Wednesday, September 29, 2004

random notes

The March Of Time
It's finally starting to sink in how far away are my university daze.

It was ten years ago this month that I moved from A'burg to Guelph. I was nervous - it had taken some convincing from the old man to pick Arts House as my residence. Didn't regret the move or the choice - no homesickness here (though I soon regretted my roommate, but that was remedied after a few months). It still surprises me how many people I'm still in touch with from the first two years. Guess we all clicked.

I wandered around campus and downtown Friday night and saw how much had changed. No slack-looking students here - without fail, nearly everyone was in their finest hoochery, ready for night of bar-hopping. This wouldn't have been unusual back in the day at a couple of spots around town...but the Albion? 90s slacker comfort seemed so far away.

There were also more bars open. The cheesiest new name had to be Frank n' Steins. You'd expect a logo with the monster chugging away a brewski, but the motif was hot dogs and beer mugs. Punny, real punny.

As Brad said on the way back from the wedding reception, it was as if the kids had absorbed the frat mentality of American Pie, Animal House, etc...but not that of the Deltas.

Speaking Of The Passage Of Time...
The old man would have been 62 Sunday...but still with the monkey-mind of somebody much younger. It's probably a good thing he was cremated - otherwise, he'd being doing so many somersaults in his grave over the bizarre state of our world (though seeing Paul Martin not having such an easy ride as PM would have slowed the number of flips).

Life Without TV
I've managed a remarkable feat the past month. Before heading down to A'burg at the beginning of August, I unplugged my over-the-air TV and moved it into the hall to make more for Amy to spread out when she came back with me. The TV has not been plugged back in.

Maybe I'd better back-up. I have two TVs in my place: an ancient Canadian Tire Pulsar for over-the-air and a modern model for the VCR/DVD player. The Pulsar lacked ports for hooking in anything else, but had a better built-in set of bunny-ears than any I could find to attach to the new TV. I haven't considered getting cable, figuring (a) I wouldn't be home enough to make it worthwhile, and (b) if I did get it, I'd be in danger of being sucked in and reverting to pre-university couch potato habits (the computer does that job). Due to the layout of my place, the VCR/DVD TV has found a place of prominence in my bedroom, while the Pulsar sits wherever I can find space.

There's not a great range of channels up here, due to historically lousy reception in this area. My grandparents lived five minutes from my current digs and had the same spotty signals 25 years ago. CBC's the best of the lot, which has pared my viewing habits down to news and hockey.

I discovered how little I've missed while lazing around the hotel room this weekend. Not much caught my eye, other than a movie and reruns of old CityPulse newscasts on CP24 (fun for their old-school graphics and seeing how history repeats itself - a story from '86 about the Peterson government debating conflict-of-interest legislation prominently featured Greg Sorbara, recently embroiled in conflict-of-interest allegations). Reality TV rolls along, much to my disinterest.

With the advent of the DVD, I can now go to the video store and watch most of the shows folks rave about, on my own terms. Recently got through the full run of The Office - funny stuff, especially the team building episode (luckily been spared that in my current job - the most extensive team building we've done was a relaxing, stomach-stuffing overnight getaway to help people from another department sort out their issues. My previous job had to go beyond building into therapy, which is a long story).

Bon Soir Youppi
The Expos have finally reached the end of the line. After years of threatened moves, the team is leaving the Big Owe for Washington, previously home to 4-5 different franchises in different leagues, all called the Senators and all, except for brief periods, lousy teams (there were several short-lived versions in the 19th century, the 1890s National League version was permanently in the bottom half of the league, the 1901-60 American League version developed a repuatation for mediocrity that made them perfect for Damn Yankees before moving on to Minnesota and the 1961-71 AL replacement moved to Texas before showing signs of life).

I saw one Expos game, on a school trip in '94. It was easy to see why Olympic Stadium was a white elephant - far too large, no intimacy at all. Our group was initially stuck in nosebleed territory, where the players were smaller than Lego people. We eventually moved down, but it wasn't like going to Tiger Stadium (R.I.P.)

Go to any Canadian newspaper site and read the past week's sports sections for the Expos' tale of woe and the other miseries facing baseball in Canada. Maybe the Jays will see the same fate in 10 years? As a reporter pointed out on CBC Radio this morning, team attendance has sagged, pennant fever hasn't hit for ten years and they're saddled with an ugly, expensive, oversized concrete hulk.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

cloney time commentary

For awhile, it's been in the back of my mind to take the digital beast out on the town to snap shots of all of the former Coffee Time locations that haven't done much to mask their former identity. Coffee Lime, Coffee Tim, Coffee Tip...the city's full of them, ripe with humourous possibilities.

Alas, I've been beaten to the punch. Here's the result, now merged into the Not Fooling Anybody site of buildings with thinly-concealed former lives a(mostly as fast-food outlets).

