Saturday, October 16, 2021

Water water

Apparently, the post about Boo took the good out of me, because I've gone 10 months without writing anything else here. And I only just noticed a bunch of comments that were waiting for approval. So, sorry about that.

I am coming out of semi-blogger retirement because we've got a lot of texts and calls asking if we're ok after Iqaluit's water woes went international. For the latest update as of this writing, try reading this.

So, short answer, we're fine. 

The longer answer, it's a bit of a mess.

From earlier on Friday, people lining up waiting for
bottled water to be delivered.

So what happened? Sometimes earlier this month a high concentration of fuel managed to get into a water storage area of the city's water treatment plant. Depending on where you lived, you either didn't notice it, or it was like bathing in unleaded gas if you were trying to get a shower. Some residents have been complaining about it for weeks, but today they finally got confirmation that they were right. So steps are being taken to fix the problem, flush out the pipes and get things back to normal. I'd say at the earliest it'll be next weekend before all residents will be able to drink tap water.

So were we affected? No. I don't think so.

Why? Well,  there are two ways you can get water in Iqaluit. You can be on the utilidor and have normal water and sewer services through underground pipes, pretty much like most houses in any city in Canada.

Except Iqaluit isn't a normal Canadian city. At least a third of the houses are on truck water and sewer. A truck comes to our neighbourhood once a day and delivers water if we need it. Another truck comes every day and takes away the gray water. Our house gets trucked water and sewer.

If that seems inconvenient, it's really not. We prefer it that way. Some parts of town have been hit with boil orders over the years, but not us. Some have had their pipes freeze, which can be frustrating, time-consuming and expensive. The worst we had was some moderate flooding when the water tank over-filled due to a contractor's neglegence.

Anyway, so far as I can tell, we haven't had any contaminated water delivered. I've stuck my head in the water tanks and don't smell anything odd. Cathy has sensitive skin, and I figure if there was petroleum in our water, her skin would explode; it hasn't. And we've recently acquired an aquarium with fish. We changed their water last Sunday. They're still alive. So I think we're good.

Right now, we drained most of the "old" water out of our tanks as recommended, and the city has delivered water from Sylvia Grinnel River, which is just outside of town. The river is clean and many Inuit prefer to get their water from the river rather than the treated water from the plant. The worst we're going to have to deal with is probably hiring someone to come in and clean our water tanks once this all settles down. It's been four years so they should probably get cleaned anyway.

Now, if you're on regular water and sewer, it is more inconvenient. And, of course, the further down the socio-economic ladder you are, the harder this gets. If you have a house and a car, it's annoying, but fine. You can't drink the tap water and, if you're pregnant or have kids, it's a challenge. But the city is flying in tens of thousands of litres of water, plus you can get river water if you provide your own jug. You might have to line up and wait, but that's a manageable annoyance.

But not everyone has a jug (more were being flown in, but the city is sold out currently, I think). Or a car. Or the money to get a taxi to one of the refill stations or water distribution points. There has been some tremendous volunteer outreach to help people in these situations, but still, you can imagine having to walk a kilometre or two, pick up some water, carry it home, and then wonder if you have enough for everyone in your apartment to last until the next day.

All of this and just about everyone is aware that the inconvenience that we are going through, which will last a few weeks at worst and will likely have no long term health effects for most residents, is nothing compared to the hassles that too many First Nations have to go through with their drinking water.

So this is a long and rambling way of saying, we're good, but thanks for worrying about us.

Last Five

  1. Rollin' and Tumblin' - Bob Dylan
  2. Every little thing - The Black Keys
  3. Romeo and Juliet (live) - Dire Straits*
  4. White City - The Pogues
  5. Halfway to the Halfway House - Gorillaz

Friday, January 15, 2021

Farewell to a majestic floof

Boo's birthday was May 20 and I still remember when Corinna sent us the first pictures of our newborn puppy back in 2006. Corinna was a bit crazy in the way only the best dog breeders are....she wanted to make sure her baby was going to a good home and was very determined to make sure Cathy and I would be good parents. The whole "taking the dog to Nunavut" thing worried her a bit. But we reassured her we would take good care of him.

Never mind that the apartment we were living at that time didn't allow pets and that our request for a new place hadn't gone through yet. Details.

