Thursday, 30 May 2013

But Someone's Gotta Do It...

Hello Friends.

It's been a bit of a tricky week, back at the ranch. I got a fun opportunity and some bad news, and none of it fit into my work schedule. In brief, the fun opportunity fell on a Tuesday when I was already scheduled to work at my job at the fancy clothes emporium. I called a coworker and pleaded my case for about five seconds before she said, "You need me to take a shift? No problem." The bad news fell on a Saturday when a family member wound up in the emergency room. I was at work when I got the news, then explained the situation to my boss for about five seconds before he said, "You need to go home? No problem." (Without divulging any private circumstances, rest assured that said family member is on the mend and not in dire straits and all is well).

I have great coworkers and a great boss, to be sure, but in truth, it really is the sort of job where, if a life event drops in out of the blue, getting rid of a shift really is "no problem." That's the advantage of having a job that might not be your ideal position, career-wise. It might not be as challenging or stimulating as a high-pressure 9-5 in an exciting field, but it's a relatively stress-free way to make your rent every month, and leaves you time to work on other things you're more passionate about.

That said, until I land some dream professional writing gig that pays well, is creatively satisfying, and somehow makes my penis bigger, I really hope any job changes are lateral moves. I may be folding sweaters in a retail store, but that feels worlds away from flipping burgers at a fast food chain. There is a hierarchy even among what Douglas Copeland calls, "the McJobs." I spend enough time fantasizing about the career I want, maybe it's time to be grateful for the jobs I don't have.

Dream: Have a job like the one I enjoy now, or better, for the rest of my working life.

Goal: Pretty achievable, you guys. I feel a little twinge when comparing notes with my contemporaries about our jobs. My high school peers are doctors and lawyers and business executives, I can see their eyes glaze over a little when I talk about the functional versatility of our new non-iron dress pants. So I don't think it's unreasonable to hope to stay, if not necessarily in clothing forever, in higher-end retail where I don't have to wear a uniform, hairnet, or button that says, "TRY OUR NEW CARAMEL FRIES."

Plan: Stay humble and grateful by listing all of the crappy jobs I could have, and speculating on just how awful they would be. Jobs like:

  • Concession guy at a movie theatre. I know I've talked about this before, but what a terrible job. Everybody's in a big hurry because nobody gets to a movie early. People just want popcorn and a pop. Those two things cost at least ten dollars, probably more. So the concession guys says, "Okay, small popcorn, small Sprite, that's eleven dollars." And even the most polite among us goes, "Eleven dollars! God in Heaven! What the fuck are you talking about?" Every customer must give them shit.
  • Morning cashier at Starbucks. Bless them. Next time you drop in for your morning coffee en route to your fancy office job, just take a look at your fellow man. "Yeah, I'll have a tall, non-fat, triple-foam soy latte with a half-shot of vanilla and can you make it quick? I'm in a hurry." Oh man, you know what I'd love to hear one of these baristas say in response. "Oh you're in a hurry? Maybe you shouldn't have stopped for coffee."
  • Bus driver. Can you imagine if your morning commute was your entire day? And instead of driving yourself, you drove a bunch of horrible people? And every few feet you had to stop to let more horrible people on?
  • Family restaurant server. Tips are great but children are the worst. I would rather fold a hundred sweaters than clean up the messes of three children under five years old.
  • Assembly line worker. How could one even understand the drudgery, the hopelessness, the day-in day-out boredom of working in a factory? Screwing caps on bottles or separating rotten apples from fresh ones or slapping labels on jars? Ostensibly, something they'd rather have a machine do but they have yet to perfect the technology? I read this story once about factory workers who intentionally screw something up on a product (put a label upside down, affix a widget to the right side instead of the left side, etc) because they wanted to make a difference. They wanted to know they existed and here was their proof. Also, don't look too far into how your iPhones are made. A great deal of what we know about factory conditions for Apple products in China was exaggerated and then debunked, but it is true that the factory has nets on all sides of it so that it is impossible for an employee to jump off the building to his death, which I gather was becoming a problem.
  • Dishwasher. Being a dishwasher was my first job and I did not last long. Never, ever again.
  • Cameraman for a porn film. I know the joke is that any red-blooded straight man dreams of being a photographer for Playboy or something, but can you imagine the technical precision, long hours, and incredible discomfort of being the guy who works the camera on a dirty movie? Awkwardly framing someone's genitals from a bunch of different angles for hours every day? You must come home to your spouse and scream, "If I see one more naked person today!" and then how are they going to feel? Lousy, right?
  • Cab driver. See bus driver but add about 200% more drunks.
  • Hot dog vendor. I don't notice these guys so much here in Edmonton, but in Toronto, purveyors of "street meat" could be found on every corner, rain or shine. They literally stand in that tiny box for hours on end, feeling a weird mixture of cold from the elements and extreme heat from standing over a barbecue for an entire shift. Plus, these stands stay open all night. How vulnerable they must be to drunken name-calling, theft, or worse. Also, I can't help but consider how the condiments hold up as they just sit there, unrefrigerated, day after day.

