Don’t call us.

You don’t want to get mail from Canadian Blood Services. You just don’t. Even if they just want to say thanks, and to encourage you to become a bone marrow donor.

And while I’m on it, y’all leave the longest voicemail messages. Yeah, I know, you need my blood and you’ll hunt me to the ends of the earth for it, but if something comes up, I WILL cancel an appointment, and I will reschedule it at MY convenience. So there.

Iconic.

So, a co-worker is taking possession of his new house tomorrow, and so we have to get a housewarming gift. My brain being what it is, I thought, “of course he’s going to need a large picture of dogs playing poker…”. So out of curiosity I wandered over to eBay, and after performing my search pondered the relative merits of the tapestry over the oil painting.

Until I saw this. BEHOLD.

I could weep. Surely it is the most perfect expression of tacky kitsch ever seen on this earth…

“This invisibility, however, means that the opportunities for creative research are infinite.”

Every now and then you will be standing in the middle of somewhere familiar, and then you’ll notice something. Something different, something… off. And you’ll look around and it’ll take you a moment, but then you’ll realize what it is. And then you have to go through a sort of mental re-orientation, because the surroundings are no longer the precisely familiar and forgettable ones they were a moment ago.

At lunch time I went to Subway, and was standing in line. Shortly after I got there, there was a man in front of me, waiting, and a group of three men in front of him, getting their subs made, and another man in front of them at the cash register. “Lotta guys here today”, my brain thought. Then I noticed another man at the soft drink fountain. And a table with two men beside him. And two more tables with men on the other side of the aisle. Hmm. I casually turned around. Three men in line behind me, and the remaining two tables held groups of two and three men respectively. With the exception of two female employees (the two women were making sandwiches, the male employee was at the cash register), I was the only woman in the place.

Now, it’s not uncommon for there to be a lot of men at that plaza, especially around lunch time. There are a lot of industrial businesses (including Toyota) up the road, and there’s a Subway and a Tim’s and whatnot. But I don’t recall ever being the only woman in a full place there before. It’s an odd feeling. It wasn’t scary or anything, but it felt rather… minority-ish, though not the same as it felt arriving at York straight from good ol’ Neustadt. I actually remember thinking, upon being on the streets of Toronto, “No one’s white!” It’s not that I have issues with people not being white, it’s just that, in Grey County, everyone is.

I’m fairly fortunate in that I tend to be largely invisible in public. My appearance isn’t noteworthy in any positive or negative way. And I’m not the kind of woman men visually chew and swallow on a regular basis. I suspect that would get very annoying very quickly. As it was, observing so many men, I felt almost anthropological. 🙂

And then I wandered next door to Timmy’s to get my first RRRoll Up the Rim coffee of the season… and lo and behold, more men. There was only one other person in line – a man – and most of the staff was female, but almost all the tables were full, and at only one two-seater table were there women. There were at least two dozen men. At that point, it really started to feel odd. But again, it also continued to feel like I could observe them unseen. I resisted the urge to hide amongst the plastic plants…

Maybe I’m just more sensitive to such things having just finished reading Self-Made Man. And I am an inveterate people-watcher. It makes me wonder about other people’s experiences. What would it have felt like for the roles to have been reversed – to be a man in a room full of women. To be a single black person in a room full of white people. To be a single disabled person in a room full of the able-bodied.

It’s amazing how different you can feel when really, comparing most of the major general points of humanity, you’re exactly like everyone else in your surroundings. And given how acutely I noticed it in a non-threatening environment, it provides a hint of how terrifying and helplessness-inducing being a vastly outnumbered minority in a hostile environment would be.

* Title quote courtesy of Barbara Smith.

Would a little testosterone kill you?

I realize music ebbs and flows with whatever trends the music industry deems fit for human consumption. This, of course, usually means: pretty, plastic people who can’t sing very well.

