Working for Staples no longer

Fernando working on the NASCA report

Today, my tenure at Staples came to an end. It’s a thrilling turn of events because, with any luck, this will also be my departure from the whole world of entry level jobs. The next time when I have a space open for employment, I will have finished the first year of my degree at Oxford and (I think, I hope, I pray) will be able to get some kind of thinking job in the UK.

Immediately after work, I met with Fernando. First at Tim Horton’s, then at our favourite 24 hour produce shop (on Lonsdale), and finally at my parents’ kitchen table, we pushed the NASCA report forward to version 1-3 and created a new opening segment for it. Tonight and tomorrow, I will finalize the executive summary, while he will write a letter of introduction and produce a cover page. Then, we need only add some photos, tweak the formatting, combine the two sections without screwing up the separate pagination, submit the thing to Allen Sens so he can write an introductory letter, create distinct versions for print and for the web, print and post the thing, and relax. The great majority of the work – I estimate at least 100 hours of reading and writing on my part – is done.

All this was propelled forward tonight by one iced cappuccino of the size bigger than extra large and at least two litres of Earl Grey tea. The latter is strongly reminiscent of late nights in high school, when provincial exams were the most significant thing worrying me. I’ve only just realized how appropriate it was to spend the evening of September 11th writing a report about defence planning. I really appreciate all the hours that Fernando has put into helping me with this document – the only other member of the group who has made a large contribution to the writing or editing process.

I anticipate that Sens will take issue with sections of the report, but thankfully that can actually serve to help us. By saying: “I would never have thought this way, or said these things” he can underline the value, as least insofar as diversity of ideas goes, of having student expeditions like NASCA take place.

Tomorrow night, I am going to a restaurant on Main called Himalaya as part of Kerrie’s visit to Vancouver. I forgot to mention how yesterday, while walking through Fairview on our way to the law faculty, Meaghan and I ran into Kerrie and her husband Nolan beside The Beanery. Their presence definitely also contributed to the dispelling of my sense of Fairview primarily as a menacing place where my ex-roommates might be encountered.

I’ve been meaning for ages to write some appreciative and insightful comments about The Great Fire and I have been writing little notes to myself in my European poet style black lined notebook, but now is not the time for such things.

PS. Anyone who can give me a correct French translation of the following will have my thanks:

The North American Security Cooperation Assessment (NASCA) 2005 Student Tour was made possible through the generous support of the Security Defence Forum Special Projects Fund of the Canadian Department of National Defence. 

Apparently, a single French paragraph is enough to make the report bilingual enough to suit the government. It says something about the state of my intellectual decay that I am not confident about my own attempt to translate the above – confounded by uncertainties about the proper usage of the partitive article.

Farewell to Meaghan Beattie

Meaghan Beattie and I, near Fairview

Today, I passed a fine afternoon on campus with Meaghan Beattie, during which I singularly failed to repair relations between her Windows 2000 computer and the UBC wireless network, though not for lack of hours of half-determined effort. The trip to campus – first in quite a long while – included meanderings to the law school for purposes of returning borrowed materials to Ian and to Staples, for purposes of trying to get wireless networking hardware that didn’t induce massive system instability. Seeing Meaghan was certainly pleasant, in the new surroundings of new abode – the most peripheral of all Fairview units. Amusingly, one of her roommates – Micheal Lions – was a classmate of Nick Sayeg’s in Queensland. We can all now consider his greetings to have been passed along.

For all the drama and sadness that has sometimes pervaded my relationship with Meaghan, she is certainly a fun person with whom to spend time. Her generally upbeat character offset any worries I had about returning to Fairview: a place I now primarily associate with unwanted encounters with my thuggish former roommates and their troglodytic friends.

