Friday, April 30, 2010

A Hand is Forced...

So, without much guidance I'd resigned myself to go to Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook in September 1989 as the extent of my post-secondary education ambitions. Looking back at this I honestly needed someone to intervene for me in High School or not long after, slap me to my senses and convince me that a desire to write, practice visual art or get into film-making actually was a legitimate career choice. Regionally the only school that genuinely appealed to me was the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax but several things prevented me from seriously considering that as an option.

One was that I was told incessantly that there were no solid job prospects upon graduation. Now, keep in mind this is w-a-a-a-a-a-y before the days of graphic and digital media design. This was born out a bit by the fact that a friend of mine's older brother had recently graduated and was having a hard time getting a job.

The other, more esoteric thing, is that the type of art taught there was often characterized by some people in my circle, either fairly or unfairly, as woefully pretentious. I was an easy mark for this line of "reasoning". It's always pissed me off that people could conceivably nail a rubber boot to a door, spray paint the entire thing chartreuse, call it "art" and then apply for a grant from the government. Don't laugh at that, I've actually seen that s#!$ in action. I remember taking a nominal, barely equipped art class in High School and feeling galled that there was no mention of my Dad's work, just talentless clowns that had gotten in in good with the provincial government and weaseled their way into the school curriculum as it's representative artists.

I was also troubled by a story a friend of mine told about a recent graduate who'd gone to a NASCAD student's show and witnessed something unforgivable to me. As guests were milling around discussing the aesthetics of the pieces on display a dude dressed in a black leotard and a slide projector strapped to his head was randomly walking around muttering:

"I am a projector. I project."

Now this story may have been a complete fabrication, but whether true or not, it actually had an impact on my decision. Frankly, I've got no tolerance for that kind of crap.

Also factoring in was the alarming amount of people from my graduating class who'd initially opted to go to university in Halifax that were now crawling back home either chronically homesick or terrified that they were no longer a big fish in a small pond. In fact, a close friend of mind limped back home after a few months at St. Mary's because he despised being housed apartment-style in the Edmund Rice building with a bunch of complete strangers who were drifting into the south side of "asshole".

Talk about schadenfreude, people, I'm just as guilty as anyone else. His failure justified my fear of leaving home.

"See, I told ya!" I remember gloating to him. "Everybody's coming back home! Just drop out and come with me to Grenfell next September. You'll save a ton of money and it'll be fun!"

In retrospect I seriously hope my self-righteous smugness and current sad state at home sent him back to Halifax to prove me wrong, which he promptly did. He moved into the Loyola building, got his own room and found his groove. Thank God my boy had more guts and brains than I did, since it allowed me to follow him into residence that September.

This was the best decision of my life. Not that St.Mary's was the best school for me, that more likely would have been Mount Allison or *ahem* NASCAD speaking regionally or perhaps Vancouver Film School or McGill if I didn't have a crippling fear of other human beings.

And I want to speak to this crippling fear for a moment. When I lived in Sydney up until age eight or nine, I had friends there that I likely would have regarded as brothers if we'd stayed. Dad made the decision to move back home to Newfoundland to be closer to family and the jury's still out as to whether or not this was the right thing for all of us collectively.

But it wasn't the right one for me. When I lost my friends in Sydney I became increasingly insular. Subconsciously I thought "Why make new friends? They'll just be taken away from me when we move again." As an already-sensitive only child I didn't have any siblings to toughen me up. I know it still hurts when a stranger at school takes a crack at you, but if you have brothers and sisters who feel as if it's their full-time job is to make your life a living hell, then your skin can't help but get a bit thicker.

But not me. If someone ever said something off-color to me in school I took that s#!& to heart! At that time the thought of leaving behind the few folks that knew and bolstered me up to move into a strange residence half-way across the country was terrifying to me.

But my year spent at home quickly overcame my fear of people. My peeps had moved on, I was dead-bored, work was awful I was hearing great things about life at St. Mary's. Also, back in my day (Note: this last line is best read in your finest "Grandpa Simpson" voice) there was a terrible stigma associated with living at home after High School. Now I see it as kinda smart, but I still believe it makes you fabulously spoiled. In residence you aren't going to be coddled. You are no longer a specious little snowflake. No one is gonna wash your drawers for you. You eat what you can or you starve to death.

I applied to SMU and got accepted for September, ready conquer my crippling fear of strangers.

Little did I know that what I was about to do was as dramatic as taking someone with vertigo and hydrophobia up into a helicopter and dropping them in the middle of Great Slave Lake.

EPIC: Not just my Dad's art available here but my friggin' Mom's as well. How cool is that?!

FAIL: Rant, on, brotha'!

Finally, here's this week's cartoon:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Travails in Retail

I can sum up in two words the reason behind the death of my ad mail career: Newfoundland Winters.

I soon grew weary of Vostok, Antarctica-style wind chill, hip-deep snowfalls, and aeronautically-prone plastic sleds. The territorial, rabid beagles also soon gave way to packs of roaming wolverines.

Okay, that last bit was complete bulls#!* but I stand by the rest.

I managed to score a new, hypothetically less hazardous gig at "Zellers" as re-enforcements for the Christmas season. In my small town, snagging this job was like hitting the big time!

Here's a summary of what I remember:

* My assumption of improved safety proved erroneous since within a week I managed to nearly brain myself with a Fisher Price plastic piano when I attempted to retrieve it down from a high shelf for a diminutive customer. The reason those "PLEASE LET A STAFF MEMBER HELP" signs are put up all around high shelves in department stores is because people who agreed to be paid and risk the remote possibly of being hit in the head with a Fisher Price plastic piano are less likely to litigate on a subconscious level. Or an unconscious level, I always get those mixed up. Anyhoo, that's my theory.

* I soon refused to eat in the staff room, often leaving the building to drive home for lunch. It's a practice I've maintained to this very day. I've always been W-A-A-A-A-Y too empathic when it comes to negativity, gossip, venom, vitriol and overall back-bitery leveled against someone just as soon as they've quit the room. It's always sickened me that as soon as two people who hate each others guts when they weren't around one another act like old war buddies when forced to be in the same room together. It's a nauseating life-long lesson learned early, I suppose.

* I dreaded working on cash and my paralyzing shyness, fear of screwing up and anal retentiveness made sure I'd never be comfortable doing it. Seems kinda silly since nowadays you just scan everything, swipe a payment method and you're off to the retail races. Back then you had to key in individual item price, quantity, taxes, coupons, credit card info, discounts, cosine, and square root, all the while remaining cognizant of infinitesimals. Often I remember during the worst days of the Christmas season ten or twelve people backed up at the cash and me standing shell-shocked like Tom Hanks on the beaches of Normandy.

* Manual inventory = Hell

* I really couldn't fathom the popularity of "Ghostbusters" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" toys. Man, it all seemed so juvenile. Not like "Star Wars", "G.I. Joe" or "Transformers". Now, that s#!& was PIMP, yo.

* I remember a shoplifter running out of the store and my supervisor promptly admonished me for not grabbing, stalling or tripping him up. Who the f#@& did he think I was, "Spider-Man"? Dude, I'm pretty sure the slogan isn't "With a great red vest with a 'Zeddy Bear' pin on it comes great responsibility". Yeah, f#@% you, buddy. If the store wants to prevent theft they can hire the "Iron Sheik" to stand by the doors and dispense with the "humbling".

* I worked on Christmas Eve and a little bit of my childhood died then. It was snowing to beat the band that day, snowing in that epic way it never seems to do anymore. I remember it felt so fundamentally wrong to keep us there as late as they did with not a soul in the store besides staff. I'm trying to resist the temptation of "old fartism" but back then it didn't seem like a bunch of organ donor yahoos were bragging about crap like: "Oh, yeah, man, I do all my Christmas shopping on Christmas EVE, dude! It's such a RUSH!" Man, if that's the modern man's idea of a rush we're seriously in trouble. All you've really accomplished is justified retailer's greed by staying open on days when staff would be better off with their family and friends.

But it wasn't all that bad. I enjoyed working with, like, two of my co-workers. I sincerely liked helping customers find stuff. It seemed to make them inordinately happy.

But having said that I didn't cry a river when I was laid off as seasonal staff when it slowed down to a crawl after the Holidays.

As I've said before, when I graduated from High-School no career path laid out for me seemed attractive. But after working these odd jobs for a few short months I finally had the greatest incentive to act...

The incentive to do anything but what I had been doing.

FAIL: Prepare to lose a lot of respect for a former legend. Next time someone pisses you off, threaten to "humble" them, Iron Sheik style.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Porn Fairy

Hello, Dear Reader.

This one is going back a few years but you may still find it vaguely amusing...

I've started walking everywhere. Public transportation is the opiate of the lazy man. I save about five minutes talking a bus to, say, Halifax Shopping Center but I'm $2.00 in the hole and I've been exposed to public germs so virulent it makes the Andromeda Strain look like Strep Throat.

