Trash! Pure White Trash!

Pure White TrashI had a friend back in Moncton some 25 years ago who had a wicked sense of humour. Whenever you’d say something a little salacious or off-colour, he would look at you with feigned disgust and declare you “Trash! Pure White Trash!” before turning his head the other way, nose pointing up. His delightfully campy delivery made it amply clear that he was only joking, just like the time he poured himself a cup of coffee from a pot that had been on the hotplate far too long, and he looked up and asked, pretending to be puzzled, “Who made tar?”

I’m reminded of this friend because of how I’ve been feeling recently about my apartment. I LOVE it! It’s huge, and the fact the building was built in 1936 ensures it has huge rooms and tons of character. However, increasingly, part of the place’s character is the janitor and her offsprings — Irish Canadians originally from Montréal’s Pointe-Saint-Charles neighbourhood, which until recent decades was slummy and very white trash, divided by a train track where on one side lived the Irish descendants and the other side the French Canadians.

Don’t you just hate it when a group of people live up to their group’s ethnic stereotype? You know in your heart and mind that you shouldn’t be stereotyping, but then some people come along and you simply can’t avoid it. In this case, as the sterotype goes, every member of this family is loud, combative, intolerant of other ethnicities, and indisputably alcoholic.

Shortly after I got off work yesterday, the fire alarm went off, so I put on my shoes, grabbed my wallet and my ciggies, and vacated my apartment. And sure enough, by the time I reached the main floor, smoke was billowing out of the basement apartment where the janitor’s rough and worn looking 48-year-old daughter lives — clearly smelling as if a pot had been left unattended on the stove and all the liquid had evaporated. This was the second time in as many years that such an incident was happening.

A lovely lady she is — NOT! Back in December, she bilked me by “selling” me for $15 a $25 gift card at a local grocery chain, the proceeds of which sale were supposedly going to some charity for homeless youth. I gave the card to Cleopatrick since I figured he could use it and there’s one of those grocery stores just around the corner from where he lives. But when he tried to use it, it didn’t work because it hadn’t been properly activated. Therefore, we think the goods she was “selling” may have fallen off the back of a truck.

Coincidentally, she moved out of the building in the days following this sale and I would only see her around occasionally. I never confronted her about how she bilked me, chiefly because it was for an insignificant amount and, well, I just don’t do confrontations. Then, one evening last spring as I was heading to the garage in the basement, I saw her and there were two police officers standing outside (what I’ll still refer to as) her apartment. When I came back a few hours later, there was still one cop standing vigil just outside her door. But just like the character of Sergeant Schultz in the 1960s sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, I said to myself, “I know nothing! Nothing! Nothing!” — nor did I want to know.

Afterwards I noticed she was around more often, and about 3 weeks after the cops’ visit, she acosted me in the garage and gave me the whole story: that the man who remained in the apartment was in fact her husband; he was in poor health and died quite suddenly in the apartment, thus why the cops had come that night; he was a hoarder worthy of being featured on Hoarding: Buried Alive and that’s why she had moved out last December — “Because I couldn’t continue to live like that.”

My apartment is located inside the U-shape created by how the building where I live is connected to the building next door. Lately, she and her new boyfriend, who seems to have been plucked directly from the other side of the tracks of Pointe-Saint-Charles of old, have been working on (possibly planning to move into?) an apartment in the building next door. When they do, not only do they put a radio in the window; they direct the speakers towards the outside and set the volume very high, therefore causing the sound to reverberate throughout the neighbourhood and particularly all apartments facing inside the U-shape. At one point she took a break by sunning herself, t-shirt pulled up just below her tits and the legs of her short pulled up just enough to cover her vulva. By that point, I realized I was witnessing the crossing by a country mile of that line that delineates white trash from everyone else.

At any rate, back to yesterday’s fire incident: by the time the firefighters arrived, there was no fire but tons of smoke, so their job consisted of ventilating the place out. We were told we could go back inside in about 10 minutes. At that point, I struck up a conversation with a tenant who owns many dogs and who, until now, has been particularly unfriendly. We were talking as we were walking away from the building, and she certainly gave me a earfull. After living here for about 8 years and loving (as I do) her apartment per se, she is considering moving out after years of being bullied and feeling terrorized by the janitor and her brood. She even has suspicions, but can’t prove, about who may have broken into her place a while back — “very likely an inside job,” the police told her.

