Friday, April 10, 2009

Map[Quest for Fire]fox

Last week, I got fed up with never being able to answer the geography questions in crosswords, broke down, and bought an atlas. Honestly, this may be the best thing I've ever done for myself. University and living on my own are okay, I guess, but knowing where Aruba is? Amazing.

Seriously, I am a map geek. Transit maps are my one true love, which has led, in the past, to purchases like this book, which I found at the MTA's Transit Museum. (Mecca!) That book, with its complete compendium of subway maps and unabashed cartographic nerdery, is like soul food. But nerd cannot live on transit map alone: I have happily perused city street maps in the Yellow Pages as a way to kill time, and I've had a blast looking at bike maps, highway maps, Mapquest, and the You Are Here signs in malls. I'm not picky. I'm incredibly dorky, but picky I'm not.

Even if that journey is only navigating from my house to the Costco on the Queensway, maps are an incredibly succinct and well-designed infomation tool. Instead of all that "head east, turn right, blah blah blah" nonsense that infects giving directions, maps are all, "Here, just follow this line. I'll get you there. Don't sweat it." Very reassuring. And as a person who will forget whose number I've dialled as the phone is ringing, verbal directions tend run a swift course: in one know the rest.

Besides, we've all seen that map where people have plotted where they've gone, or where they've moved from. It's delightful; I feel like I know so much more about a person if I know that they spend time in Amsterdam. Or Israel. Or Brazil. That's ridiculous, of course, but it's the same phenomenon that makes a guy go from average to scorching hot as soon as he reveals an accent. We love stories, and studding your map with I've-been-here pins implies you've got a bunch.

I'm looking forward to the day when I get to add some pins to my own map. I was relatively well-travelled as a small child: trips to Japan and Hong Kong aren't totally common in the 5-to-7 year old category. Since then, though, I've stuck to North America, and it's a shame. I've never seen the Eiffel Tower, or Nile Delta in full desert bloom, or the Andes. But I'd like to.

So, yeah: maps are a promise, too, not just a tool. (Ha: tool.) And by the way, without even having to refer back to the atlas? Aruba's just north of Venezuela. Apparently, it's owned by The Netherlands. Yeah, I'm that good. Suck on that, Matt Jones.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I'm So Hungry I Could Eat A Horse

If it wasn't for the sheer tastiness of aged cheddar, steak, yogurt, honey, ribs, poutine, sushi, shui mai, goat cheese, pork chops, lasagna, calamari, milk chocolate, and Kraft Dinner (what? It's delicious), I could totally be a vegan.

But, seeing as how I enjoy eating all those things, I really don't think veganism is in the cards. Now, I'm not like my friend Dan, who eats one vegetable (peas) and otherwise survives on pepperoni pizza, pepperettes, potatoes, and pasta. It's actually just dawned on me that Dan might be playing an elaborate joke on the rest of us by claiming not to eat vegetables. The truth is, he doesn't eat foods that don't being with the letter P. Huh. Tricky, Dan! Very tricky! I'll bring you a plum or a pear and test my theory.

Okay, enough of that sidebar; back to the vegans. I am all for harm reduction and conscious eating. This is the same reason I don't eat cat-kebabs: I'm conscious of the fact that it's gross. By the same token, so is pea soup. And Clamato. See? It's possible to say, "I choose not to eat things based on the fact that I think they're yucky, and not as some part of some elaborate lecture to the rest of you." It's easy. If someone made me pea soup, however, I would eat it. I'm polite. If someone made me a cat-kebab, I would...question my relationship with that person. But I think my point has been made.

Vegan feels like a scold and a fad. It seems to be one of those early-twenties tricks that the whole going-to-India demographic pulls, like, you know, going to India or wwoofing. Snore. I prefer to have my self-consciousness raised in a way that doesn't insult the hostess as I systematically reject the entire dinner-party menu. "Is there butter in that? Because I can't really eat butter and HYUCK!," that last part being where I use my fighting skills to render them incapable of speech and further douchebaggery. (Special move? Spatula attack.)

Vegans: you can, in fact, eat butter. You can also eat sushi, and pork chops, and delicious Kraft Dinner. You choose not to. So when someone is cooking for you, don't be a prick. Eat the damned soup, even if it's made with chicken broth. Will you die if you eat an egg? If you won't up and die, just eat the damn egg. Stop telling me how good Fresh is (it's not, seriously). Knock it off with the lectures about reducing impact and footprints as you jangle your car keys at me. Or, worse, wave your Air India boarding pass in my face. I hate hypocrisy, especially coupled with the earnest humorlessness that hippies, wwoofers, and vegans often specialize in.

