The Cold November Rain

I joke every year — in fact, with great seriousness — that the day after Autumn Daylight Saving should actually be a statutory holiday. In theory we’ve all got that Sunday to adjust to the changing schedule and light, but it’s never really enough. The “extra hour of sleep” everyone enthuses about never happens (I still wake up at the old time) and while those of us truly dedicated to our eight hours a night end up tottering off to bed an hour “early” (but actually at the same time as before the change) might manage to get enough sleep, most people don’t. And I don’t think we take the afternoon changes — the fact that it gets darker earlier still affects our circadian rhythm — into as much consideration as they warrant. So I am firmly of the opinion that we all need at least a day or two to just sleep in and get used to the differences in light before we have to use our brains for anything important.

It doesn’t help that when Daylight Saving got changed from mid-October to the first weekend after Halloween (Thanks Dubya!), it also placed this very stressful event in roughly the same period of time as the November rainy season.

Here in Toronto, it’s a given that the first few days of November will be rainy. The leaves remain on the trees until well past the end of October (they never used to, a clear sign of global warming), but the inevitable winds and rains of November immediately begin to lash at the city and the first week of November is almost always dark and dire. The first damp cold of the winter sets into the bones. Ankles and elbows, injuries sustained in childhood and long forgotten, begin to ache from the low air pressure. Scarves and gloves are suddenly needed as necks and fingers unaccustomed to the chill protest the cold. Allergy sufferers scan the weather report for predictions of a hard frost in the desperate hope of avoiding the coughing and sneezing that comes with millions of wet leaves rotting away on lawns and in gutters, spewing out mold spores until the air becomes cold enough to kill them off.

As a grumpy adult, this weather makes me, well… grumpy. For all of the reasons listed above — it’s dark, it’s cold and how the hell can I be suffering from tennis elbow when I don’t play tennis? But as a child, this weather, this time of year, was full of excited promises that involved making sure your skates were sharpened.

Looking back, it seems that, as a kid, growing up in Halifax, I always had skates on my feet. The nearby Lion’s rink was open every winter weekend for a community skate, and I learned to glide across the ice at an early age. My high school was next door to this rink and a few times a week it would be open at lunchtime for students, where fifty cents admission would secure enough funds to run the Zamboni around the place after the twenty or thirty regular skaters went back to class.

But as a little kid, I mostly skated in an empty lot down the street.

Those lashing November rains would cause this extra wide lot to flood. A steep hill at the back of the property and the edge of the sidewalk at the front caused the water to pool, and when we were lucky enough to have a good hard frost, to freeze. Measuring maybe fifty feet along the front and close to the same from front to back before the ground rose up to the hill, our makeshift rink was encumbered at one end with the stalks of bushes and a few trees but was mostly clear and open. With a depth of only six to twelve inches, it froze fast and solid. And when it didn’t freeze completely and was still thin in places, the worst that would happen if you broke through the ice was a soaker in your skate.

As soon as that little pond froze, and I can only remember one year when the weather gods left it dry, the neighbourhood kids would be on it, wobbling clumsily down the street on skate blades covered in guards, rather than changing from boots at the edge of the ice. Sometimes, if there had been a lot of wind, the surface of the ice would be bumpy with ridges of water that froze fast before it could spread. But we would be on it regardless of the texture; a good half dozen kids, often more, every night after supper until our mothers called us in at bedtime.

I cannot stress how magical these evenings were. The light from the streetlights kept us safe and allowed us to see the trees and bushes. If there had been an ice storm, the branches themselves often glittered and sparkled like magnificent Christmas decorations. Above our heads, galaxies of stars twinkled better and brighter than any strand of fairy lights. Our breath made little clouds against the dark sky, and amidst the laughter and singing and bursts of childish delight, the sound of skate blades scratching across ice punctuated the night.

In the summer, the children of the street would roller skate along the same stretch of sidewalk, but it wasn’t the same kind of freedom and joy we experienced on those winter nights.

Eventually someone build a house on the vacant lot and our little skating pond was gone, replaced with a lawn and some tasteful landscaping. My family moved to another part of the neighbourhood, and I went to a different school and no longer saw the kids from my childhood street. My roller skates were abandoned and my ice skates lived in my school locker for those lunchtime sessions at the rink. The first weeks of November no longer held as much promise. The rain and wind, no longer a harbinger of childhood play and magical evenings outside, became an annoyance. But every year, as the leaves form piles in the gutters, and the wind whips around corners, reminding us of all the blizzards in store for us in the coming months, I watch the rain, the cold November rain, and think back to a time when it came with such joyful anticipation.

