Tuesday, June 28, 2005 

On this date a year ago

Christa left for Australia.


Sunday, June 26, 2005 

Book meme, from Ian

Total number of books I've owned
Are you serious? After taking a look around here (my parents' house), I'd say I've got at least 200 here alone. It's difficult to tell because my closet is filled with boxes of leftover stuff from my various moves. Half of the boxes are full of books. I've probably got at least another 50 at the apartment. Some are loaned out at the moment. Which reminds me, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night is missing. Can someone remind me I loaned it to them? Then I can call off the roving SWAT team I've got out looking for it. They're expensive you know.

The last book I bought
The Enemy, by Lee Child.

The last book I read
I've got a few on the go right now (The Drunken Forest by Gerald Durell and Memoirs of a Geisha), but the last one I read was Beasts in My Belfry by Gerald Durell. Christa loaned me one of his others (Filets of Plaice, I believe) as part of a book exchange we're doing this summer. We each picked five novels that meant a lot to us at some point in our lives and that the other had to read. (So far she's assigned me The White Bone by someone I can't remember, Filets of Plaice and Memoirs of a Geisha. I've assigned her The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert B. Parker (simply because it's the first Spenser novel and I couldn't choose another one arbitrarily... aren't nested parentheses great?), Earth by David Brin and am still deciding on a fifth.)

Five books that mean a lot to me
If it were 'novels' instead of 'books', my answer would be the ones I've assigned to Christa. However, it's not, so...
- Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu. It's difficult to say anything about a work when the line from it that keeps repeating in your head is: "He who knows does not speak. He who speaks does not know."
- The Encheiridion, by Epictetus. A classic work of Stoic philosophy that I've loved since second year ethics.
- Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. Say what you will about it's lack of sophistication and clunky prose, it shattered my worldview and will always mean a lot to me.
- Mortal Stakes, by Robert B. Parker. An arbitrary choice. I could have picked any of about a dozen of the Spenser novels for this list. They remind me that living a good life comes with a high cost, but that it's worth it. And I mean a good life, not a pleasurable one.
- Love and Glory, by Robert B. Parker. Same reason.

Tag three people and have them fill this out on their blogs
Christa, Dan and Caitlin. I'd tag Brian too, but Jer beat me to it... Screw it, Brian too. You're tagged twice. Can't duck it now.



Batman was always my favourite superhero when I was a kid.

I saw the original Michael Keaton version in theaters in 1989 and loved it. I saw each of the following in theater too. Though the rest went from alright to fodder for Mystery Science Theatre 3000, they didn't kill my faith in the bat.

Batman captured my imagination in a way that no other superhero could. In fact, I remember being asked by a friend when I was nine or ten what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said Batman. I remember this clear as day now, but had forgotten it for years.

The reason that he was, and still is, my favourite superhero is because he isn't one. He has no super powers. He didn't come from another planet, didn't get bit by a radioactive spider, didn't have a magic ring, didn't have the mixed blessing of mutant genes. He's just a regular man who by sheer force of will made himself into something more than just a man. I understood this even as a nine year old.

So it was with rare excitement that I went to see Batman Begins last week.

This is how Batman should be done. It was dark, scary, and funny. Christian Bale's performances as a young Bruce Wayne, as Batman and as Batman playing Bruce Wayne were excellent. He brought two things to the role that no other actor has: vulnerability and rage.

In fact, I enjoyed it so much that Christa and I will be seeing it in a week or so and I'm looking forward to seeing it the second time even more than I did the first.


Caught in the headlights

I was driving home alone from work when I came across her.

It was nearly midnight, I was nearly home and a low and throbbing song by Peter Gabriel was on the car stereo. The stars were bright in the ink-black sky and I was emerging from a small provincial park that is between my parents' house and civilization.

In the middle of the road stood a deer. A doe, to be exact. She had her neck lowered and seemed to be looking into the ditch on the left side of the road.

She froze in the proverbial headlights

I stood on the brakes and stopped about fifteen feet from her. She took a few ginger steps - they don't like the feel of pavement - and stood on the left side of the road.

Looking at me.

Not at the headlights. At me. Her head was angled too high to be looking at anything else. Forget that her eyes are designed to see movement and I was still as stone. Forget that there was no way she could have seen past my high beams. She was looking at me and I sat staring back as Gabriel shut up and a purely instrumental portion of the song played. It was a moment of wildness that I've experienced few times before. Then she took a step toward me and stopped.

Two green eyes shone brightly in the long grass by the road between us. A small orange cat emerged from the grass onto the shoulder, about to cross the road.

The doe pointed her head at the cat and took two quick steps toward it. The cat melted back into the grass. The doe turned her head back at me. I just sat there, the engine ticking and my foot on the brake.

After a moment the cat came out again and walked quickly along the shoulder toward me. Again the doe pointed her head at the feline and moved toward it, herding it away from the road.

And again she turned to look at me.

It was at this point that headlights appeared in my rearview. I stepped on the gas, signaled right and pulled over onto the shoulder. The cat bounded away from the road once and was lost from sight, the deer loped off into the bush and a battered blue truck thundered by at top speed.

