Thursday, July 24, 2014

Alarmed

We didn't make eye contact. We couldn't.

If we did, we would start to laugh, and that would give us away.

And so we looked up at the sky, looked down at our shoes, looked at the flocks of students marching out from the school, away from the building, out to the back, near the football field and track.

While the alarm rang from within. While the sound of sirens grew louder, notifying us of the approach of the fire trucks.

"It is not," I said, standing under the conical disk that protruded from the ceiling tile. "It's too small. It's smaller than the ones we have at home. For a building this size, wouldn't it be bigger?"

"Size isn't everything."

The student lounge in my high school was called the Red Room, though it wasn't a room. But it was red. A second-floor hallway that linked the science classrooms to the music room, windows lined one side, overlooking the cafetorium—cafeteria during lunch hours; auditorium during special events—the other side with windows that looked out into a courtyard and beyond, the football field and the running track that encircled it.

Under these windows, wide window ledges with boxed recessions made for benches, and all of it was covered in a coarse, red carpet, which also ran along the same length of hallway floor. This is where my friends and I always met during our lunch and spare periods, and before school started.

I had a food tray from the cafetorium that I stashed away in the ceiling, where it was kept until I made my appearance, when I would retrieve the tray and spin it, endlessly, on the tip of my finger, like a circus performer.

Because I had been a regular fixture in the Red Room, I knew all the facets of the area. I always sat in the same spot, always hung out with the same group of friends. For years, I had noticed the ceiling fixtures that hung throughout the school, but I had never given them another thought, never spoke of them.

Until now.

I was standing in the hall, spinning the tray, looking up. "What is that thing anyway?" I asked.

"It's a smoke detector," replied one of my friends, his tone a little surprised that I wouldn't recognize the fixture.

"It is not, it's too small. It's smaller than the ones we have at home. For a building this size, wouldn't it be bigger?"

"Doesn't have to be bigger. There are plenty of them lining this hall."

"They aren't only activated by smoke," added another friend. "They work by pressure."

"Pressure?" I repeated, "Like, if there's an explosion?"

"Yes," he said, as though he were an expert on the subject. "If you hit one, the alarm will go off."

"No way," I said, "I'm sure some kids would look at it and think of it as a target. If they were so sensitive, wouldn't they be protected with a cage?"

"I'm telling you, if you hit it, the alarm will go off."

He said it like a challenge. I stopped spinning my tray and placed it on the bench, where I usually sat. I stood directly under the device, which now looked like a giant, white button. I crouched low, and then sprang up with as much strength as my short legs could muster. As I propelled myself upwards, I brought my right arm straight up, hand in a fist, and delivered a flying punch squarely on the centre of the smoke detector.

If you hit it, the alarm will go off.

"Holy shit!" my friend exclaimed. "It really does go off."

"You weren't sure?" I said, projecting my voice over the loud, menacing sound.

"I guessed."

"And I didn't believe you."

Students were now emerging from classrooms, making their way to the exits in an orderly fashion. All of my friends had witnessed the incident, all were as surprised as me. We collected our belongings. I tucked the tray back into the ceiling.

And we left the building.

We didn't make eye contact. We couldn't. If we did, we would start to laugh, and that would give us away.

We would never speak of this again.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Arranging Flowers

I have amazing, talented friends.

I only heard about the 48 Hour Film Project a couple of weeks before it was scheduled to take place. A couple of friends who were associated with the project had tweeted about it: I paid only brief attention to it, thinking it was a cool idea.

I've always been interested in film, had always played with the thought of how I'd like to appear in a film, maybe help write a script—I've been told I'm good with dialog. My littlest one has taken drama school and is currently in a drama summer camp: she has even auditioned for a role in a feature film.

Maybe, I'll live vicariously through her.

On the weekend of the 48 Hour Film Project, one of my friends, Rebecca Fleming, had tweeted and posted on Facebook that she would be participating in the challenge, playing a part in a film. Rebecca is a funny, amazing person who can engage you in the utterly silliest of conversations or the most intelligent, thought-provoking discussions.

And she loves beer, which makes me love her all the more and has me truly thankful for our friendship.

When the end products from the film project were displayed on screen last weekend, at the Mayfair Theatre, I didn't hesitate to go. I wanted to support Becca and see what this festival was all about. Maybe, I might be motivated to want to participate next year.

