Book Reviews: A Case of Non-Fiction

Is Canada Even Real?
“It is particularly this kind of conundrum—where the government is a) planning a fiftieth birthday party for a commercial, and b) cannot find the commercial—that inspires the wonderment of this book’s title.”
As a frequent visitor to the Great White North, I figured I was well-versed in things Canuckian, but there was a lot of stuff in here I’d never heard of. Unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly as funny as promised, as well as being thoroughly uneven in its entertainment value.
Thankfully there was some humor, as right away the author, J.C. Villamere, tells that the last name rhymes with “spill-a-beer.” The first “hoser” also comes early.
The first chapter is about Canadian music. Neither Rush nor Stan Rogers is mentioned. That puts this writer’s qualifications in serious doubt. Didn’t know if I should bother continuing, but I persevered. Rush is eventually mentioned, about halfway through, but the damage had been done.
There’s a whole section on mascots, particularly the former Montreal Expo guy and some snowman. But there’s a lot that’s completely uncipherable, probably to a lot of younger Canadians as well. And it doesn’t help that there’s quizzes, which I hated.
Despite the links at the end, keep going so you don’t miss the photo of the happy/relieved-looking mascot coming out of the porta potty. If only this book had such high humorous standards throughout.
Guess I’m not as much of a Canucklehead as I thought. . .

She Can Find Her Way
A collection of short reminisces from women about traveling.
Don’t go camping with the Lost aficionado. The story about getting lost was quirky fun, easily my fave. Marry Me was so sad in its inevitability.
For an empowering title, a few of these stories turned out badly for the protagonist.

Health Radar’s Encyclopedia of Natural Healing
Basically what the title says: a large collection of articles about prevention and treatment of various ailments, with a bent toward non-chemical solutions.
The good news is that this book is a lot more conversational and citizen friendly than most in this genre. Unfortunately there’s a lot of repeating. Every disease has its section, and every time something like acupuncture or turmeric is indicated, it’ll say the whole thing again. Makes this a reference book, not something to read cover to cover, but I suppose the title already explains that. Still, it’s well worth reading the info at least one time.

The Case Against Fragrance
“It’s not a question of whether the ingredients are carcinogenic, but whether they’re carcinogenic (enough).”
I realize I’ve been waiting for this book my whole life. I never felt I was crazy for being allergic to scents, as the author mentions, but I did wonder how prevalent it was. Reading this during allergy season makes it all the more imperative. On the other hand, I don’t know how to review this without the inherent bias of being one who greatly suffers from exactly what this author warns about.
This book flows so much better than most science-y non-fiction I’ve read recently, probably because it’s written by a novelist. The writing is much smoother—friendlier—than other fact-based books written by actual scientists. This is a huge plus, as despite an intriguing topic I generally give up in those. This was an easy read in comparison.
This is probably the most important line in the book, especially for those who don’t believe there’s a problem: “Even if you don’t like what’s in the air, you can’t choose to stop breathing.”
What’s most interesting is that, after making a huge case against perfumed products and especially the non-caring individuals who make them for profit, this book is still very optimistic. There’s one phrase where she explains that it’s possible that us who have these allergies are the lucky ones, compared to those who don’t get immediate symptoms and don’t know something is harming them. Just one allergy attack belies that, but the thought is appreciated. What I really liked was the allusion that many years ago no one would have thought something as powerful as the tobacco industry would be forced to adjust their products, advertising, and influence, and the same could happen to the perfume industry.



Book Reviews: 60s TV Show, Old West Romance, and Another Bush

Andrew Ross Wynn
Physical comedy is the most immediate way to get a laugh. The first time a Cro-Magnon fell down, I’m sure the other Cro-Magnons watching burst out laughing.

Cold Girl
To put it succinctly, Cold Girl left me cold.
For one thing, it has the longest chapters ever! A Mountie who is the foremost expert on a serial killer goes further north to investigate another murder, leaving his wife and child behind for a few weeks, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s also a cop up from North Vancouver—never did find out what interested him so much in the case—and another policeman damaged by something in his past, though no one knows that, resulting in him being treated like an idiot. Not all the local cops play nice either.
The victim was a musician, so all the bandmates are the likely suspects, especially the boyfriend. Things are of course never that easy. Halfway through, Dion—the damaged guy—becomes the main character, and manages to liven things up a bit, but despite some parts I liked, most of the didn’t engage. My main problem with it was how the murderer was uncovered; I couldn’t follow it at all. There’s also a point where the author calls a particular character “the killer,” even though it wasn’t. Some of the psychological insights were interesting, and the dialogue wasn’t bad, but I couldn’t help feeling this should have been over a lot faster.
2.5 rounded up to 3/5