But it all worked out. We got a new place. Boo arrived and changed our lives. More than once I wondered if we would have stayed in Nunavut if it wasn't for him.

I am of an age now where myself, family and friends will look back and go "no, that was yesterday." The 50th anniversary of an influential record. I have friends who are horrified to learn they've known me for 30 years. Later this year people are going to deeply freak out when they realize that the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies are going to celebrate their 20th anniversaries.

And I sit here this evening in our very quiet house and wonder where 14 and a half years have gone. Poof.

This is at least my third draft of writing this. The others were just filled with too much rage and anger. That it wasn't goddamn fair that Boo, that majestic piece of floof as a friend called him today, was going to leave us. He was too good a dog. This wasn't right. Not when we still needed him so much.

But that's not how these things work. We've known for awhile that the clock was ticking very loudly for Boo. Coton de Tulear's (Fourteen years and his breed name has never not sounded silly to me) live between 14 and 16 years. And yes, his sight and hearing had gotten severely compromised. But he was still so strong, energetic and playful. He still loved going for walks. He was still taking short ones a week ago. Up until Christmas if you caught in the right mood he'd do one of his zoomies, where he'd run around the living room like a lunatic barking joyfully at his humans.

But his personality began to change. He became more nervous and dependent on Cathy. That escalated through the fall and fell off a cliff right after Christmas. We had to leave lights on around the house at night, even in our bedroom while we slept, otherwise he'd start to panic. He began shaking and panting for no reason and it would take hours for Cathy to get him to calm him down. And it just kept worse. I looked in his eyes on Tuesday and our Boo wasn't there anymore, just a very scared little dog that didn't know what was happening anymore. And we were helpless. We couldn't make it better.

So we made the hard choice that anyone who has lived with a dog and who truly love them eventually have to make. It was the right decision, but god today was hard.

I said my first drafts of this were filled with anger. I started writing this on Tuesday when I knew Friday was likely our last day. And then Cathy and I posted up on Facebook that Boo was gone and the outpouring of grief and sympathy was overwhelming. I likely will never thank all of you individually - I tend to cry whenever I do - but if you dropped a line of condolence then thank you. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

But it helped ease away my anger and bitterness. It helped that if you met Boo you knew what an awesome dog he was. If you have or had a dog, you know how hard this is. But many of you never met Boo. It occurs to me that he was, of all things, a dog born at the start of the social media boom. Every now and then Boo would show up and light up your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. This little white fluffball. The majestic floof. He was a good looking dog. I suspect it was to Corinna's frustration that we never bred him. But whatever his looks, his personality and love were enormous.  We could not ask for a better friend and companion all these years. Whenever things might have gotten rough, Boo was there. The sadness will end, eventually. Then, hopefully, just the love remains.

I end with this story. Two years ago we came back from Christmas in Newfoundland just shellshocked. We'd been there for the holidays and to be with Cathy's mom, who was seriously ill. And then she passed suddenly. It was just a hard, hard Christmas.

So when we came back to Iqaluit I was genuinely worried Cathy might squish Boo to death. Cathy had gone back to Newfoundland in mid-November to be with her mom and hadn't seen him in almost two months. She just needed her dog and Boo, being Boo, was just happy to see his humans. But particularly the human who spoiled him the most. There was much wagging of tails and jumping on his back paws to say hello.

Later that night, after Cathy went to bed, I took Boo aside and had a chat. "Look, little buddy," I said, "I know this might get rough for you because you're getting up there, but I need at least two more years, ok? You just can't go anywhere yet. She needs you too much.

"You have to stay."

And he did. He was a Good Boy.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Maybe, sometimes, comics will keep your heart going

I'm not on Facebook as much these days. That, combined with Facebook's truly messed up algorithm, means I didn't find out that Jason Conway died on December 17 until today. Which meant I spent most of this morning absolutely floored. 

For many people in St. John's they knew him as the guy who ran Downtown Comics. My first encounter with Jason was in high school. Jason and I didn't run in the same crowds. I didn't have many friends my first couple of years at Booth and Jason tended to run with the recreational pharmaceutical crowd. But we did share one class together....Grade 11 math.

For dignity's sake, I won't name the teacher. Sometimes you get the teacher that inspires you to be better. Sometimes you get teachers that are meh. And sometimes you get one's who are clearly only doing this for the summer's off and punching the clock until retirement. Welcome to my Grade 11 math class.

