19 October, 2013

His Name Was Danny

His name was Danny.
He was one of the last of a string of bullies I encountered...that far along the rope, in grade ten, I was remarkably nonchalant about being teased, taunted and trodden upon, and so I didn't know--or care to know--anything about him besides his name, face and general whereabouts at any given time so I could avoid him. I only shared two classes with him and so that latter was pretty easy.

It turned out there was a lot to know about Danny, and come February of that school year, we'd all know it.

If everyone who claims to have been there the day Danny's locker was opened and puked into had actually been there, the hallway would have been packed six deep. You'll have to trust me: I was actually there.  I was gallivanting off to the bathroom, as it happens, when I couldn't help but notice the janitor striding purposefully down the corridor. I couldn't help but notice the janitor because he was dragging Danny by the ear.

I can hear you 2013 students calling bullshit right along about now.Any janitor doing such a thing would be promptly fired and charged with assault. No bullshit: this was the eighties, and times were different.

Nevertheless, a janitor dragging Danny by the ear was sufficiently out of the ordinary to arouse my curiosity. I slowed my stride, turned around and walked slowly backwards. The janitor arrived in front of what was presumably Danny's locker, released his hold on Danny's ear, and told him to open it up. Danny worked the combination. I'd come to a stop at this point, probably about twenty feet away, and I watched as the lock clicked, the door swung open, a flash of green appeared and the janitor promptly bent over and vomited profusely right into the locker.

My curiosity went from moderate to extreme in a heartbeat, but prudence won out: I figured Danny'd be in even more trouble than he'd evidently been in already, and I didn't want to stand around in case his trouble was contagious. I  went to the bathroom. By the time I'd attended to business, the principal and one of the teachers had joined the custodian and Danny. Danny was crying. Well, no...actually he was wailing. I sidled past the locker, huddled against the opposite wall. A wave of stench like nothing I've smelled before or since almost knocked me over, but it was none of my business and I didn't want anyone thinking it was. Back to class I went.

I never saw Danny again.

But I heard his story, circulated piecemeal around with that relativistic speed that gossip attains only in high schools and small towns, and it was tragic (and disgusting) enough that I sought and got confirmation from that teacher I'd seen at Danny's locker.

Danny had lost his mother and father in separate car accidents back in September. Within two weeks of each other. Can you imagine? It really put his bullying into a whole new perspective for me, and it's a big reason why today I don't hate bullies the way someone with my history would be expected to. It's really true: all too often, the bullies are victims themselves. You just never know of what.

Anyway, Danny had gone off to live with an aunt, or a grandma, or somebody--I once knew what relation, but have forgotten that detail. Aunt Grandma had packed Danny his school lunch, every school day from whenever he'd first gone to live with her until he was kicked out of school and into what I imagine was some desperately needed psychiatric care, in mid-February. Aunt Grandma gave Danny egg salad sandwiches. Danny didn't like egg salad sandwiches, and so he deposited them in his locker. Every school day. Until mid-February, when that locker was opened and puked into.

Yes, you could smell it. For a distance on either side of that locker, you could smell it. But you couldn't be expected to guess what it was, and furthermore the smell was so pervasive it was impossible to pin down. It's like how if you take a lobster, say, and unscrew the pillar of somebody's office chair and plop it in. After a while the entire office will reek to high heaven and you won't have the slightest clue where the stink is coming from. (Don't ask me how I know this and I will tell you no lies.)  High school being high school, though, somebody had eventually discovered what Danny was growing in his locker and snitched on him.

Why am I telling  you this story, besides explaining my absolute hatred of egg salad sandwiches and my unsuspected sympathy for bullies? Because I just learned via an e-friend's tweets last night that...well, I'll let him tell it:

 Fucking boomerang lunches. School has hotdog day, so for a fee child gets one hotdog, a juice box and a cookie. Not allowed to throw garbage at school. Must bring it home. So son comes home with hotdog and cookie packaging, leaking juice box, and opened condiment packs So now his back-pack has food garbage all smeared inside it. THANKS WATERLOO REGION SCHOOLBOARD!!!!!”

