Cynicism Suspended

travel & adventure

She is perfection. She might be called a socialite, but that title seems to defame her. True, she is a person fond of social activities and entertainment. Yet this is but a segment of her appeal. That she may be in high demand within all of her social circles speaks only to an unmistakbake radiance, unmissed and unseen – her very own radioactivity. For there is a potency and intangible danger about her, but danger in only the best radical sense of the word. She is an earthquake waiting to happen, but one that can only knock humanity into its own betterment.

She is a woman, perhaps the woman – self-assured, sexy, and brilliant. She’s got everything she needs, she’s a scholar, she don’t look back. She never stumbles, she’s got no place to fall. Her intelligence commands the respect of every room she walks into, not by decree but by coversation. She is a maven of many things relevant and intriguing, the sharpest knife in the Crillon kitchen. Her contemplative silence is more interesting than the last ten thousand words I’ve spoken.

She is self-assured to the nth degree. She knows what she wants and is even more certain about what she thinks – challenge her at your peril. Rare is an existence that flows from its own enjoyment and conviction; rarer still is a life this aplomb; and it is more likely to win the lottery than to find such an existence and such a life complemented by a mind so incisive. She has a presence in any event that is at once carefree and inexorable – it cannot be ignored, though nobody would dare try to. The upright manner with which she carries herself is arresting in its own right.

She is gorgeous from the inside out. Her intellect is astounding and her ebullience incomparable. Her exterior seamlessly mirrors the brilliance within. Her disposition is unobtrusively advertised by every adventure beyond her domicile. Her look is informed only by that which she approves of and relishes in – high, low, and the rest of society be damned. And every day the world nods in approval to the point of whiplash.

She is irrepressably jovial. We have embarked on many a misadventure together, forged many a misplaced memory, and fought over the ownership of at least one hamburger. We are adept role players in some of each other’s fondly-held recollections. She has never shied away from drink. And to drink with her is to immerse and join in her joviality. She benefits from the fact that the positivity she embodies is only amplified by intoxicating liquors. Her radiance and enthusiasm is simply made blinding, if it was not already found at such a state.

In the meantime she forges on to an M.Sc. almost as a matter of course. Medicine was her calling from a young age. She is not so much suited to the program as it is suited to her – surely it is honoured to count her among its ranks. She will be unable to do anything less than excell on her chosen career path, imbuing everyone around her with an unassailable espirit de corps.

All this, while being profoundly genuine and solicitous. She is the everywoman – if every woman were effortlessly magnificnet. She seems to hold the same hopes and dreams and desires that you do, or that you wished you might. If humanity possessed all of her qualities there could be no conflict, no war, no despondency, no suffering. The world is better for her being in it. Soo too my life, populated as it is by her incomparable authenticty.

Accidental Charity

travel & adventure

You know, it’s funny what a young man recollects. It’s even funnier what he carelessly forgets. And it’s deeply enthusing how some or all of the senses attach themselves to a memory, holding out the possibility that redolence may unleash a wave of memories temporarily misplaced.

In November of 2009 and in March of the next year, I took the first of many trips to Amsterdam. I left a sizeable piece of my heart and a more substantial slice of my soul there. In the times I have been back I’ve made no attempt to retrieve these but have merely made sure that they are intact and thriving. They are indeed.

In the autumn of 2011, I purchased a green hooded sweater of the finest slave-labour quality, and it soon became one of my most favored garments (evidently the stench of the blood and tears of distant abjects had not attached itself fully enough to the material to affect me.)

In April of 2014, I vacated my apartment in Kingston, making sure that the sweater and other worthy items accompanied me. A year from that time my parental landlords in Toronto had moved house, taking the same care to leave behind nothing with or without value. Yet when I arrived on the scene the sweater was nowhere to be found. No matter, for surely it would turn up in this box or that bag eventually. I soon found this was not the case and, so certain that it had left Kingston with me, I wracked my brain for its probable location. I became increasingly perplexed as I repeatedly drew blanks – I had not a damn clue as to the fate of this sweater.

