Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Time Flies

I'm always amazed at how much faster time seems to pass the older I get. I remember summer breaks seemed to last forever when I was a kid. In my teen years, they seemed to start getting shorter, but I packed a lot of fun into those couple of months away from school. I suppose it's due to the fact that as adults, we work our jobs day in and day out, and our break arrives in the form of one or two, possibly three weeks off.

There are a number of little projects I've been planning to do, but as it always does, life gets in the way. I spent a number of hours working in the jungle out back that I used to call a garden. I have pulled and bagged about 30 leaf bags full of weeds, unwanted plants, fallen branches, pruned limbs and the chopped up remains of one particular variety of maple tree which in these parts is an invasive weed. You can chop them down at the stump, and they just keep sending up suckers. After about nine years I'm pretty sure I can now say that the one that grew to a huge height at the front of the house before I moved in is now dead. I cut it down when I landscaped the front yard way back when and have been attacking it every year since. Now about the dozen growing along the fence in the back yard. (Yes, this is one of the reasons we're looking for a new place)

We were planning on building raised beds for veggies, so we bought the cedar planks and had them cut at Home Depot. They are sitting comfortably in our basement. Will we get them built and planted? Is there any point since we're planning to put the house on the market in the next week or so? Is there any point planting grass seed? At least we can return that.

The biggest indicator that time is flying by is the realization that in about four weeks I'm going to be a father. Where have the last eight months gone? I talked to Weezie the other day and she told me that the baby was in a breech position when she had her last ultrasound. She has another one booked for next week and if she hasn't turned the right way, she's going to be scheduled for a c-section. I'm sure she's secretly blaming me for it. I figure it's a good indication of what's to come. Just give her time.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Adventures In House Hunting: Part 2

It seems that we have put that condo that we both love on the reject pile. Price is pretty much the main factor. We would be no further ahead, so what's the point? Aside from getting away from working in our hubungous yard, which it really would have had in its favour.

I have been scanning the on-line listings, and I discovered a place close to work. Very close. Like across the street close. With the price of gas the way it is, this dangling carrot is quite tempting. I called the agent on Saturday, and discovered the place is still available. I set up an appointment to view the condo on Sunday. As it turned out, The Squeeze had to work Sunday, so I had to go it alone this time.

I spent Sunday morning helping a friend move. Actually, I just helped unload part of his storage locker and load up his rental truck. It was one huge fuck-up leading to the morning we were actually able to do it. All I can say is I will never rent a truck from this NATIONAL car and truck rental company. I won't use their name to protect myself from any legal ramifications, but I can tell you that they are a NATIONAL car and truck rental company, and they did everything in their power to screw up this move.

After helping with the packing up, I grabbed a bite and headed over to see this condo. It has a lot going for it. The double garage is a big plus, considering my car will be parked in the garage most of the time since I'll be able to walk to work. All new hardwood floors in the living room, dining room and kitchen. Newer carpets in two bedrooms, new laminate in the third bedroom. The master bedroom has an ensuite and a walk-in closet and a large balcony over the garage. There are a couple of structural things we want to do in the master bedroom. Making the two piece ensuite into a full bathroom after knocking out the wall and usurping the space that is currently the walk-in closet. The room is large enough that we can install a full wall of closets on the opposite side of the room to store everything. Of course, this can all wait to be done. It really is in move-in condition. It just needs some paint. Green and pink sponge painting really isn't my thing. Taupes and mochas are more my style, and they would look great with these hardwood floors.

The agent who is selling this condo is coming over to give us an appraisal of our house tomorrow, so last night we started to scour our house. The Squeeze concentrated on the kitchen and the floors, and I started in our bedroom. He had the stove pulled out and he scrubbed parts of that thing I haven't seen since we brought it into the house. He was scrubbing spots that were on the kitchen floor for a few weeks (we've been in slob mode). He even cleaned off all of those dark areas in all the doorways and on the fridge that our cat (formerly cats) would rub up against. Damned things. The place is starting to come together.

I tunneled my way through a mountain of my clothes that I've just been piling on the dresser when I finish doing my laundry instead of hanging up, so things are neat and orderly now. I went through a dresser drawer in order to make space by finally shredding up old employment records and car insurance contracts and pay stubs that I've been hanging on to for about ten years. Why? I have no idea. I hate packrats, yet I seem to be one myself. I even found a MasterCard that expired four years ago. I didn't even know I owned a MasterCard!

