D and The Bakery

Ever had an interaction with someone that left you second-guessing the message they were sending you, and wondering if you read them correctly?

Let me tell you a story.

I live ’round the corner from what’s considered a well-to-do neighbourhood in mid-town Toronto.

Every week, I walk 15 minutes to the grocery store. The street it’s on is lined with all sorts of small shops and restaurants, and just down the street from the grocery store is this one bakery.

I have a sweet tooth, and for months, I’d been tempted to go in on a number of occasions. A friend of mine had been telling me that their cookies and breads were delicious. But I never really went in there. For whatever reason, I got this impression that I wouldn’t be welcome.

Yes, I was thinking this (in 2015).

One afternoon last summer, I needed a pie or small cake to bring to a friend’s potluck. I took a chance and went to The Bakery.

I walked in, approached the glass case and scanned the various baked goods on display. About a minute later, a salesclerk – maybe in her late teens or early 20s – asked if she could help, and I explained what I was looking for.

She said she’d find out and asked me to wait. A couple of minutes later, another woman – I’m guessing she was either the owner or manager (I’ll just say manager) – emerged from the back room.

“Hi there, did you need something?” she said (or something to that effect). She was professional, but I didn’t find her overly warm. Whatever. It’s a business.

We had an exchange, and I chose a lemon-cranberry loaf. As she returned to the back room, she turned up the music and disappeared.

The gesture was pretty innocuous. But for some reason, I got a really strange vibe from that. I shook it off.

The next time I went to The Bakery, it was with the friend who’d been raving about it. We each bought two cookies, dealing only with the cashier.

The following week (now hooked on the sugary treats), I dropped in after grocery shopping, bought some chocolate chip cookies and left. Again, no problem.

A week or two later, I was back, ready to treat myself again.

I scanned the cookies behind the glass and mentioned to the salesclerk that there didn’t seem to be any chocolate chip cookies currently stocked.

While deciding on other options, the manager appeared.

(It’s been a few months, so the following conversation isn’t precise, but here’s the gist:)

“Can I help?” she said, standing just behind her cashier.

“Oh, just looking at your cookies,” I replied. “I hear you’re out of the chocolate chip ones, which are my favourite.”

“They’re pretty popular,” she said.

She waited a beat, then added, “I can give you our recipe, so you can make them whenever you want.”

Sweet. Right?

“Ummm … ” I said, just as a little bell went off in my mind. “… No, thanks, that’s okay.” I quickly selected a couple of cookies, paid for them and promptly left.

Oh, she was just trying to be nice, you’re probably thinking. You were probably overreacting.

Maybe.

But here’s what I was thought at that precise moment:

(1) This was my fourth visit to the bakery. Ever.

(2) I’d only ever seen this woman twice. Any interaction she’s had with me (including this one) has been civil and perfunctory, but not exactly cordial.

(3) I’d been buying this bakery’s baked goods because I didn’t have time to make my own.

(4) If I had time to make cookies, know what’s a great resource for finding free cookie recipes? Google.

If I’d been visiting this place regularly and had established a friendly rapport with the staff (which I’ve done elsewhere), I’d see what she did as being a nice gesture. And it’s completely possible that what she did was, in her mind, some kind of good business/customer service move.

But I know which neighbourhood this is. And I think a handful of people will understand the distinct feeling I’m describing.

Since that visit, I still walk to the grocery store, go to the bank, occasionally stop by the butcher and the Dollarama.

Just not The Bakery.

It’s entirely possible that I mis-read what happened. And if I did read the situation correctly, I could’ve kept going there and not cared.

But I’d prefer giving my business and hard-earned money to someone who actually wants it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Why Are You So Weird?”

Several years ago (maybe five or six), I was at a downtown bar, where a work colleague (who produces music in his off-hours) was spinning vinyl and had invited a whole scad of us to come check him out.

The place was packed, and I remember flitting around, saying hi to friends, and dancing in the tiny designated dance space in this narrow establishment.

