Shop the madness! Or, grocery shopping etiquette in 11 + 2.5 easy steps

Anyone who reads this blog knows how much I love shopping (and for those who haven’t read this blog before, “love shopping” is total, unadulterated sarcasm). If I die and go to hell, the devil will give me a shopping cart and tell me to shop ’til I drop.

devil

Today, due to a confluence of evil forces, I was forced to shop in my local No Frills, as well as WalMart, and finally, at Costco. And I also had to shop not only for my family, but for my mother as well. Pretty damn close to that hell scenario above, right?

Anyway, likely because the stores were closed yesterday for Good Friday, today should have been renamed Evil Saturday. Everyone seemed to need to feel the smooth plastic of a shopping cart in their hands. Everyone seemed to need to line up endlessly. And here was I, caught in the middle of this retail maelstrom. In fact, at one point, when I was in an aisle that could accommodate at least four carts side-by-side, and I was locked in position for a solid five minutes, I looked over at my wife and said, “kill me now.” Several people snickered. But no one moved.

Anyway, having spent so much time in line, I hereby present Tobin’s Rules for Shopping.

parking_lotRule 0: Don’t park like a douchenozzle
Yes, I’m starting at rule 0, because you haven’t even started shopping yet, and already you’re pissing people off. I’m going to try and be as clear as I can here: A parking space is an area of pavement usually bordered by three yellow lines. You park your vehicle so that it is contained within those three lines. To do anything other than this is to park like a douchenozzle. How does a douchenozzle park, you ask?

  1. A douchenozzle will take up two spaces, either on purpose or because they lack the basic talent to navigate a vehicle. You can tell the difference, because the one that does it on purpose will likely park it at a rakish angle, where the no-talent will just be over one of the lines by a foot or two.
  2. A douchenozzle will park where there is no parking space whatsoever. Usually closer to the store than anyone else, often right in the path of other cars.
  3. A douchenozzle will foolishly believe they will only be a few minutes, so they don’t need no stinkin’ parking space. Instead, they’ll park right up at the curb beside the store, usually blocking everyone else’s access to and from the store. Often, the douchenozzle themselves will stay in the car, smoking and playing obnoxious dance music at an obnoxious volume while they wait for their significant other (usually the one with the clothes that were in fashion in the 80s, back when they were twenty, or they’re wearing clothes that are five sizes too small for them because it makes them sexy, or, as they say, “schmexy,” or they look like they just came off a welfare-cheque financed bender) runs in for the stuff.

Don’t do any of this. Douchenozzle.

Rule 1: Don’t block the entrance
When you have made your list, grabbed your coffee, somehow managed to find a parking spot, remembered your bags, dug out a quarter and snagged a shopping cart then you’re already ahead of the game. So why the hell do you feel it’s necessary to get just inside the doors, then stop? Why? Get your ass all the way in, find a quiet, or at least an out of the way spot by all that weird fruit that no one buys, then get your shit together. Dick.

Rule 2: Watch where you’re going
Yes, there’s all sorts of things to do when you’re shopping. Keep track of that shopping list. Drink your coffee. Avoid all the morons. Scan for sales. Compare prices and sizes because it’s stunning how often they rip you off with the jumbo sizes. Etc. Etc. Etc. But seriously, it’s no worse than driving a car. So why do so many people simply choose to look sideways, or at their list, instead of where the hell they’re going? If you do this shit in the grocery store, I guarantee you’re the type to text and drive and I trust you will end up on the Darwin Awards shortly. And if you do this, and don’t know what the Darwin Awards are…don’t worry. You’ll find out. Moron.

Rule 3: Don’t walk forward and look backward
If you’ve already passed something, then you should have damn well looked at it then. If you didn’t, you have two choices: Back up safely, or loop around and check it out on the second pass. You should not be staring at it, trying to decide if it’s right for you, as you continue to walk away from it. There’s people’s heels in front of you, moron. Those damn carts hurt when they nail you right on that tendon. Again, if you do this here, you likely do this when you drive and obviously the sidewalks are no longer safe to walk. Shithead.

