26 January, 2014

Empty Words

The conversation plays out at least three times a day, sometimes more like ten. 

"Hi!"
"Hi!"
"How are you?"
"Not too bad, and you?"
"Not too bad."

and then, formalities aside, it's okay to progress to the meaningful words.

This social formality has always niggled at me. My inner literalist, never far from the surface, wants to ask if not too bad means "bad, but not TOO bad." But mostly I just cringe at the emptiness of the words. Look, Ma, zero calories. 

Every once in a while I'll hear "how are you" and answer "terrible" or "awful". Sometimes I'll do it with a smile on my face and great good cheer in my voice, and approximately two thirds of the time my interlocutor will respond as if I'd said "great, fantastic", or, quoting my friend Mark, "any better and I'd cancel my OHIP." Sometimes I'll drop the charade and actually answer, "pretty shitty today", in a tone of voice that suggests "shitty" would be an improvement. And then I'll observe the inevitable awkward pause.

He went off script here. Damn it. I don't have time for this. "Oh, that's too bad. I gotta get the hell out of here."Hope you're better soon. 'Bye."

Meanwhile, you can rest assured if I ask how you are and you answer that you're not...what I'm doing and where I'm going can wait. I'm not suggesting this makes me a better person...in this hurry-hurry-hurry world it probably puts me at a significant disadvantage. I don't care. I don't play games with my words, as much as I love to rearrange other people's to make jokes out of them. I make a real effort at sincerity in every word I speak, even the common ones.  This leaves me taken aback by the number of people who will answer "how are you" with "fine" when they are CLEARLY not fine, they're anything BUT fine, they're coarser than a sailor on shore leave. But if they really wanted to talk about their obvious distress, they'd at least have mentioned it. More emptiness, pulled over emotional pain. I can't stand that. 

I want to ask people to answer "how are you" honestly, but it seems too forward of me. I want to ask people to ignore me completely rather than mouth empty words at me, and that just sounds bitter. But really, they're words of one syllable that we all learned as young children. I can remember writing my Mom little notes in first grade "how are you Mommy I am fine." The other answers to 'how are you' are one syllable each as well: "Bad. Sad. Mad." All of which are perfectly legitimate feelings that I won't ignore if I'm given permission to talk about them. 

The other empty phrase comes towards the end of a virtual or phone exchange, and it goes like this: "we should get together".

Please don't say that to me unless you mean it, because I remember hearing or seeing those words and they hurt when days, weeks, or months pass without any further reference to them. It pains me to realize just how often I've heard this, and it pains me even more to realize just how often I've said it, heard something suitably enthusiastic in response....and then...nothing. You know what goes through my mind then? A replay of the conversation, with what I imagine was your internal monologue. 

Ken: "We really should get together! I've missed you!"
I never want to see your ugly pug face again, you sick excuse for a dog turd. And did you say you've MISSED me? Those better have been empty words, or I'm calling the cops.
"Yeah! That'd be great! I'll get back to you on that!" Jesus, he's so....ick. 

I don't think I'm the only one walking around with irrational (I hope) nuggets of self-loathing. Those nuggets rise like vile burps whenever I'm confronted with the thought that this person, who said they wanted to see me....really didn't mean that at all. There must be some other way to take that rejection, but in all seriousness I don't know what it is.

Empty words. I wish we lived in a world where the sincerity of words was easier to assess. 

23 January, 2014

Glasses

I failed another eye test yesterday. I had the whole suite of them, an hour and a half's worth of hell, and I failed at least one of them. Time to get new glasses. Again.
I always feel guilty when this happens, as if I didn't study hard enough or something. My prescription is not standard; it deviates from 'standard' by so many degrees that there is not a substantial difference in price between my opthalmologist and, say, Costco. And it is likewise not cheap. The price has come down--I distinctly remember my first couple of pairs costing eight hundred bucks in early eighties dollars--but not by as much as I'd like.

I've mostly come to terms with wearing glasses, which is probably a good thing because I've been doing it for 34 years now and I'll be wearing them when I die. (Actually, I hope I'm not...because the only time I'm not wearing my glasses is when I'm asleep.) I'm 41, almost 42, and I don't get called 'four-eyes' anymore. As hard as it may be for kids today (with or without glasses) to believe, us optically enhanced individuals didn't get an easy ride back in the days of Air Supply and Juice Newton. Granted, I didn't have far to travel down the road to Nerdsville, but all the same it was imperative I not look like I was on that road.
The first stage was verbal..."let's try all the words to see which one hurts." They all did, every last one of them, even the strictly factual 'four-eyes'. Those are two neutral words, four and eyes, and yet they were not so much spoken as flung, and I've come to believe almost any word will hurt if it's flung hard enough.
After the verbal taunts came the beatings. Most of the bullies were kind enough not to aim for my face, or more specifically, my eyes, and nearly everyone would knock it off when (not if but when) my glasses flew off.

