Fire in the City

By Tanya Shukalova

I could never remember the numbers for cab companies, not even in my own city. Since it was only my second day visiting Toronto, and my first time ever being in Mississauga, I was helpless when it came to cab numbers. I remembered that I had written one of them down in my phone, so I called Blue & White Taxi and waited at the foot of the apartment building. I stuttered when I gave them the address because I had forgotten it as well. He had already left for his basketball game and I was going to meet him there in an hour or so. When I asked why he had to leave two hours before the game even started, he told me it was because they had to practice and warm up and stuff. I guess I hadn’t thought of that.

It was July and it was one of those nights where I could feel the warmth of the air embracing me. It kissed my bare skin in a way that made me feel heat from within. It felt like I was glowing. I watched the traffic go by steadily in front of me as I waited. Even though it was already dark, and a breeze rolled along the road with the cars, I could still feel the heat.

I glanced back at the building, out of boredom and impatience; it was about 10 stories high, and a reddish-brown colour. Each apartment had a balcony and there were trees and shrubbery all around the building. I remembered his room, inside, one wooden wall facing his bed. His many pairs of shoes and watches scattered on the carpeted floor.

By the time the cab finally arrived, I started to think he had gotten lost or forgotten about me. The driver looked up at me from his seat, raised his eyebrows, and waved but didn’t smile. I got in and verified that I was the one that had called for him. I preferred to sit in the back seat because I learned that if you sit in the passenger’s seat, the drivers are more likely to hit on you. I gave him my friend Bethany’s address, who I was staying with, and he entered it into his GPS. He took about five minutes entering the correct coordinates and mapping out the longest route to take, probably noticing I was a tourist.

We pulled away from the apartment building and I couldn’t help but stare back at it as we drove off; as if I had left a piece of myself there, tucked away in his room.

I thought back to when I first saw him earlier that day, when I pulled up to the same building in a different cab. I had waited outside for what seemed like forever for him to come out and let me in. We had been talking online for about a month before that day and since I was visiting some friends in his area, we arranged to meet. His pictures and attitude online didn’t impress me much but when he finally came out of the doors of that apartment building, wearing just sweats, a hoodie and a toque, I was taken aback. I had planned what I was going to say when I first saw him, making some smart-ass comment but that went out the window when he looked at me.

He was tall but not too tall, 6’1 to be exact. He had dark, smooth skin and a short goatee around his large lips. The baggy attire hid the strong muscles I knew he had underneath. He looked like he rolled out of bed moments before, but I had never seen anyone more attractive.

Mississauga didn’t disappoint me. Coming from a tiny town full of old people in rest homes, I enjoyed being around highways and tall buildings and traffic. We rolled past more apartment buildings, a few houses, stores and gas stations. Before I knew it, we were approaching the highway.

I couldn’t help zoning out and thinking about him. It’s happened to me before, whenever something good happens and I have a moment to myself to think. I fed off the memory quietly, going over every little detail of what had happened. It was as if someone had placed a delicious meal in front of me and I had feasted on it hungrily, still savouring every bite.

I thought about us going to the Square One Shopping Centre to hang out for a bit and him asking me if it was okay for him to go in his sweats or if I wanted him to change; that awful music that he played on the scratched CD his friend gave him that he rapped along to; how it was still stuck in my head that very moment; his horrible, cheesy dance moves; how he stared at me when his eyes should have been on the road, and I told him to stop because it made me nervous. My cheeks flushed and I looked out the window. I thought about how we walked around that mall for an hour without entering one single store. We talked and made laps around the building. I thought about the drive back from the mall, when we sat at a stop light. He looked at me and smirked. It melted my heart. So I leaned over and kissed him. I remembered him smiling wide and saying, “You like me, admit it.” I refused.

The highway was somewhat busy that night; it was a Friday. I took out my phone to tell Bethany that I would be out for the night and noticed he had sent me a text. “Promise you’ll be at the game, baby?”

The radio was on in the cab and Beyoncé’s voice subdued me into a state that felt like a dream. There were expensive cars zooming by me, all glimmering with the reflection of the street lamps and brake lights. We switched from lane to lane to pass cars and I felt good being farthest from the exit lane. I rolled my window down and stared out at the world. The air was heavy that night, the kind of air that makes you feel as if you are walking underwater. Everything was a shade of deep sea blue, like we were all fish on the ocean floor, swimming along our paths in a watery world.

I was captivated by the lights. I could see Toronto in the distance and the city radiated up into the sky. It looked, from where I was, like the city was made of gold. The gold gleamed into the night and I felt my eyes reflecting its light before I sat back and closed them.

His face appeared out of the dark. We laid in his bed for hours, talking. Not about anything in particular, just life. We joked, pushed, cuddled, laughed. I got fake-mad at him at one point and he got me to kiss him to make it better.

I remember sitting on his lap, facing him, with my legs wrapped around his waist. It was dark in his room and a breeze floated through the window. I could feel the heat of his chest against mine. The light from a street lamp outside the window highlighted the shadows of his strong features. His skin glistened in the orange light and it made every muscle look bigger.

“I know you want me.” He said to me.

Neither of us moved.

“No. Why would you say that?”

“Your body’s shaking.” His voice was just loud enough for me to hear.

As much as I had tried to deny it, my body gave me away. I felt betrayed but relieved at the same time. There was no point in hiding it if he already knew.

I slowly opened my eyes, and was glad to see that we were still on the high way. It was a 15 minute drive between his apartment and Bethany’s house. I could see the tops of buildings as we passed them and gradually, there were more and more buildings that grew taller and taller. The driver must have noticed that I was in a serene state because he hadn’t said a word since we got on the highway.

The cab glided smoothly over the paved roads and made turns here and there, making me feel as if I was being rocked to sleep in a crib. The stars were scattered across the sky and twinkled to one another. I felt at peace for the first time in a very long time; or possibly just the first time. I knew it would break my heart when this moment ended.

A faint smile rested on my lips and I took a deep breath. Fresh night air filled my lungs and I exhaled any negativity I had. In that moment, I was just a speck of light flowing through space. I was light, airy, almost invisible. My body had no weight. Even better, my mind had no weight. There was no worry of schoolwork, or debts, or family problems, or of returning to my shitty job as soon as I got back from Toronto. I was just a speck drifting on the Earth’s surface. Everything moved around me in slow motion. I felt the wind caress my cheeks and the little hairs from my bangs tickled my forehead. The smile remained on my face.

In that moment, everything was alright.

We turned off the highway and through different neighbourhoods until the cab reached my friend’s house. I knew she was waiting inside for me and would want to hear everything about how my afternoon went before I left for his game. I paid for the cab, more than I would have liked, and walked up the driveway.

We Die with Them

cottage

By S.M.

“I swear,” my father said. “It was a religious experience.”

He didn’t then tell me he found the Virgin Mary’s image in a grilled cheese sandwich, or smoked peyote and chatted with a burning bush or anything, although I’ll admit I had hoped he would. We as a family regularly misuse the term religious, due to the fact that we are devout agnostics.

He was talking about zipping through the winding roads on the outskirts of Poltimore, Quebec. Bobbing along to folk tunes as he made his way to Lake Cardinal, more specifically the family cottage sitting up on the hilltops that border it.

Every time he arrived back home from the cottage he looked enlightened. He always came bearing new philosophies, having been freshly inspired by the silence and fresh air. I had been too young during most of my visits to fully appreciate that little bungalow in the middle of the woods. Too young to notice the small lapping sounds the lake made before I went barreling into it.

As I got older, my visits became less and less frequent, and were replaced with the retellings of my father’s “religious experiences.” After a while I became envious; I wanted one of my own.

I like to believe that was what drove me to finally join him. I almost didn’t go that day. My brother had left for work, and I entertained the idea of having the house to myself for the day.

But it had been a solid two or three years since my last visit. A full-time job, homework, and flat-out anxiety usually kept me away.

I should mention that I am completely intimidated by my mother’s side of the family. To say that my father, brother, and I are the black-sheep of the Lafontaine clan is an understatement. Don’t get me wrong - they love us Myers; but lacking the trademark Lafontaine nose is not the only thing that divides us.

The Lafontaine family are a conservative bunch, most likely the ripple-effect of having more than half of the original members picked off by alcoholism.  The Myers, on the other hand, are too outspoken for their own good: To put it mildly, we’re shit-disturbers. While my father had broken through this divide, I had not. I would mostly find myself a wallflower among those with whom I should feel the most comfortable. Never knowing what to say, holding onto an irrational fear of bringing shame to the Myers name. I felt different, and unable to find even a scrap of common ground. Even though there was one glaring similarity that I never thought to factor in.

The whole ride, memories flooded back as I predicted each turn and landmark with surprising accuracy. The run-down dépanneurs and auto shops that blended seamlessly into forest, the small family ranches and farms which faded into the occasional Colonial-style home, and ended with the lake amidst cottages ranging from decadent to shack-like. Ours was a nice blend of both, virtually untouched since 1999, the only additions being central heating, and the luxury of indoor plumbing.

All of the cottages are hidden in the trees, and you have to keep your eyes peeled for openings in the brush; those openings are the dirt driveways. We would miss ours every time, until my Great Aunt Lynne stuck a wooden loon in the dirt to signal us.

My Great Aunt Lynne, who we just call Aunty Lynne - as I said earlier, there are not many Lafontaines left. So we went ahead and bumped everyone up a spot in the family tree; great aunts became aunts, second cousins, or second cousins twice removed, became cousins, and so on.

Aunty Lynne was always the first to pop her head out to say hello whenever we arrived. You would never guess by appearance alone that she was not in fact a Myers. We share the same tanned skin and dark hair, hers now thoroughly salt and peppered, much like my father’s. But alas! She is a Lanfontaine, married in by way of my Great Uncle Ben. The dead give-away is her undeniable French accent. Lynne is through and through a Quebecois, and can make a tourtière to prove it.

To be honest, I never knew how to approach her. One second she could be laughing and playfully quipping with my father. The next, her face could go deadpan and down to business: be it scrubbing dishes or finishing dinner. In this case, informing my father that her brother, Thomas St. Louis, was by the water taking measurements for the new dock. I felt my feet tingle, bringing back one too many images of my pouting face in the bathroom mirror as splinter after splinter was plucked out.

Most of the morning, and well into the afternoon, I spent curled up in a lawn chair, sitting atop the hill reading and looking out onto the lake. Aunty Lynne would pop up occasionally, and did not quite know how to keep conversation going beyond basic check-in questions, at least no more than I did. So, she mostly kept to herself inside the cottage.

Thomas and my father were well hidden by the brush that coated the slope down to where they were by the water, so I felt very much on my own.

That’s when I finally heard it. The silence, only broken by the sound of the wind creeping through the trees, and the far-off snap of twigs made by the unseen creatures that roamed within them. I breathed in the fresh air. I felt calm.

“Could you put the tourtière in the oven?”

Lynne’s voice snapped me out of my thought, and I felt my stomach tighten.

“Sorry?” I don’t know why I apologized. I had heard her perfectly.

“At 350, put it in the oven please? So it’s ready for lunch."

I remember feeling a wave of relief, seeing the meat pie make it unscathed to the kitchen table, where it accompanied breads, meats, and cheeses.

I had done my part to help out, to feel like part of the scene, without doing much at all, simply putting a pie into the oven.  I could sit in the quaint kitchen, and examine the many trinkets and much loved tacky cottage décor pieces that decorated the walls, having saved myself from suffering the embarrassment of fucking up lunch.

I enjoy family meals because you can sit and munch away without saying much. I didn’t have to be reminded that my family did not know how to approach me, and that I did not know how to approach them. I tuned into the conversation here and there, as talk of renovations, and memories of long nights around the bonfire, floated about between sounds of chewing.

It was only when Lynne mentioned that the cottage always brought back memories of her daughter Ashley, and of the literal buckets of sangria she would make, that Thomas spoke up.
It was the first time I had heard Thomas speak more than a few mumbled words. Any details I had ever known about him were hearsay. Only whispers here and there of a sordid past that I had chalked up to a couple of failed marriages, and enjoying the bottle a little too much.
I had no idea of the story he would go on to tell. I had never heard the name Antony before, let alone what had happened to him.

cottage2

Fifteen years earlier, Thomas had sipped his coffee, preparing for the drive ahead of him. Even after two cups, he was still groggy from being awoken by his son Antony’s phone call the night before.

“Can you come get me?” Antony asked.

“By the time I get there it will be too late to make the drive back. I’ll come get you tomorrow morning.” Thomas told him.

As Thomas was finishing his third cup of coffee, the phone rang again. Except the voice on the other end was not Antony’s.

The voice verified that they were in fact speaking with Thomas.

It told Thomas to sit down.

The voice told Thomas that his son was dead.

It explained that Antony had hung himself during the night.

As his story came to a close, he fumbled with something inside his coat pocket. I only realized he was retrieving pills when he knocked his head back and swallowed.

I glanced around the table. That’s when another memory hit me.

