Thursday, 27 June 2013

Mr. Excitement...

Hello Friends.

Last night, I met some family and friends for dinner. I hadn't seen some of these people in a really long time, and was pleased to have the chance to catch up with them. Dr. Jon and I arrived by transit at the hotel where our company was staying and, as we greeted each other, someone said, "Did you have any trouble finding the hotel?" This was my response.

"As a matter of fact it was tricky because one of the LRT stops was closed. LRT is light rail transit, which is what they have here. Anyway, the stop was closed and so we got off one stop early so then we walked past the closed stop, but then it turns out you guys are right by another stop and we should have gotten off at that one and really, I don't know why we didn't, because it's closer. When I looked up the directions online, it said to get off at the stop which was closed, as I said. Misleading directions, I guess, but we know for next time."

Dream: Stop being so boring.

Goal: Achievable? Is it? I went on and on about the transit trip like I was in a play and another actor missed his entrance and a director offstage was hissing, "Vamp! Vamp!". I'm noticing monologues about closed transit stops and the high price of cucumbers and "we thought it was going to stop raining but then it didn't" creeping into my daily life lately. This is unacceptable.

Until I looked the terms up in the dictionary, I was guilty of using the term "bore" and "boor" interchangeably. I thought if someone was described as "boorish", they were boring. Not so. To be boorish is to be clumsy or ill-mannered. No fun to be labelled as such, but I think I'd rather be a boor than a bore.

The cruel thing about being boring is that you don't know that you are. Nobody shares an anecdote at a party hoping that it brings the conversation to a screeching halt. No one is so out of touch with social norms that they intentionally seek to alienate other people by being uninteresting. Even assholes think what they have to say is relevant. I'm only 30 years old, I can't be boring already!

Plan: Define just what makes a person boring and seek to avoid those characteristics. Such as:

Rambling. See how short these paragraphs are today? I'm trying to make a point concisely without a lot of excess information. I knew a girl in university who was a terrible rambler. Like Ellen DeGeneres but faster and less dance-y. I think she's one of those people who think transparency is the route to likeability, so it's really cute if you tell everyone exactly what you're thinking all the time. So for instance, I might say to her: "(Rambly), do you want a piece of gum?" and she'd go, "Oh wow, thanks James! I'm actually already chewing gum, though! Ha ha ha! Twinsies! Ha ha ha! I have this cherry gum because the other day I was buying a bottle of water at the store and tried to pay debit and they were like 'Debit has to be three dollars or more' and I was like 'What???' so I bought the gum and all they had was cherry, so..." and on and on and on.

Humourlessness. Look, we all don't need to be laugh-a-minute Steve Harveys here. I like to engage in frivolity and wordplay, with the occasional ribald quip, and you don't have to join me, but at least crack a smile and attempt to be funny back. Dr. Jon, for instance, is not one of those people who instinctively says funny things, but he will say or do things that I find funny and he will laugh along, oblivious, but pleased to have contributed. For instance, as we were falling asleep last night, he suddenly went, "Oh my god! I completely forgot to tell you! Julia Gillard was ousted! The PM of Australia! Anyway, good night honey." Kills me. Like what the fuck, Jon? And he realized, as I collapsed into laughter, how silly it was to present this little pre-sleep factoid (which, sorry Australia, is completely irrelevant under the circumstances), and giggled alongside me until we both drifted off. Anyway, my point is, people don't have to be funny to not be boring, but you must at least try to appreciate a good joke, y'know?

I don't know whether it's narcissism or social naivete, but I think the worst boredom offence is the need to impress people with the least impressive information imaginable. We've all been at the party with this guy. The one who won't stop telling about his fishing trip. "The guy says to me, 'You gonna use a 860 lure?' and I said, 'Whaddaya think I'm catching? MACKERAL?' I was just laughin' at him. 860! What did he think I'm catching? Mackeral? I was just laughin'."

