Monday, 24 October 2011

Talk Caucasian To Me, Bitch!

Last week, work was a complete and utter shit show. I came so close to just walking out of the building that I even expressed that sentiment to Jacques, who is in charge of hiring drivers for our branch. And he responded with alacrity, calling Head Office Lady and getting her to talk me down.

The other person who actually stepped up was (get this) Teeth. You see, Mulan was scheduled to go on holidays, and, since Springsteen has already moved into her new position, Head Office Lady had to find someone to learn Mulan's tasks so that her bills would get processed in her absence. She asked me to do it and I accepted because I really didn't want to go back to the other stuff I was doing.

The difficulty was that they only gave Mulan and me one week in which to learn her stuff. And although Mulan is a very nice lady, her communication skills are hampered by a pronounced Hong Kong accent. To make things even more difficult, she wouldn't let me take notes on procedures. And when I unfortunately but inevitably made mistakes, she would say, "But I already told you that! I write it down for you!" But that doesn't help at all when I am trying to learn the billing procedure for seven or eight different clients. Eventually, my frustration reached a level at which I thought if she said, "I told you already," I was going to rip her fucking larynx out and tie in a bow around her goddamned neck.

Teeth, who was able to overhear the rising tension, stepped in to help, since she is actively promoting herself as Springsteen's inheritor. We had a long talk private talk, just the two of us, about how my brain was shutting down and at this point, it was like that scene in The Matrix where Neo is staring at all the streaming numbers; I was no longer able to take in anymore information. Teeth was supportive, attentive and sympathetic and I was starting to think that maybe I had been hasty in my dismissal of her.

And then she said, "Would this information make any more sense to you if it was explained in Caucasian?"

And if you, dear reader, are sitting there, staring at the screen with eyes that are somewhat wider than they were a moment ago, know that that is precisely the reaction that everyone has who hears this story.

My good friend D. suggested I should have replied, "No, I'm fluent enough in gook, thanks," which would have been very satisfying.

And believe me, it would have been perfectly in keeping with the attitudes in that office. It wouldn't have even really stood out as offensive. For the duration of Mulan's absence, I am sitting at her desk so that I may take advantage of the experience of the other billers who know how to do her stuff. And Mulan's desk is right outside of Jacques's office.

This afternoon, as I was getting up from my desk to collect some papers from the printer, Jacques saw me. He smiled broadly, put his palms together in front of his chest and bowed low, saying, "Ah-so!"

I was so stunned by this display of blatant racism that I stopped in my tracks and looked around to see if anyone else had heard or seen it. I caught Sylvester's glance and her eyes looked like a pair of sattelite dishes. Finally, I turned back to Jacques and in Cantonese, told him, "Good morning, how are you?"

He thought that was pretty funny, so I don't think he realized that I was actually speaking one of the main Chinese languages. I think he thinks I was playing along with him and making up words, because he did the "Ah-So!" thing later on in the day. That time, I just ignored it, but in my mind I was thinking, "Christ on a cracker, man--the Human Rights Commission would be ALL over this!!!"

Of course, he would never dream of doing this to Mulan's face. Not like Teeth, who I overheard mocking Mulan's accent last week while they were both in the lunch room. Yet despite this appalling lack of cultural and personal sensitivity, Teeth still thinks she's manager material.

I gotta find another job.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Society for Complete Assholes

Some of you may be aware that I belong (marginally) to an organization called the Society for Creative Anachronism, or the SCA. This is a worldwide organization that purports to celebrate the Middle Ages "they way they should have been."

Now, I can find many nice things to say about the SCA: some people who play do absolutely amazing things. For example, I know a woman who, in the name of authenticity, raises her own period sheep, shears them, washes the wool, combs and cards it, spins it (with a drop spindle and not a wheel), dyes it (using only mineral and plant dyes available to the Norse in period) and weaves it into historically accurate clothing for her and her partner. What this woman is doing, essentially, is creating medieval Norse artifacts in the modern age. It is awe-inspiring.

And she is just one (albeit extraordinary) example of such persons in the SCA. Whatever the craft or science from the medieval period, there is probably someone in one of the Known Kingdoms who is recreating it, whether it be the making of armour, brewing, needlecraft, costuming, woodworking, glassblowing or the making of musical instruments. The collective talent and knowledge available in the SCA is absolutely mind-blowing.

