Wednesday, 26 March 2014

A Real Pretty Mouth...

Hello Friends.

My dentist is younger than I am. I really can’t believe it. I guess older people have to deal with this phenomenon all the time, medical personnel being younger than they are, but a recent appointment with a new dentist (closer to work) put me face to open, gaping face with a practicing dentist that I could have babysat on Saturday nights. Having a younger person in charge of my health won’t always weird me out. I hope when I’m 80, my physician isn’t 90, but it feels weird entrusting my mouth to someone who wasn’t born as I began teething initially.

Dr. Baby is perfectly pleasant and he and his baby staff have a really nice practice with comfortable chairs and top of the line spit-suckers, but a visit to the dentist is still one that I’d rather avoid. Not that I’ve been unlucky with mouth stuff, quite the opposite. I haven’t had cavities, or braces, or a root canal or anything beyond a couple of teeth that needed pulling when I was a youngster. Through my 20s, I watched aghast my contemporaries had their faces swell up like pumpkins and often had to stay home for a week as a result of a wisdom tooth extraction. I counted the days until my 30th birthday, laboring under the false apprehension that if I made it to 30 without wisdom tooth issues, I could sail through the rest of my life unaffected. I’ve recently come to find that is not so.

Dr. Baby is concerned that a wisdom tooth that has come in sideways, while giving me no discomfort now, will present a huge problem later. He says the tooth will continue to grow and cause me great pain. I’m not inclined to believe him, because it’s not as if my straight up and down teeth will keep growing, suddenly meeting in the middle rendering me unable to close my lips ever again. Dr. Baby is, in fact, so concerned that he is outsourcing the job of removing this troublemaker to an oral surgeon. “I don’t think I can do it myself,” he confessed at my last appointment, presumably before going down for his nap. So now I’m really worried that my good dental karma has at last run out, and there will suddenly be a great deal of trauma behind every smile, unless I can change things around in time.

Dream: Revolutionize the field of dentistry.

Goal: Achievable. I may not know anything about medicine or oral health, but I am (or rather Jon’s and my combined benefits are) about to put a great deal of money where my mouth is. As a paying customer, I should have a say in how I am treated, no?

Plan: Make suggestions as to how to improve the current state of the profession. For instance:

Complete sedation of every patient for every procedure. People hate going to the dentist, they’d rather every tooth fall out of their head than see a professional, because it is so exceedingly uncomfortable. Regular procedures like checkups and cleanings aren’t painful, exactly, but they’re the most cringe-inducing experiences one can have (next to asking a woman when her baby is due as you simultaneously realize she is not pregnant). I worked with a woman once who had a mild form of autism, probably somewhere on the spectrum like Asperger’s Syndrome, and she was high-functioning, pleasant if a touch awkward, and good at the menial aspects of her job, and she had the worst teeth I’d ever seen. I’m not being mean, and I certainly don’t have the pearliest of whites, but I can state objectively that she was in terrible dental disrepair. I never asked her about it (because how does one broach the “What’s up with your disgusting teeth” conversation?), but I wonder now if an absence of dental care didn’t somehow relate to her autism. Twice yearly is almost too much for me to endure the suction, the scraping, the poking, can you imagine what it must be like for someone prone to sensory overload? If you don’t like to be touched, I can’t imagine you love being orally excavated. Therefore, let’s just put everyone to sleep as soon as they sit in the chair, even if it’s just for a cleaning. Then dentist could stop with stupid tricks like a massage pad on the dentist chair or a TV screen overhead to distract the patient. Not only that, but patients would stop flinching and jerking around. I know that I would look guiltily forward to my drugged-up biannual visits like they were trips to a spa.

Alternatively, if patients must be kept awake, let’s have dentists treat them like children. Stick with me here. I went to a dentist one time who was predominantly a children’s dentist, but took on a few adult patients. She treated me like a five year old and it was delightful! She would say, “Okay, Mr. James, I’m going to have you open big big big!” and I would do so and she’d go, “Good joooob!” Then she’d say, “Okay, Mr. James, time to spit!” and I would do so and she’d go, “Good jooob!” But the best part (and I swear this is true), is when she had to take an x-ray and gave me sunglasses to wear. She said, “Look at you! Mr. Cool!” And I was. I was Mr. Cool. The real reason why her treatment was welcome instead of intolerable is because she explained everything she was doing as she did it, thus making the whole process less foreign.

