Thursday, February 24, 2005

Punk Rock Song: Riding in Benny's Coffin Car

We all went to the fair
Sneaked inside and wasn't scared
Went on a ride and lost my keys

Then we went and played some games
With that crappy gun that doesn't aim
The carney said, "you win a piece of shit"

I didn't have it all
I wanna have some more
I wanna have it all
I didn't get enough

Riding in Benny's coffin car
Tryin' to get in the nudie bars
Polyester hung in our hair

Went to Ron's and got some shakes
Then we threw them at the Dairy Queen
When we were done we split for home

We never talked about stuff like that
And we can never have it back
I used to wake up alone

Ed and the Hot Gothic Norwegian

“The clerk, that Gothic Norwegian? She wants me,” Ed says. He plops down in my guest chair.

“No, she doesn’t.” Bored. Ed talks about women all day. In his mental hierarchy of Interesting Shit to Talk About, females top the list.

“I think she’s trying to court me,” he continues, ignoring me. “Yesterday, for no reason at all, she came by my cubicle, and she touched my arm. That’s a big signal for women, just like when they throw their hair? And she was smiling. That’s her way of saying, ‘impregnate me, I want your seed.’ Women do this kind of thing all the time. You need to read the signs.”

“She’s just being friendly. She’s new here,” I say.

“Oh yeah? Check this out,” Ed says. “She just brought me cookies from downstairs. From the deli. These cost money! She got them just for me!” He holds up the little paper bag like a trophy.

Suddenly, I’m interested. “What kind of cookies?” My stomach jumps.

“Macadamia nuts. Don’t you see? She’s making me an offering. This is the third signal she’s given me now. She’s offering her soft cookies to me, the eligible male. It’s a metaphor. She wants her sweet, moist cookies in my mouth. My mouth,” Ed says. “She wants my tongue all over them.” He chomps down on one of them, the crumbs spilling down his sweater. “Ohh…man, these taste so good…so soft, delicate…these, these...Norwegian cookies…” he trails off, chewing on it as he closes his eyes in ecstasy.

“Gimme one,” I say. The macadamia nuts look sort of like white chocolate. Ed hands me the bag, and I fish one out. And…they taste good. Very good. The nuts are soft, sort of, and they don’t actually seem nutty at all. I cram it all into my mouth, filling my cheeks with sweet, Norwegian sex offerings. What am I doing wrong? Why aren’t women bringing me cookies?

I think of our counterculture file clerk for a moment. “Have you ever slapped a woman around a bit?” I ask. I lift my hands and brush them clean, like Pontius Pilate.

“What for? You mean, during sex? Oh yeah, a few times. Some women, they actually ask for it. That’s just fucked up, man. You get this girl, with a tattoo on her back and her two kids are sleeping in the next room, and she says, ‘Pull my hair. Hit me. Come on, really do it. Spank me. Harder!’” Ed shakes his head. “What about those kids? That’s not where I am anymore though…maybe five years ago, I’d go along with that, but with kids in the next room?…I just can’t do it,” he says. He looks out the window. “The Norwegian would probably enjoy it too, I bet.”

“Have you ever defecated on somebody?” I ask. I want more cookie.

“No, I haven’t. I always wondered though, what that would be like. I think it would feel good. Germanic or something…you’d be just kind of squatting there, and it all comes out of you…you know, in a mound like a Dairy Queen cone, but all warm instead…what an intimate violation,” Ed says. His eyes drift away.

“I wonder if the Norwegian would let you,” I say.

“I’d aim for her face,” Ed says.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Being Stupid in Class

I lean over to D’Arcy’s ear.

"Did you watch ‘The OC’ last night?" I whisper. My butt aches; such hard seats. “That show is a 90210 wannabe. And it’s never going to have the 90210 cheese factor. Seth and Ryan - those guys are just shells. The OC needs a Dylan. Dylan created the sideburn craze of the 90’s single-handedly. Talk about a cultural influence. Where's the tv badass we look up to now? I want to hang out in the Peach Pit like Dylan did, asking that old alkie guy for advice, while I screw every 17-year-old in Beverly Hills on the side. Only, I don't want my long-lost dad to blow up. That's too traumatic.”

D'Arcy turns, staring vacantly at me. "Uh, yeah. Wait. Yeah." A long, pregnant pause. "Uhhmmm....," he hums. He begins to chew his pen, rolling it around with his tongue.

"Well?” I say. Impatient now.

"Huh?" he jolts, in exaggerated fashion. He hears me, the bastard. I stare at his landscape of pimples for a few moments, and then return my limited attention back to the prof.

The prof is telling us about Jane, who sells oranges on an island to a tribe of natives. "What is the demand for oranges...on the island?" he asks us. The studious Chinese kids down at the front furiously scribble down everything he says. These guys, they always get 100's on their test scores. They cluster around the prof at his podium like those ancient guys in robes must have, lounging around Socrates under a tree someplace back in the day. Does anyone remember who they were? I bet they wrote down everything though, frowning intelligently whenever Socrates looked in their direction.

D’Arcy turns to face me, the slow rotation of his head reminiscent of a revolving planet. "Do you think Seth and Ryan are fags?" he labors. He makes his voice sound like those kids in special ed. You know – the ones you see with dirt smeared on their cheeks, with that salty, macaroni sweat smell following them around like a cartoon stink cloud. D’Arcy’s breath wheezes at me as he waits for his answer. Head bobbing slightly, his eyes swim behind his thick, greasy eyeglasses.

I watch his slack face for a moment, and then I poke my finger into my nostril with slow, clumsy purpose, as though mentally feeble. My mouth gapes. “I dunno, wha's a fag?" I grunt. I work my hands with stiff, awkward gestures, and thump my chest. “Ehhh…Ehhh,” I moan, my tongue hanging out like a fresh kill on the hood of a hillbilly pickup.

The prof ignores us, drawing a supply-demand curve on the blackboard. He gets his salary whether we listen or not, so why should he give a crap. Maybe we are retards for not listening.

On the other hand, I doubt I’ll be drawing supply and demand curves for an employer anytime soon, so who cares. I try to imagine ever needing to implement this knowledge:

Future Boss: (exasperated) Did you get those SD curves plotted, or what? The director is counting on you, dammit!

Me: (desperate) I'm almost there...I'll have them on your desk in...10 minutes, okay?

Future Boss: (booming) They'd better be! The budget depends on this!

Yeah, not happening. I contort my face at D’Arcy again, and finally he snorts laughter, clapping his hands over his mouth.

“Jane has reached an equilibrium level of orange sales with the natives,” says the prof.

Some guy ahead of us slaps down his pen. "Thank god Jane has those fucking oranges," he mumbles.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Advice From the Old Biker

I push the barbell above my chest, my physical catechism. The prayer of my body, recited four times weekly.




I count down with my reps, because counting up makes my goal seem more difficult. Counting down to smaller numbers means, the iron weighs less.

That's what I tell myself.

I sit up on the bench to rest for a couple of minutes, and see a man seated across from me, dressed in black. He’s working out in skin-tight black jeans and construction boots. The sleeves of his Steve Miller t-shirt are torn off, revealing chunky, tanned biceps, flexing as he curls a dumbbell to his shoulder.

Curls. They are just about the most popular exercise in the gym, right after bench press. Everybody and their brother wants big arms. Go there on a weeknight, and a half-dozen fratboys will be giggling with their buddies in front of the mirrors, trying to grow twenty-inch pipes by lifting 25-pound dumbbells. Too bad they usually ignore the rest of their bodies.

The guy sees me looking. “Hey man,” he says.

“Hey.” I actually recognize him from before. He rides his motorcycle to the gym. I remember that because I have a bike as well. It's an unconscious thing; when you own one, you keep your eyes peeled for other riders, like you're in the Stonemasons with a secret handshake or something. I never come to the gym on it though, because I don’t want my leathers to get all sweaty after lifting weights. Looking at him in his silly outfit, I wonder if maybe his bike is his only vehicle. “Did you ride in today?”

“Yeah, man. It’s perfect weather out there, for once,” he says.

“What do you ride?”

The guy grins, his long Fu Manchu spreading into a brushy “M” on his lips. “It’s a Kawasaki Mean Streak. I just traded up, brand-new. Solo-seat…the pipes on it are like fucking cannons. Do you ride?”

“Yeah,” I say. I settle back under the barbell. I like my hands spaced wide for bench press. It works the pecs more that way. Big pecs, those are the glory muscles.

“That’s good…that’s really good,” he says, as though he just learned I’m studying for my MBA. He picks up his dumbbell and begins pumping away with it again. “I’ll tell you something, dude. I’ve been with a lot of women in my life. And along the way, every single one of ‘em let me down at one time or another.

“But my bike…all I ever had to do was treat it right, and it was always there for me. Yours will too, man...just keep it oiled up. Put a blanket on it in the winter, wipe the bugs off, keep ‘er clean…and your bike will last forever.

