I’d Rather Be Alone

Tags

I’ve never wanted marriage, nor I do I want a life partner.  And the responsibility of fatherhood would totally overwhelm me.  I would rather be on my own.  I understand that others may find my solitary lifestyle scary and daunting, but I’m equally puzzled by people who need to be with somebody else, even if it’s for the worse.  Perhaps it’s my Asperger’s personality?

Yet despite my embrace of a loner’s lifestyle (I’m not lonely, because I keep myself very busy and stay very active),  I’m not asexual.  Needless to say, it’s been a struggle to balance not wanting a romantic partner but wanting sexual contact.  (And to the skeptics, I can see you rolling your eyes.  But really, I’m the male version of Emily Dickinson.)

Despite my aloofness, I have from time to time attracted the attention of women.  And oddly, there is a personality type I tend to attract.  The women I attract tend to work in some type of healing profession: nurse, yoga instructor, social worker.  They tend to be really good at reading people, and by extension, me.  (I understand that I can appear aloof and possibly angry looking, but I can’t help it.)

My Poor Coworker

him

I have a coworker, a young man in his 20s who’s desperate for a girlfriend.  To meet women, he relies (I think) on dating websites, yet he says it doesn’t really work for him.  Listening to him wallow in self pity, I wondered how I would do on a dating website, despite my complete apathy towards connecting with people in any deep romantic sense.

The Premise

I’ve never thought that dating websites worked.  You can look at people’s pictures–their selected best–and read about their easy-going personality and how they like to travel (who doesn’t?)  But until you meet somebody in person and see how they move and listen to how they talk, you don’t know if you’re attracted to them.  But I get the appeal.  On a dating website, everybody’s looking, so it makes the first approach easier.

troll

Yet the anonymity of the world wide web enables people to be their cruelest.  Social media and news sites are full of trolls hellbent on angering people, and people who don’t have the guts to be cruel face to face certainly do a good job of it from the safety of a computer.  And the online dating seems to be no different.  Women complain about being overwhelmed with endless messages that consist of “Hey.” And that doesn’t include the dreaded dick pic.  (I’ve never seen a dick pic, but I’m curious to see one.  I don’t have a fascination with seeing penises that aren’t mine; I just want to know what is going on in these men’s minds.)  And men complain about sending out countless emails to women that go largely ignored.

Does online dating work?  Is it brutal?  Is it a numbers game?  There was only one way to find out, and that was to dive in.  But before I went in head first, I decided to make some ground rules.  Knowing that I’m a loner and unlikely to ever contemplate marriage or children,  I decided to not lead on anybody: no false hopes, no romanticizing myself, no promising the moon.

Women complain about being overwhelmed with endless messages that consist of “Hey.” … And men complain about sending out countless emails to women that go largely ignored.

I would put into my profile that I prefer to be on my own and that I’m not looking to change it.  I would never contact women who were looking for “the one”; rather, I would only communicate with women claiming to look for casual relationships.  And I would, for the large part, wait and see if any if any women would respond.

I Am Skeptical

So I decided to set up an account with a photo that I use for my LinkedIn and Facebook accounts.  And thanks to my good writing skills, I would create a compelling profile, complete with my interests and dislikes.  My first dating site was OK Cupid, followed later by Tinder, which is apparently the heterosexual equivalent of Grindr.  (I doubted that I would get women offering their bodies to me, but hey, let’s see what happens.)

My Profile

I’m proud of my OK Cupid website.  My profile was (admittedly) long written, listing my hobbies and favourite songs. but then again, what can I say, I’m a writer, so I write a lot.  But of utmost importance, I would make it very clear in my profile that I’m not looking to change my loner status.  “I prefer to live on my own,” I wrote.  “I’ll probably never marry or have kids, so if those things are important to you, I’m probably not your match.”  I went even further, adding that I get around the city by bike because “I love the solitude and freedom.”  To make myself seem even pickier, I filled out a large amount of criteria under the “You Should Contact Me If” category.  I included, among other things, “You lead a healthy lifestyle and are in good shape,” and you shouldn’t contact me if “you’re overweight and/or eat badly” or if “you’re looking for a dad for your kids.”  All of these criteria are things that would be important to me if I was seriously looking, but they are things that people rarely openly enunciate.  And if you said these things to a person face to face, you’d be considered rude.  But I wanted to see if I could push boundaries.  I wanted to see if I could actually attract somebody with my brutal honesty.

dating-profile-examples-for-men-30s-40s

I gave myself limitations: I would rarely initiate contact.  Apart from looking to see what people were looking for, I wouldn’t bother looking at too many profiles.  And I wouldn’t invest too much time, so if I actually had an interest in the person, I would suggest meeting instead of exchanging endless texts.  The following three encounters are of women who contacted me.  All their names have been changed.

Melissa

Melissa was an emergency nurse working the graveyard shift at a Toronto hospital.  She was six years younger than I, was selling her Queen’s Quay condo and biked everywhere. She had a cute black Lab mix.  And judging by her photos, she seemed physically attractive.  We exchanged a few messages back and forth, and luckily, she shared my sardonic sense of humour (we had a rapid exchange of emails about how we were good we were as white people because we stole the land from Native peoples as a revenge for syphilis).  And like me, Melissa said that she wasn’t interested in marrying or having kids.  To my surprise, Melissa actually was the one to suggest that we should meet.  She picked Trinity Bellwood Park, where we would split a bottle of pinot grigio.  So we agreed to meet at six on a Sunday, after I finished work.

We started with an endless banter about our work situations (I was shocked that she was on a rotating shift of working midnights followed by two weeks of day shifts.  It must be so hard on the body!)  After an hour of talk, as the sun was going down, she got to her point.  “So,” she blurted.  Tell me about your dating style.”

Melissa, it seems, was fascinated by my lack of desire to marry, live with anybody, or commit.  I tried to articulate that I wasn’t a lonely person and preferred my own company. “You’re a solo poly,” she blurted, as if she were attempting to help me find an identity for myself.  I hadn’t heard of the term before, so I needed her to break down the definition.

“A solo is somebody who values independence and isn’t looking to settle down in a marriage where they share things like bank accounts and a mortgage.”  Based on her definition, the solo part certainly fit me.

“You’re a solo poly,” she blurted, as if she were attempting to help me find and identity for myself.

Melissa, who was heteroflexible and partly fascinated in meeting a male counterpart, was firmly set in her identity as a solo poly, spoke how she had broken up with a couple, as the wife had developed jealousy issues.  And this caused me to doubt that I could rightfully call myself poly.  I don’t even desire to romantically love one person, let alone multiple people, so can I really call myself poly?  I kept my doubts to myself.

As we wrapped up and walked east on Queen Street, Melissa said, “I’m going to a poly get together at a friend’s place next weekend.  Being poly can be quite incestuous, so they’d be glad to meet more people.”  I told her that I would think about it, but more importantly, I realized that she put the offer out there because she wasn’t interested in pursuing anything with me.  We exchanged a few more texts but never met again.

Joan

Online photos can be hard to gauge a person’s physical attractiveness.  I say this about Joan, whom I didn’t realize I could never be into until after I met her in the flesh.  And I feel bad about saying it, because Joan was a person who had had a hard life, yet she had obviously placed so much interest in me.

Joan was a social worker who lived in Parkdale.  She had posted a couple of photos of herself drinking beer.  I don’t remember her profile that well, but I do remember the initial text she sent me.  She had obviously thoroughly and enthusiastically read my profile.  “I love how you wrote ‘My cat will come before you!'” her text said.  She started telling me that she found me cute and thought that we should meet to see if we click.  It seemed like an odd thing to write on an initial text, but then again, perhaps we’re living in a new world in which women are more willing to be bold and make the first move with strangers.  But then again, she could be completely Pollyanna.  I wasn’t able to tell.  But I was curious.  I wanted to  meet her.  Was she real?  She suggested meeting at a pub on Queen Street West.

