Tuesday, February 27, 2018

My 107-year-old visitor from the future

FLUKES RULE: I Google-imaged "Miracles" and this is the first that came up
Sunday afternoon past, my wife Helena suggested we visit some of the old folks at the nursing home near our house where her late mother, Ria Szybalski, spent her final days. I suggested that Sunday was unseasonably warm and sunny and maybe we could find a more fun activity. But--and I'm on record here--90 minutes later, I had to look Helena in the eye and humbly apologize. I couldn't have been wronger.  

Here's why.

Just towards the end of the visit, I found myself holding hands with and singing a bawdy drinking song to a woman named Stasia who happens to be--pay close attention here--107. (I'm not using her real name. Seems a bit invasive.)

But still.

One hundred and seven years old.

Imagine. She's been alive longer than we've had, I think, movies. How unlikely is that?

And like most of the really memorable events that happen in life, my and Stasia's meet-up was a complete fluke.

Helena and I had finished visiting the other old folks and were on our way out when we noticed a little sign celebrating "Our Centenarians." I think there were four, and I also think they should be called centurions but I digress. One, I noted, was named Stasia, and she was born in 1911. I thought "Really? Really? That'd make her.. HOLY!"

And as if it were scripted, just I was thinking "Holy," down the hall came a nun and a non-nun woman wearing name tags. I said, "Excuse me, but do you know anything about this Stasia woman?" And the nun happily told us that yes, Stasia is 107 and although she's bed-ridden now (Stasia, not the nun) she had been until recently getting up and around. Also, she's still alert and she "loves to sing."

I looked at the sister and said, "Can we meet her?"

And what I really loved about her response is that she wasn't like, "Let me think about it", or "I don't know."

She nodded firmly like one of those matronly but confident Mother Superiors from an old movie and said, "Come."

This. In the middle of Canada's biggest city. Two complete strangers ask to visit what might be one of the most vulnerable and fragile individuals on the planet, and the good nun, trusting her instincts, says, "Come." 

As we followed them to Stasia's room, the sister told me, "I understand why you want to meet her.  I felt the same way. It's like witnessing a miracle."

We went in and Stasia was laying on her side in bed, covered with a thin blanket. Sister walked over, leaned down, kissed Stasia on the forehead and--holding Stasia's left hand in her own--started into "Ave Maria."  And Stasia, frail as she was, joined in. We all did. I have it on video.

Sister then mentioned that Stasia knows a lot of "Mary" songs. And that was my cue.

Sister moved away from the bed to talk to Helena..I walked around the bed, took Stasia's hand and launched into my own "Mary" song. It goes like this:

"Whisky and gin, whisky and gin, Mary H Carter loves whisky and gin Mary H Carter loves whisky and gin, whisky and gin, whisky and gin, Mary H Carter loves whisky and gin." (Mary H is my sister, and I didn't say it was a good cowboy song.) 

I figured nothing I could sing would shock my new old friend Stasia. She's been around since before airplanes. If anybody's heard it all, it's Stasia.

I also think she liked me. She had a pretty freaking strong grip and wouldn't let go. Fact is, I didn't want her to.

We eventually had to leave of course.

As we walked away, I mentioned to the woman accompanying the nun that I could hardly wait for Monday morning at the office. If somebody asked me, "How was your weekend?" I would say, "Miraculous."


There's this. Monday--yesterday--marked the first day of a brand new journey for me. I'm starting a new full time job in a position unlike anything I've ever had before. In a wholly new field. I am as excited about this as I was when I was starting my first reporting jobs back in the last century.

And a few hours after our visit, when I showed my daughter Ev the video of Stasia singing, she had this to text: "That's amazing. It's like she's from the future and not the past."

I hope when I'm Stasia's age I'm as smart as my kids.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

MakingTracks From MakeWorks

On most Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays since June, I have found myself sitting across the table from an entrepreneur named Kiran who runs a food-related business out of MakeWorks, the shared work space I go to in the west part of downtown Toronto. I don't understand a lot about Kiran's business, but I do know two things.
PRESENTING: A clumping cat letter.

A: She works a lot.

And B: She thinks the message I just sent her via the inter-office Slack board was pretty funny. We hadn't been talking much today but she just gave up one of those unfake-able spontaneous out-loud laughs, the kind that sneaks up on you, and she ended it with my favourite expletive: "Peter!"

And the message that I sent her?

"That Olympic thing is really fun. It's saving our marriage."

I was referring to a project that Kiran got me and my wife Helena involved in.

Kiran's life partner, Irfan, who also works out of MakeWorks sometimes, is in the media-research business, and when I found out that he was looking for people willing to make a few Olympic-related blog entries a day, I was like, "I'm in!"

