Tuesday, July 31, 2007

introducing kira

Yes, we're ramping up the cute factor on this site...

There isn't a grand tradition of pets in my family. Actually, there's no tradition - my parents were never keen on the idea, Amy never clamoured for one and I was afraid of dogs for 20 years.

So it came as a surprise when Amy called me late last week to provide the play-by-play on her search for a new kitten that she could hear, but not see. Seems Gavin found a kitten (soon named Kira), likely abandoned, and brought her home. Amy seems to be warming up quickly to the new addition to the family, if getting used to the idea of concepts like kitty litter.

More pictures - JB, photo by AT

Monday, July 30, 2007

this roadtrip has seven days: day six, part one

Day 6: Pittsburgh, PA (Part 1)

The day began with grocery shopping around the Shadyside and East Liberty neighbourhoods at Trader Joe's and one of Giant Eagle's Market District stores. The weather proved a hindrance during the day, as intermittent showers cut down on the amount of walking I planned to do.

Oakland This Way
Early on, I discovered I didn't need to look at my city map to find my way around. The city's main neighbourhoods are well marked, thanks to the signage shown here. Many point to multiple neighbourhoods - imagine if you were at Queen and Spadina and a similar sign pointed you to Yorkville, The Annex, Cabbagetown, The Danforth and The Beach. I tossed the map in the back seat and let the signs guide me...and they didn't let me down.

Tarish Studios (1)
Heading west towards the core of the city, Penn Ave is lined with murals and artwork on buildings, such as Loud Silence, found at the corner of Fairmount. More about the artist, Tarish Pipkins.

Celestial Weaving Girl (1) Fabric of the Community
Two more Penn Ave murals, both part of the Sprout Public Art program, which has been responsible for over 30 works around the region. On the left is Celestial Weaving Girl (Lucas Stock, 2006), the right Fabric of the Community (Jackie Kresak, 2004).

Wholey Kickin' Chicken Primo Imported Pasta
I spent a couple of hours in the Strip District, which historically was home to manufacturing, then food wholesalers. Some of the latter remain, but the area, especially along Penn and Smallman, is full of small stores, restaurants and food vendors. If I lived in Pittsburgh, I could easily imagine doing much of my food shopping in the neighbourhood.

A break in the rain allowed time to roam from store to store. Alas, I didn't try the Kickin' Chicken at Wholey's. One surprise at a pasta store: the import section included a wide selection of a prestige Canadian brand, pictured above.

Steely Wisdom One Use for an Old Firehall
Left: The joke of the day. Right: From the "how to reuse a lonely firehall" department.

Acme Banana Co. Pennsylvania Railroad Fruit Auction and Sales Building
Left: Where Wile E. Coyote (super genius) buys his bananas? Right: Possibly the first time I have seen a building adorned with the phrase "fruit auction" (anyone know if there are similar signs at the Ontario Food Terminal?).

Cafe On The Strip (2) Cafe On The Strip (1)
Italian Wedding Soup Baked Eggplant Sandwich
After dithering over several choices, I settled on Cafe on the Strip for lunch. Started off with an excellent Italian Wedding soup, full of chicken, bacon, meatball and fresh cheese. It tasted like it hadn't been anywhere near a can or plastic pouch. My main was an eggplant sandwich. The non-breaded slices of veggie melted in my mouth, going down like butter. I'll try to avoid any sexual comparisons to what my mouth was feeling at the time.

It may have been the tastiest meal of the trip.

As usual, full set of pictures on Flickr.

Next: Carnegie a-go-go 

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

peter sellers, airline pitchman

Vintage Ad #282: Peter Sellers Sings TWA
I was flipping through an old issue of Sports Illustrated when this ad caught my eye. The pitchman looked vaguely familiar, so I did a quick check on the web.

Ladies and gentlemen, it's Peter Sellers, airline pitchman.

As usual, Sellers disappeared into character for this campaign. This print ad and TV commercial feature "English toff" (as DVD Times called him) Jeremy Peak-Time. Other characters included Vito de Motion and Thrifty McTravel - figure out what ethnicities they represented. Apparently Sellers' superstitions reared their head during the production of these ads - nobody on the set could wear purple.

Sellers was nearing the end of a long dry stretch at the box office, which reversed when he resurrected Inspector Clouseau in The Return of the Pink Panther later than year.

