I’m a Lousy Gambler

I’ve been lousy at predicting when would be a good day to go to the beach during this vacation week. I shouldn’t have wasted the opportunity on Monday because it didn’t end up being as cool as predicted at the coast, but then again, I was feeling SO sleepy and sluggish. Several hot and humid days followed, but each came with a 60 percent chance of severe thunderstorms and since I had visions of being zapped by a bolt of lightening, I didn’t venture out. But it turns out those nasty thunderstorms happened everywhere except greater Halifax. And now, there are more clouds than sun as of noon and it’s only 18C (65F) at Shearwater, but given my string of bad predictions so far, I think I might venture anyway in about an hour and it might be delightful once I get there. And very quiet, since I doubt many people would be moved to go, meaning I could end up having the entire place to myself.

I should know better than gambling because I’m not just lousy at it; I don’t like it at all. In fact, all my friends know I don’t enjoy gambling, so imagine how one of them was surprised to spot me at the local casino one Sunday afternoon many years ago. But that was back in the days when nothing else was opened on Sunday and the slot machines still took bills and spewed back quarters instead of tokens, and I needed quarters for the laundry. So my friend laughed so hard when she saw me feed a bill in one of the machines and immediately press the Cash button, leading said machine to give me back all my money …in quarters.

I don’t think I’ve spent as much as a quarter in my entire life in a slot machine. In fact, I don’t think I ever bought a lottery ticket, either. I’d sooner waste my money on other things, like gas for a short trip I can’t afford. It’s a matter of priorities, I guess, as well as the fact I’ve gone for so long without any financial wriggle room. If I break down and purchase anything, it’s because I really, really want it.

Grab Bag (28 June 2007)

— The sleepfest vacation continues: almost 10 hours again last night. I got up at the 7-hour point because I had thought when going to bed that I might go to the beach today despite the call for possible thundershowers. But it looked rather blah when I got up and the weather office had upgraded the thundershowers from a possibility to a watch. Since there were some last night (except in Halifax proper), I had visions of being zapped on the beach; therefore, I chose to return to bed. Sunshine and very low 20s expected tomorrow and Saturday; that’ll have to do.

— Someone told me once that our metabolism changes ever 7 years or so. I think there might be some truth to that. With my eating habits unchanged, I began gaining considerable weight in 1999-2000 and reached 200 pounds by April 2004. I went on a diet and lost weight, and for nearly 3 years I’ve been holding steady between 168 and 174 on my ungenerous scale. However, what I’ve been finding weird is that, notwithstanding that I indulge more than I should in unhealthy food choices, when I’m at, say, 172, my body doesn’t look like it did at 172 a year-and-a-half or two years ago. I know that doesn’t make sense; I know I’m still at the high end of “normal weight” according to this BMI calculator, and I know in my mind that I’m faring well. But I also think I may have moved into another 7-year metabolism phase which results in the same weight not getting distributed as it did not so long ago. I’m not sure it would be a smart idea to aim for the 160 to 165 range, assuming I could even reach it.

— I have a block of clients at my other job who are gradually leaving me. It’s all very amicable; they’re just moving on, and they’re satisfied with the service I’ve provided them in the last 7 years. But this shift is yet another good reason for me to think about how I want to realign my business and move to Montreal. Several years ago, I was offered the opportunity to place a bid in the competition that led this client to where it’s currently moving, but I declined on the grounds that the scope was too big for me to handle as a one-man show. But assuming I had placed the winning bid, I don’t think I would be in as good position financially as I am today, meaning I probably wouldn’t be seriously considering moving to Montreal as I am now.

— I wonder if I’ll ever reach a point in my life where I don’t a whack of things to do work-wise. This week, I admit, I’ve been putting almost everything off and enjoying my solitude. I’m actually pretty good at disconnecting and saying, “Fuck it!” But I do wonder if I’ll ever reach a point where my plate is just full instead of always overflowing. Does that happen to people anymore?