Anyway, as a reward for my diligence, I got a visit from the "Porn Fairy". I don't know if anyone else has received her favors but I'm willing to bet someone out there knows what I'm talking about.

In fact, a few years ago I can remember some "friends" of mine regaling me with a good yarn about their first visit from the "Porn Fairy". They were all in Senior Elementary at the time and while en route to "Woolworths" one day they came across the mother lode: a stack of the nastiest, filthiest, skankiest expired porno mags bundled together behind a dumpster.

Being, young, brave, and chronically horny, they overlooked their location and the state they were in and smuggled them into the home of someone who had either lost or won a draw.

At the nerve center they hastily divided up the clandestine wares. As soon as this was accomplished a series of transparent excuses to go home suddenly took to the air. The intrepid "Fellowship of Smut" disbanded without further ago and it's individual members rushed home to do lawn mowing, homework, and, should time permit, masturbate like a pack of overheated chimps.

I'd like to take this opportunity to point out that I didn't know these people at the time of this...*ahem*...visit.

But this is not to say that I haven't been smiled upon by the "Porn Fairy". Maybe not in the same epic scale, but I have.

A few years ago my girlfriend and I were having supper at "Pizza Delight" and I went to the washroom to scrub down to the elbow (we'd gotten there by bus). Well, in the stall on top of the toilet paper dispenser (which was obviously doubling as an ersatz magazine rack) was a copy of "Hustler". Just sitting there. And I ain't talkin' about one of those little flimsy issues, I'm talkin' about one of them big, thick honkin' annual type deals with a red cover and a totally naked model on the cover.

Which brings me to some thoughts about the nature of the medium. I fear that, to an extent, pornography is a necessary evil. I say evil because most so-called "professional" porn is truly garish, exploitative and demeaning. It reduces sex to to a robotic, gynecological commodity. But erotica in some form or another will always exist. It's been around as long as people have had blank cave bathroom walls to decorate.

I just wish that it's industry peddlers had a modicum of taste. Do the covers of these things lend the internet-deprived any shred of dignity or a semblance of conscience to purchase in plain view? Or the contents concealed inside for that matter? I dunno, I guess that's the point...

Anyway, my reaction to the new meaning of "Pizza Delight" was the same as it was the other day. En route to Halifax Shopping Center, 8:30 am Dutch Village Road is a raging river of roiling traffic, fueled by the residential tributaries spilling out of Clayton Park, Rockingham Ridge and Fairview. The morning-huggers are milling around in the "Shoppers Drug Mart" parking lot like zombies from a George Romero film, the only difference is that these fiends eat Tim Horton's coffee cup rims instead of brains.

Amidst this suburban hell devoid of any aesthetic value (like, for example, a tree), I approach a gravel parking lot next to a gas station that ran dry years ago and now lies abandoned. I'm puffing up the dip in the road, handicapped by the lethal levels of automobile exhaust in the air and the perverse angle of the morning sun.

And there it is on the sidewalk just ahead: an issue of "Swank" spreadeagled out in front of me, all black leather, beads, stiletto heels, hair (of varying types) and blood-red talons. Not attractive but still strangely compelling.

I'm stuck dead in my tracks as if I've trod in the result of this thing sitting here. I look at it and look around. Something strange happens. The torrent of traffic becomes a dribble. Everyone seems to vanish. I'm in some sort of weird porn nirvana.

Within this "Star Trekkian" glitch in the space-time continuum I have more than ample opportunity to snatch (?) the thing up and backpack it. But instead I just stand there gaping at it. I root it around with my foot like a dead badger on the shoulder of the TCH. But for the life of me I can't bring myself to pick it up.

Mr. Scott comes through for me and I willingly come back to real-time. I turn on my heel, leaving the "Porn Fairy's" gift for me behind, for someone younger and less...*ahem*...anal to covet.

Please, "Porn Fairy", don't take this as a final rebuke. It's just that the thought of your gift being discovered on the floor of a public bathroom, on a sidewalk or behind a dumpster just isn't the most...hygienic delivery channel in the world. After all, it might be carrying the kinda germs that makes Ebola look like a mild case of psoriasis.

So until my crippling fear of microscopic boo-baggers begins to subside I fear that I cannot accept your generous but ill-gauged offerings. Now, if you wanna leave one in my mailbox, well, y'know...then we'll talk.

Oh, and in case you're interested, the magazine was gone later that day.



Tuesday, April 27, 2010

BUS STORY # 2 & 3


I saw a woman on the bus today who was wearing a transparent blue raincoat. During the entire trip I had to resist an overwhelming urge to recycle her.


Transcript of an actual conversation overheard between two young girls on the bus:

Girl #1: "So, how's your grandfather doing?"

Girl #2: "Not bad. They say with all the insurance money he's gonna get, he should be able to buy himself a new foot."



Monday, April 26, 2010

"A Drone is Born" : Part II

After I'd emerged into a semblance of consciousness I called my supervisor back at the post office.

"Yeah, one of the mail carriers called in sick this morning. I need you to do his route in Kippens."

I remember feeling vaguely amused that this guy actually thought it was the morning. It was 5:30 A-friggin'M and as far as I was concerned it was technically still the weekend.

"I...uh, listen, all I've done before is deliver ad mail," I protested. "Can I even legally do this? I think maybe you should get someone else..."

Dad, who was within earshot, suddenly grabbed the phone from me.

"Hi, can you excuse us for just a moment?" he hastily told the supervisor before covering the receiver and silencing me with a raised finger.

"You should never, ever refuse a request from your boss!" Dad scolded me. "And never refuse an opportunity or a promotion!"

I sighed deeply and stared at him, unable to protest. I regarded my father as an infinite source of authority and wisdom, and living under his roof, there was no way I would have refused after that. I sheepishly took the phone back and told my supervisor that I'd be there as soon as I could.

But before I go any further it should be mentioned that sometimes supervisors can be idiots with a "little big man" complex. They often don't question the ideas and directives of the powers that be above them and have no qualms seeing their staff twist in the wind or be humiliated. Also, that accepting a promotion might have been a no-brainer in the workplace of the Fifties to the Seventies but in the late Eighties and certainly into the Nineties it could often be the biggest mistake of your career. It's been my experience and the experience of friends that blindly accepting a promotion nowadays often translates into five times the responsibility and stress as well as less compensation overall since now you're working buckets of unpaid overtime.

Sorry, folks, I just wanted to counterbalance the earnest but naive advice that I swallowed wholesale during that very moment.

Dad drove me down to the post office and I zig-zagged to the front door like a drunken somnambulistic zombie. The cold, pouring rain revived me a bit and I was going to need it. I was about to experience the first in a life-long line of slapdash and grossly inadequate training sessions.

"So this is your route," the supervisor mumbled, handing me a crude map that looked like the sort of thing a drunk friend might scribble on a napkin to show you where the after hours party is going down.

"And here are your keys," he continued, nonplussed by my look of confusion. "Sean's gonna take you out in the truck and drop you off so you'd better get out there."

"Look, dude," I protested. "I have no clue what I'm doing. Where's my mailbag? What are all these keys for?"

The supervisor cast a world-weary sigh, undoubtedly pissed off that I was cutting into his water cooler time, likely used to mull over the ramification of last night's episode of "ALF".

"Sean's gonna explain everything, so just go out to the truck."

Still perplexed that I wasn't currently burdened by my weight in mail, I made my way out to the delivery truck where Sean was waiting as promised.

En route to the...uh, route, Sean nuanced the finer points of my duties:

"Alright, I'm gonna leave you at the first drop box. The big key unlocks those boxes, okay? Inside is your first mailbag and inside of each bag, batches of mail are pre-sorted together with rubber-bands to keep things organized. Grab the bag and follow your route map. Deliver stuff as it comes up. Eventually you'll get to a rural route box. You know what they look like, right? Use the smaller key to unlock that one and then fill'er up. The next drop box should be close by. Keep doing that until you get to the end of the map. Got it?"

Given the ungodly hour I'll confess to nodding off a bit. Being skewered by a direct question snapped me back into consciousness.

"Oh, um, yeah!" I enthused, checking quickly for drool. "Sounds pretty easy."

I feigned alertness by asking what I thought was a relevant query:

"Sooooo, how many drop boxes are there?"

"I can't remember for this route. Four or five, I think."

I had little time to ponder the ramifications of this as the truck skidded to a stop and I was cast out into the heavy rain like one of the the Space Marines in "Aliens" surging out of the APC onto the surface of LV 426.

The truck tore off and I shielded my vision from the heavy precipitation, looking for the first drop box, which revealed itself only as the mail truck pulled away. I fumbled with the keys to the door, my fingers already starting to go numb. My standard issue rain poncho was serving me well but dampness was setting in and my teeth were beginning to chatter.

