Saturday, April 30, 2011

Suck On This, Thomas

"Get your fucking hand off me, you pointy-eared bastard."
Kids TV shows today suck total balls.  Back in the 80's you had good shit.  It has nothing to do with the animation styles or the quality of the writing.  It's a fundamental shift in thinking.  Cartoons in the 80's and even 90's were all about taking names and kicking ass.  You had Thundercats, GI Joe, He-ManTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers and then the 90's Batman animated series.  Most of the shows like Thundercats or He-Man were simple: bad guys do something, good guys come in ad kick their asses back to the stone age.  At their core was that age-old message that violence solves problems.  Sometimes, just like Trooper, you've got to raise a little hell.  Batman didn't take any shit off the Joker.  He went in to foil whatever evil plot he was up to, then finished off with a good, old-fashioned fist beating.  For some reason there has been a fundamental shift away from this core of violence, starting with Pokeman and the Pokeman wannabe, Digimon.  The shift is subtle, but apparent if you're looking for it.  Instead of te sentient characters fighting, now violence is relegated to monsters with fantastical, elemental powers.  Apparently it's a lot better for kids to see a mindless rock monster get pulverized a bright red dragon thing than to watch He-Man punch the shit out of Skeletor or giant robots shoot the fuck ou of each other with lasers.  I guess it seemed more natural, like lions hunting gazelles on the African plains or something.  Even Spongebob Squarepants (I show that I fucking love by the way) which I would consider to be the modern day answer to Looney Tunes seems to shy away from violence.  Just think back to all the Bugs Bunny and Roadrunner cartoons and think about all the guns and dynamite that your saw on a regular basis over the course of a hour.  Think of how many times Daffy Duck has been shot in the head or how many times Wile E Coyote has been blown up.  I love watching Spongebob, but I can't help but notice the glaring lack of tools of destruction.  And it makes me a little sad for some reason.    

But now, all the violence is gone and kids shows are just plain boring.  Now there is a complete paradigm shift.  Kid shows no longer have violence but have plots based upon finding objects or completing menial tasks.  Now kids have shows like Dora, where the characters collect shit, or solve stupid riddles from strange, yellow trolls, or open doors by speaking Spanish.  Not only is Dora boring as hell, but it's also teaching kids dangerous lessons like if you tell someone to stop doing something three times, then they will somehow magically stop.  This fox, Swiper, always stops by, and you have to help Dora and Boots by shouting at the screen (for some reason) "Swiper, no swiping!  Swiper no swiping!  Swiper no swiping" and he just gives up and runs away.  Well, if some ninja rapist is assaulting you in a back alley somewhere simply saying "Raper no raping,!" three times is not going to stop him.  Fucking stupid.  And if it's not teaching stupid lessons like this then it's showing Dora completing menial tasks like collecting stuff, the very aspect that made me hate Donkey Kong 64 with a passion.

But the worst one of all is Thomas and Friends.  This is a show predicated on that fact that Thomas and all of his friends are perpetual fuck-ups who cannot complete the simplest task given to them.  Thomas and his friends are all trains on the fictional island of Sodor, and all they have to do is transport various items from one place to another.  But somehow, they always manage to completely fuck it up.  Whether it's transporting bees, or a trophy, or telling everybody about a party, Thomas has never successfully completed a task the first time he is asked to do it by the mayor, Sir Topham Hatt, who in turn always seems to be in a bad mood because he has an entire staff of athropomorphic trains who can't follow the simplest instructions. And when the episodes focus on one of Thomas's friends, the episode revolves around how they fuck up.  They run late because they're embarrassed by their new paint colour or they hold up their friends because they're afraid of their new steam whistle or they competely fuck up the entire working day by taking charge of the railways and not deferring to Topham Hatt's expertise (looking at you, Hiro).  I mean, it's all well and good that these trains do their thing and learn their lessons and whatnot, but their ineptitude must totally mess with Sodor's economy and has doubtless cost countless workers in the industry their jobs.  It's ridiculous.

And I know what some of you might be saying.  Thomas and Friends is not a new show.  It's been on since like the 1960's or something stupid like that.  But that just makes it worse.  That means that all the other awesome shit that could have continued on was cancelled and Thomas and Friends which celebrates failure.  It makes me really worried for the next generation of kids who continue to perpetuate this mentality which is already evident in the workforce today.  Imagine if the 60's Spider-Man cartoon had continued on into the present?  Do you have any idea how awesome that would be?  Do you have any idea how much awesomer our kids would be? 

