Saturday Night, Sober

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My sister and I caught a late movie.

I’d been intrigued by The 9th life of Louis Drax so I wrote down the schedule for the week of release, but life happens and I couldn’t make it to the cinema. A week later, the movie only played at 9:30 pm. Every night of the week, but at 9:30 pm.

When you’re an introvert in your 30s, 9:30 pm is late.

I told my sister about it, expecting her to nix the idea on account of lateness, but she said we were tougher than that, and so we caught a late movie on a Saturday.

This blog post is not about a movie, though I could talk about The 9th Life of Louis Drax; it was a strange experience. And Jamie Dornan is not a bad actor: don’t let yourself be turned off by that 50 Shades crap.

But this post is not about that. So here I am, a quiet 36-year-old taking the metro late on a Saturday night. On a Saturday night in mid-September when school is back in session but not yet in full swing.

The first sign that tells you that you do not belong: you are not drunk. Not even a little tipsy. You’ve just walked out of a movie theatre where you drank iced tea. Diluted iced tea at that. Walking into this wagon is akin to entering an alcohol sauna. You take a breath and liquor hits your nostrils. Alcohol is seeping through the pores of the youth—doesn’t help that the weather feels more like early August than mid-September.

You take a seat with your iPod and magazine—the camouflage tools of the introverts—thinking you’ll just keep your head down until the metro stops at your station. But it’s all right, it’s OK. You’ve been young once. Kids are drunkish and on their way to another party or club. They’ll get off at some point over the next few stations before the train leaves downtown, and then the rest of the ride will resume in somewhat normalcy.

One station over and a group comes in. You don’t want to look up but you do. Because they are a large, rowdy group and one of them is playing loud music from his phone. It’s a group made up of eight boys and two girls.

Eight fully dressed boys and two girls clad in tight jeans and bras. Not cropped tops, not sporty tops: bras. Lacy bras.

This is also not a post about fashion or about policing what women and girls should or should not wear.

So the girls are kind of staggering around, partially due to their high heels and partially because they’re drunk. They proceed to use the metro poles as stripper poles (quick aside: EW!). And they are surrounded by drunken boys who brandish their phone cameras like social media weapons. (And they are not the only ones filming. As a non-drunk passenger on this train, I noticed two more people filming, unbeknownst to the girls, including a man who looked to be in his 50s.) Now individually, those boys are probably nice, normal boys, but all you need is one bad apple, and four drunken boys to one drunken girl is not a good ratio. I may not be the best at math but I know this. Four to one means I don’t like the odds. Throw in that bad apple and shit can happen quickly.

So I guess this is a post about that.

Oh boy!

While I am firmly in the camp of those who say that, as a society, we need to stop telling girls how to not get raped and to start telling boys not to rape, in the meantime, I live in the real world. In the real world, as much as it sucks, girls and women cannot get drunk freely. Girls and women need to protect themselves. In this age where even your grandpa has a phone with a camera, they need to protect themselves even more. We have all seen the devastating results the shortest of videos can have on the lives of people.

You know what the saddest part of this tale is? I didn’t do anything. I’m not proud of that, but I felt outnumbered and, I guess, too sober to approach the girls and maybe try to give them a friendly warning. Also, I can remember what it’s like to be 18, 19, 20. Would I have listened to the 36-year-old woman with her Harper’s Magazine in the metro? The 36-year-old woman clearly on her way to bed who looks like she never had one drink in her whole life? Probably not.

Biking While Fat or Driving While Stupid*

(*post renamed following suggestion from Ann Marie)

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The general consensus is that it’s hell to drive in Montreal. If you don’t have the snow and ice to contend with in the winter, you are faced with the dreaded orange cones on the myriad of road works sites all happening at the same time from May until November, and all being terribly managed by our inept city administration.

The summer of 2016 is a perfect storm kind of situation. With a bridge about to collapse, an interchange falling apart and the 375th anniversary of the city looming just around the corner, everything is happening at the same time. It’s frustrating enough for drivers, but for pedestrians and cyclists, it’s downright nightmarish, because nobody thinks of them in their planning. They block the streets and sidewalks, leaving just enough room for cars to go through in a very narrow line and no alternate route for pedestrians and cyclists.

Last night, I was invited for dinner at a friend’s place on the Plateau. From my home in the Hochelaga borough, it’s a pretty simple route. I ride up to the Rachel bike path, which takes me right through the Plateau, only one block up from my friend’s place. Simple. Yeah… No.

Road works on Pie-IX and Sherbrooke meant blocking the bike path abruptly and offering absolutely no way across. I had to ride on the sidewalk (something I hate doing) and hop off whenever I crossed pedestrians to find an East-West street with no road works but also large enough for bicycles and cars.

I managed to get to my friend’s place (almost on time) and immediately thought about how the hell I was going to get back home later in the evening.