It should have been intolerable. He was actively bad at teaching math. But several times a week, this slow, drawing voice would call out from the back of the class...."Sir, should x=3 and not 7?" Or, "Sir, doesn't 50 plus 33 equal 83 and not 88?"

The teacher hated Jason. The rest of the class found it hilarious and we were grateful for the break. Honestly, Jason could have taught that class and I would bet solid money my grade would have been better.

Somehow, through that, Jason and I discovered we were both huge comic book geeks. This was the late 80s so right around when Timemasters opened. And thank God, because the only other place in town to buy new comics was from a bookstore out on Topsail Road run by a real piece of work. But we talked comics, and I sometimes bought books from him because he had an amazing collection. (He grumbled for years about selling me Iron Fist #14, which featured the first appearance of Sabretooth, and Iron Man #55, which featured the first appearance of Thanos).

And that's how it went for a few years...running into each other on and off. Eventually, we also both had the same bright idea....that people would sometimes dump really valuable comics at used bookstores around town (this was when the 90s comic speculator market was insane). Someone would dump a Spawn #1 at Afterwards on Duckworth Street and get a dime for it. Afterwards would sell it for 50 cents (45 cents for me and my student discount card), and then you could go into the Avalon Mall flea market and sell the same comic for $5 or $10.

This was a good racket. We decided to pool resources and share a few tables at the Avalon Mall flea market and for 2-3 years we were in there most Sundays selling comics. We called ourselves Mercs, for our mercenary habit of hunting comics at used bookstores. I had a lot of fun weekends at that flea market. Jason had a dry, laconic sense of humour, and was insanely knowledgeable about comics.

In '96, with the comic book speculator market crashing and me wanting to try and do something to jump start my life, I went to South Korea to teach English. When I came back 9 months later, Jason had opened Downtown Comics in the basement of a building next to Fred's Record's on Duckworth Street. Of the two of us, he made the better choice by far. Although no one saw it that way at the time. Timemasters was just down the road and ruled the roost for comics in town. But Jason saw an opportunity and went for it.

I bought my comics from him until 2005 when Cathy and I moved to Nunavut. But every time I was in town I dropped in to see how he was doing, if he was around, and buy something.

I don't think it's a secret that Jason had mental health issues. And comics can be hard on you. One of the most famous artists in the business, Jack Kirby, is once alleged to have given the following advice to an artist -  "Don't do comics, kid. Comics will break your heart."

Running a comic book store is not an easy gig. There's competition from others stores. The market changes all the time. Back issues used to be huge, but trade paperbacks and digital did a number on that. You're competing with big chains when it comes to toys. And I can't imagine what it was like keeping things going this pandemic year. There was a couple of months this year when major publishers simply didn't put out anything for stores' like Jason's to sell. Keeping that store opened for 23 years was a goddamn miracle.

And yet, the outpouring of grief on the Downtown Comics Facebook page is immense. Hundreds of people expressing sympathy to his daughter and to Wallace Ryan, who has been helping Jason at the store for years now. Many are sharing stories about how Jason sold them their first comic or helped shape their lives by his love of comics.

My first comic book was at a drug store at the Avalon Mall. But for 23 years, kids have walked into that store and that's been their first comic book experience. It must have been overwhelming, seeing so many comics, so many toys and all their heroes in one place. I bet more than one kid was dragged out of there by parents before they had to buy the whole store.

I don't think you do that gig for 23 years just to make a living. There are easier ways of doing things. Sometimes, comics will break your heart, but you keep on loving it anyway. And maybe it loves you back in ways you never expect.

Rest in peace, my friend....


Monday, May 18, 2020

Comic Art Collection 12: Champions

Champions #25, page 23. Art by Max Dunbar.

So, let's keep it rolling, shall we?

The page above is from an issue of Champions and, among other characters, features Amak Aliyah who is an Inuk super hero called Snowguard. The reason I'm writing about it now is there was a little social media blip about her recently, courtesy of this tweet:

Anna Lambe is a promising young actress who starred in the made-in-Nunavut movie The Grizzlies and a lot of people think would be a good fit for the new Avatar, the Last Airbender series that is gearing up on Netflix. I don't know much about that franchise, so I can't say one way or another if she would be. But she would make a great Snowguard. I'm not the only one who thinks so, based on the number of reactions that tweet got. Including from Snowguard's creators Jim Zub, Nyla Innuksuk, and Sean Iszaake.

