When cutting corners isn’t gouda-nuff.

It’s time for a confession. I’ve been writing these entries for long enough and if you’ve been following, you’ve earned this much. I’ve definitely told this to some people before. I’ve possibly even written about it here before and simply don’t know how to use the site’s search function effectively. In any case, time to be out with it.

When I was a kid, I did something weird. That’s not unusual. Well, it was unusual, but it’s not unusual (to be loved by anyone) for kids to do weird things. That comes part and parcel with learning boundaries. It’s a rite of passage that I took as my goddamn right. I was a little weirdo and now I’m slightly bigger. Little else has changed.

One day (no idea how old I was) I had a very specific craving. The craving itself wasn’t odd in the slightest. I wanted cheese. The quantity that I wanted wasn’t strange either. I wanted lots. How I went about it was where things took a turn. See, we had a stocked kitchen. This kitchen had not only food, but utensils. Even specific cheese utensils. There was a cheese knife that was handy for brie-esque cheeses. We had a cheese grater, perfect for those moments where you wanted your cheese divided into many small portions. A cheese slicer, for thin, flat segments of cheese. Plus my own personal favourite, the other cheese slicer, but with wire. It could also make thin, flat segments of cheese OR fat, flat segments of cheese. I LIKED MY CHEESE SEGMENTED, OKAY? Or, y’know, I could’ve just used a knife.

What I’m saying is, I had options. I used none of them.

Instead I tip toed near the kitchen and perked up my ears (security footage from the day). I couldn’t hear anyone or anything but my own heartbeat. Good. I advanced slowly around our kitchen table towards the fridge. Still no alarming sounds. I grasped the handle of the fridge (it was one of those flat panels with a small indent for a grip) and gently applied pressure. We kept a glass bottle of water in the fridge door and I didn’t want it rattling. I reached up to the dairy conditioner and quietly wedged it open, grabbing the large block of Tasty cheese.

I stared at the chilled block of gold in my hands, wondering how they’d managed to name it so aptly. I peeled back the wrapper and marvelled at its smooth edges, how the sides dropped so sharply from the flat top. It was so orderly and perfect. I couldn’t have that. For some reason I felt compelled to disrupt it. To this day, I couldn’t tell you why. I raised the block to my mouth and took a large bite out of the corner. The pleasantly sharp taste flooded into my mouth and I sighed with relief. I looked back at the cheese brick and simultaneously felt pride and shame. I hurriedly covered it in the wrapper and shoved it back into the dairy conditioner. There was a felt tension between silence and speed, but I knew I had to be far away from what I’d done. I completed my mission without notice or consequence and got back to my room.

Later that evening, I was walking down the hallway and heard my parents talk.

“It’s just so weird, who would do that?”
“They could’ve just cut off a piece. Why would they take a bite and leave the evidence?”
“Sometimes honey, I have no idea.”

I crept back to my room, holding my secret close to my chest. They never asked, I never told.

Until now that is…

I did knot expect to tie that all together.

I’ve been procrastinating about starting this. The Internet has been far too alluring. So to make up for it, I’m gonna let you in on what I’ve been reading. Doesn’t that sound exciting? Sorry, messed up the word order there. Meant to say That doesn’t sound exciting!

Let’s begin.

I watched the trailer for Ready Player One. I enjoyed the book. It was a silly wish fulfilment narrative. The lead characters weren’t terribly well carved out. The whole thing was pandering stacked upon pandering. It was also a lot of fun, and even if it felt like the evocation of something my friends and I used to play called The Anythink Game. The premise was simple, you could be anyone and do anything you could think of. We used to play it on a trampoline. We’d be Transformers one minute and Ninja Turtles the next. I don’t know if we ever played as everyone’s favourite female Street Shark, but that was obviously a missed opportunity. Ready Player One felt in the same spirit and as such, it was a neat world to slip into. If I’d read it at age 13, I can guarantee you it would’ve been my favourite book of all time. I have no idea how Spielberg’s team is legally gonna get a hold of all that copyrighted material, but they’re the real heroes of the film. The scale of the idea makes sense on the big screen and in watching the trailer you can already see how specifically tailored to 3D they’ve made it. A big dumb film perfectly fit for a cheap Tuesday.