We finally got to bed around 11:30 or so. I awoke around 6:00 due to The Squeeze snoring away (even though I had earplugs in), and I tossed and turned thinking about what is lacking in the new condo. That main concern is the kitchen. I'm spoiled. Our kitchen is about 11' x 18' and has storage beyond belief. What can I say? I know how to design a very functional kitchen! This new one is quite a lot smaller. It has three drawers. My kitchen has 13 including the pot & pan drawers. I use one for spices alone. Where will I put all of the spices, the cutlery, the cooking utensils, the kitchen linens, the plastic/foil/parchment rolls, the phone book & pens...not to mention the junk drawer items!?

The Squeeze assured me that we can make it work. We both came from apartments that had about the same amount of cabinetry and we survived. Yes, we really have been spoiled. We need to scale down. There is a multitude of kitchen appliances and gadgets that we rarely use if ever, and we can pitch things we don't need, and we can store the rest on shelves in the garage. The bread maker, the juicer, the deep fryer and the George Foreman grill really don't need to take up valuable real estate in the cupboards.

I think I can accept that. We can do this. And maybe a few years down the road when we save up some money we can remodel the kitchen and make it more workable.

I'm really excited about this one. The current owners have already bought a place, so they are eager to sell. Someone made an offer conditional of sale of their house and the owners turned it down. If we make an unconditional offer (aside from financing and inspection), we may have a better chance of getting it for a pretty good price too. We just need to get our asses in gear and get our house on the market and sold ASAP. Hopefully we won't need to do bridge financing and pay for both houses for any period of time. Of course, this means that we can't wait for a top dollar price for our place either. If it's meant to be, it will be.

For now we keep breathing....and cleaning!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


About that whale watch...

I recently went through a bunch of old e-mail (I keep everything!) and discovered a letter that I wrote to my buddy Mary after a trip to the east coast. I mentioned to her that The Squeeze and I went on a whale watching tour that was a nightmare. She asked for details. So since I'm a lazy ass, I'm copying it below. She got quite a kick out of it.

So the whale watch...sounds like a good time - in theory.

The tour was supposed to last about 3 hours. We got on the boat at 1:30, and the weather was looking like it was clearing up (it had been foggy for about the last two weeks there). There were probably about 70 people or so on this boat and once we got out into the Bay of Fundy, the fog rolled in again. Couldn't see more than about 50 to 100 feet from the boat. It got cold, luckily we knew about that so we had our winter jackets with us.

It got very rough and choppy, which wouldn't be a problem, but the captain kept cutting the motor and stopping the boat so we could listen for the whales spouting. It was at these times (and there were many) that you really felt the effect of the waves. It was pretty close to 4 hours and we still didn't see a whale, but they guarantee you'll see one (if it's the last thing you do). The crew told us that if we started feeling queasy to focus on the horizon. Good idea...if only there WAS a horizon. Fog looks like fog in any direction.

There were about a dozen people hanging over the railings "feeding the fish" if you get my drift. I was SOOOOO close to joining them. I was so nauseaus I was just praying for sweet death. I sat on the hard cold bench and pulled my coat around my head and made like a turtle. An elderly couple that The Squeeze and I were sitting and chatting to had said to The Squeeze "You're friend isn't looking too good". Actually, The Squeeze was still talking to them...I cut out long ago and tried to will myself from the entire situation. It had nothing to do with the couple. They were lovely people, I just couldn't make myself speak to anyone for fear that I would open my mouth and pull a Mr. Creosote.

People were pleading with the crew to go back to land, but they just kept starting and stopping, starting and stopping. FINALLY we heard a spout. So they start the engine again and keep searching for this whale in the fog. Probably about half an hour later we finally see it. A mother humpback and her calf. They gave us a nice show, from what I recall. Of course at this point I was so sick, the thought of looking through the viewfinder of the camera was not an option, so I didn't get any pictures.

We followed the whales for quite some time before we finally turned least I think we turned around....with all that fog I have no idea for sure. We got back to the dock at about 7:30. I could have kissed the ground. Or thrown up on it. Either way.

