Friday, November 4, 2011

Past Deadline: You Want Me to What?

Okay. Here’s something weird.

One evening last week I was scrambling (that’s not the weird part) to finish work and shovel through the kitchen in order to start supper.

Of course the doorbell rang. It always does when you are scrambling.

When the doorbell rings at suppertime I always take a deep breath and steel myself to say “No, thank you!” to someone trying to sell me something energy related. (I have learned it is easier to say no to an energy guy up front than it is to say no later.)

Anyway, I opened the door with, I presume, my best scowly face on. There were two teenaged girls standing there. One was holding a box of chocolate Pop Tarts. Must be a school fundraiser, I thought.

I opened the door. One girl smiled and said something like, “Okay…this is going to sound like a really weird question, but could you toast a couple of these for us?”


“We won’t come into your house,” she continued, “but we’re stuck in Perth and we’re hoping someone could toast these for us.”

I honestly don’t remember my exact initial response, but it was something like, “Really?”

Meanwhile, my brain was spinning. I tend to be a charming combination of completely gullible mixed with incredibly suspicious (that last part comes from my dad, the retired conservation officer, I think), which means I do my best analysis of a situation after it is over.

I looked at the girls, who were polite, smiling and did not seem intoxicated or stoned. I tentatively crossed “home invasion” off my mental list, but kept “scam?” highlighted for the moment.

Really, though, my prevailing thought was: “How can I say no to such nerve?”

I shrugged. “Okay. I guess so,” I said.

They smiled and thanked and I took the box into the kitchen while they waited on the porch, door closed.

Girlchild, who had been hovering nearby during the exchange, was quite intrigued by the whole thing. “Can I go and see if they are still there?” she asked.

I was busy fiddling with the unopened box and preparing to get toasting. “Okay,” I said absently. (It later occurred to me that I should probably add “kidnapping?” to my list.)

Meanwhile, the girls had a grand chat. They complimented Girlchild on our Halloween decorations (which I figure may have attracted them to the house to begin with – it is obviously child friendly). They also discussed how good my spaghetti sauce smelled. “Your mom must be a good cook,” one of the girls said.

Despite the blatant flattery, I didn’t invite them in for supper.

I loaded the two Pop Tarts onto paper towels and returned to the door. A third girl had materialized – perhaps she was shy and hid behind a tree at first? I didn’t take time to toast a third one.

They thanked and I asked why they were “stranded” in Perth and the spokesperson explained something about having to go work and then youth group (or vice versa), so I got the idea they were between gigs. Anyway, they wandered off, munching on warm chocolate Pop Tarts.

So weird.

As a teenager, I never would have had the nerve to walk up to a stranger’s door – even a friendly looking stranger – and ask them to toast Pop Tarts for me. I would have eaten them cold. And I would have walked uphill both ways in the snow in bare feet…yadda yadda yadda.

To be honest, I still can’t decide whether I admire them for having the nerve to ask or am flabbergasted by their boldness. Maybe a bit of both.

I have since learned they visited at least one other neighbour on their quest, and were turned down.

So it doesn’t appear as if they were scoping the joint or invading the home or kidnapping the children or running a scam. Maybe it was a dare? Or a psychological experiment for a high school class? Or a random-act-of-kindness survey?

I have no idea. Whatever it was, I suppose it’s kind of neat that they felt comfortable enough in this little town to reach out to a stranger for…um…the use of a toaster.

Published in The Perth Courier, Nov. 3/11

Past Deadline: Thanks for Calling, But....

I want to preface this column by saying I really like the office administrators at my kids’ school. They are friendly, efficient, organized and generally wonderful.

That said, when the phone rings and the school number comes up on the call display, I don’t particularly want to talk to them.

Usually I would much rather dive under my desk and slap my hands over my ears. Nice. Dark and quiet.

Except those clever office administrators have my cell number, too, and they know how to use it. Often they call it first, and I will be caught somewhere with no desk for diving. If it weren’t for the fact I love Mr. George BlackBerry, executive assistant, I would be inclined to fling the phone into the bushes when they call.

Why so tense? Well, I would love to be able to say they are calling to tell me that one or both of my children have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize or that they have been selected to be honorary chairs of a special philanthropic children’s foundation or even that they won a prize or some such glorious thing.

I am grateful, at least, they have not, so far, called to say my children have been expelled.

I think they have me on speed dial anyway, and the reason they do is because Germ Season™ has begun.


One of my kids (the one who is not crazy about school) occasionally falls victim to illnesses that feature ambiguous symptoms. This leaves me guessing as to the veracity of the claim, thus throwing me into turmoil: am I an uncaring mother who lacks sympathy for her child who is actually sick or simply a frazzled mother who is trying to work and has reason to be suspicious?

Either scenario is undesirable.

There are few other phone numbers that cause me such angst. Sometimes when they pop up I am tempted to dive under the desk. Usually I don’t though, because I don’t fit very well underneath. And it’s dusty under there. It’s just easier to answer the phone if I am in its vicinity.

I am cautious with unknown numbers, however. I sometimes hate talking to strangers. It’s one of the reasons I left reporting – so many strange people. I mean strangers.

