Friday, May 25, 2012

No wonder lawyers are the butt of jokes

On Monday, I sent an email on behalf of my parents to their (now former) landlord, requesting the return of their deposit.

I receive an angry email chain written by him and his lawyer describing our request as being ludicrous since he had to pay the bailiff to shut us out and he's lost income during this half-month ordeal.

So basically, the landlord increased my parents' rent by 40-percent (which is illegal, I hear), then locked them out with no prior written warning, then threatened to take us to court. When I called his lawyer to confirm all this, he said he'd throw us a lifeline: 

"We keep your deposit, you pay me a thousand dollars, and [my client] will agree to forget about the whole thing."

I was taken aback: That's blackmail! My mom says if he wanted to sue us, why hasn't he gone ahead and done it? He keeps threatening to do it.  When I initially spoke to his lawyer, I brought up that my parents aren't the most tactful because they're immigrants who have trouble with the language, so they can come off cruder than intended. He says, "I'm Hungarian and Hungarians like to bicker. But this is Canada, you have to do it by the standards of this culture."

I know the landlord already treated my parents like crap because they're "stupid immigrants," but they're fighters and don't take things sitting down. 

Initially, I was sympathetic to the landlord because I know how frustrating it is to deal with my parents. But the more I understood the situation, the more I saw it as someone who felt entitled to being a bully and wanted to beat my parents into submission. I don't care how crazy my parents can be, they don't deserve to be treated like this: they know their rights and their way around a courtroom. 

My parents retained a lawyer and plan to sue the shit out of them. "Who does he think he is?" my mom said. "A Chinese loan shark?"

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Stepping stone

Paul and I met with our photography clients today. The woman returned to Toronto from her studies in Australia, while her fiancé drove down from Ottawa to meet us. Although it might've started off as a business chat clarifying contract details, it ended up being a wildly entertaining, extended conversation with new friends. We got along great and she said she'd pass along our business card to her wedding planner.  There might even be an added engagement shoot in our future, if things work out in our favour. (However, they're not scheduled to marry until October.)

We need to push past this summer before we can honestly assess our business potential. The first wedding we've committed to is happening at the end of June, but this couple unexpectedly requested an engagement session scheduled for tomorrow, so there will be something new on the website sooner than we thought.  Hopefully, that will help bring in more Internet traffic.

My Employment Insurance kicked in yesterday, so I'm not nervously counting my pennies anymore as much.  Getting out, meeting new people, even writing on my blog, help alleviate the crushing weight of my depression.  Close friends and strangers tend to describe me using variations of the word "vivacious," but only Paul sees my frailties.   

Last night, we were supposed to meet some friends at a trendy hotel to celebrate the woman's birthday. (They were visiting from Massachusetts.) Paul has been a friend of her boyfriend's since high school. As I was putting on my party dress, I made the mistake of vocalizing my anxieties, which completely took over once we were on the road. By the time Paul started searching for parking, I had to forcibly blink back the onslaught of tears.

So Paul held my hand and kissed me sweetly until I stopped hyperventilating, made an excuse to his friends about not being able to make it, stopped to split a poutine with me, and drove our asses back home. I am grateful to have found a man with a tender heart and infinite patience who loves me as much as I love him. Because while I am the stronger of the two in social situations, he is the anchor that keeps me from floating too far away.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Remember the social contract

Omne trium perfectum. Everything that comes in threes is perfect. This, evidently, includes bad luck.

My parents were locked out of their store last week. The landlord increased the monthly rent from $3K to just over $5K. Although he didn't give them any prior notice, it would be more expensive to duke it out in court. So, after a series of unfortunate events, my parents are now forced to leave with the supervision of a $40/hour bailiff on the premises (a location they've occupied for the past 15 years).

Man, it must feel nice to sit back and evict whomever you like because you're not satisfied with the amount going into your coffers.  All I can do is shake my head and quote Jean-Jacques Rousseau:
"Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains" (Of The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right, 1762).
Is it any wonder that the global protest movements (however undefined and, at times, willfully violent) are rising up in such numbers and frequency? It's as if there is a collective epiphany to rid the powers of their determination to keep lives, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" (Leviathan, 1651).

We are experiencing an unprecedented technological revolution, yet roadblocks are put in place to prevent access to generic drugs, proper education, and environmental preservation.  Instead, these discoveries are implemented to computerize the banking system with little oversight, purchase costly and unnecessary fighter jets, and invested in the fight against wrinkles as if aging is akin to a disease.

