Sunday, 21 December 2008

Coming Home

I’d changed job last November. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It really did. I needed a new challenge and there was nowhere else to grow in my current organization. Plus there was a great opening at another organization, which would mean stepping into a management role.

I thought that was pretty cool.

But then I became consumed with that work. It became the job I couldn’t leave at work. And my writing began to suffer for it.

In the mornings, heading to work, I wasn’t thinking about what terrible things my characters would go through (or sometimes nice ones. Rarely, but sometimes). I was making to-do lists for my workday. And I wouldn’t stop at a coffee shop to write. There was no Second Cup (or any other viable coffee place) near where I worked, so my routine was on shaky ground.

In the evenings, instead of reviewing the day’s writing and planning the next morning’s scenes, I would be thinking, again, about work. Did I do that? Did that person do that? ... Should I have done that?

So it was a pretty dry year, really. Storytelling kept on trucking with regular shows, but the writing suffered tremendous blows. I still sent out my previous writings though, and something strange started happening: publishers started to bite.

I shudder sometimes, thinking of what choices I might have made otherwise. The publishers’ interest highlighted the fact that there might in fact be a place for my writings. If publishers hadn’t started to show interest, I like to think I wouldn’t have given up my writing, but deep down inside I fear I might have. That’s really difficult to admit. I was such a routine hound just a year ago.

The choice was easy. This, stacked up with a few other items, made it clear my current position wasn’t right for me. If I was going to continue being a writer, published or not, I needed a job that would support and preferably energize my writing.

So I started job hunting. And then my old employer contacted me with a job offer. A new, very interesting position, and they wanted me to apply. It wasn’t guaranteed I would get it, but I knew I’d fight for it and get it, if I really wanted it.

And I did.

It felt like coming home. I could take the bus again, not realizing how tiring driving to work had been. Now I could just sit like a lump for half an hour on the great rolling beast and let my mind wander to prepare for writing. And then - my Second Cup. I have to admit I’d maintained an affair with my Second Cup, driving out of my way once in a while to obtain a coveted cup of flavoured coffee. It’s ok though – I wasn’t in a permanent coffee shop relationship at that point.

And the job itself is demanding, of course, as most worthwhile things are, but at night, I can go home and think about tomorrow’s writing. And my current boss understands and supports my writing, which is a heck of a blessing. That of course doesn’t mean she wouldn’t kick my ass if I didn’t get my work done, but it means she understands that, in the morning, when she walks by the Second Cup on her way to work and sees me typing away on my laptop, she knows not to walk in and inquire about work. Though she may be tempted.

As she says: “You get kind of weird when you don’t do your writing thing in the morning.”

So it was like coming home. I learned an invaluable lesson I’d read about in all the books yet never listened to (I am a rebel): you need a job that will support your writing.

It’s true. I have a job in an organization that supports, understands and even encourages my writing, so I’m lucky.

Damn lucky.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008


I see a lot of shrugging lately. I shrug lots too, mind you.

“Cat broke a dish? Oh well!” Shrug.

“Missed my connecting flight? Oh well!” Shrug.

“Ran into a group of dignitaries when turning a corner singing Bizet’s Carmen really loudly? Oh well!” Shrug. …Blush.

A certain amount of shrugging is healthy in anyone’s life, especially if you’re a klutz/absent-minded/human.

That’s not the type of shrugging I’m talking about. The type of shrugging I see a lot of lately is more along these lines:

“War in Afghanistan? Nothing I can do!” Shrug.

“Government cutting all useful programs? Nothing I can do!” Shrug.

“Children are going hungry? Nothing I can do!” Shrug.

I’m not saying that anyone should truly believe they can change the world all by themselves – that’s just a silly and tiring thought. It wore Superman out and it will wear you out too.

The world can’t rely on one hero. Again, silly. And not everyone needs to tackle big causes, although kudos to those that have the stamina and courage to do so.

The little things also make a difference in the long run. Be kind to others. Don’t treat everyone like the enemy. Pay attention and speak up.

