Sure, I’m a Boy Who Lived, but at what cost?

I spent last night tossing, turning and sweating in bed. In honour of this, I’m gonna think back on some peculiar ailments and injuries I’ve had over the years.

  • To make this easy, I just accidentally elbowed the toilet roll holder at work. Sounds silly, but it’s a firm metal structure with sharp corners. My accidental elbow drove the fleshy part of my left tricep just above the elbow directly into that corner. Now I’ve got a tiny, but persistent dot of blood that I’ve been dabbing at with a tissue. Out, out damned spot.
  • Speaking of damn spots and dabbing at dots of blood, there was that whole pilonidal cyst thing. It’s easy to throw out that polysyllabic word after having gone through it a bunch of times, but the first time was an odd sensation. I was working 11pm to 6am as a desk jockey at a talk radio station. Driving the levels, taking calls, making sure we stayed on air and timed out to the hour. I was sitting a bunch, but found it painful at a certain angle. Peculiar. As the night went on, it hurt more and more. I went to the bathroom and sitting on the seat was a literal pain in the ass. When I wiped, there was a mixture of blood and some translucent cream coloured substance. It was all kinds of gross and alarming. I didn’t know what to do, so I went back to work. By the end of the shift, I could feel a sizeable lump, about the size of a small pear. Given that I felt normal that afternoon, I assumed I had an alien host growing in my butt and was suitably shitting myself. I went straight to the A&E, who gave me amoxicillin/clavulanic acid tablets, which reduced the swelling within 24 hours. It was a terrifying ordeal, with flare ups every three months or so. They never stopped taking me by surprise. Eventually I had the thing surgically removed and I’ve been okay ever since. I still feel a little low level trauma and wipe with trepidation. I also now have a Harry Potter scar just above my butt cleft.
  • While teaching me about the functions of a car under the hood, my dad accidentally sprayed me in the eye with radiator fluid once. My knowledge of car mechanics is still pretty narrow, but I definitely learned one lesson that day.
  • I awoke one day with severe tooth pain. I found this odd, considering I’d had my wisdom teeth removed already and hadn’t felt gradually encroaching sensitivity like I’d imagined a cavity would feel. Being more than marginally worried (and armed with benefits) I went straight to the dentist. They took a bunch of x-rays, but couldn’t find a thing. The doctor pointed out how congested I sounded. He suggested that my nose was so stuffed that it was interacting with nerves in my teeth. On his advice, I bought a bunch of extra strength cold and flu meds, which took care of “both birds” handily.
  • I drunkenly did a handstand and fell out of it, dislocating my finger. This unfortunate incident led to a profitable understanding of how amazing my company’s unlimited physio plan was. No pain, no gain, eh?
  • I once asked my mum if something was herpes, worried that I’d caught it from a girl I was seeing. She pointed out the idiocy of asking if a bump on the inside of my mouth was herpes. Rightfully, I felt like an idiot.
  • I used a stubbed toe that bled for five days as an excuse to go to the doctor and ask for a shit ton of subsidised meds. We were leaving on a U.S. road trip and I wanted contingency supplies. She loaded me up with a ton of ibuprofen, a anti-diarrhoea and anti-nausea meds. I can thankfully report that we did not need any of the anti-diarrhoea meds.

In the greater scheme of things, a little tossing and turning wasn’t so bad.

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With the right makeup though, that gaze does pop.

I read this interesting article today. I was a 2011 NPR article entitled “How Much Does It Cost To Make A Hit Song?” I’ve known for years the manufactured nature of blockbuster pop music, but it was all pretty vague. This article put substantive outlines around how that process goes and it was a fascinating read. I always thought it was a little odd that the overwhelming cultural narrative of pop music was that of individuals in control of their career. THERE’S SO MUCH INVOLVED IN CREATING A POP STAR, how could that be one person’s job? Is it expected that these people write all their songs? Dictate the creative direction of music videos? Album art? Costuming? Etc etc? There are way too many things to do for one person.

I heard this term in an article years back, the “Britney Industrial Complex”. The notion was that Britney Spears was such a pervasive cultural force and her mere existence formed part of the economy. Laugh it up, but aside from Britney still making a hefty chunk of change each year (between X-Factor judging and her Vegas residency, she’ll be bringing in a heap more than “mere” residuals), she’s a part of a cultural narrative that sells products and creates jobs. It takes teams of people to make Britney what she is. Outside comparatively smaller roles surrounding her music like hair and makeup, costuming, choreography and songwriting, her PR and marketing are huge. Agents to sell her songs to radio, find appearances, interviews and other opportunities for her to stay in the public eye. There’s media coaching so that she’ll be perceived in a complimentary light, people to sell her songs to radio and keep her heard. There’s a company of people keeping her in business and that company churns a profit because of it.

