Archive for the ‘Social Rants’ Category

Florida man undeterred, likely aroused by Southern riots

“Yeah, I was in a tank, so what?  He came at me with some kind of yellow grenade!”

67 year-old Vietnam war vet Duke Kensington of Fort Lauderdale has been acquitted by a jury of his sympathetic peers in the bad-ass death of local black teen, Demar White.

Have you ever thrown a skittle up in the air, try to catch it in your mouth, and then it hit your tooth? It totally hurts for like 5 seconds, bro.

On the fateful evening of December 20th 2012, Kensington was patrolling his neighbourhood, armed with his favourite AR-15 assault rifle, disgruntled by the spike in local burglaries and kids playing stick ball and selling lemonade in his neighbourhood.  He confronted two African American teens who were “demanding $0.25 for that shit ass lemonade”.

“I spit that shit right on the ground,” Kensington testified.  “It was easily the worst street lemonade I’d purchased that week.  The neighbourhood is overrun by these lemonade gangs and I just can’t take this shit no more!”

Witnesses recount that after flashing his “totally slick” assault rifle, the two 10-year-olds snickered, called him a pussy. and refunded his $0.25.

“I wasn’t about to take that insult to me and my people lying down.  Not me.  I’m a proud, white, lemonade connoisseur.”

What if it’s not some black kid under that hood, but a shape-shifting dragon? WHAT WOULD YOU DO THEN?

Kensington’s actions drew a great outpouring of condemnation.  After playing dozens of hours of Grand Theft Auto in his life, he marched to a local police station, hopped the fence, and hotwired a tank.

“It’s so damn awesome that American police departments are getting re-purposed hand-me-downs from the military,” he remarked as he adjusted his “borrowed” flak jacket and kevlar helmet.  “How else can I protect my family if not while driving a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Tank?”

Militarizing police is the only way to keep white people safe from black people.

Witnesses report the ground shaking as Kensington rolled around the corner, his head popping out the side window, sporting aviator sunglasses, smoking a giant cigar, and bellowing Ride of the Valkyries.

Wishing to remain anonymous, one man recounts how “That crazy white dude came at poor Demar screaming ‘Don’t come at me!’ and ‘Your lemonade is shit!’ while he puffed on his cigar.  Demar reached under the table to grab a lemon, hoping to buy him off.  I heard how the crazy white dude said Demar had ‘some kind of yellow grenade’, which may be 15% true.”

“That crazy white dude kept going on and on, ‘I’m standing my ground, I’m standing my ground, I’m standing my ground’, pointing his assault rifle.  When Demar started to run away, I just heard ‘I’m standing my ground!’ when he shot Demar in the back.  So tragic…”

Explanation? Easy. Justice. Obviously.

When testifying at his own trial, Kensington maintained he stood his ground like the law told him, citing the law directly; he faced an “imminent and immediate threat of serious bodily harm or death”.

The jury of his all-white male peers found him not guilty, and explained “We glad to live in God’s country, ‘Murica, where ain’t nobody tell me to back away from’a fight.”

There are currently no plans to repeal the legislation.

It’s ‘Murca, bitches.

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I was perfectly happy until I met her.

Well, that’s not quite true, since I wasn’t totally thrilled beforehand.  And her is actually him.  And him is my imaginary playmate, Horratio.

Really, though, while my world wasn’t shattered by her simple assertion based on careful observation under strictly controlled laboratory conditions, the horrible truth reigned true:  I have an accent.

I'm not really sure what I expected when I typed "accent" into Google Images. The results were devastating, despite the strong evidence for quality Korean craftsmanship and exceptional engineering.

Even though this wasn’t news (despite many people thinking they have no accent and it’s everyone else that has a problem (a view I used to hold)), I’d never really paid close attention.

Yet, after a delicious dinner at a delightful Chinese restaurant, her words resonated.

I’ve always thought that out of many of the American inflexions (California, Texas, New York, Massachusetts and anything south of the Mason Dixon line), mine was closest to the “neutral” accent in the D.C. area or just the East Coast.