The People the Internet Forgot

For people of my generation or younger, basically anyone born in the mid-60s or later, it is expected that we all have some level of internet presence. Whether it’s a Twitter or Facebook account, or a history of posts made back in the days of usenet, our activity, our lives, has all been documented. Facebook’s Timeline even encourages people to go back and add photos and events from their pre-Facebook years to create a full picture. Pretty much everything we do is documented in some way.

But the generations before us, from the Boomers back, do not really exist online unless someone else puts them there. Either through genealogy resources, or someone who has taken the time to post old stories and photos, unless people are really famous (and thus deserving of continued adoration), we have no recollection of them other than our own memories.

I’ve been thinking of this recently because I’ve been trying to track down anything I can find about someone I used to know – someone who should, by rights, be famous enough to warrant some historical respect – but the internet continually tells me No.

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The Places We Inhabit

Something happened last week that has weirded me out and I can’t seem to shake it. Greg and I ran into an acquaintance on the streetcar who happens to live in the basement apartment of the house we lived in for 12 years, up until 2006 when, due to the negligence of the landlord, I fell in the front walkway and broke my arm.

Despite eventually moving to a smaller place in a highrise building and no longer having a big old Edwardian mansion (with a huge back yard) to call home, we ended up much happier, if only because we no longer had to deal with said landlord and his utter refusal to fix anything unless absolutely necessary. While the house was cosmetically beautiful, there were rotten joists, no insulation, century-old single-pane windows, squirrels in the attic, and because the landlord converted a cellar to a basement apartment illegally (as in, he never got a building permit, and paid a bunch of illegal immigrants less than minimum wage to do the work that wasn’t up to code… not to mention that he’s never paid property tax on the basement unit), some serious issues with black mold that had spread through the crumbling walls.

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Stress Cooking

If there is one phrase, one turn of words that is guaranteed to drive me insane, it is the well-intentioned but patronizing assurance that “there’s nothing you can do about it, so there’s no point in worrying”. Again, I know that this is meant with good intentions, as a way to help the person in question stop worrying and calm down. But in a genuinely dire or horrific situation, who among us is able to quiet our minds and turn our attention to something else? It’s possible, but not easy, and if you’re a type A control freak, damned near impossible. Situations where there is nothing I can do are exactly when I worry the most, because I am helpless to create a positive outcome. It’s why people are sent off to boil water when a woman goes into labour – gives them something to do to keep them from being underfoot and lets them think they’re helping in some way.

In the stressful situations where there is nothing I can do to achieve a positive outcome (which, by the above theory, makes me even more stressed), I cook. Lots. Mass quantities of things – restaurant quantities – just to keep my hands and mind busy, so that I might, for a short while, stop worrying. It seldom does stop the worrying completely, the issue is still there at the back of my head, throbbing like a migraine dulled by pain medicine but not completely cured. But at least I’m not just sitting there fussing. At least there’s something to show for my nervous energy.

Back in my concert production days, I’d manage my way through the lead-up to shows by cooking. In 1998, when we presented Convergence and had 500 people from all over the world coming in to Toronto for the weekend, Greg and I threw a BBQ in our backyard as a pre-festival party for the bands and selected guests. This was less of a huge gesture of hospitality and more of a way to find people to eat the mass quantities of food that I was churning out in the days before the event as I waited to see who cleared customs, whether the venues were able to meet our technical specs or if I was going to have to find a legal pyrotechnic set-up at the 11th hour (and does our insurance even cover pyrotechnics??)?

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Stuff It


It’s almost like a secret shame but I’m ready to admit it to the world. I’m addicted to those “hoarding” TV shows.

First it was Hoarders on A&E, and now Hoarding: Buried Alive on TLC. Yes, I know TLC is often totally exploitative – both hoarding shows are, to be fair, but I can’t stop watching. It’s like rubbernecking while driving past a car crash.

I think my fascination with the shows is that they terrify me so much. Especially the ones where people who were formerly neat and tidy suffer some huge emotional loss and then are inclined to surround themselves with stuff – and not just good stuff, but piles of old newspapers and soft drink cups. The people who were already happy to live in clutter – you expect that they’ll live in their own sloth – but when the neatfreaks have their brains snap, that’s some scary shit.

