Book review: The Guy Who Pumps Your Gas Hates You

The Guy Who Pumps Your Gas Hates YouThe Guy Who Pumps Your Gas Hates You by Sean Trinder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sean Trinder’s The Guy Who Pumps Your Gas Hates You is part of NeWest Press’ Nunatak First Fiction Series. As stated in the introduction, these books are “specially selected works of outstanding fiction by new western writers.” This is Trinder’s first novel, and though the author draws heavily on his own experience and background (“write what you know,” indeed) he does it with a sure hand, authentically (and as the title makes clear, humorously) capturing the angst of suburban youth.

The short novel tells the story of Brendan, a 20 year old living in the small Manitoba town of Oakbank. Brendan is at that awkward age between teenager and adult, where life is open to possibilities and the fear of making the wrong choice–or sometimes any choice–can lead to paralysis and inaction, dooming yourself to a life of mediocrity and failed ambitions.

As the story begins, Brendan acknowledges that he is quite good at pumping gas, then admits that no one should ever become quite good at pumping gas. From there he details his daily life, which consists of working at the gas station, getting into regular arguments with his father (his mother having long-since divorced and moved to Toronto), hanging out with his friends, smoking, drinking, and yearning to have a career as a writer. Also, more smoking. Lots and lots of smoking. Export Gold is almost another character here.

Brendan grows increasingly frustrated by his life, feeling trapped in his hometown, and seeks escape by taking an evening writing class. There he meets the “older” woman Anne, who is 27. When you’re 20 every adult approaching 30 seems old. They hit it off and become friends and then start dating. There are ups and downs.

The same happens with Brendan’s friends. They enjoy spending their weekends drinking, smoking pot and drinking more. They insist it is normal and proper for guys in their early 20s to do these things, but Brendan begins to bristle at the routine.

Eventually everything comes to a head–the relationship with Anne sours over a revelation, a party with his friends goes sideways, a fight with his father ends with him wondering if he’ll be kicked out of the house.

At times the story almost reads like a diary, with Brendan’s first person voice providing a level of intimacy beyond just telling what happens. You find out what size his penis is, which comes out of his confession that he doesn’t like talking about sex. It sounds weird, but it works.

As a coming of age story, The Guy Who Pumps Your Gas Hates You doesn’t do anything especially new, but the tone is consistent and witty, and though Brendan occasionally has, you know, opinions, he never comes off as obnoxious or unlikable. The spartan scenes work surprisingly well in sketching out the life of the protagonist as he reaches a crossroads.

My only real complaint is that some of the bones here could use more meat. A number of plot elements hint at more–such as the increasingly shady behavior of the drug dealer contact–but are left unexplored.

Overall, though, this is an entertaining and engaging debut. I’m jealous. My first novel was a half-baked piece of science fiction. Not even half-baked. Maybe one-quarter baked, then dropped on the floor when I took it out of the oven, after which the dog ate it, threw it up, then ate it again.

As someone who was once an angsty 20 year old myself, I related to Brendan’s struggles, even if my own path involved a lot less sex, drugs and rock and roll. I’m not entirely sure how well someone who was not an angsty 20 year old guy would appreciate Brendan’s trials and tribulations, but it’s ultimately a sweet story. Recommended.

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Gum Gum people, toothbrushes and bananas

More scans of my doodlings from days of yore!

The Gum Gum People were small, pink elastic beings that giggled a lot (specifically “HEE! HEE!”) and in a handwritten and unfinished screenplay for what would have been the best Gum Gum People movie of all time, they plot to take over Earth, without having any real malicious intent.

I occasionally doodled out the GGP (if I write it as The GPP it looks a bit like a funky band name) and below are a few sketches that appeared to be a part of a series explaining them, perhaps as a primer before people went to see Invasion of the Gum Gum People. By the third sketch (not included here because it’s little more than a few errant lines) I either ran out of ideas, enthusiasm or pencils.

