Apparently this is my week for weird gendered interactions.

I'm in Stephen King country. Specifically, I'm at Indian Acres Boys' Camp, near Freyburg, Maine. I'm here to help the ever-amazing Susan de Guardiola teach a week of Titanic-era dances at an International Folk Dance camp (the dancers rent the camp from the boys' camp). It's stopped raining, and the organizing committee, who are mostly about my parents' age is bustling around putting up "etnhic" decorations and pinning people's names to their cabin doors. 

Camp starts tomorrow, but in order to save the committee some money, I travelled here yesterday with a fellow I know from the Hogtown contra dance community, who, at 54, is one of the younger members of the organizing committee. Walter is a nice-enough fellow, whom I've known well enough to dance with for about 15 years. After 10 hours in his car yesterday, I feel that I know him rather better than I did before, but I don't think I'd go so far as to say he's a friend. He is, however, the only person here so far that I've ever met before. So, when we arrived yesterday, he introduced me around, and we went out to dinner with a bunch of the other people from the camp.

Today, after breakfast, as I was cleaning up my plate, one of the older gentlemen—let's call him Marv—spoke to me. "I just want you to know," he said, "that I think you're a very nice person, and if you and Walter stay together, I hope you'll be very happy." 

I blinked, smiled, and said something like "Umm, thank you, but Walter and I just travelled down together, we're not an item." Then, to forestall any further peculiar assumptions, I said "I am actually seeing someone in Toronto."

Now, of course, I believe firmly, on no further evidence than this exchange, that Marv is carrying a torch for Walter (who, in 15 years of Saturday night dances I've never observed to have any romantic interests at all, so who knows what his orientation is?), and was trying, sweetly, if misguidedly, to be gracious in perceived defeat. 

From a history of a local high school that I am editing:

During the war, the Girls' Club had become the War Services Club; the Girls’ Club was not reinstated after the war. However, a "Baby Bawl” was organized during the First Form initiation party in 1945. During the day, the girls went to class with their clothes on inside-out, wearing one long black stocking and odd shoes and sporting signs around their necks stating they were Baby Bags. At night, they returned, dressed as babies, to an auditorium bedecked with lines of baby clothes; the stage resembled a nursery. The poor Firsts were put through the horrors of a witches’ den, made to walk the plank and forced to endure other pranks.

I kind of love the matter-of-fact way that this is reported. The author maintains the same tone in discussing
  • the school's football victories,
  • the fact that while before WWII, the cheerleading squad consisted entirely of male cheerleaders, while the post-war cheerleading squad was co-educational, and
  • the arrival of a new music teacher and the growth of the school's music program.
[personal profile] sabotabby posted some of the spoils of our not-very-suitable-decoration phototreck. I was confident that we hadn't captured the extent of weird seasonal decorations even in our kind of boring neighbourhood, but took a break to get ready for the various festivities.

Turns out that there's more in our very neighbourhood:

Exhibit 1: The Underinflated Penguin

A 6-foot-tall inflatable Christmas penguin, standing and waving outside a little urban house. The penguin wears a Santa hat decorated with holly, and is waving cheerfully. Because it is a bit under-inflated, its head is tilted at an angle reminiscent of a spinal injury. The penguin is illuminated by Christmas lights and the glow cast by a wicker-and-Christmas-light deer in the garden beside it.

It's not that I'm opposed to decorations. But I do like some sort of consistency. And I really generally don't like inflated things that are not balloons. Underinflating your penguin causes it to look like it needs the services of a chiropractor, or maybe an EMT unit with a spinal board.

Exhibit 2: On Second Thought, Inflated May Be Preferable

Hanging limply  the porch of a little urban house, an empty, too-small-looking Santa suit, complete with beard, but NO FACE.

Okay, hanging empty stockings I understand, though you're supposed to do that indoors, on the mantle of your fireplace, or, if you don't have a fireplace, wherever you can hang a stocking. I'm not sure what an empty Santa suit conveys. Are they waiting for St. Nick to fill his own suit with his jolly self? (Hint to the denizens of this house: that suit is TOO SMALL.) It looks more to me as if they killed Santa and are hanging his pelt outside their home as a trophy, or perhaps as a warning. Eep.