I finally managed to breach the door of the gray, rectangular drop box and stood in stunned silence for a moment as I looked at the massive mailbag filling up every cubic centimeter. It looked like something a mob boss had left there to send me a "message". In retrospect, I guess the message was likely "You're F#@%*$, pally!" I cursed a blue streak as I hefted it onto my shoulders, proving that not just ants are capable of lifting twenty times their body weight.

I shlepped through the rain, becoming increasingly disconsolate as I began to realize the vast distance between these rural drop boxes. At one point in time I began to suspect that this was likely to become the postal equivalent of the Bataan Death March.

At first the route was like doing my ad-mail deliveries in a standard subdivision, with individual boxes for individual houses. Unfortunately some of these homes seemed like they were a quarter of a mile apart or set back off the road as if leading up into the Azarks. I silently rejoiced every time I encountered another rural route box, since I could open up the big panel door and huddle underneath it out of the rain for a moment while I frantically stuffed envelopes, magazines and small packages into whatever nook and/or cranny looked vaguely appropriate.

The down side is that I'd soon find myself encumbered again by a new (and seemingly heavier) mail bag. In retrospect, at least this was giving me some practice for a future career in marketing.

Yes, the mail inside the bag was bundled together in some semblance of organization. Or at least that was the theory. Often times I'd spend ten minutes compensating for the nearly random sorting techniques. As the day wore on past noon, I began to get borderline delirious from lack of food and rest. The rain began to smear my map into something Salvador Dali would have dismissed as indecipherable. I became increasingly accident-prone. Often times I'd find myself blinking at the sight of someone's copy of "Newsweek" bloating up in a puddle underfoot like one of those foam "Grow-a-Dinosaurs".

What may have taken an experienced carrier about three or four hours to do was now taking me more than double that time.

"At least I'm milkin' this $13.00 hourly rate," I muttered to myself as I kept trudging.

Mercifully, in either a moment of pity or guilt, Dad drove by later and started shuttling me around so I could deliver the rest by car. I think he technically saved my life that day, bless 'em. If not for him, I'd likely still be wandering around Kippens like a mail wraith.

At the end of the day, both of us were troubled by the amount of undelivered mail that we just couldn't reconcile and were forced to bring it back to the post office since we weren't instructed to do anything to the contrary.

The supervisor politely thanked me for my efforts but I was mercifully never asked to do it again. Part of me thinks this whole arrangement was not entirely kosher but it's much more likely that the post office was inundated the next day by complains about grossly mis-delivered mail and sopping wet Columbia House packages.

The saga continues...

EPIC: (I guess I should have kept at it)

Friday, April 23, 2010

"A Drone is Born" - Part I

Good day, Gentle Reader.

As I mentioned in a previous installment very few options presented to me on the cusp of graduation from High School were even vaguely inspiring or attractive. So whereas all my peers were headed off to university or college to become Doctors (3% chance), Lawyers (5% chance) or First Semester Dropouts (92% likely) I did nothing, hoping inspiration might hit if I took a year off.

But, alas, don't think for a second that this time would be idle. I think the day after my exams Dad kicked me out of the house to look for work and then began to call every small-town connection he knew to get me the hook up. The idea was to get a summer job, save some money and go to university if and when my future beckoned.

My first job ever was working for Canada Post. Now, before you get too excited, the job with Canada Post was delivering ad mail. Basically I would given a nice little cross-reference of local fliers in bulk, sort them into sets, load them into a mailbag the size of a pup tent and deliver them to a designated neighborhood on the edge of town. I think I was paid a flat $40.00 to deliver everything about four to six hours.

On the very first day I quickly realized that people either really love or really hate fliers. People aren't on the fence over these things. I'd either get one of two groups of people:

"I don't care if you have to get across the moat, through the portcullis, answer the riddle of the Sage, scale the parapet and defeat Cerberus the three-headed hell-hound...I want my f#@%*&$ fliers in my mailbox by 10 am every day or I'm calling my M.P.!"


"If you put another thing in my mailbox from 'Canadian Tire' I'll blow your f#@%!*$ head off!!!"

I remember after I'd completed my first round of deliveries I went back to the post office to drop off my mailbag. I marched into the supervisor's office and announced:

"Well, I'm done!"

And without missing a beat the supervisor responded:

"So, you quit?"

Apparently this was not necessarily as much of a wacky misunderstanding as you may think. Turnover's a wonderful thing, ain't it?

But I kept at it. Except for a few minor piss-off's it wasn't such a terrible gig. Lots of fresh air, exercise and a dwindling faith in the priorities of the human race.

Speaking of demonic guard dogs, one day I tried delivering fliers to a woman who came out her front door just as I was opening her gate. A beagle suddenly darted out of the house and charged at me, baying like the "Hound of the Baskervilles".

Dog owners, please heed me here: it does nothing for someone's piece of mind when you're insisting "Oh, he's fine; don't pay him any heed. He wouldn't hurt a fly" whilst at the same time the self-same hell hound is circling around you, making exploratory darting bites like a delinquent tiger shark in pre-chummed waters.

"Get him away from me!" I shouted back as the dog backed off momentarily to howl an ode to bloodlust. "You got three seconds to call him off, lady!"

"Really, he's just playing!"


"Just come on in through the gate, he won't..."

"TWO" I shouted, cocking my mailbag over my shoulder and nearly giving my lower intestine an express elevator drop into my nutsack.

"It's fine, he'll just stay outside there..."


I swung the mailbag full-pelt and connected solidly with it's brain pan as "Zoltan, Hound of Dracula" nipped out at me again The beast was in mid-bark at the time and the "ROOOWLF!!!" instantly turned to a vaguely amusing "ACK!!!" noise. The swing was pretty strong and I'm convinced to this day that if I'd struck the feral creature in anything but it's head I likely would have maimed it.

"Oh dear!" exclaimed the owner, cupping her hands to her mouth in surprise.

I managed to drive the fiend back far enough for me open the gate and get inside her yard, locking "Cujo" outside. It began pacing back and forth in front of the fence like a bear driven nuts by a zoo's electrical fence. The blow to the head hadn't fazed it in the least, much like a wrestler's immunity to chair shots to the cranium.

"Sorry, lady" I puffed, lugging my canvas flail up the steps to her front porch.

"Oh, that's okay," she dismissed. "It's my husband's dog and frankly I kinda hate the stupid thing. Ooooo, is that a 'Zellers' flier?"

The ad mail delivery biz was fine until the weather started to get cold. I seem to recall trying to deliver fliers on top of a hilly, treeless subdivision in Kippens during a gale-force winter storm and nearly getting decapitated by a flying plastic sled. Hmmm, was that also the time my Dad got bit by a dog because he took pity on me that day and tried to help me? I can't remember. Oh, well, whatever...

This all culminated with a pretty miserable event. I was fast asleep one cold, dark, rainy fall morning when Dad burst into my room and spent the next ten minutes trying to rouse his teenage Lazarus from the dead. It started with a few "shaken baby syndrome" jolts, proceeded to screaming into an ear trumpet and then attempted physical removal from the nest, which I resisted like Eva Longoria in a shoe store.

"What?! What is it?!?" I spluttered as I was dragged kicking and screaming into consciousness.

"Your supervisor from Canada Post is on the phone. He wants to know if you can deliver the regular mail for a carrier that called in sick."

"Deliver...what? What time is it?"

"Five-thirty," Dad answered as if I'd overslept.

Let me tell you, Gentle Reader, there is never a time in your life, young or old, when that answer is anything less than horrifying. There are certain times on our twenty-four hour clock that I firmly believe it's literally a crime against the laws of the universe to be awake. The only time when it might make sense to be awake this early is if you live six hours away from a ferry which you have to catch at 9 am and only then if you can sucker someone else into driving and all you have to do is stumble from your bed to the back seat of the car.

"Auuuughhh!!! Five-thirty? Is he nuts? Tell him to go pound sand," I muttered and tried to roll over.

"Like hell," Dad growled, renewing his efforts to pull me from my heated water bed. My fingernails scratched the edge of the frame as I was cast out onto the cold floor like a homeopathic birth gone horribly awry.

"What the eff?!!? I shouted.

"I'm going back to the phone and tell him you'll call him back right away. They're going to give you $13.00 an hour to do this today, so you're damned well going."

I guess he was still pissed about that dog bite.

Join me next time Gentle Reader, when I explain why Cliff Clavin was such a reasonable source of ridicule after all and why suicide rates amongst postal carrier is so high in next week's episode of "You Can't Get There From Here" entitled:




Thursday, April 22, 2010

"A Creative Force"- Part III

After poring over the arcane secrets provided by the good people at Random House I threw the Jedi storybook down in disgust.

"This can't be what really happens!" I raged. "After all, didn't 'Starlog' say that some of the actors got fake script pages just to keep the secrets safe? Maybe the storybook writer got some of those fake pages by mistake..."

