Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Dead "Blow-It" Society

This Jeremy thing raised other issues for me on the theme of suicide. The one that's on my mind now is the way the movie The Dead Poet Society ends.

That movie came out in 1989, just after I graduated high school, so I was still pretty fresh to that experience and I related on a very visceral level.  I saw it with friends, other creative guys who like to write, and it struck a lot of chords with us. But I felt then, and feel even more strongly now, that the device of Neil's suicide in the movie turned it into a maudlin shadow of the triumph it might have been; that every expectation earlier in the movie demanded it should have been. The movie would have been greatly improved if the powerful build-up to Neil's suicide had only seemed to be that: if he had sat down and written a long note, leading the audience to fear that was his intention, but instead had run away to pursue his dreams... that would have been a much better way for the movie to end. All the same things could have happened: the pressuring of the other boys by their authorities, the firing of Mr. Keating, the powerful affirmation of (most of) his students at the end... but it could have been capped with a wonderful scene at the very end with Neil, five or ten years later, tromping the boards on Broadway in some middling role, only to meet up with Mr. Keating backstage. We could have had a movie that told teenagers not to bend in the face of adversity to their dreams and ambitions. Instead we got one that said don't strive, don't plan, don't bide your time: if they don't understand you, if you don't get what you want right away, kill yourself. Then they'll be sorry. Then they'll love and appreciate you. Well, every teenager in the world is born with that already hardwired into them. Did we really need this movie's ending to re-enforce that?

I always loved the first two thirds of that movie, despite its low-key pomposity. But for me, the last third puts the lie to everything Keating was saying in the most fundamental way possible. I'm amazed that writers who get paid millions couldn't see that.

Kindle win(dle)

Now that I'm taking the subway to work instead of driving I have a lot more time for reading; basically an hour-and-a-half to two hours a day in transit and down in the food court at lunch time. I've probably read more fiction in the past three months than in the past three years, sorry to say.

A friend of mine where I used to work had a Sony ebook reader. I always thought it was pretty snazzy, and I wanted one, but not in any practical sense. When was I going to use it? But just lately I've been catching the bug again. A couple of times I've finished a book in the middle of the day and been caught short. It would be nice to have the next vine to grab hold of when I'm swinging along. So I thought I'd look into it.

For a variety of reasons, which are largely just personal preferences, I settled on Amazon's Kindle 2. They have a DX version that's jazzier but it's more than I need and it's on the large side. So, techno bargain hunter that I've always been, I started looking around on Craigslist and Kijiji. On the latter, I came across an offer so fresh its eyes hadn't opened yet. A fellow in Unionville had won a Kindle 2 on a business trip and decided he didn't need it, so he'd take the windfall as cash and pass along some savings to someone at the same time. Amazon sells the Kindle 2 for $189 (technically at a slight loss, I think, to get folks buying ebooks), but he was offering his, unused, for $150. I replied PDQ, figuring I was probably already way down the line, but as it turned out, I was first, and I snagged it. No tax, no waiting for shipping.

So, I've registered it with my Amazon account and now the search for free, or cheap, books begins. :) There's also the wonderful resource of the Toronto Public Library, whose ebook catalog grows all the time. I was delighted, almost beyond words, to discover the Kindle is permanently online, for free, on the Whispernet system, so I can look things up on Wikipedia easily, and even check my email (though responding by thumb-typing will be done on an only-when-absolutely-necessary basis). It also plays music, audio books, and can even read books with a computer voice.  All in all, it's pretty impressive.

See, now I know I'm getting old, because they're not just coming up with stuff I've been waiting for, but stuff I didn't even really imagine. What's next, horseless carriages?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I guess I'm not very good with lyrics.

I've always kind of liked the song Jeremy by Pearl Jam, but I never knew the story behind it. I didn't know it was about a boy who killed himself in front of his class until just today, though apparently the incident that prompted the song happened about twenty years ago now. I had always assumed quite the opposite from the character of the lyrics; that this was a song about a kid who was bullied and finally stood up for himself and made everyone back off. I mean, the repeated line "Jeremy spoke in class today" suggested nothing to me so much as this person telling everyone else what's what, and impressing the singer who self-identifies as one of the boy's tormentors. I had always thought of the song as something of a pat on the back to someone who'd finally centred himself; it's troubling to find out it's really about someone destroying himself in public, in front of other young people. The song is deeper and darker now, perhaps even more significant, but all in all, I preferred my own take on it.

