Apr 25, 2018

It was really nice meeting you.

A few months ago, I dropped off some unused feminine hygiene products to a women's shelter in my city. I had originally planned on making little tampon goodie bags to pass out to homeless women on the street, but it's harder to find homeless people on the street in the winter than in the summer and I figured they weren't helping anyone sitting there in the back of the bathroom cupboard, so I might as well give them away to someone who could use them now. (Also, selfishly, horribly, I didn't want to walk around in the cold.)

As an aside, one year I drove around with a fruitcake in the car after Christmas because I had received two, and, while I do enjoy a piece of fruitcake, I certainly didn't need more than one. I thought that the nutritional value in fruitcake must be pretty substantial, what with all those bits of fruit and nuts packed into that dense cake, and I thought this bit of Christmas tradition would be appreciated by a hungry homeless person. When I finally found a guy and asked him if he wanted it, he scoffed at my offer. I was astonished. Reject an entire fruitcake? Not everyone likes fruitcake, I guess. And it turns out that beggars can be choosers. (I don't remember what I did with it after the rejection. I probably just broke down and ate the damn thing.) 

Anyway, for some reason, I assumed that it would be mostly young women with small children at the shelter, which would have been tragic enough, but when I got there on that cold grey day, I was surprised to find a bunch of ragged older women sitting around outside on the battered benches under the bare trees, smoking, the ground littered with cigarette butts. There was an indescribable aura of suffering about the place, and it wasn't just the bitter February chill in the air. I felt like a jerk in my nice coat with my pathetic offering of a bunch of tampons and a half empty box of pads.

We didn't have a lot of money when I was growing up, but we were never homeless. My parents made sure I got a good education and brushed my teeth. I have never been battered or abused. Not everyone is so lucky. This fact is something I know intellectually but was reminded of emotionally on that day. I was reminded of it more recently as well.

Last weekend I was driving down the highway on a rock and roll road trip to see John Waters and L7 with a friend, discussing the women's shelter and the general shittiness of life for so many people, when we passed a lone hitchhiker on the side of the road.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon in late April. Old Man Winter seemed finally to have gasped his last gasp. There was not a lot of traffic on the highway. I was driving in a new (to me) car with a CAA membership. I was with a good friend on our way to see a brilliant old weirdo and a great band in Detroit Rock City. We were about 40 minutes away from our destination. Life was pretty great. I pulled over.

The young man who ran up to the car thanked us profusely and introduced himself as Lee. I told him we were going to Windsor and he said that was perfect. I requested that he kindly not murder us and he requested that we kindly return the favour. He got in.

My parents used to pick up hitchhikers all the time when I was a kid (it was the 70s, after all), but this was the first time I had done it on my own. And if I hadn't been with a trusted friend, and if it hadn't been a beautiful sunny April afternoon with little traffic, and if I hadn't been driving a reliable car with four doors instead of that old piece of shit two-door Civic, I probably wouldn't have stopped. But I'm glad I did.

For young Lee, bedraggled and bearded and tattooed and missing some teeth, probably in his early twenties, who had hitchhiked to Sarnia for a friend's funeral and then stayed unexpectedly longer because the friend's father had killed himself two days before his daughter's funeral, was a delight.

He thanked us over and over, complimented our attractiveness and my friend's handwriting. I have never met a person more sincere. He was either a brilliant liar or exactly as he appeared: someone for whom life has not been kind but who has somehow maintained a positive outlook in spite of it all. I prefer to believe the latter. 

He explained that he had been on the road since 11:30 the previous evening. "I really should've waited until this morning, because I didn't get a ride until then anyway. Nobody picks people up at night." He laughed. "It gets harder the older I get, and the more tattoos I get and teeth I lose. People have told me that might have something to do with it."

We couldn't in all honesty disagree. Still, there was something about him, some innate goodness, that was evident even while I zoomed past him at 110 (ish, I hate cruise control, and my speed is somewhat erratic as a result) kilometers an hour.

