Thursday, September 18, 2008

Detour Notice

Slurpees and Murder is temporarily out of service while its author, James Howard, pursues a Masters of Library and Information Science degree at the University of Western Ontario in London.

Regular service will continue at Gone East to Western during this time; the Slurpees and Murder route will resume operation upon the author's return to Winnipeg, currently slated for January 2010 or sooner.

We apologize for any inconvenience.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Gone East to Western

My little brother took this picture for me on our way back into Winnipeg from the lake, just over a week ago. And now neither I nor the sign are still there. These are turbulent times we live in, I guess.

Yes, folks, I've moved away; I caught the flight last Tuesday and I'm currently dwelling in an underground apartment, deep within the (enemy?) territory of London, Ontario. I've just today started my run as a graduate student in the MLIS program, at the nearby University of Western Ontario -- and I think I'm adjusting alright to the sudden change of surroundings, aside from occasional pangs of loneliness or bouts of where-the-hell-is-everything-located-here.

It's going to be a profoundly busy program, but me being me I'm loathe to drop my writing gigs. And I'm not going to! I'm in discussions about maintaining my status as an Uptown columnist (albeit that said discussions are tricky to conduct when I no longer have a phone line), and the blogging will continue at a reduced frequency well into the future.

Given that I've undergone a change of location and change of vocation (lol see what i did there), I figured that a change of physical address likewise warrants a change of online address. So for the sixteen months or so that it takes me to complete the program and earn my Master's degree, you can find me at a newly-established second blog: Gone East to Western, my new base of operations for the time being.

I imagine most of you will pass on it, and reasonably so; you live in Winnipeg, the new blog is most certainly not about Winnipeg, there goes your interest. But if anybody back home is wondering how I'm doing, or what sort of shenanigans and goings-on I'll be up to now, you'll know where to look in the meantime. Feel free to drop by!

A few people have asked me if I intend on returning to Winnipeg, once I've got the degree. And I do, for the most part, but it'll definitely depend on finding a lucrative quality job with my degree. Mind you, that's what I told myself with the last degree, and yet there I was making fifty cents above minimum wage when I left my last job to go to graduate school. Hell, the complete and staggering lack of decent jobs in Winnipeg was what drove me into graduate school to begin with! I've got a lot left behind in Manitoba that I want to come back to -- the girlfriend, the immediate family, the extended family, the pets, the lake, the columnist gig, the precocious and probably imaginary local notoriety, et cetera -- but I'm not dropping countless thousands of dollars on the kind of Master's degree that makes employers drool just to come back and make nine or nine-fifty an hour at the jobs that I was overqualified for six years ago when I graduated from high school. So we'll just have to wait and see what opens up, once I've got another piece of paper to my name. It's certainly not as though I'm leaving forever; hell, the breaks between graduate terms are a month long each, so three months from now I'll be back in town until the new year anyway. But if future-me is going to stick around, he's going to need a viable financial reason to do it. (Short version: Hello, I'm every Manitoba graduate ever. Perhaps you are familiar with my story.)


My sincerest thanks to everybody for reading me, these past couple of years, and I'll see you all around when (and assuming) I come back. I'm over here now, in the meantime, so if you're looking for me you know where to find me. I'll keep in touch.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

And the Next Town is Closer Than You Think

Well, you know what, this post had to come sooner or later.

First things first:

Uptown Magazine! You deserve a break today! If you had guessed that I am in this issue, you are most certainly correct.

Usually around this time I would supplement the column by going off in various directions -- rambling on about how hockey songs are awesome, how Busology is straight up stupid (and illogically numbered!), or how ordering the eight-dollar treat at BDI is probably a losing venture (buy it yourself and you'll gain five pounds just ordering it; split the cost with friends and you'll degenerate into unequal portions and hurt feelings and flying bits of pineapple-blueberry-cherry-whatever). But you'll forgive me if I deviate from the form, this time.

As you no doubt noticed, I had disappeared entirely for the past couple of weeks; last word I'd left was that I was working on something, and then it was half a month of dead air. Let me assure you, I was working on something; I had this grand writing project on the go that was going to tie all the top news stories of the day together, with all of the violence and outrage and protesting and plummeting aircraft and terrible football teams that the times entailed. Like most of my great ideas (ha ha ha column callback, yesss, go me), though, I'm afraid this one is going to go unfinished -- because something came up in the middle of last week that demanded my immediate attention.

I was notified last week -- by email, because it would have been too late to send out the forms -- that a spot had become available, my application from months ago had been accepted, and I'd been admitted into my prospective graduate studies program.

For a Masters of Library and Information Science, at the University of Western Ontario.

Starting in September.

This is all very sudden, you understand. To that point I'd had no idea if I was even going to be accepted at all (and don't let my spectacular vernacular fool you, folks -- I ain't that bright), let alone into the very-nearly-almost-full September intake. I'm told that the September program filled up before my application arrived, then a couple people dropped out some weeks later and my application became subject for consideration.

So, uh -- surprise!

I've spent most of my time in scramble mode since then, which should explain my mysterious absence from the ol' blogosphere. I've confirmed my attendance of the program, booked the flight out to London, alerted most members of my family, given my two weeks' notice at work, figured out some of the funding so far, hastily returned everything I'd borrowed from the library, and almost nailed down a place to live once I get out there. (Pending confirmation, of course, that the ceilings in that particular basement apartment are tall enough for me to stand upright.) But there's still a whole lot left to do -- like devise a plan to get my computer out there, cancel my cellphone plan here, figure out how to work things out with my girlfriend (aw shit wait a minute), or admit to myself that I'll probably have to rescind the Uptown gig that I've been so disproportionately proud of for the last several months. (My contact at Uptown went on vacation almost immediately after I got the admission letter, which is only slightly inconvenient for my purposes. I'll still need to get ahold of him and thank him profusely for everything; this isn't really something you drop on the interim contactperson, you know?)

It still hasn't really settled in, yet, I think. Yeah, wow, how about that. I'm leaving Winnipeg, potentially forever. Huh.

Coltrane Motion - The End of Every Movie (We Are the Media We Love, 2003)
[buy | site | myspace]

Teddybears STHLM feat. Paola - Yours to Keep (Rock'n'Roll Highschool, 2000)
[buy | site | wiki stub | myspace]

Shrimp Attack! (Stuart Hyatt and Creative Clay) - Good (Shrimp Attack!, 2007)
[buy | site | myspace]

Whether or not I'll come back here with my Masters degree, in sixteen months or so, depends entirely on whether or not I can find a job here with it -- and you'll recall the many and varied misadventures that I'd had in trying to get a job with my last degree. If I'm going out there and spending at least four academic terms' worth of time and money and effort to better myself, I don't intend on coming back to draw fifty cents above the minimum wage.

There's a lot that I'm leaving behind here -- the extended family, the girl, the writing gig, the tiny but appreciable local notoriety -- and you might think I'm quite daft to be throwing everything up in the air behind me and hoping that it's still there to be caught when I get back. But, hell! If I'm going to finally make something of myself, I may as well start building as soon as I can. And my first preference would be to come back; all I need is a serviceable opportunity and I'm back on the block. I'm fond of the place, you know? Despite itself.

Anyway, so there's the lot of it. This isn't a goodbye post, not yet; I've still got a week and a bit for that. But, yes, know now that Slurpees and Murder will be on long-term hiatus once September rolls around. I'll start up a sidestory blog, for while I'm out there, but for obvious reasons the updates there will be sporadic and the content will be little more than personal tidbits and pictures of scenery or pets. (Mind you, what else is new.) And after that, well, after that we'll have to see.

Dramatic life changes, you guys! Yeah! Excitement!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

How James was overcome by ambitious spirit, and what became of him

I don't know why I ever thought Voltaire would be hard to get into. I'd never read any of his works before, thinking for whatever reason that they were probably way out of my league. But one recent day at work I had finished a book by somebody else entirely, got the whim to give it a shot, and figured what the hell. They must be called Classics for a reason, right?

Anyway! I have been reading Voltaire. I have been reading the crap out of some Voltaire, because it turns out after all that -- go know! -- Voltaire really was quite good at this whole 'writing' thing.

I'm back in the city, and I'm definitely reinvigorated, but I'm also quite majestically sidelined. I'd told you all that I was going to write about the whole sordid Greyhound mess when I returned from the lake, and that's still a point of interest for me, but I've just made it back home and the whole way back I've been carrying a very highbrow, highfalutin' burst of inspired madness along with me. (The Grinch got a wonderful, awful idea.)

