Category Archives: Politics

The Fallacy of Focusing on National Figureheads

Vitriol is an odd thing. And I hate being the guy who writes about the “social media age” like it’s this thing that appeared in the last couple of years. Even before Facebook, early adopters of online communication remember the glory days of website forums, chat rooms, and other social media sites that existed long before we had the term social media (most people remember Myspace, fellow Edmontonians remember Nexopia). But, despite sounding like a clueless blogger, the social media age has reared an excessive amount of vitriol from the public. I’ve covered this before in other essays and it seems to be a topic I’m fixated on. I don’t know why I’m so fixated on it. Early adopters of forums can remember the all-caps ranters and trolls long before it became a topic of social media etiquette. It’s the focus and targets of this vitriol that’s fascinating me today.

The current US leader is obviously on the receiving end of a lot of this online aggression and that’s quickly becoming old news (though a lot of what’s going on around him continues to be fascinating), so I want to focus on my homeland of Canada, and specifically the current hate-campaigns towards our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In my last open letter, I brushed on the fact that public opinion of him has been dropping. The online comments towards him and his activities have been looking more and more, well, American as of late. But he’s also been the target of some odd criticism.

One thing I’ve noted that he’s been criticized a lot about has been his international presence. The fact that he’s been an active diplomat for Canada has resulted in this odd argument that he doesn’t actually care about Canadians and he’s doing nothing for us. This is very odd for a lot of reasons. The first being that a major part of the job of Prime Minister is having that international diplomat presence. A world leader has to interact with the world.

The second odd thing about this is this assumption that if the Prime Minister is working on something international, then he’s clearly doing nothing domestic. The Federal Government is made up of a lot more people than just the Prime Minister. In fact, as of 2016, 258,979 people have been employed in some sort of Federal Public Service and 197,354 people are employed in that core administration of Federal Public Service. That’s a lot of people and believe me not all of them are working on the same international missions that Trudeau has been publicly working on. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that a very large majority of these 197,354 core administration and 258,979 Federal Public Service workers are focused on domestic issues.

There’s one very specific online incident that this brings to mind. There was a story that came out about a financial pledge Trudeau made for an international issue (what the issue was escapes me and at this time I’m having difficulty finding the exact story that was cited). The individual who posted about it expressed that the money that was being pledged for this international effort would be better used domestically for homeless issues. This would be a valid argument, if the current Federal Government wasn’t the first Federal Government in many years to be developing a national housing strategy. In fact, only weeks before this post came across my social media feed, the Federal Government released $12.6 billion to municipal foundations for affordable housing. Edmonton organizations alone received $18.2 million. Yet, this significant amount of funding wasn’t mentioned once during the entire social media based debate. All that was focused on was the fact that the Trudeau government was giving funds to other countries.

I could speculate endlessly about why important information about an issue that this individual obviously cares about would be so blatantly missed. It got plenty of news coverage, both online and on television, and plenty of elected officials took part in major public announcements. But, none of those elected officials were Prime Minister Trudeau.

Are we treating world leaders the way we treat celebrities now? Think about the way most people watch movies. The focus is placed on the major star power driving the film’s cast. Sometimes, we focus on the directly. Rarely, we focus on the writer. Sometimes there’s even a focus on the special effects studio. But never do we focus on set designers, make-up artists, production assistants, editors, grips, camera technicians, or the hundreds of other critical roles that go into a film. The same is becoming true for government. All we can see are the leaders, totally forgetting how much more goes into any governmental body.

If you’re looking to leaders to represent your interests, you’re looking in all the wrong places. Further, we don’t need leaders. We need representation. And this is how our governmental system is actually set up. Unless the leaders are picking fights with other countries or moving on motions that will drastically change the organizational structure of a country, the actions of the leaders are typically highly inconsequential.

The motions and activities that the government tends to move on stems from the local representatives: the Senators, Ministers, Members of Parliament (MP), and on the provincial level the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). Even the City Councils can have some sway with the Federal Government. That $16.2 billion being released for affordable housing organizations was a major ask by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which is Chaired by Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson. Leaders don’t typically make unilaterally decisions on motions and Acts.

Everything that goes through government stems from motions drafted by MPs and MLAs, which reflect the interest of their constituents. With this in mind, it can be argued that yelling at the Prime Minister or the Premier or the President over Facebook is kind of an utter waste of time. If you want to see real change being made in government, contact your local MLAs, MPs, and even City Councillors. They are the voices in the ear of governments and they are the one who actually spur change. Not the leaders.

I would argue something similar for our southern neighbours. By no means am I going to say something like, “Just give the guy a chance, he might be really good.” But, what I will stress is that you shouldn’t focus your attention on trying to get his attention. Instead, look to your back yard. Who is your senator? Your governor? Who represents you in Washington? Those are the questions you should be asking and those are the elected officials who you should be focusing your attention on. The guy in the White House will never hear you, never pay attention to you, and frankly does not care. But your local elected officials do care and they will hear you. Get your local governors and senators on your side and you can do a lot more in Washington than you ever could by criticizing anyone on Facebook.

Again, we don’t need leaders. We need representations. And that’s how our government is structured. But we keep forgetting that. If you want to create social change, stop looking to leaders and start looking in your back yard.

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An Open Letter to Kevin O’Leary

Dear Kevin O’Leary,

Just… Don’t…

Just… Fucking… Don’t…

Just… What the fuck are you doing? Seriously… What the fuck… Just… Fucking Don’t.

Okay, now that’s out of my system, I can get into my rhetorical analysis of you framed as the start of a dialogue that I know you’ll never actually respond to.

Have you seen the show Ascension? It was broadcast on CBC, the channel that made you (in)famous through its Dragon’s Den reality series. And I stress that it was Dragon’s Den that propelled you into the public spotlight, and not Shark Tank for two reasons. The first being your rivalry with Arlene Dickinson, which has apparently followed you into your new political life. The second being, and I may be going out on a limb with this, no American who watched Shark Tank still has any idea who you are or what you do. And I focus on CBC because the typical conservative of your ilk tends to believe that the CBC needs to be defunded and shut down.

I bring up Ascension as an example of a Canadian version of something that simply doesn’t measure up to what we typically consume for media produced by our southern neighbours. The show sort of starts out like CSI in space, but does move into some interesting territory as the mini-series progressed. It doesn’t have the cult following that similar shows like The Expanse has, and many would point solely to the fact that Ascension is a Canadian program as to why it didn’t perform as well as it could have. Even being broadcast on Syfy didn’t bolster the show the way other space operas (and in my opinion, sub-par space operas) like Killjoys and Dark Matter have been. There’s something about Canadian content that feels like Canadian content and we automatically assume it isn’t as good because it’s Canadian content.

Kevin-O (can I call you Kevin-O? I going to stick with Kevin-O.), are you at all worried about being the Canadian content equivalent of the current state in American politics?

I mean, the comparisons are obvious. You’re a venture capitalist eyeing politics with the messaging that strong business practices are what could save the country. You practically stole the speaker notes (which apparently is also becoming common political practice). Many Canadians are furiously flocking to social media to stress that we are not Americans and we shouldn’t do things like Americans. The problem is, we keep trying to copy Americans, as seen in much of our Canadian content. And when we try to copy Americans, that’s when we tend to fail.

Even you, Kevin-O, are actually far from the archetype of the American tycoon. Your net worth is much less than most Wall Street bankers, which might be part of it, but your attitudes I’ve always found different. Yes, you’re a hard capitalist, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I don’t think the outward image you conveyed on Dragon’s Den at all reflects the real Kevin-O who goes home at night. While drafting this letter, I literally had to look up the company you co-founded (software developers SoftKey), but I could rattle off all the charity and philanthropic work you do. You’re big into entrepreneurship and financial education. You actively helped look for solutions to reverse climate change with Discovery Channel’s Discovery Channel Earth. Think about how many American politicians don’t think climate change is even real. Think about how many American politicians don’t trust the data from scientists who have been studying the effects of climate for decades. You literally worked with television’s biggest science channel to address the realities of climate change and look for solutions.

This is the Kevin-O who needs to run for public office. Smart business practices are important but when it comes to government, serving the individuals is far more important than balancing the books. Government is such a different industry from hard business that not all of hard business’ practices translate. This isn’t a simple transition from one to the other. You will have 35 billion people riding on your decisions, not just a board of investors.

If we look at the trend in modern Canadian politics, we can call Stephen Harper our George W. Bush, and Harper’s national isolation tactics and fear based (and frankly racist) domestic policy ideas are what caused him to fail. We can look at Justin Trudeau as our answer to Barrack Obama and even I will admit that Trudeau is starting to shit the bed a bit in public opinion. Was Jean Chrétien our Bill Clinton? I would argue that Bill Clinton was America’s Jean Chrétien and that Chrétien was Canada’s last truly great Prime Minister because he was distinctly and unapologetically unlike anything else going on in politics at the time. He followed no trends and the Canadian vote wasn’t a reaction to what was going on anywhere else. Canada needs to stop comparing itself to other countries and following the leads of others and instead look at itself, look at the world, and logically decide what’s the best course of action.