I went there by bike, and as I was locking my bike up on the other side of the street, I saw her sitting on the patio with a drink.  She saw me locking my bike and began staring at me with an intense stare.  What was with the intensity?  Was she having second thoughts and trying to figure out how to weasel out?

I walked into the pub, a bit of a dive, and out into the patio.  As I approached the table, she stood up, and I noticed she was grotesquely overweight.  I immediately knew that things would never go develop with her.

She blurted out with a blunt honesty that she was on medication because she heard voices in her head.  She was fine as long as she was on her drugs, but if she stopped, the voices would come back.  She was slowly getting back on her feet, working part time as a social worker, helping other psychiatric patients find work and places to live.  I felt an admiration for her.  I knew she was doomed to a hard life, but she was obviously a fighter and attempting to make an identity as a mental health activist.

Perhaps we’re living in a new world in which women are more willing to make the first move, but then again, perhaps we’re living in a new world in which women are more willing to be bold and make the first move with strangers.  But then again, she could be completely Pollyanna.

Filled with sympathy, I walked with Joan to her apartment, an older building at King and Jameson; her fellow tenants, who were standing outside, looked rough.  I excused myself and spent the afternoon at the gym.  I received a text from her later saying she didn’t want to invite me up because she had a shingles outbreak.  The poor woman!  I told her I was flattered but told her I would be interested in being only friends.  I heard from her once more a few months later.  She was still working hard as a social worker.

Jennifer

Jennifer was accomplished and hard working.  A lawyer, she was contemplating working on her own again.  She was idealistic, politically active in her 20s, but was frustrated that as a younger woman, she had been over-stepped by older white men with name recognition.

She seemed confident in her text to me.  “I don’t have a problem making the first move.” She was responding to a line in my online profile in which I had pondered why women were so shy to make the first move.  She had confidently engaged me in some banter, saying that like me, she shared a commitment to fitness.  We exchanged some quick, detailed messages and when I mentioned that I was going to an outdoor dance show, she agreed to meet me there.

The dance show was an offbeat place to meet, but I had a sense that Jennifer would be attracted to something offbeat.  The show’s cast consisted of amateur dancers who performed dances on their front lawns and porches; they were choreographed and coached by professional dance artists.

Yet I got the sense from the that Jennifer was heartbroken and on the rebound.  She was happily married to her husband, with whom she had two kids.  But she was depressed from her recent breakup with her girlfriend, to whom she seemed emotionally close to and spent a lot of time with.  And her parents and siblings, obtusely professional and openminded people, were constantly judging and commenting on Jennifer’s sexual fluidity and polyarmorous dating style.  She seemed genuinely interested in me she asked me lots of questions yet she seemed to want to come back to her trials and tribulations.  In return, I offered a listening ear and reacted to her comments, but I had little to offer.  Because I’ve never invested myself in romantic pursuits, I’ve never had similar hurtful breakups, and I’ve never felt judged by my family for my identity.

Yet eerily, I connected most successfully with Jennifer of many of the woman that I met.

She had confidently engaged me in some banter, saying that like me, she shared a commitment to fitness.

We subsequently met a couple of times more, including a going to a 3D animated movie (I would never have given it the time to see it if she hadn’t suggested seeing it), and Jennifer seemed genuinely interested, despite her allergy to cats and disinterest in pets in general.

I don’t know if things could have gone further with her.  It probably would have required me to open up and confide in a way that she was clearly willing and confident to do, but I wasn’t really willing to do at the time.  Had I been a little more honest, who knows, something may have happened.

Afterthoughts

As I reflect on what I’ve just written, I’ve come to the realization I’m happiest when alone, and that for me, romance is an tolling effort that I’m not willing to exert.  I have a memory of being a kid in the ’80s and watching one of those weeknight soaps (perhaps it was thirtysomething).  The characters, in my teenage mind, were spending a vast amount of time whining about not finding love and “the one.”  I looked at my mother and said, “Is that all adults do is worry about love?”  My mother let out a whimper and laughed, and I think she felt a little sad for me, yet I realize that it’s a sentiment that I still have.  And my attempts at having that part of the human condition in my life, whether it is stuff I was doing in high school or university or this midlife internet exploration, have never implanted in me a desire to seek that kind of companionship.  Maybe I’m missing out on something.  Maybe I’ll die a little less for the better.  But I know what I need out of life.   And it’s not romance.  I’m happiest alone.

Four Misunderstood Rock Songs

The rock anthem: a three-minute catchy hook that gets you grooving and makes you feel good.  And maybe you’ll want to dance or play some air guitar.

Rock ‘n’ roll was born in the 1950s, when the first wave of baby boomers hit their teens, complete with a disposable income their Depression-era parents never had.  And these kids didn’t swallow up the new music genre just because it was radically different from the Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra that their parents were listening to.  No, rock focused on fun things: Elvis Presley sang about hound dogs and blue suede shoes; Buddy Holly sang about his drummer’s girlfriend, Peggy Sue; and the overly flamboyant Little Richard sang about Lucille and Miss Molly.  But although rock ‘n’ roll began fun and unassuming, in the tumultuous 1960s, when Bob Dylan sang protest songs and the Beatles experimented in psychedelia, it matured into rock.  Yet rock and its sister musical genre, pop, never lost their playfulness.  Rock and pop music are still predominately created by young people for other young people.  But don’t get fooled by the upbeat grooves, cool hooks, and fast tempos.  If you listen carefully, rock/pop songs quite often have dark, sinister lyrics.  Here is a list of four songs that you probably didn’t realize have very bleak lyrics.

“Alive” by Pearl Jam

When Pearl Jam’s debut album, Ten, was released to commercial and critical acclaim in 1991, it helped to bring grunge music to the forefront.  Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard actually wrote the melody to their first single, Alive, in early 1990, when Pearl Jam didn’t have a singer.  Eddie Vedder, who at the time was working as a security guard in San Diego, heard a recording of the song, came up with some lyrics and sent an tape to Gossard, who immediately invited Vedder for an audition.

PearlJam-Ten2

Who can deny that “Alive” is a great song?  With its fast pace, happy-sounding melody, and chorus repeating “Alive, I’m still alive,” many people mistake the song as a celebration of life.  But have you really carefully listened to the lyrics? They’re actually eerily shocking.  Vedder’s lyrics partially fictionalize his own teenage experiences.  When Vedder was around 13, he learned that the man he believed to be his real father really wasn’t. Alive, however, takes Vedder’s experience further.  In the song, a mother tells her 13-year-old son, “You’re real father was dying, sorry you didn’t see him…” The boy then informs us that his mother “…walks slowly across a young man’s room /She said ‘I’m ready for you’/I can’t remember anything to this very day.”

Yep, that’s right.  The mother rapes her son.  Uncaring to the harm she’s caused, she goes on. “‘Is something wrong?’ she said/’Of course there is/You’re still alive.'”

So much for being an anthem.  Sorry to ruin it for you.

“Every Breath You Take” by The Police

The Police were huge.  The post-punk band formed in 1977, and found huge success within the year with their debut album, Outlandos d’Amour, which featured their biggest single, “Roxanne,” along with “Can’t Stand Losing You” and “So Lonely.” The band’s brief life was like a hurricane–powerful and loud–witnessing five chart-topping albums in a five-year period and multiple stadium-packed tours.  It’s no wonder with that with their huge success, the band would ultimately implode with infighting.  Although singer-bassist-chief songwriter Sting would go on to have a successful solo career, perhaps the most famous song he wrote was on The Police’s last album, 1983’s Synchronicity.  “Every Breath You Take” topped the US Billboard for nine weeks, and twenty years after the song was released, Sting was reportedly still earning royalties of $2000 per day.

police_1

With its gentle melody and medium-pacing, many people failed to carefully listen to or comprehend the lyrics.  Sting once said, “One couple told me ‘Oh, we love that song; it was the song we played at our wedding.’  I thought, ‘Well, good luck.'”  And when he was asked by BBC2 why he looked so angry in the song’s video, Sting explained that “Every Little Breath You Take” is “…very, very sinister and ugly, and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle little love song, when it’s actually quite the opposite.”