So, my apologies, but you'll pardon me if I appear to clam up for a day or two. This is one of those times when I get myself stuck on an idea and insist on barrelling headfirst towards it with everything I've got, so you may need to be patient with me.

Boy, do I wish that I didn't have to go back to work tomorrow! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha--

Monday, August 04, 2008

Waiting Out Rain With You

My weekends are Wednesday-Thursday! Yeah! Lucky me!

I certainly hope you had a great civic holiday weekend, because I've been working the whole way through -- and additional miserly pittance aside, a long weekend is an awful time to be cooped up far away from everything cool that's going on everywhere else. So after I finish work tomorrow I'm booking it straight out of town, up to the Interlake where an ancestral wooden shack with no running water sits cheerfully dilapidated but scant seconds away from the beach.

Don't expect any blog updates for the next few days, is what I'm suggesting. But you can look forward to another small flurry of content when I get back; there are no shortage of topics for me to work on, and I've told myself that I'll cave in and write about that incomprehensible Greyhound beheading if it's still in the news when I get back. (And there isn't much chance that it won't be, is there? We're probably going to be hearing about this one straight through to winter.)

But that's for later in the week! Consider me on pause for the next couple of days while I recharge a bit; feel free to picture me as striking manly poses in the wilderness and then fighting bears with my bare hands, because that's infinitely more interesting than my real plan of reading Voltaire and drinking.

Cass McCombs - Pregnant Pause (Dropping the Writ, 2008)
[buy | site | wiki stub | myspace]

All is for the best! I'll see you in a few days.

Friday, August 01, 2008

You Ain't Got No Alibi

Uptown Magazine! Anything less would be uncivilized!

You'll never guess who's in Uptown this w... oh. Okay, yeah, it's me. Wow, no fooling you.

It seems the formatting went a little wacky on this one, so there are some periods where some ellipses should have gone and vice versa -- but whatever! I think the message of the article still shines through, the message being that we need better TV.

(Yes, yes, the medium is the message. I see what I did there.)

Our local television scene used to be a vibrant, bizarre, enchanting little world all its own, a kaleidoscope of maniacs and puppets and elderly musicians and brightly coloured, lovingly hand-rendered computer line-art montages. (Oh -- and, of course, twelve-year-old Kaj Hasselriis reviewing movies. Seriously, did anybody on public access television not end up running for mayor?) But now? The best we can do for local content nowadays is to act surprised when a weatherman jumps from one station to another, to feign excitement about watching a Goldeyes game, or to stare blankly at Kinsmen Bingo and have a small existential crisis about whether or not this is all there is to life.

To closer examine the root of my discontent, consider the following video at length.

I'm assuming that you aren't reading this at work with YouTube blocked, because that's just going to look like blank space otherwise. Humour me as I transcribe selected excerpts:

"The channel allows you, the viewing public, the opportunity to express your ideas through the medium of television. The programs you watch on VPW are produced by local people who have something to share with their community.

"If you would like to be part of community access television, either before the cameras expressing your views and sharing your talent or behind the scenes as part of the production team, we will assist you to develop the necessary production skills.

"In addition to programs produced by individuals, VPW also presents mobile coverage of community events. If your group has an up-and-coming event that you would like to share with the community, please call us to discuss arrangements for possible mobile coverage; you may also promote your up-and-coming event on VPW 11, and on Videon's public service announcement channel."

[. . .]

"Stay tuned to VPW, as your community presents alternative television."

Hells yes, 'alternative television'! The very idea! Two minutes of Videon station identification from 1988 serve to highlight everything that we had back then, or more to the point everything that we don't have now; individuals have no access points, no production training is provided for interested community members, anyone looking for a 'public service announcement channel' is probably forced to use Facebook instead, and the only way your community event will get mentioned in passing on (urgh) SHAW TV is if you've got some very high-placed business interests backing you up.

Our 'community' station is a steaming stream of vapid, business-friendly, milquetoast pablum operated exclusively by professionals on the payroll of a Calgary cable conglomerate who have no intention of letting anyone else in on the fun. But, as I mention in the article, even our (openly) privately-owned stations could be chipping in and giving everybody something to identify with. Come on, private broadcasters! Step it up!

Perhaps you recall Buckley and Beave, the anthropomorphic puppet hosts of the MTN Kids Club, and if you do then this next video will both perplex and astound you:

The Environment Canada screens are clearly the best part of this video, but that's beside the point for now. Somebody out there legitimately took the time and effort to piece this... tribute... together, which is irrationally terrifying I will guarantee is not going to happen in fifteen years' time with the crap we're airing now.

I just want Winnipeg to have interesting television again! Is this genuinely so much to ask? Help a brother out here!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Abominable, You Say

You know, I may poke fun at it an awful lot, but right now I think it's time that we stopped and stepped back for a moment to properly appreciate the Winnipeg Sun.

I know it catches more than its fair share of flak -- and I'm as guilty of this as anybody else! -- but nobody ever stops to think about how much hard work it must take to put the Sun together each day. Hidden deep somewhere within its slick and slimy corporate shell are decent men and women who genuinely do try their hardest to put out a quality product each day, fine people like you or I who have the best of intentions and a ceaseless determination to make a living for themselves in the field they love.

And who's to say that these well-meaning writers and reporters and researchers aren't occasionally handcuffed or handicapped by the stylistic specifications of the overarching Quebecor Sun Media corporation? Sure, I may feel at times that the tone of the paper is intellectually condescending and purposefully pandering to the lowest common denominator -- but that's just my own personal reaction, and I'm precariously overeducated! Jesus, I read plays for fun! My attitude towards the paper should not be considered reflective of the general community, who have supported the Sun for almost... ten years now and who take great delight in its themed daily features. Some people even depend exclusively on the Sun for their news and information! Think about that one for a while!

The Winnipeg Sun is a fine choice for sports coverage, its reverberating connection with the common man cannot be understated, and hey -- some of those Sunshine Girls sure are pretty! The Sun may not be some bigshot brainy paper with downtown forts to protect or pages that you have to figure out how to unfold first, but it has a whole lot of spunk and gumption to see it through the day and make itself known as a local force in its own right. The Winnipeg Sun is an important paper with a lot of important things to say, and we should all put aside our cynical preconceptions and respect it as such.

Now, then! It's good to have that established. So let's take a look at the ol' Sun today and see what important local or world news story garners the prestigious leading headline for th--

Are you fucking kidding me.

A Bigfoot sighting. Oh, Jesus. They're serious, aren't they? Our second most prominent, second most trusted daily newspaper runs giant front-page headlines about rural folk who claim to have seen a sasquatch.

I... I can't even parse this. Holy shit. Front-page news! This is the world that the Winnipeg Sun lives in.






Hey, guys, I think I drove past the Bat Boy last time I was heading to Brandon. Could you go check up on that, too, while you're at it?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Holy Crap the Bombers Won a Football Game (or, Kevin Glenn Might Not Get to Play Anymore)

That game was awesome! Did you see that game just now? Drama central! Yes! It wasn't a well-played game on either side, per se, but it was definitely an entertaining one.

Ryan Dinwiddie finally made good and threw for (wait for it) four hundred and fifty yards, including a crazy thirty-second touchdown drive in the last minute that covered seventy-five yards in three plays. That, plus Henry Burris remembering he's Henry Burris and coughing up a turnover in the fourth quarter, was the big story of the game tonight; the Bombers were still kind of a bad team, but at least their passing game is finally working.

There wasn't much else good to take from tonight; Charles Roberts still hasn't contributed much of anything all year (and it was only a well-timed challenge that saved him from a critical fumble here), Alexis Serna singlehandedly blew about a touchdown's worth (!) of points tonight, and the (well-rested) Bomber defence imploded at the very last minute and lost a lead that the team had held for the entire game to that point. But the pass core, still without a Stegall to speak of, came together after all of that and did just well enough to overcome the previously-unbeaten top team in the league. Any given Thursday, I guess.

(Credit where credit is due to the Stampeders, of course -- their defence was also pretty bad tonight, but damn if that Nik Lewis touchdown catch wasn't the craziest thing the league has seen all year.)

