Saturday, October 29, 2011

My Younger Sisters.

This post is dedicated to my sisters Becky and Ally.

Screaming and yelling could be heard coming from the girl’s bedroom. While this was not unusual (this is often how they communicated), they seemed a little more excited than usual. I walked into the room and discovered that they were having one of their ‘staple’ fights. The bunk beds. Though Alison was younger than Becky, she was the alpha girl, the king of the hill, or the keeper of the top bunk.

Bunk beds are in themselves a very clever invention. Instead of having the kids take up valuable space in the bedroom you could simply stack them up at the side! Like thousands of other North American kids, Becky and Alison went to war over who slept on the top and who slept on the bottom. Ally claimed the top early on and enjoyed the feeling of looking down upon her older sister.

Becky wanted her turn on the top bunk, but she lacked the necessary ferocity to ‘debunk’ Ally. Whenever Becky would make her claim to the top, Ally would attack with devastating rejoinders such as “Fine. I won’t be your friend.” or “Fine. I won’t play with you.” or in very serious situations, “Fine. You’re a p**p head.” Becky would be sent reeling with these zingers and would retreat to the bottom bunk like a wounded animal. Ally would lay back on her top bunk and sleep blissfully.

Back to the beginning though. As I walked in the bedroom, I noticed that Becky was not going to give in. Becky yelled at Ally to give up the top bunk. Ally began quoting Churchill – “We will never surrender. We will fight on the duvet, we will fight on the pillows, we will fight on the ladder. We will never surrender!” “GET DOWN” Becky replied. Ally leaned over the edge and said “Fine. I won’t be your friend.” This barb bounced off Becky like a Lilliputian cannon ball. “I said – get down!” I reflected that Becky needed some clever rejoinders of her own. There was an edge to Becky’s voice that I hadn’t heard in a while. Alison sensed this too, and realized that her other threats would be useless. Becky’s eyes were blazing like Gandalf the Grey. She reached up and grabbed the top bar. She pulled herself up and was now at eye level with Ally. “Get down!” snarled Becky. Ally was like an alley cat (get it?) backed into a corner. She was desperate with nowhere to go. Her eyes began rolling around wildly. In desperation she sunk her nails into Becky’s hands which were gripping the top rail. Becky let out a crazed scream as Ally’s claws sunk deeper into Becky’s paws. It was like watching a scene from the Lion King where Mufasa and Scar are fighting. Just as Scar sinks his claws into the paws of Mufasa and hurls him into the wildebeest stampede below, so to did Ally scratch Becky’s hands and throw her off the bunk bed. I ran to the bed in slow motion (for effect) and yelled nooooo! (also in slow motion). Becky plummeted to the floor. The fall was at least one foot. Instead of a swirling stamped of wildebeests, Becky landed on a pile of Barbies. Heads and accessories went everywhere.

Alison remained at the top.

The girl’s room was quite different than me and my brother Scott’s room. We had two beds and that was it (I may have had a few books as well). The girls’ room was jammed from top to bottom with barbies, dolls, clothes, lipsmackers, and hair accessories. They had power bars upon power bars filled with every sort of curling iron ever created. When the girls were doing their hair in the morning, a strange ‘cha-ching!’ sound could be heard from the whirling hydro metre. The floor was booby-trapped with ‘polly pocket’ figurines to ward off any unwanted intruders. The ceiling was filled with glow in the dark stars. Not only did they have the Big Dipper on the ceiling, but they also had constellations that spelled their names. I still catch myself looking for those in the night sky.

Dad was never impressed with all the clutter in their room, but then one day, Dad discovered the TV show “Clean Sweep”. It changed his life. “Clean Sweep” was a show about people who had way too much stuff. The hosts of the show would come into a house and drag all of the stuff out into the front yard into a giant pile. The homeowners would then have to sort out what they were going to keep and what they were going to toss. Dad loved the concept, but made his own version. When cleaning the basement, he would drag everything out into the backyard, make a gigantic pile and then instead of sorting through it, he would light it on fire. This was quicker and there was less drama.

