Man vs. Clown: Five years of steam power

15Aug08

I fought a dragon once. I didn’t know he was a dragon when I met him. I didn’t know he was my boss, in fact. I was hired by someone much junior. What happened was that, as the new copy editor, I was called into a boardroom once to settle was appeared to be a heated argument over whether or not a particular word was hyphenated. “Aha!” he said, pointing at the round dot between syllables. “I told you it was hyphenated!”

“Actually, that just marks a break between syllables,” I said. I pointed over at the flat bar in a hyphenated word on the facing page. “That would be a hyphen. But, hey, we can hyphenate this word if you like. Just let me know what you want, and I’ll make sure it’s done consistently.”

“Oh, no, no,” he said. “You’re the expert.”

I went back to my cubicle. A while later, my supervisor came back with a look of wonder on his face. “Man,” he said. “I can’t believe you went up against the Dragon and lived!” I was, apparently, one of the few people too ignorant to know that disagreeing with this guy was tantamount to a death sentence. Anyway, I’d just been doing my job. Nevertheless, my feat of sheer, foolhardy ballsiness was much marvelled over by the middle managers in meetings for the next week or so.

It turned out the guy did hold a grudge, though, which was amply illustrated during some tense and rather petty moments over the next three and a half years. Once, though, I was sitting by myself in the company cafeteria, when the Dragon came through the front doors of the building and walked over to the elevator. He turned and smiled broadly in my direction and gave a big, friendly wave. Perplexed, I looked behind me. There wasn’t anyone there. He was waving at me like an old friend. After a pause, I shot back a tentative but jaunty salute. Then a crowd of Asian men in business suits walked up behind him. Ah. This made sense. The big phony was putting on a show of being a man of the people in front of the foreign investors.

So it was almost refreshing to see him so stern-faced that fateful morning a few months later when I was called down to Human Resources to find him, the director of HR, the head of my department, and the chief legal counsel. “You think you’re pretty smart, don’t you?” he said, scowling.

I shrugged. “I guess so.”

“Well, I don’t think you’re very smart at all,” he said, which I didn’t think was very nice at all. He pulled out a thick folder of printouts and flipped it open. At the top of the first page was printed Man vs. Clown! And that’s when I knew the jig was up.

When I get fired, I get fired. Not everybody gets the chief legal counsel at ringside. But that was because, as the Dragon explained, in addition to all the other reprehensible things I’d written, I’d revealed proprietary information. That was a bit of a stretch — my company might have perfected the formula of employing some complete imbeciles, but there was plenty of prior art on that one. Most people who read my blog didn’t even seem to know exactly what kind of company I worked for (many thought it was a magazine). Also, I shouldn’t have admitted to punching out my computer’s monitor, but no harm done, really. Nevertheless, it was the kind of company that, whether or not it had a strong legal case for doing so, liked to use its considerable resources to drag people through the courts, and unless I took my site down within 48 hours, that could and would include me.

So, I went home — they wouldn’t let me stay — and fretted. I talked to the publisher of the humour magazine that hosted my blog at the time, who happened to be a lawyer. After the 48 hours had passed, I’d come to a decision. I called the director of HR and told her that I wasn’t taking the site down. I’d happily remove or change any details that they thought might identify them, but my site represented part of my livelihood, and it didn’t have anything to do with them, and they really couldn’t make me take it down. She hung up to consider this and called back later to agree. If I took down the material I’d said I’d take down within 72 hours, that would be fine. Working feverishly over the next three days, I did that, and kept my blog online. If you’re going to get fired for your blog, you’d better have something to show for it in the end.

My friend Neil, who runs the excellent new blog 1000 Awesome Things, asked me via e-mail a couple of days ago how I’ve kept the steam going for so long. His timing was apt. Today, in fact marks five years since I started this site. This blog is officially old enough to enter kindergarten, which ought to raise the level of the humour around here. I haven’t gotten back to Neil’s e-mail yet, being terrible at that sort of thing, but there are some things I could say.

For one, I never worry about whether or not the material will be there. It’s always there. You just have to find it. You do this by simply keeping your eyes and ears open to the things other people miss. But you also do this by commenting on the things other people let pass without comment. If you’re going to have a blog, you’re entitled to assume that most of your random thoughts are worthy of being immortalized in print (although others won’t bother reading them unless you’re offering some kind of value; it helps here to be funny). And the other thing is that you should take it seriously, but not too seriously. Work hard on it, sure, but if you miss a day, chances are you’re the only one who’ll notice or be disappointed.

But really, there’s one main thing that keeps the steam going: spite. I have to keep writing because a bigger, bullying Dragon tried to shut me down, and couldn’t. If I ever quit, he wins. But every word I continue to write is another breath of flame back in that direction.

It’s been five years, and I’m just picking up steam.

* * *

There’s a word for the works you produce in your youth: juvenilia. I wasn’t exactly young when I started writing this, and I’m still juvenile, but I’d usually recommend skipping the first year’s worth of posts. Except this stuff:

Don’t go see The Medallion
Leave the driving to us. (You supply the violent psychosis.)
And now, a story entitled “Peter’s really drunk (but at least he’s not lying to Bob Geldof)”
Have I always been a bad person?
Barriers to networking or Why editing is a solitary profession
My brain-dmanaged housemate
First impressions count, even when you’re all in disguise
Why I like the bus
Jeepers creepers!
Six degrees of the Bacon Brothers
Go away, Jon Dore



11 Responses to “Man vs. Clown: Five years of steam power”

  1. Thanks for keeping on keeping on, Peter Lynn, and retroactive congratulations for refusing to let an absurd example of corporate browsacking force you to fold.

    I’ve been happily reading about your transit misadventures and Golden Words memories (I’m an alumnus of the U of C’s Gauntlet myself) for about three years now, so here’s hoping Man vs. Clown makes it through kindergarten to awkward adolescence.

  2. Awesome post.

  3. 3 Joe Red

    So when you release this blog on DVD will you show all the deleted content?

  4. 4 Scott

    I just took your advice and went back to read “Don’t go see The Medallion”. I think, though, we should go against your advice and rent that travesty the next time we’re hanging out. What an abortion that film was.

  5. Happy birthday Mr. Man vs. Clown!

    It’s one of my bigger regrets that I never actually did work through the entire backlog of posts before they got nuked. Oh well. TO THE FUTURE!

  6. Eventually, you’re going to have to convert to a combustion engine. For now, though, would you mind having the conductor run off all these hobos? Some of the older archives smell like urine and Dinty Moore.

  7. Happy birthday. This blog of your certainly is something. Indeed, it’s the kind of thing that people who enjoy this sort of thing seem to enjoy reading.

  8. 8 Kitty

    happy birthday Pet. I’ll always miss Ruddy Ruddy, but MvC is a good consolation prize, and it’s the first blog I started reading consistently.
    prim English kisses to you.

  9. 9 Peter Lynn

    Prim English kisses are always gleefully appreciated, you darling, lovely girl.

  10. 10 Teaflax

    Happy anniversary. I can’t think of a single thing – apart from my marriage – that I’ve spent five years doing. I’ve never even lived in one spot that long. So, well done.


  1. 1 Major League Cuts « Man vs. Clown!

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