Thursday, February 26, 2009

For the love of god, save the whales!

Okay, so remember when I bored you all with my new obsession with nature, and you all tried not to yawn too conspicuously (some of you unsuccessfully)? Well, here's more!

Planet Earth raises some interesting questions, like what exactly is "wildlife" anyway? Is wildlife just life that we humans haven't managed to destroy? Yet? Destroy yet? And why are we automatically discounted from it? Granted, we're not exactly wild, no matter what we hope our sports cars and permed hair say. We're pretty fucking domesticated. But we are animals, not necessarily any more or less important than camels or sting rays or krill. I recently read an interesting book called The Well-Dressed Ape that reminded me just that: we're all just animals, lowly wonderful animals, living and trying to make the best of what we have. Humans just so happen to have a lot. We live in the suburbs and have hair straighteners and make sock puppets. But we seem to think that our ability to film nature documentaries makes us something better.

So my colleagues and I have spent several of our most recent shifts absorbing this BBC goodness. But then we ran out, and had to make do with that Keanu atrocity, The Day The Earth Stood Still. The basic premise: aliens come to save the earth. Not to save humanity, mind you, but to save this mad-awesome planet that has amazing skillz, such as the ability to sustain complex life. The aliens have rightly surmised that it's not worth losing the earth for one lousy species, and really, that's all we are - just one species among many. And pretty arrogant too. When we've raped the land enough to threaten the existence of an animal, we then deign to make a last-ditch effort to try to save it from extinction. And now here we are. We've made ourselves into an endangered species: if we kill our planet, we kill ourselves. Every other species gone to extinction at least had the grace not to do it to themselves. They can blame us, mostly, or predators, or a bleak environment. We're the only ones to do it to ourselves. So maybe it is time for someone else to step in. I mean, what have we done lately?

Recycle? Fuck that. Recycling barely keeps pace with the useless new packaging we're always encasing things in. Our need to wrap water in plastic means that one day an archaeologist will unearth our decayed bones from under mountains of Evian bottles and think What strange creatures. At least the dinosaurs could blame a comet.

Save the whales? Save the lowland gorillas? Who are we saving when we can't or won't even save ourselves? Right now, hundreds of human babies are dying of the most retarded shit - hunger, preventable disease, lack of clean water. And here we are putting loonies into tin cans to save the noble rhinoceros. Meanwhile, our answer to "saving" endangered species is to yank them out of the wild, which we've pillaged beyond recognition anyway, and lock them up in a zoo so we can watch extinction up close and in person, and charge $48 a head for it, and pave over more paradise for it, and continue to fuck things up.

And when the last few of their kind are locked up and unable to breed in captivity (no one ever thinks of this before capturing them), our next instinct is "Hey, no problem. We'll just clone them. If we can't have snow leopards, we can at least have copies of snow leopards. That's good enough, right?" Well, you might want to ask the snow leopards. Or tell the curator not to worry that the Mona Lisa just burned to a crisp, because you made a photocopy, yo. Have we not learned that invasive human intervention is the problem, not the solution. How much more ridiculous can we get?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Save the whales!

I love panda bears.
I love polar bears.
I hate walruses.

I adore my job, but I can't tell you much about it. Confidentiality and all that. But what I can tell you is that it affords me plenty of opportunity to work my way through an enormity of DVDs...

I've always had the typical appreciation for elephants and zebras and giraffes and those big majestic beasts that are not normally found in my backyard or the petting zoo or the deli section. But watching the brilliant BBC series Planet Earth has taught me to love some of the less infamous creatures too, like otters, for example, which have now moved to #1 on the list of "Animals which I wouldn't mind being reincarnated as, if reincarnation exists, which I don't think it does, but just in case."

It has also taught me a healthy respect for Mr David Attenborough, who narrates this documentary. It took me about 16 seconds before declaring him "definitely a glass half empty kind of guy." He's a fan and enthusiastic user of devastating, unforgiving adjectives. A predator is never just a predator - it must also be fearsome, gargantuan, unrelenting. And a landscape must be harsh, deadly, gruelling. His stories usually go something like: the baby cub clings desperately to its starving mother, drinking her retched breast milk for the first three months of its life because it is blind and unable to fend for itself. And then it dies.

