Sunday, February 26, 2006

Team Canada Olympic Theatre Consultant

With the Olympics having just come to a close it's time to share a few thoughts on it.

I must say I'm rather happy with Canada's results on the whole. Our medal count was high. More so than normal. Whoopie. Truth is there are only four medals that matter to me. Let me explain.

In my view there are only four winter Olympic sports; hockey, curling, throwing one's self down a hill and hurling one's self across the ice. Of these I only care about the team sports. I'm not one to throw myself or hurl myself anywhere. The two team sports become four due to gender segregation. In these four events Canada took three medals, much to my delight. Two gold (men's curling, women's hockey) and one bronze (Women's curling).

Unfortunately we missed out on the single most important medal when our men's hockey team fizzled out like a brief dry fart. At least I can say we deserved such a fate the moment we put that criminal shit-for-brains Tod Bertuzzi on the team. Thank god he didn't try to kill anyone at least. That would have been embarrassing, eh? To think he might have attacked a Fin or something and ended up in an Italian jail with an Austrian cell mate who he might also have beaten up. What dark times are these for Canada - choosing Bertuzzi and Stephen Harper in the same year as representatives of this country? Cheers folks. Here's to losing our collective minds.

Anyways - three out of four ain't bad. I'm proclaiming Canada Land-of-the-Team-Sports-of-Winter. So there. I'll be passing out copies of the new national anthem lyrics whenever I get around to making the changes.

How about the Canadian girl who won the cross-country skiing gold medal after breaking her pole early in the race? The coach of the Norwegian team handed her a spare pole of their own. How nice was that? What a sweetheart! Did you know that a thank-you was quickly organized in Canada in the form of a few crates of Canadian maple syrup being shipped to the Norwegian team? It's true. It was on the news. They gave us gold. We gave them tree sap. We're classy. For sure. I suggested we build them a statue of liberty but I was told that's been done before and we shouldn't cheapen the honor of the current statue of liberty by contributing to a proliferation of them.

"No-no," I said. "This statue of liberty would have a ski pole in her hand. Not a torch. It's completely different!" They wouldn't listen. Whatever.

Unfortunately there were no Norwegians hovering around in the air to help the Canadian aerial jumper dude - or whatever they're called - who lost both his skis in mid air when he launched into a back-flip - or whatever it's called - literally shooting his skis off his feet and straight up into the air.

How funny was that? He had the presence of mind to land on his rump, not his feet, thus avoiding injury and to wave to the crowd as he slid to a halt, letting everyone know that he was A-okay and not to be alarmed. He did not, however, have the presence of mind to remember that his skis were half a mile above his head and were also subject to the forces of gravity. They came crashing down around him while he was sitting there grinning and waving.
How bloody ironic would it have been had they come down on his head and killed him while he was busy telling everyone that he was just-fine-thank-you. That would have been some first-rate irony, my friends.

I watched the bronze medal women's curling game between Canada and Norway hoping that Norway would bust a broom in half just so that we'd have the chance to repay them with one of our Canadian brooms. Wouldn't that have made for good headlines? They should have arranged for this to happen. It would have been great theatre. Don't people understand that in this age of information/misinformation it's not what you do that counts? It's the theatre! It's what the news people say you did that counts. You got to get to the front page, my friends.

The Canadian Olympic Committee should hire me as their theatre consultant. Don't you think? I could have made all kinds of cool things happen! For instance - the men's curling team. Ray Gushue, father of Canadian skip Brad Gushue was always in the stands wearing a white tee-shirt with the words 'Brad's Dad' scrawled on it in black marker. Now, at first I did not approve of this look. I mean - couldn't he have at least got a shirt or two professionally crafted? There are lots of merchants who do that. The first time I saw this I thought, 'Wow! What a Cinderella story. This poor kid growing up in a trailer park becomes the leader of the Olympic curling team!'

In hindsight I realize of course that the shirt thing was a last-minute inspiration and Ray surely had too busy a schedule to go running around Italy looking for Luigi the custom tee-shirt vendor. But here's the point. As Canada won the gold medal and headed for the podium I was waiting for Brad to remove his Team Canada jacket and reveal a tee-shirt beneath with the words 'Ray's Son' scratched on it. Didn't happen. Why not? They didn't hire me as Team Canada Theatre Consultant. That's why. Oh well. I'll be there in Vancouver in 2010 for them if they want me. I'll make up some business cards I guess.

A few more words on the throwing one's self down a hill event.

A Canadian downhill athlete was talking about a specific run in which his teammate 'impersonated a yard sale'. I howled at this. Nearly laughed off a testicle. Brilliant imagery. We mustn't lose this excellent new lingo. I hereby propose we add two official terms to the dictionary of downhill sports:

1. Yard Sail: To catch three feet of air after hitting a mogul.

2. Yard Sale: A particularly ugly spill, in which the athlete and his equipment come to lie in pieces along the ground, as if on display for potential purchasers.

Brilliant. I love it.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Last Day Sale

I just came off the street where I passed a sandwichboard sign that read - Wait. Did I just say 'sandwichboard sign'? What the heck does that mean? Does that make any sense at all? I saw a folding 'tent' kind of sign on the sidewalk that read:

60% OFF!
I had to think about that for a while. It kind of alarmed me. What does that mean exactly? Last Day Sale? In what context is this the last day? I really hate a lack of clarity. It should have read 'Going out of Business Tonight Sale!' or else 'Armageddon Sale!' - whichever is applicable. Now I'm not sure whether or not to call up all my friends and loved ones right away and wish them a final goodbye.

Perhaps they only meant to say 'Last Day OF THE Sale'. I really do hate a lack of clarity.


Friday, February 24, 2006

The Last of the Crazy People by Timothy Findley

Just finished this novel. It's a quick read. 282 fairly light pages.

The story concerns an emotionally stunted friendless youth of 11 and his extraordinarily dysfunctional family - so dysfunctional they don't seem like a family at all but rather a collection of strangers - and the struggle of trying to grow up without sufficient guidance.

This was the local (Toronto) writer's debut novel, first published 1967 and with that consideration I'm very impressed. He pours a lot of depth and emotion into every scene, more so in fact, than in subsequent books Not Wanted on the Voyage and Headhunters, both of which I enjoyed. This depth keeps the story feeling like it's moving fast when in fact there's not a lot of distance made, in terms of circumstance, through the bulk of the story. The critical events all happen at the end and are clearly alluded to early in the book. There are really no surprises.

