Friday, September 29, 2006

FWG's deliciously more excellent all-week adventure - Thursday

Day 6

Another poor sleep. From 3AM to 5 I'm awake reading Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weiss and Tracey Hickman while waiting for the latest Tylenols to kick in. The book utterly sucks but I'm determined to get through it for the following reasons - each one stupider than the last:

1. I always seem to expect some badge of honor to be bestowed upon me for surviving such an experience so heroically. (Obviously the badge-of-honor issuing people have quite a backlog to fill because I'm owed quite a few.)

2. It's useful learning (reinforcing really) exactly how not to write a fantasy novel.

3. There are forty or fifty books in the series (seriously) and I've already acquired close to thirty of them prior to reading a single sorry word from book one so I'm praying for some kind of miracle to happen to get me digging it.

11:00 AM

I go for a nice walk and do lunch at the Tribune Cafe where the poulet miel dijon resembles a Cuban sandwich but is much nicer. A sampling of two salads - both lovely - and a coffee and I'm rockin' and rolling. The music here is enchanting. I love it. Some kind of Euro-Parisian-retro-jazz-piano- okay - who the hell am I kidding? I have no vocabulary for music. Sorry. But I really dig it. So I struggle to explain to the cashier that I must learn what CD is playing. I must find me a copy. She struggles to explain to me that this is no CD but Muzak. Each song a different artist.


So much for that.

I hit the street asking strangers for change - quarters actually. I buy them with dimes and looneys until I have enough to do some laundry at the hotel.

I grab a shower and hit the street. Ah hah! The Librarie next door to the hotel is not a library after all but a book store! Ooh la la! Formidable! The English section is small but yields some Atwood and Jack Chalker for me.

I hop in the beast of burden and cruise on down to beautiful Old Montreal and go for a long walk - looking out for a drug store and for a restaurant named Gibby's where I'll later be meeting a most excellent man by the name of Jean-Francois who recently retired from the company I work for. He was a big shot at our Laval office and was much-loved by all. He retired to pursue another ambition.

We'd chummed around at our annual company meetings because we're both cigar smokers and both great fans of the Montreal Canadiens. He'd given me his number with the instructions to look him up if ever in Montreal. I did so and true to his word he arranged for dinner at a primo steakhouse.

But my congestion and runny nose are becoming a nuisance. I need Dristan. Must... find... Dristan. But oh - what a chore.

I try three depanneurs. No luck. I ask various merchants who shrug their shoulders.

"Drug store?" I beg.

"Not around here," they say. "You must go uptown." I find it bizarre that with all the office buildings around there is nowhere for an employee to go on his lunch hour to pick up a cold remedy.

I walk vaguely north. I ask a pedestrian for help.

"Drug store?" I say. "Dristan? Decongestant?" I make sniffing sounds as I point up my nose. In hindsight this was not the best choice of charades strategies.

The man frowns at me deeply. "Drugs?" he says.

I'm suddenly horrified. Does he think I've mistaken him for a drug dealer because he's black?

"No no!" I say. "Drug store!" I'm thinking wildly. "Pharmacie! Pharmacie!"

"Ah, oui. Drug store." He gestures forward - way forward - as if indicating Greenland.

"Thank you," I say. "Merci."

I eventually find myself at Place d'Armes, the historic square, site of the Notre Dame Basilica. I'd been in there once before and found it absolutely magnificent. Huge and dark and creepy and as welcoming as Dracula's castle. Religon and I do not mix well.

There's a taxi stand here. I approach the lead driver and repeat my Dristan/pharmacie/sniffle/snort routine but with more care this time.

"Ah!" he says finally. "Jean Coutu."

"Yes! Oui. Jean Coutu." And we're off.

He drives me all over hell's ten acres. Half way across the city it seems.

"I can't believe the closest drug store is this far away!" I finally complain. "Do French people never get sick!"

He responds with monosyllabic grunts and broad hand-gestures which serves me right. I already know he doesn't speak English."

Cutting to the chase - it's $9.00 for the Sinutab and $22.00 for the lift there and back.

My first drink at Gibby's - a vodka and grapefruit juice with salted rim - is $10.20. I sense I'm in for an expensive night. The restaurant is huge and gorgeous with broad wooden beams and columns, mammoth stone walls and coach lanterns. I'm almost an hour early. I sit in the bar-lounge area that easily seats eighty comfortably. The smoked almonds are delicious and very fresh. I say so and am informed that they roast them themselves in their own smokehouse on the property!

Wow. This will definitely be an expensive night. The service is lightning-fast and the drinks are meticulous. The salt is spread sparsely over a deep surface area of the glass allowing just the right salt-per-sip ratio. Wow. Do I sound like a twit or what? But the place truly rocks. It's gonna suck going back to being poor next week.

I ask the server here if he knows of a decent cigar bar for later.

"Of course," he says and returns promptly with the name, address and phone number of the place written on a card for me. Sweet! I so want a butler when I grow up.

The sinutab has kicked in and I'm feeling good. Jean-Francois arrives a tad late due to traffic and is gracious, apologetic, exuberant and dressed all spiffy-like in checkered sport coat. A nice one, that is. Don't go picturing Don Cherry on me. A lot of men wear suit jackets casually here - with jeans for instance - which is common in France too as far as I know.

There are other European flavored cultural phenomena immediately apparent in Montreal. The language of course but also the high quotient of bicycles and compact cars and of restaurants and clubs. And of smaller independant business.

"Quebeccers work to live," Says JF. "We don't live to work as Ontarians do. That's why we have small houses. We prefer to eat well and drink good wine."

"I know," I say."Me too. I'm more like a Quebeccer that way."

"But all this small business - it doesn't stimulate the economy. Montreal is dying, my friend."

"Dying? But there's such vibrancy here! I sense more life here than in Toronto."

"Economically it is dying," he says. "There is no growth of big business. It's all been scared away to English Canada because of Cretien and all his separatist talk - scaring everyone. It would have died away if he would shut up about it but he keep warning everyone and provoking separatists so they don't go away. We voted. Quebeccers said no! Twice! That's enough! Shut up about it and let's work together for Canada!"

The waitress is mature and prim-looking in floor-length apron. She knows immediately to speak to me in English and JF in French. She leaves us with delicious fresh bread, a big stick of butter and a bucket of pickles. A bucket! My eyes saucerize. JF laughs.

"It's a French tradition," he explains. This is a French restaurant - as in France - not French Canada.

I order one of the two rib steaks on the menu - medium rare. The waitress shakes her head and explains that I want the other rib steak - the superior one. I take her advice.

"Double baked potato or rice pilaf?"

"The rice please."

She shakes her head ruefully. "No," she says. "You want the potato. It is best potato in Montreal."

I sense I'm not so much ordering dinner as taking an oral quiz - and failing miserably obviously. I accept the potato.

"Do you want salad?"

"I don't know. Do I?"

"Yes. The salad is good."

I shrug.

It doesn't look like much upon arrival. Mixed greens and typical garden vegetables. But the dressing is magical as are the mounds of fresh crutons - no doubt baked in their own crutonnery - that she continued to shovel onto my salad long after I said 'when'. But mm-mmm. She proves my judgement wrong again.

Dinner arrives. The steak is massive and seasoned brilliantly with a delightful crust and a perfect pink interior. Finally, without initial enthusiasm I sample the potato and am blown away. It's almost like a mash in consistency and oh so tasty. Even the unassuming tomato slice is a treat - dressed in some crumbly topping. I leave the unnadorned branches of broccoli the hell alone. I'm not gonna risk ruining such a spectacular triple with a failed play for home plate.

That's a baseball metaphor by the way. Get it? No? That's okay. Metaphors aren't my strong suit. I'm working on it.

The wine was my choice unfortunately. Silver Creek or something like that. Previously untried, I figured you could never go wrong with an Australian 2002 Shiraz/Cabernet. Surprise. You can.

JF and I have a marvelous time. We talk about all the special people we know - who bring us such joy. We're fortunate men. Very happy with our lives but still looking up. I suppose that's what has brought us together really - more so than cigars or the Habs.

He has raved about Gibby's signature dessert. I have only the vaguest recollection of the name but we shall call it 'chocolat chaucer' for now. (A thousand apologies to all keepers of the French language for that mutilation.) But tonight the dish is suspiciously absent from the dessert menu. JF is troubled.

"It has been replaced by the chocolat chausette!" (a million apologies) our apron-garbed waitress explains, "Which is even better!" This prompts a flurry of rapid French.

"Blah blah blah chaucer!" JF excaims.

"Blah blah blah chausette!" she retorts.

"Blah blah blah chaucer blah blah blah!" JF insists but gives in and orders the 'chocolat chausette'.

"I'll have the same," I declare.

"The same?" she says, aghast.

"Oui. The same." I'm not giving in this time. Not on your life.

"But you spoke of the creme brulet!" JF exclaims.

"You will have creme brulet!" she says.

"No no!" I say.

