Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Restaurant: Part 1

This is the first part in a semi-fictional three-part series about my first job. I use the term 'semi-fictional' so I can make the characters and situations even more cartoonishly silly than the really were. This is not to say the actual people and events were boring at normal, just that I love using any liberties I can - that's right, any liberties. I also used the term "job" as it was a job. In my nine years at the restaurant, I was a busboy, dishwasher, cashier, line cook, bartender and assistant chef. I worked with so many really great characters - I could write a play or a book. Instead I have settled on this, mostly as it is an easy and lazy way to tell about my experiences. Now, as I said, all of the stories are true, albeit retold in my unique prose that is often rife with sarcasm and hyperbole. Not that the original stories wouldn't hold up on their own, just that I can't seem to write any other way - that's just who I am. And instead of adopting the common convention of changing the names to protect the innocent, I have decided to not do that. There will be no innocent-protecting here! I mean I need to take at least a small break from protecting things at some point during the day.

I worked at the restaurant for nine years back in the waning years of my youth and into early adulthood. At the time the experience wasn't amazing but it provided a source of money which up until that point hadn't been plentiful. My first hourly pay was laughably small in the standards of those days, and would be criminal today. I could have searched around for a better, more satisfying line of work, but this was highly convenient and filled with mostly easy tasks and responsibilities. The biggest challenge by far was learning to work with such a wide array of characters, mostly in supervisory roles overseeing me and the other bottom-rung folk. At the time, many work days were very challenging- learning to navigate through the demands of superiors, the never-ending orders and being young and lacking both confidence and experience. My current self would tell the younger me that learning to work with people you don't like is reality and it prepares you for the real world and that it will better set me up for being an adult. My young self would tell me that that was all well and good but that I should shove it. My current self would be confused as no version of myself has ever or would ever really say those words- then again this is a pretend conversation I'm having with a no-longer-around me, so I can say and do anything I want. Today, with these days so far in the rear view mirror, it is easier to look back and use perspective. The bad times have blurred and faded and all I am left with are the fun anecdotes, the oddities and the scars (all emotional - relax). And the stories! 

I began my time as a dishwasher. The year was 1987 and I noticed that a number of others had jobs and I figured, what the hell, I can't sleep, eat or play tennis all the time. Plus it would be great to have some money! I know idea that my starting wage would be $4.37 per hour and that it wasn't even debatable if that was fair compensation for what we were expected to endure - it wasn't close. Dishwashers, or the dish pigs or the grunts were the lowest of the low, not even allowed to face the public, like a hideous gargoyle or someone with an embarrassing rash. A dishwasher was everyone's lackey. Need something done, even something gross and demeaning? No worries! The dish pig has to say yes- they have no choice- it's super easy to replace someone with no discernible skills and all dishwashers say yes to everything in the off-chance they receive unexpected recognition and are able to move up to busboy, which is akin to moving from a weed to a slightly nicer weed. The dishwashers were young, untrained and naïve. We were happy to work and had no idea of our rights or how menial our work was. Our parents were happy we were "safe" and learning about responsibility and following orders and we were happy with the illusion of promotion. The busboys were our slightly older friends who got out and we aspired to be them and to have someone, anyone, lower than us.

Our immediate boss was the head cashier. She was a lady named Rose, albeit calling her a lady, even after all of these years just doesn't sound right. Her name was either ironic or a paradox, I'm really not sure. To compare her to a rose should make the speaker lose their right by law to make any future comparisons of any type. She was gruff, surly and only pretty when observed from a far distance where she was often mistaken for a bush, a gruff, surly bush. I also would guess she would have looked pretty good through an unfocused telescope, and I was going to attempt to use one, but it was just to much work lugging it around with me while busing tables and washing dishes. It was unclear to me at the time why she worked at the restaurant as she was obviously unhappy and didn't seem to like people, especially teenage boys. Still day after day she came in, drank her coffee, ate her toast and bossed us around relentlessly and she didn't even appear to gain pleasure from that. I mean if you are going to make other people unhappy at least enjoy it. What is the fun in bossing if you don't even like it? She spent all of her free time smoking on the steps outside the kitchen. She, and the other smokers on staff seemed to have so many more breaks than the non-smokers that it was almost a constant advertisement for smoking. She also followed the horses and spent a good portion of her time looking at and discussing the results with anyone in earshot. I often wondered if she'd like me more if I also followed the horses - it would have given us something to talk about- or if I was an actual horse. During a lull in our working relationship, I briefly thought about dressing up as a horse but just couldn't find a suitable tail. Although she took copious breaks, there was just no relaxing on her watch! I mean we would take our sweet time getting more dressing from the walk-in fridge and be "unable to find" the chicken fingers in the freezer, but those excuses only got us so far. In the end, we all had to answer to Rose. I would call her motherly, but I'm trying to keep this at least marginally factual.

Now I like to give someone the benefit of the doubt, as it makes me feel better about myself and that is important. So maybe she really was a warm, caring woman on the inside, but that perspective became harder and harder to maintain as I was belittled, insulted and ordered around the way someone would treat a small mammal, especially one they were considering flushing down the toilet. Okay, that's a bit harsh- and small mammals can't even defend themselves! If she was warm and caring on the inside, then I must applaud her ability to keep the inside hidden. The most annoying aspect about her was that although we worked together for four summers, Rose didn't even know my name! She always called me "dishwasher" when she wanted my attention (usually to point out another mistake I had made) which always led to confusion - was she referring to me or the machine? Often she would bark out an order without even turning around or making eye-contact and a long pause would follow it from her perspective, as I was unclear that she was barking at me, since I typically didn't respond to "dishwasher" in my regular existence. After being called "dishwasher" so many times combined with actually spending so much time with the dishwashing machine, it was fortunate that I was raised well and had my head on straight and didn't confuse myself with the machine, although we were close I have to admit. I spent so many hours, opening and closing it, pushing in racks of dirty dishes and pulling out racks of hot and steamy clean ones, pressing the power button, spraying water and (when no one was looking) hugging it and caressing it. There were many quiet, lonely, rainy nights where the kitchen was filled with an awkward silence and only Rose, the cook and  I were still there. I'm not sure of the seminal moment when we started developing feelings for each other above and beyond our working relationship, all I know is a line was crossed and it was wonderful.

Now at some point I transitioned to busboy, which in the restaurant world is a distinct level above washing dishes. I'm not sure how or why I was given the opportunity to take one small step out of the gutter, but I must have worked hard (it's possible), been reliable (maybe), or found out where the bodies were buried (shhhhh!). Unlike dish washers, who are usually adorned with unkempt, greasy hair and wearing mismatched socks and dirty, untucked shirts, busboys must be presentable enough to be seen by the paying public. Busboys also need to be able to string together one and two syllable words into basic sentences in case a confused patron wanted to ask a question. But busboys knew that even though they were freed from their "cage" in the back of the kitchen and were given actual uniforms that needed to be mostly clean and pressed, they were still without any real voice or power. They were still essentially slaves and needed to jump if anyone asked for anything. I still remember the omnipresent smell of glass cleaner as I tried to keep the tables streak free. I also recall carrying huge bus-trays full of dirty dishes and the smell of full ashtrays before the city thankfully outlawed smoking at restaurants. I enjoyed getting out of the kitchen and being away from the eyes of Rose and the cooks, but it was more exhausting work with no chance of receiving any appreciation from anyone. In fact, the only recognition a busboy received was from within. I held weekly awards-type shows in my dreams where I was lauded for my incredible busing techniques and these accolades, though not real, propelled me through the next punishing week. 