Rule 4: Don’t block the lane
So you’ve read the first three and you’re feeling pretty satisfied because you can honestly say, “I’ve never done any of those.” Well, then how about this perennial gem: Instead of slamming into people by looking backwards or sideways, you leave your cart to go on an exploratory side expedition, because those Ballpark Hot Dog-flavoured Potato Chips are strangely intriguing you. So you leave your damn cart in the middle of nowhere while you go off to scan the product. You’re like that stupid geologist from the movie Prometheus that sends all those flying robots to map out the place, then gets lost. Because no one leaves their cart for a second. They leave it, a large, grocery laden, steel-mesh chunk of flotsam, for a few minutes while everyone else now has to navigate around it. Watch out for me, because I’ll toss that damn cart down the nearest aisle and I don’t care how much stink eye you give me. I’ve done it. Fool.

Rule 5: Paying more attention to your phone than to the task at hand
Okay, yes, they’re convenient. Yes, people can now call you/text you/FB you/Tweet you and every other thing they pack into mobile devices these days. I use mine to hold the shopping list. So, they have their uses. But it is not acceptable to stop in the middle of a crowded grocery store to update your FB status.
FBIt’s not cool to slam your carts into other shoppers’ carts because you’re texting your BFF. That’s not an LOL. Or a ROFL. That’s a GTFOOMW (Get The Fuck Out Of My Way). That’s a WWTHYD (Watch What The Hell You’re Doing). Asshat.

Rule 6: There’s always someone behind you
Which means, when you decide to take twenty minutes to decide between the President’s Choice Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookies and the President’s Choice Decadent Chocolate Chunk Cookies, you’ve likely chosen to stop your stupid cart directly beside the person who is updating their FB to complain about the dude taking twenty minutes to decide between the President’s Choice Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookies and the President’s Choice Decadent Chocolate Chunk Cookies. Meanwhile, there’s a logjam of people stuck behind you both. Now, most people are polite. But if you hear a low, menacing, “Jesus H. Christ on Toast!” behind you, that’s me wondering if I hit you hard enough, will you press into the mesh of your cart and have to explain to your significant other why you suddenly look like you came out of a waffle iron. So move. Cretin.

express-lane-is-THIS-manyRule 7: Learn to count prior to jamming up the 8 Items or Less line
So you’ve managed to navigate the hazardous waters of the grocery store and now you’re ready to check out. Then, after a flawless performance, you then blow it all by parking your sorry ass in the wrong line. This one’s a particular pet peeve of mine. You can read further adventures here. Here’s a crazy suggestion: Try these steps.

  1. Read the sign and ask yourself, “How many items do they allow in this aisle?” It could be 8. It could be 10. It could be 12. Hell it might even be 15. In any case, between your fingers and your toes, you have enough to count them. Do so.
  2. Don’t be a bitch and say, “Well, I’ve got three loaves of bread, but really, they’re only one product, so that counts as one.” No it doesn’t. If you’ve got three, then count three.
  3. Count up all your items.
  4. Now here’s the tricky part. If the number of items in your cart or basket exceeds (which is a fancy-schmancy word for “is more than”) that number on the sign, then you cannot go in that line.
  5. Judge yourself accordingly

Trust me, this will save you a lot of harrasment at my hands if I happen to be the dude standing behind you, counting your items loudly, then bemoaning the fact that our school system no longer sees fit to teach our youth how to count. Pus bag.

buttRule 8: Don’t butt in line
So you’re looking at those horribly long, slow moving lines and even the 8 Items or Less line is stunningly long (likely with those that can’t count past five), so you find someone with a cart that’s bulging with food items and groaning under the weight and, when the person looks the other way, you choose to just deke in front of them. After all, you’ve only got a few little items, right? They won’t mind.

Yeah, they will. There’s a reason we use the terms butt and ass interchangeably. Your time is no more important than that poor bastard you just cut in front of. You are no more important than anyone else, no matter what your mama told you back when you were four years old. Buttmunch.

Rule 9: Next in line means next in line
There’s five of you in line, but then a new cashier comes in, opens up her register, smiles and says, “I’ll serve the next person in line.” Okay, just to be clear on this, what she really means is, I’ll serve the next person in line. What she definitely doesn’t mean is, I’ll serve the person that can elbow their way here the fastest. What she doesn’t mean is, I’ll serve the asshole who thinks they’re far more important than anyone else next.

