Fur-Trader and City-Slicker Frolic in the Woods

cabin-in-a-bag

My cabin-in-a-bag, imported from Europe at a hefty price. Worth every penny. The fur-trader would not approve.

When I was a child, my love of the outdoors knew no bounds. This wasn’t always an easy feat given the extremes in the weather in these parts. Where I live there are days in winter where the mercury dips to temperatures colder than Mars. In late July it can get as hot as Dubai. There is an eighty-degree swing in temperature from the hottest and coldest days of the year.

In spring when you leave for work in the morning you have to pack for the four distinct ecosystems the weather will produce throughout the day. Fall is spectacular and brilliant, but comes and goes in the blink of an eye. Summer and winter are typically the heroes and villains of the year. 

Essentially, it’s a challenge to be an avid outdoorsman where I live. Yet, I rarely complained about the ridiculous weather as a child – only when my mother forbade me to go outdoors because of conditions that were too extreme. The outdoors and I, and all the whimsical seasons she brought into my life, had a mad love affair. We were inseparable.

That love affair sent my mates and I to the woods to go camping, year after year. In my late teens a campsite for the weekend was an ideal escape from our young adult prisons. A tent in the woods was the venue for treacherous feats of binge drinking, chain smoking, setting forest-endangering bonfires to keep us warm, and making as many beasts with bare backs as our whiskey-dicks would allow. After all the debauchery, one needed only to crawl five feet to get home, and didn’t have to navigate dangerous stairs or nosey parents before crashing into bed.

Back in the day, there was nothing like being suffocated by the stifling air as the morning sun pierced through the trees and turned a cheap tent into a convection oven. By eight in the morning sleeping became insufferable to all but those who had succumbed to alcohol poisoning. Inevitably, you woke up spooning your buddy, slightly dejected it wasn’t a lovely conquest, or an ugly one, a familiar morning hard-on poking your backside.

essential-ingredients

Essential ingredients for camping: insect repellent, Coleman stove, and Belgian beer.

There were no deluxe, three feet thick air mattresses. We toughed up bruised ribs or lacerated hips, the affliction brought about by our drunken dead weight pressing up against tree roots, logs, stones, or other objects poking through the tent floor. These went unnoticed as the tent was erected in haste, as an afterthought, when several alcoholic beverages had already been consumed and the urgency to resume drinking rushed the job. Many times one of us would wake up after that first night, reeling in pain, look under the tent to identify our tormentor, and say “I found the tent pegs we couldn’t find” or “Hey, there’s the lawn chair we were looking for.”

Never was there a sense of anxiety before a planned camping trip about the weather, bugs, or the sufficiency of suitable food to sustain us. The unabashed joy expected of the great outdoors was never undone by unforeseen natural disasters. Running out of beer and cigarettes in the middle of an evening, when nobody would be sober enough to drive to the nearest one-horse town to stock up, was the worst of all disasters any of us could imagine.

No showers? No modern flush toilets? No food? No cooking utensils? No problem. The lake, the bush, hot dogs and buns, and a stick, respectively, in that order. 

Camping afforded countless opportunities to go to the woods, drink like a fish, not worry about a DUI, and smell like ass without social repercussions. It was a house to call your own, even if it leaked in the rain, was pointless in the cold, and a sauna in the heat. It was a paragon of independence and unabashed, orgiastic bliss.

Well, I’m not a young man anymore. I can  binge-drink at home if I want to, which I don’t because I have people who depend on me to not be hungover the next day. Being cold to the bone feels worse at my age – bonfires notwithstanding. I prefer real saunas to sauna-like conditions created by poorly ventilated tents and gasping, flatulent adults. Smelling like ass bothers me, even if there are no repercussions. Sleeping on the hard ground leaves me with injuries that last for days and make me angry. Having to see and smell the bodily waste left by the hundred people who used the toilet before me is horrifying. I hate cooking without the proper utensils and can’t stand doing dishes without running water and a proper sink. Ideal weather, a modern bathroom, and a shower within at least a hundred-metre radius of where I sleep matters.

I’ve gone soft, basically, which means more often than not camping sucks.

vestibule

The vestibule. The city-slicker insisted on a few essential items: toaster, caffetieria with fine-ground Italian coffee, and kettle for afternoon tea.

I spent years living in Vancouver, a petit-bourgeois urban jungle where locals wear lululemon yoga pants and Starbucks is the main source of hydration. People smell good in Vancouver. They don’t go camping in tents for leisure, they go skiing in Whistler or take a lap around English Bay in a thirty-foot yacht. They care about the poor but don’t wish to live like them, even if it is in the woods. Plus, there are grizzly bears and cougars which fabric walls does nothing to discourage.

I’ve also travelled the world on business, having jetted off countless times to exotic lands on business class. I drank too much champagne on a jaunt to Shanghai, gorged on smoked salmon on a sixteen-hour flight to Hong Kong, and slurped coquilles St Jacques en route to Kuala Lumpur. I complained about the in-flight entertainment from Frankfurt to Amman and sat beside a movie star from Beirut to Britain. I’ve stayed in hotels where the pillows are as soft as I imagine the ground is in heaven. Just like in heaven, they put chocolates on your pillow at night, and turn your bed because you might be too exhausted after a long day to do it yourself.

It was grand, travelling without a tent. And you know what? I liked it. I liked it a lot. I was easily seduced.

It’s hard to fathom. I’m the guy who, when he was a young teenager, did canoe trips for days on end paddling deep into the woods, year after year. In those summers of my adolescence I lived like a fur trader, and loved it.

We ate “trail lunches” not wanting to stop as we had miles and miles to paddle each day. We didn’t see civilization for several days. There was no toilet paper. Lake water was the main ingredient in our dehydrated rations. There were no gadgets to make roughing it a little less rough. Getting a signal was furthest from our minds. There was no need of Wi-Fi to post boastful selfies on social media. The experience was imprinted in our memories because we were present to actually live it as it was happening. The idea of sharing it with others who weren’t there and whose hollow judgments would rob the moments of their pure bliss was never a consideration.

There is a vociferous element of that youthful fur-trader who keeps telling me I still love the outdoors. But his voice has been muted by the fleeting luxuries enjoyed by the city-slicker adult. The fur-trader and the city-slicker eventually had to arrive at a suitable compromise if camping was to figure prominently in my summer plans.

The city-slicker bought a top of the line tent on-line and shipped it to Canada from Europe. It has multiple rooms, windows, and can withstand a hurricane. Essentially, it’s a cabin in a bag. There are few public campsites meant for tents that can accommodate its size. I had to buy a trailer hitch and a rack to cart it to the woods because it took up too much room in my car.

For three to four times every summer the city-slicker, fur trader and his two kids pack up the car until the rear bumper is nearly dragging on the ground and head to the woods. We are going camping, by golly, because the fur-trader has convinced the city-slicker we’re going to love it. The city-slicker can’t help but be wistful there will be no flight attendants to rouse him awake two-thirds into the drive and serve him filet mignon, garlic mashed potatoes, and cabernet sauvignon.