If we look at the case of Ascension or Heartland or Republic of Doyle or any of the other CBC programming that causes a chorus of groans from regular television watchers, we get a sense that Canadian content copying American content doesn’t really work. When we look at cases like Orphan Black, Kids in the Hall, Degrassi, Kenny versus Spenny, Are you Afraid of the Dark¸ and even Mr. Dressup, television shows with strong cult followings and set new standards for what content can do, you fully understand that Canadian content is at its utmost best when it stops trying to copy American content.

The Canadian political landscape is no different. We are at our best when we stop trying to take cues from south of the 49th parallel. I’ll agree that when Canadians describe themselves as “not American,” it cheapens the Canadian identity and experience. But at the same time, the Canadian identity is such an obscure construct that outside of waxing philosophical, it’s hard to describe. All you can do is look at the reality of the 35 billion people who call this set of borders home, look at how we can help things on the international front, and strategize from there.

So when I say, or rather beg (or maybe groan in frustration) to “Just fucking don’t.” What I mean is, don’t be that guy that so many Canadians expect you to be. Don’t be the guy south of the border, don’t be the guy howling at bad investment ideas. Be something better. You want to be an alternative? Be a real alternative. Don’t just copy what you saw work on TV. Work from a stronger and smarter plan. Don’t spew rhetoric about bad business and putting Canadians first. Explain reality and do what the best politicians always did best: help the greatest number of people. Period.

Don’t be the cheap Canadian version of something going on elsewhere. Set the standards and be something better.

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On Partisan Political Polarization

Around four in the morning, I was woken up by a light in my bedroom. It was my fiancée’s cellphone. She was reading poll numbers from the most recent American presidential election. She was terrified at the prospect of the new American President and not necessarily how it will affect us, but how it’s going to affect so many of the Americans that his campaign targeted. We talked for a while about what this is all going to mean and what we think is going to happen. She was able to fall back asleep but I was awake for another couple of hours with my mind racing.

I did the worst thing I could possibly do in this situation. I checked Facebook. A lot of the anxiety that my fiancée was feeling was reflected in many of my online friends. I stared at my phone, continued reading, and felt myself getting more and more worked up over the new leader of a country I don’t even live in. And as I kept reading posts and news stories and comment feeds on news stories, I realized that what was worrying me wasn’t necessarily the new guy in power.

The new American President in-and-of-himself is actually nothing new and his novelty is something of a misnomer. As pointed out by commentators such as Adam Conover, the new President’s crudeness is light compared to that of Lyndon B. Johnson’s bathroom meetings and recorded phone conversations discussing his private regions. Even some of the new President’s political stances, such as his hard stance on law and order, simply echo the likes of Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs. There is a historical precedence with this most recent American presidential election but the precedence has less to do with the candidates and more to do with the electoral body itself.

The Republican nomination was won by a salesman. He sold himself and he sold some ideas to warrant being named on the ballot. But the ideas he sold were by-products of opportunism. He isn’t actually interested in the work that this office requires. He’s interested in the title. And to gain the title, he marketed himself initially to a base population, which then spread over time. The ideas of closed borders and racial profiling he presented during his campaign weren’t the scariest aspect of this election. The fact that the American population heard these ideas and said, “Yes, this is what a free country should look like,” is what’s actually scary.

This is where the historical precedent steps in. The population let itself be swayed by the kind of anger and ferocity that typically warrants itself to an all-caps Facebook post, and then forgotten. It was the creation of a non-existent conflict, the “us vs. them,” that made for a more hard lined voting mentality that eschewed logic and reasoning and let emotional reactions be the dominant driving force. And this isn’t to say social media itself is bad or shouldn’t be used as a forum for political discourse. But it’s not being used to its fullest potential.

The typical posts seen around any political discussion are anger based messages pointing out what’s being done wrong. The discussions that follow tend to either be in agreement of the anger or be an anger-fueled opposition. This doesn’t encompass the entirety of online political discussion, but the vast majority tends to look like this. During 2016’s Presidential race, that anger manifested itself outside of online discussions and surfaced during rallies and protests. Not since 1968 has there been so much violence directly associated with political rallying.

And this is where I start to get worried. Many of the posts I keep reading blame either side of the political spectrum for the violence, the disconnect, the crude tactics, and point to themselves and their stance as the solution. For a lot of what’s being argued, it’s all non-partisan issues. But non-partisan issues are being labeled with partisan offenders. And mostly, the non-partisan issues being blamed have more to do with common human decency than they do with any political stance. Both sides of the spectrum have a lot more in common than most people give credit for.

For a long time now, I’ve believed that the political spectrum is no longer a useful tool in political discourse. It simply no long reflects the complicated political realities. But more and more often, I’m seeing people hold on to their political affiliations as stringent parts of their identities and any challenge to their beliefs is a challenge to their character, which results in only more anger. This is something that has only gotten louder as more people adopt social media as their main course for stress relief. It often brings up the question whether we as a species are mature enough to handle the weight and responsibility of something like social media. Clearly, people read the things being posted, take them to heart, and act on them.

The social media discourse also tends to dwell on leaders as opposed to the local representatives who actions and decisions will actually directly affect people. The focus on leaders has actually developed a new level of celebrity typically reserved for the likes of the Kardashians. Watching and reading about the election has started to feel more like reading up on TV gossip than it does about the progress of politics. This is probably why qualifications and aptitude have become subservient to personality and entertainment.

The greatest frustration I personally experienced during this entire election process was witnessing everything unfold fully knowing that no matter what anyone said, the decision would remain steadfast. Nothing was going to break the decisions that the American public already made even before all of the pertinent information about what either presidency would look like was available. Great tyrants have proclaimed that reason is passion’s slave and no election has better illustrated this.

The ramifications of this election have yet to be felt. If the negative outcomes so many of us are nervously anticipating do come to fruition, the political leaders will receive the brunt of the blame. When in actuality, the American public has nowhere else to look than their own social media feeds as to why things have developed in this way.

In no way am I advocating for any sort of censorship or even abolishing the concept of social media. It exists and society has developed around it to the point where careers can be built entirely on social media platforms. What I am wondering is if we can be better with this constant open forum. Perhaps our political discussions can be more solution driven than blame driven. Instead of getting angry when things turn sour, we can use these online vehicles to discuss how things went wrong, what corrective measure can be taken, and what the hopeful outcomes can be. It’s still important to hold those in power to task for their actions. But constant open criticism and calls for impeachment over every small indiscretion does nothing for the political process except create blockades and deadlocks, completely halting the political process. And when the political process is halted, it’s the publicly funded projects, those we’ve collectively deemed essential enough to warrant government funding and oversight, that suffer.

I’m often called a misanthrope and my tendencies towards a frustration with people typically amplifies when I spent a lot of time reading through posts and comments. But my frustration isn’t actually rooted in a distaste for people. Quite the opposite. I really like people. And I have a lot of confidence in people to be kind, forward thinking, and motivated by only the best intentions. Even the results of this election, I can empathize where the American public truly think they’re working towards what’s best for them as a country. But their aim is misguided. They’ve been misdirected and a salesman saw an opportunity to take that misdirection, amplify it, and use it for his own gains. And that’s why we’re here today, reading a constant barrage of think pieces as to why things turned so ugly followed by cruel comments from people we will never meet and never interact with beyond the glow of a screen.

In a few days, I’m going to be an uncle. This addition to my family is bringing up my own questions about bringing more life into this world. On one hand, I have hope for people. That hope is illuminated whenever I read about amazing feats of engineering, breakthroughs in medical research, and imaginative discoveries about the potential of intelligent life on other planets and it gives me hope that my potential child will be a part of what drives progress forward and makes the world an amazing place. The other hand though is weighing heavier and heavier every day as I see people become so much more angry. Everything is an outrage and cause for outbursts of hate.

The American people made their choice and as a non-American I don’t have much choice but to accept their choice and hope for the best. But as I watch my own Facebook feed fill with more messages of anxiety and worry, I continually remind myself that people are capable of better. When we act out of fear and hate and anger, we make rash decisions whose consequences we can’t always anticipate. When we act out of logic and hope and compassion for each other, we make awesome decisions, leading to such cool discoveries who ramifications change the world for the better in ways we could never imagine.

I know we’re capable of so much more than this.

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On the Death of Fred Phelps

The passing of the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church ignited the internet. Within minutes of the Huffington Post sharing its first publishing of the details of the man’s death, hundreds of comments filled the feed, condemning the man for his work in establishing the infamous group who have been launched into the popular culture sphere for their extreme fundamentalist views and their picketing of soldier and celebrity funerals, pushing their idealism through shock-value tactics.

Through all the ironic puns and propositions to picket his funeral, once internet staple, who has been one of the loudest voices for LGBT equality in America, posted a message that took a different approach. George Takei wrote, “I take no solace or joy in this man’s passing. We will not dance upon his grave, nor stand vigil holding, ‘God Hate Freds’ signs, tempting as it may be. He was a tormented soul who tormented many. Hate never wins out in the end. It instead goes always to its lonely, dusty end.” Takei’s message quickly spread, already becoming a meme shared all over the internet, showing a different side to this polarizing topic and how that there’s still a more human approach.

I have never supported anything the Phelps family or the Westboro Baptist Church have ever done. Much of their misguided scripture interpretation and their hunger for public attention have done worlds of harm and not even an ounce of good. I have seen members of my family and many of my closest friends deeply disturbed by this group’s action and have even found myself thinking extremely hateful things toward this group.

