the diary thing 
dr - drumCOLD, CLEAR AIR OUTSIDE MY WINDOW means I can see the CN Tower clearly from my chair. I should qualify that -- the downtown still produces a low haze of car exhaust that makes the cloudless blue of the sky look like the stained edge of a coloured bedsheet: a bit soiled and sweat-bleached. Still, when the visibility is this clear in January it means one thing: cold. Ultimately, the next few months are about double and triple layers of clothing, salt-stains on the floor by the front door, the morning newspaper soggy with snow, and ever-shorter trips around the town -- whole days, in fact, spent inside, looking for any excuse to play hermit for another day. Cabin-fever time.

I hate winter. I really do. I hate it with a dull accomadation, knowing I have to live with it since the alternative -- living in a place with no winter -- would mean living in some godawful place like Florida. Or Los Angeles. No offense, but why do the warmest places in North America also have to be the most vulgar, or the flakiest? I'm with Carl Hiaasen on Florida, and the biggest strike against L.A. is that they can produce something like The Player or Action or It's Like, You Know, and then wonder why people still hate the place. Hell -- I'm a Canadian, anyway, and there's no place I could live legally that isn't winter four months of the year.

Besides, if I gave up winter, I'd also have to give up Fall and Spring, my favorite seasons (in that order). I'd happily give up the miserable, scorching dog days of summer, as well, but gardening seems to have mitigated that climatic misery, at least in retrospect. I remember our friends in Barcelona telling us about those fierce Catalan winters, where temperatures would drop to ten degrees Celsius, and you'd have to wear an overcoat. It only prompted a giddy, near-hysterical fit of giggles from us. Gawwwd -- wouldn't that be nice? 

The first thing I'd do if I was rich would be to buy an apartment in Barcelona. Think about it -- six months of autumn every year. Fuuuuuuuucccck. Sounds like heaven. No more salt-crusted boots or polar-fleece tops damp with perspiration after you've been wearing them for two weeks straight. No more crab-like, shinaining walks across sidewalks made deadly with black ice. No more huddling in the shelter of locked store revolving doors while waiting for streetcars, or putting on pounds because you've been nipping into one Starbucks after another for a hot latte when buses are delayed down the line. Cafe culture in a place like Toronto has less to do with leisurely time-wasting than simple survival.

K. TREATED ME TO DINNER LAST NIGHT, and we talked about where to go for our big trip of the year -- if we can afford one, that is. 

"I'd like to go to St. Louis," she said. "I've wanted to go to St. Louis since before I met you."

I know K. would like to go to St. Louis. She'd also like to visit Battle Creek, MI, Hershey, PA, and Minneapolis, MN. K. has a thing for old company towns, and midwestern rail junctions. It's the reason she regards Chicago as the greatest American city, and not New York. (For the record, I love Chicago, but I'd never say that it's got near the mystique, the sheer, mythic, inspirational power of New York. Ironically, K.'s been to New York twice since we got together -- I haven't been in years.)

I tried to be diplomatic. "If I can only afford one trip this year, I'm not sure my choice would be St. Louis."

"Okay, where would you like to go?" she asked. "Not that I don't already know the answer."

Of course she knows where I'd like to go: Barcelona. I adored the place when we were there, and regard it as something of a high point in my meagre history of travel -- the closest thing I've ever had to a pure vacation, and the most beautiful city I've ever seen. I'd wanted to go there for years, and in spite of my high expectations, I wasn't at all disappointed. I'd go back in a second.

"Okay, I'd like to go back to Barcelona, too," she said. "But I'd like to go somewhere else while we're there."

"Sure, yeah. Fine. Of course."

"I don't want to go to Europe and just see one neighbourhood in Barcelona."

"Right. Of course."

"I'd like to go to Provence, maybe. Or Italy."

"Sure. Yeah. We can do that."

Anything. As long as I get to see Barcelona again. I'm not the most ambitious traveller, I have to admit, and the thought of going somewhere "adventurous" -- which means someplace where, in recent history, the citizens have been killing each other, or have been dying from plagues, or where leeches live in trees or poisonous snakes outnumber people, or where insects are numerous, and large, enough to constitute a food staple -- is not a big priority for me. I like places where I can hang my clothes in a cupboard, get a coffee in the morning, and read the news in English. I'm no Michael Palin.

