Monday, March 28, 2011

High School Consequential

They tell me that you can't go home again. You'll find that the rooms, the hallways and the corridors have become too small to contain all of the memories, all of the dreams, all of the aspirations and all of the ghosts.

You've grown, they say; you're older, they say; you're past that, they say - you don't fit anymore...they say.

I say I didn't fit when I got to Templeton Secondary School. Most of the people I met were older, more self-assured, more stylish and more certain than I was. Even my old friends from elementary school had matured in our two months apart, and I wasn't like them anymore either. I suppose, if I'd given it a little more thought, that I might have noticed that nobody else really fit comfortably. All of us had some adjusting to do.

Maybe it was worse for those of us with an elder sibling's name on one of the graduation plaques outside the office wall. It was bad enough to be among the youngest in the school, it was far, far worse to try to live up to the family reputation - particularly if you didn't know that it had one. I reached the point fairly quickly where I didn't mention Alan's name at all. Everyone who remembered him seemed disappointed by meeting me.

The trick, I guess, was just to be myself. The problem was, I no longer had any idea who that self might be. So I stayed in the background, in the shadows, and I watched the people I thought I wanted to be like. I watched, I learned and I copied. Admiration, imitation and emulation - those were the ticket!

I think I knew I'd arrived when the guy with the shiny, pointed Italian shoes kicked me in the crotch. Or maybe it was when the thug in the second floor can was bumming a smoke from me while his buddy was aiming a right fist at the back of my head. I still walked carefully, but I walked just a little taller after that.

I still didn't fit though. I suppose I was bright enough, but I wasn't academic, athletic, tough or suppliant. I didn't belong on the Rugby Team, the Chess Club, the School Band or the Noses-Up-the-Principal's-Backside Committee. The only thing I seemed to do well was irritate teachers, and in time that seemed to inspire a degree of admiration in some of my classmates.

Most of the teachers I was involved with seemed not too interested in their subjects or their students. They were assigned to a place that they didn't want to be and were faced by a population of hostile natives, a bit like the Roman Legions in Britain. They were bringing us culture, education and enlightenment, while we just wanted to keep on painting ourselves with woad and sacrificing virgins to our ancient tribal gods (but enough about the Chess Club). They didn't fit here either, but I wasn't inclined to ameliorate their suffering.

I became a regular fixture outside my classroom doors and the vice-principal's office. In time, I became quite intimate with Vic Lindal's ping-pong paddle and Doug McIntyre's razor stap. I wore my stripes with pride, and I displayed them with a wink and a smile.

One of our guidance counselors kept telling me if I didn't apply myself, I was going to end up working in a warehouse - as if that were the depths of disgrace. So I began to apply myself - I applied myself to cutting PE classes to read John Steinbeck and to ditching Music in favour of writing short (terrible) one-act plays. When a warm, spring day conflicted with a Math class, I would be at New Brighton Park, applying myself to the damp grass and wishing that the pool was open.

For some reason, Lee Taylor, my English teacher liked me, and he invited me to a meeting of his drama club one afternoon when it was too cold for me to play outside. I met the same collection of dinks, wankers and losers there who shared many of my classes, and I also met a tall, dark-haired beauty named Susan. She was hopelessly out of my league, and she seemed like a bit of a snooty little cow. Naturally, I was smitten.

I began to spend more time at school, and I actually tried to behave so that my teachers would let me have time out of their classes for set construction, club meetings and to rehearse my three lines in our upcoming production of Dino. Honestly, I think most of them were pleased to see the back of me and didn't much notice the improvement in my demeanour.

Susan and I spent a lot of time together until she moved to Victoria with her family. Now I found that I was missing classes to work for passage to the Island. My visits to her became fewer and fewer; we wrote each other less and less, and finally, I got the letter that broke my poor, greasy heart.

I didn't exactly graduate from Templeton, but there was a transition and an amicable parting of our ways. My guidance counselor was right about me working in a warehouse - several, in fact, but I don't think he realized how much fun I'd have doing it.