He observed that it helped to be in a good mood to get a ride, that somehow people did not stop when he was cranky, so he tried to be always positive and cheerful, and check it out, it worked. He told us that he had to hitchhike because he didn't have his driver's licence. (My friend and I both thought, but did not say, that one does not hitchhike because one does not have one's driver's licence; one hitchhikes because one does not have the money for a bus ticket.) 

He asked us what we did for a living, and I told him I was an English tutor. "Really?" he asked, obviously interested. And then when my friend told him she worked for the university, he became even more animated. "I almost stopped in at the university library but didn't because I knew I'd stay for another two days," he told us. "I love it there."

He was a poet, you see. The first time I stop to pick up a hitchhiker, I meet a real, honest-to-goodness wandering bard.

I told him I was reading A Tale of Two Cities for the first time, and he told me that he had spent high school with Dickens under his arm. He asked us our favourite authors and told us his (Kerouac, obviously, and Bukowski). He raved about Bukowski's ability to enchant readers with stories of clipping his toenails, and, although he had grown out of his Beat period, Lee professed to dreaming of hitchhiking across Canada with a copy of On The Road and a journal to write in. (He hadn't been able to cross the border into the States since he was 14, he told us. Thoughts of murder despite our verbal agreement flickering through my head, I did not ask why.)

We told him he'd probably really like John Waters, and he promised to look him up. We agreed that brilliant old weirdos were pretty much the best. Incidentally, the only John Waters book I have read is Carsick, his book about hitchhiking across America. Perhaps subconsciously Uncle John was in my head when I pulled the car over, assuring me that I had nothing to worry about.

I recommended Journey to the End of the Night by Celine, and The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. We discussed existentialism and the value of human struggle and The Old Man and the Sea. Lee recited a long passage from By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept and urged me to read it. I assured him that I would.

He talked about how one of the worst parts of hitchhiking was forgetting things in strangers' cars. He did not miss the clothes he lost, but he did regret losing his journals full of poems. I told him about how my car got broken into in Detroit once and the person stole the mixed CDs I had made, and he said that art gets shared that way, that maybe I had introduced someone to a song that they really loved. I told him that more likely the thief had tossed them into the nearest trash can once he realized they were worthless, and Lee said that then maybe the next person to go through that trash can found them and the music got passed on that way. This made me sad because Lee was obviously no stranger to going through trash cans (or probably to breaking into cars). I told him that I appreciated his positive outlook.

We dropped him off when we got into Windsor. "Thanks again for the ride," he said.

"It was really nice meeting you," I told him. I almost never mean that when I say it; it's just something to say. But I meant it that day.

In exchange for a few kilometers, this young kid, this beat up soul with sparkling eyes, with a backpack and a head full of books and a past I can only imagine, added something to my life and to my understanding of the world and the people in it. I don't want to forget him, and my memory is shit, so here he is.

It was really nice meeting you, Lee. I hope your future is better than your past. I hope you write a book some day and I come across it in a bookstore. I hope you get the opportunity to tell other people your stories (whether they are true or not). I hope you don't have to walk too far or wait too long for your next ride. Riot on.   



Mar 19, 2018

Oh lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz

In the early days of my teenaged years, my mother and I would occasionally take notice of our surroundings.

As a kid, I didn't really notice how poor we were. There were three years of relative prosperity when my parents owned their own home with a rental property in the basement (my grandparents gave them the down payment), but mostly we lived in duplexes or fourplexes (never apartment buildings).

We moved around a lot as my father looked for work, so we didn't have much furniture. One constant was a big round mahogany table with a set of matching chairs with woven bottoms. One of the chairs had arms; the king chair was my father's. I imagine that the bottoms of the chairs were once tightly woven, but in my memory there are always holes in the centres where the caning was worn through. 

When I was old enough to be conscious of our poverty and my mother and I would take notice of our surroundings, we would point out the holes in the bottoms of the chairs to each other, and laugh. We would comment on the shelves and tables made of squares of plywood on top of red and blue plastic milk crates, the worn carpeting that we cleaned with a carpet sweeper, the foam mattress on the floor that served as my parents' bed. We would laugh and laugh, laugh until tears streamed down our faces and we weren't sure if we were still laughing.