It's no masterpiece but a perfectly worthwhile read. It's a good emotional ride with little aftereffects. It won't keep me thinking about societal implications for very long as, for me anyway, it came across a little too surreal to have much bearing on reality.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Siblings, the movie

Siblings (2004)

I’ve seen a lot of movies lately. This one really stands out.

You can call it a black comedy I suppose and it is funny but it offers more than good laughs. It’s easy to fall in love with the heroes and get wrapped up in their plight.

The characters in this film are vibrant, unique and well-developed.

Jackie May’s script is witty but Director David Weaver really brings it to life creating a quirky, almost surreal environment. Marvelous acting performances all around to sell Weaver’s off-beat vision, especially by the youngsters. Bravo.

The highlights are in the dialogue but not so much for the words as for the delivery. It’s the subtle things like facial expressions and body language that amuse and delight.

The plot is improbable but not entirely implausible.

This isn’t a movie for small kids. The subject matter is mature – lots of references to sex and death but it mostly falls under an umbrella of rather charming innocence.

The only complaint – and this is petty – is the stereotypical personality assigned to the teenage daughter. It’s the standoffish self-centered persona that seems to come out in every ‘teenage-daughter’ movie character. If I was a teenage girl I'd be getting pretty pissed off with hollywood these days.

All around, a great effort. One of the more enjoyable movies I’ve seen in some time. It’s available at Blockbuster Video at full-week rental status. Don’t miss it. Enjoy a solo sneak preview and then re-watch it with your family!


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Traffic Report

‘…during question period, when opposition member Frank Allbranz accused the government of moving too slowly on the matter. And speaking of ‘slowly’, Jim, how’s that traffic this morning?’

‘Ellen, it’s moving slowly indeed for Eastbound commuters on the 401. This is due to a vampire in the collector lanes just East of Dixie. Authorities had all lanes closed for some time in order to fight it. The diversion has caused an extensive back-up in the express lanes stretching all the way back to the 407. The 410 South and the Queen Elizabeth Way Eastbound through Mississauga are both heavier than normal as motorists try to avoid the vampire. 401 West building normaly. Heavy from the Leeside Bridge to the Don Valley-’

‘Pardon me. I’ve just been informed the trouble on the 401 collectors is in fact a van-fire, not a vampire. Again - that’s a van-fire, Eastbound collector lanes at Dixie…’

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Reviews Galore -- continued

Oh dear. I've dropped the ball, haven't I? Alright, I plead guilty to all of Mr. Dave's charges; angry man, caffiene intolerant, eye-tease. Whatever. Apologies to the kind people at Petro Canada. I don't know what came over me.

Fine. If you really want the gory details -- here are the rest of last weekend's befallings:

Saturday. 12 PM. Toronto

Drinks at the Duke of Argyle on John Street. They have both Guinness and Strongbow Cider on tap so of course I must take advantage of that and order them half-and-half - layered of course. A Black Velvet. They have a Guinness-sponsored digital calendar on the wall than counts down the time 'til St. Patrick's Day in days, hours, minutes and seconds. Brilliant! I must get me one of these.

1 PM.

Around the corner to the Princess of Whales Theatre. The curtain does not exactly rise to start the epic musical stage performance of Lord of the Rings. It begins rather cleverly with the party for Bilbo's eleventy-first birthday. A quorum of Hobbit party guests are already on stage amusing themselves as the audience makes their way into the theatre. The further accumulation of Hobbits and progression to the scripted party scene is gradual and seamless.

This is a four-hour performance including two intermissions but doesn't feel like it. They pack so much into it; it's a roller coaster ride. Think about it. The story is, in essence, seven books long (The Hobbit, plus three LOTR tomes containing two 'books' each). Peter Jackson's movies, combined, totaled around nine hours.

I won't spill particular details and risk ruining anything for anyone. I will say this. This must be the most ambitious stage performance ever attempted. I think 'attempt' is the key word. While I enjoyed the effort immensely, I'm not convinced they really pulled it off. The technological aspect was immense. The stage is a massive circular puzzle board divided into separately mobile rings and a radiating array of hydraulic sections that raise or lower independently allowing for almost any imaginable scenario of topography and movement. The lighting and other special effects were ingenious.

For instance - and I will be deliberately vague: The scene with Gandalf battling the giant demonic Balrog as they free-fall together down a massive abyss. They tackle this scene! Do they simply drop out the centre core of the stage and have the combatants dive in? No. They turn the entire theatre into a whirlwind and we all, the audience, go tumbling into the abyss along with Gandalf and the Balrog. Incredible.

The problem with such ambitiousness and such reliance on the technical is of course, that something is bound to go wrong. The actor's ability to improvise in the face of discord is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of live theatre. But when faced with uncooperative computerized lighting and stage gyrations combined with intense choreography, improvisation could be a recipe for injury and disaster. Perhaps all one can do is throw their arms in the air and flee the stage. Alas, this is what became of the great Battle of Helm's Deep scene - twice. They declined to reset the stage and lighting to the close of the previous scene and try again a third time. Instead an announcer came on, apologizing again, and he gave a brief dissertation of the scene that we would be missing. Now, this announcer's accent - and whether this is unfortunate or brilliant is debatable - was British. This is significant. A musical stage rendition of Lord of the Rings, with all it's mock-sword play and running about - already dances dangerously close to world of Monty-Python style satire. I think this was on the collective subconsciousness of the audience. For the response to the announcement was one of great laughter. Should Tolkien's masterpiece be reduced to a comedy? God forbid. Did we need an easing of tension after such a debacle with tickets a 3-digit investment? Probably.

As I said, this project is possibly too ambitious. Some of the scenes where the special effects were intense came across muddled - unclear.

The special effects - when working properly as they did for the other 3-and-a-half hours, were simply amazing. I applaud their ingenuity. Also to be applauded is Galadriel's enchanting voice and the singing and dancing of the Hobbits. The marvelous thing about this 'musical' is that the music doesn't pervert the story - the reason I generally hate musicals. This isn't rival gangs with knives in the streets of New York singing and dancing with each other as in West Side Story. All the singing and dancing in this performance happens at times when the inhabitants of Middle Earth might actually sing and might actually dance!