And I know that you might aso be thinking that I'm some kind of sicko who just wants to show violence to kids to fuck them up.  Well, that's only a half truth.  I don't entiely begrudge shows that try to teach kids, but sometimes you need to be entertained.  And violence has its place in the world.  Violence is vying for power, and social structures are essentially power structures: dominant and submissive.  Shows like Transformers and Thundercats teach kids to be empowered.  They teach them that their are assholes out there who -after all other alternatives are exhausted- need to have their asses kicked.  Or maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe this move away from violence in cartoons is a sign of an enlightened society, casting away its violent history in favour of a peaceful vision for tomorrow where knowledge and understanding trump physical prowess and aggresive ambitions.  Just imagine, though, how much better a show Dora would be if she had a semi-automatic machine gun.  Just sayin'.        

Elementary, My Dear Idiom, Elementary

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Friday, April 29, 2011

For Whom the Wolf Howls

Werewolves are fucking cool.  Even as a kid I loved the idea of werewolves.  I don't know why, but the idea always appealed to me.  As a kid I suppose the coolest part about werewoves was the Hulk factor, which I suppose is actually the Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde factor.  The idea that a normal dude actually has this bloodthirsty beast inside of him ready to break free is a very romantic idea that appeals to the underdog (pun intended) in us all.  It gives hope that the 98 pound weakling has the chance to become the big swinging dick on campus, if only for one brief, shining moment.  Never having lived as a woman (yet...) I can't say for certain, but the werewolf idiom seems to be a more masculine fantasy.  The desire for instantaneous transformation into a relatively indestructable, physically dominant specimen seems to be a mostly male concern since the social construction of masculinity still revolves a great deal around physical prowess.  And even though I am aware of this construction I cannot escape its effects nor can I honestly say that I entirely disagree with the basic premise.  Being physically strong is beneficial in alot of ways and I think Darwin would agree with me here. 

Plus it would just look pretty fucking cool to transform into a giant wolf.  Imagine being at a party where some boring prick is talking about how awesome his snot-nosed little brat is at playing the clarinet or some such nonsense, or some douchebag starts talking about how he lost a shit-ton of weight with the Bowflex and "gave all of his fat clothes to his fat friends" (well, ex-friends now, I suppose dickhead), or some moron starts going on about how great the latest MacBook is, and you just step into the middle of the room and TRANSFORM INTO A FUCKING WOLF and the head of the clarinet-playing kid's dad just explodes from the sheer awsomeness.  "Yeah, well, I'm a werewolf," you say as you casually disembowel another yuppie and eat his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.  You'd be the toast of the town in no time.  You'd be so fucking popular you could hire yourself out to parties for a million bucks a pop.  You'd make women wet at the drop of a hat, then dry them off with your giant, werewolf tongue.

And that's the other component to why the werewolf fantasy is so compelling.  As I grew up I began to realize that at its heart the idiom of the werewolf was a sexual construct.  The metaphor of transforming into a frothing-at-the-mouth monster is really a way of representing the unleashing of raw, sexual energy.  There's the obvious anaology of the man turning into the beast representing a dick becoming erect, but even beyond that there is the idea of that uncontrolable, insatiable appetite inside of us being unleashed.  In the context of the werewolf mythos violence becomes a metaphor for sex.  Hunger for flesh is hunger for flesh.  Instead of hunting for your next meal you're hunting for pussy instead.  Instead of eating your prey's inards you're eating her pussy instead.  Something, something, something... pussy... something, something, something.  (The thought just occured: there must be a huge niche market for werewolf porn.) 

In the movies, however, I find that werewolves have generally been getting the short end of the stick recently.  I mean, there's AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON which is still totally kick ass and features the single best werewolf transformation ever captured on film, but beyond that there's really nothing great.  UNDERWORLD had a lot of potential and I tried really hard to like it, but it still lacked that something special.  THE WOLFMAN remake was complete shit and I hesitate to even mention the TWILIGHT series because I'm still not sure if those movies are meant to be taken seriously or if they're some kind of giant practical joke.  THE MONSTER SQUAD had a pretty cool werewolf, but he was seriously underused.  Then there was 1994's ridiculous WOLF in which the filmmakers inexplicably had a hard-on for fast motion and Jack Nicholson's werewolf looked like Jack Nicholson with some mutton chop sideburns.  But most of those werewolves are a bunch of chumps that I would be ashamed to be murdered by. 

