Tales of frustration: Huggers

“Oh, I’m a hugger,” she says in her cutesy, affected voice, spreading her arms and tilting her head, while closing the gap created by our personal space.

I raise my outstretched right hand, palm out, and have just enough time to bring up my left hand up as well, halting her advance with a firm block to her shoulders. Shock and affront paint her face, followed by a display of more hurt than could actually have been physically suffered by my denial.

“What the hell, man?”

“I’m sorry, but we’ve only just met and I’m not much of a hugger.”

“Well, you didn’t have to be such a dick about it. I’m just being friendly, you jerk.”

She steps back, setting her stance to convey disapproval.

“Once again, I apologize for your shock, but I don’t much enjoy hugging someone I’ve only just met.”

“Whatever, I’m just trying to be nice and you push me. What are you, some kind of germophobe?”

“No, I just think that hugging is a bit intimate for a first encounter.”

“Yeah right, so you’re, like, autistic or something? You know, you can’t just treat people like that.”

A disdainful sneer disfigured her face and with it, my composure.

“You don’t really know what autism entails, do you? But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m not a hugger and I don’t like hugging someone whose name I’ve only just heard seconds earlier. I don’t appreciate you forcing your habits on me, just because you are a hugger.”

“Look, asshole, I was being nice and you’re being a piece of shit, shoving me back, when all I wanted to do was give you a hug. I mean, seriously, what kind of social reject doesn’t like hugs? And you implying I don’t know what autism is, is totally offensive. I have a nephew with autism and you know nothing about what he has to go through every day.”

“Besides your demonstration that you need to go have a good chat with your nephew’s doctor, you’re failing to understand what is ‘nice’ here. You intended to be nice by doing something I don’t like. You were disregarding me entirely. You think it’s nice to hug upon meeting someone, I do not. I had my hand out to shake yours and you chose to step forward and wrap yourself around me without my consent. If I had the time, I would have told you not to hug me beforehand, but I didn’t. I acted on impulse and stopped you; I did not shove. –“

“Oh, whatever! I –“

“No, no. You have shown you can’t be trusted with words, so you will shut up and let me finish. You tried to engage in physical contact of which I do not approve. And I can see by the look on your face that you still disagree, so let’s consider this: you like to hug. You think it’s nice to be hugged, thus you think it is nice to hug. You know people you like to hug and all think it’s nice, so you label yourself ‘hugger’ and try to bring everyone into your warm embrace. I like to fondle and kiss. I think it’s nice to be fondled and kissed. I know people who like to fondle and kiss and all think it’s nice. Should I then introduce myself saying “Oh, I’m a fondling kisser” and proceed to massage your breasts and lightly bite your lower lip?”

“What the fuck, dude, are you fucking seri-“

“That’s right, the answer is no. I don’t know whether you would enjoy intimate physical contact right off the bat. Maybe you do, but I don’t know. So I keep it safe and extend my hand for a friendly shaking. Do I reach out and grab your hand? No. I wait, hoping you will extend your hand, so our hands can meet in the mutually agreed upon middle. You decide whether you reach out or not, I do not make that decision for you. You need to think about more than what you think is nice when meeting someone.”

A perfect picture of disgust looks me up and down from behind a crossed-arms barrier.

“You can just fuck off, because I’ve got pepperspray and I’m not afraid to use it. You’re not going to touch my breasts no matter how much you want to and I’ve got half a mind to press charges for sexual harassment.”

“Fine. Well you and your half a mind can go hug themselves. Just quit hugging people that don’t want to be hugged.”

Christmas Wishes

It’s Christmas time. I’m not going to be politically correct and state that it’s “the holiday season” or any other such nonsense.
The season is winter, holidays occur throughout the year and everyone from every religion in any country that has in any way been in even tangential contact with western culture knows that it’s Christmas time. It doesn’t matter whether they celebrate it as a Christian tradition, a calendar based sales platform originally set up by Coca-Cola, or don’t even celebrate Christmas at all.Merry Christmas

To me, Christmas is vacation, food and presents. Yes, presents. Friends and family too, they’re very important, but I see friends and family all the time; I only get presents twice a year. On my birthday I throw a party, taking care of drinks and food for all attendants, and with Christmas, I give as much as I get. So it’s actually not really about the ‘getting something’, nor is it about the monetary value of the gifts. At least, not for me. But every year I’m asked again for a list of things I would like and every year I have a little more trouble coming up with ideas for myself.