“Women, man…they come and they go, but you can ride that bike your whole life if you wanna. It’s never going to let you down,” he strains, close to the end of his set.

I notice the big hand with no wedding ring, and the trace of bitterness in his voice. The hard lines of his eyes, the silver hairs combed back through his mullet haircut.

I drum my fingers on the bar before I lift it off the rack, looking over at him. “I’ve been told that the way my bike vibrates, it’s like a rolling, 400-pound dildo. Why should I keep all that fun for myself?," I say.

“And my bike has a seat for two.”

He snorts laughter as his dumbbell clanks to the rubber floor.

“I know, man.”




Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Breaking the Record

I’m standing on the crest of a gentle slope, in the west.

I shade my eyes as I squint down a long stretch of highway, and I see nothing on it, nothing but the gentle, pink sun, sinking low in the horizon and warming my naked chest. I am alone, standing in the middle of the road, except for the crickets in the weeds, the trees, and the cows in pastures all around me. I feel nothing but a sweet summer breeze that fills my nose with a soft bouquet of flowers, corn, and June hayfields.

Beside me, my motorcycle is parked on its stand in the middle of the highway. It would make a fine photo. Have you ever lain in the middle of a deserted road, put your head back on the hard tarmac, just to see what it feels like? There is no describing how wrong the sensation is. You look up into the sky, and want to get off it as quickly as possible. The only things that are lying down on a highway are dead.

I turn east.

Ahead of me lies a length of soft, new pavement, put down and painted only a few weeks before. It’s perfectly straight, coal-black and immaculate in the fading light of the dusk, running two kilometres past the home I grew up in. At the end of it is Jon, who is watching for traffic coming from the other direction. I’m waiting for the “all clear” signal.

Half an hour ago, we installed washers on the gas tank of my motorcycle. See, the air intake is right beneath the tank cover. An engine needs air to burn gas. The more air it gets, the more gas it burns, and the faster it goes. So we grabbed a handful of washers out of one of my dad’s rusting coffee-cans, and put them on the bolts that hold the cover down, which raised it above the intake by a good inch or so. Without the tank cover blocking the way, this gaping, one-inch mouth should allow my intake to suck down the air like a galloping racehorse.

In theory, anyway. The entire exercise reminded me more than a little of putting old O-Pee-Chee hockey cards with clothespins on my bicycle spokes, so that they’d make a motorcycle sound when I pedaled down the road. I did that fifteen years ago in the same garage.

“With more air, maybe the bike will go faster,” I said to Jon. I wasn’t too sure about it though.

“How fast?” he wondered.

“I don’t know. If I’m really lucky…maybe ten clicks faster. I’ll have to try it out.”

Ten kilometers per hour more, that would be fantastic. The fastest I’d ever ridden the bike was 235 kilometres per hour, down this same stretch of highway last summer.

I saw this photo once, when the motorcycle land speed record was set on the salt flats outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1948. In those days, the bike everybody talked about possessed a name as elusive and mysterious as its own legend:

The Vincent Black Shadow.

One day in 1948, a motorcycle racer named Rollie Free took his Shadow to the salt flats with the goal of setting the world-record speed for a motorcycle. He wanted to take it all the way up to 150 miles per hour, which would easily shatter the previous record of 136, should he accomplish the mark.

But despite a specially-tuned bike and numerous test runs, the fastest Free could push the Vincent was 148. This was good enough to break the record, but he wanted 150, and he couldn’t do it.

That is, until he decided to try something different.

After multiple, tortuous, high-speed runs, Free’s leather riding gear had actually torn open along the seams, scooping air and resulting in excess drag on the bike, hindering his attempts to break 150. And besides that, the gear was heavy. So before his final run, Free stripped off every stitch of it, and put on a pair of skin-tight swimming trunks, a shower cap, and some borrowed shoes.

The next thing he did was start up his Vincent, and take off down the flats for the last time, clad only in his Speedo swimsuit, working his way through the gearbox until he had topped out in the highest gear.

Finally, with the gas open all the way to the stop, he stretched his body out on the gas tank of the Shadow, putting his legs up on the seat behind him, with his feet hanging off the back of the bike in the slipstream – lying on top of the Vincent in exactly the same position that Superman might, flying in his legendary way above the streets of Metropolis.

He was doing this - with his nose pressed kissing distance from the gas tank, arms stretched out like a kid on a jungle-gym, and his toes pointed behind his bike to decrease every possible inch of drag- when a photographer snapped a photo of him. Rollie Free blew past the photographer that day at 150.31 miles per hour, setting the world-record speed for a motorcycle that would stand for twenty years. It also cemented the reputation of Vincent HRD Motorcycle Company in riding legend for all time. It was one of the most sensational stunts ever pulled off in the history of motor sports, and the black-and-white photo of Free, rocketing across the flats in his bathing suit, remains the most famous motorcycling picture ever taken.

Over fifty years later, I'm standing on a highway in my shorts, shirtless, gearless but for my helmet, about to make my own attempt at a top-speed run in nearly the same matter that Free did. I’m thinking about that photograph, wondering what Free must have been considering before he performed his lunatic stunt.

I know what I’m thinking. I’m thinking that, at the speeds I’m hoping to reach, it won’t matter very much that I’m wearing no gear if I wipe out. I’d probably just blow up like a watermelon all over the road.

I'm also thinking, I'm glad I didn't tell Dad I'm doing this.

Stupid as hell? Oh, yeah. But that isn’t going to stop me. When you own a motorcycle, there arrives a day when you have to light it up just to see what happens. For me, that day is today.

Across the valley, the headlights of Jon’s own motorcycle flash, on-and-off, on-and-off:

All clear, man.

I want this run to be absolutely as fast as I can go. The conditions are perfect; I’ve got a nice long, gentle grade to ride down, no traffic or other distractions to enhance the dangers, and a helpful breeze pushing at my back. And I'm not going to let those things taint the speed I'll reach - nobody remembers advantages like that, only the final number on the scoreboard. I have my fairing to shield me from the hurricane-speed winds I'll encounter, and I’ll be pressed against that bike like a coat of paint. How fast will I go?

There’s only one way to find out.

I swing my leg over the bike and thumb the starter. My V-twin burbles to life through its gleaming race-pipe - the same engine design as Rollie Free's Black Shadow. I gun the throttle a couple of times in preparation. There is nothing in the world that sounds like a V-twin thundering through a glasspack exhaust; nothing. I look behind me one last time to confirm that, no, there aren’t any cops coming up the road. I slap down my visor and punch the bike into first.

The motorcycle jumps from the tarmac, the exhaust blatting angrily behind me. I drop it into second gear almost immediately, then into third. In only three seconds, I’m past the maximum legal highway speed, a human bullet aimed at the end of the valley. Jon’s headlight is the beacon of a distant star, still flashing, “all clear.”

Into fourth, and the bike wrenches beneath me with muscular torque as I make the change, the engine continuing to cycle up between my knees. I can hear the sound of the intake, freed by the lifted tank-cover, honking as it gobbles the summer air. I look down and I’m already passing 160 kilometres per hour.


Fifth. The engine is now a full-blown, nasal bellow, open nearly all the way, filling the valley with its Spitfire roar. The needle passes 200. But I know there is some left.


Sixth gear. That's it for the gearing; I slide back on my seat, squeezing the bike with my knees, imagining myself flatter than a film of dust on the back of my bike. I flick on the high beams with my thumb, rest my chin on the gas tank, and twist the throttle to the stop. I think of Rollie Free, with his bare face pressed to the glistening black paint of his Black Shadow, flying across an endless field of salt, sparkling in the sun like new-fallen snow.


Trees and fence lines are blurring past, and birds are startled into flight by my passing. My eyeballs vibrate and tear up inside my helmet as the bike races to reach the end of its legs. It’s still accelerating, but now approaching the limit of its capabilities. Jon is now no farther than 200 metres away. A sudden sandstorm of blackflies ticks into my visor. Finally, I sense the bike arriving at the nadir of its speed, and I flash a quick look down at the clocks.

The tachometer needle is swung all the way over to the red, past 10,000 rpms. The speedometer is buried just over 240 kilometres per hour.

I come out of the sun, and I see Jon raise a fist and whoop as I burn past him, a faint sound that is behind me as soon as I hear it.

And for one last moment, I relish the overwhelming sense of rocketship power, the sensation of flying at ground level. The gleaming, jellybean red of my bike makes me feel like I’m hanging for dear life onto the back of Superman’s cape, and I take in the feeling of a motorcycle engine spinning beneath me, extended to the very limit of its powers. I feel like I can go anywhere, anytime, as fast as I want to. I finally close off the gas.


I’ll probably never ride so fast again in my life.

