A fitting end to the Year of the Rat

Note, the following may not be suitable for all audiences. It contains scenes of violence and coarse language. Reader discretion is advised. Also, the really squeamish or rodent averse might not want to read this over breakfast.

When the city of Victoria was hit with uncharacteristic cold and heavy snow this past week, our six-year old dog, Teddy, a small, cat-like Japanese breed called a Shiba Inu, went nuts one night. He ran into our bedroom barking and whining: “Guys! Guys! You gotta get up and deal with this! Now!” He ran to the top of the basement stairs, barking and whining, back up to our bedroom, panting and agitated.

What was his problem? We looked around but couldn’t tell. Was it frozen branches rubbing against the basement window? We cut them back in the driving snow but it didn’t help. He barked and paced all night, our teenage girls moaning from their bedrooms. “Make Teddy shut up.” I finally slept on the downstairs couch because he settled if I stayed on the main floor.

The next day he took up vigil by the washing machine, staring at the wall. Teddy’s posture said it all: “Make one false move buddy and I will have you!” Oh no, we now knew: It was some animal. We hoped it was just a mouse, but feared it was a rat. As a waterfront city, Victoria is full of them.

Teddy kept up the watch for 48 hours, taking only pee and food breaks. During one of those breaks, our 15 year-old saw it and let out a blood curdling scream. “OMG! It’s a huge rat!” Its backside and tail had scuttled into a gap by the washing machine. Teddy roared back downstairs.

The exterminator told me they had too many calls to deal with it until after Christmas. Cold snaps drive lots of rats into Victoria’s old houses, where they can squeeze through any gap the size of quarter. Teddy was probably scaring the daylights out of it and as soon as it was warm enough, he said, the rat will head back outdoors -- as long as no food source is more enticing than the dog is menacing.

By the fourth day, Teddy seemed to have adopted a live-and-let-live attitude. He spent most of the day sleeping on the couch, occasionally running downstairs to sniff at the wall, coming back upstairs for a bit of a lie down, then running back downstairs for another 20 minutes. We hoped maybe the rat had left us.

But on Friday when my husband came home from work, he opened the front door to hear strange high pitch squeaks mixed with intermittent thuds. Teddy was in the kitchen where he had cornered the rat – a very large brown one with a huge tail– between the basement door and the water cooler. The thud was Teddy banging his paw on the door, trying to get at the rat. The squeaks were the terrified rat baring his teeth. As the rat’s tail swept under the door Teddy would snap at it trying to catch it. We have no idea how long the two had been at their standoff. Keith’s reaction was: “ Holy $#@%^^$! What do I do?"

He opened the door to the mud room and the back door to give the rat an exit route and moved the cooler away from the wall. But instead of running outside to safety, the rat made a beeline for the dining room with Teddy chasing after it. They ran around the dining room table then into the living room among the Christmas tree and presents where the rat sought refuge under the couch. Keith, his heart pounding, shook the couch from side to side. The rat came tearing out, heading back to the kitchen with Teddy hot on him. He was almost safely by the mudroom door when Teddy did a flying pounce and caught him by the back of the neck.

What happened next, says Keith, was like an episode of Marlin Perkins’ Wild Kingdom. I will spare you the gory details, but imagine a lion taking down a hyena. When Keith re-enacts the life-and-death struggle, the neck-breaking, thrashing stuff, people invariably cover their eyes and squeal, laughing in horror at unbridled nature and the absurdity of it occurring in our white kitchen. Needless to say, in the end it was Teddy 1, rat zero. But the rat put up a fight.

When I came home a short while later our kitchen was like a CSI crime scene – blood splatter covered a good five feet in all directions – on the walls, on the floor, on cupboard doors, on the door to the mud room. (Keith said he hadn’t cleaned it up so that the girls and I could see it, otherwise we wouldn’t have believed it. I told him I would have believed it....)