The challenge for the filmmakers is to put together a short film, of about four to seven minutes in length, in a 48-hour period. Writing, casting, shooting, editing, and post-production are all done in this short time frame.

In all, six short films were presented at the Mayfair. Some were good, some were brilliant, some dragged on, and some just didn't make sense. But I had to hand it to the people who stepped up and put themselves out there.

My favourite film, by far, was the Team OutAway production, Arranging Flowers. I'm not saying that because it is the film that starred my friend. Never mind the fact that Becca displayed great timing, priceless facial expressions, and a convincing portrayal of someone who, in her attempt to overcome a problem at the job that she clearly doesn't like, gets pulled into a situation in which she has no control, only to redeem herself. The film had a good story and was shot with clarity and quality. It moved at a great pace and the audience was fully engaged.

Becca was brilliant. No wonder she won the award for Best Actress of the event. It was well-deserved.

Here is the short film, Arranging Flowers.



If ever I needed some prodding for getting involved in film, the 48 Hour Film Project is it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Road to He'll is Paved with Autocorrect

When a total stranger threatens to stab you, you have very few options:
  • Comply with his or her demand.
  • Try to run away.
  • Stand your ground and, if need be, fight off your would-be assailant.
"Nice bike," he said, casually, as we stood on the corner of Rideau and Dalhousie. Late afternoon traffic brought us to the same spot. Countless pedestrians moved about, focused on his or her destination.

"Thanks," I said, not really wanting to engage him in conversation, but seeing no reason to be rude. He obviously lived on the streets: late teens or early 20s, disheveled hair, skin on his face that had seen far too much sun and too little soap. Dirty clothes that seemed to have no colour: brown or perhaps grey.

"I think I'll take it."

"Excuse me?" I said, knowing I heard the words but not really believing they came from the young man.

"I'll take your bike," he repeated.

"I don't think so," I nearly laughed.

"I'll cut you."

I blame karma. It was that bloody chipmunk, coming full circle. I had taken a life today, and now my life was up for grabs.

Yesterday started out with so much promise: another beautiful morning with sunshine and mild temperatures; very little wind. I became accustomed to cycling to work a couple of times a week. Sure, we have no showers, but I make due with a facecloth, hand towel, and the handicap bathroom stall.

My route is longer than it needs to be, crossing into Qu├ębec at the Portage Bridge instead of the Champlain Bridge, skirting around the Casino de Lac Leamy instead of climbing through the Gatineau Park. My new morning route takes me an extra three or four kilometres, but the climbs are not as treacherous, and I don't like arriving at the office, at the beginning of the day, already exhausted.

My commute was enjoyable and refreshing, awakening. I was maintaining a good pace, making the ride a personal best. Except for a split second, on the east side of Lac Leamy. It happened so fast that for a second I thought my eyes had played tricks on me. I didn't see a creature so much as a shadow, and at first I believed it to be a tiny field mouse.

On instinct, I swerved my front tire to avoid whatever it was that had scooted in front of me. My front tire hit nothing, and because I felt nothing on the back wheel—no bump, no soft squeezing—I thought I had missed whatever may have startled me.

I looked back, and knew I had killed it.

A small chipmunk, trying to cross the pathway. It had died instantly, it's fragile neck crushed. It never knew what hit it. My heart sank, but I took comfort in knowing it hadn't suffered. Without slowing—what would be the point?—I kept going.

By the time I reached the office, the chipmunk was practically forgotten, and I concerned myself with stretching, drinking my recovery drink (chocolate milk), and starting my computer. It wasn't until I was removing my smartphone and water bottles from their respective cradles that I discovered my rear tire was flat.

Totally flat.

I hadn't felt a difference in the ride at any point in my commute, so I figured I must have rolled over something in the parking lot. Over my lunch break, I would replace the inner tube and be set for my evening commute.

I blew out my second tire only 12-and-a-half kilometres into my ride, as I was about to cross the Alexandra Bridge. I could see it coming but, as with the chipmunk, I couldn't avoid it. Where the interlocking brick ended and the concrete sidewalks met, a small depression revealed a pointed corner in the concrete. I tried to swerve, but only my front tire avoided the hazard.

