Monday, June 30, 2003

chicken run

Guess it's been a week since I last posted anything. Life's been busy in the interim - dinner with friends (one occured, one postponed), a trip home, opening birthday presents (even though the actual day isn't for two more weeks), watching my life flash by on the the 401...

The ride back last night? Not bad until Dutton. Just beyond the service station, I noticed a car gaining fast on me. I was driving in the right lane, so i figured the guy would pass and maintain my speed, around 110. Instead, they kept gaining, breathing on my tail. Then they starting flashing their high beams off and on, like a strobe light. Even though the left lane was clear, they refused to pass. I wanted to pull into the left lane, but my eyes were full of spots and the glare from the other car was too strong. I pulled over and they followed. Pulled back into the right, and the chase continued. Then there was some traffic ahead of me and I attempted to brake a bit, but the other car was not going to give any room.

My heart raced as traffic ahead was in both lanes and I was closing in. Thoughts about mortality entered my head, and sputtered out "I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die..." Luckily, the guy in the left lane ahead of me pulled ahead just enough for me to slip in. Once past the two cars, the maniac sped back up and pulled even beside me. I did not turn my head, concentrating on the road ahead of me. I tried to put my panic aside. The other car pulled back a distance, and I soon returned to the right lane. They came back up on my tail one more time, but then around Hwy 4 some trucks appeared ahead of us.

I think the maniac must have had their fill of fun by then, as they didn't do anything else. I think I saw them get off at Highbury Ave in London. I stopped at the next service station and relaxed my nerves with a donut. I'm stumped by what caused the other driver to act so recklessly - I don't remember cutting anyone off, or pissing anybody off at the Dutton service station. Wasn't being a slowpoke in the left lane or going slow. Was it a drunk or a thrillseeker playing chicken?

works in progress department—test pattern, part two

Continuing on...

(If the project was set in the 60s, the concept album/rock opera had to rear its head. What was the most mundane Cancon topic one could choose?)

In 1969, the group was commission by the CBC and several FM stations to compose a Canadian rock opera, to compete with the likes of Hair and Tommy. Why the group chose to create a song cycle based on the life of Canada's 5th Prime Minister, Mackenzie Bowell, remains a mystery to this day. "Bowell Movement" was unleashed on an unsuspecting public in May 1969.

Test Pattern Presents...

The pride of Belleville, he had no plan
Beyond being a loyal Orangeman

The album ended with an 11-minute epic, So Long Mr. Bowell

So long Mr. Bowell
It was good while you had it
So long Mr. Bowell
Tupper's back and right at it
So long Mr. Bowell
If only you’d had more time
So long Mr. Bowell
You'd have made another rhyme.

So long Mr. Bowell
Those damn Manitoba schools
So long Mr. Bowell
Made you look like damn fools
So long Mr. Bowell
If only you'd had more time
So long Mr. Bowell
You'd have made another rhyme.

Sales were initially brisk, as buyers thought they might be getting something dirty inside. Discovering that the title was not a double entendre, sales leveled quickly. Still, it made everyone a tidy little profit.

The initial reaction prompted organizers of the Woodstock music festival to extend an invitation to the group. Unfortunately, the group misunderstood the invitation and set out for Woodstock, ON, for local farmer Mack Yasser's farm. They stayed for several days, playing only for Mr. Yasser's cows.

MACK YASSER: I was on vacation at the time, when I got a call from my neighbour, who said there was some hippies, or whatever they called them crazy kids back then, running around the farm. I rushed home and saw they'd dismantled one of my barns and used the wood for a stage. It was just the cows staring at them, no people. I tell ya, never seen my stock ever look so confused when those boys were banging away.

Yasser figured they'd drift away, but word about Test Pattern soon spread to town. An estimated crowd of 300 showed up on Day 5, only to find a band ragged in voice and appearance from playing 4 days straight to the livestock.

A plaque now marks the site.

(If this tale was going to go into the 70s, and especially if it wound up involving friends in photos, the glam rock era had to be touched upon. Looking at photos of acts from that time, it's amazing there weren't any serious/fatal accidents due to their outfits).

This phase was worst on Bottell, who barely fit into the tight costumes the group was provided with. It proved too much on Aug 12, 1973, when he collapsed halfway through a television performance of "Glamour Puss". Thus ended the group's flirtation with glam

Canuck Records fell into receivership at this time, its tie-ins with the World Football League, World Hockey Association and the Bricklin all turned to rust.

And then disco hit.

(and there the fragments end, other than a list of potential names for group members).

