words are foreplay for the soul
January 2nd, 2010

Vancouver redux

Late last year (snort. I crack myself up) I went to The Land Up Over, also known as Canada. The Great White Something-or-other. (NOTE: There was no snow. None. Also no polar bears or igloos. Damn.) I hadn’t been there in FIVE MONTHS, which is odd considering its ridiculous proximity to me, something like 30 minutes. From my house. To the border station, where I get (politely, because this is Canada, after all) invited inside to discuss my “situation.”

This time, I was helped by a 5-foot tall guy with a French accent, who shrugged Gallically at me when I said I might be staying there 10 days or so. Ten days? What is zees ten days? You not like our charming contree? No? Okay, zhen I stamp zhis. Be on your way. And he stamped my paper and I handed it to the guys outside watching a drug dog sniff the inside of a car’s engine and was on my way. Of course, this was Christmas Eve, but it was a far cry from the last time when my car was searched THREE FREAKING TIMES and my papers were copied and I was yelled at by a woman in a strawberry blonde ponytail wearing a bulletproof vest.

I was really really really looking forward to the won ton. There’s a place on Broadway just east of Main that has the best won ton IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE. I am not kidding. It has scratched white Formica tables and exactly zero ambience. Decorations do not exist here. Two surly Chinese women truculently wait tables of serious lunchtime eaters. They set big bowls of broth down on the tables, each bowl containing exactly five of the most delectable won ton ever to exist, filled with fat prawns and tasting like what I always knew perfect won ton taste like. I was so looking forward to going there once, or even twice, in those ten days.

The place BURNED DOWN.

The roof was charred across the entire building that housed a pizza joint and who knows what else (I only had eyes for won ton), and a chain link fence kept passers by from getting too close. A tiny woman walked past us as we stood in the street, staring unbelievingly at the charred remains of won ton perfection. She turned to me. Her black eyes were tiny, like buttons. “Monday last,” she said in an eastern European accent. “In the morning.”

“I hope no one was hurt,” I thought to say. That was beyond her language capabilities. Hurt. She shrugged. “Monday. In the morning.

Last year at Christmastime it snowed buckets, feet upon feet of whiteness. We threw snow and each other, shaking it off branches into the backs of one another’s coats, melting snow dripping down our backs. Someone made a real live igloo (SEE???) at the park down the street and we crawled inside it, grinning.

This year, no snow. Christmas Day was relatively warm and unsesonably sunny, so we hiked up and down some back trails at Lighthouse Park. A tree had cracked in the middle, leaving shards standing sharply upward from what was left of the trunk. Someone had come with a chain saw to move the tree off the trail, and had made a little bench from one end of the fallen log. Nearer the lighthouse, and on huge rocks jutting into the northern part of the harbor, the rest of Vancouver gathered, a chaotic chorus of languages, no one bothering to speak in the hushed tones that such a place of beauty cries out for.

It turns out that I am sensitive to noise. I have said before that I can hear a cat’s soft footfalls on carpet from several rooms away, so the plumbing sounds overhead at all hours of the night kept me from sleeping. Year before last, when the place was my home for awhile, I would get up in the night and read downstairs, away from the gurgling and clicking and toilet lid dropping.

I forgot to go to Lush and restock my dwindled supply of Karma soap.

I now have a huge handful of Canadian change, because I keep forgetting that the big ones are worth $2 and the other big ones are worth $1 and you can use this for money. To buy things with. So now I have like $20 worth of change.

We won’t talk about the price of gas. But it’s in liters, which is a trick of some sort.

I have still not been to a Tim Horton’s. I know, I know, hard to believe.

I do, however, now own a toque*. And I really like it.

*There appears to be some debate, even among Canadians, about the proper way to spell the word pronounced “tewk”, which is actually a hat. But I’m sticking with “toque”. And at last I understand what Bob and Doug McKenzie were singing. Five golden TOQUES.



December 11th, 2008

I totally moved here for the dollar coins

Last week I was in Washington, in that country that wanted me back so badly that at the border the Drug Dog took a shine to the rear end of my car and the three border guards standing around there with nothing better to do started peering through the back windows at the two boxes in the back of my vehicle and asking me questions like, “So, have you run over any animals lately?”

