Tuesday, 17 December 2013

...people look like...the stars on a clear night, in the wilderness.

Earlier this year, a friend of mine re-tweeted the post of a mutual co-worker.  It was the blog post of a gentleman who works as a massage therapist in Portland, Oregon.

In one of the most compassionate works I've ever seen posted in my 20+ years online, Dale Favier reassured and comforted every average person out there; people like you, and me, and anyone with any tiny bit of insecurity about how they look.  He wrote:

"... nobody looks like the people in magazines or movies.  Not even models.  Nobody."


He ended by saying:

"I’ll tell you what people look like, really: they look like flames. Or like the stars, on a clear night in the wilderness."

With all my heart, I wish that I could be one of those stars.... just a point of light in the cosmos, glittering and shining down on a benevolent Earth.

But the truth is that I don't feel that way, and this Earth is not benevolent - especially not to people like me who don't "fit"the standard of beauty accepted in Western society.

When I first started to gain weight 20 years ago the instant response of the medical professionals around me was "stop eating - exercise" and then to throw the infamous Fen-Phen combination at me, without a single test.  It was 2 more years before surgery revealed the cysts on my ovaries pumping out excess testosterone, causing me to gain weight, my skin to darken in patches, and my hair to fall out in clumps.  The next "solution" was high-dose estrogen coupled with prednisone, which is noted for causing people to have a "moon-face".

To say that I ballooned would be an understatement.  As two doctors fiddled with the combination of medications to control the development of the cysts, my size 6-8 self quickly went to a 10, jumped to a 14, and then, size 18 by the time I moved from Toronto to Ottawa in the summer of 1996.  I also went from being one of those annoying women with short, painless, clockwork periods to weeks-long, severely painful episodes that kept their own schedule.  My Ottawa doctor tried other drugs that failed to control my symptoms before recommending surgery to at least stop the periods.  It also meant I could ditch the drugs since I wouldn't have the side-effects of the cysts.

The weight has stuck - no matter what I do short of starvation.

So I made the decision to have my body mutilated just so I would stop being such an affront to the society I live in.  Grown men think it's sport to oink at me as I pass on the street, or hang out their car window and yell "hey fatty, get off the street".  Other women feel free to comment on what I eat: "why do you eat salad all the time?" from someone I used to work with.  I wanted to say that if I didn't eat salad she'd probably ask me if I "really should be eating *that*?"

Being single all my life and using internet dating has been especially soul-destroying.  Unsolicited messages from men telling me to get off the site and leave it for the thin and beautiful girls.  And heaven forbid you turn down a man's overture:  "I was just going to throw you one since you're so ugly, I'm sure you're desperate for it".  Strange women telling me that I "owe it to the men" to post full-length pictures of myself to prove that I'm fat, despite my bluntly-worded profiles through the years.

In one of life's fabulous ironies, it seems that I fall into that odd category of "in-between" - too fat for the "normal" people and too thin for the men who like larger women.  It also made me a target for some pointed comments when I went to the orientation for weight-loss surgery.

Where I live, a team of medical professionals must assess your fitness to have the surgery.  Your family doctor sends an application to an assessment centre and you then go through physical and psychological testing for these individuals to decide if you will be one of the lucky few.  They play god with your life.

However, the assessment centre for my location is in another city about 2.5 hours away from me - and I don't drive.  Due to cutbacks in trains and buses, travel times are at odd intervals, and with appointments scheduled during working hours, I certainly can't ask any of my friends to drop everything to drive me.

I arrived at my orientation session after a long, nausea-inducing bus ride, got a ginger ale, and settled into my seat at the front as I wanted to be able to read the slides and take notes.  After detailed explanations of the surgical procedures involved in weight loss, a dietician went to the podium to talk about how to eat following surgery.  She was going through a long list of what could and could not be eaten and then stopped and looked pointedly at me.  "You will never be able to drink another carbonated beverage in your life," she said.  "This means no beer, no champagne and definitely NO ginger ale", the last said loudly with a glare in my direction.

I was taken aback, but that didn't prepare me for what came next.  We had taken numbers when we arrived and were called up to get our packages of documents to be filled out for the ensuing appointments before surgery.  The nurse who had explained the surgery to us took down information on each person and, asked each if they had any type of weight-loss surgery before.