For some reason our culture is now obsesed with vampires and in cinema they seem to be almos godlike when compared to werewolves.  In UNDERWORLD the vampires always have the upper hand and when it comes to the final battle even though the werewolves are finally starting to fuck shit up, Bill Nighy just comes in and starts snapping werewolf necks like matchsticks.  Ditto for TWILIGHT were vampires seem to be all the rage and werewolves are second class citizens.  I mean, Jacob and his rippling abs can't even pull Bella away from pasty-faced Edward.  What the fuck is that all about?  Even when werewolves finally show up in True Blood they seem to be outclassed by vampires.  This is always seemed backwards to me, maybe because I've always had kind of had more of a hard on for werewolves.  But I mean, really, if vampires and werewolves existed in the real world (yet another worthwhile discussion) I really think that werewolves would just totally kick ass, especially if they were the kind of werewolves that just totally Hulked out as opposed to the werewolves who were still aware of their actions after the transformation (a la UNDERWORLD).  I mean, you have this giant, bloodthirsty beast versus a bunch of pale fuckers with some dental deformaties.  Just the pure savagery and bloodlust of the werewolf would easily make the vampire to werewolf ratio at least 10:1 in order to make it a fair fight.  Maybe some day they'll get it right.

Until then I'll have to be happy with movies like DOG SOLDIERS.  I remember several years ago when my buddy Joe told me about this movie.  He really built it up, but he gets easily excited about movies and I had a lot of other movies on my list.  It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago when Ryebone came over and we were cruising Netflix for something to watch that I came across DOG SOLDIERS and finally found myself in the mood for some good old-fashioned disembowlings and werewolf on human action.  I don't know whether the movie was a lot better than I was expecting or that I was simply in the mood for that type of movie, or whether all the asbestos in my house was affecting my brain in ways I couldn't yet comprehend, but I enjoyed the fuck out of DOG SOLDIERS.  It was just a ton of good fun and terrible, bloody death.

The story follows the promisingPrivate Cooper ( a post-TRAINSPOTTING pre-Rome Kevin Mckidd) and his fellow squadmates.  After a failed bid to enter the British Special Forces (or something) Cooper goes out with his squad on a routine military training exercise.  Unfortunately for them their training exercise happens to take place in the hunting grounds of an ancient werewolf family (the family that kills together stays together) who promptly wipe out another group of soldiers and force Cooper et al to flee toa nearby farmhouse.  Now the soldiers must fortify the house and hold out until sun up if they have any hope of surviving this horror.  Of course, nothing goes smoothly, and several attempts to flee in nearby vehicles result in some pretty gruesome deaths of several of the soldiers.  The werewolf attackers are relentless and the soldiers are running low on ammo and limbs and eventually Kevin McKidd has no choice but to blow the fuck out of the farmhouse and all the werewolves therein before having one last epic fght with the last surviving werewolf and walking triumphantly and sadly from the rubble.  Sometimes survival is the greatest victory.  Fuck, I should have gone into advertising.

DOG SOLDIERS was great for several reasons.  First, even though this movie was made in 2002, all of the werewolf effects were practical.  No shitty CG, just costumes, puppets, and animatronics coupled with quick cuts and darkly-lit sets.  And you know what?  It was fucking fantastic.  I am balls deep in shattered expectations when it comes to CG effects.  DOG SOLDIERS really goes to show how great filmmaking trumps multi-million dollar effects any day of the week.  The other reason this was great was because ever since Rome I have been a huge fan of Kevin McKidd and I'll give him a free pass for anything he does.  He even makes it a little more bearable when I'm forced to watch Grey's Anatomy with my wife (although to this day whenever I refer to Kevin McKidd to my wife I refer to him as Lucius Vorenus).  The third reason I loved DOG SOLDIERS was because it knew exactly what kind of film it was and didn't take itsel too seriously.  It as good, campy, cheese-covered fun with a side of blood and gore.  One of my favourite scenes was a good old-fashioned fist fight between one of the soldiers and one of the werewolves.  Fucking pure genius.

Either way, if you're looking to be entertained and you have 105 minutes to kill and the idea of an isolated bnd of survivors fighting off a force of werewolves with some guns, explosives, some household cooking supplies, and even a sword (boo-yah!) then definitely check this shit out.  I give DOG SOLDIERS a solid 7/10 = One Decapitated Head Being Used As A Hackey Sack By A Group Of Angry Werewolves

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

So Close I Can Taste It

The Moose is a local bar we used to go to as university students instead of studying or when we got bored of playing Starcraft until 3 in the morning.  We'd head downtown on the bus and head to the bar on foot as a pack looking to satiate our beerlust and our raging hormones, which at the time usually meant a half a dozen Smirnoff Ice and then jerking off later before going to sleep to the images in our head of sloppy drunks shaking their half-clothed asses on the tiny, crowded dance floor.  It wasn't exactly the paradise we'd envisioned, but our intentions for drunken debauchery were pure and we were fuelled by the inherent belief that given half the chance we could lower the bar -and hopefully somebody's pants- before the night was through. 

