there was the newly published book which, when I happened to flip to the back flap, I noticed had been burned along the inner spine–not thoroughly aflame, of course, just deeply scorched.

Since this pair in no other way seemed to indicate a visitation from the elemnts, I didn’t look for air and earth in the same shipment, but indeed, found them anyway, as a brochure included detailed a list of nature books…specifically, gardens and birds.

The scorched tome reminds me of an outing with my son when he was about 15 months old.  We had gone to a department store at El Cerrito Plaza to find a new toaster.  I am not a good shopper and there we were in the middle of a large housewares department, with him bouncing in a stroller and me trying to both find toasters and not bump into fine china.  We got help rather quickly, however, when he bellowed out a line from a favorite Frank and Ernest book of that period in his life.  In the story, a couple of characters sling diner speak.  My kid knew we were looking for a toaster.  He helped: “Burn the British!” he hollered, just as his literary models would when a toasted English muffin was in order.

Which brings me back to the mail from yesterday.  I have to assume that the water and the fire hit before the package was created by Bob because the exterior of the package showed neither encroachment.  Further, it seems unlikely that Bob would cast a book either into the bath or toward a flame, so he must have received each of them in its present condition.  How would Frank and Ernest describe the travails of books from publisher to reader?


Here and now, then and there

May 27, 2008

I seem to have passed across some border where there is a new ratio between home and away–perhaps due to the bursting of spring. The Old Burial Ground here “looks like” the Old Granary Burial Ground in Boston (just in parts, not as a whole). There’s a house on Queen street with a grill on its front porch and a maple kitchen chair that’s the mate of the ones I left in Berkeley. The way the sun slants on the already-becoming-grass-choked alley/driveway a few blocks away might as well be in Ohio. Some of the blocky red brick apartment buildings built just after World War II (not the newer ones) are the mates of some in Coventry.

There are a few smaller apartment buildings with LA style names–Carol Ann, Linda, Gayle. They remind me of the bedraggled but still stately-in-the-Seventies Dorothy May (or was it Mae?) Apartment Hotel which advertised on its side: “Exclusive but not expensive.” (It pretended to be exclusive in a neighborhood somewhere on the verge of Silverlake and Hollywood, when neither place was either exclusive or expensive).

I’ve been reading some Jonathan Kellerman for a dose of LA. There’s a French bulldog puppy in this one (Spike having been unable to live as long as the series) and so even the French bulldog (oldster) I saw on the street tonight was another bifurcated location, a there as well as a here.

I’ve never been sure of how people who stay in one place from beginning to end see that place in multiple dimensions. How do you put a scene into perspective when it is, for all intents and purposes, the only scene? I am not declaring that one can’t, only that, like a colourblind person, I can’t grok it.

Rhetorical matters

May 26, 2008

Sometimes the automatic responses and statements just niggle….

Last Friday, when I was attempting–and failing–to deal with the bank, the staff member on the other end of the line ended each of our six or seven conversations (which were going no better for her than they were for me) with “You have a fantastic day now!” in a voice spritely enough to compete with an EST postulant.

Today I dealt with a waitress who, while very sweet and accommodating (which makes it sound as though I were asking for something special when, I swear, I was simply ordering from the menu), continually ended our brief interactions–greetings, drink order, food order, food delivery, etc.–with “No problem!” Well, thank goodness….

But then I caught myself spewing a line that I use–unconsciously and for a reason I cannot contact–on restaurant staff: “Thank you so much.” How much is ‘so” much and why do I tack this on at the dinner table?

With this joggling in my frontal lobe for at least a moment en route home, I passed a young man–the third I’d seen wearing this apparently mass produced article–sporting a t-shirt proclaiming: “I am incredible.” Wow!

Rhetorical statements–all about making space–and then getting in the way of closing it.

Halifax goes Hermosa Beach

May 25, 2008

Spring has arrived with a sufficiency that even the apparently shy or developmentally challenged tree outside my living room window has sprouted baby leaves. (The plastic that is tangled to a third story eye-level branch by a curl of gold ribbon remains as tethered as it’s been since November). I heard lawnmowers about in the neighbourhood today as well, for the first time.

In the night, there was another sound as well, but hardly seasonal. Somewhere around 4:15 this morning, someone here set off the fire alarm in the corridor. Besides the noteworthiness of the decibel level, there was also the opportunity to notice that, at that hour, most of my fellow building dwellers seemed to be just returning home. Saturday nights, in Halifax, seem to go pretty much until dawn.

