Wednesday, 31 August 2011

You Don't Know Me, You Don't Know My Life...

Hello Friends.

I wonder if, when Jiminy Cricket sang “When you wish upon a star/Makes no diff'rence who you are”, he knew how many stars there were in the galaxy, and how many impressionable children would take the message of that song to heart. There's a lot of stars, four-leaf clovers, and lucky pennies out there. And mine is a generation of wishers and dreamers, which is lovely, unless you consider the idea that the more wishes you put out there, the less likely any of them are to come true.

For instance, say I were to wish for a good cream-based soup, a clam-chowder, we'll say, or a lobster bisque. And every time I blew out my birthday candles, found a stray eyelash, or spilled some salt, I dreamt of that soup, and told all of my friends and family, “Someday I'm gonna get me a soup!”, I would probably get the damn soup.

But I've way too many lifelong dreams for them all to come true just by wishing hard enough. And as I look back on this catalogue of dreams (also what I call my underpants drawer, by the way, the catalogue of dreams), I notice a common thread of infeasibility. For instance, how likely am I to be beloved by everyone on Earth, have psychic abilities, host a dinner party, or appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show? That last one, talk about infeasible! That was my second ever Dream. It turns out Oprah's eponymous talk show was abruptly cancelled last spring, making it extremely unlikely that I'll appear. But I've learned a lot in the intervening period between that second Dream and this, my seventy-fifth. I'm older now, and wiser, and know that you can't always get what you want if your expectations exceed all likelihood.

Dream: Appear on The Maury Povich Show.

Goal: Achievable. Like crazy achievable. Maury will celebrate the 20th anniversary of his show this month, and he averages seven guests per show. One show per weekday times seven guests for twenty years means Maury has interviewed 36 400 people, or about half the population of the Earth. It's just a matter of time.

Plan: Adopt one or more of the following traits, characteristics, phobias or behaviours in order to be an ideal Maury guest. For instance, I could:

Sleep with a woman of ill-repute who becomes pregnant but is unsure of baby's paternity. This gives Maury a sky blue Mercedes every spring. Paternity test shows are the vanguard of The Maury Povich Show. The staple. The bedrock. People say to me, “But James! Won't it be hard for you to sleep with a woman for the sake of this broadcast?” To those dummies, I pose the following hypothetical.
A) A woman who can't figure out who impregnated her and is so stymied she must reach out to a daytime program for help, has had a great deal of sexual partners within a short time.
B) A woman who has a great deal of sexual partners within a short time is trampy.
C) A trampy woman will sleep with just about anyone.
D) I am anyone.
If all of the above statements are true (and they are), I'll be on Maury within days. The saddest and most painful irony in these episodes is that determining the rightful biological father of the child does nothing to improve the child's life whatsoever. The adorable child is kept backstage with a camera on them constantly. Despite the unusual circumstances surrounding their birth, they are given complicated and regal names. I saw an African American baby called Demarius after an equally compelling story about a white baby called (I'm not kidding) Contavious. Contagious with a V. Anyway, all the men insist they are not the father of these cute kids and have really impressive dances when Maury proves them right. You get the sense that Maury staffs a fey, but dedicated choreographer who consults with guests beforehand, “So he'll say 'You are NOT the father' and take the NOT as your 5 in 5,6,7,8 then shuffle ball change, electric slide, and then just pop and lock until it feels played out. You'll know.” And when Maury busts in with a “You ARE the father!” the showboating is somehow worse. The guy will put his head in his hands while the mother berates him with “I tolllld you so!” and “It's onnn now!” and they cut to Cialisty sucking her thumb, oblivious to the fact that two grown adults are arguing in front of a studio and television audience about who gets to love her the least.

Become an out of control teen. While less prevalent than paternity test shows, out of control teens work hard to raise Maury's impressively immovable brow. I know I'm not a teen, but maybe I could pass for a really hard-livin' one. “Lance here might look old, but he's actually 13 and smokes four packs a day! Look at those crows feet and bags under his eyes. All the drugs!” And I would say, “Fuck you, Maury! I'ma do what I want!”

