Monday, July 27, 2009

Books and TV Were My World - 25 Years Later, Same Same

10-minute old realization: a possible reason for why I’ve always loved pop culture so much: it’s because I feel so puzzled by white people.

As a kid, as my eyes were first opening up to the fact that there was life beyond my own crayon set, it dawned on me that my family was very different, in ways I didn’t even get. All I knew was that no one knew what foods we ate, what language we spoke and what weirdo arguments we’d have behind closed doors. And I had no idea what white people did behind theirs.

I was lucky when I was really young to have grown up in an immigrant neighbourhood. All the kids in school had parents that spoke funny. So even if they were say, Greek (white-ish), we had that in common. That we always had to explain everything about ourselves to people and among friends at recess, it was actually pretty fun. I learned how to swear in Greek (my random knowledge continues to astound). I would profess that whenever my mom answered the door to a religious person, she would say, “I don’t speak English,” and shut the door to my incredulous, righteous cry: “You’re lying!”

If I think back to the kids I hung out with most, I had a best friend from each of these places: Korea, Pakistan, India, Jamaica, Poland. I did have one best friend who was Scottish (white but she did Highland sword-dances which made her a cultural outsider, too) and one friend who was just Canadian white, whose dad worked for Hostess chips (jealous, much? Answer: yes).

Today, I would barf with excitement over having friends from so many different cultures but the weird thing is, my world is very white these days. My work world is like a dazzling snow drift i.e. I need shades. My peers in university – white. Even my family has become, through my husband and my in-laws, white. It’s kind of a weird feeling. Before husby, I hadn’t even known anyone who goes back four generations in Canada, like he does. Last week I heard of a 10th generation Canadian and nearly died. (“Are you serious?!”)

I don't mean to paint all whiteness with one, giant, normal paintbrush, but the truth is, if you're white, you don't have to explain your culture. It just is. Everyone else has to feel their way around like the lights are out.

Pop culture gave me stuff to talk about with other people. Who’s better, Michael Jackson or Duran Duran? Did you see the Barforama scene in Stand By Me? I’m going to go home now because Growing Pains is on. Oh, I don’t like the New Kids on the Block, I listen to CFNY. Will you make me a mixtape? Who’s Galaxie 500? Let’s go see Pulp Fiction at Cedarbrae on Saturday. Suede, then Menswear, then raves (ugh), then rap, then TLC, Details magazine, laughing at Electric Circus, (then working late Friday nights as it taped next door), Peaches, M.I.A., Nurse Jackie. It’s a bit of a bizarre thing to map out.

But it’s always a bridge, much like I suspect celebrity gossip is (which I liked for fun until it got too mean for me, circa Perez).

Prior to having my 10-minute old realization, I was reading an essay by someone who has the whitest, most normal family on earth and what struck me hard was that his story is real. It’s an essay about his real mom and real dad on their real farm and they really eat bacon and eggs for breakfast (what, no spicy fish stew first thing in the morning?). I just thought – I have always looked in on that world, like it’s in a snowglobe, and thought, “That’s made up!” But it’s not and how would I know the difference?

There’s such a vast chasm, sometimes. That’s what songs and stories and movies and hairdo’s and cool shoes and celebrity crushes are for. So that we have something shared to talk about. I guess that’s why I have always been so into it. I mean, I’m Canadian but my history says nothing about anyone remotely related to me. And Korean history is interesting to me now but back then it said nothing to my acid-wash, Madonna-loving, chunky, glasses-wearing self.

Current history, without long roots. Popular culture with its broad appeal. Fluffy strands of conversation, likes and dislikes born of whimsy. Personal preference, entirely pure and indulgent. This is the stuff that roots me into something that’s larger than my four-person nuclear family and now, my multi-racial extended family.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Hairy Potter

This morning I went to pottery class, like any other retired cat lady would.

I signed up for this pottery class because I was resolved to work less this summer and after my first class I said, starry-eyed, "I quit working! I'm going to be...a potter!"

I had grand designs of kicking out the guy who rents our garage space to store his children's theatre sets (really) and creating a light, airy studio where I could just hang and make shit all day.

Isaac suggested that I continue the course before I truly rearrange my whole life (or even purchase the wheel I found on Craigslist BUT I REALLY WANT IT). Sigh. So measured. This is what it must feel like for an autistic kid when he gets under a sofa cushion and someone sits on him. Soothing.

Anyway, I've missed about a million classes in a row now. Life gets busy and deadlines get in the way of making pinch pots and slopping around with wet clay on a wheel. WHY?

This week I went to back to class for the first time in ages and then met Isaac for lunch right afterwards. How indulgent. I had done all of about 30 minutes of "real work" at all today.

As we finished our leisurely lunch, Isaac said, "Hey, let's go to Bikes on Wheels and get you a new basket." He said this because it was right around the corner.

Well. I know my bike looks like it's been crunched in the back of a garbage truck (if only one would come around, please garbage truck, come to my house now). I know the basket is hanging off the front precipitously and is attached by a rusty, impromptu grip. I know all this because I wanted to dig myself a hole in shame as the bike guy examined my bike. It's like being in ER and wearing your worst granny panties (solution: just don't own any).

