dreaminghope: (Zoey)
We were waiting for the same suburban bus. He asked me for the time. I accidentally gave him the time the bus was coming instead of the actual time, and we started chatting when I caught him to correct myself.

He is 70 years old - a wiry, mid-60s-looking 70 - and his watch battery died today and we talked about old-fashioned watches you have to wind every day - like his Dad's watch - and new-fangled watches that wind themselves when you move and cool solar-powered watches, and his first TV, and computers you carry in your pocket, and that he is a psychologist who doesn't really believe in psychology anymore, and the time he went to a psychiatrist but walked right out because the doctor brought out his prescription pad right away, before even getting his name...

And we got on the bus and we talk about the over-prescription of Valium to women in the 1950s and '60s, and the corner store owner that got him and his friends all addicted to nicotine when they were kids by giving them free cigarettes until they were hooked, and that his wife is a social worker and his kids are all social workers and psychologists, and about how he doesn't usually drink, but he had a couple of shots of vodka with his friend today because it is his afternoon off from taking care of his wife who is dying of cancer...

Wait. Deep breath. Slow down.

They just found out a month ago that she has advanced ovarian cancer. It happened fast - one test was clear; the next, only 21 days later, showed cancer everywhere - but that's how it is with this type of cancer. Now he is learning all kinds of new things about medicines, about preventing bed sores, about what conversations really matter.

He says he isn't scared of dying, "but living scares the hell out of me".

He says that he knows she'll be waiting for him. He laughs when I say that she'll get all the paperwork filled out at the Pearly Gates for him. We're both crying a little.

These days, he likes to take public transit and talk to strangers. He talks to people in wheelchairs a lot; "they understand where I'm at". He feels really lucky, because he is healthy in both mind and body, he owns his own house, and he has enough money so that even if he lives to a hundred, he still won't have to go on social assistance. He feels really lucky to have his wife. They love each other very much and they have always gotten along and had great communication, though they had some professional differences of opinion. "I'll get to hold her hand while she is dying."

Before retiring, he used to work with abused kids: "It is amazing what a 10 year old can heal from. I still hear from some of the kids I used to work with. They went through such awful things, but now they are healthy, and they have happy families." He may not believe in psychology anymore, but he obviously helped people. We're both teary again.

We talk about work, and callings, and changing our little pieces of the world for the better using whatever gifts we have. We talk about gratitude. We talk about smiling. We talk about how the world would be better if more people knew that it is OK to cry:

"I wish I'd known that before my wife started dying."

"At least you got to learn it. It's cool that you are still learning things."

"The older I get, the more I realize that I know nothing."

We talk about learning from our parents. We talk about learning from everyone around us. We talk about people watching. He tells me that I should be a social worker. He is going to be alright, but he is sure going to miss his wife. We both have damp cheeks when I get off the bus.

Angus, wherever you are tonight, I am thinking of you and your wife. Thank you for the conversation.
dreaminghope: (Flying)
We're grounded again this weekend – more rain – so I'm thinking about paragliding instead of flying.

Even when I'm not flying, I love watching it. I watch a lot of videos on the Internet. I've watched a lot of landings from the shade of the one tree on the landing zone (the "LZ"). While waiting for my turn to launch, I've seen some beautiful forward and reverse launches, some tandem launches, some hang glider launches, and a couple of top landings. I even love hanging out while people kite their wings, especially hearing the sound as the wing rises into the air and snaps into stability.

A couple of weeks ago, I was left alone on the launch for twenty minutes or so when our instructor from iParaglide went to pick up other pilots while the weather settled down a little. As I was sitting out in the sun, enjoying the quiet and scenery, a beat-up truck rumbled into the parking lot. A bunch of young men with sturdy builds piled out, beer cans in hand, and clambered up on to the launch. Being a female alone at the top of a logging road... I stood up and tried to look friendly and confident.

"You flying?" one asked me.

"Not yet. The wind's too strong still and I'm waiting for my teacher to come back with the other students. Hopefully I'll be launching before the sun starts to go down."

"This is perfect wind for me," a guy with helmet hair says. Turns out, he's a hang glider who flew earlier and just caught a ride back up to his truck with these guys. There was no reason to walk up to launch with them, but maybe he was being a bit cautious about leaving a woman alone with these strangers. The hang gliders I've met so far have been very mannerly; two of them supplied rags and clean water and helped mop me off after I fell into some mud upon landing last year.

