Random Christmas Shopping Thoughts

If I had a smart phone this is what I would have tweeted during my attempt to shop for Christmas gifts today (and yes I did spend most of my time out with my head performing random commentary in tweets):

  • The Michael Bublé/Shania Twain rendition of White Christmas makes me wish that it was Christopher Walken singing the lead — not that there’d be that much of a difference.
  • Looks like it’s a women’s pyjamas have pants year. At every single store. Does all of North America have the same wholesaler?
  • I swear the way this year’s shopping is going my wife is getting a reciprocating saw.
  • Yes, my wife wants a reciprocating saw. I’m the one who keeps saying no.
  • Seriously. Why do we need a reciprocating saw?
  • So far it’s presents from me: one for five, presents from cats: one for one.
  • And my cashier is not paying attention. The one beside him noticed I said “I’ve had funner days. I really enjoying having to Christmas shop on the weekend of” and gave a chuckle.
  • Time until I hit a stupid parking attempt — one hour. This is why you start as early as you can kids.
  • Way to upsell EB. Trying having a Wii U in stock before you convince the lady to spend nearly a grand on it and the xbox headset.
  • Did he just say the Wii U gets higher ratings on multi-platform games? Where? Nintendo Power Magazine?
  •  Is it just me or was there a time when you could buy something and return it if it doesn’t work without having to pay an EB insurance fee?
  • Watching this guy trying not to swallow his own head when responding to “is it in stock at Future Shop” was worth the time I spent in this store. Didn’t buy anything but at least I was entertained.
  • Let’s see: whole store full of people and not one staff member on the floor to help. Brilliant.
  • I swear retail service had devolved. Again.
  • Ok there is no one at Walmart. Maybe the end of the world did happen.

 

Adventure Part Two

I sit in the Walmart parking lot facing the lodge a highway exit sign distance away from the action. The filter into lots on both sides of the road. My stomach gurgles audibly. Deep breath. I pick where I’m going to place my car for the night. Go.

I walk towards the doors anxiously looking around for my contact. A couple of guys say hello. I enter the building and climb the stairs. I see the Master of the Lodge and introduce myself. Then I get to use the line I will forever associate with this night:

“I’m from the Internet.”

After that I settle down. I do the test they require of anyone who doesn’t have someone to vouch for him. They try to make me at ease and even go so far as to ask if I wouldn’t mind sitting in a particular spot so that I can give a hand to the newly initiated mason that night. I have people come up and say hello and ask me where I’m from. Whenever they ask how I heard about the lodge I fall back to my new line and they love it. I begin to feel far more comfortable as the night goes on. I may have nothing to talk about with half the crowd but we have all experienced at least one to three similar things in our life. We’re all on the neutral/lawful good side of the spectrum. I fit in.

My “host” for the night is actually the busiest man in the lodge that evening (Junior Warden with a meal and a first degree for those in the know) so I don’t actually connect up with him. The worst possible thing that could happen actually happens but it doesn’t really matter. I’ve jumped the hurdle. I made it. This night’s adventure happened. I did it.

Now I just have to convince myself that I can do it again.

Adventure

Tonight is adventure night. Tonight I take a trip out of my city, my district, my comfort zone. A week or so ago a random person on the Internet posted a note on a subreddit: anyone in Ontario want to come for a visit?

Now this is not as out-of-the-ordinary as it seems. The subtreddit in question is r/freemasonry and visiting is one of the things you do as a Freemason; or, at least they say it is. I don’t visit well. Despite what people who know meat think I’m actually quite shy, I just make up for it by being loud and zany. It’s why the zany can sometimes be inappropriate for the situation — it’s not alpha male it’s social anxiety.

Tonight I’m unemployed and thus not required to turn into a pumpkin at ten. That gets rid of that excuse. The meeting is in Orangeville, a not undo-able drive to the opposite side of Toronto. That eliminates the out of the way excuse. In many ways this is the perfect time to make a trip. I have no commitments to keep me out of the car and off the road.

