Six Oranges and a Parisian Girl

it's a long one, and it doesn't explain the title. Years of procrastination, worry, and I admit, indifference, led to only ever hearing stories of one of my favourite people to ever be around: my uncle Pete. He lived six hours away - spoiler alert: using past tense - but only two hours from all of the other people I'd ever visit west of Ottawa, so the opportunity was always there. But for years I didn’t know what I would say if I went there; It'd been too long and too much had happened. One night I tried to pop by and he growled through the screen door at 11 o'clock saying he was too sick for visitors and to try again next time I was in town.

Nearly ten years had gone by since the better days.

One year after the screen door growl incident I gave him a call and learned that his little house on the old side of Guelph was just too messy and he was embarrassed to have me see it and judge him for it. That wolf was really just scaring me away from his self-consciousness. I heard dozens of other strange, but oddly comforting things over the next few hours and it reminded me of what it was like to be around Uncle Pete a decade earlier. Just being a kid and having him casually swing by Grandma and Papou’s house for a family dinner. He'd be out having beers on the patio with the other uncles and aunts’ boyfriends, and us young ones were all down in the pool seeing who could dive the furthest and laughing about the Playboys we’d just discovered under the couch in the den. ‘I’ll take the 40 over 40 one cause it’s got way more pages.” I was always a logical thinker. And a trailblazer, since this was probably before MILFs were a thing..

Papou and Uncle Pete c.2003

Papou and Uncle Pete c.2003

A week later I was sitting in Pete's apartment - lovingly, Rathole #5 - a rather large downgrade from the house I'd last waded my way through, learning about all of these things after I'd finally decided to make a visit, half-confident that he'd be around anywhere from 2-20 more years. I didn't know what we'd actually talk about; there'd been a lot of family tension in the recent years and I'd hoped to stay out of it more than I actually did. Pete kept apologizing for saying the news anchor was a babe, or for saying “God, man, they’re good people, but fuck they’re crazy sometimes, y’know? Sorry, I shouldn’t say that. But it's true. That's family. Sorry. Don't repeat that." Hahah, I loved it, and had to keep reminding myself that he was still trying to filter himself a bit because he mainly remembered me from being in early high school, and forgetting that now I was probably thinking “man, that news girl is a 10, and I oughta show some memes of dirty movie screenshots really get him laughing. He eventually realized a filter was just unnecessary around me – I was glad but surely wouldn’t let him roll the joints after that.

We managed a two hour conversation with nearly zero talk about family, and spent most of the time telling stories of what our twenties were like (and still are..thank you to everyone who thinks otherwise, ya dicks). Then we had to run down the list of who was with whom and whether they still are and – for the most part – why they aren't. We laughed at fools forever. He’d made his mistakes and he was still paying for them by having kids who didn’t want to see him, fading health, other family who weren't allowed to know he was sick, and old friends who dismissed him with the “yeah, that’s Pete; he lost his way a long time ago.” I was proud that a few of those people had an August change of heart. There's always time until there isn't, and I was lucky to share some of it.

Except for when he casually mentioned aliens and I had to check to make sure I wasn't stepping on his oxygen tube. I wasn't, but he couldn't tell anyway because he's blind in one eye. That's how I ended up getting two thirds of our pizza. Placed it in the periphery.

I left thinking, thank god I came here (lower case "g" to spite whoever took him), because I wasn’t too late and I knew I could keep coming back to relive his old times and learn all the things that made him who he is. This was a promise I made to myself after my Papou died in 2006 and I'd never asked him to tell me one single story. Luckily when Pete's nervous he tells all the stories, so I got a good taste of what my shyness had cost me years before with his dad.

I only saw him one more time. The day before he died.

Uncle Pete.

Uncle Pete.

It would've been the very day he died, but he went through half the hospital's morphine supply. Each new syringe seeping in for a quiet minute before "oooh, theeere it is! Now how 'bout that. Oooohhey, Kary, you know what I really couldn't stand about you?" The room erupted. 

I found myself wondering how he could be so cast-aside for so long, yet I still wished I’d lived some of the times that he had, and he really didn't regret that he did it his way. Sure, I take 20% off the top for storytelling liberties, but he still takes the cake as the most lived life I've known. "Why'd you love Vancouver so much?" 'Ah man, the fresh air! Well, and the great pot and the nude beach I'd always walk home from hammered while the hookers chirped me for stumbling around, but then said 'nah, just kidding, we love ya Pete, get home safe!'"

