The Coffee Sucks, Don’t Let Them Tell You Otherwise

Tim's - Shite

Tim Hortons coffee. Shite.

Two young women in the lineup at Starbucks behind me were talking about Tim Horton’s, a large Canadian coffee franchise that sells terrible coffee and crappy doughnuts. One of them said, “Hey, I love my Tim’s. I’m not a coffee snob.”

So, let me get this straight. Someone who, given the choice between a cappuccino made of fresh ground coffee beans exposed to the right amount of pressure, heat, and filtered water or a cup of Tim Horton’s made from low-grade coffee beans ground up and bagged seven weeks ago, sitting in a decanter that hasn’t been washed in three days, is a snob for choosing the cappuccino? That is some dicey logic m’lady.

I hear this kind of thing constantly in my town. It’s a working class town, full of people who take pride in being no frills, regular Joes. We’re a salt of the earth type ‘round these parts. Those interested in hoity-toity, frou-frou, whizz-bang anything are advised to just keep moving east to Toronto or Montreal. Most days it’s what I love about where I come from. If you’re a stranger or if you’re new to town, folks here will bend over backwards to help you out even if, at the outset, they don’t like the looks of you. If you’re standing at a bus stop you are guaranteed a conversation about the weather or how crappy the hockey team is playing this year. If you’re stuck in an elevator there will be no awkward silences because everyone will give their two cents on the situation. You will know every minute you’re not alone.

At the same time, beneath the folksy-town charm there’s a smothering, conformist leitmotif that is unhealthy in the grand scheme. We love country music; not the Johnny Cash, Willy Nelson, Roy Orbison good stuff, but the schmaltzy pop-oriented stuff. We like getting drunk, not as a by-product of an event where drinking happens, but as leisure in itself (like sitting in a garage), chugging back the cheapest, blandest pilsener beer to achieve the dubious aim.

We love our large, gas guzzling, parking-lot hogging, lane encroaching pickup trucks, even though most of us don’t need to haul bales of hay anywhere. A sports jersey and baseball hat is the weekend uniform for men over the age of thirty-five. We love lining up for shit coffee. You get the idea. These are the things we do where I live. Back in my twenties, I came up with a term for those who were devout adherents to these key elements of ‘folksy’ in my town: “ham’n eggers”.

I don’t disavow any of these local traditions or “ham’n eggers” per se. I love binge-drinking as I watch Canada win another World Cup of hockey. If you need to drive through snowbanks, nothing will do better than a half-tonne. And I absolutely love ham and eggs for breakfast. It’s divine. I love people in my town for who they are. I’ve lived in a big city with poseurs awash in fancy suits, name-brand gotch, who adorn their personas with elements of a fantastic life purchased on credit. It seemed mostly to impress the mirrors on the walls. Frankly, I much prefer the “ham’n eggs” of my town.

On the other hand, affixing of the label “snob” upon those of us who embrace things not ham and egg is a bit passive aggressive, isn’t it? Throughout my life, I’ve been variously called out for liking classical music, reading books with no pictures, talking about philosophy, doing yoga, meditating, not really caring about professional sports, or having an avowed interest in what goes on in the world beyond the wheat fields hugging my town. There’s always the insinuation “Ooooh, this guy is all fancy ‘cuz he knows stuff other than hockey fights and Duck Dynasty.” I think the word you were looking for, my ham and egg friend, is ‘pretentious.’

It strikes me as a bit of a shrewd way to punish and put down someone for thinking a little differently. I’m not suggesting everyone has to travel the world, drink exotic Indonesian coffee beans at breakfast, or run to their nearest yoga shala for a moral cleansing. But the lack of curiosity in the flat denunciation of the difference is maddening – and is very commonplace among many folks who surround me. Instead of this: “You’re such a snob for not liking Tim Horton’s or Rascal Flatts” how about this: “why would you say Tim Horton’s is shitty coffee and David Bowie is such a genius”?

Turkish Coffee - Not Shite

Turkish coffee. Made with finely ground coffee simmered in a cezve. Not Shite.

My partner and I often tussle for control of the radio dial when we’re driving to or from work. She wants to listen to one of the fifteen Top 40 pop or country radio stations on the radio dial in my town, each of which plays the same twenty hit songs. These are the auto-tuned songs, the songs with beats ripped-off from samples of real artists, songs that transform the existential angst of life into campy pop-culture massacres; songs which, in a year, will compel everyone to stick an ice pick in their ears.

Sure, they’re filled with catchy beats that make you want to bop your head. They sound great in a night-club; they are ideal background music for the spectacle of lights and dancers who flank the pop star on their circus tour. But here’s the thing; they’re pop songs. They’re made to appeal to the most undiscerning base demographic of music listener in existence. They’re window-dressing in a whole genre of music that, on the whole, can be classified as “music for people who give zero fucks about music.”

Hey, that’s okay. Not everyone has to care about music. That’s not the point. The point is that, just because this sludge is rammed down millions of people’s throats, and because millions like it doesn’t mean it’s good. Millions of people thought National Socialism and Bolshevism were good too, right? The point is, those who listen to pop or whose tastes in everything else mirror exactly that of the masses cannot claim to have discerning taste. Their faculty of judgement, dulled by the fact of its mass-production, is as we ham’n eggers like to say, as “useful as tits on a bull.”

Eventually my partner shakes her head, miffed that I’m insinuating she has bad taste again. She is a good sport about it. I dig a little deeper into my foxhole with explanations and rationalizations to talk my way back into her heart. I provide logically defensible reasons why her taste in music is terrible, “Okay, so we’ll be listening to Justin Bieber and Hedley in two-hundred years like we’ve been listening to Mozart, right?” I say. “Heck, even forty years from now, do you think we’ll be listening to Selena Gomez and Rihanna like we’re still listening to the Rolling Stones and John Coltrane!” I implore.

Ultimately I retreat from the fight. I accept that I’m a music snob because I am making her feel self-conscious about her bad taste in music. I brace for a chilly evening and sex involving baby oil, Google, and more self-love than I can usually muster.

Okay so I guess there is no measure for anything. I guess anything we do to occupy the excess hours of our existence – playing video games, wanking to reality TV porn – is inherently intellectually enriching. I guess those who read nothing other than Twitter feeds are right to claim their opinions on world affairs, the economy, and climate change are as valid as those who spend their lives immersed in these fields. 

Really? Let’s get serious now. I mean it. The idea that those who swaddle themselves in the vacuous chimera of mass culture to the exclusion of all else could possess authoritative views in matters of taste, or anything else, is totally fucking absurd.

Hey, I’m no less capable of guilty pleasures than anyone else. I grew up with a single mother whose most reliable babysitter was the television. I ate that shit up. Escaping into re-runs of The Big Bang Theory is a great way to avoid the damage you’ve done to your career by not being able to keep your mouth shut when the Director is being a dick at the office. Soulless, mind-numbing junk is an easy salve for the pain of existence.

At the same time, I would never say someone is a “loser” or something similar if they said Big Bang Theory sucks. I wouldn’t defend my bad taste by turning their rightful opinion around on them. In the grand scheme, television is drivel. I know that because it’s not how I spend 100% of my free time. I am a Curious George, and tend to spend more of my free time chasing my tail in pursuit of my intellectual curiosities.

Curiosity; that faculty of mind distinguishing human beings from apes and pigs. It’s what compelled we humans to invent the tools of modernity that have made our lives infinitely easier than those of our ancestors: the combustion engine, electricity, airplanes, computers, and so forth. It’s a mental faculty that has been vital to our survival; one whose slow death our culture seems to celebrate. Every day I am exposed to mass media I see reams of Westerners pissing on the grave of the one virtue that secured our place at the top of the food chain: human wonder.

Cappuccino and biscotti

Cappuccino and biscotti. Absolutely, positively, not shite.

Throughout history, there are scores of examples where absolute rulers have sought to cast a pall of ignorance over the masses. How did they do this? They withheld education, books, and sought to control the information available to them. In lieu of power and participation in the fate of the nation, they gave them bread and circuses to pass the time. The despots of yore knew ignorance was more powerful than a loyal army to keep the masses subdued.

A mind engaged inevitably comes to be a mind that reflects; one that is prone to ask “why are most of us struggling and poor while that small batch of billionaires are getting richer every year?” Minds accustomed to that kind of reflection are not as easily swayed by the answer “don’t worry struggling middle-class peon, the wealthier we billionaires are, the better off you will be. Eventually. Just wait a little longer.” Only people whose wits have been softened by inactivity could believe such royal horseshit.

