Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Fork in the Road....Some Food for Thought

"One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised." - Chinua Achebe

It has felt like an eternity since I’ve posted anything here at CoopSpeak. My absenteeism extended out of the pre-election day threat and that ominous anonymous “We’re gonna deal with you after the election” telephone call to my home late one evening. After conferring with the local law enforcement and my family, we thought we’d just wait and see what, if anything at all, would ever materialize out of that cowardly, blocked number telephone phone call. I figured it would only be a matter of time until the human versions of Whiarton Willie stuck their heads up out of the ground; they are after all, rodents. Well it looks like that day has finally arrived.

I'm fairly certain, that somewhere in a dark, dank little corner of Caledon there are a small handful of people huddled together, cackling in laughter, guffawing aloud, espousing in their irreverent indifference “Hey Coop...payback’s a bitch, isn’t it!” They wear their gloat like cheap knock off designer duds bought down on the back alley of Canal Street in NYC. Clothing that is ill fitted and two sizes too small for their over bloated egos, not to mention they have really bad taste in garishly decorated shit kicker cowboy boots. Boots, which I'm quite sure, have most likely been designed specifically to do a little two step CoopSpeak stomping. I would probably even expect a little Jersey shore fist pumping going on. Just a bunch of regular Snookie Snickers is this crowd. That is about the level of mentality that we are dealing with.

I find their egotistical flatulence almost comical, only to be overpowered by the wafting stench of their cowardice because they choose to “put it to this girl” as it were, by hiding behind coerced promises of protection of their anonymity by threatening a local business of depleting and interfering in their revenue sources. I’m betting if you threw back the curtains in that dark, small world of theirs, exposing the light of day, those people would quickly scatter like the cockroaches they truly are.

Oh such high drama in a small town. Where’s my martini shaker? I’m just getting warmed up. Cocktails anyone?

I have been writing in the forum of social media for the better part of four years now. Web 2.0 is just an everyday part of my world. Over those years I have maintained four different blogs. I adore and utilize the power of the 140 characters that is Twitter. I have Skype’d, You Tube’d, Wiki’d, Flickr’d, Four Squared, MySpace’d and Digg’d. I salivate over the thought of the acquisition of my new iPad and get Google giddiness over the ideas of the limitless web applications that are constantly changing our world. I have embraced this social technology like a kid let loose in a candy store. It is the world at my feet, with a click of a button and then I can slip it into my coat pocket and be on my way. God bless Wi-Fi.

Social media has changed the landscape of communication as we know it. This virtual platform has empowered a whole lot of people with the ability and the mechanisms to do things such as self publish their writing, their art, their music, their film or any other of their interests they want to express or opine about. Heck, statistics say 1 in 5 relationships begin online. Virtual love is alive and doing quite well, not to mention it’s a billion dollar industry. It allows a soldier stationed overseas to post a note of love to his wife and family right at the moment they all need it. It allowed me to see a picture of my newest family member 10 minutes after he made his entrance into the world. And as we saw during the last U.S. election a social media movement for change can help you win an election. Just look at the Obama-lama bloggers who mobilized a nation of twenty-somethings to practice their civic rights and vote.

At the end of 2010 there were more than 150 million blogs online, making mine just a speck of dust on the virtual and viral blog landscape. Last week Ariana Huffington sold her online newspaper for a mind blowing $315 million dollars. That ain’t exactly chump change. Not bad for a chick who started off on her own. If you don’t think that social media is a powerful tool for the solitary man, then think again. It is a tsunami, in of itself.

Over the past three years, two of my blogs, CoopSpeak and CoopSpeak Eats have developed a faithful and interested following. While controversial and sarcastic in its political nature, CoopSpeak, was heavily trafficked and hardly a day would go by over the past two years where I wouldn’t get stopped in my hood by a local who wanted to talk to me about CoopSpeak. It was funny to be known as “hey…you are that girl.....I recognize those glasses!” My e-inbox was often filled with comments in response to a posting, some good, some not, either way I was ok with whatever turned up.

A small part of me would like to think that perhaps I had some tiny little impact on the political future of a community that I hold so dear to my heart. I achieved what I set out to do which was to get the voters off their rumps and in to the voting stations. Voter turnout in Caledon’s recent municipal/regional election had increased by about 12%. Apathy had clearly taken a small nip on the ass. The people of Caledon spoke loud and clear. I was one of them. I have never, for even a second, ever regretted taking my stand or using social media as the conduit for my message. More importantly though, I have never, ever hidden behind an avatar or a pseudonym and my readers always knew the source of every word that ever turned up on any of my blogs. Otherwise how would anything I had to say and write have any credibility? I am a prideful woman. You won't find me hiding under a virtual burqua. Knowing what I know now, even in hindsight, I would not do one thing differently.