I just sat there in awe.

Living here again is healing parts of me I didn't even know were wounded.

Saturday, June 25, 2005 

Leaving the plant

When it's hot outside, it's even hotter inside.

This is a little hard to accept in practice, though the theory is easy enough.

The sun beats down on the big (as in most of a city block big), roof of the plant all day. The building warms up. The paint shop warms up even more because the cars go through giant freaking ovens at least twice on their zig zag path along the line. The cars are cooked once for I have no idea, again to harden the sealer and probably again after they're painted. And because the cars must be otherwise dry, when it's humid they have to turn the ovens up even hotter.

So we've got heat coming from three sources: the roof, the ovens and the big steel hulks that just spent some time in the ovens.

The company isn't entirely unsympathetic. On hot days they provide free bottled water in big tubs of ice (which rapidly melts). When it's 32 degrees Celsius at the airport, they give us a five minute break every hour (known as a 'heat relief'). When it's 40, they give us ten. Except for the first time this summer when dad had to go fight for it. He's a big muckity muck in the union and had to get the health and safety guy and one or two others to explain why it was necessary to the company. They've been good ever since.

Before today, our hottest shift had only two heat reliefs after lunch. An hour into today's shift, we got a ten minute heat relief. For the rest of the shift, if we weren't on one of our two regular 12 minute breaks or 19 minute lunch period, we got a five minute heat relief every hour. This meant that by the time I'd put in my eight hours tonight, I was more than ready to get the hell out of the plant.

That's easier said than done.

It's roughly a big rectangle. Along one of the long sides is a path divided into two lanes. One's for pedestrians, the other's for fork lifts (automated or with drivers), golf carts, bicycles and other vehicles. In the rest of the space is the line. It starts in one corner, goes across the short way almost to the path, does a 180 and heads back the other direction. It does that for the entire length of the plant.

When I leave the paint shop and get onto the path, it stretches so far I can't see either end. It's a five minute walk to get to the exit to the lot I park in. Outside the doors is a little paved area between you and the turnstiles. If you get there before the official shift end point, there are six massive lines of people waiting to swipe their ID cards to get out.

When the shift officially ends, the people at the head of each line simultaneously swipe their cards and begin the exodus. The atmosphere is a lot like that of people leaving an amusement park, except these people are pumped to be leaving a place they don't like instead of being pumped from a day of fun.

The amusement park experience continues right out to the parking lot where half of the thousand people on that shift want to leave the lot at the same time. The other half are in the lot on the other side of the building. The parking lot entrance/exit is an intersection with lights and four lanes.

I've been driving the last few days because dad's been on the opposite shift dealing with grievances. Instead of fighting the current, I sit in the car in the lot and wait until there's barely a trickle of cars leaving before I even leave my parking spot.

Today was calm; I didn't hear a single horn.

An hour later, I pulled into the driveway and my day was done. But not my week. I get to do it again tomorrow.

At least the money's good.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005 

Random choices

Dad and I were in the car on the way home from work. It had been my second worst shift yet and I had just finished telling him about it.

Sensing that I didn’t want to talk about it anymore he commented that mom had been to town and to Orangeville looking for a certain kind of wine and that neither L.C.B.O. store had it. The only one that did was the one in Caledon East that we sometimes stop at if we decide we want a scenic route home.

“We could have picked it up for her the other day if we’d known,” he said. “Hell, we could pop over now and do it.”

“Sounds good,” I said, still growling mentally over the shift.

So we turned right at the next set of lights and traveled along a busy paved country road for a few minutes in silence. We went around a broad, gradual curve and dad slowed down part way around.

“Look!” he said. “A doe! And she’s got a fawn with her!”

They were standing in the field, just on the other side of the fence on the other side of the road. She was tall, brown and delicate. Her bone white tail was clearly visible. The fawn stood huddled close to her. About a month old, it was tiny and all legs. White spots covered its back.

We were past them in a second.

“I’ve never seen a fawn so young,” I said. My smile was as broad as my glower a few seconds before had been dark.

There weren’t any cars right behind us, so Dad pulled onto the shoulder. He checked both ways and pulled a quick, expert and slightly risky U-turn. He was going to drive up close with the horn blaring to scare them from the road. Huge trucks were speeding both ways at irregular intervals and he’d seen enough fawns on the side of the road to know its chances of surviving an attempt at crossing.

He didn’t have to though, because they were bounding away from the road even as we started the U-turn a couple hundred yards away. She seemed to bounce across the field. We sat in the car on the shoulder after the U-turn and watched with big smiles as the fawn kept perfect pace with her. Then with frowns as they ran in a big circle back toward the road. Then with curses as we lost sight of them in the long grass behind the fence.

Dad shook his head.

“She’s going to try to cross,” he said.

And she did.

She popped up out of the ditch and stood on the shoulder. She looked left and right and when the way was clear ran gingerly across the road. Deer don’t like the feel of pavement. In the other ditch she flew over the fence and bounded up and down through the long grass for ten yards. Then turned to look back at the road.