This is what gets my back up about the “snob” comment, especially when it’s wielded against anyone or anything that reeks of intellectual discernment. It is part of the same anti-intellectual strain of thinking that has darkened our culture for decades; since the senile guy who once starred in Bedtime for Bonzo became the most powerful puppet in the Western world. It’s a catch-all to disdain anything that might pass for “high-minded.” It is a celebration of the trailer-park simpleton as cultural ideal; a belief that Homer Simpson is the benchmark for modern civilization.

Such thinking has made it possible for millions of people to believe Donald Trump is a legitimate candidate as president of the most powerful, wealthy, and influential nation on the planet. His supporters don’t seem capable of seeing through his “self-made” narrative or extrapolating from his misogynist, Muslim-banning, chest-thumping, race-baiting, simple question-avoiding bluster as to what kind of leader he would be. The lack of discernment in matters of taste seems to have overtaken their capacity to discern what is or isn’t politically in their own interests as well.

Closer to home, many of my fellow ham’n eggers swallow the turd in a cup about how taxes, government, and immigrants are bad just because the guy on television who looks white, male, and frightened of change, just like them, said so. All the while unrestrained corporate wealth, guns (at least in the hands of white Christians and police), and more millionaire hockey players are accepted as good simply because they too are so much more familiar than the other thing. For a long time, folks have been given cups and cups of this shit coffee. The longer everyone’s been drinking it, the more pressure each person feels to set aside their mental faculties and believe it grand simply because everyone seems to love it.

Angry Mob Politics - Shite

The politics of hate, blame, fear, and scapegoating propagated by Ayn Rand circle-jerking politicians. Shite.

Next time you hear someone say “that cuppa Tim’s sucks” try to restrain your instinct to defend the turd. Don’t automatically succumb to your impulse to silence the differing view by uttering slurs like “snob” or “bleeding heart liberal.” Don’t believe the hype; it will dull your capacity to adjudge the shit coffee and fascist demagogues as terrible for your soul. Instead, hear those who were able to taste the popular brand of nonsense a little more critically; who were driven by their curiosity about the possibility of something different and better; who have discovered that, sometimes, what we have been led to believe as virtuous and true can be utterly false and reprehensible.

In the end, I’d rather be a snob than a fool. Enjoy your shit coffee like the rest of the mob if you really want to. I can bet the billionaires are ecstatic you continue to buy it; that your addiction to the belief in its goodness will fill their pockets with your money.

My Name is Edmund, and I Am a Very, Very Bad Man Who Loves Bacon

It's beautiful

My name is Edmund K Saunders, and I love bacon. There, I said it. Now I can dispense with all the lies and self-deceit about what a spiritual being I am, and come clean about the falsehood I treat my body as my temple.

Man, that felt good.

I know. Meat is full of dodgy things ingested to keep it alive long enough for a fateful trip to the abattoir and a final stop on my plate. It’s chock full of dead animals whose entire existence is predicated on sizzling on my grill. Bacon is worse. It’s full of dead animals that were once pigs, plus tons of salt and fat and – God, I am such a weak man.

It wouldn’t be so bad if I could eat bacon in moderation. But the truth is, I either have no bacon or enough to make me want to throw up. There is no “middle way.” Bacon has mocked all my principles, essentially.

Problem easily solved, you say? Become a vegetarian! Stop eating bacon! Peace in the Middle East! Homes for all the poor!!!

Yes, I’ve tried to go veggie many times. Bacon greased-up my slippy-slider under the bus of many thwarted stabs at vegetarianism. It’s not as rewarding, or easy, to stab an alfalfa salad as it is to stab a rib-eye. So, thanks to bacon, I’m a big fat failure at vegetarianism, which is why I refer to it as my “gateway meat.”

I’m nowhere near the gateway anymore. I ran far, far, away from the gates of meat-free wholesomeness chasing my next kill for dinner. I have been trundling through the forest tearing flesh from its loins, gaily uttering “Chicopee” ever since. There are no signs of a veggie-dog anywhere near my immediate future.

So if I’m going to eat meat, I gotta have me some bacon.

Because I love bacon, and I think you should love it too, I give this recipe, which has been in my family for generations, as my gift to you. May you do it justice.

Because I love bacon, and I think you should love it too, I give this recipe, which has been in my family for generations, as my gift to you. May you do it justice.

Since I am getting older, my will-power to resist the temptations of cholesterol-laden, salty, gut-sticking meat is getting weaker. My attachments to old, stupid habits I know are bad for me are feeling increasingly difficult to break. My mental craving for creature comforts is growing like a fungus in the rain forest. I am also actually starting to say without a hint of irony “what’s with kids these days.” I grow old, I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled.

My forty-something self can’t compete with an upbringing where filling the belly with gobs of whatever hooved beast was lying around, topping it with gravy, and dignifying the meal with a sprig of parsley or a tomato were imprinted for years before I had a say in the matter. My thirty-something self really wanted to be a vegetarian and gave it a real college try. But for the weaker, flabbier, Homer-Simpson-like version of me I am today, bacon is like kryptonite, rendering me dumb to the inner voice of reason cautioning against eating such profoundly shitty food. Reason-shmeeson, ‘ME WANT PLEASURE IN MY BELLY.’

So yesterday bacon drowned any good intentions I had in its vat of grease. I began telling myself a barrage of bald-face lies without my better sense uttering a shred of incredulity. Here’s just a sample of the propaganda Edmund was unleashing as I reached into the freezer to grab that pound of my undoing:

Well, I should just cook the whole pack so I’ll have some bacon handy for BLTs, to add to my salad, or dip in my yogurt throughout the week.

Ooh, this pack is going to expire soon and it’ll free up some room in the freezer.

And my favourite:

You’re not seven. You’re a grown-up with self-control. You won’t over-indulge because you’ve got a handle on your gluttonous, avaricious ego. You’re not THAT guy anymore.

Edmund can be a douche-bag sometimes. I should never have listened to him. He’s the same guy who said while clothes shopping a few months ago “you look good in skinny jeans”; who repeatedly thought it was helpful to say to my ex-wife “I think you’d feel better if you lost weight.”

So yeah, I ate the whole pack. Much like other foods that are almost so bad for you they ought to be outlawed, bacon shares a mysterious quality that allows it to be eaten non-stop until either your heart stops or you run out, but with seemingly no hint of your stomach ever considering the words “cut that shit out, man!”

Then I did yoga this morning. That’s when the chickens came home to roost. Or, I should say, the pigs came home to oink.

Practice is always a struggle when your belly is bloated with rotting flesh. Every time I squeezed my body in a twist, my fellow yogis had to re-live my shame right there along with me. But that’s what a sangha is for, so I still felt loved. We support each other in our practice. I don’t laugh when they fart and they don’t look at me with disgust when I smell like a frying pan from Denny’s. Namaste broheems.

Except, bacon doesn’t smell as delicious when it’s oozing out the sweat glands in your groin as it does while it is filling your home with olfactory ecstasy. It’s much worse than the buckwheat farts and curried lentil-inspired halitosis of my fellow yogis and yoginis. Also, you don’t twist so effortlessly when you’ve got Porky Pig and his eviscerated family scraping along the hundred feet of dark caverns in your bowels desperate to find freedom. Even when I haven’t stuffed my face with pigs my twist poses are crappy so I’m not helping my practice by flouting sensible eating habits.

As I practiced, it became obvious why Edmund was coaxing me away from yoga this morning, “Uh, yeah. Dude, maybe you should meditate for an hour and a half today and skip the yoga. I think you need the extra sit. Om shanti, brother.”

My discipline is solid as a rock. I meditate and do yoga in the mornings. I don’t just lie in bed after first opening my eyes and scroll through social media sites to see how many cat videos I’ve missed. I don’t beat myself up for caving in to the evening sugar-rush with a barrel of Frosted Mini-Wheats just before bed, and then smite God for reeling with indigestion in the middle of the night. I am indifferent to the cat videos other than to condemn their existence after watching them. Unlike others, I obsessively check my social media for the educational content. Like in this post:

Did you know that Krishna is the 8th incarnation of Lord Vishnu? Neither did I. See, I AM disciplined. I do good things for myself every day, even when I’ve eaten a barn full of bacon for breakfast. The self-improvement continues unabated. I set my alarm with optimism that tomorrow I will wake up when it goes off and not sixteen snooze-buttons later. If not tomorrow then the day after that. Or the day after that. Or the day after the day after that.