I feel nauseaus just thinking about it again. We drove back to the B&B (including two ferry rides), and searched for Gravol, but the town we were staying in rolls up the sidewalks at 5:00 on Saturdays, so I just had to do my best to not throw up. I finally found some at a drug store the following day. Yep, that's right I was still feeling the urge to vomit the following day.

A guy in the B&B we stayed in was on the cruise with his wife too and he said he felt the same way. He was washing his face the next morning and when he closed his eyes he felt dizzy.

I took more than my fair share of Gravol before we left that B&B and headed for Halifax. I slept the entire way and felt groggy for the next couple of days. Sure beat the hell out of feeling like throwing up!

So that's why I never went to college. I mean, so that's my tale of the whale watch.

Well, I must be off now.
Call me,

You know...looking back at that letter, it still makes me feel ill. It's actually put me off my lunch.
Oh, BTW that "So that's why I never went to college" line is from a little video called Sorority Girls From Hell that my friends and I watched, taped and memorized the entire dialogue of back in the late 80's (or was it early 90's?...who knows?). It came from a tv show called Mike Nesmith's Television Parts (yep, THAT Mike Nesmith from The Monkees). If there are any suggestions as to how to save this video to my computer so I can put it on my iPod, I would love to hear it!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Adventures in House Hunting: Part 1

A couple of years back, The Squeeze and I put our house on the market. Property values where we live have gone through the roof. It's that old "location, location, location" thing. The draw? Well, we're on one of the Great Lakes and frankly, there's just not much lakefront property out there that hasn't been obliterated in nearby cities.

In its heyday, our neighbourhood was the hotspot and vacation destination for the area's elite. They came by rail, or horse and buggy, or that new-fangled automobile. Many of the old "summer homes" still stand, some in better shape than others. Many homes have fallen to ruin, and clearly the area was on the decline throughout the last third of the 20th century.

The city began buying up properties and tearing the buildings down in an effort to remove all residents and open a large public waterfront park. Many of the old residents were up in arms and caused a revolt of sorts. Soon the city backed off on this plan.

Eventually, the area started a rebound. Some of the older homes have been fixed up, most of the really bad ones have been demolished and new homes are being built. Some modest, some monsters. There has been an influx of new blood to the area. People are taking pride in their properties again.

In the past few years we have seen our market assesments (thus, our taxes) climb dramatically. My own property assesment went up nearly $100,000 last year. YIKES! In theory, it's good if we want to sell, but if we plan to stay, we have to pay the piper. The residents are not amused.

So as I stated, we put the house on the market two years ago, asking $299,900. We figured if we bought a place in a less expensive area, we could pay off a huge chunk of our mortgage and try to get to that elusive "debt-free" position.

Our agent held an open house and brought through a number of people to view the house by appointment. Anyone who has ever sold a house knows what a pain this is. Constantly making sure that the house is in showroom condition to entice a buyer. No dust, no clutter, no dirty dishes on the counter, no dirty laundry on the bedroom floor, no crud in the sink or bathtub. Clean the windows, clean the litterbox, and dust, dust, dust. I can feel my blood pressure rising as I think about it. But it had to be done because you never knew when an agent would want to bring people through on very short notice. "Hi, we're just at a place down the street. Can we pop in?"

We looked at a number of places in neighbourhoods we would consider moving to, but found very few that had the suitable number of rooms. Our definite needs were to have a fair sized master bedroom (ensuite would be nice), two secondary bedrooms (one to act as an office, one as a guest room), a good sized livingroom and a formal dining room. A finished basement would be good, but we're handy and can do a lot of that stuff anyway.

We put an offer in on two places, but were outbid both times. I was really disappointed about losing one of them, because it had great potential.

After having our place on the market for a month or so, we dropped the price to $289,900 and received an offer. We agreed on the offered price, and set forth on searching for a house. We visited open houses every chance we could get, and set up appointments to view others as often as possible. Our buyer's agent kept asking for extensions because her client was out of the country (or any of a number of excuses he used). Our agent finally told us to deny any further extensions. We did what he suggested. As a result, we re-listed the house, and doesn't this same guy put in the offer again!? We accepted on the condition that we receive confirmation of financing from his bank. As it turned out, he didn't have the money. What a waste of time that whole ordeal way! So he was out of the picture.

