Saturday, 20 June 2015

One Great Father!

The family on the Winnipeg River.   Once upon a time.

Hello.  Been a long time since my last post.  Lots of water under the bridge.  Lots of changes.

I wondered sometimes if I would ever write another post.  And besides this one, maybe I won't.  But there is something that before the last half dozen Father's Days, I promise myself I will write and post.  And, for the last half dozen Father's Days, I don't. 

Truth be told, this is not the first time I have related some of this story.  That time was at my father's funeral.  But I thought it could benefit from being written, as the reader will not have to decipher it through my blubbering, as those at the funeral did.  So anyways, here it.  This is for you, dad.

My dad and Young Master Emmett

"It's really great to see you too."  As far as my memory serves me, those were the last words my dad ever spoke to me.  One could do worse, I am sure.  They also took a heck of an effort to say.  The cancerous tumour in his brain was working hard.  Stealing his thoughts.  Stealing his words.  Stealing his life.

Glioblastoma it was called.  Why you get it?  They dunno.  But if you do?  That’s it.  The only question is “how much time?”  With my dad?  Not much.  From the day I heard my mother’s voice on the phone from Winnipeg expressing concern at my father’s odd behavior, to his hospitalization, my move back from Ottawa, his move to a long term care centre and then his passing away, it was only months.  Spring to late fall.

The words were spoken in the common room at the Tuxedo Villa long term care centre.  Just after the (now) ex wife and I and Gabe and Emmett had completed the move back to Winnipeg.   The boys, just four and one and a half, were running around like maniacs, oblivious.  I can still remember feeling this overwhelming stew of emotions when I saw him, already wheelchair bound, extremely limited in his movements.  Grief. Sorrow.  And so much love.  And I told him what I felt.  Which was “It’s really great to see you, dad.”

God, I loved my dad.  To echo my brother Greg’s words at the funeral, he is the greatest man I have ever known.  A constant calming presence.  A moral compass.  An unimpeachable role model.  And always his children’s biggest supporter and biggest fan.  Which I guess is where this story really begins.  Because, I will tell you, one of his kids really, really, needed that.

I have been a graduate of law school for almost 15 years now.  In those 15 years, I have gotten to do (at least in my mind) some incredibly interesting work, been able to travel, and been able to support a family.  Pretty amazing, really.  Sometimes it seems hard to believe what things were like for me before I got in to law school.  But I remember, oh I remember.

1995.  I have now hit the wrong side of my twenties.  A little more than two thirds of an abandoned Arts university degree in the bag.  Unemployed.  I am sitting in some Employment Insurance counselor’s cubicle.  My dream of being part of the blue box recycling industry in Winnipeg was shattered months before when the private company I worked for didn’t win the tender.  I have brilliantly decided to salve my disappointment in being laid off by staying on EI as long as possible, as it pays me 55% of what had been a pretty crappy wage, and as sitting home all day erodes my self-confidence. 

Recycling tragedy!

She had given me some survey or something to fill out, and we were reviewing my answers.  While I can’t remember the specifics, I can remember this vibe coming off of her.  Like she was trying to appear positive, but you could see that what she was thinking was  “uh oh…this dude is in trouble…. he very well might stink at everything.”

But I eventually found work!  In a warehouse.  Unloading 100 pound boxes of siding from a semi-trailer and stocking them.  And then taking those 100 pound boxes and loading them on to contractor’s trucks.  At least until it snowed, then... I was out. 

I can remember so clearly looking at these older contractors and installers and thinking “I am going to be their age.  Soon!  What the fuck am I going to do for the rest of my life!? Am I going to be here when I am forty? I don’t know how to do anything else!  And I am not even particularly good at this!”

At this point, you might be wondering where my father comes in to the story.  Well, here it is!  At the same time as this was going on, I am going to the parents every Sunday for dinner.  And my dad keeps kind of pestering me to consider going to law school.  Because he thinks I would be good at it. Each time he does, I think to myself, “Law school?  Ummmm…Dad?  That’s for people with their shit together.  Not for fuck-ups like me.” 

