Monday, November 19, 2007

Life is like a...Tim Horton's coffee?

It's the end of the world as we know it.

The Globe and Mail says it's true, and as we all know, the Globe's writers never lie. So here it is. My life boiled down to a simple coffee order:

According to the inestimable Sarah Hampson, I am a single-single, and there's a lot I better get a move on doing, because apparently, single-single people share a lot of traits I don't seem to possess. I am letting down the single-single side.

All those decades I spent trying to develop some complexity, all the hobbies and quirky interests that just came naturally, all the work, the travel, the writing - all for naught. Apparently, if I could just be a single-single in Toronto, centre of the universe, cultural capital of the world, if I could just get my bloody act together, dammit, I too could be a single-single - properly conforming to the Globe's endless expectations of me.

Or more accurately, lack of expectations, since being single-single is, apparently, a fate worse than death. Thanks for rubbing that in. I'll be sure to get over my general satisfaction with life and be a total downer any day now.

A single-single, according to Ms. Hampson's article, is a person who lives alone and is not romantically involved with anyone. We may be divorced, widowed, or never married. We also: avoid cooking from scratch; buy frozen, not fresh, vegetables; live in dark, empty places; and lack interest in our own hygiene, paddling as we do about our homes all day in our PJs without brushing our teeth, because "no one cares". Apparently, in my newly-defined single-single universe, I no longer count for anything myself, and the simple fact that I like my teeth clean is abberant and noteworthy. Great. I'm sensing a chicken and egg dichotomy in the whole single-single analysis here, but perhaps that's a topic for another post, another time.

Oh. And another thing? We're "desperate to marry", which is certainly news to me.

BUT, and there's always a BUT, if I can embrace my inner single-single, I may paradoxically open myself up to becoming a double-double, since it isn't until I make the most of being single that I can attract the man of my dreams.

Which kind of goes against embracing the single-singlehood, but I digress.

Of course, the simple fact that people are slightly more complicated on the whole than a coffee order seems to be totally irrelevant to the Globe's central thesis, which is, wait for it, you're a sad, lonely, pathetic nothing without a mate.

I swear I heard my mother's voice in that last paragraph.

The fact that some of us genuinely like coming home to our own homes, and cooking for ourselves, and generally being the author of our own fortunes, whatever they may be, doesn't seem to count for much of anything in the Globe's Torontowalla universe. Which says more about it, I think, than it does about me.

And the teensy fact that, for most of my adult life, I have lived alone quite happily (not unlike the only childhood before it) would only confuse the issue. And we couldn't possibly confuse the issue, because then the little boxes wouldn't fit, and it would be all horribly inconvenient for the writer trying to build a neat little coffee-based theory of human relationships, instead of, you know, living their lives and letting the rest of us live ours. And what would the Globe run on the lifestyles page then?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Hey, let's send the kids to China!

The grocery store I frequent is a not-for-profit cooperative that does a lot for the community, unlike the big box stores that would be my alternative. In fact, barely a week goes by when I am attempting to stuff all of the week's purchases into my backpack that I am not approached by some earnest young teenager wearing an oversized jersey of some sort, asking if I'd like help bagging my groceries. The implicit request is really, and will you cough up a fiver for the sports team/social agency/other useful endeavour we are fundraising for this Saturday?

This is a stealth attack. The Co-op also lets groups wash cars in the parking lot as soon as the ice is off the road, but at least I have a choice of whether or not I line up to have my car washed. I don't have the same luxury when it comes to paying for my groceries. If I fail to line up, I expect I would be arrested for trying to steal my food. That would pose a bit of a problem, given my line of work.

And so I have to explain to the earnest young teenager that no, I don't need any help thanks, because everything I buy will fit in this one convenient bag I have brought along with me, and I don't need any more plastic in my life. I am then subjected to either the pouty, "but we need the money" look, or the "yeah, whatever" turn away. When this first started happening, I succumbed to the guilt and would usually slip at least a twoonie into the contributions jar even though the teens had done absolutely nothing to earn it. To this day, I will still, on occasion, slip a five or even a ten into the jar, particularly if the kids are fundraising for something I feel is relevant, like SADD. But I've gotten over the guilt of stiffing the kids for things they don't particularly need. Best they learn to deal with disappointment sometime, and there really is no time like the present.

This afternoon was a particularly sharp example of things I will not fund with my hard-earned dollars. The teenagers were raising money for a school trip to China. I am willing to entertain the idea that I am just jealous. It's quite possible, and I won't be ashamed to admit it. I've been a relatively hard-working and productive member of the work force for about 25 years, but I have never been to China. My luggage has been to China (thank you, Air Canada!) but I have not.

Growing up in Montreal in the 1970s, a school field trip was a VERY BIG DEAL. We would sell boxes of oranges, and chocolates, door to door, and after weeks of slogging around in the slush and cold (because field trip fundraising never happened in good weather), we would then resort to what kids usually do when they want something badly enough and haven't moved enough perishables to foot the bill - we hit our parents up for the money. And after all of this, where did we go?

We got our collective asses on a bus for a two-hour ride to Ottawa. For the day. And then we rode back in the dark.

Now, while we were in Ottawa we'd do interesting things, like visit Parliament Hill, or the National Gallery, or the Museum of Civilization. The content of our trip was usually directly tethered to something we were learning about in history class, and we could count on having to pay attention, because something from the trip would eventually wind up on a test.

Last year, the local high schoolers were everywhere for months, washing cars, bagging groceries, and my favorite, cleaning trash from the sides of the highway, to raise money for a trip to Vimy Ridge. In my curmudgeonly judgment, I was willing to help them along on this trip, because they had timed the trip to coincide with the 90th anniversary of what might be the most significant battle in the history of this nation. The fact I have been to France never entered into my calculus of the situation.

However, no one today was able to explain to me why 14-year-olds have to go to China, and as a result, my money stayed firmly in my pocket. I appreciate that China will be the dominant power of this century, and perhaps the next, and I recognize that I learned practically nothing about any part of Asia in school, and as a result, I remain woefully ignorant of a sizeable section of the globe. But, considering the cost of going to Edmonton from here, is it really realistic to think an entire class of kids will be able to raise enough money to go literally to the other side of the planet? And why are they going? Shouldn't you have to have an incredibly good, and totally articulable, reason to spend a semester fundraising (when you could be studying, or reading) only to then take a couple of weeks off of school to go on this radical field trip?

I don't think it is totally unreasonable of me to expect someone who wants my money to at least be able to tell me why they are going on this trip. It would be extra nice if they could also tell me what they hope to get out of it, but they should at least know why they are doing something. If only to part me from my money.