Truth be known, it’s my food blog, CoopSpeak Eats that is really my first true writing love, not the political blather of CoopSpeak. Over the past few years I’ve posted up over 200 online reviews and more than a 1,000 photographs on everything from cookbooks to wine to restaurants to farmers markets. CoopSpeak Eats opened the door for me to join the locavore/locapour moment amidst the GTA and enabled me to become a part of a really fun social media scene that has developed in to an intrinsic cornerstone of the fabric of social media that influences all things culinary. How could I not love this? It is so much more fun to actually eat the cupcake rather than to politically pander about it.

Over the past couple of years I’d been approached by some local media sources to talk about writing “opinion” for them but in the end I always declined. I abhorred the thought of an editor red penciling my work or being at the whim of the advertisers who my written canoodling might offend. I have lost count of how many times people asked me if they could buy an ad banner on my blog and I always said no. I write because I love it not because I wanted to turn it into an ad site. I have never ever even put one of those insidious Google ads on any of my blogs. I have a day job and a very satisfying career. I don’t depend upon writing for income of any sort. People always ask me where I find the time. My pat response is simply this “I don’t watch television and I just love to write.” There you have it.

Then last December I was approached by Shelly Sargent, Editor of The Regional, she asked if we could meet. I liked the Sargents and I knew they were working hard to build their small local business. I had constantly bumped in to them up at the Bolton Farmer’s Market. Shelly and her husband Rick, are the proprietors of the Caledon Media Company, which also own the local radio station. The Regional is a monthly hard copy print paper, distributed through our postboxes. Shelly spoke to me about writing for The Regional and my first comment to her was that I wasn’t interested in writing anything political because the atmosphere in Caledon was toxic and it was tiresome.

Shelly had discovered my food writings and was really more interested in having me develop a food column for the paper. I warmed to this idea so we came up with a column called “A Fork In The Regional Road” and it felt like a natural fit. I would provide The Regional with approximately 800 words a month, along with the appropriate photography and in turn they would cross pollinate the column to my online food blog. My established online food blog would ultimately bring them more readers. The first column was slated to appear in the February print & online edition, which it did. In the February edition you’ll see the inaugural column, along with a warm welcome from the Editor herself as she introduces new writers to their paper.

Enter Whiarton Willie and the entourage of vermin. Did you see their shadows? If you didn't see them just draw in a slow, deep breath. Their stench is unmistakable.

Only days after The Regional turned up in Caledon mailboxes I received a very cryptic email from The Sargent’s asking me for a face to face meeting in their office and that it was serious. Holy cow patties Batman that sounded ominous. I finally managed to get Shelly Sargent on the phone. What was up I asked? Someone call you guys up and accuse me of plagiarism or using unsolicited photographs? Nope. It was nothing like that at all. What then? Silence on the other end. Finally I said “Shelly, if you don’t want the column, don’t print it.” Then came her tears. Shelly burst in to tears as the floodgates of her emotions went off like a fountain at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. She kept apologizing to me and I told her that I didn’t give a shit about the column but that there was something bigger, more troubling here.

Apparently the Sargent’s had been approached by several people who basically told them that if they printed anything written by me that they would work at putting a dent into Caledon Media revenues through their advertisers. Nice extortion move dudes, that took real class. I asked Shelly who did this to them. No answer was forth coming. I asked her again. Again, no answer, just more tears. That evening, on some very good advice, I wrote the Detective who I had previously been working with from the Caledon OPP in addressing the prior threats and let the OPP know what had just transpired.

I was never quite sure how these people thought by pressuring the Sargent’s they would be leveraging their “payback” on to me. Then again when I consider who that source probably was, I shouldn’t be all that surprised. C’mon let’s think about this. The column I wrote for The Regional was gratis. It was a freebie. They don’t pay their writers so it wasn’t like I was taking a whack in the wallet. All those silly goofballs did was save me the time and work of having to type out 800 words a month and fork over a few free photographs. The Sargent’s would be getting 800 free words & photographs every month of which they were quite sure would up their readership and ultimately cultivate a larger advertising base. The Sargeant’s were counting on cashing in on the notoriety of my name to draw some attention to their publications. That was obviously a no brainer. So the only people that this lowlife bunch of hide and seek rodents have really hurt is a local community minded business and a local couple just trying to make a living in the place that they live. Geez, they even made Shelly cry. Is this is your idea of payback or getting some sort of revenge?