So the Winnipeg Blue Bombers improve to... one and four! Yeah! It's still obscenely bad, but it's progress. And let's face it, it's an eight-team league, so all they have to do now is pass the Tiger-Cats (as sad as that is to write) and they'll technically be back in playoff contention.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Winnipeg Loves Slurpees and Murder (or, Kennewick Can Suck It)

lol see what i did there

It was another long day at work today, and I'll do my best to type this all up as quickly as I can; the Bomber game is on tonight and I feel obligated to watch it, if only to appease my inextinguishable appetite for schadenfreude. (Oh, man, they're so bad this year! It's awesome!) But I would be completely remiss if I didn't mention this pair of news stories, one from this week and one backlogged from last, because together they combine their powers like Wonder Twins to form the paired pillars of Manitoba society.

That's right! Despite initial media scares, our city still stands tall: we're number one for Slurpees! And we're number one for murder, to the surprise of absolutely nobody!

Slurpees and Murder! Whoo! Good work, team! (Especially you folks outside Winnipeg; 400,000 people uniting for 34 homicides? Now that's some dedication!)

Forget this 'Heart of the Continent' noise, no matter how awesome it is that people are still equating the phrase with a weatherman from fourty-five years ago -- we should just go ahead and write 'Slurpees and Murder' up on those welcome signs, both for the sake of truth in advertising and to humour my insatiable megalomania. ('Winnipeg: Life Sucks and Then You Die' is a perfectly acceptable substitute, especially if the signs keep the blue and gold colour scheme.)

So, Slurpees, then. Let's go over that recent pandemonium, shall we? It might not be timely, but damn if I won't try to make it definitive.

The uproar over the title of World Slurpee Capital initially erupted during the Folk Festival (which was pretty inconsiderate of it) when news originally broke that Winnipeg might well have lost its lone positive defining characteristic hold on a previously unshakeable global crown. Outrage, mourning and bewildered remarks of "wait where the hell is Kennewick" ruled the land for the rest of the day, and on into the next, until 7-Eleven spokespersons both in Canada and the United States hastily emerged to reconfirm Winnipeg's championship and then pretend that two otherwise unrelated cities hadn't just flipped out on each other over some sugar water.

(Interestingly, 7-Eleven also announced that Kennewick wasn't even the yearly Slurpee leader in the United States; they insisted that the number one Slurpee market in America is, was, and remains Detroit. This can be considered further proof that Detroit and Winnipeg are far more similar than either city would care to admit -- except for the part where Detroit sports teams win championships, but I'm pretty sure that I've beaten that horse straight into the ground already.)

Now, you all know me, so you all know that this is usually where I'd go for the cheap heat and write something like "Kennewick are a bunch of jerks". And I still might, if need be! But careful observation reveals that the whole sordid mess is the handiwork of a single man, an isolated mastermind toiling towards his grand scheme with an almost supervillain-level fanaticism.

Don Marriotto, a former tax-law attorney of 20 years and the franchiser of the lone 7-Eleven in Kennewick, WA, is the linchpin of the whole narrative. Knocked into a giant vat of Slurpee chemicals during a burglary attempt, he -- no, sorry, that's not right. Let me try that again.

July of 2005 saw Don Marriotto purchase the single 7-Eleven store in Kennewick, and like any astute store owner he took note of which items sold best -- in this case, Slurpees, and thousands of them. He spent the next year and a half unsuccessfully angling to have 7-Eleven send him more Slurpee machines, and each time he did the head offices told him that his store had to move more product to justify the upgrade.

Not to be denied, he began plotting and planning; if more product movement they wanted, more product movement they would get! He began to make deals -- buy three and get one free, buy two and get one free, buy item and get coupon, buy this and get that, try some of the doughnuts we carry for some reason, so on and so forth -- until headquarters finally caved and sent him extra Slurpee machines.

Yes, he thought to himself, his plans for global domination coming ever more steadily into focus. Knowing that his rapid rise up the sales charts was making him something of a local celebrity, he took his quest for glory to its logical conclusion: he consulted the worldwide records, went "wait where the hell is Winnipeg" and set out to make his store the top Slurpee seller in the world.

Soon enough, his "Kennewick Slurpee Factory" went twelve straight months as the leading store -- July 2007 to July 2008, which you may want to mark down as a plot point for later -- and when 7-Eleven Day 2008 (July 11th, for the one or two of you who hadn't picked up on that yet) rolled around, he stood tall amidst his single-store empire and proclaimed himself the Slurpee King. Look on his celebratory multicoloured banners, ye mighty, and despair!

He made appearances in local media, then in international media, and then in comments sections of Winnipeg entertainment blogs for what could only be considered nefarious and inexplicable reasons. Not a gracious winner, by anybody's standards -- but in these heady days of victory, he could do little else but boast!

He had scraped, he had slaved, he had bartered and begged, but finally it had all paid off -- glory had finally come, and glory was all his! Kennewick, Washington... Slurpee Capital of the World!

And then the corporate heads swooped in and took it all away from him.

An understandable reaction, of course, from a big-business perspective; corporate sense would dictate that it's far more important to pacify a ravenous longtime market of 650,000 people than it is to herald a ravenous newfound market of 65,000 people. So the 7-Eleven officials retconned their previous coverage and awarded the 2008 title to Winnipeg, just as they'd done with the past eight before it, because -- boom! Plot point! -- the 2008 rankings were based on cup sales from January 2007 to December 2007.

They say a little piece of Don Marriotto died, that day.

Winnipeg is safe for another year, one annual win closer to the almost unfathomable decade mark, and our tiny wisps of bizarrely misplaced civic pride continue to float in the breeze. But you know what? That guy worked his ass off to earn his almost-title, and he used some pretty heavy firepower to do it -- free t-shirt giveaways, free Slurpee giveaways, promotional blitzes, design contests, and twelve different flavors at any given time. And next month they're bumping it up to eighteen flavours! Eighteen! Jesus!

Given the information available, it seems almost impossible for Winnipeg to survive another year as Slurpee champion. The 2008 crown was based on 2007 numbers, and Marriotto only started his marketing blitz in the summer of last year -- so given a full year of his t-shirts and contests and giveaways versus a full year of our nothing, the safe bet is a Fist of the North Star proclamation that we're already dead and don't know it yet.

If we do earn that tenth consecutive season title, somehow, then we still have one final ultimate rudo-heel move at our disposal -- hold a press conference, accept the title, and retire from the official competition "to give everyone else a fair chance". (Scott Fielding, take notes! This is important!) And if we don't win, well, the onus wasn't on us purchasers to begin with; the blame should be laid where it would belong, and that's with the complacent Winnipeg franchisers who never so much as put up a fight.

Where are our free t-shirts? Our two-for-one Slurpees? Our logo design contests and eighteen different flavours and drinks named after luchadores? The most that any of us have ever received for our continued championship-level patronage is a staggeringly gaudy bumper sticker, and bumper stickers just don't cut it any more in our modern era of competition. 7-Eleven owners, who among you will stand up to combat this threat? Who among you will emerge as our civic saviour, handing out freebies and discounts and deals to the masses?

You might accuse me of angling shamelessly for free stuff, and because I am from Winnipeg you can rest assured that I totally am. But should we fall, don't let me hear you say that I hadn't warned you!

Slurpees! Serious business!

Oh, of course. You're wondering where I pulled half of that Don Marriotto information from, aren't you? If you'd thought that I was making most of this up, I wouldn't have doubted your cynicism for a second.

But rest assured that, like any good historian, I've based my research on primary sources -- and the primary source that best explains Don Marriotto is his declaration of his modus operandi, posted under the name CougarDon (what) on a 7-Eleven Franchise Owners Google Group.

"I am known in town as the Slurpee King."

Not the greatest supervillain name, but one that would definitely motivate a man to stay out of prison.

Didn't expect to read all this today, did you? Ha! That's why they pay me the big bucks! And by 'they', I mean 'nobody will'!

There were harsh words and hurt feelings all around in this whole kerfuffle, but the most important thing to remember is that we're not all that different; after all is said and done, Kennewick folk are just like you and me. To wit, emphasis added:

"During busy hours, customers keep flowing in. But because there are so many, they can get stuck in line. One of those customers Saturday was Brian Paxton of Kennewick. He meandered through the flavors like a true connoisseur, trying to find the right combination.

"It's hot dude, (the Slurpees) are refreshing," the 27-year-old said. "It's nice, something different. And it's a great hangover remedy."