On one of his days off, Dad was watching Clean Sweep. After the show was over, he walked by the girl’s room and saw a challenge. In no time at all, a huge pile developed in the back yard. Dad lit the pile on fire and gave a contented sigh. Life was good. When the girls came home from school that day, Dad was excitedly waiting for them by the door. “There’s a surprise for you in your bedroom!” he said proudly. The girls dropped their backpacks and ran down the hall. Dad rubbed his hands together gleefully. Dad and I heard the bedroom door open, and then two screams (which sounded like they came from Mordor) pierced the air. Dad’s confident grin weakened as I looked around for invading orcs.

“My diffuser is gone! What happened to my straightner! My hair amplifier is missing! What did you do with my follicle fertilizer!” Becky and Ally had dark looks on their faces as they stormed into the living room. “Surprise!” said Dad with little conviction. “I clean sweeped your room!” The girls looked out to the backyard to see a smouldering pile. The smell of melting plastic only confirmed what they were thinking.

It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without sisters. The house would have been much quieter, and we probably could have gone on exotic vacations with the money we would of have saved from the hydro bills. Life would have been very dull without Becky and Ally and all of the drama and excitement that accompanied them. I think growing up with my sisters has helped me deal with the drama and excitement that happens in the classroom on a daily basis.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My first day at Brock... (cue suspenseful music)

The year was 2001. High School was a thing of the past, and I was now a mature, intellectual, sophisticated university student (or so I hoped). School hadn’t officially started yet, but I had an orientation seminar to attend. It was to be a busy day. I had a dentist appointment in the morning to fill some cavities caused by gorging myself on vast amount of candies over the summer holidays. As I recall, I had told the dentist to fill them all. There were four cavities in all – one in each corner of my mouth. Because my pain tolerance is not much higher than that of a Monarch Butterfly, I emphasized to my dentist to freeze my mouth well. He did. The novocaine needles were going everywhere – top, bottom, sides, tongues, throats, nose etc. The dentist could of have set off a Roman candle in my mouth and I would of have been blissfully unaware. After the dentist had re-surfaced my molars and told me some nonsense about going easy on the fruitellas’, I headed off to Brock.

I rolled onto the campus with my burgundy 1989 International Edition Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera. I found a parking spot, and made the trek over to the Mckenzie Chown blocks for my seminar. Even though my nose was still frozen from all of the novocaine, I could still smell pizza as I headed towards the seminar room. I had skipped breakfast which caused my stomach to groan like a love sick moose during mating season. My mouth started watering too – I quickly put my hand to my mouth to stop any unsightly drooling. First impressions are important after all.

I entered the room, put on my nametag and sat down. One of the leaders said “Hi! Would you like a slice of pizza and some coke?” My stomach was growling so loud that the students in the room began to wonder if a pack of feral dogs were roaming the halls. I felt my face – totally frozen. “I wuff slofff slom” I replied (for those of you who don’t speak Novocainian it could be roughly translated as I would love some). She looked confused. “I’ll slet it myslelf” I said (I’ll get it myself). She looked confused and concerned.

I picked out a nice big slice of cheesy pizza, and grabbed a cold coke out of a cooler. A little voice inside me was whispering “ARE YOU CRAZY?!” I stopped and walked back to the table with the pizza. Should I put it back? My stomach, which was now sounding like Chewbacca, was desperate for the pizza. Instead of putting the pizza back (which would of have ended this sad little story right here) I grabbed a stack of napkins.