As if to prove that things can move backwards as well as forwards, I have work at Staples tomorrow. Being back in the mindless business of selling warranties as of 9:45am tomorrow is a less than thrilling prospect. Particularly, since I’ve learned how a few more of the things I’ve been telling customers about products are blatant lies. For instance, the contrast ratio and response time ratings on LCD monitors, are about as dodgy as page-per-minute speeds for inkjet printers. The only product I can sell with confidence is the Canon A510 camera, which I have been enjoying immensely. That despite the near-impossibility of getting sharp photos in low light without submitting your subject to the indignity of a flash.

I left too late from Meaghan’s place in Fairview, hurrying to try to meet my family for dinner at the Foundation Lounge. My tardy traverse of Broadway was slowed appreciably when the 99 B-Line bus I was on hit a car that was pulling out, relieving it of the driver’s side mirror. A few minutes of anxiousness and paperwork followed, before we resumed out eastward motion. In the end, dinner was had at a mediocre Greek/Italian pizza place, prior to driving over to Granville Island to see our Fringe Festival Show.

While extremely popular (I am sure more people saw this one performance of The TJ Dawe Set than saw all performances of Portia, My Love put together), the show was neither exceedingly commendable nor worthy of extensive criticism. A one-man act founded on observational humour, hyperbole, and self-deprecation, it certainly got a good response from the audience. Personally, I tend to find performances based on the awkward and somewhat uncomprehending narrator to be tiresome at times, though this was a well accomplished example of that genre.

Two days into the MSN ban, I’ve been doing a fairly good job of channeling the reflex that would normally have sent me online elsewhere. I think it’s a good trend to perpetuate. I’d rather be an MSN Astrid, whose infrequent and brief appearances in instant messaging fora are accompanied by pleased surprise, than just another endless lurker, kept wedded to a keyboard by a constant low-level chatter.

There are now six more days before my departure party and ten more days before I actually depart. It saddens me to realize that I will probably not see Kate during that time.

Happy Birthday Nick Ellan

Lauren Priest with a gun

Today was spent ponderously, in pursuit of refreshed memories. Camera in hand, I walked through the village and up the familiar but neglected path to my high school. Initially unwilling to go inside, I just circled it warily, walking first to the corner store that gave character to our inter-class breaks and then back up to Cleveland Dam – noting with alarm how low the water level in the reservoir is: a fact only evident by day.

Later, on the sofa in the kitchen and by window-light, I read several chapters of The Great Fire, finally passing the half-way mark. Somehow, the tone of the book has changed for me. With a stack of reclaimed books in my room, I feel a new urgency for finishing it, tinged with shame at having taken so long so far. With the book now in my mind more as a task to be accomplished and less as a thing to extract beauty and understanding from, the prose flows much more rapidly from eyes to brain.

Tonight, we are to celebrate Nick Ellan’s birthday through drinks and general socializing at his parents’ house. It is my hope that Sarah will come to join us. The lack of her company has been more biting than I would have expected for myself, though all such thoughts are heightened in the anticipation of my departure.

Nick’s party was relatively low key, with Jonathan, Neal, Maya, Emerson, and Lauren turning up. While I shot a large number of megabytes of images, I am not in the best shape for judging which among them best captures the event. I shall therefore provide one and allow those with sturdy imaginations to extrapolate the rest. 

Many congratulations to Nick for another successful orbit.

Tomorrow night, I am going for dinner with my family and to a play. Since my mother will not be in Vancouver for my Oxford pre-departure party on the 17th, we will be having a familial celebration tomorrow, albeit sans Mica. We are seeing The TJ Dawe Box Set at the Arts Club Theatre, heavily influenced by the good review it received from The Georgia Straight. Beforehand, we will be having dinner at the vegetarian Foundation Lounge at 7th and Main. 

PS. Look how ancient, how medieval, Wadham College looks.

PPS. I decided, less than a week ago, to stop eating factory farmed meat. The reasons are threefold. In short, it is unsustainable as well as ethically and hygienically repulsive. The newest theory about the emergence of BSE (see Alan Colchester in The Lancet) powerfully underscores the third point.