Develop an irrational fear. The Google search terms “Maury” and “phobias” yield the most bizarre YouTube clips I think I've ever seen. In an attempt to garner ratings (but masquerade as psychologically daring), Maury has these people confront their phobias onstage to raucous applause and yelling. Based on that practice, I think I'd say I was deathly afraid of male models, or of briefcases filled with money.

Be a homeless person in Connecticut. Apparently, it's a long-standing tradition in talk shows to ask homeless people to fill seats in the audience. Not enough people want tickets to a sideshow of human misery, I suppose. And the show tapes in Connecticut which just strikes me funny. I picture country clubs, yachting, and dangerously fat babies now when I think of that state. And the audience is often on camera because they don't shut up. They talk directly back to the guests, loudly and swear-filled (the censor “beeps” so often it's like the program is in Morse code) and Maury just sits there, content to let the audience do his job for him.

That's the other thing. While Oprah has a magazine and television network devoted to every faux-spiritual nugget she plops out, we know very little about what Maury thinks or feels about life. People forget he was a newsman. He was an accomplished reporter and anchor for several outlets before landing his own talk show. And he's married to Connie Chung, an impressive anchor in her own right, once considered a peer to Dan Rather and Barbara Walters when she landed several important interviews with newsmakers and heads of state. So it stands to reason that Maury spends his free time discussing politics and world affairs with his brilliant wife saying things like, “One wonders how wise it is to go headfirst into Libya without considering the crumbling infrastructure in Yemen” and then heads to work and says, “Purlene, if Dewayne isn't the father of Diabetsy, then who is?”

It's that dichotomy that makes me think Maury could start a tv network far more successfully than Oprah. He knows that by ignoring his intelligent impulses and pandering to the least of us, he garners the most attention. That's why Jack Layton gets the tributes but Harper somehow, some way, gets the votes. Why we're more likely to watch a movie where two people kill each other instead of watching a movie where two people fall in love. That's why we live too comfortably in the realm of low expectations. Shoot for the moon and you're bound to be disappointed, but aim low enough and you'll realize your Dream every time. Makes no diff'rence who you are.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Same Mistake Twice, Thrice, and so on...

Hello Friends.

I don't know about you, but I definitely have indoor pants and outdoor pants. It's just as unlikely to find me relaxing at home in a pair of khakis as it would be to see me at work in my threadbare sweatpants with weird holes and perma-stains. This means I have a nightly ritual upon returning from work of taking my outdoor pants off, hanging them up, and hearing all my loose change fall out of my upturned pockets onto the floor below. Every night, this happens! Jon jokes that he knows I've returned from outside based on a series of sound effects: the unzip of my jeans, the clatter of coat-hangers, my change falling to the floor, and me yelling, “Dammit!”.

It's not the nickels and dimes on the floor that bother me so much as the notion that this happens nightly, without fail. It's ritual errors like these that make me think I'll never be a man. I mean, I know I'm technically more than old enough to be considered an adult in all practical and legal ways, but the continuous array of fuck-ups so routine you could set your watch to them make me realize I'm pretty far from being a grown-ass man.

Dream: Stop doing the same stupid things all the time.

Goal: Achievable. I used to attempt to carry things with one free hand while riding a bike, and I would always mess this up. I'd either drop whatever it was I was carrying, or fall off my bike, or both. In high school, I cut up and sprained my ankle really badly while trying to bike home with a Slurpee. Now I just don't ride a bike anymore. Boom! Solved.

Plan: Identify and concentrate on fixing those weird, every day mistakes that keep from being a fully functioning adult. Like:

Destroying the bed. I usually make my bed every night right before I get in it, which seems counter-intuitive, but I can't face it in the morning when I leave it tangled and sweaty, like my bed is an old prostitute I can't bear to acknowledge in the light of day. So every night I get into a well-made, turned down bed, and proceed to completely destroy it. In my sleep, I pull the sheets up from their corners, tangle everything together, wedge the pillows between the bed and the wall and wake up perpendicular to the position I was in when I went to sleep. I don't know if I dream about wrestling crocodiles, or if some asshat breaks into my house and lets raccoons loose under my covers at night, but every morning it looks like I lost a hard fought battle with some linens from Sears.

