Thursday, 27 December 2012

Holiday Service...

Hello Friends.

I hope you all had as amazing a Christmas as I did. I was lucky enough to score a few days off and spent them at my parents' house, overindulging in food and booze, visiting with friends and family. Holiday visits always feel too short, but this one had an especially cruel cut-off time. The condition of my few days off was that I return to work on Boxing Day and, as such, required that I fly back here on Christmas Night. It was night proper, though, so I had plenty of lazy present opening in the morning, and we had tucked into Christmas Dinner the night before, as a favour to me, but I still looked out the airplane window wistfully as I flew over large stretches of snowy prairie landscape, dotted with cozy looking farmhouses, their lights still on, where families were undoubtedly gathered. I nurtured my self-pity all the way home as I handed cab fare plus tip over to a grateful driver who wished me a Merry Christmas, and I realized that, bummed as I was about working on Boxing Day, I sat in an airport, ate a hamburger, flew 40 000 feet in the air, and cabbed it home all because other people were working on Christmas Day, and who the fuck was I to whine?

Dream: Always be grateful for the workers.

Goal: Achievable. If you've heard this before, it may have been from last Christmas, or the Christmas before that. Maybe I ought to dedicate Christmas blogs to a more deserving group (war veterans, for instance, or the spouses of dieters). But I think we forget too easily that the minimum wage worker takes maximum shit, and this time of year is the soul-sucking worst.

Don't read that 2011 Christmas blog too carefully, or you'll see that I was about to leave the retail world behind for an office job. I couldn't have foreseen in December a "company restructuring" in July that would leave me and the bulk of my colleagues jobless. Nor could I have predicted that the market for cushy internet writing jobs is pretty small indeed and I might not land the same position twice. But somehow, in the back of my mind, I knew I might be leaving one sort of till for awhile, but the register wasn't going to close for me completely.

Plan: Offer tips on how to be a good customer just in case some of you lose the job you've got and end up working till, making lattes, folding sweaters or otherwise being a worker in places where smiles are free, but happiness is hard to come by. Tips like:

1) Tip. Always tip, and generously. I can't stand bad tippers or people who disagree with the practice on principle. "Why should I pay someone to do their job? It's their job!" Yes, fine. But what if it was your job? Do you think the un-tipped server makes a salary good enough for your life? Could you live on minimum wage and stand on your feet all night? Could you put up with leering drunks and wailing children at your workplace and be nice to them? And you tip someone because they are doing something you are just plain too lazy to do yourself. You eat in a restaurant because you can't be bothered to cook food to shovel into your fat face. You take a cab because you can't be troubled to drive around. You get your nails done because you're too good to cut your own fucking nails. If you can't be bothered to toss a few bucks on top of your bill, that says more about you than your waitress.

2) If you can't tip with money, tip with words. If an employee at a store does something for you, like checking in the back, grabbing something off the shelf, double-bagging a heavy item, you'd be amazed at how much good karma results when you say, "Hey thanks for that. I appreciate it." An employee collects such offhanded praise like lint to a roller. The best workers are meant to function invisibly, from a corporate perspective. Be drones, follow policy, move product, bring in money. So when a customer acknowledges and appreciates extra effort, it often means more to a worker than sales tallies at the end of the day. To that end, it's worth finding out if the stores you visit pay on employees on a commission basis. Personally, I'm grateful I've never worked under that structure. While customers might see commission as a way to encourage employees to work harder, employees end up only seeing bottom lines and end up too pushy, aggressive, and stressed, and who does that benefit? So please realize that it's no skin off an employees ass if you buy the pair of shoes or not, so if they find out if a store closer to your house carries the same item, or offers to wrap them up in a giftbox for you, realize that they're extending a courtesy, and just. say. thanks.

