It’s what you call a proper-sition

Today I want to talk about propriety.

Propriety was important in my upbringing. Not because my parents were particularly strict, but because I was a loudmouth chatterbox with no filter. I remember how much I loved video games as a kid. Enough that I’d rank it above the company of others. Without hesitation, I can say that some friends I hung out with simply because they had video game consoles. When we left a play date, my parents would often tell me to say thank you. Before being nudged in a different direction, my farewell was often something along the lines of “thanks for the video games”. My parents taught me the phrase “thanks for having me” and it turned into a nifty catch all. I’m better now. Mostly, I have propriety to thank. My parents were big on manners, and being well-behaved. As the youngest kid, I was often thrust into adult situations and/or events. I can’t imagine how much saving face my parents would’ve had to do if not for teaching me those manners. And those manners? They’ve taken me far in life. Being polite has opened many doors, and encouraged me to hold many doors open. I still think manners are great, and I try to use them whenever the situation calls for it.

I don’t tend to see manners and propriety as synonymous. They can be closely interlinked. I’m also not entirely sure if people treat propriety as I do.

I get the feeling that propriety, in its essence, is basically meant to be read the room. It’s acting in a manner that’s contextual. The right way to act in a given situation. I have zero issue with the concept of reading the room, and I think it’s a great way to live your life. Propriety on the other hand, tends to translate to stiff and inflexible guidelines. I think of etiquette and propriety in the same general area. They’re nice in concept, but in practice they don’t always make sense. There’s an air of aristocracy that follows propriety around like a foul stench. Being polite is great, treating others with respect is great, adhering to strict social guidelines regardless of the context feels like a fast track to a headache.

These days, I think about propriety a bunch. I don’t always follow it, but I do think about it. I think about what role propriety plays in my life, and whether it’s doing anything for me. I’m generally a kind, polite individual, but I throw propriety out the window. My girlfriend and I are ostensibly adults, but we’re choosing what that means. We have onesies at home that get used almost daily. We put up Christmas lights inside just because they look nice. We hang up pictures our friends have drawn. They cover a wall of our kitchen/lounge. We’ll buy toys or goofy costume pieces if they fit what we want our lives to be. We also pay taxes, have regular jobs, keep the lawns mowed, cook and clean. I don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing to justify adulthood, but I don’t think some of our more childish proclivities recuse us from it.

I think about this when I’m out and about. If I’m dressed in weird colours or an odd costume, I check myself. Are my actions hurting anyone? Am I infringing on others’ comfort in a meaningful or unfair way? Does others’ sense of what’s normal impact my ability to navigate the world? At work we had this water filter that would sometimes take upwards of three minutes to fill a bottle. During those times I’d often use the break to stretch. This was a public kitchen. A lot more than once I’d notice someone giving me a weird look, but be resolute in my stretching. Sure, it was unconventional of me to stretch in public, but were my actions really affecting others? ‘Cause loosening tight muscles was doing a ton for me. A quick math equation in my head helped me stay the course.

Many people have a sense of right and wrong, but it’s rare for their moral poles to be universal absolutes. I feel like it’s a worthwhile thought experiment for all of us to think of things we’d prefer to do on the daily, but refrain because we’re afraid of looking a little weird. Chances are, you’d probably be fine, and unclenching those tight social constraints would probably feel all too freeing. Is propriety always good? Are the people who preach propriety always good people?

Proper-bly not.

Climate change is scary enough, Halloween needs headroom

I walked out of work and into a warzone.

It was awesome. Wind whipped wildly in a wicked whirl. I zipped up my coat, and was buffeted back. Branches from tall trees lay strewn across the path. Leaves covered the ground. The construction fence had collapsed on one side, exposing a muddy yard. Traffic lights thrashed from side to side. A bushy tree damn near bent sideways. I struggled to keep my feet. The lake was tempestuous, waves dotted by oddly calm ducks. When the lights changed, I bolted across the street, achieving no more than my normal walking speed. It was madness. It was beautiful.

Unfortunately for my sense of wonder, things calmed down once I moved away from the lake. I expected to come home to crushed cars parked streetside. Power outages, chaos. Instead there was just a mild breeze. Things were oddly calm for 1am on Halloween. I saw only two Joker costumes on my way home. Quelle surprise. It was kind of gutting that the weather dumped down so much. Think of all those kids who were so excited to dress up in pursuit of candy. Hell, Montreal postponed Halloween. Can a city do that? Well they did.

