A Visual Aid: Because I Care

If Only Rachael Were Here

If anyone's missing cutlery, chances are I have it. Found at the bottom of my briefcase this morning, 2 spoons and a fork. Throw in Rachael Ray, a wisk, some flour and eggs and we've got a party on our hands!

Speaking of hands, did you know Rachael Ray wants to get hers on Coaster Punchman's donuts? The girl is incorrigible!


What A Pain

Other symptoms may include the appearance of a large blue arrow across the top of the hairline.


From Russia With Blood

A few years ago, I was introduced to Dmitri Shostakovich's work when I saw a brilliant dance piece called The Overcoat set to his music and based on a story by Gogol. It was a powerful and gripping production and is back this season at CanStage. Go.

The demanding score of Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtensk, currently on offer at Canadian Opera Company surprised me with its frustration and tension, but also with moments of levity that temporarily allowed the veil of strain and ennui to lift. Mistress La Spliffe wonderfully described the faint breath of polka rhythm present in Shostakovich's work on her site that had me laughing and agreeing.

The most sensual and effective imagery of the night was found not in one of the visceral sex scenes, but following the murder of Katerina's husband. The move of the guilty lovers toward embrace bathed in blood and light as the curtain falls was exquisite.

As arresting as some moments were, there was never enough to take me where I needed to go with this opera and it no doubt was too modern for my taste.

I don't shy away from the violence music is capable of but perhaps next time, a little more foreplay before all the strident overtures you cheeky monkey.


It Did What?

I'm an eavesdropper from way back. My ear wanders specifically for the joy of hearing things like my latest favourite:

It evaporated into mid-air.

Tate Friday Ten

I recently realized that the theme music for the hilarious BBC sketch comedy series The Catherine Tate Show is actually from a song by the late great Kirsty MacColl.

So I'm kicking off with In These Shoes and going from there.

InTheseShoes.mp3 - Kirsty MacColl

Nobody But You - Junior Kimbrough

If I Didn't Love You - Squeeze

You've Got A Lot To Answer For - Catatonia

Joga - Bjork

Dreams - Fleetwood Mac

Built For Comfort - Marva Wright

The Killer - Lalo Schifrin

(Talk To Me Of) Mendocino - Kate & Anna McGarrigle

The Pan Within - The Waterboys


Things That Come To A Head

Have you ever head someone say on the news that a criminal has been sent for 30 days observation at a psychiatric hospital? That’s where my Dad worked, on a hospital ward for the criminally insane. It was often joked that this is where he got us kids from. I didn’t find this particularly funny because I'm pretty sure it was true.

Now and then, a spirited lunatic would charge at my Dad screaming bloody murder and brandishing stolen cutlery or hoisting a chair overhead ready to take him out and make a run for it. These attacks were easily thwarted, mostly because of the excellent warning system of a lunatic screaming as he charges.

The hospital provided temporary shelter to the 30 day crowd but also had lifers on the premises. Many of them were allowed out on supervised walks through town while others were given the barbed wire treatment and limited to the grounds. A select few were considered to no longer be a risk and they were allowed outside the fence which never made much sense to me.

Outside the fence was a playground. The playground backed onto one of two entrances to a trail that led up a mountain overlooking my town.The mountain was a nice hike with an elevation of 1000 feet, enough of an accomplishment to not completely wear you out and a great enough view to make it worth the climb.

On summer days when we’d sufficiently tortured our parents and the smaller neighborhood children, my friends and I would sometimes make our way over to the swings behind the hospital and debate climbing the mountain. We’d often see a few of the less dangerous patients wandering around outside the fence and although they never really bothered us, we kept a wary eye on them.

Only one of these fellows ever came up to us. His name was Jack and apart from the constant darting of his eyes, he seemed a nice enough chap. He’d ask us our names, wonder if we were going up the mountain and then be on his way. Behind his back, we called him Mad Jack after my father told me why he was a guest of the hospital. He had killed both of his parents when he was a teenager but never gave anyone a reason. He was now in his late fifties and regarded as harmless with several years of good behaviour under his belt.