Testing the shower. I take a shower every damn day. How come I can never figure out how hot it will be once I get in there? I know enough to leave it running a few seconds to warm up, but once I get in there it's either hot as fuck or cold as shit.

“Oh hi, it's James. I guess you're not home, haha! So it's James, by the way, and I saw your message on Facebook and I thought I'd call you, if you're still at this number, but if you're not, then just ignore this message, haha! But yes, a movie tonight could work, but I can't make the 7.30 so can we do the 9.30? If that works for you, just call me back at home, this is James, by the way, so... but if it doesn't you should probably call me too. Just call me regardless, how bout? Haha. So, also, my number is ____ and if I'm not home then just leave me a message but if I am home then just talk to me, like using words and stuff. I hope we don't keep missing each other! Phone tag! Haha! You're it, haha! Anyway, let me know. This is James calling.”

Not getting weird around natural, if uncomfortable phenomena (breasts and little people). My exposure to breasts and little people is about equal, which is to say, not very much. So when dealing with either, I go overboard trying to be natural, which is the most unnatural thing in the world. There's a little person (which is the preferred term, I'm told, which is crazy as it seems so condescending. Like calling them rugrats or pipsqueaks or something.) who is an occasional customer in the store where I work. When I see him approaching my till, I remind myself sternly to just behave normally, this is just another customer, and any awkwardness on my part would surely make him self-conscious in turn. Plus, he's even kind of cute. Not cute as in darling or wee, but like a truncated Paul Rudd. He came in yesterday and all was going fine, we were enjoying an easy back and forth and I started to relax. Then he said, “Can I use debit for something this small?” He meant a small purchase, as he was buying a pack of gum or something for a dollar, but of course small triggered my awkward brain and I smiled too big and said, “Hey, whatever you want, bud!” Ugh. “Whatever you want, bud!” Who am I, the father of a five year old, all of a sudden? “Daddy, what kinda ice cream can I have?” “Whatever you want, bud! Just share with your sister!” He didn't notice, or more likely, tactfully pretended not to notice, paid however he wanted to, and left.

Later than night, the streetcar home was quite full and I ended up standing beside a sitting lady and her baby. I thought she was digging through her purse or something and I could here the child sort of whimpering, but when I looked down I saw that she was positioning her bare breast into his face, trying to get him to latch on. Well, I realize breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world, but I about-faced so quickly that I almost hit a nun with my manpurse and she looked at me like, “Relax, dude, they're just tits.”

Its behaviour like that I wish I could correct, because it is at least annoying and at worst insulting. But I suppose some of those awkward traits stick with us forever. I know a grown woman who, every time she drives in her car and goes under a bridge, she will duck. Like that's going to help. Or the guy I worked with who, after meeting Jon and me, inquired with genuine seriousness, “So which one of you is the wife?”. Or one of my favourite stories about my Dad, who, at the end of a dinner party he was invited to, shook the hand of a guy he'd met that evening and said, “Good luck meeting you.” That kills me. Combining “good luck on whatever upcoming thing you're doing” and “nice meeting you” in your brain so that what comes out is “Good luck meeting you” is classic. You can't make that stuff up. So we all make stupid, moronic, or insulting mistakes regardless of our age that should be easily corrected (because, idiot, Jon is clearly the wife), but maybe its noticing those flaws in people that make them charming. Can you imagine if you were a person so perfect, so free of flaws and stupid habitual behaviour that everyone around would feel inferior? If you are that person, let's not hang out. I mean, for God's sake, good luck meeting you.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

A Faster, Cheaper, Gooder Time...

Hello Friends.

The lines at Starbucks and the people in yogurt commercials suggest we live in a fast-paced society. Everybody's rushing around, milling to and fro. Just the other day I was on the second floor of an office building, looking down at the bustling atrium below. “Those people down there look like ants!” I said, since people are always saying that. And on the internet I saw footage of downtown Tokyo where people were running around madly, pushing each other out of the way to get wherever they were going. I thought this was in the aftermath of the quake, but apparently, it's just Japan all the time.