I sat down and began to nonchalantly eat my slice of pizza. I brought the pizza to my mouth and took a healthy bite. I tried to pull the pizza away, but my incisors hadn’t taken a bite cleanly off yet. I bit down harder and began to slide my teeth around. I politely put the slice down while I chewed away. I took a napkin and delicately dabbed my mouth. The napkin came back full of pizza sauce. I quickly brought the napkin back up and wiped again. The napkin was still full of pizza sauce. I took a fresh napkin and tried again, only to realize that there must be pizza sauce all over my face. It was at that point that I started to get funny looks from my fellow students. I desperately started wiping my face with more napkins, but could never get my face clean. It then dawned on me – it wasn’t pizza sauce – it was blood and lots of it. I wasn’t sure if I had bitten my lip or tongue – they were still completely frozen. I cracked open the can of pop somehow hoping that the pop would wash away the blood. That too proved to be a mistake. I’m not sure if any coke actually made it in my mouth, but about half the can flowed down my chin and onto my shirt like the Zambezi River. My pile of napkins was dwindling quickly as I was trying to clean up two spills. I was more helpless than BP execs during the Gulf oil spill.

Finally the seminar was over. My stomach, though by no means satisfied by one bite of pizza (and half a lower lip as I was to soon learn), was settling down and now sounded like a lonesome loon on a mist filled lake on an early morn. I collected my mountain of bloody napkins and my half chewed pizza and headed for the garbage. I fled the room and ran for my car. When I got in my car, I pointed the rear-view mirror towards my face and let out a startled cry. My shirt, neck, and lower half of my face was covered with a mixture of dried blood, pizza sauce and coke. My lower lip had been severely punctured and had inflated drastically. I could of have written ‘Goodyear’ on it. It was visibly throbbing.

It was then that I realized that I had a long journey ahead of me if ever I was to become that suave, sophisticated, and serious student I had aspired to become.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Custom Cruiser (they don't make 'em like they used to)

I have come to the stage of my life where I can now tell my students what life was like when I was their age. I particularly enjoy telling them about our station wagon. In this day and age of futuristic space aged minivans with all the fixings, the 1980’s station wagon seems like something out of the Smithsonian. It was a very unique vehicle. The first thing that struck you about the station wagon was its length. It was at least thirty feet long. The classic wagon’s were two-toned. The bottom was wood panelled and the top was a solid colour. The wood panelling gave off a sense of class (or maybe that it was very flammable). The spoked rims were encircled by classic white-walled tires.

I can still remember when Dad brought ‘her’ home for the first time. It glided into the driveway the same way a F-16 lands on the deck of a aircraft carrier. I was waiting on the sidewalk – eager to see the new family ride. Dad was very excited about the new car and had told us that the car was ‘fully loaded’. He had said that the interior looked like the cockpit of an airplane. He was right too – the inside was bedazzled with knobs and switches (some of which had zero uses as we came to realize later). We loved the station wagon at first, but the honeymoon quickly ended.

The first major drawback was the backseat of the wagon. Two people could sit in the back and would face backwards. It was always awkward when you were stopped at an intersection and you were face to face with the driver behind you. You couldn’t open the back door from the inside either – you either had to crawl out of the window, or wait until someone opened it from the outside. Initially sitting in the back felt like you were in a limousine with someone opening the door for you, but this changed quickly when someone ‘forgot’ to open the back door and you were stuck in the hold of that cavernous beast.

Dad took a lot of pride in the station wagon – or woody wagon – as we started to call it. Dad and I cleaned her every Saturday. I would handle the white walls and rims, and Dad would take care of the gigantic hood and the panelling. Little did we know then that this Saturday ritual would be dropped due to the decline of this venerable vehicle.

The decline started with the start of school. The bus stop was about five kilometres down the road and Mom had to drive us to the bus stop every morning. We would all pile in the woody wagon bright and early and get dropped off at the bus stop. My older brother Derek had just come to the point in his life where he started doing his hair. This meant that Mom and the rest of us had to wait in the car until Derek had slicked his hair back with half a litre of gel. By the time Fonzie, I mean Derek, came out of the house we would be late for the bus. Once Derek would get into the car and we got used to the cloud of aftershave and cologne Derek had anointed himself with, Mom would throw the car into reverse and lurch out of the driveway. Once on the road, Mom would jam the ignition into drive and stomp on the gas pedal in a way that would of have won great acclaim at the Indy 500. The great engine roared to life as the gas flowed into it like the mighty Mississippi. A belch of exhaust signalled our launch as I looked out of the back window to see if I could see a hole yawn open in the ozone. The road we lived on was very bumpy and pot-holed. It was the type of road that would bog an army tank down. This did not intimidate Mom – she would weave around the craters with great skill. Sadly this daily ritual took a toll on the station wagon – it seemed to lose some of its pep after a while.