There are dozens more, but it's too depressing to think about. If I really knew what went into cleaning the mall I work at, or stocking the apples that I buy, I might never leave the house. The other thing about entry-level labour jobs like the ones I've described, the thing I'm uncomfortable admitting, is that privileged kids like me feel above it all. When I worked at a drugstore in the big city, I'd constantly get resumes from people who were lawyers in Turkey or doctors in Lebanon or mothers of six, wishing and hoping for the chance to stock shelves. I'm ashamed to report that eventually I stopped noticing how unfortunate this was, and instead focused on how much my little feet hurt, waaaah....

Maybe this is a little idealistic of me, but I really think everyone needs to work a low-paying service job at least once in their lives. Yes, they can be mind-numbing, spirit-crushing ass-aches, but all jobs can be like that to some degree. There's something to be said for appreciating just how hard everybody works so that we can live our lives taking no notice of them. I'm glad to be out of minimum wage, at least for now, and working a job that, while not perfect, is not something I dread clocking into every day. I know so many dedicated, passionate professionals who live to work, I hope we can all take some time waiting in line for our coffees to think about those who work to live.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Hungered James...

Hello Friends.

There's this trend I've noticed on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. People make themselves ornate, elaborate dinners, seven nights a week, then take a picture of it, then post that picture. They also have to tell you what the picture is. "Raspberry barbecue lamp chops, thumbtack-infused couscous, baby's butt beets. Chocolate-inspired boiled water for dessert! #YUMTOWNUSA." It's a little much. Yes, it's terribly impressive that you've made this complicated, intricate feast, but also, it's 6 pm on a Tuesday and you're just eating with your dumb husband who just grabs his crotch in repose, even when there's company over, and we're all just supposed to ignore it, but what's he protecting, y'know? To me, there's something a bit sad about crafting a special meal for a regular occasion. But I am in the minority.

Since moving from the big city to a smaller city, we've traded a tiny living-space for a normal apartment. We finally have a kitchen big and functional enough to use the burners AND the stove at the same time, and cut things on a cutting board that rests on a counter, not on the floor. The Doc and I can both stand in the kitchen at the same time without accidentally making love. For this reason, and because I'm too old not to know how, I am cooking. I have mastered the basics (I can burn over 10 meals now!) but maybe I need to take it a step further.

Dream: Become a foodie.

Goal: Achievable. Throughout my life, I've definitely been more of an eatie. However, like a music critic who can't play an instrument, or an internet porn fan who's never had sex, perhaps I should be less of an appreciator and more of a participator.

Plan: Take more cooking risks in order to make delicious, satisfying, and inspiring meals every night.

I could start by buying fresh and occasionally obscure ingredients. There's supposedly an excellent Farmer's Market every Saturday morning here in town, but that sounds like the least appealing place to take my Friday-night hangover. Why does it have to be in the morning? I think I'd be way too ambitious, as well. "Ooh, look at all these radishes! Honey, let's have radishes every night! Pop the trunk, I'm gonna load in these radishes!" Also, I'm sorry, but is insufferable smugness a requirement to attend one of these things? When referring to the Farmer's Market the other day, someone sneered at me contemptibly, "Don't tell me you buy your apples from the store!" Like it was the worst thing in the world. Like Sobeys dips their apples in french fry grease and cigarette butts before putting them in the produce section. Then people wax on about the benefits of organic food. It tastes better, I get that. If given a choice, I'd pick organically produced products over non for that reason. But it's not any more nutritious for you than non-organic food. And of course Monsanto is evil and harmful, of course it is. But in terms of genetically modifying food, salt-tolerant rice will save millions of people from fucking starving to death, so let's keep things in perspective.

Fancy food also gets people to those specialty markets that is just one Tori Amos cd away from becoming a homosexual recruitment centre. Pretentiousness flows from these establishments like the coca-cola they'd never sell. I was forced to go in one the other day looking for anchovies, which used to be a supermarket staple, but is now impossible to find. For the record, I was making Nigella's Slut'sSpaghetti which is delicious and easy to make and requires zero fresh ingredients. Anyway, the nose-ringed, overall-ed, outdoor music festival attendee with a name like Rain or Gazebo working behind the counter behaved like I was a child buying cigarettes. "Anchovies!? We certainly don't sell those!" Then he peered over his horned-rims to ensure I wasn't in a wheelchair, stricken with gout.

