The Great Break-In…

I was reading a lovely story about children in Italy in the 1950s. It was all about their trials and tribulations of growing up in poverty and it focused on how they made their dreams come true through scholastic endeavours. The main character, a young girl, talks about how she wanted the boys to like her. She noticed that these males would only be nice to her when a test was coming up. They would only hang out with her in order to be able to borrow her school notes. This got me reminiscing about one particularly interesting summer day during my youth.

It was a Saturday. Growing up as a Croatian in Canada, my parents ensured we were surrounded with our Croatian heritage. We went to church on Sundays (mass was said in Croatian). We attended weekly choir practice a(all songs were in Croatian). We were part of the tamburitza musical group where we played Croatian songs from the various regions of Croatia. Later we became part of the kolo (dance) group where we performed dances and sang songs from varying Croatian regions. All things Croatian. That was us! If satellite tv had been available then (maybe it was?) we would’ve been watching Croatian tv as well. So, it was no surprise that we attended Croatian school on Saturday. What were we learning? Why all things Croatian of course! We learned all 30 letters of the alphabet. We learned to conjugate Croatian verbs. We sang songs (in Croatian). We learned the history and geography of: Canada. NOT! All Croatia, all the time. We were the most Croatian of all Croatians outside of Croatia itself. Yes, we were loud and proud, but also confused.

You see, depending on where your parents came from in Croatia you ended up speaking a different dialect at home. So, those from the Northern area of Croatia had village-speak words that were a mixture of Croatian with German (due to German occupation). Those from the south had a cocktail language mixture of Croatian and Italian (yup, Italian occupation). When we got to Saturday heritage school we were suddenly surprised to realize that we had to learn our home and native tongue again because we had no idea that we weren’t actually speaking pure book-version Croatian.

Thus, it came as no surprise that there was the need for hardcore studying when final test time came around. It was also no surprise that I, the teacher’s pet AND super-student suddenly became super popular and was asked, nay begged, by many to sit beside them. My tests were usually 100% accurate. During my grade 6 year I had to share this desired attention with my competition; a boy. He also aced everything. Ah…I pictured us getting married and having brilliant children. (*swoon*) Note: growing up as a female Croatian during this time, it was important to keep your eyes peeled for the perfect mate: smart, church-going, and naturally…Croatian. It was during this month of June, this end of school year June, that IT happened. the Great Exam Heist of 1980-something.

It was a sunny day. Actually, it was a swelteringly hot summer day. We had our scholarly class held in a off-shot educational box called a portable. My class had already been hard at work writing our final exam when the recess bell rang. The teacher had ushered us out of the oven-hot classroom to go play outside. She locked the door to make sure no one would try to get into the class. Little did she know that a plot had been hatched.

I oftentimes wondered why the person(s) who came up with this ingenious plan could not find the fortitude to put this much effort into studying as they did in finding a way to come up with this dare-devilish plan. So much effort and planning. It was genius! But could it be pulled off?

Our recess break lasted a total of 30 minutes. As we shuffled out of the room that was located in the portapack (a group of portables stuck together with a hallway) we groaned knowing that we would be stuck outdoors in extreme heat and humidity. It was the end of June and it was a hot one! As our teacher headed purposefully toward the main air-conditioned school building, I was approached by one girl to come meet her outside. She said there was already a group waiting there for us. She was one of the cool kids that never hung out anywhere near my brainy self. I was way too uncool to be seen publicly with her fashionista self. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hang out with the cool kid. I followed excitedly.

As we exited the portapack into the extreme sunniness of the great outdoors, I saw the rest of my class standing around chatting excitedly. There, in the middle of this kerfuffle, was my future brainiac baby daddy. (We would have such brilliant children. Einsteinish even). The cool boy in our class nodded to the fashionista and the meeting began.

“You two are the smartest in the class. How close are you to finishing your tests?” Brainiac and I both looked around wondering why we were there and why they were actually speaking to us. We didn’t say anything. “How many pages of the exam have you finished?” I was actually too afraid to speak. Why was cool boy talking to me? “I have completed the whole exam,” said my future baby-daddy. He looked a me (**swoon**). “Me too,” I replied. “GREAT!” exclaimed cool kid. It was then that his mental genius of an idea came pouring out his mouth, all our classmates listened intently.

MASTER PLAN: “We have 25 minutes until recess is over. The window to the portable is open. We get long-legged skinny joe here and hoist him up through the window into the room. He grabs your test (pointing to me) and your test (pointing to smart-boy-future-baby-daddy) and passes them over to us. We write down the answers. Then twiggy boy puts your test papers back on the desks, makes his escape, and we all win!”

There was a lot of high-fiving and cheering as this plan was given the Classroom Seal of Approval. Me and my future genius-baby-daddy (**swoon**) looked at each other. My mind was reeling: What if a teacher on duty sees? What if we get caught? My parents would KILL me! My smarty parts male counterpart had a different thought.

“That’s cheating,” he declared. (**swoon**) My Einsteinish non-boyfriend was so honourable. Like a Knight of the Round Table.

Cool Kid put a hand on his shoulder and declared that what he would be doing was a noble deed. The teacher was mean. She hadn’t given us enough time to study. The exam was too hard. He was helping his fellow man. It was the last test of the whole year and wouldn’t he do it just this once?

I listened intently. I didn’t really need to listen. I had made up my mind. I had NOOOOOOOO problem at all having them steal my test and use my answers to pass this exam. I wanted to be liked. See, my grade 6 self had no problem being bribed by praise. LIKE ME! That was all I wanted. Even if it meant doing the unthinkable thing of cheating. It was fine by me.

“We’re running out of time!” someone yelled.

“Fine…” murmured by co-hort in smartness. He looked beaten. His moral compass had been broken.