Earlier this evening I was in the car, and in succession, James Blunt and Massari were on. Beyond that, swing a dead cat at a radio and you’ll hit falsetto-singing emo boys. Why? Is it some kind of neo-70s sensitive guy thing? Can’t you be emotionally mature and still sing like your ‘nads aren’t in a vice? I’m looking at you here, Chris Martin.

Now, I can appreciate a high note from time to time. I have no problem with Justin Hawkins’, retro-ironic operatic falsetto, or the coke-fueled shrieking of 80s metal bands. But that had a purpose. That had meaning. That was Rock.

Bean Culture.

Rob keeps trying to give me money. Silly Rob. Now, admittedly, Rob has excellent manners, and is very fond of things being organized and following prescribed patterns and such. Hence the proffered bills. You see, when the guys at work go out for lunch, they take turns paying, and then after lunch, when they stop for coffee, one of the people who didn’t pay for lunch buys coffee. It’s their little system. Except that I mess things up. I have paid for lunch and coffee. Sometimes I pay for my own lunch and not theirs. Sometimes I pay for neither. Sometimes I don’t go to lunch with them, but I ask them to bring me a coffee. Sometimes I don’t go to lunch with them but I offer to pick up coffee. So you can see why this would fall outside of Rob’s accepted coffee procurement parameters.

Thing is, though… I don’t care. I don’t care if our current coffee tally is uneven. I don’t care if I bought lunch, an extra $6 isn’t going to break me if I buy coffee, too. And I don’t mind buying coffee even if I am not eating lunch with them, if I’m going up to the mall and Second Cup is there and they like that coffee better than Timmy’s. Hell, I’ll even swing ’round the corner to Cinnabon and pick up cinnamon buns to go with the coffee.

They’ve developed their own system, but I came to the company with mine, too, which, as luck would have it, gels nicely with my laissez faire attitude towards lunchtime spending. At Descartes, coffee was culture, not commodity. It was understood that keeping everyone sufficiently caffeinated was a group responsibility. Someone was always going out for one reason or another, and all you did was holler on your way by (“RIM me!”) and everyone would email you their Tim’s or Starbuck’s request, depending on where you were off to. You couldn’t have kept track of that set up. Which is why to me, offering me money is more a message of “I don’t trust that you’ll take your turn”, even if it’s not an intentional message. Sometimes you got coffee for three, sometimes for 13. Sometimes there was a crazy group Starbuck’s binge and a couple sales people would hand you $20s and you’d head out to get trays of grande lattes. Have you ever bought over $50 worth of coffee at once? It’s weird. And very first world.

The one constant in these scenarios, of course, is this: the office coffee isn’t fit to drink. 🙂

Coffee, though, is culture. It’s been an inextricable part of western culture since its introduction to Europe in the 1600s. Coffee is part of work culture, school culture, dating culture, domestic culture. Working late and your eyes are getting buggy or need something to keep you awake through the afternoon while you’re running reports? Let’s grab coffees. Pulling an all-nighter or got some time to kill between classes? Let’s grab coffees. Need some venue and environment to meet someone new or an excuse to sit and talk for hours? Let’s grab coffees. Just had a nice dinner with friends or are relaxing with the Sunday paper? Let’s grab coffees.

Coffee is an expectation. People will assume you drink it, unless you specify that you don’t. Then you become That Person Who Doesn’t Drink Coffee – cuz you’re always in the minority. And if you don’t drink it, you need a) a reason why you don’t, and b) an alternative beverage – tea, hot chocolate, Coke. (Unless you’re “off the caffeine”, of course…) Hell, where coffee’s concerned, addiction is acceptable, even amusing. Among certain groups – students and IT are two that come to mind – drinking multiple cups a day, and being someone who’s often seeking a caffeine buzz isn’t unusual. Call yourself a caffeine addict and people will chuckle. Dana has recently taken up coffee-drinking. She takes it basically double-double, and drinks it often out of a pink Tinkerbell mug, with a straw (which is just ridiculous), but the reaction to her exclamations of addiction are consistently of the “isn’t that cute?” variety. Try that with heroin… And yet, even those of us who are moderate drinkers are addicts to a degree. Being used to a couple cups a day can end you up with a wicked headache if you go a day without. Of course, if your consumption heads towards double-digits, you’re starting to ask for heart palpitations and other unpleasant side effects. (Though personally, for me caffeine is like sugar – rare do I get buzzed off it, and to do so it takes a LOT.)

