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.

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The treehouse thing is legit. You can look it up on Air BnB Portland.

And so the adventure comes full circle. I return home, but have I changed? Have I grown? I’m not just talking about my midsection here. Did I face trials and adapt to them, learning more about myself in the process? I mean, I discovered that PBR (while not the vanguard of quality) isn’t intolerable for $2 a pop. If nothing else, that’s something.

I woke up yesterday knowing that I wanted to get to Pok Pok. A vietnamese restaurant frequented by chefs, Pok Pok is the sister restaurant of Whiskey Soda Lounge, where I’d gotten those wings on my first night in town. I got in touch with my friend and asked him if he wanted to go there for a late lunch (thereby avoiding the absurd lines). We got there for 2pm and were seated immediately. I’m not a good enough writer to do the meal justice, but it was fantastic across the board. We had grilled chicken skewers, which had a tiny morsel of pork belly at the bottom of the skewer to add a little fatty flavour. There was a beautiful coconut milk based pork curry. It was so sweet and thick, with succulent chunks of pork. Then of course we ordered the wings, because if a dish is the best of its type you’ve ever tried, going for another round is hardly an imposition.

Stuffed and sanctified, we went for a walk in a nearby park. There was a great off-leash, some dude who sounded Johnny Cash-esque playing to himself and some spritely old woman walking her dog. She told us about the Air BnB she’d built. She’d taken the old frame of a tree house in her backyard and solidified everything. She’d created a cute little two person domicile that people could rent for $23 per night. She said it had her art over the walls “and I’m a good artist” and had been booked solidly since she’d opened. We walked around a bunch and talked to more dog owners/dogs. Then shuffled off for late afternoon coffee. I took my buddy to Tov, my favourite cafe in the city. It’s the transformed bus with a passionate barista doing all manner of delectable creations. My friend is lactose intolerant, so he ordered a chilled coconut milk vanilla/reduced rum latte. The barista measured each and every ingredient to ensure perfection. He went into his freezer and pulled out a block of frozen coconut milk. “This way the drink is chilled, but doesn’t dilute the flavour”. It’s the little touches, you know? I got a wine mocha because if this guy could nail such a bizarre high-wire act, he deserved all the acclaim I could give him. I took a sip, it was wonderful. I asked him how he managed to make everything work together so well. “It’s ratios, for sure. The other part is using the highest quality ingredients across the board. Fine chocolate, fine wine, fine coffee.” I couldn’t argue with success. We chatted about cafes in town and we both agreed on which places were great and which were overrated. He suggested a cafe downtown, which I might try to get to today.

I wanted to check out a Magic night at a local game store, so my friend gave me a ride. He told me that if I wasn’t busy later, he was going to a Burner meet up at a local. I figured I’d get a couple of games in then meet him there. It went exactly like that. The store was a friendly place open to all manner of games. A group next to us was playing Pathfinder, while a couple of tables played board games. There was a nice community focus. One wall had a sign that said “what would you tell someone being bullied?” Kids had given their answers, which were surprisingly mature. A noticeboard said that house rules were to be respectful, friendly, to watch your language and take care of your hygiene. I enjoyed a few games (the deck I brought has been on a hot streak. I’ve won maybe 8 of the 10 games I’ve played), then left for the burner meet up.

It was exactly what I’d wanted. Meeting and chatting with open, welcoming people. We talked about their burn experiences and travel they’d done. I got mistaken for some French UFC dude from Montreal and pulled into a group to hang out regardless. One of my friend’s camp-mates played Magic with her boyfriend, so we chatted about the game, long term relationships, etc. As always, anyone who found out I was from New Zealand and had visited wanted to talk about their experiences there. An adamant “I’m just passionate” Mexican woman ranted about what good Mexican food really was and accosted my friend into a future trip to her favourite restaurant in town. “You’ve gotta work for it” she said. “I’m not just giving you the address. You have to wear a blindfold and everything. I’m serious.” It was a great cap to my trip, my last night ending on a high note. My friend and I got late night tacos and he dropped me off at home. I told him sincerely that if he and his wife ever wanted to come to Toronto, we had a spare bed for them.

The big question, with three days left before the event. Have I learned enough about myself to write the greatest Beth/Bojack crossover erotic fanfic the world has ever seen? Stay tuned to find out.

Nobody wants to talk about Air Bud? Story of my life.