July 15, 2011, Lynne was taking in the July heat by the lake. She tried to spend as much of the summer at the cottage as she could, disappearing there for weeks at a time with Ben. She heard the phone ring, but let it go to the machine. It rang a second time, but it would be the third round that caused Lynne to trek up the hill to see what all the commotion was about.

“Hello?”

“Lynne?”

“Yes, how are you Catherine?” Lynne recognized her neighbour’s voice without caller ID.

“Lynne, there are two police officers at your house, they’re looking for you. You should come home.”

Lynne and Ben made the 45-minute trip home in just over a half-hour that day. They came home to the two police officers, who would ask them to take a seat on the couch before they began their speech.

Ashley, at only 32, was found dead in her bed that morning.

It was only after the autopsy that the family would find out she had died due to an enlarged heart. Which we went on to conclude as poetically fitting, because Ashley was one of the most kind, vibrant and giving people you could have ever meet.

Without having to retell her story, we all knew that’s all Lynne was thinking as Thomas concluded his own tale of tragic loss.

That was when I really looked at everyone I was sitting with that afternoon. We all shared the same expression, which can only be described as downright lost. It’s a look I’ve seen too many times when I caught my reflection time and time again.

I was more like my family that I could have ever known.

May 26, 2013 2:23 AM, my father shook me awake.

“Come now,” he said.

I shot up and trailed him into the master bedroom.

This moment was five years in the making, but a moment I had convinced myself I would never actually have to consider, let alone face.

Minutes earlier I was told to lie down and get some rest after spending the day by my mother’s bedside, talking with her even though she was well beyond able to respond. The nurses told me she could hear me, but could only manage small gasps and movements in return. I like to tell myself I still knew what she was trying to say without words. Deep down, I know it to be true.

It was only when I finally started to nod off that my father burst through my bedroom door.

At around 2:30 AM, holding her hand and whispering into her ear that I loved and will always love her, my mother lost her battle with colorectal cancer. After five long years of chemotherapy, holidays spent in the hospital, and nothing but strength and grace on her part, she let go. She could hold on no longer, as much as we all know she tried.

Once you lose someone, someone you never thought in a million years could just be gone, who you were before that second in time dies with them. The part of your brain that comprehends your world reboots. The things you originally believed are wiped out, because in the most macabre way, you finally understand the phrase, “anything can happen.” Good or bad.

Some people recover their old selves more than others.

For the first few days afterward, after shock subsides, the world seems new. You rediscover everything and see it with depressively serene eyes.  As time goes on, the safety net of hope and ignorant bliss returns. But you never forget. It leaves you with a glazed expression whenever you become lost inside memories of the final moments of your loved one, and of your former self.

I don’t think anyone finished their lunch.  All I remember after that is tossing my book into the back seat of the car before my father and I said our good-byes and took off like nothing happened.

To everyone else, it was just another afternoon at the cottage. They had learned what I realized that afternoon a long time ago.

“That was crazy,” I said for the fourth or fifth consecutive time. “I never knew that about Thomas. Our family is cursed.”

“No more than anyone else’s,” My father joked. We can never stay serious for more than an hour, I swear.

My mind was buzzing, my stomach somersaulting in time with every broad bend in the road on our way back to the real world.

cottage3

Passing through the trees, and into civilization I found myself reflecting on what had just transpired. Understanding that I may not be able to trigger a lively discussion with my extended family, but I can find solace in knowing their looks are not of judgment, but of quiet contemplation. That they are not looking at me but right through me, into their memories, just as I do with them.

The death of our former selves gave me that scrap of common ground, but the discovery of this fact taught me something much more important.

We are all still here. A part of us may have passed with our loved ones but in the end we survived. We are still able to laugh, we are still able to cry, and we are still able to put tourtières into ovens at three hundred and fifty degrees.

Then, like a tap on my shoulder, I noticed a bobby little folk tune playing on the radio.

Antibiotics and Acculturation

By Andrew Monro

I leaned over the toilet bowl again and retched until my diaphragm muscles burned; leaning back against the wall, the tiles of the bathroom floor felt blissfully cool. The alarm on my phone went off – time for another pill. I struggled with the childproof lid for a moment. Placed one of the small white discs on my tongue and knocked it back with a gulp of water. Reading the label on the bottle provided a brief distraction in the lull between the waves of nausea: ciprofloxacin. My family doctor, in the hopefully unlikely event I would pick up a bacterial infection while travelling in South America, had prescribed this broad-spectrum antibiotic.

It was Christmas Day, and I was lying on the floor in a house in southeastern Argentina with an appendix infection, praying that it was not about to rupture.

This was 2007: I was an 18-year-old Canadian high school graduate, and had decided, after a stimulating school trip to Ecuador in 2006, that I wanted to go back to the continent. This manifested itself as a six and a half month solo backpacking trip travelling through five countries, meeting dozens of people, experiencing the weird, the wonderful, and the occasionally frightening. 25-year-old me is now taking a moment to reflect and to tease out a few things about life, the universe, and the realities of travel, for the benefit of those who may attempt similar adventures.

Eighteen was a good year. I was, more or less, the idealistic go-getter that is stereotypically expected of the young and naïve. It would not be for a few years that I would learn and appreciate that the world was not as plainly nailed down as my worldview suggested at that time. Equipped with shameless idealism, a kiss and hug from Mom, and a backpack full of too much stuff, I boarded a plane in Vancouver, B.C., bound for Quito, Ecuador.

The Early Days

My first scare of the trip came up Mariscal Sucre Airport, no more than twenty minutes after having disembarked. I had hoisted my backpack off the luggage carousel, and was slightly perplexed; the things at the top of my backpack, well, they weren’t mine. There was a pair of black wellington boots, and a blue Nalgene bottle that looked to be loaded with medications. My first thought was that I had had things planted on me. Doing my best to look as suave and casual as possible, I placed the boots and the bottle back on the carousel and then marched as quickly as possible out of the terminal, gripped with fear. Later I would find a little slip of paper in my bag reporting that the Department of Homeland Security had hand-searched my bag. I supposed that there was now some unfortunate person out there missing his boots and his anti-malarial pills, but sighed in relief that the whole thing was just a customs official mixing stuff up, maybe. I fell asleep that night with the blare of a reggae club on one side, and the sounds of a German couple having vigorous sex on the other.

The early days of a long trip can often be the most challenging and the most exciting. Everything is new and shiny; you know little of where you are or of the people you are surrounded by. So many of the preconceptions you might have had about your trip are shattered as you grasp the reality of what it is you have actually gotten yourself into. Many of the most dramatic events of my trip took place in the first two weeks. On the 4th day I was less than 100 metres from a drive-by shooting – which ended up being a setting in which I would meet many of the friends I had in my first month– and at the end of the second I was threatened at knifepoint by an 8-year-old boy. This also may prove to be the most alienating time – everything you look to as familiar and use to support how you define yourself is gone. Some cannot fathom this feeling, others embrace it fully, and still others, like me, muddle our way between comfort and conflict.

Getting Lost in the Back of Beyond

It was around 2:00 AM, the rain was absolutely bucketing down, as is the tendency in the tropics, and I was being looked up and down by a customs official at the Ecuador-Peru frontier, whom I imagine was trying to figure out why a young white kid was at this remote border crossing in the Amazon at that god-forsaken hour. It was the beginning of my third month in South America, and I was soaked, and cranky, but in some strange way, happy to finally be lost. I had reached something of a mental and emotional low in my travel – the reality of being such a long way from home had sunk in, and my awareness of how little about the world and my weaknesses in the Spanish language were particularly acute. I was intensely aware of how isolated I was, and was feeling my age. Eighteen was exceptionally young, especially for a solo backpacker, for travelling in South America - the average age of foreigners I met was around 24. The surprised looks from other travellers and locals calling me bebe had gotten old by this point. But it was in Peru that I had finally figured a few things out: don’t trust taxi drivers, be prepared to wait while the bus driver decides its lunchtime and stops his fully-loaded bus for an hour while he eats, and don’t expect to find a decent cup of coffee anywhere. However, despite not being able to find the town I was in on my map, I had overcome my own resistance to not being in control of where I was going, and when I might get there.

Everyone that travels abroad for a significant period of time sooner or later experiences this kind of isolation that I had felt (that drunken weekend you spent in Puerto Vallarta doesn’t count, especially as the only interaction with locals you had was to ask the bartender for another cerveza). You may feel lonely, angry, sad, and irritable. Do not give up, this feeling is only temporary, and learn to laugh at yourself. It will help when you are crammed onto a bus next to a farmer who has his chickens stuffed into his coat and smells like bird poop.

L’enfer, c’est les autres

Having managed to make it out of the Peruvian interior down onto the Pan-American Highway, I watched the coastal desert roll by as my bus trundled down to Lima. The first thing you realise about travelling in Peru is that all roads really do lead to Lima. Central Lima was a weird oasis of Western amenities; I had not seen a Starbucks in over three months until I walked through the Miraflores neighbourhood of the city. Foreigners there were peculiar to me: they arrive in Lima, go up to Cusco, take hundreds of photos of the Incan ruins and llamas at Machu Picchu, and then buy overpriced cheap trinkets from one of Lima’s street markets on their way back to the airport. Many would leave without having learnt a single word of Spanish, and see nothing else of what I had come to feel was a beautiful country. It was jarring for me, and I came to find it an ugly spectacle, reflected in the colder, callous attitudes of the Peruvians I met along the tourist track in the south of the country. A feeling of being wistful for more inquisitive fellow travellers and warmer locals crept in; I bought a bus ticket and headed south two days later.

A mistake that I made at times like those days in Lima was that I was, to be frankly honest, a judgemental little shit. Too quickly perhaps were certain places written off because of people that I didn’t like or that offended my sense of what "real" travel was. I will not broach the eternal argument of the affluent as to what it really means to travel. One thing that anyone that goes out their front door should consider is to make an effort to appreciate that there are many different ways to do things. You will likely get more out travel by remaining patient and tolerant, however repugnant you may find luxury cruises or those ‘dirty backpacking hippies’ to be.

Halfway to the End of the World

It took two more days before the blinding pain of my appendix lessened, and I could stand up straight and breathe without pain again. I counted myself extremely lucky that if my condition had become critical, I could have been medivaced to state-of-the-art medical care in Buenos Aires. If I had been in the same situation in a remote part of the continent, I would have probably been done for. I made it back to the Argentine capital a few days later, just in time for New Year’s celebrations. These days were some of the best and happiest days of my trip. I had finally mastered conversational Spanish, and had opened up to and accepted my situation as a transient foreigner where I went. This was where I made the most enduring friendships of my trip - people who I still speak to, years later. Buenos Aires also happens to be a beautiful, vibrant city, and I will remember the hours spent long into the night as we sang, drank, and danced the night away as we entered 2008.

It had been worth it. The difficulties and struggles, both external and internal, that had challenged me throughout the first four months of my trip had transformed how I thought about the world and myself. Even looking through the journal entries that I kept of that time, the person I am now finds what I wrote much more relatable than what I had written prior to my time in Buenos Aires. It pays to learn the language, not only the actual words, but also the non-verbal communication that comes with it. To be able to communicate effectively is liberating and is worth the frustration and headaches it can give you.

On a serious note, when crisis strikes, remain calm. No matter how much pain and discomfort you may feel, you are still a long way from home. The hard decisions of what to do next will be yours and yours alone, and you need to be able to think clearly. That said, if you find yourself in a medically critical situation, be ready to get yourself out. I was lucky, but not everyone is.

Led Astray by Pretty Girls

In a rare moment of feeling awestruck, my breath was taken away by the view before me. This was Las Salinas Grandes, near Purmamarca, Argentina: miles and miles of perfectly flat grey-white, rising up to low hills on the horizon. It was the late afternoon, and a thunderstorm was moving in front of the setting sun, giving the appearance of curtains of gold sweeping over the plains. The cold wind was blowing hard, and I was huddled next to three pretty girls: Alejandra, Gabriella, and Thaïs. They were porteñas (residents of Buenos Aires) on school break, whom I had met a few days before, and they had persuaded me to come with them to see these salt flats – claiming they were much better than the more famous salt flats of Salar de Uyuni, in Bolivia, several hundred miles to the north. It was the start of my fifth month in South America, and despite feeling a certain amount of time pressure – I had to be back in Ecuador in a few weeks in order to catch my flight home – I had thrown caution to the wind and followed the girls into the unknown. I had never heard of Purmamarca or these salt flats, but I am ever so glad I did. Travelling solo had meant that I was used to deciding on my own where I was going next. It was oddly exciting to have someone else lead me, and wind up standing on a salt plain, looking at beautiful sunset with three beautiful women.