I know it sounds crazy, serving the person that’s been in line the longest. But that’s really what they mean. So don’t be that jackass that shows they don’t understand rudimentary English, ‘kay? Jackass.

Rule 10: Don’t leave your cart or your fat ass in the laneway while you pack your groceries
This fits with rule 6. Because you’ve chosen to block the laneway with your cart and your ass while you pack your groceries at a glacial pace, the person behind you can’t even get up to the cash register to pay, even though they’re trying to get out of the way of the dude behind them. And you’re all doopty doopty doo, look at me packing my chocolate chunk cookies! The corollary to this is you getting the hell out of that laneway, but then scooting around to the far side and parking your fat ass in someone else’s way while you’re all doopty doopty doo. Doo-doo head.

Rule 1 Revisited: Don’t block the exit
You’re now heading out of the store. Again, rule 6 still applies. So don’t stop just before, or just after, the exit doors to dig your sunglasses and keys out of your purse. Don’t stop to adjust your junk before you head on out. Don’t stop and choose that moment to put your change/debit card/credit card in your wallet. You’ve made it this far, just keep going, stay the hell out of other people’s way, get to your car, then you can do all that shit. Bunghole.

shopping-cartBonus Rule…Rule 11: Put the cart in the corral
You’ve likely invested a whole quarter for the use of that cart, don’t you want it back? And even if you don’t, the rest of us don’t want to have to dodge the carts scattered willy nilly through the parking lot because you were too frigging lazy to walk it the twenty or thirty feet to the corral. Really, is it that much of a chore? The cart’s empty, it’s light. And besides, this is where you can have fun, putting one foot up on the cart and scoot it up to 15 mph and ride it across the parking lot, the wind blowing wildly through your hair. Yes, you look like a five-year-old, and some other asshole will likely blog about what a shithead you are, but who cares? It’s fun.

Otherwise, you’re just leaving a big chunk of metal around to scratch someone else’s car. Dork.

Rule 0.5: Learn how to back up
You’ve done it! You’ve run the gauntlet, you’ve gotten out alive, hell, you even had a little thrill returning the cart to the corral. Now, you just have to back the vehicle out of the space and get home. So how about this? When you’re backing up, actually look where you’re going. I guarantee that old dude with the walker, or the mother with her child in the cart weren’t really planning on a visit to the Emergency Room because you plowed your back bumper into their fleshy parts. Other cars are running up and down that parking lot. People are walking. Carts are blowing by. So when you back out, ease out, look behind you, look to your left and right to ensure nothing is coming at you, then and only then, can you vacate that space and get your ass gone.

Because, honestly, you wouldn’t want someone calling you a bad name, would you?

Of course not.

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The insanity and magic of reading

Last July, I was pushed, bullied and cajoled into doing something that absolutely terrified me. That pushy, cajoling bully was Pat Flewwelling, who is actually an extremely nice and giving woman who also happens to be a very talented writer.

I scream, you scream, Pat slops her ice cream

I scream, you scream, Pat slops her ice cream

For a couple of years, she kept talking about how much fun this thing was that she did. How the people that did it with her were amazing. How good she felt when it was done.

I almost broke a couple of years ago and went, but decided not to. Then, last year, Pat did the exact right thing…she shot me an email, told me the spots were almost gone and that I needed to make a decision and make it right frigging now.

So I did. And, to be quite honest, it changed me.

So, this year, I am once again participating in the insanity that is the Muskoka Novel Marathon.

Here’s the bare bones of it: 35 writers in a room (with a few more participating remotely) for 72 hours, from 8:00 pm Friday night (July 12) straight through until 8:00 pm Monday night (July 15). In that time, we write. We all write. As much as we can.

Last year, my virgin year, I went in hoping to come out with somewhere between 50 and 75 pages. When I had 40 pages written that first night, I upped that goal to about 100 pages. Long story short (pardon the pun), I completed 252 pages, or about 60 000 words. And somehow, in that process, managed to win the Rookie of the Year Award.