I sit up on the seat, catching the air with my chest like a human parachute, feeling the tornado warmth of summertime air rushing around my body and pushing me back to earth, the speedo rolling back...200...180...120...80. Now I'm rolling at a sane highway speed, and I’m almost convinced I can hop off and jog faster than I’m riding.

I turn around and idle back over to Jon, parking beside his bike. I kill the engine.

“How fast?” he says.

“The needle was past 240...maybe about 242,” I say.

“242? Holy shit,” he says. He pulls my calculator out of his pocket and does the math. 242 x .62.

“That’s 150.04 miles per hour,” Jon grins in the gathering twilight.

"150. The old record," I say.

I think about ancient, front-page photos of men in bathing suits who once rode spindly old motorcyles to bust 150 miles per hour, and how they became kings because they did it.

Around us, the crickets chirp louder in the failing light, and no cars pass to break the spell.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Revenge: A Dish Best Served Cold

I open my eyes.

I gradually become aware of the cold winter light, feebly penetrating past the corners of my window blinds. It isn’t sunrise, though. The window faces east, but the sun has long since followed its path across the sky to its current westerly position. It is now late afternoon, maybe two or three o'clock. “Late”, in that it is late to rise at such a decadent hour. But it’s early for me; I’m a first year arts student. I start thinking about what my breakfast might consist of. Fries, maybe some pizza. It doesn’t matter, either one will do. It won't be eggs, though…eggs kind of disgust me.

I roll over to see with annoyance that my roommate Brent is in the room, reading. I’m glad that he’s away a lot, but you can’t get lucky all the time. He looks up as I rustle beneath my blanket, and places his book --"Heroes of the Lance"-- on his bed. He looks as though he has been waiting, and I realize that he’s been making some noises over on his side of the room with the intention of waking me up. Brent has a way of being inconsiderate with regards to my sleeping habits.

"Hey, you're finally up," he says.

With a grimace, I reach for a cigarette, in triumphant disregard for the authority and policies of this dormitory. Where the fuck is the ashtray? Oh, on the floor. I put it on my chest, a memento of a ripper club I went to across the river one night.

"Jim, hey, we have to talk, man. Some things have been on my mind, and I want to kind of clear the air. It's tough enough living with a roommate, and us talking about stuff is important, right?" Brent says.

I notice that a slight tremor makes itself evident in Brent's voice - it seems he has been preparing for this little confrontation. I find his nervousness surprising; having just awakened, lying in bed clad only in my underwear and fumbling around with my usual “morning” routine, I have to believe that I’m pretty unintimidating. Whatever.

"Oh?" I say. I twist my face at the stupidity of my answer. Brent, you idiot bastard. Leave it to you to create a socially uncomfortable situation.

I light my smoke, and put my hands behind my head. I found out a few weeks ago that if I have a cigarette as soon as I wake up, the buzz is intensified, as compared to other, more conventional smoking times. Also, instead of dragging into my mouth, then inhaling, the effect is maximized if the cigarette smoke is just inhaled in one giant drag, like a joint. It takes some practise. I do it now.

"Ifffffffff", goes the cigarette.

I chuff a little out my nose, but this breath isn't too bad, and I don’t lose much. My head swims, and I remind myself of the universal truth: anything that makes you feel this way can’t be good for you. I resolve at that moment to continue doing things that feel good. I watch as the blue smoke of my exhaled smoke roils and drifts above my bed like an evil spirit. On the wall beside me, Kurt Cobain kneels eternally onstage with his beat-up guitar, extracting the simple notes that somehow nobody else on earth was able to produce. Saint Kurt, praying on his knees to the god of Rock. I make an “O” with my smoke-trail.

In these few moments, I completely forget about Brent, in the same way I ignore television commercials. Not only is Brent an irritating, moronic, and clumsy bastard, he has absolutely no redeeming qualities to speak of. He could at least be an interesting bastard. I could likely tolerate the guy if he at least said something once in a while that didn't sound like it came from an after school special.

But there’s more. The thing is, I’ve been unable to forgive him since the day I came home from class a couple months ago to find him masturbating with a book of art nudes I keep in my desk. He'd had to rummage around through my things to find it. That kind of invasion is inexcusable:

“What the hell are you doing?” I yelled.

“Nothing! Ah…I was doing some reading,” he said in a loud, caught-in-the-act kind of voice. He made a sudden, exaggerated scratching motion in his groin under his blanket. “Man, I wish this jock itch would go away,” he said, tenting the cheap yellow wool. He tossed my book over on my bed.

Sure, Brent. I walked in to see you taking care of your jock itch. Fuck sakes, at least go in the shower.

Brent's half of the wall is bare, and the few personal items he displays on his dresser are utilitarian in origin: combs, deodorants, a small photo of his nauseating girlfriend. On his floor lie socks, discarded t-shirts, and his conformist, preppie shoes.

Brent: a generic and forgettable character.

"Ahhh, Jim...ahhh, well listen,” he says.

“I’m listening, Brent,” I say.

“Well, I'm just going to say it. Your attitude, I mean, the way you act sometimes...well, it's really bothering me. I mean, I feel like I can't have friends in here because you're always hanging around. Also, your stuff is everywhere, and the bathroom is always messy. Can't you - I mean, can you DO something about this? It's been on my mind a while. Don't you even GO anywhere? And my food in the fridge, the beer. When are you going to get some? Like, well...I guess that's it for now…and you're always sleeping, man! How am I supposed to be in here while you are always sleeping?," Brent says. The pace and volume of his outburst increased as he went on, until he is almost yelling. He runs a trembling hand through his hair, and I realize that Brent is actually upset. He jumps to his feet and begins to pace around.

“What, you don’t want me in my own room?” I say.

"No! I mean, don't get me wrong, man!," Brent says. "You're this great roommate - you play guitar and all that stuff - and that's cool! But, I need some room, man. I mean, we can get drunk some time - cool?- but I'm talking about some respect, y'know? That's all, man," Brent says.

He grabs a CD and heads for the door. I stare throughout this entire episode, wondering how this morning has started out so fucking badly. It’s just too much for me to take in as soon as I wake up. Respect? Did he learn that word from his rapper buddies? All I had wanted today was a nice little cigarette before my breakfast, Christ. Some fucking fries, Brent, you dumb shit. How am I supposed to enjoy those now? Now I’ve got you on my mind. I'm going to need a milkshake or something with them now, you ordinary, unexciting shitheap. And why can't you enjoy even one fucking song I like?

"I'm seeing Tim next door...ahh, I'll be back in a bit. Think about it," he points suddenly, and closes the door.

Think about what?

I seethe for a moment in silence, and stub out the smoke. I swing my legs from beneath my sheets, and pull on some pants. It’s always cold in here.

The thing is though, I know Brent is right. I can be a very inconsiderate, rude, and difficult roommate. I feel like the room is my sole entitlement, and I hate the intrusion that Brent represents on my privacy. In a million different passive ways, I seek to make his life miserable on a daily basis. But what really galls me is that Brent made the effort to point out the obvious. Of course I do all the things he mentioned. I don’t need Brent's simplistic, clumsy analysis to realize the truth of it. Ironically, Brent's awareness of my behaviour annoys the hell out of me, and the audacity of Brent's speech this morning leaves me feeling even more resentful towards him; it was a tactical mistake, and will only create more tension. I wonder if my application for a single room will ever be processed. I kick one of Brent's shirts on the way to the bathroom for my customary morning piss.

I stop short a moment. Wait, what did he say? The food? That’s a lie. The first week in this concrete cell, Brent ate almost all the food I had stocked the little fridge with. And beer? Brent obviously never counts, otherwise he would see that the consumption is almost totally his own.

I open the fridge to examine the contents - not much food, admittedly, but we don’t need a lot, what with our meal plans and all. Also, plenty of beer stood in the back in their familiar brown bottles. Another dorm rule broken, but who cares, really. We aren't going to throw the bottles around, and beer out of cans tastes terrible.

My bladder cramps, and a sudden inspiration flashes through my mind on this grey winter afternoon. My eyes widen as I consider its possible outcome.

This can all be made right.


But only if I hurry.

I grab a bottle of beer from the fridge, and scuttle into our bathroom. This is going to be the ultimate roommate violation. But it is also going to be satisfying.

I twist the cap off the bottle --Molson Export-- and have a deep slug. Then I gulp a few more. It’s good, better than I thought it would be. My teeth chatter on the bottleneck as I work to guzzle down the foaming liquid. As a matter of fact, this morning beer tastes goddam amazing. I fill my cheeks, and hold up the bottle: half gone. Fucking beautiful.

I unzip my fly, hold the bottle over the sink, and do what comes naturally. I remember the similar scene in Dumb and Dumber when Jim Carey filled a few bottles in that hilarious brown dog truck they were riding around in.

"Wanna hear the most annoying sound in the world?” I say to the mirror.


