Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Day in the Life: Tuesday

I was already starting to feel sick last night when I got home, but sometimes that sick-feeling is the result of low blood sugar, which I certainly had. So I tried to convince myself that I hadn't caught a cold from my Station Manager, and -- with a lot of trouble -- finally conked out around 11:30pm.

Midnight - 6:00am - Slept intermittently and suffered the usual "I'm getting sick" dreams. I dream that somebody's given me a box with four racoons in it, and when I open the box I see that the racoons are dead and that bats are attached to their heads. I dream that a very young Robert Jan Stips -- member of the band "Nits" -- offers to buy me both a Nits T-Shirt and a "very thumpy keyboard" if I'll loan him $25 until Christmas, and meanwhile my mother tries to explain bisexuality to my grandmother. In between these dreams I often wake up to find the cat lying on or against my torso, which is both cute and uncomfortable.

6:00 - 7:00 - I wake up briefly and make the sensible decision not to go to work in a Hallowe'en costume. I set my alarm from 6:30 to 7:00 and go back to sleep.

7:00 - 7:10 - A reporter on CBC radio is interviewing a child who apparently is the world ambassador for UNICEF. He asks the child why they're doing away with the old orange UNICEF boxes, and the child replies, but his voice is cut up due to technical problems; only half the words are transmitted. The thing is, the technical problem doesn't really SOUND like a problem, it sounds instead like the child is only saying every second word. The reporter doesn't seem to notice this problem and he asks how one becomes the world ambassador for UNICEF. The child doesn't hear the question and I quickly turn the radio off because I hate listening to awkward situations. Though I do wonder if one of the criteria for UNICEF's world ambassador is to "speak English."

7:10 - 7:30 - I evaluate my health. I have a headache, I've got gunk forming in the back of my throat, I'm slightly achey...in short, I'm 100% sick. I decide not to go to work, because I know (from experience) that if I don't take today off I'll just get sicker. But I can't call in sick until 8:30 because I'd like to speak to my supervisor about it rather than just leave a message. I think how incredible it is that only three hours after meeting the CKMS Station Manager I was already showing symptoms of her illness. This makes me sad because all my life I've gotten sick easily and often, while this year -- thanks to better food, sleeping, and vitamin-taking habits -- I've been ill much less, to the point where I proudly crowed that I'd turned my life around. But now I've gotten sick twice in the last two months, which makes me feel like I've both failed at looking after myself, and that people will once again be justified in considering me unhealthy. I think about all this while eating tasteless Golden Grahams, then offering my cat the tiny 1/2 spoonful of milk at the bottom, a morning ritual that we both love equally.

7:30 - 8:30 - I lie down and read about windmills, views of the Niagara, wildflowers, forest fires, bullfrogs, mosquitos, squirrels, and rabbits. At 8:30 I call my supervisor and she gives me her blessing, so I fall asleep.

8:30 - 12:15 - Surprisingly benign dreams considering how crappy I feel. Something about finding intruders in the basement of my new apartment, and about "Men Without Hats" releasing a new song, and then a short fat man is walking along Hollywood Blvd with me and we go into a diner. The narrator in my head says that the man's flabby arms "hang like gaffs on the counter," then says "Everybody hated Joe Comb, but they loved what he could do for them." The script-writer in my head wants to describe Joe Comb as looking like Danny Devito, but the producer in my head complains that men like Joe Comb are always being played by men like Danny Devito, it's stereotyped, it's type-casting. I wake up feeling stubbly and thick-throated, thirsty but not thirsty, and the litter box is starting to smell.

12:15 - 1:30 - Battlestar Galactica episode 2.6, thanks to a lovely loan of DVDs from Henning. I still find the series to be contrived and obvious, but they're doing a good job of tackling human issues in an easily digestable form, and their story arc has me hooked. I love these "working towards a goal without knowing what the goal is" sorts of stories. But it makes me sad that it's an ongoing series instead of a mini-series. In a mini-series, you know that the people who write it are working towards a conclusion, which tends to mean a more logical and thought-out storyline. But with an ongoing series, they can tantalize you as long as their ratings hold out, they tend to artificially "stretch" the plot and create a lot of convenient loose ends to give them something to hold on to later. This is what I mean by "obvious."

1:30 - 2:00 - Finally get my crap together, shave, and walk to Belmont Village for the cat necessities. It's windy, but warm, and I'm reminded as always that it's a bad idea to sit cooped up in a house when you're sick. The fresh air does me good. I take a side-trip to Vincenzos to explore their daunting list of expensive and exotic groceries. Buying halva is a no-brainer -- it's a comfort food -- and the Eggplant Parmiggiano is a tried-and-true slab of healthy deliciousness. I also buy rosemary raisin pecan crackers. A woman is painting a Remembrance Day scene on the window of a shop, with lots of gravestones and a sign that says "Freedom wasn't free." I wonder if this is a message in support of the Bush administration's "Stay the Course" meme, but I doubt it. What Canadians think about the Iraq war doesn't have much of an effect on American policy, but there's a hard-core minority in this country that is definitely in lock-step behind it. They seem to think that making definite decisions and taking an aggressive approach to a problem is admirable, even if the decisions are flawed and the aggressive approach just makes things worse. We're a country that doesn't make many definite decisions and that frustrates people who are a tad more knee-jerk than I am. And oh yes, I buy stuff for the cat.

2:00 - 5:15 - It's pathetic that the days I have off are usually the days when I'm least able to accomplish anything. Sore throat and fever now. It's not like I'm dying of bilious fever, just that I've got the flu. Instead of cleaning the house, recording music, or solving world hunger I sit and watch episodes seven to ten of Battlestar Galactica, season two. I really am hooked. Just when I think there's no new complication they can add to the storyline, they throw in something new. This doesn't disguise the fact that the characters all continue to have diametrically-opposed character traits: their heroic traits and their flaws. Maybe this really IS the basis of human nature, but I like to think some of us have traits that are ambiguous. You know, most of us can't be described as, for instance, "heroically loyal and dependable, yet unable to love and a maker of snap decisions." Or, say, "defenseless, maternal, in love, a source of good intelligence, but a Cylon." I suppose the rest of us would not make good characters on network TV: "Quite talented, good work ethic, okay lover, but bad with finances and can't cook." I am NOT describing myself. And oh yes, I cleaned the litter box, partly because I didn't want to say that I still hadn't done so by 5:15.

5:15 - 5:45 - Finish reading the book about early pioneer life in Upper Canada. It's a bit of an anti-climax, ending with appendixes. At this point I'm just killing time. I'm exhausted but I don't want to sleep too early, otherwise I'll wake up at midnight.

5:45 - 6:00 - A nice bath. My legs aren't too hacked up from that useless shaving exercise yesterday. The cat moans horribly and glares at me like I should know what she's moaning about. I think that just being around water puts her into an hysterical state.

