Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Best of Me...

Hello Friends.

I've been doing kind of a lousy thing lately, in order to cut an extra five minutes out of my commute. I recently discovered that I can get to a transit stop both closer to my apartment and closer to work by cutting through the ground floor of a hospital. I found out that this shortcut existed when my usual transit stop was out of service and I got off the train at a different point. Anyway, it's not as if I'm breaking any rules, really. There are several cafes, a gift shop, even a bank machine that I pass, along with dozens of visitors and patients, as I walk a straight line from one major entrance to another. I'm not conspicuous, dressed somewhat sharply in my work clothes (dress pants and a button-down shirt, typically, though now that it's summer, I'll occasionally slip on a cotton sundress), and no one has ever stopped me, or realized that I have no business being where I am. I don't break my stride in my journey, and avoid eye contact with everyone. This measure is so I don't get called out for being there, but also so I don't have to really take in the environment around me.

Get ready for a controversial, edgy statement that no one has ever made before: I hate hospitals. For all the sanitized, officious, teddy-bears-on-nursing-scrubs of it all, hospitals are the domain of the sick, the injured, and the dying. I see wizened, phlegmatic men and women clustered on the benches by the entrance, clutching an IV pole in one hand and smoking with the other, and for their sakes, I hope these are the most satisfying smoke breaks of their lives. I hope they're are as enjoyable as a cigarette with a strong morning coffee on a balcony after a night of lovemaking. I hope they taste like the first smoke after the third drink, when you think, "To hell with it, I'm young." I can't condemn these people. If anyone's earned the right to enjoy a cigarette, it's those people who are literally giving their lives for the privilege. They're far gone, now. Let them light up. I see slouchy, downcast young people with broken bones. They seem slowed down not just by their injury, but also by the realization that they aren't invincible. I see the bald-headed six-year-old clutching the hand of his father and I just can't.

You can't tell me there's a natural order to things when kids can get cancer and die, you know? Or when forty-year-olds get ALS and lose their ability to move, speak, and function. I know it's morbid to be preoccupied by death, especially as I sit a comfortable distance away from it, having lost only grandparents and a few acquaintances. But I can't help thinking that healthy bodies are really a limited time offer, and if I don't take advantage of all my moving parts now, I might never get the chance again.

Dream: Make the best of my body while I still have it.

Goal: Achievable. It's not vanity, but a sad realization, when I say that I'm in top physical condition right this moment. I don't mean I'm physically fit, far from it, just that this is the best it's going to get for me, personally. Things can only go downhill from here. I mean, maybe I'll drop ten pounds of fat and gain ten pounds of muscle by the time I'm forty, but by then I might need reading glasses, or a root canal, or that Touch of Grey distinguished man hair dye that you comb into your pubes. The point is, I'm old enough that everything is in working order, but not old enough for anything to be worse today than it was yesterday. I really should do something about this.

Plan: Do all the things a healthy 30 year old can and should do in perfect health, like:

Exercise. I guess I swim a few times a week and walk everywhere, but so do seniors. I should push myself. I should run marathons and climb mountains and uproot trees! I don't do that now in favour of laziness, but I guarantee I'm not going to be sitting in some wheelchair one day thinking to myself, "Boy, am I glad I stayed in and watched all those episodes of Chopped."

Pick up kids. When I was little, I remember getting out of my parents' car, seeing my grandparents standing in front of their house, and running full speed up the walkway and leaping into their arms. Every single time! Of course, as I got older, I became too heavy, sure, but my grandparents also became too old to lift a running child. Now all I want to do is lift a kid. Nothing is cuter than a squealing, squirmy little gaffer that I lift into my arms effortlessly. I just need to meet more people with more kids so I can get some more hugs.

Dance. I'm not a good dancer, but why should that keep me from dancin'? The other night, the Doc and I passed a club on the way home from dinner with friends. "That looks fun," he said, and I agreed. "Maybe for my 33rd birthday, we can go there." I said, "Your 33rd birthday?! We won't be celebrating that for... oh, wait." Because his next birthday is 33 in a little over a month. I can't believe we're both as old as we are. And anyway, why wait for a birthday to walk into a dance club? We should have gone right then, our bellies full of food, and danced and drank the night away because we can!

Emote. I don't think I laugh or cry nearly enough. This is not so much to do with physical health, but with general disposition. I'm not an especially emotional person, but if I keep experiencing things with the cynical veneer to which I am accustomed, how will I handle the real joys and sorrows I'm sure to experience in my adult life? If something amazing happens and I can only make a joke about it, was it really amazing, or am I just short-changing my own life?

