Synesthesia

Watermelon season is upon us. It often comes up in my teaching that we categorize things and put them in songs. I like to use music to reach kids on several levels: cerebral, emotional, visceral and olfactory. It is a multi-sensory approach to teaching, storing information in different parts of the brain, a sort of manufactured Synesthesia. Synesthesia can be: hearing colour, seeing sound, tasting emotion etc. My eldest daughter, for example, can see colours as numbers.

One of the things we categorize with young children is “favourite desserts” (primary motivators). I think that watermelon is, if not my favourite dessert, it is at least my favourite fruit and my favourite healthy dessert. Several years back I had a Kindergarten class sing “Watermelon Man” (J’aime le Melon d’eau) by Herbie Hancock (but the Mongo Santamaria version). I put on my helmet as a secret surprise when they were on stage ready to perform.

We had friends over yesterday for an afternoon of camaraderie and music in the garden. We served frozen grapes and fresh strawberries and watermelon ( along with chips and veggies and hummous etc.). Lovely to see friends as we emerge from a year and a half of strict isolation. We were a bit rusty on the music side… but fun and contentment was had by all.

I woke up this morning thinking about watermelon and an incident that happened to me about thirty years ago. I was at a similar party at a couple’s home in the plateau area of Montreal. I had known John for a decade or so, and Adele was a new friend to me, but she knew my girlfriend well. We were all very comfortable around each other. I remember the house and their sweet little girls Camille and Sabine. Those girls were two of the reasons I decided to become a father myself.

The incident was an embarrassing one. At least it would have been if it hadn’t been so hilarious. Adele was being the hostess and was passing around hors d’oeuvre on a platter and had a bowl of sliced up watermelon in the other. I blurted out “I love diarrhea!” and Adele immediately cracked up, doubled over laughing. I apologized exclaiming that I had meant to say “I love watermelon, but it gives me diarrhea!” which in retrospect seems like too much information in the first place. Adele went around telling people who hadn’t been in the room of my verbal faux pas, and suddenly the party came alive.

My constitution has changed and I seldom get gastro-intestinal issues with watermelon anymore. I have some cut up in the fridge and thinking about it made me think about this story this morning. I am still in touch with John and Adele though they are no longer together. I see tidbits from their girls who are now vibrant young women and it was a gift to think of them this morning via this silly little story.

  • Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which information meant to stimulate one of your senses stimulates several of your senses. People who have synesthesia are called synesthetes.
  • The word “synesthesia” comes from the Greek words: “synth” (which means “together”) and “ethesia” (which means “perception). Synesthetes can often “see” music as colors when they hear it, and “taste” textures like “round” or “pointy” when they eat foods.
Silly video

Remembering my friend Charlie Biddle

I met a man when I was 21 who was to become a good friend; a roommate; and a mentor. It was the year 1977. I had hitchhiked to a little town called Val David which is in the Laurentian mountains north of Montreal and around 18 km from my home in St. Sauveur-des-Monts. I had gone there to buy some hashish from a shady acquaintance that my friend Stu had introduced me to. After our transaction, I chanced upon some music wafting through an open door in a rustic ramshackle building called “Le Bistro d’la Butte” in Val David, Quebec. La Butte à Mathieu was a famous “Boite à Chansons” where many of the largest acts in Quebecois music performed. Le Bistro was an adjunct building much smaller. I guesstimate it could probably hold 50-60 patrons.

I peeked in the door and there was Nelson Symonds (guitar) and Charlie Biddle (upright bass) playing their hearts out even though there was no one in the audience. I knew almost immediately that the passion and authenticity of expression in this kind of music was for me, and that I had to find out more about it. Charlie gestured to me to come in and I entered, but embarassedly explained that I didn’t have any money (I left out the part that I had just spent it on dope). He said come in anyways and his wife Connie offered me some fried chicken…. Thus started my friendship with Charlie.

I was a bedroom guitar player at the time. I learned songs by Bob Dylan; Peter, Paul and Mary; Paul Simon; Cat Stevens; etc. but this jazz music was something new. I recognized the tune they were playing from my dad’s record collection. Pretty sure it was “Night And Day” by Cole Porter. I was fascinated. It had (seemingly) a zillion chords and was way beyond my skill set. My casual conversation with Nelson and Charlie during the “break” was the start of my upward climb into music that I have embraced with religious fervor.

