Thursday, August 31, 2006

What the TIFF?


It's Christmas in Toronto. No, no. It's not some weird tradition we have up here like Thanksgiving in October. It's TIFF time! The Toronto International Film Festival takes place every September and turns the whole town upside down. Whether you're a film nerd (comme moi) or a celeb stalker, Toronto is THE place to be the first two weeks of September.

The schedule of films came out Tuesday. That's when the frenzy for most people starts. The usually smoggy air is filled with electricity, anticipation and confusion. How do I choose? Well, my friends, I'm going to tell you -- and I'm copywriting this so if TIFF wants to use it down the road, they'll have to pay me to write the campaign.

TIFFers can be broken down into several stereotypes. The kind you can print on T-shirts. Based on my catchy slogans, you can select the movies that go with the tee that fits you best.

9 times out of 10, I choose along country lines. I will look up any films that feature Armenian characters or stories first, then any that are from Armenian directors. Two years ago when I was pregnant, there were no Armenian films, but there was a French film with an Armenian character, so that got chosen. Thank God because it was gorgeous and never came out on DVD in North America to the best of my knowledge.

After Armo-themed films, I choose Turkish (I know. We're not supposed to like them, but my family got stuck there after the genocide, so I have been influenced by their culture, understand the language and see no point dwelling on hate.) ones. Then Norwegian for my husband's side. Then I go French because I am obsessed with France. Then I look south of the Equator for my South American contingent of friends. Then Spain and Italy and so on. We will also try each year to view a film from a country we wouldn't normally choose. This year it will be the Czech Republic.

The con is that you have to read after a long day of staring at your computer screen, but there are a multitude of pros to subtitled films. You learn about a different culture. Your chances of seeing something that will never be available to you again are high. The actors are rarely known to you (unless you are a crazy Francophile with a more insane Francophile of a sister.) and therefore are more credible. You believe they are who they are playing. You don't know them as Dr. McYummy or whatever, so they suck you in. Every now and then you discover the future hot young thing. Like Penelope Cruz in Jamon Jamon or Gael Garcia Bernal in Amores Perros. Actors who will soon be learning English, working with Spielberg and dating Leonardo di Caprio. I get a kick out of saying, "I saw him at TIFF back before anyone knew him."

************************************

Star fuckers and Hello Magazine addicts flock to the galas and the big name pictures. There's nothing wrong with that, if you don't mind paying $30 to see a movie that the big studio is going to put out 3 weeks later. This isn't my thing, but have done it in the past for actors or directors I was obsessed with. Billy Crudup before he left his preggo wife for Clare Danes. Kevin Federline much Billy? This year I may have to see if there's more to Ethan Hawke's directing skills than one Lisa Loeb video.

Some people skip the flicks altogether and set up shop at trendy bars like Avenue, Lobby and Bistro 990. In the past, this tactic ensured ass-to-ass contact with a star, but nowadays with every magazine under the sun telling you to check out these places for star-stalking, the celebs are getting smarter and sticking to closed-door private functions. You're lucky if you see The Bride of Chucky at the Starbucks on Cumberland.


***************************************



Then there are people who say this is a Canadian film fest and one should only support the locals. I agree to a point. But for my TIFFing purposes (Deep breath as she's about to unleash the wrath of starving Canadian filmmakers everywhere)... well, we've got 573 other festivals all year for that, don't we? But if Canadian films turn your crank, you've got great taste. Most Canadian filmmakers wonder who the heck is going to watch their film, so all the support they get is good stuff. If you're visiting Canada for the fest, absolutely see some Canadian films. We've got some of the world's best talent. The best films, you'll end up hearing about through the film nerd grapevine. The problem with TIFF as a venue for up-and-coming Canadians is that these fresh voices get overshadowed by all the glitz and glam, as opposed to the established Canadians--like an Egoyan, a Mehta or a Cronenberg--who will get a coveted gala spot.


*********************************************



Then there are those, like my husband, who say things like, "Oh, well that's why it was good. They had half a mil to make that movie." I don't have the heart to say, "Well sweetie, although you and your co-workers have been generous enough to work for pad thai and beer, the rest of the world needs a paycheque. And 5 mil is considered pretty lo-budget in the biz."

These indie film lovers will not see anything with a well-known star, but a well-respected actor might make the cut. And if it smells remotely of Hollywood, like a Weinstein Brothers pic, there is no fucking way they are going to see that commercial crap masking as art. They want to see the blood, sweat and tears of the director, preferably on the lens. Ooh look, a boom mic in the shot! That's so indie! I bet they all ate store brand cheese and crackers that day that they paid for on his dad's credit card. Awesome!

I'm sorry, but hand-held shooting gives me motion sickness.



*****************************************************



Some people won't take a chance on a film that someone else didn't love first. They need someone to vouch for the movie. It's like the film equivalent of being a virgin: the chance for disappointment is high. These people look for films that have a rep. Anything that's won the Palme D'or would be the equivalent of shagging Madonna. If it got the Audience Award at Sundance, well that's more like snogging the French exchange student--after the class Romeo said you haven't frenched until you do it with a Frenchie. This is not a bad method for choosing your films if you've bought a coupon book in advance, but this won't serve you well if you're trying for rush tickets, because these popular honeys tend to go...fast. Heh.


*****************************************************



There is a segment of TIFF goers who are obsessed with the Midnight Madness program. This is where you see late night freak shows about people going to the cabin for the weekend and having all their skin fall off, while one of them is a serial killer, but no one knew. Well at least he brought the hot dogs! Alternately, you can get gold. The Machinist with Christian Bale played here and this year fans will get a special treat as Borat appears in his first feature film. I wonder if the parts in Kazakhistan will have subtitles...


***************************************************

Edited to Add:

The real bitch is you have to make your selections only a few short days before the critics' reviews come out! I am sitting here with two indie papers and the Star in front of me, alternately agonizing about my choices and rejoicing that my next door neighbour is representing six films in the fest, some of which got excellent reviews and are sitting on my coffee table in DVD format. And yes, they all have subtitles. Yay! Stay tuned for a full list of my picks once I'm notified.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Memories of Scarborough

I just watched Dave Chappelle's Block Party. It was the most inspiring movie I've seen in a long time and it reminded me of growing up in Scarborough. I realize I never write about my hometown (yup, it was its own borough back in the day with its own government, long before this megacity shit went through against our wishes and nearly ruined this fair city.)

If we had a PC sauce for Scarberia, or its less flattering monikers of Scarlem and Scompton, it would taste like Jerk, Hoisin, Pesto, Piri Piri, Tandoori, Soya, Habanero and Garlic mixed in. It would be hotter than a mofo. So hot that you would feel like your head was gonna explode. And much like food that's too rich, these people--rich in culture, but not in dollars--would mix in together and the tension of all these flavours would collide, with varying results.

DCBP reminded me of a few things. It reminded me that hard work pays off. That anyone can do alright if they try hard enough and ignore the fact that "the system" is not on their side. My father came into Canada with $25 in his pocket and dreams of becoming a published writer. It reminded me of the struggle of we children of immigrants, to make something of ourselves or face shaming our parents. We were all aware that we were afforded opportunities via the arduous struggle and journey of our parents. This land would never be their home. Even though they've spent more years here than there, back home is a world away.

We didn't have much growing up compared to other North American kids. And in the world of capitalism and celebrities, that creates drive. I was always aware of what we didn't have. But even though we could have lost everything with a downturn of the economy, we were always aware that there was family to lean on if we could swallow our pride. But pride is what drove our immigrant parents to try to succeed.

My father has yet to become a published author, but he has always paid his taxes, helped his neighbours, and worked two jobs if it meant a better future for his family. He doesn't complain, he just moves forward. He is an honourable man, though he can be quite the asshole, and I have much respect for him now as an adult. It's hard to sacrifice your dreams for the sake of your family. But I suppose your family becomes your dream at that point. I hope I've done him proud. I'd like to think I have.

**************************

DCBP, if you haven't seen it, is when the comedian Dave Chappelle organizes his dream concert in Bed-Stuy, NYC and invites everybody, including people from his hometown of Dayton, Ohio (sorry Dave, I was just hatin' on Ohio, but maybe you've made me want to give Dayton a try). He's made it big and wants to give something back to the people. It's directed by Michel Gondry who directed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of my all time favourite films. How this whitey Frenchman ended up directing this African-American classic, beats me, but it's brilliant. The Roots are the band for the ENTIRE show (every arrangement done by the genius known as ?uestLove) and there's Kanye and John Legend, Common and Talib Kweli and Mos Def, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott, and then The Fugees reunite! OMG! I was up and dancing through most of it. Sometimes I feel like I'm one of those wedding bonbonieres: Ivory on the outside, but chocolate on the inside. But that's the beautiful thing about music. It can transport you, unite you, ignite you, convert you.