I seem to meet nurses all the time, I'm not sure why, and every time I meet one, I ask them what it's like to be around sick people all day. It seems they are divided into two camps. One wants to be healthy, live life to the fullest, as I have described. But it seems another impulse is to be really reckless, have the extra piece of cake, drive a little faster, throw caution to the wind, because it's all such a crapshoot anyway. At a party I attended recently, a woman who was a nurse told me she spent one wintry day in the ER helping treat a man who was out for a walk when a car started to skid on the ice, hit a stop sign, the stop sign fell and hit the man, who ended up in hospital and eventually died. "He didn't do anything wrong, the driver of the car didn't do anything wrong, there's no one to blame here, but boom. Dead." How can you put a reason to something so unreasonable? Why not have the extra piece of cake?

I hope, at least, that I am grateful. That I can separate myself from my concerns, grievances, and narcissism long enough to see that I'm incredibly lucky to live the way that I live and have all that I have. I can't worry about what's up ahead because then I won't appreciate what I have right here right now. All the same, I think I should stop sneaking through the hospital, because no shortcut is worth this kind of angst. I shouldn't be in such a hurry to get anywhere.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

My Big Brother and Me...

Hello Friends.

It seems I'm afflicted with a kind of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or alternatively, Dumb Bullshit Non-Syndrome. I've never lived so far north and, though I was warned, didn't really believe that the corollary increase in daylight would mean a hill of beans. But short nights of perpetual twilight, living behind a busy hospital, and summer's dry heat has created quite a beany hill of insomnia this past week or so.

Not sleeping isn't the worst thing in the world. I got a lot of late night writing for various projects done, and a lack of rest has me stupid and giggly at my day job. The other day, I meant to ask a customer both if she was finding everything okay and if she was still doing all right. What groggily came out was, "Are you still doing everything okay?", which the customer had no response to, but made me laugh uncontrollably right in her stunned face.

The other thing I do when I can't sleep is veg out even more than normal. Thanks to Netflix and various online streaming sites, I binge-watch television that a well-rested James would dismiss readily. I'm ashamed to say my new guilt-watch is the horrific display of human garbage that is Big Brother.

Some necessary backstory to make my position somewhat defensible: two friends at work have been devouring and recapping this show for weeks. Something you should know about me is that I hate being left out of fun small talk. I breastfed my ferret in a mall food court once in order to get kicked out, just so I could join the ongoing raging debate. Plus, I am a proponent of hate-watching. Whole franchises have started up predicated on the idea that you loathe the characters, and yourself in turn, but you tune in every single week. As it happened, I was staying out of town a few weekends ago at the Doc's brother's home. Doc Bro loves Big Brother and insisted on watching an episode. While I pretended to busy myself with activities like checking my emails and lotioning my supple calves, I quickly became entranced in the drama. Now, as I watch more and sleep less, I have become a cunning analyst (I'm sure there's a cheap joke in there somewhere but I'm too tired to find it), I want to do much more than watch every episode.

Dream: Become a contestant on Big Brother.

Goal: So completely achievable. Besides paranoia and rampant narcissism, I share some commonalities with the kind of people that routinely get picked to be on shows like these.

1) I have a job I can leave for an indefinite amount of time. Where do these Big Brother people work? Some of them have vague job titles like "Boat Maintenance Specialist" and "Surfer", but some are (supposedly) political strategists, speech pathologists, and supermodels. I think I would insist on being labelled "Writer" or "Gadabout", but they'd probably contact the store where I work and call me "Stockboy".

2) I have a "hit." In television and film, having a "hit" is very important. It basically means a certain definable characteristic where, based on your look and/or the immediate impression you give off, you are castable in a particular way. A muscled bald guy's "hit" is as the Heavy, the dainty blonde is the Ingenue, and I am the Gay Friend. If there is more than one gay person on my season of Big Brother, I will be the Ugly Gay One, or simply, The Wettest Blanket. I don't care. Put me in, coach!

Plan: Use all I know from a few sleepless nights of binge-watching to determine what makes a good, long-lasting, Big Brother contestant.

I must strike a balance between incredible, ceaseless self-interest and zero self-awareness. This has to be a difficult to do, but reality show personalities pull this off brilliantly. Contestants say things like, "Now it's time to deal with Jason!" or "Time to serve these suckers a spoonful of Martha!" and then they brashly confront each other despite the fact that there success in the competition must depend, at least in part, on being likeable and agreeable. In this current iteration, blonde model Aaryn keeps saying really racist things. Not even subtly, either! I will not reprint them here, because they are vile, but when confronted about her statements, she said, "I'm not going to defend something that didn't happen. You can spread rumours all you like." But darling, there were cameras on you! Not only did your housemates catch you, so did the millions of people watching. To deny when there's no proof is risky, but denial in the face of videotaped evidence is pathological!