"It is best creme brulet in Montreal! I will give you two spoons. And two forks for the chausette. You will share."

I give in of course. Both dishes are outstanding.

Jean-Francois drives me back to my hotel, stopping at Modavie to fetch my jacket. He crushes my hand with his powerful handshake.

"Farewell my friend. I know we will meet again."

I certainly hope so.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

FWG's clearly more excellent all-week adventure - Wednesday

Day 5

I hit the lobby to check out and get some breakfast. Mm-mmmm! Coffee and buscuits! I stupidly hope that 'buscuits' might refer to croissants. Ha! Dreamer. They're in fact cookies. Acme chocolate chip cookies or some damn thing. I have one. Just one. That'll do fine, thank you. Don't open another economy box on my account. Thanks anyway.

There's a black urn and a white one. I touch them and the black one is hotter. I pour coffee from it into a styrofoam cup and hit the road to Ottawa. I very nearly cause an accident upon taking the first sip. It's disgusting. Horrific even. Worst coffee experience ever - barring, of course, the time as a teenager I ate a spoonful of instant coffee powder right from the jar.

It's a lovely day. Clear and warm. I power on the digital camera and as I cross the great bridge again I hold it out the window and raise it, pointing it back over the roof of the truck and I snap away at the Ottawa landmarks. And the camera fails every time of course.

I do however get a decent shot of the giant spider just before it eats the National Art Gallery. I'm sure you heard all about that on the news.

I spy a nice looking park of sorts on the Hull shoreline and figure that to be an excellent vantage point. So I cross another bridge back over to la belle province and easily locate the park. The vantage point - as you can see (or can't - depending whether Blogspot has got their image-uploading problems fixed or not) obviously did not live up to expectations:

The park at least offers a nice bench so I sit and do some writing in the sun. Here's a candid pic of yours truly at said bench:

Alright - so it's not exactly candid. I took it myself while pretending to write. I'm not even left-handed.

Hunger rears its ugly head. Back to the market district for a pint of suds on the patio of a happening Irish pub and a raw tuna dish just caked in a spicy-sweet rub and swimming in a puddle of tasty sauce and with a yummy creamed wasabi on the side. Absolutely delicious. Superb.

But enough farting around. It's time for the meat of the vacation.

To Montreal!

Welcome to
The giddy-up town! Home of Wilma and the Pony Girls

St. Albert
Peanut butter capital of the greater St. Albert region

The trees around here are only just beginning to shift colour but the ochre and burnt-orange fields are a delight to the eye. At least that's how they look through my sunglasses.

Home of three Henriks and a great many Daves

Welcome to
Vankleek Hill
Smell our Petunias

Okay - is everyone sick to death of the town slogan project? If you are - let it be known and I shall can it! But if not - start helping out! There's a lot of towns still neglected. They need your slogans. Throw us a bone!

Many warning signs are posted on this highway alerting to deer crossings and moose crossings. In some places there are both signs standing side by side - which I find very peculiar. I struggle to decipher the reasoning behind this. Is the act of looking out for deer very different then that of looking out for a moose? And by extension - different again than the looking out for both simultaneously? I'm suddenly concerned that I may be an incompetent driver - being unlearned in these matters. I wonder should I pull over until proper coaching can be sought?

Perhaps my consternation is unfounded. Perhaps there is merely a point system at play here and the double-sign is intended only to inform contestants of this high-yield bonus area.

The trek into downtown Montreal becomes the chore I expected it to be. I get lost immediately - thinking I'm going the wrong direction when in fact I'm not and thus exiting the highway without need. This is the second of five detours on the day after an extreme low-fuel episode had me off the highway roaming god's country with the gas needle hanging off the wrong side of the red bar.

It was a brick-pooping moment or two I assure. I wound up in a delightful cow town of a place called Regault where a kid - maybe twelve years old pumped my gas. I was keen to ask why he wasn't in school but he clearly knew little English other than 'fill'.

'Oh? Fill? Yes. Yes please. S'il vous plait. Oui, merci," I stuttered. I disembarked to stretch my legs, standing on the sidewalk while a big tanker truck came to a stop on the road beside me. The driver leaned toward the passenger window and rattled off some request to me in French that surely had something to do with directions to somewhere. Besides my ignorance of the language I didn't know the directions to anywhere from there but along came a woman pushing a baby stroller right then so I tried to indicate to her that this driver needed help. She didn't understand me and scurried away. Too bad really. They would have been perfect for each other but I couldn't negotiate the introduction.

There's a Montreal traffic jam of course which I survive. I get lost again, recover quickly and escape l'autoroute and claw my way through the local streets to find the Hotel Montreal Enspace Confort after just two more hiccups including a strange perpetual-motion one-way dead-end street loop that sucked me in for a couple revolutions. I probably broke a couple laws - of physics and/or the moving violation type - in escaping.

The hotel room is nice. It's clean and modern and everything looks new although the furniture all looks a little Swedish-for-common-sense if you know what I mean.

I discover that their particular breed of internet is not compatible with my antiquish lap-top so these posts will be late in hitting the internet. (I know - what else is new?)

The walk to Old Montreal is a long one but I complete the journey because I'm a champ. Well - that and because the hundred and fifty restaurants I pass along the way all fail to sufficiently capture my interest. But upon hitting the cobblestones of wonderful narrow rue St. Paul I know some holy grail will be near.

Indeed it is a dozen strides away - on the opposite corner of the intersection. It is called Modavie (Way of Life?) and it is dark and features floor-to-ceiling wine racks. Oh... yeah...!

I sit at one side of the U-shaped bar. Two women sit at the section to my right and a little man sits across from me. He looks like the dark-curly-haired actor from Kids in the Hall but shorter. And his behavior measures up. He's halfway through his bottle of Rosemount Cabernet Sauvignon and he's already tipsy. He smiles for fifty seconds of every minute and does his best to chat up the girls who are clearly tourists. He wears a sport jacket over a casual shirt and is clearly not a tourist. He listens intently to the girls' conversation before interupting with vaguely relevant input. Then he apologizes for eavesdropping and the girls graciously assure they're not offended. He apologizes a second time and the girls repeat themselves. He apologizes a third time and the girls awkwardly resume their conversation. This is the formula that repeats itself endlessly. They talk while he watches them and smiles. He interupts and apologizes three times. They talk again while he watches them and smiles. He interupts then apologizes three times. I take all this in, fascinated. An excellent performance for people-watchers like me.

The baked brie seems a tad bland but then so does the fifty dollar bottle of Wynn's Coonawara Shiraz so obviously this insipid little touch of a cold I've got is mucking with my tastebuds.

The gorganzola/sausage/black olive pasta is delightful though - putting Windmills' gorganzola carbonara to shame.

I time the wine drinking wrong and dinner is done with a glass and a half to go. Such a full-bodied selection is too bold to sip post-meal so I order the cheese plate to compensate. But that dish runs long and now I need a glass of Chianti to compensate for that - which proves utterly tasteless by comparison. Oh well. You can't win 'em all.

One particular bite from the cheese plate contains morsels of pear, walnut and goat cheese simultaneously. The flavor marriage is a thrill and I make notes in my omnipresent breast-pocket notebook. I shall have to craft a salad recipe around this combo for my next dinner party.

Finally the girls actually ask Mr Kidinthehall a direct question.

"What is there to do around here for fun?"

He immediately launches into a long list of restaurants with critiques of each.

"Besides restaurants though - What else is there to do around here - you know - for fun?"

He nods, still beaming as they speak. And then rhymes off another list of restaurants.

The bartender is Katie (not Matt) and helps me with the highway crossing sign dilema suggesting they are erected not for motorists but for the beasts' benefit so they'll know where to cross. This works for me. Case closed.

She whispers to me that Mr. Kidinthehall had come in earlier all smiley and he proudly announced that he would be having dinner and a bottle of wine - maybe two - and would perhaps even get drunk. I glance over her shoulder and nod.

"He's doing a good job of it so far," I say. She rolls her eyes.

It grows late. The crowd thins. Katie is a clever conversationalist and we have a nice chat. She won't let me buy her a drink but buys her own. She even helps us out with the town slogan project!

Welcome to
Try our horseshoes and Monopoly

I drop a small fortune and cab it back to the hotel. I realize I forgot my jacket at Modavie. Oh well. I'll certainly be back in the neighborhood tomorrow or the next day. Old Montreal is the bomb!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

FWG's back-on-track more-excellent all-week adventure - Tuesday

Day 4

10:00 AM

Woe is me.

I awake with a world-record-breaking headache and a delightful taste-o-puke at the back of my very dry mouth. Ah! The life of an unpublished fantasy writer! Aren’t you jealous?

It takes an hour to brush, shower, pack and brush again. I’ll be checking out right at the deadline.

