Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Pocket-Kibbling Puppy Fraud

I've moved to an entirely different, but parallel, city and time zone, one where I'm exotic and irresistible, and it's great. This one is mapped according to grassy patches and trash cans. I've made a lot of new friends here, Luna, Gustav, Turner and countless others, but they're into public defecation and it's hard for me to embrace their subculture. My roommate is doing her best to integrate me, it comes so naturally to her.

This morning, I spoke to 25 people more people than usual, using language I barely grasp (heavy on breeds and canine health references), about four hours earlier than I'd normally interact with anyone at all. I did so before coffee and wearing no make-up, motivated to leave my house only by the prospect of not having to wipe urine from my refinished wood floor. But, to the untrained eye, I am a "dog person", and that gets me major "cute" points.

The truth is, I am a pocket-kibbling puppy fraud. It's not my puppy, she's a foster puppy belonging to an organization with a much higher purpose, and the only reason she listens to me is because I have a pocket full of kibble. My other pockets bulge with poo-bags and emergency squishy, meaty treats in case I really need some pull. Seriously, I don't usually smell like dog food.

To her credit, she's the cutest puppy I've ever met, and it's she who is irresistible, not me, even if she eats shit sometimes. Recently, in the classifieds section of a local publication, an anonymous admirer declared that I am "nearly as cute as [my] puppy", and he'd like to meet us. Before my foster-puppy arrived, I might have been offended by any comparison to an animal, but my context is now kibble crumb-coated, and I'm starting to get it.

Already she's shaken my existence, but when she grows up, this noble little puppy will be an assistant to a child with special needs, and make a more significant contribution to that child's life than most people ever could, and I love her for it. A lot. It's an honour to be her sidekick, for however long that may be, even if it means that I am, once again, just the pretty girl's best friend.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My mother on a short leash

My mother's index finger has gone arthritic, and is crooked slightly to the side, making it look more like the witch finger she claims it is. It's one of those unfortunate health issues that's turned family joke, and I suspect she enjoys the additional power she wields when she points it at us. We recoil as though she's growled our full names: first, middle and last. It's that scary.

It's that finger I imagine hovering over the keypad of my parents' phone right now, waiting to call me and say, "I told you so." She's the only person who can get away with saying this to me, and not just because I'm scared of her finger.

Of all the voices in my head, my mother's is the loudest. While she's given me some crap tidbits of advice in the past, she always delivers them with my best interests in mind. On occasion, I regret that my disgusted "I know" moans, have caused her to keep her opinions to herself when it most matters, leaving me completely vulnerable to her follow-up "I told you so," a phrase she's reluctant to surrender.

My parents outsmarted me several times when I was a kid, concerning my want for pets. When I asked for a rabbit, they said yes, but first, I'd have to endure child labour and toil for my opportunistic neighbours, to afford the rabbit and all its trimmings (the cage and food). The lesson taught me well. Now, I always set a rate in advance, and I know rabbits aren't worth the trouble, they are the trouble.

Still, when the opportunity arose to temporarily foster a puppy, bred to be docile and compliant, with a gorgeous fox-face, I fell into the same trap. The dog is destined to become an assistance dog for children with special needs, and all I have to do is give it love. Lots and lots of love, until it finds a semi-permanent foster home (in days, or weeks, or at most, a month). Oh, and there was something about training.

During these first few days of the experience, nearly everything's gone smoothly, all until the otherwise floppity, waggity, semi-comatose fluffball spies a larger dog in the park and barks uncontrollably. That's why, I suspect, my mother hasn't called yet, there's no need. She's channeling through the puppy: "I-wowowowow told-rrrrwarrrrwwrr you-bowowowow so-oh-oh-oh-ohhhhhh!" I'd know her voice anywhere.

Regardless of the readjustment and challenges ahead (missed debauchery, bike-ride hiatus, picking up feces), and all the whining I'll be doing because of it, I know that even my mother's witch finger, in all its cynical glory, would disappear in this puppy's fuzzity coat.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Speed-dating: Alien or Predator?

We were sprawled in the grass, me and a close guy friend (read: ex-intermittent lover), drinking Czech beer from brown paper bags when I brought it up. It was one of the first real days of spring---sunny enough to make you feel guilty for not spending every last second in a city park, and not quite warm enough to fully enjoy.

