Saturday, July 29, 2006

Adventures in the Middle East!

I was ushered into Karim al-Marqawi’s receiving room, a small chamber in an otherwise extensive palace not unlike the Alhambra in Spain. But this was Saudi Arabia, and the local flavour was different. The aroma of exotic tobaccos wafted in from a curtained room to the right, while the lilt of a lyre followed not far behind. A small, imposing man came in from the curtain.

“Michael!” he warmly exclaimed with arms open. I stood and met him in embrace. “This is the man who saved my life!” he exclaimed to his bodyguards, who had been keeping a steadfast watch over me the moment I had come through al-Marqawi’s palace gates. “You are truly a man of compassion, Michael, to have saved a Muslim such as myself. Perhaps the world is not as bad a place as I had believed.”

“It is nothing, Karim. I would surely have done the same were you a man of any other creed.”

“Truly blessed am I that my motorcade passed before you. The work of Allah Himself, I am sure.” I nodded meekly at his quaint statement. “You are no doubt wondering why I have brought you to my home, Michael.”

“You are too modest, Karim.” I interjected. “This is nothing less than a palace.”

“Perhaps. And a palace built with my own two hands!” He stopped, catching himself. “Figuratively, that is”. Karim al-Marqawi was a small, burly man in his mid-fifties, with a thick moustache and a traditional red and white keffiyeh on his head. It contrasted with his dark aviator sunglasses, and well-pressed, double-breasted suit. He smelled of exotic perfumes. Anywhere else, this would have been effeminate; here, it only added to his charm. “Michael, for selflessly risking your life to save my own, you are in need of a reward. I am to give you five million American dollars.”

“Karim…” I began, catching my breath. “I do not know what to say.”

“Say nothing. It is a sum of little value to me, to be made back in but a day. For you, however, I know it will offer you a new life.”

“I thank you, humbly. I am but a young man, a teacher, from a faraway country. That you feel it necessary to grace me with such a gift, I will be forever thankful”. I was, of course, bullshitting. I had risked my life to save his, and would have accepted ten times what he was offering as compensation. Still, to play the meek foreigner had given me this much, at least. Perhaps there was more to come.

“Come with me, Michael. Allow me to show you my home. The courtyard is this way” he said, motioning beyond the curtained doorway.

We found ourselves walking side by side through his palace. Its open-aired courtyards featured fountains, slender columns and airy, light carvings over the archways. Every motif seemed familiar.

“Karim, is this palace modeled after the Alhambra?” I asked.

“Ahh, but of course it is. You have a knowledge of Muslim architecture?”

“An incomplete one, I’m afraid. Truly this is an impressive homage.”

“Not just an homage Michael! Between the two of us, this fountain is an original from Alhambra. I arranged to have it transported here.”

“Amazing” I said, entirely without irony. “Surely it comes from the Court of the Lions”, I said, mostly because there were a bunch of lions around the base.

“You like it?”

“Of course. It is a great work of human achievement.”

“It is yours.”

“Karim, I cannot accept this!” I said, stunned. What would I do with a fountain from 14th century Spain? Then, a thought occurred to me. “I shall donate it to the Royal Ontario Museum, in your name.”

“This Royal Museum you speak of, it is a cultural institution in your country?”

“Yes, it is. Though Canada is a great, modern country, it is still very provincial in its cultural capital as compared to other great nations. A work such as this would surely be among my country’s greatest assets.”

“Then I am glad to give it to you” he said, leading me to the next courtyard. Yeah, there were a bunch of them at this place. “Tell me Michael, what do you know of the Muslim afterlife?”

“Uhm…” I began, haltingly. How should I mention this? “I know about the 72 virgins”. Al-Marqawi laughed heartily, clasping his belly as he tilted his head backwards.

“But of course!” he said, wiping a tear from his eye. He stopped before a curtained room leading off the courtyard, and wrapped his arm around my shoulder. The laughter of women could be heard from the other side. “Michael, a man such as myself does not get through life and find himself in Heaven at the end. If this is the price for providing for your family, then so be it.”

“Karim, you may yet find yourself in Heaven.”

“I am glad to hear that someone has faith in me, my friend. In the eventuality that I do not, however, I have taken the liberty of building it here for myself, on Earth”. He pushed the curtain aside, revealing a bathhouse filled with women in varying stages of undress. The most modest were clothed in flowing garments made of the finest silk, while the more adventurous wore nothing but sarongs that blew with the wind.

"72 women, my friend! None virgins, naturally, but one comes to accept this."

“Karim…” I said, hesitantly, as he pushed me into the bathhouse.

“Do not fear, Michael! These are the finest women in all of Arabia!”

“And they’re clean?”

“Ha ha, but of course! I am no fool, Michael! Give me that!”

“And, er… anything goes, right?”

“Michael, so long as you are a guest in my house, Allah will not occupy Himself with your affairs!”

Friday, July 14, 2006

You Gotta Love What You Do

Hmmm.... Not quite yet

Be cool – stay in school. Otherwise, the only class you’ll be in is the working class! Ha!

See, I spent all yesterday handing out resumes to temp agencies, and the fruits of my labour paid off today when I got a call to come in today, tomorrow and Sunday for 12-hour shifts at some sort of… industrial factory (fret not! The work is light). So I now have an honest day’s work under my belt.

I found my time today to be very depressing; not because it was hard on me (it’s pretty simple, brainless work), but because there are people for whom this is their life: working grueling shifts at some steaming hot factory, doing nothing, so that they can go home, enjoy themselves for 4-6 hours, sleep, and do it all over again. It’s a real downer. Because, you know, I care about the little guy.

