Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Back in the Saddle

It's been too long of a hiatus. The Christmas holidays have been very busy for me for over a decade now, but even more so since I started dating Stacey. See, my parents split back in 1992, necessitating two Christmases every year. And Stacey's parents are also divorced, meaning another two Christmases. And then Stacey and I each have to have a Christmas together and a separate Christmas morning. All tallied, it works out to a whopping six Christmases. That's a lot of Christmas.

So, my past week hasn't been as stress free as it could have been. While my other friends have plenty of time to get together and spread some Christmas cheer at the pubs downtown, I was usually stuck having some family time. And more family time. And more still.

Now, hey, before I seem all down on family, my family's great, and they were very generous this year. But there's family, and then there's FAMILY. Plus my gift-giving budget this year was intense. I can hear my credit card screaming at me from my wallet in the other room.

But I'd spend every penny all over again. It even seems like I under-spent, compared to some of the gifts I received (but I know, it's not about how much you spent...) After many years of drooling over them in the store, I finally got a digital camera, and once I figure out how to post pictures to the web, I'll have a link to a picture section of MPFH. I also got an external CD burner, so there will be MP3 mix discs a-plenty in the works over the next little while. And some great books. And some great clothes. And a whole pile of DVDs and Lord of the Rings-related merchandise. A couple of board games. Some LEGO. Some great tools. I could keep going. I was a very lucky boy this year. I must have been extra nice to warrant all the loot.

Christmas ended officially just over 24 hours ago, so now I'm scrambling to find something to do for New Year's Eve. As usual, I'm left at the last minute with no real plans to speak of. Nothing to do. I had two possible plans lined up, but in true NYE fashion, they've both fallen through. Anyone want to take pity on me and invite me out to a shindig? New Year's is one of my favourite nights of the year, and sitting at home doesn't sound too good to me right now.

Less than 48 hours until I have to be back at work. The countdown begins.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002


Christmas Eve, baby. If you celebrate, have a very merry Christmas, and if not, happy 24th of December! I've already had a kick-ass Christmas so far. I just unwrapped a Lord of the Rings figurine gift set with all nine members of the Fellowship, courtesy of my lovely girlfriend Stacey. She knows me all too well. It's 2 am, but I'm gonna go play with my Gimli for another few minutes. Wow, that actually sounds kind of dirty, doesn't it?


Friday, December 20, 2002


Hey, did you know that "irregardless" wasn't a proper word? So did I. But for some reason, it skipped my mind in the last post I made. And I used it twice! The offending word-ish groups of letters have been replaced with the far more proper "regardless." Ah, much better. Thanks go to my sister, Ali, who smacked me on the hand and showed me the error of my ways.

What can I say? The spelling check didn't pick it up....

And Then There Was One

** Do you have Survivor taped and haven't watched it yet? Warning: crazy-huge spoilers ahead! **

Brian is the sole Survivor, and all is somewhat well in the world of Reality TV. I have to admit, had Clay taken home the million, I would not have been able to sit through another episode of Survivor ever again. But the shocking truth was, it was so...damn...close. One vote separated the outcome that I felt was just...and an absolute, messy catastrophe of epic proportions. *cough* Epic in TV Land, that is.

Let's face it. Survivor has taken a sort of ho-hum, been there, done that, "nothing can shock me anymore" feel to it lately. The challenges have become repetitive, the prizes have been similar, and even the rules of the game have varied very little (save for a vicious little twist is this past season, where the tribes were duped by an assumed, yet false, merge). But if anything is tangible and true about how the game works and how the human players should interact, Brian was the clear winner.

Let's face it. Like a master manipulator, unlike any player we've seen since Richard Hatch, Brian played his tribe mates and his opponents like a pack of marked cards. He had a game plan from day one, he had done his homework and studied how people interact and how to use that to his advantage, and he found the peace within himself to outperform his co-survivors when the chips were down.

Which is not to say that he played entirely fairly. But let's face it: life isn't always fair. It's a game and it follows certain rules, but there are equal opportunities presented to all of the players. The winners are often the people who choose to take these opportunities, regardless of what price they may have. Sometimes it works in their favour, like with Brian. And sometimes it doesn't. The key is to keep emotion out of it and maintain a cool composure throughout. Someone should have told that to Ghandia and Ted and three quarters of the rest of the cast, and maybe they could have gotten further ahead.

