Archive for April, 2009

Hahahahahaha, 1928

Posted on April 15th, 2009 Be the first to comment

Despite the love, hate, or ambivalence you may feel for the TTC, you have to admit that it manages a pretty big spread over a pretty wide area. Occasionally, the quality of service is going to slip. Sometimes, though, eager young TTC staff take their duties seriously and perform them with a smile and a tip of the hat. It’s a nice change from the cocky smirk and sputum in the eye one usually gets.

For example, my morning commute on the 504 King West was handled by a dapper fellow donning the full Transit Commission regalia. His headwear was not unlike a full police constable hat (did you know they made these?), his uniform was Picardesquely neat and authoritative, and the mirror shades and Gestapo gloves he gesticulated wildly with were the final word on professionalism.

Here’s a wholly inadequate picture that I took:

dapper fellow at the wheel

If you look real close, you can make out the edges of the hat.

Like I said, wholly inadequate. But that doesn’t matter because I didn’t want to single out one specific driver, though you’ll always be in my heart, streetcar number 4187 operator.

What the situation reminded me of were some of the old photos from the Toronto Archives I’d been browsing recently while stealthily dodging work; pseudo-nostalgic images of a gentler time in the TTC’s history when men were men and ulcers were the size of a baby’s head.

Here are some of the tippity-tops from my short list:

On the way home to murder the cheating wife at a Wellesley bus stop, 1957:

Distracted-lesbian guided tour at King subway station, 1957:

Tommy Holmes, TTC conductor and chronic masturbator, 1930s:

Little Oliver Twist with his mum and their parole officer, 1926:
Holy shit it’s sinking!, 1927:
Hahahahahaha, 1928:
On the way to the re-education camp, 1928:

Here I am plunking down $2.75 a trip and the streetcar doesn’t even mow down pedestrians with a cow-catcher anymore. The TTC used to be the better way, now it’s just the adequate way. At least the operator of the  4187 car is making an effort to rekindle the glory days.

Them’s the times, I guess.

Filed under: B Sides, Pictures

The Practical Gentleman’s Guide to Urban Insolence no.2

Posted on April 14th, 2009 Be the first to comment

Crack, ganja, crystal meth, heroin, PCP; I understand why people smoke this stuff. Cigarettes; totally beyond me.

You don’t have to try ’em to know, most drugs will mess you up in one way or another, more or less. Seems like you get good bang for your buck most of the time. Cigarettes do what…give you a head rush for a couple of minutes? Seems like an awful cheap buzz to me.

But whatever. Just, please, try to keep it downwind when you’re near a group. It just seems like a courteous thing to do, you know?

I was set to thinking down this path by events that took place in the second installment (here’s the first)  in what I’m now calling the The Practical Gentleman’s Guide to Urban Insolence. I think it has a nice ring to it. The practical aspect comes from the truly useful actionable advice I can offer when confronted with unpleasantness; such as the gentleman who managed to blanket a group of people with his Malboro so entirely, he hardly seemed to notice the harsh glances he was getting from downwind. Mostly, I think, people were upset because he abandoned his spot even further downwind for this prime location, seemingly for no other reason than he enjoyed the view.

I suppose he has as much right to smoke as I do to not and, you know, there’s that entire “well if not on the sidewalk, then where?” thing. Yeah, just take it down there where it don’t bother so many people.

Common — as in, for most people — Courtesy — as in, it’s a nice thing to do.

This would not be the practical gentleman’s guide if there weren’t some advice on dealing with the more societally obtuse subjects for whom courtesy is neither common nor a word in the vocabulary.

I’m certain this may have been suggested before (on a smaller scale), but I was thinking that as a planned group demonstration, this could be quite effective.

First would come the day-before meals. They would have to be planned very carefully to be as friendly to the bacteria in the lower intestine as possible; foods like cabbage, onions, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, and beans. There are other alternatives that will work better for others, but it’d be hard to go wrong either way. It’s the effort that counts!

The next day, spotting the offending target, the group would all line up upwind and face all gluteous maximii at said target. At the mark, all would release the most rancorous, malodorous, belching fart they could muster, and send it on its way with a kiss. The breeze would do all the work, delivering the malevolent chemical message to the receiving party.

