When I was 11 I ran away from home and walked around downtown Guelph until after dark. This was pretty radical and I was sure I would get in trouble but it seems like no one noticed. Go figure, seven kids.

When I was fifteen I used to run away from home and sleep on the rocks at the Beach. No one noticed I was gone and though I spent the nights worrying about bugs and drunks and high tides I was pretty well hidden and enjoyed being alone.

When I was 28 and felt like I’d been looking after other people too long I took great big pieces of chalk and wrote all over the walls “How come nobody ever feeds ME?” I’m not sure this accomplished anything, though it may have spawned the chalk mural that became a feature of the apartment.

Last Thursday when I was uptomyeyeballs in unsolvable problems and ready to snap I left the cafe in the care of the neighbourhood and ran away again. I didn’t get far actually but I enjoyed being alone and able to think and sleep and relax and get a few things done. And I came back with some clarity and some direction that might lead to solutions.

And in my absence neighbours looked after the cafe and cleaned and shopped and entertained each other. We may not have a lot of staff, but we have a really big team. And somehow this feels like progress.



Habitat for Humanity’s Reuse Store stole $61 from a Hamilton resident not too long ago.

The manager insists that as a Charitable Organization, it is not theft.

I am left to ponder if she means that as a Charitable Organization, no matter what they do, it is still a good deed.

The manager assures me that as a Not-For-Profit Organization, rules of accounting oblige them to write-off their debts at the end of each month, the debts they owe to others which are more than 60 days old.

Wouldn’t that be nice…

While I am a big fan of Habitat for Humanity and the work they do to put people into houses, even here in downtown Hamilton, the Reuse Store is essentially an international pawn shop with a much more clever business model since the merchandise is donated and the staff are volunteers. As a pawn shop, their inventory is totally random, so a sixty day limit on anything is absurd as they have no guarantees of what will be in stock.

According to my friend Wikipedia, Sanction means to grant permission. By shopping there we have been sanctioning this objectionable corporate behaviour: the nullifying of store credits after sixty days, aka: stealing.

Used in the popular term Economic Sanction, it means exactly the opposite, to not give permission. Sociologist describe economic sanctions as a form of social control;

Societal mechanisms that regulate individual and group behavior, leading to conformity and compliance to the rules of a given society, state, or social group.

So I am asking you, my friends and readers, for an Economic Sanction against Habitat for Humanity’s Reuse Store. Stop shopping there until they stop stealing.

Let them change their bookkeeping practices that they seem to think are the law, let them tell us about it, and then lets all get on with our good deeds and charitable activities.

Assets and the Giving Economy

On Saturday 19 year old Alex looked at the Asset Inventory on the wall at the cafe and said “Who’s Ariel?” According to the asset inventory, Ariel is a five-year old who’d like to learn to play piano. “I can teach her,” said Alex.

In Seth Godin’s book Linchpin he talks about a giving economy, where people give to their family, friends and neighbours rather than charge money, or interest. He talks about how this is the way it used to be and that this creates prosperity and abundance for the community.

When Celeste coordinates the Property Angels, when the coaches share their wisdom at the Neighbourhood Business Round Table, when Sarah teaches crafts to kids on Saturday afternoons, they give their time and they enrich their community immeasurably.

There are certainly no shortage of people outside of our community with whom to do business so if the 19 year olds get it, without explanation, without training or courses or workshops on giving, how come it’s so surprising, so novel to the rest of us? How come it isn’t normal?

Maybe it is normal for them. Maybe what this generation, much derided for their lack of work ethic is ushering in is a new-school economy, new-school community. Maybe for these children of boomers who were the centre of our economy, education, lives, from whom nothing was stinted, maybe for them giving is normal.

Maybe without even trying they are ushering in a giving economy.

Becky the Cow

“Just squeeze here and aim.”

There’s nothing like milking a cow to turn you off dairy when you’re a kid. Except maybe being expected to drink it when you’re done.

I’ve had such an on-again-off-again relationship with all things dairy. Uncle Herman had a cow named Becky and at ten years old this is just not flattering.

