adventure #21 – high spirits & great expectations

high spirits, by robertson davies
the entrance to massey college
the side of massey college
the front of massey college
i sincerely struggled with this week’s adventure – not only because as i sit to write about it, i have to deal with two hyper-affectionate cats vying to rub their faces on my flickering fingers – but because it deals with the twin perils of expectation and disappointment.

this time of year – the time between my birthday and the middle of september, the “back to school” season –  is always one that i find to be filled with poignant lessons for me (especially the kind that i should have already learned).  i firmly believe that after the many many years of repeating the cycle of school-summer-school, especially among university graduates (for whom the cycle can occasionally appear endless), one cannot help but be programmed to feel a heightened sense of anticipation (trepidation for some?) and excitement (dread?) in these brief weeks when the weather turns, the heat breaks, and all eyes turn to labour day weekend when the heady days of summer relaxation mark their unavoidable end.

it just so happens that this month, i grabbed a book by one of my favourite authors, the late Robertson Davies, from my shelf – a book that i have not yet read, High Spirits.  this book is a collection of ghost stories that Davies presented to the graduate students of Massey College, where he presided as its founding master, on the events of the annual college christmas parties (i believe through the years 1963 to 1980).  it dawned on me that massey college just so happens to be here in toronto, and that i’ve never seen it, even though it is such a prominent feature in the life of my most beloved author.  so the adventure was to tour the college and marvel at the environs of its ghostly tenants.

i walked the seven or eight kilometers along bloor street to the college from my apartment at high park because the weather was agreeable and the sun not too hot.  i made special note of the shops that had closed, the bar where i have my martinis when i find myself without vodka, and the strip club where an acquaintance said i could get “hooked up” (whatever that meant), and that place where i went for sushi that one time.  finally after an hour or so stroll, i found myself on the university of toronto campus and near the area where massey college is to be found.

this was when the disappointment set in.  i had no idea what to expect.  davies writes of gothic castles and fabled european cities and in a style that calls to mind the most noble and aristocratic of settings, but, in the light of this expecation, the college itself seemed to me impossibly modern and altogether mundane.  designed by ronald j. thom in 1963, the college is highly geometric and rectilinear – bearing virtually no resemblance to a french cathedral, austrian fortress, english manor or any other suitably haunted construct.  on the outside, the building resembled not so much a bastion of higher learning and culture as a public works building or a telephone exchange.  and thus, i struggled – i literally struggled – to fight the feeling of disappointment with my own expectation of what i would find in this experience, but i failed miserably to overcome it.

not until today was i able to put this adventure into a suitable frame of reference.  we all live with expectations of how things are, how they should be, and how we would like them to be, and then rather often, we have to deal with the disappointment that those things are not that way and sometimes that they cannot be that way.  we dread the return to school because our leisurely pursuits are curtailed for another year, but we might equally welcome the new challenges that a new year brings.  we might be eager to return to our beloved campuses after a summer of listlessness, but we might also become disappointed when our fresh new courses turn into the same drudgery of cramming and examinations that we went through a year ago.  surely, it is this way with so very many of the things to which we look forward.  i think that the real lesson to be had here is to learn to revel in the anticipation of a thing for the sake of that excitement, rather than for what promise of pleasure it implies, but then to be equally aware of the thing itself – the object as it finally appears to you – and not to compare that thing with all of its inherent beauty and challenge to the idealized dream that preceded it.  this notion, i shall dub, “living in the moment”, and try and remind myself of its value, even when it applies to such iconic matters as my highly cherished Robertson Davies.

– g

adventure cost:
brunch on a patio near UofT: $16.00
a bottle of water: $1.00
subway ride home: $2.75

adventure #20 – beerfest 2007

the rainy lineup
miserable rain
livening up
posing with the rep
nastiest toilets ever
smashing the annoying whistle
ah... a martini at last
picking fights
last call

i don't buy beer, don't really drink beer – i don't really even like beer. but when my buddy jim asked if i wanted to go to the beer festival, it seemed like a good adventure.

the weather on sunday was terrible. it was cloudy most of the morning, and early in the afternoon, it started to rain lightly which obviously put a dampener on the prospects for the day. and then what really sent me over the edge was the gatekeepers!! it was pissy and raining, and these idiots were getting us to wait in line, after buying $25 tickets, line up a hundred people deep, while they sent other people who hadn't bought their tickets straight in!!! WTF.

