Those words, scrawled in bright yellow letters across my friend Bryan’s T-shirt, sent scowls through a maximum capacity crowd gathered in the theatre. Early in the first semester of 2007, an “Undergraduate Awards Evening” was planned for top-grade students to celebrate their Outstanding Achievements. It was the sort of evening where parents could sit together and compare notes on their children’s success. A collective pat-on-the-back for teachers, school administrators, parents and – least of all – students with not much else to do in early October.

I sat in the middle of this Business Casual crowd, clad in black suit and tie, a fedora, and a broken pocket watch. Bryan sat two seats down. He was unshaven and unkempt, with dirty blonde hair and even dirtier blue jeans. Members of the crowd who lacked a sense of humour seethed silently. To them, Bryan’s dress and manner showed a complete lack of respect for the institution of the Honour Roll.

In fact, Bryan was there to accept an award for Excellence in Mathematics, and his marks are some of the best in not only the school, but likely the country. The Evening had been planned for him, after all, and he was going to enjoy it in his own way…and so was I, although my mockery was somewhat less obvious. He was a thumb in their eye, and I was a feather in their cap.

*  *  *

Welcome to the Comp. It’s cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Typical of any high school, it is a bizarre collection of upper-class Hillbillies, Stoners, Preps, Drunks, Brains, Jocks, Geeks, Freaks, and a variety of other Doomed People. More importantly, the Comp is a massive, intricate network of money and people and books which has been given the seemingly impossible task of preparing every student for life after high school.

Basically, what that means is that at some point in their three years at the Comp, a student will be called into the guidance counselor’s office, sat down, and asked very politely, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Indeed, it’s assumed that by age 17, a kid should know how they want to spend their next fifty years.


…The first encounter I had with The Question came one sunny spring morning last year. I walked into a counselor’s office to talk about changing my timetable, when The Question was popped.

“So, tell me, Robert, what do you want to be?”
“Well…what are your plans for the future?” “Plans?” I said, “What plans?”
“I mean, do you intend to go to university, or college, or…”
“Right, umm…actually, I was planning on going to university.”
“Great! Now, what fields of study are you interested in? What kind of career are you looking at?”
“My God,” I thought, “Here it comes.”

I listed off every possible career I could think of. I told the counselor I wanted to study law, or education, or writing or aviation or physics and maybe train as a welder, too. Most careers I listed were nowhere near what I was considering job-wise, but that didn’t matter. In the end, none of this information changed my timetable, but it did nicely answer the counselor’s questions. Unfortunately, people keep asking me The Question, so often that now, whenever I hear it, I instinctively answer, “How should I know?”

Over the past year, I’ve seen that uncertainty isn’t just my problem. It’s almost everyone’s. While a good number of people I talk to have some sort of plan for the future, few are overly enthusiastic. The careers they’ve decided on aren’t careers they’re passionate about, but more or less a way topay the bills. And for them, that’s all that matters right now…

Here’s the deal. It scares me to think that somewhere along the line, someone somewhere has replaced The Question…

…with the much less important question…

At some point, the two became identical for a lot of people. For them, wherever they work and whatever they do, that’s who they are: they become their jobs. The purpose of high school is to prepare them for Higher Learning, which prepares them for a steady, high-powered job, which prepares them to raise a family, and if they don’t die of stress-related heart failure, they can finally retire somewhere sunny and out-of-the-way.

It’s my belief that people who think this way at age 17 should be hung up by their ankles and fed to savage dogs. These are the same kind of people who only truly begin enjoying life at the age of 75; when their RRSP kicks in and they’re too fragile to do anything but fart around all day. And usually, at that point in their lives, farting around is the most enjoyable thing going for them.

*  *  *

…There’s a feeling of absolute panic and disorder that comes when a person can’t immediately recognize where they are. The easiest way to experience it is to go find some strange place to crash for the night. It doesn’t matter where you go – house party, friend’s place, a filthy ditch – just find somewhere alien. When a person can’t immediately rationalize where they are or why, their brain will try every combination of theories and ideas and wild guesses to make sense of the situation. That’s where we see ourselves now, I think: all gripped by that murky, nervous feeling of waking up in The Unknown. Some people seem powerless to deal with this lack of direction, and others thrive in the chaos…

Back to my point…We are collectively reaching a turning point in our lives, each and every one of us. Right now, we all have nearly limitless possibilities: in fact, more possibilities than we may have ever again. However we are all being coaxed – and in some cases, forced – to start limiting our options, to start picking a clear path to our futures. And to a few, including me, nothing on Earth could be more terrifying.

If I can say anything to the Grads of ‘08 (and apparently I can because I’m in the paper and you’re still reading), I ask that we all make an effort to always remember the core function of education: to prepare every student for life after school. Whatever any of us chooses to do in order to pay the bills, it should never conflict with who we are, and who we strive to be. And if you want to be a thumb in the eye of Old Wisdom, feel more than free to do so. A person’s image of what they want to be may make their life worth living, but it’s the moments when we challenge convention – like Bryan that cold, windy, nervous night in October – that make our lives truly Outstanding.