Sometimes when I was a kid, we would dig through the milk crates filled with records and sit around on the floor listening to music. John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Double Fantasy, Queen's The Game, Harry Chapin's Greatest Stories Live ("30 000 Pounds of Bananas" was a favourite), and Janis Joplin's Pearl. 

My mother loved "Mercedes Benz." Joplin's rusty voice, that lilting chuckle at the end to suggest that she was just kidding, possibly. (Or not.) The longing for a new car, a colour TV, an escape from the drudgery of life. My mother could identify. 

The cars my parents owned were always used, always rusty. We called one the Grey Ghost, because there was no longer any visible paint, just grey primer. We had to keep a jug of water in the trunk for another car, because it overheated every few blocks and we had to fill the radiator up to keep on going. The nicest car we owned was a pale green Ford Granada that my maternal grandfather gave them when he finally bought himself a new car (with cash he had saved in Mason jars). 

People with nice cars were assholes. We judged them when they cut us off or took our parking spot or tailgated, in a way we didn't judge people driving cars with dents in the doors or rusty fenders who did the same things. 

I am now an adult, and we have two cars in this two-person family. One of the cars is a Mercedes-Benz C400, which my dude's company pays the lease on. The other is a 14-year-old Honda Civic, a car that I have reached a tentative truce with. 

The Honda's air conditioning doesn't work, I have to keep the door open with my foot or it slams shut on me, we had to buy a battery charger because the battery is unreliable, I can't set the time or listen to the radio or play a CD because there's something wrong with the stereo, the air bags are faulty, and there is an alarming knocking sound when I go around corners that I used to ignore but can no longer due to the stereo issue (I would just turn the volume up and pretend everything was cool). The brakes and starter were both replaced in the last couple of years.

The Mercedes has heated seats, a smooth ride, and pickup like you wouldn't believe. There is a GPS, a rear-view camera, Bluetooth capablity, a sun-roof, and a killer stereo. The doors lock with the touch of a finger, automatically unlock when you approach, and you don't need to put the key in the ignition to turn the car on. 

As an aside, the Mercedes does not have a spare tire, because rich people don't get flat tires, I guess. The Mercedes also has some strange feature that prevents you from being able to hook jumper cables up to the battery to help a fellow motorist in need. (So that whole asshole thing has some basis in reality, I suppose.) I hate it for its lack of spare tire and boosting ability, yet I cannot deny its many charms. It's fucking fun to drive around in that car. 

I am the same person regardless of which car I am driving, but I feel vaguely uncomfortable when I am in the Mercedes. I feel like an impostor, a fraud. I can zip ahead in a merge lane in the Honda with impunity, but when I do it in the Mercedes, I can feel the animosity from the other drivers. I know what they're thinking, because I still think it, too. It's ridiculous, of course, and I know better, but there it is. 

Although I would not wish a life of poverty on anyone, I am grateful for mine. It taught me to look past the car people drive (or the public transportation they take), where they live, and what they do to earn money, and recognize that we are all just toiling along down this highway of life. Some of us are driving fancy foreign cars, some of us are in the carpool lane in a leased sedan, some of us are on a Greyhound bus, and some of us are stranded by the side of the road. 

I am no millionaire, and that Mercedes is just a lease paid for by someone else, but I do not have to cut coupons or worry about making rent. I am financially secure, and there is such comfort in that knowledge. I have worked hard to get here. But there is, and will always be, a part of me that feels like that piece of shit Honda is the car I deserve. You can't outrun your past, even if the vehicle you're driving goes from 0-60 in under 5 seconds. 


Jan 9, 2018

Dear unfriended facebook friends

Dear facebook friends who find yourself unfriended,

I know it's hard, but please don't take it personally. It's not you. It's me. Or, rather, it's this whole social media thing in general.

