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It’s 2009, yet apparently, door-to-door salespeople still exist. How do I know? Because I just had an encounter with one.
I had only been home for about 15 minutes and was ravenously hungry – as was Banchi. Fed her first, then scooped her poop out of the kitty litter, then washed my hands and began preparing a simple dinner. Cranked up some music and washed my hands again, and just at that moment the doorbell rang. Blast! I turned down the music again, exited my apartment, flinging the door shut behind me, and clattered down the stairs.
A blond girl greeted me on the front step. She started rattling on about some promotional deal where she would take care of something for me, although what, I didn’t fully understand. Would I like to try it out right now?
“Too busy,” I said. “You’ll have to come back some other time.”
But she insisted that I had to take advantage of this great deal today because it was only valid, like, today! She flashed a flyer in my face and I quickly ascertained that it was spa service and massage that she was touting.
“This is a bad time,” I said. “I’m cooking. I’m very busy. Do you have a card?”
No, she insisted. This offer would only be valid today. The hard sell never dies. Up the stairs, behind the closed door, Banchi was meowing furiously, and I imaged my dinner burning. My French somewhat abandoned me. I turned back to the girl.
“It’s not a good time,” I reiterated. “I’m cooking, and… and my kitten is angry.”
That seemed to clinch it for her.
With a bemused expression on her face she said, “OK, Well, have a good night.”
This morning, I successfully excavated my car from the snow in about 35 minutes. I drove out of the spot practically on the first try. Boy did I ever feel good about that.
This is only my second winter in Montreal, and the first that I’ve had to drive a car. Winters take on a whole different meaning when you drive. How do you find a spot for your car on the street in the midst of a) parking restrictions everywhere on account of Montreal’s insanely efficient snowplough fleet and b) the physical obstacle of the snow itself?
Whilst removing the snow from my car, I noticed that somebody else had accidentally bumped into my neighbour’s Toyota Yaris and dislodged what passes for a fender. Hmm. An awkward social moment. I informed the driver of the car that the Yaris he’d just bashed up was my neighbour’s. I knew he felt bad. No question of hitting or running. Once the driver knew what number to buzz, he buzzed it, and Marie-Eve stepped out and received the bad news about the Yaris with a graven face.
Eight hours later, when I drove myself and three Montreal veterans from the NFB down to de Castelnau metro station. I wanted to park in the area because it’s right by my gym. Amazingly, I found a parking spot right away. It was the finest parking spot in all of Montreal. In snow this heavy, cars sit in their spaces as if in little pods. And this freshly-excavated pod was an elegant construction indeed – smooth walls on either side, ample clearance room – even a small path was dug through the snow to the pavement.
Upon the advice of the Montreal veterans, I took that spot. But I felt uneasy about it. Who “owned” this parking spot? Perhaps someone living in that elegant walk-up right there? No matter. I bid the Montreal veterans farewell and went on my merry way to shed some sweat at Kardiologik. I thought to myself, “I won’t be long, and then an actual resident of this street can have their parking spot back.”
In the gym, I thought more about the matter. I knew my own street would have parking restrictions on it for the entire night. Parking on rue Berri is seldom easy, and after a snowfall, it’s chacun pour soi, as they say. Why not just leave my car exactly where it was – the finest parking spot in all of Montreal?
I exited the gym. I crept up stealthily to my car, which was sitting majestically in its snow-throne. I noticed an old woman on the balcony of the walk-up apartment building above me. She was pacing up and down, looking at the very spot I had stolen! She even looked at me – and she seemed mighty suspicious, I swear. I walked on, trying to feign nonchalance. Moments later, I turned the corner and glanced back. The old woman was still looking at me!
I’m almost positive that I stole her spot. Or her husband’s spot. Yikes! But then I thought to myself, look, this is the game. I could have possibly driven around for half an hour or more looking for another space closer to home.
When I returned to my own street, I noticed that the very same parking space that I had cleared that very morning was taken by none other than my neighbour’s damaged Yaris.
In my defence, my hunch about parking on my own street was correct. Not a single parking spot remained at approximately seven o’clock this evening.
In 2009, life will resemble an action-adventure movie more than ever. There will be lots of death, calamity, and major obstacles to overcome. If we – humanity – are the protagonists of this narrative, then we are really going to have search deep within ourselves to find a way out of our current predicament. The future will be many things, but it will not be boring!
