Of Life, Limbs and Logic

There’s a fine limbo line between control and acquiescence. I’m walking it with the insurance company of late. Half the time, I have no idea where the safety zone is, what ground I’m standing upon, or if it’s all a grand conspiracy or karmic payback for that time I rammed that unknowing jerkola from behind on the bumper cars in the amusement park. It was funny at the time, or so I thought.

Long, incredibly boring story short, they’ve decided to write-off our Odyssey as a total loss, for reasons having to do with the damages being worth more than 70% of what they deem the value of it to be.

But to be or not to be, that is the question. Safeco's (a misnomer if ever there was one) market comparables and mine don’t at all match. For instance, our Honda-installed trailer hitch, was $1,500.00. They chalk that up to a $77.00 additional value. Can you say, does not compute?

Our vehicle (long incredibly boring story longer here), apart from a couple of fine tooth comb scratches, was still in mint condition after all these years. The original carpet inside had never been exposed to wear and tear – the previous owner had custom carpet laid down inside such that it would always maintain a pristine condition. And we had religiously babied it with Honda servicing this past decade at monthly intervals. But that’s all blah blah blather to the insurance company. On paper, it’s worth a fraction of what we would have sold it for. And in reality, it’s just about the right size for the friendly neighbourhood junkyard dog now.

In any event, we’re now going between the two insurance companies in order to see whether our insurance company will designate a higher value. I don’t honestly expect them to – but part of that control thing is exhausting every avenue, how ever thin and tenuous.

So it appears we are now car shopping, which is an activity that ranks right up there with many other of my least favourite things to do, including but not limited to walking on hot coals. I’ve decided my minivan days are done, but only marginally because we’re now looking – in this day and age of anti-SUV – at a Honda Pilot. It seats 8 and pulls the trailer and is equally as gas gluttonous as its Odysseyian cousin, so it's a bit of a stalemate.

But what do you do? Bite the hand that supposedly feeds you – if near starvation might stand in for nourishment for a moment? Or do you feed the greedy system of oil companies, vehicle manufacturers, insurance companies and the like? It’s not merely a philosophical question: it’s the quintessential, middle-aged conundrum. You want to answer, screw them all, I’m outta here. This system ist sehr farocht and I want no part of it.

But owing to your city dweller status, you’re so entangled in the system, you couldn’t find your way out of the maze even if you were channeling a now grown-up Hansel and Gretel. Or so you think.

You want to think it’s all teleological when, in fact, the whole house of cards schema is ideological, which must and should always be confused with idiotlogical.

But still you hum and sing, because somewhere, somehow, someone told you there is a rhyme and there is a cadence to the entire affair. This is the vehicle that pulls the trailer, that becomes the house on camping escapes, that then parks in the garage like a giant square shape, which is adjacent to the door, of the house the Schmidts built.

Now if you’re a mathematician, you might, at this point, whip out your calculator in order to compute the number of times said trailer leaves said garage in a given year and then run some kind of impressive quadratic equation that factors in the cost of daily driving of said vehicle versus renting same said vehicle for three weekends a year instead. But you’re not, so you don’t.

Instead, you continue to sing, even though this, too, is not your strong suit. For this is the vehicle that hauls the kids all gloomy and glummy, to school and the pool, and then to dance, Scouts and sports with their chummy chum chummies, and gives them each space with a pillow and quilt, for long haul trips away from the house the Schmidts built.

Yes, those rare yet coveted trips away from the house. That’s what it’s all about. There is no price you dare put on the slim to nil escapes from the rat cage wheel of life. And so, you do your own simple balance sheet in your head, which is just like the kind you did on your college accounting exams (which is to say it never does ever balance, darnitalltohell, screw being a Certified Management Accountant – that’s a dumb career choice anyways and who wants to be pot bellied number cruncher in their 30s talking about financial statements at parties and sitting in a back room cubicle with a pocket protector?) And so, as then so now, you fudge the numbers, shed a tear or three in frustration at the ineffability of it all, and call it an even Stephen.

And then you paste a smile on your face and say things like, I’m just grateful we were all OK and not seriously injured (well OK, except that you're now sorely tempted to "give your right arm" for some coveted thing, because it's feeling pretty useless these days anyways). Or, I’m so glad the other guy had insurance ~ Thank! God! for that. Or, I’m glad we were able to salvage at least a week of getaway in our summer. Authentic statements, all of them, for you really do bow down to the god of vehicular collisions with respect to these things.

