Downtown Train, Different Times

The train from the Town of Mount Royal to Central Station takes less than ten minutes. It travels in a straight line from the center of what was once called “Model City” to a hole at the foot of the “mountain” where there is a brief stop and then the train is swallowed and eventually finds the platform under Central Station in the heart of downtown Montreal. I was always amazed that this hole went right under the mountain and came out the other side. I would stay up at night and think about how they might have achieved this. I think my one way fare as a student was 10 cents. Maybe 15. It was a while back.

Some of my most vivid and fondest memories of my childhood are of that train. At ten years old, My parents were trusting enough in me and in society to let me go downtown by myself. I was required to go to choir practice at Christ Church Cathedral on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school. I also had to go early on Sundays before the service.

I was one of six charter members of the boy’s choir which started in 1966 the same year Montreal got it’s Metro. At its peak the boy’s choir had around 24 choristers who came from various parts of the city to sing. There were several from Town of Mount Royal and at least one from Ville St. Laurent (one stop past TMR). Many came from “the Point” (Point St. Charles) or “Little Burgundy” and Verdun. These last three neighbourhoods could be described as “inner city” or “disadvantaged” although I knew nothing of that as a young boy. We were all just “kids”.

Sunday morning was my favourite commute. There was hardly anyone on the train or at Central station and there was no Sunday shopping, so there were no shoppers along the boutique lined passageways of Place Ville Marie which had been built in 1962, so was relatively new when I frequented these passageways.

The rays of the sweep light atop Place Ville Marie were visible from my home and kept a steady beat in the sky. I loved watching it while lying on my back in the back yard accompanied by the smell of apple blossoms in Spring, thick honeysuckle and ripening apples in summer and dead leaves and rotting windfalls in fall. I am trying to recollect a winter memory of ozone and damp wool, but given Canadian winters I doubt if I lay in the back yard after dark. I saw the light anyways from my bed. Sweep…..sweep……sweep….sleep.

Exiting PVM on Cathcart street, I made my way to University Street (now named Robert-Bourassa after a politician who had not yet become Premier of Quebec).

I would head north on University towards Ste. Catherine Street which was essentially the core of downtown. Big department stores, delis, churches, banks. On Sunday morning the street was bare. Hardly a soul. It is how I imagine a city would look after an evacuation or a rapture. Only me and maybe a street cleaner or a stray pedestrian wearing a fedora huddled against the wind and sheets of newspaper wafting around empty curbs. Being alone in such a large desolate space made it mine. I own it to this day.

The Cathedral sits between University (Robert-Bourassa) and Union. It was usually described as the big church between Eaton’s and Morgan’s (now The Bay). The two largest department store chains in Canada. Just North of the Cathedral there was a grey stone building that housed a number of church related activities. This was attached to another building which housed offices and a hall called Fulford Hall. These buildings in turn were connected to the Cathedral itself by a long tunnel. At the end of the church service the officiant (usually the Dean) would say “let us depart in peace” and the choristers would reply “in the name of the lord” and we’d all say “amen” together and the boys would tear through the tunnel taking off our surplices, ruffs and cassocks as we flew back to the croft and gave them to be hung away for another week. We would then either go back home or go to Fulford Hall for overly sugared and milked tea and cookies depending on how we had arranged to go home.

The music we sang in church was wonderful. Motets, Anthems, hymns and psalms. I will always love this music. It has permanently altered me at a molecular level. Because the Cathedral was “high Anglican” there was a lot of very serious liturgical stuff and candle lighting and standing and sitting. Not quite incense swinging and everything in Latin, but close . We learned:The Apostle’s creed, the Nicene Creed, Benediction, bunch of stuff in Latin. My favourite being the Kyrie Eleison. Music was better for Morning Prayer than the Eucharist. Probably to keep people in the pews. The Eucharist (Holy Communion) had a part where the choir would sing softly as people went up to the Altar to receive the body and blood of Christ. Usually when everybody was done and after the officiant honked the last of the “blood” (apparently it was a sin to waste blessed wine) we would sing an anthem. Often this would be A Capella (which translates as “in the Chapel”, but means “unaccompanied”.) Being in the midst of this glorious reverberant sound of men and boys singing music that is the acme of western civilization is one of the greatest feelings I have ever had. It is easy to believe there is a God when in the middle of a good choir.

Once a month we had to sing “Evensong” so the boys would be treated to lunch and we would have some sports activity between services. Evensong was almost all music, so even though the sermon was an abbreviated rerun the music was fresh and good. My favourite restaurant that we might go to at the time was Mr. Steer which is still around. Their #2 which costs $12.25 plus GPS and TPS today, was $1.10 then. It was a steerburger and Suzy Q fries with a soft drink. The price was just before the tax cut in, so was popular with businessmen for lunch. Very clever incentive. My dad explained that to me after talking to the owner who I referred to as Mr. Steer. His real name was a very Jewish sounding name like Katz. Most of the delis in Montreal at that time were owned and run by Jewish immigrants from Europe. They probably still are, but there is more competition from the delicacies of more recent immigrants’ cuisine as well. We had to sing for our supper once at Dunn’s delicatessen. Helped the church pay for our Smoked Meat sandwiches.