Nearly.

The worst of the bullies would pull my glasses off my face, bend the frames, and on one occasion, stomp on them. Then I wouldn't even be able to see the punches coming. (My vision really was and is that bad. Plop me down glassesless across a table from somebody -- even somebody I know very well, like, for instance, my wife -- and if I didn't know she was there already I probably wouldn't recognize her.) No fair beating up on a nearly blind kid, but whoever said life was fair, anyway?

The remnants of that cowardly nerdy kid insisted I look into laser eye surgery. My retinas are too thin; I'd probably go blind. And while the prospect of going blind is something I lived with for decades until my eye doctor told me a few years back that it wasn't ever going to happen barring something catastrophic....I have no real urge to invoke catastrophe.

And forget contacts. I'd need to actually stick them IN MY EYE EWWW EWWW NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE THE NOPING NOPE RIGHT OUT OF THAT.

Thanks to advances in lens technology, my nose is no longer crushed by my glasses. Also, I don't have to worry about constantly misplacing my sunglasses anymore because my glasses are sunglasses. But vision this poor, even marginally corrected, has really shaped my life. It's part of why I don't drive. It's a large part of why I prefer books to television and movies, Words I can read at a glance. Pictures force me to really look at them. I'd rather not.

Take a movie like Lost In Translation. I came out of that with two thoughts. One, it was a very good movie. Two, I hated it. There was very little dialogue in that film and most of the story was told by facial expression, which I have never been very good at reading. (Can't lip read, either.) So I was left with the disquieting sensation that I had just sat for a couple of hours and watched something flying whoosh over my head.

The disdain for pictures runs deep. I won't read comic books, excuse me, graphic novels. Outside of hockey and a very few TV shows that catch my interest, I'd prefer we didn't have a television at all. I don't take pictures and I don't like having them taken of me, and it's only partly because I'm the opposite of photogenic...

And no, I don't drive--if I had 20/20 vision I probably would drive, which would change my life in all sorts of interesting ways. For the better? Who can tell? My life is my life, and I'm just trying to do the best I can with what I've got. Part of what I've got is defective eyes. And so it goes...

17 January, 2014

Ads and Me

Piggybacking off that Pizza Nova jingle, which is forever aurally embedded in my brain...

(The guy who sings that insanely catchy song is named Alfie Zappacosta. He is a Juno-winning singer/songwriter, formerly heading the rock band Surrender. One of his songs was on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. He's released several solo albums in styles ranging from smooth jazz to light rock. He still tours extensively, and he has publicly noted that the jingle for Pizza Nova will haunt him forever. People apparently request it at all his shows. Now that's effective advertising.

Advertising and I have a very strange relationship. I don't share many people's automatic disdain, even hatred, for all things commercial (hey, sellers gotta sell)...but at the same time most of the advertisements I tune out in the course of my day are not even remotely relevant to me, which is why I tune them out.

As such, I really don't understand the brouhaha over targeted ads.  Supposedly Google (corporate motto: "Don't Be Evil") is evil now because it has streamlined collecting your data for use in targeted advertising.  Really? That's a good thing. Since a world without advertising is completely unrealistic, I ask you: what's better? The current world where I get tampon commercials while I'm eating my fish soup, or my world where every ad you see is for something you're actually potentially interested in buying or using?


There are any number of things I don't believe should need to advertise and yet they do, extensively. A very partial list:

The LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario). Not because I have any problem with alcohol being advertised, but because in Ontario they have no competition. Outside of bars and some grocery store wine kiosks with pitiful selection, there is nowhere you can legally buy their stock in this province, other than their stores. The fact they are government-owned irks me because it's taxpayer money being wasted here. Quite a bit of it, too: at least every other week my Saturday Globe and Mail includes a glossy, high quality magazine insert touting LCBO booze.

K-W Oktoberfest. Maybe I do have a problem with alcohol being advertised. But hey, I live here, and let me tell you, the most popular celebration of urinating in the street outside of Germany does not need to boost its attendance numbers in any way.

Tim Horton's. Maybe they could take some of the money they're spending on ads and oh, I don't know, EXPAND THEIR RESTAURANTS. More tills, more drive through lanes, more staff.  Maybe they think they need more customers. They don't.

