Los Angeles 101


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When my husband phoned from work to tell me his company had asked us to relocate to Los Angeles, I was excited by the idea of a big adventure and consistently warm weather. And I was horrified at the prospect of leaving our family and friends. I was also completely terrified about earthquakes, guns (I am Canadian!) and Lindsay Lohan. And my husband wasn’t exactly selling it when he told me I would have to take a road test to be allowed to drive there.

It was a big, angst-ridden process but we decided to embrace the adventure.

It has been two months since that phone call and I’ve now been to Los Angeles four times (very briefly) to try to find a place to live.

Here is what I know so far:

  1. The traffic is outrageous. Toronto has a traffic problem (mostly construction related) but Los Angeles has taken traffic to a whole new level and made it a way of life. This is why (I think) they seem to be constantly texting/eating/hair-dressing/doing yoga while driving – when else would they do it???
  2. Continue reading

Dark Cloud


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Dark Cloud slumped into my office before I had a chance to pick up the phone and fake a call. She flopped into a chair, looked at me with her signature doughy pout, and sighed.

I knew how this worked. I lived it at least once a week.

Dark Cloud would invade my office and huff. I was supposed to ask what was wrong. And then she would tell me.

She was either annoyed, frustrated, irked or offended. At everyone. Most often because someone had asked her to actually do her job. The conversations were more airing of grievances than discussions.

When she’d had her fill of belly-aching, she would slow-stomp past the terrified assistants and slam her door.

Later in the day, she would send some passive aggressive emails and make accusatory comments about who had eaten the last cookie (yes, it was usually me).

On the days when she didn’t bother me directly, she still managed to cause trouble, sowing misery in the office by ruling the supply cupboard with a tight iron fist or demanding excruciating detail for the smallest petty cash request.

I couldn’t fire her. I couldn’t even get her out of my office.

But that day, I refused to be manipulated into speaking.

I sat silent. It was a standoff. It was petty and childish and far from crack leadership but I’d had it. She was too much work.

She huffed again.

I cocked my head and widened my eyes, cursing my body for betraying me by wordlessly catering to her brattiness.

“I’m in love,” she breathed. “SOOOO in love.”

“Well, that’s great,” I answered. I was surprised. An electric eel would be easier to love. “Um, congratulations?”

Why was she telling me this? Why couldn’t she just get out of my office?

I was sort of amazed, and sort of revolted like that time when KFC announced that insane sandwich.

double down bacon and chicken

“I met him online. We both enjoy swimming. It is so intense!”

Kill me now!

I admit I was thinking of setting a small fire to escape as she droned on about how they both despised their stupid co-workers but loved cats and how she needed to be where he was. Out west. ‘In love’ Dark Cloud was just as awful as ‘Bitter and Hostile Dark Cloud’.

“So I have to quit,” she finally said, in a sorrowful apologetic voice.

It was time to listen properly!

“I know it’ll be tough without me but I have to do this,” she said.

I bit the inside of my cheek to clamp down the joy. “Well, if you’re sure…”

The Dark Cloud was on the horizon and headed away.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/writing-101-day-twelve/

The Wild Life – Part II – Even Wilder Wild Things

The hanging flower baskets on the deck outside our bedroom looked like they had been attacked, insulted and then run over.

What could have done such a thing?

It was a mystery we intended to solve. We decided to re-hang what was left of the bedraggled plants and sleep with the curtains open to keep an eye on things.

After just one night we knew that our baskets were victims of raccoons. Our deck was their playground and the hanging plants were the swings. Our next-door-neighbour’s deck was their toilet so we were luckier than they were but it was annoying and noisy.

We tried to make the baskets less entertaining by tying them to their hooks with wires (to keep them hanging no matter what) and even oiled the plastic rods and pots to make them impossible to grip but it seemed like that just made it more fun. The whoops and thumps of raccoon joy continued.

I thought we should give up on the baskets – take them down and move on. My husband, Michael, was not pleased with this strategy but agreed.

The raccoons may have been bored without their swing but they continued to enjoy our deck.

At first we thought they were wrestling which was kind of cute. But it wasn’t just wrestling and it wasn’t cute at all. They were having obnoxiously loud raccoon sex*. On our chaises.