I may be simple-minded (I’ve been called far worse), but it seems that instead of looking at the entire fabric of human reality and being intimidated by it, it might be best to just look at the smaller picture, the one unfolding directly around you. Do you see a couple of creases you might be able to iron out?

If we believe in the ripple effect or Chaos Theory, then every little thing makes a difference.

A smile here might make someone’s day. Not screaming at the waitress when she screws up your order won’t crush her for days. Not moaning incessantly when trapped in long line-ups at the stores will make the wait that much more pleasant for everyone.

Thinking that maybe, just maybe, the universe isn’t out to get you, after all. (I personally don’t believe the universe is out to get me – I truly believe it doesn’t give a damn. Which is nice, otherwise I’d have incurred much wrath by now.)

I wish I knew more about the big issues. Not from lack of reading or research, mind you, but rather from lack of knowing which sources to trust. It’s one crazy media world we live in!

I don’t know how to stop AIDS in Africa, but I know how to donate and wear a ribbon. I don’t know how to stop the government from cutting programs close to my heart, but I know how to write to my elected representative. And I certainly don’t know how to save a starving child, though I wish I did, but I know how to make one smile when he’s crying, and I know how to donate to the Food Bank.

I also don’t know if any of it makes a difference. I gave a pair of gloves away once on the coldest day of the year - I don’t know if that person truly needed it or was trying to get extra sympathy money. I gave my lunch to a man who was with a child and claimed he didn’t have money to eat – I wish I knew if that was true, or if my lunch (smoked meat sandwich with homemade bread!) was just thrown out. I once held a girl while she sobbed in a bathroom – I never found out why she was crying, but she looked like she needed someone to hold her.

And I certainly don’t know the conclusion to those stories. Did I make a difference or was I just a good laugh later on? Was I just a sucker that didn’t know any better and gave in? Were the gloves thrown out, were food donations wasted, was my last quarter given to a panhandler used to buy booze?

I really don’t know. I wish I did, but I just don’t.

Theirs is not my story to live. I was just a secondary character in those lives, just passing through, and I can only hope I made some glimmer of a difference. Like the guy in video game quests who gives you the right item or piece of advice to defeat the next bad guy. I like to think I might be him, once in a while (except more feminine, attractive and less two-dimensional in every sense of the word. Well, I like to think so, anyways).

The way I see it it’s a 50/50 investment. I give to larger charities and hope my money isn’t squandered, and I give to individuals I meet and hope that isn’t squandered either, but there are no guarantees.

In life, there never are, really.

At least I sleep well at night. (My roommate would attest to that).

And if at the end of day I find out I was a sucker for trying to make a minute difference?

Oh well!


… Now wasn’t that just nice and philosophical? And that, boys and girls, is what happens when you don’t have enough (flavoured) coffee in the morning. Kind of leads you to wonder if coffee isn’t responsible for all of the world’s woes, eh?


Thursday, 14 August 2008

Land of the Rainbows

Ottawa weather is cool.

And it’s hot.

And then it’s everything in between.

But what I love most about living in a valley are the quickly changing weather patterns. I can be driving home from my brother’s and sister-in law’s house towards a brightly lit blue sky, rain will be bouncing off of my car in small explosions of sunlight (making is almost impossible to see), and behind me it’s pitch black, dark angry clouds conquering the skyline.

I’m not sure if I’m under the dark clouds or the sunny skies, but the usually dreary rain is filled with bursts of light, so I don’t care what I’m under, because it’s beautiful all around me, whether light or dark. (There’s a moral in there somewhere, I’m sure, but I’m not that great with morals. They make me existential.)

The best part about living in the Ottawa Valley are its rainbows. Even now, driving on that rainy and dizzyingly sunny wet road, I can see a rainbow shining against the darkness in my rearview mirror. It’s a perfect rainbow, too – Ottawa rarely makes them half-assed.

It’s all or nothing.

