Sunday, November 20, 2011

Home, Queen Street, Home

A balmy (for mid-November) Saturday with no marking; I take a trip down Queen Street East, just to see what's out there.

On the streetcar, I think of the Queen Street of my adolescence, a seedy strip of stores that no one went into, in a town that no one came to, in a section of the universe where the rules of time and space broke down. The opposite of Toronto, where everything was new and went fast and stayed cool. Toronto was, in fact, the coolest place in all the world. My father lived there. Margaret Atwood lived there. Kids who went for the weekend came back with Mohawks and parachute pants and so laden with coolness, and the knowledge of coolness, they could barely move their jaws to eat or speak.

My grandmother wouldn’t allow me to go to Toronto for the weekend. My father lived there.  Kids who went came back with Mohawks. Parachute pants were for the birds. She didn’t have an opinion on Margaret Atwood, but had I brought her up as a reason to go, most likely she would have said, “I’ll Margaret Atwood you in a minute.”

Someday I would leave and become a writer in Toronto, but until then I was trapped in the thick temporal-spatial molasses of northern Ontario uncoolness.
I began taking bus rides around the Soo for the purposes of passing time while trapped, for the purposes of observing and noting, for the purposes of pretending I was a writer until I could leave to become one. Standing inside the city bus terminal, facing a 28-minute wait for the next Second Line bus, I observed that the bus terminal smelled like stale popcorn. I noted that everyone inside looked chronically depressed or deeply enraged. I was shaken by a sudden desire to weep at the awfulness of my hometown.

It would be many years before I understood it wasn’t the town that was the problem. It was the other part of the word.  It would be many years before I understood the word projection.
Toronto is not my hometown. I don’t know who Ashbridges Bay was named after, or what went on at Fort York, or where to get the city’s best anything. I still know absolutely nothing about coolness. But Toronto is where I live and work and where I have raised my son. It is the place I came to after I left Bhutan, thinking I would never be happy again.

Toronto is where I am happy again.
And therefore, I think, it would behoove me to know it better. Hence this trip to the Beaches. (Yes, I know: it’s singular. They had a referendum. But I’m passing signs: Historic Woodbine Beach, Historic Scarborough Beach, Kew-Balmy Beach.  Walking the boardwalk, it’s going to seem like one beach, but historically, numerically, signage-wise, it’s plural. (The Beach is large; it contains multitudes?)

I get off the streetcar at the Intergalactic Headquarters of Art Deco Superheroes. Even clad in scaffolding, the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant soars, a vaulted, streamlined temple of water purification (and also of coolness).   
The wind is loud and strong, and the lake thinks it’s an ocean here, swelling wildly and crashing over rocks. Dogs gallop across the sand. I envy the occupants of the waterfront homes, maybe not in the sweltering summer when this place must be overrun and noisy, but now, when they can stand at their windows and see nothing but a lake that thinks it’s an ocean.

I walk the boardwalk in the surging wind right to the end. The sun is swaddled in cold cloud. I don’t know what owns this collection of smoke stacks beyond the parking lot. I don’t know if that glimmer of white to the east is the Scarborough Bluffs. I will google everything when I get home.
The westbound streetcar is stopped by Occupy protestors. We get off and walk to the subway behind a large group of mostly young people carrying signs: Evict the 1%. A young woman with a megaphone calls out, “Show me what democracy looks like!” The group answers: “This is what democracy looks like.” A drummer keeps the beat.

A disgruntled pedestrian yells, “Go home.”

“I am home,” a protestor yells back.

Me too.

Friday, November 18, 2011

K Period and Other Rules

This morning my students informed me that a period in a text message indicates anger. "Like your friend texts you about something and you just write back one word with a period," they said. "You sound pissed."

How about one word without the period? Not angry, just in a hurry.

Also, "OK" sounds like you're angry but "okay" does not. Worst of all is "K." "K." is the equivalent of "Yeah, yeah, I'm busy. Stop bothering me."

I want a list of these rules. Not because I want to use them when texting (all my texting is done with people like me -- so old we text in complete sentences, properly punctuated, with caps) but because it's like watching a new language being born.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reading: The Visible Man and Bacon Marmalade

The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman: I got this book at the library the same day I felt compelled to get a jar of President's Choice bacon marmalade at Loblaws. Both weird, both delicious.