"I'm thinking of trying speed-dating with some girlfriends, you know, for kicks," I said. I was talking myself into it because I'd already promised to go with them, and we'd already childishly, unethically and without concern for the feelings of others, made side bets on the outcome.

"Everything I know about speed-dating, I learned from Alien Loves Predator," he said, and gave me a run-down of the basics as interpreted by a comic, further interpreted by him.

While an awkward evening of asking all the wrong guys inappropriate questions would make a story, good or bad (and I am usually a sucker for that), the more I thought about it, the more I feared complete humilation. "What if no one checks my box?" I whined for reassurance that the little adventure wouldn't go hideously wrong, call up karma, and crush my self-esteem.

"Well, you don't have to worry about that for two reasons," he said. "First, you're a total flirt. And second, no one will detect your neuroses in under 10 minutes."

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Leave the "bitch" at home, please

"I like your pussy!" It came from a chubby pubescent boy behind me on the sidewalk, more for the benefit of a passing truckload of gawking local men than to gain my affections. It was noon in Tegucigalpa, the first day of my return to Honduras (with a human rights organization), and I was headed downtown for a late breakfast. I'd been in the country once before, and had promised I'd never subject myself to it again. Never say never. I've heard that before, too.

My first trip to Honduras was purely for pleasure, but dodging bullets and sexual harassment aren't my good time. It was a valuable visit, though. I discovered that while learning a new language can open doors, not all doors need to be opened. What this boy said to me, I'd heard many times from the lips of Honduran urbanites. It's been whispered, it's been yelled, it's been accompanied by classic goosing.

I assumed this boy didn't know what he was saying, not really, and only mimicked the older men to impress them. Tens of them, crowded together on the flatbed truck, heeded the boy's cue and jeered. If any were silent, I couldn't be sure; my eyes rolled too far back to tell. My stomach growled. If only I could fart on command.

I felt obligated to clear things up for the boy, to give him a fighting chance for future international relations. In crap Spanish, I explained that if he ever wants to actually land an English-speaking girlfriend, he shouldn't mention the P-word when he introduces himself. He seemed to be listening, and thought for a moment before screaming, "I am going to fcuk you so hard, you bitch." To his credit, he pronounced each word perfectly.

As any lone traveller, my skin is tan and thick, so it's not the heckling that bothers me. Depending on where I am, I'm a güera, gringa, muñeca, guapa, flaquita, linda, or even a calientita huevos. That's fine. It's just that I'd rather leave the "bitch" and "pussy" at home. So, if I ever meet the jerk tourist who imported that phrase, I'm going to be sure he knows what these guys are saying about his mother.

Anyway, this is what I ended up eating for breakfast:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Take me to India, over coffee

Dangerously, I've encountered a man who has the power to make me fall desperately, actively in love with everything he shows me. I'm at his mercy. This morning he's managed to make me homesick for India, and for all the places in the world I've not yet travelled, chest-achingly desperate to be there, absolutely everywhere, right at this moment. Ouch.

He's Jonathan Clark, a photographer, and you can see his genius, too.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Not that kind of girl

You can't blame a guy for trying. Not when he's a Dirtbomb.

If I were him, I'd expect to swing into Montreal, play a show and then find me some groupies. There I'd be, all stage-fresh and sweaty, drenched in band-juice, Detroit rocker to the core. It'd be action guaran-EFFEN-teed. Unless, of course, I wasted my night with girls like me and my friend instead. Then I might end up heckled into submission and photographed with girl-fists in my mouth, that's it/that's all. Overall, I think he got what he was looking for, just not exactly how he wanted it:

This might be why I'm single.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Caught in public

I got caught using one of my superpowers in public. Not an especially uncommon one, so I suspect the significance of my fumble will fade quickly. I didn't have much to lose, but somehow that made the little episode even more embarrassing. I was trying not be noticed at all, but hesitated before launching my invisibility shield, and that's what screwed me.