But it was not to be. When I saw the film a few months later my worst fears were confirmed. Amongst my issues with the film:

* Wow, another "Death Star", huh? Real original...
* What's with all the fake-looking Muppets? Half of the creature masks look like they were cobbled together by Don Post on an adrenochrome bender.
* Han Solo may have been thawed out, but apparently he left his balls back in what was left of that carbonite block.
* Boba Fett, who's been built up as the galaxy's greatest bad-ass, dies accidentally with all the majesty of an actor in a public service television ad for workplace safety.
* Why is everything burping? Isn't there any Pepto Bismol equivalent in "A Galaxy Far, Far, Away?"
* Why is Carie Fischer acting like she's all strung out on coke? Oooooo, eeeee, sorry 'bout that...
* Leia and Luke are brother and sister?!! Look, I can handle Leia just picking Han, but this is a f#@%ing cheat! And Lucas has the gall to tell us he had this planned all along? Well, I call bull$#!% on that unless Georgie Boy had a very unconventional relationship with this sister as a kid.
* Yoda's dead? Why?! One minute he says: "Soon I will rest" and the next minute he's deader than the escaped salamander I found underneath my radiator last week.
* Ewoks. Sweet, suffering Christ I hate these fake-looking little Jeezlers. They bean themselves in the head with their slings, single handedly annihilate dramatic tension whenever they're on screen for more than five seconds, say sickeningly cutesy crap like 'Yub! Yub!" and turn in the worst piece of music at the end of a movie since "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" drove a stake through the heart of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

Anyway, you get the idea. Up to this point in time, George Lucas was my creative hero. I didn't understand at the time that the first two films succeeded in spite of Lucas, who has long since proved to be a conceptual and editorial genius but a complete moron when it comes to dialogue and working in collaboration with real, talented human beings.

But at this point in time a thirteen year old kid was suddenly inspired to try and do better. It's all well and good to say something sucks, but it's another to point out exactly why it sucks and then to make it better. This is what I became fascinated by.

I'd already been encouraged to start writing back in 1979 when my Super 8 Star Wars film fell apart. I'd written an extended story based on the Disney movie The Black Hole and soon I'd find myself up in front of my class reading my latest chapter to them, serial style. The saga gained so much renown that my principal at the time took my Hilroy-scribbled manuscript and promised that he's return it only after it had been typed up and copies were made available to any student who wanted one. Wow, my first publishing offer!

Well, I'm still waiting. Asshat.

Yes, that's right, MY F#@$&*% PRINCIPAL LOST MY FIRST BOOK! Hey, I know it likely sucked like a Hoover, but I would have preferred a scathing diatribe in "The Literary Review" versus completely excising it from reality. After all, Battlefield Earth still exists, am I right? Who knows, maybe he was a mole for Disney studios and was tasked to destroy any unauthorized fan fiction on sight? I hope he didn't catch up to Mike...

Discouraged, I fell into a creative lull. Eventually my spirits were buoyed considerably by a pair neo-hippie school-teacher friends of my parents who had a Golden Retriever named Gandalf (how pimp is that?) and a huge library. They lent me a slew of books like Stuart Little and Jacob Too-Too Meets the Hooded Fang, both of which were considerable departures for me. After all, despite being a budding cinephile, up to then I'd really only read comic books and film novelizations, half of which were written quite competently by Alan Dean Foster.

One particular book of theirs that caught my attention was James Clavell's Shōgun. This was fascinating to me since I'd often caught fleeting glimpses of the miniseries on T.V. and was captivated by it. You mean books could be adapted into movies and not just the other way around? Fascinating!

So inspired, my first "original" novel was Amazōn (complete with bitchin' macron) which detailed the harrowing tale of a crew of Western sailors in the 1930's being ship-wrecked on the eponymous island, which is filled with savage tribesmen, snakes, piranha, and...rather inexplicably, dinosaurs. It was kind of a fusion between King Kong, The Most Dangerous Game and a piece of poo.

Despite it's dubious quality, Amazōn did well in local circles (read: my Grade Five class) so a sequel was soon green-lit.  Return To Amazōn also acquitted itself nicely, despite featuring a team of futuristic fighter pilots (?) now crashing on the deadly island and trying to cope with ever-escalating dangers. In order to come up with "futuristic" names for the characters I was forced to steal fabric names from my mom's electric iron settings. This resulted in the regrettably dubbed "Rick Dynel" and "Dan Fortrel" as protagonists in the novel.

With space and the future as a re-occurring theme my next novel was a real quantum-leap, the post-apocalyptic sci-fi opus Enter the Oblivion.  Oblivion was set on Earth after a nuclear war nearly destroys humanity. An advanced "friendly" alien race happens by not long after and attempts to shepherd humanity back from the brink, but, naturally, they have ulterior motives.  You knew you were reading a hard core, speculative sci-fi masterpiece when one of the characters at one point employs the use of a "thermal injector unit" to make toast.  Sheeesh.

Enter the Oblivion was never completed, mainly because I was about around the age in which I'd seen Return of the Jedi.  I'd to come to the harsh realization that what I was writing was nothing short of awful.  Enter The Oblivion was merely a blatant rip-off of the television mini-series The Day After Tomorrow and Arthur C.Clarke's Childhood's End.  I needed to find an original voice.

At the same time, as I've discussed prior, we as student in school were being encouraged more and more to abandon creative pursuits and concentrate on our Sciences and Advanced Math.  Except for occasional diversions in English or Language Class, my germ of creative writing was left to fallow.

But it would eventually return with a vengeance.

EPIC:  I've actually seen worse recruiting methods...

FAIL: Could be an omen, could be an ottoman...

And also, here's this week's Star Wars-themed comic...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"A Creative Force" Part II

After I saw Star Wars I can safely say that I walked out of that theatre a different kid then before I went in.

I became obsessed with the damned thing, much to my parent's chagrin. I begged them for "The Story of Star Wars", a story book and cassette tape with dialogue and sound effects from the movie.  I listened to it so much the voices began to sound like Hank Hill on Quaaludes.  Before this happened I'd already committed huge chunks of the script to memory:

LEIA: "Darth Vader, only you could be so bold. The Imperial Senate will not sit still for this once they hear you've attacked a diplomatic..."

DARTH VADER: (interrupting) "Don't act so surprised your Highness, you weren't on any mercy mission this time. Several transmissions were beamed to this ship by Rebel spies; I want to know what happened to the plans they sent you!"

Cripes, how sad is that. I just typed that right from memory!  I pity the poor kid that saw Episode II first during his impressionable years and now walks around muttering dialogue like:

ANAKIN: (to Padme) "I don't like sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft...and smooth." (Awkwardly paws at Padme)

Cripes, he'll never get laid.  I mean even less so than the average Star Wars fan.  But I digress. Whenever any event came down the pike that might earn me some sort of present or gift credit (birthday, Christmas,
National Accordion Awareness Month) I spent my allotment on something that had Guerre des Etoiles stamped on it.  Action figures, vehicles, posters, play sets, t-shirts, books, comics, magazines, shower curtains, spice racks, home enema kits, batting practice helmets...whatever I could get my hands on.

I'd try and draw the characters but I sucked at it.  I made up stories with my action figures and recorded little passion plays with my tape player.  I remember when I first moved to Stephenville around '79 I tried to sucker my new school mates into appearing in my own version of the sequel, filmed with an old Super 8 movie camera my Dad got from somewhere.  Regrettably this ambitious project was dead before it even got off the ground since props, costumes, sets and the film stock itself would have forced me to be Jon Peters' butt monkey to this day in order to raise that kind of scratch.

A year later the official sequel came down the pike and our religion was confirmed. I once read somewhere that in order for a film to become a franchise, the sequel to the original has to be as good, if not better than the first. Then it doesn't even matter what the third or subsequent films are like, you can keep crapping out new entries indefinitely and people will still pay to see them.

The Empire Strikes Back would end up proving that.

The second film was a helluva lot darker. As a ten year old kid I couldn't conceive of how my favorite characters could be abused so badly. I didn't want to see C-3PO get blown up, watch Luke get his hand lopped off or Han Solo get tortured, frozen in carbonite and then abducted by Boba Fett.  Even worse, the revelation regarding Vader's uncomfortable proximity to Luke's lineage did little for my brain, which I'd finally managed to cobble together over the past few years like pieces of your mom's missing vase, long shattered in an ill-conceived game of indoor Frisbee.

Needless to say, with Empire ending on a cliff-hanger, the years between May 1980 and May 1983 WERE THE LONGEST YEARS OF MY FRIGGIN' LIFE! I tried to pass the time by rolling around in all my Star Wars paraphernalia and reading speculative articles in magazines ("Who is Boba Fett?" "Why, it's no less than Luke Skywalker's MOM!") . But, in reality, the wait was killing me and many other members of my sad little generation.

Being a good little dork, I was a member of the Scholastic Book Club in the Spring of 1983. I almost experienced a diaretic hemorrhage when I noticed that the storybook for Return of the Jedi was featured in the most recent SBC catalog, 
months before the film's release in May. This was indeed the Holy Grail right before me.

