A good head on my shul-ders.

Just For Laughs is about to begin and thrust my life into chaos. For a basis of comparison, where’s my life at now? Is it any more stable?

Of course not. That was a bullshit premise concocted in order to excuse any bollocks I wrote afterwards. For some reason this morning a memory popped into my head. It was high school. I was running for deputy head boy. Yes, really, I ran on a platform of ‘let’s not shit ourselves. We all know who’s going to win.’ He did, after all. In any case, I knew I was really in the running when my best friend showed up at my front door in the morning before school. “So I put up your campaign posters” he proudly exclaimed. “Campaign posters?” I queried, expecting the worst. He pulled out a stack of papers emblazoned with the image of a rabbi, yarmulke and all. Plastered above the image were the words “I’d vote for a Jew. Wouldn’t you?” Below read “Vote Leon for Deputy Head Boy.” I literally facepalmed, IRL, etc. He’d stapled them up all around the school. I was a relatively known person anyway, but given that nobody else had the audacity (I guess I should include myself in that group) to put together a campaign whatsoever, it gave me a short burst of limited popularity.

In the lead up to the “election” students excitedly came up to me. “Are you the Jew?” They asked gleefully. I’d sigh and shake their outstretched hands. I guess I had a platform. It was silly and didn’t matter. I think I went for it primarily because I thought it’d help my chances of university acceptance. Maybe I’d get inducted into a fancy illuminati cult or something. Also I dug the fuck out of public speaking and wanted an excuse to write a speech. Speeches have always been one of my favourite things to do. Don’t ask me why. Narcissism and a captive audience, probably. Anyway. I treated the speech like stand up. It was likely pretty dumb. The only line I remember was “well as my campaign posters indicated, I am a Jew (break for laughs). So I guess I lost all the Nazi votes out there.” I got an applause break and everything. I guess we were easily entertained back then. These days losing the Nazi votes is apparently a deal breaker. It was all pretty tame. As I said, the guy who we expected to win did. I didn’t, but I got some Arts and Cultural Captain role as a consolation. It’s fine, I didn’t need the extra responsibilities. I had a lot of anime to watch and video games to play in those days. Priorities.

Ugh, remember feeling like you were heading somewhere in your life? When Nazis were these extinct concepts we warned our kids about like the black plague? I guess that’s due for a comeback some time soon. Can hope be too?

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It’s funny business all the way down.

In short, it looks like I’m gonna drop out of JFL42 coverage.

Less short, we’re two days out from the event and the accreditation process is getting more involved than it should be with dwindling time. The easiest option is to instead buy a pass, go at my own pace and not stress about having to put together daily coverage while working full time. This should ease ten days of the fest a bunch, since nothing’s at stake. Given that I’m not fussed about headliners, the $130 I’ll drop (could’ve done a cheaper pass if I’d had more planning time, but this close to the festival things are getting booked right out) is a small price to pay for that peace of mind.

Speaking of peace of mind, Father John Misty last night far exceeded any expectations that I had. I was pretty late to the game with FJM. I didn’t even know he existed until well after I Love You, Honeybear was released. In fact, I think today may have been one of the first times I heard Fear Fun in full. I’ve been thrashing Honeybear possibly weekly since it was released, the writing is that great. I booked the tickets months ago and had great seats. Four rows from the front, six seats from the aisle. I’d been waiting for months and kind of banking on an amazing live performance. The hubbub before he’d even started was palpable. A cursory glance around yielded a ton of FJM clone sightings. Tall dudes with beards, long hair and shirts buttoned way open. I guess he has a type. Then his band took the stage, each of whom had a certain FJM look to them. A certain type indeed.