On Christmas day, captainmushroom and I went for a walk and hit Unsuitable Decoration Mecca.

Exhibit 3: The Upholstery Shop

A storefront window. Above the window, the sign for the shop says UPHOLSTERY. On display are an upholstered couch surrounded by an assortment of tchotchkes: a cadaverous dummy wearing a tinsel Christmas-tree headdress, several superhero dolls and action figures, a framed portrait of Henry VIII, a church. On the couch are a Ken doll, a gargoyle with reindeer antlers, a nutcracker, and another framed Renaissance portrait (I'm not sure of whom.)

Oh man, I don't even know where to begin with this place. It's just AWESOME. Here are some details:

A detail of the left-hand side of the Upholstery Shop window. In the window are a cadaverous dummy wearing a suit and checkered tie, topped with a headdress made from a conical tinsel Christmas tree. Seated on the dummy's extended left arm is a Robin superhero doll; on its right arm is Lisa Simpson. In the foreground is a small model of a church, completed with steeple. Straddling atop the church is a female superhero. Beside the church, and much taller (about 2 feet tall) is a toy soldier figure.

The cadaverous zombie guy is a permanent fixture of the window, as are, I think Lisa Simpson and Robin. The tinsel headdress is seasonal.

A close up of some items arranged on the couch: a model of an overstuffed armchair. Seated in the armchair is a Ken doll in a white suit. Seated on the couch in front of that Ken doll is another Ken doll in its underwear. Behind the chair is a model of Chuck Norris in a Santa hat. Norris's face is plastic, but his body is quilted. Flanking the armchair are a blonde Ken doll in a sparkly top and a Barbie doll in what appears to be a Space Adventurer's suit. In the forground the head and shoulders of a rather phallic toy soldier are visible.

Quilted-body Chuck Norris doesn't wait for Santa. Quilted-body Chuck Norris is Santa. You better watch out!

The bottom left corner of the Upholstery Shop window, containing a small red sign saying XXXmas, and a photo of a very buff shirtless dude in a Santa hat. More permanent fixtures in the window include a tribal-style mask, some geraniums and fake flowers, and Canadian flag.

More decorations in the window: a Norman-Rockwell style picture showing two small children, one dressed inexplicably as a cowboy, peering through the banister of the stairs as a pyjama-clad fellow kisses a fellow dressed as Santa, under the mistletoe. Beside this is a small painting of very buff, shirtless guy reclining and wearing red trousers and a Santa hat. On the other side of the Rockwell-style picture is a portrait of Henry VIII. In the foreground is a small model of an upholstered chesterfield.

There's really nothing unsuitable about the Daddy Kissing Santa-Claus picture, except for the Rockwell-esque style, but somehow I think my mom would find it objectionable. No, I have no idea what Henry VIII is doing there.

A close up of the Daddy Kissing Santa Claus faux Rockwell picture.

You need to see the Daddy Kissing Santa picture up close to fully appreciate its delicate, nuanced portrayal of the holiday spirit.

A close up of the church montage. A small model of a quaint country church, completed with steeple. A snowman is placed beside the church. An action figure of a superhero is on the other side. Straddling the church is a female superhero. A Santa Pez dispenser stands outside the door of the church.

I don't even. All I can think is that no Christmas idyll is really complete without random superheroes.

And finally, the saddest Christmas gargoyle I have ever seen:

Obscured by reflections in the windows, a stone (or faux stone) gargoyle crouches on the upholstered couch, its hands wrapped around its knees. On its face is an expression of deep sadness. It has been adorned with red felt reindeer antlers.


I don't know what it is with my relations and peculiar purple accessories. I mean, yes, I like purple. I wear a fair bit of purple. I wear some accessories (mostly shrugs. Yet, for some reason, I do not yet own a purple shrug). But people on both sides of my family seem to enjoy giving me bizarre purple accessories that I don't know how to wear.

First, there was the muppet-tails scarf. That came from someone on my mom's side, possibly my mom.