— I checked out a new sofa and TV last Sunday. As usual, I’m waffling before making any big purchase. Late July is the earliest the furniture bank could pick up my old stuff, and I have to spend a good chunk of change of new software soon. I also bought out Junior’s lease last month and I want to pay that off by the end of this year at the latest, which I know I can do. So as I look at my old stuff, I question if it’s folly to spend $1,500+ on new stuff when the old is still okay. Plus, what about the possibility of an intercity move?

Time to Say Farewell to Nova Scotia (Part 5)?

Nova ScotiaPart: 1 2 3 4 5

Halifax has been my town for more than 20 years — half my life and pretty well all my adult life.

I would be dishonest if I claimed that Halifax hasn’t been good to me. It has. And so have the ’90s. Sure, I had 3 years in there when I held a soul-crushing job, but I had my first university teaching gig at 27 and then did it regularly from age 32 to 36. And, without capital much less two clues, I took the risk of starting my own business. I don’t know if I would have had the guts or comfort level to do that in a large city, for here I had the luxury of being a big fish in a small pond.

By the end of the ’90s, I realized that I needed to spend more time reading trashy novels in coffeeshops and be surrounded by brilliant “family” lunatics in a city far bigger than good ol’ (and too comfortable) Halifax.
Sash! Le Soleil noir (mp3, 3.6 MB, 3:51)

Plus, 15 years ago, the year of the 10th anniversary of my coming out, I recognized that as far as my sexuality is concerned, I had only made myself feel miserable by expecting “more” to come out of …well, you know, situations when things come! I had assumed orthodoxy for myself, assumed that’s what I wanted; but, in truth, that doesn’t fit my temperament. You might be tempted to say that it’s the time when I recognized that I’m a slut tramp, but that would be a unidimensional generalization. However, I will say that it’s the time when I recognized that, after being pegged as a square for as long as I could remember, I had assumed this etiquette to be true …but it wasn’t. It’s the time when I recognized that, but for one exception, I had always “fallen” or “drifted” into relationships.

Strangely (or not so strangely), a major turning point for me was getting my first car, Gildo. I travelled over 33,000 km the first year I had him. That first summer is when I re-found nearby Crystal Crescent Beach, where I had gone only a few times with Madame A in 1985, except that summer I wandered far beyond the so-called third beach because I had been told that’s where the horny men hanged out. That’s how I began learning what “no strings attached” meant, that it wasn’t something to be ashamed of, and that it wasn’t deserving of so much smug judgment. And there is, after all, such a thing as “taking precautions,” both physically as well as emotionally.

However, it’s also around that time that I discovered that, in a small conservative city like Halifax, there IS a harsh judgment of those ordinary guys who enjoy indulging occasionally in such naughtiness if you’re not a buffed god or a dude who otherwise exudes uncontrollable magnitism. But in a bigger city, nobody could care less. People in bigger cities are more likely to say “Whatever floats your boat” and shrug it off. Because that’s just the urbane thing to do.

Also, this city has gone from dabbling with tentative forms of urbanity to pushing unbearably strange political rectitude, like the whole no-scent nonsense. The city has practically become the world capital of environmental sensitivities, and that’s just a tediously boring distinction to hold. Yet at the same time, too many Haligonians have begun believing that this IS a major international city instead of the important regional centre that it really is. After Halifax hosted the G8 summit in 1995, the mayor at the time mused that perhaps the city should consider bidding for the Olympics; 12 years later, the city made an ass of itself by pulling out of the bid for the next best thing.

Anyway, around Thanksgiving 1999, I visited Cleopatrick in Montreal. It had been 5 years since I had been there. And that’s when it really dawned on me: not only could I see myself living in Montreal, but also I realized that the Halifax “Cool Factor” had evaporated.

I returned to Halifax and announced to everyone that within a year or two, I would be moving to Montreal. But here I am, still, almost 8 years later. Until recently I had only one excuse, but I think it was a damn good one: I had too much debt. And by preserving the status quo, I knew I could keep my head just above the water line. I couldn’t be so sure of that if I moved too far away from my client base.

