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Today was like quiet winter steam; familiarity was curling up from gutter openings like the solitary sound of a guitar wafting through cold subway stations.

While waiting for a cup of coffee, I watched a homeless person across the street ask for money. He was smiling and spouting end-of-year greetings all about as people clothed tightly in coats passed him in brown leather and black suede blurs and with pocketed hands and scrunched shoulders.

After a lull in traffic he set his collection cup aside, took off his hat and wiped his head and I saw the wrinkles return back to his face. They came from underneath, rolling up from the corners of his body, congregating like people at coffee hour, furrowing in like wagon ruts and stitch scars and mid-life stretch marks.

I saw someone drop coins into styrofoam and miss. Lincolns tumbling to the ground like forgotten wind chimes. He bent to pick them up, and I looked away and started walking.

Set Day for my New House

I got my Christmas present early today, a construction crew arrived early this morning and opened it up for me. My new modular house arrived Saturday, and today was the day the house was set. My job was to keep the guys in coffee and donuts from the tailgate of my pickup, and the six guys showed their appreciation by downing 4 pots of extra strong Millstone Coffee by lunch. They also were able to set both of the main modules and get the roof raised by lunch as well. Coincidence? Perhaps.

Anyway, the crew consisted of my builder, his roofer, and 4 or 5 guys out of New Jersey that do nothing but set Modular Homes. Unlike a double wide trailer a modular house is built similar structurally to a stick built house, but built in large sections in a factory and shipped to the building site. Each of the main modules in fact weigh about 35,000 pounds. My house arrived on 3 trailers, one each for the front and back of the house, and a third for the porch roof. The roof came fully framed and partially shingled, but laid flat and folded up for shipping. Inside, the house was mostly finished as well, including most of the carpets, cabinets, doors, and much of the trim.

Once the modules were set, the roof was raised by the same crane that picked up and set the modules. Once the hinged trusses were locked into place, the peak and overhang parts of the roof were unfolded, and fastened into place, and the gable ends were installed. After lunch, the porch roof was installed and the crew went to work installing the remaining shingles. Darkness came early, so a little bit of shingling work remains, but the house is pretty much closed up. Not too shabby for a day's work.

http://f2.pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/n3bruce/my_photos

What I did while E2 was down, and a little bit after that.

Bought a house

Actually, this had been arranged earlier, but I actually paid for the house. The bank and I paid, that is. Housing in Toronto is quite expensive, but I'm within spitting distance of the big 4-0 and mortgage rates are very low, so it seemed like now or never. I've been saving for this for a very long time, but still the bank needed to finance a hefty portion. I'm paying them handsomely for their assistance, of course!

There's nothing quite as bracing as draining every liquid asset you have into a single bank draft and then giving it to a total stranger (the lawyer, whom I had never met until then). And gosh, the fees! Land transfer tax, various kinds of registration, property tax, lawyer's fees, agent's fees, exorcism fees.... Hey, I saw Poltergeist as a teen - that clown doll haunts me still. Can't be too careful....

Ahem.

So, after many years of avoiding consumer debt through calculated privation I've got a sizable monthly mortgage payment. It plays hell with my cavalier "go ahead, fire me" persona at work, that's for sure. It makes me cautious about eating out at lunch.I even bought lottery tickets for two weeks, I was so wierded out, which is so not me. I hate taxes enough without voluntarily giving more. Fortunately I won $10 the second week and broke even, so my old habits from my Las Vegas casino trips came through, and I quit when I got back to even.

The whole house buying thing is crazy. I'd never buy a car without a test drive, but you get 1 or 2 half hour visits to the house and you have to decide. And you're paying at least an order of magnitude more for the house! Equity is supposed to be a good thing. We'll see. Now the only major asset I have that I own outright is my car (retirement funds notwithstanding, and after a few years of mutual fund decline, not worth much mention, either).

Arranged to move/connect utilities

One side effect of utility deregulation is that there's no assumption that you'll automatically be doing business with "the gas company" for example - so if you don't arrange service with each one you'll be left in the darkj/cold/whatever. My wife and I split these up so that we each arranged some, and it looks like we got 'em all. The new phone number has no ones or zeros, and it actually spells something funny, so I'm pleased with it.

Painted the bedrooms in the house

The bedrooms were a sort of maroon colour. I would've gone with it but my wife thought the dark colours made the rooms look small, so we redid them in a light yellow. I'd never painted before, but we did all right. One coat of primer, two of the new colour. Didn't spill much, and it looks OK. Here's a tip though, don't leave the painter's tape on the mouldings for 4 days before you try to take it off, or you'll tear your new paint. Oops. Who knew?

