20 April, 2014

In Defense of the F-Bomb

"Context is everything. Breastfeeding is beneficial to nearly all infants, but to an elderly cardiac patient it can be fatal..."-Spider Robinson

So Masai Ujiri, the general manager of the Toronto Raptors, said a word yesterday.

Actually, he said a whole bunch of them, but the world fixated on just one. That one word, which most of us first hear in kindergarten if not well before, set off a storm of controversy and could end up costing Ujiri significant coin.

"Who's all going to the game?". Ujiri asked a throng of Raptors fans as they partied outside the Air Canada Centre. And then, with his boss, Tim Leiweke right there, Ujiri yelled "FUCK BROOKLYN!"

And the crowd went wild...which is one of a few reasons Ujiri said what he did.

Make no mistake, this was calculated, the same way Justin Trudeau's use of the same word was calculated.

Swearing has several  mental,  physiological, and social  effects.. One, as anyone who has ever unexpectedly injured himself knows, is that it blunts pain. It's also a very effective form of non-violent retribution: swearing energetically at someone who has wronged you yields the same effects as punching him in the face, minus the assault charge.

In the link above we see this:

Swearing can be a way of showing that we really mean something or that it is really important to us. That's why swearing is so much a part of any sport. It also broadens our register and makes us more lively and interesting, being used, for example, to add emphasis or 'punch' to our speech.

That's what Ujiri was going for here. Whereas Trudeau's profanity was an example of

Peer and social bonding. Swearing can serve to show that we belong in a certain group, or that we are able to be ourselves and so wholly comfortable with the members of that group. If done correctly, it can also signal that we are open, honest, self-deprecating, easygoing, and barrel loads of fun.

Stephen Harper criticized Tradeau and said his words showed "a lack of judgment". Given the crowd's response to Trudeau's words was quite similar to the response Ujiri got, I'd suggest Trudeau's judgment was spot-on, and so was Ujiri's.

I would have been seven or so the time I got my mouth washed out with soap for telling a neighbour kid to fuck off, not knowing my mother was standing right behind me at the time. The taste of the soap almost made me say fuck again. (If you say fuck while getting your mouth washed out with soap for saying fuck, what's the punishment for that? Chocolate? Or Drano?)

Those who would suggest that swearing is proof of nothing more than a poor vocabulary should note that context is everything. There are times when swearing is wholly appropriate and even vital, and if you argue otherwise, the weight of history shows you're wrong. Swearing is not new. I bet Mr. Cro-Magnon had a grunted equivalent of "fuck" to employ when he cut himself on his flint. Pompeii had an awful lot of bawdy graffiti. And today, in some places, the word 'fucking' only serves as warning of an impending noun. One of those places, interestingly enough, is Brooklyn, New York.

Nor are our swear words universal, not by a long shot. Go across the pond and you'll learn very quickly not to flinch when you're called a 'feckin' cunt'...it's a term of endearment more often than not. (Whereas the word 'bloody'. which is on a par with 'darn' or 'heck' here, still has some power to shock.) There's also this common Middle Ages street name...people look at me with disbelief when I inform them that "the c-word" was once common and accepted. I tell you, swearing has a long and proud history and it's nothing to be ashamed of, used properly and in context.

If you think I'm building a defence for little kids to swear their fool heads off, you're reading me wrong and should start over. Context, context. Just as there are times when swearing is useful and appropriate, there are times when it certainly is not. Obscenities directed at an individual are not okay--I don't care if you're four or forty, calling someone a fucking idiot is fucking idiotic. Civility, which is a hallmark of civilization, means a civil tongue. I believe teaching kids not to swear is pointless (what kid ever heard 'don't do x' and never did x again? They told me my palms would grow hair. I figured that'd just  make it feel even better.) Teaching kids WHEN to swear, and when not to, is important.

Personally, I'm never offended by a cuss word in and of itself, although I've been very offended by its tone and intent. I don't think Ujiri's use of the "f-bomb" should be held against him.

16 April, 2014

For Nicole: Thought Is Creative

"Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny."--Mahatma Gandhi

My friend Nicole asks me "how thoughts/attitudes/beliefs affect the physical." This is a topic that's near and dear to my heart as I seek to unite science and spirituality in my own little way. It's something that every spiritual book I have ever read gets around to saying sooner or later.
The Christian Bible gets around to saying it right quickly, as it claims we are made in the image and likeness of God the Creator.
It's worth quoting this verse (Gen. 1:27) entire: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." (KJV). I find it very telling that the only definition of what it means to be in the image of God that we're given here is 'male AND female'. There you go, barely into Genesis and we've already determined that the Christian God can't be confined to one gender and one role.
For Christians, this "made in the image of God" business is a double-edged sword. It cuts clean through doubts of self-worth, but it also can very easily be read as 'Thou art God'...which is a blasphemy (albeit a blasphemy I personally happen to believe)...watch this video to see why.

But what, exactly, does it mean?

I'd suggest that it means, above all, that we are creators. That stands as a functional definition of what it is to be human: all of us, instinctively, create in some way. You can discard God in any form and still come to that conclusion. We're makers. It's what we do, because it's who we are. But do we creating by doing, or by thinking?