I don't know what I was looking for when I joined an online community called GradFinders. I found several familiar names in the Templeton Secondary School Class of 1972, and  I was surprised to find that most of them were interested in how I was doing. I was even more surprised to discover that I actually cared about that. It was a couple of weeks later that I got an email from a lady named Sheral who asked if I remembered her when her name was still Susan.

I don't know if they've changed or it was me, but I do know that the people I went to high school with have grown in my estimation, my regard and my memory. If they or I have any wounds still open from forty years ago, we need to talk about that and to make peace with each other - it's always the right time to make peace. That is all that we owe each other, and it's all that we ever did owe.

When I met Susan, aka Sheral, aka the Tall Lady, aka Susie Fingers again, that's what I told her. She agreed, but then she was always most agreeable. Perhaps the least agreeable thing about her is the way that she keeps reading my blog posts over my shoulder.

The rooms and corridors are big enough for our memories, our dreams, our aspirations and all of our ghosts. I'm glad to be home.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Just Another Day in Paradise

I have a cunning plan - if somebody wishes you Happy Birthday on a day that really isn't, why not subtract one year from your age? I don't mean that you get to knock a year off for each calendar day. Just take one off for each of the friends who offers the thought. This scheme has really worked out well for me this year - by my calculation, I'm six again, and damn, I'm looking forward to puberty!

The Tall Lady was late home from work one afternoon last week. She had stopped and picked me up some chocolate truffle cupcakes that bore an fascinating resemblance to Halle Berry's breasts (I have my sources). Disturbingly, there were three of them...I may never be able to look at Halle in quite the same way ever again.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I attend a support group at the office of an organization called the Mood Disorders Association of British Columbia, and about three weeks ago, one of the other regulars suggested that we all go out to lunch on March 25th to celebrate my birthday. The place that she chose for us was a Japanese restaurant on Denman Street called Tanpopo. They offer an all you can eat lunch, and I think we acquitted ourselves splendidly. I know that I did.

Some of you who live near me have been introduced to my DVD binders. You are aware that their content is fairly eclectic, and that it is also becoming quite extensive. If  I left the discs in their jewel boxes, there would be no room in the apartment for me, the Tall Lady or the Flying Fellini Sisters. The latest additions to the binders are the first eight in a series of twenty-two films about a single character...Bond - James Bond.

They have been a guilty pleasure of mine for a long time now, and I'm sure that the rest will find their way into my collection at some point. (Thank you, Ian, Harry, Cubby, Sean, George, Roger and the Tall Lady).

I have had congratulations, good wishes, paper and electronic cards. I've lost track of the number of cute kittens who've sung Happy Birthday to me this week, but then, recordkeeping hasn't been one of my best tasks lately. One very good friend shared a video with me from YouTube. It's been a few days now, but I can't get the tune Happy Happy, Joy Joy out of my head! Thank you so much, Maria.

About two weeks ago, my buddy Crazy Blaze, our last foster kitten to date, was adopted. He found a home with his sister, Sidney, about a month before that, but he reconsidered the arrangement and came back to the bosom of his foster family and his hissing, spitting, snarling aunties.

His new mom, Susan, sent me an email yesterday telling me how well he's settling in with her and his new big sister, Gilda. She also commented upon his good manners (he didn't learn those from me).

As good a week as it's been, I think that was my best present of all.

At the beginning of January, the Tall Lady and I attended her dad's eightieth birthday party. It was a great success. Charley was so pleased that he's decided to stay for another eighty years.

I think I'll join him.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Good Fortune Island

Fukushima-ken is a Japanese prefecture located in the Tohoku Region on the island of Honshu, about 250 km north of Tokyo and 80 km south of Sendai. It is divided into three distinct geographical areas.