So many people end stories by saying, "So I was just like...Wow. Like, I'm not even joking right now. It was like, are you even serious?" That's not a good ending to a story. That's your version of a surprised reaction to a completely mundane thing that happened. I sat behind two girls on the bus today and one said to the other, "Jeremy was like, 'I'm gonna be late, I'll see you tomorrow.' And I'm all, "THAT just happened! Like, are you kidding me right now?!" Is who kidding you and about what? CRAFT A TALE, YOU VAPID TEEN!

It appears as I read this back that it's hard to describe the characteristics of a boring person without being incredibly boring yourself. I wasn't going to write anything at all tonight as I've had a busy couple of days and am a bit overtired and knew I had nothing important to say. But maybe a dangerous sign that you're becoming a boring person is choosing to close yourself off to other people. As my evening with friends and family progressed, I think I became more engaged and engaging. It's amazing how people you're truly close with put up with you when you're as dull as cold Ovaltine at a bus station. So if you'll forgive my indulgent lapses into mediocrity, I'll keep writing every week until I have something interesting to say. And I'm not even joking right now.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Part of Me Will be Played By...

Hello Friends.

You know how sometimes a specialty cable channel doesn't really have a specialty? Like TVTropolis, what exactly is their game? They don't seem to be catering to a specific demographic or have much original programming. Their slogan ought to be something like, "A bunch of shows for watching." The Americans have PeachTree, which I think is Tyler Perry shows, Judge Judy, and those commercials where the black guy tells us to get up off the couch and pursue a career in medical office assistance.

The thing these channels do, the way the get viewers and make money, is to buy a bunch of syndicated programming, like old sitcoms that are no longer being made but at one time were watched by everybody. That's how Doc and I occasionally find ourselves revisiting Roseanne. Sometimes you don't have plans for a Saturday afternoon and find yourself deeply embroiled in four hours of Roseanne. Say what you will about the varying quality of that show (later seasons are unwatchable), some of that early stuff is solid.

I bring this all up because Roseanne is one of the more modern examples of sitcom recasting. Midway through the run of the show, Becky, the eldest daughter, is suddenly played by a different actress. I'm sure this had to do with the availability of the first actress or something. Unlike other instances of recasting, the first Becky then came back. Wouldn't that be great to do in your own life?

Dream: Be temporarily recast.

Goal: Sadly, unachievable. As my boyfriend often reminds me when I drop the roast on the floor in front of his boss, smile impishly and say, "That went well!", life is not a television show. But I've had kind of a shitty week so far and it's put me into a funk. I hate being in a bad mood, but the fact that I hate it so much makes it harder to escape. My bad moods are nothing serious, I've never experienced true depression, I couldn't compare, but the sensation is akin to using my non-dominant hand, or constantly feeling the tag on the back of my shirt. It's awkward and uncomfortable and I could use a few episodes off. In perfect world, they ought to do as they did with Becky Connor: bring in a prettier, more agreeable version of me until I'm ready to return. In the meantime, I will graciously step in to the lives of others.

Plan: Predicated on the premise that recasting is a zero sum game, if someone steps in to play me for awhile, I must take on another role. I think I'd like to fill in for the following people.

Katy Perry. Don't even front, haterz. Can you imagine her life for a day? Her last record was so successful that she could literally put out anything and people would buy it. She doesn't have to be married to that lanky whiner Russell Brand anymore, and have you seen that Vogue spread? Even if it's Photoshopped to hell, having a picture like this out there in the world has to be a bit of a boost. Goddamn. That skin, am I right? I could sport that epidermis for awhile.

