Too Much Information

2 09 2016

I signed up for a Shopper’s Drug Mart Optimum card, because you really can save a lot points to spend later, at their store, based on the fact that you shopped there before.

They don’t just hand these things out to anyone, you understand? They only give them to repeat shoppers. You get rewarded for shopping there, beyond just the daily great savings.

You get further savings based on a points system. You collect points to spend later against further purchases.

I’m still trying to work out the formula to determine the break­even point, but suffice it to say, there will be immense savings at some point in the future.

When I filled out the personal information section of my Optimum Card registration form I used false information, as I always do when I fill these things out.

Name, date of birth, gender, email address,… These are personal details that are frankly none of Shopper’s Drug Mart Optimum Card Loyalty Program’s business.

Normally it’s not a big deal because I usually give a fake email address, but this time I provided my real address, but all the other details were fake. So now my mailbox is filling up with sales and promotions emails for a sixty­seven year old woman named Doreen.

This didn’t happen right away. It took a couple of months before I started receiving emails and by the time they started coming in, I’d completely forgotten about it.

So I was a little surprised when I started getting these emails that started with, “Doreen: We think you’ll love these savings! ”

I was confused at first but then I finally remembered that I’m Doreen. And it seems Doreen has smoker’s cough. And incontinence. She may require adult diapers.

I’m starting to get a little worried about Doreen.

Even though Doreen is fictional, I still feel like I shouldn’t be reading her email. This is a lot of very personal information about someone I’ve never even met.

It just doesn’t seem right. I made up Doreen to avoid giving away any personal information about myself, and now I’m getting very personal information about someone I made up in order to avoid getting too personal.

The worst part is, Shopper’s Drug Mart thinks Doreen is a real person. And now I’m wondering if they’re worried about her too. Should I call them and let them know that Doreen is a figment of my imagination? Or will I just be letting them down?

It gets even worse.

I’ve been reading about the recent Supreme Court decision to allow assisted suicide. And I’m torn about it because now that I know I have the power to end Doreen’s life, I’m not sure I can make that decision for her.

The Center Didn’t Hold

19 07 2016

It’s been so long since my last post, I don’t even know where to begin.

The world boils over with terrorist attacks by a foe that proudly claims to be doing Allah’s work, while we fight to protect those seeking religious freedom as long as they aren’t Southern Baptists.

A race war brews in America thanks to the repetitive and heavily-publicized shootings of black citizens by white cops, while a black president pleads for restraint and white liberals show up at BLM protests in political blackface.

BLM protestors demand that the LGBT community take a back seat at their own parade, which they do because they don’t want to offend their right to hijack an event about equality.

The second amendment tries to protect itself from guns by buying more guns, while the gun control lobby claims it’s guns and not violent criminals that are causing all the mayhem.

The United Kingdom passionately votes in favor of leaving the EU, and the next day the hung over nation’s most popular Google search is, “What is the EU?”

Donald J. Trump wins the GOP nomination because his supporters love that he “speaks the truth”. When clear and repetitive evidence that he’s lying most of the time is presented to his supporters they say, “We don’t care!”

And to top it all off some idiot sets fire to a kitten at a music festival in Saskatchewan.

There are problems everywhere, and everywhere else there’s a protest about the problems, and then a counter-protest to the original protest. Everyone has a strident, outspoken opinion, and everyone else has a solution in direct opposition to it.

There’s a famous logical teaser called The Liar’s Paradox that demonstrates a looping contradiction:

“The following statement is true; the previous statement is false.”

To call the statement true is false and to call the statement false is true. It’s what comes to mind when I think of the escalating schism between the Left and the Right that deadlocks every subject in its vicinity. The Western world seems to be suffering some sort of grand mal fit, and the only anti-seizure medication is locked in a drawer whose key is a logical paradox with no right answer.

The only place on the political spectrum that any sane person can rationally inhabit is the center. But the center isn’t sexy because it requires balance and thoughtfulness and due consideration of all sides of all arguments. It requires internal reflection and external debate. It requires experience, which at its most fruitful leads to adulthood.

Where are all the adults?


Mom? Dad?

Where is everyone?

Chasing The Beaver

26 07 2015

Todd 3It’s the final day of the 2015 Tour de France and it looks like Christopher Froome is going to mount the podium for the second time in his career. Only two other riders from the British Isles have won the Tour de France: Stephen Roche (Ireland) in 1987, and Bradley Wiggins (UK) in 2012. The Tour has long been dominated by an impressive and intimidating field of Europeans, with riders from France, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Spain taking the bulk of the wins since the first Tour in 1903. From wherever they hail, Tour de France winners scare me like no other professional athlete.

