Thursday, March 31, 2005

My AdSense Update

A friend told me in February that I needed to put Google AdSense on my blog.

"Some guys, they earn enough income from it that they quit their jobs! That could be you, man! Don't you want to quit your job too?"

I had to admit, escaping the taupe anesthesia of my cubicle with no apparent effort on my part sounded like a great plan to me. So I applied, and added it to my site. Woo-hoo, free money on the way.

I decided to check the account today and see how the old retirement fund was going.

So far, I have earned $1.39.

Simply put, this isn't going to do it for me, everybody. I need clicks on that stupid banner. Help me quit my job! Click on the banner!

Only a few more clicks, and maybe I can get a donut along with a coffee...

[Edit: Holy crap! I should have mentioned this before. The AdSense thing is at $4.30 now. I can almost buy a pint with that. Good work team, and keep it up! Help me sell out!]

Monday, March 28, 2005

Up to No Good

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You might have guessed from a previous post that I’m not too happy about having my place sold from beneath me. That’s what happens when you rent a house, though. You know going in that renting one is usually a temporary thing, until the owner moves back in (which happened at the last place I was renting), or maybe until some greedy old Scottish asshat finally becomes aware of the white-hot real estate market, and wants to sell his rental unit and run like a mad bastard with the money to Florida. The signs were there:

Setting: Months ago. Argus is eating a pizza when the phone rings. It’s the landlord, and he’s struggling for breath on his end of the phone.

Landlord: This is (name), your landlord. I was wonderin’ will you be home tomorrow night maybe?

Me: I guess so. Why?

Landlord: I thought I might come over and paint the garage of the place.

Me: What the hell for? It hasn’t been painted in thirty years.

Landlord: So you agree it needs it! I’ll be over by four.

So he ended up painting the garage this inappropriate, toothpaste-white colour, which I couldn’t care less about, except that he also painted over this really great oil-change schedule I had written on the wall for myself. It's so stark and sterile-looking now on the inside, I feel like I’m backing my car into an ER or something when I come home. Maybe I'm off base here and white is some great garage colour, and it's true that I haven't seen too many garages, but I'm sure they shouldn't be painted Colgate-white.

A couple of months later, he called me up to tell me he’s selling, and to accommodate people who want to come look at the house, at their convenience.

Isn't that a daisy.

And it’s a pain, it's a royal pain in the ass. Today, six people came for a walk-through when I was making my huge-man dinner. I’m supposed to act friendly and all when they come through, too. I wish the damn thing would just sell, but the fact is, it’s a dump that’s listed at a price that’s too high.

So my roommate and I decided to enjoy a little passive-aggressive warfare with the real-estate people. It's all we've got. We take their cards when they come, and post them on our dining-room wall, in plain sight of all visitors. Beside each picture is a rating. The placement of the cards is dependent on their rating. And at the top? It’s my cat, with a score of 10. The message to the real estate people who come here and sneer at my bathtub is this: You all rank lower than my cat:

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My cat rocks.

The other thing we’ve done, it’s to make our place look as bizarre as possible to scuttle any possible sale until we’re good and ready to move out of here. So, this is Clint – he’s the God of the Stairs, and he guards us while we sleep. He’s in 3-D, with real pants and cowboy boots tacked to the wall. A girl who was here today actually screamed a little at the sight of him, and the real estate agent was very unimpressed with me about the whole thing:

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"Get three coffins ready."

And this, it’s our fridge. I credit my roommate the creative work on the collage, I had none of the inclination he did to bother dressing the thing up. You can just see the tops of our respective 2005 Celebrity Death Lists, prominently displayed on the bottom door. He's up 1-0 so far: Carson bought it about a month ago:

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Waldo is in there...someplace.

Finally, the basement, or what we call, the Shooting Range. We like to leave things lying around with bullet holes in them, to leave visitors with a vague unease when they are checking things out down here. Sort of like, at any moment, something bad could happen if they stick around too long. This is my roommate's Daisy Red Ryder - for this picture, we had just shot the hell out of the can you see in the background, and he wanted to document the rampage with a shot of his sidearm:

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Happiness is a warm gun.

So hopefully the plan works out. Our place has air conditioning, and we're going to need it through the summer.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Night I Met Dave Grohl

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We’re waiting in line, and it’s early, but the line stretches way the hell out to the street anyway. It’s a sultry July evening, the kind where you should be wearing bathing trunks on your back porch, but I’m standing in line in jeans and my beat-up Docs anyway. It’s like a uniform, only an idiot would come to a rock show dressed in silly shorts. I don’t wear the chain wallet anymore though, the time for that is long gone. It’s 1997, and we’re waiting to see the Foo Fighters in a small Toronto nightclub. They aren’t really a big attraction yet, and we got our tickets for $20 a pop from scalpers. Seven bucks less than face value, that’s a good deal.

“Why do scalpers always get a better deal on tickets than regular people do?” Chris wonders. “They know they are going to be selling them illegally. I’m so sure.”

“Who cares. It means we don’t have to go to Ticketmaster or pay extra fees. If it wasn’t for scalpers, I wouldn’t be here,” I say. I wouldn’t. I’m too lazy to get on the horn and order tickets from Ticketmaster.

Chris lights up a smoke, and scuffs around on the sidewalk. “I hope the opening band is good,” he mutters. You can tell though, he doesn’t really care. He just wants in to see the Foo Fighters. We’re both excited about it. Dave Grohl will be here. He used to be in Nirvana, the best band in the world. We’re going to see like a truncated version of Nirvana up there. It won’t be the real thing, but still, Dave Grohl. His drumming is legendary. It sounds like angry gods having a tantrum, when he rolls on his tom-toms.

“I heard that Dave sometimes plays the drums onstage, just to prove he can still do it. They set up two kits, and Dave pounds the skins just like he did in Nirvana. I hope he does that,” Chris says. The sun is setting in his eyes, and he squints at the club. “It won’t be long now,” he says. He doesn’t know that though, he’s just talking to sort of reassure himself. Me, I figure we’ve got a ways to go yet.

All of a sudden, a car screeches up on the curb, right behind us. Chris kind of jumps, and I turn around to see what the hell is going on, because this guy could have run me down or something. He didn’t, of course, but I guess I’m just mad because he scared me. It’s a black Beemer, and the rear window rolls down. This guy with long hair pokes his head out at me.

“Hey!” he yells, and he waves his fist around. “Hey! Hello, kiddies! Hellooo! Ha ha ha! Over here, everybody!” He looks right at me, and gives me this crazy baboon grin.

A guy in the crowd screams, “It’s DAVE! He’s here!” It was. Dave Grohl was yelling at us from about two feet away from the back seat of his Beemer, and a crowd of people begin to push over to the car to talk to Dave.

He wouldn’t have any of it, though. He cackles again like a madman, and he turns his head to the driver: “Go, man! Go, go, go!” And then the car peels out, and he’s gone, and the car makes a left turn, away from the club. Where the hell is he going, anyway? I found out later he was going to an interview at Much Music.

