No Go

When those two kids approached me about riding the Tour du Canada, I thought about lots of things, none of which included how the leadership of the Tour might react.  The next day, it weighed on my mind.

The Tour is owned by Cycle Canada, a company led by Bud and Margot.  I e-mailed them about having two 13-year-olds join me in 2018.  Not many hours later, I had an answer.  Margot recalled a 13-year-old girl who set off from Vancouver with her mom on a tandem bicycle.  Soon it became clear that the girl didn’t want to ride the whole time.  She was bored.  Sometimes she took the bus while her mother rode the tandem alone.  Not good.

Margot also brought up the possibility that at some point both kids couldn’t ride.  There are only two extra seats in the truck and I’d have to be in there too to look out for my young friends.

Margot’s response to me was well thought out and reasonable.

But I sighed.  Is the dream dashed even before parents start considering the situation?  I decided to write her back.

What if in the future I could provide training logs to show that the students were committed to be fit enough to cross the country?  And Margot, Bud, the kids, their parents and I could Skype to talk it all out.  I wondered if there was any wiggle room.

Also I mentioned a book – the only one I’ve read three times.  Hey, Mom, Can I Ride My Bike Across America?

Margot replied.  No wiggle room.  The American kids had flexibility in their schedule.  They could take an extra day if need be.  But the Tour du Canada is tied to a firm schedule, with details such as campground reservations and ferry schedules to be considered.  Plus everyone in that truck has to have a seatbelt or the government would shut the trip down.

Sigh again.  I don’t feel that I’m right and Margot’s wrong.  Both sides have their good points.  But I’m sad.

Yesterday I told the class about the decision.  The whole discussion would be academic if no children and their parents step forward down the road.  I asked them to think of some creative ways that interested kids could go on far shorter rides with me in 2017.  I’ll see what if anything come of that when I return from my meditation retreat in early March.

Life is often a big curve ball, I do believe.  But I still love being in the game.

 

 

Gone In The Brain

Somewhere in my sheath of WordPress posts is one that detailed a memory loss.  I couldn’t remember what year it was, how old I was and where my new condo was.  It happened after I worked out on the elliptical at Wellington Fitness.  The doctor said something like “transient short-term amnesia”.  I actually can’t remember the term.

Well … here we go again.  Maybe I should just copy the earlier post.

Another elliptical afternoon, after a long absence due to surgery.  I rode the horse for an hour and did quite well for an out-of-shape human.  I was tired at the end but nothing extreme.  I tried to remember my friend at the front desk.  What a lovely human being – so full of life.  But what was her name?  After a few false starts, “Karisa” finally came to me but I wasn’t sure of the spelling.  And let me tell you, Bruce does spelling.

I’m still struggling with the name of another friend at the desk.  I think it’s Tracy.  Oh my.  Where oh where has my lovely brain gone?

After my elliptical session, I went back to my locker to get my yoga mat.  Couldn’t remember the combination.  I’ve had that lock for twenty years or so but no correct number came.  I spun and spun.  And now, hours later at home, I still can’t remember it.  Finally, Marcin, my trainer, cut my old friend off.  Later I went to Canadian Tire to get a new one and you’ll be happy to know that its combination is 36-38-32.

Before the big cutoff, in a pique of sadness and panic, I went to the front desk and talked to Karisa.  She had heard my story before.  She encouraged me although I don’t remember what she said.

Back to my locker to try a new combo.  Nope.  Then back to a bench near the front desk.  Karisa came out to sit beside me.  She encouraged me again, but again I can’t remember what she said.  But she’s my friend and that’s what matters.  I told her that this was a very special moment.  To be present when my brain couldn’t remember details.  To feel the sadness and let it be there.  To know that in the grand scheme of things, I’m okay.

When this happened to me in the summer, I was planning to go to Michigan the next day to watch a women’s golf tournament.  But my passport was in the safe and who knew what the combination was?  I woke up the next morning with 99-72-36 on my lips.

Now the next morning is tomorrow.  I already remember 99-72-36.  It’s the dead padlock combo that escapes me.  Maybe my pillow will provide as the sun rises.