Attenborough himself almost becomes another specimen to observe, especially when he's making value judgements on unsuspecting animals. A bird, rejected by the female it was trying to impress, is further depressed when David intones "It's sad when even your best isn't good enough." Ouch.

It's funny how watching these animals and their strange habits and habitats makes you think so much about yourself. There's this one sequence when seals are forced, every single day of their lives, to swim across shark-infested waters just to get to their feeding ground. Meanwhile, the sharks chase after slippery, elusive creatures, just trying to get a bite. I picture myself in a field, faint with hunger, trying to convince a cow to sit still long enough for me to get a kebab out of him. Or worse yet, I picture myself darting across a parking lot being monitored by a sniper to get to my supermarket. This series has given me immense grocery-store guilt. My life up here on the top of the food chain is too easy. My prey doesn't try to bite back, or claw me in defense. It's pretty placid, in convenient portions, wrapped in plastic, ready to go.

That whole heart-pounding scene had me shouting Go seal, go! but later, when the seals had developed a taste for "blubber-rich penguins" I was like Fuck you, you dirty rotten seals! It seems that in these contests of nature, that one almost instinctively champions the underdog. You root for the prey, because prey are invariably cuter. I wonder, though, if we matched up dolphin vs baby deer, which I would cheer for.

But that's the difference between them and me: they worry about survival, and I worry about strictly hypothetical situations occurring to me from the office of my cushy job where I sit and watch nature-as-entertainment. A few bad weeks for these poor fellas mean that their whole food chain collapses, whereas the worst that happens to me is a lettuce shortage, resulting in romaine costing $4 a head instead of $1.29. And this overproduction of crops to feed all the privileged western mouths is what's destroying their precious habitat to begin with. Imagine what it would feel like if an iguana rang your doorbell and said: Pack your bags! I'm growing crops here now, you'll have to move. And that would be kind of the iguana to give you notice, because I don't think we do a very good job of that ourselves. I'm fairly certain that the discomfiting sound of chainsaws is their first indication that it's time to leave the neighbourhood.

This series pulls hard on your heart strings. At one point, with the picture facing away from me, I could only hear the tragic tune that was accompanying it. "What terrible thing is happening?" I enquired, only to be told that "A flower is growing." Well, it sounded like Schindler's List. Everything in nature is dramatic, never dull. You might think that a bump on a log is boring, but it's only because you're not looking close enough. The tragedy is there, lurking, believe me. But there was a small slice of upliftingness: Sadly, not all the mommy penguins come back, and some of them who do discover empty nests. The lady penguins turn their unrealized motherly instincts toward the poor orphaned penguins. In fact, so many would-be-mommies compete to adopt the orphan that they end up trampling him. To death.

But seriously, I've seen some amazing things too. I saw humpback whales do this crazy spiral move that would have earned them at least a bronze medal in synchronized swimming at the Obese Olympics. I saw General Sherman, a tree so big it has a name, and a title; a sequoia so huge it is the equivalent in weight to 10 blue whales. How can they know such a thing? Well, maybe they made it up. But still. I saw dolphins hydroplaning, because why not make hunting fun? I saw the terrifying vampire squid - from hell. Actually, it was more like the depths of the ocean, which is good because I can probably expect to go to hell, but I'm pretty sure I can manage to keep off the floor of the ocean, and let me tell you, I don't want to be wherever this guy is.

So, I've run out of room before I've run out of steam. I'll save the rest for later, and you're not going to want to miss it: I will explain what happens when you mix up a nature documentary with a bad Keanu Reeves movie (yes, I am aware that the 'bad' was redundant.) Roar!!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rock out with my mock out.