When the mountain called our names one summer afternoon, the gang and I set out to conquer it again. One of the guys was well ahead of us and out of sight for a short time. He came bounding down to us a few moments later excitedly telling us Mad Jack is up ahead on the trail and has a case of beer hidden in the woods, let's go!!

We were all about 14 or so years old and I think it may have been one of the first times I’d offered an opinion I could be proud of. Are you fucking crazy? He’s a fucking mental patient! Where do you think he got the case of beer? Do you think he carted it through town past the hospital and up into the woods? Are you sure you’re not fucking mental? My friend decided that maybe his reasoning was a bit faulty although he scored points for willingness to share. We continued up the trail and there was Jack waiting patiently for us, all eyes and anticipation. Hi guys! Want to come and have some beer? My friend answered No thanks while I gave him the best stink eye I could manage and we went on our way.

We made fun of our friend but eventually let it slide as other concerns began to dot our horizons, like the usual complaints about the school year getting ready to assault us. It all came back to the surface quickly though as one day, my father arrived home with exciting news. Mad Jack had lured a fellow patient into the woods promising him beer and then bashed his skull in killing him!

As I breathlessly told my Dad about our encounter with Mad Jack a few weeks earlier on the trail, his eyes widened at our near brush with disaster and he began to shake his head in disbelief. Now where would he have thought a mental patient would get a case of beer?!

Mad Jack ended up back in maximum lock up where he died a few years later. I ended up here.

Mr. Big Stuff

My Korean bagel lady is at it again. Remember her?

On approach at her counter this morning, she said ‘Hello Mr. Big Tummy’ which made me want to punch her. I laughed instead and offered my weak retort ‘You’re a mean woman’. And she said ‘Ah, yes, but you like’. Pleasantries taken care of, she clucked my order to the girl in the back. What’s the opposite of dulcet?

The girl in the back is a 60ish woman with a yellow neckerchief and a denim baseball cap on. She’s bringing sexy back. While she’s taking my bagel out of the toaster, she says something to my nemesis. Nemesis says to me ‘she talking about you, she like you, she think you handsome, she like old men’. 'In that case, I'll be back for sure'.

Although there’s no reason to, I blush, grab my food and take my leave.

Does anyone know where I can get a pair of Kim Jong Il glasses? I also need a few choice phrases I can yell in Korean for when I go back to scare the shit out of her.


There's Something About Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

Hearing that the first volume of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman is soon to be released on dvd started a flood in my brain that may just help wash clean that waxy yellow buildup.

In order to escape the insanity of my own family, I needed an even crazier family to latch on to and the Hartmans did not disappoint. My twelve year old self was mesmerized by the daily doings of the denizens of Fernwood. Proud Mary and her husband Tom had lots of problems of their own but once you added in sister Cathy, their off balance mother (played by Dody Goodman) and Grandpa, well, you had a quite a big bowl of mixed nuts in front of you.

Living next door to my family was a seldom seen single mother and her sullen teenaged son. Next door to Mary was the endlessly fascinating Loretta Haggers, an aspiring country and western singer and her older husband Charlie. Mary Kay Place would have been enough to keep me watching even if the rest of the cast had all disappeared. Her turns in Citizen Ruth and Being John Malkovich have kept the spark alive for me.

Watching the show was a little like looking at a picture frame that's always slightly askew no matter how many times you straighten it. What other program gave you death by drowning (in a bowl of soup), a flasher terrorizing the town, Mary's inner monolgues being forced into the open, and those braids?

I'm not sure how I managed to watch this show in peace considering the number of other inmates siblings doing time with me but maybe it was just one of those things that was meant to be. The dvd release promises to bring back some great memories, some good laughs and
of course, that theme music.

I really hope my nervous breakdown is televised!


A Few Notes From The Front

Because work was a large part of my life last week, may I share a few bright spots? A few, to me, always means three.

Someone in a meeting talking about rising costs used the 'word' exorberant. I love it when people try to speak.

Someone mentioned a car accident that slowed the drive in considerably. The other person said 'It's always the people in cars that cause things like this'. I love it when people try to think.