When we get to the campsite it’s dusk because it took longer to pack up the car than I thought it would – as it always does – and it’s raining, or there’s an electrical storm, or the mosquitoes are swarming as we erect the tent which, because it’s a cabin in a bag, is not easy to erect and takes longer than the brochure said, so my morale is in tatters as one of my teenaged kids stands there not knowing what to do, making me mad, making me get testy with him, so he says “Dad, you’re doing it again” and I’m, “Jesus! What am I doing!!” and he says “Remember when you told me to tell you when you’re being impatient?” which makes me want to shove a tent peg up his ass, so I say “sorry kiddo, dad’s frustrated” with gritted teeth and think ‘screw it I’m having a beer, or maybe five,’ then notice I’ve got eight hundred mosquito bites on the five square inches of flesh I have exposed so I yell to my other son “Hand me the fucking insect repellent!” and realize it’s almost ten and we’ve only eaten Doritos since late this afternoon when I said “We’ll eat when we get there” and drove past seven McDonald’s on the way out of town, so now we’re all hungry but the tent isn’t up, the air mattresses haven’t been filled, the cooler is still packed deep in the car and I can’t have a beer, we need to get the tent up to flee the mosquitoes, I’m exhausted, it’s not even the first hour of camping, and I want a fucking hotel room with a chocolate on my pillow.

It didn’t used to be this way. The fur-trader never had to constantly ward off a reproachful inner dialogue at every minor annoyance while camping. The fur-trader was rarely annoyed by camping. The fur-trader understood the glory of being outdoors and wouldn’t demean it with bourgeois complaints like “the cooler doesn’t keep the wine well-chilled.”

When outdoors, the city-slicker is aggravated by that which falls short of ideal, which is everything. The bugs, the weather, the blaring, shitty, out-dated music blasting out of the truck with the eight track player in the adjacent site. Or the witless paroxysms of the drunken armchair philosopher three sites over, which continue unimpeded until he topples over in his lawn chair at three in the morning, sadly, not into the fire so I can avoid hearing him the next night. Or the ice melting precipitously in the cooler, bathing all my food in water, making for soggy cheese, soggy steak, and soggy lettuce. Instead of offering moral support, all the smug city-slicker can say is, “You should have rented a cottage.”

Christ, I hate that guy sometimes. Thanks to him, my basic needs for comfort require more energy and planning if a camping excursion stands a chance of being slightly enjoyable. Simple matters, like deciding on a healthy menu to include food that will store well in a cooler, is exhausting.

Eating hot dogs for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which I did as a teenager, is out of the question. My colon is way too old for that shit. The other aging pipes in my body don’t much like it either. My body demands lettuce, yogurt, and fillets of salmon to run at a general state of sub-optimality. After years of being subjected to outright contempt, my body would surely exact revenge were I to pour copious amounts of toxic food and drink down my gullet. It would do so, not by way of a hangover or vomiting, as it did when I was a young fur-trader, but with cancer or heart disease.

In the throes of January I am pondering these issues as I decide on upcoming summer plans. The endeavour is daunted by memories of last summer, which produced the most dreadful conditions for camping. On one of our camping trips we had to move a tree that had fallen right across the campsite before setting up our cabin-tent. There was a terrible storm the night before we arrived, and it returned the next two nights. I slept with one eye open, my ears trained to every sound in the surrounding trees. I listened intently, and didn’t sleep a wink for three nights. On our fourth night, I was so surly the bears didn’t dream of scavenging on my site.

What’s also pertinent to this decision is the fact I live in a prairie swampland. Even when the weather is ideal for camping, there are other natural phenomena to spoil the party; mosquitoes being the most insidious. For a mosquito, my hometown and its surroundings are like Vegas for a mobster; like Florida in winter for obnoxious French Canadians; like the Republican Party for rich douche-bags looking to screw the poor and middle class. When a mosquito wins the lottery, or wins the World Series, or has a dying relative with a bucket list, the place they all want to be is the place I call home.

bedrooms-and-living-area

Living area and bedrooms. That’s a zero-gravity chair in the foreground and my Mysore rug on the ground at left. The three rooms in the back are separated.

In my town, the Chief Entomologist is a celebrity whose status is on par with the Kardashians. Every day in late spring, he appears on television like an oracle, sharing his premonitions about the mosquito pandemic to come. He’s like a snake oil salesman to take any credit for good news. Like a Kardashian he can’t seem to resist the spotlight, even if it means, in a bad year, everyone will know the face of the bum who failed to make the outdoors bearable when his plan to exterminate mosquitoes in a swamp – which is doomed to fail – failed. By mid-July in a bad year, the townsfolk storm city hall with pitchforks demanding the city be carpet bombed with birth-defect inducing chemicals so they can enjoy a backyard barbecue without having to wear a hazmat suit to maintain their sanity.

Despite the mosquitoes summer can usually be counted on to deliver at least a few months of dry, sunny conditions and provides countless opportunities for outdoor enjoyment. In a place where winter can last up to five months, the summer reprieve is a psychological imperative upon which one comes to depend. Certainly, we expect winter to be abominable, and as payment for having survived winter’s gauntlet, we expect the weather from June to mid-September to make amends. It’s essential to displace the torment of winters that last as long as a geological era.

The foundations of our collective self-delusion crumble when summer doesn’t do what is expected. For the past few years, summer hasn’t stuck to the script. Last summer’s dreadful performance had me facing this winter not having fully displaced memories of the fresh hell of last winter.

The fur trader is telling me to change my tune, to get a new attitude, and get back into the woods this summer. He’s tapping into my faint memories of the carefree, happy-go-lucky child he represents.

The city-slicker is looking out the window at the third blizzard of the winter – incredulous because it’s only January – castigating me for moving back to the god-forsaken arctic tundra that is my hometown. He’s resigned to the fact that, because he convinced me to blow a wad of cash on a high-end tent, we’re going to be camping again, but works tirelessly to convince me that my Hyundai sucks and should be traded up for a BMW. That way, as we camp like squatters do, we can at least pretend we’re back in Vancouver when the mosquitoes, arriving by the billions for their dream vacation, will have ruined ours.

Thanks a Lot Mom, I’m Chubby Again

Mansaf

Mansaf, Jordan’s signature dish. Stewed lamb, topped with jameed, a tangy sauce, served over rice and garnished with toasted almonds. Too delicious not to eat the whole thing.

My partner would be the first to admit she’s no fan of the gym. Luckily this isn’t a problem for her because she’s so petite and perfectly proportioned despite her, um, lack of enthusiasm for exercise. She’s also Sicilian, and is running in her sleep apparently, because her lack of exercise during waking hours hasn’t taken the ‘bella’ out of her ‘figura’.

I am glad to avoid having the awkward conversation when she asks “do I look fat in this?” If she were, my penchant for brutal honesty combined with the lack of a functioning mouth filtration system would not catch the words “a little actually, since you asked” before they had already passed foolishly from my lips, as so often happened in my failed marriage. Instead, I can honestly say “No, and I loathe you a little. Mia amore.”