I suddenly remember something wonderful and I stop to process the memory – desperately trying to extract it from the scotch-flavored anarchy that is my brain. I saw artwork last night more beautiful than I realized art could be. So amazing that it changed my perception of art. There was one piece in particular that shattered me and I had stared at it until a tear threatened to fall. Granted I was stone drunk but still. I can picture it now. Two white horses. Two fishes. Three or four trees and a flock of black birds. So harmonious and radiant with joy these creatures seemed to me that they outshone the giant yellow sun.

Wait. Did I take a photo of it? I stumble around and find the digital camera. I hit the ‘review’ button and there on the display is the image of two dogs toting pink accessories. Pink eyeglasses. A pink ball. What the fuck? I have no recollection of this. Did I join a circus last night?

I hit the ‘back’ button and there it is. The masterpiece. I’m sober now and the image still moves me.

Oh my lord! Did I purchase this piece? It’s not in the room. Did I purchase it and then lose it somewhere? That would be so like me. No. No, I didn’t. The memory solidifies. I tried to buy it and the restaurant manager declined.

“Come back tomorrow when you’re sober and I’ll sell it to you.”

Thank gawd. What a fine gentleman. It was two thousand dollars. It would have ruined me. I also find a business card for an artist by the name of Mark Graham. I pray that he has prints for sale. I’ll definitely be Googling him and giving him a call.

Head pounding, I descend and check out.

“I hope you enjoyed your stay,” says Mr. Day Shift.

“It was lovely until the hangover. It’s been a bit of a trial since then.”

I steer the banana boat onto Highway 15 north (Ottawa bound). I’m back off at the first variety store where I scoop a coffee and a danish and a 24-pack of Advil. I immediately reduce the inventory to 21.

The drive is generally nice – a typical Ontario highway with great carvings through the Canadian shield. The not-so-nice portion comes in this form:

At the end of a passing zone I’m generous and remain in the break-down lane to the very end – allowing one more vehicle to pass. However, the next vehicle after that – some land pirate in an Oldsmobile or something – decides that I am purely expendable in relation to his imperious agenda and viciously tailgates and drives me onto the shoulder. Miraculously I contain myself, figuring this to be some kind of karmic payback for last night’s debauchery. I do take notice of the license plate though. A habit I’ve fallen into whenever marking another motorist for possible future assassination.

Welcome to
Smith Falls
Proud home of Canada’s 278th Wal-Mart

In Smith Falls highway 15 necessitates four turns at local intersections. The first of which is another near-death experience when another Oldsmobile-or-something makes an impromptu left-hand turn from the straight lane while I’m in the left lane jumping all over my brakes.

“Mother f-!” Oh. But did I say another Oldsmobile? Pardon me. It’s the same damn car! You’d think I’d be fit to kill at this point and be trying to run him into a telephone pole but I’m so utterly amazed that I just sit there in a daze, shaking my head. At the next lights I snapped a photo of him though – just so I can get the word out. If anyone happens to be acquainted with this particular creature of darkness – please say a warm hello from me – oh and drive a stake through his heart for me too. Thanks!

Welcome to
Wonder twin powers – activate!

And twice as arn since

Welcome to
Don’t feed the Grits

There’s a huge demonstration in front of the House of Commons as I arrive in the capital. I hope nothing goes terribly awry resulting in the death or serious injury of the Prime Minister. That would be mildly unfortunate.

I cross the big bridge into Gatineau, Quebec where the Hotel Du Chevalier awaits.

“Bonjour – Hello,” I say to the woman behind the front desk. This is my way of saying, ‘Greetings. I’m English but I’m making an effort, see?’ She seems to understand. We swap documents.

“Monsieur Landriault,” she says, pronouncing my name in the purest Frenchest accent possible. “You ‘ave a French name but you speak English.” She says this in a sultry voice and with the faintest hint of a smile and a devlish gleam in her eye. She’s right out of a James Bond movie. ‘We shall make love and then I shall kill you,’ I fear she will say but she doesn’t need to. Her gleamy eyes say it all.

I hit the room. It’s nice and has a balcony. A good place to do some writing with a stogie and a bottle of plonk for company. Perhaps later. For now I unpack, freshen up and depart for Ottawa’s downtown ‘market’ district.

After a long walk, some people-watching, window shopping and menu-reading I settle on The Keg of all places. I know! I know! Seems a terrible waste coming all this way to dine at a chain restaurant but I’m seriously in the mood for good steak and I just don’t see another reliable steakhouse option. I choose a small table by the bar and settle in for a four-hour bout of writing (in a notebook of course). It also seems strange ordering the calamari having just sampled the best calamari ever at Windmills the night prior but I do and am rewarded. Windmills falls to second spot after only 24 hours in the limelight. The Keg’s new calamari dish is utterly – and I mean utterly – to die for. I won’t even describe it. Just go. Promise me you’ll go to the Keg and try it.

I consider two more orders of calamari as my dinner but instead I get the Keg-sized prime rib with au jus, horseradish, garlic mash and crispy coated onion bits. I stack it all carefully into a 5-tier sandwich fit for the gods. Tonight I finish a bottle of Twin Fin Cabernet Sauvignon (it’s tasty but a bit wishy-washy – seems more like a pinot or zinfandel to me) and migrate to coffee rather than scotch. Regular coffee. Not boozy coffee. It’s 9 PM. I’m falling asleep. So I call it an early night, keen to rise early next morning and do some exploring before leaving for Montreal.

Good night.

FWG’s intoxicatingly-more-excellent all-week adventure - Monday

Day 3: Kingston

I slept in. Boy did I ever. Got away about 1:30PM. Managed to escape the Torontosphere without getting sucked into any traffic jams of significance. The 401 East out of the GTA is rather drab unfortunately. All the usual suspects were present. Trees. Five foot high weeds. Bird-brained motorists having fits - jogging back and forth between the right and centre lanes without ever surpassing those of us just cruising in the left lane like human beings.

Luckily I have a box of CD’s and the town slogan project to keep me entertained. Here’s the official FWG-and-Friends Town Slogan roster - Toronto-Kingston chapter. Most are brand new. Some you may have been previously subjected to.

Welcome to
Ah-choo! Gazundheit!

You are now entering
No cannibals allowed

Welcome to
Come get your bowman fill

Port Hope
Spank it

Welcome to
We live with our parents

Welcome to
The lights are on!

City of
If it doesn’t say ‘Bellevelle’ it isn’t (but it does)


Welcome to
Our cheeks are rosey

Our boys are loaded

No, not ‘Ottawa’. Don’t be stupid.

Why don’t you come to your senses?

We jam for kicks

Made you look!

Shoot it to me, smackdaddy!

I make it to Kingston in good time and find the Queens Inn with no trouble. Kingston is a very pretty town with lots of quaint stone buildings. This one is no exception. Their online registration system was awesome. I was able to choose my own particular room using their web site. I had chose one with a limestone wall and a skylight.

I take the key from the clerk, climb two flights of stairs and open the door. Sure enough the room looks just like the picture from the web site. Oh. Except that in the picture the bed was made. I also note that the cushion on the comfy chair is wildly askew and there are scattered towels on the bathroom floor and a few hairs on the vanity.

...Things that make you say ‘Hmm...’

I return to the front desk.

“Hi. Is the room okay?”

“Yes, yes. The room is fine - um, you have a maid that cleans the rooms between guests - I imagine?”

“Yes. Of course.”

“I don’t think she got finished with this one.”

“Oh my. I’m terribly sorry. Let me get you a different room.”

“I kind of like this one actually. And my bags are already in there. If you could just arrange for some fresh pillow cases and fresh towels I’d be happy. I’m stepping out for a couple hours anyway.”

“Of course sir. We’ll have the room made up properly. Right away. Again - my apologies.”

I hit the streets with book lists in hand. There are three used-book stores within a block of each other and right around the corner from the hotel. I pass one of the rare not-so-pretty Kingston landmarks. It is the Robert Bruce Memorial Parking Garage. It’s very clearly marked as such in big black letters.


I don’t know who Robert Bruce was or what he did to deserve such an honor but please let me make something entirely clear - for the record. Should I ever do something of profound impact on any community (something in the realm of literature preferably!) Something to warrant that an entire community mourn my passing - do not under any circumstance let them name a parking lot after me. Because if that happens - guaranteed I will claw my way out of the grave and wreak a terrible unholy hell upon the living. I’m not kidding. Thank you for spreading the word.

The bookstores surrender a bounty of titles from my wish list. Goldmines. I spend a small fortune and ask the merchants for restaurant advice. I like the sound of Windmills.

I freshen up at the hotel, walk a few short blocks to Windmills and am promptly impressed. The décor suits me perfectly. In fact it almost precisely resembles my description of a ficticious restaurant from a piece I just wrote called Nobody’s Hero which basically came out of my head. I’m confident this is a good omen - that either the book will be a best-seller or that I’m about to have a great meal.

I’d take either. No preference really.

It’s slow here this evening and will remain so. The cute young waitress offers me any table at all so I take the one with a bench seat along the wall and chairs on the other side. It would seat four comfortably. I choose the bench seat which faces the bar and the handsome young bartender.