Job well done! High-fives all around!

Then run.

Filed under: B Sides

Import Glee Club

Posted on April 13th, 2009 5 Comments

Today I’m pleased as punch to present the traveling variety show that sets up camp across the street from my apartment at this time of year. Give ’em a chance; if the cheerful yolp in the first clip doesn’t brighten your day, very little will!

Get Adobe Flash player

Filed under: B Sides, Pictures

This post has been preempted by Jebus

Posted on April 10th, 2009 Comments Off on This post has been preempted by Jebus

I’m taking the day off to eat chocolate and think bibley thoughts.

Happy death and resurrection of our lord and saviour weekend, everybody!

Filed under: B Sides


Posted on April 9th, 2009 Be the first to comment

The streets are a wonderful place for spotting memorable people.

The guy across from me on the streetcar this morning had the face, bristle, and thick-rimmed glasses of Elvis Costello, the fashion sense of Paul Giamatti, and the hair of Sideshow Bob. I walked through the entrance to my building with the spitting image of a female manservant Hecubus. We both passed the building’s property manager who bears more than passing resemblance to Dr. Evil.

Shouldn’t people like this be on camera? Some people don’t think so.

In an article today, The Star published a publicity piece for a group (led by Ryan Ringer) calling themselves Methinks Presents, which if you ask me, is a total misnomer.

What they intend to do is to swarm the Google Street View car that has recently been making the rounds in Toronto in order to bring attention to the “creepy nature” of Google’s project. As part of the event, they’ll probably be taking pictures in a public location.  In the process, they’ll probably be capturing the numerous random faces of people who just happen to be passing by and won’t have any say in  (or even knowledge of), being photographed. Not to mention the number of random webcams, camera phones,  and “security” and traffic cameras that cling to every available nook and cranny downtown. It’s a safe bet that everything will find its way onto Flickr, YouTube, blogs, etc.

To argue that Google is invading our privacy from the inside of a car, from a public road, means that it shouldn’t be legal for anyone to take photographs from anywhere, of anything, for any reason. Or is it just Google because they’re “evil”? Maybe Methink’s protest is intended to be somehow artistically ironic? Somehow, methinks not.

My shitter being equated to the middle of my street throws the notion of “reasonable expectation of privacy” out the window. Everything would be considered private (if the street would, what wouldn’t be?). Recorded images of any kind would have to be illegal, probably forcing the government to ban the use of cameras. While at it, why not extend the same courtesy to audio recordings? That would really suck for quite a few people.

I suppose one alternative would be to ask permission whenever you took a picture; permission of anyone in the shot (or blur them out); permission from the owners of any properties in the frame (or blur them out); permission from owners whose pets appear in photographs (or blur them out). God help you if an identifiable airplane or bus happens to pass into your shot.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it?

Not only does Methink’s plan sound horribly illegal (“hey, let’s go swarm a car because we don’t like what it’s doing”), but they’re pushing an idea that is contrary to the public good. Mine especially. I bought a brand-spanking new camera not too long ago and I don’t want to be  ambushed by Methink’s grouptards for taking a picture of the Eaton Centre.

I don’t think most people would be bothered  if they saw themselves walking down the street in a Street View scene, unless maybe they were caught doing something questionable. In that case, may I suggest maybe not doing that in public?

Oh, and when the Google car does approach, I think there’s a much better way to deal with one’s public image. Do a quick straighten-up, put on a giant shit-eatin’ grin, and give a crazy big thumbs-up as the car passes. The virtual tourist will find Toronto to have very inetersting people. Isn’t that much more productive?

Filed under: Why I'm Right

Black, pitch, and very very grande

Posted on April 8th, 2009 1 Comment

la minita

Are you reading this with coffee? No? Well, do you wanna get one? I can wait…

I think it’s good to immerse yourself in a subject much, as it happens, like good coffee in hot water. It provides a much richer froth of experience and warm sensory delectation. Mmmm, I know you can taste it.