Five Fingers
This is a book about the making of a TV show from the early 60s, starring two favorites from James Bond: David Hedison, the most famous Felix Leiter; and Luciana Paluzzi, Fiona Volpe from Thunderball (and my all-time fave Bond girl, but I digress).
I thought I knew a lot about this period of television, but I’d never heard of it, possibly because it was cancelled before it reached the half-season mark. . . which begs the question why there would be such a big book about it (never mind, it happened with Firefly). It was a spy thriller before such things were the rage, in fact failing because it was in the same time slot as the two biggest shows of the era, both Westerns.
At first, seeing the length of this book  felt rather daunting, but by page 129 there are episode synopses, followed by actor and crew bios, all of which total nearly half the book. At least there was some fun stuff in the first part; I love how the author writes Miss Paluzzi’s accent, as in “Luciana doesn’t agree that she sizzles. She only agrees that she can be ‘saxy’ when the ‘screept’ calls for it.”
But it’s the second half that leaves the biggest impression. After the episodes there’s a paragraph or two on everyone–except the caterers–who received any kind of credit. Following that is a chapter by someone else about the main character, then another article on the movie, and the real-life human, this series was supposedly based on
Having read books on the making of Twin Peaks, Back to the Future, Sherlock, Starship Troopers, Star Wars, etc. I can’t help but feel this one is quite a bit boring in comparison, though maybe that’s because I wasn’t familiar with it coming in. The best way to put this is that it feels more like a recitation of facts than an actual flowing story.

In a small town in the Old West a man returns after two years, having gone to make his fortune in California. Now he’s back for the woman he loves. . . only to find she’s become a whore.
From her side, she’s a woman who made a deal with the devil for her virginity, having given up on her old boyfriend coming back for her. When he does, drama ensues.
There isn’t much setting here: the town is hardly ever mentioned except for a quick trip to a few bars and his mother’s house. Most of the action takes place at her house outside town. Seems like the geographical vagueness was done on purpose, as it has nothing to do with the story, but as a geography major and fan of Westerns I would have liked a little more specificity. My other quibble is some repetitiveness about her situation that annoyed me, constant reminders of what we already know in order to gain more sympathy for her; put the hammer away already.
Toward the end there’s an interesting switch: whereas throughout the story he’s angry at her for not waiting for him and doing what she did, wanting to punish her, suddenly he’s the bad guy for going to a whore when he was in California, whereas she did it to stay alive. No doubt this is the point the author wanted to make, especially when he uses the excuse of “boys will be boys.” While I agree with the sentiment, it seems a bit out of place in this era of the past, but as an allegory it works.
Not that the writing itself was bad in any way, but once the misunderstandings and declarations of love were out of the way it read much better, smoother. The best moments are when they’re together and can almost admit their feelings for each other, which they finally do, as this is still a romance novel despite the premise.
3.5 rounded up to 4/5

Ostensively written by George Dubya Bush himself, this is an account of how he trained his little brother Jeb to be president despite all the personality quirks and family history working against him. It wasn’t till the bios at the end that I found out the actual writer was the guy who invented The Onion; everything fell into place at that moment.
This isn’t a laugh out loud comedy; this humor is insidious, subversive. . . subtle. When I read Dubya saying, “One of my favorite pastimes at as a boy was torturing frogs,” it explained so much. Another gem is “. . . failing at business—and failing big—is a long-standing Bush tradition.”
So if you like this sort of thing, with supposedly self-deprecating jabs—though often Dubya sees them as positives—this is perfect for you. If you think this kind of thing might offend you, just make sure no one sees you reading it, you’ll chuckle anyway.


Book Reviews: Superheroes, Star Trek, Lady Detectives

As soon as she’d said it she knew she’d screwed up.
I eyed her speculatively. “Should I keep walking, or should I wait for the new girlfriend to arrive?”

How to Be a Superhero
In a nutshell, this book is about interviews with actors who’ve played superheroes, sidekicks, villains, antiheroes, and others. . . and it’s 588 pages long, so you can say it’s thorough.
After an intro where the author tries to prove the point that everyone loves superheroes, we go right into the interviews, but it isn’t just all the people who have played Superman and Batman and Spiderman; there’s Flashes and Captain Americas and Hulks, plenty of women. . . even Howard the Duck shows up. Not so much in Sidekicks and Supervillains, but for me the best part was Not All Heroes Are Super, which includes Spock, James Bond, even Agent Coulson. The book closes with questions for some of the creators: comic book artists, movie directors, screenwriters, TV series creators, even Marvel’s Chief Creative Officer. The interview with Stan Lee might be worth the price of admission alone.
Just like another book I recently reviewed on character actors, it’s the same questions over and over, though these are somewhat more pointed to the subject. Still, there are some unconventional questions that pop up every once in a while, and the best parts are when the interviewees appreciate them, especially if they’d never thought of it themselves. I’m not sure how much this would appeal to the causal movie fan, but if you enjoy superhero comic books, TV shows, or movies, this will probably be worth your while.