Done well in the right context, invisibility has incredible benefits. You have secret access to more information, and can trick people into thinking you have even cooler special abilities, like omniscience or ESP. Of course, there are some situations you'd rather be left out of completely; those in which, according to the laws of the universe, you can make no positive contribution. We all appreciate that there are some things we just don't need to involve ourselves in. That was the sort I was trying to avoid when I got caught.

A few months ago, after a first, semi-blind date, I tried to tell this guy (the one I nearly ran into downtown this weekend) that I wasn't interested in him, and I did it in the most adult way I could manage. Quickly and with clear intent, I planned to rip his hope away, like I would a band-aid; it would be relatively painless. In practice, the tactic worked less like band-aid removal, and more like tripwire. When I said it wasn't going to work out, I set him off, his pride burst into shrapnel, his aura into a mushroom cloud. It didn't go well.

Just as he was the type to write song lyrics for me after meeting me once, he was likewise the type to audibly, visibly, intolerably hiss and sulk, immediately upon notice of rejection. First, he asked how I could be sure we had no future together after only one date, and demanded a satisfactory explanation. I tried my best to provide one, but he'd dismissed "instinct" already, and that was all I really had. Whatever the exact reason was, I couldn't put my finger on it. Something just wasn't right, or easy or pursuit-worthy.

His reaction was typical of the men I date. He authored a series of emails, each one a response to his last, dissertations, their amendments, and further retractions. He was certain I'd be sorry, if only he could get through to me. If only I knew who he really was, he suggested, I'd reverse my decision and he'd consider reinstating the mating privileges he'd slated for me. Until then, there'd be no mingling of his gene pool with mine, no wedding plans, no meeting of the parents; not until I realized I'd made the biggest mistake of my life. Usually messages with this theme were accompanied by a contradictory caveat about how he'd be happier without me, and that he could do better anyway.

I let him exhaust himself, hoping that the "really nice guy" he said he was would step forward and override the childish and persistent reactionary he was in practice. It took a week. Right on schedule, he left a phone message saying that he'd let his pride get the best of him, and he'd, regrettably, lashed out because he liked me and didn't handle the disappointment well. Ah-ha. I saw then what fundamental factor it was that permeated his every attribute, the one which tainted him for me, that which nullified any attraction I may have otherwise had for him and undermined any concession I'd have made for his shortcomings: emotional maturity. I don't want to date someone who'll pull my ponytail or stomp his feet when he should rather be turning a cheek. I acknowledged his apology and thanked him, stashed his skeleton in my closet, and resolved to keep things friendly.

The reality of the situation is that he still thinks I'm a bitch, and I still think he's emotionally stunted. We have nothing to say, because we don't know each other beyond that fatal date or the emails and messages that followed. Neither of us would benefit from running into each other downtown, especially not with his new young girlfriend on his arm. The encounter would be awkward. We'd search for neutral words, or, at the very least, struggle to find a neutral tone for our "hello". Afterward, he'd have to provide context to appease his date's curiousity, and either say something negative to belittle my existence, or say something nice that would require her to think about me, needlessly. Regardless, he'd be forced to reflect on a time when things didn't go his way.

When I saw them walking toward me on this already unfortunate drizzly day, I opted for invisibility. The same weather I'd earlier cursed had me armed with an umbrella, essential for this particular act of evasion, my superpower, my privilege. I hesitated briefly, assessed the situation, then engaged my impermeable shield and tilted it forward to conceal me. Watching for two sets of feet to enter my now-limited field of vision, I worried that he'd seen me. Then, there they were, the sneakers, just as I reached my destination. I stopped, and watched from under my shield to be sure they were gone before I relinquished my invisibility. His were bulky and age-inappropriate, and hers, hers were polka-dotted high-top sneaker-boots, with buckles and bells and whistles. If shoes make the man, if they make the woman, too, I'm happy to see he's found a match.

The great thing about invisibility is that, even when not done well, even when you get caught in the act, once you're invisible, the people you wanted to hide from in the first place will pretend they didn't see you anyway.

Photo: Some rights reserved. Please see the photo in its original context here.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The guy who wants to knock me up

If he believes in fate, I'm screwed.

I used to see him every week, just the two of us, alone in his windowless office, where he fantasized about having preggo sex with me. It's not his fault; he's a family guy. Maybe he shouldn't have let me in on his long-term vision, though, or that he thought there could ever be an "us". After all, he was a branch representative at my neighbourhood bank, the guy who cashed my paycheques. And, I wasn't interested.