Trains, music and food. The sights and sounds and smells of my youth that still affect me viscerally. Memories like these help me be grateful for such a long life well-lived.


I was sitting alone in my favourite daytime café today half daydreaming and half listening to an over loud monologue (I originally typed nonologue lol) by one of the patrons (an overeducated older white male blowbag) reminiscent of the lobby scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall where a man in line is spewing off theories about Marshall McLuhan and Woody calls him out and the guy says he teaches a course on McLuhan and Woody brings Marshall McLuhan into the scene and McLuhan completely refutes and debases the professor. “If life were only like that” said Woody. This story is not about him, the patronizing patron.

As I was daydreaming/eavesdropping, a large man in a large, worn winter coat walked into my field of vision and sat in front of the window I was staring out. As he arranged his posture he looked directly at me and said “Hi!” in a booming and overly loud for the space voice. I mumbled “hi” back and went back to thinking and waiting for my double espresso to cool down and also waiting for my phone to ring as I was killing time while Sharon was at the vet’s. Not for herself, of course, but one of the birds had her “annual” bank account draining check up.

The man was quite unusual looking. He looked perhaps like an Australian aboriginal man with curly tousled hair and a scruffy beard and missing a few teeth. He had kind, intelligent eyes and looked like he spent a great deal of time outdoors. I am pretty sure most people’s snap judgement of him if they met him on the street would be that he was homeless and to avoid him or brace themselves for a demand for alms because his size and appearance could be considered daunting.

As I pondered his greeting, I thought that maybe he thought I was staring at him and was offended and that is why he said “Hi”so loudly like it might have been a “Here I am… Want a picture?!?” but there had been no trace of sarcasm in the monosyllabic greeting, just volume. I know many people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder who sometimes use their “outside voice” inside, but this did not seem to be the case either.

I soon got my text to pick up Sharon and the bird, so I quickly downed my defibrillator espresso in one gulp and got up and put my coat on. As I approached the table where the man who had greeted me was sitting I said to him “I am sorry if you thought I was staring at you, your greeting surprised me and I was unsure if it was a friendly conversation starter or if I had offended you.” He was most affable and assured me that he was just being friendly and he thanked me for approaching him to be understood clearly.

I felt mildly ashamed at my train of thought and wished I had had more time to engage this gentleman in a proper conversation. He looked wise and kind, his life full and his stories most assuredly would have been better than the one I had involuntarily been listening to before.

Small Stuff

There is a view I have from the armchair in our living room that I cherish. I look into my office/studio which right now is fairly uncluttered (at least the part we see here lol.) I have been organizing and sorting and finding things that I knew I had, but had misplaced or, rather, changed the place of so I’d find it better when I needed it…. Right…. My vape machine has been missing for several months. i use it infrequently, only when my migraine is unbearable. I forgot that I had given it a new home in it’s own artsy box and had put it on a shelf of its own meant to hold a dozen or so CD’s. The second thing was several gifts I got on sale at Chapters. Not books, but clothing items for my girls who I didn’t see in person this year at Christmas. Bought them at 30% off last year Boxing Day (week). It is not like me to think that far ahead. I have lost and found them 3x in a year. This time I wrapped them and labeled them and put them in a bag on the back of my studio door hanging with dozens of guitar cables. I can always refer to this blog now in case I forget where they are. Trouble is, these items are like passwords on the internuts. Don’t get me started.

I feel like an archaeologist several times a year shuffling stuff around. Maybe it’s a game like our cockatoo plays until she changes the rules from boredom. She is a real character! Incidentally her cage is directly behind the chair from where I took this photo.

Above the door is a street sign I bought in Liverpool. Favourite song by favourite Beatle. Just down and to the right is a stylized portrait of Bob Dylan that Sharon bought for me from our artist friend Susan Shulman.

I love it ‘cause it’s weird. Bob has three arms. Two on the Fender bass and one holding a cigarette. 

Down to the right and partially obscured by a candlestick is a lovely picture of a cuddly roly poly Sharon with dancing eyes and mischievous smile. Other objects on the table is a lamp with a dog on the vase and dingle berries hanging from the shade. Retro chic. There is a cut glass candy tray filled with white tail feathers from one of the other birds: Betty White. There is a woodcut of a cabin in the woods and in front of that a tiny brass claw foot bathtub with pretty rocks I had collected on my travels as a younger man and gave to my mum. Each with a story. My mum gave them back as she neared her final voyage. Treasures.

The table itself had been my grandmother’s passed on to my parents and fits perfectly right there. Under the table I stashed my Martin guitar, having just returned from teaching a private lesson. Mundane details,  they are merely objects, but they give me comfort. Small stuff.

Nice Eyes

“Nice eyes!” The woman ahead of me at the post office was sending money overseas to her family. She was dressed in a bright green Kameez under a Kanuk overcoat. Obviously from the Indian subcontinent.

I said “Pardon me?”

“You have nice blue eyes.” she clarified. “And kind eyes. Where I come from we all have dark eyes.” I said “My wife was born in India and she says the same thing about her eyes.” I told her what I would have told Sharon: that she should be thankful for her eyes, they see! I also told her it was a nice way to end off 2022, to be complimented by a pretty lady.