However, up until recently I would have said the odds of Snowguard making the leap from pages to the screen was small. She is still a new character with maybe 2 dozen appearances. But Simu Liu was politely teasing Marvel about casting him as Shang Chi, which they then did. Plus, Disney/Marvel clearly have plans for their younger heroes on the Disney+ streaming service. There's a Ms. Marvel show debuting next year and rumours exploded a couple of weeks ago that there's an Ironheart show in the work on the service. That's a chunk of the Champions team right there. So who knows? Maybe she gets a call from Marvel. I certainly hope so.

As for this page, ever since Snowguard debuted I'd been looking to get a page of art with her on it. Just one problem. A lot of the artists on the book during that first year were working digitally. I would have bought a page from her first story arc, but Sean is a digital artist. There was an annual featuring Snowguard returning to Pangnirtung by Toronto artist Marcus To. Except he also switched from pencil to digital a few years ago.

However, last year (or possibly 10 years ago. Time is fluid) when I was at Emerald City Comic Con I got the chance to meet Jim Zub and get a bunch of books signed, including a over a dozen copies of the Champions annual signed and personalized for Cathy's Grade 5 class that year (I just found out via Twitter it's also Jim's birthday today, so this is good timing. And Happy Birthday). Sitting next to him was BC-based artist Max Dunbar. Jim and Max share a massive love of all things Dungeons & Dragons and the previous year there was a Champions story arc where the characters get thrown into an alternate dimension (it happens) where they also change personalities and become people who closely resemble the type of characters you might play in Dungeons & Dragons.

It's a fun story arc, but what caught my eye was Max Dunbar. It was the kind of art that makes you wonder who the hell is this guy and where did he come from. Great detail, lots of energy, not afraid of big, complex action sequences and putting ridiculous effort into splash pages. I knew he was going to be at the con, and that he would have pages for sale. It took me all of about 30 seconds to settle on this page. Amak with a big ass hammer, a cool looking Ms. was a no brainer.

I don't pretend to know Max well, but he appears very generous with his art. I remember he gifted Jim with a stunning two-page spread from that Champions run. He recently gave away a stunning piece of Marvel mash-up art....all you had to do was prove you donated to a charity or that you were a first responder for a chance to enter the contest. 

Seriously, just look at this thing....

He quoted me a price for that page that was more than fair, and then added "But if you think that's too much, I can come down a bit." Jim and his partner Stacy were at the table next to him. I swear one of them was going to go over and shake him before I said "I don't haggle with artists. That's a great price."

I actually own another piece of Max's art, but that's for another day. That Champions page currently is hanging near my cubicle at work.

Last Five
1. Meeting in the aisle - Radiohead
2. Blue skies over bad lands - Matthew Good
3. While we were hunting rabbits - Matthew Good*
4. Restless - Alison Krauss and Union Station
5. My time is coming - The Hives

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Bubbles within bubbles

Two months ago today Cathy and I were just starting to walk to work because our car was not behaving and couldn't be trusted. I felt my work phone buzz and was told my manager to turn around, head home and send a message out to all the staff. The office was now closed. All staff were to work from home.

There have been two things I've tried not to keep track of over the last couple of months. The first, oddly enough, is how long the self-quarantine has been going on, but it kind of leaped out at me a couple of days ago. But as a rule, I haven't been paying attention. I don't think it'll do my head any good.

The other is the death toll and infection rates. Again, I don't think it does my head any good to dwell on those numbers. Also, I don't think they accurately reflect the reality. I think the infection rates, especially in the United States, are grossly underreported. The same with death rates. And as I've read, the other effects of the disease is also underreported and terrifying.

It's a fine line to walk between being informed enough to protect yourself and not wanting to curl up in a ball in your closet for the next two years. For the most part, I think Cathy and I have managed. So, what's been happening the last two months?

1. Still zero cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut. We had one scare a few weeks back, but it was a false positive. The Government of Nunavut is going to roll out it's plan to reduce self-isolation rules next week, which should be fascinating. I titled this post 'Bubbles within bubbles" because that's where Cathy and I are. Canada is a bubble (except for Quebec) when compared to the madness that is the US. Nunavut is in the fortunate position of having no cases. In Iqaluit, social distancing has best. Downtown Iqaluit....not so much, except at places where it's enforced like stores or the post office. But we live away from downtown, so other than people walking their dogs, we hardly see anyone.