My point is that, like many, I deemed myself normal.  My friend, being from Western New York near the Canadian border, had discernible distinctions in her speech.  I didn’t sit there documenting all the differences but the most evident was when she stressed short As, like “water” or “bad” or “had”.  The best way I can describe it is nasal with a dash of pretentiousness.

Kidding!

No, it’s definitely nasal though.  “Water” would be pronounced “wahh-ter” or “bad” as “bayad”.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Except when we both began making fun of each other’s regional vocal discrepancies we started feeling – or at least I started feeling – progressively more ashamed.

Why should I be ashamed?

Plenty of reasons.  One is that accent-stereotypes for Canadians are actually surprisingly true (while, like our American brethren, we still have regional differences e.g. Quebec, British Colombia, Newfoundland, Ontario).

Take for example my favourite animated series, South Park.  Creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker are geniuses and masters in their craft.  They also like making frequent jabs at us Canucks.

The song “Blame Canada” in the South Park Movie made light of our minimal impact on American society and culture (a fine juxtaposition of the strong influence the United States has on us).

I think most of us are over that one.

Soft leather seating, plenty of legroom, and highly attuned controls - no! No, not the damn car again!

I think it’s all about “about”.  Or like you’ve likely heard it: as “a-boot”.

There was significant social unrest after the first gross misrepresentation, with violent riots in 437 Canadian cities, 47,300 people killed, and a successful coup d’etat by the Green Party.

(Wow.  What a nightmarish fiction.)

Most Canadians familiar with this stereotype are quick to dismiss it but remiss to do so.

A heartfelt apology to my Canadian counterparts and comrades, but it’s true:  we do say “a-boot”.

Sorta.

“AH.  BOW.  TEH.”  She subtly stressed.

After saying “about” about 274 times (maybe I should have just recorded and played back my voice) I think I pinned it down.  If I say it slowly it sounds like “Ah-Boud”, but quickly it sounds like “Ah-Boat” or “Ah-Boad” most of the time.  The former can be easily misconstrued or deliberately distorted to sound like “ah-boot”.

Damn you, Hyundai Accent. Damn you to hell.

While this slow-creeping revelation spawned no revolution, it definitely incited a small revolt in the patience and irritation receptors in my brain (yet to be scientifically proved but they’re there, I promise you that).

With Canada’s sprawling Cultural Mosaic, the difference is more than evident.  What I mean is, I’m under constant pressure from wildly different accents that it only serves to underscore, magnify and enhance the Canadian one.

I gotta get out.

Of the country.

Seriously.

Like a different hemisphere.

Denmark?  Norway?  Mongolia?

Maybe I’ll just simplify everything by finding a cozy monastery in the French hinterlands, forego all my worldly possessions, and take a vow of silence.

Problem solved.

Etiquette 102

Posted: August 13, 2011 in Social Rants

All right boys and girls, I know you’ve all experienced this before, and since I have too, it’s consequently important – maybe even urgent – for me to talk and for you to bloody listen.

Shoulder and Arm Etiquette 102

It’s Thursday afternoon and you’re on your way home from work.  You deftly maneuver the gauntlet of sticky (yet somehow still slippery) stairs, the homeless, and people handing out free copies of 24 that you already read on the way to work but are too polite to decline.  Not this time.  Win for not reading the news again.

Your senses sharp, eyes locked on the turnstile that shall grant yee entry to the grande bowels of the city.  You half grunt a quarter sneer of contempt for those morons buying tokens during rush hour.

How is this night different from all the other nights?

I'm sitting next to this guy, obviously, period.

You’re taking the Bloor subway line to meet up with friends.  For those unfamiliar with the Bloor line I’ll sum it up in some semblance of a sentence: shitty seats, no air conditioning on some trains.

You’re in the home stretch now.  You stoically let your brothers-in-arms to exit the train before you enter.  Smart thinking!  Your eyes dart from one end of the train to the other, then scan as quickly as you can the possibility for an empty bench, let alone a seat.  Booya.  Spotted.  An orange “cushioned” bench waiting just for you.  Sit.