Brian played with class, but a sinister brand of class. He was a friend, but also a manipulator. An ambassador, yet a competitor. A charming guy, yet an outright liar and back-stabber. He controlled the game with a single-minded purpose. It was his to lose, and everything fell into place according to his designs in the end. Barely.

What has struck me when watching this is how it could have been so close. I admit, Survivor can be tough, and the hardest thing is to understand, as a player, is that many of the decisions that determine your fate in the last few rounds of the game aren't personal, they're part of the game. If I was a player, there would be no question in my mind that I would respect and appreciate the way that Brian played the game. Or so I claim while sitting in my comfortable easy chair.

But as my friend Mike said, and I agree with him, there was a huge "me, me, me" outcry from the jury that was sickening. Bruised egos, accusations based on hearsay, criticisms of integrity, and self-centeredness formed the questions of almost every jury member. I've seen that sort of thing before, but possibly not to this kind of advanced degree. Each of the jury members should have made a personal realization. Brian duped them. He beat them in a game. Suck it up, and let him have the prize that he deserved. Fortunately, four out of the seven made the right decision, although probably not for this reason or one like it. More likely, because they felt that as a person, Brian was a nicer than Clay.

Which is certainly true. Clay, as a person and a player, appalled me. He showed how sexist, stupid, rude, lazy, and argumentative he was on a daily basis. He was a simple opportunist who didn't have the intelligence to realize Brian was using him all along. I mean honestly, when you're a slickster, alcoholic, ex-porn actor who has alienated just about everyone on the jury in your manipulations, who would you want to be compared to when you're side by side?

The big, dumb, loudmouth ex-football player? Too much of a physical threat if Brian wanted to win immunity. The grandma who cries every time a poor, defenseless leaf falls from a tree? No way, juries have already proved to be suckers for the nice people, regardless of how they actually played the game. A Navy diving instructor, who throughout the game proved to be a mental and physical threat and wanted to win almost as bad as she wanted to keep breathing? I think Brian would have rather "grinded" with Ghandia than chosen her for the Final Two.

I think Brian made the right choice with Clay. And yet, it still almost cost him the game. Wacky. But now that he has the cheque in the bank, Brian can focus on re-kindling his porn career, finalizing his possible divorce from his wife (against whom he has recently filed a restraining order), and rolling around in a big sweaty mountain of dollar bills.

Well, the least exciting and possibly most perplexing Survivor yet has drawn to a close. Next up: Survivor 6 in the Amazon. Maybe this time, someone will be crushed and eaten by an anaconda. That would be sweet.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

I Have Seen It....and It Was Good

I caught a matinee showing of The Two Towers today (and yes, that DOES mean that they finally let me go on vacation...Hoo-ray), but I'm going to hold off on a detailed review. Tolkien is all people are talking these days, it seems. So I'll keep it short. They didn't screw up Gollum, in fact, they did an excellent job of bringing him to the big screen. The true test for me was my girlfriend, who "Awwwwww"ed in the places where we were supposed to feel sorry for him and tensed up just a little bit when he was being sneaky.

And they didn't screw up Treebeard. He was just as ponderous yet menacing as he should have been, despite the fact that he sounded suspiciously like Gimli. It was almost as if they were played by the same actor. Hmmmm....

And as for the changes to Tolkien's plot? Jackson made a great thing even better, and kept me at the edge of my seat for the full three hours. And I finished the book only a month ago! Great acting, great direction, great special effects....well, pretty much great everything. Can I gush any more? Sure I can, but I'll spare you. You're welcome.

And as for the box office revenues....Spider-Man is so going down, if I have anything to say about it. Ya hear that? Yeah! ....I have no power over box offices whatsoever, do I?

Stacey and I also had the misfortune of watching Monster's Ball, and a what a load of formulaic CRAP that was. It so desperately wanted to be artsy, and didn't spare any of the tried-and-true Oscar nomination tactics. A pinch of out-of-focus background/foreground layering, a few splashes of repeated motifs, a pile of current, sought-after actors, a dollop of depression and hopelessness, two teaspoonfuls of social commentary, and la piece de la resistance, a southern U.S. setting. Voila! Gimme a golden statue!

Well, fortunately the Academy didn't honour it with a nod for best picture, but Halle took home the gold for her performance. I felt it was pretty undeserving. Just my two cents worth. If you really want to see what a Best Actress can do, check out Hillary Swank in Boys Don't Cry. Now THAT'S a performance.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Hey, Lookee!