I snapped back to my last visit as he coughed and laughed like he did when he ate his pizza too quickly while chirping the Jays for blowing a lead against the Red Sox. I snapped a pic of the screen to remember exactly when we had that conversation. It meant something. He tried to pay me for the pizza later and I first said no, but then said hell no, because he was trying to give me $100. I said Pete! I scammed you and ate 2/3 of that pizza on account of your stupid eye!

He said brother, I want you to take your girlfriend somewhere nice and make her feel like I do now.

Uncle Pete.

Uncle Pete.

As fate and fuck the world would have it, I booked time off work a month later for a bachelor party weekend and panned to make a little detour to say hi and smoke catch up again. It turned out that I'd booked off the wrong weekend for the party, but the right weekend to say goodbye to Pete. On my way down the 401 to his house I got a text that said he'd relocated to the hospital. "Serious condition" they told me. "Hot nurses," he told me later. I changed the subject. “So Pete, those ten guys in that photo who all came to visit last time, were they all high school friends?" “Hell yeah, we used to run from the cops together all the time. It was a thrill. Except for Scott who got caught. Boy he took a beating.” But those were the days. We’d be slingshotting snowballs at cars and running through the streets. A few bloody noses, but fuck was it worth it." 

These were stories I never heard. I'd only gone from being a kid and asking him for his beer bottle caps for my collection - back when he was the first one to call me "Dude" - to wondering why he stopped showing up at family gatherings. In just over a year, several people died and disappeared from the kitchen poker table. And then that was it; it was never the same. People got married and had new families to be with, we changed locations to ease the burden of hosting, and it just all faded out. Luckily I've still got my cousin Kyle. He reminds me a lot of Pete and he refused to let things get in the way of us getting together, no matter how many people left or gave bullshit excuses. Even if there were just four of us. He's the new anchor of our family yet forty years younger than the last. Wouldn't Pete would be proud.

Back when things were good, at my favourite family gathering I was fifteen and had finally become a regular invite to the poker table, a few months after I’d started learning to play guitar. Pete brought his whole drum kit to jam with me. He was the most patient and encouraging leader ever. He backed me up for hours. And afterwards he gave me his drum sticks and pissed my mom off by saying, practice on anything. Hit whatever sounds good. Just play.

And man could he ever. He’d beat those things as revenge for the snowball-throwing bloody noses and the people who shut him out as a dropout, a user, and a shitty father. Which he was. He knows that. I’m not sure how long that has to affect things for, but if it’s one week or one lifetime, I still get it. But sitting on those old leather couches beside the drum set in Rathole #5, it didn’t matter. I loved him. I just wanted to carry him to his stool and put the sticks in his hand and say "Muddy Water, Champagne and Reefer, lead us in, Pete." Don't lead us out.

May 6, 1955 to August 15, 2017, and forever.

 

 

*all photos provided by friends and family

Uncle Pete.

Uncle Pete.

Here I Go Again

Another opportune time to update the world as I wait for the domestic dispute to settle down outside my apartment so I can get to the gym. I was tempted to pop out to see if the girl was alright, but as soon as she screamed "I bet yo baby mama's hidin' in there!" I was like, hah, nope, that sounds like a stalemate. Then I watched through the peephole as the most innocent looking man jovially strutted by with a beer in his hand and said "hey what's goin' on?" Ugh, that poor guy was out there for nearly an hour getting the story all the way back from when her friends were first like "hey he's cute, go talk to him." And I was too scared to even toss him a fresh beer to ease the pain..I left a man hanging that fateful day. What poor form. Maybe I should move. Fast forward a week. I moved.

 

I guess I just missed the cold and uncertainty of life in the capital city, which was much more alluring than the mild cold and uncertainty of life in London.

Photo 2016-03-19, 10 48 16 AM (1)

So happy to have me back.

All this fun put me in the mood to write; call it Judy Glume. Also because I wrecked my sleep schedule again and need to burn a little time till I can nod off, though this time the sleep-in wasn't on purpose. I had a dentist appointment last week - do not go to my dentist unless you have perfect teeth (but why would you? Look, I'm not here to give advice, do what you want.. but I guess that's advice. I digress.) or if you were hit on your bike when you were eleven and the shady guy gave you a Blank Cheque. Anyway, the dental assistant gave me a sort of worried look and asked if I felt light-headed. I said look, I know you're beautiful, but all my blood is where it should be and I feel fine. Then she said my resting heart rate (yep, they do this now) was 43. Now that isn't particularly low, especially when you've been consistently torturing your aerobic system for over a year, or as a girl recently described it, "oh my god, don't tell me you sit in a canoe in one of those forever-pools and paddle till you can't anymore..." "Technically, yes." And I never saw her again.

