Thursday, 22 December 2011

Take This Job...

Hello Friends.

Isn't it cool when some kind of life change coincides with the start of a new year? Like when you go into labour during a New Year's Eve party? Or you go Boxing Day shopping and someone shoots your leg clean off? Life changes. And when these things happen towards the end of December, you begin to look at them cosmically, as if these things were meant to happen at this time to give you a very different 2012. I'm proud to announce I'm in the throes of such arrogant pontificating because January 1st, 2012 will be my last day at the drugstore where I've worked, at two different locations, for four years. A few days later, I start my first big boy job, as a full time Media Writer for one of those daily deal websites I'm hesitant to name lest I queer some obscure part of my contract by claiming association with the company before I actually start at the job. It's basically doing funny writing for your inbox explaining why you should get this spa deal, this vacation, this remote control helicopter, that kind of stuff. It ain't a column in Vanity Fair, but it's a full-time writing gig, which is better than a kick in the petunia.

As I excited as I am to start the new job, I'm even more excited about leaving the old one. Christmas is a terrible time to work retail because everybody's anxious, they just need one more thing on their lists, the lines are long, things sell out fast, and there aren't enough hours between now and Christmas to be the least bit courteous to anyone. Now I'm luckier than most because not only to I get to quit in the New Year, I actually get to go home for Christmas in between, so I really have nothing to complain about. And if this were a movie, not only would the customers be awful, but I'd have a terrible group of coworkers and mean boss and I could throw down my punch card and be like, "Fuck y'all!". But this is not a movie and the only bummer to finding this awesome new job and giving only two weeks notice is that I know I'm screwing over some good friends and really kind bosses who have to deal with the same lousy customers and work longer days until they can hire another me, or a monkey with long hair, or an upside down mop with a nametag. This is only a mild bummer, though, and doesn't convince me to stick around even a second longer than I have to, but I do have one Dream, not only for myself, but for the coworkers and friends I leave behind.

Dream: Vengeance on terrible customers.

Goal: Unachievable. I've always thought the major problem with dealing with a crappy customer in retail is also its saving grace. Love them or hate them, one only has to put up with a customer for as long as it takes to find their purchases, ring them through, and get them out the door. Unlike food service, where you might have to fake nice to a table of assholes for an hour, I can be through with one asshole in ninety seconds (gross). But the brevity of a transaction is, unfortunately, a two-way street. A customer reasons he is only stopping in a store (in my case, a store that has identical locations all over the country) for two minutes and therefore can leave all niceties at the door, he's just going to do that.

This Goal is also unachievable because, despite appearing to have all the power in the transaction, there's very little a cashier can do to appropriate punish a rude or mean customer. If you purposefully give bad service to someone who's already being a jerk, they will have no qualms asking for a manager, asking for your name, emailing Head Office, or whatever it takes, especially when you work at a chain store like I do. Obviously violating customer service protocol only serves to get you in trouble, not the customer, and as such, is barely worth considering. That being said...

Plan: Get creative. I should stress that these are things I would never actually do, not by a long shot. Attempting even one of the following would not only cost me any future job offers, I'm sure they'd be illegal, too. But it does my blackened heart good to imagine these scenarios after dealing with a rude customer, and often just imagining them creatively is enough to help me face another hour on the clock.

  • If you decide after carrying an item across a store that you don't want to buy it anymore, don't just stick it on the closest shelf. Put it back or bring it to the cashier, who'll do it for you. If you just put it down wherever, I'm going to go into the drawer of your bedside table, extract your dildoiest dildo, and place it on your dining room table.
  • If you bring in an obviously photocopied coupon or expired voucher and belligerently insist that we honour it because it's still good, I'm going to cut the power to your refrigerator and insist you consume all the dairy because it's still good.
  • If you object strenuously to the price of something because "it's only 2.99 at WalMart!", I will draw you a map to the nearest WalMart.
  • If your child knocks stuff over and screams and you don't do anything about it, I'm going to come to your house, knock stuff over, and scream into your baby's face.
  • If you pay with a twenty that's been folded over ten times, I'll sit and make you wait while I painstakingly unfold it and smooth it out (I actually do this one).
  • Sorry we don't stock that thing you like. If you really whine and complain about it, I'll be able to magically produce it from behind the counter, but then I will destroy it, just to watch your face.
  • If you don't tell me you're a senior on Senior's Day and you're mad when you don't get the discount, I won't tell you about the time I fucked your super-old dad on Father's Day. I don't know how that makes sense but, recent seniors, just be glad I didn't assume you were old.
  • If you stand there and tease, humiliate and belittle me for my perceived incompetence, I will follow you home, out with your buddies, and then to your workplace until I find the person in your life who makes you feel like shit. Then I will grandly gesture and say, "This is how it feels! Are you glad to be perpetuating this?" And you will know.

Again, I would never do any of these things, despite how much I might want to fuck your super-old dad. I feel like, sooner or later, we're all somebody's cashier. There will always be situations in life where you are unfortunately, are at the total mercy of someone who does not respect you. The trick, I know, is to let it roll of your back. But I wonder if we don't do that too often, sometimes. If we witness negative behaviour and words so often that it barely registers anymore and we begin, slowly but surely, to lose respect for ourselves. That is the serious consequence to a very un-serious job. So please, shoppers at Shoppers, and any other retail store this Christmas, I beg you once again to consider your cashier. Consider that they are just like you, though they probably make a little less money, and they just want the courtesy they are required to show you reflected back to them. I'm thrilled with the possibility that I might not have to be a cashier for awhile, but I'm really grateful for the past seven years or so spent in the retail industry because it's taught me, above all else, the importance of being a better customer or, if you like, a better man.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Luka, I am Your Uncle...

Hello Friends.

I've really enjoyed Christmas shopping this year as I have an amazing new guy to shop for. Sorry, Dr. Jon and family, but you're taking lower positions on my Christmas List while I find the perfect presents for Luka. Luka was born two weeks ago to Dr. Jon's brother Jeff and his wife, Kailey. He was a big baby, but a few weeks premature, and so had fragile baby lungs that needed attention. He spent the better part of a week in an incubator. They sent pictures, I wish they could dress those incubators up a bit. He looked so lonesome in that little chamber, I would have loved to send little posters of Coldplay or Modest Mouse, but I don't know what he likes yet.

Anyway, after those tense early days of hospitalin', Luka proved to be a strong baby who didn't care much for his baby aquarium, and was sent home, happy and now totally healthy, with his parents. His parents. Because Jon and his brother Jeff have never lived close since Jon and I have been together, I'm ashamed to say I don't know Jeff and Kailey as well as I should. I see them at holidays, I went to their wedding, and they seem like happy, friendly, regular young people. Younger than me by a few years, in fact. So it blows my mind that they are parents now. Not that they won't be great parents, you understand, they are smart, loving people who will surely raise a great kid, but I still have trouble understanding that anyone hovering around my age could possibly be somebody's mother or father when I still can't be counted on to rinse toothpaste out of the sink, or eat spaghetti without getting it all over myself. Parenthood is a ways off for me, but I'm ready to embrace Unclehood whole hog! I hope I'm good at it.

Dream: Be a good uncle.

Goal: Achievable, thanks to great life experience. I've had almost nothing but great uncles myself across the board. My parents each have three siblings, which gives me a couple good uncles right there, and the aunts all married equally good uncles themselves. If I've done my math correctly, I've had about ten uncles in my life. I'm counting the boyfriends of aunts as uncles officially, because I am merely the boyfriend of Dr. Jon, and if someone were to accuse my uncleness to Luka of being somehow "lesser than", I'd rip their balls off. Anyway, most of my uncles have been really top-drawer, so I have no excuse not to rise to the occasion myself.

Plan: As of today, December 15, 2011, I vow to you, Little Luka, the following:

  • I am your uncle, but not your parent, so you can still talk to me when you're pissed off at your folks.
  • I will learn how to fish if you want to go fishing.
  • I will always have gum.
  • I will teach you that intolerance is a sign of weakness and it takes a real man to be a feminist.
  • If a series of books becomes a series of movies, I'm just going to buy you the books.
  • Let's go to McDonald's!
  • A t-shirt with a joke written on it is only funny once.
  • Don't sass me, unless you can come up with a creative way of doing it. Learned a new swear? Sass me wit' it!
  • Refrain from comments regarding Uncle James' appearance or odour and I will do the same.
  • Your gay uncles will cry if you do something well, like sing a song or give a speech. Sorry, we just will.
  • I can probably count higher than you, but I'm not going to make a big deal out of it.
  • Uncle Dr. Jon will take you clothes shopping and this is a good thing. He'll say, "Oh just get it! You look great!" if you're unsure about an item, and if you say it's too expensive, he's probably gonna pay for it! Bam!
  • I always want to know what you're reading, so please always read.
  • Try not to sext anyone.
  • I'm sorry we messed the world up so bad, in terms of the environment, the economy, and human rights, but if you want to tackle any of those problems, I will help in any way I can.
  • Be good to animals because they'll always be good to you. But not, like, mountain lions.
  • Don't be an asshole.
  • Except for this blog, avoid the internet for fifteen years.
  • No woman born has ever been seduced by a car horn, a demeaning nickname, or the "honking" of her breasts. Please remember this.
  • Imagine stuff. No one can police your thoughts, so think about whatever you want.
  • If I get the name wrong of a hot new band, please correct me. I called Rihanna Rhiannon for months, like the awful Fleetwood Mac song.
  • Joni Mitchell made me see the world differently. Find an artist who does that for you.
  • Don't pull the chair out from under me right before I sit down. That's such a dick move.
  • No matter what happens, even though we're not related by marriage or blood, I will always be your Uncle James.