When I first joined the wild world of social media that was myspace, I enjoyed connecting with new people. I enjoyed being able to write things and have people read them, since I have been a writer since I was a child, narrating my walk to school to myself. I enjoyed the ability to entertain and to be entertained.

When I made the reluctant move to facebook, I still enjoyed all those things. But this new incarnation, with its likes and ads and suggestions and networking, has become less enjoyable for me of late. Sure, it's fun to receive validation for one's posts/photos, but is it necessary? Is it healthy to base our sense of worth on what others think? Is it useful for us to know when our friends are hungry or cranky or drinking a cup of coffee? Is it good to feel guilty if I don't wish you a happy birthday? Is it beneficial for me to be exposed to the ignorance that abounds in the form of strangers' comments on friends' posts?

I know that I can be a hypocrite, but one thing I refuse to do on facebook is hide people's posts. I have organized all my eff-bee friends into groups by how I know you (high school, the bar, my old job, that crazy convention, etc.), and I check those groups daily. I see everything each of you posts, because I have set that parameter on myself. If we are facebook friends, I pay attention to you. It seems only fair. To be 'friends' with someone yet choose to ignore them seems somehow immoral to me.

But this is exhausting. For example, it's cool that you have a stamp collection, but I don't personally collect stamps, so your posts have no meaning for me. And I think it's really great that you love your children, but I don't love your child the way you do. I am not fascinated by your pet, but I'm glad it brings you joy. As I've said, it's not you. It's me. It's not your job to make your facebook page relevant to me. (And I know this works in reverse. Fuck, you probably say to yourself, another book post? Who gives a shit what you're reading? I get it, I do.)

And am I supposed to assume that my facebook friends give me the same consideration I give them? When I see you and you ask me what's up, should I repeat information that I have posted in case you didn't see it? And if you didn't see it, why did I bother posting it? This potential awareness of each other's activities adds an uncomfortable dimension to real-world human interaction.

Although social media would have you believe otherwise (because the more friends you have, the more likes you get, and the more likes you get, the more valuable you are as a human being), I think it is healthy and good to have peripheral relationships in your life, people you know that you have something in common with (drinking and dancing, say, or that previously mentioned convention) that you only see a few times a year, people that are fun to talk to but that probably wouldn't come to your birthday party or your funeral. It's honestly more fun to see you and chat about what you've been up to lately than to see you and say, oh yeah, I saw that on facebook, because there the conversation ends. It's a drag.

Some relationships naturally expire when people move or change jobs or get married or the myriad of other reasons we drift apart. Maintaining those relationships in virtual form is artificial at best and annoying at worst. We no longer share this thing we once shared, and it's okay for us to move on. You were in my life for a certain period of time, and it was fun, but let's not drag it out. Facebook creates an odd sort of stasis and a false sense of connection that I find disconcerting.

To conclude, this is my longwinded break up letter. I hope you understand. Deleting you from my friends list does not necessarily delete you from my life, and it certainly doesn't delete you as a person or have any bearing whatsoever on anything that really matters. I hope your life in the real world (and, hell, in the online world, as well) brings you happiness. And when it brings you sadness and frustration, as it will, I hope you are able to handle it with the help of those close to you.

Ah well, and riot on. 

Nov 8, 2017

Modern Romance

We are standing together in the same place at the same time. Would it be agreeable to you if we exchanged pleasantries?


May I ask your name?

My name is ----. It is very nice to meet you.

May I inform you that I find your physical, emotional, and intellectual presence interesting and engaging?

I have noticed that you are occasionally glancing at my lips. We are standing close together and our bodies are turned toward each other. Your arms are not crossed. Your legs are not crossed. I am also looking at your lips. May I kiss you?

Would you like to have sexual intercourse with me tonight? Please sign here that you are not intoxicated and have agreed of your own free will to consider having sexual intercourse with me tonight. This is not binding. This signature only states that at --:00 on ---, you are agreeable to the idea of sexual intercourse with me. You are free to make this contract null and void at any time by expressing "No," either verbally or physically. 