A crushing blow to the aesthetic beauty of the wagon came when Derek got his licence. One fall day, Derek had built up some good steam with the wagon and was careening around a sharp curve. A cube van was approaching from the opposite direction and was encroaching into Derek’s lane. Being the woodsman that he is, Derek veered away from the truck and scraped a large stump that was parked on the shoulder. It was wood on (faux) wood. The stump came out of the ordeal unscathed. Sadly the wagon’s wheel well was pushed in and mangled. Whenever we hit large bumps in the road (i.e. everyday on the way to the bus-stop), the damaged wheel well would scrape along the tire.

There really is so much more to say about this great car. The trip out East in the wagon could fill a book by itself. In the end the wagon just came to a gurgling halt. There was no great explosion or heroic finish. She was like the ol’ family pet who has to be put down – just as ‘Fluffy’ is put to sleep, so to was the wagon put to sleep (aka – crushed) at the wreckers (that thing had enough metal to build at least 50 Hyundai Accents). No more spokes, no more white walls, no more wood panelling, no more ear splitting scraping noises from the crushed wheel well, no more awkward stares from the back seat, and no more useless knobs and buttons. No more.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Shot Heard Around The World

Did you know that at least 15,000 Canadians fought in the Civil War? There may have been more that fought but we have no records of the men that fought for the South. Because of the cotton coming from the South, Britain sided with and supported the Confederates. Canada too, in some instances, aided the South by giving refuge to Confederate soldiers. In some ways then, the civil war seeped into Canada. Most of Canada’s population is located along the US border, and many Americans had moved north to start new farms. When the call to arms came, many of these farmers rushed down to help fight the South.

Two weeks ago, I went with my 7/8 class to the Otterville Civil War Re-enactment. The little town of Otterville (what – you haven’t heard of it?!) actually has a little Civil War cemetery. It was a rainy, cold afternoon, which always seems to add to the solemnity of these events. We filed off the bus and were greeted by a Union soldier who led us to the town blacksmith. He was very interesting, but it was also very nice to stand around the nice warm forge.

Next was the field doctor. His demonstrations and speech was definitely the highlight of the afternoon. His tools and instruments were all lined up in front of him as he proceeded to tell us how to amputate a limb. It was at that point that I was thankful I skipped lunch. I noticed that some of the students were becoming a little white faced as he enthusiastically explained the proper method of cutting the skin off of an amputated arm into proper flaps. One student started to edge to the back of the crowd as the ‘doctor’ instructed us how to saw through the bone. When he picked up a pair of pliers, I led a couple of the shell shocked students away from the tent to have a little breather. I made sure they were out of earshot. I came back just in time to hear him talking about how the doctor would sometimes have to dig into the wound and dig out the artery with a clamp. I was feeling very woozy by the time he was finished. When he ended, he asked for questions. I jumped in like an acrobat – “Sorry – no time for questions – got to keep moving!” The doctor looked a little disappointed. We moved along as the good doctor waved goodbye (with a saw in his hand) and told us to come back when we had more time.

It was now time to learn how to shoot a musket. We gathered around a couple of Union soldiers who gave us a couple of demonstrations. After the smoke cleared away, and the ringing in our ears subsided, one of the soldiers asked if the teacher would like to shoot the musket. “Look at the time!” I said. “I think everyone wants to go back and listen to the doctor explain how he treats gangrene.” It was to no avail. The kids were chanting “Shoot! Shoot!” I stepped forward took the musket and loaded her up. A Civil War soldier was expected to shoot three rounds per minute. It only took me four minutes. I shot the musket with perfect precision. Half the students fell to the ground for effect.
As I led the students back to bus, I listened in on the excited chatter about amputated limbs, 19th century clothing, muskets, bullet wounds and battles. I love how history can come alive like it did that afternoon for a grade 7/8 class and for their teacher.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Short Story...

