Creatures of habit

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There was an old lighthouse keeper, who lived by himself for many, many years.  Just the man and his tower of light and the sea. Every morning at precisely 6am, the fog horn would sound…a long, low, sad blast; it didn’t matter whether the lighthouse was bathed in the deepest fog, or being battered by the winds and waves stirred by a hurricane, or if it was the perfect summer morning blessed by bright sunshine and a warm breeze, the fog horn sounded. Every morning.

It was the kind of sound that’d blast you out of your shoes if you didn’t know it was coming, but of course, the lighthouse keeper knew it all so well that it got to a point that he didn’t even hear it anymore–kind of like when you live near the train tracks or on a busy street in the middle of the city, you just get used to the sound, the noise.

So one morning, for some reason, the fog horn failed to sound, and the lighthouse keeper, precisely at 6:01, woke up with start, sat upright in bed and exclaimed, “What was that?!”


I dubbed him “Gordon Ramsey Guy”.  Every weekday morning, he sits in the exact same seat at the exact same desk space and as I head through the reading room that leads to the stairway to my office, I look up and he’s there.  A student, I’m certain, although what he’s studying at 7:30 in the morning, every morning, I’m not sure.

Sometimes he’s working in a notebook, other times he’s texting. More often than not, if I’m not too early, he also has his laptop open and I can’t help but look at the screen.

NYPL copyright curbed ny
This is the NY Public Library’s Rose Reading Room…waay bigger than Gordon Ramsey Guy’s space; would you notice the same person in the same place, every day? © Curbed NY

That’s how he got his nickname. I think I first noticed him last spring, and I have no idea how long he was there before that, but it was probably the image of Gordon Ramsey that caught my eye, filling the screen with redness and rage, screaming at some poor hapless chef wannabe in Hell’s Kitchen.

For days after that, Ramsey was there, throwing the chef’s creations into the trash, disgust rippling through his entire body; I didn’t need to have volume to know what he was saying.

And it went on, and I couldn’t help but glance as I went by. Always Ramsey.  It seemed as  if the student was perhaps taking a course on pop culture, or maybe how-not-to-be-a-nice-guy.  It just didn’t look like he was leisure watching–why would a 20-something  book it to school to sit and watch a cooking show, if it wasn’t a requirement?

He went away for the summer, as most students do, but this September, within a few days of being back into the regular grind, so was Gordon Ramsey Guy.

I can’t believe how happy that made me. And now, when he misses a morning–which he very, very rarely does–my entire day feels off.

Now he watches other stuff, and in the few seconds I have as I pass by,  I glance beyond his back to his screen to see what’s on.  Ramsey sometimes, still, but also other reality-type shows and the occasional You Tube video.  I have to say, he does always seem to be working on assignments. If he’s not texting.

I’ve only talked to him once, when I came through and they still hadn’t turned on the full overhead fluorescents–a moment of commiseration in the dark, and that was it. I don’t want to spoil it. God forbid he should graduate; I won’t know what to do, as he’s become part of my morning routine.

DSCN1897And when it comes to routine, the morning is when it happens. I was taught, very many years ago in another job, that humans–at least those of us on this continent–are never more predictable than in the morning (or whatever time we start our days).

Think about it–we’re always slightly hurried; we try to make the same bus or train or we leave the house at the same time, and more than very likely take the same route, day in and day out, to our places of work.

If someone was going to follow you, that would be the time to do it.  Yes, creepy, I know, but when you work for the government, sometimes you have to think that way. And you’re taught that the morning commute is the best time to vary your route-and now that I’ve made you think about this, it probably makes sense to you too.

The other thing you’re taught is to be more observant about the people around you–the ones you see every day–like Gordon Ramsey Guy, or the woman with two-tone hair (dark underneath and streaky blonde on top–by the hair on her coat, she had cats, I’m sure–and more than one) who used to ride my bus downtown 15 years ago–I still might recognize her if I saw her in the neighbourhood.

When I took the bus, I sat in the same seat every day–right side facing forward, window; seat right before the back door. I have no idea why, but that’s the one I chose. I still do, when I ride the bus.

When I use the bathroom at work, I go into the same stall.  I have no idea why, but it perturbs me when someone’s in “my spot” when I have to go.

I can’t be the only one, am I?

How do we choose these things?  The route to work’s an easy one–faster and most direct, most likely.  But a seat–bathroom or bus–why is it the one I chose? Where’s the wiring for that?

So, here’s what I plan to do about this. I’m going to shake it up–take a different route to work each day (I’ve most definitely become complacent), get my coffee at a different spot; change it up on transit and in the other choices I make in my day…and I challenge you to do the same.