Enough with the x-rays. I understand why they need to be taken for the benefit of the dentist and hygienist, but why do they always have to show them to me? “And these are your teeth!” “Oh my god, you’ve really captured them. Can I keep this? I can’t wait to show this to my butt, he’ll be thrilled.” What do I care what my mouth bones look like? If anything, it’s unnerving to see oneself as a skeleton. You know what I want to see, though? That machine you have to go through in airport security now. The one that, if you are randomly selected for further screening, somehow takes a picture of the naked body beneath your clothes. You can choose it in lieu of a pat-down, and why wouldn’t you? If they don’t find a bomb strapped to my back or a grenade behind my scrote, why can’t I see the picture? It’s like having x-ray vision and they can’t share what they’re getting an eyeful of? No fair.

Let’s make the dentist work a little harder. Did you know dentists have the highest suicide rate of any profession? I guess it makes sense, insofar as nobody is ever happy to see you, and you have to undergo all the training of a doctor but don’t get the prestige or reputation. And nobody ever says, “Thank you, Dentist, for making me mouthbleed all over the place.” But darn it if those hygienists don’t have it harder. Looking in people’s gross mouths all day, relegated to doing all the annoying cleaning and scraping and lecturing. When a hygienist adopts that holier-than-thou tone to lecture me about my poor flossing ability, I just want to bite her hand off. But it’s not her fault, that’s the bulk of her job! Maybe on a hygienist’s birthday, he or she gets to come in, spend a few minutes chatting vaguely about your mouth problems and scheduling subsequent appointments, but then the dentist has to come in and do the grunt work. It’s only fair.

Finally, let’s be sure our Canadian coverage is extensive and comprehensive enough to lord it over other nations. When I was working a couple of part time jobs, and therefore exempt from any benefits, I just didn’t go. I’m lucky that nothing plagued me beyond plaque in those times between appointments. But I have a friend with a similar wisdom tooth malady who intends to wait until it becomes too painful to deal with, then get emergency care. That’s a rather unpleasant ticking clock. So I guess the next time I lean back and open wide for Dr. Baby’s soft touch, I ought to be grateful. Instead of sharing copious opinions about everything wrong with oral care, I should do my best, in spite of the circumstances, to keep my mouth shut.    

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Not Getting Married Today...

Hello Friends.

Here’s all I know about being cool: there is too much cachet in being contrary. Apparently, there’s nothing cool about enthusiasm or support, but it is the coolest thing to denigrate and dismiss. Oh, does everyone like Wes Anderson? Here’s why I HATE him! Is that show Girls good? No, it’s TERRIBLE! Is it supposed to get warmer out soon? I hope not, pleasant weather SUCKS ASS!

I bring up this trend because I’m definitely guilty of participating in it. If something gets too popular, I immediately grow suspicious of its appeal. Instead of thinking, “This many people can’t be wrong!” I think, “I can’t way to prove how wrong this many people are!” For instance, I’ll never understand that show How I Met Your Mother, but it gets huge ratings. Am I wrong for disliking this show, or is everyone else wrong for liking it? The truth is, of course, that there is no wrong or right, it comes down to personal preference.

With this preamble almost complete, I hope that anyone reading this entry will take the viewpoints herein as a difference of opinion and not a denigration or a dismissal of the beliefs and attitudes of others. I don’t mean to be contrary or deliberately “on the wrong side” of this topic just to stand out and/or be cool. I hold the following beliefs for myself only and my attitudes on this issue have no bearing on how I feel about you. I hope I’m being clear here.

Dream: Never get married.

