Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes...

Hello Friends.

This past Easter at my Aunt Mary's house, we played this game called something like Table Talk. Table Talk is made up of a bunch of cards, all of which have open-ended questions on it that are meant to provoke deep discussion. Stuff like, “If you could travel anywhere in the world...” or “If you could have anyone living or dead over to your house for dinner, what restaurant would you order from?” I'm not sure why a holiday dinner for sixteen comprised of three generations of a family needed a board game to get us talking, but I think it was because half of the guests drove themselves to the dinner so it wasn't like we could get drunk and leg-wrestle like we do every Christmas. Anyway, one of the questions was, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” or something like that, and my answer was that I would drive around Florida in a speedboat with Xander solving mysteries. Xander is four years old now and he's my... what's the relation? He's my first-cousin Joanna's son, so that makes him my... uncle, I think. So in ten years, Uncle Xander will be fourteen, which is a great age to both man a speedboat and run after criminals. In ten years I will be thirty-eight and closer to death than ever before. I would love to live in Florida and ride around on a boat and solve mysteries like a Carl Hiaasen protagonist, but I would need a lot of snack and bathroom breaks, plus a Wi-Fi enabled dock so I could play online Scrabble. Xander will possess the strength and manpower needed to make us a great crime-fighting team, but there's a slight chance he won't want to drop out of high-school to move to Florida with his schlubby nephew James who he only sees on major holidays and who insists on playing “Got Your Nose” even though he's totally over it. That's a shame because I need a teenager for this all to work out.

What I'm trying to get at, but am having trouble articulating because there's no way it won't sound weird and pervy is that young people have the most perfect physicality we, as humans, can ever hope to achieve. You see? I sound like single lady-schoolteacher from the southern U.S. or an oft-transferred priest, but that's not what I mean at all. There's nothing attractive about the body of a teenager, but it is the ideal physical specimen simply because everything is in good working order. When you're young, your body develops at a consistent rate provided you are somewhat active and reasonably nourished. Your bones and muscles grow in tandem and your balance and coordination is, for an all-too-brief moment, perfect. Look at those gymnasts, for example, or swimmers. The best ones tend to be around twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old because they are in complete control of their bodies and too much muscle, fat, and back hair is not an issue yet. Eventually puberty hits us full force and our limbs get gangly, our muscles and fat arbitrarily shrink or grow out of proportion to our frames, and, if my high-school experience was accurate, we fall down stairs all the time. We spend our late teens combating this physical upheaval and then, in our twenties, we spend time and money on gyms and diets trying to get things back in that good working order we had ten years ago. Eventually we add the creams, the supplements, the boot-camps and the retreats, and soon after that, we all just try to stave off death for another few weeks.

I know that I am not old and that I could have a much easier time getting into shape now then I will be able to in ten, twenty, or thirty years (I don't plan to live past sixty unless they do another incarnation of $20,000 Pyramid). I have friends that I hate and envy for their commitment to health and well-being, and they have the taut bodies and smug attitudes to prove it. But beyond dropping twenty pounds and being able to jog somewhere without passing out, there are other things I wish I could change about my body. Things that won't change, I suspect, even if I cut out processed foods or do that smell-my-butt yoga pose everybody does (you know the one, where you lunge onto the floor and then hoist your ass into the air like it's the Heisman Trophy). I'm not a teenage anymore and, like The Paul Reiser Show, I didn't appreciate what I had when I had it.

Dream: Take inventory of my weird bodily quirks and learn to live with them.

Goal: Achievable. There was this guy I remember from college; he was there when I was there, though we weren't in any of the same classes. I privately nicknamed him Red Face, which was a charmingly spot-on nickname due to the redness of his face. At first I thought it was just coincidence; that maybe every time I saw him he was blushing over a raunchy joke, or he had just run up a flight of stairs and was panting and red in the face. Not so, I came to learn and feel extremely guilty about. This guy, who was seemingly in a constant scarlet blush, owed his colouring to the fact that he was allergic to the sun! I'm not kidding, allergic to the sun! As in, “Hey, Chet, wanna hit the beach this weekend?” “Aw, wish I could bro, but no dice as I'm allergic to the fucking sun!” I felt like an asshole, and deservedly so. No amount of diet and exercise could ever change such a thing, which of course is true of people with cleft palettes, weird birthmarks, physical handicaps, deep widow's peaks, dwarfism and vestigial tails. And I don't mean to minimize those things either, or compare myself to people with such afflictions in any way, but if someone out there can live day to day through an allergy TO THE GODDAMN SUN, I can put up with my unibrow.

Plan: Identify and celebrate my physical abnormalities in the hopes of no longer being haunted by them. Fair warning, Friends, while I won't be discussing anything in my bikini zone (thankfully, the plumbing in this old house works fine), things might get a little ickypants.

For instance, the inside of my ears is a nightmare neighbourhood years away from gentrification. Despite constant cleaning, Q-tipping, medicine buying, and ear drop-dropping, I have to go to a guy every year or so to get my ears flushed out. A doctor, I should say, there's not a guy you can find in the phone book who will come over and do this for you. This problem is personally really embarrassing. Though doctors have told me my ear and ear-canal are shaped in such a way that build-up is inevitable, I can't help but feel like a filthy child who wears kleenex boxes instead of shoes and has flies buzzing around him at all times. And the worst part of this whole ordeal is that when the doctor flushes the gunk out of my ears, he shows it to me. Don't show it to me! What am I supposed to do, applaud? “Look at what I made, all by myself!” And the doctor's all proud of it, too: “See that there?” Unless you can read my future out of it or something, just throw it out or add it to the ball in your basement, but don't fucking show it to me! God! My hearing has been getting worse lately, which probably means it's time for another earbortion (copyright Big City James, 2011), but having to go through the whole embarrassing saga of my ear grossness with another GP makes me wonder if hearing loss would be so bad.

A full head of hair is a privilege for which I am extremely grateful for (if not a little arrogant about, as if I somehow willed it to be so), and it's proven extra handy at deftly covering up my glorious hairline dry skin debacle. My hairline and scalp are as dry as a Mormon wedding reception. This is another case, though, where the antidote is worse than the poison. Whenever I use the amount of conditioner recommended by my hairdresser to moisten my scalp, my hair is as dull and limp as a Mormon groom. The last gal who cut my hair told me to rub half a cup of olive oil into my scalp and leave it there for four hours! First of all, I could make a couple stir fry's with that, and what the hell am I supposed to do for those surely agonizing four hours? I can't rest my head on anything (unless it's a dish of vinegar with some bread) so I envision just sitting on a hard kitchen chair, naked so as to avoid soiling my clothes, and watching hours of A Baby Story or reading the Shopaholic series and getting frustrated over it (“Come on, Becky, just stop buying all this stuff, Luke's been so patient with you and THERE'S OIL IN MY HAIR!”).

My ability to bounce back from any kind of injury is gone. I suppose the more accurate topic sentence here would be that I over-dramatize any slight discomfort to the point where I am incapacitated. I slammed my hand in drawer at work the other day and I thought that was it for my hand. Like I would just have to retire it; keep it in a silk glove and only reveal it to lovers or someone I was placing a curse on. It hurt so much I thought I would never be able to use that hand again. I eventually rebounded, but not after bitching about it for hours. Or I ran across the street and kind of tripped onto the curb so that the ball of my foot hit the curb at a strange angle and a great deal of my weight shifted onto this weird foot spot. I'm not explaining it well because nothing injurious really happened but again it hurt so bad that I sort of yelped and had to stumble to a bench and sit for a minute. A passer-by saw my yelp-and-limp and said, “Are you okay?” to which I replied, “Oh yeah, no, I just stepped onto the curb.”

My voice is not the honey-coated golden throat of yesteryear either. If I haven't spoken for more than ten minutes and then I try to say something without a throat clear, I sound like Joan Rivers in a stalled car. “Ahemhemhemhemunnnnggghhh.” Also, proof that I must have some weird degenerative disease that will kill me is the fact that I sometimes feel this tickle in my throat and I will cough and throat clear until I feel the obstruction rise and then I pick it off my tongue and it's... a tiny hair. Like an eyelash. What in God's name is that doing in my throat?! Am I sucking Jon's eyelashes off while we're asleep? Am I eating food covered in tiny hairs? What's going on here?

This is just the tip of the iceberg. This is to say nothing of my summer back rashes, thigh-cne, eyeball pain and heels so goddamn dry that I have visions of the entire thing just dropping off. Like I will somehow shed this extra layer of flakey, cracked, skin that will loosen and eventually be pried off with this satisfying, suction-cuppy sounding shklonk revealing a shiny, untouched heel. But I reveal some of these humiliating, shameful body things in the hopes that one, I'm not alone, and two, I will look back on these things one day and miss them. Because though our bodies carry us through many years, the destruction of that vessel will be the finish line for all of us. Whether it's cancer, Parkinson's, Huntington's, Bloomingdale's, heart disease or cancer (it deserves a second mention because odds are...), our bodies will kill us. And the alternative is worse! If a degenerative disease doesn't take us down, our death will be sudden, and that's no picnic either (unless you die at a shootout during a picnic). Makes my ear wax seem trivial. Ideally, we'd all live long, happy, healthy lives punctuated by a quick but painless death. But how to accomplish this? Quite a mystery. To the speedboat!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Revolution Will Be Televised...

Hello Friends.