At one point, I remember spotting a work colleague who was slightly older than me – who, I suppose, I admired and respected – and went over to say hello.

I think it’d been one of those weeks where I’d been working all day, then making myself go out in the evenings … and I think it had started to take its toll, because I think he asked me how I was doing, and instead of answering with fully formed, enunciated words, stuttering babble tumbled out instead.

(Most of the time, my brain moves faster and far more eloquently than my tongue and lips do. It’s something I’ve learned to work with.)

I caught myself, and I remember stopping, closing my eyes, and beginning again – this time, in actual English.

His response?

“Why are you so weird?”

The rest of it, I really don’t remember. Just that.

Looking back on it, I can now say he was being a dick to me. Straight up.

And for what reason? Because I stuttered?

Over time, the word “weird” (in the context of human interaction) has come to be a source of irritation for me. And it’s got me thinking:

What defines “not weird”, exactly?

Who on earth gets to set the benchmark for what constitutes “normal”?

We live at a time when, thanks to social media, we can find whole communities of people with whom we share interests, opinions, insecurities, fears and so on, without having to travel very far from the comforts of our homes.

At the same time, the way we interact and communicate with each other as human beings has changed, even gotten more difficult. Just saying hi or smiling at a stranger in some places elicits a reaction which might be reserved for a dog walking around on its hind legs speaking Czech.

This type of environment might make it challenging for introverts, socially-awkward types and other labelled “misfits” to engage with people or find real-life flocks to join, if they do venture outside.

What about folks who might be dealing with mental health issues? Some of the funniest, unique, most interesting people I know, or have met, or encountered online, struggle with things such as anxiety or depression – and some of them speak about that struggle.

What about people who march to the beat of their own drummer, who just see and do things differently? Or who are just really excitable about things or life in general?

None of these aspects of people’s lives or personalities make them weird. It makes them multi-dimensional human beings. And I think all these folks deserve a modicum of understanding and open-mindedness, as opposed being held at arm’s-length because they’re rhomboid-shaped pegs that don’t fit into the round-shaped holes that are the “standard” for social behaviour.

Why should they have to fit?

The example I mentioned at the beginning sticks with me still. A little bit of it has to do with the way I was made to feel. Mostly, I was annoyed at myself for letting that question slide past me without an appropriate answer.

Because if I had the chance for a do-over, and I was once again asked, “Why are you so weird?”

My answer should have been:

“Define ‘normal’.”

**Hey kids! If you have time, head on over to my friend Renée’s blog and check out why she enjoys a good steak dinner every so often.**

 

 

 

 

The Thing With Thirty-Nine

When I was about to turn 30, I remember having this moment one day where I was thinking about it — I’m turning THIRTY! — and just freaked out, for what seemed like an hour.

It wasn’t any sort of surprise. I knew it was coming, ready or not. And yet, it was like I only realized just then that I was leaving my 20s. Forever.

I thought about the things that I had done, and the things I hadn’t. And I just felt … anxious.

And just as quickly as that panicked feeling washed over me … it subsided. And I was fine. Thirty came and went. No tears, no melancholy or feelings of regret. I stared it in the face, smiled, and carried on.

And now, here I am again.

Only this time, the number that’s zapping me with anxiety is 39.

My birthday is a little less than two weeks away, and I feel as if I’ve got this big, important paper, this test, to write, and I’ve procrastinated so much, that I’m running out of time to prepare.

I mean, it’s nuts.

I’m an adult who takes care of herself (mostly), pays her bills, and works professional in a stable job in a field that is becoming increasingly unstable. I have my health. I’ve the type of privilege that allows me to do things that I do sometimes take for granted. I have a living parent whom I love very much, and more friends than a woman could ask for.

I’ve even been trying to get myself used to the inevitable, saying, “I’m 39”, if something age-related comes up.

And yet.