The future does not belong to suburbia, or to any economy beholden to fossil fuels. Since that describes almost all of North America, I think we’re in for some very challenging times! The neighbourhood from which I write this – Blue Quill, Edmonton, Alberta – is imperilled. Soon, the way people live in such neighbourhoods will seem like a museum curiosity. Each family with two cars, a front and back yard, and big screen TVs?
Edmonton, like many places, is nevertheless putting on a brave face for the future. Construction workers scramble to extend the subway line down to the southern flank of the city. Will public transit supplant the massive reliance on the private automobile? Twice this week, I took a bus from Century Park to Southgate Mall, and was shocked to find myself one of only TWO people on board. This, surely, is not cost effective. Looking out of the window, I saw not a single pedestrian on the pavement.
But this is becoming a tiresome refrain and I expect 2009 to be anything but tiresome. 2009 is going to be brilliant, enthused with passion, and hours of hard but productive work.
The biggest struggle of all will be the age-old struggle of our race: the struggle for survival. Anyone not part of this vast struggle in 2009 is in hibernation! The struggle is for a new way of life: a friendlier, smaller, cheaper, more modest way of life. Will people of my generation be poorer than our parents? Let us hope so! The earth depends on it.
How much of the earth’s resources are each man, woman and child entitled to? Somehow, in our search for a new way of life, we must find an answer to that question. And it can’t just suit us prosperous and pampered westerners; it must accommodate every one of the seven billion people on this teeming but fragile planet.
One thing is for sure: the rich will always feel entitled to have more of everything than anyone else. Unless our civilization summons the courage to confront the rich and their disproportionate consumption of everything, we will almost surely find our way of life coming to a lurching halt faster than we ever imagined.
In 2009, it’s time to rise up against CEOs of companies like Exxon and Shell, who think salaries of $460 million are fair and just. It’s time for the bankers who suck at the taxpayers’ teat to get out of their air-conditioned boardrooms and do something useful for a change. It’s time to lock away war criminals like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, because a real democracy lets no person get away with murder and torture. In 2009, it’s time to tax pollution and reward energy efficiency. In 2009, it’s time to do work that improves the human spirit and the fortunes of our planet. In 2009, it’s time to melt down all the Hummers and the SUVs of the world and turn them into beautiful and bizarre sculptures.
I begin this year with more optimism and appetite for what is to come than ever before. I want to work harder than ever before, love deeper than ever before, create more than ever before, live more meaningfully than ever before, and find myself a year from now saying, “2009 – that was one hell of a year!”
After a self-pitying post like yesterday’s, I think it behooves me to report on things a little more upbeat. Today I announced to my girlfiend that I would be walking from my apartment to Old Montreal, a walk that I estimated would take two hours. She reminded me that I should buy some maple syrup-filled chocolate from the maple syrup store while there.
I think there’s nothing better than making a two-hour trek with no goal besides buying $3 worth of chocolate. Although, for the record, the walk actually took only an hour and a half. And once at the store, I actually spent more than $3, because I treated myself to a hot chocolate. Something to sip while walking in the last of today’s sunshine!
At home, sitting at the computer, I am reminded that kittens have quite different priorities from us members of the so-called dominant species. Often, my kitten, now named Banchi, will flagrantly walk across my computer keyboard, sometimes going so far as shutting it down completely. Other times, she likes to walk across the printer, and given that the buttons are all on top, she is liable to set off the scanner or the mechanism that, to test all systems are working, spits out sheets of blank paper. These noisy emissions startle little Banchi. She stops and stares at the printer, sniffing suspiciously — keeping a tentative distance. Maybe she is worried that one day the printer will attack her.
Needless to say, kittens such as Banchi care about only five things. Playing, eating, excreting, sleeping, and cuddling. If only we could all make our lists of priorities as elegantly simple.
After three years of working on a novel, and about one year of effort of trying to get it published, I am still no nearer to my elusive goal. Thus far I’ve put in about $1000 of my own money and about 2000 hours of time on this project. I am not qualified to write a “how-to” on this elusive subject. Nevertheless, am I qualified to write about the struggles? Perhaps.
A few weeks ago, I reported with breathless excitement about how I had finally found an agent. Well, I have now almost definitely lost this agent, because she quit her LA-based agency. This is a setback. I’ve now sent the manuscript to another LA agent in the hopes that things will turn out better. But in this game, you always have to expect that it won’t turn out better.
