Archive for October, 2008

everything new is old

October 31, 2008

We’ve lived in enough houses in enough different neighbourhoods over the past couple decades that what Halloween might bring in the way of both rick ‘n’ treaters and tricksters has become an annual question.  We’ve lived in places where we were inundated by princesses, robots, poorly disguised 15-year-old “tramps” (of both genders) and off-the-rack superheroes.  And places where no one could bother trudging up 14 steps from a busy street.


Tonight we’ve laid out a modest amount of sweets and kept any specific expectations muted.

A year ago, I spent Halloween evening at dinner with my brother, sister-in-law and favourite niece (who was dressed like a pirate).  My brother had left the candy for his neighbourhood kids unattended in a honour-system bowl on their front porch, having first separated out the kosher, nondairy chocolate for his daughter and one particular brand of candy for his wife.  This is a man whose middle name should be Thoughtful.

On my way home, I got caught behind a sizable tribe of witches, fairies and facepaint streaked guys in suits. They were all in the 20-something range and seemed serious, as though on a scientific expedition rather than looking forward to any kind of evening fun. I would have doled out something in order to surprise them into acting the parts they’d dressed, but had nothing on me worthy of a treat.

My brother would have done.


Words at play

October 30, 2008

While I usually read aboard the ferry (in each direction), I always manage to get a “snack” of a story from overheard conversations at some point between boarding and disembarking.  It’s usually the counter-commute and so the passenger load (except when my timing collides with Moosehead games) is light, and tends toward the same group of folks on a daily basis.


Nobody’s been a knockout orator or a clever storyteller to date (we aren’t talking Christian Bok here, although he is Canadian), but sometimes I get in on a sweet curve of an image or an idea.

Tonight’s came in the form of two very young men debating which possible Halloween costumes have no “human” content.  Vampires, for instance, they agreed, are mostly human.  As are Frankensteinesque creations.  Then the subject turned to Teddy bears, and the debate heated quickly.  Teddy bears, posited one, are toys with their “natural basis” found in the wild kingdom.  No, the other responded, Teddies are children themselves.  He pulled out Paddington as a case in point.  Hm, his buddy had to admit, Teddy bears must be, in fact, human bears, rather than toys.

I did not lecture on anthropomorphism.  I simply enjoyed.

The name game

October 29, 2008

Besides being the title of the very first record album I ever purchased, a kind name game is something that obsesses me when everything else seems slightly out of hand:  trying to remember who was named what related to whom else at some point in my past, your past, anyone’s past.  Part of that is based, probably, on so many of my early childhood peers having Ellis Island-teched monikers:  Szplak (pronounced spoo-lak), Strzlek (pronounced stre-ze-lak).  Partly it’s based on absurd pairings that some parent somewhere allowed:  Candy Gay, Winkie Bliss (a college classmate of Bob’s).

Here there are some surnames that I’ve never heard as such;  Pottle, to date, is possibly my favorite.  And there’s a different variety of “popular” given names than there was in my previous life:  instead of a run of Debbies 40 years ago, it was a run of Darlenes.

I’ve been completing numerous–oh so numerous–official forms, each of which relies on my passport as the base for my identification.  This means that I now must transcribe my full name onto documents, all 33 letters. Somebody was having a game when I got named; it’s no wonder I find others’ names so intriguing.

Topsy turvy

October 28, 2008

Poor Bob stayed home all day while windows were installed.  “You would have hated it!” he greeted me cheerily.  To hold up my end of things, I tried not to freak out when I discovered a three-inch-long wood screw in my printer….

The advantages of living with someone who doesn’t hold a 9-to-5 are pretty astonishing.  How the heck did we ever get anything accomplished on the home front for decades?  On the other hand, when I got home back then, the only mess to confront me was of my own making, rather than that of worker bees painting, installing….

Becoming the idiom

October 27, 2008

Although the expression certainly means something other than this, today’s weather makes the Maritimers’ “Fill your boots” understandable. It’s raining, it’s pouring….