6:00 - 7:15 - Start reading "My Canadian Journal," a book written by Harriot Dufferin -- wife of the Governor General -- between 1872 and 1878. These things can be hit or miss, but Harriot is a real gem, spunky and outspoken and adventurous. By day she's hosting croquet parties, by night she's going fishing for salmon and making snarky remarks about her attendants. More on this later. Anyway, it's time to do the final bloodwork and try to sleep; I'm looking forward to aspirin, Halls, and an easing of this crappy sore throat.

Monday, October 30, 2006

A Day in the Life: Monday

Contrary to popular belief, I only go on self-destructive drinking binges in my spare time. So what do I do during the rest of the week?

For my edification and perhaps yours:

7:00am - I awaken from the usual dream of running from a namess evil. The cat's food has almost run out, and so has her litter. I promise myself that I'll be a good parent and stock up on my way home from work. I feel horrible. I need to shave and wash my hair but I decide I can survive another day. Read the New Yorker from 7:15 to 7:45 while eating Golden Grahams cereal, wondering why it doesn't taste as good as it did when I was a child. Set the clocks back that didn't automatically do it for themselves. Wonder what's going to happen to all these automatic clocks next year, when Daylight Savings Time changes. Pet the cat, dress, and go.

7:45 - 8:30 - Walk to work. Since my clocks are always set incorrectly, my walk only takes half an hour but it appears to take 45 minutes.

8:30 - 9:00 - I read the news today, oh boy. Google news keeps me updated all day, actually. Some idiot in England is saying that humans should use their ingenuity to "adapt" to increased global temperatures, which is so stupid that it will probably catch on as a talking point. Dick Cheney says that violence is "spiking" in Iraq because the insurgents want the Democrats to win, which is so stupid that it has already caught on as a talking point. I pray for a shift of power in the USA.

9:30 - Eat peanut butter and greet the new employee in my department. Am given a pep talk about Hallowe'en. I consider dressing up for Hallowe'en tomorrow for work, which is a large enough investment to be daunting without alcohol.

8:30 - 12:00 Noon - Hefty work, which -- due to the non-disclosure agreement I signed today -- I am even less able to tell you about. Not that you want to know anyway.

12:00 - 12:30 - Eat lunch at Subway. One of the women who works there annoys me to no end: she's cocky, subnormal, useless, and ugly. Don't get me started. I read about threshing, maple sugar, quilting bees, butchering day, and racoon hunting -- among other things -- in "Pen Pictures of Early Pioneer Life in Upper Canada," written by "A Canuck" in 1905. I pause to reflect that these are my ancestors.

12:30 - I return to work and receive an email from the CKMS Station Manager, wondering if I can come in at 6pm to review applicants for the Administrative Assistant position. So much for getting the cat food and kitty litter.

12:30 - 4:30pm - Keep working. I'm glad to note that the folks who like to play Go have found themselves a table to play on. The Go pieces look like candy.

4:30 - 5:00 - Walk to University Plaza en route to CKMS. I get a soaker walking through Waterloo Park, and I'm dismayed by the mass defoliation to make way for a new sewage system. As if the trees didn't have enough problem dealing with this creepy leaf fungus.

5:00 - 5:30 - Eat at Curry In a Hurry, which is tasty but ridiculously overpriced for microwaved leftovers. Lamb Vindaloo, hot. Mango Lassi. I read about hunting, fishing, country dances, tarring & feathering, spelling bees, and early country courtship. I notice that the waitress is acting like I'm somehow there to serve her.

5:30 - 6:00 - Walk to CKMS. Gosh it's getting dark. I see a majestic blue heron standing in the wake of the setting sun. Actually he's slowly pushing his way across the horrid man-made lake in the new Industrial Park. He looks like the Loch Ness Monster, or a farming implement. A man rides past me on a stinky scooter that keeps stalling.

6:00 - 7:00 - At CKMS, drop off tomorrow's episode of "Repeater" and sit down to go through the applicants for Administrative Assistant. I consider this a delicate issue so I'll leave it at that. The Station Manager is ill, I sit in an unventilated room with her and then use her pen.

7:00 - 7:30 - Walk home in the dark. It isn't the best place to be walking, muggings are not unheard of. Halfway home I start seeing darting shadows and smelling smoke: it's Devil's Night, I totally forgot. Fortunately the moon is only half full. The smoke gets stronger, something is definitely burning which shouldn't be burning. To me this always means that my apartment is on fire and my cat is dead, though fortunately there's no visible smoke in any direction. I start hearing sirens but I never find out what the fire is, it smells like tires burning. I live close to a rubber factory of some kind. Passing the Bauer Lofts, I note that they've put up another pumping station on the last stretch of unclaimed sidewalk.

7:30 - 8:00 - It's definitely too late to buy cat food. I contemplate dressing up for Hallowe'en tomorrow. Just in case, I decide to shave my legs. This is not a comfortable thing because I just shaved them on Saturday. The cat drinks water out of the bathtub, and as always I'm amazed that she doesn't fall in. She's just happy that I haven't poisoned the water with bath oil or bubbles or something. I decide to do a quick check of my Hallowe'en costume, to make sure I haven't lost it in the train wreck that is my apartment post-weekend. Thank goodness I do, because when I find the skirt I see that there's dirt all over it. Then I remember, all in a flash: I fell really badly when I got out of the cab, partly because I was seeing double but mostly because my heel broke as I was climbing out. This explains why my left arm and left leg are sore.

8:00 - 8:30 - Write this!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Repentent Drinker

You're looking at an example of the old addage, "God looks after drunk and stupid people." This is my left boot. Doesn't look much like a boot, does it? Fortunately the heel only detached while I was limping into my apartment and not at any point earlier...for that alone I can be humbly thankful. If the heel had done this earlier I don't know WHAT I would have done.

Hallowe'en. My birthday night out. Seeing Dan Haner -- who I haven't seen in about two years -- back from Calgary. Wearing a costume that *I* thought was obvious but just confused everybody else. Drinking too many shots and filling up my stomach with awfulness. Head spinning, speech slurring. Wind, rain, sleet, and snow. Escorted out of the bar by the sweet busboy. Catching a cab instantly. Heel falling off. Lots of vagueness involving showers, weeping, and vomiting up something that looked like 3M Scotch tape. A disappearing cat. Calling Vanilla at 1:30am to please please please share my suffering and distract me. Thank goodness for Vanilla. Reality check. Wind whistling through the windows. Shivering and being a total suck. Spinning myself to sleep at 5am watching John Candy and Eugene Levy. The usual nightmare about needing to take a plane someplace but being unable to find the ticket. Daylight Savings Time. Awake for breakfast and a snowstorm. Listening to Aimee Mann and thinking what a beautiful birthday, what a horrible aftermath, and what was that stuff I threw up?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Vastly Stressful: Tipping Hairdressers

Most things in life stress me out, but "tipping a hairdresser" is exceptional.

