Category Archives: Politics

The Intimidation Game

I don’t get put off by people so much as places, partially because so many are built with certain people in mind, for them to congregate, mingle and be alike.

It is a circuitous anxiety, as most are: I know that I am actually not trying to avoid any one place. I know this. But it is also the case that places built with certain people in mind must therefore exclude other people from the forefront of said mind. Must therefore consider them not quite people. Fancy places, exclusive places, everyday places in which life’s simmering tensions and pro forma injustices get played out in the most banal and outlandish ways.

Places – any place – that renders you lesser because of your very presence there. Places where everyone, theoretically, can belong. But not anyone.

See: That Philadelphia Starbucks.

See: My elementary school.

See: Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook (etcetera).

The trick, if there is one when it comes to these places, is to go with someone (preferably someone coded as the kind of person who is sought after in these kinds of places; someone who would be, rather than suspect, welcomed). Further, it is imperative that they go in first. At least, at first. A scout sent in to assess the situation, a decoy and then a port for which you become proxy then agent,* a literal human shield to dive behind to avoid or defy prying eyes and then, if need be, to sacrifice as you make your own backward escape out, away.

The sacrifice, of course, is mostly yours, not quite theirs. It is their privilege, after all.

I am not kidding. I have done this. I have lived it.

The other Thing to do is to avoid these places altogether, the idea being to starve them of your patronage. But when such places already exclude you, or work to do that in the myriad ways at their disposal to do so (by providing cold, cruel service, by inflating the cover, by labelling you “difficult” or “aggressive” at what they deem the slightest provocation), that seems a hollow victory, a rather shallow high ground.

I think maybe it is not so much a problem to be addressed, as undermined. You don’t have to avoid these places, since anyone can count as everyone, but you don’t have to go to them either for any other greater reason than because you want to. I mean not just you, and not just me. Anyone, anybody. Everyone.

Presence of mind is a place. It counts.

And if only it were just that easy.

 

 

 

 

________________________________________________

* Need it be said? You are always agent. For good or bad, yours or otherwise.

 

 

 

 

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About Fran

As I said:

Fran has some very interesting theories regarding a library thief at her local branch.

Again, to reiterate: “Not the hoity toity library in the neighbourhood, the working-class library.”

She makes that distinction. How could you even begin to fault that? Really.

How could you deny it?

To wit: someone’s been ripping recipes out of the new magazines that come every Friday and Saturday at Fran’s library, and Fran is on it.

Forgetting “why” for the moment:

WHO?

  1. Most likely a woman. Fran is rather convinced of that, given the apparent gendered nature, as it were, of the evident act, though I have my doubts. But this is Fran’s Thing.
  2. A fellow library patron; one lives in the neighbourhood, given the frequency of the crime, the opportunity afforded by it (this is not an offence committed from a distance).
  3. Someone who must come to Fran’s library on New Magazine Day because Fran goes to the library on New Magazine Day. That person, whomever they are, has thus far managed to somehow get to the new magazines before Fran (the magazines arrive Fridays and Saturdays, but the timing of their arrival varies greatly).

WHY?

Who knows? Someone quite inconsiderate. Someone desperate? Someone.

My suggestions (which Fran took into serious consideration): A collector. Someone who wants material proof of their proclivities. Evidence of taste, action, deed.

“Really?” said Fran.

“Really,” I said.

OR

Someone who had it in, personally, for Fran – who knows her habits, her routines, her likes and dislikes, and is making some kind of point about it. A point of contention!

“Unlikely,” said Fran.

“But not impossible,” I said.

HOW?

They, whomever they are, must be taking the magazines home, ripping out the relevant pages and returning the magazines before anyone gets wise (again supporting the proximity theory).

Unless

To avoid suspicion, they are ripping the pages out within the library itself. The magazines NEVER LEAVE THE PREMISES, are never checked out in that person’s account. There’s no paper trail.

The perfect crime.

To this, Fran brought up a good counterpoint: her library is small; you’d hear the ripping (these being quality magazines with good, glossy thick pages).

“The bathroom?” I suggested.

“Single stalls. I’m watching,” was Fran’s response. “And I’d still hear it.”

UNLESS

I showed Fran the tiny pair of folded scissors on my keychain.

“Where did you say you lived again?” asked Fran.

I asked what the staff at her home library thought of the whole sordid affair. The state of things.

(I wonder how the hoity toity library would handle something like this. Or is this a hoity toity library problem?)

“It’s like they don’t care,” said Fran. “They do, the staff there do care, but there’s nothing they can do about it.”

Ah. But they’re not Fran, are they?

So to them I will only say this: You are not alone. Fran is on it!

Our own working-class hero. Really.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, People, Places, Politics, Relationships, Routines

Book B-I-N-G-O (Part 1)

My interest in doing anything diminished by something like 98% whenever I’m specifically asked or told to do it.

Perhaps I am a contrarian, but I doubt it.

This tendency, this character trait, this human flaw, whatever you want to call it, thankfully does not interfere with my work life, which makes me a Good Employee. For all intents and purposes.

