Monday, July 27, 2009

Mrs. Z (that's Mrs. Zed, for you Americans)

"She's a bit demanding. You have to know when to say no," she warned me.

She was speaking of Mrs. Z, her former neighbour. Having been entirely to slow in coming up with a reasonably believable excuse, I had just agreed to shovel snow for Mrs. Z.

After the first snowfall, I dutifully knocked on Mrs. Z's door. After several moments, the door creaked open and a short, solid, old woman with striking light-blue eyes could be seen through the crack.

"Oh, my dear, are you John?" Her voice was slightly shrill and she had an accent that I could not quite place.

I confirmed that I was, in fact, John.

"Come in, Come in, I must explain to you how to remove the snow," her hair was grey and white with tinges of light brown.

I leaned my shovel against the wall, not quite sure how complicated snow removal could be.

Mrs. Z first explained that she had been a widow for twenty years, her light-blue eyes looking slightly sad. She was Latvian, her husband had liked to shoot at targets for sport, did I? She was worried about young people breaking into her home, her son lived in Toronto. She explained that the neighbours, who were renting from the woman who had first recommended me for the job, were "nice, but liked to play boom-boom music."

"Please, my dear," she said, "take off your hat."

I took off my touque.

I must explain, that at this point in my young life I had allowed my curly hair to form into dreads. I thought they were rather cool.

"Oh, my dear," she exclaimed, touching a hand to her cheek, "you are wearing the hair, I see the black people wearing this hair. Why are you wearing your hair like this?"

"I like it," I explained.

She did not seem satisfied with my answer, her wrinkles crinkling as her light blue eyes searched my face. When no further explanation came, she moved on to describe her husband's snow shovel.

"I have a snow shovel," I stated.

"Oh yes! I know, my dear, but for scraping the ice you will need this shovel," she nodded gravely, "I am worried about ice, my dear, because I cannot fall down."

"My shovel will scrape the ice, and I don't think there is any today," I reassured her.

"Oh no, my dear, your shovel is plastic. My husband used a metal shovel and he attached some metal to the end so it scrapes very well," she gestured behind her, "I will get you this shovel, don't worry, my dear."

I felt I could not dishonour the hard work her husband had put into making the perfect shovel.

I waited, her house smelled of fish, the air was warm and slightly moist. She emerged several minutes later bearing a red shovel with a grey piece of aluminum welded to the end.

"That's a nice shovel," I commented, not really liking it all that much.

"Thank you, my dear, my husband made it."

I started reaching for the shovel.

"Oh, my dear!" she laughed, "You are rushing so. I have yet to explain how the snow is to be shovelled."

I nodded, "Oh, okay."

She beckoned towards the window, pointing to her porch, "After you shovel, you must sweep . . ."


"Oh, my dear, I will give you a broom," she patted my arm, "You must sweep the porch all along the edges so there is no snow. If the snow melts and freezes it will make ice and I cannot fall."

"So, my dear," she continued, "You must, you must clear the snow all along my pathway. I need a clear path to the sidewalk. Sweep this path after you shovel. Do you understand?"

I nodded.

"You see behind my porch," she arched her hand to indicated the area hidden from our view, "You must remove the snow from this area and put it," she pushed her hands forwards like a bulldozer, "put it to the other side."

"But," she raised her eyebrows seriously, "this pile on the other side of my walk cannot be too tall. I must be able to see the sidewalk."

I began putting my touque back on, as a signal that I was ready to begin shovelling the snow.

"Are you listening, my dear?" she tapped the glass, peering at me seriously with those light blue eyes, "make sure the catchbasin is clear."

"Make sure what?"

"My dear, the catchbasin, on the side of the sidewalk, needs to be clear so that when the snow melts it can travel into the catchbasin."

"The getchbayysun?"

"Yes, my dear, the catchbasin."

"I will remove the snow from the getchbayysun." I was still completely unsure as to what a getchbayysun might be.

"Good," she smiled in satisfaction, "now, on the other side of my driveway, you must not throw the snow onto the lawn of the neighbour, you understand?"

"I can't throw the snow on the neighbour's lawn?" I queried incredulously.

"Yes, my dear, there is a hydro line there. My neighbour, he is not a nice man, he becomes angry when the snow is put there. The city will make him pay the money to remove the snow if something goes wrong with the hydro," she shook her head.

I immediately thought he was, perhaps, a liar. "No snow on that side," I repeated, wondering how this would work logistically.