“Wow! We met Dave Grohl! He was right there!” Chris says. His eyes are bugging out all over the place. “This show is going to be awesome!”

And it was. We booed the opening band off the stage after only three songs, by chanting, “We want the Foo! We want the Foo!” until they gave up and stopped playing. I felt sorry for them a bit, but not too much, because they were a really terrible band. And Dave, he played at least a half-dozen songs on his kit, and threw the drumsticks he broke into the crowd like religious artifacts.

It wasn’t Nirvana, but it was close enough.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A Story of Gluttony

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On Sunday, I was preparing to make a wicked spaghetti sauce for me and my friend, when I realized I was missing the most important ingredient: tomato sauce. I had gotten every single thing I needed for my sauce the day before except that. I even got obscure stuff like zucchini and rosemary, but I somehow ignored the most basic ingredient when I was foraging around at the grocery store.

You idiot, I thought. Well, there's nothing for it now. Let's just go get it.

I decided to go to a store nearby my place, a kind of discount variety store called Giant Tiger. They sell everything there from cheap beach towels to ice cream. It's kind of like a poor man's Walmart - everything there is bottom-of-the-barrel cheap. A lot of the people who shop there are the sort that wear too-tight spandex pants or dirty checkered hunting shirts. So I felt right at home in my pajama bottoms and rubber boots. All I needed was the sauce, okay? It wasn't a night at the Oscars.

So I shouldn't have been surprised when I walked in - because what did I see in front of me? Chocolate! Boxes and boxes of chocolate bars, on sale for the unbelievable low price of .30 cents per bar. Thirty cents! I began to hyperventilate, and grabbed one of the plastic baskets provided for my convenience.

I just couldn't control myself. The thing is, I'm addicted to chocolate. It's a craving, as real to me as cigarettes or heroin. I eat it every day, and a meal feels wrong to me if I can't have chocolate when I'm finished it. One of my favourite things to do is to read a book in bed with a bag of M&M's, or maybe take in a movie with a sack of cookies on my chest. It's lame, I know. But it's a fact. Anytime I can't eat it, I understand why people fail to graduate their 12-step program. One of these days, I'm going to pull a George and attempt to combine chocolate eating and sex, and that's when I'll know I've hit rock bottom.

Another thing to appreciate is, at ordinary corner stores around here, the going rate for a chocolate bar is about $1.20. Or sometimes there are deals, like 2 for $1.70, stuff like that. But never in a million years, thirty cents. And I mean, I know everybody loves a bargain. But I'm special that way too. We have a saying in our family:

"Wow, he jumped on that like a Ward on a penny."

My family, we like bargains. Most people like to talk about what name-brand their shirt is, or what company made their home entertainment system. Well, I like to talk about how cheaply I got it for. It feels like you win somehow when you buy something at a steep discount.

So combine the fact that chocolate is an addictive substance for me, for sale at a price literally less than dirt, and I was powerless to escape.

The other thing that caught my eye was the fact that the majority of the bars were American ones. In Canada, we have a rainbow of different bars for sale up here that most people have never heard of. But open in front of my eyes were crates of Paydays, Nestle Crunch's, Baby Ruths. You name it. The fetish of the exotic - I had to have them. I began to sweep chocolate into my basket. My hands shook as I did it - I had this stupid idea that if I didn't make good on this deal fast enough, it would be taken away from me somehow. Talk about an impulse buy.

The chick at the cash gave me the old hairy eyeball:

Checkout Girl: Gee, got enough chocolate, man?

Me (looking somewhat crazed): This will do for now.

Checkout Girl: I hope you didn't blow your wad or anything - don't forget Easter is next week. Those rabbits over there are going to be a quarter each.

Me (shouting): I forgot about Easter! I'll be back!

Anyway, I decided tonight to take a photo of my haul. I've eaten about a third of it so far, but I emptied my wallet on Sunday - $24 worth of chocolate. I haven't had this much on my bedspread since I went door-to-door in my old hobo costume for Hallowe'en in the seventh grade:

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They'll be gone by the weekend, I promise.

Me (proudly, like bringing home a new baby): LOOK what I got!

My friend: Sacrement de vierge! That's a lot of chocolate!

Me (smug): I know, it was so cheap, too. I got a fantastic deal.

One thing though - during my demented buying frenzy, I forgot to pick up the tomato sauce.

Oh well. I can't remember everything.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Joy of Being Rude

We're eating cereal, and then the doorbell rings.

My guest looks at me. "Non!" she says. "Non, they are early!"

Too right. "Stay here, I'll get it," I grunt. I take my bowl with me as I go.

I stomp up to the front door, and peek out the window. Yes - another real estate agent is here. Shining blue Acura on the corner, her face already arranged into a phony news-anchor smile. They're always so eager to show off how successful they are. She's here with a prospective buyer.

My landlord, he's selling the house I rent. I've now had the pleasure of permitting at least a half-dozen tire-kickers poking through my place in the last week, looking in my cupboards and closets, asking me their stupid questions:

"Is that a fireplace?"

"Is that your cat?"

"Watching the Simpsons, eh?"

All when I'm worn out from a day at work, trying to clean up after I eat, or attemping to enjoy my day off with some peace and quiet. It got tired for me after the first walk-through.

And now, another unwelcome guest is here, an hour and a half early on my Saturday morning. I open the door with a grimace. I'm wearing a Bugs Bunny t-shirt, a black I'm-a-badass toque, and three days of stubble on my chin.

"Hello," sniffs the realtor, her made-up facade slipping just a bit at the unsavory sight of me. "I know we're here a few minutes early, but I thought it we could look show the place anyway, since we were in the neighborhood." Her wrist is cocked out at me, holding her business card between two precious, manicured fingers, and she takes a step forward, as though I am to swing the door wide for Her Majesty.

"You're not a few minutes early. You're an hour and a half early," I say. I ignore her card. What the hell do I want it for, anyway? I'm not going to call her.

She frowns regally, looking at her notepad. "Oh, no, no," she says. "My schedule says that we are to view the property between 11:30 and 12:30 today?" She shows me the piece of paper, like it proves I'm wrong somehow.

"No. Your office originally scheduled the viewing time today between twelve and three. I told them that wasn't acceptable, and they re-arranged it to be between 12:30 and 1:30."

She narrows her eyes at me, lifting her lip in a sneer. "Oh, is this a bad time then?" she patronizes me.

"Actually, yeah it is. I'm eating my breakfast. Check your schedule and come back when you're supposed to be here." I close the door, and lift a spoonful of cereal to my mouth. Outside, the realtor flaps her arms in disgust, and walks down the driveway with her client, who looked like a dumbass in any event.

I return to the couch. "Bon, bain...they are gone?" my friend asks me.

I wink at her, in a good mood again. "Yes, and they aren't coming back."

Friday, March 18, 2005

Using Steroids

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“Did you guys see Mark McGwire on tv?” Willie says. “I thought he was going to cry. Baseball, they’re a bunch of morons.”