Almost four years ago to-date, I wrote about how I'd not be seeing him again, that all the entirely unfair, completely unethical special treatment I so enjoyed at the expense of other customers, would no longer be mine.

I would, from that day forward, have to stand in line at the bank like the rest of you. I whined about that, and you gave me no sympathy.

Well, he's back. After a few years of working in the one-block heart of Montreal's financial district, he's been promoted. Promoted and transferred to my new neighbourhood bank, by coincidence. Not fate. No, no, no. Not fate.

Now he's the über-confident Supreme Manager of (fancy-title-my-brain-can't-retain), or something, and he remembers my name. First and last. He remembers with a gleam in his eye, and ants in his pants. Oh, crap.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Reasons to not hang out with me

You know how sometimes you get into a certain mood that calls for very specific friends? Maybe you're feeling particularly wacked-out, or need a pick-me-up, or just the kind of laugh that they, and only they can give you? And you know, that if you could just meet up with them, you'd be laughing your ass off in two seconds?

And then, you realize that she now lives in Taiwan, teaching journalism and shocking the island's population with burlesque shows, or that she's married in Mexico making jewelery, or that she's in London warping young British minds, or busy owning New York and plotting her transition from news to film. Dammit.

Then the answer comes to you. You know exactly who'd be awake this late, the perfect person to call. Someone fresh, fun and completely hilarious, and living in Montreal. If he doesn't hang out with you right now, you think, he'd better have a damn good excuse. Then, you remember what day it is, and that, as a matter of fact, he does:

Juno Awards 2008
Nice one, Wintersleep.
REUTERS/Patrick Pricel (CANADA)

Monday, April 07, 2008

Me? Or, the official edition?

Revenue Canada---you know, that federal agency responsible for taxes and all sorts of official stuff---has changed my identity. Not by much, just the first letter of my given name, from a fairly common woman's name to something I've since discovered (thanks to Wikipedia) is a Dungeons and Dragons reference. They left my family name alone; my parents appreciate that.

It's nice to think that I don't personally owe taxes, but that I am so honourable, so benevolent as to pay the taxes of this other person who apparently shares my Social Insurance Number (the official series of numbers that represents a Canadian's life on file, that thing we're supposed to protect so as to avoid identity theft). My identity has been shifted, not stolen, so it doesn't worry me. Revenue Canada must have it on file somewhere.

While it's not pretty, I've been coping with my new four-letter name for a year now. Occasionally, I receive payment receipts and reminder slips in the mail for this, my significant tax-owing other, and it hasn't been a problem---not until recently. As is my nature, I've been lazy with filing my 2006 taxes, and Revenue Canada does not appreciate oversight. They do things strictly by the book, and they want to make sure this person with my SIN number knows that, so they sent a registered letter to my home. I knew it was from Revenue Canada immediately, because the post officer first made a Dungeons and Dragons reference and followed it with my family name when he buzzed my apartment. Only my buddies at Rev Can use that pet name for me.

Then, I ran into problems.

While, as far as Revenue Canada is concerned, I have a new name, as far as Canada Post is concerned, I have no corresponding identification to prove it. The post officer wouldn't give me the letter.

As is also my nature, I panicked. I know it's policy for Revenue Canada to send reminders around tax-time, and I know that's likely what the letter was about, but what if it was something else? Something more annoying and time-consuming? I needed to find out exactly what they wanted with the person with my SIN number before I'd be able to relax. So, I called. The number I had on file led to the voicemail of a man who'd be in meetings all day, so I called the alternate number he'd given. I told the default federal employee what had happened. He was incredulous, but lacked ideas for why I might lie about the incident.

With a familiar official, accusatory tone he said, "How, may I ask, did your name change?"

"That, " I answered, "is an excellent question. I preferred the one my parents picked out."

He gave me another number to call about the contents of the letter. That number was answered by a message saying that the voicemail box was full, that I should try again later. I did, again and again. No answer. Whoever I am, I won't be finding out what Revenue Canada wants, not until one of me can get through.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The pierogi cure for homesickness: At home in Latin America

Part of the thrill of travelling to far away lands for extended periods is that you get to have another normal. Anyone who's done it knows that travelling is no vacation, not in the colloquial sense. Speaking the language is not the same as speaking the culture or understanding its confusing subtleties.

