Monday, January 31, 2005

birthdays, college streetcar style

A friend of mine jokingly came up with a theory that Victoria Day/May Two-Four weekend is a prime babymaking time, bashed on the carload of friends' birthdays over the past week. Given I went to two b-day celebrations on Saturday night, there could be merit in this position (except that one of the birthday people in question was not born in North America).

The night began in Cabbagetown, at the Underdown pub for Paul's b-day. Scheduled for 9:30, I figured I'd invoke the "15 minute rule" and not show up until just after 10. Did just that, to find nobody I knew there. Wasn't sure if I was at the right place, as there was a soiree of middle-aged folks upstairs. Wandered around the nabe for awhile, then was about to head off at 10:30 to b-day #2 when Paul, Sheila and the rest of the entourage arrived.

I stayed for the next hour, earning a sympathy drink from Sheila (thanks!). A pile of us crowded into a booth and chatted. It was tempting to turn on the organ behind us, especially with the way-too-mellow version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah drifting from above. Stevie D suggested we run up and "beligerent". That could have been a fun idea...

Around 11:30, I hopped on the College car to head over to Little Italy for b-day #2, Raquel's night of dancing at the Revival. Timing was perfect, as I ran into JD just after joining the lineup. Once in, I felt like I'd entered an old music video, with strobe effects and densely-packed dance floor. After 10 minutes of hunting, I found JD, who led me to the others, up by the stage, next to the ladies room.

JD, Elizabeth and Brad drove up from Guelph for the evening, and it was like old times. The boys spouted a steady stream of Trailer Park Boys imitations and unique interpretive dancing. Alas, Brad did not see his wish of hearing the MC5 cascade out to the crowd.

Being in front of a washroom led to being in the way for other folks, but also produced a few laughs. We noticed a large pile of feet crammed into one stall. Anyone is welcome to offer their theories as to what was going on in there.

We gradually moved downstairs, where 60s and 70s Jamaican tunes were spun. Loafing on the couches, I discovered unknown details to old Arts House tales, such as the night I inadvertently helped a friend come down from an acid trip with the videotapes I was watching in the lounge (ancient Lettermans, Dr. Who and god knows what else). Brad elaborated his love of the MC5. Kudos continued to roll in from the wedding back in the fall. Discovered Red Bull's too sweet for my taste, this coming from somebody with a fatal Slurpee addiction. Somehow I ended up with a VIP card for future use, a funny item who somebody who rarely hits dance venues.

It was nearly 4 AM before we split. Had a fair wait for the College Vomit Comet, during which I watched the last afterhours partiers from across the street stumble into cabs, who displayed a frightening inability to make clean u-turns. Eventually made it onto the Yonge bus, which flew uptown as if it was on an autobahn.

Paul and Raquel, hope you enjoyed your birthdays.

Here's what you've been waiting for, the pictures, taken by b-day girl Raquel. There's also a crossover entry at Radio CRMW (Jan 30th entry) that loosely ties into both birthdays.

We start the cavalcade of pictures with the birthday girl, Elizabeth and Alison in front of the territory we marked out on the dance floor...the entrance to the ladies room.

Three people pondering what lies behind the ladies room door. Mostly lots of feet packed into one stall.

Birthday girl and I, hamming it up for the camera.

JD and Brad raise their hands, taking a break from quoting the Trailer Park Boys.

JD got the moves down throughout the night.

The boy was a dancin' fool (choose whether you want to sing the unrelated Guess Who or Frank Zappa tunes of the same name).

Meanwhile, the birthday girl tests out a hat...

...which wins approval.

Into the wee hours of the morning, when all you feel like doing is putting your feet up. Until I saw these shots, I had no idea the basement walls were grey, or that Raquel's boots were reddish. That's dim lighting for ya! - JB, photos by RA

Sunday, January 30, 2005

chicken hearts, grilled pineapple and flying cutlery

Since the first time I went out with the Chowhound dining group went OK, decided to check out their January destination Friday night. This month's pick: Red Violin, a Brazilian BBQ at Danforth and Broadview.

The evening got off to a rocky start, when I went into the wrong resto. I briefly lost the ability to match the sign above the correct door - I entered the Latin restaurant next door, left a puzzled maitre'd when none of the names I rhymed off were on the reservation list, then finally noticed a review in the window. After heading next door, all was good.

To start, they offered up a salad/seafood bar. Not exactly your offering of limp iceberg, the spread featured hot and cold seafood (great shrimp in tomato sauce), a variety of cheese, slices of guava paste, various vegetable salads and addictive thumb-sized cheese bread. All delicious.