Sting wrote the song as his marriage was falling apart: he had left his wife for his wife’s best friend.  With all the complex emotions he was experiencing, Sting created lyrics written from a stalker’s point of view.  “Every move you make/Every vow you break/Every smile you fake/Every claim you stake/I’ll be watching you.”  Love does evoke strong emotions, and emotionally wise people know that love and hate are actually two closely related emotions.  Still, Sting knew how to write from a stalker’s perspective.  Hmm…what does this say about Sting?

“Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People

Foster the People exploded onto the scene in 2010 with their debut album, Torches.  The album’s strength, however, rested on its first single, “Pumped Up Kicks.”  A fast-tempo song with an anthem-inducing chorus and melodic melody that invites you to sing along, there’s little to betray the song’s sinister themes to a casual listener.  And the video doesn’t help either, as it features the band cheerfully performing the song to a dancing audience; the concert sequence is edited with scenes of the band surfing and playing pool.  But take a deeper listen.  It’s a dark, disturbing song.

Singer-writer Mark Foster commented that the song was his attempt to understand “gun violence among youth” perpetrated by a “…lack of family, lack of love, and isolation.” Additionally, Foster was bullied in school and bassist Cubie Fink’s cousin survived the Columbine High School shooting.  The song’s title refers to a brand of kids’ shoes that serve as a status symbol.

foster

Need further proof?  Listen to the chorus’s lyrics: “You better run, better run, faster than my bullet/All the other kids with their pumped-up kicks/You better run, better run, outrun my gun.”

Yikes.

“Sex on Fire” by Kings of Leon

I’m throwing this song in for fun.  The lyrics are elusive and vague, but the chorus consists of “You/Your sex is on fire/You/Your sex is on fire.”  I say the song is about STDs, but I have no proof.  If you have a better idea, let me know.

My Grandmother’s Passing

A week ago Monday my grandmother died.

I’ve been putting off writing this, probably because putting my emotions in a public forum has never been my style.  I’ve written about my feelings before–and I can be quite good at it–but it’s something I’d rather avoid at all costs.

My Grandmother’s Last Years

My grandmother was 90–a good ripe age–but she had effectively become a living ghost five years ago, when she suffered a stroke that robbed her of her energy and voice.  But most importantly it robbed her of the ability to live independently on her own.  And this was a striking blow to my grandmother, who by nature was a melancholy loner (Asperger’s runs in our family, and her personality had some faint hints of the syndrome, including her inability to deal with strong emotions).  She had spent the bulk of her retirement years reading vast amounts of books and listening to talk radio, but after her stroke, when it became evident that she no longer had the concentration to read a book or even follow a TV show, her condo was sold and she moved into a retirement home.  Although she had her own apartment there, she had to go to the dining room at a specified time and eat with others, a social act that seemed to be a source of stress for her.  And after a couple of years, when it became clear that my grandmother needed more care than we realized–she couldn’t control her bowel movements and nurses had to clean her almost daily–the retirement home gently suggested that she be moved to the second floor, where they offered palliative care.

How Will I Remember Her?

This isn’t the memory of my grandmother that I want to memorialize, yet I write if for context, for in my eyes she effectively died when she had her stroke.  Of her grandchildren (my brother, sister, and I were her only three), I had perhaps spent the most time with her, including in adulthood (my brother had moved on to law school, and my sister, an extrovert with lots of friends, went to school in Guelph.  And because I had challenges that they didn’t, I suspect my grandmother put a greater effort to be with me).  When I was in my teens, my grandmother and I would go to a movie or venture downtown to see the Hockey Hall of Fame together; when I was in my 20s and early 30s and living in Port Credit, close to where my grandmother lived, we’d still go to a movie or go out for lunch.  Or there was the time we had 100-level Blue Jays tickets behind home plate to a game that Roger Clemons pitched.   Yet she was a big part of my brother’s and sister’s lives too.  Our parents were young parents, and after they separated, when my mother had to start working, my grandmother always made sure her we had the basics.

My Last Visit

Given that she was a large part of my life–our lives– I feel like that I should be wallowing in emotion.  And to an extent, I am.  For a few days I was sad because I would never see her again.  But then again, she had been almost an empty shell for five years.  She had either seemingly given up or was too exhausted to care.  During my last visit with her, which was two weeks before she died, my mother and I sat with her in her apartment while she had her TV tuned to The Chew (she watched daytime talk as background noise, as its meaningless banter requires a minimum effort to follow).  She barely talked that day (she was partially paralyzed in the mouth from the stroke and looked exhausted), and neither did I.  I was in a bit of a bad mood that day.  And I regret not talking more; had I known it would be the last time I would see her before she went to the hospital, I most likely would have talked more.

Death Isn’t Scary, Yet Life Is

A long time ago I came to the realization that death doesn’t scare me.  Don’t get me wrong: I have a strong instinct to live, so I won’t be stepping in front of the bus anytime soon.  But I think a lot of people do have both a fear of death and an egotistical sense that their lives mean something important.  I have no doubt that many people use religion as a comfort for this, as it offers the hope of an everlasting and deeper meaning to life.  I’ve never coiled to religion as a comfort.  I think I’m well equipped at dealing with death.  There were two times that death upset me.  The first was when I was 14, when my dog was struck by a train while I walked her.  But that was an over-the-top experience.  And two years ago, when my cat’s vet told me my cat was dying (my vet was wrong), I was upset out of a selfish prospect of wanting to hold on to a creature who depends on me for food.

However, I had five years to prep myself for the loss of my grandmother.  Her illness effected me in other ways because my family’s dynamic shifted, as my mother and her sisters fought and drifted apart as a direct result. I wondered if the same would happen to me and my siblings when our parents get sick or die.

Comfort

Whereas many people use religion as a comfort from death, I paradoxically use my grandmother’s death a comfort.  For her, I’m sure it’s a comfort from the exhaustion and physical pain from the last five years of her life.  And it’s a comfort from, in part, a sad life.  Had my grandmother been born a few decades later, she probably would have been more equipped to pursue a life of independence, seek a university education, or have a profession.  Or choose a more solitary life (I suspect it would have made her happier).

My grandmother kept a collection of photos of her three grandchildren on her living room table.  They were pictures of us when we were infants, with kindergarten class pictures added.  Each grandchild’s pictures were kept in a separate plastic frame so she could look at them.  When my brother and I helped my mother move my grandmother to palliative care, our mother gave us our pictures and said, “Take them.  You’ll get more use out of them.”

I now keep these pictures on top of my dresser, a connection to my grandmother and my past.  A comfort, perhaps.

Bicycling Around Toronto

Background

Living in midtown Toronto, I had become reliant on public transit to get around the city. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), I assumed, had a good service in the city core, so over eight years ago, I enrolled in its discount plan (if you get a year’s worth of monthly passes, you get the equivalent of one month free).  And I got used to the fact that the pass was mailed to me, my bank account was automatically debited, and I could get on and off any bus, streetcar, or subway without having to worry about paying again.  If I wasn’t working, it was a great way to explore the city.

But I became really unenthusiastic about taking public transit.  Every year the cost of the transit went up and up. (When I first got the monthly pass, it was an even $100; eight years later it is over $142.)  There were heavy cuts to service.  And I got tired that even though I live less than a five-minute drive from a subway station, that drive would turn into over fifteen minutes if you include waiting time.  Plus, where I live will have at least five years worth of delays as the Eglinton Crosstown LRT is constructed.

construction

I made a decision: when my yearly TTC subscription was up for renewal, I would cancel and switch to my bike.  So two months ago, the beginning of March, I traded in the bus for my blue bike.