Just in case you hadn't noticed it yet, I now have a comments feature on this here blog. To leave me a message about my post, click on the "Comment!" link at the end of a posting, leave your name, email and/or web site address (if you want), and write to your heart's content. Or just leave a message to say hello. And hey, maybe I'll leave the odd comment from time to time in response, too. You never know...

Tomorrow: last day of work before Christmas vacation time (hopefully)! Yay!

Friday, December 13, 2002

A Brief Summary of my Week

What would you do if you hit a dry spell in your work? What if you didn't really have a lot to keep you busy and you went into work every day for three months with the fear that you were going to be laid off any day now? What if you then find out that there was a very good possibility it could happen on one particular week?

What if it also so happens that this week falls close to Christmas, with all the stress and monetary woes of the giftgiving season? Then what if another rumour comes up, saying that you may be forced to zero out your holiday time, regardless of when you were planning to use it, for the betterment of the company? Would you end up feeling pressured and a little jerked around?

Then, let's suppose you decide that taking a little bit more vacation time than you had expected is better than losing your job. What if you decide to march into your boss' office to take a hit for the company, agree to take an extra week of vacation, all in the hopes that you wouldn't lose your job?

Then, let's say you get the OK. Let's also say that when you think about it, your job is secure (at least for a little while) and you'll be able to kick your feet up for a while and do some relaxing. Relaxing like you haven't done since the last time you didn't have a job, and weren't worried about finding one, either, or anything else work-related, for that matter. And let's say that this idea starts to sound really damn cool.

What if you came in the very next day, only to find out that you've been posted to a new project that needs a little extra dummy-work done before Christmas? Work that you weren't really qualified to do, but you've been asked to do anyway? What if your boss, after giving you some much-needed piece of mind, snatches that away from you and puts you on a project that may eat up all the time you had planned on relaxing and recouping and finding the strength to keep going in an impossible working situation?

And then, what if you have to struggle and realize that work is good, and it's important to keep busy and maybe it will keep you employed for a little while longer?

Ta-da! My week, ladies and gentlemen. It's kinda humourous, in a way. If any of you write an episode of a sitcom based on my life, I expect some royalties..

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Part 2 of Andrew's Big MONTREAL Concert Road Trip Weekend Extravaganza: On the Art of Upstaging, Living Like Royalty, and Cobblestone Streets

Jumping into the story now? Read this first!

Stacey and I had just barely made it in time for Ash’s set. We threw our jackets at the girl at the coat check and bulldozed our way into the club.

Ash and Saves The Day were playing at another gutted-out theatre, although it seemed clear to me that whereas the Opera House in Toronto was a reformed stage theatre, Club Soda in Montreal was a movie theatre in its former life. The main concert hall was long and narrow with a two-story space and a balcony running all the way around three sides of the room. The bars were at the back, where we first entered the space, on opposite sides of the room and the large stage space was at the front.

Stacey and I found a place to stand on the raised area at the back, next to one of the bars. We were far enough away from the front to avoid stupid moshing kids and their flying elbows and high enough up that we could see everything on stage clearly. Of course, that meant the band couldn’t see what kind of supa-fans we were when we sang every lyric to their songs, but life’s all about trade-offs, isn’t it?

Ash was amazing. There was only one description of the band that even remotely befitted their on-stage personas: they were rock stars.

There were true rock stars in every sense of the word. In a way, their live show was very similar to that of one of my favourite, although lesser-known, Canadian bands, The Flashing Lights: they were over-the top, confident, self-assured, and looking like they were having the times of their lives. And when the band’s that into the music, how could an audience resist them?

The frontman, Tim, showed his true showmanship at every available opportunity. From standing at the edge of the stage wailing on the guitar, cracking jokes with the audience and playing his heart out on every song, Tim had the full attention of the audience through the whole show.

Charlotte, the second guitar, is just about as bad ass as any rawk chick working in the biz. She exudes a coolness and savvy that goes far beyond looking sweet with a guitar strapped around her neck. Check out her personal web site here….she has this off-kilter sense of humour that I totally appreciate. And what self-respecting punk band goes without a Mohawk-ed drummer? Rick was in fine form. And Mark. Well, Mark plays bass. And a damn fine bass he plays, too.