And then a big sigh builds up within you and you get all stoic and bodhisattva – a syncretism not entirely implausible given Alexander the Great’s oriental camel express train east way back in the day – but somewhere in that space between stoicism and Vibhajjavāda, you yield to a deep-seated jealousy that Alexander managed to eek out a helluva lot more than a week’s all-expense-paid getaway and to a far more exotic locale than a $27.00 dollar a night cabin on Camano Island.
But alas, when you are finally able to strike a yogic pose for a moment on account of your inability to breathe lately - and as you ponder the nature of all things – love, pain, the whole damn thing - in the best Texas twang and Scarlet O’Haran pose you can muster, such as whether meaning is (a) a priori; (b) a posteriori; (c) a freakin' pain in the posteriori or (d) all of the above ~ then and only then does momentary enlightenment come to you, such that you begin to spout the impermanence of all things ~ even, especially, vehicles. Which at a purely organic level, is just matter. And matter does not matter. But then you think to yourself, even your 11 year old son knows that positive one minus negative one equals two. Which might then mean that it doubly matters. And that spells double trouble, given that you come from a long line of worriers from way back. Well three lines actually, if you consider the not so small matters of marriage and adoption. All of which begins to make your head hurt, which then has you reading the fine print on the medical insurance forms the other insurance company sent you (paperwork that when subjected to purple infrared strobe lights, sports Please Do Not Sue! between the lines of the size 2 font text) to see if perhaps they'll cover headaches and brain strain. For it's all rather exhausting, all this meaning-making business, and it only serves to add to your lethargic laze of late, especially when you consider the anthropomorphism of the rain these past few days. Coincidence? You think not. The skies, they are a crying and that's not just a pathetic fallacy, it's real. Or is it? You no longer ascertain the acute differences between reality, unreality and surreality.

But you know it's pathetic, for you ken this in your bones. Most specifically, your clavicle, scapula, humerus, radius, ulna, scaphoid, lunate, triquetrum, pisiform, trapezium, trapezoid, capitate, hamate, metacarpal and phalange bones. So then you revert back to the old-school philosophy you used to spout in a hashish haze – life’s a bitch, and then you die. But your mind has been so addled lately that even in this, doubt plagues you. What if that’s wrong? What if you've transposed the logic? Maybe it's supposed to be, life’s a die (and boy did you roll a schmidty number), and then you bitch. And you realize you're onto something. Some little nugget of truth that at last, and at very least, you can latch onto. Because at least there, in that small place of lame life, limb and logic, you have a place upon which to stand.


I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Depressing Stories

I see that book (I Feel Bad About My Neck) everywhere and think to myself, who the hell is this Nora Ephron and why should she feel bad about her neck?

It wasn't until I happened to have been feeling particularly bad about Meg Ryan's botched nose and lips (she used to be so gorgeous pre-2001) after watching her latest dismal movie, My Mom's Boyfriend, and did some googling, that I found out that Nora Ephron is a bigwig Hollywood screenwriter who wrote Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, and When Harry Met Sally, among other big movie hits.

Interesting stuff. Well, OK, maybe not. What is interesting, is that last week after doing the Seattle Underground Tour (a must-see/do activity for anyone, local yocal or otherwise, looking to kill a couple of hours in old downtown Seattle), we made our way to Elliot Bay Books in Pioneer Square. Elliot Bay Books has got to be one of the best bookstores ever. I adore it. But for some reason, it always reminds me of the charming bookstore in the movie, You've Got Mail. Turns out, however, that downstairs in the underground bowels of Elliot Bay Books is where they would shoot the coffee shop scenes for Frasier. I never knew that until last week.

Anyways, you're probably wondering why I feel bad about my neck. Or perhaps not. In either case, the reason I feel bad about my neck is that a scary thing happened to me on my way home from the specialty Irish shop in Seattle a couple of days ago, where we went in search of Irish dancing socks for Holy Daughter, who will be dancing in her first official competition at month's end.

I was on the I-5, minding my own rush hour business as our lane came to its predictable stop-n-go halt, when all of a sudden an SUV came up out of nowhere and ploughed into the rear end of my vehicle. Can you say Holy freakin' scary, batman? The kids and I were all OK, luckily and praise be to God, but my ass end isn't. It's flattened and crumpled and dented and extremely bruised.

And I feel bad about my neck.

