Monday, November 29, 2010

Immodest Proposal

It is a sad sight indeed to walk around any major city in our country and find the streets and side-streets and sidewalks littered with vagrants, seeking drink or fighting off sobriety, pleading and prodding for the change that jingles through our pockets. I think it is agreeable by all that this tremendous number of homeless is a grievance to our present deplorable democracy. We all struggle to make ends meet as we make less and less at work but pay more and more for the most basic of amenities, and not only are these vagabonds literally doing nothing to help us and the economy, they are actually a tax on it.

They ask and beg of us and they do indeed take from us, through our feudal payments to the federal government. These donations are ladled out to a long line of social handouts like addictions counseling, find work programs and affordable housing. It is truly disgraceful and discouraging to think of what our hard-earned pay is promoting.

As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many years upon this subject, I have found the only possible recourse to eliminating this embarrassing homelessness problem: encouraging it. While this may seem preposterous on the surface, it is indeed true that not until we are all homeless, will we be rid of this type of despicable homelessness.

While I have illustrated that homelessness is a deadweight on us all, perhaps if we choose to view it from a different lens, we can see how homelessness can be used as a positive force. It appears we have spent ourselves into our present predicament, where individuals and cities and countries find themselves deeper and deeper in debt. We are over-consuming and perhaps we are doing this because we are trying to keep up with our overproduction, which our economy greedily and constantly demands. The homeless are not interested in this at all. If we all went homeless, would it not follow that we would consume far less and, as a result, become no longer enslaved to overproduction. Our systems would become more honest and sustainable.

With less production, people will start earning less money, so there will obviously be a decrease in tax dollars in the public purse, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The greedy politicians charged with dispersing these funds would then be forced to spend our money wisely. Surprisingly, they would actually do a good job of this, while still thinking about their own interests. They’d have to keep spending money on infrastructure, lest their roads start falling into disrepair. Remember, these politicians will be the only people making any significant money and therefore the only ones able to afford to drive automobiles down our highways and byways. The politicians would have to dispense less to please lobbyists and would have to take fewer, and less elaborate, tours of foreign nations on business or else they would have to sacrifice the communications networks that would let them contact these lobbyist friends. They would be forced to forego the fee-hungry consultants and do their own work so they could pay the doctors that keep them in health, the teachers that taught the doctors and the tradespeople who built the schools, the hospitals and their very own homes.

By going homeless, we would force our government to pay only those professions that were absolutely necessary. It follows that there would be far fewer police and nearly no bankers to speak of.

We can actually thank the big banks for giving us a head start on this homelessness initiative. With the toxic mortgage crisis forcing millions to foreclose on their homes, the banks created a new, growing legion of homeless people.

As a by-product of our ‘going homeless’ we would have no trouble hitting our greenhouse gas emission targets. Let’s face it, homeless people can barely feed their dogs: they aren’t buying cars, taking extravagant vacations in jumbo jets or even heating a house. Who ever heard of a homeless person with a home? We would reduce our carbon footprint and be heralded by the international community.

Homeless does not mean hopeless, either. Once homeless, there are still many ways to succeed and survive. For instance, these days I must search in earnest to find a discarded pop can or beer bottle on the street when, in my youth, they adorned sidewalks and alleyways like dandelions. This is due to the recycling policies we have that pay people to pick up these items. By incentivizing the return and recovery of aluminum cans and glass bottles with nickels, dimes and quarters, we solved the environmental problems these objects once presented.

To think what we could do if we gave a monetary value to fast-food cups or cigarette butts. With job security where it is today, I would not hesitate to say that armies of casual, temporary and on-call workers – fed up with their meager pay and sporadic hours cooped up in front of a computer in a recycled-air office tower – would start roaming our cities with bags and tack-sticks to collect garbage so they could feed their families.

And the homeless actually wouldn’t be homeless after a short time. Homes boarded up and deserted after the mass exodus, would become reinhabited by responsible squatters. There are successful and well-documented instances of this in Buffalo and Detroit – cities particularly bitten by the recession. People can live safely and content in a home they don’t actually pay for. Every tenant learns a trade to fix up the dwelling and they earn their own way in the home. Just think of it: entire neighbourhoods would be revitalized and reinvigorated with energy and hard work. Subdivisions in suburbia would become self-sustaining communities, with a burgeoning new, hands-on labour class emerging where citizens have a renewed sense of purpose. Since so many over-priced stores would have gone out of business, resourceful residents would scavenge through the city and return with new pieces of furniture to add to their flourishing homes. And artists would be freed from their nine-to-five, or seven-to-seven, or on-call slavery to produce the works they’d always had locked up inside but never had the time to develop.

All we have to do to solve our problems and truly get ahead and succeed is to swiftly ditch everything we own and go live off nothing. That’s our only solution.