"There's another place thing that I'd love to do, for a vacation," K. says.

"Oh yeah?" I look up from my paella. I don't know why, but I'm suddenly afraid.

"A walking vacation. England, maybe. Where we can put a couple of changes of clothes in a backpack and really see the countryside."

The word "backpack", I'm afraid, prompts a rise in my blood pressure. Much as I like England -- or the idea of "England", since I've never been much outside of Notting Hill, Soho and Knightsbridge -- I somehow don't find myself warming to the idea.

"Think of it -- it'd be great. You can really see the countryside. Kent. The Cotswolds. A place like that."

"Hmm-yeah. Sounds...great."

"We can visit John Bailey."

"Yeah. That'd be nice."

Much as I'd like to finally meet John, I have this vision of myself dropping to my knees outside his door, legs dull with pain, red-faced and gasping. Quite an introduction.

"You're not crazy about the idea, are you?"

"Well, uh. No. I guess not." 

I am not, it has to be said, the most exciting travel companion you'll ever have the pleasure to know.

"One was never married, and that's his hell; another is, and that's his plague."
- Robert Burton
The Anatomy of Melancholy

Winter, travel, lost mail and weddings. A note of suspense enters the diary thing.

I HAVEN'T BEEN HAVING MUCH LUCK with eBay lately. Maybe it's because I'm selling old indie rock 45s, but I've had a couple of buyers stiff me for payment. I can live with that, but I've also had items I've bought go missing in the mail, or show up notably different from how they were advertised. The single most expensive thing I've bought -- three bound volumes of New Yorker magazines from World War Two -- were shipped over a month ago and haven't arrived yet. I can only hope that they're being held up in customs. I've sent my address to another seller three times -- they keep forgetting to send a book I won over two months ago. They didn't forget to cash my payment, though.

The second most expensive thing I've won was advertised as a set of 23 bound volumes of the Atlantic Monthly, running continuously throughout the 1920s, but when the boxes arrived, I only counted twenty volumes, with a gap in the early twenties. When I e-mailed the seller, asking if perhaps the missing three volumes had been sent in a separate box, I received this:

"I have two more sets of books here and will look through everything totally. If I do not find the missing one's then I will refund all of your money and you can keep the books. This is not a business, I too am operating from my home, but I have a 86 year old mother with alzheimers and we lose things all the time. I fear we have fallen victim to her diligent and always busy fingers. Give me a week. I will search everywhere. But I doubt if I will find them. She lost her teeth before Christmas. She just threw them away. I AM REALLY SORRY!"

It's amazing how a few lines, in an e-mail from someone you don't know, can paint a picture so vivid, so sad and desperate and grim. I don't think I'll ask for my money back.

THERE HAS BEEN, IT MUST BE SAID, a few hints dropped around here lately that now -- or at least anytime in the near future -- would be a nice time to start thinking about marriage. Nothing overwhelming, or oppressive, but definite hints, especially now that K.'s divorce has been finalized. 

I keep thinking, crassly, that this might be a great way to boost readership of the old online diary. The Rick and K. Nuptual Watch. Will he get the hint? How patient can she be? Will he buy her a ring? Can he even afford to? Can he afford not to? Suspense, for the first time, might be an element of reading this diary.

I have to say that I have no particular objection to getting married, or to buying a ring, though the thought of entering the whole wedding industry -- jewellers, dressmakers, tuxedo rentals, caterers, clergy, limousine rentals, etc., -- fills me with a positive dread. I've been part of enough weddings -- as guest, photographer, even best man -- to have a vague of idea of how I'd want it done, but not enough of an opinion to know where to start. It probably doesn't matter, anyway, since it's always seemed to me that the bride has a lot more to say in the matter than the groom. Above it all, I can only imagine how the subtle pressure to get on with it might make me more than sensibly recalcitrant, if only because I'd like to have at least a slight illusion that I'm going about this at my own speed.

In any case, stay tuned -- things are about to get interesting around here.

writing ©2000
Rick McGinnis
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