Rookie

Getting my Rookie of the Year award from the ever-awesome Paula Boon. To celebrate, I haven’t cut my hair since, so this year I’m looking forward to the Wookie of the Year Award. I’ll be a shoe in.

By now, you have to be asking why anyone would want to do this crazy thing. To me, this is akin to laying down on red hot coals, or chopping a hole in the ice on New Year’s Day and going for a quick dip. They’re painful and seemingly provide no payoff. Yes, I got a lot of pages out of it, but I still had to go back and finish the story at a much slower pace, and I still haven’t gotten to edit it.

There is a payoff, however, and this year, it’s more obvious than most.

The Muskoka Novel Marathon has one real purpose and that’s to raise money for Adult Learning courses through the YMCA of Simcoe/Muskoka.

It’s to help adults who can’t read, write or perform basic math skills. It helps them become more computer savvy and gain marketable skills.

They do this through the money raised by those of us crazy enough to put ourselves in a room for three days and write.

I can’t speak for previous years, because last year was my first, but it was magical. The goal was to raise $10K. Lightning struck and we somehow managed to blow right by that and raise about $15K, smashing previous records.

The very strange and obviously sleep-deprived antics of Lori, Sharon and Sandra...it's better if you don't ask.

The very strange and obviously sleep-deprived antics of Lori, Sharon and Sandra…it’s better if you don’t ask.

While it’s a kick to see the page number count grow over the three days, and it’s a blast to step into ad hoc conversations on how you just killed someone off, or see a couple of people, obviously sleep-deprived, pull on shiny capes and pointy hats at 2 in the morning, these aren’t the shining moments.

The shining moments come when you see the organizers of the event revealing how much money was raised, and seeing tears in their eyes. Seeing how much they care about what they’re fighting for. It’s humbling.

We’re just there, doing what we do because we love doing it. But suddenly, through this silly marathon, suddenly our words take on some power, some meaning.

We’re helping others to read.

This year, it’s going to be even more magical, more meaningful.

This year, for the first time, one of the people that has reaped the benefits of the literacy programs will actually be participating in the marathon.

I don’t want that last paragraph to be glossed over. Read it again. Someone who had problems reading and writing before, has now gained enough skills, enough confidence, to actually participate in three solid days of writing.

That’s what these programs do. This is the power and the meaning I’m speaking of. This is the payoff.

It’s estimated that almost one-half of all Canadians are functionally illiterate. For round numbers, that’s about 15 million Canadians. The next time you’re in a crowded room, look around. Look at all the people there. Then, draw a line down the middle of them and imagine that half of them don’t have adequate language skills. Instead, they’ve focused on creating survival skills to hide their disability.Literacy map

  • “I can’t find my glasses, can you read this for me?”
  • “Excuse me, I know I’m probably looking right at them, but can you tell me where the one-inch wood screws are?”
  • “I haven’t had time to read the email, what do you think we should do?”

Any of these sound familiar? I’ve said them myself, and I can read.

These are the simple tricks they use to get around.

The Muskoka/Simcoe programs help about 200 people a year. That’s a drop in the bucket when you run it up against that much larger 15 million number, but it’s a lot like writing that way, isn’t it? I can only write one word at a time, but eventually, one after the other, I’ll ultimately end up with a novel of 100 000 words. These programs do the same thing, helping one person after another.

I’m going to end this the same way I did my post for this last year.

I know that everyone has their own causes and charities that are important to them.  Everyone’s been touched by some adversity in their life and dedicate themselves to trying to help others in the same boat.  And if this isn’t the cause for you, no problem.  I get it.  I’ve had to say no many times myself.  I thank you for reading and learning a bit more about this issue.

But if you can…

I’ll ask you to scan this post, just for a second and marvel at how fast you can light on a word and understand not only what it sounds like, but what it means in and of itself as well as it’s context in the sentence.kids-on-books

Think about what that means to your life.

Then I’ll ask you to consider donating some money to this cause.  It doesn’t have to be much.  It can be as little or as much as you can afford.

Here’s what I’ll do to sweeten the pot slightly. Donate $50 or more, and I’ll use your name, or a name of your choosing, in whatever story I write this year in the Marathon. I can’t promise it’ll be published, but hey, I’m on a bit of a roll, so you never know.

