Just for Flasks, then?

And we’re off. JFL42 is in full swing and it just so happens to coincide with the busiest part of my work year. *Half-hearted cheer*. If by some grace of a higher power (or substance abuse) I manage to not go insane, these next ten days could be quite fun. Or the beginning of severe dependence issues.

John Mulaney was a hell of a way to start. The consummate comic, sure to be a palate cleaner before the cavalcade of straight white dudes thinking that edginess for edginess’ sake is a novel point of view. His opener Max Silvestri was great. It was easy to see why Mulaney picked him to open. He had a similar physicality and vocal playfulness. His punch lines were creative and well set up. I’d be happy to check him out during the rest of the festival, though realistically I’ve already seen half of his set.

Mulaney himself was everything I’d hoped. He’s a total professional and cripplingly funny. There was this bit he had about wanting to be friends with everybody that resonated so strongly with me. For a split second I thought I was the one onstage, but then wondered why I had such an impressive wingspan. His material was excellent, in the sense that it was specific and personal enough to be novel, but broad enough to be relatable. He had this phenomenal extended bit about school assemblies (in particular the stranger danger ones) that was perfect. I finally got to hear the full iteration of his Trump horse loose in a hospital bit, which really sung when taken out of its truncated late-night form. It was impressive to see how much he did with so little too. One of his stories involved a Mick Jagger impression. Thing is, there were no extended diatribes or anything. A few words here and there, maybe a short sentence. The level at which he sold that impression though, was something to behold. Even if it was a word or two, his posture shifted, mouth morphed, voice and demeanor instantly recognisable. I’m sure he spent hours refining it, but he sold the shit out of an impression that at times lasted fewer than three words.

I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not actually doing coverage this year, that this whole festival is purely a leisure activity. I’m so reigned to my previous mentality that it feels like my duty to work the system and try to catch everything I can. To make sure I’m seeing a diverse range of acts and really taking advantage of what the festival has to offer. Without door list privileges this year, I need to expend much more mental energy ensuring I get all the acts I want. Ironically, not doing press almost feels like more work.

Wait, if this is for fun, does that mean I can relax and have a drink? This might not be so bad.

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It’s funny business all the way down.

In short, it looks like I’m gonna drop out of JFL42 coverage.

Less short, we’re two days out from the event and the accreditation process is getting more involved than it should be with dwindling time. The easiest option is to instead buy a pass, go at my own pace and not stress about having to put together daily coverage while working full time. This should ease ten days of the fest a bunch, since nothing’s at stake. Given that I’m not fussed about headliners, the $130 I’ll drop (could’ve done a cheaper pass if I’d had more planning time, but this close to the festival things are getting booked right out) is a small price to pay for that peace of mind.

Speaking of peace of mind, Father John Misty last night far exceeded any expectations that I had. I was pretty late to the game with FJM. I didn’t even know he existed until well after I Love You, Honeybear was released. In fact, I think today may have been one of the first times I heard Fear Fun in full. I’ve been thrashing Honeybear possibly weekly since it was released, the writing is that great. I booked the tickets months ago and had great seats. Four rows from the front, six seats from the aisle. I’d been waiting for months and kind of banking on an amazing live performance. The hubbub before he’d even started was palpable. A cursory glance around yielded a ton of FJM clone sightings. Tall dudes with beards, long hair and shirts buttoned way open. I guess he has a type. Then his band took the stage, each of whom had a certain FJM look to them. A certain type indeed.

Seeing him perform, it’s a wonder Josh Tillman was ever stuck behind the drums of Fleet Foxes, rather than front and centre. With his persona Father John Misty, he’s sardonic, sarcastic and sartorially gifted (I needed something) in interviews, but behind the mic he opens up. Overflowing with charisma, it was surprising I could hear a thing over the sound of an entire audience (granted, I was no exception) ovulating. He has a commanding presence and fantastic showmanship. Dancing, striding, sinking to his knees, splayed out on his back and jumping up to his feet. At one stage he lay down on his belly, propped up on his elbows in a more “approachable” stance. He came right up to the crowd and knelt before them, even jumping down to dance amongst them. His voice was also fucking gorgeous. Something I always appreciate is when artists take risks with alternative arrangements live. Of course I adore the recorded versions, but there were a number of tracks where he tried a different tack that fit like a glove.

