A Christmas Warning

or “Oh Mothers, Tell Your Children Not To Do As Mike Has Done”

originally written June 06, 2007

by Edward Petrenko

I saw Michael Margules today.

For those just joining, let’s recap my experiences with Michael Margules (name changed out of sympathy – I suspect he Googles himself routinely). He was a kid in my middle school. He was not a popular kid in my middle school. He had no friends, no particular talents or callings, and as far I know, was not even a good student, which is the usual refuge of unpopular, untalented youth. He existed on the margins of the school’s consciousness, emerging only periodically to be humiliated before retreating back to the forgiving shadows.

Until today, there were only two incidents involving Michael Margules that I could remember. The first happened in middle school, during the first fifteen minutes of gym class, when we all got to shoot basketballs to warm up. Come to think of it, it was basically a way for the gym teacher to not have to do anything for a quarter of his day. In any case, its unsupervised nature led to it basically being recess, a social situation, and groups of kids glommed together to tool around with basketballs. Groups of kids, that is, and Michael Margules. Michael was by himself, near me and my paltry but superior social group, when he shot a basketball and completely missed the net. Or maybe he dropped the ball. Whatever it was, it was some slight failure that elicited laughter and attention from us. Michael, angered that he should be noticed for his one flubbed shot, and not the others he might have possibly made (maybe), lashed out and kicked the basketball. Right against the wall. It bounced. It hit him right in the stomach. It knocked him to the ground in some pain. We laughed. What else could we do? Grade 7 boys don’t detect pathos, they cause it. Nevertheless, this set up what has become a rubric for Michael Margules’ existence, whenever it comes to my attention: he tries, he fails, he makes it worse.

Jump forward several years. I’m in high school now, and Michael Margules has been reduced, from a gangly kid I sort of felt a little sorry for when I took the time to think about it, to an anecdote involving an unpopular kid and a basketball. It’s Friday or Saturday night, and I’m sitting around, watching TV. Sure, maybe I could’ve found something better to do, but maybe I was babysitting my neighbours, or something. Whatever. This isn’t about me. This is about Michael Margules, who turned up on Electric Circus (Toronto-based music dance show). Now, mind you, he wasn’t really on the show. Electric Circus was filmed inside some club that MuchMusic set up, and only attractive young pods were allowed in to dance in new and interesting ways to new and interesting music. Festooned in a full Adidas track suit, Michael Margules was in the mob of people outside the club who could not get in, hoping to be let in when one of the A-listers got tired, or at the very least, appear on TV and catch Ontario’s eye for a split second. And Michael Margules, being an expert in the art of playing to the attentive gaze, used his two seconds of exposure to “raise the roof” as vigorously as he could. Now, mind you, there was a time when “[raising] the roof” was still something people did, and indeed was fondly encouraged. However, this was not that time. If it was, it was the exact end of that time. It was as though Michael Margules had socially infected the “raise the roof”, and it was forced to join him in the ranks of the faded and embarrassed.

Now, I feel very bad for Michael Margules these days. The reason for this is not simply because he has horrible luck in attempting to do things. Rather, the bulk of my pain is felt because Michael Margules works so hard to overcome the hurt he feels. He is not graced with the ability to simply not feel uncomfortable or sad about his failings – were this the case, he would have already become a sort of William Hung, or other horrible, self-unreflexive semi-celebrity. No, Michael Margules feels every barb, every sting, and every tear, yet he still soldiers on. He refuses to lay down and sacrifice his dreams of accomplishing those things he has failed to do – rather than give up basketball, I suspect he began practicing every day. Rather than give away his Adidas suit, he probably worked to “raise the roof” higher than anyone had ever done before. The catch, though, is that he has not, to my knowledge, ever improved at any of these things. It could be that he does move on to new pursuits after failure, but fails again. I don’t know for sure. However he does it, he manages to stay locked in a limbo of agonizing self-torment, where he continues grabbing for attention with whatever tools he has available to him, only to realize too late that it is he, not the audience, that is in their underwear.

He was wearing a suit. Not a silly clown suit, or something, but a regular, even stylish suit, when he took to the Canadian Idol audition platform. He was taller, and had gained weight such that he was no longer “gangly”, but the repressedly forlorn look hung unmistakably on his face. Up to this point the judges had spent most of the episode trying to be creative in their belittling of mediocre singers. I could smell the blood in the water when the bottom of the screen flashed “Mike Margules – 23, Toronto”. When he began singing, my stomach rose into my chest, knocking my heart into my ears, and I could not hear how he sang. I was too nervous and uncomfortable. He had found a way to get an even bigger audience, even more attention, and amazingly, an even more vulnerable way to make them cringe and look away. He had found “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”. The thing is, with Canadian Idol, if you’re awful and lucky, they’ll only show you sing in a montage of people who sucked. If you’re awful and unlucky, they crucify you up on camera for even longer, and they grill you about your lack of talent and make you feel bad for trying. Michael Margules is not lucky. Yet, ever the embattled soldier, he fought back, accusing the judges of being mean, and of trying to make themselves feel good by making others feel bad. His point, however true, was overruled by the judges’ sassy backtalk, wise-crackery, and in one case, censored middle finger. He was upset enough to walk out on them, with a camera tailing, until Ben Mulroney’s chirpy shitheadedness segued into a commercial.

I have tried to find a cosmic reason Michael Margules exists, and all I can think up is some far-reaching, past-life karmic punishment. He may have been Hernan Cortez, or Mussolini, or he may be the Wandering Jew – his agony is such that I’m willing to buy into vast mythologies to explain it. I find this more comforting to believe, because without it, Michael Margules could happen to anyone, or anyone’s child. If you have to draw a moral from this tale, make it this: give your children hobbies, and give them hobbies early. If you cannot do this, then move far away from civilization. I do not personally subscribe to this teaching, but then, I am still not sure that Michael Margules exists as a physical entity, rather than as an embodiment of all our unconscious anxieties. His example is one to be feared, and every precaution should be taken to avoid its repetition.

We all feel bad for Michael Margules. We all see ourselves, or fear seeing ourselves, in him. Were it not for a bit of aptitude or applied self-consciousness, we could all be Michael Margules. Most of us spend our entire lives avoiding being Michael Margules – dodging the spotlight when it will shine unflatteringly on us, or staying in avenues where we feel comfortable and capable. But without those avenues, and with no flattering spotlights, what would we do? Would we glumly retreat into a mid-level job, or would we take yet another chance and audition for Canadian Idol? I guess that as far as broken men go, Michael Margules is a dynamo, and perhaps a hero of sorts. It’s some consolation, but not much – while he may thrive in the dim light of the underworld, Michael Margules was simply not designed for the discriminating, sunlit world. I’m ending this piece here, not because I’ve run out of ways of attempting to fit Michael Margules into my worldview, but because I can only think about him for so long before I feel uncomfortable. Plus, I’ve really been painting him with a shitty palette. Whatever. Maybe he’s good at chess.

God bless us assholes, every one.


3 responses to “A Christmas Warning

  1. Do we dee-tect a wee spot of the old McCourt dripping slyly from this short bouncy little number?

    good shit

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