"After a couple minutes of weighing his options, he went with a "Rambo" -- most of the flavors mixed together -- in a Simpsons cup. His friend Dylan Wickenhauser had to get two, one for him and a perfect Piña Colada for his girlfriend."

Bless your heart, 27-year-old Brian Paxton of Kennewick, Washington. You're good people.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Let's Play Catch-Up

Ha ha ha -- oh, man! Remember me? I'm that guy that used to write stuff way back in the day!

God, we were so young back then, it's hard to remember how different things w... what? Oh. Okay, so it's only been a week since I posted. Well, it's felt longer, damn it! As I'd previously mentioned, my schedule across the past week was so profoundly demented (spanning five days of work, four days of Folk Festival, two days of driving straight across the province and back, and zero days received of the two days I'd booked off of work) that I didn't have much chance to get much of anything written down.

Like thousands of other Winnipeggers, I spent the beginning of the week laying low and shaking off the aftereffects of the Folk Festival weekend. (If you try to talk to me at any time in the next few days, I would recommend you aim for my left ear rather than my right ear.) But I'm up and about again, and damn if I don't have some catching up to do.

Set sail for backlog -- it's time for a series of small stories! And first off--

Son of the Revenge of This is How People Find Me

Holy yes. It's that time again! It's been a good couple of months since I went through the site's search strings, and the summer crop is as healthy as ever:

-- where is my rebate chq
-- who gets mpi cheque winnipeg
-- i haven't got my mpi rebate cheque
-- ab relaxer
-- lou the cow
-- korean for hello sir
-- how bad are slurpees
-- slurpee horror stories
-- spleen too much slurpee
-- kern hill artist
-- songs about kern-hill
-- classical music sucks
-- that's one hot russian jet
-- come near at your peril canadian wolf
-- louis riel don't stop believing
-- rock and roll superstar grab an electric guitar
-- cottage cheese market
-- safeway life on the go air miles winner prize or prizes
-- winnipeg free press coffee good for woman
-- winnipeg real estate agent women working alone
-- can john mellencamp dance well
-- hate harvey-zenk
-- just for laughs homicide
-- cynical person ?

And, of course:

-- rex murphy eagle muppet

Bless you, whoever you are. That's the kind of audience participation that makes it all worthwhile. And speaking of audiences I appreciate--

Haves and Have-Nots Together at Last

Uptown Magazine! Game cards do not actually talk!

I'm obviously pretty late on this one, since it was released last Thursday and I was either in Oak Lake or at Birds Hill at the time, but nonetheless here I am. Was. You know.

So far there's been precious little explanation, or popular support, for Manitoba Homecoming 2010; they announced it, nobody could figure out why we have it, and it's coming out of our pockets. Bartley Kives put out an article on the same subject a couple of days after mine, which I'd imagine was a coincidence brought on by every other news story in the city being simultaneously infuriating and depressing. (I appreciate the Miyazaki reference in the title, there, by the way.)

He and I appear to be in agreement that the whole project is underwhelming, misguided, bafflingly arbitrary and staggeringly pointless -- but to highlight the differences in our stances, let me once again stress that I'm still going to party all year regardless.

Yes, it's two and a half million dollars that we're not going to get back -- and it's our two and a half million dollars, draining straight out of the public coffers -- but at least we'll get something out of the money, this time! All we ever got from the squandered millions of Spirited Energy money was an onslaught of hideous banners, a series of frustrating commercials (why on earth did they ever think it was a good idea to show these in movie theatres) and a deepseated distrust in the money-handling skills of our provincial braintrusts.

We all knew from the beginning that this money was never going to go towards improving public transportation, or combating hallway medicine, or repairing our crumbling infrastructure, or whatever, so it's about time we get some bread and circuses (no, not the restaurant) out of our money before it's inevitably thrown to millionaires to build themselves completely unnecessary commercial projects.

Sorry, did I seem unexcited there? I meant to say OH BOY SURE CAN'T WAIT FOR THEM WATERPARKS WHOOP-DEE-SHIT

Bad Religion - 10 in 2010 (The Gray Race, 1996)
[buy | site | fansite | info | myspace]

guess who used to play crazy taxi

Manitoba Homecoming 2010! Come back and remember all the reasons you left!

One Great City!

Now, let me see if I understand this correctly. Our Mayor got together with our civic economic development and tourism services agency to weigh the problems that continue to plague our city -- taking a long and hard look at each detrimental element that casts a dark shadow over our fine capital -- and decided that our highway signs are our immediate priority?

Is this a put-on? Seriously? What, did he already give up on cleaning the graffiti and synchronizing the traffic lights?

As Policy Frog has already noted, Sam Katz went from "it's not about rebranding the city" on Thursday to "help us rebrand the city" on Friday. Why are "Heart of the Continent" and "Heart of the Country" both included in the mayor's list? So that they can sap votes from each other and push his slogan to victory, duh. Gerrymandering isn't just for land, you know!

You'll recall "The Centre of It All" as John K. Samson's initial suggestion for a new slogan, probably because he knew that "Winnipeg Hates You Too" wasn't going to fly. Ditto for "People Before Profit". Sorry, North End.

But why now, of all times? Does this really have to be done right this second? Since the cost will reportedly be less than $50,000, it could just as easily have been rolled into the (aforementioned) $2.5 million budget for Manitoba Homecoming 2010. I'm sure the current signs would have lasted two more years, just in time to roll out new ones reading 'Welcome Home to Winnipeg' (or alternately, 'Winnipeg: Oh, Good, You're Back!'). But synergy kind of requires planning ahead, and the hell if we're going to learn how to do that now.

You know what? We originally put those blue and gold signs up in the first place to commemorate the Blue Bombers' last Grey Cup win, and that was so long ago that the signs are now (to hear the Mayor and Destination Winnipeg tell it) embarassingly old and busted. As far as I'm concerned, we don't need to drop the coin for these commemorative signs until they have something to commemorate -- so leave the current signs up, and no new signs until the Bombers win another Grey Cup. And no new stadium, either! This could very well be the year that our city's most legitimate remaining sports franchise goes 0 and 18, and attendance isn't going to go up while our team spends a season or two in dramatic freefall; what's the hurry in building a new joint when the team is stinking up the old one? Let them win a Cup, then give them their new building. It'll give everyone more time to raise the cash, it'll make the stadium seem more special when it does arrive, and a single Grey Cup win really shouldn't be so much to ask of a team that's already gone almost twenty years without winning the championship of an eight-team league.

Speaking of which:

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers

This is the face we make when we watch Bomber games.

It's going to be a loooong year, isn't it? Oh, man. There's a slight chance that you may have heard this already from another source, but so far this year the Blue Bombers are awful. Like Reinebold-era awful.

And because the Bombers weren't having enough problems with sucking out loud and then getting injured in droves, people started freaking out because a few former Blue Bombers cheerleaders posed for 'sexually provocative' photos that inevitably ended up online.

Oh, no, not nudity! Our police slaughter civilians with drunken vehicular homicide and then launch multifaceted, poorly-executed coverups that function just well enough to keep anybody involved from ever serving jail time -- but a young woman partially revealed her buttocks! We've got to do something, quickly, before people begin to sexually objectify cheerleaders! pfffffft

I love the Free Press coverage mentioning that they took the issue to City Hall and City Hall just rolled its eyes and went about its day. Holy crap, what a non-issue. If mooning is a crime, I have a couple friends who are eligible for life without parole by now.

The Winnipeg Sun has helpfully put the pictures in question together into an online gallery, because it would be completely out of character for the Winnipeg Sun to do otherwise. Mind you, they were already on the internet to begin with, so in a completely unprecedented move the Winnipeg Sun seems to be relying on the intellectual laziness of its audience.

There must be a generational gap at play here or something, because by our modern standards the pictures are less "sexually provocative" than they are "stupid behavior". I mean, maybe the age of the internet has irreversibly altered our standards, but is this it? Really?

Ha ha ha ha, she bends over the cop car and even the cop is like "sure, whatever". THIS STORY IS VERY IMPORTANT

Somebody somewhere thought that the pictures are racy enough to justify the Winnipeg Blue Bombers declaring martial law on their employees, but I would suggest that the organization is overreacting just a little bit. Approximately zero of those images would look out of place on a MySpace or Facebook, and as an example -- hang on, let me track down a few accessories first -- okay, see this?