Sketch 1:

Gum Gum racing
It just seemed obvious that Gum Gum people would race on magic bananas.

Sketch 2:

Gum Gum toothbrush
I have never found gum on my toothbrush.

The GGP getting scratched looks positively delighted. It almost makes me want to try using a toothbrush the next time I’m itchy.

You may have noticed the first drawing looks a lot dirtier. This is because it was on the top of the drawing pad and picked up something like 20 years of crud that the scanner accurately captured. Hooray for technology. (I chose not to clean it up because cleaning up art can have unintended consequences.)

An ear-ie feeling

Today I went to the doctor because my efforts to remove wax from my left ear failed, though I did manage to loosen whatever was in there (wax, actually) enough to make it even more annoying than before.

My doctor recalled the old days of the giant metal syringe, which I remember being used on me once as a child. The fact that I vividly recall this is a testament to how awful an experience it was to have water hosed into my ear via a giant metal syringe.

The procedure today was done using a much smaller tube-like device that does the same thing (shoot warm water into the ear) but in a gentler manner. The procedure required four steps to complete: hose the ear, use a plastic picker thing to hook what was jostled loose (it sounds gross and trust me, it was), then the same two steps repeated.

The two chunks of wax were not insignificant in size. The doctor noted the skin inside the ear looked irritated due to these mini-boulders being lodged in there for the better part of a year.

I wouldn’t be surprised if I have nightmares tonight with the two balls of wax appearing as evil twins to torment me.

And while I can’t say I can hear better out of the left ear now, it definitely feels better.

Stupid wax.

Gently provoking fellow actors, 1983 edition

Way back in the olden days of 1982 I attended Malaspina College. I was fresh out of high school, full of spunk and determined to make a career of being a waiter. My training took the form of completing the two-year theater program at Malaspina.

Ho ho.

I had a change of heart in the second year and never finished, alas, so my career as an actor was nipped in the bud while I was still a teenager. Who knows what fame and riches I left behind? (If someone hands me a time machine I would be willing to go back and find out, even if the results were a reverse sort-of It’s a Wonderful Life and I experience the sad trombone of having made the wrong call back then.)

None of this is especially relevant to what I am about to show, except that back in that first year we mounted a spring production of Oh, What a Lovely War. There were 14 performances in all, which was about a dozen more than I was accustomed to from high school plays, and we all had multiple parts as the cast of dozens only had about a dozen people to fill the roles. I had seven parts, ranging from a German soldier cut down by machine gun fire, to a Scottish ghillie, a Belgian general and several others I dimly remember. The general wore a very tall and silly hat. The German soldier was a logistical challenge. I and three others walked onstage, got cut down by machine gun fire, collapsed dead to the ground and then had to sneak offstage while the rest of the cast paraded in front of us to begin the final musical number. But wait, there’s more! Not only did we have to sneak offstage, we also had to change costumes and then bring up the rear of the line that originally started in front of us.

Live theater can be awesome like that.

One scene involved the famous suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst handing out pamphlets in a town square. The actors also worked on props (I helped turn a rubber chicken into a duck for the scene with the Scottish ghillie) and several cast members produced lovingly handcrafted pamphlets which I kept after the show closed. Most of them looked like this (excuse the water damage–I have no idea where it came from, but these things are nearly 35 years old):

Great War pamphlet

The spelling of “suffragette” varied according to whoever wrote a particular pamphlet.

A couple of the pamphlets were infused with what one might call a more modern sensibility (Mary was a cast member).

Great War toaster pamphlet

Finally, there was one pamphlet that everyone secretly dreaded–and thrilled–to receiving, because it was absurd and prone to making you laugh, which was wholly inappropriate for the very serious scene in which the pamphlets were handed out.

Great War McRib pamphlet

This worked even better because back then the McRib was still relatively new so making fun of it still had a certain novelty value.

Trying to make fellow actors break up onstage is, of course, a long tradition in theater. A friend, for reasons unknown, described this as “scoobing.” I don’t know why, but that seems to work.

