Saturday, June 10, 2017

Good things

Quick update:

Saw Neo for the first time in quite a while. We talked for eight hours which seems to be the mark. Our best chats tend to hit that number on the nose somehow.

I learned a substantial thing or two about the mysteries of sound mixing and compression... We talked about music and movies of course, and the state of affairs of earthlings and young adults (who are also earthlings, apparently).

He seems not to be in a hurry to re-locate; certainly not out-of-province at this time, which is a relief I suppose, and perhaps a disappointment too. I am ready for a change of scenery myself, but like Neo, it is financially prudent to remain here in Scooterville for the time being.

I got home feeling inspired, logged onto the Video Game From Hell which I have managed to substantially cut back on of late, and tried to summon the will to destroy my cities. I messaged Aqualad looking for additional motivation and he was not available. But then... I did it.

I sacked the larger of my two cities. Sold all the buildings off for gold and supplies which i could not store in those volumes but I figured out how to sell it all for over-priced imported goods which I then traded down at ridiculously generous rates.

It was a lengthy process which I cared not to repeat on this night, so the newer smaller city has survived but since then (Monday night) I have not touched the game. I think it's over.

Oh yeah... and Neo and I talked about addictions. His and mine. I wish him similar success.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Suffering

Started the day revisiting Grandpa Munster at the hospital where he landed after a dizzy spell took his legs out from under him while having a pee, and his noggin collided with the porcelain toilet. Both beast and fixture survived the affair but the docs who patched him up took the opportunity to mention that he has pneumonia in one lung (as usual; he’s on antibiotics reliably two weeks out of every eight) and that he has acute kidney damage due to chronic dehydration but which is not irreparable.

“That’s what happens when you drink nothing but coffee for forty years,” I interjected (as I’ve warned him many times). Now that men and women in white coats are telling him likewise he seems to be starting to listen.

At noon I split for Sick Boy’s Game Den & Crazy Making Eyrie which he shares with an alcoholic hoarding terminally ill-ish mom (to their mutual simultaneous salvation and demise) where he managed to slip rather gracefully into the Miracle Saturn (which has eaten up $3000 in recent repairs to the wheel areas alone – at a time when my employment has been spotty at best) despite the crutches and the ghastly hole in his foot which somehow came about during an attempt to infiltrate an area of the eyrie sealed behind a thoroughly hoardified corridor.

En route to the medical centre we stopped at the bank to have his virtual monthly income cheque negotiated for conversion to much-needed food, rent and utility funds only to discover that the funds had been “previously negotiated.”

I’m not even sure what that means but apparently this is the result of some mistake (whether honest or malicious) and can only be rectified by a certain Disability Worker who is high on Sick Boy’s roster of personal nemesisses. Nemesai?  Nemeses? Ah! Nemeses! Like crisis pluralizes to crises! Thank you Spell Checker. Um… and apparently the evil disability worker will not be available for a week and thus there will be no food, no rent, no hydro payment to a hydro company which has run out of patience, and thus soon no hydro, but instead there will be hunger, a condemned apartment and swift eviction.

I’m not criticizing. I’m not judging; just observing. It seems like every problem in his life becomes an immediate foreboding of cascading problems with no break in the chain for possible solutions. I wish I had money to loan. I gave a modest donation instead.

It’s difficult to hear his roster of troubles on a regular basis. There is always a rebuttal to every suggested solution and always barriers put up - and awkward conditions attached - to any help you offer, which makes the help you intended become harder to give, and potentially laden with regret.

This is what mental illness – in this particular case – does. It throws a monkey wrench into goddam everything. Whatever the official combination of illnesses, conditions, syndromes etcetera are at play here: it should be summed up as Goddam Monkey Wrench Disease.