It’s not fair. I could eat nothing besides lentils and celery for weeks but if I didn’t exercise like a hamster to burn off the calories I’d be husky, pudgy, hefty, have a great personality or any of the other euphemisms for “fat.”

My partner doesn’t exercise in the mornings before work because she’s not a morning person. I am the morning person. I am incredulous there are people in the world who aren’t, and I use The Force (of Annoying Persuasion) to win more people over from the Dark Side. Who wouldn’t respond favourably to morning musicals performed in their bedroom? Who doesn’t want their toast and coffee with a side of jazz hands, juggling poodles, and flaming sword-swallowing? Her, that’s who. “Lasciami in pace!” and a flicking of her hand from under her chin is all the response I get.

Zaatar

Za’atar Manakeesh. Za’atar is a combination of crushed oregano, thyme, marjoram, and toasted sesame seeds. You mix with olive oil and spread over the flatbread (manakeesh). I don’t know how I lived so long without it.

My morning enthusiasm is fuelled more by neurosis than genuine fervour. It’s hard to accept my partner hates me in the morning, that I will be doing yoga and meditation alone again, so I intensify the zeal to turn her frowns upside down, hoping she’ll at least leap out of bed at five thirty to kick me in the crotch. At least she’d be out of bed. Then, just then, maybe she’d work out with me. Alas, the gimmicks in my tickle trunk – which are legion – fall flat. Tough crowd, those Sicilians. It isn’t personal, she tells me, but I’m pretty certain “sta ‘zitto buffone” is not the nicest way to say “Please stop, dear.”

She works for a large multi-billion dollar profit-making bank by day. You’d think that she’d have a cushy life and drive Lambourghinis. Think again. She works the retail side. All the back office staff were cut because a few billion in net after-tax profits was underwhelming to the greedy bastards who run the place. She’s essentially a white-collar slave who works countless hours a day to get paid slightly more than a Wal-Mart greeter. So she’s almost dead when she comes home, which is why she can’t work out then either.

But you know what sucks most of all? She’s not fat, despite the nothing she does to burn off all the pasta, pannetoni, prosciutto, provolone, and other fattening foods beginning with the letter ‘p’ she routinely consumes. I mean, she’s not even a little chubby. Sure, in the winter months a barely noticeable undulation collects on her mid-section, what she and her mom call a “panza.” Pfft. You call that a belly. This, is a belly (lifting up my shirt).

At last, spring has finally descended upon the Arctic wasteland in the mid-western Canadian city my stupid ancestors set down roots to curse the following generations for their easier lives. This week, my petite, Sicilian girlfriend who burns calories in her sleep and hates me in the morning has been walking to and from work. Way to go, eh? Not really. I mean, she only lives about one kilometre away from her office. Because her legs aren’t much longer than the members of the Lollipop Guild it takes her about twenty-five minutes to walk that distance.

It seems to her like she’s doing a lot of walking, but she’s really not. She likes to meander and ogle other people’s gardens and landscaping to get ideas for her own house along the way. After walking a whole eight kilometres this week you know what happened to the little panza? Arrivederci. Addio. Ciao. That’s what. It was gone, as quickly as a tray of fresh cannoli in an Italian cucina.

It ain’t fair. The oxford shirts that hung breezily over my relatively firm, somewhat mildly-toned body last summer cling to me like spandex. The buttons struggling to hold my shirts closed are poised to take out an eye when they finally bust loose. When I button up my pants, the mini-muffin tops I had before have turned into sacks of dough big enough to make ciabatta bread for all fifty of my partner’s cousins. My hairy “gulo” springs out of my pants like a moron whenever I bend over – usually to pick up one of the poodles I’ve been juggling to impress mia amore in the mornings. Ah, there’s a smile, at my hairy, fat ass. I am learning she uses Sicilian words when she’s laughing at me.

The Hulk - My Clothes Don't Fit

Damn it, my clothes don’t fit.

Now, when I put on my favourite black blazer, once the centrepiece of my “If this doesn’t make one in twenty ladies take a second look, nothing will” outfit, it looks like I put it on just before I became The Incredible Hulk. ‘Don’t run ladies, I’m not angry, I’m just heftier than I once was. I swear, I’ll fit my clothes again by the end of summer.’

Damn, I did it again. I emotionally-ate my way through the winter. Frankly, I don’t know why people choose heroin or alcohol when you can just eat a whole extra large seven-meat pizza and be totally fine, at least until Type II diabetes spoils the party. Until then, you get to douse your existential pain in buckets of saturated fats, salt, and sugar.

I had a good excuse this winter; I did work stints in Jordan and Lebanon where I gorged on delicious, rich, restaurant-made middle eastern cuisine nearly every day because it was absolutely necessary. The word ‘no’ in Arabic was too counter-intuitive to really learn (‘Laa’), while the word for ‘yes’ (Na’am) sounded eerily similar to the noises oozing from my soul as I inhaled the delicious food. “Do I want the mega-shawarma platter for six? Nom, nom, nom.”

Kanafeh

Kanafeh. Nabulsi cheese swimming in syrupy water, topped with light coat of pastry, and sprinkles of pistacchio. One JD at a little stall in the gold souk in Amman. Delicious.

This winter my self-discipline and I took a flying leap into the Dead Sea, which made me grateful on many fronts. First of all, it was a remarkable experience. Second, my skin was really, really soft for days after. Third, and most importantly, when I was in the water I didn’t sink like a lead weight despite the fact I had gained fifteen pounds. Even though I looked fatter in front of my colleagues than I would had we done this months earlier, I splashed like a joyful gimp as I bobbed on the surface, wincing in pain as the salt-water instantly desiccated my eyeballs and began to singe my skin after twenty-five minutes. I didn’t sink. How fat could I really be?

Obviously, I was a little more sad than I had anticipated, which fueled my appetite. I was away at Christmas. I’ve never been away from my kids for the season. I missed them; I missed my partner. I heard countless tragic stories from the Syrian refugees I was meeting every day. The kids were so joyful and resilient, totally unaware of the gravity of their situation, what terrible fate they had barely averted. Their fathers were crestfallen for having to leave their home, a place where they toiled and made a good life for their families until it was stolen by war. As a man and a father it broke my heart to personally meet thousands of people uprooted by calamities I’d spent a lifetime watching on television. I was overwhelmed by the unexpected flurry of emotions.

So I ate. And ate. Then, I ate some more to keep the scary emotions at bay.

Shwarma, halloumi, and za’atar oh my.
Mansaf, and mezze, and zarb oh my.
Kanafeh, baklava, harissa, oh my.  
Fattoush, and falafel, and fwal, oh my.
Taouk, and tabbouleh, and toum, oh my.
Hommous, and hommous, and hommous, OH MY!

Shawarma

Shawarma. Instant ecstasy.

Masha’Allah they shun pork in the Middle East, otherwise I would have had to buy two seats on the plane to get me home to Canada. Who knew chick peas could taste so good? They probably use Dead Sea salt in that too. I smoked shisha because the fruity, spice-infused tobacco was more breathable than Amman’s exhaust-filled air, more pleasant than the putrefying garbage dotting Beirut streets since the country had been without a waste disposal contract since last August. Take note, Donald Trump, the Lebanese have discovered Beirut’s garbage makes an outstanding wall along the Syrian border, giving refugees pause before they hold their nose and flee into Lebanon, if a little more fastidiously these days than prior to last August.