3) Don't be an asshole. You might think this is the same as points two and one, but it is not. There's a big difference between not offering a tip or thank you for a service and being an asshole and it boils down to this: do you realize that the employees working at a store, cafe, restaurant, whatever, are people, just like you? That this is their job? That they don't live in the stockroom, tucked away in a box from the time after a store closes until it opens again? If you don't realize that employees are people, you are an asshole. And there are a lot of you. People who don't get off their cellphone or take out their earbuds when buying something. People who don't hand over cash or plastic to a person, but drop it on the counter to be collected. People who yell at the guy in the uniform not because of anything that he did, but because they are having a bad day and there's no paper towel left on the shelf and someone's gotta be yelled at so it might as well be this creature.

I've been a retail employee longer than I've held any other job title. I hope I don't do it forever, but I've done it long enough that I know how to keep it in perspective. It's my job, it's not my work, it's my paycheque, not my career. But my secret shame is that I can be pretty good at it, and take pride in it sometimes. Tonight I sold a girl a dress for a New Year's party. I saw her give herself a once-over in the three way mirror we have near the fitting rooms. It was a slinky, sparkly, capital P party-dress, suddenly in this woman's price range thanks to a big Boxing Week promotion. She may have been a little self-conscious about her bare arms and cleavage, but the little tilt of the head she gave her reflection indicated to me that she knew how much of a knockout she was in this dress. She turned to me, a little giddy. "Isn't it a little..." she shrugged expansively, as if trying to talk herself out of it. I told her I thought it was perfect. She bought it. I'm glad.

Now's the time of year when people start saying we ought to keep the spirit of Christmas with us all through the year. These are the same people who buy Zen candles and say serenity prayers and carry yoga mats over their shoulder while yelling at the dry cleaner or the pizza man. But I know what they mean. The love we feel over the holidays shouldn't only last as long as turkey bloat and shouldn't solely be confined to the family. Let's sneak a little Christmas to the flight attendant, cab driver, drugstore cashier, book-shelver, burger-flipper, and sweater-folder. Let's thank Pedro and Mike and Kris and Melissa and Vi and Tamara and Heather and Roger and Arvind and Shannon and Jodi and Bradley and Janine and Tracy and Jennifer and Tom and Chris and Sydney and Nateesha and Marie and Steven and Johnny and everyone who opens and closes and accepts cash, debit and credit and has a nice day and makes the world go round.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Another Fifteen Minutes...

Hello Friends.

In response to the new Facebook guidelines I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, professional photos and videos, etc. (as a result of the Berner Convention)...

If you were on Facebook at all a few weeks ago, you undoubtedly noticed some of your friends (maybe you yourself) posting the above paragraph and its accompanying legalese as a status update. This declaration was eventually widely dismissed as hogwash, but I wonder what it means that so many of us bought into the jist of it. I wonder what we felt we needed to protect ourselves from. Has anybody reading this had the stuff they posted on Facebook stolen and reproduced without their consent? Did the thieves profit from their heist of some unsuspecting Facebooker's status, profile pictures, funny comments?

It reminds me a little of the hysteria over sexting. "If you send someone a nude picture of yourself," people warn, "that could exist on the internet forever and you would be ruined." Yeah, maybe. But have you looked for naked people on the internet lately? There are quite a few to choose from! The chance that someone will stumble upon a naked picture of you ten years from now on an internet search is highly unlikely (this is not to say that I participate in or advocate sexting, mind you, I can't even figure out how to get voicemail on my phone, much less my own dink). Both the Facebook copyright kerfuffle and fear of being undone by a random snapshot of your goods become so important to everybody because I think, deep down, we all think we're going to be famous one day. Our Facebook posts and scandalous pictures will haunt us as we lunch at The Ivy and traipse down the red carpet, on the fanciest of high heels.

Dream: Never be famous one day.

Goal: Completely and utterly achievable. I am not a delusional person. I know rationally that I will never be on the cover of a magazine, appear on a late night talk show, have my own fragrance, or host Saturday Night Live with musical guest James Taylor. The fantasy of these possibilities is endlessly entertaining, of course. I replay particular scenarios of unbelievable fame when I'm on a crosstown bus or trying to fall asleep. Maybe if I'm especially lucky, I might hope for recognition akin to one of the Witty Davids (Sedaris, Rakoff, Foster Wallace), but I lack their sublime prose and access to Ira Glass.