Sincere apologies for no blog last week, but I was away from the Big City in the prairies all week and so to post as Big City James when I was, in fact, desolate wintry landscape James would be a first-class deception. The trip was great, the flights were bumpy, and when I tried to say goodbye to my parents' new dog, she bit me, like one of those drunken Housewives of a Major U.S. City. But, as anyone knows, one of the great things about taking a trip is coming home. And one of the great things about coming home is catching up on all the tv you missed. I was away from home for seven days. If there are twenty-four hours in a day and I was gone for seven days, that's almost a week's worth of television I didn't watch. However, it only took me an hour and a half to catch up on Modern Family, Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock (I'm not even counting the Anna & Kristina I PVR'd because it actually aired tonight but they're reviewing Gwyneth Paltrow's new cookbook and I wanted to blog first so I could be clear-headed while they decimate the Country Strong star). Great shows all three, but I have hundreds of channels and it seems we're more often tuned to Jon's background channel (the Ambient Lounge music one he puts on while he's working, which makes it sound like he writes and researches to the soundtracks of porn films) or my background channel (the Rotisserie Channel, which actually exists, and is 24 hours of rotating chickens filmed in High Definition).

My point is, we don't live extravagantly, but we did shell out a few bucks for our tv, and on good nights we stave off pointless things like talking or having sex for hours. This trend can't continue if there's never anything good on anymore. Which leads me to my new Dream.

Dream: Find great things to watch on tv again.

Goal: Achievable. I thought I'd just give up on television when they cancelled Arrested Development. But I got back on the horse only to watch Boston Legal meet a similar fate. Now I'm enjoying the three network shows I just mentioned, plus Saturday Night Live has it's moments and it's fun watching The Simpsons successfully out-funny most other shows even as it limps lamely through it's twilight years. The point is, there's always something to watch, there's just not enough of it.

Plan(s): Several.

First, let's take those really good shows off of specialty channels that no one can afford and actually put them on tv. It kills me that if the stuff we all have to illegally download under cover of night were on network television, we'd be in a Golden Age. And even with hundreds of channels myself, it's all the same network stuff. Imagine if you could watch regular tv from Monday to Friday and get new episodes of Mad Men, True Blood, Spartacus, Nurse Jackie and Dexter, instead of old episodes of Family Guy and back to back Cake Boss. And I think if we got a steady diet of intelligent, well-made tv, we'd appreciate it more. Even fancy shows feel the pinch. In Treatment has just been cancelled due to low ratings, despite the fact that they're writing staff is seriously comprised of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights. I guess they could all try to find jobs on Wipeout, though. Terriers is done, Weeds has one more season, and Damages is being volleyed between networks. But what was my point? I don't remember. My attention span is shot thanks to television.

Also, let's take a cue from the Brits and make tv seasons like seven episodes long. This would ensure much greater quality control. For instance, American Idol has a whopping forty episodes in a five-month season. There are at least two episodes per week, half of which are two hours long. Fuck! That's too much. I know it's a ratings bonanza but imagine how much better it would do if there were only four episodes a year. That averages out to three high-intensity humiliations per second! And how hard must they work those poor kids on Glee? They seem to be in constant production for their tv show, which entails recording and producing six pop songs a week, plus choreo, and stadium tours, and tv appearances, and It Gets Better PSA's, and all of it is just terrible! And the more marketable it becomes, the less concerned anyone is about the writing. I read this interview with Glee's creator and writer Ryan Murphy who said of two of his characters, “I got bored with them in this relationship so I decided to break them up just for fun.” I'm pretty sure that's not how or why writers write. Tony Kushner (the Angels in America guy) doesn't have his characters go mad or die of AIDS because he's “bored with them.” But Murphy's making money and a billion tv viewers can't be wrong, I guess. But aren't they, kinda?

Finally, I think I should just start pitching my own show. It sounds daunting, but ALF was a successful show and somebody pitched that.
NETWORK EXECUTIVE: So... like, there's this family and this alien comes to live with them.
OTHER EXECUTIVE: The alien just shows up? Are they scared of him?
NETWORK EXECUTIVE: No, he's kind of sarcastic or whatever, but the Dad's a dick too for some reason, and they just get along. But, oh, and he eats cats too, let's say.
OTHER EXECUTIVE: I think we've got a hit on our hands.
So if no one else is going to make shows I want to watch, I'll just make that show myself. Ready? Here we go:
Balls. A lot of shows (House, Bones, Glee, Shark, Friends, Weeds and Firefly) just need a titular noun upon which to base their series. Balls will focus on Kip and Linda Ball, ex-spouses who reunite to coach their son Billy's little league team which hits a snag after their recently neutered dog sniff's out Kip's testicular cancer. The best part about it will be its varying tone based on the subject matter. Some episodes will be funny. “Billy Ball and his team are this close to the championship! But will Linda be able to sew their uniforms in time? Batter up, for a brand new Balls!” Some will be serious. “Kip and Linda have been working on their issues, repairing their broken marriage. But every time Kip yearns to reveal the secret about the lump in his crotch, he gets a lump in his throat. Be there for an all-new can't-miss Balls.” The series will do well in syndication. “That's King of Queens and Everybody Loves Raymond, followed, as always, by back-to-back Balls. It all starts tonight at 8...” My favourite part will be the voice-overs that precede or follow each episode. When it's a serious two-parter, the episode will begin with the actress who plays Linda saying somberly, in voice-over, “Previously, on Balls.” Similarly, fun episodes will end with the actor playing Kip doing a voice-over teaser, “Next time on Balls!” And every episode will begin with the actor who plays Billy, one of those cute sitcom kids with a lisp, “Balls is filmed before a live studio audience.” Aww... and also you can hear the dog's thoughts.

It's frustrating because, as I've admitted before, my secret Dream Job is writing for television. Frustrating because nothing has come of my efforts to do this, despite hours of watching television every week for my whole life! If there was ever anything I was born to do, it would be to write funny things for people to say so I could turn to Jon, or that new asshole dog my parents own, and say “I wrote that, you know.” And we could watch the screen flickering before us and be mesmerized, even transported, until the next commercial.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

New Domain, Same Ol' Name...

Hello Friends.

Welcome to the new and improved Big City James. Like its predecessor, Big City James, Big City James strives to educate, inform, and hilariousify its readers. Won't you be one of them? Click “Follow” to follow this blog. I don't know what that means, exactly, except that I might have access to your social security numbers, or pictures of you in a bathing suit. Either way, our next run-in will be weird.

Anyway, I really do hope to gain readership as I embark on a new, and hopefully more reliable venture with the blogspot people. Not only that, I hope to make more friends in real-life too (friends I can turn onto the blog because blogspot has a counter-thing, which will be my new obsession). I worry, though, that even though I run into a fair number of people in my daily life in this Big City, there is nothing about me which is particularly memorable. There are people I've met in my life only a few times, but I will always remember them because of some defining characteristic they possessed which made them memorable, like the girl with the teardrops tattooed on her face (fun fact: I met her while working at a video store several years ago, and she always rented Scrubs. Now the two things are inextricably linked in my mind. Teardrop tattoos=Scrubs). Anyway, I don't know what happened to her, but if I found she had a blog, I'd read it!

It doesn't take much to be memorable, even a strange physical quirk. This is going to sound controversial, but its really not. If Hitler wasn't a genocidal monster, people would still remember his stupid moustache. Even if he never killed anyone! Come to think of it, Gorbachev too could have been a dog-walker and he'd still be known for that grape juice stain on his head. But aside from my svelte wrists, pizza gut, and head shaped like a bean, I lack any memorable physical attributes. And I don't have a nightclub act like Don Rickles or Bob Hope, and as such can't have a signature song (though if I could it would be “Bette Davis Eyes” or “Axel F.”) So there's really only one way to go about this.

Dream: Get a nickname.

Goal: Achievable. It's not as if my given name is so instantly memorable that a nickname isn't a possibility. If my given name was something unique like Cranford or musical like Beppi Nippleson, I wouldn't have a hope in hell.

Plan: Introduce myself to new people by this nickname and hope it sticks, I guess.

I want a kick-ass nickname. Something cool like Steak. I don't know why anyone would call me that, but it would be so neat to show up at a kegger and go, “WHO ORDERED THE STEAK!” and everyone would cheer and the women would expose their breasts (as is my rudimentary understanding of keggers). But I think the cross to bear with nicknames is they're often not self-administered.

I went to school with this guy whose real name, we'll pretend, was Paul. One day, Paul referred to himself as Danny (also changed, just in case), an equally common, but unremarkable name. We were confused. “Danny?” we said, “But your name is Paul.” And Paul goes, “Yeah, I know. But I want to be called Danny now.” We were a little put out by this. “You can't just give yourself a nickname!” a classmate of mine said. “That's not how it works!” I should mention here that this was in university, this isn't an eight year old trying on a new identity. Anyway, Paul said, “Well sure I can. Why can't I?” And my classmate said, “Nope. Can't be done. And if it can, I'm just gonna call you Vegetable Lasagna. Hey, everybody! It's Vegetable Lasagna.” Unfortunately for Paul, the latter nickname stuck like glue.

And truthfully, I have a lousy history with nicknames myself. One of my first real jobs was in a restaurant, I was a Host. When I first started, I volunteered to help move some heavy piece of equipment from the loading dock to the kitchen. Predictably, I failed. I needed more help than was necessary and shrugged to new coworkers, “Sorry Guys. Seems I have the strength of a newborn kitten today” thus earning me the nickname Kitten. I didn't mind that part. The waitresses thought it made me adorable and they seemed to forgive my rookie mistakes more easily (“Who double-sat me? Oh, Kitten? Well that's alright.”) My mistakes were less forgivable to the kitchen staff, though, and the tough, scarred-up main cook guy started referring to me as the Cat. Similar name, but bad connotation. When I would come into the kitchen to run an order, he'd go, “Who let the cat in here?” Or he'd say, “I need to plate this, get that fucking cat out of the way!” That's the nature of nicknames, I suppose.

And if the nature of nicknames is that one can never choose his own, then maybe having one isn't such a good idea. I'd love to be Reynaldo Sexpenis but I have a feeling I'd sooner be referred to as Dr. Fartz. But I guess the worst name to be called is none at all. So welcome to the New Big City James at I'm James and I'd proud to be your Host, but you can call me whatever you want.