"Too stark"

As we wait for the subway to pull away, the bald man with the close-cropped beard is telling us all, through the woman he's technically solely addressing, that "Ansel Adams is this famous American photographer" and that "I really don't like his work. It's too stark." This is, apparently, in response to questions arising from the news on the front page of the free transit daily that 65 glass plate negatives have been authenticated as being from Adams's early career, long since considered lost in a fire, and valued at approximately $200 million dollars. All for 45 bucks ten years ago in a garage sale; about 70¢ a plate for things worth over $4 million each. I should be marvelling at the fickleness of fate, wondering at the artistic glories the world has recovered, thrilling to the acumen of the owner who has done both humanity and himself a great service. And I do. But mostly, above all, I can't help thinking that somewhere in the world there's a guy buying 45 dollars worth of shotgun shells with which to blow his brains out.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Looking east to 401/404-DVP interchange

View faces east from Don Mills Road towards 404/DVP interchange with the 401.

401 journey

401 journey
Originally uploaded by Lone Primate
Time lapse from Feb. 10, 2008.

Hwy 401 at rush hour

Hwy 401 at rush hour
Originally uploaded by Lone Primate
The view faces west from the Don Mills Road bridge over the 401 towards first Leslie Street (the ramps at the bottom) and Bayview Avenue beyond (where the pretentious "Manhattan"-style condos can be seen).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Kudos to Ford

I read this morning that Ford is about to start selling the hybrid version of one of its cars at the same price as the gasoline version. Mind you, it's $35K luxury car, a particular model of the Lincoln, but still. This could be a trend-setter. If Ford starts doing this with more modestly-priced cars, the eco-crowd is going to flock to their banner, and that can only influence the other car manufacturers. So kudos to you, Ford, for being the first (as well as for keeping your hand out of the stimulus jar).

Monday, July 19, 2010

Nite thot jots

I keep a little notepad inside the drawer of my night table to record ideas I come up with in dreams, or while falling asleep or while waking up. It's to record ideas that strike me as profound (rare), potentially useful in writing (occasional), or simply so asinine they're funny (frequent). Time to air out the "night thoughts" from approximately the last two years... :)
  • When a man reaches my age, he leaves behind everything but reason and contempt.
  • the plaintiff wail of the anal harmonica
  • "Lumps of Beer" (pub)
  • For some reason I can't explain
    I'm up in orbit abusing Tang
  • I don't know the speed of my own skate key
    Skate Keys for Barefoot Animals
  • Book review by John Lennon: "Don't quote me on that; I'm dead."
  • We believe what we know.
  • "Who in their right mind would fuck a band called 'Get Chuck'?"
  • Fixer Menbinder Jones
  • Throw your farts!
  • I turned, by necessity, from murderer to snake princess.
  • Pull-chain to the stars
  • Buntman, armed with a vast array of appliances and useful kitchen utensil! Garnishing his efforts like a sprig of parsley is Borin', whose crime-fighting powers consist entirely of stating the obvious.
  • Roger Omlette, ace mess pilot and devil-may-care frying fool, who, when he takes a crouton energy pill, giving him the elan of 20 Frenchmen for a period of 20 seconds, defeats his foes by compelling them to puke.
  • Informational Madness
  • Beyond the Machine
  • With pockets full of Cream of Wheat, I would surely never know hunger... and yet, I was naked.
  • A calm without much natural parallel. It must have been profound.
  • NIGHTMARE EMERGENCY SHAVER KIT: If you wake up and your mustache is gone, you'll know it was real
  • About six billion people took a dump today... where did it all go?
  • Living means never having to say you're dead.
  • Death means never having to say
  • Bogart Backwash
  • All the Groovy Ideas
  • Bob Dylan's "Why Don't the Beatles Just Fuck Off?"
  • The Real Ballbusters
  • The Wunderbar World of Hitler
  • Knock knock
    Who's there?
    Eddie Murphy.
    Eddie Murphy who?
    How soon they forget.
  • Bunnicula! Have YOU a carrot for him to suck??
  • It's as though someone constructed a box from all angles, and THEN looked inside...
  • Planet Mars Minus One
  • I swear he's been waiting years for science to come up with a skull-extraction procedure so that he'll never be at risk of smiling again
  • [to: Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head]
    Assholes keep jumpin' outta planes
    And next thing you know Iraq is goin' up in flames
    Who's to fuckin' blame?
  • Lead drops keep shootin' from my gun
    And splashin' a guy who weighs a half a metric ton
    Said my wife was "fun"
  • There aren't enough hours in the day for me to hate you.
  • I want a life bereft of assholes except my own.
  • Do all you right-wingers start the day with a heapin' helpin' of Batshit Crisp? What a waste of good milk and a bowl it is when you spend all day just puking it into each other's ears anyway. "More Batshit Crisp, honey?" "No, pass the Moron Flakes, or FOXNews might stop making sense to me." (The original name was FUCKSnooze, because aside from pounding down Big Macs, those are about the only activities its viewership can manage. They just changed the name because they didn't want to be caught telling even one truth by the FCC.)

