The Bill Withers Song

A few weeks ago there was a week (I do know that there are weeks almost every week, but I’m speaking about one particular week, a few weeks ago) whether I heard the song, “Lean on Me” everywhere… At the grocery store, on the radio, in TJ Maxx. Everywhere… (okay, not everywhere but in lots of places)…

It’s a pretty great song to hear everywhere (in lots of places). The song is pretty encouraging and it’s got a funky beat that just won’t quit. It was one of my favorite songs growing up.

You might be thinking, “It’s weird that your favorite song as a 8 year-old child in Northern British Columbia was a piano ballad by Bill Withers.”

Well, to you I would say that even as a child, I was wise beyond my years, and mature enough to appreciate the depth and beauty of those heartfelt lyrics, and that 8 year-old Kim Manky felt those heartfelt lyrics deep in that heart of hers (mine – I don’t know when I switched to third person)…

Sometimes in our lives we all have pain (true)

We all have sorrow (also true)

But if we are wise 
(if)

We know that there’s always tomorrow (unless there’s an Armageddon-type situation)

Lean on me, when you’re not strong (I could possibly help)

And I’ll be your friend (sure, unless you’re crazy)

I’ll help you carry on (will do)

For it won’t be long
 ’til I’m gonna need
 somebody to lean on (I might)

You just call on me brother when you need a hand (or help with something)

We all need somebody to lean on
 (sometimes)

I just might have a problem that you’ll understand 
(I’m good at math, calculus, etc)

We all need somebody to lean on (sometimes)

If there is a load you have to bear 
that you can’t carry
 (like boxes or bags of things)

I’m right up the road (I live in Glendale)

I’ll share your load (I can carry a box or bag)

If you just call me (818-649-1084)

Call me if you need a friend… (or if you just want to go to the movies or something)

See? I totally get it.

Because it’s true. We all need someone to lean on sometimes… For instance, when you’re crazy drunk, or you’ve broken your leg, or you were born with one of your legs longer than the other one, or you’re changing your shoes and you don’t want to get your sock dirty, or you’re dizzy from spinning, or you’re just really tired… There are a lot of reasons that you might need someone to lean on.

If you don’t have someone to lean on, you’ll fall over… and if you’re standing near a lake or the edge of a cliff, it could get really dangerous.

So, just call me.

The One-Way Street

They say friendship is a two-way street. Meaning, it runs both directions.

Like friendships, not all streets run both ways. Sometimes you don’t see the signs, and then you accidentally turn down a street that runs only one-way and you’re like, $@#*, and you try to get out of there, but it’s almost impossible.

In friendship, when you come across a one-way street – in this case, a person – you should do the same thing… Look for the signs! If you don’t see the signs (were you even looking for the signs?!), and you accidentally turn down a one way street, check your mirrors, and get the h-e-double hockey sticks out of there… Before you get in a real jam (revealing personal information, etc.). You’re either going to hit a dead end, or get hit in your rear. Either way, it’s a pain in the @$$.

Sometimes you have a “friend” that is much worse than a one-way street… He (or she) is like a freeway. It’s all me, me, me and they only get off the freeway to get more gas. You give them a little gas, and you expect something (like, friendship) in return, but then they just get back on the freeway without so much as a wave. These people often drive BMWs. (In this scenario you were the gas attendant.)

(When there is an emergency, I totally get people behaving like a freeway, and I will happily give them gas, snacks, or a Big Gulp for the road.)

Streets – and friendships – that run both ways are easier to navigate, and much less confusing. You know where you’re going and what to expect. You don’t have to check your mirrors as much, or  make any illegal U-turns. You can always find what you’re looking for, and parking is never an issue.

It’s no coincidence that Los Angeles was recently ranked number 4 in the Worst Cities for Car Drivers. There are sooooooooooooo many one-way streets, freeways, and BMWs!

My advice?

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The Cottage

We had just moved to England.

We had travelled 7,573 kilometres from Vancouver, British Columbia to London Heathrow. We were tired, we were jet-lagged, and we were experiencing the “Oh S#@* Moment” I wrote about a few weeks ago.

