A Very Mervin Christmas

It’s the month of October and as I wander through the mall I am asking myself: Why are there Christmas decorations already on the shelves? I was part miffed and part flabbergasted at these retail displays. This led me to think about Mervin and Melissa and I was wondering if they were still keeping the same tradition they had started over 35 years ago. Oh, it started off as a “devil may care” stunt by Merv, but it has become a legendary ritual full of joy and laughter as the tale is told and retold to family and friends.

Mervin is now in his sixties. Mervin is a mechanic. He began his career in the days when you chain smoked while you worked. Your restful, non-work hours were spent in the company of friends at the local watering hole (aka pub) after which you proceeded to drive home a little bit more inebriated than when you had entered. This was especially true in the month of December. Mervin would frequent the local shopping centre for the yearly chore of purchasing gifts for his beloved. The first two years he agonized over finding the perfect presents that would prove his undying love to his darling wife. In year three of their marriage, Mervin changed tack and thus was born a new tradition.

Circa 1982:

“Cheers Jim!” cried Merv jovially to his best friend as he raised his pint of ice cold beer. The two friends had been sitting at the pub for about two hours now and were becoming pleasantly relaxed and happy. “Time to get to the mall before it closes.”

“What are you getting Mel this year?” inquired Jim.

“I have a new game plan.” smiled Merv, conspiratorially. “You in?” he inquired of his drinking mate.

“Sure thing pal,” remarked Jim automatically, as that is what a best friend always says in return. Mervin and Jim had been best friends since they were twelve year’s old when Jim’s family had moved into the house two door’s down from Mervin’s family home.

Merv reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a set of dice. The little white cubes with the black dots were being displayed to Jim as Merv said, “Ok, so we roll the dice. First roll tells us which entrance to the mall we are going to take,” began Merv excitedly. Jim nodded.

“Then,” continued Merv, “we roll the dice again.” Merv leaned in closer to Jim. “THAT number will tell us how many stores we need to go into for gifts.”

Jim took another swig from his beer stein, wiped his mouth with the cuff of his sleeve, nodded and asked, “you rolling first or me?”

This was why Jim was his bosom buddy. Always on board with any cockamamie idea Merv had. Mervin handed him the dice.

“Cheers!” Merv hollered again. “You roll first.”

Jim folded his right hand around the dice and shook them a few times (about 12 times for good measure) then dropped them on the table. Both men leaned in. Jim had rolled a 3 on one die and and 2 on the other.

“Mmmmmhmmmm,” mumbled Merv. “We go in by the Food Court doors.” Then Merv scooped up the dice, shook them four times in his hand and dropped them on the beer stained table. Fortunately, Merv had rolled two 2s.

“Lucky us, Jim,” smirked Merv. “Only four stores to shop in.” The two men downed their last dregs of beer, paid their tab, and headed over to Mervin’s car. They drove ten minutes away to the, now-packed, shopping centre. It was December 24th after all.

After finding a parking spot, the two men headed to the Food Court entrance of the mall. As Jim was about to grab the door handle, Merv put his right hand gently on Jim’s arm and asked, “Do you have a coin on ya buddy?”

Jim checked his left front shirt pocket and then his right front shirt pocket. No coins. He dipped his right hand into his right trouser pocket, grinned a little, and pulled out a quarter. He handed it to Merv. Merv tossed the coin in the air and caught it on its way down, slapping it onto his left arm. He covered it with the palm of his right hand and said matter-of-factly: “Heads we go left. Tails we go right.” Jim nodded. Merv slowly lifted his hand for the great reveal: Tails.

Jim opened the door, bowed and gestured with his hand for Merv to go in and then merrily followed behind Merv to continue their Christmas eve adventure.

The first store on the right was a boutique full of ladies clothing. Merv picked a sweater off of the first rack he saw. He didn’t check the size. He didn’t care about the colour. He paid for it and smilingly headed out the door. One down, three to go.

Next door was a knife specialty store. Jim pointed out the very handsome Swiss Army knife in the glass cabinet. All its practical blades and tools were shiningly on display.

“Sold!” cried Mervin.

The store associate cheerily rang up the sale and the two friends were off again. Two down. Two to go.

The third store was a sporting goods store. Merv bought his beautiful wife a football in seconds flat and headed out of the store to finish off his shopping spree.

The fourth and final store was a small store full of men’s ties. Merv put his hand on Jim’s shoulder, pointed to the right hand side of the store. Jim nodded, acknowledging that he knew what his assigned task was. Merv went the left side of the store. The men met in the middle at the cash register each holding a tie. Jim’s was a sky blue with a green Christmas tree full of colourful lights and baubles on it. Merv’s was Navy with red stripes. Snazzy.

