Monday, October 31, 2005

The great pumpkin carving challenge

See these pumpkins sitting on my dining room table? I carved one of them last night. Can you guess which one is mine? (Hint: it’s the mean looking pumpkin with the bushy eyebrows.)

I am quite proud of my pumpkin, which I hope will frighten dozens of children tonight when they go door-to-door asking for candy. If one child bursts into tears of terror after seeing my pumpkin’s evil scowl, all of my hard work will have been worth it.

My friends Annelle and Leandro, who didn’t quite seem to grasp the fact that Halloween is supposed to be scary, carved the “cute cat” and “grinning idiot” pumpkins.

It’s not their fault. They didn’t know any better. They’ve never carved a pumpkin before. Annelle even made the rookie mistake of saying she’d bring over a few stencils. Stencils! There is no greater affront to the art of pumpkin carving than stencils. It’s as crass and uncreative as paint-by-numbers.

Every pumpkin purist knows all you need is a sharp knife and a black marker. Of course, a well-executed pumpkin also needs a well-executed plan.

I spent a few days thinking about a design for my pumpkin. After much deliberation, I decided a down-turned mouth, squinty eyes and huge caterpillar eyebrows would be the best way to convey a menacing expression.

I showed a sketch to my friends after dinner. Their response? “It took you two days to come up with that?”

Amateurs! I should have known they could not appreciate the subtle genius of my design.

I laid down several layers of newspaper on the living room floor and we got to work. My favourite part was reaching in the hole to pull out the seeds and stringy membrane with my bare hands. Of course, Annelle and Leandro used a soup ladle.

Despite our collective lack of artistic ability, all three pumpkins turned out great. We put candles inside them and turned out the lights in my apartment to see how they would look. At that moment, I think we all became about eight years old again.

All three Jack O’Lanterns will be on display tonight. They will be sitting on Annelle’s porch since she’s the only one who actually lives in a house. Children living in the 18th and Cambie neighbourhood are invited to view these masterpieces between the hours of 4 and 8 p.m.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

It all adds up to nothing

Number of American troops killed in Iraq: 2,000

Number of Iraqis killed since the war began: 30,051

Amount the Iraq war costs the U.S. every month: $5.6 billion

Number of weapons of mass destruction found: 0

Number of links between 9/11 and the Iraqi government: 0

Number of excuses left to justify the war: 0

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Romantically challenged

One of my favourite weekly rituals is waiting for the new issue of the Georgia Straight to hit the newsstand.

I don’t read it for the articles. Actually, I don’t read it at all. I just head straight to the back pages where sex is for sale.

Buried among the tawdry ads for escort services, massage parlours, she-males, campus cuties and busty blondes are the two things that make the Georgia Straight worth waiting for -- the Savage Love column and the "I saw you" ads.

I read the "I saw you" pages religiously because they manage to entertain and shed insight into the human condition at the same time.

The concept is simple. Let’s say you’re walking down the street and you see someone who takes your breath away. You make meaningful eye contact, maybe one of you even smiles. But you pass without exchanging a word.

Missed opportunity? Not if you place an "I saw you" ad, which might read something like this:

"You: Prince Harry look-alike walking down Davie Street at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 23. Tall, red hair, gray wool scarf tucked under your chiseled chin. Me: Drooling uncontrollably. Want to make me your princess? Email me at"

Vancouver is full of painfully shy and socially awkward people. The "I saw you" ads usually fill two pages. Sometimes there are more than 100 ads in a single issue.

How did it get to this point? Why are people in Vancouver so chicken when it comes to the art of romance?

A recent article in the Tyee attempts to answer the question:

Has our reliance on e-mail made it more comfortable for us to initially connect through the web? Maybe we are forgetting how to banter with strangers. Has e-mail stifled all spontaneity? Perhaps it is because we can't backspace or delete a sentence once it's out of our mouth.

The ads make things safe. "Mediated communication is becoming more commonplace," explains Dan Perlman, a Professor of Family Studies at the University of British Columbia and an expert in classifieds advertising. "Most of us are accustomed to writing things down through e-mail rather than saying it aloud. These ads give us more control of the situation."

More control but at what cost? Have we lost our ability to flirt with attractive strangers in person? I mean, some of the "I saw you" ads are downright pathetic:

"Numbers, Sept. 25. Stared at you for hours. You with a group of friends – all noticed me staring. Me, alone at the bar overlooking the dance floor. Can’t get you out of my head."

"Saturday, October 1st around 23h00. Both waiting on Granville near Davie for the bus to Broadway, you had two braids in your hair and I was wearing a maroon toque. Hopefully that wasn’t the only chance I had to talk to you."

A friend of mine blames Vancouver’s apathy on its mild climate. Vancouver never really gets very hot or very cold, and neither do the people who live here. Hot climates ignite passions and tempers. Cold climates force people indoors.

Because Vancouver’s weather is generally pleasant 12 months a year, most people spend their time outdoors, doing things apart from each other in a temperate and even-keeled kind of way.

