Monthly Archives: January 2013

C’est What in words

Last night I went to a show featuring Noel Johnson and Sidney York. Both were great acts, and my review of the show will be up on Grayowl Point later today.

What I want to do today, though, is an exercise in imagery, and it’s maybe something I’ll try to do every time I go to a new venue.

***

As you walk down Front Street, past the large arts buildings east of Yonge, and then passing Church Street, you might very well miss C’est What. It doesn’t announce itself with a neon sign, only a canopy that you can only see by looking at it straight on. The initial confusion worn off, you’ll open the door and immediately walk down a flight of stairs.

The last detail may make you think you’re walking into a grungy place. Not so. After walking down the stairs, you can go into the restaurant by walking through a doorway to the left, or you can walk straight through to the bar and venue area.

When you walk straight, the first thing you’ll notice is the bar. It’s long, and behind the counter there are more spouts for beer than you’ll see in any regular bar. There are so many beer selections that a menu is actually lying on the counter.

The walls are brick, making you feel like you might have walked into someone’s own private establishment. Wooden tables line the area to the left of the bar, and on the walls are simple, black and white abstract paintings.

If you turn right immediately after entering the doorway straight ahead, you’ll glimpse the venue. It’s longer than it is wide. It is dimly lit, save for a few small overheard lights, and torch-looking lights on the walls. It sort of gives the feel of walking into an Abercrombie & Fitch store, only not filled with nearly as much pretension or fake attitude.

There are tables lining both sides of the wall, almost giving the room a “dinner theatre” feel though the stage is small. In fact, while people drinking beer is the most common site you’ll see, it’s just as likely that you’ll see people ordering food and eating in booths. Whether these people came strictly for dinner or the show isn’t clear, but the live music can’t hurt.

There are also other little flourishes that make the bar at C’est What a little different. To the left of the doorway is a glass case with C’est What merchandise, including a t-shirt advertising the bar’s own coffee porter beer, a blue bag, and other things. The sound system is almost connected to the bar, which must be pretty damn sweet for the sound guy,

When shows are on, the restaurant side gets deathly quiet.

Until you just can’t anymore

I’m kind of exhausted this morning after a very long day yesterday, but this is really the only time of the day I’ll have to write something, so here it is. I’ll be leaving for class in about an hour and a half and then won’t be home until midnight since I’m going to a show (which will be show #7) shortly after my class that ends at 8 p.m.

So last night, my aforementioned long day. I may have mentioned somewhere in a previous entry that I was working on a fact-checking package for my story for the Ryerson Review of Journalism. I had to make some suggested changes yesterday, and it was a lot, To give you an idea of how daunting this task was, my story itself is nearly 5000 words, and with footnotes accompanying each fact on the story it has swelled to over 20 pages. And then there’s my Document File, which holds all transcripts and links to documents, which sits at a hefty 70 pages. I’ve basically just written a fact-checking children’s novel with the length I’m at.

The process of adding to my already enormous fact-checking file was excruciating, because it involved finding sources for every little bit of information I hadn’t previous marked and then adding in new file names to an already-crowded list of files. I found myself flipping between three documents so often that I several times got confused and tried to edit the page of suggested changes (as opposed to my own annotated copy).

In third year I took a course on copy editing, a course that I’m glad I took because I did learn some very valuable lessons about style and grammar, among other things. But one of the other most important things was as follows. Occasionally we would have an editing test, which would involve us copy editing a story, either by cutting its length or just for correcting spelling and grammatical errors. My professor at the time wisely gave us this advice: don’t spend too long looking over the edits you make. The longer you spend, the more you’re going to start making mistakes.

I’ve found that to be pretty true. With this fact-checking package, I would find myself bewildered when I found that changes that I’d made weren’t showing up. Of course, this was hours into my correcting process and eventually I’d realize that the reason my changes weren’t showing up was because I was, again, looking at the file of suggestions. Doing the same thing for hours on end has a way of numbing the brain into thinking it’s seeing things that aren’t there.

At some point in my life I was what some people might call a teacher’s pet, and so in school I would studiously work through things to get them done quickly. But I really do see the value in just taking a break every once in a while. It does wonders for you brain, if nothing else, and we all want to have a happy brain. Pretty sure.

Torontonians, enjoy the rainy but warm Wednesday.