The new boy brought me to a café nestled strangely in Chinatown. It's the only place in a 4 block radius that doesn't sell pho. What it does sell is lifestlye. It's aiming for the sweet spot of chic-and-trendy-but-not-trying-too-hard-but-hard-enough-to-justify-charging-$8-for-a-cup-of-coffee-that's-not-even-fair-trade. It’s the kind of coffee house that is proudly, fiercely independent, decorated with dream catchers, a collection of porcelain owls, and mismatched tables and chairs that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn were leftovers from the set of The Wonder Years.

A leopard print chair distinguished our wobbly table from all the others, and once seated we were visited by a gypsy woman with a basket full of pygmy instruments – I got a tiny bell, and Boy got finger cymbals. “It’s not much, but it’s participatory,” the gypsy woman said by way of explanation.

Participatory? Before we could properly digest this thought (or contemplate bolting), the gypsy lady and all the glorious layers of her gauzy skirt climbed up on the stage, slung her antlered guitar around her neck, and hence commenced an intense affair most commonly known as “café rock.”

Yes, her guitar had antlers.

Yes, her sidekick played such various instruments as the organ, the pan flute, and the wind chimes (these in particular meant that we should all join in with our own “participatory” contributions, eye-rolling optional.)

Yes, the gypsy woman closed her translucent eyelids, sighed an ethereal breath, and said “Now I’m going to play some Dolly Parton.”

“I hope it’s Jolene,” whispered Boy, as sarcastically as a whisper can be.

“It’s Jolene” said the gypsy woman, and so it was. And about halfway through the flakiest excuse for Dolly that I’ve ever heard, the coffee grinder behind the bar, beside the bucket marked POTATO that was literally only big enough for the one and thus aptly labelled, made a noise oddly akin to my Katy Perry ringtone. Normally I’d be relieved that it wasn’t my cell phone interrupting Great Art, but at this point I’d been plotting my getaway for nearly an hour, rueing my perch of high visibility, and was more or less numb with Great Art and was intensely craving a Great Escape. Or a brownie, which looked delicious behind its glass dome, but probably tasted of commitment (for at least as long as it takes to eat a brownie, which to you may be a modest ten minutes or so, but when the music devolved from lyrics to odd throat noises and the clanging of cutlery against green glass bottles, every painful second counts.)

Mercifully, we capitalized on gypsy woman turning her back on the audience because “lyrics are hard to remember when you’re emotional” and we fled the scene, preferring to roam the frigid February night air than to rock out over herbal tea for one more minute than we’d already had.

My mother used to tell us If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.

But my mother never said nothin about blog posts.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Where the grass is greener.

So maybe it wasn't always the most exciting of relationships. The truth is, it's been good for me - safe and dependable, and I've had nothing to complain about. Or nothing major, anyway.

It's been a good ride, these past few months, and I've been content. Grateful, even. It's been interesting getting to know someone new, learning to trust, putting faith in someone else again. But the passion of novelty soon wore off and I was left feeling just...comfortable.

I don't know how to say this other than by the most direct means: I was with someone else. I cheated. I am a cheater, and the worst kind because I knew it was wrong but I did it anyway.

And now I'm marinating in a thick broth of guilt, as I deserve to be, and I'm contemplating what it will mean to confess. I am not by nature a dishonest person but the stress of my sins has me reaching for an arsenal of justifications that I know full well are self-serving bullshit. So what if I was unhappy? Is that an excuse? In the light of day, it seems a very poor one. I could have\should have ended things honourably, but instead I've become this deceitful person who shared her secrets with someone else, let someone else touch her shivery spot at the back of her neck.

And you know what keeps me up at night?
It was good.
It was damn good.

It was better than I'd been fantasizing about, better than I've had in a while. I know it isn't fair to compare but yes - better.

If I'm going to end it anyway (and that's certainly my intention, once I find the balls), is there any point to coming clean? Would I be doing it for my benefit, or for his? Can't I just spare him this hurt, and spare myself from being branded a holy-awful-disgusting-disappointment? There's a bit part of me, the coward part, telling me to avoid the conflict and just let the relationship ...trail off.