Some other Facebook friends of mine, equipped with children attending other Waterloo Region school board schools, informed me this policy is in place to encourage reusable containers; also to show parents what their kids are or are not eating.  Good intentions, to be sure, but both overbearing and hopelessly naïve. Overbearing because my God, is the Three-R Police Force going to arrest me if I send my kid to school with a peanut butter sandwich in waxed paper, the way I went to school for years? (Don't answer that...hell, these days a peanut butter sandwich would get me and my kid thrown in jail for murder...) And naïve because kids aren't stupid. They'll find ways to get around eating what you pack for them so long as one of their friends has something more tempting. And that food you send with them will get discarded....but since their aren't acceptable receptacles for the purpose, they'll make their own.

They might even use lockers.

13 October, 2013

Thank You, Eva

I just can't believe
the way I feel about you girl
We'll look back someday
At this moment that we're in
And I'll look at you and say
'--and I thought I loved you then'...
--Brad Paisley, "Then"

Thanksgiving happens to fall on our thirteenth wedding anniversary this year. This could not be more apt.
I'm thankful for everyone and everything in my life. But most of all I'm thankful for Eva, the woman I married. Some days I wonder how I ever found a woman willing to share life with me, and every day I wonder what I ever did to deserve this woman, whose intelligence, competence, and compassion truly know no bounds.
We've done a lot of living in thirteen years. There have been no ups and downs in our relationship--it is the ever-fixed mark--but in that many years there are bound to be tears. And fears, and fears, and leers, and -- in our case -- whole careers. No jeers, though, and nary a peer has my Eva. We have truly lived Spider Robinson's maxim: "Shared pain is lessened, shared joy is increased." 

It isn't the life we expected. There were supposed to be kids, kids who would be either approaching or well into the tempestuous teens by now. If you had told Eva ten years ago that she'd be working where she is now,  I doubt she'd have believed you. For that matter, I swore up and down I'd never work more than the occasional night shift again, and here I am working straight nights and (for the most part) loving the hell out of it.
But like Douglas Adams said, "I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be". Life is a very neat combination of purposeful (busy purposeful, this year) and damned idyllic. Thirteen years on, I can't imagine what my life would be like without Eva in it...and don't want to.

Thank you, love, for all that you are. Happy lucky 13th.

Your loving husband


09 October, 2013

I've Noticed Something:

Hat tip to Catelli's cogent deconstruction of Rosie Dimanno that jump-started my mind.

I've noticed something. The older I get, the stupider the world seems.

It's not that I'm smarter; hell, no. I'm just as dense as anyone else, just in (usually) different ways. And people are free to remark on just how dumb I can be. My wife does so on occasion (always with love in her voice, and she's always right, damn it all). But the specific mode of stupidity I'd like to talk about here is a weird strain of exclusionary thinking that seems to permeate brains, driving out logic and reason.

I'll take a couple of hot-button issues to explain what I mean: same sex marriage and euthanasia. As I believe I've made clear in previous entries, I am unreservedly in favour of both, and for much the same reason: your life and your marriage are your own. (If they aren't, whose, exactly, are they?) I should be able to end my life whenever I choose; with certain exceptions due to consanguinity, and provided there is no coercion, I should be able to marry whomever I choose. I see no logical reason why Eva shouldn't have two or three husbands, for that matter.

Every time I encounter someone against same-sex marriage (which is distressingly often, even now), I ask them -- with as much politeness as I can muster -- why. The answers I get, when they don't cite Scripture, tend to be along the lines of "it's against nature". Which I find amusing, since marriage itself is against nature; relatively few species are monogamous, and to my (admittedly limited) knowledge, no other species has anything akin to a marriage ceremony. (I freely admit I could be wrong here: our understanding of animal societies is rudimentary at best, but at least in the case of certain species, the more we learn, the more we wonder just how intelligent and 'civilized', after their fashion, they are.)

At any rate, if I'm allowed to press the matter, I'll ask how same-sex marriage affects the person I'm talking to. It doesn't, beyond offending their sense of morality, but I've yet to coax that admission out of anyone. And one day it occurred to me to say "you know, just because same-sex marriage is legal, doesn't mean opposite-sex marriage has been outlawed!"

But that's how many opponents of gay marriage act: as if their marriages are null and void (or at least endangered somehow) if Jack and Gil down the road tie the knot.  I pride myself on being able to get inside heads...this attitude is like a giant padlock and a sign saying  BEWARE OF ATTACK DOGS.