Seeing him perform, it’s a wonder Josh Tillman was ever stuck behind the drums of Fleet Foxes, rather than front and centre. With his persona Father John Misty, he’s sardonic, sarcastic and sartorially gifted (I needed something) in interviews, but behind the mic he opens up. Overflowing with charisma, it was surprising I could hear a thing over the sound of an entire audience (granted, I was no exception) ovulating. He has a commanding presence and fantastic showmanship. Dancing, striding, sinking to his knees, splayed out on his back and jumping up to his feet. At one stage he lay down on his belly, propped up on his elbows in a more “approachable” stance. He came right up to the crowd and knelt before them, even jumping down to dance amongst them. His voice was also fucking gorgeous. Something I always appreciate is when artists take risks with alternative arrangements live. Of course I adore the recorded versions, but there were a number of tracks where he tried a different tack that fit like a glove.

It’s funny, because I’ve always seen FJM touted as such a pretentious performer and taken it as a given. In reflection, maybe that’s more about people being unfamiliar with his shtick. He takes the piss a bunch, but when he’s doing a live performance, he gives a hell of a lot. After a 20+ song set filled with recent material and old favourites, he came to the front of stage and knelt there for five minutes. He shook hands with everyone who came to him and graciously thanked them for coming. If that’s what’s considered pretentious in this day and age, I’ve got no idea what sincerity looks like.

Well I certainly won’t be motherbored.

At the moment life looks like a bunch of pixels. My brain is unravelling and I can see The Matrix. It’s not bad enough for my vision to have devolved into binary, but I could be in need of a graphics card upgrade. RAM’s usually pretty cheap. Let’s toss some more in there too. I don’t know if that ol’ 512MB of DDR RAM can keep up any more. It’s been a decade since I last knew anything about computers and it seems like my mind is similarly outmoded. Oh well, it’s not like overclocking could have any severe ramifications…

I still haven’t caught up from my holiday hangover. I caught a cold and instead of shirking it off, I spread it to my girlfriend who begrudgingly held up her end of keeping the contagion going. Thanks honey. So I spent the weekend soaking in the festering putrescence. I’m still congested and my squishy think-y bits are accordingly dealing with my internal traffic jam. Everything’s taking a while to process. Pity, because returning from holiday has meant a significant backlog at work. We’re ramping up to the busiest time of the year, which co-incidentally coincides with the colossal comedy festival, which I’m covering. Cool. Cool cool cool.

Buuuuut, my accreditation hasn’t yet been sorted. Normally I’m all geared up a week or two ahead of time. This year, a combination of poor communication and a new PR firm covering the festival has meant that three days out I still haven’t been told the status or extent of my accreditation. They want me to submit my requests, but they haven’t told me what level of shows I get access to. This means I have to put together requests with contingencies. I usually plan pretty carefully to maximise what I’m able to see. Some comics stay for a couple of nights, others pop in for a night or two. This makes the festival into an elaborate puzzle.

This puzzle is further compounded by travel times. It’s all well and good to book a 7pm show and 9pm show, but if the 7pm show is at the Sony Center and the 9pm show is at Comedy Bar, it can be pretty fucking tricky to make it from the first show to the second in time. Sometimes shows run long. Furthermore, now that they’ve included Yuk Yuks in the venue list for midnight shows, it’s damn near impossible to get from a 10.30pm show to the midnight show in time, even after taking an Uber (RIP the novel experience that is Andy Kindler’s Alternative Show).

So one axis is timing and venue distance, the other is headliner access. If I can see headliners, it’ll change which shows I prioritise. If I don’t, that’ll change the shape of my festival. Without knowing whether or not I get headliners then, will affect the structure of my schedule. If I get Mulaney on Thursday night, for instance, it won’t only change what I see on Friday night, but could affect which shows I opt in for on Friday, Saturday and Sunday too. Which means I need to submit multiple contingencies based on what access I will get, without knowing how this will play out. Anyone else confused?

Then while all this is happening I’ll also have daily coverage, a full time job (which could be in another department with later hours if I get the job (it’s a six month assignment that would start over the next week or two. Fingers crossed) and the necessity of keeping up physical activity (or otherwise truly go insane). Sleep comes in there somewhere too. Is caffeine more effective if I shelve it?