“What do you want for Christmas?” my mother asks. Or my girlfriend, or her sister. Surely, it’s great when someone imagines the perfect gift for you all on their own, but that’s rare and we shouldn’t expect that. Nor should we get annoyed at someone who just wants to get you something you actually want.Can't think of anything

“I don’t really know,” I answer, feeling pressured. I would like to ask for something that they would like to give as well as something I would like to receive. It can’t be too expensive, nor too cheap (too cheap can be insulting, trivializing their efforts). The best gifts also tend to be the ones the giver can understand: a gift the giver could conceivably be happy to be given.

“Argh, you’re so frustrating. Isn’t there anything you need?” Damn. Needs. Now my Christmas wish list has dragged me into an existential crisis of weighing ‘needs’ against ‘wants’. I know what I need. I think I know what everyone needs: a supportive social network, the proper amount of sleep, a healthy diet, exercise, emotionally fulfilling vocational pursuits and financial security. I have lots of good friends, I eat well and I exercise regularly. So, all I need is sleep, a job I like and money. I can only really ask for money as a gift.Money

“Ehh, yeah. I need a lot of stuff. But I don’t know, I’ll think about it.” I’m not going to ask for money for Christmas. Sure, it might help me sleep and it would definitely make rent a lot less unreasonably scary, but I’m not going to ask for impersonal, dirty, cold cash for Christmas. Mariah Carey didn’t sing “All I need for Christmas”, nor does the caroling classic sound “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to meeeee: two-hundred and seventy-threeeeee”. I’m not ready to let my needs become my wants and in some way I think that means I’m not ready to let go of my childhood.Sponserberleries

Yes yes, childhood, bla bla. Sentimental bs. But that’s Christmas time: one of the most important times of the year for children, sustained by the good-intentioned lies of their parents. Thinking about a wish list made me think about growing up, about maturing, becoming an adult. How I don’t want to be an adult, how I’m maturing poorly and how I’m not doing too well growing up. It made me think about the wish lists I had when I was a kid.

When I was a kid I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figure Fugitoid. I wanted a Lego spaceship. I wanted a sword. I wasn’t getting a sword (yet), but I wanted it. Oohh, I needed it. My want felt like a need. If you would’ve asked me “What do you need?”, I would’ve given you the exact same answer. You could argue that as a kid, I had no real concept of wants and needs. My survival needs were taken care of, so all I had left to myself were my wants. Then again, in her seasonal super hit Mariah Carey also sings “There is just one thing I need”.I'll die

My ‘wants’ felt like ‘needs’. Some ‘wants’ still do feel like ‘needs’, but it’s not the same; it’s all abstract, philosophical crap, like love. As a kid I wanted silly things. I got excited about toys, stuff that would be of the lowest priority in a survival situation. But I knew what they were, what they could do and what they were for. Fugitoid was a fugitive android, home to the mind of Professor Honeycutt and friend to the Turtles. He was fully articulated and had a hollow chest compartment. He was going to take part in epic battles and adventures. See? Clear.Fugitoid

Money is quite clear too: throw it at a problem, problem goes away. If you want to be a functioning, independent adult, you will need money. Implying that you’ll have lots of problems, but I won’t get into that. Sometimes you might think you want money, but what you really want is what the money can buy. And I’m afraid that my ‘needs’ will become my ‘wants’; that my ‘wants’ will be those intangible things that can neither be bought nor gifted, or money, because I need it.