Even non-professional serious cyclists are intimidating, and they seem to know this. Many bike shops, in my experience, are staffed by snooty, hip, casually abrasive tyrants. If you happen to innocently wander in without displaying the plumage and markings of a grim, suffering velophile fresh off a century ride, you’ll be treated about as well as Rosa Parks asking a member of the Ku Klux Klan for his seat on the bus.

Maybe I’m exaggerating, but most casual cyclists will have at least one bike store experience that made them consider trading in their bike for a suicide note. If it happens more than once, you tend to get a little defensive whenever you cross the threshold of a bike shop, especially if you’re in a particularly hip part of a very serious cycling town.

May 2015, Portland, Oregon

You can’t go to Portland without visiting Powell’s Bookstore. It’s a full city block of books, new and used, of every variety you can imagine. It isn’t just a bookstore, it’s an obsessive-compulsive disorder. It’s a biblioverse of epic proportions. It’s spectacular. Even so, the cycling section of the store is a little disappointing, especially for a town so committed to the bicycle as Portland.

I was looking for a good book about the Tour de France, and I was a little perturbed that the overwhelming majority of Tour titles were about the Lance Armstrong scandal. It seemed like every other book about cycling was about the ‘Armstrong Lie’. Eventually I found one that seemed like an interesting read. Slaying The Badger is the story of the 1986 Tour de France in which Greg Lemond beats teammate and five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault, aka The Badger. I’d never heard of the book and was only vaguely aware of Greg Lemond in the context of the Armstrong affair as he was one of the many people smeared by Lance in his savage pursuit of glory. I’d never even heard of Bernard Hinault, nor his well-known animal alias. Since then I’ve read much on the subject of the Tour, and am quite familiar with the big names of the sport, but just a few months ago my grasp on the subject and its lexicon was pretty fragile.

The day after my Powell Books visit, my wife and I were wandering around the Pearl District and decided to check out a cool-looking bike shop, somehow forgetting everything I’d learned about cool bike shops and the evil martinets that lurk within. While my wife looked at outrageously-priced cycling garments for uber-hip twenty-something assholes, I browsed the limited array of saddles, looking for a specific design that a friend of mine recently bought. When the tall, skinny kid came over to find out if I was as stupid as I looked, I was forced to try and describe the seat. The first time I saw it on my friend’s bike, I mockingly called it the Camel Toe because of the tuning-fork slit straight up the front of seat. When the child-fascist clerk asked me what it looked like, I said, playfully, “It kind of looks like a camel toe.” He stared at me like I’d just stepped on his tail, then asked me in a withering tone, ‘What kind of riding do you do?’

It just so happens that I was a newly minted member of my local velodrome cycling club. On top of having accomplished some century rides on the road (the term for a ride of a hundred miles or more), I was also a bona fide track rider. It doesn’t get any more real than that, ladies and gentlemen. Track riding incorporates all that is sacred in the rarefied world of cycling: speed, racing, suffering, and, best of all, fixed gear bikes. Fixed gear bikes, or ‘fixies’, are the holy grail of snide, hipster douchebags. They are also undeniably awesome. Which makes me undeniably awesome. What kind of riding do I do? Well… you’re about to find out, you little shit.

Track riders come in two types: sprinters and endurance racers. The former are all muscle and power with piston legs, while the latter are lithe, lean and agile. I am neither of these. If someone were to guess my sport, they would probably pick darts or bowling. One might guess that I could ride a bike, but would never think I did it with any sort of usefulness.

‘You ride track?’

‘Yes, we have, there is, I’m close to a track it’s the only indoor track in Western Canada. And I’m a member. Of the track.’

‘Cool. What’s it called?’

At this point, the creepy little bastard actually walked over to his Apple laptop and opened up Google. I told him the name of the track, and to my relief he’d heard of it. I felt something approaching redemption, but I could still see that he didn’t quite believe that I was cool enough, or skinny enough, to ride track. I can’t explain why, but for some reason I needed this kid’s acceptance, so I tried to impress him with my knowledge of his own town and mentioned my visit to Powell’s the night before.

‘Yeah, it’s too bad there are so many books about the Lance Armstrong scandal, and so few about the Tour de France. I found a good one, though. It’s called… it’s called, umm…’ I faltered for a second. The miner inside my head swinging a pickaxe at my memory just could not find that golden vein. I knew there was a verb and an animal in the title. Searching… searching… got it!

‘Oh yeah, it’s called Chasing the Beaver. It’s about Lemond and [mumbly incoherence]. Looks like a pretty good read!’