The fawn hadn’t crossed.

“Fuck,” I said.

Dad shook his head again. He knew what had happened. He took his foot off the brake and we rolled forward on the shoulder toward the place she had come out of the ditch.

“He’s caught in the fence,” dad said.

I repeated my last comment. As dad put the car in park we saw the fawn struggling. The long grass was pulled as the wire fence moved against it in time to the fawn’s struggles.

Without a word – or even a glance at each other – we got out of the car in unison.

We walked slowly to the ditch, making soothing noises. The fawn stopped moving and just looked at us. We stopped and looked at it.

Soft brown fur, delicate white patterning on the back, small head, big brown eyes and twig-thick legs. It was beautiful in the way that wild animals are beautiful.

It put its head down toward the ground and tried to hide. The doe had picked a good place to cross the fence for it was broken down for about ten feet. It wasn’t good enough though. The fawn had made it half over, hooking the top wire on its back hips. The fence had enough give in it that he – I’m using that arbitrarily as there wasn’t time to sex it – was able to touch the ground on both sides. He was just hooked and couldn’t get unhooked.

Not by himself anyway.

“Wait until there’s a break in traffic,” dad said.

When there was dad reached down and picked him up behind the front legs. He bleated, loud and long and continuously. He was kicking up a storm.

“Unhook him,” dad said as I was reaching down to do just that, careful not to catch a sharp hoof in the hand.

Unhooked, he kicked himself free of my hands. Dad looked both ways and carried him across the road. He stopped struggling part way across. Dad set him on the shoulder. He tried to stand but his legs gave out. He tried again with the same result. I was sure he’d snapped a leg on the fence, but the third time was the charm. He got to his feet and disappeared into the ditch. Dad later told me that he ran right into that fence, bounced back then tried again and cleared it.

I missed that as I crossed the road. He bounded through the long grass to his mother.

Dad and I watched for a moment until they disappeared. Then we drove away.

“Okay,” I said. “That makes up for the rest of the day.”

Tuesday, June 07, 2005 

Six of seven days of my week

What you have to do is, in theory, simple.

Find a corner where two walls meet at ninety degrees. Take a steel pen and pull the end along the line made where the walls meet. The pen must be held at exactly the right angle, which is forty-five degrees from either wall and inclined forty-five degrees to the line you’re tracing in the direction you’re pulling the pen.

Sounds simple, but here’s the tricky part.

The corner is only a corner when viewed with a microscope. It’s the seam between two pieces of sheet metal that have been stamped and welded together like two overlapping pieces of paper. They’re each only about a few millimeters thick.

Ink doesn’t come from the pen, white sealant does. And it doesn’t just come out, it jets out at a constant rate that you can only turn on or off.

You can’t hold the pen like a pen because it’s the nozzle of a sealer gun. The gun kind of looks like a sprayer you put on a garden hose, but with a six-inch pen-sized nozzle.

As if that didn’t complicate things enough, the line isn’t always straight, if you trace the line too slowly or too fast you will have either too little or two much sealer in the seam, and if you don’t hold it at the right angle the nozzle will get thrown out of the seam at the slightest bump.

That’s what you have to do.

At least, that’s what you have to do if you’re me this summer.

I work on the line at a very large car factory. I’m in the paint shop, on the sealer deck. And I get a damn high rate of pay. Eight hours a day, six days a week. Shift work. With an hour-long commute.

The cars are just frames and bodies when they get to me. They have no wheels, engines, windows, interiors, seats, electronics, shocks or anything else. They’re just dull green shells that will be painted after I see them and then stuffed with the things cars are made of.

What my sub-department has to do is seal all the seams where metal has been welded together. We do this by applying sealer along the seams in the wordy manner described above and then smoothing out the sealer with a brush or flattening it with a ‘scive’, which is a little flexible rubber crescent on a stick. (I’m guessing at the spelling, and even a little at the name. It’s hard to tell if people call it a ‘scive’ or a ‘scibe’. Whichever, the word is also a verb to describe what you do with the object.)

To paraphrase the giant Slavic gentleman who’s been training me the last few shifts, it’s not heavy labour, it’s art. But it’s art performed in less then twenty seconds (depending on the specific job) more than five hundred times a shift.

There are probably about sixty different jobs on the sealer deck and I’ve been trained on four of them. The permanent workers there only do one job. I’m a ‘summer student,’ which means I have to learn a lot of them so I can cover people when they go on vacation.

My favourite so far is ‘roof ditch’ because I’ve done it enough shifts to not have to think about what I’m doing. For this one, what I do is seal a seam in the ditch that runs along the right side of the car’s roof where the roof is joined to the side of the car. I drag the sealer gun from the back to the front, then scive the sealer flat into the two inches of seam I can reach at the front (over the top right corner of the windshield), flip the scive around and brush the sealer flat into the seam through the ditch, flip the brush around again and scive the last two inches of the seam (top corner of rear window). It took me a few days to get it down because you need to hold the brush at the right angle with the right pressure the whole time and the only way to learn is to do it until you get it right.