When I was 21 or so, I had strange little bumps that felt like small bones sticking out here and there. Dr. Fred said they were calcium deposits – not dangerous, don’t worry about it. But I thought, if calcium is piling up all over my body, where’s it coming from? The pint of yogurt I eat daily? The block of cheese? Pizza? Lazagna? Grilled cheeses? You can see where this is going. So I went off dairy cold-turkey as a test. The last thing to go was the drop of cream in my coffee. After three months the little bumps were gone and most startling of all, I could breathe through my nose.

I’d never done that before. I was gagging and choking and had to train myself to breathe through my nose. I could smell things I’d never realized that I couldn’t smell before, like cut grass and that fresh rain smell, and My God – the reek of McD’s! I stayed off dairy for about ten or twelve years until the cheese festival in Montreal. It was all gourmet after that.

The idea at the cafe is to bring some of those gourmet cheeses in from Quebec, where the artisanal farmers have been practicing their craft for hundreds of years (really!). In keeping with our efforts to find the best food and beverages, I want to get organic milk and cream for coffee from a local farmer, but it’s tricky shopping for things you don’t want to taste – like milk.

People seem to love Organic Meadow so I contacted them and was redirected to the distributor. And somehow, that crazy idiotic system that forgets that businesses aren’t things, they’re people, has reared it’s ugly head again.

“Hi there, I’m calling from the Heart of the Hammer Cafe to talk about your organic dairy products.”

“Ok, I’ll start with your banking information.”

“No no, I’m just calling to find out about the different products, what they cost, how it works.”

“I need your banking information.”

“I don’t understand. I just want to talk to someone first.”

“And I need your banking information to proceed.”

“Maybe I have the wrong line. Can I talk to someone in the sales department?”

“That’s me-ee!”

“Ok, bye.”

I begin to wonder; am I a cow after all or is something rotten in the state of business?

Broke Bank Mountain

I’m coming around to the idea that this may be my job for the foreseeable future.

Go ahead Geoffrey, say “I told you so.” My little brother Geoffrey who has a lot of wisdom about these things lent me some money for equipment to start-up but declined the invitation to come and tend bar. “Every story I’ve ever heard about opening a bar starts with five years of no sleep.” “Fooey on that,” was my answer. And luckily, for if I had believed him or any of the other people who said so I wouldn’t have opened the cafe. And I’m really glad I did since I am learning so much. And who needs sleep anyway?

The thing I like best about it is jazzing with all the people who come in. Oh, well, and feeding them too. So I found it odd when the bank manager kept trying to find solutions for me that involved not dealing with people. I had gone in to talk to him about a few specific problems that I was having with the bank.

To raise some money for the rest of the liquor license, we offered pre-paid tabs for food and beverage and merchandise, sort of a pay-now, eat-later deal. And it worked; between that and some loans we got the money together. So the day I had to ship the documents to the AGCO I ran over to the bank with an uncharacteristically large pile of money and cheques, popped my card into the teller’s reader and counted out the money into $100 stacks.

“Do you have a book?” the teller asked.

“I don’t know,” says I, “I don’t think so.” She looks at me blankly so I fumble onward, “Nobody ever gave me a book, or asked me for one before,”

“You don’t have a book?” The rolled eyeballs, exasperated sigh. She trurns to her colleague, “Aren’t they supposed to have a book?” Now I’m a ‘they’. At this point I wonder if we’re speaking the same language.

“If there’s something you want me to do, just let me know,” I offer “Nobody ever asked me for a book before.” She grabs up all my piles of money and says,

“How much are you depositing?” Of course, with all this drama I can no longer recall.

“I forget,” I tell her. Big sigh, shoulders slump. More rolling of the eyeballs to the colleague. She sits looking at the money. So what if I’m an idiot, doesn’t she have a job to do?

“Are you not going to count it?” I ask her.

“We count it,” she says, “but we don’t add it up.”

What the hell does that mean? I just look on, puzzled, not knowing what to do next, my joyful moment of success shattered because I don’t have a book. She starts banging furiously on a little keypad, lets out another sound of exasperation using the word receipt like a curse.

“I usually get a receipt,” I interject.