My daughter and I had a doctor's visit yesterday and we are both suffering minor effects of whiplash - mine is mostly a right arm muscular pain extending all the way from my forearm up through to my shoulder and lower neck and back - likely caused from gripping the steering wheel and holding on for dear life at the point of impact, as we were pushed up to the car in front. Her's is an upper back pain. Her booster seat flew forward towards me and then was flung back wherein she bonked her head against it.

I also felt bad for the poor fellows in the car I hit. They were enroute from Vancouver, BC to attend The Foo Fighters concert in downtown Seattle but ended up getting stuck waiting on the side of the I-5 and enduring the stares and honks of lurking motorists, as we all did, some 75 minutes for the state trooper to arrive.

As with all sad twists of fate, crash and circumstance, timing is everything. My son stoically observed not many minutes after the accident that had I only listened to him and detoured for a bite to eat as he had requested, we would have not been in the scenario we found ourselves to be in. Woulda coulda shoulda is schmidta though.

It happened, as schmidt tends to do, just before we were about to embark on a camping trip for a week. We now have to cancel said trip, on account of not being able to pull the tent trailer, but as luck would have it, were able to salvage our state park getaway in small part by being able to find a nearby cabin rental for virtually the same price as a campsite. So we are now doing a marine rather than mountain retreat but I no longer have to stress about cooking with propane.

I'm also thankful to the God of small things that the repair shop did not deem the Odyssey a complete right-off, as is the trend in auto repair.

So in the meantime - which sounds to be 3 weeks - we'll be pimping a ride in a rental car, which as it turns out, means a red Ford Edge for this upcoming week of vay-cay. Which also means the kids will be sitting beside each other. Which is a cardinal sin in this family on account of being within intimate proximity to poke, punch, pinch, jab and jeer and pester one another. Which is the depressing part of this story.

I wonder if there's a special place in heaven for mothers, like say a luxe spa with the sign "Pas les Enfantes dans la Heavenly Spa, si vous plait."

Now that's my idea of heaven.


Lazy, Crazy, Hazy Days of Summer

Today was the first day in a long while that the whole house (save Holy Hub, who is a 5am creature of work habit) slept in. Holy Son awoke at 10:50 am. Long live sloth.

And yet summer, in all its lazy splendour, barely begins and evidence of its demise is all around us. The more audacious leaves of the bunch dare to turn colour. Bathing suits are already marked down for clearance in the stores as the merchandisers impatiently prepare to bring the back to school stuff in. And the seasonal camping gear displays are now slim to nil. How sad is that?

Summer is short enough already. But I'm doing my best to ignore the department stores and their mixed up calendar.

The latter part of June saw us prepping for our crazy Canuck street party. We were mostly on track with getting the house in order and food/drink together when we received a last minute call from out-of-town (country actually) friends that they were a couple of hours away and heading our direction with baby in tow.

The weather was gorgeous during their stay and one of the highlights was being able to attend the local Canadian Consulate barbeque, with Canadian wines and beers on perma-pour and Cadbury chocolate bars in huge abundance. We got to play hose hockey - our team name was The Touques - and we sucked which was not entirely good, considering the game entailed blowing a ping pong ball through various team member hoses attached to the sides of the blow-up hockey "arena" through to the opponent's goal.

These friends departed on the last Monday of June but not before said young mat-leave wife, who shall remain nameless, divested herself of the equivalent of someone's annual salary on anything and everything she could think to buy, most especially if it sported a designer name and a stiletto heel. We see our fair share of Canadian visitors who come to shop but she took the proverbial cake. Our friend advises that the shopping didn't let up even enroute back to the border. They couldn't even open their car door without something falling out. It brings new meaning to the term loaded. May the Lord have mercy on him. They've barely been married a year. He's in for it, I think.

I like when our life is graced with real shoppers though. It helps put things into perspective for Holy Hub, who harbours the erroneous belief that I'm a shopper. She's way out of my league, I'm afraid.

Anyways, no sooner did they drive off, then sheets were being washed and changed for our next arrival, a few hours later, of my sis-in-law, who caught took the Clipper over from Victoria with nanaimo bar ingredients in tow (Bird's vanilla custard pudding mix). At 5am the next day, I was busy making a triple batch of this quintessentially Canadian dessert for our party that night.

