A Small Truck

I told the kids today that the oldest object I own has been around for 64 years.  It’s a small blue truck, a Dinky Toy.  As a five-year-old, I loved going to grandma and grandpa’s farm near Lindsay, Ontario.  So different from the speed of Toronto.  Every summer, we’d spend two weeks there.  I’d hang out with the cows and walk the fields with dad and Uncle Orville.  In the evenings, I played with my Dinky Toys under the big shade tree in the front yard.

One time, mom called me in after sunset.  “Time for bed, Bruce.”  >  “See you in the morning, cars and trucks.”

I rushed outside before breakfast and saw that my blue truck was … white.  “Someone’s painted my truck!” I screamed, in the general vicinity of the parent types.  I remember being furious.  It was my truck.

A year or two later, mom explained what had happened.  “A bird went to the bathroom on your truck.”  Huh?  No way.

Yes way.

I asked the kids to look back on their lives.  Did something happen at age five or so that was totally weird?  And you made up a story about it that turned out to be way off the mark?

We had a very cool discussion, ranging through the fears of children – snakes in the toilet, the dreaded disease TV (really TB), shadows on bedroom walls, the boogeyman lurking outside the door.

My favourite came from “Tessa”, who had been watching a TV program at a young age.  Somebody was hurting someone else, and the girl knew this had to stop.  She called 911.  She already knew her address.  The police arrived.  Parents sighed.  And then all was well again.  Who knew that television could be so real?

We ran out of time for me to ask this question, but I wonder:

Is there some idea in an 11-year-old mind today
that the passing of years will show to be ridiculous?
Or maybe in a 69-year-old mind?

I wouldn’t be surprised

Day Nine: Immense Space

I’m sitting in the library of Ohio State University in Columbus. It’s been raining for approximately 112 hours and I’m expecting to see Noah’s ark float by anytime now.

Ahh … the library. Any port in a storm.

Beyond the front door, I looked up. Five levels said hi. It felt like 500 human beings were studying, hanging out, or just generally revelling in their own existence. I asked myself what I wanted:

Glass
Long views
Space

Alrighty then. I followed my eyes up some stairs and a wall of windows called me to the left. I entered a large oval reading room. Comfy red chairs were near the glass and I saw one with my name on it. Below me spread paths of multi-coloured umbrellas, flowing towards their destinations. I sat for several minutes, smiling.

I wondered about the lives passing left to right, right to left, coming towards, venturing away. Were those lives as rich as mine? Of course. Were they sprinkled with joys and sorrows, gains and losses, pleasures and pains? Yes. Just like me.

After a mandatory bathroom break, I returned to the oval, this time plunking myself down in a brown leather chair, about ten metres back from the red ones. And the world above opened. The umbrellas were gone somewhere below. The treetops and sky welcomed me. I rested in space.

***

Now it’s later.

The heavens continue to descend in a remarkably liquid way. I’m amazed that despite the availability of Google Maps, I still get lost around here. This creates a marvelous opportunity: “Excuse me, do you know where ______ is?” Invariably a smile comes back, along with a suggested route. What I love is the moment of contact, some sort of recognition of a kindred soul. Maybe when I get home, I’ll continue to ask neighbours where such-and-such a place is, but they might look at me funny.

I don’t want to write any more. I’m sure you know the feeling, whether it’s writing, talking or thinking.

See you tomorrow … on the road to home.

Day Six: Beeing

Yesterday Derek and I woke up to a simple fact: the orientation was over. The beloveds were either back at home or on trains and boats and planes. I lay in bed and missed them. The “space” we created together, or fell into together, was so immense. What kind people they were. I carry them with me and hope that our bodies mingle again.

Although my life has been punctuated with periods of loneliness, this is not one of them. I listened to a forgotten song today that had a glorious line: “My friends are my family.” Yes. Even when we in the Evolutionary Collective are physically apart, we touch.

***

Derek’s flight was to leave Asheville at 5:00 pm, so we had time to roam downtown. Funky shops, restaurants and people, including those who frequent a very sweet location on the planet:

The Bee Charmer is a fantastic little store. They always have a wide variety of honeys and products made with honey. Think soaps, lotions, beard balms, shampoos, etc. My favorite part is the sampling bar where you can try whichever ones they have in stock.

Indeed. We walked in and were greeted by the owner. “The Future is Female” declared her t-shirt, which was adorned with a queen bee. “What should we men do?” I asked. “Follow,” she smiled. We laughed.