Even I, who live a slow-paced, uneventful life with a low-stress job and a lax schedule, like to keep it bizzay. Just today I signed for a package, bought a drain snake, unclogged a drain, threw a boomerang, made some hard-boiled eggs, cried quietly in the shower, caught a boomerang and sat down to blog, all before two (which is really impressive when you consider I got up at noon). Now, I'm afraid, I must head to work in an hour, but because it's Thursday, I feel I must blog. But who's got time to read a blog, much less write one? Time to do this faster!

Dream: Write a short, concise, and efficient blog. Efficient like Japanese people when there isn't even an earthquake.

Goal. 'chievable. (Notice how I cut some time already by using the colloquial 'chievable, rather than the full achievable? I did).

Plan: Cut corners, like:

Backstory. I remember as a child, blah blah blah some bullshit. Digressions into my own life would be more interesting were I more interesting. Raised by wolves, for instance, or Unitarians. But as it is, there's very little I can tell you that would be of any interest unless you were there. Speaking of which...

I could draw in readers not by attempting to write about a universal experience, but by just referring to them directly. Hi Dana. Hi Angela Thul, Mr. Nostbakken, Bradley. Hi Tina Fey (She doesn't read this, but if she Googles herself, I'm pretty sure this would be like the fifth result on the first page. If you're reading this, Tina Fey, thanks for all the funny stuff you write/produce/star in. If you were to ever come to the store where I work, I would give you all the plastic bags you wanted, but not charge you, as is our custom in this country. Free bags, T. Think on it).

Steal other people's jokes and pepper them throughout the blog to use up space. Here's one I heard the other day.

Foxy eighteen year old twin girls are visiting their grandmother. Vandals burst and hold the girls and their grandmother at knife point. “We're gonna rape all of you!” they threaten. “Oh please,” the girls plead. “Please, do with us what you will, but spare our grandmother. We beg you!” The grandmother holds up her hands to silence them. “Now girls,” she says, “They said all of us.”

That might be a terrible joke, but I must admit, it tickles me just so. Hopefully like this blog tickles you sometimes. Now's the time where I would veer off into sentimentality, partly out of genuine sentiment, partly as a writing technique to take the sting out of old lady rape jokes, and partly to make you, the reader, think you've read something cohesive, not just a series of ramblings.

Truth be told, I had an entry at the ready, which I rethought, and scrapped last night. Sometimes I get too personal, both self-referential and self-reverential, too inside joke-y, too tasteless joke-y, and so sanctimonious you could just puke sugar. So call me lazy for throwing this together last minute, but you must also call me discerning in the same breath, for I'd rather give you thoughtless garbage than thoughtful stuff which is also garbage. But most everything on the internet is garbage anyway, right? But we feast on these scraps and carry with us little morsels of knowledge, busy though we may be, scurrying down here like ants.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

A Fast, Cheap, Good Time...

Hello Friends.

I know I've been a little link-happy of late, but check out this video As far as I can tell, some women realize their dog can talk, albeit in a strained and choked manner, so they get drunk and ask it questions, ending with that epic puzzler, “Mishka, are you stupid?” and the dog goes, “Noooo!” and the women laugh so hard they void their bowels. And the dog doesn't really say “Nooo”, just kind of bellows “Nuuuu!”, much in the manner of Dame Elizabeth Taylor in this clip

Anyway, the reason I bring these to your attention is because my floors are dirty, I haven't had a good workout in years, I can't get into the new book someone gave me, London is burning, and these videos are how I've spent my time. And I'm not alone! Tragically, Mishka, the Unstupid Dog, has been viewed over 12 million times. 12 million! At twenty four seconds long, that means the time humanity has collectively wasted on this video is over 3500 days! 24 seconds of my day, 24 seconds of yours, and so on and so on. That's nearly ten years of wasted time. This is sad.

Last year at this time I had two unsatisfying jobs in retail and a third very satisfying job writing and researching intros and sidebars for this book (out now! And it can be yours in just one to four months!). Now, only one of those jobs remain, and it's the unsatisfying one. Or is it dissatisfying? Either way, it's hardly satisfying, and it means I have lots of free time and very little money. The free time is good, but the lack of money is paralysing. For instance, today I thought I'd take a walk (because walking is free) and traipsed the length of ten subway stops until I was in the heart of the Big City's Financial District, sweaty and hungry. When I saw the TTC sign and realized how far I'd come, no one gave me a medal like I wanted, but I figured I'd treat myself to a power lunch with the business people. Despite scouring several foodcourts, the cheapest lunch I could find was a chicken wrap and flavoured water that cost eleven dollars. For that price you'd think I'd be on an airplane. And can we cool it with this “flavoured water” business? I remember when we just called it “juice.” But I digress.

