Driving is a hard bargain.

At times it’s easy to forget that I like learning. I know that seems like the dumbest, most backwards sentence you could read outside of POTUS’ twitter, but there’s something in it. We live in a world overflowing with information. It’s almost harder to be wilfully obstinate than it is to update and grow intellectually. Maybe with everything shoved in our face, it’s about being more discerning, choosing what to take in and what to ignore. Still, opportunities to understand everything outside of ourselves abound if we look or keep our ears open. I even got one last night for the low, low cost of $17.

It was late and we’d just finished watching Vampire Clay at TIFF’s Midnight Madness. We could’ve risked the beloved Vomit Comet, but getting an Uber was so much easier. We all piled in and set off. On the way home, I noticed something for the first time. The taxi in front of us had two license plates. One being the usual Ontario plate. The other was a much smaller Toronto plate. Here’s an example. I asked the driver what the smaller plate was. He told me that they were specific plates for registered Toronto taxi cabs. I figured that kind of made sense. Like it was giving assurance to passengers that they were with a registered cab or something. Plus the city would no doubt rake in tax credits (tax-i credits?). He laughed and said I had no idea. That those little cabs went for upwards of $85,000.

I paused. Huh? $85,000? Was that a cost that could be amortised over a number of years, or had to be paid up front? Up front, he said. I thought about it. Drivers in Toronto were often immigrants. Would they be forced to drop all of this money on a license just to be able to get a job? How would they pay it back? How much did they have to earn a week just to break even, let alone start making money? Exactly, he said. Or else they sometimes had it leased to them by the company. Maybe $1000 month or something. So they had to pay $1000 a month for the license? Then they had to pay the company for franchising and all the taxi gear (light, meter, etc)? How did they make money? It was hard, the driver told me. It was a corrupt industry that was cruel to the people at the bottom. Why were licenses so expensive then? I asked. He told me that the city works out how many taxis are needed and creates new licenses accordingly. They may put out 400 licenses or so annually for $6000, but the majority of the licenses are owned by people who made a bunch of pseudonyms and bought out a ton. Plus when new licenses went up for grabs, those who owned many licenses already would likely buy up a bunch more so they could lease or artificially inflate the price. It was basically ticket scalping applied to a different market.

I was shocked. Why did people continue to buy into the taxi market then, if it was like some kind of mob protection racket? Because people didn’t know anything else, the driver said. Or they’d invested so much that pulling out seemed like a waste of what they’d already put in. Good ol’ sunken cost fallacy. There was also a mass market vs local market mentality, he said. Uber was this big Wallmart style corporation. You know how in small towns all those local stores got killed by Wallmart? Uber was threatening the same thing. But if the local stores were leaving the local people worse off, then what was the point in sticking to their guns? Wouldn’t it make more sense to let that local industry die and have the larger corporations fight it out if it meant fairer wages for those at the bottom? That immigrants weren’t being taken advantage of? Letting them choose their own hours? Not having to pay into some cruel system that used them?

Who knows? He answered. But why else did I think he drove for Uber?

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Counterpoint: The world is a genuinely shitty place for many, many people.

In a truly unexpected turn of events, it was harder returning to Toronto than I thought. Emotionally, that is. It’s not like I got held up at customs for excessive contraband suppositories or anything. It was strange, because I genuinely love this city. Toronto has a capacity to surprise me. It often takes a lot to deal with living in a busy city, but Toronto often gives more than it takes. So after all that fellation, what’s my deal? I’ve had one large gripe, with no idea how to structure it. I’ve been searching for a way to lay it out that doesn’t make me sound whiny, entitled, or privileged to the brim. It’s been hard to succinctly state it and still come off as a reasonable person. So instead I’m gonna own that fact that I often live in a cartoon world of whimsy and barrel through it. Here goes.

People in Toronto don’t smile.