As for me, would I also consider moving out? That’s a good question. White trash aside, this place has other cons alongside many more pros. I love this location, including the proximity to a great bagel shop, decent restaurants, and the métro station on two lines, as well as living in a 1930s building with indoor parking in the most multinational neighbourhood in Canada. But lately I’ve been starting to think about looking into those “For Rent” signs on nearby buildings that look better maintained. The thing is that I don’t know if that would stretch my budget too thin, as I’m pretty well at the ceiling of what is reasonable on my single income.

Harper’s “Tea Party North”

Census formIn the wake of all the chatter over the Harperites’ elimination of the mandatory long-form from the 2011 census, I have been thinking a lot lately about how Harper’s Conservatives have seemingly been getting away with dismantling the Canada the majority of us know and love despite his minority standing in the House of Commons. This article by Frances Russell Murdoch published on The Tyee puts into words, in a way I never could have, how the census debacle is only the latest manifestation of the Harper government’s implementation of the hard-right agenda that centrists and left-leaning Canadians feared so much prior to the rise to power of the Reform/Alliance Conservatives.

Taxes are not inherently a bad thing; mismanagement of tax dollars is. Having the state dictate to me where I can or cannot smoke or who I can or cannot f*ck is a bad thing, but having a state upon which I can call upon should bad luck befall me is a good thing. Meanwhile, it slays me to see, economic recession notwithstanding since the pattern began well before the recession struck, how these Conservatives, like Mulroney’s in the 1980s and 1990s or the U.S. Bushites of the 2000s, have made a porridge of the country’s finances (i.e., mismanaged tax dollars) to the point that, like Obama in the U.S., it will take another party longer to fix than it took these asswipes to break.

It breaks my heart to see Canadians and Americans alike fall for empty populist buzz phrases without realizing the negative long-term consequences. The left is not without its fault, but looking at the last century in both countries, it is clear that progressive policies have improved the lot of the majority far more than so-called conservative policies.

Blasts from the Old Job

FTPIn the nearly 4½ years since I began my day job, which I suppose I can’t call “new” anymore, I have hardly worked on what was the centre of my existence for several years before: my home-grown TextStyleM content management system. In fact, over the years I have even let go most of my clients, only creating a new TextStyleM submodule for one client last year and amending some of the MySQL queries in the CMS as a result of a major upgrade of the LAMP (Linux / Apache / MySQL / PHP-Perl) kernels on the server where my remaining clients’ sites reside. However, I have been keeping relatively current in web development with PHP/MySQL, as I have developed a series of applications for my day job — the initiative that earned me that big recognition/cruise last winter. I say “relatively current” because I haven’t changed the software I use — a text editor and FTP client — in about a decade because, really, a text editor is just a text editor and anything that we see online can ultimately be coded by hand.

About two weeks ago, one of my remaining clients came to me for help about uploading material in a new subdirectory within its domain. The client wanted access to upload the material on its own, which means giving FTP access. Normally it would be easier to have the client send me the stuff to upload, but I didn’t “fight” (because I didn’t feel like it) the assurance that “my neighbour and web developer is very familiar with FTP,” even though that statement sent chills down my spine and reminded me of how, a decade ago, I would have people say to me, “My 13-year-old nephew knows all about websites and even created his own webpage, so I’m sure he can help us update once ours is up.” (That’s what got me working on TextStyleM in the first place.) The only warning I gave is that if this guy screws things up, I won’t be able to fix anything until I return to Montréal late this week.

And sure enough, the phone started ringing around 8:30 this morning. But I’m on effin’ vacation and only got up and called the client shortly before noon. As I expected, everything that was “wrong” was totally out of my control, from changing on the template what’s between the bloody <TITLE> tags to correctly sending the files via FTP. Plus, wouldn’t you know it: the site in the subdirectory looks almost fine in Internet Explorer but like total shit in Firefox. I know this is a snooty comment on my part, but I can’t help wonder if this neighbour/web developer is merely using a Mac-equivalent of FrontPage of old without having a clue what the fuck is happening in the background.

