Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Moving Days

Hello Regular reader (I think there are 5 of you but I can't tell for sure). This is just a quick note to say that the Wednesday morning post is moving to Thursday because another project I am working on is going to begin posting on Wednesdays. Check back tomorrow for a tell-all expose about my weird obsession with the bathroom.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Karaoke Night

I can't remember the last time I "went out" for something other than a hockey game. I think it was probably the Starbucks holiday party that I was graciously invited too even though I left in September. Most nights you are much more likely to find me at home playing video games and sitting with Amanda than you are to find me talking to people.

Sometimes Amanda invites me to things with her friends from school. I always feel kind of hesitant about these things. I know Amanda's friends are nice people but that doesn't stop me from wondering what I would say. Wondering leads to anxiety and I'm really lazy so the idea of staying at home is usually much more appealing. But if I say no to you enough times, eventually I'm going to feel guilty for saying no so if you just keep asking, eventually you'll get me out.

On Monday afternoon while I was in the middle of my last day of classes when Amanda sent me a text message telling me that she was thinking about going out with her friends to celebrate the end of the year. She wanted to know if I wanted to come. I hesitated. I was going to be done class at 9:30 and likely not downtown until later. She said that wasn't a problem. Then I wanted to come up with more excuses but I'd already said no enough times to count for the year so I said yes. After all, what was the worst that could happen.

Two hours later, I'm leaning against the wall of a College bar with a half empty beer in hand watching people do karaoke.

Karaoke is perfect for my social skills. No, I don't participate. Karaoke provides me with ample opportunities to point and laugh at people internally. It gives me a sense of security knowing that no matter how stupid I look standing by myself silently for most of the night, I still look less ridiculous than the dude strutting around the stage singing Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun". Maybe that's bad. I really shouldn't sort people into a hierarchy of ridiculousness but I have to have something to think about while I struggle for something to say and wonder what the other ten people I'm standing next to are thinking.

I was glad that I went. Amanda invites me to these things and I say no because I think that I'll be left by myself to be frustrated. Amanda is good enough to talk to me and ask me "is this super lame" as many times as is necessary to reassure her that it's pretty good and I'm enjoying myself even though its not in the way everyone else expects. It gave me an opportunity to share my favourite story about karaoke with one of Amanda's friends though.

There's this bad that Jason discovered. It is usually empty. This is because it's attached to a restaurant. They have a TV though and so when there are Leafs games on, we usually go there because we have the place to ourselves and can pick a seat. The first few times I went with Jason we watched the game and then when it was over we left the Bar as empty as we had found it. One time when the game ended, a band appeared and started playing well arranged cover songs for a small crowd.

This one time we stayed a little to long after the game and discovered that they were having a karaoke night. Alarm bells went off in my head immediately. They announced that they were going to start in fifteen minutes and there were nine people in the bar; the two guys running karaoke, one of their friends, the bartender, Jason, Myself, two friends, and a guy who had obviously had way too much to drink. I had never watched a karaoke night happen before but I was pretty sure that if you wanted to do it on a stage in a bar you were going to need more than 7 people to participate (remember that one of the 9 was the bartender and there was no way in hell I was getting up in front of 8 people to sing).

We were in the middle of a pitcher of beer and so we weren't prepared to just leave ( I think we were still watching the game too) so we just stayed there for half an hour. It was one of the most awkward half hours of my life. I think they sang nine songs in that time and six of them were by the two guys running the night, two were from their friend, and one was from the super drunk guy (proving that you can't host a karaoke night without a really drunk person participating). We tried not to look and did our best to remain polite but I just wanted to crawl under the table.

Maybe one of these days I'll become a Karaoke person but for now I'm content to be over here with my beer while you're up on stage.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Dirty Birds

"So there's these two pigeons on the balcony"

We live on the sixth floor of an apartment building on a block that is filled with tall apartment buildings. I don't know if its because pigeons like apartment buildings or because weird people in my building feel the need to feed pigeons (because life is obviously really hard for them in the city where there are thousands of them...) but we have had pigeons floating around our window since we moved in. There used to be pigeon netting but then they replaced our balcony and now the netting is gone. We could have put it back up but the pigeons generally left us alone for the warmer months so we left it like it was. We have a nice view anyways and sticking some chicken wire in front of that view didn't seem like a good time.