Years ago, my friend Sarah and, it should be noted, her entire family, watched Big Brother's second season. Much like my coworkers this time around, I couldn't stand not to be a part of the zeitgeist and watched episodes with her weekly. It was the same format as this series, except Big Brother Season 2 ran from July to October of 2001. In the midst of the back-stabbing and interpersonal dramas, the attacks of September 11th took the show (necessarily) off the air for a week or so. When it returned, footage was shown of the contestants being spoken to by producers, informed of the terrorist attacks. One contestant, Nicole, even had cousins who were among the missing at ground zero. She and everyone else in the house voted to stay and continue the game. Can you even imagine? What must Nicole's family have thought, knowing that she decided to stay and participate in barbecue-sauce-eating contests and water balloon fights instead of attending vigils and later, funerals, for her relatives? It takes a special brand of narcissism to not only put yourself on television, but stay there in the wake of the greatest act of terrorism your country has ever known. And by the way, Nicole lost the game.

I must also be adept at filling hours with absolutely nothing to do. Though the players are all in a big house with food and comfy beds, they are locked in what is ostensibly a prison. They have no television or internet, and I'm not sure if books are banned, but there's certainly no one ripping into an Erica Jong novel on fajita night. In the absence of stimuli, everyone becomes a strategist, questioning the motives of each fellow player, and becoming increasingly suspicious of one another.

Wouldn't it be amazing to watch a season where no one decides to play along? If, after Julie Chen says, "You must place this egg on your spoon, run ten yards through the mud, sketch a portrait of Rue McLanahan, and then hand off your egg in the fastest time..." everyone said, "No, we're not going to do that." Or they agree to participate, but drag the game on for hours, deliberately erring at every turn, making it impossible to declare a victor. That would not only drive the producers crazy, it would make for far more interesting television. They can't kick everyone off at once for bad behaviour, and viewership would undoubtedly spike once word got out that no one was playing along. A coworker watches a live feed of the contestants on the Big Brother website and she says that so often a producer comes over the microphone and yells, "No singing! Stop singing, please!" I guess a lot of us hum absently without thinking, but of course the tv network doesn't want to clear the rights to Rhinestone Cowboy if you're humming it in bed with your showmance lover. So if I were on the show, I might form alliances with fellow players by singing my intentions to the tune of Call Me Maybe. They could never show that, and my motives would be perpetually shrouded in mystery.

It's hard to tell who the joke is really on, when it comes to shows like these. Do we pity the contestants, who voluntarily imprison themselves for months for a potential $500,000 prize which, after taxes, barely makes up for the lost wages a model might incur after being dropped by her agency due to racist comments she made on a tv show? Is the joke on television writers who, despite their best efforts, can't write scripts universally compelling enough to compete with ratings garnered by twelve sexy idiots every week? Sadly but surely, the joke is on us, the viewers. Rather than worrying about our own very real conflicts, challenges, and goals, we'd rather live vicariously through the manufactured trials of other people. I know this, but I tune in every week, anyway, or at least I will until I can get some shut-eye. Subsisting on a diet of garbage entertainment is probably not great, but there's no rule that says I have to still be doing everything okay.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Design Your Perfect...

Hello Friends.

The Doc and I are not ideal road-trippers. For one thing, we rarely drive in the city, so a car trip means a long trip, and Google directions, and a visit to the cheapest gas station, and a trunk full of anxiety. Also, I don't drive, so Jon does all of it. I feel guilty about that, but not guilty enough to acquire the skills innate to most 16 year-olds. So I am the navigator, and together we quickly unravel at detours, single-lane highways, unclear signage, and air conditioning vs. window opening.

One thing we often overcome, though, is traffic. Similarly, we can wait for a late entree, or stand in line at the grocery store. This isn't because we're exceptionally patient men (realtalk: why does it take so long to toast something? I feel like I can put a bagel in there and trace my family history back to the Middle Ages waiting for a slight brownness), but because we're experts at this hallmark of lazy time-passery: Design Your Perfect...

Dream: Bring one of my Design Your Perfect...s to fruition.

Goal: Achievable. Design Your Perfect... is a game I'd like to take credit for, but everybody plays it when they're stuck at work, or sitting on hold, or trying to fall asleep. You can play it alone, but like racquetball or orgasm, it's better with a partner. It's that thing where you design your perfect certain thing in your mind. I think one of my Design Your Perfects will see the light of day not because I make it so, but because my ideas are so good, surely a more savvy and connected person would make it happen. Here is what I mean:

Plan: Share my brilliant ideas so that, together, we can Design Your Perfect...