In his final act of victory, Teddy flung the rat like a shot putter, letting it fly high in an arc that had it land somewhere in our chaotic mud room. Keith had not seen the full trajectory and had not been able to find it amidst the mounds of recycling, boots, floor mop and cleaning products. ( I don’t think he looked that hard. ) I found the rat wedged up behind a big bleach bottle on a shelf. It was one huge very dead rat – I think close to 2 pounds. We were late for a Christmas party that night because I had not expected to spend 30 minutes cleaning up the mess with a bleach solution before heading out.

Teddy walked around for at least two days with his chest puffed out, the hero. He has lived six years without ever knowing he was bred to weed out rodents and suddenly, when needed, his instinct kicked in: “I was born for this!!” He even seemed to relive his exploits by repeatedly following the scent trail and running periodically into the basement to check up on the washing machine, hoping, we think, that another one might be around.

Ironically, 2008 was the Chinese Year of the Rat – which for us came to a memorable and fitting end. Fortunately, 2009 is the year of the Ox and it is unlikely that we may experience a similar literal manifestation in our kitchen. And we sure are glad that 2009 is not the year of the very big snake, but if it were, we think Teddy would be game to take it on.





Posted on Monday, December 22, 2008 at 08:37PM by Registered CommenterAnne | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

Chasing the rainbow

Last week,  I got the kind of call that makes me love being a journalist. My editor wanted a profile of wunderkind hit180px-Welcome_to_vegas.jpg machine, music producer and Canadian icon David Foster. Foster was in Las Vegas rehearsing and performing a star-studded PBS show featuring him and some of the talent he has nurtured in his 35-year career - names like Peter Cetera of Chicago, Kenny G., Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban and Michael BublĂ© -- to name just a few.  And the best way to do a profile is seeing a person in action, doing what they do.

Suddenly I was booking flights to Vegas, searching for a hotel room for the busy Memorial Day weekend and observing two days of rehearsals and the resulting concert with some 8,000 fans at the Mandalay Bay Event Centre. The details of that behind-the-scenes experience will be saved for the actual article (look for it in November or December 2008 Canadian Reader's Digest). But I will say this: Foster has won 15 Grammys and it is no fluke.  He is an extraordinary musician with a no-fail ear for what works. He knows how to showcase a singer's unique gift and to hone songs so that they hit an emotional core. Watching him collaborate with his proteges, tweaking things just so, was a true privilege. The PBS show will air sometime in the fall.  I felt lucky to be there to see it take shape.

Feeling lucky in Las Vegas: now that is odd. Vegas struck me, at its  essence, as a very unlucky place -- well at least for those desperate to be lucky or get lucky.

Luck breeds luck and that seems particularly true in Vegas. Those who "have" do well in Vegas - especially those who have true  talent like Foster and his musical friends. Appearing all in the same week at various Vegas venues were other stars like Robin Williams, the Police, Christine Aguilera, Cher, Barry Manilow, Roseanne Barr, Jay Leno, David Copperfield, Tom Jones, Blue Rodeo and Penn & Teller. And each show draws a huge crowd, seemingly unaffected by the competition. For them Vegas is a gold mine: a captive, appreciative audience all wanting to be touched by star dust, or at least tell a friend back home on the Canadian prairie they saw it sparkling in the not-so-far distance. 

If I had a lot of money, and didn't care about dropping big chunks of it at the gaming tables or other Vegas attractions , Vegas would be a lot of fun. There are great restaurants, decadent spas, top restaurants, luxury hotels and a smorgasbord of world class entertainment, not only featuring headlining singers and comedians but shows like the ever-mutating franchise of Cirque du Soliel, which has at least five(!) top-rated shows running concurrently on the "Strip." Stars undoubtedly feel at home in Vegas as they are both respected and shielded here. The more posh establishments even  have special VIP check-ins , with their own set of secure elevators so stars and glitteratiS don't have to wait with the Vegas hoi polloi.

And the hoi polloi come in droves. Some 30 million visitors, on average, come to Vegas each year.  Think of it: the entire population of Canada  descending primarily on a 12 block section called the "Strip." In the elevators and casinos over just three days I heard Russian, Polish, Spanish, German, Chinese, Swedish, French, Italian,  Japanese and more, not to mention every variation of English-language accent from Scottish burr, Antipodean lilt,  and the full range of US and Canadian twang. And all, it seems, are hoping for a bit of luck.

