Hanging Out In the 21st Century

Friday Night Report: Hanging Out In the 21st Century

One of the questions OKCupid asks is to describe your typical Friday night. I've started using this section to report on my Friday nights.

September 19, Mississippi Malik texted me an invite to The Empress Ale House for beer and darts. The Empress is a dark public house without food service, but is equipped with two dartboards. Malik taught Beatrice and I to play "cricket", a version of darts that calls for an interesting scoring strategy as well as the usual eye\hand coordination.

Earlier that morning I posted Posts With Rodents in the Title about the surprise Wednesday night discovery that both Malik and I know Shayla Huber. And I sent Shayla a link to the story. As the three of us at the Empress took turns pitching darts, opening and closing the scoring, and sipping pints, Malik and I texted Shayla in Rankin Inlet on each of our cell phones.

A night out is more than the sights and sound of where you are and who you're with. It is the thoughts that stay with you afterwards. Reminiscing on our evening this morning, it almost feels like Shayla was out with us.

Posts With Rodents in the Title

According to Google Search, Sam Gunsch* and Shayla Huber* appear in The Ephemeral Tourist precisely one time each. Sam’s count is not correct because I’ve written about too many poker games for him to appear only in Groundhog Weekend, but I must have given him an inappropriate blog-fake name which I cannot remember. Shayla appears in The Squirrel Wars, and it is strangely synchronistic that these separate posts both refer to rodents in their titles.

Email records do not go back far enough, but I reckon that it was 1997 when my office manager at the Alberta Environmental Network advised me that he had successfully filled our summer student position. Sam treated the news with an odd ominousness, as though he had hired someone I knew and did not like. I asked him if he had hired an ex-girlfriend of mine.

He hadn’t, but he was concerned that he had hired someone who reminded him of Anna Nicole Smith and he was concerned that in doing so he had inadvertently created a work environment that would be too difficult for me to work in. I assured him that I was sure I could handle it.

Shayla did not remind me of Anna Nicole Smith, though she was attractive and blonde and I did develop a crush on her over the course of the summer. I have no memory of the project she worked on. Only that she had a white and blue travel mug branded for the environmental club she had helped found at Concordia College, that she intervened for the squirrel’s life as depicted in The Squirrel Wars, and that we sort of hung out together at the end-of-the-summer party at Tim Hobbema’s family farm where the biggest bonfire I have ever seen in my life lit up the night. When the flames burned down Shayla and I discussed the possibility of us running through the fire together unscathed.

Since that night, I have seen Shayla Huber only one other time - two or three years later - at a chance meeting in West Edmonton Mall. She had just completed a summer landscaping and was as tanned as a swimsuit model.

Ten years later, Shayla must have Google searched herself and found her mention in this blog. Prior to the invention of FaceBook, my strategy for making connections with lost acquaintences was to use their real names in a blog post in hopes that Google Search might one day direct them here. Sometimes it worked!

Edmonton BeerGeeks Anonymous is an association of home brewers and beer fans who meet monthly and convene social events to share information and celebrate the apparently growing practice of making your own craft beer. Over the summer they hosted the beer equivalent of a pot-luck party somewhere in Ritchie, and they have convened five beer-tasting events aboard the High Level Bridge Streetcar, the last of which was last night.

Mississippi Malik received two tickets to the final High Level Streetcar event for his birthday - from Beatrice Cassidy is my guess. I imagine that they both had forgotten about them as Beatrice had made a date to meet with another of my favourited OKCupid prospects for that evening, and Malik texted me on short notice asked if I wanted to join him on the streetcar.

At 7pm sharp, the Edmonton Radial Railway Society's antique Australian streetcar rumbled west from Old Strathcona towards the High Level Bridge. The rail lines it uses run through the neighborhoods on the south escarpment of the North Saskatchewan River ~ my old stomping grounds when the focal point of the south side environmental groups was the Environmental Resource Centre.

"That house there," I said to Malik as the streetcar rumbled past Lyin' Pete Theodore's house, "that's where the crooked first contractor we hired to build our house lived. When we sued him we learned that title to the house is in the names of his wife and his dead father. That fact always suggested premeditation to me," I added.

"Across the street from Lyin' Pete Theodore's house was the old Environmental Resource Centre where I used to work when I was with the Alberta Environmental Network." Malik made a comment that he didn't expect this would turn out to be a guided tour of my personal history.

"That house there," I continued, "That's where Mark Twitchell - the guy who was inspired by the Dexter t.v. series - killed that guy he lured to the garage."