We joked that we’d somehow built a raccoon ‘Lido Deck’ but it wasn’t that funny. That deck was supposed to be for our enjoyment not hard-core rodent raunch.

Ew.

“That just isn’t right!”


“Seriously. It’s our deck,” Michael told me with a crazed glint in his eye after a particularly bad night.

I had no answer. They were getting to us both.

“They hate fresh mint,” my mother told me. “And mothballs. You should cover your deck in mint and mothballs.”

Despite the mediocre results of my last attempt at pest control with seasoning, I was willing to try the mint. But not the mothballs. I didn’t want a deck that smelled like an old person’s closet. I went out early in the day and jammed mint sprigs into all the cracks.

It didn’t work.

I came home late one evening to a silent house. I called out but there was no answer even though Michael’s shoes were at the door.

On the second floor the blue light of the television flickered and glowed on mute but he wasn’t there. I called out again. I was getting a little worried.

I went up to the third floor and there he was, my husband, crouched low to the ground with his face pressed to the screen door, a garden hose in one hand poking out between the doors. He turned to me and mouthed ‘Hi!’ He blew me half-assed kiss then did the finger to the lip motion, and turned back to the deck.

“How long have you been like that?” I asked, trying not to sound alarmed.

“I don’t know but I’ve given them some major soakers,” he whisper-giggled, staring into the night. A wet raccoon glared back from just out of range. Michael tugged at the hose but it only reached the door and the raccoon knew it.

Michael shook his head and pushed himself off the floor. He handed me the hose and walked to the bathroom. “They’re smart! I’ll give them that.”

He was back a moment later with a tall glass of water. He pulled the screen doors apart very slowly. The raccoon on the railing tensed but didn’t move. Suddenly, Michael lunged and emptied the glass at the raccoon then jumped back in and slammed the doors together, laughing like a madman.

I was married to Elmer Fudd!

“We need to call someone,” I told him. “This has to stop.”

“Why?” he asked, still watching the deck.

“Well, because this just isn’t normal. This isn’t good, you know? Lying here in the dark. With the hose and everything. It’s weird. I think we need professional help.”


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A great pest control professional isn’t cheap but they are worth it.** Our professional help (aka our hero) told us that the raccoons were living under the deck in the space between the wood slats and the roof. If we closed that off, there would be no problem. We were in. He cleared them out and chicken-wired the gap between the deck and the roof. When he was done, I went out and stuffed mint into every crevice for good measure.

The raccoons were outraged at first but after a few nights, they gave up and an uneasy truce developed. They didn’t go far – we would see them scurrying along our fence, or watching from the tree while Michael barbequed, and occasionally they would walk right up to the back door and bang on the glass in a menacing way – but the deck was ours again.

Mostly.

We were sure that our little man versus nature scuffles were behind us and that we had won. We were blissfully unaware that there was more nature lurking nearby – a creature so hideous that it would scare its own mother. But that is a story for another day.

* I do not know what ‘normal’ sounds like when it comes to raccoon sex but the volume seemed a bit over the top, like they were trying to make a point.

** This post (and Part I) was inspired by a post by Ethan Yarbrough that reminded me of how grateful we were (and still are!) to the ‘raccoon relocation experts’ we hired. http://ethanyarbroughwrites.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/truths/

Our first daughter and her buddy almost two years after this story.

Our first daughter and her buddy two years later.

Photo credit for ‘Isaac/Love Boat’ picture: Shavar Ross / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Wild Life – Part 1

When we bought our house in downtown Toronto, the wild-life I envisioned had more to do with the early throes of romantic love and the total freedom of my life at the time than the creatures that live nearby. I certainly never thought about animals.

We were thrilled to have our house – excited to the point of being keen to do yard work. As soon as the weather was nice enough, we hit the nursery to buy pretty things for our garden.

Our yard is tiny (average living room size) so once we had flowers, making it beautiful did not take long. I had been warned by my mother, an avid gardener and something of a squirrel specialist, that squirrels can be a threat to plants and added a healthy dose of bone meal to the soil to deter them.

Within hours, my husband and I were relaxing in a flowery paradise, toasting each other with wine, extremely pleased with ourselves.

I now realize that the squirrels were most likely watching and licking their twitchy little lips because the next morning, we discovered that they had feasted like, well, animals, on our gorgeous display.

