Earthquake

The ornamental cherry trees are a rich pink. Underneath, there are swaths of white snow drops. The sky is blue and the sun not yet summer-warm is still welcome. People are starting to clean up the debris in their gardens.

Today, off the coast of Vancouver Island there was another earthquake. Far enough out that no one got shook up. But there have been a number of earthquakes lately. People live here for the mild winters, trading snow for rain, clear blue skies for clouds. We have green winters. Green on green, every shade imaginable. That’s because of the winter rains.

People come from the prairies to escape the blizzards, the thirty or forty below temperature that keep them trapped inside. They fill up the motels and hotels that rent by the week or month. Some motels have nothing but prairie people, people who come back every year from Winnipeg, Red Deer, Saskatoon. They hold pool tournaments for them, arrange social events.

Even in the rain, walking is possible. An older crowd knows that it needs to walk, get out and exercise. If you are determined, you can even play tennis in the rain. Slow, soggy ball but that’s okay. Most visitors are of the age where a slow ball is just fine.

They check the weather every morning, comment on it as soon as they go downstairs to the lounge. “Thirty-eight below in Medicine Hat today”, they say as they trade weather statistics.

Why not go further south, cross the border to the USA, get some real warm weather. Health insurance is expensive. Crime. They read about robberies and muggings and guns, guns and more guns. They want to be somewhere that if they have a heart attack and don’t die, that they won’t be bankrupted. They don’t want to go to a big city like San Diego or Los Angeles. They’re not looking for excitement. The quiet, boring life of Victoria with its veneer of tourist Britishness suits them.

They like high tea at the Empress. A light lunch at Murchie’s. A lamb burger at the Irish pub. There are pseudo-UK shops on Wharf Street, shops where you can buy Scots tartans and Irish Beleek.

The druggies are nearly invisible. They’ve also come for the weather. Trying to sleep outside in Winnipeg in January is suicidal. Here they can sleep under a bridge or, more likely, in a shelter. There’s always food and, if they hang around long enough, a welfare cheque. Mostly, though, the tourists never encounter them.

Like most tourists, the Canadians from East of the Rockies leave worrying about the day to day problems to the locals. They’re just here for a day, week, a couple of months, then they’re gone again. If it even crosses their mind, they just hope that there’s no serious earthquake while they’re here. They read an earthquake headline, look out the window and no one is in a panic. People are walking their dogs.

For those of us that live here, it’s a bit different. We know we’ll be here when an earthquake hits. Little ones don’t matter. They happen all the time. I wake up during the night and my furniture is shaking. I roll over and go to sleep. It’s the big one that lies in the back of our minds. Not 7s or 8s but 9s, the kind of earthquake that made a mess of Japan’s coastline, that drove a tsunami inland, a great rising tide that nothing could stand against.

Fifty feet. That’s a number that sticks in our minds when we buy a house. All three of my houses have been away from the ocean, up higher than fifty feet. That’s likely the high water mark for a major tsunami. It’s the rich people along the water who will have their mansions swept away.

The other thing we pay attention to is the map showing areas of Victoria where the ground would liquefy. A lot of buildings are built on soil that would turn to mush. Buildings will sink, tilt, disintegrate. It’s all been worked out. My place is built on solid granite. However, the one end of the house rests on concrete pillars. I doubt if it would stay in place if there was significant shaking over minutes instead of a few seconds. My son’s house, even though it is on a steep slope, doesn’t rest on pillars. Instead, it is pinned to pillars like a massive cradle. It should swing with the movement of the earth.

We depend on ferries to provide all our supplies, to get us to the mainland. A severe shaking could put the ferry terminals out of commission. Experience during storms have shown that the stores start to run out of food in four days. Food in your fridge and freezer will go bad in a couple of days unless you have a generator. And fuel. Electricity will be out. No lights, no electric heat, no elevators, no lots of things. In my earthquake training, we were told we could not expect any help for at least seven days, maybe three weeks. The closest staging area is Edmonton.

Water is the biggest problem. We get our water from lakes. The water main into town will break. Not might break. It will break. How many people have three weeks water in their basement or their garage? Not me. You need water to drink. Forget washing. You need water to cook with. I usually have a twenty-four of soft drinks around. I can cook rice with diet Coke if I have to. If you turn on your kitchen taps and there’s no water, what do you do? Calling the plumber won’t help.

Yup, Victoria is pretty nice. The tourists strolling down Fort looking in the antique shops love it. I love it. But there, in the back of my mind, sort of like a ghost drifting in and out of the picture as I eat hormone free burgers at Bubba’s, poke around the brick buildings of Chinatown, is that plate beneath our feet, ready, one of these days, to lurch forward and I and thousands of others will think, as our legs turn to rubber, I shoulda bought water.  

Hair

“Do you remember when you had hair?”

It was awhile ago for most of us. But those were the days. The 1950s. Hey, hey. We were hot. Drapes, as wide at the knee as possible, as tight at the cuff as possible. A chain looping down from our pocket. For awhile, a high waist, like a high, high waist. Like any higher and it was going to be under our armpits. Tailor made. These pants didn’t come off any rack. I had a blue pair and a black pair that had small white checks. Look out baby. This one hundred and fourteen pound teenager was ready to rock your heart.