"If you go south on 105th street," I added, "You'll get to the south side Rosie's Restaurant where Donald Smart was a dishwasher. He's that guy that killed Jo-Ann Dickson and stuffed her torso in a suitcase." I was about to add that I once worked at the Alberta Environmental Network with this girl, Shayla Huber, who had gone to school with Donald Smart and she had wondered if the bullying he'd suffered at school as a scorned pre-vocational student had anything to do with his crime, but at that moment the streetcar entered the Duggan Street Tunnel and we were plunged into a distracting darkness.

Eventually the Australian streetcar stood perched in the middle of the top of Edmonton's High Level Bridge. BeerGeeks filled cups of Ribstone Creek Lager and passed them around. We drank our samples. Malik discussed the volumes of beer he has brewed with Ribstone Creek Staff. And we all watched the sun set from one of the best vantage points in the city.

At one point, Malik said something that I only caught the latter half of. It sounded like, "... something something Shayla Huber in Rankin Inlet."

"Wait a sec," I halted. "Did you say 'Shayla in Rankin Inlet'?"

"Oh hey, yea," Malik replied, "That's right; I saw your comment on that on her FaceBook page. That was kind of weird..."

"How do you know Shayla Huber?" I asked. It turned out that Mississippi Malik and Shayla Huber attended school together, dated for a while in the early '90s, and still see each other from time to time when he is passing through her part of British Columbia.

That was a funny thing.

The Divine Comedy

Lori White and her partner, Robert, used to run a used bookstore in Belgravia, next door to Beaver Flats Pottery until the wife of the building's owner decided she wanted to run a hobby restaurant. The bookstore was shut down and Lori and Robert took to taking literary odd-jobs, and selling books during the summer from their garage. Hannah and I rode over last weekend to check out one of their last garage sales of the season.

It's kind of odd to think of it: that until last weekend, I actually did not own a copy of Dante Aligheri's The Divine Comedy. But now I do; a fine, gilded paged volume, bound in embossed green leather. It is one of the finest books I own.

The Divine Comedy

In the course of buying the book, my trip to Florence last year came up in conversation and I mentioned that I had visited Dante's house, which intrigued and excited them, Lori in particular. I reported on the range of museum-type displays the building now housed, ranging from 13th century Florentine architecture, to Dante's guild and political affiliations, to a rock-collection of all the minerals that appear in The Divine Comedy.

"There was also a display on the life of Beatrice Portinari," I added, and expounded on my understanding of the relationship between Dante and Beatrice; that they first met when he was nine years old and she was eight, and then they did not see each other again until they were 18. Dante was so stricken with love for Beatrice that he couldn't actually speak to her. In fact, after this meeting, according to the prosimetrum, La Vita Nuova, Dante fled back to his apartment where in a fitful sleep, he had a vision of Jesus Christ appearing in the room, holding Beatrice ~ wearing only a drape of red silk ~ in his arms. In Christ's right hand, he held an object - Dante's heart.

I thought he awakened the sleeping woman;
and he made such efforts of mind
that he caused her to eat that object
which was burning in his hand,
which she ate hesitantly.

Furthermore, they only spoke twice before Beatrice died at 24. Dante consoled himself by writing The Divine Comedy wherein she appears as an angel.

"It sounds like he was mentally ill to me," Robert remarked.

Summer, Highland Falls

The last time Diane Fairchild and I went for dinner was August 5th to the Boualoung Thai restaurant in Chinatown. Last night was Formoso's pizzaria on Whyte Avenue ~ my favourite pizza joint, I'd say.

It being the last night of the 2014 Edmonton Fringe Festival, we talked about shows she had seen this year. It being Diane and I, we talked about our respective love-lives. On her side, we are trying to decode the behaviour of Colin. On my side, we are trying to decode myself.

Maybe the question I should be considering is: how much euphoria should I have?

I expect that I will have to feel much worse before I start to feel better.


The Rocky Path

But that is Mother Nature’s cruel hoax. She doesn’t really care either way whether you are unhappy — she just wants you to want to pass on your genetic material. If you conflate intergenerational survival with well-being, that’s your problem, not nature’s.

Arthur Brooks, American Enterprise Institute

I'm on a rocky path.

When I was first married, there were a few surprises. One was how being married was so unlike having a girlfriend. When I was single, I imagined that being married would be pretty much the same as having a girlfriend, just all the time. I was surprise to discover that it was only like having a girlfriend in the sense that a woman was involved. In almost every other way, it was like becoming a family of two.

The other thing that surprised me was that my single male angst disappeared. That might strike you as unsurprising, assuming that you had previously considered single male angst to be a thing. For the whole time I was single, I didn't know single male angst existed. Because it was a part of the only condition I had ever known, it was normal to me. And it wasn't until I was married and that the chronic feeling of insecurity vanished, like a life-long white noise or tinnitus buzzing in your ears that you only realized you were hearing after it disappeared, did I come to know how I had always felt.