Chris Brown and all associated ugliness

Yesterday I heard some news that didn’t surprise me all that much, namely that Chris Brown did yet another horrendous thing that makes me detest him as a human being even more than I already do. The story comes from Sunday night, when Chris Brown and members of his entourage jumped Frank Ocean over a goddamn parking spot in West Hollywood or something.

This repugnant behaviour comes after the extremely well-known incident in which Brown beat his girlfriend Rihanna. She has since recorded music with him and they seem to be friends again, which is an awful thing. At some point Chris Brown got a neck tattoo of a battered woman.

And after the incident with Frank Ocean, Chris Brown apparently released a picture of him painting a picture of Jesus, possibly to make a point of how much he’s been accused and beaten down. Except Chris Brown and Jesus are two very, very different people. I’m not a believer of the Christian faith, but I never ever feel repulsed when people mention Jesus’ name. I do when I hear about Chris Brown.

In fact, Chris Brown must have been weighing so heavily on my mind that last night, I had a dream that I was at an awards show, hosted by someone like Ryan Seacrest (or someone of his ilk) and that Chris Brown was presenting some kind of award. After he did the thing, I heard Seacrest say something like “I have no idea why we brought him here.”

Dream Seacrest was probably mirroring my own thoughts about the whole thing. Not too long after Brown beat Rihanna, he performed at the Grammys. Thankfully, at least some people raised alarm bells, including a writer for Hello Giggles, the site partially run by Zooey Deschanel. Unfortunately, however, there were plenty of people who wholeheartedly approved of him being at the Grammys. I remember reading a collection of tweets from the night of the performance with people saying such misogynistic things “Rihanna deserved to get beat lol” and other things.

I don’t get why it is that celebrity is a cause to forgive people of all of their sins. If anyone in everyday life were revealed to be a wife beater, there would be a huge public outcry about the man. But when a celebrity does it, it’s somehow defensible because “oh my god, how can someone who makes such beautiful music do something like that? It was just a mistake.” (Even if I were a believer in that argument, no music Chris Brown has made could ever be called beautiful).

All I can hope at this point is that Chris Brown continues to be a pariah and just casually fades into the background, never to be heard from again. Until a decade later when he tries to mount a comeback.

Life stories: Snowentine’s Day

The first thing I said when I looked out the window today was a groggy “oh fuck.” As I say constantly in the winter, snow is fun to look at but not so fun to deal with. In case you couldn’t infer what I’m talking about, we got some snow last night, and today the weather is so wild that the snow is probably going to be pretty difficult to shovel as the snow starts to combine with freezing rain, slush, and god knows what else.

Days like this are usually quasi-snow days. Schools usually cancel buses but most remain open (unless they’re up north, in which case they’ve probably gotten fifty times as much snow as we got here in Toronto), so it creates a weird day for kids who have the gumption to go to school or are forced to go by their parents.

In high school I remember well those days, the days when teachers know there’s no point in teaching something new, so the class either turns into “movie day” or study hall.

Every once in a while, though, the snow gets so bad that a full-on snow day happens. No school! Usually the best news a kid can learn. Which leads me to my story.

One year, a snow day fell on Valentine’s Day, February 14. It was one of the worst snowstorms we had gotten in quite a while. The snow went halfway to my knee, so it was pretty intense. The first impulse on waking up to a day like that is to just shut oneself off from the world until it’s time shovel the driveway. In my case, though, I thought it would be something worthy of a celebration.

So I called a few of my friends or messaged them on MSN (I didn’t have a cell phone at that point and neither did most of my friends) and said we should all head over to the local community centre (our hangout; in retrospect, not a very cool place, but then again it was about as cool as we were). So off me and my younger brother went, trudging occasionally on the sidewalk and walking on the road when safe to do so.

We arrived at the community centre, and a few of my friends arrived shortly after. An hour or two later, we were a group of five or six and at that point I suggested we go over to my house. The community centre was right by the middle school my friends and I all used to attend, and so a few steps from the back of the centre was the middle school field. The west edge of the field turned into a hill, and so when one of my significantly shorter friends tried to go up the hill, she almost sank completely into the snow.

That was an accident, but later, when my merry band of slightly crazy friends reached my house, my best friend did something totally on purpose. He took off his winter jacket and then dove headfirst into the snowbank on my house’s lawn. It was hilarious to watch and to this day I still don’t quite know why he did it.