Plan: See fame for what it truly is in an effort to stop coveting it in weaker moments.

Fame as a concept is so fascinating to me. I've heard it theorized that our interest in the lives of famous people in inherently biological. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt represent the most attractive, dominant, and virile of the species, for instance, so their behaviour is of intense interest to the rest of us. That makes sense to me, but doesn't explain the schadenfreude we feel when our favourite stars fall from grace. And if we truly prized the famous for their superior ability, wouldn't TMZ be following Yo Yo Ma around instead of Lindsay Lohan? I might actually prefer such a program.

I think the appeal of being famous is that it's validation on a grand scale. Total strangers think you're awesome, what could be wrong with that? I think part of us all secretly yearn to influence people, want others to like the things we like. But I wonder if that validation, approval from an unknowable public, becomes addictive? Maybe if you become a little bit famous, the edges wear off your opinions, the art you produce becomes blander, all in an effort to get more people to like you. That could certainly become a trap. I wonder if Tyler Perry, in his ever-widening sphere of influence, yearns to tell a more substantial story about being black in America. I wonder if he'll ever make a movie about being gay (not that he's come out or anything, I just wouldn't be surprised). Or if he'll just continue to retread familiar paths with his extremely popular Madea movies. I wonder if Jennifer Aniston wants to play the best friend or damaged sister in a dark indie, but doesn't dare take a supporting role or be cast in an unflattering light when she can continue to make a bajillion dollars on boring romantic comedies.

The invasion of privacy must be crazy, too. I know celebrities court publicity to an extent, in order to promote their tv show or movie or whatever, but does that mean we need to see them picking their kids up at school? I read that George Clooney sued a tabloid because while he was hosting friends of his at a house in Italy, the 13 year old daughter of these friends was photographed while changing clothes in a spare bedroom. There was a paparazzo in a tree outside her window. How sick is that? I feel terrible for everyone in that story, from the poor girl, to George Clooney, to the photographer hiding in a tree who is so soulless that he'd snap pictures of an underage girl for money.

I'm not saying poor famous people. I'm sure they're comforted by the obscene amounts of money they have lying around. But I do wonder why we think it's so great. Why part of us thinks, "If I were famous, I wouldn't have any problems." But famous people still get stomach flu, for instance. Still say the wrong thing to their partner and end up apologizing over breakfast. Famous people make the millions of mistakes we make every day, only they're held more accountable for them.

I hope I know someone now who will become famous one day. I hope I know them well enough that my friendship will them will not seem like blatant star-fuckery as they ascend into stardom. I'd love insight into what that world is like beyond puff pieces in magazines and lies on the internet. But I worry I'd find out that fame is as fake as a Botox-ed forehead, and that the red carpet is stained with the blood of a thousand eager dreamers, crushed beneath too many fancy high heels.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Spoiler Alert...

Hello Friends.

Before I got my current job in a fancy clothing store in a mall, I just applied at the mall itself. You know, at that little customer service kiosk where people wearing suits tell you where the bathroom is. I'm not precisely sure what else that job entails, but once I got hired on at fancyclothes, I didn't think anymore about it. Well the mall called! They asked if I was available for a temporary position in "concierge services", which I learn meant "seasonal customer satisfaction agent", which they finally revealed to mean Santa Elf! I'm so grateful for employment at fancyclothes, because it meant I could turn them down outright, but part of me wanted the job just for the story.

How often does one get asked to be an elf? Especially a six foot long haired elf with a pizza gut? David Sedaris once took a job as a Santa Elf, and his essay recounting the experience became his most famous piece, earning him spots on NPR, book deals, and worldwide acclaim. But I think for me, such a job would kind of ruin my holidays. I don't need to see the old guy playing Santa sneaking a smoke in his Taurus before a shift. I couldn't bear to hear about his life and the choices that lead him to taking an $8/hr shift job through the Christmas season just because he's both aged and fat. And I'd never want familiarity to creep in where we could make snarky asides about greedy children or terrible parents. As much as I know that there's no jolly North Polish guy travelling the globe by sleigh every Christmas Eve, I want to keep my idea of Santa in tact.

