Monday, July 16, 2012

I know the law and the law knows me

Illustration by Lucas Gordon

What is it with me and Authority figures?  Like who gets strip searched at the airport--especially when you are a blue eyed blonde? ( Well actually blonde was twenty years ago, I'd have to say white  since I am now sixty-four).  For a normal middle class woman I have had more than my share of  run-ins with the law in all of their glorified forms from airport security, to the FBI, to the RCMP to the Buffalo Police department--to school systems and everything in between.  I will relate my latest episode and perhaps you can enlighten me as to where I lost the plot. ( a phrase we used to use at Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital where I used to work.)

I was on my way from Toronto to my farm in Creemore, Ontario late at night.  There is a tiny town of about eight people and a few cows along the way where the speed suddenly goes from 80 to 50.  It was late so I just sped through.  I immediately got pulled over and was given a ticket for going 40 k over the  speed limit. Ok, I accept that and say nothing to the policeman. I know I was in the wrong.   He proceeds to inform  me that if you are going 40 miles over then you can lose your license. (Yikes.)

 Now I have just gotten a ticket a few months earlier in the U.S.  for not changing lanes when a policeman was giving a ticket to some one else.( I guess New York State is desperate for money.) If that policeman had been thinner I wouldn't have had to change lanes. That whole episode was  a lot of hooey but still it was on my record. My husband, is typical fashion, announced that my insurance was going to skyrocket so I have to fight the ticket.  As usual he was right. 

So off I went to the closest court in a city that was somewhere north of Creemore and south of the North Pole. My hearing was at noon but I arrived over an hour early as is my style. ( As Sister Immaculata used to say, 'Punctuality is a virtue' and since I had so few virtues I  have clung to  punctuality for dear life.  I was alone in a small 'cafe' as it was called in ''Province of Ontario' court lingo. It was really a 9' by 12' room with vending machines --one of which distributed instant coffee with no cup. It just ran into a trough. There was one dour Canadian male sitting at another table. He wore a curling jacket and sat with his arms crossed. I worked on my computer which seemed to annoy him.  Then a third man in a business suit came in with a brief case, sat at another table in this small room  and had a coke.

 Suddenly a man entered the room and looked like he came from south Asia .  He had one  wandering eye and looked a bit stunned or perhaps just traumatized. He was shaking and then stood immobilized.  I asked what court he belonged in. He shook his head in confusion.  I told him the court number was on his summons. When I said the word summons, he began ringing his hands and said he was too humiliated to bring in his summons. His English was very halting I had trouble understanding him. Finally I ascertained that his summons was in the trunk of his car so I sent him out to get it. When he came back he started explaining that he was terribly sorry for what he had done ( 14 miles over the speed limit) and  that if he went to Jail his family would have no support, etc. His hands were quivering as he held his summons. I could see that he had no idea what would happen to him, but where he was from if the police stopped you,  you could go to jail or get a finger cut off of something more dire. I sat him down, bought him a tea, and explained to him that I had  been to traffic court many times. All they did was lower the fine if you pleaded guilty with cause. Whenever I used the word  guilty he would jump and tears would fill his eyes. I assured him that in fact almost everyone in Canada had received a traffic ticket  and it was no big deal at all.  I said that if he was called before me, I would go up to the bench with him and act as an interpreter for him.  I said, 'Remember it is no big deal.' Just say 'guilty' and they will lower the fine.

 Finally the court was convened and the judge  called up 20 or thirty people before me and they all made lesser pleas, got fewer points on their license, which was the big issue, and paid less than half of their fine.   Mine was $275 plus four points. When I was called to the bench the kind, 'Father-Knows-Best judge' said , "Well the famous Catherine Gildiner. I was sitting in the coffee lounge when you regaled our new immigrant with how mundane  and unimportant our traffic court is.  I had no idea it was your job to tell new immigrants that they didn't have to worry about our court system and that you had mastered it.  Is this what we want new immigrants to think of our court system?" As he was at the height of his diatribe, I recognized him as the man with the brief case that was in the  cafe when I was there talking to the frightened man, or I would have said, Helping the new immigrant. He looked a lot more judicial in his robes than he did drinking a diet coke. 

I tried to explain my point of view saying that I was trying to be a good citizen and reach out to a new frightened  immigrant.  I explained that  the man  was literally  too frightened  and humiliated to let his summons see the light of day.  As I was speaking he said, "Mrs. Gildiner I have heard enough from you today. You will pay your whole fine and keep all of your points.  Maybe then you will not belittle my court to a new Canadian." 