Despite their short set (45 minutes? Criminal!), Ash played almost all of the songs we wanted them to. “Sometimes,” “There’s a Star,” and “Burn Baby Burn” from Free All Angels and “Girl From Mars” and “Kung Fu” from 1977, along with a few lesser-known songs that are just as brilliant.

Our only (minor) disappointment was in the reaction of the audience. I would have expected a lot more people to be dancing and carrying on at the front of the stage. I got the impression that many of the people there had never heard of the band or any of their songs. But you should have seen how many of their CDs were passing across the counter at the “merch” stand after the show, though.

Stacey and I were right there at the front of the line. In a rare showing of fanboy-ness, I bought a t-shirt (it had a rebel alliance logo from Star Wars on it as well as the Ash logo, so how could I possibly resist?), and Stacey bought their latest CD for pennies a song. We were stuck carrying the junk around for the rest of the night, but we didn’t care.

Stacey and I settled into our newly-found bar stools and waited for Saves The Day. Stacey wasn’t optimistic, but I was still giving them the benefit of the doubt. That is, until they got up on stage and started playing.

My first reaction: these guys don’t look like rock stars, they look like they should be hanging out in their parent’s rec room playing Nintendo.

As a group, they were the quintessential personifications of awkwardness and gangly-ness. With a shy, mumbled “bonjour” from their frontman, they started into their first crappy song and then proceeded to play an entire set filled with the rest of their boring crappy songs (that, in all fairness, sounded a whole lot less crappy on the CD than they did live).

I cracked a few jokes to Stacey. Like, “hey lookit how high they have their guitars strapped on! Hope he doesn’t scrape his chin on that thing!” and “Hey, I think the bassist just got out of bed. He has sleepy hair,” and “ohmigod, they suck, they suck, they SUCK!” Okay, maybe the last one wasn’t so much a joke as it was an expression of pain and agonizing misfortune.

Our esteemed frontman, Chris, couldn’t seem to put a complete sentence together when he wasn’t singing. Oh, except for one point in the show when some kids were crowd surfing and he said something along the lines of “Hey! You guys should really stop that…because, uh, someone might get hurt. Okay?” Sagely words to live by. I will never forget them, Chris.

I guess they weren’t all bad. They did a fairly nice rendition of their song “Firefly” and a passable version of “Nightingale” from their recent album, Stay What You Are, but their abysmal cover of a Pixies song was indescribably awful. It was so bad that my brain has blotted out the experience to the point that I can no longer remember which Pixies song they performed in particular. Yes, that bad.

Stacey and I could only ask ourselves over and over again, why oh why was a band like Ash opening for these pint-sized amateurs? We wondered whether or not Saves The Day knew that they were being upstaged so badly. We wondered how the two bands could possibly have anything in common. We wondered whether or not the bad-ass Irish punk rawkers beat the living snot out of pimply-faced Saves The Day on a nearly nightly basis. We still don’t have any good answers to our questions.

We really should have stuck around to ask Ash in person. They actually planned to meet with the fans and sign autographs after Saves The Day left the stage, but Stacey was so tired at that point that we decided to head over to the hotel. We both feel kind of sore about missing them, in retrospect.

We stayed at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth in a $300 room. Yup, the hotel where John freakin' Lennon had his famous "Bed-In," way back in 1969. Not to mention the fact that the hotel was the very temporary residence of a pile of kings, queens, and other assorted royalty over the years.

Now before you think, “holy CRAP, Andrew’s LOADED!” I should say that we didn’t actually pay $300 for the room. In fact, it cost us a bit more than a third of that. See, it’s all about family connections.

This was just about the first time I’d ever stayed in a really nice hotel room, so to me, it was a bit of a big deal. The truth of the matter was, though, that it wasn’t really all that different than all of the other hotel rooms I’d been in. Same size and shape, bathroom was in the right place, there were two chairs a table and some un-used-looking dresser drawers.

I came to the realization that the upper crust, our modern “royalty,” if you will, don’t seem to live all that much better than the plebeians. The differences are in the details. Instead of a regular phone, there was a wireless. Instead of a hard cake of soap, there was a wide variety of shampoos, conditioners, body lotions, and other ablutions. Instead of normal light bulbs, there were long-lasting halogen ones. If that’s not living, I don’t know what is.