"Did you fly earlier?" a guy asks.

"Not yet. Two other pilots from my class did; they are stronger than I am, so they could launch in more wind."

"Cool. So, this is where you jump off?" a guy with a beer asks, peering over the edge a bit.

"They don't jump; they fly," the first guy says to him, and then to me: "This is the first time he has come up with us."

The guys, apparently, come up all the time to watch paragliders and hang gliders launch. It's a thing to do on a sunny day: drive up the mountain, drink some beers, watch people fly. I told the new guy a little bit about how paragliding works and answered everyone's questions. It was all pretty friendly, except when I got a bit annoyed with them when they set off a firecracker on launch while my wing was bundled just off to the side.

They got tired of waiting and drove off before my teacher got back, which was good because the wind never did mellow and no one got to fly again that day. Driving down from launch is kind of depressing.

The next week, as we were packing our wings on the LZ, an old man came roaring through the field on a motorcycle. When he saw us, he stopped and greeted our teacher, Dion, warmly. The guy on the bike is Joe, the owner of the land we have to pass through to drive to our LZ. He doesn't fly himself, but he is a huge fan of paragliders and hang gliders. Before his stroke, he used to drive people up to the launch for free, just to hear their stories. Now, he is looking at buying the LZ land from his neighbour to make sure it continues to be available to us.

Dion has offered many times to teach Joe to fly or to take him on a tandem flight, but Joe's too worried about breaking a hip. He is happy to just watch:

"I can just spend hours watching you all fly. It's the ultimate in beauty and relaxation. It's like a ballet. When a bunch of gliders and some hangies are up there, it's like paradise to me."

I plan to quote Joe when trying to convince a nearby city to let us launch and land in some municipal parks. What a sales pitch!
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)
Back when I was first considering buying a weaving loom, I took to randomly checking Craig's List. One day I found an ad that was about a week old for a simple loom in my price range and in my area of town. When I emailed her to see if it was still available, I found out that she actually lives only about three blocks away. The loom was still available, and she was home right then if I wanted to come over.

It turns out that my loom-selling neighbour works in fibre arts and has her home and studio in an old church. I'd often passed the church – a humble one-story white stucco building peeking over a bamboo fence – on my walks, but had never been inside. The couple had redone the floors in glowing light wood and had left the main floor as a single bright room with some translucent hanging curtains dividing off areas here and there and small carpets and throw pillows. They had only recently completed their renovations, so there were also boxes everywhere, but that just added to the cool bohemian artist look.

The artist explained that she had been planning on adding handwoven fabrics to her art, so she'd bought the loom and put it all together, but had never gotten around to using it. The loom had been carefully assembled and sanded, and she had books and weaving accessories for me as well.

"Send me a picture of something you make with it," she said as I left.

I walked home with the loom frame on one shoulder and a plastic grocery bag stuffed with everything else in my hand and made my first scarf that afternoon. I forgot to email her a picture, but her studio was open during the next East Side Cultural Crawl and I wore one of my handwoven scarves when I visited.

***

A very elderly Chinese couple owns the house next door to us. Other neighbours have told us that they used to have a beautiful vegetable garden with lots of produce to share around, but a couple of years before we moved in, the wife had a stroke and was no longer able to maintain the yard. By the time we bought our house, their large yard was a jungle. Last year, Russ got bored of just using the little strip of unpaved dirt on our side of the fence and approached the couple's grown son about growing things in their yard. The son spoke to his parents (who speak no English at all) and they agreed to let Russ take over their garden. Russ rented a rotor tiller and spent several days getting the deeply entrenched weeds out and started planning what to grow and where to put it.

The couple doesn't get out much, so Russ really had the space to himself for the most part. One day, he is out doing some light maintenance weeding and checking on the progress of his beans, and he sees the husband sitting on the house's back steps watching him with a curious expression on his face. Russ smiles and waves and worries that the gentleman has forgotten why Russ is there or something hasn't been communicated to him. When the son comes along, Russ asks him if everything's alright. The son chats with his father in Mandarin, then turns back to Russ with a laugh: "He is just wondering why you are doing the gardening, as that is a woman's job."