From one end to the next, all seven colours (or six, some may argue, or four, if you’re a My Little Pony collector like my roommate) are present, bleeding into one another to show off the captive prism of light. (My brother may correct my science here). Its arch is smooth, proud and high against the darkness, and it’s so beautiful it makes me want to weep.

But I’m driving in rainy, shiny, impossible to see conditions (good luck to anyone who’s planning on using pixie dust to fly to their next destination – that’s shiny too, most books insist). So I stop looking around me and focus on not smashing into the beat-up Jetta in front of me.

I get home five minutes later. There is no more rain, no more black clouds, only endless sunshine and blue skies which, this year, might last for about ten minutes before the next rainfall.

But that’s ok, because more rainfalls in Ottawa mean a rainbow will appear, and I personally think that’s just cool. Unless I’m caught in torrential downpours without an umbrella. Then it’s a bit less cool. But still cool.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Of Packing and Parting

I’m moving tomorrow. My roomy Ri (who is more like a sister), our kitties Merlo, Bart, Buster-Bear and Cosmo-Kitty, her Beta fish Spike, Utnu and I are all upgrading to a really nice three bedroom townhouse, so we all have more room to run around in and hide form each other. Very important.

I’ve been living in apartment 413 for a month shy of 8 years now, and the apartment has been in ‘my family’ for almost ten years. My brother and mother first moved in there (with Bart), and then my brother moved out. I then moved in there with one of my best friends, Ren.

We hunted for our first ‘real’ jobs together, we began our careers, we laughed a lot with my increasingly deaf mother, and we all frowned at the latest Star Trek movie (Worf would so not say that!). We discovered Digimon, Pokémon, Poufy-haired boy and generally had a good time. And then Ren moved out (to an apartment downstairs), and then mom moved out (to an apartment across the street), and I was living all alone for the first time in my life. Well, as alone as you can be with two tabby boys.

It was neat.

And then it got a bit lonely. Yes, even with two tabby boys. (The gray one's Bart, technically my brother's tabby. He's psychotic and dislikes change. The move should be fun!)

So when my not-yet-dating-my-brother best friend who had been studying in Buffalo, Wessy, was returning to town and needed somewhere to be, I suggested she move in with me instead of her parents (let’s face it – I’m more fun). We threw a terribly westernized Mexican Fiesta as a housewarming party, and we decided it would be fun to put a hook in the middle of our living room ceiling for a piñata. We stuffed the piñata full of stuff (more confetti!!) – so much so that when my brother finally killed the Godzilla look-alike, nothing fell out – we had to pull it out.

And then we killed ourselves laughing a few days afterwards when, having finally finished picking up the last of the confetti (and sweating profusely), I turned on the air conditioning unit, and out came flying a bunch of confetti. Ah, the good times.

Then the squirrels invaded, looking at us with their beady little eyes through the chewed-up drywall on the big room in the back. We sealed it after many months of squirrel hunting (it went very wrong), and my tabbies got their first rabies shots. We had a nice fresh patch of gray drywall hiding their hole. Very fashionable.

My brother proposed to Wessy by some beautiful waterfalls, and a short time after she left to begin her life with him.

And it was me and the tabby boys again for just over a year. (The orange one is Merle - he's never ever moved in his whole entire eight years of life, knows only 413, and has never encountered stairs. This should be fun!)

Then a year ago, Ri, another one of my best friends (we’re five best friends, in the same little team), was running into dire financial straits (end of PhD = no money), and I invited her to come in my three bedroom apartment (she lived in the building near mine. We migrate towards each other that way.)

So she came, and we had loads of fun, even though our kitties do tend to squabble. The roof leaked for a very long time and Lake Bilodeau almost took out Ri’s comic books, but we prevailed. We played lots of snowboarding on my Playstation 2, we duked it out over Trivial Pursuit, and we analyzed many crime shows together (well, she did. I mostly analyzed who was who: “Are you sure he didn’t do it?” “No Marie. He’s the detective. He’s been the detective this entire season, and the last season too. You watched them all. All of them.” “Oh ya!” and promptly falling asleep on the couch.)