Unless, that is, you are prone to pessimism: because if some rich so-and-so has already figured a way to incentivize taking rusted, discarded cans off the ground and turning them into currency, then surely that person will surely figure a way to take homeless people from the streets and recycle them back through the machine to make them profitable once again.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


The Madafakaz.

Go see these guys. They play with leotards over their heads like old-school bank robbers. I've seen them a couple times and the energy is crazy because they start kicking and pushing each other over while they play. Their stuff reminds me of Huevos Rancheros, but a little grittier and less polished (other than this track.)

I haven't seen them a while. I just had an oogle on google and saw that they played at L'Esco Bar tonight. Nards. Next time, I suppose. (It's too bad... their myspace page used to stream songs recorded at a live show and I like those a lot better than the glossed-up album versions.)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

the squirrels are trying to tell me something

The days are chillier and night seems to come so dark and so early to my my office tower window that sometimes it shocks me. Not only do the years seem to slip by faster with each birthday, but these days! They barely start before they're over.

And it's been 'chilly' for a while now (although, my people in Yellowknife will not find it funny that I'm calling 0C chilly and I don't blame them.) It's also been a month since I've walked home from work with any sun. But these aren't the hints I'm using as evidence that the summer is now doing its best impression of the Yellow Pages or the physical map in the face of google ubiquity... and by that, of course, I mean it's becoming a thing of the past.

It was apparent today, as I walked through the park, that winter - in its snowy, frozen guise - is knocking on the door. And it was the squirrels - or lack of them - that showed me.

Squirrels are a little different here in Montreal than elsewhere, I've noticed. They are bigger and they are crazy and they seem to be everywhere. You'd think we were living in some post-apocalypse sometimes, the way these maniac rodents pounce on garbage bags and dive into garbage cans, ravenously ripping through bags to find some sustenance.

I once had lunch on a patch of grass near work and watched a squirrel hanging from a tree on its hind feet. His head was dangling down, arms were splayed out and his back was pressed against the tree. We wondered if this thing was dead and someone had nailed it to the tree. Nope. About five minutes later, it stretched up and ran away somewhere.

I've watched a squirrel cling motionless to the side of an apartment building for minutes at a time, trying to figure out how he was defying gravity. I've watched with amusement as two squirrels chased each other around the truck of a tree, each squirrel's tail just barely staying out of the other's grasp, like a perpetual carnival game. A squirrel ate my poutine in Parc Lafontaine a few weeks ago. And then he called over his friend and another. Soon there was an army hungry for the stuff.

And that's what I've become accustomed to when I walk through the park now. One curious squirrel will scout me. If it is comfortable with me, or if I'm eating something, it will follow and soon others will take notice and they'll do the same and before you know it, a whole gang of them will be chasing me through the park, waving up and down fluidly as they do.

It freaked out my mom when my folks were down here a few weeks ago. My dad started making squirrel sounds - tiktiktikitiktik - and he chuckled as squirrels, who were focused dead set on finding a nut, put up their heads, craned to see where the sound was coming from and then started to come toward us like he was a pied piper. He soon had 20 of the little suckers trailing him.

The squirrels really are furious here, but today, they were all gone. I walked through the park and there was nothing scurrying around. There were no scuffling leaves. The dogs didn't even beg their owners to unleash them, since they'd realized there was nothing worth chasing out there.

I guess all the squirrels must have decided it's time to pack away for the year. They must know something we don't.

This summer was so long and so hell hot - for me at least - that I can't fathom that this same place where I laid in puddles of my sweat for four months will be frozen over for the next five. I'm not mentally prepared for winter and snow and ice.

But the squirrels are and I guess I'm going to heed their advice.

I'll let you know how long it is until we are covered in snow.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Deerhunter in the taillights

I checked out a Deerhunter show about a month back with Patch and some buds and never got a chance to write about it. Days and time have been spinning past me like a warp-speed carousel, so there isn't too much I can recall, other than Bradford Cox was a sound alchemist with his pedals and self-recorded harmonies. He hit you like a wall. What else? The bassist looked like he was actively trying to get fired from his job. He showed no emotion. Nothing. It got to the point where my buddy the Lazer couldn't enjoy the show. He wanted to go up and punch the guy because he was consciously trying to look so indifferent.

Anything else? Oh yeah, we were standing outside the venue - La Tulipe - after the show. A couple of us were leaning on a van and then all we hear is "fuh dump-duh" and the van shakes a bit. We didn't think anything of it until Patch comes round to tell us that some guy got hit by a van. I walked around the van we were standing by and, sure enough, there was a guy (or girl, I couldn't see) under a coat and a blanket with people telling him (or her) to stay calm and relax. Shit. It was bad. Or it seemed bad. My immediate reaction was the person was dead, because, from what I saw, their face was covered with a blanket. From movies, I assumed that meant they were dead. There was a huge dent in van that had hit the person.