I have another friend who thinks Vancouver men aren’t assertive because they eat too much estrogen-laden tofu.

Weather and tofu conspiracy theories aside, being single and female in Vancouver is hard on the self-esteem. The existence of "I saw you" ads only encourages more anti-social and timid behaviour.

Why can’t we just say "hi" and go from there?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Neither wicked nor awesome

Sometimes something is so good, so cool and so utterly and absolutely brilliant that it can only be described one way: wicked awesome.

The expression is not to be used lightly. It is reserved only for those rare occasions when the sheer wickedness and awesomeness of the thing makes all other adjectives inadequate.

So it was a shock to find out that wicked awesome has now become a commonly misused expression. It’s about as descriptive as calling something "nice."

I was doing a Google search for "wicked awesome" and was amazed at the amount of non-wicked, non-awesome things it pulled up. Seriously. Try it yourself. Go to Google images, type in "wicked awesome" and take a look at some of the crap that comes up.

Like this picture of a goat.

The goat may be cute but it is not wicked awesome. I’ll tell you what’s wicked awesome -- curried goat. I used to work at the Sheraton Hotel when I was in high school and they served curried goat every day in the staff cafeteria. I didn’t understand why the dish never made it onto the guest menu. It was wicked awesome.

Someone out there thinks George W. Bush is wicked awesome. This photo also came up on my Google search. He may be wicked or awesomely wicked, but definitely not wicked awesome.

The most popular item in my Google search for all things wicked and awesome? Guns. Yes, lots and lots of people think guns are wicked awesome.

Not surprisingly, there were a lot of wannabe rock stars who consider themselves wicked awesome. Like these guys. Hey kids! You’re not wicked awesome if you’re playing Stairway to Heaven at your high school battle of the bands competition.

Some idiot called this eyesore wicked awesome. A stick figure? My friend's 10-month-old baby can draw better than this.

It's official. Wicked awesome is now devoid of all meaning.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Who killed Calvin the cat?

I was riding my bike home from work last week when I saw this Lady Diana-like shrine set up down the street from my apartment building.

Before I skidded to a stop and jumped off my bike to take a closer look, I knew something horrible had happened to Calvin.

The explanation, right there in large black type, confirmed my worst fears. Calvin was dead -- killed by a hit-and-run driver on October 7.

I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I didn’t even know his name was Calvin. I just knew him as the beautiful, friendly cat that lived on the corner of Cardero and Comox streets. He was always outside, usually writhing on his back in ecstasy while having his stomach rubbed or his ears scratched by some random passerby.

Calvin was my kind of cat. The kind of cat that thinks he’s a dog. Not only was he unafraid of strangers, he went out of his way to nuzzle his head against the leg of anyone who walked by.

If you stopped and stayed for a while, he’d wrap his body around you and purr like a purr-machine (okay, that’s not a very good analogy but I couldn’t think of anything better).

If Calvin could talk, he’d say, "Here I am. Love me."

The spontaneous outpouring of flowers and poems and teddy bears and photos for the laid-back little guy is a testament to how many lives he touched.

I rode the rest of the way home that night with tears in my eyes. Calvin had a special place in my heart because his affectionate and trusting nature reminded me of my own cat, Buddy. Well, technically Buddy was our neighbour’s cat but she spent more time at our place. So I think of her as mine. In her heart, she knew who her real owner was (me).

Goodbye, sweet Calvin. You will be missed.

Photo credits: My friend Dominic took these pictures of Calvin’s shrine this afternoon. He called today, asking if I needed anything like lozenges or ice cream to ease my strep throat. I told him I needed someone to take some pictures of the shrine because I was too sick to leave the apartment. (Actually, I didn’t want to leave the apartment because it was pouring rain but I didn’t tell him that.) So out Dom went in the pouring rain to snap some frames. He doesn’t even like cats. What a guy!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Sick . . . again


FROM: Sarah’s mind
TO: Sarah’s immune system
DATE: October 14, 2005

We need to talk about your poor job performance.

You’re supposed to defend my body against invaders. Your strategy is simple -- recognize the enemy, mobilize forces and attack.

Did you skip the training seminar or lie on your resume? Once again, you’ve let a virus slip past security and explode a germ bomb inside my body. Thanks to you, I’m sitting here with a throat that feels like it’s lined with sandpaper and eyeballs that hurt to move.

I know you’re not a total slacker. There have been times you have leapt into action so quickly and with such force that you’ve almost killed me. If an errant piece of shrimp or a sunflower seed finds its way inside my body, you freak out.

But if a virus finds its way inside my body, you welcome it with open arms. This has got to stop. I’m sick of being sick. And I’m sick of worrying that I’ll have to chase my next meal with a bottle of Benadryl and an EpiPen.

Why do you hate me so much when I treat you so well? I get lots of sleep, I exercise, I eat well, I don’t smoke, I’m practically an obsessive-compulsive hand-washer.