Someone came over to my desk and leaned in with a solemn 'You know, I've been meaning to tell you this for a while now....' Gulp. '...you know that sweater you've been wearing lately, the new one, the light brown one?' Yes I nodded. 'I don't think it really suits you, I wasn't going to say anything but I don't think it's your colour and I thought you should know'.

I laughed and told her that I'd probably still wear it just the same. She didn't laugh. 'That's fine but I'm just saying, it's not really you'. I laughed again and she got up and left. I love it when people think I care.

Janet Baker - I Have Lost Track Of The World.mp3



Friday Random Ten - Every Other Mix

1. VampireHeart.mp3 - Tom McRae

La Martiniana - Lila Downs

3. Easy.mp3 - Emiliana Torrini

That's Enough Out Of You - Teddy Thompson

5. The Friends Of Mr. Cairo.mp3 - Jon & Vangelis

Crazy Beat - Blur

7. New Amsterdam.mp3 - Elvis Costello

Summersong - The Decemberists

9. Annie May.mp3 - John Lee Hooker

Baby's On Fire - Brian Eno


As Canadian As Jim Perry

I was home by design today in the middle of a snowy and stormy day. I'd wager that half my coworkers were home too because they didn't want to take a chance (on being productive). I'll hear all about their weather related transit issues tomorrow and slip right into a coma as they drone about the drive.

Remember this tune? (don't worry, I'm not selling anything) - SoulBossaNova.mp3

Long before Mike Myers popularized it as his Austin Powers theme, it was heard daily in many Canadian homes as the mainstay theme for a game show called Definition. The low budget hangman style game in which the player and a celebrity partner guessed at letters to complete a phrase in a particular category was quite a popular favourite. The prizes may have been crap and the celebrities quite minor, but it was all ours. Just like the host, Jim Perry.

Jim actually hailed from New Jersey but was affable enough to pass for Canadian. He hosted a few shows here (my favourites being Eye Bet and Headline Hunters) and then did a reverse somersault into the US to host $ale of the Century back in the 1980s. Jim had mood hair and for years was silver gray but then suddenly went completely dark and still stayed nice. No word on the colour choice of today's Jim.

While talking about Canadian institutions on the train one day, when Definition was mentioned, I learned that my pal who gave me the beautiful Christmas treasure was not just any old passenger, but a 5 time Definition champion! He'd also seen front line action as a player in the Tournament of Champions!

I could barely contain my excitement at hearing this (it was a slow news day). Not only did he win a truckload of Rice-a-Roni but he also ended up with a set of encyclopedias that he still has and a 2 night stay at an area hotel. The celebrities he got to play with were the type of famous you get to be if you're the 8th lead on an old television pilot that never aired.

He explained that he had just tagged along to keep his sister company as she was trying out and they picked him to try out as well and the rest, as they say, is just train ride home and blog fodder.

While Canada has some excellent quality television on the go here and available for export, we've also had our share of really awful stuff hit the airwaves too. I'm wondering how a made for TV movie about Definition would play. Maybe all it needs is a catchy title? Something like Soul Bossa Nova or Bust and then put topless girls on all the advertising?

Someone get Mike Myers on the phone for me please and cue the music.


I love a good backlash especially if it's well deserved. I'm not talking about the fun leave a welt on your back kind but the lashings provided by the general public to any celebrity they've been overexposed to.

Many seem to be giving Rachael Ray a hard time lately and I only had to tune in for about 2 minutes today to understand why.

What do I know about Rachael? She's had a few shows on the Food Network where she seemed a perky regular sized everygal who travelled around to cool places and ate well. All in good fun. Then at some point, Oprah seems to have caught, bought and released her and now she's got an empire on the build. Good for her. Oprah? Call me.

Back to my point, Rachael said E.V.O.O. instead of extra virgin olive oil three times in a very short span on today's episode. The audience adoringly chuckled each time, I did not. She provided several tips along the lines of remember to peel the orange before you eat it and season to taste! as the adoring audience clapped and bleated their adoration. She's really working hard for that money isn't she? As I'm not a fan of the perky people, I have to join the backlash and say, I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna bake it anymore.

