July 21, 2011

Lessons I Can't Learn

Today ended with me padding down a hallway in my office building barefoot, looking for my boss and carrying a copy of a Harry Potter movie on blu-ray. I was yanking unhappily at my dress (dress: slang for hot little sack of torture) and contemplating the lack of self knowledge that had led me to this moment. Which led me, in turn, to contemplate some lessons that, no matter how many times I "learn" them, I don't really seem to learn them.

Number 1: I like to write.
Sometimes, life gets busy. And by "life gets busy," I mean sometimes I feel compelled to come home from work, put on sweatpants, open a giant bag of Red Vines, and work my way through 18+ episodes of 3rd Rock From the Sun. Then I go to bed feeling tired but vaguely unsatisfied. If, instead, I come home and put on a record and do a little writing, when it's time to go to sleep, I feel good. Note: In either case, I am likely to wear sweatpants and eat Red Vines.

Number 2: I like to read.
The fact that I like to read isn't something I forget. It's more like something I overlook. I get into habits where I'm writing and drawing (or lounging and watching) and I don't pick up a book for a while. Then I crack one open and I just want to stop everyone I see and be like "HEY! Do you know about books!? BOOKS ARE AWESOME! You can read them! Stuff happens! It might restore your faith in humanity or it might just keep you guessing about why Daisy is obsessed with this Gatsby guy's shirts but either way—you win!"

Number 3: High heels suck. A lot.
Some days I wake up and think, "I will be a professional today!" I wear a suit or at least a jacket and a pair of heels and leave the house feeling like a million bucks. By the end of the day, I'm in a professional nose dive as I run around barefoot and daydreaming about amputating my pinky toes.

Number 4: I hate hot weather.
Because I insist on living in an area that is entirely Too Hot for my liking (and for stupid reasons, too, like proximity to family and a job), each spring I play the same game where I delude myself into thinking I have gotten over my hatred of hot weather. "Is it 90 today? I hadn't noticed. It's not so bad honestly. So childish of me to think this was intolerable." And it's all very well to say that as I sit on my bed in my air-conditioned apartment checking weather.com. But three minutes walking outside and I'm ready to kill someone, usually the designer of whatever clothing I might be wearing. "GD Banana Republic! Who makes a strapless wool dress? What were they thinking? I am in merino hell!"

Tomorrow I'm wearing flip flops and a toga and canceling my Netflix account.

July 18, 2011

Days 3 and 4 – Anne of Green Gables and the Haunted Mansion

If you are a young woman living on Prince Edward Island, you better resign yourself to the fact that, at some point, you're going to have to don a green jumper and some fake braids if you want a job.

We visited L.M. Montgomery's birthplace, the site of her childhood home, and the house she based Green Gables on. We also walked through the Haunted Woods and down Lover's Lane and visited the Anne of Green Gables Chocolate store (the most profitable if not the most authentic, surely). Everywhere we went, girls in braids. Also, straw hats with braids attached for sale to those looking to fit in.

We also went to a local haunted mansion. This was sort of a nod to my not-present sister's interest in all things creepy. Too bad my mom and I are big babies. We got through two rooms before my mom pulled a small flashlight out of her purse. A lot of the house was hokey, but there was a bottomless pit and a spinning vortex at the end. Also, inexplicably, there was a tilt-a-whirl in the yard that we were allowed to ride once.

Really the only thing missing was a zombiefied Anne inside the haunted mansion. I might suggest it.

July 11, 2011

Day 2 – Everyone Is Nice

[Dots On Maps–Say Hi; Y Control–Yeah Yeah Yeahs; Sit Down By the Fire–The Veils; The Stars Came Out Once the Lights Went Out–The Veils]

The stench of death is on my hands.

I ate a lobster tonight. It was good. It was creepy. I've washed my hands four times and they still smell lobstery.

We went to a Royal Canadian Legion lobster dinner, part of Summerside's "Lobster Carnival," where we were served by rotary club members. It was really quite wonderful. Two old men showed me how to get every little bit of edible meat out of a lobster. Their methods included doing things I wasn't willing to do, due to aggressive 8th grade dissection flashbacks, but it was all very informative. I have mixed feeling on devouring every speck of a lobster. On one hand, if you're going to kill the thing, you shouldn't let it go to waste. But then, on the other hand, no one wants to think about someone breaking open every part of their body after they're dead, right? I mean, wars have been fought over stuff like that. Bodies have been ransomed for small fortunes to avoid stuff like that.