Moved to the house

Next up was packing and moving. I'd culled a lot of my stuff when I got married and my wife moved into the apartment a year before. So the traditional pre-move reduction of cruft was easier in some ways (less junk) but harder in others (all those things I'd justified keeping a year ago were subject to review again). Quite a bit of my 'bachelor days' furniture was deemed surplus, and donated to an agency that helps new immigrants start over in Canada. So, that made it a bit easier -- I form attachments to stuff I've had for a long time, and some of that furniture had been my parent's stuff before me. I felt better knowing it would get a few more years of use.

Still, even with another cull, an amazing number of cardboard boxes accumulated. My wife's boxes were all labelled and colour coded meticulously. Mine tended to say "Stuff - Basement." And we weren't quite ready when the movers arrived, though we were close. It took 3 hours to load, half an hour in transit, and 2 hours to unload. Very little damage or breakage, though our pizza stone is MIA, which bugs me all out of proportion to the cost of the thing.

I got the office set up first, hooked up the cable to the cable modem, and checked E2. Still down. Just as well, there was lots of unpacking to do. Setting up the kitchen, bedroom, etc.

Cleaned the apartment

We went back the next day and cleaned the apartment, and packed up all the flotsam and jetsam of our lives. It took quite a while. After 8.5 years in the place, I'd forgotten how it looked empty. I noticed that the places where I'd had pictures up the whole time were a different colour than the rest of the wall. Someone in the building traded up from a one-bedroom, and was going to repaint the whole place in custom colours. I'd left it eggshell for 8+ years, a change was probably welcome.

Had a birthday

The next day was my birthday. It snowed (thank goodness we were already moved) and I had to work. I never work on my birthday, but we're trying to release a major upgrade of the software product that I manage, and I need to be there. Not that I really do anything per se, but I can walk around and make sad-puppy faces at the people who are on the critical path to try and motivate them.

The upshot is almost nobody remembered my birthday - even I forgot, but luckily my wife remembered and took me out to supper and the bookstore, where I got to choose my own present. (3 books including Robert Sawyer's "Humans," sequel to his Hugo award winner, "Hominids".)

Wrecked my car

So, first Saturday in the new house, time to get groceries. We leave the house just around 8:00 a.m. There's a light dusting of snow but nothing serious, the roads are wet but not snow-covered. I'm driving and my wife is in the front passenger seat of my 1994 Saturn SL. We go up Royal York road, a quiet residential section lined with trees. A bus is stopped with four ways on, and I pull around him with no problem. Traffic is light.

Royal York goes under Dundas street (a major road) in a convoluted clover-leaf. The road widens to two lanes, and then three, each way for a short time, and is separated by a median. The interchange ramps are arranged in strange ways that require unusual turns.

As we come up to the underpass, the trees end and the houses are set back. You can choose the left lane or the right as the road widens - I choose the left in case the car before me needs to turn right to access Dundas. Then I see that the sign that warns of the median has been knocked down and is in the left lane, so I start to ease right.

Well, the wind blowing on the wet pavement, unimpeded by trees or houses, had created a slick surface on the roadbed. We call it black ice here in the Great White North - it looks like normal wet pavement, but it offers no traction at all. The nose of the car started to swing towards the sidewalk.

You're taught to steer into the skid and not touch the brake. So, I did, and the car responded all too well. The nose swung back and into oncoming traffic. Again, I steered into the skid, and the car started to correct. One of the wheels must have gripped for a moment - suddenly the car spun around and the left rear corner of the car decided it wanted to lead, for once. This left me a bit puzzled as to my next move, as we slid back across our lanes toward the sidewalk.

At this point my wife exclaimed in alarm, and I looked out my side window to observe a stout wooden utility pole travelling toward me (as it seemed). I had time to think two things "I'm going to be hurt" and "I'd best not be looking at this pole when we hit it." So I turned my head away and thus missed the moment when we mounted the curb.

We came across right at a residential driveway, the front wheels mounted there, so the car didn't tip. My wife remembers the rear of the car bouncing up, but it came down again right away, from the looks of the skid marks on the sidewalk. (I don't remember this happening, but I was fully occupied at the time.) The car must have rotated slightly when we came up onto the sidewalk, and we hit the pole about a foot behind my seat, right at the boundary between the front and rear doors. (Pictures of car, skid, and pole on my home node, for the curious.) The driver's side window left the car and proceeded without us, in small cubes, a few yards further up the lawn.

The Saturn's plastic parts did their thing, absorbing a fair amount of impact, protecting both myself and the utility pole from serious harm. The door did press me snugly into the center console, with the arm rest bruising my hip, but I wasn't injured. My wife was bounced around a bit more - the '94 Saturn's head rests don't come up high enough for her, and she hit her head on its top.