You really have to not only love writing, but be pathologically driven to do it, to keep taking these setbacks. When you send a short story to a magazine, the chances of getting it accepted are about as close to zero as mathematically possible. When the rejection is emailed to you, it will be generic. It will not mention the story, nor discuss its strengths or weaknesses. There is therefore no way of gauging your publishability through exposure to the publishing industry. You have to rely on friends — and thank God I’ve got some pretty astute ones — and sheer self-belief, in order to feel that your efforts aren’t totally wasted.
Of course, some would argue that getting published should only be a secondary benefit of writing. If you love it, isn’t that enough? Well, to me, writing is rather like making an argument, and like any born debater, I want to win. I write in a way that I believe is true, and I write because I want my own interests to be taken up by as many readers as possible. I write about things that I think deserve attention; things that warrant a closer look than, say, Britney Spears’ new video. I write because I want people to pay attention to love, life, death, happiness, tragedy, instead of paying attention to Britney Spears. So while the audience is never in mind when I sit down and write, it is always in my mind after I have created a piece of work that I feel is worthwhile. And I don’t feel that’s a shallow goal at all.
Art is subject to whims, fashions, and matters of taste. It is not as concrete as a bridge, and so an artist cannot argue for his right to a living with the same immediacy as an engineer. But still, I firmly believe that we are shells of beings if we live without art. It seems pretty clear to me that humankind has instinctively chosen art since the inception of our existence. We painted on caves earlier than we invented the wheel.
But I love to read, too, and there is one of the biggest consolations of life. Ever since I started to seriously read magazines — The Believer, Harper’s, The New Yorker — I have come to see that North America has no shortage of talent in the field of short fiction. I’ve read stories that have accompanied me on lonely nights, that have thrilled me with their ingenuity, that have amazed me with their powers of perception.
Coming to the end of a great story, I think, “There is someone who understands life. He/She has lived it, observed it, and survived to tell the tale.”
The experience of living fiction humanizes us. Sometimes it can help make life a little more bearable, to remind you that you are not alone. But above all, it simply gives us more of life. Because I read, I have tasted more of life than I would were I to refrain from reading at all.
One day in the future, I might want to remember what it feels like to be turning thirty-three. If the Internet still exists and my blog hasn’t been wiped out by then – by me or a virus – this little post will remind me!
Let’s start with the negatives of turning thirty three. Well, unless you’ve heard otherwise, I am not yet rich and famous – and at this time of life, the amount of time remaining to reverse this state of affairs starts to wane. Oh sure, there’s still time. But it’s safe to say that, practically speaking, I’m a little too late for starting a rock band. Or becoming a hockey star. Some windows have already closed.
Also, I have more aches and pains. I’ll concede that I’m still more or less in the prime of my health, but I’ve already had two root canals and countless fillings; plus if I’m not careful, sometimes my back will seize up and incapacitate me. I’ve had to observe a careful stretching regimen that a fancy Edmonton physiotherapist laid down for me about 18 months ago. Not to mention that colds afflict me about six times more often than they did when I was in my early twenties. Sometimes I blame this on having become a vegetarian. I dream of gorging myself on steak and sausages and bursting with manly, wholesome health once more. But I think of cruelty to animals… I also think of factory farming: all the hormones injected into animals, as well as countless antibiotics to ward off the diseases that would normally kill livestock kept in such close quarters. And listeriosis… Eventually I conclude that eating meat may not be so healthy after all.
More worrisomely, turning thirty three makes me wonder if certain character traits might be here to stay. Such as cynicism, bitterness, resentment, self doubt, and anger. Those aforementioned qualities might intensify – it would just take a few more crushing disappointments and misfortunes. Or perhaps they’ll dissipate. But it does seem clear that no matter what my fortunes are, I’ll have to wrestle with keeping all those traits at bay for the rest of my life.
There are, of course, some very good things about turning thirty three. Let’s see now… I am a safer and more skilful motorist. With confidence and ease, I can perform parallel parking without breaking sweat. I do not even lose my nerve if someone is waiting impatiently behind me.
What else? Having accumulated a few more life experiences than my ten or twenty-year juniors, I have an easier time gauging certain life situations. Say, for example, I see a job posting online that seems too good to be true. I know now, with the wisdom of previous disappointments, that it certainly is too good to be true. Or let’s say I meet someone who is an asshole to me. I can more easily make a character indictment and plan how to reduce the asshole’s potential threat to me, rather than wonder – as I might have done in my greener days – whether it’s me who is at fault.
Because I am rarely at fault! I’m thirty-three, goddam it. I know some shit!