I roar laughter in the freedom of this moment. Would it work, though? Even just a sip would be total success. The bottle fills quickly, so I finish off in the sink, yet another antisocial, but very satisfying act. Peeing in the sink, I’ve never done that. It’s sort of like a very high urinal, actually. Turn on the water for a second...and, we're done.

Using a bit of toilet paper, I wipe the bottle off in consideration of the possibility of renegade urine drops. Now, this is the critical part. If the twist-top won't go back on, this little stunt is finished before it starts. I carefully screw the top back on as tight as possible. It looks okay. I look at the handiwork for a moment, and then shake up the bottle a bit. I see the familiar bubble of carbonation inside.


I sprint out of the bathroom to replace the bottle in the fridge, putting it prominently in front of the others. I’m just about to sit down when Brent returns, looking apologetic.

"Jim, listen. I don't know if I went over the top there or what. Exams are soon, that's all. I'm just fucked up, man. What can I say?," he pauses. "Want a beer? I'm kind of fucked, man."

This is too perfect.

"Uh, no thanks, man. I just woke up. I think I might have some fries in the cafeteria," I say. My voice is even. I was made for a life of crime. My mouth twitches, nearly betraying me. Struggling to contain the wild grin that threatens to surface is proving almost impossible. I turn away, pretending to look at my nose in the mirror. I am ice cold. No way does he figure this out, because I'm a fuckin' shark.

"Okay, man. Your funeral!," Brent laughs, grabbing the beer.

Hey, Brent, does that beer feel warmer to you?

Do you sense my excitement?

I peek out of the corner of my eyes.

The moment of truth arrives. Brent twists the cap, and we both hear the small, familiar sound:


Brent pinches the cap, and does that fucking jock snap-the-finger thing, and flicks the beercap at me, zipping it past my head. In that moment, any shred of remorse I might have felt slips from my mind. This is for all other instances of beercap flicking, I think. Bottoms up.

Brent puts the bottle to his lips, and gulps greedily. He must have been thirsty. He polishes off half the bottle in one draught...just like I had, minutes earlier.

"Hunh!," he exclaims. "This beer tastes funny. It's not too fizzy, either," he ponders. He smacks his lips in the way that only a complete idiot could, and scrutinizes the label. As though this would somehow provide a clue for this strange taste. He shrugs. "It goes down pretty smooth, though," he decides. He has another swig, and sits on his bed, reaching for his pulpy book again.

I’ve seen enough. I rise to my feet.

"I'm going to get some fries," I say. "I thought I'd get a milkshake...but I changed my mind.” I walk to the door. "Later, Brent," I begin to strut, hand still on the doorknob.

“Later,” he grunts.

I hear him mutter as the door closes. “What a fuckin’ weirdo…”

Jimmy 1, Brent 0.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The Terrifying Mugger Incident

I was in the food court of the mall when it all went down.

There I was, eating a bean burrito from Taco Bell. There are so many reasons to enjoy eating this kind of burrito, by the way; they are among the larger items on Taco Bell’s menu, they are among the cheapest, and I really enjoy the warm, beany taste of them. A nice helping of cheese…yes, it’s fair to say I was relishing my bean burrito at my table. The sun slanted through the skylights, illuminating the heads of my friends Hank and Bo. Those guys, they think bean burritos suck, and were eating more expensive combos instead.

Bo: Christ, you got burrito jizz on your chin again. You want a bib?
Me: Shut the fuck up, Bo. I like to eat like Friar Tuck, you know that.
Hank: My stomach hurts. I’d better not get diarrhea like last time. Did anybody notice the way the cashier kind of smirked at me? I think he was gay.
Bo: Yah, I did. Hmm, I notice you have sour cream on your tacos, Hank.
Hank: So?
Bo: Oh nothing. I’m just sayin’.
Hank: You sick fuck.

It was right around that moment when we all heard a desperate wail from a table about ten feet away. We looked over and saw a helpless older lady being tugged from her chair, as some creepy mugger guy yanked her purse from her arm. Her husband was just sitting there – I don’t blame him though. Sometimes these things happen so fast that you can’t react. And besides, he must have been pushing ninety and was kind of desiccated. What could he do, really? In the split-second that I took in what was going on, my heart went out to him. And we all make jokes and wonder why our senior citizens are afraid to go anyplace – it’s because shit like this happens. It’s like jackals thinning out the herd. They go for the weak ones first.

After a couple of healthy tugs, the mugger managed to pull the purse from the arm of the old lady, who was howling like a dying antelope. He was wearing typical gang-attire, and surrounded by other food-court patrons who were doing nothing. What a society we live in.

It’s a good thing we were there.

LET’S ROLL!” I shouted. I whipped my burrito to my tray (well, I tried to – I actually kind of threw it to the side. It flipped end over end to detonate on the forehead of this poor schmuck who was sitting at the table next to us. I hope I didn’t take his eye out or anything…I never found out either way).

FUCKING-A!” Bo screamed. We all leaped to our feet to pursue the disappearing mugger, who was dodging through mall traffic like a running back.

The mugger picked the wrong place to ply his trade. The three of us are gym regulars; powerlifters, actually. Bo has the “worst” squat among us, and he can push 605 off the rack. All this to say, our legs are trained to move a huge weight as fast as possible in the shortest time. And that we are matchless head-to-head in a sprint situation. Combine this with the startled parting of the crowd who saw us coming, and the mugger didn’t have a chance in hell of getting away.

We closed the distance faster than a starving cheetah.

It was Hank who got to him first. The mugger slipped trying to negotiate a corner, and Hank saw his chance. He launched himself in the air, an angry human missile, at the mugger’s pumping legs. Hank barreled into him with a tackle that would have made the defensive line of the Patriots proud. They hit the granite floor with a gasping, “HOOOF!!”

The mugger though, bless his little heart, wasn’t finished yet. He squirmed around on the floor and managed to donkey-kick Hank on the cheek. “AHH! FUCK! YOU STINKING CUNT!” Hank roared. He clapped his hands to his spurting face, shaking his head blindly back and forth. My turn – I was right behind.

I flew, knees-first, into the chest of the mugger. He was driven backward again into the pavement – but unbelievably, was still clutching the purse, attempting to make his escape. It wasn’t going to happen. I grabbed his filthy jacket and cocked my fist behind my ear, like I was preparing to launch a Hail Mary to a wide receiver. The mugger kicked beneath me. “Get offa me, you cocksucka!” he screeched.

“I don’t think so,” I seethed. My fist impacted his nose with a dead meat splat, spraying blood and mucus across the granite tile in a gruesome fountain.

“OH, YEAH!! DO IT, MAN! WASTE HIS ASS!” yelled a passerby.

The mugger was still writhing with insectile vitality, refusing to submit. “Fuck you...Fuck you…” he grunted. He was punching my shoulder with his free arm, still stubbornly desiring release. I have to give him top marks for that, actually. But still…it was time to put the baby to bed.

“You’re going down,” I hissed through gritted teeth. I struck him again, this time crushing his jaw. A handful of teeth rattled on the ground like spilled tic-tacs as his head hammered off the floor. It was over.

I rose above the slumped body of the mugger, taking the purse from his relaxing fingers. Not a mark on it – I was pleased. I looked around to see Bo and Hank grinning at me, and behind them, the shocked elderly woman and her husband, who was holding his wife with worried, rootlike fingers. I walked over to them. “I believe this is yours,” I said.

"Thank you, young man...thank you very much," the woman said, her lips trembling with emotion. She took her purse back with quivering hands as her husband stared at me with huge eyes, hanging onto his wife like a life-preserver. I paused for a moment, and reached out to tenderly touch a tear that was creeping down her cheek, cutting a path through the rosy makeup she had innocently applied that morning. I was suffused with a burning, furious hatred for all people who would scare and threaten the safety of a helpless old lady like her.

"It's all right, ma''s all right. He's never going to hurt you again. I promise you," I murmured. Somewhere in the crowd, a man whooped.

The whole thing was written up in the city newspaper, and Hank, Bo, and I got our pictures taken for the front page. The CBC account of the incident isn’t as detailed as what I just laid out, so I wanted to be sure to put in writing Wednesday’s events as they occurred.

As a warning. Because me and my friends, we’re always around.

The opening chords of AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" began to play through the mall's sound-system.

“Rock and roll,” Bo said. “Anybody up for some beers?”

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Messenger

He awakens, not knowing where he is, or even remembering who he is.

Wisps of his final dreams cling to the edge of his mind, and they slowly retreat back into their cracks as he sits up in bed. He turns off his bedside alarm and makes his way to the bathroom. In the kitchen, he hears the fresh spurts of coffee dropping into the decanter, programmed to percolate at the same time the bedside alarm is set. As he stumbles a little on his new morning legs, he thinks about his past.

Childhood is far behind now, and part of him wants for that lost innocence, but he knows it is gone forever. Like the now forgotten dream fragments, it has slipped painlessly away with the passage of time. His struggles to recall what it was once like to believe in Santa Claus, or the infallibility of his parents mostly finish with him asking himself the same questions over and over:

What happened to me?