Oh and by the way, a little E.V.O.O. works wonders on dry and cracked skin. Like on your back. I've heard.


A Journey of Faustian Proportions

Friday was filled with unexpected moments; I managed to crush a deadline at work before it could me, I bumped into a really good little jazz combo at a restaurant I was expecting to be a quiet little place, enjoyed interesting conversation with a single serving friend and successfully stifled laughter that might have seen me expelled from the opera house.

My friend Deborah and I went to see the Canadian Opera Company's production of Faust. When we arrived, an elderly gentleman had his cane resting on my seat. He moved it so I could sit down and held it in his hands. I told him if he wanted to rest it between our seats, he was welcome to and he said he'd be fine and didn't want to forget it when he left. A couple more moments of settling in and the show began.

Faust, as an old man, sits centre stage, clutching a cane singing about how life has trapped him, and how he'd give anything to be young again. Considering the gentleman next to me, this seemed a lot like art imitating life. The beauty of David Pomeroy's vocal performance in the title role though quickly drew me away from those thoughts and deeper into the story. Faust trades his soul for a return to youth and the promise of love by striking a deal with Mephistopheles. You know this is disaster.

A lot of the grandeur I enjoy about opera was on display with some excellently performed scenes, a standout being the festival complete with fireblowers, acrobats and a huge Mother Earth puppet. Photo of Me and Deborah an Earth Mother Puppet

There were some bits of awkward staging, some minor scenery glitches and a missed lighting cue or two but I seem to be the only person that is annoyed by these things.

At intermission, I stood in the cold with Deborah while she smoked and I talked about smoking.
When she decided it was time to go and powder her wig, I returned to my seat. I asked the old gentleman what he thought of the production and he became quite animated.

I'm completely tone deaf you know!!; I'm only here to look at the sets and the lighting; don't you think that last bit with all the flowers was ridiculous? You do know that flowers don't typically all grow at the same height?

We shared a few laughs at some of the more ridiculous conceits of the production and I asked if he worked in theatre. He said no, I just like approaching staging and lighting from an intellectual standpoint and figuring out what I would do differently. I told him that I was here first for the music and singing and he said that together, we'd make one hell of an opera goer.

On the new opera house, he said I loathe it! It's so Canadian, could it be any more boring than this? I had to agree that it was a bit beige for my liking although much better acoustically than the previous venue. Before the curtain went back up, he managed commentary on the way people dress when going to the opera these days along complete with a 'we used to dress just to get on an airplane' tag which I found charming.

In the second act, there a few more technical glitches and at one point a minor character wearing a brace and using crutches tripped on the edge of the set and nearly pitched over. It was as unintended as the urge I had to burst out laughing. I clamped my hand over my mouth and kept it there while my stomach tensed to suppress the urge.

I enjoyed losing myself for a few hours in things I love to do. And the two vocal performances I enjoyed most happened to be by Canadians. Perhaps someone is conciously trying to paint in colours meant to offset all that beige?

It struck me a short while later that the old man I'd talked to was an older version of me. I was pleased to see that I wouldn't be begging the devil for a return to youth but rather would be still relishing in the opportunity for an occasional curmudgeonly outburst.

I just hope I do it with the same twinkle in my eye.


Play Dumb

There are video screens on the train I take to work and they play ads and the weather mostly, a perfect combination for a captive Canadian audience. Today, one of them caught my attention and surprised me a little.

It featured one of those Play Doh sets with a meat grinder which reminded me of how much I wanted one of those barber shop Play Doh sets but never got. In this ad, a teddy bear is shown sitting waiting for his food while a child prepares it. The kid puts the Play Doh through the grinder, makes a meat patty, puts it on the bun, adds plastic cheese and serves it up. The bear doesn’t say a word.

The copy on the screen says something about how many people die or burp or something every day from improperly cooked food. The real issue somehow gets ignored. I prefer a little truth in my advertising thank you very much. Hey kid! Where the fuck are the fries? What the fuck is wrong with you? No timing, no coordination, no future.