However, one of the very big problems with the SCA (other than the lack of minimum standards for authenticity, which is something I don't have time or space to get into right now) is the behaviour of certain groups and individuals. Because of its potential for highly academic and intellectual pursuits, the SCA attracts a fair number of persons who are socially awkward. Not surprisingly, the membership of the SCA is made up of men and women who play D&D, or Live Action Role Playing games, or just gett their freak on with their own geekery (i.e. science, computers, theatre, etc). In many ways, the SCA offers a safe harbour for people who are considered "weird" by society in general.

The problem with that is that the SCA doesn't just offer a safe harbour, which would be fine in and of itself. The difficulty is that it gives some of the more dysfunctional personalities a place to indulge their dysfunction and then rewards them for it. I knew a psychiatric nurse once who attended an SCA event in my area, and when he left, his assessment was that in that room, he had seen an example of almost every social disorder known to humankind. Needless to say, he never came back.

The more devoted one is to service to the SCA, the more committed one is to "the Dream", the more one can expect to rise through the ranks and find a modicum of success in ways that are meaningful to persons who are otherwise marginalized. Imagine the signficance a burger flipper or a retail clerk finds in being made a "lord" or "lady" in one's local shire/barony, when the rest of the world calls one weird and a freak.

Now all of this is a rather long-winded introduction to my latest rant, which is about the self-indulgent, neurotic and ultimately hurtful and selfish behaviour exhibited by certain members of the SCA at a recent funeral that I attended.

Two weeks ago, a young man within my social circle (R) passed away from pancreatic cancer, leaving behind a son, who is not quite three, and a widow (M), who is pregnant with his daughter, due in November. The Little Hunneydoo and I met these wonderful people through the SCA, where both of them were rapier combatants of some repute. But due to the obnoxious politics and the dysfunctional personalities, they left the SCA about seven or eight years ago, never to return. Despite not having the rapier combat and the medieval pursuits in common, our friendship with R and M continued to flourish and we would see them whenever we could.

When R was diagnosed, one of M's concerns was that the news would leak out to the local SCA branches and that, in addition to the stress of caring for R in his final weeks, she would have to endure the inappropriate and foolish douchebaggery that we have all come to expect from certain communities within the organization. And sure enough, it happened: a few weeks before he died, M received an email from a woman who had (years ago) been a casual partner of R's, talking about their "sweet romance".

On its own, that behaviour was unsettling enough, but sadly, it didn't end there. When R passed away a couple of weeks ago one day before his 45th birthday, funeral arrangements were made for the small mountain town where he had been born, lived and worked as a valued member of the community. Shortly before the funeral, M--the grieving widow--received a text from someone I'll call Chuckles, who considers himself a leader in the rapier community. Chuckles advised her that he and some of his comrades were planning to hold a tournament in R's memory and asked if they could attend the funeral in their medieval/Renaissance garb.

M was keen to avoid any display of SCA stupidity, and texted Chuckles back, forbidding a tournament. She reminded him that burying one's husband/father of one's children/son, brother, uncle, etc is a serious business and one that is--and should remain--wholly separate from fantasy pursuits. Which the SCA is. A fantasy. A game. So no tournament and put on some proper clothes, please.

Thankfully, the funeral was absent of any SCA-related douchebaggery (although I was APPALLED to see a member of R's family videotaping the service with his cellphone. Seriously? Dude, this is a funeral, not a Lady Gaga concert. Put the fucking phone up your ass and pay attention to what's happening here).

Unfortunately, M had to endure still more persistent bullshit from the SCA throughout the day. For example, at the interment ceremony in the cemetery, Chuckles approached a man who was helping to organize the service and said that he and the other rapiers had brought their swords: they planned to offer a "sword salute" to R at the gravesite. (Seriously? Who brings a sword to a funeral???) The man vehemently forbade such a display (imagine having to explain this to R's mother, who is elderly, frail and suffering dementia).

So Chuckles and his coterie were reduced to taking R's old fencing hat with them to the bar and recording themselves on a cellphone (fuck, I hate those fucking things), telling stories about when they sparred with R, or the wild and whacky things he did at events. All of this, of course, will be subsequently burned onto a cd for M, and will no doubt appear on YouTube for those unfortunate enough to miss the funeral.

