Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Awkward Moments

"Ben, you always talk about how you're so awkward, but I don't really see that in you. Tell me some stories about what you mean."

(The following stories will be told in an awkward style which I am borrowing from 4chan. If none of this makes any sense to you, then that's ok. Just revel in the confusion)

>Am going to school
>Am wearing a scarf and wellies
>Get on the elevator
>try and put on my headphones
>elevator dings and attractive woman with smelly perfume gets on
>I get off and almost run her over
>realize this is not my floor
>turn around and get back in elevator without making eye contact.
>get off on proper floor

>Am in university
>Am leaving class and wearing headphones
>walking out in atrium
>girl calls to me
>I walk over and take out headphones
>I stare at her
>she asks who I am
>Am confused
>wait five seconds
>realize I don't know her
>walk away

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Quiet Concert Etiquette

I did this experiment once where I posted a photo of what I was doing every two hours. It made life look super boring because lots of the time my life is super boring. You, dear reader, can probably empathize. Life is a series of familiar events punctuated by occasional breaks of novelty. Be honest, how insane would you become if every day you had no idea what you were going to encounter or what was going to happen. A stranger might randomly enter your house and start talking to you about the Spanish Civil War, which you know nothing about, in Spanish! Doesn't that sound absolutely frightening? For all we talk of novelty, sometimes familiar things are best.

Except when you're trying to write a new story every week you need some novelty to make things interesting. How else will you honour all of the people who you keep hearing read your stuff if you don't lead an interesting and diversified life? The answer is to mine the halls of the past. Today's story did not happen this week because this week I spent most of my time unpacking boxes, cleaning up, and doing church things.

If there's one constant about my life is that I have few friends. I don't think this is inherently bad. I provide my friends with a level of care and attention that they would not receive if I had more of them. In return I get more meaningful contact with the people that I do call friends. The problem with this is it limits my ability to know people in new places. When I started at university, I struggled to meet people that wanted to spend time with me, usually because I didn't have enough time to get to know them well enough and because, unlike Rod from the movie "Hot Rod" I do not like to party. Luckily I was a science student and science students have labs and labs are three hours long. This is ample time to get to know your lab mates (or lab mate). I met a few people through chemistry and biology labs.

One of my lab partners was a really friendly girl who will remain anonymous. We were trying to set up a time to meet and we settled on going to the Grad Club which is a bar in Kingston on campus. I use bar in the loosest sense of the word here. It's an old upper class home which has been converted into a bar by removing all the decorative items, throwing in chairs and tables, and serving food and alcohol. There's a "stage" where they play concerts, and it's really just a platform in the former living room. Yet somehow they get all of the best independent artists to play shows there. I think they have some kind of tour-de-force happening in the booking department and they just know everyone they need to get all of the crazy shows.

So we arrive at the grad club and pay the door man. He notifies us that there's a concert on tonight. This is cool. It will probably make for good background noise. I have little shame about ignoring musicians even when I know it probably makes them feel insecure. Ok I'm a bad person. I will stop doing this. But at the time of this story I felt no shame about ignoring musicians. I thought it wouldn't interrupt our social agenda.

We enter the "Living Room" section of the Grad Club. It is dimly lit but you can see the general layout of the room. There is a long table that is running the middle of the room. It probably has twelve chairs on each side. We sit on the same side of the table, grab drinks and start to chat. As we are talking and catching up, a large group of around a dozen people walk in, take seats around the table and begin talking and drinking. This know...normal for being at a bar. Except that there are only two groups in the living room. It's us and then this other group. It's a little bit odd but we are so busy talking that we don't notice.

Then there is a pause in our conversation, a pause in the conversation next to us and the guy sitting next to me (whose face is obsccured by darkness) pipes up in a familiar tone

"So you're probably wondering what all these people are doing here around you."

"Yeah are you guys all together or something?" my lab-partner asks. I am busy puzzling.

"This is a meeting of the Queen's Outdoors club"

I have heard about this club but I interrupt his speech with an exclamation.


The guy talking to us is the instructor in the squash class I've been taking all semester. He's a pretty cool dude and somehow he walked into the Grad Club on the same night I am there with a friend and sat down next to me without noticing. What a hilarious coincidence. We ask him about the Queen's Outdoors club but are interrupted by some shusshing. A musician has taken the stage and she's speaking very quietly. She has a banjo. This ought to be good. We listen as she opens the concert and plays a few songs. Her voice is beautiful but haunting at the same time. It's pleasant to listen to and so we remain quiet for her set. When she leaves to applause, the drone of conversation resumes.

