Billy By Numbers – or – How the Future Fascist State Will Control Us With Free Concert Tickets

Photo credit: John Kenney / Montreal Gazette

1 sweaty t-shirt thrown to a fan in the front row
3 songs from the new album
2 Generation X tracks (one obscure) for the old punks in the house
4 costume changes
1 in-joke (in this case about Gordon Lightfoot and Massey Hall)
12 frisbees tossed into the crowd
2 of the biggest hits saved for the encore
1 rocker chick sitting backstage who looked like she had been time-warped from LA’s Sunset Strip circa 1987
20+ the number of times the name of the city of the current concert was said to the crowd

First off, don’t get me wrong, I dig Billy Idol. Idol was the first concert I ever attended, in 1984, and the imagery in his “White Wedding” video, full of Bat Cavers in black vinyl and religious iconography, was the impetus for me to become part of the punk/goth scene and thus, the person I am today.

But let’s not for a minute forget that Idol is a “rock star”. That concert I went to in the 80s – filled a 10,000 seat arena. More than he mastered singing and playing music, he mastered his persona. He is a celebrity. And undoubtedly revels in the power that comes with that.


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You Can Call Me Shithead


First, some background – I am a fat lady. I am okay with being a fat lady, but like everyone, I need clothing. I am lucky in that I work from home, so I can spend my days in cheap yoga pants and t-shirts, and don’t need a lot of “work clothes”. I’m also lucky in that I sew reasonably well, and make about half of the clothing that I do need for functions outside of the house.

Occasionally, though, I need to buy an item of clothing from a store. And Toronto has a mere 17 places where a woman wearing plus sizes can do that. Ruling out the ones that are beyond my budget, or that cater to certain demographics (office wear, club wear), the number of places I have to choose from is very small. Which is why I do, occasionally, much against my will, end up at Addition Elle.

I don’t have an issue with the clothes at Addition Elle. They’re decently made, decently priced, and for the most part, are on trend. (As an old punk lady, this isn’t something that appeals to me personally, but for the majority of people, that would be a positive thing.) But I will do my damndest to avoid going into an Addition Elle store.

This wasn’t always the case, but in the past year or so, the chain has started a practice of asking a customer’s name as they are escorted to a change room. The customer’s name is then written on a small chalk board on the door of the change room, and the salespeople all make a point of addressing each customer by name… frequently.

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When Even Your Food Tries to Food Shame You

cupcakeWandering through the frozen food aisle of the supermarket yesterday, I spied something that made me livid. And the more I think about it, the angrier I become.

A selection of frozen cupcakes, most with cute and reasonable names until we got to… Cheat Day Chocolate Cupcakes.

I know, it’s supposed to be cute. Funny, even. It’s supposed to play into the idea that these are so good, they’re worth cheating on your diet for.

My issue is more the assumption that you’re on a diet.

Because. We’re. All. Supposed. To. Be. Always. On. A. Diet.

And therefore, if you are eating a stupid cupcake, then you must be cheating. Because “good” dieters don’t eat chocolate. Or cake. It’s too decadent, sinful, etc. etc. etc.

A “good” fatty, hell a “good” woman, must at least demonstrate some level of guilt and remorse when eating a bit of cake or chocolate (Or both!!). To fail to do so means that you’re just not making the effort. To fail to do so means that you might not have been sufficiently brainwashed by the $60 billion diet industry and might be so audacious as to have some remaining self esteem that isn’t totally tied into making you feel like shit about yourself so you will buy more crap – more diet drugs, more make-up, more clothing, more cupcakes… in the misplaced hope that this will be the thing that does the trick and makes you love yourself.


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Stupid PR Tricks – Yep, Still Getting ‘Em

Since I stopped writing for the Toronto Star, the number of emails from PR people flooding my inbox has dried to a trickle. It helped that I deleted my TasteTO email address completely so the PRs who just refused to remove me from their mailing lists just got bounces. A few somehow made it to my personal email account but for the most part, I am delighted that I no longer get inundated with junk about birthday cake flavoured vodka, cheez whiz or chain restaurants anymore.

So imagine my surprise when I get an email pitching “content suggestions” for a “fat fashion” article.