And then it was time to go. Ren had moved across the river, so had Wessy and my brother. The apartment was fairly ruined by its leaky roof, and it was getting a bit small for all of us. Besides, when they repaired the ceiling (and made a mess of the apartment), they removed the piñata hook. It just wasn’t the same afterwards.

And tomorrow I leave good old 413. I’m looking forward to the new adventure, though I’m sad I won’t be living right in front of my mom’s (no one cooks like her!) Still, I’m sure we’ll have lots of fun, and I’ll have a writing space again, which is wicked cool!

But still, when I walk around the packed apartment, I can’t help but remember all the good and the sad times, all the hopes, the dreams and aspirations that took shape there, either alone or with someone else. The victories that made me shout in success, the novel scenes that made me cry into the night, the candles flickering against the dark red walls as soft music played in the background and the world slept outside.

And the rooms I cried in every time someone else left, alone in its empty echoes, before I filled it again. And I’m certain that tomorrow I will probably shed a tear or two for the now crappy apartment I had learned to love and call home.

… Although, I never did paint over that gray squirrel hole.

Oh well!

Friday, 13 June 2008

Best Rejection Letter EVER!

Bergamont's Journey is one of my problem children. It's novella-length coming of age story woven with the seven sacred teachings. It's set in a fantasy world, with swords, dragons and mystical creatures on magical quests. It has a funny side and a spiritual side, and at 17,500 words, I find it hard hunting markets to pitch it to.

At least it's generally fairly well received - it's not outright rejected, more like gently shoved out the door. Better than the kicks I got at first.

I'd sent it to this publishing house that had just begun piercing the fiction market, and I thought it would be a good fit. I sent the whole thing since it's such a short novel, and they kept it for four months. In my experience with rejections (which is vast and widely celebrated), they come quick and don't mess around.

So I worked myself up. It was kind of fun. After all, their consideration time was stated to be 2 to 4 months, and they'd already had it for four months. I was ecstatic, really. (Yes, I do need a life, thanks for asking!)

Well, Bergamont showed up in my mailbox in it's pre-postaged envelope on a Thursday afternoon. I'm not one of those people who broods and waits to open rejections, though I always think it would be quite dramatic to do so. I ripped the envelope open right there in the small cramped mailroom, read the letter, ran upstairs and bewildered my roommate with claims of having received the best rejection letter ever (she might not have understood at first - I was out of breath and speaking quickly, even for a French-Canadian).

So here it is, what the best rejection letter EVER said:

Dear Marie Bilodeau (come on, the using of the name is good!),

I hope this letter finds you well. Thank you for allowing us to consider Bergamont's Journey. Although we enjoyed reading this lovely adventure, we have ultimately decided that we shall not pursue publication. We regret that this book does not fulfill our current publishing needs, as we are currently publishing very little fiction. Your story was touching, however, and quite well-written, with thrilling action and humourous turns. Several times while reading your manuscript I laughed aloud to the befuddlement of my colleagues.

We appreciate your thinking of us, and I wish you the best of luck finding a fiction house that will be able to take on this project.

It was hard not being on a high after receiving that! With any luck, the next place I send Bergamont to will welcome him into their published family!

... of course, it'll take quite a bit of time to identify another good market for it! Oh well, the hunt and the anticipation are part of the fun!

Why I Love Montreal ... and yes, Hazelnut coffee IS involved!

Sitting in an ex-Second Cup, now a Lavazza (claming to be Italy’s favourite coffee – I choose to love them because they have Hazelnut coffee), I need only glance outside the tall windows to know I’m in Old Montreal. The streets are set with cobblestones, horses and buggies are making the rounds, and the tall stone buildings are silent witnesses to an architectural age long come and gone.

I’m on the second floor of the coffee shop, in a type of balcony. Every other partisan of the coffee shop is downstairs, sitting at large plush red chairs or at chocolate brown tables. I’m alone upstairs save for one other man who is drawing. It’s obvious he’s drawing – you’d have to be pretty daft not to jump to that conclusion from his easel. He’s a nice middle-aged man. We said hello and spoke briefly, being the only two inhabitants of the balcony. We spoke of art, passions, drawing and writing. Well, he spoke of drawing, and I spoke of writing. It was all very fantastic.