“Yeah, YOU get one,” she spits, “but I don’t.”

And this is my fault?

So I get back to the cafe and fire off a note to the manager saying that the teller who just served me was really rude and if this is what I can look forward to I’m not really interested. Can we meet to discuss whether my business fits with his?

The next day we meet bright and early. When I tell my story, the manager replies,

“I’m not going to apologize for her cause she was just doing her job.”

“The thing is, I’m not complaining about her, I’m complaining about her job. It should be customer service, but instead it is about serving her. It should be – What do you need and how can we help?”

“The problem is you didn’t have your book.”

“What book!?!”

“When you opened the account, I told you that you need it and you said you didn’t want it.”

“You mean that kit for $140 with a fancy cheque book cover and a company seal?”


“Well I’m not buying it. None of that brings in business. I don’t need any of that. I am behind on wages and utilities and only two days ahead on stock. I have more important things to spend $140 on.”

“You need the book for your records.”

“My records are on excel and in my bank account.”

“Well we need it for our records.”

“Then you pay for it.”

“It doesn’t work like that.”

“Well then it has to change. I get it that we’re talking about a bank-wide system, but the world is changing. All this fancy stuff has gone the way of the dodo. If it doesn’t get me business I’m not spending money on it. If it’s something you need me to do, then you supply it. What I’m saying is let’s work together to find a way to change this system. It has to be changed.”

“It’s always been this way.”

“I believe you. But listen, when I order my chocolates from Beanermunky, she provided me with white cotton chocolate gloves for handling the chocolates cause that’s what she wants to have happen. She didn’t say, “Hey, you have to go buy gloves.” Angela’s Cakes brought a beautiful Biscotti jar and my soups from Chef Danielle and my coffee from Detour come in storage containers, they don’t tell me to go out and find special storage containers that fit their warehouse. If you need some fancy book and you want me to fill it out for you, you have to provide it.”

“What you’re talking about is barter system. It’s used all over the world but it isn’t used in big business.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I pay my suppliers, and Campbells Soup provides the pots for Locke Street Bagel to serve their soups in at no charge. And Campbells are big business.”

“Look, if you want, you can make your deposits in the machine and then you don’t need a deposit book.”

“What’s the turnaround time if I deposit cash to the machine?”

“Six days.”

“I don’t have six days worth of money. Every day I pay somebody for something with whatever comes in that day. At the end of the month I’m scrambling to get the rent money into the account five minutes before the landlord gets here to cash the rent cheque. I don’t have six days. This is where the customer service thing comes in. I’m the customer and you say – How can we make this work for a new small business in our neighbourhood?”

“If you use the machine, you don’t have to deal with the people.”

“I like the people, it’s the system that needs to change. All of my suppliers are real people. They do their thing, I do mine. We figure out what works for each other. Each time I pay one of them, I know exactly what value I am getting for the money I give them. But here, I opened a business account to keep the money separate, I’m paying you $15 per month and I’m not clear what I’m getting for that, especially if she wont even count the money.”

“It’s important to keep the money separate.”

“Sure, except right now I don’t have any money. I pay the rent by cheque and I pay my PST. I can do both of those things from my personal account. I anticipate making cash deposits daily once we get up to speed, but if I have to go through this then I’ll have to do it somewhere else.”

“Don’t I recall from when you opened your account that you had some credit issues…”

The credit bomb. What this means is don’t you dare ask for things, just do what you’re told. Take what you get. Even if you’re not looking for credit.

Recently somebody suggested to me that a small handful of people control the world economy. This was momentarily depressing but then I thought, who cares? Whether or not this is true, I say so what? A small handful control space, another handful control the internet, another handful control Royal Marriages. Unless you’re playing in those arenas, trying to marry a prince, build space shuttles or control virtual real estate, it doesn’t really matter. Money is fiction, so is economy. It’s a set of rules in somebody’s game. It may be true that if you play the game, you have to play by the rules, but who says we have to play the game?

You’re real. I’m real. Whatever we’re building is real. We need to start a new game. A new economy. A people economy. Cause our banks are broken.

Not sure how, and it might be a mountain of work, but I think if we play together it could be fun.