The Egyptian Fantasy
But here, for most, the Las Vegas fantasy prevails. It prevails in the multiple "themed" hotels - you can stay in a castle, in a pirate lair, in Paris, New York, or Venice.  I inhabited ancient Egypt at the Luxor, looking out my window at the butt end of the Sphinx and sleeping in the slant-walled room of a black glass pyramid. ( My take: there is no such thing as pyramid power, at least not for me on the casino floor. But I kinda liked the hieroglyphics.) 

Fantasy prevails in the hyped-up sexuality that is everywhere, particularly
in the perfectly toned-865312-1597290-thumbnail.jpg
Reality: my view
abs, pert behinds, or chiseled jaw images on billboards and elevator posters promoting a whole range of vicarious sexual experiences. There's the  topless review "Phantasy" (seemingly geared to men); "Thunder from Down Under" (seemingly geared to women or gay men),  the show called "Sexy" at the MGM Grand ( I think both genders, but can't be sure) or the hyped "Zumanity" a Cirque du Soleil hit that seems to be geared to the lumpen mass who dream of "if only" sexual experiences of the beautiful, athletic and highly flexible.

Another fantasy -- that changing your figure will change your life -- is perhaps behind the apparent explosion of breast implants among legions of young to youngish women in Vegas from stars or their super-thin-but-stacked girlfriends, to star-wannabees and showgirls, to store clerks, chambermaids and giggling co-eds prepping, it seems, for Girls Gone Wild auditions. The abundance of round taut orbs reminded me of the scary reproducing  pods in the Donald Sutherland remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. (Ahhhhhh... scream and fingerpoint.. another set!) But plastic surgery is improving - new jobs seem more real. At times I felt like Elaine in Seinfield wanting to pretend to trip to bump these perfect confections, just to reassure my science-graduate (aging) self that gravity DOES still exist as a force in the universe and these displays, (phew), are merely silicon specimens made to defy it.

Fantasy -- or at least wishful thinking-- prevailed in the five drunk young men who sat down beside me when I was the lone player Friday night at a Black Jack table. One guy to my right proceeded to win. He was on a roll and as he won successive hands he got pumped. I was trying to learn so I watched. He was young enough to be my son, but seeing my interest in his hands,  he started to flirt with me. (Alas, I wasn't flattered: drunk come ons even as a middle-aged woman are not complimentary). When he had asked my name three times in short slurred succession,  I got up to leave. He shouted out, a last ditch bold attempt : "So, do you wanna make out?" to the laugher of his friends and the dealer and even me as I walked away. No doubt he was leaving Vegas in the morning and dammit, he had to somehow get laid even if it meant hitting on a woman 25 years his senior in a blatant, desperate, 11th-hour bid.

And most of all fantasy prevails among all those Vegas gamblers, whether short-term vistors or long-term residents, who hope against the house odds that their mundane life or financial troubles will suddenly evaporate with the toss of the dice, the spin of the wheel, a card dealt from a deck, or the chance meeting at the casino of a wealthy potential suitor.

And that I found depressing. Vegas is full of evidence that legions are clinging to the dream of the one lucky break:  hangers-on at celebrity functions whose only real talent seems to be knowing someone who knows someone and who hope they can charm a star to sleep with or slip him a demo tape; people playing slots who look like they have come off a shift and hope to make rent; young men and women making huge ridiculous bets on a number like a birthday only to see a single spin take it all away.

The fantasy of the easy win seduces everywhere, even at slots machines in corner stores, gas stations, the airport, grocery stores. I was buying a pair of stockings at a Walgreens on the Strip and noticed four video slots in a corner. An elderly women, with her bag of prescription meds hanging from her arm, was at one. She did not, in any way, look like she was having fun. She looked, instead, that she was hoping to recoup what she had just spent on life-extending drugs. 