And that’s what I love about Montreal. It has that relaxed atmosphere, that understanding that people are only trying to do the best they can, and that we’re all in the same boat on the same churning waters, so it’s good to connect with those around you, as good as it is to withdraw from time to time and create.

I always feel that in Ottawa a lot of artists are hiding, incognito. They create in static areas – their homes, workshops, in classes... Rarely do they sit outside or in public coffee shops to create, to let the life around them influence and colour their art.

I see them once in a while. I see the odd painter, easel set by the blossoming apple trees of the Agricultural museum. Or again by the locks of the canal, carefully trying to capture every detail of the old yet still functional mechanism with carbon pencils.

But in Montreal they’re everywhere, and they’re not shy. Many will even draw your picture if you ask, well, for a “tip,” anyways! The life of the city breaths power into their art, and in turn the artists help not only capture but also to create the landscapes of Montreal.

I love Ottawa, and I do most of my writing in its various coffee shops (ok, mostly Second Cup), but I wish that they would become more a haven for the artist instead of the disgruntled public servants needing their caffeine fix just to get through the day. Well, other coffee shops but Bridgehead. Their coffee isn’t my favourite (and most other shops also have fairly-traded coffees).

But, in the meantime, when I need to just soak those creative vibes, Montreal is just two hours away!

Sunday, 4 May 2008

A New Era Begins - Caramelo Day

My last job ended on a Friday (previously known as butter pecan day). I had a new one, out of the downtown core. I would now have a commute, and not just a bus ride. I thought that was kind of neat.

I wasn't sure about what would happen to my morning routine, but the Second Cup had been closed for over a month now, and aside from little sneak previews through the ripped covers on the inside which proved work was still being done, no one really had any idea when it would re-open. It was all mysterious, really, and a whole clique of us formed, sharing information on the happenings with the renovations. D was more than happy to spread the rumours and stories as we each made our daily pilgrimage to peek into the window. D wasn't concerned so we weren't, either. After all, no one was more affected by the Second Cup closing than D, since he depended wholeheartedly on the generosity of passing caffeine-guzzlers.

So on this last day, I drove in to pick up my vastly accumulated stuff. As I drove up Elgin for the last time in what I thought might be a while, (slowly, under speed limit, could have hit an old woman with a walker and a baby and not harmed them), I noticed that, lo and behold, Second Cup was re-opened! I swerved (quickly, dangerously, skidded, and would have taken out old woman, walker, baby AND toy poodle. This is one busy old woman.) and ran inside (parked first. In a snowbank.)

I was a bit skeptical of this new Second Cup without my second cup guys. I walked in, looking around suspiciously at their freshly upholstered comfortable looking chairs and their perfectly polished tables. Only one other customer sits in the coffee shop, and he too is looking around suspiciously. Our eyes cross for a moment and I understand that he too is wary of these fresh new surroundings (Look, it's before 7 in the morning. I need comfort and familiarity).

I follow their still clean carpet, leaving my dirty little trail behind (it was a big snowbank), when a cute little blond chikita, whom I remembered from before, looks at me suspiciously (we're all very suspicious), and says: Medium flavour?

I told her I loved her.

Thankfully I didn't get kicked out of the coffee shop, and I did get some news on Wally, who is now enjoying golfing a lot (now that I think about it, I wonder where???), and Dave, who's still just as grumpy (he's my "miss" guy...)

So I got my coffee, and a hot chocolate for D, who was turning into an ice cube outside (he put large sticks on his wheels chairs with plastic paper and duct tape so that the snowdrifts wouldn't hit him, and he was sitting in a sleeping bag - I thought it was quite ingenius!), which I hadn't been able to do since Second Cup had closed down. I felt quite at peace.

I've come full circle.

