In one move.
In one simple move, the City of Toronto righted a world of wrongs — Even after SARS, garbage strikes, and more than one embarrassing mayor, one commercial made it all right again.
Meet Chuck and Vince:
I nearly didn’t post this because it stresses me out so much. But I believe the curtain needs to be pulled back some more on what we call “Reality”.
I do believe we are a very shrewd audience, over all. Our grandparents were introduced to the invention of television and so our children are essentially bred to understand it. It’s a language and it’s what I do for a living. Story telling can be a beautiful art.
And so it surprises me that we’re still all so naive. Maybe we’re not as much “naive” as we are “trusting”. We know that reality television isn’t “real”. We understand that the show will edit whatever story they need out of sound bites and glances, even if they have to edit sound bites over glances that never happened together. It’s how the show makes a good story, and eventually good money. They have to advertise their eventual product.
Actual reality would look like us, sitting at home, staring at the TV, eating dinner, farting and working really hard to pay our bills. So of course we understand this. In our brains, we understand it… Sort of. A little. But we still seem to want to trust that there’s truth in these stories and that the free fame and fortune they offer is still something worth pursuing - that ANYone can have it.
There was a time when I would get sucked into the massive, world-wide talent shows. I wanted to believe it for a while, too. The hype was just so great and the tension, so palatable. It was a damn good story!
But the more I got involved with variety performance, the closer to home these shows got. When my friends are up there, not only subjecting themselves to being judged on something they’ve made a good living at (by a ridiculous, not-very-intelligent drunk who got famous for running in slow motion, no less), but also being blatantly manipulated while signing away their right to any fragment of truth… my chest clamps up, my ears get hot, and I have to leave the room. I can no longer watch Simon Cowell shows. As my my eyes glaze over with the cataracts of cynicism, I’ve long since stopped believing Mr. Cowell wants good and magical things for these people’s lives. It’s a glorified Gong Show that earns a LOT of money. It does wonderful things for the few who are chosen, but can potentially ruin the otherwise-fine careers of anyone else who unsuspectingly gets in the line of fire, because they believed it was a fair game.
I have friends and acquaintances on every end of these shows. The winners, the buzzed, the boo’d (the ones who had booing edited in where booing never happened), the ones who really shouldn’t have even bothered auditioning in the first place, and even the professionals who lie to make it look like, “Aw, gee-whiz, I’ve never really sung before getting on stage right now in front of millions and having a standing ovation after singing two notes”.
Now, the talents on those shows are real talents - don’t misunderstand my opinion on that. They’re real people who’ve worked on real skills. They may not be the best in the world, but they’re they’re good. Good things deserve recognition and the ones who win - more power to them! I’m very proud of my friends who have made it far (and even won) these shows! But I think they’re taking an enormous gamble - a gamble that might not be worth taking, if, for reasons beyond their power or contractual rights, the show decides their face would make a better joke than a winner.
It’s not within your power to amaze them. They choose when they’ll admit to being amazed. It’s not even within the audience’s power to decide who they like best. The production needs a good show and they will make a good show.
You know, I might consider the damage done to individuals by a silly show forgiveable if the creators who benefit from it tried to, say, bail the world out of debt or feed a country or two. I could, perhaps see a glimmer of good in it all, then. But right now it’s just something that tramples many for the benefit of few — Like a cartoon of the worst sides of capitalism.
But now my rant from the outside, looking in stops here. I will now pass you on to play write, variety performer and business woman, Allison Williams for an inside peek, behind the curtains.
This is not a unique story. This IS the show. This is how it happens. Please read on.
I said no the first six times.
The seventh year, the seventh season, after an hour-long phone call with William the freelance producer, I think, well, it’s in my mom’s city, and there’s money in it, and this project we’re working on, the one that can’t get booked because nobody’s ever heard of it? It could use some exposure. And I say, “Yes.”
And, with William, I start mapping out the act.
“What the producers really like is the fire trick,” he says. “But bigger. Can you add some aerialists?”
William thinks it’s important it be big. America’s Got Lawsuits (If You Reveal The Outcome Before The Episode Airs) is focusing on group acts this year. I know one fire-dancer, two jugglers, six acrobats and a pole dance team that have done this show. I know fifty more entertainers who will never do this show, who have said no seven times.
I know we’re not going to win.
I know the contract says “Producers of America’s Got Lawsuits reserve the right to determine the winner by any means they choose.” I’ve heard about the holding rooms, about showing up at 7AM in full hair and makeup and waiting in a convention center ballroom full of chairs for twelve hours, for three days, and then being told, “Everyone else, sorry, you won’t be doing your acts in this round, you’ll be flying home tomorrow.”
William has gone through the act with me. We have storyboarded every four seconds and provided a recommended shot list to the director. Everyone in the act has been issued a plane ticket, a room at the Hyatt, and a list of instructions from Aubrey, our perky brunette Production Assistant.
“Remember guys!” chirps Aubrey, “Never look directly into the camera! It ruins the shot!”
I have met the rigger and the pyrotechnician; we have run the full act once and the fire section three times, for the stage manger, the director, and the fire marshal.