Great. I wave good-bye to the now mollified immigrant and go to  the cashier to pay my full summons and to get the points hammered into my license. As I stood in the line the silent Canadian  who had done nothing to help the frightened man-- never even made eye contact--was in front of me. He had a reduced fine and only one point.  After he paid, he turned to me in  line right before he made a beeline to the door and said with a smirk on his face that I would like to had swept off  with a curling broom,  "Maybe next  time you'll say Mums the word. " 

Yeah maybe. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Birthing my last memoir

Well I have finally finished the last memoir of my career. I think this picture above where I am 21 and hitchhiking across Canada  will be the cover and the  title will be COMING ASHORE.  That is, of course, if I have anything to say about it. The publisher may want to use another picture and another title. Honestly, I have had it with Falls titles. The first volume of my memoir is called TOO CLOSE TO THE FALLS, the second is AFTER THE FALLS.  What could the third be? UNDER THE FALLS? MAID OF THE MIST? WHIRLPOOL? Enough already.

This memoir covers my life from the age of 21 to 25.  A lot happened. If someone asked my what has happened in the last three years of my life, I'd be hard pressed to come up a sentence, let alone an entire volume; but that's another story.  This volume is a combination of  memoir and travelogue.   It begins when I go to Oxford in England.  Of course there is my signature ill fated romance . This time it is with a British  aristocrat whose  relatives donated the chapel pews at Trinity College, Oxford.  ( Need I say more?)

It was a great time to be in England. It was the swinging 60's on Carnaby Street where we used to go to a basement pub to hear Jimi Hendrix live.  I make fun of England on every page, but honestly, if it weren't  for the class system  that categorized each and every person when he  said 'hello',  I would have stayed. It was a marvel to me to be at a college where one professor cares about you, has a tutorial with only you and actually listens to your stupid sophomoric ideas and then brings in books related to all of your jejune ramblings.  I doubt Oxford is like that now.  Probably those in England who read this volume that reflects Oxford almost 50 years ago, will think I am from the time of Oliver Cromwell. (One college girl who read my novel SEDUCTION, commented on a picture of Anna Freud standing next to her father in a floor length Dirndl  on the cover.  Believe it or not she said me, "Wow, that was a great picture of you and your dad."

The second part of the book takes place in Cleveland, Ohio where I was a student teacher. Since I have the patience of a gnat, you might ask -- Why did I teach? The reason was simple. My father, who was raised in the depression, wouldn't pay for university if I wasn't a teacher or a nurse. I look bad in white so I chose teaching-- but never taught.  This trait must run in my family because my mother  was a math teacher but only taught for one  day. When I asked her why she said  she had no idea she'd have to teach children.

It was an interesting time to be alive in America.   There was the  Kent State Massacre,  Martin Luther King had been assassinated  and  there were riots in the cities   The Hough area of Cleveland was burning and I taught in that ghetto. We had to be escorted by police into the High School every morning. My roommate in Cleveland married our police escort. She said she liked his boots.  There were  security men in  grey suits in the hallways to keep order with Stun Guns. They were called the mice.  The kids were wonderful to teach and I learned a lot from them.  I guess I never understood why, since I was having such a good time,  I almost got kicked out of the school. Who ever heard of a teacher who has to go not only to the principal's office  but to the Superintendent of schools'?

As the 70's dawned, I skipped out to Cleveland to go to graduate school in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I was now living in my third country in Five years. The first person I ran into in the hippie enclave called Yorkville was a guy I knew from High school in Buffalo  named Rick James.  He said he played in a band  with some guys called the Mynah Birds. They dressed as yellow birds with yellow feather shoes.  I later found out it was Steppenwolf and Neil Young and Rick went on to Superfreak fame.

My mother was thrilled that I was moving to Canada since she said that nothing bad ever happened in Canada. We had lived  in Lewiston, New York and spent the summers on the Canadian side of Lake Erie.   She said "Fabulous, even you  couldn't  cause a fuss there." She said  Canadians actually celebrate Queen Victoria's birthday and have a store called Dominion. When I was a kid Roy, the black delivery car driver, and I delivered medicine to Niagara Falls on both sides of the American-Canadain border.  I once  asked him why we never delivered any valium in Canada and his simple answer was "Canadian's don't need it."