Soon after, servers came around with large skewers, each with a different type of meat. They came to each person at the table, set down their cutting board, then either slid or carved the meat off the skewer, depending on the size of the cut. One of the early skewers contained chicken hearts, which turned out to be excellent (it later came as a shock to learn Mom, who doesn't usually care for oddball parts, wasn't revolted when I told her I ate these, as she used to like them). Marinated, mostly garlicy cuts of BBQed chicken, pork, beef and lamb were brought to the table, along with perfectly-baked salmon. The only cut I didn't try was chicken leg, figuring I'd had other portions of the bird. Of the rest, only the pork was a miss - it had a nice citrusy marinade, but was too dry. As for the serving method, the joke going around was what the Brazilian word for "meatboy" might have been.

One other problem became a running joke. I couldn't keep my cutlery on the table. Several times, it went flying on the floor, usually while attempting to move it out of the way for the next round of meat. Nothing like klutziness as an icebreaker. It was worth a few good laughs.

Side dished included rice, black beans, a bowl of some starchy substance, potatoes, mushrooms, battered plantains/bananas and a pico de gallo-like sauce. Most of us washed it down with cans of sweet, slightly fruity guarana pop.

The last skewer brought out before repeats of the other items was a whole grilled pineapple, dusted in cinnamon. I was the first to sample, having to use tongs to pull the slice away. One bite and I good feel my eyes bulge. I wouldn't be surprised if anyone said that I made Homer Simpsonesque noises. Mmmmm...juicy goodness. So tasty, so juicy, so perfect. Similar reactions littered the table. Lost count of how many pineapples were devoured.

We all felt sleepy after consuming so much meat. We stayed for a bit of show, though none of us joined the other diners on the dance floor. We may have had enough satisfaction for the evening. - JB

Saturday, January 22, 2005

random notes

Resurrection of Best Price Movers
(1968, B&W, 1 min, Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Barbara Steele, * out of ****)
They're back...and trying a new approach. Now it's a female who sounds like she has gone through the Steve Roman School of Accents (old SCTV joke - you might have to look it up). This week, she called herself Valerie and tried an accent that veered between cockney and mittel-European. i can't wait to hear her versions of Reggie, Boris or Jean-Pierre, though it's going to be like fusion cuisine if her first attempt is indicative.

Super Sized
Finally got around to seeing Super Size Me last night. Amusing and frightening at the same time, and helps explain why I haven't eaten at McDonald's since my early teens. I can count on one hand the number of times I've bought non-"dairy" products from Ronald since I was 15-16 - the last time I ate their food was a burger at a Rochester service centre on a bus trip back from New York seven years ago, when there weren't any other options. I had the same reaction that Morgan Spurlock had in his van upon eating his first super-size meal.

I'm not a big fan of fast food, unless it's non-deep-fried Asian food or the odd sub. Reading Fast Food Nation and seeing this film inclines me even less. Burgers are a rare treat for me - I wish there was a place here like Gilligan's in Windsor, which uses fresh meat and offers a wide range of toppings, sizes and dead animals (mmmm, ostrich...).

That Detroit is not Fat City isn't a shock, not from the way you see people shovel down food. I should say the worst case of gluttony I've ever seen was in Toronto, when I tried an Italian buffet north of the city (I was hungry, drove me, my growling tummy wanted to go in). I tend to be modest when I go to all-you-can places - two plates plus dessert or fruit, no more. (I should avoid such places, but my fatal weakness is Indian food, which keeps my weight on...but outside of set thalis, it's hard to eat solo in most non-buffet Indian places, as you're stuck with only one dish). So I'm sitting, leisurely eating some salad, reading a library book, when I hear Homer Simpsonesque sounds a couple tables ahead of me. There's a large guy, I'd say about 350-400 lbs, polishing off giant meat ribs as if he's competing for a Guiness record. Other diners looked disgusted. The dude kept waddling up and shovelling down food, loud and messily, while being rude to the waiters. I couldn't help but stare at the spectacle. Finally, I switched to the other side of the table when I went up for my main course round, trading glances with other diners. I had the same server and gave them an extra-generous tip when I left.

I wonder if the last batch of fries I ate at the Golden Arches, eight years ago in a fit of misery after a daytrip from London to Edinburgh, are still in my system (check out "The Shooting Fry" extra for details).

