Prairie Summer

Prairie Summer

The heat is relentless, beating down upon me, overwhelming me with its presence, choking me and pushing me down into the parched ground with only the dust to satisfy my thirst.

I am afraid to drive the car out into the open prairie – thinking that the tires will blow out or simply melt off of the rims or that the car will catch on fire, all the fluids designed to keep its internals cool enough long since evaporated.

The clay that makes up the prairie earthscape has cracked open making walking a hazardous event. Power meters are being torn from the walls of homes and starting fires as the earth recoils in horror with the relentless heat pounding it into submission. The middle of residential streets begin to seep water, which slowly rises to a miniature spring – a clue as to the burst water main below the surface.

Our lawns are yellow, the blades of grass snapping and sounding like you are walking on broken grass as your feet travel over the surface.

The swampy bogs that lined ditches of most grid roads out here in the prairies – or even along provincial highways have rescinded leaving behind the white dry cracked soil – evidence of a high salt content not suitable for any life. The couple hundred cattle that most recently perished in the southwest corner of this province is proof of what happens as a result of this relentless sun evaporating precious streams of water until they become poisonous salt licks luring their desperate victims.

Finally, after a month of no rain the last two nights bring with it thunderous applause and a brilliant light show – reminding us all on who really is in charge. But the rain, as powerful as it was, as refreshing as it may be in promise only – pounds the earth for a brief minute or two before the storm makes its way to other parts. It was only a tease – only a brief taste of reprieve – like standing at a street corner and getting drenched by a vehicle speeding by and driving through the puddle.

This was our reward for a summer of heat.

And now, August is upon us. The month where summer traditionally really lets us know what heat can mean. My only hope is that September is four weeks away and weirdly enough – even now the leaves will begin to change colour and if history is any clue we are only six weeks away from all the leaves suddenly dropping to the ground as the trees put themselves to sleep for the long brutal winter ahead.

It is a painful process living through the weather in the prairies. Going from 40 degrees Celsius to minus 40 degrees within the same year – within six months of each other. It takes its toll on ones mental and emotional state. I have succumbed to its brutalness. I am its latest victim. I can’t take it any longer.

 

My Final Appeal…

My Final Appeal…

I am exasperated judge as you don’t seem convinced that I am not to blame here! You should be looking at my neighbours – all of them behaving badly. I just want to get on with life and be left alone but apparently that can’t happen here!

We had to build that 8-10 foot high fence in our back yard in an attempt to stop having the children yelling at us when we are in our yard. They are from the home daycare two houses over and they obviously feel quite powerful up in their fort or bouncing on the trampoline as they hurtle insults and jabs while we are trying to enjoy our backyard. And the high fence on the other side? Well it is an attempt to block the mean looks and stares at us from our other neighbours who also have a lot of children running around their yard while they sit in their very back corner, very close to our fence line and smoke some pot. Perhaps they have overheard our loud protests against having to inhale their second hand smoke while we close all our windows so it stops coming into the our home where we are chocking and having asthma attacks.

We have the same smoke filled issues with our newest neighbours who moved in right next store. The landlord built them a very nice side deck – just off of their bedroom and it faces away from us but they insist on sitting on their front deck smoking two packs a day. Their smoke somehow wafts and gets sucked into our home if our front door is open so we have had to endure these precious few months of nice weather with all of our windows closed and doors closed. The second hand smoke is so thick that it brings about a massive asthmatic attack with my wife who has an incredible sensitivity to scents and smells. It is so thick at times that I feel like I have taken up smoking!

We are now thinking of building a very high wall in our front yard as our properties share the same property line and it is obvious they feel some disdain toward us – first over the parking spot out front of both of our homes as I had shared in an earlier post and then our comments to them about watering their lawn in the middle of the heat with the over-watering burning our own plants. Now they both sit on their front steps frantically trying to light up a second cigarette with the first one still burning away while they suck on it harder and harder. The high fence would do nothing about the smoke but would allow us to walk to and from our car without feeling their death stares burning holes in our heads.

My final appeal is in my description of John – my very old neighbour whose home borders my driveway. The longest serving resident in this neighbourhood. Some forty plus years ago he was awarded the lot on which his home is built through some prairie schemed co-op group, which encouraged people to actually want to stay here and make their home. A modern day version of the settlers in the 1800s – to entice people desperate to just get through the prairies onto some other more inhabitable place to live – to just give up and stay put. This practice is still continuing today although you would find those schemes more easily in the remnants of farm towns scattered across the prairies, once a thriving hub of at least 2,000 people only now scarcely filled by perhaps a couple hundred.