She apologized for the long wait and told me she was sending money home, and I told her I wasn’t in a hurry and that my package was part of a funny mistake. I told her this story:

My wife’s mother is Welsh and quite elderly. She has one surviving brother still in Wales whose wife had sent her a gift via us, as my mother-in law’s address has recently changed. As Jennie was opening her parcel and then the wrapped gift inside she saw an address book. Upon opening the address book, my mother-in-law was confused. “There are names and numbers already in here.” We quickly figured out that her sister-in-law had wrapped her address book up in the present and sent it to Canada by mistake. Everybody had a good giggle over this miscue. Sharon fired off a message to one of her Welsh cousins who confirmed that his mum had wondered where her address book was and had turned the house upside down looking for it. Sharon repackaged the book and I took it to the post office this morning.

Everyone within earshot at the post office had a good giggle and we went our merry ways.

On the way home I reflected on how close we came this year to Sharon almost losing the sight in one eye, the death of her father who was legally blind for the last few years of his life. I was grateful for my eyesight, all the doctors (including my brother-in-law) who took such care to get her into and through a difficult surgery. We so often take our senses for granted in our day to day doings. I am thankful for this lady in the Post Office for bringing my attention to bear on something that is so important to me and for which I am grateful.

I remembered this poem I wrote in reply to Sharon saying to me in 2017 that I was lucky to have such nice blue eyes and that her eyes were “ordinary”. Her eyes are especially beautiful in my eyes. All eyes are beautiful; they are conduits to the world and facilitate our movement in it, and our appreciation of it.


You say your eyes 
are ordinary

Ordinary eyes....
Melanin loaded....

Mine are a fluke of 
Tyndall scattering
in the stroma
and larger
deposits of collagen

But they see

Mine see yours 
Yours see mine 

unique, oblique, boutique
probes and globes 

A sight for sorry eyes
Anything but common

Four Different Kinds of Teachers 

Over the last week including yesterday, I have been trying to resolve technical/and or electrical issues. 

Here is Ian’s electronic odyssey:

Our printer became a paperweight when it was most needed….. we both kept getting an ‘out of paper’ message which was b.s. Sharon wanted to replace the whole printer but I thought maybe we should call HP and try to see if they could resolve the issues.

Once I  ran the gauntlet of ‘what kind of device?….what model?…. Was it purchased in the last year…. Home or office? ….PC or Mac? ….’ And was rerouted several times and had to run said gauntlet for each reroute I had to find the serial number which was like one of those bibles written on a grain of rice and some other code from somewhere else needing a microscope, we finally got down to the problem. The person on the other end of the phone was very calm and methodical and patient on our one and a half hours together. During a lull I asked her where on our planet she was located. She told me she was in the Philippines and was so polite and her spiels so scripted that I imagined her chained to her desk and talking at gunpoint. We finally got my iPad to print when we overrode colour printing and after unplugging and/or restarting the printer, removing and replacing cartridges and/or the iPad several times, she got me to remove the colour cartridge and reboot the printer. It worked!

I said I could live with it in black and white until i got a new colour cartridgeand we ended the session and I headed off to the local Bureau en Gros to get the supplies. 

I put in the new cartridge and switched to colour printing and ….nada….back to the Philippines and only one gauntlet this time because I had a case number and a legible printout of the necessary answers… yay. The very similar sounding technician was very polite and we ran through the same calisthenics with a new twist. The blue didn’t print…it was about 20% . I got a step by step tutorial (including allowing her to access my phone’s camera) on cleaning the heads which needed to be done four times with me actually going in there the third time with a dampened lint free cloth. Finally got it to work and I was about to conclude the call when Sharon called upstairs and said her iPad was still saying ‘no paper’ and wouldn’t print. We had to then reinstall hp smart and reinstall the printer and finally got it working for her iPad, mine, both our phones, our desktops etc. I then thought about my stepson’s PC…… we kept the file open with the technician because Sean was at school and we had no access. Fortunately we did not need more tech support because he was able to print and hp actually sent an extra free colour cartridge by courier. That was a few half days gone, but a good result. 

The actual instruction was very methodical, evenly paced and well thought out. It was a good example of great teaching. Both technicians said “we will get it working” as if their personal pride might be offended if we didn’t (or their overseers might shoot them). 

That was only the first leg of the odyssey.

Yesterday was “special”. 

I had to replace my first MacBook about a year ago because I was having “storage issues”. About 6 weeks ago I started to have storage issues” again despite having bought a shitload of internal memory, extra iCloud storage and two external hard drives with tons of memory. 

I put out a distress signal last week on fb asking for help and within an hour my neighbour volunteered. I quickly deleted the call for help before the “clever” and silly messages and puns started to come in. 

My neighbour is very Zen. Looks like he could be Elvis Costello’s son. He is very confident and is no stranger to solving exactly the kind of problem I had. We both play music and enjoy each other’s company. He quickly analyzed and explained exactly what my problems were. When he actually started to open and close pages and delve deep into the bowels of my Mac he was like Steven Seagal whupping a dozen criminal asses, a real fast Aikido  fighter. He calmly explained what my problems were as he was breaking the dozen asses. He then got out of warp speed and explained what he did in real time and now we wait….