Take the road less traveled.


In lieu of gifts……

J and B glasses one
Oh, hello….

These days it seems the thing to do on your birthday is not to ask for nor expect gifts or a party; rather, people are choosing favourite charities and asking their friends to make donations.

This is a great idea, because you can be sure you’re giving something you know will be liked and appreciated.  They wouldn’t be doing it otherwise.

There may be times when you don’t agree with the person’s choice of charity; if that’s the case, I’m really not sure of what to do.  If they’re not a really close friend, you can probably get away with waiting till their birthday and wishing them the best on social media or something.  Luckily for me, the requests have been for causes I can get behind, so it’s nice to be able to do something for someone who needs it, in the name of a friend.

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That time I fought City Hall…

If you don’t live in a place where the weather changes in extremes, this may not be something that will resonate with you.

But if, like millions of people around the world (but especially in northern North America), you happen to have planted yourself in a place where the roads can literally melt in summer, then turn around and crack with the cold six months later, this is a story you’ll want to hear.

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I love a parade….

True confession: I was a drum majorette in my high school marching band.

For three years, I got to carry the big baton and lead the 50 or so members of the band as we worked football games and parades.

Did I not wear gloves? I should have…it would have looked cool.

My dress was a cream color, with a backing of satiny gold material on the underside of the skirt, so that if I happened to spin or even swish my hand past my skirt, spectators would be treated to a flash of brightness.  I don’t recall what I wore for panties, but there must have been something.  Yikes.

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¿Cuba? Si!


Shortly after I moved to Canada, I was having a chat with a new friend, and we got to talking about the upcoming winter vacation.  She referred to it as “holidays”—here, people “go on holidays”, they don’t “take a vacation.”

Of course, I knew what she meant, but to me holidays meant actual specific days—like Thanksgiving or St. Patrick’s Day or New Year’s, and vacation was the thing you did that usually had a holiday in the middle of it.

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Remembering…and thanking someone I’ve never met

Kissing Rock on Shelter Island, NY

I was five when President Kennedy died.

I don’t remember the actual event itself, exactly, but I do remember sitting cross legged on the floor of our house in a Chicago suburb, watching the black and white images of the funeral cortege, and later the funeral itself, and thinking that all of this was making my parents very, very sad.

I remember the little boy—his son—who stepped forward and saluted his father’s casket.

And I remember when that little boy died, decades later.

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Springing into Fall

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Well, here we are…..the end of another season, and the beginning of the next.

I usually find that, right around now, I begin to think of the things I didn’t do/didn’t get to do over the summer:

  • I didn’t lose weight; in fact; I gained;
  • That means I didn’t get into the handful of “goal” outfits I brought out as incentives. Now they’ll get shoved back into the back of the summer closet. Again;
  • I didn’t stick my toes in the sand. Not once, and I was near the beach too.
  • I didn’t get all the photos scanned from my photo albums (I had planned for a
    My bro & me, circa ’63

    “Grand Scan” to be completed by now—I’d say I’m about 25% there…but I will also say it’s been a lot of fun to look at all the photos);

  • I didn’t manage to avoid the forest fire smoke from British Columbia (but can only imagine how bad it is/was there when it was at the top of the scale here).

What did I get done?


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I saw the light


(be patient and don’t blink or you’ll miss it)

It’s dusk on a steamy August weeknight.  The day had been overly hot and overly muggy—and I feel hotter and clammier than I can remember in a long time—like there’s a sheen of sweat all over me.  I’m walking across the backyard in my bare feet, and I know I’m going to regret this when I start to count the mosquito bites on my ankles in the morning. God, they’re gonna itch—but they’re better than ticks, which I’ll have to check for as soon as I go back inside.

I step on the occasional stick and the occasionally sticky thing as I make my way to the woods in the deeper shadows at the back of the yard. The moon will rise over the ocean soon, and it’s going to be full, casting a whole other light onto the night.

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By the time we got to Woodstock….

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on

Four days and 49 years ago, a festival dropped in on upstate New York.

Depending on who tells the story, somewhere between 400 thousand and half a million people turned up to watch three days of music, get a little high (a little?!) and wallow in the mud in a summer that had seen, just a few weeks earlier, Chappaquiddick and then a man walk on the moon for the very first time. (Later that year—a year in which Richard Nixon was serving his first term as president, the New York Mets would win the World Series.  That’s the sort of crazy year it was…)

But what’s a hundred thousand when you’re all there for the same reason?

Continue reading “By the time we got to Woodstock….”