Now, courtesy of my step mother, I bring you ...A very, very rare and perhaps wonderful thing. )
This is a continuation of something I started on Facebook last night for [ profile] kchew 

Trolls vs Non-Trolls on Toronto City Council )

I was travelling around on work, meeting with clients. I was in Newfoundland, and then I went to Iceland, and thence to Sweden. My hotel in Sweden was adorable—genuinely boho, a kind of Art Nouveau apartment building, with hanging silks and a proprietress who had a crystal ball. 

It was there that I became uncomfortably aware that I was being followed. Strange men appeared in the lobby. My clothes had been rifled in my room. The proprietress of my hotel was upset and gracious about it. She seemed to know who the culprits were, and apologised and changed my room to one for which there was no way to duplicate the key and promised me security. But as I was waiting in a hired car for my mom at the airport, they appeared again. I had no choice but to drive away, leaving the driver (who may have been one of Them) waiting at the airport. There ensued a high-speed car-chase, through the highways, overpasses, and back roads of Sweden. This was inconvenient, because I can't actually drive, so in addition to being terrified and annoyed by the people chasing me, moderately lost because I was in Sweden, and confused by how to operate a car, I was worried that the police would notice my erratic driving and pull me over, and then discover that I don't have a license, don't speak Swedish, and don't know how to drive.

Eventually I ditched the car, and took a bus back to my cute hotel, where the proprietress informed me that she'd put my mother in the room adjoining mine, and the rest of the guests on the third floor.

Further adventures inspired by Pushing Daisies, Steig Larsson, Naomi Klein, Cory Doctorow, Die Hard and others )
Gluck wrote this opera, Paride ed Elena. I've been learning one of Paride's arias, O del Mio Dolce Ardor, as a mezzo piece. In learning the piece, I betook myself to Youtube to brave the unfortunate recital videos in search of a nice professional rendition.

Like, say, this one, by Renate Tebaldi. I think she sings it in the soprano key, but whatever. I can live with transposing. Her cadenzas are great.

I'd not heard of Julia Sokolov before I found her video. So all unaware, I clicked on it. Now, I feel compelled to share it, mostly because I can't adequately describe it, other than to say "Gluck. Pennywhistle. Drapery. Drum track. Fabio-lookalike. Imagery! Reverb. Just watch!"

For comparison )
You know where is not a good place to try to pick people up?

Okay, I know, there are many such places, among them the office, your class (if you're a teacher), and pretty much anywhere if you're a politician. But somewhere near the top of the list should be the waiting room at your medical clinic.

And if you're a men's rights activist, do you know who is even less likely than any other random female who was minding her own business and reading a book to want to get a drink with you after her doctor's appointment?

Okay, I know there are many such women. This is, after all, the waiting room for a doctor's appointment. Also, you are, after all, a men's rights activist, which means you're probably, though not certainly, an entitled, self-important douche with no sense of history, no understanding of your own privilege, and no notion that your advances might be unwelcome. But really, once someone tells you she's a radical feminist, you really should just cut your losses and pick up an outdated magazine.

Or did I miss a memo, and is Wednesday afternoon at the medical centre kind of like Wednesday Night at the Laundromat?

The longer version. No punchline, I'm afraid. )


Mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi is the sort of candidate my dad would have voted for: his proposed policies are ideologically right-of-centre, pro-business, pro-suburb.

The Empire Club apparently loves him.
Cut because Toronto is not the centre of the universe. It's just where I happen to live. )
Scientific knowledge is based on empirical evidence, and is appropriate for understanding the natural world, but it provides only a limited understanding of the supernatural, aesthetic, or other ways of knowing, such as art, philosophy, or religion.1

Here follows a very short rant. Maybe a rantlet.

This bothers me. It's a clear nod to the godbodies—we don't have apologia or disclaimers in the math standards, the history standards, or the geography standards. We don't have to say that an understanding of literary conventions in English will help you to understand and interpret texts written in English and literary traditions that share a similar cultural background, but may not be easily applied to an understanding of the narrative traditions of a non-literary culture (though perhaps we should!).

What do you all think of this?