Star Trek: The Returned, Part I
For those familiar with the staggering amount of books written about the Star Trek Universe, this is the continuation of the series written by Peter David known as Star Trek: New Frontier. I remember reading the first collection of four stories a long time ago, and after a little research I’m quite surprised to see just how many there’s been since.
This starts with the aftermath of some big happenings in the previous story, which unhinge the main character; the first part is taken up with finding him and convincing him to come back to command his starship. Always fun when the Guardian of Forever is involved, even if only peripherally. Once he’s back the story goes into revenge for that thing that happened in the previous story, as well as a subplot involving his son and a couple of the main characters, who have changed dramatically since the last time I read about them. One of the reasons I originally read this series was the inclusion of the character of Robin Lefler, famously played by Ashley Judd in the Next Generation TV series. She doesn’t get much to do here, but since this story is going to continue past this book, it seems like a good setup for future involvement.
The best thing about the writing is the introductions of characters, which tells the newbie everything they need to know while not being too dull for those who know everything that’s going on. As someone in the middle of those two extremes, I found myself going from wondering who they were to instantly remembering them as soon as their main characteristics were described. But my point is this book can mostly likely be enjoyed by those who are coming in new to the series.

Rainy Day Women
This is another first person amateur PI story, the main difference from most being that it takes place in the late 60s, though it takes a while to realize that. Perhaps the author assumes you read the first in the series; it’s really not obvious until there’s a mention of the first moon landing. It takes place in Vancouver, which is one of my favorite cities in the world, mostly around the University of British Columbia and its chemistry lab, as well as the woman’s lib movement of the time, which is a huge part of the story.
It starts with a complete fakeout where you think the lead character’s trying to escape from an abusive boyfriend, only to find it’s something else completely. It made me laugh, so I forgive the author this joke.
While I enjoyed the setting and most of the banter, the plot—featuring more murders and attacks—and resolution. . . not as much. The author does a decent job of coming up with alternate suspects, but she stacks the deck too much for the reader to conceive it’s anyone but who it turns out to be (I know that’s vague, but I’m trying not to spoiler it).

Dead Man’s Legacy
A Royal Canadian Mounted Policewoman—though she mostly works on boats—is sent to the Bahamas to do some undercover work, becoming friends with a rich and famous diva of the past to find out if she’s being abused. . . at least that’s what her boss tell her. Don’t know how she managed to get this job, but I assume it has something to do with the happenings in the previous novel, which I have not read.
The first part takes place in the Caribbean, but then she’s back in Canada and the tone drastically changes. Later on there’s a few chapters in Vegas, but except for the ending and a small jaunt further north everything takes place in the waterways between Ontario and the US, which involve a lot more than someone who hasn’t been there would imagine. Plenty of historical places, as well as the personal history of the not-so-diva’s family, keep the story going, so it’s safe t say the settings are what really work here. The main character deals with no less than four—and maybe more—guys who have crushes on her or just want to sleep with her; at times this was amusing, others cringe-worthy. The famous woman turns out to be the best-adjusted of her screwed-up rich family, and the Mountie is quickly on her side, which I think ruins her objectivity as she tries to solve a case where she’s not even sure what the crime is: fraud, human smuggling, drugs?
A solid 4/5, thought a bit uneven.