Was I ever that happy? And,

What am I doing now?

These thoughts, they beat like a dying moth in his mind. Only sleep makes it stop; or perhaps a single gunshot would, lifting off the top of his skull like a bloody, inverted pie plate. It isn't good to think about that.

The man never consciously thinks of these things; he only feels their presence in the effects on his mood. Even now, as he has his morning shower, his only thoughts focus on the events of the day:

If it is cold outside.

Will he be tired.

How long will his day last. Simple, functional things.

He dries himself with his towel, carefully replacing it on the rack. Damp, crumpled towels on the floor won't do.




He is almost ready. But today will be like no other. It is brand new, fresh in the box. He turns off the light, and pauses. For just a moment, in the roseate gloom of the humid bathroom, he can almost believe he has returned to the womb.

Walking into his bedroom, he picks up the garments he had placed on his footlocker the night before; white undershirt and boxers, and white longjohns to shield himself against the cold. They are clean and new, fragrant in that special way that they can be only one time. It pleases him that today he is wearing new clothing close to his heart. He pulls the shirt over his nose to sniff briefly before he puts his work clothes on over top - these articles aren’t so new.

He eats his simple breakfast in the intimate confines of his kitchen, not bothering to turn the light on. The faint light of the east illuminates his table, and he enjoys the effect on his mood. He allots himself ten minutes for this small meal, the same as always: toast, coffee, cereal. It is staple food, no luxuries. He munches quickly. This food

Body of Christ. Take, eat.

nourishes the body, sharpens the mind. Finishing his spartan meal, he returns to his bedroom for his last tasks of the morning. In his methodical fashion, he drops to his knees beside the bed

Father, forgive me.

and slides the narrow box from beneath that he has been concealing from view. Concealing from whom? Nobody…but items like these are kept in dark places. He places its compact weight on the bed, neatly made, upon a many-coloured duvet. He opens it.

The gun.

An AR-15, the fully automatic machine gun made available only to the nation’s walking army. Or anybody with access to the internet. He regards it with a long look of introspection. He can still turn back, there is yet time - but this isn’t the thought that crosses his mind. He is marveling at the idea of how everything will be different just because he will use this tool today. And this rifle really is a tool; its utilitarian black construction is reminiscent more of a tire jack or some kind of wood-clamp than anything else. His will shall be delivered with its use.

He removes the AR from its small case and performs the ritual of breaking it down into pieces for cleaning. It is a surprisingly quick process, and especially since he has practiced religiously to get all the nuances right. Every morning before work for the past month, he has taken apart the gun, oiled it, put it back together. He does it now not even thinking about it, his hands doing the work, his mind a blank. He likens this state of mind to a yogi on his mat, intoning meditative chants

Hail Mary, full of grace.

until all random thoughts disappear. Popping the fully loaded clip back inside, the AR is almost ready for its intended purpose. One thing remains: the man screws a long, crude noise suppressor to the end of the barrel. Its construction was simple, accomplished in only a couple of nights in the basement with his old metal lathe. A million years ago, he had once crafted a hammer for his father in his high school machine shop. It was never used; it was an ugly, embarrasing thing. So is this, but like the hammer, it was easy to make, and it works just fine.

With a final twist home, he slings the rifle to his shoulder, muzzle end down. Then, one arm through his long, navy peacoat and then the other - and the compact AR fits beneath, neat as you please. He is glad for the weather: frigid, with gusts of snow. There is no need to justify his long coat. He pulls on his black gloves, with close fitting material, excellent for the sometimes dexterous work his job requires. He doesn’t bother to check for his keys or wallet. He isn't going to need them.

He walks to the door through the long, darkened hallway of his narrow home. He lifts his hat from its hook and squares it on his head. At last, he is ready. He appraises himself in the mirror beside his coat rack. Tall, forty-something.




The embroidered wings of the U.S. Postal Service gleam with their silver threads on his hat, luminescent in the pre-dawn light. He wonders briefly what kind of machine could have made such a difficult pattern. It doesn’t matter.

Opening the door of this house for the last time, a small crucifix appears on the wall, hanging in the triangle of light afforded by the open door. The man wonders why the Lord would appear so tortured and confused in all such depictions. Such a righteous sacrifice should make One fill with the majesty of the Holy Spirit? No? Was He not willing to make this most supreme of sacrifices? He kisses his fingertips, and places them on the forehead of Christ

Jesus wept.

as a sudden gust of wind flaps his pant legs like dark flags. He feels no cold. A man doing his duty places thoughts of creature comforts aside. A man with a purpose sees nothing but his goal. His face betrays no confusion or suffering.

Today, he is new. It doesn't matter anymore what once was. He is now the Messenger. He has found God. The rest of his life will begin today. His Message shall be delivered on newscasts, and books will be written analyzing the moments of his deliverance. Others will follow.

He will be reborn on this day, baptized in blood.

A man with faith needs nothing, but will be rewarded with everything.

Neither rain, nor sleet nor snow nor dark of night shall stay this courier from his appointed rounds.

Whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.

The man steps into the new morning light, grinning hugely to the sky, each white tooth a slick, Chiclet tombstone. Today, his heart is full.


Monday, February 07, 2005

The Boy Who Was Afraid to Crap

Robby flicked through the channels.

It was a usual summer weeknight after supper; boring. Too young to drive, and too old to enjoy the television. Only a bland assortment of re-runs and game shows were on the tube. He thought he needed to come up with a hobby. His friend Jeff was on his way over to play catch in a few minutes. There wasn’t even a ballgame on.

He was just deciding whether or not to go outside and wait for him when the stomach cramps seized him.

The familiar panic began to beat through his body. It was his greatest fear, the thing he worried about all week, the thing he hoped would never happen:

He was about to crap.

Oh shit...not now! thought Robby. The irony of his thought caused a shrieking laugh to explode from his mouth.

Teeth clenched, he dropped the remote control with a clatter and staggered like a sailor up the stairs to the main bathroom, desperately clutching his stomach (as though that would stop what was about to happen) the entire time. Along the way, his anus contracted painfully, causing him to lose his balance and bounce off of the wall like a veteran drunk.

“Oh god, please!,” Robby screamed, scrabbling at the wallpaper.

Now, crapping is not an unusual activity. But Robby's craps happened to be. The reason? They were nearly the size of footballs when they finally emerged. This is actually how Robby thought of them - as footballs - because he was so traumatized that he was unable to think of a visit to the bathroom in anything other than abstract terms. So he'd think to himself:

I hope I don't drop any footballs tonight.


I pray to God I don't fumble any footballs today at school.

They weren't really the size of footballs, but they were pretty fucking huge, to be totally honest with you. Far bigger than should be expected from a 13-year old boy. And they scorched his ass like hell every time he had to go. So naturally Robby was afraid anytime it had to happen. All week long, Robby ate cheese to delay the inevitable.

“You’re my little mouse!,” exclaimed his mother.

Little did she know. Robby hated the cheese, hated the thick, toenail stench of it. But since he believed it kept him from going to the bathroom, then he’d eat pounds of it, by god. But eventually he’d have to go in there.

Stumbling, Robby made it at last into the bathroom. He slammed the door, flipping the ancient deadbolt across. Now, he was safe from anything coming in...but he was worried about what would be coming out.

He managed to yank off his pants without screeching womanishly, and ripped off his feeble Power Rangers underwear. His hands shook like his grandmother’s.

But he did, however, plop painfully down onto the toilet seat and cause the cramps to ravage his body once more. Robby moaned pitifully and began the process he endured about once a week: he waited. He had felt the earthquake-like onset of this episode a few hours earlier and had managed to hold it in, forgetting about what must be done.

Until now.

Everything about the bathroom was hideous to Robby. The whiteness - so sterile and cold, like a morgue or hospital. The dank dripping of the faucet in the tub. He had nightmares about that sound, the goddam thing dripped no matter how hard you turned the tap off. The toilet paper on its stainless-steel peg, an obscene parody of something tasteful.

You wipe your ass with it!, he screamed in his mind. You scrub shit off on it! It's so gross! How can they advertise it on television? The toilet paper sat implacably. The time was soon.

Robby clutched the wooden toilet seat with slimy fingers, feeling his loathsome sweat popping out all over his body. It was humid here in the bathroom, and his fear only made the sensations worse. Most disgustingly, he was now sliding around now atop the toilet seat in greasy smears of his own terrorized buttsweat.

Robby wondered if the quiet sounds of his desperation were making their way throughout the ductwork of the old house to the other members of his family below. He hushed suddenly, imagining them with their heads cocked to the side as they listened to him taking a dump upstairs. Oh, the misery of fecal matter.