Then it happens.

The people behind  flood the car and  your personal space violently encroached by the proletariat masses.

Yep, here he is: random dude.

You balance a small bag on your knees whilst this joker leans back entirely.

Shoulder Cross, 2011.  An all ages event.

Contact: likely.  Relief: unlikely.  Discomfort: guaranteed.  Guy’s heat starts warming yours unwarranted.  It’s not the Ice Age.  You’ll be fine outside a huddle.

So, now, begs the question:  who should acquiesce this tense situation?  You, with all rights and associated privileges for being the first to sit?  Or, random prole?

Fearing for life and general safety, you lean forward more, as straightening your back would mean certain death and/or direct, friction frenzy fire starting contact.

What to do in this scenario?

Options:

  • Lean forward more, forfeiting comfort for life and liberty
  • Remain still, stoic and certain that you were there first and they should damn well respect that
  • Incite rebellion, lean back, and begin a shoulder square-off that could incite a thermonuclear conflict
  • Periodically half-turn your head with expressions of disgust and disdain
  • Ignore

Impress, scare, delight, terrify commuter populace.

All right, so now we’ve dealt with someone sitting and scrunching.  But what about getting off the subway/bus/streetcar?
People love to invade the premises before you’ve left them, forcing you into another series of decisions:
  • Turn sideways to mitigate any impact
  • Shrug shoulders in, sharing a slight shard more
  • Head up, move chest forward and arms back and start checking anyone who comes unreasonably close to your precious, precious body because they should be frickin’ waiting at the side not barging straight towards you so yeah, what, what up*
Having experienced my experiences dear reader, you know only few of the above options are ideal.
Solutions:
  • Ride bike (learn new shoulder rules with cars),
  • Quit job and most life
  • Passive-aggressively wear heavy arctic military gear in packed public transportation
  • Exercise your 1st Ammendment right to scream “FIRE!” in a crowded place, guaranteeing you a spot.  Guaranteed**.
Let’s build more subways!
*Warning:  This can lead to confrontation and/or above-mentioned nuclear war and/or sad face.  Only use in crowds where one can easily divert blame to an innocent.
**Not a guarantee

Terror on Mississauga Transit

Posted: January 26, 2011 in Social Rants

This happened four weeks ago but I shall forever remember the terror.

I was graced with being scheduled to work 12-8 on New Year’s Eve, and 12-8 New Year’s Day.

After making it through my shift alive and well, I hopped aboard a bus, the first of two I’d need to get to my friend’s house in a ritzy area of Etobicoke (yes they exist).

Granted, a friend of mine did call me as I waited in the cold, offering to come pick me up. But she lives at the other end of the city, and I’m way too considerate to allow someone, despite their insistence and genuine disregard for any inconvenience, to actually come pick me up.

Ok, so far so good, I found a comfy seat and turned my headphones on.  This was one of those sweet bus routes that takes the highway.  Onto the on ramp, high on the highway, content on the…ok enough of that, the bus started to boot it.

Really boot it.

They're still smiling because it isn't 8:00 P.M., otherwise known as "pants shitting hour"

I looked out the right window and determined we’re in the middle lane, an easy deduction as we blew past apparently slow-moving cars.  But then I looked out the left window and we jetted by those cars too.

It was night time and points of reference were hard to establish, so figuring out our speed was a little more difficult.  Judging from the rate that we were passing cars, though, I estimated our speed at somewhere around 125 km/h, maybe 130.  Now, I’ve been in cars going that fast and faster, I’m no speed virgin.  This, though…this was pretty scary.

Just imagine the drone of the bus engine, progressively buzzing louder and louder, perfectly content to push to however many tens of thousands of revolutions per minute it feels necessary to sustain our breakneck speed.

Breakneck is the perfect word, I’m so glad I just wrote that.

Express route - to the E.R.