Similarly, I don't need to know anything more about the hand up Elmo's ass. I'm not even part of the Elmo generation of kids (he may have been on Sesame Street when I watched, but didn't become hugely popular until after my time) but I found the whole news cycle about his puppeteer's lascivious behaviour really heartbreaking. I get that the guy made some really shitty decisions. Chatting up teenage boys in order to have sex with them the moment they come of age is pretty gross, and while I know that his private life is none of my business, and has no bearing on the joy that his work brings his audience, I keep thinking that someone's gonna have to tell Elmo.

Before this whole scandal broke, I was listening to NPR the day after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc in New York City. On some radio show, Elmo and some New York children's advocate were guests, and Elmo was clearly there as a comfort for any children listening. "The noise scared Elmo and then all the lights went out but then Elmo's Mommy and Daddy lit candles and we played games and it was so much fun and Elmo wasn't scared anymore!" Basically, they were interweaving information about handling kids' questions about the storm with anecdotes from Elmo and I found myself tearing up a little. It's a thoughtful and meaningful gesture on the part of whatever the radio show was and the Sesame Street people to use Elmo to help kids not be scared. Thinking back on it now, it's also incredibly sad. Elmo's just a cute, furry monster who loves everybody and wants to be your friend. I hate that he is now forever tainted.

I think the problem with being elfin or an Elmo-fan is the same: too much information ruins the experience. Sure, knowledge is power, but in some cases, isn't that a bad thing?

Dream: Don't look too closely at things I love, lest I destroy them forever.

Goal: Achievable. I worked in video stores for quite a few years and often encountered a fascinating type of customer who never watched the special features on a DVD and never wanted to know anything about the stars of the film. They just wanted to enjoy the movie experience without a look behind the scenes. They were like the proverbial butcher's son who loves sausage, but hates to see it being made. I love a good special feature, but I know exactly where this customer is coming from, and want to apply the same standards to certain things in my life.

Plan: Never find out another thing more about...

1) Food. God, I love food so much. But not, like, kale. I love garlic and pizza and hamburgers and chicken pad thai and chocolate cake and potato chips, oh my god. And while part of me knows I'd be healthier if I were a vegan, for instance, or if I cut out refined sugars and processed foods, part of me doesn't want to learn another thing about it. I know a happy, healthy, hilarious guy who is a longtime vegan, as is his entire family. He's not the type to shove it down your throat or anything, but we were talking about it once and he said, "I used to eat meat without a thought, but then I watched this movie about the conditions under which animals are treated to produce our food and I've never, ever touched an animal product since. And that movie was called--" "LA LA LA LA LA!" I screamed in my head, trying to mentally block the title (which worked, I can't remember what the movie was called). I totally admire all forms of vegetarianism, I recognize the blatant hypocrisy of slaughtering some animals while keeping others as pets (there was an ad campaign in Toronto last year where a kitten was pictured beside a calf and the caption read, "Why love one but eat the other?" and I always felt a twinge of guilt for all those cats I eat). But I'm not ready to give up the food that I love so much. Not yet, anyway.

2) Porn. Maybe skip the next couple paragraphs, family members and/or prudes. I think I'm probably part of the last generation of young people that was exposed to pornography at a rate where (I think?) I was equipped enough to handle it. That is to say, my porn consumption was severely limited until I was an adult, which is a good thing, I think. I remember that a friend's older brother had a Playboy or something, and feeling that mixture of titillation, guilt, and shame that everybody must feel the first time they see porn. But I was thirteen or so, and, as I recall, it was just boobs. We didn't get the global pornography distribution centre of the internet in our house until I was in high school and even then, we had a dial-up connection which meant I certainly wasn't watching x-rated videos of any kind. The best one could hope for was to steal a few moments to download a single picture and that was enough for me. I remember the first time I covertly downloaded a picture of a naked man (I think he was wearing a cowboy hat) and I was so thrilled I nearly passed out. The point of this prurient trip down memory lane is to recognize that my experience is practically quaint when compared to people just a few years younger than me. I know that if I had the access then to what I can easily access now with just a few mouse clicks, my thirteen year old brain would have exploded. And I'd probably need an endless parade of really hardcore stuff now to turn my crank. For me now, though, I think my porn consumption is probably normal, but if I really think about it, how can any porn consumption be normal? If I knew about porn performers, for instance, what their lives are like, could I catch a scene from Spring Break Studs and still enjoy it? And what is it about me that is gratified by the experience?