But then, of course, I got my day job, basically got out of debt — I still have to pick at it, but it’s well on its way — and things are going well. And while I don’t wish to count the chickens before they’ve hatched, there are encouraging signs that it could become a steady gig. Since I work from home, whether I’m in Halifax or Montreal is of no object. So maybe, finally, the time has come.

Maybe it’s time to say farewell to Nova Scotia.

There are some cons, of course. For instance, most of the people I knew in Montreal no longer live there. And I’d definitely miss living in the same city as BeeGoddessM and Stephanie, as well as the Queen of Sheba. However, leaving a city is not synonymous with abandoning friendships. And for sure I’d miss the proximity to my beloved beach in the summer, but staying in a place for the sake of one beach that I may be able to enjoy a half-dozen times a year is getting to be a thin excuse to stay put, and besides, I love how summers in Montreal are generally real summers. As for the practical plus sides of Montreal, it’s a comfortable driving distance from Mom in Moncton and even Halifax, and I’d be 2 hours away from my sister. I also love the idea of living in French or English after so many years of being in an exclusively anglophone milieu. Plus my door will always be opened for out-of-town guests now that I’ve accepted that it’s better that I hire someone to do my housecleaning regularly.

So yeah, this rambling look at my many years in Halifax is all about my realization that I may soon have a choice, and that I’ve run out of excuses for not making it. It’s also about remembering how, at 19, I had the nerve to make a similar choice so that I would stop wallowing in regrets. Life is too short to waste it away in regrets. And while I’m not exactly a geriatric case — shut up! — I’m most certainly well into the second half of my life. I should endeavour to fill it with as few regrets as possible, so……

Maybe it’s time to say farewell to Nova Scotia.

Time to Say Farewell to Nova Scotia (Part 4)?

Halifax EveningPart: 1 2 3 4 5

Because I had transfer credits from the U de M and chose to go to summer school, I completed my PR degree in 24 months. It was cheaper that way, and it meant that I finished my undergradute studies only a few months later than if I’d stuck to the translation program. I also took a part-time job at the university in my second year, and that placed my foot in the door for my first “real” job: managing editor of Atlantis. While today most students at MSVU and the PR program are from Nova Scotia, back in the ’80s, the PR program drew people from all over the country. Many very much liked Halifax and hoped they could find work here, but the market here was (and is) too small for the annual crop of graduates; I considered myself one of the lucky ones who managed to stay.

Yet, in many ways, Halifax is an odd place for me to have taken roots. While it is intrinsically linked to my coming of age, this rather conservative seaport city in “New Scotland” has absolutely no grounding for me, a first-generation New Brunswick francophone whose ancestral roots can be traced back generations in Quebec. Plus, ever since I first visited Montreal at the ripe age of 7, I have harboured a fascination for big cities — cities with populations greater than the whole province of “New Scotland” or even the four Atlantic provinces combined. When, as a teenager, I would long for the day when I could begin living, I always imagined myself in such a city.

This one goes out to Ex Friend, who’d remember…
Touch by Touch (mp3, 5.8 MB, 5:24)

But, it must be said, notwithstanding my rose-coloured glasses of youth, Halifax in the ’80s and ’90s was more vibrant and edgier than it is today — certainly more than one would have expected from a city its size. The promise of offshore oil and gas was fuelling the development and clean up of downtown; music from the East Coast was coming of age; a naughty and fun underground was thriving; daring, progressive politics were nascent; the gay community was political and could boast being the only one in Canada to fully own and operate the local bar… It was also a period when colourful, eccentric mayors presided over the city, which simultaneously was a source of embarrassment and amusement. It all made for a quirky little city set in beautiful surroundings, where out-of-control urban sprawl had not yet taken hold and a 30-minute drive in any direction led to some of the most idyllic spots one could ever imagine. And what made the city even quirkier was that it was located in a province with painfully old-fashioned ways, where only a few gas stations were opened on Sunday (on a rotating basis, no less), where stores were closed on Sunday and “shopping nights” were Wednesday to Friday when shops stayed opened until 9:00 instead of 6:00, where establishments licensed as “taverns” closed at 11:00, and where booze couldn’t be bought on Sunday except if served with a meal at a restaurant. Even my home province of New Brunswick was far less uptight!