I had forgotten how cringeworthy a bunch of it was though.

I bought a new keyboard. I’m so tired of having to write on my phone while in transit. The Swype keyboard sure speeds things up, but it also gets overworked pretty easily. My poor Moto G can’t keep up with my fingers. I’d been considering buying a tablet or laptop, but if a keyboard can fix all my issues, why not go with the simplest solution? I realised the other day how I still haven’t adjusted to Bluetooth as a technology that exists. I’m a curmudgeon who’s already been made technologically obsolete. I was at the park the other day, marvelling at my friend’s rugged and robust bluetooth speaker. In my head, if it’s not hard-wired, it won’t work. I guess I’ve acclimated to the understanding that I often buy technology that’s behind the curve. Since my gear’s never top of the line, I just assume that all technology is as shitty as mine. The last time I bought something cutting edge was my beloved Samsung Galaxy S2. Even when it was dated, it still worked great. Stupid different Canadian networks not working with my pride and joy.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to constantly carrying a heavy work-around everywhere I go.

Lastly, T.J. Miller. I always thought of him as a provocative performance artist in the vein of Father John Misty. If that’s what he’s going for, judging by this interview he overshot the moon and ended up in another galaxy. Ugh, he comes off as a totally snarky, condescending prick. Just an unrepentant asshole. It’s a pity, his live performance at JFL42 2015 stands as one of my all time favourite comedy experiences. Densely interwoven meta commentary that was both flashy and subtle. He’s always walked that line for me, but if he’s trying so hard to present an unlikable persona, I’m fine accepting him as thus. Bummer. I hope he gets hoisted on his own petard and comes back to earth.

By the time he does, I might even have my own Bluetooth keyboard on which to write about it.

Maybe it’ll be after seeing him in Ready Player One.

Not as much of a cultural exchange as he’d hoped then?

In my post yesterday about getting back into Magic drafts, there was one element I left out. I forgot to mention the people. For better or (often) worse, they’re a big part of any local game store environment. Like any self respecting neighbourhood swill-hole, you get regulars. Given that it’s a staple of nerd culture, you get weird and wonderful people from across the geeky spectrum. I preface this by noting that the majority of patrons are very normal people who enjoy a hobby. Those who stand out, however, shine their stars so bright as to drown out the rest. Who did I encounter yesterday?

First up: The chatterbox. I sat down next to this guy to see if he had any trades. He didn’t, but he did have many things to share. He let me know that he was returning to the game after an absence. He told me the vast array of other card games he’s played. He let me know each and every one of his hiatuses from Magic over the years. He informed me about the scene, or lack thereof in Brampton. He said all of this in about a minute flat. I was groggy and this was a rude awakening. After a couple of minutes his friend showed up. His friend was just a normal, friendly dude and seemed aware of how much his mate blabbered. I kind of wanted to leave in search of trades while they hung out, but the draft was set to kick off at any minute. So I stayed and the chatterbox told me all about the draft he did the other day. When I say all about his draft, I mean that he said something about each of the cards he’d drafted while I stared into oblivion. The draft started soon after and he continued to pass commentary on every card he’d drafted. There were eight people in the pod. I heard from him, his friend (who quickly started tossing sass at all the dumb comments he was making) and one or two newbies who genuinely were asking for help.

Guess who my first round opponent was? It became quickly evident that he wasn’t really a great player. He telegraphed this by complaining constantly about how the game was going, how unlucky he was at every juncture and so on. I offered to give him some advice on the conventions of the format if he wanted to rebuild his deck for our second game. He denied and said that he’d built his deck right. He clearly hadn’t. I let it slide and took the easy win.

Second round was a lovely dude who’d gotten back into the game after a massive absence. He played pretty well, though didn’t quite understand the format. After the game I gave him a little advice which he took to heart. He tracked me down later in the day to say thanks, that he was doing much better.

During my next draft, I faced a jovial fellow who resignedly admitted that he kept drafting the same deck. It looked pretty strong. There were some neat synergies and I was convinced I was getting outplayed. I had to mulligan to five cards (instead of seven) in the first game, but managed to squeak out a win. The second game I mulliganed down to four and was crushed as he drowned me in card advantage. We chatted as we played and he seemed really friendly. I failed to find enough lands but still brought him down to six life. In the last game I kept a grip of seven and trounced him. He admitted that while his deck looked great, it was actually horrible and had no removal.