Me? I was whoot whootin’ excitedly. This was craziness! Could we pull it off? Would we get caught? We might, but then it was a whole class of kids that would get in trouble. Safety in numbers, I figured.

Skinny kid was hoisted up and into the portable. It took a bit of desk pointing to figure out which desks contained my and my future spouses exam papers. Our tests were passed out through the window quickly by Lanky Lenny to Cool Kid and the frenetic copying began. Someone had the idea to let one person read while everyone else wrote the answers:

1 is A / 2 is C / 3 is C …. 8 is TRUE / 9 is TRUE / …. 22 is RIJEKA (river in English)….etc.

DING DING DING DING DING!!! The recess bell rang

F***!! yelled Cool Kid. He grabbed Boney Benny and hoisted him back into the room. The rest of us went inside the portapack to line up by the door. We were nervous. What if he didn’t get out in time? We saw the teacher approaching. We heard a THUMP noise and then a loud “OH SHIT!” It was at this time that my daily mantra popped into my head, “my parents are going to kill me.”

The teacher unlocked the door and let us back into the room. She reminded us not to talk to each other as that would be considered cheating and we would all fail the test.

“My parents are going to kill me…my parents are going to kill me….my parents…” was all my brain was playing over and over in my mind. I sat down at my desk and tried to act natural. I dropped my pencil. My eraser bounced off my desk and off down another aisle. Typical clutzy me.

Five minutes before the end of class, the teacher told everyone to put their writing utensils down and then she walked around and collected all of our papers. I was sweating so much. I hoped my guilty nervousness was not showing through. It was over. After collecting my school bag and heading out the door, I had never felt such fear and excitement and such a sense of coolness as I had experienced that day. It was over…or so I thought.

The following Saturday, our strict teacher glowered at us as we entered our classroom. We took our seats and sat chatting happily as it was the last day of school. We had finished grade 6. Hallelujah!

“I have your final exams here,” she said, pointing to a stack of papers on her left. “It’s interesting how well you all did,” she continued. “So many of the same answers as if you could see each other’s papers….” she paused for effect as she stared down at each one of us. No one breathed. No one said a word. I tried not to blink as I thought, “my parents are going kill me”. Her demonic stare kept sweeping from one side of the room to the other. No one flinched. No one admitted anything. We were a collective group of cheaters and we were standing united.

“Anna,” she said loudly as she held up a test paper. Anna went up to get her exam. “5,” said the teacher. (note: in Croatian school, marks went from 1 to 5 with 5 being the best and 1 being the lowest grade).

“Tom,” she snarled as Tom Cool Kid went up to get his paper, “5-” she said coolly as he smirked, his outstretched arm grabbing his paper.

The class average was 5-. An historical feat. She knew something was up. She knew there must have been a way that we had cheated, but she couldn’t prove it.

To this day, I consider this my Mission Impossible in life. Oh, don’t get me wrong, cheating is horrendous, and cheating just to get accolades and atto-boys for 3 hours if nothing to be proud of. The reason why I love this part of my life is because it showed me that people can put aside their differences and work together as a group in order to achieve a final goal. It’s like any government:

You will cheat to get your desired outcome

You can put aside your differences in order to achieve your final goal

If you find a common tyrant you can get good people to go against their usual values

Hot, summer days are not a good time to hold exams

Close the windows on the classroom. You never know what kind of hooligans you actually have in your class.

Toes…and How NOT to Use Them

“Blessed are those who have all their toes and know how to properly use them.”  That was said by me this past weekend as I managed, yet again, to use my toes in an improper manner.

You may not often think about your toes (aka foot digits), as something very important, but they truly are.  The “proper” use of your toes is to provide support while you are walking.  “Proper” walking starts off with your heel to floor then you start to roll forward, heel comes off the ground, and the weight gets transferred to your wonderful toes.  Heels to toes.  Repeat.  A very prestigious job for those stubby digits.

Then there is the aesthetic aspect of toes.  The plain, boring nails on your toes can be painted up with polish to give a sophisticated look or maybe you’re feeling frisky and fun so you paint little pictures on them.  How glamourous!

You might have my special talent with toes.  I myself have used my longish toes to pick up items from the floor.   Why bend down and use your fingers when you can pick up a dropped pencil or pen with your foot digits?

I, however, most often use my toes as a guidance system.  As I wander around as a normal human being, I find my Toe-Guidance system sometimes goes into hyper-drive, thus forcing my toes to make harsh contact with various solid objects:  wooden sofa legs, coffee table legs, wall corners.  Oh, you know the feeling?

The magic moment when you stub (what a short word for something that causes remarkable pain and suffering for hours…even days) your toe.  During my teens I managed to stub both baby toes on my left and right foot.  Different years, different days, same pain.  That was the beginning of the arduous life of my toes.  As I grew older and my toes grew longer, almost finger-like, the toe-to-hard-object-ratio increased. Interestingly enough my large toe never suffered any disfigurement.

The main defender of my Toe Family is the second toe (the one next to the big toe). It is longer than all my other toes and prefers to forge unabashedly forward into the unknown. This second toe will invariably find itself in the undeniably defenceless condition of being slammed into a wholly hard object (i.e. bed leg, chair leg, couch leg) thus bowing in a way as if to prostrate itself in defeat to its opponent (i.e. couch leg). The intense toe-to-hard-object impact creates a fantastic world of blinding white light which transforms into a circle of stars before my eyes. After the visual effects subside, there is the introduction of a foreign language. I have used some of these words before, but the way the words are strung together in a sentence would make the devil blush.  My ears cannot believe that it’s my usually cheerful and melodic voice spewing such vulgarities!  After the visual and audible sensations comes the grand finale.  There is a hot, burning sensation in my toes (usually two of them). After that subsides a wee bit, then my toe(s) seem to create a new life force as I can almost feel a heartbeat within my toes as they thump-thump within the searing pain.  Then, to make sure that this theatrical extravaganza cannot be undone…the skin itself decides to join in the grandeur of the show and begins a four to five day progression of metamorphosing into a colourful and motley display similar to a spectacular rainbow. Oh yes! A grand purple bruise progressing to a royal blue one.  How divine!  From that it transforms into a gangrene-ish green then a pallid, sunset orange and on to a vaguely, mouldy yellow. Ahhhh the miracle of pain and punishment.

