Archive for January, 2010

Honest Education, pt.1

Posted on January 29th, 2010 4 Comments

I had a city-sized epiphany yesterday, and if you’ll grant me a moment of your time, dear reader, I’d like to share it with you. In a few parts. Okay, it was a bit of a tipsy revelation, also part of the reason I’m writing about it today.

It all began with my trip to Honest Ed’s.

honest ed's store, bloor street west, bathurst street, mirvish village, retail, street corner, intersection, toronto, city, life

Actually, it’d begun earlier in the day when I’d met a long-ago co-worker suddenly turned neighbour — a conversation that self-destructed after we’d conducted it ;) ;) – and ended with drinks and friends somewhere on the west end. Well, technically it ended with me flipping through sickeningly unsteady photos, but that’s neither here nor there.

But I’m pretty sure Honest Ed Mirvish’s disturbed vision had a big role to play in the tone of my thoughts, and so contributed to the epiphany I was about to have in a very big way.

I’m not even sure how to begin describing the place. To try is like trying to squeeze one of those morbidly obese guys — the ones with cowboy hats and aviator glasses and locomoting about on struggling motor scooters — into a standard-size kitchen disposal bag. Ba-tam! Can’t be done.

So this won’t be easy, and definitely not complete, but it’s a start.

Well, I guess the most obvious feature is that Ed’s is the granddaddy of all cheapie stores.

honest ed's, bargains, discount store, clothes, piles, shop, mirvish village, toronto, city, life

The prices are really really good. And, considering how much you’re plunking down for a set of PJs, you can usually expect pretty good value for the money. Better than disposable, one-use sleeping attire, were I forced to quantify it.

However, that “cheap” tag is really wholly inadequate. I trust that if you’ve been, dear reader, you’d agree. For starters, each and every sign is hand-painted. That’s quite a feat considering the amount of product they carry.

Then there’s the wall-to-wall kitsch.

honest ed's, discount store, mirvish village, shop, chandelier, bargains, toronto, city, life

Most of it is actually left over from the multitudes of productions that the Mirvish family have lavished on Toronto over the years. Most of those are equally kitschy, for-the-masses spectacles. Not my flavour, but maybe I haven’t given them a fair shake. Lots of people swear by them. That’s entertainment!

actors, actresses, portraits, gallery, retail, honest ed's, discount store, productions, shows, musicals, mirvish village, toronto, city, life

The walls of the double-jointed store (the alley between is integral to the experience), are littered with the famous names that have been in a Mirvish show, or that have personally shaken Ed’s hand. I couldn’t tell you who a lot of the people are, but they seem like a generally classy lot. Lotsa Brylcreem going on there, seems respectably dandy.

However, if that was all to this store, I really don’t think I’d be able to recommend bringing the kids along. Or a heist crew.

Please allow me to elaborate, dear reader.

Continued in next part…

Filed under: B Sides, Pictures

Orphans must be killed

Posted on January 27th, 2010 6 Comments

It’s done, dear reader!

I’ve signed on the dotted line and am now the proud new Senior Flash Developer at Henderson Bas, a downtown ad agency with a bunch of famous clients and awards coming out the wazoo. I normally wouldn’t mention their name but, being so out there, I don’t think they’re averse to being discussed. I’ll just have to refrain from talking too much smack.

The contract was a gargantuan tome, one of the largest volumes I’d ever encountered. A whole adult tree made up just the non-disclosure agreement alone, the rest had to be delivered by freight train. So it’s pretty thorough. I’m fairly certain I’ll have to relinquish my spleen upon termination, but that’s a pretty standard clause. Otherwise, I’ll be slapping stuff together for HB come Monday; incidentally also my birthday (I know, right?)

In the same way that I won’t talk smack about HB, I’m not going to go into the gruesome details of why I left my current position. Let’s just say that there were some … issues.

… Continue Reading

Filed under: B Sides, Pictures

Spade’s a spade

Posted on January 25th, 2010 3 Comments

Do people even know what the word racism means anymore? I’m not suggesting racism doesn’t exist, and I’ve experienced my fair share of bigotry (on the receiving end too), but the term has become so distorted that at times it’s almost meaningless.

