It's getting harder to buy groceries

Tuesday, July 31, 2012 | | 0 comments

The other night, on my way home from work, I stopped at the grocery store. I don’t buy the family groceries, but I frequently stop in after work to pick up the items that we forgot, ran out of, or have recently decided we’d like to eat. I am by far the biggest contributor to the new items on our grocery list, so I don’t mind being the one to stop in on my way home from work.

On this particular trip I picked up some eggs and a package of spring mix, which is really just a collection of different lettuces, with no actual ties to any particular season, and approached the check-out aisle.  I use the aisle that caters to those shoppers who only ever come to the grocery store on their way home from work, the one for eight items or fewer, and loaded my food onto the conveyor belt.
The woman working at the counter is someone I’ve seen several times before, never striking me as friendly or unfriendly, she’s just pleasant enough. My assessment of the check-out woman will factor into the story in just a bit.
While my eggs and spring mix took their short ride to the front of the line, the check-out woman noticed her co-worker walking by, pushing a cart loaded with boxes, apparently on her way to stock some shelves.
“Make sure you take it easy, Janice!” she yelled over my shoulder.
“I will,” said Janice.
Turning back to me, the check-out woman said, “She’s pregnant.”
“Ah,” I said. That’s what you say when you really have no reaction, but don’t want to seem like you don’t care at all.
“It’s not that bad,” she said.
“Hmm?” I asked. That’s what you say when you hadn’t said anything in the first place, making you wonder what the response is in reference to, while also wondering if the person you’re talking to believes they are able to read your mind.  
“Working here, it’s not that tiring for someone who’s pregnant.”
“Oh!” I said, wondering why she might think I was concerned about how tired Janice would be from her cart pushing and shelf stocking.
“I tended bar right up until my due date, it’s not that tiring,” she volunteered, now seeming surer of her ability to know and respond to my every unspoken thought.
“Oh, really?” I offered, though I hadn’t at any point expected her to provide me with details of her own pregnancy, had I known there was ever a pregnancy to discuss.  
“And there’s no reason to put on a lot of weight when you’re pregnant,” she added with the hint of disdain you might expect when talking to an infrequent grocery shopper who obviously had been misinformed about the proper weight gain of pregnant women and needed to be set straight.
“Nope,” she carried on, “when I was pregnant, I actually lost weight! I was 113 pounds when I got pregnant and 117 pounds after.”
Wait, what? That doesn’t even make—
“A woman should put on the weight of the baby, plus 10 pounds of water weight, and that’s it. There’s no reason for any woman to put on more than that.” I thought she might pound her fist on the conveyor belt or throw my spring mix at me for emphasis.
Though this check-out woman would have no way of knowing, I have two kids of my own, have witnessed many family members, friends and co-workers go through pregnancies and I know that being pregnant seems to turn you into a magnet for advice and criticism. But what I’d never witnessed before was the nerve one could strike simply by trying to buy some eggs and spring mix, actions so rarely associated with confrontation, and saying “Ah,” “Hmm?” and “Oh!” When did it become so acceptable to offer pregnancy advice that even infrequent grocery shoppers - men no less! - would have to worry about people dispelling myths they didn’t promote and stand corrected on thoughts they never had?
As I stood there, dumbfounded, I thought the following:
I don’t know why you’re telling me this...Hmm, I don’t even know your name, but I’m going to call you ‘Sally’ for the rest of this thought, not because it’s your name, quite likely it isn’t, but it makes it easier on me and I’m getting a little pleasure out of calling you a name I suspect to be wrong. Listen, Sally, I don’t know how I offended you with my spring mix and my eggs, or maybe it’s the fact that I don’t come in as often as some and sure, I only ever go to the aisle with eight items or fewer. But I follow your rules, I never exceed the eight items, except once and several of those items were the same thing (and there’s no way you even knew about that). I bring my own bags, even though I forget them half the time in my car because I don’t do this very often, but I try, Sally, I try. And yeah, I see that there’s now someone behind me who has three cans of cat food, a bottle of Diet Pepsi and some celery and I’m as confused as you are about how any of that goes together and I know that if this thought goes on too long, we’re going to have to open another line.
But Sally, you’re wrong about me. I don’t judge you or any other pregnant woman for the weight she gains, the shelves she stocks or the bar she tends. I think it’s weird that people just put their hands on the bellies of pregnant women without asking and think more people need to just stop doing that.  I wish more people would keep their opinions to themselves and unless some harm is going to come to a baby by not speaking up, can’t we please just let each woman experience her pregnancy her own way?
I am not going to ever benefit from your advice, I have never violated these rules, nor have I ever gained so much weight to warrant this lecture. I have no idea why you’re angry, how the conversation ever got this far, or why we couldn’t just stick to what I came in here for in the first place.
I need some eggs and spring mix.
And for the first time, I hoped she could read my mind.

