Thursday, March 31, 2016

My First Pension

I got my first pension check this week. Yes. Pension. As in, "Old-Age." As in, one minute you're bopping along like a spry 50 year-old and the next you're buying Metamucil in the bonus size. 

At first, I wasn't the least bit perturbed by the idea of collecting a pension. It's a small sum from the college where I taught in British Columbia and I was eligible to apply for it three years ago at age 60. Looking at our financial Big Picture, it really wasn't going to amount to a hill of beans if I cashed it in now or let it sit, so we decided, "Why not collect it?" Woo hoo! Monthly mad-money!Enough to keep me in orthotic insoles! 

I was mildly excited. 

Until I went to the bank. 

I walked into our local branch and approached the teller's window with the joie de vivre of a teenager with her first paycheck from a summer job at the Dairy Queen.

"I'd like to open an account, please!" I said, feeling quite chirpy about it all, thrusting my ID under the wicket. What fun! A bank account of my very own! I hadn't had one of those since the Mister and I got married 40 years ago and walked down the aisle to the "Now You Have a Joint Account" recessional music. 

"Oh, I'm sorry, Ma-am," said the young man, "I'll have to get a manager to help you."

"He Ma'am-ed me," I muttered to myself. "Well, Lesley, relax. He was just being polite.

"Please, have a seat over there while you wait," he added. 

"Oh, sure, the old lady needs to sit down," I thought. "What? Are you nervous my hip replacement will give out right here in the lobby?" I stood. Defiantly. Conspicuously. My previous euphoria was starting to deflate like a wrinkly, ripening grape.

The assistant branch manager came over with her hand extended. The young man had passed my bank card and driver's license to her. Her name badge said, "Kristen." 

"HELLO!" Kristen shouted at me. There it was. That assumption that I don't hear very well. (I don't, but that's beside the point.) That condescending tone. That ever-so-subtle bending toward me to exert her youthful stature. She looked at my driver's license. "MISS LESLEY! HOW CAN I HELP YOU TODAY?" 

"MISS Lesley?!?!?" I hate that! I think it must be a Southern thing where younger women address their elders as, "Miss" with the first name tacked on. It always makes me feel like I should be wearing a cardigan with a lace collar and a chain attached to my spectacles.

I cringed. I said hello. Politely, but cooly. "I'd like to open an account, please." I pulled up out of my core to my full, yet gradually shrinking, 5'-1" frame. I put on my "Don't mess with me, Missy. I pushed around construction crews back in my day,"  business voice. 

"Alrighty. What kind of account would you like?"

This was going down hill fast. "Just a basic checking account. You see, I have a small amount of money coming in from a pension…"  Oooo! Why did I explain? Why did I utter the "P-word?" 

"Okey-dokey!" she twittered, "We can do that for YEEEW!" Kristen's voice had gone all singsongy. "Just give me a minute to pull something up on my COM-PUUU-TER." 

"Yes, Sweet Cheeks! I have heard of a computer before. She thinks I'm too old to have computer skills! Heck, she thinks I've never even seen a computer!"  

I fidgeted in the chair that was too big for me. There was no way I was going to sit back in that too-deep seat and let my feet dangle above the floor. I put my elbow on her desk and took it off again. I straightened my back and sat with my hands folded in my lap trying to look dignified, as though cinched into a corset, draped in a flimsy frock, trying to keep my elbows off the table, and flirting with the Prince of Wales in a dinner scene on Downton Abbey,

"Why didn't I wear a nice suit for this silly interview?" I wondered to myself, "Why didn't I at least wear makeup?"

I looked at my watch. "I'm sorry to rush you, but can we hurry this along? I have a 4:00 I need to get to." I didn't, but I needed to get the upper hand.

"Oh, certainly. We're nearly done!"

"Ha! I've restored my seniority! Take THAT, you young, Whippersnapper, you!"

"There we are, Miss Lesley!" she concluded the transaction, as merrily as she began, "Congratulations on your new account!"

"Yeah, thanks." I replied and hastened my exit. "Congratulations. Hmph. I've had bank accounts since before you were born, MISS KRIS-ten!"

I was getting into my Subaru, when it hit me. "Good grief. I've become an old-age pensioner cliche!" It happens before you know it. You wake up one day and realize that you've adopted a slightly-wide matronly figure, you've been having hot flashes now for the last 15 years, you're wearing sensible shoes with arch support inserts, you adjusted to your trifocals long ago, you drive a no-nonsense Outback, you carry Tums in the glove box, you've wondered if Poise might be a good idea, you ask your husband to repeat everything he says, you use Closed Captioning for your PBS programs, your go-to slacks have an elastic waist, young things call you by your first name, but with "Miss" added on in front of it, and you use words like Whippersnapper.