Hey, this writing is pretty good so I must have intact brain cells.  I’ll take what I’m given.  And how very humbling this life is.

 

 

Actually It Doesn’t Suck

Jody and I bought a vacuum about twenty years ago and it’s served us well.  A couple of weeks ago, however, I didn’t serve it well.  There was lots of construction dust in the house and some tiny wood chips.  Not so tiny as it turned out – I plugged the machine really well.  Finally, with the help of a broom handle and my industrious neighbor Borot, the obstruction was destructed.  “Clear at last, clear at last” (with a nod to Martin Luther King).

Unfortunately subsequent vacuuming sessions were fraught with disappointment, and tiny objects remaining scattered on the carpet.  Virtually no suction.  So off to McHardy Vacuum I trundled.

A helpful young gentleman replaced an interior filter and I was good to go.  Almost.  I mentioned to the fellow that I had another problem.  I couldn’t detach the long wand from the beater bar so I could use the hardwood floor attachment.

“Here, I’ll show you how.  You press this button, turn the wand and wiggle it past the little knob inside.”  Which he proceeded to demonstrate.  “You try it.”  I did.  The wand didn’t.  His turn again … easy as pie.  My turn … depress that button for all I’m worth, grunt a lot, twist like hell – nothing.

The rhythm of watch and learn repeated itself several more times.  The wand wasn’t feeling detached in my hands and neither was I.  I was thoroughly absorbed and obliterated emotionally.  “Breathe, Bruce.  Think nice Buddhist thoughts.”

Finally, in a pause that refreshes, I thought this stuff:

1. I have arthritis in my hand.  I can’t press like I used to.

2. He’s 21.  I’m 67.  Easy for him.  Impossible for me.

3. Let the vacuum go.  Donate it to Bibles For Missions.  Buy a new one.

So … I’m now the proud owner of a Panasonic jobbie.  Lime green and black.  Goes with my bathroom, although I’m likely to use it elsewhere as well.

Gosh, I am what I am.  My body is what is.  And I like the whole thing.

Haida Gwaii … Whales

On a wilderness shore sits the remains of a whaling station which operated in the early 1900’s.  Our group landed at Rose Harbour in the Zodiac and explored the beach, including intertidal life.  Perched above us were two rusting boilers, huge sentries of the whaling industry.  I got to poke my head inside and imagine the carcasses dropped into the top hole, the oil that was saved at the side, and the bones which filled the floor.

I thought of the whales, fifty feet and more, who gave their lives to feed man’s desire for lamps and soap.  And I was sad.  But I also thought about the families on Haida Gwaii who depended on these animals for their livelihood.  Scratching out an existence so far from civilization must have been a monumental task.  So little in life seems to be black and white.

I saw the ancient ramp that served as the resting place for these beings, and the spot where their flesh was carved up in preparation for the boilers.  And I felt back in time … to the whales and human beings of a century ago.

Later that same day, Captain Greg told us about a whale who had died last October.  It was washed up on a beach and was decomposing there.  Did we want to go?  There would be a horrible stink to the place …  We all wanted to be there.

As we came ashore and walked towards the big brown shape, the wind at our backs meant the experience was just visual … so far.  But then we were ten feet away and I’ll never forget the smell.  Part of me wanted to run away but the bigger part wanted to be in the presence of death.

My late friend was probably eighty feet long.  Its flesh was falling off its bones and puddling in the hollows.  Huge vertebrae were bleaching in the sun.  And we were transfixed.  I moved closer.  I could have reached out and touched him or her.  It was a communion.

Some of us talked.  Many of us didn’t.  There was really nothing to say in the presence of such grandeur and sadness.

Hundreds of whales near Haida Gwaii remain free, lifting their tails high as they feed on herring.  May it ever be so.  And may we humans continue to receive the nourishment we need.

Homeless

Jody and I bought our home on Bostwick Road in 1994.  It’s been the scene of our joys and some sorrows.  Cuddling on the couch in the family room.  Enjoying evening fires on the patio.  Being together during my dear wife’s illness, including a day when Jodiette took 400 steps with her walker on the driveway.  Home.