This may come as a surprise, but eating in restaurants every single night, finishing off bags of Al Rifai™ crunchy-coated peanuts when dinner is postponed an hour because you’re stuck in Beirut traffic, drinking three beers with every meal because you’re on an expense account, and sleeping cat hours are not recommended for those in their forties interested in maintaining a decent body. That is, unless you’re my Sicilian girlfriend, in which case, carry on as you were. You’ll only need to do ten minutes of exercise to burn it off.

Almaza - better than tap water

Almaza. Lebanese beer. Since I didn’t trust the tap water in Beirut, I drank this instead, hydrating liberally with every meal.

Since I got back, I have resumed my regular routine. I do at least an hour of exercise every day, except for those mornings after I drink too much, stay up reading a good book, or watch entire seasons of something on Netflix. Other than those mornings, I do Ashtanga yoga. I go for long hikes with my kids. I walk home from work, which isn’t one kilometre but four. I go up and down the stairs instead of using the elevator at work. In other words, I work my gulo off to get back in shape, but it’s still there, leering out of my pants.

So now my partner gets to sleep in without any guilt because she exercised for a whole frickin’ week and her winter weight is gone. Meanwhile, I feel like a sausage all the time and am filled with self-consciousness whenever I bend over to tie my shoes. It may put a smile on my partner’s face, but it’s a pyrrhic victory.

It’s all my fault. I didn’t have to eat each and every heaping plate of Middle Eastern cuisine to the last bite, but I did because it was so bloody good and there are people starving in Africa. Hey. Wait a minute. That’s what my mother used to say when I was a kid so I wouldn’t waste food. That’s why I always feel such an intense need to lick my plate clean. She needed me to be chubby so she wouldn’t feel like a bad mother who starved her children. Dang it mom, look what you made me do again. I hope you’re happy.

Good Things Come to Those Who Don’t Wait (For Death)

This costs nothing and means everything when you're gone.

This costs nothing and means everything when you’re gone.

We’re all going to die. Not necessarily soon, but eventually. I hope that doesn’t come as a surprise.

We have to remind ourselves sometimes, especially when we’re being unreasonably harsh, either on ourselves or toward others we know and love. Denial about the inevitable keeps the poker flame well-lit, especially when life is spending a little too much time in the fast lane.

When we’re in that head-space we’re not really enjoying the gift. Sometimes a bucket of cold, hard truth can snap us out of the ignorant funk.

It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. You’re so wrapped up in the process of ‘doing’ you forget yourself.  You forget why you’re so engrossed, but since you’re in it, you’re in it. Even if you know you’re being a shithead, you don’t know how else to operate to get you through.

You believe you are what you are; that fundamental change is impossible and you’re stuck on the path you put yourself on long ago. You’re going to react as you’ve always done, even if sometimes you wish you hadn’t, because it’s got you where you are.

There’s a pang inside you suggesting something’s not right, but you can’t figure out what it is or how to shift gears. You’ll stay on your hamster wheel even though it may be crushing your spirit and literally killing you. Don’t wait until you’re facing death to come to realizations needed to stir change.

Think about death. It will help clarify what needs to change in time for you to reap the benefits in your life. Maybe you’ll spread some of the grace from your awareness to others who could use a kick in the ass. You won’t regret it when you are really about to die. You won’t regret it now either, if you can get going.

Because you’re still living like a teenager who thinks they’re going to live forever, small, insignificant problems are amplified in your mind. Let’s say you’re running late. Not late to save a dying patient on an operating table, but late for a meeting. Late for a haircut. Late for work at your office job.

You’re worried about inconveniencing someone, how that makes you come off in their eyes. You fear your boss sending you a passive aggressive e-mail for not showing up to the office on time. Your boss needs to get a grip too. Since you’re going to die, you shouldn’t be so afraid to tell them that.

But you worry about those things because you take your mortality for granted. Those worries translate into self-absorption – pressing into the world so firmly as to make it align with your neurotic vision of where everything ought to be. It sucks you dry, and your dessicated spirit sucks the life out of others around you.

Today, it’s because you’re late. Another day you got in a fight with your spouse, or someone didn’t give you what you thought was your entitlement. Someone took umbrage with you for no good reason. It’s always something.

You jump in your car, speeding through town like a maniac. You zip past school zones, cut people off, weave in and out of traffic. You don’t let the buses into traffic. They’re carrying dozens of passengers who are too poor to own a car, or who are trying to keep their SUV off the roads to spare the earth a few metric tonnes of extra pollution.

You give people the finger, honk your horn, blast through red lights, and flout public safety. You text to say ‘you’re on your way’ as if everyone else’s life depended on it. You’re a total menace to society. Why? Because you are late. Or you’ve just got to see the text that’s come in. Those incoming texts or tweets are always so riven with epiphanies as to make risking your total destruction worthwhile.

Perspective has been lost. It’s made you wilfully ignorant of the serious harm you invite on others because you cheapen life with your habit of forgetting about where it’s all headed. If that isn’t your intention, perspective needs to be re-acquired. Here’s something: you won’t care about any of the things that get you riled up when you’re dead.

Holding hands silhouette

Laugh. Dance. Play. Love. Fall in love too, even if there’s a risk. Do these things because the intentions are pure and simple. They make life remarkable.

When you are facing death the important things crystallize. Why wait? Put yourself in that head-space now to sharpen your thinking.

You will see how important it is your kids know you really love them. It will matter you have great, loving relationships. It will matter if you can look in the mirror and honestly say your presence on this planet is, on the whole, mostly positive. It will matter how you treat others, including strangers.

The only way these meaningful things can really resonate in your life is if you invest your time and energy in cultivating them now. Later may never come if you die unexpectedly.

It’s two o’clock in the afternoon and you get an urgent, out-of-the-blue task from a higher-up saying they “need” that such-and-such thing done by tomorrow at noon. You know he’s been sitting on the issue for weeks. Now it’s come to a head – your head, in fact.

You know in your heart the demand is extremely unreasonable. You know you’re going to be at the office until late and maybe have to do the work at home when you’d rather be tucking your kids into bed. The idea the higher up doesn’t care fuels your fire. Say something. Don’t just say “yes.” Let them know what they’ve asked of you. Maybe they genuinely weren’t aware.

Stand up for the quality of your precious life and for that of others. Be brave. It’s a cliché but one that is all too suffused with truth to flout, especially when it’s your life on the line. When we’re facing death, all bets are off with fear. It doesn’t help then and it isn’t helping now.

It’s time to stop allowing yourself to become so apoplectic because of others. After a point, your outrage becomes more your fault than theirs. Try to be more measured in your righteous indignation. You’re going to die soon and you don’t want to go out like that – with your head swirling in acrimony. As Mr. T says “pity the fools.” Let people try to make their problems yours because they’re ignoramuses. Don’t let them succeed.