So, what are your honeyed needs? How about a “Let It Bee” ball cap? Or, if you prefer, a jar of sourwood honey. Also consider:

The Naked Bee Hand and Body Lotion
A Monk in the Beehive
(a book)
Flowering Pillar beeswax candles
Honeybee dinner plates
(winged insects under your food)
Lick Me All Over perfume stick
(raspberry, cantaloupe and watermelon)

Now, all of these products are very nice but the joy was the people. I goofed around with three female employees. Although we said numerous silly things to each other, it’s about thirty hours later now, and all I remember is the smiles. And that’s not such a bad thing.

I do recollect the education I received from the woman at the honey sample bar. I didn’t know what an “infusion” was, and I was surprised to see twenty flavours presented to my eager lips. Yum. The woman glowed more brilliantly than her honeys.

Who knew that such treasures resided within the walls of 38 Battery Park Avenue? You could show up there sometime, and reflect on the narrator’s words from “The Bee Movie”:

According to all known laws of aviation
There is no way a bee should be able to fly
Its wings are too small to get its fat little body off the ground
The bee, of course, flies anyway
Because bees don’t care what humans think is impossible

North Sea Gas

Three gentlemen from Edinburgh, Scotland – one in his thirties and the other two probably in their sixties – strode onto the stage.  After a few songs, the young guy said “If you like our music, ask us back … [glances at his companions] … but don’t wait too long!”  And such is the spirit of North Sea Gas.

Guitar, fiddle, banjo, brilliant vocal harmonies, and outrageous humour – what a recipe for audience fun.  There was just no way these fellows were going to let us have a ho hum evening.

Mr. Banjo introduced a song written by a great Scottish poet named Tannahill.  “Unfortunately he was overshadowed by the brilliance of Robert Burns.”  To which Mr. Guitar sighed “I know a thing or two about that.”  Right on cue, Mark, the lighting and sound guy, dimmed the lights.  We laughed and laughed.

Then there was the tender ballad I Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore.  “Now when the wife and I dance, we look away from each other … sort of cheek to cheek.”  Or how about the song about a fellow whom the women cuddled when he was a baby, but not so much anymore.  No more rubbing the chest or rolling in the clover.  Ahh, the elusive male self-esteem.

“How many of you have been to Scotland?”  >  About four hands go up  >  “And why exactly did you come back?”

“Now we’re going to sing … [Mr. Banjo starts choking up]
“Now we’re going to sing … [more wringing of the hands] an English song”
[Mr. Fiddle hurries off stage in a huff.  We cajole him back]

North Sea Gas are on a six-week tour of North America.  After a few days back home, they head off for a month in Germany.  They are marvelous instrumentalists and the blending of their voices is otherworldly but the deepest joy comes from their fun.  They’re not politicians, spiritual leaders or musical superstars … but they are teachers.  Their simple message?

Lighten up, folks

Blown Away

I was at my bike shop yesterday afternoon when the sky started shaking.  Out the window was my dear car Scarlet, hidden behind a smash of rain.  And the wind!

As Sygnan continued to work on on my bicycle, I glanced outside once in awhile to watch the wind whip.  Wow.  “Wonder what it’s like at home.”

Hours later, homeward I went.  Walking into my living room, I thought about my new tent, Ben.  I’d set it up in my backyard a couple of days ago.  Who knows, maybe it had collapsed.  As I moved farther into the room, I kept expecting to see a flap of blue nylon. Nope.  With my nose to the window, all I saw was grass, plus a few lonely tent pegs.

“It’s gone!”

Looking across the field behind, there was lots of brown and green but no blue.  Oh my.

Judging from the wind direction, I figured my accommodation had blown past two separate condo homes.  So I knocked on door number one.  Maddy smiled and said that, yes, she had seen a whirl of blueness roll by, but she hadn’t seen where it had ended up.

Mary Lee answered door number two.  Apparently Ben had lingered in her backyard and she was going to pick it up but then the rains came.  When the sky was finished dumping, my tent had exited stage left.

Roaming through the tall grass at the edge of the condo development, I knew there was a creek ahead, about three feet across, backed by a few trees.  So Ben wouldn’t have ended up in the next county.

Down the slope … and there was my tent, sitting proudly at the peak but submerged in water at the floor.  Yuck!

I tried to reach for a nylon loop on the fly, but I couldn’t grab hold.  So I walked around to a bridge and the other shore … same deal.  Only later did I figure out that since the floor was full of water, I couldn’t have lifted it anyway.