But I can’t say that to him.  I have to come up with an excuse for why it’s not a good idea.  And I am pretty sure he is not going to buy “I think I want to give this siding humping a real go!"  

So instead I try for the practical: “Uh, I think you need to get a degree first, so no point.”

“Well, why don’t you just find out what the requirements are to get in?”  And I do it, hoping that once I confirm, if it will get him off my back.  Oops.  Crap.  At the University of Manitoba, you only need two full years of an Art degree to apply to law school.  Which I have.  But…aha!  The LSAT! The uniform test to apply to law school!  It costs money!  Like $100!  Perfect excuse!  (If you are cringing at what a fucking dolt/loser I was, don’t feel bad.  I cringe every time I think of it.)

Anyways: “Sorry dad, you gotta write this test.  And it costs too much money.  Oh, well.”

“I’ll pay.” He tells me.

“Uhhhh…well you need these tutorial books with practice tests too, and they are pretty pricey.”

“Ok, I’ll pay for that too.  What’s the total?”

Crud.  He had me.  I was trapped.  Fine.  I will write the stupid test.  I will do crappy and then we can stop this farce.

So I signed up for it.  And I read the prep books.  And I went through the practice tests.  And then I wrote the test.  And I did crazy well.  (Whuuuut? Is it possible that I am not a fuck up?)  And I applied to law school.  And I got in. (Whuuut??)  And I got some student loans and I went.  And I liked it. And didn’t seem out of place. In fact, seemed good at it.  And it was like a ball rolling down a hill. I graduated with good marks, won some awards. Finished my Arts degree while I was attending law school.  Got a job with the exact firm I wanted, working in exactly the area of law I wanted.  Then got to move to Ottawa and write income tax law.  Then got to join one of the big four accounting firms.  Then got to join CRA – exactly where I want to be, doing exactly what I want to.  Like I said…amazing.

Holy cow! JJ graduated from something!

But it all started because, even when I was ready to give up on myself, had pretty much already given up on myself, my father refused to.  He refused to stop believing in me.  And it’s because he wouldn't... that I have the life I do today.

So although the words can’t really cover it, I will say thank you, dad.  And I love you so much. Still.  Forever.

Happy Father’s Day.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

I'm Back, Baby!


OMG! It's been so long since I have posted!  Right?  Changes undocumented!  Feelings lost in the ether! So what to write about?  Well, how about....Rainbow Stage?  You know, Rainbow Stage:

What the frick?

No! That's a Rainbow Stag Beetle!  I don't wanna talk about that!  What do I know from beetles?  I am not an endocrinologist! Rainbow Stage!:

Trippy ceiling thingy, right!?

Saturday, 15 June 2013

For Father's Day Weekend... A Story About My Pop!

Here comes the train!

Well hello!  I'm back!  With a story!  A happy story.  For once, right? Ha.  Gotta mix it up, right? Right.

So! The year?  Maybe 1994-ish?  I was working for a place called "Plan-it Recycling".  It's a play on words.  Plan-it - planet.  Like as in Earth.  Get it?  What did Plan-it do?  Well, back in those olden days, Winnipeg had no municipal recycling service.  You want your refuse recycled instead of land-filled?  You gotta take it to a drop off place or hire somebody to come by and pick it up every week.  Which is what we did.  We had the blue boxes.  And six days a week, we had trucks out there driving routes picking up recyclables.  JJ?  He worked the evening shift.  The evening shift was responsible for making sure all the recyclable were put into these big semi trailers, making sure that the trucks were ready for the day drivers and making everything spic and span.  And one more thing.  Every day, there would be boxes that were missed.  Either because they were put out after the driver went by, or it was a new driver who didn't know where the box was and zoomed past or some other reason.   Most people were ok to wait until the next week.  But not everybody.  Some of them would and say "You better come get my recyclables!"  And we would! Can't let them be unhappy and quit and go to Red Box!  Or Green Box!  Competition was tight!

Then the city decided it would, after all, get into the recycling biz.  So they put the contract out to bid.  And Plan-It didn't get it.  And we were sad.  See?