Everything is a little more involved. First you need to get a handle on safety issues, like say, do cars yield to pedestrians? Are adolescent boys with assault rifles members of a street gang or national security? When a man with a gun comments on your ass is he a threat or a flirt? Don't worry, you'll master these distinctions in no time. Practice makes perfect.

Then, you learn to get around. Will the bus driver get impatient with you if you try to pay fare when you board? Or, if you wait until you're seated? Either way, you've probably overlooked something, and you'll likely piss him off. Don't take it personally, you can't help that you're ignorant.

Next, your relationship with stuff changes. You have only a few select artifacts from your life back at home, whatever you could carry – all the necessities and a few weighty luxuries you mistook for necessities, like your favourite shampoo, and speakers for your iPod.

Your favourite underwear will wear out, you'll lose the rest of your clothes among sheets in hostels and on beaches at night. You'll replace them with local fashions, and realize you're losing perspective. You'll be pretty sure sequins are alright in moderation; spandex as day-wear? You'll consider it.

Maybe you thought to bring photos of home to show people you meet, or to remind yourself of your other context. They'll become bent, cracked and water damaged within days of your arrival, and later, develop thick edges like playing cards, all faded and torn. Soon, looking at them will make you feel as though you're a hundred lives from when you started out.

Eventually, you'll develop comforting little routines, parallel to those you escaped from at home, whether by compulsion or aspiration to some sort of normalcy. Food is the first comfort. You may never eat fast-food back home, but you will on the road. You'll find some chain that looks familiar, buy the most basic, signature item on the menu, and then marvel at how not even that tastes as it should. The pizza sauce is sweeter, the cheese doesn't melt, the burger is greyer, and the fat in the fried chicken is bright yellow. Then, you'll realize that if food is truly to offer you comfort, you're going to have to make it yourself.

Yielding to traffic, watching for motorbikes, and wondering why your ass is so compelling, you'll make your way to the market to buy ingredients for your comfort dish, your pièce de résistance. The simple one that never fails, the one you make to impress dates. At the market, you'll find nothing you need.

I made pierogi in Buenos Aires, or a close approximation. There is no bacon in Argentina, just steak and prosciutto and slabs of what could be cut into bacon. The potatoes and onions are watery, completely different from the Canadian sort (which are likely already a compromise for my Polish relatives). The cream is sweet, not sour. I asked the deli guy to describe various types of cheese to me, and he asked for my cell number. I settled on one that looked like old cheddar. Black pepper, I had to hunt for it. Flour. I found flour. Pastries smothered in dulce de leche would have been a breeze, pierogi, no.

In my friend's apartment in Caballito, a working-class district of Buenos Aires, I chopped, sliced, grated, caramelized, mashed, rolled, stuffed, boiled and fried my comfort. I added a little vinegar to the cream, because my comfort comes sour.

My Argentine friend was fascinated by this strange production, tolerant of the mess I'd made in his kitchen, and worried that I'd put too much black pepper in the mix, because it might be "spicy". That perspective, I thought, is exactly why I am cooking for myself.

Fried in far too much butter, these greasy pockets of perfection were exquisitely familiar. Even the improvised sour cream seemed right. I was no longer in an apartment in the southern hemisphere, in a city or sea of 17 million, fumbling with Argentine Castellano. I wasn't "Cucurucho", my southern stand-in, an adaptation of myself. I was no one but my mother's daughter, in her kitchen, stealing mouth-searingly hot pierogi from the platter on the way to the family dinner table. I was transposed. I stayed there until I had my fill, and was ready for my handsome, and now overfed and bloated friend to summon me back to Buenos Aires with his comparison of pierogi to empanadas.

The difference, thought Sebastián, was that the Polish version incapacitates you, making you feel as though you might die of a butter and starch overdose, but he was confident yerba mate would save us. It always did. And, now that I am back in Canada, when I am missing Buenos Aires, it still does.

De los primeros mates, originally uploaded by juanpol.