Wednesday, February 15, 2012

If It Weren’t For Potluck (we’d have no luck at all)

Repas partagé, aka potluck, is recognized linguistically by both our official languages, although the latter sounds far less romantic than the former. Still, the concept of potluck has been romanticized pretty much since the beginning of time.
 When a company I worked for decided to have potluck to celebrate its 10th anniversary, I held strong to the tradition of the communal feast and opted to provide the hungry horde with buns, either as a stomach-starter pre-meal or as a leftovers mop just prior to dessert. (At my own family repas, he or she providing the yeast product is adulated, a hero worshiped as reverently as the Grand Poobah of the Water Buffaloes.) To my complete embarrassment at our company party, however, I discovered that when it comes to the modern-day phenomenon known as potluck etiquette, the bread bringer is often looked upon as little more than the crumbs their contribution leaves on the floor.
In the Middle Ages, anything edible was warmly accepted at potluck; apparently the event has evolved from sharing an enjoyable meal to fighting for bragging rights over platter presentation. Participants often slave over a hot stove for hours using ingredients that no one in the Western world can pronounce. Nothing short of a Martha Stewart masterpiece is good enough. Food is no longer strewn about a central table for all to attack but is introduced one platter at a time, with accompanying testimonials such as, “I used a pinch of this and a dab of that and let it softly simmer until the yolk began to parfait,” or “this recipe was passed down from my great-great-great-great grandmother in Sicily, 1806. It’s a family secret.” Each presentation and analysis drew hearty applause from the hungry onlookers.
When it was time for me to introduce my buns I was stymied for a tale to tell.  “I brought 48 dinner rolls,” I started. The crowd appeared to be waiting attentively for the chili or soup they apparently believed must have been riding shotgun. To their dismay, I produced no side dish but rather a sad story of a young, underpaid clerical worker who put in long, hard hours at the office only to trudge home on foot to an above-the-garage apartment half way across town, stopping only at the grocery store where I waited impatiently in line behind the elderly lady with the impressive penny collection in her change purse and the unfortunate fellow who couldn’t produce his club member card for 10 percent off his asparagus. I relayed these details of my hours spent leading up the partagé ... the hardship I endured in reaching the decision to bring 48 dinner rolls instead of 36, having to choose white over brown and fresh over stale, even though the stale was a full dollar cheaper. But I found very little sympathy coming my  way, only stares of scorn.
“At least my buns did not require any prep work,” I shot back at them (not audibly, of course, just inside my head). “No standing in line to use the microwave to heat up a midnight creation that takes the entire length of the meal to reheat. Trust me, tater tots are better served with the main course rather than after the brownies and mincemeat pie.”
One thing I had to wonder as I walked home later that night: Since etiquette insists that non-homemade dishes are unacceptable, how did the shrimp ring find its way onto the table. I knew none of my co-workers were talented enough to catch the shrimp themselves, de-head them and lay them in a circular fashion on the plate. Why was my offering of bread any different?
Maybe I’ll also bring butter next time, see how that goes.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Do You Want Fries With That?!