A typical mission took place on Wednesday night because that when The Moose had their Wednesday Night Wing Special which meant that with the cost of the cover charge got you a ticket which you could exchange at a makeshift table by the kitchen for a pound of wings if you managed to get there before midnight when the kitchen closed.  This was not as easy as it sounded because on Wednesdays we were not the only students lured in by the promise of meat and booze so the line for the wings would typically take about an hour out of your night which might have been better spent trying to get more than your fair share out of a pitcher of Alexander Keith's or flirting in vain trying to get some pussy that was way out of your league.

There was, of course, a student bar on campus -The Wall (a name I can only assume was chosen by a Pink Floyd fan who managed to get some school committee high enough to actually accept this name)- that had more of a nightclub feel.  It was dark, with plenty of black lights to illuminate any white articles of clothing, or any lint on your shirt, and was centered around a small dance floor that was usually littered with drunk, horny teenagers and broken glass.  The music was played loudly enough to drown out most conversations, which was fine because most of the people there had nothing interesting to say.  The Moose is more of a sit-down pub-style place.  The decor is almost stereotypical of the bar you'd expect to find in an (almost) northern Canadian town, population under 60 thousand: roughly-hewn wooden floors, walls lined with halved logs to give the illusion that you were in a log cabin, and heads of various deceased animals on the wall.  Even the tables are made of seemingly rough cuts of wood, with just enough varnish to make it easy to wipe up the spilled booze, chicken wing sauce or blood that might wind up there.  I suppose the look they were going for was "modern rustic" although the relative success of the decorative style depends upon A) whatever the hell "modern rustic" actually means, if anything, B) whether or not you enjoyed spending upwards of four hours in a crowded log cabin that smelled of beer and sweat or C) whether any of the decor actually matters when you're so fucked up that puking all over the inside of the cab on the way back to the residence would later be considered a "high point" of the evening.

Th Moose was also a strange type of beast because it was actually two bars.  But not really.  Alcohol dispensing Siamese twins.  On one side you had The Moose (although the actual name was Moose's Loose Change Lodge, a name, I suppose, that was meant to appeal to the frugality of its potential patrons) and on the other side you had Scotty's Log Cabin.  The strange thing was both of these establishments were right beside each other, both had the same decor, and were both connected by a double wide doorway.  It was the kind of double wide doors you'd find in a hospital or a school or a mental hospital.  I don't know the local history well enough to understand how or why this happened, but I do know that Scotty's got the short end of the stick.  Nobody referred to this strange bastard child as Scotty's and the Moose.  It was always just The Moose.  Eventually -I'm not sure when exactly- Scotty's was eventually absorbed by The Moose, some kind of reverse binary fission where the weaker twin was absorbed back into the stronger.  It was a bizarre kind of natural selection, that rare occurrence where de-evolution and evolution happened to coincide.

Now The Moose is officially just The Moose.  Scotty's no longer exists in any sense of the word.  Complete obliteration.  The old Scotty's side has not only been reabsorbed ideologically, it has been completely renovated.  Gone is the tiny dance floor where we'd move spastically to the music, with a beer in one hand, helping to reinforce the stereotype of the white guy without rhythm.  It has now been replaced with a second bar that has less of a rustic feel and more of a industrial chic vibe.  The tables too are dark, polished wood, not the faux rustic shellacked two by fours.  Gone are the pool tables, replaced instead with several leather couches arranged around a giant flat screen TV in a makeshift lounge area where smooth pimp daddies can mack on nearby hardbodies during the interviews and ads between whatever sporting event is playing that night and then routinely ignoring them for 90% of the night and end up getting more pussy than me or my friends ever did when we were willing to devote more than our fair share of attention. 

All in all The Moose was an establishment that embodied hazy, half-realized expectations and complete disillusion of grandeur as much as it did fucking great wings.  So it was rather appropriate -I felt anyway- that on the 19th of March in this Year of our Lord 2011 that I found myself at The Moose with my friend Ryebone to celebrate his 30th birthday.  Not only was it a place where we'd spent countless hours of our youth consuming copious amounts of alcohol and wings, but it was also a place where we'd come with visions of glorious conquest and gone home empty handed.  It was a place where youthful anticipation had been dampened by cold reality.  It was a place where Ryebone and I would reminisce about "way back when" and nostalgically relate tales of those who went before us -like a couple of old army buddies remembering fallen comrades- and try to reconcile two opposing forces: the desire to remember things better than they were and the satisfaction becoming intoxicated on your own misery.  For me The Moose was the perfect place to celebrate Rybone's 30th.  It represented everything we had hoped to accomplish and threw into sharp relief how little we actually had.  It was at once momentous and disappointing, just like turning 30.

It started earlier in the week.  I received a cryptic call from Ryebone on Tuesday or Wednesday.  I assumed it was to set up our usual weekend plans which usually involved hanging out and watching a movie or two.