Back in those days, the restaurant was nothing more than a glorified cafeteria and glorified is definitely a misleading word choice. The menu featured so little actual cooking outside of frying an egg, or toasting some bread. Everything was either microwaved frozen food or it came directly out of a bag or a can. Eventually management figured things out and the menu was vastly upgraded upon the hiring of an executive chef. Before that there were two cooks - Ed and James who manned the kitchen. Neither was exceptionally good at cooking nor were either passable at interacting with other staff. These two stone-like pillars of the restaurant were as challenging to work with as Rose, and though they weren't management, if you messed up even a small amount or didn't look as if you were working your hardest or gave some small bit of attitude they reported you to the management. It was as if they saw their job as half cooking and half prison guard. Neither spoke English as a first language and this meant that they easily misunderstood what you said all the time. This led to many, potentially comical situations where a busboy would emerge from the walk-in cooler with a head of lettuce and be reprimanded for being stupid when in fact they wanted some eggs. Unfortunately, no one dared laugh, as neither Ed nor James ever saw any humour in anything. They also always mistook our being tired or unexcited by the endless stream of menial tasks as attitude. In their minds, all busboys were crappy at their jobs and needed constant observation and reprimanding. That may have a large shred of the truth to it, as it was a crappy summer job after all, but their rudeness, abruptness and lack of any common niceties made it that much worse. I always wondered - "would it be so hard for you to smile or say please when you asked me to scrub the pots and pans?" to no avail. I also thought that a nice backrub or shoulder massage would have been awesome as well. 

Although the two cooks were similar, they weren't the same. The kitchen took on a significantly lighter tone when Ed was cooking. He allowed a small, highly confusing grin to cross his lips from time to time and he spoke with heightened emotions and with overly cartoonish exaggerated facial expressions which made him fun to watch. He wasn't as bad to work with as James, but he was far more unpredictable. James was always sour and dour and gruff, while Ed was impossible to read. One moment a hint of a laugh, the next he was screaming for more cabbage and the next he appeared to be actually concerned for your lack of intelligence. If he was a lion and you were his prey, he may give you false hope by helping remove the sharp quill from your paw and cleaning you before eating you for lunch. The irony is that I was concerned for his intelligence as well, or at least his emotional well-being. His emotions would run the gamut from happy to sad to angry with many stops between all within a shift and with no real obvious indications what was coming next. The trick. as we all learned, was to lap up the good times and to hide during the bad. Staying out of eye-shot worked wonders as Ed would lay into whomever he saw regardless of whose responsibility the error it was or wasn't. To get away we would often go to the outdoor storage and hang out to avoid collateral damage of Ed's flipouts only to emerge when a sufficient time had elapsed. One time I went to the outdoor storage to hide and one of the other busboys thought it would be humourous to lock in me in there. I was trapped in that room for an hour, subsiding solely on bottles of sparkling apple juice and ice cream bars. Finally I was released and, upon returning to the kitchen, instead of being greeted with any concern for my well-being or even a question about where I had disappeared to, I was subjected to a totally incomprehensible tirade from Ed. Despite moments like this, I often felt sympathetic towards him. He didn't seem like a totally bad person inside and I can't imagine that getting up day after day and coming to flip burgers and open bags of premixed salad was too exciting. 

James' daily demeanor always fell somewhere between grumpy and nasty, with the occasional morsel of bitterness tossed in for good measure. I don't think I ever saw smile, let alone unfurrow his brow. I imagine that the muscles in his upper forehead were of near-Herculean strength as they were working all day long. James was gruff with everyone: kitchen staff, management and customers. Looking back on this now, I applaud his consistent, communist approach to life. Why should anyone feel special, let allow happy or appreciated? Why should any of us see our work as anything but a bleak set of routine tasks to be completed with a total absence of joy? Clearly, appreciation and joy are totally overrated and would just have gotten in the way of the running of the kitchen. To his credit, no one ever slacked off on his watch and everyone did things as by the book as possible so as not to draw any attention of any kind towards themselves. Every once and a while a new busboy or dishwasher would come in without an understanding of how hard you they were expected to work and also of the unspoken rules of interacting with James, and a look would become plastered on his face. It is hard to capture it using words, but it was a combination of bewildered, furious, constipated and a slightly happy. The happiness made me most scared of all. It was a happiness absent of any of the usual components of happiness. It is the sort of happy I would feel if I was actually really unhappy and then forced at the threat of harsh reprisals that I had to demonstrate minimal happiness. Sometimes I would imagine James during his time away from work, before "putting on his mask" and becoming his character once again. I could imagine him as a pouty, cross-dressing performer or as a chain-smoking, hard-drinking, money-burning poker player or as a little sensitive boy with his cute dog playing at the stream with his mother watching near by. What happened to that boy, James? Where did he go? I would have loved to get to know him, or even the cross-dresser or the poker player. 

Compared to James, Ed was like a fluffy, cuddly teddy bear while James was more like an actual bear just waking up from a long stint of hibernation. Too tired and groggy to attack or expend too much energy, but a bear nonetheless and worthy of our respect and fear. I half expected him to come to work with a whole salmon in his mouth, or at least with hands covered in honey, but I'm glad he didn't, as I would have reacted and then I'd have been scrubbing pots all evening. Ed and James got along really well, but you always sensed that if James felt like it, he could have made Ed go scampering back to his cave in a heartbeat. At least Ed had his lighter moments when the kitchen was slow and things were relaxed and he would often come ask us bizarrely random questions about our lives with this look of anticipation over what weird thing the crazy busboy would say next. Ed rejoiced in our foibles and loved any juicy detail of our escapades. On the other hand, James just never lightened up. He would have made a great general - no excuses on his watch, no crying on his watch, no wasted time or effort on his watch. And he didn't even have a watch! And he wouldn't have even smirked at that lame pun either - he was a black box. This guy was an android and not the kind of lovable android that so badly longs to be human and says and does endearing human-like things all the time making us love him/her even more. No, unfortunately, he was more the kind of android that wants to enslave humanity. 

The funny thing about both James and Ed is that neither could cook at all. And they were cooks!?!?! I guess those were easy interviews. The menu was created to accentuate their "skills" and it included microwaved frozen lasagna, constantly over-charred burgers, and a "chef'" salad that no chef would actually want to be associated with (bagged salad mix, two scoops of cottage cheese and a burger patty). Aside from the regular menu, the kitchen also catered special events, thus rendering them as far from special as possible. I remember one particular evening party that we catered where Ed and James were working together and they made a huge amount of boiled, overcooked red cabbage. It made the kitchen smell like you wouldn't believe and to top it off no one touched a piece of it  -could you blame them? Even if one of the guests showed up with a craving for boiled red cabbage, they would not have taken a single bite. The kitchen reeked of overcooked cabbage and, I believe this shortened the festivities a great deal. Predictably, neither James not Ed could understand the fuss. Convention was for the busboys and dishwashers to eat last and we often got the leftovers - some nights that involved some good protein or pasta, but on this night the only thing remaining was a massive amount of obliterated cabbage. We waited and order a pizza.

