All the people who bought our things

It is fun to pack up and go to Asia, but it is not fun selling everything you own on Craigslist.  Over the last month, we’ve had a parade of people come through our home to inspect our belongings and see how low we’ll go on the price.

Brendan’s lovely parents left us nice things when they left Vancouver, and people on Craigslist hate nice things.  They want cheap things or funny things.

Here’s where our stuff went, in chronological order:

1. The rain lamp.

I bought the lamp for $40 at an antique shop. It featured a naked gold lady standing in a bed of plastic ferns, clutching a sheet. Surrounding her were strings, and when you plugged it in, she was bathed in an eerie green light, and mineral oil ran down the strings making it look like she was caught in the rain.

I posted it for $50 and a lady from New West called up and said “Ohhh please, is it still available? I haven’t bought something just for myself in 10 years, and I just know I have to have this”.  She cares for injured or otherwise unadoptable animals that overflow from the shelter, and currently has 30 damaged dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs that can’t find homes elsewhere.  Not for money.  Can’t just stop, she says, because the animals just keep coming.  She’d like to move back into Vancouver, but you just can’t do that with 30 animals. When she picked up the lamp, it made her happier than I could have imagined.

2. The love seat

Sold to a Surrey couple who took 40 minutes to decide.  Get out, couch or no.

3. The couch

Sold to the people who are moving in for slightly too much money.  We broke a wall trying to get it in here.  They’re gonna be so sorry.  Nice people– sorry!

4. The crappy barbeque

We got the barbeque from a friend’s dad for free, and it looks like it came from space, and doesn’t actually cook food.  I sold it “as-is”, needing a new heating element.  A silver-skull-shirt chach came to look, for his mom. Thought about it for like half an hour. Said he wanted to go to Canadian Tire to check for the part, then would call back to let us know.  Never came back, never called.  So heartbroken.

A young guy hosting his first barbeque for his friends bought it. I don’t think he knows what a normal BBQ looks like, because he didn’t even comment on the fact that the strange silver box body has an extra area for a fireplace.

5. The floral cabinet

I loved this cabinet– it had this silvery floral pattern on the front of an otherwise black wooden body.  Lena came to look at the dresser, first.  Then she saw the cabinet.  Ooh, she likes that cabinet!  Looks at the dresser.  “Mmm, not bad, but slightly the wrong colour.  I will take the cabinet. Although, you have a statuette of Ganesha there beside the dresser, so maybe that’s a sign.  No. Cabinet. No. Dresser. No. Cabinet.” She gave us a $30 deposit, through no request of our own, and left. The next day “Hi Jen, I decided that I really don’t need a cabinet, I need a dresser. Can I have the dresser?” Yes, Lena. The next day, while I’m at work, two missed calls and a panicked message “Oohhh Jen, I realized that the dresser is too big.  Oh, no, please call me as soon as you can”. I start to call back, but have to hang up because of a work call.  Another panicked message “Please call me, Jen, as soon as possible!!!”.  Call back, “Oh sorry, are you at work?” Yes. (No response to this) “Blah blah, 20 minutes of something about the dresser not fitting due to heating pipe positioning in her bedroom, blah, I’ll have to take the cabinet, how much is it?” 225, I think. “Oh, well, I saw it posted for $200.”  I guess Brendan must have posted it for less, 200 is fine. “Well, I just want to know what’s going on here, first it’s $225, then $200 and I saw another ad for $220.  I just want to know what’s going on.” Lena, if you saw it for $200, that’s fine.  She sounded like we’d betrayed her, somehow. She finally comes and gets it, can’t get it in her car, but leaves it sticking out of her trunk.  She tells us to call her when we get back from travels, we can visit the cabinet. 10 minutes later– “Jen, I didn’t get very far, can you come down the block and help me lift it into my friend’s van?” It weighs like 40 pounds. No. I bet they can manage, she just missed me.

Dear Lena, we do not have a personal relationship.

6. The dresser

Taken by a lovely expecting couple, did not haggle the price.  Thank you, lovely expecting couple.

7. My desk

Lady came to look at the table, decided it didn’t work for her, but liked the desk.  Assured her it was solid wood, not particle board.  Charged her more than I had it posted for.  As we were loading it into her car, we all realized that it IS particle board (who knew!).  She didn’t ask for any money back, but we rented a truck to drive it to her place at no extra charge.  Oops. She just split with her husband and moved into her own place with her teenage son.  We had a lovely conversation about her son’s band.

