Saturday, August 1, 2009

To Infinity and Beyond

I've been completely sucked into Infinite Jest. I'm sleeping with the Incandenzas - literally, since the book is super heavy and makes a housemate-irritating "thunk" when I heave it onto the floor. (It's too big to fit on my bedside table.) Instead, I opt to just keep it beside me in bed. That way, when I wake up, I can just resume reading it without all the hassle of having to put any feet on the floor.

I know I've rhapsodized about David Foster Wallace before, but at that point, I was kind of a babe-in-the-woods type when it came to how seriously, intensely nuts his writing is. The vocab lesson alone is melting some of my more candy-assed brain cells: seriously, ephebic? erumpent? My dictionary is not up to snuff.

[As a side note, I seriously enjoy reference matierals in a way that I'm coming to suspect might be a little obsessive. Maps and atlases, dictionaries and encyclopedias: I want these items in my house. I understand that the internet is, like, a fairly wealthy source of all this information, but there's something so satisfying about flipping to a page in a book on a mad quest for the definition of sedulous. I don't have photographic memory, but I rely heavily on where chunks of information are on a page, and where that page is in a book. Web pages are hard to flip to on a whim. I like holding information in my hand.]

So to find a book that makes me reach out to other books - multiple books, since Wallace has cast his net onto topics as disparate as Canadian separatists sects, junior competitive tennis, Bostonian AA members, and complex and not-easy-to-follow chemical descriptions of Dexedrine and ratio formulae - boggles the mind. Some of these things, I'm totally rapt with attention. Some...I'm reading, but I'm not enthralled.

But such is life, right? Some parts are totally, eye-glazingly dull (for example, even though I'm a Canadian who was cognizant during that whole Oui-Non debate of 1995, the segments dealing with the violent PQ folks are decisively boring). Other parts are hilarious: the tennis-and-world-domination game Eschaton, played by 13-year-old tennis wonks, ending in an unexpected bloodbath, is so finely crafted and laugh-out-loud funny that I can't help but think Wallace was 100% insane to have written it. In the best way possible, of course.

The part that gave me a distinct feeling of icy fingers along my spine was the AA stats. What really freaked me out was the phrase "tecato gusano," which is definitely hard to Google. What I found were a bunch of references to Infinite Jest itself, and then a little piece about Chicano heroin addicts that makes it clear that Wallace wasn't just making shit up. The tecato gusano is "the worm that cannot be sated", the metaphor for the constant craving for junk that burrows through the gut and mind and soul.

And then the books trips merrily along to other narcotic substances and other mental foofaraws, not to mention fake memoirs, probably-invented street drugs, and an ass-numbing breakdown of how tennis really works, as a construct. It's a freaky read. It's like everything, all the technical and emotional, all the unbelievably complicated and the staggeringly simple, all the young and old and addicted and sober and past and present and future: it's all happening at the same time, and has an equal amount of weight and importance assigned to it.

That's a bowl-me-over type of realization, right there: we're all the stars of our own little movies. Which, like, duh, but that's not often represented in fiction. The books has about ninety thousand speaking parts, and since Wallace is scrupulous in making sure the reader gets to go right inside each person's head, each page brings a new chunk of the human condition to light. Even the small-time Quebecois drug dealers get a whole emotional universe assigned to them, as though they were just as important as Hal Incandenza, the ostensible main character. Which, of course, they are. To themselves.

No wonder the thing is, like, eleven hundred pages long. Even though it's mystically "unreadable" (lies), actually reading it is bringing all this new shit to light, man. I'm nearing the half-way mark, and I have to say, I'm going to be really bummed when it ends.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Simcoe Says Relax

I passed on writing a fist-raising Canada Day post, mostly because it seemed obvious. However - in the spirit of the upcoming long weekend, I'll totaly give props to this country, not least because some of us will be celebrating Simcoe Day on Monday, and the rest of us will be lazing around on the straightforwardly-named "Civic Holiday." Apparently, the whole point of the dopily named but in-practice dope day off is to "not work." Which is terrific.

Frankly, this whole multiple-named day tickles me pink. I love the day off in summer. I love the constellation of local names for it. Show those colours, Guelph! Or, conversely, Oshawa! (John Galt Day and McLaughlin Day, respectively. Guelph's John Galt is apparently not the Objectivist jerk-off, however. He seems to be the author behind such page-turners as "Ringan Gilhaize" and epics like "The Wandering Jew," a classic somewhere, I'm sure. ) I'd like to have Kochany Day, the hard-to-pronounce but awesome day of "not working" that occurs weekly, on Wednesdays.