Why? Firstly because it's not standardized...everybody has a different way of calculating a tip for their hairdresser. Some people say 10%, some say 15%, some say $10 every time, some say don't tip at all, some say you have to give money to whoever shampoos you as well. And when you ask the hairdresser what to tip, they always act all humble and say they want less than you know they actually expect.

It's also stressful because my bill is always presented to me only seconds before I'm expected to leave the tip; I'm always dealing with sort of informal stylists whose prices fluxuate based on some inner calculation that only they understand, so I don't know how much I have to pay and therefore can't mull over a suitable percentage.

Also, the stylists I deal with are all independents who either own their own salons or rent a chair in an existing salon, so it's not possible to deal with them through an intermediary: the tip goes to the stylist, directly, hand-to-hand. They also need to be paid in cash, so no handy VISA or debit tips. I have to give them bills.

And finally, I'm FRIENDS with my stylists. We get pretty close. It's one thing to tip somebody you barely know, it's another thing to tip somebody you've just had a heart-to-heart with, especially when they've spent more time and effort on you than they would an average client.

All this leads to my fumbling with my money almost as though I expect them to either visibly approve or disapprove of my tip. And then if they look a little odd -- probably because I was just standing there fumbling with my money -- I assume it's because I undertipped them. That's how I feel right now.

I wish that we could drop off tips LATER. Or send them in the mail. The system we have now is unsatisfactory.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Muffy's Extreme Panache Scared the Bridesmaids...

...But Her Ankles Were Like Fatty Sausages!

It doesn't matter how happy you are, or how much dancing you do, or how many complements you receive...if your ankles aren't thin enough then you might as well be DIRT! And nobody wants to be DIRT, girls. But "Onyx Pointex" hosiery can turn your dirt into gold!
(Please note bonus Funkadelic CD)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Galatea's Beauty Tamed the Dreaded Cyclops...

...But He Probably Never Looked at Her Ankles!
Nature was generous in the way she chiseled Galatea's classic features. But, she was more than generous in the girth she bestowed on Galatea's ankles. Even her fabled facial beauty could hardly compensate for her ankles--unless, of course, she wore "Onyx Pointex."
The New Yorker, December 4, 1926
As usual the folks at Onyx Hosiery were taking a swipe at a defenseless statue. Tell a girl today that "ankle girth" is more important than "facial beauty" and I hope she'll laugh at you. And then kick you in the ankle.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ouch, My Hand! In Stratford

I've been having an awful time with my right hand and wrist: quite a bit of pain and numbness, which started in March and just hasn't gotten better. A sports doctor put me in a wrist splint, but that hasn't helped. After a while they started whispering "Carpal Tunnel" and on the heels of that, "Diabetic Neuropathy?"

The only way to find out more was to get an EMG (electromyograph) done, and since the people who do them in Kitchener suddenly quit their jobs, and since our hospitals in this region are horribly overbooked, I found myself scheduled for an EMG at Stratford hospital on October 20th.

Stratford Ontario is a 45-minute drive from Kitchener, and it's a pretty little town, the kind of place that would have stayed small if not for a shrewd move by a Stratford native back in the 1950s. He started the "Stratford Festival," a yearly theatrical blowout that has only increased in popularity since. The town of Stratford now has a thriving artistic community. It also has the ubiquitous "rustic knick-knack" shops that small towns get clogged with, presumably because the only people who visit small towns are people who like rustic knick-knacks.

I left all my planning for this excursion until the last minute (yesterday, shame). I have no car so I knew I'd have to take the Greyhound bus...but I figured, heck, Stratford's a popular place -- and what's more it's halfway to the metropolis of London -- so there must be at LEAST six busses a day.

But no. There are two busses. I realized that mine would arrive in Stratford just half an hour before my appointment at the hospital. What's more, Mapquest informed me that the bus station was at one end of the town, and the hospital at the other. And I started to wonder: what if they don't even have CABS? What if my bus is LATE? What if I get lost in the HOSPITAL?

I knew I'd enjoy the actual bus trip, as it goes directly through the towns I grew up in -- Petersburg, Baden, New Hamburg -- and the landscape out there is almost unbearably pretty, all rolling fields, patchy forests, weed-clogged ditches, old curches, farms and grain silos. On the way down I contemplated the girl in the wheelchair who had to go through the ten-minute procedure of being strapped onto an external elevator and hoisted into the bus, and I wondered if it embarassed her.

Stratford DOES have a bus station...barely. It's in a small room in a warehouse, next to a hallway with six chairs in it. It's also in a typically Southern Ontario edge of town: petrochemical company, run-down steel storage buildings from the '70s, railroad tracks, no sidewalks, and a feeling that you could walk forever without getting anywhere.

The women at the station told me that there was no way I could walk to the hospital, so they called me a taxi. The man in the taxi also told me there was no way I could walk to the hospital. It was inconceivable to these people that anybody would want to walk from the bus station to the hospital, but I kept my eyes on the route and started thinking, hey, I could do this. As a side note: all taxis in Stratford charge a flat $7 rate for calls within town. I don't even think the cab had a meter in it. Quaint!

I love hospitals, and the Stratford General Hospital is a nice mix of '40s relic and parasitic steel-and-glass addition. I DID get lost, entirely due to my own stupidity -- I asked for an MRI instead of an EMG -- but finally found myself with electrodes taped to my arm, and a nice lady telling me that bikers and armed-services personnel often can't stand the pain of an EMG.

Let me clarify: in my case, the EMG consisted of the woman placing groups of four electrodes on various parts of my arm, then giving me sets of three progressively more powerful shocks on various nerves. This made me jump and it was all very unpleasant, especially after you've had about fifty of them. According to the woman (who does this all the time and confesses that she's very unpopular) some people just can't stand electric shocks, and they tend to be burly guys, perhaps because they've had awful shocks before. Other people, however, barely notice it at all. I fell somewhere in the middle.

But it was all worthwhile and they made an almost magically occult diagnosis: I have TWO problems. One is tendonitis and is aggravated by typing, and the other is a nerve in my right elbow that I'm messing up by resting it on hard surfaces with my elbow flexed, which I definitely do. The pain is caused by the first problem and the numbness is caused by the second. So it all comes down to ergonomics, no nerve degeneration, nothing that cortisone injections and a change in work furniture won't fix.

But then the real adventure: I had to decide if I wanted to try walking back to the bus station, or if I should hang around the hospital for two hours and then call a cab, or if I wanted to go downtown, sit in a coffee shop for two hours, and THEN call a cab.

As always there are pros and cons. I can certainly afford a $7 cab ride...but I like nothing more than seeing new sights. I LOVE walking through strange neighbourhoods, seeing the houses, getting a taste for the people who live there. I decided to risk it (and it was a bit of a risk, because if I missed my bus...well, there wouldn't be any more busses).