A middle manager. I used to work in office and we had these meetings with a middle manager (let's call him Blarv), whose official function was to communicate the goals up upper management to us, the peons. But Blarv knew nothing about what the higher-ups did, and nothing about what we did, so kept both sides pacified with platitudes like, "Believe it to achieve it!" and "Let's get over the hump this quarter!" I'm sure he had duties beyond vague motivational sessions, but I don't know what they were. My favourite thing about Blarv's non-meetings would that he would open them with a non-story. He would say things like, "So I wanted to barbecue this weekend but it rained all Saturday, but then it cleared up, so then I got the food ready, but then it rained again, so I guess that's that, then!" And we'd all laugh like goddamn morons and he'd look so pleased! Like he was clever! One time, and this is absolutely true, he told a story about someone moving some of their furniture into his house and he said, "Now my living room looks like this!" and he held up his Blackberry. In a boardroom. Filled with at least fifteen people. I can't explain why this is funny except to say that no one was close enough to see the TINY image on his TINY phone. It is the power trip of middle-management, the hubris of someone not talented enough to make things, not smart enough to run things, that results in a boring man holding a small screen in his fat hands while a dozen people laugh the laugh of the underlings. I'd love to experience that kind of arbitrary authority for awhile.

The lady in the lobby. There's this big blob of a woman in my building who stations herself either in the front foyer or on the bench just outside, and it's her job to yell the world at us. She's stocky, she wears Coke bottle glasses, cargo shorts, a stained tank, and no bra. Her breasts are so saggy and pendulous, she could tuck them into her cargo shorts like a long necktie. Oh, and also, she's shaved her head recently. If I describe her ungenerously, it is because she is very unkind. She barks bulletins at any of us unsuspecting fools dumb enough to leave the building. "It's fuckin' cloudy out there, you're not gonna be fuckin' warm enough!" she'll bark, or, "There's a fuckin' car out there idling and I don't know what the fuck it's doing there but it's a real pain in my ass! Is that your fuckin' car? Look at that fuckin' car!" She'll moan about the Chinese people in the parking lot, or the Middle Eastern security guard, and it's never good to play the race card, especially when you represent white people as sweaty, foul-mouthed globules of hate. But for all about her that is terrible, she really, truly, doesn't give a fuck. I wonder what it would be like to greet the day, the morning sun shining on my bald head, ready to mouth off to any and everyone, hitching my cargo shorts up enough to cover my nips.

Gorgeous George. Gorgeous George (not his real name but maybe it could be) works out at the same place I read magazines and nurse a water bottle. His body is a great advertisement for the gym but more impressive is his magnanimity. He's everybody's pal, but not in an asshole gym rat way. One time, he approached a guy using the stationary bike near where I preening and said, "Aren't you Lisa's brother? You're taking Bio Chem or something, right?" And Lisa's Brother was surprised at being approached but the two lapsed into easy conversation. The best is when Gorgeous George comes in with his girlfriend. She works out and he's Mr. Encouragement. Again, not in a "PUMP IT UP! FEEL THE MAX! DRIVE THE MONSTER" kind of way, but he literally cheers her on, in a public, but not showy way. He seems like one of those guys untouched by other people's judgement, and he's probably often spared it anyway because he's so affable. Plus his torso is V-shaped! I'm at best a pear or ampersand. Here is me in repose: &.

An Asian game show contestant. Forgive the broad "Asian" here, I'm pretty sure what I was watching was Japanese, but perhaps the Korean game show industry is working just as hard at creating bizarre entertainment, and I'd hate to shortchange them. Anyway, one time on a bus, I was sitting next to an Asian girl with an iPad and headphones on, watching what I took to be some kind of game show. It was a long trip, so I sneakily watched quite a bit of the show (though without sound, but that wouldn't have helped me understand it any better, I'm sure). Two hosts and a studio audience kept cutting to a twosome in a sparsely furnished room. At first I thought it was an apartment, or something, but later took it to be a kind of shed, because the contestants were really bundled up, as if it was cold outside and they weren't protected from the elements. So, the hosts would ask something of the contestants, and they would perform (presumably) what was asked of them. Once they appeared to sing together, another time they hopped on one foot, and once they even did those armpit fart noises (the audience in studio seemed to love that). After these tasks, an unseen person or persons would bring something into the weird room like long planks or swaths of canvas. I could not, for the life of me, figure out what was going on. Then they cut back to the same two contestants who walked out of the shed and onto a small boat built with the materials they had been given. Is that the gist of the show? Do comical tasks and we'll give you materials to build a sloop? And did the contestants build it? I don't see how, unless they were professional boat-makers. How popular is this show? It must have some appeal as this girl was watching from her iPad in Canada. I'm sure I'm missing essential information, so I'd love to be on that show (and a native speaker of whatever language it was), because this mystery stymies me worse than any whodunnit.