Goal: Achievable. By some lucky roll of the dice, my partner of eight years shares my views on this topic. We love when other people get married. We love going to weddings. We love the speeches and the dancing and the emotion of it all. We just don’t want it for ourselves. But we might change our mind. Maybe a change in the political climate would mean that our rights as a common-law same sex couple would not be the same as a married same sex couple. If, by not being married, either Jon or I would have difficulty in terms of our legal rights, we’d get hitched tomorrow. If we lived in the US or ever have to move there for a professional opportunity or something, we’d want the legal recognition that comes with marriage there (in some states, anyway). But right now, as it stands, we’ll both settle for the “always a bridesmaid” label and here’s why:

Plan: Avoid taking part in the institution of marriage by articulating exactly why it doesn't work (for us! Doesn't work for us! For you, it quite possibly works perfectly). I would not like to get married because:

$. Weddings are so goddamned expensive. According to a survey in Weddingbells magazine (my favourite ‘zine next to Sleddingballs), the average cost of a wedding in Canada in 2013 is $32,358. That’s the down payment on a house! That’s a nice car! That’s a fresh pack of gum every single day for an entire life! I know your wedding was cheaper. I know there are great cost-cutting measures like getting your cousin to officiate and making a bouquet out of garbage, but you know the best money-saving tip there is for a wedding? Not having a wedding. The Doc makes good money, and I make… money, but putting so much of towards a ceremony that’s over in a day hardly seems prudent.

Tradition. I feel really shitty not leaping at the chance to get married as a gay person because so many people fought and are fighting so hard for my right to do so. As I’ve said, as it pertains to legal rights and security, I’m so absolutely thrilled that the option is available. But I think a few generations of gay weddings have to go by before there can truly be gay weddings. As it stands in western culture, so much of marriage is disappointingly archaic. A father symbolically giving a bride to a groom is so absolutely creepy, if you think about it. There’s something so, “she’s yours to take care of now!” about it. Why does the bride have to be “given away” at all? Maybe both parents should walk the bride and the groom to each other. Maybe parents should steer clear of the aisle entirely and the bride and groom can walk down it together! Why is there an aisle, anyway? Also important to note is that neither one of us is particularly religious nor are our families. We don’t feel incomplete without making a covenant before God or anything, but that feeling could change, too.

More troubling than the wedding ceremony traditions are the roles that marriage still carry in 2014. Being someone’s spouse seems to take away a certain autonomy to both parties. His reckless spending destroys her credit rating. Her car accident increases his deductible. What the hell is that about? And parenting without being married is still seen in many circles as raising a child at a deficit, but why? Again, I think what I’m circling back to is a gay issue. We just don’t have to deal with ancient gender stereotypes that don’t make any sense. Society places a pretty high premium on men and women uniting in marriage, but a man needs a husband like a fish needs a bicycle. There’s nothing Jon and I stand to gain by marrying each other that we don’t have already. If we were to wed, there’d only be one unique opportunity open to us that is currently denied us a couple:

Divorce. I couldn't bear to split up with Jon, but statistically, if we get married, there’s a 40 to 50% chance that we’ll get divorced in turn. It’s so weird and sad to know people my age who have already been through a marriage and the dissolution of that marriage. I know more separated or divorced people than I know married people. And I know this says more about the state of relationships than it does about marriage itself; if Jon and I are meant to ever part company, marriage is no more likely to keep us together in this day and age than the lack of a marriage. But let me ask the following question: If you had to get somewhere and your transportation options were a train that moved quickly but had a 40 percent change of derailing, or a bus that didn’t go as fast but gave you the opportunity to get off at every stop, how many of you would choose the train? Gimme the bus! When I meet couples who have been together for a long time and aren’t married to each other, part of me thinks, “Good for you guys!” For whatever reason, I get more of a sense that the couple want to be together than I do with a couple who has been married for the same amount of time. I’ve heard the argument that the covenant of marriage reinforces commitment to love and fidelity, which may be true, but if a piece of paper is the only thing keeping you in love and faithful, you have bigger issues in your relationship that need to be addressed.