For the love of Elvis: Collingwood Elvis Festival 2012

Sunday, July 29, 2012 | | 0 comments

As we stood outside the toy store, watching a dizzying number of people walk up and down Hurontario Street, a street many towns would refer to as Main Street, we spotted our first Elvis.

The unmistakeable jet-black hair, the bright yellow blazer, set against black pants and two-tone dress shoes, he seemed to rise above the crowd as he walked past.  We were only five minutes into our afternoon at the 18th annual Collingwood Elvis Festival and already the kids, looking over toys they didn’t need, had missed what we had come to see.
They were disappointed when they emerged from the store, but we told them they had nothing to worry about, because this weekend Elvis was everywhere.
He was on posters and on life-size cardboard cut-outs in storefront windows, squished beside mannequins, vacuum cleaners and offers of great savings on beach getaways. He was in the bank, waiting to use the ATM and sampling hot sauces from a vendor at a temporary location on the street. He was inside car dealerships and on cookies at Tim Horton’s. According to the banner above the main entrance, he was at All Saints Church on Saturday, parishioners also enjoying bacon on a bun in the parking lot from 10 am to 7 pm. 
He was old, young, thin, heavy, wearing jewel encrusted jump suits, capes and blazers of blindingly brilliant colours. There truly was an Elvis for everyone.
If you’re wondering about a connection between Collingwood and Elvis, and why this event has come to be held here, as far as I can tell there isn’t one.  But the Elvis Festival, which celebrates the man, the music, and the nostalgia of Elvis Presley, brings fans and tribute artists (the preferred term over impersonators)  to Collingwood from all around the world for four days each year, making this the largest Elvis Festival held anywhere.
Anxious to take in the festival, we walked farther down the street, hearing Elvis songs played over loudspeakers that lined the sidewalk. We passed an Elvis fan singing a karaoke version of Love me Tender, surrounding most notes but drawing a good crowd nonetheless. As we walked on, I heard the announcer say, “We have lots of songs to choose from, not just Elvis, we have Johnny Cash...Patsy Cline...” his voice trailing off, perhaps unsure if his song selection truly was very expansive.
At the corner of Hurontario and Simcoe Streets there was an area cordoned off for the different Elvises to perform on the street. A female Elvis was set to perform, her white SUV with Florida license plates parked nearby, pictures on the vehicle indicating she called herself “Lady E,” a bumper sticker urging people not to re-elect Barack Obama revealing that she is also likely a Republican.  
Just as she was about to sing, Lady E realized her microphone wasn’t working, causing the sound man and a giant Elvis, who moments earlier had been standing behind me in the crowd, to try to fix the problem. While the 200 people watched and waited in the hot sun, I watched Lady E for any hint that she was upset that she had driven all the way from Florida and now couldn’t perform, but instead, saw her smile and pose for pictures. Knowing we had much more to see, we left before the problem was resolved and only hope she was finally able to do her set.
Around the corner was the main stage where both amateur and professional tribute artists were performing for a panel of judges and a crowd of 1,200 people.  The first three performers that we saw were from Japan, Denmark and Brazil, removing any doubt that this had indeed become an international event.
“The preliminary rounds were held at the curling club so you know the people on the main stage can all sing,” said the master of ceremonies, in the first of many offhand remarks we would hear.
Several other performers from near and far took the stage and excited the crowd to varying degrees. One performer, singing The Impossible Dream, stopped after the first line and asked if he could start again as the song was too low and the judges allowed it without a problem. I assume the performers have their songs on CDs and aside from simply not being prepared, it was puzzling how the song could ever be too low, but to his credit he did a great job of the song the second time around. Clearly, while the Elvis Festival has grown to be a significant international event, the handling of situations like this let you know that the focus is still on the performers and the fans and it hasn’t taken itself too seriously.
The master of ceremonies took the stage again and talked about the time, money and effort that each of the tribute artists puts into their craft, in particular getting to Collingwood to compete against their peers and to entertain all of the Elvis fans that assemble. Each has made enormous sacrifices to be here, he told us, before adding the cringe inducing, “The prize money is not that good.”
While better words could surely have been used to capture the thought, he did make a good point – very few of the people we saw on that stage were able to make a decent living, or a living at all, from their act, but they do it for the thrill of performing, to pay tribute to Elvis Presley and to take part in festivals such as this.
And as long as there are Elvis fans, tribute artists and events like the Elvis Festival, there will be a special kind of entertainment in Collingwood and I’ll try to attend every year.