So I started walking. It was chilly and overcast: just grey clouds and dark blue clouds, all pressed together and completely hiding the sun. An autumn day when the light doesn't seem to come from anywhere and you have to keep telling yourself that the sun isn't going down yet. Whirlpools of crackling leaves in the wind, occasional spitting rain.

Most of the houses were pretty '50s red- or yellow-brick middle-class dwellings, with big yards and Hallowe'en decorations. I walked and walked, using the Stratford Visitor's Guide as a map. I saw the biggest, most gorgeous, most easily-accessible abandoned building I've ever seen, an enormous burnt-out warehouse by the railroad tracks with no fences or guardposts.

I passed the huge Via Rail station which looked overdone for the two passenger trains they get every day. Then I found myself alongside the wide, flat switching yards, so many overgrown tracks that nobody uses anymore, so many rotting boxcars covered with graffiti, and nothing on the other side but fields. Unused and abandoned desolation, but beautiful until somebody builds a suburb.

I took a brief detour around the old Krug factory. There's something majestic about an eighty-year-old factory covered with gables and flourishes, dusty windows you can barely see through, redundant rooms and huge ventilation ducts that were probably added when somebody realized that ventilation was important. I also patted a shaggy dog.

After that, the industrial section at the edge of town, pre-fabricated metal buildings thumped down around small, delapidated houses from the 1800s. I passed the Petrochemical plant (and "The Greatest Little Warehouse in Stratford")...and then I was back at the bus station. I felt like Livingstone: everybody told me it was an impossible walk, and I'd done it in 45 minutes.

I think most people just don't walk much anymore.

I sat on one of the six chairs in the hallway and waited for the bus. Soon a woman brought her two daughters into the station; all three had the goat-like look of the born-stupid, people who look at you and stare at you and you can tell that the gears just aren't turning. The mother was enormously fat -- probably the biggest person I've ever seen -- and there was a four-inch gap between where her blouse left off and her track pants started. She could barely breathe. They all had the same unflattering shade of red hair that looks like dying weeds.

Later, outside, the mother lit up a cigarette, and then lit up another for her pre-teen daughter. They coughed horribly. The other daughter, about 10 years old, was taking the bus to stay with her aunt in Kitchener. Part of me wanted to listen to their conversation and another part didn't, but in any case the mother panted and coughed so much in the wind that she was barely audible except when furious, which was much of the time.

Things came to a head when the younger daughter realized she'd forgotten a stuffed animal at home. She wanted the mother to go back and get it. The mother objected to the expense, and instead dug out her wallet and gave something to the daughter, saying "here, sleep with mommy's picture." The daughter started crying, so the mother started yelling "Don't fuckin' do this now! End it now! Why're you doin' this now? Shut the fuck up! END THIS NOW!" in her hoarse, breathless, chain-smoker's voice, complete with that peculiar accent that people recognize as "Canadian Trash." Through it all there was a strange love and respect between the three of them, but they were horrible to be around, and we were all very glad when the bus finally came.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Common Mounted Police Problems In 1889

Police today think they got it tough? "The New West" -- a collection of reports filed by the North-West Mounted Police in 1889 -- should be required reading.

In 1876, the North West Act was passed, providing governance to what was then the North-Territories (now essentially Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba). I can find very little information about the act itself, but one particular part of it caused a lot of trouble for the Mounties: the Liquor Laws.

These laws forbade the importation and sale of liquor (though apparently not beer) without a permit from the Governor-General, the point being to prevent Indians from drinking it. But the Mounted Police found it impossible to enforce, especially since lawyers were always finding ingenious new loopholes in it. Not even the local government seemed sympathetic to the law; one judge even ruled that people could sell liquor as long as they had SOME permit, even if it was somebody else's. Every single report in this book contains a frustrated screed by the officers: everybody hates the law, we can't enforce it, it must be changed.

Equally annoying to the Mounted Police was the state of their barracks furniture, which they had to make themselves out of rough wood. This lowered morale almost as much as the lack of recreational facilities, and the officers were constantly pleading for iron bed frames, mainly because the iron frames could be folded up to allow the men more room to move around. Superintendent J. Cotton made the typical comment (so typical that it starts to sound like a coordinated campaign): "The ordinary boards and trestles furnish the men with a wretched substitute for a bed, and, at best, present a sorry appearance in the barrack room."

Once you joined the Mounted Police you signed up for a specific term and could only leave by buying out your contract. Even then it often took months for a buyout to be authorized. Since most of the men were skilled farmers and craftsmen -- and the life of a Mountie was cruel, harrowing, and ill-rewarded -- many of them saw better opportunities in the nearby towns and couldn't wait to be authorized to leave. Some of them deserted the force, mainly by crossing the border into Montana. This seems to make the officers more sad than angry.

Apart from difficulties with fire protection (not enough equipment for storing water and too many fires caused by locomotive sparks), a lack of bridges and ferries (making crossing rivers a life-threatening exercise), and dissatisfaction with the armaments (especially the Winchester carbines and the revolvers which were "too powerful"), the reports are mostly positive.

They get most colourful when they start talking about their dealings with the Indians. They generally divided the tribes into good (Bloods, Piegans, Stoneys) and bad (Cree) categories, except for the much-maligned "half-breeds" -- AKA Metis, or French-Indians -- who were generally described as shiftless criminals: "Many are idle and have no settled occupation, and if they get any money waste it in drinking and gambling."

Indians occasionally stole horses, slaughtered ranch cattle, and drank too much, but these were always stressed as isolated cases. Sometimes they camped close to ranches: "They have numbers of dogs, and these dogs chase calves and colts, kill poultry, etc.; Certainly a camp of Indians near one's house is not a desirable addition." The general tone was that the Indians were "good-natured" and needed to be prodded in the right direction.

From my 21st century point of view -- aware that the Native Americans have legitimate grievances, then and now -- I'm always on the lookout for racism in these reports. I started getting suspicious when officers kept mentioning Indians leaving their reservations "without a pass." Not having access to the laws of the time, I got more and more concerned: was there REALLY a law saying that the Indians had to get some sort of "pass" before they could walk on non-reservation land?

Then I came across this little gem of subdued horribleness, thanks to Superintendent R. B. Deane:
The Indians that have come this way from the Blood Reserve have, on the whole, behaved themselves well... Others come with all sorts of plausible pretexts to account for being off their reserve without a pass. Some do not appear to think a pass necessary at all. One Indian produced a pass which was exactly a year old, and therewith was quite content. Some of them seem to be aware that in point of law they have as much right to roam about the country as white men, and that confinement to a reserve was not one of the provisions of their treaty.
You've got to be KIDDING me. The Mounted Police were regularly enforcing a fake "pass law" to keep Indians from leaving their reservations? And this is nonchalantly described in a report, with full knowledge that the reports were published every year for public reading? This has changed the tone of everything I'm reading; if such a basic violation of the rights of the Indians was so casually tossed around, I can't imagine what they DIDN'T put in the reports.

