It's Easter Sunday today, and while it may not have the self-reflective quality that say, Christmas, or the first day of school does, it's still a day to look back. When I was a kid, we often went to Massachusetts on Easter weekend, to see my grandparents who lived in North Reading, just north of Boston, in a small Cape Cod house at No. 29 Eames Street. My sisters and I loved the house because of how it smelled, but more so because we loved seeing our grandparents. They were funny and affectionate.
On Easter Sunday in North Reading, we'd get gift baskets from Grammie, filled with plastic, opalescent grass, a chocolate bunny, and candy you could only buy in the States. We'd then hunt throughout the living room for jelly beans that she and my mother would have hidden in the room, before eating ham for dinner, in the small kitchen with the red and black linoleum floor. After dinner, we'd watch The Wizard of Oz on TV, which was shown every year at Easter on CBS. The moment when black and white Dorothy opens her front door to a full-colour Oz blew my mind every time I saw it. It still does. And those flowers, the blue sky and the very beginning of the yellow brick road still feel like Easter to me, no matter how old I get.
It feels like the future today. The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing this week on whether or not to uphold an Appeals Court's overturn of California's Proposition 8, which restricts marriage to heterosexual couples. Whatever the decision could possibly be, it does feel like the future is here now. Imagine - gay marriage in the United States. I never thought it would become legal anywhere while I was alive, and certainly not there. I remember thinking as a kid that I'd never be able to get married, at least to the person I wanted to. Thankfully, this conversation that the U.S. is having right now was decided long ago here; same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada in 2005, which I'm very proud to say..
Even after it was legalized here though, I had no interest in getting married. Not many gay people I knew did at first. It felt too conventional; it was a state that had never belonged to us anyway. I'd lived so many years thinking I wasn't 'allowed' to get married, that suddenly when it was permitted, it was too late. "I'm not the marrying type," I'd say to people, sounding like a bachelor from a Blue Stratos commercial. Now however, with so much conversation about it going on, I'm pretty sure I am the marrying type after all. It's a future I never imagined.
I was recently invited to become a regular contributor to Color Objects, a site out of the Netherlands that is devoted entirely to the aesthetics and application of colour. As a monthly contributor, I'll be writing about how colours are presented to us, through media, corporate logos and visual identities we encounter every day.
My first piece was published this morning. It's on the Rio 2016 Olympic logo, and how the colours specified for it effectively communicate a story of the people hosting the games, beyond the mere 'green, yellow and blue' that was stipulated by the Brazilian government. Stay tuned for more on Color Objects.
Here's the article.
So I think that new ROM logo is a big fat disappointment. There, I said it. And yes, I feel better. I don't know what were they thinking. Those letter forms are mere days old and they already feel dated, not airy and chance-taking like the new crystal did when it was built. This logo is heavy; it's safe without the ageless sensibility of something that is purely functional. It's like the black wedgy shoes with the laces on the side that the matronly Grade 6 teacher, Miss Mather wore at my public school in 1984.
And then there's the purple. Come on. According to the article I read, the ROM wanted a colour associated with things that are precious and rare. There are a dozen more successful purples they could have selected for this purpose. Something deeper, darker, edgier; something with depth; more mysterious and gauzy; maybe leaning toward a plum, or a claret. The list could go on. Instead, the flat colour they chose feels a bit thin and common, like the bedroom walls of an artsy teen girl. An American design firm created this identity. I do believe a Canadian group would have been better equipped to specify a more appropriate colour choice here.
Like thousands of 10-year-old kids, I went to the ROM on school trips. It felt so special to ride two hours on a bus to Toronto, and then to enter in the group door off of Queen's Park, to where all of those big coat racks were for kids, and where we'd get our little tin badges with the logo to wear. Walking toward the exhibitions, the first piece we'd always see would be the base of that giant totem pole placed beside the large interior stair. It was familiar and special and for such a public place, very personal to me. This was big city life to a 10-year-old from London, Ontario. I guess that's why it's hard to see an interpretation so off the mark from what I believe about this place. I guess I should start looking for positions on advisory boards of everywhere I ever took a field trip.