In the end, I opted for a pretty long detour but one I knew was free of obstacles and would allow me to ride safely home. And it all went well… Until I got to just three blocks from my place. A road works site that wasn’t there when I left home four hours earlier was now blocking my bike lane and much of the road. Fortunately, at this late hour, drivers were kind enough to give me room to circumvent the obstacle and join the bike lane again, which I did, only to be stopped once more—this time by a driver who had chosen to park right on the bike lane. Not only that, but also right in front of the point where the bike lane becomes a bi-directional bike path, which meant that I couldn’t bypass the car on the road side because a platform stood between the road and the path. So my only option was to bypass it on the sidewalk side (something I hate doing—repeat). As I was doing that, the driver came back to his car and so I told him, in passing, that parking there was not exactly brilliant. And those were pretty much my words. No invective, no swear words, no yelling—just me saying, “Hey! That’s really not smart to park there because you’re blocking the bike path.”

(A quick aside: I rarely, if ever, engage with drivers when I’m wearing my cycling helmet. They are sitting in a potential weapon and road rage is not as uncommon as one might think. I’m a very respectful cyclist. I stop at red lights and stop signs, I signal my intentions, I check my blind spots: in short, I always keep in mind that if an accident occurs, I’m the one who will wind up dead or, at the very least, seriously injured. The end.)

Of course, that driver could not accept responsibility for his poor choice of parking and had to stop very aggressively (or more appropriately: jump in my lane) at the next red light to shout a “What did you say to me over there?” in my direction. Because he was blocking my path, I didn’t have much choice but to engage. I repeated the same words I had said earlier in a calm voice. He made threatening gestures at me. I told him that he was the one out of line and I had been nothing but polite, but the fact remained that he had parked on a bike lane, which is illegal and—well—frustrating and unsafe for cyclists.

And of course, because you can’t bicycle while fat, that’s when he chose to call me a fattie and to stay in my way until the light turned yellow just so that I would miss my light. Thanks so much for that, best buddy! It’s not like my ride home already took an extra fifteen minutes because of the long detour I had to make or anything.

I have to ask though: Do the people who try to insult you by referring to your weight actually think it’s a great insult? The ultimate diss? The retort to kill all retorts? Because between you and me, that’s pretty weak. And honestly, I was much more concerned with the possibility that he might run me over than by whether or not he thought I was fat.

Failing at Life

Imagine being told over and over—in words, in looks, in gestures, in subtle and unsubtle ways—that whatever you do, you are wrong.

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You grew up doing pretty well in school. You had a good group of friends, even best friends who stood by you and loved you for who you are. That’s because you have a pretty wicked sense of humour and you do love to laugh and talk about nothing and everything. You’ve also been told that you’re a great listener and give decent advice.

You wound up going to university and you graduated with distinction. You found a job in your field even before you got your degree. You’ve been working in that field successfully for fourteen years now.

Even though you were a woman and single, you decided to invest in your very own condominium. A year into your mortgage (much to your mother’s dismay), you made the big jump to freelancing. And succeeded. To this day. It’s been eight years.

You faced your fear of cars and learned how to drive.

You faced your fear of the gym and signed up for semi-private training sessions so you would learn to do things right.

You picked up running. You’ve been running for over ten years. Oh, and you love it.

You bought a bicycle and are now enjoying biking everywhere from April to November (you live in Canada and biking in the snow just ain’t for you).

You started a blog (years after they were in fashion, but hey! Everything’s cyclical, right?). You began to write short stories.

You faced your fear of judgement and hired a private trainer to learn how to swim. You’ve been swimming for over three years now and you can butterfly stroke like nobody’s business.

 

Private. That word. Twice.

Yes.

 

Because even though you do all of this; even though you always strive to better yourself, to push your limits, to not let other people dictate how you should run your life, you go against the grain because you’re fat, and fat people are not supposed to run, to bike, to swim. They’re not supposed to like who they are. They’re supposed to engage in a constant fight against their body, day in, day out. Oh, and they’re also not supposed to go against prejudices. Fat people don’t run. When fat people run outside, it’s totally OK to yell insults at them. But also: if fat people don’t run, then it’s OK to yell insults at them, too. After all, they’re being lazy, right? They should be called on it, yes? They need to be reminded of their fatness, just in case they forgot about it for a second. It’s not like they live in their bodies every single day of their lives.

So fat people cannot do anything. Fat people should disappear.

All my life, I’ve been fighting against my body. I’ve been told that it’s not right; that I should not be OK with it; that I should not be complacent; that happiness could only be within my reach if I lost weight.

All my life, I’ve been told that I’m failing at life.

2015 or the Year of the Disappearing Friendships

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It’s been a tough year. So many had it worse, I know, and I’ve tried to remember that as I was struggling to pull through, to stay above the surface, or at least not too far from it, so I could push myself up and take a deep breath before it was too late.