The scary part is, this is what I do for leisure. I think I need to learn what priorities are.

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?

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?

If I was to put together a personal ad, “Miserly, loves company” would be my tagline.

And reality comes crashing back in. While it’s tempting to grumble about how returning to work makes me want to walk out a window, we’re only five stories up. That’s more trouble than it’s worth. So let’s try and figure out positive things about being back home.

  • Life is cheaper. Do you know how goddamn expensive it was to go away for a week? I’m sure if I wasn’t such a lazy mook I could’ve put effort into keeping my costs down, but you can clearly see my use of the conditional above. I spent a fuckton. Close to $100 USD per day, which is absurd. Let’s not forget that I was spending at least $10 a day on coffee, let alone booze, food and whatever activities floated my boat (or submarine, as the case may have been. Now that I’m home, I can scrimp and save and be as miserly as I desire.
  • Friends. Miserly loves company (see what I did there?). I had a great time in Portland, but there’s no skirting around the fact that for significant portions of the week I felt lonely as shit. I thrive on human connection and the absence took its toll. A big part of what keeps my running is feeling fulfilled by my close relationships (whether romantic or otherwise). Now that I’m home, I can reconnect with everyone I missed on my date with the Northwest.
  • Girlfriend. Yes, we’re nuanced autonomous people with lives of our own, but we’re also a massive part of each other’s lives. She’s the last person I see before I go to bed and the first person I see in the morning. We share food, cat feeding responsibilities and naked body heat. She tolerates all my dumb jokes and touches my butt. These are vital components of being human, people. While I had a blast checking out Portland, I also missed the fuck out of her. When you get so used to sharing space and skin with someone, it’s hard being without them for too long.
  • Other Magic Decks. I was so stoked to have brought my Chainer, Dementia Master deck on holiday with me. It gave me an excuse to meet people while travelling. I stopped in at a few local game stores and had an amazing night at Tonic Lounge’s “Monday the Gathering” evening. The deck over-performed, exceeding my expectations. It was reactive and surprisingly resilient, with the capacity to win out of nowhere. I also have a ton of other decks, none of which got to come on vacation. Hazezon, my pride and joy. Ruric Thar, the deck that still hasn’t found its potential. Hapatra, which is proving to be scarily formidable. I miss my playgroup, where the meta has evolved to reward tight plays while still being fun and friendly.
  • Being active again. After blisters created a pincer formation on my right foot, I started walking funny (not silly. It’s an important distinction) to avoid the pain. I guess it engaged the wrong muscles, because I pulled something. I developed a limp, stifling my speed and hindering my progress in navigating Portland on foot. it also meant my plans of jogging to keep active and work off the beer went unfulfilled. I felt slow and bloated, which didn’t help my mood. I’ve found in recent years that my state of mind is often contingent on a certain amount of physical activity. Not getting that meant I moped around more than would’ve been ideal. Towards the end of the trip I managed to locate the stretched muscle and rehabilitate it myself, but I wasn’t instantly better. It’s finally sorted itself out enough for me to get back to the gym. Maybe I’ll skip the weigh in today though. Baby steps.
  • Toronto Events. Competitive Erotic Fanfiction tonight. Father John Misty is on Monday. JFL42 begins on Thursday. Life in Toronto is constantly moving at a rapid pace and it runs in tandem with my heartbeat. It’s great to be away on holiday, but Toronto is home. That sure counts for something.

Most importantly, it’s the end of a Friday workday and I won’t have to think about being miserable at my job for another two days. Life is pretty sweet, when you think about it.

Schwankers, the lot of ’em.

At this stage of my journey, I should be scheduled for a meeting with the goddess anytime now. I need some reason to overcome adversity having learned from my travels. Otherwise what was the point? To become a beer bellied hedonist filled with hollow experiences? Not on my watch!