It’s important to remember that all of these people, Fred Phelps included, are still people. They’re scared and are struggling to understand this world in the very short amount of time they have to figure things out, so they turned to a book that claimed to have all the answers and they took each word of these parables and metaphors and literal rules and regulations. They’re fallible and, believe it or not I do believe, they think they’re doing the right thing by pushing their doctrine. I really believe that they think that what they do is helping others and they’ve been so heavily indoctrinated that they don’t notice the amount of harm and grief they’re causing others.

And like all other people, I believe that Fred Phelps doubted himself all the time. I bet right to the very end. But I also don’t believe that as he lay on his death bed, he was thinking, “I hope God kills all the fags.” I bet, like any other human being, he was thinking about his family, his loved ones, and if he was still praying, I bet he was praying for them and not for the people he spread so much hate about.

I have no doubt he loved his family. His way of showing and expressing his love was overshadowed by his convictions and beliefs, but I have no doubts about this because Fred Phelps was still a human being. And no matter how much any human being can hate, they’re still going to love more.

A lot of the internet comments I read about Fred Phelps’ death speculated on his own afterlife and some definition of god’s judgment on this man for his life of hate. I personally have no religious inclining, I don’t believe in god or heaven or hell of afterlife. And if my suspicions are correct, then Mr. Phelps is simply gone and maybe the lack of god or heaven or any truth to what he spent his life pursuing could be his own personal brand of hell that he will never be aware of.

But the fact that our awareness of what happens once the body ceases to function makes the concept of an afterlife insignificant. What’s most important is what we as humans do in this blink of existence that’s over far too quick for any of us to comprehend. And though we cannot control what others decide to believe in and how they act upon those beliefs, we get to decide how we react to them.

My reaction is this: this will be the last time I write about the Phelps family and the Westboro Baptist Church. Whether we pay attention to them or not, condemn or question them, they will continue to do what they feel is best. I’m not advocating acceptance or pardoning or even condoling what they do. They’re like a wasp nest: if you ignore them, nothing they do will affect you. It’s a small nuisance, but one that can be easily overlooked for more important things in this life. They’ve already become a self-parody in the popular-culture canon and it’s not as if their numbers are growing exponentially as they picket more funerals. People who buy into what they do are already predisposed to this brand of ignorance.

As fulfilling as attacking this group for their beliefs might be, it’s simply another brand of hate that will still leave feelings of emptiness. If you’re really against what Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church stands for, don’t hate them. Don’t even pay attention to them. Instead, keep loving the people around you and keep accepting people everywhere for who they are. Existence is far too brief to focus on all things you hate all the time. There are too many cool things still happening in the world to be excited about.

The most important thing for me that I carry about Fred Phelps’ death is that a man died. Just like everyone else does. We’re born, we live, we learn, we grow, we die. It’s another reminder of life’s brevity and I’m not wasting it being angry anymore. Anger breeds regression and stagnation. I want to breed progress and solutions.

Clicking

You can tell how much someone paid for their shoes by the clicking sounds they make when they walk across linoleum. The louder and sharper the click, the pricier the shoes.

Men’s fashion is always dictated by subtleties like this. On the surface, men’s fashion is very boring: jackets, shirts, sweater, khakis, jeans, plaid, pinstripe, black shoes, brown shoes, neutral tones, straight line cuts. Very linear. But the entire premise of modern male fashion is the details in the subtleties. It’s kind of like that scene in American Psycho where all the men in the office are comparing business cards. Bone, silian rail, eggshell, romalian type, pale nimbus white. And much like that scene in American Psycho, there are those who will ensure they flaunt their subtleties.

I hear clicking all day. The clock ticks, computer keyboards and mice click, lifting and dropping phone receivers click, and most of all, the click of people walking. The louder and sharper the click, the more they paid for the shoes, the higher up the hierarchy they are.

Some clicks are so distinct, I know who it is from twenty steps away. And I can tell when they’re coming to my desk.

“Ogden,” I hear Samuelson blurt from over my shoulder. I try to make it look like my eyes are down looking at my keyboard. I’m really staring at his Italian shoes whose brand name I can’t pronounce. The stitching weaves along the top and around the toe like baroque poetry. Those shoes’ click was at the top of the food chain here, or damn well near its alpha-predator stature. I try not to look at my pair of Stacey Adams, which I had to skip a student loan payment to afford. Even then they’re a whole year out of season. I hope no one else pays attention to these details like I do.

“Hey,” Samuelson points to my shoes. “Wearing those while the snow’s all melting and gross out there? That’s a great plan. Let the dirt mess up those dinosaurs. Am I right?”

I keep my Stacey Adams in my desk drawer and I wear a pair of cross-trainers while I trek through the melting snow. When people ask me about my shoes, I tell them I’m heading to the gym. I haven’t worked out in years.

“That’s right my man,” I instinctively reply, smiling like I just got some joke at some other poor schmuck’s expense. I react this way a lot. Sometimes I don’t even hear what a guy like Samuelson says. I look for the cue, see his smile, hear his laugh, and I just join in, hoping I disguise how terrified I am every time he stops by my desk.

“Anyways, Ogden, a bunch of us are going for tapas at this whisky place a few blocks from here after work, care to join?”

Samuelson always invites me to these things. I always decline. Where the fuck do these guys get the money for these fucking things? I’m terrified to find out what their monthly tapas expense is on their budget. I don’t know if he always asks me because he genuinely likes me or if he likes humiliating me every time I have to turn him down. I try to make up excuses, but he knows where he is on the ladder, and he knows where I am.

I brush the crumbs from my peanut butter sandwich onto the floor without losing eye contact. The more I look at him, the less likely he’ll notice the mess from the last bit of food left in my house.

“No can do my man,” I keep smiling. “The wife at home,” I’m not married and live in a basement apartment, “Wants me to look after the kids,” I don’t have kids, “While my mom takes her out,” my mom’s been dead for ten years, “To show her the family cottage just a bit out of town,” I’ve never left the city.

“No worries, Ogden,” Samuelson raises his arm and it takes me a second to realize he’s looking for a high five. “Maybe next time, my man.” Samuelson walks down the hall, and I watch as he meets with another guy at the same level of the food chain as he is. They high five and laugh. Samuelson looks back for a second, still laughing. The two click off together.

I don’t pick up my phone for the rest of the day. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I spent my whole life being told that as long as I go to college, I’ll find a great job, a rewarding career, and I’ll be able to make something of myself. What the fuck have I become? How the fuck did I wind up here?

I watched my father grow through the company he worked for. He was with them for nearly forty years. Every year he had another raise. Every few years, another promotion. I wasn’t even out of elementary school when he got his first managerial position, along with the fat salary that came with it. He worked his way up, found success, retired easy, and is now remarried and living the easy life. His new wife is young enough to have babysat me while she was in high school.

“What a fucking prick,” I hear from behind me. I look back and see Adams. We started here at the same time. I have no idea what he does. I don’t think he knows what I do. I barely know what I do. “Did he ask you about tapas after work too? I don’t know if it’s managerial charity work or if he gets some sort of kick out of watching us turn him down, but I wish that motherfucker would shut the fuck up already. You know, he thinks he’s fucking charming. He thinks everyone likes him and looks up to him because of his position. You know how he got that job?” Adams wraps his hands around in a circle and starts jabbing at himself back and forth making choking noises. “World class cocksucker. Guaranteed.”

“Come on, man, how can you know that?”

“Did you know that motherfucker is two years older than we are? Did you know he joined this company six months before we did? Did you know he doesn’t even have a degree? He’s either sucking cock, or he got raped as a kid by the biggest shareholder and getting hush money.”

Adams had a strange point. He must do something with staff records. How else would he know this? He could also be making this stuff up. Either way, it’s entertaining.

“Hush money or not, he’s still higher on the caste system and we have to take his shit,” I look down at Adams’ shoes. He’s wearing cross-trainers. No shame. You have to admire that kind of conviction in a person. “What do you got going on once we punch out?”

Adams shrugs. “I don’t know man. Cheap beer and online porn probably. Why? You wanna watch?”

“Fuck no,” I reply. “But while we’re on the topic of cheap beer, maybe gather a few of the other dredges here and have a game of poker or something. My place?”

“Five buck buy in?” Adams asks.

I nod my head Adams pats my shoulder and scurries off. He’s good for getting a decent group together for cards. We drink, eat crap food, and talk about who in the upper caste we would kill first if opportunity arose. It makes my empty fridge and barren apartment on a Friday night a little less depressing.

*****

Adams took all of us Friday night. Wound up leaving my apartment sixty bucks richer (some of the dredges got ambitious and bought themselves back in a few times after busting) but promised that pizza was on him next time.

Monday rolled around too quickly. I spent my weekend either on my couch or in my bed. I didn’t want to think, especially not about work. I just finish tying my Stacey Adams when I start hearing the clicking again. Only it’s not Samuelson who walks by my desk. It’s Adams.

“Fancy new kicks, Adams,” I call out. “Is that what you did after you robbed us all blind?”

Adams looks back and smiles. “Something like that.” He dances a tap-dance-ish jig before walking back to his desk. I watch his shoes as he walks away. Italian leather, fine stitching, a little worn but still sharp. No way sixty bucks bought those shoes. At least not new. He must have an in with a warehouse or an eBay wholesaler.

