Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Beware! Christmas Stuff. . . But Good Christmas Stuff

For the few of you who do not have Stan Rogers in your cd collection (and there should only be a few), I've decided to post the lyrics to the saddest, but somehow sweetest, Christmas song ever:

First Christmas
by Stan Rogers

This day a year ago, he was rolling in the snow
With a younger brother in his father's yard
Christmas break, a time for touching home,
the heart of all he'd known
And leaving was so hard

Three thousand miles away,
now he's working Christmas Day
Making double time for the minding of the store
Well he always said, he'd make it on his own
He's spending Christmas Eve alone
First Christmas away from home

She's standing by the train station,
pan-handling for change
Four more dollars buys a decent meal and a room
Looks like the Sally Ann place after all,
in a crowded sleeping hall
That echoes like a tomb

But it's warm and clean and free,
and there are worse places to be
At least it means no beating from her Dad
And if she cries because it's Christmas Day
She hopes that it won't show
First Christmas away from home

In the apartment stands a tree,
and it looks so small and bare
Not like it was meant to be,
Golden angel on the top
It's not that same old silver star,
you wanted for your own
First Christmas away from home

In the morning, they get prayers,
then it's crafts and tea downstairs
Then another meal back in his little room
Hoping maybe that "the boys"
will think to phone before the day is gone
Well, it's best they do it soon

When the "old girl" passed away,
he fell apart more every day
Each had always kept the other pretty well
But the kids all said the nursing home was best
Cause he couldn't live alone
First Christmas away from home

In the common room they've got the biggest tree
And it's huge and cold and lifeless
Not like it ought to be,
and the lit-up flashing Santa Claus on top
It's not that same old silver star,
you once made for your own
First Christmas away from home
First Christmas away from home

Now you must go out and get a copy of this song. It will help to counteract the diabetic coma-inducing sweetness of most other music you hear this time of year. Apparently, he wrote this song to reflect the realities of Christmas for those who are on their own.

"Each had always kept the other pretty well." That line kills me every time, telling a story in just eight words.

Good night, all.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

10 Things I Learned Watching The Da Vinci Code

1. For a book that read so much like a movie or tv show, it sure made a crappy movie. I know. The book is almost always better then the movie. So when the book is a dud, I guess I shouldn't have expected it to be anything more than what it was - the cinematic equivalent of a wet, stinking cow patty.

2. That, even in the movie, two dedicated codebreakers take way too long to link Isaac Newton with a frigging apple. I could accept most of the foolishness up to that point but to have the crucial final puzzle be as friggin' simple as apple. . . Come on! Where'd Dan Brown pull that one out of? Puzzles for Dummies II, Even Dumberer Puzzles for Dumberer Readers?

3. Ironically, this thriller lacks thrills. I won't even get into it's lack of logic.

4. Jean Reno and Audrey Tatou may be better than this schlock, but they sure didn't show it. And neither did Mr. Hanks, for that matter.

5. Don't share a drink with a criminal mastermind. Especially when you are no longer of use. While your at it, stay away from Albinos, too. As Hollywood shows again and again, less pigment, for some reason, equals more evil.

6. When push comes to shove, spend more time talking about things. Tell, don't show.

7. If you're dying from a gun wound, it's a good time to get crazy with the blood drawings and invisible ink.

8. Once the tension dies down, spend a lot of time explaining every single detail before you let the credits roll. Leave nothing to the imagination.

9. Cheesy ghost images are not just the domain of crappy shows like Cold Case. They just look like they belong on tv.

10. Even with all the trappings of intelligence - academics, puzzles, books - Dan Brown's story is surprisingly dumb. I'm ashamed to have to paraphrase a line from an Adam Sandler movie but here it is - I feel dumber for having watched this thing.

Friday, December 01, 2006

TTC Troubles

Let me preface this by saying that, generally, I love the TTC. In fact, I like most mass transit. Car travel, while ostensibly convenient, is just such an absurd concept to me - wrapping yrself in a large block of steel and plastic and rolling to the same place that hundreds of other people are rolling towards in the name of some freedom that does not really exist. I mean, how free are you, when you are driving to work more just to pay for the insurance, the oil change and the gas. Of course, I speak as a person who lives in a city with fairly reliable and extensive 24 hour a day transit. I know that people in smaller places don't have this luxury, so the 'rolling coffin' (as Ken Kesey called them) becomes a necessary evil.

But I'm not really here to bash car travel. I actually wanted to talk about the TTC and their nasty habit of short turning buses that I am on.