Now let me tell you why Second Cup is UH-SO-MUCH (said with gusto!), better than Starbucks. First, let’s take a detour to the basics: the bean. It starts as the green seed of a red cherry. The cherry part is stripped or sometimes left to dry off, the husk around the two beans in the center (sometimes one) is dried off along with the beans themselves, then they’re bagged, stored, and shipped. Basically: strip, dry, husk, bag, and deliver.

Up until this point, with the exception of coming from different equatorial regions around the world, most beans are pretty much the same. Green, there’s not much flavour. When slow roasted, though, some kinda magical alchemical reaction takes place in the bean and it starts to slowly release all sorts of flavourful oils onto its surface as it browns.

The lightest roast is green-brown. You probably wouldn’t want to drink it; probably something like boiled cabbage and two-day-old underwear. When brown, the next step up, the bean is nicely toasted throughout, but there’s no oil on the surface. The next roast up is medium. Here you can easily see oily spotting on the bean. Finally, with a dark roast, the bean is visibly blackened and very oily all over. If you’ve ever bought a French or Italian roast, that’s the guy.

So, the next time you step into a Starbucks, don’t forget that you’ve just wasted however long it took you to read that. If you skipped it, good for you. It’s pretty much irrelevant because everything at Starbucks is cinder. That’s the American style of producing “strong” coffee; burn the bean to hell and back and throw in milk and sugar like it went out of style two seasons ago.

But I don’t want to be too critical. Good blackened beans are good for a proper frothy espresso or espresso-based drinks.
Which I barely ever have.
End of story.

Second Cup, on the other hand, runs the whole gamut of browns. If you visit their bean counter, they usually have a display mounted front and center where they show off what I described above. There’s usually not much guess work between a light roast and a medium roast; just look at the differences in oil on the surface. I’ve been told their default dark roast is a bit sub-par but, at more than one location, they’ve made special cups from freshly ground bagged beans from the bean counter. Never hurts to ask because that’s how you might hit on that one awesome bean.

Not only that but the majority of their stuff is excellent; fair-trade-before-fair-trade ones like my fave of faves, La Minita Tarrazu, a coffee that has never disappointed. Mellow and just so laid back. That coffee doesn’t have a care in the world.

Summatran/Indonesian blends are also very accessible; their sun curing process creates a coffee that in some seasons tastes like cocoa. When done in a french press, it creates a really rich brew with some of the very fine particles of coffee suspended in the liquid. This thick hot suspension and it’s aroma of nuts and chocolate all get plunged into a sweetened steamed-milk bath. Like I said, accessible.

At Starbucks, the choices are basically: black, pitch, inner-anus, and very very dark. Even with caramel, I don’t like them odds.

Buy proud Canadian coffee instead! Raise that morning cup ‘o northen glory high and pronounce with pride:

nice big cup

Filed under: Pictures, Why I'm Right

Boy, are my cheeks red

Posted on April 7th, 2009 2 Comments

It’s a little shameful to admit, but when I first heard of “bum fights”, my mind immediately sprung to a well-lit bedroom, two attractive young ladies looking at each other over their shoulders with lustful disdain, ready to have at each other with their voluptuous heinies. It sounded absolutely delightful.

It may have been the general aversion to such a word as “bum” by the company I kept during my formative years, but other than being used to describe:

a) a lazy person:
“Get your lazy bum ass off that sofa!”
b) an adjective modifier:
“Get your lazy ass bum off that sofa!”
c) a state of  emotional deflation:
“Don’t talk to me like that, it really bums me out.”
d) a request to be given something with no expectation of reciprocation:
“I’ll talk to you any way I like ’til  you stop bumming weed off me which, by the way, is all roached.”
e) an expressed recognition of a failed or worsening situation:

…well, you’re not supposed to call people of no fixed address that. That is the only foul version of that word.

Panhandling is done for many different reasons so I try to judge each book by it’s cover. If the person looks really destitute, I won’t miss a quarter. But there are others who make it a bit harder to part with my nickels.

This morning, for example, I passed a fellow under the subway tracks who I recognized as an area local. Aside from not being able to figure out if people were dropping imaginary money into his cup, or if he was taking sips of imaginary coffee, or if both were real and he was just drinking change, I couldn’t help but notice his clothes.