We’re in the gym, lifting easy on a Friday morning. It’s a day off for me, and a different crowd is here during the day – they look mostly like mothers trying to lose the turkey wattle under their arms.

“What are they going to accomplish?” Anton says. “They ride McGwire’s home runs in 1998, knowing he’s juicing. And now they want to tear him down for it. They used him. It’s stupid. It’s not up to baseball to keep kids from buying steroids. It's up to the parents.”

I lean on a nearby squat-rack. “Do you guys juice?” I ask. I’d always wanted to know. These two, they’re always here, lifting hard. Willie, he’s a 170-pound powerlifter, and he has a squat of 535, good for number two in Canada in his weight class. Anton is his workout buddy, not a competing powerlifter, but is nonetheless an incredibly large man. Today, they’re doing deadlifts – six plates a side, and the kids in the corner whisper and peek at them like boys at a dance.

Anton laughs. “The only drug we use is weed, eh Willie?” Willie snickers. “We like to lift early, because now we’ve got all day to smoke pot. Expensive though, when you do it every day.”

Willie gets serious. “No, man…we’ve never juiced. But half the guys here do, and they have no clue how to do it. They want to be 250 in 6 months. It can’t be done, not without your balls falling off. You want some juice?”

I stiffen a bit. “No, I don’t. I’m kind of afraid of what might happen.”

Anton shrugs. “Man, you’ve been here what, three years now? If you took 6 weeks of easy orals, you’d blow up like a balloon, way more than these clowns. You’d be 230 in six weeks, no problem. You only get side effects if you abuse them. Do one cycle a year, and you’ll be a monster, with no worries.”

I’m interested, in spite of myself. 230, that’s how big Arnold was in his prime. “They must be hard to get, though, right?”

Willie points. “That guy, Adam, he juices, has been for five years. You can’t tell though, because he doesn’t know how to lift. He sells Winnie, if you want to buy it. It’s $50 for a two-week supply. Winnie is the shits, man. That’s what Arnie used.”

Winstrol, one of the oldest and best steroids in the world. They inject horses with it – it’s the same hormone as humans have. Blow up like a balloon; the idea of turning myself into some kind of small-town superman, wading through masses of ordinary men is strangely compelling. But why? I don’t even play a sport. Maybe it's the idea that, that you can do anything you want, can handle any problem that might cross your path. That you have power, in a triple share more than any man you might encounter. What can possibly threaten you if you can bench press 500 pounds? In a land of 50-percent obesity, with beer-bellied, fish-belly pale, 33-year-old boys playing Halo together in their dumpy, rented houses, what rewards might come the way of a man who has carved his body through the discipline of the iron and careful use of his own hormone?

The problem is, nobody knows the cost. Nobody knows what steroids do, in moderate doses, to a human body over a long-term basis. There are no studies showing if they are dangerous, beneficial, or anything else. There are no double-blind journal entries posted on PubMed or on the FDA website sharing the results of any steroid experiments on a test group. It’s a great unknown, and I wonder why the guys that know the most about using them are guys like these. Why the stigma? Who knows the truth about them?

Willie hunkers down to do his set of deadlifts. “Baseball, they’re on a witchhunt. They’re after the wrong guys. Legalize them, and let doctors prescribe it so it can be monitored. We can still get them if we wanted, so what’s the point? It’s not up to baseball to change society.”

He grunts, lifting 585 pounds off the floor as his bald head shines under the florescents. Bam, the plates hit the rubber.

“Fuck, last one, Anton. Let’s go, that bag of bud is calling my name.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Inmate Extraction: Conclusion

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Part One, Part Two, Part Three

A wedge of light spills into the hallway, and they all tumble into the cell, a clunking mass of leather and plastic. All I can see is the ankle of one man, shuffling around at the entrance of the cell, black, cocked on the toe like a sprinter in the blocks.

Roberts! You--” Jason shouts, that that’s when I hear it, a BANG, this huge, tinny noise that sounds somehow like a person dropping a giant cookie sheet inside the jail cell. A man screams, and I hear the battering sounds of riot shields impacting flesh, and a guttural, caveman grunt.

“...uuuuuuuhhh! UHHHHH! UHHHH!...” I hear a wet smack, and now, a howling shriek pours unrestrained from E-107.

“What the FUCK is going on down there? What the fuck is that noise?” The supervisor at the end of the hall screams through the mesh of his bubble. He can’t leave it under any circumstance, unless relieved of duty, or an “abandon ship” riot order comes over the phones. All I can see is his frightened head, bobbing around within the safety of his enclosure.

I’m still pressed against the wall, and so help me, now there is smoke coming out of the cell.

“Lock it down! Lock it DOWN!” I shout at him, and the supervisor needs no further encouragement. The door to the Block booms shut, and I hear the deadbolts lock inside the heavy steel. Nobody is getting off this floor.

Back in the cell, Ankle Guy is down, I can see his leg kicking around on the floor outside the entrance, and that’s when I see the hand, a hand glistening sweat-slick in the light from the cell, it grabs the doorframe and vaults its owner overtop Ankle Guy. Bare feet slap on the floor, and I see his face. It’s Roberts, shirtless, wearing only his green pants, and he charges down the hall for me, his mouth torn open in a lunatic grin.

I have no time to think, no time to come up with a John Wayne way of handling the situation. I come off the wall, and my leg flies from the ground to hit Roberts square in his crotch.

Huuunnnhhh,” he groans, and he skids to his knees in front of me. His hands reach out like a drowning man, and my leg bounces from the floor again, and this time, my black wingtip impacts him directly on his nose. I hear a Rice Crispies crackle of snapping bones, and he shrieks, blood soaking his chest hair in a sudden fountain I was unaware a human nose could produce.

And then I’m on autopilot. I leap on his chest, and pin his shoulders to the floor. Roberts is smaller, one of those deeply-tanned, beef jerky looking guys you see sitting around at construction sites wearing dirty wife-beater t-shirts. I can smell the slippery, armpit reek of him, a smell so sharp I breathe through my mouth. I punch him in the face, and blood sprays again. Roberts is fighting beneath me, and suddenly I can imagine the victims he must have raped. I think of the pictures of beaten women, welfare-skinny and trailer-trash blonde with cuts down their cheeks who won't look at the camera. I remember photos of happy, smiling babies with brain damage and without genitals that won’t leave my dreams, dismemberments, mutilations, bodies, multiple horrific images that slideshow through my mind in an instant, and then my control is gone. I’m punching him in the face, splat, splat, splat, my hand is breaking on the bones of his forehead and cheeks, and I don’t feel a thing, pushing his flailing arms out of my way, punching him until my arm is dripping red, punching from a well of loathing and fury I never knew I had, and this time I know the caveman grunts are all from me.

I would have punched his face until exhaustion had Jason not pulled me from the body.

