“Brexit, Trump and the Search for a Canadian Monkey Wrench”

brexit-canada-1024x576One of the best analyses of the contemporary political train wreck, is Glenn Greenwald’s “Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit” (www.theintercept.com). Anyone who’s been watching the news and scratching their head, or been “shocked” by Trump’s victory, would do themselves a favor by reading it along with the documents it links to. Here are Greenwald’s two most relevant paragraphs:

“The indisputable fact is that prevailing institutions of authority in the West, for decades, have relentlessly and with complete indifference stomped on the economic welfare and social security of hundreds of millions of people. While elite circles gorged themselves on globalism, free trade, Wall Street casino gambling, and endless wars (wars that enriched the perpetrators and sent the poorest and most marginalized to bear all their burdens), they completely ignored the victims of their gluttony, except when those victims piped up a bit too much — when they caused a ruckus — and were then scornfully condemned as troglodytes who were the deserved losers in the glorious, global game of meritocracy.

“That message was heard loud and clear. The institutions and elite factions that have spent years mocking, maligning, and pillaging large portions of the population — all while compiling their own long record of failure and corruption and destruction — are now shocked that their dictates and decrees go unheeded. But human beings are not going to follow and obey the exact people they most blame for their suffering. They’re going to do exactly the opposite: purposely defy them and try to impose punishment in retaliation. Their instruments for retaliation are Brexit and Trump. Those are their agents, dispatched on a mission of destruction: aimed at a system and culture they regard — not without reason — as rife with corruption and, above all else, contempt for them and their welfare.”

In summary, what working class Britons saw in Brexit is what working class Americans saw in Trump: a monkey wrench —one they could throw contemptuously into a corrupt system that had, for over a generation, been working against them. This article represents my search to proactively indentify the Canadian monkey wrench.

Here we reach the litmus test. If at this point you hear yourself smugly proclaiming, “Not here! Never here! We don’t have a corrupt system in Canada! We don’t have an elite that has been exploiting our masses!” then you’re probably either (1) a member of this elite yourself, (2) utterly clueless, or (3) both.

On the other hand, if you feel yourself quietly sympathizing with the frustrations of working class Britons and Americans (and maybe even feeling a little guilty about it), you’re probably doing what I am, searching for a monkey wrench.

For years my monkey wrench of choice has been voting for the Green Party. And I must say, even though I didn’t get to vote for her directly, it has done my heart good to see Elizabeth May raising hell in the House of Commons these last five years. But I can appreciate that those of us without the environmentalism bent might not find satisfaction there —those folks likely tried voting Conservative or NDP to see what would happen. Of course eventually it became obvious that Stephen Harper was only concerned about, well, Stephen Harper. And the NDP, it seems (tragically), always shy away from authoring any policies of truly monkey wrench magnitude.

Recently, many of us cast our vote for a well-coiffed monkey wrench in the form of Justin Trudeau —some simply angry at Harper for turning out to be a corporate elitist, some for the nostalgia conjured by Trudeau’s name, and some because of one interesting monkey wrench that he held out to us: electoral reform.

The one truly original plank in the last Liberal platform (original for them, at least) was electoral reform. This idea that every vote cast should be counted and represented in Parliament for a change. Now for us this is something quietly revolutionary, a potential for Canada to renew our democracy —a monkey wrench that wouldn’t be thrown into the system with the intent to destroy it, but rather to fix it.

And yet, instead of genuinely pursuing this revolutionary aim, the party in power seems committed to ensuring it happens in a way that benefits them or that it doesn’t happen at all. Presently it looks like we’re headed toward a referendum on the issue. Those of us who paid attention to similar referenda in the past have a good idea how this might turn out. First-past-the-post may very well end up on the ballot as an option because at least one party on the committee will insist it be there. Then, once the issue is in the media, there will be so much misinformation that our overworked (yet consummately reasonable) electorate won’t know what to think and status quo will be seen as the safest option.

If this issue goes to referendum, it is vitally important that first-past-the-post is not an option. This bears repeating. If the issue of electoral reform goes to a referendum, it is vitally important that the status quo, first-past-the-post, is not an option!

Why employ such forceful language? Because Canadians, I fear, are reaching a point where any monkey wrench will do. It would be better for all concerned if that monkey wrench came in the form of a new electoral system than a Canadian Trump.

Those of you who have been paying attention will have noticed that, in terms of political leadership at least, Canada tends to be two steps behind the United States. Mulroney was our Regan, Cretien was our Clinton, Harper was our Bush. And in many ways Trudeau is our Obama —a fresh face able to credibly peddle “change” on behalf of an old, establishment party that doesn’t really want to change anything. So who will be Canada’s Trump?

Here is where we get smug again and cry, “Not here! Never here!” But we do so at our peril. If we’re honest, we know damn well we’ve heard rumblings of discontent in our coffee shops and at our water coolers. The tone is more muted —cooler perhaps than our American neighbours— and maybe laced with a bit of sarcasm, but they are there. I’ll wager not a one of my readers has gone these past several years without hearing a version of one of the following:

“Glad the automotive workers are safe. But where’s my bailout?”

“Immigrants get their cable television paid for!? Wish someone would sponsor me.”

“I wish the housing market would crash. Then maybe I could afford a home.”

And most recently there are the crass lamppost plasterers who crawled out from their basements after Trump’s ersatz victory: “Hey, white person!” et cetera.

It’s only a matter of time before some Trump-ish opportunist latches on to these sentiments and tries to translate them into political capital. Canada’s Trump has yet to emerge from the shadows but rest assured that he (or she) is eagerly waiting there. And our right-wing media is salivating in anticipation. Remember the frenzy they made of Rob Ford? Well, I reckon we ain’t seen nothing yet.

Before I let you go, let’s give ourselves some credit. Historically, Canada has always been ahead of the United States whenever it really counted. We abolished slavery, we established universal healthcare, we stood up to fascism the first time it reared its ugly head. But presently the grim reality is that Canada is the tallest tree still standing in the darkening forest of western democracy. And the rumbling machines of the logging company can already be heard in the distance.

In the months to come, dear reader, there will likely be many campaigns asking for your precious time, energy and money. So my advice to you is this: choose your monkey wrench wisely. But choose quickly.

–Brandon Kidd

Randy Talbot’s Closet: Canadian Release!

bookcover_lowres_front_300pxwideThe Canadian release of Randy Talbot’s Closet happened this Sunday, the 16th of October at Guelph’s third annual Book Bash, hosted by Vocamus Press! The book was first published by Beau To Beau Books in the United States in 2015. Now with snappy new cover art provided by local artist Ryan Cassidy, this funny, sexy, thoughtful little novel can be enjoyed by Canadian readers in paperback form in its second edition.

The eBook is also now available (outside the United States only)!

If you are a bookseller, contact me for a bulk purchase discount option.

What No One Is Saying and Why: A rant on current public policy

shrug[1]Several public policy initiatives have received a lot of attention lately: a $15 an hour minimum wage, a basic livable income, free university tuition for low-income students (this one looks like it might actually happen). These initiatives seem positive; many progressives have applauded them loudly. But I, as usual, find myself in the position of the party-pooper. It seems up to me to say what no other progressive in the province is willing to say: none of these initiatives will address poverty or grow the middle class. Hear me out.

The minimum wage in Ontario has nearly doubled in the last twenty years. Has poverty shrunk significantly? No. Now I’m not suggesting we go back to a minimum wage of $6.85 an hour, certainly not. I’m not even suggesting that raising the minimum wage to $15 is a bad thing, but consider this: $15 an hour at full-time is just $21,000 a year after taxes. After rent, utilities, food, and a modest amount per month for transport that leaves just $4,200 a year —and that’s rent outside Toronto or Vancouver. And it doesn’t take much to chip away at that $4,200. The cost of a prescription or two, some new clothes, and (heaven forbid) a weekend excursion or two should do it. I think you see my point. Raising the minimum wage alone will not help people out of poverty. One look at how much the rent for a decent one-bedroom apartment has increased since the days of $6.85 an hour will show you that most of that increase has gone to line the pockets of landlords, not to helping low-income people build equity and enter the middle class. Raising the minimum wage alone will have very little long-term effect on people’s quality of life.

Consider that about 30% of all employees in Canada are employed in small businesses and small businesses have accounted for the majority of new jobs added to the economy since 2008. Of all sectors in the economy, small businesses struggle the most to response to an increased minimum wage. Sharply raising it would be one sure way to stunt that growth. And at the end of the day, your wage is in the hands of your employer. If they can’t afford to pay you to work 35 hours a week, they’ll cut you back to 24 or less. This, by the way, is why we see so many people working multiple part-time jobs.

What about a basic livable income? For the first few years it will be a real boon for some. Those who haven’t been able to make ends meet suddenly will, those who can only find low-wage part-time jobs will get a breather. But after those first few years, landlords will catch on that their tenants can pay more money. Suddenly a decent one-bedroom apartment doesn’t cost $800 a month, it costs $1000. The price of houses and condos continues to increase as well, making saving anything for a down-payment increasingly unlikely. Then, five to ten years down the road, our basic livable income isn’t livable anymore and we’re right back where we started.

What about free tuition for students from low-income families? How could I be against that? I, after all, came from a low-income family. Well, I wouldn’t be against it if I thought it would get them anything. The facts are as follows. One, the value of a bachelor’s degree has fallen dramatically over the past twenty years; today it’s worth little more than a high school diploma. Two, many of those low-income students will still need to incur debt in order to attend university; wages from a part-time job generally don’t cover rent, food, books, etc. Do the math and you quickly realize this is not a gift to low-income students, it’s a ruse encouraging them to pursue an education to nowhere so that universities can stem decreasing enrollments as a result of their flagging legitimacy.

Higher minimum wage, basic livable income, free university tuition for low-income students —when you follow the money in each of these cases none of it ends up in the pockets of the poor so they can build equity and better their standing. Ultimately, the vast majority of it ends up in the pockets of landlords and university administrators (who, by the way, get a much bigger portion of the pie than professors). And don’t forget where the money for all this comes from to begin with: us. The province plans to pay for these measures through tax, and not higher tax on the wealthy, not higher tax on corporations, nothing as innovative as a carbon tax or aggregate tax, just general income tax that we all pay. So, in the end, the working poor end up paying for the illusion that deceives them into thinking that their government cares about addressing their plight.  They look at their surroundings, scratch their heads, and wonder why they aren’t getting ahead.

