Sunday, January 31, 2016

Operation Empty Nest - Vignettes from behind the lines

If you've been reading the instalments of my life for the past six months or so, you've noticed the not so subtle military undertone colouring my ramblings.

 Whether it was the unsettling spy vs spy theme of my piece on the challenges of being at a cross-roads, the Star Wars inspired rant about my battle of wits with the cyber-demons lurking in my i-things, the allusions to some of my tools as weapons of war, or an actual brush with real soldiers and the unsettling blasts of their Howitzer, the references to things normally associated with war have been numerous. If I indulge in a little honest introspection and candid disclosure, which has not really my style in the past, but is becoming more my way as this journal becomes a real feature of my life and less of a casual pastime, I confess to you that I lean on things military as a source of inspiration and inner strength when I have to square off with potential adversity.

To a degree, it's in my blood.

My maternal grandfather, and my uncle Sam (no, not the U.S. Government, rather Sam Fletcher, a colonel in the Australian army and a decorated WWII veteran), were strong influences even though I never met them. Whether it was through my grandmother's stories, or the old tattered books relating in matter of fact prose and grainy images the utter destruction and grim scenes of death spawned by the battles they waged, either in the fields and trenches of France and Belgium, or in the jungles of New Guinea and the South Pacific, the memorabilia of their military experience, including a helmet, an Aussie bush hat, medals, campaign maps, a swagger stick, a 9mm pistol, and other odds and ends, all now lost to the vagaries of time, were lessons seared in my brain by the time I was ten years old.

Be that as it may, rightly or wrongly, helpfully or not, it's a part of me that helps me to cope with the challenges of life.

And so it is that the most recent campaign that began with a sudden crisis at the office, soon followed by the lull of the crossroads, is nearing an end, following some heart-stopping skirmishes at home, and abroad. I'll call this chapter the Real Estate Wars.

If by some queer twist of fate the good people who are buying or selling real estate from or to Susan and I stumble on this account, I hope they will forgive my candor. They are not the enemy. The market is the enemy, and it is larger than any of the combatants. Each of us is powerless in the market, we are all victims.

With that prolix foreword as a frame, here are a few choice vignettes I hope will provide a little insight, a dose of humour, and a ray of hope for others facing their own battles for a piece of this tiny blue planet.

Girding for battle - going behind enemy lines

The first order of business was to establish a forward operations base, a safe haven from which to wage our battle with the enemy. I know it seems outlandish, but getting that bloody mattress safely from our spare bedroom in Montreal all the way to the bed at Jonathan's place in Toronto was vital to the mission.

Now I'll share with you the little bits from that trek that raised eyebrows, set our nerves tingling, and ended with a belly-laugh, a smirk, or a shrug.

Shortly after leaving home, I tested my mattress lashing theory. I could tell how fast I was going by the sounds I heard. Silence until 15 kmh; 15-25 kmh, very slight whistling and rushing sounds; 25-45 kmh, soft thumping from the point where the joined rubberized hooks of the motorcycle tie-down straps knocked gently on the roof as the air began to lift and compress the leading edge of the mattress, pressing it against the improvised 2X4 frame; 45-70 kmh, high frequency rippling sounds as the wind found any loose plastic of the mattress bag along its length and a growing wind-blasting sound from the blunt leading edge; 70-100 kmh, a very loud rushing sound as the growing pocket of compressed air under the leading edge of the mattress brought sunlight through the sunroof. All the time my side mirrors were tilted up and inbound as I kept watch on the load.

The pocket of compressed air was forcing its way through the sunroof seals and a rush of frigid air invaded the cabin. So this is what we could expect all the way to Toronto. As the cabin temperature dropped we bundled up and I went to work on the climate controls, pumping hot air for all the system was worth. Nothing life threatening, just comfort threatening, and soon, hot beverage necessitating. My desire to keep a sharp watch on the proceedings meant that I had the sunroof curtain open. Susan hunkered down, and I was sure I detected a quiver or a shudder, if not quite a shiver. In a bid to further alleviate the growing discomfort, I pressed the button to close the curtain. Imagine my surprise when, instead of hearing the familiar whirrrrr of the curtain, I heard the unmistakeable sound of the sunroof closing firmly shut. I immediately burst out laughing. It was a case where the obvious risk was so imposing, that I had just assumed that it had to be the source of the air problem too. The rest of the drive was tense, but much more comfortable.

Nearly forced off the road, I think, maybe

We were nearing the half-way point: Kingston, Ontario. We were planning to stop at the Denny's restaurant off the Division Street exit for breakfast. By this time I was used to the way the mattress behaved at speed and in the turbulence from passing eighteen-wheelers. I wouldn't say it was by then a relaxing drive, but I felt that the risk was well-managed and the solution was sustainable. Then, one exit before Division Street, an OPP vehicle entered the highway. It was a police pickup truck, hauling a police trailer, carrying, based on the shape of the trailer, what I imagined was a pair of police snowmobiles. As our exit neared, I saw in the rear view mirror that the police vehicle's blue and red lights were flashing and that the right turn indicator was flashing. Susan was on the phone with our Toronto realtor. I had to give her a jab to check out the cop. "Are we being pulled over?" I mouthed. It kind of looked like I was being pulled over. "For what?" I wondered. The cops and I were well into the exit ramp. And then, oddly, the cop veered to the left, crossed the white lines and returned to the highway, turning off his lights. "Was I just chased off the 401 by snowmobile cops?" I said to Susan. I suspected that I had been profiled as a hillbilly, unworthy to travel on the Queen's highway. It's so unfair.

Over breakfast the curious incident prompted me to re-iterate, clearly trying Susan's patience, my too-well-known not-a-job police rant.

It goes like this: Horseback patrol on Mount Royal and in Old Montreal in the summer: NOT A JOB; Zodiac patrol on Lake St-Louis in the summer with twin 75 horsepower Mercury outboards, in short-sleeved shirts and shorts: NOT A JOB; Segway patrols at the airport and in Old Montreal in the summer: NOT A JOB; Escorting dignitaries at high speed in a tag team blocking intersections on super-high-end BMW motorcycles: NOT A JOB; bicycle patrols on high-end mountain bikes throughout the city in the summer: NOT A JOB." Those are activities that tourists pay through the nose for. THEY ARE NOT JOBS!! To those I can now confidently add: "Ski-Doo patrols through picturesque forests in a white winter wonderland: DEFINITELY NOT A JOB!"

Next up in this saga: shock and awe carries the day!

3 comments:

  1. this more descriptive narration of the mattress transport operation, very entertaining...now definitely sure I wouldn't have placed myself anywhere near your moving vehicle! :)

    chased off the highway by a police truck carrying snow-mobiles, I think you were right in your suspicions.

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  2. Thank you, David, for having a good chuckle on your account. Profiled as a hillbilly? The last time I saw hillbillies there were driving rusty pickup trucks, not Beemers, though... the world has changed.

    Ha, haven't I heard that rant before? ;-)

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  3. I'm with Dom here as I tend to avoid vehicles with things tied to the roof without a roof rack. I've seen too many things fly off including mattresses and recliners. I suspect that may have been the view of the police vehicle but once you're off the highway, not really an issue.

    As far as the "Not-a-job" rant, I'm not sure that I'd agree with all of them...

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