Tired of this sort of scene, on Saturday, I rented a car and drove to the Hoover Dam to marvel at a different kind of dream -- the power of functional engineering to remake our world and make places like Vegas bloom, indeed make possible all the the settlements in the arid west. But even that dream has a harsh reality - Vegas and the west is running out of water, vividly displayed by the shockingly low water line of Mead Lake, the reservoir created by the dam.

Driving back into the city it began to rain - a rarity for Vegas. I passed pawnshops, payday loan outfits and cheap rental apartments, all catering to those dreaming of that lucky break. And then the sun broke through. And there, arching over the city was a huge rainbow. I pulled over to look at it and couldn`t believe my eyes. The perspective was such that it appeared to end right over the Strip at the golden glistening towers of the Trump Hotel and Casino. 865312-1595612-thumbnail.jpg
Trump Gold at the End of the Rainbow ( click to enlarge)

Standing in the pouring rain getting myself and my camera wet, but having sun on my shoulders, I snapped a picture of this stunning mythic phenomenon as it hung over the non-descript facade of a retail plaza. And I laughed, because for me as a journalist, capturing this living metaphor on my cheap digital camera is a chronicler's lucky break. A visual representation of what I was trying to describe in words: the enduring mythic dream to find the pot of gold.

I dropped my rental car at the airport and happily headed home.

Posted on Sunday, May 25, 2008 at 05:22PM by Registered CommenterAnne | CommentsPost a Comment

The trouble with decluttering

A journalist friend, Vivian Smith, emailed me and other contacts today asking us for our thoughts about clutter in our lives and "why we cling to useless objects." I emailed her back about my abhorence for putting non-biodegrable objects into landfills and wanting to find a way to recycle as much as possible. But I have been thinking  about it, and realize for me, many items I hold onto are imbued with meaning.

Here is just one example.  I have in a shoebox, in my dining room side board, a very beautiful blue milkglass antique pitcher, given to me in my 20s by my Great Aunt Agnes, a “maiden” aunt who came of age in WW1. Almost all the men of her highschool, including a few sweethearts, died in the war.  As a single woman in her late 30s during the Depression, with almost all the men of her generation wiped out, she knew she would never marry. And not able at that time to conceive of an unconventional life as a spinster, she tried to slit her throat with a straight edged razor. She showed me the long scar on her neck when she was in her 90s. She said: "My heart folded up."

But somehow resiliency prevailed and by the time I was born she had become a leading antique collector of Canadiana. People came from around North America to see her collections of pine furniture, primitive art, cranberry glass and other valuable items in her overflowing Goderich home. She was an shining example to me of how to survive and carry on and make a good and meaningful life come what may. She died some 15 years ago at age 96, a celebrated woman who lived a long and full life.

That little pitcher was a treasured item because it came from her; because it had an intrinsic beauty and simplicity I simply loved to look at; and because I knew it was valuable -- worth at one time a few hundred dollars dating as it did from the early 19th century.

Dashed history
But it is in the box in a dozen pieces. When my girls were about 5 and 3, I very stupidly put a posey of Lily of the Valley in it and put it on the dresser of their shared room. It looked lovely on the white dresser in their blue room, like a picture in a home decorating magazine. But of course, one of them ( neither will own up) threw a pillow or lobbed a stuffy, or pushed her sister, which knocked the jug and dashed it on the floor. Both girls knew this was not good and Mommy would be upset and therefore tried to hide the evidence, but I found the wilted flowers and pieces shoved in the dresser drawer. In tears, mostly mad at myself, I picked up and saved every tiny little piece and hoped that some restorer might put it back together.

But part of me knows it is impossible to mend and I never have looked nor found that magical person who could perform this Lazarus-like miracle. I no longer even hope.

But I can’t throw it out. It is a reminder of my great aunt and her resiliency; of my often unfulfilled desire to create beauty in the chaos of my life; of the need to not try to aspire to home deco porn (as undermining to working mothers as skinny models are to teenage girls);  and as much as possible to keep a check on my unrealistic expectations, particularly when it comes to my offspring. (As my wise mom said: Oh dear, what possessed you to even think of putting that jug in a room with pre-schoolers?!)