I thought the prudent course was deny-deny-deny, so I put on my most innocent, shocked expression and feigned innocent shock. “N-n-no! I don’t think so!” I managed to stutter, innocently.

That was the wrong answer.

This was what I figured out as I sat inside the border station on a hard chair, having left my keys with the Border Valets outside who were now in the process of ripping apart the inside of my vehicle while the guy in a uniform on the other side of the counter glared menacingly at me and asked insinuating and sarcastic questions like, “They pay people to blog”? and “What drugs have you taken today?”

The right answer would have been to lie and make up some story about the poor poor squirrel and the thump-thump sound that was the last you heard of him. Because the fucking Drug Dog didn’t actually “indicate” drugs oozing from the pores of my vehicle, he only “expressed interest” in my car. Which meant that he could have been “expressing interest” in the pee left there by a dozen other dogs that walk by my car daily.

In Washington I procured a cup of coffee. I received change for the $5 that I handed the perky barista girl to pay for my coffee. The change included several coins I had never seen before. $1 coins. WTF? Since when did the US start stamping out $1 coins, and why haven’t I heard of this before?

And more importantly, how am I going to tell anymore which country I am in?

When I came to Canada I was embarrassed paying cash for things because I couldn’t figure out the money thing.  There were all these coins, and some were $1 coins and some were $2 coins. WTF? $2 coins? Whatever for? And why do some have this filled-in hole-thing in the center? I would pay for the smallest item with a credit card, telling myself it was because of the advantage in exchange rates, just to avoid having to figure out the Canadian coinage.

And now America has become a frigging copycat. And all the fecking $1 coins look ALIKE.

November 11th, 2008

the other shoe is dropping

When I crossed the border into Canada in August, I had an uneasy feeling. No, “uneasy” doesn’t even begin to describe the deep-seated FEAR and sense of FOREBODING I had. After all, there I was with my car full of everything I owned, and as far as official-Canada was concerned I was there to be a tourist. Pretty fishy.

Last night Matthew and I returned from California and Oregon. I knew the border thing would come up again. Our plan these past several months was to at some point be able to show Canada the seriousness of our relationship and apply for me to be a permanent resident here. I had checked into the matter on immigration websites and forums. We asked Matthew’s attorney-dad about it after I got here. All the answers came back: wait, and it will all work out. I abandoned my feeling of fear and foreboding and tried to feel at home here. I even bought a fucking iPhone (three-year contract! doesn’t that spell “seriousness”?).

So last night at the border when we were asked to park our car to the side and enter a brightly-lit building, I thought it was going to be about the shoes we bought, or the three bottles of alcohol we declared (one bottle over the limit).

No. It was about me.

Canada made it clear that they’d like me to get the hell out, and soon. They don’t like the fact that we’re in a relationship. If I had LIED and made up some story, things probably would have been fine. The irony. I was all about integrity and truth. I knew that one day Immigration would be looking at my conduct at the border and I didn’t like the conflicting messages: “Yes, border guard, I’m here as a tourist and I am going to leave,” vs. “No, Immigration Officer, I’m not a tourist and I don’t want to leave and in fact I want to stay here permanently.”

And the thing is I don’t even CARE about Canada. I mean, it’s fine and there are many plusses about it and I like living here, but I am not here for the free health care, you know? I’m here for Matthew, and he could be living anywhere and THAT is where I would want to be.

So I still have no home. Weird.

September 18th, 2008


I just received an email about a spiritual conference near San Francisco that months ago I promised to attend.  I wanted to be one of the presenters for the conference but they already had a full slate, so I contented myself with agreeing to attend for nearly-free and volunteering to help out.  There are a number of networking opportunities there, and I am a firm believer that nothing is ever wasted (even though I am a champion self-time-waster).

Then it hit me.

To get there, I will have to leave Canada.  Cross the border.  Enter the real world.

