299

Over the past 5 weeks I have been travelling to Markham in the afternoons for my final round of trade school. The class is, thankfully, idiot free and made up of learning interesting bits of geometry that allow me to turn a flat piece of metal into a sculpture-like creation of three dimensions.

The course also includes supervisor training and first aid. I learned that everything must be written down and that most of the principles of first aid have been dumbed down because people are too stupid to save lives. I am not exactly encouraged.

My aim has always been to be the top of the middle of the class and I can safely say my hands on work is putting me in that category. I’m not the greatest but I’m competent and you can leave me alone for a while without worrying too much.

The greatest discovery, however, is that I need 299 hours to complete my apprenticeship. I am almost done. Five years ago I started this with no idea about the industry or whether I could do it. I’m now three months or so away from saying that I fully belong. Quite an accomplishment.

vignette of camp life

I just saw an old guy fill a paper cup with pink bathroom soap to wash his clothes. Only in a place where you live for free, with food, can men be so cheap.

A few if my missing things

So far there are only a couple of things that I’m missing and most of them are just annoyances.

  • Milk — lactose free milk does not exist here and neither do personal refrigerators
  • My water bottle — while there is no shortage of water dispensers and paper cones I do not feel like paying $2.50 for a plastic bottle that will taste wretched in a couple of days. I looked at mine twice the day I left and still regret not bringing it.
  • A mug. Seriously I miss being able to drink tea out of something other than styrofoam.
  • Shoe deodorizers — I know, tmi, but my room is tiny.

Flying to my future

I am not an experienced air traveler by any stretch of the imagination. I have flown twice, a round trip from Ottawa to Hamilton. Two regional airports, one a little classier than the other. I’m used to rail. I’m used to the rolling gait of the rails under my seat whether on a long distance journey or a daily commute. I am used to having a modicum of leg room, albeit not during rush hour, and I know how to position my body so I can pee standing up even with the occasional lurch.

The trip to the airport started with a final dinner with my wife. We stopped at Boston Pizza in Pickering, normally a safer bet for service, and managed to have our order mucked up, our server seemingly forget to take our payment for fifteen minutes, and their televisions were set up the wrong way so the football score headers were cut off the top of the screen. I’ll let you decide which was the most egregious offence. Despite these set backs and traffic being slow in a couple of spots we made it to Pearson with more than plenty of time. A couple of hours worth of spare time all told. I checked my bags and set off the oversized baggage alarms. Over the summer I cut up laminate flooring and subfloor in the garage and covered my toolbag with sawdust and other particulates and the scanners at the airport have issues with that sort of thing. Luckily I had my key accessible and after a quick scan it was dropped onto the conveyor belt and off to $diety knows where.

With everything settled for the foreseeable future my nerves started getting the better of me. My dutiful wife shook her head, kissed me goodbye, and sent me off to security so I could sit down beside my gate for the remaining time. She knows me. I slipped through security without a hassle (after you’ve worked nuclear for a while you get used to the procedure), sat down at my gate, attached my iPod to the wifi and listened to the Friday’s sports radio show that I missed. With ten minutes to go I used the bathroom, got a drink of water, and promptly figured out that I had been sitting at the wrong gate for an hour and a half. I walked the quarter mile to where I should have been, discovering the concourse that could have distracted or caffeinated me (hello Starbucks), to hear the call for boarding.

Flying unnerves me more than the wait. Humanity should not be stuck in a tin can hurtling ourselves through the air thanks to a quirk of physics. My body tenses at every change of speed or altitude. I can feel when we level off. I tighten up when we dip forward to start the decent. We turn slightly at the Manitoba boarder. I feel every second of the brief course change in my body. The plane is cramped. There are only two people other than myself walking around to hold off cramping. I am happy when we settle down on the tarmac, happier still when my aisle-mates offer me a ride for no reason other than being good people. Thank you again Drew and Kelly.

I check into my hotel and email my wife to let her know I arrived. A few hours later I’m asleep and first leg of my journey out west is complete.

Five Year Cycle

Five years ago,  June 5 2008 to be exact, I sat on my friend Joe’s porch in the middle of a rainy night and made a choice. I was presenting at the Archives Association of Ontario conference, the highpoint of my career thus far, and couldn’t afford to buy a beer. I chose to change my world. I joined the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators as an apprentice and found that I loved it. I enjoyed the ability to be in charge of nothing but an entropy-busting jigsaw puzzle.

Two days ago I made another choice.