Except it’s not that anymore.  The energy of Jody and Bruce is everywhere I look.  All those moments together, tied to the house and the yard.  Spots inside and out are no longer magic … they’re flat.  How can that be?  Well, it doesn’t matter how.  It just is.

Jody and I planted three magnolia bushes on our front lawn when we moved in.  Today they’re trees 20 feet tall.  Last week they were in full glorious bloom, white flowers with a touch of pink and the sweetest scent.  Absolute beauty in the world.  In previous Mays I plunked a folding chair amid them and drank in the glory.  But in 2016 I didn’t want to do that.  I should want to, said my brain.  I decided to follow my heart and stay away.  How fascinating to be in paradise but not feeling it.  Wow.  I need to be somewhere else (such as a lovely-to-be condo in Belmont).

I don’t want to sit on my patio and listen to the birds.  I don’t want to sink deep into my couch.  I don’t want to sit in my man chair, eating breakfast and reading the paper.

Jody understands.  “Create a new life, Bruce, in a new home.  It’s not that you’re forgetting me.  You’ll be flying again, and I’ll be there with you.”  Thank you, my love.  Fly I will.

Day Nine: Saying Goodbye

Is saying goodbye to dear ones different for me in Cuba, since I’ve only known these folks for days?  Yes and no.  The moment of meaning can be just as deep here as with someone I’ve known for years.  The time shines … or it doesn’t.

Hector is one of the attendants at the gym in the village beside my hotel.  He’s a young guy, very enthusiastic, without much English.  He’s let me know, however, that he’s impressed with me working out in my 60’s.  He figures that most Cuban men don’t lift a finger past 40.  Hector has helped me understand some of the strength training machines, such as how to adjust the torso twist.  All done with a huge smile.

Yesterday, he played American songs on his iPhone as I was doing yoga.  While lying on my back, I was singing Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock”, with all four feet and hands dancing in the air.  Hector laughed.  And I’m pretty partial to anyone who laughs at me.

I had money in my pocket for a tip and something inside told me I needed to give it to him right then.  He was so happy to receive the gift, and then told me he was about to leave for a week’s vacation.  Thank goodness I followed my inner guidance.  I’ll miss him.

Last night, Elisabeth was serving me in the lobby bar.  What a sweet person, endlessly animated in the eyes.  She told me she was about to go on a week’s vacation.  Oh, the sadness.  I asked her where she lived.  She said Santa Clara, a three-hour bus ride away.  Six hours of commuting a day!  She talked again about her husband, and of Jody.  We both love our spouses so much.  Now she gets to spend a week with him.  We said how much we’ll miss each other.  We held hands.  We hugged.  We said goodbye.

Now it’s a day later, and I’m back in the lobby bar.  Celida, a waitress who’s served me several times, comes up and asks “Do you miss Elisabeth?”  “Yes.”  (So much)  Celida then said “She talked about you.  She loves you.”  I started crying.  How can a 20-year-old Caribbean woman move me so much?

Two young Cubans whose lives are very different from mine.  And just the same.

Day Three: Sunny

A tan’s the thing, is it not?  I figured my strategy was good … show up at the beach at 4:00 and stay a couple of hours, avoiding the most damaging rays of the sun.  Plus I slathered on SPF 30 and reapplied it halfway through.

My history of wanting a good tan goes way back to the teen years when I was sorely afraid of anyone seeing my white body.  But now I’m 67.  Does it really matter that I’m brown all over, that I return to friends in Canada with a bodily badge of honour?  I think not.

Still there I was yesterday on a sublime white sand beach, hauling a lounger out of its thatched shade so I could get the full meal deal.  I pulled off my t-shirt and shorts to reveal a sparkling lime green Speedo.  Last time here, I had little hesitation about prancing around in such skimpiness but this time I was afraid.