We were blessed to have 83 degree weather for the party that night and hosted the entire affair on our front driveway, which is quite large. Somewhere between 40 and 50 people showed up from the cul de sac, our old neighborhood and various other nooks and crannies of our life here. Holy Daughter set up a Canada Customs booth and our cardboard cut-out Mountie acted as sufficient deterrent for those hoping to sneak into the country without appropriate i.d.

Lucky for them, she was feeling generous that night. She permitted library cards, Costco and Safeway cards and even a red and white debit card. All visitors were then duly branded with a Canada tattoo and allowed entrance, but not before having to attempt to answer a series on not so skilled-testing questions about Canada. Holy Hub passed with flying colours - I barely did. I couldn't resist throwing a dud question into the mix that even the Canadians in the crowd answered wrong - see if you can find it.

1. What are Canada’s two national sports?
A. Ice Hockey, Basketball B. Baseball, Tennis C. Basketball, Lacrosse D. Lacrosse, Ice Hockey

2. How many lakes are there in Canada?
A. Unknown B. 500 thousand C. 1 million D. 5 million

3. Who was the first Prime Minister of Canada?
A. Alexander Mackenzie B. John A. MacDonald C. Louis Riel D. Wilfred Laurier

4. Canada has two national symbols. What are they?
A. Beaver & Maple Leaf B. Maple Leaf & Moose C. Beaver & Grizzly Bear D. Moose & Salmon

5. Canada has the longest covered bridge in the world (1,282 feet long). Where is it located?
A. West Montrose, ON B. La Sarre, QE C. Gold River, BC D. Hartland, NB

6. What university developed the world's first anti-gravity suit?
A. University of Toronto B. Simon Fraser University C. University of British Columbia D. Queen’s University

7. Andrew Bonar Law was the only Canadian ever to do what?
A. Win the Indianapolis 500 B. Serve as Prime Minister of Great Britain C. Board the MIR space station D. Win the Tour De France

8. How many National Parks are there in Canada?
A. 84 B. 25 C. 40 D. 60

9. In which year did Canada adopt the metric system?
A. 1975 B. 1985 C. 1967 D. 1970

10. How many time zones are there in Canada?
A. 6 B. 8 C. 4 D. 5

11. What is the highest mountain in Canada?
A. Mount Forbe B. Mount Logan C. Mount Kitchener D. Mount Lefroy

12. What is the longest river in Canada?
A. Fraser River B. St. Laurence River C. Mackenzie River D. Red River

13. What is Canada's most northern island?
A. Queen Charlotte B. Ellesmere C. Victoria D. Baffin

14. Which of the following authors is not Canadian?
A. W.O. Mitchell B. Margaret Atwood C. A.A. Milne D. Michael Ondaatje

15. Which Province has the largest concentration of moose in North America?
A. Alberta B. British Columbia C. Newfoundland D. Quebec

16. When was “Oh Canada” proclaimed as Canada’s national anthem?
A. 1870 B. 1935 C. 1980 D. 1999

17. What year did Canada quit using dog sleds as the main mode of transportation?
A. 1898 B. 1903 C. 1911 D. 1932

18. Which one of these inventions was not Canadian?
A. Roller skate B. Basketball C. IMAX D. Artificial Heart

19. Which one of these games was not created in Canada?
A. Trivia Pursuit B. Pictionary C. Scrabble D. Balderdash

20. 80% of Canadians live where?
A. In Igloos B. In Ontario C. With a Caribou D. Close to the US border

We featured Hockey Night in Canada street shootouts and Capture the Americanadian Flag in the back forest for the kids, while adults got to eat, drink Canadian beer or our own special yuckaflux, another Canadian tradition, and be merry. Holy Hub, who wore a cowboy hat made of out Molson Canadian beer boxes, made a saskatoon berry (a crunchy blue-ish berry indigenous to Alberta and Saskatchewan) cobbler in the Dutch oven that proved popular with Canadians and Americans alike. I looked equally as festive, decked out as I was with my Mountie-ish hat and RCMP apron.

And a fine time was had by all. One neighbour whispered that the block has never seen so much fun.

But the fun and frivolity didn't stop there. We then kicked into Holy Hub birthday mode with family celebrations starting the very next day, since Holy Hub and I were planning to be out for the evening of his birthday. Not just anywhere out but at the BB King concert, no less. A few months ago, I went searching the Net to see if I could maybe surprise Holy Hub with a flight to wherever BB King happened to be playing the night of his birthday. Imagine my surprise to find out that he was booked to play here, of all far flung places. Gotta love synchronicity.