I'm not going to feed you cheese or honey or chicken breast. In fact, I'm not going to feed you at all. It stresses me out too much to be that focused on food. Vegans are often hospitable and lovely to be around, but seriously, dudes, I can't have The Vegan Talk anymore. So let's just call it a day with that, okay? Fellas? Ladies? No more talking about Nayonaise or factory farms. Let's keep the kitchen out of the living room from now on.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Parley Usted Englais?

I've noticed a disturbing trend in the last half-dozen or so books I've read. No, it's not anything Flowers In The Attic-y or anything. I've been bumping up against a bunch of Spanish in these books (Blood Meridian and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, specifically), and have left these tomes epically confused.

I speak passable French. By "passable" I mean I can order hot dogs by asking for "les chiens chauds" instead of "les hot dogs," but philosophical discussions or punning is beyond my grasp. But Spanish is totally Fifth-Dimension to my white-girl ears. It has been helpful to me in the recent past, as my apartment is infested with raccoons who are (allegedly) afraid of foreign languages, so I've been yelling Bolivian place names at the skittery walls, but conversationally, I am 100% Spanish busted.

So finding important dialogue being conducted in, you know, a foreign language, was a little disconcerting. It wasn't a sprinkling of words here and there, either; it was the more difficult-to-Google words like "bitchslap" and entire chunks of dialogue that exposited the action for the next ten pages. No footnotes. No glossary. No nothin'. Totally left in the cold.

The whole thing made me wonder about how I would fare in a foreign land (ooh...Puerto Rico!), and by extension, how the recently arrived cope here. For all our "multiculturalism," the official language of Toronto seems to be English, with a large Mandarin epicenter. We don't get exposed to tons of Hindi, or Arabic, or Spanish, or even French, that "official" Canadian language of ours. We have pockets of people who can talk gorgeously to each other and brokenly to bank tellers, and not a lot of overlap.

Reading these books gave me a tiny, safe taste of what that would be like: scared that I'm missing something important, but also thrilled at the snippets that I do comprehend. It also made me wonder about how fast I could grab at a new language; how fast any of us could, really. Scarily, it's probably not as fast we would like, chiens-chauds notwithstanding.

I have to give a shoutout to Junot Diaz, however, who is a) a fantastic scribe and b) taught me me, through his book, how to tell people they're goddammed drunks ("Usted es una maldita borracha!" or something like that), which is sure to come in handy in Cancun. Thanks, Junot; we should run away to deepest Quebec together, practicing our French as we go. The same can be said for Cormac McCarthy, although his book is much heavier on the "terrifying violence" and I feel that he would be more useful doing a play-by-play of Ășltimo combatiente tournaments. To each his own, I guess. Or, "los perros ladran, la caravana pasa, conjeturo."

Monday, April 6, 2009

Dude Hair

I'm not going to lie: a good head of hair is important to women. Not our own - although, Jesus, if Cosmo has taught me anything, a woman's hair is second only to nuclear war in the category of "Things that can really ruin your day" - but men's hair.

Some women prefer the long, flowing locks of Fabio but these women are insane. Long hair on men is unequivocally gross. Anything past the ears is too long. I recognize that trips to the barber are a chore, but dude hair that is unkempt and scraggly is just so gross. Also terrible is the coiffed long-haired dude. You know: the guy who goes to a salon and wears "product," has "movement" and makes me "want to die."

Real women know that a shorter 'do is best. Not the skinhead thing; it's a rare guy who works that. GQ points out it's mostly just a beacon that says "I AM LOSING MY HAIR" louder than any horseshoe shape ever would. Besides, if you have hair, and you're going bald...why rush it? You'll get there soon enough. (Sucker.)

So, not too long, not too short...and then there's the greatest stumbling block of all.

Facial hair. God, I love beards. There are as many ways to wear facial hair as there are men, but so many (SO MANY!) men fuck it up. I will dispense with the point-by-point breakdown of what's good and what's stupid. Let me just say this: if you have created this monstrosity for yourself, you need professional help. Not just with your beard, either. You need help with your whole damned life.

Myself, I'm a big fan of the indie beard. A little kept, well past pubescent, not overly sculpted, and definitely not hanging down into a sweater. No wax or pomade necessary. Just regular, standard-issue Beard. Rocking a solo mustache is for dads (Hi Dad!) and the goatee is tricky unless you're playing baseball for the Mariners. Beards are the Alpha and Omega of facial hair. Respect must be given. No weird scraggly bits or elaborate hair-cliffs that jut out from the face. Just straight, 100%, unadulterated Beard.

Oh, and a note to those who are graying: if you aren't regularly waking up behind a 7-11 with angel dust all down the front of your shirt, your youthful under-40 face will offset the gray. It makes a man seem distinguished; for those who are barely into their adult years, they add an air of worldliness that can be invaluable in women-dating and job-getting. Embrace it! And don't try to offset your new manliness by growing a mustache that wraps around your nipples.

I can't believe someone actually did that. Clearly, not enough people are reading this thing.