I have this odd, very unscientific theory about what may have precipitated the change to what I perceive Halifax has become. Back in the early ’80s, many Maritimers viewed Halifax as a mini anglophone Montreal by the ocean. In fact, I find Haligonians back then, with their memories of Expo and the Olympics still relatively fresh but fading fast, used to identify more with Montreal than Toronto. And I think there were two tangible reasons for that: the fact Montreal only then was losing its status as Canada’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, and there were two daily trains between Halifax and Montreal instead of today’s six per week. While plane travel was extremely commonplace, so was travelling by train because it was cheaper and still convenient. As Toronto surpassed Montreal as the country’s dominant city and planes became the postmodern equivalent of Greyhound buses, Haligonians have been engaging and identifying more with Toronto, where the dominant language is the same as here. I know you’re probably all thinking that I’m just setting up another cheap shot against Toronto, a city for which I have avowed little affection, but I can’t help discerning the milquetoast hegemony of Toronto slowly imprinting itself on this little seaside city.

That being said, it must also be recognized that in the ’80s, Haligonians themselves planted some of the seeds for what their city has become. For instance, when I “discovered” Halifax in the early ’80s, the phrase “The Spring Garden Experience” was coined to describe the two city blocks of delightful little shops housed in the ground floor of unremarkable walk-up apartment buildings. By the mid-80s, misguided marketers failed to grasp that the “Spring Garden Experience” referred to cachet, not shopping; so they built not one, not two, but three malls on that special stretch of Spring Garden and promptly destroyed what had been a very good thing. The first mall (Spring Garden Place) might have fit in had it been the only one; the second one (Park Lane, a.k.a. Park Drain) has been downsized considerably since it opened; the third one (City Centre Atlantic) was a spectacular flop that no one dares talk about today for fear of recalling the horrors of that egregious mistake. And it was game over when Mickey D opened in the Lord Nelson Arcade. Today, no one remembers the phrase “Spring Garden Experience,” as there is nothing memorable about the product of cookie-cutters, easily exchangeable with what can be found in any other city.

And yet… Damning as that assessment is, I can’t deny that when I found myself driving along South Park at Spring Garden the other evening, with the sun shining and the leaves out and the pedestrians everywhere, I think I saw the ghost of the city with which I had fallen in love a quarter century ago. I wondered for an instant if perhaps my eyes had changed with age and thus were preventing me from seeing that the beloved is still here, or if indeed, as I fear, the beloved has withered to a pale shadow of its former, vibrant self.

I do know that my reaching middle age has to be taken into account. But as I kept driving along the city streets on my way home, I concluded that I had, in fact, only seen a pale shadow back there. A lovely shadow in its own right, mind you, but a shadow nonetheless.

Time to Say Farewell to Nova Scotia (Part 3)?

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Because my 1987 move to Halifax was Ma-and-Pa-sanctioned, pretty well the whole family pitched in to help me settle into my downtown apartment in what I would eventually refer to as “Chateau Ghetto.” At the time, it was the kind of building where there were signs that sternly declared, “No spitting and swearing in the elevators.” And I still remember how mortified I felt as my father — rest his soul — gleefully read one such sign out loud as this towering, menacing, “don’t fuck with me” black dude was standing by us as we all waited for an elevator. Spot the Bumpkins.

But how I found this apartment would seem like an implausible stretch of the Armistead Maupin Tales of the City variety, yet I assure you: All my stories are true!