I loved that they included the post-climax scene involving the freeing of the ruined Shire from the Sauron-sponsored gang of ruffians that had conquered it - an impactive scene that Jackson declined though justifiably so. But what really stayed with me from the books was the malaise that haunted Frodo and his terribly sad eventual departure from the Shire. This was a rather profound statement that a great hero, while saving his people and himself is guaranteed no glory or even happiness. Neither movie or play picked up on this significantly.

5 PM.

Five blocks west to Crush Wine Bar for dinner. They leave a bottle of mineral water on the table. Nice touch. The Warm Goat Cheese with roasted veggies, Belgian endive and toasted pistachio ($12) is yummy, we both agree. The rack of lamb at $38 (if I recall) is tasty and goes well with the mashed potato and herbs for an extra $5. Value? No. By Toronto standards, I couldn't say, but this outlander can get a delectable rack of lamb/garlic mash combination of superior flavour and richness at the Mono Cliffs Inn for $22. Spuds on the house. Literally half the price. I adamantly recommend the Mono Cliffs Inn to any individual who enjoys food or who must eat for reasons of survival etc. It's easy to find. Just go the middle of nowhere and it's right there. You can't miss it.

Rockin' Roddie does a wine ride. Four of their feature whites. I stick my nose up at such a concept and go straight for the 1999 Rioja Crianza from Bodegas Lan (Spanish, $47). It's touted in the extensive wine menu as being generous, fresh, velvety and lively with showings of plum and cherry and accents of cinnamon and orange peel (not orange mind you. God forbid! Just the peel).

I'm sure it's technically an excellent wine but as I mentioned earlier, my taste buds are few and far between and I found it frankly docile.

"Friendly," I say to Rockin' Roddie when he asks. He laughs.

"You can do better than that," he admonishes.

"Okay. Cuddly. How's that? I'd like to take it home and go to bed with it." He seems satisfied with that.

8 PM

We have found our way to The Mask on Church street. I am seriously in the mood for a rusty nail without ice or any hint of ice.

"I'll have a rusty nail please. No ice."

The rusty nail comes without ice. Excellent. Sip sip. It has also come without Drambui. Not so excellent. It has in fact come with Amaretto and it has been chilled. Thus it has all the flavor, vitality and texture of a glass of cherry koolade with a peanut at the bottom. But the wait staff are far too cute to complain to so I drink it and then order "A rusty nail with Drambui and no Amaretto, neither shaken or stirred please. Just warm." It is, of course, delicious and now we can get down to business.

Rockin' Roddie and I discuss life, love, god and society and how to possibly navigate through such the mess it has all become. I think we make progress.

10 PM

Down the street to George's Place. Their bar is stocked less fully than my own at home. This immediately, does not speak well of the place. What this says about me, we shall not explore, thank you very much.

Chris Edwards is on the stage doing a drag performance. He is not strictly a drag queen. He clearly falls under one of the 552 classifications of transgenderism, though which, I know not. Hmm. Spellcheck has ix-nayed 'transgenderism'. Well, I don't care. I'm sticking with it. Well, dammit. It's also ix-nayed 'spellcheck' and 'ix-nayed'! Oh, and 'dammit' too. I think my spellchecker is developing an attitude problem.

Sorry. Where was I? Ah, yes. Chris has enough cleavage showing to certify the boobs are real. Manufactured by doctors of course, but real. They're not tennis balls or bean bags. I have a little trouble with drag shows. I only find them amusing for a short time and then feel like I'm missing the point or something. Don't get me wrong. I have no trouble with people exploring gender. Whatever turns your crank, I say.

But why is it that we ran Milli Vanilli out - (damn - hang on. Turning off this spellchecker.)

Why is it we ran Milli Vanilli out of town but throw a dress on a dude and he can lip-synch til the cows come home - no problemo? Is the dress some kind of diversion tactic?

There is a very animated fellow on a bar stool with longish curly dark hair and a moustache. We're pretty sure he's John Oates from Hall and Oates and we have a laugh over that. He's clapping and singing along to all of Edwards' song selections, none of which I enjoy, by the way, until she does A New Day Has Come by Celine Dionne. This by the way, is the only Celine Dionne song I like but it spurs an argument. Rockin' Roddie, like everyone else on the street it seems, poo-poos Celine Dionne and chastises me for my lack of conformation. Why does he poo-poo Celine Dionne? I didn't ask. I have to assume it's because that is the hip and cool thing to do and what everyone else on the street is doing. Only once did I ask a friend why he hates Celine Dionne.

"Because she tries too hard!" he replied.

What a great point. Because, of course, one should not expect a musician to find success and make it to the top by putting forth any effort. How absurd. Jesus.

Well I like Celine Dionne and I don't care who knows it. Her music leaves me limp. Okay. But I like that fact that she's a warm and kind person and treats people with respect wherever she goes and has a great reputation as a person and is a great ambassador for Canada to have out there in the world - propagating the myth that us Canadians are nice harmless people.

Well - everywhere but in the United States I suppose. All this baloney hype about 'anti-Americanism' may be eroding the Canadian good-guy myth down there as far as I know - thanks to the wonderful work CNN and FOX News are doing with their make-believe stories about Canada. Not the real Canada of course. The other Canada. The 100% fictional Canada that some of these 'news' programs have dreamed up. They're utterly hysterical. I used to watch them during dinner 'til my fits of laughter threatened to choke me to death. AMericans may not realize this but in Canada we play re-runs of FOX News on our comedy channel. We've resorted to this ever since John Candy died.

Okay, enough of this. We'll get into the whole Anti-Americanism charade another day. I'm kidding about all of this, by the way, my Yankee friends. Don't be offended. I love you all madly - well - except for George. It's true. Hugs and kisses!

So anyway - The queen starts singing I'm a Barbie Girl by Aqua and this is John Oates' cue to join her on stage. When he climbs down off the bar stool we see that he is quite small and moves with the aid of two canes that strap to his forearms. So now we feel like shit for making jokes about a handicapped man but we work through the guilt rather quickly and are okay with ourselves again.

The stage show turns ugly. Oates is doing the male parts of the Barbie song complete with rude gestures to make very clear to the audience the carnal undertones of the suggestive lyrics. In fact, he eventually worms his way out of his shirt - ick! - and is practically trying to rape Edwards. The dragster gets a hold of one of Oates' canes and is making threatening gestures with it in hopes of scaring off the diminutive aggressor.