While we're at it, feminine hygiene products of all sorts. Sorry, women, but this is your mother's job. No man wants to see the words "yeast" and "infection" in the same commercial break. I'm sure each and every one of you has tampon/pad preferences, and you can keep those to yourselves as well. If there's any male-oriented product you women would just as soon pretend doesn't exist, by all means add it to the list.

-------------------

I do wish I lived in Europe--the ads there are a cut above, mostly because they don't pretend they're targeted at a nation of five year olds. Like this one (which is. needless to say. NSFW). I'm waiting for the day adults in commercials talk like adults. Not sure it'll ever happen in this society.

The best commercials, for my money, are the staged event ones that don't even show up on television, unless it's in a newscast. If you haven't seen WestJet Christmas "miracle", you really should. Yes, it's a PR stunt. So what? The fact is WestJet did it and other airlines didn't. It's also not a one-off: this sort of thing is a part of WestJet company culture, and as such it's a lot more genuine than cynics might suggest. It's also cheaper than conventional advertising. Time will tell if it is more effective. It certainly is with me.

4-3-9 oh-oh-oh-oh Pizza Nova!






16 January, 2014

What World Am I Living In?

The most popular produce in the grocery store is undoubtedly bananas.

Can't stand 'em.

The bestseller lists are riddled with diet books, cookbooks, and video game manuals (really?)

Never bought any...never will.

Every week there's some new Internet craze for me to be completely ignorant about for months. No idea how everyone knows about these things. No idea how I don't.

I tell you, I live in some alternate world.

Bananas. I really hate them: they're easily in my top five list of Foods To Avoid. The other four, in case you're wondering, are olives (which is number one with a bullet: I can't even swallow one); burnt toast, which I define as 'toast any part of which has gone beyond brown into black'; anything, and I do mean anything spicy; and black coffee. There are other foods I do not like, but I'll eat to be polite. These five (well, the 'spicy' is a whole class of so-called "food") are on the Shit List.

You spice lovers insulted my my denigration of your choice of foodstuff: is it food when you drink gasoline and then strike a match? Do waiters carry flamethrowers to serve as amuse-bouches? I rest my case. There's heat, and then there's flavour, which is the reason people eat food, and the two simply can not co-exist. (Yes, I find black pepper too hot for my palate. Eva can sneak some into a dish if she grinds it well and uses a host of other spices to partially mask the effect, but on its own--blech.)

I have a good friend who has tried to set me straight on this. She is a woman who would cheerfully ingest a bottle of gasoline with a match chaser, so long as the gasoline bottle had "Nando's" printed prominently on it somewhere. After long talks about the deliciousness of gasoline and the invigorating qualities of filling up your tank, each of us has concluded the other's an alien. (Love you, Nicole, even if you hail from the planet Mercury.)

Diet books. Did the last one you bought work? Probably not, which is why you're buying this one. Little secret: there is only one way to reliably lose weight, and that is to burn more calories than you consume. That's really all there is to it, but it makes a hell of a short book and I doubt anybody'd buy it. Instead we get all the diet fads from Atkins to the Zone, every one of them contradicting every other one. I think of this phenomenon as the Apocolypse-Whoops effect. You know how every few years there's a widespread conviction that the world's about to end? And how every few years the world stubbornly persists in existing? Nobody ever seems to think "gee, the last umpty predictions turned out to be bunk, so this one will too". No, we're always told "this time it's for real, folks, pack your bags, we're going away."  Yeah. Diet books are like that, except instead of the world ending, it's your paunch. Don't waste your money, it's all hokum.

Cookbooks. I get that there's a whole universe out there full of food, and I even understand that my utilitarian attitude towards food is very odd. But seriously, how many different cookbooks does there need to be? How many muffin recipes does a person need in their life? And if you're any kind of a chef, don't you pretty much ignore recipes anyway? Brainlock.

Video game manuals. Good God Almighty, does anyone play video games any more? That verb, "play". It means "the opposite of work". My work doesn't even have four hundred page manuals, I'm sure as hell not cracking one open in my spare time, you know, for "fun".

-----

And yet.

Tim Horton's is the most popular fast food chain in this country, by 1.6 country kilometers. Online, nobody can account for this: the coffee is variously described as 'diarrhea in a cup", "ash-water", and (my favourite), "coughee". When you mention that Timmies serves far and away more coffee than any other place in this land, you're snootily informed that "popular' and "good" are opposites. Well, yeah, I can sorta understand the concept, hating bananas and cookbooks and diet books and video game/operating systems the way I do. But you Tim's haters can French-kiss your French presses, as far as I'm concerned (you probably do, anyway). Tim Horton's coffee is ambrosial. I have never had a cup to equal it.

