Click if you’d rather listen!
Zeroing in on the water through the kettle’s see-thru plastic strip doesn’t do a thing to hurry along the process and make that water boil
The Clickety-clack of high heels on concrete floor says company might be on its way. And sure enough, a woman arrives and plops her lunch sack on the counter. Her straight shoulder-length hair is the colour of corn silk, the kind of hair I’d once coveted.
“Hey Karalee,” say the woman.
“Hi,” I say, scouring my memory vault for her name.
“Did you put the kettle on to boil?” she asks.
I do the polite bit and nod.
“Would you mind if I put more water in for my coffee?”
“Not at all,” I answer, grabbing the kettle before she can and topping it off under the tap.
After setting it back on its base, I lean against the wall demarking kitchen space from office cubicles and try not to watch her unpack her lunch. Course that’s impossible being the alternative is boiling water vigil.
Out comes a freezer bag of home-made granola, glass container filled with blueberries, and a bag of coffee grounds. She empties the yogurt and fruit into a bowl, dumps the grounds into a paper filter, and then plops the cone into a pour-over funnel sitting atop her mug. Her economy of movement says she’s done this a hundreds of times before.
“How you finding it here?” she asks over her shoulder.
“Awkward new job jitters,” I answer, as the flurry of boiling bubbles clicks off the kettle.
“Go ahead and have first go at the water,” I urge.
She does, though filling my cup first as any good East Coaster would do, and then she pours a steaming stream of hot water into her loaded filter. The earthy aroma of coffee wafts into the stale office air. I pick up my mug of Rooibos tea and head back to my office, quintessential work cliché leaving my mouth on cue.
“Have a great Monday.”
The rituals of work. Ach, how I have missed them.
It’s been fifteen months two weeks, four days and ten hours since I had somewhere to go Monday to Friday, and practically forever since I’ve had a bona fide regular weekly paycheque.
But who’s counting?
There’s no manual on the brass tacks of a start over life. It’s a learn as you go roller coaster survival ride by wit and chutzpa, complicated by the confounding ‘what you don’t know until you know’ conundrum of a new place.
Think piecing together a puzzle without a picture.
Granted, I’ve blustered my way to some success. Project Friend has been fruitful beyond my wildest imaginings. But finding work, well, through the last year and a half, that’s proved be an utterly baffling undertaking.
Back to the paradox.
By January of this year, I finally got it. I’m a mainlander, better known as Come from Away. Roots here mean a lot. In fact, they mean everything. There was no way to retrofit my ancestry hundreds years back in this province. Missing the historical connections of family and belongingness to Nova Scotia and the East Coast meant missing the behind the scenes web that grants full access.
This was a vexing discovery, and there was little I could do about it.
By March, I was still without work, and I realized, if I can’t beat ‘em or join ‘em, maybe it’s time to wave the white flag.
And so, I decided to make plans to return the land of milk, honey and jobs. Ontario.
When it rains, it more than pours in Nova Scotia, especially when you live next to the sea.
It’s a fifteen-minute walk to work. And even with knee-high rubber boots and a rain slicker long enough to cover the top inch or so of said boots, I still get drenched.
The water comes at me sideways, the spot at the bottom of my slicker just below where the zipper ends and boots begin is in the crosshairs. Drops collect at the top of my umbrella, gathering into a sheet that pours into my boots from behind.
I pull the umbrella closer to my body, hanging on to it with one hand because I know what’s coming next. Right on cue, a blow-your-house-down gust rips my umbrella inside out. Turning around, I hold the skeleton against the wind and the fabric peels back, right side out again. A rinse and repeat happens all the way to work.
Eventually, though, you figure it out and put away the ironic umbrella. Forever. You learn no matter about getting wet cuz you’ll dry out soon enough. And besides, those big fat puddles are super fun to tromp through in rubber boots.
The day might even come that you start to look forward to rain.
The problem with returning to Ontario was that I wanted to take the whole beautiful mess of my East Coast life, and all I’d learned here, along with my new friends, the sea and the whacko weather back with me to Ontario. And of course, that was impossible.
I told a few of my Nova Scotia friends, some of my friends in Ontario and my family the BIG news—the end of the East Coast adventure had arrived. The ones who knew me best rallied around with encouraging words.
“You’re doing all the right things. Hang on long enough and something is gonna come around. It has to,” they told me.