What we consciously think about, we tend to create much more easily. Whether it's a musical composition or a new house, it requires the whole brain: conscious thought plus subconscious effort.

Remove the thought and you get instinctive creations. These can be anything, and they come directly from your default state of mind. Live your life full of love, and you'll see and create love everywhere you go. Live your life full of fear, and that's what you'll see and create. In either case, it's because you're only using the material you have to work with. What you see determines who you'll be, to be sure...but also: what you be determines what you see. Seeing is believing? No: often we see things we don't, or can't believe. Believing is seeing.

There are some people, as Nicole notes, who believe that thought has no effect on anything material. This, then, of course, is their experience. I choose to believe otherwise. Because I play with language, I notice that our language puts the lie to that belief. Think about it: if you are crying, someone is very likely to come to you and ask


There are other people who claim to be able to move things with the power of thought alone.

Personally, I believe in  telekinesis the same way I believe in ghosts: barely. I suspect that nearly every recorded instance of both phenomena is either sleight of hand or explainable some other way. But only nearly. I suspect--can't prove, of course, or I'd be in line for a Nobel, but suspect--that telekinesis and other such 'paranormal' abilities do exist among a select few. Why do I believe this? Because thought is energy. I suspect that it's possible to harness the energy behind a concentrated thought. Is it easy? Hell, no, and it's a good thing it isn't, or our world would be hopelessly chaotic. But possible? Yes, I believe it is.

Belief is a very powerful thing. I can think of no proof of this more convincing than the placebo effect. You give somebody nothing, but convince them you gave them something, and the odds are pretty damned good the nothing will have similar effects to the something. (I particularly love how this site asks 'Placebos: Are they real, or all in your head?" As if there's a difference.

This brings me to prayer. Now prayer  is one of those things that necessarily sharply divides the atheist from the religious. The atheist is apt to say something like "pray into one hand and piss into the other and see which one fills up faster". Having no belief in the power of prayer means by definition that prayers won't work for or on such a person. To the extent that science is able to study prayer, it has been shown to have AT BEST no effect.

This doesn't surprise me, since it's my contention that most people don't pray properly.

I was taught in my Christian days that the only acceptable prayer is one of gratitude. This is not the kind of thing you usually hear, of course, amongst people petitioning their God for some desired outcome. But it only stands to reason that if thought produces experience, the thought "I want...." will produce exactly that in your experience....wanting! Whereas thanking God--and if you're not comfortable with that, substitute 'Life' or 'The Universe' or any other all-encompassing concept--means you recognize you 'want' nothing...and that's a very powerful place to be in life.

If you want money, the way to get it is to realize you already have it. What's the best way to realize that? By giving it away. It sounds counterintuitive, to be sure, but there's always somebody poorer than you, and by making him richer you notice that you had that money to give. Do that often enough and it becomes a habit. Think of yourself as rich, and guess what? You'll actually be rich.

If you want love, give love away and you'll get it. It really is simple like that. Simple...but not easy. Because the same thing holds true for negative emotions, and many of us have a real attachment to those. whether we realize it or not. Also, as Carl Jung noted, "what you resist persists". That's another way of seeing that gratitude will go a lot further than supplication.

The cynical way to phrase this is 'fake it until you make it'. I'd suggest that 'faking it' is not an option, unless you are able to fake it with such sincerity that you're completely unaware you're faking it at all (in which case, of course, you're not!)

For Craig: The Decline of The Arts in Education

Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.--Plato

"Earth without art is just...eh"--anonymous


I've been writing about myself for far too long. I've bored the snot out of myself, and if that's the case, I shudder to think what I've done to you, dear reader.
Time for a break and a weightier topic.

My call for blog topics on Facebook produced an outpouring of good ideas. Some of them I'm not qualified to tackle, others (like my niece) I simply need to research more (Ally: soon, hopefully, okay?)

My friend Craig wanted to hear some things on the decline of the arts in schools. I suspect he was thinking primarily of music, and if so I wouldn't blame him: he is one of comparatively few in the world talented enough to be making a living off that art. As it so happens, music is something I cherish myself: I possess a small musical talent and it means a lot to me. That said, while this entry will  focus on music, much of what I'm going to say applies to other arts as well, be they theatrical or of the cut-and-paste variety. And while I'm not the one to write a paean to sport and physical activity in education, I'm quite sure many of my readers could, and should.

In fact, I firmly believe that the 3 R's we hear so much about--only one of which actually starts with R-- really aren't the end-all and be-all of an education. Or at least they shouldn't be. They're trivial, really...doubtless they're important life skills, but they should be taught in the service of everything else.
Current thinking is that there are seven intelligences, not one. They include:


Education is routinely being repurposed, refocused, and stripped of everything that isn't reading, writing and 'rithmetic...which might produce linguistic and mathematical geniuses, but last I looked that's two forms of intelligence out of seven. Stupid people, in other words.

Let's pretend first of all that there is no intrinsic benefit to music (or art) class, that "all" these classes are is a break from math and reading. Of course this is patently false, but let's pretend anyway, because many parents seem to believe it's true.
Ever seen a real tear-jerker of a movie...or at least a very serious drama, or even a horror movie? All three are likely to have moments of comedy in them. Maybe not many, but they're usually there. Why? To lighten the mood, sure...but also to keep viewers interested, Few people can stand a steady diet of nothing but seriousness.
The same holds true in school. Especially if academics isn't your strong suit, you need opportunities to express yourself in other ways, be they arts or sports....else you're likely to drop out.
And let's face it. Even people who are academic whizzes are probably more likely to remember their extracurricular activities more fondly than their lessons. I know I do.