Today is my father-in-law's birthday. His name is Antonio but I call him Boss when I see him. I took this picture in 2009 when Luis and I went to the island of Terceira in the Azores, where their family is from, and where his parents return every summer. Luis's Dad sat outside that day, inserting small metal grommets one by one into this huge piece of orange canvas, which would eventually become the back wall and overhang of the terrace beside their house. It took him almost two hours. He's a study in patience and moves at his own pace. I love and admire that about him. Happy birthday, Boss.
Tina's my girl – the girl who cuts my hair for two years now. I don’t actually call her my girl to her face. We’re not that close. But if we were, I would. I’d step into the barber shop where she works and probably say something like, “Hey Babe,” before giving her a big hug so I could smell her Elizabeth Arden Red Door up close. “Hi Cutie,” she’d say, eyes smiling. “Take your jacket off and sit down and I’ll be right with you.” I kind of feel that’s how it would go down, if Tina and I were closer, that is.
Instead, when I enter the shop, I just say "Hi".
"Have a seat," she'll say, indicating her chair.
Tina’s just a few years older than me, probably in her mid to late forties, and she’s good looking. She’s tall and has long blonde hair that looks pretty soft, considering she probably dyes it. She usually wears a black top of some kind, and tight, sparkly pants. She also wears tall, black, heeled leather boots which, depending on the season, sometimes have tassels on them.
Tina’s haircutting station is covered in memorabilia from Coronation Street, that British soap opera that makes me feel sad. I've always found the lighting they use on the show to be cold. On Tina's counter are pictures of her and her family touring the set of Coronation Street, a mug with the name of the show and a small tin British telephone booth. Knowing I’ll never be able to connect with her about that show, I’ve tried to steer her toward a conversation about Downton Abbey. Now that’s a foundation upon which we could really form a solid barber-client friendship.
“Have you seen Downton Abbey yet,” I’ve asked, “because you’re absolutely going to love it.”
“No,” she’s said. “I have the DVDs, but I haven’t seen it yet.”
There. Conversation over. No “Did you see the documentary the other evening on Highclere Castle?” or “Wasn’t Shirley Maclaine great as Cora’s mother this season?” Instead we’ll stick to small, common talk – if I like the weather; what I did for the holidays; if I’ve been to the new Japanese restaurant up the street.
Tina insists on asking me every time if I’d like my eyebrows trimmed. I always politely decline. ("Why, do my eyebrows need trimming?") She also sometimes takes her electric clipper and buzzes some hair off my ear lobes. I’m pretty sure I’m too young to start shaving my ears. I don’t tell her this; instead I just cringe and hope those hairs don’t start to grow back thicker than they were, like my mother said happens to hair you shave off your body.
When Tina’s done cutting my hair, she holds up the mirror behind me so I can inspect the hairline she’s given me at the place where my head meets my neck.
“Oh. That's great,” I tell her. Tina doesn't know, but I'm lying. In fact, I've stopped thinking of her and my nape altogether because all I can see is the bald spot forming on my pate. The crown of my head is like a young niece or nephew that I only see once or twice every few months. It changes significantly between sightings. It’s my age quite literally creeping up at me from behind, silent and slow and not something I wish to face.
Now at 40, my slowly balding head is in the same category as my cheeks – once thin, blushed and pert. I now keep a week’s growth on my beard at all times, because when I shave my face clean, I notice how my jawline is widening, just like Carrie Fisher’s did as she got older. My white skin makes the area look even bigger than it is. A beard, I tell myself, blurs the edge of my face. It hides my true age for just a little longer. Princess Lea I am not.