Stop it, man! Stop! You got him! Stop. Stop. You got him,” Jason shouts. He’s yelling in my ear, and I’m on my feet again, and Jason is bear-hugging me against the wall. I smell the smoke again, and the copper stench of Robert’s blood, and all I think is, not human. He’s not human. My hands, scarlet claws before my eyes, drop, spent, to my sides.

“Shhh,” Jason says. He hugs me hard, and feeling me relax at last, lets me go. It’s gone. I begin to gasp for air, coming up again from the depths.

On the floor, another guard, I think it's Ankle Guy, has chained Roberts at the wrists and ankles. He’s unconscious anyway, but prisons are all about redundant controls. He’s flipped on his face, and the blood from his face is smeared on the polished granite of the cellblock floor. I’m suddenly paralyzed with fear that he has AIDS or hepatitis. I’m covered in gore, and I realize I can’t feel my hand at all. My thumb doesn’t work. I broke it somewhere on Roberts’ face.

Another guard emerges from his cell, holding his cheek. He’s bleeding. “Look,” he says. He’s holding out something in his hand. “He made a bomb…it was a little bomb. Jesus Christ,” he says. It's a tuna can - blown wide and charred black to Elmer Fudd perfection.

Jason takes the shredded can, and dumps the contents on the floor. They’re the ashy remnants of matchheads, and a scorched wire flaps from the bottom of the can. A matchhead bomb. Pack a pipe or a can with matchheads, plant a wire inside it, wrap up the mess in a roll of duct tape, touch the wire to a battery, and you’ve got a homemade grenade.

“Shit,” Jason says. He wipes his forehead and laughs. “Well, this is what we came for, right? Fucking shit.” He slides his baton back into his belt.

I step into the sunshine pouring out of Roberts' cell, looking at my hand in the light that's shining through the eastern-facing window. Examining it in the clinical glare, I’m hoping like hell I don’t get in trouble for this.

The last thing I see are Roberts' feet, dragging through the puddle of blood he left behind, smearing a trail into the darkness we’ll have to mop up before we leave.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Another Bathroom Episode

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I already wrote an extensive list of things that bother me about public bathrooms a couple of months ago – a lengthy complaint that I thought pretty much covered everything I don’t like about the public bathroom experience.

However, last week, I witnessed yet another peculiar behavior in my office bathroom that left me wondering about the essential nature of man. I figured I might as well document it and add to my account:

No Hands, Ma

It’s funny, I’ve worked with this guy for a few years now, and never saw him do this in the bathroom until very recently, when I saw him do it twice in one week.

He was standing at the urinal when he unzipped, "took it out" to relieve himself (I’m only guessing he did this last part, I wasn’t watching that closely, and it's a reasonable thing to presume he did it) – and then he put his hands on his hips when he began urinating. Both of them! He kind of arched his back a bit (and therefore, pushed his hips forward so he kind of humped himself into the urinal), and stood there sort of like one of those idealized portraits of Superman, when he’s on top of a building or something and his cape is flapping behind him in the breeze. Let me tell you, it is fucking strange seeing a guy puffing his chest out like that when he’s staring at a wall, with his cock hanging out of his pants in the urinal in front of him.

This guy, he also falls into the category of people who talk to you when you are doing your own bathroom business, so it was unavoidable for me to notice this. So, why did he do it? Shouldn’t there be at least one hand around front for aiming purposes? What if he decided to do this at some point, and he ended up peeing all over his pants because he wasn't pointed in the right direction? So, besides being an eccentric way to take a piss, using a urinal this way doesn't make any functional, logical sense to me at all.

And if this wasn’t unusual enough, he actually stretched his hands out over his head as he took his leak. Arching his back, he tried to touch the ceiling tiles above the urinal as he relieved himself.

Him (hands proudly on his hips): It’s finally warming up out there, eh?
Me (trying to make my way out the door): Yah, it sure is.
Him (stretching to ceiling tiles): Uhhnn! (His wife) and I are going to North Carolina in two weeks, so it should be perfect weather here when we get back.
Me: Uh-huh. (Edging towards the door)

And what happened next, it took the cake for me. He put his hands behind his head, and began to gyrate in front of the urinal like Elvis Presley, jerking his hips from side to side as he tried to shake out the last few drops.

Him: Ha, ha! No matter how much you squirm and dance, the last drop always goes in your pants. Isn’t that right?
Me: Goodbye now! (speeding from the bathroom)

I wish it wasn’t too much to ask that people kept this kind of creepy behavior to their own homes. But to have that expectation is to forget the cardinal rule: people are morons.


Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Inmate Extraction: Part Three

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Part One, Part Two

The E-Block supervisor doesn’t like that I’m here.

“There’s an inmate extraction this morning,” he says, looking out his window at Jason. “Admin are supposed to be in their offices.” He ignores me. I can see a book, open on his lap in the dimness of his guard-bubble. Guards have a high-school education and pull down double my salary with overtime.

I hold up my printout prop again, to catch his attention. I shake it around a bit…see? “I just want to tape up the balances in the hall, and I’ll be out of here. It won’t take a second,” I say.

The supervisor is very unhappy about this. It’s written all over his face. Prison guards never hesitate to express negative emotions. Spend a few years surrounded by convicted felons who have no interest in the Tony Robbins program, and their attitudes begin to effect a change in even the most stalwart of personalities. Give a person enough time here, for instance, a twenty-year veteran who has seen it all, this guy who might have started as the most mild-mannered nice guy will turn into a cynical, pitiless screw with no interests other than his own. Prison guards, on average, die less than three years after they take their retirements.

“Wait until after the extraction is over, then. You know you’re not supposed to be in there,” he says. But he doesn’t order me. I can sense his weakness. He knows that I’m not supposed to be here, but doesn’t know who I am. He’s a younger guy too, new on the job. I stare at his eyes, saying nothing. Do this long enough with someone, and the other person will eventually give in to what you want. It helps too if you’re physically more intimidating, or taller than the other guy, like I am in this case. Go ahead, try it yourself sometime and see what happens. People will avoid confrontation almost at all costs. This is something I learned from the inmates. If you watch them through your window, out in the yard on a daily basis, you can learn lots of things from them that you can apply to your life. Some staff members, they keep lists on their walls of various gang members, pinned up there like a human resources org chart. Some people, they follow the prison debt lists (it’s known which guys owe money to whom) to see what the outcome will be when a con can’t pay what he borrowed. Wagers are made. It’s like being tuned to the Discovery Channel, featuring the social habits of monkeys in the African Savannah. There are social orders, behaviours, hierarchies. Who needs reality tv when you can watch the real thing outside your office window?

The young supervisor sighs, giving up. “All right, whatever. Go ahead,” he says. He presses a button beside his phone, and we hear the loud buzz of servos inside the wall. The door to this level clanks open like an industrial version of the doors on the Starship Enterprise.