Likewise with euthanasia. There  seems to be this pervasive attitude, among those against assisted suicide, that if it's made legal it'll be open season on the elderly and handicapped...that anyone wanting to live will have their wishes ignored. The choice to live, against whatever odds and contending with whatever amount of pain, is as equally valid a choice as the reverse, and just as much to be respected.

No euthanasia advocate I've ever read has suggested that people should be killed without their express permission. Where euthanasia is already legal there is a required process of varying complexity to go through ensuring that people are of sound mind and that they understand precisely what they are demanding. But no, make mercy killing legal and anyone waiting too long for their inheritance can simply take matters into their own hands.  I just don't get it.

02 October, 2013

Sex: Let's Get With the Program


Kids are gonna screw.

Most of 'em, anyway.

So why do so many parents pretend this isn't so, can't be so, and force schools into teaching that it mustn't be so? I mean, everybody knows the best way to keep a teenager from doing something is to tell her not to.

Sex education is seriously deficient even in 'progressive' curriculums. For the most part, it's a glorified anatomy class. Maybe the idea is to bore kids to death with sex. Stripped -- or rather, not "stripped", that's too raunchy--detached from all its emotional and psychological cues, a teacher can turn sex into a clinical, dry lecture almost devoid of really useful content.

Parents are probably going to cringe at this. I'm suggesting that, at least by high school, sex ed should actually cover pornography. That means viewing it. In school. I'm not kidding.

By the time kids are in high school, they've looked at porn. I absolutely guarantee it. Some of them have looked at a lot of porn. I know that parents want to make this didn't happen, but let's get real here. What they're really doing is ensuring that their children's first exposure to sex is unsupervised, unregulated, and almost certainly staged to ensure they see all the worst aspects of sex. Does this make sense to anybody?

I'm really not kidding about porn in class. There are so many important things we can glean from porn and how it differs, or ought to differ, from actual sex. We can talk about the objectification of women. We can talk about the objectification of men (and if you think that doesn't happen in porn, watch a steady diet of it and compare the number of times you see a dick to the number of times you see an unobstructed view of a male face.) We can talk about orgasms, how many women simply can't orgasm from penetrative sex alone. We can talk about the emotional content of sex, which is vastly different from the emotional content of porn. We can talk about different forms of sex, foreplay (Groucho Marx, leering: "and the aftplay was pretty good, too!").   We can talk about different sexualities in a frank, no-nonsense manner.

Tell you what I'd put on the board the first class:

"We weren't making love; we were fucking. Nothing wrong with that, just not enough right with it."--Spider Robinson

I was bushwhacked by sex, my first time. I was almost nineteen--much older than the usual, for guys--but emotionally immature. I recall thinking, afterwards, is this all there is? Trying to adopt that swagger that says "I just became a man" and failing, because all I'd done was have sex. Worse, I'm pretty sure my partner felt the same way. But I didn't think to talk to her about it, and our sex life after that was perfunctory. She actually apologized to me, months into our relationship, about leaving my 'needs' unsatisfied. That's how she viewed sex...or at least sex with me. I'm pretty sure she later found a better sex life with someone else. I hope so, anyway. I sure did.
That 'needs' comment affected me, too. Hearing it, I allowed myself to feel, for years that I did in fact need sex. A couple of years of celibacy before I met Eva cured me of that affliction, but before that it led to some poor life choices, let's just leave it at that. With a proper sex education, I might have been better able to put sex in context sooner. (I'm not blaming anyone but myself for those poor life choices, though: they were mine and mine alone.)

Sex, as it stands in high schools right now, is a badge of honour for the guys and a badge of shame for the girls. This does nobody any good. Your entire value as a human being revolves around the sex you engage in or don't engage in. It leads guys into cajoling sex out of girls who are not exactly willing to give it. It leads girls into acute anxiety...what if we do "it"? what if I LIKE it? And it leaves both boys and girls unprepared for the emotional bond that sex creates. It has at least made inroads in addressing homosexuality and bisexuality, but there remain many  misconceptions about both of those -alities.  Given that up to one in ten students is gay or bi and that probably closer to nine in ten have at least experimented with someone of the same sex, this is something that needs to be talked about at some length. Of course you have to work out your sexuality on your own, but it helps to have a clearly defined framework to do it with. In the aftermath of my same-sex experience, I had to reconcile the fact I enjoyed it with the reality that I had never looked at any man, including that one, and thought "I gotta have that". Oddly enough, it was that experience more than any other that drove home to me just how emotional sex is. The emotional content was staggering....never have I so clearly felt both halves of "I love this person, but not in that way". I had to build a framework to hold both sides of that, and I had to build it pretty much from scratch.