Until she came to me.  I provided my name and address and, then, without looking up, she said "and you've had weight-loss surgery before."  It was not a question, but a statement.

"No, ma'am, " I replied.

Her head shot up and she had a clear look of disbelief on her face.  "YOU haven't had a lap band?" she asked, in a tone I can only describe as a sneer.

"No, ma'am," I repeated, as levelly as I could.  I was the smallest potential patient in the room.

She showed me where to sign that I had received my package and handed it to me without another word.  I made my way out of the building to a taxi stand to go back to the city centre, where I waited 5 hours for the bus home.

With a few words, these two women had made me feel that I was unworthy of their time and attention.  I shrank inside in a way that my body refuses to follow.

It was several weeks before I got the letter detailing my first set of appointments.  We had been advised that for those from out of town, every attempt would be made to schedule two appointments in a day.  Mine were one each Thursday for a month.  Each visit would require my taking 2 days off work to travel to and from the other city, plus hotel, taxi and meal expenses.  None of which is covered by the universal health care plan in my province, nor by the private extended insurance I have through work.

I called to explain my predicament and ask them to reschedule and was told that was impossible.  The woman on the phone said that if I couldn't afford to attend the 20 or so appointments that I wasn't a good candidate for the program.  That shocked me, because we were informed that there were a dozen appointments involved before surgery was scheduled - and that would be in yet ANOTHER city several hours in the other direction from my home!

I was informed that 12 was the minimum number of appointments, but there could be twice as many and they would deny the surgery if THEY felt you wouldn't be an appropriate candidate.  At a minimum, I would be out-of-pocket over $2,500, possibly more than $5,000, with nothing to show for it.

When I put the phone down, I realized what millions of Americans go through with their health care system on a daily basis.

After talking to my doctor, I called them back and cancelled the appointments.

I haven't complained about my treatment to either the Ministry of Health or the board of directors at the hospital.  At this point, it would be ridiculous to do so since a few months have gone by.

Shortly after all this happened, I learned that the medical profession has once again revised the BMI calculations.   Taller people have lower numbers than previously calculated, but for short people they've revised our numbers upward.  My BMI is now calculated at 49 instead of 43.

I am in awe of anyone with the strength of character to accept themselves at any size.

But the truth is that I can't.

I go through contortions of self-loathing on an almost-daily basis.

And that's no way for anyone to live.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Here's what you don't know about me...

For 3 years during the 1980s, I worked for one of the agencies of the Canadian Council of Churches involved in the fight against apartheid in South Africa.

It's a strange place to find an atheist, smack dab in the middle of activist nuns, radical priests and the social justice arms of the member churches, but it makes sense in the context of my political liberalism.

The work of the agency stretched around the world:  mining issues in the Philippines, human rights in Chile, forestry in Brazil, Third World debt in general, and environmental matters here at home in Canada - but it was the work in Africa, specifically the independence of Namibia and the work to end apartheid in South Africa, that occupied the bulk of the group's attention.  Using church stock portfolios and the power of minority shareholder resolutions, the individual churches and religious communities would challenge the Canadian companies that polluted the earth and were involved in human rights abuses across the globe.

You could say they were tilting at windmills; the resolutions never passed, few people read the circulars that are sent before annual shareholder meetings, if they see them at all.  But I think it is safe to say that they did make a difference.  In the ensuing years, both Canada and the United States have changed their regulations regarding minority shareholder resolutions and voting, giving more power to individuals to challenge corporations and how they do business.

The difference also came about in pushing issues into public view.  Would the average Mr. or Ms. Shareholder have known that Placer Dome was polluting an island in the Philippines if it wasn't for the actions of a religious order?  Probably not...

As a secretary in our organization, I spent most days typing minutes of meetings and reports for the members, along with letters to other groups around the world.  More than anything, it was the visitors from other countries who made an impression on me:  Sister Aida from the Philippines, a tribal chief from the Amazon River basin in Brazil, and countless people from South Africa.

Most of the South Africans were young, but many of them moved with the weight of years - they were political refugees, people who had been released from prison after enduring unspeakable atrocities and horrendous injuries at the hands of their oppressors.  These young men and women were physically and psychically scarred, but their determination and spirit were unbroken despite being separated from their families and friends.  I continue to hope that the little I did to help their cause honoured them.