Panicking some, I decided to knock on a neighbour’s door. Incomplete in my brain, I sought a long pole with a hook on the end, for that loop.  Dear Borot tried to create something with packing tape.

“Boots!  That’s what I need.”  Wade into the creek, dismantle Ben, and haul the innards up the slope.  John didn’t have any but Dan across the street did.  Orthotics transferred and walking gracefully down the street, I picked up a long window washing pole, which I intended to use as a gauge of water depth.

Back to Borot and Petra’s place, looking like a shepherd from the Bible, although they probably didn’t wear gumboots.  I started singing “Climb Every Mountain”, which got a laugh out of P and B.  They decided to accompany me to the site of the crime and take pics.

I knocked on Francine’s door, since I would be rooting around in her backyard while descending to the creek.  Her friend Glenn answered the door.  They had already noticed Ben from the comfort of the balcony.  Glenn just happens to be the fellow who built my lovely condo.

Shepherd-like, I negotiated the falling grass.  Then down into the water.  As I strode resolutely ahead, little wavelets lapped at the top edge of my right boot, then overflowed.  Still, the water was only two feet deep.  Ben was tired and cold when I got to it.  I talked gently and started detaching poles and clips.  One connection wouldn’t budge and I was getting plenty frustrated, not to mention wet in the feet.  Finally Glenn scrambled down the slope and together we hauled the heaving mass ashore, dumping water out of it as we went.

Borot, Petra and I hauled various tent parts back to my place, where we just plopped the sorry wetness in a lump on the garage floor.  We laughed quite a bit.  Just think, I’m the only known human being to pick a creek for a campsite.

This morning I set Ben up and the continuing winds dried him out.  This time, I put a brick on the floor, just in case.

 

Diarrhea

I went to bed on Monday evening worried about my heart.  I woke up at 3:00 am worried about my nether regions.  You know the story: a drowsy awareness of something unusual becomes an ever building pressure down below, and then the race to the toilet.  I’m so happy I have one!

Not much sleep thereafter but five more visits to my very green bathroom.  Four doses of Imodium didn’t seem to do anything and I started wondering if I should cancel my 7:15 am echo cardiogram in London.  I sure didn’t want to be going with the flow on the highway.

I’m not a careful person.  I’m usually spontaneous and don’t think much about the consequences of blurting out whatever comes into my brain.  But yesterday morning was different.  As I pulled on my coat, I decided to accessorize.  Imodium in the right pocket … and underwear in the left.

I was biting my lip on the way in and I do believe tensing my glutes a mite.  No problems.  I walked into the clinic and told the receptionist about my condition, strategically avoiding the topic of pocket briefs.  She smiled empathetically.  Minutes later, however, out came a nurse to say that my diarrhea could mark the onset of flu and she didn’t want me to infect other patients.  So we needed to reschedule.

Yes, I was disappointed but far bigger than that was a peace about it all.  How strange and lovely.  I smiled, said “Okay” and headed off for breakfast.  Could it be that the setbacks of my day don’t touch me much anymore?  Unless they’re absolutely huge, I guess.  That would be marvelous.

And now back to my heart.  After the tests are completed, I fully expect to be given a clean bill of health and a wish that I enjoy the Tour du Canada.  It seems so logical now that my exhaustion on the elliptical was about loose stools rather than a lousy organ.  I smile again.

On we go.

Nipples

I was lounging on a Cuban beach two years ago, talking to a couple I had met the day before.  The fellow looked at my chest and said “So, you’re really glad to see me.”  Huh?  Then I looked down at my nipples and saw that they were sticking out some.  But they’ve always looked that way.  And then I forgot the whole thing.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when the weather got warmer and I started wearing t-shirts again.  I looked in the mirror and there were my nipples, showing some under the T.  And in this version of Bruce, it wasn’t okay.  Here’s this nice little Buddhist guy, very familiar with letting things be as they are, starting to obsess about natural bumps on his chest.  Whatever happened to nipple peace?

This skewedness continued on its merry way until yesterday.  “Go down, you stupid little things.”  And that was pretty irrational, since my nips always seem to look the same.  Conveniently ignoring that relevant fact, I went to my laptop and Googled “normal male nipple”.  I then discovered that there isn’t any such thing.  We guys come in all sorts of configurations!

