Thursday, February 28, 2008

My Book is a Success. . .

. . . in a small, but satisfying way.

The storybook I made of my trip to New York City for my 5 year old niece was a hit. So was the monkey itself. My niece has already arranged for readings both in Junior Kindergarten and also in daycare on Friday (she's a bit of a type-A personality).

I'm big in Sioux Lookout. Not many people can say that. Furthermore, I'm also almost through my first printing. Of course, my first printing was 5 copies done at Kinkos and the price was free, but those are just details. And who really cares about details anyways?

Anyways, I have 2 more days with CN. It's strange - and a bit scary - but it's time. I've been with CN since the summer after high school. I worked summers on the gangs doing trackwork. Then I moved on to work as a conductor. Finally, I've spent the past few years as a commuter central officer dealing with the GO Trains.

Starting next Monday, I will be working with GO Transit. This involves a number of changes. Payday will become Tuesday instead of Thursday. I'll now have a pension and a retirement fund. And I'll have much less vacation for now.

Did I ever mention that I'm not really good with change?

But the money's good and the people are great to work with. Furthermore, I get to keep working downtown, a fact that is quite important to me. Transit to Vaughan kind of sucks and that's what I probably would have been stuck with if I had stayed with CN (I'm glad I have my license but I have no interest in owning a car any time soon).

So I am off to greener pastures and it feels. . . well. . . odd. Good as well, though, which is the main thing.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What keeps me up at night. . .

. . . laughing.

Check out the video "Vintage VidEmo: No Glass Bottles".

Monday, February 18, 2008

The fall of the Western Empire

I will be the first to admit the above clip is funny. . . For a minute. Then it just becomes sad. Now before we Canucks start feeling all high and mighty, realize that we are not that much better. We are capable of being just as short-sighted as our southern neighbours when it comes to the myriad issues that lie beyond what is presented on prime time TV.

What really disturbs me is how little she really cares about her ignorance. She makes her flippant remark about how she knows more than men and then she laughs a little but you can tell she is not really bothered by it at all. She is not even burying her head in the sand; she just brushes it off because "who knew that 'hungry' was a country?" Wait until she finds out that Hamburg is not just something she buys at the local McDonald's.

I can accept that our society is getting dumber. I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later. I do find it sad that we as a society have chosen wilful ignorance at a time when the tools of knowledge have never been so widespread, cheap and available. What bothers me is how easy it is happening. How quickly we have dismissed anything that is vaguely intellectual in favour of some homogenized mess of slogans and pratfalls.

Almost half a century ago, JFK told a nation to "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

Nowadays, that sentence would have to be jettisoned in favour of a short sound bite. I mean, how dare he ask the citizens to actually get up off their couches and do something? Next thing you know, they might start asking questions for themselves. Who knows? Maybe, someday in the future, they might even dig out a map and figure out where Hungary is.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Canuck Book 6 - King Leary by Paul Quarrington

Finally finished King Leary by Paul Quarrington. For a funny book, it took me a while to really get into. More to the point, for a funny book, it wound up packing a punch that was both unfunny and surprisingly effective.

The more I think about the book, the more I like it and the more I realize the skill and care that went into it. In the last third of the book, I had many of those 'a-ha' moments where I would finally get where Quarrington was going with some of the asides and digressions. The only other Quarrington book I've ever read is Whale Music, a book I liked a lot. While this one took longer to grow on me, I will definitely be reading more of his work.

In thinking about the book, I realize more and more that I should have paid greater attention to its title, because much of the Bard's Lear can be found in this king of the ice. It's not a retelling by any stretch of the imagination, but the influence is there. These are tales of Kings without kingdoms. While Lear gives his up, Leary winds up outliving his, hanging onto a title that lost meaning years ago for most everyone but him.

King Leary is a tragicomedy born of hubris and selfishness. On one level, it revolves around a trio of friends from Ottawa who go on to careers in professional hockey. Leary and Manny Oz become players while Clay Bors Clinton becomes owner of the Toronto Leaves. Oz falls to alcohol and a broken heart. Clinton falls to the excesses of his lifestyle. All that's left of the trio is Leary, Indian name Loofweeda, stuck in an old age home with Blue Hermann, one-time hockey scribe and full-time boozehound.