I try to be a good husband.  I’ll do just about anything for my wife. So when she was too tired to cook one night last week I offered to take the drive to Ralfin’ Ronnies to pick up a ‘quick’ meal.  Wifey claims the Hamburger Happy Meals are the perfect portion size. 
The drive to the Golden Arches is barely two minutes from our home and I spent it basking in pride at my good deed for the day, coupled with excitement at the thought of sinking my teeth into one of Ronnie’s coveted, tender cheeseburgers, since I was going to feed myself as well. (Hey, if she thought I was bringing her change from her 20, she was sadly mistaken.)  
Suddenly I found myself at the moment of truth -- the order desk, where my success rate at correctly placing Ronnie’s orders is 50-50 at best. We rarely get to dine at this fine establishment as my wife insists we eat “healthy”.  So when I find myself in the McHouse, my palms begin to sweat with excitement and my ability to recall my wife’s exact order often escapes me.
This time, though, I remembered. I asked for a hamburger meal.  My order was immediately challenged.  “What kind of hamburger meal, sir?”
“You know, a hamburger meal ... a hamburger with fries and a coke,” I explained.
“We don’t have a hamburger meal, sir,” she countered.
At this point my palms turned to hot butter, armpit sweat trickled down to my lower ribs and my heart raced. My knees buckled as I sensed the crowd of teenagers converging around me. I scanned the brightly lit billboard and recognized the word ‘hamburger’, at which I sheepishly nodded. 
“Oh a Hamburger HAPPY Meal” she exclaimed, audible enough for the patrons at the Mickey Dees at the opposite end of town to hear. The kid with the long hairnet working fries shot a sudden look over his left shoulder and missed his target completely with the salt-shaker; the four employees working Drive Thru stopped in their tracks, jaws dropped. One of the newly licensed 16-year-olds behind me wondered aloud, “did that old guy just order a Happy Meal?”
Then the delightful order-taker inquired if I’d prefer a girl toy or a boy toy. All remained in suspended animation for my reply. Figuring there’s nothing at this point I can do or say to alleviate the embarrassment already heaped upon me, I loudly declared, “GIRL TOY, PLEASE!”
I exited the building forgetting to order for myself and promptly returned home with a pre-cooked meal, an entertaining tale and some 15 bucks in change, all of which was met with a bright-eyed smile and a kiss for thanks.
I repaired to the kitchen to make a tuna sandwich and poured myself a glass of milk, then laughed at the realization that, through all of it, things actually worked out in my favour.
Happy wife, happy life.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Excuses, Excuses

We’ve all done it, some of us better than others. Finding an excuse to call in sick when really you feel fine is intrinsic in our culture.
Sure, there are some that will punch in their time card even when they’ve got a pounding headache and muscle spasms, occasionally to keep a perfect attendance record alive, sometimes for pride and often so they don’t miss a chance to kiss the boss’s ass for eight hours.

But that’s not most of us, and so for those seeking excuses advice, here are some handy tips:

1-Any excuse trotted out Monday or Friday is subject to challenge – you’ve got to work extra hard to produce a humdinger if you’re going to earn a three-day weekend. Generally speaking, excuses offered up Tuesday through Thursday are less scrutinized, so if you can set up a mid-week rendezvous – be it a shopping junket with the gals or a hotel liaison with that sweaty Latin from the gym – this might be your best play.

2-Some excuses, such as “I’ve got food poisoning,” have a short shelf life and can be used only sparingly. “I think I ate gluten” works, even if you’re not celiac. This one can be applied a bit more frequently, and with slight variations, such as “I ate cookie dough again.” You probably won’t get away with “my hamburger had mad cow disease” more than once, so use only in extreme situations.

3-Pet excuses are a fan favourite but beware if your dog gives you a cold or kicks you in the eye -- you may have to answer a slew of questions regarding beastiality at the office the next day. Claiming doggy-stress after a family reunion or conjuring up a phoney doctor’s appointment for your depressed goldfish are good ways to incorporate your pet into the excuse arsenal. They work particularly well on animal-loving employers.

4-“I got my fingers stuck together with crazy glue,” albeit hilarious, has a low success rate and just makes you look incompetent.

5-“My biological clock is ticking” or “my wife says she is going to conceive today and I want to be there when it happens,” are fantastic excuses, and good for company morale, as they generate great fodder for the water cooler. And, since no one expects you to nail it on your first try, this excuse can be used multiple times.

6-Some excuses will require you to provide evidence. “I had a root canal” or “I needed to give blood but I gave too much” require excessive dramatization so make sure you’re prepared to play this one for all it’s worth.

7- “When I woke up this morning I took two Ex-Lax in addition to my Paxil; I can’t get off the john but I feel good about it” is a good excuse with barely any consequence.