Shortly after I moved on to a different life, came the announcement that Nelson Mandela would be released from prison.

On that Sunday morning, I was glued to the television for that moment.  Tears streamed down my face as I watched him walk in to the sunshine with Winnie by his side.  But the best was yet to come...

A few months later, Mandela visited Canada, his way of thanking us for being one of the leading lights in supporting his cause and imposing sanctions.  It was announced that he would make a brief speech on the steps of the Ontario Legislature.

I joined the thousands of people on the lawn that hot evening in June.  Many of them were people I had worked with; I lost count of the number of I hugged in hello.  We stood together, holding hands in a long line, as Madiba spoke.

Do I remember his exact words?  No.  But the intervening years have shown us how eloquent he was and I distinctly remember his gratitude to Canada and Canadians.

My former co-workers and I parted then and it was several months before I saw them again, under sad circumstances.  One young couple, co-workers, had escaped South Africa through Botswana after being released from prison.  Joyce Dipale and her husband, Tiego Masinga (known as Rolla), had left their daughter behind with family and made their way to Canada.

Joyce and Rolla lived near me in downtown Toronto and invited me to to their home on several occasions to Sunday lunches with our friends and co-workers.  They introduced me to African food, which I admit is not to my taste.

Due to the torture Joyce endured at the hands of her captors, and after being shot by South African agents while living in Botswana, she suffered a major stroke at a very young age.  I visited her in the hospital, and found her surrounded by our mutual friends.  For a while, I sat with her and held her hand while she "talked" with me; the stroke had affected her speech processes.

It was the last time, I saw my friends from that stage of my life.  I moved on to other things and another city.

As the whole world knows, Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa, and he presented to the entire world an enduring image of grace, forgiveness, and leadership that so many are sorely in need of to this day.

Joyce and Rolla were able to return to South Africa and provided testimony to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission.

This world is a better place for the fact that Nelson Mandela lived in it, but at this moment, with his passing, it is also a little smaller and colder.

To honour him, it's up to all of us to make his vision a reality - a world where equality is granted regardless of race, religion, and gender, a world without violence and poverty, a world of opportunity for all.

Humanity will miss you, Madiba.

Thank you.

Friday, 22 November 2013

How do you make sense of the senseless...

That phrase is what best describes what I've heard about today and the events of 50 years ago on November 22, 1963.

How else do you explain the murder of the young, progressive and inspirational president of the United States?

You really can't.

I was only 3 years and 3 months old that day, a little girl living in a small town in northern Ontario in Canada.  People find it hard to believe that I can remember the events surrounding President Kennedy's assassination - yet I do.

I remember my mother's tears.  I remember watching tv and seeing the lines of people paying their respects in the rotunda at the Capitol.  I remember Jackie and Caroline kneeling at the casket and kissing the flag that covered it.  I remember seeing the procession to the cathedral and the clerics conducting the service.

Was it that day?  Something inspired my interest in this president and his liberal politics as I grew to adulthood.

Perhaps it was also the sad fact that I very clearly remember the announcement of Bobby Kennedy's death less than 5 years later.  On that morning, I was on a plane flying from London, England to Dublin, Ireland.  The Aer Lingus flight was packed with Irish-Americans on their way to "The Old Sod" when the pilot made his announcement.  And, almost as one, there were cries and weeping all over the plane.

In my early teens, I began to devour biographies of the Kennedy brothers and their family.  Despite the information that was then becoming available about the president and his dissolute personal life, I did grow to admire him, and his brother.

In spite of their wealth and privilege, the Kennedy family had a strong belief in public service - a belief that continues today in the succeeding generations.  Senator Ted Kennedy, carrying on the work of his older brothers, demonstrated the family's dedication to liberal causes and beliefs, especially in the futile development of a single-payer health care system.

Reading all those books about Jack and Bobby Kennedy, and the amazing words of Ted Sorensen that defined the president's administration and Bobby's run for the White House, coupled with Prime Minister Trudeau's leadership of my country during my teens, shaped my political, ethical, and moral view of the world in which we live.

I believe in the collective good.