So why am I nervous?

It comes down to the fact that I don’t know anyone. I don’t even know my contact’s real name. Who do I talk to and what do I say?

I sit here in Tim Horton’s using free wifi to distract me from my nervousness. Tonight is an adventure. Tonight I prove that I can actually go on one.

Over and done

I have added another item to my list of adventures as a tradesman: overtime. For most people overtime is a couple of hours at the end of the day to get a project finished. In the trades, overtime is a way of life. For the first time I got to experience seven tens — ten hours a day, seven days a week. No days off for 25 days when we dropped back to five tens — ten hours a day for five days a week.

The physical toll of overtime begins to show around day 20. The days begin to blur. You don’t know when you are let alone where you are. Most people deal with this by not thinking about what day it is but rather what day they are on. What day are you? Twenty? Sweet. Good job. More often than not, excessive overtime occurs on industrial job sites. The work is heavier and in many cases dirtier but the expectations are lighter. You can get away with an off day from a productivity standpoint here and there where you would be flogged in the commercial sector for not getting your footage on the pipe. The only way to survive is to get into a routine and hope and pray your spouse keeps the rest of the world in heck for you. Don’t have a spouse? Get used to eating out. Every. Single. Meal. Get used to the fact that your home will not change in the slightest while you are working. I’m grateful to have a spouse who understands how this lifestyle works and who went out of her way to try and make my life easier.

But why do we do it? Why do we out our bodies through an agonizing process where we live only to drive to and from work with maybe an hour to ourselves before falling asleep? The answer is simple: because the trades get a lot of money to produce the quality of work required to make sure things do not literally blow up. For me, overtime is producing a two-fold benefit. First, my apprenticeship hours will scream by as they race along the highway toward the mystical destination that is journeyman status. The second benefit is something I never really expected to see — I just paid off the first of our debt load. Seven items dominate our financial landscape, five of them are student loans (I lived during that lovely transition time when the government and he banks changed the lending process). As of today one of them is gone. The money being spent on that will be added to the next bill and the process will continue until everything is dead and gone.

Despite clicking the confirm button it still hasn’t hit me that I do not have that Damoclean bill looming over me. At some point relief will replace dazed. Until then I just have to enjoy knowing that I just finished working overtime and can clearly see why the guys take it whenever it is offered regardless of how crazy it makes their lives.

Martinets

One of the curiously difficult parts about changing your career midstream is having experience in life. Most people would consider having life experience to be a good thing but when you are starting at the bottom those experiences sometimes get in the way. My most recent turn at employment reinforced this fact. Life experience has taught me that I don’t deal well with martinets. Perhaps it comes from my stubborn disapproval of authoritarian figure or the fact that I was considered gutsy for not mentioning that I would like time off for a honeymoon and haven’t really forgiven that person or administration. Regardless of the reasons, I do not take well to those who attempt to micromanage my existence especially when I am doing a decent job to begin with.

The common term for someone who watches you looking for something to report is called “pillar peeking.” I don’t really care if someone pillar peeks me since I’m usually working. What bothers me is when the pillar peeking isn’t long enough to determine what is really going on. For example, I got yelled at for not working with ten minutes to go before lunch regardless of the fact that I just completed the task they gave me without really being off of my ladder the entire time (ignore Ontario regulations that state that doing so is really not good for you physiologically speaking) an with at a least five minute walk back to the lunch room via someplace to wash my hands before touching my food. Should we ignore the fact that I was also getting the evil eye for showing up “too late” at the end of the day because I was making sure that everything was locked up because as the highest ranking apprentice on site it fell to me to make sure that stuff was taken care of before I left for the day?

I know this sounds like I’m kvetching about my job but it has now been over a month since I was laid off, a story in and of itself, and I’m still ticked off at the whole situation. I know that I don’t work well under such an employer an no matter what I did to try and mitigate the situation it ended poorly.