Well, needless to say, I saved up my shekels, sent off my order form and then proceeded to have the following interaction with my teacher for five hours every day for the next week:

"Is the book here yet?" "No." "Is the book here yet?" "
No." "Is the book here yet?" "NO." "Is the book here yet?" "NO!" "Is the book here yet" "No!!!"

But, lo and behold, one morning the answer was different:

"Is the book here yet?"

"YES!!!" screamed back the teacher. "Yes, for the love of God, yes!!!"

I gaped at her in amazement. In turn, she began to stare at me as I promptly began to exhibit signs of crack cocaine withdrawl. I began to chew on my fist, shuffle in place and slap-wash my face like Curly from The Three Stooges.

" Can I have it? Huh? Can I have it? Please? I...I really need to look at it for just a second. I gotta find out what happens..."

"No. You'll be distracted all day. You'll just have to wait until 3 pm like everybody else."

It's a damn good sight it
wasn't given to me right then because as soon as that storybook was in my hot little mitts I would have bolted like a jackrabbit or jumped out the nearest window like a pint-sized ad executive.

Well, if the past three years had been torture, that school day felt like
another three years on top of it. I was completely miserable the whole time, grunting out surly, monosyllabic responses to everything, drumming out a tattoo on the desk top with my fingers, tapping my foot, sweating profusely and shooting the teacher dirty looks.

Just as soon as the final bell rang I sprang from my seat like Toad from the X-Men, landed on the teacher's desk and grabbed her by the dickie.

"GIMMIE IT!!! GIMMIE IT!!!" I raged.

She managed to push me back a few paces, buying herself enough time to reach into her bottom-right desk drawer and throw the book at me like a piece of steak towards a slavering lion.

"Here! Take it! Take it!" she screamed then fled from sight, sobbing uncontrollably.

Finally re-united with "The Precious" I slunk out of the school, muttering to myself all the while:
"Must find out if Han gets rescued. Must see if Luke and Leia get together. Must find out who the f#@^ this 'Other' person was that Yoda was babbling about."

I ran home and resigned myself to a stone cold supper as I plowed through the storybook as fast as I could.

Only to find myself crushingly disappointed for the first time in my young life...

Part III right here.
EPIC   Testify...

BONUS EPIC Encouraging kids to read for over fifty years...

FAIL:   "I thought this sleeping bag smelled bad on the outside!"

Monday, April 19, 2010

"A Creative Force" Part I

So what turns an already imaginative and creative kid into one who doesn't feel fulfilled until he or she creates something themselves?

I think every artist can point back to some awe-inspiring event they witnessed during their formative years that set them on a life-long track to either approximate or eclipse what they saw on that occasion. Well, in 1977, my seven year old "fragile eggshell mind" was completely blown away by this:

Er, well, maybe to a certain extent. But what I really mean was this...

In May or June of 1977 my best friend David's ("His name is my name, too!") older brother Michael physically dragged us to this modest little picture called "Star Wars". It was a bit of a chore to rip us away from our busy schedule of interpreting Monopoly's rules incorrectly ("Of course you win money on 'Free Parking', stoopid!") , playing Mattel Electronic Hand-Held Baseball, making a play-fort out of David's bunk beds, listening to "Stars on 45" records and drowning our G.I. Joe's in the bathtub. Cripes, it would have been nigh-impossible just to divorce us from our bikes for two hours alone. But Michael was adamant about the movie's quality and we eventually relented.

We ventured down to the Vogue Theatre in downtown Sydney and managed to get a seat amidst a sea of hyperactive maniacs. I remember being skeptical that I was even going to be able to hear anything over the collective din.

But when the first blare of the John Williams-orchestrated London Symphony Orchestra soundtrack blasted us all to the back wall of the theatre my concerns proved to be moot. From there on in, you could have heard a Goober drop if not for the glorious 70mm Dolby sound. The title crawl began and we all sat transfixed, trying to digest the words. "Civil War?" "Spaceships?" "Hidden base?" "Evil Galactic Empire?" "Spies?" "DEATH STAR?!!!?" What the f#@% didn't this movie have?

If the brief reading tutorial set up any unrealistic claims it was quickly blown away by the very first scene as a small Rebel spaceship is pursued by a massive Imperial Star Destroyer, all amidst an orgy of flashing laser beams and explosions . It sounds like parody now, but in that theatre back in 1977 I would have sworn that Imperial ship went overhead for a good fifteen to twenty minutes before we saw the tail end of it.

The Empire's subsequent assault on the Rebel Blockade Runner (the name of which by the way is the "Tantive IV", for all of those among you who actually have lives) really sealed the deal. When that door exploded and those white armored Stormtroopers bombed in firing blasters and killing dudes wholesale my prepubescent brain exploded and leaked out of my right ear.

And as if that wasn't enough, the friggin' Dark Lord of the Sith shows up in the most pimp entrance before or since in cinema history. Darth Vader didn't scare me at all. I just thought he was the coolest, illest mother-f#@%*^ in the entire galaxy.

All the while I'm watching this I'm thinking:

"How did this movie go into my brain and 'ice-cream-scoop' out all the imagination and then put it up on this screen?"

A fair question and one that I will endeavor to explore.

In Part II of my own Galactic Saga I explore the immediate and life-long impact that this humble little blockbuster had on me from that moment forth.

In the meantime, here's today's "Forceful" EPIC/FAIL's:

EPIC  Hey, at least half of them are epic...


Sunday, April 18, 2010

"Lowered Expectations" : Part VI

By the end of Summer 1994 I was still jobless and redder than Lady Gaga's prom dress.

The complete nadir occurred towards the middle of the summer when I was rocked by a trifecta of glorious humiliations. By this time I'd discarded any pretense of getting a job suited to my skills or anywhere close to my area of interest, so I took to trolling through shopping malls wearing a sandwich board with my resume on it.

Opportunities came and went in quick succession. I failed to get a job with a shoe store in Halifax Shopping Center because I made the critical mistake of telling the manager that I was still considering going back to school at the time. I still remember his lecture to me at the end of the interview, delivered as if I'd completely wasted his time:

"Well, we here at (insert name of crusty, douchebag shoe outfit) really value our employees. We train and invest in our people so I'm afraid we need more of a career commitment from you than seeing us merely a summer job for a few months."

A career? Really?! Does anybody really want to spend a lifetime hearing customers say things like:


Hmmmm, wait a minute. Value? Train? Invest? Crap, I shouldn't have said "crusty". Or "Douchebag". IDIOT! I wonder if they're hiring, I mean, let's move on, shall we?

Listen, folks, if a scientist gave any of us a Time Machine to use as we saw fit, I'm sure we'd all have a few choice ideas. And although I'm tempted by Patton Oswalt's scheme to go back to 1997 to kill George Lucas with a shovel, I would still be more responsible.

I would beam back to this time, abduct myself and conduct an "employment intervention". I would have done my best to deprogram this crazed obsession I had at the time to avoid more exams and validate the prodigious investment of both time and money I'd already sunk into making myself a viable drone open to random abuse.

My best sagely advice to L'il Dave would have been:

"Dude, go the f#@&$ back to school because it ain't gonna get any better than this. Just get $850,000 worth of student loans and never come out again."

Now I know hindsight is 20/20 but at the time I was bound and determined to make a go of it.

Not long after this I interviewed for a major-chain bookstore in the same mall. The interview, I thought, went swimmingly well. I had customer service experience from working at Zellers a few years back plus I was a friggin' English Major , yo! And, yes, I'm aware of the irony inherent in that last statement, so no snippy emails, please.

Nevertheless, a few days later I got a call from the manager of the bookstore telling me that they'd hired a candidate that someone who already worked in the store knew personally. Ah, cruelty thy name is nepotism. I remembered crying like a little girl over this one since I knew what would come next.

So, it was back to considering want ads in the paper again and I soon answered a call for a commission phone sales job downtown. For some reason I clung to this misconception that if the business was downtown somewhere it had to be legitimate. I think my hazy logic was that if these outfits would be paying a fortune in rent on Barrington Street they had to be doing well enough to support themselves and their staff. By this same twisted reasoning, I guess it'd be okay to say that Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza, has to be an awesome guys just because he's rich. This despite old Tommy Boy uttering such helpful chestnuts as:

"To me one of the most exciting things in the world is being poor. Survival is such an exciting challenge."

Just to drive home how catastrophically desperate I was at the time, even when I was told about the nature of this particular phone sales job I still agreed to do it. How many times have you been draining spaghetti, frantically trying to get dinner ready and the phone rings and you pick it up without looking at the call display because you're sister is supposed to call and let you know when she can drop off the tax software because you've been putting it off and putting it off for three months and you're afraid if you don't it over the next few days you're going to miss the deadline and then the government is going to send over a posse of large, neckless gentlemen to your door to beat your T4's out of you? Okay, likely never, but I'm willing to bet you've been busy around dinner time, picked up the phone without thinking and was promptly trampled by the sales equivalent of an amorous bull moose crashing through the woods.

