L.A. WOMAN (EN ROUTE MAGAZINE)
Perhaps it was just an irrational fear, like my phobias about snakes and high places. All my life I have avoided Los Angeles because I couldn't see the point of an ordinary woman purposely visiting a city where every waitress, shopgirl and passerby on the street is reputed to be prettier, thinner and younger. Why speed up the depressingly inevitable decline into sexual obscurity, I reasoned, by rushing headlong to the one place in the world where beautiful people are so abundant they comprise their own voting block?
But all fear -- irrational or not -- needs to be confronted. And so I decided to see if I could cut the mustard among L.A.'s self-styled elite.
ArrivalMy dark green Ford Mustang convertible is the perfect L.A.-type vehicle. Cruising Santa Monica Boulevard, I find the scenery amazingly unspectacular: lots of low-level shops mixed in with white-washed bungalows and palm trees. But as my car passes the You Are Now Entering Beverly Hills sign, I notice a sudden change for the better. Spiky grass and masses of flowers line the roadside. And the windows of the buildings are fitted with a more elegant brand of anti-theft bars.
I check into the truly elegant Four Seasons Beverly Hills Hotel and check out their Windows Lounge. It is packed with cell phone-toting women all wearing the same low-cut black Lycra dresses and cell phone-toting men attired either in dark business suits and ties, or khaki pants, running shoes and baseball caps.
Everyone looks like they are in deep discussion over impending movie deals, although they could just be discussing whether to order the Russian Beluga caviar en brioche or the calamari arrabiata with the saffron aioli drizzle. I intentionally eavesdrop: They are indeed discussing movie deals. I feel I have really arrived...
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FASHION POLICE (TUFTS CUSTOM PUBLICATIONS)
Wednesday, 1:37 PM. The name's Joe Thursday. Ever since Monday, after receiving a hot tip last Friday, my partner Al Jones and I have been staking out the underside of table 13 at Chez Lucky Pierre. Some sloppily dressed businessmen had been spotted power-lunching in the vicinity. We're detectives, working out of the Accessories Unit of Two Division, Metropolitan Fashion Police.
"Say Joe, how much do you think they charge for an omelette in a place like this?"
"I dunno. Maybe twelve, fifteen bucks."
"As much as that?"
"Shhh, somebody's coming."
"Joe -- look at that!"
"I am looking, and I don't like what I see. Judging by the scuffmarks on this guy's shoes, he could be one tough customer. Let's move."
"Wha...Who are you people? What were you doing hiding under my table?"
"Fashion police, sir. My name's Thursday, this is Detective Jones. We'd like to ask you a few questions."
"Certainly, I've done nothing to be ashamed of."
"Then why are you surreptitiously trying to polish the top of your shoe against the leg of your pants?"
"I -- I'm doing nothing of the sort. It's just a little nervous gesture I have sometimes."
"Look, who do you people think you are, barging in here, interrupting me at lunch? I'll have you know I'm an important man in this town, with plenty of connections. I could have your jobs for this."
"Well until then, mister, why not let us do our jobs? You're under arrest for violating Section 195-A of the sartorial code -- severe shoe abuse."
"Joe, look out!"
"Okay, mister, just keep your hands on the table where I can see them."
"I wasn't doing anything! I was just reaching down to scratch my leg..."
"He's lying, Joe. Take a gander at his socks."
"Droopy mid-calf socks with a suit! When will you business punks ever learn? All right, Al, cuff him."
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LIFE SUPPORT (HOMEMAKERS)
This definitely wasn't one of Cathy Black's better days. Two weeks before Christmas and here she was lying on her back, feet in the stirrups. An uncomfortable intrusion on her busy life; still there would be time later to meet her niece for a little shopping, then run home to walk the dogs and start dinner for her husband, Mitch.
The doctor slid the speculum in and cranked it open. Then she did something doctors don't ordinarily do: She gasped. That quick intake of breath told Cathy all she needed to know. The discharge she had been having was not just a simple yeast infection. It confirmed the indefinable feeling Black had had - that something was not right within her body.
Recovering herself, the doctor apologized and explained how the cervix was being blocked by some sort of tumorous growth, a large, white, lumpy mass. There was a good chance, however, that it was benign. She would book an immediate appointment with a specialist.
