Sunday, October 30, 2011

To the Bitter End

You're in the back seat of a taxi as it motors into the Sack.

It's early in the morning so the cul-de-sac is quiet. Small trees line the sides of the street, one for each of the modest dwellings.  You observe that most homes are decently kept and seem in good repair. Discarded bicycles and a smattering of errant toys make it easy to deduce where Sack kids reside.

On the left side of the street, before the taxi enters the Sack's centre circle, your attention is abruptly taken by Burning Manor's front yard.  It's dotted with a haphazard collection of lawn ornaments and other doohickeys.  You wonder, and rightly so, about the madness that lies beneath this bold display of creative landscaping.

Burning Manor, however, fades from view as the taxi moves in a counter-clockwise direction through the circle.  The homes are a bit larger now and most have garages.  You notice the immaculate lawn and gardens at Big Doug's house.  You wonder now about the madness beneath such a bold display of landscaping precision.

As the taxi maneuvers further into the circle, your attention is drawn sharply to a house with a parched yellowish lawn.  The attached driveway is covered by a sand-like substance that continues onto the pavement in front of the house.  The porch stairs are littered with toys and discarded tools.

Before you have time to wonder about the madness that must lie beyond the facade of this suburban home, the taxi comes to a stop.  You have arrived, it seems, at your destination.

Welcome to the Sack home of the illustrious Bitterman clan.

Today's entry reflects your agent's understanding of how the exterior of the Bitterman home became a shambles. 

Over the last seven years, chaos has descended on the Bitterman home in a slow, progressive fashion. Sack residents are in unanimous agreement that it began when Maxwell, Britney Bitterman's beau, crossed its threshold for the first time.

Maxwell, of course, should be no stranger to past readers of your agent's scribblings.  He has been oft-described here as a dentally challenged rounder and a wheeler and dealer in items of questionable value.  On a more positive note, he has also been acknowledged as the best candle pin bowler on the Atlantic seaboard and the most outstanding interior painter east of Montreal.

Of course, the latter observations are based entirely on Maxwell's self-proclamations.

Mr. Bitterman's patience.
Sack intelligence reports that Mr. Bitterman had recently blown a gasket about his de facto son-in-law's paltry contributions to the family home.  Maxwell and Mr. Bitterman's fragrant daughter, Britney now have three mouths to feed after the birth of a daughter last year.  Unfortunately, Maxwell has remained only vicariously employed throughout his entire tenure on the Bitterman scene.  Britney has been too busy with their young offspring to work outside the home.

It doesn't take an economist to figure out that Mr. Bitterman, still smarting from the departure of Mrs. Bitterman from the family home (another story indeed), has become a permanent benefactor to Britney and her man, Maxwell.

My pal, Oscar continues to enjoy a driveway relationship with Mr. Bitterman.  This means that the two men only interact with each other when both are entering or exiting their vehicles at the same time.  Mr. Bitterman uses these conversations as a personal confessional about the trials and tribulations behind his front door.  Mostly, this involves lengthy tirades about Maxwell.

According to Oscar, Mr. Bitterman commanded that Maxwell would be solely responsible for yard work, garbage removal and the elimination of the debris field of strewn toys often stretching well beyond the boundaries of the Bitterman property.  The toys belong to Hekyl and Jekyl, the two eldest lads born from Maxwell's union with Britney. 

Hanging out at the Bitterman home
Hekyl and Jekyl were unleashed recently from the chains of infancy.  At the crack of dawn, they're instructed to "go outside and play," something the feral young lads do with gusto.  They also do it with armfuls of toys, balls and various motorized devices.  Rarely do these items found their way back into the Bitterman home.

Mr. Bitterman's demand was based on the idea that if Maxwell wasn't going to be gainfully employed elsewhere, he should at least have his arse in gear around the house.

Maxwell's new responsibilities also included the quick removal of his battered 1983 Cutlass Supreme from the Bitterman driveway.  Inoperable, it had been parked there for several years, waiting for a replacement thingamajig that never quite materialized.

The Cutlass Supreme, of course, has been a fixture in the Sack for some time.  Big Doug says its presence has been responsible, more so than the economy, for a recent decline in Sack property values.  I remain doubtful about this.

Not the real car, but close.
The decrepit vehicle is the namesake of Maxwell’s ill-fated business, Cutlass Supreme Painting.  Despite assets consisting of the vehicle, an extension ladder of dubious ownership and a box of snazzy business cards, Maxwell found it difficult to find his entrepreneurial footing in the competitive world of commercial and residential painting.  The chances for prosperity were further weakened when the car ceased to operate.    Undeterred, Maxwell retained the vehicle as a beacon to the possibility of his company's resurgence.

While Maxwell can be fairly assessed as a ne'er-do-well, one couldn't say that he is not a man of his word.  With Mr. Bitterman’s frustrated demands ringing in his ears, he leaped into action.  He began by addressing the conundrum of the 1983 Cutlass Supreme.

Maxwell, of course, could not bear to simply tow the vehicle away.  According to my other pal, Weed (the Sack's main correspondent on what's going on between Maxwell's ears), he intended to fix the vehicle.  From there, he would either keep it for his own use, or peddle it for one of multiple, high-priced offers he claimed to have for its services.

Repairing the vehicle necessitated the acquisition of the illusive thingamajig, as well as some assistance from Maxwell's notorious cousin, Doug "Dougie" Duggan.  Through Dougie's contacts in the underground world of bartered car parts, a somewhat new thingamajig was obtained.  All that remained was the installation of it.

This is where things went downhill quickly.

Despite the combined, self-lauded mechanical skills of both Maxwell and his cousin, Dougie, the new thingamajig failed to enliven the 1983 Cutlass Supreme.  Sack residents enjoyed an entire Saturday with the tantalizing sound of an engine that coughed and sputtered before returning to its slumber.  Since Dougie's services were required elsewhere, Maxwell continued the task on his own as dusk descended on the Sack.

The guy Maxwell should've hired.
At some point in Maxwell's tinkering, a fatal error occurred.  As Oscar describes it, the 1983 Cutlass Supreme "bled out" onto the sloped driveway of the Bitterman home.  The result was a massive leak of engine oil and transmission fluid onto the driveway and the street in front of the house.  Unfortunately, it was also dark when this occurred.  Sack residents were then entertained by the sight of Maxwell and an irate Mr. Bitterman, as they frantically spread an industrial supply of kitty litter on the driveway and road, in an attempt to absorb the spilled fluids.