8-If you’re in go-for-broke, I need to have this day off no matter what mode, you can try “my brother-in-law has been kidnapped by a drug cartel in Mexico”, or “my mother-in-law’s house blew up from the shockwaves of the meth lab explosion down the street.” But be careful ... the boss may be inclined to scour the international and local newspapers to confirm these. And make darned sure that if you’re going to make up excuses involving in-laws, you’d better have some first.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pup Got Leg Up

I have only two legs, which makes it difficult to compete with those with four. I have straight teeth, all my hair and can bench press a case of Pepsi. I shower daily and throw on some extra man-eau when an intimate evening seems in the offing.

Alas, I am neither fluffy nor fuzzy, nor small nor compact, and I don't have soft ears; I don’t make cute squeaky noises and I don’t have droopy come-hither eyes.

That’s why, when my girlfriend brought home a puppy, I knew I was in for some stiff competition. As the little butterball bounced through the front door I waved my social life goodbye.  

Yes, he was cute; yes, he was cuddly. But he quickly became a nuisance when I was told we couldn’t leave the condo for a night on the town because there was no one to watch him ... this after he’d piddled on my boots that were waiting somewhat impatiently to be filled (with feet, of course) near the front door.

What I wanted to know was, watch him do what? Pass gas? Chew his nails? Chase his tail? Crap on my boots? When did canines become attention-deficit, untrustworthy mongrels that can't be left alone for a few hours? Was my GF afraid the pooch was going to wet the sheets or eat the sofa? Had she never heard of puppy pads or a chew toy?  What happened to crates, leashes and baby gates? And for goodness sake, why didn’t Doggy-Day-Care have evening services!

If I wanted to get lucky before the next lunar eclipse (and I did), I was going to have to prove I was a sensitive animal-loving fellow. Since we couldn’t go out I thought the fun could come to us -- a candle-lit dinner with wine was a scenario with some serious potential. I’d take a page out of the mutt’s playbook: we could take turns rubbing each others tummies on the alpaca rug in front of the fireplace; we could fall asleep in each others arms after hours of licking each others faces. She could hump my leg while begging for treats.

Then it dawned on me ... the dog required exercise. A romantic stroll in the park would be a fantastic way to wear him out for the evening, granting my girlfriend and I some alone time. But it wasn’t the dog that got worn out -- it was me, getting the dog ready for said stroll. (Apparently, dogs nowadays are quite the fashionistas, unwilling to be seen in public without their V-neck sweaters or Harley Davidson leathers. I'd long thought the little pads on the bottom of their paws -- the ones they were born with -- were supposed to protect them from the elements … but evidently it’s the matching polyester and Velcro booties that do the job. Oh, and I nearly forgot the Harley visor and shades.) I didn’t have brand name clothing until I was 30 but that is irrelevant here; our four-legged friends deserve only the best.

So, I'm playing second fiddle in what has quickly become a three-way relationship and will have to learn to adapt, I suppose. I will state, however, that although we may not be as cute and friendly, not as willing to obey and as easy to please, at least women don’t have to carry our shit around in a little baggie everywhere they go. Or do they?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Princess and the Pee