We can’t be held responsible for the decisions we made.

We were staying at a friend’s house, but we needed to find a permanent residence ASAP (as soon as possible), so that we could get on with the whole “living in England” thing.

We were out strolling in the English countryside (as you do) when we came across a lovely little (wee) village called Bray.

Bray is literally one of the most charming villages you’ll ever set eyes on. In fact, it was once named the most charming village in England, which is 100% accurate, because it is extremely charming.

Bray is also home to celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant The Fat Duck, which was voted the best restaurant in the world in 2005, which is saying something because there are quite a few restaurants in this extremely large world of ours.

So, we’re strolling through Bray and we see The Fat Duck (the famous restaurant, not an overweight aquatic bird), and then we see this adorable little cottage two doors down with a “To Let” sign in the window.

(Note: “To Let” means pretty much the same thing as “To Rent”, except it’s different, because it’s British.)

The adorable little cottage was really too adorable, with frilly little curtains, and brick walls, and a tiny little front door. It was almost sickening how adorable it was…

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From left: The cottage, some other cottage, The Fat Duck

As we were peeking into the front window to have a better look, Heston Blumenthal strolled by and said “hello”. So then I said, “hello”. He asked us if we were going to “let” the cottage, and I said, “yes,” we were going to let the cottage. And then he said we’d be neighbours and then I said, “yes” again. And then I took a picture with my soon-to-be-neighbor Heston Blumenthal.

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Me n’ Heston

We immediately called the estate agent, and “let” the cottage.

We were going to live the fairytale life, in a fairytale little cottage, in a fairytale little village, next to one of the best restaurants in the world… because that’s what you do when you move to England.

Sometimes it seems like a really great idea to live in a 500 year old cottage in a tiny little village in Berkshire, England.

Sometimes the reality of living in a 500 year old cottage is much, much different than what you anticipated…

For instance:

The draughts (the British spelling of “draft”). In every room, at all times.

The moist. Everything, all the time, always.

The damp. Not quite the same as “moist”, but equally terrible, and cold, and miserable.

The mould (British spelling of “mold”). Black, smelly, toxic to all creatures.

The slugs. Because the house was 500 freaking years old, the doors and windows didn’t seal, and those suckers can slip through the tiniest of cracks. The first morning living in the “fairytale little cottage”, I came downstairs to find approximately ten slugs crawling around the front room. As I started chucking them back outside, the mailman came by and offered to help, so the two of us chucked all the slugs out (but of course, they returned the next morning).

The very, very low ceilings and doorways. Apparently people were much shorter in the 1500s.

The kitchen. It was outside, in another building, a short walk from the cottage (I have no idea why anyone thought this was a good idea). Because when I cook, I want to have to put on a raincoat, boots, hat and gloves on and then walk a short distance, and then cook something, and then bring it back inside the house to eat it, and take off my raincoat, boots, hat and gloves, and then eat the meal that I made, and then put back on my raincoat, boots, hat and gloves and walk the short distance back to the kitchen to do the washing up.

The lack of hot water. Because nothing works in a house that old.

We lived the “fairytale” life, in a “fairytale” little cottage, in a “fairytale” little village, next to one of the best restaurants in the world… for approximately three weeks.

We came away from the experience a little bit older (three weeks older), and a little bit wiser (three weeks wiser).

Fairytales are a f#@*ing lie.

The Y2K

Y2K.

Remember how scared we were?

Remember how we all stocked our cupboards with canned goods and bottled water, and bought a generator, and withdrew all of our money from the bank and buried it in a jar in the back yard, and then built an elaborate underground bunker system to survive the imminent nuclear holocaust, and spent the eve of December 31, 1999 down in the “hole” eating cheese (for what we thought might be the last time) and hugging our loved ones (for what we thought might be the last time)?

No? Just my family then?

(Note to self: Remember where jar of money is buried. Dig up jar of money. Pay off credit card.)

For months before January 1, we were all told that once the clock struck 2000, we were screwed (to put it mildly). The computers were going to crash and/or spontaneously combust, causing power outages, financial ruin, prison breaks and nuclear disasters.