The thing none of these holier-than-thou foodies is willing to concede is that making ornate, complex dinners is an expensive and (dare I say) elitist past-time. Maybe we'd all buy farm-fresh pears and free-range Doritos if we had the means. And while I'm sure a bag of lentils is more healthful and even cheaper than the box of frozen hamburgers, just where does one find the lentils section of a Shop'N'Save? I've been volunteering a little bit at Meals on Wheels. I get to write their newsletter now but I started by taking a couple of initial shifts in their kitchen. That is a meat and potatoes operation if ever I saw one. Every meal they eventually wheel contains a meat, a starch, two veggies, and a dessert. That's really all you need, isn't it?

Finally, making a fancy dinner part of your normal routine completely takes the fun out of fancy dinners. I'd love to roast a chicken and serve fresh something on a bed of something else, and damn if it doesn't taste better after last night's dinner of tuna fish and Honey Nut Cheerios. If you are what you eat, I'd rather not be expensive and full of weird tiny bones. I'd settle for being cheap if I meant I got to be tasty and fun. What I'm saying is, eat me.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Coming Attractions...

Hello Friends.

I find that blogging is just like riding a bike. Sometimes I forget how to do it and have to wait for my dad to come pick me up. Geez louise, I skip one week and this blank page is terrifying. And what a week! I went back to the big city for a family wedding and a week-long visit with friends and family. I've never understood the desire to vacation to a place where you don't know anybody. Sandy beaches and all-inclusive nachos are fine, but wouldn't you rather see a whole bunch of friends and watch YouTube and laugh all night? I would and I did.

This preamble is all to say that I've been a lazy git and don't have an original thought or concept in my head. Rather than leave the old blog blank another day, I feel compelled to write something. You know how sometimes the best part of seeing a move is the brilliantly crafted trailer that precedes it? Like this one, holy shit! How goes does that look?! With that in mind, let me offer you a preview of what I might write for you in the future, when my brain isn't post-vacation, days of drinking, bad food-eating mush.

Dream: Plan future entries of Big City James.

Goal: Achievable. I know this is a little precious and meta. I hate when anything gets too self-referential. Like when a tv show alludes to the fact that it's a tv show, or a pop star samples a lyric from an old hit onto a new hit, or when your pimple gets a pimple. But it's this or nothin', so suck an egg.

Plan: List potential Dreams I'd like to address in this blog, like:

  • Lose ten pounds for summer
  • Gain fifteen pounds for winter
  • Have a cameo in something. Is there a way for an actor to skip directly to cameo? I'd love to just pop up in a restaurant scene, observe, "It smells like farts in here" (only I'd say "farts" like an old New Englander, like "fahts", like I was George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf) and then leave.
  • But something practical without considering the price for twenty minutes (a recent new toaster took an afternoon)
  • More interviews. I'd love to talk to random people, and somehow get over my fear of approaching them. For instance, there's this woman who cleans the lobby of our building and she must be mid-40s and she wears Calvin Klein's Obsession and I want to know everything about her life.
  • Program my own TV channel with just shows I like (BCJTV)
  • Try yoga.
  • No seriously, I'd like to try it.
  • Why do my feet look so fucked?
  • Make new friends. Someone told me there's a website that's like a dating site, but just for friends. I'm gonna find it, there's sure to be material there.
  • Attend a rally.
  • Wear my tanktop. I don't know why, but I bought a tanktop on my trip. I look ridiculous in it but if I don't wear it now, I'll never get that chance again.
  • Develop a taste for wine.
  • Develop a taste for wings.
  • Read or re-read a literary classic. I read Great Gatsby in grade twelve and really liked it. As I recall, we studied it rather intensely and did reports on it and stuff. I saw the movie two nights ago (visually stunning, if a bit draggy at parts) and didn't remember a thing. The whole time I kept thinking, "Did I read something else in grade twelve by mistake? Isn't there a fat woman in this story? What am I thinking of?"
  • Go on a picnic. No, fuck that.

Forgive me this terrible self-indulgence. I don't know why it's such a struggle to put fingers to keyboard today. I wanted to write about my adventures last week, but I can't somehow. Treating recent events like cherished memories cheapens the whole thing somehow. People would think I was misrepresenting the fun I had, like I couldn't possibly have enjoyed myself that much. But I really did. I may not be a Big City James anymore in that I no longer live in the Big City, but it's a fabulous place to visit and I'll be back. This blog will also be back, sometime next Thursday, with something more substantial. Or maybe it'll be another rambling, listy, cop-out. You'll just have to wait and see. It smells like fahts in here.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

But What If...