Wait, there is more to this tale.

For three days last week someone phone spammed every single telephone message box in my place of work. The phone would start ringing about 7:30 p.m. at night and fill every single message box in our office with a hang up call until all the message boxes were filled and couldn’t take any more. Coincidence that this all started right at the same time as the high drama of The Fork in The Regional Road unfolded? Maybe, then again, maybe not. Wonder what the odds by the bookmakers would be on that if we were betting. Again, more reporting to the police. Was this another attempt to harass or punish me?

Let me tell you big dumb ass galoots who you really hurt with this act of inane stupidity. A client called my office on Friday morning in tears. She had tried desperately to get through to leave a message to her Family Outreach Worker. They were in crisis, needed help but she couldn’t leave a message because all our message centres had been spam filled. So that action, you ignorant, small minded, purveyors of attempted payback hurt a family in need of support. This was absolutely unacceptable and so I got on the phone with the police. Then I emailed Rick Sargent asking for a face to face meeting with them so I could make them aware of my filing a police report, also fill them in on the latest turn of events involving my work place and finally to look them directly in the eye and ask them once again, who put this pressure on them.

That meeting never took place. However there was an interesting and very insightful telephone conversation that did. Rick Sargent told me that they had expected to get some push back from people when they saw my name in their paper. He thought it could be deflected by saying “it’s not political, it’s about food”. Apparently that tact didn’t work as he had hoped. I asked him who did this. He wouldn’t tell me. I couldn’t fathom why on earth he wouldn’t share this information especially in light of the fact I’d filed a police report combined with the recent incidents at my office. I wasn’t interested in confronting anybody but rather we just wanted to know who the monsters in the room were. In large part it was about safety, primarily the safety of my family. The Sargent’s damn well knew I had been threatened last year.

The rules of engagement were about to change as was my sympathy for the small business interests of the Caledon Media Company and their proprietors.

I reminded Rick that it was his company who came to me and that the minute the heat in the kitchen got a little warm they were pretty fast to throw me under the wheels of the bus. I then laughingly said to him “So Rick, what’d ya do....make a promise to these people you wouldn’t tell me who was behind this?” and in his dulcet tone he quietly responded, “Yes”. Whoa. Talk about an eye opening Judas moment. Every iota of sympathy I had held for these people made a mach speed U turn for the nearest exit and was promptly replaced by contempt for their decision to put their personal greed ahead of my family's personal safety and allowing himself to be manipulated by such evil people. Either he was really, really stupid or really, really frightened of these people. He made an agreement with the devil. I hope Rick sleeps with one eye open. I could never imagine having to be so compromised.

Shame on you, I told him. Any integrity he had, had been twisted around like a slinky toy. He should have told those people to go pound some salt but he couldn’t. I guess sometimes you do what you feel you just have to do to survive. All you haters did was drop Caledon Media’s balls in to a vice grip and cheated them out of having a free columnist. Are you feeling the power now?

Oh by the way, just thought I’d mention this. During her tearful conversation, Shelly Sargent gave up a name. Yup, a name. I got a name on one of those cloak and dagger, now you see me, now you don’t, haters.

So that’s it folks. Before I sign off there are just few people I’d like to mention. Don’t hold your breath, I’m not giving that one name up....yet.In the meantime there are some people who I definitely need to give a shout out to.

To the Sisters of the Apocalypse (or as I like to say the Apocalypso….it sounds so much more fun!) thank you for your support and all the offers of help that you reached out to me with. This gal really appreciates knowing if I have to reach back, you are there.

To the group of school children who pass by my house every morning. Thank you for the wave. You have no idea of how that buoys me and reminds me of the reasons that I stuck up for the right things for Caledon even when it wasn't the safest thing to do. This is your home and your future.

To my family, in particular to my late father, Johnny, I love you all very much. Please forgive me for ever putting you in harm’s way, that was never my intention. I will do everything in my power to always keep you safe. Just a word to the vermin who think they are so invisible, if any harm ever comes to my child, there will be no place that you could ever hide where I couldn't find you. Rocks can be turned over, sewers and septics, can always be flushed out. Just scroll down to the very bottom of this blog page. I think the Scrabble tiles perfectly express my sentiments to every single one of you. Just for the hell of it, toss in a fist pump. I'm feeling especially empowered this evening. Thank you all for reminding why it is important to stick to my principals especially since you all seem to be lacking in this area.

Finally, to those reading this latest, long winded, verbose installment of CoopSpeak I would say this....just remember this.....there is no place like home.


That Girl.

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