Ditto Pizza Pizza. I have just learned that Pizza Nova will be the new official pizza of the Toronto Blue Jays (because, you know, every baseball team needs an official pizza!) Now, I have never had Pizza Nova. I can tell you their telephone jingle beats the hell out of that of Pizza Pizza. Pizza Pizza, which I just wrote again so the line would read "Pizza Pizza Pizza Pizza", has a jingle that goes 'nine six seven, eleven, eleven, call Pizza Pizza, hey hey hey!" (In other cities, the first three digits of the phone number are different, but the third is always a seven, and the last four are always 1111...) Pizza Nova, by contrast, has THIS, loosely set to 'Funiculi Funicula', a truly awesome jingle.)
Pizza Pizza is not the best pizza I've ever had. That title belongs to a local chain called Pepi's...order double cheese on a Pepi's pizza and you can't find the rest of the toppings; the bacon is slabs of bacon, and so om nom nom...But Pepi's is (justifiably) expensive, whereas Pizza Pizza is not. For the money, Pizza Pizza is pretty good pizza pizza.

Just not online.

You'll go far and wide to find anyone on the Internet claiming to like Pizza Pizza's pizza, probably because so many people offline seem to love the stuff, judging as how, one again, it's the most popular pizza in Canada.

Buncha hipsters.










07 January, 2014

That Word, Again



"As The Years Go By", Mashmakhan. This Canadian song from 1970 is, lyrically and musically, very much a part of its time. It is also, musically and lyrically, very interesting.  It's prompted yet another of my many musings on love and what it means when I say "I love you".

A child asks his mother do you love me
And it really means will you protect me
His mother answers him I love you
And it really means
You've been a good boy


At seventeen a girl says do you love me
And it really means will you respect me
The teenage boy answers I love you
And it really means
Can I make love to you
And as the years go by
True love will never die

I will love you forever
I will love you forever

At sixty five his wife says
Do you love me
And it means I'd like to hear it again
Her husband says to her I love you
But it really means I love you till the end
And as the years go by
True love will never die

Now you're asking me if I love you
And it really means will I marry you
And I answer yes I love you
But it really means that I won't be untrue
And as the years go by
True love will never die




I don't say "I love you" to just anyone, although sometimes it probably seems that way. Only to loveable people, and I haven't evolved spiritually enough to really believe in my heart that everyone is loveable.

It bothers me that I can't; that saying those three words, even to the loveable,  too often provokes such extreme awkwardness.

People feel they have to answer.  They don't, of course. If I say 'I love you', your feelings or lack of them for me are irrelevant. My love for you is valid because you are loveable. And, more important, I believe quite strongly that if someone only loves when they're loved back, that's not love at all. Remember Shakespeare's immortal Sonnet 116 and its lesson: real love is unconditional. Putting conditions or requirements on love makes it ersatz...depending on what those conditions are, even a gross perversion of love...something like possessiveness. That, to me, is so far from love it might as well be hate or indifference.

If you do choose to answer me, you are under absolutely no obligation to return the words. The corollary of that, which is every bit as critical, is that if you do, you need not worry that I'm going to then obsess about it. "She loves me! What does that mean?"  I was a teenager once, and did my fair share of obsessing over things a lot more innocuous than "I love you"--which I never heard back then...unsurprisingly, because if I was worthy of anything at all, it was contempt. I could perhaps aspire to pity on a good day. So I'd manufacture love out of a smile or even less. I knew I was deluding myself, of course, but I lived in those delusions anyway. They were preferable to reality.

But I think I've grown up now. "I love you" means that to you, I am loveable...which is a nice thing to hear. It means my efforts at being loveable are working, which is great, because that's pretty much at the root of everything I am trying to be in my life. But in and of itself, it doesn't mean anything else...if it does, whatever you mean by those words is probably pretty clear in context.

What do I mean when I say those three words?

The truth is, there is one woman in my life for whom the words "I love you" mean everything. That woman is Eva, and I hope she never forgets it. I certainly try to remind her of it often, in words and deeds. It was Eva I married, and I take my marriage seriously.

But of course I love others, quite a few of them. We all do--anyone who claims to only love one person is either lying or dangerous. (Try being the object of "love" that is that single-minded. It's unpleasant at best and quite often fatal.)

What does my love mean?