And email pops up on my screen. Adams wants to do sushi for lunch. I pull out my wallet and see a ten. Enough for a bit of sushi, I can eat the rest of my lunch when I get back to my desk if I’m still hungry. It’s totally worth knowing what Adams’ secret to those shoes is.

*****

“Seriously, I know you got those on eBay, there’s no way you could afford them otherwise. Spill the dude’s username,” I pop a small piece of maki in my mouth.

“And I keep telling you, I didn’t get them on eBay,” Adams smiles.

“How else could you buy those? I can’t even pronounce the name on them.”

“It’s a secret.”

“Spill it Adams, come on!”

“You really want to know?” Adams is still smiling.

“Yes!”

Adams looks back and forth.

“I got them from Samuelson.”

“Samuelson sold you those?” I look down at the shoes. “Are you guys even the same size?”

“Turns out we are,” Adams grin grows wider with pride. “But he didn’t sell them to me.”

I drop the piece of maki I was about to pop into my mouth.

“What?” Adams shrugs. “It’s not like he’s going to miss them. Do you know how many pairs of shoes that motherfucker owns? Like thirty. All black, Italian leather. I scuffed these ones up a bit so he wouldn’t notice them. He’s not going to notice one pair gone.”

*****

Samuelson noticed. He charges toward my desk, his clicks getting louder as he gets closer.

“Where are they?” he demands. “Those were seventeen-hundred dollar shoes. That’s more than you fucking whore mother makes in a year. I saw you eyeing them up last week. You better fess up, or so help me fucking god I will have your balls.”

Adams yells out from the back. “What are you going to do with his balls?”

Samuelson looks over. “Shut your fucking mouth!”

“Or what?” Adams yells. “My balls are next?”

Samuelson clenches his fists and looks back down at me. “If I ever see those shoes on your feet, no one will find your body.”

Samuelson turns and walks away and as soon as he’s out of sight, I look back at Adams. “What the fuck was that from you?”

Adams shrugs. “He ain’t so scary.”

*****

The next day, Adams shows up to work in a pink silk shirt. Not girly pink either, power colour pink. It looks impressive.

“It was one of Samuelson’s white shirts,” Adams whispers to me by the water cooler. I try to tell him to hush as I look around to see who might be listening, but Adams keeps going. “Samuelson takes these fucking sleeping pills, right? I could teabag him with my sweaty balls after a ten hour workout and he would never know. I watched him. He was out by ten, I snuck in, grabbed his shirts, washed them with a bunch of my red soccer jerseys, and voila, brand new pink cashmere shirts for the office.”

Samuelson walks in a couple seconds after Adams finishes his explanation. Samuelson obviously heard nothing. He walks right in, grabs a paper cup, looks to Adams and says, “Great shirt man. I could never pull off pink. I got the same ones in white. Looks good though.” Samuelson actually came off sincere. No fake smile, no inviting out for tapas, no laughing with the other upper management. He’s actually impressed.

“Thanks man,” Adams replies. “I’ve been refining my taste. No more cross trainers and corduroys for me. It’s amazing how much better quality you get when you spend a little more, right?”

Samuelson nods. “Yep, higher price means higher quality. Just how life works.”

*****

I must have nodded off in front of the TV. It’s 2 a.m. and there’s a knock at my door. I get up from the couch and open the door to see Adams in a two-piece, double breasted suit, silk tie, black shoes polished so well the defining lines look white. He adjusts his tie and says, “Well, Ogden, how does it look?”

I hear a pop and some mists into my face. It stings my eyes and I wipe them. I look down to see my hands smeared in red. Adams is on the ground with a hole through his head. He’s twitching and bleeding all over my porch, and then stops. I look up and see Samuelson at the far side of the backyard, pointing a gun in my direction. He lowers the gun and walks toward me. My brain keeps screaming to shut the door and call the cops, but I just freeze in place. Samuelson walks right up to me without taking his eyes off mine. Once he’s standing in front of me, he aims his gun down and shoots again, without taking his eyes off mine.

“You can wear whatever the fuck you want, and it won’t make a difference,” Samuelson is sweating. His brow is furrowed. He doesn’t even blink. He shoots Adams’ body again. “You’re still nobody. You’re as replaceable as a stripper on a Tuesday night. As useful as a dog in a gutter. You just scrape off the bottom, hoping some shit falls off of my heel, just so you can have something that used to belong to me.” He leans in closer. “And don’t forget it.”

I can hear sirens in the distance. Samuelson turns and walks away. I hear his shoes clicking for blocks. And I stand in the same spot until the police arrive. I tell them I have no idea what just happened.

Kidneys

Tim read through the pamphlet for the fifth time, trying to fully understand all of the benefits this procedure will have on his body. His eyes glazed over the pictures of the smiling senior citizens and the diagrams showing where exactly what was being inserted and how. He read all of the side-effects, including the one about what to do if your body rejected the implants, who to contact, what conditions to look for, and how it sometimes cause extreme abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, the development of or enlarging of breasts and other hormonal anomalies, and in some cases death.

“Are you sure you want to go through with this?” Karen rubbed Tim’s shoulders like she would while they lay in bed together; Tim would be having his stomach cramps and couldn’t sleep at night.

“I don’t have much choice outside of this, do I?” Time replied. “With all the time we spent talking about it, I might have, what? Three months? There’s nothing else.”

“What if it doesn’t work?” she asked.

“At this point, so what? What worse could happen?”

Tim’s stomach cramped up and he clenched his side. His abdomen was throbbing, as if Tim could feel his kidneys slowing dissolving as he sat there.

Doctor Richards came out and sat down with Tim and Karen, asking them what they thought about the procedure. Karen pressed about waiting for a donor, giving Tim new living tissue rather than some piece of machinery that has been on the market barely a month.

“I told you, Ms. Fowler,” Doctor Richards began. “Tim has a rare condition. One we barely ever see. I had to find my medical textbooks from college just to diagnose him. Living tissue would only last a short while. Maybe give him a week to a month extra. I know it seems bizarre to…”

“I’ll do it,” Tim blurted out. “I’m so sick of this. I’m sick of never sleeping and being in pain all of the time. Even if I die on the operating table, it’s better than living like this. If I’m going to die, might as well die trying.”

Doctor Richards advised Tim not to think about it as how he’s going to die and pointed out how positive thinking can help patients pull through even the worst of situations. Tim glared at the doctor. “Just give me the fucking forms, doc,” Tim snarled.

Tim handed the brochure to Karen and clicked the pen as he read through the form. His knees were pouncing and he started clicking the pen repeatedly, in a steady but rapid rhythm. Karen placed her hand on Tim’s shoulder, and he stopped fidgeting, and started filling out the form, while Karen pulled out her chequebook, started writing the cheque and calculating to make sure they could still pay the rent and afford groceries. It would be tight, but it would be worth it.

*****

The security scanner beeped and the airport security officer motioned for Tim to step aside.

“Any knives, guns, or other weapons currently on your person, sir?” the security officer asked. Tim could see the hole beneath his lip where his piercing had once been and could see the scars along his neck from where he used to be tattooed.

“No,” Tim replied.

“Any enhancements?” the security officer asked.

“Just my kidneys,” Tim answered.

“Nice man, vital organs are totally in right now,” the security officer commented. “Just had my spleen replaced with an E12. Purifies my piss so I can distill it and make booze. What model are your kidneys?”

“Um, E1, I guess?” Tim looked down as if he could see his kidneys through his jacket and shirt and read the model printed along the side.

“E1? And they’re still running? You’re crazy bro!” the security officer slapped his knee. “I was barely alive when they started making E1s! You gotta upgrade. Gotta upgrade.”

“They’ve been working great for twenty years, haven’t had a problem with them at all, why do I need an upgrade?” Tim asked.

“The specs man, the specs on the newer Es are so much better. Man, I got a second job and I’m pulling overtime here to afford replacing my arm,” the security guard slapped his shoulder. “This one here. My good arm. Gonna join an enhanced arm wrestling league.”

“That’s cool kid,” Tim reached for his bags coming out of the x-ray. “Cool talking with you, I got to catch my flight though. Good luck with the arm.”

“Thanks buddy,” the security guard giggled. “Like I said, get an upgrade.”

As Time walked toward his flight gate, he could hear the kid ask the next person in line, “Any enhancements?”

*****

The flight was over Ontario when Tim woke up. He left the TV set embedded into the head of the seat in front of him on the channel showing the flight path. He wiped the drool hanging from the side of his mouth and looked over at the seat next his’ TV set to see what other people were watching. The man sitting next to Tim was staring down at a small screen embedded into his forearm and had headphones plugged into his wrist. The man caught Tim staring and unplugged a headphone.

“It’s a new model,” he said. “Full digital media capabilities. DME12. I’d say I can’t leave home without it, but people would probably be staring even worse if I was missing an arm.” He chuckled.

“No kidding, look at that,” Tim leaned in staring at the screen. “My TV at home isn’t that sharp.”

“Do you have any enhancements?” he asked.

“Just my kidneys,” Tim answered.

“Oh, what do you use those for?” he asked.

“Heh, I used them to live,” Tim answered. “About twenty years ago my kidneys decided to take a holiday and not warn me first. If I didn’t fork out the fortune to replace them I would have been dead within a few months.”