Since we have changed locations and are no longer in a public place, could you please sign here that you are not intoxicated or being coerced in any manner, even though the two of us are now alone, and that you have agreed of your own free will to engage in behaviour that may, should you agree, lead to sexual intercourse and the completion of orgasm? 

Do you have any sexually transmitted diseases? Could you please sign here stating that you do not have any sexually transmitted diseases?

Do you agree to use a condom in order to protect us both from illness and/or pregnancy? Could you please sign here stating that you agree to use a condom?

May I kiss you again? Please initial here that you have agreed to let me kiss you again.

May I place my hands on your body? Please initial here that you have agreed to let me place my hands on your body.

May I remove your shirt and bra and touch your bare breasts? Please initial here that you have agreed to let me touch your bare breasts.

May I kiss you again? Here? And here? And here? Please initial here that you have agreed to let me kiss you again, here, and here, and here.

May I remove the rest of your clothes? May I also remove my clothes? Please initial here that you have agreed that we will remove our clothes.

May I touch you between your legs? Please initial here that you have agreed to let me touch you between the legs.

May I insert my penis into your vagina? Please initial here that you have agreed to let me insert my penis into your vagina. 

Would you like to change positions? Please initial here that you have agreed to change positions.

Please continue to inform me with words that what we are doing is acceptable to you. Unintelligible sounds are not sufficient. Please say, "Yes, please continue" if you would like me to continue. 

Please sign here to confirm that the terms of our contract have been fulfilled.

I will provide you with a way to contact me in the future, but you are under no obligation, either legal or emotional, to do so. Please sign here that you agree that we are under no obligation to contact each other in the future.

Thank you for your participation, and good night.

Oct 11, 2017

What it feels like for a girl.

She has an innocent face. People respond to this face, which is pretty but not beautiful. There is an openness, a sincerity, an honesty in her face. A sensuality, too. She can hide behind this face, can smile and think impatient, unkind thoughts.

She feels contempt for people who are not as strong as she. She has no patience for the emotionally weak or the intellectually crippled. The alcoholics, the self-help-book readers, the peanut-allergy sufferers. The anxious and the depressed. She is a gazelle, lithe and powerful, and they are the weak members of the herd who will be consumed by their disorders and neuroses. She is the lion who will consume them.

She has an intimate understanding of blood, its colours and viscosities. She is the moon, cold and barren. She is the huntress, reckless and violent. She is the victim, but never for long.

She is the mother. She soothes and nurtures, caresses and calms. She offers her hand and accepts the burden as her own. She is devoid of ego and endlessly patient. She understands suffering because she herself has suffered.

She sees into your sadness, sees the damage, the moments that have contributed to who you are and why you say and do the things you say and do. She will tell you that you are good and kind and loved. She will help you if you let her.

Sep 29, 2017

Today is my birthday. (3)

Falling at the end of September as it does, my birthday has always been a time of new beginnings. In the past it meant the excitement of a new school year, the warm days and cool nights that herald the return of autumn and the necessity of socks, another candle on the cake.

Now it means I'm probably on the wrong side of halfway to death, assuming I reach the Canadian average of 82.14 years for a woman. (We no longer bother adding another candle to the cake. Who can blow out a conflagration?)

That's a scary thought, to be more than halfway to death. But then I think back on all the things I have been and done and seen in my 44 years thus far, and I think of all the things I have yet to be and do and see, and death, that rascally spectre, doesn't seem so scary. (44 years is simultaneously forever and no time at all.)

I have been a virgin and a lover. I have been a liar and a teller of truth. A thief and a criminal. A daughter and granddaughter and niece and sister and aunt. A student and teacher. A flirt and a fool. A rebel. A loser. A friend. 

I have created art in writing, in photographs, in paint, in podcasts, in plays, and in film (despite being a terrible actress). I have done drugs and been drunk. I have driven down dark highways alone with the radio turned up and the fog whispering of murderers. I have counted down and kissed my love at midnight for over a quarter of a century.  

I have seen the mountains of British Columbia, the hoodoos of Alberta, the prairies of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the lakes of northern Ontario, and the lighthouse on the rocks at Peggy's Cove. 