Friday's Deal With The Devil Ten

What a week - work and winter are wearying me (and forcing bad alliteration).

I'm ready to make a deal with the devil and be done with it all. Perhaps tonight. I'm going to see Faust at the opera and from the bits I've read, it involves Monty Hall and a guy with a tail.

I'm hoping an opera that goes to hell can help me feel like I'm in heaven but then again, it is in French. We'll see. While I wait to find out, that old devil called iPod offers you this...

1. I've Got The World On A String - Tony Bennett & Diana Krall (Live on Letterman)

2. Who Am I (Remix) - Sound Providers

3. The Morning Fog - Kate Bush

4. Window Up Above - Ralph Stanley with George Jones

5. Perhaps Vampires Is A Bit Strong But... - Arctic Monkeys

6. One More Time - Ruth Brown

7. Young Hearts Run Free - Candi Staton

8. L'Effet Que Tu Me Fais - Edith Piaf

9. Circus - Tom Waits

10.Burn - Tanto Metro & Devonte


When Your Mother's Your Fodder

There have been several occasions when I've written about my parents. I usually set out thinking about all the things I could blame them for and then get sidetracked. I promise to eventually wander back to my The Horrors of My Youth series but until then, I present another side order of crazy.

On Friday, I got a letter from the old country. Mama? Is that you? As I've said before, Mom's a letter writer but I'm not sure if I mentioned her stationery. Mom and the friends of Mom used to write each other using the scraps and corners of whatever might be nearby. Nothing seemed safe: an old greeting card? Sure, just cross out the original message and keep on writing. The corner of a church bulletin? Baby Jesus won't mind, go right ahead. With writing up and down the margins as well as where it should be, it was like working at a puzzle designed just for you.

Then the war ended and the streets filled with confetti like so many wasted paper dots. Mothra (a name I call her to make my sister laugh) got into the habit of using *gasp* writing paper. Heady days indeed.

The letter I just received was written on the back of a pizza coupon! What a return to form! Could the people who printed internet specials on the front ever have imagined that it would go unredeemed in favour of the back becoming space for a short note and a listing of all the recently deceased denizens of Momtown?

Exhibit A:

For now, my plan is to ignore the behaviour and use the coupon. If the Internet truly does bring us all together, why should a measly 800 miles get between me and free Garlic Fingers?

As you can see from my fold over, not only did I get the writing on the back of the coupon but it also goes up one side just like in the good old mental days! I'm so glad the postage for sending a written on pizza box through the mail would be cost prohibitive.

Exhibit B:

In honour of this occasion, I've baked you a little mp3 love treat: Kate Bush - Mother Stands For Comfort. It also stands for crazy.


On Minimum Wage and Pickles

The current minimum wage in Ontario is $8 per hour. According to many, it’s still not enough to live on. Eventually, the talk is, it will be increased to $10 per hour. That’s fine by me although I'm not sure what impact it will have where it’s most important: how many pickles the girl at Subway is willing to give me.

It’s not often that I ‘eat fresh’ but when I do, I want it to be an experience that will carry me right through the afternoon. I ordered the BMT (assorted mystery meats) on Italian Herb & Cheese bread (delectable).

The girl asks what I want on it and so I pick a few toppings just to be sociable. Then we get to the pickles. Now, pickles are something that give me pleasure, nothing funny, I just love them. I remember back to my old A&W days when there would be big buckets of pickles there for dressing the burgers. I could have stood there and scooped them by the handful to eat them but of course, I never did that. I bobbed for them.

‘Lots of pickles please’. She puts 4 on; 4 pickles on a whole damned sandwich. I say, ‘could I please have LOTS of pickles’? She puts 2 more on. ‘I said LOTS’ and she throws a couple more on (moron). It almost looks like enough so I take it and go, sulking just a little.

I’m not sure that giving this girl a $2 per hour raise is in my best interests. If she can’t be bothered to make an effort to listen to me at $8 per hour, will she at $10? Can she live on $8? That I don't know. What I do know is I can’t have a satisfying lunch and afternoon on 8 measly fucking pickles.

I bet Jarrod doesn’t have to put up with this shit.