Ensure people respect your life in their dealings with you. Those who constantly violate your boundaries have to be met with the sound of your feet walking in the other direction. This will keep your sanity safely from their crosshairs. You are worth it.

If a person’s bad behaviour is uncharacteristic figure out what ails them and turn their tactics into an opportunity to enlighten. Let people have a bad day without making it worse by reacting to it poorly yourself. Nobody is born a jerk and a fool. Everyone is capable of change eventually. And sometimes, a fool needs a hug.

Living in the world as if it was your last days is liberating. You’ll say and do things that really, really matter and won’t waste your energies engaged in pointless battles with those facets of our wealthy, privileged Western existence that unconsciously spread misery. You won’t waste your time in places or with people who are disrespectful, ignorant, or foolish. You’ll feel sorry for them as you expunge them from your richer, fuller life.

The new-found lightness of your existence will be the graceful foil in their angry, ignorant faces. Gandhi stared down centuries of colonial rule with ahimsa, so you can probably withstand the indignities in your relatively fortunate life.

If you can’t help allowing things and people getting under your skin, or if you try to dominate and control your surroundings your life will become decidedly smaller for it. The legacy you’ll leave behind will be full of broken bridges and an earth scorched by so many misdeeds necessary to chase the pointless goal of cupping the whole world in your greedy, selfish hands.

Meanwhile, there are so many tangible, meaningful things that command your attention and withstand your neglect. Focus on the meaningful things in your life as if you’re never going to see them again. Don’t wait for the doctor to tell you you have cancer to start getting that done.

When you are fully conscious of how precious your life is, the potentially negative entanglements you are so easily hooked into are easily ignored. When someone you love says or does something hurtful, your heart will quickly trump your fragile, injured ego. Instead of reacting in defense and making things worse you’ll ask “are you okay?” swinging the whole encounter in a totally different direction for the better. When your child is out of line, instead of reacting with scorn, imagine it’s the last encounter you’ll have with them and let that guide your next action.

Your ego takes a back seat when you’re focused on doing what matters to make your remaining days on the planet peaceful and joyful. You will walk the earth differently if you think “maybe this will be the last,” and will find a way to enjoy things, even if they are unpleasant. At least you’re alive to have an opinion either way; a privilege deprived so many millions every day.

Make the time.

Make the time. It costs nothing and its value is infinite.

“Okay, so I’m supposed to act like my death is imminent. Do I go and quit my job and travel, climb Mount Everest, buy things I’ve always wanted, go skydiving, and exist on credit? I have responsibilities,” you say.

What a fucking cliché. You have what you need to make your life what you want it to be right now and still respect all your obligations. You aren’t obliged to live in a four thousand square foot home and make a million dollars a year. You aren’t obliged to spread insensitivity, greed, and acrimony as you set about to conquer the world. Your mind is still beholden to the common idea that the most sophisticated being in all of the natural world was evolved to amass wealth, subjugate the planet, and buy stuff.

Shame on you for steadfastly believing something so ruinous to your well-being and your relationship with the important people in your life; not to mention the planet and all the creatures on it. If you were dying tomorrow you know you wouldn’t spend your last days shopping or amassing more wealth.

You would want to share your precious love with those who care about you. The other things you typically fret over would slide off your consciousness. The beauty in the multitude of simple, little phenomena in your everyday life will not escape your notice. The need to acquire luxuriant adornments vanishes in an instant because you know they add nothing truly meaningful to your life.

Here is something to be afraid of: dying before you really, truly lived.

There is good news to be plucked right from the heart of the bad. You’re a homo sapiens, the only creature capable of pondering its own death and with the capacity for insight on how to chart the wisest way forward. You’re running late in the exercise, but make your steps a little more intentional from here on out, you dig?

So think about your death. It will help transform a life too often mired in the small and pointless into one that is infinite and rich with meaningful experience.

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.

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.

Why I Hate Golf

I hate golf. In my teens and twenties I played it dozens and dozens of times. I took a number of lessons; was the recipient of reams of unsolicited, compassionately offered, woefully conflicting advice and golf tips. I kept at it for many years, hoping against hope time would overcome my innate inability to grasp the game.

After all that money and time, I still sucked. So I abandoned it, partly out of frustration, mostly out of humiliation. Screw you golf. Screw. You.

The abandonment has left me in a dicey social situation as I enter my mid-forties. Where I live, most men of my age play golf for leisure and exercise.

The fact that I am abysmal at the sport is easy enough to overcome. Practice more, right? Except, I have other pathological reasons I can’t bring myself to spend the time to get better at the game. So I stand on the outside looking in on what I’m told are a host of lost, stellar networking opportunities.

I’ve always been a little wary of golf’s alleged economic utility as a “business networking opportunity.” It seems like a great excuse for executives to slough off work and family while looking as though they are working. It’s in the same category of bald-faced lie  I’d tell my mother when I was a kid as she stomped her foot awaiting my arrival at three-thirty in the morning. “Sorry ma, I was the only sober one and had to drive all my drunk friends home.”

Lofty, my good man. Dare I say, even noble of you. But still, total bullshit.

As a black kid who grew up in a fairly well-heeled, white establishment family – in other words, at the country club – I grew up around golf and those who played it. There was not much captain-of-industry behaviour on evidence, even though most folks there were, in fact, captains of industry.

Instead there was tons of problem-drinking, conspicuous consumption, and ostentatious displays of wealth. There were golf-widows sloshed at the clubhouse bitching about their ‘help’, parading exquisite wardrobes to fuel the outward pretense of happiness, and feigning jet-lagged exhaustion after returning from Third World getaways, where the people were so quaint in their inferiority and all-around poverty.

I learned every slur in existence for every non-white person imaginable; and some for white people who apparently weren’t quite white enough for the WASPs who golfed in my town. Irish people, Italians, and Jews seemed white to me, but noo-ooo they were much more than that; they were also mick, paddy, dago, kike, cheapskates.

This is documentary about some rich, blowhard white dude with stupid hair, and - surprise, surprise - is so mad about golf he decided to buy up pristine ecological land in a country where golf was invented so he and his three richest friends could have links to call their very own. Screw those funny-talking Scots where my "passion" was created. Fucking douche-ass golfer.

This is documentary about some rich, blowhard white corporate guy with stupid hair, and – surprise, surprise – who is so mad about golf he decided to buy up pristine ecological land in a country where golf was invented so he and his three richest friends could have links to call their very own. Screw those funny-talking Scots where his “passion” was created. What an ass-bag, frat-boy Trump has become in his old age.

Every single important member of the local establishment made a constant presence. These were all white guys with high-end cars glistening in the parking lot, and price tags that collectively could feed a large city in Nepal for a year. The golf course seemed the perfect refuge for rich white men to escape the persecution of corporate underlings, wives, families, poor people, insider-trading investigators, union thugs, and tax regulators.

The dinner conversations were scintillating for their lack of diversity and banal predictability: corporate types bashing unions, socialist politicians, and civil servants for being lazy, leeching pricks. Self-aggrandizing boasts about their latest property acquisition or appointment to some Board of Directors; braggadocio about the purchase of a yacht in Miami or a catamaran in the Bahamas.