And here we are.
The glossy black stage gleams.
The new judge on the left, a shock jock brought in to expand the demographic, wears his sunglasses all the time. The lady in the middle, married to someone famous, smiles supportively. The man on the right twirls the straw in his water bottle. (“Fist bumps only!” said Aubrey, “No handshakes, no hugs!”) He will not drink from anything not handed to him wrapped in a towel, his assistant hovers out of frame with a bottle of hand sanitizer.
Up to this point, we have been guessing what role we will be cast in, how the editors will choose to show us to America. The pre-interview questions—
“Could you say that again, but touch on your street performer background?”
“Could you phrase it something like, ‘This is our big chance?’”
“Just say, ‘We’re here to win’, and make it really big, OK?”
“Can we do that again? One of you glanced at the camera.”
Our guess on the edit is Small Time Big Dreams or Scruffy But Driven.
Before we start the act, the sunglassed judge tells us he thinks street performing is sad and pathetic. We talk about theatricality, about performing for people regardless of their ability to pay, about shows for war orphans in Kosovo. I don’t know if any of that will fit our eventual edit. The lady judge smiles supportively. The straw twirler twirls, and we hold briefly for a new water bottle and a squirt of sanitizer. He’s given a new straw and unwraps it himself, the assistant taking the end of the paper wrapper without touching him.
With a burst of nothing—the sound cue is late—our act begins. The sound kicks in. The singer sings. The aerialists spin in a whirl of colored fabric. The fire-eaters await their cue. And at second number thirty-nine of the act that William has scripted with my complicity, my brain begins evaluating.
What’s that sound? Has something gone wrong?
Fast check. Aerialist Number One, still in the air, her split is beautiful. Aerialist Number Two, his split amazing. Aerialist Number Three is in a flaming aerial hoop. Is she on fire? No. Good.
What’s that sound?
And as I step into position to pass a flame from my tongue to my partner’s tongue and down the line of eight people (second number fifty-nine, midstage close shot) I realize,
“Hup!” to cue the group and I set my tongue on fire, pass the flame to the right.
Have we ever been…booed before? By a sober person? With a home to go to?
Have we ever been booed by an entire audience?
No, I don’t think we have.
Not in the early years of dirt shows at two-bit medieval faires. Not at new festivals in new countries, navigating foreign social cues. Even the teenage Gypsy boys wanted attention more than to tear us down, and when I learned to say Tumen boot! I love you! in Roma, it stopped them like a switch. Not in the slums of Mumbai, stepping around eddies of trash to crack the whip. Not in Mexico, the freshly-ironed children shyly pressing single pesos and cookies into our hands.
At the eighty-seven second mark (exactly on time, exactly as William and I scripted, wide shot then cut to judges), I am already disconnected, awaiting the verdict I already know. I smile and thank the judges for their feedback. Maybe if we aren’t funny or angry, they will leave us on the cutting room floor. Even when the shock jock judge turns to the crowd, exhorting them first to cheer him and then boo us again, louder, I think only,
Those jeering young men ages 18-25 are certainly his demographic.
Even if I could win a verbal fencing match the edit would make me a Loser. A Bad Loser or a Bitter Loser or an Arrogant Loser Who Had It Coming.
The first exit interview, immediately offstage with a rapper-turned-TV-host, is called the “kiss-n-cry” by most producers. We neither kiss nor cry. I grin directly into the camera and say, “Hey, we’re already professional entertainers and this was just another gig!” and high-five the host.
Edit that like a Loser, motherf***ers.
We bail on the second exit interview, telling Aubrey we’re sorry, but we’re finished. And Aubrey, who is a local, listens shocked when we tell her about the booing and escorts us past five security checkpoints and out of the building. I hope that this lack of footage will help us be no-one, not even a two-second clip in a montage. That the mother called to the stage to be reprimanded for her six-year-old twins’ salacious choreography or the water-skiing squirrel or the girl whose father cuts her hair while blindfolded will be far more fascinating. There is nothing compelling about polite, upbeat professionals.
Later, my mother reclaims her cellphone from the audience security point and tells me that the audience was coached, their cue to boo was the crewman with the white sign in front of stage right. We learn that the audience was seeded with plants, paid to be there, knowing who wins, the locals who lined up for tickets instructed, “If someone next to you jumps up or makes an X, you do it, too!” Knowing that the contest and the voting and the judging is rigged, I don’t know why it surprises me so much that the audience is rigged, too.
America sure does have talent, but that’s not what this show is about. Talent’s not in the 90-second bites boiled into montage clips, not going with the breakdancers “Goin’ to Vegas!”, not listening to the singer stopped at two bad opening notes (this is round three—we were recruited, but that singer waited in line and has twice been told “You’re good enough!”). Talent is back in the driveway where the breakers popped and locked on flattened cardboard boxes. Talent is lip-syncing in its bedroom. Talent is hanging with the adult beginner aerialists back in the gym in Memphis, working out on borrowed equipment, their bodies aging out on borrowed time. Talent is singing with its friends in the car with the stereo up and the windows down.