Eventually, after the same ruminating I do every morning before finally leaving the warm, loving, non-judgmental place that is my comforter and pillow, I did my sit, and I did my yoga. During yoga I learned what a weak-minded, distracted, inflexible schlub I am. Again. But after yoga, I was feeling good about myself anyway.

That’s what it’s all about. Feeling good and loving myself in spite of the Mount Everest-sized pile of neuroses I need to overcome. Edmund can beat me up all he wants about that but he can’t shout down the calming, self-affirming power of asanas and meditation. Suck it Ed, I got me a couple of grade-A Sherpas.

FLASH FICTION: Barney’s Little Boat

This week’s version of the Flash Fiction Challenge. If you would like to give the challenge a try, start at Rochelle’s Purple Blog and join the fun.

Here’s the concept: A weekly picture is posted, and the writer is challenged to produce one-hundred (more or less) words of some sort of fiction with a complete plot (beginning, middle and end). 

For benefit of my fellow North Americans, I’ve attached a Glossary at the end of the story for your edification.

PHOTO CREDIT: Georgia Koch

PHOTO CREDIT: Georgia Koch

BARNEY’S LITTLE BOAT

“Pull over. Gotta see a man about a dog!”

“Hundred stone of Charlie, an’ this chav fancies a stink up in the woods!”

My bollocks were on the chopper in a cock-up with this cargo. I drove on, and let him blow off.

“There she is!”

“Wot, the dinghy fell off the sodding Titanic? You taking a piss?” I was bricking it.

“Observe, you shirty cunt.”

The daft cow came out a right boffin after his last stint of her majesty’s pleasure. He learned to sophisticate that duff little boat.

Who’d think of making monkeys smuggling with a shabby raft? Not Barney and his wanks, that’s who.

GLOSSARY:

See a man about a dog – Have a shit

Stone – british measure of weight – about 6 kg or almost 14 lbs

Charlie – street word for cocaine

Chav – white trash, like those in the “People seen at Wal-mart” meme

Bollocks – balls

Cock-up – screw-up

Blowing off – farting

Taking a piss – like “pulling my leg”

Bricking it – shit-scared

Shirty – ill-tempered, angry

Her majesty’s pleasure – jail

Boffin – expert, smart-person, in a technical sense, like an engineer

Duff – useless

Monkeys – slang for 500 British pounds

Barney – police

Wanks – jerk-offs, losers

So, ‘What do you do’, to Improve This Conversation?

Oh, Sweet Jesus don't let Fred see me hiding behind this Christmas tree.

Oh, Sweet Baby Jesus don’t let Fred see me hiding behind this Christmas tree.

It’s the time of year where obligation drags us to parties we could easily have blown off in April. It’s not in my introverted nature to enjoy the Christmas party ritual, but I’m philosophical about the phenomenon. They indicate you or your loved one has a job worth cultivating by your presence, a relatively positive thing to force your hand.

So we go along like good eggs and hope for the best. If you’re a skilled introvert you can survive this extroverted predicament by planting yourself strategically in a dead-zone to make yourself inconspicuous. You tuck in behind a tall plant without appearing as though you’re hiding, situate yourself directly opposite the bar and food table, or stand on the peripheries of a group engaged in conversation, nodding your head pointlessly from time-to-time to sustain the ruse you’re an active participant. There, you’ll sip your wine hoping to avoid being enveloped by the dull, dreary blanket of small-talk and ponder the book you’re in the middle of. You’ll daydream about the passion you’re forgoing to be among a swath of virtual strangers who won’t be seen again until next year’s party.

Without warning Fred, whose wife works with your partner, recognizes you from last year’s Christmas party as he piles fruit cake, seven-layer dip, and chicken wings on his plate. He turns to head in your direction, his sweater blinking intermittently to light his path. This year, he’s pulled out all the stops to win the tacky sweater contest, and by golly he’s gonna break the ice with you.

“So tell me, Edmund, what do you do?”

Smited by God, yet again, for my failure to believe in her. A vengeful shrew she is, to say the least.

I Love My Job Oh Yes I do, Now Let me Tell You of My PooI’m not ashamed of my job, but it’s like any other white-collar gig. I’m paid for a cognitive skill I honed with higher education and spend most of my workday putting my shiny-trained mind to the tasks at hand. I’m pretty good at what I do, according to those who sign my paycheque. It’s all pretty un-spectacular and fraught with disillusionment for falling short of the ideal, like much else in adult life.

It’s slightly embarrassing that a place consuming so much of our time is so banal in the description, but that is usually the case. Among close friends, the mundane oppressiveness of working life is dignified with cynical, witty tirades about the pettiness of office politics; with creative embellishments of professional achievements to justify the continued effort. Friends will empathize with the seething emotion beneath the affectation; they’ll see through the bravado and cheek, and will be supportive and entertained without attaching judgment to betray confidences.

Among relative strangers, political imperatives dictate the safe path be maintained in discussing work, which sucks. If I can’t sarcastically mock the shortcomings of my workplace or vie for your sympathy in outlining the abjectness of my career plight I’d rather avoid the subject entirely. I’m not getting paid for this shit, after all, and I need to have some enjoyment in my personal time.

Since I’m fortunate to not be bogged down in an hourly-wage job, I have spare time to do things I like that are, dare I say, maybe a little sexy. I do yoga. I read books on all kinds of subjects and can sing arias in Italian, French, and German. I cry when I hear beautiful songs, like Beethoven’s ‘Pathetique’ or ‘Si, mi chiamano Mimi’ in La Boheme. I am a Buddhist and nearly have a black belt in Kung Fu. I lament my kids will soon be teenagers; I despised teenagers when I was one and worry the days of loving my children unconditionally will face serious challenges. I jot down fleeting, quaint musings about life in a blog.

Tuna Sandwich Named KevinWe should be talking about these things, not work. In the aggregate they say something far more interesting about me than my work could ever do. My work indicates to the world I have a job and an income. Maybe it says I’m ambitious and hard-working; that I know how to do stuff. Yawn.

Chances are there are similarly more interesting, unusual, or telling things about you than your job. The difference is in the details. That’s what would make this conversation interesting. Odds are, if you stop dithering about work we can weather this party without needing to get wasted and twerk on the tables in our thong underwear to feel as though it was all worthwhile.

Actually, I should qualify. If you came back from helping African countries fight the spread of Ebola, or spent last week snapping photos of earth from the International Space Station, I’d like to hear about that. If you build schools in Bolivia for the poor, or are working on a cure for cancer, I’d probably be interested in that too.

Having said all that, I need to be brutally honest. As much as I don’t want to talk about my job I really, really don’t give a shit about your job. I beg you not to talk about it unless it’s objectively amazing, which you know it isn’t. It sucks just like mine. If you had an amazing job I’d probably know about it and you wouldn’t be so intent on winning the “Christmas Sweater for Morons” contest, or whatever it’s called in your zany workplace.

I also don’t care if you make oodles of money being good at your job, or are high up in the pecking order where you work. The hierarchies that poison white-collar corporate environments are contemptible, but I understand why anyone would be proud to be a big-shot. That said, it doesn’t interest me. In fact, because I have a rebellious anti-authority bias, if one of the first things you tell me about yourself is that you’re a big-shot, I will probably passive aggressively cut-down whatever smug, mean-spirited, or inane thing you might say thereafter. Remember, I am not your friend, and I am trying to have fun here. To avoid all that, it’s best to steer clear of boring work talk and discuss opera, birding, salsa dancing or anything that will not risk glorifying what either of us believes is an exalted life.

This is what happens when grown adults spend so much of their time at work: they get passive aggressive about their salad dressing. This could be you if you don't get a life outside work.

This is what happens when grown adults spend so much of their time at work: they get passive aggressive about their salad dressing. This could be you if you don’t get a life.

For most adults, working life is kind of sad, pointless, and dull. It’s in the realm of necessity, like eating, drinking, sleeping, and defecating. If you’re socially adept, you don’t talk about your bowel movements or what you had for dinner last night, so I don’t see why you’re talking about your work, even if you really enjoy it. I had an enjoyable bowel movement last night, but I doubt you’re interested. What’s interesting and telling about a person are the things they do when liberated from necessity and are free to choose how they spend their time.

