On memories, Switchback, and Chubby Checker

On Monday, I received the above Twitter notification and was surprised to find I had been mentioned in a blog piece by Taddle Creak editor-in-chief and founder Conan Tobias. Conan was a childhood friend back in Saint John. We both shared a love of comic books, science fiction, and broadcasting in general.

Back in the early 80s, CBC aired a Sunday morning sort of free-wheeling variety show for kids called Switchback that aired different editions, depending where in Canada you lived. The Atlantic Canada edition was hosted by Stan Johnson. Imagine the CBC of today attempting to air four or five independent versions of one show.

The piece recalls how Switchback came to our elementary school as they often interviewed kids for various bits. I got on camera responding to the question, “Insecurity is…” (which was “Getting your test back and your teacher has an evil look in his eye.” I was a witty 11 year old, no?).

Aside: This was the beginning of my broadcasting career. The end of my broadcasting career was in 2000 when I appeared on the briefly lived CTV cable channel TalkTV (it became MTV in 2006). A friend who knew the producer invited me on to be part of a panel doing an “armchair review” of a Drew Barrymore movie. Despite my comfort doing campus radio for years before that, as soon as the camera went on, I froze. After that point, beyond a few additional appearances on the channel via webcam, I avoided broadcasting and even today, the thought of speaking in front of people gives me anxiety. But I got to meet Ben Mulroney and Seamus O’Regan so there’s that.

Anyway, the piece recalls how we also went to the mall as the crew was making an appearance there as well. It goes on to explain the importance of mentors in young lives and how this meeting with the show’s producer led to Conan’s own career in publishing. The thing is, I don’t remember this trip to the mall at all.

I guess that makes for a good reason to stay in touch with your childhood friends. They can help access memories that have been locked away for years.

I do remember our other brush with greatness.

Around the same time in our lives, a local car dealership was advertising an appearance by Chubby Checker. I liked 60s music thanks to another friend who listened exclusively to late 50s/early 60s rock n’ roll (specifically Elvis Presley and the Beach Boys). So we rode our bikes the five kilometers it takes to get there where waited for Chubby to arrive. And we waited. And we waited. Then his bus arrived. And we waited some more. Finally, he got out, signed his autograph for us and….went back into the bus.

Later, we learned the station was giving out tickets to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. There may have been a trivia question involved. Anyway, we won them and went to the movie and saw Kirk destroy the Enterprise. This was sad but also cool because we just assumed they’d get the Excelsior after that. Instead they got another version of the Enterprise. But hey, Sulu got the Excelsior so it’s not all bad.

The Circle by Dave Eggers

The CircleThe Circle by Dave Eggers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a frustrating book to read in retrospect. I’ve enjoyed Dave Eggers’s writing since he launched Might magazine back in the 90s. And, despite its 500-ish page length and my slow reading habits, I managed to zip through this one quite quickly.

Mae Holland is a newly hired employee at The Circle, a massive social media company that is a combination of Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Wikileaks, and Amazon. As she rises through the ranks to become its ambassador, she increasingly loses her privacy as the company pushes through its agenda of total transparency in all realms: commerce, crime, politics, healthcare, etc. All of it with the goal of making life easier and safer for all without any concern for the more sinister effects this will bring, even when they start rolling out their 1984-style slogans: Sharing is Caring, Everything that Happens Must Be Known, and Privacy is Theft.

Eggers is a skilled writer even if this particular book is not without its problems: Mae comes off as two-dimensional and far too gullible (although perhaps that is the point), the innovations the Circle bring out seem a bit too easily developed and adopted (I’m sure an actual software developer would be rolling her eyes at some of what they come up with), and the concerns are perhaps a bit too paranoid.

It may even be a bit sexist if the only two people in the novel who are against the Circle are men. One is her ex-boyfriend who creates deer antler chandeliers (he works with his hands!) and a mysterious lover whose true identity is a bit too clearly telegraphed. There is a tone of condescension in the novel directed toward younger people as one character berates Mae and her generation for wanting to be famous all the time. And the ending gives us a fairly heavy-handed metaphor, which I liked regardless.

That said, I did enjoy the novel and it succeeded in making me wonder if I really need all these social media accounts. But I don’t think I’m ready to run off to a cabin in the woods, just yet.