On another level, the story follows Leary, his ghosts, Hermann and an orderly on a trip to Toronto for King Leary night at the Gardens. The next day, Leary is supposed to film a ginger ale commercial with the latest rising hockey star. The story bounces back and forth between the two narratives. The aged Leary is even prone to spells where the two tales intrude upon each other and overlap.

King Leary is a book about memory, family and the unpleasant decisions that we are faced with. It's also a book about hockey, for sure, but it’s more about the mythical side of hockey. It's about the sort of hockey that gets dragged out once a year on CBC so we can watch rosy-cheeked kids wobble around on outdoor rinks and pat ourselves on the back for loving such an odd spectacle. For all the mess that Leary's life becomes, he still believes in the game.

It's the people who take part in the game that are all messed up.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

New York Pics

It seems I have been remiss in not offering up some pics from my New York trip. Well, here are a few. Perhaps not the most original selection but they are a few of the things I love about New York.

This next one is part of a project I did for my niece. I took pictures of the monkey all over New York and then made a small book out of it.

How can you not love a city where you pull out and pose a plush toy in the middle of Times Square and nobody even bothers to look at you.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

My last day of vacation. . .

. . . was spent making a book for my niece.

Not as fun as it sounds. I had this vision before I left for New York of taking a small plush toy with me and photographing it wherever I went. I would then send the pictures up to her with the toy. Cute and fun were what I intended.

Then I thought to myself, "Hey, self, why don't you make a small book of it? You have the camera and computer for it. You can even string words together pretty well when you really want to. Wouldn't you be a cool uncle if you did this?" Thus began the downward spiral.

The road to hell is paved with plush toys, digital cameras and computers. Actually, that sounded far worse than intended. This modern age. . .

I know better. I know that kids’ books are hard and should really be written only by those with the skill and talent to do it well. I cringe every time I see a star, even a d level star like that guy from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, put out a children's book because, for all their talk of good intentions, what they are doing is committing an act of great hubris. They are saying that not only can they recite other people words in front of a camera, they can also write.

Truth is, they mostly can't.

And then we are forced to see them on the morning shows shilling these books that are a torture for both the parent and the kid.

I set my sights much lower and still it became a pain in the butt. I wasn't looking at publishing more than one copy of the thing but I was determined to make it at least worthy of a good show and tell session.

The reality is I really do not know how to talk to five year olds. All I knew is I did not want to talk down to them. For someone who grew up watching such talented children's entertainers as Mr. Dressup, that is the great evil. (I'm serious, watch him now and you will be amazed at how he does it all without pandering) Of course, the danger is that, in trying to avoid this, I wind up writing something that is too complex. I'm in my thirties and I live on my own. The only person I know anywhere close to kindergarten age is my niece. And I couldn't well ask her, now could I?

So I wavered back and forth. I rearranged things, reworded things. I played with fonts and formatting. I resized and repositioned the photos. I cracked open a beer and ordered in dinner. Eventually, with little fanfare and many doubts, I got it finished.

My verdict? I'm not too sure. There are thing I like about it, for sure, but I am not the target demographic. It's enough to make me almost glad to go to work tomorrow. If given another week, I don't know what sort of foolishness I would come up with.

Next time, she's getting a postcard.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

How to spend 57 hours in New York City

1. Land.

2. Take bus into Manhattan. Get dropped off at Port Authority Bus Terminal.

3. Walk south to hotel. Stash bags until room is ready.

4. Walk back up to Port Authority and then over to Times Square.

5. Have lunch in one of the big, somewhat touristy Times Square restaurants while poring over Rough Guide, planning your afternoon. Decide on wandering over to MoMA.

6. Wander up Times Square and have plans changed when offered a ticket to watch Letterman tape.

7. Go back to hotel. Check-in and clean up and cab back up to the Ed Sullivan Theater just in time.

8. Watch Letterman from the back row - the very back row - on a folding chair. Realize show is better in person and that the band is really good even if Paul Shaffer is looking more and more like he stepped off the set of Star Trek. Enjoy Eli Manning and Vince Vaughn. Feel ambivalent about A Fine Frenzy.