Others have said much about how no plan comes off exactly as intended. It is perhaps most important to remember this while travelling. While you may be super-excited to go somewhere, to see or try something, some moments, like sunsets and salt flats, only happen when you remain flexible and slow down to reflect. Modern tourism and a prevailing mentality about vacations and travel puts a huge amount of emphasis on fitting lots of "exciting stuff" into our time abroad. The idea of not doing certain things – I never did see Machu Picchu on my trip, as a result of not having enough time on my way back north – would seem to shock many people. Make your travel about where your path leads you, not about the expectations of what others believe you must do when visiting anywhere. You will not be disappointed, and it might even make some of the best memories of your entire trip.

Returning Home

After months of journeying through foreign countries, returning to life in Canada was the strangest and most unexpected experience of the entire trip. It was unsettling feeling like a foreigner in my own country. It seemed as though people around me were often in a rush, with disturbingly rigid attitudes toward the concepts of time, work, and play. No one took afternoon naps, except toddlers. Drivers were oddly accommodating of pedestrians and each other, and seldom used their horns. A meeting at 3pm started at 3pm, not 4:30pm. No one I knew had time to enjoy sunsets, dinners with family, and most would complain bitterly if the bus was ten minutes late. It was months before I felt comfortable being Canadian again.

This "reverse culture shock," I later learned, is a known psychological phenomenon: after spending an extended period adapting to life in foreign lands, we must adapt again to learn to live in our own culture upon return. The amount of time this takes is determined by a person’s personality, the amount of time spent abroad, and by how much the foreign culture is different from one’s own. This is also an opportunity to discover the things about another culture that you liked so much and integrate the best parts into your daily living at home. So go out, travel, learn, and bring the best back to enhance your life. 

No Longer Strangers

 By Miranda Tannahill

All names have been changed.

I was 17, in Toronto at the end of May, waiting in line with friends for our tickets we had ordered ahead of time to the biggest “nerd fest” we’d ever attended: Anime North. I felt the unfamiliar vibration of my phone in my pocket and looked at the text. It was from my mother: “Keep your phone out and expect a phone call.” I texted back asking why and was worried when the answer was “You’ll see.”

When my phone rang about five minutes after the text, I froze. It was a private number. Who was on the other end? Who would want to call me? One hesitant hello later and I had to walk away from the line I had spent the last hour in.

It was from the Ministry of Natural Resources and I was been offered a position as an Ontario Youth Ranger for two months starting in July. Did I still want the position after my initial rejection? After a stuttered yes and a promise that I was going to be emailed everything that had been discussed, I was more or less hired, though the process wasn't finished. All I had to do to make it official was fill out some paper work, have my high-school principal sign a document, get a doctor’s note and my pleasure craft licence before a certain date.

That date was June 20th. That way, if I couldn't successfully get everything in, someone else could take my place. I kept asking myself if it would be worth it. Would I enjoy a summer away from everything I knew and working a hard manual labour job for my summer vacation? Would I learn anything about myself? I pushed through the pleasure craft licence test and submitted the proof that I had earned it two days before my deadline; I'm glad I did.

When everything was filed away and I had a spot, I received a second phone call, this time, from my camp supervisor, Nora. She told me everything I should pack that wasn’t on the list that I had been sent: large reusable water bottle, Tupperware, a lunch bag, paper and envelopes for writing letters, my favourite books, and my music player. She said that I need to get off at a truck stop near Gogama and that I should mention it to the driver when I got on because he knew where that was and would put my luggage in a special area because there were other girls who were getting off at the same place.

I found out that six other girls were getting off there, but I didn't talk to them for the first half an hour of the two-hour bus ride. I was scared of them not liking me. A girl walked down the aisle, asking other girls if they were getting off in Gogama. She eventually found me and we talked for a bit. She was trying to get me to open up, but let me have my space when she realized how shy I was. I followed her example and went to talk to a girl that no one was talking to. I knew she was getting off at the same place because she was reading a nature book. When she introduced herself as Maddy, we talked and made friends easily.

Being greeted by a fifties dance crew was unexpected. They introduced themselves as our supervisors and loaded us into two minivans. We were a five-minute drive from there and camp was beautiful. Four cabins in a line, and on the left side of the food hall, the supervisors’ White House on top of a hill surrounded by trees. A gazebo sat in the middle. Everything overlooked a breath taking beach and beautiful deep red water. Our home base was called Dividing Lake Camp.

We were led to an area with other girls and told that now that we had arrived, we were to find our cabins. I was in Cabin Three, two away from the food hall. I opened it to see all of my cabin mates there already and had picked beds. I sat down on one of the last remaining beds, first one on the left side, and one of my cabin mates introduced me to everyone. I had a staring contest with one until we both realized that we actually knew each other. We were classmates, and since we never really spoke, we didn’t know that the other had applied for this program. I felt comfortable knowing at least one person.

The rest of the day was spent playing ice-breaker games and getting to know everyone in camp. We were told to enjoy today, because our endurance test was the following day and it was hard. If we failed it, Nora said that we were going to be sent home because we didn’t meet the physical requirements of the job. We were reminded that we had signed up to work as the maintenance crew for canoe portage and hiking trails and anything else that was asked of us in the Sudbury and Timmins areas. We were the camp that covered anything between those two cities along highway 144 because we were not stationed in a National Park, unlike most camps. Those camps had much stricter schedules whereas we were just to do tasks as they came to us. There were 22 of us at the beginning and none of us were scared, just nervous about it because they refused to tell us anything more.

Everything had gone well for the test: the 200-metre swim, the 10 minute free-swim with our work boots and life jackets strapped on, then the 20 minute treading water with no life jacket or boots. None of us were fazed by this information, until we were told by Megan, an assistant sub-supervisor, that it was a lie and that we were no fun. Our real endurance test was 40-metres with life jackets and work boots, and treading water was for 3 minutes without the boots and life jacket. Our third test was to put the soaked boots and socks back on, which was a challenge all in itself, and work as a team to get the swim raft into the water. All was well until one of us got a hand caught between her boot and the bottom of the 300-pound swim-raft, nearly breaking her fingers. This, of course, being me. I spent the rest of the summer with a nasty purple bruise and four lines on the back of my hand. It was my battle scar and I wore it proudly.

After that second day at camp, we were taught more than just how to properly swing a grass whip and how to cut branches off a tree for portaging a canoe, solo or not. We were taught how to work as a team in the field, we were taught that sweating is a sign of hard work and dedication and that a woman’s body does it too. We were taught basic safety, first aid, how to set up animal traps so that we could see how they worked and how to avoid them and also, how quickly you miss society. We were taught basic human decency is the easiest gift to give and how to use it to our advantage.

We also learned important things that can’t be taught. We learned how to tolerate everything about people, even if they were on your last nerve because you were stuck with all these people until the end of the summer, so shelf away all your prejudices and just go with it. We learned self-confidence, self-esteem and self-expression from the people who we had to live with in the six person, open cabins. If asked how we learned that, I could never answer it. Maddy and I learned how to love ourselves by throwing away societies views, because they couldn’t touch us in our little isolated camp. All 21 of us learned that if you wanted to meet a camp full of boys while wearing a cheap plaid shirt, suspenders holding your pants up and cream and coffee-grinds on your face, then do it; who’s going to stop you?

What we learned from having our phones taken away from us while in camp and only having one television that didn’t usually work was how to entertain ourselves without technology. Reading on the dock while others swam was relaxing and if you weren’t careful, you may fall asleep. The fire tower trail was amazing to hike up to and look out onto the private bay we were nestled in and take pictures. We were told that we could jog around camp, go canoeing or kayaking, we could swim at the raft and we were not allowed to dive or jump off the dock because of three large rocks that were there. They made excellent footholds for when someone grabbed on to your neck because they were losing their swimsuit. I learned this quickly.

Sometimes, it felt like we were 5 again; going to other cabins, knocking on the door and asking if someone was inside if you couldn’t find them around camp on the weekends; sitting around on beds or on the floor, talking about boys while playing with each other’s hair or making bracelets and just being free. It was easy to entertain ourselves on the weekends without internet, texting, or watching television because there wasn’t the temptation. We couldn’t do it, so we didn’t even think about it. We wrote letters to everyone we knew and we were excited when people wrote us back. I still write hand written letters to people to this day because I remember how happy I was that someone had taken the time to do this for me.

I believe that having those two months away from people who knew us, made us all flourish and thrive. The girl who took two showers a day went to never washing her hair all summer to make a point to herself. The girl who followed rules like they were laws broke the rules to save herself from possibly getting a job jar (a task you get because they caught you breaking the rules) to experience the thrill of it with no real repercussions. One girl went from never speaking to never stopping because people finally started to listen and even encouraged her to talk. We all had our moment of living that summer and we all hang onto that moment.

When I was asked what I wanted from the camp at the end of the first half, the answer was simple; I didn’t want it to end. I wanted that summer to last forever.

It didn’t. When I returned to school for grade 12, the cabin-mate and I, who went to the same school, never spoke again. We had returned to our social constraints and lived on as before. A month after it all ended, I realized that I would give anything to have those two months back. I wanted to go back to the first day, when I was sitting in a Greyhound Bus station in Sudbury, terrified out of my mind about what was to come. I wanted to have the same conversations on the bus there with Leslie and Maddy, I wanted to be confused again when I saw Zina on the bus and not be sure if I knew her. I wanted to be uncomfortable with correcting Mary’s mistake about who was the last girl on the bus, headed for The Water Shed truck stop. I wanted all the injuries I received, all the bad days I had, all the smiles back that made my face hurt, I wanted to singe my eyebrows again from sitting in the fire pit, and I wanted to relive that summer for the rest of my life.

Crossing the Ice

By Raisa Patel

“John, I have a gun and I need your help.”

 The Polar Sun Spire. Photo credit: Jim Lamont

The Polar Sun Spire. Photo credit: Jim Lamont

My father, Haroon Patel, startled John, who was working in his garage one spring morning in the house across the street from ours. To strangers and friends alike, my father has the distinction of being remarkably friendly, compassionate, and calm. John was alarmed. Visions of hollowed graves, unknown bodies, and attempted robbery swam through his mind. He wondered if my father’s job in the telecommunications industry had taken a turn for the worse.

“Have I told you about the trip I’m planning?” my father said.

This worried John further. No, Haroon had not told him about his trip, and frankly, he did not care. Why did he have a gun? And why did he need his help?

To John’s relief, my father began to elaborate. Haroon was going to Baffin Island. He would be camping with a friend in a frozen desert of sea ice, and the guide from the outfitter they had hired would not take them out to the fjords unless each of them had a shotgun to defend themselves against wayward bears. My father had been loaned one, but had no idea how to use it. John had grown up in a family of Ontario farmers and knew a thing or two about firearms, a fact my father was clearly aware of when he sidled up to his garage that morning, 12 gauge Remington 870 Marine Magnum in hand.

Both men laugh when they tell the story to me separately, 16 years later. My father had caught on to John’s unease quickly and thought stringing him along would be a riot.  

*** 

My father was born in Durban, South Africa in 1950 and grew up in Johannesburg. Apartheid was a fledgling movement, growing stronger and uglier as my father learned to walk, attended school, and made friends. From a political standpoint, he experienced no privilege as an Indian South African. When Mahatma Gandhi – the man my father is occasionally stopped in the street for resembling – worked in the country, the discrimination he faced shaped the activism of his later years. My father’s family experienced the flame of police power, corrupt and unlawfully wielded. Yet, he views his childhood with only the fondest of memories. He remembers – more fully than anything else – the silky-soft feeling of his father’s earlobe that he stroked as a child, the spirited street games he played with his friends, and the overnight trips his family took on a steam locomotive from Johannesburg to Durban. He would stick his face out the window, feeling the rush of the air, hearing the pounding clang of the wheels on the rails, letting the soot fly into his face.

When my father moved to Toronto in 1974, he did not escape the racial profiling and problematic policing of his native country. He laughs about it now, and didn’t dwell on it then. He sees beauty in hideousness. He gives second and third and fourth chances until the lesson is learned. Instead of teaching that “hate” is a strong word, he teaches that there is no such thing as hatred. Forgiveness is the virtue my father offers this world. His is as long and as deep as the valleys glaciers carve into ancient bedrock.

Armed with this philosophy, nothing deterred him from exploring every facet of the Earth. At 33, he pedalled his black Fujitsu bicycle along the Nile, up and down the Himalaya mountain range, through bustling Asian cities, and down lonely European roads. In Jerusalem, it was so hot he halted at every rock to stand in their shadows; in Romania, the mountains were so cold he lingered in every patch of sunlight, melting out the thaw.

***

 In May of 1997, my father and his co-worker, Jim Lamont, flew to Iqaluit for a three-week expedition on Baffin Island. From Iqaluit, they took a tiny plane to Clyde Inlet, a river on the eastern edge of the island. The plane landed on an airstrip, their equipment (along with themselves) was tossed onto the tarmac, and the plane took off again.