Oh, and the flavour that day? Not hazelnut, unfortunately. Not butter pecan, as it should have been. But it was caramelo, which is Monday.

So here's to new beginnings!

mmmmmmmmm caramelo...

End of an Era - Day 5 - Butter Pecan Day

Friday seemed like any other butter pecan day. D wasn’t there. He’d probably taken the day off (panhandling being his job), as it was getting really chilly.

I went in, the Second Cup growing emptier each day, the sound of chairs scraping the floor much less frequent. Dave was as efficient as usual, and my large flavoured coffee was waiting for me by the time I reached the cash.

I sat in the back with my coffee, no student sleeping on a bench today, and wrote my usual hour, bemoaning my Utnu-less state the whole time, before heading to work, just down the street. I waved and grinned at the Second Cup guys as I left – they had other customers and I was in a hurry.

I celebrated Friday by going to lunch with a co-worker, and as we sat inside we looked longingly at the closed patio, ordering drinks with little umbrellas in them in a vain effort to fool ourselves into believing winter’s icy grip wasn’t squeezing the sun, birds and blossoms out of our city.

“Did you hear about Second Cup?” She asked, sipping a very pink drink.

I nodded between bites. “Renovations – how long do you think they’ll be closed?”

“A while, I hear.” She whispered, and I laughed.

“I wonder what the boys will be up to during that time! They live in that place!” Which was true. I’d never gone into that Second Cup (and I went most days of the week), without Wally or Dave being there.

My co-worker looked up, tears welling into her eyes (to be fair, she was going through a rough patch, and was much more emotional than usual).

“You don’t know?” She asked.

“What??” A chill ran down my spine, and I recalled D’s words on Caramelo Day: It’s bad.

“Wally and Dave are retiring. New owners are taking over.”

I almost cried. Well, ok, I did tear up, but no actual tears were shed.

I left her after lunch, saying I had to give my farewells, and headed to Second Cup. But by the time I arrived, it was already closed, a note from Dave and Wally taped to the door, thanking their customers for years of faithful service.

I stood a little while before the door – ok, a bit longer than perhaps necessary. I couldn’t help it, though. For years I had come to this Second Cup, almost every single morning. I had met so many of my characters here, I had created new worlds, I had suffered death, love, failure, fears, hope and humiliation with my protagonists and antagonists, and every single day had been marked with a simple system of flavours that kept reality only one sip away.

I’m not necessarily the most stable person you’ll ever meet. I bought a car with the sole purpose of picking up and leaving whenever I chose, for an hour or a day, and am a casualty of wanderlust. I’ve surrounded myself with some of the best people I’ve ever met - people who are willing and able to bend and shift as I do, so that when I leave for a few days, I would think of them as home, knowing they’d still be there when I came back. Kind of like flavoured coffees (I’m sure my friends are thrilled by that comparison).

As I stood before my Second Cup, I realized that was what this place had become for me – a place for my mind to be able to leave on its own wanderlust, every morning for an hour, to come back afterwards to its safety, always warmly greeted. I never did get kicked out for loitering but, then again, I always did leave a tip.

I wish at least D had been there. It would have been nice to commiserate with a friend, though I was hardly the only one in shock and loss at the farewell sign on the Second Cup. Many stopped and either gazed in shock, swore, or gasped, and most of them wandered away as lost little children, wondering where they could get their much needed caffeine fix. It's nice not to grieve alone.

As I was leaving, the first snowflakes were falling from the skies, preparing to blanket us in white a whole month earlier than usual.

Experts were predicting a long and difficult winter.

They had no idea how right they would be.

Friday, 25 April 2008

End of an Era - Day 4 - Hazelnut Day

Hazelnut Day, also known as 'my-absolute-most-favouritest-day-of-the-week,' seemed to come and go without a hitch. I was worried about Utnu and Second Cup, but so busy at work I barely had a thought to myself anyhow.