My mother has a bladder the size of a pea. You’ve heard the story of the Princess and the Pea? This is the other version.
In addition to having the smallest bladder known to mankind, my mother also has little-to-no bladder control. She jests at having to wear Depends to a funny movie, but trust me, they are required.  The woman has been known to wet herself with a sneeze.
When my mother laughs she starts with a chuckle, which quickly breaks into a staccato-like snort and then -- to prevent any dribbles from escaping -- she crosses her legs and squats as if sitting on an imaginary chair. When she really gets into a snicker-fit she will pull a Michael-Jackson-like move and grab herself while yelling “make it stop,  ... I’m gonna pee myself.”
Case in point: At 18, I had completed the final stage of my Ontario graduated license and was looking ahead to life on the open highway. Get your motor running – it was our first girls’ trip to Ottawa with me at the wheel. As we had done before any road trip growing up, my sister, my mother and I all made a quick pit stop to the ladies room before boarding our chariot.
My mother would be sure to remind us that there are no stops on the 401 if you have an emergency.   To emphasize the word “emergency”, she would jest at bunny ears in mid air. My sister and I would roll our eyes at each other. Mom was the only one who ever encountered said “emergencies.”
Mom took over the controls at the outskirts of Toronto to fly us through the toughest traffic.   At the precise moment I noticed our pilot had downed her first 500ml bottle of water, everyone in all four east-bound lanes of traffic came to a grinding stand-still halt.  I’m not sure if it was the drained bottle of water that was now piling up in her teeny-tiny bladder, or the anxiety of being stuck on the 401 for an unforeseeable  amount of time with no available toilet, but as our car screeched to a stop, my mother suddenly experienced her first “emergency.”
Always quick on my feet, and not wanting to be the one to clean up a mess, I called for a Chinese Fire-Drill.  My mother and I undid our seatbelts, opened our doors and ran around the hood of the car.  Mom flew into the backseat while I regained the controls.  Mom frantically searched for something, anything that would retain liquid. I passed her an empty Tim Horton’s cup and told her to fill it.
Before I even finished my suggestion, mom had whipped down her pants and I heard a tinkling sound, scratch that, it was more like the sound of floodgates opening . . . . followed by a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, the relief was promptly followed by loud hysteria.
While attempting to keep one eye on the road ahead and one eye on pee girl in the back of the car, I heard my panic stricken mother yell  “It’s gonna overflow.”
I demanded she clench her lips and cut off the flow, but she couldn’t.  As she eloquently put it “ I have no control.”
I instructed her to open the car door and dump what had been collected thus far. Mom did exactly that, before continuing to refill the cup.  We argued over why she wasn’t able to exert a wee-bit of muscle control, when I was interrupted by a loud, deep sound.  It sounded like a truck horn.
In my rear-view mirror, the driver of the transport truck behind us, was waving and laughing hysterically.  I guess he got a good show. 
Mom turned around  and dumping her final contribution out the door before acknowledging her audience.
A Jack ‘n Jill was the only stocking stuffer Santa brought her that year. That and a pack of large depends.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Timeless Party Game

A noun identifies an animal, person, place, thing or idea. An intrinsic part of speech, nouns are usually the first words children learn. Yet, several individuals are noun-challenged, adults often chief among them. Granted, the affliction has not been identified by international health as serious, if it's been recognized at all. But it ought to be.

Conversing with an NCI is akin to participating in a game of charades. In both, puzzling facial expressions and bizarre body noises spurred on by demonstrative gestures are among the methods employed to potentially
enlighten the targeted problem solver of an intended message. Expressions such as "you know what I mean" or gestures, such as an aggressive tug at an ear, will hopefully elicit a desired response. But that only works if the action is not being directed at Stab-in-the-Dark Stacey, that good friend with the annoying habit of barking out the incorrect answer before you've asked the question.

Seems people are becoming lazy with their vocabulary. Put me at the front
of that line from time to time. I accept fully that cultural differences or language barriers
can impede one's ability to produce the proper word at the appropriate juncture. But when we're talking repartee between folks of the same language and dialect, ought there not be a seamless exchange not only of verbs, but nouns as well?

Noun-less conversations take place all around me. My girlfriends are the worst for it. When they tried describing a movie they saw recently, for example, it became more than a two-word review. It became a fable. They provided the most random details but when it came to the who, what, when, where, why and how (ie. the nouns that matter), something went a little haywire. And not for the first time. They were unable to pinpoint the name of the movie or the leading actors.