 Trekking on a foggy day. Photo credit: Jim Lamont

Trekking on a foggy day. Photo credit: Jim Lamont

From here they sought the help of the outfitter they had hired, who provided them with a guide – an Inuit man who slept on a polar bear skin and possessed comprehensive knowledge of snowmobile engines. He would take them deep into the Baffin Island interior and deposit them, returning to pick them up three weeks later. “When we shook hands, his hands were so hot,” my father recalled as we sat in the basement, feeding slides of Arctic landscapes into a projector. “Ours were freezing cold. For him, it was nothing. For us, it was everything.”

The guide packed their belongings in a qamutik, a traditional Inuit sled with its wooden pieces lashed together with sinew or hide instead of nailed or screwed, designed for flexibility over the treacherous sea ice. Jim and my father sat in the qamutik as the guide pulled it behind him by Ski-Doo, taking them away from civilization. For all its flexibility, the sled sorely lacked proper suspension. For 10 hours, the sled reared over bumps in the ice at 20 miles per hour, slamming down with cracking force. The discomfort was agonizing. Just one day into the journey, Jim, a seasoned expeditioner, cried. He didn’t think he could possibly survive the ride. The Ski-Doo belched exhaust into their faces like soot streaming out of a train into the face of a child.

In a photograph Jim sent me of the two at the start of the trek, they look clean and rested. My father’s brown skin was smooth and beardless. Jim’s face was no longer pale, but ruddy with cold and adventure: a flush of colour in comparison to the sweeping expanse of white-blue ice and dark, snow-streaked mountains behind them. To them, the ice was dense and permanent. It dominated the land.  

***

“Any trip into the Canadian Arctic requires a horrendous amount of planning,” Jim told me later during a phone conversation. To him, trust was paramount in an expedition partner. Trust will save your life, and my father turned out to be just the right person for the job. Where Jim was anxious and easily frightened, my father was patient and optimistic. 

“Haroon is a much tougher man, in every respect, than he likes to admit.”

The winter before the trip found my father trudging through our snowy neighbourhood, dragging a sled full of bricks behind him. This was how he practised; in the Arctic, whatever he could not carry in his pack would be pulled behind him in a sled. I remember my candy-coloured toboggans growing scratched and worn, cracking in places, the cheap plastic unable to take the strain. A Canadian child’s toboggan is her lifeblood, and at the age of five, his training did not impress me.

 As we were conversing, my father handed me a butter-yellow folder of documents from the journey. In it were detailed itineraries of locations and their distances in nautical miles. There are menus and packing lists that the men would pore over, full of items such as “wound-closure Band-Aids,” “second spreading knife,” and “bear fence stuff.” His to-do list was tacked on at the end. Get big, plastic bowl. Practice bear fence. Check hernia.

There was one last document inside the folder. A recipe for currant scones he had requested from one of the outfitters before he left the island. My father has spent decades honing the art of making scones, breads, and curries, but never considers his efforts as highly as his taste-testers do. He does not believe in attaining perfection in creative pursuits, despite understanding the temperament of ingredients like a fisherman senses the pulse of the ocean.

If forgiveness is what he offers this world, a good scone will often follow. 

***

According to my father, the landscape of Baffin Island’s eastern fjords is a question of perspective. Standing from a certain point on the ice melds three peaks into one; from another, they emerge as distinct structures. One looks like a looming Gothic cathedral, dark grey and imposing. Another looks like a wide section of a spiral staircase with snowy steps, twisting lazily into the sky. There is a jagged, tilting triangle. Like searching for meaning in shapely clouds, you can find a story in each one. Among the most stunning peaks is the Polar Sun Spire in the Sam Ford Fjord. It boasts a towering north face, intimidating in its verticality. It was first summited during a 39-day ascent a year before my father’s trip.

The sea ice of the fjords is equally deceptive. A fjord is a channel of water that has been hollowed out of the rock, with steep rocks rising on either side like three piano keys with the middle one depressed. When my father viewed icebergs and rock formations head-on, in a straight segment of a fjord, he thought they looked mere miles away. But traveling for the rest of the day, packs shouldered and sleds sliding, would get him no closer. 

This far north, at the top of the world, the Arctic commands a humbling authority. You walk on its land. It could claim you in an instant.

 Early on, my father stepped on a snow-covered lead – a wide fracture in the ice – that had only barely frozen over. His foot broke through, soaking him knee-deep. Days later, the men wedged themselves in their tent for 48 hours at the mercy of a howling storm of crystalized wind. Once, while setting up camp for the night, searching for ice to boil into water, my father lost sight of Jim for several moments. His poor sense of direction stood no chance against the stretches of snowblown rocks that looked so completely similar to the undiscerning eye. My father thought that the Inuit, with their intimate familiarity with the land, would have laughed at his confusion had they been there to witness it.

At the midpoint of the trek, my father was traipsing along the ice, wearing his red snow pants and heavy blue coat. He pulled his yellow sled behind him, a map sealed in a plastic cover swinging from his neck. He was like a colour wheel rolling across the frozen sea.

Then, from behind him, Jim uttered one word.

“Shit.”

My father wheeled around.

A kilometer away, a polar bear stared right at them.

 It stood on its hind legs. My father thought about the gun. He thought about what John and the outfitters had told him. There are two dummy bullets to scare it away. Shoot it in the shoulder so it can’t run. But neither man touched their guns. They were transfixed. The bear satisfied its curiosity, came down on all fours, and lumbered away.

My father is a man who avoids swatting flies or disposing of the unfortunate mice we sometimes trap in our house, so strongly does he empathize with them. Perhaps the Arctic knew this, and gave him a reprieve.

***

One of my father’s clearest memories of the whole experience is the moment I careened into his arms upon his return. Only five, I took in his beard and chapped face with great interest. He gifted me with the neck and flipper bones of a long-departed seal he had found on the ice. Other parents might find this macabre, but my father respects children too much to cushion them from the candor of life.

He has never returned to the Arctic, but Jim did in 2013. He remembers a glacier near the long and thin Stewart Lakes on the island from his trip in 1997. He stood with my father near the river, bathed in the awesome glacier’s shadow. It curved along the ground, rising a hundred feet tall. When he returned 16 years later, he set out to photograph it under more favourable conditions.

Jim arrived at the spot where he swore it stood. No glacier. He checked his map and looked up. No glacier. He got out his GPS device and verified he was correct. No glacier. He felt terrified by the sheer amount of ice that had vanished, nothing but a muddy plain   left in its wake.

 My father crossing the Sam Ford Fjord. Photo credit: Jim Lamont

My father crossing the Sam Ford Fjord. Photo credit: Jim Lamont

In 1997, the Baffin Island skies were a startling blue on a good day, thick and grey on a foggy one. That far north, during the weeks of their trip, the sun never set. The sky grew orange and grey and blue as the sun rotated in the sky, dipping low behind the mountains. Some days, the clouds would sink to the base of the mountains, hugging the ice as the men walked across it. The expanse of white before them was occasionally punctuated by patches of scrubby vegetation and bursts of tiny, magenta flowers. But the ice covered everything, so much so that my father felt, most of the time, as though he had departed the Earth.

The neck and flipper bone have since been wrapped with wire and hang on our Christmas tree every year. Nestled among the glittery decor, they serve as a ghostly reminder. This otherworldly place is trickling away.

***

At the end of our interview, I pressed my father for further details. Exactly where were you when you rested on the shoulder of that mountain, eavesdropping on the climbers who looked like two dots from afar? Do you know precisely how the skidoo slipped into the water on the trip back, flooding the engine? How many miles did you travel each day?

My father opened his mouth and paused, and in that moment he was trying to convey to me, impossibly, thousands of textures and sensations. He was trying to distill the essence of an experience into days, boiling down its magnificence into quantities expressed in time and distance.

And then he did what he always does. He chose not to answer the questions, the questions that are an affront to nature, the questions that cannot be answered so simply.

“It was immaterial,” he said. “It was the Arctic.”

 

Lost & Found: Friendship & Love

By Kyla Clarke

Unas veces se gana, otras se aprende. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn. Anyone who travels regularly knows there is much more to it than lazy beach resorts and nightclubs that never close – it’s about what you learn. I have been fortunate enough in my 25 years to travel substantially throughout Europe, Australia, the United States, and South America. It’s something I have made a priority for most of the past five years. But with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities also come life’s toughest lessons.

In Spain, I learned the difference between prosciutto and provolone (not a fun lesson for a vegetarian). In Argentina, I learned that pajaro means ‘bird’ and pajero means wanker, and that pronunciation is very important. And in Germany, I learned that maybe German cars aren’t as great as they are hyped up to be, but their auto shop employees do provide excellent customer service (and in English)! Amidst all the little lessons you're bound to learn every day while wandering through a foreign city, the truest lessons are the ones in which friendships are tested, relationships are ended, and you’re left figuring out what it all means when you go back home.

Lesson #1: Not all friendships are built to last.

When I was 21, and had finally graduated from four grueling years of earning a linguistics degree, getting a job was not on the top of my to-do list. I just wanted to get the fuck out of there. And so did my best friend.

I had met her on the first day of university, an embarrassing set up, care of her dad and my grandmother, but it lucked out that we actually liked each other. We spent countless nights (and sometimes days) getting drunk on vodka and embarrassing ourselves in residence dorms, Quebec nightclubs, and sometimes even football stadiums. Everyone else seemed to exhibit some level of shame or self-control, but we had each other, so we never cared about anything like that. As we matured, so did our friendship, and by the time we were finishing university, we had seen each other through some of the most challenging times of our lives. When I announced that I was desperately hoping to go to Europe, she was right there with me. Nobody else was going to join us on our adventure, but to Europe we went.

By the fifth day, I knew we’d have issues. We were in Dundee, Scotland, where I have family who graciously took care of us and toured us around. One of my Scottish cousins is about the same age as me, so we planned for a night on the town with some of her friends, and we’d crash at her flat that night. We all got separated at one point, and while I was cozying up with some fabulous gays I’d met at the club, she had been cozying up to some Scottish bloke back at his place and never came home. How she ever made it back through the twisty, cobblestone streets to my cousin’s flat at seven in the morning, I still don’t know.

I guess we had different understandings of the phrase “I just want to meet new people” because as we made our way from city to city, our nights out at the bar began to follow a familiar pattern. I was bothered, not just because of the obvious safety concerns, but because this was supposed to be our trip and I was always getting left behind at clubs with the random people we’d meet at hostels. One night in Madrid, on my 22nd birthday, I told her that all I wanted that night was to have fun with my best friend. Flash forward to five o’clock that morning: We’d been in the basement bathroom stall of la discoteca for over two hours, screaming and crying, fighting over everything we’d never said in our entire four-year friendship (my pants around my ankles the entire time). When we resurfaced upstairs, the bar was closing and the sun had come up.

Six weeks later her sister was flying to the Canary Islands to meet up with her and finish the trip, and I was on a plane to Portugal with someone else.

A lot happened on that trip that led to our “divorce.” Some of it had to do with money, some with boys, and some with our personality differences. Maybe it was too much time stuck with one person, maybe we had different expectations of what our trip would be, or maybe we just weren’t meant to travel together. I flew back to Canada alone and she flew back with her sister, and we had an awkward reunion a month later when she came to my grandmother’s house to “get her things.”

Though we have patched things up, our friendship will never be the same. No matter what happens, though, the experiences we had in university and on that trip are ones that we uniquely share, and we’ll both always hold onto. I have learned that friendships move like waves, and even if the tide is out right now, I still have love for her and I know when and if the time is right, the tide will roll back in again.

Lesson #2: You can chase love all over the world but that doesn’t mean you’ll catch it.

In the name of love, I have flown to Texas exactly four times. I have also traveled to Europe, South America, and returned to Canada, each time thinking that this time “he” would be mine, that this time it would last.

I am still single.

The first time I went to Texas, it was because I was in love with a musician who was seven years older than me. We started dating in Ottawa the summer I was 21, but he had already made plans to move to Austin in the fall, and I was leaving in November for the aforementioned Euro-trip with my best friend. We knew it wasn’t going to last, but I didn’t expect to fall so hard. We kept in touch over the fall and winter months and by the time I returned to Canada in February, he was practically begging me to visit. I had already been secretly planning my trip down there since September. A major music festival in March made for the perfect excuse to vacation in Texas.

I bounced off the airplane with high hopes and a full heart, but the week wasn’t exactly a scene from The Notebook. I had come down the airport escalator expecting him to be standing beneath the “Welcome to Austin” sign with a bouquet of roses, where I would leap into his arms and we’d embrace dramatically. I was instead forced to wait on the curb outside while he showed up late and eventually greeted me with the most awkward of hugs. While emotions were high and feelings confused, we did have an enjoyable week and ended up driving back to Canada together, all the way from Austin. Those four days on the road brought us closer than ever before, and brought me closer to him than any other man before him. By the time we were back home, I was planning the wedding.

As you may have guessed, things fell apart. After a month’s visit at home in Canada, he was supposed to be staying in Austin, but lasted only a few weeks down there before he came back north - for another girl. “We never said we were exclusive,” he said, as I slammed my phone down and cried black-mascara tears into my pillowcase. I was devastated. Never trust a musician, they’d said.