My next opponent was eleven years old, the age I was when I started. I’d seen his mum drop him and a friend off. It took me back to my early days at my local game store. He was a smart kid and made some solid strategic decisions. I let him do a couple of take backs, but to be honest his threat assessment and understanding of board state was excellent. Him and his friend were so excited. They’d pulled some good cards and were really invested in getting as much as they could out of the experience. He was super polite and I made sure he knew he wasn’t under any pressure, that he could take time with the game to make the right calls. He asked me after each game if there were any decisions he could’ve made differently, so as to improve his play style. As someone who’s been hanging around these kind of environments for going on 20 years now, my heart grew several sizes seeing such a positive attitude in a young kid. I hope both him and his friend continue getting that much out of the game. Also the last game was a lot closer than you’d expect.

My final opponent had been in Toronto for a week. He was about to graduate with a law degree back home in Brazil, but he’d taken a special elective on exchange in Canada. He was studying scientific law in English, which he said was a specialised field on account of the dense legalese and technobabble. A skilled, but chilled player. Our games were down to the wire and, if not for some good ol’ fashioned mana screw in my last game, I could’ve probably just squeaked through the win. He told me a bit about the scene back home, how it varied. I asked him about the local players back home, if they ran the full gamut from socially astute to inept.

“Of course” he said “this is Magic we’re talking about, right?”

Because of course I’d have no skin. I don’t know how you do it.

I wouldn’t bet on any cohesion today. So with that out of the way, let’s get into it.

As a teenager I resented that I wasn’t a good enough artist to masturbate to my own sketches (oh, and if you’re reading this mum, hi!). I’d look at boobs in T-shirts and think that doesn’t seem so complicated. IT WAS. My first mistake would always be starting with circles. Silly teenager, boobs look like teardrops, not circles. There was also that thing where boobs in a tight shirt would have these three or four parallel lines. Never in my teen years (or let’s face it, still) could I figure out how those lines sat. Was it something to do with nipples? Or certain shapes of bra? No fucking idea. I didn’t even bother trying to draw labia. I’d have as much luck as if I were blindfolded sketching an Escher. I persisted with my drawings of women and consistently had no idea of proportions. I’d scribble away on little pads, pages ripped from books. Then I’d get shitty that I wasn’t better, scrunch my drawings into paper balls and aim for three-pointers into the rubbish. This was a two step process, since I was about as skilled at basketball as I was with a pencil. I’m probably lucky I couldn’t free my own porn. What reason then would I have to leave my room? Once they pried open the sticky cumwebs sealing the door, they’d see a skeleton amongst pages of lewd, oddly proportioned drawings of Cameroon Diaz. Nobody deserves to walk in on that.

Listening to The Strokes today cast my mind back to one of my university projects. We had sub ten minute mini-docos to make. Our group went with my idea to look at online gaming and the rise of virtual communities. I remember so clearly believing that I wasn’t going in with an agenda, but with the benefit of retrospection it’s easy to see just how biased I was. I think the big pull to make the video in the first place was this short montage I’d envisioned in my brain based on The Strokes’ “The Modern Age”. I had a friend who played World of Warcraft. There’d be a side shot of him sitting down at his computer, a shot from behind as he switched on the screen. There’d be an overhead shot of the CD drive opening and his hand putting in the WoW CD, a shot of the screen opening the game then one from behind of him with the title menu. Then a couple of in-game action shots.

The funny part was how little of it came together. We couldn’t get the top down shot of the CD drive that I wanted, which was my favourite part of the montage. I think we did it at some dumb angle instead. Even sillier was that the game was loaded to his computer. He only needed the CD for installation. The camera also wasn’t configured to tape screens. It recorded those horizontal lines continually scrolling down the screen. Bullheaded, I wasn’t ready to give up on my vision. We made it work and I told myself I’d shot what I’d wanted to shoot.