Things have changed since winter set in. We put a bunch of stuff out on the balcony in November and never went outside again. I stopped needing to get my bike, the weather got cold, and we blocked the door with a mountain of stuff which we call the Bermuda Triangle (the joke in the house is that anytime something is lost, it's there). Christmas came, the cold weather set in, and suddenly our balcony was pigeon central station. There were four or five pigeons who seemed to frequent our spot and they would often huddle in one of the two planter boxes that I had outside with tree saplings prepping for Spring. We felt kind of bad for them. The winter sucked. It was cold. Banging on the window didn't really scare them off either (try as we might) so we just forgot about it. We figured we would clean up their mess in the Spring once we actually needed to use the balcony again.

How much do you know about birds and reproduction? Let me give you a lesson. Birds lay eggs. Some birds only lay eggs at a specific time of the year. Other birds lay eggs whenever they have enough food and energy to do so. Birds that can lay eggs anytime can be very successful in environments with plenty of resources (like your average city with its well meaning pigeon feeders...). Pigeons can lay a pair of eggs around four times a year if food and nesting conditions permit. They are everywhere in the city because they have babies all the time.

Pigeons: the rabbits of the sky

The second thing you need to know about baby birds is that they are usually pretty pitiful when they are born. Go look for a picture of a baby duck. Doesn't it look so cute? Doesn't it also look like it could be eaten by a small racoon? Because they look so pitiful, baby birds need protection. One of my favourite questions is "how come I never see any baby pigeons?"

The answer is that Pigeons spontaneously appear out of the sky!

Ha ha just kidding. You never see baby pigeons because for the first month of their life they are good for nothing. they can sit in the nest and they can chirp. And they're ugly too. Their heads look like a velociraptor. You know...the ones that eat Wayne Knight in the original Jurassic Park. They're helpless and not likely to generate sympathy. For this reason, Pigeon babies are generally birthed and raised in out of the way areas. Under rocks, behind signage, in sheltered alcoves, and in boxes on the balconies of airheaded apartment renters.

I noticed that two pigeons had been chilling on our balcony a lot in February. It was a bad month and I was stuck in front of my desk a lot so I was happy for the company of a few aerial rabbits. Then I realized that one of them was chilling in the same spot under the window a lot. And wow had she ever made a nice bed for herself. Wait a minute...

I went outside to get some things off the balcony and for a few moments she made a valiant stand to resist all of her survival instincts. She wasn't going anywhere. We had a long staring contest in which we exchanged our deepest fears. I shared my fear of death. She shared her fear of me. Then she flew away revealing the greatest of horrors. A pair of dull coloured pigeon eggs.

A third fact you should know about birds is that sometimes they abandon their nests. Momma pigeon told me she was scared of me and if I went out there and bothered her enough, she might just peace out and leave those eggs to die in the cold. Spring was coming and I was worried that collecting things on the balcony would spook her and leave me with a pair of dead pigeon eggs and an inconsolable wife who was sad about the loss of the pigeons. Plus it was kind of fun that there was a bird rearing children on our balcony. I would avoid the perils of nest abandonment by bringing all of my stuff inside until the eggs hatched and the babies left.

Two weeks later I was sitting at my desk (are we noticing a theme here yet? Was I too early with that?). I took my headphones off and realized that I could hear chirping. I looked over the ledge next to me, pressed my face up agains the window and looked carefully. Pigeon babies! I immediately texted Amanda about this good news of great joy.

Over the next few weeks we watched them get fed by mom and dad at regular intervals. Over this time I learned some more cool pigeon facts. First, Pigeon's use a form of milk to feed babies, but both the male and the female bird produce it. This is not particularly remarkable becuase birds generally don't display a lot of sex differentiation (peacocks excepted...) but it is kind of cool because Pigeons are the original stay-at-home dads.

Pigeons: Feministing before feminism was a thing

When the pigeons parents feed the babies, it looks like they are murdering them. The babies open their mouths as wide as possible and then the parents stuff their faces in and start barfing Pigeon milk down their throats. You start to get nervous that at any moment, the parent is just going to go right through and that will be the end of pigeon babies short life. Not so though. They carry out this process several times a day without the benefit of pre-natal classes.

All of this has been cute and fascinating, but this week I had the last straw. The pigeon babies originally born in March are now nearly ready to leave the nest. The weather is warm and I am ready to clear the balcony and return it to its pre-pigeon nursery state. I await the day when I can get out there and clean. Then I see another pigeon sitting in another sheltered box. And she has a nice pigeon husband making a comfy bed for her. Wait a minute, I know where this is going...