Si, Comrade!
One of the great things about the proliferation of music blogs are all the unusual genres you unearth along the way. Take music from eastern Europe during the Communist era. What were folks listening to behind the Iron Curtain?

Would you believe homegrown attempts at Mexican music?

This was the case in Yugoslavia, as Yu-Mex illustrates.

Meanwhile, over in Hungary, local musicians made attempts to imitate popular Western genres, as the samples from the mid-60s over at Spitzenschlager demonstrate.

Maybe I should have bought some of those mysterious 10 cent Soviet records I saw years ago at the Vinyl Museum on Bloor... - JB

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

star not shining brightly

After seeing ads on newsboxes touting a new look for the Sunday edition of the Toronto Star, the newspaper junkie in me couldn't resist giving it a try.

The Sunday Star has been redesigned to be "Canada's first maga-paper", as editor Alison Uncles put it:

...a hybrid magazine-newspaper that blends what is the best of both mediums. From a newspaper, we bring urgency, relevancy, quick-paced thinking and the resources of Canada's largest newsroom. From a magazine, we borrow a step-back sensibility, colour, the luxury of deliberation and beautiful design.

For their maiden effort, they tried too hard. The paper looks like the efforts of somebody who received a bunch of new toys and went overboard in their enthusiasm.

The new paper consists of the following sections:

The front section - besides the headlines, now incorporates elements of the old World and Metropolis sections. Not too bad looking - manage to keep use of colour backdrops on articles low, though use of beige on the editorial page felt jarring.

O.T. - the new name for an expanded sports section. The centrespread on genetic modification looked good, maybe because this was one area they didn't go overboard with their new colour toys.

Buzz - the new name for the merged Life and Arts sections, with bits of the old Metropolis. The union does either little good. This is the section where sidebars rule, more annoyingly than before, though I didn't mind the magazine roundup. The "Essentials" page is especially dizzy (see example here). The name screams an attempt to sound hip.

Ideas - substitled "No Physical Activity Required", incorporating scattered bits that didn't fit the other sections, plus the books segment of the old Arts section. Falling at the end is what I think is one of the worst ideas from the redo: Endpaper, where articles from other sections are finished off, along with deleted sections and alternate endings, as if the paper was a DVD with bonus features. How happy do you think readers are going to be to have to keep flipping sections to finish stories? Were there reasons other than space why some of these segments were hacked from the original article? Meh.

Overall, the new paper "screams" too much, having gone beyond eye-catchiness into sensory overload. It felt like it was trying to one-up the Weekend Post (the headline fonts feel like the WP), or adjust to readers now accustomed to the quick soundbites and layouts of the freebie commuter papers. In the end, it's the colour overkill that ruins it.

I found some comments on the new look at, which favours the new look. - JB

Monday, January 17, 2005

one fine saturday afternoon at the duff

A busy Saturday this weekend, one that needs to be divided into several acts.

The curtain opened on Act One in my Cavalier, trying to figure out the best spot to park at Dufferin Mall. It was just past 1:30, and I was worried that I was running late to join several other GTA bloggers on the Dufferin Mall Experience II. Wasn't sure what to expect, but it sounded like a goofy-enough way to kill a Saturday afternoon and get to know people better.

Given the reputation the Duff earned in the past, I was surprised at how healthy-looking it was. It appears to have undergone much renovation, with few vacancies. Having healthy anchors (Wal-Mart, No Frills, Winners) musn't hurt. Our tour guide indicated that many of cheesier tenants had disappeared in the past few years, replaced with chains and health clubs. Crowds were out in force, magnified by the sidewalk sale taking up most of the corridor.

This is a prime location to see the Toronto melting pot in action. As it sits in one of the most ethnicaly diverse ridings in the country, it wouldn't be unreasonable to think that few people passing by shared a common ancestry.

Enough the photos!

BTW, apologies of any of you who didn't make it be honest, most of the pics didn't turn out well, though I may attempt a salvage job on the Dollarama group shots. Bummer - cursed dying batteries! Maybe I need a spycam like Jen. Send any shots you haven't used on your sites (which, for others, are all listed at the bottom of this entry)!

One of our first stops was the book sale outside of the Bentonville Behemoth.

Some of the fine, fine examples of literature to be had. If you can't read it, the one on the right is Life, Loss and What To Wear. Judging from the stickers and display signs, this is the same book sale that pops up at Fairview (which has come in handy for time-killing before catching a flick there).

A demonstration of some of the dancing techniques Eva discovered in one of her finds, a guide to teaching dance to the mentally challenged. It looked like it would have gone hand-in-hand with a 70s educational flick I have on teaching "trainables" about the birds and the bees.