Now… I am fat. And I wear clothes. And I think I am stylish. But I don’t write about plus size fashion. And as Adam Ant says, “We don’t follow fashion, that would be a joke.” I have almost zero interest in mainstream fashion. Nada. I am a cranky old Goth. I don’t want to look like everyone else at the maul. I certainly wouldn’t be caught dead in any of the “5 Pieces That Will Carry Your Spring Wardrobe” suggestions the PR sent to me, hoping that I would write a piece on this blog about the company he represented.


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Death by Turkey

I am spending this week watching holiday specials. Not the cartoons and tired old movies of yore (Come on admit it, It’s a Wonderful Life is three hours of tedious, sentimental schlock.), but holiday food and cooking shows, specifically of the UK variety.

As it turns out, holiday cooking shows are the big thing for UK chefs, and anyone with an existing series, or a cookbook, or a well-known restaurant, is there on the screen, setting fire to booze-soaked puds and making the holiday hassle look easy. But because there are so many shows, so many chefs competing for viewers’ attention, they’ve all got to do something different, to jazz up the traditional Christmas dinner in some way to make it unique.

Stuart Heritage of the Guardian sees the mass of holiday cooking shows as a as testament to gluttony in the “so… much… foooooood” vein. Because, he claims, it’s all about the watching and not about the cooking. But isn’t that really the saddest part? By which I mean, I bet that your Christmas dinner this year will be exactly like the Christmas dinner you had last year, and the year before that, and the year before that… there will be no trying of new dishes from Jamie or Nigella or Gordon. It’s fun to watch, sure, but hey, don’t fuck with Christmas dinner.


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Reach Out, Reach Out and Touch Someone

Dear PR people,

Please, I am on my knees begging to you – stop using the phrase “reaching out to you” in emails where you really just mean “contacting you”.

I don’t know who started this trend, but it’s pretentious and, well, really fucking creepy.

Seriously. Reaching out has two connotations. We “reach out” to offer assistance to those in need. I’m not in need, you’re just sending me a press release.

The other connotation of “reaching out” is of a dirty old man trying to cop a feel. I get emails now that include the term “reaching out” and I picture the perfectly manicured claw of the PR person in question, coming at me as if to grab my tits.

Trust me when I tell you that this is NOT the image of yourselves that you want me to have.

Stop reaching at me! Just contact me. I promise that you’ll get a much nicer response. Because the next person that “reaches” at me is getting a smack.

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Yogurt – Still Full of Lies

Am I beating a dead horse if I link to yet another article pointing out that health claims on packaged food are (intentionally) misleading?

This NY Times article doesn’t really reveal anything new if you’ve been following the whole story over the past few years, but it speaks to the stretches of truth advertisers will make and the overall gullibility of consumers when you consider that people are still buying these products.

It just feels like a battle food advocates can never win. Between advertisers and media willing to repeat any study that touts a “superfood”, or an ingredient with nutritional properties, the people standing up and saying, “hey now, wait a minute, do more research” are the ones made to look like kooks.

But how sad is it that we’re willing to buy yogurt, or juice or cereal because of false promises of restored health? I’m angry that people don’t take more time to inform themselves about what they’re buying and putting into their bodies, but I’m also a little shocked at the desperation of people willing to try anything that offers any kind of promise of improvement, be it weight loss, digestive health or, scariest of all, cancer prevention.

I don’t agree with everything said by author Michael Pollan, but “don’t buy food with health claims on the package” has to be one of the wisest things I’ve ever read.

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Not So Bright

There must be thousand of titles on bookstore shelves that deal with positive thinking. Achieve your goals, get your perfect mate, advance your career… all by simply being positive. Did you ever stop to wonder how many people that system actually works for?

Author Barbara Ehrenreich did, and wrote a book about it called Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America. As evidenced by the title, Ehrenreich isn’t buying the positivity thing. Her own point of view comes from two separate situations, both of which she outlines in the book.

First, she recounts her experience with breast cancer and the seemingly constant mantra to always think positive thoughts. There is a whole industry surrounding cancer, particularly breast cancer, that hinges on people keeping positive and buying inspirational items (think of the pink ribbon campaign) to keep spirits up. When Ehrenreich admits on an online message board for cancer survivors that she sometimes feels grumpy or angry, people publicly admonish her. The belief that people are causing their own cancer, or are preventing their recovery by not being positive enough is quite prevalent.