Normally I would have just kept talking all night. I wasn't really interested in the other band. I listened to them online and wasn't really interested in their stuff as much. This was just supposed to be a social event. But then my conversation with my friend was interrupted again by shushing. The other band had started.

And we stayed silent the whole time.

When I think about it now I realize that I should have expected this. A quiet folk band is playing a show in an intimate venue. I'm probably not going to get to talk through the whole thing. It was stupid of me to think otherwise. So I just sat there and listened. Their set lasted about an hour and it turns out that they make pretty interesting music. I enjoyed listening to them as I waited for them to be done so I could go back to talking.

By the time the night ended (they asked us to leave the Grad Club because we were the only ones left at 11 when they closed....) we did get our whole conversation in, and I had heard some good music and had a funny encounter with someone I knew by coincidence. I was a good night, even if it didn't look anything like what I anticipated. I also learned a valuable lesson about trying to visit with someone at a concert. Don't do it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Adventures in Ordinary Life: Grocery Shopping

Recently Amanda and I moved back to Toronto after spending eight months at camp. We were both quite anxious to return after spending a long time in what seemed to be endless limbo. We moved into an apartment on Saint Patrick Street which is right across the street from Amanda's school and a relatively short drive to the Gardiner Expressway which is good because I'm driving back and forth to Westport every weekend as I finish up my internship.

For all the convenience that living downtown provides, it also leads to some interesting problems. The one I did not anticipate was how much different grocery shopping would become. At our old place, there were two grocery stores within a five minute drive. Neither one was particularly expensive or busy. Getting groceries was a relatively relaxing affair that could be done at just about any time.

Yesterday I went grocery shopping for the first time from our new place. The first hurdle was to decide where to go. There are no grocery stores "close" to us (at least not as close as the McDonalds downstairs which will tempt me for the entire year) so I had to choose which of the stores near us to go to. I decided to try the Loblaw's that occupies the former Maple Leaf Gardens building. They had free parking for shoppers and that's about the only thing I care about right now.

I made my way over. Upon arriving in the garage I gathered my box and my list and went to get a cart. Then I approached the escalator. This particular Loblaw's has something called a cartavator which is a conveyor system for moving loaded and unloaded shopping carts. I've used one before so I went ahead and shoved my cart into the cartavator. I then began walking up the escalator before I noticed that my cart wasn't moving.

"That's not supposed to happen" I said to myself. I ran down the up escalator frantically to try and see what was wrong. I looked at the display above the cartavator. It read "error due to user misuse". I had been in the store for five minutes and already the cartavator was telling me that I wasn't cut out for this. I sighed, collected my box and went up the escalator sans cart. I just grabbed one from the top of the stairs which I probably should have done in the first place.

I chose a Tuesday afternoon for shopping because I thought it would be relatively quiet, which is important when you're visiting a grocery store with thirty checkout lanes and twenty eight aisles of food. As I began to collect my items, I realized I could never hack being here at a busy time. My cart driving is erratic at best and I'm constantly playing chicken with other shoppers. This is ok when there's only two of us in an aisle because I have time to sort out who needs to go to what side without running into anyone, but if it was any busier I'd be running some unfortunate shopper into the cereal boxes with my herky-jerky cart driving.

I made my way to the checkout and found a surprisingly empty lane occupied by a cheerful looking girl. She asked me how my day was. I said "pretty good. How about yours?" We made brief small talk about the business of the store. She said that it was pretty quiet. For a moment I could imagine what it must be like when it is busy in there. Small children lay bloodied on the ground run over by the carts of ungraceful shoppers. Fistfights erupt in the aisle as people jockey for the quickest way out of that madhouse. I imagined what it would be like to go there every time and then I quickly decided that I would never return there at a busy time. I'd like to keep my humanity in tact, and despite the buildings heritage, I don't think a grocery store is a place for fist fights and body checks.

As I made my way toward the exit, I confronted the final obstacle in my grocery experience. The cartavator downstairs. "Surely I can't break two in one trip" I said to myself. I decided to just go for it, and lo and behold it worked. My cart glided gracefully to the lower floor where I was able to drive it over to my car and load up. I made it out of the store just as rush hour was finishing.

Overall my grocery experience was alright. We have toilet paper now which we did not before so it's given us some great results. I think next time I'll try a different store though. I don't think I can handle shopping in a place that tells me its my fault the cartavator is broken.