I really did not understand “paths” on computers. My computer was making multiple copies of stuff and then the “time machine “ saved my stuff. All of it….each time it saved….. he said it was like stacking books. A very dumb thing to do. But for a click in preferences, I was clogging my arteries. You would think a computer would save only what was new and add it to what was saved. Like throwing away first drafts and keeping the most recent version, but no. My computer is still deleting files right now. It has been at it for hours and is still not done. Periodic checks of my hard drives show me that the burden is diminishing and every once in a while it stops and tells me an operation can’t be completed because such and such is still in use even though all programs are shut. It may be because this device is linked and I am writing on it. I don’t know. I actually don’t want to know. I just can’t want it to work properly like a car; like a toaster;, like a musical instrument; like my body.

Ian (yes, same name as me) showed me how to continue several times patiently and slowly and asked me if I wanted him to write down the steps? I said “no, I think I have it.” He had to go and said he’d call back later to see how it was going. An hour later one of the functions finished and I panicked. I couldn’t remember the  order of his instructions. I texted and he kindly wrote them down. I am on the penultimate  stage of this journey. The next thing to do is shut er down when the trash is empty. We’re close to 1,300,000 items deleted, and that is not counting some other crap we bulk deleted before. It feels like emptying a hoarder’s house except the hoard crept up on me. 

All told, Ian’s teaching was cool, calm and collected. At no time did he treat me like the dummy I am when it comes to this. He even told me in a conciliatory manner that it just wasn’t my skill set. I agree. I do some things really well. This is not one of them. 

As I write, the computer is still deleting, but the last chapter in my odyssey is our wall mounted oven. A few years ago the broil element burned out and I took the element to a local shop that dealt only in oven and stove repair. The Septuagenarian running the shop (which hadn’t been dusted or swept in a decade) ambled over to a wall full of different shaped elements and laid his hand directly on the exact one. I remarked at his skill and he told me he was closing the business after 40 plus years because none of his children were interested in carrying on. Kind of sad, really. I fixed the oven easily. 

About four months ago, maybe longer we have had a rough year of: illnesses, a death in the family, and the aftermath and oth Sharon and I have had some grounding health issues. I went to bake something and I turned on the bake and set it to 350. Nada. Broil did not work either. The clock worked, the displays all lit up. I thought it must be a fuse. I looked everywhere I could access and could see no fuse on the oven. I started unscrewing the plates hiding the rough edges of the wall it was set into. Nada. I went online and searched for this pre internet model and found nothing. I went downstairs and checked all the breakers in the breaker box and the  fuses in the other (older) fuse box. Nothing I could see. I went on Facebook and put out a call for anyone with experience with this kind of thing or a reputable electrician who specialized in appliances. Some response, but none of it useful. Some phone numbers, but often led to a dead end or electricians not interested in a small job. 

We lived without an oven for a while. Not the end of the world, I have a slow cooker, a pressure cooker a stove and a microwave, a toaster, I got a small convection oven, but have hardly ever used it. 

Baking season is upon us (almost over actually) and Sharon said we should either fix the oven or replace it. The dream of remodelling the kitchen in a big way has evaporated. I thought one last try was in order. I called some guy and he said he’d call “next week”. He didn’t. I called after a week and left a message. He called back and said he could come “tomorrow “ which is today. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but through texting he said he’d be here between five and seven. He came at around five. I don’t think his eyesight is very good because he called me from in front of the house and the number is lit. I told him we are the house with blue lights in the two square front windows. He struggled up the drive with a tool box and I led him to the kitchen. His accent was south Asian and very strong and told me he wasn’t from Canada originally, but he came with a 4.9 star rating. 

He looked at the oven and I explained again what was wrong an what I had done. He looked about and asked if I had taken the oven out of the wall. I told him I had only been able to get it half out of the wall as there was a metal encased wire holding it back. He said it was impossible. Unless they built the enclosure around the oven. His brusqueness and arrogance were starting to get on my nerves. I pulled the oven out of the wall using a chair and upside down frying pan  to make a platform the same height to rest it on. The manufacturer’s pamphlet was there as were the screws I had removed. He told me I should not store things there. I explained that they were only there because the oven didn’t work and I didn’t want to misplace them. He seemed miffed. He said to pull it more to which I replied “this is only how far it can go because of the power wire” he looked inside the display panel and shone the flashlight around and instructed me to push it back in. No words to indicate “you’re right.” Next we went downstairs to re check the fuse box. The fuses had handwriting beside some strips, but not all. I went upstairs as he unscrewed fuses and switch breakers to yell down if the oven display was on or off. All of these steps I had done before. The next step was for him to come upstairs and he turned on the oven. Lo and behold it worked. Then the broiler and eureka, success. I asked him what he did?and he said he’d tell me after I answered a question. He asked me back “do you agree I fixed it?” I replied in the affirmative. He showed me a plastic panel with two fuses on it. He pried them out and determined that one of them was blown and needed replacement. He said he took the other panel out and exchanged them. Very simple solution. He asked me if I had a spare fuse. I didn’t know. I knew there was a container downstairs with fuses in it, so we went downstairs. No 30 amp fuses. He was dressing me down patronizingly for not having extras. I tried to explain that the house was functioning a long time before I moved in. He looked disgusted at my lack of knowledge and preparedness as the ‘man of the house’.

