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Thursday, June 28, 2001
Focus group update: I knew I wasn't dealing with ordinary teenagers when one of them said "I'm not privy to that sort of information." Later, another complained about "marginalizing certain elements of society." I mean, I talked that way as a kid (and still do), but then I was a braces-wearing, Broadway-musical-listening, utter, utter geek. Someone who thought singing a Chaucerian-influenced Christmas carol to her Grade XII English class was a cool idea. Where did these Stepford kiddies come from?
Announcing the Great Apartment De-Gunk of 2001: Oh, Gott, what have I begun? It took 2 hours just to clean the hallway last night. Isn't there some sort of lesson in this? Like hire someone to do this for me? Why did I think I needed 18 blank books? They're still blank! And why am I renting a 2-bedroom when I continually fall asleep in front of the tube in the living room? Any answers?
So here I go, off to a focus group to take notes for an ongoing campaign. The group is made up of teenagers and the purpose is to find out how they really feel about things, and what sort of language they use to express those feelings. Somehow I feel like a Father Scott from the early Doonesbury cartoons..."the fighting young priest who can talk to the young."
How I don't feel is at all confident that we'll get much use out of these sessions. At that age, faced with getting an honorarium just for talking, I'd have talked myself blue in the face to get approval, no matter whether I believed what I was saying or not. I doubt we'll establish, in 3 hours, the trust necessary to get unbiased opinions.
Tuesday, June 26, 2001
My COMPUTER DIED this afternoon, and suddenly I'm back in the 80s, working on hard copy and faxing notes to clients. Going through severe withdrawal, as you can see...I waited until a colleague left for the day, then lunged for her computer.
The Bike Trip à la Tandem: I look back at the central Alberta bike tour, and the thought keeps cropping up: "Perhaps I'm not a very good friend, really." The riding was mostly seamless, but every time there was any small bobble, any unexpected swerve or bump, I'd holler "What the hell are you doing up there/back there?" at poor old Fearless. She was Captain on Saturday, and I was Chief Engineer Short-Tempered Crone, then we switched places for Sunday. Whether I was driving or Fearless was, somehow everything that happened out of the ordinary was her fault. I knocked my goggles off the pannier rack and blamed her. It's become a bit of a habit...a bad habit. And one that I must soon stop.
But other than my childish temper, the weekend was glorious. Only a few spots of rain, and mostly sunny throughout, with some of the best-smelling fields and forests in the world. (And some ferociously odorous ones, too. Try cycling past a pig manure lagoon the next time you want to see how fast you can pedal.)
After the ride on Sunday afternoon, we returned to my friend Jean's farm to take part in her parents' 50th wedding anniversary celebration. The thought of being married for half a century still amazes me...but then as you can see from the foregoing, relationships, friendly or romantic, are not my forte. Part of the afternoon's fun was taking some of the older gentlemen party guests for a ride on the back seat of the tandem bike. Fearless and I could tell that they were dying to go for a ride, but too shy to ask. So I just barged up to a few and said "Wanna' go for a ride?" Then they'd climb on the bike and away we'd go. Ferrying elderly gents around the farm on a bicycle was almost more fun than the whole bike tour combined.
Every time I'm in a recording studio I realize how much I want to be a voice talent--not for the cash, but for the fun. I was at a studio this morning, watching my latest commercial script being recorded...ooh, all those levers and switches on the mixing it too late to become a recording engineer and v.o. specialist or am I stuck being a copywriter? (Not that I mind being a fact, I love it.)
Friday, June 22, 2001
Another Friday afternoon and the red wine is flowing freely in the studio...somehow the interior design department has formed a circle around the table with the wine, and growling at those who approach too closely. It's a delicate situation as I have purchased some of the wine, and don't wish it to disappear down the gullets of the unappreciative.
Another Bike Trip Looms: Tomorrow Fearless and I set off on our second bike tour in aid of Multiple Sclerosis, this time through the wilds of Central Alberta. It's only 170 km total, not 200 km as was the last bike trip, so to make up for the lost miles, we've added challenge in the shape of a tandem bicycle. We picked the tandem up from the University last night, and practised pedalling in unison in a outlying neighbourhood. First lesson: If the front rider stomps on the pedals to bring them to the required height, but neglects to tell the back rider, there is the small matter of removing the pedal teeth from the back rider's left calf before the ride can begin. Second lesson: If you're going to coast, warn your partner. Otherwise, you're pedalling along and suddenly you're pedalling through peanut butter. Third lesson: When Fearless is riding in front, she can pedal uphill in high gear. It takes much poking and prodding to remind her to gear down so the back rider's heart doesn't explode through her ribcage. Fourth lesson: when I am the front rider, telling me to gear up or down has no meaning, as I have no frackin' idea how the gears work. Fifth lesson: When the front rider yells "Lean", be sure to lean in the same direction she is in, especially when cornering.