Pork, peanuts, plunges, and pique

I'd thought about going up to Kettleby and photographing the place on the weekend and sent an email to P-Doug on Thursday to that effect, but P-Doug fired a suggestion off to me at exactly the same moment... it was creepy-weird; his email was waiting for me when I hit the Send button. His suggestion entailed going out to the annual ribfest in Victoria Park in Kitchener, stopping at Piccard's Peanuts, and maybe visiting Otterwa if there was time on the way back. The ribfest is a once-a-year event, and presumably Kettleby will be there for a while, so it was pretty clear to me his suggestion trumped.

He picked me up around 10 and we headed west on the 401. The traffic was moving, but it was busy all the way. I guess there's hardly ever a time now when the 401 isn't busy.

We stopped in Cambridge and looked around a retail outlet that used to be some kind of factory; it was nicely refurbished sometime in the 90s, I guess, and now houses the kind of stores that yuppies are drawn to. In our particular case it was a clothing store that sells brand name items at reduced prices. While I was there, I heard a song on the radio I really wanted to find, but promptly forgot everything about (melody, lyrics, any hint of the name of the band) and was left only with an itch I can't scratch now, unless I happen to stumble across that song again. That's extremely frustrating. It's like one of those zits that's nowhere near the surface and you can't do a thing about it... I seem to get more and more of those as I get older.

Anyway, we got to Kitchener about 12:30 or so. P-Doug had brought folding chairs so we wouldn't have to sit in awkward ways under the trees this year. We also brought several cameras and decided to casually record the event for posterity. Nothing major or important, just one of those "how life was in the 2010s" kind of things. By and large, these consisted of candid shots of People Who Look Faintly Ridiculous. That's said in the full knowledge that we may end up in such a collection ourselves for all the same reasons.

From Dr. Seuss's unreleased manuscript, Pimp a Wimp.

A number of Ontario's microbreweries had set up shop there and for $20 I got a small souvenir glass for the beer samples and eight tokens, which I split with P-Doug. In the course of the afternoon we tried a few things, but about half our tokens went to Nickel Brook's Green Apple Pilsner (in my estimation, probably second only to Innis and Gunn, imported from Scotland as the best beer I've ever had). It's one of the most delightful beers I know of. Naturally, the LCBO has discontinued it, which means driving to Burlington if we ever want to pick any up from now on.

P-Doug picked up a 1/3 rack of ribs from the Boss Hog's exhibition. These guys were up from somewhere waaay down south. They were wearing shirts with "01" on the back (which those of us over 35 will recognize as a reference to the General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard), and would occasionally draw attention by sounding a fanfare horn that played the first dozen notes of "Dixie". We had three ribs each and yeah, their sauce was pretty good.