I believe in the idealism expressed by John Kennedy; that good citizenship means asking what one can do for one's city, province and country, instead of "what's in it for me?"

As an adult, I had the opportunity to visit Dealey Plaza.  It is one of only two places on the face of this earth where I have *felt* evil.  A year later, I was able to visit the grave site of Jack and Bobby in Arlington cemetary.  And several years after that, I went to the Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston.

In middle age, the words of this president continue to inspire me.  I have recently become politically active again, joining local groups in order to work on our municipal election next year; I suspect it will continue to our federal election the following year.  And I am glad for it.

Do I believe in the conspiracy theories?  I honestly don't know.  When you visit Dealey Plaza and see it for yourself, you have trouble believing in the "Lone Gunman" theory.  And the recently posited theory that a secret service agent accidentally shot the president makes a lot of sense when you think about it.

One thing that I do think is that we will NEVER in recorded history know the "truth" of President Kennedy's murder because of the actions of Jack Ruby and the stumblings of The Warren Commission.

Today I feel for Caroline Kennedy as the only surviving member of her family, as the person who carries the weight of the myth of "Camelot" on her shoulders as the new American ambassador to Japan.

But I wish to thank her father, for being the inspiration to many - for having dreams and vision that seem to be sorely lacking in so many of our public leaders.  It's up to us to continue this work; to not drown in an ocean of cynicism and keep working to make this world a more just and fair place.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

You can tell the seasons are changing...

It's still early September, one of those perfectly clear days where the sky is crystalline and really, truly, sky blue.

You know the blue I mean; it's the one that comes in the giant 64-pack of Crayola crayons that you only get at the beginning of the school year.  It's the shade called "Blue Sky", and only in the spring and fall do you actually get that perfect colour in the sky overhead in Canada.

The summer sky - especially in this part of the country - is often a washed out, slightly-yellow-tinged shade, a consequence of humidity and pollution.  And the winter sky is equally insipid, equally washed out, but tinged with an icy grey touch, as if a faint layer of hoar frost is between the earth and the sun.

Today is the day that promises fall; fiery red maples that match my hair, brilliant yellows on gingko trees, the bright orange of the serviceberry.  Cashmere sweaters and pashminas, my leopard print jacket, and the butter soft leather of my favourite red gloves.

And impending doom for the ragweed - which can't come soon enough for me.

Monday, 19 August 2013

The beginning, the end & everything in between...

I registered this blog name with Blogger a few years ago in order to write about my adventures in middle-aged dating-land, but didn't write a word until last month for many reasons; not the least of which is that I've barely been dating in the past few years.

But two public events in the past month spurred me to start writing again.

The first was the death of Canadian actor Cory Monteith.  As I read through the stories online about this young man, I also read some of the comments.  Interspersed with all the RIP and love from fans were the "who cares" and "just another junkie" and the "why should we care about this guy when so many other people struggle with and die from drug addiction every day?"

10 days later, His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge was born and the commentary turned to "just another baby in this world, why should we care?"

The young prince's grandmother, Princess Diana, changed the way the world reports and looks at celebrity; I would say that it is sadly not for the better.  The public seems to have developed an insatiable appetite for the private details of the lives of public personages; though if one was to turn that spy glass around on the lives of those demanding to "know", I daresay they would find it an intrusion in the extreme and would lash out, as some in the public eye do from time to time.

I developed an appreciation for that during a very public trial conducted at the courthouse where I work.  One day, I was accosted by a news camera-man while trying to get into my workplace, and after that incident, I was kindly chauffeured to and from the office by several co-workers for the duration of the trial.  The first afternoon I was driven home, I understood what some celebrities go through, as photographers stood on the ramp to our parking garage, photographing everyone leaving the building, hoping to get that one shot of the accused or the "star witness" against him.

It was an eye-opening experience.

Some people DO care very, very much about what happens in the lives of others.  The reasons vary from cheap thrills, to "there but for the grace of *insert deity here* go I, to escapism from the poverty of their own existence.

I am not one of those people who care about every random "famous" person, but what does bother me is the desire, almost need, of some to diminish the feelings of those who DO care.