This makes a lot of sense to me, considering that so many pop stars come into the scene at such a young age. Of course they would, that’s what’s marketable. I’m sure a ton of talents get themselves taken advantage of when they’re new to the game. Backstreet Boys certainly did. I’d hope that as they aged into the role they’d be given more creative control. The more music that’s produced under their name, I’d hope they’d have more of their hands in the pie. I’ve heard Beyonce is pretty involved in the production process, which is pretty cool. I still haven’t heard Lemonade, but a project with that much talent attached has got to be all kinds of impressive.

I don’t get why pop stars’ personas aren’t treated more like films. Films aren’t just about the stars, there’s a whole host of creative crew behind the project making it into the best possible product they can. Directors, writers, editors, agents, marketers, distributors, trainers and coaches. Rihanna, Bieber, Taylor Swift, how are they any different? They’re people playing parts in a larger construction. Why do we assume the stars are responsible for the end product? When hundreds of eyes have gone into creating an image to present to the public, why do we only question the gaze of the person standing in front?

Cloth and greed.

I was lucky, with my gym membership, to scoop up a friends/family discount. Bringing the cost of a year’s membership down to $280 odd was outstanding, making it easier to put more money away for holidays, etc. When I signed up they asked me whether or not I wanted towel service. “How much would it cost?” I asked. They replied that it would only be $5 bi-weekly. So that would be $10 a month? $120 for the entire year? Did that include tax? Apparently not. $140 odd including tax. On a $280 membership? It didn’t seem worth it. I’d spent years bringing my own towel. Why start splurging now? I said thanks but no thanks and made a mental note to bring towels with me.

A funny thing happened the next time I visited the gym. It was rush hour and there was a line at the entrance. As I walked past to scan my card, the person behind the desk handed me a towel. I blinked and almost thought to say something but instead thought again. The towel was warm, soft, soothing. It was larger than the one I’d brought, so I held onto it and used it for my workout. What a nice treat, I thought. The next time I returned, the same thing happened. And again. Again. Time and time again, they’d just give me towels without a word. This was fantastic. I hadn’t paid a cent but I was getting all the benefits. I felt crafty, wiley, clever. Like I was getting away with… money laundering… or something.

Then I went on a weekend and was still handed a towel. And again. Again. Or there was a pile of towels and I took one. Nobody noticed or cared. Every once in a while sometime would mention to me that my membership didn’t include towel service. “Oh really?” I’d feign shock. “Sorry about that”. I wasn’t sorry and they knew it. No worries, they were just doing their job and they were right, it wasn’t a service I was entitled to. I’ll tell you what, I still felt pretty goddamned entitled. Because of course I would, I’m a straight white cis male. Thing is, they’d usually leave a stack of towels at one end of the front desk, so I’d go get changed, then come back and grab one. If worst came to worst, I’d just ask the person at the counter for one. They didn’t remember me. I don’t know if they even really cared. I justified it to myself as some kind of political move. A strike against Globo Gyms everywhere.

Yesterday they didn’t give me a towel. They also didn’t have the pile over the other side of the counter. I wasn’t keen on going into an RPM class and dripping everywhere. Still, no towel, what could I do? I did the class and wound up soaked, sweaty hands slipping all over the handlebars. Still, I resolved, I’d go back upstairs after the class finished, grab a towel and have a shower. I was going out straight from the gym after all. There was no choice in whether or not I’d be showering. Cloaked in hubris I walked upstairs to the counter in order to get the towel I was, by some divine providence, owed. Nothing. No towels to be had. I slunk back to the changing room feeling the weight of my arrogance. As I disrobed and plodded towards the showers I scrambled to think of any solution. Could I towel off with my used clothing? I thought again, the drenched stuff? Yeah right. I stepped into the shower and turned on the water. What about shaking off like a dog? Drip drying? Had my idiocy ever sunk in so deeply before?

I finished in the shower and tried to shake/swipe away as many droplets as I could. Very little difference, I was still sopping. I trudged out of the shower reigned to the idea that I knew was stupidly incarnate. Naked and dripping in full view of the changing room, I navigated the hair dryer down from my face and across my body. Another guy walked up to use the hair dryer beside me. He gave me a much deserved confused side-eye. “I’m an idiot and forgot a towel. This is my penance.” He chuckled loudly. “Dude, I have a spare towel. Wait here a moment.” He vanished for a second and brought back a fresh gym towel. My saviour. I gratefully clutched it close as he handed it to me, thanking him profusely. My day was saved.