Then came the bias. A couple of us in the group were gamers and we clearly had an agenda. At this point, online gaming still carried a bunch of stigma. We wanted to put forth that the interaction and camaraderie within online communities helped form meaningful friendships. That while most saw these games as antisocial loner behaviour, they were anything but. We interviewed two of my friends. Our central character played a ton. He had regularly scheduled raids and a bunch of friends in game. Our other character had stopped playing a while back. Thing was, once we’d done our interviews we discovered that the guy who’d quit actually had a much healthier outlook on the game. He’d gotten out because it stopped being fun. He found that a lot of his time involved logging in to mine gold. Not super interactive or exciting, but the economy was important to his ability to play. What was the point in playing a game he didn’t enjoy? He had more than enough other ways to kill time. Our central character, on the other hand, was addicted. He’d forgo other social engagements to log in and leave his character performing mundane activities. He admitted that he wasn’t enjoying the experience as much as he used to, but that he’d sunk so much time and money into it that he felt obligated to keep playing. This really didn’t gel with our hypothesis.

So we took creative license and selectively edited the footage to make it look like the roles were reversed. We “proved” our theory by creating our own truth and in doing so, learned the most important lesson of all: You’re not wrong if it looks like you’re right.

Putting the trade into trading places.

I don’t truly know how it is to live as a woman. Chances are I never will. I’ve had a life laden with privilege, wearing the assumed status and ease of being a white male at all times. I don’t know what it is to be constantly belittled and undermined on the basis of my gender. I don’t deal with a stream of microaggressions on a daily basis. While I’m sympathetic to the struggles inherent to being female in a patriarchal society, it’d be a stretch of arrogance to claim empathy with any veracity. I can listen android recognise, but implicit understanding will likely remain beyond my reach.

The other day in improv class we were working on character. To come to terms with what it was to quickly assume a new personally, we tried a monologue exercise intended to push us beyond our comfort levels and into the mindset of someone so foreign to our own. At the offset it sounded simple. We’d stand before the rest of the class. Collectively they’d build out our character: What we did, our age, gender, the status we gave ourselves, the status others gave to us and lastly, the environment in which we were. We’d answer questions from the crowd in front of us in character. Sounded challenging, but fun. The classmates who went first did a great job of fully realising their characters. Two guys, one inhabited the persona of a 60 year old naturopath presenting at a conference. He responded to questions so quickly an self-assuredly you would’ve assumed he did it for a living. Another guy played a gender-queer substitute French teacher with total aplomb. Incorporating accurate French and non-binary terms with his explanations to the class. They both made it look effortless, a wonder with such a challenging assignment.

My character was to be a 30 year old female welder. She came from a family of means, but didn’t feel comfortable with that lifestyle. She was constantly struggling to be taken seriously in a male dominated workplace/profession. The rest of the class assumed the role of my male co-workers and the scene began. I walked into the scene looking for an assist on a welding job. There was a pipe that’d been damaged in an accident and needed to be welded before it could resume use. I it was covered in debris and I needed a hand getting access. The response was an immediate flood of misogyny. “I’ve got a pipe you can weld, darling.” Yelled a co-worker. “Good luck finding anyone who wants to go near that rusty old thing Carl” I responded. A chorus of “woooOOOOoooo”s greeted me. A co-worker called out “what’s the matter? Little girl can’t do her job?” I felt my face redden. “I can do my job, I just need a hand to get it done quicker for our customers. Do any of you work?” Someone else chimed in with a dopey voice “what’s actually wrong with it?”

Flustered from the lack of help, I started inwardly panicking. Oh shit, I actually don’t know anything about welding. What the fuck do I say? I stammered out something about there being a hole in the pipe that needed mending. “Yeah” the dopey dude responded “but what’s there problem.” Everyone laughed. At me. I was in this character, but also felt very real opposition. I just wanted to do my job and nobody would take me seriously. “I can fucking weld!” My voice rose “the boss wouldn’t have hired me if I couldn’t.” I heard a voice chime in from the back of the room “I didn’t care if you could weld. I just liked the way your ass looked.” I was fuming. I tightened my first intentionally as a character moment, but with very real tension behind it. “Are we gonna get this fixed for the customer? Or am I gonna have to explain that the rest of the office was too lazy to get off their asses?” One dude spoke up. “Fine, I’ll give you a hand. Since you can’t seem to do it yourself.” Laughter greeted the comment and I stood there fuming as the scene ended.