Now why do I feel as though I’m the only progressive pointing out this charade? I think there are three reasons. One, criticisms like these don’t get headlines or fit inside tweets; no one likes putting ink and effort into what isn’t likely to be read. Except me, I’m just weird. Two, after thirty-plus years of unrelenting austerity in this province, progressives will applaud anything that even looks progressive, even if it actually isn’t. They reason that maybe —just maybe— if we take this hit and don’t say anything it will mean something genuinely progressive in the near future. Oh, and if that last point sounds shockingly like an abusive relationship dynamic, that’s because it is. And three, our so-called progressive politicians and political parties in Ontario are ideologically bankrupt.

What do I mean by ideologically bankrupt? Allow me to demonstrate. Below are some progressive measures that actually would combat poverty and grow the middle class. You haven’t heard any of these ideas from our allegedly progressive political parties recently, at least not publically or as part of their platforms. I’ll leave you to guess why. Here they are:

  • Expand OHIP coverage to include an annual amount for basic dental, eye glasses, and prescription medications.
  • Reduce interest on all existing student loans to a 1% annually-compounded rate and allow payments to be as low as $100 a month.
  • Build 250,000 units of quality, public housing all around Ontario, concentrated in areas where the real estate market is the most inaccessible. And finance the developments in ways that will allow the working poor to build equity while they make monthly payments. In addition to solving the homelessness problem this single measure would generate tens of thousands of jobs, improve the quality and price of rental housing, and stabilize the housing market by slowing the rise of house prices but also buffering them against a crash. Then, if needed, build 250,000 more.
  • Reform the Landlord-Tenant Act so that it is less in favor of landlords and include some form of rent control.
  • Repatriate Hydro One and incorporate it as an arm’s-length non-profit entity reporting to the Province. In other words, get our electricity provider out of the profit-making game.
  • Begin meaningful education reform so that students actually get something of value from their primary and secondary educations. Move from a teacher-centered education system to a student-centered one.
  • Establish a contribution-matching, no-risk public pension fund for low and medium income earners in Ontario and make retirement at 60 available with no penalty.
  • Allow income-splitting for couples with one or two children under five years of age so that one parent can stay home and raise the kids, no daycare required.

If the above measures are taken in combination with a higher minimum wage and a basic livable income, then we will see poverty reduced and growth in the middle class. I know what you’re thinking now. How will all this be paid for? Fear not, those solutions are relatively simple as well:

  • Introduce significant carbon and aggregate taxes and dump every penny into making public transit a superior option to owning one’s own car.
  • Raise the corporate tax rate back to something reasonable. Currently, Ontario’s corporate tax rate is the second lowest in North America (the lowest is Texas). We should at least be on par with Quebec and New York State.
  • Cancel all corporate welfare. All of it. If a car company fails, allow it to fail. Instead of being there with bailouts for our corporations, be there with a solid social security net for the employees to help them retrain and pay their bills while they find new jobs in industries that are actually viable.
  • Extend sales tax to stock market transactions. If I have to pay 13% tax on a pair of socks, there’s no reason why an investment bank can’t pay 1% on its stock market transactions. This would also act as a buffer against uncontrolled market speculation.
  • Introduce marginal income tax brackets so that income well above subsistence is taxed at suitably higher rates. Simultaneously, lower the tax rate on the lowest income bracket to 10%.

Taken together these measures may actually generate a surplus of revenue.

You may notice at this point that none of my suggestions involve herding more people through colleges and universities. Why? Because at the end of the day we still want people to pour our coffee, clean our floors, organize our department stores, landscape our cities, cook our food, and a whole host of other tasks that aren’t glamorous but are still important. Why shouldn’t the people doing this good, honest work be able to own their own homes and leave something for their children? Forty years ago, they could. There’s no good reason why that can’t be the case again. It’s certainly a better option for our young people than forcing them to spent four-plus years at university when they don’t want or need to be there.

Let post-secondary enrollment decline. It’s been too high for years. Only 1 in 5 jobs in our economy actually requires a post-secondary degree and yet 1 in 3 students who graduate high school in this province go on to pursue one. Allowing post-secondary enrollment to fall to where it naturally should be will only mean smaller class sizes for those who genuinely need to be there and less money for administrative paper-pushers and nonsense programs (degree in Outdoor Recreation, anyone?).

I hope I’ve been able to demonstrate an important but simple point here. Fighting poverty is less about how much money people have coming in and more about how much they have left once their basic needs are met. Any policy that leaves the average, single, working class person with little or no money left at the end of the month doesn’t combat the growth of the working poor, it sustains and encourages it.

And there’s the sucker punch at the end of the story —the reason why no one in power is talking about anything in this article: the working poor are not supposed to get ahead. They’re supposed to keep counting their blessings, going to work, and running on their hamster wheels while their landlords buy up more property and rent it back to them at ever inflating prices, the dream of ever owning their own homes and raising a family always just out of reach. And that is the way it shall be. Unless, of course, we change it.

The Misfortune Cookie

“The Misfortune Cookie”

by Brandon Kidd

 

Kevin Watson sat before the remains of his dim sum developing indigestion. For once, he was grateful he had eaten alone. The faint blue printing on that tiny strip of paper stared back at him brighter than a Las Vegas billboard. He gulped and read them once more: “A new acquaintance will bring you disaster.”

What kind of a fucked up fortune was that!? He expected something banal like, “Your efforts will bring good results” or distinctly Confucian: “Good things come to those who wait.” Not this. Who was this stranger? Where would this fateful meeting take place? What form would this disaster take?

Kevin’s palms started to sweat and then he heard the voice of Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise… in his head. Having grown up on Star Trek The Next Generation reruns, the voice of Kevin’s conscience now sounded remarkably like Patrick Stewart. And why not? Captain Picard rocked! Adventurous, brave, principled, but also diplomatic and philosophical —boldly go where no one has gone before (but never needlessly risk your  crew). And what did Captain Picard say to Chief Engineer Watson about this evil fortune cookie?

“Meaningless! A quaint but antiquated tradition designed to occupy superstitious minds. Pay it no further heed, Mister Watson.”

Aye-aye, sir. But still, Kevin couldn’t help wondering. Could this new acquaintance be Sophie, his blind date from Saturday? He thought things had gone well. He’d made plans to see her again this Saturday. It had been his first date in over a year and he liked her. So far.

“Maybe she’ll turn out to be some crazed psychopath who sends me dead squirrels in the mail. Maybe she had twelve other blind dates that week. Maybe we’ll get married only to have her leave me ten years from now for our nineteen-year-old pool boy.”

Kevin didn’t know. But as he sat there, leaning forward in his chair, loosening his tie with moist hands and staring at a couple half-eaten dumplings, he knew this: that fortune cookie had just cost the waitress her tip.

Kevin was twenty-eight years old. Last year he’d finally landed his first real, permanent full-time job since leaving school. He was now a professional computer programmer. He coded software for libraries. He was good at it. He liked it. He felt it was important work. It paid well enough for him to live on his own and grow a condo down-payment fund. Now who was this new acquaintance who was going to come along and screw it all up for him?

He gasped. Maybe it was his new boss, Mike —excuse me— Mister Hargrove. Kevin didn’t like Mike Hargrove. He was a year younger than Kevin and about one quarter as intelligent. He was certain Hargrove was one of those guys in university who spent his time rewording Coles Notes and copying snippets of code from the internet to complete his assignments, who crammed for every exam then promptly forgot everything from the course by the next semester, who spent his hours outside class “networking” by joining every team, club, society and association on campus, scanning people at social gatherings for who might be useful at some point in the future, collecting email addresses and business cards like a pig sniffing for truffles. No, Kevin didn’t like Mike Hargrove. And now, thanks to this stupid fortune cookie, he was going to worry about getting stabbed in the back by the guy every day this week.

Kevin reached for his wallet and left his fortune on the table. It wouldn’t matter if he took that little slip of paper with him or not, after one reading its words were tattooed on his brain. He counted out enough money to cover his bill and though for a moment before leaving a twoonie for the waitress. It wasn’t her fault fate had decided to play chicken with him.

“Have nice day,” she chimed with an elastic smile as Kevin left.

“Fat chance,” he thought.

Kevin was an unimpressive figure by many measures, certainly in comparison to the parade of other businessmen in Hugo Boss suits and Prada shoes zooming around Downtown Toronto in shiny new sports cars. He walked back to his office in an old pair of running shoes, wearing a wardrobe by Mark’s Work Warehouse, carrying a backpack by Mountain Equipment Co-op. He was of less than average height and built like a scarecrow but nevertheless reckoned himself not bad looking. He had short brown hair which he cut and styled himself, a clear complexion (on good days), and a small nose which made him look several years younger.

Walking down University Avenue on this bright, breezy spring day Kevin should have been enjoying himself, breathing in the clean air off Lake Ontario and wondering whether there was still ice on the lake back home in Winnipeg. He had moved to Toronto for university and stayed there afterward, working a long string of nerve-wracking contracts before finally landing a permanent, full-time job. But Kevin hated Toronto. No, to be accurate, he hated Torontonians —of which there were two distinct types in his opinion.

There was the native Torontonian. They were born here and alternated between attitudes of superiority and entitlement. They also spoke twenty percent faster than non-natives. Generally the native Torontonian was only suspicious when speaking to someone of the second type, the new Torontonian.

The new Torontonian, one who has managed to establish himself in this city despite the myriad obstacles, is assumed by the native to have done so only by screwing over someone else. Native Torontonians believe, if only unconsciously, that honesty is the sacrifice demanded from newcomers by the gods of The Big City. They are, therefore, distrusting of anyone who wasn’t born within the service area of the TTC. This uneasy dynamic existed between Kevin and his boss. Hargrove exemplified the native Torontonian.