I stormed our of the apartment. I glared new pigeon momma in the eyes. If I net her set up in that box, I was never going to get my balcony back. I had to get her out of there and fast. She took a brief look at me and then hopped to safety on the far side of the railing. I approached her nest (careful not to disturb pigeon babies now staring frightfully at me with their side eye...) and collected its delicately placed twigs. I crumpled them in my hand and shoved them in an out of the way crevice with pigeon poop.

Oh, another fun bird fact. Most of what people describe as bird poop is actually bird pee. Bird urine is a white solid with no liquid (so they don't have to carry a bunch of extra water around...). Only the brown stuff is poop.

Back to me and my forced pigeon eviction. I then found a board and covered all remaining sheltered areas. Then I glared at pigeon momma. She flew away.

I am happy to report that baby pigeons are almost flying and will be leaving our balcony soon. After that, there will be no more pigeon nesting on our balcony. I learned a lot from this experience but would rather not repeat it. After all, its not like there's a sortage of place for them to nest. They can hide in someone else's planter box next winter. Then maybe they can get some pigeon wisdom.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Wrestling Match

Every morning I take the scale out and weigh myself. The numbers for each day are written in whiteboard marker on our bathroom mirror. The statistics junkie in me wonders what the standard deviation is. I think I average about 128 (although I like to pretend that it's 130). Once upon a time I was actually smaller. When I started working at camp, I had hit my heaviest weight ever...115 pounds.

We had this thing called "the Blob" and it was this wonderful thing that sat on the water and one person sat on the end of it and then someone jumped off a tower and landed on it which flung the person on the end off and into the water. Being smaller when blobbing had advantages. We had weight differentials imposed so there could only be a fifty pound weight difference between launcher and launchee. I was small enough that I could blob the little campers who only weighed 65 pounds (my popularity skyrocketed with the little kids). I was also small enough that I got a pretty sweet ride from other staff members.

When you work with little kids, your size doesn't matter so much. Physical presence doesn't factor into things because all of the kids are tiny and the difference between 115 and 190 are negligible. You're still two feet taller than them so it's not a big deal. When you work with kids in junior high it's a problem. It's a problem expecially when you are young, clueless, and arrogant.

This one week I had a kid in my cabin who had some family issues and compensated for it by being extremely mature for a seventh grader. I did the stupid thing and tried to push him to be even more mature (because you know, your best is never good enough). On the first night of camp we got into a yelling match. I made him cry. When I think about it, I just have to put my face in my hands. It was a pretty stupid thing to do

*Ben pauses for a moment to place his face in his hands

So because I got into this yelling match with this kid, I gave away pretty much any authority I had. During games, the kids were more likely to follow overacheiver than they were to follow me. This turned out ok because he was a pretty decent guy but as an insecure 17 year old it was pretty frustrating for me. I wanted control. How was I supposed to do that if they were all listening to this other kid?

I learned to be more mellow as a leader after this experience. Whether it's my size or my personality, I just can't cut it as an authoritarian leader. People don't listen to me. I remember one time at Starbucks I tried to tell a homeless person to leave and he managed to argue with me long enough to make me go away. I was so mad but people just don't listen to me when I'm mad.

One night in the cabin, things were getting a little crazy. I needed sleep and I was trying to get the kids to stop fighting so that there could be bed. One of the campers had brought a finger dart into the cabin and the kids were flinging it at each other and delaying bed time longer and longer with each passing moment. I got more and more frustrated. I tried to snatch it out of the air but this was approximately equivalent to slapping a buterfly. I just ended up looking stupid. I started to get frustrated. Then in a stroke of luck it went off into the corner.

I was working with 12 year olds and somehow I ended up with the largest 12 year old I have ever met. He was 6'3 and 200 pounds. He was also still 12 years old and acted like it. Being the smallest guy on staff I was confused as to why this guy was in my cabin. You would have thought that the person in charge of assigning kids to cabins could have figured that one out.

So Mr 12 year old NBA Centre noted that the finger dart went into the corner. He went for it. I don't know why but in a fit of frustration I decided that this was it and that he wasn't going to have it. I charged into the corner with him. He reached his arm out and I pushed it away. He tried to roll over and push me away and I ended up on my back underneath his back. Then I did the only thing that seemed sensible. I tried to pin his arm to the ground.

I don't know how I did it. I've never learned anything about wrestling but somehow I wriggled into a poistion where I had his arm locked and I had my legs so that he couldn't get up or really move at all without choking himself. He was fine but he wasn't going anywhere. The exhiliration I felt was incredible. I had mastered a kid who was significantly larger than me.