In May of 2015, I embarked on Amsterdam, Part VIII, though this was a fleeting visit. My main goal here was to procure a bicycle and head east to Apeldoorn and beyond, to the tulip fields. That adventure successfully concluded four days later with the bike returned and some hours in the city left to blaze away. At some point I was traversing the tourist trap district adjacent Centraal Station in search of some place more civil, as I had often done before. En route to civility I cut through a nondescript alleyway lined with bikes and graffiti. Despite its ordinary appearance the spot effused an unmistalably redolent charatcer that seized upon me in an instant. In short order I had a dumb smile across my face that gave way to stupid solitary laughter.

A year before this moment, nearly to the day, I had been in this very alleyway. That time I had journeyed to the Dutch capital of depravity to meet up with a good friend and his travel companions to serve as acting drug-fuelled tourguide. Their hostel was around the corner from this alleyway while mine had been beside Vondelpark to the south. One evening I had locked my bike in that alley, leaving my water bottle and one green hooded sweater attached but not secured to it.

The malcontents, thieves, and rotten bastards of the world nowithstanding, I’ve always maintained a cautious faith in the essential decency of people. I assume that the theft of items such as the ones just left would mean they had simply gotten into the hands of someone who had a more pressing need for them than I did.

Sure enough, upon my return there were to be found no items attached to my bike. Fortunately I had recourse to my ideal and brushed off the inconvenience, the items to be easily replaced. I unlocked my bike and brought it towards the opposite end of the alleyway, delighted and bewildered to find my water bottle standing at attention atop the seat of a nearby Vespa. In light of the amount of biking and smoking going on, a water container was of immeasurably greater value to me than the sweater. I happily reclaimed it and carried on.

Satisfied and unquestioning, I brought my bike out of the alley and mounted, turning left and starting south. Within a few meters I noticed to my left an ostensibly destitute man shuffling along the sidewalk draped in a recently aquired green sweater.

My ideals affirmed, I cycled on into the most pleasant Dutch summer’s eve, exceedingly amused by the whole sequence of events. As I passed the man I made sure to tell him, cheerfully and with the slightest feigned disappointment, “Hey, you stole my sweater…”



All of the below and most of the above constitute the so-called early works. They are Marx’s radical news writing without the incisiveness, Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise without the readability, Thompson’s pre-Gonzo stories without the content. As they stand many lack polish, while others lack the most basic coherence; still others are passing thoughts that piqued an intoxicated mind but in truth should never have been committed to the material world in any form.

So it goes.

Early works are often substantively unimportant writings. They only gain currency once something profound and of enduring relevance gets produced, as they mark the progression to that point. But as far as content goes their irrelevance tends to persist, and in many cases the passing of time exacerbates that irrelevance as cultural markers and idioms erode.

Ironically this keeps me writing, this knowledge that what I write now is not even worthy of judgment, and in a vacuum never will be, but that I am also one mere Gatsby away from an assortment of these musings being impressed upon the disinterested students of posterity as if they were some sort of goddamn gospel.

Thus I march on.

Dressed Right For A Beach Fight: Or, I Just Can’t Explain Why That Uncertain Feeling Is Still Here In My Brain

travel & adventure

If I had the creative capacity or sheer willpower to write a novel, it would surely be set in Brighton on a summer’s day in June, early in the month of course. It would be set amongst the tourists and tramps, the students and the hipsters, the hipster students and the student hipsters, the former hippies and contemporary pacifists, the tattooed gentlemen and body-pierced ladies of distinction, and the soon-to-be married manchild dressed as a parrot from the waist up.

What better feast for the senses than a stroll through such an environ? Commonplace shops share the street space with the most idiosyncratic and delightful storefronts as undulating waves of the most colourful cast of characters reality has to offer meander on by. Some walk with purpose, others seem lost and in a dream. One and all have come to see and be seen, to slake their thirst with a pint of local ale or a whiff of the sea breeze, or to simply to let their freak flag fly.

That all sorts find themselves drawn to this jewel of the South Coast is a gift from far, far above. God has a stoner side – a simple fact, and I dare you to proffer an objective objection. The gift given is a vibe, an essence difficult to define, even harder to tear oneself away from, and nearly impossible to find elsewhere – in Toronto, to wit, but also in the rest of Josef Camerin’s United Nationalist Kingdom.