Only, from the long line of spray / Where the sea meets the moon-blanch’d land

Astrid on Cleveland Dam

Down the long and unlit road to Atkinson Point, along the West Vancouver shorefront, and across Capilano Dam, I walked with Frank and Astrid tonight. Initially unthemed, the night evolved into a kind of whistle-stop trip around some of the more interesting natural, but accessible, bits of North and West Vancouver.

Most poignant, definitely, was sitting on the stone shorefront south of Marine Drive in West Vancouver – across Burrand Inlet from Kitsilano. A strong wind was blowing from the Northwest, accompanied by crashing waves that sprayed us periodically with salt and moisture. Looking at the lights across the sea, as well as at the dim and indistinct figures beside me, I felt strangely whole – as though nothing in myself was lacking. It’s an odd feeling to derive from shared tranquility and communal solitude, but it was definitely the over-riding emotion.

To have Astrid arrive at my doorstep with Frank in tow was less unexpected than one would suspect. Actually, the threefold dynamic of the situation seemed somehow more stable than the experience of spending time alone with Astrid has been. At the very least, I felt less compelled to comprehend and discuss the evening as it was unrolling.

A plan is now afoot to climb Grouse Mountain at some point before my departure. To me, it seems fitting to leave Vancouver behind after walking from the sea to the top of a mountain. Hopefully at least partly in the company of Astrid, this I shall do.

Saying goodbye to North Vancouver

Fruit on our dining room table

I’ve determined that the one and only reason I get more work done at the Capilano Library than at home is the spottiness of the wireless network there. As such, I am imposing an MSN ban upon myself for the next indeterminate period. (I even removed it from the Dock in OS X.) Playing with the new digital camera is quite enough recreation for the moment and I thankfully have a clutch of blogs whose daily reading keeps me up to date on what many of you are doing.

Aside from reading, I took a walk up to the Village today largely for purposes of photographic documentation. It’s remarkable how places I have been many hundreds of times, I have never bothered to commit to film. It seems appropriate now to commit them to a few bits of hard drive space before I leave for England, as a substitute for all of the albums I shall be leaving behind. I’ve likewise been conducting a photographic survey of my parents’ house and environs.

Tonight, it seems that I shall be going out somewhere with Astrid. Having not seen her since the beginning of the summer, I have relatively little idea of what to expect.

Sunday, Fernando and I are meeting to produce the final version of the NASCA report, to be passed on to Sens so that he can write an introductory letter. I’ve been disappointed to receive so little input from group members regarding the contents of the draft report. While it is based on the hundred pages of so of handwritten notes I produced during the various de-briefs, I still expected there to be at least a bit of discussion about its contents. I suppose it’s not unlike the group projects I’ve frequently directed in the past – where, as long as the work gets done, people will feel little impetus to make a contribution.

PS. Night’s Sindark Nave took another big step towards total disappearance today.

PPS. Those interested in cloak and dagger stuff should take a look at this fascinating article. Link courtesy of Bruce Schneier.

News on Multiple Fronts

Today started out as the most trying day ever at Staples. I had three blatantly rude and incredibly aggressive customers in a row. I tried to hide from them; they hounded me; they complained to managers; the managers sympathized with me. One note to those people out there who feel that shouting abuse at a minimum wage salesperson with no commission will get you faster/better service: you may want to re-examine your reasoning. Luckily, all the ugliness ended by about one. Today is the first day when many West Vancouver private schools are open, so it was a never ending parade of ties and pleated skirts this afternoon. It was a spectacle that I observed in a purely journalistic context, as your faithful blogging correspondent.

This morning, I also discovered that GMail had cruelly concealed an absolutely vital message at the bottom of a neglected ‘conversation.’ My increasingly desperate plea to know what kind of financial documentation Wadham College wanted was answered on Friday. Today, I duly sent them promises of C$87,600 and a healthy kidney – if required. Anyone who has spoken with me lately will know how much anxiety the outstanding issue of my application status had been causing. Not being able to compile and send the message until I got home at eight was very trying, even though I know they won’t be up and reading emails over there until at least midnight tonight.