My task was to sell newspaper subscriptions over the phone. Remember the Encyclopedia story? Well, this was a single notch up on the Crapometer but still pretty heinous.

It was the method of selling these subscriptions that completely blew me away. Even as a totally inexperienced twenty-four-year old kid I was stunned when I walked in the first day and the supervisor physically ripped a random page out of the phone book, handed it to me and then told me to grab a seat and start dialing.

Just let that sink in a bit. If you're handed a random page out of a phone book you could be just as likely to call downtown HRM as someone's lakeside cabin in Shag Harbor. I.E.: your success at the end of the day was entirely based on factors outside of your control.

Regardless, I gamely took my sheet and sat down in a folding chair at one of six cheap wooden tables propped up against the wall. When I say the tables were cheap I mean really cheap, the sort of chip-board style constructs that you used to sit at during Cubs or Brownies meetings. The sort of tables that would hook threads out of your uniform and give you about sixty-eight splinters to the upper extremities if you so much as looked at them the wrong way.

A constantly fluctuating count of anywhere between twenty to thirty young people were crammed in elbow-to-elbow next to each other, packed in like hormonal sardines and smelling just as spring-time fresh. I seem to recall being one of the oldest people there and many of the kids I'd been incarcerated with weren't even of legal working age. These poor, Twistian souls all looked cowed by fear, heads down, dialing frantically and making an unholy din of amorphous conversation. Despite the pall of terror, during the infrequent allotted smoke breaks out in THE YARD a handful of the more willful urchins would vanish, having fled over the fence when THE WARDEN had her back turned to us.

A word needs to be said about THE WARDEN. The charming individual in charge of this little enterprise was a short, rotund troll who looked like Liza Manelli sustained by a diet of lard n' bacon sandwiches. She was strict, curt and her managerial style consisted of screaming a homily of "DON'T DEVIATE FROM THE !#@%&*^ SCRIPT!!!" over and over again. Basically, she was the sort of woman you could trust to split a junk of cord wood in under ten minutes flat.

On the table in front of you was a phone, the receiver of which was so filthy you risked head cancer every time you put it up to your ear. You were also equipped with the aforementioned catch-all script and objection/rebuttal cheat sheet. Some of the objections made sense, here's an example:

If your, potential client tells you "I get the paper free from work" you might counter with "Yes, well, often when you get the paper at work pieces are missing. We'll deliver it right to your door intact with all your exclusive, money-saving fliers included."

That's all well and good but my personal favorite rebuttal of the bunch was:

"Oh, you say you don't read the paper because you're blind? Well, surely you must have someone who can read it for you?"

You can't make this up, Gentle Reader.

Anyway, you were ordered to start dialing from the top of your allotted phone book page and systematically go down the list, crossing it off as you went until you had to get another sheet. If you actually got a live body on the line for longer than six seconds you were asked to blast through a predeterminded script as quickly as you could, using your objection/rebuttal sheet to counter any opposition.

If the heaven's aligned and you actually scored a sale, you'd bring your filled-out info sheet up to THE WARDEN who would ring a bell on her desk (?) and grant you a $7.00 commission.

On my first day this only happened about five times and I felt an inordinate sense of guilt railroading my victims every time I did it. I spoke to THE WARDEN at one point to address my concerns:

"Look, some parts of this script are pretty pushy if not downright rude. I think I'd have better luck if I could just change this to..."

I stopped talking when I felt the eyes of THE WARDEN burrow into the fiber of my very soul. I was struck speechless as she launched into her OWN rebuttal.

"Listen, this script isn't something we just cobbled together in a day. It's a proven sales tool designed to maximize your opportunities on every call. So, read my lips: DON'T DEVIATE FROM THE !#@%&*^ SCRIPT!!!"

Splattered by such blind conviction (not to mention a considerable amount of wayward spittle) I made my way back to my seat to resume my role as a marginally more interactive auto-dialer.

Against my better judgment I returned for my second day of work Friday morning, got my new phone book page and hit the ground running. Try as I might I could only get one sale that morning and when the afternoon rolled around (Friday afternoon, remember?) it collectively got worse for all of us. At one point, clearly frustrated by her inability to indulge in the favorite part of her job (the bell-ringage) THE WARDEN stood up at 2:30 that afternoon and announced:

"Alright! If sales don't pick up over the next hour or so I'm sending everyone home without pay!"

Now, at the time, I was still pretty shy and retiring. But sitting there, mercilessly pounding those phone buttons, getting no answers, getting cursed at or hung up on when I was fortunate enough to drag some poor bastard off his balcony while barbecuing I was seized by a madness I didn't know I was capable of.

I slowly stood up and stalked over THE WARDEN'S perch.

"Can I talk to you in private?" I asked through clenched teeth.

As if anticipating my rebellion based on the single question I'd asked yesterday she smiled knowingly and took me into her inner sanctum.

Just as soon as the door was shut I launched into a tirade that would make Kanye West reach for his camera phone.

"Listen, lady, I was just going to quit and leave but I couldn't walk out of here without getting a few things off my chest. First off, I'm just stunned by how clueless you are."

As much as she was expecting my departure she wasn't expecting this. She huffed and puffed as if the baker's dozen pork rinds lodged in her throat had finally dropped into a lung.

"Calling people randomly out of a &#@%ing phone book is perhaps the most brain-dead thing I've ever seen. I just got off the phone with someone who lives in the $#@%ing woods four months out of the year!"

She kept blustering and spitting during all of this like a bad impression of Chris Kattan's "Mr.Peepers".

"Also you might be okay with abusing those poor kids out there but I'm done with your borderline illegal chickenshit outfit. In fact, I've got half a mind to report this racket to the police."

"You think your so smart, you little punk!" she finally rallied. "You don't know the first thing about sales!"

"I know more than you and I've only done this for two days. As far as I'm concerned you can cram it with walnuts, you loopy (insert any random insult from the motion picture "Kick-Ass" here)."

I remember the feeling I had busting out of that place, floating across the Commons back to the Hostile Hostel on such a high. I'd never felt so alive, telling off that that harpy, breaking out of that dank, horrible sweatshop awash with the most criminally toxic karma I'd ever had the misfortune to marinate in. I cried tears of joy this time, knowing I'd never have to go back to a place that awful ever again.

But if only that was the case for this Humble Narrator. Remember my analogy that if you take a German Shepherd turd, spray paint it gold and stick a daisy in it, it's still at it's heart a piece of poo?

Words to remember, Gentle Reader. Words that would prove to be all-too-painfully true...



Thursday, April 15, 2010

"Lowered Expectations" : Part V

When the bus hissed to her hydraulic stop across the bridge we all piled out gasping for breath and thanking our respective Makers for delivering us. After all, it was no small feat to travel longer than twenty minutes on the rush-hour Number One in July and live to tell the tale.

Mike put the straps of the kit bag around his shoulders and staggered away from the bus. To a casual onlooker it looked as if the diminutive salesman was narcoleptic and carried a twin bed strapped to his back to make the best of his malady. Since I was a bit bigger than him I offered to carry the canvas monolith for a bit, but Mike was quite adamant about bearing this commercial cross all by himself.

I didn't know whether or not to be offended. Did he think that as soon as I was entrusted with the bag I'd try and make a break for it? This didn't seem likely since the damned thing was so heavy he could have caught up to me while driving a parade float.

"Where's our first appointment?" I asked, trying not to walk too far ahead.

I noticed absently, under the full light of day, that the underarms of Mike's shirt looked as if they'd been dipped in urine. New dark spots were forming and I fought the impulse to Vulcan neck-pinch the poor bastard and carry his burden the rest of the way to Calvary for him.

"Don't...have...appointment," he muttered under the strain.

"What do you mean, we 'don't have an appointment'?" I demanded. "You mean to tell me we're just going to march into some business and try to sell this stuff to...who exactly?"

"The staff, of course," Mike grunted, finally throwing the canvas behemoth on the sidewalk in front of a branch of the Royal Bank, or the "RBC" for all you young hep-cats.

Ever wonder why so many businesses invest in one of those customized "No Soliciting" signs in their entry ways? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present to you, "Exhibit A":

Speechless, I trailed behind Mike as he wrestled open the front door to the bank and dragged the duffel bag inside. Stunned, I watched myself hold the door open for him as he pulled the dead weight across the floor of the bank, instantly drawing the eyes of customers and tellers alike. I felt my face ignite as I slowly slinked in after him.

Frankly if someone were to try this little stunt today they'd be instantly shot dead, no questions asked. Can you imagine this: it's your lunch break, you've taken twenty minutes out of your busy day to do some quick banking, you're standing in a lineup only two or three people away from assistance and then you see this? Two twitchy, sweaty-looking chuckleheads in shirts and ties bomb into the bank, dragging an army bag the size of a sofa which looks like it could conceal a weapons cache that would make a Michigan Militiaman swoon with lust. How quickly would you shit a proverbial brick?