But I always wonder how much of this is necessary, and how much of it is optional: brought on by ineffective coping strategies perhaps, or failed adherence to them, or simply failed understandings stemming from the gap between psychological theory and physical facts. I have long been suspicious of our social presumptions concerning which mental machinations are healthy, or even  “sane” and which are not. I’m convinced in fact, that we are rather misguided in general, choosing the mental tendencies which are common and labeling them sane and healthy, only because they are normal. When in fact, normalcy may be the most fucked up disease there is, and very much at the core of the state of our social, economic and industrial world: a world in tragedy that is immensely – and probably now irreparably – fucked up despite all the thin surface comforts we all so blissfully and arrogantly take for granted, blind to the malignant grotesqueries which provide this veil.

Earth Writer said to me the other day, over coffee, that she was rethinking the nature of our attitude toward mental illness and starting to see it – in general – more as variation than illness. I applaud this thinking very much. How much of Sick Boy’s difficulties are a matter of mental dysfunction rather than just being different; her own preferences, fears and idiosyncrasies at odds with the structures we have built which serve the preferences of the normal . That would be a valuable and challenging experiment to dabble in.

Come evening, after struggling to stay awake all day, I hit the Six Minute Show where storytellers told their brief memoirs on the theme: Nevertheless She Persisted. My dear friend, who has insisted on remaining nameless for now, did muster the courage to participate.

I’m sure she wowed the audience from the start, beginning the brief tale with rich imagery and texture of the setting, informing us that we had a real writer on our hands! And then quickly but eloquently pouring an immense story from early childhood to present, into this confined space, so artfully, and sparingly choosing resonant little details from which we interpreted clearly: parental death, prolonged abuse, regular examination of suicide, but finally, perhaps just in time: The partner who is her “heart” and the son who is her “soul” and the “warrior woman” whose wise words also helped her to finally see value in her own existence. I knew the warrior woman in her final years; very well in some aspects, though I did not know her back in her heroic years, before she diminished somewhat and sought her own hero, and I yearn to hear those stories. I fought hard to hold back tears through all of this and even at her generous mention of dear friendship, with a nod toward me.

Her message in the end was one about joy and celebration: an attempt to re-gift the warrior woman’s good words to those in the audience who needed them; for the event was a fundraiser (as all the Six Minute Club’s events are, I believe) to, on this night, a group called SACHA which helps victims of abuse.

As the actual nature of the event had finally dawned on me early on, I asked my pals: “Am I going to feel terrible about being a man by the end of the night?”

“Nope,” was my friend’s reply. “You’re going to feel good about being a good man.”

Touche!

There were many other almost-as-great storytellers that night. I’d love to say more about their charming and diverse offerings but this post grows long. I will pass this fine moment along though, from the woman who spoke with delightful humour of her struggles with men and with the law and with her own mind, who concluded with a conspiratorial smirk and said: “I don’t suffer from mental illness...”

“ I’m enjoying it.”

Peace out, folks.

FWG

Monday, May 29, 2017

Movie Tips:




Flutter ****
(2014) Lindsay Pulsipher, Johnathan Huth Jr.
Grimy, gritty, intimate tale of a mom and her boy and the love that will hopefully hold them together through the hardest period of their lives. The tension comes in artful waves as they dance ever nearer the jaws of disaster.

Take Me to the River ****
(2015) Logan Miller, Robin Weigert
More mom-son stuff and the tension here is constant but subtle with an oddly elusive creep factor and plenty of hints to see the twist coming. One of those lucky library reservation mistakes (I was actually seeking the 2014 soul music documentary of the same title).

Collapse ***
(2010) Documentary by Jared Diamond
Compelling material around imperialism and climate gets watered down through an infotainmenty approach and limited scope. Worthwhile though, to the young or otherwise uninitiated.

Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media *****
(1992) Documentary
Sometimes-meandering exploration of the core material of Noam Chomsky; one of the most intelligent, self-sacrificing, important and under-appreciated men alive. Or ever. Mandatory viewing if you wish to participate in the real world.

The Polar Express *
(2004) Animated Adventure
Awkward and unintentionally creepy (severe uncanny valley factor) attempt at a holiday redemption story, starring Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks and Tom Hanks. How he let himself get railroaded into this mess...