I was working my summer job with a landscaper company and several of the guys were jazz buffs. I started to tag along with them on excursions to “The Rising Sun” in Montreal to see the cream of international Jazz stars pretty well every week-end. I saw and heard Dizzy Gillespie (the guitarist was Al Gafa), Dexter Gordon, Kenny Burrell, etc. I started to read Downbeat from cover to cover and buy albums based on the information there. Weather Report, Chick Corea, Oscar Peterson and Joe Pass. Joe Pass’ music in particular made an impact on me and I bought a music book of transcriptions that I couldn’t yet read, but I learned some of the chord shapes and started to introduce them into my playing. I also purchased a book from “International Music Store” on Ste. Catherine Street by Mickey Baker called Mickey Baker’s Complete Course in Jazz Guitar Book one). The hours I struggled with that one…

I went to see Charlie and Nelson as often as I could that summer and continued to absorb their music and jovial friendship. On July 26th,1977 Charlie turned 51 and I was 21. At his birthday gig I jokingly told him he was “one short of a full deck”. He howled with laughter and the habit of our male put downs for each other was established.

Over the course of the summer I decided to return to school. I had been studying Philosophy in the Maritimes but wanted to be in Montreal. I started night courses at Concordia University and found part-time employment as a Parking lot attendant. My favourite time at that job was after the main attendant left and I changed the music in the booth to Radio-Canada which is the french radio station of the CBC where there was a very good Jazz show. The host was very relaxed and soothing and my music education and my French improved immensely. Paycheques were spent mostly on records.

After a few months of almost daily commuting via Voyageur bus from St. Sauveur to Montreal for classes and my job, I was getting pretty tired. If the walkman had been invented, it would have been an easier commute. During that winter Charlie started to commute as well. He was playing a bar on Crescent Street around the corner from the Hall building of Concordia and we started to sometimes commute together. After my night class I’d wait until his last set was over and I’d drive him in his huge boat of a station wagon as far as St. Sauveur and he would continue on to his home and family. After a bit of this grind, he asked me if I’d like to share an apartment on Bishop Street that he had found. It was near the Annex, Cheap Thrills and Concordia and was very cheap, so I agreed. I had bought a VW hatchback from my brother to help me manage my time better between work and school and my home up north..

Living with Charlie was an education. We hung out a lot! We were only on Bishop Street for a short time before Charlie told me we were going to move. He had found a “loft” in Old Montreal that was a block West of a famous Jazz club on St. Paul St. There was no rent!!!!!! The idea was to stay there until the bottom two floors were to be converted into a flagship Jazz club. We had the whole place to ourselves, but lived on the top floor. I learned how to mop! A few drawbacks to the place…. hot water tank needed fixing, so showers were not hot…. the shower stall was one floor down. The heating system was shared by several office buildings and was minimal on weekends and holidays….. other than that it was great! My record collection was expanding and I had a good sound system, so when I was home and not practicing, I would listen to great Jazz. Charlie and I hung out a lot. He was a great story teller. One day I will try and recall some of his better ones and the outrageous exaggerations that never seemed to change. I can still conjure up his voice and facial expressions in my mind’s eye and ear.

Quite often during this time we would both be between paycheques or I’d be out of work and we had not much between us. On more than one occasion I’d be broke and Charlie might have 5 bucks and would say “Let’s go get breakfast”. There was a Deli on Ste. Catherine that had a breakfast special. We’d come out of there and be stuffed. He said there was no point to not eat like a king even when things were tight. He also introduced me to a place that he called “Sausageville” which was a Delicatessen on the Main where you could get a sausage sandwich and a drink (Cott Black Cherry) and sometimes splurge the extra dime for a pickle. I am pretty sure that it was either just under or just over a dollar for the drink and sandwich.

I continued to go there for decades and introduced my friends and my younger brother to “Sausageville”. As an adult, my brother actually bought sausage sandwiches and drinks for himself and his girlfriend and drove up to the top of Mount Royal and proposed to her over their picnic. When Hoffner’s closed, I went down the street to the competition “Slovenia Deli”, but it wasn’t quite the same. I went without for years, but by chance found another Slovenia sausage place on the North Main…. near Beaubien Street. I would often detour there just to have a hot sausage.

Now I live in a suburb about twenty Kilometres away and one day I was craving a sausage. I noticed that in my neighbourhood was a Deli called La Bernoise that I had always meant to try. I went in and they had the sausages that I was used to, but didn’t make sandwiches. I said to the lady behind the case that I usually go to Slovenia for my hot sausage sandwiches. She told me that Slovenia had just gone out of business, but that La Bernoise was their supplier. I bought a dozen. They have a butcher’s dozen: 13 for 12. I keep a supply on hand in the freezer at all times. I am mostly vegetarian, but in denial about sausages.