I have gambled in Vegas, hiked the Grand Canyon, sat on a cracked vinyl stool and listened to an old man sing the blues in Chicago, walked the Freedom Trail in Boston (twice), had my car broken into in Detroit, and fallen in love with New York City.

I have seen movies that have amazed and moved me, and I have been amazed and moved by Koons' hearts, Pollock's splatter, Rodin's sculptures, Caravaggio's violence, Rothko's colours, Calder's mobiles, Picasso's bulls, Dali's nightmares, Warhol's irreverence, Magritte's juxtapositions, Lichtenstein's dots, Weiwei's ashes, Banksy's politics, and Bourgeois' mother, along with thousands of other lesser known artists whose pieces have spoken to me from the walls and spaces they inhabit. 

I have made friends around the world thanks to technology even though I hate technology. I have killed spiders and rescued beetles, because those two extra legs make all the difference. I have thrown parties and thrown up.   

I have read books. I have read books. I have read books. 

I have had a baby monkey jump onto my head and I have run my hand over the rough fur of a wild ocelot and somehow resisted the urge to touch the baby sloths. I have listened to the ding and mew of frogs in the night and been terrified by the roar of howler monkeys. I have ridden on horseback and ziplined through the jungle and soaked in tropical hot springs. I have choked on salt water and been knocked down by waves and watched wisps of smoke rise from a volcano.

I have learned how to cook and play poker and drive a stick shift and build fences and start the lawn mower with some degree of regularity. I have worked at shitty part-time jobs and quit and been constructively dismissed and built my own business helping students with their grammar and their confidence.

I have been broke and I have had enough money that I don't need to worry about money. I have given food and loose change (and socks, once) to the homeless, and money to the needy children of the world and to those who have lost everything in disasters. I have given flowers to strangers. I have given away unused metro tickets in foreign countries, the last few dollars of a gift card to the person behind me in line, and the candy that comes with my popcorn to the first child I saw. 

I have seen The Gates of Hell and the Sistine Chapel, been awed by the Sagrada Familia, walked narrow winding worn stone steps to bell towers and looked out across European cityscapes. I have stood in the gravel square of a Nazi concentration camp that once ran with blood and wondered if the prisoners could still appreciate a gorgeous summer day among all that death. I have wandered catacombs and cobblestone streets, seen medieval castles and ancient Roman ruins, found feral cats to pet and feed, and cheered for the bull to win (he didn't).   

I have seen Madonna in concert nine times. I have gone on rock and roll road trips and stood in front of bands I love and bands I hadn't heard of. I have sung along with huge crowds in stadiums and seen shows in nearly-empty clubs. I have sung my heart out even though I can't carry a tune. I have danced (for inspiration).

I have seen corpses lying in their coffins, looking like poorly-made papier maché figures, desiccated and hollow. I have seen people I love in hospital beds, broken and wasted. (I have been in hospital beds myself.) I have watched life been there one moment and gone the next. 

I have watched beloved children grow. I have carved pumpkins and let them rot on the porch.   

I have seen eclipses and shooting stars and the Northern Lights and the rings of Saturn (through a telescope) and stood in rain storms and built snowmen and tried to find where the rainbow began and stopped to smell the roses and stood in wheat fields and understood that the earth was round. 

I have felt exhilaration, joy, compassion, rage, fear, pride, embarrassment, pity, frustration, sorrow, disappointment, longing, and love.  

And I have crunched through dried autumn leaves on my birthday and been grateful for this preposterous accident of energy and matter and consciousness that is life. 

Sep 18, 2017

On Etiquette

A few months ago, my dude and I were spending some time with his father and new wife. The wife was beginning a new career in which she planned on teaching etiquette classes to children, which seemed preposterous to me. What kind of lazy asshole parent is going to send their child to etiquette school to learn manners? I thought teaching please and thank you appeared quite early on in the Things You Should Teach Your Kid manual, along with not to pick your nose in public (or at least not eat it) and the difference between "I" (a subject) and "me" (an object).