I realize I have explored this idea before, albeit in a slightly different premise, but it's a nice theme to return to, don't you think? Isn't this what everybody thinks when they try to fall asleep at night? "What must it be like to be that guy?" As the week progresses, I am hoisting myself out of this silly mood. An opportunity I thought I had lost at the beginning of the week suddenly took shape today and gave me something to work on. As the current projects of the original Becky seem to indicate, sometimes it's not the best idea to leave where you are. As attractive as the prospect of dropping out of your own life for awhile might seem, no such possibility truly exists, so best to sit back and enjoy your ride, or get up off the couch to pursue a career in medical office assistance.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Dateline Time...

Hello Friends.

When I was a teenager, a Friday night at home was considered a missed opportunity. I wasn't the most popular heifer in the slaughterhouse and so spent many such evenings alone in my room. I'd lament my lack of social capital and dream about what my adult life was going to be like. I pictured events of every stripe: house parties, kitchen parties, crowded dance clubs, smoky jazz bars, lively dinners, group Boggle, and late night skinny-dipping with hunky models who go for a midnight swim and I'd discover their hideaway and they'd be like, "Water's fine!" and I'd straddle a pool noodle with stunning masculinity and laugh til sunrise. And I'd never, ever again spend a Friday night sitting at home. Well NBC had other plans for an Adult James.

Friday night is Dateline night in our home. If the program airs at another time in the week, we record it to watch on Friday, as we did earlier this year when the program aired on Wednesday for a few months (not sure who was responsible for that programming blunder, but catching Dateline on a Wednesday was a bizarre, out-of-context experience like seeing your French teacher buying underpants at the dollar store). At this point, I should mention that this is a Dateline-exclusive blog entry and, if you don't watch the show, maybe join me back here next week. But statistically, some of you reading this not only watch the show, but make it appointment television.

For the unfamiliar, I should mention that Dateline is a weekly newsmagazine show that typically deals with a missing persons or murder case. They interview the families of the victims and (alleged) perpetrators, they talk to cops, investigators, and lawyers, they usually introduce a third-act twist, and then the show is over. Finding another Dater (or, if you prefer, a Lineman) is such a life-affirming experience. Next time you're at a party, casually mention Heather, the co-conspirator in the brutal murder of a young woman she met on a train. If another party guest gasps and says, "Was she the one with those hideous drawn-on eyebrows?", you've got yourself a friend forever.

The Doc and I have watched Dateline throughout our entire relationship. We have rituals and rules that coincide with each airing. We're allowed to wildly speculate as to the prime suspect and their guilt or innocence, up until halfway through the program, where we must render our definitive opinion. I don't know why we do this, we just do. Also, we spot "ourselves" in every broadcast. If I see a particularly irritated overweight court stenographer when they cut to a trial scene, I will say, "Oh there's me! Did you see? Go back!" And Doc will often cast himself as the baby-faced uncle of the murder victim, who offers vague platitudes like, "Death is hard."

It is to the point now that my expertise in this program takes me beyond superfan status. I am an aficionado, I am an enthusiast, and I deserve to become a correspondent.

Dream: Become a correspondent for Dateline.