The guy inspected my bike the way I would pick up an earthworm if I were to be gardening with Isaac, i.e. with barely controlled disdain, cognizant of the social fall-out of yelping, "WHAT THE? GROSS!"

And then he made a checklist. New basket, plus labour. New back tire ("May as well replace inner tube while we're at it"), plus labour. I started to make that face where your nose gets wrinkled and your mouth falls open and you're looking very unattractive and it's not good to do it in public.

"Isaac, thanks a lot for bringing me in here," I hissed as the guy said, "Just come back in 30 minutes," to our retreating backs.

"What?" Isaac, the sweet, my sweet.

"I have stuff to do like renew my health card and I haven't even done any work today and what time is it?! 2:30? And that's going to cost so much! My bike was fine!"

Isaac was kind of incredulous at my ridiculous (hissed, quiet) outburst and I don't blame him.

"It's fine, it's fine." I waved him away as we stood outside the shop. "Just go back to work. I'll just wait here. It's fine," I shooed him and he left, riding back to continue making his commercial with aliens in it that sell cell phones (really).

When I did get home (bike felt really good riding home if you must know), I sheepishly emailed him. "Um, sorry I was weird, it's just that, well, you know I kinda get stressed about wasting time because there's nothing I hate more than wasting time but you were right, I needed to get it done. I just felt like I was stuck there and I'd wasted my entire work day."

This is a straight cut'n'paste from his email response to me:

"yes, lunch was fun. and I'm glad you see that sometimes you have to spend time and money to upkeep things you count on (ie our bikes). Imagine if we had a car! It would be much more money and time and annoyances. So we have to do these chores in our daily routines."

Let me repeat: "So we have to do these chores in our daily routines."


I wrote back to say that I'm obviously weird and too unfettered with earthly concerns and totally a bad wifey. I thanked him for the bit of life advice regarding chores and daily routines and said, "That's it. You get to raise the kids. I would make them into feral monkeys."

Of course, Isaac is the one who can climb a tree like he's a simian Fred Astaire. So really, I wouldn't raise them into monkeys, he would. *I* would raise them to become tiny, Crackberry-ing dilettantes who take old-people recreational classes before their time and have petits outbursts to their mini-husbands for no good reason.

And then I'd teach them to ride their tricycles home and spend the rest of their day on Twitter.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Stop, Thief! Don't Leave Me Here With...The Bank?!

I wanna tell my bank to stuff it. Actually, *I* wanna stuff it, i.e. take my money and stuff it under the mattress and never deal with a bank again.

As I've been telling anyone and everyone within yelling distance, two weeks ago, I was robbed of $21 355.46. Internet fraud. And actually, only two grand of that was mine. The rest of it was in my name but was really the bank's money. So in fact, the bank and I are both victims to the same perpetrator. Ugh, I so didn't want to be that guy's partner.

I will attempt to outline the order of events as best I remember them and as simply as possible.

1. Got an email from the "bank." Opened it cuz I'm gangsta. Banged out a quick response to the tune of, "You should phone your customers rather than email."
2. Forgot I ever replied to the email. Keep in mind, it was literally that one sentence. Not one word more. No PIN, no birth date, no password. OBVIOUSLY.
3. Got another email just like it, this time from a different bank, one that I've never stepped foot in. Alarm bells went off and I discarded it.
4. Two weeks later, woke up to my loud phone ringing (why can't home phones ring in a more melodious manner?)
5. Kept sleeping. Retrieved voicemail later. It was the bank saying, "This is not a sales call. Please call back." Uh oh.
6. Was asked whether I was doing any banking at 11 pm the night before. Flashing back to my drooling, comatose self on a Friday night in front of TV blazing a week's worth of PVR'ed Oprah, I laughed. "No."
7. Was informed that someone withdrew $21, 355.46. Money go bye bye. Started to feel funny.
8. Nice customer service man ("Arsenio" - good name) says I will get a call from an investigator (sounds so authoritative) on Monday. All accounts frozen but still proceed to have a happy weekend.
9. Talk to peeps on Monday. Hmm. Must close account and open new one. Must get notarized affidavit saying that I am not the perpetrator of this fraud. Must go to bank branch with my notice of assessment from last year. Must do many things that start to make me feel wee bit cranky.
10. 11 days later, I still have no access to money.
11. I get a call from someone at CIBC who would like me to verify some personal information. "Uh, hold it buddy." I explain that I've recently been the victim of fraud and would like to know what the call is regarding before I provide him with information I normally save for my coterie of Nigerian princes. He says, "Yes, ma'am, I can tell you what this call is regarding, but first...what is your date of birth?" SIGH. We go back and forth until I GIVE UP and just give it to him. He saccharinely suggests he could "help" me make a "plan" to pay back my overdraft. Pardon? What part of "I was just the recent victim of fraud" don't you understand? That ain't money I am throwing around on a boat! Someone else has my money and is throwing it around on THEIR boat. I never saw a cent of that, so why don't you go back to your people and compare notes with each other. That would be very nice.
12. While you're at it, please tell the people at the Queen and Spadina CIBC branch that I cannot understand a word that the representative assigned to me is saying. Ever. I'm sure he is nice. But it's hard to have important money meetings several times a week with a man that I cannot understand. No understand makes Hannah go crazy.
13. Tell my assigned risk management customer service rep (USE-LESS!) that I plan on writing about my experience and ask whether I can be put in touch with an investigator who can explain how responding to an email could provide sufficient info for the stealing of many monies. I get a publicist. He's a moron who ignores my calls and emails until 5:30 pm. Every day. Um, 5:30 pm means you are giving me the run-around. I don't like you.
14. Finally speak to a human who can spend 20 minutes on the phone with me without patronizing me and telling me for the millionth time to look at the privacy and security policy on their website (to everyone else - I looked at that as soon as I heard MONEY and STOLEN - I mean, come on! Are you serious?).