1 From the Florida Standards for Science Education, Grade 7. It is, of course, not the only standard, nor even the most important.
There's a Tim Horton's almost across the street from my house. This means that at any hour of the day or night, I can look out my kitchen window, across the laneway and the parking lot, and see a police cruiser parked across Danforth. At eight o'clock in the morning, when parents are dropping their kids off at the school across the street, there's a police car there. At three o'clock in the afternoon, when people are enjoying the sun, buying veggies, and walking their dogs, there's a police car there. At seven o'clock in the evening, when I'm making dinner, and kids are playing in the square while their parents chat on the benches, there's a police car there.

Yet strangely, there's rarely a police officer present when I want one. During the wee hours of Sunday morning, for example, when a fine upstanding member of society is discussing the things she knows about things one can do with specific parts of the male anatomy, for example, nobody comes along to remonstrate with the individual or to ask her not to break the peace.

And last night, around 9:40 p.m., there was not a police officer to be seen.

I know.  I was looking for one. I saw old men meeting for coffee, and teenagers going for ice cream, and pseudo-hipsters hitting the cafés. I saw dog walkers and families. But I did not see any officers of the law.

See, DanceMistress had taken me out for dinner to thank me for putting her up. We'd had a nice dinner, and were headed back to my place, walking along Danforth from the subway station. She needed to acquire some Canadian cash, so we stopped at a bank machine. As we left the bank, a man enquired as to how our evening had gone. Being city people, and therefore not friendly at all with random importunate strangers, we ignored him, and he walked on by. Whatever. Danforth's busy that time of evening, and apparently people cruise even on a Monday.

DanceMistress had not been able to get any money from the machine (there had been some difficulty with her card), so we went into my bank, so that I could get some cash to spot her. Our importunate stranger was lounging outside my bank as we entered, and as we emerged, he again attempted to strike up a conversation with us. We ignored him, and continued.

He followed.

He followed more closely.

We ignored.

He asked one of us if we wanted to get freaky with him.

We ignored, and walked past the patio of a pub.

He asked why we had a problem with him.

I explained, in short words, that I had not asked him to speak to us, and that he should go away, as we walked past an open café.

He asked if I cared if he smoked. I said I did not care for anything he did, and that he should go away. We continued past another pub. He continued to follow us, as we got closer to the corner where Dictionopolis is located.

So I said to DanceMistress, who was becoming visibly tense, "I believe we'll just duck into Tim's for a coffee," and she acquiesced. Our follower stayed outside, waiting outside the door of the brightly lit doughnut shop, across the street from the square that is across the street from my house.

And of course, once I was inside, I looked for a police officer. To no avail.

So we went out the side door, and looped around through the schoolyard, across Danforth, through Carrot Common, and along the path from the subway station, to come at the house from an entirely different direction. As we approached the house, I could see the corner where we'd left him staring at the fountain across the street. He'd given up—I assume he'd found someone else to harass, and I'm really hoping it wasn't the three teenaged girls who passed us, going into the Tim's as we were leaving.

I should perhaps have warned them.

So, I ask you, what on Earth is the point of having a Tim Horton's across the street, if you can't find a police officer when you're being followed home by a creepy stranger?
My dad showed up for lunch. Just like that. He walked in and said "Come on, Jen, we're going for lunch."

I got up. "Aren't you dead?" I asked. "We had a funeral."

"No, no. That was an administrative error. I tell you, those civil servants ..." And as I ate my grilled cheese, he ranted about overpaid civil servants like the death bureau and the income tax people and how they just don't even bother to check. They'll cheat you and never even care, because
they'll never have to deal with the consequences.

"But have you told [[stepmom]]? She's been wrecked!"

"Oh, she should have known better than to listen to them! I'll tell her this afternoon." His glee at pulling one over on someone was characteristic.

And when I woke up, as of course I did, not for even one breath of a moment did I believe there had been an administrative error. This is one tax collector my dad didn't evade.

Dear Student Who Has Generally Been Conscientious,

When I told you last night in class that you could send your assignment in via e-mail, and I would dock only the 2 marks per day for tardiness, I did not think that you would also attempt to send me jpg files of what appear to be digital photos of the entire magazine on which you wrote your publication analysis. Yet, you surprised me.