There was never any self-reflection about the so-called profitability of their lavish paycheques being loafed away at the country club. There was genuine belief in the specious proposition that their trickle-down wealth was a boon for the masses, evinced as much by their stock options as by their unceasing commitment to golf as their chosen high-end pastime.

How naive I was to assume high falutin’ people like neurosurgeons or heads of banks, industrial magnates, and food manufacturers would not have five hours three times a week to spare chasing a ball around a beautifully landscaped field. I’m a white-collar government worker – or, in golf-corporate-guy-speak, a lazy, good-for-nothing tax-wasting leech – and I have never, ever had time to shirk my job on a Thursday afternoon for even half a round of golf. I barely have time to eat my lunch away from my desk. No matter, I am not making this country economically amazing by sheer force of my corporate essence.

But still. I do wonder, how the fuck does a CEO running a billion dollar company acquire a 2-handicap?

A shit-load of golf, that’s how. That’s a lot of *cough* *sniffle* sick days. Or, a lot of blowing off work and “delegating” it to minions. Or, a lot of cocaine so you can work your ass off and play enough golf to make the PGA tour, all of which can only be achieved if you sleep no more than two hours a night.

Herein lies the pathos from which my little poison tree of hate for golf springs. The country club is a throwback to a bygone era of monarchy and aristocracy that is now occupied by the corporate elite. It is extremely well-paid leisure, the modern-day salon for those of a certain hierarchical rank; a place of exclusivity to reward for sacrifices of time, energy, and commitment to a single cause: personal and corporate wealth accumulation. Once achieved the real work of soaking up the good life begins without pestering by underlings, and other quaint riff-raff elements of regular society.

But the exclusive golf country club is also a vital social space for the monied elite to collectively consolidate and perpetuate the power and influence their wealth affords them. It is a milieu like no other to allay misgivings the rare progressive-minded members of the group may harbour about the moral illegitimacy of their exorbitant wealth. Such trifles easily vanish among peers of similar status; those who, by comparison, render the perverse extremes of their charmed existence perfectly rational and normal.

No other setting is as instrumental as the golf club in cementing such a narrow, shared ethic among this group; one that postulates a singularly greedy, atavistic, heartless society that is collectively defended to the detriment of absolutely everyone; which undermines the democratic ideals that made their despicable wealth even possible.

It is at the country club where uber-rich, pale-faced men wring their hands of the graft and influence-peddling they routinely engage in on behalf of shareholders and themselves. It is where corporate mavens persuade politicians to stage military “interventions” in oil-rich places so their service companies can “re-build” those nations destroyed by the deployment of planes and munitions made in their weapons companies. This, for a massive, untendered, publicly funded fee that helped pay for the country club membership where they nefariously gloat.

A round of golf among plutocrats provides a spectacular setting to count their cash without fear of retribution and scorn; their media and lobbying companies having masterfully convinced scores of disenfranchised, ignorant, poor fellow whites that the piles of individual wealth and privilege they enjoy is their wealth too. At the same time, over cocktails at the nineteenth hole they scheme and cajole policy makers into eliminating their tax burden so those living on a diet of Doritos and microwave meals in trailer parks, who earn non-subsistence minimum wages are certain to have no affordable services as a safety net to guard their health and well-being from the perils of their shitty existence.

Even though these dirtbags propagated the trickle down bullshit that has stained our collective consciousness for three decades, they spend countless hours on the links making sure not a fucking cent of their amassed wealth actually trickles down. And as they proudly stroll the links they agree to pool their cash to ensure the poor schlubs for whom they’ve turned off the ‘trickle tap’ will never earn a decent living by buying off legislators to oppose any increases to their minimum wages. This, because the wage-increase threatens to diminish their ability to buy another yacht. Or palace. Or other country-club membership.

So, it seems I stand corrected. Business is getting done at the golf club. Mea culpa.

I’m told that this is apparently no longer a conspicuous aspect of golf. There are lots of public courses. There is golf around the world. It is “the people’s sport.”

There is Tiger Woods, too, after all. It struck me how quick folks in the industry were to demonize him for his philandering a few years back. The gaggle of frat boys getting their licks in – as if they really believed Tiger was the first golfer in the history of the PGA, the first rich celebrity, who took in a little extra-marital schtupping.

Tiger Woods is the only man of wealth and profile who didn’t keep his dick in his pants, eh? Give me a fucking break. I almost died from the sanctimony about how his salacious behaviour “had no place in golf.” No, but racist, sexist membership policies at country clubs is just fine, right?

The issue: Tiger was an uppity ‘nigra’ (as Strom Thurmond loved to call us) who was too dominating, and too dark, for the links. Plain and simple. The frat-boys just could not resist the first opportunity to give that boy, his long-overdue whippin’ for raising his head too high.

But let’s get real, Tiger Woods is one black ass in how many years of the game, among how many millions of blacks in the US? One. One!

Where are the Hispanic-Americans on the Tour? Why are Spaniards and Mexicans the closest thing we will get to seeing young Jesus Flores from San Antonio as the Hispanic household names we hear about in golf? Because in their countries the elite-filled country clubs simply could not ban Hispanics in the same way as US country clubs. That would have been weird and foolish in Spain and Mexico, one suspects.

Okay, so he ain't Mark Twain, but he was a great golfer... No. For chrissakes, it ain't Denzel Washington. It's Vijay Singh. Gawd.

Okay, so he ain’t Mark Twain, but he was a great golfer… No. For chrissakes, it ain’t Denzel Washington. It’s Vijay Singh. Gawd.

I haven’t forgotten Vijay Singh. For the degree he was dominating the game at the time, his profile was extremely limited. If Phil Mickelson had been winning as much as Singh, I’d have seen his chubby pink face covering every nook and cranny of ad-space where people buy Wonder Bread and bologna.

Vijay Singh was an enigma to the game for years. You could tell folks in the industry and the legions of American fans in suburban gated communities were happy he mostly slipped back to his opulent bamboo hut in the South Pacific. It was a relief to no longer see this enigma who looked like Denzel Washington but spoke with an accent that made him sound like ‘those people’ who drive cab kicking Billy-Bob’s ass every weekend on the links.

So yeah, of course, there are a couple of token non-white folks excelling at the highest levels of golf. But there are like, six billion non-whites in the world compared to a few hundred million whites. There’s something not quite right about those PGA demographics, methinks.

Every time I open up some business magazine because there’s nothing else to read on the porcelain throne, I’m struck by the canard my non-white buddies implore me to dispense with about golf being a white corporate-guy ‘sport.’ And yet there it is, staring at me as I flush, the profile of yet another CEO spewing the same drivel about a passion for the exact same hobby the other 499 fortune 500 CEOs share: golf. Snooze.

How does that happen in a place as geographically and demographically vast and as ethnically diverse and populous as North America? Just once, I’d like to see some CEO say he’s into yoga, or Ultimate Frisbee, or triathlon. These are all hobbies that would take less time away from the office than golf, by the way. Why aren’t shareholders outraged by this fact?