Ehrenreich’s second experience with positive thinking – and the way in which people make money off of others’ desperation – comes when she writes a book about white collar workers who have been downsized and are trying to get back into the workforce. So much of the career counselling she writes about includes life coaches who help their clients learn positive thinking to achieve their career goals. But Ehrenreich isn’t buying it, noting that none of the positive thinking courses she took helped her to hone or improve workplace skills.


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Whose Streets? Our Streets?

I sat glued to the TV for the past two days, watching the mess otherwise know as the G20 play out on the streets of my city. Stories of inhumane treatment of protesters are the most distressing, and the violence from all sides is chilling. And I’m trying to make sense of it all, not laying blame, but figuring out, as much as I can, why it all played out the way it did.

The first thing to note, and something which the majority of protesters did not seem to understand, is that the right to peaceful protest and the right to public assembly does not come with the right to break other laws. The original protest march on Saturday was legal because organizers got the appropriate permits to take over the streets. The prayer vigil and march on Sunday morning was legal because organizers got a permit to march from Church and Wellesley to King and Bay. Once the police cleared the crowd at King & Bay mid-afternoon (at which point the crowd had shifted from the original prayer march protesters to a mixed crowd), taking over the streets was no longer legal. The decision to head west, instead of dispersing northward interrupted the flow of traffic – thus causing all of the protesters marching to be in breach of the law, as they were impeding traffic flow. Just because you were legally allowed to walk down the middle of Queen Street on Saturday, doesn’t mean it’s legal for you to do it on Sunday, “peaceful protest” or not.

I have a concern with people claiming their human rights to free speech were violated with regards to this issue.


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Down and Dirty versus Clean and Serene

For Christmas, my brother sent me a book called Dirt: The Quirks, Habits and Passions of Keeping House. It has been on my wish list for some time now and I was delighted to receive this book of essays about people’s relationships with the spaces they inhabit. I was disappointed once I started reading it though, since most of the essays appeared to be from people attempting to justify their own sloth. Sure, there were a few where the writers dealt with the dirt of others – having to clean the house of a deceased relative who had been a hoarder, for example. There’s also a section of essays written by people who have worked as maids or housekeepers. And even a couple where the essayists wrote about a specific chore; Laura Shain Cunningham loves to wax her floor, Juliet Eastland is obsessed with sheets.

But most of the essays were from people who hated to clean, about why they hated to clean.

Which is where I begin to feel like a freak, because I like to clean. A lot.

There are things I dislike, and downright hate – hate cleaning the shower for instance, and the shower is the only place in the house where mainstream cleaners make an appearance. I live with wall to wall carpeting and would prefer hardwood floors but it’s a rental and the choice is not mine. So I vacuum and steam clean carpets a lot more than I would like, because with two dogs, you can’t NOT keep the rugs clean or else the places gets too doggy smelling. But I don’t think I actually hate the task itself – just the time it takes up.


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It Came Without Packages, Boxes or Bags…

Someone called me a Grinch today.

Not because I was ranting about how much I hate Christmas -I wasn’t and I don’t – but because I was ranting about the fact the people were complaining about having to do their Christmas shopping.

Now, I’m one of those annoyingly organized people. I make lists and check things off (much like the jolly old elf himself), and most people are not surprised to learn that I keep Christmas on a spreadsheet in my computer. That’s right – a spreadsheet. A workbook actually, with lists of what I bought for people, what they bought for me and what stuff I baked, how it turned out and who liked what (ie. no fruitcake for brother, extra Turkish delight for the folks).

I like to think I know what my recipients like and keep an eye open all year for appropriate gifts. That’s why my Grandmother’s gift was bought in August during a trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake, and that book for my brother was nabbed at a holiday book sale in 2008 at a publishers warehouse sale. Yes, that’s right… I buy Christmas gifts a year ahead.


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Starbuck’s Is Not Your Private Office

I’m pegging this as another issue in my ongoing rant about how the lowest common denominator of society actually make the rules.