Another woman made an offer which we accepted. Things seemed to be rolling along well. She came in, was measuring things up - very serious buyer. We were scrambling to find a place, and nothing we found met our needs. There were a lot of sleepless nights over this. The new buyer had her building inspectors in to check things out and gave it their OK.

On the final day when all conditions were to be signed off, she backed out. Her reasoning was that there is a motorcycle club down the road from us and she felt unsafe. Oooooookaaaaaay. The Squeeze's family has lived here for decades, as have many of the other residents. There has never been a problem here with them. A few times a year you will hear the bikes as they arrive at or depart from their clubhouse. The term "they don't shit in their own yard" is used by many of the folks living in the area, and it's true.

So needless to say, that deal was gone and we thought long and hard about it and decided that selling the house right now wasn't meant to be. We let our contract with the realtor expire and decided not to renew. Our agent has actually been a friend of The Squeeze for many years, and when the contract was over he even told us that he felt the same thing. He was stunned that the house never sold. He knew it wasn't overpriced because comparable properties in the area were selling for around the same price. In fact, one house sold for more and they gutted it and added a floor! Considering all the work we did on the place - new kitchen, new floors, new bathroom, rec. room, garden doors - you name it, everyone was stunned it didn't sell.

Well, that was then. This is now. The idea of selling is hitting us again. We looked at a bungalow on Sunday that looks interesting. Great location, mature neighbourhood with lot of trees, managable property, patio, big new driveway, tons of parking. It's listed at $209,000, but their agent even said it's probably $10,000 too high. The house was built in 1964 and has original everything. It needs to be gutted and redesigned. We've done it before, and we're considering doing it again. We decided that if we make an offer, we'd offer $185,000 and see what happens. We have an appointment to see a condo on Wednesday night and it's in move-in condition. The cons of it are limited parking, it has the bedrooms on the top floor (more stairs - ecch!), it's listed at $239,000, not to mention the $350/month for condo fees. The big plus is that there is no yard work! Tempting.

Based on recent sales in our area, we're thinking of listing our place at $329,000 and see what offers we get. I'm just not looking forward to doing all the prep work on the place to get it back in that showroom condition again, even though I love having it spotless!

All I can say is that if we decide to go ahead with this and it doesn't sell again, they're going to be taking me out of this place in a body bag because I'm not going to go through this a third time!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Hurry up and wait

Since my store is closed on Mondays, it's usually the day of the week that I make any appointments and complete errands I need to do.

This week I needed to have a follow up appointment at my doctor's office because the over the counter allergy medications I was told to buy just aren't doing anything for this whole sinus thing I've been fighting for months. Not a big surprise, because I really don't think this has anything to do with allergies. But what the hell do I know?

My appointment was for 10:00am, so I got in my car and left the house at around 9:30. I live in a rather unique area in that I am surrounded by water on a long sandbar. I have two options to get where I'm going. I could go about 10 or 15 minutes out of my way in the opposite direction to where I am going and hop on the highway and head back, or I could take the direct route and cross over a shipping canal and get onto the highway. As I usually do, I took the latter route.

Wouldn't you know it? Just as I'm approaching the canal I notice that the bridge is up. It was only half way up, so I figured it wasn't up for one of the large ships, but perhaps some small sailboats. It shoudl be quick. So I waited. And waited. And waited. Hmmm...should I turn around, head back the other way and tack on the extra travel time, or will this bridge come down sooner than that detour would take? I didn't see any boats at all. Looks like they were doing some sort of maintenance on the bridge. Cars were lining up. A few did a three point turn and headed back the other way. Time was wasting. I needed to get to this appointment.

I checked my coat pockets and realized that I didn't bring my cell phone with me so I could call ahead and let them know I'd be late. I thought to myself that I didn't notice the phone where I normally leave in when I go in the house, so I wasn't sure what happened to it. I looked into the back seat, and there it was on the seat. Guess I left it in there on Sunday when we went to visit my folks and totally forgot about it. I then realized that I didn't have the doctor's phone number on me. No problem, I'll just call 411. As I opened the phone, the battery died. Piece of crap. I do have a car charger, but that thing has been broken for about a year and I never bothered to fix it. Communication was out of the question.