The busboys and dishwasher banded together. When we weren't being attacked by Rose or James or Ed, the management would be prowling around seemingly trying to catch us slacking off. As a result, we became close. We watched each other's backs, we supported each other and we felt like a team. As the remaining minutes of a hard shift ticked down, we would clean the kitchen and unwind singing at the top of our lungs to bad 80s music. After work we would eat, swim in the pool and play billiards until late at night. No one was quite sure why we would subject ourselves to this treatment as we were barely compensated for our efforts, but the after work schedule was our routine and we loved it. Looking back on it now, I don't see why I went in day after day. There were far better jobs at far better pay. Maybe I could tell that there would be a chance it would be a great topic for a creative writing piece someday if I ever decided to document my past? Lucky for me, I was one of the better soldiers - I talked back the least, didn't just walk away and was rewarded by being upgraded to cashier when Rose retired. To say that I had big shoes to fill would be completely inaccurate, but I reveled in the new role and I know the other dishwashers and busboys were overjoyed to have one of their own calling the shots. 

Stay tuned for part 2 in this series....

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Happy Birthday Darren!

Happy 30th Birthday Darren!

Wow I can't believe it is that time of year again already! Time truly does fly and it just seems like yesterday that we were celebrating your 25th. I can't believe you are 30! Not that you don't act your age (you don't) or aren't mature (you aren't) or can't pass for 30 (you can't), but none the less it is surprising to me. Having said that I am very easily surprised, but you know that - you are my oldest friend. I hope your birthday finds you well and in good spirits, or at least one of those. I was thinking about you during my dental surgery the other day and I said, as the nerve pain almost knocked me out, I need to send Darren an original piece of abstract art, and as the pain subsided and the room was full of the gentle, fatherly chuckling of my dentist, I decided to write you this letter instead. I'm not sure if it is melancholy or seasonal allergies or that chicken salad sandwich I had for lunch, but it is times like this when I am nearly overwhelmed by all the experiences we've shared - we've been friends for so long. Please allow me to take a trip down memory lane....

It seems like just yesterday when you busted my counterfeit designer handbag ring, probably because it actually was yesterday when I served my final hours of the court-mandated community service that the judge thought was necessary. I'll never understand why you turned me in - we had such a good thing going! All of those hours in my basement, slaving away, making counterfeit handbags, it felt like an actual sweatshop - probably because I insisted on making it so, by turning the heat up to ridiculous levels. We would arise from the basement dripping in sweat and covered with the bumps and bruises that are par for the course for those who make bags. I'm sorry if I wanted to work under those conditions, but I figured, based on minimal research, that sweatshops were necessary nay advantageous when mass producing handbags! And I''m sorry if those heating bills nearly blew all of our meager profits - I didn't think I had a choice and you never told me about your fungal infection that was exasperated by the humidity. There we were making bags in my basement  - you manned the sewing machine and I brandished the scissors - and we were shipping those bags to stores all across the country. The money was good and we were raking it in, not literally, much to my dismay, as your father insisted on using the rake daily, even when there were no leaves on the ground. We were taking baby steps towards success and then you had to go and spoil the whole thing! I mean you've never come and and said that it was you, but as I was being physically restrained and stuffed into a cop car I swear that I saw you high-fiving and hugging the police and mimicking my walk and laugh, which really hurt especially because I've told you that my left foot falls asleep frequently and it is pretty insensitive of you to make light of that. And I laugh the way I do because my parents raised a bunch of particularly hilarious and noisy donkeys when I was growing up and I spent many of my formative, impressionable years among them. So, you took me down. Good for you. Were you jealous of me? Did I not give you a big enough cut? Did you morally oppose what I was up to or just not like the idea of undercutting the powerful handbag magnates we all admired as young kids? We could have been the kings, the wunderkinds of the counterfeit handbag making industry...I mean I'm over this now, but those three years in jail, the probation, and the community service did put a bit of sizable dent in our friendship and it took a long while for me to trust you again - but I did  - I just can't say no to that schoolboy smile and those cute little puppy dog whines you make. You know I have a thing for whiny dogs.

Sometimes when I walk by the park I am whisked back to that summer when we were 18 and we learned to breakdance. If I recall correctly we spent a good month deliberating and debating between the foxtrot, the Finnish tango and breakdancing. We initially wanted to perfect the foxtrot and hit the competitive foxtrot circuit until your dad gave us that passionate speech after a Sunday faux-turkey dinner (times were tough) about his own struggles as a young star fox-trotter and how the pain and embarrassment had stayed with him and he didn't want to see us go down the same road and be eaten alive by the harsh and surprisingly cutthroat foxtrot machine.Though we were both afraid of the back-snappin' beats and, honestly, all things street, we turned quickly to breakdancing as our way of rebelling against the prophecy that was shared with us at the county fair when we were 7 that "we would dance the Finnish tango and occasionally the more popular Argentinian tango and, even less frequently, the Uruguayan tango, though we would struggle telling the difference between the three at the best of times". I can see you now with your high-top fade and me with my afro as we spent hour upon hour on the mat with our ghetto-blaster spinning, downlocking and freezing. We didn't get there without a lot of work -actually the first few weeks we mostly lay on the mat and waived our hands and said "Presto!" and hoped that we'd learn via magic. When we were ready we would prowl around town ready to defend our turf and to battle all suckas who would challenge us. We were a mean and lean pair of b-boys and the crowds loved us for our powerful styles and our never-say-die attitudes (except for that time when you said die for a reason neither of us could figure out). The end was near when I stubbed my big toe and couldn't stop crying in front of everyone belying our tougher-then-thou personas and then the other shoe fell when you decided to grow your hair very long and then straighten it making you look like the Afghan hound from your wallpaper in your room.

Then there was the time when I filled my living room with an entire house of cards. You were initially quite supportive, but quickly grew fairly selfish, in my honest opinion. The dialogue switched from "Nice house of cards, dude" to "When are you going to pay attention to me? All you care about are those damn cards! I wish cards never existed or if they have to exist were much more bendy so house building could be rendered impossible or I wish that no one ever invented making multiple level houses out of them or that your room had either stronger air conditioning or was more drafty or the cards had funny expressions or pictures on them that made you laugh so hard that you were physically unable to construct houses out of them due to the laughter or you were more sensitive and decided that forcing the cards into unnatural houses was morally and ethically wrong." After awhile I just couldn't take your incessant complaining and I believe, after hours of introspection, that you drove me deeper and deeper into my world of cards leading me to not stop at one house, but to make a whole town of houses. The houses started very plain and simple but as I subconsciously started creating a barrier between us, I slowly starting drawing from Pre-Victorian and Cape Cod styles and eventually on to castles and monuments. After many weeks and countless trips to the games store for more and more decks of cards, I looked up and noticed that I had barricaded myself in the corner of my room with no route to escape. You suggested just blowing the cards down and I scoffed at the suggestion - "Blow down a house? Yeah, great idea smart guy!" I said thinking that you had gone a bit bonkers thinking that I could somehow use my lung capacity to demolish an actual house, let alone a city of houses. Suffice to say, I had gone a bit far and my lack of human contact and huge increase in card contact had resulted in me going a big loopy. Luckily you rescued me and dragged me back to reality when you vacuumed them all up. Vacuuming things up has always been your solution to everything card related.