Enough about food, though. Charlie taught me how to live royally without very much money. Cheap restos, shopping at the Sally Ann, where to find the free parking spots. He taught me through his example that sometimes bills have to wait. He always paid them, but not always “on time”. Sometimes needed a prompt. The Hussier (bailiff) called…..I’d better get on it. He also showed me through his generosity, to be kind. If you have, share, if you don’t have, ask. As he grew more successful in the city, he moved his four kids and Connie down to the city part-time. Sometimes I’d get home to the loft and it would be teeming with the youthful exuberance that children bring. I loved those kids and Connie, but usually their arrival dovetailed into my going up north to my parents house. Biddle’s golden rule was NO NOISE DURING DADDY’S NAP. Charlie took a nap every day in the late afternoon. He played music til the wee hours and got up with the kids, but all was OK if the nap was undisturbed. I acquired the same habit which I try to do every day.

One night, I was all alone at the loft. Practicing and/or reading and/or listening to music. I fell asleep in my bedroom which was a cordoned off area of a huge space. Charlie had the other room away from the Big Space and near the bathroom and kitchenette. He was on a gig. I fell asleep with my guitar in my hands. I was awoken by the sound of boots on the floor on the other side of my bed. I sat up to see two guys with hand guns drawn who said “Who the fuck are you?” I said I lived there. They were looking for the owner who had lent us this space and they looked like they were “collecting”. I said he wasn’t there and I hardly ever saw him at all. The men stomped out and when Charlie got home I told him what had transpired. He replied… “OK we’re moving!”.

The next day he found a multi level rental on Rue Notre Dame above a specialized hardware store. The area was the eastern fringes of the traditionally predominately black neighbourhood housing railway porters called Little Burgundy. At that time we moved in, rue Notre Dame looked on to what had been the Turcot Yards which used to be the railway yards for both Windsor station and Central station. It was a vast expanse of weeds and old asphalt and detritus from having served the city for a century. It is now built up into condos and is a very different neighbourhood.

On Notre Dame St. I had my own apartment on the left side of the stairs and Charlie had two floors on the right side. we had an adjoining back “deck” palettes strung together on the roof of a neighbouring workshop/garage. Seeing as I had to now pay rent again, I walked down the street and I asked at the various businesses if they needed any part-time help? One actually did. It was a start-up courrier company that needed an evening person to sort and record the manifest. The secretary liked my spirit and the fact that I was literate and I got hired. It fit in well with my schooling, so after the owner interviewed me, I was hired.

With the change of address, my new job and Charlie’s family there all the time now, the dynamic shifted, but I used to love hanging out and watching tv with them and was often over there for dinner. We would get into huge loud and funny disagreements about all sorts of stuff…. I miss that. One of us would say something outrageous just to get the other one going. Thinking back fondly of those times.

It was around this time that Charlie partnered up with a successful businessman (George D.) and opened up a jazz club on Aylmer Street. Named Biddles Jazz and Ribs. This venture became very successful and attracted a wealthier crowd than I was used to hanging out with. Most Jazz clubs in the city could service students and marginalized people. Nelson Symonds’ cousin Ivan Symonds had Le Mixeur before he opened up Le Jazz Bar. Very different. Sort of like the difference between uptown clubs in New York and Greenwich Village clubs back in the day. Nowadays it all costs a fortune.

Ivan Symonds club. Note the “translation” of Jam Sessions…lol

I saw Charlie less, mostly it was if I went out to catch him play at the club where he was “on”. I went over to his place less as we both got busier, but every time we did see each other it was a lovely homecoming. Charlie and Oliver Jones also played a cocktail gig at The Queen Elizabeth Hotel. I sometimes went there to see him and my dad went there after his work and kill time before catching a suburban train.

We saw each other less as my studies and work and girlfriends took over and Charlie got more opportunity to be in films and better gigs etc.

My four years in Winnipeg really put time and distance between us. I came back to Montreal to get married and Charlie was a guest. He pulled me aside as was walking down the aisle and whispered “so long, sucker!” in my ear. We would see each other only sparingly as my kids became focal points and I had many weekend gigs out of town and I didn’t get out much to listen to Jazz during the week. I took my girls to see Charlie a few times, but the dynamic had shifted.