We've been sticking to our house pretty closely. Once a week, maybe twice, I'll head out and get groceries and pick up the mail. That's about it.

2. Like everyone, there have been scrapping of plans. I had planned to take a couple of months off this summer and travel. That plan has absolutely been scrapped. The fallback was that we would go out for two weeks, do a sealift and maybe get back to Newfoundland and see some family. That plan is about 95% scrapped as well.

I've been saying that anyone who thinks they can predict what's going to happen over the next two years is basically writing fan fiction. No one knows what's going to happen next. There's too many balls in the air. I've been mentally bracing myself for things getting back to a semblance of safe ("normal" is something else entirely) in 2022. But I absolutely will not be surprised if Nunavut keeps its quarantine rules in place indefinitely, meaning you can certainly leave, but you have to self-isolate for two weeks in Ottawa or other centres first.

Why would they lift it? They know the effect COVID-19 will have on Nunavut communities. They got phenomenally lucky that no cases came in before they restricted travel. The territory is being resupplied with only some hiccups. I'm sure some might grumble about not being able to travel back and forth with ease, but welcome to the new reality. Nothing is easy.

I'm also not blowing two weeks vacation so I can sit in a hotel room in Ottawa. So yeah, I think we're going to be in Iqaluit for quite awhile.

3. I'm continuing to work, which is good. Work is not discussed on this blog, but it keeps me busy for several hours a day, which is good. Cathy has done as much as she can with the school at this point. It's cancelled until September. So she's trying to keep busy as best she can.

Honestly, we're well built mentally to handle this kind of thing. We don't have kids (cranky old dogs don't count), we're introverts and we genuinely like each other's company. We wouldn't want to do this for years, but we haven't been fighting or snapping at each other over the last couple of months. We're handling it well.

We had a small bit of drama the week when a culvert got blocked up on the street behind our house. The water found an alternative route that involved coming down the hill and pouring down under our house.  It's Iqaluit, so the house is on pylons. But it was washing out our driveway and making a mess of things. So we had an hour or so of fun trying to find ways to divert the water around our house while waiting for city council workers to deal with the situation.

That's literally been the most excitement we've had the last two months.

4. If there's been one source of stress it's been our car. Our good and faithful Equinox, which we've had for nine years, had a very bad start to this year, making some weird noses. This was attributed to the block heater not working, which we overpaid for and replaced at garage #1. After that the car was still having problems and no longer trusting Garage #1, we made an appointment at Garage #2, which we had to wait two weeks for.

Then the pandemic hit, so the parts they needed took a month to get here.

When we finally got her back on Tuesday, and after spending another couple of thousand dollars, we found out that basically the engine had been significantly damaged and was going to stop working.....soonish. Could be a couple of weeks, could be a year. But it was coming. The car also acquired a delightful rattle, meaning that even if I wanted to be an unethical dick and sell it, she makes so much noise that no one in their right mind would buy it. It's basically good for parts at this point.

Which means a new car.

We had planned to get a new one next year. We really wanted one more year for the Equinox. Fortunately, as we're not travelling anywhere, all that money we had budgeted for vacation can now go towards the car! Yay!


The mildly frustrating thing is that I was looking forward to properly shopping for a new car. I've never really done it before. I've had used cars, and one on a lease. Cathy bought one 20 years ago which involved walking onto a dealership lot and saying "give me that one." So yeah, I wanted to hit a few dealerships. Test drive a few cars. See what the best deal was going to be.

Instead, we contacted Subaru and said "give us that one" and we now have a new Subaru CrossTrek en route to us. The dealership dropped it off to our shipping company last week. They'll transport it to Montreal. And assuming all goes well, sometime in mid-July we should have our new car.

Mildly anti-climatic. Here's hoping she works out because ideally we'd like her to last until we leave in about 10 years time. Guess we'll see.

And that's it. Tune in next month for another update.

Last Five
1. Elephant (live) - Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit*
2. Picadilly sand farewell - Ron Hynes
3. Songs for teenagers - Gaslight Anthem
4. Spark man - Mark Bragg
5. In California (live) - Neko Case

Thursday, April 23, 2020

On a slightly weird week....

