Allison: So, you know how you see something and think you remember it, but later it turns out you didn't remember it well at all ...?
Me: (warily) Yeah ...?
Allison: So, the five puppies ...? Not so much five. Eight. But ohhhh ... so cute ...
Me: But ... eight.
Allison: But cute.
Me: But eight.
Allison: What, you were gonna say "Yes" to five, but "No" to eight?
Me: Well ...
Allison: Alright, then. But look ...
Me: It's a Pound Puppy. You know? Like the ones we gave you when you were kids.
Allison: No, like the real Pound Puppies. The ones you gave us were raggedy-ass knockoffs.
Me: Still. OK, what's the story on the mom?
Allison: Some assholes took her in to be euthanized because they " ... just didn't have time for a dog". The vet said "She's five weeks pregnant. I'm not euthanizing this animal." So they just walked away. How could you walk away from her? Look at her:
Me: So ... what now?
Allison: So, they grow. And you decide which of them is the cutest of the bunch and ...
Me: Don't even think it.
Allison: What am I, new? But hey, you want to fool yourself, go ahead. Anyway, I have to go out now. So ... good luck with them ...
Taking a goddamn break from mowing the goddamn lawn because I passed by the stupid goddamn Chinese frigging Bamboo or whever the hell it is (and I should have napalmed that crap back in the spring but "Oh, no, it's so nice and green") and it's flowering and swarming with frigging bees and one of the cockknockers stung me on the goddamn wrist and it goddamn bloody jaysus HURTS like a bastard and it's swelling up like a bitch and the frigging pain is shooting up through my goddamn arm and down through my hand. I'm not frigging allergic to bee stings but I forget how much those little bastards HURT when they get you and Christ this is painful, intense, throbbing , get the FUCK away from me with that ice I'm sorry I don't mean to yell but Christ on a crutch it fucking HURTS pain.
When offering condolences and/or assistance to someone who has suffered a painful and potentially lethal sting by a venomous insect, the appropriate response is not "Oh, for God's sake, suck it up. I shot three babies out of my vagina and didn't make this much of a fuss."
Saturday we took a short drive through the hills near our home, heading for the North Shore of Prince Edward Island.
Prince Edward Island is small - 120 miles long, 40 miles wide at its thickest point, but far less than that in most places. It's a tiny crescent nestled in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, just above where Nova Scotia and New Brunswick meet.
The North Shore is essentially 120 miles of the most incredible white sand beaches and dune systems you'll ever find. But beyond being a summer playground for thousands upon thousands of families, the North Shore is also home to Anne of Green Gables.
Some of you have read the book by Lucy Maud Montgomery - the story of a tiny red-headed waif who is adopted by a farmer and his sister and comes to live on this Island. If you haven't, you should; beyond being a lovely children's story, it's a very literate and articulate view of a society that existed around the turn of the last century.
As you will see if you visit the link above (and I wish you would), the Island's substantial tourism industry is largely built on two elements: golf (this place was recently named Canada's Number One Golf Destination) and Anne of Green Gables.
Anne is an icon here. There is a musical based on the book that has been playing to sold-out audiences every summer since (wait for it) 1965. I would have been 11 years old then (spare yourself the cypherin' - I'm 52).
There are Anne of Green Gables gift shops selling all manner of Anne tchotchkes, Anne of Green Gables tea rooms, and Anne of Green Gables cottages. Think Graceland, and replace Elvis with a red-headed girl in pigtails. That's what she means to Island tourism.
Much of the Anne idolatry comes from Japan - Anne of Green Gables was the first English novel translated into Japanese, and it became a school text. Millions of Japanese girls - living in a society that repressed their freedom and individuality - had their imagination swept away by this spirited, outspoken character, and "Red-Haired Anne" became their heroine. It is not at all uncommon to see a Japanese girl - sometimes a teenager, but often young or even middle-aged women - sitting on the lawn of Green Gables House in Cavendish, quietly weeping, overcome by the experience.
Not far from Cavendish, you'll find Avonlea Village, a "recreation" of the fictional village from the Anne stories. It's a great family attraction, offering lots for younger kids to do, including pig races, barnyard animals, activities, concerts, and what is essentially a day-long musical play performed by characters from the novel.