Yes, thousands of babies are born into this world every day; but only one will be King of Great Britain and the Commonwealth (if it still exists when George takes the throne).  And there are many more thousands of people around the world who see this child's ties to his late grandmother and wonder "what if?"

Even more, I am perturbed by those who seek to diminish public mourning at the death of a public figure.  If someone has an impact on your life, who are we (the rest of us) to negate your feelings, be they expressed on a message board, the comments section of a news site, post-it notes attached to a store front (as happened upon the death of Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs), chalk drawings at City Hall (Jack Layton) or through leaving flowers at the gates of a palace?

It is sad when a young life is lost to drug abuse (or cancer, or an accident), and it doesn't matter to the family of that person if they are a "celebrity" or not.  Amy Winehouse's parents were very open about their grief after the passing of their daughter; I doubt their grief was any greater or any less than that of the family or friends of Jane Smith or John Brown who died of an overdose the same day.

Had I known Jane Smith or John Brown, even in passing, I, too, might have felt a pang of sadness.

At the most basic level, we are all linked together on this spaceship called Earth.  We all share the same fate.  This is why I try to never forget the immortal words of the Renaissance poet John Donne:

No man is an island entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were;
any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

(The words above are taking on more significance for me today following the death of a co-worker over the weekend.  It was a pleasure to work with Bonnie over the past couple of years and I cannot believe that I will not pick up the phone again to hear her say "Hello, dah-link, it's Bon!"  She'll be missed.)

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Holding On to Yesterday*

My re-post yesterday from my old blog (no longer online) was a direct result of a brief conversation I had with my Uncle Tony.

Yesterday was his 50th wedding anniversary and at my cousin Audra's request, I called in to the party being held at her brother Rob's house.  I spoke to my Aunt Erika for a few minutes; she was genuinely delighted to hear from me and insisted that I visit "home" (Kapuskasing) soon.  Then she passed the phone to my uncle.

As soon as I heard his "hello", tears sprang to my eyes; he sounds so much like my dad.

For a few minutes, it was like 12 years fell away.  I could pretend I was having a conversation with my father.  But it was just pretend and it was just a few minutes.  There is no holding on to yesterday...

*With my apologies to Ambrosia for appropriating the title of their song.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

It must have been...

(This is a repost of a blog entry from another site that I originally wrote on March 31, 2005.  It was the day that Terry Schiavo died after she had been on life support for 15 years.  Her husband and parents had fought for a long time over the decision to discontinue the support; her husband wanted to let her go, her parents wanted to keep her alive at all costs.)

...the warmest day of the spring, on that day when I made the decision to let my father die.

By the time I got off the train from downtown Montréal at the station near his hospice, the sun was high in the sky, and the mounds of snow in the parkland I walked through were melting away fast. It was early April 2001.

I didn't want to believe what the doctors had told me; the cancer had spread to papa's brain.  A lifetime of cigarettes had caught up with him the summer before and the tumor in his throat caused strokes; the second one leaving him paralyzed on one side.

He chose rehab over radiation.  He had already chosen not to have the standard surgery in cases of throat cancer - he wanted to be able to talk.  The doctors said without the surgery they could only give him 6 months to 2 years.  But his older brother had suffered the same cancer and lived 2 silent, painfully long years, never again speaking, after his surgery.  My father didn't want to do that to himself, to us.

During the winter, the cancer moved silently as papa made progress at regaining use of his left side.  Then I developed pneumonia and was unable to visit him for 5 weeks.  When they at last let me in to see him, his mind was going.  He talked about going fishing with his father, asked if we had talked to his older brother, called my step-sister by her mother's name.

The year before, I had worked for the head of the Neuroscience unit at a research laboratory.  I knew far too well the damage that illness and trauma could do to a human brain - my father's brain.

I asked for his file and read through the list of chemicals being poured into his body.  The head nurse asked me to come back to talk to the director.  As my father's oldest child, I would have to make decisions.  He was in no condition to sign the power of attorney form I had brought with me.

I asked for a CAT scan to make sure; maybe, just maybe they were wrong and the cancer hadn't spread that far.  But it had.  I had it sent via email to my former boss.  He pulled it up on the computer screen.  I had seen enough brain scans to know that what I was looking at wasn't right.