This brings us back to the whole life experience thing. People who exist solely in the world of construction simply assume that this guy is an asshole. That isn’t the case. He truly believes that he will get his end of the project done if he enforces a strict discipline on his employees and while he may succeed in finishing throb he will do only that, he will get not one second, not one milliliter of sweat more than is required.

Racism today

The Inernet is aghast that twitterites exploded into vitriolic racism when Joel Ward scored the winning goal in the Boston/Washington series. I am not. To be aghast would be admitting that I could not believe that people would think the “n word” much less use it in public conversation. I live beside and work in Toronto, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the country if not the world. I hear those words, with their pejorative meanings fully intended, on the job site every day. People like to think that in 2012 we don’t use words like that. We do. And there does not look to be any end in sight. The excuse used to justify using these words is that rappers use them all the time. I’m not certain how that justifies terms other than the n word but that is the excuse.

What is probably a far more serious problem is that the people using these word know they shouldn’t be used. The words are said cautiously in new company and softly in public. Higher education seems to mitigate usage of these words but only to an certain extent. The further afield you go from the humanities the more likely you are to encounter them.

I’m not certain what we can do to stop this from happening. Legislating against this use of language has not worked. Condemnation in the media like we see over the Ward cars does not work. Perhaps we need and old-fashioned advertising campaign that lists these words and shows why they are hurtful. I remember growing up with anti-racism commercials brought to me by the government. It might be a good idea to show them again.

V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton

It has been an exceptionally long time since the Kinsey Millhone series was created; however, since moving to multiple narrators Grafton seems reinvigorated in her writing and ideas. This book also continues the theme of Kinsey being a regular private investigator who files papers and sits in a car for hours on a stakeout.In fact, the true plot of the novel is a by-product of the reader witnessing the story unfold through the seemingly disconnected eyes of the secondary players.
This book produces a mild change in format by introducing more than two narrators some of which do not cross Kinsey’s path at all. Oddly enough it serves to enhance the novel by juxtaposing various social classes and how they relate to the twin themes of loneliness and belonging.  Grafton weaves her characters in such a way that those who normally would be construed as villains or antagonists become erstwhile and likable characters.

The Kinsey/Dante storyline is reminiscent of some of the early books. It serves as a reminder that Kinsey believes in justice more than she does the law.

In all I view this book as a very good read and a strong indication that Grafton still enjoys her craft and characters. I look forward to the next one and, like many others, patiently await the day when she gets to deal with those truly interesting letters X and Z.

 

Love is in the air

Though Valentine’s Day has past there still a certain feeling air that lends itself to amorous intent. Never was this more evident than this evening.

I generally pull into my driveway with a sense of caution. Our back porch serves as a gathering place for the neighbourhood cats. Our darling Sybil was a part of a colloquium one morning. When I opened the door to leave at 5 a.m. a dozen cats, all save one sitting in a circle, stopped what they were doing to give a look that clearly stated that they would be done in a few minutes if I wouldn’t mind waiting. Our loving ball of fluff was happily sleeping away further proving that she really is just a happy little creature with no worries in the world. She was surrounded by dominant males in what was clearly a fairly important meeting and was out cold. Unforgivably I had to interrupt  as my co-workers were waiting for the car pool. I simply told them as much before starting to walk across the porch. A few of them moved out of the way and the meeting continued in my absence.

Tonight I drove up to find a tabby sitting in my parking spot walking a fluffy grey roll around where my back tire rests.  I pulled close and braked expecting the two to scatter. Instead the tabby jumped on fluffy grey grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and, well, you know. I paused.

“Do you mind?” he said with his eyes.

I sighed, turned the car off, opened the trunk, grabbed my bag, closed the trunk and walked to the back porch. His eyes followed me but the expression never changed.

When Kate came inside later she asked me why I left the car in the middle of the freaking driveway. I explained. “That’s so bizarre it must be true,” she said. Accepting my answer she went back outside to move the cars while I ensured that the lima beans did not attack the stove with an army of foam bubbles. Just another night in our household.