I will meet Luka for the first time over Christmas. Rather than onesies or diapers, I've been going the totally non-practical route and buying Luka books. I'm not certain he can read yet, but I'm getting those oversized cardboard ones so at least he can nibble on the corners while being read to. I can't believe I've already become that relative who gives you a Christmas gift you neither need nor want, but I can't risk him growing up without a Corduroy book in the house. I hope he doesn't feel awkward about not getting me anything because, cliched as it is, I can honestly say his presence is my present.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

My New Webseries...

Hello Friends.

Okay, so my webseries doesn't exist yet. I mean, it exists insofar as I've thought of what it could be, but I haven't actually done anything about it. I love webseries, I think they're one of the most interesting and creative uses of the internet. And I think the quality of this medium surpasses its predecessor, television, in a lot of ways. Put Christine Nangle and Peter Schultz's I Wanna Have Your Baby up against Whitney on NBC and see what makes you laugh more. Creating something from nothing and then giving it freely to the masses means one has full creative control over its production. There are no sponsors to appease, no demographic to cater to. No money in it either, I suppose, but it seems like a well-done webseries can be a gateway to a satisfying paying career. Donald Glover, who wrote for 30 Rock and is now on Community got his start writing and starring in his online sketch show Derrick Comedy. Aubrey Plaza landed meetings for Parks & Recreation, Funny People, and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World based on her own webseries and sketch comedy work. Of course, it's never that easy. Or is it?

Dream: Create a humourous webseries.

Goal: Achievable, with lots of help. It seems to me that the funniest people aren't the most technologically adept and vice-versa. That's why there seem to be some low budget, terribly lit, hard to hear webseries with atrocious camera work by hilarious people, and high end, polished, looks just like tv webseries that aren't funny at all. There's something about taking a funny script or funny people, filming it, and putting it online or on television that fails ninety-nine times out of a hundred. I know enough about my own limitations to know I would fall into the fail camp if left to my own devices. So all I would really need would be a producer, director, other actors, camera guys, internet nerds, a set, and some money, and I'll be good to go.

Plan: Be the ideas man. Hey, unfunny freelance production team, want something to work on that came out of my brain (all ideas copyrighted by me in perpetuity)? BOOM!

Hey Girl, Remember Me? With Justin and Justin. Set in 2024, Justins Bieber and Timberlake attempt to revive their dead careers by making YouTube videos together. They disparage their dwindling amount of YouTube subscribers ("1400, girl? That's not even a good Black Friday crowd, girl!"), appeal to their former famous friends, ("Hey Usher, where you at? Quit dogging me, dog! Quit... being a dog to me") and plug their charity, Justins' Kids. Justins' Kids isn't a charity so much as a source of income to provide for Justin and Justin's children for things like: a demo tape, ProActiv solution, lap band surgery, double-wide booster seats, Amelia Bedelia books, and psychoanalysis. Expect cameos from first season American Idol runner-up Justin Guarini, and unfunny Hangover movie fourth guy Justin Bartha.

Can I Get Black To You On That? A nerdy, put-upon white guy (played by me) can't deal with arguments or confrontation, but someone's always trying to push him around! Luckily, he's figured around around this problem. Every time someone gets in his face about something, he excuses himself for a moment and returns as a super-cool badass black guy. Yeah.

Newsmakers Web Series Webseries Under the pretext of a serious interview program, controversial politicians and pundits (Bill O'Reilly, Michelle Bachman, Rob Ford) will arrive for what they think is a a serious roundtable discussion. In fact, Web Series will just be them walking out onstage and right into a spider web that has been woven at face-level. Then they'll do that hilarious "I just walked into a spiderweb" dance and the host (me) will laugh and laugh!

Are You Cornelius Bumblecrum? A search for the world's most hilarious and endearing name, hosted by two Facebook friends of mine, Fred Kitchen and Emersen Ziffle! They don't know each other yet, but Fred Kitchen and Emersen Ziffle are really sweet people, and those are their awesome real names!

The Sickest Duets. The most popular singing sensations on YouTube team up to duet on your favourite songs. One problem: One or both of the singers is terribly ill! Whether afflicted whooping cough or food poisoning, these singers will derail every song with an uncontrollable viral intervention. For example, say two teenagers from different parts of the world want to record a Skyped duet of Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You." Here's how that might look:

TEEN 1: 'Cuz I just want you for my own/
TEEN 2: I feel funny..
TEEN 1: More than you could ever know/
TEEN 2: We have to stop, I think...
TEEN 1: Make my wish come truuue!/
TEEN 2: Oh God...
TEEN 1: Baby, all I want for Christmas is...
TEEN 2: BLAAAARG! Ohhh, it's all over my shirt! Did it get on the monitor? It got on the monitor.

My Robot Buddy! Brother and sister Billy and Amy spend all afternoon making a pots and pans robot that actually works! They can't believe it when the robot cleans their room, does their chores, and finishes their homework! Wow! Billy and Amy hide their new friend in the closet whenever Mom or Dad come check in, but it's too late! The robot has caught a glimpse of Mom and is determined to have sex with her. Uh-oh!

These are just a few of the ideas I have ready for production. I got a million of them. There could be a webseries devoted to the weird way people walk around the shoe store when they first try on a pair of shoes. You know, when you're thinking, "I don't really walk like this, but I sort of forget how I walk." That's a show. Or one of those Teen Moms will have to adopt an entitled sixteen year-old and raise her as her own. We could call it Teen Teen Mom. Why do we need all these remakes and sequels in Hollywood? Those are perfectly viable ideas right there. But ideas alone aren't enough. I need follow-through! I need ambition! I need a really good lighting, sound, and camera person. I could make the world laugh if I tried really hard, like these web series people do. Or maybe I could just fall down.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Roof is Leaking and the Wind is Howling...

Hello Friends.

I spent this past weekend out of town with family and had a great time. I overindulged in booze and food, but they were accompanied by great conversation and togetherness and I'm none the worse for wear. I returned home on Monday resolved to let the positivity of this experience stay with me and keep me in high spirits until Christmas, which I will also get to spend with family. All was well until I actually walked into my apartment, which is plagued, once again, by a leaky roof.

Our ceiling had an intermittent leak for nearly a year. Largely ignored by our landlord, the leaks were small, but tolerable, as we didn't have a lot of hard rain. When we (meaning Jon) got confrontational about this leak with the maintenance staff, they grudgingly did something on the roof and the leak would subside, then return. They'd go up on the roof again, the leak would subside again, then return again. Finally, they took the protruding plaster off of our ceiling, re-plastered the whole offending area, and the leaks stopped. Until this past Monday. The newly plastered area is yellow and brown around the edges, where it's bubbled and saggy. The leak is a persistent, audible, syncopated 1,2 drop of water. It's not a steady stream, but a torturous trickle. Now everything in the immediate area has been moved around and unplugged and covered in garbage bags. I was using my bathroom garbage can to catch the water, but had to get up in the middle of the night to dump it out so it wouldn't overflow. Sheepishly, the landlord provided a large basin for the leak and trudged up the roof yet again, but is stymied. A roof guy has been called, but couldn't go to work today when the rain turned to snow, which stopped the leak for awhile, until the snow started to melt.

As problems go, this is totally manageable. This small, localized dripping has not otherwise affected the heat in my apartment, or the electricity, or the phone or internet or anything. I would rather have a leak than bedbugs, or rowdy neighbours, or any roommate of any kind, but there's something so... invasive about it, I guess. Something that reminds me that I'm still at the mercy of the elements, something driving me slowly insane with every drip. Something must be done.

Dream: Fix the leaky roof.

Goal: Achievable, because I've fixed a similar problem. Once, because I'm a moron, I knocked a roll of toilet paper into the toilet as it flushed. It was the stupid, flimsy biodegradable toilet paper because I evidently care more for the Earth than my own ass. I heard that awful shudder mid-flush and realized I'd clogged up Old Toily (what I call my toilet) real good. Like a simpleton who pushes even harder when a door marked "pull" doesn't open, I flushed Old Toily again. It shuddered again, and cemented the clog. I tried my plunger, fearing it wouldn't work, and it didn't. So get this, you guys! I watched some videos on YouTube, went to the hardware store, bought a weird spindly-lookin' thing called a drain auger, watched the videos again, taught myself how to use it, bingo bango, fixed Old Toily! So it can be done.