The origin of this ineffable aura surely has its roots in the alternative history of the place, but it maintains itself through a hitherto well-maintained aversion to and evasion of development in the way a major city tends to understand the word. Most buildings in the centre are two- to four-storey constructs, be they venerable pubs, historic houses of correction, or simple places of residence. The hotels rise taller along the beachfront but are no monstrosities – rather their whitewashed facades give the coastal walk that distinctly British seaside appearance. Pure Quadrophenia, you see.

Be it the bustling Lanes or the modern-day 1920’s bar (complete with its midnight burlesque shows) this town is surely a backdrop for debauchery, adventure, and the most eccentric of encounters.

However, being located within the aforementioned United Nationalist Kingdom in the first quarter of this god-forsaken 21st century, the place is resplendent with the apparatus of conspicuous surveillance. Cameras, and perhaps drones posing as humans, are fortunate enough to have eyes on this whole scene – and from multiple angles! No doubt one need only splice together the highlights of these recordings to have footage far superior to and more entertaining than the majority of our “popular” television programs. But I digress; soon after what could very well be my final chance to ensconce myself in Brighton’s unpredictable splendour I received a most fitting sendoff.

Parallel to my most favourite stretch of the Lanes is a street I had inexplicably never stumbled upon until now. Rather than storefronts and pub patios this street seemed mostly residential, though these homefronts gave way to myriad vendors displaying their wares on collapsable tables or blankets spread over the pavement in a most inviting fashion. New and used books sat displayed, using the latter strategy, piquing my interest and – to my delighted surprise – that of more than a couple of other passers-by.

Rachel had progressed southward by now, but I made sure to peruse with a finer tooth comb the spot where I had found both an early copy of The Rum Diary and a rare Jim Morrison biography. This reassessment was interrupted by the words: “Sir, I have to show you my passport.” A tall, well-set gentleman in his late forties, with bearded chin and short-sleeve buttoned blue shirt had taken notice of my Zeppelin shirt. Here he had caught me by surprise, but it was only the beginning. Much to my astonishment, his passport  – from a country I took no note of, featuring first and last names I equally paid little attention to – proved this man’s legal middle name to be ‘Led Zeppelin.’

He went on to explain that he was on a motorcycle trip across Europe – for what else could this man possibly have been doing? He told me that before he set off he had resolved to show his passport and his back to the first individual he saw wearing a Zeppelin shirt – and now here I was, lucky Number One (apparently there are either no Zeppelin fans in Spain, or a handful of surreptitious ones.) He proceeded to unbutton his shirt and turned so that his back faced me, radiant with the Swan Song Records logo that matched my shirt – though far more detailed and permanent – and the logos of all the band members, also masterfully imprinted. This work of great detail covered his entire back. The magnitude of the work and the chance encounter through which it was revealed to me left me astonished, able to only eek out the words “Pretty impressive” as I stood marvelling at such megafandom.

The proprietor of the table next to the book blanket commented that this was just a standard Brighton event, confirming my exact thoughts. It was a scene that might look out of place anywhere but here, where the locale and surrounding instead provided the most appropriate setting for it to unfold. Based on the backstory given by the megafan this could all have unfolded anywhere our paths might have crossed. The truth is that it had to happen at this exact time and place, in the heart of Brighton.

Help, Help, I’m Being Repressed


‘Learn the rules so you know how to break them.’

These words, in this order adorn innumerable college dorm room walls, are plastered on myriad articles of adolescent clothing. The phrase constitutes the ethos of many a high-school student possessing little interest in their studies, though this type more often than not has their focus squarely on the “break the rules” segment.

Aimless defiance of societal norms and all sorts of authority, saying ‘no’ as a reflex natural as blinking dust away from the eyes is acceptable and expected – to a point. It is the default setting of most young men and likely just as many young girls, manifest in as many varieties as hairs on a Beatle’s head. 

There is nothing wrong with said behaviour, but eventually one must leave this aimless brand of defiance to the petulant children and identity-seeking teens whose domain it truly is, lest one be mistaken for either of those. At some point, ‘Learn the rules so you know how to break them’ must transform, must evolve. Indeed inexorably morph into: ‘Learn the rules so you know how to challenge them, to undermine them, to reshape them.’ Such transformation ideally takes place for all those who have embraced the original credo, though I would urge that a similar – but necessarily different – alteration in disposition take place for those rule-abiding golden children one sometimes encounters.