“Don’t worry about it,” Jason tells him. “We won’t tell anybody.” We pass into the hallway, a breeze of warm air pushing on our faces like we’re coming into a house out of the cold. It has a heavy, hunting-camp smell of smoke and bacon grease, a thick odor that sticks to your skin and clothes like diesel exhaust. A guard working in the Blocks, one of the first things they’ll tell you is, after a while, you can’t get that smell out of your clothes, your hair. It’s like mechanics who always smell like motor oil, no matter how many times they shower.

Eau de 10w40.

The smell puffing out of the Block is the drifting scent of failure, the hot stink of unfocused, impotent frustration. Our heels clock on the brown granite floors, echoing through the dim hallway before First Breakfast, and I know that the first thing I’ll do when I get home tonight is shower like Lady Macbeth.

We’re at the cell. Jason opens the viewing window, peering around inside for a moment, and then slips his baton from his belt. He raps the metal door with it, whack!-whack!-whack!, and puts his mouth up to the window. “Roberts!” he says, raising his voice. “Roberts, we are here to transfer you this morning to Kingston Pen. Stand against the rear wall of your cell, turn around, and place your hands on your head.”

Jason peeks around in the window again. “He’s not doing it…I can’t see him. These windows are too small,” he mutters.

“He could be beside the door,” says another guard.

Jason grimaces. “Probably. That’s why we’re here,” he says. He smacks the door again with his baton, and yells down the hall: “Open! 107!” at the supervisor in the bubble. A moment passes, and then there’s a loud, chock! inside the door. We all exchange looks. The last barrier between Roberts and us is gone.

There’s no response from inside the cell. We can hear the mutters of other inmates, vague murmurs mumbling through three feet of reinforced concrete in the hallway.

But Roberts is silent.

Jason wraps the swing-cord of his baton around his wrist. He looks back at the other members of the Emergency Response Team, then over at me against the wall ten feet away, giving Roberts one more chance, a quiet moment to present himself inside his cell in the acceptable manner. He doesn't.

“I still can’t see him. Shit,” Jason says. He puts his hand on the door handle of the cell, buffed to a mirror shine after forty years and a thousand hands.

The guards, they all take a deep breath, and Jason yanks open the door of cell E-107.

Part Four

Friday, March 11, 2005

Colin's Birthday Wish

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“….Haaapppy birrrthday, to youuu! Yayyy, Collie!” and everybody claps. He’s with his dad, Uncle Greg, and his big sister Jessica. It’s Sunday.

Colin is nine years old today. He is hoping the little box Uncle Greg brought over for him is a new Game Boy. He’s been getting more attention and better presents and stuff ever since his mother went to the hospital a few months ago. He’s supposed to be sad that she’s gone, kind of, but it’s actually a good thing that she’s not here, because his mom is crazy. Nobody says that though, they just say she’s sick.

“Collie, mommy is going to be away for a while,” his dad told him last night at lights-out. “She’s sick, and she needed to go to the hospital to get well. She’ll be back soon,” he said.

“Really, dad?” Colin asked. He wasn’t sure.

Because this one time? About a year ago? He was going to his room to see if he could find Figaro, their cat, and he saw his mom in her room. She was bare naked, lying on her bed, not even doing anything, just looking at the ceiling. She looked pale and fat on there, and Colin had never told anyone he had seen her like that. He even had nightmares sometimes about her, that he’s outside her room again, and she jerks up and sees him staring at her, and then she suddenly jumps off the bed like ninety and he can’t move, his legs won’t move, and she’s so fast, all he can do is watch her coming for him with her arms flapping and mouth gaping, and she grabs him with her thick, white fingers, and presses his face to her chest, so hard that he can’t breathe, and it doesn’t matter if he bites her or even kicks her Where it Counts, she never lets go of him. It’s the worst dream he’s ever had. He even wet the bed one time, dreaming about it.

“I promise, son. She won’t be gone much longer. She’s going to come back, and she’ll be all better again,” his dad said. He kissed him on the top of his cowlick. “Now, tomorrow’s a big day. It’s time to sleep. Nine is the most important age you’ll ever be!” He looked down at him in his bed for a second, smiling too wide, his hands in his pockets and playing with his keys.

“Okay, dad,” Colin said. He suddenly felt like crying a bit, for no reason. He closed his eyes so Dad wouldn’t see.

“Goodnight, son.” His father closed the door.

Colin thought about his mother in the dark, about how strange and scary she was sometimes, and he knew that he never wanted her to come back. He felt rotten thinking about that, didn’t want to believe it, and never even allowed himself to think about this stuff unless it was bedtime. But it was true. He whispered the words to his bear, the ones he couldn’t tell anyone else:

“I hate her.”

But that was last night, he doesn’t have to think about that right now. It’s his birthday! With presents…and now, there is the cake. It’s tall! And has brown icing. He makes sure there are enough candles on the top. One, two…yep, nine. He leans forward, opening his mouth to blow them out, and then someone clamps onto his arm, and it’s his sister, and she is pressing against him, cupping a damp hand to his ear:

“Colin, you have to blow all the candles out with one breath, or else you’ll go straight to hell,” Jessica whispers. Nobody hears her but him. Her breath is the dead, leafy cold of the iced tea she’s been drinking.

Colin jerks, looking at his sister. She grins at him, and Colin is reminded of the snapping turtle that was crawling across the lawn in the summertime. Jessica, who cried for days when their mother left, and who is so much like her. She likes to play games where Colin ends up crying in the end. And that's what she likes most, because she'll sing her favourite song to him when he does, and laughs, laughs like it's the best joke in the world:

"Cry a little cry for me...Collllie! C'mon, cry a little cry for me...COLLLLIE!!!"

And for the first time, he notices Jessica’s eyes, her staring, wide-set eyes, are the exact same flat brown as his mother’s. She’s smiling at him now in the way his mother always did, just like the last time he ever saw her, when he woke up and she was in the hallway outside his bedroom with her sewing scissors.

“Come on, Colin! Make a wish!” Jessica says.

He turns to the cake, and forgets all about the Game Boy.

Colin closes his eyes, squeezing his fists into hard balls on his thighs, imagining his wish,
breathing all the way to his shoes, and blows as hard as he can, a long, gasping breath on the candles that makes him cough.

“Yeahhh, Collie!” his dad cries, tousling his hair. “Now, don’t tell anybody your wish, or else it won’t come true!”

Colin watches his sister drinking her iced tea, her pudgy hands tipping the blue, beaded glass.

“I won’t, Dad.”

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Inmate Extraction: Part Two

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Part One

Jason raps on the glass of the guard-station. "We're going to E Block," he says to the guard sitting inside. The guy behind the window looks at me.

"E Block," I say. I hold up a computer printout. "Balances." The sheets flap in my hand in a gusting autumn breeze. Inmate balances are delivered to the blocks once a week. They are taped up in the hallways so the inmates can see how much money they have in their accounts to spend on chips and pop at the canteen. Today isn't the day I'm supposed to bring them, but I needed an excuse to be going to E Block.

The guard nods, and picks up his phone, calling E Block to let them know we are on the way. He presses the big red button, and the gate enclosing the inmate compound rattles open in front of us.