Maybe not a contrarian then, but simply a pragmatist.

Whatever it takes.

Look. I tried to get along with my office mates (I try to get along with everyone!) but it isn’t always easy or convenient (or wise) to do so. Offices especially can be strange environments – few resources (promotions, photocopying privileges, pens & paper) makes for some intense competition and, in my case, produced some rather toxic rivalries. Everyone seemed to know this, but that isn’t the same as saying it was acknowledged, openly or otherwise.

Or is it just me?

(It’s not just me.)

*****

There are things people did to ease the tension: some brought in cookies and candy, others organized office potlucks, a few nominated themselves (or were nominated) as to go-to people to for those wishing to celebrate their birthdays at the office (after work hours, and we all had to chip in for the cake).

There were few birthdays at the office.

For a while we were allowed, encouraged even, to bring dogs in to work (“Pet dogs,” reminded our boss, Tucson,* pale, immaculate finger wagging in the air, adding his usual linguistic garnish as a way to stay at the head of the decision, though it may have been a directive rather than description, it was hard to tell with him).

But the dogs quickly became bored, then destructive, then somewhat belligerent (they could sense it too, the tension, and were getting spoiled from the cupcakes people fed them under their desks).

A NO DOGS policy was instituted.

For a while after that, there was nothing, save the baked goods and the potlucks and birthdays as rare as black, winged unicorns (or promotions).

Then came BOOK BINGO.

*****

Phoenix came up with the idea, and it seemed a good one. It seemed inventive and sound and, most of all, harmless. We were, after all, a group of smart, educated people, who often professed our love of books in the narrow, sagging hallways of the ramshackle building that housed our cubicles, on the tacky carpeting that ran beneath our shared workspaces like an oil slick; in the upstairs kitchenette with the broken microwave. Some of us were even in book clubs.

Book clubs, even!

*****

The categories listed on the BOOK BINGO sheets that Phoenix printed out for us seemed interesting and (dare I say it?), fun:

 

B-3: A DYSTOPIAN NOVEL.

I-5: A GRAPHIC NOVEL.

N-2: A BOOK WITH A BLUE COVER.

G-1: A BOOK PUBLISHED IN 2015.

O-4: A BOOK WRITTEN BY A FEMALE AUTHOR.*

 

“Where’s the harm?” I said.

And Phoenix smiled.

*****

In the end, five of us (it was a small office, despite everything), signed on for what was already being hailed (by Phoenix, ever the ringmaster, ever the MC) as The Great BOOK BINGO Challenge of 2015 (pronounced “twenty-fifteen”).

Because not only had we agreed to play, we would play big: no rows or columns of B or I, or the like or that ilk. Not even impressive diagonals would do. The winner would be declared the first to complete the entire BOOK BINGO sheet (all twenty-five squares, minus the star in the middle that marked the free space). The good space.

The prize would be bragging rights (or cake if we all wanted to chip in for it).

*****

Bragging rights I wanted.

Bragging rights I understood. Bragging rights were how you got around a place like the place where I worked, how you carved out a space for yourself and kept it that way.

I got books out from the library. I took gathered books that I had purchased from second-hand stores and garage sales and had always meant to read, sometime IN THE FUTURE, when the time was right. I made piles and lists. Books towered on my nightstand. They littered the floor, crept onto the bed and invaded my dreams.

I consulted BOOK BINGO sheet, and took a closer look at the categories carefully picked out by Phoenix:

 

N-1: A BOOK PUBLISHED THE YEAR YOU WERE BORN.

O-2: A BOOK BY SOMEONE YOU ADMIRE.

N-5: AN IMPORTANT BOOK.

O-3: YOUR. FAVOURITE. BOOK.

 

And it hit me.

Each category – it asked a lot. Each would give the people I saw every day – and really only because I was paid to be there (seeing them was, in a way, incidental to being there) – a little something of myself.

It hit me hard.

*****

(Was this a bad thing? Was it bad? It didn’t seem good. Not like it mattered at that point. I was in, do you understand? I was making progress, even.)

*****

I remember thinking: I am a Good Employee. I can do this. This is good.

Besides, I reasoned, maybe I was being silly. Perhaps I was overreacting in order to compensate for the state of things. Seeing ulterior motives and indulging in paranoid fantasies where there was only collegiate goodwill and a genuine, concentrated desire to connect. I was seeing entitlements where there were only efforts to create a more open, friendly, happy place to work.

A BOOK BY SOMEONE YOU ADMIRE.

But then there was never enough pens & paper.

AN IMPORTANT BOOK.

There was never enough to go around, if certain people needed it.

YOUR. FAVOURITE. BOOK.

And I was not certain people.

… TO BE CONTINUED

 

________________________________________________

* Not real name. All names, and possibly genders, have been changed to obscure the identities of the very real people that lurk just behind those identities.

* This required a special category???

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Change, Dogs, Employment, Jobs, People, Pets, Places, Politics, Relationships, THE FUTURE

The Best of What’s Around and Around

 

Ford, Chow, Tory 2014

 
When a person votes for a candidate other than his or her desired choice, and does so in order to avoid an undesirable outcome (i.e. to prevent an undesirable candidate from winning an election), this is what is known as “strategic voting.”

