Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Born to be M-i-i-i-i-ld

Me&Ev, as in, ever notice daughter is 1 letter away from laughter? 
If you asked me yesterday at breakfast if I've ever had a musical gig that paid me money, I would have: a) thanked you for even thinking the question; b) laughed; and c) said "nope".
But. Had you asked me at lunchtime, you'd have gotten a "yup."
Here's why.
First you have to know I enjoy travelling on my motorcycle and although you can't tell by looking, I frequently sing while I ride.
My motorbiking daughter Ev does too-- a fact I added as an excuse to use this  picture.
I have a limited repertoire of motorcycling songs but I admit that one is the '60s hit, "Born to Be Wild," written and recorded by a Canadian band called "Steppenwolf" in 1968.
The thing about "Born To Be Wild," is that it became the unofficial theme song for the movie "Easy Rider," starring Peter Fonda who--I'm just stating a fact here--I've been told I kinda look like.
And Peter Fonda rode a Harley-Davidson. Which is the brand of bike I currently own.
about it, Nicholson kinda
 looks like my brother Ed
The model of Harley I have is called Sportster and until recently the Sportster was the littlest Harley-Davidson going.
When Sportsters first appeared in the late '50s, they were considered very cool but that's changed. One clever writer described the transformation thusly: When they were introduced, people knew a Sportster was the kind of bike The Fonz would ride. Now it'd be Potsie.
Still, it's big and fast enough for me.
Besides, I seriously don't care what kind of bike I'm riding. I've never been on a motorcycle I didn't like. And I digress.
Tuesday morning, I was roaring along Toronto's Lakeshore Blvd, belting out "Born to Be Wild."
"Like a True Nature child,," I sang, "we were born born to be wild fly so high never wanna die-ie-ie. Born to be Wi-i-i-i-ild" and like that.
That's when I recalled my money-making singing gigs.
When I was a little kid, before Easy Rider made the song famous, I used to go over to  my lifelong friend Trevor MacIntyre's house. There was a guitar there. Neither of us knew any chords though I just this minute remembered Trevor took drum lessons.
I banged on the guitar; Trevor and I would sing the phrase "Born to Be Wild"over and over and over again as loudly as our little pre-pubescent voices would let us, and his father would pay us to stop.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

I think this might well be my favorite blog yet!

(Not the most flattering photo, but I do look concerned.
 Also I would like to note that I have no relation to the SPCA,
I think this coat came from a Goodwill.)

Channeling Tom Sawyer yet again, this week at Pete's B&G I'm going to let somebody more capable than myself get the work done.

Baxter Naday lives next door to us on Grenadier Road in mid-town Toronto. He just finished high school and he'll be off to Kitchener-Waterloo University in the fall. I'm sure he'll wow them there just as he does everybody else I know who has met him. 

The following story recently appeared in the Ontario Field Ornithologists News. 

Read it and you'll see why it's been so great having this guy for a neighbour.

                     Birding when you’re not “birding”

                                                    by Baxter Naday

On one rainy September day last year, while in the middle of writing a math test, a Bay-breasted Warbler appeared at the window I was facing. I was so delighted that I just happened to see this soggy little warbler that I stood up and told the math teacher about my sighting (knowing full well that he would not care one bit). He promptly told me, “I think it’s better if you sit somewhere else”, so I did, in front of another window, where I unfortunately could not spot any other soggy birds in the trees. That momentary sighting of something that I could spot fairly easily elsewhere during migration made that day a good one. Having these little birding breaks when stuck in places we do not particularly enjoy being, can make these times bearable, and sometimes even fun.

I live in Toronto, and there are a good number of natural spaces for birding places here; however, one cannot be in these prime locations all the time because of work or, for me, school. When I cannot escape to a better “habitat”, I might take some time out of my lunch break to scour the school grounds for any possible birdlife. So far at school, I have been able to turn up 43 species and counting. With some, I had gone looking for them – such as looking up over the playing field for Broad-winged Hawks, Bald Eagles, and other migrating birds of prey during fall migration – however, most were just incidentals, like that Bay-breasted Warbler. 

