Hurray, It’s Vacation Time!

Village Gai Montréal en 2010Today’s the first day of my summer vacation, and yes, I really need it as my previous post attests. Even though each day and each week goes by quickly, it felt like a painfully slow crawl to this date. And given the stress I’ve been feeling, I made a point of refusing to make any travel plans until today, although I always knew I would head to the Maritimes for part of my time off.

However, the last week, I must admit, was delightful in that my brother and sister-in-law came visiting. The last two years they also came but I wasn’t here: in 2008 I was in Mexico and last year I was in Halifax. So, it was nice to actually be here and host — not that they require any hosting, mind you. In a way, that’s what makes them such delightful guests. They just take off in the morning to explore or shop or both and come back in the early evening.

I don’t mean this in the pejorative way — quite the opposite! — but the first word that comes to my mind after observing them for a few days is “cute.” They really are cute! They’ve both turned 50 this year and have been married for 30 years. Yet my sister-in-law is still a bombshell and looks almost exactly as she did when she married my brother. (I can write that because I said it in her face when she was here, noting that she clearly had the good fortune of inheriting her father’s genes, who up until 90 looked like he was bearly 70.) However, it’s the way they play off each other that reveals not only that they’re beyond familiar with each other, but that they’re each other’s best friend and ally. I’m sure they’ve had their moments like any couple with two (now adult) kids, but they preserve a little je ne sais quoi that is both enviable and admirable.

We never talked about the fact I’m gay until I decided to marry and then I thought it was ridiculous to keep the subject taboo. I wanted no more and no less recognition than I’d bestowed upon their relationship. It’s one of those things whereby I felt badly not just because it was the worst-kept secret of the last 25+ years, but because I feared they would somehow feel slighted for not having been officially let on the “secret” for all that time, especially since they’re such “live and let live” people. But not only did they not take offense; they were the first to ask when the wedding would be. Except I had already rushed into it by then.

So, really, the official recognition among us is still relatively new and they met their brother-in-law only once. Their first night in town, we were sitting at the kitchen table talking about this and that, when they mentioned how they wished their elder daughter might partner up with a guy with whom she studied interior design. Knowing that said daughter already has a boyfriend, I wasn’t totally sure what they meant and clearly the puzzled look on my face must have been plain to see. My brother picked up on that and said, “Oh, no no no. As business partners. Let put it this way: It wouldn’t work with them otherwise because they have the same taste in guys.” I burst out laughing, especially because of the way he delivered that line.

On the Tuesday evening we met up for supper at La Strega in the Village. Whenever my brother had been in town, we went to numerous places together but never to the Village, but I wanted them to experience it during the summer when Ste-Catherine is closed to car traffic. I met them outside the Beaudry metro station, whereupon my sister-in-law declared as she looked around, “So, this is Gay Street, huh?” To which I replied, “Pretty much,” although it wasn’t long before she noticed how the street closure attracts all kinds of people, gay or straight. By the time we (or, actually, just I) were having dessert at Kilo, she remarked on how relaxed the ambiance is and how pleasant it is to be sitting outside at 11:00 pm with so many people still milling about.

Back home that night, my brother and I stayed up way too late talking and reminescing, particularly about Dad. Through that conversation I found out that the priest I so dislike after what he did at our father’s funeral is dead. He boarded a plane to South America on his own two feet — a Catholic priest goes to South America? isn’t that how they handle pedophile priests? — but came back in a pine box. “So I guess now both my namesakes are dead,” I told me brother.

They left my apartment Thursday morning, planning to stop at the IKEA in Brossard before taking the road back to New Brunswick. That’s how they do vacations: they spontaneously decide to go somewhere and they go. So, I’m taking a page of their vacation roadmap. I’ll leave Montréal Tuesday morning if I can get Junior’s brakes fixed on Monday and come back mid-week, possibly with Jain (a.k.a. the Pastry Monster) in tow.

How People Become Corporate Automatons

Pulling Hair OutThis image is a good representation of myself after work today. That, and the fact I felt on the verge of tears until I finally said to myself, “For chrisssake, it’s only a job!”

Thankfully, the heat has come down in the last few days and I’ve recovered from a short summer cold most likely induced by my new air conditioner, so my concentration should be better now than the last two weeks. Alas, around 6:30 this morning, workmen started wrecking and rebuilding the deck on the apartment building in the alleyway just a few feet from my bedroom window. Missing out on my last hour of sleep and being molested by building sounds all day rendered me a basket case by early afternoon.