From Taxi News:

[Addai] said racialization is defined in the Human Rights Code as, in addition to physical features, characteristics of people that are commonly racialized, including: accent or manner of speech, name, clothing and grooming, diet, beliefs and practices, leisure preferences, places of origin and citizenship.

“In one way or another, I would say that segments of this Code apply to everyone in this room,” he stated.

Point in case: consider the recent Star article about taxi licensing in Toronto. It begins with a rather miffed-looking Asafo Addai claiming that City Hall imposes a racist policy through two-tier licensing for cabbies. He’s so miffed, in fact, that he’s taking it before the Human Rights Tribunal, accusing the city of systemic discrimination against minorities and newcomers. The words racism and racialism are tossed around like so much wilted salad.

What’s got Asafo in a huff is the “Ambassador” license that the city issues to all new cabbies. These require the driver to solely own and operate their vehicle, unlike the older “standard” license that allows cars to be rented out and ownership to be transferred. Obviously this severely limits the driver’s ability to make extra income and, with the cost of buying existing standard plates running in the quarter-million range (yup, $250,000), it’s usually not an option.  Sure, I can understand why he’d be upset about this, and I’d definitely support changing it. And Asafo’s claim that this is, “inhibiting a group of people from ascending”, is absolutely correct if you ask me.

taxis, cabs, king street west, bmo, nesbitt burns, banks, financial district, toronto, city, life

But what group of people? Is Asafo suggesting that only black folk drive cabs? Or just immigrants? Or people with argyle socks and dollar-store slacks? I can tell you with absolute certainty that that’s not true.

As a teenager I tried to join the police force but because of affirmative action, got the hand in the face, being told unapologetically it was because I was white. In hindsight it’s better I didn’t become a copper, and even though I didn’t like it, I ultimately understood the reasoning behind the hiring practices. But I know what it feels like to be denied something for no other reason than being a certain colour.

That’s really my whole issue with people bandying around the term “racism”. When individuals like Asafo play the race card, they’re actually doing a great disservice to real complaints of bigotry, injustice, and disparity. In fact, Asafo is the one making (or trying to make), a distinction based on race (or ethnicity, or income, or source of slacks, etc.); everyone else in the same boat as him are just people — white, black, and every other colour that can fit into the driver’s seat of a cab. Between Asafo and me, I’d say I came a lot closer to blatant systemic racism. (And I wouldn’t really call that racism.)

The other problem with Mr. Addai’s assertion is the fact that Toronto currently only issues one type of taxi licence, not two. The Ambassador program started in the late nineties specifically to address the problem of inequality — the other type of license was discontinued at that point (still exists, just not being issued). It doesn’t matter what colour your skin is, how much money you have, or even how nice your smile is, the Ambassador license is the only one you can get. No one’s picking on Asafo because of his race, his place of birth, his age, his weight, etc. — he’s getting the shaft just like all his cabbie brethren and sistren. Just because most of them happen to be immigrants doesn’t make it racism.

And saying that racialism is some random mix of attributes that varies from person to person — that’s just dumb.

taxi news cover, newspaper, toronto city, life

By the way, did you know that Toronto has a monthly newspaper dedicated to the local taxi industry? Neither did I, until I found a copy in the disheveled racks at Metro Hall. That’s where I discovered that silly excerpt at the top of this post. It doesn’t seem like the most upbeat publication around town, but then again, being a cabbie doesn’t sound terribly glamorous either.

Filed under: Pictures, Why I'm Right

Mad skillz

Posted on January 23rd, 2010 6 Comments

katrina schaman, painter, artist, local, toronto, city, life

What’s the shortest distance between two points?

“How would you answer that?”

What a good sport.

Katrina waited for me for probably, oh I dunno, forty-five minutes at a Starbucks location that repeatedly failed to register in my mind. Oh no, she said it quite clearly, it just seemed to ooze right out of my ear the moment I heard it.

I spent about thirty minutes waiting at a nearby location and then, after a brief phone conversation, hastily made my way to another completely incorrect one. Sheepishly, I repeated this process once more. Not that that helped any. I thought better of re-confirming at the third wrong coffee shop I’d hit, choosing instead to try my memory. It’d been a while.