Infinitely Polar Bear ***
(2014) Mark Ruffalo
This production seemed like a culmination of decent efforts; the unfortunate math of which, usually amounts to a mediocre result at best. Yet here, it somehow held up and delivered decently overall in terms of engaging my interest and emotions. But I have to pass on this opportunity to praise Ruffalo as one of the more under-appreciated actors (if he still is) because this was not his best acting and a lot of his scenes seemed forced to me.

War Dogs **
(2016) Jonah Hill, Miles Teller
Dull, lifeless, uninspired telling of a dull, lifeless, uninspiring true story which surely made for a far better newspaper article than a feature film. That it admirably exposes yet more of the infinite bastardism of the American Military Empire is laudable but not a good enough excuse for a theatrical lemon, at least not in my house.

We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists ****
(2012) Documentary
An elegant choice of material allows this examination into the concept of “eco-terrorism” achieve laudable objectivity.  Very worthwhile and of great potential future relevance.

10 Cloverfield Lane ****
(2016) Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman
Tense, well-acted dystopia-flavored thriller keeps you guessing!

A.I. Artificial Intelligence ***
(2001) Haley Joel Osment
What starts as a brilliant haunting masterpiece devolves suddenly into a Disneyland experience. As bi-polar as The Deer Hunter but without the obvious intent.

Cloud Atlas **
(2012) Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant
Watching this movie requires serious effort. Two words of advice. One: Turn the subtitles on ‘cause you’re going to get some weird-ass dialect a-comin’. And two: Think about reincarnation perhaps, as your lifeline as you attempt to follow the unwieldy plot.

All In Good Taste *
(1983) Jonathan Welsh
Thoroughly goofy flick tastelessly re-packaged recently to look like a Jim Carrey movie. In fact he played a tiny non-speaking role, on screen just long enough to flash his bare butt. Don’t get fooled into watching this. Unless you really want to see Jim Carrey’s ass (rather than him acting like one).

Friday, May 26, 2017

Progress?

Last night, after visits with Aqualad, Dog Whisperer and Earth Writer, I came home inspired, logged onto the video game from hell, tried to bring myself to destroy my cities, chickened out like a spineless jellyfish (which is not a particularly rare form of jellyfish), left a farewell note for the members of my remaining fellowship and then departed from it, and changed both city names to TEMP INACTIVE.

I’m praying this buys me some time until I can grow up and put this thing permanently out of my misery.

After coffee with Earth Writer I heard myself saying, “You know, it’s clear that the struggles in the world are going to get a lot worse before they possibly get better. There is so much need for people with the capacity for gentleness and peace to achieve that and to have their effects on others. I need to achieve that. There is too much good work to do for me to be wasting my time.”

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Biting off what I can chew

I joined a small role playing group. Four of us meet online every other Friday to play World of Dew. A sort of collaborative story-building game in the Samurai genre.

I’m starting to get more shifts at work now and stand a chance at full-timish hours until November perhaps. And if this does not gel I’m ready to pull the trigger any time with regards to seeking a second employer; one more of the night watchman variety. I have some good leads.

I am falling back into a more substantive role within the Support Circle community and being moved by the tremendous attitudes of special people; volunteers and former offenders alike. The trust, the generosity, the wisdom, humility and acceptance. The courage in the face of uphill battles in pursuit of dignity, well-being and some semblance of belonging. The genuine camaraderie. No volunteer, including myself, goes out of their way to demonstrate to visitors or new participants that we are one of the volunteers and not one of the offenders. How’s that for genuine camaraderie?

I’m now thinking about a return to the lacrosse community in some smart limited scope; without getting completely sucked in, now that the baggage has dried up and the love of the game, it seems, has remained.

I’m thinking about a couple other volunteer opportunities too, now that I’m driving a reliable car again thanks to fifteen hundred and sixty well-spent dollars. 

I feel very positive.

I feel like I have the strength to defeat this damned video game habit and get more productive again.