The calamari is crispy and simply to die for with spicy coating and spicy peanut sauce. Delicious! Oh well. So much for the book deal. Surprisingly - the Jacob’s Creek Shiraz/Cabernet holds up to the appetizer. She’s living dangerously, allowing me to order it by the bottle. The Gorgonzola Chicken Carbonara leaps off the menu page. I need not look any further.

The light is very dim - which I like in a restaurant.. I’m writing by candlelight so she brings me a second candle. The pasta is good though not as full-flavoured as I’d hoped. It gets better though after I pull the broccoli from it.

Dinner complete I move to the bar where no one has sat all evening. There are few diners remaining in the place and Matt, the bartender has been underutilized and looking bored. I order a coffee.

“Actually - throw some Amaretto and Baileys in there please.” They have Strongbow cider and Guinness stout so as tradition demands, I have a Black Velvet. And then another for good luck. And here’s where I become a very very bad boy.

“Um - is that a bottle of Dalwhinnie up there?” I ask innocently.

“It sure is,” says Matt. We’ve been chatting about his career, his own creative writing and his music. He’s a bass player.

“I think I’ll have some. Make it a double please.” And thus begins FWG’s tragic undoing. I’ve never been able to migrate from wine to scotch without ultimately getting wrecked. This night will be no exception. The remaining details are hazy. I’m not sure how many double Dalwhinnies I had at Windmills nor how many double Obans I had at the next bar - Coppers - in the lobby of the hotel, where the bartender was also named Matt and was even friendlier.

“You’re the guest with the yellow truck I’ll bet.”

“Guilty as charged. How’d you know?”

“You just look like a yellow-truck kind of guy.”


Nor do I remember how many double Balvenies I had at the next bar where I stumbled in the back door while trying to find some late-night Pizzeria called Buddy’s that Matt #2 offered directions to as he was closing up Coppers for the night. The sound of live music had drawn me into this long dark dive of a bar where they will continue to serve me just after two despite the state I’m in. The band sucks but I enjoy it anyway. I try to write in the blackness. The bartender puts on a small pot light in an out-of-the-way corner at the end of the bar table. I go there, grateful.

“What is this place?” I ask.

“Toucans,” says he.

“Oh! Like Toucan Sam!” I say. He nods, smiles. “Like - follow yer nose!”

“Exactly.” He’s very kind. Not a looker, mind you, but kind.

“Except I didn’t follow my nose to get here! I followed my ears!” What a clever S.O.B. I am when smashed eh? Gawd help me.

Twice I receive a clap on the back and turn to see a familiar face. Both Matts and their friends and girlfriends have shown up. I stop writing and good thing ‘cause it’s none too legible. The girlfriends are very nice and we three engage in conversation while we buy each other shooters - cause - you know - twenty eight drinks is just not enough to loosen me up when I’m chatting up a couple young girls and trying to act like I’m not hitting on them - or their boyfriends either for that matter.

I play Mr. Wise Man and insist on knowing all their problems and aspirations so as to form my sage advice to them.

Eventually the lights go on. Hugs all around and the drunken troll stumbles outside and lands in a cab.

“Food,” I utter, conscious only of the fact that I have a vat of alcohol in my belly which must be soaked up if I am to live another day. He takes me to Burger King so I presume I must not have annunciated ‘food’ correctly. Not surprising given my state.

I stare at the menu board in plain disbelief. Counter Boy seems amused with me. He’s smiley and six foot ten and built like a phone booth. He reveals later that it’s his very first night shift.

“I must be seeing double!” I say. “There can’t possibly be that many patties on a hamburger!”

“Nope. It’s true. We have quadruple burgers.”

“Yeah but that one has eight!” Dear gawd. Someone please lock me up for my own protection.

Another drunk comes up alongside me. He looks like Jerome Iginla but shorter. We’d interacted briefly at Toucans. Tequila was his poison of choice. He can’t even see the menu and demands the walking phone booth choose a meal for him and then demands to see the manager.

She arrives to find two drunks insisting that the boy is underpaid and surely deserves a shift bonus for having to deal with us drunks.

“Yeah,” I say. “And danger pay too!” She humors us, gives us ‘food’ and shoos us away. I have the triple burger as far as I can tell and fries and onion rings. The burger is disgusting. Perfectly slimy.

I tumble head-first into another cab and return to the inn where I engage in discussion with a crotchety old night clerk and his very strange friend with a deep tan and permanent squint. He never speaks and never stops smiling. He just nods and laughs at everything we say - none of it being humorous as far as I recall. Oh well. Interesting fellow.

It’s five in the morning. I make the arduous climb to the third floor, bouncing off each wall en route and I go to bed - having first said my prayers of course - at the porcelain altar.

And I assure you ardently - the burger tasted no worse on the way up than it did on the way down. Not one iota. Way to go, Burger King. Don’t know how you do it.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

FWG’s potentially-more-excellent all-week adventure - Sunday

I get away grey-and-early, eager to hit the writing festival. The traffic is blessedly light on the Gardner today except for a ghastly line-up in the right hand lane with Spadina – the next exit – still a long way off. But the line-up persists all the way to the exit. It must be some kind of hell on Spadina this morning but apparently it’s the place to be. Bizarre.

The picture becomes clearer though, as I’m made to pass by my Yonge/Bay/York exit and than – to mounting horror – the Jarvis exit because both are closed. Barricaded. So I wind up on the Don Valley Parkway and exit at Bloor/Danforth which actually works out very well. Much better than had I squandered away in the Spadina queue.

A big green P and a diagonal arrow indicate underground parking at The Colonnade on my left. Very convenient. Just a short walk from there to Bloor-and-University, gateway to Queen’s Park and the festival.

Some of Toronto’s most accomplished psychopaths are on Bloor Street this morning – competing in the Toronto Taxicab Death Race 2006 apparently. And chubby Streetsvillians in yellow pickups are worth ninety zillion points and pole position in the season championship race. I am a marked man. It’s only through divine intervention that I reach the parking garage alive. Thank you Jesus, Buddha, Ganesh or whoever’s in charge up there. Zeus? Santa Clause? George Burns? Whoever. Thank you. The tight spiral ramp leading to the gate is daunting but I navigate successfully thanks again to the man upstairs. Ra? Odin? At the booth there are two gentlemen enclosed.

“Seven dollars,” says one.

“Do you take anything other than cash?”

“Frayed knot.”

“Uh oh.” I manage to extricate my wallet from my left front pocket without standing up. Devine miracle number three. Sure enough – no cash. “You got a cash machine nearby?”

He screws his face up as if thinking about this. As if in all his days of parking lot attending I’m the very first customer to ask this question. I fondle the right side of my jeans now. Hmm. Is that a pocketful of loonage in there or am I just glad to see you?

“Hang on. Maybe I have enough change.” I open the door. I most definitely must stand now. All the gods in Valhalla couldn’t pull off this maneuver. I push the door open to that median groove which happens to fall just shy of the wall of the booth. Perfect. I step out, stand, reach in pocket. Booth lad #1 insists on being helpful. He takes hold of the car door and pulls, banging it against the wall. “Um – thanks. But you can let go of the door please.” Clearly this fellow has never owned a vehicle before and naturally assumes they’re made of rubber. I pull all the coins from my pocket. Two tooneys, two looneys, Three quarters. Hmm. “Six seventy five. Can you cut me a deal?”

Number two man drops his jaw. “You’re the third guy this morning with exactly six seventy five! What’s going on!”

“No way!”

Number one winks at me. Okay. So it’s a joke. Well done. Kudos. Number one hands me a dashboard ticket. I give him the change.

“Think of me,” he says. I presume any deficits come out of his earnings.

“I’ll square up with you on my way out. I promise.” I park the beast of burden, grab my cloth shopping bag, camera and throw on my ridiculous green fishing hat – because it’s 60% POP today says the CBC weather web site. POP stands for Chance Of Rain, by the way. I presume COR was trademark protected or something so they went with POP instead. Makes sense.

I withdraw some cash at a machine and hit the very busy Second Cup, needing their bathroom. It is locked so I shift from foot to foot, holding back the urge while I wait for the current occupant to leave. Several customers give me tired glances until I absorb the message that I’m doing something wrong.

Is my pee-dance not subtle enough and not welcome here? No. I somehow sense I’m in some procedural violation. It comes to me. The door is not locked from the inside but from out. I need to apply for access and be given a key if approved. I hang my head and move to the end of a long line at the counter.

The line moves fast though and I’m confronted by a very serious coffee lady demanding my order.

“Um. What’s your strongest coffee?”

“What size?” she barks.

“Um. Large?” I was hoping for an answer but she’s off pouring my large coffee, the variety not divulged. She returns with it. “And a cinnamon bun please!” Her eyes linger on me an extra instant as she moves to the glass shelves. She plunks one, cold, into a bag. I gather its too late to ask for it to be heated up. “And I need to use your bathroom please,” I say as she pushes the bag into my hands. She brandishes a club – half a hockey stick actually and I brace myself for the beating I’m about to receive. But no. There’s a key dangling from it. I take it, pay the bill and go use the facility.