So, that got a little weird in a hurry.

By now most of you know that mom celebrated working 40 years at Shoppers Drug Mart last Saturday. That's because, in a first for this blog, the post went viral.

How viral? Well, let's put it in some perspective. The previous three posts had the following amount of traffic.

Comic Art Collection: Thor - 45 clicks.
Comic Art Collection: Supergirl and Batgirl - 46 clicks
Settling in (how things are going up here) - 93 clicks

The top picture is from opening day 1980 with her former
boss John. The bottom two are from 2019.
The post on mom's anniversary? - 10,250 clicks. And it's still climbing, although at a much slower rate. There were 8,000 page view on Sunday alone.

The previous best for the past three years was my last update to the Moving to Iqaluit FAQ back in 2017 (which reminds me, I need to do that again), and it had 4,061.

But the numbers for all of this are astounding. Yes, my blog experienced a massive spike in traffic, but that's only part of it. NTV reporter Jodi Cooke put out a congratulatory tweet on April 18. It has 28 retweets, 73 comments, and 642 likes. Then I got an email from CBC's Krissy Holmes asking if we'd like to appear on the Morning Show. I think mom was a bit nervous, but it was fun. All I had to do was  remember I was the sidekick and let mom do her thing, which she always does.

You can listen to the whole thing here. Or read the story here.

And how was the reaction to the CBC story? The story was shared 84 times, with over 1,300 likes and 234 people commented on it.

Two sitting MPs extending congrats to her. And after the story she told about Danny Williams' mom I'm half surprised a new car hasn't shown up in her driveway.

On top of that mom said she's had a lot of people wave at her at Shoppers and congratulate her on her anniversary. She's threaten to put me up for adoption because of all the attention, which is a nice blast from the past....she hasn't threatened me with that since I was 16. But she loves it. I know she does.

But here's the thing that truly blows my mind. I haven't read all the comments and tweets, but I've read a lot of them. Nobody said anything bad.

Not one snarky comment. No one from PETA coming out of the woodwork and bashing the cosmetics industry. No one with a "bad" customer experience coming to correct everyone. Everything was positive. They congratulated her. They told happy stories about their interaction with mom.  They talked about what an important part of their lives she's been over the years (One 53-year-old woman said she's been buying make-up from mom since she was 15). They said how much they loved her.

If you bring a wee dog into the
store, mom has to say hi.
I'm not one to idly throw around the word "miraculous" but in this day of instant outrage and anger on social media, this is as close to one as you will find.

But it's mom....I am utterly unsurprised.

But the nice thing isn't just the numbers and the outpouring of's that mom can get to see it all. It occurred to me that this kind of thing often happens....after the person is no longer around to hear it. Mom's going to be around for a long time yet, but it's nice that she can see all of this. It's one thing to know you're good at your job and for people to compliment you, but this kind of wave of adoration it is a rare thing. I really hope she's soaking it in and enjoying it.

And now, one last mom story. Because I'm kicking myself for not putting it in the original post, and because it's honestly hilarious to me.

It's not just that mom's been working at Shoppers for 40 years, she's also worked Christmas Eve for every single year she's been with Shoppers. Hell, from mid-November to Christmas she rarely takes a day off because it's so busy.

But my favourite thing about her working Christmas Eve is that every year, every year, there's a group of men who discover around 4 pm that it's Christmas (funny how that can just sneak up on you) and maybe they should buy something for their wives. I think the record for someone coming into the store was at 4:55 on Christmas Eve when they close at 5.

If you're a woman who lives in the East End and you've ever received a suspiciously nice bottle of perfume for Christmas....well, odds are your husband was at Shoppers 20 minutes before close the day before.

I know it amuses mom, although she never takes advantage of them or tries to oversell them. She tries to find out what their wife likes, and if she's ever shopped there before, and tries to find the best thing for them....all before the store closes in a few minutes.

I've said that mom should get an award for the number of marriages she's saved. Hell, she's probably prevented a few murders.

So there you go....the last Daphne story....for now.

Man, it's going to be hard to top this for Mother's Day next month....