As with the chipmunk, the back tire could not avoid its fate. I heard the bang and immediately felt the firmness of the rim.

I could hear Lori's voice, having spoken to me less than a week ago, as I was trying to fit two spare tubes in the carry case under my seat: "Why do you need to carry two tubes? What are the chances of getting two flats in one day?"

Pretty good, it would seem.

From this dilemma, I learned one thing: my cycling shoes aren't made for walking. While they do have clips that recede into the treads, the backs of the shoes rub my heels. I was going to have blisters before I reached the Byward Market.

I called Lori to tell her of my dilemma. She told me she thought there was a bicycle shop on Clarence Street, so I headed to where she thought it was located. There was no shop to be found.

Using my phone, I spoke to Google Now: "Where is the closest bicycle-repair shop?" The result showed me a place on Dalhousie, less than two minutes from where I was standing. I pushed my bike onward, relying more on the handlebars for support, my feet beginning to ache.

The store was not at the quoted address.

Discouraged, I decided to head to the bus stop on the Mackenzie Bridge, on the other side of the Rideau Centre. With luck, I would have enough loose change in my backpack to get me to my end of the city.

"Nice bike."

We were standing at Dalhousie and Rideau. He had sights on my bike. I was not willing to relinquish possession of it.

He wasn't holding a knife, but that meant nothing. He could have drawn it from any pocket, or from behind his back.

I could have handed over the bike, but I didn't want to. I could have run, but with a flat tire and sore feet, it would have been a slow getaway. I opted for the third option: stand my ground. I watched for him to reach for a knife, knowing I would only have a second or two to make a move. I knew exactly how heavy my bike was: I know how much effort is required to hoist it over my head—I hang it upside-down from the ceiling in my garage. If need be, I would swing my bike up, using it to keep my would-be attacker at bay. With any luck, one of the many passers by would come to my aid.

As an absolute last resort, I would use the bike as a club and crack him over the skull with it.

This bike had already killed today.

No weapon was pulled. The kid noticed the flat tire and said, "Your bike's no good." He then looked beyond me, seemingly recognizing someone, and yelled, "Hey! I thought I told you to not come back here... ." Already having forgotten me, he started walking towards his next target.

The light had changed and I walked a little faster to the bus stop.

I stopped briefly to rest my feet and took a moment to type a short message to the Twitterverse: Okay, this is turning into the day from Hell.

Only, the autocorrect on my "smart" phone changed Hell to He'll. Great. Just bloody great.

On the Mackenzie Bridge, I scrounged through my backpack, collecting and counting coins. The bus fare was $3.45, but I was 20-cents short. A woman, standing at the stop, watched me, saw me count my coin. "How much are you short?" she asked.

"Twenty cents."

She opened her purse and gave me a quarter. "Here you go," she said.

"You have been the brightest light in my day," I said, almost crying. She moved on, recognizing the bus that was approaching as her own.

On my bus, the driver didn't even look at the coins as I dropped them in the fare box. But to me, it didn't matter. I hadn't short-changed OC Transpo. My day felt a little better.

One kind deed made all the difference.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Music Monday: The Devil & the Dove

Of all the times that I have posted a song for Music Monday, I would be remiss if I didn't include one of my favourite Canadian singer-songwriters, Sarah Slean.

I don't need to say much about her: if you've followed this blog for long enough, you will know that I've written about her here, and here, and here.

And here.

One of my highlights of 2013 was meeting Sarah, on Canada Day, and when I told her my name, she exclaimed, "We're Twitter buddies!"

Sigh.

Here's a song from her 2011 double album, Land & Sea. Beautifully shot in Newfoundland and, as always, beautifully sung, here is The Devil & the Dove.



Your fans are greatly anticipating your next album, Sarah.

Happy Monday!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Photo Friday: Haiku

The other day, when I told my wife about my photo screwup, where I went to the Strandherd Bridge and spent an hour shooting photos without a memory card in my camera, she wrote a haiku to sum up my blunder.
New crossing, evening,
Camera... tripod... photos...
...no SD card.
Not to be outdone, and to set things right, I decided that for today's post I would write my own:
Late night, bridge awaits.
I return to it once more.
All is now redeemed.

Happy Friday!