Robby gritted his teeth as he felt the tip of the crap begin to poke out of his rectum. “No…NO!” Robby willed it not to happen this time. Robby begged it not to come out. What if Jeff came now? Was he here already? He was sure he would die of embarrassment. He tensed himself even harder, but it was not enough.

The door of the bathroom suddenly pounded.

"Robby? Oh, you little dink. Hurry up." His brother, Alex.

"You fucking bastard,"Robby whispered hatefully. "Go away, go away..."

Bitter tears were now sliding down his cheeks. After an eternity, he heard Alex's heavy footsteps stalk away. At least he would be spared the humiliation of pooping while his brother waited outside the door.

Robby's heart was pounding in his chest. A sprint wouldn’t provoke such a reaction. Time was now very short. A sudden convulsive, chuffing fart blew out of his ass as the involuntary muscles in his stomach contracted. Wonderful - he was bathed in the hot aroma of his own body wastes.

Hell was a bathroom, he was certain.

"Dyugggh...yuuuuhhhh-uhhhh," he groaned. The huge, bloated piece of shit began the inevitable slide out of his ass. It was hot, burning the tender tissues there like a piece of molten iron. His anus chafed with the incredible, gigantic passage of the waste. Robby imagined the Titanic emerging from between his buttcheeks, splitting his colon apart, tearing open his intestines as it escaped.

Robby shook his head in futile negation. The time was now.

"No. NO!"



The huge chunk splashed into the water of the toilet. But wait, there was more! Another disgusting squeeze, and...

Sploosh! Out came another. Robby gasped in relief, collapsing on his hairy legs. He knew it was over.

And as he did before, and would every time to follow, he lifted his leg to look.

There they were, the two pieces were floating serenely, not even staining the pristine clarity of the water. A stray piece of peanut was embedded in one. Must have been from the Oh Henry I ate a few days ago, thought Robby. And now, he began to sob without restraint. Everything was fine. The world had not ended. He would live for another week. He would play catch. He wiped, pulled up his pants, flushed, and went outside.

Jeff wasn’t here yet. Robby thanked God for small miracles.

And tried not to limp.

Gang Tags

He sat on the shiny pink bus seat, scrawling something in oafish concentration. He'd straighten up and look at what he had drawn, and then hunch over to doodle something else. He was wearing a pair of absurd powder-blue pants with matching shoes, and a ballcap screwed sideways into his billowing red afro. Some stupid white kid trying to look like a rapper.

I usually ignore people like this on the bus, but I took notice after the guy held out his notebook at arm's length for about the tenth time. The lad was actually practising his gang tag as he rode to school.

If you live in a city, you've seen them. They are on bus shelters, mailboxes, fences - anywhere a dog can lift its leg, some dumbass has painted a gang tag. They are an urban blight, but I also find them hilarious for their inherent stupidity.

For the purposes of slamming their design, I'm going to assume that gang tags are meant to be seen by the public. This is based on the logic that they are placed in the most visible places, scrawled over as much surface area as possible, over multiple locations. Therefore, the artist desires that they be seen.

So why do they all look like chicken scratches? What message are you hoping to communicate if your personalized logo is an indecipherable red smear on a park bench? Sure, that same peestain-like mark is then identifiable at different locations -- but what's the point? How is a person supposed to appreciate the meaning? Especially since there are dozens of these things, in all the colours of the rainbow dotting your typical urban landscape?

This one says, "This is my brain on crack" in gangspeak.

It reminds me a bit of people who buy overly complex personalized plates for their car. A suggestion: an easily-read, single-syllable word is way better for your license plate than an obscure acronym for comprehension purposes.

Buddy: Hey, look, another Beemer with a vanity plate. What's it say?
Me: (squinting) Looks like...hmm. VRMPT? What the hell is that?
Buddy: Clearly, it means "Vroom Patrol."
Me: Ah, of course.

So the guys drawing gang tags need some basic marketing lessons. The number one reason you advertise yourself is so that your target will identify with you enough to buy your product. If they don't know who you are, how will they do that? Gangs sell things, I'm pretty sure about that. If they want to increase awareness, they should think about using a basic symbol, something simple, something everybody can understand, to make a statement of who they are. Like these guys have.

Granted, gangs aren't necessarily following a business plan. Maybe they are just painting their marks as a way of threatening people instead. And those being threatened might actually recognize and understand what looks like a random scribble on a brick wall someplace. But even so, the tags would be more effective using the concepts detailed above, modified for a different design goal. Something eyecatching, like a single symbol, a mark, an image. Maybe something scary or demonic, to convey how upsetting and terrifying the local posse is supposed to be. Again, taking a cue from the experts, something like this:

Everybody knows
what this means.

But maybe I'm wasting my time, trying to find meaning in idiocy. Who else but total jackasses would practise drawing their criminal logo in a public place?

Who knows. Maybe there is something to them after all:

Cop: Aha! What's this in your pocket? A gang-tag! Let's go downtown!
Gang Loser: Tha's no tag. Tha's mah name in Arabic, yo! Cain't you read? It says, "Jamal", yo!
Cop: Hmm. All right then, you're free to go, uh, "Jamal".
Gang Loser: Dat's what I'm talkin' about!

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Winning the Handshake War

Everyone has participated in a handshake. It's one of the thousands of rituals designed by society over the epochs, smoothing our interactions with other humans at every stage when you don't know what to do. Meet someone new? Well, poke out the hand. This is the understood manner of introducing yourself.

Something to keep in mind is that people are judged quite a bit by the quality of their handshake. It's part of your first impression -- part and parcel of the overall image you are presenting; grooming, posture, and language. So if you offer a bad handshake, it's going to damage your credibility. Pay attention to the handshake details, and use your discretion to modify the method in accordance with the situation. For instance, take care not to overdo it when offering your hand at job interviews, to possible mother-in-laws, or actually, any member of the weaker sex. Basically, avoid doing most of what follows below.

But between men, like anything else, a handshake is a contest of wills, a way of arranging order; Alpha Male vs. Beta Male. At all times, as a man, your goal is to win the Handshake Battle.

The following is the definitive how-to guide to develop a handshake worthy of a king.

1.) You want to be the person initiating the handshake. By making the first move, you are boldly asserting yourself as the man in charge of the situation. And control of all situations is what you want. Make eye contact (which is a sign of aggression and dominance, the impression you want to leave), and thrust your hand forward with power and authority.

2.) The handshake is executed so that the web between your thumb and index finger meshes securely with the web of the other person's hand. It is pitiful to stop short with your shake, ending up grasping the fingers of your target. Only old ladies with names like "Agatha" do this. Ensure proper form by driving forward with the forearm, stopping only when your hand locks with that of the other person. If you are stopping short, you are betraying defensiveness to the other man. Lock hands, and if possible, pull the person toward you physically, as an exhibition of your reserves of strength.

The guy on the left is Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun
Microsystems. See how he pulled the other man close
to him for the photo? Also, he's got his hand on his
shoulder. Everything about his body language says,
"I'm the real man here - I own you, bitch."

3.) If you suspect you will be in a situation where you will be handshaking, make sure your hands are clean and dry. It's a good idea to keep a napkin in your right pocket for this, so that immediately prior to the shake, any moisture collected on your palm will be wiped off. This is incredibly important -- if you are desirous of projecting an image of power and control, damp hands indicate nervousness, weakness, and fear. There isn't much worse than a damp handshake, unless it's...

4.) A limp handshake. It's the worst impression you can make. Stiffen your hand prior to insertion, and maintain your strength throughout. But there is also another, better reason to apply this method during handshake interactions: During the shake, it is common for the opposition to attempt to squeeze your hand in an overt display of power. If you go in limp, you will probably be unable to overcome that pre-emptive squeeze, and, pathetically, be forced to submit. It should go without saying that this is a complete embarrassment. So the way to overcome this, again, is taking the initiative. Overpower the quarry with a crushing gorilla paw, underscoring your dominance.

5.) The last rule of handshaking is subtle, but very important. The iconic handshake in photographs is usually depicted as two hands meshing at an equal, almost karate-chop kind of angle. You need to understand that real handshakes almost never end up that way; someone was dominant, and somebody wasn't.

So for the final testament to your total mastery in the handshake exchange, rotate your wrist prior to the shake so that your hand ends up as the one on top; this means that you stick out your hand "king" style; that is, as though you are allowing a serf or some similar lesser person to kiss your ring. This is kind of what the Pope does, actually. If necessary (that is, if you have initially grasped the other man's hand with the equal "karate-chop" starting position), twist the hand over during the requisite "double-pump", concluding the interaction with no doubts over who owned the situation.

Look at Dubya's "I'm on top" hand angle.
He knows the rules of handshaking.

Win little battles like these, and you'll win the war.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Bored at Work

"Hey! Look what I found in the photocopy room," Ed says. He's holding this trashy-looking book entitled, "For Shame".

"What is it?," I ask.