Tina removes the black cloak and I stand up for one of the few moments of the afternoon when we’re standing eye to eye. Her blonde hair no longer looks as soft as when I walked in. Her crows’ feet are more visible now too, caked in foundation, and I don’t smell any Elizabeth Arden Red Door at all.
“Turn around for a sec and I’ll brush you off,” she says.
While Tina’s behind me, brushing my own hair off my ears and the back of my neck, I look at my reflection in her mirror, rising from her collection of Coronation Street memorabilia. And I can’t wait to leave.
I used to collect children's books, that is before I became a chronic disposer anyway. I loved the big hard cover ones and I still have most of them. The first really good kid's book I ever bought was Animalia written and illustrated by Graeme Base. It's fantastic. Each page features a respective letter of the alphabet and is illustrated in this crazy maximalist style, and packed with objects and beings that begin with the respective feature letter. Check out the C page pictured above. Crafty Crimson Cats carefully catching Crusty Crayfish are surrounded by a castle, chalet, calculator, clock, cork, chair, cauldron, cactus. You get it. It's pretty dreamy.
The book was released in 1987 and the author, an Australian, released a contest along with it. Whoever could go through the entire book and list every single item that he had painted into its illustrations would win $10,000 and a trip to Australia. At 14, I loved lists almost as much as the chance to prove myself, so I began to scan the book while reading the dictionary. Every time I got came across a word I didn't know, I'd search the respective picture for any indication of the word and then write it on the list. It's how I learned the word 'akimbo', which is how the tiny Australian Aborigine, hand on hip, is standing at the bottom of the A page, pictured below. To this day, when I hear the word, I picture that little guy.
I made it through A and much of B, but that C page sure was daunting. (Hello, look at it - a double-page spread!) I left my list unfinished, so didn't bother writing the author. I also never found out who won the contest after all. I always pictured him to be some young, quirky kid, spending his Sunday afternoons at home in the basement, reading the dictionary.
40 used to seem old to me. It looked old to me. My own parents had me when they were 41 and 40. I came along in 1972 to a family of five, already established as a couple and three girls approaching teenhood. I didn’t know Mom and Dad were older than other parents until I started going to school and seeing what most kids’ parents looked like. The moms that came to pick up their kids at Brick Street Public School were often blonde. They had bobbed hair that moved when they did. They wore denim, one-piece jumpsuits with cream coloured turtlenecks and big fat shoes that were ready to run when they needed them to. They had names like Linda and Brenda.
My own mother’s hair didn’t move so much. It was permed to be curly and it was grey. Mom worked at Price Waterhouse as a secretary so she wore skirts with matching jackets, and shoes with thin heels that weren’t conducive to running. Her name is Elaine.
Other dads were different too. They were often tan. They wore t-shirts and Adidas jackets with stripes on the sleeves. Some wore gold chains or big rings. They moved fast and spoke in loud voices. Some had beards. My own Dad, Jim, was gentle. He spoke mildly and slowly. He didn’t like jeans so much, opting instead for grey or khaki slacks with a shirt that would button up the front. Dad was approaching 50 when most of my friends’ fathers were likely coming up to their mid-thirties.
I couldn’t believe it when Gina Nagy – the five-foot tall eight-year-old – told me in Grade 3 that her parents slept naked in their bed. They sounded like wild people to me. I’d picture their bedroom messy, with dirty crumpled white sheets on the bed and ashtrays on the side tables. I met them once. They drove a big blue Lincoln. They were tall and spoke with accents. I knew they slept naked. I hated that I knew that.
And Michael Brock's mother was the local Beaver leader. We called her Akela, but her name was Diane. She wore track suits and was always out running in the neighbourhood. She was "active". At Michael's birthday parties, Akela would play a game with us called Poor Pussy. She’d sit on the floor in the middle of the room and one by one, each kid there would have to go sit with her and stare into her eyes without turning away or laughing, this while she stroked your face and repeated the words "poooooor pussy" over and over again. It was humiliating, but at least she baked money into the cake.