alright. anyways – here's the reason that we were all there – beer. beer is apparently one of the oldest alcoholic beverages, appearing in recorded history in egypt and mesopotamia. but at the beerfest, the order of the day is what is newest and freshest, as opposed to the historical aspects of beer making.

the way this worked is that you get a single 4oz plastic cup that you use throughout the day (four 4oz plastic cups make a pint), but the downside of having small servings is that it's harder to keep track as the number of little drinks gets higher. so i concocted a plan to keep track of what i was drinking. at each booth, every time i ordered a new beer, i took a picture of the booth, so that i could review after the fact (read: hangover) what it was that i had had. so here it is, without further ado:

my buddy jim is a chick-magnet. but somehow, he got "turd fergusen" on his nametag from the blondie budweiser chick, and i got "so sexy hawte"… so, george 1- turd fergusen 0!

and as you can well imagine, there's nothing nastier than the port-a-potties at a beerfest. spending almost five hours there, a trip to the bathroom was a virtual inevitability. i can't understand why people aren't more considerate about what they do in there – considering they might be the next person in the potty next time around after some idiot messes the whole thing up. animals.

perhaps the worst thing about having a few thousand people drinking out of doors with whistles in their hands is that it makes for very loudy parties. after a few hours, we were all pretty keen to grab one out of the hands of a screaming whistling lunatic and smash that sucker into the ground. and finally, we got to make it happen. so that was kind of like a baby dream come true.

we went to the Bar Wellington where i was finally able to have a proper drink or three. a bunch of us got refused service (although somehow i did not), there was a flip-flop sandal malfunction, many email addresses were swapped, and one plate of nachos fed like 12 of us.

so at the bitter end of the evening, around 9:30 or so, we all split up and head home. well, most of us did. jim and his brother tom and i wandered towards home, but stopped off at the wheat sheaf for some unknown reason to have more to drink. but not before stopping at this lady's house to pick a fight. apparently, this is a jim and tom party favourite, to go up to this lady's house and beg to get the hose sprayed on them for being beligerent. ah… boys will be boys! good times.

and so, after the equivalent of four or five pints of beer samples, 3 vodka martinis and a pint of guinness, i took my leave of the schwartz boys and headed home for a few hours of rest and to prepare myself for what i was certain would be the king of all hangovers.

i was not to be disappointed!

– g


adventure cost:
shorting jimmie-jim-jim for the beerfest ticket: $20.00
additional beerfest tokens: $20.00
three martinis at bar wellington: $35.76
guinness at wheat sheaf: $10.00 (i honestly can't remember paying for this one)

adventure #19 – imason island luau

transporting our crap across lake ontario
alex and pup entertain the kids
i was clearly intimidated by the level of soccer play
bbqing with the homies
world's shortest tug of war
bell boys show how the game is played
back in may or june, my friend dar started planning an “uno de juno” party for her company, and i thought that i was such a fun idea, i proposed having one here in toronto at imason!  it took almost two and half months to plan and schedule, and we completely missed the first of june date, but at last, our first big company summer picnic became a reality.

my day started last saturday, waking up at 8am after the first date i’d had the night before in oakville.  i was supremely tired for no good reason, but i managed to get myself fed and watered and to the office by 9am to start the insane preparations for transporting our imason island luau to toronto island where the gathering was to be held.

the first problem was getting the food.  we had a large delivery of supplies brought to the office the week of the event, but we still had to get hamburgers, hot dogs, buns, drinks and ice for the 40-50 people we were expecting to host at the event.  across the street from our office is a major hot-dog cart vendor supply shop where we were able to get supplies.  now, purchasing $250 of barbeque stuff is one thing – transporting it is completely another.  we stocked five huge bins and two coolers and assorted flats of pop into two cars along with five people and one little dog and made our way to the ferry.  by the time we reached the site for the day around 11am, we were already fairly exhausted and i for one had sweat about a litre of water.

but once we got into it, it was a great time… there was barbequeing (which my boss scott and i mostly managed with no reported cases of food poisoning), kiddie-face-painting, frolicking in the splash pad, and frisbee/football/soccer shenanigans throughout the afternoon.

for my own part, i had one thing that i was supposed to provide for the day and only one thing (other than my lifting ability of many of the 80lbs bins) – a tug of war rope.  so days before the event, i went to value village and bought $25 worth of used (but seemingly clean – to the naked eye) bedsheets that i then braided into a 40’ rope.  i pulled and pulled on the rope on my balcony, and in spite of knowing that there were some weak areas where the braiding became confused, i felt pretty confident that the rope could support an antique grand piano, or at least my own descent from my apartment balcony, if i lived on a lower floor.  when we had all had a few burgers and hot dogs, and were ready for a big group activity, 10 or 12 of us got on our ends of the rope, and started the epic war of our side against their side.  the tug of war lasted for about three seconds when the rope suddenly tore in half at the middle from the cosmic forces straining it to its meager limits.  what an incredible disappointment!!!  at least we all had a good laugh at the result, and the group failed to find concensus to create a noose out of the remaining length of rope to hang me.