The most bizarre aspect of this trip so far is how my perception of time has warped. In my quotidian existence I’m used to a certain pace. The workweek comes with its own time markers. Toronto, like most big cities, is a time-poor location, in that people are typically in a rush. There’s so much to do, busy busy busy, etc. Taking a step away from that for a week has left me feeling marooned. With no agenda at times I’m left floating aimlessly, unsure of how to fill a whole day.

Typically I’ve been going to bed before 1am, waking up and getting out of the house before 10am. Then returning around midnight or so. This means I’m on the move for around 12-14 hours per day. I’ve been checking out different neighbourhoods, restaurants, quirky shops and generally looking at things. By the time Happy Hour rolls in, I’m usually ready to take a load off and grab drinks/vittles. I don’t know if I’d call it a schedule, per se, but it’s how things have played out over the past few days.

Maybe I’m old, but I’ve been getting weary. I got lost on a jog up a mountain a few days back, which ended up taking an hour+. After several hours walking each day, my right leg has basically given up. Big blisters on my pinky toe and heel made walking fraught and whatever path of least resistance this caused my leg to take, various muscles have tightened to the point where walking is pain. I’ve tried to stretch as I’ve gone, but today was the first time I settled down for a long stretch session. It definitely helped, but my body is still rotting, clearly. Wubbalubba dub dub.

Yesterday I mellowed out a lot. Ate ice cream, roamed the Mississippi and Alberta neighbourhoods and spent a bunch of time on my phone. A lack of abundant social contact has meant more Reddit/Facebook. It feels tacky on holiday, but self-care is self-care, right? A friend on Facebook recommended that I install Tinder as a way of meeting people. I hastily put together a profile:

“A New Zealand Chris Traeger. Begrudgingly adorkable. Your mum thinks I’m funny. Knows way too much about Air Bud. I’m here in Portland until September 13th. Come and be a tourist with me in your own city.

Mainly using this for friends/activity partners. Ethical Poly, etc, but really want to make friends while on holiday. We could chat about Air Bud, even.”

So far I’ve had one brief response and it went less than nowhere. I have zero expectations, but it so far hasn’t met those. I do think it’s absurdly fascinating though. I’m on it to look for friends, but I still find that I’m subconsciously super judgey about who I do and don’t match with. No profile? No match. Just Instagram? No match. I’m on it to make friends but if I don’t find someone attractive I swipe left. Then I’m all ‘hey, why should looks matter? You’re right internal monologue, they don’t’. Then I swipe left on another person I don’t find attractive. It’s fucking stupid. If I do find someone to be super attractive I swipe left thinking ‘they’re way out of my league and won’t respond anyway’. I’m sure they do alright and won’t mind. Self-defeating. I find a billion reasons as to why things won’t work with most everybody I see. It’s not like I don’t swipe right, but it’s also not surprising that I’m not drowning in matches. I’m the last one in the world to realise, I’m sure, but it’s crazy addictive getting a brief glimpse into strangers’ lives.

I went out to a Rick and Morty viewing party at a “weed bar” last night in the hopes of making like-minded friends. The “weed bar” was someone’s house. Most everyone was too high to follow a real conversation. The episode was brilliant, so at least I got that much out of it. As I went to leave the host said that $5 was her standard charge so I paid, having enjoyed the chance to watch the episode. After I left, I realised she thought I’d been smoking and the charge was for pot. Dumb.

I just installed the Couchsurfing App to find people to hang out with. Let’s see how this goes. If worst comes to worst, there’s a bar hosting Magic the Gathering tonight. I can find my tribe. Unless someone on Couchsurfing slits my throat and dumps me in a river somewhere. Then I won’t have to worry about it, I guess.

Did I waste all my luck on getting free corn today? I’m not saying it wasn’t worth it.

My brain is gone, so it seems a fitting time to go on vacation. A week without responsibilities sounds ideal. I’ve finished a hectic day of work spent covering my ass and making it possible for others to also cover my ass while I’m away. I’m not sure that I’ve experienced anything quite so cathartic as clicking “OK” on my Out Of Office auto reply. My only regret was leaving my sunglasses at home. What efficacy could blowing that popsicle stand really have without stylish ocular UV protection?