Had I but known, I would have counselled you to use YouSendIt, or at the very least to compress your damn files.

Flooding my home e-mail inbox and putting it over its limit twice in one day does not predispose me to clemency in my marking.

Not that I would ever penalize you for dougheadedness. I shall merely send you a polite suggestion so that your next instructor does not find their inbox flooded with ginormous jpgs of an entire bloody magazine.

Your ever-merciful instructor

zingerella: Capital letter "Z" decorated with twining blue and purple vegetation (Default)
( Jun. 17th, 2009 11:54 am)
One of my students today apologised in e-mail for missing last night's class. She did not mention that she had also missed an extra-help session I had arranged with her for before the class. She works in retail, and had to close the store. I understand this.

She also asked whether she could hand in last week's homework next week, and whether I could send her this week's lesson.

No, and no.

In which I rant a bit )
zingerella: Capital letter "Z" decorated with twining blue and purple vegetation (Default)
( May. 28th, 2009 11:14 am)
I woke up this morning to the kind of phone call you never want to wake up to.

My brother had been calling my cellphone, which was, of course, dead and downstairs. There'd been an accident. My father is dead.

My father is dead.

It's true, but it really doesn't seem like it should be. Of course it doesn't.

I woke up this morning, and found myself in the middle of a police procedural. My brother came to get me. We went to my dad and stepmom's house, in their nice suburban neighbourhood. Where there were police cars. And police officers. And a body in the swimming pool


There had been a chipmunk in the pool. My dad was worried that with all the rain, it would drown. So he went out to make a ramp for the chipmunk. My stepmom was in the kitchen, and wondered what was taking him so long. She phoned his cellphone and he didn't answer, so she figured he'd gone for a walk, or shared a glass of wine with the neighbour, or something. So she went to bed.

When she woke up in the small hours, he still wasn't there, so she got worried, and went out to look for him.

She found him in the 18 inches of water in the bottom of the swimming pool. Dialed 9-1-1.

We waited, while police photographers photographed the pool and the body, while forensics officers looked around, and recorded, and measured, and did their thing. Then a sergeant came to tell us that it was very slippery in the pool, that there was no evidence of anything amiss (except for the dead person), that the funeral home would transfer the body to the morgue, that we'll hear from the coroner or maybe the police when they know anything for sure. And please if we can stay out of the back yard until they tell us we can go into it, they'd appreciate that.

Then some people took the body away, and we were left staring at each other, and at the business cards left behind on the ktichen table by coroner and police officers.

She never heard him fall. Never heard him call out. We don't know what happened. I mean, yes, my father died in a freak chipmunk-related accident, but we don't yet know how or why.

There are a zillion things to do, and we did some of them today: visit funeral home, decide on cremation, rent a casket, write the obituary. Other things, we will do tomorrow and the next day and the next. There will be a funeral service (called a "Celebration of life" for our atheistic family). We need to plan that. There will be visitation. There will be a reception at the Club where he golfed. There is a plan to deal with the ashes (it involves sneaking out to do something mildly illegal on a golf course.) There will be life insurance and the will and helping my stepmother to deal with his stuff. Once the autopsy is done and the coroner's report made, we switch from the police procedural to the boring family drama, for which we make up the script as we go along.

There's the monotony of grief and the discombobulation that comes of confronting the reality that I really should have phoned him last week and that a whole bunch of things will never happen now, and I was not ready for this at all. Nobody was. He wasn't. I mean, who dies rescuing chipmunks?

I'm okay ... inasmuch as anyone can be at a time like this. I'm tired: waking up at 06h00 in that particular way is not conducive to an overall feeling of restedness. I'm sad, of course, and bewildered, and shocky, and I don't quite know what to do, because this is the part where there's nothing anyone really can do (yes I have eaten. Yes, I will sleep). I'm fighting the kind of guilt that comes when you meant to call someone and they up and died (with, or without, chipmunks) before you did. So, I guess I'm not really okay, but I know where okay is, and I know I have to get through all this in order to be okay again.

Who dies rescuing chipmunks, I ask you?


zingerella: Capital letter "Z" decorated with twining blue and purple vegetation (Default)


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