But music is so much more than a break from the drudgery of multiplication tables (wait a minute, they don't have those anymore, either) and writing exercises. From the standpoint of those multiple intelligences, music fosters (of course) a musical intelligence, but also an interpersonal intelligence. This for a couple of reasons: one, performance in a band or choir, for instance, fosters a sense of teamwork and camaraderie; two, it is not only possible, but inevitable, to learn deeply of a culture or an individual from exposure to that culture or individual's music. This means empathy, which is to my mind the most important skill any student can hope to gain from an education. It also means historical knowledge. For instance, an ardent lover of music can write you a decent paper comparing and contrasting European culture ca. 1722 with that ca. 1872...without having been exposed to anything other than the music of both time periods. Don't believe me? Listen to this, from 1722...and then this, also written for keyboard, from 1872, and draw your own conclusions.

Music does things that other subjects can't do, or can do but poorly. Consider falling in love. Chances are very good that there's a song or songs you hear that bring your beloved to mind instantly. Can't resist the personal here: Eva's got at least ten, and if you consider me a close friend, I guarantee you have at least one.) Can math do that?

...not really.Can words do it? I can spend a lifetime saying loving words to Eva and only get the ones on top...and I've said recently to a dear friend that there really aren't words to describe our friendship..."Friendship" itself is just pitifully inadequate, but the only step up from there is "lover", and that's not right, either.  But I can say in music what words and equations can't.

And if that isn't enough, instruction in music has been shown to increase abstract and spatial-temporal reasoning; enhance aural, visual, memory and language skills; and develop quick and decisive thinking (Johnson, 2004*)

Consider, too, how much discipline it takes to learn an instrument. Ask my friend Craig: it's considerably more demanding than the toughest quadratic equation or spelling test. That kind of self-discipline will serve a music student well in all areas of her life.

Before I go any further, I should mention that we're living through a kind of existential crisis right now. You don't have to go far to find someone bemoaning the rise in stupidity, and even of stupidity-as-virtue, in the world today... Idiocracy as straight documentary. Our politics have devolved into people calling each other stupid. Jackass is a thing. Kids seem incapable of putting together, much less writing, a coherent sentence; Facebook--a public forum all but unimaginable as little as twenty years ago--is riddled with grammar errors I was taught not to make ins second grade, and it seems like they go unnoticed most of the time. In short, the world is moronic and getting more so.

Or is it? The same TV set that brings you such fare as Big Brother's 16th season (Lord have mercy) also brings you Game of Thrones, Veep, Breaking Bad, Mad Men and a slew of other engaging, highly intelligent and complicated serial dramas; the re-emergence of Cosmos (on Fox, of all places!) to say nothing of the biting satire that skewers the nightly network news. The same kids who can't seem to type a coherent sentence spend more time reading than at any time in history, and have developed skills their parents would envy if they could recognize them as skills. (YOU try holding four text conversations simultaneously while watching TV.)
Indeed, kids today seem worlds more intelligent than I was at their age. Not just one kid (though that  niece of mine is pretty damn smart)...every child I'm acquainted with from the age of two on up is smarter and more engaged with the world than I was (and I was by no means an idiot).  Is it just that I have a bunch of smart friends who are great parents? That's undoubtedly part of it, but probably not all of it. The educational system isn't where it needs to be, but it's better than it was. Bullying, by all reports, is down significantly. Students are being groomed to care for the world in a way that my generation simply wasn't.  It's not all bad. It might not even be mostly bad.

To be sure, schooling has come a long way. But there's still so much to do, and many concerns. One of which is that arts funding and participation is declining.

This document (pdf) shows what you would expect: that students in Toronto stand a much higher chance of having a specialized music teacher than schools in Northern Ontario. It also shows that the number of music teachers is dropping, province-wide. Schools are increasingly losing their band and choir programs, especially at the elementary level.

Given everything I've argued above, I'd suggest that needs to change. We owe our children a well-rounded education that concentrates not just on their minds, but also on their bodies...and their spirits.

*Johnson, Jr., Bob L., (2004). A sound education for all: Multicultural issues in music education.Educational Policy; 18 (1), 116-141.

12 April, 2014

Oh, what a feeling

My social calendar is actually more full right now than it has been at any time in my entire life.

I'm feeling a whole lot of emotion at this realization. Mostly happiness, of course...actually a kind of acute happiness that borders on pain and is probably very hard for you social butterflies to understand. Last entry I wrote about two dear friends I saw last week (and I missed them both as soon as they were out of sight)...now I get to see three other friends in the next week. Two are co-workers and the third was a co-worker twenty years ago. All three are women I care quite a lot about (and so is Kate, of course), and so it behooves me to thank and extol my wife Eva, the woman of a thousand virtues.

