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.