If you’re familiar with public transit, you’ll know that buses are not equipped with those nifty inventions we call seatbelts. You know, those straps that keep you strapped into your seat in case pesky physics pokes its head in, with inertia and momentum happily embracing concrete barriers or oncoming traffic.

I looked around for some equally anxious compatriots but found none.  I guess I was the only one who valued my life.

After what seemed like a short eternity (we were going pretty fast, you see) we went off the highway and onto Bloor.  I figured the driver would regain composure after maybe having sobered up a bit.  Wrong!

He proceeds to tear through the street around bends that I would have slowed down for – in a Porsche.  Every time I anticipated a need to slow down, he seemed to speed up.  I’m glad he was at least feeling comfortable and content in the left lane again.

It wasn’t a totally terrifying experience, because I knew that even if we were to crash into something, we’d definitely be the rock and anything and everything else the scissors.  Except for concrete walls, I’m pretty sure those beat rock.

Be kind to the environment while endangering the public!

I was more concerned for the general wellbeing of the public at large.  But then that whole question of etiquette came nagging at the back of my mind, not wanting to call into doubt the driver’s professionalism or racing credentials.

“Do I say something to this guy?  What do I say?  Am I firm, yet polite?  Insistent, yet frightened?  How about aloof yet concerned?”

I opted for none of the above.

Moral of the story?  Buses never crash.  Haven’t you seen the movie Speed?  Keanu Reeves is totally the man.  And Sandra Bullock?  Mmmm, mmmmm…

Oh wait, the bus blows up at the end.  Never mind, take the subway.

Subway Insanity

Posted: November 17, 2010 in Social Rants

“Will you be a witness if I do something?” -Random, sketchy, other subway dude

I brave Toronto’s public transit on a daily basis like many Torontonians.  I’m resigned to the fact that there are a great number of…unique people out there. I generally just keep to my business and it’s business as usual.

I turn up my headphones just loud enough to drown out the screeching of subway brakes or teenage laughter, but not too loud as to officially make me an old man (as a side note, I was at the movies yesterday and remarked to my companion, “This is really loud.”  She (justifiably) snidely responded, “What did you expect, it’s a movie theatre.” I seem to be stuck in this aural purgatory where things are either way too loud or way too quiet.  Maybe it’s a sign I should retire).

This picture has precisely nothing to do with absolutely anything.

I was recounting the forthcoming story to my friend when he offered a fun little anecdote from his day.  Some fellow on the bus en route to Sunnybrook thought it would be an unparalleled public service to blare hardcore gangsta rap from his “personal audio device”.  They may have looked like headphones in his ears, but they were essentially megaphones proclaiming quite explicitly to elderly passengers and children what to put in who, which recreational consumption of non-recreational controlled substances were recommended, and diplomacy tactics with police.

Nobody wants to hear your obnoxious music, asshole.  That’s the feckin’ reason they invented headphones in the first place.

The bus eventually arrived at Sunnybrook yet the damage was done: senior citizens and sundry were scarred for life.

Before parting he made one final grand gesture.

I want to be loved and remembered,” he likely thought.

He removed a scarf from his bag, covered his face with it, and proceeded to pantamime  a massacre of the bus passengers.

But I digress.

I boarded the southbound train at approximately 7:14 A.M.  There was relative tranquility until roughly 7:18 A.M. That’s when I started to get a little uncomfortable, and I doubt it was because I’m not eating enough bran.

Suddenly, at the other end of the crowded train, I hear yelling.  Just one person, but definitely noticeable over my enjoyment of 90s Eurodance classics.

I ignored it and kept on staring ahead.  There’re only two options when you’re on public transit:  stare ahead or close your eyes.  There’s this unwritten social convention that eye contact is strongly frowned upon and must be avoided at all costs.

So, yes, back to my staring.  Then more yelling.  More and more curious and frightened people looked on.  Yup, that’s the guy.

Yeah, I think you're crazy now.

Now, I’m no cultural expert, but I’m pretty sure the dude was Jamaican.  There was the slight giveaway of the strong Jamaican accent, sure, but everyone from the Caribbean sounds the same to me.  Plus it was a little hard to tell through all the yelling. My stereotypes and suspicions were then confirmed as the Patois spewed forth.