"Also, remove the snow from in front of the gate so that I can open it to go to my patio."

"Your patio?"

"Oh, yes my dear, the patio must be cleared of snow and ice because I must go to my compass and laundry line."

"Your compass?" I must have been hearing wrong.

She looked at me in surprise, "Your mother, she doesn't have a compass?"

"In the back yard?" I asked, frowning.

"I put my veg-e-tab-les in the compass," she said, "it is good for the soil."

"Oh, yes, we have a compost," I smiled.

She smiled back, but she didn't seem to believe me, her eyes peering at me with careful calculation, "Yes, a compass is very good, I put fish in there as well."

"Now, I will need a pass from the patio to the compass and the laundry line. Also, the window wells must be cleared from the snow so that the damp does not come through the wall," she held my arm as she spoke, the shovel still in her other hand.

I began rubbing my forehead vigorously, a habit I engage in when I am overwhelmed, annoyed, or frustrated.

"But don't worry, my dear," she seemed to perceive my state of mind, "I will explain this to you again after you finish the front."

I noticed a crumb on her chin.

When I finally stepped outside, I used the metal shovel for all of two minutes before it's inability to actually scoop the snow made me thrust it aside. Then, using my plastic shovel, I heaped snow on her neighbour's lawn, vainly searched for the getchbayysun, and piled the snow onto her lawn to a prohibitive height.

"My dear, my dear," she called from the door, "You must flatten this snow in the pile on my lawn. Have you shovelled the sidewalk my dear? What about the catchbasin?"

I carried out her instructions, until she felt the need to take a tour of the work site in order to offer more helpful hints to improve the snow removal.

"My dear, my dear, the snow on my lawn is still too high, you must shovel it to the centre."

I offered a weak objection but tired of her explanation. Eventually I just shovelled the pile into a more even distribution onto her lawn in order to avoid further lectures on the dangers of melting snow.

"My dear, you did not sweep this path to the sidewalk."

I bit my lip, scratching my forehead vigorously.

"I can sweep it tomorrow, my dear," she offered suddenly.

"My dear, you did not open the catchbasin!" - Apparently, a getchbayysun is a storm drain.

After the final inspection she finally called out, "Okay, my dear, you must walk through the house to go to the patio now."

I had arrived at her house at 4:30. When I had finally finished her patio, it was 7:30, I was hungry, cold, and annoyed.

"Thank you very much, my dear," she said as I stood in the kitchen.

"When did you start?" she asked, "how long did you work?"

I frowned, I guess I hadn't started until 5:30 but that was because I listened to an hour of instructions. "Uuh, two hours?"

"How much do I owe you?"

I glanced at my watch, at her clock, at the rows of vitamin capsules on her table. I looked at her light blue eyes, what can you charge an old widow for two hours of work? "ten dollars."

"I will give you eleven," she said, her voice swelling with pride at her generosity.

"Thank you," I mumbled as I fingered the change. She had given me five two dollar bills, bills which had already been out of circulation for about three years at this point.

"You will come next time it snows?" she asked.

"Yes," I said, "I'll be here."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I do not know what to write.
I feel like writing something smart.
Problem: I don't feel particularly smart at the moment.
Of course, this has never stopped me before. Why should it stop me now? One merely needs to examine this blog in order to ascertain that the author is not exactly a gen . . .

"Hold up, hold up."


"Listen, John, we at Boerishbwoy have spent a lot of time trying to establish you as a genius, or have you forgotten due to your complete and total lack of attention to us over the past year?"

Oh come on, complete and total lack of attention is a bit strong, don't you think?

"So is the intense and overwhelming feeling of neglect."

Wait a minute, so you're telling me that my blog has not only developed its own personality, but also a strong grudge towards me?

"You never updated us."

I'm updating you now, aren't I? I've updated you quite a bit over the last while, haven't I?

"It's just a little toooo late."

Are you singing a JoJo song? Honestly, how can anyone take you seriously?

"Italics are for wimpy writers."

You used them.

"We're the resentfully poignant disembodied voice of your blog. We could speak entirely in capital letters and people would weep from the depth of feeling that we communicate."

What does that even mean? And how is that an excuse for using italics? I don't even see anything wrong with italics.

"Maybe we should just get someone else to update us."

This is crazy, I'm arguing with my blog, and my blog thinks it's more than one person. Maybe you should just update yourself.