The act of strategic voting is part circumstance, part belief; as contrived as it is real, and as real as anything. In the surreal nightmare circus that has been the 2014 Toronto Mayoral Election, in which votes cast will likely not be for one candidate, but against another, this seems particularly cogent:

Olivia Chow started as the frontrunner, but has now sunk to third place.

The belief is that Olivia Chow, while a desirable choice for mayor, is actually undesirable because she will not get enough votes to beat Doug Ford.

Doug Ford is in second place.

The belief is that Doug Ford is so undesirable as a choice for mayor that people who would otherwise vote for Olivia Chow will vote for John Tory, just to keep Doug Ford out of office.

John Tory is the current frontrunner.

The belief is that John Tory, when compared to Doug Ford, is the most desirable candidate, although without Doug Ford, John Tory is not as desirable as Olivia Chow.

In any case, it is hard to separate the circumstance from the belief, and reality remains as supple as it ever was:[1]

If people believe that Olivia Chow will lose if they vote for Olivia Chow, they will vote for John Tory.

If people believe that Doug Ford will win if they vote for Olivia Chow, then they will vote for John Tory.

If people believe John Tory will win even if they vote for Olivia Chow, she might have a chance of winning.

In all scenarios, Doug Ford is the lowest common denominator, the least of all possibilities.

But that is more than enough.

 
 
 


[1] For the Anyone But Chow scenario, please switch the names “Olivia Chow” and “Doug Ford” that are not in bold.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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ParticipACTION

 
The person working at the polling station had herded us into the wrong line. That line was VOTER CARDS only. We figured it out on our own, despite her best efforts to assure us that we were, in fact, in the right line, the first line, the whole time.

When she found out she was wrong, she turned around and stopped talking to us completely.

POLL OFFICIAL read the sticker she wore in the middle of her chest.

I turned to the woman who had joined me in the new, correct line.

“It’s like having a rectal exam,” I said, meaning of course the whole damn thing.

“I’d… like to think of it more like getting a body scan at the airport. We all do what we have to. All part of the process, right?”

Not really.

So we stood there in silence, waiting, watching our sausage get made. The registration line, the second line, the right line, was rather short, but it was moving very, very slowly.

“This your first time voting?” the old man at the registration desk, finally, asked the woman. The polling station was, on any other day, the community pool. The chlorine burned my eyes as I waited.

And waited.

“Yes!” was her proud answer. “I have recently come of age. This is my first. Time. Voting. Ever!”

I never received my VOTER CARD, but I showed up anyway. This is not my first election.

Not that I’m bragging, or anything.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Inklings

 
The headlines have it: “Rob Ford,” they say, “Toronto’s Crack-Smoking Mayor”.
 

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford
 

In the month of November our Crack-Smoking Mayor has denied smoking crack, admitted to smoking crack (possibly during one of his “drunken stupors”), lost his radio show (hosted with his doppelganger brother), gained and lost a television show (also hosted with his brother and cancelled after one rant-soaked episode), admitted to drinking and driving, got himself uninvited to Toronto’s annual Christmas parade, and knocked over a fellow councilmember during a meeting when he thought he saw his brother under attack during a near-mêlée they incited on the council floor (by insulting and video taping and otherwise intimating public spectators), and in which he mocked another councilor, who was caught drinking and driving by police, by miming (that councilor?) drinking and driving and crashing his car.

There are allegations of prostitution at City Hall. Allegations of sexual harassment. Allegations of public intoxication.  A video of a crazed and babbling Ford making apparent death threats toward an invisible enemy.

There is a photo of public urination.

Referring allegations made in a police document that he made lewd comments to a former staff member (yes, he’s being investigated by police), Ford said during a press conference that:
 

“It says I wanted to eat her pussy and I have never said that in my life to her. I would never do that. I’m happily married and I’ve got more than enough to eat at home.”
 

That’s a quote.  Emphasis added.

The investigation, by the way, is on-going.

He lost his most of his powers as Mayor during that meeting. He also referred to himself as “Kuwait”.

Yet.

Rob Ford is still a political force, is still popular, is still (reduced powers notwithstanding) the mayor (crack smoking notwithstanding) of the Great City of Toronto.

The Great City that is Toronto.

Theories abound as to the question, almost heartbreaking, of why.

Why?
 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
 

Why, why, why?

Rick Mercer – Canada’s answer, after a fashion, to America’s John Stewart and, to an even lesser fashion, America’s Stephen Colbert – is right to the point: forget about Rob Ford and look at the politics.

Rob Ford’s politics are very real, the fact being that the people who voted for Rob Ford are saying “we would rather have a guy on crack than a mayor who will raise our taxes.”

Mercer, ever astute, exorcizes Rob Ford, the man – Rob Ford, the mayor even – for the distraction that he is.
 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
 

But Rob Ford, I believe, is a symptom – our collective blurred vision, a shared dizziness, an engorged cyst – of something else, and not just pragmatism born of increasing frustration with existing political systems.