The next two pieces of excitement relate to my walk home. Firstly, I walked while speaking with Viktoria – who I’ve been without the conversation of for far too long. Since last we spoke, she has left her old job as a provincial bureaucrat and taken up a new one organizing conferences and things for U of T. Amusingly, Tristan will almost certainly end up going to several of the events she coordinates. Since I spoke with her last, her mother also got married – during the Labour Day weekend. While I’ve never actually met anyone from her family, it was good to hear her happy and excited about the whole matter.

Also during that walk, I noticed that the Capilano Road Staples had a Canon A510 going for $229, due to an old sign still being up. Hearing Tristan praise the device yesterday as the best camera he has owned (and this is a Nikon user talking, mind you) definitely sealed the deal in my mind. Since I was resigned to buying one anyway, getting one for $50 less than I expected was an obvious choice. It is equipped with a 512MB card now, and I will purchase a case for the thing when I see an appropriate one. It’s nothing beside Nick Sayeg‘s uber-fancy new Digital Rebel, but it will allow me to photoblog from Oxford. I am planning to put up a photo or so per day for the first while I am there, to introduce whoever cares to see to the city, even as I am discovering it for myself. A very fine piece of equipment: my EOS Elan 7N will definitely also be coming along, for those film-photography type moments.

During my lunch break today, I made the move official: I shifted my subscription to The Economist to: care of Wadham College, Oxford. Sarah Pemberton tells me that such messages will find their way to a graduate student pigeon hole for me.

PS. No word in a long while for Kate or Linnea. I suppose they are very busy or sans internet right now.

The kind of peak that never comes again

Items added to ‘to do’ list today: 18 so far
Items removed: 3 so far

That said, I have been able to set up my old computer for my mother’s usage while I will be in Oxford – complete with Skype. If my mother is able to use Skype, everyone else should be able to as well. So, if you feel inclined to actually talk with me during the next two years, it’s worth the free download. My username is ‘sindark’ of course.

As presently scheduled, I have work tomorrow, on the seventh, and on the eleventh. Other than that, Staples has not deemed me worth booking. Tomorrow, we have been told again and again, is the busiest day of the year. After that, I suppose most of us will become redundant as sales plummet and the hours in those florescent aisles become empty again. After such a stretch at eight hours or more per day, it will be a nice break, though it won’t help with the task of paying for Oxford. I am looking forward very much to how the lack of work will let me see people like Kate, Meaghan, Sarah, and Sasha. It will also let me formulate my written defence to the Translink fine, sort out banking details, and pack. I am still waiting for my Oxford reading list, though it would be nice to finish The Great Fire and The Metaphysical Club before I get into it.

The NASCA report is jittering around uncomfortably on the screen in front of me: anxious to develop into a newer form but somehow lacking in the force of direction required to do so. I am hoping a massive tea infusion – since we are out of coffee – will help.

impecunious: having no money, penniless, in want of money

laconic: brief, concise, sententious, affecting a brief style of speech

Whirling Preparations

These last few days at Staples have been by far the busiest I have ever seen there: a circumstance that made Jessica’s brief visit to Vancouver all the more welcome. It’s always pleasant to have the chance to show somebody the more interesting bits of an unfamiliar city – a role I am certainly hoping to play for more than a few friends at Oxford.

Speaking of Oxford, there is much about it that is causing me distress. Given the clear superiority of numbered lists as a way of conveying information, I shall convey them thusly:

  1. The accommodations manager at Wadham College cannot tell me whether I am to live in the College residence in the centre of town, as it is my strong preference to do, or in the Merifield flats about a mile out.
  2. The admissions officer at Wadham can’t even confirm that I have a place in the college, because they now want proof that I can pay for both years.
  3. The admissions officer has not responded to my repeated and increasingly panicked requests to know just what kind of proof they want.
  4. Finances are looking as though they will be extremely tight, even for just the first year. This makes me want to bring as much as I can along with me, but I am restricted to the amount of physical matter I can carry. This includes a bicycle, since I will be ill-equipped to purchase even a used one there.
  5. I need to open a bank account to transfer money into to pay the first of three installments to the college and university, but cannot do so until I arrive.
  6. Nobody seems able to tell me what kind of internet access, if any, I will be able to get in whichever residence I end up in.