Yes John. The keeper of knowledge on this neighbourhood. Apparently at one point in my home’s history it used to be a care home for youth and he was their operations guy so when we first moved in and we were interested in purchasing the home he wandered over to first figure out whether or not he would like us and then to share all of the details of the structure with us. He seemed nice enough at the time but as the years have gone on he has become one more person to try and avoid. Case in point was after our first winter here, when we would pile up the snow in order to clear a pathway to our back yard he came about in the spring to complain that our snowbank pushed against his fence, causing it to lean and he now wanted it repaired.

This is the same fence that he built forty years ago with the home. When you look at it you can see that the entire fence is one strong wind away from blowing over and collapsing. There are missing boards and the paint desperately faded a long time ago – the wood weathered in such a way that would be chic in some high density urban market furniture store but just looks pathetic in its natural environment.

John has taken up the hobby of wandering out into his yard or simply walking up into our yard (it used to be his turf remember) in order to comment on whatever it is that we are doing and more importantly to offer advise on what we are doing wrong. It is his excuse to satisfy his curiosity about how we have changed the place – what additions we have done and then to question our methodology, our maintenance of the additions or even why we did it in the first place.

All the while when one peeks over the fence into his yard you see it stuffed to the brim with various collections of junk. From a bicycle collection of perhaps 40 bikes in various stages of rust and pieces piled alongside his side of the fence and covered with old sheets of plywood long ago revealing their treasure. There are hoods and doors and lift gates of various vehicles piled up in other areas of his yard or being used to cover up other piles of collections. Garbage and containers everywhere. All overgrown with long ago abandoned landscaping and it is all we can do when we trim and saw and hack back at the overgrowth that has found its way over the fence and into our yard.

So you see – it is not us but them. We are not the problem! We just happen to be surrounded by terrible neighbours. But it would seem that my arguments have fallen on deaf ears. Surprisingly it would seem that in my observations all of them seem to be getting along well with each other. Perhaps they have all found common ground in their dislike of us. Whatever it is I don’t think I can avoid being that person in this neighbourhood.

Good thing I am working on my escape plan.

 

But…Your Honour!

But…Your Honour!

May I present Evidence B: The old lady who lives alone across the street.

Apart from John – the hoarder, this lady has lived here the longest. My children first met her as someone who occasionally worked at the corner store. Back when we first moved into our home the children still all lived at home and were still young enough teenagers that walking to the corner store was a novelty. Consequently this lady got to know them quite well. At some point though my children stopped going to the store – all grown up for that sort of thing now – and the lady stopped working there – all grown up for that sort of thing as well. Instead I see her occasionally leave her home and get into a friend’s car or I see her walk down the street.

But, on occasion, I also see her walk up each of her neighbour’s driveways, grab the garbage can or recycle bin and roll it to the curb getting it ready for pick up. Then, after the truck has come and done its thing she is back out there rolling them back in place. During the winter she adds to her duties by going outside to shovel her own driveway and then continue the favour by shovelling her neighbour’s driveways as well. This, of course has discouraged my younger children who were hoping to make a couple bucks shovelling those driveways themselves and of course this has discouraged me that a woman who could easily be my grandmother is out there doing tasks that are putting me to shame!

All of this is fine – her going and helping out her neighbours like she does – always trying to be helpful and I can get over the shame I feel by being shown up by an elderly lady living alone. It is hard work but I press on through it. An effective strategy is lowering the blinds and turning up the volume on the tv. But it is in those moments over the last year or so that in her ‘helpfulness’ she wanders over to our property, climbs up our inclined driveway to the very top of the pavement where it is now clearly concrete paths down the side of my house where we have discreetly kept our garbage and recycling bin.

Yup, she comes into my property walks halfway down the length of my home to get the garbage bin or recycling and then proceeds to pull them down to curbside for collection! I know! I couldn’t believe it myself. She would even come back after it has been collected and rolls them back into place. We have tried to discourage her from doing so and I believe we have found some success in this as I have noticed that she doesn’t even bother walking over to this side of the street any longer.

Wait, that isn’t entirely true as I have noticed her engaging in conversation with my most immediate neighbours on our side of the street so perhaps all I have accomplished is kept her from walking out front of our driveway….