The actors stay in character throughout the day - if a kid tells Gilbert Blythe that she took a car from Maine to get there, he is baffled - he's heard of train travel and steamboats, but " ... what is this "car" you speak of? Must be something new - we never hear tell of 'em here. " They perform in concerts, pose for endless pictures with arms wrapped around kids from all over, and generally try to make the day a rewarding and memorable experience for the families who come to visit.
The past few summers Allison has been working up at Avonlea, often playing the part of Josie Pye, Anne's nemesis. She loves playing the malevolent Josie, although (true fact) she does get kicked a lot by kids who don't like her being mean to Anne.
But last week, the actor who played Anne all summer went back to University in Ontario, so there was a new red-head in town ...
... and how lucky were we that - as it turned out - Anne was celebrating a birthday the day we went to Avonlea.
And what a coincidence: later that night, we had a family dinner to celebrate Allison's birthday, too! 22 years old and she plays a 14 year-old. No wonder she still gets carded at pubs.
Yesterday, I was chasing my dog Roxy around my yard with a pie plate, trying to stuff it under her when she squatted to pee. (This is not some sort of new hobby - I was ordered to do this by the veterinarian)
On the first attempt, just as I got it under her, it made that crinkling, popping sound pie plates make when they bend, and she nearly broke my arm lunging at the leash to get away. Now, of course, she was terrified of the scary scary pie plate, and not only would she not pee, she wouldn't look at me because I held it in my hand and was evidently planning to use it to ... my God, I am speculating on what a dog might think. Shoot me now.
So we went back inside the house, and I gave her a cookie, which wipes her memory clean, and we tried again. This time I took a flat lid from a tupperware dish (no crinkly, no scary) and we went outside. Due to the memory-deleting qualities of the dog biscuits, Roxy seemed to think it was our first time out that day, so she was very happy.
She wandered around, looking for that one blade of grass on our lawn which she had not yet blessed with the holy water of her bladder, found it, and squatted. Smoothly, gracefully, as if I had done this hundreds of times before, I slid the tupperware lid under her just in time to have my dog pee on my hand.
Fortunately, enough got into the lid for me to pour a sample into a little cup, seal the cup, give it to Allison for delivery to the vet, then go in and dip my hands in bleach wash my hands for about ten minutes under scalding water.
So, yesterday, I let my dog pee on me. On purpose.
Today, I am going for a meeting with the Queen's Representative to the Province of Prince Edward Island, our Lieutenant-Governor. I expect I will be greeted by a military aide-de-camp, or perhaps a butler, and will be offered tea and possibly finger sandwiches.
I will look more or less like this:
... and I will try to remember not to eat with that left hand.
Note: This is not a golf story. I know non-golfers don't really enjoy golf stories - in fact, you can see their eyes glaze over within a sentence or two. And if you are a non-golfer, that may happen to you in the first few paragraphs. Grab some coffee and stick with it. This story has a larger point. I hope.
The other day I stood on the 13th tee of the golf course I play at and surveyed the shot facing me.
It was a shot demanding considerable precision and more than a little courage, especially if you have a relatively good score going and it's getting towards the end of the round. You don't want to generate yet another of those pathetic stories golfers always inflict on one another ("God ... I was going along so well. It was one of those games where everything finally came together when dammit, I put four balls into the water on 13." "Ah, been there, pal ... did I ever tell you about the time I yanked my drive on 17 into the bushes and it took me seven strokes to get it back on the fairway?" "Well, that's nothing, what about the time ...")
It's not a long hole - a 146 yard par-3. But the green juts out into the water, forming an enticing but relatively tiny emerald peninsula. Any shot that catches a gust of wind and strays left; or has to fight the wind too hard, loses, and comes up short; or is struck unexpectedly purely and takes off just as the wind abates and sails long, ends up making a loud and humiliating splash, the kind of splash that causes golfers on the fairways all around you to glance over and think, "Poor bastard. He should take some lessons."
