Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Walk On The Wild Side

It was the summer I started smoking.  The cigarettes were Rothmans cigarettes – a brand I favoured not for its taste but for its ease of purchase, as they were prominently displayed right beside the cash register at our local gas station (at the tender age of 13, I was much too shy/awkward/nervous/all of the above to actually ask for a brand by name).

It was also the summer I discovered Lou Reed’s Take a Walk on the Wild Side.  I heard this song on the radio this past weekend and a memory came flooding back to me.  It’s a seemingly simple snapshot in time, but a profound and important one for me.  I remembered a summer evening, sitting on my parents white, wrap-around veranda  - a  veranda that hugged our blue gingerbread house, a house that everyone in town knew.  It had just rained, and the heat and humidity from the day had been lifted ever so slightly.  My parents had an abundance of lilacs around their property and the air was fragrant with them.  I was sitting there waiting for my boyfriend to come by and visit, a preppie, clean cut guy, and so memorable I can’t even remember his name now.  Everything and everyone was walking distance in my town, and I was looking for him to come over the bridge.  I had my walkman on – a clunker of a thing (I always received my brothers’ hand-me downs, he must have upgraded and passed this early model on to me).   I had a mixed tape in there, and I was listening to Take a Walk on the Wild Side over and over again (rewind, rewind, rewind).  Of course I had heard this song this song before, but I had never really listened to it.  Oh the details!  I was wearing cropped black esprit pants (I hadn’t started shaving my legs yet and was shy about the blonde hair on them), black oxford shoes, a white T-shirt with an image of a pouting, cigarette smoking James Dean on it.  My head was constantly cocked to the side at this point as I had just had my hair cut into a Belinda Carlisle-esque style where one side was cropped shorter than the other, forcing me to hold my head at a constant angle (if you are from the 80’s you know what I’m talking about).  My hair was also streaked with blond due to frequent squirts from a Sun-In bottle and my arms were brown with summer, the hair on them bleached white. 

I remember in that particular moment feeling really, really pretty.  I wish I could say that this was at the very least a rare occurrence for me, but it wasn’t even that.  I never felt pretty.  I think I popped out of my mother's womb feeling inferior in that department, and in subsequent years, was constantly trying to keep up with and emulate the prettier, popular girls at school, but never succeeding and constantly feeling down on myself.  But in that moment, listening to Lou Reed over and over again, taking chances with a new hair cut and what I thought at the time was a cutting edge t-shirt, I remember being excited that I felt pretty, and even a little bit confident.  Listening to the lyrics of the song with all of its references to people who are different, wanting to escape, escaping, I felt that song talking to me.    It was a moment of fuck it for me, fuck status quo, fuck constantly trying to get with the popular crowd, fuck trying to climb the social ladder, fuck it all.  It was the summer between Grade 8 and Grade 9, and I saw my chance to reinvent myself at high school, align myself with new people and new interests.   I broke up with my bland boyfriend shortly after that night, and started the journey of reinvention.

Now  I’m the first one to admit that I didn’t necessarily make the smartest choices in this transition (a smoking addiction for example, and skewed ideas of what was cool), but that one song, that summer’s eve, changed everything  for me and  started me on the road of making me who I am today.    Oh, and I like myself today, so that is a good thing.

Monday, June 11, 2012

I Want to Ride My Bicycle

Edie has no interest in learning how to ride her bike.  We took her training wheels off to sort of force the issue, but she has no desire to learn how to ride.  She has a pink Ariel scooter that she is content to scoot around the 'hood with, but it has no speed man.  This frustrates me to no end as my childhood would have been positively Dickensian without my two wheels.   As early as I can remember, I loved me a good bike ride.  From riding in the moulded deathtrap bucket on the back of my Dad's euro bike* to ditching my training wheels at a young age, my bike brought me from A to B in my small town, particularly important when parents didn't chauffeur us from A to B on a daily basis.