"Maybe we will. We're much more articulate than you are."


"You're not going to get them with the capital letters, John."


Tuesday, July 14, 2009


~ My mother, father, youngest sister, and her friend came up to Ottawa on a camping trip over my birthday weekend. We went camping with them for my birthday. It used to be a den Boer tradition to be camping during my birthday, it was nice to revisit that tradition.

~ We went to see Ben Harper and Relentless7 at the Bluesfest here in Ottawa. They are relentless, but there aren't seven of them. There are three.

~ If you count Ben Harper as part of Relentless7 then there are more.

~ Our enjoyment was briefly interrupted by a gentleman for whom it might have appeared there were seven people on stage.

~ Bluesfest is great, although there seem to be more late night drunks bellowing from the street below on the weekends. One in particular was looking for Kristen (I heard Gretchen, Laurianne heard Kristen - we'll have to go with Kristen) to open the door for her. Kristen did not open the door for at least forty minutes.

~ I can hear Ice Cube right now. I think he might be angry.

~ I think he might not appreciate the unseasonably cold weather. But I got to say, Ice, at least it's sunny.

~ Thank you for the prayers.

~ I don't know if you've heard, but Michael Jackson has died.

~ I would like at least three scorchingly hot summer days this July. At least three.

~ Remember slap-on bracelets? Those were sweet.

Monday, July 13, 2009

I saw your Jesus

I saw your Jesus on a shirt
beneath a logo that said 'no more hurt'
I wondered aloud what he was worth
'$13.99, plus tax,' replied the clerk

I saw your Jesus the other day
he said the revolution was on its way
as he thrust his fist into the air
and combed a hand through his long blonde hair

I saw your Jesus as he told
his audience of his chains of gold
and how it could be theirs if they just showed
their faith through the seed they sowed

I saw your Jesus on the news
and he said that our nation would lose
unless ungodliness were cut down at the root
and crushed beneath our mighty boot

I saw your Jesus in some books
I thought I'd take a good hard look
chapter 2 was a new revelation on how he could
have been written down and misunderstood

I saw your Jesus, I saw him shine
I say he's yours because he's not mine

Monday, July 06, 2009

When the knife entered his chest, nestling uncomfortably between his third and fourth rib next to what he imagined was a rather important area of his heart, he frowned in consternation. It seemed to him that it was slightly unfair for his life to end so abruptly over what now seemed such a ridiculous issue. He appealed to the higher power whose existence he had previously been sceptical of, but received no response. As he lay in the asphalt, gurgling and clutching his chest in wide-eyed agony he thought of several other responses he could have given those punks. Responses that, most likely, would not have resulted in him having his chest cavity introduced to the long stainless steel blade with the serrated edge. Was it a steak knife? His inner voice laughed sardonically at the idea of gangsters wielding their mother’s steak knives in lieu of more martial blades. The response he had chosen had been pretty clever and he usually did not think of such witty comebacks until at least fifteen minutes after the fact. Of course, his reply was not the sort of wit that was worth risking a mortal wound for the brief joy of its utterance. There were probably few one-liners that were worth that risk, even if one suffered from a poverty of such ingenuity.
He had not thought about death too often in his life. To him, it had seemed a distant destination on a journey with far more interesting things to consider. The girl at the far wall of the club, for instance. He was sure that she had been eying him. He wished he had possessed the courage to approach her and rattle off a clever line so that she would twirl her dark brown hair around her finger, tilt her head, lower her eyes, and smile sweetly. Then she would dance with him and perhaps they could have spent the next day walking her dog in the park — assuming, of course, that she had a dog. He assumed she did. Probably a Pekinese.
What happened now? He wondered how long he had been a stabbing victim. He reckoned that it was anywhere from two minutes to an hour. When he looked up, though, he could still see the retreating backs of his assailants. They had been very generic looking, he observed retroactively. Average height, average build, averagely dressed plain-faced white youths with steak knives slipped into the elastics of their plain grey boxers. One, of course, no longer had his steak knife, which lay precariously in all of the glory of its Chinese manufacturing on the lip of the eaves-trough somewhere above his head. One youth turned his average-looking profile to glance back at him, a look hovering between braggadocio and regret. He felt a sudden rush of anger at having his life stolen by such generic looking white-bread gangsters. If he had been stabbed by some harder looking criminals he would have had a small piece of comfort. These suburban gangsters, who would have had all of their pockets emptied within five minutes of arriving at a real ghetto, were an almost unbearable death. Unbearable death? He decided that any death would have been unbearable at this point. He was too young.
Wow, he had never felt pain like this. He had broken a finger before, but that pain seemed the peep of a small bird compared to this constant roar of pain. He found it immensely difficult to breathe and he was amazed at the amount of blood his wound was able to generate. His head was growing light, a sign of his incoming death, he decided. Perhaps there was an afterlife. His mind was fuzzy, his vision blurry, and he seemed unable to recall the basic lessons of his catechism. TULIP. Total depravity, unconditional something, limited something, irresistible something, and Puh, puh, puh. “The devil with it . . .” he muttered through dry bloodied lips. He found it difficult to continue a sentence he had set out to begin somewhere in his mind. His shoulders were convulsing involuntarily and his legs twitched. A Gordon Lightfoot song was playing in his mind, but without words and just the twang of nonsense words to the sound of discordant guitar. The brain is an incredible organ, he observed numbly.
An incredible organ.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