After I got the call to go in, but before I got out the door, England phoned with a potential job offer. Apparently, some school in Newcastle (the real Newcastle) saw my thing and decided they want to interview me over the phone next week. This is my first solid lead, and, yet, I was unenthused. I’m sure Newcastle-upon-Tyne is a great place, but it’s no London (the real London), right?

I left the house feeling surprisingly indifferent towards this prospect. After about four hours on that job, my mind had significantly changed. Compared to a foreseeable future of temporary industrial work, Newcastle is fucking Fiji. I am set, and raring to go (though there is the matter of the interview on Monday).

So it's down to this...

Or this

Factory’s alright. Other than the insane hours, I have no complaints. At the same time, I do have to return Dalton McGuinty’s generous loan, so there’s not much to be said. My mind made up, I leave you now with the insight of another workaday joe.

Gareth Keenan once remarked that “girls who work in factories are slappers”. While it’s only been my first day on the job, let’s hope that Keenan’s observation holds true.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Poem That Doesn't Rhyme? That's Like a Fish That Doesn't Swim!

Classy in a museum; tacky on a dorm room wall

In honour of the generous neighbour who is, er… “donating” his or her wireless Internet signal so that I can receive it in my bedroom (and thus watch prodigious amounts of porn in privacy), I have prepared a haiku. “Haiku” is the Japanese expression for “slitty-eyed poem”.

Flying through the air
I can read your hypertexts
Thanks for the free ride

Here’s another:

Searching your network
Any compromising pics?
Just printer control

See? These suckers write themselves.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Hey Baby, Want to Come to My Place and Read My Entire X-Statix Run?

Not in this sensational issue: Gritty realism

It’s summertime, and that means we get our yearly comics crossover event. In the past I’ve been treated to Age of Apocalypse and… er… yeah, okay, everything since then has been kinda crummy (Onslaught, Operation: Zero Tolerance and House of M). This summer, it’s Civil War.

The basic premise of this one is that, following a massive disaster accidentally caused by superheroes, the government decides that it’s time to register them. Some heroes are for it, and others are against it. Then they fight each other.

Obviously, the registry makes entire sense; you would have to be an idiot to disagree with the notion that superpowered beings need some oversight. And it’s not like the government’s being evil. In exchange for giving up their secret identities (to the government, not the public), heroes get training, benefits and an income. There is nothing wrong with this idea.

Except, this is a comic book. We are willing to overlook some things (like people who can fly, come back from the dead, go into outer space, lift tanks over their head, etc.) because they are enjoyable conventions of the genre. Similarly, the idea that members of the public are willing to embrace anonymous, costumed vigilantes is also one of those conventions nobody really minds. It works, because it’s a fucking comic.

Marvel thinks they’re being very clever by introducing some (ugh) post-9/11 realism into comic books. But it doesn’t work. Superhero comics have never been realistic. They’re not supposed to be. That’s the frigging point. Yes, obviously if you had heroes in real life, you would absolutely have to register them.

Marvel thinks they’re being really clever and cutting-edge, so they have Captain America leading the group opposed to registration. But, why? What’s he opposed to? Heroes giving up their identity to the government (which he himself has done before, anyway) as part of a sensible and fair program of oversight? I mean, Christ, they’re paying the heroes! If I ran around anonymously with a gun taking out criminals, and the government suddenly wanted to reign me in, well… shit, that would make total sense. The way the scenario is laid out in the comic book, there’s really no reason to be opposed to the plan, so Cap and his buddies all come off as idiots.

On the other, pro-registration hand, Marvel is also ruining other heroes, particularly Reed Richards. In an exchange with Spiderman during the crossover, he explains that people who went against McCarthy’s Communist witch hunt in the 50s were wrong because, basically, “the law is the law”. First, that’s an awful, awful statement. Second, Reed Richards used to be cool, man. I own maybe two issues of the Fantastic Four, but I’ve always thought he was one of the better Marvel characters. Now he’s just butt boy for The Man. Third… there was actually a writer out there who thought this was a good idea? Honestly? And nobody on staff disagreed? Come on.

Broadly, the pro-registration heroes also come off as jerks. All of a sudden (the disaster that initiated the registration wasn’t soo bad, compared to similar events in comics previously), they feel the need to sell out their buddies (et tu, She-Hulk?)? Way to go.

Ultimately, it's an issue that should never have been raised. When you start applying real world realism to comics, you "break" the artificial world. Certain things have to be overlooked as we suspend disbelief. In an effort to get all “gritty” and “realistic” in comics, Marvel is totally going against the whole point. Yes, in the real world, registration is an entirely sensible idea. But it’s a comic book. When all is said and done, the problem will show itself in the miniseries’ resolution: once you introduce a concept like this in comics, it has to be implemented. Again, after having the argument laid out, nobody could realistically be opposed to it. So, in the end, heroes in the Marvel universe are either all registered, or everyone is a frigging idiot. Can’t wait.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Ceci N'est Pas Un Soulier

Alan Parsons, the inventor of the shoe, must be rolling in his grave

Whoever is designing shoes these days is an idiot. Go to the mall and try to find yourself a pair of nice shoes. Go ahead, try it. Sneakers, something dressy, casual – it doesn’t matter. They’re all awful. Sneakers are at this point designed solely for people who wear crooked baseball caps with flattened brims and basketball jerseys in everyday life. Something nice to wear around town? Unless that town is Prague or some other Eurotrashy destination, just forget it. They all have weird seams running all over the place where seams are not necessary.

I give up. I seriously do. It appears as though I’m stuck with my current pair of shoes until the soles fall off, because I can spend an afternoon in the mall at every shoe store and not find one decent pair. I think I will write to Andy Rooney and ask if he agrees.