Is it better yet?

Recently I was on a mid-afternoon coffee run with several co-workers. We were heading up King Street in Waterloo when a silver Mercedes drove by. There were four young guys in the car, the window facing us was wide open, and one of them stuck his head out to shout a bunch of unintelligible stuff as they drove by.

The whole experience reminded me of back in the day in high shool when my brother and his friends would drive by my friends and I and holler stuff. It was such a weird experience that I actually called my brother to inquire if he’d hollered at me on King Street a few minutes before. Nope.

Then, given my thorough confusion, one of my co-workers informed me as to exactly what happened. The guy had been yelling at him, sarcastically commenting on his scarf, and either began or ended the charming interlude with “fag”. Ahh.

But there’s more. Apparently this is not even remotely uncommon for him — happens all the time. Huh? Here? Often the comments are considerably worse. As used to it as you can get, I guess, he takes the attitude of it being the world’s way of making sure he maintains a thick skin.

I was just… boggling. That happens? Here? Often? We live in the same city, but apparently we’ve been living in very different ones, perception-wise. I’ve lived in Waterloo for well over a decade (and my family is from here), so it’s not like I just fell off the turnip truck. But I freely admit that what happened is something I would expect back home in Grey County, not in Uptown Waterloo.

Apparently I have a lot to learn. I even told my co-worker I wanted them to yell at me. I’m pretty good with shit like that (and, less face it, I can whip my bully pants on pretty fast), though admittedly, there’s not much you can do with a cutting remark when people are speeding away down the street.

Some of the people I told about the incident raised their eyebrows as much as I did. Some weren’t surprised in the least. Nothing like being disabused of the notion that where you live and the people around you are not necessarily in fact “better than that”.

Sure, it’s a crappy minority, but it’s still there. It was young people — those leaders of tomorrow and whatnot. And yes, it was a bunch of asshats in someone’s dad’s Mercedes, so you could roll your eyes and write them off as rich asshole frat boys. But a friend of mine had hate spewed at him on the street in broad daylight. That is not cool with me. And it’s plenty of evidence that while “it” might get better after you get out of high school, etc., “it” ain’t fixed yet.

Wait and Hope

One of the things I become more regularly aware of as I get older, and, at the same time, of which I am oft-reminded when I still frequently forget, is that my social sphere is a microcosm. When most folks around you believe what you believe, and like what you like, it can be easy to start to think that either a) that’s “normal”, or b) that everyone else believes and likes the same things.

I’ve had the conversation with several people recently centering on “I don’t understand how anyone could vote Republican”. Of course, “Republican” in this case not only refers to political affiliation, but also implies a large and nebulous set of social and cultural values typically more “conservative” than my own.

Basically, I don’t really understand how people can hold those opinions and values, either, because I don’t share them, but I know they exist. And I know they’re approximately half of the folks populating our continent.

Continue reading “Wait and Hope”

Got a light?

I don’t understand smoking. Yeah, I know how it works, both mechanically and physically. I’ve done it (I used to waitress in a small town diner, it’s practically a requirement…) But I am one of a few lucky people for whom it doesn’t “work”. I can’t get addicted, and I’m not sure exactly why, but I’m bloody grateful for it. And now I’m allergic, or whatever you’d like to call it when smoking gives you a pounding headache and makes you throw up. Doesn’t help that usually I’m drinking a fair bit while smoking…

I know plenty of smokers, both regular ones and social ones — at least one of whom just IS a smoker. To his DNA. A cigarette is like an extension of his hand; nicotine is a “natural” ingredient in his blood composition. I once saw him “ash” a cheesie. It was hysterical (and kinda sad).

It’s always puzzled me when smokers have expressed how much they enjoy that first, dizzy head rush from a smoke. I always hated that part, and was careful to control the first couple drags so it never hit me too hard. A bit of a control thing. A rush of dizziness and nausea is not being under control to me. What’s that? Repeatedly doing something you don’t need to do that makes you feel sick is dumb? Yeah, no kidding.

I guess part of it is that, unlike my brother, I don’t have an addictive personality. At all. Which is odd, because I’m certainly obsessive often enough. Never really lasts more than about 48 hours, though. (Stupid Bejeweled…)

My lack of fealty to smoking is also odd because when I get into pattern ruts, they be deep. Being fat, unworkable relationships, not dusting… take your pick. 🙂 I have a hard time relating to recommended ways of changing habits. Consistently starting and maintaining small changes, shaking up what you’re used to, and sticking with it sticking with it sticking with it until new patterns take over. Hypnosis, acupuncture, yoga, gum, patches, pills, oral fixation replacements, cold turkey…

Of course, thanks to my high school drama teacher (hi, Nancy!) I have long understood that we only change when we’re ready to. If you’re not in it to win it, so to speak, quitting smoking, losing weight, leaving a dead-end job — it ain’t gonna work out.