Prince (or the artist formerly known as Prince) was warning us way back in 1982: “two thousand zero zero, party over, oops, out of time. So tonight I’m going to party like it’s nineteen ninety-nine.” When you hear the song 1999, you just hear a timeless dance party anthem by one of the most innovative and eclectic artists of our time – but pay attention to those haunting lyrics: “War is all around us, my mind says prepare to fight. So if I gotta die I’m going to listen to my body tonight.”

(I’m not sure what Prince meant by “I’m going to listen to my body tonight” but I appreciate his enthusiasm.)

We prepared for the worst… And then the clock stuck midnight. And we  dusted the crackers off our shirts, lived in the bunker for another six weeks, and then opened the bullet-proof vault door to find that humanity was alive and well.

And here we are… Fifteen years later. Older, wiser… And with more faith in computers.

I think we all learned a lesson that day.

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The Oh S#@* Moment

Nearly five years ago (on March 28, 2010), the husband and I decided to move to England.

We sold most of our things, quit our jobs, bought one-way tickets and then got on a plane and travelled the 7,573 kilometers from Vancouver, British Columbia to London, England.

We arrived to London Heathrow jet-lagged, irritable, and slightly buzzed from the free wine (thank you British Airways). My wonderful friend Erin picked us up from the airport and delivered us to our temporary accommodations in Windsor, Berkshire. We immediately collapsed in a heap and slept for 12 hours.

The next morning, the husband and I decided we needed some fresh air, so we took a walk into town.

I remember the specific moment…

We were walking along Thames Street in Windsor when we spotted a store called TK Maxx (not to be confused with TJ Maxx, which is pretty much the same, except different). We were both in need of some socks and underwear (we packed light), so we decided to go have a tickety boo. The men’s department was downstairs so the husband said he’d go have a look around and find me in a few minutes.

As I looked through the assortment of ladies “knickers”, it hit me…

I was like, “Oh S#@*!”

We had just moved to England… We had left our friends, and family, and friends that are just like family, and our favorite pizza place, and our favorite pannekoek house, and our favorite place to watch birds, and our jobs, and our home behind. I nearly fainted. I had to grab onto a nearby rack to support me. When my legs stopped shaking, I went and found the husband, who told me that he had had a similar response. We immediately went and had a cocktail.

We lived in England for three years, and had the time of our lives. We made new friends, we travelled to amazing European destinations, we took walks in the country, we drank ale in quaint little pubs, and we learned a lot about ourselves, and each other.

Three years later, a work opportunity arose in Los Angeles and we decided to go.

We sold most of our things, quit our jobs, bought one-way tickets and then got on a plane and travelled the 8,766 kilometers from London, England to Los Angeles, California.

We arrived to LAX jet-lagged, irritable, and slightly buzzed from the free wine (thank you Alaska Air). We picked up our rental car, drove to our temporary accommodations, and promptly fell asleep.

The next morning, I turned on our TV and watched as a local weatherman pointed to a map of California, and presented the forecast…

I was like, “Oh S#@*!”

We had moved to Los Angeles… We had left our friends, and friends that are just like family, and our favorite Indian takeaway, and our favorite pub, and our favorite place to watch birds, and our jobs, and our home behind.

We have lived in LA for two years, and we are enjoying it immensely. We’ve made new friends, we’ve travelled to amazing American destinations, we’ve taken walks on the beach, and we’ve learned a lot about ourselves, and each other.

There are defining moments in your life… Moments when you decide to take a BIG risk…

Like when you tell someone you love them.

Or quit your job to start your own business.

Or go back to school.

Or get married.

Or have a baby.

Or buy a house.

Or buy a trampoline!

Or move to the other side of the world.

You cross your fingers, and you pray a little pray, and you hope a little hope… and then you jump in feet first.

And yes, you might say, “Oh S#@*!” but Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all (Helen Keller).

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The Reciprocation

I don’t know if you believe in God… But I do.