My next encounter with him was a shock. My brother-in-law had been working at Biddles as a waiter and he was visiting his sister and me and just casually asked if I had heard that Charlie was in the hospital? All the blood rushed out of my face as I tried to absorb this news that my friend, tower of strength and hero was suffering. I sped over to St. Mary’s hospital and found the ward where outside the door a nurse informed me that “only family is allowed to visit”. Constance heard my voice through the door and emerged and said “It’s OK, Ian is family!” A wave of pride and shame came over me. Proud to be considered family, but ashamed at how absent a son I had been.

I entered the room and Connie said “Look Charlie, you have a visitor!” “Hey Eee” said Charlie from his hospital bed. Charlie is one of only four people I have known who shortened my name to “Eee”. They are all dear to me (My “Aunt” Hemmy, my sister, my present wife Sharon and Charlie).

Connie took some time for herself and Charlie and I had a lovely visit albeit a sad one. We tried to keep each other laughing like usual, but Charlie grew tired and I knew I should go. Judging from his diminished frame and weakness I sensed it might be the last time I’d see Charlie. I said “I’m going to give you a hug, so don’t play with my tits!” I hugged him and he pinched my “tits”.

He died a few months later at home. The same address on Notre Dame street where we had shared so much time together.

Loving him will never come to an end.

Charlie and me at my first wedding.
Gift from my friend Lyle Robinson
portrait of Charlie by Linda Rutenberg on the wall beside my piano

Ashes To Ashes

One of my favourite places to visit in Montreal is Mount Royal Cemetery. 

It is a lovely, quiet place to walk and reflect on all the names and dates of people that no longer exist written on the slabs and obelisks and statues that adorn the hilly leas of this pacific neighbourhood atop Mount Royal.

Today it was raining fairly heavily, so I drove slowly up and down more narrow avenues than I would have on foot. I was struck how, in places, the panorama looked like a petrified forest of lifeless stumps and in others like smaller versions of the structures of the long abandoned kingdom of Charn from one of the illustrations by Pauline Baynes in C.S. Lewis’ “The Magician’s Nephew”.  

One of the avenues taken went past row upon row of white tablets with the same expiry dates (1939-45) and carved maple leaves. A mini version of Flanders Fields. These are from the hapless casualties of Canadian troops in the Second World War. I was thinking they were among the fortunate to have been repatriated and interred in their homeland, but there is nothing fortunate about being brutally deprived of a full life. Ironically there are cannons in these fields to mark them as military. 

Yet another fork in the road led me for the first time to an area set apart that was filled with tombstones marked with Chinese writing and symbols. I don’t know whether this was a systemic Apartheid or the efforts of an ethnic community to establish their own area. A dead Chinatown. Maybe it is just so the living mourners can find what they are looking for more easily by this classification like finding jazz albums in a second hand store without having to flip through all sorts of pop and classical albums to get there. 

The cemetery I was in is the Protestant one, so mostly Anglo. The Catholic Cemetery (Notre Dame-des-Neiges) is right beside it to the west, separated by an iron fence. The Jewish Cemetery is similarly on the other side of a fence to the north.  The great leveller of all living beings is death. The cultural differences and things that set us apart in life should disappear with us, but they don’t. 

I wondered if I would have liked any of these people interred here and if they would have liked me. There are at least two. My mum’s best friend and my ex’s brother are buried here. I also spotted a family plot near the road that I recognized. It had a former grade two classmate of mine who was an early casualty of the AIDS epidemic. 

It is obvious that some of the graves are from moneyed families. The bigger the monument, the more ornate, the information carved deeper and less susceptible to erosion or to be obscured by lichen. One huge monument was tilting precariously as a huge hardwood tree’s roots have been pushing up relentlessly for over a hundred years. Nothing lasts forever. 

My great grandfather was a stone carver and had his own monument business in East Finchley which is a suburb of London, England. He would have been able to tell me with an expert vocabulary about everything in sight in great detail. I never met him. My grandfather escaped an apprenticeship in stone carving by emigrating overseas to Canada. I am not entirely sure of his motivation to do so, but I gathered that the certainty of working with his hands under the tyrannical tutelage of his father who my grandfather referred to as “the old pot” was far less attractive to an unknown future in an unknown land. 

As we approach the inevitable with less in front of us than we have behind us, it is only natural to want to prepare. Some people buy plots, choose tombs, pre-plan funerals. They don’t want to leave a mess for their loved ones. There are some graves I saw that have names and birth dates on them and a hyphen …..waiting to be completed. I don’t want that. 

My wife says she wants her obituary to be: “I’m dead. Move along”. Although I would tell you, if asked, that I don’t care, a Folgers tin would suit me fine as long as I didn’t have to drink it (it might kill me). 