Jason slaps the Plexiglas of the guard station as we pass. "Thanks, Mikey," he says. The guy inside his fishbowl nods, and he presses the button again once we’re inside. The gate is a ten-foot orange replica of those little wooden baby barriers they had in the seventies, the ones they used to sell to new parents until someone's infant strangled to death on one of them. It accordions shut behind us, and Mikey the guard goes back to sleep.

We’re walking along the cement pathways to the block-houses, and Jason is telling me how it’s all going to go down. The walkway is littered with drifts of cigarette butts, unswept from the day before. A fuzz of October frost sparkles on a thousand pitched smokes like the remnants of an early-season snowstorm.

"We’re going to knock on the door and give him one more chance to exit without incident, we always offer that option. If he doesn’t respond, that’s when we go in," he says. They all have their helmets strapped on now, and nobody is smiling anymore. There is a reason for these
stormtrooper costumes. They are to protect the person wearing it, and also to scare the shit out of a wannabe troublemaker.

It’s no accident that Nazi SS uniforms were black.

"We have to put the chains on his wrists and ankles. If he resists, we’ll use the batons. We’re taking him to the van outside the supply-entrance, it’s closer than the main gate.

"The important things to remember is that we’ll be firm, and that we are in charge. The time for reasoning with us is over. He’s had multiple chances, just like the rest of them did.

"That doesn’t matter though, to a lot of them. They wouldn’t be getting extracted this way if they wanted to behave. They’re all looking for a fight, these guys. Look at the teeth they have left…they want it. They might even need it. They even ask for it.

"But we aren’t going to ask him anything. He’s just going to do what we say."

And the way he speaks, I know he doesn’t believe it’s going to go smoothly. That he’s hoping it doesn’t.

We’re at the block, and we all scuff to a stop, and Jason opens the door – an absurd brown door just like the kind you’d see on the front of a public school or village library. "Okay, man. So just stand back, and let us do our job. Stand against the wall, and enjoy the show," he says. Tickets, please. Theatre three, on your left. Enjoy the show, sir.

We step into the shade of E Block, and the sound of the door behind us is the slam of a bank vault.

Part Three


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Chimp Attack

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We’re flipping channels, and we see the grinning face of a chimpanzee, framed onscreen behind a news anchor.

"Wait, stop here a second," I say. "What's this?"

“…and doctors say the chimps, named Ollie and Buddy, chewed off most of Davis' face, tore off his foot and attacked his limbs and genitals….”

“Jesus Christ,” I say. “A chimpanzee attack? Some guy lost his face and his genitals? What would you have to live for?”

“Nice name...oh yeah, he’s my fuckin' ‘Buddy’,” my roommate says. “Man, that sucks.”

“And he’s going to be hopping around on one foot for the rest of his life, too. So he’s gonna be this dickless, mutilated, pirate-guy,” I say.

“…generally weighing between 120 and 150 pounds with strength much greater than a man…”

“Oh, yeah!" my roommate says. "Those fuckers are strong, too, I saw this one on tv, he lifted 600 pounds with one arm. Why doesn't anybody do monkey steroids, man? But just imagine having this superhuman, fuckin' hairy little monster, just clamped onto your leg, gnawing your bag off? Just imagine that,'s just latched there, chewing your cock, and you can't get it off, or else it will eat your face or somethin''s a fuckin' nightmare.”

“Just like...what was her name? That bimbo...Sarah?” I say.

"I'm gonna rip your face off in a minute here."

Monday, March 07, 2005

Ed is Bored Again

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Ed is bored. I forget on what pretence he came into my office, but we’re talking about being kids again, in public school.

“Remember recess, man? Floor hockey. We always signed up so we wouldn’t have to go outside at lunch hour. Floor hockey rocked,” Ed says.

“Yeah, we used to take turns in net, and we’d shoot these huge slapshots right at the goalie’s nuts from five feet away. We knew we’d be in there next, but it didn’t matter, we’d still nail that poor kid right in the bag. Right in the old nut-sack. Boom!” I laugh, remembering the joy I once felt in hurting other kids.

“Yeah, and Dodgeball in gym class. They don’t even have mandatory gym class anymore, they are worried about “straining” the kids. Yeah, the last thing they want is some fat kid straining themselves, having a stroke on the floor.” Ed suddenly contorts his face into that of a fat stroke victim. “Uhhh! Uhhh!” he grunts. He jumps around in my guest chair like he’s being electrocuted.

“They don’t even have Dodgeball anymore,” I say.

“Oh, fuck off. Sure they do.”

“No, they don’t. Remember how we used to run like a mad bastard behind the line on the floor, while the asshole of the class would wind up with those big red Mars balls we had and try to nail you? You’d be running around, and those guys, they’d target you in the corner, and the balls would leave welts on your legs as turtled up and tried to protect yourself,” I say.

“What do they do now?”

“They have this game, it’s sort of like Dodgeball. Except instead of throwing the ball, they roll it at you on the floor, no bouncing. And instead of running around, you stand still, and the ball has to touch your foot to take you ‘out’,” I say.

“That’s retarded,” Ed declares.

“Yeah, it is. What lesson is that teaching the kids? Remember the fear you felt, trying so hard not to get hit by the ball? This is a good life lesson. We need to learn to run away from flying red balls. Now, the lesson is to stand still, and hope like hell the ball doesn’t touch you. It’s a “frozen deer” strategy. Those kids should be running around like some other animal. What runs around? Rabbits?”

“Yeah. They teach you to just sit there, and just take it. Just like here! Take it, right up the ass! Uhnnh! Uhnnh!” Ed humps the air.

“Yeah, you’d like it in the ass,” I say.

“Fuck you, man. You always ruin my moments.”

Talking to Dog Man

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There he is again – Dog Man. He’s always sitting on the cement on the corner outside our building. During the wintertime, he puts on a surplus army jacket, and a German Shepherd is wrapped up beside him in the blanket he camps on. I have noticed that he usually disappears right after lunch. Maybe he gets enough coin by then that he can knock off a bit early.

“Good morning!” he waves at me. His gloves have no fingers, so he can keep them on when he smokes.

“Hey,” I say. I see that he hasn’t shaved since…oh, last summer. “Hey, I like the beard,” I say. He grins, rubbing his fingers through his greying tribute to ZZ-Top.

“Yeah, man. It’s my winter coat!” he laughs.

I laugh with him, and walk past. He's still not getting any money out of me.


Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Inmate Extraction: Part One

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“We’re doing an inmate extraction today,” Jason says.

He’s excited, wound-up. I would have noticed this anyway, but I knew something was going on the moment he stepped into my office, because he is wearing his Emergency Response gear. A darkened navy-blue uniform. Full body armour. A plastic riot shield, worn on his left arm in Knights of the Round Table style. Batons tucked into Sam Browne weapon belts. Jason and a squad of other guards behind him are carrying their black helmets under their arms like a team of football players before the Big Game.