“No kiddin’,” the man replied. “None of the enhancements do that anymore. Well, except the old models. What are you running in there?”

“E1,” Tim answered. “And for the love of god, don’t tell me I should upgrade.”

The man laughed. “You got that young kid in the security line too? Too many people upgrade for no reason. I mean, I’m constantly travelling, so having all of my media on me like this just makes sense. When I run or hit the gym, I can just plug in and all my music is right here. None of the tissue on here is living, so it doesn’t sweat, but the rubber faux skin around it is still water proof so I can swim and if my sweat drips down, no damage. Just makes sense.”

Tim wanted to avoid any obligatory airplane talk, but he had to know who better who was sitting beside him. “So, what do you do then that requires the travelling and the rigorous workout schedule?”

“I’m a major league hockey coach,” he answered and the put out his non enhanced-hand. “Stan Davis.”

They shook hands. “Tim Fowler. I’m retired.”

“You don’t look old enough to be retired,” Stan smiled.

“Thanks for the flattery, but I unfortunately am that old,” Tim answered.

“Well, what did you used to do?” Stan asked.

“Nothing special, sold insurance for a while. Spent a few years running the admin work for a construction company. You know, this and that.”

Cool, cool,” Stan stopped and stared out, looking like he was trying to find a conversation somewhere in front of him. “Are you stopping off in Hamilton?”

“Heading right through to Calgary.”

“Oh, well,” the silence again. Stan started to place the headphone back into his year. “It was nice to meet you.”

*****

By the baggage claim, a six-foot illuminated sign with a map advertised the airport’s new enhancement-application. It listed off everything passengers could do with their enhancements: buy flight tickets, check for cancelled or delayed flights, check in, weight baggage, order in-flight peanuts, it seemed like everything could be done off someone’s body part. Tim laughed a bit staring at the ad, thinking about how far along technology has come, yet sitting beside him on a plane was someone who made a living assembling a team of people who hit a hunk of rubber with a stick.

The conveyor belts kicked on and bags began dropping. People standing around the conveyor belt pointed their fingers or their palms towards the bags that passed by. Tim caught a glimpse of his black suitcase, patched-together with the same luggage tag he’s used for forty years or more. He reached down and picked up his suitcase, and someone standing beside him tapped his shoulder.

“You didn’t scan that bag,” he said.

“Sorry?” Tim began. “What do you mean scanned? What are you talking about?”

“You didn’t scan the bag with any of your enhancements,” the man continued. “How do you know if the bag is yours?”

Tim turned over the luggage tag and the man saw the scribbled note with Tim’s name and address along the white piece of paper, laminated and hanging off the bag’s handle.

“What is that?” the man squinted and leaned in. “It looks like my grandfather’s luggage.”

“Was he on this flight?” Tim asked.

“No,” he replied.

“Then you know the bag’s mine,” Tim pushed his way past the man. “Excuse me.”

It was raining in Calgary when Tim stepped outside to hail a cab. The bright lights guiding the cabs along the dark roads leading up to the airport’s main doors reflected off the wet concrete, hurting Tim’s eyes a bit. Tim never thought he would want sunglasses in the middle of the night so bad. He man from the carousel stepped outside and he held his hand in front of his face, shielding from the glare off the road. He stepped up beside Tim when he finally dropped his arm. Tim looked over and saw the man’s eyes had turned completely black. Tim stared for a short while. The man laughed.

“Yeah, should guess that you’ve never seen these before,” the man pointed to his eyes. “It’s new. It adjusts your eyes to levels of brightness so that you can see everything better in all conditions.”

“Like transitions lenses,” Tim said.

“Like what?” the man asked.

“Something we had when I was younger,” Tim explained. “They were glasses whose tinting would adjust as the light around you changed. It was a brilliant invention. Saved a lot of lives probably with all the issues people have with night driving. Those eye enhancements of yours are actually a very good addition. I am impressed.”

“You think that’s cool,” he continued. “Had a little less-than-legal addition to these bad boys too. Full x-ray capabilities. Expensive addition, sure. But in the long run, I’m saving a lot of money from not having to buy porn anymore.”

Tim said nothing and hailed the first cab that pulled up.

*****

The diner was dimly lit and by this time of night only two kind of people were hanging around: lonely insomniacs and drunken kids who had nowhere else to go once the bars kicked them out. The kids hung out in the booths at the far end of the diner where the waitress would only visit occasionally, “After all,” Tim remembers one waitress telling him one late night when he was hanging around, “once they order their food, they only have their drinks filled maybe once after that. They’re not actually here for food or service. They’re here because they don’t want to be home yet.” The insomniacs sat at the front of the diner along the bar, hoping each other would start a conversation though none of them could muster up the right words to start talking. So they sat quiet, stared at their black coffee and stale fries and barely moved.

“Haven’t seen you in a long while,” a waitress with dark hair tied back said as soon as Tim found his stool at the front of the diner bar. Time couldn’t remember her name. He never knew any of the diner’s staff’s names. “Where ya been there old timer?”

“Visiting the east coast,” Tim answered. “Had a check up on an old procedure I had, well, years ago. You were probably in grade school.”

The waitress blushed while she poured a cup of coffee. “Procedure? What do you mean by that? Like surgery?”

Tim grabbed a newspaper from in front of an empty spot along the bar. “Yeah, a surgery. My kidneys decided to pack up and leave without telling me. Nearly wound up in an early grave. Those enhancements saved my goddamn life.”

The waitress looked over to the table of young kids all staring at their arms, some with headphones in their ears, occasionally talking to one another and showing each other the screens on different parts of their bodies. “I never understood those enhancements,” she said. “Just more crap for us all to spend money on that doesn’t actually make any of our lives better.” She topped up Tim’s coffee. “I’ve seen kids downright obsessed with those things. One kid who came here nearly had every part of his body replaced with some piece of machinery, just to brag about how much of his body are enhancements. All the most recent models. All the top brands. After I saw that kid, I swore I would never have one of those things. Tried to save up for a while, but pay here barely covers my rent and food. No point, I’m just fine without it.”

Tim looked down at his watch and smiled, “I understand that, believe me, if I had real kidneys, I wouldn’t have a single piece of machinery in my body. You know, I’m really glad you don’t have any enhancements. I like you and wouldn’t want you to go through this.”

“Go through what?” she asked.

The sound of plates crashing and cups toppling over sang from the booth with all the kids. “What the hell’s going on with my arm?” one yells out. Another was screaming, “My god, I think he’s dead! His liver must be malfunctioning!” Tim wondered how other people were reacting to the same situation.

*****

After Tim’s surgery, Karen visited him every day that he was recovering in the hospital. They had to keep him there for a month to monitor how his body was adjusting to the new kidneys. He was resting comfortably but could feel the machines in his body working. Though it was unsettling at the time, Tim got used to the feeling of machines in his body before he left the hospital.

“I’m just worried,” Karen said through building tears.

“Don’t be,” Tim reassured her. “That’s why the doctors are keeping me here. I’m going to be fine. If anything goes wrong, they know something went wrong and they can fix…”

“Not that,” she said as the tears streamed. “I’m worried that you’re less than human now. You’re missing something and you replaced it with some gadget. What point do you stop being a human?”

“When I become more obsessed with the gadgets than my own humanity,” Tim replied.

*****

“I’m no luddite,” Tim said as the waitress scrambled looking for her phone. “I think most technology we developed over the last century or so has been really helpful. Made our live easier and allowed us to progress in other ways. But these things, are fucking useless. It’s for the better, believe me.”

The waitress discovered that all the phone lines were dead only after she found her cell phone and tried to call 911. “Did you do this?” she drops her cell phone.

“The cell phone signals were an unintended side effect,” Tim explained. “Enhancements run on the same satellites as the cell phones do, after all, most enhancements have been replacing cell phones.”

“No the cell phone lines!” she yelled. “That!” she pointed to the booth of kids, some dead, some with non-functioning limbs, some comatose but possibly still breathing.

“Well, as in did I somehow shut down all enhancement signals causing all of them to shut down? No,” Tim shook his head while he sipped his coffee. “But, did I do something that wound up with the ripple effect of all these useless gadgets finally shutting down? Yeah, that was me.”

The waitress started crying, putting out her arm to balance herself against the counter and knocking over the coffee pot, letting it crash against the floor. “Why?”

“A beautiful woman once asked me when do we stop being human,” Tim explained. “I said it was when we become more obsessed with the gadgets than our own humanity. I owed this to her.”

*****

Tim did all the research on gallbladder surgery before Karen went in for her procedure. The number of death during this procedure, even for older populations, was negligible. The hospital offered Karen an enhancement to replace her gallbladder, talked about all the benefits of a mechanical gallbladder and tried to sell her on the top high-end brands for enhancements. Karen had integrity, and Tim really admired that, and she refused any enhancement, saying she only wanted the simple procedure. Karen went her whole life without any enhancements. She never needed them, never found any use, and was perfectly happy with skin and bone.

The waiting room Tim sat in while Karen went in for surgery had posters all over advertising for the newest enhancements, covered in infographics showing what each enhancement does and brand name logos competing for the impulse buy of a designer arm or finger or toe or pelvis or neck.

The screaming could be heard all throughout the waiting room. Everyone lowered their arms and unplugged their headphones to stare up and all wonder the same thing: where did that scream come from?