My next visits to Austin were for a different guy who unfortunately happened to live in the same city as the last one. He was an old friend who had moved to Texas years before. One drunken night somehow turned into the deluded idea that a long- distance relationship made sense. Six months of Skype dates and expensive flights eventually led to the realization that we barely knew what we wanted for ourselves, let alone with each other. We broke up.

The travel bug bit me again, around the same time that Canada’s harsh winter was biting me too. I was living in Edmonton, bored with my job and uncertain where my career or life was going. I’d often considered teaching English abroad, and I was ready for a change. After a three-week vacation in South America, I’d had a taste of the life, the language, and the type of people (read: men) I could meet. This time I didn’t have anyone specific in mind, but the possibilities thrilled me, so I moved to Argentina. Alone.

It turned out that dating in a foreign country is even more horrific than dating at home. After six months and a few failed attempts at Latin love (among other concerns), I began to crave the familiarity of home and a good Canadian boy. The depression from living abroad was eating away at me, and consequentially, I was eating away at it. I’d gained three pant sizes and had nothing left to wear when I came running home to an ex-boyfriend who made me feel that I’d find more comfort in him than I could in pizza napolitana.

Do I travel for love, or is it all for the love of travel? With the musician, I knew I’d cross any border to be with him. The second time around, I often wonder if I was more excited about the possibility of traveling to see him than I was about actually being with him. What I have learned from these experiences is that love is not subject to climate, language, or latitude. A relationship takes commitment and nurturing to grow into something healthy and long lasting, regardless of where you find it. Sometimes travel brings the possibility of love, and a relationship can bring the possibility of travel, but it’ll never work if you’re both not in the same place.

Lesson #3: You can’t always come home again.

“If it doesn’t work out, you just come home,” my mother would tell me each time I announced I was taking off again. The truth is, when you do come home, things are never the same. Once you ignite a period of instability into your life, it’s impossibly difficult to find your footing again. Not only have you changed, but your friends have too. Or worse, they haven’t changed at all.

After two years away, I came back to Ottawa expecting to pick up exactly where I left off. The reality is, while I’ve been working various throwaway jobs to save enough money only to leave again, my friends have been focusing on furthering their educations and progressing in their careers. While I’ve been cycling through one short-term relationship after another, my friends are living with boyfriends and getting engaged. Homes, cars – hell - some of them have kids. Often, my problems seem insignificant to them, and their lifestyles seem boring to me. Some have moved, some friendships have fallen out, and some remain as perfectly intact as they were before I left.

While I’m still figuring out what it means to be an “adult,” travel has given me a greater understanding of the way the world works, and what’s important in life.

I came home looking for routine, stability and a sense of closeness to my loved ones. Things didn’t work out with the ex-boyfriend I came back for, one of my closest friends won’t speak to me, and I’m still flat broke, catching up from all the money spent on travel. So while all the things I came home for seemed perfect at the time, they haven’t been so easy to hold onto. I’m learning that if I want to make progress happen, I need to slow down and stay in one place. But I often fear that if this settled kind of life goes stale, then eventually, whatever it was that caused me to come running home will soon make me want to run away again.

Travel has taught me an endless number of things. Navigating a subway system in any city has become second nature, I can order coffee in at least five languages, and I have achieved an expert skill level at packing light. While these skills are useful and didn’t come easily, I also faced moments that tested me more than anything else ever has. From breakups with boys to fights with friends to battles with my inner self in raw moments of loneliness, the truest lessons were the ones that shook me to my core. I came home from every trip exhausted, exhilarated, and changed. Not every travel story ends with a champion but if there’s one thing you can take away from each experience, it’s this: sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.

The Light

By Valerie Assinewe

What woke her up?

She lay there listening. There was nothing but the soft sounds of the country night. The gentle swaying of the branches of the oak tree, a stalwart presence close to the house, the rustling of the mice in the attic and, in the distance, the hoot of an owl. So different from the city, where there was always noise, even in her quiet suburban neighbourhood—the constant hum of vehicles on the streets, the distant keening of sirens, and occasionally the chattering, shattering sound of raccoons breaking into a neighbour’s garbage can.

She raised her head from the pillow and listened for the sandhill cranes that were nesting in the field down the hill near the lake. There was no soft crooning of protective parents from that quarter tonight. If there were something outside, then Jacky, the family’s vigilant and territorial collie, would be barking. He was getting old, and increasingly struggling to get up and down the steps into the house, but he was still the unquestioned guardian of family and home.

Satisfied that all was well, she turned over, fluffed up the pillow and snuggled deeper into the comforter to sleep.

Then she saw what had awakened her. It was a light, a dim, reddish glow, pulsing under the door.

She lay there looking at the light. She was sure there was no night light in the hallway, and had there been one it would be a small glowing angel, or a happy face, something kid-shaped and friendly. Not this dull, throbbing red. Not the bathroom light, either. No one ever left that on.

The bed was firm and the duvet, made from feathers, was soft and warm. Dawn was still hours away. No need to get up and check. The house was fine. Everything would be safe. The kids were all asleep. The kids…

Reluctantly, she slid from under the covers, stood for a moment shivering in the cool darkness, and stepped carefully, silently through the bedroom to the door and into the hall.

All was quiet. Not like it had been earlier that day. Family get-togethers were always a joyful riot of noise, laughter, and conversation. And with kids just back from university and a couple of new boyfriends on the scene, tonight’s dinner had been even more raucous than usual; the huge family dinner, aunties chatting in the kitchen, nieces and nephews all talking at once, brothers and sisters catching up on all the family news and gossip since the last visit. Afterwards, the best part of the visit: the kids safely tucked in bed and the adults relaxing in the old family living room, telling their favourite stories from their childhood. Happy tales and sad ones too, lovingly recalled and retold every time the family gathered. The best stories got even better with every telling; as the eldest, she was frequently called on to referee the facts.

The faint red glow suffused the hall. She listened, half hoping that one of her brothers or sisters would emerge from their rooms to check on the sounds of her movement. They’d tease her and show her the glowing red number on the face of their digital clock, and send her back to bed smiling, and next year, the family would have a new story.

But there was no sound. If any of her siblings had heard her moving, they had most likely checked to make sure their kids were still in their cots and gone back to sleep. There was no light from beneath any of the doors, no sound from any of these rooms. She was the only one up. The only one watching the light, pulsing from the stairwell.

She walked down the stairs from the second floor over the garage, descending slowly into the oldest part of the house, pausing to listen at every step. Maybe one of her brothers was kidding around with her. They all knew her fears. She loved many scary movies—Aliens, Terminator, and even Tremors—and could watch them again and again. But those supernatural thrillers that her brothers and sisters seemed to like so much—that was a different story.

She remembered a time, before any nieces and nephews, when she and her Uncle Niksaan were having tea at the kitchen table, trying not to pay attention as her brothers and sisters chortled and guffawed over Pet Sematary.

Hands grabbed her shoulders from behind. She screamed. Whoops of delight came from the living room. It was her brother, Peter; a year younger than she was, but still the oldest of her seven brothers, and thus endowed—he thought—with a special right to tease his eldest sister. He was not like the others, who considered her much too serious. Peter was leading the laughter, but when he realized she was shaking, nearly crying, he became instantly contrite. He hugged her, shushing the others, and turned off the horrible video.

That had been many years ago, but she still could not watch films like Dawn of the Dead, The Shining, The Haunting—any of those creepy ones where something evil prowls through your home in the night, in the dark, out to get you…and your family.

And why, she thought, am I thinking about that NOW? Idiot. Shaking her head to banish the images from her mind, she stepped slowly, quietly, into the large, empty kitchen.

She knew the room in darkness—God knows she had tiptoed through it often enough in the middle of the night as a teenager, hoping her parents were sound asleep. But this was not her kitchen, not her space. It was a strange room, bathed in a soft red glow and beating like a heart, dreamlike.

The throbbing red light was coming from outside.

She moved carefully across the room. “God gave us shins so we can find furniture in the dark,” her mom used to say. She reached the picture window, shins unscathed, and peered out into the night.

Directly in front of the kitchen window was a circular driveway that led through the woods to the main reserve road a short distance away. Her night vision was not as sharp as it used to be; once, she could have picked individual trees out of the shapeless dark mass. But no light was there, red or otherwise. Just the forest and the faint, pale shape of the road.

With her heart beating a little faster, she leaned forward and looked up into the sky. Was it just last week that those people in British Columbia and Alberta saw a huge, burning sphere streaking through the night sky? Then there were all those tales from the old people of the community about a shaman who could shape shift and travel through the sky as a ball of fire.

But no. Tonight, there was nothing up there to fear. Nothing but the calming stars, the enduring presence of the Milky Way.

Taking a deep breath, she looked to the right, toward the barn, filled with hay and cats, and the road leading down into the valley and their old homestead. She hugged herself with relief; thank God, there was no light from that quarter either. The valley of her childhood remained a safe place, nothing down there but the field of the quietly ruminating Herefords; the cranes at peace with the foxes and wolves for the night, the silent hunt of the owl, a place full of memories. Her first and happiest home.

She turned slowly to the left. Yes. The pulsing light was there, high off the ground but below the treetops, silhouetting the sugar bush with an eerie red glow and casting tree shadows like grasping hands reaching across the field toward the house. Toward the kitchen. Toward her.

And then everything went black.

She froze and backed quickly away from the window. Without the red pulse, she could see nothing at all. And that’s when it happens, of course, always. That’s when they come smashing through the window. Or crawling out of the basement. Or dropping from the ceiling. Or…

Stop. Breathe deeply through the nose then exhale slowly through the mouth. Again.

She calmed her breathing in the darkness, and focused on the silence, straining to hear. The house was still quiet. No sound from the yard and patio, the family’s gathering place for summer barbecues, the bonfire and music bathing them in golden light and sound into the night. Silence from the still, dark oak trees lining the driveway. Then a mutter, and she started—but it was Jacky, asleep on the straw outside the door, on guard even in his sleep. Nothing.

The snap of a twig.

She took a step back, away from the window. Why was she down here? What was she doing? Where were her brothers and sisters? Why wasn’t anyone else here standing with her?

Through the window, something moved at the edge of the forest, a blacker shape against the black backdrop of the trees. A shadow in motion, and then it was gone.

A scuffle of gravel in the driveway leading to the house.

Then she remembered Niksaan’s stories of wendigoes.

He used to talk about these creatures, usually late at night, but never when the kids were around. They were humans gone feral, living in the forest, coming out to hunt people and eating them alive. They were the dark and terrifying negation of family, of community, of humanity. She had always been afraid of the wendigo to the core of her being. She had smudged every house and apartment she had ever lived in with tobacco and sage. Most of her friends thought it was just a custom; only her husband knew how important the ritual to wendigo-proof their home was to her.

Her husband. She wished he were here beside her right now. Why did she come for this family gathering without him? Why…

She heard a fumbling at the door.

She backed up to the wall. Always keep your back to the wall: a defensive, defensible stance. Where did she remember that from? As her hand groped the wall, she felt a cast-iron frying pan hanging behind her and pulled it from its hook. Her hand gripped the handle so tightly she felt shooting pains through her arthritic thumbs.

For a moment, a lighter patch of darkness appeared where the door should have been, and she felt a breath of cold air. Then a faint creak, and the lighter darkness disappeared. The door had closed. Something was in the room. In the room with her. Mother of God, no. And, why was she praying? She didn’t pray. She turned away from all that years ago. Oh God! She was not able to run. Fight? What did she think she was going to do with this stupid frying pan? Oh God, please, the kids, those kids upstairs….

The kitchen lamp clicked on. Her father was standing there, a screwdriver and a pair of pliers in his hand. Dad.

He smiled. “Aanii,” he said, then glanced at the frying pan she was clutching to her chest. He cocked his head. “What are you doing there? How come you’re up?”

She tried to smile back. It wasn’t easy what with the tense body and the inability to breathe. “I saw the light,” she was able to gasp out.

“Ahhh”, he said. “It was the automatic warning light on the grader. I forgot to turn them off when I got home. They’re off now.”

He pointed to the frying pan. “And you got up to make pancakes for me in the middle of the night?”

She laughed. Then coughed. Then they both laughed.

He crossed the room and hugged her. “Still on guard after all these years,” he said, and hugged her again.

“We’re all safe. Go to bed.”

Be a Body

By Charmaine Gratton

Night fell like a flood, saturating the woods in a deep chill and stifling visibility for miles. Leah had run out of path about three hours ago. Her feet were sore from walking, and the sole of her right sneaker hung from the canvas like a tongue pulling rocks and debris into its gaping mouth. Rough terrain makes no difference to numb feet. Her denim-clad legs moved on their own accord, ushering her hollow body onwards. She wondered what would happen when the strength finally left them. The brush around her was thick and scratchy, and rocks jutted out here and there along the path. Leah eyed each one as she passed, determining if it might be a comfortable place to rest. The crackle of leaves and groan of old branches made the forest come alive with inhuman conversation. The wind was cold and scattered with hail. It bit at her bare arms. She swore to herself that if she found a road she would lie on the shoulder and wait for anyone who would stop.  