There is a brief segment where Big Daddy Kane comes out lookin' like OId Daddy's Cane (though he still MCs like it's 1990!). This brought me back. Picture it: 15-year-old Scarbs and Mel Boogie (sister of Canadian rap legend Maestro Fresh Wes and one of my favourite people) running to the corner store in the mostly Chinese strip mall at Bamburgh Circle, trying to act cool and older so that the Asian shopkeeper wouldn't think we were too young to buy the latest issue of Playgirl with Big Daddy and his Kane in it. It never occured to me back then that this was a big deal. There was a black rapper on the cover of a major magazine (albeit a skanky one)! A sex symbol.

Mel was fiesty, and smart as a whip. I remember the shininess of her skin and her incredible smile. She could me make laugh harder than anyone. I recall that her mother didn't want her to get into the entertainment business like her brother. She was meant to go off to medical school or something like that. Mel would sneak me illicit tapes that her brother brought back from his trips to New York and we would snark about everyone in Drama class who wasn't us.

I can't remember where we were when we opened the mag. Probably my house as I was the latch-key child with the closest house to the school. I remember we were all upet because they covered the Kane with a box of chocolates, an allusion to his 1990 album, A Taste of Chocolate. But I'll remember that day forever.

I have seen Mel a few times since those days. I remember running into her at the HMV in Fairview Mall a few years after high school. She was working there and told me she had a baby and had gotten married. And she shot me this look and said, "I know. I know." Because every girl in our high school got pregnant young. That wasn't supposed to happen to us. To her. I'm pretty sure I judged her fiercely back then. I saw her a few times after that at high school reunions and she seemed happy and we laughed like old times. But how come we didn't stay friends after high school? I changed too much during the last years of high school. My world got whiter.

The last time I saw Melissa Williams was the day of the blackout in 2003. People were frantically pouring out of the subways onto Bloor and Yonge Streets. No one knew what was going on yet, and the idea that it may have been terrorist attacks was in most people's minds. I was desperately trying to get a signal on my cell to reach my husband with no luck. And then I saw her in the crowd. She was on her cell talking to someone when we passed. We looked at each other and laughed. I remember thinking how good it was to see her in that chaos. It was comforting.

I know the chances of you Googling yourself are slim, and you may have changed your name, but Melissa if you're out there, I'm thinking of you and missing you.

Nadine

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Guess Who's Back...Back Again?

Scarbie's back...tell a friend.

I am back and alive. These two flaky artists have been blessed with one flexible child. We required no drugs and no portable DVD player--though we definitely abused the Nickelodeon in the hotel rooms! Next to having a lovely child, here are my tips for anyone considering a road trip with a toddler.

* Most toddlers talke 2-3 hour naps. Wait for that magic sleepy time and then get in the car and GO. GET THE HELL OUT OF DODGE! Drive like there are state troopers on your ass (but not so fast as to alert the state troopers).

* After the nap, if you are not at your destination, ride it out until the foreshadowing of what I like to call "the shit you know is coming." Then look for the nearest rest stop or cute town and get out for a while. Very important to do this at the foreshadowing and not to wait until the shit is actually present. Plan to be stopped for one to two hours. Have your dinner, play in a park or playground, but make sure to get the cutie good and tired again. Or at least tired enough that he can't wrestle his way out of the car seat.

* When you get back in the car, if it's not quite bedtime yet, have someone sit in the backseat next to the toddler. Make sure to have tons of books and toys on hand as a distraction. Elmo was our best friend on this trip. Sitting him on Daddy's shoulder while he was driving, thus making Daddy insane, had us all laughing.

* I had some Camilia leftover fron Puppy's heavy teething days. When he was realy irritable and stopping was not an option, I used the homeopathic remedy to get him to chill out a bit. It worked for me.

* Should a tantrum occur, encourage said toddler to suck it up. Literally. I'd be like, "Hey buddy, why don't you put your thumb in your mouth?" And being that he does what I say most of the time, he would. Yeah, so I'll have to shell out for braces in 10 years.

* I know you shouldn't feed a child in a car because of choking, but I do occasionally. Sometimes, it's the only time he would eat.

* If all else fails, stuff your earplugs in, take a sip of something that'll put hair on your chest and hope he gives up before you do. That failing, get out of the car, hitch a ride to the nearest airport and run off to Togo.

The biggest mistake we made was we didn't bring our portable highchair. So feeding the boy-on-the-go was difficult to say the least. Having him restrained and sitting during meals and picnics would have made things much easier. I'm not going to lie to you: he survived on french fries, tortilla chips, applesauce, blueberries, cucumbers and crackers. I swore I would not be one of those moms who gives french fries often, but on this trip it was often the only hope he had for a vegetable.

Getting the toddler to sleep in a new room every other night was not so easy and we had many late bedtimes as a result. But it was a vacation, so I guess we can overlook that one indulgence. And he did sleep in to make up for it which was nice.

The best part of the trip by far was that our family bonded. We have not had that much time together in one go since Pup-Dawg was an infant and back then we were so frantic and sleep-deprived that bonding as a family unit wasn't high on the priority list. If it happened concurrently to changing diapers and the like, awesome, but we had no idea how to make it happen. This time around, with our son blossoming into the incredible human that he is, we enjoyed each other much more. The most important development was that the Dog finally figured out his role in Nate's life. Whenever a truck or a plane would zoom by, my son would sweetly call out for Daddy. Because unlike boring Mommy, Daddy will lift him up high and make fun sounds that fill his ears and his imagination. The other morning I woke up to find Nate calling out, "Dah-dee, Da'EE, Dad," first thing in the morning instead of his usual "Mah-mee!" This is a major advancement. It takes a bit of the burden off my shoulders that Nate finally feels he can go to his dad for comfort, but it also makes Daddy Dog feel like all his effort and investment was worthwhile.

Our trunk latch broke, so that sucked ass. We finally got it to close, but were unable to open it again, so the rest of the trip we had to undo the carseat and load the car backwards from the inside. Thank heaven that was our worst vehicle problem with a 10 year-old Chevy and 2000 miles under our budunkadunkdunks.

There is a whole other post somewhere in my brain about getting it on in hotel rooms with a sleeping child nearby, but sadly for you, it ain't gonna be today. All I'll say is 4 times in two weeks post-baby was pretty impressive. Ooh, and I believe there was one instance of hand-jobbery while driving too! Other than some tense moments of, "I told you to get off at Exit 13!" "Well you didn't sound like you meant it," we fared better than most couples who compete on the Amazing Race.

********************************************

I am exhausted. I want to tell you all about the wonderful and strange things I encountered on our journey, but the chaos of post-vacation life has set in. I went out with the Toronto Mama Bloggers last night, got totally drunk, exposing what an obnoxious asshole I can be, presumably talking over everyone as if only what I had to say mattered (yeah, I get like that when the vodka kicks in). My only hope is that I didn't offend anyone, because they were all lovelier than one could imagine and I bonded with some of them in a way that would never happen over coaxial cables.

Special thanks to Her Bad Mother (and anyone I may have missed) for organizing such a swank night out. I was most impressed when a few women, who weren't bloggers, decided they loved us enough to get the balls up to meet us. Very, very cool. Also extremely impressed by the gorgeous, genius of a 24-year-old, who is responsible for the 10 Spot Nail Bar on Queen West. The place looks fabulous, the mani was impeccable, and getting hammered while you have your nails done is a definite plus.

The Dog went to a stag last night and came home with a hopelessly sprained ankle this morning. Like what'd he trip over a stripper? Just what I needed with my hangover and a mountain of laundry staring me in the face--a husband who's laid out on the couch all day! We've already had our first fight about our finances and I freaked out in the middle of laundry/making dinner/chasing the toddler, because the Brita was empty (Guess who?). Then in the process of filling it, I somehow knocked it to the floor, smashing it to bits and spilling a litre of water all over the kitchen floor. Then the mop broke. Faack. Send me back to Pittsburgh, please?


Take note of how happy we all look, because you might not see us being so chummy again for a while.

***Edited to add: Yeah, those are new wheels in that photo. I hit the ol' Niagara Falls Blvd strip on the way in and upgraded to a $60 Chicco umbrella stroller. I will review it in full in the near future. And at $60 I only kinda sorta succumbed to stroller envy. So don't be a hater 'till you get the deets, k?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Pittsburgh -- Who Knew?