Finally the bridge came down and we were on our way. Unfortunately, I was constantly behind some slow ass on the highway, and I could just feel my blood pressure rising. I was screaming at the people in front of me in the lane that said "Keep Right Except To Pass". A lot of good those signs do. It appears that the majority of drivers don't understand English. I made it to my exit, still stuck behind some senior citizen looking for an address and holding me up. Finally, they pull into the left turn lane and I make my way forward only to meet up with the traffic light changing to red. ARGH!!! The killer is that there was NO traffic at all coming from the cross street. We all just waited there for nothing. Finally I got the green light and got into my turn lane and wouldn't you know it, someone pulls his van into the lane in front of me and slows me right down. Another red light. Thanks a lot asshat! It appeared that the guy in the van was going to the same medical centre I was because he made the same turns and was moving along until he saw the mechanical arm blocking access to the lot until one normally takes a ticket from the machine and proceeds when the arm is lifted. He stepped on the brake about ten feet before the arm and froze there. WHAT THE HELL!?!?!? The cheap bastard obviously didn't want to pay the buck it might cost him so he just stays there blocking my path.

I tapped my horn, he finally looked up and saw me there, but I don't think it clicked for a minute. Finally he veered his van off to the side to let me in. I grabbed my ticket, got into a spot and ran inside. 10:03 - not too shabby, all things considered.

I checked in with the receptionist and was told it would be just a minute. I sat and waited until about 10:35 when the doctor came out to call me in. I followed her to her exam room which wasn't easy because as soon as I got up from my chair, she broke into a sprint down the hall turning at the corners leaving me to guess which way she went.

"What's the problem?" she asked.
"I still have this sinus thing going on, and decongestants aren't touching it."
"Have you tried a steroid nasal spray?"
", just the decongestants I was told to take for a couple of weeks, but I really don't think this is anything to do with allergies," I explained.
"Is your nose running?"
"Are you sneezing?"
"Are you coughing?"
"Only to cough up the crud that collects in my sinuses and makes its way down my throat."
"Any trouble sleeping?"
"Only because I keep waking up to cough up this crud that collects in my sinuses."

She shined a light into my mouth and nose, listened to my breathing through her stethoscope that she placed on my back and moved every two seconds, typed up a prescription for Nasonex and sent me on my way. Total time in the exam room: about three minutes, tops.

Off I went. I paid my $2.50 to park, and continued on my way to have my prescription filled. I'm hoping this stuff works for me. I'm sick of this feeling in my sinuses, and I hate this speed-of-sound McMedicine system. What ever happened to the good old days when your doctor actually cared and spent more than five minutes with you?

Friday, May 12, 2006


Taxing issues

Whoever coined that phrase about death and taxes was pretty close. More accurate would be "taxes are going to cause my death".

Our tax season just came and went about two weeks ago, and boy, was I in for a rude awakening. Seriously though, it's my own damned fault. See, my business partner and I, up until earlier this year, never did the standard "pay cheque with deductions" thing. No, we chose to just draw from the business whenever we felt the need, leaving the onus upon ourselves to put a little something aside for tax time.

Since I came into this business in the fall a few years back, I did alright at tax time the following year because I had deductions from my previous job that resulted in my having to pay only a small amount to the tax man.

The year after that I was on my own. I've never been much of a saver, so of course I didn't change my ways and prepare for the fact that I would have to pay income tax on whatever money I brought home.

The Squeeze figured out my taxes last year, and informed me that in order to avoid paying a huge sum, I should purchase some RRSPs to minimize my taxes, and that I could claim a portion of my pay and carry the rest forward to this year. Sounded good at the time.

Well, that time is now. I brought home a printout of my total income for 2005 and The Squeeze entered all of the numbers. Of course, we had to add the amount that I didn't claim from last year as well. In short, it looked like I made a pretty healthy salary. Translation: I owed several thousand dollars to the government. The bastards!

I jokingly asked if we can't redirect some of the pay into other areas so it looks like I made...oh, I don't know...half of what I did. The Squeeze was not amused.

"Well, you know," he said, "since you don't have anything set aside for retirement, maybe going to prison could be your retirement plan."

I really couldn't tell him off since he's spotting me the money for my taxes, and besides, it was kind of funny. I think he was shocked when just four days later I paid him back $1,000. My goal is to give him a thousand bucks a month until I'm paid up. It's going to be a lean year. I'll be left with enough each month to make my car payments, car & home insurance, and the few other bills I look after. Oy, and then there's my Visa and line of credit.