And that’s the shield that keeps me gracious on mic while the 18-to-25-year-olds jump up and down, howling for our third X. Back at the hotel, showering out hairspray and removing the last of the glitter from my eyes, I wonder just how dumb this mistake will turn out to be, how many Americans this summer will see me and see a Loser. But as I hang up costumes and plan the route to the next gig, and the next gig, and the one after that, I thank the universe that I am up there taking scorn, instead of watching and dishing it out. Even standing up to boos and jeers and the caustic acid of three judges in the twilight of their celebrity—their downward trajectory still a place higher than I will likely ever reach—even that is better than waiting for opportunity to knock, for lightning to strike. Waiting for a life to begin. Waiting for a dream—any dream—to arrive.
See Allison’s original article here.
To other bloggers who are interested in this topic, please get this article out and around the internet. Part of me feels as though I’m preaching something as obvious as WWF wrestling being fake, but we really need to smarten up to who we trust with our well being, when volunteering for free fame and fortune.
The contestants are real. The environment they’re locked into, however, is as manufactured as a fine tuned machine, making the game an unfair one.
Whether you’d like to believe it or not, Rachel Peters was just a weeny little kid once, just like you, and not the Greek goddess and definition of “suave” you see before you today. She put her diaper on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us. She still does, in fact!
There was once a time when those little, pudgy fingers played in mud pies, drew refrigerator masterpieces and maybe (possibly) occasionally got stuck up a nose or two.
For some reason it was considered much cuter then than it is now.
So, let’s take a self-indulgent ego trip down memory lane and revisit her childhood in the form of her drawings:
(If you can get passed the horrible photo quality, this trip will be a lot of fun.)
I. Hate. Playing. Kitchen.
What “fun” could possibly come from pretending to work? I don’t like cooking in REAL life, so why would I like cooking invisible food??
Why don’t we all pretend to EAT invisible food at a fancy, invisible restaurant instead!
Somebody please tell me why before I go ape-poopy on this photographer with my miniature skillet. Look at that hatred in my eyes. Don’t turn away, LOOK AT IT!!!
Don’t TELL me not to cry! I will cry if I WANT to cry! And then I’ll wet my pants! And you, the grown up, will have to clean up the mess!!
Damn straight. That’s the only ace I have up my sleeve.
(I really hated playing kitchen. …Also, having people tell me to smile.)
Here is a great, timeless story of a baseball game gone horribly awry. To the left we see what is obviously a mascot with a mop on his head, covering his mouth as he stares on at the scene, in horror. It seems the umpire (center) and the mop mascot have witnessed a violent beat-and-run incident during a baseball game disagreement. The bat is lying on the floor and the beater has long since fled. The victim (on the right) is in need of serious medical assistance, crying for help, through his blood-stained eyes.
I’m not sure, but this may have been a warning to anyone who planned to make me play kitchen again.
Two homeless children with nothing but a bed to their name play soccer next to the overpass, under which they live.
Life is hard.
Like all great artists, I started with religious paintings. Christmas was a reoccurring theme, regardless of the time of year.
As you can see here, Baby Jesus doesn’t have swaddling clothes, he has one enormous leg, in a cast. And Mary and Joseph are super happy about it. They probably think they can get into Year 0’s edition of Ripley’s Believe it Or Not.
No Kitchen. Better - A little bit. I always thought the puppets were ugly, but at least I didn’t have to pretend to cook anything. This was the year I began to learn how to fake a smile… Although, I probably still wet my pants and ruined the puppet theater for the rest of the children.
At age four I began working on original cartoons as well as themes. For most of the year, my compositions involved one or all of the following:
A hill in one or both corners of the page; a sun or quarter-sun with a funny face; A cloud with a funny face (because the sun and the cloud are buddies); a dog or several dogs; Smurf houses; and Easter Bunnies, regardless of the time of year.
The drawing above depicts me, sliding down the corner hill, our dog, intently reading a gibberish sign, horrible emissions seeping from our chimney (likely from burning tires to keep warm at night), and a little bird mocking the sun and cloud for being boyfriend and girlfriend.
Sad, sad Easter Bunny can’t give out eggs because Smurfs don’t celebrate Easter.
But they do glue asparaguses to their walls.
This bull dog became my my most impressive original cartoon in all my three years of Kindergarten.
Also, quarter sun and Easter Bunny.
(I sincerely do remember being very angry.)
At age five I started taking art more seriously and began working hard at portraits. My Austrian Kindergarten teacher, Tante Beate let me use PENCIL like a REAL artist (as well as my left hand).
Here is Tante Beate.
Daddy’s face was my favourite thing to draw. Daddy’s balding head was the icing on the cake.
I took a whack at landscapes, but layouts are boring.
Sarajevo, 1984. ’Nough Said.
There was apparently a play about a pope and a puppet show about an alligator. I remember drawing these, but I don’t remember why.
The play about the pope MAY have been an actual Catholic mass service… I wasn’t Catholic so it probably just seemed very theatrical. I don’t know what religion the alligator was.
I am very, very proud of this drawing. I really don’t think anyone told me to draw it. Who would have??