My own parents didn’t play games on the floor with us. We played cards at the table sometimes – crazy eights maybe, or cribbage. They slept in pajamas like my sisters and I did and on Sundays we went to church before coming home to eat molasses poured on crusty bread from the Italian bakery downtown. They taught my sisters and me to be polite and to speak to strangers with kindness. They loved me and they told me so every day.
I am finally older now than my mother was when she gave birth to me and almost as old as my father was, and my 40 feels different than I perceived theirs to be. I never pictured that I’d live in Toronto. I never thought that I wouldn't own a car by now, or that I wouldn't be a dad. I didn't know that I wouldn't have traveled as much by now as I would have wanted, or that I'd have stopped drinking coffee because of the effect that caffeine has on my nervous system. With a slowly balding pate, a greying beard and one root canal behind me, this is what my 40 looks like, what it feels like; a conspiracy led by my body and denied by my heart.
I love the TD bank pavilion at the corner of King and Bay in Toronto - for its lines of course, and for that interior lighting that takes me back to visiting my Dad at his office in London, Ontario in the 70s. My favourite thing about it though, are the round bowls of yellow daisies placed strategically throughout the complex from floor 1 up to floor 56, and specified by Mies when he designed it in the 60s. At the time, one Toronto florist was contracted to replace these flowers regularly and decades later, to my knowledge, is still doing the job. I think this detail is beautiful, I think it's human, and I believe it shows the love and commitment that people can feel for a really good idea.
I live in a townhouse in the core of the city. When you share walls with other people, you can only hope they are as careful as you when it comes to fire safety. I can’t speak for my neighbours so I’ve devised a plan to salvage my favourite things in case of fire.
My first stop will be the upstairs hall closet where I keep coats. There are two that I simply must save. One is a camel cashmere wool blend. It’s fifty years old and it was my father’s. He’s still alive, but I stole it from him a decade ago. It does have sentimental value, but even more important, I look great in it. It is the first ageless classic garment I have owned and I expect to have it forever. I’ll also grab my heavy suede jacket with the lamb’s wool collar, which was also Dad's. It makes me feel cool when I wear it; it gives me street cred in the eyes of the kids twenty years younger than me who shop at vintage stores. I can’t let that burn.
While I’m passing the bathroom on my way downstairs, I may as well grab my toothbrush and toothpaste. If I’m going to be speaking to camera crews about my misfortune, the last thing I want to be is self-conscious about my breath.
My next stop is the kitchen for something purely sentimental. It’s my circus elephant sugar n’ cinnamon shaker. It’s much older than I am and belonged to my mother when she was very young. My sisters love it as much as I do, but I was the first of us bold enough to take it from my mother’s kitchen, so I deserve it.
While I’m in the kitchen, I may as well save my French yellow sugar bowl which I love so much. In fact, I’ll save my Michael Graves coffee maker from Target as well, and the coffee is right there, and my coffee grinder obviously and I may as well throw in the mugs I like because they’re within easy reach. And in the fridge, there’s currently a jar of homemade strawberry jam that my sister made too. I’ll take that. And the Guinness Cheddar. It’s divine.
On my way out of the kitchen, I may as well grab any booze I have in the dining room sideboard. I’ll want something to drink while I sit on the curb being comforted by my friends who have made the journey over because they saw me on the news. Currently I have one bottle of amaretto and one bottle of banana liqueur. I’ll likely just grab the amaretto though. I don’t want to be unrealistic.
As I’m fleeing toward the door I’ll be sure to remove the long mirror off the dining room wall. This way, whatever one-room shanty I may have to move into will look twice as big and will help to keep my spirits up following this tragedy.
Reaching the front door, I’ll step into whatever shoes are in the hall – I’m not picky – and step outside. And there on the street, with my neighbours all around me, I’ll pour myself an amaretto, and ready myself to speak to the nation.