This reminds me of my biggest technical weaknesses: I freely admit that, design-wise, I suck. And I always lean towards pure server-side coding rather than fancier (and, I also admit, often more user-friendly) client-side scripting. But, to this day, I seldom fall into the trap of browser-specific compliance issues, or not being able to read a CSS stylesheet, or, for that matter, unwittingly uploading files in ASCII versus binary mode or vice versa.

Additionally, as I mentioned to BeeGoddessM earlier this week, I’m reminded of how sad I feel about having essentially abandoned TextStyleM. As I use a server installation of WordPress to write this blog, I see how it’s a formidable CMS for this kind of online publishing, but I also see how TextStyleM had content management features far beyond anything I’ve seen in other any other CMS. For instance, if an image was deleted, TextStyleM would scan the entire site and REMOVE every reference to that image to prevent gibberish code or a broken image on the affected page(s). Plus, publishing a site in two languages is easy as shit with TextStyleM. However, as BeeGoddessM pointed out five years ago, the interface of my CMS needed to change to become more like the other CMSs out there. I started working on that makeover and it would have kicked ass had I had the time and energy to bring it to fruition. But work and other life-altering events intervened, so it never happened.

Despite how stupid the day job has become recently, I definitely prefer the steady paycheque over the uncertainty of freelancing. But I still feel some sadness at seeing thousands upon thousands of hours of work not leading to anything significant today.

Back from the Maritimes

Off the cliffs of Crystal CrescentYes, I’m already back in Montréal! I think I made the Halifax-Montréal trip in record time (for me): it was something like 8:15 am EDT on Junior’s clock when we drove away from BeeGoddessM and Stephanie‘s home and I was sitting at this computer around 9:30 pm EDT.

It’s not like I didn’t stop. In fact, I stopped six times: in Moncton to drop off BeeGoddessC and some lunch at Deluxe French Fries (thanks again!); a pee and pop stop in Woodstock; a pee, coffee and gas stop in Edmundston; two pee stops (due to all that pop and coffee) between Rivière-du-Loup and Québec City, and a gas and pee stop just west of Drummondville where I also picked up a cheap bottle of wine for when I would get home. It was dark only for the last hour or so, and it would have been less than that had traffic not come to a crawl on the Autoroute 30 bypass south of Montréal.

Although too short to see everybody, what a wonderful trip it was! I think a sign of a good trip is that, when I arrived home, it felt like I had been away much, much longer. The trip served as a total disconnect.

I left Montréal as planned last Tuesday when I realized that Junior’s breaks were fine enough for the trip. I did get them checked in Moncton, and the mechanic was as surprised as I was that the breaks on a 7-year-old Cavalier with 100K km are only half worn. I did get the rear break shoes changed when he recommended it should be done by late fall or early spring. Knowing how I can procrastinate with such things, I figured it was better to just go ahead with that fix right away.

I spent two full days with Mom before heading to Halifax on Friday afternoon, with BeeGoddessC driving shotgun. What followed was four blissful days of total relaxing, learning a new card game, and eating like royalty at BeeGoddessM and Stephanie’s bungalow palace and enchanted garden. I also dropped in on Saddam and his brother-in-law Mu’ammar who now runs a fish-and-chip joint; briefly saw Jain (a.k.a. Pastry Monster) although she couldn’t come to Montréal in the end; spent a day with Indiana Jones at Crystal Crescent, an afternoon by the ocean with the Queen of Sheba and an early evening with La Chelita. In other words, I ran out of time to see nearly a dozen other people, but I plan to return to the Maritimes for my next vacation in October, so……

Twice since I’ve been on vacation, I peeked (without actually signing in) to see how things are going at work, and both times I felt like screaming afterwards. It looks like I’ll be coming back to a mess that easily could have been prevented. But, as I told BeeGoddessM after I looked the second time, I’ll just have to learn to be the unquestioning automaton they — or at least my *(@$&!@ supervisor — want(s) me to be.

Meanwhile, I’m happy to be back in MY town for a few days of doing whatever I please, whenever I please. Seeing the Montréal skyline as I crossed the Champlain Bridge yesterday evening, I truly felt like I was coming home, just as while I was in the Maritimes, I felt like a visitor. I guess I’ve officially become a Montréalais whose only beef with the place is the distance from his best friends and the ocean.