This piece, “The Good Samaritan” had only a few minor flaws. If I could go back I might have told my five year old self that Jews and Samaritans weren’t generally Austrian-coloured and that I need to stop consistently drawing my frowns upside down. I didn’t do it because I was a cheerful type - it was more of a juvenile dyslexic sort of issue That is one happy, pink naked man getting his swim trunks stolen from him, at knife point.
I also think my affinity for stories like these is what ultimately led me to a preoccupation with true crime shows like Dateline.
In Austrian Kindergarten we learned to sew and embroider by the time we were five. True story. This is my practice cloth.
AGES 9, 10, 11
I thought this jacket made me look so tough. I wanted to be The Fonz SO badly, but I knew I’d never get a leather jacket. This was as close as I was going to get. (Sometimes… I even popped the collar.)
And whoever thought making kids’ jeans with buttons on the knees was a good idea should be punched in the ear, hard.
First day of grade 4. I had to prove my superior drawing abilities. A vicious fight developed over whether or not I had traced it, but I hadn’t. That background should be proof enough. Layouts are boring.
I also couldn’t draw the horse’s ear.
Sampson. Copied from Sunday School illustrations. I was a church kid.
I wrote a lot of “books” in elementary school. And by “books”, I mean about four, double spaced, largely printed and poorly spelled pages, spread out between lots of big illustrations, and stapled together.
In this one, Chief Yamagoochi, the hump-less camel ruled a small town in the Old West. Gun fights and comedy ensued.
I was absolutely in love with a childrens’ novel series called “Bunicula”. It was about a quiet, little bunny with a black widow’s peek and sharp front teeth who would suck the colour out of vegetables at night. Only the other animals in the story would talk to each other and try to figure out the mysteries surrounding little Bunicula. And now that I think about it, I’m not entirely sure what the threat was. So he sucks the juice from vegetables… Normal bunnies eat them, juices and all. Which one is more gruesome??
Original drawing. I was SO proud of myself. The day I brought it home someone used it as a coaster. Not that I’m holding a grudge.
When I was 12 I looked like a boy.
Junior High. Disney, Disney, Disney, Disney, Disney. Practice, practice, practice. Draw through the pain. When you draw you can’t hear them calling you names. Just keep drawing through math class. When an art project comes along, they’ll all want to be your friend. Just keep practicing the Disney and maybe some day you’ll have a better life.
And that is a summary of Junior High.
And the pay-off. These are some original characters from the junior high days. Some of them ended up scratched into my school desk. I was the only one who never got in trouble for it.
I over-compensated for about a full week when I was 13, for having looked like a boy when I was 12. It would be another two years before I actually began to look like a real girl without the help of large, pink flower patterns and perms.
“Two Seconds Before The Horse Steps in the Margarine”.
I’ll explain it to you when my subconscious explains it to me.
Also, when layouts aren’t boring, they’re completely overworked.
At 15 I sold wildlife drawings for about $20 to $30 bucks a pop. That was a lot of money for me in 1994.
Sculpting lessons at 15.
Like I said earlier, my Dad was my favourite face to draw. This crossed over into clay.
In my teen years (these were somewhere between 15 and 17) I was really into making mediocre copies of other people’s genius.
I was ok at it, but a serious knowledge of human anatomy was needed. David’s got lumps in places no one should ever grow lumps. He also has a head so large he shouldn’t be able to hold it up on his own strength.
(The M.C. Escher Santa also looks like my Dad. Go figure.)
This truly was the drawing that began me thinking that I could draw whatever and however I wanted. It took me this long to realize I was capable of expressing myself. I know it doesn`t look like much of an expression, but it was a big leap for me. I can`t explain why or what about it was so ground breaking, other than tearing up multiple drawings of a baby and taping them back together with my own eyes, but this was sincerely the one that started me on the road to making what I want and not only what the majority perceived as pretty.
And that`s about it. This sums up my childhood in art. Smurf houses, Daddy`s face, elaborate stories… and layouts are boring.
Thank you for joining me on this walk down diaper lane. Now go pull out your own drawings and see what they tell you about yourself.
Originally written November 4, 2006.
I used to see a man on the bus, semi-regularly. He was the type of good looking that’s so distinct and unique it takes you a while to realize he’s good looking. Were one molecule out of place, he could be just as easily be very odd looking. It’s a fine line between super model and freak-of-nature — gazelle and deformed. As it was, I decided he was very good looking.
He was black, with a shaved head, large wide set eyes and large lips (all almost disproportionately large), with a washboard forehead of wrinkles, just like mine, only more so. His eyebrows were such a distinguished shape, one might almost assume he waxed with a “smart man” stencil. His eyebrows alone made him look like he was thinking about something intelligent, and worrying just a little.
I remember drawing him while on the bus once. I don’t think he noticed, and I don’t think the drawing turned out well. But it burned his face into my mind. That happens when I draw things - like writing down a dream. It sticks.
I didn’t see him for a year or so. Maybe I got a new job. Maybe he did. I can’t remember. For some reason at least one of us wasn’t riding that bus anymore.
Then one day I saw a man who looked just like him. On the same bus. Wearing the same clothes and sporting the same washboard forehead.