Bye, bye, Bad Man. It'll be a long seven weeks without you.
Wednesday, June 20, 2001
Back from L.A. and revelling in the grand vacation I’ve just had.
Thursday, June 14: I arrive at LAX and Luke is there to pick me up. We return to his and Laurie’s house in Culver City. It’s a cozy bungalow dating from the 1920s, built of cement, and shaded by huge magnolia trees and brilliant bougainvillea. After I dump the suitcase on the living room floor, Luke suggests a bike ride. I am all for it. We head south on the bike paths, past El Segundo, to Manhattan Beach. There we have lunch at a diner called Uncle Bill’s, famous for breakfasts. After failing to finish a 9-pound omelette garnished with muffins, I understand the celebrity. We bike back, somewhat slower owing to the excess weight in breakfast we’ve eaten. It’s about a 15-mile ride round trip, I’d guess. Lots of activity on the oceanside paths. Laurie, still at work, when she hears where we’ve ridden, hangs up on us. Luke cooks an amazing meal of coq au vin for dinner. A wonderful start to the visit.
Friday, June 15: I force the non-tourists to do a touristy thing, and Laurie, Luke, their neighbour Steven and I head to Magic Mountain amusement park. I am keen to tackle The Viper rollercoaster, which scared me mightily in 1995. I am pleased to find that it’s still the scariest ride in the park. We also ride, among others, the new Goliath--tallest roller coaster in the world. The drop is 256 feet into a smoke-filled tunnel. There’s another steep drop a few seconds later, but nothing like that first fright. Apparently sometime during the last month a passenger died during the ride of a heart attack. Well, there are signs all the way up to the ride telling people not to get on Goliath if they’ve even got the tiniest smidgen of heart trouble. Now I know why. We return to Culver City and eat amazing linguine with a garlic/chicken broth sauce that Laurie concocts, then watch the Lakers win the NBA finals, and then go to their friends Gavin and Andrea’s house for chocolate ganache cake and champagne (Gavin’s 40th birthday). For the second night running I fall asleep in mid-sentence. I am ferried home and dumped into bed.
Saturday, June 16: I have declared that I do not want to fill every second with edifying activity, so Laur and Luke and I spend the morning watching Mystery Science Theater 3000, “The Horror of Party Beach”, an awful movie made the year of our births and one I actually sat through as a teenager. Though a later MST 3K offering, it was still utterly hilarious and made me snort a mouthful of cereal up my nose. Laur and I go out to scour bookstores and do a little browsing through Nordstrom Rack. The prices, even at discount, still astonish me. We get back home earlier than expected, and Luke and I go for another bike ride along our previous route. It’s windier this time, but there are more surfers to see. Laurie has an array of antipasti awaiting us on our return, and I devour oversized capers, garlic-stuffed olives, tapenade, roasted pepper spread, and--well, anything that isn’t nailed down, really. Later on we head to a small Mexican gourmet restaurant and dine on the most incredible fish I’ve had in years: halibut with chipotle sauce, halibut with salsa verde, and giant prawns encrusted with peppers and herbs (the name of the mixture escapes me). Again, I sleep soundly that night, though the spices give me interesting dreams about disrupting dinner parties and washing dishes over and over again.
Sunday, June 17: Again, I am indulged by my gracious hosts, who take me to Zuma Beach at Malibu. Though I’m pretty much officially an old bat, I decide to give boogie-boarding a try. I watch Luke master a few waves, then I strap on the flippers and head into the surf. Soon I am slammed into the sand by a wave, and rolled about vigorously. I try again: same thing. Then I learn I’ve got the boogie board upside down. Ah. Finally I manage to ride a few waves in, much to my amazement and excitement--you go really, really FAST. Throughout the afternoon I alternately catch waves or am caught and pummelled by them. I get a first-class sunburn on my face, despite waterproof sunscreen (doesn’t stand up to sand-blasting, that’s for sure). It may well be the silliest, but most fun, thing I’ve ever done on vacation. Later, at home, I do a little cooking for the kids: grilled polenta wedges with roasted tomato sauce, gorgonzola and fresh herbs. It works out--I am thrilled.
Monday, June 18: Last day. I spend the morning packing, doing a little shopping at my favourite store, Trader Joe’s, then Luke takes me to an amazing warehouse in downtown L.A. which sells remnant bottles of wine. With his help, I end up with two fabulous Zinfandels and a lovely pinot gris. Thanks, Luke. Sadly, Laurie can’t see me to the airport as she’s stuck at work. At the airport I have time to kill before my flight, and am oddly hungry despite the massive amounts of food I’ve been getting through lately. I stop at a Burger King outlet. Big mistake. I nearly threw up at the sight of my unwrapped burger, and couldn’t manage more than a couple of bites. Utterly disgusting--it’s time to go back to being my usual almost-a-vegetarian self. Bryce and Theo the Wonder Hound meet me at the airport and soon I am back with the cats, who were no doubt wondering where the Warm Thing was for 5 days, and why there’s sand in her ears.