It is then that I wonder aloud:  HOW THE HECK DO I ALWAYS RUN INTO STUFF!  I know how to walk. I’ve been walking for almost 50 years! Has someone replaced my feet? Has my depth perception changed?  Why don’t I know how to use my feet properly in order to avoid such colourful and painful occurrences?

And so it was that this past weekend, I quickly whipped around from one room to venture into another and my third and fourth toes decided to give their big brother (second toe) a break by forcefully ramming themselves in the corner of a doorway thus giving themselves a break, literally.  WHAM!  The fireworks in my head, the blaspheming from my vocal chords, the rainbow coloured foot.  Once again, I found myself in the abominable position of looking down upon my mangled toes, whimpering and wondering, will this finally be the last time?  Yet, I know in my heart, (and also the second heart throbbing in my injured toes) that, alas, this will not be the end.

“Blessed are those who have all their toes and know how to properly use them.” Obviously, I am NOT part of that enlightened clique.

Outer wear to wear out

It was Thursday. A special Thursday – Valentine’s Day – February 14th. The couple had tickets to go and attend a live show in the heart of Toronto. Instead of having to deal with the outrageous afternoon homebound traffic, he and she had decided that taking the train would be the most convenient, and less stressful, way of commuting downtown. They stood in the front hallway of their domicile and were ready to don their winter coats and prepare themselves for the blast of the cold air that would hit as soon as the door opened. Indecisiveness hit. She was in a quandary as to which coat would be best for this trek.

Her big, white, shin length coat was warm and it had a hood, which would be ideal if the predicted rain was to arrive. However, it was also inconvenient in that it would take up a lot of space in the theatre where this coat would be placed beneath her to sit upon. She had a lovely red peacoat, but it didn’t keep her very warm and it was a 20 minute walk from the train station to the theatre. Looking good was important, for appearance sake, but staying healthy took priority. She did have a nice leather jacket, but there was no hood and odds of rain were quite high. Bringing an umbrella was additionally cumbersome, hence the idea of wearing something with a hood.

Then she saw it. Her latest wardrobe addition. She had bought it on sale at 50% off and it fit wonderfully. It was waist length, but incredibly warm, and it did have a hood. She grabbed the grey puffy coat, put her arms through the sleeves and zipped up the jacket; warm already.

“Ready?” she asked her husband.

“All set,” he replied, as he put on his spring jacket. He just never felt the cold the same way she did. Lucky bloke.

Off they went. They drove their car from their hometown city to the neighbouring city that housed the train station. They found a convenient parking spot and headed toward the front door of the station. After purchasing their tickets they headed underground to find the correct platform from whence their train would be departing.

As she walked on beside him, she suddenly felt like she had entered a parallel universe. Everything seemed the same as when they had first took the stone steps into the underground, but then it had also changed.

As she walked on toward the platform she noticed them all around her. Some were black, others were purple, and there were some bright red ones too. There were pure white ones, and some off white or more beige ones. Some were long while others were short. Some had belts. Some had hoods. Some had both belts and hoods. In the end they were all the same or related in some way. Man, woman, child…all of them in this underground pathway seemed to wearing one. Had she stumbled upon the land of the puffy coats?

The first time she had heard those two words “puffy coat” was while she was listening to the radio and there was an advertisement about these puffy things being on sale. In her mind’s eye she pictured something like the Michelin Man would wear. In truth, she was not that far off. When she saw a commercial for these garments on television it seemed that this was the inspiration for this new line of clothing.

“Ridiculous,” she thought. “Why would anyone want to be a live version of the cartoon tire guy?” Why indeed?

She considered herself a pragmatic and stylishly dressed woman. Since cold weather seemed to be around the majority of the 12 months, it was important to be dressed warmly, but it was also important that she looked smart and polished. She had at least 9 designated winter coats and another 3 mid-fall to pre-winter jackets. The winter coats were made of heavy polyester/wool mix and were quite heavy. They were warm, but quite cumbersome. The leather jackets were stylish, but leather did tend to take awhile to draw out the warmth that her body craved. Chattering teeth were not attractive on anyone. The faux fur jacket looked great, but the wind whistled right through it. Finding the perfect garb was a yearly adventure.

As years passed, the transition from heavy winter coats to the “Michelin Man” wannabe coats seemed to become the dominant style in every clothing store. One day, for a lark, she decided to try one of these pillow-like garments.

As she slipped her arms into the sleeves, her mind pondered how fickle fashion could be. These silly puffy coats seemed pragmatically useless for winter weather. Then her mind registered the immediate warmth that was contained inside this jacket as she zipped it up. How could that be? The wonderful fluffy garment was also light as air. She felt liberated from the usual constraints of the old wool winter coats. It was incredible!

She felt something scratching at her neck, so she unzipped the coat to see what it was. There was a paper tag from the manufacturer, but there was also a small bag, made of the same exterior polyester fabric, with a drawstring. She saw a picture on the paper tag that showed how to roll up the coat in such a way as to be able to pack it away into this small sack. What? You could roll up the entire parka to the size of a coffee thermos? How incredible! Oh wait…there was more writing on the back of the tag; washing instructions. What? It could be washed? No more dry cleaning after every winter. These puffy garments were brilliant!