20160417_153543[1]

It wouldn’t be that bad, as work is only a twenty-five-minute bike ride, and most things I do are conveniently located in central Toronto.  And although there have been some frosty days during these last eight weeks, I have thoroughly enjoyed biking.   I relish the solitude.  I relish the flexibility of planning my own route.  I relish the ability to travel at my own pace.  I relish the fresh air.  And most of all, I relish the good shape that biking keeps me in.

However, it hasn’t all been easy.  As I’m going along, I’m finding that there are challenges to being an almost year-long biker.  So if you’re contemplating making the switch to biking, here are my tips to making a successful transition.

Keep Transit Handy

I hate to admit this, but there have been a handful of times in the last eight weeks that I’ve used the TTC.  The days that I’ve used transit were typically bad-weather days.  There was one day in early March when it snowed and this April has been a considerably rainy month, even by April standards.  If you’re going to bike around, get a PRESTO card. Although PRESTO has its faults–I dislike the fact that I have to tap the card at a subway station if I add money to my PRESTO card online–it’s a more viable option than carrying cash around in case you do decide to take transit.  If you’re biking all the time, you don’t have to keep a large amount on your card (twenty bucks is ample, as it gives you 6 TTC trips).

Find Good Winter Clothing

When I bought my bike helmet, I did it assuming that I would be able to wear a winter hat underneath it.  Wrong!  There were a few cold days in March that I had to choose safety over comfort because my winter hat was too thick to fit under my helmet.  A bike courier I know advised me that next winter I should get a ski helmet, as it’s wide enough to wear a hat underneath.

Cycling-year-round-e1355200727878

I also didn’t take eye protection into consideration.  I have bike sunglasses that do a really good job of  keeping the sun out of my eyes; however, it doesn’t fair so well protecting my eyes from rain and snow.  The same bike courier who told me about the ski helmet told me to wear ski googles.  And on really blistery days, a ski mask AND googles will protect your whole face.

On rather cold days your hands will get cold.  There are bike gloves specifically designed for winter, but I prefer wearing ski gloves.  Yes, it’s a little tough wrapping your hands around the bars, but your hands will be incredibly warm.

One thing I haven’t solved is how to keep your feet warm.  I didn’t try wearing winter boots, because I thought they would be cumbersome while peddling.  If anybody has any ideas, let me know.

Learn Basic Bike Mechanic Skills

My bike is covered for a once-a-year tune up from the shop where I bought my bike.  I take advantage of it, but sometime this spring I plan on learning some basic skills to take care of my bike, as I’m bound to have something go wrong while I’m putting so many kilometres on my bike.  As embarrassing as it is to admit, I have no idea how to patch a tire or fix loose bike chains.  There are some shops in Toronto that’ll teach you how those basic skills.  I’m thinking specifically of Bike Pirates on Queen Street West in Parkdale.

Learn the Rules of the Road

Riding on the streets, especially main arteries during rush hour, can be a very daunting and scary experience.  It is amazing how many motorists neither watch for cyclists nor care to watch for them.  As a general rule, it’s a good idea to keep to side streets and parks and use the main arteries only when necessary.  (Yes, main arteries belong to bikes too, but cars and bad drivers aren’t going anywhere, and if a car hits you, you’ll get hurt, not the driver.)  I’ve discovered that there are certain situations when drivers are more likely to ignore bicyclists, including when drivers are making right-hand turns (drivers pull really close to the curb).  Other situations that are dangerous are cars waiting at red lights (again, drivers will get really close to the curb) and, of course, people opening doors of parked vehicles.  If you feel you’re a little shaky on the rules of the road or if you’re not sure of your rights and responsibilities as a bicyclist, consider taking one of the bicycling courses the City of Toronto offers.  They gear to bicyclists of all levels and teach the rules of the road.

bikesvscars__article-hero-1130x430

Remember that safety isn’t the responsibility of only drivers.  I’ve seen a lot of bicyclists do really stupid things, from not having lights on their bikes during nighttime to veering into traffic.  I once saw a woman swerving her bike between cars on Bathurst Street near College Street.  And she had an infant sitting behind her on a baby seat!

Safety First

I find it amazing how many bicyclists don’t take their own safety importantly.  I started wearing a helmet only last year, so I’m not going to preach about the merits of wearing a helmet, although it can prevent serious head injuries.  However, why do so many bicyclists not have lights on their bikes?  Why do so many wear dark clothing? How come so many don’t have horns or bells?  Only you can be trusted to take your life seriously, so think safety first!

Single in Toronto

According to the 2006 Canada census, unmarried people over the age of 15 outnumbered married couples for the first time in Canadian history.  While the 2006 census is itself history, the demographic shift is remarkable: we are no longer marrying or pairing ourselves in the same urgency as our parents and grandparents.  The cause could be multiple: people are no longer confining themselves to their biological clock or maybe the definition of the romantic relationship is changing.  Whatever the case, the family dynamic is no longer confined to the Leave It to Beaver fantasy.

If so many more adults are living in on their own–no spouse/partner or children in sight–what do they do to keep busy?  The internet, in some camps held up as the main culprit for social isolation, can actually bring people together.  Online dating is far more common and widely accepted than a decade earlier (and I’m not even touching internet hookups).  And the internet makes it easier to do so many  social things–from planning your next vacation to inviting people to your BBQ.

But if you live on your own (and even if you’re not), what are the best websites to help your inner social butterfly?  Why not turn to Meetup, an internet site where you can arrange to meet other like-minded people for fun social events.

large_meetup_logo

I first heard of Meetup ten years ago, and it seemed strange and odd.  The first group I  joined was a photography Meetup group for amateur photo takers.  They had meetups with specific themes, such as taking nature photos in High Park or the countless number of street festivals in summertime Toronto.  For countless reasons, it took me a couple of years before I attended a meetup, but once I did, I was hooked.  When you go to a meetup event, you’re with a number of people with similar interests, all of whom are looking to either share their passion or just hang out for a few hours.  Most people you’ll likely not meet outside the Meetup group, but some people you may actually form a deeper connection.  So if you’re in the Toronto area and you’re looking to get out and do things with other people, here is the list of my favourite Meetup groups.

Toronto Bike Meetup

I’ve been a member of this group for about three years, and at the time of writing this, it had a membership of 4995, making it perhaps the largest bike meetup group in Toronto.  But don’t let that number daunt you, as most of the events attract a small number of riders, anywhere from half a dozen to a couple of dozen, and many repeat faces keep appearing at events.  There are rides that will appeal to bike riders of all skill levels–speed demons will enjoy the Thursday High Park to Port Credit rides and the weekly Wednesday rides along the Don River–and more casual bike riders will probably enjoy the more leisurely two- or three-hour bike rides around the city.  But if you’re looking to stay active biking while meeting people, I recommend do the more slowly paced all-day events, including bike rides along the lake to either Oakville or Oshawa and back.

20160417_153543[1]

One event I did involved taking the GO Train to Niagara Falls for an all-day round trip from the falls to Fort Erie and back.  Every summer, somebody arranges a wine bike trip to the Niagara area to visit wineries for some wine tastings.  I haven’t done that one yet, but I’d love to.

Toronto Running and Fitness Group

In the colder months, I tend to go the gym, but once the weather is nice out, I prefer doing outdoor activities like running, but I find it hard to motivate myself unless I’m running with other people.  And it is motivating running with others, as I never want to be the last person.  Nor do I want to bail out in front of other people, so this is a group that’s perfect for me. Almost every Saturday they have a run along Lake Shore Road West (I don’t do that one, because it’s out of the way for me), and they seem to have another regular weekend run in the Beaches for people in the east end.  I’ve done some really good meetups with these folks, including a round-trip run along the Belt Line (a really easy run, since the land is really flat, apart from a short jog through Mount Pleasant Cemetery); and a great 15km run along the Humber River.  If you’re not up to running longer lengths, the organizers seem good at stagnating their routes, letting you know where to turn back for shorter distances. But best of all, most of their runs start and end at a coffee shop, so there is plenty of opportunity to rest up and talk and get to know your fellow runners.