My apprenticeship is stalled. The Ontario economy is ok but not booming and as a result my employment has been sporadic at best. If it were not for getting my type three asbestos removal and people at the nearby nuclear plants spreading asbestos everywhere I would be stuck at third year and out of EI. As it is, year five of my four year apprenticeship begins on November 5.

Today this changes.

I have officially gained temporary work in the Alberta Oil Sands. I don’t know if I can handle it but I have to try something. It will mean that I’ll be away from home, living in a work camp for a month assisting one of the more environmentally invasive forms of natural resource ‘development.’ I could hate it. I could find it appealing. I don’t know. Right now it’s a giant mystery.

A leg in two worlds

Today I snipped the lawn with a rotary push-mower that was old in the 50s while listening to a collection of music (on a music box made in this century) curated by a twisted Englishman who’s rantings amuse me greatly all the while lamenting the fact that nobody really cares about Cranmer’s little book any more even though it still stands up. Admittedly it could use a couple of word changes in the collects because no one uses “prevent” that way anymore.

Sandwiches

To celebrate actually getting out of the house and accomplishing yard-work on my first day of being out of work (aah the trades life) I ate a sandwich for late breakfast. But  just any sandwich however. This sandwich has a dual distinction. First, it is one of my favorites. Second, it confuses the ever living daylights out of my wife.

I ate a hard-boiled egg sandwich.

Please, calm your gasps. Reign in your incredulity. It is true. I boiled two eggs, slathered two pieces of toast with Miracle Whip®, sliced the eggs onto the toast and ate the concoction with relish.Sounds simple enough right? Nothing complex. Nothing horrendous. Nothing that would normally make a person as logical as my wife question the sanity of the person with whom they live 2

Why the confusion? Why the seconds-lasting angst?

I hate egg-salad sandwiches. Mix those two ingredients together and I hate it. Keep them separate and I love it.

I don’t understand either.

Perhaps it is the mayo:egg ratio that makes my eyes twitch. Maybe the refrigeration process modifies the proteins somehow. Suffice it to say that sliced warm egg on toast with mayo and pepper is glorious in its simplicity and exquisite in taste whereas egg salad is icky.

I leave it to you to figure out. I’m going to make another sandwich.

Not the pickle kind, the I really really enjoyed it kind.
Unlike, say, me watching cricket.

In Memory of Freya

We took possession of our house on July 26, 2006. We changed the flooring upstairs on the 27th, moved everything on the 31st and settled into our first home. Thursday, a scant three days later, we were sitting on the back porch. My wife’s mom and dad had joined us bringing a bottle of celebratory wine.

We were sitting, chatting, and planning the landscaping adventure that would be the backyard project over the next couple of years when we were joined by a very chatting tabby. Myah myah myah myah myah myah myah myah myah! She told us all about her life up to that point, who she was, and by the way did we know she had just chosen us?

We gave her some tuna. We said if she was still there in the morning we would consider the possibility of having a cat. She spent most of the night just outside our door telling us that we had forgotten to let her in. She scolded Byron the crazy squirrel for daring to come near her people’s door. The next morning I went out to cover the barbeque and she wasn’t there. Oh well. I took no more than two steps when I heard scrabbling feet and chattering. Myah myah myah myah myah myah myah.  I’m here. I just had some stuff to do under the porch so do you my food for this morning?

I gave her a bowl of (lactose free) milk. She seemed happy.

We talked about it and opened our door. She walked right in, looked around, stated that things were appropriate and curled up for a much needed deep sleep. A few thousand dollars later we had a one-eyed, tailless cat with no intestinal parasites (because food only comes from people and never from this hunting thing everyone talks about). She was a brilliant, logical reasoning, polydactyl with an enormous intelligence and attitude. She would do something only if you explained why and how. She was certain that she was on the same level of importance as people were.

On Saturday she left this world. Freya was seven years old.

She was one of the most important beings in our lives. She protected us. She took care of us. She loved us. Whenever Kate’s kidneys were about to flare up she had a tabby cat pressed against her back for the entire night. Whenever I was ill or suffering from a bout of depression Kate would leave Freya in charge and ask her to keep an eye on me. God forbid I did anything that the ten pounds of fur decided was inappropriate because the moment Kate walked in the back door Freya would charge into the kitchen yelling her head off. I would follow either proclaiming my innocence or explaining that I was indeed in charge and I could do whatever it is I wanted to do. The two of us constantly battled for the right to be second-in-command. She would acquiesce to shut me up.