One of the staff from the next cabin over heard the noise and came in to see what was happening. When he saw my camper pinned to the floor by all 115 pounds of me he laughed and then helped to calm the rest of the kids in my cabin down. I let the big kid go and sat down in my bed. Things got a lot quieter after that. I don't think anybody could believe what had just happened. It felt good to have some control again. I had some authority again. It was nice.

Then the next day we had a rematch where he sat on me until I gave up. You win some you lose some I guess. After that I stopped trying to be physical with campers. I found I had more success with other methods and I'm pretty sure if parents found out about some of this stuff I could get the camp in trouble pretty quickly. I never wrestled or fought with a camper again after that day and I think its worked out ok for me. I'm 128 pounds and I have a personality that works with that.

Sometimes when I feel really helpless though I go back and remember what it was like to win.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Some Brief Childhood Memories

Ok before you read these brief stores, I have to tell you how great my sister is. She is the best. She invites me over for dinner, she is always super supportive, and she shared her car with me for most of last year (which saved my butt more than once). She is one of the most thoughtful and caring people I know and I couldn't ask for a better sister.

Ok now that that's out of the way, here are some short episodes from me as a five year old.

When I was five (p.s. I attribute most of my childhood to the age of five. I might have been anywhere from 4-9 years old but I was still five) I used to talk to myself a lot. When I was alone I would pretend that I had imaginary kids and I would pretend that I was on TV. One day I was standing in front of the mirror and repeating commercial lines to myself when my sister jumped out from behind the couch and laughed at me. I didn't talk to myself anymore after that.

When I was five, I played hockey. I hated it. All I wanted to do on Saturday mornings was watch cartoons (if I had a super nintendo I would have been playing it...). My grandparents came to visit one time. I didn't want to go to hockey. I told my grandparents I wasn't going to go. Somehow my parents convinced me to go. Not wanting to look like I had caved, I invented an elaborate tale about how I had told my grandma and grandpa that I was actually going to do ice karate which used the same equipment as hockey. I relayed this story in exquisite detail to my dad as he put on my equipment. I am still embarassed about it to this day.

When I was five, I was playing outside with my friends in the summer. We were running through the sprinkler because it was hot. Then when we were finished, we came back inside to change. When I got back in my room I took my shirt off and then sat down and started playing with lego in my bathing suit because I got distracted. Twenty minutes later my friends came looking for me only to find me half-naked and playing with lego on the floor. When they found me I got dressed and went to play. They relayed this story to my sister and several other friends later on.

When I was five I legitimately believed that people who did martial arts had Jedi powers. I asked my friends who did them to show me. We proceeded to sit down and the two of them "were going to make a book levitate". We sat there for about a minute staring at this book when suddenly my sister came in and threw a book on the book they were going to move. I got super mad at my sister for ruining this display of Jedi powers and I yelled at her. Looking back on it now, I am amazed that my friends got out of this obvious lie so easily and how my sister was the one who got blamed for it.

Being a kid was weird.

Now that I've publicly embarrassed myself, I encourage you to leave your brief quirky childhood memories in the comments below. Feel free to leave them anonymously if you feel nervous.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

There Ought to Be More Dancing

I remember the first big concert I went to. It was in Ottawa, and my sister and brother-in-law came along. I was really excited because I had never been to a concert before. I didn't know what to expect and so I thought it was the greatest thing I had ever seen.  I remember writing poems about it and writing about it and walking around in this daze for a month after it because I thought it was so amazing.

How times have changed.

On Friday, Amanda and I went to see Arcade Fire play a concert in Ottawa. We have seen them before and so when Amanda initially suggested the idea, I was not enthused. I have become much more jaded when it comes to concerts after that initial experience (for the record, when I reflect on it now it wasn't a very good show but at the time I thought it was the greatest thing ever). I didn't want to go because I figured we had already seen them and I didn't want to see them again. Amanda really wanted to go though and since the concert was the weekend of our one year anniversary, I agreed.

The last time we saw Arcade Fire was when they had just announced their album "The Suburbs" and were previewing material from it on tour. They had not won a Grammy. They had not streamed a concert at Madison Square Garden which was directed by Terry Gilliam. Things were different.

Before the concert, there was significant controversy around dress code. The band wanted people to dress up and went to the trouble of actually printing it on the ticket. Then the internet discovered this and exploded in a ball of rage exclaiming "you can't tell me what to wear at a concert" to which the band responded "everybody, it's cool. You can wear whatever you want but why not dress up". Typical internet conversations.