Kevin was not jealous of Mike Hargrove. He had no desire to screw him over or possess anything of his —his athletic six-foot-two frame, his extroverted personality, his $40,000 smile or his seemingly endless network of “friends.” What Kevin resented was that Hargrove thought he was jealous of him. Kevin saw this as the absolute pinnacle of arrogance. Hargrove thought so much of himself he automatically assumed that everyone around him wanted exactly what he had. Furthermore he thought so little of everyone else that he assumed they couldn’t possibly be happy and therefore must be deviously plotting to topple him from his castle of self-satisfaction and claim what he had for their own.

As he approached his office, slaloming between sidewalk vendors, Kevin recalled an exchange from earlier in the month. Hargrove had cornered him at the fax machine.

 

“Hey there, Kev!” he said, landing a slap on Kevin’s back.

“Hi,” Kevin replied with no more cheer than professionalism demanded. After his promotion, Mike Hargrove insisted everyone address him as “Mister Hargrove” in order to engender the necessary “aura of authority” required to successfully manage a team. Although he remained on a first name basis with a select few and still called everyone else by nicknames which ranged from flirty to offensive. “Kev” was among the more tolerable ones, so Kevin accepted it but resented the politics of it all. He skirted the drama by simply not using Hargrove’s name at all. The fax machine moved slower than rush-hour traffic down Front Street.

“How’s the new workstation?”

Since his installation as manager, Hargrove had reorganized their office into cubicles of adjoining desks and Kevin, among others, had lost the privacy of an office in order to “facilitate better communication and teamwork.” Kevin had already objected to the new arrangement once saying that it affected his concentration. The objection received no response.

Hargrove didn’t want to hear what Kevin really thought, but nor could Kevin bring himself to lie about this situation and say he was happy with it, so…

“Oh, as well as can be expected,” said Kevin.

The fax machine continued to struggle connecting. Goddamned dial-up! Energize, damn you!

“Good! Glad to hear it.”

Hargrove interpreted everything positively. Kevin reckoned that if he’d said, “No one likes the new arrangement, myself included. It’s the absolute worst idea in the history of the universe.” Hargrove would’ve replied with something like, “Wow! What great feedback! Way to come out of your shell and assert yourself, Kev!” He then would’ve strutted over to his office —yes, he still had an office— and shot out an email saying how proud he was of how well everyone had made the adjustment. Sociopath.

“So, Kev, are you still trying that whole on-line dating thing?”

During the brief time they’d worked on the same team Kevin made the mistake of sharing with Hargrove some details of his personal life; he now paid for that mistake on an almost daily basis. Fortunately, Kevin knew a foolproof method for diverting Hargrove’s attention: give him an opening to brag about his own life.

“Yup. How’re things with you and Cindy?”

“Oh, things couldn’t be better!” Hargrove beamed. “She’s on assignment right now in Milan covering fashion week. But she should be on the runway if you ask me. She’s got a figure on her that could rival any of those models. We’ve got plans to go up to the cottage for four days over this weekend. Oh! That reminds me…”

Hargrove leaned in to Kevin and lowered his voice.

“Here it comes,” thought Kevin. “The ask.”

“I told the director at LCS that we’d have the new module ready to show them as soon as I get back. Can you do it?”

The fax machine was finally transmitting.

“My deadline is still a week away.”

“True, but in these tough economic times we should work extra hard to impress our clients. We wouldn’t want to lose any accounts.”

The fax finally finished transmitting that invoice, having stalled just long enough to allow this oh-so-pleasant conversation to take place.

“Uh…” Kevin mentally weighed his work load and, “Well, since you’ve already told them it’ll be ready I guess it’ll have to be.”

Kevin took up his papers, and turned to his boss with a tight smile stretched across his face.

“Alright! You’re a superstar, Kev!”

Hargrove gave him a shot in the arm as he marched off to his office having successfully ensured both his professional reputation and his long weekend plans. At the expense of Kevin’s. Jerk.

 

Kevin entered his office building and briskly swiped his keycard at the lobby elevator. Those four days that Hargrove spent balling his girlfriend amid the sound of loons in the Muskokas, Kevin spent coding at his desk twelve hours a day for four days straight. At least the office had been empty. The elevator opened and Kevin pushed the button for the sub-basement level. In the recent past Kevin had thought of their basement office as cozy. Now, as he descended into the bowels of The Big City he felt more like he was falling through several circles of Hell on his way to be tormented by Hargrove the Horrible, Lord of the Basement.

Ding!

The elevator opened and Kevin stepped out. It was quiet in the office. Too quiet. And it was Thursday. If Hargrove wanted him to work over the weekend he’d probably approach him about it before the day was through. Kevin began plotting how to get to his desk in a way that was least likely to attract attention when—

“Hey, Kev!” came at him from behind accompanied by the requisite shoulder slap.

“Hi,” said Kevin as he thought of a way to keep moving. “Would you like any coffee? I’m getting some.”

“Nah, I cut out caffeine. Bad for your mojo. Know what I’m saying?”

“No, and the last thing I want to hear about is your mojo,” is what Kevin wanted to say. Instead he grunted a reply and reached for the percolator.

“Say, bring that into my office when you’ve got it fixed up. I want to introduce you to someone.”

Kevin spilled his coffee and blurted out, “Huh? Meet someone? Who?”

“Just come on in. You’ll see.”

Hargrove strutted into his office, arms swinging like a football player leaving the field.

“This is it,” thought Kevin. “This must be the disastrous new acquaintance the fortune cookie spoke of. They’re hiring someone new, I’m going to have to train him, he’ll sabotage my work and this time next year he’ll be the new Hargrove.”

There was no sense putting it off. Kevin shotgunned half his coffee and marched into his boss’s office to meet his destiny.

 

“Kevin Watson, meet Darryl Lambert.”

“You’re giving me a book?” Kevin said quizzically, staring at the dog-eared paperback in his hands.

By “introduce you to someone” Hargrove apparently meant give him a title by this self-help author. And what a title: “Owning Your Power: How to harness ancient wisdom and unleash your inner superhero.”

“I’ve read all of his books,” Hargrove said, leaning over his desk and gesturing with his hands for emphasis. “He’s amazing —he totally transformed my life. I’ve even gone to a few of his seminars —he’s been here in Toronto a couple times now. This book is his best. I really think you could get something out of it.”

“Something like what?” Kevin practically growled, glaring at his boss from beneath a heavy brow. Kevin thought this was it. The fortune cookie was right. The weight of his boss’s pomposity was going to crush what was left of his withering patience; Kevin was going to scream at his boss what he really thought about him, and promptly lose his job.

“This guy is positively un-real!” Kevin said to himself. “Not only does he think he’s the slickest thing since teflon, and that everyone around him wishes they had it as good as him, he also thinks he’s doing the rest of us a favor by throwing self-help tidbits our way! I don’t think I can take this!

Then the Captain spoke up, “Patience, Mister Watson. Knowledge is power. Don’t rush to judgment so swiftly. Hear him out.”

“Alright,” Kevin concluded. “If I start feeling like I wanna knock his block off, I’ll just nod and try to hear music.”

“Kev,” Hargrove said, hands tented in front of him, eyebrows knit in concern, “I care about you. I see how hard you work, and you do good work, but dude… I can tell you’re not happy. And I was like you once. I worried about everything and refused to let myself feel good no matter what happened. I mean, last month for example, you rawked that new release for LCS, man! And you did it early! But… were you happy about it? No. I tried to high five you on that and you left me hangin’ until I wouldn’t let you leave the room. That kind of thing worries me.

“And another thing —not that I wanna get too personal— but…” Here he leaned forward a little more and lowered his voice, “It’s been forever since you got laid hasn’t it? I mean, you don’t have to say anything, but I can tell —everyone can. And I know how that feels, dude. Like I said, I used to be the same way. Hell, back in school I had dry spells that lasted for months. So I know how much that can affect a guy. I’m worried that you’re not getting what you can out of life —what you deserve out of life. This!” Here he pointed to the book Kevin was holding, “will get you what you deserve out of life. It worked for me. It’ll work for you too. I guarantee it!”

Hargrove leaned back, smiling, and put his hands behind his head, swiveling in his desk chair.

Kevin went through a wide range of emotions as Hargrove delivered his little pep talk, but not the range you might expect and not the range he’d expected either. He looked into Hargrove’s sincere expression, saw the conviction in his eyes along with a bit of —could it be?— genuine concern and… he bought it.

“Huh…” Kevin thought to himself as he sat there with this book in his hand. “Maybe Hargrove isn’t as crazy as I thought. I mean, the idea that he would help me in anyway certainly goes against how I had him pegged. Maybe this whole ‘happy about everything all the time’ thing isn’t just an act to cover his insecurity. And maybe —just maybe— Hargrove wasn’t totally wrong. I mean, I’m not all that happy most of the time. Maybe I could be.”

Kevin sat there for a second, processing, and read the title on the cover once more: “Owning Your Power: How to harness ancient wisdom and unleash your inner superhero.” Then Kevin looked up and took in the picture of his boss. He had to admit, if anyone in the office looked and acted like a superhero, it was Hargrove. He had a job and a salary that a professional ten years his senior would envy. He drove a brand new Porche. He had a trophy girlfriend that could make any red-blooded hetero male sit up and beg. He worked out all the time; the six-pack abs and seventeen inch arms he sported at the company pool party wouldn’t look out of place in a fitness magazine. He never drank any coffee but had endless energy. And he smiled all the bloody time. Kevin just assumed that he was faking the positive attitude —putting on a show— at least some of the time but… what reason would he have to fake anything? Why shouldn’t he be happy? Hargrove had it all.

Kevin resolved to do some more thinking on the subject, to sniff the Kool-Aid before gulping it down.

“Thanks. I’ll start it tonight,” he said in a calm, measured tone.

“Awesome! Let me know how it goes.”

 

Possibly the greatest conundrum of human existence is that we live in a realm of desire, all action is motivated by it, and yet most people fear their desires. It is the fear that holds them back from pursuing their desires with enough energy and perseverance to achieve them. Ask yourself, “Have I ever wasted time and energy second guessing my actions? Have I ever observed the success of others and, instead of celebrating their accomplishments and genuinely inquiring as to their success strategies, reasoned away the causes of their success as luck, inherent ability, or nepotism? Do I ever generate reasons for not pursuing things which I know will improve my happiness?” If you find yourself answering “yes” to any of these questions, then good for you!