Big City Disaster...

Originally posted April 1 2011 on Facebook...

Hello Friends.

This isn't my usual blog and it doesn't feel right. It's like wearing a bathing suit instead of underwear, or being given a cold glass of ovaltine and told it's chocolate milk (when it's not the same at all, Mom!), but it will have to do. The usual host to my rantings, Big City James at may be an unsafe destination. I linked to it three nights ago, got some weird warning, then my computer was overtaken by some kind of virus which effectively shut it down within five minutes. The fact that my blog, my dear project I have tended to for the past year and a bit, was what may have shut it all down, that's the discouraging bit. I imagine it's like going in to embrace your darling toddler who then sneezes into your mouth. In any case, I must find a new server to host this silly thing, because the thought of having to shut it down is a major bummer.

In the meantime, though, I have to play major catch-up on another significant project that was sidetracked when the aforementioned virus shut my computer down. Young Dr. Jonathan is writing a book (this book, in fact: and against all sound advice, I have been hired on to contribute brief entries on notable First Nations topics like The Nigsa'a Treaty, Pauline Johnson, The Oka Crisis, Bill Reid and so on. It's been going well, so far the publishers all seem to dig it, but this crash meant I lost a few and now have to spend the next few days redoing them. As such, a short entry, but it's better than crap on a banister (an expression I just made up).

Dream: Always have interesting points to ponder so as to sustain Big City James to a newer and more competent website.

Goal: Achievable? I don't know. I only write once a week and there's a lot of toss-backs in the boat already. I marvel at people like Lynn Crosbie whose written her weekly column Pop Rocks for The Globe & Mail for a thousand years and yet it's consistently funny, entertaining and super-intelligent. I don't have a hope in hell of doing that, unless I start crafting long entries out of jokey punchlines.

Plan: Think of more jokey punchlines from which to write a few paragraphs. Some examples:

On Full House, did Joey live in the garage at one point? There were twelve adults in that house; where the fuck did everybody park?

Babies are like cinnamon buns. I only want one if somebody else has one and I feel like if I got one all to myself, I'd regret it almost instantly.

If you're a man, it's impossible to enjoy a sundried tomato and not also enjoy sex with another man.

Before he was a painter, M.C. Escher was a dope M.C.

What's up with those Swiffer commercials? Does a mop love its owner? We submerge its head underwater then drag it across a hard floor, love shouldn't hurt like that. Stand up for yourselves, mops.

“Thanks so much for the birthday wishes!” = “Where are my birthday wishes from the rest of you?”

Sarah McLachlan wrote “Angel” just so the Faber family of Ann Arbor, MI would have music to underscore the photo slide show of their dead dog Crinkles.

An opposite sex high-five is the blowjob of a religious teen.

Turns out H1N1 is the virus that leads to full-blown Bieber fever.

People in yoga classes: Lululemon is not a sufficient fart-muffler.

They should make string cheeses six feet long like for office parties and stuff.

Y'know what's a good nickname for Ryan Seacrest? Ryan Seaquest DSV. Let's get on it, guys!

It's eerie how accurately The Jetsons predicted a future filled with terribly-written animated programming.

In an effort to capitalize on the success of his first hit, the farmer who once had a dog named Bingo named his second dog CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP.

The inner-voice of Daniel Stern is Howard Stern.

The Black Eyed Peas originally titled their song, “I Have An Inkling...”

Why do they put fancy designs on toilet paper? Do they know what we do with it?

The only famous person who won a child beauty pageant is that girl who got murdered.

Stop flipping my blizzard upside down, Dairy Queen. I'm here to shame-eat, not be easily impressed.

Obstetricians I'd like to fuck are called OBILFS.

Steroids is like nothing on steroids.

How busy is that woman that she has to eat microwaved rice wearing only her bra?

That's all I got. A couple of days without your computer can really cause the mind to wander. But if nothing else, I've got a few more Thursdays worth of stuff to write about. I'll miss the old Big City James, but not if I put it in correct context. It's hard to be sad about the minor inconvenience of a laptop breakdown when compared to the devastation of broken treaties, crooked land claims, oppressed freedom and stolen rights. No use crying over spilled ovaltine. What's passed is past, let us look to the future on whatever server, forum, host or site I can find. Meet you there.

And the Livin' is Easy...

Originally posted March 25, 2011...

Hello Friends.

Now’s about the time of year when I seem to sleep less and eat more and worry about things I can’t possibly control. I’m bad company, my writing is crap, and my hair is just stupid. I’ve noticed it especially in the years since being out of school that without a consistent routine or a project of significance, I tend to backslide a little mid-March. I think the technical term for this is Seasonal Affective Disorder, or LAME. I tend to deride such things since they seem like such champagne problems (“Ooh, it looks so chilly out from inside my warm house! I fear I shall ne’er see another garden party!”), but since it happens every year, there’s gotta be something to it.

Luckily, the move to the Big City has helped with weather-related blahs in a big way. Instead of Winter and Pre-Winter, Ontario has four seasons, all of which have their advantages. Fall here is gorgeous, what with the foliage and the sweaters. Winter, though slushier and somehow dirtier than the prairies, is blessedly short and not nearly as cold. Spring gardens actually bloom here, and smokers hunch less ferociously outside; they don’t look as if another strong gust of wind would render them homicidal. And the Summer! Now to be fair, I’ve only experienced one full summer here, but my Ontario visits were always in summertime and my boyhood memories of Ontario are full of summer fun (but aren’t everyone’s boyhood memories? I can’t recall a thing about the November when I was six). Anyway, the summer here is fabulous; long and hazy and sweaty and sunny. Many people here don’t drive (like me), and so forego the subway in summertime (like me), and take up room on the sidewalk, window-shopping and iPodding and trying to rationalize that it’s too hot for coffee so a Starbucks frozen thing made from hog fat is an acceptable substitute. Anyway, I know I’m romanticizing here, but surely it’s better to bask in the warm imaginings of a false reality than go outside and freeze my balls off.

Dream: Have the best summer ever.

Goal: Achievable. As it approaches, every summer seems like it will be the best summer ever. But the funny thing is, each summer very well could be the best one! Even the summer I got up at six-thirty every morning to work in a dusty library shelving ancient books until 5 was the best summer ever. Even that summer before I knew Jon with the string of bad dates like the guy who ordered two desserts (for just himself!) and the guy who said bookstores and libraries were “fuckin’ useless” was the best summer ever. Because it just is. There’s something about summer for me (and a lot of people, I think) where more things seem possible and the world is just brighter. But I mustn’t let another summer pass without taking full advantage of it. That’s what makes things the best ever.

Plan: Rely on past successes and risky new summer ventures to capitalize on the glory of June to Labour Day. Like:

Wear shorts. I’m really going to try this year. I feel like a goof wearing jeans all summer, but it’s that or my dress pants and I’m not stupid! Shorts are just so…short. Not all shorts are short, but none of them are long enough to cover that gross “trouble spot” from my ankle to my chest. When I parade my pasty, white chalk-sausage legs around town, I feel like I could potentially offend the entire community. Like a police car might pull up alongside me and say, “Look, Lady Godiva, there are children in this neighbourhood and your knees look like smashed Yorkshire puddings, it’s disgusting.” What I really need are long shorts that are like jeans that also cover my pizza gut. So let’s say 3/4 length high-waisted jorts. They could start at the thinnest part of my calves (my ankles) then rest comfortably at my ribcage, maybe with some intricate ruching to distract from my bulk (I’m not quite sure what ruching but I think it’s like bows and ribbons and stuff and it’s such a fun word to say. “Ruching.”) Or I could go the opposite route.

Take off my shorts. There’s a very popular nude beach on Toronto Island, which is a great summer destination. You take a ferry to this small island that has hiking trails and picnic areas and swimming aaaand the naked beach. Boner Cove, we’ll call it, or Weiner’s Point. I wholeheartedly support nudism in theory; seems to me you just have to let go of all your body image stuff if you’re bare ass in a public place and you’re not dreaming or engaging in risky sex-play. But when theory met practice on my first visit to Testicle Shore, I really had to steel myself. I was with a group of friends and we enjoyed other parts of the island, hiking and bicycling and such, all day long with me boasting about how excited I was to visit the beach at the end. Then we got there and I panicked. Shrunk into myself, as it were. It was so crowded and so public and so naked! And everyone seemed so cool about their nakedness, just as I thought I would be, but it was too weird. But I couldn’t back down, not then. So I gritted my teeth, dug in my heels (a great look if you’re naked) and stripped down. I walked about halfway down the beach then ran back, put my clothes on, and hightailed it out of there. It must have looked so weird, my studied naked casualness then my run for cover. Like I had suddenly remembered a previous engagement (“Just standing here with my weiner and–Oh no, I’m supposed to be dining at the Governor’s Mansion tonight!”). And on that busy Saturday it was a bit cruise-y. Lots of people there to ogle and be ogled, but it feels weird checking out someone who’s not wearing clothes. How do you imagine someone naked who’s already naked? It’s like eating tofu that’s supposed to taste like tofu. Plus some of these dudes were way too comfortable being naked, all bronzed up and shiny and stuff. I’m gonna market a nude bathers tanning oil and call it Dink Twinkler.

Anyway, I did come back to Ass Canyon, though, ashamed of my last visit. Only this time it was a dull Wednesday afternoon and I was by myself with sunblock and a book. The beach was nearly empty, just as I had hoped, and I laid my towel down, liberally applied sunblock everywhere, removed the last of my clothes, and got as comfortable as I could, under the circumstances. And truth be told, it did get comfortable, after a long, long period of self-consciousness. It really does beat the oppressive heat to lie on a beach in your birthday suit. Not only that, the die hards who would come to a nude beach on a Wednesday are not there to see and be seen. They are there to be naturists or whatever they’re called, hike around and just let it all hang out. I don’t see myself becoming one of those guys, but I really enjoyed my afternoon. I read a good book, had a little swim, and got a really even tan.