But, as I mentioned, Katrina’s a good sport. I found her at the back of Starbucks with nary a sign that the effrontery she’d just been subjected to had affected her. Just a nice smile and a warm handshake.

Destiny: bitch or what?

“I flip-flop whether or not I believe in destiny. Some days it feels like there’s not and then other times it feels like it had to be destiny. [I lean toward] making your own destiny, I don’t think things just happen.”

I pulled out my little digital audio recorder and asked if she was okay with it. I had to hope she was, you know, given the track record up until then. Without that little wonderful device, I wouldn’t be able to write what you’re reading now. It’d be something more like: yeah, so I met this local artist name, urm, Cat — something. Except not spelled that way, I think. Oh yeah, and she’s a shaman.

But thanks to modern gadgetry, I can actually call myself a liar on the spot. “Katrina” would’ve been close, but the “Schaman” part is the family name, and pronounced shaw-mn besides. And I got the distinct impression that Katrina’s folks are most likely not practicing shamans either, despite all appearances.

Jesus Christ, overrated?

“I would have to say no, or my mother would murder me. I’ll say underrated.”

I’m referring to Katrina’s art, of course; it’s wholly organic in the same way that a peyote button is (though I think the word psychedelic doesn’t do the work  justice). Deeper into the conversation, Katrina explained to me how her consciousness intrudes onto the canvas in a way that can be disastrous.

“One decision can ruin the entire painting.” When the painting starts with a predefined form, she says, it runs the risk of becoming stale. But when it starts with some abstract swooping arcs, a more dynamic (yet oddly recognizable) image emerges naturally. And those are my words — “I start off abstract…”, are hers. “I used to take a piece of paper, draw exactly what I wanted to paint, and then I’d transfer that drawing onto the painting. It was almost like a paint-by-number at that point … it got really stressful.”

katrina schaman, painting, canvas, unreleased, acrylic, art, local, toronto, city, life

I studied design exactly 0 years. I mean, I’ve read some library books and pored over the pretty pictures, so I kinda feel I know what looks good, but I couldn’t tell you much more than that. But I was pretty sure that Katrina’s paintings weren’t done by an amateur, for whatever that’s worth. The lines are bold and sure, and it doesn’t feel like a square inch of canvas is wasted.

Fashion is for people who don’t know anything about technology. Discuss.

“I wouldn’t say that’s true. In certain ways, technology is fashion; or technology is the fashion for people who don’t like typical fashion.”

And I was right! Katrina had studied fine art at Queen’s. And in case you were thinking her some bohemian layabout with an education, I ask you to consider how readily she made a side journey to digital with Adobe Flash (I guess you already know how I feel about that), and web design – both pretty technically inclined. She’s also produced a number of other pieces, most notably a vibrant children’s book that incorporates her paintings as fills for the illustrations. I know she’s proud of it, but I think it’s fair to say that for Katrina, painting’s really where it’s at.

The choice of the acrylic medium is a mostly practical choice. As Katrina aptly explains, “I can paint a layer, go to the washroom , make a sandwich, come back, and it’s completely dry.” With oil, that wouldn’t be possible. Hard to argue with. And the size of the canvas, that’s mostly market-driven. She and I both agree that we’d rather have giant spectacles on our walls, but at a minimum of thirty-six hours at the canvas, smaller seems to be the going trend.

If you had a hammer, what would you do with it?

“I’d probably break all the junk in my house that I needed to throw out but that was too big to fit into the garbage chute.”

In retrospect I feel kinda funny about asking Katrina about her inspirations; it’s a little like asking who she’s trying to emulate. But luckily we never had to broach that subject as she gently walked around the who of the question: “Generally, if I see something that I like the colours of, or I’ll see something I like the composition of, I’ll try to work that into a painting.”

Yup, she came across a smart cookie. And even though I kept her waiting for that long, and despite running on only a few hours of sleep, she was a still a gracious question-answerer. And, again, take it for what it’s worth but I happen to think she has mad skillz.

A few of her pieces are exemplifying how living spaces could look at the Interior Design Show, and she also has a few tentative dates at various galleries around town (I’ll post details when I get ’em). But if you can’t make it or, like me, are surgically attached to your couch, there’s always Katrina’s web site. Even if you can’t quite see what she sees on the canvas, chances are good that you’ll enjoy what you’re looking at.