We spent your 19th birthday lost in the swamp and it took us a week to get out. I still have the scars from scratching that rash to remind me - who knew that there were so many varieties of poisonous plant-life? Evidently you did. I found out after the fact that you spent much of your free time in high school as a member of an experimental group in a longitudinal study looking into the effects of exposure to poisonous plants. I came to realize that we were never actually lost and that instead it was your "present" to me on your birthday to bring me to the swamp. You claimed that I was growing a bit soft and was relying to much on modern luxuries and needed to "remember where I came from". Let me tell you, after an exhaustive amount of research and a trip to the old country to interview my oldest living ancestors, I did not come from a swamp, thank you very much! It was more of a wet marshland-like area that could seem similar to a swamp to the ill-informed, and I guess I was wrong to assume you would know the difference. I had always assumed, wrongfully, that you were wise in the area of physical geography. I am still, after all these years, not sure how to thank you. Before you get too excited that is meant to be sarcastic! (I am telling you as I know you are particularly bad at discerning sarcasm in writing, unless I use bold, italics, quotation marks and ketchup stains) Initially I was very unhappy, what with the rash and lizard bites, but now, looking back on the experience it is more the lasting psychological struggles that remain. I do appreciate that I developed a love for bamboo, both in stews and as a material for my new line of beds and cabinets that will be in stores in the fall, but I wish the night shrieks I developed during that week would just stop already. The time in the swamp was a challenge to say the least - when we weren't on the watch for alligators or swatting mosquitoes, we were setting traps for food or playing Freeze Tag and you know how much I detest all forms of tag or pretending to freeze.

I know we always used to bug you about being the black sheep of our friendship group which just compounded the fact that you were also the black sheep of your family. There is only so much black sheep-ing one person can take, I realize that now. At least you weren't the black sheep of your reading group, but that was probably due to the fact that the group put "no black sheeps" in their bylaws. Just so you know I was never a big fan of the label, as I knew it made you feel badly and resentful, and also because I didn't want to make the actual black sheep I own feel bad due to the comparison as we are in desperate need of the wool.

I remember the time we were on that nature walk - you love nature walks! We had a wonderful afternoon out in the fresh, mountain air and enjoyed a picnic overlooking the lake. After enjoying a feast for the ages complete with multiple varieties of gourmet cheese, fresh figs from my mother's tree, a baguette we purchased that morning, beautiful in-season peaches and spam (you were worries that if we ate food that was solely high class we might attract a more aggressive, conniving ant far from the run-of-the-mill ants you see raiding picnics on TV shows) we were walking back to the car when we saw that deer. Now, this was no ordinary deer, cute and doe-eyed, pulling Santa's sleigh with a hint of a smile. It was a wild, rabid deer that seemingly had been placed on the mountain with the sole purpose of removing me from it. What could I have possibly done, I wondered as this angry, angry deer chased after me for what seemed like hours. Later on in the hospital, while I was laying on my stomach, with my pants down and a team of surgeons were attempting to remove the last shards of antler from my upper thigh you came clean. I guess you felt something verging on remorse, but let's not be silly, it wasn't remorse. It came out that you had been the person who had found the deer after its parents had been lost in the fire when the deer was only a few months old. You essentially raised this foal and were its de facto parent, which makes it even harder for me to understand why you decided, after he had become an adult, to feed it a seemingly endless stream of growth hormone pills, daily shots of adrenalin, and even spiking his water with deer antler spray (doesn't he already have antlers!?!?!). On top of all of that you showed him spliced videos alternating images of fires invoking within him the fear and anger involved with his parent's tragic death and me eating steak after steak of venison, often wasting the good parts. Yes, it was you who bizarrely created this monster-deer whose main purpose was to drill me repeatedly with his antlers. You enraged it for some reason I'll never know and what topped it all off is that after the attack and your obligatory hospital visit you gave the deer the brotherly hug that I've been hoping for at the time.

One of my fondest memories was the summer after grade 11 when we were both in that acting class. We learned from one of the best, the legendary Mr. Warren from the nearby dilapidated community theatre, who continued gracing that stage years after the place had been shut down. Among his interesting quirks were his demand to be called "Sire!", our daily warm-up of miming the construction of an unbreakable box with which to trap an actual mime in, and making absolutely stunning flower arrangements, even after we reminded him countless times that the flower arranging class was next door. He insisted on calling you "Twinkle-toes" for reasons that never became clear and he just completely ignored me, often walking into me as if he didn't see me at all - the ham! But he did bring out the best in us, helping us tap into emotions we were unaware that we had (mine was a combination of ferocious and sleepy), daily placing us in uncomfortable circumstances and forcing us to "act or die" and unveiling why cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches should never be served to mixed company. That summer we were to perform Mr. Warren's version of the classic Hunchback of Notre Dame, only with no Hunchback. The entire play involved dynamic song and dance numbers all revolving around the really appropriate questions "where is the Hunchback?" and "shouldn't we have renamed this production seeing as there is no Hunchback?" and "what is with all of the elephants?" I'll never forget the dance we performed together at the end of Act 1. Or should I say, I'll never forget dancing with you, somewhere, possibly on a stage and maybe in front of an audience, but I have no memory of any specifics aside from how you made me feel when we danced - thirsty.

And how could I forget the time we went through group therapy together. We sat there in the circle, week after week, sharing intimate details of our lives, learning how to trust, how to cry, how to live. Those other 8 people walked in the first day as strangers and left as true friends. I mean they were all pretty weird and we spent so much time laughing and poking fun at all of their problems and hangups - "your mommy didn't kiss your boo boo when you were six?", "your boyfriend insists on wearing matching outfits?" - man, that was funny. But they were good people. I really felt like I was making actual progress and that I was finally going to arise from my "winter of discontent" that had lasted a number of years. But, you were always mocking me when I revealed my secret fear of being abandoned. And right in front of me as well  -couldn't you have at least waited till I was wiping away my tears or hanging my head in shame? Did you need to get up and do a very thinly veiled impersonation of me grasping for a hand? I guess you did, and I think, after all of this time I know the reason - it was probably due to that period of time in grade 8 when I too heavily critiqued your drama performance as a too thickly veiled impersonation. So, from the context of veiling you have swung to the opposite extreme - maybe some day you will be properly veiled. A man can only dream.

I wish I could be partying with you tonight on your 30th, but there is that little thing called a restraining order that you got to protect yourself from me. Was that really necessary? In fact this birthday card could be circumventing that order too. Maybe as you read this, I'll be either in front of the judge and about to be locked up with some of our resident gang members only looking for one excuse to extract my wisdom teeth. Look - I was joking when I told you to watch yourself or I would "get you" and "follow you home" and "gather" a "gang" of "tough guys" to "visit you at work" and "train" a "pack" of "dogs" to "jump" you "where you sleep". I'm sorry if you couldn't see the humour in my saying these things, but on the other hand, I do see now how these jokes could be misinterpreted as threats. Let me reassure you, nothing could be further from the truth. Me hurt you? Me want something bad to happen to my oldest buddy who not only sent me to jail, abandoned me in Asia in that small, dark room with all of those crazy monkeys, took all the credit for our proof of that mathematical theorem, but also stole my girlfriend and then stole her again after I found her wandering around aimlessly in the warehouse where you tried to hide her from me. Plus, just say I did want to hurt you, have you seen me recently? I did get a few tattoos while in prison, but they are just meant to distract everyone from my dancer's physique. I'm just saying you have nothing to worry about - I love you like a brother, and after all we have been through, I always will. Anyways, I hope you don't read this card and think I am harbouring ill will or hatred. What is in the past, is in the past. I wrote about these stories to make you smile and to cover some steps in my recovery program I am in. Today I am trying to let go of grievances. How did I do? Really, please let me know - I need to achieve at least an 8/10 to move on. Next up is metaphorically repaying for any damages or stolen property. Something for you to figuratively look forward to!