I want to want tangible things for Christmas. I want the innocence of an action figure with death-grip. I want silly ‘wants’ to have the power to make me feel like I need them. I want to look at a Christmas tree and feel excitement, not remember it wistfully. And I want other people to feel the same way. So, this Christmas, or whatever occasion in which you find yourself needing a ‘want’, ask for something silly. If you’ve already asked for money, take some of that money and go do something or get something frivolous. We all need a lot of things, but we can take care of those things during the rest of the year. After all, Santa doesn’t spread maintenance of the status quo; he spreads joy.Christmas tree

Ninja Snowflakes

They say every face you see in your dreams is a face you’ve seen while awake. Even if you were not aware of it at the time, your brain has taken a snapshot of some face in your everyday landscape and saved it – perhaps the old man with the big nose; the lady with a tight ponytail and huge, blue eyes or the awkward kid with a skateboard and acne. In the dream this unknown person tells you the way to the cinema that’s inside a bathroom with glowing walls where they’re showing a horror film from the eighties that suddenly turns into Harry Potter, and the screen drags you inside so that you’re hit by a curse and suddenly have hair growing out of your mouth.

the_dream_by_P_R_O

Or the guy who drives the taxi you’re in and who spends the journey (although the car is standing perfectly still) picking his teeth with a spatula and telling you that you’re going to be late for school because the prime minister has switched off all the traffic lights and the streets turn into the sea for no good reason. Waking up, you might forget everything quickly or you might remember the story accurately, distinctly recalling every feature, every wrinkle of one of the faces. And you think (at least for a while) “wow, I have such vivid imagination”, when in truth the face belongs to a person with a whole life and dreams of his own.

It is mindboggling to me that all these people may drift into my subconscious like ninja snowflakes and merge with my dreams in such a way that I’m convinced I’ve invented their faces, their voices, their clothes. Like I built them from scratch, rolled and patted every snowflake into microscopic snowmen and women. Gave them noses of carrots and eyes of potatoes and black pebble buttons and bent sticks as mouths, and then filled them with life with the ease of a young child. When I wake up they melt away because my conscious mind is too hot to hold them for long. And then it turns out that my brain tricked me into thinking that I moulded new individuals. That I somehow made up an entirely new person in my sleep. Out there in the physical world somewhere walks and talks and eats and shits the lady whose face my mind put on that awful bint behind the bar who refused to serve me anything but tomato juice unless I proved to her that I was truly a cat person.

What is she doing right now, that woman who (perhaps) sat on the bench in the park resting her chubby legs and who somehow sieved herself through my memory filter, glued herself to the walls and invaded my dream? What’s her life like?

I look at a map and I think that in all the streets in all cities and towns and villages in all countries there are people who dream of people they passed or encountered or observed all the time. Snapshot after inexplicable snapshot, seven billion minds are spammed with sneaky sub-memories of faces with other minds behind them. And then those other minds do the same thing to their owners’ dreams, although the mind behind the face we encounter in our dreams doesn’t match the mind from whence the face was copied. I just really wonder why; what drives my brain to choose one face over another?

Isn’t it absolutely tantalizing that other people may have your face pop up in their dream or nightmare one night, thinking that they invented you – or  wondering why on earth their brains picked your sweaty face for the pigeon salesman who wouldn’t take no for an answer?

They are all wrong(ed)

I saw father crying today. I went to mother to ask her why.

‘He cries for your brother,’ she said, ‘He cries, because your brother is not coming home.’

This made me cry.

‘Where is my brother, mother?’ I asked.

‘He is being held captive,’ she answered, as every other time. And as every other time, I did not understand.

‘But why?’ I asked.

‘Because he lived. He went with your uncle to do a desperate and terrible thing. Your uncle died, but your brother lived and thus was captured.’

Now I cried for my uncle, but still did not understand.

‘But mother,’ I pleaded, ‘Why did uncle do this thing?’

‘He believed he must do this terrible thing, because he believed it was the only thing he could do. He believed that with this desperate thing, others might see his cause. and through grief for him and for others, that they might change. He believed that with this terrible and hopeless thing, that our family and our friends might return home.’

For all her explanations, I understood even less.

‘But mother, aren’t we home already?’

‘This is not our home, child. This is our refuge.’

‘But mother, I was born here. If this is not our home, where is it?’

‘It is near here, child. And it is in our past.’

‘But if it is near, why do we not go?’

‘Because we can not. We are being kept from returning.’