So off we went, with little more than our newly-purchased beach chairs in tow, to our first outdoor concert at the local winery. Talk about feeling like a couple of naked, country bumpkins showing up to the city faire. All the couples - and that was pretty much the demographic - 50+ white couples - were decked out with little picnic baskets, bottles of wine, intricately-etched wine glasses, miniature cutting boards with cheese knives, imported cheeses, grapes, the whole wine and cheese enchilada.

I had thought to pack some cookies and chips. We bought our wine and our kiosk dinner there and then proceeded to sip serupticiously out of plastic cups and dine in dubious plastic fork and plate pleasure. And then we did what all good concert goers do - we grooved to the King. He was as much a delight to listen to, as he regailed the crowd with tales of yesteryear and now, as he was to watch. 82 years old and still oozing the blues. It was fun. I haven't smiled that much or felt inclined to break into musically-inspired tears so much in a very long time.

So little wonder that come the 4th of July, I was plum tuckered. We flew an American flag on the house for the first time - it was a landmark day in liminal citizenry. Attempting to hit the hay at 9pm that night in these parts, however, was an exercise in futility. Whereas our old neighbourhood was pretty quiet and devoid of covert pyros, our new neighborhood was a vestige of such. Firecrackers were shooting off from every side and in every direction. I felt like I was the lone dud popcorn kernel in a pan of hot oil that night. I finally gave up, got up, and with Holy Hub and the kids newly returned from their high hilltop fireworks viewing vantage point one neighborhood over, I joined them for a quick dogwalk around the block.

Not even a week later, we would return for the same walk around the block in order to view the charred remains of a neighbour's house that went up in flames in the wee hours of yestermorn when, to quote Edgar Alan Poe, "each seperate dying ember" (of the lady's squashed cigarette butt) "wrought its ghost upon the floor." It was a cataclysmic awakening outside our bedroom window with fire sirens wailing, helicopters hovering, embers exploding, flames raging and smoke billowing.

And it was surreal on many fronts, to say the least. I had just finished drafting my memoir chapter on Fire, which details our own family tale of how much went up in smoke the day our house burned to the ground on January 7, 1970. Fire was very much on my mind. It's never been very far outside my consciousness, actually.

When I was the same age as Holy Son now, a house nearby to our own in Kenilworth blew-up - the fatality of a gas leak. I remember riding my bike over and standing there, aghast and in wide-eyed stare at the gaping hole where their house and home once stood.

As I trace our own married life and times - (two decades come August), I can't help but notice how often we have been touched by tragedy equally as close to home. In Edmonton circa mid-9os and only a few blocks away from our house, a young mother was brutally murdered by an intruder. Holy Hub studiously went about installing a house alarm system for us and I slept with one eye open each night for years thereafter.

In Islamabad, a Swiss man was senselessly murdered while hiking on the scenic-lookout hiking trail across the road from our home. Holy Hub studiously went about fostering increased security and international relations in our parts by plying the Checkpoint Charlie police at our corner with all-you-can-drink tea and chat.

One year later back in Canada, our brother's house caught fire. All escaped relatively unscathed but as I recall, he wore that tragedy with "like father, like son" pride for years to come.

And then not long after settling into our Calgary home, our neighbor just three houses up was found dead at her front entry landing ~ supposed the legacy of a random intrusion. But those of us who knew her to be estranged from her disturbed husband, an aldermanic hopeful in the previous civic election and fundamental Christian with a troubled teenhood, knew different. Rumours quickly spread of how the kids were found locked in their bedroom upstairs. What mother locks her kids in their bedroom unless fearing a danger far greater than fire?

Three years ago, tragedy again struck close. Shortly after moving to the U.S., we awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of fire engines. Turns out, a disgrunted divorceed man a couple of blocks away had set fire to the house for the insurance claim. The house next door caught fire, as well, and three years later, it has only just been rebuilt. The burnt remains and blacked shell of a car in the attached garage of Mr. Arsonist's house (who now sits in jail to ponder the perils of playing with fire) stand as testament to his bonfire of vanity.

And here again, the home fires burned. "A spark neglected makes a mighty fire" is perhaps the greatest of Herrick's understatements, as our now homeless neighbors have learned.

Suffice to say, I'm thankful for a little quiet on the western front from hereonin this summer. The closest I wish to get to fire this summer is at marshmallow stick's length away, superstitiously chanting "I hate white rabbits."