Getting to the room late, we didn’t enjoy very many of the hotel’s amenities, but we were sure to put the bath robes that were provided to good use and filled the empty pockets on our suitcases with pretty much anything that wasn’t bolted to the furniture. And all the stuff that we wouldn’t have to pay for if and when it went missing. By the way, if anyone wants a shower cap with “The Queen Elizabeth” printed on it, let me know.

But seriously, $14.95 for a continental breakfast? You’ve gotta be kidding me. For a bit of milk, a travel pack of Kellogg’s cereal, and a piece of fruit? We didn’t stay for the petit dejeuner. Instead, Stacey got a McMuffin-type thing and I got a plate of teriyaki (mmmm, breakfast) at the food court in the mall downstairs.

We spent the rest of our day in Montreal, poking in and out of stores along Rue St. Catherine and making good use of the underground malls on a windy, overcast day. We finished up our shopping in the Vieux Port district of Montreal just as the sun was going down.

If you’ve never been to Vieux Montréal around Christmas, I couldn’t recommend it more. So many interesting little shops, with gift ideas you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. I bought Stacey her first Christmas present at a store called “Excalibur” which featured medieval costumes, jewelry, and artifacts. It was a gorgeous, intricate silver necklace, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Stacey will have to wait until Christmas to start wearing it, though.

The nicest feature of the area is that it’s achingly romantic, though: with narrow, cobblestone streets, archways, classic, almost gothic architecture, and the one of the prettiest displays of Christmas lights I’ve ever seen. It’s worth the trip just to walk around the district, even if you don’t spend a penny.

We walked back to the car with big, satisfied smiles on our faces, handfuls of brightly-coloured shopping bags, and a light, merry feeling in our hearts, like it was the first moment when it really started to feel like Christmas. We were tired yet reluctant to start on our way back to Ottawa. One more adventure down, and hopefully more to come soon!

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Part 1 of Andrew's Big MONTREAL Concert Road Trip Weekend Extravaganza: On Irish Punk Music, Ticket Brokers, and Breakneck Speed

It’s funny how things work out sometimes. Around the same time I discovered Saint Etienne (see the post from a few days ago for more details….scroll down….scroll down further….there you go), I also discovered a band called Ash. At first, I thought “hey! These guys are catchy! It’s a little pop-y for my tastes, but it's still good.” I kept listening, though.

Ash has a very power-pop, emo, post-skate punk sound that’s been very popular in Europe but hasn’t caught on here, yet. And the more I listened to them, the catchier the music became. Stacey fell in love with Ash right away, clamoring for more and more mp3’s to satiate her hunger for their music.

I soon found myself constantly humming their tunes in my head and thinking “where do I know this from? Ohhhhhhh yeah, Ash.” The next logical step was to inadvertently break into singing one of their songs. Loudly. On a crowded elevator, much to my horror. I realized I had a problem: I’d been hooked. Of course, then I had to try to explain Ash to a co-worker.

Co-worker: Ash who?

Me: They’re from Ireland.

Co-worker: So, how’d you find out about them? Are they on the radio?

Me: Well, not here. They’re huge in the UK, though.

Co-worker: Uh-huh. So, do they play Irish drinking songs? I like stuff like that.

Me: No. They’re kind of rock, but kind of punk, too.

Co-worker: Pun-k? Like the Sex Pistols?

Me: Uh, no, not really. More like Green Day or Blink-182.


Co-worker: Who?

Me: Never mind.

Around about the same time I decided to go to the Saint Etienne concert in Toronto, I also found out that Ash would be the opening band for Saves The Day in Montreal on the 6th of December. At first, I wasn’t very excited. I knew that as an opening act, they’d have a short set, and it would be an expensive trip since we didn’t have a viable place to stay while we were there. I also downloaded a few songs from Saves the Day, and although I thought they were okay, they were nothing to write home about.

After the success of the trip to Toronto, though, Stacey and I had caught the traveling bug. Plus, we really had fallen for the band. All that needed to be taken care of was the logistics.

For those of you who haven’t seen a concert in Montreal, it works a little differently than in most other places in Canada. Usually, when there’s a big act, where do you get the tickets? Ticketmaster, of course. It’s easy, they have kiosks everywhere, and you can get tickets online and print them up, no sweat (criminal service charges, but that’s another rant completely).