With the last of the gifts purchased, the two men were about to head back to the car when Jim noticed the sign “Gift Wrapping” above a table ahead of them. He tapped Merv on the shoulder and pointed at the sign. Merv grinned. They happily carried the gifts to the ladies at the table.

“My name is Merv and this is Jim,” said Merv, pointing his thumb at Jim. “Here is $10.00 for the wrapping. We’ll be back in an hour,” declared Merv putting a $10.00 bill on the table. With the awful gift wrapping delegated to those more qualified than he, Mervin led his best buddy to the closest pub for a celebratory drink.


Christmas day. Melissa is drinking her coffee and smiling at Mervin. There are beautifully wrapped packages under the Christmas tree. She is excited to see what gifts the love of her life has found for her.

Merv is grinning stupidly at Melissa. After finishing his coffee (with the wee dram of brandy in it) Merv points to the tree and tells her to go ahead and open her presents.

Merv almost became a single man that Christmas. After opening her festively wrapped presents, the words out of Melissa’s mouth were quite colourful. During her litany of profanity, Mervin had reached into his pant’s pocket and pulled out all the receipts for those Christmas presents. When Melissa paused to take a breath Merv took her hand and pushed the papers into it saying: “Return it all and get what you want for yourself.”

Melissa, still livid, stared at the receipts then looked back, dumbfounded, at her husband. The following week she did go back and return EVERYTHING her spouse had purchased. She spent the whole day wandering around the mall and buying exactly what she HAD wanted to receive as a Christmas gift.

It didn’t matter how upset she had been with him that Christmas day, Merv continued his new tradition every year. The next Christmas Melissa was enraged at seeing that Merv had done the same thing, knowing full well how furious she had been the previous year. The third year she realized this was never going to end. By year four, she fully accepted her fate and was now beginning to get intrigued before Christmas Day wondering what her beloved (idiot) husband would have her unwrap on December 25th.

A ladder, a power drill, shoe polish, men’s trousers, tap shoes, ice skates, lawn mower, pickled kippers, curtains, a pogo stick, and a plethora of other presents have been unwrapped by Melissa over the decades.

As I wander through the store I think about Merv and Jim. What will the dynamic duo discover this year for the unflappable Melissa? Over the years there have been some changes to the modus operandi. The pre-shopping pub visit has become a coffee shop and muffin meeting. The types of stores has changed dramatically. However, there are some things that have remained consistent. The dice are still expertly shaken. The coin is still tossed. The shopping is done on December 24th. I grin, knowing that no matter what, for Melissa, it will be a very Mervin Christmas.

Mask of Mortification

I wasn’t going to say anything about it. I wasn’t going to talk about it. I wasn’t going to write about it. And yet, here we are. I am going to talk about *hard swallowing noise* – COVID! I know, I know, we are all “Covided out” (meaning: sick and tired of hearing about, talking about, listening about Covid!) However, the reason I am writing about Covid is not really about Covid itself, but the subsequent dangerous and destructive side effects of this disease. I am specifically referring to the wearing of the PPE (personal protective equipment) a.k.a. THE MASK.

THE MASK has become the latest accoutrement and, dare I say, fashion accessory of the year. I myself have a few viable variations of said facial gear.

There is the 3 ply disposable version found in your friendly neighbourhood hospitals. They have a thin metal strip on the inside to ensure you can fold the mask to fit the shape of your nose and the cotton strings that rip right out of the mask as you try to remove this illness barrier off your ears.

hospital mask – 3 ply

There is the 2 ply cotton version with the mesh coating. I have a lovely white one which makes me a wee bit squeemish as it reminds of a pair of children’s tighty-whitey underwear. It is a softer alternative to the paper hospital mask, however, the fine fibres usually end up being inhaled into my nasal cavity thus causing excessive nose twitching or, the more egregious offence of sneezing…in public. Let the Witch Hunt begin!

2 ply mask (tighty-whitey)

There is the 1 ply stretchy version with the stitch down the middle. No metal nose clamp and easily washable and dryable. Probably not nearly as safe at blocking out the Covid as the other two, but c’est la vie!

one ply mask

No matter which mask I prefer (am forced) to wear, there is something they all have in common. Not only do I find that my breathing is impeded, but my sight immediately degenerates as well. Mind you, this incident only occurs when I find the need to exhale. (Statistically speaking, this occurs every 2 seconds as the exhale dutifully follows every inhale). With the exhalation comes a foggy mist on my eyewear thus creating the sensation of walking through a cloud and no foggy idea what’s ahead of me.

Inhale. Exhale. The fog rolls in.

When the whole “mandatory mask wearing” thing was announced I did not realize how debilitating it would be for me. Here is what my first Masked Shopping experience was like.

Me: (fitting mask on face and walking into store)

Me: *gasp* (jump up startled) as someone was standing there to greet me. How did I not see them?