That evening, since it had been a relatively good day and the week was coming to a close, I decided I would bake cookies. I stole chocolate chips from my good friend who had foolishly left me with her apartment keys (I am ruthless), I bought random baking stuff at the convenience store, threw on some rock and roll tunes (regardless of twirling danger - am rebel), and began baking.

Now, everything was dandy until my second batch was in the oven and I noticed that a plastic lid was on top of my 'this is where the oven farts hot gas' element. I grabbed the lid, and strings of melted plastic followed. I sighed and threw it in the sink.

A big drop of melted plastic now adorned my element, and I thought it would smell very bad when, forgetting it was there (which I would), I would turn on the element (probably this very night). I put on my oven mitt and pulled off the element, with the intention of putting it in the sink before the plastic fully hardened. Now, let's recall that element was warm enough to melt plastic.

It also happened to be warm enough to set my oven mitt on fire.

Thanks to my experience with flaming tabbies, the fire was quickly put out, but in the process, I threw my element, melted plastic and all, in the cold water of my sink. It made some really funky noises and the plastic is now bonded to it like skin to bone.


I was, however, pleased to report that I didn't actually burn myself until, with the same oven mitt (still smoking), I took out my cookie sheet (burnt cookies by then). They don't kid around when they say oven mitts don't work as well once they've burnt. I didn't drop the cookies though, so I'm pretty pleased with myself.

I didn't tell my mom about this incident, as she is a good woman and I didn't feel she needed to know this was part of her legacy on Earth.

... well, ok, this didn't really have anything to do with the end of an era, but I was pretty brain dead by then, and I thought it was funny. Besides, a girl can only handle so much coffee and Utnu-related drama in one week, really.

But wait until Butter Pecan Day. Everything changed on Butter Pecan Day.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

End of an Era - Day 3 - French Vanilla Day

With Utnu's diseased brain, I had missed a whole day at Second Cup, neglecting my coffee people (very uncouth). This morning I came in Utnu-less, but determined to get some quality coffee and letter writing time.

I asked D. what he wanted today, and he said a coffee. I told him it was Irish Cream day and he seemed pleased to hear that.

I merrily strolled in, and my coffee people threw their hands up in joy (one day missed is very rare for me. I am a coffee-addict). I felt like the prodigal son (except instead of being a moocher, their business depended on me. I’d be happy to see me too if my RRSPs and children’s education funds depended almost exclusively on my caffeine guzzling habit, but I digress. I digress a lot, apparently.)

I walk up to the counter, grin widely, and ask for two medium Irish Creams.

I look down.

Eyes grow wide.

“Oh, it’s French Vanilla today?”

“Miss …”

Oh no! I won’t be Miss’d today! I beat him to the punch.

“But it’s Tuesday!”


Start panicking and remembering week (remember, it was a long week. The end of an era, in fact!)

“No, wait, it’s Thursday!”

“Miss …”

“No! Wednesday! It IS French Vanilla Day!”

Second Cup guy throws hands up as if in deliverance and shouts: “Thank you!”

I was then scolded for not coming in yesterday, as I was obviously losing track of time without their carefully crafted time-keeping system. If I came every day again, they informed me, I would once again grasp and be soothed by it.

I have my doubts.

But it’s nice to be missed.

End of an Era - Day 2 - Irish Cream Day

I'm always suspicious of Irish Cream Days. I don't know if it's my brain that doesn't quite get enough of a boost from this particular blend, but usually I'm at my very slowest. Which is very slow, I must say.

But, although my Second Cup lingered near renovation closing-time (it's like a coma in people terms), I didn't make it in on that Irish Cream Day, since Utnu had been having difficulties lately. (Utnu being my beloved iBook G4 and my bestest writing buddy ever.) Anyways, instead of going to Second Cup and facing Irish Cream Day, I called Utnu's warranty people.