Something in the ether that is not about unfulfilled dreams or about broken promises, but about a kind evolving political consciousness.

That Thing we call Democracy.

What the hell?

The rule of the many over the few? 50% + 1? The words freedom and justice and opportunity come up again and again.

On these, David Foster Wallace makes a compelling argument when speaking about John McCain’s simple promise during the 2008 primaries not to lie to voters:
 

“Well, it’s obvious why. When McCain says it, the people are cheering for him not so much as for how good it feels to believe him. They’re cheering the loosening of a wired sort of knot in the electoral tummy. McCain’s resume and candor, in other words, promise not empathy with voters’ pain but relief from it. Because we’ve been lied to and lied to, and it hurts to be lied to. It’s ultimately just about that complicated: it hurts. We learn this at like age four… And we keep learning for years, from hard experience, that getting lied to sucks – that it diminishes you, denies you respect for yourself, for the liar, for the world” (2006: 188 – 189).
 

It hurts.

Then there’s the shame, social and acceptable. Trendy.

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

GET OUT THE VOTE.

“Vote or die.”

VOTE OR DIE

If only you cared.

If only you were informed.

If only you wanted to participate.

If only you would just participate.

If only you would be good.

I am paraphrasing.
 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
 

Russell Brand has shaken people recently with his own democratic convictions:
 

“I have never voted. Like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics. Like most people I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites… I don’t vote because to me it seems like a tacit act of compliance; I know, I know my grandparents fought in two world wars (and one World Cup) so that I’d have the right to vote. Well, they were conned. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing to vote for.”
 

In a political system that above all else must bend to the will of the people, can it be said that choosing whether to vote or not vote is in itself an expression of the will of the people?

And if not voting is a political choice – in the sense that choosing not to act is in itself a choice – and if more and more people (the majority?) are not voting, isn’t that, in a word, democratic?

And if it hurts to engage in a failed and alienating and bloated and increasingly hostile political system, what does “getting out the vote” amount to, really, and for whom?
 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
 

This is what a guy at work said about Rob Ford, the day on November 18th, 2013, when Toronto’s city council stripped Mayor Rob Ford of (most) his powers.
 

“Yo, say what you want about Ford. But those other politicians sounded so high and mighty when they were talking about him. They were talking down to him! At least he doesn’t sound like that when he’s talking back. He sounds normal.”
 

Rob Ford: the man of the people. He drops the “g” in words like “fighting”, “working”, “looking” (as in “out for the little guy”).

He refers to voters both as “the taxpayer” and “the little guy”.

In her thinking of her hometown – Youngstown, Ohio – Eileen Kane writes of another “champion of the little man” (2010: 232), James Traficant, Youngstown sheriff from 1980 – 1984 who gained local admiration for refusing to serve the eviction notices that followed the closing of the Youngstown’s mills, which put thousands of residents out of work and left them unable to pay their mortgages.

In 1983, Traficant was charged (and acquitted) of taking Mafia bribes, after confessing to taking Mafia bribes. In 1984, Traficant (a Democrat) was elected into the House of Representatives, and managed to keep this seat through eight subsequent elections in which he won an overwhelming majority (almost 70%) of the vote.

Traficant was loud, abrasive, angry, openly mocked for his cheap suits and dreadful toupee; his behavior was so abhorrent and bizarre that “[h]is own local Democratic chairman once tries (and fails) to have him declared legally insane” (Kane 2010: 232).

 

James Traficant

 

Here is a quote from James Traficant (August 3, 1998, Congressional Record 105th Congress, 1997 – 1998):
 

“Mr. Speaker, a new report says only 7 percent of scientists believe in God. That is right. And the reason they gave was that the scientists are `super smart.’ Unbelievable. Most of these absent-minded professors cannot find the toilet.  Mr. Speaker, I have one question for these wise guys to constipate over: How can some thing come from no thing?  And while they digest that, Mr. Speaker, let us tell it like it is. Put these super-cerebral master debaters in some foxhole with bombs bursting all around them, and I guarantee they will not be praying to Frankenstein. Beam me up here. My colleagues, all the education in the world is worthless without God and a little bit of common sense. And I yield back whatever we have left.”
 

Traficant served another nine terms in the House before being “convicted in 2002 of racketeering, taking bribes from the Mafia, obstruction of justice, tax evasion, and such assorted mischief as using on-the-clock public employees as farm hands on his horse ranch” (Kane 2010: 232 – 233).

Everything, it seems, but smoking crack.

Rob Ford has been accused of using on-the-clock public employees to help him coach football and to get his liquor and dry-cleaning.

He has confessed to smoking crack.

But Rob Ford also de-railed Toronto’s so-called “gravy train”, the excessive and indulgent spending many residents saw plaguing City Hall. He purged Toronto of the hated vehicle registration tax, and promised absolutely not to raise taxes…or at the absolute most and only as an absolute last resort, to raise taxes by very, very, very little. He pays for his own trips, even though they are for city business. He personally returns phone calls (from supporters) and, along with his entourage, visits constituents in their own homes and neighborhoods. He appears to have brought (though not “built” as he has claimed on American TV) subways, finally, to the suburbs.