Summer’s no fun if you’ve got no one to spend it with. My ultimate wish for the best summer ever is to see all of you. All the people that I run into, or used to work with, or Facebook back and forth, let’s stop putting off that get-together this summer and get together this summer! If you can find a table on a patio somewhere, save a place for me. And if you don’t live here, visit! Don’t put off that Toronto vacation, before you know it the leaves will change, the sweaters will come out and it will be Autumn, and soon after that we’ll be stuck back here again, housebound and seasonally affected, in this long dreary period, after the Fall.

Confronting the Fear of Confrontation...

Originally posted on March 18, 2011...

Hello Friends.

Here is what I dreamt last night, to the best of my recollection: I’m looking after the fragile son of a wealthy Asian man who resembles my former piano teacher and kind of Garry Shandling. Anyway, I assume the son is fragile because he never leaves his bedroom the whole time I’m babysitting. Before he leaves to go to wealthy Asian things, Shandling gives me a tour of his kick-ass mansion and I’m all appreciative, which he really likes. “I have precious things,” he tells me, “but my most prized possession is my son” (if you haven’t done so, read that quotation back with an Asian affectation to your internal monologue. Nothing racist, just a touch of Mr. Miyagi on “my most prized possession.”) Anyway, so he leaves me in charge of his delicate son and I’m thinking this will be an easy job because he’s just in his room sleeping or whatever. But then, you guys! I hear some rowdiness and I go downstairs and there are these street toughs having a party! Like playing beer pong and skateboarding down the hallways and playing their loud raps! Well, I’m scared of the street toughs, but know my priority is Garry Shandling’s son, so I try to tell them to vamoose. But, this being a dream, the one thing I’m trying to do is the one thing I can’t. My pleas fall on deaf ears and they wreck the whole mansion and I know I’m in bad trouble and there’s nothing I can do about it, and then I woke up.

I thought this was an interesting dream because a) you hardly ever see the inside of a mansion and b) I wouldn’t be able to confront the street toughs in real life either. In my life I’ve learned how to make a good grilled cheese sandwich, and the ideal time for microwaves a Mrs. Field’s cookie (12 seconds), but I just can’t confront people. When wronged, I opt to avoid the person who wronged me forever, attempt to bury my hurt feelings, and bitch about it to anyone who will listen except the offending party. Well this ends here!

Dream: Become good at confrontation.

Goal: Achievable. I’ve participated in my share of confrontations, though I’m always the confrontee, not the confronter. But when somebody’s gotten in my face about something, I’ve knocked it off. So why can’t I knock other people’s faces off?

Plan: Change my traits and habits so as to better intimidate others. For instance:

I could be more physically imposing. Despite my tallth (the word I’m trying out for “tallness”), nobody cowers at the sight of me. And though I’m no longer the lithe deer I once was, my pizza gut resting proudly on my ranch dressing thighs doesn’t give the proud bearing of a bull-moose either. I sort of look like I’m having a rough second trimester. Maybe I should go with that look instead. Ease myself into chairs and draw sunflowers on my gut and stuff. Though that’s far from intimidating, isn’t it? Scrap that one.

Be stronger vocally. Oh man, I wish I could change my voice when I get my dander up. Unfortunately, when I get angry, my throat closes and my voice gets all quavery, like I’m trying not to cry. And I really don’t think I’m near tears, it’s just what my voice naturally does when I’m pissed off. I got angry at a customer the other day after he became furious with me because his credit card was repeatedly declined. Of course, this was through no fault of my own, this guy had a bum credit card, but he was obviously from the school where if you yell and scream and something for long enough, everything turns out as it should. So finally I said, “If you don’t have any other form of payment, you need to move along” indicating the people with fully functioning credit cards in line behind him, waiting to pay for their stuff. “That’s bullshit!” he says. “I’m a paying customer and your machines must not be working because my card works and this is fucking bullshit!!!” A man good at confrontation would have bellowed a solid, “GET OUT OF MY STORE!” at this point, but instead I managed a quavery, “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave!” With his quaking rage and my snippy quivers, I’m sure it came off like Godzilla being chastised by a hairdresser.

Lastly, I have to stop gossiping to a third party about my problem with another person because that always just leads to more problems. I’ve always found it easier to gripe to an ally, “So-and-so’s driving me crazy! I can’t stand him!” and so forth, rather than confronting so-and-so. And it’s never worked in the history of time. Nobody hears that people are talking about them behind their back and then thinks, “Oh wow, I’d better straighten up and fly right.” They think, “That James is a bitch” and it only leads to more problems.
I may never strike fear in the hearts of men, but the least I can do is take a stand in my own self-interest. For I have many precious things, but my most prized possession, after all, is myself.

This One's For the Ladies...

Originally published March 10, 2011...

Hello Friends.

Well, I hope you enjoyed your day, women around the world. I’m glad we solved that pesky gender-inequality thing. So we’re good now, right?

I saw the play Oleanna by David Mamet last week at Soulpepper Theatre, and it was amazing. The play deserves, in my opinion, to be read and passed around like a great novel. It should be up there with The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye and Judy Blume’s Fudge series in stuff that just ought to be read. I studied Oleanna for a semester in my third year of university and put on act two of the play (the whole thing is a two-hander, which is a theatrical term meaning the performers in the scene each have two hands) for my final grade. It was one of those experiences that was wholly discouraging to me as a wannabe actor, but completely inspiring to me as a wannabe playwright. As an actor, I knew I could work for years on this play and never, ever get it. I just don’t have the acting chops to portray something that well-written. But as a writer, or at least an appreciator of good writing, the play amazes me. Even after reading it countless times, I turned to my lovely companions at intermission and said, “I can’t believe this was written by one person.” The reason I say that is this: the crux of the play is that two people, a woman and a man interpret the same series of events in wildly different ways. The woman and the man both believe they are absolutely right, and they are. Each person thinks the other one is absolutely wrong, and they are. I won’t go into the story here, you’ll just have to read it (or see it!! Closing March 19 at Soulpepper, rush tickets are only $22, just go and thank me later), but let’s just say terrible things are alleged and terrible things occur and if you come down definitively on the side of one character over the other, the message of the play is either men are pigs or women are bitches. Our fellow theatre-goers, judging from the murmuring we could hear after the show, seemed to believe this production proved the latter true. I was shocked to see that The Globe and Mail thought so too. The reviewer claimed that this production left no doubt in anyone’s mind who was right and who was wrong, calling the woman character “emotionally disturbed” and a “feminazi.”

Maybe the reviewer is right. Maybe this production was slanted to cast the man as the clear-cut hero and the woman as the villain. Maybe that was Mamet’s intention all along. Or maybe there is a far more insidious notion at play here, one far more pervasive in our culture than we’d care to admit. That I, as a man, one who strives to be progressive and forward-thinking would be loathe to consider in myself. That we have not come a long way, baby. That beyond lip-service and one fucking day of acknowledgement a year, statistics on wage disparity, worldwide reproductive rights, domestic abuse, sexual assault and a plethora of other issues getting worse instead of better seem to indicate that feminism is something we’ll get around to later.

But I’m no feminist scholar like Camille Paglia or Katha Pollitt or Lady Gaga. I’m just a guy with a blog and lots of crazy sitcom-inspired scenarios in my head. Yet I want to be a real feminist, good and true. I want to wear one of those t-shirts that say “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” and have people go “Yeahhhh” instead of “Grossss.” But there may be only one way to truly appreciate the feminist cause; to understand it all deep in my bones. It is my new Dream.

Dream: To spend 24 hours as a woman. No, let’s make it 48, I think I’d spend the first 24 in consult with
whatever mystical being made this come to pass. “Now you’re sure I’ma gonna git my weiner back tomorrah?”

Goal: Unachievable, of course. Yes, there are ways for a man to become a woman, but there’s no takesies-backsies. I want to experience it just for a weekend so I can turn back into guy James and be like, “What the hell?!?!” By the way, did you ever see those people on Oprah who, as men, grew up, got married, had children, and then in mid-life decided to have a sex change and “become their true selves?” I’m not minimizing what is surely an extremely difficult internal conflict, but really? Why get married if you secretly felt this way but weren’t able to admit it? Why have children? And then these men who transition to women expect their wives to stick by them and continue on the life they always lead, but as a different gender. I know they have lady-parts, but the notion that they would throw the lives of their loved ones in great upheaval for the sake of their own satisfaction and then expect things to continue on as they were? That’s something only a man would do, methinks.

Plan: For the sake of this entry, let us all suspend our disbelief and pretend this could actually happen. That if you were found to be of sound mind and body, you could pay a fee and have this medical team perform a temporary sex-change that would last for two days. Of course there would be an uphill battle, but the procedure would become legal in Canada first, but only a few states in the States would allow it, like Vermont and Massachusetts and it would lead to a dangerous rise in illegal lady-makers, operating out of the backs of vans in the cover of night. But for 48 hours you’d get the complete physical makeup of the opposite sex and everyone you came into contact with for that 48 would think you were that gender your whole life. So if I saved my pennies, let’s say, and for my 30th birthday bought a Chick Weekend, here’s what I would do:

Play with my boobs. I’m sorry but I totally would. Jon and I watched this documentary a few weeks ago called Boobs: An American Obsession and it was all about the objectification of, and the awesome power yielded by, a woman’s breasts. It was fascinating. There was nothing in it that was new and startling information, but it was interesting to hear things articulated that everybody pretends they don’t think about, but everyone does. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be judged instantly by a physical attribute you have absolutely no control over. And even if a woman tries to hide her breasts by baggy clothes or taping them down (which must be crazy painful), that in itself sends a message; breasts seem even more noticeable if they are somehow concealed, how fucked up is that? And I have to say, I’m really confused by the fashion trend of late where women wear shirts that v-neck down to the bottoms of their ribcage or lower, so as to show off the whole area between her breasts. That girl from Glee was on the cover of something recently, we carry the magazine where I work, and her neck to just above her belly button was totally exposed. Maybe that’s just a different way to show cleavage, one that small-breasted women in particular can utilize, but all I see in those pictures is clavicle. I go right to the protruding collar-bone or the jutting out breastbone and think, “Too skinny, what’s wrong? Are you eating? Girl from Glee, what did you eat today?” But again, that’s just not something I will understand or appreciate until I get my own lady parts. By the way, those of who going, “Oh that’s ridiculous! A woman wouldn’t just sit around playing with her boobs all day!” I beg you to consider where I’m coming from. Given some free time, men would play with their junk from sun-up to sundown.