But me, I came for the pulled pork sandwich. When I was my turn, I went to a crew from New York called Fire Island. Now, with a name like that, I would have expected their sauce to have a real kick to it (either that or be gay). It was actually a honey garlic sauce. I also got us their baked beans and mashed potatoes; the former were possibly the best I've ever had, and the latter had chunks of potato skin in it, a real first for me. The sandwiches were satisfying but, unfortunately, not really spicy. Ah, well.

I guess it was about quarter after four when we left. P-Doug wanted to get to Piccard's Peanuts
to pick up some stuff for his missus before it closed, guessing that would be about five-ish. On the way back to the car, I paused to get a shot of a pioneer's house, fretting out loud about whether we could spare the time. The shot took, of course, slightly over two seconds to set up and take, after which we laughed all the way to the car about how disgusted James Salmon would be with how all the art and nuance had been drained from photography by modern technology; two seconds on a whim to do something that probably would have required most of a minute for him to set up and frame, and serious deliberation as to whether the shot was worth the film.

We got to Piccard's Peanuts in plenty of time and for once in my life I didn't spend a cent there. On our way in, some family was gathered on the porch and consoling some little girl while one them, in a surprisingly adult voice, was taunting (a la Eddie Murphy) "you don't have no ice cream..." I whispered to P-Doug on the way in "The Asshole Family's road trip vacation". By the time we left, the girl had been mollified... probably by ice cream.

We took the backroads across to Bolton where Otterwa is. The last two times we were there we were sharing the place with anglers. The first time was at the end of the summer in 2008; we completely ignored the place in 2009 as we explored other places. A few weeks ago we decided to go back. We made our way through the brush, down the hills, through the mucky swamp at the bottom, crossed the river to the sandy landing, only to spot a fresh cigarette on the shore.  And literally within one minute of our arrival, two guys with fishing rods came out of the field. We milled around for a bit and realized the day was theirs, so we headed back and just hung out on the hilltop over the road for a while before heading off for the consolation prize of beer and burgers.

This time we were arriving very late in the day. I had some misgivings about the hour and our ability to find our way back out as the sunlight faded (Otterwa is not an easy place to get to... unless you have a fishing rod, apparently), and I wondered if Glasgow might not be a more likely choice, given its proximity to the road, but I kept them to myself. Really, Glasgow's a poor excuse for the pocket Eden of Otterwa.

It was about seven or so when we parked the car. Since May last year, I've started occasionally challenging myself on these hikes by leaving my sandals behind in the car and leaving myself no recourse to them at all, and for the first time at Otterwa I decided to do that and go barefoot the whole way in and out. Asphalt and gravel aren't the obstacles they once were; I'm kind of proud of that. We headed down the road and into the trees, and made our way for the umpteenth time to Otterwa. At the swampy base of the hill, P-Doug sank his right leg in almost to the hip. The only way to extricate himself without ruining his clothes was with my help. Immediately afterward, I stepped over a fallen log by the river and sunk in past my knee myself.

I stepped into the river and it was like tea that had been left out to cool for half an hour. There was still a lingering warmth to it; it was very comfortable. Far warmer than Lake Ontario when we were down at Cherry Beach a few weeks ago. We crossed over to the landing and found, yet again, evidence of a recent visitor; deep boot prints in the sand that had to have been made that day. But, it was pretty clear by then that the guy wasn't around, and even if he was, I wasn't overly bothered. We stripped off and got in the water and channeled good old Walt Whitman. :)

Last year P-Doug happened across a couple of watertight camera bags and he picked them up for me. I put one to the test with the G9, and for the first time, I videoed underwater there in the river. It worked spectacularly. The bare, rusty-coloured rocks on the Humber bed reminded me of nothing so much as photos of Mars. I could see minnows darting around, avoiding our feet; the silt bloom out when I stepped or brushed it from the fallen tree trunks. I've been dying since last year to do that. I want to try it again in other places.

My first ever underwater video.

