Home from the Vinyl Cafe: A Year of Stories

Home from the Vinyl Cafe: A Year of Stories

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by Stuart McLean

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Welcome to the world of the Vinyl Cafe. Meet Dave, the proud owner of the world's smallest record store. Meet his pal, Kenny Wong, who runs Wong's Scottish Meat Pies. Meet Dave's wife and their children. Watch while they all bump and stumble through a hilarious year of mistakes, miscues, misunderstandings, and muddle.

The adventures begin in December with


Welcome to the world of the Vinyl Cafe. Meet Dave, the proud owner of the world's smallest record store. Meet his pal, Kenny Wong, who runs Wong's Scottish Meat Pies. Meet Dave's wife and their children. Watch while they all bump and stumble through a hilarious year of mistakes, miscues, misunderstandings, and muddle.

The adventures begin in December with Dave's disastrous yet inspired attempts to cook the family turkey. And they move through the seasons to the following Christmas's fiasco, when Dave accidentally spikes the kids' punch bowl at his neighbor's Christmas soiree.

Home from the Vinyl Cafe also explores the tender awkwardness of first love, the challenges presented by a dying guinea pig, and the answer to the question of why a teenager would rather eat vegetables and clean his room than go on a family vacation.

Whether it's the mystery of sending kids to camp, the dangers of putting up Christmas lights, or the potential for mayhem at the grocery store, in the hands of humorist and master storyteller Stuart McLean the chaotic melody of daily life is underscored by the harmonious sounds of family, friends, and neighbors.

Warm, witty, and moving, these stories will walk right into your life and make themselves at home.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Colloquial, interlocking stories chronicle the ups and downs of a suburban Toronto couple in this warm-hearted latest by Canadian author and broadcast personality McLean (Stories from the Vinyl Caf ). "Holland" considers the courtship and marriage of Dave, the owner of the eponymous record store, and his wife, Morley; early differences in perspective (she thinks eating raw onions is gross; he can't stand those frou-frou chive snippets in his eggs) lead them to a spontaneous skating trip to Holland to cement their romance. "Sourdough" concerns what happens when a neighbor asks Dave to baby-sit the starter for his precious sourdough bread; the sweet, charming "Burd" charts the consequences of Dave's decision to feed an unlikely avian visitor. Dave's daughter and niece enter the picture in subsequent stories, and McLean includes funny scenes about holiday dinners and road trips as well as poignant thoughts about the inevitable failing of Dave and Morley's parents. McLean's natural flair for storytelling helps overcome the limitations of the Lake Wobegonesque conceit, and while he reaches for overly cute, contrived humor in several entries, the overall package is highly enjoyable. Agent, Melanie Jackson. (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Amusing domestic tales from the guy's viewpoint by a Canadian Garrison Keillor. The central figure in these 19 stories is Dave, a former rock-band road manager who now runs a tiny record shop called the Vinyl Cafe. Wife Morley is the sort of woman who begins preparing for Christmas in May; Dave is the kind of guy who forgets that he is in charge of the turkey until the night before Thanksgiving. So he sneaks out of the house at 4 a.m. to an all-night store, buys the last remaining turkey (a frozen, 12-pound, grade-B, slashed carcass with a ripped right drumstick that he names Butch), defrosts Butch with a hairdryer and an electric blanket; and when he can't figure out the automatic oven timer already set for the vegetables, checks into a hotel where room service cooks the turkey for him-all without Morley ever knowing the difference. McLean's laconic approach makes situations that are not exactly fresh seem rip-roaringly funny. For example, the $563.30 bill for Dave's unnamed guinea pig, who spends three days at the vet because he's losing his hair. Or the cat Dave's sister leaves in his care with a set of instructions that he promptly loses. Or the sleepover birthday party for which he rents Night of the Zombies, scaring prepubescent son Sam and his buddies half to death. Or the friends who leave Dave in charge of periodically "feeding" a spoonful of flour to their sourdough bread starter while they are away; he mistakes Spackle for the flour and has to start another from scratch. Or the time teenage daughter Stephanie accidentally sends her parents the letter intended for her best friend and Dave starts reading her raves about the boys at summer camp: "His eyes flicked down at the pagein front of him; he thought he saw the word 'tongue.' "A cozy, meandering, often laugh-out-loud treat.

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The Pig

The guinea pig was losing hair. Not shedding it; losing it. Morley said, "You better take her to the vet." Dave said to his wife, "I know."

The neighborhood vet said she didn't do pigs. She told Dave he'd have to take her to a clinic that specialized in small animals. Dave wasn't sure how to move a sick pig across the city. He settled on the bus and a wooden fruit basket filled with wood chips. The pig didn't seem to mind the excursion. Neither did Dave.