The song ends to a collective sigh of relief.

As does this blog entry.


Thursday, February 16, 2006

The gas attendant

So I stopped for gas this evening. Out of habit I paid at the pump with my debit card. $65 gas and about $5 worth of motor oil from one of the big jugs I keep in the trunk. That’s a typical day in the life of me and my old Grand Marquis.

So while I’m paying-and-pumping I realize I’m thirsty and I’m sleepy and I have a lot of driving to do so I decide I’ll have to go into the little stop-and-shop or whatever Petro Canada calls their little rip-off stores and get me a power drink. You know what I mean – a Red Bull or a Full Throttle (I know! I know! I shouldn’t drink those. They’ll make my heart explode. I know that. Shut up already.)

So I go in and select the Full Throttle. I find this brand intriguing because it gives you poo-breath but doesn’t taste like poo. I can’t imagine how they do that. It’s queerer than the Caramilk secret. I also choose Full Throttle because it comes in the king-size can, not the wee one. And since I’m not making any mortgage payments these days I can afford it.

I go to the attendant and plunk the can on the counter. He looks at the can.

“Will that be all?” he asks.

“Yes. Thank you,” I say. He picks up the can, scans it and places it back on the counter.

“Will there be anything else?” He says.

Now – as a self-proclaimed writer I like to think I’m generally in tune with the finer nuances of the English language. And while ‘Will that be all’ and ‘Will there be anything else’ are technically not exactly the same thing, I can confidently assure you that in this circumstance they are two means to precisely the same end.

So I don’t answer. I just look at him and he looks at me. But he doesn’t give up. He speaks again, loudly and with firm pronunciation:

“Will there be anything else?”

“No thanks,” I say. “This will be all -- and there’ll be nothing else.”

I don’t think he clued in.

I regret not saying, “You want something else? You want something else? I’ll give you something else. You’re a moron. How’s that for something else? You want more? You want more? Okay. How’s this? You know those little red signs on the pump that say 'Attendant can not make change for $50 bills or higher?' Huh? Huh? Well you CAN’T BUY GAS FOR UNDER $50 ANYMORE!! ASS HOLE!”

It’s true. No one buys less than $50 of gas at a time. Why don’t they tell the truth on the signs?

'Attendant cannot count higher than 50'.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Reviews Galore: 3 stage performances, 3 restaurants and a movie

Yikes. What a weekend. No rest for the wicked and debaucherous.

Friday. 8 PM. Toronto.

Dinner at Da Gianni & Maria Trattoria on St. Clair roughly 10 blocks west of Bathurst St.

I ask the waiter for a menu recommendation bearing in mind my penchant for pasta that is both creamy and full-flavored. I have little sissy taste buds you see, so I always demand a lot of spice or what not. He plugs the Tagliolini Della Langhe. I order it and it is seriously TDF (that is - too die for - in cool kid lingo - I hope. Truth is I’m going out on a limb here. I don’t know any cool kids). ‘Twas aburst with flavor and oh-so-creamy. An utter delight at only $22 if I correctly recall. The portion was responsible. Not too big. Not too small. I appreciate that.

My dinner/theatre companion - Rockin’ Roddie goes kookoobananas over the orange-flavored black olives. Utterly kookoobananas I tell you. (Apologies to those of you whom I promised I would stop saying kookoobananas. Last time. I swear.) They were indeed scrumptious but - you know. They’re just olives, man. Small things amuse great minds, I guess.

So the chef, Gianni Poggio, comes by and is friendly and animated but brief of course. He’s a busy guy. He asks how the food is.

“Lovely. Delightful,” we say.

“Bravo!” I add, all proud of my sophistication and the ethnic authenticity of my comment. But they one-up me at the next table.

“Magnifico!” they shout. So I stick my tongue out at them and give them the finger.

The Cologno Chianti Rufina 2000 is almost silky enough to make this former Chianti fan a Chianti fan again.

The service is strictly excellent. The waiter shows up every moment we could use him, is engaging and tolerates our inane chatter with good-natured grace. It’s one of those rare encounters where I get to pull this little stunt:

I demand to see the manager who seems slightly frightened of me upon arrival. I bark, “THIS waiter…” (while said waiter sweats profusely) “…gave me the best service I’ve had in years! I insist you double his salary! That’s all. Go on now. Get me my bill, Chop-chop!”

Both parties exhale with relief and go get on with their lives and pray they never see me again. I then leave a 20% tip which marginally disappoints the waiter having just been told he’s the best I’ve had in years but hey - waiters make more money than I do so suck it up, I say!

That waiters work harder than I do is beside the point.

9:30 PM

Down St. Clair a block to the Zemra Lounge, haven of chrome and veneer, for some live music. Rings of June are slotted to play the first and third sets and are touting a new bass guitarist. He is sports journalist and touring solo children’s musician Ben Knight. He’s also a pal of mine and a character of the most free-spirited variety.

I forget the name of the middling band. Shame on me. Something Train perhaps? Soul Train? No. Freedom Train? Train in Spain? The Train in Spain Chugs Mainly Down the Drain? I give up. Can’t do it. They’re young and loud and full of piss and vinegar. I like the guitarist with the grey suit jacket and the Beatlish mop top.

Sarah, the lead singer/songwriter/pianist for Rings of June has an enchanting voice - akin to Loreena McKennitt I would say, and I would make the same comparison with regards to some of her music. Rockin’ Roddie prefers to compare her to Sara McLaughlin, Celine Dionne and Kate Bush but he’s still swooning over the orange olives and not thinking straight.

She and singer/songwriter/guitarist Jeff Stamp are the architects of the band that also included a drummer and two violinists on this night. I would prefer to call them ‘fiddlers’ but I can’t be certain that’s not some kind of faux-pas.

Unfortunately things go rather astray and rather quickly. The sound system goes schizophrenic. The violins are mute. Jeff’s mike peters out. I count only two or three songs where all six musicians take part. On one of these occasions I finally get into it. I dig the song. I feel the energy. We finally have some momentum. The song ends and four of the members go and sit down in deference to a pending duo performance. We never get on track after that. I presume the fleebing sound system is plenty to blame. Stamp is noble and declares responsibility for the technical bamboozlement.