"What are you up to on Saturday?"

"Nothing," I replied.

"Feel like going to The Moose?"

Right away my blood pressure goes up.  I know that any time I leave the house for these kinds of missions I'm going to have to bargain with my wife.  For the record, I love my wife, but just like any relationship it's a matter of give and take.  It's a matter of raising Social Capital and then using that capital to barter for my own interests.  It's like a social bank account, and usually with my wife I'm running quite a deficit.  I know that for a mission of this magnitude, if I'm to even consider it, I'm going to have to barter potentially months worth of future capital.  I'm torn between the responsibilities of being a family man and the urge to go out and do stupid things with my friends.

"I don't know..." I start to reply.

"It's my birthday.  I figure we'd catch a movie and then grab some wings after"

Jackpot.  Fucking A.  Immediately my blood pressure goes down and I start to get pumped.  Right away I realize that not only is Ryebone's birthday A) a Social Trump Card that will allow me to go out without having to use up any of my own capital but also that B) I'm going out to have some fucking wings and beer on Saturday.  I just got a free pass for Saturday night. 

"Done.  See you on Satuday."

We set up the time later and we head out early in the evening to Rybone's birthday movie of choice which turned out to be BATTLE: LOS ANGELES.  This turned out to be an incredibly inspired choice for a 30th birthday movie because it was an overblown spectacle that was disappointing on several fronts.  BATTLE: LOS ANGELES was essentially a cross between INDEPENDENCE DAY and BLACKHAWK DOWN, and was about on par with the former and much, much better than the latter.  Much to the chagrin of Ryebone I have never liked BLACKHAWK DOWN and have consistently mocked and berated him for liking it during the entire tenure of our friendship.  I sneered at it the first time he made me watch that piece of shit.  I mocked him in university when he picked up the hardcore three disk edition.  I threatened to kill him once in a drunken fury if he didn't immediately denounce BLACKHAWK DOWN as the over-hyped, self-important tripe that it was and begin a lifetime of atonement by travelling the world and giving hand jobs to orphans at half price.  

But back to BATTLE: LOS ANGELES.  It's an odd beast insofar as it is actually a pro-US military propaganda film disguised as a Spring blockbuster about aliens invading the west coast of the continental USA.  The plot follows a group (brigade? platoon? unit?) of marines led by Aaron Eckhart (the guy who played Two Face in THE DARK KNIGHT) who have to rescue a bunch of civilians who may or may not be caught behind enemy lines when the United States (as well as other countries around the world) are attacked by an extraterrestrial invasion force that is apparently here to steal our water (really?).  The specifics aren't really important, let's just say all the important movie military archetypes are present led by the seasoned commander who just filed his retirement papers after a disastrous mission, presumably in Afghanistan or Iraq.  Maybe they actually mentioned it, I don't know.  Like I said, it doesn't really matter.

So these soldiers get into the combat zone, encounter some aliens, get cluster-fucked by their superior technology (and become overconfident because they seem to lack air support.  Eventually alien air support shows up, and all these characters are actually surprised that a species who has mastered INTERGALACTIC TRANSPORTATION would be able to have vehicles that -oh I don't know- fly!) find some civilians including the obligatory children and then proceed not only to rescue some of the civilians but then find the mother ship which turns out to be the central hub controlling all of the alien vehicles and then destroy it before being rescued themselves by other soldiers and heroically heading back out into the fray without so much as a bathroom break.  The reason this movie struck me as particularly strange was the fact that aliens were there at all.  The way the movie was written and filmed they could have just as easily set this movie in Iraq and have the soldiers fighting Taliban insurgents and you would have essentially had the same movie.  For some reason the filmmakers seemed intent on making their own premise contextually irrelevant.  The aliens were completely superfluous to the plot and this genre crossing seemed to be an afterthought that was designed specifically to attack the consumer on all fronts, so to speak.  Just imagine the conversation with the studio execs.

"So, yeah, we have this idea for a really dramatic war film where this troubled commander on the verge of retirement is sent on one last dangerous mission to rescue civilians trapped behind enemy lines.  Included in the platoon is the brother of one of the officers the commander got killed on his last mission, a young, headstrong officer who just became a father, and two best friends, one of whom is getting married soon.  They are put in a situation where they must work together and potentially sacrifice their own lives to protect people who may or may not be in serious trouble and kick some ass in the name of Democracy."

"Excellent, excellent.  I like what you've got so far.  But how about this: the bad guys are aliens."

"You mean, like, from Mexico?"

"No, extraterrestrials."


"Aliens.  They are so hot right now."

"Well, I don't how I'm going to put aliens into the movie..."

"Great then it's settled.  Bad guys are aliens."

"Are you high right now sir?"