Link: 1975 Time story on TWA management troubles, which fleetingly reference this campaign, calling it "controversial"

Print ad source: Sports Illustrated, March 24, 1975 

Monday, July 23, 2007

what's wrong with this picture of fruit stripe gum land?

Vintage Ad #296: Fruit Stripe Sweepstakes
Can you all of the things that are wrong in this Fruit Stripe ad? So what if the contest closed on Halloween 1979? I might even think of a prize for the most things wrong...say, a pack of Fruit Stripe (alas, the Warehouse does not have the budget to offer a trip to Disney World or 20,000 packs of gum).

This, along with other Fruit Stripe ads, are among those that stick in my mind from my first comic book collection. That collection, mostly consisting of Gold Key/Whitman funnybooks, met its demise in a yard sale sometime in the early 80s.

Source: Batman #316, October 1979

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

bonus features: honest ed's smells out bargains for you

If you've read my post this week on Torontoist, consider this the DVD bonus feature.
Background: I spent Saturday bouncing back and forth between home and downtown (details soon). During a window between two engagements in the core, I had enough time to slip over to the Toronto Reference Library to do some prep work for this week's Vintage Ads column, which marked the recent death of Ed Mirvish. I went with a nice, round number and zeroed in on newspapers from 40 years ago this week...this way, I could work in the long-defunct Toronto Telegram. I narrowed down the suitable candidates to three ads. Two had great headline banners, but only one wouldn't require hours of Photoshop to remove the years of wear, tear and mediocre microfilm printing.

Since the ad I chose lacked a funny-ha-ha headline, I cropped the banners from the runners-up and used them in the article. But, if you're curious to see what the full versions look like...

Vintage Ad #275: Honest Ed's Smells Out Bargains For You!
Runner-up #1 was printed exactly eight years before I was born, in the July 15, 1967 edition of the Telegram. "Geritol" is one of those brand names that automatically makes me laugh, alongside Screaming Yellow Zonkers, Cheese Willikers and Bubba Cola.

Vintage Ad #274: For Lazy Living Visit Honest Ed's
Runner-up #2 appeared in the July 20, 1967 edition of the Toronto Star. Note the blank spaces on the bottom - products were there, but so smudged that all attempts to remove the fuzz failed. Nothing says lazy living like tinned herring.

Monday, July 16, 2007

memories of matchbox

Vintage Ad #268: Matchbox Super 6
When I was a kid, I tended to like old-fashioned toys, like Lego and Tinkertoy. Action figures like Star Wars and He-Man never appealed to me, which then and now sounds blasphemous. High on my list of favourite play items were Matchbox dinky cars.

For hours, I'd guide various makes and models across the basement floor, through imaginary cities made out of various products. Among the types of cities:

* Low-budget roads made from copy paper, with Dad's books stacked up to make overpasses - pocket books worked best. Nothing says childhood fun like rolling an early 70s stationwagon across an overpass whose road is supported by Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (which I remember trying to read at an early age and mistaking "goddamn" for "Gotham", which left me wondering why Batman wasn't a character in the play).

* Lego, thanks to a gray placemat with a road etched in.

* A plastic road set that I believe was made by Matchbox, complete with a gas station and parking lots.

* Majo-Kit, which I amassed a pile of. Possibly my favourite childhood playset. Besides the basic road pieces, you could buy landscapes ranging from customs booths to tourist farms. Parking meters, park benches, trees, streetside cafes, streetlights, gas pumps...everything you needed to make your own city. Assembly could be as frustrating as putting together IKEA furniture, but it was loads of fun. I suspect Majo-Kit can take the blame for my periodic bouts of SimCity addiction. This site has pictures of a few sets I had.

Of the vehicles pictured here, I had the Mini Ha-Ha and possibly the fire truck. Matchbox made up most of my collection, with only a scattering of Hot Wheels - both lines now owned by Mattel.

Source: Our Fighting Forces #163, January 1976

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

i ain't afraid of no hair

I Ain't Afraid Of No Hair
If anyone can come up with a good Ghostbusters lyric riff, leave it in the comments section.

This sign, located on Malden Road on the west side of Windsor, has long amused my family. It's an odd part of Windsor, full of short dirt roads intended for subdivisions that were never built. Past maps filled in the area bounded by Malden, Todd Lane, Huron Church Line and the E.C. Row Expressway with neighbourhoods that never were or barely got rolling. This has worked to the natural environment's advantage, with much of the land now earmarked as the Spring Garden Natural Area, part of a complex of parkland and reserves that included the prairie grasslands west of Malden.