I feel good about my writing and my excellent Scooterville writing pals who are at this blessed moment re-considering their schedules to see if we can accommodate a bit of re-structuring to write-in schedules so that I may participate more.

My burgeoning friendship with the Courageous Comedian has buoyed me. Facebook suggests that she is outrageously popular yet I boldly messaged her and said, hey, I think you are awesome in a world of mostly dickheads! You want to hang out and chat some time? A day later I thought, fuck a duck. Does she think I’m after a creepy date? But no. She finally messaged me back and said that sounded awesome and we would have to make that happen. Though it has never been apparent to me, C.C. battles mental illness of some measure while championing noble causes and educating us about them. She sees the troubled world with brave unflinching eyes and performs on stage her very fun jokes and sometimes her screamy screamy music with her band which I will probably continue to avoid!

And Neo is now finished at university. He has been so busy that I have missed him much but we are to gather very soon and I will find out what sort of plans he now considers and to what degree they might overlap my own. I suspect that there may be opportunity for collaboration of some form.

Yes, I do feel positive. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Infrastructure

April A-to-Z:  A Celebration of the Automobile! (If You’re the Devil)

Life in Southern Ontario works pretty much like I expect it does in just about every corner of Fabulous North America Ass-Kickers Of The Woeful World: Our loathsome bottom-feeding politicians and our loathsome bottom-feeding corporate elite, with their hands deeply buried in each other’s pants (and from precisely the same community of good ol’ boys) run everything precisely the way they want it, while the rest of us dull helpless mewling sheep either keep their mouths shut about it and enjoy the comfortable temporary benefits of temporarily-upper-tier slavery (most of the people I know) or somehow remain ignorant of this most basic structure of our society (most of the people I generally avoid) or – three – regret the slightly-diminished complicity in our own individual personal circumstances, and often rebel in largely ineffective manners (myself and most of my favorite peeps); all of us having one thing in common: We all let our rulers run just about everything precisely the way they want it.

As such, the future of southern Ontario’s infrastructure is being mapped out with more and more semi-circular toll highways radiating into the countryside, killing farmland and precious biodiversity and paving the way, well into the future, for the proliferation of car culture, car manufacturing, gas stations, drive-thrus, public-raping toll consortiums and as much cash-in-the-pants as politicians and their gleeful gruesome sugar daddies can possibly fondle.

There are pockets of meddlesome opposition to their rosy plans; some of them making a laudable din about proposed mega toll-highway 413, to be built just a few kilometers alongside current mega toll highway 407. One particularly stupid and soulless cretin defended his political complicity in the scheme by claiming “Everyone knows that cars aren’t going anywhere [so we need to build more roads]”.

Of course there are many people who know damn well that cars will be going away, one way or the other, no matter how much we pretend otherwise, or how bad we fuck ourselves over (or rather our swiftly-approaching descendants by delaying this transition. Some are those who have a healthy curiosity for science despite formal education’s best efforts to make science a tortuous learning experience, and some are those who have a healthy awareness of the egoic corruption of the mind and the ubiquitous insanity of the modern human which convinces us that anything normal or common is automatically legitimate (which is pretty much never the case).   

Barring specific technological leaps, near impossible in the short term, Cars will indeed go away. It’s a logical certainty. In no way can the Earth possibly sustain them. But with respect to the A-Z format, that’s a story for another day.

Oh and yeah – It’s April 46th in Fantasy Writer Guy land by the way.

Oh, and simultaneously it’s April 411th 2016 with regards to last year’s April A-Z which I have also not officially given up on. It’s my blog. I make the rules. So there!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Baby steps

I have not quit playing the insidious city-building video game. In fact I played it a bloody lot the other day. In my defense, we are inside a two-week quest period where great rewards abound for those with sufficient organizational skills.

And yes, that is no defense.

I also did not leave the fellowships yet, as Aqualad prescribed. But here is what I did do today:  I wrote twin emails to the archmage of each of my fellowships and proposed the following: I said that I needed to cut back on game play in order to address personal issues and would begin decelerating my participation next week and then in nine days, at the close of the current quest: I would resign from the fellowship. I asked for consent to the exit strategy before I would message the group as a whole.