Books and Beer in the Annex

Not everybody is looking to activities like biking and running.  I get that.  If you’re looking for a more relaxing event, how about this event, which happens Thursday nights at the Paupers Pub on Bloor Street West near Bathurst Street.  The premise is simple: take an old book you’ve already read, go to the pub, buy a beer or two, and trade books with your fellow beer drinkers.  I’ve been going irregularly for almost two years, although I tend to gravitate to the winter months, when hanging out in a pub seems more…comforting.  The group has settled on its regulars, who aren’t as focused on bringing books as they once were, but don’t let that stop you.  Bring your books, have a drink with some new faces, and maybe find a new book or two.

Toronto Classic Movies

Here’s a movie meetup for movie nerds and cinephiles everywhere.  I first went to this meetup group on an unusually cold May day last year, and we went to a theatre to see Double Indemnity, the classic Billy Wilder film noir with Fred McMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.  I’ve only been to a few of their events, but it’s always a small group of hard-core regulars. And they usually go out for drinks or food afterwards, so if you’re looking to meet some other off-beat film buffs, check out this group.

GTA Dog Meetup

I have to be honest: I haven’t been to this meetup yet, mainly because I don’t actually have a dog, so I may need to borrow yours.  Or should I just go on my own?  Check this meetup group out, because although your dog is super cool, you can have only a limited connection with Rover.  Use your dog to meet other people.  I guarantee it works!

 

 

 

 

Fame for the Freak

I Am a Freak

 

andy_warhol-self-portrait-fright_wig-1986

In 1968 Andy Warhol, at an art show in Stockholm, Sweden, said, “In the future everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes.” Warhol, of course, was the pop-art guru who inspired the baby-boom generation to create youth-centred mass art.  Today baby boomers may be retiring, yet their subsequent generations are still grasping for a piece of that fifteen minutes of fame.  With the advent of the internet, and in particular social media, it’s much easier for people to be known for inane reasons.  People go on Twitter and Facebook to talk about any number of things, from updating their followers on their laundry day or what they’re making for lunch.  Donald Trump, the current American president, may be as famous for his tweets as for his dramatic policies.

Fame for inane, odd, or unsavoury reasons started long before Andy Warhol, and it’s ongoing.  By the end of this article, I will reveal an odd tidbit about myself in my pitch for fame.  But first, some background.

The Freak Show

From the mid-nineteenth to well into the twentieth century, the freak show was a popular form of entertainment.  In the United States, PT Barnum, for whom the recently defunct circus was named, perhaps single-handedly popularized the show.  Barnum employed people with unusual physical conditions — among others, bearded women, and Siamese twins — and charged people admission to look at his “freaks.”  Perhaps Barnum’s most famous freak was Tom Thumb, a small person whom Barnum adopted at the age of five.

Thumb-Tom

Barnum taught Thumb how to dance and sing and do impressions of people; audiences delighted in watching a person who never grew much more than a metre tall do precocious acts.  Barnum went to great pains to create exotic back stories for his freaks, including his fraudulent mermaid, actually the head of a monkey sewn to a fish’s tail; he claimed it had been caught in the Fiji islands.

Reality Shows Are the New Freak Show

And that brings me to present-day tv.  I haven’t watched cable for years; I cancelled it for a variety of reasons, but primarily because I resented paying a considerable amount of money for what amounted to trash tv.  Among the worst are the “reality shows” (I hate the term, as it implies that it’s a new genre that was born with Survivor in the 2000s.  It wasn’t.  Just watch old episodes of Candid Camera).  Although they claim to be unscripted, they are, in fact, highly planned and craftily edited dramas that accent melodrama and participants’ pain  for entertainment.  And Barnum would be proud at the freakish and desperate measures to which people will seek fame.

Don’t believe me?  Watch TLC.  Their early shows, such as Jon and Kate Plus 8, were seemingly tame, but when Jon and Kate’s marriage imploded in front of the cameras, the station upped the ante.  Shows like My Husband’s Not Gay, featuring women marrying men who covet other men, allowed people to display odd and socially taboo subjects on (supposedly) unscripted tv .  Perhaps sadder is TLC’s My 600-lb Life, which follows morbidly obese people as they attempt to qualify for bypass surgery.

my-600-lb-life-303-pauline-08

We see them eat the frozen pizzas they bought at the grocery store, where they struggled to stand from their scooters to pay the cashier.  The show offers no advice on how to live a healthy lifestyle, nor does it show how to lose weight.  The show is clearly a morality tale, allowing normal-sized people to gawk and judge with the same level of judgement that nineteenth-century audiences once gave the Bearded Lady and the Elephant Man — hence each My 600-lb Life episode’s gratuitous shot of a morbidly obese person getting out of the shower.

Who can forget TLC’s Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, which followed a trailer-trash family whose 5-year-old daughter competed in beauty pageants?  Never mind the bizarre episodes, including one featuring mother June and father Mike eating roadkill at a cafeteria for their anniversary.  But their actual lives outside the show became a larger freak show when it was revealed that June left Mike and moved in with a convicted pedophile.

A&E is another network that airs similarly themed garbage, having transitioned years ago from airing unlimited reruns of Law & OrderIntervention follows people with addiction issues, recording with glee as they helplessly destroy their lives.  (The show does deserve credit for demonstrating how to host an effective intervention.)  But let’s not forget Hoarders, in which cameras go into hoarders’ homes to demonstrate their destructive behaviours.

hoarders2

I once saw an episode featuring a woman who stored her feces and urine in the fridge because she couldn’t get to her toilet to do her business (her washroom was storing her collection of newspapers).  Her adult children, who hadn’t been to her house in years, cried when confronted with their mother’s bizarre and unsanitary life.  Later in the episode, they fought with their mother, who had panic attacks as the psychotherapist asked her to throw out her hundreds of cans of preserved tomatoes.  Clearly the tv audience is being invited to see these people — who are clearly suffering from severe, albeit strange, mental illnesses — as freaks.  However, although the people in these two shows are obtusely using the show to seek help, they are making a pact with the devil.  If there is an afterlife, P. T. Barnum is beaming a large smile.

I Am the Weakest Link

By revealing an odd tidbit about myself in a public forum, will I make a fool of myself?  Will people gossip me like they do the contestants on The Bachelor?  Will they disdain me as they do the family on Sister Wives?  Or worse yet, will they see me as a true freak directly out of Barnum’s freak show?  Or perhaps they will feel a connection with me, a realization that they too have secrets that they are afraid others would find out?  Or more likely, I fear they will see me as a hoarder.

There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to start revealing.

The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly in the Plain

In the fall of 2016, I travelled to Barcelona, Spain, for an eight-day trip.  It was my first trip to Europe and my first air flight across an ocean.  I had chosen Spain for a multiple of reasons — my love of Spanish wine, Spain’s long history, and Barcelona’s apparent beauty.  As a teen, I remembered watching the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and was astounded during the diving competitions: the tv cameras captured the stadium on top of the hill, and as the divers dove, you could see the mountains in the background.  To me, it looked breathtaking.

And Barcelona was indeed much different from my hometown, not only in its geography (it’s nested by mountains on two sides and a sea on another) but also in its aesthetics and vibe.

barcelona skyline

Barcelona is a dense, compact city, and people live there in condos and apartments (although some houses do exist in the affluent area).  I was blown away but its museums, including the Picasso Museum, which holds many of the renowned artist’s early works in several interconnected centuries-old buildings; the Museum of Catalonia, housed in an old palace on top of a cliff, complete with a majestic view of the city; and the Design Museum of Barcelona, where I explored, among other things, the history of women’s clothes.  I swam nude in the Mediterranean, crashed a newlywed couple’s wedding at a majestic church, and attended a wine tour at a winery outside of the city.

