the diary thing 
THE DAYS ARE GETTING LONGER AND BRIGHTER, the snow is off the ground, and layers are being shed. I've actually seen the inevitable gore-tex and hiking boot types walking about in shorts. White, hairy legs -- the first sign of spring in Toronto.

Of course we know we won't get off that easy -- a final cold snap and blizzard are expected any day -- but the inevitable neighbourly small talk about the weather has a giddy edge to it, as everyone relishes the apparent gift of so short a winter. From where I sit, the late morning sun is raking steeply on the bare trees and faded lawns, and through an open window I can smell the rich, tumescent earth, marshy and fecund. Thick green spikes of tulips and daffodils are forcing their way through the soil. 

I've always imagined that the first burst of spring releases a kind of pheromone into the air -- when I was younger, I'd wander the streets at night breathing deeply, letting myself become excited at the possibilities of a rejuvenated year, imagining that the chemical rush was shared by everyone else, that a mutual longing for renewal, a profound, almost sexual desire to erase the torpor and habit of the previous year would carry me into a brighter future.

By July, of course, I knew that there was no escape, that I had been, once again, the victim of a natural euphoria meant as much for the benefit of trees, tulips, birds and rodents as for myself. Like a perennial shrub or a raccoon, I was living in a cycle, where hope could be triggered by the smell of wet earth and the angle of the morning sun. By the time I was nearly thirty, I had formed a vague philosophy of biological fatalism that reduced almost every emotion and impulse to a hormonal surge, a timed chemical reaction meant to keep us scurrying from our burrows and pollenating on schedule. It was, I suppose, a sort of comfort.

"The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la / Have nothing to do with the case."
- W.S. Gilbert
The Mikado

The new season begins, finally. An outburst of gall and peevishness.
grandma murphy and mom
My cousin Terry came over the other day and gave me a bunch of family photos. I seem to have been appointed family historian, so I  thought I'd share them with everyone for a few entries. This is my mother and her mother, grandma Murphy -- probably Grandville Ave., probably the 1920s. Elizabeth Murphy died in 1942, over twenty years before I was born. 

FOUND MYSELF SUPPRESSING RAGE yesterday afternoon, on a visit to a cake store and coffee shop on my way home. The shop has four tables, a few stools, and probably the best desserts in the city, not to mention decent espresso, but it also holds cooking classes in its kitchen a few days every month. The classes attract a kind of idle rich -- the kind of people who've "rediscovered" the joys of cooking, and whose $100,000 kitchen renovations are featured in interior magazines. What with the Sub-Zero fridge, the Viking range (gas elements, grill, convection oven, griddle, warming and baking ovens), marble aggregate counters, stainless steel backsplash, deep soapstone sink and pot faucet, wine cooler, steamer drawers and pull-out dishwasher, why not take a course in pastry-making?

The line-up at the counter was clogged with a handful of early arrivals for the class, a group of women who had stashed their numerous bags under the counters and against the shop walls, and stood sipping coffee and chatting with the owners and among themselves. I was going to say that they were "gossiping", but that would have been misleading; gossip implies leisure and idle time, and these women would never dream of projecting a life spent so unprofitably. Instead, they barked at each other and into their cell phones, running through the hectic schedules that had led up to this brief moment of suspended effort. 

"Honey, you're going to have to let the dogs out. They were out all morning but it's been mad all day and I won't be home till later," one woman growled into her cell.

Most of them sported streaky bleach jobs that made their hair look like weather-tarnished gilt, deep tans, and stood by the counter in a rigid posture: one hand planted on their hip, the elbow sticking out at a sharp angle, derriere pushed out and up by the thick heels of the suede boots they wore under tailored pants, eyes focused on a variety of indeterminate points above each other's heads, the other hand occupied with coffee cup, kahlua brownie, or cell phone. As a posture, it was guaranteed to take up twice the normal amount of space allowed in most queues. 

"The courier should be coming tomorrow with the plane tickets. What do you mean no one is going to be there?" One woman, in a cowl-necked sweater in some expensive shade of faded green, nubbly wool keened into her phone in a cutting, nasal tone. Next to her, her friend, in an oversized, fringed pony skin jacket, pulled a series of waxy tissues from her purse and blotted her forehead and nose with them, her eyes shut as if to shield them from the long, lethal nails gripping the tissues. 

The single girl working the counter was clearly overwhelmed with orders for coffee and sweets, but remained polite, even though the narrow space between the display case and the marble counter with the sugar, cream, sweeteners and cream substitutes was filled with bags, suede, leather and elbows. In front of me, a woman in a worn parka rolled her eyes, sighed noisily and left the line, pushing through the women and out the door. No one seemed to notice this outburst of exasperation. 

The owner and the girl behind the counter continued to field orders and random questions from the crowd, usually turning back to their phones while the girl waited patiently for payment, or while the owner answered the question. I got my coffee just as the owner announced that the class was about to begin, and led the crowd, pony skin, Prada bags and all, through the kitchen to the classroom at the back.

writing and images ©2000
Rick McGinnis
...the past
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