God has repeatedly saved me from getting what I wanted, or thought that I wanted – more specifically, guys that I thought I wanted to marry (see last week’s post about almost getting married at 18).

In my teens and early twenties, I met a lot of men (as you do), and I developed very strong feelings for many of them (as you do), and sometimes it was reciprocated, and sometimes it wasn’t.

When it was not reciprocated, I’d be really, really sad… I’d sit in my room listening to sad music, and I’d wonder what was wrong with me, and I’d tell myself this was definitely the guy and I’d never forget him, and most of the time (within a week or so) I’d forget him.

And: I feel happy about that now (thankful even) because I did not get what I wanted, or what I thought I wanted.

Imagine if I had gotten what I wanted when I was 15…

I’d be living in a trailer down by the river with way too many kids and my boyfriend of twenty years (he has a “fear of commitment”) would be too busy working on trucks and smoking cigarettes in his “man cave” to notice that I’m high on prescription drugs most of the time. I’d spend my days staring at the stippled ceiling, wishing that I went off to college, and travelled the world, and met new people, and learned another language, and wasn’t stuck making chilli on a tiny, trailer-sized hot plate every night.

I think I dodged a bullet there.

Sometimes it’s much, much better to not get what you want (or what you thought you wanted).

So, thanks God (and also: thanks to my Mom and Dad, whose combined genetic code meant that I was definitely not the most popular/attractive/fashionable girl in the world, or in the immediate vicinity*, and was therefore not subject to a lot of reciprocated strong feelings).

(Sorry Eddie Vedder, I’m sure you’re a really great guy, but what with all the touring and practicing and late nights and being a rock star, and me being fifteen years younger than you and enjoying quiet nights at home, I’m not sure that it would have ever worked out for us…)

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* If you know my parents, you know that they are both incredibly good-looking, but their combined genetic code did not produce similar results.

I’m of the opinion that when two really good-looking people reproduce, they often achieve disappointing results (ie. a plain or homely child). Whereas, when two hideously ugly people (or: one hideous beast and one average-looking person) reproduce it often results in a good-looking child.

The Purse

I had my first real boyfriend in my first year of college. His name was Eric, and he was admittedly, a little bit weird.

Our relationship was based mostly around making out with occasional, infrequent conversations about the meaning of life (just kidding – we talked about what happened on Friends and the weather).

At one point, while making out, we came up for air and he said he wanted to marry me (yes, I am that good of a kisser).

I was 18 year-old, and I remember considering it.

I remember thinking to myself: “I’m totally ready for this. I’m 18 years-old. I already know everything. I am totally ready to be someone’s wife. I’m going to be such a good wife. I’ve seen my mom be a wife, and it looks super easy. You just have to cook a big meal on Sundays. It’s not hard, at all. You just have to wear a ring and not have sex with anyone else… That’s easy. I kind of like this guy too. I should totally get married. I love weddings. Also – he has a car, and I need a car.”

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and it totally does.

I remember Eric going home for the weekend… (This was before the days of texting and sexting – so we were incommunicado), and when he got back to the dorms on Sunday night, we ran into each other’s arms like he had been in Iraq for a year-and-a-half.

After we made out in the hallway for at least eight minutes, we pulled apart and Eric excitedly presented me with a wrapped gift. It was my first real present from a “boyfriend” (which was a pretty big deal for me at the time)…

I ripped off the paper and saw it… A leather, patchwork purse.

It looked a lot like this:

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(I should note: I’ve never been able to fake excitement – which is probably why I never got into acting or sales. I am honest, to a fault. Meaning, I tell the truth no matter what. Meaning, I have offended some (many) with my honesty. Meaning, Christmas at my house is a lot of “oh”, and then asking for the gift receipt.)

I remember thanking Eric, and trying to find something nice to say about it.

I also remember thinking: He doesn’t get me.

I remember thinking that I should probably base a relationship on more than just passionate neck-biting… I should probably find someone that I am genuinely interested in, and who is interested in me… I should probably find someone who shares my sense of humor… I should probably find someone who pushes me to be better… I should probably find someone who wants the same things that I want… I should probably find someone who is also my best friend... I should probably find someone who gets me

And, guess what? I did.