This accounts for the sand-like substance you observed when your taxi meandered into the Sack.

The tortured grass at the Bitterman home was the consequence of an attempt to fertilize the lawn.  In short, on the weekend following the aborted vehicle repair, Maxwell burned the living crap out of it.

For some Sack residents, fertilizing one's lawn involves the use of a material approved under the old town’s strict, yet loosely-enforced environmental bylaw.  Others, confused by the law, elect to let nature simply take its course. A few people couldn’t be bothered either way.

Maxwell, however, came up with his own unique approach to this complex issue of lawn maintenance.

Through his network of nefarious "cousins", Maxwell obtained a fertilizer that some believe originated in Chernobyl.  Following the policy that "more is always better", he spread copious amounts of the stuff across the otherwise healthy front lawn of the Bitterman home.

By the following day, the front lawn of the Bitterman home resembled a drought-stricken prairie scene.

Persistence is a good quality in the measure of any man.  No one can say that Maxwell is lacking in this area.  He continued in his role as the caretaker of the Bitterman property.

Since Mr. Bitterman had decried the mess of Hekyl and Jekyl's toys, Maxwell took it upon himself to address the issue on a daily basis.  Unfortunately, this did not involve instructing his boys to pick up after themselves.  Instead, Sack residents have been amused by a new evening ritual.  Around dusk, Maxwell roams the Bitterman yard and surrounding lawns, as well as the Sack's centre circle.  He collects his son's playthings and, drawing upon his ample skill as a champion candle pin bowler, tosses them onto the porch stairs.  When his nightly task is complete, the porch stairs appear ready for a hastily arranged rummage sale, rather than an entry into the Bitterman homestead.

In the morning, Hekyl and Jekyl simply play their way out of the house.

Of course, the children's toys are not the only items on the porch stairs of the Bitterman home.  As a result of Maxwell's unique, "use and drop" approach when using tools and other hardware, Hekyl and Jekyl quickly claimed the implements as toys.  Oscar reports that 6 year-old Jekyl was found in the Sack's centre circle, trying to use a cordless drill on a defenseless tree.  Weed tells me that he was forced to disarm the younger Hekyl from a ball peen hammer.  Apparently, the boy was in the midst of sculpting one of the ornamental rocks in the circle. 

Sack trees before the winds arrived.
It is now autumn in the Sack.  The leaves changed colour late this year.  One could barely admire them before a series of blustery storms cast them from the trees.

Maxwell has since made a small dent in the collection of toys and tools on the front steps.  Hekyl and Jekyl refuse to venture outside when there's a chill in the air.  This likely accounts for more toys going in, rather than out of the house.

Many of the tools have disappeared.  Apparently, Big Doug told Maxwell he'd kick his arse if he saw any power tools lying around, especially if Hekyl and Jekyl decided to use them next door on his property.

Mr. Bitterman blew another gasket after Maxwell's lawn fertilizing escapade.  Sack observers privately wonder about how many gaskets the man has left.  He ordered Maxwell to repair the mess.  This involved the complete removal of the damaged sod, a truckload of top soil and a load of replacement sod.  To avert the chance that Maxwell might arrange for the needed materials from a wayward cousin, Mr. Bitterman was forced to purchase these items himself.

Maxwell got off to a slow start in providing the labour for this task.  It took him several weeks to remove the burnt lawn.  A further week passed with a small mountain of top soil in the yard.  Hekyl and Jekyl delighted in this.  They spent the entire week digging and spreading the soil everywhere except where it was required.  After a rainstorm turned the soil into a mud pile, Maxwell was finally forced to remove the pickle from his posterior.

By the first of October, the new lawn was finally installed.  Apparently, Mr. Bitterman forcefully reminded Maxwell that it doesn't need to be fertilized this year.


The massive oil slick on the Bitterman driveway was another matter.

The kitty litter used to absorb the goop was shoveled into garbage bags and then taken away by the old town's waste management brigade.  The remaining mess was sprayed with a garden hose.  Presumably, it eventually found its way into the sewer.  Maxwell completed these tasks under the watchful eye of Mr. Bitterman.

Sack environmentalists remain appalled.

A large, circular dark stain remains on the Bitterman driveway.  It's easy to see now that Maxwell's 1983 Cutlass Supreme is gone.  He arranged for it to be towed away after the repair fiasco.  Apparently, on the day after the oil spill, Mr. Bitterman had implied that either Maxwell or the vehicle would need to leave his property before darkness fell.

Maxwell tells Weed that the wrecking yard (where, naturally, one of his cousins is employed) is simply holding the vehicle for him until better times descend upon him.  He has no doubt that his treasured car will grace the old town's streets once again.

Hope springs eternal.
Oscar says the remaining oil stain on the driveway is a symbol of Maxwell's influence on the Bitterman household.  He could be right about this. 

Nevertheless, when the sun shines in just the right direction, it's possible to observe a rainbow sheen on the surface the Bitterman driveway. Perhaps this is also a symbol of hope and a reminder about the inevitability of positive change.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Good God, Gordon

The news spread through the Sack last January at the speed of a light switch. At least, that's how my neighbour, Weed described it.  In truth, it probably took a full day to travel around the cul-de-sac.

That's still pretty fast, though.

The news concerned Gordon, veteran Sack dweller and grand poohbah of the now-dormant Sack Residents Society. Apparently, he had decided to sell his house.  A prominent 'For Sale' sign would soon be posted on his beloved front yard.  Even more surprising was the news that Gordon and his lovely partner, Gordette had already purchased a new home.

Gordon was leaving the Sack.

Most Sack residents eventually arrive at a common word to describe Gordon.  They’ll start off by saying he's mostly a decent sort who means well.  Then they’ll say he’s also a bit of a tit.

A Great Tit
This will be said with varying degrees of affection.

Gordon, of course, has his own particular ideas about how people should care for their homes and manage their lives.  His position on these points could be described as follows:  Everything should be manicured and in its place. Clutter and unnecessary noise should be avoided.   Children shouldn't be seen or heard.