The side effects of snow are usually not fun to deal with either, namely extremely wet clothes, but it was all in a day of fun. I recall us then going into my house and watching the first Russell Peters DVD before people decided to go home and call it a day.

I always miss the days when I was just a little bit younger, when I saw novelty as something to constantly pursue. To some extent, novelty is fun to seek out, but I just don’t have as much time or money to do so as much anymore.

Either way, Snowentine`s Day sticks out in my mind because it was just so much darn fun.

The Battle of Green Bin

For quite a while, I’ve considered myself mildly environmentally conscious. I’m certainly nowhere near as environmentally friendly as some people, I’m sure, but I do simple things like holding onto recyclable objects until I can find a recycling bin, I take short showers, and, most importantly, I make sure that any organic waste goes into the brown bin in our kitchen, which will eventually be transported to the green bin in our garage.

Toronto got their green bins a few years before Mississauga did, and when Toronto first got those bins I was a little envious that they could be potentially diverting so much food waste away from landfills and into condos. I’ve seen enough pictures of mega-landfills to know that these can’t be sustained forever. There’s just too much garbage.

So when I found out that green bins were coming to Mississauga, I was thrilled. It was certainly a trial-and-error process when we first started. I initially didn’t know about compostable bags, so the first few bins featured decomposing food in all its fuzzy, putrid, liquid, sticky and multi-coloured goodness with nothing to wrap it up. Needless to say, my parents wanted absolutely nothing to do with it whatsoever.

And to an extent, they still don’t. My dad refuses to even touch the green bin, except to empty food into it. It’s constantly my job to deal with this even when I’m probably the most infrequent user of the bin.

It’s gotten a little easier to deal with now that compostable bags are commonplace, and not too long ago I learned that newspaper can work to stifle the smell of rotting food. And I always feel good when our green bin goes out, because I know that maybe the landfills might be just a tiny bit smaller. (That being said, there have been stories in the past about garbage officials sending bags meant for the green bin into landfills because garbage trucks need to have a certain weight loaded onto them.)

The green bin, as you might guess, has been the source of many heated yelling matches between me and my parents (mostly my dad). I am usually reserved with what I say, but I have no qualms in calling anyone who complains about the smell but does nothing to deal with it hugely lazy and maybe a bit of a hypocrite.

The low point of the green bin battle happened sometime last year. My mom was emptying the brown bin once and, because no one dealt with it for extended periods of time, there were actually maggots infesting it. My mom almost immediately threw out the old bin after breaking it and got a new one. I’m now making it my sole mission to keep it as clean as possible.

As Kermit the Frog so wonderfully encapsulated, it’s not easy being green.

Rob Ford by any other name

Yesterday was some pretty big news for Torontonians. One ongoing saga came to an end that very few people actually saw coming: Rob Ford won his appeal in a court case that would have had him removed from office as mayor of Toronto.

Rob Ford is to Toronto, in a sense, as George W. Bush was to the States. And by that I mean a laughing stock in not only his own country but internationally. Naturally, the stuff George Bush did in the States is far worse than anything Ford has really done to Toronto, but still. he’s a mayor that is just so fun to make fun of.

He’s definitely the most divisive GTA mayor in some time; you either love the guy or you hate him. The first time I had heard of Ford was before he was officially elected mayor. My friend Wes ended up interviewing him for a profile assignment we had in our first year of journalism school. At that time, Ford was the most available guy on city council and freely gave his phone number out to people who wanted to get in touch with him.

Unsurprisingly those days have long since gone. Ford has done a boatload of stupid things since being elected mayor (and several stupid things before he was elected mayor), here’s a short list:

  • Diverted two TTC buses to transport the high school football team he coaches
  • Called the police on a cast member of This Hour Has 22 Minutes
  • harassed a Toronto Star reporter who came near his property

And many more. These things have gotten the attention of not only the Canadian national media, but also other countries that look on and say “Canada, how could you do this?” What the mayorship of Rob Ford has also done is divide the city’s newspapers.

At one end of the spectrum is the Toronto Sun. They are firmly pro-Ford and have been since day one. They will defend the man to the death and blame people like “lefties” (or maybe “pinkos,” thanks to Don Cherry’s popularization of the word). On the other end of the spectrum is the Toronto Star, who have been anti-Ford since day one. They are possibly even more anti-Ford now because, due to a story the paper ran, Ford excludes the Star from all press releases and news events. Whenever Ford slips up, you can bet it will be a front page story.