Me: (attempt not to breathe so much to ensure clearer vision. Start to see stars. Grab shopping trolley for support. Back to regular inhaling and exhaling and loss of sight.)

Me: Proceed to indecorously ram shopping cart into wall adjacent to the double sliding doors of entrance. Carbon monoxide vapour issuing from my PPE had once again clouded my sight. With a harrumph of exasperation I backed up my cart, lifted my glasses to gauge direction, realigned myself with the entrance and proceeded to drive the buggy into the store. SUCCESS!

The grocery store I had just entered is a bit more upscale. We regular folk like to jest that it’s the store for the Yoga Moms. You end up feeling pretty hoity-toity buying locally grown, organic produce and hormone free carnivorous delights. So there I was with my pretentious attitude, feeling like a quinoa / kale eating diva, ready to purchase healthful foods for my family. Alas, I had the Disastrous Demolition Derby Cart as my “modus transportationus”.

I drove slowly and cautiously through the bodega, raising my glasses occasionally to ensure I was on a safe path. I felt like a Yoga Mom until I maneuvered my trolley off the beaten path and down the fruit aisle. My shopping cart hit the metal post that housed the roll of plastic bags. CLANG! The post collided into the gorgeous display of green, Granny Smith apples. I held my breath and in doing so the mist on my glasses cleared, just in time for me to witness a row of sumptuous apples begin to cascade one by one from their comfortable perch onto the recently polished floor. I lunged forward in haste and staunched the impeding avalanche of apple suicide. Two of the succulent fruits managed to escape my grasp. Those I relegated to a different section of the fruit aisle in the hopes that someone would recognize the deformity and remove them from any future customer’s grasps. Although elated at my heroic save, I continued my trek, ashamed and wary.

I procured my cruciferous vegetables with nary a knock or a bump and my confidence increased. I boldly moved forward. Me and my trusty buggy full of Yoga Mom-worthy produce. I continued along to the seasonal fruit displays. I successfully wended around the watermelon section and was maneuvering between the strawberries and peaches when I felt a sudden jolt and twinge go up my arms. OMG! Glasses up! (Honestly, I was starting to feel like I was wearing a welding helmet.) A small basket of peaches that had been casually presiding on the corner of the table tipped over when I had unceremoniously rammed my metal Cart of Chaos into the corner of the table. It was a savage end to the stone fruit. I picked up each fuzzy peach and angrily situated them all back into the basket muttering my diatribe of, “stupid mask, can’t see anything, *mutter mutter mutter*”. At this point I was grateful that I was wearing the Mask Of Misery to ensure my secret shameful identity.

Now, you would think that after two such incidents I would book it for the checkout line and get the hell out of Dodge. Not I. I was in it to win it. Blueberries…last thing on my list. Having learned my lesson, I decided to remove my specs in order to reach my final destination and avoid any further fruit genocide. With my blurry vision I arrived at the final checkpoint and slipped my peepers back on to be able to pick a pack. I snatched up the little plastic case where the blueberries resided and, naturally, the clam shell box popped open and all the little blueberries went free-falling like little purple skydivers, landing and rolling around all over the floor. A voice: “It’s ok I’ll get that cleaned up.” Fog glasses raised, me smiling sheepishly inside Mask of Mortification (again, not be seen anyway). I muttered a thanks and walked away. I was not going to chance trying to pick up the sacrifices as I envisioned our heads bumping together as we both went down. Time to get out of Dodge.

I did not see the inside of that store again for 3 months. I also learned something very valuable during that time. If you push the mask up under your eyeglasses, the fogginess stays in the mask and not on your glasses. This is a public service announcement. You’re welcome.

Inauguration to Ikea

Today was a day full of sweaty nervousness and penultimate fear. I was anxiously eyeing a plain cardboard box that I had deposited three weeks ago in my newly cleaned office. No, it wasn’t ticking, but its length of 4 feet and its width of 1 foot and its height of 3 inches was supremely intimidating. Why? I had opened it the first day I brought it home and pulled out the 10 page booklet of instructions on how to assemble my LOTE 3 drawer chest of drawers from IKEA. “Too many pieces” was my first and last thought so I left it there, lying dormant like a Jack-In-The-Box. Today I decided it was time. My very first IKEA assembly. I was ready.

NOT !!!

I know how they came up with the name of LOTE. LOT(s) of EXASPERATION = LOTE! I had hoped that my hubby, Wiseguy, would take pity on me and surprise me by doing that husbandly / manly thing of using a screwdriver to create the final masterpiece. It didn’t happen. So today I decided it was time for me to delve into the mysterious world of “building” something because it couldn’t really be that hard right?

The reason I held off for so long was that the first page showed me all the parts that had been hidden within the confines of that simple flat cardboard box. Here is the breakdown:

4 x screw # 144821

4 x screw # 105007

24 x screw # 108461

4 x screw # 107605

12 x screw # 144741

36 x ummmm…not a screw – maybe a bolt?