Why is this realization a good thing? First of all, you’re being honest with yourself. Second, you’re not alone; most people on the planet fall into the same traps and never even realize it. And third, by admitting to falling into these negative mindsets, you’re already one-third of the way to overcoming them. The next step to overcoming these negative and self-defeating mindsets is learning to identify various delusions as they creep into your thinking, delusions such as the phantoms of luck, inherent ability, and nepotism. Identifying these delusions is the work of the next few chapters…

 

One thing Kevin prided himself on was his ability to learn. And if achieving a happier life was something he could learn, as this book claimed, then he wanted to try. And he had the perfect opportunity: he was seeing Sophie again on Saturday for their second date!

 

Kevin met Sophie through an online dating service and couldn’t believe his good luck. She was a half-Polish, half-Italian gal working in government administration at City Hall —part-time, but she had hopes. She was two years younger than Kevin, read as much as him, loved Asian cuisine as much as him, and she was even a sci-fi fan. Her favorite starship captain was Janeway, but the feminist in Kevin could allow her that. And she was gorgeous!

Well, maybe not gorgeous in that “size two is the new size four” sense. Sophie had hips. But she was Kevin’s height —major plus— with long, straight blond hair, perfect peaches and cream skin, and bright blue eyes. She wore super thick glasses, but still looked great in them. And no body’s perfect. Kevin thought she was a knockout.

Their second date was at a Spring Rolls. Über- post-modern cultural fusion décor surrounded them —think, Buddhas wearing backwards baseball caps, while the sounds of Shakira floated in from the mall. They both ordered the green chicken curry and it was really good. The conversation had gone well. They made each other laugh.

At the end of the meal Kevin sat across from Sophie watching her spear the last of her deep fried banana and got thinking,

“What is my desire with respect to this person? How are my fears preventing me from achieving those desires? What delusions are standing in my way?”

Up to now Kevin had been treating this girl the same way he treated every other girl he’d dated, not that there had been legions of them, and things had gone the same way they always had. On their last date he had asked if she wanted to split their bills, because women should have the option of paying their own way if they want to, right? On their last date he had waited for her to make the first move with respect to any physical contact and didn’t have any expectations, because women like gentlemen who respect them as individuals, right? They didn’t even hold hands. On their last date he hadn’t gone overboard with his own appearance by buying new clothes or anything, because she would want to see “everyday” Kevin, right? And so far this date had been a repeat of the first. Don’t mess with success, right? But… was the last date a success? Did he get everything he truly wanted out of it?

Kevin looked down at his brown dress shirt and blue jeans.

“I dress like a communist,” he said to himself. Then he decided to experiment.

The bill arrived and when they both each reached for their wallets, Kevin objected,

“No. I’ll get this.”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that, I can—”

“No,” Kevin said, firmly while smiling and looking into her eyes. “The pleasure of your company is worth more than any curry dinner. I insist.”

What!?

Kevin shocked himself. He never would’ve said anything like that two weeks ago. His heart betrayed the smooth expression on his face, pounding like a jackhammer, but he remembered the words of Darryl Lambert:

Stepping out of your comfort zone will feel uncomfortable. Welcome these sensations as growing pains and watch for the positive results.

 

Sophie smiled, put away her purse, and looked up at him through those glasses with a gaze of —could it be?— interest. And what was that creeping up the pale flesh of her neck? Was she blushing?

“Have I ever made a girl blush before?” Kevin asked himself. He couldn’t remember. But it felt good. Then Kevin had an answer to the question he’d asked himself earlier. He knew exactly what his desires were with respect to this person. He wanted to get laid!

 

The next morning, as Kevin cooked breakfast in bed for his girlfriend (Could he say that word to himself yet?… Yes, he could) he felt better than he had in years. Last night, for maybe the first time ever, he simply went after what he wanted and he got it! He actually got it! And it wasn’t even that difficult. He had short circuited that part of his brain that would have said, “Well, shouldn’t you wait until the next date?… What if she thinks you’re expecting something after paying for dinner?… You didn’t clean your apartment… Are you sure she’d appreciate you doing that to her nipples?” He just did it. And yes she did appreciate it. Vocally. Kevin had never gotten such beautiful sounds out of a woman before. With every appreciative moan Sophie made, instead of asking himself, “Is this the sound of a woman faking it?” he heard a whole team of self-help gurus cheering him on.

“Good morrrrrning.”

Kevin heard Sophie cooing behind him as she wrapped her arms around his waist.  Kevin twisted his neck around and gave her a kiss.

“It is a very good morning,” Kevin answered.

“Oh, and you can cook!” Sophie beamed. “I love French toast. Thank you so much for this. And for last night. It was amazing.”

Kevin swelled with pride.

“Thank you.”

Then he turned toward her, kissing her again, deeply.

“You look so cute in the morning,” he said, looking her up and down.

Sophie’s arms were around his neck and then… yep. She blushed again. Seeing that rush of blood beneath the skin of her neck sent Kevin in for another kiss. And another. Then Kevin felt a rush of blood himself.

Miraculously, the voice in his head that would’ve been saying, “Are you pushing things too far? Are you overestimating yourself? Do you think she’ll want to?” was completely silent. He turned off the stove and led her back to the bedroom.

 

Their next date went even better. Kevin was more relaxed and Sophie seemed to feel more comfortable with him too. They were no longer on their best behaviour for one another, but were simply enjoying each other’s company. Kevin couldn’t wait to see her again. Every encounter they had ended with them making plans to see each other again.

One night, after attending an anniversary screening of Planet of the Apes together,  they tore back to Kevin’s apartment (it was always Kevin’s apartment, Sophie lived with her parents) and had the most passionate sex Kevin could remember —or imagine. It felt like a dream.

Afterward, Sophie rested on Kevin’s sweaty chest and sighed, “You might be the last man in the city.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“Oh!” Sophie looked up at him and, smiling, pressed her fingers to her lips. “I… didn’t think I said that out loud.”

“Well… you did,” Kevin laughed. “Now you have to tell me what you mean, because it sounded kind of weird.”

“Well…” Sophie said, resting her head back over Kevin’s heart. “Promise you won’t think I’m weird when I tell you, okay?”

“Okay, I promise.”

“Well… what I mean is… You have your own opinions.”

“And that makes me the last man in the city?”

Sophie laughed, “Well… yeah. Boys don’t know what they want, not really anyway. They follow their urges and what they’re told —by their parents, by other people, by… by television. Men can think for themselves. I see a lot of grown-up males walking around, but I don’t often meet any men.”

“Huh…” Kevin rolled her words around in his mind.

“I’m sorry,” Sophie yawned. “I’m probably not saying it the right way, but that was supposed to be a compliment.”

Kevin fell asleep thinking about that post-coital conversation with Sophie, but unfortunately forgot all about it the next morning.

 

* * *

 

A month later, Kevin caught himself whistling while fixing his afternoon coffee. And why not? He had a good job, a great girlfriend, his own apartment, and money in the bank. That was a hell of a lot more than most people in this city had. He felt great. He even found a way to deal with Hargrove always tightening his deadlines and he owed it all to the Chief Engineer of an earlier Starship Enterprise. Yes, that’s right, Mister Scott —Scotty!

A few weeks ago, while pondering how he could manage Hargrove at work, Kevin had a revelation. He suddenly recalled how Scotty, Chief Engineer to Captain Kirk, would always give Kirk inflated timelines for how long anything would take to get done. Then, whenever Scotty had the dilithium chamber recalibrated “early” he would be hailed as a miracle worker. Kevin had no desire to be known as a miracle worker, he just wanted to avoid working unpaid overtime, especially now that he had a girlfriend. Thank-you, Scotty.

“Girlfriend…”

Kevin quietly rolled the word around on his tongue like a lump of chocolate as he added some sugar to his coffee. He had worked so hard in university that he never had any time for dating. Since university he had excuses instead of girlfriends: “She’s not really into me… I just don’t have time… Maybe when I’m making more money…” But now he had a girlfriend. And not just a girlfriend, a good-looking, smart, funny, girlfriend who loved being around him. Kevin looked at his reflection in the mirror above the kitchenette’s sink. He was smiling. And he looked great. Who knew regular affection make such a difference? Suddenly life seemed easier, more fun. And then—

“Watson!”

Kevin heard his name shot from across the room. He turned around to see Hargrove hanging out the door of his office.

“Put down that sludge and get in here!” Hargrove boomed. “I need to see you. Now!”

Hargrove stalked back into his lair. Kevin wondered what could possibly be wrong. He did a mental rundown of his projects and deadlines. Everything was in order. Ahead of schedule, even. His hands started sweating. He put down his coffee, took two quick steps towards Hargrove’s office, and stopped. Then he squared his shoulders, straightened his back, took a deep breath, and went back for his coffee which he proudly carried into his meeting.

“What’s the worst he can do? Fire me?” Kevin thought. “That lazy ass needs me more than I need him.”

Kevin walked into his boss’s office and was about to take a seat when Hargrove said,

“Close the door.”

Kevin closed the door and took his seat. Hargrove tapped away furiously on his keyboard, not looking at him. Kevin waited patiently and sipped his coffee.

“Well,” Hargrove said, staring at Kevin, arms folded across his Abercrombie polo shirt. It was Tuesday, but for Hargrove it was always casual Friday.

“Well… what?” Kevin asked.

“You’ve been holding out on me,” Hargrove said, shaking his finger at Kevin.

“What’re you talking about?” Kevin asked, genuinely confused. There was no way Hargrove had figured out he’d been inflating his deadlines. Even if he had, what was the big deal? Everything was still getting done.

Then Hargrove cracked a smile, and leaned forward.

“I’m talking about a little something called ‘Owning Your Power,’ Mister Watson. You may not want to admit it, but I can tell you’ve obviously read that book and digested every word. Look at you! You smile more, you complain less, you work harder and uh… you have a certain unmistakable swagger.”