This is the part where I learn a lesson, right? It should be. Really though, what did I learn? How did I suffer for my arrogance? I didn’t. I got bailed out. Being truly sorry involves a certain amount of contrition, and we both know I’m gonna try get free towels every goddamn time I can. I’m too addicted to the thrill, the idea that I’m somehow profiting. The tragedy of this whole exercise being that if there were actually real stakes to the equation (let’s face it, free towels aren’t the biggest social issue we have) I genuinely don’t know if I’d react through anything but stubbornness again. It sucks and it’s the response of all too many people in our day to day. If the system lets me take advantage of it, I probably will. Maybe though, just maybe, I’ll bring a backup towel for emergency circumstances.

I’m not a complete idiot.

Tour on TO.

I heard from a friend today that she’s thinking of stopping off in Toronto for a couple of days. Naturally, this is fantastic news. It’s always excellent to see good friends from far and away. Even better when you have the home court advantage. If she does come, it’ll be over Easter weekend, which has its pros and cons. I didn’t have any big plans over the weekend, so spending quality time with a good mate trumps anything else. It’s also during a time where I naturally have time off. Another plus. On the other side, I’m worried that Toronto may slow down over Zombie Jesus’ Cave Time. What if nothing’s on? How am I supposed to show her the best that Toronto has going for it, if there’s nothing going on? She’s coming from London (the good one) for fuck’s sake. How am I supposed to one up that?

Let’s work on a wish list. What ideally would I love to show her about Toronto?

  • Weird movie screening: Maybe something at The Royal, The Carlton or The Revue. Local cinemas working together with niche community groups to give the public access to lesser known filmic works. If there’s anything by Exploding Zebra or The Midnight Society, The MUFF Society, etc. Perhaps some horror film fest or an interesting TIFF screening/Q&A session.
  • Food: Always food. Toronto has several cities’ fair share of brunch spots with a ton of options for all diets. She’s vegetarian and Toronto will provide. Failing anything, it’s another excuse to get Ethiopean, as if I ever need one. Spring will come with a ton of pop-ups. There are also the regular spots like Bang Bang/Bakerbots, Sweet Jesus (thematic) and everything Kensington has to offer. Oh wait, how could I forget poutine? It’s Canadian food incarnate.
  • Bars: So many theme bars here, and surprisingly few I’ve checked out. As a local, you rarely explore your own backyard much. Why not put paid to that idea and dig around? I’ve never been to Eat My Martini or Nightowl. The hubbub surrounding “Harry Potter Bar” The Lockhart has probably died down by now. Get Well is always the best and I haven’t been in aaaages. the Get Well owned bar Greater Good has opened up close to me and I’ve still not stopped in for a pint. Not to mention great local breweries like Blood Brothers and Bellwoods. There’s so much excellent alcohol on offer.
  • Shows: There’s always some type of performance going on in Toronto. There’s a vibrant art scene between the visual arts, theatre, dance and more abstract stuff. Could she be interested in a themed burlesque show? Comedy gigs, whether improv or sketch? An offering from one of the many talented local theatre companies? An exhibition or gallery? Art battles or cooking competitions?
  • Dance: The anachronistic charms of Chronologic? Disco vibes of Beam Me Up? Guilty pleasure pop? K-POP? Queer femme hip hop? MTV Throwback? Whatever she’s into, like good beer, it’s probably on tap.
  • Funtivities: Escape rooms? Axe throwing? The Rage Room? Archery Tag? An escape event at Casa Loma?
  • Oh the Places to go: Toronto Island/Hanlans, The Beaches, Trinity Bellwoods, The Distillery District, Evergreen Brick Works.

Really though, it’s not about what I want to show her, but what she’s into seeing. First and foremost, is she even coming? If not, nothing’s stopping me from doing any of this stuff.

Y’know, Toronto’s quite something when you think about it.

Never never? Call me JaPeter JaPan.

Hi there. I’ve got no idea where this is going, so keep your hands inside the cart and let’s all enjoy the ride.