 

The Backstory

I have a habit…

(Some would say that it’s an annoying habit…)

When I see someone (which is almost every day), I immediately formulate a backstory – who they are, what they are doing, where did they come from, why are they so tanned…?

Which is exactly what I did with these two guys at Kits Pool many, many moons ago… (118 to be exact)

I think the fellow to the left (I feel like his name is Javier) is upset at the fellow trailing behind him (definitely a Rodrigo). Rodrigo “forgot” to bring Javier a towel. Javier specifically asked Rodrigo to bring him a towel, but Rodrigo had other things on his mind… specifically, Javier’s wife Gloria.

Javier and Rodrigo first met in España, in the 1970s, when they were both working as swimsuit models for fashion house Blanco. On June 21, 1975, Javier and Rodrigo were eating bull’s tail stew and Patatas Alioli at a little tapas bar in Barcelona, when Rodrigo looked up and saw her… Gloria… She flamencoed into his heart, but before Rodrigo could confess his love, Javier swooped in with promises of a better life… For 40 years Rodrigo has yearned for her… How is he supposed to remember to bring a beach towel?

I think you get the picture…

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I took this picture at Kits Pool in Vancouver, 2003.

The Alarm

There is so much to this story… So much.

There was the alarm, of course (hence the title).

There was the fact that it was New Year’s Eve.

There was the fact that we had been consuming alcoholic beverages for most of the afternoon and evening.

There was the fact that we were backstage at the O2 arena in London, En-GLAND.

And, oh yeah… Elton John was there. You know… the English singer, songwriter, composer, pianist, producer, philanthropist, and Knight… Yeah, that guy.

I digress…

In December 2009, my husband and I went to En-GLAND to visit my long-time friend (let’s call her Erin. because that’s her name). Erin lives in a sweet, little village in Suffolk with her En-GLISH husband and their small child.

(I should note: Erin spoils us. She is a fantastic cook, she likes to have fun, she is an easy laugh*, and she has been known to put a mini fridge full of cocktails in the guest bedroom… In other words, she is the perfect host.)

(I should also note: This all took place before we lived in En-GLAND for three years so we didn’t know how things worked… ie. healthcare, TV licenses, and toilets…)

Because Erin is a wonderful, thoughtful human being, and because her husband happens to work at the O2, she went ahead and got us tickets for Elton John’s New Year’s Eve concert. We were so excited. I mean, who doesn’t like Elton John?!?! (Answer: homophobes.)

The day of the concert arrived, and because there was a mini fridge full of cocktails in our room, and because it was New Year’s Eve, and because you only live once… We were celebrating.

Erin’s husband was the designated driver, and we (me, my husband, and Erin) were the designated drinkers.

It takes about an hour and a half to get from Erin’s house to the O2, and because it’s legal for passengers to drink alcohol whilst travelling in a motor vehicle (as far as I know… please don’t quote me on that), we arrived to the O2 feeling slightly tipsy and in desperate need of a toilet. Erin’s husband parked in the employee parking lot and ushered us to the nearest washroom.

This is where it gets interesting (sorry for all the boring bits leading up to this).

My dear husband went to use the restroom first.

Erin and I were waiting patiently (even though our bladders were about to burst), when suddenly an alarm went off… Security lights started flashing and a siren blasted through the corridors. I banged on the door, yelling to my husband that we needed to vacate the premises.

As my husband exited the bathroom, a security guard rushed over and asked if everything was okay. My husband shrugged and said, “yeah.”

The security guard said that the alarm was pulled inside the restroom…

So, yeah… my husband mistakenly pulled the emergency pull cord instead of flushing the toilet, and now an alarm was going off throughout the O2 arena.

…Right as Elton John was about to take the stage for his New Year’s Eve concert.

(In my husband’s defence, there are a lot of different ways to flush a toilet in En-GLAND, and many toilets do have a pull cord or a chain or a string, and it can get very confusing.)