Kevin smirked and looked to his side.

“Oh, c’mon, Kev! Who is she? You can tell me. For the next five minutes, I’m not your boss, okay? I’m just one of the guys. C’mon! I’m dying to know. Is it Joan, that new girl in marketing? She’s hot.”

Kevin did a quick mental cost-benefit analysis. Telling Hargrove about Sophie couldn’t possibly cost him anything. And it might prevent rumors of an intra-office romance from spreading. Hargrove sat across from him, smiling from ear to ear and tented his eyebrows in anticipation. Kevin threw up his hands.

“Alright! You caught me. Yes, I’m trying out The Darryl Lambert Method and… yes, I’ve started seeing someone. But she doesn’t work here.”

“I knew it!” Hargrove said triumphantly. “Congrats, Kev! You deserve this.”

“Yeah, I’ve actually read a couple of his books now and I—”

“I don’t want a book report!” Hargrove snapped. “I wanna see pictures! C’mon, I’ll bet she’s a real looker.”

A tiny voice in Kevin’s head told him he shouldn’t indulge in this and start showing off his girlfriend like some new car, but…

“Why shouldn’t I show him her picture! I’m proud of her, dammit! And Hargrove should know that he’s not the only guy who can get a good-looking girl.”

Kevin pulled out his phone and flipped to a photo he snapped of Sophie whispering playfully into a six-foot-tall plastic ear. They went to the Ontario Science Centre together a week ago. He thought she looked particularly cute in this picture.

Hargrove looked at the photo but didn’t say anything.

“Her name’s Sophie,” Kevin said.

“Cool.”

“She’s an admin assistant. Just part-time for now but…”

“Uh huh.”

“She… speaks three languages, too. She’s really smart… And funny.”

“Okay.”

Kevin stopped rolling out his girlfriend’s resume and started wondering what was wrong. Hargrove asked to see her picture and a minute ago he was bouncing around with the excitement of a teenager.

“What?” Kevin asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Well… What do you think?” Kevin asked. “Isn’t she great?”

“Yeah, she’s alright.”

Alright!?!?

Kevin nearly delivered his boss a jab to the face right then and there.

“What do you mean ‘alright’? She’s gorgeous!”

“Good. I’m glad you think so.”

“But… you don’t?”

“Well…” Hargrove demurred, sitting back in his chair.

Kevin knew he was going to regret taking this conversation further, but he really wanted to know what was going through Hargrove’s head. Curiosity got the better of him.

“Well what?” Kevin pushed.

“Well… it’s not her, it’s just that…” here Hargrove leaned forward once more and lowered his voice. He looked directly at Kevin and said, “It’s you.”

“Oh…” Kevin said, deflated. “You mean, I’m not in her league.”

“No no no!” Hargrove shot back, waving his hands between them. “Well… yeah, but not in the way you’re thinking.”

“Huh?”

“I mean… I think you can do better.”

“What!? You’ve never even met her!”

“I don’t need to. You can do better. And if you were honest with yourself, you would think so too. I mean, look how you introduced her to me. All you did was show me her picture and you were all ready to apologize for her —’just part-time but…’ I hadn’t even said anything and you already started listing off qualities to try and impress me. Why should it matter that she speaks three languages or not?”

“Well… I just thought that was—”

“Kev…” Hargrove interrupted and lowered his voice again. “I’m still just one of the guys, right now, right?”

“R…ight.”

“Well, then this is me being honest with you as one of the guys.” He shrugged his shoulders and simply said, “You can do better.”

Kevin looked down at Sophie’s photo. Sure, she wasn’t the woman of his fantasies, but she was a great girl. She was no supermodel, but she was attractive. She wasn’t one of these gym goddesses with no waist, enormous boobs, and ghetto booty but she was healthy and funny. That’s what mattered… Right?”

“The question is,” Hargrove continued as Kevin looked at her picture. “Do you want to do better? Or do you want to continue holding yourself back from your full potential?”

 

You are the greatest obstacle to your own transformation. For every person who becomes the superhero they’ve always wanted to be, there are a thousand others who begin the journey but scare themselves into turning back or reason with themselves into accepting less. Make no mistake, anything less than the best is not good enough. The second you settle for less than what you deserve, you admit failure and acquiesce to defeat —you choosing to remain ordinary and deny the most perfected form of yourself. Everything is impossible until someone does it. That inner critic of yours will never be entirely silent. But don’t let him run your life and deny you what you deserve.

 

* * *

 

Kevin surprised himself. It was Canada Day weekend. He and Sophie had started making plans to go away together for this weekend. But Kevin broke up with her shortly after that meeting with Hargrove. She was upset and confused, but Kevin was convinced it was for the best. He’d been trapped in a “settling pattern” for so long he’d convinced himself that he was happy with Sophie when he wasn’t. And trapping her in that pattern as well wasn’t fair to either of them. It was best to end things early, not to string her along. But the surprise was what Kevin saw in his mirror that morning.

He was in his apartment getting ready to hit the beach. Had had his new two-hundred-dollar swimsuit on and was pulling his jeans on over it when he stopped and looked in the mirror of his closet door. Two months ago Kevin had started exercising. Three weeks ago, he really started enjoying it and bumped his routine up to five days a week. Two weeks ago he started paying for use of the gym’s tanning beds. He’d also started a new diet, the Darryl Lambert Superhero Diet. Last weekend he got his hair cut and highlighted professionally for the first time in many years, at a decent salon too. The results of all this had crept up on him.

He had stomach muscles, stomach muscles that he hadn’t seen since he was a teenager. His skin was clear, golden, and healthy looking. He now jumped out of bed at five-thirty in the morning instead of slamming the snooze button at quarter-to-eight. He’d given up coffee. His new hairstylist had shown him how to apply product to his new do and he thought he was getting the hang of it. Kevin stood for a second admiring himself, his jeans half way up his thighs, and struck a pose, cocking his chin and smirking like a GQ model. He looked great! His chest was filling out and his arms were looking more rounded. He would always be short but—

Focus on the changeable and the achievable. Anything else is a waste of energy and resources and not worth your valuable time.

 

In other words, Kevin was starting to reap the rewards of keeping his eyes on the prize. It was costing him a small fortune, and he hadn’t added anything to his condo down-payment fund in a long time, but it was worth it —he was worth it.

Kevin chuckled and started imagining how good he was going to look and feel six months from now but then,

“No. Time to stay in the moment,” he reminded himself. Hargrove was meeting him downstairs to take them to his cottage for the weekend along with a bunch of other people.

“Cindy’s bringing a bunch of her friends this weekend —all single,” Hargrove promised him across the water cooler earlier that week. “Trust me, you’re gonna be a purebred stud in a pasture of fillies! Bring rubbers, dude! And try to limit yourself to just one or two, okay? Don’t break our guest bed!”

A year ago, hearing praise like that would’ve made Kevin blush. Hell, he wouldn’t have even taken it in, he might have even thought Hargrove was teasing him. But yesterday he purred internally when Hargrove said that to him over coffee, and felt his loins twitch in anticipation.

Once again, Kevin’s life felt different. It felt like he was on his way somewhere, like he had a goal, like he had a purpose, like life was a game and he was a major player. For most of his adult life, and his entire life in Toronto, he’d made fun of the hipsters and the yuppies chasing after some version of consumerist bliss.

“Shouldn’t have knocked it until I tried it,” Kevin thought to himself.

He checked his watch, threw the rest of his clothes on, grabbed his packed duffle bag, and went down to the Starbucks in the lobby of his building where he’d wait for Hargrove —make that Mike— to pull up in his Porche with Cindy riding shotgun.

 

“Kev, you’re an inspiration.”

Kevin and Mike sat in the shade of a beech tree on a pair of Adirondack chairs, sipping vodka coolers and watching the girls toss a frisbee around on the sand.

“Really?” Kevin said, taking a swig. “How so?”

“You’re a superhero! You’re got a new body, you’re getting tons more done at work, and—”

“Look out!”

Kevin sat up and caught the frisbee out of the air as it came swooping toward them.

“Oh, sorry about that!”

Laura, one of Cindy’s single friends came bouncing up toward them in her bikini. Tall and leggy with long, dark hair and a tan, Laura had a southern European or Latin look to her and she’d been all smiles for Kevin ever since she arrived.

“Thanks, Kevin,” she chirped, taking the frisbee back from him. “Are you gonna come and play?”

“Sure thing!” Kevin said. “Just lemme finish my drink.”

Kevin watched her bounce back to the beach. The vodka coolers combined with the hypnotic movements of Laura’s hips and he started to feel tipsy.

“And you’re totally getting laid tonight!” Mike whispered into his ear.

“Yes, I am,” Kevin said with a smile.

 

* * *

 

It was mid-August now and Kevin was living life in a much higher gear, or so it seemed. It was seven-thirty on a Wednesday morning and Kevin was in the office. He’d skipped leg day at the gym so he could get the data for a report that Hargrove needed for a meeting on Friday. The system was compiling and so was Kevin as he starred at the twirling hourglass on his computer screen, sipping an herbal energy drink. He and Laura were seeing each other regularly with no end in sight. Hargrove kept giving him more assignments at work, but instead of feeling put upon Kevin saw them as challenges and evidence that Hargrove valued him. He was spending a lot more time preparing meals and going to the gym, but he saw this as an investment in maintaining the body that he deserved. His new body, he was sure, was also a reason why he was able to keep Laura. He and Laura were seeing each other three or four times a week. And, yes, “seeing each other” included sex. He was also spending a lot more time on the TTC. Laura lived in Mississauga.

Last week his streetcar broke down and Kevin was late for one of their dates. Laura shrugged her shoulders and casually suggested, “Get a car.”

A car? In downtown Toronto? Just to drive to and from Mississauga? On its face the idea seemed crazy.

“Could I even afford one?” Kevin asked himself. “I wouldn’t be saving money anymore. I wouldn’t need the car for work… or shopping… and ninety-percent of the time the TTC is just as fast or faster… and my building doesn’t have parking nearby, but… Laura did make a face the other week when we had to stand on the subway on our way to the restaurant… I could finally make use of that parking space in my building that I’ve been paying for. Maybe I can afford one.”

