I almost punched Jian Ghomeshi in the face once, but not for any noble reason. No, I almost punched him in the face because of his taste in hand towels.
It was in a Halifax bar some time whenever the fuck ago. A pretty long time. Before he was on TV, I think, or had his radio show. His only real credit then was as a member of Moxy Fruvous, so he probably wasn’t able to lure too many women on the strength of fame alone. I remember him looking pretty much exactly the same, though. Say what you want about the guy: he’s kept himself in pretty good shape.
Then again, I imagine myself to look pretty much the same as I did then, and this is almost certainly false. My wife tells me I’m much better looking now.
Anyway, I took a dislike to Jian from the start. In fact, I disliked him before he sat down, because of his shitty band and because I assumed him to be an exemplar of a kind of trendy, entitled Toronto smugness which, let’s be honest, he really was. I was probably pretty drunk, though, too, because I was often drunk then. But not blackout drunk, because I remember it.
My girlfriend had known him in Toronto, so they talked about Toronto shit. As I remember he was pretty friendly and charming but I had set myself against him so I didn’t give a fuck.
There was nothing Jian was going to do to get me to like him.
The only thing I really remember from the conversation was that Jian was having trouble finding hand towels for his new condo. He wanted some shade of purple that I guess was in short supply, towel-wise. And that kind of thing just made me mental back then.
Who gives a fuck about hand towels?
Jian’s in so much shit now. Dismissed. Disgraced. He had a pretty good run there for a while but it’s hard to get too famous in Canada, and there’s usually something embarrassing about Canadian celebrities.
That Labatt’s Blue-Players Light kind of guy who sings the Sinatra songs.
(Actually that guy seems mostly all right. I think he’s just some dude with a very smooth voice they started to give buckets of money to. But I need three people so I’m leaving him in.)
And how famous was Jian, really? I mean, he’s probably twice as famous a creep as he ever was a public radio host. Even within Canada I imagine he was extremely well-known in a small sliver of the population and barely recognized by the country at large.
I don’t know, though. I haven’t checked on that. And I don’t know what normal people are like anymore.
Still, here’s the thing: I quite liked Jian’s show. I haven’t listened to it in years, but for a while there I downloaded it every day and listened when I walked the dog.
I was dubious at first, because of Moxy Fruvous and the towels and shit, but I must’ve noticed that he’d interviewed someone I liked or something like that and, anyway, I liked it. He was smarmy and smug and he did this really terrible promo that went, “In Canada, we love our hockey, we love our beer, and we love our arts.”
(And if you can’t see why those words delivered in that mannered radio voice contain within in them all that is awful about Canadian culture in general and the CBC in particular then you are blind, my friend. Or American, and don’t give a shit.)
But, regardless, I liked that show. I don’t know if Jian was trying to seem cool, but he seemed like a big enthusiastic nerd. I mean, he was in Moxy motherfucking Fruvous. How cool could he be?
And I had quit drinking and gotten out of a failed marriage. I had a girlfriend (who would become my new bride, my true wife.) And I had started meditating and studying the Dharma. My cynicism was melting away. I was opening up to enthusiasm. Jian did some pretty good interviews. He seemed sincere. He stood up to Billy Bob Thornton. (Although he was too smug in the aftermath. And the parochial nationalistic satisfaction of his listeners kind of ruined it. Billy Bob was a bit of a dick, but he came off looking better in the end. America’s cool, no matter what.)
““You’re meeting the Who’s Who of Canadian indie rock!” he whispered into my ear enthusiastically. I had no idea who they were, but most of them had cool beards.”
So said the writer of that hatchet job article. I remember feeling sorry for J. Ghomeshi when I read that. I cut him a lot of slack for trying and I wanted to be more forgiving, and the writer seemed spiteful. I mean, you could see he was a tool, but he didn’t seem scary or violent. We all have our peccadilloes. I’ve misread signals and liked girls who didn’t like me, and I certainly wouldn’t want every stupid, venal thing I’ve ever said to be reported on the Internet.
But I also took some satisfaction. There was some Schadenfreude, to be sure. Part of me didn’t want to be forgiving, or cut any slack. Part of me still wanted to punch Jian in the face for talking about his ridiculous hand towels, for being so shallow just like everybody else. Part of me would’ve loved to get paid a bag of money to talk to people on the radio. Part of me wanted him to fail.
Me me me me me me me.
And of course now that article seems, if not prescient, then certainly more fitting. We know he’s bad now, so we can say any kind of shitty things we want, because we’re not like him.
J Ghomeshi has a rough road ahead. He will have to learn what it is to be shamed, ostracized, and despised. If he’s lucky and wise he will take those lessons and do something to redeem himself. And then he will know what it is like to be redeemed. It is to be hoped he will own up to his transgressions, and make some sort of restitution to the people he has harmed. He can say he’s sorry. And maybe they’ll forgive him. At least he will have tried, if he truly does.
But people don’t seem to do that very often. We notice and are proud of them when they do, because it gives us hope for ourselves, and because it is so rare.
In my own life I have already learned the lessons of cynicism, selfishness, and alcoholism: I know what that kind of life is. Now I’m trying to learn what it’s like to be positive, optimistic, and sober, and to transcend my own selfish interests. I don’t know if I could learn the second lessons without learning the first.
But that night in Halifax I was just being petty and small, poking at a stranger for my own selfish reasons. Making the world slightly shittier.
And my victim behaved with a certain dignity, even some kindness. The misdeeds we know of lay ahead of him then. He might have turned aside…or maybe not…
At any rate, he didn’t.