The conversation went something like this (CR = customer representative):

Me (calm) : "Yes, he's not been booting since yesterday."
CR (confused) : "He?"
Me (embarrassed) : "Um, yes. I have a strong affinity with him."
CR (redefining reality) : "Ok. So it, um, he doesn't boot?"
Me (worrying) : "No. He screams."
CR (polite but difficulty adapting) : "Screams?"
Me (wishing didn't feel Utnu was own person) : "Um, yes. Well, he beeps three times. Yes. And he has kernel panics."
CR (back in realm of comfortable language) : "Those aren't good."
Me (too much information?) : "No, because when he panics, I panic. It's really not a good scene."
CR (good old scout try) : "Oh. Yes. I can see that. Well, ok, well, ship um, him in, and um, he'll see a, um, doctor. Yes. A laptop doctor."

So Utnu went on a little trip, and we didn't get to spend this last week at Second Cup together, which only made things that much more difficult. Of course, then Canada Post lost Utnu, my friends vowed to head out in throngs (ok, more like a small gang - I don't have that many Utnu-hunting friends), but he was found again, and repaired, even though I called regularly for Utnu updates and got to know the CR very well (always got the same one, who also came to call Utnu by his name). I also debated sending Utnu flowers (care of his rep, of course) but, thanks to a rare appearance from my censor, didn't do it.

Utnu took three weeks to return. We're inseparable again.

After that day, though, I learned that it doesn't matter whether or not I'm actually drinking Irish Cream on that day. Irish Cream Day is still Irish Cream Day. (A moral for the ages.)

Sunday, 20 April 2008

End of an Era - Day 1 - Caramelo Day

It’s been a rough few months and, although I have wonderful friends who supported me through all the hardships, it’s still a bit hard to talk about it. But a girl’s gotta get things off of her chest, and now’s as good a time as any.

It all began in November. The beginning of November, actually. I arrived early to Second Cup, as usual, and saw D hanging outside. D is the local enterprising panhandler, who always greets me with a smile and kind word. But today his eyes didn’t have their usual spark, and the second he saw me crossing the street and walking towards him, he shook his head and shouted in warning: “It’s bad!”

The greeting I was about to shout died on my lips, as did my smile. Never before, in our years of chatting in front of the Second Cup, had D ever harbinged doom.

He shook his head again. “It’s real bad.” The he nodded sideways, to the door of the Second Cup, and I saw the sign: “Closing for Renovations by end of week – every item for sale.”

“What do they mean, renovations?” I asked, rooted before the sign.

“The way they talk about it on the streets (the “streets” of Ottawa are apparently quite concerned over the welfare of this Second Cup),” he lowers his voice, forcing me to stop staring at the sign and lean close to him to capture every syllable, “they’re going to be closed for a while.”

“A while?”

He simply nods and goes quiet. “I’ll get you a hot chocolate, no whip,” I whisper as I pass him and head into the Second Cup, the door slightly heavier than usual.

It all looks the same, inside. The same wooden chairs, the dilapidated section in the back where used to be a bagel shop, the dark corners where sometimes a student was allowed to take a quick nap... it was all the same, but disturbingly different, all at once. As I stared at it, I felt as though time was painting over the beloved mosaic that was this shop, where I had spent so many happy hours writing and forgetting the world.

“What’ll it be, miss?” Dave, one of my two Second Cup guys asks. How long would it be before I would hear him say ‘miss’ again?

“Large Caramelo?” Caramelo. It was Monday. Caramelo day. I always loved Caramelo day.

“And hot chocolate for D,” I say softly as I approach.

“Hot chocolate, no whip, coming up,” he says as he takes my money and quickly gives me change. Wally, the second beloved Second Cup guy, tries to break the tension.

“It’s getting cold out there! I think it’ll be a long, cold one!”

His smile falters as though he has said too much. I don’t ask for details – the fate of my Second Cup is more than one can handle first thing on a Caramelo Day.

“How much for the clock?” I suddenly ask, and all three of us understand I’m just trying to capture a piece of this place, as though by buying their weary Time for a Second clock, I would somehow slow down the passage of time, and steal the painfully efficient paintbrush straight out of Father Time’s hands.

Dave gives me a weak smile. “Sorry miss. It’s already sold.”

That was Caramelo Day.

Things went downhill from there.