So, here she was, on this Valentine’s day, wearing her grey puffy coat (not her purple or blue one. Yes, she owns three now) in the underground, feeling nice and comfortable, stylish, and incredibly warm heading to the city centre to see a wonderful show with her Valentine’s Day sweetheart. Even downtown, the citizens wandering about were also comfy and cozy in their version of the overwhelmingly popular puffy coat. At the theatre, she rolled up her coat and used it as a nice lumbar support and sat happily throughout the show. As predicted, it did rain that night. She smiled as she donned the puffy hood onto her head. Comfort, style, warmth. What a wonderful trifecta of fashion.

Although she didn’t usually jump onto the fashion trend train, the puffy coat was one she was happy she had transitioned to. She was debating actually trying some of the others: lace up jeans, faux fur sandals, platform Crocs. Then again…maybe not. There is fashion, there is function, and sometimes (or oftentimes) fashion failures. For now she would stick with her puffy coat…the perfect outerwear to wear out.


Told you there were cops

Lucy, my little shi-poo, started barking hysterically. It was 5 a.m. and I still had the luxury of another hour’s worth of sleep until my alarm was set to startle me awake. What was her problem? Lucy barked at anything and everything. Person walking…bark, bark, bark. City bus driving by…bark, bark, bark. Leaf blowing…bark, bark, bark. You get the idea. What was going on now? Then I heard strange noises outside my bedroom window. Was that a scraping sound? Was there construction work going on outside? Snow plows maybe? As I maneuvered myself from under my nice, warm sheets, Lucy persisted with her panicked high pitched barking. I sauntered over to the window, pulled the curtain to one side, rolled up the horizontal blind and was shocked to see that good ol’ Lucy actually had a legitimate reason to be barking her head off. Imagine my surprise when I saw 4 police cruisers with their flashing lights whirling around, illuminating the houses on the street. Was there a gunman out there?

Wha-what you must be asking yourself. How on earth did you go from Police cars to gunman?

Flashback…

It was 1990-something. I had a doctor’s appointment early that morning and my brother had decided to tag along with me. I was driving home, yawning exhaustedly as I had only had 5 hours sleep and did not function well in the daylight hours. We had no classes at University that day so we were heading home to have a nice hot breakfast of bacon and eggs. As we got to our street I noticed a police car blocking the road. We couldn’t get onto our street. That was odd. No matter. I turned around and drove all the way around the strip mall and around the next few blocks to enter our street from the top end instead of the bottom end. Imagine our surprise when we saw another police car parked sideways, also blocking the road. What the heck was going on?

“Go ask him what’s going on,” said my brother. I didn’t want to bother the gentleman and I wasn’t sure what to say either. Our house was the 4th one in from where the policeman was blocking the way. Our mother was expecting us home because she had errands to run and needed me to drive her. Cop? Mom? Which one terrified me most.

“Excuse me?” I asked the police officer as I drove up closer to him. (Yes, I was more terrified of my mother. Oh sure, he had a gun, but my mom had her own weapons arsenal: THE LOOK that could burn your soul, THE SILENT TREATMENT that was a deafening mime of disappointment and THE POWER to make my father transform into THE PUNISHER. She won…hands down.) Anyway, the policer officer marched over to me with a look of mighty annoyance.

“Could we just drive home?” I began timidly. “Our house is that one right over there…the 4th house in,” I begged, pleadingly.

“I can’t let you through Miss,” he declared authoritatively.

“But it’s right there…you can see it from here. It won’t take me long…”I began and was cut off with a sharp, “I can’t let you through. There is a man with a rifle in the townhouse complex and we aren’t sure he won’t try to take a shot at you,” he said, matter-of-factly.

I really had nothing to say to that. “Thank-you officer,” my brother added as he leaned over toward my window from the passenger seat. Then whispered angrily to me, “Get moving.”

I did a remarkably quick and accurate 3-point turn and headed back from whence we had come.

HOLY SHIT!! A SHOOTER!? was all my mind could process.

“Let’s go to the coffee shop,” my bro said. “We can figure out something while we are there.”

“Do you have any money?” I asked him. I had a two-dollar bill in my possession and that would not be enough for coffees for the both of us. I went to the bank machine and discovered I had five dollars in my account. I couldn’t get it from the bank machine as it only dispensed ten and twenty dollar bills. It was going to be one of THOSE days, obviously. After trying not to look like a hobo in front of the bank teller, I gave her my withdrawal slip to get the last five bucks out of my bank account. Bank balance: 52 cents. Then we were off again, heading toward the coffee shop. We got ourselves two coffees and sat down to plan our next move.

Our top story. Police are at the townhouse complex located at [insert my street name here] talking to 39-year old [insert shooter name here] who has threatened suicide…The rest of the story mentioned that his wife had told him that morning that she was leaving him. He wanted to see her or he was going to end his life.

“We should call mama,” said my brother, “and let her know we can’t get home.”

Made sense to me. I grabbed a quarter, went to the payphone hanging on the wall by the door and punched in our home number. (Yeah people, no cell phones then). My mother picked up after the 3rd ring. (Not sure if you had any obscure rules like this at your house, but for some reason we weren’t allowed to answer the phone until the 3rd ring.) I calmly explained to her that we couldn’t come home right now because our street was blocked with police cars. She didn’t believe me. I passed the phone to my brother. He told her about the cops. He told her about Rifle Man. He paused, rolled his eyes at me and then waited, silently listening. “Fine!” he replied, exasperated. “We will try again.” He slammed the receiver down onto the cradle, harrumphed angrily and said, “she wants us to come home.”