This general collection of nervous facts combines poorly with increasingly nerve-wracking days at Staples – with three sets of customers nipping at my heels as I try to serve the requests of a fourth. Also, with the original version of the NASCA report now distributed, all manner of people are simultaneously getting back to me with suggestions for changes, ideas for how the whole document can be reorganized, and generalized demands that I carry on working on the thing. I’d rather have a few friends over to drink scotch and watch Sin City, but such are the pressing demands of life.

Tonight, I mailed off email invitations to my departure party on September 17th. I hope I managed to send them to everyone in Vancouver who I profoundly hope will attend. Since I won’t have any kind of meaningful or well-attended birthday party this year, this party will serve as a surrogate. It will also be a departure party for anyone else who is leaving soon and able to attend: as I hope will be the case for Kerrie.

Returning to the matter alluded to earlier, of Jessica’s visit: it consisted of getting vegetarian Indian food at Yogi’s, where we got enormously faster service than I did the last time I went there, followed by drinks at Subeez (becoming cliche for me these days, but definitely my favourite place downtown) and generalized wandering in the English Bay area. Aside from the single brief time when I met Frank, this was the only time I’ve met someone in person who I had only known of previously online.

This morning, I remember standing at the end of a stone breakwater at Ambleside Beach in the rain, looking out at the morning city landscape. Like looking at Kits from English Bay last night, it was a sight that filled me with preemptive nostalgia: a sense that this is a known and familiar place that it is now appropriate to leave behind. That calm certainty forms an empowering counterpoint to the specific anxieties raised by the actual mechanisms of leaving.

Anyhow, I need to go over the messages I have received about the NASCA report and determine how long, working on the nights between Staples shifts, it will take to get the urgently desired second major draft into the hands of Allen Sens. Hopefully, most of their objections will be fairly quibbling and the linguistic edit which I am very thankful to Meghan for helping to provide, will go smoothly.

PS. At work, I briefly got extremely excited about the prospect of getting a SkypeIn account. The idea behind them is that you get a phone number in an area code of your choice (for me, Vancouver) and people there can call it and be directed to your Skype account. Then, your computer rings and you answer it like a phone call. Aside from a $30 a year fee, nobody pays anything. Unfortunately, the service isn’t available in Canada; apparently, that’s because you cannot use it to call local 911, or so I was told today by a Vonage representative touting their equivalent service for $40 a month. Hopefully, that will change in the near future.

Banged out while at work

After going on for a span of days and – at least once – reaching some disastrous low in awareness, all the elements of life become hazy. Walking about, avoiding obstacles with a kind of reckless difficulty, you feel that you are half-way sick: with some node of sickness deep inside you not the mush you expect, but half frozen. Memory becomes faithless as dreams become indistinct from actions.

Conversations within dreams have always been unsettling reminders of how our minds can create our friends, or at least mimic them. It’s double unexected and unsettling to wake from a ten minute dream while at work, in which the other person who had been conversing has long since passed from your life.

While Mica’s party did not run overlate, it caused less ruin within the house than it did between he and I. I am unwilling to abrogate the role of the enforcer of the law.

My frustrations all collapse down to an anger at impunity and those who act on its basis.

Without authority

Mica has about 25 random friends over tonight. Also, I failed to take into account how Viktoria Prokhorova’s request for me to call her between 8:00pm and 11:00pm was based on the Toronto timezone.

Suffice it to say, things are more than a bit shambolic tonight. With my mother away again, I would expect no less.