The example she used was the body, which, for me, was probably the best example she could have chosen. The idea that being overweight, for example, was about so much more than just not eating right or getting enough exercise. I remember mentally chewing for days on the idea that people can look how they do because they need to. For a woman, for example, to need to be a bit more invisible. To need a barrier between herself and the world. I guess I’m not a smoker because whatever need it fills for other people isn’t one I have. (And I know a few people who are mostly social smokers, but for whom it is also invariably a stress crutch.)

And it’s true. I’ve lost considerable amounts of weight, and it’s the strangest feeling to inhabit an altered space. I don’t mean how cool it is to see that your clothes don’t fit anymore. I mean literally the space in the world that is taken up by your body, how you move, how it feels when things touch you.

In addition to the change in how your body interacts with your world, how you fit inside your own space changes, too. It’s strange to be in it, and nearly impossible to accurately describe, but has been expressed by everyone I know who has experienced it. Sometimes it’s tactile, like rolling over in bed, and there’s no longer much of a fat pad between your hip and the mattress. Makes you think it must be very uncomfortable to be a supermodel…

I wonder if things like quitting smoking are the same. I can’t see how they wouldn’t be. Removing both that very ingrained habit, which is a significant part of how you interact socially, respond to stress, etc., and its effect on your body would cause significant changes. Fortunately, all good ones (though pretty gross for the first little while).

I guess the real barrier to scrabble over is the time between that first decision to change (i.e. quit) and the time until you reap the real, noticeable benefits (hey, I just ran 5K!) We animals don’t do well without positive reinforcement, and it’s really hard to plan for how something is going to change until it changes. (I wonder how many people who quit smoking try to plan in advance how they’ll handle an unexpected stress without lighting up before they actually quit.)

I am also not sure you can pre-plan who you’re going to be in the long run, either. Something like smoking is very defining. You’re part of a tribe, albeit a much less “cool” one than in the past. However, even when you’re shivering in the snow outside your office in February, you’re probably not doing it alone, and it’s still an environment in which you’re privy to all sorts of valuable gossip and the like (though, again, less so than in the past).

After you quit, who do you gossip with? What do you do when you don’t get those little breaks every hour? Sounds trite, but stuff like that is what makes up the day. After you lose weight, how do you react to attracting more attention, to shopping in different stores. To getting used to wearing tighter clothes (since that’s usually what fashion offers up).

So, yeah. I don’t understand smoking. Or the mechanics of change. Of course, I’ve (hopefully) got plenty of years left, which will require plenty of changes, so I’m relying on my pretty decent ability to think, to be self-aware, and, interestingly enough, my insatiable curiosity. I have a feeling that for me, that’s where the “in” is.

Many thanks to always charming and brilliant Havi for the inspiration for this one.


You ever get the feeling that maybe human beings are an accident? An anomaly. A really big oops. A mutation that, contrary to the normal progression of things, got way out of hand? Obviously, this is not going to be a common thought among the religious, though, frankly, to me it’s as plausible with a religious fibre to the past as without.

I have to admit, the possibility occurs to me from time to time.

And actually, no, the current financial crisis, political braying, etc. doesn’t really have anything to do with it, beyond being yet another catalyst for a recurring mental question mark. Really, the idea strikes me pretty much every time humans do something particularly dumb… which is not infrequently. (And that’s only the ones that make it into the news…)

Think about it, though. We’re supposed to be mammals, more or less like a plethora of other animals, but in so many ways we really don’t fit. How we treat our kids bears little resemblance to how animals do. How we treat our environment bears zero resemblance to how animals do. What we value often doesn’t bear any resemblance to what animals do.

No animal other than us regularly makes conscious decisions that are bad for them. And yet we all do it, all the time, at every level of our existence, to ourselves and others, from crimes of passion to lighting a cigarette. It boggles the mind sometimes.

Typically in nature natural selection takes over and weeds out the evolutionary versions of a species that don’t contribute to its strength in its ecological niche. But humans? We’re destructastic. Frankly, we seem to have more in common with pathogens. Parasites. Viruses. We thrive, in our way… and are killing our host at an increasing rate in the mean time.

Of course, smartypants species that we are, we’re using our big, evolved brains to work towards being able to move somewhere else should it come to pass that we completely turn this azure orb into a smoking husk.

I guess that’s the problem with an atheist society, really. Back in the day, were we to step out of line, g/God would see, and we’d be in for a righteous smiting. Or at least we thought so, which was enough to keep us somewhat in check. (However, lest you think our tendency to get our grimy fingerprints all over everything is new, keep in mind the Middle East wasn’t always a desert, nor Greece rocky and windswept.)

Now, lest you think the sum total of my mindset and mental state is excessive cynicism (Grade 9 English teacher), swirling undercurrents of negativity (former Marketing VP), or just bleak musings in general, I assure you that this is me, too.

It’s just… When you look around sometimes, and look inside sometimes, you gotta wonder…

Update: And just for a little more food for thought: Humans will not evolve further, says geneticist.

