Up early on Saturday. Mint tea in hand, silent dark hum outside my slightly cracked window, occasional footsteps in the packed snow. It’s the penultimate Saturday before Christmas. The near-death day for many a man, but not all. Hell, there’s still over a week until the big day. Plenty ‘o time, right? Maybe. For me, it’s time to hit the streets and blow some cash. Unlike most of my male brethren, I’m a week ahead of the game. Today, I’m on the make for some gifts. For 364 days of the year, I am a staunch anti-consumer. A few years in the retail sector will do that to you. It’ll teach you to pity and loathe the general public and fear for the future of the species. It’ll teach you that (imagined) consumer entitlement knows no bounds and outstrips any code of basic human dignity. The word “assholic” was coined by a retail worker, I’m sure of it. Cash machine. Tea down the hatch. Strap on the boots. Head down ass up. Damned if I won’t have a good time.
The Farmer’s market is bustling with 8:00am-ers bent on getting a drop on the day. Thankfully, the stroller crowd won’t arrive for another two or three hours – long after I’ve left. I hit Don Antonio’s for some ass ripping salsa. The Don is feeling a little spry today. I think he swore at me in Spanish, the bastard. Then off to chat up Carleen the potter, maker of gorgeous blue earthenware that looks something like poetry. She cuts me a deal, and I crack my first grin of the day. The Hutterites are not so amicable to dealing. I squeeze nothing out of the bearded son with the raspy voice. I buy my carrots and cukes and feel slightly embarrassed over my failed haggle. I grab some breakfast at the lunch counter. A cute girl prepares my BLT with a dissociated air that makes my day go a little better. It’s early, sweetie. Keep it up. A toonie to the clarinet busker on my way out, Saturday’s bisque in the air. I’m ready to take on the gridlocked masses.
At Staples a few minutes later. They’re not open yet and there’s a line outside. Who waits in line at Staples? Is there a special on Pilot mechanical pencils? In the store and grab what I need to grab. I have a question about a particular item, but nobody is around for the asking. I decide to buy the fucker anyways. The till is operated by a young pissflap no older than the lint in my belly button. He’s got a dissociated air as well, only his is of the irritating slacker type – the type that deserves a ball-pein to the temple.
(Types $1.20 into his register) “Dammit! What do I do now?”
“Just enter the balance as cash, man.”
“Uh, what would it be? Y’know, I’m really tired, even though I got ten hours of sleep last night.” (fumbles with the register some more, trying in vain to make the calculation in his head).
(Types it in slowly) “Ok, cool. Sorry, man. Here’s your change.”
“It’s OK. It’s still morning. No worries. Try to have a better one.”
“Oh, it’s still morning is it? Well, I can use that excuse until noon, and then I have 5-1/2 more hours of not using it. Thanks.”
At this point, I feel like launching into my “You Don’t Know Shit From Good Chocolate Rant”, as follows:
LISTEN YOU PIMPLE-FACED SHITFUCK MEATHAMMER! You had to be at work at 9:00am on a Saturday? Poor fucking you! Welcome to the North American working experience, jackass! Let me tell you how life is for most of the sorry meatsacks on this continent. Here’s your day, dipshit: You get up at an ungodly hour. You drive to work in bumper-to-bumper traffic. You get to the office or the jobsite or the meat factory and punch the clock like a monkey. You sell your soul and your intellect for eight hours. You punch out. You come home to a cold dinner and a crabby wife, maybe a jive-talkin’ kid who says you don’t know shit from good chocolate. You have three beers and fall asleep watching CSI. You make your lunch for the next day. You go to bed. If you’re lucky, your old lady lets you give her a poke. Then, you do it again the next day. And the next. And the next. That’s fucking life, kid. GET USED TO IT, YOU FUCKING CRYBABY.
I don’t give it to him. I Should. He deserves it, all right. But he’s young and stupid and I guess my sympathy vein is open. I leave the parking lot with my blood up a notch or two. Deeper into the fray.
Next stop is downtown to Edmonton City Center Mall. I grab a decaf at Mmmarvelous Mmmufins and get my shit together. Every store clerk I encounter has the same attitude as Staples boy. They all need a nuke. Except for the guy in Eddie Bauer. He’s older and possesses a grace that is rare amongst retail workers at this time of year. I buy only a pair of socks, but we talk for a good twenty minutes. I can tell he likes to bullshit, but time’s a wastin’. I excuse myself and get the fuck outta dodge before the unwashed masses stink up the place. Check the watch. 10:24am. I’m half done. Perfect.
My final stop is Mountain Equipment Co-Op. I love this place because it makes me feel like I am not achieving my potential. I should be buying a kayak and some ice crampons, dammit. I should be taking on the wilderness, lifting Mother Nature’s skirt and going for the gold. But no. I am a meat popsicle trying to get my Xmas shopping done. I ask one of the fresh-faced MEC employees if they have a certain Swiss Army knife. They don’t. I consider once again launching into my rant, but it might not apply here. These people get things done. There are no slackers in MEC, and if there are, they are easy to spot. The guy with the torn jeans looking at sunglasses? He funnels a half sack every night. The woman with the greasy hair and old, oil-crusted runners? Pack a day, at least. The rest of the MEC-ers drink soy and climb mountains. They portage and eat really good camp food. They wear those red flashing lights on their heads when they ride bikes. I drink root beer and play Tetris. I eat the ocassional cheeseburger while watching Futurama. MEC makes me sad. And vaguely angry.
Well, it’s 1 o’clock and I’m done. Everything on my list is checked off. Everyone taken care of in one fell swoop. I acted fast and decisive. In all I likely spent too much, as is wont for my gender. It’s better to overdo it, I always say. My shopping experience ran the gamut of human interaction. Pleasant, cheeky, indifferent, maddening, homicide-inspiring. Another Xmas shopping trip down the hatch. Time to chill out and enjoy the season.
Apartment Building, Dec 06
StreetRag is an urban weblog and podcast about the city of Edmonton, which is located in the province of Alberta, Canada. It is authored by Edmonton-based writer, web advocate, and poet Michael Gravel and is updated frequently with written urban vignettes, amateurish photographs, deuteronomous audio material, barely coherent musings and rambling ecumenical treatises. StreetRag is a love letter to a lonely prairie burg struggling with its big city ambitions and small-town feel.
The city is Edmonton. It's a subject, not a passion. E-Town is almost universally derided by outsiders as an unlivable tundra wasteland populated by oil-hungry redneck conservatives who despise the arts. All of that is true. But it's not the whole story. There is beauty here. Dusty snowfalls. Brilliant summers. A stunning river valley. A diverse arts community that flourishes. It's a place that inspires a gray relationship - not all good, not all shitty. For that reason alone it is lovable, for what is life but a grayscale?