Stand tall and speak up. If you can, watch a group of young men, then a group of young women, walking out of a bar. The men are loud and boisterous, crashing into each other and just generally taking up space. The women can be loud and boisterous too, but they’re baby-stepping in their heels and tugging down at their skirts and hugging their chests and just being so little. This is of course a huge generalization on my part, but I happened to see this exact scenario once outside the same bar. And how many movie posters, Facebook pictures, or magazine ads to we have to see where the man is standing, feet firmly planted, tough and strong, and the woman is facing him in profile? Tilting her head deferentially, or hunching to squeeze in, as if to be an accessory to his hulking frame? And how many DVD covers have to show the woman looking up at the man who looks down at her? Or where the woman looks to the man in a zany way and the man looks to the camera as if to say, “How am I gonna get out of this one!?!” Do you ever see that reversed? Do you? And when I’m a woman, I’m going to be loud. Like Bill O’Reilly loud. Maybe this is a trend of men and women, but I definitely notice it more in women where there seems to be a prize for the person who can speak the softest in every day situations. I work with this young woman who is super funny and kind and pretty and she speaks so softly I can barely hear her. She’ll crack a great joke no one will hear and I just want to shake her by the shoulders and say, “Speak up! Don’t slouch! Be hilarious and awesome and let us all hear you!” But that’s the kind of behaviour that gets me uninvited to a lot of sweet sixteen parties.

Finally, if I were a woman, I’d dress up as a black male comedian and ask anyone if it was funny. Yes, white comedians do this too but I can’t think of many examples where a movie is based on this premise and the joke seems to be on the woman. But come on, Eddie Murphy, what are you doing? Is that what you think of women? Martin Lawrence, how many Big Momma’s House movies before you acknowledge the crazy misogyny going on there? Isn’t it hilarious when old fat women wear ugly dresses and break the beds their sleeping on? Ha ha ha. And Tyler Perry, I wish I understood it. Not that he needs my understanding, Tyler Perry has an empire of tremendously successful plays and movies, many which feature Perry in drag as his character Medea, a wise-cracking old lady who offers lessons. But if that is the purpose this character serves, why is she played by a man? There’s no older actress who can convincingly play the matriarch of a large family, who is Christian and loving and sassy? Why does a character who supposedly embodies the wisdom of the female experience have to be carried on your broad shoulders, sir? Because it’s funnier? What’s so fucking funny about it?
The sad thing about this Dream is that it exists only as a false premise. I will never be a woman, nor do I have real desire to be one, but I do want to know. I want to understand, if only to keep seeing the inconsistencies and injustices in a society some claim to be “equal.” And let me clarify that being a gay man gives me no extra knowledge of, or sensitivity to, the issues of women. It really refries my beans when gay guys think they get some sort of “woman’s pass” where they can make raunchy jokes and grab breasts with impunity because “it doesn’t count, we’re the same!” It does count, we’re not the same. But I will say that I’ve enjoyed countless amazing relationships with women that straight men aren’t often privy to. It’s weird how so many straight men my age seem to only know what they truly know about women based on their interactions with their mother, or sisters, and then their girlfriends or wives. We could all use a few more lessons about the other half of the world’s population, even if some of these lessons are really hard to learn. But we can handle it, I think. We just have to nut-up, grow a pair, and take it like a man.

Don't Touch My Stuff...

Originally posted March 4, 2011...

Hello Friends.

I’m such a hypocrite and so are you (probably). When people start talking about tv, I’m the first one to decry reality shows. “Reality shows are exploitative!” I say, hitching up my pants in that superior way I do. “Reality shows are so fake!” I declare, then I scratch the back of my head a duck a little bit like Clooney used to do when he was on ER but it only looks charming when Clooney does it and when I do it flakes of my drying scalp land in your coffee. “Your mom’s a reality show!” I’ll snark, but that really only works if you’re arguing with one of the infants featured on Teen Mom (in that instance, their moms really are a reality show). But Intervention is a reality show and I used to watch that religiously. Police Women of Cincinnati is a reality show that Jon and I have not missed an episode of (in fact, we’ve seen all those police women shows. My favourite part is when the person in the back of the squad car starts banging their head against the window, as if that will result in them being free to go). But the mother of all these shows is Hoarders. I love Hoarders, but I hate hoarders. I adore the show, but dislike everything about the people featured on it. For the uninitiated, a hoarder is a person who is unwilling/unable to throw anything away, and as such, has a house full of crap, and Hoarders is a show which profiles these people who, as I said, I hate. But I kind of worry that, like the bully on the playground, I hate hoarders so much because I fear I might secretly be one.

Dream: Avoid become a hoarder.

Goal: Achievable, for the moment. Right now I lack the resources to be a hoarder. I don’t have the money to buy bicycle seats, old magazines, racist dolls from the fifties, and cat skeletons, and I just don’t have enough space. Even if our apartment was filled with stuff, it’s such a small space that it would be kind of forgivable. But if I were to ever own a house and have disposable income to buy useless stuff, then it’s watch out Charlie!

Plan: Used what I have learned from watching countless episodes of Hoarders to avoid becoming a hoarder.
I should mention now that if you’ve never seen the show, reading on may be a waste of your time. I can’t explain to you why this phenomenon is fascinating to me, nor can I justify why it’s impossible for me to watch it alone (my friend Lewis and I have a standing date–used to be our Mondate but now because of his classes it’s a Tuesdate—where we catch up on Hoarders and laugh until we cry). But if you have seen the show, what is up with these people? Still reading? Good.

I feel a good method of hoarder avoidance is to not binge, but always purge. The people on this show go to rummage sales every day. They raid dumpsters. They go to Costco and never have that weird feeling the rest of us get where we go, “I don’t own a restaurant or motel, what am I doing in Costco?” The best/most difficult purge I had was when we moved out to the Big City. Try as we might, we couldn’t find an affordable mover. We tried lots of places. One very kindly old man came in, accepted our offer of coffee, checked out our bedroom, noticed our couches, looked at the tv and said, “Four grand.” Fuck! Our stuff wasn’t worth that. And Jon left earlier than I did to drive out there and start his work, so he got to load up the car with his files, books, clothes, etc., but I could only bring would I could carry with me on a plane. I took and left behind the weirdest stuff when it came down to it. I got rid of all my Hello Friend shirts, which smarts as there were twenty-something of them, but I was having a fat summer and couldn’t move in them, so they were gone. I left behind so many plays, which kills me now. Why, as an amateur actor and maybe one day playwright, did I think I would never need to read a play again? I took John Mayer’s debut album and a pair of bellbottoms. What, James? I took season one of Mad About You but left behind the art history textbook I paid a bundle for. But, when all was said and done, I’m grateful I left so much behind. Beyond sentimentality, that stuff was just stuff, and all replaceable.

Also, best not be an asshole all the time. The common thread of these hoarder people is that they are awful. Despite the fact that “experts” spend time “diagnosing their problem” (who are these experts, by the way? What school did they go to? “Do you ever think there’s too much stuff in your house?” Bravo, professor) and that there’s a team of people from 1.800.GOT.JUNK whose only job is to literally dig through your crap, the hoarder him or herself is ungrateful and whiny. Inevitably, at some point in Day 2, when someone suggests throwing out a VHS tape of a Cardinals game from the 80′s or a stuffed animal with gravy on it, the hoarder becomes overwhelmed and says, “I’m done! You know what? I’m done!” And walks off. Done with what, exactly? Being helped by your fellow man? Recovering from your serious problem? Getting your house back?
Really and truly, I worry that a hoarder is a symptom, not the problem. We are incurable consumers. We are indoctrinated from an early age to fill any voids in our lives with stuff. Money can’t buy happiness but it can buy a lot of stuff that you’d be sad to live without. And boy do these hoarders get treated with kid gloves. If I were the “expert” dealing with this person, I’d put a match to the mess and go watch Heavy (the AMAZING new show in Hoarders‘ timeslot between seasons, about fatties who go to a compound and get yelled at by this gorgeous black guy). Reading this back over, I can’t justify my vitriol. Something about this compulsion to hoard makes me really angry and I haven’t done a good job of explaining it here. It’s something about consumerism and something about how this is such a rich white guy problem (“I have so much stuff! Waah!”) and something else too. Something about weakness, or vulnerability, or our proclivity to prize possessions over people. Something inexplicable. Something money can’t buy. Best to leave it for now and come back to it another day. I’ll get to it later. Because I’m done! You know what? I’m done!

It's You I Like...

Originally posted February 24, 2011...

Hello Friends.

Remember when small phone was the new big phone? Or when iPad was the new iPod? I think small number of Facebook friends will become the new massive number of Facebook friends. While I’m sure it was once cool to amass as many Facebook friends as is allowed (apparently the limit is 5000), I now see people with a lot of friends and think they must be trying to prove something (“2,845 Friends? Someone’s got a small penis!”) Today, I linked through a friend’s profile to an old acquaintance who was an extremely popular girl. Enormously well-liked and pretty (if a touch trampy), I expected her Facebook page to be the narcissistic shrine of self-love we’ve come to expect, with thousands of friends. Instead she has like two photos (where she’s not even in the foreground!) and 19 friends. 19! I saw that and thought, “Oh my god, that’s so subversive! Who does she think she is? Wow!” and then, “I wonder if she would friend me.” I didn’t try, I wouldn’t be able to handle the rejection.