I can’t get much more ’80s than this, and given how cooky this part of my story is, what better than a cooky song!
Rita Mitsouko: Marcia Baila (mp3, 5.2 MB, 5:34)

When I had lived in Halifax in ’84-’85, I had been in a relationship with Hardluck. Although I shared an apartment a block away from work on the Bedford Highway with JD, whom I had met through my Summer of ’84 Boyfriend (a.k.a. Park Bunny), I ended up by November or so always staying at Hardluck’s dumpy apartment in Central Halifax. I guess at the time I was confused and thought I was a lesbian, bringing a U-Haul on her second date. Anyway, Hardluck also had a roommate, a really nice straight guy in the Canadian Navy whom we named Fitz and who had the unfortunate tendency of bringing back crabs (of the Kwellada variety) after each of his tours of duty. Fitz and Hardluck’s landlord was an unspeakably vile piece of work who believed he was within his rights to tell his tenants that they could never have company, especially overnight. Inevitably, of course, one evening in February just a few days before Fitz was to return from one of his tours, Hardluck and I got busted big time because not only was I there, but so was a friend of mine visiting from Moncton. Arriving to find out he/we had been evicted from that dump, Fitz frantically began searching for a new place and found one posthaste.

In Chateau Ghetto.

Hardluck and I ended up breaking up about two months before I was to move back to Moncton, plus Hardluck moved out of Chateau Ghetto around the same time to live with a short-term flame that lasted about four minutes. Fitz and I left on good terms — quirky as he was, he was the one who introduced me to Mike Oldfield — but I never saw him again and we didn’t keep in touch. I learned from Hardluck about a year later that he got engaged.

So back in Moncton one day in June ’87, I bought what turned out to be my first and only copy of the local Halifax rag, The Chronically Horrid, to find myself an apartment. I would have to find myself a roommate once in Halifax, but first I needed to find a place I could afford. And there it was, in black and white: an apartment to sublet whose general description fit Chateau Ghetto and whose (dirt-cheap) price had not changed much since ’85. And yes, you guessed it: when I called the number, the young lady who answered the phone confirmed that [a] it was the same building in the complex of three high rises, [b] in fact, it was the same apartment in which Hardluck, Fitz and I had moved, and [c] she was Fitz’ wife and they were being transferred to British Columbia.

But if that’s not enough for you, allow me this digression. Three years later — in 1990 — I had graduated from Mount Saint Vincent University the year before and had become the managing editor of Atlantis: A Women’s Studies Journal. I regularly hired students as part-time proofreaders, and two of them at the time were living in the dump from which Hardluck, Fitz and I were evicted. Not only that, but one of them became Pouponne’s partner for 9 years. And in the apartment next door to them dwelled the inimitable Cypriot Fruit with whom the polar-opposite Hiker had a fling that same summer.

Please understand that Halifax is not THAT small of a city to have that many coincidences occur. But you have to agree that if you’d read this plot in Tales of the City, you would have busted your eyes out of their sockets. Yet I assure you: All my stories are true!

Moreover, the coincidence of 1987 especially served to assure me I was doing the right thing. For you see, when I had decided to apply for the PR program at MSVU, I questioned my motives. I kept asking myself whether I was doing it because I really I wanted to study in that field, or because I wanted to come back to Halifax. I asked myself the same question from multiple angles. I recognized that prior to my ill-fated choice of translation, I had thought of becoming a journalist, and prior to that, a writer, so PR wasn’t a choice from left field given its emphasis on writing. I also recognized that MSVU offered the only undergraduate program in PR and I was given less than glowing reviews (perhaps undeservedly) of the program at Humber College in Toronto. And I recognized that the PR program seemed broad enough that, unlike translation, it wouldn’t lead me to one narrowly defined kind of job. In short, it seemed like it was mere coincidence that the program I wanted was in Halifax.

So, the Chateau Ghetto coincidence came as a kind of confirmation — a flaky confirmation, perhaps, but a confirmation nonetheless — that I was destined to return to Halifax.

Except this return was for the right reason.