He was identical in every way, but he didn’t seem like the same man. The other man — the pretty one — seemed shy, but laid back. Tired from a hard day’s work and ready to go home to relax with a glass of wine. This man looked scared and everything about his body language screamed, “Don’t look at me!” It really made him look like an entirely different man. I was almost sure he was. The thing is, there was no reason that anyone should have been looking at him. No one was. …Well, except for me, but I had always looked at him.
It was so clear in his body language. It felt as if people’s eyes were like laser beams that stung when they hit him. He kept flinching.
So, of course, this made me watch him all the more closely. If you scream, “Don’t look at me!!”, what do you expect people to do? At first I was only staring at him to figure out if he was the same man. Once I realized he was, I started staring at him to figure out why he had changed. I couldn’t get over that something was incredibly different about him. I mean, apart from his demeanor. Something about him had changed drastically, but I couldn’t place it.
We always transfer from that bus to the subway, and head downtown in the sea of morning zombies.
I piled out of the bus after him and I followed behind from bus to subway platform (Not purposely “following” him. That’s just the order in which we walked off the bus). …Even from behind, something was different about him. What?!
It took me the entire walk from bus to subway car to finally realize… his left arm was missing from the elbow, down. Armani suit arm, flapping in the subway breeze.
I’m SURE he had a left arm before. And once I finally noticed it, I couldn’t for the life of me understand why I hadn’t seen it before. It was right there! …or rather, it wasn‘t right there.
Imagine talking to someone who has a third eye, and not noticing until part way through the conversation. You’re brain just glitches and tells you that this is their face, and so this is what’s normal and to be expected for this person’s face. …Once you do notice it, it’s very shocking and jolting. It’s hard to shake off. It’s now a bull’s eye for your attention. It’s ALL you see.
He just didn’t seem like the type of man to be missing a limb. How strange that I thought there was a “type”. He always dressed in very sharp and expensive business attire, with very nice shoes (He always had nice shoes). For some reason you just don’t see such sharp, corporate men, walking around the business sector, missing arms or legs. Why is that? Tragedy doesn’t overlook the rich. In fact, tsunamis hit luxury resorts first! Why would I have assumed a rich man couldn’t be limbless??
It’s been a while since he’s ridden my bus.
Last night after work, I found myself on my regular, sardine-packed subway car, squished right up against, who else, but that stunning, sad, one-armed man. I was there the entire ride, until he got off at his new stop. So he had moved. His back was turned to me. Eyes-to-shoulder blades (I’m very short).
For some reason, I couldn’t help but take it personally.
I wanted to hug him. …No, actually, it wasn’t a hug. I wanted to lean on him. Have you ever had a big dog like a German Shepherd stand next to you and just lean into you, for comfort and security? That’s what I wanted to do. I could have just slowly sunk into his back.
For a moment I thought about looking for the glint of a wedding ring, but then I remembered… well, it would have been on his left arm.
People don’t talk to each other in Toronto. We probably won’t ever have a conversation, even if I do ever see him again. I’ll probably just always be that girl from the bus who stares at him when he’s not looking, while he pretends that he’s not looking.
Humour is my language.
I can speak other languages, but I prefer to express myself in my mother tongue.
Personally, I believe it should be everyone’s language, much like how Americans go abroad and get annoyed that not everyone speaks English. As understanding and empathetic as I generally am (or appear to be) when conversing with others, I have a difficult time understanding people who just can’t communicate in humour.
If I have to repeat, “No, no. You see, that was a joke.” more than twice in a conversation, you’ve probably lost me. I just might give up right there.
If human interaction were baking recipes, then humour would be the milk. Not every recipe needs it, and it would spoil a few dishes, but most baked goods ask for at least half a cup, worked in evenly throughout the mixture.
Well placed, perceptive humour can be an ice and tension breaker.
It can be an open door, as well as a terrific wall — an invitation or a deflection.
There are things you can express through sarcasm that would never work in a serious tone.
My best defense against fighting most of my insecurities is humour. Self-deprecation can help you own your imperfections and mold them into strengths.
I bought a house a few years ago and quickly realized that green thumbs are not items I possess — not on either one of my hands. I dug up my front lawn one day with the intention of turning a new leaf and starting a garden, but I then forgot (or rather, didn’t care enough) to actually plant anything. As a result, my lawn was wonderfully tilled and ideal for lush and fertile weeds. I like to think I was starting a weed garden, but too many people misunderstood me when I made comments like that.
At its worst, my weeds grew to be about 4 feet tall.
Old Italian men would come around to my house just to point and laugh.
One of them told me to get a husband and have him fix it. I thanked him for pouring salt on my wounds.
When giving instructions to my house, I eventually found myself describing it as “the one with the ugly lawn”. This was becoming my home’s most distinctive feature.
My friendliest neighbour Bob, “The Dirty Old Man Who’s Past His Prime” (I swear to you, that’s the way he introduced himself) tried several times to pawn his lawn tools off on me, until I insisted that I had worked long and hard to get my front lawn just perfect like this.