A few days ago, I stumbled onto this New York Times article about single men in their 30s and 40s – bachelors, both gay and straight – who expressed their regret or yearning for companionship (marriage, even) and families.

(If you’re suddenly irked and didn’t even click on the link above, click here for some readers’ responses.)

Following that, I found myself listening to a CBC Radio documentary  about the generation of women – my generation – who are 39, or turning 39. I suggest that you listen to it for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

To me, the takeaway seemed to be that there’s this sizeable cohort of women who, like me, are single, childless and a little mystified that we were apparently sold this dream of Having It All (careers, marriages and children) and we find ourselves panicked that the bill of goods and the actual end product don’t match.

One of the women interviewed, a publicist, said the one thing that (on its face), I think I’m currently identifying with. From the day she turned 39 until the day she turned 40, she said felt this ball of panic that she couldn’t get rid of; it felt as if she “couldn’t shake this feeling of time … it just keeps marching on …”

Of course, she’s alluding this societal idea that by the time women are of a certain age, they’re supposed to have hit those marriage/motherhood milestones. But I think that’s where I differ.

Trying to imagine one’s life — getting married, having kids, and so on — is, I think, a very human response. And for a relatively large number of people, that’s really important to them.

Just not every single person.

Did I think I’d be married by now? Sure. Or at least in a long-term relationship. Do I occasionally get emotional about it? Sure. But you can’t always get what you want.

Kids? Well … that was never as clear. But as I get older, and more of my friends are having children, the prospect of being responsible for another human being seems daunting (and for that moment, I relish my single status).

Are there pros and cons to singledom and married life with kids? Sure! But there are pros and cons to everything in life! It just depends on what’s important to an individual.

What about men and women for whom marriage is not an imperative in their life? Or thirty- and forty-somethings who don’t have that so-called yearning to bear and raise children? I know some. They regret nothing.

What about people who — married, single or otherwise — like their lives just as they are? Who, as time marches on, are marching in lockstep, and cherishing the lives they’re leading?

Taking marriage and kids out of the equation for a moment: I thought that by now, I’d be more sure of myself, period. That I’d know what I want out of life, and make decisions minus all the fear, insecurity and second guessing.

What I’d like is to shake off this … obsessive worry, and not spend the next year paralyzed by panic over some perceived human milestone that I didn’t hit.

And, above all, when 40 arrives and the door opens, I don’t want to shuffle through, trembling and shielding my eyes from the bright, shining lights.

I want to stand up straight, hold my head high and — with a smirk and a dash of swagger in my step — pass through the entrance.

 

Three Deaths, Two Marriages, and One Unexpected Name

While my research on Ellen has stalled once again, I’ve discovered information for other ancestors in my family tree in the meantime.

You see, unbeknownst to me, the Mormon genealogy site I’d been using to search for records had updated its Jamaican civil registration collection in August.

So when I was searching the online database a couple weeks ago, it spat out some results I wasn’t expecting.

First, I found the death certificate for a 50-year-old, married railway worker who had died of “haemorrhage and shock” after a collision between a railway engine and a truck.

I still couldn’t be completely sure, because of the man’s marital status. But his profession and the circumstances of his death were too uncanny to dismiss.

This man could most likely be my paternal grandfather.

The second death certificate I discovered was that of my mother’s paternal grandmother. I remember my mom telling me what year she thought she’d died, and the cause of death. The certificate gave a death date that was a year off, but her name, her residence, and the illness looked about right.

I could not believe my luck at what I was finding.

I’d also found two marriage certificates: one for my maternal grandfather, and the other for my paternal grandmother.

I showed my mother the online records (on her desktop computer) when I went to visit her last Wednesday, to get a second opinion. Other than the cause of death, she didn’t know much about my dad’s father. But she looked at the certificate and said she couldn’t see why it couldn’t be him. Same with my grandmother’s marriage certificate.

The only record she was really skeptical about was her grandmother’s — only because she was convinced she was older when she’d died, and the age recorded was much younger.