Goal: Achievable. Here's the thing about Dateline correspondents, the bulk of the job seems to be sitting there looking skeptical. I can totally do that! And the show is formatted in such a way that the correspondent doesn't host the show, or even have to inanely chat with the host. They just stand on a street corner or in front of a gorge and say, "Nothing out of the ordinary ever seems to happen here. Oh yeah, except for a triple-murder that happened last year. Let's learn about it for an hour."

Plan: Offer up all I know about this stellar program in the hopes that some NBC head honcho reads this and says, "The kid's got spunk! Let's buy Josh Mankiewicz some bunk beds so James can shadow him and learn the ropes!" Here is all that I know about Dateline.

1) Murderers have poor follow-through. You have to marvel at these people who kill other people. They are callous and soulless and yet possess a calculated cunning that allows them to stab, shoot, drown, poison, etc their nearest and dearest. But for all the planning that goes into Act 1, after they do the deed, they become the party hostess who realizes there aren't enough chairs to seat everybody. They panic and fret and everyone around them thinks, "You didn't realize that this was going to happen, you unbelievable moron?" There was a guy last week who put cyanide in his wife's calcium supplements and so she took them and died. He maintained his innocence, even when police were tipped off, searched his house, found the remaining pills in the bottle, analyzed them, found traces of cyanide. The accused was like, "I don't know, that's really weird." Come on! Or a guy I saw who was an anaesthesiologist whose wife died of carbon monoxide poisoning, while he, in the same house as his wife throughout, never succumbed. Turns out, the night she was poisoned, he slept in a spare room downstairs with all of the air vents and ducts closed off. He told reporters he only did that because he was gassy and didn't want to stink up the house with his farts. I'm serious. This guy also wrote in his diary, "Not getting along with the wife. Maybe I should carbon monoxide her." He wrote that! And when confronted he said, "That was just fantasy. I'd never actually do that." Which is strange because that's how your wife died, buddy! The night you had those bad farts!

2) Lester Holt can't wear his suit jacket. Lester is a kindly man who hosts the show and he introduces the segment standing in a studio in pants, a shirt, and a vest. Behind him is a chair with his jacket slung over it. It is as if he ran into the studio five seconds to air, threw his jacket on the chair and shouted, "LET'S DO THIS!"

3) Every dead person or accused murderer has one really hot relative or friend, and that's who will speak to the folks at Dateline. It's amazing how someone can die in the grizzliest of circumstances, the investigation is open, the case is pending, and their telegenic bombshell cousin is just ready with those soundbites. If I get murdered, I only want my hot friends to say stuff about me. It just lends my life an air of sexy mystery. Plus, people watching at home go, "It sucks that this guy died but I feel even worse because look at how upset his passing has made that hot girl."

4) If you're watching Dateline, and the suspect is being filmed in a very tight shot (as in the camera is only filming his/her face and neck), not only did the suspect commit the crime, but they have been convicted. The reason a tight shot equals guilt is because Dateline has managed to secure a jailhouse interview but they can't film the accused person's body because you'd see the prison jumpsuit right away and the mystery would be ruined.

5) Dateline is one of the most emotional experiences on television. Perhaps there is something inherently exploitative about filming someone during the hardest time in their lives, but I often think the family of the murder victim just wants the chance to tell their story. There's something about the public expression of genuine grief that is so powerful. It reinforces the idea that we are more alike than different; that loss is universal.

6) This program is a master class in structure and editing. Dateline isn't really news, because it rarely presents the facts in a completely straight-forward way. Instead, they dangle clues and red herrings for the better part of an hour. Plus, they often have so little to work with. They might have one picture of the victim, or some grainy home movies, and they have to strategically show us the same thing one hundred times. Ten seconds of a wedding video becomes especially poignant on the 10th viewing once you realize the wife kills the husband five years later.

I can't decide if Dateline is gourmet fare, or comfort food. Do I take genuine pleasure or guilty pleasure in my weekly viewing? I feel a bit sick that the terrible experiences of the show's subjects are so entertaining, but it's also a real look at a human experience that's less contrived than a reality show and not as directly manipulative as scripted television. There really isn't anything else like it, which is reason enough to tune in.