Monday, March 17, 2014

A Pile of Leaves Almost Killed My Dog

Over Thanksgiving weekend we took off on a wine tour, sampling many rare vintages.
You felt that the Shiraz smelled and tasted like a 10 year old wine, while I commented that it may smell and taste 10 years old but is probably closer to 15 and that's how it is with a wine of this calibre.
We drove back to the hotel in awkward silence and then you punched me in the nose. 

We spent a rainy evening inside cooking a fabulous lasagna dinner, drinking beer and playing scrabble.
I argue that nothing is better than spending a wonderful evening with someone you love, while you take exception with my liberal use of the words "better", "wonderful" and "someone".
We drink to our health and then you usher me out of your house, slamming the door behind me.

Overnight it snowed and in the morning we were greeted with a beautiful white pillowy blanket covering everything.
The snowman we made reminds me of a shorter, whiter and more serious version of my dentist, while you believe that the snowman looks more like a taller, darker and more jovial version of your doctor but that he could very well be a dentist if he went back to school for more training.
We both shook our heads at each other out of bewilderment for so long that we eventually broke out into "The Robot".

Who doesn't love the circus? It is a wonderful after work activity that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike.
I felt that the big tent was a slight exaggeration and that it was only a tad over medium and that the whole tent thing was a bit of a disappointment. On the other hand, you felt that the tent was not only not medium but also plenty big enough and that it would also make a wonderful set of curtains.
We enjoyed a bit of a giggle over it, then I pinched your cheek until it left a mark.

The morning air was fresh and unseasonably warm on our Sunday pre-breakfast stroll. 
You thought that the relatively balmy conditions were further signs of the worsening environmental troubles confronting all humans, while I preferred to be optimistic either out of spite or as a devil's advocate.
We agreed to disagree, but we did decide to try to reduce our impact on the environment by cutting back on burning effigies of those who wrong us.

Tuesday night we met with our book club and had a pretentious conversation about the themes of the depressingly realistic novel that was this week's reading.
You believed that the true intent of the author was to humiliate the reader, while I was pretty sure that I already felt humiliated, and thus, it was really hard to differentiate between any humiliation I felt as a result of reading the book and the humiliation I carried around with me on a regular basis.
We hugged and went our separate ways but only after you gave me what I would describe as an overly aggressive hug and an obviously condescending pat on the back and, as you were leaving, I swear I heard you mutter some insulting personal remarks.

We both enjoyed the movie and agreed that it was both hilarious and depressing.
I thought that it was a realistic take on the modern times in which we live, while you thought it was either too Kafkaesque or not Kafkaesque enough.
We laughed about it and then you smacked me on the back.

Then there was that time we flew our kites in the park.
You felt that the soaring kites, blowing in the wind, reminded you of two carefree butterflies full of joy. I felt that instead they represented the oppression of the proletariat by the rich bourgeois. 
We exchanged a long, meaningful look before you suggested that this was one major reason why I didn't have more friends. 

That summer we traveled down to California and tried to learn how to surf.
I loved the refreshing time out there on the waves, while you compared the challenge to being tortured, understanding all the while that that was a tad bit melodramatic.
We both agreed, that while the activity was neither of our favourite, your sunburn was something that we would always share.

Fall came and the intricately patterned leaves scattered themselves in the park.
I wanted to collect them and attempt to preserve the more attractive ones as a way of commemorating this period of time in our lives,while you just wanted to burn them all.
We opted to do nothing and instead to go to the movies - the unexpected offshoot of this story is that many years later a pile of leaves almost killed my dog.

Well-costumed kids were trick-or-treating - it was Halloween. 
I felt that you would make a wonderfully scary witch while you stated that I would be but a mediocre ghost or a fantastic linen table cloth.
We laughed about it and I decided to cut your hair while you were sleeping.

The winter festivities are upon us and the house is filled with food, family and holiday cheer.
You wonder aloud if you should consume any more eggnog worrying that you have had too much already, while I counter that that ship had sailed two days ago.
We looked at each other lovingly and decided to attempt to be less obtuse with each other in the new year.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Emotional Dominoes

He looked at her.
She looked back.
He always appreciated that about her, even though it made him slightly suspicious.

She made some toast.
He watched her butter the toast.
She enjoyed her snack, but felt oddly self-conscious.

He was running in the grassy field.
She rode her bike along side of him.
It was times like this when he almost forgot his manners.

She moved her pawn.
He furrowed his brow and, after a moment, moved his own pawn.
She suppressed the furrowing of her own brow in an attempt to be an individual.

He was raised on a healthy dose of respect and root vegetables that were roasted with garlic and herbs and served with a beautiful beurre blanc. The respect was not served at all. As a young boy he would look out his window up at the stars in awe and chuckle to himself. "Stars" he would say shaking his head. He wanted to meet a woman like his mother, which is odd because she was an intimidating ox of a woman who rationed out hugs much the same as she rationed out turns on her antique yo-yo. He longed to make a difference in the world, mostly as an homage to his favourite mathematical operation, subtraction. 

She peels potatoes to the beat of her own drummer.
He sits mesmerized by the rhythmic peeling.
She contemplates ordering in and dressing the potatoes up instead as the main characters for her puppet theatre version of Beauty and The Beast.  

He looks off into the distance.
She sits next to him reading a very worn novel.
He is jealous of something beyond his current level of awareness.

She enjoys the hot water of the bath.
He hopes there will be some hot water leftover for him.
She momentarily has mixed feelings about wanting all the hot water for herself but quickly returns to playing with her rubber ducks.

He sat down next to her.
She contemplated running away, yet stayed.
He was so glad that he had decided against wearing his big, fake, furry eye brows.

She spent many hours of her youth picking flowers - surprisingly not for bouquets or as presents, but instead mostly for therapeutic reasons. She used to be described as her own worst enemy, a title that made her proud. Her misunderstanding of the term enemy dated back to her preschool years. Her father warned her of men who would take advantage of her kindness or her love of cement, which oddly he did all the time. She longed to shelve books, not for a living or as a volunteer, but mostly just to clean the place up as it was always this side of messy. 

She watched the game on the edge of her seat.
He preferred to use his whole seat, thank you very much.
Afterwards she turned and smiled at his naivete.

He appreciates her performance at the theatre.
She is partially glad that he came, although she did have to deliberate for a while over the choice of the word 'glad'.
He wants to tell everyone his secret, but now isn't the time although it would be a good place.

After a moment of thought, she gives him a standing ovation.
Though there is some second-guessing, he decides to revel in it.
She can tolerate many things and revelry is surprisingly one of them, though second-guessing is a major pet peeve.

He opens his present.
She opens hers.
He always looks forward to their Wednesday evening ritual of opening things.

They held hands wherever they went less out of affection and more to avoid falling or having random passersby attempt to dance with them. While they were in love, it was not a fairy tale romance as they were constantly guarding against being too cliched in their love - instead their love was hyper-realistic- if you were to paint a picture of it, you'd swear it was a photograph. They wanted to grow old together, as it seemed like a fairly manageable task, or at least much more readily achievable than growing mold together (although they had reached some success recently and were thinking of creating their own brand of gourmet blue cheeses). They were each other's best friend, make-up artist and harshest critic and they loved finishing each other's crude jokes and apples.

He placed his hand gently upon her wrist.
She enjoyed having a slightly warmer wrist.
He wished that they could stay like this forever, but it was just too awkward and inconvenient.

She often dealt in hypotheticals.
He had zero idea what was going on most of the time.
Usually she just couldn't get enough of his confusion, and although she occasionally felt regret, that feeling was fleeting.