One thing I’d noticed: the person who’d signed her death certificate, was listed as “the sister of the deceased”. But her last name …

Was she actually my great-grandmother’s sister-in-law, and it was just easier to write “sister”?

Or, was she really my great-grandmother’s sister, who’d married one of my great-grandfather’s brothers?

It even bewildered my mom a little bit. She’d never heard her grandmother talk about siblings. Or, if she did have any, my mom had never met them.

At that point, she left the room to do something, and for whatever reason, I decided to plug in one more name – that of my maternal grandfather’s father – just to see what would happen.

In less than five minutes, I was staring at his death certificate. I went to find my mom to show her what I’d found.

There was one thing about the certificate that had us positively stumped.

The family member who’d signed the death certificate was Milda, Ellen’s baby sister … the lone sibling currently still alive.

Except that the name she wrote on the certificate, ISN’T the one on the birth certificate I’d previously assumed to be hers.

Up until now, I presumed that her name was Hilda May – based on the birth certificate I’d found – and the name she’s been going by is a nickname, or some sort of amalgam of her first and middle names.

NOPE. Apparently her name’s Milda Maud. Both my aunt and her older sister have confirmed this.

Was the name assigned to my great-aunt at birth a mistake? Did she decide to change her name when she was older?

Or was there another sibling that I hadn’t accounted for?

All The Names

IMAG0665Have you ever opened a cupboard or closet, looking for something specific, only to have a bunch of objects come tumbling out (and occasionally hitting you in the face)?

I think, figuratively (or is that metaphorically?) speaking, that’s just what happened to me.

When I recently found my great-aunt Ellen’s birth date on a genealogy Web site, I ended up uncovering some things I didn’t intend to.

According to my mother, her father (the maternal grandfather I know about) was one of six children.

Weeeell … the internet showed me another story … one that included the names of two other siblings – sisters – that I’d never heard of.

Turns out my mom had never heard of them, either.

At first, I thought I had made a mistake. But the parents’ names were exactly the same. I mean, what would actually be the chances of having two families in the same village, with two sets of parents with the exact same names? It didn’t make any sense.

Not to mention, there were three other names that looked suspect. Like they could also be siblings.

Before I go further, a bit of a rewind:

A lot of the records on the Web site had scanned images of various records, such as birth certificates. The catch is, while one can search to one’s heart’s content, in order to see said scanned images to confirm hunches and suspicions, one has to create an account.

Until this point, I didn’t create an account. The terms and conditions I had to agree to, if I started creating a family tree on this site, left me uneasy.

But as I continued to revisit the site, the curiosity increasingly ate away at me like a dirty penny immersed in a glass of pop.

I had to bite the bullet. So I created an account, for the purpose of being able to fully conduct searches, and returned to those records.

One by one, I checked out the birth certificates for the kids I knew about for sure.

And then I checked the others.

Holy shit.

My grandfather was one of ELEVEN.

So what happened to the other five names? I searched the site, and couldn’t find any other information. My best guess is those unlucky souls didn’t make it out of childhood.

Perhaps they died as babies or young kids, of crib death, illness or unfortunate accidents. But that’s how secretive families (mine included) can be.

Then, things took another weird turn.

A recent Google search for the village my mom’s paternal relatives are from, coughed up a result for a reverend with a last name far removed from my own.

Seems that – with the help of his grandson – he’d done some genealogical digging on a scale much grander than my own. I’d landed on a detailed document detailing six generations of one descendant of his family.

Some of those descendants are my mother’s relatives.

A number of them have long since passed. But the ones my mom recognizes, she and her sister knew them, or were cared for by them, perhaps in the summers between school.

So. I’m having a bit of trouble fully processing the information.

I suppose this type of thing happens is unavoidable when digging into one’s family history.

But so many names at once?!

For now, I’m putting these discoveries aside and will try focusing on two searches:

(1) What happened to my great-aunt

and, if I’m successful

(2) Trying to find out about my long-dead paternal grandfather, a rolling-stone railway worker, about whom tiny specks of information were divulged to me while preparing for my father’s funeral in February.