Monday, June 11, 2001
Still no sign of Tillie. I'll keep you posted.
The bike trip from heck: My second-ever 200 km bike trip happened this past weekend, in support of MS. From the small town of Airdrie up to the even smaller town of Olds, through the winding, rolling Alberta countryside. Saturday was wonderful, with warm sun, little wind, and my new "comfort" bike seat living up to its name. Staying overnight at the Olds Agricultural College was fine, although there was the heartbreaking element of a forlorn stray kitten in "Tent City," where I was staying. Between that and a stiff back, I didn't get much sleep. On Sunday, the weather sucked so hard its cheeks caved in. We were one giant Wile E. Coyote on wheels, with our own personal raincloud. There were about 40 km with no rain or only light drizzle, but there was a grim half-hour of driving rain, and it seemed that every time we stopped for a rest, the serious rain would start in again.
The Yelling Continues: Apparently there was a harasser on the bike trip yesterday. I didn't spot this, or was just out of it as usual, but a man in a truck was driving back and forth along the route, shouting abuse at cyclists. He hollered at Fearless, which she couldn't quite understand, but was able to make out the word "Die" in the noise. Other cyclists reported that he had yelled at them, and another friend, Megan, had cigarette ash flicked at her as the truck passed. All I can say is this: what a loser.
And here I sit this morning and afternoon, with my first bout of carpal tunnel soreness, brought on, no doubt, by riding 200 km on a bike that's slightly too small for me. I have to hike my seat so I get the right pedal/leg angle. That puts excessive weight on my hands. Scary. The tingling, numbness and aching just won't stop. Lots of ice and ibuprofen are called for, and perhaps a break from cycling for a few days.
Another victory for big, square Scottish bums: I may have had to grunt a lot going uphill, sounding like Darth Vader on a stairmaster, but nobody could beat me coasting downhill. I'd just hike my gigantic bum back of the bike seat, hunker down over the handlebars, and fly. That has to be my favourite part of cycling.
Please, don't anyone say that this latest physical deterioration is just part of the advancing senility, tomorrow being the birthday thing. Last year I fell into a giant mud puddle to celebrate my birthday. This year, I don't know what's in the books. My dad's wife sent me hand-knitted dishcloths, though, if that's any indication.
Tuesday, June 05, 2001
A handwritten note received in the mail:
Hi Ms. Farries
Since I cannot reach you in person or telephone I have taken the opportunity to write. I'm sending you magazines + I hope that youll read them. This is at no cost to you. The magazines are very informative + Bible based so if you have a Bible please look up the Scripture it will help you to understand what the magazines is telling us. please feel free to call us at 230-9383 + if you have any questions that I can help you with I'd be glad to give you the help. We are voluntary Bible students + if you want to know more about us? We offer free Bible studies if you care to have one it is only for an hour in a week + you can set this to the time that you have when ever. Thank
My name is Tillie
Enclosed, of course, were two Watchtower magazines. And the handwriting of the letter was what I'd call Querulous Copperplate.
I have no goddamned idea who Tillie is, and I shiver at the thought that she was trying to reach me "in person." Hiding in the rosebushes outside my apartment building? Waiting across the street in the park? Yikes.
Oh, I forgot: For the lucrative Japanese market: Swooshi™, the swoosh-shaped imitation crabmeat chunk for your bento box.
Before I am much older, and I predict within the next 10 years, the marketing heads at Nike will parlay the swoosh to food. Cinnamon Swoosh breakfast cereal (can't you just see those tiny cinnamon-specked oaty swooshes of goodness?); Swoosh Chews; Swoosh Joosh Sports Drink; and Swoosh-Emz chewable vitamins.
Tell Phil Knight he can leave me a voicemail.
Monday, June 04, 2001
Books on the Brain: Thanks to Duane, He Who is Off to Columbia this month for a publishing seminar, and who asked me for a list of the 10 books that had had the greatest influence on me.
I hemmed and hawed for a couple of hours, and finally decided to rank the 10 most influential books of my adult life. I may list some of the children's ones later. Anyway, the books are: A Soldier of The Great War, by Mark Helprin; Underworld, by Don DeLillo; Fifth Business, by Robertson Davies; Persuasion, by Jane Austen; The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts, by Louis deBernieres; Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman; The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler; Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens; Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis; and Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx.
As I said, I haven't mentioned the ones I memorized as a child. Among those are the following: The Complete Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; Red Sky at Morning by Richard Bradford; The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery; The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster -- and, oh, about a kazillion others. I could keep this up for hours. Thanks, Bad Man.