Aizu, the western third of the prefecture, is a place of mountains, lakes and forests. It was the high ground from which the ruling samurai clans watched over their domain. Flat, temperate Hamadori is the easternmost area with a rich tradition in the fishing and seafood industry. Nakadori, in the middle, is the region's agricultural centre, famous for peaches, apples and persimmons, and is home to the regional capital.

The city is called Fukushima-shi, or Good Fortune Island.

Nakadori has a strong software and electronics industry, while Hamadori has become notable for generating electrical power at its six nuclear plants. The Fukushima Dai-Ichi (Number One), at Okuma, is an old, obsolete facility, which was due to be decommissioned in 2011.

On March 11, 2011, the world hiccupped and it caused an megathrust earthquake off the coast of Japan that registered more than nine points on the Richter scale. The quake generated tsunami waves up to ten meters high, which travelled as much as ten kilometers inland. Tsunami warnings were issued as far away as Alaska and Chile.

The Japanese National Police Agency has confirmed about 5700 deaths, 2400 people injured, and about 9500 missing across seventeen prefectures. The casualty rates will probably end well in the tens of thousands.

When the waves subsided, Fukushima Dai-Ichi was discovered to have suffered major structural damage, leaving nuclear power experts, the population of Japan and the rest of us poor oafs concerned about an environmental calamity on the scale of Chernobyl. People who live within 20 km of Dai-Ichi have been advised to evacuate their homes, and the approximately 100 employees (the Fukushima Fifty?) who have stayed on the job at the plant for the last five days have just been ordered out as well.

It's a small world, and because it is, we're troubled and alarmed by bad things that happen to our neighbours. Some of us want to rush off into the phonebooth, change into our blue tights and red capes, and hurry over to save everyone in peril. Let's not - they have enough trouble already.

Some others are busy stockpiling potassium iodide tablets to protect themselves against the coming cloud of radiation. Please don't. There are people in hospitals who need that stuff now, and there are others who may need it soon. All you're doing is raising the blackmarket price by diminishing the reserves of a compound more urgently needed by others.

There are things we can do. Some of us can contribute to the rescue and aid efforts already taking place - we can all demand that our various levels of government do more than they have. The religious amongst us can give the Japanese people our prayers, and maybe it wouldn't hurt if we agnostics said a few as well.

All things pass, and somehow this will too. Be well - I know that you're generous.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lemon Social

Mary and Percy Shelley invited us to their house party on Saturday evening. The party was to bless their new home, to celebrate their recent marriage and to introduce some of the people that they like to some of the other people that they like. The Tall Lady and I are a bit shy, and we tend toward social awkwardness, but this was an invitation that we couldn't decline.

Did I mention that Mary and Percy are the proud parents of a big, handsome, charismatic fellow named Lemon the Cat? The Shelleys adopted the Amazing Aquacat from VOKRA about six months ago. He has grown much bigger and far better co-ordinated than when we saw him last, but he is still the happy, good-natured, easy-going laddie that we remember.

Like most house parties, this one was supposed to be held in the living room, but like all of them, it spilled over into the kitchen, where friends reconvened, and strangers introduced themselves to each other. A few of us even discovered good friends that we've never met before.

We talked about the things we do, the things we've done, the things we want to try; we discussed our shared interests, our common experiences. We talked about the differences in our lives that make us stand apart, but somehow bring us closer.

Some of the guests have always lived in this city, some have travelled here for the first time, some have been a'wand'ring, and have just returned home. Some came from far away - some of us only ever journey vicariously. Some came here to teach, and some had come to learn new and wonderful things.

While Mary was being held hostage in the kitchen, Percy played the roving host with flair and grace. No glass was left unfilled, no plate or bowl remained empty, and no guest was neglected, although some did disappear for a time.