I know I’m skirting around the main issue here, which is that people get married in spite of these roadblocks, knowing what they know about cost and divorce rates and antiquated tradition simply because they love each other that much and darn it, they just want to tie the knot. I love those kinds of weddings, the “let’s just have a good time! Let us be your hosts!” of it all. For this reason, Jon and I want to throw a big party someday; maybe for our ten year anniversary in 2016. A real shindig that says, “We love each other and you guys too!” Something that is uniquely our own and expresses just how lucky we feel to have found each other. And everyone will come (even you!) and we’ll celebrate how much fun it is to get another spin around the sun with great friends, family, and our most significant of others. Isn’t that the coolest thing of all?

PS. If I turn around and get married someday, everybody be cool and pretend I didn’t say any of this stuff.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

An Open Letter to Justin Bieber...

Hello Friends.

Look, I’m not any happier about this than you are. Like so many of you, I thought Justin would be gone by now! I expected him out of the news cycle, or at least replaced by a younger, babier-faced tween or bween (baby tween). But Bieber remains as topical as ever, though less for his music now than his antics. When a celebrity’s public persona generates more attention than his or her artistic output, problems can’t help but arise. For instance, I don’t know what Jennifer Aniston’s last movie was, but I did read a blurb yesterday saying that she had the gall to appear in public with her fiancĂ© on the SAME DAY that the poster for the new Angelina Jolie movie was released. The article actually insinuated that this was a calculated move on Aniston’s part, to earn more public attention than her ex-husband’s current wife. What a cunning, manipulative bitch. How dare she go out in public? Anyway, someone’s got to straighten out the Biebs, it may as well be me.

Dream: Get a letter to Justin Bieber.

Goal: Unachievable. To find my letter, Bieber’s poor PR team would have to sift through dozens of warehouses-full of sacks of letters from even bween in the bworld. I’m certain only a fraction of that mail makes to the right personal assistant, who edits further, and doubtlessly delivers only the most flattering letters to Justin’s hotel room, where they remain, unopened, on a desk, until they are thrown out by a long-suffered chambermaid. That said, there have to be a lot of former Beliebers out there who, through disappointment regarding his public persona, or simply aging out of the pop star bracket, know that he needs a talking to. If you are one of those people and you find this letter, trying forwarding it to him, won’t you?

Plan: Write as if JB is reading this missive, sitting alone in a big hotel room, waiting for something to happen.

Dear Justin Bieber,

First off, I want to make it clear that I’m neither a fan, nor a hater. I think you are often unfairly maligned, by men in particular, simply for existing in the world. You are a baby-faced pop star who has a ubiquitous presence on pop radio and teen culture, but why that should threaten and upset grown men so much is a mystery to me. I’m happy to say that for me, you are easily avoidable, save for the occasional Saturday Night Live appearance or awkward Letterman interview. But while I may not have any of your albums, I think I know the cloth from which you are cut. Take my counsel with a grain of salt, but I think I know the following things about you:

You’re bored. Who wouldn’t be bored, in your position? Because you have been so successful, you must be constantly touring and promoting your output of albums and merchandise, and you must be surrounded entirely by adults. You must hardly ever see friends from your childhood, and the friends you have made since all came with the baggage of knowing you before you knew them. That knowledge must give you the uneasy feeling that they expect something from you. That said, Justin, try to use this excess boredom constructively instead of buying a monkey, crashing a car, and being a dick. I know you can’t go outside and play, but what if you wrote down all your frustrations? Don’t edit them, don’t look for a pop hook, just get everything down on paper. Or find one of your tour musicians and ask them if you could learn at their feet. Find out where they studied (unbelievably, even to play repetitive pop music, sessional and touring musicians got where they are by mastering their craft, and probably had bigger dreams than ever your Luv2LuvUGirl Tour provided), and see what they can teach you about true musicianship. Alternatively, volunteer somewhere, and not for a photo op. Find out where the soup kitchen is on your next tour stop, show up with as little fanfare and entourage as possible, and volunteer to peel carrots in the back. On the face of it, this task won’t necessarily alleviate your boredom, but it will help put things into perspective.