It sucks, and makes a wonderful city feel oppressive and unfriendly. You can see how this reads, right? Straight white cis dude upset that his path isn’t paved with yellow bricks? I expect people to smile because it makes me feel better? I’m expecting strangers, irrespective of the machinations of their life, to cast off their frowns and bring my Toontown fantasy land into reality? To serve my interests because I don’t want to admit that there’s darkness, inequality and suffering in these streets? Or am I just one more dick in a landfill of bros telling women they should smile more?

I’m not an idiot, I get how this sounds.

It’s such a contrast from Portland, where almost everyone I smiled at on the street would smile back. If I saw someone heading out of a cafe, I’d smile and they’d nod or wave. Drivers that stopped so I could cross the road would smile at me. People walking past would wish me a good day. Kids would beam at everyone who crossed their paths. It was unreal. The more smiles I’d see, the more I’d give, until we were all swapping sunshine and joy like Oddbodz cards. There was this alluring small town charm that was impossible to resist. Would you stand in the way of strangers spreading happiness?

In Toronto if you smile people automatically assume ill intent. It’s a time poor city and everyone’s in a hurry. If you’re smiling and making eye contact, it probably means you want something from them. They’re late for a very important date and you could be an unwelcome distraction that digs them in deeper. Or you could be a legitimate threat in a physical or emotional manner. I’m by no means mitigating this. Just because I rarely have to put up with harassment, that doesn’t change that fact that it’s rampant. If I smile at a child, parents often assume I’m bad news. Like I want to molest their kid instead of just thinking kids are funny and cute sometimes. If I smile at a woman, I’m sure it triggers a response built up over years of encountering unwelcome encounters. If I smile at a guy, I dunno, he thinks I’m into him, which makes me unwanted detritus. If I smile at most anyone they think I’m unstable in some fashion.

Please understand, my disappointment isn’t with the people who don’t reciprocate. It’s a systemic issue. The structure of our society tells us that we need to be cautious of those around us. That people have the capacity to harm or threaten us. That if we’re not vigilant we’ll be punished for our carelessness. We’ve been enculturated into a mentality of fear that tells us not to let our guard down. It sucks. I don’t know how to let people know that I’m harmless, that I come bearing no ill will. I wish there were a way to salve those rampant worries and culture of defensive behaviour. I wish that Toronto’s denizens had good reason to assume the best rather than the worst. Most of all I wish that people wouldn’t have to feel the way they do, because mostly it’s likely a learned response to past shitty experiences. I want to let go of all of this and smile, but Toronto isn’t giving me much reason to.

Can’t everyone just chill out and buy a coke?

It’s hard to tread water when Hell has an undertow.

I’ve got nothing to write about right now. It’s not that there’s nothing to write about. I’ve hardly exhausted the world’s supply of topics in four and a half years. I probably exhausted my supply of topics several years back, but I guess I learned a thing or two from WaterWise in Standard Three and Four about treading water. It’s not that nothing’s happening around the globe, because there’s always something going on. The problem is that I know what’s going on and I don’t have the wherewithal to elucidate anything poignant on the subject (wait, that’s what this project is about???? -ed).

I just watched the Vice News Tonight Charlottesville special and it’s sapped at me. It’s horrifying, brutal and as one speaker so adroitly calls it, appalling. To think that this rhetoric has resurfaced in 2017 when we should instead all have robot butlers and makerbots. Watching the linked video filled me with an unfamiliar feeling. Pure rage. I’m not an angry person. My default negative emotion is sadness and the concept of directing hostility towards other people feels bizarre when I could just beat up on myself instead. Seeing these white supremacy scum grossly disregarding the rights and freedoms of others filled me with a white hot fury. Hearing them spout ignorant hate made me tremble with blinding emotion. All kinds of violent fantasies ran through my head in an instant. A desire to cause pain, draw blood, to see them suffer. I’m the opposite of a violent person. That part of my brain is usually reserved for obscure facts about early 90s animation. These people are cartoon villains flushed into reality. Humans are complex, nuanced creatures and they all seem like two dimensional caricatures. My inability to do anything tangible makes me feel helpless. A surge of energy and emotion put to waste. No number of rants could do anything but blow off steam. Others are doing it better.