Nobody’s really dying to hear about another person’s job. The topic is raised as a feeble attempt to break the ice, make idle conversation, or pass the time. The desire to forge a bond is honourable in intention, but in the realm of small talk, a desperate appeal to banality to quell anxieties about our alleged separateness. It’s as deceptive and false as shopping and watching television in instilling the notion we’re engaged in a fulfilling use of our precious little time on this earth.

It is also sometimes a lame attempt to add a dash of ego primping to garnish a boring conversation. If we are resigned to the dullness of this experience we may as well stoke feelings of superiority. The question is asked, ‘what do you do?’ and when it’s our turn, we can describe in boring detail the facets of our more important job to others. At least our ego gets off this evening.

When a highly accomplished person asks a stranger point-blank ‘what do you do?’ it betrays an obvious lack of modesty. It is an ego-trip that may ultimately prove insensitive. To witness an unemployed person cobble together a face-saving response in a group of strangers is almost as horrifying as witnessing a woman whose precipitous weight-gain has elicited well-wishes on being pregnant with a child she is not expecting.

Raise your hands, who has wanted to do this some days?

Raise your hands, who has wanted to do this some days? Okay … I … um … can’t actually see who’s raising their hands. But if you are, I KNOW, right?

A person’s work situation may be temporary. They lost a job and were forced to take something quickly to keep ahead of the mortgage. The stranger’s wife may be a Doctor and the choice of who would be the stay-at-home parent was a no-brainer, but it still rouses feelings of discomfort because our society devalues child-rearing as a noble pursuit.

Maybe the stranger is slowly pursuing their passion on evenings and weekends. They work merely to cultivate their dream. Or, maybe their ambitions and energies are placed elsewhere because they don’t care about career pursuits. When so many marriages are destroyed, children neglected, and stress-related illnesses are suffered because of our culture’s work-obsession a focus on other things is a sensible life-choice.

All this is to say there are pitfalls with the question that need to be considered before it is put out there. The risk is a person you don’t know may find a question you’ve put to them extremely alienating. Until there is a real relationship, one not brokered with small-talk, it’s none of your business and shouldn’t be broached so directly.

The question also furthers the belief that career pursuits are the most definitive aspect of a human being. That is some self-serving logic for those who’ve forgone their youth to earn professional credentials and expend their time reaping the economic rewards by working. It is presumptuous to carry on as if the amassing of career achievements was a universally-shared priority. Nearly all North Americans are guilty of this conceit, which merely validates their choice to focus all their energies to the singular pursuit of wealth and status-acquisition to the detriment of all other aims in life. It sets us apart in the world as profoundly one-dimensional, uninteresting, and collectively ignorant human beings.

Gossip is what happens when adult life is so boring and dull, like when too much of it is spent at the office that pissing around in others' lives becomes a surrogate for cultivating your own.

Gossip is what happens when adult life is boring and dull; when so much of it is spent at the office that messing around in others’ lives becomes a surrogate for cultivating your own.

Modernity was forged to spare humanity the perils of so much time spent in toil. Those lucky to have been born in wealthy societies but choose to devote the vast majority of their time engaged in work seem to me either foolish or pathological. Either way, the time consumed by work, beyond a certain level, may actively invalidate a life given the luxury of other choices. Life is more important than work; a truth those who have been too career-focused realize only when the end of the precious life they squandered is imminent.

A buddhadharma teacher once said ‘do not speak unless it improves the silence.’ This holiday season, do so with a funny anecdote, or the sharing of a genuine passion. Speak as if your humanity was more vast than the changes in the weather, the ups-and-downs of the local sports team, or the trivial things you do to pay the bills.

Tell me something to improve the silence between us; something real about yourself. If work is all you have to talk about, you’ve got other, more self-enriching work to do in the new year. Get on with it. Get a life before it’s too late. At next year’s Christmas party, I’d love to hear all about it.

Keep Your DICK in a Box Well Away From the Top Shelf

Dick With Balls

The one who started it all. The Dick of all Dicks, Dick Cheney. “Hello underlings, I am a DICK, and blah blah bullshit lie half-truth blah blah America blah blah War blah lie lie lie I eat babies blah blah blah I own shares in weapons companies blah blah blah I am the real President blah blah blah blah lie bullshit posturing blah blah blah …”

A toxic form of humanity is advancing rapidly through the white-collar ranks of large North American organizations. It drains the life of so many innocents trying their best to make a living in the workplace jungle. The scientific name for the phenomenon: Douchebaggus Ignoramus Corporatio Kleptomaniac, otherwise known as DICK.

Dick exists in droves where hierarchies create cadres of executives whose pay and decision-making responsibilities vastly outstrip the ranks at the bottom. In lucky organizations, the top echelons reflect the qualities of an individual you’d expect to have responsibility for so many lives and so much financial capital. Good leaders started at the bottom somewhere, and stayed there long enough to learn the ropes. They know what it’s like to be low man on the totem pole and can point to real achievements instead of lofty position titles along their career path. They are intelligent, humble, and treat people well, regardless of their rank.

Unfortunately in many large organizations there is an inverse relationship between the competency, personality, skills and high rank of the individuals occupying the upper-middle and top shelves of the org chart. Dick knows how to fly like an eagle in a place like this. With his prospects of advancing the ranks not limited by his incompetence and execrable personality, he tirelessly tramples over the well-being of his co-workers as he employs douchebag subterfuge to crawl his way to the top.

The screening criteria to diagnose whether that misery-inducing jerk in your workforce is a Dick are below:

1. Extremes in intelligence: either a profound lack of intelligence, curiosity, or lack of insight; Hyper-intelligence

OR

2.  Male, usually small (literally and figuratively)

AND, one of the following:

3.  Profoundly stunted emotional intelligence, as if his six year-old emotional self wandered into the forest and was never found again, but still controls the behaviours of the adult from somewhere in the deep, dark, and frightening woods.

4.  An unnatural, hyper-inflated self-assessment that entitles them to whatever they desire: promotions, perks, to treat people like dirt, to have a tantrum, to say whatever small and petty thing pops into their douchey mind …

5. Hyper-aggressivity rooted in unexplored feelings of Ill-will, guile, rage, or hostility toward humanity

A Dick with all of the above traits would be in jail had they been born in an unstable home of less than an upper middle-class income. Even though Dick is a crime against humanity, his co-workers are the ones imprisoned in a living hell of his making. Every day they fight the feeling of having been entrapped like a dime-bag dealer on a police sting when they were sold on the opportunities in a job that was open clearly because nobody wanted work with “the asshole.”

As a child, Dick had people putting ideas of being a “professional” in his mind. One or both of his parents was a professional of some type – a corporate executive, lawyer, doctor, engineer, or academic – who instilled the idea that a profession was the only viable career choice for success. They made him believe achievement was rooted in status and rank rather than something tangible, like good work and skill.

True that, every Dick does fancy himself a big shot. I recommend you duck, because Dick's a bit of a reckless bastard.

True that, every Dick does fancy himself a big shot. I recommend you duck, because Dick’s a bit of a reckless bastard.

Some Dicks showed early on they weren’t inclined to the knowledge professions, but their parents were in denial about what this meant for their child’s white-collar prospects. They pushed the career aspirations on him anyway knowing they could always intervene with their network of high-powered friends to help him along. It never crossed their minds to push him toward a skilled trade, reflecting an ignorant bias harboured by many white-collar professionals.

Dick could have devoted himself to honing his skills as a tradesman, which would provide an outstanding living if he applied his time and effort to that enterprise. Like many people with practical skills he could have had his own small business and have been a real master of his own destiny. Sure, he wouldn’t be a CEO of thousands of people, but he’d be financially successful and would be his own boss. He wouldn’t have stolen his high rank away from others with his dirt-bag behaviour; he would have achieved success with honest, hard work.

Instead, Dick went to college with ideas of becoming as financially successful and prestigious as his parents in a profession he was not suited for. Realizing quickly he wasn’t cut out to be a doctor, lawyer, US President, engineer, or accountant, he joined a frat, partied, gang-banged sorority girls, and squeaked by to get his degree in Phys Ed. He entered the white-collar workforce intent on running the show, but found himself in the unenviable position of seeking to advance through the ranks over peers with minds and abilities more suited to the work.

Smart Dick, Dumb DickHe could have decided then to focus on his strengths as a people-person. One quality that Dick seems to have in spades is high energy and affability – sometimes genuine, most times fake. He wasn’t born a Dick, and if he had chosen an environment that didn’t constantly tap into his insecurities about his lack of book-smarts or social ineptitude, he probably could have avoided becoming one. He could have leveraged his people skills to build alliances – a vital skill in an organization with a bunch of big minds who often lack soft skills required to manage groups of people.