You’re angry. I caught clips on you in a deposition video being terse and rude while someone twice your age and education level asked you some simple questions. And I get it, I’d be angry too if my freedom was taken away, my every move was scrutinized, and my closest friends and family were all on my payroll. The thing is, though, it’s nobody’s fault. From what I understand of your “origin story”, your mother took videos of you singing to send to your grandmother via a password-protected account and granny, being proud as she was, reposted them under a public account for her old lady friends to see. The boy singing without a trace of self-consciousness to his Mom and Gam-Gam was preternaturally talented to the extent that some friends showed other friends and they showed other friends and so on, and the boy became a viral sensation. Apparently, Usher and Justin Timberlake began a bidding war to sign you, and Usher won and offered you (or more accurately, your mother) a deal. I hope you don’t blame your mother for anything now or in retrospect, because to my knowledge, she was a single mom in Stratford, Ontario (alternately a tourist trap and a depressing pit of quaint). I’m sure worried about pushing you into a world you weren’t ready for, but who could have foreseen the megastar you’d become? Monetarily, you’ve provided for your mother in ways she couldn’t have done for you. That has to be weird. But that brings me to another point.

You’re ashamed (and not just for those dumb bangs you used to have). You feel guilty for complaining, because no one wants to hear the woe of poor little rich boy and because, superficially, all of your needs are met. But it has to be the strangest thing, knowing that so many people rely on you for their literal livelihood. If you walked away tomorrow, countless managers, assistants, musicians, dancers, concert promoters, merchandisers, lawyers, and monkeys would be out of a job. That’s too much for anyone to shoulder, let alone a slight if muscled bween.

Justin, I wish I knew what to tell you. Fame is something we can all speculate about, but no one knows what it’s like until he or she experiences it. Maybe that’s why so many famous people befriend and marry other famous people—they know what it’s like. But fame is fickle, and I wonder if your recent bad behaviour isn’t just your clever attempt at self-sabotage. Maybe if you’re smarmy, rude, willfully destructive, and ungrateful, everyone will treat you like the 5 year old throwing a tantrum and ignore you. That’s a fine idea, but a cursory overview of other child stars (Lindsay Lohan comes to mind) shows that fame becomes infamy quicker than a paparazzo’s camera flash, and you’ll have just as much attention as you ever did, for all the wrong reasons.

One time, I waited outside a posh Toronto hotel with two friends and a hundred bweens, all hoping to catch a glimpse of you. You never showed, but I wonder now if you heard the screams from your hotel room as adulation, or just noise. I wonder if you thought you were on the highest pedestal or a gilded cage. I wonder if you thought there was any way out of this, any way to push through the fans and the fame, any way to push beyond yourself and escape to somewhere real.

Your Friend,


Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Read All About It...

Hello Friends.

In a joint attempt to get out more and also be less of a selfish buttface, I’ve signed up for a volunteer program wherein I am paired with someone who wants to work on his or her literacy. We’ll go through books and little homework assignments together and I will help them to develop and hone their reading skills. I have yet to complete my nine hours of training, though I can’t imagine what that will entail (book opening? Page-turning?), yet I’m hoping they address what I see as a major issue: a supreme lack of cool books for illiterate or semi-literate adults.

Dream: Write children’s books for adults.

Goal: Achievable. And I don’t mean children’s books for adults in a stupid hipster way like, “See Jane. See Jane learn to love everyone in her community.” I get a real stick up my ass when adults consume things intended for children, I just think it makes us dumber. Disregard what I just said if you have kids. If you’re a Mom or Dad, I’m sure you’d rather watch a Disney Pixar thing with your little one because they try to put jokes in there for everybody. But, as I’ve said before, if you’re a grown-ass adult who goes to the movie theatre with your grown-ass adult partner and spend your hard-earned dollars on something called “The Croods”, you’re what’s wrong with society.

Rather, what I mean by children’s books for adults is books written in a simple, easy-to-understand way that is compelling for adult readers. I’ve heard, for example, that procedural tv shows like CSI are big for people trying to learn English. The formulaic nature of the episodes and the strong visual cues mean that it’s easy to follow the plot, even if you miss some of what the characters are saying. Likewise, I’ve heard that Kramer is what keeps Seinfeld successful in foreign markets. For such a verbose, neurotic show built on the minute subtleties of human behaviour, it’s the guy that crashes through doors and falls on his face that have more people around the world laughing at Seinfeld. There must be a way, then, to combine adult situations with more elementary syntax.