I have always been good at proving my mother wrong. I moved into a rooming house on Huron Street in the fall of 1970 in Toronto where an enclave  of French Canadians lived. Within a month everyone in the house was arrested. Unbeknownst to me, they were members of the FLQ, a quebecois terrorist group  that were making headlines killing government ministers. The War Measures act was declared by Pierre Trudeau and we were all rounded in the night  as terrorists. I knew I had some rights, but I had no idea what they were. I told the RCMP that I would not be interrogated without a meal. ( I forgot it was a lawyer.) I must be the only person ever to be interrogated by the Police at Fran's restaurant.  If you don't confess, do you have to  eat the  Salisbury steak? Once the police realized their mistake, I was set free.  The landlord wound't  take me back, so I had to move three doors north in the middle of the night  to Rochdale College, the biggest drug den in Canada.  I was a pharmacist's daughter. How did I know the pills in the fridge were acid?

Anyway, now that I've told you most of the book, you won't have to buy it which seems to be publishing trend.  Unfortunately this is my last memoir. I say unfortunately  because I have loved compulsively chronicling my life. My family consisting of a husband and three sons  frowns upon me giving any interpretations of their lives.  I told my husband, who I met at a John Ford German Expressionist film festival  in 1970, that  he doesn't have to worry since  nothing happens after marriage anyway.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Farm communication

Well I have written about farm etiquette in the past and I am afraid to report there is another 'city mouse--country mouse' faux pas to report. I am not sure where I went wrong but the end result is I have no mailbox and receive no mail. My husband says there is nothing wrong with not getting any mail. So this appears to be only  my problem.

It all started about four years ago when we bought the farm in Creemore, Ontario. ( That is right--no mail for four years. )We live on an isolated road and there is only one full time farm couple on that road and they are our neighbours. Most of the people are weekenders or 'gentleman farmers'. That is the polite term for people who pretend they are farmers. They sit in their geothermal heated century farmhouses and watch farmer toil the land as  Levin did in Anna Karenina. 

The bad part of this scenario is that robbers (I hope they aren't reading this blog) come during the week and empty homes of all of their contents and drive away to Toronto with big trucks full of pretend farm antiques and modern electronics. It is honestly such a problem that the insurance company has demanded that the farm down the road install a five thousand dollar electronic gate. We are lucky that we have full timers across the road so they can watch our house and we won't get the professional robbers.

But... There is always a but. They hate my guts. I am trying to retrace my steps to see how it happened. I think it started the the week we moved in. They dropped in with  a house warming gift of white flowered candle sticks. In the middle of the white flowers there were tiny, really tiny, smiling faces. That should have been my first tip off.

Allow me to back track. When we purchased the farm we ripped off the flowered wallpaper and the chandeliers that wore Marie Antoinette petticoats and dresses. We removed all of the life size angels ( I am talking over five feet ) and the antique spinning wheels, etc. All of the shag carpet was removed. I decorated it in a  sparse and shaker in style. When the neighbours, I'll call them the Smyth's, saw our redecorated  farm house they were remarkably unresponsive. I told them how I'd thrown out the straw dolls and ripped out all of the husarai (Yiddish for meaningless junk of the house.) I laughed about the carpet and the angels and said that even the junk dealer didn't want them. Of course this was my first big mistake for she had the same husari all over her house. I found this out when my husband came back from their farm house and said, everything we'd ripped out right down to the country sampler that said, home is where the heart is was duplicated in their home. Oops.

The next blunder was again innocent. The Smyth's have a dog named Murphy Brown ( I am not kidding. I could never have made that up.) It is a yappy lunatic that wears one of those collars that zaps it if it passes through the electric fence. So Murphy Brown tears up the fence threatening to kill me every time I go to my roadside mailbox which is on their side of the road. This isn't the worst of it. When the Smyth's go to church every Sunday, Murphy Brown sobs hysterically on the lawn at a pitch that could shatter glass. It goes on for hours. Once I was on the phone on my porch and my friend Linda asked, "Are they slaughtering pigs next to your lawn chair." Every Sunday we had to stay in our farm house to prevent us from getting tinitis from Murphy Brown's pitiable wail.

Now, oddly enough, when I was growing up we had a moronic dog named Willie who did the same screeching when my mother went out. He didn't care if I my father or I were at home. To Willie we were chopped liver. So whenever my mother went out she slipped Willie a valium. ( My father owned a drug store remember!)Willie would immediately crawled up on his ottoman by the window and quietly contemplated the universe. It got to the point that Willie would just open his mouth for a valium as soon as he saw my mother get the car keys and her purse.