You might be thinking, "Shoot me NOW!"

But wait! Think of all the fun you can have with YOUR first pension check. Like, I don't know, going to the early bird special at Bob Evans. 


Thursday, March 24, 2016

My Home and Native Land

I've lost count of how many times I've heard someone say, "If that Blankety-Blank, So-and-So gets elected, I'm moving to Canada!" And I say, "Beauty!"

So, let's assume for a moment that you decide to pack up your things and take a runner northward, or, as a columnist in our newspaper put it, "Drive until you see moose." Ha ha. I thought that was very droll. How many of you knew he was joking? Come on. Show of hands. (Oops, sorry! Too much like a Trump rally?) 

We do have moose, but they aren't exactly strolling the streets of Toronto. In fact, if your mental image of the "True North, Strong and Free" includes polar bears patrolling the 49th parallel, then you, my friend, need a Canuck tutorial.

Lucky for you, I'm launching a new business: "Your Canada Concierge." My mission: Helping Americans assimilate into Canadian culture one toque at a time.

Yes, your every question about life in the Great White North will be answered. Questions such as, "What's a toque?" (pronounced "two-k.") 

Let's start there. A toque is what we Canucks call a woolen hat. And you are going to need one, believe you me. You are also going to need a parka, boots, mitts, scarves, long johns, thermal socks, and a nose-cozy. And that's just your summer gear! Ha ha! Kidding! (It's too easy.)

And while we're on the subject of words you need to learn, we Canadians have two official languages: French and English. You'll want to lose your Americanized pronunciation of words like "foyer" and "Iroquois," "basil" and "scone."  It's "foy-yey, Ear-a-kwa, baah-zil, and sk-awn," as in "prawn," NOT "foy-yurrr, Eer-o-KWOY, BAY-zil, and sk-own" as in "prone."

Go ahead and order "poutine" in a restaurant, but remember, it's "poo-teen," which is word that means: sinful heap of French Fries smothered in gravy and topped with cheese curds, otherwise known as "Just Bring me my First Coronary Incident." 

Also language related: try not to add, "eh?" to the end of every sentence. We hardly notice when we do it ourselves, but excessive use with too much emphasis will raise suspicion that you are mocking us. So will going up to people on the street and asking them to say, "oot and aboot," and then falling down laughing. Not cool.

Our currency might trip you up. Literally. Loonie and Toonie are not the names of a circus dog act; these are Canada's one and two dollar coins. You'll be carrying so much excess weight from all those Loonies and Toonies you'll risk a herniated disk making change from a twenty. Better to use your "Interac" debit card. Yeah. Hard to explain — money managed by a nonprofit. Only in Canada.

The currency you really want to get your hands on, though, is Canadian Tire Money. It might look like a loyalty program at your neighbourhood hardware store, known to locals as "The Wheel," but it's true value is akin to a Roth IRA. Like every Canadian, you'll want your car's glove box stuffed with hundreds of Canadian Tire bucks that you're squirreling away for your first snow blower. In fact, you might want buy stock in Canadian Tire because if someone builds a wall across the border, they're going to need tools!

You can't get more Canadian than ordering a maple-glazed doughnut and a Double Double (coffee, two creams, two sugars) at the Tim Horton's. There are Tim's everywhere; close to 4,500 locations in Canada, as opposed to only 1,360 Starbucks. Nobody in line at the Tim's is ordering a grande soy half caf latte macchiato no foam extra sweet. Know what I mean? Tim Horton played hockey for the Toronto Maple Leafs. This is the one time when the plural of "leaf" is "Leafs." 

If you know nothing about hockey, you can save your bacon in the Monday morning water cooler conversation by saying, "I'm going with the Coach on that one!" The Coach is Don Cherry, and you'll want to watch Coach's Corner after the first period of televised games to fully appreciate Canadian eccentricity at its extreme. If you don't "get" him and his jackets made of loud drapery fabric, never mind, neither do we.

Speaking of bacon, we don't call it "Canadian bacon" at home. It's "back bacon." Saying "Canadian bacon" is redundant when you're already in the country.

The plural of "Canada Goose," is "Canada Geese," not "Canadian Geese." The birds have no nationality. "Canada" is their species name. However, Canada Goose also refers to a brand of the warmest parkas money can buy. See above for list of equipment you will need. 