An inmate extraction means, a bunch of guards have to enter a cell to subdue and remove a problem inmate. Amusingly, it’s usually because they don’t want to leave the prison.

“It’s Roberts, that fucking bastard. They finally transferred him to KP,” Jason says.

Kingston Penitentiary, the maximum-security prison in our system. We’re a high-medium; Roberts has just been promoted. He has been an escalating problem here for months. Everyone at the Institution knows it - information dissemination here travels along the grapevine faster than a group e-mail distribution list. Roberts has been verbally abusting staff since his incarceration a year ago. Last month, he got caught making brew out of Heinz ketchup in his toilet tank, and was punished with a month in solitary confinement. And then, the final straw, he attacked another inmate after he was released from solitary last week.

“He used a shiv he made out of a tin can, folded over and over into a little spike,” Jason says. “He wrapped the handle up in duct tape from the shop, and stabbed the other guy in the kidney. Put 'im in the hospital.” Jason pokes his thumb into his back as he tells me the story I heard five minutes after it happened. “His psychiatrist says that the incident is probably a sexual thing, because he used a stabbing weapon from behind.”

A sexual thing. Seventy percent of the offenders at the Institution are sexual offenders, including our good friend Mr. Roberts. I haven’t read his file, but I know that he’s a serial rapist, having taken his pleasure from women, children, and babies. He’s undiscriminating; an equal-opportunity abuser. As long as it’s got a hole in it, Roberts will fuck it.

“Grease up a knothole in a barn door, and that little scumbag will poke his dick into it,” Jason says. He looks over his shoulder at the rest of the ER team; they’re just about psyched-up enough to go in and get him. “Hey,” Jason whispers. “Hey, do you want to come watch?”

I’m not a guard. I work in the finance office, taking care of exciting things like filing travel claims and processing accounts payable for the prison. My exposure to the inmates is limited pretty much to the old con who empties the garbage in my office. He has tatties running up and down his arms, inked there by an electric needle he made out of an old Walkman motor.

“Call me Cobra,” he told me. “Everybody does.” And yeah – there was the snake, wound lime green and comic-book scary down his sinewy forearm. The open mouth on his hand flexed and rippled as he hung it out to be shaken, which I actually did. This was when I was first hired, before I got to know who I was working with. After a few months of reading inmate records, seeing archived crime scene photographs, and after flipping through multiple victim impact statements, you stop believing in teddy-bear Hollywood ideas like redemption and rehabilitation. I came here thinking that Dead Man Walking was a powerful movie, making an important statement: it is wrong to take a human life. But I stopped thinking about inmates as people years ago.

For instance, are you a man if you abused and sodomized dozens of boys in your Boy Scout troop, humiliating them and scarring them for life to satisfy a Neanderthal pleasure that you express no regrets for possessing?

Do you still qualify as a person if you pour a bottle of 80-proof vodka all over your girlfriend’s head, and try to burn her alive with your cigarette butt? And when that didn’t work so great, you beat her to death with a baseball bat?

Are you a human if you raped a three-month infant so brutally that her tiny, destroyed uterus was surgically removed, and gave her a case of herpes she will carry in her useless genitalia for the rest of her life? And, as a bonus, gave her irreparable brain damage in the bargain?

Better questions might be, can you reform the blue eyes out of a person.

Can you make a person taller, smarter, or Caucasian through the application of bureaucratic process. Can you make a person do anything they don't want to do, or simply can never be.

All I know is, a person can’t be un-raped, un-mutilated, and un-murdered.

The Shawshank Redemption is a fairy tale. At least they executed the criminals in The Green Mile.

Give yourself a prize if you guessed that I don’t shake inmate hands anymore.

“I don’t know if I can go,” I say to Jason. “I have no reason to be in the blocks today.”

But Jason is pushing. It’s no fun unless somebody watches.

The thing is, during an inmate extraction, the only guards in the block are supposed to be the ones extricating the offender. All other administrative staff remain in their offices. The other convicts are locked down in their cells, and they can’t see what’s going on because their cell doors are solid steel, with their little windows all closed off from the outside. This way, none of them can nurse a grudge against the guards by seeing a comrade dragged away by his elbows. The subject is tastefully removed, away from prying eyes, and the only thing left behind is a dirty cell, one of hundreds just like it on the cell block. Administratively, he no longer exists. No inmate will remember him as a martyr for a heroic struggle, because nobody saw anything happen. It’s just like the falling tree in the woods thing.

And Jason wants me to come along for the ride.

The first thing any criminal does once they’re locked up is ask for the newspapers. They want to read about themselves.

Everybody is a closet exhibitionist.

But maybe there’s more than just that. Maybe Jason wants me to see Roberts slammed to the concrete, a knee straining on his neck, writhing in his greens as the chains are wrapped around his ankles. Maybe Roberts will act up, and they’ll get the opportunity to haul out their cans of pepper spray, hosing down his eyes until he cries out for mercy on his knees. And then they can take out their batons and beat Roberts to mush, making him ooze blood from every pore, punishing him for being born and putting us all into this position.

Maybe Jason wants me to see the look on Roberts’ face as he’s taken away to give me the satisfaction that nobody else gets. Because at this Institution, there is no satisfaction. There is no reform, there is no punishment. There is incarceration, and that’s all it is.

Inmates here get satellite television in their cells.

They get to eat three squares a day, and a vegetarian menu is available for the Muslims.

If you have a hankering to see a set of titties, well, you can arrange a subscription to Swank or Hustler through the library.

And if you threaten a staff member with death? All you get is a fifty-dollar fine. How's that for preparation for the outside world?

Employees here, we have to forfeit our rights to a safe work environment when we work in the penal system. It’s all listed in the agreement you sign when you’re hired.

If you even think about touching an inmate in anger, even if you’re a guard, you can lose your job. It’s reported to management, the appropriate documents are signed off, and you are escorted from the premises. The worst part of that is, all the inmates know it. They have their rights, and they have them memorized.

At least there is a pension plan.

But there is the one exception. During an extraction/transfer, you can do anything you want to an inmate short of killing him, because nobody sees it happen. Every single one of these guys, they arrive at their new digs all hangdog and bleeding in the van, their pants soaking and sticking to their legs with pints of angry urine.

There is a long sign-up sheet for Emergency Response duty.

“Call it a perk,” Jason says.

Fuck it. My boss is at the dentist. And the paperwork will still be here when I come back.

Part 2


Tuesday, March 01, 2005

New City Buses Suck

There it was. Finally, the bus.

I’m sure few people in other places feel the same sense of relief at the sight of a city bus that the citizens of Ottawa do. This is the world’s coldest nation’s capital – we huddle in our little glass shelters until we see our ride groaning around the corner, and complain bitterly if we miss it.

But there was mine - I could see my route number glowing on the roof, trundling towards me where I waited obediently at the yellow line. With some surprise, I noticed that it was one of the brand-new buses; my route is one of the lesser used ones that are assigned the smaller and older buses in the city’s fleet. If a new bus is now being used for my route, that probably means the few remaining older buses have been taken out of commission.

