Three nihilist life lessons I learnt from Hello Kitty


Hello Kitty. Famous for no discernible reason, and criminally useless. The Kardashian of cartoon characters.

It started as a practical joke that quickly got out of hand, but I am now at the stage of wearing Hello Kitty For Men shirts I bought for a lot of money in a pop-up store in Tokyo.

So, clearly, I have given this some thought.

It’s not that I hate Hello Kitty, although I do think she’s awful. I am drawn to Hello Kitty the same way people are to sour milk: it repels you, but you have to smell it. Because when I look beyond the bovine eyes and the non-mouth and that stupid say-nothing do-nothing expression, I see something of myself there.

Specifically three soul-crushing somethings.

Specifically these.

One: If you keep your mouth shut and your expression blank, nobody will know how empty you are inside and they will like you more.

Oooh Hello Kitty is so cute, mommy, can i have the [sippy cup / rucksack / pillow case/ chainsaw] with Hello Kitty on it?

And mommy says yes because there’s not much to object to– just a cat-like outline, not even the hint of a smile. Girlfriend ain’t even got a mouth.  

That dead, inscrutable facade is the true mark of a sociopath. But mommy doesn’t know.

The truth is, it is easy to be disliked and judged negatively for expressing any form of thought or opinion — be it about politics, music or mayonnaise, someone’s bound to think you’re a dick. The path to popularity is to talk as much as you want while saying nothing at all.

Caption your next social media post with #livelaughlove (or is it #lovelivelife?) for likes and hearts. Try #blacklivesmatter for crickets and death threats. If you can successfully portray harmless banality in all your interactions, you can coast along quite well. 

Life is easier if you pretend you’re an idiot. Mommy may not know that (she doesn’t have to pretend to be an idiot). But the Kitty knows. 

Two: You might as well wear the same outfit all the time because no one ever notices.

Describe Hello Kitty’s outfit right now without Googling. Is it a pink dress thing? Is it a shirt and pants combo? Is she ass-naked and showing her no-no parts on that bib you bought for your niece that says I Heart My Gay Uncle?

You don’t know. Or you think you know, but you’re really not sure. Even though you have seen Hello Kitty a bazillion times. That’s because nobody truly pays attention to anything, but most particularly nobody truly pays attention to you.

Not to the new haircut you researched painstakingly before getting. Not to the $175 Carolina Herrera shirt you wore to your birthday dinner. Not to the botox. 

 All that money you’ve ever spent on clothes, hair products, gym —  it’s all been a waste.

And it will always be a waste.


Three: The basis of your human nature is nothing but a collective agreement that is now crumbling to dust before your very eyes.

Back in 2014, the creators of Hello Kitty caused international headlines by claiming that Hello Kitty was, in fact, not a cat. She was a girl. Forget the cat ears and the cat whiskers and the KITTY IN HELLO FUCKING KITTY — the Sanrio company wants to gaslight you into believing that cat has always been a person and I guess we’re all idiots for ever thinking otherwise.

Hello Kitty is attempting to Rachel Dolezal her way into membership into the human condition, by simply declaring herself to be a human. And if Hello Kitty can be a person, what the hell does that make you?

A carbon-based life form. That’s all.

Hello Kitty is not the nihilist anti-hero we want. But she’s sure as fuck the one we deserve. 

Gym rules for the modern gym-goer I figured out by myself like a big boy

I have learned all these things the hard way so that you can learn them the… soft way, I guess?

1- Don’t burst into the locker room like an Ostrogoth warlord

You know what people do in locker rooms these days? Take naked photos of themselves in the mirror. Do you know what happens when you fling the locker room door open and catch someone mid-selfie? They drop their phone on the floor, and there through a badly cracked screen lies a picture of half their penis. Out of focus.

Do this instead: knock gently, count to forty, then open the door slowly and walk backwards into the locker room, keeping your eyes on the floor.


2- Don’t cling to the bicep curl machine in desperation like it’s your father’s approval

He doesn’t really love you, despite what mom says. The bicep curl machine doesn’t love you either. Let it go.

Do this instead: let more deserving people enjoy the bicep curl machine. Just like your father’s approval.


3- Don’t antagonize the receptionist with practical and necessary questions

She’s busy and can’t be bothered and all she can see when you talk to her is your gelatinous upper arms. One more annoying interjection from you and she’ll roll her eyes and you’ll be getting the shittiest locker for weeks — the one that’s set so low that you need to bust your kneecaps to reach it, then crack your skull open against the door of the next locker if and when you manage to get up.

Do this instead: figure out the goddamned WiFi password on your own.


4- Don’t make eye contact between sets with the short guy that smells like a donkey

Just — trust me on this.

Do this instead: scribble something on your little notebook so that people think there’s a method to your being there. But there is no method, is there. You’re pure, unbridled chaos.


5- Don’t make eye contact between sets with the personal trainers

Just — trust me on this.

Do this instead: run the fuck away whenever a trainer gets too close for comfort, which in my case is a half-mile radius. I don’t need to know what the hell I’ve been doing wrong fitness-wise for years, and I don’t think you do either.


6- Don’t ask for help when you staple yourself to the bench under a 120 kg barbell

This is pretty self-explanatory, but here it goes: if you are like me and have no friends, you won’t have anyone to spot you (i.e move 75 percent of the weight while repeating “it’s all you, bro!”) while you bench press. You could just not do bench presses or just use dumbbells or whatever, but sometimes it’s Monday and Monday is International Bench-Pressing Day. So we staple ourselves. We do.  