She wants to whisk him away.
He loves being whisked places.
She has a strange desire to use a spatula or at least a handheld mixer as well, just for variety's sake.

He laughs at her seriousness.
She sighs at his laughter.
He loves playing emotional dominoes.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Using My Fingers To Count

If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, save your sorries for someone who gives a damn. Not that I don't appreciate a good, heartfelt sorry from time to time, don't get me wrong. You know on second thought, waste all of your sorries on me, it's really your choice. I mean who am I to tell you what to do with your sorries?

You are trying to strike a delicate balance between sinister and curmudgeonly. I am more interested in watching reruns of Oprah. It's true what they say, you always hurt the ones you love.

Some days I wish I could eat more chocolate, other days I wish I owned more glue, and still other days I pretend my pillow is a cat and I pet it and try to feed it cat food to no avail. Everyday you sit at the table, carefully observing me, furiously taking notes.

You spend a lot of evenings shadow boxing. Normally, I would have no issues with this, except you have started solely boxing and pummeling all of my shadow puppets.

I had a single hair growing out of my forehead. It was an eyesore to say the least and a reminder to me of my advancing age and receding hairline.  One morning I started pulling it slowly, little by little. After a few minutes I looked up at the mirror and noticed I was bald - just like the time you got a thread from your sweater stuck in the door, except that you were able to go buy a new sweater and I now look like a hairless freak, but aside from that it is exactly the same.

As we are taking our stallions out for a trot, you state that on the outside we are essentially the same, but on the inside only one of us glows with an internal light that shines so brightly. I would have tried to guess who, but you keep interrupting my thoughts by clearing your throat loudly and pointing at yourself.

I am sorry! I can tell I offended you when I made those derisive comments about your guitar strumming that I thought was too post-modern when you were aiming for flamenco. I know you are annoyed and don't even want to look at me, but did you really have to install miniture curtains on your glasses and keep them perpetually closed whenever I come around.

You are running down the road at night, thinking of all of the wild geese making their way south for the winter and hoping that your lasagna was not burning in the oven. Coincidentally, I am baking wild goose for dinner in the oven and daydreaming about pieces of lasagna that not only are running down the road, but they also strangely remind me of a saucier, cheesier and more delicious-smelling version of you. 

I often use my fingers to count and you wonder why I limit myself to the digits on my hands when my toes would probably love to be included. I nod my head slowly, with a dramatically arched left eyebrow and a look of disgust on my face. If I didn't think you'd notice, judge or comment, I'd use my fingers to count all of the ways you annoy me.

You ooze charisma through your texts to me. Each message carries so much feeling and portrays you as this vibrant and immense character and I wait, each day, with baited breath, for the next eloquent message to appear and provide me hope and excitement for the future. The juxtaposition between the person I envision behind these texts and the one who has me constantly peeling potatoes, shucking oysters and scrubbing calluses is mind-numbing to say the least.

I am writing postcards in advance to you in the event that I travel to Spain someday. I am telling you all about my expected incredible times without you. Tears are welling up and starting to fall upon the cards when I think about how much I will miss you. And then I notice that it has started to rain and that I am not crying at all. Then I look more closely and realize that I am inside, sitting by the window, watching it rain and you are holding our watering can above me pouring water on my head.

You are such a disappointment to everyone who knows you. First you were asked to do the simple task of cleaning the house, but you couldn't do that. Then, I asked you to walk the dog, and you didn't do that. Finally, I asked you a number of rapid-fire skill-testing questions, but you couldn't even answer one correctly. Then I remembered that it was sound-proof glass.

I am throwing caution to the wind and you keep trying to catch it.

You have selected today to air your grievances. I am sitting in the audience clapping as loudly and enthusiastically as I can. "Bravo!" I exclaim. "Bravo, bravo, bravo!" It really is a good, grievance-airing performance for the ages. 
Rightly or wrongly, you have put those people in their place, which was your New Year's resolution.

I am travelling in the Mt. Everest region of Nepal and have infiltrated the ranks of the sherpa. Tomorrow we begin our ascent of the snowy behemoth. You are sitting at home anxiously awaiting my next correspondence, and when it arrives, you sit, shaking your head as you had actually told me to increase my shakra. Just goes to show, never pass messages via "broken telephone". 

You are constantly all up in my face about math. It's all like "add this, sucka", "you can't handle that quotient, boy" and "Times?!?!?! You want some freakin' times?!?!?". I have never understood, I don't think I ever will, why you get so aggressive and gangsta when it comes to math.

I have finally swam in the ocean. It is so big and fresh and I just feel so alive. And to think I wasted so much time in your little wading pool that you called "the sea". True, you gave me free ice cream and gave me all of the pats on my head I could have ever wanted, but was it too much to ask for you to be truthful with me at least when it comes to bodies of water?

You sit down across from me at breakfast, smiling. I look up from my bowl of cereal and after a moment, smile back. You glance away and then quickly and vividly lock eyes with me with even a larger smile. I momentarily lose my breath and look down, only to rebound with a smile for the ages. You take a ferocious bite of your toast with the energy of tiger and then throw me a smile that literally knocks me off my seat. I lay on the ground, dazed and confused, but I find a source of inner strength that I was previously unaware of and I rise, like a nearly vanquished warrior, and unveil the smile to end all smiles. A smile that "He" would have made. A smile that other smiles would only hope to be like when they grow up. A smile that is so much a smile that it is almost not a smile. And then we go to the park to throw a Frisbee.

I stand back and admire the lettuce I have grown in my garden. You are significantly less impressed, but then again, you have always been totally underwhelmed by lettuce.

You are watching and re-watching the same scene in your favourite movie again and again, and it is making you weep uncontrollably. Tears flow from your red, puffy eyes. There is an endless stream of gloopy stuff that dribbles from your nose. Your hair is a stringy, beehive of a mess. I look at you and fall in love once again.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Origins of Expressions: Part 1

I am a lover of expressions and really nice hard cheese. I try to use expressions when I talk as often as I can to spice up mundane conversations or to make time pass or to "appear all smart and stuff" - one time I used an expression to win a bet and another time I pulled an expression out of my hat (not literally, though that does sound like fun) to save an awkward dance party and,  yet another time, I used a particularly fancy and uppity expression to woo a lady (I also wooed a number of animals and my up-till-that-point-heterosexual male mail carrier at the same time but that is a story for another day). This is the first in a series of pieces where I explore some common expressions and figures of speech and attempt to unveil their true meanings and their often unexpected origins. I know some of my explanations may come as a surprise to you, the reader, and you may think I am off in left field (this one not discussed in this entry), or that I should be institutionalized (a little harsh, don't you think), but in the end, I think you will thank me (or at least not un-thank me) for shedding light on these often mysterious and usually misused bon mots. And to think I am only using a 60 Watt bulb! 

The first expression to discuss is "making a mountain out of molehill". 