So there. It’s a half step but better than nothing. And it’s sincere.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Fifteen year hiatus

It must have been about twenty years ago when I agreed to produce a web site for a local Junior A lacrosse team which my young brother was playing for.  The internet was not what it is today. The site was a bulky laborious one by today’s standard but quickly became the most substantive one in a league in which probably half the organizations didn’t even have a team site yet.

I photographed and interviewed the players and other team officials and began writing articles and attending the games in order to track statistics. The site was even featured in a national lacrosse periodical.

I kept stepping up to fill holes within the organization and the community at large. I became the team statistician, was appointed Director of Media Relations,  headed up fundraising efforts, produced the most voluminous game program in the league, served as timekeeper or ball boy on occasions and was soon elected Vice President. I served occasionally on the Junior A council and began touring the league watching games and posting game stories online under the pen name Blue (my dog’s name and my presumed nickname due to a misunderstanding). I was embraced by a small community of eccentric “internet reporters” and developed a following around the Ontario lacrosse scene. My game stories were then picked up and published on Ontario lacrosse’s premier web site which garnered thousands of hits daily.

This experience was important because it gave me some cred and confidence as a “writer” which I’d never before imagined I would become.

But aggressive parents, organizational politics and tribal delusion began to wear me out. I had a voice and thus became a target of the posturing and positioning of everyone with an agenda: mostly unhealthy ones. After five years I was burnt out and exited the lacrosse scene entirely. I didn’t even attend games as a spectator.

I have aged well though , and peace has worked its magic. It has dissolved bad memories and strengthened the good memories: Like the artfulness of the masterfully creative native teams I admired; the dazzling performances of so many great young players and their eventual promotions to the pro league; the road trips with lacrosse pals; the accolades from random spectators who spied my note-taking and asked, “Are you Blue?” The warm greetings of players who thanked me enthusiastically for my service to the team; and perhaps mostly: the amazing feeling that came from giving back to a community from which I once benefited as a youngster. I was astounded to discover that the joy of giving back was not just some platitude. It was precisely real.

Last Thursday night, after about fifteen years, I finally attended another OLA lacrosse game: A Junior B tilt between Scooterville’s Bengals and the visiting Thunderhawks. It was a joyful return. The junior B game appears to have evolved mightily in a decade and a half. I would have believed it a junior A match. What a treat to just enjoy the game without the shadow of diplomacy lurking over me.

The home squad jumped to an early lead and carried it comfortably until the end. The boys were all new to me of course though some had familiar names: like the son and the nephew of players (and coaches) I once knew in their prime.

Old habits die hard. I scribbled constant notes and swiftly began to glean the various roles, strengths and idiosyncrasies of each player who now seem ridiculously young to me at fifteen to twenty-one.

Afterward I had a beer with their general manager and coach, Mister D, who was a close associate years ago and has since won Ontario and pro league championship titles as coach and who earlier in the year sent me an email out of the blue to lure me out, without disguising his interest in getting some volunteer work out of me. I’m not ready to commit to anything and he was wise that night in not asking. But I know we’re both thinking about next season.

I do feel an urge though, already, to write about lacrosse again. It is sparked by a paternal inkling, as it was two decades ago though I did not understand it then. My inclination at the time was to write with players and parents in mind (though there were other followers). My artless policy at the time was to ensure that every player in the game was mentioned at least once in a positive light: some measure of praise for something done well; even if just a great pass or a faultless period on defense.

I think my reports would differ now though, for I am not much the same person, and that I would remain more neutral and noble and write more consistently from a non-partisan perspective; from the context alike the traditional native view. For lacrosse is an ancient game; a creative one; a game of collaborative rhythms; a game prone to serendipity; to beauty in motion. A game that, it was long ago said, was a gift from The Creator, and one to be played for His enjoyment.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

FAIL!