I have another short story of a bird encounter in the city, making one typical weekday better, even though the story is a bit sad. One morning in late October two years ago, I was coming out the garage about to ride my bike to school, when I nearly stumbled (literally) over an American Woodcock. It was laying on the ground in my concrete, garbage-ridden alleyway, still alive. I figure it must have hit a wire or a windshield. Unfortunately, there was no saving the poor bird as its neck seemed broken. (All of this made me very late for school that morning, but fortunately my English teacher was understanding enough, especially after I had shown him my photo evidence.) Despite the bird’s death, this event made me think about all the birds that must go overhead or near my little house crammed into this very urban part of Toronto (something I often think about, even as I write this on an early May night).

When homework and general laziness prevent me from getting out for a couple hours at a time, I still try to take quick breaks in the local neighbourhood dog-walking park, with binoculars or at least a monocular in hand, especially during the migratory seasons. It’s not a very appealing spot to go birding at all; it lacks many trees, and there’s an abandoned warehouse beside a set of busy railroad tracks. Nonetheless, every time I go I say, “hey, you never know.” It’s always a reliable spot for a melodious Northern Mockingbird, even outside of the migratory seasons.

Even when we don’t have access to a birding hotspot or much time in our busy schedules, it is still worth it to take short birding breaks. Whether they are planned or incidental, they are always worth it, even if we do get a few strange looks from time to time.

Monday, July 17, 2017

You can get anything you want at Alice's...

Sometimes, I drive my motorcycle to work. It’s about a 10-minute trip--longer if I’m lucky. That’s one of the thing about bikes. You never really want to get where you’re going.

This office is in a very densely populated part of Toronto known as Little Portugal. And about one month ago, when I neared the office, traffic locked up. Serious mid-city congestion. Something not good was happening ahead.

But heck one of the great things about having a bike is you can navigate gridlock, right? (You’re thinking, "you just said a biker doesn’t want to arrive" and you'd be right. Riders also don't want to stop moving. It’s an issue I lose sleep over.)

I saw the reason for the congestion. A major intersection was ringed off with police tape. Several cruisers were sitting with their lights flashing. 

A young woman—about my daughters’ age—stood at the corner. I asked if she knew what was going on. She didn’t, but she did let me know this mess meant she was going to be late for work.

Peter: “Whereabouts do you work?”

Alice (foreshadow much?): “Not far, Queen and Sorauren."  That’s about 10 minutes away from the office, pretty close to my house, actually.

Me: “Well, er, um, I do have an extra helmet and if you want I could whip you down there.”

Alice: “Let’s go!” (I guess I do appear, like, dastardly and dangerous.)

Me: “Really?”

Alice: “Sure, why not?” 

I loved her attitude. I handed her my spare helmet and off we went. 

Best part: The ride took us back towards my house and then down the aforementioned Sorauren Avenue, a street that my very own wife Helena (who I should add sometimes introduces me as her first husband) must drive along every morning en route to work. 

You couldn't tell by looking, but underneath my smoked visor, I was petitioning as fervently as I could that Helena would pull out just in time to catch sight of me, maybe turning the corner--in the opposite direction from my workplace--with a mysterious woman holding on for dear life.  

If I did cross Helena's path, I would pretend to not see her. And then later that day, if she asked about it, I would deny everything. We’ve been married a long time. It’s good to add a bit of spice to things—even if it’s all in my head.

However, my bike must be too loud. My prayers did not get heard. No wife.

Alice and I arrived at Queen and Sorauren. She got off the bike and asked if I’d like a doughnut for my trouble. 

Did I forget to mention she worked at a yuppie designer doughnut shop? And that said doughnut shop is called…trust me I wouldn't make this up: Glory Hole Doughnuts? 

Moving right along…

I told Alice I appreciated the offer but couldn’t very well carry one on my bike, so into work she went and I rode away.  

I met Alice again three hours ago.

For reasons that I won’t go into here except to say they’re all about my bike’s mechanical condition and not my mood, I wanted to take a longer route to work. and it took me past Alice’s shop. 

I stopped in.

Coincidentally, some mornings, I find it fun to bring snacks for my co-workers; my go-to sweet is a box of Timbits. You get 20 for about $5 and everybody wins.  

As my ingenious Polish niece Aga once observed, people who eat sweets in the morning are probably happier.   

So this morning, instead of Timmy’s, I visited Glory Hole.

Behind the counter: Pal Alice!

Me: “Motorcycle girl!”