Group Membership
Gord Labatt
Gord Molson
Carl O'Keefe
Mary Seagram (later known as Marigold Sunray)
Horace "Hi" Walker
Juliette Gooderham
Jack Worts
Ben Sleeman
Pierre Brique
Raja Sri Pultabi
Jack "Stubby" Bottell

Other proposed tales in this series:

Episode 2: Forbidden Libido
Episode 3: The Maple Leaf Singers
Episode 4: Spazims

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

works in progress department—test pattern, part one

I tried to post this tale a week ago, but Blogger ate it up. This has been split into 2 parts, with the thrilling conclusion tomorrow...

As mentioned in an earlier post, I tend to start stories/journals/etc based on ideas bouncing through my head, but never let them reach fruition. Mostly they’ve been attempts to kickstart the writing juices that vanished back in '99 after the black comedy that was working at the Ontarion (the University of Guelph's newspaper). From brief spurts of journal writing (occasional steady runs, but mostly printouts of e-mails) to attempts to write in different personas, nothing has taken hold (the latter was one of the kookier ones, inspired by an exhibit of photographer Cindy Sherman at the AGO. Rambled on about at length with a friend once, but made it sound like it was much further along than it actually was - there may be a fragment or two of it lying around. The photographic accompaniments never got off the ground - to Dayna, sorry I rambled about it so much one night in Guelph a few years ago!)

I thought I'd reached another turning point a few months ago, when I helped out with a movie friends were making. Discussing that project, plus the possibility one friend had of getting a play into the Toronto Fringe Fest made my mind work overtime on crazy things to write about. One that made the leap to paper started as an idea to get some friends together to shoot pictures of each other as if we were rock/pop musicians over the past few decades, a group that kept changing its style with the times. Hasn't turned out, but it did get me to thinking about writing a backstory...which then mutated into a mock history of a bumbling Canadian band from the 60s-70s.

One problem - how to avoid sounding like it's a rip-off or too closely parallels Spinal Tap.

Thought the way around this problem would be a series of stories about different groups, a history of bands nobody's ever heard of. Only one made it far before my mind wandered off to its next distraction.

Still, why waste this, as I usually do? Here are the fragments, with commentary:

Canadian Music Legends
1: Test Pattern

(Couldn't think of a decent beginning, other than members of this group may have had roots in clean-cut, white bread "folk" groups of the early 60s. But then A Mighty Wind came out. So, let's just say they appear out of the ether)

Inspired by Quebec's rock groups with themes, they originally called themselves The Six Nations, each sporting a weak excuse for a tribal costume (image of ersatz Native costumes - one person with a mohawk wig, another as a stereotypical maiden, etc.) This went down like a lead balloon. Next came The Cabbagetown Six, wearing nothing but cabbage leaves taped to their bodies. (image of six people wearing nothing but strategically placed pieces of cabbage, along with either pieces of cabbage worn like a helmet or bright green hair) This went down well with the morality squad and fans' sense of smell.

A FAN: Remember seeing them in '66 as the Cabbagetown Six. It was in a tiny hole in the wall, with hardly any air. I tell ya, it didn't take long before you wanted to throw a hunk of corned beef up on stage to cook alongside their outfits. The smell was so bad. But the music kept you coming back. Good thing they dumped the cabbage!

Deciding they wouldn't be able to stand the summer as the Cabbagetown Six, the group decided to change their image to look more like a conventional rock group. A new name was needed, which came in July 1966 after the group stayed up all night in a drunken haze watching a test pattern on TV.

(then into early songs/performances. Wanted to integrate into a story an incident I once read about the Toronto group The Mandala, where the police once accused their lead singer of getting a crowd too excited for their own good).

Singer Gord Labatt was arrested during a concert in June 1967 for "exciting the crowd" during a particularly intense performance of (insert a song title).

More in part 2...

Friday, June 20, 2003

one saturday in the city (2)

Ever have that feeling when you see somebody you were not on good terms with that your heart feels like it's going to burst out of your body like the thing in John Hurt's belly in Alien?

Had one of those moments at my next stop, Kensington Market.

I'm walking up Kensington, just as the vintage clothing stores turn into food shops. I look forward and my heart makes it move. I saw one of the few people I have ever blown up at post-childhood. It’s a long story I won't go into here (that might cause another large post error), but basically they pissed me and others off for a long time in university with misguided rhetoric that often harmed those they claimed to stand for. We worked together at CFRU radio at Guelph in the midst of a tense atmosphere, which blew up during a meeting where they were disrespectful to others in the group (mostly involving a finger). I reached the limit of my patience, yelled at the top of my lungs (not directly at anyone) and left the meeting. The person in question came into my office, made a snarky remark and I lost it on them...something like "and I've had enough of your f***ing condescending attitude." Another co-worker and I took a long walk to calm our nerves. The incident came up at my next job, but that’s a tale for another time.