It explained to me why women complain that all the good men are either gay or married. It is because gay/married men are not suffering from some version of the chronic relational uncertainty that some men feel with every woman that they know. I mentioned this observation to a male colleague of mine one day. "It's because you always know where you're sleeping at night," he said to me. I think of it as a bright line. When I know where the line is I can confidently play right up to the edge of it. In the absence of a line, I never know how far is too far, or not far enough.

My rocky path is re-greeting my single male angst and re-learning to live with it. I feel psychologically single again and it doesn't feel good. It's a raw feeling. Like my nerves are being bombarded with ultra-violet radiation. Or like the last molecules of oxytocin have been cleansed from my system.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable," is one of the imperatives of being a Navy SEAL. And I suspect that I have to do the same to cope with this rocky path I'm embarking upon.

Things I Don't Think About 2

Beatrice once sent me a paper reporting that computer scientists had succeed, for a time period measured in a fraction of a second, in creating artificial space-time. This innovation indicates that, once sufficient memory and computational power is achieved, we will be able to recreate the universe inside a computer.

It also introduces the possibility that we might already be living inside a computer-generated universe which is fooling us all in believing that it is only 2014. The structure of that tiny bit of artificial space time has given computer scientists a clue about what to look for in our universe to determine if what we take to be reality is really real or not.

I sometimes think that I exist in a metaphorical artificial space-time that does not include the all aspects of reality. In my last post, I mentioned how I have no way of knowing what its like to be a man because I have only ever been one and can't describe what it is like. So much of existence is fundamentally unknowable like that. Not only can I not know what it is like to be a woman, I can't know what it's like to be a particular woman.

"It must feel normal," I once said aloud, in response to nothing. I had been thinking about this point in the presence of a beautiful woman and just spoke out loud.

"What does?" she asked.

"I was wondering what it must feel like to be as beautiful as you and reckoned that it must feel normal to you. It must feel pretty much the same as what being me feels like to me. It's just... normal."

"You're crazy, man," she said.
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Things I Don't Think About 1

I have been thinking about a post about #notallmen, but I can't write about it because I don't actually know what #notallmen is about. Based on some of my Facebook friend's posts, I have a set of very detailed assumptions about what it is about, but I have yet to actually consult anything primary regarding the concept. 

Like many commenters, I re-started thinking about how men objectify women following the shootings by Elliot Rodger in Santa Barbara. My thinking has been strongly influenced by Ken Wilbur's book A Brief History of Everything which introduced me to the field evolutionary psychology (EP); the study of the effects of biological evolution on psychological traits.  EP explores how our biology, shaped by evolutionary pressures (natural selection), manifests itself in certain psychological ways. 

For example, offspring of attentive females tended to survive while babies born to neglectful women did not. The hormone oxytocin fosters both the emotions and the behaviors associated with bonding and relationships. High concentrations of oxytocin with its driving message, "bond with it", has been adaptive since the orgins of our species and remains so in contemporary culture. 

Another behavioral hormone is testosterone. Unlike oxytocin's driving message, "bond with it", testosterone has a binary program: fuck it/kill it. 

At first blush, "fuck it/kill it" seems fundamentally maladaptive. But if you consider the male dating environment 70,000 years ago it can seem a little more sensible. A 20-something male with a probable 30 year life span was lucky to catch a glimpse of a viable female, and even then, she would likely be under the guardianship of another male. If you were going to keep your genes moving forward in time, you would have to act fast. Desire the female enough to risk life and limb, fight her guardian to win, mate. Killing the gatekeeper to your having sex was evolutionarily beneficial some time ago, but circumstances have changed.

For one, the gatekeeper is no longer a separate, other man. This convergence probably causes at least some short-circuitry in hormone-based thinking. 

This isn't in any way an apology or justification for the Elliot Rodgers and anti-feminists of the world. I'm actually not sure what my point is, exactly.

I have been thinking about the idea that there are things that I do not think about; that there are things that I am almost incapable of thinking about because they are beyond the domain of my imagination.

Wilbur calls existing with testosterone "a biological nightmare" which women can barely imagine, except for those who are injected with it for medical purposes; one of whom begged, "please, can't you make it stop?"

No one knows what it's like to be a man. Women don't know because they are not men. Men don't know because it is the only existence they do know and, hence, have nothing to compare it to. No one knows what it is like.  



Hannibal, Episode 13

I have over due stories; blog posts that I haul around in my mind and intend to write as soon as I get home, but after cooking and cleaning and unwinding a bit, all I do is unwind all the way and crash.

One story is about the Episode 13 of NBC's Hannibal television series.