Plan: Use a variety of options at my disposal to get this taken care of, such as:

Money. You know how sometimes you hear a sound repeat so often, you put words to it? Like a car alarm going "Be-boop! Be-boop!" starts to sound like, "Tree-root" or "Neice-poop"? Maybe it's just me. But the double drop of the water as it hits its stagnant brothers in the basin sounds to me like, "You're poor. You're poor." I can't help but think if I lived on the top floor of a high rise in the financial district, instead of a four-floor walk-up in midtown, the landlord would do more than provide a basin. I'm luckier than most in that I don't have debts, or crazy expenses, and that Jon makes enough money that he can contribute to our rent here when he doesn't even live here anymore, but I hate stretching every pay-cheque so embarrassingly thin. But nobody makes enough money, least of all people in my age group. Really I should be Occupying some Street right now, but I think the rain falling on my tent would bother me more than this.

Clout. Clout would fix my ceiling. Can you imagine what it would be like to seriously shout at someone, "Do you know who I am?" I don't think I ever would do that, but it would give me orgasmic pleasure just to know that I could. Some would argue that clout is about money, too, but I think it's really more a state of mind. Dr. Phil says a lot of stupid shit I don't understand, but one thing he used to say when I watched him back when he was on Oprah that I've never forgotten was, "You teach people how to treat you." In other words, if you're meek and cow-towing, some folks are going to walk all over you. Conversely, if you believe that you are worthy of certain consideration regardless of how others might perceive your status, you're more likely to get it. Sending food back at a restaurant, barking orders at a subordinate, even stamping my feet about a leaky roof are all things, unfortunately, that are not in my nature to do. I remember reading once that Terry Eagleton, this big, mucky-muck literary critic and scholar said that an accurate tombstone on his family plot might read something like, "Here lies the Eagleton Family. They didn't cause too much trouble." For as-yet unexplored reasons, I place a higher premium on not making a fuss than I do about getting my own way, but I suppose that's another blog.

Finally, knowledge would probably be my greatest asset here. Like my YouTube instructional videos helped me to rescue Old Toily, surely there are tools I can buy or expertise I can glean that would help me fix the damn leak myself. The feeling of satisfaction I got when I finally, blessedly extracted the disgusting roll of toilet paper, and the former flush gurgled back to life and everything worked again was remarkable. It's unfortunate that I can't share this accomplishment with too many people, because it makes me look really interested in toilets, but it made me feel so capable, which is awesome!

In the meantime, though, I could really use a little perspective here. It's been heart-sickening to look at the really leaky roofs, dilapidated shacks, and 12 person tents in Attawapiskat. I know it's an often repeated refrain, but I can't believe what happens in this country we're all so proud of. Red Cross and True North Aid are taking donations, as I understand it, and I have been talking to a gal who puts together amazing music cabarets about throwing a bitchingly awesome fundraiser, where I promise not to sing, this December (exact date and time to come, Readers, assuming everything goes forward as it should). Fundraising is really the least we can do in these situations. After all, I want to help, truly help, not by donating a basin, or patching a crack. I want to be part of the group that fixes the roof.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

And Justice For All...

Hello Friends.

Let me set the scene for you. I'm at a standing room only concert last night by one of those good indie bands with an unmemorable name. I thought they were Dakota Blue, then Fun Candlestick, but they're called Hey Rosetta. Have you forgotten the name already? I have. But they were good. Not really a beat I could dance to, but lots of fun. They were rockin', but they had a cello, which I support.

What was not good was the weird girl sitting behind us. Did I mention the concert was standing room only? I did? Because she was sitting. We stood close to the bar and she sat at the bar and whined the whole night to my friend Lewis, standing in front of her. "Get out of the waaaay! Why are you so talllll! Why the fuck are you so tallll! I can't seeeee!" Lewis tried to accommodate her, but she increasingly became a bitchface. He moved so as to improve her field of vision, but then she would move herself behind him again so she could smack him (like literally smack him) and go, "Get out of the waaaay!" Then, as my friends Dan and Lajya looked back to see what was going on, she said, "What the fuck are you looking at?" And then, to Lajya, "You wanna roll?" She was, apparently, not offering Lajya a roll (which was my first thought), but challenging her to a fight. She declined. We gave her an even wider breadth, which she did not deserve, then another girl approached weird girl and they started making out with each other and then weird girl zipped up her winter coat, put her hood up, and started crashing into me. What? WHAT?

I ignored her, as did my friends, but she only became louder, and more aggressive. Dan ordered another drink and gave the briefest of head-jerks towards the offending party. Kind of a, "Check out this cracky gal" to the bartender. Bartender checked her out and within minutes, two security guards approached her, and kicked her out! I can't stress enough how supremely satisfying this was. She wasn't breaking bottles, or hitting people, or really breaking any rules beyond common courtesy, so I think we all expected to deal with her for the rest of Cable Tree's set. So the fact that she was kicked out just for being super annoying was fantastic, it was heartening, it was justice.

Dream: Justice for discourteous people.

Goal: Unachievable, for now. As much as I'd love vigilante justice for line-cutters, joke-stealers and people who smell like piss all the time, I know there's no way to actually police such behaviour. Best as I can do is offer suggestions and hope that those fat-cats on Parliament Hill take notice. If any political candidate adopted the following platforms, I bet they'd get a lot of votes.

Plan: Create a system of checks and balances that appropriately punishes shitty behaviour. For instance:

All of those so-called "medical experts" who spend their time talking to Star magazine, speculating on how much weight Jennifer Aniston has gained or lost, should be forced to spend their time watching hidden camera footage at restaurants to catch bad tippers. If someone receives good food and service and leaves a tip of ten percent or lower, they should have their picture taken as they leave the restaurant, like those people who run red lights. The medical experts should circulate the pictures to various restaurants (and send a copy to the offender) along with a photocopy of their bill and the tip they left. Consequently, bad tippers will be banned from whichever restaurants feel like banning them. Justice!

Dental hygienists who are all high and mighty about your brushing should be forced to spend one shift of their workweek installing dummy seats in buses. Then, from behind a two way mirror or something, they will watch people waiting for a bus. When the bus comes, if somebody cuts the line and insists on getting on first, the dental hygienist has to make sure whatever seat they choose instantly collapses beneath them. Justice!

Telemarketers should have to use the technology they've created to auto-dial numbers to install an iphone app (am I saying that right? App?). This app will be able to sense by proximity, I guess, when you are standing close to someone and having a conversation with them. Should you continue this conversation and try to text someone while you're talking to me, this app will shut the iphone down instantly. If you are a repeat offender, the iphone will start to vibrate so vigorously it drops from the users hand and shatters. Justice!

Bros who are still doing Borat impressions (the movie is five years old, bros), need to obtain the phone numbers those bored mothers who drag their awful children through the store. You know the mothers I mean. The ones who bring their obviously tired, obviously cranky kids to a store, regardless of the time of day or night, and take their sweet time buying junk food while the kids scream and run and knock stuff over and mother offers only the occasional, "Settle down, Brexler. Do you want another coke?" Anyway, the bros need their phone numbers so they can call the bored mothers in the middle of the night to do their Borats.
Bored Mother (sleepily): Mmph...hello?
Bros: Issa niiice! Issa niiice! Issa niiice!

The downside with being a justice vigilante is that, while people support you in theory, nobody actually likes you very much. My very favourite story of the manners police comes from a few years ago when I was working the till one night. A rowdy but harmless drunk was buying scratch tickets from me. He grabbed his tickets and moved aside and the uptight older businessman started unloading his cart. Then the drunk said, "I won! I won five bucks! Can you put this through for me?" and gave me the ticket. I took it to run through and give him his five bucks (which would have taken my ten seconds) and Uptighty goes, "Hey hold on here! There's a line and you've had your turn! You need to go to the back of the line!" And Drunky pauses a moment, steps back, and says, "Why don't you go fuck yourself?" Ohhh man! Even though Uptighty was in the right and Drunky was in the wrong, isn't that still Justice! So while we can't police everybody's behaviour, can we just agree to all be a little bit more polite to each other, applaud justice when we see it, and sometimes tell Uptighty's to go fuck themselves? That's the kind of beat we can all dance to.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

A Month of Fun-Days...

Hello Friends.

Have you heard about this Movember thing? I'm afraid I was totally late to this party. Movember takes place over the entire month of November where men are instructed not to shave their face and grow a moustache for a month. They get people to sponsor the growing of this moustache and the funds they raise go to prostate cancer. I can't quite connect moustaches to the prostrate (and don't want to give it a try), but it is apparently a very successful campaign.

I'd like to participate in this, I really would, but... moustaches are gross. I know it's all a big laugh riot but I don't need to be any more self-conscious about my appearance than I already am for an entire month. I've never tried to grow a moustache, but I feel like it would be less Ron Swanson and more John Waters. But I would like to be more charitable.