He pokes at the book. "This guy, he wrote this book about how marketing in the past was all about making you feel bad. Look at the pictures!" He laughs like a chimp.

Flipping through it, I see turn-of-the-century advertisements for pills, lotions, powders...and yeah, it looks like the goal of the advertisers of the day was to make you feel bad so you'd buy their product. In think actually there should be more of that today. No particular reason; I would just find it funny.

Do you want "Acid Mouth"? Neither do I.
So I use Pebeco toothpaste.

I spot one I like. "I think I'm about to waste organizational resources!" I say. I head to the photocopy room myself.

Later, I pin on my wall the photocopied picture of a one-hundred-year-old Listerine ad I copied: "Halitosis makes you unpopular - DON'T FOOL YOURSELF!" it says. There's this sad-looking broad on a chair all by herself while this Clark Gable type behind her is dancing up a storm with another, smiling woman. I guess she must have used Listerine that morning, or else she'd be moping on a chair too.

I don't intend to fool myself. I might have to buy some Listerine today.

Super Bowl Commercials

In two days, one of the most anticipated events of the television viewing season will finally hit the airwaves. I don't mean the broadcast of the Super Bowl, however: I'm talking about the commercials.

These commercials are widely-known to be the very best of the year. They'd better be; advertisers have paid as much as 2 million dollars for 30 seconds of airtime. They are saved on computer, passed around on office emails, quoted, and talked about as much as the game itself.

This is incidentally an issue that arouses some angst here in Canada. We get to see the football game, but none of the cool commercials. Our home networks seize the American satellite feed, and insert their own commercials, containing shitty, unentertaining Canadian content. Yay, Canada.

The amazing thing is that few people can say with any authority that these ads work. Sure, a lot of them are funny as hell (so I've heard), but are companies selling more product as a result of the ads? Nobody knows for sure. Marketing research is inconclusive that traditional mass-media campaigns actually do anything at all.

Ask yourself this question: Can I name five commercials I have seen recently, summarize their content, and identify what was being advertised? I can't. I filter all that stuff out, a skill I refined to perfection back when my teacher was trying to teach me algebra. Or else i'm in the kitchen when it's on the TV anyway.

But even entertaining Super Bowl commercials that have a widespread and receptive audience seem just as ineffective. Can you remember any Bowl commercials, and what they were selling?

I can think of those "Bud Bowl" ones, but a significant reason has to be that they are aired multiple times during the broadcast. But what about a single, 2 million dollar, 30-second ad slot? Is it working? Think hard, of any of those ads from the past - can you recall much of anything?

In spite of Canada's aggravating censorship policies, I have actually seen quite a few, and I can't name a single product that was being sold. I laughed though. So I guess it's all good.

But I submit this proposal to wealthy and faceless corporations across North America: pay me the two million and gimme a sandwich board. I bet I'd be as effective promoting your product as your fancy Hollywood commercials are.

More importantly, I'd be rich as hell. Yeah, I like this plan.

Shameless Bragging

A few months ago, I sent an article I wrote to the local newspaper for a column-writing contest. And I won! I would have been happy enough just to have the media exposure, but I also got a $250 cheque, in addition to multiple offers from women of Christian virtue to bear my children. Of course though, you know I'm only joking. I didn't really get any money.

For posterity, and your reading enjoyment, here is the article as it appeared in the January 10th, 2005 edition of the Ottawa Sun:

Dogged by Bad Press

The face, framed by a spiked collar and riveted steel muzzle, appeared poised to lunge for my throat, despite those evidently necessary constraints. Thankfully, the demonic figure I had spotted was safely contained in an above-the-fold newspaper photograph. Still, the image was impossible to forget. A picture says a thousand words, and the few lines captioning the photo were barely necessary to tell me that there had been yet another frightening pit bull attack.

When he introduced his plan to rid Ontario of pit bulls, Attorney General Michael Bryant referred to them as “inherently dangerous animals.” And if any dog looks “menacing” enough, Section 13 of the proposed Bill 132 grants police officers the right to obtain a warrant to enter the premises where one of these “ticking time bombs” has been reported. Thank goodness. The authorities need the power to protect us from all that exploding pit bull shrapnel.

It sounded like pretty sobering stuff, and frankly, after all I had heard, getting rid of these obviously crazed canines made perfect sense to me. In reading one news report, I learned that in the process of killing one of the animals, a police officer had needed twelve bullets to slay the creature. Twelve bullets! Maybe body armour should be made from pit bull carcasses. I asked a dog-loving colleague of mine her opinion of the beasts: “I don’t go near them,” she sniffed. “They scare me. They’re the ones responsible for the really severe mauling.” Severe mauling, pit bulls? How do you know that? A frown. “It’s in the news almost every day, isn’t it?” And Bryant himself stated that he had received thousands of messages from citizens saying much the same. It seemed that everybody was on board then; this is no-brainer legislation that can only help both an increasingly unpopular provincial government and its concerned citizens.

However, so far, the Ontario government has not commissioned any survey or study to back their claim that the majority of Ontarians support a ban of pit bulls.

In addition, in quoting that “pit bulls account for between 48 and 56 per cent of serious dog bites” in the United States, Bryant failed to mention that his numbers originate from an obscure Washington state publication, and that those figures are non-representative of dog attack trends in America. Why should it be necessary to cite such a deceiving statistic? Isn’t there a solid case for breed specific legislation?

The answer is: No, there isn’t. There are no reliable studies in Canada recording dog attack statistics. And when asked for any evidence at all that pit bulls are genetically predisposed to violence, Bryant actually admitted that, “I don't know of any scientific evidence in terms of looking literally at their DNA or looking at the genetics of it.” Essentially, he acknowledged there is no empirical data supporting the ban. This breed-specific legislation, in his own words, is a ban of uninformed, discriminatory prejudice, based on a handful of sensationalized individual experiences.

Interestingly, when Bryant makes sweeping generalizations regarding pit bulls, that they are genetically inherently dangerous, he is saying that all dogs are predisposed to violence, because the “pit bull” is not a purebred animal. It is bred from an undeterminable number of other breeds that are probably running around our neighbourhoods. And even if a particular strain of pit bull can be traced along a specific lineage, suggesting that they are predisposed to any kind of specific behaviour is like saying that racial profiling for humans is acceptable – something that no government in Canada agrees with.

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association is against any form of dog breed ban.

And so is the Canadian Safety Council.

Why does the Ontario government support it? Bill 132 was one of the fastest Bills to be approved by Queen’s Park in history.

Perhaps they all saw the same scary photograph I did.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

In my Office: Part Two

"I heard your phone," I say. "Why does it sound like that?" I had to know.

Cellphone Guy is in his office, eating corn nuts. He does that every day. They're in a handy bowl beside his mousepad. They smell sort of like body odour. The first time the scent floated into my office, I ended up smelling my armpits, just to confirm that yes, I was wearing a fresh shirt. Corn nuts really stink.

He pops one into his mouth. "I like to know it's my phone when it rings," he says. There is corn nut dandruff stuck between his teeth.

"But why that sound? Why not something different?" And not so retarded, I didn't add.

He shrugs. "It makes me feel like dancing."

I think if I saw a guy dancing because his cellphone rang, I would crap my pants laughing at the sight of it. I hope he does it someday.

Internet Handles

So just now, my buddy is trying to come up with a really cool internet tough-guy name to use for his online identity. I was so frustrated with his continuous suggestions that I finally grabbed a dictionary to come up with a name for him:

Me: Okay, how many words do you want? (flipping pages)
Buddy: One!
Me: (finding page, and pointing randomly) Okay, here's one. Hmm, it's two words: "Hansen's Disease."
Buddy: What's that?
Me: It means, "leprosy."
Buddy: I want a different name.

He's been wasting more time on this than an 11-year-old girl. And since he's doing it at work, I can calculate to the cent how much money he's "earned" so far trying to figure the problem out. Let's do that:

Based on the time of his first email on the subject (12:43), he's used 34 minutes of work time on the project so far. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he's now decided on a name.

This buddy earns $51,661 per year. That's gross pay - for our example, we won't consider any deductions.

Divided over 52 weeks, this amounts to $993.48 per week.

It's $198.70 a day.

This buddy works a 7.5 hour "work" day. That's 450 minutes.

$198.70/450 = .44 cents per minute he gets paid. Multiply that by the 34 minutes, and my buddy just got paid $15.01 to dream up, "Lubber" as his ultimate internet name (he just sent that suggestion to me).

"It's the Middle English word for parasite," he says.

No shit.

The Dome

As long as I've followed the Toronto Blue Jays, they've played in a stadium in Toronto called, "The SkyDome".