In relying on shrewdness, aggressiveness, and posturing to beat back others before they cottoned on to his limited intelligence, he chose to get ahead along the dirt road leading through Dicks-ville. Ever since, he’s been like a virus in the workplace. His colleagues can barely avoid violent fits of projectile vomiting from having to stomach Dick’s over-weening sense of self-importance and generous self-assessment of his capabilities.

In the early days his professionally competent colleagues ignored and avoided the confrontations required to put his bad behaviour in its place, dismissing him as a total moron who would easily be weeded out. What they didn’t see is how this re-inforced his blatant misbehaviour. Nobody realizes until it is too late that a Dick has risen to occupy a rank that vastly outpaces his abilities. But once a Dick has inserted himself, by hook and crook, into the organization’s power structure he has to be forcefully pulled out.

Since childhood, everyone told the hyper-intelligent Dick their brains were going to win them “great things” for the future. Instead of accepting the low-ranking social status of a teen of above-average intelligence and socializing with other gifted peers, they pined for acceptance and failed miserably, which fueled their pathological resentment. They spent evenings and weekends obsessively-compulsively masturbating to Ayn Rand novels in quiet solitude charting the course of their revenge against all the mean mediocrities of the world. Their emotional intelligence wilted on the vine with the total absence of a meaningful social life. They did not have even nerdy friends; they did not get laid. No matter. His prestigious credentials in hand, the world would deliver what was due including the money to buy a social life and all the pick-up artist videos needed to get laid without paying by the hour. See Dick be a Dick

From day one of his ascendant career path, Dick could never to stay long enough in a chair to keep it warm; there was always a nicer chair in an office closer to the top floor with his name on it. He’d finagle ways to be in the same place as influential people in the organization to learn where the opportunities to advance were and kiss their ass incessantly to get it. He’d find the emotionally weak and destroy their will with hectoring and condescension to crush their spirit and make himself look more dynamic.

He yelled and screamed when things didn’t go his way and kicked his co-workers in the gut like helpless dogs when he was in a mood. He always acted out when his insecurities ran high, making everyone else pay the price for his errors instead of owning up and using them as learning experience to help him improve. Dick’s mantra: always move forward, fake it if you have to, this place needs you.

As he begins the climb, Dick befriends those who are smarter and uses these contacts to click into networks of other smart-types. The smart-nerds he keeps close are those who cultivate and care about their reputation as experts. They keep Dick supplied with a steady, reliable stream of novel ideas to pass off as his own when he’s among senior people who will take notice. Once he’s on top, he’ll find a way to marginalize his former brainy confreres, knowing what a pain in his ass they’ll be.

I couldn't have said it better myself. Or rather, every Dick is a cock in disguise. There, I said it better myself. But still.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Or rather, every Dick is a cock in disguise. There, I said it better myself. But still.

Dick does everything to position himself as a prospect for any opportunity to advance in the organization chart. Everything that is, except really investing the time learning any of his jobs to be good at them. For the hyper-intelligent Dick, this would have been easy, had it not been for his sense of entitlement, which makes him too impatient to actually learn a job or to care about honing his people skills. Dick probably got an MBA, which requires more cash than brains, to help him chop twelve years of working in the real world to demonstrate his perceived right to an executive rank. For a Dick, smart or dumb, everything is a temporary stepping-stone on the ascent to out-rank everyone else.

God help the organization that re-inforces this shithead’s ideas of advancing the ladder before he’s really earned it. The moment Dick ascends the ranks he becomes an obnoxious, condescending ingrate who harbours delusions of grandeur. The higher he climbs despite his incompetence and maladjusted behaviour, the more insufferable he becomes. He is possessed by the delusion his abilities, or worse, his attributes as a Dick, warranted him the promotions. There is no incentive to curb the sociopathy in his behaviour. All is lost.

In those rare and fleeting moments of self-reflectiveness – usually when Dick is publicly upstaged by someone smarter than him or who knows more about his job than he does – Dick is momentarily seized by the idea he’s in over his head. “Fuck that” Dick says to collect himself, and then lobs a flurry of passive-aggressive, man-splaining tirades to attack the very being of the weisen-heimer who made him look stupid. He’ll keep up the rear assaults until ‘Mr/Ms Bookworm’ backs down or suddenly finds themselves blacklisted by Dick who knows how to slander with malicious intent better than the best Republican political strategist.

Most interesting man on ... DouchebagsThis is also how Dick deals with what he sees as obstructionist criticism – he shouts it down so hard the other person concedes defeat to spare themselves his incessant blowhard tactics. He has no tolerance for a diversity of views, nor does he see the value in a collegial exchange of disparate ideas to hash out a middle ground on a problem. He is too uncurious to care about other possibilities besides the ill-informed, blinkered one he believes is correct. He sees those who forward alternative perspectives as guilty of insubordination, flouting gratuitous negativity; as Cassandras who won’t follow the pack.

Persecuting underlings is one of Dick’s most conspicuous traits, especially when he’s reached a certain rank and has had a taste of authority, which he is unable to handle intelligently. He cannot understand how his abrasiveness would constantly undermine the morale of people who invest a high degree of job satisfaction in obtaining feedback about a job well-done. Dick’s definition of job satisfaction is having a job.

If Dick is a man, which he usually is, his unceasing torments are more a pathological aspect of a reactive personality completely devoid of empathy, than a calculated campaign of abuse. It’s how he operates, and he thinks people should realise that. It’s not personal, he’s just a tough cookie with high expectations. He cannot relate to what it feels like to be on the other end of his asshole antics.

In the rare case that Dick is a woman, the torment is probably calculated, less openly hostile, but absolutely eviscerating. The most dangerous person in an organization is an intelligent she-Dick, a person so frightening I’m too afraid to lampoon them in this blog post. She-Dick will find me and destroy my life. Did I mention she-Dick is really intelligent?

As a senior person in the organization, Dick’s incessant criticism, lack of encouragement, caustic demeanour, and capricious, panic-stricken series of unreasonable demands throws shards of glass beneath the feet of his direct reports. For years he has sub-consciously learned that a hierarchical corporate culture spawns legions of people-pleasers who respond to aggressive posturing, giving people like him the powers of a puppeteer. With a few churlish displays the shrinking violets scatter frantically to appease the angry ogre, dispatched as they are with meaningless chores of little value to the organization, meant to allay the ill-effects and smooth over the damage wrought by his incompetence.

Cameraman: "Hey Stu, how about you take your shirt off to have one of the last pictures with your mom, the emphysema patient, before she dies" Stu: "No way bro' I love this fuckin' shirt. I wanna remember me an my mom havin' a laugh. Take the fuckin' picture"

Cameraman: “Hey Stu, you wanna take your shirt off so the last picture with your mom, the emphysema patient, before she dies isn’t with the ‘Dick with the shirt’?”
Stu: “Hey bro’ I have a fuckin’ tattoo on my neck, cuz I don’t give-a-shit. I got this shirt my first day outta prison, so I got sense-a-mental value to it. Now, take the fuckin’ picture. Say cheese Ma!”

Here is the million dollar question: if Dicks are so bad, why do they keep rising to the top?

The easiest answer is Dicks love to do the circle jerk with other Dicks. At the top of an organization teeming with Dicks the boardroom is a bro-culture in pin-striped suits. It’s hard to continue being an asshole if the emotional intelligence, brains, and human decency among your colleagues holds a mirror the size of the moon to your stunted being. Even though a Dick at the top is advised to hire people to accommodate his profound shortcomings, he can’t help but promote one of his own because he’s too stupid or arrogant to believe more than his talents are needed. He possesses talent for a whole executive team and really only needs more sets of hands to carry through all the earth-shattering ideas oozing from his ego. In the end, a total Dick looks like the best candidate in the eyes of a total Dick.

His urge to remain unchallenged, to have obsequious subordinates to go along with disastrous errors in his judgement far outweighs his desire to hire competent people who can actually do a good job. They’ll make him look bad. They’ll constantly challenge his shallow decrees with arcane appeals to law, policy, or reason.

This is why it’s taken more than forty years of feminism for women to even begin to crack the glass ceilings across the corporate world. Bros before ho’s, as they say. The lack of women and introverted, brainy types is an historical Dick-slap to the axiom that calls for the upper echelons of large, complex organizations to be dominated by people of bona fide skill and competence. Instead, too many Dicks have risen to the top ranks with bluster, self-aggrandizement, and charm but little else of substance.