Outside of that, I don’t know what to talk about. I mentioned WaterWise earlier. WaterWise was pretty great. We were in Standard Three and Four (so around nine to ten years of age). We’d all pack into a bus and travel up to the Birkenhead Wharf to learn about water safety. They’d divide us up by knowledge levels and teach us accordingly. We learned all about sailing conditions, how to react to the sea when it was choppy, safe. We’d do bombs off the jetty. We learned about kayaks and how to kayak safely. We’d get into kayaks and paddle around the marina. They taught us all manner of knots and how to use each of them. We learned sailing in these little Optimist dinghies. First technique, then practical. We’d move the keel, keep the sail taught. We were shown how to duck underneath the boom (and those who didn’t listen suffered the consequences on their own).

Living in New Zealand, water safety was imperative. It’s a small country surrounded on all sides (and in the middle of the two islands) by water. Beaches and lakes are everywhere. My home city is an isthmus (a word that I get no end of joy typing). Summers were spent on the sand, aside creeks or lakes. While it wasn’t common for all families to own boats (definitely a class thing), what kid didn’t boogie board at least? The education system had realised the importance of a safety initiative and had folded it into the curriculum accordingly.

While I hope Charlotteville is the end of it, I’m not that naive. People will continue to hate, to push their desires over the needs and rights of others. I’d thought that history had made a point of openly condemning the Nazi regime, but apparently the message didn’t stick for all. If we’re looking to move forward as a species, we’re gonna need to move forward together. I’m sure humanity is fucked for good, but on the off chance that we’ll survive our own arrogance, we can’t get there by climbing bodies.

If we can though, I sure hope they’re the Nazi ones.

Maybe now’s not the best time to ask What Would Morrissey Do?

Today’s been somewhat of an idyllic Sunday. I got a luxurious lie in while my girlfriend had to get up for work. There she was putting on clothes like a chump while my limbs adventured to all four corners of the bed. She had her head full of pending customer interactions while I swam in the bliss of a day full of potential. I didn’t need to do anything, it was up to me. I knew that at some point I’d get out of bed, but beyond that I was following primal urges.

My first urge thrust me out the door in search of coffee. It was beautifully sunny. One of those not scorching or remotely chilly days. A man was biking down the road with a cart on the front of him. A little girl perched excitedly in their. I smiled. “Good morning” he bellowed. “Good morning” his kid followed. It was cute and borderline idyllic. I carried the smile all the way to my usual coffee spot and my usual baristas smiled back. Great coffee as per usual. As I walked out the door, I saw the same father and child from earlier going past. “Good morning again” called the girl. I did some shopping on the way home, picking up a heap of pork chops on sale.

The rest of my pressure-free day followed swimmingly. I finished a presentation for the office. I went to the park and hung my rings on a swings set. I practiced a bunch of muscle ups, pull ups, horizontal holds and ate shit trying to see how well I could iron cross. The answer was not in the least. I came back home and fixed lunch, washed bedsheets and watched some high level pro tour Magic the Gathering. A friend messaged and asked if I wanted to walk to a park or something. I did. We did. We explored a nice forest path around her house, then stopped in at an ice cream parlour that specialised in cookie sandwiches and home made ice cream. In short, my day was top to bottom ideal.