Naturally I thought tranquillizing a canine was  an inspired solution to Murphy Brown's hysterics when the Smyths went to church on Sunday.  Inspired, I crossed the street and suggested that they opt for a Sunday Valium.  They closed their door and  have never spoken one word to me since.  I tried a piece offering at Christmas by trooping over in knee high snow with a fruit cake . However,  they declined saying that they couldn't accept it since they had no idea I might have put in it.

About a year later I was in the hardware store in town buying a stud finder ( the clerk and I had a lot of laughs over that item).  He said, "You know you never seemed so bad to me--I mean with what people are saying' about ya." When I asked him what he meant, he said, "You know given' addictive drugs to animals. " When I looked bewildered, he said, "Giving a watch dog drugs when it barks is like givin' a baby drugs when it cries."  The valium caper was clearly my second big mistake.

Next the  county road snowplow tore our mailbox off its  post in the winter for two years straight. After four repairs I gave up . Snowdrifts pile up on and in front of  the box  and the driver has no idea it is there. The County clerk suggested I move my mailbox next to the Smyths' since it is not in a drift spot.  Mrs.  Smyth's said she would never deign to have our mailbox in any proximity to hers.  I called the County clerk again and he  said that the Smyth's are wonderful people and Mrs. Smyth, the worst offender in my opinion, belonged to his church and they curled together.  He said she would never dislike anyone. He said he would talk to her and get back to me.

He called the following week to say , "Boy oh boy were you ever right! Mrs. Smyth hates you.  No mail for you-- good luck.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Much of family life is managing shared responsibilities  and chores.  The result of that mandate is that much of family life is getting out of responsibilities and chores.   My husband, although he never says so directly, thinks I should do more of the household tasks since he makes more money than I do , and works longer hours.  Yikes, now that I am writing this, I suddenly realize he may have a point. Anyway, best not to put too much energy into  that epiphany! I mean let's face it, a trained gopher makes more money than a writer, and sometimes I don't look like I am working, when I am reading the New Yorker, but, hey, I have to get ideas and keep up with the current zeitgeist.

Let's face it, if a wife and mother of three sons didn't have her guard up, she would be doing all the work.  Hint number one. Men never feel guilty when they see you doing more than your share of household tasks. So don't do what I did  many years ago and  assume  that since they were watching you do more of your share, they would feel guilty and pitch in.  In  actuality, they feel relaxed and somewhat thrilled that they are being taken care of.

 There are a few sentences that are  red flags. There are several key words that let you know a request is immanent.  They let you know that a task is coming along the pike and it is coming right at you.  One of these is when your husband says, "You know what we should do? " The word we is a misnomer.  He waits for you to say , 'Oh, isn't that  a good idea.'  Then the we  disappears and he says, "Great so you'll do it this week?  Now with years of experience, I just say, Who is we?  Do you have a mouse in your pocket?

 Another one is when your husband says "You know what you're really good at?  You fall for it, thinking it is a compliment. ( You have to learn to control your vanity on this one, believe me.)  It always turns out to be a chore. He follows that compliment  with the line, "You are so good at stick-handling  with companies, please call the car dealership and tell them that they have to honour the warrantee on my car.

In the event that you are unclear how to deflect  what is perceived to be your responsibility, an  example with a step -by-step instruction kit . It will show you how to take deflection into action.   It has worked for forty years so I think for the sake of the sisterhood it is time to share.  You have to have strategies for family survival.


Husband comes home and says he doesn't understand, since I am home all day 'writing' ( always in quotes), why I can't take some time to start a dinner or at least buy some food.   Now there are several ways to go with this 'accusation'. You can say I have been working for eight hours writing a crucial scene.  I am tired. let's go out. That works about 90% of the time.  However, occasionally things can escalate and get dark.  He could say, 'There is a wonderful technician at work and she brings in all of my favourite dishes. She says she enjoys seeing how much I enjoy her home made sausage.  (Where he works they treat him like gold-- bad for the wife at home who does not want to make a homemade spicy sausage and then dry it in her basement like said technician.) Over the years I have tried rational discourse mentioned above.  Now, after forty years I just cut to the chase.  I simply say,   'I wish you had married a sausage maker. You would have been so much happier.  Actually, I have news for you.  You are lucky to have married me. Anyone can make and buy food. I am a comedian.  How hard is that to find?  You can eat in a restaurant, but where can you find fun every day of your life?" At this point his shoulders slump and he walks up the stairs to change his clothes.  In the event that he is going to say something snide over his shoulder, I yell up the stairs, " Well, I hope when I die, ( It helps to be 64 when you say this) and you remarry a really good cook, you can say to her, "My first wife,Cathy, was so much fun. Why don't you ever say anything amusing? Then you can both eat your home made food in glum silence, big guy!"  At this point he usually yells down the stairs, 'Oy, Oy, o.k. pick a restaurant. '