Then the voice of Darryl Lambert cut in, “Kevin, can you afford not to have one?”

Hummmm…

Hargrove came into the office at nine-thirty and went straight over to Kevin’s desk.

“Hey, Kev! How’s it hangin’?”

“Lower than yours, Mike,” Kevin said with a playful smirk.

Not only was Kevin now solidly in Mike Hargrove’s First Name Club, he’d also gone from cringing at Mike’s penis jokes to trading them with him. “What’s up?”

“Well, I have another challenge for you.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, my meeting was moved up a day and I’m gonna need that report before tomorrow morning. Can you do it?”

“Tomorrow morning? No way, man. I started compiling the data two hours ago, but it’s still got half an hour to go and writing the report would take all day and all night if you needed it before tomorrow morning.”

Hargrove shrugged and said, “Sounds like a plan, Kev. You’re the best.”

He slapped Kevin on the shoulder and retreated to his office.

In Kevin’s mind Captain Picard battled it out with Darryl Lambert…

“Examine the evidence of this relationship objectively, Mister Watson. This is the fourth time Hargrove has done this since the start of the summer. You know he does this so that he can have long weekends; if he isn’t doing it to you, he’s doing it to someone else in the office. You don’t get overtime pay and you know that he’ll keep all the bonus money for himself at the end of the year. Tell him ‘no.'”

Then Darryl Lambert chimed in, “Kevin, why are you indulging in this kind of thinking? You’ve already got a solution to the challenge as presented and now you’re doubting whether you should use it? Don’t be negative. Don’t complain. Be a team player. Just do it.”

Kevin took a deep breath and called to leave Laura a message. They had plans to see a movie tonight and then go back to his place, but he’d have to cancel it he was going to be writing this report until midnight. To his surprise Laura picked up.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Laura. It’s me.”

“Hi!”

“Listen, I’m gonna have to cancel tonight. Some stuff changed at work and I need to write a report that’s needed for tomorrow morning.”

He could hear her exhale through the phone.

“Why?” she asked.

“Why what?”

“Why should we have to sacrifice our plans because something changed at work?”

“I… I told you, there’s a report that’s needed for tomorrow morning and—”

“That’s not what I mean. This isn’t the first time you’ve done this, you know.”

“Yeah, I know, but—”

“So this is the start of a destructive pattern, Kevin. You may not see it yet, but I do. You need to nip this in the bud before it gets worse. That’s the best thing to do —that’s the professional thing to do and…” another loud exhale, “I don’t know if I’m willing to put up with this again. I was looking forward to our time together.”

“Yeah… so was I but—”

“So do something about it. Be assertive. Get what you want. Call me back later, okay?”

“Well…”

She hung up.

This time Kevin’s own voice reacted, “What a bitch! So she’s had to reschedule plans a few times. So what? That’s life. And what she was ‘looking forward to’ was another dinner out and a show that she didn’t have to pay for. She may be able to call herself ‘a model’ but she’s broke. She’s in front of a camera for a couple days a month and the rest of the time she steams lattes at Starbucks. You’ve seen her apartment, it’s a shoebox and she shares it with two gay guys. This girl is obviously leading you around by your penis. Dump her!”

“Yeah, but at least she’s interested in your penis,” he thought, weighing the other side of the situation. “This time last year, you wouldn’t have considered this girl to be in your league and now you’re thinking about dumping her!? That’s self-sabotage and you know it! And what does it matter what her job is? She just said that she enjoys being with you and now you’re judging her. You want this girl. Now do what you have to in order to keep her.”

Kevin took a deep breath and marched over the Hargrove’s office. The door was open and Kevin heard snippets of the conversation as he approached:

“Yeah… yeah this weekend is set. I moved the meeting to tomorrow morning… Yeah, sure I’ll have the report before then.”

Kevin paused then knocked. Hargrove spun around to face him.

“Got a minute?” Kevin asked.

Hargrove held up his finger and said into the phone, “Yep… Yep… For sure. I gotta go, okay? Yeah, see ya.”

He hung up and asked, “What’s up?”

“I can’t do it. I can’t finish the report before tomorrow morning.”

“Why not?”

“Okay, now what?” Kevin thought to himself. “What would work?”

Then he had the answer. Kevin smiled and leaned over Hargrove’s —Mike’s— desk.

“I just got off the phone with Laura, man. She’s pissed that I’m gonna have to cancel plans again. Look, I was given a deadline of Friday. I can get it to you Friday morning. Just don’t make me choose between my work and my girl, man.”

The buddy angle. Kevin expected a slam dunk.  He expected Hargrove to live up to The Bro Code that he was so fond of quoting. He expected “wink-wink, nudge-nudge,” backslapping and a friendly, “You owe me, pal.” Instead Hargrove folded his arms, leaned back, and looked over at Kevin in the manner of a Dragon’s Den judge.

“This doesn’t work for me, Kevin.”

Kevin straightened up and asked, “What doesn’t work?”

“These excuses. Deadlines change. That’s a reality. We all have to balance work and our personal lives. The report is now due at midnight tonight. Anything standing in the way is your problem, not mine. Man up, Kev. This is what it’s like when you want to have it all.”

Hargrove turned to his computer and Kevin left, retreating to his cubicle with Mike’s —Hargrove’s— last words ringing in his ears:

This is what it’s like when you want to have it all…

He sat down and looked around his desk. The countdown on his computer was nearly finished; the data he needed for the report had nearly compiled. On his desk was a stack of well-thumbed Darryl Lambert paperbacks. He realized, suddenly, that those books were all he’d read since the spring. How did that happen? The new Terry Pratchett hit the shelves over a month ago and Kevin still hadn’t placed a request for it at his library. He reached for his Lambert library, planning to flip through the pages and land on something to help him work through this challenge, but his hand froze. Instead he reached for his phone for inspiration and began flipping through photos.

There were plenty of him and Laura to choose from. Laura was a real shutterbug and needed a constant stream of photos for her Instagram feed (even though she only had a couple hundred followers). Here was the picture he took of her on Toronto Island Beach. Here was the one of her posing in front of that mural on Bloor Street. He kept swiping and suddenly realized that he wasn’t in any of these photos.

“Well… of course you’re not,” he said to himself, “you took them.”

One time when Kevin tried to take a photo of both of them, Laura said, “Oh, I don’t like those squishy arms-length selfies. I can’t use them on my IG feed. Not professional-looking enough.”

There were a couple photos of the group from Canada Day weekend where everyone was pictured, but other than that there was zero photographic evidence that Kevin and Laura even knew each other.

This is what it’s like when you want to have it all…

Kevin kept swiping on his phone and stopped when one of him and Sophie appeared. Posed in one of those “squishy arms-length selfies” they were grinning like idiots on the glass floor of the CN Tower together. A cheesy date, maybe, but he felt on top of the world that night. Kevin smiled. Swipe. He and Sophie on the subway after a date. Swipe. Sophie with pasta sauce all down her chin at The Spaghetti Factory. Laura didn’t eat pasta. Neither did Kevin anymore. Too many carbs.

“So, this is what it’s like when you want to have it all…” Kevin thought to himself. “Except pasta… And coffee… A savings… And… when did I decide I wanted to have it all?”

None of Lambert’s books said that. Hargrove never put it in that language before today. But that’s what was underneath all of it. Kevin could see it now. That was the unspoken, unwritten phrase before every bit of advice that he’d been cramming into his brain these past several months.

If you want to have it all, think this.

If you want to have it all, eat that.

If you want to have it all, say these things.

But Kevin never wanted to have it all. “I wanted to be happier,” he thought.

By wanting to have it all, Kevin had beaten into silence that voice that told him what he wanted for himself.

He opened his desk drawer and reached for another herbal energy drink, but put it back. He hated those things. They tasted like cough syrup mixed with salad dressing. He’d been drinking them for months now but for the first time he wondered,

“How did I ever swallow this shit in the first place?”

Kevin felt something tugging at him, like a fishhook was caught in his solar plexus. He closed his eyes and drew a breath that filled him to his toes. Then he thought about heading for the coffeemaker for the cup of java he’d been craving for months, but when he opened his eyes he found something that would make him feel even better.

The countdown on that data compilation was nearly finished and the dialogue box on his screen presented an option to him: CANCEL?

“Sounds good to me,” said Kevin quietly.

He clicked the button, dumping the data for Hargrove’s report. Then he cleared his desk, dumping Darryl Lambert into the recycling bin. Then he pressed redial on his phone, and dumped Laura, who sounded more disappointed than upset.

Kevin flipped back through the photos of him and Sophie when his computer beeped at him and presented another good suggestion: RESET?

“Time to warp out of here,” he said to himself. “Set coordinates for reality.”

He smiled, clicked the button and left the office.

Engage!

Canadian Translation Revives Classic Myths

Reblogged from: https://gplfortheloveofbooks.wordpress.com/2015/08/17/canadian-translation-revives-classic-myths/

Norse myths enjoy a resurgence of interest these days. Contemporary films featuring the legendary hero Thor are box office blockbusters. The world of Middle-Earth featured in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is heavily influenced by the stories found in The Edda and readers will discover many familiar names. Those eager to explore the origins of these stories will not be disappointed this new translation of The Poetic Edda by Canadian poet Jeramy Dodds.

The Edda is a jewel in the treasure chest of human culture. As a collection of Scandinavian mythology and folklore largely uninfluenced by Christianity, it offers a glimpse into the popular imagination of Northern Europe from a bygone era. However, like the “long-gone gods” themselves, the imagery of these tales still echoes in the soul and influences culture today. The imagery of runes, magical hammers, frost monsters, dwarves, and rainbow bridges to different realms of existence once again have currency among audiences of all ages.

Jeramy Dodds is an award-winning Canadian poet with an extensive background and education in Norse Mythology. His translation of The Edda begins with “The Volva’s Prophecy” and the very first stanza is guaranteed to hook you and keep you reading long into the dark hours of the night:

Shush now, you sacred ones,
all creeds of Heimdall’s sons.
Cadaver Father, I’ll try to retell tales
of the ancients and the long-gone gods.