Not in Montreal; Ticketmaster doesn’t even exist there. So instead, you have to farm out your ticket business to any number of small, potentially unreliable ticket brokers. And ticket kiosks? Forget about it. Nine times out of ten, if you can’t drive to Montreal to pick up the tickets, you have to trust the dreaded online-purchase-and-Canada-Post route. It’s enough to make anyone angsty. I’m not a big fan of shopping online to begin with, but when Canada Post gets involved, I start feeling sick to the stomach.

After I had carefully read everything on the pages as they went by and finished filling out the online forms to get my tickets, I got a confirmation email. Again, I carefully read everything on the email. “All sales final.”…okay… “No refunds allowed.”…okay… “Your credit card has automatically been billed.”…yada yada. In teeny-tiny type down at the bottom of the email, I read “please allow AT LEAST two weeks for ticket delivery.”

I started to freak out. The concert was in ten days, and they hadn’t told me anywhere on their online pages that they needed two weeks to get the tickets to me. Not even Canada Post is slow enough to take two weeks to mail something between Montreal and Ottawa. I desperately clicked the “back” button on my browser to re-read all of the pages and make sure I didn’t miss anything. I came up empty.

I spent an anxious few days wondering if I should call the box office, only to find the tickets waiting for me in our mailbox on the Monday before the concert. I breathed a deep sigh of relief. Their ticket terror tactics were only in place to legally cover their asses and, apparently, to make me feel needlessly ill.

Next stop, Montreal! Do to a personal mess that I don’t care to get into, we had left our packing to the last minute. Our hope was to pack up the car the morning of the concert (it was a Friday), drive into work, and then drive straight from work to the show. The fates conspired against us, unfortunately.

After work, we fought rush hour traffic back home, spent an hour packing, had to get dinner, had to gas up the car, and then fought rush hour traffic all the way out to the east end and out of town to Montreal. Over the course of these events, Stacey (with an impudent grin) insisted on asking me if I had the tickets every five minutes or so and expected me to prove it by showing them to her. Fortunately, after the last time, I had learned my lesson.

By the time we were solidly on the road, it was almost 7 pm and the band was on stage for 8:45 sharp. An hour and a half to Montreal was do-able, but really tight. Everything depended on traffic and a total lack of police on the road.

The next hour and half was a whirlwind of high-beams, catching “waves” of high-speed drivers, and a whole pant-load of luck. We pulled into downtown Montreal with 15 minutes to spare onto Rue St-Laurent, the very street where the concert was being held.

One problem: despite what the sign had said when we pulled of the highway, we weren’t actually on St-Laurent. We parked three blocks away from the venue only to find out we weren’t actually three blocks away.

Stacey, the quintessential optimist when it comes to taking the advice of strangers, asked a lady where the street was, en Français, no less. The dumbfounded looking lady, after scratching her big dumb head and rolling her big dumb eyes for a while, sent us six blocks in the opposite direction before we realized we were going the wrong way, asked someone else for directions, and re-traced our steps.

We burst into the nightclub winded, exhausted, and just in time for the first few bars of “Girl From Mars,” Ash’s opening song. Without even regard for our bladders, we found a spot to stand and reveled in our accomplishment. We were there, we were in one piece, and Ash was on the stage. Bliss.

Part 2: On the Art of Upstaging, Living Like Royalty, and Cobblestone Streets” will be posted soon. Stay tuned!

Friday, December 06, 2002

Band Obsession of the Day!

Who's playing on Winamp right now? Ash, baby, that's who! Learn all about the band right here. And buy their newest CD, "Free all Angels": it's catchy, it's fun, and for a short time only (in North America), you get a bonus DVD! Sweet.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

A New Spin on Reality TV: Who Needs an Honest Premise, Anyway?

I have to watch this show.

Further Proof of How Kids Are Dumb

The latest craze to be sweeping the toy stores this Christmas: BEYBLADES. What are they? Little, junky, plastic, spinning tops. What do they do? Spin. Oh, and bump into other little plastic tops. Wage beyblade battles against your friends and score points! Collect them all and then build your own, using five whole interchangeable parts! Imagine the possibilities!

I suppose it's better than making your kid a permanent fixture in front of the TV. But not by much.

Further browsing on the Hasbro site brought me to this little gem: Music 'N Lights SIT 'N SPIN! Honestly, who names these things?

Monday, December 02, 2002

Why haven't I gotten to this sooner? Is anyone still interested? Why are my pants on backwards? With no further ado, here's....

