Friday, May 14, 2010

The dishes

When I was living in London, Ontario, I lived in an old farmhouse in the top floor apartment of Andy and Lori's house. I met some wonderful people in London, but I clicked with this couple who didn't know me, but who nevertheless welcomed me into their home at the suggestion of a mutual friend. No, not the Facebook kind of mutual friend, a real one with whom one of them had grown up and whose daughter I dated for six years kind of mutual friend. Anyway, Friday afternoon rituals were one of my favourite times in my short tenure in London. I would stroll in around 4:00 and Andy would offer me libations. Without exception I accepted. We wouldn't get drunk, but we would have a drink or two, and sometimes we would even put off supper by a couple of hours. When this happened, we would have conversations.

Sometimes I would tell them about living in Quebec, and how nationalism wasn't dead (although now I think it's irrelevant). Other times, he would educate me about the blues. Once, when we had put off supper for a couple of hours, Andy changed my ritual of doing the dishes. I don't know how we got on the topic, but I explained to him my order of dishes, and he calmly explained to me that the utensils had to soak while washing the mugs. Lori laughed at the both of us and upon reflection,we too decided that perhaps it was time to fire up the barbeque.

When I tried to do the dishes this morning, I got through the glasses and a few mugs, and I pulled the plug, leaving the utensils lying there in the bottom of the sink, waiting. I couldn't do it anymore.

You see, I have a skin condition called vitiligo. It's a lack of pigmentation that leaves weird, funky white patches on my skin. Apparently Michael Jackson had it, and as a black man, he couldn't take it. So, he somehow dyed himself white. For me, it's usually no big deal. Most of the time, I just forget about it. I have accepted the white blotches of skin on my hands and face and the white spots in my beard like I did the loss of my hair, or the growth of it on parts of my body that it shouldn't be.

I'll get to the point. Yesterday, the municipality invited the staff of our school to use one of our pedagogical days to go fishing. It was awesome. There is still a lot of snow, and it was about 8 or 9 degrees, and although I caught nothing, I had a great day.

I've always been a bit snake-bitten as a fisherman. I grew up in Northern Alberta and have gone fishing several times each year since I was a young child. I've caught a great deal of fish over the past two-and-a-half decades, but I would never consider myself good or even lucky. Invariably, if you fish for 25 or 30 years, you're going to snag a few from time to time.

A couple of years ago, I went fishing with my students on May 1st and got the worst sunburn of my life. My face was so sensitive that I lathered it repeatedly with a bunch of lanolin (used by nursing mothers for their cracked nipples) and didn't sleep for days. So, before we left the village, when we arrived at our destination, and a few more times throughout the day, I applied SPF 15 (the only lotion we have) to my face, neck, and ears. However, I neglected to touch the back of my hands. I spent the better part of five hours laying face-down on the ice with my head in a hole and only the back of my extra-sensitive, increasingly blotchy hands exposed to the sun's harmful rays.

By the time I got home, I knew I had made an important omission. I ran my hands under cold water for a few minutes, but ultimately underestimated the damage. This morning however, it took just seconds of submersion in the suds for me to realize that my hands were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. After I had finished the glasses, I noticed my hands were extraordinarily red. But it wasn't until half-way through the mugs that I realized that they were swelling up like Violet Beauregarde masticating a piece of experimental blueberry gum. They soon began to throb, and in the absence of a juicing room, I ran the cold water for a few minutes in a vain attempt to turn back time.

I went to school, and throughout the morning, students and teachers alike, several sporting sunburns of their own, remarked at my florescent pink, swollen hands. I could only answer one thing to them:

"Sure it hurts, but at least I can't do the dishes."