I began to understand.

‘Is this why uncle did this thing? Because we may not return?’

‘Yes, child,’ mother began to cry, ‘That is why they did this terrible, desperate and hopeless thing.’

‘But mother, if this thing would let us return home, why do you cry?’

I felt I understood more, but also nothing about the tears on mine and mother’s face.

‘Because, child. Our home is not our home anymore.’

New Year’s (V)ows and Delusions

So, I suppose that since it’s New Year’s Eve tonight it is sort of expected of me to write something about vigilant vows and rusty resolutions for 2013, awful mistakes and amazing adventures from the year that passed and amalgamate it all in some fancy, original anecdote that blows up like fireworks at the very end of the text. I’m supposed to be making dry-humoured jokes and puns about myself and about human kind in general – not disguising my contempt for all the things that are wrong in the world, but at the same time sounding hopeful at the prospect of a brighter future (nobody likes a pessimist on New Year’s).

That's some anecdote!

That’s some anecdote!

I ought to be making lists like Top Ten Events or contrast the best and the worst of 2012 in some kind of cavalcade – preferably with lots of photos – and insert quotations from famous people in the right places (two or three, not too many). And of course I had better mention the immensely funny thing that the world did not end ten days ago. I should come up with three to four great resolutions that mix irony and commitment in perfect blogger harmony, telling my readers how I intend to meet the New Year with a crooked grin, quick remarks and a firm determination to never give up (except where chocolate, overpriced dresses and The Lord of The Rings are involved).

New Year's (V)ows and Resolutions 03

As you may have guessed I will do no such thing. There are too many of those well-wishing, sugary-smiling wankers who keep claiming that “THIS year will be BETTER” – the emphasis becoming increasingly high-pitched and the speech getting more and more slurred with each year of depressing sameness.

New Year's (V)ows and Resolutions 02

I understand that I’m in grave danger of sounding bitter or wilfully pessimistic. The thing is: I used to be one of those wankers. I used to think that a new year meant a fresh start and a warm welcome into the future; that past mistakes could just be wiped out with a soft swish! and a light shrug of the shoulders. Hakuna Matata. But as a next New Year approaches, the vows from last year either seem retrograde and dull or fantastic and unattainable. And so we exchange the old resolutions with their shinier, better phrased twins, making sure they sound impressive but that there are loopholes. The loopholes will make it easier to excuse ourselves when we fall out of the pretty pattern we wove in with the fireworks at midnight; our champagne glasses the weaving pins raised to the exploding sky in salute; our friends all around us smiling at our happy conviction that this year…

Best fireworks ever

Best fireworks ever

Resolutions frequently turn out to be delusions. Vows quickly become Ow!’s. I think I’ll just not bother this year, as my resolutions tend to be full of resolve but lack solutions. Also, I think that a resolution sounds like something set in stone, like there is a mason in our minds who chisels all of our vows into rock. Mine would be a huge mountain worth of unfinished commitments and promises, and I guess that is the case for most of us. So rather than making futile resolutions that are tinged with pressure and with fear of not making it this year either, I’m going to limit my resolutions to this: I will spend 2013 laughing, crying, thinking, talking, feeling, imagining, dreaming, obsessing, procrastinating, kicking walls, rolling my eyes, rejoicing and despairing. In 2013 I will do what I did in 2012 and the year before that: I will simply, happily, be.

Gry

Bang?

Fear, friends and fighting

Last Friday night at around 2.30am, after a busy night working at the art-house movie theatre / restaurant that employs me, three colleagues of mine (R, S and T) and I were standing outside my work, talking and getting ready to go home. A scooter with two people on it came riding up to us, slowed down and proceeded onwards, having to deviate slightly from a straight line. On it sat a big fat man and his slightly smaller, fat wife (I assume). He yelled something at us as he passed and thinking nothing of it, my colleague T called out ‘Sorry?’, not having understood the heavyset individual.

The man stopped, once again said something unintelligible and T repeated himself. The man then backed up on his scooter, stood next to T and emphatically told him he was in the way and asked if T had a problem. T denied, and explained that he had only misunderstood him, thus saying sorry more as a question.