Maybe thirty posts ago, I talked about a physical problem I’ve developed.  I was sure scared to press “Enter” after that writing was done, but I did it, and then hoped that time would erase any record of the subject.  Well … here I go again.  I have benign cysts on my testicles such that the little guys have turned into big guys, two to three times their normal size.  Add that to the reality of wearing a Speedo and you can see my problem.  Before coming to Cuba, I’d decided that gym shorts would be my bathing suit.  Maybe I’d strip to my Speedo in the confines of my beach lounger but I sure wouldn’t walk around wearing it.

So there I lounged in the Speedo way, reading my book.  Yes, the urge came to get up and walk down the beach.  “No, Bruce!  People will … ”  Come on now – people will what?  “They’ll laugh, point, or maybe call security.”  Geez.  Just get up and stroll around.  So I did, first walking out to the shore and staring out at the infinite ocean.  Nobody tackled me.  So I turned right and dipsy doodled along the water’s edge.  Two or three folks did look at my central area but I kept going.  Then a young woman came up and asked me to take a picture of her family.  They were lined up looking at me as I fiddled with the camera.  I’m pretty sure I was blushing but I hoped they’d mistake it for sunburn.  I took too much time and the screen went blank.  So more time as she showed me how to get the camera going again.  Happily, no one stuck out their tongue or vomited, but I was dying inside.

I could have made a bee line back to my chair but instead, girding my loins, I meandered along the shore some more.  I climbed the steps up to the beach bar and ordered a pina colada, then walked in front of maybe fifty people back to my temporary home.  No bolt of lightning struck me down.  I was thrilled and astonished.  I did it.  And really it was just a couple of body parts that had gotten out of control.  I hummed a happy tune.

***

After supper, I sat in the lobby bar reading Birdie, the story of a Canadian aboriginal woman that almost won the Canada Reads competition on CBC Radio.  The heavens opened up before, during and after.  The bar is open to the elements, tempered by the translucent blinds that offered some protection from the rain.  What I experienced was delightful.  The lightest mist fell upon my face and arms … just like Niagara Falls.  The perfect end to a perfect day.  Or perhaps not.

I was in bed by 11:00 and up by 12:30.  The bod was on fire, not with a burn but with itching.  I turned on the light to see what was shaking.  What I saw was lots of tiny blisters adorning the newly tanning areas.  (Big sigh)  Sleep seemed impossible.  I knew that I had some hand lotion with me, so I rubbed that on.  More fire.  So into the shower I stumbled.  That helped a bit.  I took the second sleeping pill of the evening and lay down again.  The itching continued.  I resigned myself to a largely sleepless night.  That was about 1:30.  I woke up at 9:00.  The blisters were gone.  Thank you, Jodiette, and other beings who watch over me.

Bye bye, tan.  From now on, I’m staying in the shade – under the thatched huts on the beach and hanging loose in the lobby bar.  My cold is full speed ahead.  My energy is way down low.  But my soul is happy.  Quite the adventure, this life of ours.

A Toronto Day

I’m living in an exquisite hotel room, all white and maroon, with a rain shower (square 7×7″ head) that I love standing under.  I’m sitting on the comfy couch, tapping out the words while the downtown sun splashes through the sheers behind me.  I have a sanctuary.

Yesterday I had fish.  I went to Ripley’s Aquarium to see a lot of swimming life.  The best scenes for me were:

  1.  A huge cylindrical tank of small fish, all hovering in mid-water until some unknown leader suggested a course change and the school responded
  2. One little fishy person who seemed to tread water, sitting vertically in place, its mouth doing deep breathing exercises
  3. A gaggle of blue eels, wrapped around each other, with each head looking shockingly like a human face, complete with a variety of expressions
  4. Standing in a tube with sea creatures meandering by to my left, my right and above.  For a long while, I stood in place, waiting for a toothy shark or the flat mass of a manta ray to pass right over my head
  5. The “Ray Bay”, a huge aquarium full of rays.  Some would approach the wall of glass and climb straight up, their undersides apparently revealing a big smiling mouth

I rode the subway here and there, remembering my daily trips from home to the downtown campus of the University of Toronto.  90% of my fellow passengers were connected – that certainly wasn’t part of my memory cells.  I reminisced about how I used to watch people by gazing at their reflection in the window beside me, and I followed suit.  Such stealth!