The screaming went on for a couple of minutes before a doctor finally came out and called for Timothy Fowler.

The doctor explained that one of the surgeon’s arm enhancements started playing an Internet video. Something hit something the wrong way as surgeon’s entertainment enhancements were all supposed to be deactivated during procedures. The signal playing the video interfered with the medial equipment. The medical scalpel went haywire, cutting up Karen’s insides. Doctor said she was dead within second of the arteries around her heart being cut open.

Another doctor come out of the surgery room and Tim peered over. The doctor was drenched in blood. Tim caught a glimpse of the inside of the surgery room. It looked like a bloodbath that Bathory would have found excessive.

The hospital managers soon entered the conversation, offering their apologies and trying to compensate for Tim’s loss by paying for all of Karen’s funeral arrangements and offering Tim some new free enhancements.

*****

“Your kidneys,” the waitress said. “How are you not dead? Your kidneys!”

“First model, they never went online with enhancements on first models,” Tim sipped his coffee. “My kidneys don’t need to watch videos of celebrities naked in order for them to do their job. They run on some of the same technology, though. They’ll be shutting down soon enough.”

“So, why are you here then?” the waitress asked. “Why did you come here? Did you have something against those kids? Did you have it out for one of the other waitresses? Why here?”

Tim shrugged. He thought about the man going blind while looking through a woman’s blouse. He thought about the hockey coach losing the function of his arm while swimming. He thought about the arm wrestler having his spleen suddenly shut down while on a drinking binge. “I have nothing else, and I’m about to die. Figured I go drinking the only coffee in this city I can get at this hour.”

The waitress looked at the TV resting on the end of the counter behind the bar. She was a news report that showed a building on fire, with a caption that said, “Enhancement Manufacturing and Control Building Currently on Fire.” Around the building engulfed in flames, little balls of fire were falling from the sky. The news reported said something about them being satellites and the broadcast may be interrupted.

She heard a coffee cup fall and shatter and looked to see Tim toppled over on the bar, still sitting on his stool. The sound of white noise filled the diner as the TV broadcast went dead. She could hear sirens outside in the distance and wondered what kind of enhancements the EMTs had. She wondered about all the doctors’ enhancements. She wondered about all the police’s enhancements. The politicians’ enhancements, the CEOs’ enhancements, her friends’ enhancements. She couldn’t figure out how the world was better off now.

Patrick: A Story about Friendship and Growing Apart

I buried my best friend today. I listened to the eulogies and watched as people cried for a life they thought was cut too short. Twenty-six years isn’t exactly a life fully lived and no one ever fully realizes their potential in that little time. Patrick was different though. I’m not denying he was talented. Through a lot of the eulogies, old friends and relatives reminisced about how well he could draw and how many hours he would spend huddled over a drafting table getting every line as precise as he could, obsessing over every detail. I don’t know if I was the only cynical prick thinking about how Patrick hadn’t picked up a pencil since he was eighteen. Funny how people omitted that little detail. They only want to remember the god things. It’s like how after a rock star dies, suddenly everyone remembers all of their best songs and talks about how important they were to this and that and everything else despite their horrible downward spiral and how they alienated everyone around them. People just try to remember the good things.

I remember first meeting Patrick in high school. It was the second or third week, I barely knew my class schedule and could never find any of the rooms I was supposed to be in. My social studies teacher was something of a Nazi, especially for tardiness. His oversized forehead had veins that constantly bulged out and one of his eyes had a permanent blood vessel popped. The second bell to start class just rung as I snuck in and found the last available seat in the classroom off to the far right (the aisle nearest the door) and smack dap in the middle of the row. Sitting beside me was a guy with short spiky hair and wearing a black hooded sweatshirt. He bobbed his heads to the music playing through his headphones as he doodled all over his notebook. This was Patrick. And this is how I always remember Patrick. Listening to music and drawing on any surface that would stay still.

The teacher started his lecture through his two-packs-and-a-bottle-of-whisky-a-day voice and Patrick forgot to take out his headphones. Patrick hadn’t even raised his head from his drawing. The teacher noticed and came barrelling down the aisle, looking like he was ready to pummel Patrick. I kicked the bar that connected Patrick’s desk to his chair and his head shot up and spotted the teacher. With wide eyes and a grin that begged to let his life be spared, he said, “Sorry, I didn’t hear the second bell.” The teacher turned and continued his lecture and Patrick looked over to me and nodded his head. We met in the smoke pit after class where he formally thanked me. He bummed a cigarette from me and we talked about which junior highs we just came from and what our survival tactics were for getting through these next three years. Patrick could smell the geek off of me.

There are still a small handful of comics I can’t read without hearing Patrick’s voice as I read through the hero’s dialogue.

It starts raining as I keep standing over where Patrick is buried. It’s been a good thirty minutes since the ceremony ended and I have no idea what to do next. It feels like when you leave your house for work and you could swear you forgot something. You have no idea what but you definitely forgot something and you won’t remember what it was until three o’clock. That’s the only way I can describe how I’m feeling. Like I need to do something before I leave. But I don’t know what.

“What did you think of the service, Robbie?” I hear a voice from behind me ask. I turn to see Patrick’s younger sister, Mary. She’s about eighteen months younger than Patrick and even though they were in different grades growing up, they might as well have been twins. They talked the same, had all the same inside jokes, all they had to do was look at each other and they would start laughing and no one would have any idea what was so funny. They drifted though when Patrick was twenty. I was a little shocked that she was here.

“It was nice,” I reply, not having any clue how people talk at these things. This is the first funeral I have ever been to. I didn’t even go to my grandparents’ funerals. I’m clueless as to what’s socially acceptable. But then I think about high school again, and what Mary and Patrick were like then. “I’m happy everyone talked about all the good things. That’s what’s most important.”

She smiles and nods. “Yeah, I guess there’s no point in bringing anything else up at an event like this. Might be in bad taste or something.”

Mary started going to our school the year after Patrick and I had started. Physically, she was never anything like Patrick. She had long blonde hair and always wore light coloured track jackets. But the minute she opened her mouth, you knew right away the two were related. They had their own dialect that was so distinct there were times I couldn’t tell which of the two of them were speaking.

We had a pretty small but tight clique: the three of us and a few other friends who would join us for video games or table top RPGs during the weekend. We would take turns finding people to boot alcohol and cigarettes for us. I was the only one with a license so Friday nights I would head home, borrow my parents’ van, then I would meet everyone at a small convenience store connected to a liquor store just a few blocks from our school. We’d fill the back of the van with booze, cover the bottles with blankets, stuff the cigarettes under the middle seat, and drive over to Patrick and Mary’s house. Their mom worked all weekend and most evenings. She juggled two jobs so that neither Patrick nor Mary would have to have jobs while they were in school. Their mom had a lot of hope in both of them and was really banking on scholarships for the both of them. That would be the only way either of them could get into college. God knows single parent working-class families struggle to keep up on the rent and utilities, there was never any space for a college fund. She knew how smart her kids were though, they both had a lot of opportunity waiting for them.

Mary was able to keep her grades up. She got the scholarships that her mom knew she could get. Mary finished her first degree by twenty-one, finished her Master’s by twenty-three.

“So, are you going to be going the PhD route now?” I ask Mary, not sure of what exactly to talk about. I haven’t seen Mary in a few years, just heard through the small town grape vine about all her achievements.

“I don’t think so,” she replies. “Not yet at least. I had a few big firms headhunt me. I want to bank some money for now. I mean, mom’s never going to retire working her shit jobs and someone had to pay for the service today. There’s always time for more school later.” She looks down at her brother’s grave. “At least I hope there is.”

We didn’t go right into college once high school ended. Patrick and I instead spent our summer working for a landscaping company, saving every dollar that didn’t go to booze or smokes. Once September rolled around, we were on the first plane to England with no return flight planned.

We stayed in whatever hostel would give us a cheap room for the night, lived out of our backpacks stopping at Laundromats occasionally, explored the cities, the bars, and the women not just in London, and not just in England. That was only our first week or so. We hopped on trains and travelled through France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and in Holland. Our last few days in Europe saw us in Amsterdam, running through the red light districts drunk with joints behind our ears. We landed back in our hostel out of breath and not waiting to catch it before we pressed the mickeys in our pockets against our lips for another sip to keep us drunk.

Patrick dug through his backpack and pulled out his cellphone. He got really quiet. He wasn’t laughing anymore and he just kept staring at his cellphone. I finally asked him what was wrong.

“My dad just called,” was all that he said.

We were on the next flight back home.

Mary hangs up her phone and walks back toward me. She looks at me while I try to find something to talk about next. She beats me to it.

“That was just my mom,” she says. “She’s back at home and just wondering when I’m going to head over. I’ve been staying with her the past while. Just keeping an eye on things.”

I nod my head and ask if her mom is still in the same apartment that we would all hang out in when we were young. Mary tells me that the only thing that has changed in that apartment since then was the cost of rent. She’s a creature of habit and doesn’t take well to change. I think about how you can keep some things the same, trying to hold onto those good feelings that you never want to leave. And sometimes, things change whether you want them to or not. It’s not your choice and those good feelings are gone forever, no matter how hard you try to remember them. Sometimes they just die and all you have to do is bury them and move on. Being obsessed with a feeling can kill you.