If I was a Dateline correspondent, I'd give viewers the chance to learn a bit more about the ugliness and beauty that surrounds them. I'd deliver that glorious empathic push-and-pull where you watch and simultaneously think, "Oh, those poor people!" and "Glad that's not me." I'd throw my blazer off like Lester Holt, slouch skeptically like Josh Mankiewicz, wax poetic and wear Converse like Keith Morrison, and be the pretty and skillful new kid like Andrea Canning. I'd beam it all into your living room and make you think differently about the world, but I guess if I did that, I'd never be home on a Friday night.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

1st Annual Cringe Festival...

Hello Friends.

Have you ever been to a Fringe Festival? It's a really easy way to see theatre on the cheap. Small theatre companies are placed in variety of venues around a city and perform plays in them. Often, these ventures are incredibly creative. I've seen fringe shows comprised of puppetry, clowning, pantomime, and other performance techniques that make parents wish they had sprung for a Dale Carnegie seminar. I kid, but when it's done well, theatre like that is incredibly absorbing. But then there's the other kind of Fringe play popular at small festivals because no large, legitimate theatre would ever support such self-indulgence: the autobiographical one-person show. You guys, I don't have a lot going on right now, a lot of bad ideas seem more credible in times of desperation, but be a love and shoot me in the face if I ever turn Big City James into a tour-de-force one-man extravaganza. I've seen approximately one good autobiographical one-person show about a woman with an incredibly interesting life who left her home country to come to Canada and faced incredible odds. I've seen about a dozen one-person shows where a breathy narcissist has a fake realization and says, "I'm gay and that's okay!" Blackout. Applause. Or, "I forgive my parents, and I forgive...myself." Slow fade. Johnny Cash's cover of Hurt swells. Applause.

It's not just that I'm a snob and an asshole (though that's a big part of it). The fact is, this kind of confessional vanity is so personal, but often so poorly executed, with phony gestures of humility and grace, that if I'm sitting in the (small, sparse) audience, I just wish I could crawl into a hole and die. It's not embarrassment, exactly. It's a sharper, less empathic feeling. It's the reason I read Fringe Festival programs very carefully and don't attend evenings of slam poetry. Simply put, stuff like that makes me cringe.

Dream: Reduce my yearly instances of cringe by 50 percent.

Goal: Achievable. I surely suffer from an extremely low cringe-threshold, and I think I always have. One would think that a BFA in Theatre: four years of touchy-feely, sitting in circles and crying, embodying a pencil, breathing from your testicles nonsense would have helped me embrace the cringe-worthy events in life, but it may have only exacerbated the problem.

Plan: Avoid the following people or situations as much as possible (at least 50 percent of the time):

The inappropriate public speaker. I was at a wedding last month--a family wedding I was otherwise very pleased to attend. My cousins and I were drinking too much over at the kid's table when the emcee announced that, in lieu of clinking glasses, people who expected the bride and groom to kiss had to approach the microphone and recite a poem. My blood ran cold. Most people can interpret that simple instruction with middle-of-the-road platitudes like, "Roses are red/Violets are blue/I'm glad you are married/Can someone give me a ride back to the Travelodge?" But there's always an asshole at these things who has to say or do something wholly inappropriate. Sure enough, some drunken moron nobody knew gets on the mic and, to the tune of Skinnamarinky Dinky Dink, launched into a recitation about his own penis. I bolted to the bathroom and stayed there until I knew it was safe to come out.