"Just a little.  I'll be in my office if you need me.  I'll be working on the next SAW sequel.  Boo-yah!"

Needless to say I was slightly underwhelmed by the whole spectacle.  In that way BATTLE: LOS ANGELES was both an excellent and terrible allegory for turning 30.  When I was younger I didn't understand when people would stress out about turning a certain age.  From my point of view at the bottom of the social ladder in high school I couldn't wait to get older and get the fuck out of that place.  I didn't understand why people would get so concerned about such an arbitrary number.  Why was 30 so much worse than turning, say, 31, supposing of course that you hadn't been diagnosed with cancer just after your 30th birthday.  Why was 30 a sign of aging but 28 a sign that you still had "time left."  It wasn't until I turned 29 that I really began to panic.  This artificial construction suddenly began to seem quite real.  There was some vague sense that I was somehow supposed to have accomplished some great Thing by the time I was 30, but I had no idea what.  All I knew was that  hadn't accomplished it and I began to feel disappointed that I had not lived up to these arbitrarily constructed expectations of Great and Terrible deeds I was to have accomplished.  What monument had I left for posterity?  Fuck.  I'd be 30 soon and then whatever shot I had at Making it Big will have faded into oblivion. 

But I wasn't 30 yet.  Rybone was.  He was the one whose failed expectations we were celebrating on that fateful night, so I felt a little better.  I had a few more months before my potential was completely expended so I ordered the all you can eat wings and ate as much as I could to the point of physical discomfort.  Ryebone ordered ten wings and finished eight of them, and again I mocked and berated him as is my wont, because I'm kind of an asshole and I will try to make you feel bad for stupid shit sometimes just for my own, twisted amusement.  We split a pitcher of Alexander Keith's that we couldn't even finish between the two of us and watched the UFC match that was on that night that The Moose's staff had tried to charge us double the cover charge to watch.  As the waitress went through all the specials she informed us that if we stayed past ten o'clock we'd have to pay the $4 cover that we'd already been forced to pay upon entering the establishment.

"Wait, wait wait," I said.  "What will you be charging us for?"

"To watch the UFC matches tonight."

"But we already paid for that when we came in.  They made it seem like we had to."

"Alright, calm down.  You have to tell me these things."

Not only had the assholes at the front door not informed us that the cover had been optional if we were we planning to leave by 10 o'clock, but they'd also neglected to have us enter the draw they were having to win god know what.  Those greedy fucks were so concerned about fleecing us for the cover that I suppose they forgot about the draw.  After that we went to sit down on the old Scotty's side at an empty table and were promptly told by a waitress that there was a waiting list and we'd have to wait by the bar, although she neglected to take our names.  Our sad pilgrimage to the bar ended about fifteen minutes later when the bartender asked us if we were waiting for a table, and when we responded in the affirmative and told her about the wait list, she gave us a quizzical look and told us that there was no longer any wait list and we could grab a table, and we ended up at the very same table we had claimed less than twenty minutes before.

I contemplated all this as I gorged myself on wings and beer and watched Cro Cop get defeated in a stunning turn around.  Ryebone and I left The Moose at about 11 o'clock and I was already starting to nod off.  I wondered to myself how I had lasted all those nights in university until two or three in the morning or if it was of any consequence.  Most of all I wondered about turning 30 and wondered if the evening had any particular relation to that arbitrary benchmark.  We watched a mediocre movie then ate the same old wings and drank the same old beer in a bar we'd spent our youth in, a bar which had evolved from total assimilation of its twin, a place where despite our years of patronage we were still treated like second-class citizens as the staff tried to hustle us out of our money, and we talked about how old we were starting to feel.  Overall it was satisfyingly disappointing.  Now that I'm getting closer to 30 I realize that not it is not some tangible turning point in my life, that the heavens won't open up and proclaim my life a total failure for all the world to hear.  There was never any real pressure to accomplish anything beyond the meaningless deadlines we set in our own lives.  Things happen when they happen.  Turning 30 is simply another day where nothing extraordinary happens, much like most other days in our lives.  And really, looking back, what the fuck was so great about our 20's that we're going to miss so much?  Turning 30 is (un)predictably ordinary. 

And there's something oddly comforting about that.                      

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why It Sucks To Be A Dad

"Next you're going to tell me Mon Mothma is my mother!"
Becoming a parent is a life-altering experience, but I suppose that goes without saying.  My wife and I didn't go into it blind, though.  It was part of The Plan when we got married.  Having kids was a conscious choice made by two consenting adults of (relatively) sound mind and (sometimes questionable) judgement.  It was a huge shock to the system, but it wasn't a shock.  I mean, we weren't ready to be parents, and we knew that, which is an important place to start for any potential parents.  If you think you're ready to be a parent you are most definitely not ready.  As a parent you automatically seem to just know other parents all of the sudden, almost like they can fucking smell it on you.  Somehow they always seem to know and they always come over to talk about kid shit (usually literally and sometimes figuratively). 