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Old Punk Rockers Never Die

Okay, well, technically they do, eventually.

Last night, Greg and I attended a photo exhibit called Toronto Calling, of photos of concerts that took place in the early 80s in Toronto featuring bands like the Clash and the Ramones. We didn’t actually stick around to see the photos, though, as the gallery space was packed solid with old punk rockers, so much so that we couldn’t get in to see the photos.

The era in question took place before my time in Toronto, with most of the gigs featured taking place between 1979 -1981. I arrived in Toronto in late ’87, so this was not my scene per se, although I was listening to all of these bands back home in Halifax, a no-man’s land when it came to international tours. Hats off to Billy Idol for not forgetting about us in 1984.

But the remarkable thing was that here was a group of people in their late 40s – early 50s… and there was a still a solid punk vibe going on. Piercings, tattoos, oddly-coloured hair. These folks were still flying the freak flag.

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The End of the Desperate Season, or What I Didn’t Do on My Summer Vacation

Counting down the days, hours, minutes. Summer doesn’t officially end for a few weeks, but the psychological end of summer will happen tomorrow afternoon, when the CNE closes, when the last stupid air show plane buzzes the neighbourhood, and when kids head home to pack their pencils and books and return to school.

The leaves are already beginning to change on a few trees, and there’s a crispness to the air most mornings that wasn’t noticeable before I went to Halifax a few weeks ago.

Autumn is my favourite season; it’s not too hot or too cold; it’s sunny but you usually need a jacket (I like jackets); and the eating is especially good as the harvest reaches its peak. I don’t even mind winter especially – except maybe those days when there’s freezing rain, or where the sidewalks are slippery because people don’t shovel.

But I’m delighted to see the end of summer.

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Out of the Closet

Some people are naturally pack-rats, saving everything, dragging it with them from home to home throughout their lives. Others though, are purgers, overcome with the need to be free of the stuff they no longer use, need or love.

I’ve never seen the point of keeping “stuff”. Sure, I have a few items that I keep for sentimental reasons, but the overall quantity is small, and the pieces have real meaning. When we moved a few years ago, I took the opportunity to get rid of piles of things I knew I’d never use again – moving to a significantly smaller space, I didn’t have much choice – but I got rid of furniture and CDs and books without regret.

The only thing I sometimes regret purging with such strident rules is clothing.

Moreso than any other item we own, clothing has the power to tug at heartstrings and provoke memories. The dress you wore on a first date, a boyfriend’s favourite comfy sweater. I assume this is why brides spend tens of thousands of dollars on a wedding dress they’ll wear for a few hours and then save it in a special box, long after the marriage has dissolved.

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Number 5

I haven’t worn perfume for years. Nothing scented really, if I can help it, unless it’s of the all-natural essential oil variety. Allergies and chemical sensitivity see to it that pretty much anything with fragrance gives me a splitting headache.

I don’t mind this especially, as I think most people who wear scent wear far too much of it, but there are a few perfumes that I love and would love to be able to wear again.

At the top of this list would be Chanel No° 5.

I wore Chanel when I first moved to Toronto in the late 80s. Chanel was huge in the club scene then and the perfume was the closest I was ever going to get to a suit or a bag. It was a glamorous scent, not overwhelming, pretty but also mysterious.

I went through perfume phases and had a few favourites after I abandoned Chanel up until I had to stop wearing all fragrances or risk making myself sick. I hadn’t thought about that lovely square-cut bottle for years.

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Do Coincidences Travel in Packs of Three?

There’s a book called The Celestine Prophecy, a novel based on some new age spirituality, mostly rooted in some old spirituality. This post is not about that book, which has a number of detractors, as well as a number of fans, although having read the book, it’s what I tend to think of when coincidences occur.

Basically the premise of the book is based on 9 spiritual insights. The Third Insight – A Matter of Energy – is based on the theory that there are no coincidences, that things or people come to us because of a draw of energy, and the more times a theme occurs, the more attention, or energy, we need to focus on it.

No doubt every person has had the experience where something will come up in conversation, and then a day or so later, it will come up again. The phrase “speak of the devil” works on the same premise – you can be having a conversation about someone and then they’ll unexpectedly appear. These things happen all the time, but when they start happening in groupings, then it begins to get a little weird.

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