Truth be told, I’ve always felt as far as friends go, that I really won the lottery. With some exceptions, I’ve always had a pretty easy time making friends and keeping them around. I don’t count that as my own virtue, mind you, I don’t think it’s my extreme wonderfulness that has earned me great friends, but rather that I have the good sense to pick the best ones of the bunch and cling like a barnacle. But it’s the friends I can’t make that stick with me when it’s late and I’m on Facebook and thinking, “Whatever happened to…” It’s those people who, try as I might, just don’t like a dose of Vitamin J that fill me with self-doubt, self-loathing and Ruffles. I saw this documentary this past weekend called Small Town Gay Bar which was about (as you no doubt guessed) gay bars in small towns and there were so many misfits in this movie; so many square pegs who were once in desperate search of their own identity within their podunk little towns who flowered into these out-and-proud types with their loud voices and gaudy outfits and constant, lispy refrain, “If you don’t like me, then fuck you!”

I want to agree with that. On principle I do, and under those circumstances I certainly support it. If I lived in a small, homophobic town with no means of support and oppression at every turn, I might stamp my little foot and cry, “If you don’t like me, then fuck you!” But I don’t, so I won’t. I know in some cases, an attitude like that is the rallying cry of the misunderstood, but it too often hits my ear like the screeching whine of the socially inept. But is that true, or is it just my problem? Only one way to know for sure.

Dream: Be well-liked by everyone on the Earth.

Goal: Achievable, but extremely rare. Betty White and God are the only examples I can think of when I think about who’s universally well-liked, and people start wars over God, so it’s probably not a great gig. But still, it would solve so many problems.

Plan(s): Several.

Address problems at the outset so as to avoid future resentments. There’s this girl I used to work with who just didn’t like me one bit, and I really don’t know why. We only worked together for a few months and rarely did we actually work side by side but it seemed, like contestants on reality shows are all too happy to claim, that she had a problem with me since day one. Vicky (a far nicer pseudonym than this girl deserves) would actually leave a room when I entered it. If I had to actually speak to her, she would only consent to one-sided conversations where she was constantly in motion. So I would address her and she would give the most perfunctory of responses while crossing a room or stacking boxes or fording a river. Vicky would only address me through notes, which started out passive-aggressive, “James, did you mean to screw up x, y, and z, or were you just improperly trained?” and by the end were just aggressive, “James, you’re not doing this, this or this right. You keep messing this up! Stop! Vicky.” And what made matters worse was that no one else had any problem at all with Vicky. She got along great with everyone else, everyone else with her, and everyone else with me, too, so I just couldn’t figure it out. If I were a braver man with a time machine, I’d go back to our early days of working together and ask her just what I said or did to make her so angry with me. Hell, if I were a braver man with a time machine, I’d go back and stop Hitler, but that’s neither here nor there. But no conversation like that ever took place. But really, in hindsight, I wish I had the sack to just confront her about her obvious resentment. “If I’ve done something to offend you…” I would offer, or, “We seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot here, and…” or, “What’s your fucking problem?” But instead, I decided to be really mature and just hate her back double. By the end of our time together, Vicky would demand shifts opposite mine and would leave early or arrive late on days when we overlapped so as to avoid seeing me altogether. I haven’t seen Vicky or heard anything about her in a long time. I don’t know if she’s at the same job or even in the same city anymore. And it shouldn’t matter one way or the other, but it does. I had never had the experience of being so acutely aware of someone’s contempt for me. I’m sure people have disliked me in the past, but had the good sense not to see me every day, so I wasn’t as aware of it. With Vicky, though, I’m still genuinely confused. I often wonder what I said or did (or didn’t say or do) that made her dislike me so much. I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but it’s about me personally so how can I not?

Always have something to offer, friendwise. There’s this girl I sort of know (we’ll call her Nicky) that I desperately want to be besties with. She’s really sweet, and funny, and knockout gorgeous and I feel like just having her in my friend circle would up my own coolness a hundredfold. Nicky and I went for one drink long ago where I was so nervous about making a good impression that I’m sure I came off like an improv performer fresh out of ideas, all unfunny and flop-sweaty (“Too much ice in this drink, eh? Hahaha, am I paying for water, here? Hahaha”). Since then, Nicky has denied all further get-together requests. Not flat-out, mind you, but with excuses that I’m sure exist only to spare my fragile feelings. “I’d love to!” she’d say, “But I’m so busy! I can’t get any days off! Argh!!” And maybe she can’t get days off, but what I think I can’t get is the hint. I have nothing to offer poor Nicky, in terms of friendship. We don’t have similar interests, professions, backgrounds or goals. She’s younger than me, and infinitely hipper. This doesn’t explain my attraction to her, but there it is. And of course I don’t mean attraction in the physical or sexual sense, but in that friend way. The way where you meet someone at a party and you instantly want to spend the weekend with them, braiding each other’s hair and playing Dreamphone. The mutual friend who introduced Nicky to me in the first place has done nothing to cultivate a growing friendship either; has never said, “We should invite Nicky along next time we go berry-picking (activity changed to protect the innocent)” even though I desperately want them to. This all leads me to believe that James and Nicky will never go on vacation together, or be in each other’s wedding parties, or have one person try on a montage of outfits while the other person sits outside the fitting room and gives thumbs up or down in a playful way. I should just accept this and move on, be grateful for the hip, good-looking friends I already have, but instead I find myself picking out my own boring outfits, or trying to braid my own hair and thinking, “It’s just not the same without Nicky.”

Have a point of connection with everybody. This would be, I suppose, both the major upside and downside of universal likeability. It would be great to befriend whoever you wanted, but annoying to have to reject so many weiner-kids. There’s this hot mess I know we’ll call Ricky, who I wish I could connect with if only to tell her to stay away from me forever and ever. Ricky is this woman who shuffles up and down the streets of my neighbourhood and screams. She’s not old and she’s not homeless (apparently a bunch of derelicts in the neighbourhood rent an apartment together, which has potential to be a really good reality show), but there’s obviously something really wrong with her. She’s either on drugs or severely mentally ill or some combination thereof. I’ll see her in restaurants or coffee places sometimes (and if I go inside I can smell her instantly—she’s a stinky lady), and she’s nursing a coffee or sandwich or something, so she must have some money from somewhere, and I’ve never seen her panhandle, but I hear her screams. At first, it used to really disturb me. I’d be walking down the street, jamming out to a lame hit on the ol’ iPod (recently I tried to add Above and Beyond’s chilled out hit “Good For Me” but mistakenly downloaded Amy Grant’s “Good For Me” and I have to tell you, I don’t regret it at all) and suddenly hear a piercing wail and turn to see Ricky running/stumbling down the street behind me, screeching and sobbing. A more compassionate person might approach her and say, “What’s haps, Ricky? Why are you screaming, what has upset you so?” But all she does when someone approaches her is scream louder. I know this is making me really unsympathetic right now. Your heart is probably breaking for Ricky, the troubled girl who can only walk the streets and scream, but let me assure you that after 18 months of living with this, it’s really fucking annoying. To be waiting in line for your coffee in the morning, trying not to pass out from the smell and hearing “BAAAAAAAAAAUGH!” every fifteen seconds is a real pain. Or to be falling asleep around midnight only to be awakened by a hearty “BAAAAAUGH!!” from outside your window. The night screaming, that really bothers me. Naturally, I run to the window and look out, or even run down to the lobby in my jams to make sure there’s not some poor woman being attacked on our darkened big city streets, but it’s always just Ricky (I’m always going to investigate the night screams, though, because the one time I don’t, I know someone will die on my doorstep and they’ll right articles about this big city is an insensitive Metropolis full of assholes). Anyway, if I could somehow befriend Ricky I could say, “You know, Ricks, the screaming is a bit of a turn-off. I know you’ve got troubles, but everyone has their own sack of rocks and we don’t go screaming in the streets every day.” And maybe then she would cut it out. Or at least carry a prop cell phone with her to scream into so we could all go, “Ah, I see, the person on the phone must be a real jerk.”

But I guess the point is, life is full of Vicky’s, Nicky’s and Ricky’s, no matter how likeable you are (or aren’t). And the idea is to focus on the people who are friends with you, who do come out for drinks, who can put up with you for five goddamn minutes. In easy in the pursuit of new friends to short-change the old ones. To forget how hard you worked once to score an invite to their party, or how lucky you are to be the one who sits outside the fitting room and gives the thumbs up or thumbs down. So let me go on record and say how grateful I am for those friends, past, present and future. And distance keeps many of us too far to braid each other’s hair, but there’s always visits, and for better or worse, there’s always Facebook.

The Riches of Embarrassment...

Originally posted February 18, 2011...

Hello Friends.

Have you guys seen that video of that woman reporting at the Grammy’s and having some kind of stroke on the air? She’s all peppy and lively when the anchors throw it to her and says, “We’ve had a very, very heavy birtation tonight ders flavin” and it goes on like that. Or the video where the girl is texting while walking through a mall, isn’t watching where she’s going, and falls headfirst into a fountain? That second one kills me because of the aftermath. You can’t see the woman in the texting/walking video at all, her face is obscured by her phone and the footage is grainy and shot from a fair distance. So then the walking/texting girl decides to identify herself to the media to say how upset she is and how she plans to sue the mall! What the balls? She’s mad that no one came to her aid and said, “What if this were a senior citizen falling into the fountain? Would it be funny then?” First of all, you can’t blame anyone but yourself for not watching where you were going. Secondly, anyone rushing to your aid would only compound your embarrassment, trust me. If you’re walking outside and you slip on a patch of ice, for example, you hope to God no one sees you. If anyone rushes to your side asking if you’re okay, the illusion that no one witnessed your blunder is shattered, and the embarrassment you feel far outweighs the benefit of having someone help you up. And lastly, if a senior citizen fell into a fountain, it would be fucking hilarious. I watch these videos and laugh and laugh, but a niggling thought keeps from truly enjoying them. I always watch or read about these things and think, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Dream: Avoid public humiliation on a grand scale.