Part 2 of Andrew's Big Concert Road Trip Weekend Extravaganza: On Older Crowds, Dance Caves, and Hobbits

Toronto, in many ways, is a mecca for people seeking their individuality, their own private niche. It seems like many of the denizens of Canada's largest and most diverse city pride themselves on being their own person, and many make a special point of wearing their likes and dislikes on the sleeves of their shirts like some kind of fashion-badge.

It's something that Stacey and I have noticed in the past, and something that remains true today. Many Torontonians seem to evaluate their worth and the worth of others based on the number and variety swanky, unique, fashionable places that they know and frequent. Everyone has their favourites when it comes to bars, restaurants, record stores, laundromats, you name it. And many of these places are as different from each other as are the members their clientele.

It's all about fit. In a big, culturally-diverse city, you have the opportunity to sample a number of very different, very specific things, and then decide what fits your personality the best. This kind of thing is true about smaller cities like Ottawa, too, but not to the same extent. Sure, when you're talking bars, we have the jock bars, and the pubs, the alternative night clubs, gay bars, and the odd rave club, and everyone has a preference of which ones they like to go to. But when there’s a smaller base of people to draw into these establishments, they have to generalize their music and atmosphere to appeal to a larger cross-section of the population.

Not so in Toronto. In Toronto, it seems, the sky's the limit. You can have a club that plays only brit-pop. Another that prides itself on its latin music dance floor. Yet another, that features only drum-and-bass music all night. And one more that features Russian polka on Tuesdays and Thursdays and harmonica and accordion open mike nights the rest of the week. What's more, these bars actually make enough money to stay in business and pay their staff.

And that's only the BARS. I'm truly impressed by all of it.

An aside: has anyone noticed how many people wear red shoes in Toronto? Anyone? It's frightening. More red shoes than I've ever seen anywhere else. It's like an infectious plague of red shoes.

Our host, Matt, takes advantage of the city as much as he can. In a very endearing way, he was proud to show us some of his favourite places in the city while we were there. And by no means did he let us down.

On Saturday morning, we had breakfast at a little place on Bloor near Bathurst called Mel's with Matt and my friend Christy. Nice little family-owned place, with a fantastic breakfast....what's more, they serve Montreal bagels.

Some of you might not know about this, but there's been a rivalry going on for some time now between those who prefer Montreal-style bagels and those who prefer Toronto-style. They're two very different things. Of course, living in Ottawa, we get the benefit of being able to choose between the bagel offerings of our two behemoth neighbours. But anyway, go to Mel's, the food's tasty.

On a total, only-in-Toronto kind of fluke, one of our mutual friends from high school (who we hadn't seen in years) waltzed through the doors of the restaurant just as we were finishing our meals. We kind of had to do a double and triple take in the process: in some weird twist of fate, we had watched him walk past the restaurant twice before settling on Mel's. " Is that...? No, it couldn't be..." "Wait, there he is again!" Phone numbers were exchanged and he and his girlfriend got a separate table. Go figure.

After breakfast, we spent an hour lost in Honest Ed's. It's a un-healthily BIG dollar store, really. Not for the faint of heart...I'd rather not talk about it.

One of the things Stacey and I were excited about doing (okay, well, maybe I was a little more excited than Stacey, but still) was the Lord of the Rings exclusive Two Towers exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum. This thing is huge. Props, costumes and sets reproduced from the movie, and of all the places in the world, it ended up in Toronto.

In Canada! Canada never gets anything cool! Well, obviously not never, because we got this, and probably a number of other things that I'm not thinking of off the top of my head, but for the sake of argument, okay? And this was sooooo cooooool. And for a while there, I thought I wasn't even going to get the chance to see it before the exhibit ended.

So, I figure, no problem, now that we can go, we're going to go see it three whole weeks after it opened...surely everyone who wanted to see it has already seen it, right? Sure! So we split from Matt for a bit and decide to go in the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday. I was so very, very wrong. Embarrassingly so.

Obviously, this exhibit is bigger than I had imagined. When we got to the museum at about 2:30 in the afternoon, there was a line of people stretching down a whole city block, towards Bloor. I think I turned three shades paler when I came out of the subway staircase and saw the line for the first time. I started to panic: "Holy CRAP, I'm not going to be able to see it. I'm in bloody Toronto, in FRONT of the museum, and I can't see it? Forget THAT action."