Neither my girlfriend nor I were home to hand out treats to kids. Maybe it was some form of mercy. Making small talk with kids is a legit skill, and I don’t have it. I’ve never really learned to talk to kids like kids, and so I’m just at a loss for words. What am I supposed to ask? So what do you do? Been on any cool holidays lately? What’s been lighting you up lately? My usual mingling tactics are useless here. Last year Halloween came a few weeks after weed legalisation. My girlfriend and I were a little stoned, and it all became a minefield. For the first time in years, Halloween was legit spooky. We were both almost afraid to approach the door, unsure of how to handle these innocuous interactions. Small mercy then, that our area doesn’t get much trick or treater traffic.

I wonder what a loot bag looks like here. Back home, it was a bizarre hodgepodge of things. Sometimes people forgot it was Halloween and grabbed random things from their pantry. Otherwise it’d be a cornucopia of off-brand lollies. Over this side of the world, Halloween is much more of an expected quantity, so people buy in bulk. The easiest way to do so is to grab one of these huge boxes from a supermarket. All the big candy companies put out packs with 70 pieces, 100 pieces, 200 pieces. Fun size candy that’s limited in variety. I can’t imagine how many multiples kids will get of the same stuff. Like, 20 mini Kit Kats and some Swedish Fish?

I saw some police PSA on the TV. It gave out helpful hints like “don’t let kids try any candy before you check it first”. Really? Is that where we’re at? I’m definitely not someone who’s all ugh, PC Culture, etc etc. This seems like overreach. What do people think is gonna happen? Are we still on that whole train of people spiking chocolate with drugs and razor blades? In this economy? It’s 2019, people can hardy afford that stuff for themselves, let alone give it out for free. How many kids are hospitalised because of eating something they’ve been given? Especially with these sanitised bulk boxes being circulated so heavily. Most everything is individually wrapped and sealed. It’d be an absurd amount of effort to poison things, and for what payoff? Surely this is a culture of fear talking, that expects people to want to do malicious things to kids. Is there data to back that up? Or just empty rhetoric?

The craziest thing I saw last night was nature. Halloween, keep up.

Time to parcel on some knowledge

What dumb shit did you write in school?

I was listening to a podcast, and someone mentioned a high school essay they wrote. I had a thought, and almost physically recoiled. I remembered my schooling, and the excessive amount of essays I contorted into talking about subjects I already liked. In intermediate school I got put in a gifted stream. It was an elective class outside of our ordinary ones. We’d get together weekly, and were led to work on individual projects of our own design. I felt uncomfortable being moved away from the regular streams, and in no way did I think I deserved to be there. The rest were really smart kids. They loved science and computers. They had a host of extracurricular educational hobbies. I was just some goofy kid who loved superhero comics. I immediately knew what I had to do: Dig in. I decided to do my project on comic creation and the process. I think I really sold our teacher in charge on a piece about production. However, I really didn’t want to do research. So I read a bunch of fluff pieces, and put together a lionised account of Lee and Ditko creating Spider Man. Compared with the rest of the final projects, it was dismal. I’d drawn a dumb little comic, and I was a terrible artist. I didn’t care, I’d gotten off doing the bare minimum. I was relieved.

In high school I got put into the extension class again. I didn’t know why it kept happening to me. We did extension science and English. I flailed helplessly at the science, but in English? I did great. We were given Shakespearean sonnets to learn. I rote learned mine in an hour and said it out loud repeatedly. Soon everyone in the class knew mine. Hell, I still know it off by heart. I know it’s called “O Mistress Mine”, but I’ve got no idea what play it’s from. We were instructed that we were going to film a play. I got cast as Macbeth in a very truncated role. I learned my lines in a day, and turned in a gloriously gratuitous performance. I wasn’t in my element, I made it my element.

In university, I repeatedly warped the assignments around my sensibilities, almost rebelling against taking things seriously. We were to write an essay on a sentimental object in our lives. I wrote about Transformers bedsheets I got as a kid. I turned a feminism essay towards porn, and video game boob physics. I wrote an Environmental Feminism essay on mass production as a result of men’s inability to give birth. I talked about the curves of sleek cars and Coke bottles as commodification of the female form. I turned in an exam essay on creative revolts in the comic industry. Almost every project I put together revolved around subjects of interest, requiring the least amount of effort.

I think what I’m discovering, is that I spent my education trying to do as little work as possible, while getting results. If the schooling system was trying to teach me something, it was that nominal results didn’t really translate into anything tangible. I could get all the good marks I wanted, but I wasn’t really learning in the process. I was doing my best to not change, and teaching myself terrible lessons along the way. I wish that I’d known years back that there’s no way to shortcut the process. That real results came from advancing skills, not abstract marks for turning in projects. I think I’ve finally started to learn, but egads I wish it didn’t take this many decades.