When Leah finally came upon a cabin she was relieved to see any sign of civilization. The structure was soot-black, as though someone had tried and failed to burn it to the ground. It was no larger than a garage and had only one window peering out the front, as well as a dishevelled and rotten porch covered in holes and leaves. Despite its state of disrepair, it seemed solid enough to provide shelter for a night. She knocked on the unlocked door several times but nothing stirred. She tried to call out but her voice was dry and hoarse. When she peered inside, it looked as though the floorboards hadn’t been tested for many seasons. Any shelter would have to do; if she stayed the night in the forest she would surely catch her death. Something rested on the floor by the entrance, barely noticeable in the darkness. As Leah clasped its metal handle, she found that it was an old oil lantern. She fumbled for her cigarette pack and from it retrieved her lighter. The wick of the lantern blazed to life, casting a warm orange glow around her.

She shone the light into the house and found that there was only one room. The walls and floors were black, but was it from paint or ash?  The only thing inside was a large, bulging bundle of burlap. Something about the size and shape of it made Leah uneasy as it looked roughly like someone was crouching inside of it. Still, it made no movement as the light hit it, and it did not respond when Leah called out. Two points shone from the front of it, like shiny buttons or pieces of mirror. 

Leah stood in the doorway for a while before she lit one of her remaining cigarettes and let the nicotine calm her nerves. Lord knew when she'd find the road again, and she could use a break from the “friendliness” of strangers. Hitchhiking was a dangerous game, and she had hoped to find a safe place to stay before autumn. Countless rides later she had found fewer good Samaritans on the road and more sketchy strangers, truckers shaking from drugs, and men devouring her with their eyes. Broken and hungry as she was, she was reluctant to use her body as a bartering tool. Although, desperate times seemed to be upon her. Some of the other girls in foster care had their experiences with prostitution. They said it was easier if they were high, that way they could pretend they were somewhere else. Leah hadn’t hit the pipe in weeks. The only vice she had on her were the cigarettes she had swiped from the last ride. There was only one deck left. Another gust of wind made the hair bristle on her arms and neck. She put the lamp down on the rough, wooden floor and stepped into the cabin.

Now that both Leah and the lantern were inside, it was the outside world that became pitch black. There was not much to see, the floor was dirty and the wood panels that formed the walls were rough and covered in soot. There were no furnishings, but Leah could see lighter patches where paintings might have hung. She turned her attention to the burlap sack in the lamplight, and saw that there were indeed two pieces of mirror sewn to the front of it. They glittered in the flame, chatoyant and menacing. Leah's unease towards the cabin was finally outweighed by a cold shriek of wind. It startled her into closing the door, sealing out the chill. Then, realizing that she had turned her back on the suspicious package, she whipped back around. She had expected it to have moved, but it hadn't. Of course it hadn’t. Why should it have? She laughed uneasily to herself but the air that escaped her lips barely made a sound.

Leah leaned her back against the wall, across from the burlap bundle. Maybe it was coal, she thought. She could use coal if she had a stove or a fire pit, but with what? She’d already seen there was nothing of help. As her eyes adjusted to the light, however, she saw a metal pot in the far corner. She hadn’t any idea how she hadn’t noticed it there before. The hunger that had faded to a dull ache suddenly hit her full force. Her stomach groaned and twisted like a dying animal. There couldn’t be anything edible in that pot, she thought. Regardless, she stepped towards it, landing her feet gingerly on the groaning panels.

The pot lay on its side so that the opening faced towards the wall. It was roughly ten inches in diameter and made of a charred metal, giving it a hand-forged look. Leah lifted it by the handle and tipped it right-side-up, thinking she saw something on the bottom, but couldn’t make it out in the wavering light. She picked up the pot, muscles straining against the weight, and brought it up to the dim light. Suddenly, it began to click. Her heart skipping a beat, Leah dropped the pot, its weight forcing an agonizing groan from the floor. She watched as the pot’s inhabitant scurried away: A black centipede half a metre long and as thick as her forearm. Its yellow legs clicked a hellish tattoo as it fled, finding refuge under the burlap sack.

Leah collapsed. She rested against the wall and cried, holding her aching stomach. The scare had taken up the last of her energy reserves, leaving her weak and exhausted. She knew she would need to sleep soon. Every muscle in her body burned from overuse. Her abdomen gurgled as if gnawing on itself. The blood-stained sheets of her bed at the group home seemed like paradise. Despite the weight of her eyelids, she couldn’t get the centipede out of her head. She thought she could still hear the clicking of its little feet, like an impossibly fast clock or the drumming of her social worker’s acrylic nails. Although no movement came from the sack, Leah imagined its many legs arranging it into a coil, like a snake. The clicking continued at a steady pace for many minutes, and Leah began to pray that it was just her imagination. She thought about the centipede crawling over her as she slept, poking at her with its sharp yellow horns. The thought made her skin crawl. Still, she thought, it must be safer in here than outside. She shivered at the thought of returning to the cold wilderness, and the clicking intensified. She couldn’t take it. She needed to get rid of that bug.

Leah wielded the now-empty pot like a shield and closed in on her prey. The burlap appeared to tremble in the lamplight, as if anticipating her approach. Raising one foot and gripping the pot menacingly with both hands, she gathered the last of her strength. It was all over in a matter of seconds. She kicked the bag over and the centipede reared and hissed. She swung the pot at the horrid bug and missed, cracking a hole in the floorboard. The pot disappeared into the blackness below, and the centipede followed it, but Leah barely noticed. The burlap sack had split open, spilling part of its unbearably precious contents: a loaf of bread the size of two fists. The impossibly fresh loaf tumbled onto the dirty planks. Leah’s stomach growled like a wild animal. Her dry mouth did its best to salivate as she dropped to her knees and lifted it to her nose, inhaling its sweet, subtle aroma.

Her hungry teeth cracked through the crust with a satisfying loudness, while her tongue worked quickly to shovel the soft innards into her gullet. For a moment of pure and utter bliss, Leah thought that she had found her salvation. Relief turned to apprehension as the texture of the dough changed. It became powdery, absorbing the last of the moisture in her mouth. The aftertaste bit into her tongue, acrid and metallic. She lifted the morsel once more to the light and wondered how she had not noticed it before, the long, black braid that dangled from the mummified head in her hand.

Leah tried to throw up the bits of skull and soot but her stomach lacked the bile sufficient to flush the remnants from her throat. Bits of bone fragments lodged themselves in her esophagus, cutting off air and burying into the tender flesh like tiny claws. Her vision started fading. She heard the clicking once more, applauding as she collapsed into darkness.

Tiny legs tickled Leah’s face, stirring her into consciousness. She tried to swat the dreadful creature away, but found that she could not move her arms. In fact, she couldn’t move anything. Her eyes rolled around until they lined up with two pin-pricks in the darkness. She spied through the holes into the room where her body once lay. Now it was standing in the doorway. The eyes, blazing with new life, were fixed on her. It waited patiently until it seemed certain that the contents of the burlap sack had awakened. A satisfied smile broke the cracked lips, still blackened from ashes. From behind the coarse fabric, Leah watched as her body picked up the lantern and walked out into the night. In the darkness, the clicking resumed.

"Flashion" Forward

By Charmaine Gratton

I used to have a bit of an on-line shopping addiction. I've skimmed many a clothing site out of curiosity, and wound up with a dent in my credit card and a surplus of statement pieces. My habit led me to some strange places on the internet, and I kind of liked it. Every now and again I’d come across something and think, "Wow that’s so crazy, who would wear that?" And then it dawned on me, hell, I would wear that. Some people would argue that flashy clothes are a cry for attention, but in the words of 3LW, “haters gonna hate.” It’s your body, whether you feel like rocking the just-out-of-bed look or decking yourself out like a Club Kid, the choice is yours. I am about to take you on a magical journey to the land of Flashion (you guessed it, flashy fashion). Life’s too short to wear boring clothes.

 

Open your minds people, let’s ACCESSORIZE.

Wow, what is that? Is it a refreshing carton of unicorn milk? No, unicorns don’t exist (yet) but this purse does! This Legend Dairy Bag by DK Design is a quirky statement piece that is sure to quench your thirst for fashion. This magnetic-clasp purse has just enough space to fit your wallet, cell phone, and a handful of glitter.

What better way to say “this is exactly where my nipples are” than with a skin-tight rubber dress? Prepare to sweat through every pore of your torso in the name of fashion. The Bubblicious Skater Dress by Devowevo would look great with some PVC platform shoes and patterned leggings. The best part – if you’re a spill-prone drinker – liquid rolls right off of you!  Party on!

Your clothes should elicit an emotional response, like the excitement you feel unwrapping the foil of a well-built burger. If you want people to salivate upon your arrival, look no further. This Hamburger Pullover Sweater by Voglee helps you capture the tantalizing flavour of a double cheeseburger, without the grease. Well, depending on your skincare routine.  

It’s hard not to be noticed when you’re eight feet tall!  The Quozmopolitan Platform Shoes by Y.R.U. combine holographic PVC with a chunky, foam platform to make any aspiring fashion muse pedestal worthy. Pair them with baggy sweatpants or a little black dress. Just don’t attempt to run… And maybe avoid stairs. If people make fun of you, just look down at them and laugh then crush them with your giant feet.

Ah, then there is Etsy; the great garage sale of the internet. If you’re not familiar with Etsy, imagine crafters of ranging talent, from folk artists to glue-gun enthusiasts, connected to the public by the wonders of Paypal. Light It Up Clothing  specializes in glowing snapbacks, even offering custom orders. Now everyone can know what’s on your mind, even in the dark.

This has been a brief adventure in Flashion. Happy travels, and may the Shipping Gods smile upon you. 

Problems on a Plane

By Raisa Patel

At the age of 12, I memorized John Gillespie Magee Jr.’s poem "High Flight." I can still recite the World War II poem to this day. In the sonnet, aviator Magee extolls the virtues of flying – the fiery beauty of the open air, the powerful reverence of piloting a plane.

With respect to Mr. Magee, I beg to differ. Today, air travel is the bane of humanity’s existence, nothing like the romantic gallantry that wartime pilots penned in their letters home. The skies are dotted with airplanes full of sweaty people fortifying the walls of their personal bubbles. Unfortunately for them, their bubbles will be popped several times over, redrawn smaller and smaller until they cling to their owners like film over a hot liquid that has been left to cool for too long.

Last summer, I took a three-week trip to Europe and was reminded precisely why air travel is no friend of mine.

Airports are claustrophobic places. Regardless of size, you never forget that you are trapped inside a no-man’s land of unpleasant smells and constant noise.  To me, The Terminal is not a comedy. It’s a horror film.

Then there is that perennial question: Do I dress for comfort or style? I chose the former for my homeward journey, and suspect this is why the check-in lady surveyed me from beneath eyelids drooping with copious amounts of eyeliner and scorn. If you’re traveling solo, this is your chance to be someone intriguing. All assumptions about you will be made on the basis of how you look. The airport is your oyster, a phrase I took to heart because I found myself seated near a Prunier Seafood Bar in Heathrow at six in the morning. What is a seafood bar anyway, if not a place where a shrimp might knock back a cold one after a taxing day? And what on Earth is a Prunier? I later realized the term was related to expensive caviar and did not mean, as I originally thought, “extra pruney.”

 More unsettling than an airport, however, is the concept of hurtling through the atmosphere in what I can only describe as an oversized soda can. My eighth-grade physics teacher assured me that the principles of drag and lift make flight a perfectly logical phenomenon, but I don’t buy it. Those terms sound like something a middle-aged woman might request of her plastic surgeon. Anyway, the only drag I associate with flying involves dealing with passengers in all their irritating glory.

There’s nothing better than a nine-hour flight (which, incidentally, passes over your final destination seven hours in, a destination you will not arrive at for 13 hours yet because you are a cheap, layover-loving masochist) than the man in front of you reclining his chair with such oblivious vigor that your drink spills all over your lap. This was my journey travelling home, and the pain did not end there. The woman beside me chose, amongst a plethora of exhilarating options, to watch a documentary about guacamole. A man on her screen wore an antiseptically white hazmat suit, a choice of garb much too formal for mashing up some avocados. “I love guacamole!” the subtitles informed me he was saying, as he reached out a hazmatted hand to stroke the leathery fruit. Too stunned to look away, I lost my opportunity to watch Little Miss Sunshine for the seventh time.

At least there is always customs and immigration to look forward to at the end of a harrowing trip abroad. Because absolutely nothing induces an existential crisis-and-a-half in a recent university graduate with zero job prospects like a series of invasive questions about what you do.