I was also worried the mosquitoes would be a problem but I didn't hear the whine of the first one till we were approaching the swampy lip of the river, and even then it wasn't so bad. And at first, while we were in the water, they left us alone. I was sitting near the bank and they began to pester me so I moved out to the centre. But as the sun sank lower, they got bolder, until at last most of our time in the water was taken up with keeping our shoulders submerged and warning each other off about impending landings. That, and a few other factors (concern with the failing light, hunger after six hours) prodded me to suggest we consider it a short, successful, Apollo 11-style landing and make our way to either Wendy's or The Toby Jug.

With the mosquitoes being what they were, the possibility of lingering on the bank to dry really wasn't one. We carried our clothes out, up the hills, across the little clearings, over the pine needles, keeping ahead of the mosquitoes till we were within sight of the road, when we dressed. We've hiked out naked from Otterwa before – the first time in a rainstorm – this time due to a different set of necessities.

There was nearly no traffic coming or going; the pavement under my feet was still pleasantly warm even after the sun had set. We got to within ten yards of the car when P-Doug cried out like the damned: his keys were in his belt pack, and his belt pack was back on the landing by the river.

I can't, I honestly can't, remember an instant where I felt so hopelessly resigned to a disheartening inevitability. P-Doug asked me if I wanted to sit it out by the car. I had to mull it over for two or three seconds. The only reason for accompanying him was, well, to accompany him. Solidarity. That was it, really. But there were myriad reasons not to go. First of all, he was instantly (and understandably) in, shall we say, not the most social of moods, and anyone travelling with him would have been wise to do so in unprovocative silence. Well, sitting by the car, I wasn't likely to say anything to irritate him. Secondly, offering my blood to the mosquitoes again wasn't going to accomplish anything except feeding the mosquitoes. Finally, my sandals were locked in the car. One of the challenges I like about barefoot hiking is choosing my footfalls, but that's enough of a challenge in daylight. I really didn't want to test my skill (luck) in increasing darkness; besides, I would have slowed him down. I estimated a 40-minute round trip. So, feeling cowardly and slightly guilty, I politely begged off.

I settled in the grass beside the car and tried to pass the time reviewing the underwater video I'd shot. Naturally, the battery gave up the ghost after about ten minutes. I settled back, trying to keep out of sight of the passing cars so as not to have to explain my situation to anyone seeking to offer aid (no one did... hmmm...), and watched the telephone pole fade to a silhouette against a darkening pink and azure backdrop. The mosquitoes found me, but I'd liberally coated myself with repellant and it seemed to work. They'd come close, hover around uncertainly, and drift off. But if I didn't provide an appetizing entrée for the mosquitoes, what I did provide was bait for the dragonflies. They were soon on the scene; a dozen or more. The big mammal locked outside the car was a godsend for them. I drew the mosquitoes in; the dragonflies took them out. I felt like an aircraft carrier in the Battle of the Coral Sea or something. Zeroes swarming around me, Mustangs zooming in to pick them off before they could inflict their damage on me. At one point, I watched a mosquito easing its way in toward me, about a foot from my left temple. I reached up slowly, ready to shoot my arm out and try to grab it, when I was suddenly outgunned and outclassed by a dragonfly who flashed through like a Spitfire and did the mosquito in. Not a word of a lie; I actually heard the "gluck" sound of the dragonfly taking the mosquito. I don't care how many thousands or millions of times bigger I was than either of them; it sent a primordial shiver up my spine.

There was no call of my name or sound of footsteps; just a key in the lock of the hatchback. I climbed up; it had been half an hour. P-Doug had shaved about ten minutes off my self-estimated ETA, and I was quietly delighted for him (and in truth, there's little doubt in my mind that my accompanying him perforce barefooted would have tacked at least that extra ten minutes on, if not more, as darkness fell).

Stopping to eat was off the itinerary; he simply wanted to get home. I honestly couldn't blame him; what he'd just gone through was no fun. As he started the car, I noticed a stack of coins by the gear shift. Fearing that the sudden start, fired by frustration, that we were likely about to experience would scatter them under the seats, I gathered them up and handed them to him. He gazed at them like a handful of shirt buttons and promptly hurled them out onto the road... along with them, any legitimate claim to pride in a Scottish heritage, which will always ringing slightly hollow now. I've been mad, I've been frustrated, but I'm hard-pressed to think of a time I've been willing to throw three bucks in change out into the street. It's just not in me to do that.  :) Man, I'm not joking: it fleetingly crossed my mind to get out and claim the salvage rights! Of course, I'd still be standing there, hitching a ride, if I'd done that. :)

His pique didn't last long; he wasn't sore at me, just the situation. By the time we were on Hwy 50 and leaving Bolton behind he was already waxing eloquent on the merits of over-the-counter histamines. Hey, were else am I going to hear these things?

