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The Fine Print

The Fine Print

The Fine Print

In an effort to save some much needed money, my wife decided to cancel her gym membership. The timing was right; the membership was for eighteen months, which ended at the beginning of September. We assumed that it would simply expire. Just to be sure, my wife asked me to check the Mastercard statement online to make sure that no more payments were coming out.

Payments were still coming out.

I got out the contract and noticed a clause we had overlooked. It said that the membership would not expire unless we contacted the gym (which, for the sake of this discussion, I shall simply refer to as BODY BOOMERS).

Fine. We phoned the gym (BODY BOOMERS, in case you were wondering) and they said that we had to stop by and tell them in person. My wife was annoyed, but she agreed. So later that afternoon we stopped by to tell them in person. I waited in the car with the kids while she went into the gym (which, as you might recall, I’ve decided for the purposes of this discussion simply to refer to as BODY BOOMERS.)

About two minutes later my normally quite reasonable wife came storming back to the car in what I believe is technically referred to as an “apoplectic fit.” “You deal with them,” she said, presumably to me as opposed to one of the kids.

So I went in to deal with them. Thinking, we’re gonna get this sorted out right away, and not give a cent more to this… this BODY BOOMERS than we have to. A woman was at the counter talking to this big, hairy looking character, both of them sporting name tags, and they didn’t look especially unfriendly, so I launched right in. “Look, I just want to get this settled right away, what do we have to do, is there some kind a form to fill out? ‘Cause we’d like to sign it right now.”

The woman said, quite reasonably, “There’s no form for your wife to fill out right now. First she has to provide us with two months notice, then she has to make an appointment, then she has to come in, swallow a live wildebeest whole with the entire club looking on, and then, if she’s lucky, and we’re in a really really really good mood, then maybe, MAYBE we’ll stop charging your Mastercard our ridiculously overpriced fees.” (WARNING: the preceding dialogue may have contained some slightly fabricated elements.)

Could YOU swallow one of these whole? Well, could you?

Could YOU swallow one of these whole? Well, could you?

“Look,” I said, in my best Clint Eastwood, which on a good day sounds rather more like a really good Don Knott: “Just give me the damn form.”

“Hey, don’t get upset at us, pal,” the hairy guy said, quite reasonably. “We’re just employees here. And anyway, the whole wildebeest thing is right here in the contract, plain as day.”

“Where?” I asked.

He got out a super duper high falutin’ electron microscope thingie and we took a really good look at the contract. And right there, sure enough, in a perfectly legible font really quite a bit larger than several subatomic particles put together, I spied the offensive clause. No doubt about it, my wife and I were sunk.

“That’s… open to interpretation,” I huffed, and stormed out.

“What if they get collection agencies after us? It could get really nasty,” my wife told me later, after I informed her of my nefarious plan just to cancel the Mastercard and let the chips fall where they may.

“Hmm,” I said, after which I informed her of my revised plan, which consisted mainly of her giving BODY BOOMERS several months notice, making appointments with BODY BOOMERS representatives, and quite possibly swallowing whole a certain kind of antelope hailing from the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem of Tanzania (sometimes known as a “gnu”).

Moral of the story: I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, except to say that it involves fine print and gnus (sometimes known as “Wildebeests”).

The Tunnel

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Light at the End of the Tunnel

There’s always light at the end of the tunnel.


Unless there isn’t, of course. In which case you’re probably not in a tunnel, you’re in a cave.

Not a problem. If you’re in a cave and you can’t see light, well, that’s just because you’re facing the wrong direction. You need to turn around.

If you turn around and you still don’t see any light, don’t panic. It’s just night outside, or really, really overcast. Wait a little while until morning comes, or the weather clears up.

If morning never comes, relax. You never were in a cave, or a tunnel; somebody just buried you alive when you weren’t paying attention.