9. Leave Letterman and decide maybe it is time to make like a tourist and go see a show.

10. Watch David Mamet's latest, November, which has Nathan Lane and Jackie from Roseanne and is really funny in a biting David Mamet sort of way.

11. Take some Mexican food from a 9th Ave. hole in the wall joint back to the hotel room for supper.

12. Wake up the next day still planning to go to Moma. Go the other way, instead, and take the Staten Island Ferry out and back while snapping lots of shots of ships and skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty.

13. Wander up through Lower Manhatten to the South Street Seaport.

14. Realize you've come this far so you might as well go all the way.

15. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge taking lots of pictures.

16. Go up to midtown, have lunch and head to MoMA.

17. Immerse yourself in Pollocks and Picassos, De Koonings and Monets.

18. Wander over to Times Square.

19. Take subway over the Manhatten bridge to see what the view is like.

20. Take subway back to Times Square and head for hotel.

21. Go to Rangers game. Hockey with a New York accent. Sadly, no one says fuggedaboutit.

22. Wake up, check out and stash bags.

23. Take subway to the Village and go for a wander.

24. Pop into the Village Chess Shop and talk with the clerks.

25. Buy a small set.

26. Wander over to Lower East Side and have a corned beef on rye at the mostly justifiably famous Katz's Deli.

27. Realize that, while good, Katz's pales in comparison to Montreal's Schwartz's.

28. Take subway back up and over to Grand Central Station for a quick wander and a visit to the MTA's Transit Museum gift shop. Buy shirt for niece.

29. Head back over to Times Square and down to the hotel. Grab bag and walk down to Penn Station.

30. Take train to Newark and fly back to Toronto via Chicago.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Why I Heart New York

In little more than 24 hours, I will be rolling out of bed and heading out to the airport for an early morning flight to New York City. It will be my first trip to New York in a few years and I can't wait.

To be honest, I did get to spend a night in New York last year before I did my transcontinental train odyssey. But that was just a taste, not even a quick fix, and it was nowhere near enough to cure my cravings. There is something about that city, the great metropolis that keeps me coming back again and again.

It's been over a decade since my first trip to New York. I flew down that time, as well, landing at JFK. I then took the free shuttle bus to the edge of the airport and boarded the subway. I figured if I was going to do this New York thing, there was no use dealing in half measures. My first taste of Manhattan was emerging from the subway at Times Square in the early evening.

You can say a lot about present day Times Square. You can talk about Disneyfication and corporatization and all kinds of other -ations. You can lament the loss of character and grit and feel but you cannot deny that even a watered down Times Square is still a thrill for a newcomer. The lights. The rush of traffic and crowds. The buskers. The sense that this place, for all its billboards and flagship megastores possesses an electricity that has nothing to do with power lines. The lights dance and the city pulses to a rhythm that emanates from this steel and concrete heart where Broadway crosses 7th Avenue.

To a young man who had grown up in Canadian suburbs and small towns, this was the Promised Land. I wandered all over. I explored the subway system, hung out in Washington Square Park and had a few pints in seedy 8th Avenue dives that had yet to be gentrified. I spent my last night in an all night jazz joint in the Village, drinking canned beer from a corner store and waiting for the early morning flight that would take me back to Toronto.

I have been back a handful of times since. I've rode the Cyclone at Coney Island, searched for Dylan bootlegs in the Village and watched a Yankees game from a bleacher seat with the subway rumbling just behind me. More than anything, I have walked and walked and walked. I've walked uptown and downtown, meandered through the Village and jostled my way through the throngs of Chinatown. I've walked over the Brooklyn Bridge and walked down to the Staten Island Ferry. I've walked the Bowery and the business district, Hell's Kitchen and Park Avenue.

New York is a great city for walking. It seems there is something on almost every corner that reminds you of something you've seen in movies or watched on TV. Or read about, of course. My original desire to see New York came mostly from my love of the Beats. For all the travelling that Kerouac romanticizes, the Beat Generation was originally a New York thing. It's in New York that the group came together in a group that gathered around Columbia University. It's also where Kerouac escaped to from New Jersey when he needed a break from writing, getting drunk amongst the mad ones that he loved so much.