Paul says I read too much and need to stop allowing what I read affect my life. I tell him I'm afraid to bring a child into a world that is in such turmoil. He says I'm not even close to being ready to conceive. (True.)  I tell him I'm afraid I will never have the earning power to take care of "it" and and nurture "it" and prevent "it" from becoming a serial killer with a penchant for sniffing women's panties.

He says I should take a nap. I think I need a vacation. But then I start worrying about my personal finances ... and the cycle begins.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Swan Lake: Live!

The Bolshoi Ballet is on the Toronto leg of their North American tour and Paul snagged us a couple of tickets. I've never attended a "real" ballet before (dance recitals, including my own, don't count), so I was super excited to finally get to see one in person.

The good: The costumes were breathtaking. I felt a lump in my throat within minutes of the curtain rising, that's how quickly it moved me to tears. The tutus were sumptuously embroidered with frothy layers of candy-coloured tulle and the dancers splayed their legs in the air like they weighed nothing at all. (Paul and I tried imitating their impossible leaps while walking the dog.) Everything was perfect except ...

The bad: I was disappointed by the director's decision to use blue LED lights during the swan maiden sequences. Not only did the lack of contrast tire out my eyes, but they strobed every time the swans were re-introduced so the dancers had a noticeable red "shadow" around them, like you were looking through 3D glasses.  The blue also flattened the stage so it was difficult to distinguish the dancers and follow what they were doing, since they were all wearing white and the background was a black translucent mesh illustration. In other performances I've seen on TV and elsewhere, the lights did not change the dancers' skin tone and costume.

I was also a little disappointed by the ballerina playing Odette/Odile. She didn't have the precision I expected from the Bolshoi, like current principal dancer Svetlana Zakharova (below):

Granted, Svetlana's abilities are unmatched, but I shook my head a little when my swan tried to hold her position en pointe and kept wobbling to stay upright. I admit I can't even come close to doing what these ladies do, but I also didn't get dressed up to see the world renowned ballet company showcase poor balance.

I mean, check out Svetlana playing the black swan:

The video quality's not great, but you can see the precision in each move. What I saw today was someone who looked very tired. Although people shouted in approval when she completed the infamous 32 fouettés, again I couldn't help noticing the wobbling. I was expecting more of this:

Moral of the story: Blue lights make me grumpy!!!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Thoughts about the economy

My friend Jon asked me to explain to him the role of credit rating agencies in the global economy.  It got me thinking: I sure have a lot to say about the global economy even without a finance degree.

I posted this video on my Facebook wall last night and commented that, "it has become more apparent than ever why people need to opt out and live simply. The Greeks are right to fight against complacency and eternal servitude. If increasingly austere measures are the trade-off for more loans, then it's time to revert back to the feudal system and call a spade a spade."

The Northern Hemisphere was thisclose to an economic catastrophe back in 2008, yet Canada's Tories think our slightly more regulated banking system shields us from the worst of the storm. But as that video details (her dad knows good PR!), Canada is at the mercy of private banks, too.  Although credit is an integral component of modern-day capitalism, why must they be doled out by banks with investment branches created for the sole purpose of making more money? It boggles the mind how companies are capable of quickly moving billions of dollars across borders and how quickly they can lose billions of dollars out of sheer stupidity and hubris.

I once scheduled a meeting between Jamie Dimon and my then-boss, which was preceded by a fancy luncheon on Park Avenue in New York City.  I coordinated the trip with another JPMorgan executive and it had the feel of a casual stroll to the Oracle of Delphi (although we all know the real oracle lives in Omaha).  I think my boss went there looking for investors, so I understand the importance of loans to help build and expand businesses (empires?), but must they be so excessive and destructive to the point of enslavement?

Only twelve years into the new century and the whole world has run afoul. It really is a shameful time we live in. On a personal level, I am taking jobs out of desperation, which atrophy the skills I was trained to do. On a macro level, the European Union is on the brink of breaking apart due to the unchecked greed and naive optimism of those fluent in jargon. Everywhere you look, youth employment is pitiful (though there's no shortage of Baby Boomers and Gen X'ers arguing laziness is the cause).

Canada's Finance Minister Jim Flaherty spoke out recently about putting strict conditions on Employment Insurance -- yes, insurance that employees and their employers pay into. He seems to think it's a government welfare program. Hey, Jim? Rather than forcing people to take jobs that are across the country for shitty pay, why don't you increase the minimum wage so people don't have to rely on desperate measures? What an SOB.

