Hay Fever…a gender problem?

My Fellow Inebriates,

When new booze fails to enter the house for an unreasonable length of time, I start looking up at the medicine cabinet and wondering if there’s anything interesting there. Of course it’s just full of the usual crap—kids’ cold/cough medicine, vitamins, whimsically purchased supplements. You can’t even see the back of the cupboard for all the mess in there. And what’s with my parents? No goodies in there…no Ambien or Atavan—nothing to make my day more bright.

Stupid Nasonex bee

The newest arrival is Nasonex, prescribed for the hay fever that has attacked every year since we moved to Langley, an outlying suburb of Vancouver that used to be mostly farmland and acreages but has in the last decade gone nuts with development. Land has been razed for townhouse complexes and surrounding infrastructure (typically lagging—for instance, there are no sidewalks in places, and we could use a school or two to teach the little ones growing up in this Bible Belt that the universe is more than 6,000 years old).

You’d think putting urban-style housing where plants used to be would decrease allergens, but the exact opposite is true. Compared to traditional forests and fields, developers’ tidily planted rows of trees assail people with pollen, producing violent allergies and even inducing asthma.

What the hell? I thought nature, with its forests and valleys, was the biggest pollen-producing culprit. But wouldn’t you know it—our insane pollen count is a product of urban development.

And it all comes down to economics—the economics of tree planting and maintenance. If you’re the sort of building developer who has no qualms about shorting your townhouse complexes on insulation while fitting them with toilets too finicky to digest the family’s solid offerings, then obviously you’ll plant the gardens and surrounding green space with the cheapest greenery possible. And that’s where dioecious trees come in.

Unlike the animal kingdom, which is mostly divided into male and female genders, the plant kingdom is by majority monoecious (bearing male and female flowers on the same plant). However, some plants (including trees such as ash, cedar, cottonwood, and juniper) are dioecious, which means there are separate male and female trees. So you have one population that produces pollen (male) and another that produces fruit and seeds (female). The upshot is that female dioecious plants produce no pollen and are benign to allergy sufferers. The male plants, on the other hand, are pollen machines, shooting their load continually March through June depending where you live.

So, in an allergy sufferer’s ideal world, the surrounding plants would be female dioecious ones. No pollen, no allergies. But in a developer’s ideal world, the best plants are the cheapest ones to maintain—the male plants, which don’t litter seeds and fruit.

This is the mentality of builders across North America. Allergies in cities are rampant as new-development dwellers cope with pollen counts surpassing anything they’d encounter on a nature hike. Essentially, if you live in a new city development with tidy rows of nice new trees, and you’re wondering why you’re being incapacitated by allergies, it’s because you’re being assaulted by an overabundance of male pollen. You’re being inundated by arboreal jizz.

So that’s why our bulging meds cupboard has Nasonex in it now. This alarms me, because it may be the reason my parents haven’t been buying alcohol lately. Could they be avoiding interactions? OMG!

I checked the Nasonex website and couldn’t find anything about alcohol. Perhaps the appropriate studies haven’t been done, as consumers are simply advised to discuss interactions with healthcare professionals. And since my parents wouldn’t bother doing that, alcohol’s go-for-takeoff.

So why isn’t there any in the house?

OKANAGAN SPRING PALE ALE—Good beer between neighbors, especially if you don’t have a good fence

My Fellow Inebriates,

The toilets in the house are not very fond of swallowing, which has given my mother a familiarity with the plunger she never enjoyed in any previous dwelling. Not that she embraces the chore—her modus operandi is to dart away from what she knows will be an incomplete flush, hoping to pin the general blame on my dad’s more man-sized deposits.

But our reluctant toilets are only one prominent example of the ways in which building developers cut corners. Builders lure you into their spanky demonstration townhouses, where you ooh and ahh over the granite countertops and shiny backsplash, only to stick it to you with shoddy workmanship on less visible elements such as plumbing, roofing, the furnace, drainage, insulation and construction. The small stuff.

Naturally this happened to my parents on this, our first home purchase. When they first purchased me six years ago, they were still renting: they’d just left a West End apartment rental for a 60s-era Burnaby house, from which they were evicted to make way for ten of the owner’s relatives who wished to occupy it, then moved to another rental, this time in the boonies of Coquitlam, high up on a hill, where they were so miserable that they finally decided to grow up, take the plunge, and buy a place even farther out in the boonies of Langley. And that’s where we are.

It looked really shiny, this place, especially before the kids started drawing on the walls. Neither of my parents had ever occupied a new home, and this one was only two years old. The previous owners had been gentle with it. My parents figured that once they’d secured home ownership they’d ramp up to all kinds of other grown-up things: dinner parties and such, and they certainly wouldn’t let the mess get out of hand the way it had everywhere else.


Four years later, despite three angry toilets, a furnace that malfunctions in sub-zero temperatures, pockmarked walls exhibiting the scratchability of bargain-basement paint, a destroyed carpet, and thanks to the stellar insulation materials chosen by Platinum Enterprises, seasonal temperature variations evocative of that planet in The Chronicles of Riddick and/or Mercury, the whole gang is here. And somehow, those ideals about perfect housekeeping and continuous home improvement slipped away.