Any violation of these standards inevitably caused Gordon to sputter and whinge. This is why most Sack residents regard him as a bit of a tit.

Tit, by the way, is the Sack's word of the month for May.  The word of the month for April was douche bag.

It should also be known that your agent has very little influence over word of the month decisions.

Gordon discussed the decision to leave the Sack with your agent a few weeks later.  By then, the 'For Sale' sign was in place.  He said a lot of things went into the decision.  A good part of it, he admitted, came from his frustration with shenanigans that occur in the Sack.  He said he was tired of the antics of Britney Bitterman and her beau, Maxwell.  The storied affairs at Burning Manor, home of the delightful Dirk and Dora, didn’t help either.  And Sack kids, as far as he was concerned, could easily be described as feral these days.  As such, he could only imagine worse things to come. 

Gordon also said that his lovely partner, Gordette, had a strong voice in the decision.  Apparently, she isn’t fond of certain residents, either.  She could do without noisy Sack kids, too.  She agreed that it was time to find a better quality cul-de-sac among the old town’s suburbs.

None of this, of course, is surprising.

About four years ago, Gordon’s marriage came to a sudden and unexpected end.  His wife had a career opportunity out west.  Gordon didn’t want to leave the old town.  The ending of the relationship broke the impasse.  Sack observers, of course, felt there was more to the breakdown than this.  Many thought his wife may have left for another reason:  She got tired of living with someone who was a bit of a tit.

When his marriage ended, Gordon assumed sole ownership of his home.  After a period of mourning and singlehood, he met the current love of his life, Gordette. While Sack residents were happy for Gordon, it was clear that the couple shared many similar qualities.  This, of course, was how she earned the moniker, Gordette.

Almost two years ago, Gordette moved in with Gordon.  She sold her own home to do so.  It didn’t take long before she was sputtering and whinging about Sack matters, in the same shrill manner as Gordon. 

It took even less time for Sack residents to realize that Gordon and Gordette had become a pair of tits.

Residents met the news of Gordon’s exit from the Sack with mixture of regret and good humour.  In truth, there was probably more of the latter.   

Big Doug was quick to say that Gordon was a good, responsible homeowner.  He said the Sack would be very fortunate to get a new resident to match the man’s attention to home maintenance and repair.   At the same time, he said we’d also be lucky if we got someone who wouldn’t be a pain the arse, like Gordon could be sometimes.

Little Doug, still recovering from his recent dalliance with the Rock Church, called Gordon’s departure a mixed blessing.   He said Gordon was a nice enough fellow when he gave himself a chance to relax.  Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to happen very often.  He thinks it’s probably best for Gordon and Gordette to have a new start together somewhere else.  He says they’ll probably be happier.  He could be right about this.

Weed says Little Doug’s use of the phrase “mixed blessing,” is evidence that Little Doug still has "a little bit of the Jesus" in him.

Little Doug says Weed is more than a bit of a tit.

Elizabeth, to no one's surprise, was taken by the impending loss of Gordon and Gordette.  Along with her husband, Prince Philip, she’s one of the few residents who saw Gordon as a noble arbiter of decent and moral behaviour in the Sack.  She said she has also given thought to leaving the Sack on a number of occasions.  If the summer brings any more shenanigans to the street, she says she just might do it, too.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip is unemployed right now.  It’s unlikely that they’ll sell until that matter is resolved. 

Getting ready for the move to the Sack.
After only a few minutes of lamenting Gordon’s departure, Elizabeth speculated about the horrors ahead for the Sack. She has full expectations that a group of hillbillies will decide to purchase Gordon's home. 

Apparently, this is the kind of luck she has come to expect.

One can only imagine that Sack kids breathed a sigh of relief when they heard about Gordon’s departure.  They were very aware of his tendency toward sputtering and whinging.  More than a few of them had been subjected to it. 

It’s quite possible that they also viewed him as a bit of a tit.

It is May now.  Gordon and Gordette moved out at the beginning of the month.  So far, the Sack seems to be surviving their absence.

The new owners of Gordon’s place have yet to move in.  Big Doug says they take possession of it at the end of this month.  No one has any idea about their identity.  This, however, hasn’t stopped speculation about them.

Oscar says it’s unlikely we’ll get a pair of tits quite like Gordon and Gordette again.  He says this is the law of probability at work.  Instead, he said we should be worried about knobs.  Apparently, there are a lot more of those out there than tits.

I suppose we’ll soon find out.


Sunday, February 06, 2011

Holy Smokes

BLOGGUS INTERRUPTUS:  Your agent has been busy moving mountains and then carefully putting them back where they belong.  I haven't been able to get anywhere near the blogging machine.

Meanwhile, Sack news has piled up at an alarming rate. Great bales of the stuff fill the cul de sac blues head office.  Today's yarn was spun from a half-standing position more likely to be seen in a yoga class.

 I think I'm going to be sore tomorrow.

Little Doug found God last July.  Sadly, he lost him again before November passed.

His brief bout with piety began when he met a woman named Charleen.  They found each other through an online dating site.  Charleen was a buxom, fifty-something blonde with a face Oscar likes to describe as experienced

Charlene made it clear from the start that she was a born-again Christian.  This characteristic did not deter Little Doug in the least.  When asked about it, he pointed to her pleasant demeanor and shared interest in camping and fishing as the source of his attraction.  Her spiritual rebirth, as far as he was concerned, was just a secondary characteristic, like a fondness for shopping or collecting spoons from abroad.

Weed, Little Doug's de facto son-in-law, thought otherwise when it came to this matter of attraction.  He found it hard to imagine that the buxom blonde thing did not fall into the equation somewhere, likely at the beginning of it.

Buxom, by the way, was the Sack's word of the month last August.

Rockin' the Rock Church
It did not take long, however, for Little Doug to embrace Charleen's evangelical zeal.  Within weeks of their first date, he was in regular attendance at the local Rock Church.  This is where Charleen found and maintained her redemption.

Sack observers were only mildly amused by Little Doug's sudden plunge into evangelical waters.  Big Doug said he didn't give a monkey's arse about peoples spiritual activities as long as they kept it to themselves and maintained a decent front lawn.