Not altogether surprising, but these 19th century Mounties sounded like such even-handed guys until then.

Anybody's Grandfather?

Imagine my surprise while reading the "Motors" feature in the November 27, 1926 issue of The New Yorker:
A man in Kitchener, Ontario, has an original system of warming. He keeps his engine running all day! His car is a Nash and only once to our knowledge has it frozen. Loco, Mercedes and Hispano owners are not recommended to try this. It might prove expensive. We believe some one in Socony* started the habit.
These magazines only mention Canada when they're talking about bootleggers. Such a surprise they'd mention the city I live in! Though Kitchener WAS a bigger wheel in Ontario back then than it is today...

* Standard Oil Company of New York

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The New West: Mysterious 19th Century Ailments

As part of my personal mission to learn more about the country I live in (and to have fun doing it), I'm reading a fascinating book called "The New West." It's a straight-forward collection of reports from the North-West Mounted Police filed during 1889.

These prototypical mounties had only been around for 16 years by that point. They were still suffering growing pains as they tried to keep up with explosive settlement, the coming of the railroad, forest fires, cattle theft, and some decidedly uneasy relationships with the Native Americans.

I've only just started reading the book, but I'm struck by the reports filed by Senior Surgeon A. Jukes (who, I've just discovered, testified that Louis Riel was not insane) and his group of assistant surgeons. They provide handy tables of all the illnesses they treated during the year. Many of them are easy for a 21st century reader to understand, but there are plenty of cases of Freaky 19th Century Ailments with weird names.

To educate you (and myself), I've done a bit of research. And if you're a really dedicated hypochondriac, try these ones on for size:
  • Two officers spent almost a month recovering from Bilious Fever. It's an intestinal flu/fever that keeps on coming back to haunt you. I've always assumed this caused your stomach to bloat.
  • Eighteen unfortunate fellows dealt with Cephalalgia, which isn't a deadly tropical amoeba...it's just a headache!
  • Choria took one man seventy days to recover from. It's the infamous St. Vitus' Dance, a symptom of several different illnesses (such as Huntington's disease and rheumatic fever).
  • Lumbago -- AKA lower-back pain -- was pretty popular and easily overcome.
  • I'm totally confused by Odontolgia, which is listed as a "disease of the nervous system." There are lots of online references to Odontologia, but they're all in Spanish and probably refer to some medical field. Maybe a toothache?
  • Good old Catarrh, a chronic inflammation of the mucous membranes.
  • One poor guy caught Furunculus and was still being treated by the time of the report. It's a boil. Why don't we hear about boils and carbuncles anymore? Either because our hygiene is better or because we just call them big pimples nowadays, is my guess.
  • Three (possibly) uncircumsized men complained of Balanitis, a penile inflammation. The Mounted Police didn't have many opportunities to bathe, apparently.
  • Yikes, Desquamative Nephritis took three months to kill a police officer. It's a nasty inflammation of the kidneys.
  • One man had Orchitis, an inflammation of the testicles. But don't worry...he got over it!
  • Two men suffered Eruptions! I have no idea what this means. Testicles again?
  • I sense a trend here...another two men from Calgary spent ten days being treated for Spermatorrhoea, which Swami Sivandra of Rishikesh says has "eaten away the very core of the heart of many brilliant youth." Amazing that a grown man would go to the doctor because he's having wet dreams...those Victorians!
  • Incidentally, there was a single tapeworm lurking around Calgary in 1889, poor lonely thing.
  • Varix was a horribly swollen vein.
  • For guys who were so good with their horses, they sure got kicked by horse a lot.
  • When is a police officer felonous? When he's suffering from an infected fingertip! That would be a good joke. Actually, no, it wouldn't.
All that and only ONE gunshot wound.

Extra-special credit goes to Rudy's List of Archaic Medical Terms. This just goes to show that no matter what weird thing you're curious about, you'll find a website for it eventually.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Surprisingly Good Music: Jessica Beach

The hopes and dreams of CKMS break their little necks against reality's cold, hard windows. That may be a laboured metaphor, but my point is this: people are always sending new music to CKMS, and CKMS doesn't have room for it.

During the last few years we've been culling the music collection. Nobody's happy about it but it has to be done. Fortunately, the new culling system isn't completely hopeless: if a CD isn't played much and it has no positive comments written on its cover, it gets tossed into a lavender cupboard for us greedy audiophiles to loot.

There's a lot of crap in the lavender cupboard. When sorting through the rejected CDs I apply a hierarchy of rules:
  • If I know the group, like the group, and don't have the CD, I'll adopt it. This goes without saying.
  • If the cover art contains lighting bolts, I reject it. Lightning bolts are a bad design choice and show that the band is way too concerned about their hardcore cred.
  • If the band picture features a bunch of young guys, one of whom is giving the camera the finger, I reject it. I don't trust most young guys with instruments, and they aren't going to woo me by giving me the ol' fingeroo.
  • If the cover is a picture of an airbrushed, handsome young man looking confidently sexy at the camera, or a woman in her mid-30s with bad hair and a guitar low-slung around her hips, I reject it. The former CDs are usually bland adult contemporary pop, and the latter are usually bland adult contemporary country-rock.
  • If the lead singer is female (and she passes the above test), then I adopt it. Only about one in twenty of these CDs have female singers.
  • If the cover shows a young person in a rural setting with a portentiously angelic break in the Photoshopped clouds, I reject it. Unless it looks so cheesy that it might have camp potential.
  • If the CD is by a male solo artist who is in his autumn years, has a bad ponytail, and is pictured standing in his home studio, I reject it. These are vanity projects by guys who spent all their lives touring in Polka bands.
Of all the CDs I take home (about 5% of the ones in the cupboard), three-quarters are total crap. But the other quarter are little gems that were discarded just because nobody bothered to listen to them or because they're not indie enough.

Which brings me to a CD called "Sticky Hands" by Jessica Beach. Not indie enough, I bet. Good stuff in the outspoken, Alanis Morissette/Tori Amos genre which is sadly over-hyped but still sounds great. She's got a video that would give a beta fish nightmares...check it out here (click on the Videos button and choose your settings).

She's Canadian, she's got a beautiful voice, she writes killer songs with sweet hooks, and the "Sticky Hands" album is stunning from beginning to end. It's helped by charming, crisp production that doesn't overdo the flourishes.

The song "Cycles" is my personal favourite and sounds more than a little "Poe." Which is alright by me
"Needles and pills just ain't the cure they used to be.
See, I thought they broke the mould,
but baby they just broke me."
Maybe Jessica Beach is old news to everybody else but me. I hope so. She deserves great fame!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

An UPhold Update

I've got all these new UPhold songs, most of them finished, some of them in the last phases of tweaking, and a few things that I'm just starting to work on.

So what am I waiting for?