We drove the scenic routes between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The Puppy has been an ace car-napper for the most parts and we've only had to resort to me pretending I'm his Elmo doll singing the Alphabet song a couple of times. We stopped in Youngstown, OH for a picnic and were pleased with the quiet, university town on summer break surroundings. We stopped in Grove City, PA for some outlet shopping and I could not get over how big it was. "You mean Banana is all the way over THERE?! Fergetit." Of course we got a ton of stuff for Nate and I ended up with a pair of Old Navy Bermuda shorts. Hey, it's hard to shop with husband and baby in tow!

Shopping made everyone hungry and tense (we'll leave it at that), so we found ourselves in something called the Eat n' Park. Before I had a kid you would not have been able to pay me to go into such a place. But they had a salad bar for the Dog, healthier options for me, a kids menu, crayons and cookies. Most importantly, no one would be caught dead there if they didn't like kids, so you can make friends withother parents in the same boat. "I don't mind your kid staring at us eat if you don't mind my kid staring at y'all," one mother bargained. Another mother let us pull the highchair up to her table so our son could properly flirt with her daughter. Not quite paradise, but it's nice to be around people who understand why you let your son scoop applesauce into your Coke.

We stayed in a smelly motel in Slippery Rock, PA and took the Washington Trail into Pittsburgh the next morning. We had booked all our big city hotels on Hotwire back in April and were fortunate to be staying in fabulous hotels for under $100/night. Pittsburgh is gorgeous. Yeah, I'd never heard anyone say that before either. 3 rivers run through it, so incredible bridges crisscross any vista. The downtown is surrounded by a mountain and hills that are speckled with houses. Pittsburgh has proper neighbourhoods with distinct personalities. And the food is indeed, good. Pittsburgh is emerging people. It will someday be THE place to be.

Pittsburgh pros:

DO stay in Oakland. It's the university district (U Pitt and Carnegie Mellon are both nearby). Lots of students milling about make it quite safe and pretty multi-culti. Students need affordable food options, so there is good eating to be had for good prices. Dave and Andy's homemade ice cream on Atwood with their fresh homemade waffle cones? Oh yeah baby. Schenly Plaza in the evening has families on the grass and people using their WIFI --side by side --under the shadow of the stunning U of Pitt main spired building. Gorgeous.

DO visit the South Side strip. They are still getting it together, but it definitely has a fun vibe and good food. I'm sure it's way better at night in the drinking hours, but I didn't get to see that aspect unfortunately.

DO see a ballgame at PNC park. You get a great tan and an amazing view of the city and the river. They close the bridge from downtown to the park on game days, so you can walk over or you can actually take a ferry from the touristy Station Square.

DO DO DO go to the Children's Museum. They have a whole Mister Rogers' Neighbourhood, and a Nursery for the smaller ones, and a Waterplay floor where they provide raincoats and boots and lots of H2O for splashing. And they have an amazing studio with paint and crayons and papermaking classes. In honour of hometown hero, Andy Warhol, you can make a silkscreened print to take home with you. So. Much. Fun.

DO take the bus. 53C takes you through many of the happening neighbourhoods and you get to talk to people who live there.

Pittsburgh Cons:

DON'T go to Market Square at night. We made that mistake and had to turn right back around. SUPER SKETCH. Like we even saw a hooker being chased by a police K9 unit. And it was like 7:30 PM. Yikes!

DON'T book your schedule so tight that you can't see it all. I missed The Strip District, Shadyside, Mt. Washington and a couple other cool neighbourhoods. Also missed the Andy Warhol Museum. Boo hoo.

Pittsburgh definitely warrants a trip back.

Next: Washington, Dee Cee!

Cleveland Rocks?

I'm alive! Just barely, but somehow I'm holdin' on.

I'm in Philly, and as I just emailed my friend Rob in Victoria (aka author of the book you really really have to read. Scroll below, I'm lazy), I am sitting in the lobby of an executive class hotel that happens to be pumping good house music, pretending to have an evening out to myself. That's how we roll up in heeeere!

I had many opportunities to access computers earlier in the trip, but to be honest, the first part of the trip was a little rough and I needed to digest my thoughts and give America a chance to shine like I knew it could. So here goes (I may channel my inner Bernie Mac from time to time -- be forewarned):

So we roll into Niagara Falls, Ontario on the Friday night. We hadn't planned on it originally and had not reserved a place until the last minute. In other words, we weren't going to be staying at the Sheraton. The Dog and I had agreed that he would go into the room and make sure there was a crib set up for Nate. We check in at the motel that generously calls itself an inn and the Dog says, "There's no crib." Which leads me to believe that there is no crib, not that there is a crib that they haven't set up yet. I start to imagine what Mary and Joseph went through and I think that a barn looks better than this place.

We park and nod to the yahoos who are drinking outside their motel room. The Dog unlocks the door to the room, surveys and then comes to the car to tell me to bring the sleeping Pup in and put him in one of the two double beds. I get him out of the car and manage to pull some quasi-Dr. Karp shushing, keeping him asleep until we get up to the room. OK, not so bad, I think to myself.

I walk into the room and notice the nasty bedspreads are pulled back already. Yeah, we all saw the same 20/20 on that -- they never wash those things. Oh how sweet, I thought, the Dog knows those things creep me out and he pulled them back! Awesome! And then the smell hits me. The bitter smell of sweat and sex. And I notice that the sheets are crumpled. Someone has already slept in these sheets! And oh fuck I can't fucking put the goddamn sleeping baby down effortlessly.

The Dog calls the hotel manager, a small middle eastern woman, who arrives and loudly announces that "Doze girils didn't clean de room! OmyGud, let me fix dis. GARY!! GAAAARYY bring some sheets for deze people!" If you think my kid stayed asleep through that one, you're on crack. For half an hour they make the beds and bring in the crib and clean the bathroom and all the lights are on and they bring in a vacuum and I have to tell them that maybe a vacuum at 10 pm is not such a good idea. So then she has the nerve to ask me, "Why didn't you come earlier?" Holy fuck I wanted to punch her. The whole point of leaving later was to a) avoid traffic with a restrained toddler who cannot sit still, and b) have said toddler fall asleep on the road so the transfer from his usual sleeping conditions would be seamless.

Needless to say, the toddler was up until midnight. He could not settle down in the new surroundings and the 90 minute nap he had on the way over had him pumped for party time. We finally got to sleep after letting him cry-it-out in the portable crib. I was ready to cry myself to sleep to, but exhaustion got the better of me. Night one was a bust.

The next morning, we headed for Cleveland. I'll have another post with pictures and commentary about pros and cons of things when I get home. For now, I will attempt to describe with words, one city at a time.

Show me your downtown and I'll show you who you are.

Cleveland, oh Cleveland. Thank God things got better after Cleveland, because Cleveland made us want to head back home. No offence readers, but Cleveland did not rock. Oh sure, they've preserved their beautiful old buildings. Sure they've tried to pretty up the waterfront, but you can hardly get to it, except for this one patch behind the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. RRHF? Not one concert there, not one induction ceremony in Cleveland. Cleveland does not use its downtown, except to go to work and to ball games. Cleveland's downtown on a Saturday was reminiscent of the movie 28 Days Later: You would see no one for blocks and blocks and then a zombie would appear from around the corner.

We asked several people where we could go to eat with our son and the answers were so vague. It seems no one is from "around here." They all live in the suburbs. They come see a game and then get on the train immediately after and vanish. Most people told us that we should go to the food court in Tower City to eat. Tower City is a mall, people. Scarbie may sound elitist, but eating in a mall food court on the first Saturday night of her vacation is not her idea of good times.

We fled back to our hotel to eat. Everything was out of a can or a bag in the hotel restaurant. The portions were enormous! No wonder so many Americans are overweight! Everywhere we went it was quantity, not quality that people were after. Suffering from culture shock and feeling deprived of a proper Cleveland experience, we took our dinner leftovers back to the room and shacked out.

OK, so no one is downtown on the weekend unless they come to see a game. Got it. Let's try some of these other neighbourhoods to see what's up. A drive from downtown to University Circle proved to be... well pretty fucking sad. It looks like Cleveland took its entire African-American population and shoved them into this crappy ass pocket of downtown. America, why don't you treat your people with respect? How can there still be such blatant segregation? How can you stick your fellow man into sub-standard living conditions, and then run to the suburbs where you can't see them? What the fuck is up with that?