The kid almost laughed, but that would have been uncool. Instead, he sarcastically pretended that I got the title right.

‘Oh yeah, I know that one. It’s about Greg Lemond and Bernard Hinault. That’s right, they called him The Beaver. Yeah, they made a documentary out of the book. I think it’s also called Chasing the Beaver. Yup. Good book. Have fun at your track.’

I caught up with my wife and I went back to our hotel thinking, ‘Well that went well. Not sure why he suddenly brightened up at the end there. He must have suddenly realized that I’m the real deal and that he can’t judge a book by it’s… dammit!. It’s called Slaying the Badger!’

The upside to the story is that I coined a new personal expression. ‘Chasing the beaver’ is what I’m doing whenever I try to impress someone out of insecurity. If I’ve gleaned anything from the long, storied history of the Tour de France it’s that cycling is about suffering, perseverance, and, more often than not, humiliation and defeat. In the spirit of the latter, I’m a seasoned pro.

How To Drink Without Alcohol

23 07 2015

“Let’s go for drinks!”

It’s a common refrain in the adult world. My friends know by now that I don’t drink so it’s understood that when we “go for drinks”, whatever I drink down won’t be coming back up at the end of the night like in the old days. In the business world it’s a little more complicated.

Socializing can be hard work if you aren’t close to the people around the table. There’s an awful lot of small talk that is boring at best, but more often skews to gratingly annoying. Attempts at humor almost always fail, and the smiles that we force out into the bleak aftermath of a bad joke are grimaces against a bitter wind. Alcohol is a welcome friend under such circumstances. The more you ingest, the higher your tolerance for mediocrity. In my personal experience, the goal was always to drink enough that it was no longer me listening politely to someone else, but everyone else being forced to listen to Me. Booze was the impresario that granted a stage to my inner performer. I became the aftermath.

After coming to terms with my bad drinking habits and going cold turkey, I had to inform my friends that Mr. Saturday Night would no longer be making Tuesday appearances. I think most of them were a little relieved, but there was some lingering confusion that remained somewhat unresolved. “Is he an alcoholic?” I don’t know. Am I? Had I opted for a 12-step program, I’m sure I would have been forced to confront that question with unnecessary starkness, and it would have been a resounding “Yes”. I say ‘unnecessary’ because I never felt incapable of removing alcohol from my life. Had I failed, I would have had to submit myself to poorly lit rooms, bad coffee, and other people’s sad, sorry tales. It would have made me want to drink even more.

Am I an alcoholic? Nah. Alcoholics can’t just quit. They have an addiction. They have dependencies. They have to grapple with a futility that I never knew. I was able to quit. It was hard at first, but then it just became the new normal. Dealing with childhood trauma, or divorce, or economic ruin are reasons to drink. I had none of those. It was ultimately just a health choice, like quitting sugar. But it’s more than that, isn’t it?

Drinking when you aren’t great at control is fraught with circumstance. I can admit that when I was a drinker I had a drinking problem, but that doesn’t carry over to my current status. An alcoholic remains an alcoholic his whole life, even if he never takes another sip. That isn’t my story, but the complications that arise from drinking too much are the same regardless of whether you are a diagnosed addict or a frat house party animal. The same series of regrets accumulate, from being hung over too often to missing out on the parts of life that require sobriety, such as participating in sports or getting up before noon. Whether you are able to quit and stay quit or need lifelong help, the damage that gets done still gets done, and this makes the conversation around drinking complicated with people I don’t know.

Every time I face a situation where I’m having to socialize with work contacts over drinks and I very noticeably order the non-alcoholic beer, my companions either come at me straight with, “Oh, are you an alcoholic?”, or they try to tactfully ignore the subject and just label me a recovering alcoholic in their private thoughts. Neither of these reactions is ideal. With the former I end up sputtering out a half-hearted, “No, I’m just a non-drinker,” and with the latter I have to accept that I am being branded something I’m not. Of course there’s the distinct possibility of a third reaction which is that they don’t care and don’t bother attaching any significance to it at all.

In any event, sometimes I wish I could just say, “Yes, I’m an alcoholic,” but this feels disingenuous. There was no rock-bottom for me, no tragic tales of my wretched downfall and the inevitable reckoning with a higher power to forgive myself my many trespasses. I don’t have any sad stories of when alcohol robbed me of my life or ruined the lives of others. I don’t feel that I have any entitlements to the cursed battlefield of addiction and disease that is alcoholism.

On the other hand, saying “No, I’m not an alcoholic, I just have poor impulse control so I have to stay away from the stuff,” reads very similarly to “Yes, I am an alcoholic.” So how do I steer people away from that conclusion? Or more to the point, how do I steer people to the conclusion that it’s just a choice I’ve made and that’s all there is to it?