And so there it is. The treatise of my psychological disdain for golf. It ain’t The Prison Notebooks but it’s how I see it.

All this with full awareness that there are lots of nice, non-rich, non-white people who play golf. There are public courses for the plebes who care to hit the links. There’s tiger, and those Korean guys. True, that.

But it’s still in large part an elitist sport because of those who flock to it, and for how many courses are organized as exclusive and private. It’s had a history of foreclosing its doors to folks who look like me; to others with a vagina; to those who think Jesus was a way awesome dude, but not THE DUDE.

These issues are top of mind as I consider the time and effort it would take to improve my game. I’d like to be able to seize the opportunity to spend a few hours getting to know some dudes on the links. I would love to have a reason to tell my boss I’m out “networking” for good of the organization and not have them laugh in my face as they tell me to get my black, tax-leeching ass back to my cubicle.

In my case, at least three or four bags of 'em.

In my case, at least three or four bags of ’em.

But my golf game really sucks. I’ve had terrible experiences as a hack that have prompted me to avoid the links until I do what it takes to play with some level of acceptable competency. I know enough golfers to realize there is no such thing as a no-humiliation round in golf. But then, an unlucky few have had to bear witness to the atrocity, to the crime against humanity, that was my golf game. I would die to achieve the rank of just a few humiliating spectacles in a round of golf. That would be a darned good day in my golf books.

I’ve nearly had fist-fights with course Marshalls who simply thought I was fucking with them in how bad I was playing; as if I was an acting out seven year old and wanted to slow down the play of the entire golf course.

“No, Mr. chain-gang supervising Marshall Man, I AM, in fact, that shitty. Now back off and be quiet, I’ve got a tee-shot to duff.”

And then *bam-pfft-pfft-pfft*. I duff the ball as predicted, and my second shot lies twenty feet from the tee box.

The Marshall says “Okay gents, let’s keep the game moving.”

Before I know it, my skin begins turning green and my clothes explode away from my body. I become apoplectic; the insults to my pride endured far too much in a single day for a thin-skinned black man who once believed himself athletic enough to pick up any sport, especially golf. Pffft.

“Damn you, Marshall. Don’t make me angry!”

Small children flee in fear, retired nuns – all of whom I watched out-drive me on the seventh tee – pray for my soul as they scatter; for the blasphemy of my golf game as much as for my profane, possessed lack of grace in the face of adversity.

I storm off the course having impaled my seven iron so hard into the earth from frustration that I could not pry it loose. I wake up confused in the bushes hours later, wondering what destruction I’ve caused this time, and how I’m going to convince police I’m not a perv when my balls and ass are visible through my shredded clothes.

That was nine years ago, the last time I golfed. I think the Marshall’s hectoring touched a nerve in my ancestral karmic DNA. It conjured up the angry, enslaved cotton-picker inside who I never knew existed. He was tired of being bossed around by the horse-riding, ass-whoopin’ minions of those mean, mean plantation owners.

Afterwards, I had to write a letter of apology to ensure my brainwashed golf-loving friends would be allowed back on the course. But I think my photo is still on the wall of banned individuals who’ve been caught sneaking on course to steal golf balls or who’ve been chased off by security guards after skinny dipping in the water hazards at night (in which case, there are day AND night photos of me on the wall-of-shame).

Dear golf course,

Please accept my seven-iron as a peace offering for my inexcusable conduct. You will need a decent back-hoe to extract it from the ground near the sand-trap on the front of the eleventh green. In the hands of a more accomplished player, I am certain it is a top-notch club. In my case it was an outstanding landscaping shovel.

Please also tell Sister Mabel and the ladies from the bridge club in her golfing party that I didn’t really mean what I said about old people being like human mould. It was raw emotion behind insensitive remarks about detesting them because they fart in elevators and drive in the middle of the road at a speed that allows those riding their bikes to pass. It’s sweet how they haggle at the grocery store for fifteen minutes over coupons meant for a different store. I always know I won’t get bilked by inattentive sixteen year-old cashiers after Sister Mabel’s given them a drubbing-down.

There is no excuse, but by way of explanation it was my seventeenth stroke on the hole where things went awry. I was feeling frustrated by the state of my round. Sister Mabel seemed to be gloating a trifle more than golf etiquette – and The Lord – would suggest is appropriate about having made the green in one. So she alleges, anyhow. Only she and her Maker really know.

It touched a nerve. She seems like a sweet little, old innocent nun, but on the course and she’s as gnarly a competitor as Beelzebub and could give Robin Thicke a run for his money as douche-of-the-year.

As it happens I was on pace to beat my personal best of 173 before I scuttled the game. So it is I who lost more than the small children and others traumatized by my descent into lunacy.

Yours,

Edmund K. Saunders

P.S. Your course Marshall is as nutty as a Jay-bird in enforcing the pace of play.

I realize golf is just a game, after all. It should not matter if I am terrible and random white people get angry with me when my amateurish play slows things down. It shouldn’t matter if it is a pastime for every witless, morally repugnant oligarch in North America.

But it does.

So, my ostensible plutocrat golf-buddies, you are free to plot your schemes for world domination. And you can do so without having to endure the caustic musings and foul play of this ‘nigra’ to burst whatever delusional bubble sustains your entitlement to horde society’s wealth. Carry on, chaps.

Trust Me, You Do Not Want to Know What is Going on In Here

Those four words. Like dogs to a high-pitched whistle and flies to mortally electrifying light, they render the same degree of involuntary response among North American men. We are brought to our knees reeling in pain as those words make ruthless contact between our legs.

They come as we are spooning after making love to our partner. Or while we’re hand-in-hand for a lovely stroll at sunset through botanical gardens; the sound of songbirds and the smell of flowers filling the air. Or when we’re sipping lattes after a glutinous, ostentatious breakfast sharing the Sunday Times, periodically breaking the comfortable silence to offer musings on the week’s news.

Out of the blue, instead of savouring these serene, emotionally uncontroversial moments of bliss for what they are, for no good reason the four words are unleashed, grazing insensitively at the most tender side of unsuspecting, fully descended testicles.

“What are you thinking?”

Ohhhh gaaawddd *knees buckling*

Where in the living hell did that drop-kick in the pants come from? And for Christ’s sake, why? What does it matter?

Sometimes you wish you'd never asked the question.

Sometimes you wish you’d never asked the question.

We’ve just made love. To make sure my role in the affair extended longer than a commercial break, I may have had to deploy radical counter-measures to fend off premature detonation of missile warheads. This possibly involved tapping into childhood memories of larger mammals mating on Jacques Cousteau or  National Geographic. There could have been thoughts of grannies playing Twister in their over-sized underwear, or naked old men juggling puppies.

You know how long it will take to incinerate those despicable images from my mind? You couldn’t just let us spoon in relative peace. Next time, I’m letting my missile blow wherever and whenever the hell it feels like it.

As we have our breakfast, I am reminded of a YouTube video of a dog at the table wearing a hoodie stuffing his breakfast into his face with human hands. Oh god was that funny! He was eating scrambled eggs just like me – but way funnier! Because he was a dog and had hands! Get it! A DOG! HA HA HA!!