I'm not saying that Canada is some pristine utopia, but we try to take care of our own at least. And even if we don't all like each other, we all tolerate each other. The neighbourhood where I live is the living proof of this. The Gerrard-India Bazaar is home to as many Pakistani businesses as Indian. The Muslim Pakistanis harbour huge historic anger towards the Indian Hindus and Sikhs who own the stores right next to them and vice versa, but they work alongside one another anyway, knowing that by doing so, they will attract visitors to the neighbourhood and everyone will thrive as a result.

I can't tell you how many blacks we encountered who began their interractions with us with, "I'm not racist. I love everybody equally." It shocked us that it was even necessary to say this. And it seemed to shock them that we were smiling at those we passed and speaking to them regardless of race or colour. That really fucked me up readers. Really and truly. I know that all of America isn't like this, and maybe even not all of Cleveland is like this, but what I DID see I didn't like.

Fortunately we met a wonderful man named Ron Jackson, who was sitting by the water with his kids. He was trying to strike up conversations with whomever passed him, but most people just acknowledged him with a fake "that guy's crazy" smile. We happen to like crazies and talked to him for a while. He was far from crazy. We spoke of issues of race and he told to check out an area called Tremont. "It's up-and-coming," he explained, "They're still trying to get it going over there, but it's cool. They're doing their thing."

The next morning we packed up and headed to the East Side Market to load up on fresh fruits and veggies for the road. And sure enough, we saw people of all races buying their food. It was refreshing. And it felt good to get some veggies into us too. We grabbed our goodies and drove through nearby Tremont. It was early on a Monday morning, but you could see what my man Ron was talking about -- an artsy, grassroots community. Nothing stamped House of Blues or Hard Rock Cafe or Cleveland Clinic.

"Thank you for forcing me to do this today," my husband sighed.

Other plusses for Cleveland:

DO see a ballgame at the Jake aka Jacob's Field. A beautiful park and I met so many nice people. They have by far (she says with certainty after seeing 5 major league parks) the best kids area to distract those restless toddlers and pre-schoolers. And they let us run the bases at the end of the game. And the Indians kicked ass. Awesome.

DO go walk around the petite lake-side park behind RRHF. It's really pretty.

Next stop: America's best kept secret -- Pittsburgh.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Toronto as a Tourist Guest Post: The Toronto Zoo

Oh hi! (waves). It’s me, Kate. Not Scarbie. If you hadn’t guessed from our oh-so-clever banter below, Marla and I are guest hosting while Scarb is road-tripping for the next two weeks.

Did you come here hoping Scarbie had posted a new entry? Or did your Bloglines notify you to a new “Martinis for Milk” entry and you rushed over because you were really hoping she had posted while on vacation? And then were you all “shit, yo, it’s some candy-ass other blogger trying to be Scarbie, talking all street?” Sorry in advance, folks, but I’m going to use as much license as I can with this gig. I mean c’mon, we all know one of the best parts of guest blogging for Scarbie is that I CAN SWEAR A WHOLE HELL OF A LOT, right?

So come along with me, motherfuckers, and let’s get this party started.

Yes. So the Toronto Zoo (which, apparently I can't link to because Blogger hates me tonight. Bite me, Blogger).

If you’ve been following this blog lately, you know that our formidable hostess has been posting a new section entitled “Toronto As A Tourist.” Seeing as I’ve been going to the zoo with my husband and child for about 8 months now, I told Nadine I would definitely be up for posting about it. We’ve gone upwards of about 10 times already this year and it has been an excellent antidote to preschooler energy on long summer afternoons. Those long, seemingly unending afternoons, especially when your 3 year old gives up her nap and runs circles around you and it’s only 1PM and GODDAMN can’t you let mommy have a nap pretty please? You won’t get to nap at the zoo (I asked – you can’t), but you will get to see your kid experience pure joy when they see a monkey throwing poo at its reflection for the first time. Even for the adults, it’s pretty cool to see some of the animals. While there definitely are moments of “ummm…but this isn’t a lion’s natural habitat!”, I also believe the zoo does an excellent job with conservation and education efforts. Where else is my daughter going to learn about the critical endangerment of Sumatran orangutans, up close and personal? Where else is she going to see a mama orangutan hold up her baby for all to see, kiss her on the forehead, and lie down to cuddle? (I saw this people, and it was one of the most emotional moments I have ever experienced).

To make things easier, I thought I would break up my thoughts on the Toronto zoo into some basic dos and donts:

Dos:

• Get the family membership. If you plan on going more than twice a year, you will save money. We have a family pass to the zoo, which means we paid $115 (including GST and PST) at the beginning of the year and the general admission fee is waived for all of us each time we go (two adults, 1 child). Considering general admission for adults is $19 each and children ages 4 – 12 are $11, the membership pass paid for itself within a few visits. Last time I was at the zoo I noticed that they have bumped up that family membership price to $130 (plus GST and PST) but it is still very much worth it.
• Bring your own stroller so you don’t have to rent one while there. A lot of people I know also bring wagons, and if that’s your thing then so be it. I am all about the stroller, though, as it has better packing abilities down below, and also hides the Tetra Pak away from prying fingers
• Be prepared for NO REAL COFFEE shops. They do have the lame “Roasters” at the front gates when you first walk in, but no other places I could find along the way (and the zoo is enormous, so count in having a caffeine fix at least twice). The fast food option is pretty much dominated by Harvey’s, which is owned by Cara, which also owns Second Cup. So I can’t for the life of me figure out why there isn’t a Second Cup at the zoo? The only reason I could come up with is maybe the zoo is concerned that all those plastic tops and cups would be tossed and the animals could choke (which, unfortunately, does happen at the zoo. Apparently last year some asshats left plastic bags lying around and an orangutan choked to death on it).
• Find out the zookeepers' schedule (by going to their website which fucking Blogger won't let me link to) and try to attend at least one of those talks. It is so worth it. These are people who know the animals best and truly love to talk about them.
• If you go in the summer, end your day at their excellent splash pad (otherwise known as Splash Island). The kids will love getting wet and you will love sitting in the shade. And then they will be so very tired that they will nap in the car on the way home and you will have 30 minutes of peace. You know it’s all about the naps, right?
• Bring lots of water. You will be walking tons and will need the hydration.
• Take the zoomobile at one point. It can be a really great way of seeing some of the outdoor exhibits without having to walk there. And that can work in spades if your squirmy little worm tells you “my legs are falling off from walking”
• Use the bathroom when you first enter the gates. And by this, I mean make sure any children who are either in the midst of toilet training or are already trained go and pee. The bathrooms tend to be few and far between and you will want to take advantage of the pee stop while you have it. Also, I have found the ones right near the front gate to be the cleanest.


Don’ts

• Do not bring Kentucky Fried Chicken into the zoo. Because you were wondering about this, right? Well let me tell you straight out, doing this does not win you any friends with the other parents at the zoo. While you are chowing down on the greasy skins that came out of 3 giant brown paper bags, sitting on a hill waiting in line to see Barbie (god kill me now), and the surrounding children in line are staring at you with their perfectly packed organically-grown veggies and non-fat dip, their parents will hate you. They will hate you with the hatred of a thousand bitter tired hot sweaty parents who also don’t want to stand in fucking line to see fucking Barbie but are putting up with the tearful pleas as you are. And you will see them hating you and you will feel really really bad.
• Do not feel guilty when you tell your child to stop climbing on the fake rock formations they have all over the place with big signs on them saying “PLEASE DON’T CLIMB!” Also, don’t feel guilty about telling your child NO really really loud when another parent does let their child climb on the rocks. Your child will yes, cry and ask you why you never let her do anything fun, but you will get to feel superior for a moment for following the rules. And don’t feel guilty 5 minutes later when you tell your child it’s OK to pee behind a bush.
• Do not forget the sunscreen in the summer. It gets crazy hot out there in the sun. Along these same lines are: wear appropriate clothes (not black dress pants) and maybe even a hat.
• Do not overdo it. The zoo is HUGE. The Canadian section alone takes an hour to walk out to and back. Have a goal in mind (like two pavilions) and be happy if you make it to these.
• Do not go on the weekends in the summer if you are not good with crowds. I would suggest instead that you try and go during the week, because it is people crazy there otherwise. In fact, if on the road to the zoo you see that the first parking lot is full and that they are waving people over the second FAR FAR AWAY parking lot and if you are already tired and grumpy before you even park, turn back now. You will definitely not appreciate the extra 10 minute walk in the unpaved sand to get there. You might also feel a bit creeped out as you look around you and see you are moving in a sea of strollers, all moving at the same pace. If you are already in this situation though, it is probably best not to make matters worst by lying on the hill by the side of the road telling yourself"I can do this, I can do this" loudly.