– g

ps. the luau also saw my first and only soccer game for this decade. i’ve decided to leave the team sports to the beckhams and … well whoevers… out there and will stick to my solipsistic running/cycling/swimming, thanks very much!!!

adventure cost:
covered by the company – they are THE BEST!!!


adventure #18 – the police

the police tour
son of sting
sting and andy
the police in fine form
bruce and deborah bought me tickets to see the police way back in february, so that would make this the longest adventure that i’ve had in toronto (in 2007).  i’ve had tickets to see sting twice in edmonton and on both occasions, he or i was unable to attend and so that would make this the first chance i’ve had to see my most favouritest band of all time.

there’s something vaguely spiritual about coming face to face with an influence that has lasted the majority of your life – you can’t avoid but be caught up in the immediacy of those moments.

moment one:  fictionplane
arguably, one of the worst jobs in the world is opening band for a highly-anticipated, supremely-legendary band.  i mean, who would want to deal with the expectations of opening for madonna, or the rolling stones, or … the police?  well, on july 23, the mixed-curse fell to the son of gordon sumner and frances tomelty and his edgy rock band fictionplane.  joseph has all of the rock pedigree that one could possibly ask for – son of pop-music legend, sting, wicked english accent, hot bass-playing chops, and a lofting tenor voice just like dad.   as i’ve said to my friends, imagine that the police sent a copy of themselves 25 years into the future after they released zenyatta mondatta, spent a few years studying everything in rock music that had happened since then, and then launched into a punk/rock revival… they were phe-NOM-enal!

moment two: the opening
one of my favourite police songs is “message in a bottle” and the police opened their set with this hit.  sting does it best as a mournful acoustic solo, but the police turn it into a rollicking rocking punch-you-in-the-throat moment to kick their concert off in high gear.  the rest of the playlist is presented below (ripped off from an earlier show… i think it’s more or less accurate), although the simple arrangement of tunes falls far short of the impact of hearing your rock and roll idols performing it personally for you and 20,000 other of your closest police-idolizing fans

  1. Message in a Bottle
  2. Synchronicity II
  3. Spirits in the Material World
  4. Voices In My Head – When the World is running down
  5. Don’t stand so close to me
  6. Driven to tears
  7. Walking on the Moon
  8. Truth hits everybody
  9. Every little thing she does is Magic
  10. Wrapped around your Finger
  11. The bed’s too big without you
  12. Dee doo doo doo, dee da da da
  13. Invisible Sun
  14. Can’t stand losing you
  15. Roxanne
  16. King of Pain
  17. So lonely
  18. Every breath you take
  19. Next to you

moment three: police hit mash-up
one of the things i’ve always admired about sting and the police is that they know how to be cleverly self-referential.  they’ve always included a line from a previous album in each subsequent album, and it’s always been like finding a musical easter egg for their loyal fans.  the police mashed up “voices in my head” and “when the world is running down” to fantastic effect.  it’s a testament to the brilliance of these songs that their themes and their melodies can so tightly intertwine to be recombined at will.

moment four:  realizing that the biggest hits don’t make the biggest impact
the synchronicity hits: king of pain, every breath you take, wrapped around your finger… these are all great songs, but nothing could improve upon the performances recorded on those albums.  it was a realization that the 80s are over to see the policiers wringing the last bit of life out of these hits.  it pains me somewhat to think that these musical artifacts will never be done better than they were at the peak of the police’s popularity.  but the fact remains that songs like “every little thing she does is magic” and “can’t stand losing you” play so much better live than the mega hits.  but at least i got to see them all and revel in the moments, even if they weren’t hot enough to sing along.

the police are coming around again in november, and it’s going to be a tough decision whether i should go home to visit my parents or spend the same money to see the police again.