Looking over this stuff kind of makes me want to go back into theater. Mostly it makes me wish I was 18 again. The world was fantastic and fun when I was 18. I got to wear funny hats and pretend to get shot and sing and dance.

I also actually liked the McRib. But I was 18, so I not only still had that teenage sense of immortality, I also had no taste. See also: my hair (which was cut short for the play, making it the first decent haircut I’d had in a decade).

Trail assessment: Mostly no snow, running possible but possibly unpleasant

I went a-walking today down the Brunette River trail and counter-clockwise halfway around Burnaby Lake to Still Creek. The purpose was to see if there was still too much (damn) snow to make running infeasible.

The verdicts:

Brunette River trail: Long sections are now bare but three others feature enough snow to still span the entire width of the trail. In some cases, it’s possible to skirt along the edges and avoid the snow, in a few spots it is unavoidable.

The trail (which technically is a gravel service road) is in bad shape now, riddled with puddles and muddy, soft dirt lined with long ruts from bikes passing through. These ruts have all filled with water.

Overall this would be okay for running but not great. The last of the three snowy stretches is at the far end of the trail, an especially awkward spot.

Burnaby Lake: The first km has a few snow patches but they’re relatively short. The second km is for some reason significantly worse, with a lot of patches that are unavoidable. The remainder is almost completely bare save for the straight stretch just before getting to Still Creek, which features a somewhat avoidable stretch of snow. In all areas, the snow is slightly mushy or pliable, making it a little slippery but not treacherously so.

Overall this seems better than the Brunette River trail. I am actually mulling a run after the write-in tomorrow. Timing-wise it should work because the write-in ends at 2 and by the time I get to the lake it’s likely to be past 3 p.m, which still gives me plenty of time to run before the sun sets at 5:37 p.m. It looks to be soggy and cool with a high of 7ºC but hey, it’s not a treadmill!

Also, two days of the extended weather forecast are calling for snow overnight as temperatures drop below freezing. A third day calls for 3-7 cm of ice pellets. It’s like a parody of the weather. A very bad and unwelcome parody.

 

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Book review: Little Heaven

Little HeavenLittle Heaven by Nick Cutter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Little Heaven pays homage to both early Stephen King and low-budget gorefest movies of the 70s and early 80s. Rather than turn the “camera” away from a gruesome attack, pseudonymous author Nick Cutter zooms in to capture every detail. At times it seems like every other person, creature, and object in the story is “pissing blood.”

Shifting between 1966 and 1980 (the present day for the novel as written), Little Heaven tells the story of a self-styled Jim Jones who follows a voice from San Francisco into the wilderness of New Mexico to construct a religious compound where he and his followers live simple, God-fearing lives.

Except for all the monsters lurking in the woods, most of which seem to be amalgamations of various woodland creatures squashed together into multilegged, multi-headed horrors, all the better to bite, tear and create incidents of pissing blood.

In the 1966 portion, which comprises the bulk of the novel, a woman whose nephew is part of the commune hires three mercenaries/assassins to check out Little Heaven and see if the boy is okay. The three are broadly-drawn, one a black Englishman who all but “pip pip Cheerio’s” his way through the story, a feisty young woman with a sharp tongue and Roland DesChain from The Dark Tower. Whoops, I mean Micah Shugrue. A few of his rougher edges get sanded down in the 1980 part but the language and mannerisms of the character straddle a fine line between homage and rip-off. I didn’t mind that much since Roland is a terrific character to emulate, and his cadence and speech is perfect for a stoic and eminently practical sort of person.

This is old-fashioned horror through and through. The bad guys are very bad, the horrors are nigh-insanity inducing and have no small appetite for removing limbs from anyone they can catch up to, but while there are hints and suggestions, there’s ultimately no real explanation for why they exist and where they are from. They just are. I again didn’t mind this because it’s better than Cutter’s approach to the end of his novel The Deep, which overexplained to the point of undercutting much of the preceding story.