This is every Facebook ever.

Are these pictures a profoundly bad idea? Of course they're a profoundly bad idea! And would my hypothetical grandchildren bring these to me fourty or fifty years from now and ask me what the hell was wrong with me? Of course they would! And rightfully so! But should these pictures send my employer (or, as with these girls, former employers) scrambling to put out press releases decrying my behavior and denying any connections to me? Well, how about if I showed some nipple in the pictures?

What a bizarrely irrelevant thing for the newspapers to get worked up about. Are there any real news stories kicking around, or--

The Crystal Taman Inquiries

Aw, great. I walked right into that one.

I won't be able to get anywhere in this story without mentioning something first, so bear with me because I need to say it: I can't look at Harry Bakema without seeing Randy Carlyle.

While this doesn't necessarily equate Derek Harvey-Zenk with Todd Bertuzzi, at least we know who we can cast when someone inevitably makes a TV miniseries about the case.

So are the East St. Paul police force completely corrupt, or completely incompetent? My conversations with East St. Paul residents indicate that the answer is a resounding "Both", and everything presented in the Taman case to this point backs the idea up completely.

In one of his many columns on the inquiry, Dan Lett wrote about Harry Bakema's possible mindset at the scene of the collision:

"Through Paciocco's questioning, it is not tough to envision a scenario that saw Bakema quickly and profoundly overwhelmed by what happened the morning of Taman's death.

"There was the gore and carnage of the accident. It was February, not quite light out, and extremely cold. Added to the chaos of that scene, Bakema quickly finds out an off-duty Winnipeg cop is likely responsible for the collision. Even worse, Bakema discovers that he knows the cop."

So given this information, and given his three decades of police experience, what course of action did Bakema take? He grabbed his cellphone, phoned now-Chief of Winnipeg Police Keith McCaskill multiple times to fill him in on everything (which means that our current Winnipeg Police Chief has known all about the case right from the beginning three years ago and said nothing about it since then -- whoops) and then phoned Jim Gauthier Chrysler for reasons even he can't figure out. Good call, Chief!

This revelation also explains why he was the only person who claims not to have smelled alcohol on Harvey-Zenk that night, despite being the one to carry him to the cop car. He couldn't notice these or any other important details because he had far more important things on his mind -- like the low, low prices and great customer service of a certified DaimerChrysler Five Star retailer!

"Welp," he thought to himself, "there's only one thing to do after contacting several senior members of the police force and thus tainting the entire city's law enforcement right from the top down: I need to call my local Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-and-Eagle! With zero-percent financing available and up to five hundred dollars cash back on all 2008 models, it'd be irresponsible to do anything else!"

Heck, this is probably also why the cops ordered Fresh I.E. out of his car at gunpoint last month! It wasn't because of racial profiling, the police misidentifying the licence plate number, or the office staffers reading the database information incorrectly -- it was because he was driving a Chrysler 300! Cops love the new Chrysler 300s! They just wanted to take a better look at it, but weren't sure how to ask!

I think I'm losing my mind.

It's good to be writing again! Tune in tomorrow for more backlog-busting action; I've still got more to clear out, including the news item that people wrote me about specifically to ask why the hell I hadn't written about it yet. I have myself convinced that you're looking forward to it!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

This, Somehow, is My Vacation

I'm not in a particularly good mood, tonight. Have you ever booked two days off from work, three weeks in advance, and then been told two weeks later that you will receive neither of your requested days off? I really can't begin to tell you what a strong sense of employee loyalty this inspires.

Wednesday and Thursday technically being considered my weekend, I'll be spending the weekend on the road; my dad recently moved out to Oak Lake, which is a few hours away, so my siblings and I are going to load up into the car and go see him. So I'll be packing up at the crack of dawn, driving for a few hours, staying the night there, then driving back in the early afternoon the next day to be back here in time for the Folk Festival.

Of course I'm going to the Folk Festival! I've got a weekend pass! What did you think I'd wanted the two days off for?

So I have to get back on Thursday in time to go almost directly to Bird's Hill, which is where I'll be until at least midnight or one -- then my schedule through to Monday goes work all day, Folk Fest, work all day, Folk Fest, work all day, Folk Fest, work all day, inevitable collapse. Worker morale is not going to be my strong suit this weekend, no.

I've got a column upcoming in this Thursday's Uptown, so watch for that; I really have no idea when I'll find the time to mention it otherwise, so I'm bringing it up ahead of time. And once I've got more time on my hands I'll post some primo highway-driving summer songs for you guys. Oh, geez! I'd better go get pictures of the One Great City signs, too, before the city destroys 'em.

I keep meaning to post about the sign thing, so remind me about it when I look better rested. For now, though -- sleep! I'm going to need it!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Come Near at Your Peril, Canadian Wolf

Okay, so. I read about the oncoming kerfuffle with the One Great City signs last Friday, thought it would make for a great post, then put it aside to post pictures of stunningly hideous buildings instead. The weekend goes by, everybody gets back from the lake or whatever, and abruptly the story is all but inescapable; I've a coworker who listens almost exclusively to HOT103, for example, and holy hell did they ever just flog this news item to death today.

If you want to play along at home, you can read this aloud to yourself for the full radio-hosting experience:

HEY yerlisteninto HOT ONEOHTHREE we got a CALLER ontheline CALLER whatdya think our signs should say (six second pause) HA HA hey that's great listen whatsyername (one second pause) ALRIGHT yernamehere thanks for the call yerlisteninto HOT ONEOHTHREE

Then scroll up and read it aloud again every ten minutes or so, killing time between readthroughs by playing whatever three songs on your computer are the most popular. See how many times you can repeat it before you're tired of the story and you want to die! Come on, it'll be fun!

(On a completely unrelated note, this tiny correction on the Free Press website made me smile for all the wrong reasons. The signs commemorated the Blue Bombers winning the Grey Cup, and I know it's been a long time since they last won it -- a really long time -- but to miss the answer of 'eighteen years ago' by another eighteen years is a spectacular feat indeed.)

Anyway. So now that the local media, both print and radio, have seized on the story and are busily making a big deal out of it, I'm... still going to pass it over, at least for now. That'll be for later! No, tonight I'm here to talk about an equally important and equally pressing topic; tonight it is time to talk about Newfoundland.

Yes! Newfoundland! I bring this up because of another story from last week that I'd mentally set aside for later, about the latest case of the extremely rare Foreign Accent Syndrome. No doubt the story leaves out a lot of little details, like the awkward conversations with people phoning to check up on her or the one idiot grandson that performed a self-styled rendition of "I's the B'y that Has the Stroke" and was written out of four different wills that same day.

The whole thing is a couple of small changes and minor embellishments away from being the next relentlessly unfunny Mike Myers movie, and the story cheerfully kicks the door open for every joke you've ever heard about Newfoundlanders and brain damage -- but we as a nation have to learn to resist these temptations, overwhelming though they may be! I'm not just saying this because Newfoundland has given us upstanding entertainment like Rick Mercer, Danny Williams or Rrr-ex MURP'Y -- and I'm not just saying this because they have an airport terminal that I'd really like to visit before it gets shut down. No, I'm saying this as a concerned Canadian because we all need to keep one very important thing in mind: Newfoundland doesn't need us, and if we keep this up then one of these days they'll decide that they don't need to put up with our shit.

Don't believe me? Listen for yourself:

Alan Mills and Gilbert 'Buck' Lacombe - Anti-Confederation Song (Classic Canadian Songs: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2006)
[buy | lyrics | alan mills bio | library info]

Ha ha, yeah, I'm still tearing through these library CDs. I'm having a blast with these!

Written in 1869 by Charles James Fox Bennett, a staunch anti-Confederationist who had a Santa beard and apparently collected first names for fun, the Anti-Confederation Song was his wildly successful protest anthem against the potential downfall of integrating the Rock; his propaganda reportedly played a significant role in the subsequent referendum that saw Newfoundland reject union with Canada. (What is it with me and referendum songs lately?)