When cafes and coffee shops started offering free Wifi service, we all though it was terribly novel. People flocked to the chain shops to work and hang out, some spending the entire day there, writing, emailing, nursing a coffee. Note the singular tense there. A coffee. Maybe two.

Think about all the times you’ve been at a busy restaurant waiting for a table, watching that group in the corner linger on and on… well past when their bill has been delivered and paid for, well paid multiple refills of water… Now imagine the same scenario at a coffee shop. There’s some guy with a laptop, taking up a four-seat table, with that 3-hour-old cup of coffee in front of him. And there are no seats, you’re a group of 3 and you’ve all got food. Who deserves the table more?


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Seeing Stars

And with a sigh of relief – this year’s Toronto International Film Festival is over.

How I hate the damned thing.

It’s not that I don’t like the movies, or that I don’t appreciate what goes into them, but TIFF seems more and more about the “celebrities” each year than the actual films. Who’s wearing what, who ate where? One publication even had a bathroom broadcast, reporting on the washroom habits of visiting celebrities.

I find the obsession with the stars so very strange. Sure, when you’re a teenager, it’s natural to be obsessed with the cute rock star… but I always assumed being star-struck was something we grew out of as adults, secure in the knowledge that the stars are just like the rest of us, and would prefer to be treated as such.

I had the misfortune to find myself on a King streetcar on the evening that George Clooney’s new film was premiering at Roy Thompson Hall. There was a crowd outside as we rolled past and as everyone gawked to see who might be there, someone let out a scream. They had caught sight of George Clooney and within seconds there were people screeching, yelling things out the windows and generally making fools of themselves, unaware or unconcerned that he couldn’t actually hear them.


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Miss Shirley’s Urban Wisdom – Riding the Elevator

In wide use since the mid-1800s, elevators enable people to gain access to areas of multi-floor buildings without having to use the stairs. This device is incredibly useful for anyone moving large or bulky items such as boxes, baby strollers, shopping buggies, beer kegs, large dogs or refrigerators.

Although the western world has lived with the elevator for over 150 years, it appears that some basic rules and etiquette continue to be neglected. Miss Shirley will enlighten you.

First, when you approach the elevator and press the button to call the car to your floor, step back once you have done so. While it seems like the most basic of common sense, if you stand directly in front of the doors, the people already on the elevator will not be able to disembark. Which means you won’t be able to get on, you stupid nimrod!

Second, once you have entered the elevator, select the floor you want and move as far into the car as possible so that others getting on behind you have room. Do not, Miss Shirley will repeat this, do NOT block the goddamn doorway. If you desire to remain close to the door, either because you are phobic, someone else on the elevator smells bad, or because you are getting off before everyone else, wait and let the other people on first. Miss Shirley, who lives on the 2nd floor of her building and who is usually accompanied on her elevator trips by two large dogs, often lets others onto the car first so that she does not have to push past them 30 seconds later to disembark. Also, elevators are not like airplanes – if for some reason the door closes before you can get on, the elevator will be back in a couple of minutes.


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Leash Laws Exist For a Reason

I was devastated when the news on television last night announced the death of a Toronto man and his two dogs when they were hit by a train. The man was walking along a train track in mid-town when one of his dogs ran onto the track. He jumped into the path of an oncoming train to try to grab the dog. His second dog followed behind him. The man and one of the dogs were killed instantly, the second dog was put down later on when it was determined its injuries were too serious.

The police that the various news reporters talked to cited trespassing as the main cause of the accident. The tracks are fenced off, but many people clip holes in the chain link fences to allow access to either cross the tracks or to walk alongside them. This isn’t unusual, it happens everywhere – we have a train track nearby and people constantly hop the fence to save themselves the extra two minutes it would take them to walk to the same spot via the streets. And until it was fenced off, many people in the neighbourhood with dogs, us included, would walk along the service road that ran alongside the tracks.


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How Do You Handle an Emergency?

This morning while waiting for a bus in front of my building, I heard a huge thud from the street. I turned around to see a car stopped in the centre lane and a girl on her hands and knees in the curb lane. Immediately the driver began screaming, even before he got out of the car. He made no effort to help her up, he just stood there in hysterics, screaming and crying.