Computer Doug was even more nonchalant about the matter.

"Whatever floats his boat," he said, "is fine with me."

Weed and Daisy, Little Doug's daughter, had a very different view of the situation.  After a month at the Rock Church, Little Doug quickly became a frequent source of frustration on the home front.

It began with his insistence at saying grace before every meal.  At first, Daisy and Weed were happy to accommodate the ritual, out of respect for Little Doug's exuberance for his burgeoning relationship with Charleen.

"Don't get me wrong," said Weed, during a chinwag with Oscar and your agent at the local coffee cathedral, "I'm okay with a quick 'Thanks for the grub, Bub,' but it's starting to get ridiculous."

To demonstrate, Weed bowed his head in front of his maple sugar donut and launched into a lengthy monologue of appreciation directed at God, the Holy Spirit and St. Timmy, the patron saint of dead hockey players and sweet pastries.

According to Weed, Little Doug was also adopting a preacher-like position on most topics of discussion.  By this time, he was seeing Charleen four or five times a week, attending bible study classes, group discussions and, of course, the twice-weekly sermons lead by Pastor Rick, the public face of the Rock Church.

The gist of Little Doug's message was that Jesus Christ had taken it on the chin for all of us. The least we could do is straighten up and fly right.  He said a lot more than this, of course, but Weed said this was the best he could make of it.

For her part, Daisy was equally baffled by her father's transformation.

"Before, the only God-talk in our house was when someone sneezed or when Dad fell off a ladder," she said. "Now, it's all he talks about."

Until Charleen came along, Daisy said her father only stuck his head inside a church for weddings and funerals.

"Now," she added, "you can't get him out of one."

You would be correct if you're thinking that Daisy and Weed held a dim view of Charleen and her influence on Little Doug's life.  In fact, the feeling appeared to be a mutual one.

One day, Little Doug suddenly raised the matter of Daisy's marital status with Weed. The couple is unmarried and their boy, Baby Doug is now an active toddler.  Daisy, of course, reacted with something more than mild indignation.  Backpedaling, Little Doug admitted that Charleen had noted her disapproval about their status and her reluctance to be in their presence as a result.  Apparently, there was a risk of "guilt by association" in the eyes of the Lord.

Also, after listening to Pastor Rick, Little Doug added that he was simply getting worried that an unmarried couple with a child would not be looked upon fondly when final accounts are due to be settled.

Daisy, according to Weed, told her father that both Charleen and Pastor Rick should mind their own beeswax. 

Pastor Rick (or Pastor Dick, as Weed refers to him) is quite a prolific figure around the old town.  His frantic calls for redemption appear regularly in paid advertisements on the pages of the Chronically Horrid's Sunday edition.  

Pastor Rick's writings often rage about the apocalyptic events already happening in front of our eyes.  Weed says this includes, among other things, the existence of Lady Gaga and the Double Down sandwich.  In Pastor Rick's view, the world is going to hell in a hand basket and we need to wake up and smell the coffee.

I have no idea about any of this.

The bloom fell off the rose, however, in mid-October.  Little Doug suddenly stopped seeing Charleen with the same frequency.  His attendance at the Rock Church also declined.

Near the end of November, Little Doug announced that his relationship with Charleen had ended.  He said it was a mutual decision, but admitted that the "born-again" thing was starting to wear him down.  Apparently, he was having trouble making heads or tails from what the Bible was talking about.  Pastor Rick's "fire and brimstone" approach wasn't helping matters either.

Nevertheless, it was also clear that Little Doug was bummed out by the loss of the relationship with Charleen.  Weed said he seemed to be spending a lot more time in front of the TV and barely broke a smile when he watched his favourite old television show, Hogan's Heroes.

"On the positive side," Weed added, "he's back to being what he was before, a bored-again Christian."

Bored-again Christian, by the way, was the Sack's word of the month in December.

A few weeks ago, your agent encountered Little Doug at the local coffee cathedral.  We enjoyed a brief sit-down at a corner table.

Little Doug told me that he had now been smoke free for six months. He said he quit smoking at Charleen's encouragement, shortly after they met.  Besides the obvious health benefits, she said quitting smoking was one of several things that would boost his profile when the time of reckoning arrived.

Little Doug said he had been thinking a lot about his dalliance with the Rock Church and his short-lived relationship with Charleen.  He was at the point now where he could look for the positives in the experience.

"I've been trying to quit smoking for years," he said, "so meeting her and going to church must have been part of the plan for me."

Your agent nodded in agreement.  "So, no matter what," I replied, "your chances of going to heaven have gone up."

"That's right," said Little Doug, "and if I end up in Hell, at least I won't have to bum smokes off the Devil."


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Gnome Sweet Gnome

It's our flag, eh?
More verbal shenanigans between Oscar and Weed. . . . . 

It's rather common in these parts to hear someone adding "eh?" to the end of their sentences.  Apparently this has something to do with being Canuckleheads.  Oscar says It's a national trait to turn everything into a question.  By feigning uncertainty, people will think we're dumber than we really are.  This, according to Oscar, gives us an evolutionary advantage.  The rest of the world pays very little attention to us, so we can go about our business with a minimum of conflict and rivalry with other countries.

I remain very doubtful about all of this.   

Oscar, however, also had something to say about Weed's use of "eh?" during a recent stop at the local coffee cathedral.  He said he detected a distinct "h" at the beginning of the utterance.  This made it sound like "hey?"

Weed said this was ridiculous.  The two actually argued about the subject for several minutes.  

To get a bigger rise out of Oscar, Weed started to say "hey?" intentionally.  Oscar, however, said it was no joking matter.  He said there was a possibility that Weed had suffered a minor stroke.  Small changes in speech patterns, he claimed, could be evidence of this.  Apparently, he had watched a TV program on this very subject.

Weed replied that it was actually Oscar's health that could be in peril.  He said he had watched a different program about aging and hearing loss.  This could be the "beginning of the end" as far as Oscar was concerned.  

This is how we spend our time in the suburbs as civilization erodes around us.

Things have been quiet at Burning Manor lately.  Norma, Ben's wife, says it's because Dirk has got himself a new job.  She garnered this news at Tuesday Night Bingo.  This is where some of Dirk and Dora's people hang out.