It began with funerals. My grandmother’s. She was old, a month shy of a 100, actually, and she had been “dead” for a while, her brain claimed by Alzheimer’s many years prior. Then my late stepfather’s brother. One of his brothers (he came from a very large family of 14 children), but his closest brother, so an uncle really. A man who had been in my life forever. My stepfather came into my life when I was still a toddler. In fact, I can’t remember the time before he was there.

After the funerals came the dying friendships. I tell myself it’s not all bad. Fairweather friends are not friends at all. But still, they occupy a space, a time, a role, however small. When they leave, they remind you of your loneliness, of your need to come out of your shell more. So 2015 has been rough.

On the brighter side of the coin, 2015 has also been the year where I decided to write more, to put some of my work out there and to face rejection (so far, it’s only been rejection), but to not let rejection deter me from writing more, from working at it, from improving myself, from seeking feedback and criticism.

I am concluding the year with that accomplishment in mind, hoping it will help me strive forward and perhaps put more than my writing out there by putting myself out there as well. I’m not a big fan of resolutions because I think we should try to work on ourselves continuously by setting up small but clear objectives and keeping at them no matter what the calendar says. So I will continue to soldier on and maybe try to make a friend or two along the way. The good kind. The kind that actually wants to be my friend.

Happy New Year.

Pool Stories

Olympic-Size Pool

When I took up swimming about two years ago, my friend Rob warned me: some of the weirdest people you’ll ever meet hang out at the pool. I laughed it off, thinking: the weirdos, man, they are everywhere. I mean, I was a member of a 24-hour gym for three years; a gym in my, let’s say, challenging neighbourhood. A gym facing a police station. A gym frequented by exotic dancers, bodybuilders and biker gang members. So I scoffed a little at Rob’s warning (might as well come out and say it) and signed up with a private trainer to learn to swim. And was I ever wrong to scoff.

The weirdest people you’ll ever meet, you will meet at the pool.

There are the obvious weirdos: the ones who rush to take the shower stall you were walking towards even though there are a number of free stalls; the ones who insist on taking the locker right next to yours even though (again) there are tons of free lockers in the locker room. But those weirdos, you meet them at any good gym. The pool weirdos are in a category of their own.

And here is my Top 5.

The even-though-you’ve-been-swimming-in-this-lane-for-15-minutes-I-will-now-take-over-it-and-leave-you-no-choice-but-to-move-to-another-lane weirdo: Self-explanatory, really.

The I-make-my-own-rules weirdo: As the Olympic pool where I normally swim is closed for repairs; I’ve been swimming at the YMCA. The 25-meter pool is pretty much your standard half-half pool with a shallow and deep end. There’s this one lady who doesn’t swim the full lap because she refuses to swim in the shallow end and thus rotates only in the deep end. Tricky when a bunch of swimmers are trying to do full rotations.

The snorkelling pervert: I met this little gem back in December. He was swimming seemingly quietly in the slow lane along the buoy line. I noticed him throwing looks at my trainer and me but was mostly focussed on listening to her instructions before doing more laps. It turns out Mr. Snorkel was ogling me (and when I say me, I mean my boobs) under the water. The pool has this great advantage though: under the water, no-one can hear you scream. And no-one can see you signal… except whoever you signal to. My trainer was very efficient at letting the pervert know “dude, we can see you”.

The I’m-a-much-faster-swimmer-than-you athlete: First of all: yep, you’re faster. Second of all: Who cares? I’m swimming in the medium speed lane here. If you think I’m too slow, move over to the fast lane, mmk?

The older-lady-who-insists-on-chatting-your-ear-off-while-you-try-to-shower-and/or-change: I’m not someone who can carry on conversations stark naked in front of strangers. Call me odd, if you will, but I’m borderline prudish. I believe in taking a quick shower in a closed stall and then getting dressed quickly. So no, lady, I am not here to have a long chat with you about the weather with a boob hanging out. That’s just not how I roll.

Complicating the Uncomplicated

Monkey-WrenchWhile I do not think it is a habit of mine, I’m sure I can be guilty of doing it too from time to time–complicating things for no good reasons, except maybe to stall. Give myself more time to find an excuse to postpone or to evade something altogether. But have you noticed that some people seem to have a knack for complicating the uncomplicated?

You’ll have everyone agree on a simple, straightforward solution, and then this one person will come in and throw a wrench in the whole thing. Then you’ll find yourself thinking about that person’s idea and wonder, “Wait… How is this better? How is this an improvement from Solution A?”

Sadly, most of the time, it’s not. It’s a complication. And I’m not sure what it’s about. Power? Enjoyment? The people who do this regularly or even systematically, do they get some kind of pleasure out of it? Does their brain go: “If you suggest this, everyone will roll their eyes. Won’t that be fun?”

I will admit this, though: I do get pleasure at seeing them fail; at seeing them having to pick up their wrench and shove it in their backpocket to use it at another time. Though I know that other time may come as soon as an hour later; still: I managed to uncomplicate one instance of the uncomplicated that got complicated for nothing. So I win. For a minute or two.