The next-door neighbours, mind you, have maintained their townhouse like a show home. Peek through the door (which is all we’re allowed to do because they hate us) and you’ll see calm, spartan design, carefully wiped surfaces, and not a thing out of place. Their yard does not contain two bikes, a broken stroller, a wrecked IKEA tent, a punctured swimming pool, a dirt-encrusted hose, 30-odd broken toys, and a water table swimming with filth. Their little garden is immaculate, and with every season it blooms with decorations—giant inflatable snowmen, pumpkins, and easter bunnies. In short, these people are fucking nuts. They have a real-life furniture catalogue going on inside their house, despite having two rugrats almost exactly like ours (just not as cute, friendly, well-mannered, intelligent, or funny).

So obviously my parents are burning with jealousy. Well, my mum is; my dad says he isn’t. How do our next-door neighbors achieve such order in their lives? Have they embraced the 7 Habits? Do they abide by The Secret?

My mum says no, it’s just that they’re fucking batshit crazy. It’s all very well to shop with the reluctance of the budget-bound at Walmart, looking for deals on necessities such as shoes and diapers. It’s another thing to invest in Walmart’s full selection of wacko lawn ornamentation and festoon your residence with it, all the while forbidding your children to touch anything. Anything! Those kids probably aren’t allowed to touch the walls. They’re rarely allowed to play with Miss P and Miss V; such an event only occurs if preceded by extreme begging on both sides of the fence by all four kids, none of whom have any idea why their parents aren’t best friends.

Not the neighbors, but some fellow Walmart shoppers

And my parents have no idea either! They don’t hate the neighbors; they’ve even invited them over for a beer. They’ve invited the kids over for playdates and they’ve tried to orchestrate accidental playdates in the park across the street. No go. Those people have a hate on for us and we’re not sure why. My parents used to muse about it a fair bit, wondering if…

  • The neighbors loved the previous owners of our house and were mad at us for taking it over.
  • They think they don’t have anything in common with us. Unfortunately this might be a logical conclusion if they’ve sneaked any peeks into our house the way we have theirs.
  • They think they’re too smart for us. Well, tidy homes=tidy minds. Perhaps they’ve got something.
  • They think we’re too smart for them. Unlikely. If my parents appear in the yard it’s mostly to drink beer or hustle the kids (impatiently) to school.
  • They’re offended by our yard. This is fully possible. Sometimes I’m offended by our yard.
  • They’re offended by my parents’ language. My mum and dad keep the four-letter words in the house for the most part, but you know how it is in summer when the windows are open.
  • They think we’re religious weirdos. LOL!
  • They are religious weirdos. We just don’t know; we haven’t seen any magic underwear, though.

Honestly, we don’t really know them at all. Occasionally we hear the mother hollering. She’ll yell stuff like, “FIVE MINUTES AND WE’RE HAVING SOUP & SANDWICHES; THAT’S FIVE MINUTES AND YOU HAVE TO MAKE A CHOICE TO COME IN. FIVE MINUTES!” And that’s when she’s calling her husband.

My mum knows how to yell pretty well too, although she throws more filthy metaphors into her dinner calls. I bet we could all hang out if we just made the effort. And (unless they’re Mormons) this is the beer that could bring us together: Okanagan Spring PALE ALE.

If it were summer I’d suggest a lager—something light with a slightly lower alcohol content just in case the neighbors are concerned about losing control. You can’t maintain your home furnishing as rigorously as they do if you’re looped. But with the continuing cold weather, PALE ALE is a more appealing option. OK Spring PALE ALE pours reddish copper with crisp carbonation and a frothy head. It gives off a mild fruity aroma—very subtle, so it shouldn’t turn off dyed-in-the-wool MOLSON CANADIAN drinkers (just a neighborly suspicion). On a scale of fruitiness, OK Spring PALE ALE is about a 2 compared to, say, TROIS PISTOLES or MAUDITE—beers that would appall the neighbors and perhaps make them question their sexuality.

On the palate Okanagan Spring PALE ALE is uncomplicated: some hops and carmelized malt with a short arc from sweet to slightly bitter at the end. More flavor actually emerges at the finish, which is probably of benefit to Okanagan Spring, since that lingering palatability goes a long way, especially when you are being distracted from your initial impressions by an eight-foot-tall inflated Easter rabbit undulating next door.

The mouthfeel is quite refreshing, almost palate-cleansing. Indeed, there is a brisk, scrubbing character to the carbonation that adds more than detracts from the drinking experience. Overall, this PALE ALE is a decent, middle-of-the-road offering, and if a neighbor passed me one over the fence I’d do a jig.

Spring has sprung now, so windows will open, as will doors. More often we’ll find ourselves ten feet from our neighbors’ garden activities. Maybe this is the year we’ll get to know them and find out if they actually hate us as we suspect.

Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” But, as it happens, our fences are pretty cheaply made, and some dumbass driver recently bashed part of our fence into smithereens. And since we don’t have a good fence, the job of relationship building goes to…beer.