Hope this helps somewhat. On the whole, we have very much enjoyed going to the zoo – and I do encourage y’all to give it a shot if you are in Toronto and you have not done so already. And um, if you see a crazy lady lying down on the side of the road eating KFC while her 3 year old runs in circles singing “I ain’t no hollaback girl” over and over again, just nod and keep walking, OK?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Marla and Kate Debate Careers As Advice Columnists

K: Okay, so, what advice did YOU give Nadine before she left on her road trip?

M: Other than to bring the little mini-sized bottles of liquor to hide in her purse for “emergencies”?

K: Emergencies being stop signs with white borders and traffic signals with red, yellow and green lights you mean?

M: Well yeah – and, you know, for every time you see a VW bug. You shout “punchbuggy” and the colour of the car, then sock the Dog really hard because he probably has it coming for something, then down a wee Kahlua. Two for convertibles.

K: I like it. A drinking game for the road. Can’t you just see a tipsy Nadine flashing some truckers to pass the time?

M: Well she’ll need to do SOMETHING to pass all that quality family time. I mean really…

K: And that’s just the travel portion of her trip. Then there’s the baseball games.

M: I KNOW.

K: She’ll need to down one for every time a guy does...something.

M: Like makes a goal?

K: That’s basketball. No – that’s the fun stuff. For when people do stupid stuff that she’d never otherwise be subjected to.

M: Okay, so every time somebody waves a foam hand-thingy in the air.

K: She’ll need SO VERY MANY.

M: That’s also why I advised her to tow a trailer for all of them.

K: Why not just a big bottle?

M: That would make her look like a bad mommy.

K: True enough. And she’d have to share.

M: So do you think she knew what she was getting herself into when she asked us to guest blog?

K: Probably not. It was probably that awful raspberry-flavoured vodka talking, and not her better judgment when she asked us.

(M & K sigh deeply, reflecting...)

K: You didn’t really tell her to bring little bottles of alcohol, did you.

M: No, I told her to bring lots of wipes though.

K: Really? You usually have so much more advice.

M: Well, and a handkerchief. For the crying.

K: Nate’s?

M: Hers.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

No. Sleep. Till Pittsburgh!

For those who won books, they will be mailed to you while I'm away. Thanks for all the emails! The response was fabulous.

I have not been sleeping. Puppy is cutting his final tooth (before the mega molars start their decent in a few months). He also swallowed a teeny plum pit on Tuesday and last night it must have got lodged somewhere. So he was up screaming all night. I'm hoping he will pass it today. He's on the prune cleanse until it comes out, poor thing. Though knowing my luck, we're going to end up in the emergency room on the other side of the border. If you are a praying person, send a word up to your holy person for me, will ya?

Team ScarbieDog are off on vacation for two weeks. I use the term "vacation" lightly. Somewhere last winter, the Dog convinced me it would be a good idea to go see some Major League Baseball games in the states and document the experience on video. I think he slipped me some Roofies, because I agreed. We're travelling by car. With a toddler. I will be working as a full-time mother for those two weeks. Light a candle for me.

I'm listing my multi-city tour so that I can mine your clever heads for suggestions, my darling Blogizens. Looking for toddler-friendly activities, restaurants, the must-have meal (cheesesteak in Philly -- got it), good pit-stops, central grocery stores, outlet malls, must-sees and the like. Anything your first-hand experience could offer would be appreciated.

1. Niagara Falls: It's too far to drive to Cleveland in one shot with Squirmy squirmerson, so we'll go part of the way Friday night and take the next shot Sat morn. No time to really enjoy NF, but we've done it before, though not with Pup-dog.

2. Erie, PA for lunch and a little run-around time. Where to eat?

3. Cleveland: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for sure. Clevaland Indians game at Jacob's Field. Maybe the Children's Museum if there's time. Again, where to eat? Any nice parks?

4. Somewhere undecided between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Any suggestions for cute small towns with half-decent motels? Hitting the Prime Outlet in Grove City, PA would be nice too.

5. Pittburgh: Pirates game. Andy Warhol Museum. Children's Museum. Funicular up the big hill to see the view. Where to eat?

6. This is the part of the trip where the shit's gonna fly. Cheaper to stay in Pittsburgh that Washington, DC, so booked the night in Pitts thinking we could drive to Wash for a 1:30 ball game the next morning. But it's a 5 hour trip -- I thought it was only 3. It's also mid-week so various rush-hours will come into play. So we'll have to leave in the cover of darkness, in the wee hours of the morn and hope that Puppy sleeps in the car. Anyplace good for brunch between Pittsburgh and Washington? Any towns with good playgrounds?

7. Washington, DC: Too much to do and see there. Give me the top 4. And where to eat please?

8. Baltimore: I take it you just stick by the harbour, but I'm open to suggestions. Also, where to eat? Do you see a theme developing here?

9. Philly: Again, too much to see. Gimme the 4 best. I'm clearly not bothered if I don't see the damn bell, no offence. I just hate line-ups. I got a few tips from an acquaintance who lives there, but she's a cool, successful writer and doesn't have a kid, so am open to suggestions. Keep in mind I am not rich. So I won't be eating at Morimoto, as much as I freakin' want to.

10. Here's where the trip could go either way: Heaven or Hell. Nothing planned. 3-4 days open to come home. We're thinking of going to Easton, PA to check out the Crayola factory (after seeing it on Oprah). And then up to Scranton area for a little Poconos action. Binghamton, NY -- the carousel capital of North America for some old merry-go-round action. Then no idea. Just need to get back to the T-dot. We considered Cooperstown, but even the skankiest motel is $130/night at this time of year, so that's out this time around. Mega-open to suggestions here. Mar-Mar, the reigning queen of research and all things upstate-New-York had a few for me already. Want to know more. Plus I get to learn about where you live and where you've been. And after I tell you everything about moi, I could use a little of that, no?

Email me or drop me a line via Bring it/Brung it! below. I'll try to blog while away, but may be difficult and I could use the break. Marla and Kate have offered to entertain you with Scarbie-style posts just in case. If you want to do a guest post, let me know and I'll consider it.

My stories will be worth the wait I am certain. It's me after all, so something is bound to get weird. Ah well, Snakes on a Plane. Happy summer!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The End of Summer Edition of the MFM Online Book Club

Did someone say free books?

Grab your cocktail, put the kiddies down for a nap -- it's time to get reading again folks. I ain't Oprah, but if I can get a few people to read a book they might otherwise not have heard of, well, then I've done my part. So let's end our summer with a hauntingly beautiful novel by a new voice in Canadian fiction, shall we?

I read Robert J. Wiersema's debut novel, Before I Wake back in June during my Prozac, dismembered finger episode. Needless to say, I was emotionally charged at the time. I had an advanced reading copy and I knew I was going to meet him at Book Expo Canada, so I thought I'd flip through it. But I couldn't put it down. It was killing me that I couldn't even talk about it or share it with my fellow bookworms! But as of yesterday the book is on the shelves, so I can tell you all about it and give away a few copies.

Before I Wake follows a modern couple who must make important, life-altering decisions after a tragic accident involving their three-year-old daughter. Told from the first point perspective of the various key characters, Wiersema effortlessly takes you inside the heads of these people as they make choices regarding life, death and faith. This book will resonate with anyone who struggles with their beliefs.

I would think about this book long after I put it down. The book would be calling to me from my bag, reminding me that the characters' lives were going on while I was at work. And I desperately wanted to know what was happening to them. I would find myself thinking about them in meetings. Were there any changes in the situation while I was gone? Could this book possibly have a happy ending? Ultimately this is a book about hope, a book that stirs the heart and the mind and inspires discussion. I hope that you will read it in time for our discussion here at the end of September.

The author has graciously agreed to take your questions! So read the book and email me your questions and comments. You can buy the book from your local independent bookseller, or via Indigo or Amazon online. And you can feel good about supporting an emerging talent and a genuinely likeable person.

Unfortunately, Before I Wake is not for sale in the US yet. But I do have five copies to give away to the first 5 Canadian readers who email me with the subject heading: MFM Book Club! The winners must agree to read the book and submit at least one question to me for the author by September 19th -- and I will be on your ass about it. Good luck!

Oh and if you don't win but you still want to participate, the Q&A is open to anyone, so feel free to pass your thoughts on to me. I'll remind everyone of the blog book tour stop closer to the date. Happy End of Summer Reading!