8. The bookshelf

I posted it for $15 because I needed it OUT. A woman calls to confirm, because it’s so darn cheap.  But then, when they arrive, her jerk boyfriend asks her four times, “Are you sure this is what you want? Yes, Yes, Yes, and then, she turns to me and says “I guess we won’t take it”. He looks surprised, and says “Oh, really?” So, they take it, but he tries to haggle me to $10 because it’s heavy.  Yep, it is. And, nope, still $15.  When he lifted his end, an old paint palette fell on his head.  I liked that.

9. The table and chairs

Older lady, just came back from working 15 years in the Caribbean.  She really liked the table, wanted to buy it.  She called later to let us know that she found it for less, new, at the Brick.  God damned Brick! We lowered our price, significantly, due to the Brick’s stupid sale on the identical table.

10. The $20 bed

A middle-aged couple decided to take it, and while the husband dissembled every part of the frame (for no apparent reason, it would fit in their truck fine), his wife told me all about her mother who has Alzheimers and the general sadness it’s causing for everyone.  She was very matter-of-fact about it. The bed will be for her mother when she stays there.

11. The Ikea kettle

I signed her up for Zipcar earlier that day.  Weird!  She was happy I could help her with her kettle and vehicle needs.

12. The people who bought the motorcycle helmet, stand mixer, plant, bedside table, crock pot

Thank you for being prompt and painless.

13. The low bookshelf/cabinet

There’s a guy in front of me looking at it right now, currently talking with his girlfriend on his cell to decide.  He’s been on the phone pacing around my living room already for 12 minutes. OK, he’s off the phone and is not taking it.  Thank you for coming into my house, talking on your cell for a while and then leaving– it was fun for me too.

14. The $1000 bed.

Can not sell.  Oh Lord, we’re moving tomorrow.


This is where I’ve been all these months (but I have no idea how I got here)

Wolos knocked my planter of swiss chard and snap dragons off the balcony railing again today. A spray of brown dirt around a mass of damp black earth, green bits poking out as if to say Hey! I’m still alive! Don’t bury me!

Wolos is the nickname we’ve taken to calling stella bella, our one-year-old cat who has taken to hanging out on our back porch staring at the array of small- and medium-sized birds that flit onto the nearby telephone wires.

As she gawks at them, her lower lip chatters and some instinctive screech she doesn’t ever make in any other situation flutters from her throat. Sometimes I catch her sitting on the balcony railing, poised as if she’s about to jump onto one of the flimsy hedge trees in an attempt to reach the birds.

Down,Wolos, down, I say in a calm-but-stern tone. Usually she jumps down. Or she erupts in that strange chatter as if to say But I can’t help it, please, let me catch one before I carefully lift her off, deposit her on the ground, and say, Down Wolos, good girl Wolos.

I’ve become one of those people who seems to always be talking about their cat.

Or about Norky, a rescued pug we recently acquired whose real name is Penelope.

I’ve also become one of those people who “we”s.

As I write this, Wolos is sprawled out next to me.  She sleeps silently but for a Mew she lets out, without moving or even opening her eyes, when I reach over to play with her extremely soft pooch of a belly.

Norky is on the floor, face-down and snoring like a bear.

Jaz is in the next room, “the office,” sighing as he works on wrapping up his day.

Our bay window looks out onto greenery and the top floor of the character home across the street. Our back porch faces a blue-red-and-yellow auto shop, and above that, the North Shore Mountains.

From the corner two houses down you can see the ocean, Hastings Street, the first synagogue ever built in Vancouver, a church spire, a tower with the Scotia Bank logo, the edge of McLean Park, and, sometimes, women selling sex.

This evening I re-potted the swiss chard and the snapdragons for the second time. As I plucked each plant from the spilled soil, careful not to harm their roots, I marveled how, other than a film of brown powder, the plants and flowers remained in tact despite their (second) fall.

I looked down at my palms, dusted with earth, and wondered how the hell I got here.

Now, writing, I reach over to give Wolos another pat but she’s not there anymore. Norky’s gone too — out for a walk with Jaz. The house is quiet, the room lit by a lamp. In the stillness I can finally let go of the to-do-lists, anxiety, and go-go-go of my day. The chaos that is my life sits as starkly as the overturned flowerpot. My sense of self, though poking through in a few places, is almost completely hidden beneath dirt.