June 5th was Mississippi Malik's birthday and Beatrice Cassidy Adams was burning up my Blackberry on the afternoon of Saturday, June 7 urging me to come over to Malik's place for BBQ and drinks to belatedly observe the occasion. However, it was also the same afternoon I'd driven home from Calgary via Ponoka after having observed the 20th anniversary of the Clean Air Strategic Alliance and the 34th annual general meeting of the Alberta Environmental Network respectively. In other words, I was too tired.

Beatrice's SMS dialogue touched on several points why I should ignore my fatigue and come over anyways; one of which was that Malik was watching Hannibal on Netflix, and as I had regularly complained that no one else I knew seemed to be watching the show, I could do so with him and discuss it.

My counter proposal was that I had recently purchased a bottle of

and that the following weekend, they should come over to St. Mark's and we'll drink lowland scotch whisky and watch whichever episode of Hannibal Malik was ready for next. Beatrice reluctantly accepted the proposition.

Later in the week I was on GoogleChat with the two of them confirming the invitation.

"We need to cook some fancy food with it," Malik noted. We met up the following evening at the Craft Brewery to plan. At Craft, we decided that the entree Hannibal Lecter served in Episode 6, clay-roasted thigh, would be the basis of our menu, though we'd likely use pork instead of Eddie Izzard. I was assigned the appetizer of prosciutto roses and watermelon, Malik would handle the main course, and Beatrice was responsible for a vegetable and "some dessert with meat in it."

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Terry of the Turkey Floor

Terry Leon lives in the bachelor's suite across the hall from mine on the second floor of Gallagher House. He works night shifts at Edmonton's Lillydale factory, but on the turkey-floor he tells me. "We don't do chickens in Edmonton."

Terry is a sports fan. He loves sports. His holidays this year consisted of taking two weeks off to stay at Gallagher House in his narrow bachelor's suite with its short-bookshelves and beach towels hanging over the windows and power bars criss-crossing the floor, to watch all of the Sochi Olympics at odd hours of the day.

And hockey? Well, don't get him started on that.

"Do you like sports?" he asked me shortly after introducing himself. It might have been the third thing that he asked me. The tone of his voice made it pretty clear what he wanted my answer to be.

"Mmm," I hummed through pursed lips. "No. No, I can't say that I do."

"How about games?" he asked.

"I play poker," I offered brightly. Gambling did not seem to appeal to him.


"No, I actually don't like crib very much."

"Do you play chess?"


"But you know *how* to play chess?" he added, somewhat rhetorically. "You know how the pieces move?" I do know that much, I had to admit, and Terry immediately volunteered to buy a chess set after work the next day.

"Okay," I said. "But I don't have time to actually sit down to play full games." I proposed that we set the board up on a small table in the the hallway between our suites. I made a small card with my name on one side and Terry's name on the other. "We'll take our turns at our convenience, and then flip this card to indicated whose turn it is next."

In this way, I have been playing chess constantly since I moved to St. Mark's at Gallagher House at the beginning of February. Normally, I make two moves per day: one as I'm leaving for work in the morning, and another when I come home in the evening.
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Working in the Space Between Stimulus and Response

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Viktor E. Frankl

This quote appeared in my Facebook feed today and appeals to my current excogitation. I've been thinking about my emotional management for a few months now ~ questioning the wisdom of the elevation I've provided them. I've been wondering if I'm not treating them with too much importance.

When Hannah was having coping problems in the early years of our marriage, I would reference [John Hiller, I think. Will check] who argued that as long as our culture exalts being comfortable and anxiety-free as life's highest purpose, our society will be plagued with addictions, depression, and related problems.

"Is there anything in your life," I would ask Hannah, "that is more important than how you feel?" Serving something greater than one's self is not only a virtue, but it creates a reason to tolerate discomfort and anxiety and work through them.

I have a greater liberty now to indulge my emotions than many people I think. Indeed, I sense that I have the same liberty to indulge them as any comfortably retired person. The number of things that are more important than how I feel seems to becoming fewer. And I sense that I am becoming less stable as a result of it.

When the thought of a task displeases me, I procrastinate. The thought of the task is the stimulus, and I seem to surrender to the response: avoid it. Delay it.

This is of my own design, of course. Or rather, this is my own default. I am the one who links cognitive content to the emotional response to create these things called values. This work occurs in Viktor Frankl's space.

I need to find the mental connection between the task at hand, and something that is more important than how I feel.

Last night was the fourth semi-annual scotch whiskey tasting night on the 74th Avenue Crescent. Hosted by Robin Cleator and Ken Bond, it was a congregation of gentlemen and an equal number of speyside scotch whiskeys, some of which were astonishingly smooth. Dangerously smooth, even. I fear the time that Beatrice, Malik, and I are left alone with a bottle of

for that will be an unpredictable night. (I like that Brian Cox is the Youtube tutor of Scottish pronunciations. He continues to be my favourite Hannibal Lecter.)