Some gifted student, eh?

Like how I looped that around?

I missed out on a lot of things.

I’m not for a second implying I’ve ever been underprivileged. Not whatsoever. We all missed a lot of things. Maybe they never passed by our purview. Or perhaps we held preconceived notions at the time that stopped us from taking part. It could’ve been anything. Hell, there are nigh infinite things out there, at least enough for a few thousand lifetimes. I was culturally sheltered for many reasons. I’ve said before that I rarely watched any TV that wasn’t live action until my mid-teenage years. Also The Internet wasn’t in full swing until age 12 or so. I wasn’t exactly hacking my way through mainframes, so I primarily got to see what New Zealand networks screened. To give some context, we got our fourth non-cable TV channel in 1997, so we weren’t exactly swimming in content.

I never watched Are You Afraid of the Dark? Until now, I guess. I heard countless references to “The Midnight Society”, but I had no idea what that meant. It wasn’t even that I didn’t love horror. I did, earnestly. I thought monsters were the coolest. There was also something really titillating about being frightened by fiction. Knowing that I had a safe life, and none of these fears would emerge in my day to day. Of course I was spooked by vampires and werewolves, but it was thrilling. Okay, maybe after age eight or so. Before that, I was legitimately terrified. I devoured Goosebumps books. I played Escape from Horrorland and watched the lacklustre TV show. I was into all of it.

Today at work, I did described video on the first episode of the 2019 reboot. In case you think this was some super exclusive privilege, Nickelodeon released the full episode for free on Youtube. I loved it. I think it’s outstanding that people are still out there creating great horror for kids. This was the first of a three-part miniseries. The production quality is amazing. It felt like watching a movie. There’s excellent use of dramatic tension, and wondrously creepy scares. The imagery is spooky as shit, especially with the carnival motif. The script is tight, stacked with top notch jokes and one-liners. The cast is varied and talented. The plot is fun, making use of a whole host of settings. If I was a kid, I would’ve fallen in love with this show. It’s a pity I never did first time around.

Something else I watched last night for the first time, was Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Oh wow, has that ever aged well. The pacing is a little slow, but it’s a terrifically well-made film. I can’t imagine how it would’ve been received in 1989. The movie is right out there: dynamic visual style, a wide cast of characters with a varying array of nuance. People are neither good nor bad, they’re driven by motivations internal and external. Those don’t always match up. The film does a pretty great job of showing a cross-section of a diverse neighbourhood and the inherent racial conflicts running parallel to daily life. It’s a slow burn, but that last act is a fucking powder keg. In 2019, when politics have become so divisive, the film seems more required viewing than ever. I was white-knuckled, clutching my pillow as chaos broke free. What a dynamite film 30 years later. Do yourself a favour and give it a view. I mean, it’s on Netflix, do you have any excuses left?

Sure, you may have missed out on a lot of things too, but it’s not too late to Do the Right Thing.

Mel Gibson ain’t a fan. But who needs fans like that?

What’s Ned Flanders’ favourite brand of sunglasses? Okillys!

For no good reason, today I remembered something from high school. There was this girl that we all had a crush on. She was super cool and disaffected. Really pretty, long brown hair and almond shaped eyes. When I say that we all had a crush on her, I mean it. You know that stereotype of teenage girls excitedly tittering about the quarterback? We were those tittering teenage girls about her. ZOMG it’s mufti day, did you see what she’s wearing? That kind of stuff. Anyway, we were doing speeches for English class. She wasn’t in my class, but one of my friends told me he saw hers. She did her speech on Nelson Mandela, which was a neat subject. He was a cool dude. But she did a real half arsed job and didn’t really know how to finish. Instead she played Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” on a boom box and danced a little bit. Weird, and maybe more than borderline inappropriate. Incongruent enough that as soon as my friend told me, my crush on her instantly died. Simple as that. No more tittering.

In writing that out, I didn’t think I’d type “tittering” half as many times as I did.

Ugh, I used to love doing speeches at school. It was by far my favourite assignment. I was big into public speaking, considering that I spent all day talking shit in class anyway. I think I mostly liked making jokes, and it was an ideal opportunity to do so. I don’t fully remember my speeches from primary school. I did one about books that I kind of phoned in. It wasn’t my proudest work. I do remember getting a kick out of writing my barmitzvah speech, and figuring out metaphors with the rabbi. The friends I invited didn’t understand anything about Judaism, but they did enjoy pelting me with candy as I walked the Torah around the room. As is tradition.