I haven’t been to an amusement park in longer than I’d like. Last time I went was to Canada’s Wonderland. The weather was borderline scummy, which was great. The park was sparsely attended through threat of rain. My cousin and I cleared every ride in under two hours. At one point they closed the rides for all of 15 minutes, so we got lunch. The rest of the afternoon was spent doubling/tripling back on all the rides we loved (I got to take Behemoth six times!). Pretty much ideal. I’m a big fan of roller coasters or basically anything that allows me to get as close to g-force in my extremities as possible. I don’t typically get scared on rides. It’s no brag, but a faith in rigorous safety testing and statistics. Discounting that horrific freak accident at Dream World (on a fucking benign river ride of all things), large scale amusement parks tend to be pretty safe. If I feel like I’m not in any danger, extreme rides feel fun, not frightening.

It makes sense for me to be thinking about amusement parks. A friend of mine just came back from a holiday to LA, which naturally involved a trip to Disneyland. I did the Disney parks in Orlando as a kid and had the time of my life. When I think of stuff I’d like to do on vacation, going to a bunch of theme parks would be right up there. I’m still a child (with larger limbs) and the thrill of going on a bunch of rides, but with the executive decisions and flexibility of being an adult, is palpable.

Good thing, because once again I’ve got vacation I need to use.

I don’t know how I ended up with another five days. It looks like I miscalculated my vacation days over the past six months and I still had a few to take. They allowed me to roll over the five days on the proviso that I use them up over the next few months. So once more I’m in the enviable position of having to decide where I’d like to travel.

To be honest, I’ve always wanted to travel to Japan. Since being a child obsessed with anime, Disney and video games, it’s been top of my list. As kids, we had a succession of Japanese au pair who stayed with our family. It was a pretty neat cultural influence that left me with fond memories. Visiting Japan has been a dream of mine ever since. Financially I haven’t been in the position to follow through, but I’m fortunate for that now to be a reality. For the next two months it’ll be Spring there, which seems the perfect time to visit. I could do a Tokyo trip, visit Disneyland, check out some beautiful old temples and finally tick it off the bucket list. There’ll be sake and sakura and everything. What’ve I got holding me back?

Right now? Logistics and planning. I’d love to do the trip with a friend, to have someone I can bounce ideas off in a foreign country. I don’t speak or read the language (though I’m sure that hasn’t stopped others before). I don’t know my way around Toyko, the transport system, the best spots to visit and how much things should generally cost. Trip planning has never been a strong skill of mine. As always, there are endless resources on the internet and I definitely have friends who’ve been there. So really, it’s on me to get off my arse and look into it. Dreams rarely come true without a lot of hard work.

Still, that’d be one hell of a ride.

Next time I go, I’m packing an Escape Rope.

Is there anywhere more depressing than the Dufferin (read: Sufferin) Mall? Sure, the Dufferin Grove Mall looks like the post apocalyptic survivor of an 80s zombie apocalpyse, forever frozen in remembrance. Still as one can see from the car park, at least you go there without expectations. Sufferin Mall has a unique soul numbing terror of its own, that sets in steadily with each step. Perhaps it’s the harsh fluorescent lighting, violently expelling the sight of the all too present shadows like some twisted Dorian Gray made brick and mortar. When the automatic doors reluctantly open before me, I swear I can hear the car park seagulls chanting “you were warned”.

It has a multi-level Wallmart. That should’ve been the first clue to run from the hills. Why do I know? I went there in a desperate search for some kind of protein bar my girlfriend and I could split (after an hour of searching left our spirits sapped). Nutrition is as sparse around Sufferin Mall as real value. Cheap prices are merely a Faustian pact in the form of numbers. The true cost goes unsaid. Approaching a free sample kiosk for kinder bueno minis, the lady behind accosted me desperately, resting her hand on my arm. Holding a camera in her other hand, she pleaded “sir, could you take a photo with us? We need to take photos with samplers, otherwise we don’t get paid.” Soul bleeding away into the aether, I numbly agreed, clutching the sample betwixt my thumb and forefinger. I dropped it, then scuffled around on the ground, where I’d left my dignity. I smiled as best I could, a mournful grimace trapped behind my eyes. If I didn’t escape soon, I never would.

Here’s the thing. Being in Sufferin Mall demands every sliver of your metaphysical vis. No matter how frequently you’ve fed and watered prior to entering, you’ll feel drained within twenty minutes. Endless empty promises of sales and values take more from you than they could ever give. There’s nothing of substance to be found in the food court and there’s no way this wasn’t done purposefully. With no reserves in your body, it’s impossible to navigate the endless storefronts without giving in out of desperation. You think that maybe by purchasing something, you’ll be allowed to leave. Your mission accomplished, you can slip away and preserve some semblance of sanity. The divine joke is that you came away with anything at all.

