Raccoons vs. Cyclists

There are a lot of raccoons in my neighbourhood.

Well, duh. This is Toronto. Everyone has a raccoon story. I have two good ones, both of which involve raccoons sneaking into the house to eat cat food. Both stories conclude without incident.

Last night I overheard an animated conversation across the street. This is not unusual, as the people across the street seem incapable of conversing at any decibel level below full-out holler. Usually I just close the door, but as I was changing the front porch light bulb this time, I was around long enough to get the gist of the conversation, and to realize that it was more of a diatribe than a discussion. And the person who was holding court was on a bicycle.

Let me say this first. I have a bicycle, and so does my wife. I should ride my bicycle more, and this city, and western civilization in general, would be better off if everyone did. But the bicycle is, unfortunately, the vehicle of choice for self-righteous gasbags. Think about it.

you must be thinking of someone elseThis guy was going on about how people are dangerously, nay potentially fatally, complacent about raccoons. “People even give them water,” I heard him say. “Look, this guy won’t even come out from under there.” He stomped on the porch steps behind which one had just disappeared. “They’re wild animals. People just don’t get it.”

The folks across the street seemed to be listening intently to the impromptu lecture, and managed to stop yelling at each other long enough for me to hear what someone else was saying. He was on a bike after all. He must be some kind of goddamned expert on nature.

I watched him ride off down the street, and I watched the raccoons descend from my neighbour’s tree – and extricate themselves from under the porch – in his wake. I wasn’t too concerned for their safety. But it got me thinking about how often the person you’re too polite to tell to shut the hell up concludes the interaction by riding away on a bicycle.

People who repair bicycles, in particular, like to give you the impression that they possess some kind of rare and arcane knowledge about the intricate workings of these fantastical machines. I was with my wife when she purchased a new seat for her bike recently. It was an impulse purchase made on a Saturday, and when my wife asked if they could install it for her there at the shop, there was a lot of hemming and hawing about how long it would take. Fair enough. Busy day, Saturday, great weather. I asked if it would be difficult for me to install myself.

“Not if you have the right tools,” the bike guy replied.

“What kind of tools do you need?” I asked.

“An allen key.”

“I have allen keys,” I said, brightly.

“Yeah, you probably don’t have the right kind. It’s not a standard size. If you use the wrong size you’ll just destroy it, and you’ll have to come back here anyway, and it will end up costing you more.”

So there it was, obvious to those in the know, heretofore a mystery to me. It is only possible for someone who possesses the secret knowledge of the bike repair guy to attach a seat to a metal tube. The masons can’t do it. Don’t bother calling Opus Dei. Just try not to be a complete idiot and leave it to the bike guy.

This is known as “gatekeeper” behaviour, examples of which you may find in the person who holds the key to the supply room at your place of business, counter staff at your trendier downtown diners and bakeries, and developers: poorly socialized brats and bullies who, upon discovering that you require access to their specialized area of expertise in order to get on with your day, use that fact to fuck with you and establish their superiority. Seen Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome? This is Master Blaster syndrome. If you’re a Simpsons fan, we’re talking about the Comic Book Guy.

Obviously, I’m as powerless to stop this kind of behaviour as you are, and that, in a nutshell, is why it persists. There will always be someone who knows more than I do in any given field who is willing to use that knowledge to be a dick rather than for the greater good. But I’m trying to be more Zen about it. So to you I say, there is no information of dire importance here. You’ll be fine if you ignore everything you see on this site. The sun will come up tomorrow if you don’t add me to your RSS aggregator.

When confronted with a gatekeeper, polite indifference is your best bet. Here are some sample lines you can try:

  • “I just bought this bike ’cause it was on sale. If you get a good one someone with a bic pen and a meth habit will just steal it.”
  • “That’s a lovely top you’re wearing. So, like I said, I could really use some stickies.”
  • “I don’t use the internet much. If I can’t scribble it in my Moleskine it’s probably not worth remembering. Plus there’s always the library. And TV.”