The pig was Dave's job. He cleaned her cage, he fed her, and since she was sick, he accepted that it was up to him to make her better. The pig was his son's pet, but when he bought her, Dave knew that caring for her would eventually fall to him. He didn't enjoy cleaning the cage two nights a week; often he resented it, but he never expected it to be any other way. The pig, after all, was his idea. Why shouldn't he look after her? Once it occurred to him that he did a better job caring for the guinea pig than he did for anyone else in his life — not that he cared for the pig more than his wife or kids; just that looking after her was clearer. He could see when her cage was dirty, and when it was, he knew what to do about it.

When he got to the vet, a young receptionist asked him questions and typed his answers into her computer. When she asked for the pig's name, Dave said, "Doesn't have a name."

Not liking the look that crossed her face, he added, "We call her, the Pig...sometimes just Guinea." Dave, who had always felt naming animals was a questionable practice, thought naming a rodent was foolish, and he hadn't encouraged the idea. But standing in front of thereceptionist, he felt shabby about owning an unnamed pig. As if that told her all she needed to know about him and his family and the way they cared for animals. As if it were suddenly obvious why the pig was sick.

Dave is foggy about the rest of the visit. But he can remember snatches of it. He remembers the receptionist ushering him into another room. He and the pig. He remembers being left alone until another young woman walked in. In his memory, she is wearing a white lab coat. She looks much too young to be a doctor. When she plucks the pig out of its basket and holds her up confidently, he thinks, Must be just out of school.

The young woman is asking him questions. She is poking the pig, petting her. She is taking her away. Dave waits in the front room with the receptionist.

When the young vet, whose name is Dr. Percy, calls Dave back into the examining room, she tells him that she suspects the pig has a tumor. Suspects. She can't be sure. Not without tests.

"We don't see a lot of guinea pigs," she adds.

Then she hands Dave a yellow piece of paper that he still has in his wallet. He has been showing it to everyone who lingers by the cash register at his store. At the top of the page it says:



What seized Dave's attention the moment Dr. Percy handed the estimate to him, and why he has been showing it around, is the figure at the bottom of the page.


The ESTIMATE is carefully itemized:

Guinea pig examination and assessment $37.00

4 days hospitalization exotic level 2 @ $21.50/day $86.00

Vitamin C injection $12.00

Fluids, Reglan injection additional @ $6.00 each $12.00

Exotic anesthesia induction fee $30.00

20 mins. Isoflurane anesthesia @ $120/hr $40.00

15 mins. Surgery minor category @ $200/hr $49.95

Radiograph split plate $62.00

CBC — done with profile $25.00

Clinical chemistry 1 profile $47.50

Cortisol (3 tests) $75.00

Miscellaneous charges if needed (medication at home, etc.) $50.00

7% GST to be added to final bill. Estimated to be $36.85

The figure that galled Dave was the $21.50 a day for hospitalization. How could it cost $21.50 a day to feed and lodge a guinea pig? He himself had stayed in motels for under $21.50 a night. How much could a guinea pig eat, especially after surgery?

At first he thought the estimate was a joke. Or maybe a mistake. Then he realized it was neither, and he felt trapped. If he signed the estimate and handed the pig over to the vet, he could imagine what they would have to say about him at closing time. What kind of person, he could hear the receptionist ask, would spend five hundred dollars on a guinea pig? A four-year-old sick guinea pig. A guinea pig that was going bald and could soon look like a worm with legs. A pig that was clearly playing on the back nine of pigdom. On the other hand, if he were to walk out, wouldn't that confirm everything that the receptionist had thought about him?

He asked if he could phone his wife. She wasn't home. "I have to speak to my wife," he said as he left with the pig. "I'll phone you tomorrow."

Everyone he has asked says he did the right thing. Brian, who opens the Vinyl Cafe on Saturday mornings, said so. Morley said so, too. "Are you crazy?" she asked. At supper she made hair-replacement jokes. She said if the pig lost all its hair, she would knit her a little sweater.

Dave's friend Al suggested he take the pig for a walk in the rain. "That'll fix her," Al said.

Dave didn't try to explain what he was feeling. He knew it was crazy to spend $563.30 on a balding guinea pig that had cost $30. But when you are standing in a vet's office holding a life in your hands, it is easy to imagine yourself spending the money. It was, after all, a life. And it was, after all, in his hands.