Undeterred by such variance in the male chest, I sallied forth into several Internet articles.  One plastic surgeon described “the perfect male nipple”, with the areola being such-and-such a diameter, and a nipple height of 3-4 mm.  Being alone in the house, I whipped off my shirt, went to a kitchen drawer, pulled out a ruler and proceeded to do the measurement.  6 mm.  “See?  I’m abnormal!”

Oh, Bruce.  Get a grip.  Just accept that you’re an absolutely perfect male specimen, except for nipple height.  Actually, aren’t we all perfectly ourselves, even as we regress from the mean of human features?  I think we are.

There’s the Six Million Dollar Man, and now we have the Six Millimeter Man.  Both absolutely fine examples of the male species.

I woke up this morning, put on my “Shine A Light Upon My Day” t-shirt, laughed at my nippled self, and sauntered over to the Belmont Town Restaurant for brunch.  Nobody stared.  They pretty much didn’t notice me.

Get my point?

 

Thumbs Up

I walked into the Belmont Pharmacy today, supposedly for no useful purpose.  Actually I figure saying hi is quite useful.

Suzanne greeted me and we blabbed a bit.  About what I can’t remember.  But I got really excited about something.  In a fit of verticality, I threw my arms into the air.  Unbenounced to me  (Wow.  I don’t know how to spell that word.  Excuse me for a minute while I take a SpellCheck break.)  … …  Now, where was I?  Oh yeah …  Ouch.  Apparently the word doesn’t exist.  All I got back was “undenounced”.  I’m pretty sure that’s not the same.  Okay, let’s try Google  … …  Ah hah!  Unbenownst  →  “without the knowledge of”.

I realize that was a lot of further ado, so let’s cut to the chase.  My right thumb smashed into a plastic sign hanging from the ceiling.   My soul yelped and my thumb gushed red.  Darn blood thinners.  They’ll get you every time.  Quick like a bunny, Suzanne passed me a paper towel.  I love it that Bounty is the quicker picker-upper but I guess I needed three-ply.

Suzanne didn’t have any Bandaids except for those nestled in boxes for sale.  I didn’t want her to break open a package so I headed to the Diner, grasping said digit.  Chrystal saw my scarlet plight and got me a couple of Elastoplasts (I’m an equal opportunity adhesive bandage guy).  Being a righthanded dude, I couldn’t get the paper off so I approached a table of local women and Sue did the deed.  Off to the washroom and soon I was well covered.  I decided not to go with the flow.

That’s enough dramatics, Bruce.  We’re not exactly talking heart surgery here.

Much of the rest of my day was humbling.  I was a whiz at peeing but how does a thumb deprived human get his pants done up again?  Then I was trying on winter boots at Mountain Equipment Co-Op.  I couldn’t shove my insoles down deep but Janique came to the rescue.  She just about had to do up my laces but I managed a loose approximation of the task.

You know, the thumb is an awfully valuable tool out there in the world, not that I was aware of the fact before today.  I was fumbling, again and again.

Somewhere along the way, in a quiet moment of digital repose, a thought crossed my frontal lobe:

What did you learn today, Bruce?
Do you avoid all exultations in the spirit of painfree thumb wholeness?
Or do you throw yourself into the air whenever a deeper spirit moves you?

I vote for the jump-up

Matilda

On Wednesday, I came to Toronto to see Matilda: The Musical.  Weeks earlier, when I started volunteering in the Grade 6 class at South Dorchester School near Belmont, Tiffany asked me to read a chapter from the novel the kids were studying – Matilda.  Never heard of it.  But I like reading aloud, so off I went into the world of a five-year-old child, her lovely teacher Miss Honey, her wretched parents the Wormwoods (who didn’t give a whit about her), and the ominous Miss Trunchbull, a thoroughly evil principal.

I really got into the various voices.  One day, when the Trunchbull told a kid to “Shut up!”, I really yelled it.  Oops.  Not a few children leaned back in their chairs.

I went to Toronto a few weeks ago, was walking along Bloor St., and glanced up at a banner hanging from a lamppost.  “Matilda: The Musical” it announced.  Minutes later, with the wonders of technology, I had myself a ticket.

The kids at South Dorchester knew I was taking in the drama, the singing and the dancing this week.  Tiffany asked me to send a photo once I had arrived at the theatre.  “Sure,” I replied, not totally sure how to do that on my phone.  But Tiffany coached me and I left town with marginal confidence.