I can’t see them now, but somehow I know the roots are still in tact. Hey! I’m still alive! Don’t bury me!

Obama played golf and all I got was this oil-soaked bird.

I was four years old when the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker bound for Long Beach California, struck the Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound and spilled an estimated 10.8 million gallons (although some sources claim it was much closer to 30 million) of crude oil into the Alaskan waters.

I don’t remember reading newspaper stories articling the tragedy.  I don’t remember looking at photos of sea otters, seals and sea birds chocking on oil and drowning in the slick, black quagmire.  I don’t remember watching puffed up, preening TV pundits debate over the best clean up strategies or argue over who was to blame, (CORPORATIONS! or POLITICIANS!) for the boondoggling of the clean-up.

What I do remember is my outrage.  The frustration and impotence that I felt every time I passed an Esso station.  I forced my parents to promise me that they would never purchase gas from the company ever again.  They tried to tell me that Esso was simply the Canadian subsidiary, but I wouldn’t listen.  Exxon (and therefore) Esso had done something truly terrible, and as such they should be punished.  One less customer probably wouldn’t do much on the grand scale of things, but it was something.

To this day I never buy gas from either company.

Fast forward twenty-one years.  Our world is living through one of the worst ecological disaster of all time.  (The worst ever probably occurred during the first Gulf war, but no one talks about that because of that Saddam guy, or the ongoing strife in Nigeria, because that’s Africa and Africa doesn’t really count, right?)  And I am looking for newspaper articles that should be screaming this horror show to every single person the world over.  But I find nothing.  I seek out heart breaking photos of pelicans, sea turtles, and other marine life, destroyed, along with their habitat, floating, bloated, forgotten, cooked alive from the oil that seeps through their feathers and onto their skin.  I post them on my facebook hoping that someone will see them and be moved.  But I find nothing except disgusting, tawdry jokes, because it’s never too early to either not care, or poke fun.

A co-worker told me he thinks Obama has done a brilliant job distancing himself from the events of the gulf.  I wanted to shove my fist into his face.  Break his nose and split his lips.  I wanted to yell that that is exactly why Obama has failed himself, his constituents and his countrymen.  He has failed because of that distance.  The Deepwater Horizon sunk along with his presidency.  “Remember when we were all enamoured with him?”  I want to shout.  Remember when he would fix everything and then Canadians wouldn’t care whether people thought they were Americans when they travelled abroad?  WELL WAKE UP MOTHERFUCKERS!  HE HAS FAILED!  HE HAS FAILED BECAUSE HE’S THE SAME AS EVERY OTHER GODDAMN POLITICIAN!  And for that I suppose I shouldn’t fault him.  Because I’ve finally learned that it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter if they’re black, female, gay, mobility-challenged, old, white, young, good-looking or fugged-out.  We live in a time and a world where no one has to be accountable for anything.  Don’t want to grow up?  You don’t have to.  Your parents will pay for you/it/them.  Don’t want to acknowledge the mass killing and irreversible ecological devastation that you had a hand in causing?  You don’t have to!  Congratulations, everyone!  Welcome to 2010!  The year of the privileged, accountability-intolerant, first-world citizen!

In this vein, the Globe and Mail is cautioning parents not to traumatize their children with photos of dead birds, or those struggling to remain alive.  Images of such brutality may be too much for their young, malleable minds.  They will cause nightmares and lead to harder, more difficult questions for which you don’t have answers.

Remembering my four year old self, and the indignation I felt over second hand news from my father, devoid of any pictorial evidence or internet slideshows, is why I believe we MUST show them the photos.  Put them in their lunch boxes!  Stuff them under their pillows!  Discuss these events over dinner and sit up watching the news (only pray that they actually cover the spill, and not Helena Guergis’ pregnancy and her contemptible, cocaine-loving husband.)  Traumatize the living daylights out of them!  Destroy their faith in human kind, and enrage them over the rape of Mother Nature and her offspring.  Because to riff off of the much maligned, tired, old cliché –  these children actually are our future: they are our leaders, t.v. pundits and corporate CEO’s.  And if they go one or two more steps further than simply boycotting Esso, we may have won some kind of battle.  But not a war – as personal accountability is something I don’t know how to instil through graphic and disturbing cinematic evidence.

And until such a time, I slink into the shower and I weep.  I fold myself into the bottom of my bathtub and let the tepid water fall onto me, fall over me, fall into me.  My body, wracked by uncontrollable sobs, shudders, and I think of those birds.  The birds.