However, the man seemed to take T’s ‘Sorry?’, and anything else he said, more as a challenge. He grabbed T, proved himself not only jiggly, but very drunk as well, and pulled him in, once again angrily stating that we were in the way and that we should have moved. T explained himself once again, as tension became palpable within the group. The man had become angry and pushed T away, causing him to trip up on my wheel.

Most likely due to no conscious effort of his own, the calorically challenged man let the ensuing chorus of protests and call to behave pass him by and seemed to gather more and more anger from the situation. ‘He wants to fight. That’s it, he wants to fight,’ he said, failing to convey whether his words were intended for his bundled up, spherical wife, or to verbalize his thoughts before they would be inevitably lost to him.

Thankfully his wife said ‘No he doesn’t’ and for the same unfathomable reasons to get off, the man once again applied an inordinate amount of pressure to the shock-absorbers on his scooter and rode away, taking our wishes for a drunken accident with him.

During this entire event I experienced a cascade of thoughts and emotions, strongly influenced by natural paranoia, academic education in psychology, action movies and 13 years of martial arts training.

The belligerent slab of flesh impressed on me the assessment of a man who has led a less than exemplary life, rife with situational setbacks and behavioural difficulties, nurturing a natural lack of impulse and temper control and a predisposition for aggression into a large, cantankerous, alcohol abusing midnight scooter driver. His wilful misinterpretation of T’s words (however few they were), as well as his readiness and indeed willingness to fight led me to believe that this man, who must rightly pay road maintenance tax, must have a good measure of experience with street fighting, even if it’s simply due to others taking umbrage with his behaviour. Additionally, his girth, coupled with his state of inebriation, would make for a trying encounter to say the least if it would have come to blows.

At the moment the man backed up, I immediately became tense. When he stood next to T, I noticed myself flexing my fingers and loosening my bag and when he grabbed T I began to imagine the best ways to attack him; the best ways to cause the most damage in the least amount of time. Within moments I settled on a right elbow strike to the left temple, followed by a left open hand edge strike to the throat and a right dragon fist (middle knuckle extended) to the left eye. If still a standing threat, a turned in right snap kick to the left knee would bring him to the ground, where he could more easily be subdued with feet, knees and an uncomfortably placed bicycle. Then I would call the police. I had confidence in this plan.

However, I also had fear. I was not so much in shock, or afraid of the man attacking me, but afraid, because I thought I was really going to take serious action if the man became combative. The techniques described above, if performed properly, can be horribly damaging. Even if I would have come out of such a physical encounter without being hurt myself, I would have to deal with the aftermath of my own actions.

A strange sense of satisfaction came over me as well. The comparatively uneventful happening came to a close and our little group broke up after a few shared moments of stupefied confusion. On my solitary bike ride home I mulled over what did and didn’t happen. I remain uncertain as to how I would have fared. And though most of me is perfectly happy with the idea that I’ll never find out, part of me wanted it to happen, to satiate my anger and aggression, but also out of curiosity. Would I have done well? Would I have frozen or failed? It’s always easier to ascend the podium of victory in the mind, where the pedestal of triumph is built of speculation. Thus, if I am to focus solely on what happened, even if most of it was immaterial, I will take away a feeling of pride for being ready to fight on behalf of a friend.

Obstacles?

Another piece I wrote this past summer. The setting is no longer relevant, but I believe the development and conclusion are. Let me know what you think!

A friend and I went for a run the other day. We headed down-town to grab a quick cup of coffee and then run back. It seemed a nice day to run, a bit of sun and a breeze. I asked for and expected a leisurely run; something to get the juices flowing and a start to work away three weeks of vacation in the US. I was motivated and feeling good about myself, feeling good about my decision to exercise. But as is often the case, the day turned out slightly different than planned and my brain played catalyst in changing a simple run into something much more meaningful. Or slightly odd at least.