View all my reviews

On Memory and Identity and Lost Supermarket Chains

lanceetcompte
(image via nous sommes folklore)

The other day, I went to the dentist for a check-up and cleaning (no cavities, mother!). The dentist’s office is located in a mall that is celebrating its 60th anniversary. In the mall, there were signs detailing the history of the mall, showing when it opened in 1954, and the new dining sensation of barbecued chicken available at Miss Montreal diner. The supermarket attached was Steinberg’s, naturally, as the Steinberg family owned the mall and adjacent car dealership. All that exists of Steinberg’s these days is the Pik-Nik in the mall’s food court.

“Oh yeah,” I thought. “I remember Steinberg’s.”

Which was not true at all. I came to Quebec in 2003, eleven years after the chain declared bankruptcy and got sold off to the Provigo chain. I had vague memories of being aware that it was a chain in Quebec in the 80s just from watching Lance et Compte and Rock et Belles Oreilles on Radio-Canada.

But I don’t “remember” this place as though I’ve always lived here. Maybe after having a kid born in Lasalle, getting married, and buying a home here, I finally see myself as a Montrealer/West Islander/Quebecker. So much so that my memories start pretending I’ve always been here.

Later, while listening to the game on TSN 690, I thought to myself, “I miss Dino Sisto calling the games on CJAD.”

Or maybe when you start pining for days long gone by in your adopted home, that’s when you’re part of the place for good.

And now we’re homeowners

We did it backwards and slowly:

Had a baby

Got married

Bought a house.

But we did it and while the place we live in is more or less identical to the one we were renting, it’s ours. Or it will be.

The move went as well as can be expected. We hired Bust-a-Move Moving solely on the name. They were the best moving experience I have had since moving to Montreal. I’d recommend them if you have a small space and not a detached house as their trucks are no longer than twenty feet. We had to leave some stuff behind to retrieve later. They were relatively cheap and fast, with the bill for six hours work coming out to about $1000 before tips. And I fed them lunch from Spanos Pizza which is really good pizza if you’re in the West Island area.

It’s exhausting moving with the knowledge that you still have so much to do on the house. I still need to finish painting the trim, fixing a few of my painting mistakes, before I even move on to painting the rooms. The basement will need work. There are stucco walls I’d like to remove and a gross carpet to replace. We’ll want a new kitchen, and bathrooms and probably even some doors. All of this will cost money and being brand new home owners, we officially have none. So it’ll all get done, bit by bit. I wonder if, someday, when someone comes to buy the house, they see our remodelled kitchen which we thought looked so contemporary, they’ll think, “Ugh. Backsplash.”

Anyway, the point of re-modelling your home should be because you like it and not what you think is going to sell. I think.

The neighbours seem nice. And they have two boys who’ll be attending school with James next year (in different grades, though). One neighbour tends to grunt at us rather than say hello. But I rarely seem him as he and his wife/girlfriend tend to keep odd hours.

D.D.O. in general is an odd place. Our direct neighbhourhood is pretty quiet while if you go down two streets in one direction, it gets a little sketchy and if you go two streets in another direction, it’s McMansions. But it’s a nice, diverse kind of place. We got our library cards last Sunday because that’s what we do when we move in instead of having house warming parties.

For the time being, we have a general “Do one thing tonight” approach when it comes to unpacking and making the house. Most of these measures are not permanent but will take us from a jumble of boxes to a functioning home.

Also, do you want a couch? It won’t fit downstairs.

In Which I’m Reminded About My Back

This past weekend, as beautiful as the weather was, was spent painting the house and dragging more boxes out from our rental in an effort to get the house as ready as possible for the big move on Saturday. The more boxes we can get over to the house now, the less time we need the movers.

We’ve been getting to know some of the neighbours. At our current rental, the next door neighbours smoke pot. In the new house, the next door neighbours…smoke pot. Which doesn’t bother me so much until the smell is wafting into our house. However, the new folks seem a little more conscientious about it. There aren’t 18-to-21 year old young men hanging out outside my front door smoking skunk weed at the new place.

The other neighbours have two young boys close to the age of our own kid and they’ve already been playing together. They seem pretty nice. The husband collects and restores vintage video game systems and is possibly a bigger nerd than me.