We went upstairs and he started to put away his tools before the oven was back in place. He said “you do it” I asked him to at least do the screws he had taken out as he had a cordless power drill with a light. He begrudged me that and I did the rest after he left. I asked him how much we owed and Sharon paid him. As he was putting on his boots he said “with all that gym equipment in the basement how come you have a big belly?” 

I am thankful that he was able to figure out the problem that eluded me because I was unaware of the “hidden” fuses, but could have done without the critical and patronizing attitude. After he left and I closed the door Sharon said “that’s how my father was as a teacher using blame and shaming you for not knowing something already. Your lack of knowledge.” 

This made me meditate on the three problems and the three methods used to solve things that are low on my skill set. I asked Sharon if I ever did that while teaching her vocal or guitar parts? She quickly replied in the negative. I know I have not always been patient as a teacher in my career, but I think I got things done in a kind and loving way. I remember laughter and dedication and tears and headaches and love. I think I always came from a loving attitude.

I used to tell the kids who asked me why I became a music teacher that: “I love music, I love children and I love sharing what I know to make the world a better place, this must be the right place for me.”

Party at 495

In the early 1980’s My friend Dan lived on the third floor in a rear corner 6 1/2 apartment that he shared with two others at 495 Prince Arthur Street in the McGill Ghetto in Montreal. I loved the marble entrance, the marble stairs and the style and location. I envied his apartment. I wished I lived there.

At the time I was in a tiny crappy bachelor apartment with a very noisy neighbour. She left her AM radio on all day while she was gone to work. Requests to have her turn it off so I could study and/practice in peace were ignored. I needed to move.

Dan called me one day and asked if I knew anyone looking for a place because his roommate was moving to another province. I jumped at the chance and made the arrangements to move. I did not have much stuff, a stereo and some guitars and a mattress. Frugal student living. Selective poverty.

Not long after I moved in Dan found a smaller cheaper place across the street where he did not need roommates. I had a series of replacements come through at various times including my brother, my best friend at the time, my future wife and many others.

The building was built in 1911, so it pre-dated both World Wars. I was told the building was created as diplomatic quarters and the smallest room was servant’s quarters though the plumbing was removed. There were two dedicated bedrooms at either corner of the apartment. The Salon Double had been split into two separate rooms using 2×4 lumber and gyprock (drywall). There was a non-functioning gas fireplace in one of the rooms and I put my stereo components in the recessed area of the fireplace where the flames would have been. There was a tiny kitchen (kitchenette really) that barely had enough room for a small table and chairs. You could stir a pot on the stove at the same time as accessing the refrigerator opposite. just outside the kitchen was a built in pantry which was a counter space with cupboards below and a glass case on the wall above.

The McGill Ghetto was a student Ghetto and was fully populated while classes were on Most of the other apartments in the building had been chopped up and renovated into single unit dwellings to maximize the profitability of the place. Ours was a “Grande Dame” of a bygone era. I don’t recall the amount of our rent, but I think it may have been $420.00/mo. Split three ways, it was quite affordable for full time students and part-time musicians.

At one point, we were only two in the place and it didn’t stretch our resources all that much. We decided to throw a party. I told my roommate that we should tear down the drywall and make the place more party worthy. He agreed.

I pinged some holes in the wall and we started to remove the drywall. Messy job, this. To dispose of the detritus, we acted like the tunnellers in The Great Escape. little amounts smuggled out in garbage bags and left next door on garbage days. The 2×4’s were a bit trickier. One person acted as lookout for the concierge and the other beetled away and left them in a removed alleyway. Once all the scrap was gone and the place was washed, you would almost never know there had been a barrier.

We invited too many people (as kids in their twenties do) and it appeared that we were headed towards not just a party, but a “bash”. We got in several cases of 24 and we had tons of food. As a precaution I thought we had better warn our neighbours. I put a sign up in the vestiaire saying there would be strange faces in the building and to please come to us directly if there were any complaints. It seemed like the right thing to do.

About an hour after posting the sign I got a phone call from the owner of the building telling me that parties are forbidden and to call it off To keep the peace I untruthfully told him we would cancel and hung up. I remember that just after hanging up I muttered “Fuck off and die you old prick!”

Our party went ahead as planned with about 50 guests and there wasn’t too much noise or fuss and we rolled into bed at 5 AM. No complaints.

When I awoke and started cleaning up the empties, the butts, the spills, etc. I ran into the concierge downstairs. He told me that “something terrible had happened last night… the owner (who lived far away)had died of a massive heart attack!”

I sort of felt guilty that my last words to him came true.

When I told a sanitized version of this story to my dad, without skipping a beat he replied half questioningly: “I guess you believe in prayer now!”


We had never met. What first attracted me to her was a photo of her on Facebook with a Telecaster and her pithy little blurbs about her day to day life. Little nothings. Bagatelles. Vignettes. We became virtual friends. Her humour and kindness made it easy to become friends. I needed friends at that time of my life and the basket I had put all my eggs into had no room for any of my friends, and by this time no room for me. The internet brought me in touch with new people, new ideas and a release from the pain of my reality.