So - what? Is Seinfeld to blame for every big city merchant that has turned into a soup Nazi or is this just the natural evolution of the A-Hole Generation?

One of the merchants in the complex in which I live applied to do business under the name Pita Nazi. He was rejected, thank god, but later approved as Pita Nutsy. The shop bears a large sign in the window proclaiming NO PITA FOR YOU! and his employees each wear T-shirts bearing the same slogan. I for one have done my part in cooperating. I don’t ask for one.

Speaking of the CBC, it is their venue that I come to first at the festival. A very substantial stage is erected supporting more chairs and microphones than you can shake half a hockey stick at.

I read the line-up. A “Mini Metro Morning” show begins at 11AM featuring Andy Barrie, Eleanor Wachtel, traffic man Jim Curran and sportscaster Scott Regher. Excellent. The quest to meet Mr. Barrie – one of my all-time heroes – begins.

I linger. I see that CBC radio man Kevin Sylvester has a booth adjacent the CBC tent. I’m reminded I need a word with him. I know he’s a cartoonist by hobby and presume he’s hawking books of that nature. A crowd of curious window shoppers mill about. I skirt their perimeter and sidle up to his table. He glances at me.

“Hello Mr. Sylvester.”

“Hi there.”

“I just wanted to ask you about something. Do you remember what you said on the air on March 17th of this year – during the home-drive? A comment you made? Let me refresh your memory. You said that nobody really drinks green beer.”

“Did I say that?”

“I was deeply deeply offended.” He chuckles at this as does the woman next to him. His wife I presume.

“Maybe I said that real Irishmen don’t drink green beer.”

“No-no. You said nobody. But it’s okay. I’ve let it go. I’ve worked through the anger and resentment. You’re off the hook.”

“Oh – well thanks! Does that mean you’ll consider buying my book?”

“No. Out of the question.”

Andy and friends are now on stage, the show beginning. Some guy named Mike - a CBC television personality - wanders the crowd with a microphone to facilitate questions from the audience. ‘Mike with a mike’ is their joke. Har har. Questions prove hard to come by. He gets a couple. He comes to a standstill just in front of me and Mr. Barrie finally interprets his immobility as having found a questioner and invites him to proceed. Mike shrugs and turns, waving the mike as if to say ‘any takers?’ I raise my hand. He steps up to me.

I’m trying to think fast. I want to talk to Andy but the only subject occurring to me is the situation around the various newscasters who repeat their segments for different regions of the country - but offering separate local perspectives for each - which fools many listeners into believing them local personalities. But this phenomenon does not apply to Mr. Barrie as far as I know.

“What’s your name?” Mike asks before tipping the mike from his chin to mine.

I tell him - my voice amplified all over hell’s half-acre. “And my question is for Mr. Regher - although - I wish my question was for Andy Barrie ‘cause I think he’s the most intelligent man on the airwaves anywhere -” This brings an instant reaction. Laughter and applause from the crowd; a suddenly animated Barrie who makes like he will jump from his seat to pursue this line of conversation; and groans and head-shaking from the other three panelists. “- And a consummate gentleman to boot!” I conclude. Barrie is cut off by Eleanor Wachtel.

“Oh don’t tell him that!” she cries. “We’ll never be able to put up with him!”

“My question to you is - what are your favorite sports teams - personally? And please don’t name all the Toronto teams or I’ll know you’re playing politics!” More laughter.

Scott shakes his head - perhaps disconcerted at being put on the spot or - more likely - just playing up to that idea. He confesses preference for the Vancouver Canucks and the BC Lions and throws out a full dissertation on the upcoming professional soccer league and his solid dedication to the Toronto entry in that circuit - which is very noble considering they only exist in theory thus far. “So that’s my quasi-political answer,” he concludes.

I’ve been smiling and nodding - glad to have dragged this westerner out of the closet but regretting not finding a question for Andy. I should have asked him if he would adopt me. He’s 60. I’m 37. The math is there.

After the show Andy leaves the stage and is surrounded promptly. He’s popular. Out of consideration I decline to line-up. The poor man will want to get away and explore the festival. I know he’s a big reader. Perhaps I’ll run into him later on Literacy Lane.

Alas I do not run into him. I do however, stumble upon another celebrity of significance - one, in fact - who was featured on this very blog recently. Any guesses? Anyone? I’ll give you a hint. He’s purple and rotund.

That’s right! Grimace himself! What a shameless name-dropper I am, eh? He was hanging out in the shade of a treed area shamelessly hugging small children. We had words. Not many. I vowed my support and my bitterness toward Ronald and asked if he still saw much of the old gang. But the Grimster was not in a talkative mood. Rather silent, actually. I suggested he was under-employed and encouraged him to play to his strengths - that he should pursue promotional avenues with Ontario grape growers and wineries. His love of the vine is legendary, after all. I’m sure I need not point out that it’s the tannins that makes his fur purple.

His boy friend, clad in red-and-yellow jumper and a baseball cap emblazoned with the golden arches emblem was cheerful, outgoing but he laughed too much, taking my concern for Grimmy as some sort of joke. Rather shallow of him, I thought. Grimace deserves better.

And just in case you’re skeptical - that I really met Grimace in person - here is the photo we had taken. Grimace will be posting a copy on his own blog site - to attest his claim having met the world’s biggest leprechaun.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

FWG’s hopefully-more-excellent all-week adventure

I’m on vacation! Hoo haw! Hadn’t planned on doing anything exciting or going anywhere. Was just gonna write and write. Turn the 3-day novel effort into a proper-length novel perhaps or finish a couple short stories I started a while back and let slide. The Squirrel Solution and Hold Me Gently Big Sky. Is that a terrible title or what? Does it sound contrived? It concerns a couple teenagers and abandonment issues. One seeks solace on the open road, the other dreams of flying planes. It’s heavy stuff. I sought a heavy title - you know - like Long Day’s Journey Into Night or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Something with that kind of depth. I never found it obviously. Filled three pages brainstorming title ideas and hated them all. First time this has ever happened. Normally I like the first title that comes to mind and I just use it. I don’t normally worry about it. The last short story was titled You’re My Bill. Sounds stupid as hell but I didn’t care. Don’t know why I became so fixated this time around.

But as for the vacation - at the last minute I got the itch to travel. Felt like I wanted to get away on the road - a solo trip. Wanted to go East and see the Maritimes finally. Find new sources of inspiration and do lots of writing. But the amount of driving started looking daunting for a one week trip so I let myself be seduced by the last-minute deal idea and very nearly clicked confirm on an Las Vegas package when a little voice in my head said ‘What the hell, boy? Is this what you really want?’

Thank god I listened. Regrettably, Charlottetown and Halifax are still off the radar but here’s a respectable smaller loop: Two days in Toronto, one each in Kingston and Ottawa and three nights in Montreal with an optional fourth should I happen to land decent tickets for the Habs-Sens exhibition game at the Molson Centre on Saturday - or Bell Centre or whatever the name-of-the-month is. God bless the dear departed Forum is all I can say. God bless. What a tragedy.

Day 1

Southbound 427 traffic is thicker than mud and I say, ‘To hell with this. I’m on vacation. All crap is optional and I’m opting out of this particular crap.” Hey - you know what? I think that’ll have to be the motto for this road trip. Crap optional. It’s not profound but I like it. Beats some of the other tour titles I’ve had - like the How Bizarre Tour that was also Montreal focused and included pals Porn King and Beer Store Larry. Or the Plaid Cow Tour. What a trek that was. An eight-day lacrosse tour that prompted six or seven articles that were actually decent articles for a change. While I was the only tourist start-to-end I was joined for various periods by some of the most eccentric people you'd ever meet - all huge lacrosse fans. Such as Thistles Forever, The Wamper, Mr. Negative, maninthetub and of course my excellent pal and mentor Dr. Lock (a.k.a. Ben Knight).

So I duck out to the collector lanes which end at Brown’s Line, dumping me in the South of Etobicoke which does little to enrich my life. I hope to be in the heart of Toronto’s Greek Town by 6:30 when Rings of June takes the stage at the Bain Co-op’s 31st annual Street Festival. Dr. Lock is a Bain Co-op resident and bass player for ROJ. Following that gig, the band Quagmyre - billed as Celtic-pyrotechnic is slotted to close the night playing 8-11. Never heard them before but anything Celtic always grabs my attention and I’ve learned they’re Gemini award winners with an international following.

I end up on Horner Avenue for a long speedy stretch before finding my way onto the Gardner Expressway - back on track having saved no time but having saved aggravation. Under the new crap-optional rules - this is a success.

Now to run the development gauntlet. The heart of the Gardner Expressway is looking more and more like the landscape from Blade Runner every day. There’s nothing like highly tax-leveraged waterfront property and six dozen high-rise condos to soothe a city with perceived financial woes. So what if the skyline’s gone to shit and no one can see the water anymore? I like the way they’re building a seamless wall o’ condos around the CN Tower and Skydome. That’s right. I said Skydome. What are you gonna do about it?