I walked by, biting my tongue, figuring if anything happened, it was their first move. Nothing did, so I continued shopping. I was in a fruit stand when I ran into them again. I wound up in line behind them, where again nothing happened…though I noticed a look in their eyes that suggested either disgust or fear. No cheap verbal exchanges. Things were good. Heart beat normal.

Decided to head home next to drop off some food. Walked up to College and Spadina to catch a College streetcar, since the Spadina car was down and the replacement buses were sardine cans on wheels. I waited...and waited...and waited. 15-20 minutes and several Spadina buses went by. Gave up, went to catch a Spadina bus. Couldn't get on, as passengers were jammed as tight as I'd ever seen. Decided to walk over to Queen's Park to catch a subway. No College cars or buses passed.

After a pit stop, headed down to the Danforth for dinner. Wound up at El Sol, a Mexican restaurant that constantly gets raves. I tried to go here before, but 25 minutes went by before I walked out, nobody having taken my order (with hardly anyone there). Things were better this time out, though it still took longer than usual to get the menu. Proved to be worth it - had a delicious medium-spiced beef tortilla dish, one of those meals where medium makes one fear what "hot" would be like.

Walked down to Little India next, a bustling place on Saturday nights. Figured a quick fix of burfi (the Indian equivalent to fudge, usually based on a nut paste and condensed milk) would make a nice dessert. This is one of the few areas of the city where street vendors sell food other than hot dogs and sausage - one of these days I'm going to try some grilled corn-on-the-cob and chaat (usually too stuffed to do so).

The burfi quickly vanished as I continued walking through the Beaches, past the remnants of a craft fair. Went out to Neville ark, then took the Queen car back. Hopped on the subway and ended the evening with a quick stop in the Annex. Went home to collapse. The end.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

one saturday in the city (1)

The folks down in the technical department here at the Warehouse thought it was Canada Day already...and left the place hanging. As a result, nobody's been able to update things for a few days. We corralled then back we're back, with a tale intended for earlier in the week.

Getting back into the writing swing of things today - spent the weekend enjoying the great outdoors. Wasn't in a scribbling mood yesterday, so I'll try to make up for it today.

Began the day at St. Lawrence Market, to check out a BBQ cookoff for lunch. Naturally, I ate fish and chips. Don't know what scared me off the BBQ - maybe it was the same menu and prices at each stand. Maybe it was the cheapskate in me hoping there was small, cheap samples from each place (instead, the smallest offering was a 1/3-rack of ribs for $8, no sides). Maybe it was the thought that I'll hopefully be indulging in grilled goodness while driving through Oklahoma and Texas this summer.

Next stop was Queen West. Feeling thirsty, I got into line for a drink at a bubble tea shop (wasn't feeling like the "bubbles" - needed maximum dose of liquid ). I felt a punch on my shoulder, but thought somebody might have bumped into me. A few seconds later, another punch. It was a middle-aged woman shoving me a pamphlet to give money to a deaf educational service, with old-style advertising typeface. This had happened to me a few times before, usually in the old Smithbooks store at Devonshire Mall in Windsor, and always struck me as a scam. She pressed the paper in my hand, then wandered off. I glanced, then crumpled it for disposal.

Then I felt another punch.

She returned, wanting me to give back the paper. Upon seeing what had been done to it, she grew agitated, sputtering in a way that made it seem like I was now expected to hand over some cash. Another arm punch, more sputtering. Stunned, I retreated into obliviousness. Soon she left, shaking her hands.

Two blocks down, I was in another checkout line, when I felt that arm punch again. She appeared to have forgotten what transpired at the tea shop, for she was smiling and trying to give me another paper. I managed to keep it out of my hands. It was odd to see the cold glares the cashier and everyone else in line shot the puncher.

If this was from a legitimate charitable organization, they need to rethink their canvassing strategy.

Next stop, Kensington Market...

In part 2, a ghost from the past comes back, but it is a good or bad one? Stay tuned, true believers!

"You would make a good lawyer."