Coffee is a coming of age marker. Children don’t drink coffee. In high school, you’re as likely to hang out at fast food joints (or bush parties…) as cafes. But once you get to university, cafes and coffee pubs and good old Timmy’s are staples. You go there with your friends; you go there to study; you go there to help you stay up much too late to finish projects you were procrastinating on by going there with your friends. As an adult, coffee is just what everyone does. At work – coffee breaks. After dinner with friends – dessert and coffee. Whoever’s up first in the mornings at home – makes the coffee.

Do you remember when you started drinking it? I do. I was 12. Strangely, I don’t remember how I decided how I like to drink it. I drank double-double for years. Then one day realized you can taste more of the coffee if you drink it regular. Then I started finding the taste and mouth feel of cream disgusting, so I switched from cream to milk. (At some point I used sweetener, too, but that’s also got a nasty aftertaste.) After the breakup with Andrew, my taste for sweet, which had been slowly waning for years, vanished. I literally could not swallow anything sweet. The only thing I could consistently consume for several weeks was black coffee. And wow, could you ever taste a lot more drinking it black. That can be both a blessing and a curse. Good beans, freshly ground and brewed, and drunk without adulteration? That is a taste sensation. Timmy’s coffee from a pot that’s been sitting drunk black? Revolting. So now, if I know the coffee is good, I drink it black. More questionable sources, I’m back to regular with milk. I still won’t drink coffee from the cafeteria at work.

Coffee is an integral and subtle part of office culture. You can welcome the new guy by stopping by his desk on your way to get a coffee and inviting him to go with you. And it’s a less personal or committed act than inviting him for beers after work. It’s a way of having “pedeconferences” or sidebar off-the-record meetings, and the further you go from your work area to get the coffee (i.e. down the hall or down the street), the more hush-hush the info tends to be. Like smoking, it’s a way of exchanging company information or gossip out of earshot of the masses. Bosses use getting a coffee as a way of softening the delivery of negative information. The professional is tempered with the social.

Of course, coffee has been social since we started drinking it, and by “we”, I mean Europeans in the 1600s. The coffeehouses of Europe’s cities were popular from the beginning, and served as unofficial offices where a great deal of business, strategy, and intrigue took place. Different important groups of people were known by which coffeehouses they frequented. It was like a second address. The literati gathered around tables to drink coffee and talk about everything much as they do now. It became as sought-after and fashionable to serve as tea. We owe the Arabs a big one. Coffee culture in North America is somewhat different than it is in Europe, though. Our tastes, pace of life, and founders are a bit different. We’re not so much for whiling away an afternoon with endless cups of coffee and cigarettes. And they still consider alcohol in a more social context than we do. One wonders, had the Venetians not imported coffee in large quantities (and had no one else imported it, for whatever reason), what would have taken or held coffee’s place in western culture over the last 400 odd years? Wine? Ale? Tea? Given the Puritan origins of the American work ethic, I have difficulty envisioning American workers taking a mid-afternoon Cabernet break, or slipping out of the office for a flagon of mead. Granted, people might be a lot happier with their work-life balance if they did… And hell, how Canadian is it that our most ubiquitous chain is named after its founder – a hockey player.

Coffee choice says a lot about the person drinking it as well. Drinking coffee black is not unlike drinking whiskey neat. It’s no-nonsense. But it starts before that. Do you buy beans or pre-ground? Do you buy your coffee at the grocery store or specialty store? Do you have a favourite grind or blend? Do you buy green or roasted beans? What kind of grinder do you use? What kind of brewer do you have? What kind of cup or mug do you prefer to drink it out of? What do you put in it, and how much? It’s the same with buying pre-made coffee. Local hole in the wall, Timmy’s, Second Cup, Starbuck’s, yuppie cafe? Cuppa joe, vanilla hazelnut, latte, or venti, triple, non-fat, extra-hot caramel macchiato?