Edie's lack of interest in the velo arts has got me thinking about my own history with bike riding.   I remember the initial stress over whether you were going to get a boy bike or a girl bike.  As a girl, the femininity of the girl bike appealed to me, but the boy bar forced you to swing your leg off the bike when disembarking that made you look really, really cool.  If your parents were frugal (Scottish) you usually ended up with a bike at 6 years old that would last you until you were 19 years old.  This just reinforced a good sense of balance.   Accessories at a young age were most important.  A bell to annoy the fuck out of everyone was essential.  (Ding ding I'm here!  Ding ding I'm coming!  Ding ding I'm waiting for you!  Ding ding let's go!  Ding ding my bell is louder than yours!  etc etc).  The basket was also essential.  I went through a few of them,  from the aesthetically pleasing faux-white wicker ones to a balls out unfinished metal one (ugly, but it's the one that lasted for ever).  My basket was used for the transport of teddy bears, dolls and barbies from point A to point B.  Insisting they could not be trusted at home in my absence, my charges  were tenderly shoved and crammed into the basket, along with a jar of worms, caterpillars and ants whom I insisted co-habitate with a few blades of grass to sustain them.  As for a helmet, well, helmets were simply not part of the uniform back then - though if they were I imagine that they would be an awesome 1970's creations of steel, asbestos with awesome galactic paint jobs as well as lacking chin straps to keep them on.

Fun times I enjoyed on my bicycle:

1) A game called Ambulance Chaser.  Actually, it could have been Firetruck Chaser or Cop Car chaser.  As I mentioned, it was a small town and we were pretty flexible with what qualified for excitement.  In a nutshell, this game involved upon hearing a siren, seeking it out and then biking like a bat out of hell to follow the emergency vehicle to its destination.  The purpose of this game?  To "help" the cop/fireman/paramedic.  Yup, at the tender age of approx. 7, we honestly though we could provide assistance to an emergency situation.  I like to imagine myself in my Barbapapa t-shirt, Flintstone flip flops and Jordache jeans barking orders at civilians as the fire crew employed the jaws of life on a poor victim.  In reality, the only real contact we ever had with an emergency worker was one poor cop who actually stopped mid-chase, pulled over and asked us if we knew how stupid we were for chasing cop cars and that we would end up run over.   He squealed off, and, well being 7 and stupid, we tore out of there and followed him.  Surely he didn't mean it?

2) Biking to my boyfriends house.  I was only about 12, but we were at the crucial hand holding stage and I Just Had to See Him.  He lived pretty far away, on the "busy street".  I set out to see him that day.   I always had it in my mind that I should bike against the traffic because I always liked to see what was coming at me (I don't like to be sneaked up on).  I was pulled over that day by the cops, the pigs, the boys in blue, the fuzzzzzzzzzz.  They didn't like me riding on the wrong side of the road.  Think I obediently crossed the road and did what I was told?  Nope.  I explained my reasoning and they basically told me my reasoning sucked.  So I did cross the road - until they were out of site, then I crossed back again to my side, the right side.  I fought the law.  Remember this was the one busy street?  Well, they inevitably turned around to come back and they angrily pulled me over again.  The law won.  I got into a lot of trouble and there was noooooo hand holding that day.

3) Okay, this one is embarrassing.  I called this game Wedding (can you sense the desperation?)    Because of the nature of the game and my victim, I am guessing that I was as old as 11 when I played it.  I need to add here that there were a few summer days one year that I did not have a whole lot of friends.  This would have been the summer when my teeth were too big for head, my hair resembled a jaunty pyramid, acne had claimed my face, my legs were long skinny and dangly and I had a bit of belly that I had not yet grown into (thus the picture of the wasp - a pretty good likeness).  Anyhoooo, that was the summer of Rob Lowe.  I was in love with him and, well, let's make this fast.   I-would-tie-tin-cans-to-my-bike-and-bows-and-ribbons-and-pretend-that-Rob-and-I-were-riding-a-tandem-bike-together.  We-were-just-married-and-riding-off-into-the-sunset-to-our-honeymoon-destination(Tahitii if you must know).  

Shut up.

Okay, after that last point all fun memories are temporarily wiped from my memory.  I wish I could say it stopped there but I'm pretty sure the following year my marriage to Rob Lowe was annulled and Michael Schoeffling replaced his spot on my imaginary tandem bike.  That would have put me a 12 years old.  I have to go now.

All this to say I just want Edie to embrace her damn bike!

*(this bike was amazing - turquoise in colour, mirrors jutting out everywhere - it was like a non-motorized mod bike.  My Dad is from Scotland, so was this bike I think - street cred from early on.)

Monday, June 04, 2012

Mint Jelly

Every night Grace pleads for a "Little Girl Story".  These are stories, simple little anecdotes from my childhood - some rosy, some not so rosy, and some so mundane that it blows my mind that she asks for them again and again.

This particular one had her begging for more, more detail, more information,  MORE STORY!
I call the story Mint Jelly - it goes a little something like this, with Grace's questions added:

When I was a little girl, I loved mint jelly, the kind you eat with lamb.