I also have the solace of knowing that most of the crap that life throws my way, I’ll get through it. I won’t buckle or break. I might get a wobbly lip for a moment or two, I might lose my cool for a few minutes, I might take an hour to get to sleep instead of five minutes, but I know that the sun will still rise in the morning and that after an invigorating shower, I’ll be ready to eat another mouthful of dust – or honey – or whatever flavour the new day is serving up.
I suppose, then, that the saving grace of turning thirty-three is resilience. Perhaps for others it has been something different, but for me, that’s what I’m most grateful for.
…And I still haven’t sold out.
And I continue to hate the neo-conservative agenda more than ever!
And I refuse to relinquish my dreams!
And I love, and am loved!
And every day brings at least one moment of pleasure! Even if it’s just a cup of coffee! Or a chuckle at the antics of a kitten!
And I predicted months ago on this blog that Obama would be the next president of the United States of America, and it looks like I might be right!
And I maintain that Stephen Harper has all the charisma of a gutted fish!
And riding a bicycle is rejuvenating!
And nobody can tell me not to overuse exclamation marks on my own blog!
It’s my birthday, goddamit, and I’ll use as many exclamation marks as I like!
Waiting until your best buddy is in town is a good idea. Then plug in the Beer Fridge — a fridge that waits patiently for weeks and weeks for an event such as this, and lives only for the thrill of being inhabited by alchoholic beverages. Prepare some food — something to warm the crowd on a cold autumn night. Chili is a good idea. Welcome each guest with a hug, and in the case of your wonderful girlfriend, a long kiss on the lips.
Press play on the CD player. Crack a joke. Laugh, mingle, get drunk, pass out at 3:30 in the morning! Success!
In other events in the last few days, I indulged fully in Pop Montreal — with help from Matt and Monika. Saw The Dears and The World Provider on Thursday night. The former was sabotaged by poor sound, the latter — which was only the opening act — saved the night. Their merry antics made me laugh harder than almost any comedy show on TV. I highly recommend The World Provider for music lovers who are tired of the apathetic sulk feigned by most hipster bands.
Saturday night, despite the lingering effects of my hangover (I had five bowel movements in one day — FIVE!) Matt and I went to see a gig at Sala Rosa. I forget the name of the first band. But they were good. Then the next two bands were downright brilliant! AU was a two-piece driven by mad drumming and complex keyboard melodies. The Dodos were equally strong percussively — maybe even more so — and can boast one of the best guitarists in indie rock today. Having either one of The Dodos or AU on a setlist would be quite the coup, but having both… Well, nothing short of an amazing evening.
Last night I slept for twelve hours straight, recovering from it all. Now it’s back to the grindstone and wondering why holidays can’t last forever. At the very least, the weather is ensuring my spirits can’t sink too low. It’s a sunny, mild day, and the leaves are brilliantly illuminated. Will be nice to go down to Little Burgundy for my final interview of the article I’m doing, as well as fire off a few photos to go along with it.
I think autumn is my favourite season of all. When it’s beautiful here, it’s really really beautiful, and nothing makes me feel more alive than the smell of decay.
On Sunday, I drove to Longueil to pick up a former classmate, JF, then travelled onwards to Rougement, Quebec — a mecca for apples. His extended family there, Maurice and Lorraine, awaited us, a Quebec flag flying proudly in the yard. They own an orchard that extends a good hundred metres before giving way to a field of maize. We picked apples, primarily Cortlands, which will later be sold in Montreal. The not-so-pretty apples are sold to restaurants that turn them into apple pies. The pretty ones, “les belles,” are sold to be eaten as is.
After a break at noon for some asparagus soup, we returned to the orchard, and a local family joined our team. The children did more eating than picking, and also tormented the dog, Jeudi, but nevertheless, by about half past three, the full extent of Maurice’s ambitions for that day had been accomplished. JF and I filled up a basket each to take home — mine was a mix of Cortlands, Redcourts, and Spartans — then we returned to Montreal.
Now I have a large quantity of delicious apples and only a limited amount of time to eat them before they go bad. Any suggestions of recipes that will make use of my excess apples are greatly appreciated.
Meanwhile, work continues apace on an article I’m writing about Littly Burgundy, a neighbourhood tucked away down the hill from downtown. Yesterday, I interviewed a proprietor of a local business — the Burgundy Lion, a high-end pub — as well as a communications officer from Atwater Market. As the article concept starts to take form, it looks as though food will play a prominent part. The resurgence of this neighbourhood has been fuelled largely by the renaissance of the market and the establishment of local restaurants that draw in numerous local residents, as well as Montrealers from further afield.