Canada's not ultra-commited to leisure the way those frisky Europeans are, but we do okay. We have that mostly-useless "Family Day" in February, where people can sit, cabin-fevered, in their dark, cold home and think about how much they love their family. We have Civic Holiday. Thankgsiving is nice, especially since it's not linked with some obnoxious sporting ritual like it is Down There. I also enjoy the vast amounts of time off I receive as student: Reading Week? Okay!

Where was I? Oh, right: vacations are awesome. Summer vacations are the best. Remember back to when you were a kid, and summer break seemed like a freaking lifetime? I always secretly worried that I wouldn't recognize my classmates when I went back to school. Summer months seemed like huge blocks of time. I got to spend childhood summers in a cottage town - no phone, no internet, no television. Instead, it was glory days of swimming, running around like a maniac, and begging my parents to take us down to the trampolines. It was a great big beach and one of the Great Lakes, it was Christian day camp and trips to the library. It was so nice.

I seriously think one of the greatest gifts a Canadian parent can give to his/her offspring is that of the Canadian summer. After toughing out a brutal winter - and seriously, no matter where you live in Canada, winters are big, sucky messes - Canada is a supermodel, tossing off all that freahwater and flirting with heat waves. Even if you're city bound, most places have at least one decent park: Stanley, High, Mount Royal, or Point Pleasant, not to mention all the zoos, beaches, trails, rivers, and campsites that extend into suburbia and beyond. Even if you're landlocked in Edmonton, you can still enjoy dragging your children around one the historical sites that litter the nation.

It would be a travesty to not enjoy the natural and urban splendors that we have such ready access to, especially on one of those precious vacation days. So get out there! Grab the Subaru or the CCM and play outside! Lord Simcoe would be pleased.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Canadian Tire Loves Your Family

I know the old journalistic saw is that "three is a trend" but I'm going to jump the gun just a little and declare a definite pattern. At two. It's a pattern of two. It doesn't quite have the same gut-oomph as a trio, but I'm not sure I care. With that caveat out of the way, can I be like Seinfeld and ask what's the deal with Ovaltine? No, wait, sorry: what's the deal with Canadian Tire's newest product...which is, um, life insurance? No, I'm not kidding: the same people who will sell you a variety of potentially deadly products will also sell you insurance should your canoe/mitre saw/bicycle get out of control and make orphans of your children. It seems a little conflict-of-interest-y, no?

Remember back in the day, when President's Choice decided to offer financial services? "And lo, there was a great guffawing from coast-to-coast." (Memories of Eden, 4:7) Now those little silver bank cards are everywhere. It turned out to be a surprisingly prescient move for PC to sell banking services along with salsa and cheese.

As a sidebar: how is PC so freaking savvy? I feel like they can practically read minds. I'll lie in bed one morning, thinking to myself how much I like ice cream/pad thai/meatless burgers. The next time I go to a store that sells PC goods, bam: there's my baby, and with a 70% chance of being totally delicious. How do they do that? I suspect there's some sort of soul-selling going on.

Anyway, this trend of offering bank services along with tennis rackets is starting to freaking me out. When I was a kid, I remember going to places like Price Club or Costco, thinking how weird it was you could buy eyeglasses and a hot tub from the same store. I guess this two-at-a-time thing started being a phenomenon when drugstores started developing your film for you, as though asthma has something to do photos of your honeymoon. Doubling up is fine: tire centers should have free air for cyclists, and it makes sense for bookstores to sell magazines and fancy stationary. But offering financial services with goods like fruit baskets or socket wrenches sort of boggles the mind.

So, what to do? I guess there's no good reason for Canadian Tire and Presidents' Choice to quit it with the abstract services, especially if people use them. But what's the logical conclusion? Will Dairy Queen start offering health insurance? (God, if that's the case, sign me up. There's something delightful about the very idea.) I'm not sure I'm entirely comfortable with this. It sort of smells weird...maybe like a body that's been found beside a nail gun, holding a life insurance premium...both sold at Canadian Tire. Dun dun dun! I would have made such a bad-ass Agatha Christie if she wasn't already filling that role nicely.