480-mnac-barcelona

And of course, there was my triumphant last night, when I attended a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert at the Olympic Stadium.

All Good Things Come to an End

Eventually I had to come home.  I returned on a Monday, and I felt both glad and bizarre to be home.  Glad, because being in a foreign country, especially where you don’t speak the language, is a daunting experience.  And bizarre to think that in 10 hours I had crossed the ocean when two centuries ago it would have taken a few weeks.  The next day I was back to work, modelling for an art class at a university, standing naked in front of 20 sets of piercing eyes.  It felt odd, considering where I had been a little over 24 hours ago.

Postcards from the Edge

Are you ready?  Here is the weird disclosure.

Everybody brings momentums home from their trips, and I’m no exception.  Among the things I brought home are two posters I bought from museums I visited — I have since framed them — and dozens of pictures and videos I took that are among my most cherished items memories.  But I’ve also kept other things.  I kept my boarding passes.  I kept the magazine I bought at Pearson Airport in Toronto to read on the way there (I still haven’t finished it).

But here’s the killer: I kept the very first purchase I made in Spain.  I arrived in Barcelona at 10AM Spanish time, and by the time I got to my hotel, where I realized that in my room they had given me a toothbrush but not toothpaste, it was 11AM, so I went to the grocery store next door and bought lunch and toothpaste.  By the end of my trip, I hadn’t finished the toothpaste, so I brought it — and the toothbrush — home with me.  It took me another month or so to finish it, and here I am 3 months later, and I still haven’t thrown out my empty Spanish toothpaste and used toothbrush.  It’s sitting in my toothbrush cup in my bathroom, alongside my new toothpaste and toothbrush.  My apartment is otherwise uncluttered and clean.

WIN_20170211_01_43_51_Pro

Should I Be on Hoarders?

I know I’m nowhere close to being a clinical hoarder.  I clean my apartment regularly and I live a hygienic, healthy lifestyle.  So nobody is knocking on my door to put me on tv to display my odd Spanish momentum.  Am I any better than the hoarders displayed on tv?  Who am I to judge the clinically obese, who clearly suffer from eating disorders?  Or the trailer trash or sexually confused who put themselves on national tv?  Clearly I’m not any better.  Just a degree separated.  If I were on tv, what wacky things about me would people find out?  Would I qualify as a freak?  And why aren’t reality-show producers knocking on my door?

Andy Warhol, I’m ready for my fifteen minutes of fame.

Honest Ed’s Closes: The End of an Era

Introduction

On December 31, 2016 — yesterday — Honest Ed’s closed its doors forever.  In the new year, the building and possibly some neighbouring historical buildings on Markham Street will be demolished to make way for a large condominium project.

A Toronto institution for over 60 years, Honest Ed’s was famous for its building (actually two buildings joined by a catwalk) covered by a giant light bulb-infused store sign that covers the top two stories, making it at one time an uptown companion to the neon-infused buildings at Yonge and Dundas (Sam the Record Man and A and M Records, anybody?)

But Honest Ed’s was a throwback to an older, small-town Toronto.  It was the hand-painted red-yellow-and-blue signs (“Honest Ed is nuts!  His prices are for the birds.”)  It was a throwback to a Toronto when people shopped at only a few stores in their neighbourhood (fewer people had cars then).  It was a throwback to a time when Toronto-area department stores had only one location (Simpsons and Eaton’s were once single-location Toronto entities).   It was a throwback to an era when the Annex neighbourhood — which the Honest Ed’s building dominates — was a working-class and immigrant neighbourhood (where else could you buy those hokey dishes with the Virgin Mary’s picture, anyway?)

It’s quite remarkable that the discount department store, which sold everyday products at cheap prices and cheap products at even cheaper prices, lasted virtually unchanged since its opening in 1948, given the rise of multi-chain competitors.  And it’s especially astonishing that it remained open its last nine years, for since his 2007 death, “Honest” Ed Mirvish’s business interests have fallen to his son David, who seemingly has grander aspirations.

It was a throwback to a Toronto when people shopped at only a few stores in their neighbourhood…

Four days before the store’s scheduled closure, I took a short trip to the Annex neighbourhood for one last visit to Honest Ed’s.

The Annex and its Haunting Grounds

The Annex has seen a remarkable change of demographics in the last decade.  The students and artists are still there, but the Edwardian homes, once largely boarding houses, are now single-family homes that sell on the market for artificially high prices.  I used to live in the Annex, and although I lived on a beautiful, tree-lined street, I had a crammed one-room apartment.  So I moved to a bigger space in midtown Toronto.  I miss the more walkable Annex neighbourhood, with its quaint shops, although the big chains are slowly but surely sneaking in.

I took the subway to Spadina Station and walked west on Bloor Street.  I noticed the Shoppers Drug Mart expanded into a big-box format.  When did that happen?  How will this affect the neighbourhood?  Walking on, I stopped at my first destination, BMV, a used bookstore that also sells heavily discounted publishers’ overstock in an old four-storey building (I’m not sure if it’s Victorian or Edwardian).  I wanted to find a good book to read, but I didn’t have far to go, as I found one by the main door.  (The book?  Norman Mailer’s The Fight, his journalistic account of Ali and Forman’s fight in Zaire).  BMV is a newer addition to the Annex, perhaps in the last decade, but it’s a business that’s both found a niche and contributed to the vibrancy of the area.  And if you feel like people watching, go hang out there for a couple of hours and watch couples, students, and Saturday-night drunks from neighbouring Lee’s Palace.  Speaking of Lee’s Palace, Brunswick House, the famed watering hole, closed down earlier this year.  I didn’t check to see what replaced (or is replacing) it, but I hope it’s not another chain.  Chipolte, the large-chain burrito joint, just opened on Bloor.  Is it in the old Book City location or the old Sobey’s?  I loose track of what stores were where.

After making my purchase, I headed to Future Bakery, a restaurant offering moderately priced meals and a large bakery of cookies, pies, and cakes.  It caters to an eclectic clientele, but it’s seemingly students (the UofT is close by) and weekend crowds not necessarily looking for the bar scene.  It’s not the place you go for an extravagant meal, but if you’re looking for a quick bite, it’s classier than fast food, although noise carries loudly there, so it’s not necessarily a relaxing environment.  Despite the noise, I read the first ten pages of my new book before my chicken schnitzel is ready.

After lunch, I headed further west on Bloor and approached the Ted Rogers Hot Docs Cinema, although it’ll always be the Bloor to me.

dscn8172

They haven’t updated the building’s front sign — Ted Rogers’s name hasn’t appeared on the banner yet.  A few months ago, Rogers donated money to the Hot Docs film festival to buy the building, thus ensuring that it’ll be saved from demolition.  A noble act, yes, but is it really necessary for Rogers’s name to be a part of the cinema’s name?  It’s not like Rogers needs the publicity.

I Arrive

I stood at the northwest corner of Bathurst and Bloor.  It was about one in the afternoon, and the day was bright yet grey.  I looked around me and a crowd of about five people surrounded me, all of them taking pictures of Honest Ed’s.

Honest Ed's building goes up for sale.

I crossed the intersection and entered through the store’s Bloor Street door.  To my astonishment, the store is virtually empty.  The bins, which were always dumpy and pathetic looking, were virtually empty, save for three of them.  One was full of clothes hangers.  Were they for sale?  I’m not sure, because I didn’t see a price tag.  Another bin contained the ugliest lamp posts I have ever seen.  They looked like something utterly poor people would buy if they wanted something that slightly resembled chandeliers.  Even if they hadn’t been broken — and these were in such bad shape that I had a pain of disgust — they were an odd presence.  The sign said “$45  – AS IS”  I stood for about a minute looking at the lamps, when a couple in their 60s approached the bin and picked up a lamp.  I was baffled.  Was I shocked that Mirvish was trying to make every last cent possible?  Or was I astonished that somebody would consider buying them?  I shouldn’t have been astonished.  It was, after all, Honest Ed’s.  (The third bin contained drinking glasses, and the sign said they were wine glasses with stems.  They weren’t.  They were ordinary drinking glasses.)