“Oh… Yes. Yes. I thought so.” He said. “I didn’t mean to insult you. I just thought… You know, if you ever wanted to prune it, to be even nicer…… I have a Weed Whacker in my shed.”
I needed to take control of the situation and make sure my other neighbours wouldn’t hate me.
Bob was funny andnd his lawn is dirt, so he would have been the last to judge.
Fix the lawn?? Pfffft. Not likely.
Making them laugh was the key.
I began to put up signs. The first one began with a grain of sincerity and read,
“Yes, I am aware of the condition of my front lawn. But thank you for your concern.”
That sign was put up simply to stop the stares and murmurs from contractors, neighbours and passers-by.
“Yeah?! Your MOM’S an ugly lawn!!”,
“My other lawn’s a Porche.”,
“I do this to make the other lawns feel better about themselves.”
(That my friends, is what I like to call “one-downing”. Instead of “one-upping”, where one tells a better story, making those around him feel worse about themselves, one-downing self-deprecates and helps to build others up — make yourself plain, so the girl next to you looks glamorous. That sort of thing. My lawn was one-downing all the other lawns on the block. My lawn was the Ethel to everyone else’s Lucy.)
I kept those signs up for over a year. I grew to care very much for them. And at one point my mother (a very funny woman) did a drive-by lawn ornamenting, leaving behind a tole painted garden sign in the yard which read, “Quiet please, weeds growing”.
Eventually I realized I had reached a point where I had developed pride over my particular weakness, and my owning of my bad thumbs had now lost its point. I began to let the lawn get uglier just so I could keep up the signs.
“My place looks like CRAP! Stand tall! Stand proud!” I would think to myself while arriving home from work.
The Fed Ex lady had told me she looked forward to coming to my house, always hoping to find a new sign, and that had made me very happy.
(She would also assure me that the lawn wasn’t so bad.)
I’ve since taken down those signs, and today my inner city lawn looks a lot more like Bob’s. It’s not glamorous and it’s mostly dirt, but you wouldn’t get lost in it anymore.
I’m no longer insecure about my habit of neglect, but I sort of miss the attention from the signs.
The Fed Ex lady has long since forgotten me.
I’m considering planting corn.
I have made somewhere over 50 (but probably less than 100) “Frankin-Toys” in the past 6 years. They make for a fun, guaranteed one-of-a-kind, inexpensive and thoughtful gift. And if you can sew at all, they can be extremely fun to create.
How to make a Frankin-Toy
1- purchase a heaping pile of second-hand toys. Name-brand preferred, but the most important quality in all of them should be their clearly distinguishable body parts. For example, teddy bears are generally only good for their heads. Once torn apart, a teddy bear’s leg or arm simply looks like a stump. But if that’s the sort of frankin-toy you’re going for – a stump monster – then by all means!
2- disassemble said toys
3- sew back together in amusing (yet preferably non-offensive) arrangement
4- assign silly name and give away as Christmas (and/or any-or-no occasion) gifts
Sadly, I’ve given away most of my toys without having taken pictures. I can’t remember all the toys I’ve made.
If you’re one of the lucky jerks to have received a Frankin-Toy in the past, I’d love it if you took a snapshot and sent it to me! I’ll post it on the site. I miss my babies dearly. Each one is special.
Squeeze her fuzzy claws and she says things like,
“You’re beauuutiful” and, “Crayons make me happy!”
Big Bird gets eaten by a fish. A moment of creative genius, I must say.
“The Bert Bullet”
WHAM! POW! Shot straight through the belly of a very indifferent flamingo!
“Frog Legs McToots”
The latest toys, Christmas 2008
I call them “Tigger Time, Times Two” BFF’s.
They hop and twitch and giggle and sing. They even sense when they’ve fallen over, but the one on the left is no longer able to do somersaults since I “modified” him.
“I see the eight of us with our ‘Secret Annexe’ as if we were a little piece of blue heaven, surrounded by heavy black rain clouds. The round, clearly defined spot where we stand is still safe, but the clouds gather more closely about us and the circle which separates us from the approaching danger closes more and more tightly. Now we are so surrounded by danger and darkness that we bump against each other, as we search desperately for a means of escape. We all look down below, where people are fighting each other, we look above, where it is quiet and beautiful, and meanwhile we are cut off by the great dark mass, which will not let us go upwards, but which stands before us as an impenetrable wall; it tries to crush us, but cannot do so yet. I can only cry and implore: ‘Oh, if only the black circle could recede and open the way for us!’”
- Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank
Originally written Feb 23, 2007
Sometimes I daydream about horrible things. Usually while I’m waiting for the subway, during rush hour.
I think about getting accidentally shoved onto the track and losing my left hand. It makes me feel as if it might make life easier somehow. Do I want to lose my hand? No! My left hand is my career and my career is like my child! A part of me would die if I were to ever have my hand taken off by a train or anything else. I’d rather lose half my body or even my face than lose my left hand.
This morning in the subway I realized I fantasize about these things because, in a way, it would make sense of my struggle. All my life I’ve been struggling with God-knows-what (and He does), throughout a perfectly blessed and privileged, middle-class life. I’m perpetually fighting to push forward, but I can’t be sure of what it is I’m fighting or pushing so strenuously against. Nothing is “wrong”. …So why is everything wrong?