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Thing No Parent Wants to Talk About

In the Saturday Star, on the front page, below the articles on Caribana revelries and celebrations, was the following headline: Public Revulsion Protects Pedophiles. The article describes how the fact that none of us want to talk about this threat leaves us extremely vulnerable and allows these sick people to continue on their quest. With the amount of computers in children's bedrooms that go unmonitored, this threat is growing at an alarming rate. And the fact that these people can find solace, advice and tips on the Internet is a very scary advancement indeed.

We need to start a discussion on this, because it's one of the most horrible things any of us can imagine. And it's important for us as a community to come up with a set of standards of what behaviour is acceptable and what it is not. Allow me to explain further.

Friday night at Harbourfront, CrabbyKate's daughter was getting a bit crabby and wanting to test her parents' patience. So I, the adult who is not her parent and therefore super cool in her eyes, convinced her to come with me and skip along the boardwalk to our destination. As we were looking at the Natrel pond (Oh how I hate that I have to give a dairy company a plug every time I want to describe this location) we passed a bench. A man, who looked only at Alice, smiled and said, "Hello there!" It gave me shivers. I gave my most sarcastic, "Yeah, hello there," back to him and dragged Alice away quickly. When we were out of earshot, Kate asked me if I'd noticed the creepy man. I told her I did and we sorta laughed about it.

Here's the thing. I want to raise my children to be polite and slightly old-fashioned when it comes to manners. I would also like to live in a world where old men thinking your daughter is cute and saying hello directly to a child would not seem strange or creepy. But we do not live in such a world. The fact that we did not know what to do in that (possibly innocent) situation irks me even more. We did not want to offend our offender. We waited until we had passed him to discuss it. Did we let him get away with it? Should we have faced him and tried to suss it out before passing our weak judgement? I hate fear-mongering more than anyone, but after reading the article, I feel like if we don't at least face the fear and talk about it, this disease will grow.

Sunday on CTV's W-Five, they featured a show on--whaddya know?--pedophiles and the rapidly growing internet child porn subculture. (WARNING: the link is to the detailed summary of the show and may upset you.) Normally I would shudder and change the channel, but this time I forced myself to watch. I don't think I'll ever be the same again. I am deeply disturbed. What shocked me the most was the fact that many of these kids who are being abused are not even kids -- they are babies.

I cried so fucking hard. Even though they blurred the face of this one toddler and did not show anything graphic, just knowing there was more to the image... knowing that what was in the remainder of the image was a toddler enduring the most unimaginable thing... I can't even write this without bursting into sobs. In the one toddler's story that they followed, Toronto police were able to determine that the crime in video was taking place in Spain and get the Spanish authorities involved, leading to an arrest. The parents had no clue. The offender had offered an apartment for rent and cheap babysitting to people who couldn't turn affordable childcare down. While they were at work all day, the toddler (still in diapers!) was raped on video, which was then distributed to other pedophiles on the internet. If they hadn't caught him, this sicko and his gang of freak friends were in the midst of opening up a childcare centre!

People who view children as sexual objects have a disease and when they find each other on the internet, they feel a sense of normalcy. So many people are doing it, so it must be OK -- that sort of thinking. I don't think there is a cure for this illness. I don't think people who do this get better. There may be lack of support for people with this illness, and though I don't believe jail rehabillitates people, our laws let pedophiles out of jail to reoffend over and over. You have to GET CAUGHT four times before you are considered a dangerous offender! Not to mention all the times they don't get caught.

After the events of last week, where a 10 year-old Saskatchewan boy was abducted by a previously convicted pedophile and a 14-year-old he toted around with him as bait, they are finally talking about changing the laws. I think we, as a community, need to lobby for tougher sentencing and better assessment of first-time offenders to determine the likelihood of re-offending.

My one criticism of the W-Five presentation was that it did not present any information to parents as to how they could prevent this, what signs to look for, and what you can do instead of sitting at home and feeling awful about this subject. I am starting to think parents who blog are particularly vulnerable. We plaster our childrens' faces all over our sites, we sometimes call them by name (gonna be changing that bit by bit, much to my dismay), and we offer insights into their personalities, their likes, their dislikes. A real sicko could piece these things together and use the knowledge to lure the child when he/she is older. Scary shit, but totally possible in today's world.

So if there are any police officers reading this, or anyone with some knowledge of this subject matter, please let this community know what we can do. Because crying won't save any children.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Ow Fucking Ow

It hurts to type this. My next door neighbour is blasting opera while he gardens and I want to take a hammer to his boombox. There may be typos in this post and I don't give a fuck.

At 8:30 am, when my husband was getting ready to go play golf, I got up briefly to pee and put on the air con. I was walking with my eyes closed to keep the pain in and smacked into his freshly showered body on the way to the can. I noticed my beautiful new necklace was in the bed (WTF?) and that I didn't remember going to bed at all. "Why is my necklace in the bed? Was it here all night?"

"Well, no. Sorta. After you passed out I took whatever you had on off."

"Passed out? Oh..."

This is that moment that Rebecca Eckler writes about in her book and has a perfect name for that I can't fucking think of at this moment. I can't even link to her book or her blog--I am that fucked up. I am questioning why I am even doing this right now. But hey, I am waiting for my toaster waffles to brown, so I've got a few minutes to spare before I eat them and probaly barf them up. Eckler has a great name for that moment where you realize that something went wrong the night before but you can't remember and you have that bad feeling. Knowing what little I do about Rebecca, she will probably Google or Technorati herself, as authors are apt to do, and find this nonesense I am typing and fill in the blanks for me.

Ow fucking ow.

I looked at my eyes briefly in the mirror and realized I had been crying. Oh yeah. It's all coming back to me.

The night started innocently enough. The Dog's Norwegian cousin and his girlfriend are in town and we got them tickets to see the Lord of the Rings musical (it's leaving Toronto, so the tickets were extremely cheap through my work social committee). We suggested that they eat something before the show, so we stopped at a pub on King St, because we figured it would be fast. They ordered their food and some Cokes, the Dog and I ordered some Bloody Ceasars. Drink #1.

The server arrived with two Ceasars, a coke and a Corona. The cousins are 17 so they looked at us with a wide-eyed, what do we do expression. I winked at them and we giggled and the server noticed. "I'm sorry, did I get the order wrong?"

The Dog's voice seemed 10 years older when he said, "Um yes. They ordered Cokes. She's only 16."

Say what? "Easy there Dad!" I laughed at him and the kids did too. "You're such a nerd. Don't you remeber being 17? They wanted that drink. They couldn't believe their luck." The Dog went silent. I had offended him and offended him in front of his cousin. I realized right away. "I'm sorry. Did I upset you?"

"No. Nope. You didn't upset me."

I should have known he was lying, but it wasn't the place to push the issue. So I ordered another Ceasar. So two Ceasars later, the cousins had gone off to their show and we were free to have our date. Except I'd ruined it with my smart mouth.

I felt for oysters and the Dog agreed to go to Rodney's with me, even though he doesn't eat oysters himself. We sat at the bar and I sucked back shell after shell and glass after glass of muscadet. The Dog's stony silence was irritating, because he would talk just enough, but not really give me the companionship or the fun I was hoping for. So I kept drinking. I chatted up the Asian couple beside us, who offered me a raw clam when I inquired about it. I did not care for the raw clam, it was bordering on nasty, so I ordered 6 more oysters and forced the Dog to have three of them with me. It wasn't until I got up to go to the bathroom that I realized how totally pissed I was.

We paid up and left. "Wherr do you wanna go nexcht?" I asked excitedly. "You ged drunk too. Come on! Have fun wizsh me!"

"I don't really feel like it," was his response.

That made me get pissy. "Fine. Let's walk towards the water then." I started walking at a speedy pace in my heels. I could feel the sway of my butt in my jeans. I was wasted and I felt like hot shit. Hot pissed-off shit. Dozens of beautiful black men passed by me, on their way from the Caribana parade to the clubs. Maybe I could go with them? They look like fun. I stumbled past a building where eight years ago I almost bought a condo with my sis. If I had bought that place and therefore my independance at 24, would I be here right now? With a husband who's not talking to me? So drunk. So confused.

I knew I was walking faster than him, so I turned to see where he was. He was gone. Oh fuck. I sat in the ledge of a ground floor window and dialled my sis. She was supposed to go out for drinks, maybe I could meet her. Nope she hadn't left yet. Nate was still awake. Did I mention it wasn't even 10 pm at this point? I heard Nate's voice and started bawling. Some strange guy sat beside me and tried to pick me up, until he noticed my tears and walked away.

