Wednesday, 26 October 2011

In Support of the Party...

Hello Friends.

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

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

Dream: Change the way parties work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 20 October 2011

What's Your Favourite Scary Movie...

Hello Friends.

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

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

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

Dream: Find the perfect scary movie to watch.

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

Plan: Find a movie which meets the following criteria.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

This One's For the Children...

Hello Friends.

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

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

Dream: Send a message to the gay teens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 13 October 2011

You Have to Understand...

Hello Friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Right Stuff...

Hello Friends.

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

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

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

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

Dream: Be right all the time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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