However, “fill your boots” has little to do with puddles in the street. And it was the first expression I heard here with great frequency that took me a week or more to grok.

That was almost a year ago. As I was reading some documents last week for the 4th or 5th time, I realized that my own writing has adopted a slight accent; idiom that isn’t American has crept into a twist of phrase here and there. Nothing as flashy as fill your boots (which, after all, is slang) but rather the formal sue of “as well” at the head of a sentence instead of its rear: “As well the participants will blah blah and blah.”

It’s not intentional; in fact, I was surprised to see it. But it is. I am becoming, or at least my phraseology seems to be doing so.

There we went again

October 26, 2008

Like the cloud of dirt ever-encompassing the essence of Charles Schulz’s Pigpen, my traveling days–especially eastbound ones–now seem to come guaranteed to be bumpy.

My e-ticket clearly spelled out my flight as being on United, which, coincidentally, was the airline that had taken me to Chicago. I arrived at O’Hare, stepped as smartly up to the kiosk to check in as one can step at 6 am with less than four hours of sleep to one’s name, and went through the first steps of the read-and-touch process. Until I came to the screen that told me, rather personally, to pick up the phone and talk with an agent. The agent told me that the flight was actually on Air Canada and that I should hie myself there and check in with an agent rather than use the self-check. She could not, however, tell me which terminal holds Air Canada at O’Hare.

So I found a security guard, asked, and was sent quite determinedly to Terminal 4. And when I got there, I saw no Air Canada and another security guard told me, without promising positive results, that I “might try terminal 2.” Ah, sure, why not give ’em all a try–and maybe there’d be a map somewhere along the way…..

After that, things bumped along: the Air Canada agent told me that my ticket was fine as far as Toronto “and then you seem to go away.” Well, the idea was indeed to go away to Halifax, but her phrasing didn’t sound so promising. A bit more backing and forthing and new assurance that now I could get from Chicago to Halifax on this ticket, all in the time outlined on the original itinerary.

Until the first plane was loading and the agent was taking my boarding pass. “This has a note,” she announced ominously, while staring at her screen. “You must have paper.” Well, yeah, I had lots of paper with me but my thought was that YALSA notes weren’t the ticket, so to speak. She gave up easily, however. “Oh, I’ll just do it later,” she barked, shooing me on along so she could get through the restive crowd behind us.

Since I was already anticipating a bit of a bump in the border crossing, I rested up on flight one so I could present a pleasant, patient face. The Customs agent riffled through my passport for some time and asked me if I had started work on renewing my work permit. Yes. Did I have the papers proving that? Yes. I started to extract them from my briefcase. “Oh, I don’t want to see them!” she told me, sounding about as anxious as if I had threatened to withdraw a live frog from the bag. And then, she returned the passport to me, unstamped. Uh-oh. I am smart enough about that now to know to hang onto the boarding pass that got me onto the plane back in Chicago.

Boarding the plane for the last leg home went shockingly smoothly. In fact, I was beginning to think that I could simply kick back for the final two hours of travel. Until one flight attendant said to another: “I’m looking for a Gxxxsmith. She’s on my list.”

Surprise! The list, for whatever reason, turned out to be of passengers who were entitled to $7 of free junk food each. I tried to turn it down. they looked at me balefully. I came home with cashews and candy bars. But I did make it all the way home.

Limning literacy’s load

October 25, 2008

Yesterday I overheard a heartfelt, yet practiced, conversation between two people who wanted–with painful desperation–to privilege the book and bury the aesthetics of reading. It has become a late middle age dance among some (certainly far from all) librarians: kids who read screens are reading, books don’t matter in and of themselves, the mechanics of decoding is all.

I realiazed–again, oh once again–that my mind and my heart see the landscape at a different angle.  As a species, humans learn cumulatively across generations.  Our little toes may be evolving into nubbins since our tree-climbing days but we don’t really put away avenues of inquiry once we have developed them as thoroughfares.  We still count because our lives require measurement; we are eternally married to narrative because our lives require a rationalizing thread on which to balance emotion.