Butterfly Friendship

If you were here, I might tell you how much I miss you. I might tell you that, through the ups and (mostly) downs of my days right now, I could use you here. Instead, as every person should, you are away, working on your self. I admire that. I admire you. I always have.

If you were here, I’d feel that feeling in my stomach. The feeling of love but not love just friendship but more than friendship but not dangerous, just good. Butterflies for a friend. For your friendship. For you.

If you were here, I couldn’t tell you that I miss you so tremendously and that I’m mad you left (how can I be mad at you for living your life?). I couldn’t tell you that, through my pain, I’ve reached out to the memory of you being a phone call or a drop-by visit away, but you were half a world away, and now you are almost a province away.

Butterflies when you wrote me, sadness and the disappointment of a child when I read that you wrote me for a favour. I got upset. Even swore. Even questioned your part in our friendship, and then realized that you wouldn’t know – you couldn’t know – how much I miss you and love you, because you hear people tell you that all the time. You are “that friend” to many. They may just be words to you. And as writers, we both know, words quite often aren’t powerful enough.

If you were here, maybe I’d try to explain. It’s like this: I don’t open up to just anyone. In fact, I hardly open at all. So when I do, it’s with a purpose. I want you to let yourself in. Like, right in. And that’s the thing. Everybody loves you, and you probably have people open up to you all the time, so when my little voice tells you how much I care for you, need you, want you here – words probably so familiar to you – you wouldn’t know that you are the only one that I’m asking that of.

If you were here, I’d thank you for opening my eyes up a year and a half ago. If you were here, I’d ask you to do it again.

Without you here, there isn’t a whole lot of colour. But you wouldn’t know.

Here I am, in Fort Nelson

On the last day of school in April my Fiction class held a party at our instructor’s home.   I had joined the class halfway through the course, in January, and had always felt new and unfamiliar amongst the first-years. They started school after I took my leave of absence, and had been together since September. The fact that, since I entered the class, I had skipped several workshops and sometimes failed to provide written feedback, added to my experience of being an outsider. The first-years were keen and talented, whereas I was simply disinterested – in my Fiction, in my Writing for TV, in almost everything to do with my Masters. I spent many nights alone in my apartment, wondering why my three-semester break hadn’t done what I’d hoped. And the nights I did socialize with my peers, like that night at my Fiction instructor’s home, I also spent alone, in my head, worrying.

Everyone was dressed nice and milling about. Some people were eating steak. When I said hello to a woman, she told me she was in a shitty mood. I didn’t know what to say. I watched her for the rest of the evening. Sure enough, she only laughed when she found something really funny. Otherwise, she remained quiet, with dark eyes. I admired her, as I tend to do when I think someone is better than me. She was better because she felt crappy and wasn’t putting on a show. Later, when someone asked me how I was doing, I imagined an honest response. “I’m uncomfortable because I performed poorly this semester, and I do not feel I deserve to celebrate the end of the year with you.” Instead, I said, “I’m fine, thanks. Yourself?”

The next morning I quit my job. This was an hour before I had to hop on the train to the airport and make my way to Berlin. I had planned to stay with my employer part-time for the summer, but over the past two days we’d had a heated disagreement – a first in our six years of professional and personal relationships – that had thrown me for a loop. Neither of us knew if we still wanted to work together, and I didn’t want to leave the country uncertain. So I put in my two-weeks notice. Suddenly unemployed, my trip to Berlin was no longer a vacation, but merely the first slice of a whole summer pie. I rode the Canada Line to the airport, its unfamiliar twists and turns rocketing me southward beneath traffic. I imagined the train and this dark tunnel were taking me to a new world.

A new world it was. For the next three weeks, I spent my mornings on Christer’s orange roof, looking at a carpet of orange roofs of the city. We spent afternoons in green parks, a sharp green, so new that, in April, it shocked even the locals. And we spent nights in the winding streets with our cheap, delicious beer, with the young people, and the beer on the U bahn, and in the bar and the beer at the ping pong tables and then on the way home, always, as well.

When the day came that I had to go back to Vancouver, I found myself in a paddleboat on a pond in Tiergarten, which, at 210 hectares, is the second largest community park in Germany. After floating on the water for a few hours, Christer, David and I headed to Dr. Pong, a bar in Kreuzberg with an ingenious twist: there’s a ping pong table in the middle of the room. That night, about thirty people played Dr. Pong, the lovechild game of table tennis and musical chairs. The players rotate around the table and rally back and forth. If you miss your shot, you’re out, but you don’t actually try to get anyone out, unless you’re a jerk. Or unless you’re one of two people left playing the game.