*We don't eat lamb, do we?*

No, it doesn't agree with me now that I am old, and I have no idea how to make it.  Anyhooo, I loved the green stuff, but Nanny had to hide it from me so I wouldn't sneak any when I wasn't supposed to.

*Where did she hide it?*

Oh, um, on a shelf.

*Was it a high shelf?*

Yes,  a very high shelf.

*Could you reach with a chair?*

Errrr, no.

*But maybe you could have with a high chair*

Yeah, a high chair would have been good.

*Or a ladder, Grandad's ladder*.

Yes, and it wasn't' just Grandad's ladder, it was Nanny and Grandad's.

*But mostly Grandad's, because he does all the hard chores around the house*.

No, no that's not right, Nanny does lots of hard chores too.

*Like what kind of chores does Nanny do that need a ladder?*

(omy efffing god) I don't know Grace, windows and stuff I guess.


Okay, so I decided one day to make my own mint jelly.


I'm getting to that. I grabbed a big old ice cream container...

*What kind of ice cream was it?*

Oh, I don't remember.  Probably vanilla or butterscotch ripple, those are the only flavours I remember Nanny ever buying....

*But now she buys fun flavours*.

Yes, now she buys fun flavours.  Anyhooo, I filled the container up with mint leaves, gelatin and water and stirred it...

*Wait.  Like Jello?  She let you have that? Did you have to ask?  Where did she keep it?*

Oh, ummm, no, it was gelatin that had no flavour.

*Huh?  Why would you have that?  Did Grandad like that flavour?  No flavour?  Did you get in trouble for just taking it?  You would never let me take something without asking*.

Ah, no, gelatin can be used in recipes....I think.  I don't use it myself.

*You should ask Nanny how to use it, she's a good cook*.

(Burrrrrn).  Yes, she is a good cook.  No I didn't ask - things were different then, I played by myself a lot and just sort of helped myself to stuff.


Yeah really lucky.  So I let the mixture sit in the sun for a few days and nothing happened.  I just got stinky and gross.

*What did it smell like?  Was it minty? Watery? What EXACTLY did it smell like?*

Errrr, (I was kind of intimidated by this line of questioning) it smelled like rotting mint (I don't actually remember this detail).  So I brought it to Grandad's potting shed.

*What's a potting shed?*

Oh, it was like a little house in our back yard.

*A house?  You had a house in your back yard?*

Well, it wasn't really like a house more like a little cottage.

*You were rich*.

No, we weren't rich.

*Well, you were richer than we are now, we don't have TWO houses like you did*.

It wasn't like that, it was just like a big shed.

*How many rooms?*

Well, two, with little tiny other rooms.

*You were totally rich*.

Nooooo.....it was just this little odd house where Grandad kept his lawnmower and tools, and there were all these cool treasures in there, like neat antique-y things.  I could spend hours in that shed.  And I Ioved the smell, like gasoline and grass cuttings.  The best. (pause, waiting for another question, but she seemed to have accepted that we were not rich at this point).  So I brought the mint mixture in there for a few days and nothing happened, it just became more and more gross.  I finally decided to toss it when I realized my experiment had gone bad and would never be good enough to serve with Nanny's lamb dinners.  I marched it out to the creek and tossed it in there off the little bridge.

*What creek?  What bridge?*

Oh you know, that little creek that ran behind my back yard.  There was also this old half bridge, that only went halfway across the creek - the other half had broken off.

*You went there alone?*

Oh yeah, I spent hours poking along there, pretending to fish off the old bridge, racing leaves down the creek....tracking squirrels and chipmunks.

*But where were Nanny and Grandad?*

Oh, I dunno, in the house somewhere, or doing gardening, they didn't really keep track of us.  We kind of came and went  when we were kids.

*Weren't they scared something might happen to you*?

Nope, I really don't think they were.  And nothing ever did.

The story kind of faded from there, but Grace's line of questioning drew out such strong, vivid memories for me, and frankly in some ways it made me a little sad.  Sad because today she knows a million kinds of different ice cream flavours and isn't particularly excited by any of them (I practically birthed a cow when my mom brought home Tiger Tail one day).   She will never be allowed to play by the creek in the trails behind our house on her own, getting lost in her own little daydream world.  She would never dare poke around our cupboards rummaging for a snack because I prescribe everything for her.  Oh, and I'm a little sad for her because I will never be the cook that my mother is.

Sadness aside, those are some kick ass memories, and I thank my little girl for pulling them out of me.