Well, several months ago I compiled the songs onto a CD (at that time called "False Memory") and prepared to send it to some independent labels. But when I sat down to actually listen to everything I couldn't shake the feeling that it was all a little dull, cold, and repetative.

Sometimes those are GOOD qualities -- and I've never shied away from them before -- but I had a critical loss of faith in the new songs and I shelved them in despair.

Now things are looking up. I don't know whether I'll release the new CD myself, or if some sweet label or distributor will do it for me. I also don't have a tracklisting or an official title yet. I've started discussions with a local company about filming a music video, which I'd like to do an awful lot.

In the meantime, AFE Records will be releasing a double CD-R 3" called "Our Past Present (Now Then)," with UPhold on one CD and The Infant Cycle on the other. I'm not sure of the actual release date -- there may be problems getting rights to the artwork -- but as soon as I know I'll drop a note here. And I'll also jump for joy!

The Men Who Explode

This entry was written with a generous amount of "Knock On Wood"-ing. I don't want to jinx my extraordinary good luck. I don't want to find myself getting pummelled in an alley while thinking "jeez, I should have knocked on wood when I said that stuff!"

At least once a year I manage to make a man explode into vicious, incoherent rage. Where does this terrible power come from, and how can it be used for the common good?

Last night I had a typical encounter outside of the Pizza Pizza. A man took great offense to my standing there, and he exploded. Fortunately I was with good pal El Diablo Loki, who -- with all the powers of the metal gods behind him -- challenged the guy to an old fashioned Canadian duel. With Loki's calm, peaceful friend on one side, the guy's horrified girlfriend on the other, and me in the middle trying to mediate, we made a bizarre quartet of clashing ideologies that really wasn't going anywhere.

The exploding man's girlfriend dragged him into the Pizza Pizza, where he apparently spouted potent vitriol about me. And this is where my "exploding man" power becomes a force for good: the people who left the Pizza Pizza -- stereotypical, drunken, post-bar toughs -- apologized to ME for the guy's behaviour and said that somebody should go in there and beat the hell out of him. Which wasn't going to happen because, as we all acknowledged, the exploding man was really big.

But the point is, these young 20-something people were on MY SIDE. Maybe they would always have been on my side, or maybe seeing the repulsive bigotry of another person opened their minds a little bit. As awful as the whole situation was, the fact that fifteen football jocks were prepared to come to my aid was pretty heart-warming.

I made another man explode last year...he stood on my neighbour's balcony for about fifteen minutes, hoarsely yelling strange slurs and accusations at me while his girlfriend sat crying, and all of his 18-year-old buddies came over to apologize and share a drink with me. You see what I mean about the good and bad sides of these situations.

I think I understand the exploding men a little better now. When two or more men decide to get aggressive toward me, they tend to do it in a more smug, low-key way. But when only ONE man gets aggressive, he has to deal with not only his incohate, overpowering rage, but ALSO with the realization that nobody around him approves of his behaviour, not even his girlfriend, not even his best friends. This must drive him crazy, it makes him REALLY explode...he's screaming at me AND at the sudden realization that he has become a pariah. Must be awful, though pardon me if I don't feel bad about it.

So the silver lining? People get a good glimpse of bigotry, they see that I'm far more rational and sensible than the exploding man, and maybe they'll teach their kids some good lessons.

But I can't help wondering...what happens to the exploding men afterwards? Do they go home and feel bad? I doubt it, I bet they grow even more extreme in their beliefs. On one side I might be doing my own small part to make our world a better place, but on the other side I might be making a small number of little Nazis.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Random 1920's Words

Quoits: A lawn game where you throw a ring (the "quoit") over a peg (the "hob"). Similar to horseshoes.

Spats: A sort of "shoe cover" apparently meant to keep shoes clean, but really just an ostentatious fashion accessary.

Couvert: The early French way of spelling (and I guess pronouncing) the "cover" charge that we have today. I haven't found an explanation for why the spelling changed, but the practice of a restaurant owner charging customers a flat fee for entertainment probably started in France.

Model: Today's "designer original."

Mannikin: Today's "model" (that is, a human who models clothes for a crowd).

Manufactory: Today's "factory."

Table d'hôte: A multi-course meal in a restaurant with a flat rate but very few choices.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Nothing Can Be Violent Enough: "The Day of the Locust"

During the depression Nathanael West worked in Hollywood and grew more and more cynical, seeing in human beings a restrained violence held in check by the decadent and manipulative promises that society couldn't keep. In 1939 he wrote "The Day of the Locust," a deadly novel about these people. They made a 1975 movie from the book, but the movie didn't make a lot of sense...by giving gentle traits to people that had no redeeming qualities in the book, the movie failed to draw connections between selfishness, stupidity, boredom, impossible promises, and horrible violence.

You saw the movie, maybe, and you wondered what the point was. You watched Donald Sutherland mash a small boy into a pulp and you wondered what it all meant. I just finished re-reading the novel and I present this exerpt as an explanation, not just for the movie's climax but one possible reason for lynchings, mob violence, witch hunts, Minutemen, and extreme right-wing conservatives:
All their lives they had slaved at some kind of dull, heavy labor, behind desks and counters, in the fields and at tedious machines of all sorts, saving their pennies and dreaming of the leisure that would be theirs when they had enough. Finally that day came. They could draw a weekly income of ten or fifteen dollars. Where else should they go but California, the land of sunshine and oranges?

Once there, they discover that sunshine isn't enough. They get tired of oranges, even of avocado pears and passion fruit. Nothing happens. They don't know what to do with their time. They haven't the mental equipment for leisure, the money nor the physical equipment for pleasure. Did they slave so long just to go to an occasional Iowa picnic? What else is there? They watch the waves come in at Venice. There wasn't any ocean where most of them came from, but after you've seen one wave, you've seen them all. The same is true of the airplances at Glendale. If only a plane would crash once in a while so that they could watch the passengers being consumed in a "holocaust of flame," as the newspapers put it. But the planes never crash.

Their boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realize that they've been tricked and burn with resentment. Every day of their lives they read the newspapers and went to the movies. Both fed them on lynchings, murder, sex crimes, explosions, wrecks, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, war. This daily diet made sophisticates of them. The sun is a joke. Oranges can't titllate their jaded palates. Nothing can ever be violent enough to make taut their slack minds and bodies. They have been cheated and betrayed. They have slaved and saved for nothing.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Ein Prosit, etc!

I've lived in the Kitchener/Waterloo area all my life, and I'm German. So why have I never gone Oktoberfesting before?

Mainly because, in K/W, you don't need to actually GO to Oktoberfest in order to suffer the fallout. All you need to do is (for instance) take a bus or work in a donut shop during the weekly festival and you'll experience more Ein Prosit shenanigans than you can handle.

Basically, Oktoberfest is a giant piss-up with a thin veneer of culture. A VERY thin veneer. It's not about Germany any more than French Fries are about France. And the stuffy side of Muffy is bound to see that as a negative thing.