As for Traficant, he supported increasing the minimum wage at a time when everyone was losing or had lost their jobs. He voted against illegal immigration and free trade and – most important of all for Youngstown – he held an open distain for the feds and large corporations, the very institutions that many Youngstown residents believed had abandoned them.

According to Kane, the people who supported Traficant “believed one thing: Traficant was on their side. And the forces they hate were out to get him” (Kane 2010: 233).

Hard to ask for much more that that.
 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
 

Be honest. Rob Ford cannot claim to be an original, and neither can James Traficant. The name Marion Barry comes to mind.

The name George W. Bush comes to mind.

So that when figures like James Traficant or Marion Barry or Rob Ford come into power, this has not all that much to do with them as persons.

Should it come as any surprise that “the people”, who been a means to the ends of someone else’s career, someone else’s ambitions, someone else’s benefit, someone else’s goddamn photo op, have decided (perhaps finally) that it should be the other way around?

It is really so incredible that the people who voted overwhelmingly to send Rob Ford into office are, as a recent article in The Atlantic points out, the non-white, educated, working poor?  The very people who tend to get hurt a lot in all areas concerning “democracy”.  The very people who, vote or not vote, have not that much to gain.

Or lose.
 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
 

Put another way:

It helps that Rob Ford comes off as a regular guy who is his words, is “not perfect”, who is “only human”. But it is not necessary.

It helps that people want to believe him when he says “I’m the best mayor Toronto’s has ever had,” or even “I’m the best father around,” but it is not necessary.

It helps that he promises not to lie, but it is not necessary.

It would be nice if he didn’t bully people or be an asshole, but it is not necessary.

He hurts himself, and others sometimes, but he is on side.

When somebody hurts you, you hurt them back. You use whatever’s available.

It’s not perfect.

It’s only human.

It’s democracy in action.
 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~
 

A recent poll finds that approximately 42% of Torontonians surveyed still support Rob Ford as mayor.

Of those surveyed, about 60% believe that Rob Ford should resign as mayor of Toronto.

The Great City of Toronto.

What are we to make of that?

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

References

Foster, David Wallace. (2006). “Up, Simba,” in Consider the Lobster and Other Essays. Little, Brown and Company: New York.

Kane, Eileen. (2010). Trickster: An Anthropological Memoir. University of Toronto Press: North York, Ontario.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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What Canadians Mean When We Say…

… Sorry*

 

  • Excuse my behaviour and/or poor judgment.
  • Say that again, please. I require clarification.
  • I didn’t hear you. Please repeat.
  • I do not mean to offend.
  • My fault!
  • Please like me.
  • I want to made amends.
  • I’m reluctant.
  • I disagree.
  • You are out of line.
  • What is happening?
  • I don’t like this.
  • No.
  • Let me mull this over a while.
  • Are we still friends?
  • I’m leaving.
  • Over here!
  • I hate myself.YOU
  • Respectfully, no.
  • Seriously, make me.
  • Bored now.
  • Hello.
  • I should, but I won’t.
  • No fair!
  • I am out of line.
  • Whatever! Maybe.
  • I’m exhausted.
  • Mic check, mic check.
  • Welcome!
  • I’m uncomfortable.
  • Motherfucker.
  • I do mean to offend.
  • You caught me.
  • This is happening??
  • Goodbye.
  • I don’t know.
  • That’s perverse.
  • Please stop.
  • End. Of. Discussion.
  • Oh, hell no!
  • I want to, but I can’t.
  • Shit.
  • OK. But what now?
  • There was a pause in the conversation.
  • I do not need this in my life right now.
  • You are behaving suspiciously.
  • Exclude me from your plans.
  • Acknowledge me.
  • I want something from you.
  • YOUR FACE.
  • I am interrupting and I apologize, but I’d like to interject.
  • Do shut up.
  • I am in the right.
  • Ain’t nobody got time for that!
  • This is pointless, but go on.
  • I did hear you, but I do not understand.
  • You should know!
  • I am not listening.
  • This is your fault.
  • I will now invalidate your existence.
  • Yo.
  • I got too excited.
  • You are in the way.
  • Am I in the way?
  • Which way is it?
  • Get out of the way.
  • We’re closing soon.
  • You have a point, but I don’t care.
  • How disappointing.
  • Word.
  • I love you.
  • You lost me.
  • That’s a lie.
  • I just don’t care.
  • I am not sorry.

Mayor Not Sorry 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
*My friend, Anna, once talked about the “niceness” of Canadians and how, in her experience, this being nice – describing other people, places, and situations as nice, nice nice (i.e. “He seems nice”, “the Prime Minister is doing a nice job”, “What a nice office”, “It was nice”) and saying sorry, sorry, sorry all the time – is just a highly-toned yet mostly unconscious form of passive aggression.

Anna, I’m sorry.
 