Inexplicably, when people talked about going there, they'd drop the "The" prefix in the title; so when they mentioned it, they'd say something along the lines of, "Hey, we're going to SkyDome today!" Implicit in this subtle change in the statement is the idea that going there means you are participating in an event, rather than simply going to a place. Sort of like saying, "Hey! We're going to Woodstock!" It took Torontonians about five years to realize that the 'Dome was just a baseball field. Whatever though; Torontonians have this little-dick syndrome, you have to forgive them a bit. That's why they built the CN Tower - somehow, the world's largest phallic symbol makes Toronto "world class" to these guys. They fretted about having a recognizable global symbol, and now they have one: A mile-high cement penis. Hey, high-five.

Anyway, SkyDome cost Ontario taxpayers about $600 million to build, opening in 1989. Fast-forward 16 years, and the SkyDome, no longer the event it used to be, was flipped like a cheap whore to Rogers Communications for a mere $25 million dollars in January, 2005. How's that for a return on your tax dollars?

But that number amazes me - not for the incredible mismanagement of public funds, though. It's the ultimate selling price of the place that astounds me - $25 million, that's low! Imagine if you were some rich guy with $25 million burning a hole in your pocket? I'm sure they exist. $25 million for a mansion actually isn't out of the question at all in some tony Toronto neighborhoods. So why not buy the SkyDome? Imagine what you could do in there? I'd put a huge neon sign on the front identifying it as my place, sort of like the world's biggest nightclub or something. And you could live in the SkyDome Hotel and do anything you wanted inside the dome part. You could have dirt-bike races with your friends, play Nintendo on the JumboTron, and live out the childhood dream of hitting a "game-winning" home run over the wall to "win the Series." You could have all your buddies over to play actual games on the field, drink in the dugout, play in shorts and flip-flops, and generally act like a total bohemian, running around with the old pennants after you've won the "championship."

You could even invite Morgana, The Kissing Bandit to your parties!

She's probably pretty old by now though. Repeat after me: sagging lemon tits.

Why didn't anybody pony up the money to do any of that? Aren't rich guys supposed to be eccentric? Plus, the 'Dome is in a great location - bars and entertainment galore, plus you're right beside the lake. You'd be the only guy in North America with a retractable roof on his house! I guess guys like Bill Gates didn't read the fax or something, because an opportunity of grand proportions was missed by rich bastards everywhere.

Anyway, I read in the paper today that upon taking ownership of the 'Dome, Rogers Communications renamed it the "Rogers Centre." Why a "Centre"? It's a baseball park! How many baseball parks in the majors are called a "Centre"? That's right, I have no fucking idea. But I doubt it's very many:

Buddy: Hey man, get your hat! We're going to, "Roger's Centre!"
Me: What the hell is that? It it some kind of event? Is it prestigious?
Buddy: Never mind, just get in the car!
Me: Forget it, I don't get out of this chair unless it's for a prestigious event. Give me back my beer.

No, the new name doesn't have the same ring that "The SkyDome" did. Why didn't they call it, "The Roger's SkyDome"? You'd have a touchstone with the past name and prior glories, along with the modern brand name the company wishes to insinuate into our consciousness.

But maybe that's the whole point. There's no more glory or prestige in going "to SkyDome." If you're there, it's probably because that's where your homeless buddies are taking their sleeping bags after they got booted out of Nathan Phillips Square.

And they even took down the JumboTron last month. But that's all right; it's in a better place now, where Joe Carter endlessly hits Series-clinching home runs, and the AstroTurf always smells like a new Pontiac.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Pet Name

"Bon, ben...mon beau cochon, mon beau petit cochon!," she says.

"Why are you calling me that? Cochon, what's that word?," I say.

"Cochon, it means pig," she says.

"Pig? You called me a pig?" I ask.

"Oh, pig, this is love words. Beau cochon, it's cute. When a pig is clean, they are nice! They're so cute!"

"Really? They are? Okay, then...bring me a Coke, my pig!"

She stares a moment. "It's only right the way I say it."

In Wendy's: 1994

"So man, did you like that Pixies record?," D'Arcy asked. He popped a ketchup-soaked fry into his mouth, chomping lustily. He and I were eating identical Wendy's combos, our first food of the day. I was visiting him in Stratford over our summer break between first and second year. I was twenty years old.

"Yeah. I like almost all the songs. I can see why Nirvana copied those guys," I said. Rudely, my mouth was full of burger; my words kind of came out sounding like, "meef-meef, morf." But it didn’t matter. It wasn't like this was some fancy restaurant. And D'Arcy certainly didn’t give a shit either. I decided to wallow in medieval decadence.

D'Arcy slupped some pop out of his yellow cup. Or soda, as he insisted on calling it. "Fuck, man. We need to get some bevvies later. We have nothing for our party." The party was going to be a post-concert party. D’Arcy played drums in his band, The Puckering Rectums, and they had a show that night. They had these t-shirts with a dancing gingerbread man on the front. Why a gingerbread man? His brother, their bassist, thought it would freak people out. But more importantly, the rectum logos they had tried to stencil on their t-shirts basically ended up looking like big splotches of shit, so they had to try something else.

"Gingerbread men are easy," explained his brother.

I lifted my cup and took a long drink. It was funny how often I did stuff just because D'Arcy did. Sometimes, it was like we could read each other’s minds. With some alarm, I realized how we were even dressed the same today. Same shirt, same shoes...ah well. Everybody wore jeans, right? My mind shifted gears when I saw a cute girl walking by. Dressed seasonally, I noticed with approval.

A great idea suddenly inspired me. Finishing my soda in long, honking draughts, I leaned my head back and released a gloriously loud, wet belch:


With instantaneous insight, I knew that this would be the loudest and most resonant burp I would ever produce. This historical fact wasn't lost on the patrons at Wendy's. There was utter silence; I saw some long stares of disgust. In the background, I could hear only the sizzle of the deep-fryers; even the beeping of the cash registers had stopped momentarily.

D'Arcy goggled comically, his chipmunk cheeks bulging with food. "Fu-uuuck, man!," he gasped. A chunk of fry flew out of his mouth. "That was totally uncalled for!" We both roared unrestrained hyena laughter, as though nobody else was in the restaurant. We bunched up our food wrappers.

Walking out, we spared not a backwards glance. We were busy men, after all - there was beer to buy, and music to play.

It was already a great day.

3:05: In my Office

The guy in the cubicle next to me has a cell phone. He hardly ever uses it at work - why would he? But just now it rang.

Without a doubt, his cellphone ring is the stupidest sound I have ever heard. It's this weirdo, futuristic techno-beat that sounds like this:

"BEEEP, beep-beep-BEEP-BEEP! BEEEEP, beep-beep-BEEEP BEEEP!

It made me think of Jabba the Hutt's palace for some reason. I laughed like a young baboon.

On the Street

"Hey, look," I say. "What's that sign say? 'Chateau du Sexe'! Ha ha ha! House of Sex, right?"

"Actually, that means 'Sex Castle'," she says. "Want to go in? You could play King of the Castle."

"Hail to the King, baby!," I shout at a passing man. He frowns.

Cat Barf

I woke up during the night to a familiar sound: my cat, about to throw up on the carpet beside my bed. In my half-awake state of consciousness, I decided to do nothing about it. It would still be there in the morning, I reasoned.

Why do humans and cats vomit in different ways? And for different reasons? Me, I throw up if I'm sick. I feel nauseated, grab the toilet, and out it comes. BLAAAHH! BLAAAHH! This probably means that I'm going to throw up in the near future, too. And when I am no longer sick, I no longer vomit. I don't like to.

My cat though, she seems to throw up basically because she wants to. She eats, she throws up. She wakes up from a nap, she throws up. She's not sick, she just kind of empties herself, and that's the end of the episode.

The other thing is, there is plenty of warning about what is going to happen. If I get sick, I rush to the bathroom, because I'm about to spew all over the place unless I get there in time. Through a combination of a nearby toilet and dumb luck, I've always managed to lose my lunch into the john without any collateral spraying. And it all happened with one single, gut-wrenching squeeze. With the cat though, it's like this:

The Cat: Hurk! Hurk! Hurk! Hurk!
My Roommate: Hey! The cat's gonna barf! Ha ha ha!
Me : Aw, crap...
The Cat: Hurk! Hurk! Hurk! Hurk!
My Roommate: She's still going! Quick, put her on the kitchen floor!
The Cat: Hurk! Hur-braackk!
My Roommate: Shoot.

The thing is, after it's all over, she acts like nothing has just happened. She grooms herself a bit, and strolls away from the mess like it's all part of her day (which, I guess, it is). No residual nausea. Why does she do it? To make room for more food? I sometimes notice in the little pile of puke kibble pieces that are completely intact. Maybe these were disrupting her stomach? Also, how the hell did she swallow them?

Here she is. Ain't she a stinker?

When I woke up this morning, the ejected kibble I was expecting to find was mysteriously missing. Not even a stain on the floor. This is another key difference between cats and humans: sometimes, if I ignore the problem, and if I'm very lucky, my cat will eat her own vomit.

Vive la difference!