The homeowners called 9-1-1 for us and the 'jeep' ambulance1 and fire crew arrived in minutes. The firemen were hard pressed not to fall on their asses on the slippery roadway. I had already shut off the car, so the fire crew got me to open the hood and they cut the battery wires while the paramedics checked my wife. Meanwhile the police arrived, just in time to watch a cab bounce off the ambulance and slide to a stop a few meters beyond us. "Slippery eh?" the fire crew chief asked me jovially. "So it would seem" I deadpanned in response.

A second police car arrived to write up the second accident, and a full ambulance arrived to take my wife to the hospital for x-rays. If you've never sat in the wreck of your own car while medical personnel take your loved one out on a backboard, let me tell you, it's not on the top of my list of feel-good self-esteem moments.

I climbed across the console and out the passenger side and we were off to the hospital, the details of which ordeal I shall skip. X-rays were negative and my wife has recovered fully. We got home from the hospital just in time to welcome my in-laws who were staying over at the new house. "Hi, how are you? I just almost killed your daughter...."

The car was towed away while we were en route to the hospital. The next day I visited it in the impound yard to collect my plates and personal effects. As I said above, I form attachments to things I've had for a while. I really took good care of that car. It made me very sad to see it broken beyond repair. It's since gone off to the wrecker's yard, and my insurance company has given my the princely sum of $4000 for it. (So much for the 'major asset'.)

Oh yeah, and I got charged with careless driving, which the officer told me he had to do -- nonetheless I think it's all out of proportion with the event. I was driving at the posted speed and made what I consider to be a perfectly reasonable judgment. I just had the bad luck to make the course correction at a bad spot. Could I have better managed the skid? Maybe - I'll never know. I'm waiting for the wheels of justice to grind out a court date so I can try and convince a judge that the answer is no....

Aftermath

It turns out our new phone number was previously the number of a gentleman's club over on nearby Kipling avenue. Culling the news archives I found out that it was repeatedly raided by the vice squad for various prostitution related offences. I guess they finally shut it down, and after some period of inactivity, we got that number. Kinda funny, we get calls meant for it, mostly from polite young women. I'm not sure what that's about, exactly.

Sometime in the midst of filing insurance claims, shipping a beta software release, buying Christmas gifts, trying to find alternate transportation for the holidays, and getting the house ready for winter, E2 came back. (Note to self: find and read dannye's node about eavestrough gutter guards2.)

I think I'm ready to get back in the groove. Of course, there's a good 1,000 kilometers of winter driving over the Christmas - New Year's period to survive first. My driving confidence is shot all to hell, especially in the snow. Perhaps the weather gods will have mercy on me - here's one year I'm only dreaming of a white Christmas in nightmares.

Epilogue

Well, I just now had a call from a young woman with a strong central European accent, a baby crying in the background, wondering if she could, possibly, please, dance at "my club." There's was a whole world of hurt and desperation in her voice. I explained gently that this was now a residential number, and that I think the club in question has closed. Did I have their new number, she asked. No, I'm sorry, I think they're closed, I repeated. She said something I didn't understand and hung up.

So the phone number thing is not so funny now. But the busted up car and the mortgage seem like smaller problems. I don't have to ring notoriously sleazy strip joints and beg them for work so that I can feed my baby.

Happy holidays, gentle noders. Be grateful for what you have. See you in the new year.


  1. In Toronto, paramedic vehicles which are not equipped for transport make the first response, and then call for a full ambulance for transport if needed. This makes for very quick response times, as the same budget buys more vehicles and crews.
  2. Leaf proof gutters

[Ann] stared dully at her marbles. This one is red, she thought. I see the color and I call it red. But what if... what if somebody else were to look at it and see the color I call blue but call that color red. How could you tell if this happened? It wouldn't help to ask what color it was, because they would say red eve if it was blue. They would have been taught to say "red" when they saw blue. Their red would be blue. But doesn't red have to be red? Isn't red something? Not just a name or label?
- Dream Sister, Alexandra Whitaker (p118, in my book anyway)

It's been a long time since I read that book - I'd forgotten that it isn't all "younger stuff" - meaning, I'm almost 19 and I can still read it without saying something like "Aaaargh I just can't do it anymore!"
I tried to read Goosebumps at James' house a little while ago, because I was bored out of my mind, and I put it down about a third of the way in. I'm actually a little surprised that I made it that far.

But that isn't what I wanted to talk about. Or is it? Hmm.
I came here after reading "This sentence is in spanish when you're not looking" with the intent of talking about perceptions, as in the above quote. I had to run downstairs and go through all my little books to find Dream Sister, and then of course I couldn't remember where the quote was in the story...

**sigh**

It's interesting, how my mind jumps about so easily. But now that I've forgotten entirely what I meant to say about perceptions and how fucked-up I start feeling if I think about other people seeing me as a BEM, I might as well go back to that whole I-can't-read-Goosebumps-anymore-because-I'm-not-10-anymore thing.