 
 

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@ The Gopher Hole Museum, Torrington, Alberta

 

Ice Skating Gophers
 
 
“So, do you have a taxidermist on site or how does this,” I paused to gesture around the room, “um, work?”

The woman standing next to me was standing next to me out of the same sheer curiously that compelled me to ask the question – that, indeed, compelled both Stephen and I to take a last-minute detour 130KM out of our way on this, our last day in Alberta, Canada.

The Gopher Hole Museum and Gift Shop. June 2012.

The woman standing next to me was Granny Gopher. The woman standing next to me could, in fact, be none other than Granny Gopher.

We were in the presence of the Grand Matriarch of a little speck of a place known as Torrington, Alberta.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Magnificent Torrington!

A place you could not rightly call beautiful. A two-minute walk in any direction takes you to the very edge of town, will take you to that exact spot on the Albertan horizon where the sky and earth fuse into a vast, indistinguishable one.

This has not in the least deterred the good people of Torrington, who decided to celebrate the awe and splendor of life in Torrington as they thought best.

Through taxidermy.

Through dead stuffed gophers to be exact.

The Cowboy

Why gophers?

Because, unless yet despite being employed otherwise, gophers are a bane on the town of Torrington, destroying crops and leaving holes around town, attracting still more pests in the form of predatory badgers that dig still more holes in their pursuit of Torrington gopher meat.

These holes can be dangerous. They can break legs: human, cattle and horse. They are unsightly and cause erosion.

Torrington’s residents kill Torrington gophers by the thousands.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Is the Gopher Hole Museum And Gift Shop world famous?

No. Not really.

True, when it opened its doors on June 1, 1996, there was a bit of what you could call a media frenzy – newspapers at home and abroad, including big name publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek ran stories of what could be called the Torrington’s embrace of its “controversial” museum.  But now, as we trudge on toward the end 2013, it is fair to say that Things have died down for Torrington’s Gopher Hole Museum and Gift Shop. Publicity comes at a trickle, these days.

It seems fitting, then, that it was only incidentally that we found out about Torrington.  A turn of events, a kind of kismet that you wouldn’t actually call fate had lead us Torrington:

“You’re into taxidermy, right?[1] So there’s this place that you should check out before you leave. It’s got all these stuffed squirrels or rats something. It’s like an hour away from Calgary.”
“It is expensive?”
“It should be like two dollars.”
“Okay. Maybe.”

That is how it went down.

Is the Gopher Hole Museum And Gift Shop infamous?

Again no. Not really, no.

There was that scrap it had with P.E.T.A. When Torrington settled on dead stuffed gophers to attract tourists, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote many, many letters. It was a campaign of protest. Of indignation. Protest letters soon followed from all over Canada, France, The United States, the Netherlands, Germany and Japan.

Eventually, Torrington sent a postcard to reply to P.E.T.A.

“Get stuffed,” is what it said.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Inside Torrington’s Gopher Hole Museum And Gift Shop.

“Television screens. The walls are full of little TVs”, is what I said to Stephen.

Inside Torrington

 
I lied a little above when I said Things have died down for the Gopher Hole Museum and Gift Shop. There was a bus full of visitors due that day Stephen and I were there. That’s also why Granny Gopher was there, in person persona, dressed up and ready – to entertain half of the group (12 people) outside in order to allow the other half to comfortably tour the very small museum. In the gift shop, which you enter and exit during your visit to the Gopher Hole Museum and Gift Shop, is a map. It is dotted with hundreds of pins representing visitors from all over the world.

But why gophers?

“Our museum is a whimsical portrayal of life in the tranquil hamlet of Torrington. There are 77 mounted gophers in 47 displays with different themes: hockey player, hairdresser, farmer, etc. Each character is dressed to compliment the artist’s picturesque background”, reads a handout I was given at the Gopher Hole Museum And Gift Shop.

“Admission:
Adult………$2.00
Under 14…… .50″

The gophers, I am convinced, could have been depicted doing absolutely anything, anywhere.

But almost all of the 47 TV boxes are of Torrington: the post office, the library, the Torrington Viscount School, Torrington’s Trinity Lutheran Church, Torrington’s Village Office, the Torrington Hotel and someplace called John’s Air Cooled Marine Engines Service.

Torrington Hotel

There is an unreal tangibility about the gophers of Torrington. Torrington’s gophers.

Because the gophers are embedded into Torrington’s very concrete, in a way, they fill Torrington’s very air.