Last Five
1. Heart to heart with Lionel - Joel Plaskett Emergency
2. Slow disco - St. Vincent
3. Battlefords - Hawksley Workman*
4. Making a noise - Robbie Robertson
5. Growin' up (live) - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Saturday, April 18, 2020

40 years at Shoppers

My record for longest stint at a job is the one I'm currently in. This June it will mark eight years. And if you throw in the 16 months I did earlier, went away, and then came back to the job, I have a little over nine years at this gig. It marks an almost unheard of level of job stability for me. Previously, I've tended to bounce around. I think if you ask most people my age or younger, the number of people who have spent decades at a job are relatively rare.

And even if you do spend a few decades at a job, you normally retire. Teachers tend to go at 30 years, for example.

Mom and I, Christmas 2012 at Shoppers.
Then there's my mom. Today marks her 40th anniversary working for Shoppers Drug Mart on Torbay Road. Hell, if you toss in her time at the Zellers that used to be in that mall, she's spent 45 years on that parking lot. If there was ever a demand for a history of the Torbay Road Mall, it begins and ends with my mom.

I have a vague recollection of mom starting at Shoppers. The store was opening in the mall (Zellers was on one end, Dominion on the other, in-between was a CIBC, Shoppers, a doctor's office, a Chinese restaurant, and several smaller stores) and it was a big deal. First one on the east end of town. She'd been working at Zellers for years and was excited about not just getting a new job, but also becoming head cosmetician. It was a big deal for her.

And it's still a big deal for her. Mom loves her job. Odds are you've never loved a job the way my mom loves hers. Lord knows she doesn't do it for the money. She just loves people. She loves helping people and chatting with them. I've spoken to mom more times than I can count at 11 pm after she's just finished an eight hours shift and she's fine. She normally hangs up to go and get her cup of coffee. And then she's back to work for a 10 am shift the next morning.

That's not something she did years ago. That's something she probably did this week.

Yeah, she's still working. I've asked her to stop working during the COVID-19 crisis, but she keeps going in. She's not selling make-up right now; she's just helping out around the store, trying to be useful. It makes me nervous as hell, but she keeps working. Because it's what she loves doing. Working and being helpful.

If you've walked into that Shoppers and talked to my mom, odds are you have a story about her. If you've talked to her for more than a few minutes, odds are you know something about me (I've long since given up asking her to not do that). She's sold makeup to news anchors, make-up artists on film/TV productions, and others. One of her absolutely favourite customers was Danny Williams' mom. She got a kick out of that and always took good care of her.

Then again, she always takes good care of everyone.

She's outlasted everyone in the store. The original owner retired years ago. I wouldn't place a bet against her outlasting the current owner. And the one after him. I'm not giving up here age here, but she shows no signs of retiring. I imagine I'll be updating this in 10 years time when we celebrate her 50th anniversary at the store.

My favourite mom story? This would have been around 2012. I was back in Newfoundland for Christmas and discovered, to my horror, that mom was working Christmas Day. I asked her why, as she obviously had the seniority to get that day off.

"Well, most of the rest of the cosmetics staff have young ones or young family and they should spend Christmas morning with them rather than being in here. And you're old enough to not need me there Christmas morning and I knew you'd understand. So that's why."

The photo above is from me going in that morning and spending an hour or so with her in the store, before she shooed me home out of it. Which has always been the way when I visit her at the store. She's happy to see me and chat, but if there's a customer who looks like they need help, she'll stop mid-conversation to go over and take care of them.

Odds are she's not celebrating this day the way she wanted. She's been looking forward to this day for a long time. It likely won't be the celebration she wanted, but I hope they do lots for her anyway. I've always thought Shoppers has never appreciated her the way she deserves.

For years, I've had some variant of this conversation:

"Well, I'm never sure how much longer I'll get to do this, Craig. I'm not sure how long they'll want someone my age in cosmetics."

"Mom, the number of women you bring into that store who want to know the secret of how you look so good at your age should mean you get to stay there forever."

And she does. Mom has consistently looked 10-15 younger than she actually is. She has, on occasion, passed me off as her younger brother. Which amuses her, and makes me roll my eyes, but whatever. It gives her a laugh.

And women do come in and ask her secret. And she's happy to sell them some moisturizer she uses, or some other products. And they go away happy. But she never tells them the real reason why she looks so young.

Just love what you do for 40 years and be a kind and amazing person. Works every time.

Happy 40 years, mom. Here's to at least another 10.