Why do I feel as if the air I’m trying to walk through is as thick as mud?
A constant, underlying Melancholy would make sense for an artist with no hands. What a poetically bitter existence that would be. Struggling through a life like that would make sense and no one would question my discontent. No one would tell me I’m ungrateful. (As it is, nobody does. I don’t recall having ever spoken of this before. But I do feel as if I’m being ungrateful. My life is incredible.)
I’m learning how to be content in all situations. I’m not yet there, but it’s something I grow in as I live. However, I’m not sure I’ll ever been content with Life. Not MY life, but Life as a whole — capital “L”, Life.
I think this feeling must be humanity, or at least “the human condition”. The struggle — the fighting — is against everything that’s wrong with the world; an endless dissatisfaction, having a distant recollection that this isn’t the way it was meant to be. What I’m pushing against is “why bad things happen to good people”. What I’m pushing against is “why a fine dog bites a nice child”.
Even in the ecstatic times, something in me is fighting against pain.
So, I don’t think I want to grow to be content with capital “L”, Life. I don’t want to grow desensitized to it. I won’t accept that this was the plan, because I’ve seen the blueprints and I know it wasn’t.
This feeling –this pang– could be the seed that could mutate into self-mutilation.
A person wants pain they can see.
I remember breaking up with a man and trying to make myself throw up (I never succeeded. Damn my repressed gag reflex!) I just wanted to know why and where in my body I felt so ill. I can’t locate heartache and it confuses me, deeply.
I’ve read about disorders where people become convinced they are supposed to be amputees and become so obsessed that they go as far as amputating themselves. Sometimes it’s for pity, but it’s often because they see amputees as valiant heroes — overcommers. In a way, I can understand that disorder.
I think those of us who aren’t already there, are just one sliver away from serious, debilitating dysfunctionality. All it takes is one little brain glitch to bridge the gap – one little spark from a couple crossed wires to make the difference between balanced and imbalanced. Sane and insane.
This was all just a fleeting, partially subconscious thought when I got onto the crowded subway car this morning, but now that I’ve spoken it out loud (in a way), it’s messed with my head a little and made me rather somber. I’ll likely not speak of it again, for fear that irony (who, in my mind, is a living, breathing, cruel and bored 30 year old man) will take advantage of the moment and have me hit by a train on the way home. I don’t really want that.
C.S. Lewis wrote, in a collection called “The Business of Heaven”,
“The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never sage, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”
I’m downtown in Toronto, enjoying the sites after having had a meeting with my indie film’s sound designer. (I sound pretty impressive, don’t I?)
Stiff from carrying my laptop around on my back, I sit down in a coffee shop called, “Country Site Donuts” — a name that makes me shake my head and sigh in disappointment at how the owner must have just given up on life, settling for such a cheep rip-off of the Canadian chain, “Country Style”. Although it wasn’t nearly as sad as the “Donkin’ Donuts” I once saw in Prince Edward Island. At least “Country Site” could be passed off as making some degree of sense. And at least they sold donuts. Donkin Donuts was just a kiosk that sold caramel corn.
As I’m sitting, resting my weary shoulders from the weight of technology and finishing up the last three pages of a novel, a lady comes waddling in and motions secretively to the waitress that she wants to speak privately. Privately, but loudly, she stage whispers, “Pssst! You can just get me a Coke this time, because I don’t have any money.” She sits down, nods at the waitress and shoos her to ‘snap to it’. She repeats several times, “It’s ok. Yeah, I don’t have any money, so shhh. So it’s ok. Go ahead.”
It was to be under the table – real covert-like.
After a few more requests for a free Coke, I jump up and approach the counter myself, slapping down a toonie (that`s a Canadian 2 dollar coin, for future reference). <
“How much is that Coke?” I ask, gleefully. Too gleefully. I enjoy gifting.
“Genie! This lady is buying you a coke!” says the waitress behind the high, protective counter.
“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh, dear dear! You’ve saaaaaaaaaaved my life! Oh you’re an angel in disguise. Oh, you lovely lady. There ARE some nice people in the world! You’ve SAVED my LIFE!!”
If I had known it was a matter of life and death I might have gotten her something more substantial than a bubbly sugar beverage, but hey. I’m glad to be of service. Gleeful, even.
“Oh, honey. Thank you, thank you… and I’ll have that dutchie too.”
She points to a plump donut.
Me – “…oh. Well… yeah! Ok, sure! How much for the dutchie?” And I slap down another loonie.
Genie boldly continues, “…And I like the look of that muffin too, and an orange juice and…”
Way to milk it, Genie! Good on ya!
Both the waitress and I interrupt and insist that I don’t have enough money for any more things. …How the waitress would actually know this about me, I’m not sure. I think my personal fashion style is a bit more “poor“ than the “bohemian“ I`ve been aiming for. But Genie doesn’t question her inside knowledge of my finances.