The frustration of not being considered or taken seriously was such a new, visceral sensation. Of being defined and limited in the basis of my gender. Feeling so intensely the burning rage at this systematic undermining of my personhood. I went back to my seat inwardly trembling, shaken. “Welcome to the sisterhood Leon” called the teacher.

The teacher who taught us Green Day’s “Good Riddance” thought he was the coolest. He was.

I used to love singing. Absolutely adore it. In primary school I joined the choir and cherished it to bits. At the time it didn’t get a lot cooler than “In the Middle of the Night” by Billy Joel or that Friends theme by The Rembrandts. Harmonies seemed on another level. I couldn’t conceive how different melodies could blend together to create something fuller and more robust. It blew my six year old mind to pieces. I’d proudly sing in the shower or in talent contests. We had school choir concerts that I coerced my parents into attending. I was one of the few nerds that enjoyed singing assemblies, where we stood in the hall and read lyrics projected by the OHP machine. Those were the days.

Here’s the thing. Much as I loved it, I knew I was no prodigy. Don’t get me wrong, I wished I were one. I so wanted to be an amazing singer, but knew that I didn’t have the X factor. This was before the show too. I envied anyone who took to it naturally. I could carry a tune, but I couldn’t lift a crowd off their feet. I dipped my toes into choirs in intermediate and college, but lacked the commitment and drive to make the uphill climb. I still loved singing, but illusions of grandeur were far from my vision. To this day an audition for a college talent quest stands as one of my most cringeworthy experiences. My meagre range missed so many notes and I saw just how the crowd saw me. If I’d had an ego, that would’ve killed it and stabbed the corpse for good measure.

Still, I had karaoke on my side. A couple (read: not blackout, but not a safe distance off) of drinks with mates and we’d rent a karaoke room for an hour or two. I’d belt them out with impunity. We all sucked, so who cared? Fun was the goal and we were scoring big. When I came to Canada, all of my friends seemed to be musical theatre geeks. Karaoke evolved into this big public spectacle in a bar. People getting up with pre-selected songs. No longer was it about having fun goofing off, it was performative in a big way. There were crowds, for fuck’s sake. You can only see disappointment in so many faces before you walk the other way. I can safely say, it felt like being back at that talent show. It was evident that I didn’t have enough. I’ve pretty much steered clear of karaoke for the past few years, it felt that bitter and personal.

Last night I went out for karaoke with friends. We hired a room for two hours. Most people were all manner of loaded (day drinking does that). You know what? I had a fucking blast. There were no egos, just a celebration of giving it what you had. No matter who sang, no matter how it went, the fact that they’d done it was a cause for celebration. I was unsure at first. There were a few songs where I seriously contented with whether or not I’d be able to commit. Then I thought back to improv class. The instructor telling us that standing back and not participating makes everyone lose. You’re not supporting your team mates, but you’re also putting a wall between you and the activity, as if you’re too cool. Half-assing is like being worried a ship will sink and leaving pre-emptively. If you stayed behind, you would’ve been able to help with the bail out. Maybe it wouldn’t have sunk. No, I didn’t think my friends would’ve crashed and burned behind the mic without me, but why wouldn’t I yes, and… to the notion of letting my lungs loose? Make no mistake, I shredded my throat something chronic. Those muscles haven’t been stretched in some time. I did, however, remember just how much I loved singing. If I don’t do well, but have a great time, have I really lost anything?

Dignity was never high on my list of values.

Maybe I should’ve worn track pants instead?

Reporting back after Steel Rails 2017, “The Locomotion” was not played even once. A travesty if ever there was one. We did, however, get Vag Halen (the Toronto female rock cover band) busting out a series of rock anthems complete with the appropriate quantity of hip gyration. Let’s call it even.

Getting back on track after a year spent off the rails, Steel Rails 2017 was some kinda night. My girlfriend and I made a point to dress for the job we wanted (non-stop partying). She had a big fluffy red crinoline skirt, a lilac and black checkered bustier and her trusty kangaroo backpack. I was clad in my black/rainbow cyberdog leggings, a pink/purple zebra striped bra and my green smoker’s jacket (which I unfortunately discovered was not machine washable. Big time). Arriving at the party departure point, we realised very few others had put as much intention into their garb. We took this as a point of pride. It took a while to get picked up and we ended up leaving maybe half an hour after we’d expected. Of course, we had no idea where we were going, merely that a train would be nearby. Some folks were already tailgating in the parking lot. It was gonna be that kind of night.