Upon arriving at the concert I wondered who was getting angry because everyone we saw was dressed up. If everyone is dressing up it makes it easier. I wore a suit and felt surprisingly comfortable although I've started wearing more fitted pants lately and my suit pants are defs not fitted. Anyways....details.

I got the impression that this album was supposed to put a big focus on dance music. This made me nervous at first because I don't really like dancing. It makes me nervous. The entire time I am just thinking about how other people are probably looking at me and thinking that I look silly. That makes me think people are paying attention to me or judging me and that just makes me want to crawl under a rock somewhere. Going to a concert where people are encouraged to dance would make me feel even worse. If I dance people are judging me but if I don't dance then people are also judging me. This creates some kind of judgement explosion. AHHHHHH!

When we got to our seats I figured this would not be as much of a problem. We were in a hockey arena and the only people who were really in a position to start a massive dance party were down on the floor (not where we were). I figured maybe half of the people in our section would be dancing. I could get away with sitting down if I wanted. Then the band came on...

About halfway through the first song I stood up and tried to dance a bit. You couldn't really more so it was more body shaking but you know...baby steps right? A bunch of people around us were dancing. I just kept telling myself "you don't know any of these people and you'll never see any of them again". Pretty soon I started to enjoy it. I'm a drummer so moving to the beat is my instinct anyways. Now I wasn't suppressing the urge. I could just wave around and it was fun.

I don't think I'm doing this moment justice. This was life changing. I was ready to go home and figure out how to incorporate more dance music into my library. I was planning dance parties in the kitchen. Things were going to be different.

Then it all went to crap

About five songs in, they played a slower song and it was harder to maintain the energy I had started out with. I sat down. Then they played another slow one. Then he talked for a bit. Then another slow one. Amanda and I started to lose interest. I had hope that things would turn up again near the end of the concert though. They had lots of songs that you could dance to. But before I knew it, the lead singer said "Thanks you guys have been great" which was the sign that the main set was over. I was disappointed. They played one more dance number during the encore but Arcade Fire had just taken me on a roller coaster of emotion. From fearful of judgement to a dance fiend to a frustrated concert-goer in two hours. How is that even possible?

As Amanda and I drove home, we tried to rank the concert amongst all of our experiences. We put it somewhere in the bottom three concerts we have ever seen (Feist at the Field Trip festival in 2013 is the worst in case you were curious, and Bon Iver at Massey Hall in 2012 is the best). The key factor in the let down was all the talk about dancing. Dancing is as great as they made it out to be. They just seemed to forget that when they remembered all the other songs that they wanted to play. They say it's better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all but I don't think that works when you're talking about dancing.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Tip Jar

Did I ever tell you about the time that I got a tip jar thrown at me? If I did, it's worth repeating.

It was a Saturday at Starbucks. I know it was Saturday because it was me and another Barista and the shift supervisor and the only reason there would be that few people working is if it was a Saturday. The day was rolling along as any other Saturday does. Business was slow with occasional bursts of activity. People were setting up office around the cafe. When there was time we were cleaning things behind the counter and all the while we talked about nothing, just trying to pass the time.

At some point a group of Toronto police officers walked in. I recognized one of them. We had a few officers who came in periodically and you get to remembering faces when you are in the business of learning names. They ordered their drinks and went off to sit at our community table which is on the far side of the cafe. When you're standing behind the cash register, you can't see that side of the store because it's obscured by the espresso machines. After they sat down, I returned to being occupied with customers. Then "Dreads" came in...

Dreads is not her real name, but we had to give nicknames to all of the homeless regulars so people could communicate back and forth about them. I don't actually know what her real name is. She was called "Dreads" because she used to have dreadlocks (although by the time I got there they had been cut off). Dreads was a wild card. I think my fear of homeless people is rooted in the fact that I don't know what they are going to do. Dreads was the epitome of this. The first time I saw her, she walked in, then stood in the middle of the store and started yelling something. It was words but it didn't make sense. You know how before you go to bed or when you're really tired you can just start spouting nonsense that makes grammatical sense but doesn't make any logical sense? This is the kind of stuff she would say. My shift supervisor told her to leave and then she started throwing stuff at us. Someone went to call the cops. She took off.