By that point, I got an e-mail that quite rightly but sternly pointed out the inappropriateness of an e-mail I sent a client last week. I never said I was perfect and this incident certainly proved it. But another unrelated e-mail from a colleague, which was appropriate in all respect and came in response to a short one I sent him minutes earlier, pushed my headache over the edge.

I now better understand how, after a while, people who work in big corporations turn into unquestioning automatons. Asking questions only leads to trouble, or to be seen as being a trouble-maker. I also now have a far greater appreciation of the courage of whistle blowers. It is truly hateful to be in a position where you are systematically excluded and not given any support despite witnessing glaring problems or, worse, very deliberate acts of petty-political sabotage by people just one level above you, whose agenda is impenetrable but suspect. Even worse is having no significant recourse when your rapport with your direct supervisor has fallen apart, in this case, very much because I’ve lost all respect for said supervisor.

Ironically, at a mid-afternoon meeting, one of the topics of discussion was the general feeling of lack of recognition among employees. And it would seem now that, just like good like kids coming back to school in September, those of us who are willing to participate are to write a little essay on “what rewards and recognition mean to me.” Except that, unlike the notorious “What I Did During My Summer Vacation” essay expected of school kids, I can’t help but feel that this exercise, in this case, is little more than a trap: If I write about what I think recognition is, I will be ignored at best or shut out even more at worse; but if I write the platitudes expected of an automaton, I will get a pat on the head and still be ignored.

People like me become automatons because we need the job. We need to eat, pay rent, …live. And we are able to live with ourselves only because we understand that the “wrongs” we’re suffering aren’t downright evil or injurious to others. We understand that what we do, or no matter WHAT we do, will not matter in a few months or a few years, let alone when we’re good and dead.

But the thinking and creative humans that continue to live inside those automatons feel sad and mortified. And, tragically, they begin to wish that the ideas that roam through their head and are never heard would simply silence themselves. Leading, sadly, to those thinking and creative humans to become even more hopeless automatons.

Montréal-Style Summer Sizzle

Portable Air ConditionerHow typically Canadian that two blog posts in a row should be weather-related, but here goes!

After living 20+ years in Halifax, I can safely say that I have never experienced before — or, at least, not since my childhood in Moncton — a real canicule. (I like that we have a specific word in French for “heat wave.”) However, now, after this past week, there’s no mistaking that I’ve popped my canicule cherry.

The definition of a canicule varies according to location. That makes sense, for what passes as normal in Florida or the Caribbeans may not be normal elsewhere. For most of Canada, a canicule is defined as “three or more consecutive days in which the maximum temperature is greater than or equal to 32°C (90F).” I believe the weather service in France also considers the overnight low, which mustn’t go below 20C or 21C (68F-70F). But given that the overnight lows in Montréal during the recent canicule, which officially started July 5 and ended in the early afternoon of July 9, didn’t go below 24C (75F) — it was often still 28C-30C (82F-86F) well into the early morning hours — we surpassed most definitions by a long shot.

Starting the evening of July 5, the temperature in my apartment remained in the 30C-32C (86F-90F) range. Whatever wind there was came from the south southwest and I’m facing the north northeast, so even someone’s fart would have been more breeze than I was getting. Realizing that I had a typically intense work week ahead of me and needed to both sleep at night and work at day, I found myself shopping for an air conditioner before starting work on Tuesday morning. I determined the night before that I wanted a portable device somewhat like the one pictured here, not only because I wanted to move it around easily but also because my office only has a door leading to the balcony rather than a window.

I never thought I’d ever break down and buy one of these things. I always found them too noisy, plus I never lived in a place where the heat and humidity can get so intense for so long. At the height of the heat, my new a/c only managed to bring the temperature down to 27C-28C (81F-83F), but the humidity it would take out is what made such temps feel comparatively cool. Unfortunately, it is too noisy to keep on when I’m on the phone for work unless I use the handset rather than my usual headset, and if the people I’m training happen to be on hands-free at their end, I still have to get them to repeat a few times. I’ve had to explain why — that it wasn’t them but me — and they were all very understanding.

Even now that the canicule has officially broken, we’re in for a really hot stretch.

Hot in Montréal

It’s only 26C (78F) as I’m writing this, which apparently is the average high in Montréal at this time of year, but the humidex makes it feel like 34C (92F) and there’s no wind. And the dew point hasn’t gone below 20C (68F), which apparently is as important to consider as the humidex.

At the risk of sounding like I’m complaining, I hasten to add that I’ll take summer heat over winter cold any time! I’m just amazed, though, at how constant heat saps out one’s energy.