One day the friend disappeared. All traces gone. Unbeknownst to me she had decided to take a break from her social media. No way to communicate at all. I knew from what little I knew about her that she had been a victim of a cyber bully and I figured that maybe the threats had escalated and she put herself out of harm’s way. I was concerned for her, but also had a feeling of loss. I missed her. I reached out to a facebook friend we had in common who knew her in “real life” and I asked him if he knew if she was alright? He relayed the message and Sharon was touched that someone cared. She messaged me and we resumed our playful interchanges on line. She let out that she was going to watch our mutual friend perform on the 24th of November. I was already curious to see this fellow perform his comedy and so we agreed to meet up at the venue.

At the time I was separated but cohabiting with a highly unpredictable long time partner who had grown to hate and resent me. It was a lonely time and a punishing time. It was beyond repair. Going out and doing something for myself was something new that I was just getting used to again.

I entered the nightclub and espied from behind a thick mane of wavy hair and a small woman wearing a jean jacket and I made my way towards her. I am sensate. In tune with my senses, and especially my olfactory sense. Her perfume hit me when I was several meters from her and she turned around and stood up and gave me a big, genuine hug. Cupid hit me. I am pretty sure Cupid hit Sharon as well, but she has something called “logic” and “facts” and “tangible evidence”. All things that I either espouse or ignore depending on convenience. “There’s no such thing as Cupid, stupid!”

I don’t remember the specifics of what we talked about that night, but I do remember I wanted it to continue. She confessed that she had not changed the strings on her guitar for many many years and I immediately went into rescue mode and offered to change her strings. We made a date to do just that.

The day I changed her strings was one of the happiest days in my life, and Sharon has said the same. Our time together simultaneously felt like it had been nanoseconds and years. Leaving was hard. We had agreed to meet again for coffee soon.

My memory is foggy about the exact sequence of events, but we were rapidly becoming very close friends letting our darkest secrets out in a safe space where we knew it would be honoured. We agreed to see each other again and share our experience with two particular problems. She wanted to know about Al-Anon and I wanted to know how to get a divorce. I had experience with the one, and she, the other.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”- Charles Dickens

Neither of us have or will philander. We had things to settle and put in order before our relationship could continue, let alone enter a new phase. The stress and entanglement that had to be dealt with at the time could have easily destroyed either of us, but the two of us together traversed the rugged terrain and came out smiling if not unscathed or completely untangled.

Ten years since that nascent time. Ten years with different challenges as we age, the world and our priorities shift. Publilius and later Chaucer said: “Familiarity breeds contempt”. It is difficult for two people with differing ways, habits and customs and differences in diet, levels of hygiene, etc. I think contempt sets in when acceptance of the other erodes.

People usually wish and want to see that their loved one is a reflection of themselves. They become critical of things that used to be overlooked. Less tolerant of major differences. I am as guilty of this as the next person. It is human nature. I override these judgements most of the time, and I am sure Sharon overlooks so many of the fundamental things where we differ. For example; Sharon is uber tidy. I can walk over a pile of dirty laundry for weeks before picking it up. Sharon is an introvert and is happy to sit at home with a cup of tea and a book. While I am content to do that some of the time, I do like human interaction and broken routines. We have a balance when we honour these differences in each other. I pick up stuff more often, she lets things slide more often. I honour her solitude and she honours my extroversion. Namasté. I do things for her because I love her. I am willing to change and vice versa.

This is not to say “I wish he/she were more like…” is ignored or disappears, but it is the source of unnecessary and unwanted friction. The power of a couple that maintains a successful relationship is the ability to forgive, to overlook, to respect choices. When these qualities are less present, it is always purely a question of will: “I want you to do this the way I would do it!”, “I want you to react to this song the same way I would”.

Today, on the tenth anniversary of the day we met, I still feel the arrow from Cupid. It always reminds me to treat my love, my partner, truly my other half (even though we are both complete) the way I did in those first moments together.

I look in the mirror and I see me. I love me and I don’t want to see Sharon in my mirror, although her love radiates through me. I look at Sharon and I see her, she is beautiful inside and out and is not an extension of me. I love her.


  from Nov. 2018

This is a story about frequency. Not the kind measured in Hertz, such as in the frequency of A=440 hz, or the frequency on the radio where you find your local CBC station. It’s not exactly about the other main definition either, which means “rate of occurrence”. It is about Frequency in the medical sense, which means “occurrence of urination”. 

Some of you may have already experienced the “joys” of what seems to be a shrinking bladder. 

I am a music teacher in a school, so my working day is divided up into little half hour chunks called “periods”. I am also an enthusiast of a beverage called “coffee”.  Typically I teach three periods in a row before a break such as recess affords me the opportunity to use the washroom. 

I used to be able to work comfortably for an hour and a half without leaving my classroom. Those days are over. About half way through the second period my brain receives the first gentle message from my bladder that I should relieve myself fairly soon. Message noted, but not acted upon because the class can’t be left unattended. Usually as the classes transfer, there is an opportunity to ask the other teacher in charge if they would just take over for a minute. 

Sometimes I don’t get to see either the teacher picking kids up, or the one dropping kids off which means I can’t take the time to go and the gentle messages becomes more frequent (pun intended) and increase in intensity like an alarm clock on snooze. No problem. “Mind over matter” right? A little discomfort is no big deal, I know that I will be able to go at the bell. 