I want to give up on banking altogether, even more than the time that I discovered that customer service reps are allowed to hang up on you if you use a swear word, or the time (ok, same time) that an uninformed customer service rep told me I would have bad credit for 7 - 10 years (leading to the bad word) when in fact, he just needed to shut it because he don't know what he's talking about (no bad credit, ever, thank you).

So now what? I still haven't dealt with all the little bits of fall-out, the polluting aspects that I fully expect to turn into acid rain down the road (NSF charge here, forgotten automated payment there, bank rage here, wasted hours on the phone there).

What I learned: I just want to talk to someone at the frickin bank who is human, some one who has some semblance of authenticity, someone who isn't bound by corporate gags, who can answer an honest question, who won't parrot their script without acknowledging that I DID NOT give personal information, someone who knows a thing or two about internet security, someone who can leave a note (a little Post-it, whatever) to the guy who calls around like a collection agency to alert him that in fact my account is FROZEN so I couldn't PAY IT BACK EVEN IF I WANTED (WHICH I DON'T).

I feel sorry for people who are so beat down by their boring job that they have contempt for everyone who calls in (Hi AmEx rep!). But mostly I feel sorry for the person on the other end of the line when I call in and you can't give me one useful answer.

When it comes to how secure you are, friend, as you go about your day online, you are NOT secure and you don't have to be a yokel to be had. Did you know that a fake EXACT COPY of your banking website can pop up unbidden in your browser, waiting patiently for you to step over your millions of other browser windows that are open and think, "Oh yeah, I was going to get to some banking." BAM. Dunzo. Or that Gmail has vulnerabilities that the bad guys are constantly working to exploit? There goes all your personal information. You didn't have to send anyone a thing.

In conclusion, friends, this is what I've learned from this ongoing debacle: Don't open spam. It lets them know you're there. They are literally ph/fishing and you are nibbling. Don't respond to spam, even if it's a pithy, expletive-laden missive you send just for laughs to endorsements for penile-enlargement and sex-friends (this is what normally makes you charming, Denise, but I think we both know why this has to stop). DO have a Mac (no viruses currently in existence for OS X users? Um, can someone give me a hallelujah?). Do take note if you ever try to log in to your online banking but for some reason, after you punch in your password, the program crashes or you don't get in (this one's only good for the investigators AFTER you've been robbed, so meh).

I've also learned that bank publicists are 100% useless because the whole point is keeping their operations opaque while directing you, again, to the useless information on their website. I've learned that fraud investigators won't tell you anything that you very naturally want to know (details, who did this?, how did this happen? what do the police say?). You are powerless when an internet attacker takes all your money. You are stuck with your stupid partner, the bank, that you hate and have to talk to all day every day. You want to leave them but that spiteful move only gets you one more item on your to-do list.


I want a piggy bank.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Home - Sweet Or Sour?

Until now, this blog has always been written on-the-go. Travel is when I feel alive.

However, I made a choice to stay home and I've been here for what feels like forever (in truth, since my last post in NY - 8months).

This is what home is right now: Garbage strike. Brain-stopping intermittent crackle on the phone service which makes it impossible to work (i.e. phone interviews) and resulting in daily, hour-long Muzak waits on hold with Primus (this has been going on since February). Internet banking fraud two weeks ago, losing $21 000+, and gaining constant interaction with CIBC and their circular, evasive non-answers and the bank branch guy who, unfortunately, I can't understand due to his thick accent. DIY time crunch pre-wedding stress, which was the most stress I've ever experienced in my life (even 6 weeks later, had a fight this morning over, of all things, thank you cards). Constant jack-hammering ALL DAY LONG about 5 m from my desk where I sit (a non-stop crew is turning the old crackhouse across the street into a $2000/mo rental unit). A part-time contract job and freelance assignments that feel like going around in a scavenger hunt picking up $200 here and there while any semblance of having an actual career (i.e. stable, with a future and benefits) in journalism just rots in a temporary dump in what used to be a park that kids played in.

Can there be any wonder why travel is 100% better than being at home?

Maybe I'm just cranky because I'm hungry for lunch and I've spent all morning, as usual, on the phone with customer service reps (I don't care how nice you are, I really don't want to speak with any of you).

Do I have a problem? Does Ken Seeley need to come to my house and take away my passport? While my family gathers around and reads me utility bills, trying to convince me that life at home is better?