Travel Thursday: Victorian Canada, part 3

Back at the hotel the next morning, she woke up to see me juggling oranges, which no doubt made her wonder if she was still asleep. It didn’t last long, as my arms got tired and I kept hearing that annoying circus music in my head. Besides, it was more fun watching her yawn and reach for her hair. “The Magic Braid,” I sighed happily as she began getting her do ready for the long day. Waiting for her to finish with that, my next step was to toss her the sunblock. “Butter up, Whitey.”
Smiling, she did so, for once not annoyed as I took some photos of her creaming herself, so to speak.
After breakfast I immediately took her to another place I knew she would like.
“This is the museum, right?”
“Yep. See that statue? I impressed my high school teachers big-time by mentioning it was a perfect example of gestalt.”
Looking at the semi-abstract carving of what she figured was a man, a woman, and a child, she noticed how their arms were not just intertwined, but actually connected to each other, making for one flowing statue. “The whole greater than the sum of its parts? Hope your psych professor was one of them.”
“He was indeed, but it embarrassed him.”
“Because he’d just told everyone else how badly I was doing in his class.”
“You? Psych?”
“AP psych.”
The Royal British Columbia Museum, or some similar grandiose-sounding name, was a world-class, world-famous institute across a side street from the Empress Hotel, and across another side street from the big government building that looked like a parliament in Europe or something. But not even the stern visage of the Queen Victoria statue could detract from the modern lines of the museum. Unlike its equally famous cousin at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, these guys weren’t just into the anthropology, but more the history of the area, though of course when you went as far back as the Native Americans, or “First People,” as they were called in Canada, the two disciplines had a way of intermeshing.
As always wanting to be different, she hit the gift shop first, claiming she liked to see the postcards, so she wouldn’t miss anything she liked. I didn’t buy it for one second, especially when she bought a rather large pair of dice that instead of numbers had the possibilities as: love, sex, pub, TV, read, disco.
“Disco girl,” I muttered.
She merely smiled, and certainly didn’t complain.
Though she was surprised when, after an hour, I claimed this was a quick survey of the highlights, since we didn’t have all day. “So I can’t go back for another lobster?”
“Not today, but I’m sure you’ll be back here.”
“We’ll be back here.” She thrust out her chin for emphasis as she softly threatened me.
“Wherever you go, Iago,” I agreed.
She brightened, as she usually did when Shakespeare was in da house.
Leading her back outside, I was not surprised when she quickly proclaimed her fave exhibit had been the HMS Discovery mockup, at least till she got to Thunderbird Park. Having seen the totem poles in Pioneer Square in Seattle, she found these even more impressive, as well as fun.
After posing for the requisite photo beside the totem pole, and claiming she didn’t like being made to feel short, she walked back over to me, moving like model on a runway, then grimacing when I kept shooting.
“Okay, back to the hotel,” I pronounced. “Next stop. . . well, after Seattle, Goa!”
Squealing, she jumped me from behind and planted a big buss on my right cheek, then pretended I was kidding when I shrieked in back pain. . .
“When we come back here, can we also go to Vancouver?” she tried to change the subject after carrying my bag onto the boat.
Since the pain had mostly gone, I figured I’d save my revenge for later. “Sure.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Most beautiful city in the world. Maybe if you go with me I’ll finally finish circumnavigating Stanley Park.”
“That almost sounds like fun.” But her frowny grimace belied that. “Big city?”
“Pretty huge. Airport in Richmond in the south, the local Beverly Hills or Malibu all the way north up the coast, plenty of stuff to the east. . .”
“How come you know it so well?”
“Usta spent my summers there as a kid.”
“And do they know you there as well as they seem to in Victoria?”
“You mean blondes at McDonald’s?”
“No!” She breathed through her teeth for a few seconds as she got her annoyance back under control. “My temper might keep me from being an honorary Canadian.”
“Ha! That’s like getting your degree in one semester!”
Wince, but not long enough for me to get a photo of it, for as the boat slipped out of its berth and headed west to get out of the harbor, she shut her eyes in terror as a float plane came in for a landing in front of us. I stayed quiet, not knowing why she was acting this way; planes landed on water all the time, after all.
“Is he okay?”
“Who okay?”
“Pilot okay? Plane okay?”
“He okay.”
“Okay.” Opening her eyes, she nonetheless checked for herself. Though the plane had long since coasted to its dock, she was satisfied with seeing no wreckage, then instantly yelped, “Hey! You never told me the ending to your Blarney Stone story!”
“Why said who to what now?”
“Nice! But remember one of the first times we met, I told you I’d just been to Ireland, and you were telling me the story of your visit to the Blarney Stone when we were interrupted.”
“By an autograph seeker, as I recall.”
“By a little girl who had the same name as me, remember that?”
“Yeah, too bad she didn’t look anything like you.”
“That may work out well for her, but finish the story!”
“I don’t remember where I left off.”
“You told me about the blonde babe tour guide being hit on by the American jerk, and how she told him to fuck off.”
“She never used those words, she’s a nice lady, unlike–”
“So what happened then?”
“Hmph. It was raining too hard for us to go up to the stone, so he told her ‘If I kiss you, it’ll be like I got to kiss the stone.’”
She looked surprised. “Quite smooth, considering the way you drew his character.”
“Just wait, Yvonne will become your hero when you find out what she said.”
“Tell me!”
“I will when I’m sure there won’t be any interruptions.”
She almost promised not to, until she realized keeping quiet was better.
And indeed it worked. “She told him, ‘Well, I’ve never actually kissed the Blarney Stone, but I have sat on it.’”
“Kiss my ass!” she whooped, then looked around in embarrassment as she realized just how loudly she’d said that. “Let’s get our own asses topside, now that this thing is finally in motion.”
On the stairs I told her, “So that night at the hotel, I ran into Yvonne in the hallway as we went down to dinner–”
“Wait! There’s more to the story?”