And, as a writer, it irks with the darn cliche of it all -- I mean come on: the antique vase paired with children? 

But to me that box is full of meaning and history and folly and experience. I have umpteen things like this. And this is why our lives get cluttered.


Posted on Wednesday, May 21, 2008 at 08:01PM by Registered CommenterAnne | Comments1 Comment

A new tourist season begins

Kabuki Kabs has a new owner and a new location, a few blocks away from the old barn on Herald Street. New ads are now running daily in the Times Colonist  luring a fresh crop of eager entrepreneurs to try their luck and stamina plying the streets of Victoria. Each time I am in the downtown core I see new faces behind the handle bars of the old familiar white tricycles.

I have had many people ask me this spring if I will go out again. Part of me wants that outdoor air and freedom but I don't think my left knee is up to it and I know it would take a huge commitment to get strong enough again to confidently pull the weight of tourist cargo around Victoria. My writing work life is too busy and interesting to put on hold.

And besides, I have a new obsession: Bikram Hot Yoga.  At first I thought it was the most barbaric and insane practice, more aptly named Bikram hot torture. Practioners exiting out of the sessions at the Fort Street franchise with beet-red faces and zoned-out walk reminded me of Alec Guiness staggering out after days in the hot box in Bridge on the River Kwai. I can hear the demented sinister voice of the POW camp leader intoning: " Be happy in your yoga."

But for some reason I can't explain ( a mascochistic streak? a hint of OCD?) I have become addicted to it. It makes my knee feel stronger and all my muscles and joints feel more resilient. I can't get over my huge gains in flexibility. I feel a perverse sense of self-righteousness after every session. And dam-it-all, one of these years I WILL lock out my knees and get my forehead to the floor.

I wish all the new cabbers luck. I plan to drop by the new barn and say hello. But I think it will take a miracle ( like an advance from a publisher for a book deal?) to get this writer back out on a cab this summer.


Posted on Monday, May 19, 2008 at 07:34PM by Registered CommenterAnne | CommentsPost a Comment

Remembrance of things past

The high winds and torrential rains of a typical late Victoria fall have hit. The cruise ships are still arriving - a few a week -- but the Inner Harbour streets have only a smattering of tourists, wrapped in gortex and struggling with umbrellas.

I am back at my desk in my office, now,  seven to eight hours a day. I try to ride my bike to work - if the weather is good enough. Or I try to zip up to the  Y on my lunch hour for a 50 minute spin class on stationary bikes, at least three times a week.  But these days it seems I often don't get there - telephone calls, a pressing deadline or some other work-related task keeps me at my desk.

I am determined not to let the fitness I built over the summer ebb too drastically and vow to make regular trips to the gym. But somehow I know it will  and must -- ebb. I simply can't devote six to eight hours, three times a week, being so active. And I miss that about pedicabbing.

Would I spend a summer doing it again? That question is often asked of me in the past few weeks.

Yes - most definitely. I loved the freedom. I loved the fresh air and the interaction with people. I loved feeling strong and healthy. I loved feeling my metabolism burning like a well-stoked fire. In fact the whole summer made me feel the way I felt as a teenager at summer camp. Here, just shy of my 50th birthday, I didn't think I would ever feel that way again. And that was one of the best gifts of the summer.

These days almost all the pedicabs are off the street. The barn is locked up tight. But Chico, who has been driving a pedicab for 13 years now, has a key. He leases his pedicab on a yearly basis. And when the sun is shinng this winter  he will come down to the barn, let himself in and take out his cab onto the streets. Sometimes he is the only one. But he does it year in and year out.

"It is a great way to spend a day. How could you not love it? You bring joy to people," he says.

And on that I would concur: at least it brought joy to me. And I hope on some days I brought joy to those I gave a ride.

Good bye pedicabbing --- at least for now. It was fun. And who knows, I may be back.

Posted on Saturday, October 20, 2007 at 03:20AM by Registered CommenterAnne | Comments1 Comment