Saturday, 13 January 2018


Off to a Great Start

My father’s parents were English émigrés who met and married in Montreal prior to the onset of the Great War. A delightful consequence of these roots for me was that as a child I could look forward to the gift of a Rupert the Bear book each Christmas. Last night before I fell asleep I thought of my grandparents and Rupert; it wasn’t nostalgia.

On one adventure Rupert went to the North Pole and stayed overnight as the guest of the North Wind. His room was so cold that he spread his red jumper and checkered yellow pants atop his blankets for additional warmth. I went to bed last night wearing a fleece pullover, a t-shirt, shorts, flannel pants and heavy socks. I snuggled under the duvet, a Hudson Bay blanket and a sheet. Outside, it was 33 below zero. Inside, important components of our furnace had given up their ghosts. Early Wednesday morning I’d been awakened by strange new bumps in the night; I thought nothing of them, too sleepy.

Ann is encased in so many layers of clothing she’s bouncing off the walls like the Michelin Tire Lady. Yesterday she telephoned our survivalist neighbour across the alley hoping to borrow a space heater. The fellow has cached guns, bottled water and tinned food in his basement, all set for the apocalypse, the obvious guy to call. Shockingly, he was unable to help. Perhaps the triumph of the Tweeterdumbest regime south of Canada has renewed his faith in humanity.

The first week of the New Year was no better. Last Friday we learned about a phenomenon our home contractor termed “attic rain.” About three years ago Ann and I undertook an extensive renovation of the Crooked  9. The house was wrapped with an additional envelope of insulation before the exterior planking was upgraded and replaced. The tar and gravel roof was shingled. The aluminum windows, top of the line before MS-DOS existed, were replaced. The result was cozy: our home cool in the summer months and warmer and more efficient during the winter. Little did we know that these improvements would create a new and unforeseen problem.

We need moisture in our house, especially in this northern climate, for our wood furniture, our potted plants, our own dry, cracked skins. The excess, in the form of vapour, needs to be vented efficiently. Extreme temperature fluctuations, sudden 30-degree swings anomalies no longer, flash froze condensation in our rafters before it could be expelled and eventually flash thawed it. Attic rain tripped our hardwired smoke and carbon monoxide alarm circuitry.

Ann and I did not realize the cause of the emergency at the time. How could we? Between the screeching beeps the lady who has voiced every call centre prompt there ever was instructed us to call 911. “Fire!” “Carbon monoxide!” I did a jog-through inspection of the house, somehow remembering to feel for heat through a closed door before opening it. A cigarette was probably a bad idea. Ann and I stood facing each other in the hall by the front door, indecisive. No one in their right mind wants a community’s first responders to actually work. Especially because of a false alarm. Then again, neither one of us desired “stupidity” listed as cause of death on our morgue forms. We called the hotline. The fire trucks screamed up. We shivered on the driveway. I thought, “The cats are still inside. Wait, make that cat, singular.” The afternoon before we’d irrevocably changed the internal dynamic of the Crooked 9.

Mungo, aged 19, was dispatched to his tenth life on January 4th. He was just a grey tabby but his looks were somewhat exotic. His face, his muzzle, his ears… he was assembled with triangles lifted from harlequin paintings and kindergarten puzzles. His eyes were shaped like almonds, aslant. He lost so many fights through the years that we suspected brain and nerve damage, a NASCAR cat always tilting to the left. As he lost his wits, he lost weight and his balance. We knew the major organs inside that skinny frame were failing. Mungo’s bucket kicker was utilizing every room he could get into as a litter box. Puddles and piles of stench. We could cope with his constant vomiting, but that was our limit.

Ann always says, “Everything’s fine until it isn’t.” Rocker Joe Walsh rhymed similar wisdom in Life of Illusion: “Pow! Right between the eyes/Oh! How nature loves her little surprises.” Things can always get worse. What’s next? At this moment, the Crooked 9 is spic-and-span, warm, dry and not entirely catless. It’s all good. Still, there are 50 more weeks to go in 2018. That’s worrisome.

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