For those of you not living in Toronto, the short turn is what the TTC uses to get its buses back on schedule after biggish delays. Instead of going to the end of the line, the bus turns around at some point and goes back the other way, picking up its regular schedule. The passengers who are on the bus have to grab a transfer and wait for the next bus. Usually, I am understanding. The TTC is doing the best it can to serve all the passengers and, while I've been inconvenienced, sometimes it just has to happen.

Lately, though, it has been happening way too often - every Friday on the Jane bus and even last night on the normally reliable 106. I don't mind if it happens once in a while but, when it starts to become a regular occurence, something should be done. I am a fan of transit and I am starting to get frustrated. Imagine what this must be doing to the people who are not as fond of the TTC - more car drivers.

And while this is happening, the TTC goes looking for money for a subway. Some logic, eh? The government isn't giving us enough to run the system as it is, so we are going to go after them to build another subway to ikea, this time the one at Jane and Hwy. 7. Why not fix what you have before you get caught up in an ultra-expensive vanity project that won't do much to increase ridership? I like subways, but I like decent service better and, the way things are, we cannot afford both.

If I haven't bored you enough already with talk of transit, check out It's a great site with lots of transit info. run by people who really care about transit.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Ginsberg and the Grove

Well, the weekend is here and I'm taking the train to Sarnia tomorrow. The trip will give me a chance to dig into the new Ginsberg biography. I also picked up a new collection of Shostakovich's Symphonies, so I'll have a chance to work my way through some of them, as well.

There's nothing like train trips and good books. You put the book down and you can watch the country roll by. Pick the book up and you've got a few uninterrupted hours of reading time.

I'm going to Sarnia to see my friend Ezio's work at the Gallery Lambton. It's been too long since I've seen his work in a show (at the Gallery in the Grove), so I am really looking forward to it.

Time to pack and sleep.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Remembrance Day

Well, it's about time I sat down and wrote a decent post. This one has been brewing for a while so sit down and hold on tight.

My thinking is often elliptical in nature. It jumps around, connecting the dots in strange ways with a logic that often escapes everyone but me. I can't explain it any better than that. Sometimes, it's something as simple as a single word or phrase that triggers a jump and then my mind goes off full tilt in some seemingly random direction. This, of course, is just a convoluted way of saying that I let my mind wander. Especially when I am walking.

Yesterday, I was walking home from the grocery store, listening to my mp3 player and marvelling at the newly bare trees. It being early November, my thoughts soon turned to Remembrance Day and veterans. This, in turn, led me to ponder a phenomenon I've been noticing recently. Perhaps, it's because I live in Toronto and there are just more of them, but it seems like a lot of Legion Halls are closing down. My gut instinct is to be saddened. The nostalgic in me cringes at these closings, mourning the loss of tradition and history that the Legion signifies.

With more thought, though, I realized that there is something good to be said of these closings. It's a sign that our generations of veterans are growing smaller and older. It's a sign that, in Canada at least, we have not engaged in a major armed conflict since the early fifties. While it's sad to see the Legions close, it is heartening to think that they are slowly becoming a thing of the past. Or they were, at least, before the Afghanistan adventure, but I will save that for another blog post.

One short mental hop away and I started thinking of what the Legion means and of how it was once a crucial part of life in many small towns. I was born in a small town in Northern Ontario. My father and his father were born in an even smaller Northern Ontario town. In both of these towns, the Legion was the social life for a certain generation of men.

My grandfather's father was a Highland Scot who came to Canada later in his life, leaving one family behind to eventually start another in Canada. He had fought in the Great War. When he came to Canada, he travelled around looking for work and eventually wound up in Nakina.

Nakina is a tiny village in Northwestern Ontario. It was originally a railway town, a place to fuel and service the steam engines that once crossed the country. Like many northern towns, Nakina was at one time a thriving place, with restaurants, clothing shops and even a movie theatre. Though never large, it had all one could need in a town. This was good, as there was no road into town, only the tracks, so you could not just drive to the next town to buy stuff.

When my great-grandfather settled there, he began working in the railway shops. He married a Finnish woman and started a family. When it came time to retire from the shops, he worked as a bartender in the Legion. As he had hired on late in life, he was not eligible to earn a pension from the railway. To their credit, the railway managers did set him up with a limited rail pass to recognize his years of service.

Nowadays, Nakina is a Hamlet that survives mainly by catering to fishing and hunting camps. The freight trains have not stopped there in almost a quarter century and much of the business and many of the residents have filtered out. While my grandparents left Nakina in the late 60's, they still kept close ties to the town. Though they had left the town three decades earlier, my grandmother was buried there. My grandfather still makes at least a yearly visit.