I place myself squarely in the Chomsky camp, in that I believe authority in each and every one of its forms bears the burden of justifying itself, rather than those under the coercion of that authority bearing the burden of demonstrably negating the legitimacy of that authority. Continuing to borrow from Chomsky, control by humans over human action and autonomy is almost always an unnatural phenomenon; therefore anyone – individual, group, or institution – claiming the right to exercise such extraordinary control must do so if and only if can be shown that here be a valid reason for doing so. If no such reason is forthcoming, that authority structure should as a matter of course crumble or be toppled and replaced.

Undoubtedly this opens up a Pandora’s Box, a debate over issues of indefinite perspectives and disagreements vis-a-vis what constitutes a “valid reason.” My only response, however inadequate, is that hashing out these varying perspectives and disagreements is far superior to not raising questions in the first place. That questioning of social arrangements is the responsibility of anyone who lives, or wishes to live, in an (ostensibly) democratic arrangement. To abdicate this responsibility is to accept existence as a follower, a sycophant, a robot.

The willingness to instigate such discussions and insistences on launching open challenges to power form the sine qua non of a truly free society. The possibility for such discussions only arises when we learn the rules so we know how to challenge them – for any legitimate challenge must be robust, convincing, and effective, and this is only possible when one starts from a point of knowledge of that which they are confronting. Far from being the purview of the mindless contrarian, proffering challenges to authority, in a learned manner, is the duty of every member of any putative democracy as well as every individual desiring a more fair and just society.

You need not ask where and when it is appropriate to speak truth to power as the answer invariably takes the form of that primordial cliche, there’s no time like the present.

Great Unexpectedations

travel & adventure

We arrived at the upstairs patio, a relatively anti-climatic scene. After all, this was the bar they call Hemingway’s – nevermind that Ernest had never nor would he ever would look favourably upon Toronto, nevermind that this bar’s patrons would balk at the invocation of his works. This bar, as I knew it, was the one that employed understatedly attractive waitresses and that, coincidentally or not, constituted a focal point in Yorkville – may its radical history rest in unattainable peace. Thus the anticipatory favourable first impression was overridden by jejune disappointment. A paltry ground-level patio gave way to a narrow staircase leading to the most standard of bars and another midsize outdoor space. The clientele would have to animate the place, steal the show, impress upon the observant’s mind. It did so in short order.

We took four-person table, awaiting one more, in the front right corner of the patio. A table of four and a proximate one of two occupied our left flank and they were deep in foreign conversation. I had been told more than once that this area was the Russian expat’s nighttime playground; earlier Rachel had casually noted that presence of many Russians near the previous bar. As I tried to eavesdrop on the nearby conversation I realized I had unwittingly wandered into the heart of the Third Plenum of the People’s Organized Crime Committee in Exile, but I pretended not to notice.

Directly in front of us a man was acting erratically. He haltingly found his way back to what had to have been his table, furtively downed some of his beer, and made off. He returned in the same unorthodox manner – seemingly on the run yet unexpectedly comfortable. He looked a man out of place here: anxious and uncertain and wiping off sweat, possibly the victim of one too many uppers. It was only a matter of time before he approached our table.

He led with a singular focus: my polo shirt. As per his introduction, he owned many of the finest designer shirts that contemporary slave labour could produce, but my plain white shirt with the denim collar piqued his interest. In an unwitting exchange I told him where he might find a similar one and he told us his life story, mercifully abbreviated. He was Serbian by birth – not surprising given we were in a shadow Soviet sphere – but came from a diplomatic family, thus speaking several languages while annually severing his ties with his friends, their names and faces lost to inexorable time. Against all preconceptions he was one of the most pleasant and interesting individuals I have spent less than five minutes in one-sided conversation with.