I got up on the tee, selected my club, then felt a gust of wind, re-considered, and chose a different club. I took a couple of practice swings that felt right, addressed the ball ("OK, you little white bastard, don't you try anything funny."), and launched my shot.
It was - and I don't think I'm being overly kind to myself here - one of the most beautiful shots ever played in the history of the game of golf. At the moment of impact I knew in every cell of my body that it was going to be a great shot - it felt so buttery soft coming off the face of the club. We watched as it soared in a picture-perfect arc, bounced three times on the green, and rolled ... rolled ... rolled ... till it stopped three inches from the cup - very nearly a Hole in One.
My playing partners were in awe. "Wow. GREAT shot." "Perfect." "God, I thought it was in, terrific shot." People who were waiting behind us (the course was busy that day, and play was slow) were equally effusive in their praise. "Amazing." "Wow."
I leaned down, picked up the broken tee, tossed it aside, slipped my club back into my bag, gave a soft, self-deprecating smile, and said "Well, I imagine we'll be able to find that one."
So cool, so nonchalant for someone whose heart was pounding like a jack-hammer and who wanted to scream "Oh, my God, did you SEE that, with the perfect swing and the flight of the ball and the bounce and the roll and the almost going in the goddamn hole and Christ all it needed was one or two more rolls and I've been golfing for forty-three frigging years, thousands of rounds, too many to even count and I've never had a hole in one and jaysus Mary Mother of God I thought that was it!"
But I didn't. I just gave a little shrug and smiled what I hoped was a calm, crooked, self-satisfied smile and waited for the lesser mortals to hit their shots, for which I duly (and generously) complimented them, even though theirs were so painfully inferior to the shot we'd all so admired.
"Try to make it look like you've been there before and fully expect to be back."
There's the key to cool.
I used to coach football (oh, yeah - I was a passably good minor football coach for fifteen years. Not many championships to show for it, but years later grown men have stopped me on the street and - even though I can barely recognize them dressed in a sports jacket and tie and all grown up and pushing a baby stroller - have told me that the time they spent playing for me was the most fun they ever had on a football field. Rewards delayed are not rewards denied). My players learned early on that their coach frowned upon the classless celebrations that are so much a part of the game now - the touchdown dances, the posing, the self-aggrandizement that so many athletes engage in to taunt and further humiliate their opponents.
In the first game of every year one new kid would score a touchdown, or block a punt or make a tackle and leap up, do some dance inspired by his heroes (!) on TV. And his teammates who had played for me in years past would shake their heads and calm him down and know that when he got back to the bench (often a bit surprised to be pulled out of the game when he had done something so utterly magnificent), he would be beckoned over and told "We don't do that. When you get into the endzone, you make it look like you've been there before and fully expect to be back. Be cool."
Sometimes it's not easy to remember to be cool.
One time I was pitching in a slow-pitch softball game against a rival radio station. Some friends had come to watch the game, and had arrived just in time to see the other team's most imposing batter step into the box. (It occurs to me that I am drawing a lot of this from my experiences in sports. Odd. I'm not an exceptionally gifted athlete, nor a particularly sporty guy. But we find inspiration where it presents itself, I suppose. At any rate ...)
This guy was huge. 6'5", maybe 250. He was the guy on every team who causes your outfielders to slump resignedly back to the fence in preparation for climbing it to fetch the inevitable home run.
I released the ball, he swung, and it came back to me at a speed I can only estimate at 6000 MPH. A laser, directly at me. Well, to be more accurate, directly at my glove, which had, in my natural pitching motion, dropped to my hip.
CRACKTHWAP. That's as close as I can approximate the sound as the bat hit the ball and the ball hit my glove square in the palm. One sound. In fact, so fast was this ball coming back at me that it's quite possible the THWAP part of the sound came first.
I did not so much catch the ball as look down, astonished to realize it was imbedded in my palm. There was no twitch of reflexes. It appeared, in the palm of my glove, with no independent action required from me.
And note, I said "in the palm of my glove". Not "in the pocket".