Seriously? The cops won’t let us pass. My brother explained that he had told her all of this, but she said to tell the police officer that we had to come home because she said so. Oh yeah…that would definitely work (dripping sarcasm).

Off we went again, driving home. The same police officer was there. I drove up to him again, rolled down the window and saw his initial look of confusion and subsequent disdain as he wandered over to see what we wanted.

Now, I cannot imagine what my face looked like when I explained to him that my mother demanded we come home. I begged him to just let us through. “He might shoot at you,” the policeman said with a look of bewilderment and a pinch of exasperation. I saw on his face what his mind was really thinking: Are you crazy? If he could only read my mind: You don’t know my mother.

“I know,” I replied, thinking about how much crap we would be in if we couldn’t get home. “My mother told us to tell you that we need to get home.” It was at that point, that the expression on his face became etched in my mind forever. His brow wrinkled, his eyes screwed up as he tried to remain calm and dignified. His mind was trying to work out what kind of people would be willing to risk being shot at? What kind of mother would allow her own flesh and blood to be used for target practice. He didn’t realize that my bro and I were professional storytellers (a.k.a. compulsive liars). As such, my sibling and I were pretty sure she (our beloved mother) wasn’t believing any of this far-fetched gunman / police stand-off hooey.

“No,” he said flatly. “I can’t let you through.”

We’re dead. That’s all I thought. She’s gonna kill us. Yup, no thought about the shooter whatsoever. I even had thoughts of parking the car and then visualized us pulling a total Bionic Man move and running evasively past the copper to get home. Sheesh! What fear can do to you!

And you guessed it…back to the coffee shop we went. Back for two more coffees. Back to coming up with a backup plan.

Being low on funds now didn’t leave us many viable options for a feasible hangout. We couldn’t sit at The coffee shop and NOT order coffee. We decided to wait for a bit and hopefully the guy’s wife would show up or the cops would finally get him out.

“I know,” said my brother excitedly, “let’s go to our aunt’s house.”

It sounded like a good plan. Actually it sounded like an excellent plan! Genius! Our aunt had a phone so we wouldn’t need to use our change for the payphone and she only lived a few blocks from our house. It was the perfect plan!

What do they say about best laid plans? Yes, they do go awry. We pulled up to my aunt’s house. It had now been two hours since our ordeal had begun. Oh yes…forget about the man threatening suicide…our lives were in peril. Our mother was seriously going to kill us once we got home.

Well, we arrived at our aunt’s place. She was just getting ready to eat a lovely sandwich she had made herself for lunch. “Would you like one?” she kindly asked.

My brother and I looked at each and psychically knew that we would be beheaded if my mother ever found out that we ate food at our aunt’s place. Yes, don’t pshaw me. There was this weird rule about not eating at relative’s houses either. I have no idea where my mother’s “Thou Shalt Not” rule book came from, but there were many of them and any broken rule led to eventual beatings and/or possible threat of death. Or even worse…The Magnanimous Silent Treatment. Brrrrr….iced out forever! (Who knew that one day this would become my preferred daily experience). However, on this occasion we declined her offer, but did ask for a glass of water. Just one glass…that we would share. Only one glass for out aunt to wash so not a fatal sin in our minds.

After glugging down the water and extinguishing our thirst we decided to call home again and see if the cops had made any progress. Our next fantastically great idea was to have our aunt initiate the call. Mom couldn’t yell at her right?

“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING THERE!? GET YOUR ASSES HOME RIGHT NOW! YOU HAD BETTER NOT BE EATING ANYTHING THERE! WHY ARE YOU DRINKING HER WATER! WAIT UNTIL YOU GET HOME!” This is what I heard after my aunt happily passed the phone receiver over to me.

Our aunt had had a pleasant conversation with my mother. She explained how happy she was that we came to visit. She hoped the police would resolve the issue soon. My dear, loving aunt had no idea the verbal barrage I would hear as she passed the phone to me.

“We can’t come home,” I tried to explain to my mother, attempting not to yell back at her over her yelling. “The police have blocked the road. We have told you this. Go outside and look.”

“COME…HOME…NOOOOOOOOOOOOW!!” our mom bellowed.

That’s when I got incredibly brave and yelled back, “HOW DID YOU WANT US TO GET HOME!” I thought for sure this was now a done deal. She would leave us alone until the police left.

“Drive the car to the street behind our house. Park the car there and jump the neighbour’s fence,” she said hurriedly.

I looked over at my brother. I really could not clearly compute what this woman was saying. Seriously? Did we look like fence climbing / jumping people? My brother looked over quizzically at me. I nodded silently and then realized that no words had escaped from my lips. “Yes,” I agreed solemnly, “we are coming home.”

And so it was that we thanked our aunt profusely for the hydration and for the use of her free phone and hoped we didn’t bother her too much. If we grovelled enough we might receive bonus points in accolades after she praised our good upbringing to our mom.

Back into the car and back to our neck of the woods. I parked the car as my mother had demanded. We got out of the car and headed into our neighbour’s backyard.

Oh, did I mention it was winter? Did I also mention that there was a slight incline in our backyard at the back of the property? Now, dressed in winter coats and winter boots we had to scale an 8-foot high, wooden fence and land in our own backyard without breaking any appendages. I will be honest and say I do not recall if I went first or my brother did as we could not both scale the fence at the same time. There was only a 2-foot wide expanse of fence that bordered our backyard. I do recall bumping my elbow with full force as I clambered over. I remember hearing the neighbour yelling, “What are you doing? Get off my property!” I recall landing hard on my knees and almost bashing my face into the ground. Nothing elegant about this stunt. No MacGyver worthy escape here. But, the good news was we had made it.