And so, on that April day four years ago, I went back to the small town on the north shore of the St. Lawrence and sat with my father.  I fed him his lunch and I sat holding his hand while he drifted in and out of consciousness.

Only when he was asleep did I beg him to tell me what to do.

But I already knew.

When the director of the hospice handed me the DNR, I hesitated.  But I knew, with painful clarity, that it would be cruel in the extreme to keep my father alive for long goodbyes that might not ease my sorrow at losing him.

I put the pen to paper and signed it.

My father died a month later - on a hot, sunny day filled with the promise of summer.

There are dark, lonely nights when the seeds of doubt creep in and voices whisper "you killed your father"... but when I think of how cancer ravaged his poor body and took his mind...

I know I did the right thing.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Living in the past....

I'm one of those people who regards her high school years as time spent mostly in Hell.

But a few people made parts of the whole process tolerable; including one who went on to a moderate level of fame as a singer.

I'm not about to pretend that I have hyperthymesia or even an eidectic memory, but I still have a vivid recollection of meeting M for the first time.  It was in the cafeteria when I was in grade 12, shortly after the start of the school year.  M was new to my school and had recently come to Canada from England.  He was tall, incredibly thin, and sported long, LONG strawberry blond curls.

Another friend brought him over to meet me and told him that I had the same level of knowledge of music that M did.  The very first thing he said to me was "do you know who Marc Bolan is?"  And I replied, "of course I do; he was the lead singer of T-Rex and he died last week."  The other people at the table looked at the two of us like we were crazy, but we each felt we had found a kindred spirit.

From that day forward, we got together to discuss music.  We shared a love of the British blues musicians who made their names in the late 1960s: Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Gary, Moore, Ray Davies...  plus all of the bands these men had belonged to and those who owe their careers to them.

We each were owners of Queen's first album and preferred it to the popular "A Night at the Opera", we had discussions about the merits of progressive rock and southern rock and disco and the emerging New Wave movement.  M didn't share my love of The Eagles, The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, though he was instrumental in helping me put together my Linda Ronstadt lip-sync for a theatre arts presentation that got me the highest mark in the class.

I would like to tell you that we were wild and crazy - it was the 70s after all.  But we were boringly sedate.  After school, we would take the bus to the apartment M shared with his mother and lie on the floor in the living room doing our homework while we listened to music.   The strongest thing we ingested was tea; M, being a Brit and all, made a GREAT cup of tea!

When homework was done, he would take out his guitar - electric, not plugged in - and would play along with the recordings.  We would sing along with Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin, The Strawbs, Rod Stewart and Genesis.  M is responsible for my love for Peter Gabriel.

We were never girlfriend and boyfriend.  People at school would sneer at me about having a "gay boyfriend" and yet we never went beyond a few relatively tame sessions of kissing.  The only time we did anything remotely "date-like" was taking the streetcar all the way downtown to make pilgrimages to Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street on those Saturdays when neither of us was working at our part-time jobs.  We would go to the bargain floor and paw through the bins, seeking out the over-looked gems.  Our only other "date" was an afternoon at the repertory theatre seeing an abridged version of the Woodstock movie.  All the way home, we dissected the performances.

M was always, ALWAYS sure that he would make it in the music business!  I was less sure - for both of us.  He pushed me to sing outside of my comfort zone and would sometimes transpose pieces into my lower register for me.  By the time we parted ways after an intense 2 years of friendship, I could sing both Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks' parts on the entire Rumours album.

That first year at school together, during the annual talent show, he heard another classmate play drums with his band.  The band was pretty bad, but R's drumming was great, and M set about recruiting him for his own band.

When you look up M's band on Wikipedia, it tells you that they were formed in 1981.  This is patently untrue; they formed 3 years earlier than that, when M and R and another friend of M's played at the next year's talent show.  They brought the house down.  R didn't really like M; he once asked me why I was friends with "that freak".  He then went on to admit that he thought M was a "talented freak, but a freak just the same".  Needless to say, when the band finally got their recording contract shortly afterward, R wasn't part of the band.  However, I do remember holding in my hands the demo vinyl single where R was the drummer for M's band.