Dirk at work
According to Norma, Dirk has found employment with another oil rig in the North Atlantic.  He was laid off from his previous rig earlier this year.  Now, he's back to working three weeks at a time, followed by three week furloughs back in the Sack.

While it may be quiet at Burning Manor, this doesn't mean the place has kept a low profile around the Sack.  Dora, it seems, may be going a little bit crazy.  This piece of information didn't come from Tuesday Night Bingo, either.  Instead, it comes directly from your agent's eyeballs.

I pass by Burning Manor several times a day.  During the last two weeks, I observed a bizarre transformation on its front lawn.  The process started slowly, then picked up pace rather quickly.

Dora appears to have some kind of new and uncontrollable affection for lawn ornaments.


Waiting for a lawn near you.
I knew something was up when a full-sized lobster trap returned to the circular garden area in the middle of the lawn.  Dirk introduced the cultural item as lawn ornament a few years ago.  It didn't make an appearance last summer and there had been no sign of it this year.  Sack observers thought they had seen the end of it.

Oscar says Dirk put the trap away because, aside from once snaring young Doo, it failed to catch a single land lobster.  I remain doubtful about this, too.

Dora, unfortunately, didn't stop with the lobster trap.  A day later, a small stone statue stood beside the lobster trap.  It was a cherubic angel posed seductively against a small water basin.  Oscar, of course, was the one who described it as seductive.  It didn't do a thing for me.

The next day, the entire lawn was bordered by solar lights.  Oscar said this was so Dora's father, Teddy McGnarly, could avoid parking on the lawn after a night at the tavern.  For a change, he could be right about this.

As time passed, more lawn ornaments appeared on the front lawn at Burning Manor.  This included a fibreglass imitation of an Inukshuk.  It seemed rather incongruous beside the lobster trap and the cherubic angel.  Oscar, however, said the inukshuk was likely for the benefit of Burning Manor's boisterous visitors.

The right path.
"It means, You're on the right path toward beer," said Oscar.

Before the two weeks ended, a mish-mash of ornaments were added to the mix.  Some have colourful propellers and other wind powered whirlygigs.  The final piece of the puzzle was the biggest.  It was a small wishing well.  It appears to be made of hard plastic and weighted to stay stable on the lawn.  A planter sits inside the well, although, Dora hasn't filled it yet.

To say the least, Burning Manor's front lawn is looking a little busy these days.

Sack residents, of course, have been mostly appalled by Dora's creative endeavours.

Gordon and Gordette won't stop talking about it.  Elizabeth is brimming with sarcasm, claiming that she's already contacted Canadian House & Home magazine.  Weed keeps taking pictures of the lawn and sending them to his friends.  Oscar wants to kidnap the seductive cherub and place it somewhere in Gordon's backyard.  Big Doug says he feels like "doing a few donuts" on Burning Manor's front lawn with his pickup truck every time he drives past the place.

Young Doo and some of the other Sack kids are mesmerized by the ornaments.  Doo has taken a few tentative steps onto the lawn to the get a closer look, while the rest, despite curious gazing at the variety of gizmos, have kept a respectful distance.

From my point of view, however, Dora's lawn ornaments can't be an entirely bad thing.  Burning Manor might be an eyesore to some, but it's better than being an earsore.  Things have been very quiet there for the past month.  This is a welcome respite from late night arguments and drunken shenanigans.  If a lobster trap, a stone cherub and a fake wishing well keeps Dora in a state of bliss, then I'm all for it.

I just hope Dirk doesn't cause any oil spills in the North Atlantic.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Watching Television

See ya later, alligator.
A recent news story in the old town was the subject of conversation at the local coffee cathedral.  Oscar, Little Doug and your agent were in attendance.

The story concerned the slow, but steady removal of outgoing mail delivery boxes on the old town's streets.  Apparently, it won't be long before they disappear entirely.  If you want to mail something, you'll have to go to a postal outlet.  These are typically located in grocery and drug stores.

Little Doug said he hadn't realized his attachment to the iconic red mailbox until he heard about its eventual demise. He thinks it will be a shame to see it go.

"I like putting my own mail in a mailbox." said Little Doug.  "I don't know why, but there's something satisfying about it."

"When was the last time you mailed something?" asked Oscar.

Little Doug thought for a moment and said, "Probably a few years ago."

Maxwell rolls into the Sack.
Last month, Oscar and your agent were drinking tea while reclining on his front steps.  It was slightly after the dinner hour on a Thursday evening.

A white pickup truck motored into the Sack.  It carried a large object in the back.  This was covered by a blue tarpaulin and tied securely to the vehicle with rope.  We watched as the truck backed slowly into the Bitterman's driveway next door to Oscar's place.  The passenger door opened and Maxwell, Britney Bitterman's beau, appeared.  His illustrious cousin, Doug "Dougie" Duggan, emerged from the driver's side.

Entertainment circa 1999
Maxwell and Dougie immediately began to untie their cargo.  Eventually, the tarp was removed and Maxwell's latest acquisition was revealed.  The object was a monstrous rear projection television.  It was clearly a used, older model.

Oscar guessed that it was at least fifteen years old.

Maxwell and Dougie had to unload the humongous television from the back of the pickup.  First, they circled it a few times, wisely considering the most effective manner for getting it off the truck and into the house.  After a brief conference, they moved to opposite ends of the television. Maxwell positioned himself at the rear of the truck.

There were a few false starts as they started lifting the unit.  When they finally got it up, the television wobbled dangerously for a few seconds, before Maxwell and Dougie regained control of it.  The same thing happened when they tried to lift it again.

In Britney's opinion. . . . .
Britney Bitterman must have been observing these efforts from her front window.  She appeared at the front door and bellowed at them.  This was followed by a stern summary of what they were doing wrong and a shrill reminder of what they should be doing instead.  When she finally ran out of steam, Maxwell barked angrily back at her.

When the ensuing five-minute argument finally petered out, Oscar said, "I'll say it again.  This is why this place is still better than watching digital cable."

Eventually, Maxwell and Dougie maneuvered the TV off the truck.  They carried it through the garage and presumably into the basement space that Britney, Maxwell and the kids use as their main living area in the Bitterman house.  Given the size of the space, Oscar said the TV would certainly dominate the entire room.