I called my mother.

She suggested that we try again but make our flowers less delicious. She told me to sprinkle cayenne pepper all over the new plants and that once the puffy-tailed rats got a fiery taste of what we were serving, word would spread and our garden would be safe.

We returned to the nursery, bought new plants for the yard, and added a couple of nice hanging baskets for the deck outside our bedroom.

Ever so slightly less cheerfully than the day before, we planted our plants and hung our baskets. Again, we celebrated with cocktails and enjoyed the evening in our yard.

I was brushing my teeth when I remembered about the cayenne.

I ran downstairs, grabbed the spice and went outside.

It was dark but I could see well enough as I liberally seasoned the flowers. It took the whole bag but it was worth it.

I went to bed confident that my garden was safe.

Other than an obnoxious squeal outside our window (that in hindsight sounded a lot like ‘WoooooHoooooo!’), that stirred us briefly, we slept like logs.

The next morning, we opened the drapes, ready to admire our pretty hanging baskets but found them scattered on the deck, crushed petals and dirt sprinkled all around like they had been attacked.

“How did that happen?” we asked each other.

We walked out – picking our way around the plant destruction – and looked over the railing of our balcony to check on our yard two storeys below. We were pleased to see that our plants were still there.

That was when we noticed the smell.

“Wow!” said my husband. “Someone is cooking up a feast and it’s making me hungry. Let’s go for brunch and deal with this mess later.”

As we went downstairs, the cooking odour got stronger.

Curry.

A lot of curry.

Then curry overload.

I went to the spice drawer and opened it. A bag of Cayenne sat on top. Missing was the very similar looking bag of Curry Powder.


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I had dumped the entire bag in our yard.

As it turned out, we could smell our house from three blocks away. But, as it also turned out: squirrels do not enjoy curry (at least not in massive quantities). Our garden was temporarily protected.

The smell lasted about four days and our plants survived a little longer than that.

I called it a draw.

I didn’t know that this was just the beginning – that nature was at our doorstep, in our garden, and on our deck and that it would drive us to near madness. I had no idea that we would soon find out what had destroyed our hanging baskets. Or that I would eventually know more than I could ever hope to forget about raccoons and their love lives, or that I would learn the difference between a Shanghai King Rat and a Possum.

All I knew then was that we were out of curry.

A love story

He sauntered, uninvited, through an open screen door, into my cheap student apartment. He walked right over to where I was sprawled on a too-small sofa, watching TV, and hopped on top of me.

“Aaaah!” I shrieked. “What are you? Get off of me!”

The intruder looked sort of, but not really, like a cat.

He was black and white with a long bony body and a huge head. His face was mostly black, with just a little white on the chin and forehead. He had enormous yellow eyes, a crooked nose that rattled when he breathed, and long white hairs that sprung from his eyebrows.

As I tried to get him off of me, he just seemed to hug (yes, hug) me tighter.

He looked hungry so I carried him to the kitchen and got him some food and water.

He watched me constantly and seemed pathetically grateful for the kindness. I petted him and he purred like a chainsaw.

“What IS that?” asked my roommate, all red-eyed and confused when he got home.

“I think it’s a cat,” I told him. “A really huge, weird-looking cat.”

After an hour or two, the cat-creature left through the same open screen door and disappeared for the night.

We saw each other again the next day when I went upstairs to have coffee with my neighbour. There he was. Curled up in the hall like a great big furry lump. He leapt to his feet and rushed to greet me, acting like a dog, and jumped into my arms, trusting I would catch him. I did.

I didn’t want a cat. I already had one (another stray) who was about as snuggly as a goldfish and was barely around except for food and vet visits which were killing me financially.

In that moment I understood how strange it must be for pets to be chosen and instantly loved by their people because I had just been chosen. I was his.

My neighbour, who was a photographer, had already decided he should be called Ilford, after the black and white film.

I held Ilford the whole visit and when I left, he followed me back to my apartment downstairs where I got him more food.

I took a walk in the neighbourhood, Ilford following alongside and behind, leaping through gardens, showing off his cat moves as he attacked plants and shrubs. I looked for ‘Lost Cat’ signs about Ilford. There were none. Given how thin and needy he seemed, I wasn’t surprised. We walked home and when we got there, I held the door open for him.