The one I'd like to single out here is her trust in me. Never mind that my 'girl friends' are simply friends who are girls; no matter that two of them are married, one is partnered and I know very well how all four of them do and more pertinently don't feel about me, Many, if not most wives would not allow their husbands unfettered and unchaperoned access to other women. It would put me in a bind if Eva was many or most wives, because for some strange reason I've always gotten along better with women than with men.

To be sure, I've earned that trust. Since marrying my wife, I have rarely felt more than a fleeting sexual attraction to anyone else. Rarely; for all my protestation, I'm human and male and there have been a couple of intense attractions over the last fifteen years. But cheating? I left that behind long, long ago. Such a purely selfish act, that is, and it almost never works out in real life like you think it will in your fantasies. Take it from somebody who's been there. The person you cheat with is usually a pale imitation of the person you're cheating on (and if that isn't the case, you don't belong with the person you're cheating on anyway and you should leave her before you betray her.)  Having experienced the bitter, bitter aftermath of an affair not once but twice, I was stunned I didn't see it coming (especially the second time--really, Ken, how stupid can you be?) But really, to anybody thinking of a fling--think past the orgasm, okay?

Even though I've never given Eva any reason to distrust me,  I still appreciate her trust. More than she probably knows.

Anyway, I feel all this happiness, and a touch of incredulity I'll probably never lose, a rotten revenant of my years without self-esteem. A very small (and even now, sometimes, not so small) voice inside me whispers that I'm not worth such wonderful friends, or any friends at all. A part of me is--well, "scared" is probably an overstatement, call it a touch of anxiety at just how different this is for me. Wonderfully different...but different. I haven't been friendless since fifth grade, but usually my friends either live far enough away that seeing them is rare...or in the case of friends who live close by, they've often been 'school friends' or 'work friends' and they certainly wouldn't, say, come to my house, nor would I go to theirs. That's been the pattern, with very few exceptions, for my entire life....so much so that being invited to someone's place used to provoke a tear or two. I know how strange that sounds. I'm not crying for joy now, to be sure--for God's sake, I'm past forty--but again, that little boy inside is quivering a little. I work nights, straight nights, and the day people I miss actually seem to miss me too. Wow.

Oh, what a feeling.

06 April, 2014

A Thank You To My Friends

Warning: here be gushy mushy feelings in abundance

This has a weekend to remember and cherish.
Eva's been away on business all week. This is the second time in a couple of months, and as always I've missed her dearly. I'm very grateful she's getting the opportunities to learn so much, and a little envious these opportunities always seem to be located in warm, touristy areas (especially this winter...who couldn't use a week in Orlando along about now, even if much of it's spent in a classroom?)

Solitude and loneliness are two sides of the same coin, and someone who feels as deeply as I do can be deeply appreciative of...well, both, actually. The solitude goes without saying: I'm an introvert and a bit of a loner and mildly to sharply uneasy in the hustle and bustle of social situations unless I'm with a select few people (Eva at the top of that short list) who make me feel comfortable. And loneliness? I spent much of the first two decades of my life practically drowning in it before I even knew what it was. When I feel it now, it's always accompanied by the soothing feeling that this too shall pass.

It passed sooner than it would have thanks to two people I am proud and honoured to call friends. They're also two people who are inextricably linked in my mind, even though they don't know each other at all. Read on as this post is commencing to ramble.

Kate is a woman of heart and mind and it detracts nothing from my love for my wife  to say I love her. (You can keep the 'have your Kate and Eva, too' puns to yourself, thank you very much.)  Craig, meanwhile, you know about--I just saw him a couple of weeks ago playing trumpet in a production of Cabaret. He's an old friend and a good one...that's most of what he and Kate have in common. That and they live in London, where I grew up and (quite honestly) where I sometimes wish I still lived. That city has gone downhill since I moved away in 1989...but most of my friends are still there.

Eva and I first actually met Kate and her partner a year and a half ago, on the same evening we attending Craig's wedding reception. Since then, we've seen neither of them near often enough. This is going to change. I'm just happy I got to see both of them this weekend...

Kate came up on Saturday. Our dogs and cats promptly fell in love with her (Well, Peach had to bark at her for a while first, but later on, she was actually cuddling Kate in a way I don't think I've seen her manage with anyone else besides Eva.)  Before long a big puppy/kitty pile had formed and peace and contentment reigned supreme. A nice dinner was had (still can't get over the fact I like (some) Thai food). Wish you could have stayed longer, Kate, but we're all glad you came. Thank you. *hug*

And today, the third  (or is it fourth?) annual baseball game with Craig. And for the first time, his son Angus came along, which was a real pleasure.  Usually it's the Chicago White Sox in town, but Craig called me a while back and said he had opening weekend tickets versus the Yanks and I had right of first refusal. Like I'd refuse that. I'm not near as much of a baseball fan as Craig is, but you don't turn down a chance to see Derek Jeter on his farewell tour. Quite  possibly the best shortstop the game has ever seen.
The Jays lost, but at least they made it interesting.

Good times, good friends. I feel good. And Eva's coming home several hours earlier than she was originally going to, which is even better.

03 April, 2014

Thoughts on the resignation of Brendan Eich

I cheered.

Then the cheer faltered a little, stuttered, and died in my throat and I thought, did I just feel schadenfreude?

Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich has stepped down after his anti-gay stance was exposed and went viral..