Literary immortality. Who doesn’t want that, right?

You can find out more about the MNM and what it’s all about here.  You can donate by going here.  If you don’t like to donate online, you can email me here and we can work something out.

Thank you. For reading.

Spoon feeding the Boy

Spoonman, come together with your hands
Save me, on together with your plans

SoundgardenSpoonman

It’s been two months since I’ve really had to think of something to blog. Got a little worried for a bit. Well, until we went over to the Hickey’s for a typical Saturday evening. Should have known there’d be some material there.

As I usually do whenever trying to recreate an evening with the Hickeys, I’m going to preface this with the warning that no amount of words can adequately or accurately capture exactly what happens in those few short hours. But I’m going to give it a shot.

Now, the interesting thing is, this time, it seemed to be primarily my own family that provided most of the fodder for this blog.

Not sure if you’ve ever played the game Spoons, so a bit of a description is in order. Imagine ten people sitting at a large antique dinner table (though any table will do). Laid out on the table are nine spoons…one less than the number of players. Each player is dealt four cards. Cards are then shifted down the line of players as quickly as possible, with the aim of being the first to get four of a kind. Whoever gets the four of a kind then snatches a spoon, setting off a mad scramble for the remaining spoons. Just like in musical chairs, there’s always going to be one person that gets left out because there isn’t enough spoons to go around.

spoons gameIt’s usually the last spoon, grabbed at the same time by the last two players, that’s the most hotly contested. Fingers tighten. Wills are tested.

Each time you miss a spoon, you gain a letter. When you’ve collected five letters–S-P-O-O-N–then you’re out. So getting those spoons is serious business.

Well, I’m sure in other households it’s serious business. With the Elliotts and the Hickeys, it can be life or death.

Seriously. In the past, I’ve seen people dragged across tables, one hand furiously clutching the contested spoon. I’ve seen players dive under the table. I’ve seen spoons bent and twisted into wet spaghetti shapes.

bent spoonAnd the players! I’ve seen red faces, clenched, white-knuckled fists, bulging biceps, gritted teeth, steely determination.

You’d never know this was a game.

Anyway, let’s go back to this particular evening. We’d brought our niece over as she’d come to visit for the weekend. Now, you may argue that it was unfair to bring her into that hellish arena, but then I’d just say you don’t know The Niece. She can hold her mud, let me tell ya.

To be honest, and in the spirit of full transparency, I put the blame squarely on her for the unfortunate events that transpired later that evening.

It started with the first round. My daughter, the Girl happened to be seated directly across from the Niece. And they tussled over the first spoon. It wasn’t horrible, but it was a tussle.

The second round went the same way. Same two people.

By the third round, they had kicked the chairs back, and stood, pulling and straining, each refusing to back down. Until the Niece dipped her head in and the Girl yelped. The Niece bit her.

Yup. She really did. She pulled that move early and used it unabashedly. I think the fact that she busted that one out quickly speaks to her upraising, don’t you? Perhaps she wasn’t breast fed enough, or bottle fed far too early, I don’t know.

Anyway, the game progressed, with various tussles at various times. The faces, the fists, the biceps, the teeth, the determination. Yadda yadda yadda.

At one point, the spoons got snatched up. Now, you have to understand, just because you grabbed a spoon, it doesn’t mean you necessarily keep it. They are fair game to be grabbed. This is why, when you get one, you pull it tight to you and cover it with most of your body.

In this case, the Boy had snagged a spoon and sat with it proudly gripped in his fist, the bowl of the spoon pointing skyward. Then another player swooped in, grabbed the bowl-end and stole it right out of his hands.

I don’t believe the Boy was amused. And I believe it stiffened his resolve to never lose another spoon again.

Then came the time when that last spoon came down to myself…and the Boy.

I should note here, that when I say “the Boy” I’m actually referring to a sixteen-year-old teen that’s as tall as I am and quite strong for his age.

So this was no mismatched battle of wills between a man and a little boy.