“Sigh. So much for not interrupting.”
Wincing, she thought about running up the stairs, but knew she wanted to hear the rest of the tale. Trying to actually look sincere with this smile, she purred, “Sorry, darling,” only to roll her eyes when I laughed.
“I told her what a great line that had been, she said thanks, we had dinner together, ended up back in her room–”
Now out in the heavy wind, she felt okay with howling, “Too much information!”
“And yet another interruption. A stupid one at that, since you’re always asking about all the girls I slept with.”
The hand went to her forehead–with quite a bit of force–before she could stop it. “Could this day get any worse?” she asked a passing island, then decided it could and went with her contrite look, which she actually didn’t have a lot of practice with. “So what happened after you fucked her?”
“The guy had been badmouthing her all through dinner, claiming she must be a lesbian for not wanting to be with him.” I waited to see what she’d say to that, but this time she somehow managed to keep quiet, to her own amusement. “Finally I told him, ‘That doesn’t prove she’s a lesbian, it proves she has great taste.’”
She smiled brightly and rubbed my arm, but that was all I was getting right now; apparently she was finally serious about not interrupting.
“So the next morning I’m coming out of her hotel room, putting on my shirt, when I run into the guy, who’s totally shocked by this turn of events. Which made it easy for me to say, ‘Told ya she had taste. . .’”
“Yes!” she crowed, now that she was sure the story was over, then leaned against me for a cheeky kiss. “You are so my friggin’ hero!” But she couldn’t help adding, “Did you ever see her again?”
“Sure.” Knowing I was being naughty but unable to help himself, I went with, “Saw her at a Shakespeare symposium. Guess she has a lot of time to read between tours.” And sex, as I recalled, but saved that one for later, not wanting to give her any ideas. “She’s firmly in the camp that thinks Bacon wrote Shakespeare.”
“Damn! Just when I was liking her!”
“Hmmm?” Once again I felt bad for stringing her along, but she might as well get used to it, I mused. Besides, my back was still achy.
“I can’t stand those people who say it was Bacon that really wrote Shakespeare.” She made a face that he was sure she’d been practicing since she was about two.
“Yeah, they’re pretty crazy.”
“Thank you!”
“Everyone knows it was Marlowe that wrote Shakespeare.”
“No! Go away!”
“No! I didn’t mean that.” Unable to stop herself, she went with contrite again.
“Typical woman. I need to go downstairs anyway.”
“I’ll try not to be bored.” This time she tried gloomy, even as she realized I’d never buy it, considering how well I knew her.
“Here.” Pulling it out of my pocket, I passed over the electronic chess game.
“Awesome! See ya later!”
Knowing that was coming, I yawned and moved from the railing, going southward so as to enter the main sitting room from behind, hoping to catch someone in the act. I didn’t, so I took the opportunity to hit the restroom before going back up top.
There she still was, leaning over the railing much like she had at the observatory, one foot up, leaning on forearms. She seemed to be intent on whatever was in her hands, which figured to be the chess game, so I was able to come right up to her, stand behind her a little to the side, and lean forward to lick her ear.
The loud yelp was certainly satisfying, though I was thankful for her great hands, otherwise the next person using the chess game would have been a mermaid, if it still worked while waterlogged.
Once she’d stopped shuddering and calmed down, she leaned her head onto my shoulder and tried lovey-dovey, though I assumed she was wiping her ear.
“What are you grinning at?”
“You’ll never be an honorary Canadian with that suspicious look, mister!”
“I already am,” I grinned, “and you’re talking your way out of a recommendation.”
“Too late! You promised!”
“Did not!”
She laughed and told me to go away, so I did.
Having seen how bright the light was coming in on my last trip inside–the cabin was well-lit, but still looked murky in comparison–I now slipped quickly through the side of the door, then stood just inside it, behind the empty bar, reasonably certain it would take more than a quickly glance to be spotted.
And that’s when I saw him, one of the stewards, rummaging through what was obviously a woman’s purse on the left side of the wide cabin. Since the guy was facing away, and using the light from the window to see what he was stealing, his vision would be too off to spot me, but on the other hand I had to adjust my camera quite a bit to get more than a silhouette of the suspect, and without the flash going off. Hopefully the man’s features, other than his face, would be enough to identify him later.
Staying at my post as long as it took, I was momentarily startled when the steward straightened up and turned to come toward me. I bowed my head down to pretend to be looking at the camera’s display, then twisted it sideways in hopes of catching a shot of the guy as he walked by. . .
Once again topside, I moved in behind her and hugged her from behind, placing my chin on her shoulder. There was no yelp this time, not even a little bit of surprise; the smile told me she instantly knew who it was. We stayed like that till the announcement that the ship was close to docking, no surprise to us as we’d recognized the surroundings and then the Space Needle from far away.
We were the first ones off, but instead of letting her skip off to grab a taxi or such, I pulled her to the side and told her to wait. She’d noticed the police gathered around the embarkation zone, but hadn’t made much of it, and now was even more surprised when I didn’t go meet the cops, just sat on the railing next to her.
Finally all the passengers were off and it was time for the crew to come out and the cleaning people to go in. At this point the police, equally as bored as she’d been the last few minutes, perked up and moved forward, easily spotting their target and quickly snapping cuffs on the surprised man.
The almost-equally surprised blonde stared, then looked at me, seeing me grinning at her reaction. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Shrug. “I heard somewhere that you like surprises.”
Turning back to the action, feeling like she had to show me I couldn’t get away with things like that. . . except she couldn’t think of anything to teach me a lesson, so she settled for watching the proceedings with a huge sense of pride, like she’d solved the case all by herself.
Unintentionally quoting a cartoon, I smirked, “I think we cweated some havoc. . .”