Photo taken July 1, 2007 

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

this roadtrip has seven days: day five

Day 5: Lancaster, PA to Pittsburgh, PA

I had spent the night at a Quality Inn that looked like it was an old roadside motel in a previous incarnation (outdoor entrances to both ends of the room, long parking lot, etc). Various stages of renovation were evident, though my bathroom was definitely from another era.

Pink Shower Tile
If my bathroom tile was pink, would there have been matching flamingos by the back courtyard? Anyone want to guess the age?

Country Table Restaurant
Tiring of continental breakfasts, I grabbed my morning meal in Mount Joy, just west of Lancaster. One menu item at the Country Table caught my eye: scrapple. While I had heard of this mush-like dish, I had never seen it on a menu until now.

It was the first and last time I'll order scrapple.

My plate came with three large pieces, of which I got through most of one before deciding the taste and texture weren't to my liking. This wasn't going to be an item that improved with each bite, which was too bad, since the accompanying pancake was fluffy and didn't sit like a lump in my stomach, while the scrambled eggs were the way I like them, slightly creamy.

I Suppose It Was Inevitable Horse Garage
Left: A patriotic gas station near Mount Joy. I didn't checked how blessed the 89 octane was.

Right: A common site around Lancaster, this roadside horse shelter near Elizabethtown was one of the last I saw on the trip. Most carry the "safety" pennant shown here.

Lincoln Highway We Warned You
From Harrisburg, I headed west along the Pennsylvania Turnpike until I tired of alternately being boxed in by speeding trucks and driving through downpours. After an hour, I hopped off and drove onto the route I should have taken all along, the Lincoln Highway (aka US 30). This was the first marked trans-continental highway, running from New York to San Francisco. Most of its eastern sections were absorbed into US 30 - before this trip, the only stretch I had travelled on was on the outskirts of Chicago at the start of my Route 66 trip.

Around Jennersville, warning signs for trucks were plastered along the side of the road, thanks a steep, winding drive. There were special ramps in case any driver lost control of their vehicle.

Lincoln Highway Barn
The historic nature of the route is marked by a number of barn paintings, such as this one.

It was a smooth ride into Pittsburgh. I stayed at a Comfort Inn atop a steep, winding road, which proved a cinematic drive at night. I explored the area, getting the lay of the land of the city's eastern suburbs. I cooled my heels at a Barnes and Noble at Monroeville Mall, discovering later that this was the same mall that George Romero used as the setting for Dawn of the Dead. Had I known, I would have taken my camera into the JCPenney or mindlessly rode the escalator.

It was an appropriate end to the day, since I felt like a zombie.

Full photo set on Flickr

Next: One fine day in Pittsburgh

Monday, July 09, 2007

curtain call for white woods mall

And there you have it - White Woods Mall is no more. The piles of rubble and half-demolished sections of the west wing were gone, with only the fitness centre and a dollar store remaining. From its ashes, outlots in the back signal the property's next incarnation.

Southwest Entrance, July 2007 Southwest Inner Doors
The old southwest entrance, now all by itself. Note the orange signs - the building, construction fence and parking lot were plastered with signs indicating the dollar store was still in business.

White Woods Artwork? The Outlots
One can debate whether these large stones in the back parking lot were randomly placed, stand as a memorial, protect the fire hydrant from errant shovel operators or function as art.

Previous entries. Full set of pictures.

All photos taken July 2, 2007

Friday, July 06, 2007

discount accordions derpartment

Vintage Ad #259: Cheap New Accordians
The key to top leadership positions or usurping the lead spot in your band? Buy an accordion!

The humble accordian has received many knocks over the years, usually due to its associations with "squares"and the elderly. Yet where would musical genres like zydeco be without them? Old movie scenes set in Paris? An accompaniment to stand-up comedians, novelty songs at parties and drinking prodigious amounts of beer?

It's hard to say what improvements were made for the 1960 models over the leftover '59s - a new key colour scheme? Fins? As for the bonus gifts, given this magazine could have been read at any time, when did the statute of limitations for promptness run out? In short, would I still be able to get the extras if I placed an order today (then turn around and sell a vintage accordian stand on eBay)?