Because I saved her life, she comes up to me for what I think will be a hug, but turns out to be a one-year-old style kiss, with lips turned ¾ of the way inside out and is more wet than anything you’d ever like to touch on another human being. Even though Genie doesn’t seem the type to pick up on social subtleties, I try to refrain from wiping my cheek clean after the *shudder* …kiss. My right cheek is nearly dripping.
I head back and sit down to my book once more and Genie, taking her coke and donut to-go, dotingly follows me.
“Yep. I know. I saved your life. Really, it’s ok. It’s ok, Genie. It’s not a problem.”
Smiles, smiles. Happy happy. Smiles and nods. More smiles.
Genie – “Now, listen. They don’t feed me at that home. I don’t like it there. They neeevver eeeever feed me there.”
Me – “Never??”
Genie – “NEVER! I can feel the baby kicking because I’m so hungry.”
Genie pats her poochy belly. She’s got to be at least 60 years old, but it’s hard to tell. She’s a woman-child and has an air of eternal youth about her. Very few wrinkles on her puffy face and no white hairs that I can see
“I can just feeeeel that baby kickin’.
She sees that I’m reading a book. I must be smart.
“Now, let me ask you. Are you studying Biology, like me?” (Pronounced, “Bee-ology”)
Me, – “Nope.”
Despite my one-word answer, I am being very attentive. I mean, I could easily leave if I wanted to. I’ve finished my coffee and my book. I have every right to stand up and go. But I don’t.
The waitress leaves the safety of her donut-filled counter to tell Genie that I need to finish my “homework” (I like looking young, but hate being mistaken for a student). She tells Genie that she should probably leave me in peace — let me work.
Genie shoos her away with an,
“Oh, I’m just explaining Beeology to her. It’s ok. Leave me alone.”
“It’s ok.” I mouth to the waitress.
“Now let me tell you what I’ve learned about Beeology.” She says with great emphasis on every single syllable.
“You know your digection system, right?”
She pats her baby belly again.
“Well, in your digection system, you’ve got a tube running this way,”
She runs her finger horizontally across her stomach.
“and a tube running this way.”
She runs her finger vertically down her stomach, drawing an invisible cross.
“Now, if theyyyy faaaall out…”
(My attention had been starting to wane, but this sentence quickly catches my attention again.)
“Now, if thoooooose fall out, they`ll just start to ROT!”
Me – “Really?? …Wow.”
“Yep. They just start to rot and everything begins to SMELL! All your parts start to smell and you just start to SMELL! It just smells Horrrrrible.”
She pats my knee for comfort, so that I won’t be too frightened by this news.
“But if you have cells, like these…”
Genie points very carefully and slowly to five specific spots on the top of her head – she tilts her head towards me so that I can clearly see the five points on the top of her balding scalp that have “cells”.
“then you’re gonna be aaaaaaaaaaalright.”
I get another pat on the knee.
“Oh, good. …That’s very good news.” I say.
Genie then leans in close, much like in the covert operation upon which she embarked, when she first arrived.
“How would you like what they did to me? Oh no. I don’t like that one bit. They don’t feed me there. You have to visit me every day, ok? Every day.”
I ask her if she had friends at “the home“, trying to get her focus off of my sudden responsibility for her well being.
She mentions a name or two and I try to keep her attention there.
“But my father. Oh, what he did to me… Ohhhhhh, what he did to me. How would you like to be tied down…Oh no… How would like that?”
I didn’t see that coming. I didn`t sign up for this. Gleeful expression, fading.
Curling up my eyebrows with great concern for her, I agree and nod that it is horrible, horrible, horrible what her father did to her, whatever it was.
I hope she gets back Beeology soon. …for her sake. Just think about Beeology, Genie. Remember Beeology??
A few seconds go by,
“On Mondays I get my money and I like to go to Tim Hortons. I don’t suppose you could buy me something at Tim Hortons, could you?”
Me – “Oh…. No, no, no. I just bought you some food and look! You’re still holding it! You haven’t eaten it, Genie!”
A flush of pride wells up inside me as I realize I am capable of saying “no” to people. I`ve been working on that.
After more prompts to visit her every single day, I try to end the conversation without making any promises. I give multiple hand shakes and a, “Weeeelll, it was good to meet you Genie. …yup. You have a good day… aaaaaalright then…”, as well as other subtleties she refuses to acknowledge, until the waitress, watching all this time, orders her to go sit at the patio table with her yet untouched donut.
She slobber kisses me four more times during this transition. By the second of these goodbye kisses I find myself too traumatized to pretend and I begin to unapologetically wipe them off with my sleeve, right in front of her. She’s not going to notice. And she doesn`t.
Not too long after Genie sits down outside, I leave the building and wander some more through the Great and Mighty Toronto to find the art supply store I had been looking for. I wipe my cheeks with an obsessive-compulsive vigour for about the next half an hour. I can still feel a phantom slobber and those cold, clammy, inside-out lips pushed against my face.
All-in-all though, I’m glad I met Genie. Even if she did forget me the second I left the Country Site Donuts, which is likely. I won’t forget.
Maybe I’ll go back there some day, just to meet her again, for the first time. I’m very curious about how to keep my digection system from falling out.