Folowing a pit stop to visit the Bagel Lady was a lengthy browse through Toys R' Us. Maria noted how much smaller their locations felt these days, though likely because this was a mall store, though it could also be size perspective as an adult. The stores in Detroit seemed so large as a kid, when I always managed to get my parents to stop at any locations we passed (if memory is correct, usually the one on John R by Oakland Mall). The only thing anyone bought was a shark, who will play a larger role in photos on other sites...

Getting advice from the Flight Centre pilot, who had just returned from a dust storm.

Stuck for a new way to show your sweetie affection on Valentine's Day? Let Dollarama come to the rescue with this photobopper headband! Our model Brett shows just how any 1980s stock art photo will show your loved one that you dare to care on the most love-filled day of the year.

Ah, Dollarama, the Quebec-based king of the dollar stores, found in the basement of the Duff. Other locations have come in handy when I need something in a pinch, and are worth browsing through for odd the $1 Rheostatics disc in A'burg. The Duff's was one of the best-looking locations I seen, good to have in mind the next time I lose any kitchen utensils (I need drawers bad).

Meanwhile, our travelling companions decided to take a train ride...

Dollarama was the official end of the tour, though we stayed together to wolf down assorted treats from Churrismo, as Maria explained Mexican desserts.

Then it was on to Act Two of the day...

Adventures In Downtown Toronto - Maria
Blamblog - Brett
Circadian Shift - Jen
Easternblog - Eva
RustyRobot - Dave


Here's the full scoop on the Dufferin Mall Experience from a few weeks back, courtesy of this photo essay from Blamblog. See what happens when my dark side is unleashed...Sharkey should consider himself lucky he survived his failed attempt to snatch my churritos.

It was in all in jest, of course.

Monday, January 10, 2005

a head for volleyball

My head's still spinning a little from this evening's volleyball game. The work league season started up again tonight, with two set in a row for our still-nameless ragtag squad. It was the usual losing effort, but it felt so good to be on the court again.

During the last game of the final set that I had my shining moment. The ball was headed my way and figured I might have to dive a little. I don't remember what exactly happened next, other than ball slammed into my head and I hit the ground, with the ball wedged between perfectly between my head and neck.

I was shocked.

And stunned.

Shocked and stunned.

Cue five minutes of solid laughing before the game resumed. The next server barely made it through her next serve without breaking up. Cue one fuzzy-headed li'l ol' me. - JB

Thursday, January 06, 2005

warehouse music annex

I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper - Sarah Brightman and Hot Gossip
Ariola single, 1978

An odd mix of characters were responsible today's dance floor platter, spawned in the midst of the original wave of Star Wars mania...

Hot Gossip were a dance group that appear on The Kenny Everett Video Show, whose costumes and routines were considered risque for UK TV at the time - from the sound of it, a slightly naughtier version of Pan's People from Top Of The Pops. Everett had been one of the first DJs on Radio 1, but his style of humour led to a sacking in the early 70s, followed by a career on commercial radio and TV sketch/variety shows.

The singer was Sarah Brightman, years before she became the darling of Phantom of the Opera fanatics and PBS pledge drives. I wonder if any stations have ever dug out the video of this song to entice viewers to donate (I could see somebody using it as a torture method for members of the audience who never had an ounce of groove in their body).

I first encountered this song on an A&E documentary on disco years back, which included a lengthy video excerpt with the girls in costumes that appear to have been salvaged from any 70s futuristic show. Funny stuff, especially when they attempt to dance stiffly. It's not quite the Robot...

At least there doesn't appear to be a George Lucas remix on the horizon.

The lyrics to I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper.
Wikipedia entry on Kenny Everett.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

it's never too early for the excitement to begin

Hey folks, how did your 2005 begin? A glass of champagne? A memorable night out? An evacuation from a subway car?

Mine started off like many others, with a round of champagne as soon as the clock struck midnight. Most were in good spirits at the party, drifting between the kitchen and living room. I had my fair share of booze...don't ask me to remember what I had. The crowd gradually thinned, going home or to other destinations. I was one of the last to go, hopping onto a deserted train at Spadina around 2:20.

The first revellers hopped on at Osgoode. The driver came over the loudspeaker, chiding those on the station platform who dangled their legs onto the track. Cue maniacal laughter in my car. As the train filled up, the Osgoode crowd dangle from the handrails as if they were monkey bars. Nothing like piss-drunk kids for early morning entertainment.