Dream: Find something stimulating to do on the cheap.

Goal: Achievable. Many people take up past times to keep themselves amused, though I should mention, these are not hobbies. You may be reading this thinking, “Didn't James do a blog about hobbies before?” Yes I did, but what you aren't remembering is that hobbies often cost money, which I don't have, and what could be more cheap and efficient that recycling and repurposing an old blog?

Plan: As always, learn from the young people, and take up activities like:

Planking. The kids love it. Have you seen this, have you heard about this? From what I can tell, planking is finding a landmark, piece of architecture, friend's mom's car, anyplace, really, and lying stiff as a board on top of it. Why? Because you're a bad ass and you play by your own rules! I've been seeing lots of pictures and websites about planking and, I gotta tell you, doesn't make a lick of sense to me! First of all, what is this for, or against? Did someone tell you you couldn't lie stiff as a board on any number of things? I suppose you're proving them wrong, but let's get serious here! And I keep reading these accounts of kids doing it when they're really drunk and seriously hurting themselves. I saw one girl's sheepish account on her Facebook page where she planked on a wrought-iron fence and broke one of her ribs! Jesus, it's not even a sport! As an alternative, may I suggest Pizza Gutting, or P-Gutting, as I'm sure the kids will shorten the name like they do. In P-Gutting, you take the fattest part of your stomach and place it incongruously among a group of other objects. For instance, clear B through K of the medical encyclopedias at your local university's library. Hoist your gut up in it's place. When a med student reaches for more information on bursitis, she's gonna get a handful of gut!

Cone-ing. The kids love it. You know that Justin Bieber? Apparently he does the cone-ing. This is cone-ing So many clips today, I'm like a teacher who puts on a movie but then the movie is boring as shit. Anyway, cone-ing is the practice of grabbing the ice cream end of an ice cream cone and leaving the cone part. Are we so bored, as a society? Good lord. May I suggest a healthier, fat free alternative: corning. Take an ear of corn to the checkout of your groceteria, place one of those rubber partitions after the groceries of the person in front of you, extract seventeen ripe corn kernels off the cob, place another rubber partition, and toss the cob aside. Insist on paying only for the kernels.

Cutting. The kids love it. You know that Demi Lovato? Apparently she does the cutting. Now, I didn't know this Demi Lovato until recently. Part of my unsatisfying job is packing up and sending back magazines that don't sell. A younger, hipper coworker was helping me file away back issues of Details, Vanity Fair, Porch Stainers Quarterly, and Teen Vogue. On the cover of Teen Vogue was Demi Lovato with a headline like “Bouncing Back!” My young, hip coworker told me Demi Lovato is one of these teenage stars, a Miley Cyrus type, who had a show on the Disney channel and did movies with the Jonas brothers and recently completed a stay in a rehabilitation centre for self-injury, also known as cutting. Cutting is the practice of taking a sharp object and slicing along your own wrists or arms to produce both blood and, I would guess, extreme pain. I have to say, I find this deeply, profoundly upsetting. I understand it even less than cone-ing. I know it seems like I'm making light of it here, but I don't think I could place cutting in any kind of proper context as I just can't fathom it. And if this girl, presumably a role model for millions of teens, is suffering the kind of turmoil where she sees cutting herself as a viable solution, maybe let's leave her alone for a bit. Maybe let's postpone her concert tour and tv show. You know, for her own damn good.

Okay, I know I'm derailing here, and I'm sorry for turning into Mr. Bleakpants, but I did a little research for my Demi Lovato paragraph back there, and found it satisfying, if not more intensely disturbing. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, instances of self-injury are on the rise among young people. In one survey they conducted of adolescents, 13 percent of the respondents admitted to engaging in self-harm. Good god, y'all. I don't know if I just went through high school with a bag over my head, or the tendency not to notice people wearing long sleeves, but I'd swear that I never even heard of cutting back then, much less known people who did it.