This is Canada, for fuck's sake! The land of hockey, maple syrup, and... uh, political cronyism, apparently.  I can't believe this is the country I grew up in: The authoritarian rhetoric, the corporate shenanigans, the anti-environmental discourse, and the place where wealthy investors (rather than immigrants with actual skills) are welcomed.  Ugh ...

As general as this sounds, I've always maintained the 1980s is to blame. Those were the formative years for people now in charge and its values -- work hard, play hard -- stayed with them long past its expiration date.

New blog

I've been editing Paul's blog entries since its inception, but now I'm helping him write entries, too. Here's the link to the first one as a contributor.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Blog facelift?

Paul says my blog template is out-of-date and out-of-shape ("... but charming!"). I kind of like that it's prehistoric in Internet-terms. A former friend designed it for me back when we were in high school. I wonder where he is now? Making millions, probably (see: Arty Ziff).

It's sort of tragic (and frugal!) that I've kept this journal going for so long, using it to work out my myriad issues instead of expensive therapy (coincidentally, Paul's dad is a psychiatrist). Speaking of Paul's dad, he thinks it's stupid that young people need university degrees nowadays to be an office bitch. "Why do you need to go to school to be a secretary?" he asked, not expecting an answer.

"They're called receptionists/coordinators/assistants nowadays," I said. "I just saw an ad requiring a college or university degree to be a babysitter."

Paul says his parents are getting more and more impatient with him since all their friends' children are moving on with their lives. (His cousin already has two kids.) My mom calls me nearly everyday, pleading with me to go back to school: "Employers will respect you more. Make mommy happy, go to law school!" Oh yeah? Let me jump right on that. Sign me up for more short-term fixes and long-term burdens.

My best friend, LL, is currently in NYC working at a corporate law firm to pay off her debt incurred at Harvard. She plans to quit in a year or two to pursue more human rights-related cases. (That world is so beyond my sphere of experience, it's as if I'm reading a sci-fi synopsis stored in a particularly strange-looking book jacket.)  Anyway, she said she met up with alumnae from her alma mater and these ambitious ladies all had graduate degrees. (Please hold the side of surprise.)

"Maybe you want to think about getting one?" she suggested. The thing is, these women are all professionals and getting another degree is simply another accepted (expected?) convention on the road to, I dunno, ultimate power? World domination? A water tower filled with jewels and gold coins? (Hell if I know what goes on behind those shiny mahogany doors and Prada dressing rooms.)

I know everyone means well, but it's difficult for me to reconcile my belief system and the one based on an implicit paradigm that equates good grades with personal success. I did well in school, but a 3.8 GPA could not have done less for me. (Maybe life would've been different if I rounded that shit up: "You do good in school?" "4.0, sir." "Here's a handful of money, meet me on my yacht.")

My sister is dropping out of university soon. At first, our family cut her some slack because her friend died in a freak accident the summer before freshman year. However, this is her second year and her grades just aren't picking up. (Funny, 'cause she had the grades to get into this prestigious school.) She does the readings (and I believe her), but nothing's clicking. She didn't have the marks to stay in her major and only Geography would accept her when she switched (my mom insisted that she get a degree, any degree at this point). But even that isn't helping her stay on track. She's terrified of telling our parents.

I told her, Fuck it, you're not meant for university.  I know she's done some event planning and enjoyed doing it, so I told her to use her student loans to get a college certificate for that and start her own damn business. "That way," I said, "you don't have to take shit from no one." (Granted, she has a lot more tolerance for shit-taking/-talking than I do.)  I think it's better for her anyway. Her people-pleasing prowess was getting on my fuckin' nerves. It was rendering her impotent in making her own choices and turned her into an arrogant, mouthy know-it-all (oh right, a teenager).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

We have pro-lifers in Canada, too!

Paul and I saw this billboard last week when we made a pilgrimage to Justin Bieber's hometown. We both did a double take. It's not the sort thing you commonly see in the big city, but I guess it's blasé out in rural Ontario? 

I don't agree with the message (really? The Holocaust?), but you have to admit he's better than Don Draper in knocking out a message. All that sign needs are some glitter stars to send it back to Geocities, circa '98. Hear that Tourism Canada? Here's evidence that the Great White North lets loons be loons! Sell it!

P.S. We also went to an alpaca farm. Sooo cute! We call this one Bob Marley.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Christian Dior - "Secret Garden"

Although Chanel has over-referenced "Last Year at Marienbad" (1961) in recent campaigns and collections, Dior's fresh take is modern and commercial.  It's also a nice introduction to the clean lines headed for Dior under Raf Simons's creative leadership.

Depeche Mode was an inspired choice of music, although the band was probably selected for its name as the association is too cute to be a coincidence.