Nineteenth century songwriting was badass, to the surprise of anybody with a pre-existing mental image of nineteenth-century songwriting. I really can't get over how much I love the line "come near at your peril, Canadian wolf", because it's awesome twice over -- awesome because the emblematic imagery of the 'Canadian Wolf' is so much better than anything we have nowadays (the hell with your beavers) and then awesome again because any given bearded Newfoundlander was ready at any time to go out into the trees and snarl back at the Canadian Wolf (the emblematic one, not the one from Virtua Fighter) until it relented and went away. Don't let it be said that your birthright was sold!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

We Can't Have Nice Things

Okay, no, I'm not aiming to be the guy who posts a picture on his blog every day; Winnipeg already has that position filled, and by somebody far better at it than I'd ever be. (I really wish that some of these pictures were bigger, mind you, since a lot of these would make for awesome desktop wallpaper.) But you'll humour me one more pic-of-the-day, I hope, because I noticed these three banners lining the front of the MTS Centre a day or two ago and I found myself sort of chuckling and shaking my head despite myself.

They probably have to get these things made up months in advance, of course, but still -- that's some strange serendipity to see these put up together. The banner on the right prominently features a major-league hockey team that took off running out of Winnipeg more than a decade ago, and the banner on the left prominently features a goalie that our present-day minor-league farm team doesn't even have any more. Whoops!

Well, at least we still have our football team to cheer for. They're only two wins away from being at five-hundred! That's something, right? It's... it's important to set realistic goals for ourselves?

Friday, July 04, 2008

They Ran Out of the Nicer Headlines

Man, I gotta stop reading the news in the evenings.

Can you spot the feel-good fluffpiece?

"Tonight on CJOB 68 The Superstation A Corus Radio Network: Engineers like our floodway! Also, six different crimes and an extensive police cover-up. This is CJOB! 68!"

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Oh, To Be Colourblind

I happened to be passing through the Exchange District today, and I had to take a picture of this building just so people would believe me when I told them about it.

The contrast between the natural green of the tree and the... whatever that is of the building is a striking one, to put it succinctly.

We as a city, we... we really have no idea how to look after old buildings, do we? Some we knock down for empty and/or parking space, some we give to businessmen who sit and wait for them to cave in, and some we paint neon lime like a hideous Photoshop mishap come to life because we just can't have nice things.

It's completely empty, by the way! It's very curious that prime storefront business space should be sitting abandoned in the cheerfully healthy Exchange District real-estate market; I can't imagine what might be keeping potential tenants away. Must be something I'm missing!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Jose Gonzalez w/ Shuyler Jansen -- Park Theatre, Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

Yeah! I actually got tickets to this! I was pretty late in remembering this was coming up, and when I looked into getting tickets there were only six left -- so good thing I remembered when I did!

The show opened last night with Saskatoon country-rocker and Old Reliable member Shuyler Jansen, accompanied by the Edmontonian drummer whose name I have somehow completely forgotten. They were, uh... they really... they were there.

It was okay for the first couple of songs, dark and twisty, interesting sort of stuff -- but then the uncomfortable realization followed that all of his songs were being played in the same tempo, with largely the same dynamics, and they tended to blend together after a while. It might have just been an off day for the two of them, since they'd mentioned that they both drove here from Saskatoon that very day; "I'm so slow right now," Jansen added briefly. Nothing offensive, certainly, but nothing either that made me want to rush out and buy some albums.

Well, that's okay! Maybe I'll warm to them next time I run into them. Besides, the main event was forthcoming! Bring on the world-class headlining act!

They never actually turned the lights on, not all the way. It's an ambience thing.

Jose Gonzalez is definitely as good as you expect him to be, full of guitar majesty and unparalleled songwriting skills -- so I was mostly satisfied with the show. Mostly.

You may remember back when I talked about the Tom Cochrane and John Mellencamp concert that led to my little brother and I taking turns acting indignant about the songs that were left out of Cochrane's setlist. Where my Paper Tigers at god damn it And it's no secret to anybody that my absolute favourite Jose Gonzalez song, cover or original, is Killing For Love; hell, I've posted it on this blog twice, clearly I've got a certain fondness for it.

And I figured, between his two albums and his Joy Division cover, he has a total of twenty-three songs -- and Killing For Love was the first single off his second album! (In Sweden, anyway; it was the third single everywhere else.) Surely he had to play it!



You can imagine how I was a tad cheesed off by this. I mean, come on! I know his covers draw the lion's share of his popularity, but if a song is strong enough to be released as a single off his second album -- and again, he only has two -- then why on earth would he leave it off his live playlists? Rasserfrackin' mumble mumble what in tarnation.

So there was that. Also curious was the concert's inclusion of a couple pieces that called for a trumpet part; he didn't have a trumpet player handy, so what they did was pipe the recorded trumpet segment over his playing from the control booth. So he's sitting at the microphone, just himself and his guitar, bathed in the entirety of what little light there was -- and then this loud, disembodied trumpet arises from nowhere, and the majority of the crowd starts looking around the small venue as if wondering where on earth the trumpet player is hiding. This sort of thing can kind of take a brother out of the moment, you understand.

And he screwed up the last verse of Crosses, incidentally. I know, I know, maybe I'm being kind of harsh on him for mentioning it, because it was at one of the harder parts -- the turnaround coming out of the bridge, under the line "the streets outside your window". It was a really noticeable flub, too, the kind where you could see him shake his head and then play the last four bars again to centre himself. Now, I've tried playing the song a few times before, and that's usually the spot where I'm going to screw it up too -- so I was all set to commiserate with him for messing up that part before I blinked and remembered, wait, this is his song. If anybody is going to be able to play this song live, we should hope it's him.

He's still leaps and bounds ahead of most any other singer-songwriter you'll catch, of course. From this assortment of nitpicks you might assume that I was disappointed with his performance, and that isn't the case in the slightest; he had his off moments, sure, but damn if that guy can't sing and play guitar. I was tempted to write off his misplays as nerves, since he'd mentioned that this was his very first time playing here -- but the longer I thought about it the more I started to think that he might not yet have full confidence in playing his own material live. It's not an uncommon sentiment, not by any means -- it takes a good long while before playing your own songs to an audience is less intimidating than playing songs by other people. But you could palpably feel how much more confident he was when he launched into any of his three massively popular covers, because immediately he played louder, sat up straighter, sang more enthusiastically. And, not coincidentally, the covers were emphasized by their placement; he closed the main set with Teardrops and closed the encore with Love Will Tear Us Apart. And they're great covers, don't get me wrong! But I really do prefer his originals, ESPECIALLY KILLING FOR LOVE I MEAN COME ON even if he doesn't necessarily, so I hope he puts the same level of energy into his own songs the (hopeful and hypothetical) next time he comes through town.

What else, you might ask, made me think that he was nervous during this concert? He only played for an hour, encore included. And that is really weird. Shuyler Jansen and Jose Gonzalez had almost the same set length, which seems off somehow when one guy is the opener from one province over and the other guy is the headliner from halfway across the world. Alas! So it goes, sometimes.

Heck, I'm just glad I got tickets on such short notice! Man, I've got to start considering these things farther ahead of time. That reminds me, when is that Bugs on Broadway thing coming to t... what? Aw, crap!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

We are a Federation of Peoples and Provinces (or, Happy Canada Day Ha Ha Ha Oh My God What is This)

[ Retroactively added to the Slurpees and Murder Record Club. ]

Yeah, work was grand fun today. Thanks for asking.

It's Canada Day! I've got tickets for the Jose Gonzalez concert tonight, so I'd better hurry up and get ready to go to that, but first things first -- I had promised you all (or, more accurately, warned you) that a special Canada Day post was forthcoming, and I intend to have it come forth whether it's a good idea or not.

You'll recall my library misadventures from a couple of weeks ago, their end result being a bag of interesting borrowed CDs adorning my bedroom floor. One such CD is of particular notice, today of all days:

Oh, dear.

Things are hunky-dory across our fine country these days, or at least as hunky-dory as they ever get -- but to fully understand a piece of music such as this one, we would obviously be best served to consider the environment that it was written in. A music student in Montreal and a writer-slash-shirt-salesman in Ontario got together in the fall of 1994, a month after the Parti Quebecois rose to power and a year before the Referendum, to write a song extolling the virtues of Canadian unity and the boundless opportunity available for our hitherto-unbroken federation.

You can see from the inset notes above that the song was visualized as a compliment to O Canada, similar to God Bless America complimenting the anthem of the United States. (You'll note that God Bless America was penned by legendary composer Irving Berlin, and... well... Irving Berlin these guys ain't.) The song was recorded in March of 1995, released to radio shortly afterwards, and no doubt was the critical contribution that singlehandedly saved our beloved and beautiful nation from the ignominious threat of Quebec separatism.