Patrick and Mary didn’t have the same dad. Patrick’s dad left before Patrick was even born. His mom met Mary’s dad shortly after Patrick was born. They had Mary together, and then Mary’s dad died before either of the kids was in kindergarten. Their mom didn’t even bother trying to date after that, figuring she was cursed. She decided the only people who really mattered were Patrick and Mary. The sign of a true, strong mother.

Patrick had met his dad a few times over the years. He would kind of just pop up every once in a while without any warning. There was one time when Patrick and I were sitting in our eleventh grade math class and his dad came busting into the class and pulled out Patrick telling him it was an emergency. Patrick called me later that and told me that the only emergency there was was that his dad didn’t have enough vodka for the both of them so they had to stop at a liquor store before going to the park together. From what I understood, this was fairly normal for Patrick’s dad: show up, expect everyone to drop everything, he and Patrick would leave for the whole day with no clue as to where they were, and then Patrick would just show up back at home with no sign of his dad again until the next time he randomly popped-up.

When we were in Europe, Patrick hadn’t seen his dad since that emergency in eleventh grade. His dad wasn’t even at our high school graduation. Patrick was sure that his dad finally forgot about him and he would never see him again. The minute he found that call on his phone, it was like finding out Santa was real again. The whole flight home, Patrick told me about everything the two already had planned for when Patrick arrived. I wasn’t even sure of his dad was going to be there when we landed, god knows something else to grab his attention could pop up at any minute. But there he was, beige cap with a cod embroidered, dull leather jacket, black tank top, gold chain, and track pants, standing in the middle of the airport. The black stubble around his smile made his smile look like a clown in a black and white movie. He stretched out his arms, ready for a hug from his son.

“Hey kiddo!” he yelled as Patrick dove in for the hug. “Good to see you. And you too there… there little buddy.”

I outstretched my arm to shake his hand, “Good to see you too, Gus.”

Patrick turned to me. “We’re going to get going, Robbie. Are you good to find your own way back home?”

“Yeah totally,” I stupidly replied knowing that as Patrick got older, Gus got him doing dumber things. Gus gave him his first bag of weed, his first porn movie, I even remember him telling me he had to tell his dad he didn’t want an OxyContin for a headache he had. Gus always had oxycontin on him. He got a prescription for a back injury he had back while he was still roofing. From what I understood, Gus was able to steal one of his doctor’s prescription pads and worked diligently to copy his doctor’s signature. He would hop from pharmacy to pharmacy, making sure none of the pharmacists were any the wiser of his building habit. None of us were interested in drugs like that. At least, at the time.

After I left that airport, I didn’t hear from Patrick for weeks. No one did. Mary and I would call each other regularly hoping Patrick had called the other. No one wanted to report Patrick as missing, we didn’t want him to get into trouble because he was doing god knows what with Gus. It was six weeks before Patrick was standing on my parents’ front doorstep. He looked and smelled like he hadn’t showered, changed, or stopped running for the past six weeks. The whites of his eyes were bloodshot and the black circles under his eyes reminded me of the rings around a tree’s trunk. I swore I counted to his age and all the years he aged from the past six weeks.

Patrick walked into the house and started pacing and rambling. I couldn’t tell is he was trying to explain all the trouble he was in or how much fun he had with his dad. He would smile, then his eyes would bulge like he was panicking, then he’s retell conversations playing the voices of all the people he met. Then Patrick capped off with what was his final turn for the worse and the start of his uncontrollable spiral.

“I really feel like I’ve finally connected with him,” Patrick said smiling and laughing like he just found a bag of money. “We talked so much, and I met everyone he spends all his time with, and did you know he has a whole other family? I have two sisters and a brother. Can you fucking believe it?”

I tried pointing out Mary, saying he already has a sister, he already has a family. Patrick tried rationalizing that they were different and trailed off mid-sentence like he couldn’t justify his own bullshit anymore. He then looked around the room and asked if my parents were home. I should have said yes, but I told the truth.

“I need you to do something then,” Patrick said, pulling out the doctor’s prescription pad from his pocket. “All the pharmacies up have my dad’s picture, he’s banned from all of them. I tried picking up his pills for him but they saw me walk in with him. I obviously look too much like him to try and pick up his pills. I need you to do it. I can write your name on them and everything. You’re still on your dad’s insurance, you won’t even have to pay for them. You gotta do me this solid.”

Sadly enough, I considered it for a minute. I thought then about the pills showing up on my dad’s file. I thought about my dad talking to me about the pills and having to explain all of this to him. I read stories about people who did things like this for their friends. Their friends would always say that this would be the only time they’d need to help, but it’s never just one time. Even when you say no, they’ll keep coming back, like a parasite that’s found your blood to be a delicacy, doing anything they can to latch on even for a second. I didn’t need any parasites. He left me alone at the airport. Running off with his junky dad was so damn important. I told him to fuck off and pushed him out of my parents’ house. He was wiry and weak, trying to swing at me and push back. There was nothing in his system and pushing him out felt like pushing an empty box. Just hollow and easily bent.

“You know, she doesn’t blame you,” Mary says. “You should come by the apartment and talk with my mom, she would love to see you.”

I often think about visiting Patrick’s mom. Even when he was still alive, I thought about it, just to reassure her that Patrick’s spiral wasn’t her fault. I was scared, though. I was scared she would want me to find Patrick, to talk with him and try to help him. Get him into a program, clean him up, even try to get him back into school. Patrick didn’t want help. And you can’t help those who don’t want to help themselves.

“Yeah, I might try to stop by soon,” I reply.

Mary still thinks that the last time I saw Patrick was when I threw him out of the house. And, as far she knows, it was. She doesn’t need to know that I saw him when I was walking through downtown one day. We talked for a bit and he seemed like he was cleaning up. I gave him my phone number, told him to call me if he wanted to grab a coffee. He called me a couple of days later. He was crying, said he was in a lot of trouble. He robbed a pharmacy, said he beat up a pharmacist pretty bad and didn’t bother to check if the pharmacist was breathing or not before he ran out. He told me where he was hiding out and asked me to give him a ride to a hospital so he could start getting treatment.

I drove over to the house he was staying at. I don’t know whose house it was, but the doors were left open and I walked straight in. I found the room Patrick was in. He was shivering and had a bucket filled with vomit and shit. I thought he was trying to get the junk out of his system. He looked at me and smiled. Then I realized why the door was open. From behind me came another guy. He didn’t say a word. Just handed Patrick two bags of white powder. Patrick handed him the bottle of pills. Patrick wasn’t even smiling at me.

“I didn’t think this would ever come. You don’t want to know how long I’ve been low for,” he smiled and reached for a syringe he left on the floor next to his bed. “Man, I still can’t believe how much I get for just a few pills. This will keep me going for a long time.”

“I thought you were trying to get clean!” I yelled.

Patrick scrambled telling me to shush. “You would have never shown up if I told you otherwise,” he whispered. “I need you still, though. I needed you here in case my guy still wanted some cash, I’m strapped. And I need you to pick me up some food. Just enough until all of this dies down.” He didn’t wait for my response before he had his lighter in one hand and a spoon in the other.

“I’m not picking up anything for you!” I yelled again. “You can fuck rot in here!”

He filled the syringe like I wasn’t even in the room. I kept yelling but he just continued sticking the needle in his arm. He pushed in the plunger and his eyes rolled to the back of his head. He fell back on his bed and started shaking. First just his arms, then his legs, then his whole body, convulsed violently. He started throwing up and the vomit just shot up and fell back into his face. His mouth was full and I would hear him choking. If it were anyone else or any other time I may have turned him over and let the vomit drop from his mouth and let his airways open again. But I didn’t. I just watched. I watched until he stopped thrashing around. And I watched his still body for another ten minutes. Then I left. I got the call a couple of days later. Apparently the neighbours thought there was a dead animal somewhere in the house. They were right.

I hug Mary and tell her that I’ll call her soon to check up on how she and the family are doing. She tells me she looks forward to my call and just to call her mom’s house. I leave the funeral knowing that not telling Mary is the right thing to do. She doesn’t need to know how far gone her brother was. She doesn’t need to know that I was there for the last minutes of his life, whatever was left of his life. She would cry. Say that there was some glimmer of hope. That her brother was still in there, screaming to get out. She would have still believed there was something to be saved. Leaving it in the dark is easier for her. She doesn’t have to live carrying the weight I carry now. That’s my burden alone.

I do wonder what would have happened if I turned Patrick over. Let his airwaves open up again and given him the second chance he needed to clean up and be something. I wonder what would have happened if I felt this remorse and questioned my apathy just a little bit earlier, early enough that I didn’t have to bury my friend and lie to his family and live the rest of my days with the vision of his eyes rolling to the back of his dead carved into my eyes.

I live with the fact that I could have helped him. But I watched him die instead.

Commercial Interests in Media: Syria vs. Award Shows

Today’s been a fascinating day for me.

I’ve always been something of a media junkie, paying especially close attention to world news and international politics. Somewhere around fourth grade the US decided to bomb a country called Bosnia. At the time, I had no idea why. All I knew was somewhere in another country, people in the middle of the night were being woken up by bombs dropping around their houses.