Filed under: B Sides, Pictures

The Downgritty, pt.3

Posted on January 22nd, 2010 6 Comments

…continued from previous part.

As I sat down to write the conclusion to this series, I popped a couple of Jamaican beef patties into the toaster oven and pulled a bottle of Sunrite True Jamaican Scotch Bonnet Pepper sauce out of the fridge. I thought it would help me relive the experience of the day I’d bought it (how long ago?) It’s been, like, a week since I was at Kensington Market so I was trying to find creative ways to inspire my memory. I thought, well, I have a photo, and I have the hot sauce from the store in that photo, maybe something’ll connect.

caribbean corner, kensington market, hot sauce, pedestrians, toronto, city, life

In fact, it did not.

The sauce had an unusually sharp and tangy smell to it, but I attributed that to the Luciferous peppers. I wasn’t too worried because I didn’t think I’d had the bottle for that long (since the summer?). Still, I searched and searched and searched but the expiry date was nowhere to be found. Later I realized why; because it was directly in the middle of the bottle, basically in the most obvious spot one could imagine anywhere on the surface. Wow, I surprised even myself with that one.

And when later I did discover the date, after more than a few casual bites, I was even more surprised. December 31, 2008. Mui picante!

I was seriously concerned that this might lead to another type of grit, the kind that begins with rotten and spicy being ingested and ends up with runny rotten and spicy in the pants. At the worst possible time, if not planned correctly.

meat, butcher shop, kensington market, shoppers, pedestrians, toronto, city, life

I have it on good authority that police won’t accept diarrhea as an excuse for speeding, so you probably wouldn’t be able to justify injuring any fellow pedestrians during a desperate toilet hunt either. That can make things challenging, even if the hot sauce isn’t potentially lethal.

However, I’m pleased to report that, as yet, I feel no ill effects. Tomorrow may be another matter entirely, but I’ll face that prospect when it comes.

And this is also the perfect opportunity to explain why I like spicy food so much: it’s cleansing. As long as I ensure that I’m familiar with the locations of all the burden-relief stations in the immediate area, I’m fine. (The one under the TD Canada Trust Centre is 100% class!) With my indiscriminately delicious diet, sometimes it’s just what the doctor ordered.

european quality meats and sausages, butchers, kensington market, shoppers, pedestriands, toronto, city, life

I’m not gonna leave that as the last thing I say about Kensington Market, though. That wouldn’t be fair. The hot sauce was entirely my own fault and, really, so is every self-imposed “emergency”. And most of the facilities there are cramped but usable without a hover.

And for any healthy-bowelled person, that’s not really an issue anyway. It’s all about the food there, fresh, good, and mostly stuff you can’t get at the supermarket. If I could leave you with just one image to take away from this, just one image that can’t be misread as having anything to do with the previous discussion, it would be: toasty buns.

market bakery, breads, cakes, pastries, kensington market, toronto, city, life

Filed under: B Sides, Pictures

The Downgritty, pt.2

Posted on January 21st, 2010 4 Comments

…continued from previous part.

I believe in certain English dialects the word “grit” denotes a certain kind of integrity, an ability to stand up in the face of opposition and challenge. In ancient Greek it also means “plastered with all manner of crap”. That’s the literal translation, but I think the gist comes across okay.

… Continue Reading

Filed under: B Sides, Pictures


Posted on January 20th, 2010 10 Comments

Lately I’ve managed to walk home from work roughly every other day. I should stress roughly. You know, it’s cold outside, and once the sun drops and the wind-friendly intersections get going, plunking down three bucks to get there in warmth actually seems worth it to avoid all that. So not every day is walking day.

But, just as I start to think how hard we have it, an unconscious decision is made (if it was conscious I’d tell you who made it), to once again flip through the Toronto Archives, to remind me that I’m just being a whiny little bitch.

Maybe it’s because life was simple then that the frosty elements didn’t bother people so much. Maybe the people were simple.