Right now, I'm thinking this was my first and last lobster.

Other things that happened today:

–The b&b called and apologized profusely for the mix-up last night. They upgraded us to their suite for the duration of our stay.

–As I played music in the car, my mom said "I like your music. Is that the Blueberries? Wait. Cranberries." (It was not.)

–People at neighboring tables at the lobster dinner cheerfully inquired as to where we were from, how we were liking PEI, etc. They made recommendations, talked about their own origins, and spoke warmly about life on the island.

–We visited the downtown seaside boardwalk in Summerside. We missed the lobster trap competitions, but we caught the end of the live music.

–Every single shop we went into had a friendly, helpful owner. 

Everyone here is NICE! They are all nice! And genuine. Not just helpful and friendly, but happy. I love it. Surprisingly.

Tomorrow is Anne of Green Gables bonanza. 

Day 1 – Bourgeois Bus

I had everything in order the afternoon before last. My laundry was done. My fish was at a friend's home. My plants were well-watered. I had a comprehensive packing list. All I had to do was pack.

Packing is hard for me. Yesterday was no exception. Somehow it took me from 5 in the afternoon until 3 in the morning to get a few measly possessions into a suitcase. I still can't tell if the 15 episodes of 30 Rock helped or hurt. When I finished packing at 3am, I was so glad to be done that I was too jubilant to go right to sleep. I checked Twitter. I read email. I listened to clips of the 10 most popular songs on iTunes. I finally passed out around 3:45am. My ride to the airport called me at 6:11am to let me know she was outside waiting. I threw on my clothes and ran out of the house with my bags.

I flew from Saint Louis to Chicago (where I met up with my mom), Chicago to Toronto, and then Toronto to Halifax. We arrived in Halifax just after 7pm and rented a car to drive to Prince Edward Island. It's a three hour drive. ("A three hour tour, a three hour tour.")

There are two options for getting from Nova Scotia to PEI—the Caribou Ferry and the Confederation Bridge. Both are a little over an hour from the airport. Both are free on the way over and costly on the way back. They are located on opposite ends of the northern Nova Scotia coast. We decided to go for the ferry. More interesting. More relaxing.

We sped down the highway in our little rented Kia Soul. We pulled up to the ferry launch just in time to see the last ferry of the day floating away, already 20 meters off the shore. We had no choice but to turn around and head for the bridge. We typed our destination into the gps and set off.

50 minutes later, the sun had set and we were in the middle of nowhere. We were on the Unintentional Nighttime Wildlife Tour of Nova Scotia (which included a black bear with cub, a fox, a cat, a skunk, and somethign unidentifiable), or possibly participating in the Travel On As Many Uneven Dirt Roads As You Can Without Breaking An Axle competition.

Each new direction from the GPS seemed like it must be the one that would take us to a highway, or at least a paved road. No dice. We spent another hour and a half meandering the Nova Scotian wilderness.

Finally—FINALLY—we made it to the bridge. We got to Prince Edward Island and found our bed & breakfast. Which was locked. And completely dark. We called the number. Answering machine. We called the second number. Answering machine. We knocked. We walked around the building. We rang the bell. We waited. We called again. We rang the bell again. Nothing. No light. No movement. By now it was nearly 1am.

What to do? Sleep in the car? Mother was pretty opposed to that. She wanted to go to Charlottetown, the only city on Prince Edward Island that's sizable. Unfortunately, it's also 50 minutes from our b&b. I was not up for another hour (at least) of driving. I looked through the sleeping options on the gps until I came to a hotel and conference center 8 miles away. The presence of a conference center sounded unlikely, but we called the number and, sure enough, they were open. The clerk also knocked $30 off the price because it was so late (and maybe also because he could hear the overwhelming exhaustion and burgeoning desperation in my mother's voice).

We set out. The gps attempted to take us on a gravel road running parallel to the paved road we were on. We ignored it. When we got to the hotel, it had a completely different name than came up on the gps, but apparently the clerk had informed my mother of this. (If this clerk campaigned for "Nicest Person in an Already Nice Country," I'd vote for him hands down.)