Using the “it’s for my health” excuse is my default. It covers the why without having to go into the when or the how. And as I get older, there’s less and less focus on alcohol as a social tool, and people are also getting more and more used to hearing about each other’s dietary restrictions. Unfortunately, I no longer have alcohol as an antidote to listening to someone explain why they don’t eat gluten.

Stop Doing It White

6 07 2015

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes a letter to his son in an excerpt from his new book Between the World and Me. In it he speaks of the dream of being white and the breaking of the black body to achieve that dream. The essay is beautiful and powerful and it reminded me that I don’t own any privilege in the black world. As much as I may want to reach out and help someone out of racial inequality, the very act of pulling someone up toward me is just another reminder that I am up and they are down. Us and them. This is the world as we see it, from both sides.

Coates talks about the importance of the individual. The human soul is made from the heart and the brain, which are fragile and violable. We who live within the white dream can comfort ourselves by elevating our bodies to the realm of the ever-after because we built the dream. And so we can inspire ourselves with the dream of being benevolent, of accepting them. The very act of acceptance is doomed to be just another version of the dream that we built for ourselves and excluded them from.

I recently saw a photo of a white lady playing guitar to a group of African kids in some destitute village that we reward ourselves by pitying, and my first thought was how happy the lady looked. She was beaming. And why not? She was living her dream. Her privilege is to “make a sacrifice” on someone else’s behalf, to pour a little of her abundance into needful hands. How proud she must have felt on the return trip home that she gave so much of herself to people in need. Never mind that the dream left with her and they will never know what that dream feels like.

There’s no privilege for white people to check on behalf of anyone else. In his essay, Coates recalls reading a quote by Saul Bellow asking, “Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulu’s?” to which Ralph Wiley replied, “Tolstoy is the Tolstoy of the Zulus.” There is no us and them, if we are to properly engage with one another outside of race. The act of reaching out and down only entrenches the divide. Reaching across is the only option. Tolstoy belongs to everyone, but our experiences are our own.

The Age of Outrage

29 04 2015

Maggie-Smith-maggie-smith-30743001-773-1024If you’ve ever watched Downton Abbey, or Room With A View, or The Age Of Innocence, or pretty much anything starring Maggie Smith, you’ve probably noticed the unbearable suffocation of social restrictions that people were expected to abide by lest they be considered “uncivilized”. If the above depictions of the era are at all true, it seems the late 19th century was a time of widespread disapproval of virtually everything. So much effort was spent on ensuring no one got the wrong idea about something, it’s a miracle anyone was able to discuss much of anything. It seems silly to us now, this narrow and fastidious Victorian world view, but perhaps it shouldn’t.

On the surface it would seem that we live in a very permissive society. Anything goes. You’re gay? Awesome, let’s have a parade! You’re into BDSM? Great, what’s your safe word? You’re a prostitute? No judgement here, lady. Let’s get you some free health care. You’re a drug addict? Here are some fresh needles and a clean, quiet place to shoot up. All fair as far as I’m concerned. No need to judge everybody, right?


If you belong to any group that is deemed marginalized, you are pre-approved for an outrage-free line of credit. If you don’t have any victim credentials, check your privilege and stop your arrogant micro-aggression, whitey.

Just as the Victorian era had its exhaustive list of unmentionables that gave proper ladies the vapors, so too do we have our socially proscribed taboos: being rich makes you public enemy number one; mentioning any skepticism about the “settled-ness” of climate change science will get you burned at the stake as an enviro-apostate; wondering out loud whether under-scrutinized third trimester abortions are excessive is pretty much the same as setting kittens on fire.

Not all that long ago you could debate each of these things. Should the wealthy be allowed to decide whether to contribute more to the public purse? Should we focus more on pollution control rather than simple cap-and-trade? Should doctors be allowed to simply ask why a woman waited until the day before her due date before deciding the kid is a reject? Now you’re expected to simply know the right answer without even thinking about it,  or be doomed to roam the wilderness of commonly rejected attitudes (aka Fox News).

I remember debating class in high school. You were given a topic and then told you were arguing in favor or opposed. The idea was that you apply as much logic and as little emotion as possible to attempt to persuade the audience to your point of view. It was a particularly rich experience if you happened to vehemently oppose the position but were forced to argue in favor. It provided you with the tools to properly assess any argument from multiple points of view, thereby coming by your final opinion honestly, and with the caveat that your position might change in the future given new data and new bits of intelligence.