It’s funny, because I’ve always seen FJM touted as such a pretentious performer and taken it as a given. In reflection, maybe that’s more about people being unfamiliar with his shtick. He takes the piss a bunch, but when he’s doing a live performance, he gives a hell of a lot. After a 20+ song set filled with recent material and old favourites, he came to the front of stage and knelt there for five minutes. He shook hands with everyone who came to him and graciously thanked them for coming. If that’s what’s considered pretentious in this day and age, I’ve got no idea what sincerity looks like.

Well I certainly won’t be motherbored.

At the moment life looks like a bunch of pixels. My brain is unravelling and I can see The Matrix. It’s not bad enough for my vision to have devolved into binary, but I could be in need of a graphics card upgrade. RAM’s usually pretty cheap. Let’s toss some more in there too. I don’t know if that ol’ 512MB of DDR RAM can keep up any more. It’s been a decade since I last knew anything about computers and it seems like my mind is similarly outmoded. Oh well, it’s not like overclocking could have any severe ramifications…

I still haven’t caught up from my holiday hangover. I caught a cold and instead of shirking it off, I spread it to my girlfriend who begrudgingly held up her end of keeping the contagion going. Thanks honey. So I spent the weekend soaking in the festering putrescence. I’m still congested and my squishy think-y bits are accordingly dealing with my internal traffic jam. Everything’s taking a while to process. Pity, because returning from holiday has meant a significant backlog at work. We’re ramping up to the busiest time of the year, which co-incidentally coincides with the colossal comedy festival, which I’m covering. Cool. Cool cool cool.

Buuuuut, my accreditation hasn’t yet been sorted. Normally I’m all geared up a week or two ahead of time. This year, a combination of poor communication and a new PR firm covering the festival has meant that three days out I still haven’t been told the status or extent of my accreditation. They want me to submit my requests, but they haven’t told me what level of shows I get access to. This means I have to put together requests with contingencies. I usually plan pretty carefully to maximise what I’m able to see. Some comics stay for a couple of nights, others pop in for a night or two. This makes the festival into an elaborate puzzle.

This puzzle is further compounded by travel times. It’s all well and good to book a 7pm show and 9pm show, but if the 7pm show is at the Sony Center and the 9pm show is at Comedy Bar, it can be pretty fucking tricky to make it from the first show to the second in time. Sometimes shows run long. Furthermore, now that they’ve included Yuk Yuks in the venue list for midnight shows, it’s damn near impossible to get from a 10.30pm show to the midnight show in time, even after taking an Uber (RIP the novel experience that is Andy Kindler’s Alternative Show).

So one axis is timing and venue distance, the other is headliner access. If I can see headliners, it’ll change which shows I prioritise. If I don’t, that’ll change the shape of my festival. Without knowing whether or not I get headliners then, will affect the structure of my schedule. If I get Mulaney on Thursday night, for instance, it won’t only change what I see on Friday night, but could affect which shows I opt in for on Friday, Saturday and Sunday too. Which means I need to submit multiple contingencies based on what access I will get, without knowing how this will play out. Anyone else confused?

Then while all this is happening I’ll also have daily coverage, a full time job (which could be in another department with later hours if I get the job (it’s a six month assignment that would start over the next week or two. Fingers crossed) and the necessity of keeping up physical activity (or otherwise truly go insane). Sleep comes in there somewhere too. Is caffeine more effective if I shelve it?

The scary part is, this is what I do for leisure. I think I need to learn what priorities are.

Driving is a hard bargain.

At times it’s easy to forget that I like learning. I know that seems like the dumbest, most backwards sentence you could read outside of POTUS’ twitter, but there’s something in it. We live in a world overflowing with information. It’s almost harder to be wilfully obstinate than it is to update and grow intellectually. Maybe with everything shoved in our face, it’s about being more discerning, choosing what to take in and what to ignore. Still, opportunities to understand everything outside of ourselves abound if we look or keep our ears open. I even got one last night for the low, low cost of $17.