 

 

Industry Standards

By Natasha Leduc

It’s definitely not news that the modelling industry sets ridiculous and unhealthy standards for women, but few people inside the industry talk about this openly. It’s true that after models started dying from anorexia, some parts of the industry set weight minimums on the women they would hire, but not all countries and agencies have taken up this new rule. Anyone can open a magazine and find the editorial photo shoot featuring models with stick-thin legs, but the blame isn’t on those girls. Many have been working towards their modelling goals for most of their lives; the idea of being as small as possible is just a necessity. It’s how they get work.

I started modelling when I was 16, in the hope that it would get me to come out of my shell. I can’t say it didn’t accomplish that, but there was a price. Throughout high school, I was wrongly accused of being anorexic on multiple occasions, so I thought I must be thin enough to fit in with these other models. A lot of people talk about models’ waist sizes, but to me, the most obvious giveaway that someone was forcing themselves to be thinner than they should be was their legs. I saw girls who had been in the business much longer than me with bones almost visible through their skin. It was heartbreaking.

The worst part was that it was all normal and accepted - even expected - in that world. I couldn’t count the number of times we were told about an upcoming casting call and warned that the designer would be brutally honest about whether or not we needed to lose 10 pounds. I remember looking around the room and thinking none of the girls around me should lose any weight, but everyone accepted the idea that we might be told we weren't skinny enough. Most of us were teenagers, a time in our lives when we shouldn't have been worrying about how our natural weight changes might affect our career.

Of course, agents don’t care about their girls being too skinny until it affects their ability to work. It’s bad for business if a girl in the middle of a photo shoot is so weak she faints on set. The agents are concerned with molding their talents into what designers are looking for. That’s why I think the blame rests with the designers: they’re the starting point in this destructive mentality. It’s hard to explain what needing two assistants to help you pry off a pair of jeans in the middle of a runway show will do to your self-esteem.

The most memorable experience I have with this issue was when my workshop group was introduced to a model in the company who had been on a designer’s reality TV competition. She was the model for a man known to make ridiculously small clothing, and the model always needs to fit the clothes, not the other way around. No one ever said he was wrong, they just found this model to be his mannequin. As she spoke to us, I couldn't help my thoughts from drifting to how sickly she looked. All I could see was a young woman who looked like she would break if you hugged her. If that’s not a sign that there’s a problem, I don’t know what is. 

No Kidding

By Gabrielle Black

I am a twenty-eight year old married woman. My husband and I have been together for nine years and married for the past two. From the moment the engagement ring slipped on my finger, others treated me as if I was fulfilling my womanly duty in life. However, the moment I stuck the wedding ring on everything changed. The typical conversation would go like this:

"So, when are you guys going to start a family?"

"We already are a family."

"No, no. When are you having children?"

"We're not."

 My response, often met first by silence, would spark a flurry of questions and judgmental comments. Why don't you want kids? Why isn't your husband allowing you to bear children? Who’s going to take care of you when you're old? You’ll change your mind. You're neglecting your duty to this world as a woman. You’ll never truly understand love,  and most common of all, You're selfish for not wanting children.

I’ve always felt that my reasons for not having children were my own, and I didn’t need to justify them to anyone. Apparently though, when you stray even slightly from the status quo, you spend every day justifying your choices, and as a married woman in my late twenties, everything is constantly about babies. So I’m going to break down my reasons for not having children as plainly as I can.

Pregnancy looks terrifying

My monthly menstrual cycles are already horrific enough, I do not want to add growing a human inside of me on top of that. Frankly, I just don’t want to suffer through the pain. Is that selfish?

Children are insanely expensive

People try to convince me to have children by asking “Who’s going to take care of you when you’re old?” My answer is always: The caretakers at the retirement home I’ll be living in, paid for with the money I save by not having children.

My own mental stability

I live every day with anxiety and depression, and though it’s much more manageable than it has been in the past, I still have days when the thought of getting out of bed causes me to burst into tears. Why would I want to throw a kid into that? It wouldn’t be fair to either of us.

But the main reason, the one that sits atop my giant list of reasons why I’m not having kids is pretty simple: It is just something I am not interested in doing. For me, a child is not worth the laundry list of crap that comes along with it. Pregnancy, birth, complications that can come with birth, vomit, crying infants, the terrible twos, snot, wiping butts, watching Frozen on repeat, rebellious teenage years, and most of all, having to give up who I am and what I want out of life, are personally not things I want for my future.

I don’t need children to be happy. I don’t need them to feel fulfilled. If later in life my husband and I change our minds, we will be more than happy to adopt. Because last I checked, our world is incredibly over-populated, and there are over 150,000,000 homeless kids in need. Why don’t we spend our energy helping them instead of berating people like me for not breeding?

To the Tune of Six Dollars

By Maxime Gareau 

Record

Thom Yorke has finally developed a predictable pattern: distributing his music in an unconventional manner, and with haunting ambient vocals that you can barely decipher over a skittish electronic beat.

That doesn’t mean Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is bad. It just feels like more of the same when its title suggests the future. Yorke posted a blog saying he will release it as a $6 bundle on BitTorrent, an insanely popular pirating client that is notoriously used for peer-to-peer file sharing for movies, video games, music, and anything else you can download. Yorke’s tactic seems to have worked - reports show the album was downloaded over a million times in the first week it was released.

The content is good but not as experimental as the distribution of the album. It’s the same jerky electronica that he’s been producing for awhile, but he has honed his craft and there are a couple of flashes of fresh brilliance.

If you’ve listened to his first solo album, The Eraser, Radiohead’s 2011 album The King of Limbs, and the remix album, as well as his supergroup side project Atoms for Peace’s newest album Amok, you’ll know what to expect. The first song, “A Brain in a Bottle,” will start with an electronic garble, and an ever-growing beat that increases its layers until Thom’s voice materializes to add some humanity to an otherwise cold track.

Thom Yorke hasn’t been making music to please his fans. This album, along with the rest of his discography (later Radiohead works included) have been for himself, but many still eat it up. That said, this record is fairly accessible; there are no big hooks, but it is quite melodic and rhythmic. The “catchiest” song may be “Interference,” a short ballad with an actual chorus that seems like an interlude between tracks.

Yorke and his long-time producer Nigel Godrich have crafted their sound very well: electronic music that tries to emulate analog, avoiding the pristine clean and vacuum-sealed sound of modern electronic dance music. The most “out of left field” song on this album is its centerpiece, “There is No Ice (For My Drink),” a seven-minute techno romp that feels like it’s pulled out of Yorke’s dreams; a series of fragmented memories melded together to make one.

The lyrical content from this album contrasts with Yorke’s first solo album, which contains very political lyrics. His age indicates he is much more subdued on this album. His fatherhood is reflected on this record, with “Guess Again,” which is about protecting his children from disturbing and dark monsters. He still has some depressing lyrics to share, with “Mother Lode”—arguably the best song out of the eight on the album and of his entire solo career—being about a clown with no audience to amuse, “You can’t see your way out of this one/ He makes a joke, but nobody will listen.”

Everyone will be talking about the distribution method of this album, but there is still good music to enjoy after you download it from BitTorrent. Its length of thirty-nine minutes helps - you don’t feel like you’ve listened to a self-indulgent and bloated mess, but almost like a lengthy EP of music Yorke stirred up out of nowhere. It’s not going to please everyone, and some may be expecting more from it, but it’s possible there’s a glimpse of what to expect in the next LP from Radiohead. For six dollars, you can’t go wrong with Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes.

 

Back to the Physical World

By Zac Emery 

Radio

We all regret a band that we listened to 10 years ago. But me, I regret the band I hadn’t discovered yet. When I first heard Death From Above 1979’s first and only album, You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine (2004), the Toronto group had already disbanded. The album offered a groovy, minimalist punk sound without ever touching a guitar. But having grown apart, drummer/vocalist Sebastien Granger and bassist Jesse F. Keeler went their separate ways in 2006. And just as quickly as they had rocked the landscape of Canadian music with their genre-defying dance-punk, they were gone again. It was a blip in music history, and bragging rights for anyone who saw them live in those two years.

In 2011, there were rumours of a reunion. A one-off performance at Austin, Texas music festival SXSW turned into a tour. But a new album seemed unlikely.

Then this past summer, The Physical World was announced. A full decade after You’re a Woman…, the question seemed to be, could they still do it after so much time away?

The Physical World is a more polished album, in the same sense that when you polish your combat boots, they look even more badass. The lead single, “Trainwreck 1979” combines a steady, pumping rhythm in the verses with a subversively pseudo-pop chorus, setting expectations high. It also told us exactly why they decided to come back: “’Cause I want it all/ I can’t get enough.”

The desire for more underscores the album, driving the pair in whole new directions. They experiment, but every track is undeniably Death From Above 1979: distorted bass riffs, high-hat disco beats, and a mixture of angst and sexuality are all still present.

But they’re joined by groove metal influences, existentialism and social commentary—all making it even harder to categorize than their last album.

Album opener “Cheap Talk” is familiar enough not to alienate people, but is also fresh and cynical, declaring, “What he said/ what she said/ it doesn’t really matter in the end.” It’s a good start, but The Physical World is at its best when breaking new ground for the band.

“Always On” mixes a killer hook with scathing commentary on social media (the lyrics “I been losin’ sleep just keepin’ up with what’s become” will sound familiar to Smartphone owners). “Virgins” is a rocking, sexy number that yearns for simpler times with a hint of satire. “White is Red” has the feel of the love ballads every heavy band was making in the 1990s, “Crystal Ball” offers up angular, driving bass lines that you can’t help but love, and the final riffs in “Right On, Frankenstein!” are simply delicious.

All of this builds up to the title track, a truly epic final song. Even with all the surprises leading up to it, nothing prepares us for “The Physical World.” It starts with the bleeps and squeaks of synthesizers and explodes into a prog metal monster, complete with chugging thrash riffs and haunting vocals. The final expression of the song, fading from vengeful bass to a haunting and ethereal piano melody, brings the album to a close with shivers sent down every spine.

If breaking up eight years ago needed to happen for this record to be made, then it was probably the best move Death From Above 1979 ever made. The Physical World is a solid expression of musical, emotional and thoughtful ideas. More importantly, it is sincere in its execution. It lends itself to being listened to, front to back, time and again, and that is a rare treat in the age of digital singles-shuffled playlists.

Better than the Real Thing

By Kimberly Ward

TinyCouch

For the first time in the Sims universe, going all the way back to The Sims 1 in 2000, these Sims actually seem human. They can finally multitask – reading books while going to the bathroom, talking while cooking, or enjoying music while they paint – which is a much-needed feature in a life simulator. What makes the Sims really different now is their emotions. A Sim with a flirty trait will have positive emotions when flirting, and will have negative emotions if they haven’t flirted in a while. They get embarrassed when they tell a bad joke, or excited when something goes their way. Sims can even die from laughing or heartbreak.

Sims 4 developer Maxis has also made the game more realistic with the new Create-A-Sim feature. This is how you create the people who will live under your command, whether you’re a control freak or a bystander. With the new system, you can simply drag your mouse over a Sims feature to change it. You can create a man with big hips, strong shoulders, and a tiny waist, if you want. Now your Sims can stand out in truly unique ways. I was, however, disappointed by the lack of a height slider. People can look extremely different, but they’re all going to blend together on the screen with no height difference. At present there are no toddlers in The Sims 4, which is odd, as they’ve been in all previous games. Babies live in their cradle until a certain amount of time goes by and then POOF! they turn into a child. Toddlers, pools, and ghosts are among the things Maxis left out of the base game, but will be integrating for free in the form of downloadable updates.

Once you’ve created your Sims, you have to find - or build - a house. If architecture is your passion you will most likely spend hours building the perfect home. The Sims 4 has an upgraded build mode which allows you to drag your mouse to make rooms bigger or smaller, and even lets you pick up entire rooms to move them. Fans of previous Sims games will notice something different about the houses right away: There are no basements, no garages (because there are no cars!), and no way to build split-level homes. But not to worry, there are still plenty of available windows, doors, furniture, and decorations to style your house. A new feature allows you to search for items by colour and style, which is nice for creating themes.

A feature that any Sims 3 fan will miss is the Create-A-Style. This allowed you to change the colour or texture of any object in the game. Now you’ll have to resort to the search function and hope everything comes together well enough on its own.

There are a lot of ups and downs in this game, but I like it. I don’t find it as much fun as The Sims 3, but when I first got that game, I felt the same way about The Sims 2. This type of game needs a lot of content to make it truly enjoyable. The new emotions, Create-A-Sim, and building features all fit that criteria. The fact that Maxis is releasing free content is excellent too. Right now this game isn’t complete, but I know it will be in the future, and I’m excited.

 

The Trouble with Residence Life

By Michael Ziegler 

Door

When I first moved into residence, I was excited. The bed in my dorm room was bigger than the one I left at home (though it wasn’t filled with fun bouncy liquid). I had enough room to store all my stuff, and a window overlooking the courtyard from the second floor.

And yet it wasn’t quite as nice as I had hoped. The kitchen counter was only big enough to hold the appliances that came with the room and the lights flickered like they were auditioning for a B horror movie. The light bulb in the bathroom fell clean out of its socket and shattered while my roommate was on the toilet.