The next evening, after everyone else was in bed, Dave poured himself a beer and sat down at the kitchen table. He began writing a list of animals whose deaths he had already caused.

l. One hamster. Not really his fault. She had died from chewing the wood in her cage. Dave's grandfather had built the cage. And it was his grandfather who had painted it yellow. It was the lead in the paint that had killed the hamster. Dave remembers the night the hamster died. He remembers his mother feeding his hamster brandy from an eyedropper. What he can't remember is whether the hamster had a name.

2. Frogs. Too many to count. He had never actually killed a frog himself. But he had been present when frogs were killed. He must have been twelve when his friends had found the swamp. They went there and killed frogs in all sorts of fiendish ways. They tied rocks to the frogs' legs and threw them into the water so they drowned. Dave remembers watching one frog, weighted down, its front legs pawing at the water, trying desperately to swim to the surface. He couldn't remember whether he had said anything. Whether he had stood up for the frog or not.

Years later, he went to Honolulu and toured the wreckage left from the attack on Pearl Harbor. The guide explained that the destroyer the glass-bottomed boat was gliding over had flipped during the Japanese raid, trapping hundreds of men in air pockets when it sank. The guide said that for one week, rescuers could hear the trapped men tapping on the hull of the sunken boat. The guide said there was nothing anyone could do for them. Dave squinted into the Hawaiian sun and remembered the way the frog's front paws had worked the water.

3. Starlings. When he was duck hunting. He went duck hunting only the one time. All morning there were no ducks. Nothing in the water. Nothing in the sky. Just heavy gray clouds, a smudge of sun at the end of the lake. Just before dawn, a flurry of starlings flew overhead. Dave can't remember who was the first to shoot into the flock. He remembers lifting his borrowed rifle. Remembers the wonder he felt as the starlings tumbled out of the sky. They hit the water like stones.

4. One groundhog. It was summer. He was a university student. He was working on a dairy farm in the Ottawa valley. He loved the job. He was driving tractors and cows. Every night after supper, he took a .22-caliber rifle and walked through the fields. He watched the sun go down and smoked an Old Port cigarillo. He had the gun because he was supposed to shoot groundhogs. They dug tunnels in the fields, and the tractor might tip into the tunnels. It made Dave feel important. The evening he saw his first groundhog, she must have been a hundred yards away. She was sitting up in her hole like a prairie dog. The sun was behind him. He dropped to his knees and brought the rifle up to his shoulder. He squeezed the trigger. He was mortified when the groundhog dropped out of sight. She was lying on the ground when he walked up to her. There was a small red puncture in her side as if someone had driven a nail into her. Every time she breathed, an awful sucking sound came out of the hole. Dave fumbled with the rifle. The bolt jammed. He couldn't get another bullet into the chamber. And the groundhog wouldn't die. Dave started to cry. "Die, dammit," he yelled as he turned the rifle upside down and hit the groundhog with the butt. It was the last time he had ever shot a rifle.

5. One baby raccoon. Maybe two. It was night. He was driving his family back from a week's vacation by the ocean. They had just crossed the Appalachian Mountains. They were in a valley, on a two-lane highway. He was driving too fast. He saw the eyes glint in the darkness well ahead of him.

"Watch out," his wife said in the seat beside him.

"I see it," he snapped, impatiently.

Saw with plenty of time to slow down. Instead, he veered to the right. He still remembers the surprise, the shock, when he heard the thump on his right bumper.

He had seen the flash of the mother's eyes in his headlights; what he hadn't seen were the babies following her across the highway. He plowed right into them. He wanted to stop, but his wife told him to keep going. The kids were in the backseat.

That was as far as Dave got on his list. It was after midnight. Everyone was asleep except for the pig, who, not accustomed to having the lights on at this time of night, began to whistle from her cage on the counter. Dave got up and took a carrot out of the fridge and dropped it through the door on the top of the cage. The pig sniffed the carrot and settled down to it.

"Pig," said Dave out loud with great affection.

"Pig," he said again quietly to himself on his way upstairs to bed.

Copyright © 2005 by Stuart McLean

Meet the Author

Stuart McLean is the host of CBC Radio's The Vinyl Cafe. He is a two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. He lives in Toronto.

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Home from the Vinyl Cafe: A Year of Stories 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reading or listening to Stuart McLean is truly a pleasure. He's funny, witty and always provides a good laugh. Dave, Morley and the rest of the characters are certainly human and one can easily relate to them. Wonderful writing that touches me deeply and makes me laugh out loud.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is so funny that I actually felt myself snorting and laughing a bit outloud. Usually I do not like short story collections, but this collection follows a husband and wife as they grow up and have kids. It is so funny. The 1st story alone is worth the price of the book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book with make your sides ache with laughter. i had a very fun time reading this book and it is exteremly entertaining.