The loveable loud child. Kids are great. They see the world anew with wonder. They brighten the otherwise dull world surrounding them. They can't finish pizza so you get more than your fair share because their stomachs are small and stupid. But, like the drunken wedding toast, nothing makes me embarrassed on someone else's behalf quite like a child addressing a large audience. Do you remember that show Kids Say the Darnedest Things? Where a child would tell Bill Cosby in earnest about Basghetti and Meatbulbs and Bill would turn to the audience drily, like "Can you believe this stupid kid?" Oh man, I loathe that. It serves no purpose in the world. The kid doesn't know he's being an idiot, so he can't tell why everybody is laughing at him. And the audience chuckles, perhaps thinking, "Oh the innocence of a child!" But what if you were up there and we laughed at your fuck-ups? When I'm talking to a contemporary who says words like, "Conversate" or "Agreeance", I don't go "HA HA HA! YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT WORDS ARE!" So how come we get to do that with children?

Open mic comedy nights. God bless and keep open mic comedy nights and the saints who run those rooms. I have done a few myself (and bombed, thank you) and it is petrifying. But sitting in the audience watching someone crash and burn is the worst feeling in the world, especially when the performer is clearly unprepared. I'll say this for my own performances, at least I was working from a script. Every bad joke, no matter how bad it was, had been written and memorized and practiced by me for weeks. So at least the audience wasn't laughing because I wasn't funny, not because I got up there and froze. I barrelled through my seven minutes like a champ and when they didn't laugh I went even faster to fill the silences (Sample joke: "Anybody see footage of that smoking baby on YouTube? It's really sad, but the upside is, I heard he got a part on Mad Men." You have to remember, I told that joke in 2010--it was really topical, you guys. Are you laughing yet?). But SO many people get up there so completely petrified that they have nothing to say. One guy told a Matthew Shepherd joke that (naturally) went over poorly and he said, "I guess I should stop" and walked off. Another woman proceeded as if she was getting huge laughs, the absence of which was made all the more obvious by her milking of the joke. "I went to the beauty parlour the other day and they had age-defying cream and wrinkle-prevention cream and I said, 'Hey, where's the anti-death cream?'.... 'Could I stock up on some anti-death cream, please?'... 'I'm going to bring the car around, can you load it up with anti-death cream?'....'Anti-death cream!'" She was just milking that anti-death cream business and also no one says beauty parlour anymore and even if they did, they'd be referring to a hair salon. Good god!

Emotions. I can appreciate how special it is to have a real, one-on-one emotional experience with a friend or loved one. I don't mean to minimize that at all, and I hope I'm good company in those situations. But if I don't know you and you fall to pieces, what exactly is the protocol there? I started a new job, and on my third day, my manager walked in, awash in tears. "James..." he whimpered, dissolving into sobs. "I'm sorry, I just need a minute!" he said, knees buckling and leaning against the wall. I was, as you can imagine, paralyzed by my own sense of unease, but also genuinely concerned that my new boss had his world come crashing down. Finally, when he was well enough to continue, he asked if I minded starting my shift solo because, "My girlfriend's rabbit died!" I mean, can you even? Or one time, I was waiting outside a Booster Juice and a girl got out of her car on her cell phone yelling, "THEN ALL I HAVE TO SAY IS FUCK YOU!" and then she threw her phone on the ground and it smashed (!!!!) and she screamed, "WHY ARE GUYS SUCH ASSHOLES?!?!" I just stared back at her (or more accurately, at her broken phone pieces) until, blessedly, someone yelled, "Funky Monkey!" and I said, "Oh that's me" and claimed my smoothie. Maybe it's how I was raised (by robots), but you don't yourself like that. Not that my family is cold and uncaring, but we'd rather chew our food more thoroughly if it meant not discussing something important, and I think most of us would much prefer to see a bartender than a therapist.

I'm sure a therapist, or at least someone more attune to human behaviour than I am, would point out that my susceptibility to cringe at these things says way more about me, my own failings, my own narcissism, than it does about the situations themselves. I can't bear witness to any discomfort because then it becomes my own. It's as if I've inherited the sensitivity of my mother along with the utter disdain for all forms of bullshit from my father. But I can't blame them for my problems anymore. I forgive my parents and I forgive... myself.