Friday, June 13, 2003

1970s essex county produce stand

1970s Essex County Produce Stand
Taken by my parents in the early 1970s, possibly around Cottam or Harrow.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

soda jerk: moxie

A hardy survivor of the soft drink wars, Moxie was one of the earliest to be widely available, dating from 1884. Originally sold as "nerve food", this gentian-root based drink (whatever gentian root is) was popular in the early half of the 20th century, especially in the Northeast. One of the first soft drink to mass-merchandise itself, especially through postcards. Most of the websites out there concerning Moxie deal with these items and their collectors.

Moxie's last great claim to fame was as a running joke in Mad Magazine in the late 50s-early 60s. In one of the magazine's rare attempts at soliciting advertising, publisher William Gaines reached an agreement to feature Moxie's logo in the background of articles, using it as one of the magazine's running-joke names, like "potrzebie", "veeblefetzer" and "cowznofski". Results couldn't have been too successful for either side, as the name (usually imposed on a blimp) soon disappeared from Mad's pages (as would any advertising until the 21st Century arrived).

DESIGN: A clear-cut Madison Avenue-type pointing his finger at the drinker like Uncle Sam - an updated version of the drink's young man mascot of the 1920s. Eye-pleasing orange/blue colour scheme, all the better to lure in the uninitiated.

TASTE: The first slurp isn't bad, like a pleasant root beer. Five seconds later the aftertaste kicks in, which you'll like or hate depending on how much bitterness your tastebuds can stand (mine can't). Only two out of the dozen people I tested it on claimed not to mind it.

The closest approximation I can think of is chinotto, but without its hint of fruit. If you can't stand Brio, stay far, far away from Moxie.

AVAILABILITY: Have only seen it in grocery stores in New England. Check the web to order some if you're daring enough.

VERDICT: Must really, really, really have an appreciation for bitterness. If not, move to the next drink on the shelf. Too bad the can looks great.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

cycling fool

Finally got off my duff and picked up a bicycle today. Turns out all the cycling in the gym has done some good, as it took a long time to run out of gas. The first trip wound its way through Leaside (much faster than by car), across the Leaside Bridge, down into the Don Valley by the police training facility, then along the Don River. It took no time at all before reaching the port lands, where a warm, sunny day turned into a cold, foggy one. This flip in the weather lasted as long as I was south of Lakeshore - once I reached Leslie, conditions returned to the way they were.

Still full of energy, I decided not to take the subway back, testing the riding waters downtown. Turns out Sunday is ideal, even for riding up University. Passed Woofstock in the Distillery district, dodging pooches and their owners, each side with smiles on their faces (later talked to a friend of mine who took her dog down and had a good time...and lots of samples to take home, though it sounds like her cats were too eager to try their treats). Harebrained drivers were not in evidence, except for a couple of dolts parked in the bike lane on Davenport Rd. Heard a lot of drum-banging going on in Queen's Park, though it seemed to be a festival, not a protest. Finally ran out of steam after turning off Davisville, a few blocks from home. Forgotten just how good a long journey felt.

Friday, June 06, 2003

silly season department

Looks like Wal-Mart is attempting to reintroduce the concept of the plain brown wrapper for magazines it sells - only it's for such mainstream women's publications as Cosmo and Glamour, following a decision to remove several men's mags entirely. As the Associated Press reports,

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will begin obscuring the covers of some women's magazines stocked in checkout lanes, shortly after a decision to stop selling some men's
magazines over their racy content.

The company has begun testing "U-shaped blinders" that will cover the photos and language on the covers of Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Marie Claire and Redbook, spokesman Tom Williams said at the company's annual shareholders meeting Friday.

"That's to accommodate those customers who are uncomfortable with the language on some of the magazine covers," Williams said.

If that's the case, I can think of several other mags they could extend this concept to:

1) Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, ESPN Magazine, etc. - to accommodate those customers who are uncomfortable with the athletic feats they could never hope to accomplish shown on some of the magazine covers.
2) Martha Stewart Living - to accommodate those customers who are uncomfortable with the sight of an indicted person on some of the magazine covers.
3) Consumer Reports - to accommodate those Wal-Mart executives who are uncomfortable with the commentary about Wal-Mart on some of the the magazine cover.
4) Time/Newsweek/any news weekly - to accommodate those customers uncomfortable with war or the world in general as described on some of the magazine covers.
5) Crossword puzzle magazines - to accommodate those customers uncomfortable with always being stumped by 13 down on some of the magazine covers.

About all that wouldn't be covered by a binder or brown wrapper would be the weekly flyer, enticing customers to blow even more at Wal-Mart.

They'd never think of that option...