***

I was walking home from an evening event. There was a man on the other side of the street, standing on the corner, and he called out something to me. It was definitely a question, but I couldn't hear him over the traffic. The light happened to change, so I crossed over to him. He was holding something I took at first to be a cigar, but when I got close enough to hear him ask if I had a light, I could see that it was a candle in his hand.

"I'm sorry; I don't have a lighter."

"Do you live nearby?" he asked, then hastily followed up: "I live just over there. See, I'm Orthodox Jewish and today's the Jewish New Year. We're not allowed to create our own fire today, but we are supposed to celebrate with many candles. Usually we would just light a candle in advance to light our other candles off of, but we all work, so we can’t leave something burning all day. You aren't Jewish, are you?"

"No, I'm not."

"Oh good, because I wouldn't want to cause another Jew to create fire today."

"Well, I think I can help you out. I live right over there, and it looks like my partner's home. He'll have a lighter."

We walked back across the street to my house. He stayed at the bottom of the front porch steps despite my welcoming gesture, so I brought Russ out to him. I just told Russ to bring a lighter and I let our neighbour explain the details.

"Oh, your house had the big electric menorah on the fence last December!" Russ exclaimed, "We loved that!"

"My name's Alexander," the neighbour stuck his hand out and Russ shook it and introduced himself. I chuckled to myself for not introducing myself sooner and stuck out my own hand. Alexander clasped his hands together and nodded to me.

"I'm sorry, but I can't shake your hand. We believe that we shouldn't touch the opposite sex. If you meet my wife, it will be the same: she will shake your hand, but not his. But I will shake Russ' hand for you too." They shook hands a second time as we all chuckled. I clasped my hands behind my back, suddenly concerned that I would feel compelled to touch him, though I am not usually inclined to casually touch strangers.

Russ pulled out his lighter, but before Alexander would light his candle, he checked that Russ isn't Jewish either. As Russ tried to get the candle burning well enough to endure the trip back across the street, Alexander told us about the previous new year: "I found another neighbour out for a walk. He didn't speak English very well, so I had to kind of mime what I needed. I don't think he really understood why I needed his help, but he lit my candle," he shrugged, "It's getting to know the neighbours."

"OK, I think we've got it going here," Russ said, "but if it goes out, just come on back. We'll be up for another hour or two at least."

"Thank you so much!" Alexander shook Russ' hand, gave me a friendly nod and shook Russ' hand again, and then we all returned to our homes. He didn't return that night, so I assume the candle stayed lit for him.
dreaminghope: (Zoey)
I was at a bus stop and it wasn't quite raining, which is the best you can get some days in Vancouver in October. He trotted across the street; jaywalking, but at least he waited for a red light at the nearest intersection. He stopped in front of me. He's wearing jeans and a flannel plaid shirt, untucked, over a t-shirt.

"Hello!" He has a jack-o-lantern smile - huge, and missing more than a few teeth.

"Hi..."

"I was working way up high on a building, you know, way up there and I said to my boss, I said 'are we going to die today?' and he said 'I don't know.'! I said 'don't say that'! We're way up there, like thirty floors up and I'm like, 'woah, we're really high' and my boss says 'did you pee your pants?' and I said 'a little'."

"That would be embarrassing."

"Yeah. But we were so high up, you know. And my boss said 'don't look down' but I couldn't help it and I looked down. And I said to my boss 'are we going to die today?'. He said 'I don't know.' I was like 'oh, you bastard!' but I didn't say that, you know."

"Well, that's not something you can say to your boss."

"Yeah! We're way up there and I reach for a tool and I'm like 'woah!' and my boss says 'don't look down' and I say 'too late'. And he's working and I start going 'blah-ba-bo-blah' and he's like 'what are you doing?' and I said I'm singing."

He breaks into air guitar and starts singing to the tune of the chorus of Barbara Ann: "Bad, bad, bad, bad-bad, bad-bad. Bad, bad, bad, bad-bad, bad-bad."

I laugh, as his strange enthusiasm is infectious.

"The next time you hear that song, you think of me, OK?" he said earnestly, "You think of me when you hear it... bad, bad, bad, bad-bad, bad-bad..."

"I will."