If my mother’s family was secretive, my dad’s people sounded like Fort Knox.

I hope that vise-like grip will loosen when I go to visit some cousins and uncles for several days, later this week. One of them is throwing a 21st birthday party for his step-daughter. And, from the sounds of the equipment, planning and logistics required, and the party itself, it’s going to be a Big Deal. (If someone doesn’t fire off fireworks, I’ll be surprised.)

Wish me luck.

 

A Hit & A Miss

IMAG0348Sunday was the first day Renée and I attended a movie for which we actually had a ticket.

To our complete surprise, we secured tickets for Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom during the ticket-selection phase before the festival, so we were looking forward to seeing how British actor Idris Elba did in his portrayal.

And unlike the previous day, the weather was much better, much warmer, and not a dark cloud looming overhead, which made the lineup experience much more bearable.

We were in for a bit of a treat this day.

1378656204723The film’s director, Justin Chadwick (you might know him for his directorial work on the mini-series, Bleak House, among other things) was in attendance and spoke to the audience beforehand.

(Incidentally, his previous film, The First Grader, premiered at TIFF in 2010.)

He told us we were only the second audience to see the movie, after the audience at Saturday evening’s gala.

Oh. My. God. What a movie. Idris Elba did a fantastic job as Mandela – showing the icon we all are familiar with, but also the man with his flaws. And the film did a good job of depicting the brutality of South Africa under apartheid rule.

The other performance that I think should be noted was Naomie Harris‘ portrayal as Winnie Mandela. If any attention should be paid, it should be to her transformation over the course of the film (which, obviously, is based on true events). She’s a powerhouse. If she does NOT get an Oscar nomination for this, I’ll be VERY surprised and annoyed.

And – absolute truth – tears were streaming down my face partway through the film. You’d have to have been made of stone NOT to have been moved. Kudos to the people who worked on this production.

Following Mandela, Renée and I decided to try to make it a double feature by getting into the rush line for Half of a Yellow Sun, the other movie starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton. (Kids, it’s a British invasion this year. These ladies and gentlemen are DEFINITELY bringing their A-game).

We lost a bit of time waiting to leave the theatre after Mandela, and opting to walk over to the other theatre. But, we’d gotten there about an hour and 20 minutes or so before showtime. And if we had such great luck the day before – and people kept saying that usually people in rush lines end up getting seats – this should be a piece of cake, right?

When we first arrived, I asked one of the “headset” volunteers how many people were ahead of us for rush seats. He said 40.

Within the span of about 40 minutes, that number had somehow ballooned to SEVENTY.

Why? Likely because people were holding places in live for their five OTHER friends, family members, etc. Which (according to what I’ve heard from people who’ve worked as volunteers) is NOT supposed to happen.

So, long story short, it wasn’t until after 4:30 p.m., when we were almost AT THE FRONT of the rush line (with about a half-dozen people in front of us) when it was announced that they’d run out of seats.

So, after lingering a bit longer, we walked away, our first defeat of the festival. Ah, well. Between seeing Benedict Cumberbatch on Thursday, and the two movies on Saturday, our luck had to run out sometime.

Big Film, Little Film (Or, The Science of Rush Lines)

When you’re a film-goer with a purse full of vouchers to burn, every option available at TIFF can be a bit of a crapshoot.

You can try buying tickets online. Providing there are actually tickets for your desired movie when you click the “BUY TICKETS” button.

Or, you could go to the TIFF box office and hope that when you ask the film(s) of your choice, the box office cashier gives you the right answer.

Then, there are the rush lines. The mother of all crapshoots.

It’s this option Renée and I attempted, not once, but twice, on Saturday.

After our TERRIBLE ticket selection berth, we decided to make a Hail Mary pass and brave the rush line for the only non-premium screening of The Fifth Estate. We figured we’d never see all three movies with Benedict Cumberbatch. But if we were going to try for one, this would be it.