After that time, every time I saw Dreads I could feel the adrenaline kick in. I could feel my heart start to kick in my chest. My senses became cloudy with blinding rage at this woman who came in and disrupted the decent enough world of Starbucks. I wanted to punch something. I don't think violence solves anything, but I had to remind myself of that more than a few times when she came in the store. I was just so frustrated because she could just come in whenever she chose to and ruin the rest of my shift even though she was only in the store for thirty seconds and there was nothing I could do about it.

I know she's a person and I know that there are probably some issues there. I know she probably needs help. But from all of my interactions with her, I didn't even know where you would start and besides, I was mostly just focused on how negatively she impacted everybody in the store when she came in.

So this time she comes in the door. I am taking an order from a woman in front of me. Dreads and I lock eyes for a second and I realize what she is there to do. She's going for the tip jar. I move to act a split second too late. She reaches around the woman I'm serving and snatches away the tips before I can get there. I watch her dump all of the change into her hand as I seethe with more rage than any man should admit to having. Then she yells something that I couldn't understand, before throwing the empty tip jar at my chest. I tell her "you need to leave" which was all I could think of as I pointed towards the door. She starts to leave, still yelling unintelligible crap. I turn to the woman I was just serving and ask her
"Are you ok?"

"I'm fine, are you ok?" she answers with a concerned look on her face

"I'm ok. This kind of thing happens more often than you would think" I reply.

In the midst of our exchange, I realize Dreads is still yelling at me from the door. "Get out" I yell and finally she leaves. You think you have control over your space and your life. You think you can predict what will happen because you know what the rules are. Then a crazy person storms in and kicks your understanding to pieces while laughing and yelling obscenities.

I step back for a moment to breath and look over at my coworker who was hidden behind an espresso machine.

"What did she do?" She asks.

"She stole our tips" I answered.

I turned back and tried to calm down to face customers. Then I hear a voice from behind the espresso machines calling to my coworker.

"What did she do?" it said

"She stole our tips" she answered.

"Oh, is it the same girl as before?" it asked.

Then I remembered what I had forgotten in my moment of rage and frustration. There were six police officers sitting behind the espresso machines who had just witnessed that whole thing. The one who was asking questions had even been in to file a report on another time Dreads had stolen.

"Yes" said my worker.

"Oh, well you have to tell us that" he said getting up. Then I watched 4 police officers head out the door down the street after her. Five minutes later a patrol car parked in front of the store and Dreads appeared in handcuffs escorted by two police officers. One of them entered the store with a fistful of change.

"Here's your tips" he said dropping them back in the jar.

There's a word for this. It's called justice porn. Situations where rough justice is dished out in a situation where someone is traditionally helpless.  I had the good fortune of having a table of police officers who were willing to chase after this woman and I got my justice.

I also lost any progress I had made with being afraid of homeless people. But Dreads went to jail for two months after that so that wasn't such a big deal.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

An Epilogue of Sorts

For a fundraiser, one of the organizers of the Tyndale Floor Hockey league made hockey cards with stats from the season (yet another example of the seriousness taken with this fun league). If you've been following this story and this story, you will probably get a chuckle out of my card.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

That Time My Laptop Was Stolen

Yes, I am a slacker this morning. I could have written today's post last night but I didn't. There's this constant battle I have with choosing not to do work when I know I should. Last night I lost. Today I will try to do better. Actually it would probably be more accurate to say that next week I will do better.

But here we are. You the reader are waiting for a story and I the writer am stalling trying to think of one. I though I could tell the story of the time someone stole my laptop or maybe the time someone threw the tip jar at me at work. Maybe I'll tell you about the laptop thing.

So once upon a time I lived in this house. There were 7 of us in this house (at the time of the story). I lived on one side with Jason and Brendan (who I don't believe I've mentioned before), and on the other side lived Todd, Chelsea, Ian, and Chris. I moved into this house because it was a "new monastic community". This is a term that is used for a bunch of house that have appeared that try to do something like monastic living but with a few twists. Like for example you didn't have to be single to live there, and you had things to do other than living in the house.

We had dinner at the same time every night and so we would often try to invite people over. I remember at one time going out on the street before dinner and trying to see if we could find anyone downtown who might want to come over to our house for dinner. The whole time I was incredibly nervous but once we actually started talking to people we knew, I calmed down a lot.

