Sunday, September 27, 2009

Goin' on a coug hunt, gonna catch a big one...

Sometimes I'm amazed by how easy journalism can be. Sometimes you get lucky and things just fall right into your lap. That was the case on Friday night.

I had to do a radio doc for Midweek, a weekly current affairs show on the campus radio station. This class/show may kill me, by the way - every week I have to come up with more than one item, often long form like a five minute doc, plus possible same day items. Anyway, I watched that new Courtney Cox show Cougar Town and I thought I would investigate the mating habits of local cougars. I did some googling around and found out that Maxwell's, a bar on Elgin, is famous across the country as a cougar and cougar bait destination. I showed up on Friday night with a microphone and hoped for the best.

I want to preserve some material here that I’m not sure will make it in. I won’t use full names because these people probably would rather not have this blog come up if someone googles them.

Andy, the bartender who has worked at Maxwell’s for 22 years. Explained to me the cougar history of Ottawa: Apparently there was a bar called Hartwell’s that was a true cougar bar. It closed seven years ago and the clientele moved to Maxwell’s. Has witnessed a middle aged woman named Olga dump her beer in another woman’s purse who stole her seat, then hide behind the bar as the woman chased her.

Zak, a 20-year-old bus boy who gets groped when he goes onto the dance floor to clear glasses. “The worst I had was a woman fully wind up and spank me, so I just continued walking and decided not to acknowledge it… I don’t like to really acknowledge it. I think it’s awkward.”

Rod, bar staff. Once experienced full frontal cuppage as the woman looked him in the eye and laughed. “It’s not Chippendale’s or anything…. If a guy did that to a girl, he’d be tossed out in the street, but she was old enough to be my mom.”

Joe, 25-year-old cougar bait/cougar hunter. On why he loves cougars: “They teach you some things. They like to be in control.” On whether he thinks cougars are trendy right now: “I’d say that’s pretty accurate. I pretty much love cougars right now. And I’m planning on picking up several tonight.”

Pam (not her real name), 53-year-old self-identified cougar, grandmother, and Maxwell’s regular: “I just find that every once in a while we’ll get a younger crowd who will look at us and seem to think, you’re too old to be here. Like, oh my god, you’re too old. And to me, I think everybody should be lucky enough to know that at this age, we can still have fun. And at 53, what do you expect to be at this age? Do you expect to be at home knitting for your grandchildren?”

Monday, September 21, 2009

Liz: A Tribute

As I prepare for a day that will start with a TA meeting at 9 am and probably end with tears in the radio editing suite at midnight, it seems like an appropriate time to tell the world how much I love my friend Liz.

The last time I saw Liz, she was wearing the kamikaze headband you see pictured here and a big red button button that said "je suis capable." She was drinking Old English out of a martini glass with ice she had scraped out of Michelle's freezer. She wasn't running around yelling "I'm a meercat! I'm a meercat!" like she was in this picture, but I bet if I had showed up a couple of hours earlier she would have been.

Liz likes to find strange boys at bars and parties, introduce them to you, say "I think you two would reeeeaaaaally get along," then run away and laugh as you try to get rid of them for the rest of the night. Liz once went to Canada's Wonderland and at the end of the day showed up on Michelle's lawn wearing only a bikini and a helmet. Liz does what she wants.

Liz just came back from a year of teaching in South Korea. She's about to jet off to South America, where she'll wear terry cloth tube dresses and drink more things out of martini glasses.

Liz likes to have existential crises about the purpose and direction of her life. Hopefully it will make her feel better if I admit that sometimes I'm jealous of the way she lives hers.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fear and Loathing in American Politics

I've been thinking a lot about the stuff that's been going on in American politics recently: the health care debates, the speech to school children, the guy who called Obama a liar in Congress. Partisanship, political divisions and racism are heating up to the point where it scares me.

There have definitely been insults hurled and accusations made that don't deserve serious debate or argument (the whole "Obama is secretly a Kenyan Muslim" thing being the most obvious to come to mind). But I really think the problem is that neither side makes an effort to understand the other. People tend to camp themselves in either the left or the right at a very young age and stick with it. Having a political position is fine: good, even. But refusing to make a serious effort to empathize with and learn about the arguments made by the other side is dangerous.

I read this essay by Mark Lilla today called "Taking the Right Seriously" and it really made an impression on me. He argues that it hurts liberals to teach courses that treat conservative thought as a pathology, and that it hurts conservatives to engage in a liberal academic witch hunt. He wrote about a professor, Paul Lyons, who taught a course on American conservative thought:

"The students had loud debates over Reagan's legacy, Bush's foreign policy, religious freedom, abortion, even the "war on Christmas"—and nobody broke into tears or ran to the dean to complain. And the more the students argued, the more they came to respect one another. According to Lyons, students learned that that conservative guy was no longer just the predictable gun nut or religious fanatic. And the conservative students learned that they had to make real arguments, not rely on clich├ęs and sound bites recycled from Fox News."

Saying universities are full of lefties and socialists is kind of a cliche. But I had plenty of undergraduate classes where the reading lists didn't have one single book or article that didn't come from a leftist point of view. And, to be fair, I'd be willing to bet the opposite is true of the schools in the United States that have abstinence-only sex ed and teach creationism in science classes.

This is how you explain conservatives in the US calling liberals terrorists and commies, and liberals calling conservatives fascists and nazis. It doesn't get anyone anywhere. It breeds hate and hysteria. But if you're only exposed to one side of the argument, that's all you know how to do.

I'm not sure how you break the cycle. But it's a serious problem, and it's not just an American problem. I'd like to take a class like the one described above. I bet a lot of other people would too.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ode to Cambridge Food Mart

My apartment doesn’t have much going for it, but living in the slanty shanty (a phrase I 100% stole from Laura - it describes it so well) has a few perks. These include:

- The world's cutest coffee shop, Raw Sugar, which is right across the street

- $1 samosas at the Indian grocery store around the corner

- Nine billion Chinese/Vietnamese/Japanese/Korean takeout restaurants within five minutes walking distance

- 10 minute walk home from the bars on Bank Street

But the biggest perk of all is now gone. I returned to Ottawa to find the convenience store that used to be next door is closed. Very closed. Stripped down, abandoned and probably soon home to vagrant squatters closed.

Convenience Store Man warned me this would happen. A few weeks before I moved out for the summer he told me rent was getting too expensive and he'd be forced to shut down soon. I took this for the latest in his constant stream of endearing cantankerous old man complaints, but it turns out he wasn't bluffing.

Do you have any idea how fantastic it is to live next to a convenience store?? When I ran out of milk part way into pouring it on a bowl of cereal, I bought more and came back before the cereal got soggy. I drew the line at going there in a bathrobe or a towel, but other than that, I bought my morning Globe and Mail in all sorts of states of dress and undress. He even had movie rentals. Movie rentals! Next door!

I will miss your very convenient store, Convenience Store Man, but more importantly, I will miss you. I'll miss the way you responded with "I'm used to it" every time I apologized for interrupting your chain smoking to buy something. I'll miss the sign you put up in the winter, informing customers to Please Watch their Step as the Landlady has Repeatedly Refused to Remove Ice from the Front Walk and Stairs. I'll miss the way you asked me the same questions about the weather in the same order even if I had already been there twice that day, like a tape recorder, or a robot.

I never knew your name, Convenience Store Man. I would be willing to bet you don't remember mine, either. But you and your amazingly convenient store were a part of my life, and now you are gone forever.

Gone, along with my credit card information, which I handed over when I opened my movie rental account.

I've got my eye on that Visa statement.

An eye misted over with tears.