It was late and we’d just finished watching Vampire Clay at TIFF’s Midnight Madness. We could’ve risked the beloved Vomit Comet, but getting an Uber was so much easier. We all piled in and set off. On the way home, I noticed something for the first time. The taxi in front of us had two license plates. One being the usual Ontario plate. The other was a much smaller Toronto plate. Here’s an example. I asked the driver what the smaller plate was. He told me that they were specific plates for registered Toronto taxi cabs. I figured that kind of made sense. Like it was giving assurance to passengers that they were with a registered cab or something. Plus the city would no doubt rake in tax credits (tax-i credits?). He laughed and said I had no idea. That those little cabs went for upwards of $85,000.

I paused. Huh? $85,000? Was that a cost that could be amortised over a number of years, or had to be paid up front? Up front, he said. I thought about it. Drivers in Toronto were often immigrants. Would they be forced to drop all of this money on a license just to be able to get a job? How would they pay it back? How much did they have to earn a week just to break even, let alone start making money? Exactly, he said. Or else they sometimes had it leased to them by the company. Maybe $1000 month or something. So they had to pay $1000 a month for the license? Then they had to pay the company for franchising and all the taxi gear (light, meter, etc)? How did they make money? It was hard, the driver told me. It was a corrupt industry that was cruel to the people at the bottom. Why were licenses so expensive then? I asked. He told me that the city works out how many taxis are needed and creates new licenses accordingly. They may put out 400 licenses or so annually for $6000, but the majority of the licenses are owned by people who made a bunch of pseudonyms and bought out a ton. Plus when new licenses went up for grabs, those who owned many licenses already would likely buy up a bunch more so they could lease or artificially inflate the price. It was basically ticket scalping applied to a different market.

I was shocked. Why did people continue to buy into the taxi market then, if it was like some kind of mob protection racket? Because people didn’t know anything else, the driver said. Or they’d invested so much that pulling out seemed like a waste of what they’d already put in. Good ol’ sunken cost fallacy. There was also a mass market vs local market mentality, he said. Uber was this big Wallmart style corporation. You know how in small towns all those local stores got killed by Wallmart? Uber was threatening the same thing. But if the local stores were leaving the local people worse off, then what was the point in sticking to their guns? Wouldn’t it make more sense to let that local industry die and have the larger corporations fight it out if it meant fairer wages for those at the bottom? That immigrants weren’t being taken advantage of? Letting them choose their own hours? Not having to pay into some cruel system that used them?

Who knows? He answered. But why else did I think he drove for Uber?

Counterpoint: The world is a genuinely shitty place for many, many people.

In a truly unexpected turn of events, it was harder returning to Toronto than I thought. Emotionally, that is. It’s not like I got held up at customs for excessive contraband suppositories or anything. It was strange, because I genuinely love this city. Toronto has a capacity to surprise me. It often takes a lot to deal with living in a busy city, but Toronto often gives more than it takes. So after all that fellation, what’s my deal? I’ve had one large gripe, with no idea how to structure it. I’ve been searching for a way to lay it out that doesn’t make me sound whiny, entitled, or privileged to the brim. It’s been hard to succinctly state it and still come off as a reasonable person. So instead I’m gonna own that fact that I often live in a cartoon world of whimsy and barrel through it. Here goes.

People in Toronto don’t smile.

It sucks, and makes a wonderful city feel oppressive and unfriendly. You can see how this reads, right? Straight white cis dude upset that his path isn’t paved with yellow bricks? I expect people to smile because it makes me feel better? I’m expecting strangers, irrespective of the machinations of their life, to cast off their frowns and bring my Toontown fantasy land into reality? To serve my interests because I don’t want to admit that there’s darkness, inequality and suffering in these streets? Or am I just one more dick in a landfill of bros telling women they should smile more?

I’m not an idiot, I get how this sounds.