Goal: Not achievable. I trip, slip, stumble, fall, say the wrong thing, run like a girl, get easily startled, and laugh so hard that I fart on so many occasions that odds are somebody with a camera is bound to catch this stuff, post it, and make me a laughingstock. It’s really only a matter of time.

Plan: As best I can, avoid circumstances conducive to public humiliation, such as:

Videotaping my sexual escapades. I don’t understand that trend at all. And how is that not going to end up on the internet? I’m sure that’s seldom the original intention of the sex-tapers. “This is just for us,” they’ll promise, before ravaging each other in front of their iPhones. But what purpose does even that serve? If it’s just for the two of you, why have it on video when you can just do it live? You never say, “Ah, I’m so tired tonight, can’t we just watch ourselves do it?” But eventually promises are broken, couples split up, and a vengeful ex will post this tape on the internet, for all to see, which is really skeezy. I’d love to help wreck this trend. I think I’m going to post videos on those amateur sites with titles like, “Sasha takes it hard!!!” But then the video will be me speaking to a girl named Sasha and telling her that her grandfather has died. She’s bound to take that hard. Also, can we please never forget that a sex tape is the only reason Kim Kardashain is famous? Sure, she’s parlayed that fame into reality shows, television appearances, fragrance and modelling contracts, but her initial claim to fame was a spirited romp with a delightful gentleman called Ray-J. I’ve seen parts of the tape (purely for research purposes for this blog) and she doesn’t seem the least bit self-conscious about being videotaped. She’s all coy and come-hithery, and despite engaging in very lewd and graphic behaviour, she never takes her bra off. I found that curious until I realized she probably kept her bra on because she’s classy.

Never witness a murder. I really hope I don’t, for obvious reasons. To watch someone die would be kind of a drag, but then my role in a highly-publicized murder trial would surely make me fodder for the media. I’m a dramatic person at the best of times, so I can only imagine how flowery and self-aware I would become if called upon to testify. I remember once, Jon and I drove by two kids fist-fighting in a parking lot. I thought it was more serious than Jon did and insisted on calling the police. Breathlessly, I recounted what I saw and described the kids as “Young in age. Definitely young in age!” and the officer said, “So…young?” Young of age. I probably said they were blond of hair and stocky of build, too. You can’t help but get caught up in it all. The most famous example of this is probably Kato Kaelin, a witness in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Originally called as a witness for the prosecution, Kaelin’s testimony became so rambling, nonsensical, and inconsistent, that his participation was ultimately a boon to the defense. Kaelin became a dumb surfer punchline, and insisted on milking his fifteen minutes of the fame to the fullest, appearing on many game shows and reality shows over the years. Incidentally, if Kaelin’s testimony really did help the defense team make their case, he’s at least in part responsible for another disturbing phenomenon. One of the defense lawyers was a businessman named Robert who hadn’t practised law in nearly twenty years when he was approached to defend his friend, O.J. O.J.’s acquittal ensured Robert had a lucrative practice and business for the rest of his life and he died of esophageal cancer in 2003 a very rich man, leaving his piles of money to his wife and children, among them Kourtney, Khloe, and Kim Kardashian.

Don’t attempt to salvage your vanity. There are these teens that I’m scared of who go to the same Tim Horton’s I do. They go to the Catholic junior high nearby and they buy Ice Capps on their lunchbreak and I desperately want them to think I’m cool. I’m scared of them because they’re big and hulking and loud and travel in groups and are boisterous. If I’m behind them in line, I bear witness to their horseplay and I might as well be back in grade nine. Anyway, I want them to see me, in my disgusting clothes and my messy hair and deduce (correctly) that I just rolled out of bed, even though they’ve already been in school for hours. I want them to think, “Man! That guy goes to Tim Horton’s whenever he wants! He’s playing by his own rules! If he were also a teen, he’d be the leader in our group!” The other day, I went to the grocery store and bought only eggs and bread, and went to Tim’s for my coffee afterwards. The teens were there. My coffee in hand, I tried to turn my iPod back on as I turned the corner (“He listens to music too!” they would say) and I slipped and fell. A classic James wipeout. And of course, I dropped the coffee from one hand and landed on the eggs and bread, effectively destroying both. My heart broke as I heard the teens laughing. One called to me, but I only heard part of what he said. It sounded like, “*mumble* fail!” Thinking on my feet (though flat on my ass), I responded in what I hoped was a hip way: “EPIC Fail!” The teen paused for a minute, then said, “The fuck? I just said that!” and he and his friends laughed even harder. By the way, how cool is “the fuck?” as a replacement for “What the fuck?” Those teens truly play by their own rules. And by the other way, another dude whose vanity got the better of him when he tried to appear hip was Bruce Jenner. Bruce Jenner was an Olympic athlete who won a gold medal in 1976. Since then, like Kato Kaelin et al., he tried to parlay this fame into movie and t.v. appearances and the like. He is older now, and has had a series of completely unflattering facelifts. Google that shit, he looks like a monster. All because of his vanity. Unfortunately for us, we can see that monster face anytime we like on television, all because his third and current wife is a woman named Kris, the mother of Kim Kardashian.

Lastly, I suppose, I could hope and pray that there wasn’t a camera around. Back when I actually was a teen, although closer to pre-tween (possibly bween), I spent a lot of time at my best friend Ryan’s house. Thankfully, unlike those stupid bweens today who videotape their backyard trampoline accidents (FYI, don’t ever search “trampoline” on YouTube, all you’ll get is children badly hurting themselves), we didn’t record our activities. One time we were heading downstairs to do something. It must have been an exciting something because I took the stairs two at a time behind Ryan and when I reached the second to last stair, I leapt into the air so I could hit the ground running. Instead what I hit was the smoke detector with my face. The ceiling above me was much lower than I anticipated (as basement ceilings often are), the smoke detector clocked me in the face and I fell backwards onto the stairs. In that instant Ryan laughed so hard that he snotted all over himself. Imagine if that had been videotaped; the whole thing took less than three seconds. Leap, Slam, Crash, Snot! It’s one of my funniest memories though, as I recall, I was badly hurt. My bruised back healed up, but my pride would have never recovered had this happened today and somebody filmed it. It’s a good thing nobody had a camera on Brandy. Remember Brandy? She was this teen pop singer in the 90′s who faded into relative obscurity, then was a judge on America’s Got Talent, then she crashed her car into another car, and the driver of the other car died. She died! Nobody witnessed the accident, though, and the only evidence available is photos of the wreckage taken by paparazzi, who (of course) showed up after the accident. Brandy was charged with vehicular manslaughter, but no witnesses meant a weak case, which she settled out of court for an undisclosed sum of money. If her finances took a hit at this time, she could always turn to her brother Ray-J, flush with cash after the sale of his sex tape with Kim Kardashian.

What worries me is that the possible fame connected to public humiliation on a grand scale outweighs the humiliation itself for some people. The most overwhelming evidence to suggest this is true is reality television. Any night of the week, you can watch bad singers be purposefully bad just for a chance to be creamed on tv by a famous person, or watch a bevy of whores compete to marry another whore. I don’t much care for reality television, but I am in the minority, I suspect. The Emmy Awards, which honour dramatic, comedic, musical/variety, miniseries and movies made for television, had to add a sixth category recently, to award Reality Television. When introducing the category at this year’s Emmy telecast, host Jimmy Fallon sang, “They don’t have writers and they don’t have plots…” and a buxom lady in the audience stood up and sang in response, “But it’s the only thing in television people still watch: Reality!” You get one guess as to who that buxom lady was.

Some Words About Words...

Originally published February 10, 2011...

Hello Friends.

Sarah Palin is credited with coining the term “refudiate” which was named Word of the Year by the New Oxford American Dictionary. First of all, I didn’t know NOAD had a Word of the Year. Is there a televised ceremony like the Oscars (“You know, “word” is a word thrown around a lot these days, but our next five nominees…”)? Secondly, “refudiate” isn’t a word, it’s the misuse of two words (“refute” and “repudiate”) and it doesn’t mean anything. NOAD disagreed, and credited Palin accordingly, who took to her Twitter in response (like any great thinker), writing: “English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!” Do we, Sarah? Do we got to?

I’m so glad I write, speak and kind of know English. Linguists say with all the exceptions to our language rules (i before e, daughter should sound like laughter, pluralized goose is geese but pluralized moose isn’t meese), English is the most difficult language to learn. I swell with pride when I hear statements like that and think, “I’ve been speaking English practically since I was six.” But there are ever-present threats to our spoken and written language. Threats that, should we continue to ignore them, will reduce language as we know it to grunting and texting. Not on my watch!

Dream: Call attention to various language infractions in an attempt to eliminate them. Any residual feelings of superiority over others is merely a side-effect.

Goal: Unachievable. Language lovers are a dying breed, seems to me. People are reluctant to reproduce with someone who will say, “Of course you can touch me there, but you may not touch me there.” Kills the mood. But here’s my attempt anyhow.

Plan: Identify today’s most common language infractions, like:

Hyperbole. I think this is mostly a young person’s issue, but I hear grown-ups using these expressions too. For instance, I hear, “I love so-and-so to death” all the time, and it’s usually followed by a qualifier indicating that this person does not love so-and-so to death as they claim. For instance, I overheard two friends talking about a guy they knew and one girl said, “I mean, I love him to death but I just can’t hang out with him anymore!” Girls, if I loved someone to death, I’d probably hang out with them a bit. These are the same young persons who will have a conversation thusly:

Friend 1: The other day I saw James wearing a bathing suit.
Friend 2: Ugh, I just threw up in my mouth.