They were happy that we appeared to cleaning up the house. Apparently we weren’t the only ones to have noticed the previous owners weren’t exactly house proud. So over the weekend, Kerry got rid of a lot of their junk via Kijiji and I spent three hours dragging their leftover stuff to the curb to be picked up for today’s garbage collection (yes, I put it on the curb after 7:00pm as per D.D.O.’s by-laws). In addition to broken shovels, lamp posts, and plaster garden cherubs, there was a full garbage can with a smell that would turn the strongest of stomachs. I do not have the strongest of stomachs. It weighed a ton as I’m sure the heavy rains of the past two weeks soaked it and contributed to the foul stench. At the condos, when garbage is collected, you drop your bags on the corner. It doesn’t look too attractive, when you realize how densely populated these condos are, to see these huge piles of garbage. After dividing some of the garbage into bags to lessen the weight, I realized this can was beyond saving so I just took it to the curb in the hopes the garbage men will just toss the whole thing into the truck.

My point, and I do have one, is that all this work resulted in a very sore back this morning. I used to have back problems to the extent that I would throw it out because I turned the wrong way and would have to spend the day in bed. The reasoning for this is simply that I don’t exercise enough, particularly with regards to strength training.

Our neighbourhood has a newly opened gym with pretty reasonable rates. I’ve been thinking about joining as the gym at the office is always crowded at lunch and going before or after work isn’t an option as I have a kid to pick up and drop off. I think this new place might be a better option and maybe I could stop throwing out my back every time I do yard work or paint a wall.

Things we found in the house

On May 1st, we got our house. Having never bought a previously owned house before, I wasn’t sure what to expect when we entered the place that was now ours. I assumed the previous owners would clean out everything but we ended up with the following items:

  • A sideboard/wine rack with a cabinet to keep your martini supplies.The door to said cabinet was broken. The item weighs 8,000 pounds.
  • A side table in the same style as the sideboard that also weighs 8,000 pounds.
  • An espresso machine in the basement
  • A circular saw
  • A baby change table
  • A dresser that the previous owner has informed me will be picked up by her mother.
  • Two disassembled bed frames
  • A futon and frame

Most of this stuff was already put on Kijiji and will be taken away.

On top of that, we’ve got a ton of little jobs to do: A new door lock needs to be installed (we got the kind with the electronic keypad), a new door to the basement needs to be purchased, an outside patio light fixture needs to be installed, the rest of the house needs to be painted and the smoked cross over the lintel of the front door needs to be removed (they were Greek Orthodox and it was Easter).

I feel guilty about that last part. I’m not particularly faithful (you’ve read my boring posts on that subject, I’m sure) but somehow I feel it’s bad juju to remove religious iconography where you find it. Some of the houses we looked at had mezuzahs on the doorways and I’d feel bad about removing those as well.

Larger jobs include renovating the kitchen, bathrooms, cleaning and capping the chimey and adding a natural gas insert, and putting down new flooring in the basement and upstairs. I think time, money, and inclination would see that one of these projects will be done each year. There’s a lot more than that but generally, a lot of it stems from the fact that the previous owners didn’t put a lot of work in their house and it shows.

Generally, I’m a lazy sod when it comes to home improvements, painting, cleaning, fixing things, and generally being a responsible habitat dweller. I’m not a regular buyer of lotto tickets but my lotto dream has always been to have enough money to hire skilled professionals to do all the stuff I don’t want to do. The other is involves a comic book room.

But now that I own all this stuff, there is more of an impetus to take care of it. Someday, we’ll want to sell this place and you want to ensure it’s in good shape but at the same time, you want to create a home that’s yours.

On the Pending Homeownership

One week from tomorrow, we’ll own a house. Well, our fruit-based financial provider will but you get the idea.

This morning, I dropped a fairly substantial amount of money in the form of a down payment, notary fees, and taxes at the notary’s office before heading to work. The next meeting is May 1st when we get the keys.

This morning, as I left the office, my nervousness over this milestone in our lives together turned to elation. As I often do during life’s milestones, I looked for a song to connect to this moment so that I would remember it forever.

I tuned into Mike-FM, and this is what I got.

Songza’s 80s Dance Party in Canada is my favourite playlist so I’m not exactly adverse to a little Luba in my life. It reminded me, however, of that scene in Jerry Maguire. I guess you can’t pick your life’s soundtrack all the time.

I turned up the radio and sang along.

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