Anyway, back to unknown numbers. There’s just something so darned unknown about them, don’t you find? Somehow my spirit of adventure (chortle) is not ignited by the mystique of answering mystery phone numbers.

After all, it could be a salesperson or a scammer or someone offering me something free that isn’t really free. Will I get trapped into answering questions for a survey that is “only going to take a couple of minutes, ma’am,” but ends up taking 20 minutes right at supper? Am I going to be tricked into revealing my social insurance number and bank account info and mother’s maiden name because I have trouble saying no?

Better to dive under the desk, I say. If it’s important they will leave a message.

(Okay… so if you ever call me and I don’t answer are you going to be imagining me checking messages while cowering under my desk? Hehehe.)


Sometimes you get to recognize unknown numbers, thereby making them somewhat known, and can still confirm they are Big Trouble™.

This is true when Utah calls (No offence, Utah.)

Regular readers may remember I wrote a year ago about getting to know all of the many numbers associated with a collection agency in Utah. I wrote them all down when they popped up in the middle of the night so I could call to lodge various complaints.

They were trying to send a fax to our phone line, and we finally figured out the fax they were trying to reach was one number off of ours.

It was definitely a relief to get that sorted out. As much fun as that was, I don’t miss the heart-pounding middle-of-the-night wake-up calls.

Similarly, as awesome as they are, I would much rather chat with the office administrators when I pick up the kids after a full, healthy day at school.

Here’s hoping! Germ season is only just beginning….

Published in The Perth Courier, Oct. 27/11

Past Deadline: The Semantics of Nuttiness

I think there’s something in the water at the CBC.

In the last couple of weeks, there seems to have been an epidemic of blurting and rudeness leading to two commentators becoming news items.

First is Don Cherry. I know. It’s a shock. (Caution: sarcasm!) I have to admit, I am not a Don Cherry follower. This is largely because he hurts my eyes. And my ears. Oh, and I don’t watch a lot of hockey (I know – I am a freak).

Nevertheless, his recent bungling during his Coach’s Corner segment transcended the world of sports and made news, so I couldn’t help but notice. The incident involved comments he made about three hockey players who were previously “enforcers” – or fighters.

It took me a while to figure out what exactly was going on, but I came to understand he was accusing certain former fighters of no longer condoning fighting. He called them names.

The accused players denied it, and the scandal grew because Cherry’s first attempt at an apology focused on the fact he used the word “pukes,” not that he made incorrect statements.

Meanwhile, I was having a hard time trying to understand why anyone would be mad that people weren’t condoning fighting (see above: don’t watch much hockey), especially in an era when there is much more awareness of the long-term negative effects of concussions.

I think part of the problem is that I never got a Rock ’Em Sock ’Em video for Christmas. You know – Don Cherry’s popular video series, complete with hits and fights. Ahem.

I am now returning to my ambivalence towards Don Cherry. Besides, he has since issued a new-and-possibly-improved apology (depending on what the lawyers think).

Since I am totally on a roll for making comments about things that I am probably taking out of context, I next draw our attention to a show I never watch, but that has been making a significant blip in social media circles.

Someone sent me a clip from The Lang & O’Leary Exchange. Hosted by Amanda Lang and Kevin O’Leary, the show is intended to “take you inside the world of business with thought-provoking coverage and insights that draw on [the hosts’] own deep experience and expertise.”

Sounds intelligent enough.

The show draws some big names in the business world. On Oct. 6, the guest was Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist/writer Chris Hedges, who appeared in order to talk about the Occupy Wall Street movement.

There has been a lot of chatter about this huge and growing call for change, which some say lacks leadership and has not done much to provide an effective message and solutions.

O’Leary made this point, too, running down the protesters and the movement. Hedges, who is not one of the organizers, disagreed and suggested the protesters know exactly what they want, which is “to reverse the corporate coup that’s taken place in the United States, that’s rendered the citizenry impotent.”

O’Leary countered with: “Listen, don’t take this the wrong way, but you sound like a left-wing nut bar.”

Ha! But don’t take it the wrong way because “nut bar” is totally a term of endearment. (Sarcasm alert.) I love it.

Everyone knows when someone says “don’t take this the wrong way,” there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to either

a) Take it the wrong way or

b) Be insulted.

Hedges said he doesn’t usually appear on shows that “descend to character assassination” then compared the CBC to Fox News. And when he reminded O’Leary that he had just called him a “nut case,” O’Leary corrected him and said he called him a “nut bar.”

Nice. You want to be perfectly clear on that point. There’s a HUGE difference between a nut case and a nut bar. (Sarcasm! Again!)

In the end, the seemingly less-hostile co-host, Lang, thanked Hedges for appearing on the show. Hedges whipped out his earpiece and growled, “It will be the last time.”


Maybe I don’t get out much, but I found the whole thing to be:

a) Really surprising for the CBC.

b) Very funny in a disturbing way.

I wonder if someone spiked the coffee at the CBC with grumpy pills. Hopefully there is an antidote before more nut bar/nut case-ish blurting takes place.

Published in The Perth Courier, Oct. 20/11