But, clearly Judge you can see from the evidence I am presenting that it is not I who is the bad neighbour but those who surround me! I mean trespassing on private property! Just because she is a little old lady who has some sort of sick obsession with garbage bins and recycling containers should not be a defence that allows her carte blanche to go onto anyone’s property and do whatever the hell she wants to do!

No? Not satisfied yet? Well then brace yourself because I have even more evidence to share…

Being ‘That’ Person…

Being ‘That’ Person…

I am not sure but I am getting that feeling every time I pull up into my driveway or catch the sideways glances from any of my neighbours whenever I am outside that I might be that person. It is not clear to me what happened or what circumstances occurred to now have me and my wife become what I can only explain as the most hated people on this block. So instead I will plead my case here, through anonymity, and leave the conclusions up to the reader. I have already concluded that I am right and they are all wrong as such is my privilege to do so.

Evidence A: The family across the street from me. This family is the newest family to our neighbourhood, moving in – wow, I think it has been a year now – has time every flown by…

At first I couldn’t figure out what was up with them. They were a very busy family and perhaps with young twin boys such a thing is always implied but there was more to it then that. They are always coming and going and there is always a lot of visitors over there – cars parked all over the block.

For awhile the guy kept bringing broken vehicles to his place, parking them side by side in his one-vehicle driveway or when he ran out of room he would park them on the street. At first it looked like he was fixing them but on closer inspection through my large living room window he was only cleaning them. They would sit there for a few days to a few weeks and then one day they would be gone. Over and over again this happened until I couldn’t put up with having so many vehicles parking all over the street, sometimes blocking my own driveway, so I called the City. I am not sure what happened but coincidentally he stopped dragging home all of these vehicles shortly after.

Instead he turned his attention to misc items like mattresses, or appliances, or other weird large objects kept in large cardboard boxes that were unceremoniously dumped into his yard to stack up against the mattresses and appliances. These objects of curiosity would stay there for weeks until they were then packed back up into his truck and taken away.

On one occasion he helped someone load up a very long cardboard box into the person’s SUV only to have that same person come back about a week later, wait for awhile for the neighbour to show up only then to unload the same box out of his SUV and into the neighbour’s pick-up. The wife drove off in the mini-van urgently (I suspected to go get some money to give back to this driver of the SUV) and upon her return there was some more conversation in their driveway before the neighbour and the driver of the SUV took the long cardboard box out of the pick up and loaded it back into the SUV. Currently there are still a few full-sized appliances sitting at the top of his driveway but it seems he has moved on to different things now – as I have spotted him a few times in what appears to be some sort of security guard’s uniform.

In the meantime I am still contending with all of the wife’s hair clients – of which one of my employees is a client. By contending I mean having to call the City occasionally because these clients are still parking in such a way that they are blocking my driveway. I personally have gone over a couple of times and told the neighbours to move their vehicles away from my driveway in an effort to be helpful.

That was the extent of my introduction to them.Well, apart from yelling at their twin boys to stop riding their tricycles up into my driveway. As you may have read in an earlier entry the boys response to my request was to stick their tongues out at me. Perhaps that is what their parents want to do but feel they are too grown up to do so.

I will continue to present my evidence in upcoming entries but I contend that no wrongdoing can be found in my actions presented with Evidence A. I merely insisted that my driveway not be blocked by the many, many vehicles associated with the neighbour’s various activities and I also insisted that their twin boys respect my private property and stop riding their tricycles up into my driveway. Just because I am unable to see the apparent ‘cuteness’ of these twin boys, that I don’t know them by name like every single other neighbour of mine, or I don’t engage in silly conversations with them like every single other neighbour of mine – or I don’t sit outside engaging in small talk with every single other neighbour of mine should not be counted against me in anyway.

But, apparently it is counted against me and they are pushing for a trial without jury where they will serve as the judge. I have more evidence to share and share I will as I defend myself most passionately against these trumped up charges!

Parking Wars

Parking Wars

Let’s set the stage: my immediate neighbourhood. I have a double driveway, meaning two vehicles can park side by side on my property. I have no garage for additional parking and one of those parking spots is for my tenant who rents my downstairs suite. Next to my driveway – to the right is a fire hydrant, which restricts any parking in front of it and for several meters on either side. My driveway is to the left so obviously no parking there but there is enough space to the right to park two vehicles before getting to my next neighbour but given the fact that the fire hydrant is there that cuts it down to only the one parking spot.