The Remarkable Lemon had taken refuge under the living room couch. Don't get me wrong, he likes people well enough. I think that he just prefers us in more manageable numbers than he found us on Saturday night. Every now and again, his handsome, smiling face would peer out from under the skirt of the couch and would study his party guests upsidedown. Occasionally, a soft, white paw would venture out to touch an unsuspecting someone's ankle, and would dart back to the sound of her surprised shriek. I'm sure I heard a satisfied chuckle from the shadows under the sofa every time.

Lemon was having his own little party under the couch. We were welcome to come under and join him, but not all at once. It was a little like having Elvis himself invite you into the Jungle Room, a great honour and a matter of careful confidentiality at the same time. When Percy came to seek his missing guests, that was where he found us.

I don't think that I've ever left a party emptyhanded. When the Tall Lady and I said goodnight to our three hosts, we left with a (nearly new) scratching post, a copy of Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking and our new friend, Heather. There was no question of being able to abduct Lemon - Mary and Percy were watching all of us too closely for that. Anyway - Lemon is far too happy where he lives now.

Thank you, Mary, Percy and Lemon for the invitation, the warm welcome, and the gracious hospitality. Thanks to your other guests for their camaraderie and their kindness - especially the nice muslim lady who excused the horrible faux pas of the handshake. I really should know better at my age.

We meet the nicest people by chance. We get to keep them by choice. The two of you are keepers. Be well.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Rainbow Bridge

My friend, Maria Soroski, finds her way into my posts pretty often, whether I name her here or not. Maria is the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association's mad trapper. She probably doesn't remember me from back then then, but I met her about fifteen years ago when she came out to rescue a couple of litters of kittens on Hamilton Street in the wilds of New Westminster. I was living in the neighbourhood, and I got to take care of one of the little moms until Maria found time to pick her up. 

Contrary to legend, Maria does have a home, but she's rarely there. She camps outside at all hours, in all weather and in her time has rescued cats, kittens, ferrets, skunks, rabbits and hoary marmots - these are examples, we don't have space for a list. She also has a houseful of lotions, potions, herbs and unguents to treat the poor, sickly little tykes after she's trapped them. 

Maria keeps a lot of the hardcases herself. The feral, the frail, the frightened and the forgotten may become her long term cohabitants. Four hundred years ago, the pious churchgoing members of our communities would have burnt her as a witch, and she probably is. If so, she's a good 'un.

My theology is somewhat elastic (as those of you who've read this blog before know very well). I don't believe in hell, but I suspect that if cats go to heaven, it will be something like Maria's house.

The four little ones in the picture at the top of the post were named Cindy Who, Seamus, Tommy and Oscar.  The two cuties at the right are Kirstie and Callie. They came to Maria's house (with a seventh kitten, whose name and gender I missed) when they were only a day old. Their mom had rejected them, and of course, they were failing to thrive. Over the last three days, Maria has had to watch them all die one by one. Seamus was the last to leave, and it was his turn last night. 
Sometimes, the best care and the best of intentions can't help to keep these tiny tigers alive, but I know that Maria gave them both.

What makes me saddest about this is that their mom is an owned cat and these babies are her second litter! I think that the owners still have a little girl and boy from the first batch, and they haven't been fixed yet.

Kitten season is here again, and randy cats will do what randy cats will do. Please make sure that your little babe or buddy isn't a part of the problem. 


Last year VOKRA fostered around thirteen hundred cats and kittens, and most of them have found good, loving homes. Still, too many are dying on the street - still, too many are being born because we neglect this one simple, safe, inexpensive aspect of our pets' healthcare.

I'm skeptical about the Rainbow Bridge. I don't believe that Shep, Ol' Yeller and Thomasina are waiting on the other side for us. I think that loved ones who've gone only live in our hearts and our memories now. I fear that the ones who are not loved and homed might just as well not have been here at all. There's nothing to mark their lives or their passing, and that is very, very, very sad. 

They are supposed to be cared for - that's why they're called "pets". They aren't a disposable, renewable resource. They are life, they are joy, they are wonder, and they deserve better from us all. 

Thank you, Maria, for all that you do.