Ha ha, no, I'm making that last part up. The 1995 Referendum came down to a single percentage point's difference, sovereigntist leader Jacques Parizeau blaming the successful No swing on "money and the ethnic vote" (I love the idea that it got its own Wikipedia page for this) -- and I wouldn't doubt for a second that some dudes in Quebec might have voted Yes just so they'd never hear this song again.

I might be exaggerating, but if I am it's only slightly. The CD has six versions of the same song on it, but I bet you're not going to make it all the way through one! Behold as I beheld, our God Bless America:

James Levac and Calvin Preddie - This is Our Canada [English Original] (This is our Canada / Canada c'est notre pays, 1995)
[buy | library info]

Piano flourishes! They're what's for dinner!

I crack up laughing right when the vocals start. Every time. You can hear how hard this dude is trying to sell these lyrics, and oh boy it ain't workin' out for him. The female vocalist on the track does a bit better, initially, but once they're feeding her lines like "This is our land of opportunity" she does no better with them than, well, than anyone would.

Wondering what the lyrics are, incidentally? Of course you are! Don't worry, we've got you covered:

Even when I'm reading along and I know what's coming, I can't keep myself from laughing heartily at the delivery of the lyrics. "WEEEEEEE-ARE a feeed-er-at-ion... of PEOPLES AND PROVINCES!"

wait what the hell is a line from o canada doing in here

They aren't resting on their musical laurels, of course; it's at the three minute and ten second mark that the song completely loses its mind. The next fourty seconds after that are this bizarre and disconnected segment of instrumental tension, like they smushed a Red Rider instrumental together with the Undersea Palace music from Chrono Trigger and went "Yes! Music! Brilliant!" Then they remembered what they were supposed to be doing, and the song just awkwardly leaps back into the overproduced ballad it started with.

The song closes by repeating the chorus underneath the lines "We will find our strength in unity / Together we will reach the heights we can achieve", for the slower members of the audience who haven't figured out yet what the song is up to.

These people all meant well, of course, and I'm not knocking them for lack of effort; even with the possibility that the one guy might just have been in it to sell some t-shirts, I'm sure this was a project that everybody involved worked very hard on and put a lot of themselves into. It's just, well... an important lesson that we all must learn at some point is that you can throw your very heart and soul into something, giving it your undivided attention with the full scope of your talents, and it still might come out in the end as being sort of rubbish.

Still, though -- don't you feel better having just heard this? More patriotic? More, uh... inspired? Anything, really? Fine, whatever! The important thing here is that it's historically relevant, not that it's any good. WEEEE ARE A FEDERATION OF Happy Canada Day, one and all!

Content to Follow

Oh, I work today! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha--

Canada Day post to follow, early this evening. Yes! For reals!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Busy Times

Yeah, huh. This week has been crazy for goings-on, hasn't it? You can tell that summer's finally arrived in Winnipeg when everything interesting starts happening at once.

Between the various Jazz Winnipeg Festival events, the tremendous My Winnipeg premiere on Tuesday, my little brother's graduation from high school, putting in overtime at work again, disassembling the metal frame that used to hold my bed up before it got irreparably bent out of shape -- long story -- and going through that giant pile of crazy CDs I borrowed from the library, I've definitely been a busy dude as late.

I'm watching the second quarter of the Bombers opener as I type this, and they've just concluded an interview with the injured Milt Stegall on the sidelines; watching him mug shamelessly for the camera after the interview, then mug for the camera again when they cut back to him after the next play, is some pretty awesome stuff. Not a great game so far, though, more of a penalty-fest than anything else.

When this game is over I may or may not head out and catch the free concerts at Old Market Square for tonight, depending on what the weather's up to; I'm interested in finally catching Ivana Santilli live, but the rain's been so demented today that there's no guarantee of her actually performing tonight. (It is entirely possible for the Jazz Winnipeg Old Market Square weekend concerts to be rained out, as Moses Mayes fans like myself will remember from that one wet Sunday a few years ago.)

The Old Market Square Opening Closing Weekend runs through Sunday night, then the Osborne Village Canada Day mini-festival goes Monday and Tuesday, Tuesday being Canada Day there's also the Forks to consider, then Bugs on Broadway will be either Thursday or Friday depending on which night has better tickets still left, and -- oh, crap, wait! The Jose Gonzalez concerts on the first and second! Are there still tickets left for one of those? Craaaaaaaap -- I, uh, I have to go. Check something.

Busy times, yes. Oh! Do drop by here on Canada Day, though; I'm going to have something you've just gotta get a load of, because it's patriotic and hilarious and historical and awful all at the same time. Something to look forward to!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Inside Every Cynical Person There's a Disappointed Idealist

George Carlin died yesterday from heart failure, seventy-one years old.

Every so often there's of those holy-shit, end-of-an-era deaths that stuns an entire industry and takes two or three generations of the field's history along with it. This is one such passing, no question, and abruptly the world of stand-up comedy (and our modern understanding of 'comedy' as a whole, really) has a gigantic George Carlin-shaped hole in it.

It's not an unexpected death, or an untimely one; he had a long history of heart problems dating as far back as the 1970s and a recent history of drug and alcohol addiction, so the knowledge that he made it to seventy-one is amazing in and of itself. Despite all of that, of course, it's still a disappointment to hear of his passing.

The obituaries on television aren't nearly going to do his career justice, of course; both the best and the most influential material of his storied career will be skimmed over, more out of deference to profanity regulations than anything else. (Occasionally loosened late-night standards aside, you still can't say the Seven Words on television.) So instead of highlighting his continuous dominance of his field, his trailblazing innovations across multiple dramatic reinventions of his material, or his influence on virtually every human being to tell jokes onstage since, the networks will spend way too much time talking about how cute the juxtaposition was that he also had prominent roles on Shining Time Station and in the Bill & Ted movies. (And fuck any station that reads his obituary over a clip from Jersey Girl.)

I spent extended chunks of my teen years ravenously seeking out George Carlin's work -- and since his long career saw him put out three bestselling books and nearly twenty-five albums, finding material to love was not a particularly difficult task. I'm a grown man now, given to ruminations on the quirks of everyday language and given to gleeful bouts of schadenfreude; it'd be foolish to claim that I hadn't enjoyed either of these activites before getting into Carlin, but it'd be outright false to claim that he had no part at all in shaping my development.

Yes, fine, and he was Mr. Conductor on Shining Time Station. I know. I watched it too. Yes, yes, he was very whimsical. I'm glad you remember him.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Just For Laughs: Gags is Really, Really Awful

Uptown Magazine! The pause that refreshes! You can read my article for this week here, and I wholly recommend that you do so.

In a fine bit of incidental timing, the CBC chose this very day today to officially launch their stupid contest. And they're attempting to spin a reality-show special out of it, too! I hadn't even considered that possibility -- mostly because that possibility is awful -- but damned if that doesn't fit exactly into what I wrote for this column. Go me!

CTVglobemedia, serving both as makeshift archivists of Canadian pop-cultural history and as contemptible greedhead scumbags, seem as intent on skeletonizing the CBC as the CBC seems intent on skeletonizing itself. Any bets on who or what gets suddenly bought out and transferred to private ownership next? The clear frontrunner right now is Elliotte Friedman, at 3:1 odds; the longshot darkhorse is Rex Murphy at 150:1, mostly because he entertains all discussion on the subject by staring at the negotiator like this.

Ha ha, geez. I almost want to flinch and apologize instinctively every time I look at that picture. His default facial expression always reminds me of Sam the Eagle from the Muppet Show, bless his heart.

I've tried my best so far not to get into this, but let's just go ahead and get it right out -- Just For Laughs: Gags is some amazingly unfunny bullshit, I tell you what. I don't mean to harp on the subject -- and I'm certainly not the first person to express this opinion -- but lord thunderin' god I want to headbutt whoever keeps putting that on television.

To give you some idea of how the show tends to play out, if the recent Maxime Bernier scandal had been staged by Just For Laughs: Gags, the whole thing would have looked like this:

[SCENE: A Montreal city street, mid-day, with golly-gee wacky-hijinks music playing in the background. Julie COUILLARD, surrounded by five angry-looking BIKERS and showing way more cleavage than is entirely necessary, waves to the camera and overacts shamelessly. The BIKERS stand cross-armed and nod knowingly to the camera, mugging shamelessly.]