We say, "Sorry!" when someone bumps into us.

They're bread "buns," not "rolls." We ask for a "serviette," not a "napkin." We excuse ourselves to use the "washroom," not the "restroom." 

In the fall, we clean out our "eavestroughs" not our "gutters." 

In 2015, Canada held its longest election in history. It was 78 days. That's 10 weeks, my friends. Think about it.

So much for you to learn. But when you need help, I'm here for you. You can count on me: Your Canada Concierge. 

Although, on second thought, we'll see how things turn out. You might not be able to reach me after November because we'll be racing you to the border. We've code named our relocation mission, "Crossing the Alps." 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Erma! Calling Erma! Where Were You, Erma, My Muse?

The winners of the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writer's Competition have been announced. I was not among them. Drat. However, that means that I can now share my entry with you - I don't think there is anything in the rules that say I can't. I added the link to the winning entries below if you are interested in reading them. I especially enjoyed the first place entries in the Human Interest categories.

Here's what I submitted, Humor Category.

Battle Hymn of the Book Club

Have you ever taken sandwiches to a book club luncheon? I have. We need to talk turkey.

The invitation came in a group email with a directive to "reply all" so everyone could see what each was bringing. Being the newbie, I held back. One doesn't like to breach pot-luck etiquette at her first meeting.

Replies started coming in. "I'm bringing a green salad," said the first.

"Spinach salad from me!" crowed another.

"Hey, all! I'm bringing carrot raisin salad."

Wholesome bunch, I thought. Leafy greens, cabbage slaw, three bean salad, cucumbers in yogurt dressing, kale Caesar. (Better stock up on Bean-o, I mumbled to myself.)

"I've got the quinoa!" wrote one gal. 

"The quinoa?" I didn't like her tone. It was like, "Thank goodness, SOMEBODY remembered the quinoa! We HAVE to have QUINOA, for the love of all that's high fibre!" I've never trusted a food with no taste of its own. Quinoa indeed. Those were fighting words!

"Rise up, carbs!" It was my rallying cry. "Protein for the proletariat! Meat for the masses!"

My mission: bring comfort food to this carnage of crunch. 

My battle plan was Smoked Turkey Sliders. I bought sturdy little whole wheat rolls at our local bakery. I armed-up with the good turkey; the kind with no nitrites. I slathered the rolls with cranberry mayonnaise, piled up the poultry, suited-up each with a thin wedge of cheddar and a Granny Smith apple slice, and stuck in a party spear. Those sandwiches looked awesome; robust; healthy. Fit for hand to hand combat against a vegetarian horde.

At the appointed hour, I carried in my platter. One woman gasped when I whisked off the foil wrapper. The ladies approached the sandwiches like nervous rabbits in a foxhole; noses twitching, scraps of lettuce stuck between their front teeth. 

"Are those…..BUNS?" one sneered.

"Processed……MEAT!?!" another hissed.

"Are these….GLUTEN-free?" someone demanded.

"CHEESE!?! I don't have my Lactaid with me!" sobbed someone else.

"Tofurkey?" one asked, meekly, voice quivering.

No one dared ingest the enemy food groups. They skirted around the tray like it was a plate of plague. I did observe one woman sneaking a slider onto a napkin as she ducked into the laundry room. She returned with a dollop of cranberry mayo at the corner of her mouth. I thought she looked happy. 

But, I know when I'm beet. I gobbled one sandwich and took the remainder home. 

So, take a leaf from my book and avoid going a-fowl at your next club luncheon. All I'm saying, is give peas a chance.

Here's the link to the competition winners:

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Downton Undone

Like many of you, I will grieve the loss of my friends on Downton Abbey when the series concludes this Sunday. We all have so much invested in knowing and loving them, haven't we?

I had thought to write a eulogy. But I prefer to remain in denial and imagine them going on about their lives, facing new challenges, wearing nice dresses. And so I decided instead to think about their futures; to celebrate their characters, and envision what lies ahead. 

Here's what I think happens to some of my favorites.

Mopey, Underhanded Under Butler, Thomas: Things get cheerier for Thomas when he gets together with footman, Andrew, who finally comes to understand that he, too, is gay. They open a business as wedding planners.

Spunky Kitchen Maid, Daisy: Seasons five and six have foreshadowed heavily that Daisy will either become chief cook and bottle washer on her Father-in-law's farm, or she will become a teacher, what with all that book learning she's been doing. But I predict that she will instead marry a green grocer in Grantham, Lincolnshire, change her name to Edith (for good luck) and have a daughter in 1925, who will eventually become Maggie Thatcher, Prime Minister of Britain from 1979-1990.