As we pulled ourselves up and out of the snow pit we had created, the back door opened. Our sister had been visiting over the weekend and she had opened the door to inform us that there was an ambulance across the street at the townhouse complex. They were wheeling someone out in a gurney. My emotionally and physically exhausted brother and I marched into the house and headed to the living room so that we could get a better look at what was happening.

The ambulance doors closed. The siren wailed as the flashing lights were turned on. We saw the ambulance race down the street. Then we saw one….two…three….four…oh my….five police cruisers follow behind it. All sirens on…all lights flashing. The ordeal was over. Well, the shooter’s ordeal was. Ours was just about to begin. Our mother’s pinched, angry face had appeared in the doorway of the living room.

In our defence I said, “See, I told you there were cops.”

P.S. We survived.

P.P.S. The gunman did not.

P.P.P.S Our mother doesn’t remember any of this. I guess we did many more traumatic things to her during our younger days.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Our generation was one where, as children, you did get spanked, you did get yelled at, your feelings were not spared, and parents did not bow to the whims and desires of their offspring. When I say that my mother was going to “kill us”, please know that this was a slang expression used in our generation to define the horrible verbal abuse and/or occasionally the meeting of wooden spoon to child backside…like whack-a-mole without missing the mole, that we children experienced. We all lived. Thankfully, this particular old European style of upbringing has allowed us to forever have fond memories and stories of the craziness and hilarity of our childhood.

Pizza…an adjective

It was a cold and windy morning. That is how most mornings start in Canada. Kidding. On this particular January day it was cold and windy. The usual blinding sun was hiding behind the grey clouds. It was a dismally dreary day. The morning was dragging on and I was looking forward to my lunch break. DING DING! 12 o’clock. Finally! As I walked into the lunchroom, one of my colleagues was already sitting at a table noshing on his lunch. I headed toward the microwave with my nukable leftovers when the smell hit me. PIZZA! Suddenly it was as if the sun had broken through and shone magically upon the earth. The morning drudgery was erased. My world became rose coloured. The corners of my lips turned upward into a full-on happy smile. LIFE IS GREAT I thought. And it was! Alas, within seconds my surroundings transmogrified into the colourless grey world it had been before. I took another breath…just a regular breath (as inhaling is needed in order to maintain life) and there it was again. LIFE IS GREAT! Wait…what just happened? I smelled pizza! It was at the exact moment that I decided it should be life mission to become a lexicographer and ensure that the word “pizza” should become an adjective.

It makes perfect sense! Pizza (adjective) should have a similar meaning to ecstatic or euphoric. Really, try it in a sentence.

Mary was so pizza to be taking a Caribbean cruise.

John was pizza as he held onto his concert tickets.

IT MAKES PERFECT SENSE!

As my tupperware container with my fridge cleanup food was heating I was discussing this very thought with my pizza-eating colleague. At first he laughed, but then he too considered the immense possibility. During our discussion others came to join us in the lunchroom. Hearing our discussion they jumped in with their contributions to the new food-from-noun-to-adjective movement.

At once food items and beverages were being bandied about with comparable excitement to my pizza euphoria.

“Chicken wings!” declared one gent.

“French fries!” exclaimed a lady.

“Beer,” chimed in the lad.

The list grew and grew.

Then…Devil’s Advocate entered the room and stomped on all our high-faluting ideas.

“Pizza is revolting,” came the sneering voice. “Greasy chicken wings are no better.”

*GASP!*

Our food high suddenly got a smackdown!

I, Pollyanna, tried to find the bright side and charmingly inquired, “do you have a preferred food or drink that you think would be comparable?”

“Childish, insignificant thoughts. Wouldn’t waste my time,” stated our pessimistic pariah sardonically.

And with the blip of a backlash being over, I hollered, “back to our pizza and chicken wings and fries and beer!” The room cheered and we continued our foray into the wonderful world of food and drinks as adjectives. Our obsessively negative colleague harrumphed and sauntered out of the lunchroom. Sure, maybe it was childish game, but what’s wrong with being excited about making world changes? And who knows, the dictionary gets revised and updated yearly, so why couldn’t some new words be added? There is also the Urban Dictionary which has some interesting definitions for words that I had never heard before so my desire for having a “pizza” life could come true.

Keep it simple. It’s best not to overthink it. It’s not about thick or thin crust. You don’t have to choose your toppings. The word itself should create a happy image in your mind. The meaning of ecstatic doesn’t come with pepperoni or mushrooms or anchovies. It’s an adjective. It doesn’t require a definite image as would a noun. That’s the great thing about adjectives!

Sure, you might be thinking that this is a dubious endeavour, but I think it has many positive attributes. There are some nay-sayers who will think that “pizza” should not be used to describe a happy feeling, but then how can certain words have one meaning, but also mean the opposite?

Example: Sick

I had overhead a youth saying that the video game he was playing was “Sick”. In my mind I thought there was lots of blood and goriness and…well, much worse. His friend excitedly added, “Yeah it’s even better than…yadda yadda.” (Ok, I added in “yadda yadda” because I actually don’t play video games and have no idea what he said.) So, I realized that “sick” actually meant it was great, awesome, fantastic! There you have it!

For you old-schoolers out there, here is a more relatable example: winner. If someone in high school called you a “winner” it depended on how the person said the word. If it was dripping with sarcasm, “you are such a winner”, then that meant you were the complete opposite; a loser. See? Opposite of winner. I rest my case.

Now back to my original point. “Pizza” should be an adjective with a positive connotation. There are many who would agree with me. For those who disagree, feel free to use it in the derogatory, “loser” version of the word. I think it works.

Pizza…the adjective! How sick would that be? Narly right?