I see yellow daffodils and think of Sponge Bob and Patrick getting drunk on ice cream and coke floats, then trashing his pineapple home; the fact that Squidward’s face looks a lot like a dude’s package.

That is basically what I am thinking. The thoughts don’t diminish my lapping up of the experience.

So, why you gotta ruin a good moment like that?

“Um, what?” is what I actually say instead.

Oh yeah, I heard the question. How could I not? My testicles have been catapulted to my spleen.

But I need to buy some time so I pretend I didn’t hear. I need to clear the cobwebs and muster up something pithy to say, and quick. These moments call for pith, don’t they? Or is it mirth?

Focus in on his dangling nose and eyes.  Imagine him with a moustache. Those animators are a gas!

Focus in on his dangling nose and eyes. Imagine him with a moustache. Those animators are a gas!

Do you not know how hard it is to come up with good pith and mirth after I’ve been schtupping? Or when I’ve just eaten enough sausages, eggs, pancakes, ham slices, hash browns, and bacon to give an Olympian type-2 diabetes in a single meal?

As we stroll in the garden I am being eaten alive by mosquitoes, who seem to love black guys more than the horses and cows in the nearby farms. It’s as though they’ve learned their favourite drink – Venti African Dark Latte – is being given away for free on this night. I am trying to keep my shit together without jumping in the fountain to spare myself the onslaught!

You look like a snow cone to mosquitoes. No mosquito in the world likes a 7-Up-flavoured Slurpee. The little bastards know where the good, down-home hooch is. Those little shits are a-comin’ to paaaah-tay on some moonshine from my black ass because they only have one day to live, and they ain’t risking an early death sipping girly wine coolers from your pint-sized body!

On a sunset night in the garden, that’s what I’m thinking. It’s not exactly romantic. It’s not going to make you bat your lashes quite like, ‘I’m thinking of how wonderful it is to be with you’ or ‘I feel lucky,’ or ‘I wish we could walk in the park like this every night.’

Believe me, I think those things. All the time, in fact. Just not at this particular moment. At the moment you ask, the thoughts can be a little, well, romantically underwhelming.

My last cranial MRI. This explains a lot. I wish I'd known sooner.

My last cranial MRI. This explains a lot. I wish I’d known sooner.

“I saaa-id, ‘what are you thinking?'”

“Oh, nothing. Just enjoying the moment. Why?”

“No reason. Love you.”

And then you go to sleep/keep walking in the garden/take a sip of coffee. A masterful deflection. Right?

RIGHT !?!?

I bet every dude reading this is agreeing, while every woman is shaking her head. I know, I know. I really want to be better at this shit. I want to find a way to enjoy that graze to my nads. But it’s just so, I don’t know, begging me to lie. I am a terrible liar. I get twitchy and stupid.

Wait. Is this a test of my creativity? Am I supposed to lie really awesome and romantic-like?

One time after the question I said ‘oh nothing, really.’ Oops. Really? No. Not ‘really.’ Nothing. I was thinking nothing at all. Well, nothing I wouldn’t be ashamed of, anyway. After that stupid slip, I was a Taliban captive at Guantanamo, having the hairs on my testicles removed by tugging them off, one-by-one until I coughed up some intelligence about the inner workings of my mind.

Okay, I had a bad week at the office, and yeah, sometimes I do feel kind of insecure in relation to other dudes. Damn! That wasn’t what I was thinking about. I was thinking about how funny it would be if Sponge Bob and Kermit the Frog were getting fisted by Miss Piggy.

I cracked like a fat kid to a pile of Twinkies. I just handed crucial intelligence to the infidel. I revealed a way through the posturing, macho facade my brothers and I have masterfully erected to keep our emotional secrets hidden in our man-caves. Now she has a target to launch drone strikes and blow my little emotionally-stunted jihadis out of their repressed hiding places.

I will get revenge against the infidel, my brethren. Do not worry. I will buy some jewellery, a dozen roses, take her to dinner, and let her choose the romantic comedy for movie night. Then I will give her a back rub, and light a trail of scented candles that lead her to her pillow, upon which there will be two exquisite chocolates on it – less than the six I started with, because chocolate is my heroin and I had four as I was lighting the candles.

I will not resort to playing Barry White music and offering to dance at the bedside. That much North American romantic cliché in one day will have destroyed what little remains of my soul. A man must be able to enter the cave of brothers with his head held high.

I will never forget the jeers I received when I opined over beers and golf that The Notebook wasn’t bad, and another time when I described the colour of eggplant as aubergine. Come on guys, it ain’t purple. So, there will be no Barry White. Sorry, Barry White, it’s not you, it’s me.

So, having showered you with campy bribes to weaken your mental defences, I’ll get even by asking the male equivalent of those four words. “So, am I, you know, uh, compared to your past ones, relatively speaking, of course, bigger, average, or, uh, you know, uh, smaller. Down there, I mean? (pointing to my penis)”

On second thought, maybe Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men was right. I’m not sure I want the truth because I really can’t handle the truth.

The thing is. Well, see, the thing is, I have a hamster in my mind. I have ADD. He’s always running on his wheel up there, especially when he’s content. But when you introduce unexpected emotional depth at random?

Hell breaks loose. He tries to run away the little idiot. But he’s on a wheel, so instead the heat builds up until metal fatigue throws the wheel off its moorings and it abruptly ceases spinning upon hard contact with the ground. The fleeing hamster is sent flying into the side of his cage. He is woozy and groggy, wondering what hit him.

That’s what happens when you ask “so, what are you thinking?” You send hammy running for the hills.

That is when my fear you’ll discover the sad, puerile nature of my pet rodent-like mind will scare you off. Yes, the hamster runs in place on his wheel, even when he’s accompanied by a beautiful woman. He can’t help it. He’s a bloody hamster.

He’s on the wheel to stay happy. It will calm his emotions down so his head doesn’t explode. But sometimes a stupid thought pops into his mind that he simply can’t ignore. Like the scene from This is 40 when Melissa McCarthy, Paul Rudd, and Leslie Mann are in the Principal’s office to clear up a bullying issue with their kids. McCarthy threatens “to rear up and jackknife my legs and kick you both in the fucking jaw with my foot bone.” Oh my god, that was so funny.

Because I don’t want you to have proof you’re with a moron, I don’t say what’s really on my mind. My guess is there are few women who would want to hear about hamsters while on a romantic stroll in the garden.

So, erring on the side of caution, I don’t mention Sponge Bob, dogs eating breakfast, Melissa McCarthy shit-kicks, or hamster wheels. I say something else. I want you to be too invested in this relationship before I start revealing the true man-child you’re with.

“This is phenomenal. Good night, mia amore.”

And then I roll over, hoping the hamster will soon go to sleep in his comfy bed of wood shavings and poo pellets. He needs the rest for the marathon to nowhere he’ll be running again tomorrow.

Not quite little buddy, but hopefully soon.

Not quite little buddy, but hopefully soon.