In addition to the mythical stories, you will also find a collection of The High One’s Sayings which, like the words of Confucius from the Far East, have a decidedly practical feel to them. Included is this passage which I found particularly resonant:

Even if it’s tiny, one’s own home
is best. Everyone’s a hero in his
own home. One’s heart bloodies
if he has to beg to eat at each meal.

Looking for a collection of bedtime stories to read with a Thor fan at home? Take a trip to the Children’s Library and find D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths by Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire. The D’Aulaire book contains over two dozen tales told in simple prose alongside dozens of youthful and highly traceable pencil drawings. It narrates a range of old Norse myths from the birth of the first gods and giants to Ragnarokk, the Norse Armageddon where the gods die and humans inherit the Earth. Although written with children in mind, this book is an excellent introduction to Norse Mythology for readers of any age.

Bottom Line: If you’re looking to explore the classic epics behind the comic book blockbusters, look no further than the GPL!

Somewhere Over The Rainbow…

Guelph, 26 July 2015

***For Immediate Release***

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Guelph’s LGBTQ Library Finds New Home”

What’s the sound of a community institution being reborn? Imagine eight hands simultaneously whooshing into the air. That’s what happened when Amy Ellard-Gray asked the board of Out On The Shelf for a motion to partner with 10 Carden Street and reopen their LGBTQ library and resource centre.

“It was an amazing moment,” Ellard-Gray notes. “Everyone was so excited. We had to draw lots to see who got to officially make the motion and who got to second!”

In response to an article printed in the Guelph Mercury last month, describing Out On The Shelf’s situation, 10 Carden Street contacted Out On The Shelf (OOTS) with a plan to house the organization starting in August.

“We have plans to further develop OOTS in concert with the folks at 10 Carden Street,” comments Brandon Kidd, OOTS Library Chair. “We’re looking to expand in 2016, but starting this September OOTS will be able to circulate 60-70% of its collection from 10 Carden Street. That’s not ideal, but it’s 60-70% more than now.”

The move will also allow OOTS to launch two anticipated interlibrary loan systems, one with the Guelph Public Library and one with the McLaughlin Library at the University of Guelph. Having a physical space for OOTS will also allow for expansion of programming, events, youth support, Guelph Pride, outreach, and every other aspect of the organization, says Ellard-Gray.

“It feels like the start of a renaissance for the Guelph queer community,” says Matthew Schinwald, OOTS Marketing Chair. “We’re even talking about new logos and rebranding.” So, for now OOTS has a home, but they’re still looking for some “gold” at the end of the rainbow.

“In order to expand in 2016, we need more funding partners,” says Fundraising Chair Sara Wilmshurst. “We’re currently reaching out to various departments at the University, youth and student organizations, and other communities within Guelph that benefit directly or indirectly from the resources and services OOTS provides. And we always need volunteers.”

If you’re looking for a way to help OOTS right now, a successful crowdsourcing campaign is underway. For details or to volunteer visit their website at www.outontheshelf.ca.

-30-

Contacts:

Amy Ellard-Gray

Chair of the Board of Directors, Out On The Shelf

a.gray@psy.uoguelph.ca | 519-546-8415

Brandon Kidd

Library Chair, Out On The Shelf

library.outontheshelf@gmail.com | 519-830-6793

References:

Out on the Shelf is running out of time. Guelph Mercury, 25 Jun 2015: http://www.guelphmercury.com/news-story/5693982-out-on-the-shelf-is-running-out-of-time/

Modern Classic Graphica: The Alchemist

Reblogged from: https://gplfortheloveofbooks.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/modern-classic-graphica-the-alchemist/

I’m not one to seek out graphic novels. I don’t have something against them, they’re just not something I’m used to reading. Even as a kid, I never sought out comic books and I was “forced” to read my first graphic novel as part of a course (it was Watchmen by Alan Moore and I enjoyed it). But when I saw agraphica version of The Alchemist on the GPL’s shelves, I was apprehensive.

The Alchemist is a book I’ve read several times. I had such a clear picture in my mind of the characters before encountering the graphica version that I expected to feel a certain amount of resistance to the artist’s interpretation of the story.

The story itself is elegant and simple. A shepherd boy named Santiago receives an omen promising fortune. He leaves his home in Andalusia and crosses the Sahara desert in search of the legendary Alchemist who can turn base metals into gold. Based on a tale from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, the story is heavily spiritual but with broad appeal and guides the reader through universal themes of faith, struggle, and value. The original novel was a sleeper success eventually selling over 65 million copies worldwide. I didn’t grab the graphica version as soon as it hit our shelves, and when I got around to reading it I was prepared to be disappointed. I wasn’t, but found myself appreciating it from an unexpected angle.

Paulo Coelho, author of “The Alchemist” and many other books.

Santiago is a teenager and once upon a time I triedteaching this book to a class of thirteen year old boys (note the emphasis on “tried”). The students enjoyed my reading the story to them; they found it adventurous and could easily identify with the main character. However, they found the language of the novel too advanced to read it themselves. I wish I’d had the graphica version of The Alchemist back then. Not only does it make the language and the story more accessible to younger readers, the graphics are reminiscent of an X-Men or Green Lantern comic. The heroes have muscles, the girls are sexy, and the narrative moves along at the pace of an action movie. Now, this isn’t a version of The Alchemist I would have sought out for myself, or immediately recommend to adult readers, but I could see myself buying a dozen copies of it for my former class of Year Nines.

Illustrator Daniel Sampere admits in his introduction to the graphic novel that he initially though he was unsuited for illustrating The Alchemist; his background was in illustrating superhero comics. However, in this fan’s opinion, the choice couldn’t have been more perfect.

This graphica version of The Alchemistpresents the perfect stepping stone toward a universe of thoughtful, psychological, emotional adult literature for adolescent boys who may be reluctant readers.

Bottom line: If you’re a Paulo Coelho fan with a reluctant reader at home, consider checking out this “comic book” for him at the GPL and see what happens.

And if you’re a fan of graphic novels in general, you must check out the content available online via the GPL’s Hoopla! streaming service. With the slick new ability to navigate frame-by-frame and expand frames to full-screen size, Hoopla! offers a whole new experience to the graphica lover.

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Reblogged from: https://gplfortheloveofbooks.wordpress.com/2015/06/12/the-further-adventures-of-sherlock-holmes/

I fell in love with Sherlock as a teenager. At a time in my life when nothing made sense, it was reassuring to find someone who always made perfect sense, even if that made others uncomfortable. Sherlock, with his razor-sharp mind and almost supernatural powers of observation, was as much a superhero to me as Batman or Captain America might have been to another kid.

So when I first encountered “The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” Sherlock stories written by authors other than Arthur Conan Doyle, I was apprehensive and doubtful. “Blasphemy!” I thought.

As it turns out, I had passed judgment before having all the facts. Sherlock would have been disappointed.

In The Devil’s Promise Watson convinces Sherlock to take a holiday on the Devonshire coast. But a genteel overture soon bleeds into somber notes when Holmes discovers a body at the bottom of a cliff. He runs to get Watson’s help, but when they return the body is nowhere to be found! As if a disappearing body was not fertile ground enough for mysteries to grow in this quaint coastal village, Holmes and Watson also encounter Enoch and Arabella Blackwood, the only children of an infamous English Devil worshipper who disappeared several years earlier. The vacation quickly comes to an end.

Well-written and distinctly British with a brisk pace, The Devil’s Promise and the other books of the “Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” will delight Sherlock enthusiasts as well as readers of other British murder mysteries.  At a bit over 200 pages long, fans of Inspector Morse, Miss Marple, Inspector Lynley, and others may find these books a bit brief, but perhaps excellent interludes. After all, Sherlock Holmes is the character who started it all.

The GPL also has a full range of Sherlock dramas on DVD from the original films of the 1930s starring Basil Rathbone, to the television mini-series of the 1980s with Jeremy Brett, right up to the brilliant BBC reinterpretations (2010-2014) starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman and the Hollywood films starring Robert Downey Junior and Jude Law.

For the techno-savvy Sherlockians, the GPL’s audio/video streaming service Hoopla! has dozens of films, audiobooks, ebooks, and other content that you won’t find anywhere else available at the click of a button. Imagine, all the Sherlock you need at no charge without ever having to leave the comfort of your favorite armchair!

For Sherlock enthusiasts ready to deepen their experience and knowledge, try typing “Sherlock Holmes” into the GPL’s new federated search tool.

“What’s a federated search tool?” I hear you ask.

UntitledWell, a federated search goes beyond the GPL catalogue and returns results from all resources that the GPL has access to: online magazine reviews, academic journals, electronic databases, and more! Using the federated search tool is easy. It’s right on our home page where the normal catalogue search is. Just click the drop down menu to the left of the search box and select “Resources” before entering your search term.

Happy sleuthing!

“Clean Sweep” by Aaron Freeman

An original piece of short fiction with a nostalgic shade to it –written and submitted by a workshop student I had last year. Enjoy!

“You promised them… you promised them…”

He repeated this mantra for most of the drive over. Putting the car in park, he started to think about how many times his mom had bugged him to come by and help out. Both of his parents could drive him nuts sometimes. He stepped out into the hot yellow sun, and then looked both ways before strolling across the road. He was happy to be seeing his parents today, as it had been a few months, but helping out at their garage sale wasn’t exactly the way he was hoping to spend one of the few days off that he had, especially since he was in the middle of a big project at work.

“I don’t know how parents do this,” he mumbled, thinking out loud. “I’m by myself and can barely keep calm or in control. I can’t figure out what to do with my team at work, by boss doesn’t notice me and the bills are starting to pile up.”

Looking around the handful of customers in their driveway, he located his Mom standing by the box of money. He made his way over and gave her a hello and a big hug, accidently knocking some books off the table in the process. As they both bent down to pick them up, he cocked his head a little.

“Where’s Dad at?” he questioned.

As she placed a handful of books back on the table, she rolled her eyes and chuckled a little bit. “He’s in the basement, reorganizing some boxes. You know what he’s like: ‘It has to get done now. That way it’s out of the way. There’s no time for sitting!’”