The young woman made no noise at all as she tried to get enough breath to contemplate getting up. Another bystander and I rushed to help her. We checked to see if she was able to stand, directed the driver to move his car to the curb, and held her steady as she got to her feet. Through it all she was stoic, resistant even, wanting only to be on her way to her original destination. We tried to convince her to let us call an ambulance, to at least let the paramedics check her out. We urged her to stay and give a statement to police. She would have none of it, only promising to visit a doctor so that I’d leave her alone, and the other bystander walked her across the street and into my building where she was headed.

Meanwhile the driver continued to flip out. Through the conversation with the girl, I was also trying to calm the driver down. He stood there, screeching, “I’m sorry! Oh my God!” over and over again. It took me asking two or three times to find out if he had a cell phone. Four times I told him to call 911 while he fiddled with the phone, putting it back in his pocket and then pulling it out again. He never did place the call (no one else at the scene had a cell phone on them), and as the girl left the scene, he stood there wondering what to do.


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Dream On

One of the really fabulous things about summer is that it keeps me out of the supermarket. Buying all my fruit and veg, cheese, eggs, honey and the small amount of meat we cook at home from local farmers is time not spent trolling the aisles being tempted by junk food. In the winter though, when most of the markets close, my weekly excursion to the local grocery store is fraught with peril. I do my best to stick to the perimeter, although needing flour or dried beans or toilet paper always calls for a trip down the aisles, but sometimes those supermarket folks get sneaky and move the processed food over by the real stuff.

Which is how Greg and  I happened upon a giant display of boxes of Kraft Dream Whip. We approached the row of boxes with caution. Arranged behind a selection of wizened, tired-looking California strawberries, we understood that it was meant to be an impulse purchase – the temptation of berries and cream (an allusion to, if not an actual taste of, summer) in the midst of a barren winter’s deep freeze.

Greg tentatively plucked at a box, flipping it over to read the instructions. “How do you make real whipped cream?” he asked.

“You uh.. whip some cream. With a bit of sugar and maybe some vanilla.”

“Huh. To make this stuff you need to add milk and vanilla,” he replied.

“Then what’s the point? Why not just buy cream if you have to buy milk anyway?”

Greg read over the ingredients. “Mmmm… hydrogenated vegetable oil,” he said. “This is full of trans fat.”

He put the box back and we wandered through the store, griping about the crap that people will eat to save a few bucks. But if you’ve got to add milk and vanilla anyway, it can’t be that much of a savings over buying cream, so what is the allure of foods like Dream Whip? You still have to whip the stuff – it’s not a time saver in any way. It’s not a convenience food that can be made just by adding water. So what makes it so popular?


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There was a post the other day on Shapely Prose, a kickass fat acceptance blog, that included a heart-breaking letter from a 13-year-old girl who was considering suicide because of pressure from her classmates and her family. As of this writing there are over 150 responses, the majority of which seek to reassure the girl of how it all gets better because thirteen sucks so heartily for everyone.

The letter caused a lot of upset, sending almost all readers back into the depths of their own pasts to recall being thirteen.

For anyone who has been fat, heavy, plump, etc., their whole life, thirteen was likely a pretty shitty year. I know it was for me. I wasn’t actually the heaviest kid in my class, but as the other heavy kids were athletic in some way, and appeared on the surface to have a higher sense of self-esteem, I was the lucky pariah of the class who got picked on. Constantly.


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Why Go to New York? We’ve Got the Lower East Side Right Here!

As an urbanite who understand the issues regarding urban sprawl, I realize that we’ve got no choice but to accept the presence and growth of condo developments in the downtown core. Better that we create density in an area where people don’t need cars than to continue to force people out to the burbs where their ugly houses destroy valuable farmland and their hour-long commutes create pollution.

That doesn’t mean I have to like the whole “lifestyle marketing” scheme that comes with so many condo projects.

Today in the mail, I received a postcard for something called Kormann House (note – bullshit Flash website – click at your own risk!). This is a historic 19th century building at Queen Street East and Sherbourne that is in the process of having an ugly glass tower perched atop it. These types of buildings are accepted and encouraged because the facade at street level remains virtually unchanged, but the overall structure often comes off looking like two very disaparate buildings mushed together.


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