Okay. Let’s stop pretending I have any credibility whatsoever with regards to any commitments to this blog. If I’m hoping and intending to correct that problem then I will just keep that to myself and stop making any promises here.

And now for the even-more embarrassing part:

I have been in a mire of non-productivity since Christmas eve/Christmas morning 2016. For the third year in a row I spent Santa's Magical Night of Yule on a 12-hr shift all alone at the main Tim Hortons store-slash-learning centre (Ingeniously called Tim Hortons U) with no actual duties all night, and for the third such annual gig in a row I dispensed with any notion of productivity and entertained myself with a video game of the challenging resource management variety, which I dig and did rarely indulge in. Problem is – I accidentally chose a game which was not the usual play-twice-and-then-get-locked-out-unless-you-pay variety (I never pay). I accidentally chose what looked like a typical resource management game and which was actually a massive multi-player city building game – WHICH – never locks you out. Surprise! It just bribes you to quicken your city-building experience by purchasing “diamonds” with real money. Diamonds are the universal currency which you can use to hasten any sort of transaction without waiting for goods or supplies or income to mature (but again, I never pay).

So here’s the confession: I got totally hooked; totally addicted to this insipid bloody game which I don’t even think I enjoy anymore but which I am constantly compelled to play because it’s like… It’s like blackjack. It’s the mental challenge of succeeding. I’m hooked on that challenge (though I’ve always been smart enough to carefully moderate my blackjack participation).

I’m also hooked on the creative component; wanting to build a city that is beautiful; that I would wish to live in, and also on the community aspect: I am the proud pathetic owner of two cities in separate “worlds” and in each I have joined fellowships where I can help – and be helped by – other players which insidiously triggers my paternal instinct. Anyway I feel like a complete loser.

I took my troubles down to Madame Rouge – sorry – I mean Aqualad – because he has plenty of experience around video game compulsion and a very bright head on his shoulders and he told me that step one of my deprogramming is to ditch the fellowships which are admittedly a bad influence. He also hornswoggled me a copy of SimCity, theorizing that this much-simpler game might satisfy my idiotic city building needs without such a destabilizing time-commitment.

I’m seeing him again this evening and will have to report that the strategy has so far not paid off. I’m still playing the damned game. And hardly writing. And hardly blogging. And hardly volunteering. And hardly exercising. And hardly researching. And not composing. And hardly addressing my growing employment-shortage problems. And hardly being there for people who deserve my attention.

So anyway… if you know me in real life be sure to slap me in the face the next time you see me and tell me to get my shit together and stop being such a dickhead.

Sincerely,
FWG/Not-Much-Of-A-New-Day-Rising (who secretly still intends to start blogging productively)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Health

I think the reason most bloggers do not blog every day is generally because they don’t have enough to say. Or else they think they don’t have that much to say.

I have more than enough that I wish to say (whether appreciated or not). One of my April objectives is to defeat the barriers which keep me from posting. One of them is this: If it’s too simple and obvious then I’m reluctant to say it.

Because A-Z is so structured I feel like there is no room to go exploring on the page until something subtle and useful comes out and thus the subtle useful thing must in this case be part of the plan. And for letter H this year, there is no such plan. But here: let me hold my nose and swiftly get this over with.

April A-to-Z:  A Celebration of the Automobile! (If You’re the Devil)

H is for Health!

When I spent two months between vehicles; after the banana boat was grounded, I found myself in a very joyful position. I was often walking downtown (not downtown Scooterville but rather the village area of our particular burrough) in order to run small errands. I was also taking buses and walking to the stops. I was getting exercise and doing a small favour to the environment. My circumstance was physically healthier and mentally healthier.

Unfortunately the unreliable nature of bus company logistics convinced me that, given my current roster of commitments, I needed my own car again in order to be sufficiently reliable.