May I suggest, in lieu of cutting, in fact as a general rule regardless of your income and free time, loving yourself? I know that sounds so fucking dorky and I'm the first to jump off the self-esteem train (self-esteam engine?) because I always think, “How can I love myself or hate myself when I AM myself?” It's like trying to smell your own nose, how can you determine the qualities of x using x to determine its qualities? But, if it helps, I've recently begun to think of self-esteem in this way: What if you were your own agent? Or what if you were a friend of yourself, describing you to a stranger? What would you say? How would you treat you? Occasionally, it occurs to me that I'm being a lousy friend to myself. Or if I was my agent, I wasn't selling myself well. “James is kinda lazy,” I might say, “He doesn't take risks because he fails constantly.” But more often than not, I find it easier, cheaper, and more fun to be my biggest cheerleader. I spend more time with myself than with anyone else, so I might as well go on long walks and take myself out for expensive lunches, and so too, should you, because self-loathing is stupid, and are we stupid? NUUUU!!!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

The Do-Over...

Hello Friends.

Have you ever had one of those days? You know the ones, those terribly cliched burn the toast and miss the bus days where nothing seems to go right from start to finish? I have, and lucky for you, it was yesterday!

Dream: Have a do-over day.

Goal: Achievable, fictitiously. It seems like bored screenplay writers rely on the do-over device when they can't think of much else to do. I'm thinking of those light comedies where the ridiculous premise is just accepted like Freaky Friday, Groundhog Day, or Saw IV. There's a new movie called The Change Up with Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds, the plot of which seems predicated on the idea that they suddenly change lives and doesn't it get wacky? Judging from Reynolds' o-face on the poster, it certainly does (poster here: Anyway, like Groundhog Day but without Andie MacDowell (cuz who needs her? Ageless southern belle indeed!), I would love the chance to relive that day from yesterday.

Plan: Figure out where the major missteps in that fateful Wednesday were and avoid them. Starting with:

The early shift. I had forgotten that I had promised a colleague to come in early for her that day until just before I was supposed to start. Now, this early start was one o'clock, which is not early in terms of time, but forgetting about it threw my whole midday routine off. On a typical day where I work the afternoon/evening shift, I roll out of bed late, make coffee, watch some tv, shower, walk to work. But on this day, I had only gotten to the tv part of my cycle (lately I've been watching Damages. Memo to Glenn Close: get a handle on your damages!) when I remembered my early start. I started doing that frantic “running-late dance” we all do where we pace and wring our hands and try to do six things and end up doing nothing. Like you grab a banana and unpeel it halfway, then put your shoes on before realizing you need to change your pants. I knew it was too late to shower, but that didn't stop me from looking at my hair hard in the mirror going, “Is it fine like this? It's fine. Is it fine? It's probably fine” for seven minutes. Then I dressed up for my high school reunion (more on that later), skipped the walk to work because I was already running late and also didn't want to sweat through my suit and work more than I had to in my formal shoes (which are pointy and hurty). So I took the bus and streetcar and was already harried and frazzled when I got to work, then remembered something.

The coffee maker. I left it on. “Mother of pearl!” I cursed to myself, but wondered how bad it could really be. I made coffee at ten that morning and wasn't expected to get home until, oh, eleven pm or so, but surely the coffee maker would just sit there, warm and toasty, until I got back, right?

“It's gonna explode!” My coworker said, then splayed her hands up and out, which I guess was supposed to simulate shards of glass exploding over my kitchen. “You've got to get home now! Otherwise...disaster!” Shielding myself from her fake shards, I knew she was right. Promising to be right back, but knowing it was at least forty minutes each way on transit, I gave my keys to the manager, apologized a thousand times, and ran like hell in my hurty shoes. I caught a cab, which caught a traffic jam, which cost me twenty goddamn dollars. I ran upstairs, sweating like a fatty in a dance-off, unlocked my door, ran into my kitchen and... of course, OF COURSE, my coffee maker was off.

What was wrong with me? I wondered, as the second expensive cab took it's sweet ass time through the heavy traffic. Why had I been so convinced of something that wasn't true? Had I invented a stressful situation just to relieve the boredom two hours into my nine-hour shift? Had I remembered the close the windows? These thoughts occupied the rest of my day until...