But this year I was asked to be the DJ for "Pridetoberfest," the first gay-friendly Oktoberfest event in the history of...well, history. Expecting a cozy little event (and treasuring any opportunity to see the priveleged back rooms of a large building), I agreed.

What I wasn't prepared for was the absolute HUGENESS of Oktoberfest, in both a physical and institutional sense. The fest hall (at the Kitchener Auditorium) was a full-sized arena. Despite the valiant work of the savvy decorators there was no disguising the esentially functional aspect of the event: row upon row of tables to sit and drink at, an enormous dancefloor that I generally managed to fill up, and an assembly line of beer and schnapps and heavy German food that you'd have to be crazy to eat in such an environment.

Keep in mind that this is a totally rectangular place with a concrete floor, cinder-block walls, and fifty-foot steel ceilings, so the message is clear: you're not here to relax and cozy up with a few friends, you're here to get down to business...and the business is rubbing shoulders with your neighbours, drinking too much, eating too much, vomiting, and not worrying about the vomit because there's nothing for it to soak into except other people's clothes (and they'll never know the difference between your vomit and theirs anyway).

I'm speaking from heresay, though. Last night's crowd was pretty sedate and even though there were about 850 people they were somewhat dwarfed by the hugeness of the place. The crowd was a mixed bunch, some of them from Toronto who had heard about the event at this year's Toronto Pride, lots of people from the local scene, and a fair number of straight folk who will probably go to any Oktoberfest event regardless of the theme. It's such a TRADITION. It's RITUALIZED. People who would never even THINK about doing the Polka at home were Polka-ing along with the house band (The Saxons) and doing an incredible job of it.

The other part of the overwhelming tradition is the network of volunteers who staff these things. I only caught a bare glimpse of the complexities of the organization, but it seems that lots of local charities staff these events every year, and EVERYBODY knows EVERYBODY. It was heartening to see so much volunteer work, especially since my own regular volunteering (at the Kitchener/Waterloo Hospital) tended to involve frustration, disillusionment, and my running away as fast as possible from my fellow volunteers.

Speaking of which...well, a DJ can't make everyone happy. People will always bitch (and rightly so) but it's always sad to be criticized by anybody when you're quite frankly doing the best you can possibly do. I don't know how vocal the criticism was, but at least a few people felt that the music wasn't "gay enough."

This raises a very interesting point. When I started DJ'ing a retro night at Club Renaissance (the local gay bar) I came armed with what I considered to be stereotypical "gay music"...happy disco and electro-pop. But I quickly learned that the local gay crowd -- as a whole -- did not respond half as well to that stuff as they did to classic rock. I get the feeling that if Marc Almond, Jimmy Sommerville, and Alison Moyet walked into Club Ren nobody would care...but Jon Bon Jovi would be MOBBED.

Yes, there is a stereotype of "gay music," but when it comes to DJ'ing a gig "gay music" is whatever gay people want to hear. And when it comes to DJ'ing a huge Oktoberfest event with a mixed straight/gay crowd, you play what the vast majority wants to hear whether it be "gay music" or not. My job is not to alienate part of the crowd, or to educate them about what they should enjoy.

The two women who brought this complaint directly to me were very pleasant, but I couldn't help feeling that they were categorizing the crowd in a way that was largely divorced from reality. They said that "gay music" should be played at a gay event and that too many straight people were dancing, which seemed to ignore the fact that the dancefloor was essentially mixed -- and full of happy people. Their suggestion? Melissa Etheridge and April Wine. Sadly if I'm going to try to get 850 people dancing I'm going to pick Def Leppard over Melissa Etheridge anyday, basically because I don't want to see 825 people walk out the door.

I mentioned this incident to somebody else and she expressed amazement that I hadn't played "YMCA." And I was like, holy cow! Is "YMCA" considered "gay music" these days, or is it considered embarassing and condescending kitsch with unpleasant political baggage? If forced to put "YMCA" into the gay or straight music category, I'd put it firmly into "straight party music" nowadays.

So I guess my whole conflict is that there are two interpretations of "gay music." One is "music stereotypically considered to be gay." The other is "music that gay people like." And since that second category encompasses pretty much every type of music (depending on the region and the individual), I just am not comfortable with the former category.

I've spent most time talking about this little "gay music" incident because it's the one that made me think me the most, but it was really a small part of an otherwise wonderful evening. I met a lot of super-happy people. I saw some folks I haven't seen in a long time. I chatted with the president of Oktoberfest (nervous) and this year's Miss Oktoberfest (exhausted). And I expect that next year's "Pridetoberfest" will be a bigger success, since this one worked out so well. Are you coming?

I'll be there! Now that Dave Watt has forced me into my first Oktoberfest hat (see above) I have no excuse. I'm no longer an Oktoberfest virgin.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Drag Queenery For Smarties 1: Exfoliation

I've wanted to write a "Drag Queenery For Smarties" book for an awful long time, partly because it would make me rich but also because I wish *I* had one when I started out. I would have saved a lot of missteps.

But sadly I lack the motivation and the interest to pitch my idea to a publisher, write the book, and become wildly famous. So instead I'll just post entries -- willy-nilly -- on my blog. And if any queen out there has suggestions, by all means post them in the comments!

Exfoliation -- that's "getting rid of hair" to you philistines -- is possibly the dullest subject in drag-queenery. Most men think they know EVERYTHING about hair-removal. But most men haven't tried giving themselves a bikini wax, so shut up and bear with me.

There are several things you want to do when you get rid of hair: you want hairless skin that isn't irritated, you want it to stay hairless as long as possible, and you want to spend as little money as possible. This is what I've learned:


Unless you're really dedicated you'll spend much of your time using a razor. Razors are great for all those places you can reach easily, and they're also great for any piece of skin that isn't easily irritated. What I mean is: if it bleeds when you shave it, or you need to be Houdini to get at it, don't shave it.

I find that I get a closer shave -- anywhere -- if I let the hair grow in a little. I put up with stubble a day or two before I get around to actually shaving, which is why I look scruffy during the week (so now you know).

Half of your shaving routine is preparation. Splash water on whatever you're shaving, then put the shaving cream on it and wait about 90 seconds. This isn't just because you want to be nice to your stubble...it's because you want to soak the hair so it's easier to shave it off. Don't scrimp on your shaving scream; make sure it moisturizes your skin, froths up beautifully, and smells nice. If you're doing your legs, just let them soak for a few minutes before you apply shaving cream and start to shave. Put a few drops of bath oil in the water to make yourself feel and smell good.

Next, take your Gilette Mach 3 razor (the best there is) and shave against the hair growth. If you're shaving your chest or your legs be aware that your hair doesn't necessarily grow in the direction you'd expect. If you find that you're cutting yourself a lot in certain spots -- front and back of knees, collar-bone, and upper-cheekbone for instance -- swallow your pride and shave perpendicular to the hair in those spots. You won't have as close a shave on your knees, but oh well, accessorize with knee-pads.