To the same extent, your coffee choices say things about your socio-economic status, gastronomic tastes, and political inclinations. I know people who have never drunk a $5 latte, and probably never will. I know people who own espresso machines worth more than my car. I know people who eschew Tim Horton’s and slag their coffee every chance they get. I know people who would rather die than enter a Starbuck’s. I know people who insist on organic, fair trade beans, and people who buy no-name pre-ground off-the-shelf grocery store coffee and don’t care what kind of beans are in it or where they’re from. I know people who grind their specialty store beans in a grinder bought at Zeller’s, and brew their coffee in a Starbuck’s Barista coffeemaker with filters purchased at Canadian Tire. And then they pour their coffee (black) into a travel mug from Target to take to work because the work coffee is nasty and the employees at the Tim’s closest to the office are inevitably incompetent and a two-a-day Starbuck’s habit is too expensive and William’s coffee tastes funny. (Okay, that last person is me.)

In any case, archaeologists learn the most about lost societies from studying their garbage. And given the frequency with which I see litter that originated at a Timmy’s, maybe their tagline is right: a story in every cup.

Suck it, ruby slippers.

Sherry has been working a lot this weekend, so in advance of this unfortunate series of events, we made tentative plans to distract her. And what better way to distract oneself than by going to the mall. Like the good pirate I am, I tried on all the best giant, plastic-framed retro sunglasses (Sherry was looking for a new pair). No photos, sorry. I also sniffed a selection of designer fragrances, just cuz. Man, are they ever bad. Nasty. Granted, with nostrils the size of mine, and a sense of smell as acute, combined with PMSing, perhaps sniffing things was not the wisest choice of activity. Oh well.

However, almost as much fun as eating a whole bag of Cadbury Mini Eggs was perusing the shoe section at Winners. Sherry was off looking at tasteful sweaters, and what fun is that?

I, on the other hand, had more important things to do. Behold…

Ruby slippers.

This photo is a bit of a tease, given the filthy state of the shoe stool mirror. However, yes, those are red satin, wedge-heeled, slip-on, ankle-lacing, beaded, sequined, appliqued Indian drag queen shoes. Oh. Yeah.

Ruby slippers from the front.

Now, part of what also made these shoes so awesome is that there were only two pairs: size 9.5 and size 10. I am wearing the 10s. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, size 10 and wide enough to comfortably fit me. These shoes were never intended to be worn by a woman. Too bad I had jeans on, else I’d have laced them halfway up to my calves as nature intended. The gold lacing was faux leather, of course. See the iridescent sequins? Rawr!

Ruby slippers, side view.

One more shot, just so you don’t miss a single, fabulous detail. Amusingly enough, they were quite comfy to stand in. Given the solid, flat sole, walking was a bit weird. And no, I didn’t buy them. Until the house sells, I am not in the market for ridiculous drag queen attire, even if they were only $40. 🙂

The Hierarchy of the Mini-Wheat.

Third runner up… Maple. Only the first ‘Wheat has any real semblance of maple-itude, and that’s like an extra crunchy version of those maple leaf-shaped cookies my Dad used to like. The smell is more noticeable than the taste.

Second runner up… Vanilla. Not bad, though the silver text on the box is weird. I don’t need superhero breakfast cereal, thanks. A bit too sweet, though, and constantly reminds me of icing.

First runner up… Original. A classic, truly, and a childhood staple. And it delivers that injection of refined sugar so crucial to people born after 1970.

And the winner, and finest of all Mini-Wheat offerings… Brown Sugar. Like white sugar, but with the added delusion of somehow being slightly better for you. And, though it might be purely psychological, it tastes somehow a bit less sweet, which I appreciate.

Edited to add how very pleased I am to note that the < blink > tag still works in this day and age. 🙂