I'm not condemning porn, and I'm not going to begrudge you whatever gets you through the night. I live with my partner 24/7 now and so don't need any artificial substitute for intimacy. But I need to maintain my vague awareness and appreciation of porn to justify a lot of lonely Saturday nights in my first apartment. I've even heard studies saying that in places like Tokyo or Amsterdam where all kind of porn are available everywhere, there are fewer incidence of sexual assault. The suggestion being, I suppose, that if a pervert can get his kicks from a video and release pent-up sexual desire, he's less likely to grab a stranger's breasts on the subway. I don't know if I believe that, necessarily, but I do have to believe pornography can do some good in some cases, or else so many of us are, forgive the word choice, fucking disgusting.

3) Saturday Night Live. Welcome back family/prudes! Like so many of my contemporaries, I have watched Saturday Night Live every week for most of my life. Reruns of certain sketches can automatically transport me back to whatever age I was when I watched them, who my friends were at the time, the basement tv we were huddled around. I remember Janeane Garafolo cutting her finger off as penance for getting an answer wrong on a Japanese game show sketch, or Will Ferrell as an angry boss screaming, "I am this close to raping you!", or Molly Shannon crashing backwards into those chairs, The Falconer, Maya Rudolph's bonkers Whitney Houston, or Bear City! Do you guys remember Bear City? Fred Willard narrated these weird shorts about bears that I can't describe to do justice, but boy I laughed at those. Anyway, a few years ago I auditioned for a newly formed sketch/improv company that would create several teams to perform around Toronto. To pump numbers high, I suspect they took every person who auditioned and our first meeting was held in the back room of a popular bar in Kensington Market. There were probably a hundred people there, maybe more. The guy who was to run the company was talking about his vision. He asked, "How many of you would like to be on a show like Saturday Night Live someday?" Every single person in that bar raised their hand. I did too, and my heart just sank. I mean, of course everybody who thinks they're funny dreams about being on Saturday Night Live one day, but we were a room full of adults who still held out hope. It's like saying to a kindergarten class, "You can all be Prime Minister one day!" Of course they can't. And of course, even the cleverest comedy performers and writers don't have a prayer of getting in that pitch room or soundstage at 30 Rockefeller Plaza without a whole lot of stars aligning in their favour.

While being a part of that show would be some amazing, unbelievable, fever-dream of a fantasy, never getting in the door would be okay too. I could keep the illusion of SNL, a mythical breeding ground of comedy genius, forever perfect in my mind. I could still laugh so hard at a weirdly-premised 12.50 sketch and think, "I could never come up with something so funny in a thousand years." Because there are so many people that show seems to chew up and spit out. People who lasted an extremely short time as writers or performers, made little to no contribution, but then went on to be brilliant, like Sarah Silverman, Larry David, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mindy Kaling, Louie CK. Or the people who don't last long and you never hear from again. Or the people on the show for years who you never hear from again. I don't want to know what the warts are there. I don't want to think the people working at SNL are fallible, imperfect, human, like the rest of us.

4) My lucky life. I've never fully understood the phrase, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth" because what's a gift horse? And how do you look something "in the mouth"? Does that meaning looking inside their mouths? Or just at the mouth area? And what's bad about that? But I think it means, don't question what's good in a given situation. But I've been so goddamn fortunate, it's tempting to find out why. Why have I always had amazing people in my life? How many more fantastic opportunities will continue to fall into my lap? Why have I been spared heartaches that others haven't? What have I done to deserve all of this luck? All this joy? I don't have any answers, but I don't need 'em. If this is ignorance, it is truly bliss. Ho ho ho...

Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Laziest Kid...

Hello Friends.