Just as I'm starting into the really filthy swearing (hey, it's not like the kids standing in line hadn't ever heard it before, right? Big-city kids? They're all raised like truckers, I'm sure of it), we maneuver our way to the front of the line to another, much shorter line for people who need to buy tickets. Stacey and I make a difficult decision. We decide to rob ourselves of sleep.

After asking the ticket clerk when would be the best time to see the exhibit, we bought tickets for the ungodly hour of 10:00 am on Sunday morning. In the pit of my stomach, I knew that I was going to feel like I’d been hit by a steamroller the next day--no sleep after a night of concert-going and drinking. Sign me up.

After a few hours of shopping along Bloor, we hooked up with Matt and my friend Mike before the concert. After a short subway and streetcar ride, we ended up at a small sushi restaurant on Queen Street West that had excellent (read: cheap) sushi and sashimi. Full of raw fish and rice, we made our way to the concert hall.

The Opera House is on Queen Street East, and it's one helluva good place to see a show. Just like the name says, it's a converted Opera House, much to our blindly naive surprise. Instead of rows of seats, though, there's a big open area with absolutely nowhere to sit. I recommend bringing lawn chairs to the show if you're going any time soon. It's like the owners of the club are allergic to sitting. But the acoustics were wonderful.

The bands were also excellent. The first opener, which was a surprise to all of us, was a band from Montreal called The Stars. Matt and Mike had seen them before, and I have to say, I was very impressed. They held their own against some pretty stiff competition. What can I say about the second opener, Dot Allison? She's beautiful, she has a to-die-for gorgeous voice....but the acoustic set didn't work for me. She usually has a techno/electronica sound to her music, and I kind of missed it. Of course, what a treat it would have been if I had been more familiar with her music and could appreciate it as a rare, all-acoustic set.

At this point, Stacey and I looked around at the crowd of people in the club and agreed that this was the first show that we had been to in a long time where we felt young, but comfortably so. The audience was made up of twenty-somethings who you could tell had been there-and-back with popular music. They'd already cut their chops on one-hit-wonders and had now settled into a more mature, more eclectic style of music.

Their was an air of savvy to the place that circulated from person to person that gave you the comfortable impression that we all shared something in common, we all knew what we wanted from our music, and we were so happy to be there. It was an almost indescribable sensation. Plus, no kids elbowing me in the back of the head because they still think moshing's cool. In fact, practically no kids at all.

Saint Etienne, as a band and as a performance, embodied this comfortable sensation. Their songs have a catchy, upbeat hook to them that draws you in and absorbs you in a way that is rare with live acts. Really, though, most of the men in the audience would agree that it was the singer, Sarah, that held our enrapt attention. Her breathy vocals, her innocent, yet slightly sly smile, her minimalist, slightly off-beat dancing and slightly messy blonde hair....she's an embodiment of cute.

Stacey made a joke about all of us drooling over her and made me admit that I had a crush on her. For those who know me, you probably know that I go ga-ga over certain female vocalists from time to time. Sarah's no exception. She knows how to manipulate her male audience, and she does it with such style that you can't hold it against her. That brings to mind a joke, but never mind.

We left the Opera House satisfied and looking for a place to dance. And what better place to dance than a place called the Dance Cave? It was the obvious choice. While Stacey left the bar to talk to a friend who had come to meet us at the club, Matt, Mike and I hit the dance floor. We finished off the night back at Mel's, where I made the oft-repeated mistake of buying a smoked meat poutine. One of these days, I will learn. No really, I will. Low and behold, we didn't get to bed until nearly 5 am.

Sunday morning, Stacey and I somehow managed to crawl out of bed and onto a subway to get to the Lord of the Rings exhibit for 10am. Fortunately, the line was much, much shorter when we arrived and we saw the exhibit on relatively peaceful terms. And what an experience! The attention to detail on every single prop was extraordinary. If you're in town and you get a chance to see the exhibit before it ends (last week!), it's fully worth fighting the crowds and the $15. Trust me. If you didn't know that elves and orcs weren't real, you'd think it was a legitimate historical exhibit at a legitimate museum.

After lunch with Stacey's friend, Donovan, at a place called C'est What (oh, a pun! Puns hurt me), Stacey and I hit the road and came home, happy, tired, and satisfied. And definitely looking forward to the next trip.