“God’s been after me all day,” he explains. I find that concept rather fascinating. That God was after him all day and he has not yet been done in is high testament to his durability I must say.

The rest of the night amounts to a jam session. This is kind of fun actually. A casual environment. There’s enough inspiring moments to guarantee my return and probably soon, and to get a few bucks out of me for a copy of their CD.

Saturday. 3:30 AM.

We finally make it back to Rockin’ Roddie’s house for a modicum of sleep. His ten-year-old daughter is at mom’s house this week. I sleep in her bedroom surrounded by stuffed horses.

Speeking of sleep. It’s getting late. We’ll have to pick this up tomorrow…

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Top 500 Nick-Names

Need to name your cat? Or a horse? A new nick-name for your best friend?

Here are Fantasy Writer Guy's top 500 nick-names for 2006. All are tested and approved. Please enjoy responsibly.

Sparky, Speckled Hen, Bilbo Baggins, Mr. Fuji, Mr. Green Jeans, Dickie Dee, Dimwit, Cougar, Bench Warmer, Betty Boop, Cowboy Junkie, Ace, Pantywaist, Good-n-plenty, Mayor MacCheese, Melon Balls, Doc, Donald Duck, Dino, Dipstick, Gilligan, Slime Ball, Chow Mein, Kooky, Mr. Spock, Cookie Monster, Gandalf, Flake, Carrot Top, Ignoramus, Indiana Jones, Commissioner Gordon, Butterball, Doodles, Boot Licker, Boss Hogg, Krispy Kreme, Goggles Paesano, Humpty Dumpty, Flyboy, Lightweight, Pigmy, Nimrod, Huggy Bear, Ronald MacDonald, Pussy Galore, Lounge Lizard, Petunia, Quack, Pac Man, Scrappy Doo, Pussy Willow, Pickel Barrel, Itchbum, Panzy, Mother Goose, Mr Noodle, Fogey, Leapfrogger, Scooch, Nose Picker, Enema Junkie, Scatterbrains, Snickerdoodle, Shaggy, Mooch, Marmaduke, Goatdiddler, Ooboo, Punky Brewster, Inspector Gadget, Great Pumpkin, Peaches, Plug, Shitferbrains, Melonhead, Pippy Longstocking, Nut Bar, Gimlet, Jacko, Skittles, Swizzle Stick, Rocky Raccoon, Snap Dragon, Puddlejumper, Snoozer, Kumquat, Prevert, Dunder Head, Mr. Dressup, Donkey, Animal Cracker, Red Baron, Peak Frean, Peanut Brittle, Porky, Line Dancer, Fudgeo, Pinko, Froot Loop, Piglet, Skeezits, Rascal, Dr Doolittle, Cow Tipper, Nipple Twister, Han Solo, Neanderthal, Green Giant, R2D2, Polkaroo, Liberace, Skeeter Willis, Mr. Bigglesworth, Dweeb, Noodnik, Noodles, Pookaninny, Jojo Chinto, Sheepboinker, P-Diddy, Pooh Bear, Nancy Drew, Snaggletooth, Cousin It, Jackass, Mr. Bubble, Rug Rat, Pokey, Man-from-Glad, Puffinstuff, Punkin, Pluto, Hobo, Eeyore, Hamburgler, Gumby, Pinto Bean, Scooby Doo, Miss Muffet, Sewer Rat, Mr. Clean, Peanut, Frodo, Fred Flinstone, LL Cool J, Pinocchio, Heffelump, Miss Piggy, Skipper, Pork Chop, Moonbeam, Puddleglum, Party Boy, Gizmo, Pencil Pusher, Rumplestiltskin, Scamp, Loner, Papa Smurf, Looney Tune, Fruitcake, King Cole, Fudge Packer, Sasquach, Pingu, Scooter, Psycho, Johnny Fever, Ghostbuster, Needle Nits, Secret Agent Man, Fuzzy Wuzzy, Garfield, Ginger Snap, Green Hornet, Lap Dancer, Hound dog, Pizza Face, Porch Monkey, Redneck, Poppin' Fresh, Clown, Lick'n'stick, Puff Daddy, Sea Monkey, Jiminy Cricket, Knickerbocker, Pibbles, Roger Ramjet, Puppy Chow, Chewbacka, Buggles, Snackie Cracker, Fry Guy, Choda, Bottom Feeder, Lush, Tender Vittles, Daisy Duke, Lex Luthor, Munchkin, Oliver Twist, Pilsbury Dough Boy, Goofy, City Slicker, Bugle Boy, Boondoggle, Hershey Squirt, Snuffeluppagus, Snoopy, Doper, Bink, Doofus, Land Pirate, Sniggerboobles, Honky, Grease Monkey, Tenderloin, Pippen, Flapjack, Snotnose, Bossy Boots, Luke Skywalker, Dr Octapus, Knuckle Dragger, Solomon Grundy, Tallywhacker, Dirk Diggler, Tarzan, Knucklehead, Boo Boo Kitty, Daffy Duck, Flipper, Jitterbug, Bum Looker, Atilla-the-Hun, Barney Rubble, Squeeze Toy, Starship Trooper, Sweet Pea, Big Bird, Dude Ranch, Freeloader, Skippy, Spitter, Tiger Tails, Crazy Cooter, Beaver, Cuddle Bug, Flunkie, French Tickler, Q-bert, Sneezy, Splitter, Sod, Horny Toad, Babe Ruth, Geezer, Grimace, Cat-in-the-Hat, Charlie Brown, Spanky, Blinky, Bees Knees, Mrs Beasley, Mushrooms Neptune, Orca, Spudnik, Cosmo Kramer, Chuckles-the-Clown, Horndog, Couch Tater, Sourpuss, Elmer Fudd, Bone Licker, Bonzo, Duddy Kravitz, Space Cadet, Spaceman Spiff, Christopher Robin, Engelbert, Chicken Little, James Bond, Les Nessman, Newby, Crispy Critter, Jelly Bean, Butter Tart, Obi Wan, Bottles, Eunic, Finnigan, Funny Face, Mickey Mouse, Mr. Magoo, Slippery Nipple, Sunshine, Cheese Eater, Cave Dweller, Cock Knocker, Butt Pirate, Biff, Tigger, Uncle Charlie, Uncle Cracker, Uncle Fester, Underoo, Underwear Stitcher, Vagabond, Venus Flytrap, Wagon Burner, Wanker, Wannabe, Wascally Wabbit, Waterbug, Weasel, Wee Willy, Weiner Dog, Weinie Beanie, Weirdo, Wench, Whippersnapper, White Boy, White Trash, Whoremonger, Wiffle Ball, Wiggle Worm, Wing Nut, Witch Hazel, Wonder Twin, Wonder Woman, Wussy Boy, Yellow Belly, Yoda, Ziggy Stardust, Zoodles, Tight Wad, Dinkasaurus, Timbit, Dingleberry, Tin Man, Starsky, Bat Man, Ditch Pig, Gonzo, Ankle Biter, Buffoon, Jackie-O, Bubbalicious, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Spidey, Grunt, Half-wit, Pincess Leia, Beef Noodle, Flea Bag, Squealer, Captain Nemo, Goober, Bo Diddley, Toodles, Trailer Trash, Chuckie Cheese, Fart Knocker, Scaredy Cat, Smooth Herman, Goonie, Gramps, Stickeywicket, Crack Head, Stud Muffin, Gimly, Juicy Fruit, Bag Lady, Dough Boy, Carpetbagger, Snarkles, Captain Highliner, Grover, Fish Stix, Snooty Boots, Hobgoblin, Crispy Crunch, Tea Granny, Tattle Taler, Dr Seuss, Dr Spock, Farvernugen, Dumbo, Mr. Whipple, Hogswoggler, Hooligan, Hippo, Butt Monkey, Lazy Bones, Corn Flake, Captain Crunch, Goodie Two Shoes, Buckethead, Buckeroo Bonzai, Casper, Dr Chapstick, C3PO, Screamer, Goomba, Cool Whip, Honey Bee, Crack Whore, Tubby, Lollygagger, Giggle Lips, Homer, Twerp, Brown Noser, Snagglepuss, Jack Horner, Flash Gordon, Chester, Gomer, Super Mario, Mr. Peanut, Goliath, Mushy Peeze, Bam Bam , Captain Kirk, Turnip, Bottle Baby, Jabba the Hut, Tony-the-Tiger, Sleepyhead, Sugar Pops, Kublah Kahn, Bum Chum, Beastie Boy, Hick, Four-Eyes, Slick, Breeder, Bozo, Carpet Licker, Buck Rogers, Bushwacker, Bubbalooey, Google Eyes, Frito Lay, Bugs Bunny, Kermit the Frog, Spooky, Sweet Marie, Bubbles, Pop Tart, Captain Kangaroo, Twit, Goo Head, Bruce Lee, Titty Twister, Bullwinkle, Brownfingersniffer, Sugar Plum Fairy, Chippy, Beaker, Bugsy, Squibbles, Spunky, Splooge, Tit Wanker, Smartie Pants, Mongrel, Mr Big, Eddie Haskel, Bobo, Fisheyes, Stinker, Scum Bucket, String Bean, Tickle-me Elmo, Snoop-Dog, Limey, Prickly Pete, Professor Plum, Miss Molly, Georgie Porgie, Toucan Sam, Troll, Squirrelfucker, Squirt, Colonel Mustard, Doorknob, Sticky Fingers, Kinko, Knobgobbler, Tooth Fairy, Dudley Dooright, Jughead, Darth Vader, Snivveler, Sponge Knob Square Pants, Mother Hubbard, Bean Sprout.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Are you a boob?