Do this instead: pretend this was your plan all along. Nothing to see. Lalala. Eventually one of these three things will happen: a) someone will discreetly lend you a hand and set you free; b) the gym will be closed for the night and you’ll become a permanent part of the equipment; or c) your ribcage will give way with a horrifying crunch.


Happy gymming.



Bed time, at last.







The Gay Toronto House Party

Image result for karen mean girls

I am at a house party in Cabbagetown, Toronto, hosted by a delightful young gay couple I met at my gym on Yonge & Something. I am wearing jeans, a black tank top, and a paddy cap.

A red-haired woman asks me the second question everyone always asks in Toronto. The first question is what’s your name. Then they pretend you don’t have an accent and avoid asking you where you come from because they once read an op-ed written by a frothy thought-policemaperson about how you’re a cryptofascist for othering others by questioning their origin.

And they go straight to asking you what you do for a living because Canadians are the greatest people in the world, but they still need to know where you rank in the grand scheme of things.

So I tell her the truth — that I am the Editor in Chief of Arthritis Monthly magazine. I say it like that, capitalizing Editor and Chief because job titles should always be capitalized in Toronto.

To this she oohs and aahs and how-interestings. Yes, it is quite interesting, but also very challenging, I say. It’s not easy to fill up an entire magazine with fresh arthritis-related content every single month plus the special summer issue.

The red-haired woman is single and middle-aged and gorgeous and wants to tell me about all the boys she’s slept with in the past three months. I pretend to listen but my mind is elsewhere, thinking as I am of the next Arthritis Monthly centerfold spread — two blank pages with an old lady crumpled into a tiny twisted heap in the bottom right corner.

One of the hosts is snorting coke off the abs of a shirtless Portuguese waiter. He turns to me and says, “you can’t smoke in the house”.

Then I wake up.



In between bouts of frenzied copy editing I read a blog post that Julie Sheridan wrote, which contains an interview with a Scottish homeless man in Barcelona. Julie herself is a fellow copywriter and used to be my colleague in a previous workplace and she writes like a dream, but this one post has made me sad and introspective

Because here’s a man who, you know, lives in a foreign country as an expat and has a good job and savings and an apartment with a dog, all of which applies to me except for the dog (still working on it), and then he loses his job and nobody calls him back for job interviews and his savings run out and next thing he knows, he is living on the streets of Barcelona.

I have the usual questions — why doesn’t he go back to Britain where they don’t have 21 percent unemployment, couldn’t anyone help, did none of his friends have a spare room, etc — but that’s sort of beside the point. I know myself and I know what my answers to those questions would be if I ever should find myself in that situation: because I’m proud, because I’ll never ask for help, they do but I’ll never ask for help.

I don’t know.

If you want to see the real face of homelessness in Prague, you can do no better than to come with me every morning on my walk from my home to the Hlavni Nadrazi metro station. I used to save myself five minutes by cutting across the railway tracks from Winston Churchill square like most people do, but I almost got fined twice by the police and I don’t know how long my clueless smiley expat schtick is going to last.

So now I walk all the way around the tracks, up the park and into the central station like you’re supposed to, and I pass by many, many, many homeless men and women on my way there and back.

Homeless and many clearly alcoholized and many clearly dependent on some sort of chemical I’m not even going to try to speculate on.

I try not to look too closely because I did once, when I noticed a tall, very blond, very young, extremely drunk guy trying to fight his way out of — or was it into — an alcoholic stupor, and I could find no reason why that couldn’t have possibly been me. And then I felt fragile.

Because I am not special, and I won’t be spared. I am just holding on to a civilized life by the skin of my teeth, and so are we all. One bad recession and a few lapsed paychecks away from our alcoholic stupor in the park.

Tip Your Dealer

On Saturday morning I am having iced coffee with Maltese Mario, the freelance urban psychopharmacologist. He looks like shit.

“I need a holiday”, he says, and takes a swig of terrible coffee chain espresso.

Maltese Mario is exhausted because it’s music festival season, and he is the freelance urban psychopharmacologist of choice for all kinds of Dutch and German ravers who come to Prague, Ostrava, Slovakia and Hungary and prefer their fun to be chemically contingent.

He is also an amateur BDSM dungeon master, which I didn’t know about until just now.

“It’s out of control. It used to be fun, I remember, having fun. But now all I hear is oh please yes cover my mouth with tape, like-a dis”, he mimics covering his own mouth with an invisible strap of tape, “and gag me like-a dis and give me pain, more pain, more more pain. But what about fuck? Nobody wants to fuck!”

I nod.

“Seriously. They come for the pain. I give them the pain. For hours and hours and hours, and then I want to get off but they don’t care about sex. They just want the pain”.

Underneath all that amateur BDSM dungeon master facade, Maltese Mario is just a boy, standing in front of another boy — or possibly hovering over him with some sort of whip —  asking him to fuck.

“But if they are masochists, perhaps you could just refuse to keep hurting them? Presumably that would hurt their feelings, which they actually love”, I venture to suggest.

There’s an enormously obese man sitting across the table from a burka. The man is thumbing through a tourist guide to Prague.

Maltese Mario announces that he’s going on a holiday back to Malta, where he will see his mom, veg out by the beach, and not fist anyone.