I kind of do care. I wish to be remembered fondly by loved ones, maybe someone in the future listen to some music I wrote or read some scribblings of mine or remember something good I did in my life, laugh. Ultimately though, it amounts to naught. I won’t be there, and, like the names carved in stone, will fade with time and return to dust like my ancestors.

On my tour, I crossed paths with an itinerant man with his possessions in a bag in a far recess of the cemetery. I was immediately struck by the irony of him living among the dead, but I also thought of the advantages. Dead people probably make great neighbours. No complaints, no arguments, no worries, no gossip. 

I am going to stop being morbid and live each day to the fullest. I don’t want to be dead before I die. Living among the dead is ultimately better than being dead among the living.

Brakes/Boundaries

This is a story I wrote in 2014. This year (2021) I had a near catastrophic event in my car due to excessive rust intrusion on the sub frame…. because I braked so hard to avoid an accident.

Have you ever neglected your brakes? We need brakes to help us stop, to help us slow down, to yield and to park. If you don’t get your brakes checked regularly you run the risk of not being able to do the above mentioned things adequately. What also happens is that as the pads disappear, the disc or the drum gets damaged by the mechanism itself resulting in major irreparable damage causing an expensive lengthy garage visit to change everything (preferable) or a traumatic accident causing greater damage to the vehicle and perhaps to one or more sentient beings.

There are always reasons to neglect routine maintenance, aren’t there? I mean, who has the time? We also view going for maintenance as throwing money into a hole never to be seen again and it’s never good news. There is always something. 

I started out talking about cars, but really it is a metaphor for our own lives as well. Saying “no” is our ability to brake adequately. At work, without “no”, fatigue and frustration may set in. At home, one runs the risk of bearing the unbearable, tolerating the intolerable, accepting the unacceptable. Each of these things on their own are avoidable if we look after ourselves first and have the prescience to get our brakes checked regularly. 

Brakes can’t save you from everything. Some things are unavoidable (Montreal potholes) but cautious driving and good steering may help you traverse these eventualities. Am I talking about cars again? This is supposed to be about healthy responses to what life throws our way. 

Having boundaries in your relationships is like having brakes in your car. If you drive a car without brakes you are in a demolition derby and if you don’t have boundaries with spouses (spice?) children, pets, friends, colleagues, family members (note to family members…I did not put you last on purpose) your life may be a demolition derby.

In order for brakes to work, one force has to interact and impede an object that has inertia.  Brake pads on a bathtub don’t work unless somehow the bathtub is moving (there is always at least one smartass doubter).

 In order for boundaries to work, one cannot deny reality. Try setting a boundary (or using brakes for that matter) with an express train or a volcano. Good luck with that! 

There has to be a setter and a respecter for boundaries to work. If you are fortunate to interact with people whose pathologies are not toxic, and who set boundaries themselves, the result should be a healthy and safe balance of energy and stasis and balance and flow ensue. 

Unfortunately, some people you may have to “interact” with won’t or don’t or even can’t see or recognize boundaries. (Random thought….bumper cars don’t have brakes). These people are rude, entitled, arrogant and impossible. This is what an accelerator is for (no, not to run them over….) to go as fast as you can in the opposite direction. 

From May, 2014.

My Gibson 175

My first great guitar, as it turns out, has a checkered past. You can read my initial blog story from a few years back, before I knew her pre-me history here:

I first learned about my guitar’s history from before she was mine when I saw a  photo on a Facebook post by a mutual friend that showed a legendary Montreal band opening for the Beach Boys in the mid sixties. The guitar player (Bill Hill) had an ES175 with a Bigsby (by Gretsch) whammy bar. Such a visible unique mod. I was sure it was my guitar. I contacted the man who posted it, Don Graham, another legendary player. He told me what he knew about the guitar and I then contacted Bill who told me some of this story:

JB and The Playboys

A young Bill Hill was at loggerheads with his dad over…… hair! It was the sixties. Exasperated, his dad said “ If you get a hair cut (my choice of style) I will buy you a brand new Gibson guitar”. Bill was emulating Elvis’ hair at the time, long and greasy so dad chose a “bean shave” for the budding guitarist. True to his word, Hill Sr. took Bill to a store that was owned by his friend, looking for a deal.   Do Re Mi music on rue de Bleury, south of Sherbrooke St. had an impressive line of Gibson guitars on display and after trying them all, Bill had his dad buy the Gibson 175D that I now own.