So I went to New York chasing a vision that was forty years old at that point. There are far worse reasons for going, I guess. I wasn't clinging too tightly to any preconceived notions, so I was not disappointed to realize that the life I'd learned of in books was best experienced in books. In real life, time had moved on.

I never plan too much, though, as I find that the best experiences often come from chance encounters and flights of fancy. This time around, I've got just a couple of things inked into my (unwritten) itinerary. First, I am going to a Rangers game on Thursday. Second, I intend finally get to MoMA. I tend to spend so much time just wandering around that I've missed out on some of the great museums and galleries. I figure it's time to start correcting this.

That's just part of New York, though. You can never do it all - or even more than a small slice -in one trip. So you have to keep coming back, exploring new things and revisiting old favourites. You have to see the city in all the seasons. You have to take the subway. You have to walk. You have to leave the car behind because they are a hassle. You have to leave the car behind because they cut you off when you should be diving in. You have to dive in.

And that's what I will be doing tomorrow.

Monday, February 04, 2008

My Weekend

I started my week of vacation by working an overtime shift Saturday morning. They were short and I was greedy.

That evening I went down to Nathan Phillips Square to see The Weakerthans play. I've been a fan of them for a long time but this was the first time I've had a chance to see them live. They do a great show.

The singer, John K. Samson is also one of the people behind the Arbeiter Ring, a Winnipeg-based publishing collective that put out Alissa York's excellent story collection Any Given Power. It's a book everyone should read.

This probably accounts for why the Weakerthans songs seem so literary, more short fictions than songs. You have to love a band that can write songs from a cat's perspective, songs about long evenings at a curling rink and even a song that bears the refrain "I hate Winnipeg".

Yesterday, I went to see the play 12 Angry Men with my grandfather. It was quite good and reminded my why I really need to go see plays more often. After that, it was dinner and then I watched the Super Bowl in his hotel room. Who would have thought the Super Bowl could actually be exciting without wardrobe malfunctions?

Today, it's cleaning. . . Or a movie. I can't decide.

Two days until New York.

Canuck Book 5

Just finished Richard B. Wright's Adultery. I had actually started out reading Quarrington's King Leary. . . But I got distracted.

I was a big fan of Clara Callan, Wright's breakthrough novel about two very different sisters during the depression. That said, I had shied away from Adultery because, to be honest, I really was not in the mood for such a potential downer of a book. I mean, the plot can easily be broken down like this:

1. Man has affair with much younger colleague while on business trip in Europe.

2. Colleague is abducted and murdered while man sleeps in car after having sex.

3. The killer is arrested the next day.

4. Man tries to deal with the consequences and how they affect his life, his family, his self-image, his career.

Not exactly light reading. I broke down recently, however, and picked up a used copy of the book. I figured it would make a good addition to my Canuck Lit List.

My verdict? It's a keeper. I found myself quickly neglecting the Quarrington in favour of this book. It became one of those books that puts me in danger of missing my stop on the subway. I became wrapped up in this tale of a man struggling with the consequences of a bad decision.

Much to my relief, I found the story stayed away from the heavy handed moralizing that would have been so easy. That's not to say it is not a serious book. It's just that the story is more about consequences rather than actions. We are not forced to make judgements about the protagonist’s actions. We know from the start what happened and we can guess at why.

Instead, the story takes a far more interesting path by laying out what happens next. For Dan Fielding, it is police interviews, unrelenting press and a return to a family just starting to cope with a very private betrayal that has now been splashed across the front page of the Sun and the Star. This is not to mention the looming small town funeral that he is compelled to attend though he realizes he will be far from welcome by most.

The story moves well and it's hard not to have some sympathy for this man. Not for what he did, mind you, but perhaps for the horrible consequences he has had to face. And face it he does, with equal amounts of grace and clumsiness. At the end of it all, there are no happy endings. How could there be? But there is acceptance and guilt and, just possibly, a little forgiveness.