Our much-awaited charge then arrived, the volume of his arrival beguiling me, for surely he was a man drunk. That he was stone-cold sober confused me, but his prompt order of a pint of Steam Whistle –  in addition to the one we had waiting for him – coupled with his coy advocacy of tequila endeared him to me immediately. A lawyer by trade but a drinker at heart, there was no question that he was my people. We discussed the merits of a civil dispute over a parrot, and I promised to buy him a beer after he was released from the contempt of court in which he assured us he would soon find himself held. We quoted obscure sports coach’s tirades, swapped stories of rule-breaking conducted under the radar, bonded over our appreciation of strong beer in excessive quantities. He even procured for himself and me a couple of drinks a mere fifteen seconds before last call – though the accommodating nature of this inconspicuous bar likely played a role.

We kicked around some interesting topics, and some surely anathema to the Cause-No-Offence Universities we were familiar with. He regaled us with stories of his conservative Catholic bullshit-believing Serbian friend (“That wasn’t even a country twenty years ago!”) and that man’s inherent disagreement with homosexuals. He assured me the Serb wouldn’t beat them up, he just didn’t agree with them. This, because he was an indoctrinated Yugo fuckwit – in the best possible sense of the phrase, I was again assured. I laughed uncomfortably, but not for the topic: the bar Rachel and I had previously sat at featured at least one heavily-accented Serbian, but probably two, at the next table over. This patio currently sat at featured several Soviets in close proximity, whose country also ceased to exist two decades ago but whose Orthodox Catholicism surly persisted. We were in what could quickly reveal itself to be hostile territory. These throwaway comments were fighting words if they passed through the right set of ears, to wit, those that sent all sounds received through a vodka filter en route to the brain.

I would – and still will – parlay the sense of impending doom these sorts of conversations created into something more interesting in short order. But for now we left the bar without incident and with bellies full of booze. About to part ways, our departure was delayed by our alcoholic litigator’s  insistence on hiring a taxi of questionable legality (we agreed they operated flawlessly in a gray area that shouldn’t and couldn’t exist much longer.) For the second night in a row I waited over ten minutes as an Uber cab was painstakingly ordered. Such is the state of my generation’s narcissism and technological idolatry, where ten or more minutes spent idling on a downtown street corner is preferable to thirty seconds on the phone with a human voice on the other end. To pass the time I watched at least fifteen licensed taxis pass us by. Surely I could have been home in the time I waited for this car. But then, the Uber shills on all the popular news sites had proactively assured me that I had passed up dirty, unsafe vehicles operated by insolent immigrants obsessed with talking on their phones, manifestations of an unseen taxi union-cartel monster bent on charging me an exorbitant price for the privilege of such a ride. I knew better. Conversely, the night previously I had had a flawless cab ride home and implored my driver, “Don’t take any shit from these Uber swine.” He laughed and appreciated the sentiment. However I chose not to force the issue this night, for after all I was being offered a free ride at the expense of the drunken embodiment of the people’s law.

I find myself sat with two major takeaways from this unexpectedly intoxicated evening: don’t take any shit from the Rede-und-Gedanken control crowd and don’t take any more from the Uber crowd; that is to say, don’t ever be swayed by the mob. Feed your head with your own ideas and never accept even the shiniest of substitutes.


travel & adventure

I was somewhere around Belleville, on the edge of the city, when the drugs began to take hold.

I take artistic license, for Kingston isn’t actually a city, and alcohol is barely a drug. But I channel Hunter S. when I can and I certainly felt like doing a bit of that now.

The arrival at the train station was vaguely familiar. I had made the same approach as a naive student, a more self-aware student, and once or twice as an intoxicated student on the cusp of insansity. I took a cab into the heart of the student ghetto; the driver was polite and chronically reticent. We did not share more than a polite hello, pay this, and have a good one – my kind of ride. This sort of right speech has always appealed to my inner Buddha, swim as he may upstream against a tide of liquid wrong action.

A wave of nostalgia flooded over me as I made this anodyne arrival. Thoughts careened between all the things I had done and seen here, and all of those that I hadn’t. Between the faces I’ll never remember and those I can’t (or won’t let myself) forget.

My accomadtion was a typical student house – both relatively shitty and reasonably livable – as any one that borders campus ought to be. I dropped my bags and settled atop the front steps of leprous bluegrey. Shielded by my Ray Bans and Red Sox cap I pulled out my half-read copy of The Rum Diary, settling firmly into this very distinctive and potentially destructive idiom that I had chosen.