He air-guitars off down the sidewalk. As my bus pulls up, he is talking to someone else. I can't tell if it's the same story or not. I wonder if he likes to tell stories, or if he just needs to be heard, to be remembered.
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)
On the #10 Hastings-Downtown bus through the heart of the infamous Downtown Eastside* of Vancouver on Friday, a couple of under-housed** people are chatting eagerly about that night's hockey game. They don't care about our local team and their playoff chances; they care that this was a home game, so there would be crowds downtown. Crowds downtown mean bottles and cans discarded on the streets. One of them speculates that he might make $90 that night in returns.

An elderly woman gets on the bus and sits down between them. She has come out from her assisted living facility home in Surrey for an appointment. She'd promised a fellow resident ("Poor man. He's pretty much housebound, and no one visits him.") that she'd buy him some cheap cigarettes while she was downtown.

"Cigarettes are his only comfort. No friends; no family; nothing. So sad, really."

The two DTES residents advised her on where to find the cheap cigarettes:

"OK, you'll get off at the next bus stop and then just talk to people back along Hastings here to see who has cigarettes. People will have packs for $5 each."

"But if you talk to the Chinese people, they'll have 'em for $4. The Chinese people sell the packs for $4 each, and everyone else buys from them and then will sell the same pack to you for $5."

As we pull up to a red light, he points out the window at a middle-aged Chinese woman who seems to be just strolling past the pawn shop: "That woman right there, in the blue hat. Talk to her."

"Do you think I can catch her?" the elderly woman leans forward, trying to figure out where the next bus stop is.

"She'll just walk back and forth on that block. You'll catch her, no problem."

"She just carries them in her purse?"

"Yeah. She'll have $4 cigarettes."

I didn't know that about Vancouver.

* AKA, the DTES.

** Possibly homeless, but more likely residents of some of the many single room occupancy hotels.
dreaminghope: (Giggle)
My partner, Russ, is one of those people with a natural charm and good humour; people remember him.

We had a meeting at our house back in September for the board of directors I serve on. Russ isn't on the board right now, but he was around the house, so he graciously offered to make espresso-based drinks for all who wanted them. He created some sort of fancy raspberry-mocha creation for our childcare facilitator, Lisa, who made very happy - orgasmic, in fact - noises. Upon hearing these happy noises, her 6-foot-plus husband jokingly stormed into the kitchen: "Russell, I hear you've been orally pleasuring my wife!"

Now, for some reason, the wife had reason to talk of this particular anecdote at her work. Her supervisor embraced the spirit of the story and there's a new office tradition: whenever Lisa is dealing with one of those customers that just makes you want to reach through the phone and beat them with their own phone receiver, her supervisor writes "Russell" on a post-it note and puts it on Lisa's computer screen.

Russ is someone people remember; sometimes they remember him even if they've never met him.
dreaminghope: (Apple Picking)
One of my favourite customers called today, as she does every second Monday, to find out what's coming in her fruit and vegetable bin tomorrow. Most of my customers do this on the website and make any changes there themselves, but Laurie's a little older and she's doesn't have a computer.

"Without any changes, your bin this week would contain one pound of bananas..."

"OK."

"A head of green leaf lettuce..."

"Maybe take the lettuce out."

"No problem. One pound of red potatoes..."

"OK, I can use the potatoes this week."

"Three concorde pears..."

"Oh, I have to tell you, the bosc pears in the last bin were just so wonderful! They reminded me of the pear tree we had in the backyard when I was a little girl. It was a bosc tree, and it produced the biggest pears. Just half of one was enough. It never produced a lot of pears - just a couple of dozen a year, I think - but they were so good.

"My father would wait until just before the first frost to pick them, and then he would wrap each one in newspaper and store them in this cold storage he made in the basement. Those pears were ugly, with that dull, rough skin, but they were so sweet and juicy. And the aroma! They smelled so good.

"My Dad packed them so carefully in those newspapers, on the shelves in the cold room, that they would last and last. Whenever we wanted a pear, we could have one just like fresh-picked, even in December or February, all the way through to the spring.

"Oh, but just listen to me go on! Those pears just brought back such fond memories, and I wanted to be sure to tell you how much I enjoyed them. I'll try the concorde ones this week."