See, I grew up in suburban Kingston where I talked to my neighbours and friends, but pretty much everyone there was like me. Mostly middle class and having a pretty boring lifestyle. I grew to fear the unknown things in the world. I was afraid of the person who didn't dress the way I expected to dress. I crossed the street to avoid the man mumbling to himself as he walked down the street. The woman who was fidgeting uncontrollably made me want to leave the room. This bothered me (and still does occasionally bother me) because I don't think that people's appearances should affect how we treat them. Jesus says "whatever you do for the least of these, you do it for me". "If you cross the street to avoid the mumbling man, you cross the street to avoid me". I didn't want to be someone who avoided Jesus. Part of my motivation to join this community was to help me learn how to treat people who are different from me with humanity. To see the person beyond whatever physical presence they project.

Looking back, I was a bit idealistic about entering into this process. I pictured the house like the house from the movie "Fight Club". I pictured myself single-handedly solving people's problems. I would feel great and wonderful all the time. I would walk down the street and be able to high five everyone as I went past. Then somebody stole my laptop

I left the house over the summer to go and work at camp. While there, I left most of my things at the house including my laptop. You don't usually think about things being stolen from you unless you're really paranoid so I didn't think about any of this. One morning I was sitting in the staff meeting and the camp receptionist came up to me and handed me a message. It said to call one of my housemates about something. After the meeting I headed over to the phone to call.

"Hello" I answered

"Do you remember where you put your laptop?" she asked me

"Yeah, it was in that cupboard downstairs in my bag. Why?" I answered.

"I think someone stole it" she said.

She asked me for the serial number and I directed her to my receipts and such and then she said she was off to file a police report. There was a chance I would get it back, but for all intents and purposes my laptop was probably gone.

No one knows exactly what happened but I've been operating with a theory for the last while. The person who took it knew exactly where to look for it and didn't take anything else so it was unlikely that it was a random person. What probably happened is one of the people who had been invited into the house over the summer had seen my laptop be placed in the cupboard. Then at a time of opportunity, they entered the house, picked it up, and walked out with it. Since that was all they took,  they probably sold it or exchanged it (possibly for drugs, possibly for something else) and then never thought about it again.

If helping people was supposed to feel good, this scenario did not feel very good.

A couple of months later, I was walking down the street with Jason and we walked by somebody panhandling. After we passed, Jason said

"How does it feel to see the guy who probably stole your laptop?"

We were reasonably certain this was the guy who had done it. He fit the story we had constructed. Obviously I couldn't say anything because I didn't know, but I paused to consider the statement. If this was in fact the guy who had stolen my laptop, how did I feel about that?

At this point I decided that if I was going to try and help people, bad things were going to happen along the way. Helping and serving does not always lead to awesome situations. Think of the kid throwing a temper tantrum when they can't have their own way. There's still a 2 year old somewhere in all of us who lashes out when others try to help us (especially when that help requires that we make sacrifice). Helping sucks sometimes. But I realized that having stuff stolen from me wasn't the worst thing that could happen, and we could easily plan around it. This wasn't the end of the world. I didn't need to direct my rage against this guy with his hat on the sidewalk.

After this episode, we set up an insurance fund. Not a real insurance fund, but a classic style insurance fund. People put money into the fund and then when things got stolen from the house (which happened a few times), we took the money out of that fund to replace them. It was easy to plan for theft and figure out a way to deal with it and our insurance policy helped to ease some of the pain when people stole things.

All in all the whole thing was interesting. Six years after, I think I've moved on from the frustration. It also makes for a good illustration of what to do when you're worried about having things stolen from people who you are trying to help.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Another Gold Medal Game

It occured to me this week that there are some old stories I've probably never told anyone except in passing because they aren't the kind of things that lend themselves naturally to conversations. On weeks that turn out to be extra boring, I will mine the archives of my life for stories of olde. This week I took in Canada's gold medal match at Jack Astor's in downtown Toronto and as I sat there watching the game, it reminded me of the last time I watched a gold medal hockey game...

It was February of 2010 and I was living with my friend James who I met through a friend from high school. Met is maybe the wrong word in this context. I meant to try and get his number and get in touch with him but I'm pretty slow at these kinds of things. Then one day I was sitting in one of my classes and this guy approached me completely at random. This was surprising because I met a grand total of five people in my first year at Queen's and none of them were in this class with me. I had a feeling it might be this mysterious "James" though so when he approached me I had already kind of figured out what was going on.

"Are you Ben?"

"Yeah, are you James?" I said extending my hand to shake. He was. I can't recall a smoother introduction to a total stranger.

