Thursday, November 27, 2008

The final countdown

What is 4 x 24? Fewer hours than I have to purge two years of living from my apartment, that's what.

In four days, a French PhD student will be sleeping in my bedroom. Actually, she'll be doing whatever she wants in there, and I suppose she'll do it anywhere she wants, just like I did. She might even do it on my sofa. I won't be here to stop her. No matter what she does, I'm sure I did it better.

Ninety-six hours to transience and my house is still full of furniture, art, cookware and crap. You'd think losing all your belongings and mooching off friends would be easier. Don't people do it all the time?

Yesterday morning, I signed a contract with movers who've agreed to transport my antiques and irreplaceables back to Nova Scotia where my parents will reluctantly, but thankfully store them. Then, the new tenant arrived to see what of my furniture she'd buy, and last night I hosted a giveaway/livingroom sale I called, 'Dinner and Dibs'.

Basically, I sorted through all my things, lured some close girlfriends to my house with the promise of a home-cooked dinner and gave them first pick of everything I'd rather not pay to store or transport to England. Whatever they didn't want, I forced on them, like an annoying salesgirl working on commission. "Oh, Pyrex cookware is timeless, and would go so well with this sailor's cap!"

I'm stuck with a few dining room chairs, which I rescued (read: pilfered) from the basement of this building. At the time, I wondered why anyone would abandon something so nice, but now I see that furniture fate is inescapable and, chair by chair, they're going right back to where I found them so someone else can wonder the same. There are also some leftover books, deceivingly titled and disappointingly academic, from my university years: Pornocopia and Public Sex (among the less scandalous untouchables, Anthropological Theory and The Mass Media in Canada). Most everything else is claimed and awaiting pick-up.

Perhaps the greatest marker of the evening's success is having finally uncovered my house keys – one of life's little conveniences – which have been missing beneath the chaos for nearly a week.

The crumbs I'll be donating to the local mission today, and by Sunday, all evidence of my life here and my ongoing battle with mice and my creepy neighbour will be completely gone, save for bits of furniture the new tenant bought, that red paint I spilled in the sink, and the stack of papers that fell behind the fridge. These little accents will add to those left by the previous tenants: the good luck charm bolted into the oak frame of the doorway, unidentifiable trinkets lodged in the radiator, and little poops left by midnight visitors – the furry rodent kind, not the freaky weirdo sort.

Ninety-five hours to go...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Death, lies and dinner

When I was small, my parents lied to me all the time. "It's beef," they'd say, and drop a plate on the table. Sometimes, I'd refuse to eat, convinced I'd heard them slip a barely audible "just like" between the "it's" and "beef". It was inhumane, I thought, to hunt wild game and (at that age) equally inhumane to force me to eat vegetables as the alternative. My parents were cruel, and I was right not to trust them.

Several incarnations of Bambi's mother and his philandering father have joined us for dinner, as have Thumper, Donald Duck, Winnie the Pooh, Jaws and various anonymous guests, sometimes in a medley of murder my mother liked to call 'stew'. Children's stories, cartoons, movies and Teddy bears did not serve me well in a family of naturalists, hunters and fisherfolk.

Not until I fully understood the horrors of industrial farming, and tired of my diet of pasta and frozen chicken nuggets while studying at an out-of-province university, did my views on my parents' eating habits begin to soften. By then, I cared more about what food wasn't (pasta or mechanically separated meat), than what it was.

Not until I'd travelled throughout Southeast Asia and Latin America did I begin to actually appreciate my parents' choices. As it turns out, a lot more can be considered food than I'd initially thought, and the horrors of my mother's cooking weren't, comparatively, so terrifying. Travelling, I learned to find my happy place, which allowed me to politely choke down whatever lovingly slaughtered, hacked and salted ungodly creatures I'd been served. They won't eat me from the inside out, I consoled myself. Even if the heads are still on? asked my little voice.

While I maintain my belief that food should not be able to look back at you, I've learned to appreciate dead, cooked versions of creatures, so long as I have nothing to do with their death or any stage postmortem/pre-meal.

Among life's greatest motivators, however, (pain, necessity, a full bladder) is the desire to look tough in front of one's peers, and this is what got me to both kill and cook one of Earth's most hideous, head and all: a lobster.

I watch my parents do it every year on Christmas Eve, and, with the help of my happy place, I was pretty sure I could pull it off for my mostly urban, English, fruit-and-salad-loving boyfriend. On this, his first visit to Canada, my family had already introduced him to bear stew, moose sirloin, vampire-repelling dill and garlic pickles, pierogi and three batches of Mom's cookies, and it seemed a shame to have him leave Nova Scotia without eating something from the sea, especially since he'd never tried lobster.

My greatest realization, in cooking the beast, was that I truly am becoming more like my parents. Here I am, carrying on the tradition of lying to people who are reluctant to kill for dinner, while my boyfriend screams, "It's ALIVE! It's ALIVE! OH, EFF! It's still ALIVE!":

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Putting the 'pet' in petulant

It's dead under a stool in my kitchen right now, and no, I am not going to do anything about it. Not until my visitor has come and gone. He's due in about ten minutes, and I'd hate to be caught red-handed, heartless and with a body on my conscience. Once he leaves, I'll roll it up and carry it at arm's length to the basement – the logical place to stash a corpse. Until then, I'll just act casual.

I won't pretend I didn't get a sense of satisfaction from the kill, maybe even a little adrenaline. I am entirely capable of killing again. The deceased should've known better than to enter my home uninvited, sneaking around at night, stealing bits he thought I'd not notice and presumably defecating in miniature throughout. I wouldn't accept that behaviour from a person, it's just not polite. For a mouse, that behaviour is punishable by death – preferably the quick, sudden and immediate sort.

The entire scenario feels as though it might've been orchestrated by a higher, comic power. Just this week, my boyfriend proposed getting a hamster – a sad interim replacement, I think, for the cat he can't have thanks to his roommate's allergies – to keep in his own corner of the house, his bedroom.

He seemed surprised by my disgust with the idea, perhaps having seen me as the quintessential Canadian, in tune with nature and with love for all animals. Likewise, I expected more of him. He's English, after all, and you'd think the Black Death would've been enough of a lesson.

I said everything I could to deter him, short of threatening to never spend the night again and letting him imagine the horror of that on his own. I spoke of pee and wood chips, pet shop odour and the relentless whir of exercise wheels. A bedroom is no place for a rodent, and I think both Richard Gere and most gerbils would agree.

Faking my best heartlessness, I resolved to tolerate his particular rodent, but only as fodder, until it came time for us to move in together and I'd get a cat and let nature take its bloody course. You know, like Darwinian selection for pets. I was mostly joking.

Still, when I saw a mouse in my house yesterday, I set traps straight away, with delicious canap├ęs of dried fruit, cheese and whole wheat muffin crumbs. One bite for me; one bite for the undead.

Before long, the mouse enjoyed its last nibble and now I am faced with the only thing more disgusting than a rodent scurrying unchecked about my house, and that's a dead one.