"I hope you'll enjoy them. In your bin this week, we also have a pound of royal mandarins..."
dreaminghope: (Working Zoey)
We all have our stories, right? The ones we tell while getting to know someone; the ones about funny things, about slightly embarrassing things, about our personal quirks. We have the stories we tell when everyone's talking about childhood fears and beliefs, and the ones we share about food, about sleep, about bad sex.

My bad sex story has made the rounds. Any day now, I expect it to be told back to me as something that happened to the friend of a friend of a friend.

The story evolves a little with each retelling, so when it comes back to me, I may not recognize it. Or it may be someone else's story; I'm sure I'm not the only one this has happened to.

This happened years ago, when I was still living with my parents. They were out for the day and Russ came over and we were... hanging out. In my room. Naked. Right... so we were having a good time, when I started to feel a burning sensation in an unfortunate place. I excused myself and tried peeing, thinking about bladder infections, but this felt different. I went back in to the bedroom and confessed to my naked boyfriend that something was wrong and that there wouldn't be any sex, given the uncomfortable circumstances.

Russ blushed. He isn't normally a blusher, but this time he was red.

"I swear, I washed my hands."

"What?"

"Before coming over, I was over at Shane's. And we were making chili."

"I know."

"And I was chopping the fresh jalapeños. I washed up really well after, but maybe I missed some of the oils."

The burning took a couple of hours to complete go away.

It's a good cautionary tale; they might want to add that to some sex ed courses where they still have such things.

The other day, a friend started to tell one of my stories to a mutual friend, but she'd already heard it. I can't remember if I was the one that told it to her. I don't think I did. Maybe I did. It's a good story for telling to new friends.

There's a point in a new friendship that requires a little self-deprecation; a little revealing of a weakness or flaw. Nothing serious – not kleptomaniac-tendencies, homicidal fantasies, or a little problem with compulsive lying – but more like always pronouncing "animation" incorrectly or forgetting to turn the clock back every Daylight Savings Time. I like to tell this story:

Some friends and I meet at a major bookstore at a major cross-street. We walk along a major street for about seven blocks to a restaurant. Once at the restaurant, we only have enough time to get menus and order drinks before another friend called; she's nearby: can she join us?

She's familiar with the bookstore but not the restaurant, so I volunteer to meet her at the bookstore. I get there fine – seven blocks in a straight line – greet her and we head back. I set out with confidence; after all, it's a seven block walk, in a straight line.

We're chatting as we walk. We walk for about six blocks before I notice that we're not on the bright main street but strolling alongside dark office buildings. I don't know where we are.

We turn around and walk back to the bookstore: six blocks in a straight line. Once there, I figure out where I went wrong: when we headed out, I went at a 90 degree angle from where I was supposed to and got us lost even though we only had to travel straight back the way I had just come. There were four other people there that day, and they will never let me live it down, and neither will all the friends they've told, nor will the ones I've told. It works for me; I really do have an awful sense of direction, so the spread of the story means that people don’t expect me to lead, give accurate directions, or follow them.

I have saved some stories; held them close, for the right moment. A story about stories needs, perhaps, a story about story-telling.

When I was in grade four or five, the story of Bloody Mary went around the school yard. Our variation involved entering a dark room at midnight, spinning around several times, flashing a flashlight on and off several times, and then looking into a mirror. Several girls claimed to have tried it and to have seen an awful figure coming through the mirror before they fled the room.

In the schoolyard, I was a voice of reason:

"If you spin around fast enough, you will get spots in front of your eyes. And if you are flashing lights on and off too, you are bound to see things. The other morning, when my mom turned on the lights very suddenly, I saw a spot in front of my eyes shaped like a pony."

Others seemed to believe me. Fears quelled, the myth of the murdering woman in the mirror disappeared from my circle of friends quickly.

In the dark, however, the story still had power over me. I developed a fear of seeing a mirror in a dark room. I never told anyone this fear, so to avoid seeing the mirror in the bedroom I shared with my sister, I would sleep with Susie the Seal on the outside and cover her with a thick duvet, to make the pile high enough to block my view. To this day, I don't allow a mirror in my bedroom.

The stories of other people were stronger than my own. Perhaps it is often that way.

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dreaminghope

February 2014

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