Of course it would be benign, Black rationalized. Cancer didn't run in her family. Okay, she had put off getting a Pap smear for a couple of years, but the ones before had always tested negative. Still, she was left shaken and scared, with a careening sensation that she had lost control over her own fate.
Another Black Monday. "We are looking at cancer," confirmed the specialist. "It's rare and it's growing quickly. I want you in ultrasound this afternoon to check if it's spread to the uterus and ovaries. We'll likely have to do a hysterectomy. Maybe chemotherapy. Perhaps both. We'll know more when we get the biopsy report."
The verdict: Squamous cell cervical cancer, stage 2B. Funny. 2B or not 2B.
But finding answers about her condition were proving difficult. She discovered that despite all of society's advances at the end of the 20th century, there was no support group for gynecological cancer patients in her hometown of Hamilton, Ont. Even Toronto boasted just a single support group. There was a dearth of written information available on gynecological cancer, which breaks down into seven main types: cervical; endometrial and uterine; Fallopian tube; gestational trophoblastic disease and choriocarcinoma; vaginal vulvar; and ovarian. It had now been eight weeks since her diagnosis and she had many concerns - When do we start radiation treatments? What do you mean the delay is still within acceptable provincial limits?
Worrying about how Mitch and the rest of her family will handle it. Family. "Your ovaries are now officially fried."
At 38, Cathy thought she would have a few more years to decide whether she wanted children. Now that decision, too, had been taken away from her.
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I SMELL DEAD PEOPLE (MORE MAGAZINE)Bob never bothered moving out of his parents' home. Undemanding and easygoing, he was welcome to stay on after university and help contribute to the household. When his parents died, he simply bought the house from their estate and continued to live there as he'd always done.
It remained unchanged. For decades. Not only was it full of deceased peoples' personalities, tastes and memories, it was as faded as its hallway's apparently limitless supply of Kodak snapshots (framed in grouped salutes to half-forgotten holidays and elderly friends who by now must have either shuffled off this mortal coil or are regularly receiving birthday greetings from the Queen).
The house's atmosphere was similarly stale - an oppressive mixture of mustiness, lily of the valley and a scent more undefined (perhaps that mangy fox fur still hanging in the front closet?). I could almost feel a sympathetic dowager's hump sprouting on my spine.
Boyfriends' homes were a lot easier to redo when I was in my twenties. Back then, you only had to worry about a few milk crates, the obligatory black leather sectional and mushroom-grey walls unrelieved by artwork.
This was different, more complex. Where to begin? The heavily overstuffed living room with its dingy, celery-green drapery and the worn but still startlingly crimson velvet settee was as good a place as any.
"Gee, Bob, that's obviously a well-loved couch. Such a shame the red clashes with, well, everything."
"It does? I hadn't noticed."
"You know, some white wooden shutters would look really nice in here..."
With a languid gesture, as if the idea has just occurred to me, I take a large vase of artificial African violets from the small side table it is smothering and shift it to the dark Victorian sideboard. I make a mental note to remove the crocheted doilies on my next visit.
The violets, when I return, have made their way back to the little table but, wonder of wonders, the red velvet settee has disappeared. Gently, but firmly, I pick up the vase once again and place it on the sideboard, sweeping the doilies away with my free hand.
"These really should be cleaned." (I know the washer will shrink these crocheted pieces into uselessness.)
Next up, his mother's precious - way too precious for a very grown and very straight man - Hummel figurines. A dozen miniature cherubs in various so-adorable-you-could-upchuck poses disappear quietly into a closet, along with a handful of other tchotchkes cluttering the mantelpiece. A violently coloured "sofa size" landscape is rehung on a nail underneath the basement stairs.
I blithely ignore Bob's feeble protests that the ghost of his mother will come back to haunt me, aware that a live girlfriend in the hand, so to speak, trumps a long-gone parent. My only setback? Two gilt-sprayed dried floral arrangements on the mantelpiece. His sister made these. His sister is still alive.
"Isn't this better?" I ask. "See the way the conversation area has opened up? How much lighter the room looks?"
Maybe it's enough that I see an improvement, although a faintly fusty odour still lingers. That fox fur has really got to go.