In Charlottesville, things haven’t been so ideal. I watched yesterday as the news rolled in. A white supremacist rally. Young men claiming oppression, chanting “blood and soil”. Carrying fucking tiki torches (if that isn’t cultural appropriation…) in some approximation of a Klan rally. Nazi flags being openly carried in the streets. Semi-automatic weapons being openly carried in the streets. Naked aggression, physical violence. A 20 year old mindless Nazi sympathiser driving his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19. These people who’ve don’t know what it is to be denigrated and spat on for the colour of their skin, to be seen as a lesser form of humanity, to have suffered discrimination and prejudice by the legal system meant to safeguard them, to die at the hands of those meant to protect and serve them. Calling them “people” is strong language. They’re callous scum who are so concerned with their own agenda that the thought of consideration and equality for others to them actively means oppression.

It worries me that I can’t truly say I’m surprised. No, I didn’t expect these kind of atrocities, this mindless hateful rhetoric to resurface. I’m not, however, surprised that it has. We’re seeing a paradigm that hadn’t disappeared, but had merely sunk beneath the surface. The fact that a demagogue sits in the White House and can’t bring himself to condemn this terrorism in his own country out of fear of alienating his own voter base is an atrocity I’m sure the world will feel for years to come. I know we live in an increasingly interconnected world, but we’re seeing instances of hate speech and othering rhetoric rise day by day. It’s a tragedy that in a world where we could do so much to elevate society, restore the natural world, tend to the needs of the less fortunate, we’re losing time, energy and resources to the words and actions of bigots. Remember the strong police presence at Black Lives Matter rallies? Remember peaceful protesters being shot while the police absolved themselves of blame? “He had a gun” or some other lie used to mask blatant injustice? Well where is the strong police presence now? Now that armed protesters set up camp and are actively harming others? Open carry isn’t enough to provoke violent reprisal when the hands carrying the guns are white, apparently.

It frightens me that I can be complacent while others suffer. That I can go on totally disconnected and unaffected while people fear for their life because of their heritage. As a non-practicing Jew, the world hasn’t forgotten a time where my head would’ve been on the chopping block, irrespective of the person I grew to be. I want to say never again. I want to have the conviction that we as a species have evolved beyond reducing complex and nuanced individuals to skin colour. I want to tell myself that this was an anomaly, that open condemnation on the world stage is enough to shock these idiots that’ve bought into an archaic, harmful mindset into realising the error of their ways.

Please, please let me get what I want. How are any of us meant to enjoy idyllic days if we know that others are dying for their right to exist?

You know something? I used that middle urinal and I felt like a god.

At improv yesterday we were learning about status and our teacher told us something interesting. She said that status is a choice. It’s not something that can be taken from us, it can only be volunteered. She said to imagine status as some kind of liquid within us. We wake up each day with it filled to the brim. Countless interactions throughout the day allow us to tip out or refill that status, depending on our response. When our status is lowered, that’s a choice we’ve made. It went deeper, but let’s keep things pretty simple.

Status exists on two poles; high and low. Those poles each have tiers to them. The highest is happiness, then anger and lastly sadness. Status is also largely a concept that we buy into societally. We’ve decided that attributes such as wealth, power and attractiveness dictate our status. We see those who possess these traits as opinion leaders or somehow more capable than those without. It sucks, but when you think of high status, what image comes to your mind? Is it a tall white dude wearing a nice blue suit getting into his Mercedes? Society is all kinds of biased. It’s sexist, racist, ableist and, well, facist too. It’s systematically drilled into us a certain image of status and over time we’ve chosen to accept that.

I started to think about the way I roam the world and how I exchange status. A lot of the time in public, I aim to be as considerate as possible. This can involve stepping out of the way on the footpath, standing on public transport, making myself as small as I can to let people through. I’m not a tiny person or physically unimposing, but I’m aware of how I could be perceived as thus. I’m conscious that as a dude, I tread upon a mountain of privilege every day and I intentionally try not to take it for granted. I know that if I didn’t go out of my way to consider others, it’d seem like I was any other white dude imposing himself upon the world. That sounds shit in my book, so I try to mitigate it. I try to lower my status to even the playing field. Whether this works, I have no idea. Most people tend to find me pretty non-threatening, so maybe I’m on track.