My interviewee at Atwater said something that stuck with me. She said markets are like “the new churches.” They are centrepieces of neighbourhoods; the life of the community revolves around them. Proximity to a major market is a big advantage for people selling condos or renting out apartments. I know, speaking personally, that my own short walk to Jean Talon Market has greatly improved the quality of my life.
One thing I won’t need to buy at the market any time soon?
How happy are you allowed to be after a death in the family? Sure, I wasn’t related to Mina the cat, but it nevertheless felt like the loss of a presence very close to me. The other night, after too many beers, I became very disconsolate indeed, and boo-hooed by my lonely self, and wished she were alive again, so that we could hang out while I attempt to embark on a freelance career. We would keep each other company during these long days at home.
As much as being blue is difficult, it does also feel necessary. To simply be full of laughter and optimism in the wake of what happened… well, it feels wrong sometimes. It seems to dishonour her.
But today, there’s no doubt, I’m full of gladness again. Monika and I wandered out this morning in search of croissants. At the nearby patisserie — which has never let us down — we found exactly what we wanted, moreover, the delightful old woman behind the counter gave us two free slices of raspberry cake. Later in the day, we walked to Parc Jarry and then the Jean Talon Market, and everybody was enjoying the gentle Autumn warmth, and good spirits presided everywhere. We passed by Rona on the way home, and the small gentleman who knows everything about everything handy gave us great advice and mixed up the paint with aplomb and cheeriness. Then we stopped by a depanneur, and the proprietor looked at the pail of paint in Monika’s hands and said, “Oh no, that’s trouble. That’s dangerous.” And I said, “Why is it dangerous?” He replied, “That’s work,” and laughed merrily. I said, “Oh, it’s her that’s doing the work. Me, I’m going to drink beer.” Thereupon I bought myself a six-pack of Griffon Extra Blonde. The proprietor seemed highly amused. Of course, I hadn’t explained that I’m not actually sitting around watching Monika painting the place and drinking beer. Monika’s painting her own place while I’m back at my own place, drinking the beer. Misleading wisecracks aside, what a wonderful neighbourhood stroll.
When we returned from Ontario, Mina – my little SPCA kitten – was sick. She was vomiting, lethargic, not herself. We took her to the vet. Two days later, she was diagnosed with panleukopenia . This virus is one of the worst things a kitten can get. It does horrible things to the intestines, makes the cat throw up constantly and gives it diarrhea. There is no direct cure. Mina had to be hooked up to an IV and force fed, day after day. This ordeal lasted almost a week. Monika would go visit Mina during the day, then we’d both go visit after my work was done in the evening. Mina recognized us both and responded well to our company. She would crawl up my T-shirt and onto my shoulder and sit there purring.
On Friday, it seemed that Mina was well enough to come home. We didn’t want to leave her at the vet’s anyway – they wouldn’t permit us to visit during Sunday and Monday of the long weekend. So we liberated her from the cage for the final time; Monika watched the little black ball of fur crawl awkwardly around the pavement outside for a while. Under the afternoon sun, Mina became quite a little celebrity – people stopping to pet her, one girl even taking a photo.
We took Mina home and adminstered drug after drug, forced water and food down her mouth with a syringe. She started fighting these doses harder and harder. I thought maybe it was a good sign. The cat with the fight in it is a strong cat. A survivor.
But on Saturday, Mina started behaving very strangely. She was yewling in as if in horrible agony. She lost her motor control and staggered around. She would take a few steps and then fall over. Then try again. She started twitching on my living room floor. Finally, she died.
We have good reason to believe that the virus had spread to her brain. At that point, the situation is beyond hope. And indeed, for both of us, the feeling afterwards was one of utter hopelessness. I’ve never been affected by a pet so much. She was such a bright and affectionate little cat. I miss her so much.
I had been increasingly gloomy even before Mina succumbed to illness – disatisfied with having to be in an office nine hours a day, unhappy with my writing going nowhere. So on Tuesday, I went into my company headquarters and announced my resignation.
To my surprise, the company took it all very well, and suggested that I work on a freelance basis for them. I have accepted this offer. I couldn’t be happier. It will mean working mostly from home, and it will free up a lot of time for other opportunities. Meanwhile, there is apparent new progress on the fiction front. I hope to have more news to report on that later this week.
It’s a blistering hot day in Montreal, and I have renewed faith that this is still the best place for me to be. Despite my first genuine misfortune here, things might be turning around.