I walked to the back of the first floor, to the stairs.  The basement was roped off, closed.  The stairway walls — once covered with Mirvish Productions’ theatre posters, were barren.  I took one last look at the ground floor and realized what a dump the building was.  Would it really be sad if the building disappeared?

Another bin contained the ugliest lamp posts I have ever seen.  They looked like something utterly poor people would buy if they wanted something that slightly resembled chandeliers.

Beside the stairway, there was a back room, and I eyed some theatre posters there.  The first one I saw was for the 1993 production of Crazy for You, which my Aunt Linda had taken me to for Christmas.  I noticed it was for sale and wondered if I should buy it.  I didn’t, and I now think it’s too bad I hadn’t.  I really should have.

The Second-Floor Bin Sale

The second floor was where the action was.  There were two things that I noticed.  The first was the hair salon, which if I recall correctly, was called Audrey (why didn’t I take notes?)  It was a sad-looking, bare-minimum salon that had none of the equipment you’d associate with a hair salon.  No mirrors for the customers to watch their hair getting cut.  An office chair substituted for the rising haircutting chair.  There was a sink to wash hair and a portable table for the hairdresser to keep her tools.  At the front of the hair salon was a hand-written sign that looked like it had been hastily cut from a wine box.  It listed the salon’s hours.  Two women, who looked like they were straight out of the 1950s (one was wearing a bonnet!), were there to get their hair cut.  One of the women was having her hair dyed.  I was at a loss for words.

To the left of the hair salon, the store was selling their signs.  Dozens of people were going through the bins in hopes of finding one of Honest Ed’s creative signs.

honest-eds-6-1024

I took a look, but all the creative signs were gone; presumably they had been sold long ago. I saw only signs with prices on them.  They’re old, stained, and crumpled.  I decided not to buy any, but astonishingly, may people were still buying.  As I was going through the signs, I started listening to the music blasting through the store speakers.  It was a Traveling Wilburys hit from thirty years ago.  Not only the store but also the music was stuck in a bygone era.

Across the Catwalk

Taking the catwalk, I walked over to the store’s other building; its upper floors were roped off, the lights turned off.  I went down to the first floor, and noticed that among the few things for sale were four bins’ worth of Crest toothpaste.  It was only 77 cents, but they weren’t in the regular Crest box you see at the grocery store. I wondered if it really was Crest toothpaste in there.  They had one fridge running, and it had three plastic jugs of juice and one package of a dozen eggs.  They were literally trying to sell everything in the store!  I looked at the clerks at the cash registers by the Markham Street exits.  They were all women of colour; I think they all spoke with accents.  I wondered how they felt being on their last week on the job.  How did they feel to be in a store no longer with merchandise?  How is it to see the building for what it really was: worn down, dirty, and on its dying days?  Would they successfully transition from one minimum-wage job to another?  I felt for them, knowing that they had to perform their job with professionalism and a happy face, despite the hardship that many would face in the coming weeks and months.

Aftermath

I head home confused and baffled.  It’s a shame we’re losing the building, a sentimental part of Toronto’s history.  I’m even sadder that many of the historic buildings on Markham Street may be lost.  And I’m saddened at how the new development will impact the Annex neighbourhood.

Yet walking through Honest Ed’s, I realized what the store represented: a Toronto that’s gone, a Toronto before it was Canada’s number-one city, a Toronto before it had aspirations of becoming a world-class city.  My grandmother, who grew up in East York in the ’30s and ’40s, often talked about how depressed she was being stuck in that era, when the city shut down on Sundays and how old and tired the Toronto of that time looked.

f1257_s1057_it0465

Honest Ed’s was a hold over from that era, and for better or worse, it no longer fits into the modern Toronto.  Personally, I’ll miss the free turkeys on holidays, the hand-made signs, and the uniqueness of the store.  I’ll regret that another piece of Toronto’s history is lost.  I fear the loss of Mirvish Village.  Yet I look forward to a revitalization of one of Toronto’s key intersections.  Let’s hope the transformation is as organic and natural as the evolution of Honest Ed’s.  Unfortunately, I have my doubts.

Top Toronto Radio Shows of the ’90s

Radio-radio
I'd sit alone and watch your light.
My only friend through teenage nights.
And everything I had to know 
I heard it on my radio.
Radio Ga Ga, Queen

Remember when radio was good?

Radio’s glory days were from the ’20s to ’50s, the heyday of scripted radio.  In the mid-twentieth century, unregulated US radio operated in Mexico, their powerful antennas broadcasting the mysterious Wolfman Jack as far north as Canada (listen to his show here).  And in the UK, ’60s pirate radio originating from the open seas played the rock music banned by the BBC (listen to their jingle ads here).

radio-microphone

By the ’80s and ’90s, when I was a growing up in suburban Toronto, radio had been regulated to playing mostly music.  As a teen, I loved radio shows idiosyncratic for a kid my age, and they became a staple of my adolescence.  Here are some of my favourite Toronto radio shows of the ’90s.

Sunday Night Funnies

Today Toronto’s CHUM FM is a painful experience, a henous blend of adult contemporary and dance music.  So it may come as a surprise to younger listeners that in the ’70s, CHUM FM had an eclectic format, playing an international playlist of music that probably inspired then CHUM FM deejay David Marsden to develop The Spirit of Radio at the Edge a few years later.

For me, Sunday evenings on CHUM FM stuck out.  For three hours, CHUM lifted the needles off the LPs and went straight to talk.  The first two hours–8 to 10 PM–were the Sunday Night Funnies, hosted by Rick Hodge (remember him?)  Hodge sampled comedy albums.  He played a who’s who of comedians: (pre-allegation) Bill Cosby, Jeff Foxworthy, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, and Monty Python.  In particular, I remember one Sunday driving down from the cottage with my family and listening to a Monty Python sketch that spoofed the double meaning of the British English word “fag.”

chum

Hodge, who was also part of the station’s Roger, Rick, and Marilyn morning show, amassed a huge collection of comedy, painstakingly editing it for radio broadcast.  When Hodge was asked to play younger comics who “live and die by the ‘F’ bomb, [they] allow[ed] me to let that word go into their bits…and we only received one complaint.”

 Theatre of the Mind

This was my all-time favourite radio show.  It also aired on Sundays on CHUM FM, from 11PM to midnight, playing scripted radio shows from the ’30s to ’50.  It included classics: Dragnet, The Green Hornet, Superman, Harry Lime, Gang Busters, Boston Blackie, The Shadow, Jack Benny, Fibber McGee and Molly.  The first time I stumbled upon Theatre of the Mind, it was the summer going into grade 6, and after playing with friends all day, I went to my bedroom and turned and an eerie episode of the sci-fi serial X Minus One.  It focused on a man who had travelled to the future in which everybody was living through a fallout from a nuclear war.  I was hooked and when I was in high school, I stayed up late to listen to Theatre of the Mind, regardless of how tired it would make me for school Monday morning.

Sunday Night Sex Show

350-sue-johanson

How can this long-time Toronto staple go unmentioned?  Airing on Toronto rock station Q107 for years, the Sunday Night Sex Show was the source of sex ed for Toronto teens of the ’80s and ’90s.  Sue Johanson, a registered nurse and grandmother, originally worked as a sex educator at Toronto-area high schools.  After being noticed for her frank discussions and great stage presence, Johanson became a sex-advice radio host in a time when you couldn’t google “cock ring.”  When I was a teenager, Johanson was my primary source of sex knowledge; her frank talk (“Oh, honey, don’t take the whole penis in your mouth!”) was an eye opener for teens who had nowhere else to turn to.