Different things for different people, of course. I love people I should have no business loving.  My first love, for instance...whom I've unfriended on Facebook. Other people I've dumped or who have dumped me. I'll never stop caring about any of these people (much as I admittedly sometimes wish I could)--and if that's not love, what is it, exactly? Yes, it is indeed possible to love people you don't even like. Just ask any parent with a child who has gone bad.

And there are others, people still in my life (so glad to have them!). Some people might blunt the sharp edge off the L-word with the lesser word "like"--which is hopelessly inadequate. (And I've noticed over the years a kind of love-creep where if you say "I like you a lot", it provokes almost the same squeamishness as "I love you"). Fact is, there is a sizeable set of people for whom I would do damn near anything....short of hurting my wife in any way. If one of you loses your house, we'll make it so you can share ours if need be. That's one small example, but I mean it and I don't think 'like' suffices to describe it.

The things "I love you" doesn't mean, and never has for me, are referenced in that song above. One: "you've been a good boy". That REEKS of condition. If we'd had children, they'd have learned that we we'd have always loved them...but certainly reserve the right to hate something they did.
Two--and I say it often, but it must be repeated over and over--"can I make love to you". I detest that phrase (say it with me now, "isn't the love already made?" and would never use such a strong word as love to describe mere lust. Women who are not my wife need not fear I have carnal designs on them.

I'd like to start saying "I love you" more often, to more people. I'm hope this helps them understand just how much I mean by it -- and how little they need read into it.




02 January, 2014

Welcome, 2014. Oh, God, shoot me now

I woke up at 2:57 this morning, feeling...bad. Really, my powers of description are about to desert me along with most of my innards, so get used to things like 'bad' and 'worse.'
I dialed my shower back several degrees, afraid the heat would exacerbate the dizziness I was feeling, and then got out and attended to bathroom business. Again. And again. And again. I felt like I might puke...there is no feeling more sick making than the feeling of your body making sick, unless it's the feeling of actually throwing up; that said, you usually feel seven shades of better once you actually vomit, so I tried.

Couldn't.

My insides had absolutely no qualms about high-speed southern evacuation...I spent most of the 90 minutes before I had to go to work bouncing between the toilet and my chair downstairs, walking very carefully and trying not to upend the ass-pitcher. (Sorry.) Said ass-pitcher was sloshing frothily, my stomach a class twelve on the Beaufort Scale. and getting to work without soiling myself was a close thing indeed. I had a horrible moment right outside the home of a colleague, abut halfway, where I had to stop and clench and sob, imagining myself explaining to Rachael and Nick that I couldn't help myself, honestly, I'm 41 and my toilet training has abandoned me, please pardon the method I used to melt the snow all along your sidewalk.


I go to work. Unless I'm nine-tenths dead, I go to work. STAYING at work, however, was out of the question, considering I was there all of two hours and used the bathroom at least ten times.  I wrote some orders and then tottered on home, feeling worse with every step. Howard's mother from Big Bang Theory had taken up residence in my head, screaming "holy moly, how much liquid can be in one tuchus?!'
 A couple of hours after I got home, I finally yarked. Three times, shitting copiously all the while. Now I've got an image in my head from the only time in my life I can remember feeling sicker than this. I was at my then-girlfriend's place in Ingersoll--this would have been more than twenty years ago--when I had all of the above (and more pertinently all of the below)  symptoms plus a raging fever that I was told topped 104. I was delirious, and unable to think anything close to clearly, and so I crawled up to Lynne's downstairs toilet like a supplicant and proceeding to retile her bathroom floor.
I'm happy to report I didn't make the same mistake this time. My bathroom garbage had an indignity committed on it, though, and quite frankly I'd rather just throw it out than even attempt to clean it.


 By this point my torso felt like it had gone nine rounds with Rocky Balboa: an extremely tender stomach that recoiled if I tried to touch it, and a  band of pain around my ribs from vomiting so hard.  Strangely, though, I feel a little better, as if the worst had passed.

I wish.

Much of my strength had been puked and shat out of me, and so I very slowly went downstairs and got a glass of water to sip. I tried a couple of mouthfuls of fruit juice, too, reasoning I needed some vitamins in me. 

Even the water wouldn't stay down. The diarrhea, at full flood as ever, was now completely clear: so was my next barking yawn. 

I have been wandering between couch and bed all day, with occasional mincing detours, trying to get comfortable...piling on the clothes an covers, then ripping them all off fifteen minutes later, Laying on my stomach...are you kidding? Laying on either side is all right for a little while, but everything is so sensitive that I can neither get to sleep nor even get a bit of a doze in.

It's been seventeen hours now and I don't feel any better than I did when this started. Hell of a way to bring in 2014...