The palm of a baseball glove, especially one as old and well-worn as mine, is nothing more than a thin layer of supple leather, offering approximately the same cushioning effect as, say, silk. When a softball travelling fast enough to penetrate an armoured personnel carrier meets this thin layer of leather, the kinetic energy is transferred directly into the hand underneath.
This kinetic energy is transformed into neurological impulses, which send subtle messages to your brain that "Oh, my dear GOD, something terrible has happened! Arooogah, arooooogah, commence the humiliatingly dorky maneuver where you let the glove fall off your hand and leap up and down, shaking the hand to prove to yourself it still exists, and screaming "JESUSFUCKDAMNSHITOWCHRISTGODDAMNITSHIT!"
Which, you know, I did.
The batter was nice about it. "Sorry," he said, as if that made it all better. He hadn't meant to hurt me, but as he trotted back to his dugout, you could tell he was more than a little self-satisfied. Which stung all the more.
After a while, the third baseman, a nice guy named Steve, walked over to the mound. He put his hand on my shoulder and said "You OK?"
"Yeah. Shit. Ow. Yeah, I'm OK, just give me a second."
"Sure, sure," he said. Then added. "You know what would have been really cool?"
"Nothing, I guess. But maybe if you'd just thrown the ball over to first and picked off the runner, and nailed the double play, it might have been a bit cooler than what you did."
"Yeah, OK. I'll keep that in mind for next time."
So, next time that happens, I'll be cool.
We pretend that being cool doesn't matter to us. Life isn't a show for the rest of the world. Who cares what people think? Screw 'em, right?
But in fact, being cool - or acting cool - is important to all of us. It helps us feel more together, more with it, more prepared for life's curve balls (or line drives).
I act cool when I'm really not. When something is happening in my life that is important to me, when I don't want to open myself to looking pathetic or desperate or needy or scared ... I do what I can to act cool. I try not to do the happy dance after victories (too much) and try not to look fazed when things don't go my way.
People I know, people I respect, people I love don't need another opportunity to see me at my worst. They see enough of that from me anyway. If I act cool, then somehow I figure if things don't go my way I'll be able to BE cool about it.
It's a thin veneer. Like the leather on the palm of a baseball glove. Line drives still hurt like hell.
But at the very least, if I act cool, I'll be the only one who knows how much it stings.
This morning, I got up at 8:30 to make breakfast for our three remaining guests. My wife's sisters and a brother-in-law were all that remained of a steady stream of guests that started Wednesday, July 5.
Since guests began arriving, first in a trickle but soon after in one huge clump, we have had, at our comfy little farm house, the following events:
2 medium-sized parties. 1 giant party with live music and full-on BBQ 2 sit-down dinners for 12 or more 1 buffet dinner for 12 or more 2 sit down dinners for 8 2 sit-down breakfasts 8 informal gatherings and at least that many "Let's just stop at our place for a beer and figure out what happens next ... "
Average number of houseguests on a given night: 4 Number of bottles of wine consumed: 49 Number of empty bottles of liquor to be recycled: 12 Number of cases of beer/coolers to be recycled: 19 Number of kegs of beer consumed: 2
Number of lobsters consumed: 55 Number of 5 pound bags of mussels consumed: 6 Number of bags of chips/snacks consumed: 24 Number of burgers slapped on the grille: 52 Number of hot dogs/sausages consumed: 35 Number of quarts of strawberries consumed: 9
It has been energizing and tiring, rewarding and frustrating, heart-warming and exasperating. I love both my family and my wife's family, and I adore our dear friends, but I think anybody reading this will understand that this morning, I was not saddened at the thought of finally having the house back and having nothing to do but clean in blissful silence.
So, you know, it wasn't one of the highlights of the week this morning at 9:30 when my sister-in-law checked their tickets and said "Oh, shit. We don't leave at 11:35! We leave at 9:35! We missed our goddamn flight!".
Give me a fair judge and a compassionate jury and no court in the country would convict me.
They finally got away late this morning (coincidentally and not ironically, thank you Alanis Morrisette, at 11:35). There is quiet in the land.
I want to reiterate that I do love my sisters-in-law. But I think even they would be unsurprised to hear that there was a certain degree of relief when they boarded their flight.