It might work

“Yes, Your Honour…I DID IT!  I killed him!” the wife cried out.  “All those years of belittling me, treating me like some sort of slave.  Cooking and cleaning.  Raising the kids on a shoe string budget.  And then…then I heard about the lovely ginger girl he had been seeing.  After all these years! Me with nothing new to wear and he spends his money on the floozy from the diner!  Ha!  She was young enough to be his daughter.  Disgusting!  Despicable!” she hollered. “Such a simple plan! HA HA HA!” she laughed maniacally as she was dragged back to her prison cell.  

As she sat in the small cell she smiled victoriously to herself thinking about her triumph. Oh yes!  I did it!  The world should be rid of scum like him.  I’m glad I did it.  Oh sure, it wasn’t easy to get him to take the poison.  It took me weeks of planning.  Then my dream came true.  The poison presented itself in the most imperceptible way.  Oh sure, trying to get him to eat it was hard enough, but watching him take each bite made it all worthwhile.  I wished his red-headed bimbo could’ve seen him as he choked it back.

No matter what I tried to do to get my husband to eat his vegetables, he was always such a baby.  Actually, I had an easier time getting the kids to each their vegetables. But no…not my big, strong, husband.  Ha!  Brussels sprouts, broccoli, peppers, spinach.  Oh no….he wouldn’t eat those.  And then it hit me!  Caesar salad.  Sure he’ll eat that!  Romaine lettuce smothered in that creamy, garlicky sauce, with a sprinkling of that snow white parmesan and bits of greasy bacon to cover the poison.  Yeah, I knew he would eat that.  Die! Die! Die!

For once I was glad he didn’t watch the news.  The sports channel was all he wanted to see.  Watch the game.  Watch the re-run of the game.  Watch the plays of the day of each game.  Huh.  Well I showed him didn’t I.  

“Why don’t you watch the news.  Find out about current events,” I would off-handedly mention.

“Who cares!” he would yell out. “Accidents, robberies, fires, earthquakes.  I’m a regular Nostradamus.” he would say.  “I predict there is one of those somewhere in the world,” he would quip. “Now go get my supper and it had better be hot!”  

Yeah, that was what I had heard nightly for 23 years. When the children were younger I had learned to feed them their dinner first so they wouldn’t bother their father.  They asked too many questions and he didn’t like that.  He didn’t like them knowing that he didn’t have all the answers.  Actually, he didn’t have any of the answers unless it was about sports stats.

Well, on this night I told him that I had a surprise for him for dinner.  He was gonna have a loaded baked potato and a nice peppercorn steak, medium well…just the way he liked it.

“Really?” he asked. “Why?”  

“Steaks were on sale.  I bought one just for you,” I trilled.  “Don’t you want it?” I asked. “If not I’m sure the kids would enjoy it,” I teased.

“Don’t be stupid.  Gimme the steak.” he growled.  “And it better not be medium rare,” he warned.

My plan was working. I had to remain calm. I took a deep breath as I walked over carrying the salad. “Here’s your Caesar salad.  Just like in the restaurants,” I said cheerfully, plunking the bowl down in front of him.

“I hate salad!” he snorted, as he turned his snarling face toward me.

“I know, I know, but this is special dressing.  I didn’t make it.  It’s that celebrity chef’s fancy dressing.  It was on clearance so I got it for half price,” I rambled on, “and it’s got bacon bits and everything…just like in the restaurants.”

He turned his head back to face the tv screen. Distractedly he shovelled the salad into his mouth.  I smiled as he took each big bite. Forkful after forkful and the salad was gone. Every last leaf of it.

I took the salad bowl into the kitchen and washed the bowl right away. I dried it then put it back on the shelf, nestling it into the other bowls. I plated his steak, done medium well, and plopped the baked potato beside it. I topped the steaming hot potato with sour cream and chives…and more bacon. Maybe he would have a coronary. I could dream couldn’t I?

“Here you go,” I said as I placed the plate in front of him.

“Move out of the way,” he barked, “you’re blocking the tv.”

I grinned as I walked away. Say what you want, I thought, you won’t be talking for too much longer. My plan had worked. Sure, the steak had cost me a fortune, but I wasn’t a savage. Every person should be able to enjoy their last meal, right?

The pain started the next day. He rolled around in bed moaning, clutching his stomach. I kept telling him it would pass. Maybe he was lactose intolerant and was just feeling gassy. It progressed to horrible diarrhea and then the bloody urine by day 3. Oh…this was bad.

“Take me to the hospital,” he said weakly on day 4. I told him it was just symptoms of a viral infection. It was nothing bad and it would pass within a day or two. Since I was a Registered Nurse he believed me and lay back down on his sweat moistened pillow.

By day 5 he was weak and dehydrated and had nothing much to say. I knew his kidneys were failing. It would be over soon. He couldn’t even keep water down and without an IV feeding him, his body would start shutting down. I, his doting wife, kept up my vigilant care-taking; care-Faking. HA HA!

And on the 7th day…I rested. He was dead.

I never thought they would do an autopsy. Why would they? A man dies at home with his loving wife taking care of him; a trained healthcare professional.

I found out at trial what had happened. While I was in the kitchen plating his steak and potato, my husband had texted his ginger-haired girlfriend: Hey gorgeous! Loverboy eating Caesar salad.  

His bimbo watched the news.

E. coli outbreak: Romaine lettuce. At least 32 people have been sickened in the US, with 13 taken to hospital, while another 18 people have been stricken in Canada. The latest outbreak follows the deaths of at least five people in the summer linked to romaine lettuce.” She decided to show the cops the text she had received. She thought it might be relevant after she saw his obituary notice.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Carnivores live longer. (haha…kidding!)