I imagine Elton John was backstage singing, “Hold me closer, Tony Danza”, when the alarm went off… His handlers rushed in and escorted him outside to safety… Elton shivered in the cold, damp British winter for several minutes before security said he could return inside… But by then, Elton was angry and demanded to know who was responsible…. And, after checking the CCTV footage, Elton vowed his revenge upon us…**

I digress.

The security guard quickly deactivated the alarm and (after my husband made his apologies and we all had hearty laugh about the differences in plumbing in Canada and En-GLAND), the show went on… Elton was spectacular.

And I think we all learned a lesson that day***.

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* My favorite kind of people.

** We’re still waiting for Elton’s revenge.

*** Although, to be honest – I’m not sure what.

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The Ice Machine

I love my sister all the time.

Yes, there have been times when I have loved my sister a little bit less… like, when she pulled my hair and pinched me and scratched me with her surprisingly long, sharp fingernails daily for the first fourteen years of my life. And, when she cut my hair while I slept. And, when she convinced me (more than once) to trade all of my Halloween candy for what’s behind door #1 (fruit). And, when threatened to throw me down a well like Baby Jessica… Those were some of the times when I loved my sister a little bit less.

But there was one time when I loved my sister a little bit more: September 25, 2009.

I should mention… I love Pearl Jam. The band; not the jam made of pearls (is there such a thing?). I’m not mentioning my love of Pearl Jam just because I can (although I do like to do that), I’m mentioning it because it’s an important part of the story.

My sister and I have a shared love of Pearl Jam, which began in our formative years (early 1990s) and has lasted well into adulthood. We have attended several concerts together, and consider ourselves fans (I don’t mean the instrument that produces a current of air… I mean: admirers, supporters). We enjoy Pearl Jam’s music, and we admire the band’s talent and artistry. It obviously has nothing to do with the fact that Eddie Vedder is a handsome hunk of a man, with an impassioned, rousing vocal quality.

I digress.

My sister’s friend (we’ll call her Paula) worked at a very nice hotel in downtown Vancouver. The night of the concert, Paula arranged a hotel room for my sister and her husband, and offered to baby-sit their children. My sister hadn’t been away from her children in a very long time, and she was very excited.

The night of the concert my sister and her husband picked us up and we all headed downtown together. My sister suggested that we stop by their room for a pre-show cocktail. (Who’s going to turn down a pre-show cocktail?)

When we arrived to the room, there was an envelope on the table. My sister opened it, read it, fell to her knees, and started screaming. I took the card from her, read it, fell to my knees, and started screaming. Our husbands both looked at us like we were crazy.

The card was from Paula and it read: Hi Michelle, I hope you enjoy your stay, and I hope you enjoy sharing a floor with your favorite band. 

My sister and I immediately went to get ice from the machine down the hall, hoping to bump into Stone, Jeff, Mike, Matt, or bump into Eddie. I knew just what I would say: “Oh, hey Eddie. You like ice? I like ice too.”

Our husbands kept trying to get us to come back to the room, but we kept needing more ice. Eventually, our husbands convinced us to go to the concert, so we went. And, it was a fantastic concert (music, lights, band, etc.).

My sister suggested we have a post-show cocktail at the hotel bar. (Who’s going to turn down a post-show cocktail?) As we sat in the hotel bar, I told my sister that I needed to use the washroom. She pointed me to the lobby washroom, but I said that I would really feel more comfortable using the bathroom in their room. My sister said she completely understood and that she would accompany me to the room.

My sister and I made several more trips to the ice machine, eavesdropped at a few doors, analyzed room service trays, laughed so hard we cried, and then returned to our tolerant husbands at the bar.

Here’s why I loved my sister a little bit more:

My sister is a cool, collected (not to mention brilliant) mother of three children and a pillar of her community. Her hobbies include knitting, gardening, and watching historical dramas.

In other words, she doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would go get ice eleven times, head-bang at a rock concert, snort with laughter, and make a sign for her car that says: “Honk if you’re going to Pearl Jam”.

I realized that night: September 25, 2009, that my sister is a juxtaposition, an enigma: a mystery wrapped in a riddle. And that’s why I love her.

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