You’re like the mean thug that smashed Nancy Kerrigan’s kneecap. Maybe you don’t like my music or the way I practice my dancing in the living room. Maybe you’re bitter and unhappy and it makes you feel good when I’m sick. Or maybe you’re addicted to daytime television and you know the only way you’ll get to watch it is when I’m feverish and delusional.

I don’t really know what your problem is and I don’t really care. I’d just appreciate it if you chilled out while I’m eating and unleashed Chang the next time a virus enters my body.

Consider this your last warning.

Monday, October 10, 2005

A very tasteless Thanksgiving

Dinner at White Spot followed by topless bull riding. How did Thanksgiving get reduced to this?

The topless bull riding was Annelle’s idea. Dinner at White Spot was mine. Carl was the one who suggested doing both.

At least the restaurant was empty. Most people were at home, with their families, eating turkey, enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving.

Our dinner, while neither home-cooked nor delicious, was free thanks to the $100 gift certificate White Spot head office gave me after I got the Norwalk virus and vomited for 12 hours the last time I was there.

This time, our meal consisted mostly of alcohol. It seemed safer that way. The only thing worse than spending Thanksgiving eating at White Spot and watching topless bull riding would be waking up the next morning felled by a second round of food poisoning from the same restaurant.

As for the topless bull riding, like I said, that was Annelle’s idea. She thought it would be fun to check it out (in a detached, anthropological way) after a guy on our swim team tried to pick me up by suggesting it as a first date.

A few other people caught wind of our plan and invited themselves along. Which is how eight of us ended up at the Buffalo Club watching the drunken clientele riding the mechanical bull.

It was like a frat party. Or what I imagine a frat party would be like since I haven’t actually been to a frat party. But I’ve seen frat parties in movies and this came pretty close.

There was cheap beer, bad music and spring-break-style drinking games on stage. One highlight was a trip to the bathroom where the girl in the stall next to mine let out a long, loud belch before violently vomiting all over the floor.

You know you’re getting old when all you want to do is slap some sense into these kids.

I wanted to hate it, and I did hate it, but I am ashamed to admit I also had fun. Once was enough, though. I can’t imagine ever going back. This is not how I normally like to spend the holidays.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Three things I learned the hard way this week

Before you read this and conclude I’m some sort of moron, let me just preface it by saying that I almost never read reviews until after I’ve seen a movie or read a book or tried a new restaurant. The less I know beforehand, the better.

Not reading the reviews means I am always surprised. Sometimes pleasantly, sometimes not. If something has won awards or generated a buzz, that’s enough of a recommendation.

But once in a while, this seemingly brilliant strategy backfires. There’s a difference between not knowing what something is about and knowing so little you go into it ass-backwards.

Three things I learned the hard way this week:

1. Mama Mia is not a musical about ABBA. It is a musical set to the music of ABBA. The plot has nothing to do with ABBA. It would have been nice to know this before the curtain went up on Wednesday night. Instead, I spent the first five minutes of the musical wondering what a wedding on a Greek Island had to do with ABBA.

2. A History of Violence is not an arty title for a movie about a man thoughtfully reflecting on his life. It is exactly what it says it is. A history of a man’s violent past. It would have been nice to know this before the movie started last night. All I knew was that it was a Cronenberg film. I thought the title was ironic. Instead, I found myself sitting through two hours of gratuitous, pointless violence. Actually, the first half of the film was pretty good. But the second half was too bloody. As a whole, it was empty.

3. Black hair care products are not just for black people. It would have been nice to know that smooth, lustrous hair could be found in a $5 tub of African Gold Coconut Oil before spending hundreds of dollars on useless high-end salon products. A friend told me she used the black hair care shelf at Shoppers Drug Mart to keep her thick, wavy hair under control. I bought my own African Gold yesterday and am now a coconut oil convert. It really works.

I’m starting to think that maybe a little research isn’t a bad thing.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Grape-Nuts is for lovers

Most of the time I think men and women are more similar than they are different. But every once in a while a guy will reveal something so stupefying or baffling that I start to think maybe men really are from Mars.

Take the issue of breakfast food. A benign topic of conversation that bridges the gender gap, right? Wrong. I didn’t realize cereal was so controversial until a group of guys ganged up on me at a party and berated me for liking Grape-Nuts.

"No wonder you’re single," said one guy. "You cannot serve a guy Grape-Nuts for breakfast. No guy under the age of 75 eats Grape-Nuts."

Thinking this was merely the uninformed opinion of a drunken moron, I grabbed another guy at the party and pulled him in for an informal focus group.

"Oh my god! Grape-Nuts?" said the other guy. "What are you? A senior citizen or something? That is not sexy. You’ve got to serve a guy real food. Like eggs and bacon."

The laughter grew louder as more guys jumped in to mock my breakfast cereal of choice. I still don’t understand what was so funny.

I love Grape-Nuts. They stay crunchy in milk for a long time. They’re delicious. They’re not too sweet. They’re good for you. They come in a small box so they don’t go stale before you can finish them. What the hell is so funny about that?

There must be guys under the age of 35 who also like Grape-Nuts. Someone, please, back me up!