It’s such a contrast from Portland, where almost everyone I smiled at on the street would smile back. If I saw someone heading out of a cafe, I’d smile and they’d nod or wave. Drivers that stopped so I could cross the road would smile at me. People walking past would wish me a good day. Kids would beam at everyone who crossed their paths. It was unreal. The more smiles I’d see, the more I’d give, until we were all swapping sunshine and joy like Oddbodz cards. There was this alluring small town charm that was impossible to resist. Would you stand in the way of strangers spreading happiness?

In Toronto if you smile people automatically assume ill intent. It’s a time poor city and everyone’s in a hurry. If you’re smiling and making eye contact, it probably means you want something from them. They’re late for a very important date and you could be an unwelcome distraction that digs them in deeper. Or you could be a legitimate threat in a physical or emotional manner. I’m by no means mitigating this. Just because I rarely have to put up with harassment, that doesn’t change that fact that it’s rampant. If I smile at a child, parents often assume I’m bad news. Like I want to molest their kid instead of just thinking kids are funny and cute sometimes. If I smile at a woman, I’m sure it triggers a response built up over years of encountering unwelcome encounters. If I smile at a guy, I dunno, he thinks I’m into him, which makes me unwanted detritus. If I smile at most anyone they think I’m unstable in some fashion.

Please understand, my disappointment isn’t with the people who don’t reciprocate. It’s a systemic issue. The structure of our society tells us that we need to be cautious of those around us. That people have the capacity to harm or threaten us. That if we’re not vigilant we’ll be punished for our carelessness. We’ve been enculturated into a mentality of fear that tells us not to let our guard down. It sucks. I don’t know how to let people know that I’m harmless, that I come bearing no ill will. I wish there were a way to salve those rampant worries and culture of defensive behaviour. I wish that Toronto’s denizens had good reason to assume the best rather than the worst. Most of all I wish that people wouldn’t have to feel the way they do, because mostly it’s likely a learned response to past shitty experiences. I want to let go of all of this and smile, but Toronto isn’t giving me much reason to.

Can’t everyone just chill out and buy a coke?

If I was to put together a personal ad, “Miserly, loves company” would be my tagline.

And reality comes crashing back in. While it’s tempting to grumble about how returning to work makes me want to walk out a window, we’re only five stories up. That’s more trouble than it’s worth. So let’s try and figure out positive things about being back home.

  • Life is cheaper. Do you know how goddamn expensive it was to go away for a week? I’m sure if I wasn’t such a lazy mook I could’ve put effort into keeping my costs down, but you can clearly see my use of the conditional above. I spent a fuckton. Close to $100 USD per day, which is absurd. Let’s not forget that I was spending at least $10 a day on coffee, let alone booze, food and whatever activities floated my boat (or submarine, as the case may have been. Now that I’m home, I can scrimp and save and be as miserly as I desire.
  • Friends. Miserly loves company (see what I did there?). I had a great time in Portland, but there’s no skirting around the fact that for significant portions of the week I felt lonely as shit. I thrive on human connection and the absence took its toll. A big part of what keeps my running is feeling fulfilled by my close relationships (whether romantic or otherwise). Now that I’m home, I can reconnect with everyone I missed on my date with the Northwest.
  • Girlfriend. Yes, we’re nuanced autonomous people with lives of our own, but we’re also a massive part of each other’s lives. She’s the last person I see before I go to bed and the first person I see in the morning. We share food, cat feeding responsibilities and naked body heat. She tolerates all my dumb jokes and touches my butt. These are vital components of being human, people. While I had a blast checking out Portland, I also missed the fuck out of her. When you get so used to sharing space and skin with someone, it’s hard being without them for too long.
  • Other Magic Decks. I was so stoked to have brought my Chainer, Dementia Master deck on holiday with me. It gave me an excuse to meet people while travelling. I stopped in at a few local game stores and had an amazing night at Tonic Lounge’s “Monday the Gathering” evening. The deck over-performed, exceeding my expectations. It was reactive and surprisingly resilient, with the capacity to win out of nowhere. I also have a ton of other decks, none of which got to come on vacation. Hazezon, my pride and joy. Ruric Thar, the deck that still hasn’t found its potential. Hapatra, which is proving to be scarily formidable. I miss my playgroup, where the meta has evolved to reward tight plays while still being fun and friendly.
  • Being active again. After blisters created a pincer formation on my right foot, I started walking funny (not silly. It’s an important distinction) to avoid the pain. I guess it engaged the wrong muscles, because I pulled something. I developed a limp, stifling my speed and hindering my progress in navigating Portland on foot. it also meant my plans of jogging to keep active and work off the beer went unfulfilled. I felt slow and bloated, which didn’t help my mood. I’ve found in recent years that my state of mind is often contingent on a certain amount of physical activity. Not getting that meant I moped around more than would’ve been ideal. Towards the end of the trip I managed to locate the stretched muscle and rehabilitate it myself, but I wasn’t instantly better. It’s finally sorted itself out enough for me to get back to the gym. Maybe I’ll skip the weigh in today though. Baby steps.
  • Toronto Events. Competitive Erotic Fanfiction tonight. Father John Misty is on Monday. JFL42 begins on Thursday. Life in Toronto is constantly moving at a rapid pace and it runs in tandem with my heartbeat. It’s great to be away on holiday, but Toronto is home. That sure counts for something.