There are many people who are acutely uncomfortable with the idea of sex being taught in schools, by adults, to 'children'. There's this undercurrent of pedophilia and pederasty about it. This really needs to go away. There's a vast difference between talking about sex and having sex, and many scientific studies have shown what many parents simply fail to grasp: the more you talk to kids about sex, the less likely they are to actually  have sex. And when they do, it's overwhelmingly with protection. The United States, with its abstinence-only sex programs in many states, leads the world in teen pregnancies and abortion. Enact an abstinence-only program and STI rates actually go up.

So let's talk about sex. Let's really get into the nuts and bolts of it. Not to do so is a disservice to teens wrestling with adult issues for the first time in their lives.

Who Wants To Live Forever?

Not me, that's for sure.

I remember this topic coming up in (of all places) grade eleven English class. I might not have been the only person in the class opposed to the notion of immortality, but I was certainly the only person who dared voice opposition.
Let's define parameters here, because like the Gods we might become, the word 'immortality' is often taken as read and not examined thoroughly. Presumably 'immortality' means we have shut the aging process off, since death of old age is still death. What age do we select for? I'd bet most men would want to live forever at their physical (not to mention sexual) peak, somewhere around 18-21. Not being a woman, I can't answer for the fairer sex, but given the absurd (and obscene) value placed on youth in this society, I'd expect many of them would also choose to remain in that general age bracket unto eternity.

Unintended consequence: the incidence of rape skyrockets. Women don't hit their sexual peak until their thirties, after all. You've got most of the men wandering around with tents inside their pants and most of the women looking askance at them: in short, your average high school, everywhere.
Unless we've somehow coded for mental, emotional and spiritual maturity inside those 18-year-old bodies (and how exactly we'd go about doing that when much of that maturity is the function, maybe the very purpose, of the aging mechanism we've callously shut down...)

Can you be injured, if you're immortal? I'd sure hope not: Chronic pain is bad enough in this life...in a life without possibility of death it would be the worst hell I could imagine. But being invincible has its own set of issues, besides violating most of the laws of physics.. If you can't wound someone physically, you redouble your efforts to wound him emotionally. For every lord and lady of all creation, I envision someone whose mind has been  systematically shattered beyond repair. That wouldn't be an immortality I'd sign up for!

So then you end up stipulating that an immortal being can't be hurt in any way. Immediately you've removed the impetus behind much of our great art, not to mention almost all of our comedy. Eternal life without art or comedy is utterly pointless.

And that brings up the final crashing argument against immortality: boredom. I get bored enough as it is. I can't imagine how I'd feel after a few millennia.

I'm not fixing to die any time soon, but I am fixing to die at some point. I don't like the alternative.


If you could live without sleep, or with drastically reduced amounts of sleep, would you?

Most people I know couldn't say HELL YES fast enough to that one. We live in a world where "I'll sleep when I'm dead" is a  saying; where sleep is almost universally viewed as a weakness...a regrettable weakness we all share.

Even as a child, I was an outlier here: you never heard me complain about bedtime. Falling asleep is one of life's great unsung pleasures; so is waking up when you know you don't have to get up. But if there was, say, a pill available that dramatically reduced your need for sleep or heaven forbid eliminated it entirely, you'd never feel that pleasure again. If just one person takes that pill, everybody else who works with him or her will have to take it too, on pain of losing their job. Remove fatigue from the equation and why should your employer ever let you go home?

You think I'm being cynical? If anything, I'm understating the case. Remember the blissful utopias predicted when computers first arrived on the scene? We were supposed to be working twenty hours a week by now. Those very same computers that were supposed to liberate us have enslaved us instead: already there are legions of people who willingly allow themselves to be tethered to their job even when they're at home, even when they're on vacation. No thank you. Now remove sleep--the only truly alone time most of us have--out and those tethers become very weighty chains indeed.


If you could take a pill daily and satisfy your every nutritional need, would you?

Now here we have something that gives me pause. Oh, I would never want to give up the joys of eating: there are just too many foods out there that taste wonderful. But I could see myself eating like a pig on the weekends and pill-popping my way through the week...