This way whenever the provincial Conservatives gain power again they can sell these two landmarks off to the highest bidder and no one will notice that they’ve gone missing.

Yikes. What’s with all the bitching? Sorry!

I actually find a decent parking spot and head Bain-ward on foot to the rising volume of really really bad singing. I mean - dreadful. Rounding the corner onto the main drag I see a large stage set up under a party tent and I see a bunch of little girls there struggling to add lyrics to an instrumental recording of My Humps.

Karaoke. The bane of humanity. Call me old-fashioned but I just find it a little disturbing - these ten-year-olds singing about their lady lumps.

It’s crap. It’s optional. But I choose to endure it for the time being. I have not long to wait.

Rings of June takes over. I hear them live for the third time and I’m impressed all over again. They’re getting better all the time. More cohesive, that is. Individually they’re all excellent to start with. They’re pros. Sarah Boucher’s music, piano and voice are all strictly enchanting.

Rings of June makes an unusual first impression. It’s this incredible sweet haunting voice that blows you away and makes you wonder where it’s coming from. Then you finally notice this unassuming wooden doll standing in the corner and you realize that’s the voice. She tends to wear this smock sort of thing and floor-length bell-bottoms. The result is a formless kind of body that doesn’t move around. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not looking for Madonna. Surely stage presence is the least of concerns. It’s just a little odd for me when the bass player is the only motile organism on the stage. I grew up with bands like The Who where the bassists were the only things on stage not moving. But I don’t mean to be critical. That stuff’s all fluff. The music is dynamite. I still compare it to Loreena McKennitt.

I pass on the slightish folding chairs, estimating their weight allowance at around 299 lbs. I once sat on one of those white plastic lawn chairs at a garden party and people were looking at me strangely as I found myself slowly sinking. I literally drove all four legs deep into the soft lawn. I don’t need any more embarrassing scenes of that nature. Instead I sit on the curb and I’m quite comfortable despite a constant stream of blading, biking and big-wheeling tykes and teens who are keen to risk my neck and theirs with each hair-raising fly-by.

Jeff Stamp plays magical mystical sounds with max reverb on his guitar and sings a couple of his own songs. Mother is a simply amazing ballad. Pure genius.

I could really do without the Jefferson Airplane cover tunes but Sarah’s a huge fan of them and isn’t ready to believe that she’s better than them. That’s okay. I can wait.

Quagmyre takes over at eight. And look out. Ringleader Jon Pilatzke has stage presence coming out his ying yang. He’s funny and engaging. He’s a skinny, scruffy, kinky-haired, bespectacled lad with a mean mean fiddle. He snaps more bow strings tonight than I’ve had hot dinners. Okay - you got me there. Nothing in the world is more plentiful than the volume of dinners I’ve eaten. Sorry. Got carried away there. The wild and woolly fiddlin’ combines with some heavy electric guitar rifts for a sizzling kind of sound I aint never heard before and can’t wait to hear again.

Jon trades off vocal duties with brothers Jef and Ryan McLarnon who are also busy trading bass, electric and acoustic guitars back and forth. The McLarnons’ voices are nothing alike. Ryan sounds a tad adolescent if I may be blunt. Jef sounds like a young Murray McLauchlan which I dig in a big way.

Cara Butler wows the audience with her Irish stepdancing on a couple tunes and to close the performance Pilatzke trades the fiddle for a pair of clodhoppers and together they rattle up a storm. Brilliant. I buy a copy of their latest album - Of Cabbages and Kings and get Jon and Jef to autograph it.

Rings of June and Quagmyre. Best double bill I never had to pay for. The holiday’s off to a great start. Tomorrow - the Word on the Street festival at Queens Park. With a whole lotta luck maybe I’ll meet the ever-so-excellent Andy Berry at the CBC tent and score another autograph!

Friday, September 22, 2006

FWG’s not-so-excellent all-night adventure - part two

Thanks Elli - for keeping me honest. Boy you can’t get away with anything after your diary goes public…

5:10 AM

Okay - so I’m on the road again and looking for something to do. I feel like going shopping - just for the novelty of it since that’s something I rarely do - except for used books, that is. But the only thing I need that I can think of is the bathroom scale we discussed in part one but surely no store of that nature would be open at five in the morning. Wal-Mart hasn’t gone 24-hours yet but I assure - oh yes I assure - the day is coming. I’m no Nostradamus but that’s a prediction you can count on, my friend.

I do however spy a 24-hour Dominion grocery store and that seems like as decent a place as any to hang in. I’m low on toothpaste and shampoo so I grab a hand basket and go foraging. I go for the purplish shampoo that smells like fruit and comes in the clear bottle with the fish-aquariumesque plant-life mural inside the rear face. I have no use for the special formula it boasts but the whole pretty purple package is just too swell to resist.

The Colgate Total with glittery gold lettering is on sale. Groovy. I also scoop a box of Q-tips. I still have half a box at home but I like to keep a real good supply on hand. Most days cleaning my ears is the closest I get to having sex. We have a real close relationship, Q-tips and I.

A box of kleenex. And what the heck - let’s spoil myself - a new toothbrush. White handle with purple accents. Should go nicely with the new shampoo.

But whoa! What’s this? One of those revolving ‘tower’ displays filled with - do my eyes deceive me? Bathroom scales! Bathroom scales in a grocery store. Who’da thunk? Maybe it’s a sign from above. There are two kinds of scales here. Same brand but two different models. They’re both analog - with the dial, not digital. One has a 300 lb capacity and one 330 lbs. Hmm. What a dilemma. I’m rather perturbed that us post-300-pounders are being made to pay extra. Bastards. I wonder if I could get away with the cheaper model and just add 300 to the over-revolved result? Would that work? I have to think about this so I leave the scales be for the moment while I go search for parmesan cheese.

In the end I forget all about the scales and leave the store with just my food and toiletries.

6:00 AM

The sky is beginning to brighten nicely. It shall be a fine day ahead weather-wise. I shall be an ass-dragging sleepless bag of crap of course but I shall be so under a happy yellow sun.

Back home, I check the back-door. Still locked. I cross Queen Street and discover the Starbucks has just opened for business. I’m their first customer of the day.

“Café Americano hot - venti - with room please.”

Listen to me eh? Have I become a swift-talking coffee-house hipster doufus or what?

I sit down with my drink at the only wheel-chair friendly table in the place. It’s clearly marked such too. But it’s also the only table at the proper angle to a window to view the patio doors of Steve-o’s bedroom. I need to keep my eye on them. I’m waiting for his bedroom light to go on so I can rush over and bang on the door at a moment he’s likely to hear it.

I wait…

7:15 AM

I’m getting tired of waiting.

Furthermore the sky has grown too light too soon. Steve-o will have no need to turn on his bedroom lamp. There shall be no beacon.

I assume he must be up by now. I leave the coffee shop and hit the payphone nearby. My nocturnal retail pit stops have left me a new supply of quarters.

‘Ker-plunk,’ goes the first quarter. I dial the home number. No answer. Voice mail.

“Hello Steve!” I say very warmly, “Did you sleep well? It’s FWG calling. Perhaps you remember me? I used to live in the bedroom down the hallway from yours - back in the days when I had apartment keys. Anyways I just called to say hi and howz things - oh - and too remind you to unlock the goddam door before I scale the front of the building, crash through your patio doors and rape you anally with a flashlight while I force Regis to watch! Thanks! Have a nice day!”

Oh - I may not have mentioned - we have a Regis Philbin. He’s cardboard and life-size. He’s an integral member of the household. We like to play games with him such as Hide the Regis which is always good for a fright-and-a-half and a good laugh. He was also the door-man at the Grotto of Cool house swarming bash and he’s the host of the G.O.C. weekly Potato Soup with Regis Day.

But I digress.

I pop in a second quarter and try the cell number. Voice mail again.

“Little pig,”
I whisper, “Little pig, let me in! Or I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down! AND THEN I’LL RAPE YOU WITH A FLASHLIGHT WHILE REGIS WATCHES YOU BASTARD…! YOU PYGMY…! YOU FUCKER!”

I’m short of breath. I hang up the phone. People are looking at me funny. I walk home and take a seat on the bench outside the back door. He has to come out. He can’t hide in there forever.

And he didn’t of course. He let me in. I let him live. I called the boss and told him I’d be in later in the day because I’d had a difficult night and no sleep. He asked about my current projects, promised he would arrange extensions and insisted I take the day off. He’s not a bad guy sometimes. I went to bed.

The End.

Monday, September 18, 2006

FWG's not-so-excellent all-night adventure

1:00 AM

Spent the evening with an illicit sweetheart. Lingered longer than I should have and just made it home to discover the back door locked. Steve-o knows I’m temporarily without keys but my Jets won today while his Bills did not. I presume this is what motivates him to lock me out and to ignore my repeated calls to both the home phone and his cell. I continue to leave messages on both voice mails until I run out of quarters.