My old boss was from Jamaica and, one time, when proudly demonstrating to a Trinidadian coworker 3 of the perhaps 4 Patois words I knew, my boss chastised me in the maternal way that she usually did, only this time I hadn’t had someone’s phone service cut off because I paid the wrong Bell account. She sternly informed me that words such as rastaclat, bombaclat, and bloodclaat aren’t customary greetings where she came from.

Right, back to the subway.

This guy is just screaming random variations of the three aforementioned words, sometimes in succession, sometimes again and again, and most of the time unintelligibly.

Nervous glances are exchanged by a few of us.

Then this guy starts pacing from one end of the car to the other.  And by pacing I mean stampeding.  We complacently let him do his thing, the noble sheep we are.

This went  on for about 5 or 6 minutes when this guy sitting down taps me and says something.  All I can really make out is, “…man…will…witness…something…”

Zuh?  I took my headphones out.  Corona will have to wait.

It was then that I noticed that this fine chap was moderately sketchy-looking himself.

“Yo, will you be a witness if I go and do something?”

I didn’t quite understand what he was asking me.

He clarified slightly.

“Will you be a witness if I go over there and do something about this guy?  Somebody needs to do something.”

I don’t know what this guy had in mind, but I’m fairly certain he wouldn’t be playing patty-cake.  Baker’s man indeed. I’m not really sure what that means.

“Uh…yes?” I meekly offered.

He then very aggressively stood up and took a step or two towards the other end of the car.

“You’re not going to attack him or anything, are you?”  I nervously asked him.

I had a fleeting vision of myself on the witness stand.

“Um, yes your honour, it was at that time that I agreed to be witness to aggravated assault.”

Now arriving at Dupont.  Dupont station. Perfect timing.

He halted and sat back down as crazy patois man exited the train.  I was mildly happy to see him leave.

“Guys like him need help, they should be in a hospital or something.”

I wasn’t really sure why he so swiftly changed from riot police to sanatorium administrator, but it probably would have made my life easier, that much I can tell you.

I thought the situation was kind of funny until I realized what he was saying.  He was totally right.  How many times do we walk the streets or the subways or buses and just shrug off a clearly disturbed person as just “another crazy”?

I’m not really sure what the moral of this story is or what I’m advocating…

Oh, right.  If you turn your headphones up louder, you’ll never be privy to premeditated crimes.

Plausible deniability, friends.  Plausible deniability.

Extreme Dishonesty, Extreme Pressure, Extreme Presumptions

So after wallowing in my post-injury misery for a few years now (I injured my back lifting weights at the gym), I’ve finally gotten back on track with healthy eating, and now plan on joining a gym in the near future.

While I already had the local community centre in mind, I was still somewhat enticed by a flyer that I received in the mail the other day from Extreme Fitness:  “$8 pay-as-you-go.  No fees.  No excuses.”  Well excuse me, but I’m still going to have to take a gander at the fine-print.  “* “Pay As You Go – $8 Per Month Membership” based on two month prepaid membership. “Pay As You Go” month to month membership available after the initial two months.

Hmm, ok.  I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty vague.

But before I called over to my local Extreme Fitness, I did a quick google search, the paramaters similar to any that I input before making any purchase, online or in person.  The variable this time was “Extreme Fitness”, the constant, “Scam”.  (I’ve managed to avoid purchases on a couple shady websites by following this self-approved axiom.)

Low and behold, a plethora of hits populate my screen.  Angry, vengeful hits.

I opened about seven in new tabs, and was shocked at the consistency of horrible reviews of the fitness enterprise.

Extremely poor service.  Double billing.  Non-honouring of alleged “freeze periods”.  Billing beyond the length of the contract.  Etc.

I also found out from anecdotal testimony that there is a clause in the contract – that you are insisted upon signing – that states “this contract overrides any other contract”.  In simple terms, that means that anything you are told by a saleseperson is null and void.  They can promise you the world (or a more isolated trip to Jamaica in this case), but it won’t hold up.