There are a few spots on the site from Toronto and Detroit I'm familiar with - here's some comments (go to the index page to find them):

La-Shish (Wayne, MI - formerly Taco Bell) - never been to this branch of the popular Metro Detroit middle-eastern family restaurant chain, but it would be an improvement over a run for the border. Amy and I usually go to the location on the Dearborn/Detroit border along Michigan Ave, where fresh smoothies and monster salads make our stomachs happy.

Coffee Time (Toronto, ON - formerly Dairy Queen) - right on the edge of the Gerrard India Bazaar, better known as Little India. There's another Coffee Time in the index, a former Harvey's at St. Clair and Caledonia that screams of the Harvey's I used to go as a kid. Wonder if that Coffee Time found any old orange plastic forks or iceburgers...

Chinese Hut (Toronto, ON - formerly Pizza Hut) - location in the middle of electronics/cheap furniture alley. Not far from Bad Boy. How many people do I know that have gone to Chinese Hut? NOOOOOOOBODY!

Harty Market (Toronto, ON - formerly Hasty Market) - pass by this often on the way down to the Danforth, Riverdale or Little India. Not far from Coffee Lime. Chains aren't lucky in this nabe near the Leaside Bridge.

Country Site Cafe (Toronto, ON - formerly Country Style Donuts) - near the Gladstone Hotel, on a rapidly-changing stretch of Queen. Predict building will be gone within the next decade.

Ranch (Monroe, MI - formerly Ponderosa) - Monroe's halfway between Detroit and Toledo, noteworthy as a War of 1812 battlesite and hometown of General Custer. Eaten here a couple of times, last time on the way back from Cleveland a few years ago. Like our favourite Monroe restaurant, Quattro's, it took awhile to find it on that trip - could never remember if it was on Telegraph or M-125 (old US 25, which goes through downtown).

Sak & Run (Toronto, ON - formerly 7-11) - I know I've seen other Sak & Run locations, which were either old 7-11s or Mac's. The more common 7-11 conversion around here is Starbank (Queen & Broadview). 7-11 seems to be changing its location strategy in TO, with locations opening in or near downtown as they close in the burbs - two have opened in my nabe in the past six months.

If I see some obvious ones that aren't on that site (and the camera's handy), we'll feature them.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

more gifts for the yuppies

I was flipping through the business section of the Star a few weeks ago when I came across a story about the Indigo bookstore chain shifting its focus more into gifts, "healing" items and other oddball accessories, reducing the number of books to about 60% of a store's inventory. Plans were also mentioned for converting the remaining Coles bookstores into the "IndigoLite" chain, with a greater emphasis on accessories.

All this in a quest to make the company the "book lover's cultural department store".

I wanted to throw up.

While I admit I spend many lunch hours in the Indigo a block from the office, I can't say I'm in love with the place. It's been easy to see the number of books decline, as more of the first floor is taken up with items like expensive marinades/drink mixes and new age products. This is more pronounced at the chain's downtown locations, where floors that used to hold tomes now feature more and more of the other stuff (especially their Chapters locations - you wonder why they hang on to that name when it looks like somebody has it out for them).

Maybe I'm crusty because I'm not a fan of the products Indigo is moving towards. But given the big stink that was raised when American giants like Borders murmured about seeking approval to move up here, it's a disappointment. So much for helping out Canadian publishers. My guess is that their lesser-selling titles will be among the first to be chopped.

My friend Elizabeth, who works as an editor, gives her two cents:
"Book lover's cultural department store" ... that is too sad. Really sad. And not just because the cultural department store concept is clearly a last resort, but sad because Canadians don't read enough books to support large books. Or it could just be a population thing - not enough people in Canada in general.

The indy bookstores are the big winners here, I think, and probably Amazon as well. Perhaps Canadians who care about reading prefer quality and customer-service-oriented shops as opposed to sprawling, faceless, lowest-common-denominator chains. The format feels very American. On the other hand, many people who read are also busy professionals who prefer to shop online because they don't have time for in-store browsing.

Wandering around town, it looks like the indy trade is beginning to recover here. Those that survived the onslaught of Chapters/Indigo appear to be doing OK. Book City has been adding branches across the city, the latest on Yonge south of Bloor, the niche stores are carrying on, etc.

At least the American book giants (Borders and Barnes & Noble) still haven't dabbled too far into the oddball stuff. True, they carry notebooks, CDs and the odd gift item - but for the most part, you can see that the book selection is still deeper than the typical Indigo/Chapters. Besides, those stores still have the comfy chairs (whose removal was the first sign something was afoot at Indigo/Chapters. They disappeared entirely for awhile at the local branch, but I wonder if customer complaints brought them back, albeit with fewer, not-so-comfy wooden seats).

Meanwhile, hope you like those crystals... - JB, EC

Monday, September 20, 2004

digesting it all

Back in early August, I spent a week at the family compound sifting through the tons of old sports mags kicking around. It has taken awhile to go through them, but the light is at the end of the tunnel. There's only a couple of boxes to go through before they have all been prepared for eBay or hacked up for clipart.