Dream: Designate another month in support of a charity.

Goal: Achievable. Movember only started in Canada four years ago and now it's widespread! I can think of five guys I know growing moustaches right now (and they all look... like they're sporting moustaches).

Plan: Come up with more cutesy-named but philanthropic month-long events. Such as:

Frocktober - Wear a dress every day in October in support of women's health.

Dissember - Diss someone every day in December in support of Tourette's syndrome YOU FUCKING WHOREBALL!

Gaypril - Develop a same-sex attraction every day in April in support of gay rights.

Puly - Document your regularity every day in July in support of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Heptember - Enjoy a different sexual partner every day in September in support of Hepatitis's A through C.

Pube-ruary - Leave your body hair unkempt and overgrown this February in support of people who just don't care anymore.

AIDS March - Hold an AIDS march every day in March in support of AIDS.

Blogust - Visit Big City James every day in August in support of me.

All right, so maybe these proposed months don't have the same appeal as Movember, but they're all for very good causes. I'm sponsoring a friend this month who seems to really regret ever agreeing to not shave these past 17 days and counting, but he's raising a lot of cash with his 'stache, which seems reason enough to keep a stiff, albeit hairy, upper lip.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

An Open Letter to Kim Kardashian...

Hello Friends.

I'm afraid the problem with Kim Kardashian is not Kim Kardashian. It is not her heavily-sponsored wedding, her subsequent divorce, her reality show, her endorsement deals, her parents, or her bangin' bod. The problem with Kim Kardashian is me. It's you. It's us. There's been an internet meme circulating since Kim announced her divorce after 72 days of marriage and a plethora of media coverage with a picture of Kim and her groom on their wedding day captioned something to the effect of “If you think gay marriage cheapens the institution, two words: Kim Kardashian.” This point is well-taken and very true, if not supremely ironic when extrapolated. Gay marriage and Kim Kardashian both have a huge gay following, so is supporting both then working at cross-purposes? Maybe that's too easy, but what if it's not? If every gay American man took Kim Kardashian as a threat to gay marriage and decided to stop watching her show, it's specials and spin-offs, viewership would significantly decrease. Who else but us campy gays watch the E! Network or tolerate such an absurd spelling of “Khloe”?

But let me take my tongue out of my cheek for just a moment to wonder if what Kim Kardashian represents is actually an insidious threat to our culture. It could be said that to value her is to value style over substance, pornography over sexuality, objectification over feminism, vapidity over smart-ishness. So what can I do about that?

Dream: Get a letter to Kim Kardashian.

Goal: Unachievable. With the amount of coverage Kim gets and the lawyers, managers, and handlers that surely filter through everything which is sent her way, I doubt very much that she will ever read these words. But I recently read that, in terms of probability, you're just as likely to find a $50 million winning lottery ticket lying in the street as you are to buy it in a store. I am Kim's lottery ticket and maybe if I can't reach her by conventional means (not that I've tried), she will inexplicably Google her own name and “pizza gut” and find this. I don't know, the method's not important, what's important is the letter.

Plan: Write the letter, mean every word, and hope she gets it.

Dear Kim Kardashian,

How are you? I am fine. You don't know me, but I know you, which is worrisome. I don't watch any of the television shows with your name on them, but I know you have some sisters, you recently separated from your husband to whom you were only just married, a few business ventures that didn't do so well, and millions of fans. Do you ever wonder what your fans are fans of, Kim? What qualities you possess that others emulate? I do. I wonder how you feel high atop the slippery slope of “famous for being famous.”

I'm writing to tell you that, despite what I'm sure is a difficult time for you personally, you have the world on a string. Millions of people are waiting, with baited breath, for your next move, and I'm here to beg you to consider it carefully.

I would love to see you go to school, Kim Kardashian, even if only to learn a trade. It would be amazing if you took those cameras following you around and went to a small liberal arts college and really hit the books. It would be amazing to watch you eating cold pizza with one hand while going over and over the hi-lighted portion of your textbook, repeating the same facts over and over so it'll stick in your head. I find it helps to remember facts using the tune from the song Maybe from the musical Annie. For instance, “Betcha she's Mercury/Betcha he's Venus/Betcha he's made Earth a closet of Mars. Betcha they're Jupiter/as Saturn as Uranus/Don't really Neptune, as long as they're Pluto.” I want to see you value your mind as much as your body!

You have so much, Kim, won't you be charitable? I don't mean start a foundation with your name on it so you can throw a gala every year and wear some bejewelled ass-flattering gown. I mean find out what this Occupy Wall Street business is all about. Go down to the soup kitchen and grab a ladle. Go to the battered women's shelter and help pick out clothes for the ladies to wear for job interviews. Go to the children's ward of a hospital and help them put on a puppet show. Help them, Kim, don't give yourself the starring role. You can take the cameras, if you want, but only if the E! people agree to large donations to each of the charities you visit (as far as I can tell, you don't hold down a full-time job, so you've got lots of time to spare here).

Date a man, Kim, but don't marry him. Not for a long time. Don't marry him until marriage is the only thing you haven't done as a couple. Wait so long that everyone who receives an invitation to your wedding will say, “Well it's about time!” And just have the wedding in your backyard with hot dogs and hamburgers and kids running around. You had the fancy ceremony and it didn't work, so this time, hire a local cover band, get Bruce Jenner to double the recipe of his famous potato salad, and go barefoot! And love this one for his mind, Kim, as well as his body, and make sure he does the same for you. Stay home with him more often than you go out, watch bad tv and make ice cream sundaes for each other. If he falls asleep with his glasses on, take them off gingerly so he doesn't wake up. Make up nicknames for each other you're embarrassed to use in front of your friends. Enjoy doing things together, but enjoy doing nothing together even more.

I'm sorry to bring this up, Kim, but I feel like we're getting closer now. Do you remember when you first realized there was a sex tape of you on the internet? How conflicted you felt when that tape spread like wildfire and consequently you became very, very famous? That fame has given you a platform, influence, even power, which are great rewards, but they came at a very heavy price. You had no say in how you were thrust into the public eye, which I am very sorry for, but with the power you now yield, you have a say in how to take yourself out of it. And the most powerful thing you could do right this second is to turn the cameras off. Leave us wanting more and you leave with your dignity. If you wait until we get tired of you, and we probably will sooner rather than later, you fade from us with little dignity left. I'm not saying you can't be an actress or a singer or something, but let us see you on your terms, not through the heavily-edited “reality” as dictated by Ryan Seacrest. People like me get snarky and bitchy about people like you, not because of anything you've done or anything you are, but for all the things you represent. It's time to change what you represent. I know that if you elect to terminate your contract with the reality show, you'll have a few legal battles, you'll lose some money, and the paparazzi will be relentless, but things will blow over, we'll move onto the next fad, and you'll be young, rich and beautiful with your whole life ahead of you.

You are not a show, you are not your name, you are not your breasts, you are not your brand. You are a woman and, last time I checked, women solved problems, built communities, and made the world better. Take on this role, new Friend, with gusto and abandon, and surprise the whole fucking planet.

Oh, and have a great Thanksgiving!

Your new BFF,


Thursday, 3 November 2011

Curing the Hangover (Again)...

Hello Friends.

Did you ever get up in the middle of the night to pee and realize it's one in the afternoon? Or try to hail a cab home from a party without realizing you were standing inside of a store? Or realize that the well-meaning bartender has been serving you doubles all night so your three vodka tonics were equivalent to some goddamn number you can't calculate because you're drunk? Then you've been hungover.

Dream: Make a hangover bearable.

Goal: Achievable, but keep your celebration minimal, I've got one of those behind-my-eye headaches.

Plan: Several.

Suffer in solitude. What I don't get is how two people can have the same evening with the same alcohol content, and your morning after is rarely identical. Inexplicably, you can wake up feeling like shit and your partner has a tiger by the tail! “Good morning, Sunshine! Nice of you to join me!” Ugh. The worst part is, I'm usually the annoying one! I like the occasional cocktail, but I rarely drink to excess. Something about the loss-of-control in drunkenness really knocks me off kilter. I don't know why, I can't drive or perform CPR, so a sober me is as useless as a drunk me, but I still keep my drinking fairly conservative. Jon's tolerance is higher than mine, but he will usually be the one to have one glass too many and wake up feeling rough. Not all the time, of course, don't get the wrong impression, but there have been occasions where he's not doing so hot but I'm all, “Let's go look at grandfather clocks!” or “Wanna hear me sing Lady Gaga songs? Here they are in order of their release!” The point is, as lovely as it is to have someone wet you a washcloth or turn down the tv, the detriments of having a partner in this instance outweigh the benefits.