I read Klosterman's collection of essays, Drugs, Sex and Cocoa Puffs, just for the title, and I really liked his first novel, Downtown Owl. The Visible Man is like putting those two books in a blender and adding bacon marmalade. And some hitherto uncatalogued strain of medicinal marijuana. The result is a very funny, very strange, very thoughtful, intensely interesting piece of fiction about a man who invents an invisibility suit (and cream!) and seeks therapy to talk about the lives he has interfered with while invisible. Interfered with like how? Invisible man: "There's nothing like watching a nervous man load a gun." How does the therapy proceed? As the therapist says, "No therapist on earth was trained to help a criminal scientist with the power of invisibility."

I slowed my reading because I didn't want the book to end. But it did end, and now I feel compelled to read it all over again. It's better than bacon marmalade, because honestly, you can only eat about a teaspoon of that stuff at a time. While you're eating, you're thinking, "This is good. But it's so wrong." Reading The Visible Man, I kept thinking, "This is wrong. But it's so good."

Recommended reading:
Klosterman, Chuck. The Visible Man. New York: Scribner, 2011. Print.
Pair it with Chipotle flatbread, cream cheese and President's Choice Black Label bacon marmalade.
So weird, so delicious.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Zeppa Family Feud Form

The Official Fuck You / Fuck You Too Zeppa Family Feud Form®

In an effort to save time, clarify family history, and ensure proper storage of records for future generations, you are asked to complete the following form and deliver it to the relevant family member.1  

Please print legibly in black ink or blood.

To ensure accuracy of records, please indicate whether this situation qualifies as:
o  An initiating Fuck You
o  A respondent Fuck You Too

1.       I,    ________________________, do hereby declare that I am :

o  Mildly annoyed
o  Moderately mad
o  Highly pissed off
o  Too drunk to remember

at : ___________________________________
            (write primary Fuckee’s name here)

and: __________________________________
        (list all secondary Fuckees. Attach additional paper if necessary.)

2.      My annoyance / state of high piss-off arose from the following (select all that apply):

o  Promises were not kept
o  Dishes were not washed
o  Worst parent / child ever!
o  Shenanigans surrounding family will / disinheritance
o  Low blood sugar / hangover
o  You lied to me / owe me money / didn’t call
o  I have my reasons
o  Other: _________________________________

3.      This feud officially began:

o  Just now
o  Within the last week
o  Within the last year
o  Monday, May 21, 1978, at 5:35 p.m.
o  You know damn well when it began

4.      I plan not to speak to you for the following period of time:

o  One to two weeks
o  One to two years
o  More than two years but less than ten
o  Until hell freezes over

5.      In light of the aforementioned, you are hereby advised to come and pick up your:

o  Worldly belongings
o  Children
o  Box of unidentified crap in the basement
o  Parole Board of Canada Official Notice of Pardon
o  Other: _________________________________________

6.      Failure to pick up the above-mentioned items will result / has already resulted in a:

o  Garage sale
o  Bonfire

7.      The following action, while in no way lessening your grievous offence or making things right between us, might result in a revocation of this form:

o  An apology
o  Money (Amount: ___________ Preferred Currency: _______________)
o  You admit that you are totally and utterly in the wrong and/or an asshole
o  Fuck you. Nothing would result in a revocation of this form.

8.      In the unlikely event that I find myself no longer pissed off at you, I reserve the right to transfer this feud to the following beneficiary2:


Thank you for filling out this form. One copy will be retained for our files3. In the unlikely event that your feud ends early, please contact management so that we may update our records.  

1 Use of this form is free for Zeppa family members only. For usage with non-Zeppa recipients, service fees will apply.

2 Please note that if you selected “until hell freezes over” for question 4 and intend to transfer this feud to a beneficiary who is a direct descendant of the original Fuckee, you must complete a separate Fuck You and Your Progeny Form.

All submissions will be held in strict confidentiality by one James Raymond Patrick (Blab) Zeppa. Submissions can be (and have been) used against you in a court of law.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Why I Love Teaching. One of the Reasons.

Difficult, beautiful, thoughtful questions and observations about Buddhism from my mythology students. "Is the desire for enlightenment a desire of the body or the mind?" (This in response to my claim that consciousness is a product of the body.) "Isn't the desire for enlightenment also a desire?" (Luckily I have an answer to that.) And an answer to my question about why the body should be made to suffer in order for the mind to find enlightenment: "We make the body suffer so that the soul will remember, because as soon as physical suffering is over, the body forgets."

As Tobias Wolff wrote in This Boy's Life, teaching makes you accountable for your thoughts.