Some people moisturize when they're done shaving. I don't know if this helps or not, my skin tends to get irritated if I moisturize right away. And therein lies one of the hidden tortures of shaving: if you sweat a lot on any sort of razor burn, be prepared to two days of horrible itching that just won't go away. I think of it as "drag-queen ivy."

Other downsides of shaving: you might get red bumps on some parts of your skin, which scientists have a lot of theories about but they're all crap. Also, the hair grows back faster than with other exfoliating methods, because you're not actually pulling out the hair root...and when it DOES grow back it looks coarse. For me, I can shave my legs and get about 18 hours of smoothness. You just have to learn how long you can go and time your shave-a-thons accordingly.

Should you use a rough exfoliating soap before you shave? Probably, because it feels good!


Depilatories like Nair are good if you're trying to remove hair in those "hard to reach" places, and you know somebody's going to SEE those places. It's easier to slap on Nair than it is to try to contort your razor into an awkward position (and probably end up flaying yourself alive).

Always make sure that your depilatory doesn't aggrivate your skin. Don't get it in your eyes, and don't put it on hair that you want to keep. Really goop it on (a thin layer doesn't seem to work) and leave it there for a good 15 minutes (if your skin can stand it). Then, stand in the shower, let the water wash over it, and use a loofah or something to scrub it off. And if you've never seen hair after it's been Nair-ed it's pretty cool.

I don't use Nair enough to know its pros and cons. I do know that it doesn't touch the hair root so it probably only lasts about as long as shaving does, but on the plus side it smells like cucumber. Don't eat it.


I have flirted with home waxing kits now and then. The real problem is that you need to let your hair grow out enough for the wax to grab the hair. It's time-consuming and takes some precision. It also hurts, and if you use it in a place where your skin is sensitive you're liable to pull the skin off (seriously). Do small tests before you try it in a new spot.

The plus side, though, is that it pulls the hair roots out, so theoretically you get skin that's smoother, and it lasts longer. Keep in mind, though, that hair doesn't just grow in one stage...as you're waxing an area for the first time, a new crop of hair is just ready to break the surface. You need to wax through two or three of these hair cycles before you'll get a long-lasting wax job.


Miss Drew says "you pluck chickens, you tweeze eyebrows," but removing eyebrow hair is so barbaric that no euphemism is appropriate. Plucking is an art in itself, and I've never completely gotten the hang of it. Best to let a professional do it, otherwise you'll look stupid or terminally surprised.

"Sudden Change" sells eyebrow stencils that you might try...they give you a generic "perfect arch" as long as you put the stencil on straight before you start plucking. There's the famous "pencil test" for judging where your eyebrows should start, arch, and end...so famous that I won't repeat it here. People also say "never pluck the UPPER part of your eyebrows," which is bull.

But you DO need to be careful...pulling a hair out might leave an ugly bald spot. I've gradually plucked my brows to a shape and density that I'm comfortable with. Every week I attack them with the tweezers, removing all the new growth above, below, and on either side of the eyebrow, then I take nail scissors and cut back any new "bushiness." Make sure you buy a tweezer that works for you...there are lots of different shapes.

If your eyebrows are light-coloured, try this: take a black brow pencil and draw, on your eyebrow, the shape that looks good. Take your time. Then, when you've got two symmetrical eyebrows, get your tweezers and pluck around the part you drew in. It works if you've got some free time, but don't blame me if you don't like the results.

Arches that are two high, and eyebrows that are two thin, can make you look old. Watch out!

Some queens smear concealer over their eyebrows, then paint new eyebrows over top (or some place else). Don't do this unless you're really good. Otherwise you'll look like Divine.


Never try to pluck an eyelash. If an eyelashe is too long cut it off with nail scissors.

For God's sake, take a look at your nose hair and ear hair. Not enough people do this. Tweeze that junk off or some bitchy queen will hold you down and do it for you.

When you think you've gotten rid of all your unwanted hair, do a "circle check" while wearing your outfit of choice. Look at yourself from different angles. Check the backs of your arms and your neck. Check the backs of your hands. Then berate yourself for missing something so obvious and go back to the razor.

Both girls and boys have a fine layer of downy hair that only really shows up in direct sunlight. If this bothers you, find out where it is and eradicate it regularly.

If you really don't want to shave your legs, wear thick tights (or several pairs of thin, opalescent tights). It's itchy but it generally works.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Thank Goodness for Anita Loos' "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

As I sit here preparing for a weekend during which I suspect I'll be left "up a creek" by the folks I depend upon, my sanity and good cheer is being maintained by Anita Loos' 1925 novel "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." It's probably the blackest humour I've ever read. If you love making bitter fun of stupid people who think they're smart, this is the book you should get.

It's a "diary" written by "Lorelei Lee," a dim-witted, beautiful gold-digger without any scruples. She thinks she's brilliant and couth, but every paragraph of her diary fills you with the cringing, joyful irony of her idiocy. The joy of the novel comes from the gradual repetition of Lorelei's prejudices, gaffes, and misunderstandings, but here's just one excerpt that stands alone:

Lorelei has gone to Paris with her vulgar friend Dorothy. Lorelei is convinced that she went there to "educate" Dorothy and herself, but -- as always -- she's really there to see how much loot she can get from random horny, bewildered men. And Dorothy just wants to have sex with anybody, gift or no gift. (Just in case you don't know, the "Coty" Lorelei mentions in this excerpt is François Coty, the 20th century perfume manufacturer)

And when a girl walks around and reads all of the signs with all of the famous historical names it really makes you hold your breath. Because when Dorothy and I went on a walk, we only walked a few blocks but in only a few blocks we read all of the famous historical names, like Coty and Cartier and I knew we were seeing something educational at last and our whole trip was not a failure. I mean I really try to make Dorothy get educated and have a reverance. So when we stood at a corner of a place called the Place Vendome, if you turn your back on a monument they have in the middle and look up, you can see none other than Coty's sign. So I said to Dorothy, does it not really give you a thrill to realize that that is the historical spot where Mr Coty makes all the perfume? So then Dorothy said that she supposed Mr Coty came to Paris and he smelled Paris and he realized that something had to be done. So Dorothy will really never have any reverance.

So then we saw a jewelry store and we saw some jewelry in the window and it really seemed to be a very very great bargain but the price marks all had francs on them and Dorothy and I do not seem to be mathematical enough to tell how much francs is in money. So we went in and asked and it seems it was only 20 dollars and it seems it is not diamonds but it is a thing called 'paste' which is the name of a word which means imitations. So Dorothy said 'paste' is the name of the word a girl ought to do to a gentleman that handed her one. I mean I would really be embarassed, but the gentleman did not seem to understand Dorothy's english.