Bill wasn’t quite satisfied, as the guitar did not have a whammy bar. He took the guitar over to Anton Wilfer, a luthier on de Maisonneuve at Mackey and ordered a Bigsby vibrato and had it installed. Bill jokingly referred to the guitar as a “Gretschson”. Ironically Wilfer’s store is the same place that uninstalled that Bigsby for me a decade later. 

Bill loved the guitar and took it everywhere with him except the night it was stolen. There was a teen hangout/ disco on what was then called Dorchester boulevard (now boulevard. René Levesque )called “Snoopy’s” which was part of music mogul Donald K Donald’s empire. Donald let the boys practice there. They left their instruments overnight one night and in the morning discovered the place had been cleaned out. Guitar, bass, microphones and more. Even the cigarettes from the cigarette machine, all gone. Like the Grinch had arrived to steal Christmas. 

I know the feeling of senseless loss and hopelessness he must have felt. I remember the first time I dropped this guitar and she split open like a ripe watermelon. The gig bag strap broke and the strap holder peg that holds the tailpiece in place was driven into the guitar like a blunt chisel….. I thought it was the end…. pretty sure that is the same feeling.

When I heard that the guitar that I own had been stolen before, I immediately felt conflicted. This guitar that I loved so much was “stolen goods”. I felt ashamed, and that the guitar was now somehow less mine, the joy of having owned this guitar diminished by this new knowledge. It was a guilt for something that was not mine to be guilty about. My anguish was eased a little when Bill told me he had had a chance to get it back, but didn’t. He had seen the guitar a few years after it was stolen hanging in a pawn shop, but he had neither the proof that it was his, nor the money to buy it back as he had just purchased a Gibson Byrdland. Hearing this cleared my conscience, as there had been no indication at the guitar store I bought it from that it was a fenced item. Ours was a legal transaction.

After we had talked, I wanted at least to show Bill the guitar, and I brought it with me to one of the Keepers’ gigs. He played it for a minute and asked me if I was interested in selling it back to him. Again, the conflicted feeling. How could I sell something so precious to me? How could I ask for money for something so priceless from someone who had been so wronged? 

I had already met Bill Hill before making this connection. He plays in a band called The Keepers. The night I first saw them in Pointe Claire at the Mayfair tavern, singer Allen Nichols was sitting in with them. It was a sort of reunion of “The Haunted” and the “Playboys”. Great stuff. Bill was playing a Telecaster and is a “finesse” kind of player. He knows all these cool fills and stylistically à propos voicings that might be lost on most ears, but not mine. We became casual friends. 

Recently, another friend posted a picture of a beautiful Gretsch 6120 “Nashville” for sale. My wife Sharon drew my attention to this post  and said “You should buy it!”. I had just spent an unexpected load of money on a huge car repair, and I told her all my reasons not to buy yet another guitar. I am not a collector, I’m a player. My negativity lost, so I sent a message to my friend Victor who said he had posted it for  Bill Hill. My heart leaped. I now knew it would be a quality instrument, well maintained and well played…. for a minute I considered offering him the 175 as a trade, but rejected that thought and just forged ahead. I texted Bill and said I’d like to buy the guitar. He ascertained that I was serious and immediately took his advertisements down. We made an arrangement for me to see it the day after my vaccination. I sent him an e-transfer even before I tried it. 

The guitar is lovely of course, we chatted and laughed about tons of things, He told me some of the goofy trade offers he had received….hilarious!  some of the details in my story that needed filling in as well. 

It was a lovely visit. As I was leaving, guitar in hand, he said:  “I’m glad it was you that got this”.

Me too!

Me and the Gibson Charlie Guerin on keys. Original photo by Ross White 1994
The “girls”
I call her “lollipop” as I got her after my vaccination

This is the star of the story.

Lotto Quebec

Entering into the Clicsanté website to get a vaccination appointment opens up a task akin to Sisyphus rolling a stone up a hill only to have it roll down for eternity. The system is ass backwards. It may have been designed by “Ding et Dong”. 

At first you have to select a service, which these days is getting a Covid vaccine. Then you have to choose a region by entering a postal code. Fair enough. So far so good. A page of warnings comes up to inform you of the restrictions for your region, another page which reminds us of the curfew…well, DUH! Then you press “continue’. I timed out at least 20 times before I finally read the time out warning which suggested I press “refresh”.

Don’t! 

I did. Back to square one. If you get past this point, you choose a venue…. If you get past this point, which I didn’t…… I finally gave up, but nevertheless Sharon persisted!

When I did this exact same exercise for my flu vaccine, I would choose a venue only to be told there was no availability at that venue…..why not blank out the ones that are complete? Why not just list places and times available? Ding et Dong really did their work!