– g

song of the day for considering the police: masoko tango, the police (no link available)

adventure #17 – the toronto cottage commute

the long-weekend exodus
looking sharp in the shades
harrowing 0km/h
torrential rains
the beautiful cabin
the beautiful outhouse
the beautiful moon
the beautiful lake
the beautiful dock and boat 
summer affords torontonians a rare and exclusive privilege and that is to partake in a mass exodus from the metropolis to head out in droves to the wilds of nature in what i like to call the cottage commute. every long weekend, literally millions of automobiles clog the 16-lanes or so of highways leading out of the city to… well, every possible direction away from oven-hot concrete and towards lake-side cottages, cabins, camps and other assorted get-aways.

the experience is singular, and for a lad from a much smaller city, provides many unique frustrations. i set out to my friends’ cabin on the saturday to avoid the panicked traffic of the main exodus that occurs throughout friday afternoon to evening. things were looking pretty good while i was still within toronto’s city limits. i was making good time along one of the main highways, the 401, heading east towards the kawarthas. however, even departing after noon on saturday, construction outside of ajax (which i couldn’t actually see, but there were signs to indicate its presence) brought the traffic to a stand stil… i’ve provided a lovely shot of the highway as seen travelling at a maddening 0km/h as evidence.

there’s a certain pathos associated with this lethargic exit traffic – the shared experience of 100,000 automobiles creeping along a major highway in the middle of the afternoon – it builds the requisite anticipation of escape and relaxation without which, it might be hard to really appreciate having three days off from work in a row. nah – try as i may to romanticize it, when it takes half an hour to travel 4 km, and you happen to be able to get out of your car and run 6km in the same amount of time, it’s nothing but bloody aggravating. it’s amazing to me that there aren’t more incidents of road rage in toronto than there are.

and of course, what long weekend would be complete without its share of shitty weather! the further from lake ontario i travelled the more unstable the weather got until i hit peterborough and the skies opened and let me have it with a torrential downpouring that i was terrified would last all weekend. in the end, i drove through the storm, but unfortunately, much of the weekend would see this spotty, cloudy cool weather.

finally, i arrived at lake anstruther, about three and a half hours after i left toronto (it’s 200km away – it should have taken half that time to get there), and i called up my friends to come and fetch me across the lake. my friends have one of the nicest cabins that i’ve ever seen, easily capable of sleeping eight adults and with every amenity from a waffle iron to wireless internet over cellular and bluetooth. the star of the weekend was the outhouse though. i’ve never… ever… seen a ventilated outhouse, with electricity, classical music playing on a ghetto blaster, and some sort of makeshift plastic urinal (not hygienic enough for everyday use, but if you don’t try to use it to serve lunch later on, it seems to serve its purpose).

as i mentioned the weather was not really warm enough or sunny enough for us to make good use of the lake on saturday or sunday, so much of the weekend was spent preparing the most extravagant meals that i wouldn’t even bother preparing at home. the other key ingredient to enjoying your time away from civilization is the consumption of ridiculous quantities of alcohol. for myself i brought a dozen beers and a bunch of strongbow ciders, and even that wasn’t enough for the weekend. i was resigned however to avoid my signature drink for the long weekend, in the hopes of having some recollection of my time there at the lake!

saturday night, the star of the show was the moon. this photo that i took with my little canon elph can’t possibly convey the glory or the enormity of the moon seen far from city lights. it’s been about a year since i’ve been so far from so much civilization, and it struck me as an incredible shame that it’s such a rare sight for so many people. i was certainly thankful for the chance to see it all this way.

monday, the sun came out and the weather warmed enough for us to sunbathe and swim in the lake! the lake was gorgeous, quiet and serene and we lazed around the entire afternoon soaking up the worry-free, stress-busting relaxation.

i feel like i’ve had a pretty stressful year in the last 12 months or so, and these opportunities to just unplug and shut down have been too few and far between. hell, even my fun times have been hyper and energy-consuming. my favourite pastime is to run as far as i can until i’m exhausted! it seems i’m constantly learning that there’s value in slowing down, taking it easy, and spending great times with great friends.

– g

ps. the drive home took about 2 hours, and i got to drive an average of 130km/h the whole way. that’s what’s finally great about a 400-series highway!

adventure cost:
one tank of gas (in the past two months): $41.35
weekend groceries: $52.46
weekend liquor bill: $44.40
two nights parking at the marina + one oh henry ice cream bar: $10.50
three days of unparalleled relaxation and serentiy: priceless