April 2nd, 2005.*

Paul Martin is Prime Minister of Canada.
Pope John Paul II has died.
G-mail celebrates its first Birthday.

And in a small unassuming unit of a townhouse complex on the West Mountain of Hamilton, university students prepare for a meal. Spaghetti boils on the stove, and several hungry men mill about. Their concentration is broken only by a loud squawk. From whence this squawk?

The source is quickly found.

Perched high on the refrigerator is Bill Bopper**, his stance that of a majestic vulture. As astonished as his friends were, the question remained: what had transformed this young man from a mild-mannered student into a fierce scavenger?

As intelligent as these university students were, they were asking the wrong question. A better question would have been the following: Who exactly is this Bill Bopper?

William Bopper was born September 19th, 1981 to Mr. and Mrs. Robert and Alicia Bopper. As a boy, his parents noticed a strange habit: Bill would circle his food several time before finally eating it. And even when he ate his food, he ate like a bird.***

The peculiar behaviour continued. Once, his mother noted with alarm, a four year old Bill squawking loudly at a brother who had stolen his donut. If only his mother had known the origins of his bizarre behaviour.

July 13, 1984: The Bopper family is camping in a rather idyllic provincial park snuggled next to Lake Ontario. Older brother Shawn has persuaded his sister that a poison ivy plant is, in fact, a salve. While both parents struggle to comfort their weeping daughter and punish their wayward son, young Bill has wandered off down a nearby trail.

Poor Bill is oblivious to the fact that his heavy footfalls have disturbed the peace of a creature that would forever change the direction of his life, a creature whose fate was so closely tied to his own.****

On that fateful July day, Bill disturbs a powerful creature. This creature is . . . *****

Bill Bopper has displayed strange behaviour for quite some time. On July 13th, 1984, Bill Bopper wanders off and disturbs a powerful creature. A gigantic vulture******

On any other day with any other vulture this would have been fine. This vulture, however, was a cantankerous brute who, exiled from his venue*******, had flown wildly off on his own. Once on its own, the bird had madly pursued the notion that there were vast amounts of carrion lodged in the Pickering nuclear facility. The bird, ravaged by hunger, had pecked its way through several feet of cement only to expose itself to deadly levels of radioactivity********. Rather than die of the various cancers that should have infected its body, the vulture became a super beast. Kind of like Spiderman, but a vulture.

Returning to that fateful July day, when Phil disturbs this radioactive vulture. Bill is pecked sharply, drawing blood and indelibly altering Bill's DNA.

When a screeching Bill returns to camp flapping his arms his parents assume it is because he has fallen and cut himself on a rock. If only his parents had known:

Their son was a vulture man.

*This story is meant to be read with a serious deep voice, like that of Peter Mansbridge. If it is read otherwise, its true strength will not be felt.
** Some names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.
*** The word bird is meant to be read ominously. Hence, the italics.
**** Now would be a good time to take a break, like a commercial break. It's more dramatic that way. Go get a drink or something.
***** This is sort of like a teaser in between commercials. Take another break. Maybe get a cookie to go with that drink.
****** Remember what was said earlier about italics? It still applies.
******* A group of vultures is called a venue. Unless they're circling, then they're referred to as a kettle.
******** The reporter had trouble with this part of the story, and was forced to manufacture a gap in the story. The vulture pecking through cement made the most sense and was therefore inserted into an otherwise entirely accurate story.

Who deh?