I also enlisted Helena.

So since the opening ceremonies, we've been using our smartphones and logging Olympic observations on Irfan's software, noting things like if we get Olympic info via Twitter or if we've posted anything about the Olympics on Facebook.

The survey also asks what time we go to bed and wake up and if there's anything else we'd like to talk about.

Like, say, the delicious veggie barley soup that Helena produced last week or the fact that I in lieu of a Valentines card this year presented Helena with an electric marquee that lets us send messages to the neigbours, some of which are Olympic-oriented.

One afternoon, the only observation I found myself sharing was the often-mis-quoted quote: "The unexamined life is not worth living."

Another? "Maybe marriage should be an Olympic competition."

I also mentioned my own, private wardrobe malfunction. I had misplaced the lovely Roots scarf that Helena gave me for Christmas but, as I was happy to report to the surveyors via video, I found it again.

If we manage to continue blogging right to the end of the Olympics, there's an honorarium in it for us.

But we're not doing it for the money. We're doing it for love. This survey has forced us to engage in the kind of discussion we had when we were whatchamacallit--oh yeah--dating.

And then there's this:

One of the other things that I shared with the survey people but not with Kiran and the rest of my MakeWorks colleagues until now is the fact that I'm really going to  miss them.

Come Monday, I'll be out of MakeWorks and starting a new journalistic adventure as something called an Analysis Editor on the Lawyer's Daily, a highly specialized legal news service tailored to--you guessed it--lawyers.

I'm pretty excited and kinda intimidated at the same time. Stay tuned for more.

But I'm also genuinely sad to be leaving this workspace, which for the moment I'm calling  MakeLonesome.

Since last May, I've had the privilege of sharing air with the most eclectic and marvelous collection of bright stars anywhere on the planet.

To whit: Wednesday last week, I found myself in the MakeWorks kitchen laughing about the weirdness of the English language with--get this--Patrick from France, Madelen from Sweden, Tammy from Brazil, Amy, who is MakeWorks' wonderful concierge/manager from England, and Glyn, from Scotland.

And this: At the MakeWorks holiday party, another married couple whose combined IQs probably hit seven digits--Valkyrie and Evan Savage--charmed me to heavens with the following Secret Santa present: A custom-bound collection of accordion music titled "@PetesBlogAndGrille."

Another of my favourite people and not just at MakeWorks but period is AlexN, who coincidentally attended the same university as my daughters in Halifax but remains conspiratorially quiet about those four years. She also gave me some killer advice on another tutoring project I'm involved in.

Hamza, who sits near AlexN, is not only an IT entrepreneur and a stand-up guy, he's a stand-up comic. Check this out!

Wouldn't you like to work with these folks every day?

These people make you feel great about the future, which--because MakeWorks-style-personnel will be running things--promises to be a way better place than the past ever was.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Facing up to Hadfield, a real McCoy

"I think you'd like this book," my wife Helena said, adding, "it's inspirational." And then she felt obliged to add, "he has accomplished so much!"

Helena was referring to a "An Astronaut's Guide to Life," by Canada's favourite regular guy, Commander Colonel Chris Hadfield.

And my response was: "What is the possible upside to my reading Hadfield's story?" Not that I have anything against Canada's most notoriously terrific man, per se. It's just that he happens to be, like, perfect.

Chris Hadfield is:

A) A astronaut: When you're a astronaut you don't have to follow rules, even grammatical ones. Hadfield also creates art so pretty I'd put it up on my wall.

MINI-ME: And the mini missus
B) Funny as heck: The following's from his website: "A moustache can tell you a lot about a man. When properly administered, it can say 'this man has commanded spacecraft', 'this man escorted Soviet bombers out of Canadian airspace,' or 'this man lived in a research vessel at the bottom of the ocean.' These can be tall orders to live up to--having a moustache is a big responsibility;'"

C) Everything else, besides:  Husband, dad, athlete, the whole megillah. He's written a children's book called The Darkest Dark. He has an album out, "Space Sessions; Songs from a Tin Can," which contains the Neil Youngish  "Beyond the Terra."

D) So maybe I'm Just Jealous: Moi? Envious of Monsieur Perfect? I know what you're going to say. "Pete you've written songs, too."  And I thank you for that, but did I mention the line of mini-Commander Hadfield toys?

E) Don't you remember the bobble-head of you and Helena that your daughters Ev and Ria commissioned? Still.

Once a knight's
F) Hadfield's younger than me: Not that much younger...

G) So you're probably doing okay: Seems so. Maybe the astronaut's not flawless after all. Helena might be right. I hate when that happens.

H) Richard Branson: Why'd you have to go bring HIM into this conversation? Just when I was coming around on Hadfield.

I) Still ain't reading his book.