Alice—very quick on the uptake—“Hi. Can I help..hey it's you!" 

She introduced me to her co-worker and then helped me choose some doughnuts for this office. I know a few of my co-workers are vegan and for some reason, I knew Alice’s joint would have something for them.

And that’s why, instead of 20 Timbits, my co-workers this morning shared delights from the Glory Hole. 

And name notwithstanding, they were in fact the most delicious doughnuts I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.

Aga’s right! The key to happiness is something sweet in the morning. You just never know what form it’s going to take.  

Friday, July 7, 2017

Surely to goodness, someday, my dad will understand

CLOSET ZAPPA FANS: That's probably where my folks wanted to hide when Eddie was playing his records.
Doing some math this morning I realized I am exactly the same age my late father Tom was when I was 14.

That's the year my new friend Rick Hummel and I rode a Greyhound Bus from our hometown of Sudbury 350 klicks south to Toronto to attend a Frank Zappa concert. Rick and I stayed at my newlywed sister Charlene and her long-haired hippie husband Al's Toronto apartment then Greyhounded home the next day.

Rick Hummel is a guy I met in grade 10 at my new school, Sudbury Secondary, or, as I call it to this day, Sudbury High.

The previous year, I had spent at the all-boys Catholic School, St. Charles College, but for a variety of reasons--most of them having to do with the fact that it was all boys--I switched to Sudbury High.

I know my father Tom was very disappointed with my move. He and my mom had financially and morally supported the building of St. Charles and its sister school Marymount College in the hopes that their kids would be the beneficiaries of a Roman Catholic secondary education. (As disappointed as he was, he certainly didn't stop me from changing schools.)

A funny guy,  my dad.

St. Charles College was situated almost exactly halfway between our family home and Sudbury Secondary. After I made the switch, on several occasions, when Tom was driving me to school,  he would stop at St. Charles and say the equivalent of "Have a nice day.  Do you have some money for lunch?" and I'd be like, "DAAAdd.. You know I don't go here any more."

Tom let on that the fact I'd switched schools had slipped his mind. I always thought, "someday he'll learn."

But  yes, he frequently drove me to school, even though it wasn't that far. It's just the kind of guy he was. He usually left home for work at about 5:00 a.m. but found time to nip back to pick me up and make sure I had an easy trip to school, then he'd return to work. He worked a lot.

But back to me.

Here's the reason I still called the school Sudbury High. Not because a lot of students showed up that way but rather that's the old name of the place.

Until the year I arrived,  two separate institutions--Sheridan Technical School and Sudbury High School--with separate teams, separate principals and separate programs--shared one building.

When the Board of Education decided to amalgamate the schools, the students, predictably, objected.

At one point, as part of the protest, I owned a t-shirt that had, emblazoned across the front, the satirical proposed name of the new place: "Sudbury High Institute of Technology." We were, you can tell, extremely clever when we were young.

In fact, and I hope I'm sitting down as I write this because it's unfreakingbelievable: I seem to recall one of my older brothers who went on to Laurentian University to earn a degree in Philosophy (specializing in Kant) leading a student walkout against the amalgamation, and in the course of that walkout, walking ahead of a parade down Sudbury's main street, Durham, which would have taken him directly past our bus station, one of the many places my dad worked so hard to support his family. So Dad--or maybe my dad's brother and business partner Ed, who happened to have the same name as the Kantian scholar, saw my radical big bro bravely leading a protest, while he and Dad worked their butts off to make sure we had good lives.

I really hope I'm remembering wrongly. But if there's one thing I know for sure, it's that I've digressed so far I've forgotten why I started telling you this story.

Oh right. Rides to school. After pretending to forget that I'd left St. Charles, Dad would continue to Sudbury Secondary, make sure I had lunch money, and then go back to work at the bus garage.

He also footed the bill for the Greyhound and Zappa tickets DESPITE having been confronted with Eddie's Frank Zappa music coming from the beautiful Phillips console stereo he had worked so hard to buy for our home.

Have you ever heard "Willie the Pimp?" Or "Mudshark?"

My dad was forced to. He was forced to listen to all sorts of stuff through the years.

Eddie and I were only one fifth of his 10 kids.

Why he didn't slay just a few of us to scare the others, God knows. The most threatening thing I remember him saying is, "If you're going to fight in here, go outside."