"Of course," he added, "maybe that's the idea."

About a half-hour later, Maxwell and Dougie returned to the driveway.  After a quick fist pump, Dougie got into his truck and left the Sack.  

It's that time again. . . . .
By this time, Oscar had retrieved several bottles of drink to replace our empty teacups.  He said it was as good a time as any to enjoy the first cold, outdoor beverage of the season.  Your agent could find no reason to disagree.

When his cousin drove away, Maxwell noticed us for the first time as we sat on Oscar's steps.  We had been partially concealed by the stair railings while the driveway shenanigans were going on.

Maxwell quickly sauntered towards us.  There was a broad smile on his face.  As he drew near, Oscar said, "Got yourself a new boob tube, eh?"

"Yeah," Maxwell laughed, "Boobs are gonna look pretty big on that thing."

According to Maxwell, he bought the television from his cousin, Darren.  He's one of a legion of extended family members Maxwell has scattered throughout the old town.  Apparently, Darren is some kind of wheeler and dealer in used goods of questionable value.

Maxwell said he bought the TV for one hundred dollars.  "A C-note," he said, "that's it."

"That's a bargain," I replied.

"Damn straight," said Maxwell.

Oscar was curious about Maxwell's reason for making such a purchase.  After all, it was an older model that had probably seen better days.

Maxwell grinned.  "Not this one.  It used to belong to a Legion.  They only used it to show Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights.  Besides, I saw it running before I got it.  We've got it set up great right now.  It's kick-ass. 

"Anyway," he continued, "I got it mostly for the kids.  When the new baby comes, Britney's gonna need something to keep the other two busy, at least 'til the older one starts school."

Britney, of course, is due to give birth this summer.  Mr. Bitterman had already provided Oscar with this update.  Apparently, he is less than thrilled about this latest addition to his household.  Maxwell and Britney already have two rug rats, Hekyl and Jekyl.  Mr. Bitterman said he loves his grandchildren, but he's not crazy about having to pay for them.  

This is because Maxwell, according to Mr. Bitterman, never seems to have a pot to piss in.

Things are looking up.
Maxwell went on to inform us that things have been coming up roses for him lately.  He's working full-time now in the world of traffic management.  One might imagine that this involves standing at road construction sites with a two-sided traffic sign.  Maxwell, however, gave us an insider's view of the occupation.  Apparently, it's much more complex than the average citizen would expect.

The rear-projection television, according to Maxwell, was his first big purchase since getting a full-time pay cheque.  This had occurred about five hours ago.

As he prepared to leave, Britney reappeared at the front door of the Bitterman house.  Apparently, there was something wrong with the newly acquired television.

"What's the matter with it?" Maxwell called out.

Britney reply was short and sharp.  The sound wasn't working.  She told Maxwell to get his ass in the house and fix it.

Maxwell asked her if she was "farting around" with the remote control.  This response sent Britney into a tizzy.  She said her "show" was coming on in fifteen minutes.  She added a vague warning about what would happen to Maxwell's carcass if he didn't do something about it pronto.  The front door slammed behind her as she disappeared back into the house.

Maxwell gave Oscar and your agent a quick salute.  "Well," he said, "I guess I should get going.  As he turned away, he quickly added, "If you guys are interested in getting one of those TVs, let me know, eh?  Darren's got a few of them.  I can probably get you a good deal."

Oscar said he was satisfied with his current TV situation, but if he changed his mind, Maxwell would be the first to know about it.

"Same here," said your agent, "but thanks anyway."

"No sweat," replied Maxwell.

Last Wednesday, your agent was reclining in the Wonders' front room with his nose in a book.  I was interrupted by a phone call from Oscar.

"Look out your window." he said.

It's common for Oscar to call with instructions that I should look out my front window.  Sometimes, there's something amusing going on.  On other occasions, it's something appalling.

When I looked out the front window this time, I saw Maxwell's giant rear-projection television at the curb outside the Bitterman home.  It was surrounded by their substantial weekly trash.

"That's too bad," said your agent, as Oscar chuckled on the other end of the phone.

"I'll say," he replied, "I was thinking about getting one, too."


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Traditional Fare

Flowers growing somewhere else.
For folks in these parts, Easter brings the first long weekend of the year.  The provincial government has been nattering on for years about creating a February holiday, but nothing ever comes to pass.  

Oscar says the absence of a statutory holiday during the dark days of winter is disgraceful.  At the very least, he thinks a mid-winter break would be good for everyone's mental health.  He could be right about this.

For many Sack residents, the Easter long weekend is a four-day affair.  On this basis alone, it's a highly anticipated break.  It also represents an informal end to the grayish tones of another Maritime winter.

On Good Friday, your agent encountered Oscar as he ambled down his front steps into the glorious morning sunshine.  The weather, as it would be throughout the weekend, was spectacular.

 "Four days off," I called out in greeting.  "It doesn't get any better than this."

Oscar smiled broadly in agreement.

"All I can say," he replied, "is thank God for Jesus for getting us some time off."

It's a pity there wasn't a roving photographer in the Sack during the Easter holiday weekend.

In the course of their weekend activities, Sack residents provided numerous opportunities for some interesting snapshots.  Some people displayed the mundane and routine aspects of suburban life.  Others certainly reflected its oddities.

Good Friday at Big Doug's house.
Big Doug offered a good example of both sides of this spectrum on the first day of the long weekend.  Generally, he's known for his fervent attention to lawn maintenance and snow removal.  April, however, is the no-man's-land between those seasons.  It's too late to shovel and too early to mow.  This leaves Big Doug with only one other significant activity to pursue.

He washes his truck.

While this may seem like a routine matter for some, it's serious business as far as Big Doug is concerned.  He doesn't just wash his vehicle, as much as he gives it a thorough, loving cleansing.

Shortly after half-past eight in the morning on Good Friday, Big Doug's open garage door revealed a flurry of activity.  For the first half hour, he organized the various tools and materials required for the job.  His preparations seemed almost ritualistic in nature.