We were all a little shocked.

If anyone knows what happened to that person, please leave a comment.

Either way, great show, but the crowd was a little dead, probably because the bassist sucked the life out of them. (He also fucked up the bass line in 'Nothing Ever Happened.') We went to la Banquise for poutine afterwards, marking the third time me and Patch consumed the stuff in less than 20 hours.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

life in a nutshell

I'm nearly all moved in and life is nearly back to normal. Nearly. The fridge is still lazy - it keeps its contents a little cooler than lukewarm. The oven is still odd - if you turn the stove up too high, the top, broil element comes on. And the place still smells... odd. But I'm cleaning furiously like Howard Hughes is about to move in, the heating, electricity and internet accounts are all changed over and the overall home is starting to take shape.

My folks are coming in tonight though, so the sleeping situation is a little shady. I've got a borrowed air mattress in my room, which I lay upon in a sleeping bag with a broken zipper. The stress is palatable. My ex-roommate said she would lend me a mattress while my parents were here, so I grabbed a hockey bag that I figured would hold it and set down to the old apartment.

The walk took longer than I thought. About 25 minutes or so. I walked into the apartment too stressed and too time-pressed to really feel nostalgic. I helped take a gigantic TV to the curb and then set about rolling the malleable mattress up to shove into the bag. As I found, it wasn't going to happen. After about three frustrating tries, I finally was able to stuff one side of the mattress into the corner of the bag. The mattress was about two-feet too wide to fit completely within the bag. I probably would have gotten this before I'd started out, but I was in too much of a hurry. I took the bag straps and Scotch-taped them together before having my one genius idea: I unlooped all the keys off my key-ring and fed each strap through the ring to hold them together.

I kissed my ex-roomy goodbye as people do here and walked down the stairs to unlock my bike, which I'm happy to say was not stolen this summer - probably because it's had a flat tire that I unintentionally neglected to fill.

And I was off, with the most awkward object slung over my right shoulder and a bike with a flat, being guided by my left-hand. I couldn't figure how to transport these two things simultaneously. The road sloped down to Amherst from St. Hubert on Lagauchetiere, so I just hopped on my bike and took the three blocks, trying not to ram into cars. At one point, I dipped to the right and my wheel frame screeched against the pavement. I got off fast and started to walk the bike again.

Now I had to get from Amherst below Rene-Levesque to Gauthier, which is just south of Rachel and east of Papillon. This is about a 25-minute walk, uphill. I was afraid if I was too aggressive with the mattress, it would fall out of the bag and make it impossible to carry. I couldn't turn back because my ex-roommate had set off for work. So there I was, stuck on Amherst outside the CBC with no idea what to do.

I tried to balance the mattress on the bike seat. No dice. It kept falling off. I tried to jam the mattress through the frame of the bike. Not happening. It wouldn't fit. I heaved it up on my shoulder, but it was fucking up the pinky I broke five years ago on my right hand and it felt super uncomfortable. I dropped it down and stood there, open to inspiration.

I imagined what I looked like to the people who drove by. I could picture people in their homes, watching me out their windows with a cup of tea, entertained by this guy who just couldn't figure out how to carry this stupendously clunky mattress in a hockey bag. They probably watched me like a scientist does an agitated animal test-subject trying figure out how to get food out of some jimmy-rigged experiment.

I tossed the bag over my back again. Whichever way I chose to grab the bag by the straps though, the mattress portion would hang lower and I'd fret that it would slip from the bag.

By this time, the old blue mattress had accumulated some dead grass and leaves. I was sweating with the effort and a little uncomfortable by the predicament I'd allowed myself to get in. People walked by me and looked at me with a bit of a chuckle, as they watched me struggle with my situation.

I'd basically become the human equivalent of a three-legged dog.

Finally, magically, I discovered another strap on the bottom of the bag, which was there perhaps to let the bag's owner hang it up from the top after a hockey game or something. I fit my hands between the four-inch strap and whipped the bag onto my back and slowly made my way home.

I'd have to stop every few minutes to catch my breath and massage some blood back into my fingers. On the second occasion, with the way that people were looking at me or crossing the street before they had to pass me, I got the impression that people thought I was homeless. (You should all know that I'm not the... um... sharpest dresser.) They probably had every right, too: I was standing with a dirty mattress covered in dead leaves, stuff in an old hockey while a bike with a flat tire leaned on my leg.

Self-consciously, I took out my iPod and made a show of myself searching for a song - even though the battery was dead. I put the headphones into my ears and set back off and I didn't stop once until I got home... where I bumped into the old lady 'concierge,' who said the landlord would probably replace my fridge.


P.S. Underrated cool thing about Montreal: A lot of the womens' bathrooms are identified with the word 'Dames.' I know it's French for ladies, but still, I always imagine it's 'dames' the way Capone probably said it in Chicago back in the day.