Most importantly, it’s the end of a Friday workday and I won’t have to think about being miserable at my job for another two days. Life is pretty sweet, when you think about it.

Walking on the street I saw a discarded toilet sitting there. I couldn’t get the phrase “cisterns are doing it for themselves” out of my head.

One more day. One more day until I’m on holiday. I can handle one day of work, no matter how garbage it’s going to be. Oh, it will be utter rubbish as I strive in vain to clear up extra work so the rest of my team doesn’t have to pick up too much of my slack. Wait, why am I wasting thought on something that’s gonna be shit, when I could instead focus on non-poopy stuff?

Last night was just what I’d been looking for. This weekend was super quiet. A ton of downtime and early nights which, while not unpleasant, felt unbecoming of a long holiday weekend. I looked in vain at all the event pages to come up empty handed. In this goddamn metropolis, it looked like it was gonna be a silent night. Instead, one of my mates came through. He said his friend had been keen to check out Tilt, the arcade bar that seems to have been plucked straight from my wildest dreams. Free to play arcade games, pinball and N64. Great craft beer on tap for super reasonable prices. In short, paradise. Knowing just how noisy Tilt tended to get (drunken gamers yelling over noisy arcade machines), I proposed to my friend that we met up somewhere beforehand. Rather than drinking for drinking’s sake, I was craving social time. I wanted to loosen up and shoot the shit. Another one of my friends opted in, meaning we had enough players for a full ring of Wrestlemania. We met up at Crafty Coyote (a craft beer bar) and hung out.

Honestly, this was my favourite part of the night. One of my not so hidden pleasures is getting friends from assorted social groups to interact. It so rarely happens at parties, right? People tend to glom onto those who they already know. This was more a case of forced interaction, and it went well. My friend brought someone we’d met at Fake Prom last week and she turned out to be awesome. A friendly newcomer to Toronto, very switched on, riding a wavelength that really resonates with the kind of people I enjoy spending time around. It instantly felt like she’d been part of the group forever. We all chatted about old favourite albums, general pop-culture ephemera and how we knew we were getting old. The Shiny Bootleg Spiced Whiskey Cider proved a smash hit, with the entire table ordering a round. Look out for it if you’ve ever wanted to drink liquid gold.

This morning I felt the revels of the night before. I’ve got bad at hangover type symptoms. Now that I treasure weekends as a time to get shit done, I find lying around cradling my head to be a hard sell. So with five hours sleep and a low level headache under my belt, I skyped my parents then went for a run. After two days of decadent food and downtime, it felt great to remember what speed and motion felt like. Oddly, my brain worked itself out. I guess endorphins are like your body casting healing spells.

Of course, endorphins can only do so much. Whatever restoration I had from my five hours sleep and coffee have fled my body. I think I just deflated.

Oh well, it was nice having bones while they lasted.