Travel Thursday: Victorian Canada, part 2

Observatory Hill, the obvious location of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, wasn’t all that far, really, but there was no point in walking on a highway, and oh yeah, it was uphill. So we arrived less than fifteen minutes later, well rested. The cabbie reached under his seat for a sandwich and a newspaper and looked more content than he’d been in a while, though of course we had no way of knowing that.
“Centre of the Universe, huh?” she laughed on seeing the name of the place. “If I didn’t know what it was about, I would berate them for such arrogance.”
“This says it was briefly the largest telescope in the world.”
“How brief?” she grinned.
Shrug. “Maybe a couple of hours.”
Since neither of us were the hard science type, having a strictly amateur interest in astronomy, we allowed ourselves to be entertained by the exhibits without giving them much thought, which let us discuss life and other inconveniences like we always did. We both seemed pleased that we were able to get back into our established routine so easily after not seeing each other for a while.
“I still can’t believe someone like you majored in English.”
Being well used to my games by now, she merely smiled and purred, “Yep.”
“I like to think you’re a Shakespeare scholar.”
“Wow, thanks.”
“After all, no one knows more about deceit and fuckups than my ol’ buddy Willy Shakes.” I looked at her meaningfully until she blushed.
“I wouldn’t put it that way,” she tried, not knowing why she bothered.
I shook his head sadly. “As stubborn as she is Irish.”
She pretended to be proud of that.
By this time we’d made it outside and were taking in the view, which included forest, water, and islands. She asked if that was the mainland over there, but I couldn’t be sure.
I watched her go over to the railing, checking out the other side of the landscape, marveling at her grace of movement, the fluid lubricant that filled such a body and made it move so beautifully. Once at the railing, she unconsciously let the leg closer to me bend up at the knee, foot on railing, forming the natural taper that to me was the most beautiful part of a woman’s body, and hers the most beautiful example. . . so it didn’t take more than a second for me to bring the camera up and shoot the pose without her noticing.
So I thought, anyway. Either she’d been working on her peripheral vision or she’d gotten familiar with the click of the camera. Either way, she gave me that trademark demented grimace that was just as much fun to shoot.
“I do not get you,” she complained. “You shoot beautiful models for a living and for whatever tetched reason you keep shooting me. Are you mental?”
“Penalty for overuse of synonyms.”
“Up yours.”
“Much better.”
“Answer the question.”
“You’re much more fun to shoot.”
“Really? How? Because you make me blush all the time?”
“Partly, but I’m talking about the way you move.”
“The way your body is built, you should be gawky and uncoordinated. But you’re not, you’re a ballerina. That’s why it’s both a pleasure and a challenge to shoot you. If I can capture your gracefulness–”
“Never heard it called that before!” she hooted.
“You have an inherent graceful beauty, a fluidity, that’s a joy to watch, and I’m trying to capture it on film.”
“Good excuse,” she sighed, though grinning. “Like you need one.”
“If I don’t need one, then why’d you ask?”
She waved that away, not that it would get her out of it.
“You’re so wacky, and I don’t mean that in a good way.”
Pausing to ponder that, she finally tried to ask, “How can wacky not be good?” but was too late.
“So to have someone so wacky have such a natural grace of movement. . . the contradiction is fun to shoot.”
She rolled her eyes, but knew she wasn’t going to get anything better out of me. “You’re a jerk.”
“You know I always respect your opinion.”
She instantly blushed.
The I ruined it by adding, “Someone like you should be president.”
The blush quickly grew nuclear. “You mean prime minister,” she tried lightly, though it came out a croak.
“You haven’t passed the honorary Canadian test yet.”
“Oh, that’s right.”
There, she felt better now, in fact was smiling as she took in the sights. Lights over water, for instance, were much prettier at night, she thought.
And then felt my hand creeping along her back to her braid. “Enough with that!”
“I simply had a thought and instantly had to test it.”
Knowing she’d regret it, but also knowing her curiosity would always win out–and knowing that I knew it too, damn him–she had to ask.
“A guy could pretend to be Quasimodo and pull on your hair.”
She smiled weakly, having previously noticed the rope-like quality of her long braid. But was I also saying that her head was hollow as a bell?
“Wouldn’t I be too busy playing Beauty?” she tried, only to blush when a man passing by leered at her for that. . . then turned to find me taking her picture. Having moved into the shade, she had to ask, “Um, how’d you manage to do that without using flash?”
“Years of research.”
As she always did when I brought up my years of experience over her, she made a face and stuck out her tongue. . . which I’d of course known she would do and was ready to shoot that too.
“Ah, crap!” she moaned. “You’re gonna make copies to send to all my friends, aren’t ya?”
“What a marvelous idea!”
She stopped by a railing over the water, briefly considered jumping in, then was startled by my hand on her shoulder. Turning her head, she saw me smiling at her.