The biggest trial so far has been loneliness. Not a soul-crushing, reaching out from the void, swathed in darkness and despair kind of loneliness, but more of an ‘I’d be having more fun right now if I was bouncing stuff off someone else’ kind of loneliness. Some activities are just more enjoyable shared. Like the Japanese Garden yesterday. It was all well and good to look at curated horticulture, sculpted zen gardens and those little bamboo shoots that drip water. But as someone who doesn’t get much of a kick taking photos of stuff (I’ve done it on trips before and I never look at it after, so why pull myself out of the moment?), it was a serene yet dull time. I could only repeat “how ’bout that serenity” so many times in my head before the reference lost its lustre. It was very pretty and aptly quiet. Once or twice I sat down on a bench, and tried to map out the sound. It’s something I started doing a while back when I used to produce audio. To close my eyes and open my ears. To listen and imagine the waveforms rebounding and refracting off one another. To conceptualise panning and balance in relation to my position. It’s a centering exercise that helps settle me. I stopped thinking about my desire for social contact and instead tried to be present with my surroundings. That being said, I could only pretend to be super impressed for so long before cutting my losses and checking out the neighbouring rose garden. It also was pretty and I huffed a rose or two. That’s the stuff.

I checked out a couple of happy hours. Ash Street Saloon had $2.75 microbrews and $4.50 burgers, so regardless of how out of place I looked in the borderline biker bar, I enjoyed my DJ Jazzy Hef jasmine wheat beer while looking at the leaderboard for Buck Hunter. Finished, I moved onto Rontoms, a classy place with vast amounts of space, comfy chairs and a cool vibe. I was still a little peckish and I had no idea what jackfruit was (the connotations are menacing enough), so I ordered jackfruit tacos and a whiskey & coke. The bartender gave an absurdly strong pour which pushed me further than I’d expected. Bored and internetting, I resigned myself to drink in lieu of having company. I could bring my own cheer right? RIGHT? I had another whiskey and thought of how I’d successfully used Couchsurfing in Montreal to meet people. I looked up local events and discovered a Portland meetup three minutes walk away from Rontoms. This was my meeting with the goddess, my turning point!

I arrived with five minutes left in happy hour, so got myself a Full Monty, a delicious concoction of ketel one, local ginger beer, lime and some kind of syrup, served in a copper mug. Things were looking up! I sat down with the group and introduced myself. ‘Look at all of these fellow travelers’, I thought.I thought wrong.

They were awful. Like, all of them individually. Or moreso just socially awkward and super fucking basic. Plus none of them were traveling, they were all hosts. I don’t know why that distinction mattered, but it did somehow. There was the California transplant who couldn’t stop talking about the features of different aircraft. There was his friend who kept on asking the group if anyone partook of certain hobbies (photography, video editing, running, rock climbing), saying he’d been looking at getting into them. It was like he was reading from cue cards on how to hold a conversation. There was the gal who kept steering the conversation back towards hookah bars (she eventually left to go to a hookah bar). There was the old guy who just sounded like he didn’t have many friends. There was the 20 or so year old guy who’d brought his girlfriend (maybe who was in from out of town) seemingly to show her off? He kept pawing at her or lying on her shoulder when she was just trying to make conversation with people. It was awkward and cringeworthy. Then there was the super frequent flyer guy who brought a bunch of his trophies from having flown so much. There was a scale airplane model, a thank you card from the airline, a small triangular medal thing and some earbuds. He passed these around like show and tell, gloating about all the “swag” he was getting, but pronouncing it “schwag”. “Schwag” he kept saying. It was the fucking worst. Then others passed the stuff around, saying “schwag” as they did. It was like walking into a cult ritual. By the 20th or so time someone said “schwag” I had to leave before I lost my cool. Where the fuck had these Cronenbergian nightmares crawled out from?

Maybe I’d make more friends if I wasn’t so judgemental, but hell, a guy has to have standards, right?