The performance was to start at 1:30.  I arrived around 1:00 and snapped a pic of folks lined up under the marquee.  Eager faces.  As I stood there I realized that the Ed Mirvish Theatre was formerly called the Pantages, where many years ago Jody surprised me with tickets to Phantom of the Opera.  My dear wife.  I remember the grand staircase (similar to the Titanic’s) and being ushered down, down until we were seated only six rows from the stage.

I took two more photos before the show, both in the spectacular lobby.  One was a selfie, showing a beaming face with a “Matilda” sign in the wee background.  Now for some words and my text would float over the miles to the Grade 6’s.

Hi Tiffany and all you kids,

Would you believe that Miss Trunchbull roared up to me in the lobby and screamed “You filthy little maggot!”?  Gosh, and she hardly knows me.

Have fun,

Mr. Kerr/Bruce

Tiffany texted back, saying that the kids had questions about the Trunchbull and that they liked the photos.  Cool.

The musical got going and we saw Mr. Wormwood as an immoral used car salesman, skilled in turning back odometers, and the Missus as a TV addict who lusted for her Spanish dance instructor.  Baaad people.  And dear Matilda was just a book-loving “thing” who wouldn’t go along with proper TV gazing values.

Then there was school.  Miss Honey was a lovely human being with a glorious voice.  Miss Trunchbull was almost as wide as she was tall and spewed venom wherever she went.  (It turns out the actor was male!  Didn’t matter.  He did a great job of bringing forth mean.)

One of the best scenes saw the Trunchbull grab a girl by the pigtails and swing her horizontal, just like in the book.  Actor-wise, it looked like the young one was wearing a neck brace that the old one could grab onto.

Matilda wowed the class with impossible math skills.  MIss Trunchbull led a gymnastics class with yells punctuating the jumps and rolls.  At one point, a small trampoline sat beside a padded “horse”.  The weighty principal lined herself up, lurched towards the trampoline, bounced high, flipped in the air and landed with grace on the padded surface.  Awesome!

Matilda started tipping over water glasses with her mind.  Then she caused writing to appear on the blackboard, words that suggested Miss Trunchbull had killed her brother (and Miss Honey’s father) in order to get his money.  Matilda shone onstage, especially during tender scenes with Miss Honey.  Such joy and such despair peppered throughout the musical.

At intermission, Mr. Wormwood strolled onto the stage.  I texted the South Dorchesterites:

Mr. Wormwood just came onstage at intermission and told the kids in the audience … “Don’t try this at home.”  He meant reading books!  “They make you ugly and give you head lice.”

Tiffany replied:  “They love that!”  Thanks, kids.

At the end, we favored the young actress playing Matilda with a standing O.  It was richly deserved.   I walked out of the Ed Mirvish/Pantages with a light heart.  Waydago, Matilda.  The Trunchbull had no chance against you!  And I hoped the children back in Belmont were smiling.

Death Around The Lunch Counter

The guys at the Belmont Diner usually talk about this, that and the other thing.  Yesterday it was end of life stories.

Exhibit A

Paramedics entered a semi-private room in a nursing home.  One of the women had stopped breathing.  She was put into a body bag and transported to a funeral parlour.  As staff were removing her from the bag, she stirred, breathing very shallowly.  Oblivious to the events around her, the lass was returned to her room, none the wiser.  Her roommate made the return trip to the funeral home.

Exhibit B

One of my fellow diners wanted to pay his respects to a neighbour.  He walked into the church and joined the reception line.  As he got closer to the family members, he wasn’t recognizing anybody.  Oh my … he was at the wrong funeral.  A sorrowing wife shook his hand.  “I’m sorry, I don’t know you.  Were you a friend of Bob’s from work?”  “No, I read about Bob in the paper.  We worked together many years ago.”  So said, he slunked to the back of the church, where he signed the guest book as “Fred Merkovicz” – totally fictional.

Exhibit C

One gentleman of the coffee persuasion mentioned his poverty of long ago.  Once a very unpopular man died in town.  His family couldn’t find anyone willing to be a pallbearer.  Our Dinerite finally agreed to help out.  Later the grateful relatives gave him some money.  Seeing the economic opportunity here, he had some business cards made up:  “Have funeral.  Will carry”.  Worked out fine.

Exhibit D

Amid all this hilarity came another perspective.  “I worked in India for a few years.  People died in the street.  A cart made regular rounds and picked up the bodies.  They were burned outside of town somewhere.  It was so sad.  Nobody loved them and they died alone.”

***

Just your regular twirl of words at the Diner.  Hello death.  We laugh and we cry.