Interestingly, Johanson became a celebrity across North America in the 2000s, when she hosted call-in sex tv shows (watch her appearance on Letterman here).

Six O’clock Rock Report

Before Q107 lost its focus in the mid-’90s, it was the go-to station for rock enthusiasts.  And part of its reputation came from the Six O’Clock Rock Report, airing weekday evenings.  Broadcasting from the ’80s to the mid-’90s, then afternoon rock host John Derringer was joined by Joey Vendetta for an hour of interviews with rock musicians large and small, including Page and Plant, Clapton, Blue Rodeo, and Crash Test Dummies (I remember a hilarious show during which the hosts reviewed the Crash Test Dummies’ huge album, God Shuffled His Feet, and Derringer, with his wry sarcastic humour, criticized the title of their single Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm).

q107-logo

A couple of episodes stood out for me, including an entire episode devoted to the memory of the late Stevie Ray Vaughn, and another episode, which aired on a Friday afternoon in August, when guest host Doug Gilmour, then the captain of a successful Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team, was invited to play his favourite songs; Gilmour was in awe of the size of Q107’s music collection.

Barometer

Talking about shows the Mighty Q should air again, Barometer is another one.  A rare talk and news show airing on an FM station, Barometer was hosted for most of its ten-year-plus run by Q107’s news director, Bill Carroll.  Airing on weekday afternoons, it typically featured two 20- to 25-minute interviews.  The show was popular enough that Carroll opened the show up to a love studio audience on Fridays (in high school I hosted a German exchange student, whom I took to one taping).

I remember one hilarious incident during which Carrol interviewed a carpenter Carroll deemed sexist.  The carpenter had written a how-to book for simple projects, like making shelves.  When the carpenter continually said “I’ll teach her how to hold a hammer.  I’ll show her how to hit a nail,” Carroll yelled and kicked him off the show.

Barometer became  a victim of the changing radio scene.  With AM radio becoming increasingly devoted to talk radio, Q107 moved its talk programming to AM640, and Barometer was cancelled.  But as a high school student, I spent many lunches listening to Barometer on my walkman, earning it a spot on my list of favourite shows of yesteryear.

Muhammad Ali: Why He Should Be Remembered

An icon passed away.

A boxer.  A three-time heavyweight champion. A poet.  A comedian. A political activist.  A humanitarian.

Muhammad Ali.

Disclaimer: I’m not a fan of boxing.  I’ve never understood the appeal of watching two men attempt to beat each other to a pulp.  Outside the ring, they would be arrested for the same thing. (Although I am a fan of boxing movies. Raging Bull, Rocky, and Requiem for a Heavyweight depict the brutality of the sport in beautiful images.)  However, Muhammad Ali’s powerful and beautiful body was paired with an equally powerful and beautiful mind, and had he not been born into a poor Southern black family in the early 1940s, he quite possibly would not have felt the need to turn to a brutish sport.

Here are my reasons for admiring Ali.

Ali the Entertainer

 

Muhammad Ali Screaming

“My way of joking is to tell the truth,” Ali once said.  “That’s the funniest joke in the world.”  And he was right.  Ali  would use humour in a bogus attempt to appear overly confident (he was confident, regardless).  In 1962, when he was just 20, Ali had a press conference in the locker room moments before his fight with Archie Moore, the man who for a time had been Ali’s trainer.  “Moore in Four Next Champ,” Ali had written on the chalk board.  He then screamed at the board to make sure reporters got the point.

Ali would use humour in a bogus attempt to appear overly confident (he was confident, regardless).

Ali always referred to his talent in his ring as a source of humour.  “I am the greatest.  I said that even before I knew I was.”  Or there was the time he said, “If you even dream of beating me, you’d better wake up and apologize.”

I suspect that Ali viewed himself as an entertainer.  Take a look at the press conference with Frazier shortly before their fight in Manila.  Ali laughs at his own jokes, even as he’s taunting Frazier.  Clearly, were Ali a 20-year-old boxer today, he’d no doubt be promoting himself on social media.  After all, Ali always had a spotlight on media, saying that Hollywood made Rocky to counteract Ali as a great black boxer.  “America has to have its white images, no matter where it gets them.  Jesus, Wonder Woman, Tarzan, and Rocky.”

Ali the Political Idealist

In 1964, Ali won the heavyweight title for the first time and converted to Islam, giving up his given name, saying, “Cassius Clay is a name that white people gave to my slave master.  Now that I am free, that I don’t belong anymore to anyone, I gave back their white name.  And I chose a beautiful African one.”  So in 1966, when the U.S. government decided to draft Ali, perhaps hoping to send him to Vietnam, Ali refused, citing his conscience.  “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam, while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied their civil rights?”  He famously asked out loud “Shoot them for what?  They never called me nigger.  They never lynched me.  They never put no dogs on me…raped and killed my mother and father…” (click here to see the interview.)

Muhammad-Ali-vs-Sonny-Liston

His fight with the government proved to be his toughest.  And it cost him not only legally but also financially and professionally.  He spent four years in the legal system, having been convicted for avoiding the draft in 1967 (the Supreme Court eventually overturned it, so Ali avoided a possible five-year prison term).  Yet that wasn’t the most taxing cost.  No boxing commission would let Ali fight in the United States for three years.  He couldn’t get a visa to fight outside the country.  And he was stripped of his heavyweight title.

Shoot them for what?  They never called me nigger.  They never lynched me.

Yet Ali remained busy during these years–his athletic prime–away from the ring.  As the Vietnam War became increasingly unpopular, Ali spoke at universities, even speaking before a crowd of 4,000 at Howard.  His bold public stance inspired other civil rights leaders, notably Martin Luther King and Al Sharpton, to speak their anti-war views.

Ali the Humanitarian

Muhammad-Ali-Wallpaper

Despite using his body in a brutal, violent manner to earn his fortune and fame, Ali proved that he was a compassionate human being.  Toronto Star columnist Bruce Arthur wrote about the time Ali visited a women’s prison and kissed only the unattractive women.  “The good-looking ones ain’t got no problem,” Ali is quoted as saying. “But them ugly ones, who’s gonna kiss them?  If I kiss them, they got something to talk about the rest of their lives.” (Feminist readers may cringe at the quote, but in a round-about way, Ali, despite his patriarchal overtones, was acting in an enlightened way.)

Then there was the time in 1981 when Ali famously talked a man out of suicide (see the news clip here).  Ali spent twenty minutes with him, saying, “I’m your brother, man.”

But there are stories that, and I’m unable to substantiate them, of Ali in his later years, riddled from the Parkinson’s that he likely developed from years in the ring, opening his door to people passing his house in hopes of a glimpse.  Some even had dinner or watched tv with him.  I like to think these stories are true.

Ali at the End

Everybody’s life comes to an end.  When we’re young, we’re beautiful, strong, and out to conquer the world.  Ali certainly had all three traits.  I could easily post a picture of Ali in his later years, when age and Parkinson’s robbed him of his looks and voice.  But I’d rather remember the young Ali, the strong Ali, the principled Ali.  He may have chosen a sport I abhor, but he made a difference.  In his own way, he changed the world.

 

 

A Tribute to Garry Shandling — Adam Sidsworth Toronto Editor Writer

The past week’s Toronto headlines have been dominated by the death of a former crack-addicted mayor who, in death, deserves at best sympathy and definitely not praise. So it may come as a surprise to many that last Thursday legendary comedian and comedy writer Garry Shandling died, reportedly from a heart attack. He was 66. Perhaps most famous for his 90s comedy series The […]

via A Tribute to Garry Shandling — Adam Sidsworth Toronto Editor Writer