Now, many people think this plainly refers to making a big deal out of a fairly minor thing. Why, I do this all the time! Just the other day, I dropped my ice cream cone and briefly debated protesting outside city hall. Interestingly, the original expression was actually "making a molehill out of a mountain" which was a problem for the ancient Phoenicians in Greece. They constantly, and tragically, were always underestimating the seriousness of situations (plagues, aphids, eating sandwiches that had been left out for days). The people of Phoenix also loved molehills and to be held in high esteem a noble person would have a yard full of molehills. Having a molehill of great size was a necessary part of a dowry as well and you wouldn't even think of having a BBQ without a molehill to show off to your friends and neighbours. Mountains on the other hand were, honestly, a bit of a joke. Like what are you - big? Woooo. Good for you - what else can you do? Let's just say the silence spoke volumes. Herodotus and Isidore Mountain were the laughing stock of lower Phoenix and they had to move to Athens to escape the ridicule, where they had a good, albeit unexciting life, running a clay tablet shop. The myth of the Phoenix involves a grand bird that rises from its own ashes. This has no connection to what I am talking about right now, just thought I'd mention it on the oft chance anyone had forgotten and later on decided to make a ridiculously large commotion over such a small, inconsequential tidbit. The people of Phoenix made many attempts both figuratively and literally to make molehills out of mountains. An example of the day that has been passed down orally over the years involved a young boy whose huge mistake of replacing his father's sword for battle with a pouch of unripened olives thus causing a month long battle with the near by Corinthians resulting in much bloodshed and a scar on his father's left thigh (that coincidentally was in the shape of a pouch of olives). This huge momentous and tragic event was predictably downplayed by the Phoenicians and the boy was only reprimanded by having to change the wheel on his brother's chariot, which he actually loved doing. 

The first historical usage of actually trying to make mountains out of molehills happened in northern Lithuania. General Frangarz ordered every able-bodied man of the local town to convert the many molehills near the border into mountains that "even those mangy heathens wouldn't dare cross!" The workers set out one cold and hazy morning, saying goodbye to their tearful wives and less-tearful mistresses and not-at-all tearful next door neighbours. They worked and toiled and tried to convert the less-than-intimidating molehills into an adequate first line of defense. When the men failed to make more than a small hill due to the extreme frost of the winter he threatened to behead them all- only changing his mind because he promised his mother on her death bed that he would cut back on the beheading so they could spend more quality mom and son time together. Plus he was growing tired of all of the blood. A mountainous range would have come in handy if for no other reason than the anticipated spike in commerce due to all of the high-in-demand mushrooms that would have popped up on the mountains. I try to imagine what the moles must have thought when they saw the men not swearing at them and using shovels to flatten their hills and instead almost working with them for a change. If those Latvians had been successful it could have led to a new chapter in man/mole relations where instead of adversaries, we could have been partners or even friends. On a side note, many years later the expression "making mountains out of molehills" was used by world famous Chef Pantelon who aimed to make the world's tallest mound of mashed potatoes. So grand in size that even the mole, himself, would be impressed (moles are generally very unimpressed by chefs generally and by potato creations specifically). Ironically, the chef was a minimalist for most of his life, and his previous claim to fame was creating the world's smallest chicken dinner, or at least he claimed it was a chicken dinner. It looked like a few specks on a plate that very well could have been what happened to the last of the h'or dourves. A few of the house guests that evening wanted to check to see if it was chicken, but fortunately for the chef and his embarrassed wife, the microscope was a few hundred years away from being powerful enough to verify. Chef Pantelon had many regrets, late in his career, and he tried to expand his horizons mostly through the usage of potatoes. His grand "mountain" of potatoes was the talk of Europe, if by "talk" you mean "whisper" and by "Europe" you are mostly confused.

Strangely, the people of Ghana are quite proud of making figurative mountains out of either figurative or literal molehills (whatever if more convenient at the time), unlike most others where it is seen as an overreaction. In Ghana, the bigger deal you make out of a minor thing the more highly revered you are. This has had two results: first, everyone is constantly exaggerating and using hyperbole (which can get really tiring really quickly, let me tell you). There are constant battles over who has the biggest and best and arguments ensue. It is not uncommon for the police to get involved over what had initially started out as a conversation over who has the nicer couch. I'm not sure what is Ghanan for "take a chill pill" but I'm sure that they would start exaggerating and embellishing the facts over who had the "chilliest" pill or who pill looked like the president. The second result is that those people who have actual hugely large events or occurrences, who would normally have some actual reason to brag or boast, are completely unsure of how to react and they end up sitting at home by themselves eating carrots and reading. It is almost like a whole society of boys who cried wolves. The one upside is that the funniest comedian has a few great bits on the extreme "mountains" that some men have used to describe some really small things, and the women who love them. The women of Ghana have tried, historically, to avoid all hyperbole as it makes them look...ummm how to put they are filling out their size 5, hand-dyed, hand-woven, Kente cloth patterned-smock a little too much. Sorry, just telling it like it is. 

It would seem that in the end, the mole himself, has the last laugh. Both the annoying, real holes that he digs and the slightly less annoying figurative holes used in speech just give more publicity for the much maligned mole. Give your publicist a raise! Now if only he could get people to realize that being compared to a mole isn't necessarily a bad thing and that he has zero to do with the chocolate-y spicy Mexican sauce aside from both tasting good wrapped in a tortilla (or so I'm told).

The next expression to look at is one of my personal favourites: "till the cows come home".

Now this expression currently refers to something that won't happen quickly or for a while since those cows are really slow at coming back to the barn. And to think that no one is the least bit curious or suspicious over what is taking so darn long!?! I mean they could have an illegal gambling ring set up around the barn and could be extorting the sheep (I mean they do seem skittish at the best of times) or they could be selling contraband branding devices and rust and dent free milk buckets. Interestingly, cows have not always been the slow, meandering animals we love and therefore, the expression hasn't always been true. The expression has a rich and powerful history that speaks to who we are as a race. A look at the history of the expression will proof instructive and, hopefully, educational, but I can't make any promises. The last time I made that promise I spent five months hiding behind a large cacti in the New Mexican dessert. True, I learned how to extract milk and food from the cacti, I domesticated and subsequently ate some small rodent-type dessert animals I encountered and I even opened up a little Catci theme park in my backyard when I returned home, but those were some dark times and I was forced to do some unbelievably regrettable things to survive. Don't even think about judging me - I'd like to see you survive in the dessert with nothing except the clothes on your back and also the clothes on your legs and feet (I left my hat at home). you will soon see, before our modern-day understanding, this expression of waiting "till the cows come home" has oscillated between meanings over time.

Our first stop in the history of this expression is Indonesia. The highly-revered fast cows of 18th century East Timor were loved and appreciated far and wide. Many people prayed to them, played rudimentary gambling games with them and, naturally, bred, trained and raced them thoroughbred style. Only rarely, if hit with a certain craving, were they eaten and when they were they were marvelous, albeit slightly tough from all of the running and weight training. Eating these fast cows was frowned upon, as they could be literally cash cows for a family. Hungry children would ask "why don't we just eat Mildred already, we are starving. Plus she hasn't won a race all year!" and their mothers would reply "Eat the cow?!?! Are you crazy!?!?! Is that what we do in this family - eat someone when they are no longer winning??!?! Now be quiet and eat your fried armadillo like a good girl." These cows were treated like the queens they were (and sometimes like kings as well, as East Timor was way ahead of its time in regards to their view of gender roles, at least among livestock). A few days before each race, the cows would be paraded throughout the downtown dressed in their regalia. The townspeople would stand by the side of the road and cheer and wave signs like "How da cow? You da cow!", "Marry me! (if only 'the man' would reverse the antiquated laws prohibiting human and bovine weddings)" and  "Moooo! There it is!". After a full day of parading - the wagering would begin. The city square would be packed early Tuesday evening to discuss and debate every topic from which racer was looking good, to if it was "wrong" to love a cow more than your own kid, to wondering who would win a fight - the legendary cow Tomido who once won 25 consecutive races or that loser what's-his-name president who keeps raising taxes. Wages were placed and the races were a day of much excitement. On such an occasion that a family's gamble paid off, there was much celebrating and the yams were plentiful.