Even though I was never one of those last two people, I still loved Dr. Pong. I loved the way my heart pounded as I got closer to the end of the table, closer to my turn. I loved the small and perfect victory of making my shot and moving on. I even loved missing my shot – how no one noticed, or cared about, my tiny little ping-pong ball-sized failure.  I played several rounds, wondering if I knew anyone in Vancouver who could make this happen there. My boarding time, a few hours away, loomed like a dirty, stinky, volcanic ash cloud in the sky.

At midnight, we finished up at Dr. Pong. Christer had to go take care of some cat-sitting duties, so David and I went to a nearby park to continue our ping pong adventures. We found a vacant table under orange lamplight and began to rally. David cocked his head and looked at me with a playful smile. “Are you going to get on that plane?” he asked.

“I don’t think so,” I said, and we continued to play. This wasn’t the time to leave Berlin. In four days it would be May Day, when the city would ignite with the Molotov cocktails of angry anarchists and the MDMA-brains from euphoric party kids. And I still hadn’t made it to Teuflesberg, the abandoned spy tower built on a man-made mountain of WWII wreckage. I hadn’t danced until seven in the morning with a gorgeous German man I knew I’d never see again. I hadn’t eaten enough of the best falafel I’d ever eaten in my life. And I needed a few more moments alone within the dim, dizzy warren of the Holocaust Memorial. There were many reasons to stay, and few reasons to leave. So I missed my flight and  binged on Berlin for several more days.

When I finally did arrive back in Vancouver, I boarded the Canada Line at the airport to take me back to my apartment. The train no longer felt like a portal to a new world; this was very obviously the world I knew, had known for almost eight years now. I couldn’t help but suddenly, and ruthlessly, compare Vancouver to Berlin, that magical dream of a city I’d just woken up from. At the Commercial Drive station, I turned the corner toward my apartment and glimpsed my building: its entire south-facing wall was covered in fresh graffiti.  And though it was crude graffiti – just white, meaningless loops reaching upward – it still warmed my heart. A little piece of Berlin had followed me home. Two days later, when my cousin Alex invited me to move up north for the summer, I thought: yes. Something new. Something I’ve never seen before.

Fort Nelson lies a couple hundred kilometres below the border to the Yukon. In the summer, it stays light around the clock. At midnight, an orange bruise stains the northwest horizon, as though the sun hit the wall of the sky and slid down. The rest of the sky holds twilight until dawn three hours later, when the sun reappears, and makes its slower, smaller circle of day. The trees are much shorter here, because though summer burns hot, it also burns fast, and Fort Nelson receives less sunlight than most parts of BC. Things are more expensive here, like shampoo and gasoline, as though these men and women dig for it at their own expense. There are fewer towns here – ours is the last before the next one in the Yukon, almost 600 kilometres away. We are four thousand people on a piece of highway in the middle of thousands of hectares of bush.

The other day, I chatted on the phone with Christer. She told me some news about a man I had met and, for a brief moment, loved in Berlin. Upon hearing that he had fallen head over heels for a woman there, I felt a strong sense of loss. How silly of me, I thought, for he was never mine, so what did I lose? I told Christer I was fine. Of course, I wanted him for my own, but we live on different continents. How ridiculous would I be if I were sad? I’m fine. Just fine. Fine, thanks. Yourself?

Later, I crawled into bed with my etymological dictionary and looked up ‘to mourn’. See paragraph one of MEMORY. In Latin, Greek, and Germanic Old English, to mourn and to remember are, for a brief period, interchangeable verbs. Upon reading this, I started crying. Really crying. Suddenly, my mother’s face came around my mind, as though on a carousel, and then slipped, or rotated, away. Other faces appeared, faces of people I say I love. Then, faces of people I do not love. Or did not think I loved. I looked up ‘love’. My dictionary instructed me to see paragraph seven of ‘LEAVE’. Instead, I just closed the book and cried. Faces came and went, came and went, these people, in a circle, beyond my control. And I felt the light, the elation, of everything gone, everything that has passed, behind me. I also felt the deep ache of its loss. I cried for a long time, I think. I opened the blinds to look out the window and tried to gauge the hour, but it was still light out. Even though the day was over, the sky still held the light.