I distinctly remember doing a fun speech during my ‘campaign’ for Deputy Head Boy in highschool. We all knew who was gonna win, so I tried my aim for silver strategy. I spent the whole time doing basically a stand up set. I leaned heavily on my best friend’s suprise campaign-

Which went a little like this:
“Hey bud” he said to me as he arrived at my front door to walk to school “I put up the posters”. I blinked. “Posters?” “Yeah” he replied “for your campaign”. Cue me walking into school, people coming up to me saying “oh man, love the posters. I’m voting for you for sure.” I saw one of the posters containing the image of an elderly Hasidic Jew and in bold: I’D VOTE FOR A JEW. WOULDN’T YOU?

-and really talked up my latent Judaism. I harped on about losing the Nazi votes, but hoping I could make it up with people proving they weren’t Nazis by voting for me. I didn’t win. Maybe I should’ve ended that one with Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” and a little dance. Who better to claim the title “Survivor” than the Jews?

If I retconned every memory I had of giving a speech to have ended with that song, would that be the Mandela Effect at work?

Block-busted. Little Leon Lays down the Law

Children are not the most discerning viewers.

I mean, most viewers are not the most discerning viewers, kids even less so. I remember as a child, being part of a discussion about the Fair Go ad awards with my family. Okay, let’s step back a sec. Fair Go was a TV show about consumer rights, etc. They’d also run annual awards for creative advertising. NZ has always done an excellent job with clever ads, and I’d eerily patriotic about it. So I was a child, and The Adults Were Talking. I heard what they said, then impulsively barged in.

“I think the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers toy ad should win. It’s a toy ad and they show all the toys. The toys look really fun, so it’s a good ad.” I was wrong, perhaps because my metrics were off. At least I gave it some thought.

Like I said, not so discerning. It’s probably why shitty kids movies made to push toys continue to exist. Their audience laps them up without complaining, and it puts adult bums in seats. Then, of course, the real money comes from the toys being sold. Ugly Dolls, Transformers, Trolls 1 and or 2. Plus ça change, eh? That said, here are some movies I thought were shit, even as a non-discerning kid:

Super Mario Bros (1993)

Look, a bunch of these are likely to be video game adaptations. The medium has suffered shitty storytelling, contrived plots and low level talent for years. Sure, gaming is a massive industry now, but in the 90s it wasn’t such an all-encompassing entertainment juggernaut. Super Mario Bros was a big deal. It was the game that people thought of when they heard the words Video Game. The movie, however, was a total fucking shitshow. A bizarre plot where Earth was suffering a planetary overlay from some dinosaur planet. All of the game’s goofy/cute looking monsters were retconned into dinosaurs. Even Yoshi, who may well be a dinosaur already, didn’t fair so well. Look how they massacred my boy.

This film actually had talent involved, but even as a kid I could see the lack of coherence. It just made no fucking sense. And why were goombas so fucking creepy? Did Bob Hoskins actually know what he’d signed up for? Looks like maybe not. I watched it again a few years ago, and may have developed an ironic soft spot that was beyond me at an age where I didn’t know what irony was. Have some drinks and watch, but please leave your expectations behind. Super, it ain’t.

Street Fighter (1994)

As a precocious little seven year old, I guess I was finding my pretention too. This movie was yet another shitshow. Once again, they massacred my boy. Why was US Colonel Guile played by renown non-American, Jean Claude Van Damme? Why did esteemed actor Raul Julia waste his final performance on this piece of arse? I’m not the first to wonder. I hated it, but didn’t know why. I was so thirsty for video game film content that I tried to watch it many many times to see what went wrong. I just kept finding more things. Where were the Hadoukens? Sonic Booms? Shoryukens? Why wouldn’t they just do something awesome and animated (they did. It was awesome. Here’s the entire thing on Youtube)?

Wild Wild West (1999)

This one’s fresh, ’cause I just went to a screening with live commentary by local Toronto drag queen Allysin Chaynes. It was a blast. As a child though, it was a rough movie to watch. Why were all the characters so patently unlikeble? How could a giant mechanical spider be boring? Why was the movie significantly less exciting than the audacious and oftentimes riotous full seven and a half minute music video? Will Smith throws his hat across the room to himself in a full white suit. It’s badass. I think I may even still like the song, especially Neil Cicierega’s brilliant rearrangement. I thought this film was gonna be super cool, and instead it was kinda boring, the jokes didn’t really land. It was a slog.