His shoes were sparklingly new, as were his bright white slacks and a gorgeous scarf tossed carelessly around his neck. Yes, he had an ensemble. Meanwhile, I was walking by in deep need of new shoes and a winter jacket that finally allows me to use the word threadbare. It’s a good word. Lotsa uses.

No, my money wasn’t going into that coffee.

As I stepped on the escalator to the platform, the word “bum” floated through my consciousness and I caught myself feeling a bit embarrassed. But then, with majestic bravado, the manly part of my brain walked on over, swooped that little lady off her feet and told her everything would be alright. After all, he really was trying to “bum” money off me. If the need were great, it would be “begging”, “panhandling”, or “soliciting”. If the need doesn’t seem that great, it’s “bumming”, and the person performing that action is a “bum”.

If we take some of the generalized pejorative connotations out of the word, it sounds a bit more reasonable. In fact, I’m in favour of adding a little weight on the cheeky side of the definition because I believe those kinds of “bum fights” would make the world a better place.

Though down, be not thee out.

Filed under: Why I'm Right

L is around the corner

Posted on April 6th, 2009 Be the first to comment

I’m sure you’ve experienced this too; walking down the street just thinking your own devious thoughts when, all of a sudden, synchronicity jumps out from around the corner, grabbing your wallet and sprinting into a nearby entrance in one clean, continuous, and startling motion.

That was my morning commute;  a drab, water-logged grey smear with occasional pelts of icy snow.

I thought a little old-school tunage would be appropriate, so I plugged in my Zune and managed to run through about three songs in the Trip-Hop list before rounding the building to the 540 King streetcar stop. There, Tricky’s croaking “hell is around the corner” cut into a chill Massive Attack groove, the words foreshadowing the presence of something dark and evil just a few feet away.

Let’s call her L.

I’ve known her professionally for a number of years. Our paths have managed to cross on more than one occasion, and each of those times I was reminded of why I wasn’t keen on seeing her again. To sum it up succinctly, she doesn’t get fired well.

It’s not the kind of not getting fired well you’re probably thinking of. There are no angry expressions, violence, or bridge-burning words; just a psychotic grin accompanied by a wholly unsettling and removed calmness.

Allow me to paint the picture for you. On each occasion, settings aside, the situation is the same: At the time of the incident, she has either spent the previous six months or so producing something she was never asked to produce or, sometimes, nothing at all. There’s usually not great shock when the head of HR approaches her to “have a chat.” After this she returns to work at her desk, broad grin adorning her wide face, giving everyone the impression that she’d just received a raise.

On the contrary, she’d just been let go. Only she’s not letting go.

Management circles her desk and and explains slowly that she’s no longer an employee. She nods, eyes focused, clear, and clearly failing to take in reality, kind of like a serial murderer trying to figure out why the skin suit she fashioned isn’t giving her the power of its’ victims. Then she turns her head back to the monitor and resumes working.

At this point security usually intervene, physically escorting her from the premises. She flashes that magic smile at everyone as she leaves, perhaps still unaware of her situation, or perhaps deciding how best to decapitate all of her favourite ex-colleagues. That, in a scary nutshell, is L and her unceasing smile (trust me, it’s not incredible positivity).

As I swung around the corner this morning, that smile cut through the crowd like a bloodied knife. She looked straight at me with a horrible focus and a curt little Asian head-nod that indicated I was now very possibly the next unsolved murder of the year. Evading conversation seemed like a quick way to a sliced carotid, so I waved and said hello.

Despite my lack of interaction with her in the past, she knew my name, my age, where I’d lived and worked over the past few years, the name of my cat, and other creepy factoids meticulously gathered from the few sentences I spoke in front of her (not to her, as she explained).

My own memories  stopped at the companies where she claimed we had worked together (until they came flooding back later in a long-repressed deluge).

“What’s your name again?” I asked.

“Oh, you don’t remember?” she replied with an even deeper and more unsettling grin.

I glanced nervously at my watch while shaking my head no. Twenty minutes to my destination; God, please let me live through this!