Job search

I had a meeting with a recruiter yesterday about a proofreading opening at a newswire service. The pay was shit and she was trying to be slick. "I have a hard time reading you," the lady mentioned at one point. "I can usually see where I stand with people, but you're very focused." Yeah, I'm focused about not getting screwed!

Later that evening, I turned down the gig. Don't you hate it when you're getting fucked and they tell you it's an opportunity? Like, lady, don't tell me I get full benefits; just give me more money so I can eat. "This is a place you start your career," she repeatedly claimed, like it was making her wet every time she lied through her teeth. I asked about high turnover and she reached for her glass, quickly shifting her eyes away from me. Judge Judy says you're talking baloney!

I'm looking for jobs, but I'm also being more selective. I don't mind a little bit of administrative work, but women tend to be grouped together as super organized keeners and I'm not built for that.  (Seriously, when do you ever see men filing papers and baking muffins for the whole staff?)  I don't know how many times I've seen my bosses receive cakes and candies from promotion hungry cronies.  Can't do it, I just can't play that game. Makes me nauseous, likely gives me gas, and reminds me how much I don't belong in the restrictive corporate hierarchy.  (That, or I haven't found a job that allows for much, if any, autonomy.)

I've been editing Paul's entries on his photoblog lately.  I enjoy it because he writes like he's submitting a Ph.D thesis, so I help him dumb it down.  It puts my skills to good use, and I get to do whatever I want without obeying some incompetent overlord. (Except Paul's pretty dreadful at remembering to do stuff too, but at least I can withhold sex. Kidding!)

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Another stint in unemployment

I got fired from my job as an executive assistant. Again. This time, I was at least given a reason.  My boss made a request for six Comic Con tickets.  Matt, our LA contact, told me he had permission to ask our former parent company for only one or two (since it was embarrassing enough to crawl back to them for help). She responds: "We're an animation studio and we can't get six tickets for me? I want six tickets!"  (This trip wasn't even business related.)

So I wrote back the now-infamous email: "[My boss] is adamant that she wants 6 (!!!) tickets. Since I don't have a firm grasp of the limitations/obstacles you're facing, would you mind speaking to [her] directly? I tried to explain that registration ended in February, but she's insisting …"

Matt got mad at her, sent my email to our company prez, who sent a nasty email back reprimanding her for her behaviour. In the crossfire, I was fired because my email was "disrespectful" and thus, disloyal. It didn't help matters that when I, upon her request, forwarded my email to her, I edited out the last sentence in fear of offending her (as she is sensitive to real and perceived slights) and my omission was easily discovered.

I had a feeling that I was signing my own proverbial death warrant when I sent that email because, although relatively benign, it was clear my contempt for her was struggling to escape in nearly all my daily correspondences. The whole studio secretly calls her a "3-year-old with a hand grenade," a perfect descriptor of her childish tyranny ever since she was promoted.

When she broke the news to me, she also said we didn't "click" and hadn't "clicked" in a long time. In my defense, it's hard to develop chemistry with someone so self-absorbed and narcissistic. Although in her defense, my work had been slipping lately and I was making stupid mistakes.  Part of it was because I was dissatisfied with my job: the description had changed drastically after she got her raise. I was more her personal assistant (e.g. cleaning out old food and dirty utensils from her desks and running errands) than an executive assistant (e.g. production-related work).  Simply put, I was bored and didn't make an effort to improve. (I was searching for jobs on company time for a couple of weeks by then.)


Paul received his acceptance into a business mentorship program today. Basically, it means the organization has found a match for him in the community who he'll meet once a month and produce a report for every month for six months. I only know of one entrepreneur in my circle of friends (and we're only acquaintances), so I think this will be valuable guidance for us as a photography venture.

Every time I look at a list of career possibilities, I become restless, anxious, and scared. I know there are no shortage of people who hate their jobs or don't have one, but for me, it's an internal ordeal. I was reading the recent Vanity Fair excerpt about Barack Obama's early life after graduating from Columbia University and it was so relatable! He was also drifting from job to job that paid the bills but held no meaning until life grabbed him by the balls and took him to Chicago (where the first Black mayor was elected earlier that year) and the city had a need for community organizers.

I feel like maybe getting fired is that sign; the clouds opening up and the angels crying, "Hallelujah!" My job wasn't difficult (my boss was, but not the job) and I know people at that company who had way bigger responsibilities. And yet ... I couldn't hold onto it. Maybe I'm not meant to hold on to it - I wasn't happy anyway.