[Cut abruptly to a shot of the same spot on the street, now empty. Maxime BERNIER, wearing a dapper suit and appearing lost in thought, comes walking down the street carrying a large manilla folder. He looks an awful lot like Craig T. Nelson, which isn't necessarily relevant to the script but still bears mention.]

[BERNIER, now looking through the papers in the folder, walks into the designated spot on the sidewalk.]

HIJINKS MUSIC: derp de derple de derrp de derrp

[Running into the picture as best she can on high heels, COUILLARD grabs him by the arm and stops him. BERNIER, looking up from his files, appears surprised and puzzled.]


[COUILLARD appears to say something to BERNIER, grabs the folder out of his hands, gives him an affectionate peck on the cheek and runs out of the shot again. BERNIER looks down at his now-empty hand, then around the street in confusion.]


[BERNIER, still standing in place and looking around, finds himself suddenly surrounded as the five BIKERS emerge from behind a conveniently placed hedge. The BIKERS, scrunching their faces overzealously to appear tough, move their mouths as if questioning BERNIER angrily; BERNIER begins shaking his head and moving his mouth as if explaining the situation, gesticulating dramatically with his hands.]


[COUILLARD comes back into the shot, holding the folder, and waves her hands as if to shoo the bikers away.]


[BERNIER, now visibly upset, waves his hands in a questioning motion and appears to ask COUILLARD about the situation. COUILLARD hands BERNIER the folder back, grabs him by the arm and directs his attention to the camera. BERNIER looks stunned for a second, then smiles thinly and nods in resignation.]


[Freeze frame on BERNIER's face. Yellow bars drop down to cover part of the screen, and the Just For Laughs: Gags logo appears. END SCENE.]

In conclusion, Just For Laughs: Gags is repugnant horse pucky and the CBC is staffed by idiots. Those are the main points I want to convey, really.

Monday, June 16, 2008

I Was Just Outside the Winnipeg Citizens' Coalition Founding Meeting

Mine tonight is an anecdote that quintessentially encapsulates how Winnipeg and I get along.

I had wanted to check out that Winnipeg Citizens' Coalition thing tonight, which was starting at seven. (I mentioned that last night, hadn't I? I think I had.) Unluckily for my purposes, I don't get off work until six each night -- and my commute home is no fun lah, especially considering that the city's traffic lights are apparently programmed by spiteful troglodytes.

When I got home I switched out of my unflattering work clothes as quickly as possible, checked the transit times online ("oh come on") and booked it out the front door towards the bus stop at the end of the block. Now, I suppose this part is my own fault; I wish in retrospect that I'd thought to check beforehand, but it really hadn't occured to me this would be the day that road construction swallows up ten or fifteen feet of pavement around my closest bus stop.

Would anybody like to guess what the bus did? Guess what the bus did. You know, it's amazing how few stops those things actually make when you're chasing them for a couple blocks.

The next bus wasn't for another fifteen minutes, of course, so I had plenty of time to think about how spectacularly funny the whole thing was. Ha! Ha ha ha! Wouldn't you know it, here I was trying to go drop in on a group advocating for improving the city's transit system, and I couldn't get there on time because the transit system pooched me! ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

So I get there fifteen minutes late, right, and...

I'd clearly underestimated the numbers this meeting would draw, but the organizers had clearly been underestimating the numbers right along with me. In the fifteen minutes it took me to get there, the event had gone from everyone-grab-a-seat to standing-room-only, then to whoops-there-go-the-occupancy-limits, and then to okay-we're-in-two-rooms-now. And I couldn't get into either one! The original meeting room was guarded by (hee hee) library security at this point, to ensure that the occupancy limits remain unchallenged, and the hastily-assembled second room was so crowded that I only got to take a peek inside when someone else at the door graciously gave me his spot for a couple seconds.

I'm glad I had an equally-important backup plan for my library antics, or I'd have been pissed.

I'm a dude who loves going through CDs in libraries, especially considering the kind of goofy albums that can pop up from time to time. And, by fortunate coincidence, the CD section and the Carol Shields Room are on the same floor; the two are only separated by a couple dozen footsteps, in fact. So I set into a little routine for a while where I would pick out a couple of CDs, drift over to the Coalition thing and see if any standing room had opened up yet, then drift back to the CDs and pick up where I left off.

"Excuse me -- how many CDs can you have out at once?"

The big interesting local political event of the week went down and I was fifty feet removed from it, looking at CDs instead; the whole picture describes my modus operandi better than I would actually care to admit. Look at me, I'm the zany slice-of-life guy.

I may have been late enough to bar my access to the event, but hey, I could feel better knowing that I did beat Dan Vandal there. I was standing to the side and carrying about fifteen CDs in my hands when I saw him breeze by, clearly rushing over from another engagement; he and I exchanged nods, not because we've ever met or anything, but because I happened to recognize him and then he figured he may as well nod back to the tall dude in the Venom shirt holding a day's worth of music.

You know what, I never did get into either of those rooms and find out what was going on. I'd taken a transfer when I got on that second bus, in case anything were to go awry; it was an unusually generous transfer, giving me a whole hour and a half (oh boy!), but I'd now blown that time alternating between finding neat CDs and totally not finding out what the Winnipeg Citizens' Coalition is up to.

I needed to check my items out and get back down to street level, pronto -- and I did, but it didn't matter. The buses I needed for actually getting home were twenty-five minutes apart, and that's never good news for a dude whose transfer expires between them.


I caught another bus that was kinda-sorta going in the right direction and then hoofed it for fifteen minutes, still beating my bus home. And after all of that I just ended up sitting at home, keeping up by reading the great Hacks & Wonks liveblog of the event and listening to quirky borrowed music.

Winnipeg Labour Choir - Which Side Are You On? (The Red Album, 1995)
[info | that's actually pretty much it for online info | you can borrow the album from the library when I'm done with it]

So, yeah, go me. I was near, but not actually at, the founding meeting of the Winnipeg Citizens' Coalition. I tried!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

No, Seriously, What Does This Say

Maybe you're better at deciphering these kinds of things than I am, so I'll pass the message along, but I don't know what's going on here and I've read the whole thing at least twice.

Tomorrow night at 7:00 PM, the Winnipeg Citizens' Coalition is holding their 'founding meeting' in the Carol Shields room of the Millennium Library. That part I got! The rest of the message is kind of obscured, though, because everything else on their sparse website just made my head hurt the longer I read it.

As an example:

"We are dedicated to working towards an alternative vision for our City by fostering more citizen participation in civic government, promoting social justice, improving our city’s natural environment, ensuring more open and accountable civic government, protecting the public services that we all depend on, developing safe and vibrant communities, and facilitating fair economic development opportunities for all Winnipeggers."

Come on, you guys, that's fifty-eight words in one sentence. There must be a better way to get your message across.

Luckily for writers and readers alike, the group had an op-ed piece published last week in the Free Press. This article better explains the formation of the group and actually delves into concrete issues to address; the website is almost incomprehensible except to say that the coalition yearns for a wave of vaguely-defined change, so the article helps immensely to bring the group into better focus.

A big-tent catch-all party, allegedly for moderate centrists, is advocating for civic funding changes to support public transportation, community centres and general social development. (Counting hyphenated terms as two words each, this new group took me twenty-six words to explain. They could edit their website a bit better! That's all I'm saying, here.)

So that's apparently what's up for tomorrow, if you're interested in that sort of thing. I would have figured that the Winnipeg Citizens' Coalition draws much the same sort of crowd that Matthew Good might, so it probably sucks for somebody that the Matthew Good concert is tomorrow at around the same time. Strange organizational choice, but hey, let 'em have their fun.

I might drop in to the Library tomorrow, if only to see what even goes on at such an affair; I'm a curious sort by nature, it's a local political thing going on when I'm not at work (!), and they might serve some snacks or something. And hey, if the meeting resembles the website more than it resembles the article, I can always skip out and go borrow some CDs to burn whatever I might want off of them for listening to legally at some point in the future.

It's funny how I get distracted on these tangents, really. Honestly? I wouldn't have even brought any of this up if the website's address-bar favicon didn't kind of look like a Metroid.

You see it too, right? Right? Come on, don't leave me hanging here.