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The oldtimers section at the McDonald's on 50 St isn't marked with a sign that says oldtimers section. It's the oldtimers section because it's the place where two oldtimers nod to me as I sit down with my tray. It's where one of them starts the conversation as if we know each other, which we don't, or are picking up where we left off, which we aren't.

"It was on the radio once," he says with a nod.

"What was?" I say.

"They were talking to the oldest people in the world or something. One was in China. The other one was somewhere else. One was 120 years old or something. What was the secret of their....


"Right, longevity. They said two things. One was to not get involved in other people's business. The other thing was, I can't remember what the other thing was."

"Makes sense," I say. "Not getting involved."

A couple of beats of silence go by.

"I heard today on the news…

The work of supper

I am fortunate. I have a fatbike. I have a neighbourhood grocery store. I have a smartphone that dinged an incoming text request from Shelagh (who I am most fortunate to know) as she bused home from downtown while plotting the next steps in today’s Japanese chicken curry dinner. 1 1/2 pounds (680g) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, 2 onions, piece of ginger, 2 carrots, 1 celery stalk, 1 pound (455g) Yukon Gold, russet or other potatoes, 2 tetra paks (they are about 1L each) of chicken broth The dinner had started to take shape yesterday when Shelagh asked the spices to assemble. Answering the call in the aspect of an artist’s palette: pepper corns, turmeric, a bay leaf, cloves, cumin, fennel, cinnamon, brown mustard seeds, cayenne pepper, paprika, cardamom, coriander and salt.

My job was to make efficient use of Shelagh’s time by going, while she travelled home, to get the rest of the ingredients. But how to go? I asked Siri for the temperature, and then considered my options. I could dri…

Junior High

I learned just about everything I needed to know in junior high.

Mr. Litwin (in those days adults did not have first names) was the science teacher. We were using microscopes to identify plant and animal cells. Get your slide, position it on the microscope plate, peer into the invisible world, match what you see to textbook diagrams, decide whether it was a plant or an animal cell, defend your position. Class after class, the right answer was plant cell. The plant cell camp gained momentum. The good-looking students and the members of the junior volleyball team were united in their plant cell verdicts. One science class after a week or so of this pattern, I dutifully placed my slide under the microscope, looked through the eyepiece and, while the chorus proclaimed plant cell, I froze. It was not a plant cell. It looked different. It resembled the textbook diagram of an animal cell. I must have betrayed some inner terror as I walked to the front of the classroom carrying the piece of …

Soil yourselves, folks!

If you spend time in Edmonton's Oliver neighbourhood, you know the place. It's the snow-fenced backyard garden just off the Oliverbahn bicycle lane, in from the alley, across from the old Indian restaurant, kitty corner from the tattoo parlour and a block or so from the fence printed with an image of Richard Avedon's photo of Nastassja Kinski and the snake. My friend Myles helps grow the vegetables in the snow-fenced garden. And that would be a wrong way to put it.

"We spent all of this year making this really good soil so that things could grow, so we have to give back," Myles said. "Because the seeds don't grow the plants. The soil grows the plants. Everything you see that comes up from the soil is taking from the soil. You have to give back. You have to put nutrients back in."

The soil grows the plants.

(I zoned out for a second as an Eliot fragment pushed toward the surface. For most of us, this is the aim, something something something, tempor…

Blowin' in the wind

I don't mind the wind where I live.

The wind reminds me I am outdoors. Air conditioning aside, the interior life in buildings, malls and automobiles is windless. The advantages of this arrangement are numberless—better looking hair among them.

Outside on my bicycle working the pedals on my Rocky Mountain into a gusting from the northwest at 50 kilometres an hour, I am in another kind of place.

It is a landscape of action and reaction, give and take. I feel very much a small element in a larger equation where the wind is strong enough to make demands. I make concessions. The wind hits me in the face, and I add seven teeth, switching to an easier gear to keep my legs turning at a comfortable speed. This is what gears do, of course. They help bicycle riders like me speak back to the conditions, and keep going.

Keeping going is the job. Keeping going in the little picture means shifting to an easier gear to get to the right turn onto 91 Ave without grinding to a stop. Keeping going i…

Framing small conversations

It merits another airing: the great good of riding a bicycle in the city is the unroofedness of it all, the way, from a saddle, you can share a few words, a laugh or a smile with people, strangers or not, who, too, are moving at the speed of life, but not faster.

Today's ride home was more proof. As if we needed more proof.

Here's Max on the 102 Ave sidewalk pointing me to Shelagh, waiting a couple of blocks west at the crossroads in Railtown.

Here's Shelagh, off her bike, talking to Professor Legris about Auden.

Ring, ring. The bell from behind means a fellow Oliverbahn commuter is coming by. As she does, she smiles a thanks.

A few blocks up the Oliverbahn, Shelagh points to a tree illuminated by the autumn sun.

Hello, Troy!

Hello, woman whose name we don't know, but is very friendly.

On Ravine Drive, a woman whose red hair appears to be on fire says hello to us at the same time we say hello to her.

At IGA, I wheel my bike in to pick up some snacks for tonight's …

A few words on the Saturday New York Times crossword

I am back in the grip of the New York Times crossword. I can't see if this will end happily. Seeing is my challenge, actually.

Take 31 down in today's puzzle, which I started last night,  Kitchen drawers?  Six letters. I immediately pictured the drawers in our kitchen and saw spoons, ladles, cheese graters and the rest of the silver mix of implements Shelagh uses to concoct the most delicious dishes, lately from cookbooks by Ottolenghi and Molly Yeh. I was off track. And stumped. What is another name for a drawer? Compartment, container, something that slides in and out, furniture, chest. Nothing fit.

Then I looked closer at the clue. "Kitchen drawers?" The question mark suggested some wordplay was afoot. Words can act like planks on a theatre stage, seemingly strong and solid enough to stand on, but also trap doors through which certainty disappears with a whoosh. Where you come down on this magic of words, the way they move and molt and mock, separates those who a…