Around 2:45, the train entered the tunnel leading into Eglinton station. Suddenly, it stopped and the lights went out. Announcements were made about a power outage, but that service would resume shortly. Some kids took this as an opportunity to slip out into the tight space outside between cars for a smoke. A few older passengers looked on in digust.

The power outage messages continued, though a vagueness crept into the operator's voice. These were followed by an announcement was made for the guard to come to the front of the train. The smokers came back into the car, followed shortly by an extremely angry TTC employee, wielding a bottle of wine. He shouted out threats to the smokers, salting his warning about what security would do to them with obscenities. A chill came over the other passengers, and I wondered if this guy was the cause of our problems.

Not the case. The voice of the same guy came over the loudspeaker, calmly indicating that the train would be evacuated. On the way out, I noticed several empty cartons of booze, so I now suspected the bottle he wielded was confiscated goods. The front of the train was at the edge of the Eglinton platform. Once off the train, I saw several firemen on thetrack, but couldn't tell what they were working around. Power was on in the station.

On the way out, I overheard others who had been in the station earlier: somebody had taken a drunken fall onto the track. Our train had just stopped short.

Welcome to 2005! - JB

Saturday, January 01, 2005

2004 wrap-up

What did you do in 2004 that you’d never done before? Started and finished writing a short script. Bought clothing at Le Chateau. DJ a wedding.
Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? Didn't make any last year. As for new resolutions, try to keep in better shape, reduce the nuclear stockpile of food and go to more gatherings with total strangers.
Did anyone close to you give birth? No, but a few were married.
Did anyone close to you die? No.
What countries did you visit? Usual trips south of the border, though no new ground was covered, other than some neighbourhoods in NYC.
What would you like to have in 2005 that you lacked in 2004? A steady partner-in-crime.
What dates from 2004 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? No exact dates stand out, though there were many memorable days. Lineups around the block to get into a bar in NYC on St. Patrick's Day. Road hockey in Ottawa. JD and Elizabeth's day o' bliss. Campening.
What was your biggest achievement of the year? Anybody help me on this one?
What was your biggest failure? Looking for love in all the wrong places...
Did you suffer illness or injury? No. If anything, my health seemed to improved - fewer stomach problems, lost a little weight after joining the volleyball league.
What was the best thing you bought? Bought lots of about more of the cookbooks Borders/Waldenbooks sell for $5.99 US? No flops yet!
Whose behavior merited celebration? Odd question. Have to think about it...Tipper the Dog for being a peaceful passenger on several car trips?
Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? Those using religious/moral excuses to justify their intolerance towards others (i.e. the whole same-sex marriage debate, complaints about television content, etc). Guess "live and let live" is out this season.
Where did most of your money go? Split between the necessities of life (rent, food, car insurance) and the usual horde of CDs/DVDs.
What did you get really, really, really excited about? Working on posters for two plays friends wrote/performed (Fear Of a Brown Planet and Holy Matrimony).
What song will always remind you of 2004? If you mean new songs that stuck in my head, probably Float On and Hey Ya.
Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? Happier.
b) thinner or fatter? About the same.
c) richer or poorer? Depends on the profit sharing award at work.
What do you wish you’d done more of? See live performances - barely saw any music this year.
What do you wish you’d done less of? Over-analyze everything.
How did you be spend Christmas? Home with the family.
How many one-night stands? One.
What was your favorite TV program? Watching older shows on DVD, finally seeing the SCTV skits hacked out for syndication. The over-the-air TV hasn't been plugged in since August.
Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year? Hate, no, have lower opinions of, yes.
What was your greatest musical discovery? mp3 blogs.
What did you want and get? A chance to use my skills for non-work projects.
What did you want and not get? A tighter rein on spending.
What was your favorite film of this year? Of those I saw in theatres, Kill Bill 2 and The Incredibles.
What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? For b-day #29, had dinner with friends at Mt. Everest on Bloor. Ate there Thursday night, still good (their dinner-for-two combo is a great deal).
What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? Seeing Dubya go down in flames.
How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2004? Mainly on the conservative side (t-shirts, jeans, khakis, solid or stripey shirts), though began experimenting with different types of shirts towards the end of the year (the "pimp-out" trip), as well as untucking them.
What kept you sane? Everyone around me.
Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? None - celebrities are overrated.
What political issue stirred you the most? Like most everyone else, the US election.
Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2004: Avoid those too eager to climb to the top, especially when they dump on others on their way up.
Quote a song lyric that sums up your year: Life is a carnival... - JB