Now we bellow and wail, and screech full-throated group-think at anyone who dares question our commonly held social philosophies. Now we carry placards and chant “shame” with our singular voice of enlightened conformity. We don’t even want to persuade our opponents to see our point of view by tempting them with logic and critical thinking. We’d rather cast them into the volcano, burn them at the stake, scream bloody murder on social media until their lives are ruined and justice is done.

The burning rage of the self-appointed advocates of the disenfranchised is the heliotrope to which we bend like a field of sunflowers, all of us facing the blinding light of the aggrieved in silent salute. How did we arrive at this place? When did we usurp the rights of the many for the rights of the sorrowful few? How did it become okay to ban peanuts from the workplace for the sake of one or two allergic idiots who can’t seem to keep their hands off the very thing that will kill them?

Every generation ferments into a ripe, aged state of rigid absolutes. We shed our flighty idealism for hard-earned reality, and each new generation supposedly comes by their reality honestly, within the context of the zeitgeist of the times. We might disagree on art, or popular culture, or even morality, but ultimately change will happen according to the hard-won ideals of energetic youth. That has always been the case.

Has this changed? Are we entering a new Victorian era when social mores are not only commonly accepted, but rigidly enforced by the bien pensants? I worry that new generations won’t be able to conscientiously arrive at hard-won opinions of their own because of the the brow-beating, remonstrating glare of social media’s judging omnipresence.

Facebook and Twitter has become the disapproving dowager of our times and the wagging finger of the digital age. I just hope there’s enough gritty rebellion left in the populace to ensure the overthrow of blind moral outrage and the thawing out of our frigid unmentionables.

This Totally Isn’t 40

6 04 2015

I just finished watching This Is 40, Judd Apatow’s “truthful” look at middle aged existence and parenthood. Paul Rudd owns a struggling independent record label dedicated to the “artists that he’s passionate about”, and Leslie Mann owns a generic retail store that is losing money partly because one of her employees may be stealing, but mostly because it’s a generic retail store and why would it succeed? They are parents to two girls. Their sexual passion is on the wane. They have no money.

We hear about money problems throughout the film. Leslie Mann is missing twelve thousand dollars from her store. To find out what happened to it, she goes out with the employee she suspects to the kind of bar where NHL hockey players spend twelve thousand dollars in a night. She dances with the Philadelphia Flyers. She has a great time. They have no money.

Paul Rudd has been giving his father money on the sly, to the tune of eighty thousand dollars over two years. He hides this from Leslie Mann. His music label, which has never made any money, is losing money. He hides this from Leslie Mann. He’s missed a mortgage payment. He hides this from Leslie Mann. To relieve their stress they drive their BMW, instead of their Lexus, to Laguna Beach and stay in a luxury suite with an ocean view. They laugh. They reconnect. They have a great time. They have no money.

Leslie Mann finds out about the money. She’s mad that Paul Rudd lied. They fight about it in the study that is connected to their bedroom. You can see in the distance, yes distance, that there is another room on the other side of the bedroom with a lovely sofa. It’s a dressing area next to the walk-in closet, opposite the en suite with the separate tub and shower. The neo-colonial house is massive. It has a swimming pool and a gated, circular driveway. They have marginal businesses that make next to nothing. They live in a mansion. They have no money.

Paul Rudd’s latest musical project is a failure. He doubles down and spends another twelve thousand dollars. He puts it on his Amex. They haven’t had any money for a while, but his Amex has lots of room. Thanks Amex! The gamble doesn’t pay off. He loses even more money.

They are planning a lavish birthday party for Paul Rudd. It’s a catered affair. They have no money. Leslie Mann wants to cancel it. Not because they can’t afford it, but because she’s mad at Paul Rudd for lying to her about the money. Which they don’t have. They go ahead with the lavish party anyway.

Believe it or not, this movie is not about money. Money is a side show. It’s not the problem. It’s just another symptom of being forty. Everyone who’s forty has money problems, right? Tell me about it. Nope, the problem is just life, dang it. Life is hard! It’s hard when you lose your ability to get an erection and have to rely on Viagra! Aww geez! Ain’t that the truth! It’s hard when your husband doesn’t look at you the way he looks at your hot, young employee! Damn it, I know! It’s a real struggle to navigate the murky waters of your teenaged daughter’s social media streams! Man alive, it’s funny because it’s true.

Money. Yawn. Money isn’t everything, right? Why do we let ourselves worry so much? I’m sure things will work out. It’s probably just several hundred thousand dollars in bills they owe and their businesses don’t make a dime. But hey, we all learned something, right? Adult life might be whacky and unsatisfying at times, but Amex is there when you need it.