We met at 10 a.m. in the pouring rain, and surfaced at Yonge and Dundas just before 10:30. And when we did, we saw the lineup that wrapped around the block from the theatre where the film was showing.

Sweet merciful shit-snacks.

1378564635935We crossed the street and follow the line … down Shuter … along Victoria … ALL the way around to Queen Street East. And waited.

Roughly five minutes later, a volunteer appeared, and it was through her we discovered we were in the ticket-holder’s line. But there was ZERO signage to indicate this. So we turned around and joined the rush ticket line “behind” us, snaking towards the theatre entrance on Yonge Street.

Unlike the previous line, this one wasn’t as long. But I was still torn between remaining optimistic, and becoming downright skeptical about getting in. I mean, it was the OPENING MOVIE of the FESTIVAL. Surely our chances were slim?

A man came by, offering up his Fifth Estate tickets for cash. Renée and I sort of perked up and looked at each other. But that moment of hesitation cost us – a couple of younger women ahead of us (they sounded like they were from France) snapped up those tickets.

Probably just as well, we thought. We had vouchers. So, good for those two.

Then, a guy wearing a headset and a soggy blazer, carrying a clipboard, was making the rounds. He was asking who was in line for The Fifth Estate, and who wanted to see The Railway Man (starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman). Seems just as many people wanted to see the latter as the former … which seemed to shrink that rush line even further. Maybe we had a chance.

As we continued to wait in the rain, a woman wearing a leather jacket emerged from a white SUV. Seems SHE had two tickets for The Fifth Estate she was trying to offload for $45. She started near the front, but not with much luck. She got to us and made her offer. I whipped out my wallet, only to discover I only had $40. Too bad. She moved along.

Almost, but not quite. Oh well. We were close to the front of the rush line anyhow …

Not even five minutes later, the woman – getting wet and extremely cranky – still had her tickets. Seemed no one had the cash – or enough cash. She groused about getting wet, and I still had my money.

“You know if we do this, we’ll lose our place in line, right?” asked Renée.

IMAG0344“Yup,” I said. “Let’s do this.”

Seconds later, we were the lucky recipients of two tickets. A small victory – won!

While we waited, we spoke to a woman who was going to see the movie with her two sisters. We shared our stories of frustration with the film selection system, and she offered some insight from her perspective as a veteran TIFF-goer.

We finally got inside the theatre some 30 or so minutes later, and actually got some seating with decent sightlines. The only quibble is, unlike modern movie theatres with their stadium seating, this was an old venue, so I doubt anyone in that theatre didn’t have a head blocking a small portion of the screen.

But the film was decent, if a bit heavy-handed. The performances were definitely what made the movie. It was definitely a good start to our film-going experience.

Feeling a bit emboldened, we decided we’d see a second movie. But what?

1378582338438After scrolling through the schedule, we decided on a small foreign comedy, All About The Feathers.

Set in Costa Rica, it’s the story of Chalo, a security guard who dreams of buying a rooster so he can get into cockfighting. We’re also introduced to the small rag-tag group of friends he makes in the process.

This rush experience was the complete opposite of what we just experienced.

For starters, when we got to the venue to queue for tickets, there was only ONE other person ahead of us on the rush list. Renée went in to the box office and had the tickets in a matter of minutes.

1378590324434Then, there was the obvious contrast between the two films. Unlike The Fifth Estate – which had relatively known actors and an enormous budget behind it – All About The Feathers was done on a $35,000 budget, with roughly $16,500 coming from 273 Indiegogo supporters, and had a cast of people, save for perhaps three, who had never acted before.

And not only was the director of the film, Neto Villalobos, actually in attendance, we had the privilege of having a Q & A with him afterwards.

We left the downtown core happier, and perhaps a wee bit high off our TIFF experience. But, it’s still early in the festival. We’ll see what else happens.