This morning in the lobby of the office building in which I work, the elevator door closed on me while the other passengers stood there watching. It didn’t squish the life out of me by any means - just momentarily mashed my shoulder and my briefcase and made me look silly and prompted me to loudly clear my throat and jam the button for the 2nd floor very firmly and loudly with a stiffly pointed finger.

As the door just started to close again a straggler came rushing through the lobby toward us. Being Mr. Fast-Action Man, I hit the ‘door-open’ button and held it while the door about-faced and rushed open again. I moved to the side while I held the button and turned cheerily to the other passengers. It was a sort of Vanna White impersonation.

‘Look, boys and girls!’ my posture and expression silently told them.
‘This is how you press the door-open button and not squish the shit out of your friendly office neighbor!’

After the straggler lady entered the car I continued to hold the button - and my Vanna White posture - for a few additional seconds, just to be sure everyone was looking at me and learning a little lesson and most importantly - feeling silly. You see, if you’re gonna make me look silly, you’re damn well gonna join me.

Unfortunately this happens to me very frequently.

In the mornings there’s usually a bit of a crowd gathered by the time one of the elevator cars arrives to gobble us up and whisk us off to our respective cube farms. I generally wait until everyone else enters first. This is because I work on the second floor and will therefore be the first one off the elevator. Last on. First off. This saves us all a whole lot of reshuffling later. Not being a boob, I’ve figured out clever things like that.

But I’d estimate approximately 90% of my office neighbors, sadly, are boobs. They don’t understand that when they push a floor-button it triggers the elevator door to close after a short delay and that if they are an eager beaver and need to push their floor button ever-so-immediately upon entering that they then must hold the door-open button, assuming of course they prefer not to squish anyone. Now, perhaps they do prefer to do some squishing. Perhaps their failing marriages are bringing out a little misplaced passive aggressiveness.

Am I describing you? If so then yes, you’re an office boob. Don’t cry. Don’t call up your councilor. I’m not mad at you. You can be easily cured. Just learn from your mistakes.

Do you wait directly in front of an elevator door and try to rush in at the moment it opens only to discover that there are outbound passengers waiting to disembark? They have the right of way of course - and you - are a boob.

Do you approach the glass lobby doors at the same time an office neighbor approaches from the other side and despite the door opening in your direction, you go through the door first, instead of holding it open for your neighbor? If so, what are you? That’s right. A boob. You must learn that the placement of the door hinges dictates who shall hold the door. Gender, by the way, has nothing to do with it. Whether you possess a penis or vagina, it is safely tucked in your pants and shall not come in to play in such an encounter. Hopefully.

Here’s the danger zone. Do you go through the door first - in the circumstances described above and then, realizing your mistake, reach back through the threshold, trying to hold the door open for the other guy, meanwhile blocking his way? This is a much bigger problem. When super-boobs do this to me I just stand there and look at them with the blankest of expressions until they give up and walk away.

If this is you, you may be a little beyond boobdom. You may need to get your EyeQ tested and see if perhaps you should be spending more time in the care of others and receiving a monthly cheque from the government. Sorry to break it to you.