So, this friend is going to participate in the 2012 Urbanathlon in Amsterdam. The Urbanathlon is a 14,5 km. long race with 29 obstacles on the way: jumping over cars, climbing walls, walking over beams, shimmying across ropes, you name it. And on our run he suggested we try to do similar exercises. Make it a kind of parkour-esque run with improvised, obstacle related challenges as we go along. Fun, right? Not at all leisurely, but hey, I wasn’t about to whine.

2012 Amsterdam Urbanathlon

We started running and quickly found out that the breeze was warm and the air was humid. More than humid, it was damn near wet. Before long it felt like we were running in soup and around that time my friend thought it’d be a great idea to run up and down a hill as fast as we can. Three times. And then, we climbed an electrical grid transformer shed. And then, pull-ups in a kids’ playground.

I wish we had come across this

Now, I’m not entirely sure, but I think it was around that third obstacle that I had totally forgotten about my intentions for a leisurely work-out and the pain coursing through my entire body. And as far as I can remember clearly, it was somewhere between the third and fourth obstacle that a strange realization hit me. Was it due to light-headedness? An over-abundance of endorphins making me high? I’m not sure, but as it’s wont to do, my brain went the way of the (not entirely necessary) philosophical. Stick with me now, because I need to elaborate just a little bit more to illustrate how I got to where I’m going.

Sadly, this one is closer to the mark

Alright, it’s no longer about the run, nor the different obstacles we tackled on the way. As soon as the click hit me it was all about the search for obstacles. As we were running along, I kept pointing at things and panting out the accompanying question: “Obstacle?”. Some we tackled, some we passed by, but I kept on saying it. Exactly the same way and with the exact same intent. Imagine saying it – “Obstacle?” – between breaths, exhausted, with that characteristic questioning lift of tone at the end and, most importantly, with hope. Or maybe not entirely hope, but something akin to gleeful anticipation. Just something that exemplifies the expectation of something good in the near future. The opposite of an obstacle.

Bam! Paradoxical random morning exercise brainstorm! Alright, calm down, it’s not that great a revelation. But at the time it was an epiphany to me. That contradiction of concept and intent provided me with a never before experienced level of understanding of the age-old mantra ‘life is what you make it’.

After a short bout of irrational self-loathing for thinking like a hippie and a bit of food and rest, the thought and understanding solidified to a clear, if somewhat convoluted, idea: life is indeed what you make it, but the tools you are given with which you must construct that life are not always tools that you would choose, nor are they tools you would necessarily know what to do with.

I kept on looking forward to encountering an obstacle. My focus on future opportunities was laced with positive feelings, yet the word I used is a quintessentially negative one. The word ‘obstacle’ is actually used to indicate difficulties and problems and not just physical, but emotional difficulties as well. Who hasn’t heard a self-help guru bandy about the phrase “overcoming life’s obstacles”?

The overly ambitious goal…

Maybe I should have used the word ‘challenge’. ‘Challenge’. A word fraught with opportunity. An obstacle that holds the possibility and expectation to be overcome, to be taken on and conquered. But I didn’t. If I did, then nothing about that run would have been special, philosophically significant. To some the word ‘challenge’ can be daunting, but it is inherently positive. It implies development, growth, victory. It wouldn’t have sparked that feeling of dissonance I had as I used the paradoxically positive use of the word ‘obstacle’.

So as I write, I realize that my convoluted addendum to ‘life is what you make it’ could be made more concise: rather than ‘life is what you make it’, how about ‘life is made by you’.

…and the pitiful, but fun, reality.

Concerns of a Modern Housewife

A couple of thousand cups of shelves filled with plastic boxes in loud colours; ten times as many tablespoons of stressed – bordering on mentally unbalanced – primates in suits or slacks (the latter group is the largest) running around with little suitcases dangling behind them; plus a few hundred pinches of kids of different ages – but with a very similar migraine invoking straining of their vocal chords. Add to this a handful of smiling faces with dollar shaped pupils; mix it all into a writhing pulp and shove it into a concrete box of umpteen cubic metres. What are we baking? Third world war’s a good guess. It’s not far off anyway. I can hardly claim that I’m an expert on the human psyche or anything (even though I did take one of those introductory psychology courses at Uni, and I go to a wonderful zen meditation lesson with a real guru every week), but when the Tax Free on Heathrow has turned into a helter-skelter of manically material Homo Sapiens who don’t know how to control themselves, I quite simply cannot keep my head from shaking disdainfully.