What I didn’t have was good hair. No good hair, no girls.

Good hair, you don’t know what good hair was? Okay, today, standing in the checkout line behind a grocery cart filled with toilet paper, paper towels, bags of potatoes, there are all these guys with shiny pates, the glare army that could blind the Syrian charging down from the fold. They wouldn’t need to hold up their shields, just all bend over toward the sun and let their shiny scalps blind the enemy. It’s hard to believe but there was a time when some of those guys piling Metamusal, PeptoBismal, and denture glue onto the checkout counter had killer hair.

My hair was so curly, so kinky, so frizzy that even though my father barbered part time when he wasn’t commercial fishing he couldn’t do anything with it. He said, “It’s like mowing a lawn.”

Killer hair was the kind that you could cut short at the sides and leave long on top so it could be swept back over the head. Killer, killer hair was the kind you could pull forward into a big wave just above your forehead, the kind of wave a girl could surf on. The very, very best hair had a big surfer wave and two or three smaller waves behind it. Hair like this walked down the school corridor and you could hear the sweater sets, the barrettes, the pleated skirts, the bobby socks sighing. Some held onto each other so they wouldn’t sink to the floor in ecstasy.

There wasn’t many a three wave head of hair but there was one that played the guitar and by the end of grade twelve four of the sweater sets were pregnant. His hair could have started its own polygamous community. He’d seen a Tony Curtis movie and had got himself a duck’s ass haircut. He parted it on one side, combed the top over the other side, then combed the sides straight back so they met in the middle of the back of the head. Long, golden hair, swept back rakishly, teasingly falling forward in a wave cemented in place. Girls found his Greaser style irresistible. It’s a good thing some irate fathers had a chat with him or his hair would have deflowered the entire school.

·         Buzz it upShare on LinkedinShare via MySpaceshare via RedditShare with StumblersShare on technoratiTumblr itTweet about itBuzz it upSubscribe to the comments on this postCombs were big. We all had combs. You never went anywhere without a comb. There was no point in combing my hair. It was like combing a Brillo pad but I carried a comb anyway. It was a small black comb that fit into my back pocket. The killer hair guys didn’t carry just any comb. They had the kind that folded together then, at the flic of a wrist, snapped open like a switch blade. It took practice. They’d be standing in a circle at the front of the school holding court, reach into their pocket, pull out their comb, snap it open, then run it casually through their hair.

There were fads, of course. There was the flat top. Long, long on the sides, held up by adolescent ears. The top like a brush cut. It didn’t last. Somewhere, in someone’s photo albums there are embarrassing pictures of this haircut.

Even though the crew cuts had disappeared except for ex-service types, neat and tidy was in. We’d all been militarized during the 40s. At school, we lined up, held our left arm out to the shoulder of the person next to us then, on command, turned left and marched into the school. Up the stairs, into the classrooms. When the war ended, there were a lot of disappointed teachers. The schools functioned much more smoothly when it was all hup hup, eyes right, stand when spoken to, we’re getting you ready to become cannon fodder on the front lines. If the war had lasted much longer, they’d have had us saluting the teachers. There were some of us the teachers hoped would become cannon fodder. Us being guys with bad hair.

 Good hair was sleek. Good hair was shiny. Good hair was tidy. Good  hair had Byrlcreem. At noon hours, the radio was boisterous with an ad that sang, “Brylcreem, a little dab with do ya.” Nobody called it a pomade. A pomade was for sissy guys. These guys were tough. Some guys thought more was better. They glistened. Once they got their hair plastered in place with a tube of Brylcreem it was staying in place. I remember wondering if Brylcreem was made with petroleum products and since nearly everyone was smoking—free cigarettes had been given to servicemen, great product advertising, everyone in the movies smoked, there was a campaign to get everyone smoking, there were even practice cigarettes made out of licorce—would one of the guys suddenly have his hair go up in flames when he was lighting up?

Of course, there was the part. Right? Or left? Or, in my case, nowhere at all. A lot of guys experimented with the part. One even tried it down the centre. It looked like he’d been hit by an axe. I was part-disadvantaged. I couldn’t come to school with a part in a different place and excite both interest and comment. Discussions about parts could last all through the noon hour. If a girl talked breathlessly about a guy’s part, he knew she was his.

Maybe it’s the economy but my barber tells me highly styled, slicked back hair is making something of a come back. Too late for me, like most of the pompadours, duck tales, flat tops, my hair has joined the cult of the tonsure, the inherent, genetic drive toward monasticism. When I gather with my friends nowadays, I think of our lost hair and with it the excitement and promise of romance, love, sex, replaced by a group of guys that look like they should be wearing monk’s robes to go with their fringe. If I could, I’d warn the young men of today that all the pomades, all the gels, all the dollars spent on hair artists will shortly go the way of the widow’s peak, the advancing crown, the shiny pate. But it wouldn’t do any good. They’d have to stop looking in the mirror to listen.