2:00 AM

I’m sitting at a table in Tim Hortons - one of those one-size-fits-all tables where the chairs have no legs. Just a big arm that stretches out from under the seat, runs toward the wall, arcs ninety degrees and attaches to the single table leg that is cemented to the floor. I’m not sure why I feel inclined to describe these stupid chairs to you. Sincere apologies if you didn’t get anything out of that.

Hang on. Bear with me a moment longer:

Every table-and-chairs combination is a single integrated unit - and every section of wall in this place - both interior and exterior - fits a tidy even number of these dining units perfectly. No fractions. No wasted space. This entire dining area - a shared Tim Hortons/Wendy’s affair is geometrically perfect. Ruthlessly efficient.

No customer’s chair will ever interact with another’s. No Canadian of European stock will ever have to offer an apologetic word to any Cantonese Canadian here. No Canadian Hindu will ever have to offer a forgiving smile to any native Canadian. Not here.

No manager or franchisee will ever have to consider rearranging tables to accommodate a rise or fall in business volume - or to clear space for any jukebox or gumball machine or any community bulletin board. He has no such worries. The corporate bulldozer takes care of all that. When market conditions finally migrate beyond the approved parameters they’ll just raze the joint and start all over. Here or elsewhere.

There are shiny metal napkin dispensers - one at every dining unit and each is placed and oriented the same way with the napkins exiting north and south. Military precision.

I’m the only patron in the place right now but I half expect a horde of Borg to arrive any moment now. One hundred and twenty eight of them or however many will exactly fill the place. We’ll all sit here with our tubes and whirly-gigs protruding from our heads and consume our toasted chicken combos or our soylent green combos while resting on our table-and-chair combos. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

So why does it persist - this feeling that Tim Hortons is the perfect microcosm of all that is hideously and grotesquely wrong with our society?

Okay, so what am I doing here?

It’s the first place I came upon that had a bathroom and that was open for business. Actually - no. It’s the third place I came upon but the first two places were also Tim Hortonzes. It took that long before choosing my bladder over my principals. For the record - my TH boycott lasted 78 days. I shall promptly begin another and pray this one is permanent!

I confess I broke down and bought a coffee and donut. Well, it’s more of a donette. A bit smallish. Rather tasty, I must concede, but smallish.

3:00 AM

I have a headache.

I’m on the road again looking for a place that sells Advil. I’m wandering rather aimlessly along these empty roads - lining up a left-hand turn for instance, before spotting a median in the way and making the world’s widest right-hand turn instead. This is how you drive when you’re not really sure where you’re going and you’re in no hurry to get there. When you’re just wasting time until the sun comes up and your roommate wakes up and unlocks the door and steps out heading for work until you jump out from the bushes and kill him.

There’s a police cruiser behind me. He’s definitely following me, believing me drunk and I don’t blame him. But suddenly he pulls away, makes a U-ey and peals away. Suddenly had bigger fish to fry, I guess. Probably an eleven-oh-four or a ten-fifty.

I have no keys, by the way, because a co-worker and I went out for lunch on Friday. She drove. As I was packing my brief case around six, about to leave the office, the phone rang and it was my lunch mate.

“I just got home and discovered your keys are sitting here in my car! You’re not gonna make me come all the way back from Burlington are you!”

I searched my trouser pocket. The spare truck key was there as it should be. I have a terrible habit of locking keys in the car - hence the spare-in-pocket habit.

“Sokay,” I said. “I’ll be alright until Monday.”

“Oh, great! But here - I’ll give you my cell number just in case there’s any problem - but no after-hours calls!”

The quest for Advil takes me to the 7-11 store. This is my second 7-11 stop tonight. The first followed the clandestine rendezvous. Having eaten only twice all weekend (a late fish-and-chip lunch on Saturday and on Sunday - a pair of scrumptious salami sandwiches on sesame-seed bagels) I was fair emaciated upon entry and crushed to learn that they were fresh out of the delightful slimy burritos that I’m so fond of.

So now - despite the four taquitos I had instead and the two donuts since - I’m all ready to jump all over the first burrito I find here. That’s right. Just like the TH boycott going south tonight, so goes the de-tubberization project. Well, actually that one hasn’t yet began. The first step was to find the bathroom scale among the yet-unpacked but it was never found. Missing in action. I gotta buy a new one.

But first - this outlet is also a gas station and 84-something is a nice price and I’m running low so of course I pull up and fill up. The I go to climb back in the truck but - oh. The door is locked. I reach for the pocketed spare. No dice. The spare has been promoted from second string to starter (no pun intended) and is comfortably sitting in the ignition.




My second major key bamboozlement in three days. Lovely.

The 7-11 clerk is very helpful and lends me their phone and the yellow pages. The book is chock-full of locksmiths promising lightening fast 24-hour emergency lock-out service. I try Apex Locksmiths featuring Fernando Lopez, master locksmith of thirty years. I get his voice mail.

“Oh, hi,” I say. “Yes. I just wanted to thank you for the fast 24-hour emergency service. That was great.” Click.

E.E.S. promises 24-7 radio dispatch service. Voice mail again.

“Um, hi. I see your ad promises 24-hour emergency service. I guess this hour isn’t one of the 24 you had in mind. Thanks anyway.”

ASAP (All Service Accredited Professionals Inc) doesn’t even have voice mail. I just get a generic message telling me to try this customer later. I don’t even get the chance to leave a message warning them that the yellow pages people spelled ASAPI wrong.

S&S Lock Service. Voice mail.

“Yeah, hi there. I notice your ad says fast 24-hour emergency service. Hmm. I guess you don’t have any fast 24-hour emergency telephone operators. Oh well.”

Adept Locksmiths. Voice mail. I’m fresh out of cynicism. I just hang up and take a few more bites of delicious burrito.

“Dude, try the towing companies instead,” says the clerk.

“Okay dude. I’ll give it a try.” Lo and behold, they too promise 24-hour rescue service. I give Seven District Towing a ringy dingy. A very snappy female voice comes on the line.

‘This customer is not available!! Try your call again later!!’

Okay - I’ll cut to the chase. Lyons Auto Body came through for me. Bless their dear little black souls.

5:00 AM

The tow truck arrives. A young fellow in yellow fleece jacket and black toque emerges. I’m envious of him. I’m in shorts and thin summer shirt. I’m shivering.

“What happened to summer?” I moan.

“I dunno, man. Look at me! I’m in my toque!” He brandishes a black wedge kind of thing and a very long red pole with various hooks and bendy parts.

“Yeah. I just assumed you were a rapper,” I say. “Cause a lot of rappers work towing jobs between gigs I hear.”

“Is that right? I hadn’t heard that.” He speaks pleasantly enough. He seems to know I’m only joking. Though - he probably doesn’t get the joke and probably shouldn't. Do rappers wear toques or is that just my own hare-brained perception?

He’s got the door wedged open a crack despite it being locked - just enough to squeeze the hooky-hooky-dad through.

“What happens if I pull on the door handle inside?” he asks.

‘A little monkey jumps out and bites your pee-pee,’ I consider replying but decline.

“Will it make the lock pop?”

I have to think about that. I haven’t had the banana boat all that long. The answer doesn’t come immediately to mind.

“I dunno,” I say. “It’s not my car.”

“It’s not? Who’s is it?”

“Beats me. I just found it here.”

He stops his fiddling and looks at me. “You’re kidding, right.”

“Yeah. I’m kidding.”

He doesn’t laugh. Oh well. Can’t win ‘em all. He manages to pull the handle. The door springs open in response to the pressure from the wedge. I cough up $65.00 and I’m on my way again.

To be continued… if you can bear it…

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

3-Day Novel Contest: Day 3

From: Fantasy_Writer_Guy Sep-4 8:25 pm


19000 words, 76 pages. This does not cut it!!

Too much time spent re-writing!

the upside: very happy with the piece. The characters and I have laughed and cried together. If only one of them would rub my aching back for me!

desperately looking for a short cut to the ending!!! after all this work I must find a way to submit SOMETHING!


So where are all the Roronro-area writers meeting for a drink at 12:30?? I'm in!! I'll buy!! Oh crap. R and T labels have worn off my keyboard -- I've become Scooby Doo! TORONTO writers I mean!

snakes alive

From: Fantasy_Writer_Guy Sep-5 1:33 am

Incredible! What an experience! I feel like I just survived a plane crash. Typed 'the end' at 11:59pm! I swear its true. serious as a heart attack.

original objective: involved 19 chapter outline, 7 major characters, 3 major plot-lines and 2 minor ones. 1 theme. Way too ambitious. Rookie mistake. failed miserably.

learning opportunity: chance to defeat the over-editing monster. Decision: Unanimous: monster wins. re-reading wasted too much time.

on the upside:

1. pulled off a miracle to carve a submittable piece in the last few hours. Had to delete two (long) written chapters, one major character and one major plot line and severely abridge one minor plot line to do it! Oh - and scratched 7 chapters right off the outline!! Chainsaw literature at its finest!