She loved her brother Cotton. The first weekend we had the two of them together Kate and I were working in the backyard and were subjected to yet another chorus of “you’re outside and I’m all alone” from our princess. Only she was then joined by her new brother, sitting right beside her in the bathroom window, exclaiming the exact same phrase and sounds. I told them they weren’t alone in the house because they were sitting next to one another. They looked at each other, looked at me, and went on to do whatever it is cats do.

She re-taught him how to be a cat. He taught her how to behave with other cats.

When he was in his final days she gave up her fortress of solitude for him. She grieved for him the night he left and spent more than a few nights sitting next to his urn when he finally came home. When Cotton and Sybil were fully integrated she grabbed Cotton’s fish for the first and only time in her life, brought it out to the landing, and showed it to her new siblings. She sat with them for half an hour that night telling his story.

Wednesday will mark the longest we have ever lived in this house without her. Every room has some of her story attached to it. Every blanket has a cat dent. Ever window has a silhouette. I pass by and my heart rips again whenever she is not in one of her spots. I miss her nyahs. I miss her checking on all of her family. I miss her.

Our life would never have ended up the way it has without her. She is the reason for so many things we do. She is the reason we are who we are. For all I know, the reason we are still married is due to our bundle of tabby.

She was, and ever will be, first cat.

Blinkies and goodbye Sweetheart. Take care of your brother for us. We will always love you.

Random Christmas Shopping Thoughts

If I had a smart phone this is what I would have tweeted during my attempt to shop for Christmas gifts today (and yes I did spend most of my time out with my head performing random commentary in tweets):

  • The Michael Bublé/Shania Twain rendition of White Christmas makes me wish that it was Christopher Walken singing the lead — not that there’d be that much of a difference.
  • Looks like it’s a women’s pyjamas have pants year. At every single store. Does all of North America have the same wholesaler?
  • I swear the way this year’s shopping is going my wife is getting a reciprocating saw.
  • Yes, my wife wants a reciprocating saw. I’m the one who keeps saying no.
  • Seriously. Why do we need a reciprocating saw?
  • So far it’s presents from me: one for five, presents from cats: one for one.
  • And my cashier is not paying attention. The one beside him noticed I said “I’ve had funner days. I really enjoying having to Christmas shop on the weekend of” and gave a chuckle.
  • Time until I hit a stupid parking attempt — one hour. This is why you start as early as you can kids.
  • Way to upsell EB. Trying having a Wii U in stock before you convince the lady to spend nearly a grand on it and the xbox headset.
  • Did he just say the Wii U gets higher ratings on multi-platform games? Where? Nintendo Power Magazine?
  •  Is it just me or was there a time when you could buy something and return it if it doesn’t work without having to pay an EB insurance fee?
  • Watching this guy trying not to swallow his own head when responding to “is it in stock at Future Shop” was worth the time I spent in this store. Didn’t buy anything but at least I was entertained.
  • Let’s see: whole store full of people and not one staff member on the floor to help. Brilliant.
  • I swear retail service had devolved. Again.
  • Ok there is no one at Walmart. Maybe the end of the world did happen.

 

Adventure Part Two

I sit in the Walmart parking lot facing the lodge a highway exit sign distance away from the action. The filter into lots on both sides of the road. My stomach gurgles audibly. Deep breath. I pick where I’m going to place my car for the night. Go.

I walk towards the doors anxiously looking around for my contact. A couple of guys say hello. I enter the building and climb the stairs. I see the Master of the Lodge and introduce myself. Then I get to use the line I will forever associate with this night:

“I’m from the Internet.”

After that I settle down. I do the test they require of anyone who doesn’t have someone to vouch for him. They try to make me at ease and even go so far as to ask if I wouldn’t mind sitting in a particular spot so that I can give a hand to the newly initiated mason that night. I have people come up and say hello and ask me where I’m from. Whenever they ask how I heard about the lodge I fall back to my new line and they love it. I begin to feel far more comfortable as the night goes on. I may have nothing to talk about with half the crowd but we have all experienced at least one to three similar things in our life. We’re all on the neutral/lawful good side of the spectrum. I fit in.

My “host” for the night is actually the busiest man in the lodge that evening (Junior Warden with a meal and a first degree for those in the know) so I don’t actually connect up with him. The worst possible thing that could happen actually happens but it doesn’t really matter. I’ve jumped the hurdle. I made it. This night’s adventure happened. I did it.

Now I just have to convince myself that I can do it again.

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