I had a new cat.

“What an unusually, uh, striking creature,” said the vet on our first visit as I beamed with pride much as I would almost twenty years later about my children. Ilford measured 3 feet from nose to tail. Really large. The vet estimated that he was about four years old.

Regular food and proper care put flesh on his extended frame and it wasn’t long before Ilford started to look more like a cat, and eventually, a chubby cat. People would sometimes still ask what he was but not often.

My life was already full of love (family and friends) and I’d had my share of infatuations, but Ilford was my first experience with being on the giving end of totally unconditional love. He changed me.

He wasn’t typically lovable. Not traditionally good-looking – you would never see him on a pack of toilet paper – and he was no great shakes at personal hygiene (I was probably making excuses but I blamed the jerk who had abandoned him). He rarely even bothered to cover his soiled kitty litter, just scratching his feet in a half-hearted way that reminded me of people who fake-wash their hands, and he snored like a grizzly bear but I adored him.

I would walk in the door and he would jump into my arms, or, if he was outside playing, would recognize my step and come running, his furry strange face filled with joy.

He would bring me revolting gifts of headless pigeons or live tiny mice that he would spit out at my feet. I was always flattered as well as horrified. I got him a bell for his neck to stop the gift-giving but couldn’t help feeling proud when he would catch something anyway.

I would be sick with worry if he took too long to come home at night, or worse, didn’t come home until morning.

We were together, and madly in love for more than ten years until he passed away. That was nine years ago and I now have three small human creatures of my own (that can also be incredibly gross and charming) who I love overwhelmingly and unconditionally.

But I still miss Ilford.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/great-expectations/

The road to hell…

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions but  I can tell you that it is actually paved with asphalt and good intentions and the occasional unfortunate squirrel.

I know because I went there today.

Hell(lite) is the drive test centre in Etobicoke where I had to go to take my ‘G’ road test.

It is at the end of an ugly strip mall in an ugly, industrial corner of suburbia and, as predicted by AC/DC, I had to take a highway to get there.

I pulled into ‘hell’ a few minutes early and spent these extra minutes straightening my vehicle perfectly in its space (I had come in slightly diagonal and didn’t want to risk a poor first impression).


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Then I went inside where I handed over my paperwork to a surprisingly friendly lady and told her I was ready to be judged.

Daylight doesn’t make it all the way into the test centre office and the low t-bar ceiling and florescent lighting don’t do much to brighten the space up. The humiliation of those who have tried and failed to pass the many levels of driver certification floats in the dusty air. Tears have stained the threadbare greige carpet, and I could hear the faintest echo of anguished howls of teens who still require adult supervision on the road. The folks that work there seem quite pleasant, but the place is gray and tinged with despair.

But I may have been projecting…..

I’d been preparing for this day for weeks, years really.

It was time.

I was sent back to my car to wait.

As I waited I thought through what I had read about the ‘G’ test online:

  • According to some guy on the internet who sounds like he knows, I should PRAY not to get a yellow light – that is an automatic fail because apparently, there is nothing you can do that is right when that happens (while this seems like questionable internet advice, along the lines of when I became convinced that my last cold was actually malaria, I had taken it to heart and was really hoping not to get a yellow). I am not a religious woman so instead of praying, I tried to sort of spiritually wish for no yellow.
  • Remember to use the parking brake on the roadside stop. OR FAIL.
  • Make dramatic head movements to demonstrate mirror and shoulder checks – I have been practicing this all week and my children have noticed and commented. They think it is weird and that is saying a lot coming from a seven and four year old. Anyway, it is always better to look like a weirdo than to fail.
  • Stay in the right hand lane NO MATTER WHAT! OR FAIL.
  • Plus all the stuff that was actually in the handbook.

It seemed like forever but was about ten minutes before my test guy came to the car.

The test passed in a blur (within the speed limit of course) and I did get a yellow but, fortunately, contrary to the dire internet predictions, I was not ‘totally screwed’. I also curbed it on my parallel park (just a kiss really) but other than that, the test went well and I passed.

I passed!!

“See you when you’re eighty!” my favourite driving tester in the world said, congratulating me on becoming a fully legal driver.

I am dreading it already.