Ten-day break from grind was absolute bliss

Did you miss me?
Didn’t think so.
Well, neither did I, or at least that’s that way I thought I would feel (we’ll get to that later) after coming back from a prescribed break from the world of sports journalism and Fort Frances itself.
My trip brought me to my family, who reside in the self-proclaimed “Tomato Capital of Canada” (a.k.a. Leamington—Heinz’s main plant is there), which is located in the southernwestern part of Ontario in close proximity to Windsor, which I had dubbed as the “Unshaven Armpit of Detroit” in a story a while back.
That statement caused my e-mail account to reserve some space for some angry Windsor residents and the Mayor of Windsor himself (a guy named Eddie Francis), who even wrote a letter to my publisher explaining how horribly wrong I was.
(I could just picture police officers in the city taping my headshot on the street lights on Ouellette Avenue with the caption—“Public Enemy #1”—inscribed underneath).
So you could understand why I was a little hesitant about going.
But onward I went and since I didn’t want to spend two of my 10 days off driving the 17 hours it takes to get to Leamington, I decided to go by air.
Unfortunately, things got off on a rough note.
You see, it was likely the mechanics at Northwest Airlines would be going on strike (we’ll get to that later), and my travel agent and co-workers at the Times had warned me of such.
“You might have to take the bus back,” my publisher joked just before I headed to my apartment on Aug. 12 to get my suitcase and head over to the airport in the Falls.
The plane left at about 3 p.m. and an hour-and-a-half later, we arrived at the Minneapolis-St.Paul airport, which was where I had to make it from Terminal ‘B’ to Terminal ‘F’ in less than 20 minutes.
No small chore, especially in one on the biggest airports in North America.
So I strapped on my backpack, stuffed my headphones into my ears, pressed play to Pantera’s Greatest Hits CD, and right when I stepped off the airplane, I bolted like a married Italian the morning after a one-night stand.
“You’ll never make it,” the shmuck sitting next to me had said on the plane from the Falls, which, by the way, was 15 minutes late in getting to Minneapolis.
But a focused Greek is an unstoppable one.
I went down a flight of stairs (almost killed a family of five), then went up a flight of stairs (almost killed the family I hope to have as I tried to avoid this clown in a suit and, in the process, almost canned myself on the middle rail).
Got to the top of the stairs where I would catch the shuttle to Terminal ‘C,’ but the shuttle doors closed when I cleared the stairs.
But I strode on.
Went Ben Johnson-like and kicked my butt into high gear, and proceeded to speed down the terminal like a bat out of you-know-where. I even kept up with the shuttle, which garnered a few curious looks from its passengers.
Made it to my gate with a few minutes to spare and couldn’t even respond to the stewardess when I handed her my boarding pass, given I was hunched over and about to toss up everything in my system, including lunch I had back in the sixth grade.
“Have a good flight,” she said to me.
I responded in what sounded like gibberish since I had severe case of cotton mouth—“Txanks you co mutch.”
She smiled and waved me through, and I obliged by stumbling and grasping onto the side rails of the tunnel leading to the plane looking like an Irishman on St. Paddy’s Day.
Took my seat, but took it before I took off my backpack (I was that tired—maybe I should quit smoking). So trying to take off my backpack without getting out of my seat resembled a beached sea lion trying to get back into the water.
Relief—it’s off and under the seat in front of me and my heart rate is starting to drop. At least it was until the third-most gorgeous woman I’ve seen stepped onto the plane.
“Please God—please let her sit next to me,” I said to myself.
She inched closer, checking her ticket and then the row number. All the guys on the plane were watching her, so it’s fair to assume that I wasn’t the only one who had asked a favour from the Big Guy.
She swayed ever so gently and crept up closer and closer to my seat, but she passed it—“Ah, shucks”—but then rewound and said in the most heavenly voice imaginable, “17D, this is me.”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, God!” I screamed in my head.
“Oh, well, let me just move these out of your way” is what I actually said in a calm and gentlemanly manner while taking my magazines from her seat.
I introduced myself right away, so as to avoid any uneasiness later (it’s best to introduce yourself from the start rather than to do it out of nowhere half-an-hour later).
Her name was Lindsay and she was drop-dead gorgeous. Tall, but not imposing. Thin, but curvy. Vibrant, yet . . . well, you get the picture.
And get this, she was (drumroll please) a freakin’ model.
“What do you do?” she asked me.
“I write,” I muttered, while taking a page from Homer Simpson and trying to think unsexy thoughts to keep my wits about me.
“What do your write?”
“I don’t know,” I answered (it wasn’t working).
“What do you mean you don’t know?” she giggled.
“I don’t know,” I said again (CODE RED! WE HAVE A CODE RED!)
But then I came to a realization—this magnificent creature sitting next to me is major league, I haven’t even made it to the minors, “So don’t act as if you might have a chance with her, you troll,” I said to myself.”
And from there, I shut down a part of my body that allowed me to gather my thoughts.
I actually started making sense and was able to throw in a couple of humorous zingers that kept her in her seat (she had the middle seat and the left seat was unoccupied when the plane’s door closed, but she didn’t move over).
She asked me about my work and my girl situation—“I’m afraid a two-hour flight would only scratch the surface”—so we didn’t touch on that. Instead, I played the part of journalist and started relaying the questions.
She was on her way to Detroit from Los Angeles for a photo shoot, and showed me her portfolio that she had brought with her (it was good). And during discussion, I noticed she had a small band-aid on the bottom of her chin.
“What’s with the band-aid? Did you have to do a cat-fight for a shoot and got scratched or something?” I asked, which garnered a laugh from her.