… Continue Reading

Filed under: B Sides, Pictures

The Downgritty, pt.1

Posted on January 18th, 2010 9 Comments

Okay, so I just made up a word for the title. I think, dear reader, you will find it quite apt toward the end of this series as we get down and gritty with Kensington Market, the motherless whore of Babylon. Alright, maybe not that bad, but still pretty gritty, at least for Toronto.

Before I start, and in case you’re wondering, I keep making these in series simply because I end up with a molehilly mountain of photos that I can’t deliver all in one go (a further bunch sits unused in my “keepers” folder). I would not subject you to a twenty megabyte download, dear reader. That’s rude. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, let me just say I’m concerned about not abusing your hard-earned time. Especially not with lengthy and, ultimately, completely unnecessary spiels about how I wouldn’t abuse your time. I mean, wouldn’t I be wasting your time by alerting you, in a wastefully lengthy manner, to the fact that I’m trying not to waste your time? Aren’t I doing that right now through the use of excessively wordy questions? And any apology I could offer would now be adding insult to injury because I’m just stretching it out even more? And why am I still going on knowing all of this?

Recursive introspection, it’s not just for breakfast anymore. :D

But the trip to the market did have a bit of a serious note to it though. At least for a little while.

ems, emergency medical services, drunk, ambulance, sidewalk, dundas street west, toronto, city, life

Of course, if you see something like this on the street, it is incumbent on you to stop and gape. So I did.

Dead? Mugged? No, just plain old alkeehol. One reclining woman and one reposed man doing his thing on the warm vent grate. The thing being him being passed out.

Momentarily, a somewhat dishevelled gentleman propped himself up against the wall I was against. He pulled his open coat behind his back with his right hand, his left making a boozily odd angle with the wall, and he leaned in slowly saying, “that’s my woman over there.” “Oh, yeah?”, I replied, partially expecting him to commence the pummeling he was holding at the ready back there for the offense I had just committed (I don’t think the details matter that much when you’re drunk).

Instead, he continued, “yeah, I can’t go over there cuz I’m drunk.” Well now there’s a pickle, isn’t it? What does one do with a statement like that? “Oh yeah?”, I replied.

“Yeah, I’m drunk, and that’s my woman. I can’t go over there right now. Oh shit, they’re not taking her?”

I guess he’d been expecting the emergency crew to gurney her up along with the snoozing dude and get her to a warm place, but she made that one classic mistake that all amateur streetfolk do: sitting up making slurringly idle chatter with the paramedics. Not really an emergency at that point, so no hospital bed.

“Well, at least she’s alright”, I tried to console him. “That’s my woman over there”, he insisted. “Right, I got that”, I nodded back.

The conversation didn’t pick up much after that. But, thankfully, the ambulance packed up and left, so the man was free to lumber back across the street to his woman where, I’m sure, he reminded her that she was his woman. Probably also informed her that he was drunk.

That was my cue and I double-timed it toward Chinatown (and Kensington Market).

chinatownm sidewalk, signs, signage, dundas street west, toronto, city, life

Chinatown is also gritty. And I don’t mean the trash, that’s kinda normal. You have the trash, the grimy streets, the graffiti; even the most illustrious establishments are tagged up like it’s going outta style.

goldstone noodle restaurant, chinatown, spadina avenue, toronto, city, life

Oh but please don’t let me mislead you, dear reader, I think gritty’s great. I may not be able to read MC Snuhrb’s tag on yonder wall, but it certainly adds to the ambiance. The ramshackle nature of the whole area makes me think that it could all be torn down in a matter of hours and replaced with something of equally wonky construction. So much stuff … so precariously perched. Exciting!

fruit market, chinatown, dundas street west, toronto, city, life

But that’s Chinatown. Let’s see how all those European immigrants do it, shall we? On to the market!

Continued in next part…

Filed under: B Sides, Pictures

Tripping a Frozen Sunset, pt.3

Posted on January 16th, 2010 8 Comments

…continued from previous part.

Did you know, dear reader, that in some Asian countries the international snap-a-photo gesture is considered a dire signal?

If you don’t think you know the gesture, make a fist, extend your index finger, and curl it in like you’re clicking the shutter on a camera. Right there you just insinuated to said Asian persons that you would like nothing more than to see them dead. Or that you’re referring to death. But with the language barrier, why chance it?