During the school year this street – the aptly named University Avenue – bustles with a healthy mix of naive, aloof, ambitious, indifferent, narcissistic, and alcoholic individuals, each traversing his or her own bizarre path forward, maybe sideways, but rarely backwards. How else to describe those grasping at an undegratudate degree? To my anticapatory delight this July day provided me a retroactive respite from the stresses such a scene can make manifest, an imagined foil against my three years of lived reality near this same spot – the same, but not really, for no space is truly the same after three years of intervention by man or nature.

The occasional passerby, be they an attractive blonde or a shirtless bearded jogger, gave me comfort in the fact that some brave souls were keeping this space energized with illusions of its own purported usefulness all year round. Indeed doing so this time of year seemed to make more sense than the same act carried out by trekking over an ice-covered sidewalk with snow blowing and sticking to your facial hair. Who are these people? Those who gravitate to campus after the rest of us have unceremoniously fled, to home, to Europe, to the furthest ends of the earth, so long as it’s not here? Brave souls indeed.

After a delicious meal of brisket, a Root Beer Old Fashioned, and two pints of beer, I saw my favourite girl off and went to get drunk. I met up with a good friend, one of a group of brave souls residing here for the summer’s duration. He and I discussed life, copyright law, the absurdity of academia, the ineptitude of local law enforcement, and our fondly held collective memories. He assured me he was not (yet) working for CSIS, so I spared him my customary censure; his American lady friend also escaped that fate, narrowly avoiding a scathing critique about her country’s democracy and the lack thereof. Perhaps the right time to speak the truth is all the time, but occasionally it behooves you to maintain the drunkenly joyous equilibrium you have happened upon.

Satisfactorily drunk, my friend and I said our goodnights, and I proceeded on a loose retracing of some of my undergraduate (mis)steps. It struck me that as a student I had walked these paths in search of an awkward conformity, despising and yet adopting many elements of the ethos of the mob; the campus buildings represented that moral failing and all of its counterreactions. They were and continue to be the backdrop against which the paradox of trying to blend in and yet stand out as one goes along is played out over and over again. Revisiting this existence revealed its true, absurdly comical nature – for the vacuous scions and ingénues that often dominate this backdrop are irrelevant at best. Their impressions have no bearing on anything of value, especially all that is intangible in life, which is to say all that matters most to the soul.

In the stillness of the early morning these campus buildings appeared stoic, majestic, yet somehow circumspect. I realized these grey stone buildings were emitting something different now,  something more imposing, more unsettling, and yet somehow liberating. Under the cresent moonlight and draped flawless by ivy, these buildings were just that: stone structures sitting quietly along deserted streets, free from the chaos that usually animates them, full of limitless potential. They were a testament to the many ways in which humans can choose to animate the world, its manmade structures and natural constructs alike, and the repeated ways in which they fail to do so compassionately and with benefit to the species as a whole. Yet the mere fact that how the world is animated is above all a choice, not a stricture imposed from beyond our reach and before our birth, gave me faith in the potential for change, in the myriad possibilities that lay in front of me to drive this change.

Despite that glimmer of hope, this line of inquiry then led me to a most harrowing realization: these buildings, this whole place is ostensibly set up solely to foster the departure of the adolescent intellect along infinite productive tangents. In actuality it is a tacit bubble, an enclosure in which groupthink trumps all. An enclosure in which you must censor what you say, what you do, what you think – lest you get hauled in front of some committee of unthinking student bureaucrats bent on correcting you, or worse, dragged unknowingly into the unseen court of public opinion that will brand you with all sorts of unsavoury titles. Kafka could write a book a day in such an environemnt.

On closer inspection these putative cathedrals of education and the grounds surrounding them amount to nothing more than redoubts of totalitarian thought control, be it coerced or self-imposed. But still I manage to snatch victory from the jaws of a crushing morale defeat, finding comfort in my aforementioned idiom as I sit atop the balcony of this most central student house, shirtless, pen behind ear, drinking a stolen beer, at peace as the sun began to colour the sky.

No radical thinker has ever had much use for the university as elite institution anyway.