The Dog appeared beside me and thus began an hour long fight.

Him: What did that guy want?
Me: ME. He wanted ME.
Him: *Silence*
Me: Why do you always let things fester until they get to this point? I asked you if you were upset and you said no. If you had just said yes, we wouldn't be sitting here right now.
Him: Why do you always have to ridicule and disrespect me? It's like you don't even like me.
Me: If I didn't like you, would I be sitting here at 32, drunk and bawling my eyes out on the street like a teenager?
Him: But you've always got to take a jab at me.
Me: Well, you knew what kind of person I was when we got married.
Him: Yes, I knew what kind of person you WERE when we got married.
Me: Are you saying I've changed?
Him: Why do you always have to be so tough now? Oooh, Miss Tough Blogger Bitch!
Me: *Gasp*
Him: Well that's how you see yourself, isn't it?
Me (defeated): I don't know how I see myself anymore.
Him (defeated): Me either.

And so it went until the cousins called to say they were done. We walked over to the theatre and I got in the front seat of a cab before anyone could see my red stinging face. They piled in and we dropped them at the Dog's sister's house. My SIL was sitting outside with her fiance, martini glass in hand. "Do you want a martini?" My buzz from earlier was killed. One more couldn't hurt? Except, this martini-lover should know, a martini isn't one. It's three. especially when my future brother-in-law is mixing them at home. I remember nothing else.

The Dog kissed me before leaving this morning. "You're beautiful," he whispered. "I love you more than anything else in the world." So I guess we must have made up during my blackout. "Let's just be nice to each other," I replied. "I don't want to fight." And then he was gone.

I don't get why the little bad spots seem so huge and unsurmountable in an otherwise good marriage. We are good to each other. I supported him for three years while he attempted a filmmaking career. I cook most of his meals and care for his son. I agree to go on multi-US-city baseball vacations with him. I try to play the hot wife every now and then. I encourage his friendships and hobbies. I care about his hopes and dreams.

He cleans up after us both. He loves our son with every cell in his body. He loves me deeply and is fiercely loyal. He doesn't complain (too much) when I am always on the computer instead of spending time with him. He makes me laugh on a daily basis. We don't really have it that bad. And contrary to what he seems to believe, I really love him immensely and truly enjoy his company. His opinions matter to me. He is my best friend. Why is it so hard to see the good in our relationship? Why do these fights make we want to hole up in my mother's house? Why won't this headache go away? Ow fucking ow.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Toronto as a Tourist #2: Harbourfront Centre

I am constantly struggling with the old me and the mom me. How do I stay fabulous and still maintain good standing in my role as mother? How do I experience the things I love about this city, without shipping my son off to my mother's every weekend? I think I finally figured it out.

Team ScarbieDog and Team Crabby are tired of staying home on Friday nights, hating unfolded laundry, dust bunnies and spouses. So the Crabbies suggested we go to Harbourfront Centre for some Island Soul. Oh yes, some jerk chicken and Afro-Cuban music was in order.

I made sure to make Nate nap later in the afternoon so that we could enjoy a night out as a family without a meltdown. We always see families out at night when we get grandparents to babysit, but we rarely, if ever, do this ourselves. After scarring myself by reading too many sleep books early on, I became very rigid and obsessed with the sleep schedule. Then my sis said to me, "Big deal, so he missed a nap. It doesn't mean he's not going to get into university now. Tru dat!

A breakthrough, a revelation, freedom. We learned to respect his need for sleep, but make occasional exceptions within reason. Late nap meant he was good to go and go we did. We got there close to 7 pm, though our intentions were to be there earlier. You know how it is -- by the time we packed up all the gear... We also intended to take public transit, but then decided against it in case there was a meltdown. We parked in the multi-level garage directly across the street from "Harbourfront" -- $10 flat rate. Not cheap, but not extortion and it's close.

We headed for the food tent and got a smorgasborg of spicy Caribbean food. We spread out a blanket on a patch of green grass facing a stage where some Afro-Caribbean dance show was taking place. The music was lively, the dancers were incredible and there were so many kids! Our kids boogied and nibbled and we giggled at the cuteness of it all, happy to be in the warm summer breeze, outdoors, enjoying culture on a Friday night--without having to decide who has to stay home and who can go.

The dancers passed out streamers for their last act and the kids, of course, went apeshit. Of course neither Kate, nor I, brought a camera. But like a modern-day 16 year-old, I whipped out the cell phone to document the event. Aren't you glad I did? When the dancers cleared, so did the crowd and we were left with a perfectly open grassy area for the chillins to run around in. In the immediate proximity of this grassy knoll there was a BBQ corn stand and a fruit stand (the fruit is already cut-up and ready to go), making for quick and nutritious snacks for the kids. There's also a churro stand, but I'm saving that for next time. Man do I love cultures that embrace fried dough!

Once all the running around lost its initial awesomeness, we decided to walk along the lake and listen to the next Cuban band on the bigger stage. We watched one Latin lothario with 3 women. They were all amazing dancers and he would take turns with each of these women. One of them had those crazy Dangerous Liaisons circle marks on her back -- you know, the same ones Gwyneth had? Cupping or whatever. Strange. OK, OK, I realize that point has nothing to do with my review of Harbourfront as a child-friendly place. Moving on.

Kids and parents swayed, Nate and the Dog looked at boats and planes, tourists asked people to take photos of them or charcoal-sketch their portrait, but one thing was certain -- everyone was smiling. Even the Crabbies weren't crabby. I think I even saw them flirting!

Then we went on a search for ice cream. Here's where the review becomes important if you're thinking of going. We headed past the Natrel pond and into the main building that houses Lakeside Eats. The staff at the Lakeside were teens, who couldn't care less about us standing there trying to get some ice cream. Whatevs, I've been one too. I get it. When the cashier stopped talking to her girlfriend and decided to serve us, she was typically teenagery. "Ya, um, you put your order in here, but you tell me the flavours over there." with a look that said, "I know more than you, because you cougars couldn't even figure that out."

Three separate scoops: Rainbow for Alice, Chocolate for Kate (they were out of Cookies and Cream and the teen did not seem like she wanted to go to the back to get more), and Pralines and Cream (not a single praline in it) for me. Each scoop was more pathetic than the last. Grand total? $8.73! For what?

Not to worry, apparently there is another ice-cream stand in the food tent, which may be why the Lakeside was dead. Plus why would you order burgers when you can get African food for cheap? The ice-cream stand in the tent seemed to have better portions -- we didn't get more, we just surveyed what people around us had.

9 pm, time to go home before our prince became less than charming and their princess turned into a pumpkin. One quick stop through the international marketplace (read: lots of awesome jewelry) yielded a gorgeous red Balinese necklace pour moi for a mere $15!! (Yeah, the child labour thought briefly crossed my mind too. But it's so pretty... I'll photograph tomorrow and post the photo this week. )

Though the real crowds were just arriving as we were leaving, we all felt fulfilled. It was kinda like old times, but in reality these are new times. Times when a family can go out and experience something new, multi-cultural and fun. Something that's got nothing to do with Barbies or TV cartoon characters and spending tons of cash. Though we didn't really talk about it, I think we all felt like we were presenting our children with an experience that will ultimately shape the type of people they will become. It was so different from the type of activity we always thought constituted a family outing that it merits a new name: The Family Date.

I guess this was a Family Double Date. Anyone else have suggestions for evening outings that are family suitable? Anyone have any suggestions for which touristy thing I should try next? Drop me a line via BRING IT/BRUNG IT below, or via my email.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Takin' it for the Team

Dude, I just walked into the house after a nice night out with some friends and former coworkers, and I was hit with a wave of skunk. The cat ran out the door before I could stop her, but I get the feeling she was running away from Pepe Le Pew earlier tonight. Unfortunately, no one is awake to tell me if that is indeed the case. So I am sitting here engulfed in fumes. This shit always happens to me. But that's why you're here isn't it?

But the other night, the shit happened to the Dog. Well... only because I called him to the rescue.

Nate and I got home after a super fun playdate with my friend V and her son Matteo. We hit the Ikea and no one had a meltdown. I even got a bit of shopping done: table and chairs for Puppy, little stool for Puppy, cutlery for Puppy, you see where this is going. Don't worry, I did some damage for myself at H&M on Sunday and I'm still giddy. I plan to get the excited butterflies over my new clothes until the Mastercard bill arrives. New clothes are the married woman's early crush. Everytime I open my closet it's like, "Oh. Hee hee. You're still there! (pause) Are you really mine? Gosh, we look good together." You walk around all floaty and confident (ooh -- also must give thanx to the Spanx!). That's some good shit.