Girlfriend: "Oh, I just saw this movie advertised on TV last night that looked really good, we should go see it together..... I forget what it was called and I forget who was in it, but it looks really good.  It was like a
suspense ... but not a scary movie.  With that girl your dad likes . . . you know the one who was married to the guy from the action films. You know . . .he's remarried now and his new wife is a lot younger than him. She's got long dark hair. You know. They have a daughter together. They gave her an odd name. The guy in the movie has a really nice chest and he's from the same country that the movie was filmed in."

After much contemplation I deduced that the baby's odd-yet-delightful name was Suri. Her mother, Katie Holmes, is the younger woman now married to Tom Cruise, whose first wife was Nicole Kidman, from Australia, the film of the same name starring Ms. Kidman and countryman Hugh Jackman, aka, dude with hot chest. By the time I finally sorted it all out, no thanks to my friends, I was too exhausted to attend the screening.

Nouns people. Whether they're proper nouns or otherwise. Let's work on those nouns.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Lipstick and Boogers

While walking home from the post office the other day, I ran into an acquaintance of my mother.  She’s the kind of nosy ninny that spots you a mile away and simply has to stop to give you the latest gossip.  There is no escaping her. Once she has you in her sights she pounces like a snow leopard on a terrified hare. The woman’s most annoying quality is her disturbing dental hygiene. She’s always got something -- a clove of garlic, kernel of corn, huge hunk of meat -- wedged between her teeth.

This uncomfortable encounter caused me to ask myself, ‘When confronted with a grooming blunder in another individual, what is the socially acceptable course of action?  Is it proper to leave the matter unaddressed? Is an attempt to subliminally transmit a helpful message expected in this situation?  Or is it common courtesy to alert our fellow human being of their unfortunate, unsavoury plight?  

Ignoring a problem can itself become problematic, as has been my experience; my ability to concentrate and process information becomes a daunting task when I do so.  A supervisor (whose breath smelled like he’d eaten trash for breakfast) often stopped by my desk. Each time he did, I’d rise to greet him so that he couldn’t breathe down on me.  He must have thought I grew up in a military family the way I’d leap to attention at the sight of him.  The times he snuck up and leaned over my shoulder to point something out on the computer screen, I’d block off the air to my nostrils and resort to mouth-breathing only.  Suddenly very conscious of every inhale and exhale, I’d notice the air around me growing thin very quickly. Things often became fuzzy.  In an effort to accelerate the conversation, I’d find myself nodding in agreement with him, with no comprehension of what I was agreeing to. By the time I regained use of my nose, I was dazed and confused as to what had just transpired.

Subliminal messages, offered verbally or gesture-style, can also create confusion. Where snot balls have been in evidence, I’ve offered the offending possessor a tissue, but the response is usually a polite “oh no thank you, I don’t need one.”  I’ve tried catchy phrases like “you’ve got a bat in the cave” or “dude, you’ve got a jumper,” but not everyone is familiar with such metaphors. Sadly, I have often been confused for a wannabe surfer chick whose vocabulary is as extensive as that of a chimpanzee. 

I once attempted to address the rancid body odour of a colleague.  Instead of embarrassing her I applied the tactic of reverse responsibility.  I’d pretend the smell was emanating from me and not her in the hope that she would find the moment humorous enough to confess the true source of the stench.  Every time her smell wafted in my direction, I’d spray my work station with air freshener and loudly declare, “I shouldn’t have eaten those eggs this morning. I’ve got really bad gas.”  I’d also let my colleague know I would spare her tender nostrils from “my foul odour” by spraying her work station as well. I later learned that this particular woman had no sense of smell and likely thought there was a gas leak somewhere. Which, ironically, there was.

Perhaps it depends on the level of intimacy or comfort we feel with the person we are engaged with as to how we handle certain situations.  It would, after all, be far easier to tell your girlfriend that her ruby red lipstick has spread from her plump lips to her pearly whites than to tell your boss he has a stringy gob of mucous dangling from his nose hair … again!  But no matter the situation and no matter the offender, it’s much less painful to simply look them in the eye and politely say, “Good God, Gretchen. You stink.”