The reward at the end of all of this is that this time next year, since I'm having extra deductions taken off, I should be getting a refund. However, that is 12 months away. I think I'm going to pick up a lottery ticket on my way home tonight.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Adventures in Smuggling

For some strange reason, maybe it's the weather, I have been in a very reflective mood. I keep thinking back to many years ago when my old gang of friends and I did a number of stupid and wonderful things. Today's memory was triggered by some woman on CBC radio who was relaying some story of some woman she knows who wore nothing but a slip across the border so she could buy an outfit and wear it back without paying duty. Apparently she stopped for lunch somewhere, and took off her coat in the restaurant, forgetting that she was only wearing a slip. At least that's what I pieced together from her somewhat incoherent telling of the events. The way this woman told a story made Grandpa Simpson seem downright introspective.
"Back in them days we tied an onion around our belt. Not the regular kind, but the ones that brought a tear to your eye. And we called nickles 'bees'. 'Gimme five bees for a quarter', we'd say."

But I digress.

I recall a couple of visits "across the river" to Buffalo or Niagara Falls to do a bit of shopping. Why did we do it? It certainly wasn't because we got great deals. The value of the Canadian dollar was in the crapper, so anything we saw that appeared to be a deal had to be converted, and more often than not, it wound up being more expensive than we could have bought it here in Canada. Oh yeah! That's why we went! Because there was a ton of stuff there that we simply couldn't find up here. We would visit the Top's supermarket to buy new and novel snacks and things that weren't available up here yet. Don't even get me started on the Helluva Good Clam Dip! We still can't get it here. Just the onion dip. Sad, truly sad.

I was introduced to that clam dip by my old pal Pat. She was (I'm sure still is...just haven't seen her in a long time) a hilarious waifish woman who was involved in the theatre group I was involved in. Pat was a mid 30's married mother of two young boys, and we spent a fair bit of time together along with my old friend and one-time room-mate, Tim.

One day the three of us made a border run, and did a fair bit of shopping. Being a plus size guy, and not being able to find much in the line of plus size fashionable clothing here in Canada, I made the discovery of Casual Male Big & Tall at the Factory Outlet Mall in Niagara Falls and was in my glory. It was pretty expensive, but I occasionally bought a few pair of pants and a few shirts, as was the case this particular day.

We then headed over to Top's for some unique grocery items to bring home. Pat was feeling a bit anxious because the day was flying by and she had to be home before her kids got there from school to let them in. She knew that we weren't going to make it in time, so she was trying to make some calls, but wasn't able to get a hold of anyone. Not her husband, not her neighbour. Nobody. She told us she had to use the bathroom, and she headed for the public washrooms. Quite some time later, Pat finally returned with a look that could only be described as defeated and shameful.

"Did you make it in time?" I asked her.
"No, I didn't," she quietly replied.
"Oh no! You didn't pee your pants, did you?"
"Worse," she said.
"What happened?" Tim asked.
"When I got there, the door was locked, so I waited and waited. Finally I had to run into the men's room, but it was too late. I had to throw my underpants out."

The three of us stood there in the grocery store and laughed our asses off. I felt so bad for her, but the situation was so absurd we couldn't help ourselves.

We bought our groceries and headed out to the car where we began our usual routine. We took all of the new clothing out of the trunk, and we began to layer. Now that I look back on it, I wonder...just how stupid were we? It struck me as being quite funny that there were probably hundreds of people a day doing the exact thing we were doing. At that time, there was a popular commercial for Molson Canadian beer that used the slogan "I AM CANADIAN". I chuckled at the thought that this is the type of thing that should be shown in that commercial, followed by that famous tagline. Honestly, how many Canadians haven't done the exact thing we were doing?

I was now wearing two pair of jeans, about three shirts, and I was also sporting shoes so white that they nearly glowed in my darkened car interior. After throwing all the packaging, bags, and our old shoes into the dumpster, we headed for the border.

"No, really Mr. Border Guard, I've had these shoes for months! And yes, as a matter of fact, I DO always wear two pair of jeans and three shirts!"

I found it quite amusing that Tim, who was several sizes smaller than I was, was wearing a couple pair of my new jeans over his own pants. Honestly, it looked like he was wearing diapers. So I drove on toward the border, hoping to God we wouldn't get busted and have to pay duty on all the stuff we bought.