The dating site OKCupid, upon determining you'd reached it using Firefox, helpfully put this up on your screen (click to embiggen:)

And I thought, this is great, but it's just one site. The entire Internet should do this, each and every page of it.

Not a day later, the CEO steps down. As George Takei noted, "Corporations: Sure, you're free to support bigotry. Just be prepared to face the music.

And the band played on...

I predict a shrill chorus of "help, I'm being oppressed!" from certain quarters as this news makes its way around. There will be columns penned about thoughtcrime and how there's no freedom of speech or religion any more. Some people will defiantly 'come out', so to speak, in favour of 'traditional values' and be declared heroes among their fellow bigots.

Christians in particular have been saying for years now that 'yes, it's okay to be gay, but don't act gay, that's a sin.' Well, for values of Christianity that include denial of rights to gayfolk--not all do, by any means--I tell you this: it's okay to be 'Christian', just don't act Christian, that's a sin.

The thing that really irks me about this whole controversy is this: Not one person has ever been able to explain to me how extending marriage rights to homosexual persons harms (a) those persons or (b) any other persons. I've asked, and I'll ask again here, and believe me, I'm listening with open ears and a mind as open as I can make it. I want to know what's being taken from heterosexual couples so that gay couples can wed and be happy together. I want to know denial of human rights is so important to so many people who call themselves Christian. How are you affected if Jack and Gil down the road get married?

Mr. Eich is unrepentant about his beliefs, and he seems to think, even as he resigns, that they'd have had no bearing on his actions as CEO of a company that claims to be all about openness and inclusivity. This is clearly nonsense: people's religious beliefs, to the extent they hold them, inform every action they undertake. Indeed, Mr. Eich donated money in the past to a campaign to actively destroy the rights of gay people. In Christian parlance, "ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" (Mt 7:16)
Eich claims his donation to Prop 8 is not "evidence of animosity" towards gay people. What, then, is it? This, too, reminds me uncomfortably of Christian tenets I've heard over and over: "love the sinner, hate the sin"--which is all well and good until the "sin" is something intrinsic to your very being!

Any time I ask what a CEO is actually for, one of the first things I'm told is that a CEO sets and embodies the values of his or her organization. By empowering Brendan Eich, Mozilla is empowering values that are inimical to its vision of equality for all. As the linked article above puts it,

By financially supporting a cause that said I do not view these people as deserving of all the same rights I have, and acting appalled when people were vocally upset about it, Mr. Eich was not taking responsibility for anything.

That shadenfreude I feel, the happiness at another's pain? I don't think it's shadenfreude when the pain is (a) deserved and (b) self-inflicted.

31 March, 2014

Looking Back (III) The Joke That Wasn't Pinned On Me, Thank God

As published April 2nd, 2006

Spring forward, and lose all your clothing.

Hey, everybody! How's about an hour's less sleep?
April Fool's!
What? You thought I was April Fooling you? Well, April Fool's allover that!

When I worked for 7-Eleven, I was always scheduled every 'spring forward' night. I used to dread every night shift...my store was surrounded by bars catering to the student crowd, and students, as a rule, drink to excess on nights ending in "y". Thursdays through Saturdays were the worst, as even the poorest students scrounged up enough money to intoxicate themselves on those nights. And of course, special occasions like New Year's Eve, Octoberfest, Hallowe'en (and its attendant Devil's Night), the return of the swallows to Capistrano, any of those and a dozen more would provoke an orgy of casual shoplifting and bring threats of violence or vandalism.
But 'spring forward' night was unique, its own special breed of hell.

Drunken louts aside, the actual job of working a night shift at a 7-Eleven store was much more demanding than you'd imagine. On most nights you were on your own, and the list of things to be cleaned ran to twice the length of the store. Some of these things--Slurpee machines, Cafe Cooler machines--required disassembly and thorough scrubbing/sanitizing in the back room. The cooler would need stocking at least twice on busy nights. There was a cornucopia of baked goods to prepare. The coffee was supposed to be dumped and remade every ten minutes...I can pretty much assure you that never happened, not when you'd be lucky to sell one cup of coffee between 11:00 and about 4:45.
Everything in the store used to have to be counted once a week for ordering purposes, and night shift had its share. Separate to that was the counting and ordering of sandwiches, burgers, also supplies. Then you'd have to do the milk order at some point...the Coke order...the Pepsi order...the Nestle order. And I've barely scratched the surface. Customers? We doan need no steenkin customers!
I dreaded the arrival, every April like, uh, clockwork, of the night when I had to forfeit an hour and still complete the list. Corners would have to be cut, and for most of those years my boss was a woman who simply would not accept corner-cutting. I'd hope like hell on these nights that a huge wind would come up out of nowhere and sweep my lot clean for me, saving me half an hour amongst the litter of cigarette butts, discarded fast food wrappers (very little of it from our store) and broken beer bottles.