Actually, I thought this story would make a great excuse for those of you who hate to eat vegetables. Now you can say, “I can’t eat that salad, I might die from E. coli!”

It might work.

P.S. One of my favourite short stories is by Roald Dahl and it’s called Lamb to the Slaughter. A fascinating quick read.

It’s good to be…sleeping

As a teenager I would sleep until mid afternoon. My mother would watch me saunter down the stairs, my hair in disarray, my eyes bloodshot. As my mother would look upon my disheveled form she would say, in a disgusted voice, “I hope you don’t TELL people you sleep this late.” It never made sense to me. Why would anyone care what time I slept until? Was I taking time away from their snooze-fest? Besides, I finally turned off my light and went to sleep around 4 in the morning. So, I was just trying to get my 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. What is wrong with sleeping?

After some intense analysis I realized that my Catholic mother had two problems with my tardy wakening. First, she definitely believed she had a lazy daughter, which was an absolute disability, a handicap so bad that she would never be able to marry me off. Yeah, it was the late 1980s early 1990s, but in her old-ways European life mentality, her goal was all about selling off…ahem…marrying off her daughter to a good family. The second thing was that “sloth” was (and is) one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Not only was her daughter the epitome of laziness, not only would my mom never be able to find me a mate, but when my life finally DID expire on this earth she knew that her beloved spawn would burn in hell forever which ultimately meant she was a bad mother. Everything in my life somehow directly affected her life. That, however, is a story for another day. Actually, it’s more like a novella, but I digress (as usual).

Lazy. I wasn’t lazy. I was tired. Staying up late when the house was nice and quiet was when I got most of my homework done. HA! HOMEWORK! Yeah right. The witching hour was when I would haul the land line phone into my closet and call my boyfriend and we would whisper chat. Or I’d meet my sister by the tv set in the family room at 1 a.m. so we could watch music videos. THAT was definitely banned. One tv in the WHOLE house and limited viewing time.  There were horrible things like “rock videos” and those were very bad because there was nudity (like bald people) and people dressed weird and screaming at you (like Twisted Sister, We’re Not Gonna Take It which was definitely devil’s work. Hmmm, come to think of it, most of the stuff that was FUN was devil’s work. All this banned stuff made sense (sort of), but sleep…being bad?

Now, back to my original tale of my teenage obsession with sleep.  The reason I liked sleeping so much was that I finally had my very own room which contained my very own double (nowadays called “full”) bed.  There were 4 of us children. We lived in a very large 4 bedroom home. Now here is how bed/bedroom assignments worked in our house.  Parental figures had one of the 4 bedrooms.  That left 3 bedrooms for 4 children. Initially my younger brother and I shared a room, but as we went from toddler to tween the whole boy/girl in same room was not an option. So, my parents put me and my sister together in a room.  It was great!  She is 5 years older than me.   At that time she was so excited that her little sister was sharing HER room and asking questions about HER teenage stuff.  And her little sister would not shut the hell up at night because wee sister came alive at bedtime.  Big sister decided that there needed to be some rules:  No more asking questions about her teenage girl stuff.  No talking at bedtime.  No tossing and turning in the squeaky bed.  No looking at older sister.  No using big sister’s stuff.  Little sis allowed in room ONLY at bedtime.  Oh, little sister must learn not to breathe cause that was annoying too.  After a few days of this sisterly love-fest, I got to vacate.  I went from pauper to princess and got my very own room.

(Sidenote:  My older brother…who is even older than my sister, had to share a room with baby brother…9 years younger.  I don’t think my big brother has ever forgiven me for having him displaced from his solitary haven.) 

Anyway, back to my original tale of the zombie teen in the kitchen.  I thought about the whole “lazy” thing and then thought about how the bible actually referred to this particular sin as “sloth”. Sloths were super cool. I had seen one once while watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. (That was the show we had to watch first in order to be allowed to watch the Magical World of Disney. It was a trade off: Learn, then laugh.) But this day was totally worth it cause sloths are incredibly amazing! They look like they are smiling ALL THE TIME! Like a big teddy bear. And they love hugging tree branches which means they love hugs and I love hugs so I was definitely the epitome of sloth-dom.

I tried to explain this thought process to my mother. The whole laziness = sloth = happy animal = GOD LOVES EVERYONE! That last one was always my go to response when my parents poo-pooed people. I used it if my parents didn’t like one of the neighbour kids, “but God loves everyone.”  Or I’d try this one:  Jesus even said to ‘love thy neighbour’.  I could almost hear their eyes rolling at me.  To be fair, I was trained in Commando Verbal Warfare by the best of the best: My Mother.  In the end, I was informed that God could love these people at their own houses and we could love people from afar and sloth and laziness were still bad.  I would still pat myself on the back for the good effort I had put forward.  I wouldn’t win the battle, but hoped to win the war.  Time passed.

As an adult in my partying 20s, I managed to get, maybe 3 to 4 hours of sleep a night. Not sure how I coped or functioned, but I managed to drive my car, do daily work assignments, and basically function like a normal human being. After aging and graduating into the upper echelons of adult society, thoughts of partying were put the wayside because the one thing I cherished most was once again, the nestling of my head into my down and feather pillow and watching my digital clock on weekends as it went from 6 am to 8 am to 9 am to double digits like 10 am and 11 am. Each time I checked the time I would smile, contentedly.  No guilt.  No thoughts of laziness.  I prefer to call it a luxury.  Get it while you can and enjoy it.  Snuggle yourself into your blankets and dream those happy dreams.  No need to get dressed.  No need to run around and think about errands.  It’s the best de-stresser. 

Tomorrow is Saturday.  I have no plans.  Full disclosure, I have one plan:  Sleep in and be happy.