2. Coined the phrase Chainsaw Literature!!

3. Fell in love with the piece. Pending 3-day results (I’m almost certainly to short to be considered), I shall recover the deleted text and write up the 7 missing chapters soon and have a full-length novel to run with! Hooray!

Body count ended up 2 instead of 1. Ex-wife character expired from cruel aids virus. best-friend character annulled! all references to him (including 2 chapters) deleted! could never have tied up his story by the deadline

With all the deleting my final word count was lower than it was at 8PM. my goodness. what a larf!

Desperately hope I am allowed to run spell-checker and search-and-replace post-deadline! Must change names so that my ex and best friend never find out what I did to them! Can anyone clarify that?

Been reading all the late posts here - catching up. Very warm congratulations to those who achieved their goals and/or found an ending. And warmest wishes to those struggling at the deadline - especially you Rusla! With all your adversity you're a trooper!

Zoomy: I hope your arm is better! The tendons in back of my hands are shot!

Metro! your posts are too funny! If your novel is humor you should win!

HyacinthH - again, so glad you stayed and congrats on completing it! I had trouble with transitions too. My solution -- 2 blank lines and off to the next vignette!

Tikinagan - thanks for excellent advice re Wikipedia!

KJ MacLean - my heart goes out to you re rushed ending. Same here. I fear my last chapter will seem contrived due to rush job. had to scream it out in 15 minutes.

OnMyWay: You have all the time in the world! Go find out what you can do!

BradyDale: thanks for great tips. I'll have to check out this 'Friendster' thing!

Visaman - YES! I popped the champagne. Henkell Trocken! Not officially champagne but German bubbly! I'm almost finished the bottle!

Toronto Area Writers: anyone interested in getting together some time soon at a pub and sharing snippets of our novels? let me know.

Congrats all! you're all winners! Love you madly!

Day 3 highlight:

"It's not that easy!"
"Of course it is."
"They won't accept Croation diploma here!"
"I know. And I'm sorry for that. Our government's fucked. Our politicians are all ass holes here but there's nothing I can do about that. Not enough of us vote with a conscience. But that doesn't matter. Listen - you can take tests to get a Canadian diploma. I'll help you study."
"It's too expensive."
"It's not too expensive! It's fuckin' peanuts for me. I got money coming out my ying-yang!"
"What is ying yang?"
"Listen! I can give you everything you need to find your way. Trust me, Cas. Move in here and I will pay for your food and your clothes and all your necessities. Cell phone. Gas. Whatever. But I won't pay for drugs. The drugs have to go!"
"I can't move in with man! My parents will be crazy!"
"Why? That makes no sense."
"If they thought I'm being gay they would never see me again!"
"They're loss."
"I love my parents!"
"I know." Hap was now standing and clambering on their laps and licking each of them on the arms and wherever he could get his tongue.
"It's okay Hap," said Cas, stroking the puppy. We're not fighting. Your papa is just in love with me and wants to get in my pants!"

3-Day Novel Contest: Day 2

From: Visaman Sep-3 9:40 am

Anyone writing a sweet love story or a tale about cute bunnies?

I'm writing a story about Cougars.

Oh yeah one person dead so far, and I'm only starting page 15. ;-)

From: Fantasy_Writer_Guy Sep-3 4:17 pm
To: Visaman

As a matter of fact I have written about Cougars AND bunnies! A woman in her late 40's refers to her 24-year-old lover as the 'energizer bunny' because of his overactive libido. Too funny.

This is the most perverted stuff I've ever written. Oh dear. I shall be locked up for this...

From: foiled_again Sep-3 3:31 pm

Does anyone know how much a REALLY expensive couch would cost. But REALLY expensive?

And would it make sense for it to be Italian leather, or is there a specific company that makes really high-end couches that I should know about?

This is so not my world...

Thanks for any help.

From: Fantasy_Writer_Guy Sep-3 4:36 pm
To: foiled_again

I once sat on a couch that was $25,000 CDN. It was bright lime green but absolutely the most incredibly comfortable soothing place I've ever been. Seriously.

Hope you've overcome your block. If not - make something new happen. anything. Make a pregnant woman suddenly give birth. Make a frozen urine ball fall from a plane and crash through someone's roof! Anything! just write!

From: sophiesgirl Sep-3 6:26 pm



A book in 3 days, what the hell were we thinking! I'm on page 46 still thinking, gotta write, gotta write. I need to be at page 75 tomorrow so I don't have to write another 50 pages on the last day. Gotta write.

I am going freakin' nuts. I don't want to write anymore!

Ok, back to writing.

From: Fantasy_Writer_Guy Sep-3 6:32 pm
To: sophiesgirl

Yes. We're all insane.

What - you didn't realize that before coming in? Sorry about your luck. Next time look before you leap!

Oh look - the Hindenburg is hovering outside my window. Guard! GUARD!!

Day 2 highlight:

"Well - there's some things you just can't share with your parents. My on-line friends - it's a chat-room. And they're into things - well - things you just can't have your parents finding out about."
"My curiosity is piqued."
"They're into S and M."
"Oh really?"
Theresa laughed. "I can't believe I'm telling you this."
"Suffice to say - you're into it too."
"So are you an 'S' or an 'M'?"
"Do you know what they mean?"
"I do. Sadism and masochism."
"Well - I'm an 'M' - at the moment anyway. I think I could play either role. Are you shocked?"
"Not at all. Why should I be?"
"Some people are shocked by deviant behavior."
"I don't think there's anything deviant about it. I understand it's common all over the world thus it's self-evidently a natural phenomenon. Although personally, I don't understand the attraction. Sexually I'm all about tenderness and gentleness so I'm really at the opposite end of the scale. I once read a short book by Marquis de Sade and it was rather grotesque. It certainly didn't excite me at all. Mind you - this piece was not about sexual role-playing obviously. It touched on some nasty things. Torture, necrophilia, pedophilia. As a child he dug up his mother's corpse and fucked her skull. He was a sick sonofabitch apparently though I can't believe half that stuff was even true. I'm assuming those aren't the kinds of things you're into!"

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

3-Day Novel Contest: Day 1

From: Fantasy_Writer_Guy Sep-3 2:12 am

Greetings from Streetsville Ontario (writing from home)

Ee-gads! My 'stats' are terrible!

words: 4000
pages: 16
deaths: None so far but the ex-wife-of-the-writer character is gonna get it in chapter 15. Boy is she ever! Her only saving grace is that I'm not on pace to make it that far. I'm only on chapter 3!

I ended up on the phone most of the day. Stupid. Gonna have to seriously buckle down now. Luckily I'm a total night-writer and having just polished off a 60oz pitcher of iced coffee I might be in pretty good shape by dawn!

HyacinthH: I'm so glad you decided to come out and play!

Vorpal: Excellent use of the word underabundance! I don't care if it's really a word or not. Bravo!

cherilu: ditto on the word numbbum! Excellent. I haven't created any new words today unless you count the phrase "gave the old squirt-and-swipe to a windshield spider..." Can't imagine what I was thinking. I assume that's the last thing the judge will read before tossing my piece in the blue box.

Best wishes to all! Lets kick some literary butt on day 2!

From: Fantasy_Writer_Guy Sep-3 3:58 am

Well - so much for the night-writer's quest for dawn. I keep falling asleep at the keyboard and having little dreamettes of Kathy Bates chopping at my ankles.

Maybe I shouldn't say this but who red the book 'Misery' about the poor author held prisoner and forced to write a novel on demand?

Dreamettes? Okay I finally made up a word. It's official. I've cracked.

Going to bed and praying I dream of a shorter route to my ending. G'night kids. See you at the crack of noon...

Day 1 highlight:

"Babysitting for someone?"
"Very funny. He's twenty-four."
"He looks fifteen."
"You're exaggerating. But he is cute, don't you think?"
"All children are cute. It's a defense mechanism. It's biological."
"He's not a child. He'll be twenty-five next month."
"Well, that's just over half your age. I suppose that makes it okay. Does he shave yet?"
"He doesn't have to. He's Croatian. They're not hairy at all. It's biological." They looked back to Cas and he was still grinning impishly.
"Say hi to him for me. I have to get on with things here. Have to get through this line and make my speech or we'll be here all night." He took the book from her and found the title page.
"I noticed I wasn't included in the dedication."
"Nor were a lot of people, Lorrie. I'm sorry. I suppose I should have wrote, to Lorrie who dumped me when I grew to old for her tastes. If it weren't for that I'd never have got my shit together."
"Exactly. I would have appreciated that. Listen, I'm house-sitting for my sister for a couple weeks in August. Her place is out in the country. Remember? Come visit me will you? There's a hot tub - and a fire pit out back. We can grill steaks over the fire and you can smoke a cigar."
"Sure," said Ron, "We'll do that." He flipped twice forward to the dedication page and wrote,

To Lorrie,
May this book bring out the kid in you