Big Doug as a kid.
Once everything was assembled, Big Doug carefully and repeatedly washed his truck inside and out.  It was a sight to behold.  His concentration and attention to detail was astonishing.  Every nook and cranny bore inspection and careful cleaning.  In total, the entire process took about four hours.  I don't think he took a break during the entire period.

To say the least, Big Doug's truck received a very serious washing.

Oscar was most impressed by the fact that Big Doug actually washes his truck.  He said he couldn't remember the last time he washed his own vehicle.  It never seems to cross his mind as something to do.

"Besides," he added, "I thought that's what rain is for."

Weed, however, was awed by Big Doug's marathon truck washing effort.  He said people do a lot of crazy things, but as long as they're not hurting themselves or others, we should give them our respect.

"If washing your truck for four hours floats your boat," he said, "then knock yourself out."

A curious lens would surely have fallen on Computer Doug over the Easter long weekend.

Your agent first encountered him early on Good Friday afternoon.  This wasn't long after Big Doug finally finished washing his truck.  I was returning from a pleasant run in the old town.  Computer Doug was picking up his morning newspaper.  We stopped for a brief driveway conversation.

Not Computer Doug
Computer Doug has a distinctive flair when it comes to suburban leisurewear.  On this particular day, he wore a pair of orange sweatpants and a faded, baby blue Tears for Fears concert T-shirt.  On his feet were his customary bear claw slippers.  A tangled mass of hair swirled atop his skull.

Computer Doug explained that he had just recently awakened from a lengthy slumber.  He said he was enjoying a brief period of wakefulness before returning to bed for an afternoon nap.  Apparently, his wife, Marion was gone with their kids until the supper hour.

"That sounds like a good way to spend a day," said your agent.

Computer Doug nodded his agreement.  He said there was only one thing on his to-do list for the entire day.  Later, he had to go out to pick up an order of fish and chips for the family meal.

Eat me.
According to Computer Doug, Marion insists on eating fish for supper on Good Friday.  She says it's a tradition that she's bound to follow regardless of his opinion on the matter.

Despite being the only item on his to-do list, Computer Doug expressed some dissatisfaction with Marion's requirement for fish and chips.  He couldn't see anything wrong with having an old fashioned Easter ham.  

Marion's requirement for fish, according to Computer Doug, had nothing to do with her religious beliefs.  He said she was simply honouring her late mother's devotion to the same tradition.  Marion's mother, he noted, observed the practice for the same reason.  Her mother forbade her family from eating animal meat on Good Friday. 

"No one in her family has been religious for two or three generations," said Computer Doug, "so no one has the slightest idea why they only eat fish.  But apparently, Marion's mother and her grandmother will be rolling in their graves if we barbeque a steak on Good Friday."

"God forbid," replied your agent.  

"You've got that right," said Computer Doug.  With a wave of his newspaper, he hitched up his orange sweat pants and walked back to his house.

Go fish.
On Easter Monday, I encountered Computer Doug again.  He was leaving the local coffee cathedral with a take-out order.  I inquired about his welfare and whether he enjoyed his Good Friday fish and chips.

"Please," said Computer Doug, "don't get me going.  Fish have caused me a lot of trouble lately."

Apparently, a lot of people in the old town are crazy for fish and chips on Good Friday.  The first place Computer Doug visited was packed with customers.  He said the anticipated wait for take-out orders was over half an hour.

"That's ridiculous," he said.

Unwilling to wait, he went to another fish and chip shop.  There was a big line-up there, too.  It was even longer than the first one.  This one extended onto the street.

Computer Doug said there was only one other fish and chip in the old town that came to his mind.  He was en route to this establishment when he passed a roadside purveyor of fresh fish.  This is a common sight in the old town.  Commercial fishermen make some extra money by selling their catch from the back of a pick-up truck.

On the spot, Computer Doug decided he would stop to investigate the fisherman's goods.  A handwritten sign by the truck indicated there was smoked mackerel and scallops available.

"I thought it would be even better than fish and chips," said Computer Doug.

He purchased a quantity of both products.  He was the only customer, so he didn't have to wait.  Even better, the seafood actually cost less than a family-size order of fish and chips.

Holy Mackerel!
Computer Doug said he was unprepared for the negative reaction to the seafood when he got home.  He was expecting to be congratulated for his ingenuity and adherence to Marion's suspect family tradition.

Instead, he discovered that Marion has no stomach for mackerel.  She only eats scallops to be polite.  Computer Doug's two young boys were equally disappointed.  His youngest declared the mackerel to be "gwoss."  The eldest believed the scallops to be revolting, if not a little bit frightening.  More important, both were livid about the absence of french fries.

"In other words," said Computer Doug, "I blew it."

There was only one way to rectify the situation.  

He went back to the first fish and chip shop and stood in line.  The wait was even longer than when he first visited.  He said it was well after seven o'clock in the evening when he got home with the family's Good Friday supper.  Marion was still upset with him.  The kids were cranky.

The next day, he gave the smoked mackerel and the scallops to Little Doug.

If you're going to have a tradition, Computer Doug says you should at least believe in the reason for practicing it.  This way, you'll put a lot more energy into things.  He said he would've been happy to stand in a long lineup for fish and chips, if he felt it was a righteous thing to do.

"But I guess I'm not prepared to line up at a fish and chip shop just because my mother did it."


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sound Bites

'Splendid' is the Sack's word of the month for March.  Your agent was solely responsible for the selection.

I used the word about three weeks ago when Computer Doug casually inquired about my recent visit to the US.

"It was a splendid trip," I replied.

Later, I pondered my use of the word.  It's not one I utter frequently.  I don't hear others using it very much, either.

I supposed I liked the sound of the word, because I started to use it more often.  Florence, the Wonders' next-door neighbour, purchased a new car recently.  When she asked my opinion of it, I said it was splendid.

I said the same thing when Big Doug asked about my welfare.  In that case, of course, I said I was doing splendidly.

The word was invoked later that day during a conversation with Oscar and Weed at the local coffee cathedral.  Weed was talking about our recent spate of sunny skies and double-digit temperatures.  Nodding my agreement, I said it had been a splendid spring, even though it was really wasn't spring yet.  Oscar immediately announced that 'splendid' should be the Sack's word of the month.

"That," I replied, "would be a splendid idea."