I watched last night after a bunch of drinks and, egads. It’s fucking terrible. Not only does the script suck, but the characters do too. Salma Hayek is reduced to an accent, pair of boobs and a role as a plot device. The script has an unforgivable amount of racist and ableist jokes. It’s altogether many kinds of hateful. So many non-plot literal devices (it’s steampunk all over) serve no real purpose in the plot. And of course, Smith turned down the role of Neo in The Matrix to play Jim West, which is always notable.

Look, I’m no prodigy. I watched my unfair share of terrible movies. These are just some of the few instances where I realised it.

Today was the day I became a man. My K Bar Mitzvah, if you will

I’d like to take a minute or 30 to talk about New Zealand snacks.

I caught myself in a rabbit hole last night, getting sucked into the myriad snack foods that defined my childhood. There were so many. NZ snacks are pretty adventurous, especially in comparison to those I find here in Canada. I don’t know, Kiwis really push the boundaries when it comes to flavour and texture. Don’t just take my word for it, read this sublime piece of NZ journalism (please do, it’s a fantastic piece and Madeline Chapman is a talented, hilarious writer) detailing the many many types of chips that line our supermarket shelves.

I feel like it’s important to mention NZ’s corn based snacks. Perhaps not because they’re the most hard baked part of our national moreish consciousness, but because I liked them a lot. Burger Rings. If that name means nothing to you, you’re likely sane. Burger Rings occupied a similar position as Funyuns and/or Bugles. They were tactile, and fancy as shit. As a kid, your fingers could be doused in cheeto-esque dust, as you displayed your abundant wealth for all to see. Looking down on all the playground plebs with their chicken chip bullshit. When they called them “rings”, they did not stutter. They were the perfect size, though presumably as an adult they’d fit as far as my nails. And the taste? Ostensibly “burger”, whatever that means. They had abundant tang with a sumptuous umami flavour. An excellent snack option.

There also were a bunch of corn/cheese options I fucking loved. Biguns. BIGUNS. The same kind of jewellery based shenanigans as Burger Rings, but with added CHONK. Imagine a cheese ball that could envelop your finger. That’s the magnitude of what you were dealing with. Dense but puffy corn resplendent with cheese dust. Packed right through with flavour. I fucking loved Biguns, and Cheezels, their more economical but less outrageous cousins. Oh, not to forget the bacon based Rashuns. Those were some DENSE chips. Goddamn Bluebird monopolised the 90s savoury snack market.

Truthfully, I was never much of a savoury snacker. I’m a sweet boy at heart. When it comes to lollies (the Kiwi word for “candy”), my heart was abundant. I never got much into Snifters, though as an adult I’d probably fall right in love. Snifters. A candy shell, chocolate layer, and chewy mint candy centre. K Bars were hard, chewable candy concoctions. They clung to your teeth, lest you forget that you’d just ingested pure sugar. They’d last for ages, a marvel considering they were dirt cheap. Jafas are the quintessential Kiwi movie candy, as far as I know. Not least because they became slang as nationwide disdain for Aucklanders (Just Another Fucking Aucklander). They had an orange candy shell and dark chocolate centre. Think a bite sized crunchy Terry’s chocolate orange.

I think it’s time we talk about the elephant in the room. Or rather, the fucking menace in the movie theatre. Stay with me. Tangy Fruits. Tangy Fruits were iconic for several reasons. They came in substantial little pottles, which were practically only available at movie theatres. They were dense but chewable, colourful fruit lollies. They were, much like K Bars, pure sugar. Now. I don’t think you can understand from that picture just how many there were in a pottle. There were too many, not just for a child, but straight up an unfathomable quantity of sweetness. Kids would get them for the movies and inevitably eat too many. Sugar crash, sickness, raging energy. Whatever it was, they made films damn near unwatchable. Not only would kids up the back do Tangy Fruit races down the aisles, but in the last third of the film, things would get batshit.

See, there was some combination of the lolly’s density and the big plastic pottle that gave it a loud and specific resonance when shook. Agitated and energetic kids would shake these containers so fucking hard, that it’d get difficult to follow the movie. Just a bunch of little fucking wildlings shaking these damn things around like the thunder of wardrums. Little shits everywhere disturbing the peace, with no regard for narrative structure. To be fair, if you had that much artificial energy coursing through your young veins in an enclosed space, what would you do? It’s a marvel we didn’t tear up the upholstery. I so dearly want some tangy fruits right now, always and forever, but nothing good lasts that long. Much like most great Kiwi candy, they’ve been discontinued and only live on in my deepest fantasies.

R.I.P. My childhood.