I’ve been using this feeling of semi-unreality as a way to remain safe.  It’s like living behind glass.  A world-within-a-world.  Time here stands still, while outside it [presumably] continues.  I like it here despite how disorienting it was when I got here.  It’s so much a different world.  Everything that connected me to my old world is gone, sold, given away, or in the few remaining boxes that traveled 4000 miles with me and got immediately stashed in a closet when I got here, still packed.  In the place of all those things and all the memories along with them that connect me to the life I used to live and to the people who lived it with me are new things.  New clothes.  New hair.  A new look.  A new focus.  A new rhythm.  New energy, new routines, new people.  It truly is a different world.  Nothing is the same, except for me.  And even I have changed, now a reflection of the newness I stepped into here across the border and all that came before to get me here.

I’m a little afraid to leave.  I have found things here to hold onto.  Crossing the border means crossing back into that old world.  The feeling of surreality I have been living, one lengthy vacation from reality, will be shattered.

There’s no answer to this, beyond breathing.  Continuing to breathe when you are immersed in slight panic is about all you can ever do.

September 9th, 2008

Parking parallels

It makes me laugh when the ironies of my life are thrown in my face.

Since arriving here in Vancouver 6 or so weeks ago, I’ve been sensitive about my car.  For the first week I was illegally parked in a permit-only zone.  Then we paid $5 per week to obtain a blue card to stick in the dash for a few weeks while we thought of something else to do with the car situation.  There’s another car (uninsured; can’t park on the street) and an underground garage space (with one uninsured car presently occupying) but for now it’s my car collecting bird shit and tree sap at the curb, jockeying for position with the neighbors and their cars.  Cars that have a right to be here.

I can feel the eyes looking at me.

Pennsylvania.  When is she going to move that car?  Taking up space.  OUR space.  Canadian space.  Hmph.

The imagined indignant snorts are what get to me the most.

Whenever I drive, I find myself continually

  • getting in the wrong lane and inadvertantly cutting someone off
  • stopping too long at stop signs
  • not stopping long enough at stop signs
  • driving too slowly
  • driving too fast
  • parking awkwardly

And all the time I know they’re looking at the Pennsylvania plates and gritting their white Canadian teeth and wishing bricks would fall out of the sky onto my car, completely crushing me and my PA license plates.

I can feel the vibration of those teeth gritting at night when everything is quiet.  I can’t breathe because the weight of a million imagined bricks is piled on my chest.

I am in the wrong country.

I don’t belong here.

Once in awhile I have a moment when the breathtaking beauty of this city sends shards of glass from thousands of high-rise condo windows right into my heart.

I want this to be my city.

Tonight we went to a free talk at the library downtown and when we got back it was dark and the usual spaces at the curb were filled.  I drove around the block and found a space in the middle of the line of cars.  Parallel parking.  Ugh.

It would have been fine except for the couple standing taking outside her car.  His car?  One of them was going home, and one was staying.  I wished the ground would swallow them up rather than have them witness my awkward parking.

It didn’t.

I park and park and park.  Forward, back, forward, back.  I am too far from the curb, but her car is right behind mine and if I nudge it they will hate me and call the border guards, I know it.

Filthy American. I can hear them swearing under their polite Canadian breath.  Go home!  You suck!  You…don’t recycle!

Forward, back.  I gave up.  Still 20 feet away from the curb.  Whatever.  Now I will have to walk past this couple, their Canadian eyes of belonging on me while I hold my American head in shame.

“Are you from Pennsylvania?”

OMG.  It’s starting.  The jeering, the namecalling, the black looks, everything I have been imagining.  I clutch my imaginary passport a little more tightly.

I answer reluctantly.  “Yes.”  Dumbanswerdumbanswer.

“What’s the capitol city called?  We have a bet going.”

What?  WTF?  Where are the border guards?  The dogs?  The sneering?  Why, they’re … smiling.  Friendly!


“Harrisburg?  Thanks!”  They were still smiling..

Dumb Canuck.  Anybody knows that.* I swore slightly under my breath, gritting my American teeth.

* Not really.  Most Americans don’t know it unless they live in PA or south Jersey.  But that’s not saying much.

** Nor have I ever actually used the word “Canuck” until now.  It sort of makes my eyelids want to turn inside out.