I sigh heavily and attempt with increasing futility to inch myself away from the thickest crowd without stepping on anyone’s shopping bag and risk getting murdered. Suddenly I’m standing in front of a platform with a pancake flat, red “Lamborghini-something-Italian” written on it, surrounded by about forty-odd boys aged four to fifty, who are all quite literally drooling. It’s enough to make a strong stomach squirm. Truly, I am contemplating if I shouldn’t seek out a toilet as there is a risk that my breakfast soon makes itself known in my mouth for the second time. This place already smells of wanton waste and extreme extravagance. I take a long, brooding sip of my organic white tea (brewed on recycled leaves with ginger root and vanilla). On top of that they squeeze in one of the world’s greatest pollution problems and thereby make sure it is forever worshipped by half of the planet’s population (the greatest problem is cows, apparently, but no worries there: I’m a vegetarian).

Oh, here we go! A grinning man on the platform is announcing how the car can be won. The poor blokes. As if they weren’t brainwashed enough. After all, millions of these things drive on the roads daily, and in addition to that, the boys are looked down upon if they don’t know which hub covers are the most “awesome”; how a V16 engine works compared to a V8 or which GPS system is the best one (what does V16 even stand for?)

Men and cars! It really is a phenomenon. If you’re a man, you like cars. Full stop. If you love them it’s even better, and if you worship them, why, then you’re really one of the guys. Is there even an equivalent to the relationship between a man and his car? The wife is, of course, rather useful in certain areas (I chuckle to myself), and the TV is nice to look at, sure, but nothing quite surpasses the car – or his “girl” as he likes to call it. For cars, like boats, are always female. Jeremy Clarkson can stand there for hours talking about her bottom, and sweet-talk of the kind “Let’s go fer a ride, baby!” is daily routine for most proud, male car owners. No wonder we women are charmed to our knees by some macho man we meet at the pub; he’s simply serving us all of his best car-love one-liners and appears to be the most charming, attentive man. We are selected, seduced and seized, and before we know it we’re in a three-way relationship with him and his real baby. An aeroplane lands smoothly out on the landing strip. I wonder how many of the passengers have cars. My car is electric. My husband didn’t think it was powerful enough of course, so he cruises around in his huge Audi. No thinking outside the box there. He is such a typical man.

Who was it, by the way, who invented the abhorrence? (The car, I mean; not the man – apparently he popped out of God’s index finger or something.) I probably ought to know, but it must have been a man with an unbelievably bad ability to think ahead – or a woman with an incredibly sadistic sense of humour. What was wrong with horse and carriage anyway? My guess is that humans were happier some hundred years ago – men in particular. I’m having a hard time imagining, for instance, that they used to crowd around a carriage because it’s hub covers were so awesome.

To be fair I guess we need to go all the way back to the Stone Age and yell at whoever it was that invented the wheel – and those are rather handy sometimes. But not when the box they’re rolling spews out poison! You know, I’d be fine; just fine! with being a Stone Age female with hair growth in the most awful places so long as I wouldn’t have to worry about my species ending the world or something in its infinite stupidity. I sniff derisively. No wonder Mother Earth gets sick when millions of our growing kind buy up to several metal lumps with eight-cylinder engines because we need them. Imagine having to live side by side with an animal that has the intelligence to state “I think, therefore I am”, and at the same time is so half-witted that it gives its own basis of existence a death sentence. If I were an endangered animal I think I’d sooner become extinct, actually. I don’t believe cows are the number one problem after all (oh! how witty they’ll think I am at work when I just throw that out during lunch tomorrow!)