Now, of course, I'm back to working days, and my clock-forward angst has been reduced to a bitter memory. The most onerous task we have now is changing all the fricking clocks in here. Invariably we forget one of them; just as invariably we forget how to change one of them--usually the one in the car. One year I just let the car clock show the wrong time for six months. Our car became a time machine, existing one hour in the past. Hell, the VCR in the bedroom just came into phase with the real time, after six months of being an hour ahead. It didn't matter: there were three other clocks in the room.
Everything these days has a clock attached to it. A rough count in this house yields no fewer than twenty three timepieces, only a few of which are smart enough to change themselves over to Daylight Savings and back. That's almost five clocks apiece for me, my wife, our dog, and our two cats. Total overkill. And guess what? Given large amounts of money, I'd like nothing better than to add to the collection. Only I wouldn't bother with one more electronic device irradiating the night with glowy green digits. You can damn near read a book at midnight in our kitchen as it is. No, I'd get a grandfather clock, a cuckoo clock...a seven-day clock...any handmade clock with character or quirkiness.
Ever seen a Kit Kat Clock? No, it's not a clock in the shape of a chocolate bar. It's shaped just like a little kitten. Its tail wags like a pendulum and its eyes go back and forth every second, and I think it's adorable. I saw it in Stratford a few years ago and instantly adopted a kittenish begging posture. Please? I mewed at Eva. She looked at me as if I had lost my mind. See, I thought this thing was kitschy, as in 'kitschy-kitschy coo". My wife thought the Kit Kat Clock was the Icreepiest thing she'd ever seen. She stared down my miaowing and announced that I could get that clock so long as I got a divorce first.
Sigh. This from the same woman who proudly displays a picture of a cat-burger. That's right: not a cat burglar: a cat burger... a picture of a hamburger with all the fixings, just one of which is an orange tabby. Oh, well. One of the things that everyone learns as their marriage grows is that their spouse is not only freakier than they had supposed, but freakier than they can suppose.

Where was I going with this post? I have no idea.

April Fool's. Despite having inherited some of my father's legendary aptitude for practical jokery, I never was much for this. There's no fun in punking people on a day when they're expecting it.
The best April Fool's joke ever played on me came in my second year of university. I came home after pulling an all-nighter in the library to find my entire wardrobe missing. Very funny, guys, I thought. Okay, I'll bite: where the hell did you hide my clothes?
"We put them in green garbage bags..." said one housemate.
"...and I put them out in the shed, " said another.
So, like a schlemiel, I gallumphed out to the shed.
No clothes.
Back in I went. Yeah--guys...ha, ha, April Fool's and all that...so where are they, really?
"I put them in the shed!" Indignant.
"Well, they're not there now."
"Of course they are...big green Glad bags, three of them. I put them out there a couple of hours ago."
Then it dawned on me.
Garbage day.
Today was garbage day.
The chore list said it was Mario's turn to put out the trash. Housemate number three...the one I hadn't seen yet...the one who had pulled his own all-nighter last night, came home, done his trashly duty, and gone to bed.
And of course the fucking garbage truck had picked this day to do our street first. Our entire street was free of garbage, and I was left with the clothes I was wearing. If I looked really hard, I might find a spare sock under my bed.
I went downstairs and pounded on Mario's bedroom door.
"Mario! Sorry to wake you, man, but did you take out the garbage?"
"Yeah! What the fuck? Let me sleep!"
"Were there three big green Glad bags?"
He sounded a little more awake now. "Yeah. Why? What was in there?"
"Oh, nothing, just ALL MY FUCKING CLOTHES!!!"
His door opened, and he clenched his eyes against either the sunlight or my own harsh glare.
"Oh, shit, sorry, man, I didn't look at the stuff, I just put it out!" What the fuck were your clothes doing in the garbage?"
"It's April Fool's Day! These assholes" -- I pointed at my housemates, who looked woebegone -- "decided to play a little joke on me! They took all my clothes and put them in garbage bags and put them out in the shed and you put them out to the curb and now they're gone and...you FUCKING ASSHOLES! That's, like, a thousand bucks worth of clothing!"
I stomped upstairs, lost in a red haze. This was the thing about practical jokes: sometimes they backfired. Sometimes they went a lot further than they were supposed to. And damn it, I had no clothes!
"Where the fuck's the phone book?"
"Right here", said one of the assholes. I couldn't believe he had the balls to still be in here. I felt like killing him.
I called City Hall, explained the situation, and asked them if I was as screwed as I thought I was.
The guy on the other end of the phone line snickered at me. I clenched my fists and thought really hard about teleporting through the phone line and strangling him.
"Are you sure your room-mates threw out your clothes?"
"YES I'M SURE!" I fumed.
"Well, they're gone," he said. "You might want to think about calling a lawyer."
Funny, I'd already thought of that.
I had a shower, got back into my only set of clothes, and trudged off to class. When I came home later that morning and opened the door to my bedroom, I beheld three large green Glad bags full of my clothes. Turned out everybody had been in on this. Mario had hid the bags in his closet the whole time.
April Fool's.

I got them back, though...or rather, I got the ringleader back. And my practical joke actually did backfire. It went a lot further than I had intended. In fact, I honestly believe my target would have cheerfully killed me had he ever so much as suspected me...