Our teacher said something else. She said that the difference between confidence and arrogance involves whether or not you ever choose to willingly lower your status. If you refuse to ever yield status, you come off as an asshole. Cocky and unfriendly. People will resent that you seem to put yourself above them. I thought about this and wondered what balance I could strike to raise my status without trampling on others. I often joke about what the world must seem like to a confident person (doing power moves like pissing in the middle urinal of three), but it’s not like I don’t have that option in front of me. Recently I’ve been trying small tricks to see if they’ll help. I’ve been checking my posture more regularly. An upright chest with neutral spine, shoulders back, pelvis tilted forwards. I’ve been trying to smile more often in a fake it till you make it kind of fashion. If I do move aside or let someone through, I do it with a smile. Happiness is a status move, whether intentional or not. I’ve been heeding another lesson learned in improv- that it’s okay to pause before responding. You don’t need to always have an answer right away. Taking a second to consider isn’t a sign of weakness. It shows you’re thinking about the right answer.

Status is a privilege and it’s also a choice. It’s weird to think that I had a say in this all along.

Sounds choice to me.

On second thought, I had a sushirrito. How could I be the loser?

The other day while foraging for vittles on the mean streets of Chinatown (I ended up finally trying a sushirrito. Expensive but solid. I can roll with that) I bore witness to an amazing scene. More accurately, I heard it first. The squeal of a car horn, uninterrupted. A steady stream both attention grabbing and arrogant. I figure the point at which you become the asshole for honking your horn is about five seconds in. I didn’t see precisely what the conflict was, but I saw a sleek sports car pulling up next to a chunky SUV. The SUV driver began to turn into a side street as the other driver hounded him. The dude behind the wheel of the sports car yelled out “HEY! YOU WANNA GO THEN?” The SUV driver nodded emphatically. The sports car dude replied “ALRIGHT, LET’S DO THIS!” I stood transfixed on the opposite corner, all ready for action. Who was in the wrong? As far as I was concerned, anyone willing to come to fisticuffs over a road scuffle was a prime asshole. I was raring to see the punishment dolled out.

College Street is a busy street and the Bathurst intersection is busier still. The SUV driver parked up on the side street, but the other guy had already shot the mark. There was no way he could U-turn on a busy street, so he had no choice but to aggressively pull back into traffic and wait at the lights for some way to turn back around. I figured his best call was to turn left onto Bathurst, find a side street on the left to turn onto another side street, then get lucky and shoot across College (one way streets being the bane of this guy’s existence). He waited for the light to go green for maybe a minute, then made a speedy left turn onto Bathurst. My body was ready.

That was the last I saw of him.

I figure it’s pretty tough to retain anger. It’s very much an in-the-moment emotion. You’ve gotta be present to truly seethe with fury. Logic and reason have no place in that kind of spontaneous rage. How do you keep that up when you’re waiting for a green light. Say the radio comes on and you like the song? Or you realise that your partner is already at the brunch spot? How do you self-righteously go off and spend several minutes finding parking in a busy spot filled to the brim with bluster, without contemplating whether or not you really want to pump money into a meter just to potentially get your ass kicked? How do you quash common sense from creeping into your bloodlusted mindframe when a Cars for Kids ad comes on the radio? On a sunny Sunday afternoon? That takes commitment to the cause (the cause being most likely a broken nose or at least a bruised ego).

In all honesty though, it was all an act, right? Neither dude really foresaw anything resulting from the altercation. They huffed and puffed out their chests, beat their fists loudly and maybe threw one or two faeces. Then they left, having proclaimed themselves the victor in their own hearts and minds. Some elaborate ruse to convince themselves that they were worthy of their place in the food chain. At least wrestlers require a certain level of skill and fitness for their charlatanry. These two? Well at least they’d sleep at night, having told themselves that they put their best feet forward.

If anything, I was the only one who truly lost in this situation. I was hoping to see a free show.

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.