But I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, fabulous playdate. Puppy fell asleep in the car and I managed a smooth transition indoors for a nap in the pack n' play at V's house. Hey, I'm getting better at this! Kids wake up and play together. So cute. V and I shoot the shit in the comfort of her responsibly (read: not too cool and energy sucking) air-conditioned home. GTs.

Go to supermarket on the way home and make out with child (see post below if you need context). We get home at roughly the same time as Daddy Dog, eat a nice dinner and then I go to fill the tub for bathtime. We are sweltering by this point (it was almost 50 C in Toronto that day with the humidity -- like 120 F). I decide to get into the bath with Puppy to cool off. The Dog offers to clean the dinner dishes. LOVE it!

We are playing with some wicked dollar store booty and splashing about when Puppy makes "the face" -- THIS FACE!!! What to do? What to do?

"Dooooooog!" I cried out desperately -- using his real name of course. "Can you come up here? We have a problem!"

"Be up in a bit," he replied casually. Puppy made the face again. I heard something bubble in the water.

"NO! I NEED YOU RIGHT NOW!"

The Dog arrived and I stared at him while standing half in the tub and half out. "Puppy took a shit in the tub."

"No he didn't. Where?" We push bubbles aside behind him to see the offender. I may as well have said he had WMDs.

"There's nothing there. He just farted. And you called me up here for that?"

"But he made the face," I offered meekly. "I swear something came out his ass. Isn't that crapnel?"

"That was there already. Stop it." By this point, Puppy was also standing in the tub, looking confused at the commotion.

"Well, he made the face, so if he didn't poo, he's gonna," I warned, "So we should get him out of the tub---oh fuck. There's the face again."

The Dog contorted his face in horror. "It's coming out! What should I do?"

But there was no time to strategize. It was too late for that. We'd spent too much time discussing and not nearly enough time acting. So the Dog did the only thing he could do: he extended his hand and caught it.

The look on my husband's face after catching his son's massive log was one that will be burned into my retinas for a long time. It was a combination of disgust, bemusement and pride. Pride in himself for being brave enough to act in our time of need, and in his son for being so wee and yet birthing such a huge poo. The Dog promptly flipped the stool sample into the toilet and flushed it away. Puppy responded with a wave farewell and a "Bye bye poo poo."

After I picked my jaw up off the floor and helped my man clean out the tub and diaper the child, I looked at him with new eyes. "I can't believe you did that!"

"I know," he said, "I took one for the team tonight."

Go team go.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

N-n-n-n-nineteen!

Puppy-dog! I'm not like some moms online, diligently writing letters to their offspring each month. I wish I was, but by the time you read this you'll know I'm just not that organized. But today you turned 19 months, which means you are racing towards your second birthday. So in honour of that, (but mostly because I never got around to do one when you turned 18 months) I'm writing this to you so I remember how far you've come.

You are not just walking, but running these days. It's amazing to me to watch this and think of how I was told you might never walk or run. You'll pace along beside me on the sidewalk, pausing because some sound (usually something transportation-related) has distracted you. Then you run with a burst, shoulders shrugged up by your ears meeting your enormous grin on wither side, because you've focussed your attention on something great, like Daddy!

I love how you say, "Dah-DEE!" in an excited, sing-song fashion. It makes Daddy so happy when you're in my arms, but then reach your arms out to him. You're still heavy into Mommy and sometimes it's hard because Daddy loves you so much, only to be turned away most of the time. But when you do decide that you want to be with Daddy, his face lights up like someone has just told him the meaning of life. He is patiently impatient. "It won't always be like this," I reassure him. "Soon he'll be wanting only you."

"I know," he grins, "I'm putting the time in now. I'm making investments that will pay off down the road."

I'm not going to lie. I LOVE when you say Mommy over and over again in different tunes and lengths to get my attention. "Mommy? Ma-mmy? Mom? Maam? Mum? Muh-mee? Mah-MEEEEEE!!" Yesterday in the supermarket, you continuously pulled my face to yours for kisses and giggles for three aisles. Heaven. It must have looked so odd, the two of us kissing and laughing while I pushed you in the shopping cart, but I never cared less in my life. I was the happiest person in the entire world at that moment and I wanted the whole world--or at least the whole Real Canadian Superstore--to see. To know that even though our world is a mess, there is great love out there. I wanted them to see that there is no justification out there for hurting people, because any one of them could be you and me. And the thought of someone stopping the beauty that is the two of us, right in our prime, well that tears my heart into specks of dust.

You are a BOY. ALL CAPS. You love cars and trucks and trains and planes and busses and streetcars and motorcycles. We did not encourage this at first. Your feminist mother really hoped that nurture would win out over nature. The treehugger in me wished that Mother Nature would win out over your petroleum-powered loves. But a few months ago you got excited when you heard a passing helicopter and pointed to the sky with glee. You pointed to the noisy, smelly thing on wheels and said, "Caww." And "Caww" was soon followed by "Tchruuck" and "Tchray" and "Choo choo" and "Beep beep." And perhaps seeing the joy in your face made us dig up a few hand-me-down cars from the basement. Maybe the squeals of excitement when the garbage truck rolled in made us bring home the transportation-themed clothing we swore we'd never put you in. The day I brought home Richard Scarry's Books On the Go collection of books, you shook with excitement before I could unwrap the package. Now every day you want Dah-DEE to read to you about the Pickle Truck and teach you to say, "Beeyoo Beeyoo" like the fire truck.

You love animals and it's hard to teach you that not every dog, cat or squirrel should be approached with open arms. You love people, but it takes you a good 20 minutes to warm up to anyone. You have several smiles to show how OK you are with someone. You have the "I know you want me to smile, but I don't know you from Franklin" smile. Then comes the "Hey, you're alright. I'm gonna give you a bit, but not the whole thing" smile. Your Yaya calls this a suzme -- as though you put that smile through a sieve. And if you really like someone you'll show them your beautiful teeth, which are all in except for one at the bottom, right where I presume your thumb goes.

You still suck your thumb when you are hungry or sleepy, or to comfort yourself in new or uncomfortable situations. Nature's substitute for your mother's breast. You're clearly still having issues with the fact that I weaned you earlier than you would have liked, because you cop a feel whenever you get the chance. And if you can't get your hand down my top, you go for the next best thing: the appendage in your diaper. We are learning about public touching as a result.

You like standing beside water and reaching in or splashing with your feet. You do not like unsolicited water being poured, sprayed or squirted on you. You highly enjoy spraying yourself though, now that you've figured out the trigger on the bottle we use to cool ourselves down on these hot nights. You like taking the cup from your bath and pouring it on me to get a reaction and make yourself laugh. It seems Daddy taught you that getting Mommy in a tizzy can be really funny. Oh and how you love to laugh. You have a defined sense of humour. You enjoy silliness and physical humour like your father, though I'm mounting a more refined "words are funny too" campaign.

You LOVE Elmo, even though you never watch Sesame Street. You hardly watch any TV for that matter. But you do love a bit of it (to my chagrin) and have a difficult time pulling yourself away if one is on. I honestly believe that "Em-moe" was your first word. Your favourite show by far is Dora. Who knows why that is, but you run around saying, "Dowa, Dowa" wherever you go (which isn't hard because her damn olive-skin bob head plastered seems to be plastered all over town). You can also say backpack ("Ba-pa!") and map because of Dora and I guess there are far worse words you could be learning than those. Still no swearing on your part, thank God!

Speech is by far my favourite advancement. It shows me the lightbulb over your head is turned on. We can have conversations now that are less one-sided. You say, "Up-ph, up-puh, UP!" when you want out of your high chair. Then you throw a fit when I walk past you to get your washcloth. But now I can explain to you what's happening and it calms you down. You understand Armenian very well, though I get the feeling you're responding only in Baby English. You finally enjoy being read to instead of just using books as a food substitute. At bedtime, after a few stories and songs, you drink your milk (still out of a "bob-ble" at bedtime) and stare deep into my eyes. And when I ask you if you had fun today, you pause, pull the bottle out of your mouth and with a full smile you say in the sweetest gruff voice, "Yeah!" Oh Puppy, it's heart-stopping and I hope someday you get to experience that with your own child. That is my only wish for you other than health. To know what this great love is like. To fill yourself up with love like this because though it doesn't cure everything, it heals a lot.

Happy Monthiversary Bear.