Restaurant. Okay, get a load of this brilliance. Your table is not a table but a tablet! A giant touchscreen tablet on which you can read, scroll and, most importantly, select, your menu items! So Dad orders a steak, Jonny gets a burger, Susie gets chicken fingers, and Dad's girlfriend just gets water with a twist of lemon because she's self-conscious in her new role and doesn't want to be perceived as the children's biological mother. So you select your items, then confirm your order, then a busser or host comes by to double-check, and your orders get fired to the kitchen. This practice will eliminate the personal touch of a server, which is a drag, but will combine the food quality of a sit down restaurant with the convenience of fast food. Plus it will virtual end disputes of "Who got this order wrong?". If you don't remember ordering the chicken, you can scroll through the tablet history and see that you, in fact, did. Also, no substitutions, no dressing-on-the-side, no this instead of that. If you don't like everything on your plate, don't order it. And don't come to my restaurant.

Towel. You choose your towel like you do fabric for furniture. You pick your favourite colour, texture, and absorbency rate, and you pay by the yard. I am not a big fat man, but I am a big tall man and I also have a weird chest, so I need a towel wide enough to cover both the upstairs and the basement. Plus, I feel like people would invest in a "Just For Me" kind of towel. We had to buy new ones recently and I just picked up cheap red ones at Sears. Because they are both cheap and red, red linty fuzz comes off the towels and lands on our heretofore clean bodies. I have, at different points, thought I had varicose veins, warts, and some kind of penis rot, when all I was truly suffering was red towel lint.

Bed. Bigger, longer. Change nothing else.

Telephone. I know small is the new big when it comes to phones, but with tiny earpieces and mouth-holes, I never trust that my telephone communique is being adequately heard. I predict that the next evolution in telephonics will not be smaller, more sensitive devices, but entire phone rooms. Imagine, hearing your Uncle Pinkus drunkenly mourn your Aunt Darla on his weekly Sunday call in Bose-quality surround sound, and knowing that he could hear every uncomfortable shift in your chair, every throat clear, every blink. Maybe that's a bad example, but imagine how appealing this might make phone sex, for example! ("I have a boner" "I know! I just heard it!")

TV Guide. This one is super simple. Most TVs now have that thing where you press Guide and it shows you all the shows that are on and you can scroll through at your leisure. Why don't they have an algorithm similar to Netflix where it just tells you what you'll want to watch based on your previous viewing? So instead of showing you channels one through ten, it shows you the top ten programs currently on that you're probably gonna watch. I don't need to scroll through news, news, Olympics, Charlie Rose, Bill Moyers' Journal, when it could just say, "America's Funniest Home Videos from 1998 is on CMT. Shall I switch the channel now and turn it up to max?" UM YEAH!

Window screens that detect when it starts to rain and closes your windows for you.

One cup coffee makers but instead it's a butter dispenser. "Now serving: One piece of toast. *SMISH*". Thanks, machine!

Day. I had Wednesday off this week, and the whole thing, tops to tails, was glorious. I woke up late, caught up on Q: The Podcast while buying eggs (why does Jian Ghomeshi sound like we're at a sleepover and he's whispering to me so his Dad doesn't get up and yell at us? Just talk normal, Jian! It's just another Jann Arden interview, we'll get through it). Then I made some eggs and toast, then I went swimmin', then I walked downtown until I got that Rorschach sweat stain I get on the front of my shirt when it's hot out, then I read my book in the park (I'm reading this and it's so good). Then I came home, ate some chicken, now I'm writing you. Also, Later with Jools Holland is on and he has Manic Street Preachers, Herb Albert, Phil Collins, Boy George, and Mark Ronson all on one show. That's a show! That's a day! I didn't even do laundry (memo to colleagues, I'm coming to work in rags tomorrow)!

The thing about Design Your Perfect... is that it allows you to divulge in harmless fantasy with a friend or loved one. I'm lucky to play Design Your Perfect... on the regular with my main man (and general practitioner), Dr. Jon. I know if I were to design my perfect companion, he'd come pretty close.

Friday, 5 July 2013


Hello Friends.

I'm the worst. I look so forward to writing every week because I know I have wonderful friends who read every week. But this week, I must neglect my duties because I am heading off to the wedding of an old friend. I get to read a selection at the ceremony (something spiritual, not a passage from Amelia Bedelia, as I had requested). This means that I am both unwilling and unable to provide an adequate blog today, so instead I offer this masterpiece.

See you next week everybody!

Love & kisses and summer vacations,

-Big City James