The adage is true, when it comes to Dicks, size does matter. Even when the top echelons of an organization is filled with competent and capable leaders, the size of the organization will be a cover for Dick’s misbehaviour. Because of scale alone, legions of influential people won’t really know how Dick operates. Dick is expert at spotting, and ingratiating himself into some fairly opportune glory-holes and hitting paydirt, knowing his reputation will benefit by sheer association. Dick can keep his malevolence in line to ingratiate himself with senior people in a functional division if it means he’ll win advancement. He can peel off his fluffy sheep’s clothing later on when he’s got the power and it’s too late to do anything about it.

Everybody loves a bunch of corporate dudes in suits getting their thizzang on with some gangsta shit.

Everybody loves a bunch of corporate dudes in suits doing their thizzang with some gangsta shit.

Organizations that rhetorically value competency, that have complex, challenging goals to achieve, will pay the price in poor performance if there are too many feeble-minded, megalomaniacal Dicks in the boxes near the top of the organization chart. Large organizations of knowledge-workers rely on the collaborative efforts of its human capital to succeed, which is totally undermined with the hyper-aggressive, childish, morale-killing behaviours of a hyper-ambitious, emotionally stunted leadership cadre. They will crush the will and spirit of competent, capable human assets wherever they exist in the organization. These valuable would-be leaders will leave before they deign to ascend the ranks, avoiding having to withstand the nightmare of working more often with so many Dicks in their face.

Nobody with genuine abilities to speak of will invest their sweat equity only to have it beaten down to nothing in the self-interested grabby-hands of a bunch of Dicks. That’s why organizations need to get a good grip on those Dicks and yank ‘em out; let the Dicks have a taste of what it’s like to get the shaft for once. Do it now, to preserve the long-term viability of the organization and restore sanity to your workforce.

Let’s Dress It Up Clean, For a Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween BannerTo be fair, I was only a teenager when I went to a Halloween party in black face. What did I know about it? All I knew of black face were grainy clips of a white guy in dark makeup crooning “Mammy” and “Toot Toot Tootsie” with sparkling, white-gloved ‘jazz-hands.’ I didn’t know what to make of the minstrel show clips I saw as a child, but I observed everyone having a good ‘ole time. All the banjos and slap-happy dancing folks didn’t seem oppressed to my childish eyes.

I could have chosen to caricature a multitude of races and creeds for my Halloween enjoyment. In the late 70s and early 80s when I was trick-or-treating, Mexicans, Arabs, Chinamen, and Indian Chiefs were neighbourhood favourites. A costume choice to lampoon any of these other groups would have been far less utterly self-disparaging.

At this point, it’s probably relevant to mention that I am black. A black kid in black face. Sadly, I was not dressed as an “ironic” Al Jolson. At the time, my understanding of irony was as ill-formed as the lyrics of an Alanis Morrisette song.

Not to defend such self-abnegating ignorance, but I did grow up in one of the WASP-iest white families on earth. All of my best friends were white, my local television celebrities were white, everyone at the country club was white. The Beatles best album was white. Cripes, even the food I ate was white – potatoes, cauliflower, butter and crumpets, turnips, cucumber sandwiches with cream cheese and the unsightly brown crusts cut off. With the exception of the inconvenient fact of the skin-colour thing, I was a white dude, inside and out.

I saw other ethnic groups and creeds with the eyes of any other teenaged white kid at the time: in narrow racist terms. The various peoples of the world offered a buffet of stereotypes and parodies to nourish my insatiable appetite for small-minded, xenophobic amusement. It was the culturally insensitive prerogative we white folks thrive on.

Life is Too ShortI don’t want to be a party pooper about this stuff. Hey, I’m pointing the finger as much at yours truly as anyone else. The skin on that finger may be slightly dark-ish, but the bones inside are as white as Tommy Hilfiger and the people he makes clothes for; which fill my own closet.

Halloween is all about the fun; about kids dressing up, trick-or-treating and running like banshees on a sugar-rush. Adults young and old will head off to Halloween parties and engage in the ritual of binge-drinking, serial groping, dry humping, and projectile vomiting. The combination of alcohol and anonymity afforded by costumes will embolden party-goers in their quest to end the evening screwing like the werewolves and trolls they purport to be. Let’s hope the legions who slither out of their mystery date’s bed for the “walk of shame” the next morning will have done nothing more than picked up an easily treatable itch and a fleeting tinge of regret; that all will have been done in good, clean fun.

But amidst all the good-natured Halloween shenanigans is a shadowy side that brings out of the woodwork the latent racism, intolerance, and insensitivity lingering in our midst. It’s time the knuckle-dragging apparition was chased away from the festivities, once and for all. Here’s how: peel yourself away from the social media feed before you head out, look in the mirror, and think.

Thinking. That shit is hard, I know. It’ll only take a few seconds, I promise.

There. Now you can put that stuffy, dusty intellect back in the attic with the other relics of humanity’s evolutionary pre-eminence and get back to being the best debauching troglodyte you can be!

Who can forget, just a few years ago, Prince Harry going to a Halloween party dressed as Hitler? On his way, the Prince would have breezed past dozens of people at Buckingham Palace camped out in his SS regalia. The flurry of panic as Her Majesty’s Royal PR machine scurried across Westminster Abbey’s marble floors in damage-control could have been avoided if only those at Court had seen fit to point out the oversight, “Pray Hal, good chap, do forgive the presumption, but wouldn’t Napoleon be a trifle more a propos as choice of amusing rogue than the mad man who exterminated Jews, reduced the world to bedlam, and nearly demolished your family’s kingdom for kicks?” Loyal establishment friends are dreadfully hard to find.

Since 9-11 the profound dearth of creativity and imagination in our culture inevitably spawns countless variations on a theme of Osama bin Laden at Halloween. Scores of frat boys wield toy AK-47s, brandish any garment on their head as a turban, flub crappy hindu accents, and pretend to extol jihad. Apparently, they are dressed up as “terrorists,” a parody which, in their mind, shouldn’t warrant outrage from anyone.

Except, the bong-soaked performances of “the terrorist” are robbed of their poignancy by the sheer magnitude of ignorance and stupidity these morons bring to bear upon it. They end up mocking whatever they think passes for an Arab or Muslim – typically a South Asian – and half-heartedly parrot the lie they’re being a “terrorist.” In reality they’re projecting the pea-brained idea that every Muslim is either a terrorist or a sleeper-cell supporter.

It’s rare to see anyone idiotic enough to dress up as an “Indian” for Halloween. But it still happens, especially among little kids whose parents obviously need sensitivity training. In Canada, where I live, the plan to obliterate aboriginals was executed by stealing children away from their families and placing them in residential schools where they were abused by servants of God in the hopes of making good white folks out of them. Acts and policies were promulgated to passive aggressively deny and paper-over their existence in the nicest, typically ineffectual Canadian way possible. The US was more honest in its approach, setting about the task of obliterating American Indians as Americans do best: with armed possies and a shitload of guns.

Given this sordid history, it’s more than politically incorrect for the would-be exterminators to misrepresent a cute “Indian” simply because a few US professional sports franchises and their millions of oblivious, adoring fans can’t imagine something less offensive as a moniker. Imagine if some rich douchebag called his baseball team the “Atlanta Honkies” and fashioned as the team mascot a bland dip-shit with a mullet, who eats Spam sandwiches on white Wonder Bread, dances like a moron with a sparkling, toothy overbite, and berates fans with racial epithets.

Well, maybe that would be funny. Can someone, anyone, come up with a slur that actually offends a white person? In any case, being an “Indian” for Halloween is offensive and lame.

Well, unless you’re trying to be a “sexy Indian”, that is, at least if this flyer in my newspaper today is to be believed. Okay, so if the costume is basically two strips of faux-leather cotton just large enough to cover the nipples and girly parts down below, you have a headband with one feather in the back, and your hair in pigtails, then you’re a “sexy Indian,” which is apparently fine because it is more slutty than racist.