M and I graduated in the same year; I went to university to try to become a lawyer instead of a singer and he went off to make his way in the music business.  He succeeded for a while; enough that his voice is totally recognizable on the Canadian Christmas charity single "Tears Are Not Enough".  He was disappointed with my decision, believing that I should follow his path.  But when I did finally go the musical route, I went into opera instead of rock and roll.

I blew out my vocal chords by the time I was 34; M still tours on the "nostalgia circuit".  Go figure.

Strangely, I also have a vivid memory of the last time I met him face to face.  I was on my way home from my singing teacher's place.  It was a steamy summer day in Toronto and I was walking to my bachelorette pad.  In my travels, I crossed the path of a recording studio and coming down the sidewalk toward me was M.

He stopped and did a double-take and then ran toward me with his arms outstretched.  We held each other for long moments and then he asked me to tell him what I was doing.  I showed him my binder with the scores I was learning and we asked after each others' parents and siblings.  After that, I don't remember anything else.  I do know that we did NOT promise to keep in touch; too much had torn us apart in the intervening years.

He was in town this weekend, performing.  I didn't go to see if I could meet him.  I didn't want him to see me not looking like the girl I used to be, even though I know he's not the boy I used to know.

Today I listened to a lot of music from the 60s and 70s...  and I remembered all that music, and all those days spent together.

And how happy I was spending time with my dear friend.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

One Day in Jeopardy!

Growing up in small town northern Ontario in the 1960s, you had your choice of two television stations:  CBC English or CBC French.  On those Saturday nights in the winter when the Leafs and Canadiens were playing each other, you had the same show on both channels with the broadcast in the appropriate language for the audience.

One constant was broadcast every weekday afternoon at 4:00 pm on the English network.  When I arrived home from school, my mother would plunk me down with a snack while she watched Art Fleming host Jeopardy!  This continued until we moved to Toronto in 1972 and mom went off to work.  Jeopardy! was cancelled soon after and I forgot all about it.

A decade later, the Trivial Pursuit craze hit North America.  Within 6 months of the release of the game, no one in my family would play against me.  The only time I got to play was when we had teams; there would be arguments over which team had me as a member last time.

Two years later, our fellow Canadian, Alex Trebek, best known as host of Reach for the Top (another staple in my house growing up), signed on as host of the reincarnated Jeopardy!  By then I had a little bachelorette pad in downtown Toronto and I glued myself to CBC weeknights at 7:30 to watch the show.

 I am the person with the freakish memory.

With the exception of (most) sports and science, the depth and breadth of my knowledge is bizarre in the extreme.  I attribute this to being a lifelong voracious reader.  My parents gave me a child’s illustrated encyclopedia when I was about 5 or 6; I read it over and over until it fell apart.  I had a library card at a young age and looked at travel books, read history and biographies, and was gifted with a National Geographic Atlas of the World by my grandfather when I was 12.  That, too, ended up falling apart at the seams.  As a teenager, I read The Toronto Star cover to cover on a daily basis and my specialization in Political Science at the University of Toronto gave me a grounding in philosophy and history along with the all-important (for Canadian trivia geeks) knowledge of the United States political system.

Pre-internet-in-every-home, Jeopardy! would hold contestant searches in person in various cities from time to time.  In general, in order to get an audition, you had to listen to radio station X and be the nth caller when they said “dial now” and correctly answer a trivia question in order to be selected.  If you didn’t happen to listen to station X, or weren’t lucky in dialing even if you did, you were out of luck; unless you were in Los Angeles where the show regularly held in-person tests and auditions.

Online tests were introduced in January of 2006.  You have a short window of opportunity to register to take the test (one week around Christmas) and approximately 100,000 people sit down at their computers on a winter’s night to test themselves in the hope of being on the show.  At 8:00 pm on the night of the test, 50 questions flash on the screen at 8-second intervals; answers do NOT have to be in the form of a question.

The threshold for a passing grade is 35 out of 50 – 70%, but this alone doesn’t guarantee you a place at the audition.  Since they only audition about 2,000 people for 400 places as contestants in a season, should more than 2,000 score 70% or more, they randomly choose names to go on to the audition.

This year was my 4th try at the online test.  I was quite sure I had failed it, but later saw the responses posted to Sony’s Jeopardy! website and realized I got 43 out of 50.  It was just a matter of waiting to see if I made the cut.

And I did.