One thing I hear a lot of from parents is complaining.  And the more I hear, the more I fear for future generations, because if their parents are already this stupid, what chance do they have?  They've probably inherted their parents' stupid gene, and if they were lucky enough to dodge that bullet, they have a lifetime of stupidity indoctrination to overcome.  The odds are not in most of their favours.  I hear stupid shit like "I'm not getting enough sleep," or "I don't have any time to myself," or "My spouse and I aren't having as much sex as before," or "It's so much harder to go anywhere in public or to go on trips," or "I don't have as much money as I used to."  And when I hear this stupid shit all I can think is "Well, duh!"  What the fuck did you think was going to happen?  Your wife would pop out a kid, you'd put him in his bedroom for eighteen years and then you'd open the door to find a yuppie in a cheap business suit ready to head off to a dead end job like his dear old dad while the two of you travelled around the world getting into adventures like Indiana Jones?  I mean, before he found out that his kid turned out to be Shia Labeouf and had to live with that terrible, terrible disappointment.

Now I'm not saying that all those complaints aren't valid, because they're all true.  Becoming a parent means that you have to give up a lot of your independence and "freedoms."  My wife and I weren't entirely prepared, because you really can't be, but we went into the whole parenting thing with our eyes open.  There have been a lot of sleepless nights.  There's been a lot of the household budget reallocated from my DVD/Blu-Ray fund to diapers and tiny clothes.  There's been a lot of time redistributed to playing at parks that normally would have been spent playing video games or watching movies.  I can't just pop out to the movie theatre or the bar with friends.  There's no such thing as "popping out" any more.  Any excursion requires days -if not weeks- of logistical planning.  There's not a whole lot of going out with just my wife any more.  Apparently it's technically illegal to leave your three year old at home babysit your six month old while you go out with your wife to do score blow in a back alley before robbing a liquour store and beating a drifter to death with a copy of The Catcher in the Rye and a can of Campbell's Tomato Soup.  Well, I guess it's all kind of a legal grey area really.  The point is kids make life more complicated and I have now lost more shirts to puke and urine than I have socks to semen.

But all that shit doesn't bother me, really.  I mean there are some shitty days when I lose my temper and I wish that for one hour my life was less complicated.  And I don' feel guilty admitting that some days I don't want to come home from work and don't want to deal with kids.  Some days it seems like it would be great not to have a family.  But that (usually) passes pretty quickly.  When I think about the birth of my children, and all the milestones, and all the triumphs, and all the shit, and all the times my daughter ran to the door smiling to greet me after work and all the times my son laughed when I sneezed and all the times that little bastard peed on me while I tried to change his diaper and he got that satisfied look on his face and I couldn't help but smile because I know that satisfied feeling after a good piss, and all the times my daughter asked me to go into the basement to visit King Kong or Yoda or have a light saber battle and everything more than balances out.  Having kids -despite all inconveniences- is actually one of the best things that has ever happened to me and I wouldn't trade them for anything (unless the price was right).

No, I am not quite the asshole I may have led you to believe with the title of this article.  No one could be that terrible.  Or could they...?  Congratulations.  You might be slightly less stupid than I probably assume you are.  Now comes the volta of my article, where I turn everything on its head.  Having kids isn't the worst part of being a dad at all.  The worst part about being a father is being percieved as being as being a father.  And I'm not talking about the Dirty Old Man Syndrome where middle-aged, married dudes somehow seem to require the attention (or percieved attention) of much younger women to somehow validate their own self images.  What I'm talking about is how one's identity is constructed, or at least interpreted.  It's essentially the same problem I have with people asking me what I do for a living, as if that's going to tell you anything about who I am as a human being.  It's not that I particularly hate my chosen career, it's that I hate getting pigeon-holed (or corn-holed) by a complete stranger because of my vocational preference or because of a biological function.   I remember both times being at the hospital for the birth of my kids and being referred to by the nursing staff as "the father" even when I was standing right there and they could have just as easily called me "hey you," or "that guy," or "mister" or "sir" or assigned me a number based on the order in which I came into the maternity ward.  It just really bugged me being referred to as "the father."  They way they used it seemed like such an antiseptic term.  Cold and impersonal.  You might as well just have called me "walking sperm bank."  All of the sudden my entire identity was boiled down to depositing my sperm into a viable uterus.