But not really. The point of this costume is to brag about your body by revealing as much of it as possible without being arrested for indecency. The costume will be a testament to just how little food and how much time at the gym the person wearing it has indulged in lately.Slutty Halloween Card

We should applaud a woman who is confident, proud of her body, and uninhibited enough to go virtually naked in public. She should not be concerned that men will interpret the costume as an invitation, or fear that when drunk, they will feel entitled to act on the alleged invite. Those men will have to impart a little more civilization into their rape-acculturated minds so they don’t assume a woman’s titillating choice of attire is a substitute for consent. But hey, svelte ladies, if you want to strut your stuff on Halloween, do so as cat-woman, wonder woman, or Pebbles instead of Pocahontas or Sacajaweah. Deal?

The slutty genre of Halloween costume should be off the table for young girls. Girls should not be encouraged to objectify and sexualize themselves until they’re old enough to be that self-effacing. It’s appalling how many parents seem willing to tout the alleged sex appeal of their young daughters. Only the pedophiles out there appreciate the effort. Parents who send their little girls into the world looking like pole dancers and pin-up girls ought to be ashamed for the deviant sexual appetites they whet.

So here’s a challenge, avid Halloweeners: choose something fictional, tasteful, and age-appropriate as a costume. Be creative. Be a Muppet, a pirate, a character from Dr Who. Be a superhero, a gorilla, or a rooster. Just don’t be a Zulu tribesman, a Sherpa, a Geisha, a prostitute, or a slutty version of any specific creed of human being.

If your costume depicts another group of existing people you are not among, refrain. If you’re a knucklehead like me, it’s not okay to mock your own kind. It’s like extending a hall pass to bigots, who’ll feel uninhibited as they roam the cultural landscape freely airing their racist views, thanks to your active hand in reinforcing them.

Bad taste may not be illegal, but it is not in the realm of exercising your right to free speech if you choose to be a racist dip-shit in your Halloween costume. It’s actually closer to hate speech, depending on how you play it. The everyday look of people in other parts of the world isn’t the makings of a Halloween costume; it’s their clothes. The differences we exaggerate for our entertainment are rooted in traditions, cultures, and religious beliefs whose nature we can’t fully understand. These are facets of human beings not rightly lampooned just because they appear foreign, exotic, or silly to us.

A little thought will go a long way to making sure you’re not being an insensitive jackass in your choice of attire for Halloween festivities. Your presence will add to the fun and enjoyment of others this year and increase the odds the little kids watching you won’t become Archie Bunker adults, like me and my white homies of generations past.

So get out there and dress up for a brighter future!

Happy Haunting End Banner

E K Saunders, Paper Boy Inc.

Back in those heady days, it was the robber barons and me. Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Morgan and Edmund K Saunders - not pictured.

Back in those heady days, it was the robber barons and me. Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Morgan and Edmund K Saunders – not pictured.

I was a pre-teen scion of industry, my fortune made on the heels of a massive paper route conglomerate. In a few short years I’d gone from one measly route, which paid the bills, to four routes, which bought the bling.

Riley Jackson was an army-brat whose dad was shipping out to Germany to the front lines of the Cold War, where he’d be shining up the tanks parked on NATO’s eastern flank to scare the shit out of the Reds. Riley offered me his paper route before he left for the land of lederhosen. I’d sometimes walk with him as he delivered his papers and go collecting with him whenever we fancied a fix of extra-large Slurpees to give us brain freezes and nights tripping out on a sugar high. I knew I wanted that route for my own.

My enthusiasm wasn’t diminished by the fact that, where I lived, winter meant plugging in cars so they’d start in the morning. In my town exhaust fog was a weather condition, created by a surge of instantly frozen exhaust billowing from cars as they pushed off when traffic signals changed red to green. If you sniffled too hard, your nostrils would freeze shut. Your earlobes would turn to little nubs of frozen-solid skin in minutes and your tongue and lips could stick to the zipper on your jacket, painfully tearing flesh as you pulled them off.

I was a typical kid – undeterred by the harshness of the winter – and was quickly hooked on the combination of easy work and even easier money. We would get a “bill” from our “manager” based on the papers on our route. Any money we could collect from the subscribers on our route over and above our bill was ours to keep.

Such a scheme would be out of the question today. But back in the early eighties, it was a form of child labour our culture didn’t abhor. It was a time when the idea of unsupervised ten year olds knocking on strange adult’s doors on evenings and weekends, stepping into their homes, and haggling them for money didn’t seem to bother a soul.

Among my customers I faced scores of adult pathos, loneliness, and perversion well before any of my peers. I didn’t fully apprehend some of the phenomena I’d witnessed, but was struck by the intuition that something was off. ‘Adults are fucking weirdos,’ I thought.

I concluded there must have been something dubious and corrupting about adulthood that transformed people who ostensibly started out like me into lunatics. I could hardly wait to walk that adult gauntlet, the idea not tempered in any way by the reality I’d probably become a bona fide nut-job like many of my customers. Adults didn’t live with their bossy, apoplectic mothers and slobber-faced brothers, at least back then, two realities that outweighed the negative baggage.

After a year, I had bought out the paper routes of the other, less energetic, less earnest kids who delivered papers in the town-house and apartment complex where I lived. Four routes had become one route. All mine. I was an entrepreneur, a master of my own destiny, and I loved it. I didn’t have to ask my poor, single mother for money she didn’t have. I imagined I was saving her the guilt of being unable to provide any frills for her kids. I was happy to take the burden off and make my own way in the world.

The amassing of such a large area of responsibility required creativity to minimize the imposition on my life and keep complaints down. I paid well below what I made to get friends to help, anticipating Wal-Mart’s shabby labour practices long before they made the company billions. I extorted my brother with threats of wedgies, wet-willies, and noogies. I considered myself a benevolent older brother for extending the option.

I had an iron-clad memory and was a visual thinker. Every customer got their paper because I had all two-hundred homes in my route committed to memory. I didn’t need to rely on a list to deliver my papers like the feeble-minded schlubs who had the routes before me.

My route had four apartment blocks and fifteen clusters of town houses. I could get it done in under an hour, most days. At the start of the route I had to find a way to carry four stuffed newspaper bags. On Saturdays, when the paper was full of extras, I looked like a Sherpa carting supplies for an expedition up Mount Everest.

It's true, you really can find anything on the internet, including a picture of your eleven year-old self heading out to deliver his load of Saturday papers. Man, the inter-web never ceases to amaze.

It’s true, you really can find anything on the internet, including a picture of your eleven year-old self heading out to deliver his load of Saturday papers. Man, the inter-web never ceases to amaze.

I mapped out the most effective, efficient way to get my papers delivered fast to make sure folks would have their paper in time to stuff their faces with Hamburger Helper and watch the evening news. Delivering to all my customers in the apartment buildings was fast and easy. The main stairwell went up the middle of these three-storey buildings, separating each floor into a left and right hall. So, I’d start with the apartment’s stack in my arms and run down the left hallway of the first, second, and third floors tossing papers as I ran past each door. Then I’d do the same on the right side of the building to get down. A friend timed me, and I finished a whole apartment in about two and a half minutes.

My customers were relieved to have me over the previous paperboys, who I learned were extremely unreliable. They had often made mistakes and many customers did not get their paper. When they did get it, it often came late, as they were ready to watch their M*A*S*H re-runs and hit the sack.

I also learned my predecessors weren’t much conversation, which didn’t build the goodwill needed to have people overlook their shabby performance. I was well-spoken enough to offer more than a grunt in response to their mindless banter. I could carry a decent conversation, even if I couldn’t be less interested in its contents. I credit the years as a fly on the wall at my rich grandparents’ country club for insights on how to make obsequious idle chatter if it meant cheddar in the bank. Compared to the knuckleheads before me, E K Saunders Paperboy Inc. was a benchmark of customer service.

The size of my route meant I had to be strategic with collections. There were several lonely widows on my route. I couldn’t collect from too many of them in one night, especially if it was on an evening before my bill was paid. They’d wait with their door open and a fresh batch of cookies, wooing me away from my fruitless attempt to tiptoe past their door to the fire escape.

I was like a mouse, their offerings of sweets the favoured tune of these septuagenarian pied pipers. Before I realized I’d succumbed, there I was watching Family Feud with Mrs. McDougall in her housecoat and baggy stockings, wearing earmuffs to protect my hearing from the volume on her television, which was louder than a stack of Marshall amps at a Judas Priest concert.

If I hit too many of these old ladies it would take weeks to collect and, over time, would end up morbidly obese. My belly had quickly reflected the fruits of my success; I was getting chubby from the junk food my wealth afforded. I could never decline gracious offerings of baked goods from customers because I was polite, weak-willed, and eleven.