“You’d be great with kids,” I enthused, waiting for her to brightly return the smile before adding, “think how much fun they’d have pulling your braid.”
Shudder. “Step away from the hair!” she intoned in a way she’d heard on TV. But it did serve to get her out of her funk, as easily as she’d gotten into it.
“Now then, in order to totally salvage this situation, you’ll have to pose in a way that makes me completely forget about the tongue shot.”
Shuddering at the way “Tongue shot” sounded in her naughty mind, she figured Why not? and proceeded to pose as hammily as she could.
“Wow, you’ve turned into a true camera hog. What happened to that demureness you usta do so well?”
While momentarily relieved at not having to answer, she realized that might have been preferable when another male passerby laughed and asked me where he could get copies. And my photographer’s smile didn’t help either. She wondered if there was a category of blushes, like for hurricanes, and if she’d broken the record.
And of course she could never leave well enough alone. “Guys just care about looks.”
Snort. “You wish.”
She almost re-blushed at that, thinking I’d misunderstood; she wasn’t talking about herself. Then she realized I was denigrating her other qualities, her intelligence and sense of humor and–
She wanted to glare at me, but I was already grinning.
No, she still couldn’t leave it at that. “Are you out of your ever-fucking mind?”
“Not ever-loving, like a true romantic would, but ever-fucking. I like that.”
“You wish,” she growled.
“Playing both sides like a typical woman?”
“We were talking about you,” she managed through gritted teeth.
“When? Ever since I started with the photos, and especially when that guy passed, we’ve been talking about your beauty.”
“What beauty?” she shrieked. “I have wrinkles around my eyes! I’m too young for that!”
“Those aren’t wrinkles, they’re laugh lines. For you to laugh so much at an early age. . . you should wear them as a badge of honor.”
She grinned and sighed at the same time, kinda watching me in the reflection on the water. Damn, I love that! was the thought easy to read on her face.
“You know, I never figured you for the type who obsesses about her looks.”
Wince. Why couldn’t he have let me enjoy it for even a little bit? was the next un-poker face.
Finally changing the subject, I told her, “If we have time tomorah, I’ll take you to Craigflower Schoolhouse.”
“Because the guys who built it were drunk. I’m guessing it looked straight to them, but everything is sloped and tilted, almost like looking at a funhouse mirror.”
She wasn’t sure how to take that, figured it had to do with her Irishness, then realized it was exactly the kind of thing that would make her laugh.
“Unless, of course, you’d rather go to Anne Hathaway’s cottage.”
She did some furious calculations in her head. “No way Shakespeare’s wife could have lived here!”
“It’s a replica.”
“Ah. Well, I’ve already seen the original.”
“Never mind, then. Are we through here?”
“Sure, unless you want to make sure the cabbie earns his money.”
“I’m too hungry to care about other people right now.”
“That’s the attitude that won you Humanitarian of the Year.”
“I figured since I am now exempt from winning it again. . .”
She almost followed me into the men’s room, just to make sure I heard her reply, but it wasn’t that good. Plus she was laughing too hard.
Turned out the cabbie was taking a nap, but he didn’t seem that dismayed at being woken up, since there was still plenty of time in the day to pick up more fares. He even gave us his card, in case we wanted to pay him to sit around and do nothing again, but of course he didn’t say that.
After a quick pause at the hotel for freshening up purposes, so she claimed, we were soon back out and wandering the streets of Victoria, just as it was getting dark and cold. Not expecting that, Alanna grabbed my arm and hugged herself against me, convincing herself she was practicing for the return trip, when she wanted to give the impression of being my girlfriend so I wouldn’t be sending champagne to any more German girls.
“Hey, Irish pub!” she squealed. “I’m old enough now!”
“Still get carded, I bet.”
“But my card’s real now.”
“Ah. Besides, who knows what the legal age is here.”
“Very true! Anyway, I’ve always wanted to try an Irish coffee.”
“I knew a guy, he was in the Marines with me but originally from Ireland, who claims he went on a bender and drank eleven Irish coffees in a row.”
“Just try to imagine that. He said he went to bed totally drunk, but try as he might he couldn’t fall asleep from all the caffeine. Moaned that it was the worst night of his life, went clean and sober after that.”
Alanna was laughing too hard to make one of her usual comments, and couldn’t seem to stop, especially when I added, “An Irishman is never drunk as long as he has a blade of grass to hang onto.”
Finally able to get some semblance of control over herself, she tried to huff, “Can we go to this lobster-serving restaurant of yours now?”
“That’s where we’ve been going this whole time. As you might expect, it’s along the waterfront.”
“Long waterfront.”
“Not as long as Seattle’s.”
“True. Hope I don’t step on any frogs.”
“It’s not that provincial. It’s the state capital. . . or it would be if it was a state. Hmmm, considering it is a province, I guess it would be ‘provincial’ after all. . .”
“Ha! Word play, I love it.” Knowing she was taking a chance on grossing me out, she still couldn’t help herself. “I wonder if they have frog legs for dessert.”
“Old saying: if you have to eat two frogs, eat the bigger one first.”