It's so weird. When you look back at your life, it's hard to see yourself as a tiny little thing who doesn't understand much in the world. No matter how many times I go back and look at old work that I've done, or just things that I've written even a year ago, I'm always a little surprised at how different I was then, as opposed to now.
And seeing stupid spelling mistakes in my grade two journals are included in that surprise. I do remember being a sort of conceited little kid at school, probably because I thought I could read better than anyone else in the class.
So much for refusing to read when I was three.. or four. I don't remember. We have an audio tape somewhere of my older brother Marcus reading Hop on Pop while I determinedly attempted - to my mother's dismay - to eat the microphone Marcus was reading into.

Some of the stuff I used to read was good stuff - a lot of Dr Seuss (awesome), and those Disney hardcover books... we had at least thirty of them, if not more.
Yeah... when I was six, seven, eight.. Dr Seuss, Disney, Richard Scarry books. I still have four Richard Scarrys in particular - giant red books with bricks drawn on them so the books look like apartment buildings. Lessee (I don't want to try and dig them out, really).. Going Places...
Dammit, there were others. They're downstairs, but getting them out is difficult and I don't wanna do it.

Anyway, what I meant to be getting to is about all those "teen" books. The almost-novels that preteens are in love with; the Sweet Valley Twins, the Goosebumps, the Roald Dahl and the Judy Blume novellas. The 200-page-with-big-print books that make younger kids feel bigger for reading.
**Note: I'm not putting them down - I still have all mine, and am determined to keep them. D:
I claim to be keeping them "in case I have kids," but a number of them I still pick up now and then - some secretly - just to relive that part of my past, I guess. For the Roald Dahls and the Gordan Kormans, it's because they're still good, and sometimes all I want is a quick read that I can go through in less than a day. If I want weeks of reading, I'll pick up Outlander or the Earth's Children series again - neither of which is finished yet, by the way, so of course I'm going to end up reading them all over again when the new books come out. Dammit.

I think, if I ever do have kids, and they're stupid, that I'll have an aneurysm. Brain bubbles. Head explosion.
Laurel's head go boom now.
I've managed to keep all these books (though not the Sesame Street Treasury, which I got at the IGA for ten cents - or a dollar? - each), so if my kids turn out to be dumb, I don't know what I'll do. It just sounds like a terrible waste.

I dunno if that sounds kind of cold or not, but apparently my mom thought the same thing. "What if my kids are dumb?" Lucky for her, we could all read before we went into kindergarten. Marcus more than me, though - I decided when I was small that I was not reading. No way, no how was I going to translate those little marks on the page.

sitting here watching my baby fall asleep, her little kitty head drooping slowly towards the table... i wonder if she knows her face is touching the table now....oop I moved and she jerked awake...
am i weird for having a kitty as my baby? i'd much rather have a kitty than a real baby at this point... less maintenance and they dont cry all night... but sleep on your pillow and purr you to sleep instead
i will never survive without a cat

I wonder how I went from that to this: I can't go for more than a day or two without something, anything to read. Eat cereal in the morning, read the damn cereal box. I think when I was ten I knew most of the ingredients in Frosted Flakes.
Now, when I go camping with my mom, we bring a book for each day, and a couple extras in case we get bored of those, or just feel like something else. I usually bring my books too... meaning, the ones I'm writing. Destroyer, my current fragile brainchild, has taken years to develop and I'm beginning to worry that it's all gone to waste. If nothing else, the Destroyer saga will be a bunch of those 200-page novellas - still good, mind you, just not what I had in mind.
The story is so much more than the one book Destroyer tries to describe. I'm at six books now, just to take in the whole story of this one family, because the background is extensive and keeps on growing, despite my best efforts against it.

I could go on... and on.. but I grow tired and Luna is probably hoping I will go downstairs and offer her a place on the pillow next to my head. she's getting so big... she takes up the whole thing...

So good night and sweet dreams, e2... it is nearly 2 am and I bet I have an hour or two of tossing'n'turning ahead of me, so I better get going.

Today I saw a man sitting in the café of a local bookstore. He was surrounded by thousands of books he'd never read. They recently installed a television in the café. The man was watching it.

How do you write about something as important, as big, as the birth of your first child? How should I? Should I give the details of how my wife and I spent yesterday timing and logging each contraction, walking slowly through a park, suspended from the reality we knew before our impending parenthood? Should I try to put in words the pain and pride I felt watching (helping?) my wife go through labor unmedicated, or the joy and love at seeing my son for the first time? I don't think any of these endevours would do justice to the magnitude this day held for me.

So, I give up. I'll just record for posterity that at 3:30 am PST on 23 December 2003 my first son, and now the center of my universe, changed from an idea into a gurgling, pooping, sleeping and amazing little person. I love him.

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