I know, I know, it's my own goddamned fault. I did this to myself. I turned my back on the gentle soul who has been faithfully and lovingly caring for my hair since that fateful day back in August when nobody else was open. I've let another man shampoo me, wisp my bangs, rub serum on my roots. I can't take it back, even if I wanted to, but with highlights like these, it's hard to feel remorse.

The hair knows what it wants and will break hearts to get it. I'm sorry to see a relationship end of course but these shiny, lustrous tresses deserve to be adored, and I'm glad they've met their match.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Thanx For The Memories.

It’s a neighbourhood pub with ambition.

The red velvet-lined banquettes scream “Aren’t we neat and eccentric!” while the hanging rack of mismatched, hepatitis-stained beer steins assures “But we’re not even trying!”

We sit down at a table too small to fit all four of our knees underneath it. Apparently we should have left some of them at home. We make food selections off a central chalkboard because the “menu” is just a Xeroxed piece of paper with fresh (as in, still damp) gravy stains on it (at least, I hope to god it was gravy) and Andrew gets something on tap that he pointedly refers to as “not a stout.” It’s not the usual pub grub coming our way: there’s goat cheese to be had, and porcini mushrooms, and other things that aren’t wings and onion rings.

There are two men sharing a table nearby. They don’t exactly eat off each other’s plates, but they do halve their portions for sharing. I spend the next hour trying to decide if they’re gay. The fringed scarf trend really throws off my gaydar. Maybe the difference between gay and straight really has become that negligible.

The low lighting clearly appeals to the lugubrious kids and their dubious dates. Stacks of alternative newspapers cater to the theatre students who come to discuss truth, beauty, and America’s Next Top Model , but a bookcase full of important titles beckons to the intellectuals as well (unless you take a closer look, notice the uncracked spines, and revise that to pseudo-intellectuals.) You can see how the prop chess set and the scotch list play into the sweetly contrived ambiance, but the mood music, well, that’s another story.

Now, I suppose it’s possible that I might have interpreted the music as sexy if I was Merv Griffin, but the truth is, 70s game show themes are rarely my cup of tea. I was telling Andrew about my sudden compulsion to “Come on down!” when the music literally changed to the intro to The Price Is Right. And then it got stuck there for 20 of the most temple-throbbing minutes of my life. Thank goodness the music was so loud as to preclude so much as the attempt of conversation because otherwise I fear that I would have treated my fellow patrons to words not even seasoned pub-goers are comfortable with.

Our food arrived, rather quickly I thought, mercifully quickly, by wait staff that seemed blissfully unaware of the noise pollution assaulting our ears and who were friendly in that not-too-friendly sort of way. I watched Andrew pick perfectly harmless tomatoes off a burger that was thicker than any human jaw could hope to conquer and navigate legendary wedges the size of walruses. Walruses! Oh, the bulk! The sheer bulk of them!

The pile of potatoes defeated him in the end, but I ate his tomatoes so they wouldn’t feel self-conscious, thus restoring karma to the universe, or so I thought. Perhaps I was a tad unfair to the venerable restaurant business in a past life (or, more likely, a past post) because I can only assume that what happened next was destined to be.

Just as I was getting into the groove of The Price is Right, maybe jonesing for a little plinko, the music came to a scratching, screeching halt and something even better replaced it. I can only describe it as a fusion of blaxploitation\super hero music, porn-style. The lights went down and I braced myself.

I imagined a drag queen in thigh-high kinky boots, rocking an extravagant Tina Turner wig and eyelashes extending halfway to Maine making her grand entrance.

I anticipated the arrival of a slick dude with a plume in his hat and goldfish in his platforms who would shuffle between tables, slapping people on the back and winking at anything in a skirt. Or at the very least, I thought a caped man suffering from disco fever might make an appearance, but you know what happened?

Nothing. Nothing except for a fat guy in a very open-collared shirt taking the mic and complimenting himself on the music selection so far and psyching us up for his imminent vocal stylings .

We left immediately. We grabbed our coats and headed out into the chill to see what trouble we could find, or if trouble would find us, and on Elgin street, neither is to be discounted.