People have gone to hell and back trying to get double-billings reversed, extra fees refunded, or in many cases, contracts cancelled after actually fathoming the magnitude of the fine-print.  You can read some of the first-hand accounts here:  http://www.myfit.ca/gym_ratings/services_available.asp?edit=yes&id=76

Now I’m a very empathetic person; I’ve been screwed before.  Further, sympathy is no foreign concept to me; I don’t like seeing people screwed.  But kind words aside, if you don’t read the contract you’re signing, it’s your own damn fault.  Sorry.

But apparently some people even had their contracts modified post-facto, with dates altered and clauses added-in.

Scam?  Sham?  Paper-jam?

Now, I like to fancy myself a journalist of sorts, so I could not merely rest on the literally hundreds of first-hand accounts.  I can’t just put my faith in all those people blindly.  I had to find out for myself.

So I called up to find out more.  I was forwarded to a gentleman named Greg who began explaining the promotion to me, for the most part reiterating the vagueness of the flyer I had already scrutinized.

“So what happens after those two pre-paid months?” I inquired.

“Well, then you’d be signing a contract for one of our packages.”

“And what are the prices for those contracts?”

“They vary from $49/mth to $99/mth.”

After this, I was ready to just thank him for his time and hang up.  But of course their training is intense and instilled, and before I knew it, I had an appointment booked for 12:00 PM the following day.  Part of me was upset for committing to something that I had every intention of canceling, but then my inherent Curious George wanted to actually go in there and see what they could throw at me.

So, there I was, stepping into the beautiful lobby of Extreme Fitness, waterfall and all, clad in my pajama bottoms, unshaven, messy hair, and 2% milk in-hand.  My goal was to look as pathetic as possible.  Strangely, it wasn’t much of a stretch.

“Sorry, Greg won’t be available to see you.  But Jason will be out in a few minutes.”

Cold feet, Greg?

So I sat patiently for seven or eight minutes (mind you I was already deliberately 10 minutes late to the appointment), and out walked a tall, buff fellow, named Jason.

“Nice to meet you Jason!”

He proceeded to show me the facilities, which, admittedly, were quite nice.  It wasn’t too crowded, the machines were well-maintained or otherwise new-ish, and the sweet smell of their saltwater pool sent my olfactory bulbs into a rave-like dance.

We then went back to “the office”, a shared room of about 10 staff, to discuss my, “Fitness and weight loss goals”.

He asked me a bunch of mundane questions about where I worked, how much weight I wanted to lose, the timeframe I wanted to accomplish it in, my eating habits, motivation for weight loss, place of residence, and means to travel to the gym.  I later found out that they would use each and every one of these factoids as artillery in their relentless assault on my character, self-esteem, and “seriousness to committment”.

After going over the multitude of features and benefits of the sprawling establishment, it became time to discuss what package I’d be interested in getting.  I immediately cited my conversation with Greg, in which he told me that after my two months, I would have the option of signing a contract under one of their plans, the cheapest of which appealed to me most, considering $50/mth was already on the high end of my budgetary constraints.

Better get your shoes shined up, ’cause it’s bait and switch time!

“Greg told you that?  That doesn’t sound right. Let me go talk to my manager.”

Here we go.

An even more delightful fellow came over and introduced himself as Alan, the manager.

I recounted once again what Greg had informed me over the phone, being polite and calling it a “miscommunication”, knowing full well what he said to me.  Alan was insistent that it was a “misunderstanding”, implying it was my fault for not inferring the facts correctly.

He asked me about my diet, and immediately bashed my high-protein, low fat regimen as “dangerous” and “ill-informed”, citing that losing 50 lbs in six months was unreasonable.  I was far too polite to tell him that it was this very routine and food selection that allowed me to lose 80 lbs several years ago, a weight and lean body structure that I was able to maintain flawlessly until I injured my back.

He then began scribbling some figures on my sheet, trying to find a plan that “was better suited” for me.  We danced around the figure of $50/mth, but I was very clear that the ad neither mentioned the requirement , nor did I have any intention to, sign a contract.