Utopia by Thomas More

As stated before, one of my new year’s goals is to read through a number of books which exist in my library because I really ought to read them at some point. The first book plucked from this collection is Utopia by Sir Thomas More. The text itself is not necessarily the current authoritative one. It was produced in 1964 using the Yale translation by a Jesuit scholar who does let his own beliefs creep into his textual notes.

This entry, however, is not about historiography. I read Utopia with the humanistic desire to be entertained and enlightened. I read the text for the simple sake of reading the text. The fact that I read it at Union Station in Toronto while waiting for transit instead of in the scholarly abode of a library speaks volumes on my desire to engage the text on a scholarly level. Nevertheless, I apparently have some scholastic muscle memory remaining which awakened about two thirds of the way through the book. The following are my thoughts on the book composed in the Dilworthian fashion* of point form bursts that may or may not be connected with one another.

Utopia not so much a critique of European policies and ideas; rather, it is one of the first instances of the “noble savage” in European literature. The land of the Utopians is seperated by the Atlantic Ocean and a massive desert from European civilization. It brings forth More’s point that knowledge, unassisted by European scholastic tradition, can indeed be discovered through the use the natural world and logic. Their “savage” nature is evident, not in their use of warfare since they hire mercenaries, but by their ready acquiescence to European knowledge that is entering their system through visitors.

It is doubtful that the Utopian idea of trade would be able to exist in an actuality because of the rapid devaluation of currency and trade imbalance that exists between them and their neighbours. By overpaying for simple things, simply because they have so much money, they through the economy of their neighbours into flux. Interestingly enough the Utopians, by eschewing proper European notions of commerce, are in fact the ultimate example of a mercantilist economic system. All the monetary resources are being absorbed by the Utopians.

Utopian follow More’s own ideas that women are to be taught but hold no positions of authority or influence.

Living in Utopia is meant to be a compliment, not an insult. More recognizes that the ideas presented in the work will be misunderstood or mocked by mentioning a number of other ideas that follow logic and natural reason in book one. These ideas for the governing of a country would be mocked or construed as hostile by a ruling monarch or his privy council.

Utopia presupposes that humanity is willing to act in accordance to the greater good of the whole over the greater good of the individual. Although the individual is given opportunities to live their own life by giving them certain freedoms, they are still bound by a rigid patriarchal system that controls all aspects of exisistance including the child’s career. In order to change apprenticeships another family must be found that will be wiling to take the child into their family in perpetuity.

The limitedness of possesions is not novel of an idea. In fact, one could make an argument that it coincides quite well with the beliefs in monastic poverty: the group owns the items used by the whole.

*those of you who studied with Dr. Dilworth will know what I’m talking about. His classes are some of those I truly wish I had a chance to repeat now that I’m “all grown up” and can truly appreciate them.

Our position in the multiverse

Reading the Amber series has me thinking about our position in the multiverse.

I do believe that there should be two ‘prime universes’ if only by shear mathematics. If multiverses are based off the idea that a new universe is spawned each time someone decides to pick B over A then there must be a place where everyone picks option A and all universes are essentially branches between it and the universe that picks B at every opportunity. A lot of multiverse fiction is based off of the idea that the two sides are science and magic. Within that group most like to believe that we live exclusively on the science end of the spectrum. My problem is that it removes any sort of mystical possibility on our end. I do believe that we’re on the science side of the coin but I don’t think we’re necessarily the prime universe (even though we are close to it). Why?  Because we can dream of magic. If we were truly the prime science universe we wouldn’t spend so much time talking about sparkling vampires. Deep down a part of us wishes that faerie rings were real. By the same token we have people who can dream about the science side so well that we are now living in the future. I could (if I could afford it) have a small box of plastic and metal that can deliver music to my ears, allow me to talk to people over great distances, and have the entire sum of human knowledge at my fingertips.  We are a world that can dream of both ways, both sides. To me, that precludes our being one of those sides. We need to have some small part of the magic side seeping through our collective unconsciousness in order to dream the way we dream.