“When that happens, when they get too old, they take them behind the shed, and they shoot them in the engine,” my buddy Ed said.

How old are they, then? Some of them look just like the models that were rolling down highways in the 60’s.

“The year they bought it is painted in the code at the back, beside the exhaust stack. That bus there, it says, ‘7840’, so that means it was purchased in 1978. Didn’t you know that? Did your mother have any kids that lived?” Ed said.

1978, that’s pretty good, actually. Most people think their cars are “old” if they were made 7-10 years ago. If anybody owns a 27 year-old car, it’s probably only taken out on Sundays in the summertime to go get ice cream with the wife. For a bus to have driven literally millions of kilometers since I was in diapers – well, it’s pretty amazing, now that I think about it. Why don’t cars last that long?

Anyway, I got on my new bus and flashed my pass at the driver, who made every effort to ignore me. This is a big pet peeve of mine: bus drivers who feel it is beneath them to look at bus passes. I pay all this fucking money each month for a silly piece of paper that entitles me to ride on the bus – the least the guy can do is look at the damn thing. I made an issue of it once – my “regular” driver at the time would always look out the window when I hauled out my pass, so one day, I just got on and started walking towards my seat.

“Sir! Come back here, sir!” he barked.

“Yeah? What is it?” I said. I’m all innocent. What, me? What did I do?

“Do you have your pass, sir?” he sneered.

I smiled brightly. For future reference, one of the best ways to cheese off total assholes is to act like they are your best friend. That makes them even angrier, which of course is what you want. Unless they are huge, psychopathic, total assholes – in that case, this doesn’t apply.

“I sure do!” I exclaimed. I pulled my pass out of my pocket and shoved it within an inch of his face, which caused him to recoil instinctively. “Can you see it okay? I wasn’t sure if you guys need to see it or not – I was going to call the transit office to clarify with your manager that I have to show it, because you’re always looking out the window when I get on. Maybe it’s just an ‘on demand’ kind of thing?” I said cheerfully.

“Take your seat, sir.” he grunted. The door hissed as it closed.

“I can sit down now? Is everything okay?”

“Take your seat! You can’t be blocking my sight out the door when I’m driving.”

“Just making sure! Thanks a lot, sir!” I say. The driver gave me a look that would wither a flower garden.

After this episode, he would grudgingly look at my pass each time I came on, which I would produce with cheerful compliance. I hope he gave himself an ulcer stewing about me. Unfortunately, almost all these guys do the "I'm not looking at you" routine, so I’ve given up trying to train them.

Anyway, back to the bus. These new ones – and others have told me the same thing – they just aren’t as good as the old ones.

For one thing, the seats on new buses are terrible. Where to begin with the seats? The new ones have these thick, absurdly soft cushions that offer no support on your ass whatsoever. You see them, and you think, “wow, so plush.” You sit down, and they feel good for about 90 seconds - until your backside begins to go numb from the hard plastic mold the cushion is mounted on. The old buses, they had these vinyl seats, bench-style (these are wider, too – the new seats are intended for one ass only, while on the old ones, you can really spread out and relax on that big pink bench), that were a lot more firm and don’t feel like a torture device after a 20 minute bus ride. Those big pink seats are actually a pleasure to ride on. The new seats have a backrest mounted at a more extreme, upright angle, whereas the old ones had a more relaxing incline to rest your back against. Why are they made this way? It’s like they don’t want you to sit there for long. They must have used fast-food restaurant seat designs when they dreamed them up; seats that are designed to make you want to leave as quickly as possible, which can't really be done when you have to sit there for your commute home from work.

Then there is the new bus layout. The seats are literally mounted all over the place, because they usually have two levels. It’s like drunken assembly-line workers went apeshit with their air guns on a Friday afternoon, and they put the seats anyplace they damn well wanted because the boss was out drinking. You get these ridiculous single seats mounted sideways on top of the wheel wells, benches mounted face-to-face (forcing you to violate one of the major Public Transit Ridership Codes: you never look at fellow passengers in the eyes), seats without a window, a rear row with no legroom at all, and amazingly, much less seating overall compared to the old buses. The reason for that is, there is a huge open area at the front of the bus to accommodate handicapped passengers. In five years of riding public transit, I have yet to see a single handicapped person on the bus. And besides, they have their own bus service, “ParaTranspo.” So why make all the new buses this way? Why must we suffer from retarded bus design features? As usual, minority interests dictate majority decisions.

The old buses? Pleasing rows of evenly-spaced and uniformly-sized pink seats, bolted on a single utilitarian level. Benches at the front for the pregnant or elderly, and a double-wide bench mounted side-to-side at the very back of the bus, which is my very favourite place to sit. There in the corner of this bench, I can put my foot up on a support strut in front of me, and read my book until it’s time to get off, or enjoy the scenery through the nifty retro-style sliding window. No complaints whatsoever about old bus seating, not one, not ever.

Check out the obvious joy on the face of the driver.
4 out of 5 bus drivers recommend old buses.

The final major problem with the new buses is, how the hell do you get off them? The old buses had one design. You got off them by manually pushing on a metal handle on the door, and you were out – everybody understands this concept. It’s the same one in use in your home or workplace. This also makes sense from a manufacturing perspective, because manual doors lacking motors or tiny air compressors don’t need any maintenance.

But the new bus doors...shit. Some of them, you have to wave your hand in front of a sensor for it to open. Others open automatically. Another kind, you press on a little yellow bar at the side of the door. Still others, you press on the door itself once the green light comes on. It’s mass hysteria. Anytime I’m on one of the confusing new buses, there’s always somebody who can’t open the door:

The bus stops, the green light at the door lights up. A woman waiting to get off presses on the door. Nothing happens. She presses again, with more authority. Nothing happens. People start to crane their necks to see what’s going on.

“Press the yellow bar at the side,” a little kid says. Little kids always have the answers for this kind of stuff.

“Pardon me?” the lady says.

“The yellow bar – push it!” another guy yells. But she can’t find the bar. What bar? She begins to scrabble desperately at the window, the doorframe…anything that might offer release from the bus. What if she can’t get off? What if the driver leaves before she can escape?

Finally, the kid jumps up, and pushes the obscure little yellow bar beside the door, and it hisses open. With obvious relief, the woman is on her way.

Incidents like that have traumatized me with a kind of bus-door phobia. I don’t want to have to worry about that kind of shit. So before I get off the newer buses, I always watch a kid getting off at an earlier stop so that I don’t have to suffer the embarrassment of being trapped on the bus like an old lady. Sad, but true. And it didn't have to be this way.

Look, there’s just no debating it. It’s not a fear of modern technology, a retro fetish, or anything else shallow or silly like that. The old buses are better in every way. I want them back.

“Fuck it, man. At least the new buses have air conditioning. I hate to sweat,” Ed said.

It’s -20 today.

“You think too much.”