I hate having to play all these fucking social games with people, but sometimes it's necessary to expedite an undesireable interaction so I have to play my role.  But what makes it worse is that my identity apparently has to be boiled down to some single facet that every slack-jawed yokel can easily digest.  On the other hand, I suppose you're sitting there scratching your head wondering quietly to yourself how we're supposed to get to know each other if we can't ask each other mundane questions about our jobs and familial relations.  How else do we begin to piece together the identity of a person we just meet if we can't start playing amateur detective and gathering tedious facts about their life?

This is a problem.  I will concede... well, nothing.  I have found a solution to replace the annoying aspect of social interaction known as "small talk" thanks to one Chuck Klosterman.  If you don't know who Chuck Klosterman is then do yourself a favour and stop reading this and go out to the nearest bookstore (or for the socially crippled) and pick up any one of his books and I guarantee instant, lifelong hapiness.  Suffice it to say the man is a genius well ahead of his time.  For Christmas I recieved a somewhat unorthodox gift.  It is a product called Hypertheticals: 50 Questions for Insane Conversations which is essentially a box filled with fifty cue cards each with a hypothetical question written on it.  The product's author is Chuck Klosterman (see how it all ties together?) and most of the hypotheticals (or maybe all of them, I'm not sure) you'll recognize from his books, at least one of which you've finished reading which is why I assume you're back here. 

Anyway, Klosterman offers a little explanation about this product on one of the cards, which I suppose technically brings the count up to fifty-one and makes one of my earlier sentences wrong, but I was younger then and impetuous.  I've changed now, I assure you.  In his introduction he says, and I quote:

"Some people are extremely good at making small talk.  These people are better known as "idiots."  These are the kind of humans who can talk to a stranger for 40 minutes without learning anything essential about who that stranger is - they talk about the weather and about other people, and they mention what kind of car they drive and how old their children are.  They have conversations in public that are ultimately no different than silence in an empty room."

To me this makes so much fucking sense.  Like countless others before me I have endured excrutiating social interactions at various gatherings with friends of friends and complete strangers that I have had to have inane, soul-sucking conversations with apparently mind-numbingly boring, vanilla-flavoured automatons who apparently lead even more boring lives than a blind nun.  And although sometimes I've tried to break the mould I know that in some situations I've probably fallen victim to the Small Talk Syndrome (women know about shrinkage, right?)  myself and bored someone else to death.  And during the whole process, the final phase of which is discussing the terrible wedding reception/bar-mitzvah/baby group/family gathering/highschool reunion/Uncle Frank's release from prison and meeting his new boyfriend party with a fellow victim -be it a friend, colleague, or in my case usually my wife- we end up deconstructing each other so that we end up simply boiling people down into archetypes that we file away in various, oft-forgotten realms of our brain RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK-style.  We file under S for Sports Guy.  We file under A for Aggressive Vegetarian.  We file under C for Cunt.  We file under D for Dad.  But it doesn't have to be this way.  In his intro to Hypertheticals Chuck Klosterman goes on to say:

"... I see no value in asking someone a friendly, nonadversarial question if neither party cares what the answer is.  Instead, I prefer to ask questions where the solution is irrelevant - I pose hypothetical questions where how one answers the query matters far more than the literal conclusion.  There is no "right" answer to these kinds of questions.  The end never matters; what matters is how you get to the end.  What matters is how you think, not what you think."

Fucking brilliant.  However, where Klosterman's intent with these cards seems to be to create more stimulating conversation and more engaging social interaction to me it becomes more a question of identity.  Or more acurately, perception of identity.  If we took his advice to heart, if we asked each other questions about being trapped inside Bruce Springsteen's body or about kicking a friend in the ribs to save his life, then we cut through the bullshit and right to the heart of the matter.  I mean, what's the point of asking me questions that are easily (and somewht troublingly) available on the internet?  But if you ask me a hypothetical situation, if we enter into actual dialogue that requires us to explain how we arrived at a certain conclusion, not only might we have had a more interesting conversation, but also at the very least we might file each other under more interesting archetypes.  File under N for non-linear thinker.  File under P for Potential Psychopath. 

More importantly, though, engaging with each other in this way is far more productive.  Being a dad is great, but it's not the be all and end all of my identity.  Nor is being a teacher.  Nor is my obsession with watching and collecting movies.  Nor is my penchant for STAR WARS merchandise.  These things are not the beginning of who I am: they are byproducts of how I think.  What I do is a result of how I percieve the world around me, and that method of perception is at the very core of how we construct identity.  I think if one of the nurses at the hospital had asked me a question about whether or not I would save a friend from a grizzly bear attack in order to avoid a lifetime of rain (just buy Hypertheticals and read the damn thing) I think it would have eased some of the tension I was under at the time and I wouldn't have had to be just "the dad."  In a perfect world, in a perfect world...