From East Timor we find ourselves in the South American country of Argentina. Back in the 15th century, there was a native group of Argentinians who worshiped a group of mythical, wise cows who oversaw and protected them and also passed judgement on all dilemmas amongst the people. These learned cows really took their time, so much so, that the time it took them to deliberate became one of the time markers and some South American historians think this was an early precursor to the modern month (most other historians laugh at them behind their backs). The people would be known to say "see you in a how-long-it-takes-for-the-wise-cows-to-decide" or "I can't believe how big little Juan has grown since two-cow-deliberations ago". One especially important and delicate judgement went on and on (two townspeople couldn't decide whose yucca tree was the most inspirational and, thus, better to appear on a series of tourist pamphlets advertising the upcoming jicama festival) - so long in fact that some wondered if the cows were in fact a myth after all as "Crazy" Paolo was always rambling on about after eating to many ghost peppers. A sentiment was growing among the Argentinians why they were looking to cows to make decisions for them in the first place, especially as no actual cows had ever been milked, let alone sighted in the local area. "Crazy" Paolo would take up his perch every Sunday morning exclaiming to all in earshot "Waiting till the cows came home makes no sense - how many times must I tell you- there are no cows here! They are never coming home, because this is not where they live. Is it just me? I feel like everyone else is drinking crazy cow sauce!" The backlash against praying to these cows was harsh and this divided the community between two groups, the traditional, increasingly-more secretive cow worshipers and the more modern "wise potato" worshipers. Potatoes also, coincidentally, took a very long time to come to a decision.

Finally, the earliest reference is believed to involve the C'oww people of northern Ur whose account pre-dates all written history. Some of the oral records seem to indicate that they could have written stuff down but were pretty snobby on the whole and writing was considered fairly low-class. These ancient heros were famous for venegance, revenge and amazing butter cream frosting. They scoffed at all attempts to codify laws, use zeros, domesticate dogs and wash armpits (though oddly they made it a law that people must shave zeros into the armpits of their mangy dogs). They were evidentially both super adept at leisure activities like card games, lawn bowling and watching camel races and also very slow at all household tasks, including taking out the trash, wiping around the sink, and changing diapers.They also loved going out and either taking their sweet time coming home making it next to impossible for their wives to time the tabbouleh or coming home really fast especially when they were due for a foot massage or a sandal repair. The men were either faster or slower than cows making any attempt at linking them together troublesome and confusing. Wives would often complain and wish their slow husbands were as fast as a heavy pig. Any comparison to a relatively speedy cow would be drowned out by riotious laughter. The women of the faster, blister-footed men sometimes wished they had married actual bovines, if nothing else for the conversations and the plentiful cream.

The final expressions go hand-in-hand as both are pastry-related and very tasty sounding -"a cake walk" and "as easy as pie". 

These taste bud-massaging expressions invoke amazing experiences that utilize all the senses and are ultimately a huge let down as they are only metaphors, and not even slightly tastier than some random, regular words (I mean have you tried the new strawberry and mint flavoured "and" they are making these days?). The original cake walks of pre-Gold Rush San Francisco were legendary. The now-infamous cake district was a gathering area for the goateed intellectuals, mustachioed artists and surprisingly facial hair-free cake makers of the early 19th century. This was truly a hub of groundbreaking philosophical thoughts, hyper realistic glass-blown artwork, and avant-garde cake design. Not an evening would pass without an intense sharing of ideas usually focused around a debate over art for art's sake vs. art as a means for social change vs. "that glass bowl is meant to be presumptuous right?". This all would take place over a table adorned with remarkably plain table clothes and the crumbly leftovers of the creations of the "Cake Mafia", a group of five, living-on-the-edge dessert renegades who baked and lived life on the edge. They mixed hard, partied hard, and harvested their own baking powder at least twenty years before it became mainstream. They baked as they lived, and they lived as they swam and they swam often (nothing like a good dip in the ocean after a day in the kitchen) and they were both revered and feared. Cross them and you may as well have been a ghost, stay on their good side and you'd be enjoying the best beignet this side of Paris, do something in the middle and you may be lucky to lick some leftover chocolate sauce. Start on their good side but make a mistake and someone else, maybe your mother, would be enjoying French pastries at your funeral. The ominous walk from your home to the graveyard was a thing of lore and was known colloquially as "the cake walk". There were also some regular walks taken by average citizens to go buy a slice of cake, but those are not at all noteworthy.

What do you call people who are so rebellious that they didn't even fit in with the way-out-there whisk and cake pan rattling renegades? Throughout history people like this have been known by many names - The Cross Sculpturers, The Miniature Garden Caretakers, and Fred and in 1800s San Francisco these brave, often misunderstood men, were known as The Pie Guys. These Pie men eschewed the baking norms of the day and flat out refused to associate with cakes even when the cakes themselves "appeared" welcoming. Instead they spent their time rolling out crusts, exacting their own brand of vigilante justice using solely rolling pins and flour, creating creamy fillings, collecting rare and often inappropriate porcelain figurines, adorning their top crusts with cute apple-shaped edible art work, attempting to curtail the rapid growth of all vinery and serving up the most scrumptious pies in the world. And to top it all off they looked fantastic while doing all of this. Yes, the legends are true, they not only strove to make incredible pies but they also were constantly setting fashion trends while doing it. Other groups of pie makers had come before them but were squashed by either the Cake makers, by societal pressures, or by an avalanche (that only happened once and no one stood so near that snow-covered mountain again). But, this particular group not only survived but flourished due to their flare and abundant use of sweet, juicy berries. Their enemies claimed that these berries were artificially enhanced and that Pie Guys were "juicing" (adding extra sweet cane juice to their berries to gain an advantage). These suave vigilantes were constantly wanted by the law as much for their secret pie crust recipe as for taking the law into their own hands. Men wanted to eat their pies, women wanted to eat their pies and cats just wanted to lap up spilled milk and lick themselves, but you knew that already. The expression "as easy as pie" was their catch phrase whenever they either swooped in and saved someone in peril or waited until the last moment and served up some delicious pie to a person who was in dire need of a good snack. 

For nearly one hundred years these two groups dominated the California scene and while they clashed relentlessly, they drove each other to dizzying new heights that many local foodies say has never been matched before or since. Their food rivalry was matched outside of the kitchen, where the Cakemen took out the trash and also got rid of those who didn't bow before them while the Pie Guys tried to help society in their own unique way  -imagine the Hell's Angels only as really really well-dressed men who baked like your grandma on her best day. Where people walked around in a constant state of fear as the next "cake walk" could be imminent, there was also a strange, feeling of peace, knowing that the peace keeping "easy as pie" guys may be just around the corner ready to save the day. Tensions eased when one day the great-great-great grandson of one of the Cake Mafia fell in love with the great-great-great grand-daughter of one of the Pie Guys. But only very recently did the descendants of these groups sit down for tea together, thus ending years of bad feelings and overly harsh competition. They decided that they could live and work side-by-side or possibly one in front of the other too on special occasions. After hands were shook, backs patted and noses itched, the dessert menu was placed in front of them and a big decision had to be made - cake or pie? I wasn't there that day, but I have heard from friends who know other friends who talked to some guy who knows people that an audible hush fell upon the restaurant that and that the day was only saved by an exceptionally good tiramisu.