The boy grabbed the spoon but was at an immediate disadvantage, having caught only the handle of the spoon. I, on the other hand, caught it right in the middle. Somehow, in the ensuing struggle, the spoon got bent around my middle finger, so both the bowl and the handle faced the same way.

And the Boy kept tugging at it. It hurt like hell.

Unfortunately for the spoon, we’re both quite competitive and neither was giving up. Each time he pulled, it grated against a nerve in my finger and sent jangling pain up my arm.

Yeah, yeah, I know. I should have just let go. But I never claimed to be that smart.

Anyway, when he made no headway with that, he decided to engage the Niece Maneuver. Oh yes, he bit me. This is where I look disapprovingly at the Niece, by the way.

But let me clear: he did not just open his mouth and clamp down on my hand. Nope, he’s nastier than that. He actually grabbed at a small bit of skin on the back of my hand, just behind my first knuckle, pulling it up so that it resembled a skin tent. I was, quite frankly, surprised that my skin could flex that much.Hand1

And. He. Would. Not. Let. Go.

I had visions of a small chunk of skin from the back of my hand finally giving up and tearing away under the onslaught of his chompers, leaving him with a tasty treat and me with a bite-sized slash of missing epidermis.

Honestly. I pictured it. I kept waiting for him to pull back and have a piece of me in his mouth.Hand2

And. Still. I. Did. Not. Let. Go.

That kind of says something about me, doesn’t it. And yes, I realize, what it says isn’t that flattering.

Ultimately, I did the only thing I could do. Being the older, more responsible person, being the parent that should be setting the example and give my son the valuable life lesson than can only be found at turbulent times like these, I seized the opportunity.

Yup. I grabbed a solid wad of his hair and I frigging pulled for all I was worth.

Initially, I thought it was a mistake as that tent grew into more of a teepee, but ultimately, the Dad Gambit overcame the Boy Variant of the Niece Maneuver.

So, after all that, I got the damn spoon.

In the end, neither of us won the game.

Which likely was the overall learning of the evening.

Or maybe it was when one of the Hickeys looked at me and said, “You notice it’s only your family that was doing all the biting, right?”

Cruising to fifty, part eight: Jesus, Jedis and home again, jiggity-jig

This is the eighth and final part of a series of blogs about the cruise the Wife and I went on last October. You can read the others here:
part one | part two | part three | part four | part five | part six | part seven

A quick set up:

I turned 50 on October 6, 2012. My wife surprised me about three weeks before, during a particular low spot in my life with a piece of paper. “Happy birthday,” she said. I opened the paper and quickly scanned it.

“We’re going on a cruise?” I said, and my mind kind of shut down with happiness after that. In fact, it wasn’t until several minutes later, as I was refolding the paper, that I saw the word “Greece” and just about shit. This is the story of what happened on that trip, taken almost exclusively from the diary I kept along the way.


I’m comin’ home, I’ve been away too long
Been away so long, I’m coming home

Coming Home – Ian Thomas

Oct 12

As sad as this is to admit, I had exactly zero knowledge of Croatia as a country, let alone the city we’re visiting today, Dubrovnik. So, with that as our starting position, we headed out into the promise of rain and thunder storms to visit an ancient walled city.Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 845Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 842

And what we saw was just as magnificent as Polignano, Mykonos and the Acropolis had been.

Walking around Dubrovnik, I realized each location had its own individual charms, its own personality. For Dubrovnik, that personality was strong, proud and reverent, without any of the expected pomp or ceremony. Expected, because that’s the North American way. Polignano was the birthplace of the singer of Volare, but you didn’t see t-shirts, little statuettes or posters with him all over them. You didn’t hear the song piped over speakers 24/7 like you would if it was somewhere over here. And it was the same with Dubrovnik. No overtly cheesy marketing. There was a majesty here. For a city that was made entirely of stone, it had a warmth. It felt part of the landscape, unlike the glass and steel blocks I see in Toronto, where they have to shoehorn in a “green space”…

Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 711 Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 712 Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 713Dubrovnik has experienced more than its share of turmoil and destruction, most recently through the bombing by Serbian forces about twenty years ago. As we walked its streets, we saw the chipped stone created from bullets and mortars. Though, to me, they added to the city, showing how it could come back from the violence.

Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 769 Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 775 Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 780

Yet today, it’s a vibrant hub. Yes, it has been slightly spoiled by capitalism, but with an apparently proud and resilient populace.

Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 715 Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 719 Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 723 Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 725

Walking its streets, we were told that, back in the city’s history, the wealthy citizens could not build ostentatious buildings that overtly displayed their wealth (and how cool was that, that the wealthy would go for it? Take that, you horrible One Percenters!), so the buildings are instead tasteful and reserved, and, to me, all the more impressive for it.

Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 728 Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 732 Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 734

There’s an area that was once an orphanage and we were told a fascinating story. The nuns were said to have cut a small bit of cloth from what had essentially a diaper that had once been worn by the infant Jesus. The story goes that, no matter how often a piece was cut, the next morning, the original garment would be whole again. Kind of a play on the feeding of the masses, to diapering the masses. Anyway, I thought it very cool.

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The garment is now sealed in a chest and on display within the city.

Birds taking a time out to bathe in the puddles left over from an earlier rainstorm

Birds taking a time out to bathe in the puddles left over from an earlier rainstorm

We carried along, deeper into the city and stumbled upon a seller who bound notebooks in beautiful handmade leather covers. I couldn’t resist and had to buy one.

Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 743 Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 744 Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 747 Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 757

Warning: Obligatory cat pictures...

Warning: Obligatory cat pictures…

Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 788 Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 834

Me...likely taking pics of cats.

Me…likely taking pics of cats.

We’d both received an iPod with a audio walking guide to the city, but at times it became a touch confusing as to where we were supposed to be and at other times, we just wanted to go in another direction. Though, I have to say, it’s a touch disconcerting when you feel you’ve followed the map and the directions to the letter, and, as you stand in the middle of a wide open square, you hear, “As you look up, you’ll notice the archway…” Uh oh. No we don’t.

Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 763 Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 764 Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 767 Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 768Eventually, after forsaking the audio guide altogether and just wandering contentedly for a few hours (and we could easily have spend a couple of days wandering this city, to be honest), we got back to the ship and Karen’s back was bothering her. All that walking and hill climbing had finally caught up with her.

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Warning: Craziest, scariest roadway ever...okay well, in Croatia, at least.

Warning: Craziest, scariest roadway ever…okay well, in Croatia, at least.

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Wait, I thought I was the old person in this story?

Anyway, I went up and had lunch with the couple we’d met from the other night, and it’s at this point I have to correct the timeline a touch. In the last blog, I mentioned we met a fun couple after Athens, Jeff and Allison. It was actually the evening previous to that when we’d met them with the Pet Sematary lady. And last night, we ran into them again.

Okay, timeline corrected. Anyway, as Karen soothed her back, I looked up Jeff and Allison and we headed up to the top deck to check out the massive barbeque. Oh yeah, burgers, chicken and ribs. Damn. This is where I learned more about their very cool jobs. How often do you run into a couple who both are real life CSI guys? That was good for hours of chatting, let me tell you, though, to be fair, I’m sure they’d taken a vacation specifically to get away from talking shop, then along comes the Canadians with their stupid questions.

Though, to be honest, I was equally fascinated to hear two people talking about their pet goats with all the glee and glowing faces I usually reserve for my cat and dog stories. Two very nice, very friendly and very fun people.

By then, it was time to head back to the cabin and wake up Karen. Then, as this was our last evening on the ship, I could only sit by helplessly as the Jedi Master of Packing utilized the Force to get all of our purchases into the already-jammed bags. I think at one point I swear I heard her mutter, “Pack or pack not. There is no try.”

Karen, using the Force to pack. Notice the effect it has on the lighting and her moving so fast she's only a blur.

Karen, using the Force to pack. Notice the effect it has on the lighting and her moving so fast she’s only a blur.

Karen. Post Force. Post packing.

Karen. Post Force. Post packing.

We took an extended break for dinner, laughs and good conversation with Jeff and Allison again, and then back to the room to watch Karen pack and then haul the bags out to the hallway for collection.

And with one last 6 am wake up call, we settled in for the last sleep on the boat.