The shower had only two choices for water flow: high pressure and hot or low pressure and cold. In other words, you could have a light trickle of rainwater, or acid rain in high winds, leaving me, the guy who likes to have a cold shower before bed, out of luck unless I felt inclined to spend half an hour shivering in a light drizzle.

Those are my smallest complaints. Every Friday and Saturday night the ceremonial game of Nicky Nicky Nine Doors was played by drunken pranksters using their fists in place of doorbells. These games sometimes lasted until 2 A.M., and while I assumed it would only happen during the first week — attributing it to the excitement of a new school year — it happened every weekend for the rest of the year.

Then there was the meal plan. First-year residents are required to buy a plan from the school, which starts at $1,800. While I thought it was a great idea for students to get an idea of how much it would cost to eat, I soon realized that this plan wasn’t made to benefit students. Cafeteria services offered little variety and didn’t help students save money. Most full meals could cost upward of $8.00 each; multiplied by three meals a day, it adds up quick. A full week of cafeteria meals would set you back almost $150; a large sum, considering the Loblaws behind the residence offered a week’s worth of meals for half that much.

But there is a silver lining. The dorms are silent most of the day, which makes a great work environment, and this proved a welcome change from the rambunctious activities of my family back home. The staff and housekeeping do their best to take care of the facilities. In my two months of residence, I only encountered two broken appliances (one was a soda machine that gave me three bottles of coke for the price of one). And while there haven’t been many events yet, I received a friendly invite from my floor’s Resident Advisor any time something comes up.

Many improvements could be made to the residence experience, and even though some problems can’t be remedied, my time here has been good preparation for the real world. For now, I consider it a simulation of what my first apartment might be like, though I hope said apartment won’t have lighting that makes me fear for my life. 

One Of The Guys

By Alex Blahout

If you looked at the jobs I’ve had, you would probably assume I’m some kind of a sucker for punishment, because apparently I keep choosing jobs commonly thought to be a “man’s job”. You'd think that in 2014 there wouldn’t be jobs associated with only men, but it might surprise you to find out how much inadvertent sexism customers generate towards a female employee. While it’s maybe less surprising in industries like automotive repair and video-game sales, even in a place as neutral as a print shop there is an abundance. It is disheartening to be disrespected and trivialized simply because of my gender, but it’s worse when people don’t even realize that they’re being sexist. Consider that today, we tell boys and girls to pursue any career they choose, then turn around and subtly reinforce gender roles by believing that women are less knowledgeable in certain jobs. This needs to change.

When I worked at a car dealership, I was the appointment coordinator, but I had exactly the same technical training as the advisers, so I could do diagnostics over the phone. The information I provided customers was up-to-date and I was company certified, but many of the male customers, who had been “changing their own oil since they were sixteen,” didn’t like it. Even women didn’t trust me, raised to believe only a man could understand “car stuff.” I once had a woman call me a liar to my face while I was explaining what would be involved in her 20,000-kilometre servicing, and – among other insults – asked me, “Who allowed you to work here?” Equally hurtful were the men who consistently asked to speak to a male adviser, who in turn would repeat my diagnosis word for word, just because of social preconceptions about who belongs in which workplace.

At the video-game store, some male customers ignored me completely in favour of speaking to a male employee even if said employee was obviously busy. Many a customer would bother my male manager while he had his head buried in paperwork even though I had greeted them and waved them over to my side of the cash. Other male customers seemed to feel that a woman who enjoys these supposedly “masculine” hobbies is some kind of rare prize to be won via awkward flirting and inappropriate touching (I can’t imagine anyone caressing a male employee’s shoulder while expressing mutual enthusiasm for a video game). And let me tell you that I would prefer to deal with Call of Duty-playing, snapback-wearing dudebros any day of the week; even though they might ask me with wide eyes “So you actually play video games?” they never challenged me with obscure gaming trivia in an attempt to disprove my experience in the way some others would.

I honestly thought I wouldn’t have to deal with any of this while working at the print shop, but I could be giving a customer advice on their order or explaining the process, and if a male coworker came to the front of the store it was like the customer forgot I had been capably serving them just seconds earlier. Too often, customers averted their attention from me and started asking all their questions to the man in the room, and at the first sign of my being incapable of completing their impossible request (“Can you make this rectangular picture square without cropping it?”) would demand to speak to a man.

We need to stop reinforcing sexist behaviour; everyone is entitled to feel comfortable in the job they choose. It is no one’s place to tell a woman whether her career is gender appropriate, through words OR actions. Knowledge and experience should be enough for someone to be respected in their profession, and giving that respect to all employees is how we can change the idea of conventional gender roles.

Sexiness Status Denied

By Alex Mazur

Rape culture. Feminism. Women’s rights. Equality. For many, these words are starting to sound like the voice of an adult in a Peanuts episode (wahh-wahh-wahh). Luckily, there are female voices out there combatting over-sensitive bra-burners (check out Women Against Feminism for un-skewed opinions on feminism.)

That’s why when I stumbled upon this article, posted by a female Facebook friend, and written by a resident-expert on gender relations. Because she too is a woman, I was pleased, thrilled, overjoyed even.

The article is a poll of men the writer knows, and their unbiased, honest, opinions; it gets down to the nitty-gritty of how men really feel. It's about what women choose to wear on their bottom halves. There are many great responses, but I think Jon, 32 captures the essence of this hard-hitting journalistic masterpiece:

Fart filters.jpg

“High-waisted shorts. In what level of hell is this look attractive? What goes through a woman’s mind when she puts on these Cellulite Showcasers: ‘Yoga pants make my ass look phenomenal, so I’ll throw on these Denim Disasters to give myself a nice cigarette smoker’s butt.’ There was a time when these Fart Filters were contained only within the hipster community, but much like the Ebola virus, it's spreading fast and we’re all fucked. Ladies, do yourselves (and every guy you walk past) a solid and get a second mirror. Take a peek at your backside in these shorts; if you skipped the gym even once, these shorts will tell on you.”

-Jon, 32

(Ebola and Fart Filters are truly the two greatest threats to human survival. Which surpasses the other? The jury is still out.)

Inspired by the brave commentary of these sexually repressed and socially oppressed men, I decided to do a poll of my own on what women think of certain men’s styles, in the name of true gender equality. 


The Man-Bun (Top-Knot, Mini-Bun, Nubbin-Head)

“Somehow the mullet has returned, but in a horribly mutated inverse form; party in the front, business in the back, and confusion all around. If a guy thinks he can pull that off I instantly know he drools when he talks and probably smells like Swiss cheese.”

-Jill, 23

“Instant dirt squirrel alert!”

 -Stephanie, 22

“I want to travel around the city with scissors so I can become a top-knot crusader and save womankind from looking at these nipple heads any longer.”

-Amanda, 22


Skinny Jeans

“Me and my friends always laugh about how men look like bobble-heads when they wear skinny jeans…or no, like a walking stalk of broccoli! Nothing is more effeminate than Mr. Broccoli bopping around on his skinny stalks.”

-Kat, 24

“I instantly shrivel up like a raisin when I see a man wearing tighter pants than me. I imagine pulling them off to be as unpleasant as pulling a wrapper off a melted chocolate bar…a really hairy, sweaty one.”

Jessica, 21


Big Beards

“Since when did it become sexy to look like Gimli from Lord of the Rings? Cut the man-muff, if it’s unkempt where I can see it, what about where I can’t? Am I right, ladies? Yes. I am.”

-Laura, 25

“I don’t understand the idea of a huge face-carpet. They’re gross, they make me want to puke, then I think about how when they puke it gets stuck in their beards, and that makes me want to puke more. Stop the endless puke cycle and buy a razor!”

- Jazz, 21


Flip Flops

“Nobody wants to see those hobbit feet and dino-toes. Put those stinkers where they belong: in shoes, under a table, and far away from me.”

-Erin, 31


Clearly, equality has nothing to do with mutual respect, but mutual disrespect for the other’s fashion choices. I say bravo to all those brave souls who tell it like it is, no matter if it makes them look like an ignoramus.

Just a Prank

By Daniel Cummer

There has been an influx of  “prankster” YouTube channels dominating the site with millions of views. These channels are some of the most popular on the site, and ordinary people are beginning to go out in public with video cameras to prank unsuspecting pedestrians in order to achieve YouTube fame. As a result of this new online trend, the competition for views and subscribers is growing, and people are pulling increasingly outrageous and outlandish pranks to gain attention.

Most of us can remember watching episodes of David Blaine: Street Magic and being baffled by his mysterious tricks and stunts. Part of the amusement of seeing Blaine conduct his magic was watching other people’s reactions to it. Most everyone who saw his tricks firsthand had pretty exuberant reactions. Who wouldn’t be shocked by something as fantastic as magic before your eyes? Unfortunately, through observing these reactions, the conception arose that black people tended to have the most entertaining reactions. African Americans have been pinpointed as a demographic that would heighten entertainment value because of their responses to things out of the ordinary.

It seems that YouTube pranksters have been taking this into account when creating concepts for their videos. Some have risen above the stereotype, striving to keep their content wholesome, but others see no wrong in exploiting a cultural group. A few are going to the extreme.

Many content creators are taking advantage of this phenomenon, but the one stirring up the most controversy is a channel called OckTV. The channel is run by two young white men who venture into inner-city neighbourhoods in New York and come out with spectacles of reckless activity caught on tape. A few examples of video titles featured on OckTV are Fight Me Now Prank, Pulling Up Sagging Pants Prank, and Stealing Strangers Money Prank, all of which have more than a million views. From the titles alone, you get a sense of how idiotic these stunts are, but if you haven’t seen any of these videos, you wouldn’t know that every one of the victims of these “pranks” is black.

A random stranger approaching someone from behind and reaching into their pockets elicits a wild, violent reaction, especially in low-income neighbourhoods where OckTV chooses to operate. The subjects are people who are fearful of gang violence, drug dealing, and other criminal activity, in areas where you’re never safe in the privacy of your own home, let alone on the street. So while the pranksters are punched, choked, and even threatened with knives and guns, they repeatedly cry out “it’s just a prank,” to justify their behaviour and stop the violent response.

The creators of OckTV are deservedly criticized for their actions, because they’re exploiting minorities for personal gain. What they are doing is blatantly racist, and of course they deny this notion. They acknowledge that they are more likely to get an aggressive reaction out of someone with black skin, but seem as outraged as their “prank” victims when they are accused of such a thing. OckTV’s subject matter is categorized as prank video, but I think this is a deeply inaccurate label. It is ignorant and cruel to downright harass someone, violate his or her personal space, and pass it off as a prank.

Many of the actions of OckTV are not only racist, but illegal as well. Guns being pointed at these young men do not seem to faze them, but perhaps a large fine or prison sentence would. The worst-case scenario seems to be more imminent with each new video, and when that scenario occurs, the men behind this offensive YouTube channel might realize that it’s more than just a prank.

Well-Off to a Good Start

By Andrew Monro

OTTAWA - Having won the 2014 mayoral race by a landslide, the new mayor of Ottawa, Justin Kidding, credits his overwhelming success to a grass-roots campaign supporting one of the most politically disadvantaged, and often invisible demographics in the city: condominium owners.

“I was looking over the platforms of the other candidates and thought, "Where is the support for this clearly under-represented group?” Sitting across the table, sipping a glass of Merlot at a high-end restaurant in the ByWard Market, Mr. Kidding is dressed in a tailored Italian suit, with gold cuff-links that flashed in the soft glow of the establishment’s chandelier.

“I mean, often they don’t even have time to speak to anyone. Between working hard just to make six-figure salaries, going to get their favourite specialty coffee from Starbucks, and going out to their cottages in Muskoka on the weekends, they were often too busy or weren’t even home when I would come to speak to them during my campaign,” Kidding says.

“These people need to be heard. Sadly, the poorer people in this city often drown them out. Many of them don’t have jobs and parasitize social services. They have LOTS of time on their hands and spend day after day picketing city hall demanding ridiculous things like affordable housing,” Kidding sighs.

Kidding, through more sips of wine, exclaims, “Then there are the students. They all think they are educated and complain that taxes in this city unfairly discriminate against renters and that the mass-transit system in Ottawa has all kinds of skewed priorities. They are the worst, but the good news is that once they leave school many of them start making money and shut up about their outdated leftist ideals.”

Mayor Kidding ran on a platform that promised condo owners a break from the stresses that plague their hectic, solidly middle-class lives.  He promised to try to reduce the number of public transit buses and would curb the number of bike lanes to those that would allow people to travel leisurely from their condos to the parks and river area. “No more bike lanes disrupting travel in the downtown core,” he announced. He also promised to eliminate the city bylaw that requires there be “lower-cost housing” in many apartment and condominium complexes in the city, so that condo owners wouldn’t suffer the indignity of having to live in proximity to those he refers to as “the rabble.”