Woe is us.  And our plaid shorts...ok, JJ's plaid shorts...

My dad...was a bit of pack rat.  And...a bit of a garbage picker.  Like, nothing crazy.  I don't think he would have made it to an episode of "Hoarders" or anything.  He just had a tendency to...collect stuff...and never get rid of it.  And he could not walk down the back lane behind our house without scanning for goodies.  Perfectly good things that somebody has inexplicably thrown away.  I can remember at least one garden hose that was good as new with some duct tape.  And the family homestead kind of had a lot of places where you could just put crap, and then forget it, without it getting in your way.  Under the front porch, in the back porch, under the back porch, in one of the corners of the roughly one-third-finished basement.  

The signature "get" in my dad's collection, had to be this air conditioner that he found in the lane.  It must have been from, like, the 1950's maybe?  It was massive. I don't even think it would fit in a window.  And probably weighed 200 pounds. But he had big plans to get it running and cooling that house.  My brother and I finally got rid of it when we cleaning the house out to sell it.  

Ahhhh...there she is.  The old homestead, circa summer of 2007
That's E-man in my arms and G-man's head at the front...good times...

Eventually Plan-It bought their own trucks.  Specially designed to pick up and sort your recyclables!  But not at first.  At first?  We drove these babies. Cube vans.  Sweet, right?  Bucket seats.  Automatic transmission.  AM Radio.

Did the company own them? Nope.  It rented them.  First from Budget.  Then, from Ryder.  I have to doubt how much money was actually made by either of those companies from renting trucks to Plan-It.  I don't think any of their invoices were paid until they threatened to repossess the trucks, and the beating those trucks took...the worst was when you had to go pick up or drop off a truck at the rental company.  The bad vibe was palpable.  "You fucker".  And it was like: "C'mon man! I don't pay the bills!  I just drive the truck! Now, gimme anther one so we can trash it too."

                                                                        Beep Beep! Hey, got any recyclables!?

When I was a kid, my parents decided to put siding on the house.  It was brick, and very nice, but I think it was in such a state of disrepair that it would be too pricey to fix.  So they decided on siding.  And they hired some company to do it.  And I remember there was some convoluted incident where maybe they left the siding at the house overnight and somebody came and stole a bunch of it and so they had to get another kind but there was some of the old stuff left over...? Or something?  Anyways, the result was that the house was sided with vinyl siding, but there was a bunch of aluminum siding left over.  Which they just gave to my dad.  And which he shoved under the deck in the back yard.  And left there for the next fifteen years.  While he waited for the opportunity to somehow, someway, use it.  

JJ and co-engineers building a fort in the back yard - 
"Lucky for us there is all this wood just lying around...."

One night, after the switch to Ryder trucks, JJ gets the call to be one of the guys going out picking up missed boxes.  Which is cool.  Drive around the city, listening to tunes (Ryders had FM radio!).  No Prob.  I am zipping around.  Sorting recyclables.  Grooving.  Got a box to pick up in the southern part of the city.  I head down the lane and make the turn...going nice and easy...nice and slow...and the truck stops.  "Huh?"  I gun the engine a little bit.  The truck moves forward...and then back.  I am stuck on something.  Fuuuuuuuck...  

Now at this point, I will tell you something about good ole' Plan-It.  A lot of the job was driving.  For the company.  But if you got in any sort of accident on the job?  You were on your own.  They didn't cover you at all.  I am not even sure it was legal to do that.  But what the fuck did we know?  We were just a bunch of young dudes.  "Ok!  I guess I better drive careful if I don't want to risk paying all of my $9.00 an hour earnings to an insurance company!"

Back to the story!  I hop out of the truck.  See a low hanging tree branch above the cube part of the truck... 

"Aha!" I say to myself.  "The cube must be caught on that!  I think the trick is to hop back in the truck, gun the engine...and I will just pop out!  No muss, no fuss!"  So I hop back in the truck.  Put it in drive and gun the engine.  There is...the most...godawful squealing noise...but I am moving forward...and moving forward...("squuuueeeaaallll!!")...and...I am free! Yes!  Fuck you, tree branch!  