I was also jolted by the speed at which most people walked … definitely a sprint.  Oh yes, and then there’s escalator etiquette.  Stay on the right side if you want to stand, and watch the flow of humanity beat you to the destination.  A fellow told me yesterday about climbing a narrow escalator in a Toronto mall, just room for one person at a time.  He had chosen to stay still.  The woman behind would have none of it, apparently.  It must have been an effective body check as she squeezed past him.  (Sigh … and no thanks)

One subway station had two large posters that saddened me:

Don’t want to make eye contact?  Read a subway poster

Thinking of suicide?  There is help.  Let’s talk

My second concert in two days was a pretty loud affair, featuring four brilliant musicians: lead guitar, bass guitar, piano and drums.  I enjoyed seeing them express their craft.  But I wanted more quiet stories about life … my definition of folk music.  The highlight for me was when a woman joined them on stage and sang of a place – Aille, I think – and the love that happened there.  The song and the voice were haunting.  It was far and away the highlight of the concert for me.

I wanted to tell the artist how her performance had moved me.  At the break, I looked for her and saw that she was engaged in conversation with the pianist the whole time.  After the whole shebang was done, I sought her out again.  She was talking at the bar to a woman who had sung a song with the band during the second half.  And they kept talking.  I kept standing in the background.  I wanted to thank the Aille inspirer but I didn’t want to share my appreciation with the other person being there, because that woman’s performance didn’t reach me.  How strange.  I was determined to contribute to the first lady without diminishing the second.  How much of my desired contact was the ego speaking?  I don’t know.  Finally, as they continued chatting, the voice inside me said “Let her go, Bruce.”  So I did.  And off into the night …

Being Hated

There was an article in The London Free Press this morning about an actor who’s rehearsing the title role in a local play about the life of Martin Luther King.  Twice in our mostly fair city, E.B. Smith has been taunted with “nigger” out in public.

I don’t understand.  Sure, I know the history of racial discrimination, especially in the United States, but I can’t get my mind around the consciousness that would do such a thing.  It’s just skin.  I guess that even for us of the white tone, there’s some prejudice against old skin (wrinkled and dotted with age spots) as compared to young skin (smooth and firm).

“Different than and therefore inferior” could be applied to anything, if one really wanted to be small about it.  Being lefthanded.  Being 6’2″ and a woman.  Being 4’10” and a woman.  Being fat.  Being anorexic.  Hardly ever smiling.  Needing a walker.  Having a facial tic.  And one humungous etcetera.

The article today mentioned another shameful moment in London’s recent history.  At an NHL pre-season game, a black hockey player saw an object thrown at him from the stands … a banana.  I wonder what the reaction of the fans was that night.  Stunned silence, I hope.  Outrage, I hope.  Surely no laughter, I hope.

It’s a tough job each of us has, living this life.  Existence on our planet seems to come with gobs of suffering, even for people like me – white and privileged.  Please, no extra and totally unnecessary pain.  It hurts too much.

Nothing In My Fingers

I’m written 380 posts in Bruce’s Blog but it feels like I’ve dried up.  Here I am right now creating a post about not being able to write a post.  And that’s not what I want to do.  I don’t want to delve into whatever’s happened to my writing … I want to write – about stuff that’s important to me.

This can’t be the end, can it?  Have I exhausted all topics that interest me?  I sure hope not.  But all writers hit the wall sometimes, don’t they?  And sitting with my silent laptop on my knees for an hour just isn’t it.  Maybe I should watch TV (but I don’t want to).

The voice inside is saying that 380 is a pretty good number, that within all those posts is enough food for thought to please anyone.  But what about the future?  Maybe I’ll go somewhere tomorrow that moves me to communicate, or someone will say something that I just have to share with the world.  But apparently not tonight.

No apologies.  But some regret.  I’ll say goodnight.  I hope we get to talk soon.