Hello Friends.

Remember that song from the 90's that goes, "I'm a bitch, I'm a lover, I'm a child, I'm a mother, I'm a magazine, I'm a washing machine, I'm a pear, it's a bear" or something like that? Or the Ani DiFranco song about being 32 Flavours and Then Some? I understand the message that no one is one thing, that we are all complex humans being (see how I did that?), but the lyric I always add to songs like that is, "I'm the worst at fun."

Case in point: I am going away for a week starting tomorrow! I'm going to weddings, seeing family, seeing friends, hopefully enjoying some warmer weather. I booked this excursion months ago, saved up money so I'd be flush with cash, have made great plans with some great pals. Yet tomorrow morning's early, early flight has me absolutely fraught with anxiety. I worry that I'll be unable to sleep tonight, and though part of me has made peace with this eventuality, part of me wonders if what the experts say is true: if I write down everything I am worried about, worry won't consume me at bedtime, and I'll sleep like a baby and wake up alert and ready to vacation.

Dream: Get a great night's sleep by obsessively cataloguing all my worries.

Goal: Achievable. Besides a good sleep, the benefit to articulating the worst-case scenario is that, in the very act of predicting it, I somehow make it less likely to occur.

Plan: Lay out complex, detailed possibilities for any problems that might arise tomorrow.

  1. The Doc and I both oversleep. Somehow, despite setting two alarms for the ungodly hour of 4:30, we ignore them both and arise refreshed at 1 pm. We scream at each other for two hours, search desperately for another flight which we cannot find. We miss my cousin's wedding and are no longer invited to family milestones of this sort.
  2. We miss the stupid airport shuttle bus. Airport shuttle buses seem like the greatest idea until you realize how inefficient and uncomfortable they actually are. The hotel by our apartment is one of the first stops on the route, so I always get on thinking, "Ooh! I have this whole prison van to myself! We'll get there in no time!" And then we stop at every single hotel in the city and pick up fatter and dumber people with more and more luggage and I become so squashed and resentful that I begin to wonder why I didn't just set aside six hours, get my suitcase with the wheels on the bottom, and just fucking walk to the airport.
  3. We can't get on the plane. Have you ever seen that show Locked Up Abroad? It's this harrowing doc series about being imprisoned in a foreign country. The main reason these imprisonments usually occur is because some poor sap decides he's going to try to smuggle drugs out of the country on an airplane. LET ME CLARIFY THAT I HAVE NO PLANS TO DO THIS! But I saw one recently where a panicked trafficker put a brick of hash into a lady's purse while they were waiting in line for security. She didn't even notice, got caught, endured a crazy ordeal. What if someone puts drug tablets in my manpurse, or tapes a bag of weed to my leg while I'm peeing beside them or something? I get pretty single-minded when I'm urinating, I probably wouldn't catch it. Also, I'd like to add that my cousin Jessica and a friend of hers want to start a series where young women find themselves pregnant in a foreign country and call it Knocked Up Abroad. I just think that's clever.
  4. We never get off the plane. I know the plane is not going to crash, but what if it DOES, you guys? It's weird, I thought fear of flying would naturally lessen the more I flew, but it's actually getting worse. I remember as a kid being SO AMPED to get on a plane! It was so much fun! Now, any little airpocket and I'm a mess. Also, this is the first time Doc and I have actually taken the same plane at the same time. Because of his schedule or mine, we can never show up to the same thing at the same time on the same day, and in seven years, this is our first plane trip. It seems like the stuff morbid anecdotes, but it probably means we're going down.
  5. I don't sleep a wink and am rendered completely useless. My tiredness will give me the judgement and articulation of a drunk. I'll curse at the airline desk agent, or throw up on the shuttle bus, or mumble something transphobic while buying a magazine. My behaviour gets me thrown out of the airport, off of the flight, out of the wedding.

I don't want to play this game anymore. I really wonder what the hell is up with self-sabotage. What impulse within us makes us so neurotic that the prospect an extremely enjoyable experience is terrifying? I recently read about the concept of Defensive Pessimism in David Rakoff's excellent book, Half Empty. Those of us who can't be bothered with the fallacy positive thinking, he argues, might be a bit gloomy at parties, but in predicting negative outcomes, are better equipped to deal with them as they occur. We bring the umbrella! We have Tylenol on hand! We get there early! If the trade-off to this negative thinking is that I'm pleasantly surprised when things go well, then I can certainly handle that. The tremendous relief I feel when all my worries are for naught? That's my vacation.