Long time coming

Over the last couple of weeks, the question I’ve been asked most often has been if I’m packed yet. Umm… no. The backpack I’m taking was in San Francisco until Saturday (thanks, Andrew!) and typically I like wearing my clothes, rather than wandering around nekkid while they sit in tidy, laundered piles.

No worries, though. I’m mostly done buying, assembling, and organizing, and I started list-making a week ago. All on track. 🙂

Of course, the next most common question is whether I’m excited yet or not. About… the trip? The new job? Both? Neither? The answer all around is no, actually. Not the way people would typically think. I tend to disappoint folks that way. It seems the bigger the event, the more muted my reaction to it. I do not get worked up by anticipation. I get worked up by accomplishment.

Continue reading “Long time coming”

Fashion: harder, better, faster, stronger

Yesterday when Sherry and I were out shopping, we visited a number of shoe stores, unsurprisingly. The 40s-inspired look is still going strong, which we think is fab. Of course so is the 80s look, which isn’t so much.

Heels are definitely in, the more skyscraping the better. We saw plenty of women yesterday at the mall demonstrating this, in fact. (I’ll save my thoughts on women who wear 4″ heels to go do a walking-based activity for another time…)

One of the most eye-catching styles we saw was metal-heeled stilettos. Usually a fairly strappy sandal with a high, narrow, metal-clad or all metal heel. Sherry boggled how anyone could even walk in something like that. I have no idea.

But what I did recall was the last time sky-high, pin-prick heels were fashionable: 2001. Prior to September 11th, heels were getting a bit ridiculous. I believe Manolo Blahniks were the shoes of the hour, thanks to Sex and the City. I believe one designer’s had even been banned because the shoes’ heels were basically titanium spikes that could easily kill someone. Charming. More importantly, however, in high stiletto heels, you can’t run. Hell, you can barely walk.

And you can’t, for example, run down 80 or 90 flights of stairs in a building that’s just been hit by a plane. There were news stories about women’s shoes in the context of 9/11. And then those heels promptly went out of fashion.

In the hyperbole of the day, I remember reading at least one article that went on about “Never again!” would such shoes be fashionable, symbols that they were of being pretty much literally hobbled. Fashion that prevented you from saving your own life, etc. And lo and behold, flats and lower, chunkier heels came into fashion.

And lasted a little while. It didn’t hurt that the 60s-inspired look came in then. However, here we are, 2008, and the shoes are back.

I guess style is more important than memory.

I’m sure your kids are very nice, but…

For a long time, a lot of people thought I didn’t like kids. And they’re right, in some respects. There are kids I can’t stand. Loud, wild, rude, undisciplined, entitled brats who are, 100%, the result of parents who are failing them. FAIL. Poor kids.

Yes, I realize even the best parents have kids who are loud, wild, rude, undisciplined, and entitled occasionally. They’re kids, after all. There is a difference.

However, what it’s more about is that, even with my cousins’ vast herds of offspring, traditionally I simply haven’t much exposure to kids in general. And when I did, like anyone suddenly thrust into a vastly different environment, it was overwhelming. Sweet, merciful crap, put half a dozen boys together and they become a force of nature.

So my aversion was mostly based on not having a fucking clue what to do with or around kids. My brother and I grew up roughhousing like hell, but it’s frowned upon for an adult to administer kung fu kicks to an eight-year-old. Go figure.

Continue reading “I’m sure your kids are very nice, but…”


This is a picture that will not be taken of Angela’s retirement. It is not a picture of her new apartment in Hamilton, with high ceilings, charismatic architecture, and refreshingly reasonable rent. It is not a picture of her travels, foreign and domestic, and all the adventures awaiting her. It is not a picture of time spent with friends and family, of thought-provoking film, or good books, or cups of Buckingham Palace blend tea.

And it is not a picture of Angela celebrating her 57th birthday next Wednesday.

Rest in peace, Angela Wilke.

The shot hurt much less…

Sat downstairs for a while waiting for my turn to get my flu shot. As is typical in an insurance company, most of the other people there were women. And they apparently all know each other, so they chatted. And chatted. And chatted…

Unfortunately, this time of year, apparently only one topic of conversation exists: the holidays.

And so they talked about putting up their trees and Christmas lights already. And how they’re amazed how organized they are this year and they’ve never been done their shopping this early. (“I got my sister-in-law’s gift in July!”)

And they complained about how their kids/nieces/nephews/friends’ kids are sneaky little bastards already trying to figure out what has been bought for them. One woman actually uttered the words “goddamned kids” in reference to her niece and nephew. Nice.

And they compared their cross-border shopping adventures. Note: if you think people lining up at American malls at 3am is “so insane” — DON’T BE ONE OF THEM.

One woman was going on about the “neat” and “unique” things she’s picked up as door-crasher specials. Like a fajita maker. For a kid. Another woman even waxed poetic about how much she loves being in a mall on Christmas Eve. Righty-o.

Further painful proof that the “season” I’d want to be a part of exists nowhere near any of those people or their lifestyles.