But it all ended in comedy anyway. Typically on our hikes we tend to leave our wallets in the glove compartment. Nothing to buy in the woods and no need for a driver's license; why risk losing them? So as I stepped out of the car at my building, having gathered my things, I gave myself a quick once-over to make sure I'd gotten everything. Felt the hollow place on my thigh where my wallet should be and shouted out just as he began to pull away. He stopped, I pointed to the glove compartment, and he hauled out my wallet with a grin. At least we got a laugh out of it.

Sunday I pretty much just sat around, picking out the photos I wanted for the collection and preparing and tagging them. That and buying $50 in groceries and some of the last sixes of Nickel Brook Green Apple Pilsner  the Liquor Control Board of Ontario is ever going to offer the people of this province for sale. Yup, their radar for figuring out what I like and then getting rid of it is stellar stealth-proof...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Story of my life :)

So I think of Christmas in the middle of July...

It's funny what comes back to you. I'm sitting here this morning and for some reason I'm reminded of a morning long ago... almost 30 years ago now (God! I remember when I couldn't say that about anything).

I was in grade 8 and one of our assignments that year was a to write a children's Christmas story. My story, dimly remembered now, was about a werewolf named Dennis who either kidnapped Santa or stole his toys or both... in any case, he had it in for Christmas and then had a change of heart and pitched in to make Christmas a big success. Okay, it might be argued I was subconsciously cribbing from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but I think The Nightmare Before Christmas stole a march on me, too.

Somehow, through some sort of inter-school, inter-teacher secret handshake, it was decided that a handful of the best stories from the two grade 8 classes in my school would be read, by their authors, to some still-believing-in-Santa age kids at an elementary school about fifteen minutes away from ours. Mine was one of those chosen; so was that of my friend Nick. I don't remember now the nature of how we arrived at the school, but I remember being in a class with Nick with all these kids listening to us reading our stories, and then answering their questions, and the rounds of applause, and feeling for maybe the first time in our lives like doted-upon big shots. We were, like, on assignment, loaned out to another school and representing the best of our own, off on this lark while most of our classmates sat in their usual desks, scribbling away in their usual notebooks, listening to the usual teacher up at the usual blackboard. And it was all during that soothing, peaceful season on the lead-up to two weeks off – I mean, the glorious holiday season.

But what I principally remember was the trip back to our own school. Just me and Nick, wandering the slushy streets of the west end of Hamilton Mountain. Left to our own devices, unfettered, unescorted. Free, but trusted with that freedom. For once, we weren't being herded along like geese or sheep in a gaggle of other kids. And we made our way back to the school, kicking through the muck on Sanatorium, glorying in our mutual triumph; two boys in their first teenage year, still children unburdened by real responsibilities, but on the cusps of adulthood. It was a shining moment, a perfect little crystal that somehow still resonates with me. I don't even know why I'm thinking about it or what brought it up, but I'd give a lot to be back there for just a few hours.

Raid and boxes, rails and beer

So in keeping with what I said the other day about tallying events...

Well, so, Friday night I took the 407 over to Bolt's place in Oakville. He moved back from the States after about ten years of his employers jerking him around about getting him permanent residency, keeping him on the leash of the lowest-order work visa, till he called their bluff and came back to Canada. Larry and I have been hanging around with him a little bit because he sure needs to let off steam. He hasn't even gotten serious about finding a job again in his career field because right now he's looking after two invalid parents (diabetes on the one hand and advanced Alzheimer's on the other), and his soccer-mom sister sounds like no help at all, unless she's paid. Disgusting. So day-to-day, it's mostly down to Bolt. We show up and he can vent. Hey, what are friends for?