This must have been perceived as a personal affront, or what he not so euphemistically labeled as “excuses” and “procrastination”.

“You say that you’ve been wanting to get into shape for close to a year now.  Why not today?  What’s holding you back?”

But thankfully for them, I had already volunteered all the ammunition necessary in their objection-overcoming campaign.

And then the guilt trip started.

“You live close by, check.  It’s within your budget, check.  You like the gym, check.  So why won’t you commit, Mark?”

I chose my words very carefully, as not to come right out and label their (blatantly obvious) high-pressure, bait and switch tactics.

“I simply do not wish to sign a contract.  I’ve been screwed before, and I have no intention of it happening again.”

“With another gym?” he pried.

“Yes.”

“Which one was it, if you don’t mind me asking?”

I didn’t, because I was simply replacing my alleged personal account with testimonies of others.

“One in Richmond Hill.  It went under.  I was also double-charged,” a jab at what I knew Extreme Fitness systematically perpetrated.

“I see.  Well, what is it that bothers you then?  The pre-authorized payments?  Giving your credit card?”

“Absolutely,” I replied with conviction.

“Well, how about post-dated blank cheques, would that be more suitable?”

This caught me off guard, as this was not even a consideration.

Meekly, I responded, “I suppose that could work.”

Obviously I had no intention of doing this, but then I realized that the same information that they would use to set up a pre-authorized payment to my bank account was the same found at the bottom of any cheque, regardless if it being void or not.

I then decided to turn the tables, and began asking him the questions.

“Have you ever bought a car, Alan?”

“Of course, I bought one recently.”

“So do you go into the first dealership you see, and buy the first steering wheel you lay your hands on?”

He paused, so I took the opportunity to answer.

“Of course you don’t.  You shop around.”

I mentioned the prospect of my local community centre, which he immediately dismissed, claiming high (and grossly innacurate) membership fees and their alleged (and perhaps true) inferiority.

“I don’t mean to be bashing another gym (which is exactly what he proceeded to do), but they don’t have the same equipment as us, offer fewer classes,” etc. etc. ad nauseam.

I looked at my watch and noticed that about 45 minutes had gone by, and I had wasted enough of both of our busy schedules (I had to rush home to write this article).

“It seems we’ve reached an impasse.  I simply do not wish to sign a contract, nor was I informed this would be necessary to take advantage of the promotion.”

He tried a couple more times, but eventually realized I wasn’t going to budge, and an armistice was reached.

“I’m going to decide within the next week.  If I choose Extreme, then I’ll be seeing you again.  Thank you for your time.”

I got up and left as quickly as I could, knowing full-well that I had likely done what no man had done before: I escaped the Extreme Inquisition without signing one of their shady contracts.

So, my advice: if you’re looking for a gym, look online first and read testimonials from prospective and former members, as they speak volumes.

If you’re really careful about the tenets of the contract, and the facilities at Extreme Fitness appeal to you, then by all means, go right ahead.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned, though, about their pressure and scare tactics, notorious dishonest billing procedures, and the good ol’ bait and switch.

I think I’ll stick with the community centre at $20/mth without a contract or pre-authorized payments.

But to each his own victimization.

Remember, remember, the sly money lender, low-rate generosity and plot.  I see no reason why the Visa exec. heathen should not be lined up and shot.

v-for-visa

Canadians, like much of Western society, love to spend.  Being a consumer society, we buy many things that we need, and many more that we do not.  Part of the problem is, that many of us spend money that we don’t have in our bank accounts, and choose to exercise our god-given right of using credit.  And lots of credit.

73% of Canadian households pay their credit card balance in full each month.  Sure, that’s a vast majority, but there’s still 27% of those that carry a balance month to month.

Credit card rates vary from around 10% per annum up to an obscene rate of 24.5%.  The latter is relegated to platinum and exotic cards which offer higher “rewards” for spending, such as loyalty points or air kilometers.  People like to think that they’re getting a deal, so the incentive to spend more and spend often is a constant.