When she laughed, I sat her down on a convenient bench and reached for my music player, quickly putting on Monty Python’s “Crunchy Frog.” A few minutes later, gagging on both laughter and the thought of “cockroach cluster” and “anthrax ripple,” she managed to stagger into the restaurant, where we were seated so fast she had to figure they knew me here too.
“So how goes the search for the dream job?” I yawned once my orange cream soda was on the way.
“Keep plugging away every week, but I may not be able to afford it much longer.”
Frown. “I didn’t know you had to spend money to get a job.”
Suddenly she looked dismayed. “I don’t think we’re talking about the same thing.”
“Ya think? Dean of Medieval Lit at Cambridge?”
“Oh, that!”
“Yeah, that. What did you think?”
“Didn’t I tell you my dream job was Lotto winner?”
“Must have been someone else. Sorry.”
I might have let that go, but she was smiling way too sweetly to leave alone. “Did you just say ‘sorry?’”
“I did indeed.” Smirk. “You gonna make a big deal out of it?”
Having been saving this one for just such a situation, I told her, “You’re the kind of person who makes a perfect friend,” just to confuse her.
Instead she seemed inordinately pleased by that, and the waiter noticed as he took down her order, though he did look a bit perturbed at mine, considering it was a seafood restaurant.
“You’re already my hero for that last bit,” she grinned, “but tell me a Shakespeare joke.”
“I only know one.”
“That’s all you need, buddy.”
“Okay, you asked for it. It’s by David Gerrold, an author you claim not to be able to stand.”
“I said I didn’t get him, that’s different. Now give!”
“Once upon a time there was this guy driving through the Australian Outback–”
“I said Shakespeare!” came the interrupting scream. “They probably hadn’t discovered Australia yet when he was alive!”
I gave her that pitying look that she absolutely detested, so she went back to pining for her cockroach of the sea, elbow on table, chin on hand, and listened like the good little girl she really was deep down.
“His car broke down, and he wandered through the desert for hours with nothing to drink. Finally he came a shantytown, though he thought it was a mirage–” Waiting a beat to see if she interrupted. . . she didn’t, not even a grin. “One of the metal shanties had a sign that said ‘Pub,’ so he went in and immediately begged for water.
“‘Sorry, mate,’ the bartender told him, ‘the water around here is full of minerals and whatnot, it’s undrinkable. It’ll kill ya, in fact.’”
She seemed delighted by my perfect portrayal of the Aussie accent, but didn’t say anything.
“So the guy asks for a beer. ‘Can’t do that, sir. This ‘ere is the town of Mercy, Australia. It’s a religious community and alcohol is prohibited.’
“‘Well, how ‘bout a soda?’
“‘Sorry, mate. We’re so off the beaten path ‘ere we don’t get any deliveries. Why, we ‘aven’t ‘ad soft drinks in. . . oh, years, just how many I couldn’t–’
“‘So what do you people drink here?’
“‘Ah, thanks for askin’, sir. We make a special tea that we brew in the pouch of a koala. Can’t explain exactly what happens, but somehow brewin’ it in there makes it safe and drinkable.’”
She made a face.
“The man is feeling thirsty enough not to care, so he says ‘I’ll have some of that.’ But when it’s brought to him and he instantly takes a drink, he spits it out. ‘It’s full of hair!’
“‘That’s not ‘air, that’s fur. From the pouch of the koala.’
“‘Can’t you strain it first?’
“The bartender looks offended. ‘Sir! The koala tea of mercy. . . is not strained!’”
She moaned as she chorused along with the obvious punch line, knowing she only had herself to blame. . .
After that we spoke as we always did, of trivialities and sports and other things we had in common, finally back into our usual communication mode. And even when there was a pause, it never became an awkward silence, because we knew the other could come up with something either hilarious or taking the conversation in a new and exciting direction. She didn’t even mention the McDonald’s girl more than twice.
Having given her enough time–all day–to bring it up, I couldn’t resist any longer, grinning right into her face. “Shakespeare HORSE.”
Not only did she moan, she slapped herself on the forehead, before I could, anyway. “Never crossed my mind! Shit! Guess that means you go first.”
“Okay. Here’s one that your romantic nature, if you have any of it left, after this–”
“Hey, sex and love are totally different! Now quote me dammit, quote me now.”
“You have said nothing worth repeating!”
“You know what I mean!” she snarled through gritted teeth, even while knowing I was just trying to throw her off her game.
“‘Oh how this spring of love resembleth the uncertain glory of an April day.’”
Her face instantly went downcast, so much that I knew she’d never heard it before. And she couldn’t afford to fall behind early, knowing how badly she did under pressure. Her only recourse was to pretend to be thinking about it until the minute given ran out, even though she knew I never bought it.
Long before she thought possible, I snickered, “H! From the play which one shapely professor at Mississippi State called ‘Two Sparkers from Verona.’”
“Shakespeare, Suthin’ style!” she whooped, then plotted her next move.
Only to find me getting her out of her rhythm again when I told her, “Every time I see you, I’m glad you haven’t cut your hair.”
“Of course not! Do you think I’m stupid?”
“Stupid stupid, no. Crazy stupid, sometimes.”
“You know me too well,” she grumbled, getting up to hit the restroom.