I don’t remember there being much protest. I don’t remember hearing any opposition in any of the news sources that I read or watched with my parents. I just remember at the time President Bill Clinton giving the order and watching footage of planes taking off from aircraft carriers and wondering how long it would be before something like this happened close to my house.

Most of all, I wondered why no one was questioning why this was happening. I had no idea if this was a necessary mission or not. I never saw any debate. No one explained what was happening. It was expected that we simply accept this at face value.

Albeit I was nine years old at the time and probably wasn’t paying as much attention to current issues as I thought I was, but this is something I feel is still prevalent today and possibly getting worse as information becomes more accessible: somehow the important world issues are being ignored by the public. It’s hard to make an argument as to what the public should and should not consume, but my interesting day today proves that there’s something seriously broken with the current media machine.

At work I usually take the time to surf through quite a few news sites to skim through headlines and catch up on stories that interest me – much like my father did every morning with his newspaper. I knew there was big news coming out of a country that caught my interest much like Bosnia did almost twenty years ago. I heard that UN officials had finally entered Syria to inspect weapons and sites where civilians had been hurt to find out if any dangerous chemicals had been used. While travelling through the country by car, snipers started shooting at the UN officials. Nobody knows if the snipers were part of rebel forces or if they were pro-regime.

I wanted to know more.

As I surfed through my favourite newsfeeds through the internet, I noticed common front headline through each site: a pop-star’s potentially racially ignorant performance at an awards show. If there was some sort of moral outrage over some of the content to the performance, I would understand the controversy. But, every headline focused on one facet of the performance: the way the performer gyrated her posterior region.

Some useless bubble-gum princess’ ass is more important than the world peacekeepers being shot at.

I understand that everyone is not interested in world politics. If regularly consuming media has taught me anything is that people will always be far more interested in celebrity culture than the politics that actually affect their everyday lives. I know this first hand.

I’m almost certain the reason why I never found that full story behind what was happening in Bosnia when I was nine years old was because I was far more interested in the Star Wars THX re-releases that same year. What can you expect? I was only nine years old. But I still never fully understood. And those bombs still dropped.

Assuming that somehow the public will become more informed with better, more accessible and more frequently updated online news sources is something I idealistically hoped for. And I’ve had the privilege of many great conversations based on new facts learned from (and yes, they do exist) reliable online sources.

But it’s also created something of an oversaturated cloud of noise. It’s hard to sift through all the constantly updated stories, the specialty websites versus the general interest news sources. Where before the newspaper landed on your front doorstep, you read the headline, and thus became informed, now it’s almost as if it’s more work for people to read through, think about what they want to be informed on, and find it.

With so many options laid out in front of them, of course people will always pick up the candy first.

I can’t help but speculate, though. Even these past few years I have to wonder if anyone is paying any attention.

Europeans countries are experiencing the kind of economic downturn that makes the great depression feel like a time of economic surplus. Spain, Italy, Greece and so many more saw massive riots in the streets because of the egregiously high youth unemployment. Cyprus just about had a civil war when their banks tried to freeze everyone’s accounts.

Top headlines at the time: the Royal Wedding.

When George W. Bush declared war on Iraq in 2003, arguably one of the worst military decisions since Vietnam.

Top headlines at the time: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez.

I wonder if it’s becoming easier for human rights violations knowing that media is controlled by commercial interests and it’s always easier to sell candy?

The Syrian Assad regime is potentially using toxic gasses against their own citizens.

But there’s new pictures of the Royal baby.

Did you know there was genocide in Darfur? The conflict started in 2003 and is actually still ongoing.

Did you know British warplanes have been landing in Cyprus, getting ready to enter Syria and raising more tensions in Damascus? Syria is now an international conflict. Their closest trading partners are Russia and Iran.

How do you think this is going to end?

Russia refuses to back down on its anti-gay laws yet the Winter 2014 Olympics will still be held in Sochi; and, millions of people will still watch and ignore that probably outside of the very stadium where people are winning medals and Coca Cola is telling you to drink up, another human being is being beaten and arrested for how they were born. Another human being is being killed in Russia because of some sense of honour the neo-right and new skinhead movement in Russia holds.

We ignored a similar issue at the Olympics in 1936.

But the papers will keep writing about it. It will be the headlines on all the news websites. This will be all people read about and watch.

Commercial interests: this is why I quit being a journalist.

We Should All Huck Eggs at Thomas Lukaszuk

220px-Thomas_Lukaszuk,_MLA_Deputy_PremierRecently, I wrote an open letter to Alberta’s Deputy Minister Thomas Lukaszuk about this administration’s treatment of public sector institutions such as health care and education.

I also published an essay about the cuts to primary education and questioned what were the motives behind these gross budget reductions.

I see myself sometimes as a speculative and hyperbolic rhetorician, where I notice things that those in positions of authority and power are leaning towards and make mention or borderline dystopian outcomes that they could lead to. Will my suggestions actually happen the way I write? Probably not. Is it a feasible outcome that helps the reading public think? Absolutely.

I can now only question how hyperbolic my suggestions are: there are other who are agreeing with me.

Paula Simons of the Edmonton Journal published a column where she analyzes Lukaszuk’s interference with the University of Alberta and much of what she says mirrors much of my dystopian speculations.

“If the U of A is in crisis, it’s mostly because the province created one and thereby created for itself a perfect excuse to stick its nose into the university’s governance.”

It feels something like that moment of clarity that Mel Gibson experienced in Conspiracy Theory when it finally came to fruition that there is something scandalous afoot and that “they” really are after him. It’s a moment, “even I barely believed what I was saying. Yet here we are.”

“A cynic might well wonder to what extent this financial crisis was manufactured for that express purpose — to further the province’s Campus Alberta homogenization agenda.”

This cynic has had an issue with the Campus Alberta homogenization agenda (no need for quotes, this isn’t a term of phrase, it’s just what it literally is) since it was first announced. It simply screamed of killing academia in place for more programs that can further the agendas of big business and oil.

“It’s a Tory pattern. Create a policy mess. Then make the board and bureaucrats responsible for carrying out that policy convenient public scapegoats when things go awry.”

I understand that the Alberta Conservatives have a mandate to end deficit budgets in Alberta. I have a conservative side myself and I like the idea of surplus governments. The problem arises in that the Alberta Government is suddenly sacrificing essential services to Albertans to try and meet this budgetary agenda. They’re no longer looking at Albertans as people; only as beans to count.

It’s no far-reaching cryptic secret that educated populations make more money, which then results in better local economies. It’s why Scandinavian countries, which offer free post-secondary education, run very few deficit budgets and some of the largest surplus governments in the world.

It appears that the Government of Alberta has traded sensible facts and truths for sticking with idealistic agendas.

It also appears that my own conspiracy theories may not be that far off from the truth.

I guess it’s time we all put on our tinfoil hats, stand screaming on street corners and huck eggs anytime we see Thomas Lukaszuk or any member of his and Alison Redford’s Conservative caucus. We might sound like we’re crazy, but we’re the public that these elected officials should be serving.

We’re not numbers.

Dying of Old Age

I’ve got this thing for dying of old age

It must seem like a crazy liberal ideal

Or some sort of privilege reserved for the rich

But I’m not sure if I’ll be allowed to in my country

Abolishing something like long-gun registry

I just don’t see the need for semi-automatic assault rifles

While police only carry pistols and we farm all of our animals

And why this is a controversial discussion

You’re afraid of fighting big government

While you keep funding all of these big businesses

Who buy politicians like they’re trading stock options

You might think I’m crazy for not wanting to die

In some flashy blaze of glory like a tragic hero on TV

I think I’d rather read a book in my bed

Close my eyes and fall to sleep in the peace and quiet

Because there are no good guys

And there are no bad guys

There’s just a lot of confused people

Who’ve been given all of this freedom

But we don’t bother to educate them

And explain to them what this freedom means

I wish people would give money to schools

Like they give money to weapons manufacturing

I wish parliament listened to educators

The same way they listened to millionaires

I wish people would stop shooting

Before they looked at where they’re aiming

I wish I could die of old age

But I’m almost certain some neighbourhood watch security

Will follow me while I’m walking on my own block

Say I’m a threat because I’m tall and have tattoos

Assholes like my always get away with it

Or some other oversimplified ignorant ridiculous bullshit

Any reason to stand his ground and shoot

Living out his old west cowboy fantasy

Shooting the bad guy in a blaze of glory

And be deemed the big hero

He and his big shiny fucking gun

Maybe I’m just an idealistic Canadian

Who’d rather not see his country turn this way

And who doesn’t understand what’s so fucking great

About being able to kill anything

Or why anyone would want to listen to Ted Nugent spout on about

Shooting into underprivileged neighbourhoods from a helicopter

He talks so tough and he loves his guns

Don’t forget he dodged the draft

Along with Mohammed Ali

And Arlo Gutherie

And William Gibson

And Jimi Hendrix

And Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

And Stephen King

And Bruce Springsteen

And don’t get me started on Bill O’Reily

And Dick Cheney

And Karl Rove

And Donald Trump

And OJ Simpson

And Newt Gingrich

And Al Gore

I guess that they all wanted to die of old age too

I’m not trying to oversimplify a bigger issue

I just don’t worry about big government knocking at my door

Because if it got to the point

Where this was something to be worried about

I’d rather not worry that the government at my door

Was paid for

By Halliburton