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BUBBLICIOUS (CANADIAN INTERIORS)For many, the mention of any sort of Asian tea ritual may bring to mind a quiet spectacle of flowing silk robes and intricate ceremony. But since the Taiwan-originating bubble tea phenomenon hit North America, you might be as likely to think of young adults with punked-out hair and hooked-up laptops, bonding over brightly coloured beverages, studded with tiny balls of starchy tapioca. (Thus the "bubble" appellation. Who'd have guessed that tapioca, of all things, would ever be viewed as a desirable edible, let alone cool?)
Gaining in popularity since the '90s, bubble tea has moved well beyond Asian borders to invade shopping malls and plazas throughout Canada and the U.S. And now it's poised for greater respectability, thanks to the owners of Go For Tea and their sophisticated new spot.
Jennifer Liu and Katy Kuo's first outlet, in Markham, just north of Toronto, features the achingly bright lighting and cheek-by-jowl bar seating that's pretty much standard in bubble tea joints. However, their newly built second outlet in Scarborough, slightly east of the city, has achieved a far loftier ambition.
Recognizing that their original teenaged clientele is now older, the owners wanted to offer a suitably grown-up environ in which customers can sip, chat and maybe take a little nosh. So they hired 2pi R Design, itself a relatively young Toronto design firm, headed up by Steen Lin, who spent last spring and summer prepping the tea house for its grand opening.
"The clients wanted Go For Tea to convey a whole new experience from what customers are used to," Lin says. "It's located in a very typical plaza, like every other one in Scarborough, but this was to be the unexpected."
2pi R Design's take on the clients' request was to create a theatrical interior - highly theatrical in the literal sense, given the space's 26-foot-high ceiling - contrasted by cozy and intimately lit banquette tables.
"We really wanted to stress the verticality of the space without letting it overwhelm the human element," says Lin, unconsciously emphasizing her point as she leans back against the dark grey fabric of a banquette, cradling her five-month-old daughter, Ellyn.
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WAG AND THE CITY (DOGS IN CANADA MAGAZINE)Happiness may be a warm puppy, but sometimes a gal needs a little more than a friendly face wash and good morning bark.
I am a single woman living in a large urban centre, and there the striking similarities between me and the characters in Sex and the City end. It's not that I would object to making love to a wide variety of good-looking guys. It's just that, with Wag around, my chances of getting any in a meaningful way are rapidly evaporating from slim to none.
To invite a man home with you is no longer courtship, it's courting disaster.
In the first place, the guy has to like dogs. Or at least SAY he likes dogs, because you've grown so fond of yours that you can't imagine being with anyone who doesn't like them. Then he has to submit to Wag's own approval process, which usually involves some sort of sniff test.
When the momentary embarrassment passes, you slip Barry White into the CD player, grab some wine, and settle back onto the living room couch. Things go well, and soon the two of you are snuggling. Wag, being sociable, decides to join in. The sofa is, after all, his natural preserve, and it does seat three.
For once, you are disinclined to cater to his needs. Wag lies down resentfully at your feet, staring at you with unblinking eyes. In terms of performance enhancement, this kills the mood faster than a phone call from your mother.
Many men at this point can and do call it quits. Let's say, however, this particular one is made of sterner stuff. Clothes are shed, whereupon he will make the unfortunate discovery that your dog likes to shed too. Your date's beautiful navy wool suit is now bristling with dog hairs, which only time and a good pair of tweezers will eventually remove.
But blood is running hot. You repair to the bedroom, firmly shutting the door on Wag who, bereft, whines, and scratches at woodwork, drowning out Barry's deep, mellow tones. The subsequent love-making is as good as it can get when one partner is wracked with guilt, and the other is annoyed beyond all measure.
The morning after dawns. Your date, being a gentleman, has not grabbed his hair-strewn clothing and snuck out in the middle of the night. He is there in the kitchen, looking tousled and satisfied, brewing a pot of tea and asking how you like your eggs. He is perfect.
That is, until he makes some passing remark about Wag being a bit of a handful the night before.
Sipping your tea alone while Wag licks the yolky remains from your plate, you brood on your subsequent, fatal argument with Mr. Right.
It's then that you realize that amour takes many forms and perhaps, just perhaps, the soft bundle at your feet is destined to be the true love of your life. Sex is so overrated anyway.
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