There were several pervy women on my route. One would answer the door in mid-riff revealing teddies and slinky pajama bottoms, and I couldn’t help but notice it was always cool and bra-less in her apartment. Another would throw the door open with a warm “hi sweetie,” and float angelically to her credenza to get her loot. Her bouncy, perky bosom would send a flurry of waves cascading through her gown, the breeze of her gait lifting it to reveal glimpses of alabaster flesh beneath.

I’d given her a newspaper, but she’d given me a chapter of an Anaïs Nin novel every two weeks. It seemed unfair to charge her for the papers, but I would never have been able to live my very own version of Delta of Venus if I didn’t collect, so I took the money, reluctantly. The memories kept me enthralled in teenaged masturbatory bliss for years to come as I imagined countless iterations of what could have transpired had I been just a little older, or had they been willing pedophiles.

I realized there was a species of female vastly unlike my flabby, lumpy, stubby mother. This exotic variety of female had skin like butter and bodies with curves and dimples in places that left a tingling, alert sensation in a part of my body that my eleven year old self hadn’t quite got to know yet, but really was beginning to enjoy. I never, ever went collecting in sweatpants when I planned to hit these homes.

Collecting payment from customers was at times a cat and mouse game. The brinkmanship between enterprising child and the irresponsible adults on my route was striking. It occurred to me the newspaper’s collections strategy was incredibly naïve, partly exploitative, and painfully lazy: “we’ll get children to be our accounts receivable because nobody would screw a kid out of his money, but if they do, well, it’s just kids.”

In essence, the newspaper had left it up to me and legions of ten year olds to keep the accounts of their adult customers in good standing. If I was to to be used as a pawn by my benefactors in their proxy war with deadbeat customers I would have to convincingly rattle my fledgling sabre in a standoff with the serial delinquents on my route, all of whom were men. I am proud to say my sabre was in very good hands.

I vomit in my mouth quite extensively whenever I think of how utterly terrible this show was and how vile they were for trying to extend the life of disco well past its well-deserved death.

I vomit in my mouth voraciously as I think of how utterly terrible this show was. The creators should be flogged for extending the life of disco well past its stale date. I am certain all the deadbeats on my route were over-biting to this show as they busied themselves with their Toni-curl perm kits.

Obviously, the first tack was to get them to pay the honest way. I’d hit their homes at all times: evenings, weekends, weekdays I was supposed to be home sick, weekdays where I’d just skip out on school, and holidays. The wily customers pretended not to be home, even when I could smell their dinner and hear them watching television programs ready-made for deadbeat putzes, like Solid Gold, and The Love Boat.

I carried my collections book all the time. I was a soldier and it was my rifle. If I happened to see the lights on at the bums’ apartment, I’d ditch my friends, buzz Mrs. McDougall or other widow to let me into the building and knock on his door. Inevitably the deadbeat’s hearing was off. I imagined they were taking their sixth dump of the day because they lived on a diet of pizza pops and cola; that they were jerking off to smut magazines, because no woman would ever want to be with losers who bilk innocent children of their hard-earned money. In my pre-adolescent fury, I kicked doors to send an unequivocal message: I know you’re in there, scumbag, it’s only a matter of time.

I had another army-brat friend named Randy who was a little older than I. He had a massive chip on his shoulder, which I assumed was because he’d moved ten times in his thirteen years and couldn’t keep friends, which made him even more angry about it. I’d walked his paper route in the past, and he taught me all the dirty tricks to deal with delinquent and annoying customers, but also how to bat your lashes and grease the nice customers for extra tips.

Randy was always practicing his Tae Kwon Do on me, making me his figurative and literal shadow boxer. He seemed to be perpetually readying for the inevitable battle with a band of thugs who would surround him, taunt him by calling him a “dog”, and leave him only one means of escape from the indignity – with a fist – just like Bruce Lee. He was either unco-ordinated as hell or he meant to kick me in the face repeatedly. I’d kick him in the balls “by accident” on many other occasions when he would least expect it. I could be a vengeful little prick myself, and reasoned that, if he was such a ninja warrior, he should have been able to stop it from happening.

Thanks to Randy, I could kick the shit out of a door, and butter up a customer as cheap as Scrooge, or crusty as Genghis Khan and get a tip at Christmas. That kid could charm the pants off of the Wicked Witch of the West and dang it, so could I. One Christmas I made a hundred and fifty bucks in tips. The new year would be a banner year for sugar consumption, waistline expansion, and zit-creme expenditures.

I gave the bums who were in arrears a chance to be stand-up guys. I wrote my visits on the back of my collections book and left slips of paper under their door, which were always passive-aggressively pleasant. Looking back now, these people must have felt their delivery boy was either the son of a mobster or an Amway salesman.

Many evenings it was the Jehovah’s Witnesses and I coursing the townhouse complex in the shadows to sneak up on unsuspecting home-dwellers. Even as a child I thought they were earnest, deluded morons, but I felt a fraternity with them – we were confreres in the art of getting unwilling people to open up to our aims. We were toiling in our separate ways to absolve the heathen dwellers from their spiritual and financial sins.

If collecting didn’t work I’d change tactics by launching a shock and awe campaign of annoyance. I’d give them the most mangled paper at the bottom of the pile. I’d take the comics and sports sections from their paper – because, let’s face it, they were dudes and that’s all these morons read. I’d give them yesterday’s paper. I’d throw rocks at their window, play knock-knock on ginger at all hours, sneaking out of my home in the middle of the night just to unleash it. I’d leave creepy, angry notes in their mailbox, realizing years later how obvious it would have been to any half-witted adult that it was me, the only child in their life who had genuine reason to send them hate-mail.

Certain customers made me want to touch myself, just like the stories in this little ditty by Anais Nin.

Certain customers made me want to touch myself, just like the stories in this little ditty by Anais Nin.

For the worst deadbeats I’d find out what car they drove and get an ice-cream at Dairy Queen and squish it on their windscreen. I figured the buck fifty for the ice-cream was an investment – I had fifty bucks riding on the fact I’d wear them down. I’d break eggs on their car. I’d leave notes on their neighbours doors asking them to call me when the dipshit next door was in because he owed me fifty bucks for the paper. The bum who lived next to the Aphrodite paid up within days of the letter I slipped under her door. And he never was delinquent again. Looking back, I think I got that guy laid.

Humiliation, terror, harassment. No childish, angry tactic went untried. It never occurred to me one of these dirtbags would get really angry and want to unleash a world of hurt on my paperboy ass. Either way, it never happened, which I suppose I should be thankful for.

I told my manager all I’d done to collect the fees from the deadbeats. He laughed and said I was the wiliest bastard, son-of-a-bitch of a delivery boy he’d ever met.

I had this earning money thing down to a science. I never was wont for anything. I had the record collection to rival that of an adult enthusiast. I had Slurpees whenever, and wherever I wanted. If my friends with poor single mothers like mine wanted to go to a movie it was my treat. I bought pizzas for everybody.

I was a young tycoon. I was king of the world. Who needed school when you could make money so easily? Man, life was easy. Adults like my mom and all her lower middle class friends constantly struggling to make ends meet seemed to me at the time as a bunch of grade-A losers. The cost of housing, cars, utilities, and all the adult vices they over-indulged in to dress the perilous wounds of a squalid existence never factored into my shrewd assessment. The cost of chips, soda, slurpees, and pizza seemed a fair approximation to the costs of living, in my eleven year old eyes.

And then, as quickly as it began, the party was over. In nineteen eighty-three, my mother moved us to a new end of town. Not that it mattered. Soon the afternoon daily I delivered would decide to become a morning paper. I was a teenager. Mornings were like parents – they existed but I didn’t want to have anything to do with them. Cartoons were no longer incentive enough to get me out of bed, especially when hormones and wet dreams kept me up all night. My years as a newspaper delivery baron would be behind me for good.

The money I’d saved held me in good stead until I was sixteen and began to acquire more big-kid tastes: cars and women. I’d need to get a job again, which I did very easily. And once again, in no time I had cash in the bank, a mint car, money for beer, parties, and a kick-ass wardrobe.

It strikes me now that my I could stand to tear some pages from my enterprising, industrious youth, because I don’t have money for extras like beer and parties and my wardrobe is decidedly discount-store in nature. I’ve been trying desperately to tap into the courageous, go-getter spirit I had as a child to see if he’ll take me back so we can pay some bills and have some fun.

He still thinks I’m a bit of a chump, but he’s warming up to the idea