There is little doubt I think, that in this chronically obese society, we’d all be getting more exercise and subsequently healthier if it weren’t for our personal cars. The problems with making yourself an exception to this norm include the above instability, which is less a problem in heavy metro areas and a progressively greater problem the less urban you get, as less and less participants (and smaller budgets) leave public transport a flightier prospect; a less-robust system.

Another problem with being the exception in your community is that walking or biking for health/recreation is wonderful on the trails, but doing so out of logistical necessity means you’re sharing auto routes and sucking exhaust fumes the whole time. Not a boon to health.

And that’s about all I have to say on that topic. Short and sweet. And it frankly could have been a lot shorter. I think it’s great to be concise. And I know I’m generally a more concise (and appropriately, more subtle) writer than many. But I have to convince myself that it’s okay to post small pieces. In fact I should try to make it more the norm.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Garages

April A-to-Z:  A Celebration of the Automobile! (If You’re the Devil)

When I was about nineteen and working an entry-level bank job for about 20K per year, I took my first car – a little Toyota Tercel into a Speedy Muffler King shop on my lunch break and reported a squeal which I thought must have been a brake-wear indicator. The slithery, slimy, kitten-eating cretin of a mechanic told me that indeed that was so and I needed new pads, rotors, shoes and drums immediately and to the tune of $1200.00 which was an unfathomable sum to me way back then.

I told him I didn’t have that kind of money on hand and needed to get back to work but that I would soon return. He claimed the car was unsafe to drive and had to stay until repaired. Being precociously skilled at diplomacy I talked him out of my car and fled the place like Luke-and-friends fleeing the Death Star in a squealing Millennium Falcon.

Shortly after I took the little Tercel (everyone always asked me, How’s your little Tercel! To which I finally started replying, It’s the same size as every other Tercel) – sorry. I took it to a little independent garage near my home which I’d never been to before. I think his name was Tony. Or maybe Mario. He gave it a good inspection, fixed the squeal which required no new parts after all, and told me that all the brake components were in such good condition that he would be happy to sign an affidavit guaranteeing that all my brake parts would last at least another year – in case I wished to pursue legal action against the Speedy Muffler King of Crap.

I was wildly angry at the time that this soulless bastard had tried to criminally steal from me and make a disaster of my finances. I went to the Better Business  Bureau and there learned that it takes a gargantuan effort to achieve any kind of truth or justice through the Better Business Bureaucracy and that I didn’t have what it takes.

Tony-Mario meanwhile had won my loyalty and I only took my car to him for the next year or two.

But I couldn’t help but notice that every time I went to Tony-Mario the bills grew gradually higher.

In the decades since I have noticed a rather consistent and interesting pattern. The newer I am to a garage the less my repairs cost and the longer I stay with someone the higher they grow. I have theorized that garages have a general strategy of sucking in loyalty by treating new customers with honesty and then gradually juicing you like a poor defenceless lemon the longer you are lulled into their warm sticky embrace.

A year ago I bought a 2002 Saturn, old but safetied by the selling garage – for $2000.00. I mentioned that I could hear a ticking kind of rattle during the test drive – coming from the front passenger wheel. They assured me it was nothing. I was so desperate for a car, so broke and barely employed at the time, that this deal was a major score and I was cornered into optimism.

The noise grew though, with time, until it could no longer be ignored. Knowing almost for certain I had been fudged with, in terms of a questionable, likely unlawful safety certificate, I took it back to the same place where the head dude, a young fellow whose personality positively dripped with venom, told me I needed new bearings on both front wheels. Hoping he felt guilty and/or scared in relation to the original deception, I hoped for a compensatory discount and appeared to get one: two new sets of bearings of the finer quality for a discounted price and no tax (and thus no receipt – wink-wink). Again I was desperate and accordingly optimistic. I paid the $500.00 knowing almost for certain I’d be getting the low-end parts instead from this lizard but satisfied that our verbal chess match had gone as much in my favor as I dared hope.

A couple months later at most, the noises came back and I took the beast to the garage of my housemates’ preference and there learned that I still urgently needed new bearings on both front wheels; the passenger side most urgently, and that it looked like someone had machined a “hub” in order to fit bearings onto my wheel which neither looked new nor were the right size for my car! And thus I now needed a new hub part as well.