For a few years in the mid-late 80s, little sports junkie Jamie subscribed to Baseball Digest and Hockey Digest. These mags were as old as the hills - my father had a couple of crumbling issues from the 50s kicking around. Not deep, analytical reading, but enough to kill off the afternoon they arrived in the mail.

Even then, I sensed these digests were in a time warp. The ads were the giveaway - into the early 90s, you could still order Fleetwood 7" records of late 60s sports highlights, posters of NHL stars circa 1973 and hats with slots to display your favourite player's sports card. The NHL poster offer was especially funny, given that no team posters were available for any team who joined the league after 1972. You could still order a team shot of the California Golden Seals long after they ceased to exist.

Typical Baseball Digest articles:
"Al Nipper Joined A Select Group of World Series Starters" (change the position and player, and you had the smae article year-after-year. Kind of like the kid in grade school who delivered the same speech about Terry Fox each year, only changing the number of years since he passed on)

"The '67 White Sox Had Pitching, But No Punch!" (again, a fill-in-the-blank piece - shuffle years and hitting/pitching. The editors must have had a Mad Libs template)

"These Are The Majors Worst Hitters of '80s - So Far!" (Mario Mendoza didn't play deep enough into the decade to qualify - the guy they named the "Mendoza Line" stat after, to measure how futile a hitter you are)

"Whatever Became Of Two-Hour Games In The Majors?"

"Kurt Bevacqua: Life and Times of a Big League Utility Player" (well remembered for having a baseball card in '76 depicting his victory in a Bazooka gum blow-off)

Typical Hockey Digest articles:
"The Sutter Brothers - They All Play Like Sutters!" (as opposed to playing like Gretzkys or Kannegiesers)

"Ron Francis Has Become A Whale Of A Leader" (this pun is one reason I miss the Hartford Whalers..."Ron Francis Has Become a Hurricane Of A Leader" lacks zip)

"The Flames Finally Went Out" (and all the people were singing, they said nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah...)

"Hockey Doctors Tell Chilling Tales" (heh heh kiddies, it's the old Mortician here to tell you about the knees that eroded away!)

"Tony Esposito Enjoyed His Hall Of Fame Night" (wouldn't it be more interesting to know who didn't?)

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

return of the revenge of the telemarketer from green hell

They keep trying...and it's getting more pathetic. Got my first phone message from Athletic/Best Price movers in awhile, featuring the debut (on my phone) of Johnny, which is the same dude either (a) holding his nose as he speaks or (b) attempting the world's worst W.C. Fields imitation. If you get this message, you be the judge.

Some suggestions for next time, Boris/Johnny/Reggie/Tugboat Bill/whatever your real name is:
1) Carmine, who attempts to pitch the moving company as if he failed the audition for Taxi Driver or any other Scorsese picture.
2) Joost, using a dutch or swedish accent, the type last used by Jamie Lee Curtis in Trading Places.
3) Fritz, with even less plausibility as a German than Kevin McDonald's accent teacher on Kids In The Hall.
4) Roxy, attempting to sell moving services like Al Jolson, but stumbling in his attempts to sing.
5) Shecky, attempting to sound like Shrek, hoping somebody's confused (unlikely, given those unexplained lapses into Welsh).

Saturday, September 04, 2004

bmx revisited

I'm finally starting a long overdue task around here - sorting through my cassette collection to see what stays, what goes. While going through the first rack, found a tape of the "house band" in my residence during my third year of university, BMX. They were essentially a joke band, but managed to play a few fun gigs before petering out.

Consider this a lost chunk of the rich musical history of Guelph in the past two decades.

The core members of the group were Beastmaster X (vocals), DJ JD Masta Snack Cracka (guitar), Doctor Renfrew Boney Row-Row (bass), Punk Bitch (cello, vocals), Gary (drums) and Bonhomme Carnival (interpretive dancing). Slam dancers were often on hand to liven the crowd up.

Their repertoire was mostly covers, such as the two songs featured today (in their original forms - the only BMX material I have is on tape, and let's just say CRMW central doesn't have the transfer technology yet). Beastmaster X belted out the Martian tune, while Rebel Girl was Punk Bitch's solo showcase. Other tunes they covered included the theme from Sesame Street. Their main original tune was the growly Hazlenut Chocolate Mousse Torte ("oh what a cake/why don't you take a bite"), an ode to the dessert.

(photo to be restored)
The fuzz busted the show pictured here. The crime: making too much noise in the courtyard outside Zavitz Hall (the fine art building). L-R: Snack Cracka, Gary (hidden), Bonhomme, Beastmaster, Doctor, Punk.

At least one show was recorded for posterity, at the venerable Albion Hotel in November of '96 (pictured at the top of this entry). The set list gives a flavour of the band's repertoire:

I Turned Into A Martian/Heartbreak Hotel/Macarena/Sesame Street/Hazelnut Chocolate Mousse Torte/Devil Inside/Rebel Girl/Bitches (a band original)/Theme from The Dukes of Hazzard/Theme From Happy Days/Ice Ice Baby