Level crossing heading south on Fourth Line in Oakville.

Bolt asked me to help him move some of his stuff on Saturday. He needed to get it out of storage and into the garage. So, yeah, I signed on for that. Unfortunately Larry works Saturdays so it was down to me and Bolt, for the most part.

There's a hot tub in the backyard there so, as usual, as the sky faded to pink and orange the three of us headed out back. There's something about being casually naked in the backyard, drinking beer, and listening to twenty-year-old Bill Hicks routines on an iMac that's just the epitome of the upper-middle class WASP experience. This was qualified somewhat: I'd expressed concerns about mosquitoes, which had prompted Bolt to issue two liberal blasts of Raid into the air around the hot tub at the start of the evening. Some of it settled on the cans, and as a result, the Molson's Honey Lager tasted faintly but persistently of insecticide all evening. Two and a half cans in, that was enough for me. One way to cut down on your drinking, I guess.

Come 6 a.m. the sun was rising, Larry had already headed out to work, and Bolt and I got our ducks in a row and headed out a bit after 7, I think. Since we were likely to be heading in opposite directions when the chore was over, he suggested I follow him in my car. We headed along the QE, 403, and 401 to Rexdale. There was a U-Haul there where his stuff had been stored since his return last winter, and a rental truck waiting for him. I guess it took us somewhere between and hour and an hour-and-a-half to get his stuff loaded. At first, the idea was to use two carts to get his stuff, push it up the ramp, and dump it. This proved to be impractical. We never succeeded in getting any of it up the ramp. Instead, he retrieved the stuff from storage and carted it out, handed it up to me, and I arranged it in the back of truck. Most of what he brought first was heavy, well-packed boxes, and three or four loads in I thought I wasn't going to make it through the day. Luckily, that trailed off to smaller loads of lighter, more voluminous items, and my back adjusted pretty quickly.

Bolt told me in the course of this that another of his buddies was going to help us out with unpacking; a guy he used to know from around college days. This fellow, Jay, didn't drive, so we were going to have to pick him up at Islington station. What's more, he was bringing his 6- or 7-year-old autistic son with him. I was trying to imagine how this was going to amount to "help", but hey, we're here to learn, right? And in all, it wasn't so bad, aside from the kid reminding his dad he wanted to get back to the "train" (subway) every five minutes for most of the drive... it's like, dude, lift the needle out of the groove, okay? Please? Well, eventually he did. :) Jay was sharp, interesting, and easy to talk to, so it was fairly enjoyable, in truth.

We grabbed a quick bite at Wendy's and then headed back to Oakville. Unpacking the truck went much faster, mostly because there were no long pauses carting stuff back and forth; we were simply backed up to the garage. I handed stuff down to Bolt and Jay (and, when we got to stuff light enough, Jay's boy). Not much more than half an hour, I'd say. After that, we lingered in the refreshing coolness of the family room in the basement for another half an hour before heading back to Rexdale, where I parted company from them. That was about two in the afternoon, or so, and to my surprise my back was fine, so I decided to go ahead with my hoped-for plan for the afternoon and shoot some of the level crossings on the Stouffville GO line before they're eventually bridged, which I think has to happen sooner or later.

I started at Steeles and worked my way south. Incredibly, there are seven level crossings on this line in Toronto alone, without even getting up into York Region (which I should). Steeles is an otherwise six-lane thoroughfare, humbled to four for a level crossing... yeah, in 2010 (the same is true for Finch and Sheppard as well). It boggles the mind. Pretty much everywhere else in what used to be Metro, this was dealt with in the 1960s.

Level crossing on Steeles, looking east. (Technically speaking, Toronto is on the right here, south of Steeles, and the Town of Markham in York Region is on the left, on the north side.)

Level crossing on Passmore Avenue, looking east.

Level crossing on McNicoll Avenue, looking east.

Level crossing on Finch Avenue, looking west.

Level crossing on Huntingwood Drive, looking east.

Level crossing on Havendale Road, looking east. Isn't this one particularly gorgeous? I would have haunted this place when I was a kid if I'd lived here.