The consumption of bad food, which is good. I don't know if there's science behind our cravings for eggs, bacon and carbs after a night out, but I say treat yourself! And, since you probably shouldn't be frying bacon or dealing with putrid breakfast dishes in your delicate condition, take yourself out for breakfast. I believe we should have hangover-themed restaurants (hangover like the phenomenon, of course, not the terrible film franchise). They would serve breakfast food, but also mimosas and Bloody Mary cocktails if you decided to merely delay the hangover and keep booze pumping through you. Each restaurant would be small and comfortable, with no children or boisterous activity allowed. Sorry, hungover parents, but you damn well better keep your loud, excitable, yelling children at McDonald's because they will not be allowed at my restaurant, tentatively titled Rough Night?. The staff at Rough Night? will be made up of retired psychiatric nurses, childless aunts and uncles, and non-judgey librarians. They'll be quiet, efficient and sympathetic and say things like, “Ohh, look at you. Okay, just come on inside. Do you want coffee? Of course you do, here, just take a rest now.”

Finally, I'm afraid the only real cure to hangover is time, which is the worst. The thing I always forget on a night when I drink too much is that, even if I have the next day off, I won't be free to do whatever I want, I'll be in recovery. Somehow, I think I'll just be able to shake it off, do my laundry, clean my apartment, and go birdwatching with a free Sunday, but on my last hangover day, I only managed to wake up late, shower for a long time and eat a blizzard at some point for no reason. I certainly don't condone getting drunk, but what if we were to consider hangovers as some kind of cosmic payment? In exchange for a headache, mouth that tastes like sweaters, eggs and bacon, we get a long night of too much fun with a bunch of friends? Seems fair, doesn't it? I'll drink to that.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

In Support of the Party...

Hello Friends.

You know how sometimes you see a dog on a surfboard? Dog isn't surfing so much as not moving while the board goes on its way? That's how I feel at a party. I enjoy myself, but I feel out of place, and I'm never really sure what I'm supposed to do.

This past weekend, I went to fun, happy, fancy-but-not-stuffy party hosted by my old school chum Katie and her new husband Curt. I was thrilled to be there, and loved catching up with dear old friends from my university days and beyond, but I sort of forgot how to be a human person. I have to stress, here, that the party itself was wonderful, the hosts gracious, the guests charming, the venue perfect and the food excellent, I just couldn't make heads or tails of it. I don't have time to catch up with how parties are supposed to work, I have a Hallowe'en party to go to this upcoming Saturday, then its only a few weeks before the Christmas Parties start, then New Year's Eve, then my annual Martin Luther King Dance-a-thon. Instead, I'd rather parties catch up with me.

Dream: Change the way parties work.

Goal: Achievable. With holidays fast-approaching, and the threat of another hours-cut at work, I need more money and a new job. Becoming a party-planner would satisfy those needs, plus, if I were running an expensive, catered affair, someone might get drunk and start yelling and I would get to say discretely into my walkie-talkie, “We've got a situation here.” I've always, since boyhood, wanted to say “We've got a situation here” into a walkie-talkie. That's my no-hitter.

Plan: Add a few new elements to parties to make them easier, and less socially stressful. Such as:

British men to announce the arrival of guests. You know how, in old movies, someone arrives at the top of the stairs to descend into a fancy party and a British man says, “Lord Chesterball, the Third and his wife, Pinky.” We need that today, with slight modification. We need the guy to say that, then sidle up to you and say, “This was the guy your brother used to work with who has the sister whose still a drunk so don't ask about her.” At this party over the weekend, I could have really used this person.

I was talking with Katie in a small group when a new person showed up and Katie squealed and hugged him and I thought, “I know this guy.” He smiled at everyone and I knew I'd seen him before a million times. There were a lot of people from the prairies at this party, many of whom I hadn't seen in years, and I was frantically wracking my brain, thinking, “How do I know this guy? Did we take a class together? Is he the friend of a friend of mine? Come on, James, figure it out!” Katie introduced him around, saying, “James, this is Stefan, Stefan, James” and I thought, “Good! He doesn't remember me either! Level playing field.” And I was torn between saying, “Pleased to meet you” and “Nice to see you again”, so what came out was “Please to meet you again” (slow clap). It was plain he didn't remember me, either, but instead of being relieved, I was a little miffed. Maybe this guy looked different than he used to, but I've had the same clothes and haircut for fifteen years! Then I suddenly realized the reason the guy looked familiar is not because we know each other but because he played Snake on Degrassi High. Worried that I might fawn too much, or accidentally ask after Wheels, I excused myself and headed for the bar. Had I a British man to give me a heads-up, I could have met and greeted Stefan with a little more elan, instead of saying “Please to meet you again” and making a terrible “sudden realization” face.

Red cards. Apparently, in the game of soccer, or as they called it in England, a packet of crisps, a player knows he is ejected from the game when he's handed a red card. Red cards cannot be refused or contested. We need a version of that for parties. Stefan could have politely handed me one after my “Please to meet you again” and I would have had to walk away, without question, for the greater good of the party. Wouldn't that be great? Sort of a “Get Out of this Boring Conversation Free” card?

At a recent gathering, where music was blaring throughout, I was introduced by a friend of mine to her friend and her friend's husband. My friend and her friend went off to curl their hair or get pregnant or whatever girls do, leaving me and the husband and the blaring music. I'm sure the husband was a lovely man, I'm sure I'm no prize to be stuck next to at a party either, but this was the conversation we had.

HUSBAND: What's your karaoke song?
JAMES: Sorry?
HUSBAND: When you sing karaoke? What's your song?
JAMES: Oh! I don't really sing karaoke, actually.
HUSBAND: Never? You've never sung karaoke? Come on!
JAMES: Well, sure, once or twice.
HUSBAND: So what's your song?
(JAMES thinks back to his handful of times singing karaoke, can only remember one experience, in particular)
JAMES: Um... “Walk Like An Egyptian”, I guess? By the Go-Go's?
HUSBAND: (Silence. Long pause).
JAMES: The Bangles, excuse me.
HUSBAND: (Silence. Long pause).
JAMES: What's your karaoke song?
HUSBAND: Oh, I don't sing karaoke.

What? Come on, Husband! What was the point of that entire exchange? Does he have some book, “1001 Ways to Start a Shitty, Go-Nowhere Talk”? I would have loved to have had a red card that I could quietly hand to him at any point during our conversation. The benefit is twofold as I'm sure he didn't want to be there talking to me, either!

Lyrics everywhere. Speaking of karaoke, I think parties with music should require easily accessed, well-lit and legible lyrics to the songs as they're being played by whomever is “deejay-ing” the event. This is because humans are the only animals that lip-synch. Well, I can't say that for certain, maybe a meerkat will move it's little mouth to the recording of another meerkat, but I can state empirically that humans are the only animals impressed by lip-synching. And impressed I am! If I'm dancing with someone who can mouth the words to “Straight Up” as Paula is singing them, we're gonna be close friends. Similarly, if Roxette's “Joyride” is playing anywhere, a school dance, a shopping mall, a prison riot, I will drop whatever I'm doing and lip-synch the shit out of that song. But if you're like me and can't even recall the words to O Canada, lip-synching an entire song is next to impossible. Rather than admit defeat and burst into tears, which I know is your instinct, you must instead pretend to be distracted by something else while the lyrics you don't know are playing. That way, people never suspect you've lost the lyric, just that you're busy doing something else. At Katie's celebration, the deejay played Blondie's “Heart of Glass” and I ran to the dancefloor, beyond thrilled. It was only after I took my place in the centre of somebody else's dance circle that I realized I only know the part where she sings, “something something heart of glass” and then I'm totally lost until the “Ooh-ooh-oh-whooa's”. This meant I had to nurse my vodka tonic and wave to a fake person across the room for a full ninety seconds until the “Ooh-ooh-oh-whooa's” started. That shit is hard! If there had been lyrics posted everywhere, we all could have lip-synched the whole thing and made friends for life!

Dr. Jons. We should all be so lucky to have plus ones like mine to take to a party. Jon's absence was keenly felt at this last party, as will be the case for the upcoming Hallowe'en party and every other until we're both in the same province for awhile. It was a real shame I couldn't introduce him to my school chums, people I feel so close to that were part of some of the most meaningful experiences of my life. Beyond that, Jon has a way of working a room that I do not possess myself. I think you could stick Jon in pit full of tigers and within fifteen minutes, he'd be offering to supervise the PhD thesis of the smartest tiger and offering to pick another one up at the airport next Wednesday. That's just the kind of guy he is, I'm lucky to have him.

Really, these are only suggestions, and are far from requirements. The only thing any party absolutely needs is friends, and I'm lucky to have a lot of those. Best to get on the same wavelength with a couple of your dawgs and just ride it out. Surf's up.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

What's Your Favourite Scary Movie...

Hello Friends.

I love this time of the year, when it's warm enough to still walk everywhere, but cool enough that you don't have to wear a t-shirt and suck in your pizza gut. Thanksgiving is warm and familial and you get to eat too much, and Hallowe'en is frenzied and slutty and you get to eat too much. I like all of it, but I've never been able to appreciate a good scary movie.

