Wednesday, April 29, 2020

choking in public during a pandemic

Yes, that was me walking up a hill, chatting on the phone, took a big breath, and in flew an insect. Had it gone down my throat, I would have swallowed it, but it went down what I as a child called my other throat. En route to my lungs, not my stomach. I excused myself on the phone, said I had to cough, held the phone away.

But there was no hiding that I had to cough and cough and COUGH. I gasped that I would call back. I needed to find water to drink.

Not easy to find water with stores, restaurants, cafés, water coolers, public washrooms closed, but I was lucky because there was a pharmacy a few doors away. I could not stop coughing, but I managed to get my mask hooked over my ears which is always tricky since I wear glasses. 

I stepped inside and the woman who was screening clients looked alarmed and waved for me to leave. Over my gasping and coughing I managed to shriek that I wasn't coughing, I had swallowed an insect and needed something to drink. She informed me that they did not hand out glasses of water, I would have to buy what I wanted. Yes! I coughed. Yes! Let me buy water!

But she couldn't let me in until I had answered whether or not I'd been tested, whether I'd been in contact with anyone who had the virus, whether I was coughing--other than when I swallowed insects--whether I had travelled anywhere in the past two weeks. Has anyone been allowed to travel anywhere in the past two weeks?????

I had my elbow clamped over my mask, trying to keep my lungs in my chest. I have a very aggressive rejection-of-insects mechanism. (I know this from when I breathe in insects while I'm cycling.) My face--what you could see over the mask--was red. Guaranteed. I had projectile splashes of tears on my glasses. She reminded me to use the hand-sanitizer to my right and observe 2 metres social distancing.

Where's the--cough! cough!--water? Straight ahead.

I grabbed a bottle and sputter-coughed my way to the cash, both elbows over my mask. The woman paying for an item wheeled around, eyes horrified over her mask. Over my coughing I tried to explain that I'd swallowed an insect. Oh! I should drink something, she said as she hurried away.

When I told R the story in the evening, he asked why I didn't just open the bottle and drink. Why didn't I?

The cashier wore a mask, face shield, and gloves, and was behind a protective barrier. A man in his 40s. He stepped away from his cash, unsure how close he wanted to be to me. Again, I gasped that I'd swallowed an insect. I wasn't coughing, I was choking.

The whole while that this was happening, I was thinking that if I were faced with someone coughing as badly as I was, I would probably have kept my distance too. These are times when you just don't want to hear coughing. 

Except now I was choking. I could feel more than my lungs heaving. I might even throw up. I couldn't wait for the cashier to overcome his qualms, however reasonable. I staggered from the store, ripped off my mask, and drank. I felt and looked like I'd been half-strangled. Face purple, tears streaming, breath wavery. I'd hidden inside a recessed doorway beside the pharmacy. I was trying to calm down. Breathe normally again. 

From the angle where I stood, I saw the cashier step out of the pharmacy, still wearing mask, gloves, and face shield. He looked up the street and down the street. Where was that crazy woman who had run off with a bottle of water and her unlikely excuse about having swallowed an insect? Hands on his hips. The posture equivalent of a what-is-this-world-coming-to tut. I wondered that he was so earnest about his duties over a possible loss of 99 cents. 

I decided to let him stew for a few more moments in indignation. I waited till he'd given up scanning the street and put on my mask again. The woman who was screening people recognized me--or the empty bottle I held up. Oh yeah, she said, he wondered where you went.

I returned to the cash. Here I am, I said. Do you want me to pay? 


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

dipping candles

I spend a lot of time at home because that's where I work, but now I'm spending more time at home, slowly even getting around to some projects that I once planned and never…

I have blocks of beeswax that are at least 25 years old. I have a roll of wicking left from the one time I made candles. I still have the tomato juice can I must have bought for its candle-dipping height, because I don't drink tomato juice. I don't dislike it, but I wouldn't put it on my desert island list. Or crave it during a pandemic.

I even have the old computer box to hang the skewers tied with the wicks. The candles need to hang between dips.

Memories. That was my first laptop, a Gateway, that I took with me to the Banff Writing Studio in 2007. So it was probably around then that I last made candles.