Rereading this, it occurs to me I never did tell what it was I did in revenge. 
One of my housemates--his dad actually owned the place, and I think he might own it himself now--was an Italian kid who used to get mortally offended at my love of Kraft Dinner. He was also the biggest homophobe I ever met in my life. I mean, this guy would have been right there with Fred Phelps.  It seemed to me that such over-the-top hatred was just ripe for mockery.
So several weeks after my clothes vanished and then reappeared, my girlfriend at the time and I, we went porn shopping. The store down the road had a wide selection of pornographic magazines. I had never had occasion to browse, let alone purchase, any of the gay porn, but browse and purchase we did that day. In bulk.
Then we had a gay old time (ha-ha) cutting and pasting. We must have snipped twenty or thirty pics from various magazines. We even framed a close-up shot of a particularly large penis. A few of the mags were left whole, the better to put under (and on) his bed.

Carm was usually diligent about locking his bedroom door, but bedroom door locks can be defeated with bobby pins, of the sort my girlfriend usually carried. This of course is (ahem) illegal...but since my clothes had been safely (!) ensconced behind a locked bedroom door, it really didn't seem to matter overmuch.

Well, the framed penis was tacked up over his bed...it really did look quite ravishing up there, if the angle of your dangle was right for that sort of thing, of course. The rest of the smut was scattered come-hither and yon. And then we closed the door and waited for Carm to come home.

With his girlfriend.

AND his parents.

This would have been okay except Carm, for some bedevilled reason, had to bring everybody up to his bedroom. 

I am a klutz and I have done stupid things and I am INTIMATELY familiar with the sort of horror that first dawns, then grows, then suffuses everything as you realize events are spiralling completely out of your control. Never have I felt that horror so acutely than I did watching the whole fam-damily troop up those stairs. In this case there wasn't a thing I can say or do without bringing hell down upon me.

The roar that came out of that boy was not human. It was ursine, Lovecraftian, something out of time and space. He stampeded down the stairs and I swear he had murder in his eyes. He confronted everybody in the house in turn. I denied any wrongdoing, and I did it with a straight face. While I am known for being completely see-through--I have never played poker, because there is just no point--on that occasion, at least, I successfully told several barefaced lies out of sheer self-preservation. 

It's been more than twenty years. I hope the statute of limitations applies. 

Creature of the Night

It's nearly two in the morning as I write this. The house is not as still as you might think:  Eva's sleeping upstairs, having set her alarm clock (me) to six a.m. In the basement, a load of clothes is sudsing away in the washer and another is tumbling around in the dryer, with a third in a basket waiting the all clear to come upstairs (six a.m., remember?)
Peach is asprawl on the couch; Tux is within petting distance of me (or probably more pertinently, within easy grabbing distance of any of my lunch that might chance to drop his way.) The cats are wherever cats go between bouts of mindless frantic running all over the house. Oh, there's Mooch now, looking for love in all the Daddy-places. Bubbles cares not for love....Bubbles cares not for naught but Bubbles.
And I? I'm listening to Godowski's improvements on Chopin's ├ętudes, played by Marc-Andre Hamelin. I've completed a French essay and I'm reading, between distractions, a long article in the weekend Globe and Mail about distractions.  There's one more load of laundry to go (I hate laundry month) and a load of dishes to run through as well. Given the ridiculous hydro rates in Ontario (which are actually beginning to spawn protests), the chance to do all this laundry and run the dishwasher in 'off-peak' hours is a nice perk of my new schedule.

The solitude is lovely. The loneliness, not so much.

I shouldn't really complain. I'm not the only person working this infernal schedule and some have it much worse than me. But there are things I doubt you daywalkers are aware of. For instance: technically, unless I ask for one, I never have a day off anymore. Yes, I'm not at work right now, but I worked the first six hours of yesterday and I work at ten p.m. today.  The other thing is that unless Eva decides to have a morning nap--or I do, before my lunchtime--I never get to sleep with my wife any more.

I had foolishly thought this schedule might give me a social life. Before, I was going to bed right about the time most people were gearing up to go out. Now, I'm gearing up myself...to go to work. Except on Tuesday (when I have French class) and Sunday ("we asked one hundred people, 'what night of the week is reserved for fun?' 'Sunday!' 'Survey says: BZZZZZT!'")

I went to bed early yesterday -- before 9 a.m.--and slept until almost seven, which is incredible. The funny thing is, each sleep has followed the same pattern: I've awoken  three or four hours in, absolutely resisted the temptation to leave bed for anything other than the most pressing excretory reasons--and then laid there, unthinking, trying to sleep. At some point I'll look over at the clock and four (or today, almost six) hours has gone by, so obviously I've slept. But even today, it didn't really feel like it. After a week of such non-restorative slumbers you can start to understand why it was Michael Jackson took the pills he took.

First world problems, to be sure. I have a job I'm reasonably happy at, and the actual shift is a joy, now that I have a pair of wireless headphones and the license to wear them once the store is closed an hour into my day. I miss my workmates, though. Some of them quite a lot.

'Leave all thoughts of the world you knew before!'

I don't think I can. I may work nights, but I may never be a creature of the night...

24 March, 2014

Like This! It's For Breast Cancer!

So there's a couple of trends going around Facebook right now that I really need to comment on at some length. Both of them ostensibly have something to do with breast cancer, although I can't think what.
A work colleague got me today with one of those bait-and-switch status updates. If you've been on Facebook any length of time, you've probably seen at least one of these things. The person puts something in their status that's guaranteed to elicit some kind of reaction amongst his/her friends, something like "the damn condom broke last night and I think I might be pregnant" or "has anybody got a remedy for excessive flatulence"...you know, like that. Then when you like or comment, you get a private message telling you that you now have to perpetuate the meme.