You have to find your amusements somewhere in the waning days of winter.

"One man's noise is another man's music."

Weed made the above comment during a discussion on the front steps of the Wonders' house.  It was early in the afternoon on a splendid Saturday in the Sack.

The subject at hand was a phenomenon that occurred on the previous Thursday.

On this occasion, it was just after the supper hour.  The sun was still shining and for the first time since autumn, the temperature outside was quite agreeable.  As your agent and Mrs. Wonders concluded their evening meal, a strange sound suddenly emanated from the street.

It was the sound of children playing.

Kids today.
With the advent of digital doodads, one could reasonably say that children don't play like they did in previous generations.  There seems to be more indoor activities now.  There's probably less group play, too.

In the Sack, kids are far less likely to play outdoors during the winter.  The only exception is young Doo.  He's outside constantly throughout the year.  Unfortunately, most of his play involves digging, shoveling and breaking things.

The rest of the Sack kids, however, rarely seem to gather outdoors during winter.  When they do, it's usually not for long.

Old codgers.
Your agent remembers childhood in a much different manner.  We were outside with hockey sticks in hand right after the morning cartoons.  Sometimes, we'd even skip the cartoons if conditions were particularly favourable for hockey.

Oscar and Weed recalled the same experience even though we grew up in different parts of the country.  We also agreed that we roamed further afield from our homes in pursuit of play at a much younger age.

We also recognized that we're slowly becoming old codgers.

When outdoor temperatures rise, today's Sack kids finally make their appearance.  Oscar says they're like migrating geese.  They suddenly show up en masse in the Sack's centre circle.

He was talking about the kids, of course.  Not the geese.

When Sack kids made their debut last Thursday, the neighbourhood soundscape was suddenly altered.  There was screaming, squealing, shouting and laughter.  The dull thud of a bouncing ball and the clatter of running shoes kept a steady beat.

It was like someone cranked up a stereo.

Who wants to make noise?
In the days that followed, a number of Sack residents mentioned the sudden appearance of the children.  It was interesting to hear their opinions on the matter.

Folks with kids were generally in agreement that it was good to see the little buggers get out of the house for a change.  At least, that's how Computer Doug phrased it.  It might have been noisy outside, but he said it was peaceful and quiet at his house for the first time in ages.

Big Doug, on the other hand, compared the kids' arrival to the appearance of the first mosquitoes of the season.  He said a few of them would probably benefit from a good swat on the arse, too.

He was talking about the kids, of course.  Not the mosquitoes.

Oscar, Weed and your agent were certainly in agreement about Sack kids and their enthusiastic play.  It was a pleasant sound indeed.

Your agent would far rather hear the sound of frolicking children than the incessant drone of lawnmowers, weed clippers and other gas-powered contraptions.  It certainly beats the noise from late night street theater at Burning Manor, too.

Sack kid in the future.
Oscar, however, did make a good observation about the current crop of Sack kids.  They are certainly noisier than the last group of kids who played on the street.  This would include Oscar's seventeen year-old boy, Dorian and his pals.  They wouldn't be caught dead hanging around a suburban cul-de-sac now.

There is probably some truth in Oscar's observation.  In fairness, the newest bunch are still very young children.  Only a handful are older than seven years.  Most of them have barely started school.

Nevertheless, Weed says there is already evidence that these kids are unique in comparison to the graduating class of Sack residents' offspring.

"Beyond a shadow of a doubt," said Weed, "they're the dorkiest kids I've seen in a long time."

According to Weed, one must only observe the nature of their play to see the dorkiness in Sack kids.  Haphazard, he said, is the only way to describe it.

"It's like they don't know what to do with themselves."

There is probably some truth in this, too.  It's quite a sight to observe the kids in action.  They seem to bolt out of their homes at the same time.  Each kid appears to be in a frenzy.  They whoop and holler as they sprint onto the street from different directions.

Once assembled near the Sack's centre circle, they engage in some kind of primitive street dance.  One little boy is particularly adept at pirouettes.  Another seems to have quite a knack for interpretative dance.  At least, that's how Weed describes it.

Get the round thing!
The dancing, however, is brief.  There's a sudden pause as if they're unsure about what to do next.  Seconds later, a plastic ball materializes and the throng of children pursue it like prey.  However, there seems to be no rhyme or reason for the chase.  No one seems to know what to do with the ball when it's captured.

Eventually, the ball is thrown in the air and the chase continues.

The ball chasing does not last long.  Suddenly, Sack kids are careening around the centre circle aboard a varied collection of bicycles, tricycles and scooters.  Most of the bikes have training wheels.

The trikes, bikes and scooters, however, are soon discarded.  The kids clamour over the rocks in the centre circle and make half-hearted, hopeless attempts to scale the small group of trees.

Alien messaging tools.
Moments later, they're writhing on the pavement with coloured chalk in hand.  A great deal of scribbling and scraping ensues.  When they're done, Oscar says their writing looks like some kind of alien message.

This artistic activity doesn't last very long either.  This is rather unfortunate because it's the only time when the kids aren't screaming at the top of their lungs.

In the next moment, they're back at the pointless ball-chasing.  Then the bikes and scooters reappear.  They run around a bit more, before returning to the pavement with their chalk.  This entire cycle of activities continues several more times in rapid succession.  

Oscar says watching Sack kids play is like watching a Japanese game show.  There's lots of screaming and squealing and it's not exactly clear about the point of things.

The problem, in Weed's opinion, is that the newest generation of Sack kids are lacking in any physical dexterity.  None seem to have any emerging sense of coordination or athleticism.  They also seem to have little knowledge of any formal games.  As a result, their play is scattered and disjointed.  The only common denominator is the constant screaming and screeching.

Oscar, however, says it may simply be a matter of time before they calm down.  He thinks they're still trying to get used to the fact that they're actually outside.  Once they calm down, he says we'll probably see them in a different light.  He could be right about this.

So as spring descends upon the old town and summer beckons, one can only hope that Sack kids will settle down a little bit.  Perhaps their play will be more relaxed and take place at a lower volume.

Either way, their presence on the street must be seen in a positive light.  It means they're happy to be alive and that warmer days are ahead.

That's a splendid thing on both counts.



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