This was parked outside our hotel:

By now I was completely slap happy. I told my mother that maybe this would all work out because we'd meet somebody famous. "Like that Amish girl?" she queried, gesturing to the bus. I just laughed and laughed and got out my camera. When we got inside, there was a packet on the front counter with dates and times for the local festival, apparently going on this week—Lobster Carnival! "Bring your camera and take a photo of yourself in our giant lobster trap!" the sheet crowed. There are tons of events. Later today there's an Anne of Green Gables musical. At this very moment, I'm missing the dog agility show. And the only thing that costs anything seems to be the mini-concert presented by the College of Piping.

We thanked the clerk and headed for the elevator. The buttons looked like this:

This almost defeated me. Did I want to go left or right!?

We got up to the room and collapsed. There were two large beds and fluffy white guest robes that damn near made me cry.

Today promises to be better, if less noteworthy.

July 10, 2011

Oh! Canada!

[I Will Possess Your Heart–Death Cab for Cutie; The Engine Driver–The Decemberists; Tonight–Stars; Marching Bands of Manhattan–Death Cab for Cutie; Time is Running Out–Muse; I've Been Thinkin'–Handsome Boy Modeling School]

Security's efficient rather than officious, everyone's nice rather than surly, and wi-fi is free rather than outrageously overpriced. I am ready to move into the Toronto airport. Seriously, why isn't Canada beating people away with a stick? I guess I don't know. Maybe they are. But I kind of doubt it.

I could stand the snow and the cold and the caribou. How do I get a job here?

From here I'm going on to Prince Edward Island where supposedly everyone smiles all the time and fresh-cooked lobsters litter the streets.

Can't wait. Even though I don't eat lobster.

July 4, 2011


[The Stars Came Out Once the Lights Went Out–The Veils; Brighten Up– Chutes; Flashing Red Light Means Go– The Boxer Rebellion; If You Run– The Boxer Rebellion; All the Same to Me– Anya Marina; Navajo– Black Lips; I Killed Sally's Lover (live)– The Avett Brothers; I'll Be Thinking of You– Jamie McDonald; You're a Wolf– Sea Wolf; Dots on Maps– Say Hi; California Love– 2Pac]

The small Illinois town my dad lives in began a new tradition this year. They held a talent show in the town square yesterday, in part to determine who would perform before the fireworks show tonight and in part to raise money for the fireworks show. Kitten saw a flyer for "Ottawa's Got Talent" and decided to enter to complete one of her goals for the year—performing a stand-up comedy routine.

Here's the thing about a first-year talent competition—there are still some kinks that need to be worked out. For instance, each act was given ten minutes. And there were 34 acts. If you'll be so kind as to do the math with me, you'll realize that you're looking at a five-and-a-half hour talent show. Yep.

Someone must have realized this, but rather than adjust the time allowance, they just scheduled the event to go from 2-8pm. The show was divided into age groups: 5-12, 13-17, and 18 and older. Kitten checked in at 2pm, came home and got ready, and then she, my dad, and myself returned to the park at 3:30. Number 15 had just finished, the last in the 5-12 age group. Good, we thought. Ten acts until Alice. And they went through 15 in an hour and a half, much quicker than expected. My dad fetched some lawn chairs. The weather was surprisingly pleasant. We prepared to enjoy the next hour.

Things didn't go quite as I'd envisioned in those blissful minutes just after we'd arrived. First of all, things slowed waaaay down. These teens were serious about taking the whole ten minutes. (The set was opened by three thirteen-year-old boys who performed a mash up where they danced to Usher, break danced to Chris Brown, and sang to Jusitn Bieber.) Second, there were frequent pauses and interruptions. Winners of the previous group were announced. "Split the pot" winners were called to the stage. The MC, a nice man in his mid-30s wearing a shirt that said "More Cowbell," frequently implored the crowd to go vote for their favorite acts. The judges were praised.

But the slow pace was okay. The park was full of people, there were treats for sale, and there were activities for children.