I was least fond of the 1980 section and here’s why: if you remove it in its entirety, the 1966 part still tells a complete story. The 1980 events implausibly set up a “noble sacrifice” but it’s so superfluous to the overall story that it has no emotional resonance.

The whole thing also felt longer than necessary, the equivalent of one of those low-budget gorefests running three hours. Cutting the 1980 segment would make the story tighter and, I think, better.

This is my least-favorite of the three Cutter novels I’ve read (the others being The Troop and aforementioned The Deep) but it’s still a decent read. For someone craving old school horror it may do the trick.

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Run 480: Running on a treadmill uphill (both ways)

Run 480
Average pace: 7:13/km
Location: Canada Games Pool (treadmill)
Distance: 4.38 km
Time: 31:41
Weather: n/a
Temp: n/a
Wind: n/a
BPM: 155
Stride: n/a
Weight: 165.3 pounds
Total distance to date: 3790 km
Devices/apps: Apple Watch, iPhone (for music) and Matrix treadmill (for running)

Only four days between treadmill runs this time, though I was originally planning on using the elliptical. Alas, all of the machines were occupied and I was too impatient to wait a minute or two for someone to decide that soaking in the swirl pool beat exercise.

Instead of choosing Manual or 5K Run I went with Fat Burn, same as I choose on the elliptical. As the run progressed (inclination set to 1, speed set to 6) I felt fine…for awhile. My ankles started to feel sore again, though not as much as the previous time. But then I started to feel really tired. I mean, really weirdly tired in a way I never feel during a run.

I dialed the speed down from 6 to 5.5 and eventually all the way to 4, which is a fast walk. I pondered.

I ramped the speed up a few times after, briefly, but switched off between jogging and walking until the end and I didn’t even cheat (mostly) during the cooldown period, which slows the treadmill to a walking pace. This also explains my silly slow average pace of 7:13/km.

It was during one of the running parts when it felt very hard that it dawned on me what was happening–and how dumb I was to not realize it. The hard parts were uphill. I verified this by tapping on the incline control and saw that it was set to 3.5 instead of 1.0 as the good lord intended. Each uphill segment lasted multiple minutes, which is multiple minutes longer than I have ever done uphill running before. It also explains why my ankles were hurting. I am a lousy mountain goat.

Secure in this knowledge, I will never choose Fat Burn again. I’ll burn fat by not eating Twinkies. For treadmill runs, I’ll stick to 5Ks or manual settings in the future.

Easter before Valentine’s? Yes!

Yesterday was February 13, the day before Valentine’s. As I was shopping for groceries I wondered if Easter candy would be butting up against the shelves stuffed with Valentine’s confectionary (Easter is on April 16 this year, over two months from now). I suspected this would be the case–and I was correct. There were chocolate Easter bunnies and candy eggs and other assorted Easter goodies right next to the heart-shaped chocolates.

We are one step closer to uberholiday, when all holidays merge into one giant, continuous celebration. It sounds grand in a hedonistic kind of way but the reality would just be endless ads all year long, an unrelenting assault on the senses (well, more so than usual).

The next step toward uberholiday will be Mother’s Day stuff showing up before Easter. Soon people will buy bunnies for Mother’s Day. Next will be bunnies in heart-shaped baskets for mom. From there will follow a full descent into holiday chaos and madness.

The curiously uneventful exercise bicycle workout

Tonight I decided to finally try an exercise bicycle workout at the Canada Games Pool and I’m still wondering if I did it right.

I know I did the clothing part wrong. Light running shorts do not protect your posterior when sitting on a bicycle seat for half an hour. It got a bit uncomfortable at times, but I was able to shift my tuckus just enough to stave off keister agony.

I chose the fat burn workout and it asked me to set a heart rate target and my age. It defaulted to 112 so I went with that but ended up boosting it several times, topping out at 130–which is still well below my usual BPM when running.