This occupational information did, however, get me thinking about etiquette, and what I have determined is this: there are two kinds of etiquette, the Golden Rule kind and the designed-to-maintain-a-social-hierarchy kind.

The first kind is logical to me. If you would like something from someone, you should say please rather than just demand it. If someone gives you something, you should thank them, whether it be a birthday present or your change at the grocery store. (No one owes you anything in this world, so try not to behave like an entitled jerk.)

The Golden Rule kind of etiquette covers pretty much everything of any importance when one is behaving as a member of society. Would you like someone to let you in when you're trying to turn onto a busy street or merging into one lane? Do you enjoy being interrupted in the middle of a story or seeing other people's masticated food? Do you get a kick out of sending messages, emails, or phone calls and not getting responses in a timely manner? Do you delight in sitting around waiting for people to show up at the agreed-upon time? In these instances, and others like them, etiquette dictates do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

As an aside, I am not always the epitome of polite. Sometimes I'm late for things that do not have a strict start time (especially if they are first thing in the morning - well, afternoon - I do enjoy my sleep), and sometimes I get really excited about contributing to a conversation and forget to swallow first, and sometimes I'm in a hurry to get somewhere and just don't feel like letting you in. For these moments of human weakness, and others like them, I apologize.

It's the second kind of etiquette that I scorn. This category includes things like opening the car door for a woman, not putting your elbows on the table, and serving from the left and removing from the right (or is it the other way around?). This kind of etiquette is designed exclusively to allow one social group to feel superior to another because they know the "rules" while others do not. And, also, I suspect, to sustain the materialism and sexism inherent in our society.

Let's examine the expectation of a hostess gift, for example. There is the obvious sexism inherent in this form of etiquette (ie) the woman of the house will appreciate some small material object to show your appreciation for her hospitality, because she does all the cooking and likes shopping. In extending the invitation to spend time at my home, I did not also intend to force you to go to the mall. (I also did not intend for you to do household chores like washing dishes. Seriously, I can do it later on my own. You don't know where anything goes anyway.) If you would like to bring a bottle of wine to share over dinner, by all means, please do, but if you bring nothing, I certainly won't hold it against you. (I think hostess gifts are how candle makers and HomeSense stay in business.)

My dude's mother once informed me that the proper way to eat soup was to scoop stuff onto the spoon while moving the spoon away from you toward the far end of the bowl. This sort of etiquette rule must surely have been created by rich white landowners during a break between counting their money and whipping their slaves (ie) they had nothing better to do.

Taking your hat off is another odd rule. As an article of clothing, it serves a purpose (usually to hide one's bald spot or the fact that your hair is unwashed). If you are more comfortable wearing a hat inside, I'm cool with it. (Unless it's a giant sombrero or something that makes getting around awkward.) I'm too lazy to google it, but I'm sure there must have been some sort of lame sexist reason for removing one's hat. Or possibly a hygienic one. Feel free to enlighten me, etiquette trivia buffs.

As another aside, if you are a guest in someone's home, you should obviously politely acquiesce to their requests, however inane they may seem to you. It's their space and you should be respectful of that. For example, I'd prefer if you took your shoes off in my house, because I hate sweeping and also don't want to damage the floors. Guests in my home go to the bathroom to check their cell phones, which I find hilarious. I'm only trying to help you recognize your addiction, guys. You'll be okay without it for a couple of hours, I promise. There are no acceptable reasons why anyone who has made previous plans to hang out with me at my house must have their cell phone readily available, except if maybe the babysitter had to take the kid to the hospital or someone has died (and if someone is dead, they'll still be dead when you get the message a few hours later). But I digress.

I can't think of an example of etiquette that does not fall into the first category that we follow for any reason other than that is what we were taught was the way things were done. Is there a logical reason for behaving as I'm told? If there is, I'll do it. But if it's just because it's the "right" way to do things, according to some archaic and/or arbitrary "rule," well, frankly, fuck that. Life's too short to spend worrying about what fork to use (work from the outside in).