And I stop and hop out to inspect any damage...look at the top of the cube...intact.  Fuck yes! Dodged a bullet there!  Then I happen to glance back down the lane from whence I had come...and...was that piece of yellow-painted wood lying in the lane by that hydro cable there before?

Walk back to check it out..."hmm...that's not wood...that's what the truck cube is made of...ooooohhhhhhh..."  I wasn't actually caught by a tree on the roof.  I was caught by one of those hydro cables that come up from the ground.  It was in the wheel well.  If I  had backed up, I would have freed myself.  But instead I gunned it and the cable acted like a saw blade and sheared off the bottom foot of the cube from the well to the back of the truck.  "Fuck.  Fuck.  Fuck. "

I don't know what to do.  I pick up the piece of fibreglass.  Put it in the cab with me...  Drive...home...  Where I take the piece of fibreglass and throw it...under the back deck.  On top of what?  The aluminum siding, of course!  Then I drive back to the warehouse.  I park it and look at the side with the sheared off part.  "It doesn't look that bad...I am not sure anybody will notice...probably no one will notice...the cube is still intact..."  Bottom line?  I didn't fess up.  I should have.  It was not the honourable route.  But I didn't.  $500 deductible on the truck.  For which I alone am responsible.  And for something that doesn't actually detract from the utility of the truck...  And yet...


That was me.  What kind of example was I setting for future G-man and E-man!  But no worries! The folks at Ryder...noticed that there was a piece of their truck missing.  And so I was asked "Hey, JJ, anything happen that night?"  And of course I say "Yes, it did, but I didn't think it was that big a deal..."

Well, it was, I was told.  Ryder wasn't too crazy about it.  Gonna take some serious $ to repair. Full deductible and mark on JJ's insurance. UNLESS! If Ryder had the missing piece of truck, they will just graft it back on!  Cost me just a little!  "Heck yes" I think to myself!  And I say: "Why, as a matter of fact, I do still have it...I just left it at home..."

So that night, I get home from work, late in the evening.  And I head to the back yard, to get my piece of truck...  "Huh.  I thought I left it right here..." Keep looking... "Got to be around here somewhere..." Keep looking...becoming a little more frantic... "Fuck!" Cannot find it anywhere.

The conclusion of the story?  As if it's not obvious...  I asked my parents the next day if they had seen this $500 piece of fibreglass.  My father had, of course, thrown it away.  "I thought it was trash!!!"

So...$500 later...

Beep boop.

JJ out!

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Costa Rica - Part VII - Hometime and Random Thoughts!

Well, for the last time...Pura Vida, mi amigos!

Last post about Costa Rica.  What's left to say, you ask?  Well...plenty!  I can write about anything!  Clearly! Ha!

But seriously, mi amigos...get ready for some random thoughts!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Costa Rica - Part VI - The Penultimate Entry - Dinner Partying!

Meow! Hiss!  Cat's don't like fire!

Pura Vida!  The penultimate post about Costa Rica!  It was going to be the last one, but I didn't want to miss an opportunity to use the word "penultimate".  Plus as one post, it was running loooong.

Friday, 3 May 2013

On the Defriending - or - JJ, don't be sad, 'cause one out three ain't bad...


Hello!  Hey! This isn't about Costa Rica?  Nope!  Although I do have one more Costa Rica post in me!

This about friends.  And the loss thereof.  

When the ex and I entered splitsville, I tried to be realistic.  I was pretty sure that the entire group of friends was not going to stay friends with both of us.  Certainly, there was group of friends that you would consider closer to her than to me.  And vice versa.  And I tried to prepare myself for that.  "Steel myself", if you will.  "JJ, you will likely not have further contact with these people." 

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Costa Rica - Part V - Zip Linin'!

Rock and Roll Casabas!

Pura Vida!  JJ here! Back again! More Costa Rica! Sheesh, you'd think JJ never goes anywhere, by the number of posts!  And you'd be right! So I'ma gonna just keep posting!