We rode around in big yellow school buses and excitedly muttered about where we might go. Not knowing the area, it was anyone’s guess. We also played the traditional bus game of waving to bystanders in the hopes that they’d reciprocate. At some point a kid waved energetically at the bus, but nobody waved back at him. Not on my watch. I waved in an overly exaggerated manner. He saw, literally jumped with excitement and waved back. Five seconds of activity was a small price to pay for making a kid’s day. The bus turned into a parking lot next to a driving range and began to slow down. Okay, things were getting interesting. Next to the range was a large white dome. How enigmatic! We tittered and lined up to go inside. Even at the revolving door entrance, we still had no idea of what was five meters in front of us. It was time, we passed the threshold.

On the inside, the dome was massive. Carpeted in fake turf, there was so much for the eyes to take in. A miniature golf course to the left, a couple of projector screens, a bridge overhead stacked with instruments and audio equipment. There were bars set up around the space, plus a wrestling ring in the middle. A small performance space off to the right, a colourful triangle structure with pillows inside ahead. There was a witching tent and a wheel of fortune style “Find Your Apocalypse” scenario (my world will be destroyed by apes). Booze was by donation, as always. I dropped a $20 in the bucket and went hog wild. I also made sure I grabbed a boozy cherry bourbon sour ice block while I was at it. The food was tasty, but all very fast food. They had woodfire pizzas, a grilled cheese food truck and some legit fish and chips (though I swear we waited in line for 40 minutes to get them). Beer successfully soaked.

Then the train. THE TRAIN. We got on and found ourselves surrounded by Trump. We’d unintentionally settled into the Trump car. “Trump Dollars” taped around the place, dumb trump quotes suspended from the ceiling with his stupid fucking face on them. We were stuck there for a while as the train readied to leave. Plus there was a massive line to the bar in the next car, meaning we couldn’t go anywhere. It was strange, but somehow being a) boozed and b) surrounded by Trumpisms led to a rush of boorishness. A bunch of douches and douchebagguettes yelling. Some women started stuffing Trump Bucks into my bra and waistband. I wouldn’t have cared much if only they’d asked first. We got outta there as quickly as we could and checked out the rest.

Space Car was a welcome reprieve. The windows were all blacked out with tinfoil, then speckled with fairy lights and transparent black sheets to transport us to outer space. A musician created some kind of ambient dream pop sound as she plugged away at her effects machines. Space Car was relatively quiet and wound up being our favourite place to hang. Further on was a crown construction car that I didn’t visit, but my girlfriend came back with a nifty cereal box crown. Down the other end in the only carpeted car was the homecoming dance. A photographer had a wearable sash and led partygoers to pose for shots. The DJ was dropping some pretty great tunes, but shitting fuck was it ever sweaty in there. My girlfriend and I jumped into the “sleeper car” for some private time, only to find signs all over the room telling us we were being watched. I mounted her lap and gave them a show. Some dude walked in and slowly backed away. Damn straight.

We had a blast. The booze and food kept going (though having very few non-beer options this year meant we felt all sorts of bloated) all night. I found that as a guy, wearing a bra with no shirt meant people felt super comfortable coming up and grabbing me without consent. Like, I get that it’s unconventional and funny/weird to see a dude in a bra and it’s not like I was mega standoffish, but asking first would’ve gone a long way. It was a weird crowd all the way down. A bunch of magnanimous folks, some hyper normy spectators (in all likelihood, sponsors), performers, volunteers and others dressed in outlandish couture. There were more rad people than the alternative, but given the previous year I was surprised at how large that shitty minority was. At some point I was butt grinding up on my girlfriend and this woman I’d been chatting with earlier decided it was totally fine to insert herself between us. We both quirked our heads until she moved on, but it was a pretty weird moment.

The experience on the whole, though, was all kinds of choice. Tickets may sell out in an instant, but you can bet your arse I’ll be hitting those rails next year too.

STEEL RAILS FO LYFE.