Sunday, February 05, 2006

Tel-Sales Survival Guide (volume 2)

More methods for turning phone-pirate time theft into valuable entertainment time! (continued from post Tel-Sales Solutions, Sunday January 29th)

Solution 6: The Hold

Watch your clock. After every 20 seconds of pirate talk, put them on hold for 40 seconds. Do this over and over until they give up. Don’t be shy to cut them off mid-sentence. Try these lines:

“Hold for a second. I have to let the dog out.”
Upon return, “Whoa! That was close. He was just about to pee on the floor I think.”

“Hold for a second. I have to let the dog back in.”

“Oh my god! Hold for a second!”
Upon return, “Sorry about that. I had to rescue a big cling-on from the dog’s butt before he sat on my white bear-skin rug.”

“Hold on for a second. Someone’s on the other line.”
Upon return, “Sorry. That was my uncle [or nephew]. He’s in the hospital recovering from testicular surgery. He had one removed. He’s a one-ball man now. Pretty funny eh?”
Note: If American, do not say ‘eh’. Say ‘Don’t y’all think?’ or ‘Dang nabbit’[??] or whatever’s regionally appropriate. For added fun substitute ‘aunt’ or ‘niece’ instead of uncle or nephew. Chances are the phone pirate will never even notice.

“Hold for a second. I have an itch in a hard-to-reach place.”
Upon return, “Whoo! That’s better. Sorry about that. I had to use both hands to reach that sucker.”

“Hold for a second. There’s someone at my door.”
Upon return, “God, I hate door-to-door salesmen! Bastards!”

When the pirate finally completes her pitch, tell her ‘Oh. I just bought [same product/service] from the salesman at my door. Gosh. Sorry about that. Goodbye.”

Remember – never ask if you can put them on hold. Just speak over them and put the phone down.

Solution 6B: The Hold (version 2)

Same as above but each time you place them ‘on hold’ remain on the line and breathe heavily. They should realize that you’re still on the line but if they ask, don’t confess! Just keep breathing.

Solution 7: The Classic Retort

Each time the pirate asks a question of any kind, say, “I know you are but what am I?”

This will result in a brief but amusing conversation.

Solution 8: The Barnyard

Respond to all questions with the following answers:

- Moo.
- Oink.
- Cluck cluck.
- Hee-haw.
- Baaaaaaaaa.
- Cock-a-doodle-doo.

If you’re talented in the ways of animal impersonation noises, go crazy. Go all out. If not, just speak the answers in a calm, reasonable human tone.

Both methods are highly effective.

Solution 9: The Perceived Crank Call

Listen to Phone-boy’s initial pitch and then say, “Mike, you bastard! Is that you?” He’ll deny it of course. Say, “Very funny, Mike. I know it’s you!”

Regardless what the pirate has to say, continue to ‘believe’ it’s your friend Mike (or whomever). Ignore everything the pirate has to say and just ask ‘Mike’ about all the things you would normally ask a close friend. If stuck for material, try these lines:

“Hey, I heard your dog died. That’s rough, man. You okay?”

“So did you really take that cross-eyed girl home with you last Friday?”

“Hey, Thanks again for dinner the other night. Man, when I got home, I never stopped farting all night!”

“So is your dad still talking about a sex-change operation?”

“So Mike, you ever find out what that spot is on your willy?”

You get the idea.

Solution 10: The Spouse

Wait out the entire pitch (while continuing to play on-line poker or to surf for Brittany Spears pictures or whatever). Then tell phone-girl, “I’m sorry. I don’t make those decisions. Here. Talk to my wife.”

Hand the phone to your young daughter (or say ‘husband’ and give it to your small son).

Tell the child it’s his Aunt Mary and you think she has a present for him. This will guarantee his active participation in the conversation.

For added Mayhem, give it to a child of the same gender.

Two warnings. One – To be fair, you may have to reward the child with a present the next day. Two – Depending on the pirate’s interpretation of the situation you may find the authorities at your door the next day following up reports of molestation. In that case just put them on to my web site. I’ll explain everything. I wouldn’t leave you high and dry, my friend. We’re in this together.

Now, be sure to print out these Tel-Sales Survival pages and keep them by your phone. Give ‘em a try and let me know how it goes!


Saturday, February 04, 2006

In Praise of Squirrels

I was driving down a rural highway today and saw a black squirrel wandering out of the brush and over the shoulder onto the road. He was well ahead of me but I knew at once that our current rates of approach forecasted a collision course. Bad news for him of course. Nary a threat to me and my '94 Grand Marquis. We've been through worse.

In fact just a few weeks ago, during a heavy snowfall I was driving around at night in an un-plowed parking lot and with a tremendous 'thud-thud--huh-what the?--thud-thud' drove merrily off a 9-inch curb and into a giant octagonal sunken playground. That's right. In the middle of a massive parking lot that services multiple Brampton Ontario municipal buildings they dug out a big 8-sided playground, 9 inches below parking altitude and disguised the damn thing to appear, while under snowfall at least, like more parking lot. It was a bitch to get out again but I did. It took all night to build a makeshift ramp out of ice-slabs but I did it. If only I were a wonder-twin (Hall of Justice cartoons - remember?) it would have been so much easier. I would have said, "Form of... An ICE RAMP!" and poof! I would have turned into an ice-ramp. Oh. Wait. But then, who would have driven the car?

I'd forgotten all about those crazy wonder twins until a while ago my buddy and me were at a bar and noticed that one of the draft beer taps was left in the on position with no bartender around. Perfectly good beer was free-flowing all over the place. The tap was mounted at the back of the bar - out of our reach. I waved frantically at the bartender - a tall studly handsome gorilla type bartender - and, catching his attention, pointed at the mounting puddle of wasted beer. He sauntered over, turned off the tap and then approached me. Saying 'Thank-you' was evidently too much a challenge to his vocabulary so he simply pointed his fist at me. Somehow I understood this rudimentary gesture and mimicked it. Our two fists came gently together. He nodded and walked away.

"Are you guys wonder twins or something?" asked my buddy.

"Yes," I said. Then turning back to the retreating gorilla, yelled, "Form of - an ICE TOASTER!" or something equally witty. I'm sorry. What the hell were we talking about?