Filed under: B Sides

Bacon, eggs, and deep cover

Posted on April 5th, 2009 Be the first to comment

Between stealing government secrets and sleeping with unbelievable women, I recall when I’d have some time to spend with the weekend newspaper; just me and the weighty Saturday Star or, if I’d forgotten to pick one up, a yucky morning yarn with Christie Blatchford and the Sun. It didn’t matter that much either way because I was young, licensed to kill, and coffee was always the first thing on the table at the local breakfast nook.

Recently it’s gotten real bad. Where I used to have a chance to read of my covert  yet well publicized exploits of the previous day, I now barely have time to get through one story before the bacon’s hit the table. In fact, the order’s in the kitchen the moment my foot hits the establishment’s floor. That’s bad juju for a man with no name and a price on his head.

It’s sad to see how much the quality has slipped.

Chew Chew’s Diner used to be a reliably shady spot where I could relax with a paper and surveil my targets. I now have to resort to poring over the comics with after-breakfast coffee and sometimes wonder whether I should even bother bringing a paper anymore. Other than its use  for covertly delivering microfilm or defending against knife attacks, I barely get a quarter’s worth out of  it.

At least not everything in the place has gone to hell. I get a smile and a “good morning, Patrick” from the staff who’s names I’ve yet to learn (I’m hard that way and change for no one). The interior of the place is one I assume to be inspired by fifties’ java joints; red booths, stainless steel, and espionage-efficient layout running the length of the narrow eatery. It has remained spotless and surveillance-bug-free since my first visit, and I have no reason to suspect that the kitchen has betrayed me. Yet.

I await the day when I run afoul of a nefarious international spy ring or organized crime syndicate. I’d be pretty easy to poison (in the relaxed way befitting a weekend), with my clockwork order of the three-egg breakfast, brown toast, and coffee. Black.

One day, perhaps a few years from now, I might get the waffles. Today, I live dangerously.

I can thus provide an expert examination of the staple plate that every good breakfast place must have. Chew Chew’s keeps it simple, starting out with a couple of healthy looking pieces of fruit that, in the context of the plate are there mostly for colour. Healthy’s on the next page. If you want hard liquor with a side of steely death, I believe they’re licensed too (don’t quote me on that).

A proper field agent breakfast includes eggs. A whole new paragraph just for eggs? Yup. They may not be much in a gun fight but they’re pretty versatile otherwise. To mask my pitiless brood, I take mine sunny side up. In order for it to qualify as a proper greasy spoon, a restaurant’s eggs must have a layer of grease that is both thick enough to exhaust repeated attempts to pick them up while being simultaneously thin enough for there to be more egg than grease. Chew Chew’s walks this tightrope with deft, almost deadly precision, producing eggs that are both tasty and impossible to get on the fork. At least, they would be if  “impossible” wasn’t my middle name (no, surprisingly not “danger”).

Enter the bread.

Evenly browned and copiously buttered, the toast comes in unpretentious white and brown. Pumpernickel and other fancy-schmancy breads aren’t on the menu, but you can probably get them if you ask. In my opinion, without proper Beluga caviar and the coldest Cold War Soviet vodka, why bother?

Next the bacon. It’s how I would have wanted Blofeld to die; salty, dried, and crisp. As part of my incredible arsenal of knowledge, I recall watching a training film about the differences between dry and wet cured bacon. My keen eye spotted it on my plate right away; bacon that’s straight as a board. This dry cured strip is a bit less salty, a bit harder to come by, but crisps up nicer and tastes marvelous. (lip smack)

The potatoes are the one thing I could possibly change. The cook adds onions which really puts a damper on my ability to get intimate with the ladies. Plus, they add a funny aftertaste that just doesn’t do anything for anything. Oh well, I guess that’s the kind of danger that goes hand in hand with the hard-edged life I lead.

Orange juice is freshly squeezed. Analyzed by Q branch and came back authentic. Vodka, Florida sunshine, and a golden bullet make for a great ending to a meal. Here’s why:

At this point I’d usually get up to leave but today a heavy hand clasps my left shoulder and pushes me back down into my chair.

I drink the OJ down until there’s only about an inch more at the bottom. I put the glass down, stare Breznedev coldly in the one eye without the patch as he sits to face me, and with ice coursing through my veins I say, “Last chance. If you leave now, I might let you keep the other eye.”