The next time I went outside, when it was nearly 8 am, I saw the first of a surprising variety of what I can only call hot rods cruising down Inglis. During the course of the day, as I happen to be coming and going, I’ve seen quite a number of them–some complete with flames painted on their high gloss bodies, all with squat wheelbases and slightly jacked backs. Some are real vintage, reconstructed from the Forties, while the newest appears to be a Camaro minted during Lyndon Johnson’s Presidency. And although drivers here are polite to within an inch of their lives, the guys (yes, all guys and appropriately young) in these are driving with all the zest and lack of discretion of their peers in SoCal. Which only enhances the tableau.

Visual stimulation

May 24, 2008

Walking down my street this afternoon, my field of vision at what is usually skyline above the apartment building at the nexus of Barrington and Inglis was instead the giant cruise ship that turned out to be Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, suitably docked close enough to appear to be at the Cunard Centre. The ship’s hugeness defies scale in my mind–not just the decks and decks of glassy staterooms, but the orange stack that looks like it could swallow the whole Province.

Earlier, and at the microlevel to this macro-sight, I happened through Sobey’s immediate neighborhood in time to come across a large and noisy gathering at the supermarket’s door. It seemed to involve canned music and green balloons and was inexplicable and dense enough that I didn’t try to pass through in search of something as simple as my grocery list. Instead, I cut through the parking lot and saw a North American license plate so wildly over-designed that I actually studied it to figure out its provenance. This seems to run counter intuitive to identification, to have to get up close and stare in order to suss it out.

Several prom-themed visions popped into view as the day went along as well. On Spring Garden Road, young women were trucking about in spaghetti-strapped gold gowns, while a stretch gold limo was parked back on Barrington. In an accidental tip of the hat to Berkeley High’s prom weekend, there was even a grocery cart, parked near Barrington’s Tim Horton’s, which had been macramaed from stem to stern with red and gold yarn.

In spite of the cloud cover, I clearly need blinders today.

Full moon with a vengeance

May 23, 2008

The week continues to brutalize me, although today’s madness is on a wholly different scale and does nothing to divert me from my grief. The short version (all that’s necessary here) is that I am at the mercy of an international transfer of funds and managing to get the worst of both banks. But the day’s battles brought up one stunning sentence that can be shared and enjoyed:

The US one called and left voicemail for the Canadian one but the Canadian one didn’t return the call but called me instead to report that the American call would not be returned “because I don’t know what he might ask me.” I suggested–rather mildly given that this was the third day of my “discussions” with this bank–that unless the call were made, the questions would remain unknown, and that without knowing the questions no answers could be forthcoming and without answers, business could not continue. This seemed to be a novel idea to the person on the other end of the phone but before too much delight could be wrung from the mare’s nest, I was a bit firmer in announcing that telling me that there were unknown questions did not advance anyone’s cause and that if that phone call did not get made, and the questions be encountered, I would….

…well, dear reader, what threat did I have to offer? That I would record the idiocy of this position and play it for the person’s mother? Of course not. Instead, with sufficient starch to keep the Vienna Boys Choir in collars for a year, I announced that I expected a call back in another fifteen minutes with a report on what the questions were and how they were handled.

It’s the first weekend I am dreading since my arrival–too much sadness and business craziness to handle gracefully without an eight-hour workday for support. I may have to go out and ask questions–or answer them. Or simply listen to them.

World shrinkers

May 22, 2008

The US Navy ships that came to dock in the Harbour on Tuesday are reported to be the annual contingent sent to clean up Dead Man’s Island. There are Canadians who are impressed that the US has such military muscle to spare for raking–and others, well, not so much.

At some point yesterday, a different sort of Naval presence appeared: the tall ship Cuauhetemoc, operated by Mexico’s Navy. It’s huge and seems to have a huge crew: when I got to the Halifax side of the harbour last evening, Lower Water Street was teeming with sailors and officers from Mexico, dozens and dozens.

This evening, on the other hand, as my home-bound ferry left Dartmouth, what was streaming past in the harbour was a fully emerged submarine, travelling faster than your typical cargo ship or even destroyer. It’s Canada’s, although it once belonged to UK.

On the flip side of the coin where various Navies vie for attention in a single and relatively small body of water, my current suppertime book also conspired to slap me upside the head with international and unexpected familiarity. I’ve got onto an accidental jag of Slavoj Zizek, who throws Hollywood, Kant, and several cultural universes between into a single paragraph in a way that is close enough to sensible. Tonight’s chapter contained a long quote from Neil Gaiman, and that brought me right back to my personal here and now–not the falling in love so much as Mr. Gaiman’s own comments on Rory and the fact that indeed I have walked around for days now painfully aware that I won’t ever hear that surprisingly young voice on my phone saying “Howdy, stranger….”