Ah, yes. The squirrel - I'm not heartless, you know. I glanced in the rear-view mirror to confirm that no motorists tailed me and prepared to take evasive action if necessary. But as I suspected, this was not necessary. The squirrel demonstrated a grasp of the situation and took matters into his own hands (paws?). He picked up the pace and scampered across the road well ahead of me. Clever little guy, eh? Much cleverer than the average teenager I tend to encounter on the streets. They always manage to cross the road at just the right time and just the right angle to get themselves in as many motorist's paths as possible. One night I approached an intersection - green light for me - while a couple slow-eyed teens lingered on the sidewalk glancing nonchalantly at my approach. At just the right moment they sauntered out onto the road and strolled across my lane, carefully pretending not to see me, their drawers barely clinging to the southern end of their hips (to their credit they wore reflective underwear). I was not in the mood to yield to an intentional belittling from a couple of too-cool teenage dopesters. So I maintained my speed and direction and thought - too hell with them. Very worst case scenario - they die as they richly deserve and I go to prison. Free meals and lodgings and I can write my novel 12 hours a day and become a wealthy published author sooner! What the hell? I won't get raped. I'm a 300 pound bearded man for pete's sake. Maybe I'll do a little raping of my own. But alas, no such opportunity. The little bastards, at the last possible moment, lost all manner of coolness and literally leapt out of the way. Missed them by inches. They surely crapped their pants. How those jeans would still manage to cling to their hips after that - with a load of crap in them - I have no idea.

So squirrels are arguably smarter than teenagers. Or is it unfair to compare teenage boys to adult squirrels instead of to teenage squirrels? Right. You may have a point there.

Squirrels also have a rather crafty flair for irony. True story: A young associate of mine declared proudly his very own theory he'd come up with. I'll warn you he's a rather stereotypical young jock - talented but not much of a philosopher.

"I'm convinced of something," he exclaims. "Squirrels don't poop!"

"Um... Okay... What makes you say that?"

"Do you see squirrels frequently? Here and there?"


"Ever seen one taking a poop?"

"Um. No."

"Me neither. Because they don't."

I then went a good year or more without seeing him.

"How's the squirrel theory coming along?" I asked him, after the long absence.

"Squirrels poop," he said, dejected. "One got into our house somehow. He pooped on my desk."

"Wow. That's harsh. You think he was trying to tell you something?"

"I dunno, man."

This is not terribly uncommon as far as I know. A squirrel got into my house once. And here's a testament to their cleverness. Not only did he find his way out again, but he went out of his way to let us know that he'd gotten out okay. Smart, sense of humor and considerate! Squirrels rock.

Our doberman chased the little bastard all around the house and into the basement. Once there was nothing left on shelves and tables to knock off and break, he darted into the work-shop/furnace room and hid from the dog. We figured he must have got into the house that way - through the heating system and we hoped he'd find his way out by the same route.

Sure enough, while at the dinner table, we saw a small figure appear in the backyard just outside the patio doors. A squirrel. He sat their looking in. It was the squirrel. We knew it was him because he had a clump of sawdust on is nose - sawdust from our workshop floor.

"Goodbye you little bastard," I said.

He turned and ran off.

I'm currently outlining a short story called The Squirrel Solution. A squirrel breaks into a man's home and ends up teaching the man a valuable lesson. Helps him solve his problem. That's all I'll say about that for now. Don't want to ruin the ending.


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Gently Down the Stream by Ray Robertson

I recently read Gently Down the Stream by Ray Robertson, a very fine author in my humble opinion. Had I stumbled upon such a novel and read the jacket I wouldn't have bought it, having little interest these days in such a plain literary plot *. But having met Ray once and having enjoyed the very brief conversation and especially his intelligent sense of humour, I sought this out on purpose and even paid full price for it.

I intended to add it to the "A-queue" and read it within a few months (annually I buy close to 400 books and read about 60! - I have a rather involved tiered system of cataloguing them for eventual reading or dust-gathering).

However I fell to temptation and sneak-previewed the first page immediately and by it, was enticed on to the second. By then I was hooked. A successful 'text-book' marketing implementation. Kudos!

I read almost half the book that evening before regretfully putting it down and going to sleep as I had a client commitment in the morning and dared not show up on the heels of an all-nighter looking like Barney from The Simpsons.

To that point I'd naively judged my enthrallment with the book to be simply a guilty pleasure. I had laughed out loud - and hard - every few pages and was amused by the extent of things the hero and I had in common. We were men of the same era, locale and background and shared personality traits and flaws and pet peeves. I'd never experienced such a connection before. The lion's share of books I've read are by English and American writers, by the way.

As much as I abhor conversation around an author's work being memoir versus fiction and always assume bull-headedly that all is fiction (all is both, by the way, inevitably but later for that), I could not deny the correlations here. The hero, Hank Roberts shares much the same background and career milestones as the author, besides a name of the same ilk.

It was early on the second evening (I would finish the novel later that night) that I suddenly allowed all the hints to sink in. When I realized that not all was right with the hero - the character who seemed to be just like me, I thought,
'Ouch! What does that say about me then?'

Later I would meet Ray a second time and, managing not to gush and blubber too much, tell him of this observation - that half-way through the book I realized that all was not well with the hero. And he said, "Ouch! What does that say about me?" Sound familiar? Creepy, eh? I wonder if Robertson is actually me - reincarnated and then come back in time so that we're co-existing. Don't laugh. It could happen.

Anyway - regarding this moment of realization: I was shocked at how worried I suddenly became for this character. How involved I'd become. How much Robertson had drawn me into his world and captured my dedicated empathy without my awareness.

He's a great writer, I say. Because he employs just the perfect degree of subtlety that keeps the reader constantly engaged. At least he did so in this book. I shall next sample an earlier work of his called Home Movies.

A note on this whole ‘shared experience’ thing - between the hero and I; on the second day it broadened into something less a novelty and of more meaning. For the first time in my life I felt a belonging to my generation. A shared identity. You hear and read about the hippies of the 70's and other generation-based communities and are maybe a little in awe that they had something special. And I suppose they did but now I know that for better or worse, I'm part of something too and it's just as real! It's a powerful feeling. I like it.

*disclaimer -- I have nothing against literary books! It's just that I read a lot of that for a long time and now prefer novels of heroic adventure/fantasy so I can keep an eye on the competition!