I had to pedal pretty fast to maintain my target but curiously the effort didn’t seem too taxing. I sweated a bit but never felt close to the burn I’ve felt when on the elliptical or treadmill. On the one hand, it was kind of nice. On the other, it didn’t seem I was getting nearly as much out of the half hour invested.

There were level buttons and I assumed they would adjust the resistance (gears, I suppose) but they only offered to change the heart rate target. Maybe next time I’ll just choose manual or quick start. Or just not use the bikes. The pleasantness of being able to sit while working out was offset by how uncomfortable the actual sitting was. I think I may actually prefer the treadmill.

Anyway, here are the minimal stats:

Time: 29:19
BPM: 127
Calories: 247

Writing group week 4: Nice weather and fewer people

Last Sunday there was a raging snowstorm outside and inside the Waves Coffee boardroom on Columbia Street, we were jammed in elbow-to-elbow for The Other 11 Months Write-in.

Today it was sunny and a balmy 10ºC (as it should be in mid-February) and only six showed up and two left early. On the one hand, fewer people is a bit of a bummer. On the other hand, I had plenty of room to stretch out in all directions. And did!

It was also a very quiet group, with church-like silence for nearly the entire three hours, save for a burst of chatter at the start and the tapping of keys throughout. At the end, several agreed it had been quite productive for them, so yay for silence.

I again continued to work through old, unfinished material, focusing today on  Weirdsmith, The Mean Mind and Road Closed. Most of the work was done on Road Closed, as I fully converted it over to Ulysses, breaking each scene out into a separate sheet.

At this point, I’m pretty much done prepping my unfinished projects and have one of two choices for the next write-in:

  1. Pick a project and resume working on it (that is, start producing new material–you know, actual writing)
  2. Start something entirely new.
  3. Bonus: Do neither of the above and just tinker for three hours again.

#3 is going to be tempting but I really need to commit to moving forward on something. Maybe I can conduct a self-poll. Or write a story about indecision. Or both. So many decisions.

Run 479: Treadmill with bonus warm water

Run 479
Average pace: 6:28/km
Location: Canada Games Pool (treadmill)
Distance: 4.56 km
Time: 29:33
Weather: n/a
Temp: n/a
Wind: n/a
BPM: 161
Stride: n/a
Weight: 165.7 pounds
Total distance to date: 3785 km
Devices/apps: Apple Watch, iPhone (for music) and Matrix treadmill (for running)

It’s been 25 days since my last treadmill run and I can’t say I’ve missed the treadmill because I hate it. But tonight it seemed time to renew my passion for disliking it.

The run went without incident, save for forgetting to turn the fan on at the start. I’m not sure why anyone would leave the fan off, the whole place is incredibly humid, which is not really conducive to a comfortable workout, so every little bit helps. Maybe some people are fanophobes. One might say they’re not fans…of fans. Ho ho.

Anyway, I did remember my water bottle and this compensated somewhat. I still felt slow and sluggish (reflected in my pace) and curiously for the first ten minutes or so my ankles were sore, something that never bothers me when running. Odd, and another reason to hate treadmills. Once I warmed up they were fine and they feel fine now, but still, weird. And unpleasant.

I chose the “fat burn” setting and this apparently increases the elevation periodically, which would explain why the run would become much harder at seemingly random intervals. I ramped the incline down a couple of times but kept the speed mostly at 6 and leaning more toward 5.5 in the last stretch. It’s still hard to adjust settings to my natural pace. I find it works bets if I go all Zen and don’t look at the numbers and concentrate on how my legs feel. Too slow, nudge the speed up. Too fast, nudge it down. It worked a little better tonight than previously.

Overall, though, I’m really itching to run outside again. The heavy rain and mild temperatures have caused the new snow to melt fairly rapidly. The hard crusty snow underneath will take longer so I’m still not expecting anything before March, but hope, like repeated snowstorms, springs eternal.