My friend Bradley has a great blog here, where he's counting down the days to Hallowe'en by writing about a different scary movie or tv show every day. This is a great device, but not one I could get away with, as my blog would be about two and a half days long. The Exorcist, Goosebumps books, the first twenty minutes of The Ring. I just can't take scary movies. In high school, a bunch of friends and I went to see The Ring, and I was out of that theatre seriously within twenty minutes. And nothing scary had really happened yet! But they were playing all that tense music and nobody was joking around or coming to terms with things (the only two genres of movies I'd watched until that point) and then Naomi Watts is reviewing “The Tape” in an editing machine, notices a fly in the corner of the frame, then the fly is suddenly alive and blood starts gushing out of Naomi Watts' nose and the music goes “BONNNNNNG!” and I was like, “Done!” I ran out of the theatre and went to a nearby Chapters where I read Entertainment Weekly with shaking hands until the movie was over.

But I feel like I'm really missing something by not watching a horror movie every once in awhile. I usually defend my choice by saying I don't like to be scared, why would I put myself through that, but I wonder if depriving myself of artificial fear makes my instances of real fear somehow worse. From my window, I can see the raccoon who lives at least part time, on my neighbour's rooftop. I feel like he's looking at me, and it gives me the willies. Maybe if I watched more movies where people got sliced up or birthed demon spawn, I'd realize it was just a fucking raccoon.

Dream: Find the perfect scary movie to watch.

Goal: Achievable. People always think they've found a scary movie that I'll not only be able to handle, but love as much as they do. Whether my friend Will insisted I watch The Omen (which was okay, but what was up with that kid?!) or my friend Shannon's pick, Megalodon: Sixty Feet of Prehistoric Terror, about a giant shark, they all say, “This movie is more good than scary. You'll love it.” I haven't yet, but there are so many non-scary movies out there that I do like, surely it's just a matter of time until I find the perfect one for me.

Plan: Find a movie which meets the following criteria.

The protagonist takes the hint early on. I saw a trailer this summer for a scary shark movie. A bunch of sexy teens were vacationing together at this cabin and they were all out water-skiing and suddenly the guy on skis gets pulled into the undertow. “Jeff?” they scream. “JEFF?!?!” But blood rises in the water and of course that's the end of Jeff. Later in the movie (and later in the trailer), the sexy teens go for a swim off the dock, presumably to get their mind off of their dead friend. Really, teens? From my seat, I said, “Get out of the water!” They didn't, and more sexy teens perished. Why would you ever go back in the water? That's the incongruity of most scary movies: something scary happens, usually in a specific place, and people keep on going back to that place!

In my movie, they'll figure it out right away. For instance, a group of sexy paleontologists are in town for a convention dedicated to disproving the existence of dinosaurs. This makes them really mad, and they get madder still when the Hyatt Regency loses their reservation and they're forced to room together in the dingy, dilapidated motel on the outskirts of town when they discover.... a small velociraptor in the shower!!! GAH! Shit! He'll eat them all! So they wisely barricade the shower door, leave the motel early (to hell with their bill, they'll reimburse whichever sexy paleontologist left their credit card), and go on their way! The rest of the movie will be them doing great presentations at the conference and making jokes like, “You sure you want another cup of coffee? You might have to go to the bathroom! Ha ha ha!”. I'd watch that.

Scary movies, especially these days, seem to place a high premium on gratuitous nudity and violence. I'm all for boobs and punching but, together? It seems like the college girl is always stepping out of the shower before she's slashed in her guts, or the young couple starts having sex in the back of the car when the guy with the hook-hand shows up. Excuses for nudity as a precursor to violence is so badly written these days that I'm sure there's a movie where a girl is just sitting with her shirt off for no reason, maybe she's a sexy lab technician who wanted to let her “boobs breathe” while she was alone doing research, and then she gets attacked by some creepy dude. I'm all for nudity in films, but does it always have to signal imminent danger? Or else nudity is due to a simulated sex scene, which often makes me feel embarrassed for the actors. To have pretend sex while being for real naked in front of a bunch of crew jerks doesn't sound fun. I think foreign filmmakers have it right. There's this super sexy Mexican movie I saw called Y Tu Mama Tambien where these two hot young dudes go on a roadtrip across Mexico with his sexy older woman and they all seduce each other. If I'm remembering correctly, there's no nudity in the sex scenes, but they all go swimming and sunbathing naked and the movie is gorgeously shot and their bodies look impossibly beautiful. Similarly, I loved the French movie Swimming Pool. Charlotte Rampling plays this writer of mystery novels who is fresh out of ideas and so spends the summer at her agent's beach house, and the agent's sexy daughter decides to crash there for the summer as well. The daughter is played by Ludivine Sagnier, a kind of French Scarlett Johaanson, who spends the movie lounging by the pool topless, smoking haughtily, and it drives Charlotte Rampling crazy. She's jealous of her spoiled lifestyle, perfect body, ease with men and joie-de-vivre. Anyway, what I'm getting at is that both films have nakedness solely to emphasize the beauty and sensuality of their subjects, not because they're about to be fake-raped or attacked by some lizards.

Finally, my movies wouldn't have slow, painful lead-ups to anything bad. This is the staple of the horror movie and, for me, the absolute worst part of the experience. You know the parts I mean. Where someone is walking slowly down a long hallway, the music getting ominously quiet. The lighting is sparse and you can hear the person breathing heavily, and their footsteps creaking along, until they turn a corner and suddenly....GAH! THAT's the worst! It's the guy with the hockey mask or the wolf with sunglasses or whatever. The music goes BOOM and the whole audience jumps and I scream. Wouldn't it be great if, like in my upcoming film, the lead-ups were only to pleasant things? Like what if it was Joan Cusack around that corner? You don't see her in anything anymore! And she goes, “Oh gosh, sorry if a scared ya! Come on, I just made muffins!” Ahhh, that would be great!

I know these suggestions seem impractical, because if you take the scary out of the scary movie, where's the movie, but it can be done. I just finished a fabulous book called Wish You Were Here by Stewart O'Nan. Stewart O'Nan is primarily known for his horror fiction, and he's even collaborated on some work with Stephen King, so I had some trepidation going into this one, which is about three generations of a family spending one last summer together in their cabin by the lake. It turned out to be totally sweet, sedate novel about family dynamics! There's a moment where one of the adult children of the family goes to a gas station and the attendant is missing and the police cordon off the area because of a possible abduction, and it comes to nothing! The family hears bits about the abduction on the new and they say things like, “Oh, that's a shame! I hope they find her!” and then drop it completely. I won't tell you how that turns out, but suffice it to say it has absolutely no bearing on the rest of the book. Message boards were flooded with angry comments from readers wondering why this kidnapping had just been dropped in and not developed in a novel that wasn't the least bit scary, but I loved it. So I think this Hallowe'en, I'll watch the first ten minutes of American Werewolf in Paris, then finish it off with Midnight in Paris. Or I'll watch some demonstrations from Occupy Wall Street on the news, then check out the crowd numbers from Newsies. Maybe I'm a big wuss for avoiding scary stuff this Hallowe'en, but maybe that's what keeps this my favourite time of year. Now if I could just do something about that damn raccoon...

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

This One's For the Children...

Hello Friends.

The genesis of Dan Savage's It Gets Better Project was apparently him reading another article about another gay kid committing suicide and somebody saying, “I wish I had the chance to tell this kid that it gets better.” From there, he launched a YouTube channel where people logged on, shared their stories of being bullied or oppressed lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender kids and how they lead awesome lives now, so you can too. Then Lady Gaga made a bunch of public statements in support of her young LGBT fans. Then Anderson Cooper forgot about current events worldwide and became fixated on the issues surrounding youth bullying. Then no gay kid committed suicide ever again. Or, wait...

Look, the last thing I want to do is be insensitive or offensive on this subject. On the whole, I'd love for my silly blog to be widely read, but in cases like these, I'm happy it's not. I know, dear few readers, that you realize I'm not trying to minimize the tragic circumstances that lead some young people to take their lives, but I wonder if we're not sending kids the absolute wrong message on subjects like these. There are few sacred cows around here, but I take this subject seriously enough to know a lot of the rhetoric being bandied about in support of bullied teens, gay or otherwise, is fucking dangerous. Time to get a new message out.

Dream: Send a message to the gay teens.

Goal: Achievable. I'm nothing if not hip and easy to relate to, so it's time give these dudes and dudettes the 411.

Plan: Be blunt and concise with what I know as a former gay teen and current gay “success story” (I bought new sheets so yeah, livin' pretty well these days).

First of all, if the It Gets Better videos speak to you, that's great, don't let me stop you, just be aware of the premise you are accepting here. If you believe that it gets better, you believe that your current situation is somehow worse. Yes, gay teenagers have it hard, but you know who else has it hard? Teenagers. Fat ones, skinny ones, ones with bad skin, ones with weird hair, cracked voices, flat chests, clothes from Walmart, divorced parents, diverse cultural backgrounds, different skin colours, busty chests and braces. Everyone wants to be like everyone else when they're sixteen, but unfortunately for sixteen year-olds, everyone is in some way unique. What will get better is your tolerance for an acceptance of that which makes us diverse, and naturally we should celebrate such diversity but, like pimples, braces, and tits, we shouldn't let a trait as benign and ultimately unimportant as sexuality define who we are.