Plan: Write it myself. As far as I’m concerned, adult prose for early readers is an untapped market that I could dominate. Besides, the best writing to read is the stuff that doesn’t get all flowery and descriptive anyway. I know it’s the stylized writing that gets all the attention, but a good story and well-defined characters are even harder to convey than murky, complicated prose that shows off your smartishness. With that in mind, here are some passages I’ve been working on for my forthcoming literacy classes and proposals to publishers:

Dave’s Car

Dave has a car. He loves his car. It is big and loud. Dave’s car is on four big wheels. He drives to all the places. He honks his horn. His horn does not say “Beep beep!” Dave’s horn says “BRAAAP BRAAAP!” Dave drives all over the road. Dave says, “Look at my car.” Dave does not say, “Look at my genitals” because they are small. Dave is not secure about his small genitals. Dave wants a bigger car.

Hotel Room

Kip and Kate check into a hotel room. Kate fills a garbage pail with ice and puts beer in it. Kip says, “Why not use the ice bucket?” Kate says, “The garbage pail is bigger.” She is right. Kip turns on the TV. Kip selects the Adults Only menu on the TV. Kate says, “Kip! That is gross!” Kip says, “I am only looking because these are funny! Look at the funny titles of the films! 12 Years A Butt! Ha ha ha!” Kate says, “I’m starting to rethink this affair.” Kip sits up in bed, full of concern.

Body Murder

Inspector Lisa looks down at the body. She sees the blood on the body. She sees the wounds on the body. She sees the blue lips and slashed throat on the body. She says, “This is not a good body. This body has been murdered. This is body murder.” The opens her notepad and writes, “Body murder”, then she underlines the phrase. “This will be a tough case!” she thinks.

Cousin Tom

Cousin Tom is not my real cousin. He is the son of my Mom’s cousin. I don’t know what that makes him. He talks to me about baseball. I don’t know about baseball. He smells like cheese. The other day, I saw Cousin Tom at the store but I could not tell if he saw me. I hid behind grapes and prayed for death.


What the fuck, Starbucks?

The Horse

I wish I had a horse. I would ride my horse to work. If there was traffic, I would say, “Giddy-up” and my horse would trample all the cars. I would get to work on time. My boss would say, “You are on time always!” I would say “Yes” and smile. I would think, “Thanks, horse!” From my window, I would see Horse in the parking lot. He would text on his phone. Who does a horse text? I wish I had a horse.

Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad put in a movie. Mom says, “What is this movie about?” Dad says, “I don’t know.” Mom says, “But you picked it out.” Dad says, “I can’t remember. Debra Winger is in it.” Mom says, “Debra Winger is not in movies anymore. You are wrong.” Dad says, “How do you know?” Mom says, “It is common knowledge.” Movie plays for eight minutes of time. Mom falls asleep. Dad watches hockey.

Any one of these could turn into an exciting novel tomorrow! But reviewing my efforts, I see that they come across a little pedantic. What does an ESL student or recovering stroke victim care if I have a horse to ride to work? I’m actually really excited to do this program one or two nights a week. I can’t remember what it was like not knowing how to read, but I’m certainly grateful for the ability every day of my life. Reading is a sanctuary and an escape, and helps us find out how much salt is in breakfast cereal (surprisingly, a lot). I’m attracted to readers and love nothing more than trading a book knowing me and other person are about to be enraptured, literarily-speaking. I’ve been reading Canadian author Alan Bradley’s mystery series about a little girl in 1950s England who loves chemistry and solving crimes, and that was recommended to me by my friend Bradley. It’s not something I would normally pick up myself, which is why finding out that it’s excellent means I’m completely hooked. I’ve been reading them from my Kobo on my way to work and I hope to teach my charges that sometimes reading can be so exciting, so enthralling, so completely absorbing, that you sometimes forget to get off your horse.