There’s Clem T. GoFur, Torrington’s official greeter and town mascot.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Clem T. GoFur

Ladies and Gentlemen: Clem T. GoFur

Clem is 12 feet tall, clothed and smiling, and is the first thing you see as you turn in from the highway and into Torrington. There is a plaque listing, among other Things, his D.O.B (June 20, 1991). There is a nearby sign that reads, among other Things:

I am a handsome gopher
A mascot if you please
Torrington’s my place of birth
And where I take my ease

Hello to everyone of you
We’d like to shake your hand
Come in and see our heritage
Living off the land.
[2]

My feeling is that the sign is meant to compliment the lyrics of The Torrington Gopher Call Song, which includes, among other Things:

There’s millions of these rodents that are causing such a fuss,
They dig their home in the prairie loam, turning everything to dust.
If you fret and worry that the Gopher will be gone,
You can always take some with you and release them on your lawn
The moral of this story is to be wise before you speak,
Lots of us do like them, but their damage is not cheap.
There always will be gophers, their lives not in hand,
So just sit back and watch them as they dig up all our land.
[3]

Torrington’s fire hydrants are painted up as gophers – Clem’s GoFur Clan – at the apex of which sits Granny Gopher of course. You may find each of hydrants – each member of the GoFur Clan – on a self-guided walking tour of Torrington using the very thoughtful map provided at the Gopher Hole Museum and Gift Shop by the TORRINGTON TOURISM ACTION SOCIETY.

They have names and a pretty involved family tree, complete with individual back-stories.

The GoFur Clan

The GoFur Clan

They are as real as it gets.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“We don’t have an on-site taxidermist. There’s a man we send the gophers to. He stuffs them. Sometimes people send us gophers, like the albino one we have. The cowboy,” said Granny Gopher.

Why gophers?

Lacking lakes, mountains – natural attractions of any kind – without grand architecture or dramatic origins and bereft of anything you would call a vibrant arts or culture scene, Torrington looked deep into itself and came out the other side of itself.

Clem T. GoFur Too

If it happens in Torrington, it happens to Torrington, it happens through Torrington.

It had to have been always about the gophers.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

What is there left to say?

I have never encountered a place that meant itself so much as Torrington, Alberta.

 
 


[1] “Yeah.”

[2] By Carol Pfeifer, a Torrington resident.

[3] Lyrics by Dennis Oster.
 
 
***********************************************************************
 
The GoFur Clan [as described by the TORRINGTON TOURISM ACTION SOCIETY]:

1. Granny is the matriarch of the GoFur clan, the mother of Trixie, Mabel and Junior. Her grandson, Clem, is the official town greeter. Granny and Gramps were among the earliest settlers of this region, at a time when becoming a province of Canada was still in Alberta’s future.

2. Gramps is the patriarch of the GoFur clan who is getting a little too old to cut the mustard anymore but he sill enjoys a bit of barley, He’s always happy to welcome visitors whenever they drop in to see him at the south end of town.

3. Auntie Mame is Granny’s sister who married an elderly European count and went to live in Gofalia when she was still in her teens. They lived happily in their castle for many years but then the count died, Auntie Mame returned to Torrington to be with her kinfolk.

4. Trixie is Clem’s mom and the daughter of Gramps and Granny. She is a nurse who cares for the sick and bandages the scraped knees of the youngsters in town. When Homer was inured falling from a hay wagon that was passing through town, it was Trixie who cared for him and when love blossomed, married him.

5. Homer grew up in Saskatchewan and arrived in Torrington when he fell from a hay wagon that was passing through town. Trixie found him at the roadside and cared for him while he recovered from his injuries. They later married and raised their children, Clem, Tubby and Peggy Sue, in the town.

6. Mabel was the town’s schoolteacher when she met Butch on a hoilday. She is very involved with community affairs and still teaches part-time at the school while also raising a family of little GoFurs.

7. Butch is the sailor of the GoFur clan. He was a crewman on a cruise ship when Mabel met him. After a long courtship, they married and Butch settled down in Torrington. Shy and retiring, he’s often found peeking out at visitors from behind the bushes and shrubbery.

8. Junior is the bachelor son of Granny and Gramps. He’s the musician of the GoFur clan and is the leader of his own musical group which provides music for many local events. During the winter, he travels in the south but if you’re lucky, you may find him at home during the summer.

9. Ellie May [mentioned only in entry on Baby Jessie. See below].

10. Clem [mentioned only in entries of other GoFur family members].

11. Tubby is the comedian of the GoFur clan. At family gatherings, he’s always the one with a lampshade on his head, surrounded by smiling faces. Tubby is the opposite of his rather quiet, subdued brother, Clem [,] who stands at the entrance of town, watching visitors as they pass by.

12. Peggy Sue is the baby sister of Torrington’s official greater, Clem. She’s normally found just outside the Lutheran Church, dressed in her ‘Sunday best’, as she leaves church after attending Sunday School.

13. Baby Jessie is the daughter of Clem and Ellie May. She used to enjoy watching the trains that passed through Torrington. Now, even though the line has been closed and the track removed, she still likes to sit and remember those good times.

14. Clem Jr. is the “chip off the old block” who tries to imitate his father, Clem, in every way. You’ll notice that they even dress alike. When he grows up, he thinks he’d like to be a fireman. He likes to play on the swing and slide in the playground.

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Out Manned

 
The Man was already screaming at The Cashier by the time I turned off my iPod and caught on. I was buying bread and Drano®.[1] There was a line of people behind him, trying very hard to ignore what was happening or, like me, openly gawking at what was happening.

Cashiers have it hard. Sometimes they have it real bad.

There are certain inevitabilities to being a cashier and I think it has a lot to do with the obligations of the job and the expectations that surround it. Of being professionally servile and acting as if this were a feat of personality rather than a fact of cold hard survival.