Turns out it was a small scar from a “procedure” she had done back in L.A. A photographer said she had a bit of “excessive skin” under her chin and recommended she get some work done. She then reeled off how many procedures she has had done on her 25-year-old body.
The list was long. I was dumbfounded, to say the least.
But not for too long, as the plane landed at the Detroit Metro airport at about 8 p.m. (I wished Lindsay all the best and gave her a hug after we had collected our luggage), but we had arrived a little later than what the itinerary had called for.
“Where the [expletive] are you?” were the words chosen by my uncle, Jim, when I phoned him on his cell phone. Jim had driven around the airport for three hours in his sparkling Crossfire (he’s a big-wig accountant with Chrysler Canada) waiting for me to arrive.
After a stop at a Middle Eastern restaurant in Murder Capital, we headed for Windsor and saw his gorgeous girlfriend, Jocelyn, whom I had met this past Christmas, and met Jocelyn’s gorgeous sister, who was heading to downtown Windsor for a night with the ladies, but we decided not to go.
Stayed the night at his new place, which on the outside looks like your plain old house, but inside has the makings of an interior seen in a spread by GQ magazine.
Dad picked me up the next morning and we headed over to Tomato-ville.
The questions came in bunches—How is work? Why did I look so tired? Why had I lost weight? Why was my hair so long? When’s the last time I shaved?
Got home and saw my younger brother, Bobby, and eventually saw my mom later that night after a long day at the restaurant. She started where dad left off: You look unhealthy—you look weak—how many hours are you working?
Good question, but almost impossible to answer.
It was weird being home (even though Edmonton is my family’s real home). I mean, it was nice to see all my family (I have around 25 relatives in the area), and it was nice to get a break from work, but at the same time it was weird.
First off, I felt like a guest. I’ve been in Fort Frances for more than a year and have a pretty concrete routine nailed down. As such, it was strange going away from that even though I desperately needed a break from that itinerary, which usually sees me either out-and-about in the area covering sports in and around the community and then sequestered in my apartment plugging away on my laptop.
I was going nuts.
How to pass the time? I watched some movies (that was okay). Read some Sports Illustrated magazines (I’m around two months behind). Jotted down a new workout dubbed “Sleep is for the Weak” (it should be noted that my last workout regiment was called “The Hulk,” but judging from my 143-pound frame, maybe I should stick to something a bit more realistic).
Went around and saw some old friends—“Same old” was the answer given when asked what was new with them. Pretended to be Lance Armstrong pretty much every day, which was a highlight for me since cycling is one of my favourite pastimes.
Spent a couple of hours a day looking through past editions of the Times so I can start working on my portfolio (the Times mails an edition every week to my parents so they can see whose bad-side I’m on each week).
So I started getting a routine, but there was still something missing.
Eureka!—a Greek wedding.
That came this past Saturday in the lovely city of Sarnia.
One of the main reasons I booked my vacation for when I did was to attend the wedding of my cousin, Mary, to her now husband, Dave, and it was everything I expected.
Mary looked radiant like always, and Dave, whom I had never met before but had heard plenty about, was pure class.
Dave was a football player for McMaster University (I believe a wide receiver) and met Mary while both attended school there. And when they met (at a bar), Dave knew right away he had found someone special and their first date proved that as he introduced her to his parents.
But I don’t think anything could have prepared Dave for our family. Sure, he had met most of us and was undoubtedly accepted by our clan, but when you get all of us together in the same room with a live Greek band and an open bar that almost always spells trouble.
But I don’t mean trouble in a bad way.
We Greeks are chaotic party animals, but it’s an organized chaos that is appreciated by many. I know it was by Dave’s family and friends, who were engulfed by the music and dancing and were eager to soak it all in.
Like Dave’s dad, who was standing on the edge of a crowded dance floor with a grin stretched on his face, as he held a stack of plates, as it is a Greek tradition to smash plates during a happy occasion, but he was a little too anxious.
A tsipteteli was being played, which essentially is a belly dance for the girls while the men have a break to fill up on drinks, but the plates are only busted when a zembekiko is being played.
A zembekiko is a solo dance that sees an individual freestyle in the middle of the dance floor while the rest show their support by clapping along to the beat or . . . smashing plates.
The dance is hard to explain, but to witness it is quite a treat, and when Mary was called upon to dance, she showed exactly why it’s a thing of beauty.
The plates came in bunches (first from Dave’s dad, of course) and I could sense things were going to get crazy, so I raced to the hall’s kitchen and brought out a couple of brooms and a trash can so we could steer away the fragments as quickly as we could, because Mary’s feet were hurting her and decided to dance barefoot and we obviously didn’t want her to cut up her feet.
Dave stepped up and by this time about a hundred people had circled the newlyweds and were clapping in unison and displaying the pathos (passion) that is a trademark of my family.
And when you get my family in that kind of setting, it creates an exothermic reaction in that everyone feeds off one another. First it was my cousin, Greg (a.k.a “Big Red”), who knocked over the first domino, as everyone else followed.
We laughed like hyenas. We drank like champions. And we danced like pros.
But we paid for it the next morning, and I’m still paying for it now, as my thighs are still burning and have required three applications of Ben Gay daily ever since—but, of course, it was worth it.
So after 10 days of bliss, I stepped off the plane from the Falls on Monday afternoon without any delays (even though the mechanics did go on strike, flights kept going without a hitch—props go to Northwest for keeping things going and on time) and now I’m back.
Back to having no life. Back to spending my nights in front of a laptop. Back to always worrying about the next edition.
But in the end, it is good to be back.

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