Needless to say, Mike managed to get only a few meters inside before a manager stalked over to him, gesturing as if banishing a dog with dirty paws from the den.

"You!" she yelled. "No way! What did I tell you the other day? Get out of here!"

He tried to ignore her and peeled off towards the counter. The customers in line began to shuffle in place and exchange nervous looks as if rumors we beginning to circulate that they weren't about enjoy a nice, hot, refreshing shower after all.

"Did you hear what I said?" she demanded, grabbing him by the shoulder.

"C'mon, lady," Mike yelled back. "Gimme a break, I got some cool stuff here."

Clearly Mike was confused as to why someone couldn't see the inherent value of what he was trying to do.

"At least lemme show you a few things," he continued unabated, zipping the bag open from stem to stern.

Several tellers and other staff members stopped what they were doing and inched closer as if Mike was about to perform a venison preparation demo.

"Ooooo, that 'Donald Duck' bib is kinda cute," I overheard one employee say to another.

After my incredulous ears heard this I thought for a moment that he might actually sell something. But after a few of the bank staff rummaged through and cooed over Mike's clandestine wares for a bit they were ordered back to work and the manager promptly escorted us off the premises with threat of arrest if we didn't make it snappy.

We went to five other places in systemic order along the strip mall. By the time lunch rolled around Mike had collected a whopping eight bucks.

"Wheew," he panted, the sweat marks on his shirt now down to the belt-line. "I'm f#@&!*@ starving. Can I buy you lunch?"

"Uh, sure," I said to him, still in shock as to what I'd been accessory to.

Off we went to McDonald's, where all good marketers go to refuel. Since Mike was still hauling the "hockey bag of love" around, I easily got ahead of him in the lineup and bought my own lunch. After all, I didn't want to cut into his and Lucinda's wedding fund.

Between ravenous bites of special-sauceinated bovine goodness Mike managed to belch out some questions.

"So, dude, whattaya think?"

I popped a mitt-full of fries to try and stall, subconsciously looking for one of those plastic application form holders bolted to the wall inside every McDonald's.

"I dunno, man. I don't think it's my kinda gig. What with the whole bus thing, schlepping that heavy bag around, barging into businesses unannounced and getting thrown out over and over again. I don't think I can do this. In fact, I'm amazed that you can do it."

Mike's brain chewed on this as he abused a napkin.

"Yeah," he admitted, sounding wistful. "I know it's not for everybody."

Sensing him start to get down, I jumped up and slapped him on the shoulder.

"C'mon, dude," I enthused. "I'll carry 'The Beast' for a bit. Where too next?"

"Dooly's pool hall," he replied.

"Cool," I shot back. "Do you think they'll buy anything?"

"No," Mike replied as he stood up, looking around so as not to trip over the Mothra-cocoon sized bag.

"I just wanna play some pool," he said and gave me a knowing smile.

So, for the next three hours Mike exercised the one and only perk of his miserable job and goofed off. We played pool and just shot the shit. During this time I got to know him a bit and understand his motivations somewhat. A high-school dropout who'd seen his own share of troubles. A genuine affection for a woman he really wanted to marry. A desire to just get by in the world and be safe, secure and free to pursue happiness.

At the end of our time together I shook his hand and we both bid each other good luck and good fortune in the future. I sincerely hope he found a semblance of contentment in a world that often forces you to do borderline embarrassing things to survive.

I hopped on a bus and made my way back to the commune. Upon arrival I regaled my scarlet cohabitants with my tale and they sat in rapt amazement.

"Well, I hoped you learned your lesson," my bitter friend lectured me after I was done. "All of these jobs in the paper are crap."

Although I agreed with him at the time, like Mike, necessity was going to force my hand one last time.

But that's a story for another time. Join me tomorrow for the final installment of "Lowered Expectations".

In the meantime, here's this week's DAVE'S WORLD comic:



Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lowered Expectations: Part IV

Within minutes we were standing at the Number One bus stop and Mike proceeded to enjoy a quick smoke like a junkie savoring a speedball. Eventually a bus came by bearing the rush hour crowd packed like lemmings into this, the transportational equivalent of a Vietnamese Tiger Cage on wheels.

Anyone with experience on the bus knows full well that with those god-damned overhead pull down windows, things remain ventilated only as long as the vehicle keeps moving. When the driver plays "hurry up and wait" at a stop during the hottest day of July with a full load aboard things swiftly become intolerable.

First, with one communal deep breath, all the Grade "A" Prime oxygen is GONE! Then, invariably, there are at least a half-dozen people on board that have only a sketchy knowledge of deodorant's existence and/or just don't use it because:


Lemme tell you, folks, speaking as someone who actually has chemical sensitivities, I would rather risk a full-blown asthmatic fit then inhale some else's "stank".

Finally there comes the stifling heat. Men sweat, women sweat, seniors who routinely have their thermostats up on bust in August sweat, babies sweat, the metal and glass works sweat. Everybody sweats. It's one big sweat-fest. I wouldn't doubt that when the buses arrive back at Metro Transit headquarters in Dartmouth some poor bastard who draws the short straw has to go in and squeegee the floors down. Eeeeeewwww....

Anyhoo, there we are, me and Mikey. The bus is so packed we can't get a seat together, so we're left sitting across from one another in the aisle seats. We're leaning away from out moist and smelly seat-mates out into relatively free air. Since you would have been hard pressed to fit the kit bag in the back of a half-ton U-Haul let alone under a standard issue bus seat, it sits out in the narrow aisle like a bloated alligator carcass. New passengers are forced to crawl over it to get to the back of the bus and begin shooting us looks so dirty it could strip the paint off a battleship.

"So, Mike, c'mon, man! Lemme know what we're selling," I ask as the bus begins to move, mercifully taking on some air.

He looks remotely defeated then reaches down and unzips the bag. With all the gravity of the situation, I expect to finally discover just what that blindingly shiny thing was in the trunk of the "Repo Man" car or the "Pulp Fiction" briefcase.

Instead the contents of the satchel, now revealed before the hyperventilating masses, looks terribly innocuous. Everyone within line of sight leans forward like a council of witch doctors seeking divination in the spilt innards of a gazelle.

The bag contains many shrink-wrapped articles of baby clothing. Disney-themed pastel blue and pink sleepers, bibs bearing the image of a larval-stage Mickey Mouse and a batch of what I like to refer to as "chew toys" (soothers, pacifiers, et al).

To their credit the items didn't look like cheap Korean-made knock-offs that would spontaneously combust if exposed to direct sunlight. They looked pretty genuine. Since it seemed to me that Mike and Company didn't exactly look like Eisner-approved official distributors of "Little Mermaid" merchandise, wilds thoughts began to course through my head. Images of the Marketeers dressed in commando gear hanging out on the shoulder of the TCH constructing elaborate transport truck derailment tactics, then swarming over the wreck like Oprah on a turkey burger, carting off as much of the misbegotten wares before a Disney Rescue Rangers team could arrive on the scene to shoo them away.

Every rational thought told me right then and there to pull the cord and get off. Before going downtown the bus would take me very close to the Casa Del Slacker. Within minutes I could be sitting on the side porch with my friends during peak skin cancer hours engaging in witty parlance like:

"Man, you look really red. Do I look red?"

"Your pretty red, man, but I think I'm a lot redder than you."

But something prevents me from acting as the bus intersects Chebucto Road and keeps on truckin'. Perhaps it's my unwillingness to go back and tell my friends of yet another crushing defeat. Perhaps it's the unquestioning, mindless work ethic beaten into my head by my parents with that classic Maritime mantra: "You should be lucky to have a job...You should be lucky to have a job... You should be lucky to have a job."

But looking back on it I thinks it's just much more likely that I had nothing better to do that day, and, at the very least, this little misadventure would at the very least result in a "You'll look back on this one day and L-A-A-A-A-U-G-H!" kinda story.

I'm also glad I stayed, Gentle Reader, 'cuz this one's a dilly.



Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lowered Expectations : Part III

Hello, Gentle Reader.

Welcome to Part III of "Lowered Expectations" wherein young Master David learns more than he cares to know about his new overseer and a mere pittance about the immediate task at hand. Return with us now to that Dickensian warehouse back in 1994...

(And for the love of Ashley Dupre if you haven't read the first two parts go back and read them first or this is gonna make even less sense than normal).

"This is Lucinda," Mike panted, the back of his hand trying to wipe away the hot pink lipstick that gave him the appearance of a prepubescent clown.

His "old woman" (winner, as I recall, of the MTV "Most Literal Ironic Reference Award" for 1994) looked vaguely dazed and ignored the condition of her own makeup.

I was unwilling to get close enough to test my hypothesis but I surmised that Lucinda smelled like a combination of "White Shoulders" perfume and beached haddock. She looked more oblivious than the trainees, as if she'd been fired from her job as a professional barfly and had been abducted by this roving band of misfits in some sort of marketing-themed Stockholm syndrome.