Back to today.

Sharon got past the wall (several times) and was able to pick a date and time, but while she was writing out the info…. phone number; my mother’s maiden name and my father’s first name; and what brand of monkey wrenches we have used by date and time, weight and colour….the time would be taken and like Sisyphus she’d be sent back not one step, but all the way to the beginning. The system could be set up better nest ce pas?

Booking a hotel or an airline ticket (remember when we could do that?)on-line was a snap compared to this craps shoot. You would reserve a time and have a deadline for completing the transaction. Not here… it still shows as open even if you clicked it and the unannounced race is on. Let’s say you type slowly…. Sharon and I are still relatively dexterous and not strangers to computers, but she timed out 7 times from the last stage. I timed out 20 times from several levels below.. She had “error” and “refresh” messages that sent her back to square one. Sharon was using both her iPad and her phone. I was just using my laptop. Multi-platformed and still the difficulty…Imagine people less agile, less aware of the digital world….further along on their biological clock….

I could feel Sharon’s and my anxiety level and blood pressure level mounting with each try and on my part there were multi-syllabic multi-linguistic and perhaps transcendent and inter-galactic swear words coming out of my mouth. 

Sharon finally got through and I now have an appointment, so, yay!

It should have been easier than that. I am left with the same feeling I had when I took a day off to buy Bob Dylan tickets which were to go on sale at noon. I was in line at eight A.M. and there were about 50 people ahead of me. Should get great seats, right?! Wrong!!!!! I could not believe how shitty the selection was for the highest priced tickets. It seems the scalpers and on-line preferred customers got first choice. It was like being the last table to be called to the buffet table at a wedding. Injustice is everywhere!

There are up sides to this, is I have an appointment and will have a better chance of riding out this pandemic safely.. Sharon now knows my phone number off by heart and my medicare card as well, and the birds don’t repeat my swear words…. 

Take that, Covid 19!

Comfort Zone

I just stepped out of my comfort zone. I was picking up Sharon at the hairdresser’s and there was a group of about eight middle aged and older men standing around drinking coffee in front of the deli next door. I watched them for about a minute. They looked very happy and comfortable with each other. Perhaps old friends, perhaps an after meeting chat for a 12 steps program, I don’t know. They were standing in a loose circle with maybe three or four feet distance between them.

The temperature is minus twenty degrees this morning, so their breath was actually visible and I could see that they were each breathing in part of each other’s breath. My internal voices were vacillating between “live and let live”, “Mind your own business” on the one hand, and “do your duty” and “it’s everybody’s business” on the other. The second voice won over, and I exited my car and I approached the circle and said “excuse me”, informed them that I could see their breath and that they were each breathing in each other’s breath. They thanked me and backed away from each other, but if there was any spread of germs, it was already done. I did not want to be “that guy” or a “Karen”, The party started to disintegrate after my little say. I felt like an uncool dad asking kids to break up a party….then I reflected on my 11 months of social distancing and my sacrifices and the sacrifices of so many to try and slow the spread of this virus and the shameful examples of negligence and ignorance shown by some citizens of this province, the rest of Canada and elsewhere in the world.

The men totally agreed that they needed to be more mindful and no-one told me to fuck off, so if they all stay healthy it is a “win/win”. If one of them spread the virus, the group would not be so cheerful in a month.

I guess the teacher in me found and used the “teachable moment”.

O.D.D

Twenty years ago I met a student who was particularly difficult to reach, and was determined to have her own way at all times. She had transferred into the school after the term had started, so needed remediation to get to the same level as her new classmates. She had chosen to play the clarinet, and was struggling frustratedly with it.

At our first remediation (recess or lunch) session she informed me that she wanted to learn “Hatikva” which is the national anthem of Israel. To me, this was like wanting to run a marathon after just learning how to toddle. I told her something like that, and suggested we learn “Ode To Joy” first as it had a limited number of notes and was attainable in a few days.

She said: “Don’t worry, I have O.D.D.” I had just arrived at this school myself having immersed myself doing music therapy with children with Autism and other puzzles for the previous ten years at a special school. I said to her “I’ve heard of P.D.D, ADHD, and other learning differences before, but I have never heard of O.D.D. What is it?”