We reached the border, and were asked our citizenship and asked how much we spent. We each stated that we just had $40 or $50 in groceries, and then it happened.
"Pull over to the side to the inspection station, sir."
Oh God. I thought I was going to have to throw out my underpants too.

We stepped out of the car and walked into the Customs office where we were asked to provide our receipts for our purchases while they ripped my car apart outside. I pulled my wallet from my coat pocket, Pat reached into her purse, and Tim looked at me like a deer in headlights. His receipt was in his wallet. In his pocket. In his pants. Beneath two layers of MY pants. How he managed to get that wallet out without rousing suspicion is beyond me, but he did.

Each of us paid our minimal duty charge, were wished a good evening, and were sent on our way. We got back in the car and I drove home. First order of business was to get Pat home. As it turns out, her kids just hung out at the neighbour's place until she got home. Then I dropped Tim off at his place. I went in to visit with his mother while he removed the layers of my clothes he was wearing, and his mother told us of the times she's crossed over and came back wearing three bras.

See what I mean? This is just a part of our culture.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Shiny Pizza

Many years ago, back in the 80's a bunch of my friends went camping in what we called "The Bedrock-mobile". It was one of those old camper trailers that looked like a giant silver capsule. Why my friend's parents let them use this thing is beyond might say he pretty much got what he wanted and we also reaped the benefits. This camper had some of the comforts of home: fridge, stove, etc.

One evening, for an easy dinner, it was decided that frozen pizza would be served. Our friend Karen stepped up to the plate and looked after cooking it. After pre-heating the oven and placing the pizza in it, and waiting the specified time, Karen removed the pizza from the oven.

"Wow, does this pizza ever look shiny!" Karen exclaimed.
Darryl asked, "Didn't you take the plastic off?"
"Oh shit!" she replied.

Alternate dinner plans were made.
We still joke about Karen's famous laminated pizza.


The Chain Has A Bad Link

It's no secret that I love food. The Squeeze, our friends and I just love going out to eat and we love trying new places. Quite some time back we were introduced to a place called The Mongolian Grill. In my neck of the woods, there are a few of them all within about a one hour drive.

The idea of "The Grill" as we call it, is to go up to the buffet and load up a bowl with your choice of raw meat (if you are so inclined), veggies, oils, sauces, and spices and line up at this six foot wide wok where a number of guys cook your food, stirring your chosen mixture with long wooden sticks, and placing it in a new clean bowl. You then head back to your table where bowls of rice and containers of soft, warm tortillas await you.

The Squeeze, always the food safety cop, found this to be a potential cross-contamination problem, but when he noticed that the guys stirring the food kept rotating around the wok to ensure that one person's sticks only handled the raw food, and the guy at the end of the line used sticks that only contacted fully-cooked food, his mind was at ease.

With the wide array of meats, veggies, oils, sauces and spices on hand, you can get some very different flavours on each trip up to the wok. Generally, one can only handle two or three trips up, before moaning in pain and yet somehow still eagerly await the trip to Dairy Queen on the way home. Hey, it's tradition. (God, we're sick people!)

On a recent trip to Toronto to visit the Ontario Science Centre's "Body Worlds II" exhibit, we decided to drive up Don Mills Road to find a place to eat. What did we see but Genghis Khan Mongolian Grill? Done deal. We went in, had a seat, ordered our drinks and were told how the place works. Ya, buddy, we know all this. We're pros. The difference here is that they had a rather extensive Chinese buffet area complete with an array of desserts, in addition to the usual grill fare. The items for the grill were fairly similar to the other "Grill"'s we've visited, but where it lacked was in the fact that there were no spices! None! The other "Grill"'s have about a dozen or more bowls of spice mixtures to enjoy. Blasphemy! How can you expect to get the full flavours you crave without spices? The answer: well, you can't! It was a culinary "so what?". At least the Chinese buffet area made up for the dismal experience of the grill itself, but it was still sort of a lunchbag letdown. Another thing that was different was the fact that the waiters didn't bring the rice and tortillas to the table. We had to do some research and managed to find these items at the Chinese buffet area.

One other thing that left a bad taste in our mouths (or should I say noses?) was the rather strong scent of mothballs that assaulted us every time our waiter came by. This was accompanied by his rather pungent body odour. We paid our bill and got out of there, and apparently left our brains behind because not three months later we returned.