Swimming lessons. The very thought sent shivers down my spine. I couldn’t wait for school to end, but I dreaded the advent of having to spend an entire morning for three weeks at Jordan pool. Rumours swirled around the pool deck that someone had seen an actual chunk of ice floating in the pool that morning. Charlie McBain swore that he saw the life guards dump bags of ice in the pool – then again, Charlie had also claimed that the life guards were really former convicts. I had passed through ‘red’ last year, and was now in ‘maroon’ – whatever that meant. I wasn’t thinking of the colour as much as the state of being ‘marooned’ on this wretched pool deck on a Monday morning with the prospects of having to spend a couple hours submerged in a hypothermia inducing pool. As I huddled with my fellow ‘maroonies’ (morons?) I looked around the pool deck. A heavy fifteen foot chain link fence surrounded the pool deck. The tall lifeguard chairs served as the watchtowers to this compound. There would be no escape. I looked beyond the chain link fence to my mother sitting with a group of ladies in their nice comfy lawn chairs – they seemed to enjoy this unfolding horror, just as the Romans enjoyed watching spectacle unfold in their coliseums.

I followed my group over to the edge of the pool, while Nick our instructor gleefully informed us how many laps we would be doing. Visions of a pool skimmer and the back of Nick’s head danced through my head. My thoughts were interrupted by screams coming from the other end of the pool. One of the ‘pollywogs’ had latched himself onto the chain link fence. His eyes were wild with fear, and a ghastly scream spilled out from his mouth. Resistance was futile. Two life guards tag teamed the little ‘pollywog’ and started to pull him away from the fence. His mother assisted from the other side of the fence and started to pry his little fingers away from the chain links. The thrashing boy was dismembered from the fence and carried towards the most feared object of the pool for ‘pollywogs’ – the diving board. The poor kid didn’t stand a chance. The “life” guards dropped the boy into the swirling waters. The fall was at least two feet high. The life guard reached over to the side of the deck and reached for the large hook. This was a ten foot pole with a giant hook at the end used to scoop drowning victims out of the pool. I had often thought what an excellent lighting rod that pole would make. I looked up into the sky wistfully. With a flick of the wrist the life guard scooped the boy out of the abyss.

Finally it was our time to go into the pool. Nick the merciless taskmaster, would be monitoring from the side. His job was to pace the side of the pool deck and to stomp on any little hand that would dare hang on the side. The initial shock of the cold water was stunning. The brain goes into survival mode and all extraneous information is forgotten, akin to a crashing computer. For the first few moments, I wasn’t even sure what my name was. My seventy pound body wasn’t able to take frigid waters as well as someone equipped with gelatinous epidermis. In all my years of swimming lessons, never did I once see the life guards join us in the pool.

After what seemed like hours of swimming laps and treading water we were allowed out of the pool. This part of the ‘lesson’ was my least favourite, but fortunately the life guards had mercy on me. For some unknown reason, the pool builders thought it would be a good idea to build a ‘high dive’. I would of have cautioned them with the story of the ‘Tower of Babel’. Over the years I have seen many injuries result from the high dive – the belly flops always being the worst. Seventy pound bodies were not meant to go off the edge of such a tall structure, but down they plummet – like a sheet of paper caught in a wind storm. Arms and legs would flail helplessly as the inevitable slapping sound would still the pool deck and hush the ladies behind the safety of the fence. The hook would then swing over the pool like a boom on a crane. Just as the battered body would float to the surface, the hook would scoop up the casualties and deposit them on the deck. “Who’s next?” the life guard would call in an all too smug voice. I edged my way to the chain link fence and hung on with a death grip...