Things look and feel different there, it’s a palpable vibe. Children eschew their cherubim features for demonic visages. As if like moonlight in Pirates of the Caribbean, the fluorescent bulbs show the evil lurking beneath the skin. Shrieking and bawling endlessly, there is no appeasing a toddler in Sufferin Mall. The Escherian architecture too much for their sub-formed minds, letting all hell spew forth from tiny lips, lungs audibly agape. It’s graft vs host on a primal level, sub-human shells not fit to repel the venue’s demonic siren call. So they embody it, miniature vessels of horror forced to contend with forces of a magnitude beyond their comprehension. I mean, how is it possible to be miserable in a dinosaur cart for fuck’s sake?

Did I get what I came for? Would I ever have? There’s a reason the attached Beer Store sells Four Loko. Clinging to sanity by a thread, would the desperate few managing to emerge from Sufferin Mall’s predatory maw have the willpower to resist this modern day wormwood? As someone who’s somehow lived to tell the tale, it takes all you have and more.

Sufferin Mall: Just because you’ve abandoned all hope, it doesn’t mean you’re without anything to lose.

Oddly enough, I feel pretty dirty today.

I stayed out late last night (for a decrepit senior like me, anyway) and didn’t get to bed until around 3.30am. Since the weather jumped about ten degrees yesterday, the bedroom was sticky with heat. Great sleep was not acquired. Even with an hour and a half nap this afternoon (I mentioned the decrepit senior thing, right?) I’m still catching up mentally. What I’m saying here is don’t expect Shakespeare in this entry.

Anyway, I was thinking today about mercy and how unstrained it is as a quality.

Dumb.

A friend and I went out to Dance Yourself Clean. It’s an indie music dance party (named after the LCD Soundsystem song. You’d be forgiven for assuming it was an alcohol/drug free gig). Basically a DJ going off a playlist of popular indie tunes both classic and contemporary (the idea of classic indie seems strange to toss around in my head). Throwing out crossfades and unnecessary flange, etc. At some point later in every event they’ll throw on Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” and the crowd will go nuts. It’s a commodified experience being packaged and sold, but I’m pretty okay with that. If I get to come to an event, hear the kind of music I enjoy dancing to and have others on a similar wavelength, I figure I’m in for a good night. It’s not about pushing boundaries and discovering new things, but rather getting that reaffirming tingle from waves of nostalgia all evening. Last night’s event was less grand than the previous one. I dunno, fewer tunes my friend and I knew. I mean, she kept on pulling out Soundhound for evidence. Once again the label throwing the event had their own artist performing live, which felt a little tone deaf. If people were coming for that specific purpose of essentially listening to a playlist, why put live performance in front of them? That’s not what they’re looking for. As with the last DYC, the live performances worked gangbusters to clear the dance floor. Who knows? Maybe it was done specifically to drive people to the bar. Help out the venue a little. In any case, if a night ends with a friend and I going for 2am korean food, it’s been decent enough.

Meeting at the Crafty Coyote was a fun choice. Sitting next to the bar, the fellow behind the bar couldn’t stop plying us with sample tasters. It’s nice when you find someone with a passion for their craft (pun kind of intended). As soon as we described the kind of tastes we enjoyed, he’d fill a bunch of sample glasses and push them our way. I think at one point I had four sample glasses sitting in front of me. One or two of them though, he really stuck the landing and nailed what I was looking for. One cider he picked out for my friend was amazing. If we weren’t heading off we would’ve downed a few pints of it. It was nice too that after an evening of arguing with people on Facebook about connotations of certain gendered terms, the barman called both of us “friend”. An unexpected, but delightful gesture that took the edge off a frustrating evening. It was really great to catch up with my friend. She’d gone through a bunch of stuff in the last while and we’d been to busy to catch up.

It was amusing, then, that some old guy at the bar kept making conversation with me. He must’ve been lonely and he was super friendly/respectful, but also wasn’t catching the social clues that I was really there to hang out with my mate. It was more funny than annoying. Thing was, the conversation got kind of interesting. He was talking about how Toronto has a bunch of remote spots that are really picturesque, but also happen to be sewerage outputs. At some point he started talking about Ghost in the Shell and Akira and it pained me to turn away from the conversation. What part of me didn’t want to talk about vintage anime with some 60+ year old stranger? I had to tell him in all honesty that I was enjoying chatting with him, but I really wanted to talk with my friend. I thanked him for his time and turned around. Once more, unexpected but delightful.

That’s my time, which means I now get to leave and eat (drink?) pea soup with my main squeeze. May you all be so lucky.