Her response was quite well informed. It included these traits: “Often loses temper; Is often touchy or easily annoyed; Is often angry and resentful; Often argues with authority figures or for children and adolescents, with adults; Often actively defies or refuses to comply with requests from authority figures or with rules; Often deliberately annoys others; Often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehaviour; Has been spiteful or vindictive at least twice within the past 6 months.” Quite a mouthful for a child in eighth grade. I asked her what the difference was between this diagnosis and being a spoiled brat? She didn’t skip a beat and answered: “the name”……”and money”…. An absolutely brilliant answer to my question.

She did get Hatikva down, and performed it in public after about a month. She was brilliant in so many ways and I am not sure if her determination was a result of this peculiar label or the label was as a result of her focus and grit.

Fast forward fifteen years, I saw a business card on the wall of the staff room where we go to find substitute teachers. Her name was on one of those cards. I was hoping beyond hope that a colleague would one day hire her and we could meet up under these very different circumstances and I could see for myself if she had outgrown the ODD, and if not, how she survived in the profession. Alas, never happened.

“The name…… and money!

Swiss Steak

Every time I see the street sign for “rue De Salaberry” it makes me think of the words “Salisbury steak” which in turn reminds me of my least favourite dish that my mum would make regularly for us as we were growing up. It was not “Salisbury Steak” which is basically pub burger with peas and gravy. I used to order Salisbury Steak at Toe Blake’s Tavern when I was out for a “cultural soirée” with my deplorable friends and the Rib Steak was sold out.

Mum’s dish was something called “Swiss Steak”. Sounds exotic, right? Well it isn’t. No Swiss clichés anywhere. No Chocolate, no cheese, no yodelling, no Alpenhorn, no watch…..not even neutrality. Maybe somewhere in the world there is someone who knew how to cook this dish and make it palatable, but my mum couldn’t, and neither could Sharon’s. To be fair, my mum’s cooking could not be described flatteringly or truthfully. Best approached with humour and sarcasm (and a plan B).

When I described it to Sharon just now I said it was like a Sandal boiled in tomato juice. She howled at the description, but this still requires some clarity, however. The Leather sole was boiled in a black iron pot that was only ever used for this. A Civil war relic. Not sure WHICH Civil War either. My guess would be the British one in the mid 1600s. The Sandal was boiled until it was Petrified into curled up pieces of ironwood surrounded by the ghost of a red mushy “sauce” It resembled a head on collision between a produce truck and a truck carrying roof shingles. Even that might have proven tastier.

To try and cut a slab of sandal, the cutlery needed to be Military issue. It would bend a fork and blunt a knife. By the time cutlery was discarded and furtive fingers used, it was also cold. If one had teeth, one could perhaps tear off a chip and try to chew some nutrition out of it. This would result in a pulp that needed to be washed down with water or strands would lodge between the teeth unable to be flossed…. eventually dissolving after several days as the acids in the mouth fought to erode the strands.

There is only one other childhood dish that is even in the same league. The lunchbag letdown of Fried Bologna sandwiches ………with Ketchup…..

Three Vignettes

Splinters

I had a visceral memory the other day. I remembered sitting on the arm of an armchair looking over my father’s shoulder as he read a story to me and I was stroking my father’s stubble. My father was clean shaven for most of his life and at the end of the day his stubble was like sandpaper.

It made me think of a similar situation from years ago when my young daughter was sitting with me as I read to her and she stroked my stubble and said very dreamily… “all the splinters from long ago!” 

A “Licking”

My dad’s knee made a clicking sound when he climbed stairs. It was from a war injury when his plane crashed near Tufino in British Columbia. He also had a small bump on his shoulder from the same accident. He never talked about the accident or ”the war” either, unless prompted.

I could tell my dad’s mood from how quickly he climbed the stairs from the speed and intensity of the clicks in his knee. His feet didn’t make a sound as the stairs were covered in carpet.  If I was “awaiting the wrath of Dad” as in…”wait till your father gets home”…. the clicks had an intensity different from end of the day trudging Willie Loman.

I am from a tradition where spankings were in order if a child transgressed. It was not referred to as a “spanking”, but a “licking”, as in “you’re asking for a licking”. I don’t remember at what age the spankings stopped, but it was certainly before I was ten years old. It’s not that I stopped transgressing at ten, or that dad gave up on me, they just didn’t seem to be working on this hard-headed punk.

Pause for thought

A funny thought occurred to me the other day while standing at a urinal in Chapters Book store. I wondered if the slit in the front of my underwear was biased for right handers. 

I am left handed and usually just pull the top down and under. For some reason I used the fly on this occasion. I looked it up on Google and lo and behold, I am not the only lefty that pulls the underwear down rather than use the fly…. The design is meant for rightys as is the zipper on pants. The stuff one learns…..