Oct 13: Heading home

Another early morning and a bittersweet one. We were heading home to see the kids (and my dog), but we were leaving Europe. The gentle rocking of the ship on the Mediterranean would not put us to sleep anymore.

We got ready, grabbed a quick breakfast, back for a quick final check around the room and then headed down to 42nd Street, the theatre where most of our tours had started and where they would call us to leave.

From there to shore, picked up our luggage, then a 45 minute wait for the shuttle back to the airport. Karen said, “Pray it’s not the same driver we had driving us here.” Oh yeah, Frodo. Forgot about him.

It was Frodo. Dammit!

For the record, he was better this time around. I’m assuming he’s happier ferrying people out of his country rather than in.

Then we were at the airport. It was 11 am. We couldn’t even check our bags in until 2 pm. Which meant we couldn’t get past Customs until after 2 pm. Which meant we were left fighting to even find some seats to part ourselves for the three-hour wait. Note to self: Arrive in Venice 24 hours prior to cruise. Plan to leave Venice 24 hours after cruise is finished.

Eventually, after walking around and around and around, we finally snagged a table with a couple from London, Ontario.

At 2, we checked our bags then headed over to the Customs check in. This was the best entertainment we had the entire day. We were all lined up in those snaking lines you see in every airport, bank or any other place where you line up. It’s not a straight line, it’s a zigzagging maze made from posts and ropes.

Anyway, we’re in this line with our carry-on luggage. When we started in the line, we did the standard motions: stand around, then shuffle forward a couple of feet, then stand around some more. The only break from this is the hairpin turns at each end of the cattle herd. Anyway, it doesn’t take long to notice this miserable old lady with a face that honestly made the Wicked Witch of the West look hot. She was sort of trying to subtle about it, but not really. As we watched, she would crowd the person in front of her, then position herself so she was side-by-side with them, then, as she got to the hairpin turn, she’d scoot in front of that person, usually to a series of pursed lips and hateful looks. But no one said anything.

I pointed this out to Karen, and, for the next half hour or so, as we stood in this line, she became our entertainment. There were quite a few of these hairpins, so she was pulling the move each time the line doubled back on itself. And it didn’t take long for me to start laughing out loud at her. Which was even more fun, because then she’d turn and look at me, sour expression firmly in place, and give me the stink eye. Now, I’ll admit, there was a point where she seemed to linger near a younger couple and I began revising my opinion, thinking she might have been their mother/grandmonster trying to catch up with them.

Until she blew by them at the next turnaround. At that point, we started up a conversation with that couple as we passed them. Eventually, it became a spectator sport for a lot of us in line.

Then Karen said, “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if she got up to the Customs Agent and they told her to go to the back of the line?” We all agreed that would be sweet justice, but shit like that never happens.

She carried on, and the closer she came to Customs, the bolder she got, fairly elbowing people out of the way to get through that line quicker. By the way, all this effort she expended likely managed to move her up no more than five or six places in line. It might have saved her five minutes.

Anyway, she finally made it to the Customs Agent, presented her paperwork, gave us the stink eye and waited to be waved through. But wait! What was this? Something wrong with the paperwork? The Customs Agent gestured for her to head back to the ticketing area, where she would have needed to stand in line again, and then have to brave the gauntlet of the Customs line yet again.

As she shambled away from Customs, entrance denied, I couldn’t help laughing at her. Poor old lady.

Shortly thereafter, we made it through Customs with no issues and found some slightly more comfortable seats near our gate. Only four more hours until our flight.

If I didn’t write horror prior to this, seven hours in an Italian airport would have been a way for me to start.

Because they had to bus us to the plane, we actually started the boarding an hour prior to the flight. Then, after all that waiting, we were on the plane and the plane was in the air. There was no woman flipping her hair over the seat, everything went smoothly. I even got to read an entire Ian Rankin novel on the flight.

As I finished my notes of this amazing journey, this incredible gift that my wife gave me for the simple act of surviving fifty years on this planet, we were over the Atlantic Ocean at about 32000 feet (9800 m) and traveling at 531 mph (853 kmph) and it was -61 degrees F (-52 C) not three feet to my right.

And not three feet to my left was the woman I loved.

And we were heading home.

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