It’s late afternoon during a heat wave in June, with early summer rushing in and everything in bloom. The rich smell of pine needles heated in the glow of the sun from the trees that line the path fills me up as Magda, Megan and I make our way up the old gravel service road before cutting into the trees at a break barely noticeable if you don’t know to look for it. Giant ancient rocks, boulders of granite, lined with the perfect waxy leaves from low, crawling bushes of wild blueberries wind their way along our route as we amble happily to the lake.
We’ve all of us broken our bubbles, no longer adhering to the Provincial ordinance to only see our chosen people from one other household. Something about seeing people in bars and knowing there were only 2 active cases of the virus making the admonitions from the Premier and the warnings suddenly irrelevant.
We are all rule breakers, really. Not a single person on the planet who hasn’t come up with their own moral code and decided which rules not to follow, either because the rules set out are impossible to adhere to all the time or because we’ve decided that they don’t or shouldn't apply to us. We are fortunately vindicated the next day when the Premier announces groups of 10 are now allowed and hugging permitted. “We were ahead of the curve!” Magda jokes over text.
I remember when I was called to the Bar, when I became a lawyer, I had to swear a solemn oath before the court, promising to uphold the laws of this country. ‘Except for speeding on the highway a bit,’ I thought to myself while I stood in my black robes and repeated the words written on the strip of paper in my hand. ‘Does the past count?’ I wonder, as I sit back down and the next near-lawyer stands to recite. I wonder idly what it really means, since all the lawyers I know have decided that some laws don’t apply to them. I think about the law students who illicitly purchased Adderall to stay up studying and then about recreational drug use, the cocaine and MDMA, the psychedelics. It’s odd for us to all stand and solemnly swear to uphold the laws in a profession with an acknowledged problem of substance-use disorders, the manifestations of which remain criminalized in our country. Some of these lawyers will drive drunk, most will at least be publicly intoxicated at some point, some may be tonight.
I used to steal from Tim Hortons when I worked there as a teenager. I was 15 years old, sweating in my polyester uniform, hairnet and visor, and I would make towering ham sandwiches for Scotty T when he would come in and then just ring in a timbit at the cash register so that the security cameras would catch the transaction, the grainy footage not clear enough to reveal the theft.
Part of Tim Hortons training circa 1998 involves sitting in the manager’s office, usually a not-fully converted supply closet, and watching training CD-ROMs of coffee propaganda that tend to overemphasize your importance as a team member as it tries to pressure you into seeing yourself as an integral part of something much greater than yourself, the legacy of a hockey player, and a main contributor to the broader Canadian ethos. I can picture the boardroom full of men in suits salivating and slapping each other on the back as they viewed the video, feeling unjustifiably self-satisfied as if they were part of something great. I suppose we can take some solace in the corporation’s unyielding support of kids in sport and at summer camps. I’ll grab a coffee at an airport sometimes in Halifax, Montreal or Toronto and think about the oversized jerseys on the tiny children who are sent out between periods to play a mock game with the mascots at semi-professional hockey games.
When I worked as a bartender at Tribeca, there was a shift in the air between when our Friday night happy hour regulars would leave and the precipitous steady flow of young, good looking people, ready to dance, sweat and drink until their eyes lose focus would start. One Friday night during the in-between, I stepped outside for a cigarette and saw one of my regulars in his truck, smashing into the side of the parked car as he clumsily, drunkenly, attempted to pull out of the parking lot. He held a relatively high-ranking position with the City and an arrest would be, at the very least, a tarnish on his reputation. Worst case scenario he hurts or kills someone.
I rush out to the truck and yell at him through the open window. “Out the way,” he calls out gruffly. “Like hell,” I yell at him. “Stop the truck.” He throws it into park. “Write down your name and number on a sheet of paper,” I bark at him. “Can’t find one,” he spits out petulantly. I stand by the truck waiting. He realizes I won’t leave so he retrieves an old grocery list and a pencil from the glove compartment. He writes down his info. I place it on the windshield of the car he’s damaged. “Now put this truck back in its parking spot and wait while I call you a cab.” He grumbles and I move out of the way. Instead of pulling back into the spot, he’s decided to make a run for it, which means slowly inching out of the compact parking lot. I walk out into the street, which is a narrow one way, and stand there, still smoking. He honks at me. Luckily, people are starting to arrive at the bar and are starting to look. “Think about your wife and children!” I yell. “Don’t be an asshole!”
He puts the truck in park, gets out and hands me his keys out of the open window. “Fucking fine. Can you park it?” I grab the keys from him. “Go sit on the fucking stoop,” I say, furious. I see him a couple of weeks later and he thanks me, quietly, off to the side, head down. I’ve told no one what transpired. The rule is discretion.
Later, before I considered law school as an option, I was searching for what to do next while working shifts at Rogues, considering going back to school. I gave that old regular a shout and asked him to lunch. I wanted to know how he got the job he has, whether he likes it. When we arrive at lunch, which I have insisted is my treat for his time, he pulls my chair out for me and touches the small of my back as I go to sit. I am going to pay for lunch with a man who begins it with a plausibly deniable touch. It is now murky whether he is the kind of man that a woman should accept favours from, which is a woman rule. Best to not to test it with a second lunch. I think back in mind to all the men I’ve encountered like that, all the missed opportunities for advancement because you know a second lunch will be thrown in your face when you dare to ‘pretend’ that you thought this was just about your career. You know the rules. I can already picture him sneering at me and accusing me of knowing exactly what was happening, making it about my purported complicity in this fantasy of his making, without giving second thought to what he is doing, ridiculous in his pressed khakis, stretched from his portly middle and then settled into soft creases. This is the man who will touch my leg at the next lunch. Or not. It is almost certainly the man who will take undue credit for my career if I allow him to help me and very likely the man who will gladly accept a nudge from his buddies over my fit 27-year-old frame and blonde curls. He doesn't have rules.
I cried a few coarse, rushed tears at the bar after where I go to see Heather because she’s working and to take off my patent leather stiletto heels which are so painful I cannot put them back on, even just to walk from the bar to the taxi I will now need to take home. My quick tears are in thinking about what a waste of time and money that was. Heather loans me her flip flops because she is a good friend. Waves me off when I try to pay for my pint. She’ll pay for it because that is not a rule she breaks. I leave when the other bar regulars start to filter in, some having left work a bit early, perhaps half stealthily.
Some rules are harder to define than others. Some rules are easier to deny. Sometimes rules are unspoken, or sometimes it’s just more punishing to try to enforce the rules than the penalty is for breaking them. Sometimes you have to change the rules because the game is rigged. Sometimes you have to make your own damn rules. Sometimes it’s bad when people decide that for themselves. We are all rule breakers, some of us ahead of the curve and others well behind.