At first I tended to be quite pleased with the Star‘s knocking of Ford, but after a while it gets a little tiresome. I was quite pleased to read, today, Royson James’ column on Ford’s win in the courts. I agree with him when he says that Ford winning his appeal was the best option for Toronto; if he did lose it sounds like minor chaos would erupt in Toronto, either broken trust as councillors decided on a new mayor or a $7 million byelection that no one needs at a time when the city is seriously strapped for cash.

I’m surprised to find myself not as passionate about the world of Rob Ford anymore now that time has passed. This whole court debacle isn’t quite over, though; one the one hand, the opposing side are going to appeal to the Supreme Court, even if it’s a long shot. And next week, the findings of a wholly different investigation are going to be revealed, and through that Ford could once again lose his seat (or be fined, depending on what the recommended punishment is).

Ford is certainly comedy gold for the city of Toronto, but perhaps these skirmishes with the law might finally humble him a little bit and perhaps allow him to get some things done before the next mayoral election.

Together

Last night I was at show #6 of the year. It wasn’t initially what I had planned to see, but after hearing who was performing I immediately know I had to go. It’s part of the second annual Big Smoke Festival at Tallboys, a bar and restaurant near Bloor and Ossington in Toronto. When I looked at where it was happening, I grimaced a bit. The location given was “heated tent behind the bar.” As in outside. When it was -15 C out. I knew that “heated tent” would mean “barely above freezing tent” and boy was I right.

The bands were pretty great, but during the first two sets I could feel my toes burning with cold and I found myself tapping my toes to the beat not only because I was into the music, but also to keep my feet from going completely numb. In the tent there were two heaters, and I was near the smaller of the two for quite a period of time, which made me much happier when final act Harlan Pepper took the stage.

But something I noticed was that this icy, blistering cold actually brought out the better part of me. Normally, when I’m in a crowd of people and don’t know anybody, the last thing I usually do is actually talk to people. But our common goal of trying to be as warm as possible had me talking to all kinds of people I had never met before in my life. And i have to say it felt really good.

A few years ago, I remember getting really, really angry at some classmates. Me being of the generation I’m part of, I wrote a Facebook note about what pissed me off. It was rather simple; in my class, late in the year, two of my classmates still didn’t know the name of a girl that sat in front of me. I barely spoke to her, but I at least made an effort to know her name in case I ever worked with her. These two classmates of mine, anyhow, asked me what her name was. I think I said something like “Come on, are you serious?”

So I wrote a post on Facebook about I was convinced that humans are, at their base, only interested in themselves (I was seventeen when I wrote that so I hope you can forgive the logic cliff-jump I took there). And it’s very easy to say that humans are selfish when one takes a look at all the awful things that happen in the world. And we learn about these awful things because that’s what the news presents to us. I’m not saying this is a bad thing—we should be aware of what’s happening in our world, lest we be as ignorant as the people in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

It’s now four years after I wrote that particularly scathing high-school level critique, and I think I’ve definitely had a change in opinion about my theory. I believe that, in essence, there really is goodness in everybody, only I think it takes some special effort for that goodness to become apparent.

I’ve already written previously that sporting events, major ones, can bring people together. But it also takes something as simple as trying to stay warm. I didn’t learn anybody’s name last night or make any real friendships, but I did genuinely bond with people over the fact that it was so warm when you put your hands directly over the heater.

All the way back in 2003, as many will remember, there was a huge blackout that affected something like 10 million Canadians and 45 million Americans. I remember it clearly because I was sick that day, and I didn’t immediately realize how big this story was going to be. It was later when I found out about some very positive things that happened while no one had power- people hosted impromptu barbecues to cook meat that would otherwise go bad, and invited neighbours to come join in the fun. I’m sure lots of people were good Samaritans and helped out those who might not be able to swiftly respond to those kinds of crises.

The internet has been responsible for lots of ills, no doubt, but it has also morphed into an alternative news outlet from time to time, telling some very heartwarming stories of real people helping other people in need, such as one man in New York who handed out money to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

People are good, everybody. Really. It just takes some time to see it.