This line of reasoning finally brought me back to reality. A logical question finally muscled through a crowd of jumbled thoughts to stand at the forefront, jumping up and down and waving enough to land imaginary aircraft.

"Uh, what do we," I heard myself ask.

Mike was about to launch into his own personal tale of true love but now turned to regard me with contempt for having the audacity to ask about what I was actually doing there. I was starting to get the distinct impression that he was being less than forthcoming about the nature of the business. After taking another decadent drag on Lucinda's face he physically turned her around and gave her a gentle push back into the crowd.

"Talk to you later, babe," he said and then waved to her which she promptly failed to notice.

"I'll see you at three!" he shouted through cupped hands.

He turned to me and smiled, touching the cigarette package in his pocket again like it was a piece of Cross.

"See, man, that's another great thing about this job. You don't have to work a stiff eight hour day like a sucker."

He took me over to a spot in the warehouse where a massive green duffel bag sat waiting for him. With a Herculean effort he managed to lug it back into the middle of the room where the group was beginning to coalesce.

"Hey, do you have bus fare?" he demanded abruptly.

I was so busy seeking solidarity in the faces of the other new hires that I didn't hear.

"Oh, I'm sorry. What did you say?"

Mike sighed heavily, clearly pained by the prospects of being saddled with a helpless noob.

"Do you have a buck thirty for the bus?"

I obediently turned my pockets inside out.

"Uh, yeah, I think so..."

Mike's reply was cut short by the clarion shriek of the once-innocuous secretary. Her banshee cry instantly neutered any peripheral conversation.

"Alright, people! We got a nice day out there weather-wise and we're coming through with some good stuff this week so I expect a lot of good news by the end of the day. Come up here for your assignments and get out there and do it!"

I stood there slack-jawed. The once-pretty, amicable secretary had morphed into "Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S." right before my eyes. Mike got in line with the rest of the veterans and soon returned looking almost relieved.

"We pulled a good one, man!" he enthused. "Wyse Road, right across the bridge in Dartmouth."

"That's...good?" I asked.

"Sure, man. There's plenty of businesses right there just as soon as you get off the bus. People are generally pretty civil there as well..."

Now fully transformed by a lycanthropic curse of greed "Ilsa" produced a portable stereo and jabbed the "PLAY" button. At once, the warehouse was filled with the haunting strains of John Parr's excremental "Man in Motion" at a Spinal-Tappian level of volume.

"Alright people!" she screamed, "You all got your assignments. Now get out there and kick some ass!"

The "Marketeer Club" suddenly joined together, linked hands and spontaneously cheered. The rest of the newbies stood back a healthy distance, exchanging worried glances and trying to look for an obvious exit that didn't involve trying to sneak by the scary blond warden.

CONTINUED IN PART IV...where it is revealed to young master David the nature of what is to be marketed and of nearly equal import: how this is to be done. Join us in under twenty-four hours for the next thrilling installment of "Lowered Expectations" on "You Can't Get There From Here" theater.

EPIC: *WARNING* Not work appropriate!


Monday, April 12, 2010

Lowered Expectations : Part II

My next venture was with a self-described "Marketing Firm" that had a "warehouse" just off Windsor Street in Halifax. When I went there to apply in person as per the want ad's request I discovered that the "warehouse" resembled an ancient, rural service station grafted onto our reality from Dog River. The office portion looked like a prefab structure, its sky-blue siding in direct collision with the weathered dark-green clapboard on the "warehouse".

The interior of the office was unnaturally bright and spacious, obviously using the same dimensional technology responsible for Dr. Who's Tardis. It came complete with pastel walls, a prerequisite file cabinet, some chairs by a coffee table bearing stale magazines and one standard-issue secretary who at face value appeared to be both friendly and professional.

"Hi! How are you this morning?" she gushed as I entered the office. "Are you here to apply for the marketing job? Great! I just need you to fill out this application form for me... "

A pen, a clipboard and a rictus smile were fired at me in quick succession. Impressed by the rigorous selection process thus far, I attacked the paperwork with gusto, trying to justify their inherent faith in me.

A few hopeful co-applicants surrounded me, hunched over in their high-backed chairs over the disproportionately short coffee table. We looked like a bunch of yuppie larvae swarming over our first introductory line of cocaine.

I didn't leave so much as a square millimeter of the form blank. I proudly handed the effort back to the still-grinning mannequin and silently hoped that my labors where fruitful as I left.

Well, my labors must have been on friggin' Miracle-Gro because by the time I got back to the commune my bitter friend told me:

"Some marketing place called and they wanted me to tell you that you start tomorrow. What am I, anyway? Everybody's goddamn secretary?!"

Wow. Just like that I was about to begin a career in marketing. Sounded classy. I was a marketer. Or was I a marketeer? I reasoned that this would likely be my first question. After all, I would now be paid to market things. What exactly would I market? Surely something market-esque, market-like or something predisposed to being marketed. Next morning I assumed my identity as BUSINESS CASUAL MAN and reported to my new job at 8:45 am sharp.

It was a beautiful summer day with a warm breeze, making the full, heavy trees undulate hypnotically around me. I swerved off of Windsor Street and entered my new workplace with with vigor and enthusiasm.

Like a bad episode of "Three's Company" (or more like a really bad episode of "Three's Company") the formally docile secretary appeared from out of nowhere behind me and began to steer me towards the door to the warehouse.

"Hi! Nice to see you this morning! They're all getting ready out in the warehouse, so if I could just get you to step out here..."

In retrospect I think she was actually hiding behind the door when I came in. She rushed me out of there as if Mr. Roper was about to burst in with a sawed-off shotgun looking for anyone vaguely resembling Jack Tripper.

"Chrissy" slammed the door behind us then began steering me deep inside this structure which was beginning to look more and more like a mausoleum for deceased farm equipment. My original appraisal was proving to be painfully accurate: this
was an abandoned service station.

In fact the small clutch of people we approached were wedged in between two emaciated antique cars that had been lured in here eons ago with promises of service and repair and then locked up to starve to death.

The motley gathering also looked as if this was
their permanent residence as well. Most were in their late teens/early twenties with a few dramatic exceptions just to skew the average. Their only common bond: the illusion of formality. At a glance they reminded me of a bunch of motivational speakers who had their collective riverside vans re-possessed and were now squatting together in this abandoned building. Perhaps some enterprising chap had stumbled upon their illegal occupancy and was forcing them to engage in some clandestine operation as if they were migrant workers.

"Mike, get over here. This one's with you," the secretary grunted. Was this formally angelic creature the master of these marketing thimbots?

"Hey, bud, how's it goin'?" Mike replied, sporting the most fraudulent smile I'd ever seen pasted on another human being's face.

He looked back at the group of veterans with a knowing smile which was instantly mirrored back. He had the posture of someone who'd just drawn a lifetime of perpetual jury duty.

My new marketing partner looked no older than seventeen. He was slight, clad in a white shirt so wrinkled it looked like crepe paper. All of his grooming efforts seemed to have been channeled into maintaining his hair, which was a perfectly calibrated Conan O'Brien-esque side-sweep. His hands were so discolored by nicotine stains it looked as if he's placed his hands in the "Hollywood Walk of Orange Food Coloring".

"Do you like to travel?" he asked, fingering the outline of a cigarette pack in his shirt pocket.

"Uh, yeah," I responded, despite the fact that I was preoccupied looking for hidden cameras.

"Oh, man, then you're really gonna
love this job. We don't just sell stuff here in Halifax."


"Yeah, we get to go on road trips! In fact a bunch of us just got back from the Island."

Considering the scale of the operation I'd witnessed thus far I assumed he wasn't referring to one of the Cayman Islands.

"F#@& man, what a time we had! Before we left the city we stopped in at the Cold Beer store. By the time we got to the ferry every one of us was hammered, except for Lynn 'cuz she was driving."

"Wow, fascinating."

"The only thing that kinda sucks is that you gotta share the hotel room with four or five people but even that's not so bad since you save so much money!"

My head was now swimming in a sea of Dali-level surreality.

"It's a wicked job, though, man. You make your own hours and if you got the knack you can really make a !#@%in' mint! I've been doin' real good lately. Me and my old lady are gonna get married just as soon as I got enough money put aside."

My trainer made eye contact across the warehouse with a vaguely elderly-looking woman who's own new trainee had already fled from sight. She beetled her way through the close quarters and Mike met her halfway in a bizarre parody of "Endless Love".

They embraced and kissed. I can distinctly remember feeling as if I was the sole witness to a grievously illegal act. I looked around desperately for some solidarity but could only see a clutch of seasoned marketeers psyching themselves up like Vikings chewing on the edge of their shields.

The few new hires like myself that still remained watched this display like there were mongoose (mongeese?) trying to figure out why...the cobra...was swaying...back and

I had to face it. I was terribly alone.