Alas, a few customers were miffed to learn that buying on "E-Z terms" actually meant that all cheques had to be made out to Edwin and Zachary Terms, who only delivered accordians on the second Tuesday of each month, if the sun was shining.

Source: Popular Science, October 1959 

Thursday, July 05, 2007

visiting the fromagerie

Canada Day weekend tends to be Christmas in July for my family, as three of us have birthdays that fall within 10 days of each other (you still have just over a week to buy any lingering presents pour moi). For the first time in a few years, music predominated the gifts I received, ranging from the recent round of Leonard Cohen reissues to the new Arcade Fire album. Amy and Gavin are good at throwing me curveballs, with this year's being a very pleasant surprise...
Fromage: The DVD
Six episodes of golden gouda.

For nearly a decade, Amy and I videotaped MuchMusic's year-end roundup of the cheesiest videos of the year, Fromage. Hosted by either faux Frenchman Charles de Camembert or Ed the Sock, these shows usually mixed well-known acts with the hopelessly obscure. The latter tended to provide the most entertainment, due to any combination of low budget, chutzpah, inept dancing, dubious musicianship or jaw-dropping novelty value. Most years also included at least one semi-slutty dance video, one cornball country selection and one useless cover version. At the end of each show, the worst video of the year was inducted into the Mall of Shame, along with a lifetime acheesement artist.

We ceased recording the show when these acts were given the boot in favour of tiny clips and even-more-exposure to tabloid celebrities.

A runthrough of the cheese served up:

For some reason, we only taped part of the show, missing out on the end. I think it was either a mediocre world beat tune or My Army of Lovers by Army of Lovers.
Standouts: Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Techno (Don Cherry raps about his favourite hockey players), Heart of Soul (The Cult), Help I'm White And I Can't Get Down (Geezinslaw Brothers)

Winner: Go West (Pet Shop Boys).
Standouts: Tammy (Kids in the Hall), My Wife (Charlie Chase - gloopy country recitaction from a TNN host)
Wha' the Fuh?: Luther Campbell's explaination of the meaning of the title to H-Town's Knockin' Da Boots to a faux-Brit reporter "Well knockin' da boots actually means two boots coming together, making tasteful lust."

Winner: Blind Man (Aeromsith)
Standouts: The Red Strokes (Garth Brooks and gratuitous amounts of Sherwin Williams' finest)
Wha' The Fuh?: Confederate Railroad's ode to two 1960s icons, Elvis and Andy, complete with faux-Brit expert introduction. This was the dullest episode of the lot.

Winner: The Cowboy Song (Sting)
Standouts: The Beauty In Black (Therion, trying way too hard to be gothy and borrow from Tubular Bells at the same time), Pull Up To The Bumper (Patra, given a three-minute penalty for excessive feeling-oneself-up).
Wha' The Fuh?: The semi-nude dancing animated character hogging the bottom lefthand corner of Tokyo Ghetto Pussy's Everybody On The Floor.

The primo selection of aged cheddar.
Winner: I'm So Happy (Sting, for a second year in a row, complete with mohawk and alien cowboys)
Standouts: The Macarena (Alvin & The Chipmunks), La Danse d'Helene (Real Joy, a tune the writers of The Hokey Pokey could have sued over), Metal Heavy (Muscle Bitches, a video that made merchants of Viking helmets happy), Afterall (Papas Fritas, featuring two guys, a girl and lots of shrimp chips frying)
Wha' The Fuh?: Plenty of headscratchers, but it's hard to top Hay Hayfever (Paolo), which combines an ultra-low budget, a tune recorded deep in a basement with indecipherable lyrics, MC Hammer's surplus pant supply and bad actors with inflatible mallets.

The last episode on the disc, the start of format changes. In with Ed the Sock, tighter themes, shorter clips and videos the host admits are good cheese (i.e., Wesley Willis' ode to Alanis)
Winner: Electric Barbarella (Duran Duran)
Standouts: Puppet Master (Soul Assassins, featuring a dwarf on a string and a tasty Isaac Hayes sample), short snatches of the ultra-mellow Canadian Singers and Ron Jeremy serving up drinks on a beach for Los Umbrellos.
Wha' The Fuh?: David McAlmont overchannelling Grace Jones in David Arnold's cover of Diamonds Are Forever. Scary, scary eyerolling.