My neighbour to my right who is in his late 80’s has a home on the corner lot. He built this home over forty years ago and has complained about his neighbourhood ever since. He has a four-car driveway that has a large double garage at the end of it. Around the corner on the adjoining street he has another double garage. However, he is a hoarder.

Across the street is a duplex owned by a community housing authority. One the right side is a single mom who parks her car in her driveway only big enough for one vehicle. Her special friend parks his car on the street whenever he spends the night. On the left side of the duplex is a young family with twin boys under the age of five. They have two vehicles and if they work the parking well they can have both vehicles in their driveway, however they rarely do so one of the vehicles is always parked on the street in front of their home. In addition the wife does hair out of her home and consequently there are always vehicles coming and going from her place, each of them looking for a place to park. They also seem to be pretty involved with a local church, frequently receiving visitors from said church – all of which competing for parking on our street.

Next to this duplex is another single family home also owned by a community housing authority. The woman who lives there is also single although her male partner seems to pop back into her life from time to time. This is important to note because when it is just her there is room in her double driveway to park her pick-up. There is very rarely enough room for her daughter to park beside her pick-up in the same driveway because of the way the woman parks her pick-up in that same driveway. Consequently the daughter has to also find a place on the street to park. When the woman’s ex-partner comes back into the picture for a few days the amount of vehicle activity increases substantially with people coming and going all the time. When he finally leaves we see several more of the woman’s family come around for frequent visits, all of them looking for parking spots on the street.

To my immediate left are the newest neighbours to this street. Their driveway is long enough to park two vehicles in a row, however it does make it a bit of a pain when the one vehicle has to be used, which would require the other vehicle to be moved first. One of those vehicles belongs to the older parents and the other to their adult daughter who lives with them. Consequently they would prefer to park the daughter’s car on the street with the logical place being in-between their driveway and mine.

The catalyst? My youngest daughter just purchased her first car. Consequently there are no parking spots for her to park. Well, of course there are parking spots and the street is a public place so anyone is allowed to park there but not really.

A couple of weeks ago it was 11pm. Upon request from my daughter I took her car to pick her up from work in order to allow her some driving practice as she drove us home. Work is close so I was gone for perhaps ten minutes. In those ten minutes my neighbours to the left had come out of their darkened home, backed both vehicles out of their driveway and moved their daughter’s vehicle into the parking spot where my daughter’s car was. And they have furiously defended that parking spot since – staking it out and even parking their other vehicle in that spot when the other car is gone – leaving their driveway empty.

So my daughter moved her car to the right of us, parking in-between our home and my 80 year old’s place – further along the street so as to not be blocking the fire hydrant. This was going well until my wife had just gotten back with my daughter from driving practice and pulled up into the same parking spot just as the neighbour’s son was parking one of their many vehicles along the same side of the street. The 80 year old’s wife came out of the house getting angry with my wife and daughter insisting that they back the car up to allow their vehicle space to park on the street without blocking their own driveway. As my wife described the scene she used the word ‘bullied’. So they moved my daughter’s car to across the street.

Currently it is parked in front of the home of the single woman whose ex-partner pops into the picture from time to time. We are currently in the cycle of him not being around, which means we can probably get away with parking there for awhile. But once he shows up again the war will continue.

Grey Skies

Grey Skies

The loneliness of the morning is catching up to me in the moment and I am thinking I will give into it. I don’t know why, perhaps I have a desire to feel sadness right now. It is not a pity-party but I feel off. The sky is a dreary grey, nothing blue showing. There is a breeze but it is the wind being forced along by the smashing together of cloud formations threatening rain with nothing ever coming. We are, after all, experiencing a drought right now.

Good.

For there is no happy medium here in the prairies when it comes to weather. If you want rain you get extreme storms that bring localised flooding and piercing hail and much destruction through wind and possible tornadoes. If you are sick of that then you get melting blazing heat that dries out the clay ground leaving an apocalyptic landscape, which draws out the locusts for the fun of it.

I want to move back home – to the far western province but it is busy displacing its residents in wide-spread fires consuming everything in its path. It seems there is no rest over these summer months when it comes to weather.

I want to blame Donald Trump for all of this because that is about the only thing that makes any real sense.