Easy for them to say. What I’d found out was that none of the rules I’d learned in Ontario applied here. The nitty-gritty of gainful employment required a grueling amplification of work-arounds by a factor of exponential to get over the Come from Away factor, give or take a fairy dusting of blind luck.
And I was plain tuckered out. Drained by the work vigil. I’d lost hope. I’d stopped wishing. I had no time left in me for waiting. I was done.
The thing is, though, you want to go somewhere else because you want to go somewhere else, not because you have no choice.
“My name is Tubby,” he says as he reaches out and swallows my right hand in his man-mitt. “Sorry, I mean Andy… mum called me Tubby way back when, and it stuck.”
He’s a bear of a man, his hand so huge it swallows mine up within it. He hangs on to it an extra beat or two, and I start to wonder if I’ll ever get it back again. He’s about six feet tall and almost the same across his wide shoulders—shoulders I can’t fail to notice are covered in rippling man-muscles.
And me—I’m covered in mulch from the 28 bags I’d dumped in my garden. I’m wearing my weekend grubbies, with my hair dragged into a dirty topknot, and I’ve got yesterday’s smudgy mascara making the dark circles under my eyes even darker.
“Nice little yard,” he says, “…you’ve been working on it, haven’t you? So, show me the branches you want taken down.”
I’d only called him yesterday, and wonder of wonders, he was here today already, just like he said he’d be, on a gloriously sunny and warm Sunday afternoon..
We work companionably in my back yard. I fight to rip out the decades old English Ivy that’s been eating my garage from the outside in, while he loops himself up and into the tree with a boatload of tree climbing gear–carabiners, click saddle, helmet, rope, rigging hub and, coolest of all, a couple of pole saw blades he’s strapped to his calves.
By the time he’s done pruning limbs from what’s probably at least a century old Maple tree, it’s almost dusk. And although I’ve won the battle with the English Ivy, my lawn looks like scrambled eggs for it. The roots had twisted and twined beneath the grass, and I’d wrestled with sections as fat as my arms that had snaked through the lawn, reaching for greener pastures other than my rickety old garage. I expect my body to soon be aching in places that will be terribly uncomfortable.
“I’ll take that away for you,” he says, nodding at ivy detritus I’d piled in the middle of the lawn.
Weekends. They sure feel different and special with that Monday to Friday drill in between.
On Monday morning, my body is indeed sore, but it feels great, and I head out the back door for work. With the canopy raised, even with a munched up lawn, it’s a fresh sunshine yellow palette.
The week begins with a morning chat at Dilly Dally café, where I often pick up a muffin on the way to work. Tuesday brings a handshake and pleasant chat with a bona fide prince, and the week finishes on Friday with round-up with girlfriends at the ChainYard cidery on Agricola, a short walk from my house.
Saturday evening, I’m at a teeny intimate house concert, humming along to Steve Poltz singing “You were meant for me,” a song he wrote with Jewel. Between sets, I end up having an intense, one-on-one chit-chat with him, mostly about my hair.
Later, on the drive home along the Bedford Highway, I get to watch the sea. It’s one of those deep dark nights when it looks like someone punched a fork through the sky, and the starlight streams in through the holes.
Sunday morning, as I’m walking through The Commons, just about to begin my morning run, a woman walking the path starts a chit-chat.
“I’m Alexa,” she says. “I really like people, and I’m on my way to play at church. You should come by… I play My Father’s Moustache too… washboards.”
And that is when I remember how everything that goes around seems to come around, sooner or later. In fact, I’d seen Alexa play at Your Father’s Moustache about two years ago, and I’d written about her in a blog post. When I get home, I re-read the post and realize everything I’d said about that life in Halifax, is still my truth.
Naturally, after taking my eyes off the work vigil and opening myself up to whatever the Goddess had in store next, if even a move back to Ontario, in poured more work here in Halifax than I knew what to do with, except I knew what to do with it.
I said yes to a mishmash conglomeration of enough ‘this, that and t’ others’ to keep me going for the time being because here in the East Coast—that’s just what you do.
Oh, and note to self to never to forget something—a watched kettle never boils.
PS Link to the post with Alexa. Musings on Magic
PPS Link if you’d like to check out one of my gigs… writing for Nova Scotia paper, The Chronicle Herald, including weekly column. Karalee’s writing stuff and such
Photo and Video Gallery.