Some of the crossings are on smaller streets that are either industrial, like the much-diminished Passmore Avenue, or residential. Still, there exist level crossings with this line on three of Toronto's top-tier thoroughfares: Steeles, Finch, and Sheppard Avenues. Sheppard was the furthest south, so I got there last. By that time, even the back-up batteries on both the cameras I'd brought with me (the Fuji 3D W1 and the Sony HX5V) were ready to expire, so I had to shoot fast and sparingly. But I was surprised, stunned, and delighted to see that on the north side of the Sheppard crossing, there was already a well-established and recently-paved diversion road. Signs around it confirmed my guess: the Sheppard crossing is about to be bridged! It wasn't for the reason I expected, though, which would be simple easing of the traffic flow, as everywhere else. No, this is in conjunction with the building of a new LRT line on Sheppard Avenue. I guess it's fine for cars to be impeded by railroad tracks, but not other trains. Well, whatever. It should make for some interesting shots over time as the work proceeds.

Level crossing on Sheppard Avenue, looking west.

 Closer view of the crossing.

 Diversion road being prepared on the north side of Sheppard, seen from across the tracks. This view looks east.

Diversion road on the west side of the tracks, looking west.

Sign announcing the LRT project.

Sunday I went down to P-Doug's place and we walked along the Danforth. He manned the 3D camera and the PhotoTrackr and I used the HX5V. We got some pretty good work done that ought to be of some interest to people 40 or 50 years from now. I made a joke at one point that I should start shooting from the waist like James Salmon (he was using a Roloflex that was held about belt-level and gazed down into), and then it occurred to me that might be a good way to get some candid shots of people just walking and being natural without being intrusive. So I simply held the camera at the end of my arm as I waited for P-Doug to line up shots, and angled the lens to face passers-by. Not all the shots came out, but the majority of them did, and some of them are really pleasingly. Taken from a yard off the ground, everyone looks tall, impressive, and their strides are such that they seem to be wearing invisible seven-league boots. The styles, fashions, and character of the people of the east end will make an impression on the future, I think. :)

After that, it was beer o'clock. I don't remember the name of the pub now (I'll see if I can look it up [later: P-Doug says it was The Court Jester]), but... gosh, I don't even remember what I ordered! P-Doug had the chicken stir-fry; I remember that because it was an unusually light choice for him. Oh, yes, I had a tandoori pork burger and mashed potatoes. It wasn't bad, but I think once was enough,  you know? So, we drank beer and talked while two dozen largely Dutch-derived people watched a spectacularly uninspiring World Cup final (I think we were interrupted only three or four times by actual gasps of excitement; the thing was unscored and well into overtime when we finally left). Probably the most interesting thing about World Cup 2010 was the first half-decent mascot to ever come out of the World Cup, Zakumi (don't believe me? Just look at his predecessors... this is the best the world has to offer, huh?).
And there; that was the weekend that was. :)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I'm letting down the side

I've been working with the set of photos I'm intending to contribute to either the Toronto Public Archives or the Toronto Public Library, following in the footsteps of Ted Chirnside and James V. Salmon, and I've realized just how valuable this blog has been to identifying dates for some of the photos that, back when I took them, I wasn't so careful to even make sure the camera knew what day it was. I have shots taken in the mid-2000s that the camera dates to the year 2000, simply because I let the battery run out. This blog's been instrumental in pinning down the day for several hundred photos so far.

I used to post on City In the Trees pretty much weekly—almost daily, for a while. I've really gotten away from that. It's not so much that I really believe there are people reading this thing... maybe a half-dozen friends who swing by from time to time. But no, it's more a sort of diary... something that's fireproof and won't (or shouldn't) get lost. A way for me to look back and keep accounts of my life; time ever more fleeting as it goes. Sometimes I look back at this and I'm really surprised; I don't remember things the way I recorded them here. But what am I going to say; I was wrong then when it happened, but I'm right now?

Ultimately what I mean is I should get more serious about recording my little comings and goings here. Again, not so much because I believe they're fascinating to mankind, no... just that they might be of passing interest to others, and they're of vital importance to me in remembering where I've been and what I've seen, and when.