This sounds more serious than it is. If in fact you have been buried alive, simply dig your way out with your bare hands (if you encounter wood, you may need to punch your way out first).

If you dig and dig and dig and dig and dig and still can’t find your way to the light and your seasonal affective disorder is acting up and your Vitamin D deficiency has kicked in and you feel yourself beginning to go stark raving mad…


Try the dip.

There was no tunnel, no cave. You’re not a character in a Quentin Tarantino movie. Those were all just annoying little metaphors — mere reflections of reality, if you will. Obliterated now by light. Shining in through my window. I feel it on my back, see it reflected on my computer screen, obscuring what I write.

Stupid light.



Just outside my office.

I think I’ll go for a walk.

A Dad is Born

A couple of new Mahoney's in McMaster Hospital

A couple of new Mahoney’s in McMaster Hospital

A little something I post every year on Valentine’s Day, for reasons that will become obvious as you read this (if you haven’t read it before…)

My wife Lynda is at work, seven months pregnant and enjoying if not every minute of it, at least every second or third minute of it. I’m at home, painting the nursery. I’m painting the nursery because our twins are due in just two months, and we’re afraid they might be early – you know, like two weeks early – because they’re twins.

So there I am, painting away, and the phone rings. Too late, I missed it. Then it’s ringing again, but my hands are full of brushes and rollers and it’s just too much trouble to go into the next room and answer the phone, except that…

…the darn thing rings again.

This time I know it’s important, if not an emergency, so I high-tail it to the phone and pick it up just in the nick of time. It’s Lynda. She sounds… well, panicked, her voice all quavery, on the verge of tears. “I think my water broke,” she says, and provides details that are watery, messy, and a little scary.

I’m thinking, nah, not possible, we’re two months early here. Clearly she’s misread the signs.

“What are you doing?” she asks me.

“Painting the nursery.”

“Paint faster,” she says.

I’m off like a blue streak to the pharmacy where Lynda works, ready to bundle her into the car, prepared to make the hospital at something resembling four times the speed of light. When I get there Lynda says, “Hang on. Gotta finish up a couple of prescriptions first.”

Excuse me?

It’s obvious to everyone in the store that something is not quite right. “Nothing serious,” I explain to one woman. “She’s about to give birth, is all.”

Twenty minutes later she’s ready to go. We’re in the car. I start the car and we are outta there…

…or so I think.

“Wait!” says Lynda.

“What? What is it? What’s wrong?”

“I forgot my boots.”

I stop the car, run back into the pharmacy and get Lynda’s boots.

She’s weeping a little on the way to Markham-Stouffville Hospital. “I’m scared, Joe. I’m two months early.”

I’m scared too, but I need to reassure her. I don’t know what to say. Lamely, I say, “Everything’ll be okay,” and take hold of her hand. She accepts the hand — for a bit, then gently places it back on the steering wheel. “Two hands,” she says. “Wouldn’t want to get in an accident now.”

I agree, and make it to the hospital accident free. There, we take the wrong hallway, then figure it out and pass a woman facing the wall, a man gently rubbing her back. A glimpse of the future?
Soon we’re in the birthing room, a cheery nurse catering to Lynda’s every need. We’re in good hands, I think, but soon it becomes clear that Markham-Stowville can’t handle little babies that want to arrive two months early. The closest hospital that can is McMaster, in Hamilton. Two young, hip paramedics arrive and transfer a stoic Lynda onto a rolling stretcher, and take her away. I drive to Hamilton, alone in the dark, in the rain. Knowing that I’ve got the easy part.

Lynda’s just over thirty-one weeks – not a big deal, we’re told. Lynda is given medicine to speed the babys’ lung development up. She’s given other medicine to delay the birth as long as possible. Our spirits are good. We’re lucky Lynda’s thirty-one weeks and not less, like many others that come through this ward. Some babies, we’re told, come as early as twenty weeks. It’s heartbreaking — their chances for survival are not good. At thirty-one weeks, the success rate is close to one hundred percent.