I don’t like weather. I think I used to but when I moved out here and would catch a glimpse of myself against the prairie sky I realised just how insignificant I was and how overwhelmingly awesome the thunderous skies above were. In that moment I was scared. Scared at the infinity of it all. Scared at the loneliness of it all. How can one matter in a place like this and in those moments I realised that I wanted to matter.

That’s what hurt the most I think when I ventured into different social communities here in the prairies. Very quickly I kept coming to the conclusion that I no longer mattered. From the smiling Family Pastor delivering a potted plant but who told us to not bother making friends because we were only going to be there for the next three years to the professor turned landlord who extorted $700 out of us for not renting his house.

Then there were the religious communities that I desired to be a part of but found that I most definitely did not matter there. My potential was valued but once they got to know me and realised that I was not willing to comply behaviourally then their true feelings about me began to shine.

The threat of a storm and the greying of the skies in this place only seem to remind me of my insignificance and how little people know me – even a little bit – in this place. Many may look to the skies during this bleary grey day with relief and thanks because it blocks out the relentless burning sun for awhile and if they are really lucky it will bring some much needed moisture. But for me it is a dark emotional experience that leaves me contemplating my own mortality.

I am sad and I don’t want to be.

I am lonely and I don’t want to be.

I want to go home…

Other People’s Chapters of Life

Other People’s Chapters of Life

Today is my colleague’s last day of work. I have been working alongside her for the last seven and a half years. Wow. That, in my world is a long time. It might feel longer for her, having had to share an office wall with me and my many quirks over these years. I am, after all, an emotional man who has long ago embraced the need to embrace my emotional experiences. Sometimes that will show itself as my singing loudly to some crazy music I have playing while somewhat dancing in my office chair all the while thinking I am alone in the office.

I really am hard of hearing.

I gave her a copy of my book, “Autobiography of a Stranger”. I know – vain self-promotion but I appreciated the interwoven complexity of the gesture while remaining subtle in its delivery. A book about a stranger she will never know, but does know, sort of, and will come to know some more when she reads the book, which ultimately will lead her to a place where she discovers that she really doesn’t know me after all. I am chuckling to myself as I write that out and in the end if I am the only one who gets the joke I am okay with that.

Tonight the leadership will all meet at a restaurant and will share stories of their interactions with her over the years. We will all enjoy a meal on the company’s dime and then depart. Perhaps a card will be given, maybe even a gift (but if not how awkward), and the social formalities will have been concluded. Our boss, the Executive Director, who is not known for his communication skills, may or may not say something that although may be well-meaning will perhaps present itself as clunky, leaving at least some of us gasping and chuckling under our breath.

It is somewhat weird to me this sub-chapter within a chapter called life. These characters that we interact with in temporary ways. They are not family in that sense, which for good or bad stay with us – even if by association only – for our entire lives. We can’t shake them off and so their character remains constant, popping in and out of our life to provide heartache and comic relief as if on cue. But these temporary characters who only show up in a chapter or two are the ones who bring a richness and a depth to one’s existence and yet they are so temporal, like a foggy morning they envelope you and inform you and then dissipate by noon with no reminder of their existence.

She has a name that is not important to you but she has become a character in my book. She has a laugh that can stop traffic – loud, shrill and concise. Only one HA! to be precise. It is a spontaneous thing that requires so much body effort to produce yet she has honed that skill well for her entire life. There have only been a couple times over these last almost eight years that the moment was so intensely funny to her that she allowed herself more than one HA! The walls shook at the thunderous roar and I lost my footing in the moment.

When she is not around I blame her laugh on my increased hearing loss.

She is a card-carrying “gluten-free” member having been diagnosed with celiac disease. In the early days we would be out for our ‘executive lunch’ (my children like to refer to my job as a ‘professional lunch-eater’) and my colleague would order something off the menu and then flash her “get out of gluten-fee” card to the server. It was a whole big thing and we would tease her incessantly about it. Unfortunately there is nothing to tease as the disease is real and the pain she felt when having consumed something with hidden gluten in it was also far too real. ┬áThis is probably my regret over the years – teasing her about this card of hers. I’ll get over it though.

Well friend. It has been a slice. Thanks for being a character in my life. Thanks for the listening ear. Thanks for the safe place to vent and thanks for the HA! We now venture out in completely different directions doing completely different things but I appreciated the journey from there to here.

Goodbye.