You didn’t just throw up in your mouth! Okay? You didn’t! The thought of James in a bathing suit might have temporarily disgusted you but it didn’t cause bile to rise in your throat and pool in your mouth. While we’re at it, can we eliminate the expression, “Wrong on so many levels?” What I suppose originally started as a phrase to indicate offence at several things going wrong at the same time (say a cyclist riding without a helmet the wrong way down a one way street while offering drugs to a child), it has now become a catch-all phrase for anything bad. Also, The Gong Show was a terrible mid-seventies game show where people won prizes, it wasn’t your shift at work, or your family reunion, or the lineup at the bank. None of those things was a gong show.

Me, myself and I. I was watching some awards show recently and when accepting his award, some actor said he would give the award to his supportive parents saying, “So you can see this every day and see what you made possible for myself.” I appreciate the sentiment, but what you mean to say is, “made possible for me.” There’s a deejay on in Regina every morning who always says, “come on down and visit Lori and myself” or some variation thereof, and my mother and I would yell at the car radio, “Lori and me! Visit Lori and me!” Jon loves that show Judge Judy, but will only watch it when I’m out of the house or asleep, as per my explicit wishes. Anyway, I woke up to her shrieking the other day. A defendant was saying, “He approached the car to talk to my girlfriend and me.” And Judy got all shrill and interjected, “My girlfriend and I.” Clearly torn between his desire to please the court but also maintain the English language he just said, “I’m sorry?” and she said, “My girlfriend and I!” again, all huffy. He just kept going, rather than repeat himself, because he was right in the first place. He could say, “My girlfriend and I talked to the plaintiff” and that would be right, but when he said “approached the car to talk to my girlfriend and me” he was also right, and Judy had to stick her judgemental nose in there and correct an error that didn’t exist!

I could go on and on here. I could talk about the utter uselessness of the phrase, “It is what it is” which everybody says in every situation like it’s so profound, but really how often is it not what it is? Ever? I could talk about the way we’ve bastardized English on Facebook, like how “I found that funny” was replaced by “lol” which has now been replaced by “Bahaha!” or how people use sentence fragments to indicate how important something is but really This. Must. Stop. But I’m not going to do that. I fear that if I come down too hard on misuse of language, someone smarter than me will look through this blog and see all the errors I commit every week. How I pretentiously use expressions like, “I fear that” instead of “I’m afraid that” when I should probably use neither because I’m not actually afraid. That every blog follows more or less the same formulaic pattern of “Baseless statement. Anecdote. Obscure reference. Thesis (wildly digressive parenthetical statements throughout which ruin sentence-structure). Sentence fragment. Sentence fragment. Sentence fragment. Repetition of obscure reference to give the reader a false sense of closure.” But nobody has called me out on that stuff yet, so maybe I’ll keep my mouth shut when I witness another terrible language infraction, and I’ll be allowed to keep blogging, despite my own shortcomings with English. It’s the only language I know. Got to celebrate it!

A Penny Saved...

Originally posted February 4, 2011...

Hello Friends.

There’s this guy I’ll call Walter (though I’m not protecting his anonymity here, I really don’t know his name) who comes into our store at the same time every day and buys a five dollar lottery ticket. English is not his first language so, though he is animated and chatty with the cashiers who share his native tongue, with me he is friendly, but brief (which is how I like both my customers and sexual activities). His transaction is so routine that I often print out the lottery ticket before he gets to the till, so I can simply hand him the ticket and take his five dollars in one fell swoop. The first few times I did this, he was clearly delighted. “This guy!” he says, “He knows!” And if he’s ever buying anything in addition to his ticket, we take a moment to chat while I ring up his other stuff. We joke about his potential purchases based on the size of this week’s jackpot. “Only ten sports cars this week,” he says, pretend-sulking that he can’t buy more. When Walter leaves I usually toss out some variant of, “Now remember it was me who sold you this ticket. Remember me when you win!” and he laughs and says he will and I don’t see him until the next time I’m on shift. I’m sure he comes in every day because everybody knows when he comes in and what his standard ticket is. I don’t know how long he’s been doing this, but I asked a coworker who said that Walter was coming in every day back when she started, and that was five years ago. If that’s true, and Walter has purchased a five dollar lottery ticket every day for five years (taking ten days off a year for holidays/sick days/mudslides), he has spent nearly nine thousand dollars. Now I suppose all it takes is one winning ticket to recoup those losses, but what if that winning ticket never comes?
A lottery win would be sweet right now. I recently lost one of my two jobs. I wasn’t fired or laid-off or anything; the store closed and we were sent packing. I don’t miss the job and I love having only one schedule to work around instead of two, but I sure miss the paycheque (not that it was ever stellar, but it brought me much closer to buying one of those gross hairless cats than I am now). Anyway, I am lazily applying for other jobs (but mostly Dream Jobs like freelance writer or someone who inspects the abs of runway models for both muscularity and tautness), but in the meantime I have to cut way back on my expenditure. It’s tough, but leads to my new Dream.

Dream: Cut daily costs down significantly in order to maintain survival.

Goal: Achievable. We all have that stupid friend who lives very comfortably on nothing. Somehow all their second-hand belongings look vintage and hip, they don’t waste a thing to the point where you feel both extravagant and foolish, and they make their own soup out of water and rocks. So it can be done, but what’s the cost of living cheap?

Plan: Find ways to cheap out on necessities like:

Food. I wish I was one of those people who didn’t care what I ate. You know the type? Who just eat when they’re hungry and it doesn’t matter what they put in their mouths? They get the same satisfaction from prime rib or a bread sandwich (take one slice of bread, place between two slices of bread. Consume). I’m that terrible combination of food-enjoyer and lazy-ass. It means I eat out more than I should, and can only cook things that are really unhealthy because so little culinary skill is required (fried eggs, pasta, hog fat). Hear me out, but I see one major advantage of having an eating disorder. Sure you sacrifice your physical and mental health, you develop a poisonous lifelong relationship with food, and you do irreparable damage to yourself, but think of the grocery bills! If I only had to weakly traipse to Loblaws once a month for butter spray, artificial sweetener, and cigarettes (the eating disorder trifecta), I’d be living on Easy Street!

Booze. I’m not an alcoholic, but I can’t not drink. And I don’t drink to excess but in truth, I worry about the prevalence of liquor in my life. Maybe worry is a strong word; I question it. For as long as I’ve known Jon (five years last Wednesday), Fridays have involved a trip to the liquor store and sometime over the weekend we reap the benefits of that trip. We had very close friends in Saskatoon who don’t drink and we’d see them fairly often and while I can’t say I noticed the absence of alcohol in these get-togethers, if we saw them on a Friday, we’d drink on Saturday, or vice-versa. Is that weird? I genuinely ask because I am very fortunate to come from an immediate family with no problems with alcoholism whatsoever (as far as I know, anyway—maybe the dog is a lush). So I don’t have that weird frame of reference most people have where drinking was either strictly forbidden for so long that now it’s de rigueur to get absolutely smashed, or alcohol was such an issue in the past that it is completely eradicated in present day. Either way, I wonder if I should stop, or even if I could. I’m going to go with the notion that I shouldn’t but I could so as to not feel guilty tomorrow when I restock the freezer.

Entertainment. I shudder to think how much of my earnings get sucked into the movie theatre. I know its a really wasteful past time, going to the movies. It’s extremely expensive, even moreso on cheap nights (with the money I save on a Tuesday ticket, I buy a popcorn and drink, which is actually $700 American, and with the exchange—hoo boy!). And I will often go to movies by myself, which is probably pretty lame, but it can be such a satisfying experience. I don’t set out to go to a movie by myself, mind you, but if nobody’s around to go with, I kind of like it. Plus the movies I like are often so poorly attended that I feel a big shot in my own screening room. And there’s nobody there to compare notes with at the end of the movie, which can be good and bad. If the movie is lousy, I’m grateful I’ve gone by myself so nobody can go “Great pick, Ebert!” in that really condescending way people do. But if the movie is good, or in any way affecting, I need to talk it out. The other day I went solo to a screening of Another Year, this slow but really charming British movie about an old couple who goes planting in the spring, hosts a barbecue in the summer, attends a funeral in the fall, and covers their plants in the winter. Sounds exciting, I know, but it really was super good. So much so that at the end of the movie, I turned to one of the six other people that also came solo to the late show and said, “So what did you think?” And they were too miffed at my invading their privacy to answer, apparently. In any case, its an expensive habit that I should stop in order to save money, but what good’s money if you never spend it?

Case in point. Walter wasn’t in today, or yesterday, or Tuesday, or Monday. Not because he won the jackpot, but because he bought the farm. On Sunday, according to the neighbour who was kind enough to come in an tell us, Walter suddenly and with no apparent foreshadowing, dropped dead. He wasn’t sick, or if he was, we couldn’t tell. He was robust and active and chatty and youthful-looking, even though he was a senior. Not a senior-senior mind you, maybe 75, if that. I’m not one for co-opting grief. I don’t take someone else’s tragic circumstances and twist them to suit my own self-absorbed melodrama, like those people who hear about a poor dead police officer they never met and wail on tv about how they are shaken to their core. But I have to say Walter’s sudden death really got to me. Not because I’ll miss him so much (though I suppose I will, I saw him every day), but because of jackpot he will now never win. He was so happy to fantasize about his potential winnings, though, that I wonder if in the end, that was enough. We all want more money, but we may never get it, so what’s the point of scrimping and saving? It’s fine to be sensible, but being cheap is just cheap. I wonder if life itself is the lottery we all play every day; if it’s all just a big game. If it is, I hope we all do well, and that I’ll remember Walter when I win.