Two days later. It’s Valentine’s Day, and our babies have decided they want out now. Decisions are made. Lynda is moved from a cosy little room with pleasant music to a sterile place of white walls and shiny metal beds. I count eighteen people in the room. The anesthetist has a funny little dog on his stethoscope. Lynda is pumped so full of drugs she can’t talk properly. I worry about her.

Our doctor’s name is Lightheart. Did I mention it was Valentine’s Day? Doctor Lightheart explains the use of forceps to her intern, then promptly demonstrates, deftly delivering Keira. Keira lets out a healthy wail and is whisked away to the level 3 neo-natal intensive care unit where I hope they don’t mix her up with another baby.

Suddenly Erin’s heartbeat drops to half the normal rate. The atmosphere in the room changes instantly. Doctor Lightheart reaches inside Lynda farther than I would have imagined possible. Her hand is poking at Lynda’s belly from inside, like a scene right out of Alien. I didn’t know you could DO that!

Finally, the forceps bring Erin out. She doesn’t cry like Keira did – just a brief, muffled chirp. This is because she’s been fitted with a respirator, but she’s fine. She, too, is whisked away to the intensive care unit.

The room empties.

It’s Valentine’s Day.

And I am the proud father of two.


Peanut Butter and Banana and Jam Sandwich... Yum!

Peanut Butter and Banana and Jam Sandwich… Yum!

One day my wife says to me, you must be hungry, you haven’t had any supper.

No no, I’m fine, thanks, I tell her. I’ll have a little something later.

You really should eat something now, shouldn’t you? she says.

I’m fine, I insist. It’s good to fast once in awhile, gotta keep that girlish figure.

I’ll tell you what, she says. If I make you a sandwich, will you eat it?

You don’t have to make me sandwich, I tell her.

I want to make you a sandwich, she says. What kind of sandwich do you want?

I don’t really want any kind of sandwich, I tell her.

Okay but if you did want a sandwich, what kind of sandwich would you want?

I tell her that if I did want a sandwich, which I don’t, but if I did, I would want a peanut butter and jam and banana sandwich. My favourite.

I’m going to make you a peanut butter and jam and banana sandwich, she says. I’m going to make it right now.

That’s very kind, I tell her. Thank you.

I go walk the dog. I’m not really very hungry, I think, walking the dog. The last thing I want is a sandwich. But if she makes it I’ll eat it. She’s just looking out for me, I know.

I get back and towel the dog off (it was a cold, wet night). I let him off his leash, take my boots off, enter the kitchen. My wife’s on the phone. I can tell it’s going to be a long call. The peanut butter jar sits on the counter, alongside the jam, a couple of slices of bread and a banana. My wife’s making apologetic motions to me. Motions that say, there’s all the stuff, all you have to do now is make the sandwich.

I don’t want to make the sandwich. I don’t want the sandwich. All I want to do is sit down and watch tv.

I make the sandwich anyway. I eat it. It’s very good. It is, after all, my favourite sandwich in the world.

My wife gets off the phone. Sorry about that, she says. I really was going to make you the sandwich, and then my sister called.

I know, I tell her. I appreciate that.

And I do.

Heather Mallick vs Robert Fulford vs Margaret Atwood vs Joe Mahoney

Last year I read an article in the Toronto Star by Heather Mallick about Robert Fulford of the National Post writing a critical review of Margaret Atwood’s latest story in the New Yorker, called Stone Mattress. The Atwood story is about a woman who was raped as a teenager by an older boy who gets away with it. This act sends the woman down a bad road in which she gets pregnant, becomes a prostitute, and then marries older men of ill health so that she can help them die prematurely and get their money. Ultimately she meets the man who raped her and exacts her revenge.