I get what you're doing, Lady Gaga. Even for someone as cynical as me, I can appreciate your obvious love for your LGBT teenage fans. But the whole thing smacks of catering to a demographic to me. Of course we should strive to make gay kids feel as loved and accepted as anyone else, but do we have to just see them as Gay Kids? Yes, you were Born This Way, but left-handed people were Born That Way also, as were tall people and people who can roll their tongue in a loop, but that's not something they hang onto as an identity, how boring. Being gay is a part of who you are, but it does not a person make. We all know those people, gay and straight, who use their sexuality to define their personality, and while it's fun to go to a dance bar with these folks, they come across vain and shallow after awhile. If you're a teen, try cultivating an image for yourself based on your abilities, not your attributes. Be the poet, or the girl who makes her own soap and candles, or the basketballer, who happens to be gay, but what of it? I suppose it's easy for me to say all this now, especially since I spent my high school years comfortably in the closet, but I certainly never had a boyfriend or even any prospects that would make my sexuality any kind of issue. I know a lot of gay high schoolers are probably upset that they don't have a boyfriend or girlfriend and can't get laid, but you know who else is upset they don't have a boyfriend or girlfriend and can't get laid? Every other teenager. Suck it up.

I hate to tell you, teens of all stripes, but bullying is here to say. Like prostitution or Ashton Kutcher, just because we don't like certain things doesn't mean we can ever really get rid of them. But it takes two to tango, or cheat on your long time partner, Demi Moore, and likewise it takes a Victim to be Bullied. Part of what disturbs me about the media frenzy surrounding the bullying “epidemic” is that it suggests it is the worst thing that could ever happen to a person. Yes, it sucks being called a name or shoved into a locker, but whatever happened to “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me?” What happened to “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent?” I'm not saying we ought to teach kids to passively accept bullying, just the opposite. Stand up to the asshole kid who picks on you, ignore taunts and insults or, better yet, see them for what they are: pathetic attempts by an individual to assert power over another person to make up for their own perceived weakness. Don't put that victim hat on, if you are teased or picked on, for God's sake, don't sit at home stewing about it! And please, refuse to accept the link force-fed to us by countless well-intentioned but completely misguided news stories that suggest bullying leads to desperation which leads to suicide.

Suicide is the tragic, irrevocable act of someone suffering with issues of mental and emotional health. I want to be very careful when talking about this, because I really can't imagine ever even contemplating going down this road, but I do know that it is a state of mind which leads people to this decision, not just a set of circumstances. When Lady Gaga dedicates a song to a person that has taken their life, or Anderson Cooper uses a dead teenager's Facebook page to launch into another episode of 360, I wonder if we risk treating suicide like it's a trend. As if it's a thing some people do because of x, y, and z, when it has to be far more complicated than that. I'm not sure we're honouring these kids by lumping them together in newspaper articles and suggesting their death is part of some cause, like it's not senseless, like it's not completely unacceptable. I don't think I'm being clear. All I know for sure is that we should treat events like this not as headline news gossip where people go, “Ohh geez, bullying...” Instead we should be confused and horrified every single time, and wonder what the fuck is happening, not just to gay teenagers, not just to victims of bullying, but to every kid who sees this is a viable option, some kind of “way out.”

There's a lot more information out there, by people smarter than me, but there's lots of hysterical reportage out there too, by people dumber than me. And I worry that, like shark attacks and the golden-voiced homeless man, teenage bullying will become just another news topic that will grow stale and be tossed aside. If that's the case, I hope teenagers will be as smart as nobody gives them credit for and realize they're pretty strong and pretty exceptional, just like everybody else. That things won't just “get better” because enough time has passed, things can “get better” tomorrow if you start to look at things a little differently. We're all in this together and we should strive to accept and love each other and ourselves because that's in our nature, as humans. That's the way we were born.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

You Have to Understand...

Hello Friends.

Remember that old song, “What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding”? I don't. Well, I know it vaguely enough to cite it here, and I think Elvis Costello sings it, so even a cursory knowledge of it makes me pretty hip. Anyway, I'm all for peace and love, but I place a really high premium on understanding. Not even understanding as it is used in the song, I could care less about understanding other cultures or ideas, but understanding as in... y'know, getting stuff. Like, I understand why ambulances have ECNALUBMA written on them, so when you look in your rear view mirror, you see AMBULANCE and you know it's not just a white van with sirens, you'd best get out of the way. I understand many erudite references on The Simpsons. Like when they go to a party celebrating Reader's Digest, the banner out front reads, “Brevity is... wit.” That refers to Polonius in Hamlet saying, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” They make a reference to the brevity of wit even briefer in an attempt to be wittier! I know nothing is less funny than explaining a joke, but ain't that a laff and a half?Apart from being insufferable to others, understanding things like these fills me with pride, so it really dills my pickle when I just don't understand a simple thing.

Dream: Understand the following things: a wine ad, a thermos, a Hallowe'en costume, a steakhouse.

Goal: Achievable. By sharing these conundrums (conundra?) with you, maybe you will “get” what I'm not “getting”, share with me why these things are they way they are, and I in turn will “get” them, and become even more irritating than before. It's the circle of life.

Plan: Examine these things in detail in order to understand them.

So there's this advertisement for wine a few blocks from my home. I see it every time I go to the grocery store or the liquor store, so at least twice daily, and I just don't get it. This would work even better if I could find the stupid ad online to link you to it, but when I type the text of the ad to search for it, even Google goes, “What the hell does that mean?” It's for a company called something like K Wineries, or K Vineyards or K Estates. Someplace that makes wine called K. The image on the ad is a bottle of K Wine and a glass beside it of chilled white. Got it, makes sense so far. But the text reads, “Ohhh... K. You've upgraped.” What? I can kind of see what they mean by “upgraped.” It's a take on the term “upgraded” but because wine is made from grapes, and presumably this wine from better grapes, they're using “upgraped.” But “Ohhh...K”? Is that like “Okay”? I get that the company is K, but why not just “O.K?” And even then, the expression “Okay, you've upgraped” is nonsensical. Like the advertisers are passive-aggressively doubting the wine. “Okay, so you're a better wine, fuck your mother.” And the “Ohhh...k” for “Okay” is even weirder! You use that “ohhh...” when you're really taken aback, not when something's just okay. As in, “Ohhh wow. Three assault charges? Cross him off the Christmas card list.” Or when you're lying to someone. “Ohhh look at you! That new haircut really is just... wow!” And the slow “okay” is the worst “okay” you can get! As in, “Henry's going to drive us to the concert and soon as he finishes a small mound of cocaine!” “Ohhhkaaay.” So what the hell is this ad trying to say? Maybe it's such bad copy that everyone reads it and thinks, “Now what does that mean?” But I'm worried that “Ohhh...K. You've upgraped” makes perfect sense to everyone but me. Thoughts?

So I bought a thermos recently. I guess it's more of a travel mug, I got it from Tim Horton's and I know it wouldn't survive a mountain climb or anything, but I just like the word thermos. Anyway, I've only had it for about two weeks now, I just use it to take coffee with me to work in the morning. I wash it both after I finish my coffee at work and again at home at the end of the day, but it smells like a mouse took a shit in there and died. What? What is wrong with thermoses?? Why do they all smell so effing gross? I am super diligent about the cleaning and upkeep of this one. I wash it twice and even store it upside down like a cast-iron pot, thinking that any residue I didn't get while washing it would just drip out. Nope! It's like a wizard creeps in to my kitchen at night, mixes tuna with an old egg in there and lets it sit under a heat lamp. All my thermoses (thermi?) have been like that. My last one was a great silver one that the Saturday Night Live logo on it that a friend had sent me from New York. I used the same level of care with that one, but would alternate between putting coffee in it, and soup. So I could kind of understand the escalating grossery there. But this one is just coffee! What is going on here?