What's on your bucket list?

Thursday, July 26, 2012 | | 2 comments

The other night, I was at an industry event that began with a “get to know someone new” kind of game. I generally dislike these games because I’m not overly willing to open up to people I don’t know well and it makes it harder to insist that no one ever takes the time to get to know the real me. That’s harder not impossible.

My partner and I very quickly hit on eleven things we did not have in common before she asked me something that caught me totally by surprise, “What’s on your bucket list?”
I’m not sure how long people have been talking about bucket lists, but the first I heard of it was a few years ago, around the release of the movie of the same name, starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. (I’ve never seen the movie, but hear it’s quite good, none of which is relevant to this story).
The concept of a bucket list is listing those things you wish to do before you die, or “kick the bucket,” a phrase that likely has some literal meaning that someday I must look up to make myself an even greater bore at parties. 
While it may seem unlikely, I believe this was the first time I’ve ever been asked this question and since I had no prepared answer, certainly not one I’m comfortable sharing with someone I don’t know overly well, who may take this an opportunity to tell the world that I’m an open book, it fell into the category of questions I’ve been asked throughout my life to which I can only provide disappointing answers:
What did you do on your summer vacation?
Um... is it possible I didn’t do anything?
You had a day to yourself, what have you been doing all this time?
So, what do you do for a living?
I’m in Communications, which means that, I... um...
How was your weekend?
(Remembering nothing)  It was good, but too short! *hilarious laughter*
But getting back to the bucket list, you may ask, “Why would this be tough to answer?”  Is it because I never think of dying and therefore have no sense of urgency to create such a list? No, I know as well as anyone that I may be hit by a bus tomorrow, contract scurvy or spontaneously combust, so that can’t be it.
Is it because I’m not a list maker? No, I spend a great deal of time making lists of all kinds: “To do” lists, grocery lists...ok, I expected there to be more lists, but the point is that I do make them.

So, why then have I never come up with a bucket list? I think the answer is that I don’t think my bucket list captures the wondrous, near magical experiences and adventures that I hear from others when they openly share their bucket lists with me.  
They want to skydive, attend the Olympics, sleep in ice hotels, visit every continent over a long weekend, and have picnics in outer space. These are the items that I hear on bucket lists. This is what is expected.
My list is quite different.
Just once, I’d like to leave my house without breaking a spider web with my face. I’d like put on a t-shirt and not have an antiperspirant mark.  On many a weekend, my goal is simply, to not shave.
How do you tell people this is your bucket list?

Just once, I’d like to accidentally eat too much horseradish and not feel like I’ve been “Maced.” I’d like to someday have a blog post go viral (and just because I once wrote a post that contained the phrase “swimming with sharks” that gets five daily page views forever, that doesn’t count). I’d like to know once and for all which way I’m supposed to point my toes when I get a cramp in my calf muscle.
These are not the items that most people have on their bucket lists.
I’d like to someday be comfortable with people telling me I look five years younger than I am before I wake up to realize that I look 10 years older than my age, likely caused by the stress of this impossible to explain attitude toward looking younger.
I’d like to someday throw away my glasses and contacts, but realize that laser eye surgery is a simple solution that I’m avoiding due to a fear of lasers ever being pointed at my eyes. So, at best, this belongs on the list of “incomplete ideas” not the bucket list.
You see the trouble I’m having?
I’d like to someday find my unread copy of On the Road which is lost somewhere in my house or possibly borrowed by my father-in-law and never returned. I’d like to know the difference between a zucchini and an English cucumber, though admittedly I’ve only cared since seeing them side by side at the grocery store one evening this week.
I’d like to know how Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony were ever married. This doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but none of it sits right with me.
These are my priorities.
I suppose I should try to be better prepared to answer the question the next time I’m asked. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not likely to share my true list with too many people, so I’ll avoid all that and give them what they expect, what they want.
Before I die I really want to ride my bicycle clear across Italy, stopping occasionally to learn the language from the locals, to drink wine and to eat cheese, lots and lots of cheese.
This is my dream.