 So I paid yet again for new bearings on the one side which I never should have needed in the first place and vowed to soon return to deal with the driver’s side bearings. I then plotted how I would return to the garage of origin and handcuff the slime ball to his hoist before burning his oily mechanical lair to the ground. “I’ll tell you what, Officer!” I would say. “Just let me stand here in the parking lot a little longer – until his screams stop, before dragging me away to jail – and I’ll sign a full confession! Deal?”

Since then a third garage – one I have pretty good reason to trust due to family-friend connections, indeed declared that I need bearings and on the driver’s side only.

These kinds of stories are everywhere. A friend when I was young was a mechanic and he told me one day, very defensively, that he only cheated customers as much as every other mechanic does and no more. I later stopped being his friend for several good reasons.

For the years that a pal of my stepdad’s took care of my cars – both sold them to me and fixed them – I paid next to nothing each year in auto repairs. Many problems were fixed without even needing new parts.

It’s pretty clear to me that almost universally, garages and their mechanics cannot resist the urge to cheat people for money. They have us at their mercy. I used to buy my own brake parts for the Tercel and fix my own brakes in the driveway. And with my uncle’s help and two years of high school auto shop learning, I even performed my own engine work. Today cars are complex and computerized and we are so dependent on mechanics that they are like evil wizards who will do with us as they please.

I sometimes think that if our society had any actual sane regard for truth and honesty that we would legislate small arena-like garages where mechanics, like surgeons addressing interns, would do all work transparently before our eyes and have to show us our damaged parts in comparison to the new ones and demonstrate the need for replacement and be obligated to answer any of our questions.

This over-replacement of parts is no help to the environment obviously. And the problem is further propagated by garages who give mechanics commission on replacement parts. How messed up is that?

Here’s some advice to consider: If you don’t have a mechanic you trust because either he’s a blood relative or you’re sleeping with him, or else you know where he’s been burying bodies – try going to a new garage every time and see how my Theory of Customer Newness holds up!

And two: Stay away from garages where there is little activity and they can always book you right in, spur of the moment. Because if they’re not busy they’ve probably been scaring customers away due to suspiciously high bills, and now being dormant, are more desperate than ever to jack up imaginary repairs and part-replacement needs.

Good luck. It’s a jungle out there.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Fire!

April A-to-Z:  A Celebration of the Automobile! (If You’re the Devil)

One day when I was a young man, living here in Scooterville, there appeared on the southern horizon a nasty dark haze which centred over the community of Hagersville; a small farming town about a half-hour drive away which is known for several things:

1. The birthplace of Neil Peart; drummer, composer and lyricist of Rush and the most significant musician since the birth of Rock and Roll by my own subjective accounting!

2. The birthplace of Jay Silverheels; the most significant actor to ever follow around a masked man, calling him “Kee Mo Sah Bee.“

3. The place where I lost my cherry to a married high school teacher. We don’t talk about that.

And 4… the place where thirteen million tires at the Tyre King recycling yard caught fire, burned and smoldered for seventeen days while heavily toxic fumes chased four thousand people from their homes.

Expert fire fighters converged from across the nation, employing 350 tanks of air per day and two water bombers normally employed against forest fires. The disaster loosed tonnes of oil into local groundwater and inflicted “rare and aggressive cancers” on many firefighters.

This “lark” perpetrated by five local teens cost ten million dollars and one year to clean up and remains the worst environmental disaster in Ontario history though I do not know by what criteria specifically. A scarred tundra the size of 18 football fields remains there today.

Tire fires, most of which are ignited through mischief or accidental mishandling of nearby legitimate combustion, are either occurring with increasing frequency or else are being reported with increasingly wider circulation. Reliably, two per year make broad headlines in this decade. The second of 2017 has already ignited on March 5th at the En Tire facility in Phelps City, Missouri and burned for days.