Of course, I’ve no intention of  doing that.

I know that as I take my last gulp of morning happiness,  he’s reaching, infuriated, for his standard issue. I slam the glass back down, the gold bullet that had been laying dormat under the final inch of juice now lazily ricocheting up the inside as if in slow motion. It’s registered by Breznedev’s eye with horror and disbelief as a slim trickle of blood makes its way down his face from a hole in his forehead. The effect is cool beyond words.

“Should’ve looked both ways before crossing me,” I chuckle, thinking how clever the line is on a former nemesis with one eye as I put the smoking gun back into my jacket, pay the reasonable $11 bill, and leave for my first appointment of the day with destiny.

Horrible service, but I’ll probably be back again next week.

Filed under: B Sides

Instant Seagull Delight – $7.99 +tax

Posted on April 3rd, 2009 Be the first to comment


Today it rained all day.

May flowers are looking pretty distant right now. My shoes, having been on my feet most of the winter, are now starting to get that glorious and ripe spring aroma that is released through repeated drenching in April’s showers.

On my way home I passed a few hotels with some unprepared tourists milling about in front trying to figure out how to stretch the openings of handbags wide enough to use them as dilapidated hats. Others were pulling their t-shirts over their heads, shoulders shrugged in a in a pitiful huddle to accommodate the relocated collar, which was now an elongated port hole through which they peered helpless, dazed, and destitute.

Poor poor people. Did no one tell them Toronto weather can’t be trusted?

Weather. Yes, fine topic. Isn’t that the topic you choose when you want tell someone that you’re absolutely not interested in any sort of meaningful conversation?

It’s a conversation that too few travel guides about Toronto have, if you ask me. What’s there is usually something like: “…frigid in January…blah blah…sweltering in August…blah blah blah David Miller is so hot…blah blah.” It’s fair to say that this crass generalization encompasses all guides about Toronto so there’s no need to provide links or supporting quotes.

Instead of waiting for them to get their acts together, I’m going to deliver my piece on Toronto weather in a single word: layers

Start with a comfortable cotton undershirt. A button-down shirt with expertly “distressed” cuffs and collar on top of that. Next, a loosened cravate emblazoned with a funky puke green-brown, retro seventies, broken strip pattern; or maybe a happy, bright, fun one with a stylized flower in a gay colour.

Slide into a happening blazer. Water-proof, wind-proof, child-resistant, anti-corrosion, and weather-treated coat to top it off. Now you’re ready.

The thing that the guides rarely mention is that you’re as likely to spend your time indoors as you are outdoors. There are a couple of times in the year where the outdoor temperature and humidity match most indoor ones, but these are as rare as the savage marital rites of the women of Balthazar. Never heard of them? Exactly.

For all other times in the year you’re either going to be:

  1. One of those Starbucks-carrying chicks (sorry, but it usually is chicks), twitching spasmodically down Yonge street in a frantic attempt to keep warm with nothing on but a t-shirt, torn jeans, and irresponsibly tiny shoes, as the outdoor temperature starts to fall below -10oC (14oF) .
  2. A delirious puddle of flesh swimming in the squishy lining of your massive parka that, now that you’re indoors you either have to wear, or portage above your head like a canoe because it’s just too fucking big to carry any other way. Why the hell did you buy that thing?!
  3. Just dripping. I mean totally drenched; socks, underwear, inside, outside, every layer; you name it, it’s wet. Summer soakers are even worse. In an air-conditioned mall, hypothermia sets in in minutes. A combination of hyper-erect nipples and annoying squeaky sneakers can result in severe and dangerous facial flushing.
  4. Some really funny combination of the above.

Even Toronto’s famous soupy summers require layering, but for a different reason. In this type of weather an undershirt does most of the absorption and evaporation of sweat. Unless your pits are soaked, most of it won’t transfer to the light shirt you wear on top. An extra sweater comes in super handy when you sit down at the movies where the A/C always seems to be cranked to 11. Finally, a light jacket should make you more comfortable in the wind by the water, and protects your clothing when tucking into a leisurely nautical meal where “instant seagull delight” is on the menu.

Funky fresh dressed to impress, ready to party.

Filed under: B Sides, Pictures