Service with a smile.

This is true for a lot of places.

This may as well have happened: there was spittle flying from The Man’s bottom lip. He was, in any case, livid, screaming about The Cashier’s “stupid manners,” refusing to believe that the bouquet of flowers he wanted to purchase could be so “fucking expensive”. [2]

Taking abuse with poise and fortitude – keeping cool, absorbing it all until the incident passes or until management arrives to deal with the Difficult Situation – this is what separates committed employees from the unambitious dregs just out to get a paycheck.

The flowers were for The Man’s moth-er! Did the cashier not understand?

In this way, everyday abuses get disregarded, and managers don’t always come to help.

Hedging bets against the customer makes more sense than counting on them for anything.

The Man brandished that bouquet at the cashier. “Brandished” (vb. to wave or flourish [something, esp. a weapon] as a threat or in anger or excitement) is the word.  Had The Cashier been trained at all? How did she even get the fucking job since she obviously can’t even handle this obviously simple fucking transaction? No, he did not want a price check you stupid fucking girl.

I was a cashier for a while, and it was hard and sometimes real bad.  Working too few and too many shifts, standing for hours on end, earning next to nothing is hard; having to deal with other people’s total fucking bullshit is sometimes real bad.

Hell is.

The Cashier was poised and she had more fortitude than I imagined even possible in her difficult situation, but it was wearing heavy on her. It was very obvious by now that there was nothing she could say or do to appease The Man, even if she really wanted to.

Finally and thank god:

“Rachel,” the cashier next to The Cashier announced over our heads, “I’m calling The Manager.”

The Man scoffed, did not bother to turn around. “Go ahead and call the fucking manager! I’ll give her as good![3]

But The Manager did not come.  I don’t know why.  We waited forever until, finally, someone did come.

A man dressed in white.  A man whose motorhead mustache seemed to drip with the same blood that spattered his apron. A man whose solid, concrete frame and massive stature casually dwarfed those around him.

The Butcher.

The Butcher's Shop by Bartolomeo Passerotti c.1580

His arms knotted in work muscles – solid, but not quite defined – sleeves rolled up to reveal body hair as black as holy sin, he had come from the back of the store to tell The Cashier that The Manager was not there. He didn’t know why.

Service with a smile means survival of the fittest. You have to adapt.

“Hey! Over here, Bruce!” It was Rachel.

“What’s up?” asked The Butcher, looking at her curiously.  She directed his gaze with her gaze to The Man, standing there, agape.

Taking half a step, The Butcher turned to face The Man.

“What?” He may have barked it. He crossed his meaty butcher arms as he said it.

“I…nothing,” muttered The Man, wholly uncurious, the exact opposite of anything approaching curious.  Keeping at least one eye on The Butcher, he dropped a few bills and coins on the counter, hesitated, and took some back.

Rachael took his money, rang him up and tossed him his change. Hard. As soon as she was done, she excused herself to the old lady standing behind The Man and hurried to somewhere in the back of the store, away from the cash register.

You can’t pay someone to care.  You can’t not pay them to care, either.

I wondered idly how much of her shift she had left.

The Man shoved the change into a worn pocket. He left the store, flowers in hand, less now like a scepter than a lot of dead weight he had to drag all the way home.

They were limp. Obviously, he squeezed too hard.

 


[1] Mutually exclusive purchases, I assure you.

[2] Actual quotes.

[3] ???

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No One To Blame

 
Yeah, I get angry sometimes, but it’s not as bad as it used to be.

At the worst of it, I knew and lived the thrill of desperate yet intoxicating anger. It was brutal, indiscriminate, beautiful and I relished every moment of it.  Not only had I come to enjoy being angry but I also began seeking it out.  It was a high that, with a little practice, was simple to attain and easily indulged.

It felt good.  It felt right.

And it was wearing me out and shutting me down completely.

The problem with Hulk is that he de-hulks. Un-hulks?  He ceases to hulk.

***CINDY SMASH***

I still like being angry, a little, which is a lot more than I should, probably. However, there are lots of Things out there that warrant basic human fury, and that demand it, really.  Anytime anyone anywhere says that what they’re doing to you is “for your own good”, for example, or when you’re on the receiving end of a slow, patient smile.

Head pats.

I have found ways to cope with anger that may be of use to Others out there, so like me:

  • Whatever else is involved, your anger is yours.  It’s yours and it’s valid and yours.
  • Remember:  not only bad people get mad.  For god’s sake.
  • Realize that when people give you pressing, unsolicited advice on how you must deal with your anger, their good intentions in this are theirs alone.  It can’t be otherwise.  Also, their parents never loved them.
  • Believe that there are people who don’t want you to get angry precisely because they’ve done Things they know will by all rights make you angry and the question “why are you so angry” is thus translatable to “did you find me out, or what?”  Their parents probably loved them too much, in which case the worst has already occurred.  What can you do?
  • Punch a human face
  • Wait

Yeah, waiting’s good.  Because it’s anger and something better is bond to come along.

Always does.

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