Now, get out there and make some bad decisions. I know I will.



Bad Advice from a Bad Man (Part Two)

*The second of my high-school advice columns, published on Valentine’s Day.*


*  *  *

Dear Badman,
There’s this guy who’s been stalking me on Facebook for a while now, and I’m worried. He recently started approaching me at school and trying to start conversations about the stuff on my profile. Last week, he showed up at my job and I had to hide in the back for a half hour until he left. What should I do?
Freakin’ Freaked!

Dear Freakin’ Freaked,
First off, relax. This is 2008, and dating has changed. Think of stalking like the new version of taking a girl to the malt shop to split a milkshake. Clearly, you’re just confused about the whole situation, but that’s why I’m here. Here’s what you do:

  1. Find out where he lives.
  2. Wait for the place to get empty
  3. Sneak into his bedroom. Ignore the fact that all your photos from Facebook have been photocopied, and put up in his room. Totally normal.
  4. Write your name in ketchup (or similar goopy substance) all over said walls.
  5. Repeat as necessary or when you’re bored.

Congratulations! You’re now in a mutual stalker relationship. And if your actions mean he loses interest (or files a restraining order)…it was never meant to be.

Dear Badman,
I think I’ve found the girl of my dreams. She’s funny, smart, attractive, honest…I mean, I honestly think she’s the one. I’ve had a few ideas, but I thought maybe you’d be able to help…how should I propose to her?

Dear Romeo…
Actually, you know what? Your name isn’t really Romeo. That’s a stupid thing to call yourself. Seriously. I’m gonna call you Ricky instead.

*  *  *

Dear Ricky,

Sure, I can help, that’s why I’m here. Listen, if you want to know how to propose to a girl, the first rule is DON’T. What you REALLY want to do is make her feel as special as if you just proposed to her, without her wanting to say “yes” and get you stuck in a 23-year-long marriage that will eventually end in a messy divorce when she takes the kids and half your stuff…probably. How do we do that? I’m glad I asked!

Go out this weekend, take her someplace fancy, someplace exotic…like the Olive Garden. Halfway through the entrée, stand up slowly. Get down on one knee beside her chair, and take her hand. Try to make your eyes water up a little, chicks dig guys who cry a lot. Then, say these exact words, EXACTLY as I tell you…

“Listen toots. We’ve been together a while now, two months to be exact…and I want to move our relationship to the next level. That’s why I wanted to ask…if you would be my maid. I want to have you clean my dishes for me, and make my dinner every night. I want you to pick up my dry-cleaning, and not nag me as much as you do now. I want you to grow old and flabby and saggy with me. I want to wake up next to you every morning, so you can make me breakfast and bring me the newspaper the way my dog used to. Whaddaya say, my little chubby bunny?”

If at all possible, fart loudly during your proposal. Then when you’re done, give her a DustBuster. You’re very, very welcome.

Bad Advice from a Bad Man (Part One)

*This was a column I wrote for my high school newspaper. I’d like to sincerely thank my high school English teachers for letting me get away with this. Twice.*


*  *  *

Dear BadMan:

I have this boyfriend of mine, and I think he’s cheating on me. Even worse, I think it might be with my best friend! I don’t want to lose either of them. What should I do?


Dearest HELP!, if that is your real name,

What people in your situation often forget is how incredibly funny teen dramas can be for those not involved. The key is to keep things fresh, with new characters and problems all the time. In your case, I suggest calling your best friend late at night in tears, and telling her you just found out your boyfriend gave you Herpes. A LOT of Herpes. More forms of Herpes than there are letters in the alphabet. Sit back and watch all the socially awkward fun roll in!

Hoping you didn’t actually get Herpes,

Dear Badman:

My parents split up 2 months ago, and they’re allready seeing other people. Is there anything I can do to bring them back together? I feel like this is all my fault.

Guilty Conscience

Dearest Guilty Conscience,

You don’t need to tell me you think it’s “all your fault”, I know. It’s ALL your fault. Your parent’s divorce, that terrible family vacation, your kid sister’s birth, long lines at McDonalds, smallpox, the 1972 Olympics, JFK getting shot, Avril Lavigne, people who use the word “Funderful”, and Darfur. You want my advice?

Drop dead.

Dear Badman,

I recently felt a weird lump in my breast. Should I be concerned, or is this no big deal?

Worry Girl

Worry Girl,

To quote my therapist mentor, Dr. Phil, “You have a serious problem!”. In fact, it has been widely documented that early screening is the number one preventative measure against breast cancer (aside from not having breasts). It’s in this spirit that I announce the opening of the Badman Centre for Breast Cancer Screening. This esteemed (fake) institution employs top medical professionals (anybody), dedicated (sorta) to the extermination of breast cancer (rounding second base). But without your help, there can be no cure.

Best of Luck!