Now, actual fit people are often in the 30s - as in beats per minute, not age, or I'd be on track for success by Tokyo 2020. But since I hadn't checked my resting rate in years I figured last night I'd throw on my chest strap so when I woke up I could check it on my watch without ruining it by having to get up to put the thing on, although my kinky side knows I can definitely strap things on without affecting blood flow. So I woke up and turned my watch on, then tried to stay relaxed for a minute to get a good reading. An hour later I woke up, so I turned my watch on and tried to stay relaxed for a minute to get a good reading. An hour later, well it was noon and all I had was a foggy head, a jacked heart rate because the alarm scared me, and a terrible indent of a chest strap that looked like I'd been wearing a maxi dress (had to google that) with that useless sub-titty skinny belt that girls love so much. As if something that secured to your body could just fall off out of nowhere! (Lorena Bobbit anyone?)

On the whole, it was a waste of time and not a lot of real science ended up taking place; an uncanny resemblance to my Masters. But unlike my Masters, this post is finished. On time. With no hidden costs and a moderate amount of dignity intact.

Plus, if I walked around demanding to be called Master Rob, well that just wouldn't fly these days, right? So let's just say I left in the name of social progress.

Photo 2016-02-07, 12 26 43 AM

 

You Reap What You Row

For those who aren't quite as extensively informed on the techniques of enhanced interrogation, the two-kilometre test on the rowing ergometer might be the ultimate window to the soul. And while it does help a coach gain insight into the mindset of the athlete, as well as their physical potential to move a boat, it's much more effective as an introspective endeavour. Hundreds and hundreds of tedious kilometres narrowed down to 5 (hah!) to 8 (likely) minutes of validation. Like driving across the prairies for a booty call. Is it worth it? Let me work it.

2016-01-31_RL_2K_3_1

This post is timely since CIRCs (Canadian Indoor Rowing Championships) were held this past Sunday and I kept refreshing my browser (we're all nerds about something) to see the results and how disgustingly fast some humans are, namely from my alma mater, where the only thing I knew of the sport at the time was that some douche bag named "Smart Guy" (but taller and whiter than the kid on TV) liked to tell people he was a rower and future doctor. A few years later sources confirmed the latter but laughingly discounted the former.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hAfHG2bpwE]

 

Anyway, it's pretty typical for sport in general that hours spent training are disproportionately greater than those spent competing, but at least some have a little more fun: in volleyball you get like 30 high fives in one game, and in snowboarding you get high like 30 times at the X Games. But in this sport the return on investment is certainly much lower; nearly 99% of metres rowed are during training. Fortunately, instead of waiting until you're on your deathbed to reconsider every choice you've made in life, you only have to wait till the 1k mark. But I guess that's more of a quirk than a perk. And about as useful as that assonance. (#datassonance)

rowing-ergometer-concept2-erg

The soul leaving the body; jumping ship, as it were.

What's so intriguing about this endeavour then? Well, not all that much, especially in relation to its more popular counterparts. One (Rob) sometimes feels as if they (he) aren't (ain't) (*isn't) (**sorry mom) training for a sport, rather training as a sport – hold your horses there Crossfit, two can play that game - and while we’re at it, high five for injured backs!

So if nothing else, the 2k is a very well-defined challenge.

Grace under fire.

How flawless can your form become, and how close to flawless can your form remain while your body is nearing complete exhaustion. And will you poop your uni in the last 300 metres? These are some of the greatest philosophical questions in sport, specifically the latter.

But at least when you finish you can physically tell if you gave it your all, and you can't externalize your failure. It wasn't the biased ref, it wasn't the home crowd, the weather, or the guy beside you. Unless he farted (final 300m?). Or, if any of this took place on the water, then yes, it was completely because of your lane assignment. I know, it’s ok, there there, yes, I saw the wake.

I guess it’s good timing to end this here as I’m now coughing on a piece of tin foil-covered easter chocolate that was on sale at the grocery store today – how ironic that it was given the bad lane a.k.a. trachea. I realize it might seem a little pre-emptive to celebrate easter, but at this point we all know that Jesus is coming. For, as a great man once wrote (on a bumper sticker), “we can tell because he’s breathing heavy.”

Apologies to christians.

 

Spoiler alert.