So there's this place that sells Hallowe'en costumes that I pass on my walk to work. They don't just sell Hallowe'en costumes, Honest Ed's is one of those catch-all, buy a dog bed and tampons and radishes in one stop kind of stores, but they have big old-timey display windows, and one of them is filled with their Hallowe'en costumes. One such costume is a guy in a suit with an Obama mask for a head. The mask is super-offensive, though, with giant buck teeth and big lips and gums, but then below the mask, popping out of the suit jacket is another, understated Obama mask. The second mask is a more realistic, not-exaggerated version of his face. So the full effect of the costume is President Barack Obama peeking out of a suit which is too tall for him, because he has an offensive mask of his face above his real face, that's actually also a mask. What? I really, really don't get it. Would somebody wear this costume, and to what effect? Would people see it and go, “That's a really offensive image—oh wait, his real face is down here and it's lovely! Ha ha ha! I get it!” The tricky part for me is the fact that the top mask is even being sold there, much less on display. But then I wonder, am I offended because the exaggerated features of the top Obama mask insult Obama? Or am I reading into it the stereotypical features of black people and therefore projecting my own racial sensitivity? I wouldn't get this upset over a badly coiffed Trump-mask, or a gap-toothed David Lettermask, but this Obama mask really gets me antsy. I would love to discuss this with my friend Jared who is an Obama supporter and a black man but we are already on very thin ice. He's more of an acquaintance, really, because of a series of weird encounters that keep us from being close. Once, in a group, we were discussing the show True Blood and how hot all the people on that show were and I said, “I like the brother!” I meant that I liked Jason Stackhouse, the lead character's brother who always walks around with his shirt off, but Jared said, “You like the brother?” He thought I meant I liked the black guy on the show, that I liked “the brother.” So of course I floundered wildly, “Oh no no no! I meant Sookie's brother! Oh my god! No! I mean, not that I don't like Lafayette, the African American gentleman! I do! He's the best! I change my answer, can I change my answer? I didn't even notice that he was black, I don't see people like that, I just... I love him! I love him!” Then another time, we were both at the same movie, though not together, called Another Year, which is an understated British drama about an ageing couple. In a climactic scene, Jerri confronts Mary, a single woman friend of the couple who shows up unannounced to their dinner party. “I do wish you would have called, Mary. It's simply discourteous!” And Mary cries softly. Well the movie thrilled me, but not Jared, who said simply, “That was boring as shit.” I'm not suggesting the difference of opinion was a race thing, but it was the whitest movie ever made. Incidentally, True Blood is another phenomenon I don't understand. I started watching for the aforementioned shirtless man, but gave up when the woman who looks like Shania Twain started vibrating in a forest and the bartender turned into a dog. Yes, people who don't watch True Blood, this is the shit that happens on that show.

So I live near a steakhouse that is called Mr. Onions. I wish I could record this vocally so you could hear my intonation and disbelief here. Why would you have a steakhouse, a place which specializes in serving delicious cuts of prime meat and call it Mr.... Onions? Can the onions possibly be the best part of the restaurant? If so, you're doing it wrong!

Today's entry works well as a companion piece to last week's about my obsessive need to be constantly right. That coupled with my slight, barely noticeable tendency to overthink things might make me a bad party guest, but surely means that I'm a meticulous and thorough blogger. So I hope you can think about these things and get back to me, lest I remain an ignorant and perpetually confused person. What's so funny 'bout that?

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Right Stuff...

Hello Friends.

Have you seen the video by the Occupy Wall Street people? Occupy Wall Street is this grassroots group that are literally occupying Wall Street by showing up in throngs and marching through the financial districts of major American cities to protest the unfair practices of stock traders and the SEC. A member of the organization was being interviewed by a guy from Fox News and thoughtfully, articulately, totally put the Fox guy in his place. You can see the video here

I first saw this video through my friend Lewis commenting on his friend Quinn's link on Facebook. I mention this only to explain that I don't know Quinn, or only know him tangentially through Lewis, and while I certainly had no business on his Facebook page, something about this video didn't hit me right and I had to comment.

"This is good but I'm betting completely fake!" I said. I went on to complain about the shaky camera, no way a news crew, even Fox, would record something of such poor quality. Somebody else replied that this was a Fox interview, but it was filmed by a third party camera. Fox would never air it, naturally, and this third party managed to capture the footage. "If that's the case then the audio is too perfect!" I whined. "How can this 'other camera' pick up the sound from the Fox microphone?" Nobody replied.

Instead of feeling strong in my argument and magnanimous in my victory, I felt nothing. In fact, after yet another view of the clip, I realized the audio was as shaky as the video and could have quite possibly come from a bystander's camera, as the previous commenter had suggested, and still felt nothing. I should have realized at this point that the message of the video (which I've completely forgotten at this point) is far more important than whether or not it was rehearsed or set-up. Not only, then, did I have no dog in this fight, but by arguing an insignificant point with a group of strangers, I'm sure I didn't make any new friends. I should have asked myself before getting into this pointless argument what was more important: doubting the means by which something was presented, or listening to the impassioned argument of an activist whose stance I supported? In essence, did I want to be right, or did I want things to be right? But I didn't ask myself those things at the time. Instead, a new Dream was born.

Dream: Be right all the time.

Goal: Achievable. On the surface, it would appear impossible to be right all of the time. I don't and could never know everything there is to know about a given topic, so actually being right would be difficult. But I don't have to be technically right, I just have to believe it to be true. If I think it is so, if I believe it is so, then isn't it so? Let me explain further.

Plan: Adopt the traits and characteristics of the people I know who believe themselves to be right "all the time." For instance:

Fervor. Say what you will about folks like Bill O'Reilly, Nancy Grace, Glenn Beck et al., these guys think they are always right and they whip themselves up into a frenzy over it! Professional talking heads, these three and others like them don't let things like facts or statistics cloud their arguments, they go all in with their ridiculous stances on things and respond to pesky criticism by GETTING LOUDER! "I GUESS WE SHOULD ALL JUST LET AMERICA GET MURDERED BY OBAMA AND TOT MOM! IS THAT WHAT YOU'RE SAYING? SHOULD WE MURDER AMERICA? YOU'RE AN AMERIMURDERER!!" These terribly wrongheaded opinions occasionally worry me, and I wonder about how society is crumbling around us, but then I remember these aren't the prevailing opinions, just THE LOUDEST ONES! Sometimes I wish Matt Taibbi would leave his comfy spot at Rolling Stone, or Arianna Huffington would appear someplace other than her blog and Bill Maher's show, and Janeane Garofalo would stop couching her politics in slouchy, slackery, "I don't really care but this is what I think" bravado and they would all yell as loud as these dudes on the other side. But that would be stooping to their level, of course, and nobody would change their opinion on anything anyway, because in addition to their fervor, these blowhards (and people who are always right) share another important trait in common.

Incuriosity. The most important thing to remember in order to be always right is never to consider information that proves you wrong. There are several clips on YouTube of people like O'Reilly and Nancy Grace being corrected by guests on their show, being proven completely wrong, "owned", as the kids say, and they will have none of it. They have no desire to learn anything new as it may contradict their flawed, but deeply held beliefs. Politics and media aside, we all have those people in our every day lives who have an answer for everything, who can't wait for a chance to prove their expertise, who seek every opportunity to impress you with the least impressive information. For instance, you might say to such a person, "Cold out today, isn't it? I almost froze to death waiting for the bus." And they respond, "Yeah, it's cold, but I've been in colder weather. One time I walked to work in minus 60 degrees. Yeah. I slept in a freezer for a week once, I don't even care." They, too, share this tendency to be incurious. They will share all they know about a particular topic, but not so as to discuss it with you, just to show off all the information they have. If you have one of these friends telling you about Spain, for example, and you say, "Actually, I spent a year in Barcelona and I found that..." they will not listen to you. You can actually see their eyes crust over while they mentally scroll through a list of topics over which they can lord their superior intellect. That's the main thing.

Bravado. I remember once doing this exercise in an acting class, or a terrible improv workshop, or some pretentious drama group, called something like "Ask the Expert." The idea was that you would play a character who was an expert on a given topic, copper piping, we'll say, and the rest of the class would ask you questions about copper piping, and you had to answer every question. The point was not to know everything there was to know about copper piping, but rather to act as if you did. If you said, "The best copper piping comes from Iceland because Bjork's mother is a slut", it wouldn't make any sense, but if you said it like you believed it to be true, you'd be doing well at this particular exercise.

As I review this list I realize that of course I don't want to be one of those guys who thinks he's right all the time, these are not attractive qualities to have. But I'm afraid I might actually be that guy, in spite of myself. As a child, I could never lose an argument. I lost plenty, naturally, but wouldn't take it like a champ. Quick to foot-stomping and tears, I was one of those terrible "I'm taking my ball and going home" children. As much as I'd like to think I've matured beyond that, I catch myself too often putting my two cents in when its unfounded or unnecessary, arguing something inconsequential as if its extremely important, and participating in discussions not to prove any point, but just to show people I know something about the topic. For instance, the other day two coworkers were discussing that show "Gene Simmons: Family Jewels", a show I've never seen, but I knew that Gene Simmons had recently married Shannon Tweed, so I said, "Shannon Tweed came into a store where I was working once. I didn't see her, but apparently she was buying medication for her mom." My coworkers looked at me like, "So fucking what?" and they were right. Is it ego or insecurity or a combination thereof that keeps us talking when we have nothing to say? I don't know, but I think a Simpsons reference might be useful here, as Simpsons references often are. Check out this closer:

Lisa: It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.
Homer's brain: What does that mean? Better say something or they'll think you're stupid.
Homer: Takes one to know one.
Homer's brain: Swish!