Yet being responsible with credit is not always a given, and credit card companies do their darndest to ensure that we are bogged down or simply confused by all the fine print.  Enter the “low-rate” options introduced by said companies.

You may have gotten a letter in the mail containing “low-rate” or “balance-transfer” cheques, which allow you to get a cash-advance at a low rate (around 3%) or consolidate other credit card debts onto your card of choice.

2.99%!  This offer sounds much too good to be true.  And while in principle it is what it is, companies such as Visa implement a subversive strategy ensuring that their bottom line is always at the forefront: you’re paying far more than you should, for far longer than you should.

There are two sides to the argument, of course.  In defense of the credit lenders, one can say that if people don’t want to use the credit, they most certainly don’t have to.  There are other venues pursuable, such as applying for loans or lines of credit from financial institutions.  You pay (ultimately) for the convenience of using credit cards, and the “grace period” is what allows credit card companies to function the way they do.  Conversely, the average interest rate of roughly 18% per annum is not only excessive, it borders on immoral.

So, let’s take Visa, for example, and the cheques I received in the mail offering me a rate of 2.99% until May 31st 2009.  All I need to do is treat it like a normal cheque, fill out the amount I want, and deposit it to my account.  But what may be written on the page doesn’t exactly instill the proper understanding of what you’re getting yourself into.  The cheque is treated as a “cash advance”, and not as a “purchase”.  Even though cash advances and purchases are often at or near the same rate, they do have vastly different stipulations in terms of paying off the balance.

If you read the fine print closely, you’ll see that when you make a Visa payment, there is a hierarchy of which charges are offset.

1. Fees.  These can include (brazenly exploitative) annual fees, NSF charges ($30-$40), or cash advance fees ($2-$3).

2. Cash advances.  Any money that you take as a cash advance is paid next.

3. Purchases.  Once the first two are paid off, only then do you begin to pay off your purchase balances, which encompass any instances that you use the card at a point of sale.  This is where Visa gets sneaky on you.

Let’s say for example you’re a member of the 27% of the population that carries a balance from month to month.  You have a $10,000 limit, a $75 annual fee, and currently a $4,000 balance accrued from purchases such as a new living room set, television, and washer/dryer.  Then you decide to take advantage of the low-rate cheque, write yourself a generous donation of $4,000, which will remain at 2.99% until May 31st.  What you may not realize, is that the cheque is considered a cash advance.  While this may not matter at 2.99%, it matters when it comes to paying off your balance.

warpedcredit-cardsmall

This is where Visa bends you over.

Perhaps over the next few months you’re hard-done-by and are just managing to make your minimum payments, let alone chipping chunks off of the entire principle.  Even if you manage to pay about $2,000 towards the balance, any payment goes first to your $75 annual fee, and then to that Visa cheque you were so quick to write – not to your $4,000 purchases, which are annihilating you at 19.5%.  So until you pay off the $4,000 Visa cheque (cash advance), you’re paying through the nose (for an artificially inflated period of time, due to the “low-rate offer”) on what you may have been able to pay off over the same period.

While this payment process is clearly in print, the repercussions may not be immediately apparent, and I didn’t even realize the insidious nature of it all until I called Visa to verify my suspicions.  Visa happily preys upon those who are easily enticed by a 2.99% offer for 6 months, while they fail to pay off the rest of their balance at 19.5%. We’re also assuming that at the end of the 6-month period you’re able to pay off that $4,000, which as of June 1st, will explode back to 19.5%, or whatever the cash-advance rate is.

So the moral of the story?  It’s actually an incredible offer – so long as you have a zero balance on your card and do not make any purchases over the 6 month period; then you are fully taking advantage of the 2.99% and not getting gouged.  But in the rush of daily life, the skimming-over of fine-print, and ambiguous and questionable generosity of credit card companies, a reasonable person may not take the time to realize that, as the old addage says, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”

Stick to cash-money and gold coins like the Wild West, and you’ll be fine.