But which men care about things like these when they buy their penis enlargers? I nibble thoughtfully at my Organic Multi-grain Fair Trade Low-fat No Sugar chocolate bar and come to a realisation. Men just can’t allow themselves to think of nature, quite simply due to social norms. If they do care, they’re gay. No mercy. I’m getting positively giddy from the witty depth of my insight. It starts in kindergarten, you see, where the boy who doesn’t enjoy playing with toy jeeps is considered strange. When he goes to school he is a freak because he doesn’t like to play at war with guns and tanks, and by middle school he is forever branded as gay because he doesn’t have posters of car babes on his bedroom wall. It is, in other words, not easy for the poor men to escape from the vicious circle of the car producers. Car Magazine, Top Gear, General Motors, The Fast and The Furious, car video games, toy cars and car races are only a small part of what the market cleverly uses to remain in control over men’s brains. It is easily achieved, it seems.

I get shivers from watching the admiration shining in the eyes of the males around me. Like so many puppies wagging their tails at a particularly grimy tennis ball. I look at the car, and I simply do not get what it is they see in it that I don’t see. Is it the colour? In that case they might as well be staring at my top (which is brand new by the way). No, it must be the brainwashing. When a group of teenage boys nearly push me over in their eagerness to gaze at the marvel, “oooh”-ing in a very manly way, I remove myself quickly from the scene. Honestly, how happy am I that I’m not a man, obligated to be so spellbound by a material object that everything else is forgotten! It is positively absurd.

A jumbo jet takes off at that moment (gosh, how noisy the thing is!) as I walk over to a shop and critically consider their exhibition. I don’t want my son to be bullied and branded as gay, and my husband would most likely leave me if I tried to give the boy books, so I go inside and buy the toy jeep with pursed lips and an attempt at a scornfully dignified expression on my face. What don’t we women suffer in order to please the world’s men?

On the other side of the hall is another shop.

Oh god! They’ve got a huge discount on Louboutin!

Well, obviously, you know: one mad, material monkey to or from doesn’t really change all that much. And besides, shoes don’t emit CO2.

Mind-numbing

This past summer I worked at a mail distribution centre. I wrote this piece during that time.

Sorting mail at a large mail distribution centre entails putting very large numbers of letters, postcards and advertisements from an automated sorting machine into crates and then putting full crates on crate-carts. No difficulty. No multitasking. No thinking beyond ‘blue coded crate goes on blue coded cart’. It is the definition of a mind-numbing job

Since I’ve been working there, though, that definition has become much clearer and a lot more salient to me. The definition has changed somewhat as well. I previously thought that a mind-numbing job numbed the mind; that it dulled your thoughts, made you less sharp witted. Made it so that if someone asked a question or made a comment, it would be more difficult to respond than before. And I thought this would come about because you would be thinking less; you would no longer be honing your mind.

But this is not the case, at least for me. I can’t stop thinking while I work. And yet I do feel like my thoughts are dulled. To run with the analogy, you might say that as I work, I think so much about things (mostly my life at that moment) that I’m beating my sharp mind blunt. As if I’m wailing away on a wooden post, never re-sharpening my blade. And then, when faced with an opponent, my fencing skills come up short and my blade doesn’t cut as deep.

However, this is not what drew my ire. I can have discussions with people and read books away from my job, thus applying a whetstone to both my skill as my steel. No, there seems to be something more insidious about mind-numbing jobs. It crept up on me and I didn’t immediately notice what was happening to me. And then it hit me. It filled me with revulsion. It scared me.

I was caring less.

I was caring less about everything. It starts with simply caring less about the job. You have to work, because you have to pay rent and eat. Every day you go back and the thoughts that rage around in your mind become less focused on how much you hate the job. You dismiss them with an easy ‘whatever, just gotta do it’. It becomes easier to wave away your discontent until you coast through your shift thinking about anything but what you ‘have’ to do for the coming hours. It becomes more defeatist and then you find yourself calming the thought ‘what has become of my life, this was not the plan’ with an increasingly easy ‘this is how it is’. Followed by that most insidious of all: ‘it’s not that bad’.

Now the steel of your mind has rusted fast in its scabbard, slowly becoming increasingly immovable as well as wasting away. Someone lunges a witty remark straight at your face. You’re slow to respond, or don’t respond at all. You saw it coming. You just don’t care. You might attempt a weak parry, but let him land his attack. Whatever. It won’t really change anything. It is how it is. And it’s not that bad.