So I was living with James and we lived in this apartment together. It was a two bedroom six pack with a massive living room. I sometimes dream about all the room we had in that apartment and our super awesome sound system. It was a bachelor bad through and through (right down to the ever present pile of dirty dishes in the sink and the smell of hockey equipment at the front door). The one part of a bachelor pad that we did not have though was television. I don't watch TV and James was watching most of his on DVD, so we elected not to subscribe. This was pretty good for most circumstances.

But then the Olympics came. This was the first olympics where they were able to stream every single  over the internet. Finally, I was able to watch biathlon whether Canada was good at it or not (and we happened to be ok at it in this particular year because we finished 6th or someting respectable in one of the events). I could watch all the short track speed skating. I could develop an obsession with luge! I could watch all the hockey games....

Wait

We did not have an HDTV in our bachelor pad (this was 2010 before those kinds of things were within the reach of university students with mildly dispoasble incomes) and so if we wanted to watch any of the games, we had to watch them on my laptop (13"). In the age of the internet, this did not seem appropriate to the monumental occasion that this hockey tournament was. This was Canada's chance to play their best players on home ice. We had to watch this in an environment worthy of the frenzy that Canadians feel about hockey.

The day before the first game of the tournament, I received a text message from Jason.
         "Hey, want to come watch the hockey game with me and possibly others?"
I responded and said I would join him. He said we would be going to "The Mansion".

"The Mansion" is a bar in Kingston that had a rotating cast of businesses before finally settling on its current occupant. It's one of those places that you would drive by every couple of months only to see that they were doing renos for a new tennant. It was this giant barn-like space complete with a faux silo attatched to the side. The whole place was gigantic. It's current success was probably due to the fact that it had been divided up into a number of different spaces. There was a music bar upstairs that was always hosting a show. There was a "club" downstairs although I don't know what it looks like because I never went there. The main floor (called "The Living Room") was much like a sportsbar. It had lots of TVs including two LCD projectors pointed at opposite walls. It was an excellent place for watching the game and they had a pretty awesome $10 food menu.

The first game led to a tradition for every game. Jason would send a text message, I would agree, and a small crowd would assemble around a table at The Mansion as we cheered on team Canada. We expressed hope up until our round-robin game against the USA when we were defeated. Everyone left the bar feeling dejected. What would happen now? The feeling of depression was amplified by the 70 other people at the bar who were also upset that we had just lost.

A bar amplifies every emotion you feel about sports. The combination of the alcohol and the crowd leads you to feel like you're almost at the game. Every goal gets a loud cheer. People clap at the TV when a good play is made, ignoring the fact that the TV can't transmit applause. It is quite the atmosphere. Some of my favourite hockey memories are actually from bars and not arenas. Something about the elitism in the Air Canada Centre makes it hard to get too excited in there. In a bar though no one cares about elitism. People just care about winning.

We followed Canada's road to recovery from the quarterfinals all the way through their victory over Russia and Slovakia taking them to the Gold Medal game. We headed to the Mansion an hour early in anticipation of this intense game. This was going to be good and we couldn't break our streak of watching all the games in the same place.

I don't know if you remember this game, but it was an emotional roller-coaster to watch. We scored, then they scored, then we scored. It looked like we were going to win and then with seconds left in the third period, they scored again to tie it up. Everyone was on the edge of their seats. Every shot was an opportunity to groan. Every break was an opportuity to chant at Ryan Miller (who seemed to hold our gold medal in his glove hand). By the time we went to overtime, people had nearly given up. The bartender sent a shot around to everyone in the bar to ease the pain. It was so hard to take in but you couldn't walk away without knowing the outcome.

When we scored in overtime, I thought the place was going to explode. The amount of energy that came out in that one moment, the amount of tension released, all the excitement of hours and days and years waiting for this moment were released in a single snap of number 87's stick. Everyone was screaming and jumping. I hugged almost everyone at the tables around us. I felt an enormous sense of pride that I got to participate in this moment with these strangers in this bar.

And as soon as it was over, we got to talk about how perfect it was. How perfect it was that everything ended in a moment. How perfect Jarome Iginla's pass (while falling down in the corner!) was. How amazing it was that the only goal Crosby scored for the whole tournament was the only one that mattered. How great it was that we had pulled it off over the United States. We must have talked for an hour. What a game.

I was sad to see it end. For those games in that bar, it felt like I had something in common with those people I had never met. I wish we could replicate that feeling again. It's too unique though. A once in a lifetime moment. A Paul Henderson moment. Something I'll tell kids in minor hockey about.

It was amazing though. Amazing that for a few hours in February we were all on the same side.