What I remembered about candle-making: beeswax is highly flammable. The can of wax shouldn't be put directly on the stove but in a hot water bath.

What I forgot: how LONG it takes a tomato-juice can of wax to melt. Almost 2 hours? And because it's so flammable, I couldn't leave it unattended. By the time I could begin dipping, the idea that this would be relaxing had dissipated.

Dipping takes a while too. Layers of melted wax need to accumulate before you have a candle. The repeated motion of dipping the wick into the wax, up and over to the box to hang to dry, next skewer up and over into the wax--all the time working carefully because you're doing this at the stove and wax is flammable--can give you tennis wrist and elbow and shoulder.

I stopped when the level of the wax got too low for continued dipping. I put the box aside for more dipping another one of these at-home days.

Since I didn't have any wax dye at home, I dropped a couple of oil pastels into the remaining wax to see if they would dissolve. They did! Part of being at home is figuring out what will make do.

I poured that wax into greased milk carton bottoms.

I won't wait 25 years to finish the candles. I can't. The box is on the floor in the way.

The best part was the fragrance of the melting wax and how the wax turned the colour of honey as it liquified.

And how lovely the candles will smell when they're burning.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

No, this is not what being retired is like

I was standing outside a grocery store 2 m away from a couple in their late 30s. Though you might think that at that distance I wouldn't overhear an intimate conversation, they were speaking loudly enough. Their sense of the space around them was quite large. She was cajoling him to stop complaining about feeling depressed because he had nothing to do. He said that if this was what retirement was like, he was going to work forever.

I thought, good. I sometimes wonder how much of a burden the disproportionately large number of ageing baby boomers will place on those still in the workforce. We need work-automatons like this.

But I also thought, no, this is not what retirement is like.

Personal footnote: I'm retired from what used to be my paid job where I had to present myself at a certain hour and stay there for a specified period and do tasks five days a week. Now that I've retired from that job, I'm even more busy as a writer--but I write at home and I follow my own schedule. I can work in my comfortable office, at the kitchen table, in bed, even outside when the weather allows. I still work but not everyone understands that kind of work. I don't think this couple in the grocery store lineup would. It's easier to say I'm retired.

So, yeah, retired. When you're retired, you have your days free to see friends, have people over for supper, take a course or a workshop, learn a new language, a musical instrument, walk through a museum, brew kombucha, see a play, try on shoes at Winners, read stories to kids at a library. (Some of which we can't do now.) It depends on what you want to do and what your interests are. It's a good idea to think about that time in your life before it comes.

I hope this couple develop some interests before then--because she, too, admitted she was depressed because she had nothing to do. Nothing nothing NOTHING. Kicking ground with toe of shoe.

A single shopper left the store and these two made to meander inside but they were told only one person please, and it turned out they couldn't because they didn't know what they needed, what they wanted, why they were there.

The pink flower is the first to bloom against our back wall. I don't know what it's called. It made its way under the neighbour's fence and under paving stones to come up in a sunny patch. How did it know there would be a sunny patch at that distance--which was larger than 2 m?

Monday, April 6, 2020

fiction / real life / Canada Malting

In 2016 I published a novel called Five Roses. I set certain plot developments in what I imagined as a guard tower or watchman's cabin atop the abandoned Canada Malting complex on the Lachine Canal.

Not so long ago I was out for a walk. Given the times, given that we are keeping our distance, given that more people than ever are strolling along my usual routes by the river and other green spots in the city, I've been tromping along backstreets, down alleys, through what others might call the uglier parts of town. Which is fine because I like the patina of rust and decay of post-industrial settings.

These are times, too, when if we venture out, we should be taking the less-travelled road. (Nod to Robert Frost.)

What a surprise to see Canada Malting from a distance--and my old cabin gussied up as if someone had set up house high atop the city. Including what looks like a window box with plastic flowers in a glassless window.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Living in strange times / 2020 March, April, May...?

If you want to know what I'm thinking, let me refer you to Shawna Lemay who says it so well and precisely in this piece called "And Yes"

I would add that I'm stepping out the back door a lot to watch the progress of the rhubarb pushing up through the slowly melting ice, past last year's dead leaves, rooting for the sun.