And then, half-way through the adult set, right after Kitten performed, the teen winners were announced and the crowd thinned way out. The only people left were either seriously invested in one of the adult acts or too old and tired to get up. Half an hour later, all the food vendors closed up shop and left. The activities were long-gone. The rest of the show had the perverse feel of a mother hell-bent on getting her overweight child to finish out a pee-wee soccer game despite an abject lack of talent or enthusiasm on the part of the child.

Which isn't to say that nobody was talented. Some act were great. But there was absolutely zero audience participation. Every joke told dropped dead as soon as it exited it's creator's mouth. (Kitten leaned over at one point and whispered "Ottawa's Got Narcolepsy.")

One of the final performers was a woman who sang the national anthem and then what she called her "personal anthem," a country song I didn't recognize about overcoming adversity. She peppered the vocal pauses with comment about her personal journey. I half expected her to include performing at that talent show as one of her many trials. God knows it would have been justified.

As the day wore on, the exhaustion was most evident in the behavior of the MC. When we had arrived, he was energetic. Enthusiastic. Bubbly. He bounced onto the stage as soon as each act was over. He complimented each act and introduced the next act. He made corny jokes. He was effusive in his praise.

But his energy began to flag. It took him longer and longer to make it to the stage. Most acts left the stage alone, pitifully unplugging their guitars and shuffling away as the applause died after three or four claps. (The saddest, Kitten reminds me, was an awkward teen who sang two Dashboard Confessional songs without introducing himself or the songs.)

The second to the last act was a band of 18-year-old boys who performed Nirvana's "In Bloom" and Radiohead's "Creep" while wearing goggles. (What could possibly win you the affection of your rural audience more effectively than singing to them "He's the one who likes all the pretty songs and he likes to sing along and he likes to shoot his gun but he knows not what it means"?)

When they finished, the MC ambled out in front of the stage and said "Just leave your amps, kids. We'll just...yeah." The last act, a male/female duet who called themselves "Whiskey Romance," was quite good and, in fact, won.

After they finished the MC appeared, looking haggard, and said in a completely flat and emotionless voice, "Well...we made it. Man I'm tired. Does anyone care...?" Kitten and I looked around to see most of the audience gazing back at him, glassy-eyed and open-mouthed. "I guess that's a no." He gave the audience ten minutes to cast their votes. When he appeared fifteen minutes later to announce the winners, he accidentally dropped all of his papers. They fluttered everywhere. "It doesn't matter."

What could be a better summary of the day's events?

Kitten and Dad on a sunnier day in Ottawa.

July 2, 2011

One Part Schadenfreude, Two Parts Comeuppance

You know how when a highway is being narrowed from two lanes to one lane, and there have been signs for miles, and then there are cones and signs saying It's happening now!, and at that point there are always a few yahoos that try to zoom ahead in the lane that is being closed to cut off everyone else? Those people make me CRAZY! The fact that they're doing that is what slows traffic down so badly. I'm sure of it. Rather than breaking slightly to let someone merge, someone has to come to a complete stop, wait a few seconds for the jerk to realize they're being let in, wait while they pull into the line of traffic, and then continue. And who do these people think their cutting off? Are the rest of us, who are doing the logical thing and merging in a timely fashion somehow less important!? Does our observation of understood traffic rules make us chumps who deserve to be taken advantage of? IT DOES NOT!

I'll tell you who I love—the people who get fed up with jerks who refuse to merge in a timely fashion and pull half-way into the lane about to close. Even then, there are wackos who pull onto the shoulder, sometimes even the median, to get around. Don't these crazies see that they are cutting maybe 30 seconds off their drive and making dozens of strangers hate them in the process? Terrible karma, just terrible. (I realize one could argue that the relative insignificance of the amount of time saved or lost here also means I shouldn't be concerned with this issue at all, but it's not about the time. It's about consideration for fellow human beings. It's about recognizing that you are not more important than everyone else, and that taking advantage of other people is not okay.)

ANYWAY—this is exactly what was going on as I was driving to Chicago yesterday. One guy in huge black SUV actually barreled off the road to get around someone who was intentionally blocking the lane that was closing. Traffic ahead stopped so the SUV could pull into the main line of traffic.

After the construction zone had ended, several miles down the road, there were police lights. The guy in the SUV had been pulled over! The universe is not always a random and chaotic place! There is justice! I was delighted.