As a kid and even into my teens, I would sometimes travel with my grandparents to Nakina, going on long road trips through Northern Ontario. Up over Lake Superior we would go, crossing the rocky backbone of the Canadian Shield. There would be fishing and storytelling and visiting people that knew me better than I knew them. While my duties as a child were ceremonial, such as holding the map to roads my grandfather could drive with his eyes closed, I eventually became co-driver.

Visiting my grandparents' friends was not always the most enjoyable of times. It's not that I didn't like the people we visited, it's just that I have a hard time being comfortable around people I barely know. The fact that I was often the youngest person in the room by four or more decades did not help matters. Conversations were a stream of names, events and places that I could only grasp at in fleeting moments, like watching a tv with really bad reception.

To counter this, I would excuse myself and go for a walk. I would explore the town that three generations of my family knew so intimately. I would try to imagine how it looked back then, how it smelled and felt and sounded. While my grandparents were rehashing the tales of long ago, I would be outside, chasing the ghosts of my imagination.

The thing about northern towns in summer is that you never truly leave the cold behind. Even in August, you could face a cold snap. On warm days, the evenings can turn cool. On cold days, the evenings turn bitter. This suited me quite well as I've always preferred the cool of autumn to the heat of summer.
I am thinking of one time in particular, one of the last times I made the journey. When I ventured out, the night was definitely feeling more like fall than summer. It was a windy night and the streets were empty. Most houses I passed were dark except for the ghostly blue flicker of televisions lighting the living room windows. It was a perfect night for wandering and thinking.
When I was younger, I used to toy with the idea that we all leave invisible traces, footprints of sorts, wherever we go. I liked the notion that somehow there would be something left of us to mark our passing, some memory, some echo to tell the world that we were there. And then you could ponder the layers of these prints crossing each other in knots and tangles, each one of them saying "I was here." It's odd and impractical - do I really want a record of every trip to the washroom? - but it can also be a comforting thought.
This walk, then, was my attempt to follow a few of these trails. I wasn't just chasing the dead. To me, northern towns are just as haunted by the people who left town as they are by the people who never will. And on a night like this, I could hear that in the wind, the shadows of the living whispering to the ghosts of the dead.
I went downtown, down by the tracks. I walked on the shoulder of the road though it really did not matter. If I were to lie down in the middle of the road, I'd probably stand as good a chance of starving to death as I would of being run over. I wandered up to the Legion Hall.
In front of the Legion is a monument dedicated to all the residents of Nakina who fought in the World Wars. These monuments are so ubiquitous that they are easily ignored, only remembered in November when they are honoured with wreaths. How often do we pass by them, knowing what they are but never really seeing or reading them? "Lest we forget" indeed.
The monument in Nakina, like the town it represents, is not big. What it does have, and I checked, is my great-grandfather's name. I walked up to it and touched it. I traced the letters with my fingers - a vaguely familiar name carved in stone - and thought of my great-grandfather, a man I have never met. I did not really think of him as a soldier. While it would be fitting to think in such a way, the truth is I know so little of him that I have a hard time even imagining him as my grandfather's father. As far as the war goes, he went, he fought, was injured, fought again and lived. He rarely talked about it to his children and about the only record left of his service are the discharge papers my great-grandfather received when the fighting was done that my grandfather still has. And, of course, there is his name in stone.
To me, that is what Remembrance Day is - names in stone, a physical reminder of past lives. And when I pass by one of these monuments, I often stop to read some of the names, to imagine lives lost in times that were not so different from our own. I take a few minutes to read names and think of these people I never will meet in much the same way that I hope someone reads my great-grandfather's name from time to time.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

More to come, honestly.

I have a great, long post in the works that I've been messing with in my notebooks (the old fashioned, pen and paper kind). Unfortunately, I worked an extra shift last night and now have to have a nap before tonight's shift so it'll have to wait until tomorrow, at the earliest.

It will be worth the wait, though. You have my word.

No, not ukulele. My OTHER word.

So long for now. . .

Friday, November 03, 2006

One last recommendation before I head to work

I'm reading Matt Cohen's The Bookseller and, so far, I love it. I'm going to have to start reading more of his novels.

Anyways, it's off to work. I'll start posting longer posts on my weekend (Monday-Tuesday).

Until then, it's these tiny bloglets.

That's assuming anyone is even reading this yet, of course.

Good night all.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Some Recommendations

Amy Hempel's Collected Stories - they are wonderfully addictive.

Alayna Munce's When I Was Young and In My Prime - one of the best novels I've read this year.

Douglas Coupland's JPod - it's just fun.

Hello Out There

This is a test. Or a really boring post. Take yer pick.
This newfangled technology. . .