Inscrutable Valet, Mr Bates and his wife, the Repressed Lady's Maid, Anna: What are the chances that both halves of a married couple will have spent time in jail within a 10 year period? These two get bored with domestic bliss and declare, "To heck with it! No slammer can hold US!" They embark on a crime spree to rival Bonnie and Clyde. They become jewel thieves and extort money out of Lady Mary and other posh society women who have killed off Turkish diplomats with iffy tickers merely by sleeping with them. They take it on the lam when they hear from Thomas that someone has reported them to the police. They high-tail it to Argentina and open a dance studio where Bates creates a special dip step due to his gamey leg. 

Fair-minded Footman, Moseley: Moseley soon proves himself to be a good teacher and is offered a full time position, but when he blows the whistle on Bates and Anna, he is put into a witness protection program in an undisclosed location. He changes his name to PG Wodehouse and writes the marvelous "Jeeves and Wooster" stories about a superb butler who fixes all manner of mayhem caused by his feather-brained employer.

Empathetic Lady's Maid, Baxter: Baxter decides that she might as well turn all that empathizing with other people's problems to good use and applies to pen the agony aunt column in Lady Edith's magazine. When she hears that Spratt, that stuffy, priggish, toffee-nosed butler from the Dowager Countess's, already has the job, she launches a campaign to oust him by spreading a rumor that he is the baby-daddy of Denker's love-child. Baxter becomes the pre-eminent writer of advice columns on both sides of the pond and becomes famous for originating the sage nugget that Dear Abby shared with generations of young lovers, "always keep two feet on the floor" to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

Lugubrious, Rule-bound Butler, Mr. Carson, and his wife, the Long-suffering Head Housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes: Mrs. Hughes-Carson throws a pot of burnt potatoes at the old booby's head one day after he complains about her cooking one time too many. She moves in with former Downton Abbey cook, Mrs. Patmore whose new Bed and Breakfast is floundering due to bad press over an unmarried couple shacking up there back in 1922. They decide that a house of ill repute actually will be much more profitable and bemuse themselves by becoming madams. But when Mrs. Patmore starts dating Sergeant Willis, of the local constabulary, they convert the brothel to a pub. 

Mr. Carson takes a job as doorman at the Dorchester Hotel in London.

Starchy, Self-satisfied, Isobel Crawley: Not easily wooed, Isobel rejects marriage proposals from both Lord Merton and Dr. Clarkson, saying that she can't see herself washing their socks for the rest of her life. She pours herself into her latest cause, safe driving, and works tirelessly to get traffic lights installed in the village. She eventually is persuaded to become president of MAAD - Mothers Against Actors Driving.

Unlucky in Love, Lady Edith: Reconciled to the fact that her beau, Bertie Pelham, is a total wuss Mama's boy, Edith gives up on ever finding a suitable man to marry. Instead she throws herself into her career publishing the magazine she inherited from Michael Gregson, her long-lost love, and father of her illegitimate daughter, Marigold. When Gregson returns to England after many years of being presumed dead, Edith gives him a thousand pounds to get lost again. She and Marigold establish a women's magazine empire that eventually becomes British Vogue.

Snooty, Hot-Tempered, Lady Mary: Enigmatic as ever, Mary confounds her family and friends when she divorces Great-Catch, Auto-racer, Henry Talbot, and marries her brother-in-law, Tom Branson, the family's former chauffeur, saying, "Tom's a better driver." Tired of running the Downton Abbey estate, they move the kids to a suburb of Detroit where Tom opens a highly successful Pontiac dealership. They buy a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house that leaks.

Upright Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, and his Innocuous wife, Lady Cora, Countess of Grantham: Advised by Doctor Clarkson to take it easy with that ulcer, Lord and Lady Grantham throw in the towel and hand over Downton Abbey to cousin Isobel who plans to make it into a health spa and rehab center for aristocracy that have lost their estates. Robert and Cora move into a wee croft on brother-in-law, Shrimpy's Scottish estate where they raise Labrador Retrievers. 

Wise, Caustic and Witheringly Scornful, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, Violet Crawley: At age 92, Violet is devastated by Isobel taking over the estate and suffers a breakdown. She escapes the sanatorium they put her in and is last seen living in a van on the driveway of a London playwright. 

Well, there you have it. I can't wait to find out what Julian Fellowes has in mind for these people. Can it possibly be as good?