If you're a regular reader, you know this blog usually comes out on Thursday, except for those times when it doesn't. I often have a legitimate reason for my lateness, such as illness, or not properly saving a document, but not this time. On Thursday after work I started writing another entry and it might have been one of those psychedelic cartoons where the words on the page fall off and land in a heap of gibberish. Nothing I was writing was making any logical sense. What's worse is that this entry was previously thought out and constructed in the old bean counter. I knew just what I wanted to say, just the points I was trying to make, and I couldn't do it. Instead of coming back to it in an hour with fresh eyes, or even sleeping on it, I just left it unfinished in my documents folder and did absolutely nothing from 11.30 that night to 11.30 this morning, thirty-six hours later. Like I did actually nothing. Not a thing.

Dream: Stop being so lazy.

Goal: Achievable. I know people who aren't lazy. I know people who go to school and have full-time jobs. I know people who do volunteer work on their weekends. I know people with children. People who make all of their meals at home. People who wake up early every morning to run. And not run from anything either, just run because they want to run. So an un-lazy life can be lead. But how?

Plan: Take a good look at my own lazy habits in an attempt to jolt myself out of them.

Breaking down my last 36 hours is shameful, but having a record of my aberrant behaviour should cause me to think twice before repeating it. Okay, so Thursday was my last in a string of long work days before Friday, my only day off (I'm working through this weekend). So Thursday night I knew I could stay up late, do my blog, and work on a few play projects, then have a satisfying sleep in. Instead I wrote about two pages of blog that were just awful. So bad I knew I could not publish them in any form. I opened the two play files I'm working on and stared at them both for about half an hour. I think I might have changed one line of dialogue. Then I downloaded a Maria Bamford comedy special and laughed and ate crackers and cheese and then watched 30 Rock with a vodka mixed drink and then Parks and Rec and then YouTubed some news bloopers for awhile and went to bed.

After a Friday sleep-in I did not deserve, I put coffee on and added maybe three lines of dialogue to one of the plays, then went on Facebook for quite some time. Then Jon came home for lunch and we watched CBC for awhile which had a piece about the Powerball lottery winners in the States. We fantasized about what we would do with millions of dollars (I want several homes, he wants to donate to the Kapeche Nation) and then he had to go back to work. I took the bus to the mall downtown under the pretense of Christmas shopping. I say pretense because while I might have spent maybe 30 minutes in actual stores, I was really looking for Cinnzeo. Cinnzeo is a cinnamon bun vendor of the HIGHEST QUALITY! Weirdly, it only has locations in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Alberta, Canada. I'm not sure what the connection is (unless oil barons just really like frosting), but they make a good bun. Turns out there was no location downtown, but a quick internet search at the Apple Store told me there was one in West Edmonton Mall, the largest mall in North America. You had better believe I took the half hour cross town bus to the busiest, most baffling shopping centre I have ever been to, walked the entire length of its monstrous corridors, and finally got my bun.

Feeling guilty and fat, I went home, got my swimsuit, and headed out for some swimmin'. Once I got there, though, I realized I had forgotten my goggles, and so splashed around for only about twenty eye-hurting minutes, went to the liquor store, and came back home. Jon arrived, we ate dinner, and watched Dateline and Family Guy until 1.30 in the morning. I fell asleep. I woke up. I'm writing to you now.

What's disconcerting is that I like blogging and working on plays. If I could, I'd do just those things forever. Why then would I waste this time so spectacularly? I shudder to think what else my laziness has cost me. How many opportunities I let slip away in favour of a cinnamon bun or YouTube. I don't come from lazy stock, either. My parents are hard-working people, as were their parents. Several of my peers are on career and life trajectories that require real work, commitment beyond an eight hour shift and a punch card. I'm sure they permit themselves lazy days too, but by god, they've earned them. Maybe that's the ticket. Laziness is a credit we should all give ourselves once in awhile, as long as we have the debits to support it. I plan to be one useless blob for the couple of days I have off this Christmas, for instance, and it would great to experience those days guilt-free. To afford the pleasure of being lazy, it's time I got to work.