The Black Guy. In the evenings, all managers and assistant managers leave the store where I work, foolishly putting me, as Supervisor (a Latin word meaning “with keys”), in charge. This rarely means I have to do anything managerial, but it does mean the occasional problem is lobbed my way for some solving. Such was the case when, while I was down in the office determining sales for the day (or drawing a spaceship, I can't recall), a cashier paged me upstairs and said, “If this guy comes back in you have to kick him out.” Apparently, someone had tried to buy four hundred dollars worth of stuff using a credit card, but didn't have any identification to prove that he was the card-holder, which is a necessary precaution when someone tries to spend that much money. Anyway, according the cashier, the guy said, “Oh yeah, um...I just gotta get my id out my car... (under breath) bitch.” That under breath bitch set my cashier off and she was not letting him back in the store. “He's obviously trying to use a fake card!” she said. “You need to watch the entrance and not let him back in here!” When I asked for a description she said, “Well, he was black. Not too tall or short. Probably 20's or 30's.” That's all she could give me. So for the last fifteen minutes our store was open, I was perched nervously near the entrance, wondering what the hell I was going to do. Basically, I had to approach any black man between 20 and 40 and bar him from entering the store. This could only go well for me. Lucky for me, no black men (including our suspected forger, I guess) came through or entrance. I don't know what I would have done if any had (“Excuse me sir, were you trying to buy something from us before? Get the hell out!”), but I'm glad it didn't come to that. Finally, my shift was over and changed from my uniform to my formal clothes in preparation for...

The Reunion. I went to high school in the prairies, but enough of us have ended up in the Big City lo these past years, to warrant a smaller version of the ten year reunion last night at a fancy-shmance art gallery. There was to be a brief tour of the gallery, followed by cocktails. I worked during the tour, but only until 9 pm, so I figured I would arrive just in time for cocktails and trying to remember everyone's name using different mnemonic devices (“Frank works in finance, his wife is named Claire, he was the fat kid, who fell down the stairs”). On my way there, I tried to think of a good fake reason as to why I was late. “Double-shift at the hospital!” I could say, wiping my brow. “Sorry to be late, busy saving lives!” But I knew my friend David was going to be there, who knows me to be a cashier, and would surely bust me if I tried anything. But David wasn't there, nor was Frank (who I just made up), or anybody else from the graduating class of 2000/01. I was too late, and they had all left. “I guess I'll wait for the twenty year!” I told the hostess at the gallery, who couldn't manage even a half-smile at my joke and went back to sorting her menus.

Feeling sorry for myself, all dressed up and nowhere to go, I went to a small piano bar I like to visit when I'm feeling pretentious. I sip my drink and nod to the pianist appreciatively, like, “Yes, I would have played it just that way.” That night was this unintentionally hilarious cabaret performer, giving it her all to me and about six disinterested old queens taking up space at the bar. She was a Tracey Ullman character, stopping halfway through her song to fire off some half-assed banter. “Moooooon River, wiiider than a mile—Hey, how are ya? Hot enough in here? Can I get a refresher over here boss?--Crossing you in styyyle, someday...”

As Tracey broke into a smooth jazz version of Wichita Lineman (who's still on the line, by the way), I became reflective. If I'd remembered my shift started earlier, I could have showered, shaved, done my OCD ritual of turning off the coffee maker and going “It's off, it's off, oh yes it's true, it's off, it's off, and how about you?”. Or if I had trusted that I had indeed turned it off without my ritual song, I could have continued to work and saved forty dollars that ended up in a stupid cab. Or I could have used that cab money to race to the art gallery and catch up with old friends. Or I could have booked the stupid shift at my stupid job off for one stupid day to go on the stupid gallery tour. The toughest days are the ones you wish you could blame on circumstance but you really have no one to blame but yourself. Or maybe Jon. He left Tuesday for Alberta in what will surely be a great year for both of us, spent apart. I know this is the right thing for him and me, but it hasn't made this week any easier. I would have loved to walk into that reunion with him on my arm, or have him at my side at work, keeping an eye out for black guys, or just sitting at home, working away, minding that the coffee doesn't explode, preventing disasters.