Reading is both measuring and narrating.

We don’t throw away aesthetics either.  The iPod carries, for most, music.  We paint, shape material, and caress luxury fabrics because our eyes and fingers also sing to the patterns and textures of visual design.  And what is reading at its most glorious but an aesthetic experience?  yes, information power is grand and all, but is it truly the core value of literacy?  Isn’t literacy in our mind, where the narrative, themes, symbols, and voice merge to create a luxury that has never been exactly this way before? Isn’t literacy the magic between the individual and the Other, the moment of clarity that an “out there” can be internalized without subsuming it?

Happily for the women I overheard, I kept my mouth pertly closed.  Or happily for me.  Our stories are not mergeable yet.

The farther you’re gone the homer you get?

October 23, 2008

The next three days or so, I’m in Chicago, put up in a hotel where my assigned space is marginally larger than the apartment I had on Inglis Street–not to mention the walk in closet with a full wall of window, the zebra-striped chair in the “living room” and the tiger striped robe in the closet (oh, bob, it is shades of that Cupertino hotel with the jungle theme gone crackers!).

My flight was smooth as were all the ancillary hurdles:  check-in, customs, even finding a cab immedaitely ready just for me.  I tumbled into the hotel and found that its door leads squarely onto the registration desk:  do not pass go, potted plant or couch.  In keeping with the smoothness of the trip so far, I was helped immedaitely, by a charming young woman who smiled, twinkled and was efficient simultaneously.  

I’d changed my watch while airborne but the time it showed didn’t feel right, and ther appears to be no timepiece in the lobby, so I asked her.  Her answer cme with her own casual question of from whence I’d jsut arrived.

“Halifax, Nova Scotia.”

“That’s where I’m from! I’ve been here for two years now and haven’t been home since.  What part of town do you stay in?”

Pretty quickly we established that she’d gone to school about three blocks from my house and had worked in a hotel where I nearly had Christmas dinner last year.

Night before travel

October 22, 2008

I’ve got meetings in Chicago the next couple days and have worked myself into a bit of a froth trying to cram five days of regular work into the past three days and my assorted meeting notes onto a flashdrive and my clothes into my computer bag. The weather is “cooperating” by blasting icy rain.

So it all comes down to needing to blast rock music quite loudly and mindlessly. I have to borrow bob’s cell phone for this trip because I neglected to garner special permission to transport my BlackBerry over the border. This provides mixed results: I won’t be able to see my work email for nearly four days; and Bob is thrilled to be cellphone-less for that much time. That boils down to my cloud has silver lining?

Making one’s vote count

October 21, 2008

About six or eight weeks ago, my newly-18-year-old son and I registered to vote as citizens living abroad, a category which, in the US, seems to be treated as absentee from the last district in which one voted stateside. That he had never voted before didn’t seem to wrinkle the process and he received a very local-to-Berkeley ballot in the Scottish mail a couple weeks ago. Mine arrived only yesterday and presents a bit of confusion: a cover letter states that as I am living abroad I am eligible to vote only in Federal elections and that therefore such a Federal-only ballot is included. But what is included is actually the Berkeley-specific ballot.

For his part, Bob went to the local municipal polls on Saturday and had to suss out the system as no one working there seemed inclined to provide instruction (e.g., pencil or pen? both appeared in the little booth). When he went back to place his ballots (one little piece of paper for each office in contention) in the ballot box, he was relieved of them by a poll worker and isn’t really sure they ever made it to the count.

Now, if nations other than these two (and a few others) presented such disconnects between steps of the voting opportunity, the term “voting irregularities” would spring to mind, no? And, indeed they are. We think our votes are counted (no one here’s voting in Florida, just for instance) and only as much as they “should” (Is it really kosher for me to help decide on bond measures in a place I neither live nor can be taxed?), but the lack of clarity is stark (just to coin a suitably confused phrase).