I played along with one of these things a few months back--'haha, you got the riddle wrong, now you're a giraffe'--and I'm sorry, once was enough. What really irked me about this particular iteration was, well, a couple of things, really.

One, I fell for it. Somebody tells the world on Facebook that they think they're in love and they don't know what to do, and I immediately think of what seems like dozens of people who have come to me in real life with that exact problem over the years. (Often, but by no means always, they're people I'm in love with at the time and the person they're  in love with has never once been me, but hey, what are friends for?) And so yeah, I'm pretty much morally obligated to weigh in on a status update like that. And so I did, and even got complimented twice in the ensuing comment thread for being a 'smart cookie'...that fine, fine Facebook ego-stroke we all know and love.

Except the comment thread was booby-trapped, as I soon found out. When the bait was switched, one line of the 'haha, now you gotta play too' message stood out, not in a good way. "This is the 2014 breast cancer awareness game", it said, and I thought ah, so it's a game, now?

I ignored the message...and actually felt kind of bad for so doing. The person who sent it is very nice and I really didn't feel like I should express this anger. I mean, it's irrational. It's just Facebook, it's just a silly little game, and why do I have to take everything so fucking seriously, et cetera, et cetera.


I know breast cancer survivors. More than one. You could say I'm quite aware of this disease; really, I'm surprised there are people who aren't. It's not a game and it's not funny and it's not the sort of thing that should lend itself to trifling Facebook pranks. I'm sorry to burst your balloon but...no, actually, I'm not. What does 'why is nobody around when I'm horny' have to do with breast cancer, or anything else, really? Is that about cancer just because you say it is? How about "I really don't know how 2 tell anyone and I'm sick of hiding it I'm gay." There, you've managed to trivialize breast cancer and someone coming out of the closet all in one sentence.

You know what "games" like this do, at least for me? They make me very leery of commenting on anyone's status update, in case what looks like a cry for help is actually a stupid game of hot potato. And while I'm sure someone will say that people crying for help on Facebook are just narcissistic attention-seekers...tell me one other way to reach your entire support network at once. I think Facebook really is the best way to seek solace, empathy or advice, and I really don't like things like this ruining that perception.


Then there's the 'post a selfie without makeup for breast cancer' meme.

This one I'm really torn on. I have to say, first off, I'm perversely glad that Google Chrome's spellcheck still highlights 'selfie'. It may be an official English word -- it's in Oxford, now -- but I absolutely detest it. Maybe I'd feel differently about it if I were in any way photogenic, but...no, really, it's a stupid sounding word for a stupid obsession.

One friend--who could post a makeup-less self-portrait that would make a whole bunch of men go weak in the knees--posted this instead to explain why she was opting out. As I read it, I found myself agreeing vehemently in places and yet going "but but but but!" in others.

Emily Buchanan's argument is multi-pronged here. First, she says something I could have said word for word myself:

It was all very well meaning and inoffensive but, as far as I could tell, absolutely nothing to do with breast cancer awareness. If anything, it was trivialising a very serious issue and using it to justify a vanity project.

Hear, hear. Then she notes

If you need to tell people how much of a good person you are, it's time to question your motivation for doing good at all. Goodness should permeate throughout life and in every decision we make, not because a trend on Facebook tells us to.

And that, too, resonates strongly with me: are you genuinely concerned or are you just looking for the attention?  

But but but but!

There is something unutterably refreshing about seeing all these photos--okay, damnit, selfies--of incredibly beautiful women without makeup, being visually true to themselves. For many of them, I suspect, it takes a whole lot of courage to actually post such a thing: there are entire nations of women who wouldn't think of leaving the house and GASP being seen without makeup. It's offensive to even suggest that this courage in any way mirrors the kind of courage someone living with breast cancer must summon to get through every hour of every day, true...but the courage to post a bare-faced selfie shouldn't be entirely dismissed, either. 

You know me, folks. I wish "makeup-free" was the default setting. It's not that I think women should feel fantastic about their appearance (although I do)...it's that I firmly believe that they should feel fantastic about the inner beauty they have, which will by definition make them beautiful. While I generally don't go around thinking any one gender has got it right, in this case I think men actually do. We don't wear makeup, as a rule. Why? It's not because we think we're all George Clooneys or Daniel Craigs or (insert hunkahunkaburninglove here)s. For most of us, it's because it simply doesn't occur to us. We're not our bodies. 

(Mind you, we shouldn't be falling into the common man-traps of (a) thinking women ARE their bodies and (b) thinking we are our job titles...so, no, it's not that men have it right, we're just a different kind of wrong.)

And as for the narcissistic self-validation of these pictures? You know what? People need that ego-stroke. They do, or it wouldn't feel so good to get it. They especially need that ego-stroke when they do something outside of the ordinary, such as posting a picture of themselves as they really are. People, women in particular, need to know they're beautiful. I believe that with all my heart. 

So please, continue to post these things...I smile each and every time I see one. But can we maybe divorce this from breast cancer? Can we maybe call it cancer of the confidence instead? That kind of cancer is only fatal in its most extreme cases, but it's even more widespread than other kinds...and it's worth fighting.