The Squeeze was on call this weekend and was called in for some quick service work. I offered to tag along for the ride so we could spend some time together. He said, "Hey we can go out for dinner. The call is close to "The Grill". Sounded good to me at the time.

We were seated at the window, as far away from the grill as possible. I wonder if they took our size into account when they put us there. It was a bit disturbing being at the window because just about every person who walked by the place stopped, cupped their hands above their eyes and peered into the restaurant, looked around and checked out the food on our plates before continuing on their way. I wish we had done the same.

When our waiter came to take our drink order, the first thing we noticed was the rank body odour. What is it with this place? Do they only hire waiters who take a strong anti-deodorant stance? We really would have preferred the moth ball smell again over this.

We took our trip up to the grill for a dismal bowl of blandness and sadly ate it. Well, at least we have the Chinese buffet! Or so we thought. I had some peel & eat shrimp, a bit of some chicken dish and something I can only assume was Kung Pao Tofu. I ate the shrimp and the chicken. There were a number of things up there that just looked nasty. I did try a few other items. I took a bite of a spring roll: some strange off-putting taste in there. I had a bite of a chicken egg roll. Ya, that's right, a chicken egg roll. It doesn't sound good, and it tasted even less appealing. We both tried something that was being passed off as a deep fried cheese wonton. I don't know what that stuff in the middle was, but it didn't taste like any cheese I've ever met. And I've met a LOT of cheese! I brought a couple of shrimp, complete with heads, in some supposedly hot sauce back to the table. After tearing off the head and discovering that it hadn't been deveined, I attempted to pull this long strand of shrimp-waste-filled intestine out of the little creature, but it would have none of it, and as a result, neither did I. I brought back a bowl of wonton soup, figuring there is no way they can screw this up. How wrong I was. I'm not sure what the meat in the wontons was, but I'm assuming it was skunk. The broth was no better. It had the colour of raw chicken, and the unmistakable flavour of salt. The plate of discarded food was becoming quite well-mounded.

We decided to give up on the main meal, and headed up for the dessert bar. It was pretty impressive. I manipulated the tongs and placed an individual tiramisu on my plate and helped myself to a scoop of black cherry ice cream. I headed over to another area where they had an array of fruit and waited patiently for a man who I can only assume was trying to re-assemble a pineapple from the slices on the platter. I noticed a nice looking bowl of caramel custard that I thought I'd have to try. As I waited for my turn, an Asian man pushed right in with his two children and started scooping things on their plates. Not a problem. I can wait. I wasn't that eager to experience what, judging by the rest of the meal, could be a complete and total disaster. While they were bellied up to the trough, a rather slovenly man in his 50's pushed his way in, and somehow managed to shove his hand in a bowl of some kind of whipped cream or custard. He began licking his hand and fingers like someone who had been raised by wolves and was given his first meal in a week.

What happened next was surreal. It was like some scene from a movie. It seemed to take place in slow motion. The other people at the dessert bar dissolved from the scene and my focus zoomed in as the rest of the restaurant pulled out of focus and sped away from the point of impact. This slob reached his saliva and whipped cream covered hand toward the scoop in the bowl of caramel custard. He wrapped his fingers around the handle and he began piling it on his plate. I stood there with my eyes and mouth open with what I'm sure was a look of total and utter disgust, if not horror. I'm sure I stood there like that for about thirty seconds, and the man was oblivious.

I was so disgusted with what I had just seen, I can't imagine how I managed to eat that tiramisu and ice cream. I told The Squeeze what had just happened and he was repulsed. "That's why buffets are a food safety nightmare," he said. "They should really have someone behind the buffet serving people what they want. That way only one person handles the utensils, and they normally wear gloves."

I had a realization that those tongs, scoops, and other serving utensils must be swimming in bacteria. If that boor had no problem with licking his hands and using a community serving scoop in full view of everyone in the restaurant, imagine what he, and possibly scores of others, have done when we weren't watching! What is to say that the tongs you use weren't just handled by someone who coughed in their hand, picked their nose, scratched their armpit, crotch, ass....and let's not forget the number of times people leave a public bathroom without washing their hands!

I think I have just completely turned myself off of self-serve buffets. Hmm....I wonder how long I'll stick with that.

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