12 x uhhhh….hmmmm…plastic hole filler with a hole in it?

Then there were these plastic pretend edges for the drawers. A couple of metal pieces for the … frame? Sure, that’s what they were for. And so began my adventure into the vortex of humility, shame, anger, frustration, elation, exhaustion. Yes, IKEA – I Know Embarrassment Abounds.

I decided to approach this magnificent build by using my baking and cooking knowledge: Mise en place. I took out ALL the pieces and laid them out on the floor around me. I counted each screw and put them in their appropriate size grouping. The nervous tension rose as I worried it might be like a puzzle from my childhood with one piece missing. And breathe…all pieces were accounted for. Now….onto the diagrams!

The good thing about IKEA manuals is that there are no words. There are black and white pictures with arrows and an X through the screws that you aren’t supposed to use or an X to show you which way NOT to assemble the furniture. The bad news is that there are only black and white pictures with arrows and an X through the screws that you aren’t supposed to use or an X to show you which way NOT to assemble the furniture.

After the first 30 minutes I miraculously managed to build the frame. The first 10 minutes were used to uncover the magic X shaped screwdriver from the Tool Vault in Wiseguy’s workshop. No problemo after that. I planted my derriere on the floor and started the assembly process. Screw wouldn’t fit into bolt. Bolt flew out of my hands across the floor. Got a charley horse from sitting on floor. Screw flew out of my hands across the floor. Used my chin to hold frame in place while I put screw through hole. Used my thighs to hold everything together. Screw was not fitting into bolt. Bolt fell out, screw fell to floor. Screwdriver clanked to floor. This is what building IKEA items must be like.

Then my mind started to wander as it is wont to do when trying to acclimatize itself to a new and unyieldingly unsatisfying situation.

My brain: Forget the old days of making license plates while incarcerated. Inmates should be made to assemble IKEA furniture. That would create a significant decrease in crime.

EXAMPLE: Convicted serial killer. Judge passes sentencing: “Killer of multiple people, you have been tried by a jury of your peers and sentenced to life in prison without parole. You will be spending each day of your life assembling LOTE 3 drawer chests.

CSK: *cries of woe and sorrow* – NOOOOOOOOOOO!

(Somewhere in little Italy – Mafia meeting): Big Joe: “Dats right! Ya hurd me! No more murderin’! I ain’t goona hafta build no Aj-kija (translation IKEA) F-in furniture!”

My brain: *at Ikea University* – Professor to student: “Congratulations Sigge (means ‘one who is always victorious’) Bilderson (means ‘one who is son of a builder’…ok I made that up). I present you with your diploma for having successfully completed your Masters Degree in Frustration Free Assemblage and Visionary Building of Ikea Furniture. *loud cheers and raucous noise of approval*

My brain: what the F was I thinking! No wait…I can do this! I am a full grown smart adult woman with extensive life experience. I have created exotic meals in my wonderfully exotic kitchen full of Subzero Wolf appliances…you can do this!!!

My leg: Ow….cramp cramp cramp cramp! (yes, my leg has a voice … doesn’t yours?)

Time lapse: One hour and 32 minutes later

I DID IT! Yes I did! Whoot whoot whoot!!!

My pampered computer finger tips were swollen and throbbing from holding the bolt while I twisted all the screws in. My legs were numb from trying to find a comfortable position on the parquet floor. My brain was attempting to process the fact that I had, indeed, completed the designated task. All was well. A job well done.

It wasn’t until I put the drawers into their allocated positions that the red alert sounded in my brain. I had misinterpreted one of the simple black and white diagrams and had screwed the metal slider on the drawer incorrectly. Was I shocked? No. Was I disappointed. Absolutely! It’s like running a 10 km marathon and getting to 9.5 km thinking you won and realizing…nope….not done yet! Unscrew. Move piece. Rescrew (yup, that is now a word). AND…DONE!

I would’ve celebrated with a funky boo-yah type dance, but my left leg was numb and there was a weird twitch in my right ankle. I managed to erect myself without falling over and considered that a win. I pushed away from Frankenstein / Ikea 3-drawer pet project. No pride of ownership. No pat on the back for a job well done. It was more of an acknowledgement of defeat. IKEA…you have won…THIS TIME!

I will stick to amusing myself with children’s colouring books. I will prepare fancy meals for my family. I might even mow the lawn. With my white flag waving proudly in the wind, I solemnly swear that I will no longer attempt to purchase and/or assemble IKEA furniture. I will leave the screwdriver and hex key (yeah…hex…meaning ‘cast a spell’… see I knew IKEA had an evil streak) to the men and women and adventurous children who would love to spend hours playing with the puzzle pieces of adversity that is IKEA furniture.

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?


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?


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.