The index finger refers to the person’s body as it doubles over in its final moments; death, most likely at your hands. Poison? Sword? Gun shot? All perfectly valid.

The number four, in Chinese, is also unpopular because of its resemblance to the Mandarin word for death. “Suh” – you’re either asking for four bananas or telling the shopkeeper to die. All in the tone.

So there we were, the four of us, three Japanese women making the deathy-deathy gesture while holding their cameras under my nose, and me, nose askew in a failed attempt at avoidance. I’m sure I explained the repercussions of taking bad photos with other people’s cameras so that was already hanging heavy on my conscience. Then this happened – and they were relentless. God.

All I can say to my fellow Torontonians is that I’m sorry. I took their photos.

I don’t speak Japanese. Glad I don’t. Thankfully I didn’t understand what they were chattering about afterward, but their stifled chuckling seemed not so complimentary. As I loitered around a nearby fire boat I could sense their disappointment while they continue to take more pictures (in the same spot!)

fire rescue boat, winter, ice, lake ontario, lakeshore, waterfront, toronto, city, life

Well, I guess that’s it. In a few short weeks Toronto will be bereft of the Japanese. After that … well, I don’t want to think about it. Probably nothing more than a frozen wasteland at that point.

ice, winter, lake ontario, waterfront, lakeshore, toronto, city, life

I’m going to suggest all us downtowners hunker down until the winter of our (and their) discontent passes over. It won’t be easy, I know, but what’s done is done. I want to remind everyone that we have a fairly extensive underground network that should server us until this crisis is over.

path, walkway, skywalk, underground, union station, cn tower, rogers centre, toronto, city, life

So there you go, dear reader. That was the point where Toronto took a turn for the worse. I mean, who knows, maybe this will all blow over. Just … no extensive optimism, you know what I mean?

Then again, considering the circumstances of the trip, it’s quite likely that the women I met were nothing more than subconscious projections. Only time will tell. Next time, however, I won’t be so cavalier about things. Next time, no photos. For all our sakes.

Filed under: B Sides, Pictures

Yum fries

Posted on January 15th, 2010 12 Comments

Friday night. You know what that means, don’t you? TAIWANESE YAM FRIES!! Technically sweet potato fries, but potato pototo.

I know, trust me, I will get out more, but I think it’s important to sometimes just stop and smell the tubers. Besides, I think I’m gonna have a busy weekend so I can’t waste much time with elaborate meals.

yams, sweet potatoes, knife, cutting board, toronto, city, life

The recipe is easy – took me a bit to figure out what all those roadside stalls used on their fries to make them so beguilingly tasty. Turns out the missing ingredient was plain old chilly powder. Slapped myself on the forehead a few times (it even smells right – if I’d bothered to smell it), but at least I finally got it all together.

I like the fries chunky, about the girth and length of a chubby finger or thumb. The kind of chubby that too many yam fries produces. Should be called yum fries.

Another ancient Chinese secret is a delicate coating of corn starch. Fries, bit of oil, toss — starch, black pepper, toss — boo-yah! And one other thing I discovered the hard way was that the oil should be fairly hot; err in that direction. Nothing worse than a flaccid fry, let me tell you.

taiwanese yam fries, sweet potato, mixing bowl, pan, cooking oil, toronto, city, life

They’re done when they’re golden brown and floating on top (assuming you’re using that much oil). I let ‘em drip in a sieve for a while, admiring their delicate surfaces all crispy and crunchy and inviting, and toss with some salt and the chilly powder. I then usually finish by burning my tongue in the premature tasting.

taiwanese yam fries, sweet potato, bowl, toronto, city, life

Mmmm. Savoury. And I think if you get a sensible oil (which can be strained and re-used at least a few times), and are sparing with the salt, it’s also not too bad for you. Plenty of grease-laden beta-Carotene and vitamin A, from what I understand. Also, a complete lack or arsenic and radioactive isotopes. How’s that for health benefits?!

Okay, well, that bowl has finally cooled enough to let me near so I’m going to go and clog some arteries. After that, the weekend pretty much starts itself.

Filed under: B Sides, Pictures