After years of marriage a you have to learn that you never win a popularity contest with male family members. ( Are you going to argue? No you are outvoted and they can each bring in  reinforcements. Just fold, leave the room and read a book.) Why work your fingers to the bone? It is best to make yourself happy. In the end it helps marriage  to endure.  I have a few  friends who have had husbands and sons and they met everyone's needs and then one day they just walked out the door with no forwarding address. If you don't want that to happen-- know when to hold and when to fold.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

April Fools

April Fools is as old as the Middle ages. It even predates Chaucer who discussed it in one of his tales. The holiday is actually celebrated it all over the world.  The rituals are really strange in some countries, but the custom has hung on for hundreds of years.

Whatever happened to April Fools in the last decade? Has it gone the way of the dodo?  When I was a kid in the 50's I used to look forward to April Fools and I had long elaborate hoaxes planned for everyone I knew from teachers to customers in my father's store.  It was a break from the rational world where you had to be reasonable,  honest and good in order not to be thought of as a psychopath or just a regular, not an April Fool.  The best part is that people had to forgive you since it was a day of hoax. My theory is that the April Fool  should be flattered that you put a little levity in their lives.

I have had a few good April Fools under my belt--mostly played on my husband who has for forty years forgotten that April 1st follows March 31st which is my birthday.  One of my best was about twenty-five years ago. We had twin boys and a boy another year older. We started out with three boys under three and then it just progressed. Just when the boys reached their teenage years, the apex of horror,  I decided to tell my husband I was pregnant with another set of twins as an April fools caper. I had the radiologist next door to us send an ultra sound saying that I was five months pregnant with  another set of  identical twin boys.  When my husband opened the envelope, he fell on the floor and began screaming , "Help God Take my Kishkas, ( yiddish for guts). Take me! I can't go on."  He was purple and the baby sitter took pity on him and said it was 'just' April Fools.

I just did another one this weekend. Our children are all grown up and doing well and now we get to travel and read and go to our farm on the weekends and do adult things like have cocktails. My husband has a bad habit of donating to charities that he knows little about. I have tried to break him of the habit, but  part of his charm is his  unbridled generosity.  One of his donations was to the Big Brother's association.( honestly a great organization)  On April Fools I warned him that he had not only donated to the association but had inadvertintly  signed up to be a big brother. I said the mother of the boy called and he would be at our farm tomorrow morning and the first Saturday of the month forever after. His name was Matthew, he was eleven and he didn't like school but adored sports. My husband likes school related activities and does not like sports.  I knew that my husband would never want to be a big brother since he already raised three boys and this was his first break; however I  also knew that he was kind and and would  not want to  disappoint anyone. He again started screaming 'Ive had enough responsibility for a life time  and I need a break.'  and said he was leaving the farm that instant and got in the  car.    I had to block him on the road and say 'April Fools!'  He wasn't happy but knowing it was April Fools he had to see some humour in it.

When I told people about my April Fools' they thought it was really weird  and a tad untoward. They didn't say that but I could tell by their faces. When I was at a big party yesterday I found out that no one there had concocted  an April Fools caper. What is up with that? They said that not even their children do them.  One woman said she thought they were 'mean'. A teacher told me it is discouraged at school as is bullying. I understand  banning bullying, but what is wrong with a little hoax as a day-off from rationality and adult responsibility one day a year for five minutes?  Haven't we carried this whole empathy,  earnest number  way too far? We worry about being politically correct or sensitive to the point that we are tyrannized by it.

I know people think I am weird  and 'over the top' but I am going to keep up April Fools even if I am the last person on earth doing it. When they cart me away in a white straight jacket screaming, 'but wait it was April Fools! I can refer them to this blog for some historical context.