On the evening of Victoria Day, after watching Jeopardy! (of course), I opened my email to find one from the Jeopardy! Contestants office.

Congratulations!  You have been selected for a follow-up appointment at an upcoming Jeopardy! contestant search for the Toronto area, exclusively for those who successfully passed the online test.  This is the next step in becoming a Jeopardy! contestant.  We have reserved the following appointment for you:

When: Tuesday, July 9th     Time:  3:00 pm

Where:  Toronto, Canada

I’ll be honest:  I jumped up and down and screamed for joy for about 5 minutes before I calmed down enough to call first my mother, then my sister, and finally, my Nana (who always believed I should be on the show) to give them the news.

See that date and time?  Let me fast forward to July 8, 2013…

Mother Nature conspired against me making that appointment.  First she threw a raging thunderstorm, accompanied by a downpour of epic proportions, at me shortly after I arrived at mom’s place on Monday afternoon.  A massive blackout hit just before 6:00 pm, meaning I couldn’t watch the show that night in preparation for the next day.  The next morning, mom could not get her car out of the flooded underground garage at her apartment building, so, leaving plenty of time to get downtown (the audition was at the Sheraton Centre and my mother lives in the absolutely most southwesterly corner of Toronto), I took a taxi to the GO Train station at 12:45 pm.

However, GO Train service was suspended AFTER my last call to check on the status of trains due to a track washout at Dixie Road, just west of mom’s location in Long Branch.  I raced over to the TTC Long Branch Loop to get a streetcar downtown.  And I waited, and waited… and waited.  Until 1:20 pm, when one finally showed up.

People got on and hopped off at nearly every stop on Lakeshore Boulevard since the interval between cars had been so long.  But even more trouble awaited us on the east side of the Humber River.

Nearly every traffic light was out all the way to Spadina Avenue!

I checked my watch obsessively as we crept along Queen Street West.  I told myself that if we made it to Ossington by 2:15, it would be okay, not knowing that just about everything from there to Bathurst Street remained without power.  Or the surprize that awaited me at Spadina.

It seems that track reconstruction was underway on Queen Street West from University to York, blocking access to the Sheraton Centre.  The streetcar was diverting at Spadina and it was 2:40 pm.  My confirmation letter told me that no one would be admitted to the audition if they were late.  I jumped off the streetcar and flew across Spadina to flag down a taxi.  The driver raced me over to University Avenue where I began running as fast as I could past the Opera House.  I had to run across the back of the Opera House to Richmond to cross to the hotel and dodged several cars in the arcade entrance to the building.

Only to be confronted by escalators that were out of service up to the ballroom level on the second floor!

Out of breath and almost in tears, a Sheraton staffer noticed my distress and asked if she could help, and when I explained that I needed to find the Simcoe Room *now* took me by the hand and led me to the elevators.  She kindly did not abandon me as there was a massive cell phone convention of some type filling all the large ballrooms on the same floor.  My personal Angel of Mercy gently took my arm and guided me past meeting rooms full of techies discussing connectivity and product enhancement and deposited me with 29 other potential contestants at 2:56 pm!

I must have been a sight; frizzled, sweaty, dishevelled, gasping for air.  Several people congratulated me on making it on time and that was my cue to pour out my tale of transit woes to all and sundry.  Moments later, as discussion turned to studying for the day, I relayed my dream of being chased by “The Tornado of Knowledge”, much to everyone’s bemusement.

For better or for worse (and I’m hoping it was better), I was myself – loud, uninhibited, the friendly Irish setter dog that loves everyone in the neighbourhood.  I strode to the front when everyone was avoiding that row and announced that I wasn’t afraid to sit there, and proceeded to make myself “known”.  For this, I was rewarded with being called first to play the first mock game of the day.

I think I did well on the written test and I felt I was confident playing the mock game.  For the most part, I think my voice was steady and my nerves were under control.

But here’s the kicker; I’ll never find out how I did on that test.  They don’t tell you if you “passed” and are one of the lucky 400 to go into the contestant pool for the next 18 months.  The only way I will find out is when/if I get “The Call” to come to LA to tape the show.  On average, they try to give contestants a month’s notice, 6 weeks for Canadians.

Just in case…  I’m renewing my passport asap!