Heather Mallick

Heather Mallick

Fulford doesn’t like the story because he thinks it “comes across as a classic man-hating story.” Mallick doesn’t like Fulford’s review because she thinks Atwood is “entitled to fill her fiction with hateful men.” She also didn’t like that Fulford didn’t own up to once having been skewered in an Atwood piece, suggesting that his review of Stone Mattress was simply revenge, as if it’s not possible to dislike a story solely on its own merits, or lack thereof.

Mallick professes to have once adored Bob Fulford, “wisest and cleverest of older male journalists.” Now, she claims that Fulford has stopped regarding life with endless interest and even joy, and turned sour. This seems a harsh assessment based on a single review of Atwood’s story. When I read that line in her article it seemed so disproportionately harsh that I wondered what else must be informing Mallick’s revised opinion of Fulford.

As a reasonably decent man this whole episode struck a nerve. I’m aware that certain women don’t like men, or distrust them, and that because of the actions of some jerks they have good reason to feel this way. I have always tried to conduct myself in a way to give women reason to like men. I have three sisters, a mother, a wife and two daughters and many female friends and colleagues. I like women. I’m good to them. I treat them with respect. So it annoys me when I am confronted with women who think that, as Fulford writes, men are villains except when they are clowns. That’s just a different kind of hatred, and it’s no better than men disrespecting women. Understanding that there are men out there deserving of scorn, just as there are woman deserving of scorn because of hateful attitudes and actions.

Robert Fulford

Robert Fulford

So I am sympathetic to Fulford’s take on Atwood’s story, although Atwood is equally hard on women in Stone Mattress. The female protagonist, essentially a serial killer, is certainly no more sympathetic than the male schmuck she murders. But I’m more sympathetic to Fulford himself than I am to his take on the story because I’d like to know why Mallick has come to dislike him so much. Just disliking Atwood’s story, and not owning up to having been a victim of an earlier Atwood story, just doesn’t seem to justify it.

I once spent four days at Atwood’s house recording a series of interviews for CBC Radio. Surreally for me, the entire four days were spent conversing with Atwood and the rest of the crew in French, which I was in the process of learning at the time, having recently returned from several months of living in Aix-en-Provence, France. Apart from Atwood’s assistant at the time, Sarah Cooper, Atwood and I were the only anglophones. On the third night we all went to a restaurant together where circumstances contrived to place Atwood and myself alone together for about twenty minutes, and we conversed in English for the first time. The whole experience generated a certain camaraderie between us, or at least that was how it felt to me – I’ve met her several times since and she has never indicated that she remembers me. Although I consider this last point worthy of mention, I don’t hold it against her. I’m not sure that I would remember her much either if she were not one of Canada’s most famous authors, mentioned time and again on the CBC and in the rest of our national media. Impossible to forget, in other words.

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood

However, I’ve never forgotten her friendliness at the time. She did not come off to me as the least bit man hating. Her characters and stories are fiction, after all, not necessarily representative of the author’s own mind set. The truth is I haven’t actually read much Atwood, apart from some short stories in a book she gave me on our last day together (Good Bones) and the aforementioned Stone Mattress. And a handful of radio drama adaptations of her work such as The Handmaid’s Tale.

No, if I had one bone to pick with Margaret Atwood it wouldn’t be her stance against men, it would be her stance against science fiction, which she seems to regard as less than worthy. Yes, she writes it from time to time, but when she writes it is isn’t science fiction, it’s something else, something better, “speculative fiction” maybe. I find this attitude inexplicable and insulting, and no I don’t feel that way because she has previously skewered me in her work, at least that I’m aware, not that I would be aware not having read much of her work.

So neither Robert Fulford nor Heather Mallick have done anything to alter my opinion of Margaret Atwood. I’ve never given Robert Fulford much thought but I feel rather sympathetic toward the man now. As for Heather Mallick, whose work I have read from time to time in the Star, and to whom I haven’t given much thought either, I am now unduly curious about her.

Just what the heck does she really have against Robert Fulford?

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