Things don’t always work out smoothly though, because there is only one male staff washroom in our school and there are several men on staff whose breaks coincide. My colleague has a class that faces the washroom and she remarked yesterday how she loves to see my reaction to whether the door is locked or unlocked. I guess you could say we get our pleasures where we can. 

Outside of school I have to gauge things accordingly. A two hour trip to Ottawa requires a pit stop about half way. I am now in the habit of going before going anywhere. 

Except yesterday. 

Yesterday I left work in a hurry because we had a staff  meeting that went long and I was left with exactly 25 minutes to drive the 25 minutes it takes to get to a private student’s home to give him a lesson. I tried the handle on the washroom….locked…. I hadn’t received the message yet, so I just drove off in order to make my lesson on time.

The music lesson was fine and we actually lost track of the time. I love teaching the theory behind chordal choices and their practical application to the guitar.

As I was leaving his home the small message from my bladder came in. It is sort of a half hour warning. I took note, and drove the 15 minutes from the Plateau to downtown to meet friends and watch my daughter perform in a jazz club. Did not factor in parking…..oy! The streets around the club were all under construction and almost all of the spaces were not open for parking. I knew that in 15 minutes the bus lane on the boulevard at the foot of the street would close and I would be able to park there. My alarms were coming more frequently by this time. I felt like an expectant mother might when the contractions are 5 minutes apart and the hospital is not in sight. If I parked before 6:30 the meters would not work, so I had to wait. 

When 6:30 finally dragged along, I went  to use the meter which wanted $7.50 to legally park until 9. I had $4 in coins, so I tried my credit card. Put it in wrong……tried the other way….put it in wrong in the dark again(like a teen-ager trying sex for the first time…lol). I switched to coins figuring I could come back later and feed the difference. 

As I fed the first coin into the meter I received a very strong message to pee NOW!!!! I put another coin in which the machine rejected. Had to think fast….what to do? I opened the car door to see if there was any loose change on the floor (there was a two dollar coin!) and I realized that if I did not do something immediately I would pee my pants for the first time since I was a little boy and would have to miss my daughter’s show.

It was already dark and there were no pedestrians, so I opened the rear door on the passenger side and retrieved a paper coffee cup from the floor and, hidden from view between the two doors, I opened my fly and let loose into the cup. As I was peeing, I had the fear that perhaps the cup would not hold what I had to offer. It felt like I was expelling an ocean, no need to worry…it was more like a kiddie pool….. and the cup was a “Venti”

The desire to avoid wet pants and to alleviate the discomfort overrode the inhibition of being exposed in a place where I knew I shouldn’t be urinating. I was discrete and undiscovered, so I guess it was a success. I disposed of the cup and it’s contents in the proper manner and went on with the evening. Close call.

As I relievedly walked towards the club, the words of my mother demanding that I “go to the bathroom before going out” were echoing in my head as were the thousands of times I had implored my own children to do the same.

Perhaps this was my mum’s posthumous way of saying “I told you so!”

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words (or so)

‘Hijack a truck” he says. “We’ll drive her across the continent and sell the cargo when we reach the coast. You do know the backroads?” Brothers Eli and Colton had hatched a plan to swap a trucker’s uppers for downers. 

This is how it started. 

At Joe’s Café the truckers would gather, swapping lies and popping the pills they got from Joey (another one, not the owner) to get in another 300 miles or so before pulling over for the night. 

The brothers saw a rig pull in hauling four brand new 1957 Cadillac Fleetwoods. The driver, Mortimer (Morty) Hassock was making his first interstate delivery and as he entered Joe’s Café there were at least four eyes watching his every move. Morty chose an empty booth and ordered from Sarah a middle-aged waitress who looked and acted like she had been a part of this Café for centuries and there was nothing new that she hadn’t already seen. As Sarah retreated into the kitchen to deliver the order, Morty made his way to the John to relieve himself. As he passed Joey’s booth just before he reached the washrooms Joey enquired in a whisper if he might need some “helpers” to help him get to his destination sooner? Morty shook his head, no, but thought some more about this as he was relieving himself and when he emerged after washing and drying his hands he agreed to buy $10 worth of amphetamines so that he and his rig could eat more pavement and he could return home to his fiancé after his delivery in time for the Friday dance.

The tiny paper bag holding the pills was very easy to swap out by Eli who came to Morty’s table and made some small talk. He drew Morty’s attention to a very comely young lady in the parking lot and not only switched the bags, but managed to slip a sleeping pill into Morty’s coffee as well. 

Morty got up after his huge “all day breakfast-$1.29” paid, and left a tip for Sarah and proceeded to the parking lot where he did stretching exercises for his neck and shoulders as he walked to his truck with Eli and Colton stealthily pursuing.

At the wheel, Morty was beginning to feel the endorphins from all those carbs and the sedative was also beginning to take effect. He popped a couple of the treats from his paper bag to counter this, and pulled out onto the blacktop.

Of course the pills had the opposite effect on him and soon Morty found himself nodding at the wheel. He pulled onto a side road and made a pillow from his jacket and spare clothing. He was out cold when the brothers pulled up behind the rig and approached the driver’s side door. Eli had a gun “just in case”, but it wasn’t needed as Morty could not be woken up. They pulled Morty out of the cab and covered him up with his jacket and left him snoozing by the side of the road. 