They both laughed. He could picture his father. That middle-aged, partially balding man in the dark, damp basement with sweat pouring off of his face, busting his hump to finish a task that didn’t have to be done in the first place. But that was his Dad, and even though it drove him nuts, he wouldn’t change him if he could. And he was sure his Mom felt the same way about his Dad too. She was also middle-aged, her hair beginning to grey, but always with a youthful spirit that her husband lacked.

That’s when his Mom chimed in. “Well, now that you’re here, I think I am going to make the three of us some lunch. I was wondering if you might take over running the sale while I’m inside?”

“Sure”, he replied, wondering what tasty treats might be in store for him.

As his Mom wandered into the house, a customer walked up to him with a blender in hand. As the buyer reached into his wallet, he asked “How much for this?”

Looking at the blender, he remembered it as the one that would wake him every Monday morning before school, whenever his Mom would be testing out a new diet trend. Looking up at the customer, he said “Five bucks should do it”. After receiving the money, shaking hands and parting ways, he began to have a closer look at all of the items that were on the table being offered for sale. At one end, there was an old, stained end table with a hefty collection of trinkets and dust collectors on it. On the large bureau beside that sat a giant Tupperware container of music cds and vinyl. Allowing his fingers to glide over them, he came across musical offerings from Springsteen, Lightfoot & Joplin, among others. He had to pause a chuckle for a moment when he came across Garth Brooks’ The Chase album, remembering how many hours and days he had spent in his younger days listening to it over and over non-stop, belting out the lyrics:

‘I’m gonna smile my best smile, and I’m gonna laugh like it’s going out of style. Look into her eyes and pray that she don’t see, this learning to live again is killing me’.

It wasn’t until he thought about his job troubles again that the words finally resonated with him.

As his eyes continued their trek onward across the counters, he noticed lots of antique china, a collection of hand-sewn throw pillows, and a vacuum from the eighties, but it wasn’t until he spotted a young woman about twenty feet away that he was completely stopped in his tracks. She was holding some sort of cloth in her hands that had some rounded edges and one or two small stains, but it wasn’t until she turned around that the memories came flooding back to him.

That was his yellow blanket! He didn’t know what to think, he didn’t know what to feel. He hadn’t thought about that blanket since Family Ties was on the air, but now all of the pictures from the past were swirling in his mind. He began to get dizzy, and needed to lean on the table for support. To have something that used to be a huge part of your life and then left in the past, suddenly be thrown back at you with such force that it was like a bolt of lightning. He grabbed one of the chairs for sale and sat down, taking time to just think.

The first memory to come back was from a quiet afternoon as a child, where he took two corners of that old yellow cloth and tying them around his neck, quickly changing a boy with a blanket into a superhero on a grand adventure. The mission started by saving a teddy bear damsel from being drowned in the bottomless pit of toys. She was lucky he was there to rescue her. Next was to super-speed around the room, arms outstretched, until he reached his destination at the base of Mount Couch-opolous. It was a tough climb getting those small feet to the peak, but going up wasn’t the hardest part. Jumping was the only way to test whether he could fly or not. One…..two……three! The last thing he remembered was the breeze in his face before he wound up in the bathroom, crying as Mom kissed him better. A few band-aids and bruises later, he had his answer. It might hurt, but he CAN fly. All he needed was the help of his trusty cape by his side.

As that snapshot faded, another came into focus. He could see himself as a boy again, running into the house and heading straight for his bedroom. But it wasn’t the boundless, joyful energy he was feeling before. This time he sat down, right in the middle of his floor, and tears began to well up in his eyes. His best friend had just moved away, and he didn’t know what to do about it. There were so many emotions built up inside that he couldn’t control. He grabbed a pillow and screamed into it, but that wasn’t helping. From there, he chucked the pillow across the room, but that only knocked his lamp over, making him more frustrated. Kids at school had told him that boys weren’t supposed to cry. He was sniffling, sneezing, drooling, coughing, choking. Anything to hold back the tears. That’s when he spotted his blanket on the bed. Instantly, he grabbed it down and squeezed it tight, slowly curling himself into a ball in the process. With a softness and warmth there to comfort him, he allowed the tear drops to carefully travel down his face and the pain to, bit by bit, fade away. He had no idea what would happen to his friendship, where he would get another friend like that, or even what the next day at school would be like. All he knew was that, in that moment, he began to feel a little bit better, and it was thanks to that simple yellow blanket.

As he was visualizing himself lying on the floor, that’s when, once again, the memory faded away and a third recollection came to the forefront of his mind. He could see himself being tucked into bed as the lamp was shut off. He watched as Mom blew him a kiss, Dad waved to him, and they shut the door behind them. Except he was too excited to sleep; he had another idea in mind. Reaching under his pillow, he quietly slipped out a book called ‘The Giver’ and a flashlight. He had just read about Jonas becoming the receiver of memory, and he had to figure out what that meant. He knew that all of his stuffed animals and bedtime toys were good at keeping secrets, but he wanted to be sure. He grabbed his most loyal, yellow companion and threw it over top of himself. Inside this handmade, bedroom teepee, he was invisible. Flicking on the flashlight, he flipped to the first page and began to read. Unfortunately, he had some trouble staying focused on the story as every little noise made him jump out of his skin. Every creak, every hiss and every clang gave goosebumps all over his arms and legs. Staying up past bedtime was a serious crime, so stealth was of the utmost importance. That’s when he heard it, the familiar clomping of adult feet making their way down the hall. Slowly, he lifted the blanket up and peered out just in time to witness a looming shadow coming from outside his door. He shut off the flashlight, threw it and the book on the floor, tossed the quilts over top of himself and began to faintly snore. Hearing the clomping fade away again, a confident smile stretched across his face, knowing that he had outsmarted the adults thanks to himself and his blanket friend.

He finally snapped back to reality, looking around rapidly to see if anyone at the garage sale had noticed his cerebral time travel. That’s when he saw the young woman once again and started to wonder when his prized possession had slipped away from him. That’s when he recalled that, not wanting to be made fun of by friends, he had packed it away in a box in the attic before heading off the college. As time passed, so did the memories of the blanket. It pained him to watch the lady pull a five dollar bill out of her purse. It pained him so much that he hadn’t even noticed his Mom had returned and was taking that five dollars in exchange for his childhood.

Is this knife in his back what is meant by ‘growing pains’? He had to stop her in some way, shape or form. He stood up and tried to walk, but his feet were frozen in shock. He tried to yell, but his throat was dry. The only sound he could muster was a light cough. The young woman was making her way down the driveway, with a piece of his heart draped over her shoulder, and there was nothing he could do about it. As she arrived at her mini-van, he couldn’t blink. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. He just stared, trying to hold back that first tear from coming down his cheek. But as she slid open the side door, he noticed something. He saw a yellow car seat holding a small baby boy in place, who was taking a nap. As the young woman was tucking the baby in with this treasured blanket and he saw those little hands grip the yellow fabric for comfort, he began to feel himself breathe.

Although he was still sad and confused about how this all came about, he could feel himself slowly calming down. Knowing it was not his anymore, he closed his eyes and hoped that the little boy would feel safety with that simple cloth. And as that boy grew up, he hoped that it would not just be a toy. He wished that the boy would come to see this blanket as a friend, as a playmate. Someone he could play a game with, pretend with, tell secrets to or anything else he needed during his youth. He prayed this child and blanket could be a superhero team together, laugh together, cry together and maybe even trick an adult once or twice together. And, lastly, he prayed that this child would not take that treasure for granted. His youth will go by faster than he knows, and he needs to hang on to every second of it.

Opening his eyes, he watched the young lady shut the door to the mini-van and climb in the driver’s seat. That’s when his Mom walked up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder.

“You do know that if there’s anything you want, you can just take it with you when you head back to your place, right?” she asked.

Author: Aaron Freeman. All rights remain with the author.

e-Romance Confession

Reblogged from: https://gplfortheloveofbooks.wordpress.com/

Hello, my name is Brandon and… I read romance novels. There. I said it. I feel better.

Of course I’m just being dramatic. Enjoying a good romance novel is nothing to be ashamed of. There is, however, the occasional raised eyebrow should one decide to read a romance on the bus, on break at work, or in other social settings. After all, those flashy, airbrushed covers with bare torsos are designed to be eye-catching (see below). But worry no more! Many of the best and newest romances are now available to be downloaded as e-books –free of charge– from the GPL. Now you can enjoy your favourite romances with all the anonymity provided by your e-reader. One such title at the GPL is This Little Whatever by Nicole Forcine.

In This Little Whatever, Jonathan Mendoza is a twenty-nine-year-old travelling performer, a professional belly dancer and street smart vagabond. He literally lives out of his duffel bag and parties nightly with a crowd that gets younger every year. He also tries to live up to a promise he made to his sick mother: to change his lifestyle and live sober. This proves to be easier said than done.

Dean Winters is a successful, conservative professional with a secret and tortured past. He is also in his late twenties and trying hard to enrich his anemic social life. Jonathan and Dean’s lifestyles collide, literally and figuratively, when Dean bowls into Jonathan before a performance. Boy meets boy. But will boy keep boy?

Told from Jonathan’s perspective, This Little Whatever is more than a fleshy fantasy. It’s also a tenderly told story about what makes a good friendship, how people recover from trauma, the value of family, the costs and risks of entering a certain social scene (or leaving another one), and balancing responsibilities to others with taking care of oneself.

!cid_image002_png@01D079EEPublished by Dreamspinner Press, This Little Whatever is just one bright star in an ever-expanding galaxy of gay/queer themed romances available through this publisher. They boast a catalogue of well over 2,000 titles written by more than 500 authors from six different continents. They also operate three distinct imprints: Dreamspinner Press, specializing in gay romance; Harmony Ink Press, devoted to LGBTQ+ Young Adult fiction; and DSP Publications, a boutique publisher of speciality genre fiction.

Bottom Line: This Little Whatever is a rollicking read for anyone who loves navigating the twists and turns of a burgeoning out-of-the-box (and out-of-the-closet) romance. Four out of five stars.