Now, I wish I could tell you that this was the end of the douchebaggery, but it is not. Later that evening, when they had finished regaling R's hat with stories of its former owner (it has belonged to Chuckles since R sold off all of his equipment), they all trooped back to M and R's place to console the widow. Remember the twat who wrote to M when R got sick and recounted her "sweet romance" with R? Well, she showed up, hammered out of her mind, took M out on the balcony and ended up requiring the widow to console her, after going in to even greater detail about the time she spent with R (who was, you'll call, a casual partner at best). Ultimately, she and another woman found themselves on a bench outside the apartment, wailing and needing to be rescued by Chuckles.

Now, a word about Chuckles: he is one of those people, like Two Clowns, who seems to be almost physically incapable of telling a story without embellishment. Even his wife will say to him, "Oh, Chuckles, you know that didn't happen", but he goes on blabbing undeterred by any sense of reality. Chuckles has many fine qualities, but he is, sadly, one of those people who have found so much success in the SCA that it appears he is singularly incapable of approaching Life In General without first filtering it through his quasi-medieval/fantasy filter.

For example, not only did it cross his mind to attend a funeral in his garb as a tribute to a man who hadn't played the game in almost a decade, he proposed to make a sword salute at the gravesite, when the widow had already expressly forbade any SCA displays of weirdness. Thus quashed, he took the man's hat to the bar and toasted it like a friggin' relic. Furthermore, when meeting other people at the party at M's who have never been to the SCA, he introduced himself with his medieval name, not the one with which he was born. Whilst in life, he performs some kind of honest but menial physical labour, in the SCA he is a brave and honourable Lord, the head of a large household,who are, to varying degrees, as dysfunctional and self-indulgent as he is.

Much of this household is a coterie of young and nubile young women, ranging in age from late teens to mid-twenties, who I refer to as the Children of Chuckles. One of these women--who had never even met R--approached M that night, and told her that she, as a representative of the Children of Chuckles, had been charged with the sacred task of bring M a solemn vow: that should M EVER need ANYTHING, she need only ask, and the Children of Chuckles were sworn to provide that service.

Now throughout all of this idiocy, M remained calm, poised and respectful, which I find absolutely amazing, given that she should never have had to deal with any of this on a day when she was returning her soul-mate to the earth. On top of all the other stressors of the day--family drama, concern for her son, and the overwhelming enormity of life without a man who she deeply adores and who was as devoted to her as a man could be--she had to deal with the theatrics of a bunch of drama llamas who have apparently forgotten what it is to be an adult in general society. She--and the people around her--were forced to console people whose relationship with R was either non-existent, tangential or fictional, and babysit others who wanted to turn this solemn and tragic event into a fucking Ren Faire.

To those of you who would defend this behaviour: I realize that Chuckles and his Children think that their motivations were of the highest kind: I realize that they THINK their intention was to offer a tribute to R and the relationship they USED to have with him: I realize they think their hearts were in the right place.

But to my mind, whether they realize it consciously or not, this whole debacle was a selfish and insensitive attempt to make this entire thing all about THEM. I find it disturbing that adults feel the need to attend a funeral in costume. I realize that some SCA-dians are okay with that, but when the widow tells you "No fuckin' way" from the outset, you should maybe get the hint. Leave your fucking sword at home; we are there to pay our respects to a man who was witty and warm and brooked no foolishness, who served his community (they are naming a school after him), whose every thought and concern was for his children and his wife. We stood in the cold and the rain, weeping unashamedly for the loss of a life that was lived in laughter and hope and was taken inexplicably by a disease that leaves us all terrified and heartbroken, that leaves a widow to try and make sense of a world that must seem suddenly and horrifically empty, that leaves two children who will never know or remember the father who loved them so much.

This is not about false titles or honour or a code of chivalry that was mostly a myth even during the period in which is was supposed to have flourished. However much this fantasy may enrich YOUR life, R found it distasteful and childish, and there was no room for your self-indulgence and theatrics at his funeral. You want to offer this man a lasting tribute? Dig into your pockets: find a few bucks and donate it to the palliative centre of the hospital where he spent his last days in M's arms. Write letters to your MLA, telling them that you want to see changes in the health care system, so we have more specific blood markers and tests to detect this insidious disease in its earlier stages. Volunteeer at hospitals to drive the family members of cancer victims to their own appointments, so that they can take care of the day-to-day things that still need to happen while their loved one wastes away in a bed.

THAT'S a proper tribute. Examine your behaviour and grow the fuck up.