Colton started the rig and pulled onto the road. The idea was to follow the road to a crossroads or a place wide enough to turn around with Eli following in their car. The road was getting narrower, and there were no intersections, so Colton kept on driving for perhaps thirty miles with the occasional homestead or farm appearing every mile or so. Colton stopped and waited for Eli to catch up and they both conferred on what to do with this “hot” rig. It was decided that turning around might not be safe as Morty may have been discovered by now. It was decided that Eli, who had a map would lead the way and they would take several detours across pretty wild territory until they met with a rural route marked as a county road several miles to the south of where they were. 

There was only one problem with this road, unbeknownst to the brothers. There was a small bridge about 20 miles ahead that a car could easily traverse, but the width and weight limitations meant the truck would not be able to. 

When they reached the bridge, they knew they could progress no further. Not only that, but there was still no place to turn around. Colton backed the truck up gingerly for about 200 yards and noticed a derelict field to his left that, if he was lucky, he could finally turn the truck around. he pulled onto the field and started the wide arc to finally get the truck pointed in the right direction. He was successful, but was about to rejoin the path to the road when his brother frantically signalled him to stop. Eli had heard a car rapidly approaching while he was watching the manoeuvring and had the presence of mind to drive his car out of sight. If they were lucky the passing auto would not notice either of them. The car was a police cruiser and it zoomed past them towards the bridge. Eli knew that the car would be returning soon when the police realize the rig could not have gone that way. Colton realized it too, and backed the rig up into a copse of saplings hidden from view to any road. He parked the truck and he and Eli sat in the sedan waiting for the cruiser to return. 

The police did not see the hidden vehicles and vanished back from whence they came. Eli decided that they had to make a plan B. The truck was an unwieldy burden now and the police would be on the lookout for it. Plan B was to return home and wait a week. return to the truck and take each car singly to a town in the next state where they could be “chopped for parts”. Not the bonanza they had originally planned, but a decent payday nonetheless. 

Eli marked the site on his map and the brothers returned the way they had come. They decided to go into Joe’s Diner and grab burgers and fries before heading home. Nobody raised an eyebrow when they walked in and ordered, so the boys relaxed until they saw Morty get out of a police car in the lot. Colton nudged his brother and they both skedaddled out the back door. Better safe than sorry.

Fearful that they might have been made, Eli pulled out onto the highway and they drove above the speed limit for ten miles. On their left was a long freight train running parallel to the road and Eli decided he wanted to get on the other side of it and raced toward where he knew there was a railroad crossing. Not wanting to be stuck at the alreay flashing crossing, Eli took a chance and gunned the engine, determined to sneak through ahead of the train. The car was going very fast and was about ready to make the left turn and hop the level crossing when the car blew a tire and careened onto the tracks. 

The impact was huge and drastic. The fireball consumed both brothers and their schemes and the map. The truck was only discovered fifty years later.

internet photo that inspired this story.


Being a music teacher, I often get asked if I know anyone that would like a piano. This happens at least a half dozen times a year, and I am not even a pianist (although I do have a piano and I do play it). Usually the request is after the piano itself has been put up for sale and no one bit despite the price eventually being reduced to zero. 

It usually fills me with sadness. Today is no exception. A piano used to be as necessary as a refrigerator in a home. I feel that these objects that used to have and hold value and could be found in most middle class homes are no longer desirable in our hurried and mobile society. Gone the endless etudes and errors, gone the singalongs round the piano. My Uncle Charlie was great at making popular songs of the war era into hilariously lewd songs. When a piano is being used, vibrations fill the house and for those moments everything is safe. Everything is warm. Everything is worthwhile. Music connects us. Many of us get similar feelings from our guitars, but it is not quite the same as having a honking big piece of furniture that demands attention.

I understand. A piano takes up space and is expensive to maintain and/or move. Learning how to play requires a considerable commitment of time and effort.  The children have grown up and no one plays it anymore. It is easier to have an electronic keyboard, etc. which has a headphone Jack for not “disturbing” others.  Downsizing is important for an aging population. 

Artwork by Alex Kaysan

To me, the feeling evoked by an unwanted piano is like the compassion I feel for an old unwanted dog that has been given up for adoption. We have two old dogs already in our home (not to mention three little birds). We also have a piano (and keyboards) so I feel the need to help in the placement, but not at my house. 

What to do with it? I have helped some get into student’s homes. My sister had a great idea and got her piano placed at their local community centre and it will be used for choir rehearsals etc. Most churches often already have two or three pianos scattered around, but churches are closing or congregations merging. More pianos to get rid of. Schools (don’t get me started…) focus less on the arts and pianos can be found in the custodian’s lair gathering dust.

I love it when pianos are placed at random street corners in the city. I have seen and heard (and played) on several. Given our harsh climate though, these oases are merely temporary until the elements reclaim the usefulness of the piano rendering it fit for a landfill.

photo by Sharon Cheema

I wonder at how different the world would be if Oscar Peterson (for example) had not had a piano in his home, or Glenn Gould……….

As musical literacy and proficiency is becoming less important in our society, I can merely hope that the void left by this societal change will be filled in other creative and beautiful ways.