Now all I need to do is withdraw US funds, pack my bags and make it to the airport on time. I’ve checked in online, set an alarm and have all the necessary electronics charging. What else is there to flying these days? The weather looks pretty warm, possibly due to the smoke and ash in the air from nearby forest fires. Where’s that old SARS mask when I need it? Tomorrow’s gonna be a shit day of traveling. I chose flights that’d get me there in the early evening at the expense of my entire day. I’ve got a six hour flight to LAX, a three hour wait once I arrive then another three hour flight. If that ain’t enough time to write my epic erotic horse doctor fanfic, it may never get done. Worst of all, I need to deal with a 4.30am alarm and the night bus (since my flight is apparently too early for the subway system to deal with its bullshit). To add to all that bollocks, I’m quite likely getting sick. I feel the familiar scratching at the back of my throat indicating that my body is also tired of my bullshit. Perfect. If I chug an oil of oregano bottle will that make it all go away? What if I eat “a garlic” (embarrassing as it is, at this moment I can’t remember the collective noun for garlic cloves)? Or just devour an entire orange tree, branches and all? Any other miracle naturopathic remedies out there? I’m desperate.

I could do with a shamefully early rest tonight. Exhausted, I slept a bunch last night, but fitfully and with weird dreams. I dreamt that I was still in bed, but my girlfriend was getting up irrationally early. Like, the kind of time I’m getting up tomorrow. These bells started chiming that woke me from my slumber. I looked out our open window to see shadowy figures patrolling the neighborhood. I was creeped out and took evasive measures. I rolled backwards and landed on the floor with a thump, but at least I was out of these shadows’ lines of sight. My girlfriend came back from the bathroom and I hissed at her to hit the ground. She ignored me, instead walking to the window to see what was up. The bells continued. I peeked out over the bed and saw that not only had the shadowy figures come closer, one was looking through the window directly at me. I ducked back down, but thought back to what I’d seen in that split second. It was a person. An old person. My girlfriend walked across the room and handed me a brochure. These old people had created their own artisan cider and this was their marketing push. Disgusted, I thought about telling them to get off my lawn, before realising I was still creeped right the fuck out. “You didn’t buy any, did you?” I asked. “Of course not.” She replied “they didn’t take debit.”

Oh, and it sounds like Portland is currently engulfed in thick, dense smoke. People are advised against going outdoors if possible. This trip is gonna be greeeat.

Even with eight legs you can’t outrun death.

Yesterday I encountered an event so momentous that it must be celebrated. The environs were innocent enough, with no warning of the epic occasion to follow. Merely my girlfriend and I eating a meal together. A simple meal, too (she’d snacked earlier, so wasn’t into anything grand) of steamed veggies, eggs and cottage cheese. Everything was prepped, we sat down with an assortment of condiments (the most vital part of any meal. I’ll fight you on that. Physically. Has grudge, will travel) when it happened. The words tumbled out of her mouth and I knew right away. I was telling my girlfriend a story she hadn’t heard.

This isn’t an everyday occurrence and I’m not even sure if it’d happen each week. So here goes.

Do you know how to catch common houseflies? I do. You’d think it’d be a matter of speed, slamming an enclosure down upon them before they could react. Nope, fuck right off. Ain’t no way you can react before a fly does. They’re not only quick, but they can detect movement in the air and act accordingly. Speed’s surprisingly the opposite of what you need. Catching a fly is about patience.

The way that we were taught involved a shot glass. You can use anything small, but it’s handy to be able to see right through it. You want the fly on a flat surface like a tabletop or bench. Position the shot glass directly above them. Slowly lower the glass. When I say slowly I mean glacial. Give paint drying a run for its money. One millimetre at a time. Show Heinz who’s boss. The secret? Keep going. You’ll think that the best call is to slam it down when you’re close, but you’d be wrong. Once again, flies are faster than you, but they’re not smarter than you. Well, maybe. I haven’t met all of you. Keep going slowly right to the bottom. That’s it, you have your own pet house fly.

Why do I know this? It’s certainly not because I had pet house flies of my own. That’d be preposterous. No, I had pet house spiders. Kinda. Our flat shared them. Well, a flat I used to live in before moving away. I’d stop back in most weeks when I was in town. Anyway. We noticed a decently sized spider in our kitchen one day and our friend taught us the fly catching trick. She informed us that spiders won’t eat pre-deceased flies, only ones they’ve killed themselves. So to feed them, you’ve gotta catch flies and release them into the web. The spider will notice the fly struggling by reading the vibrations on its web and come out to feast. It’s vicious too. You see its little mandibles chomping away on the squishy, crunchy fly. Gory as all get out. We named our spider Venom, after my favorite childhood comic character.

As we fed Venom it grew and grew until it was twice, three times its initial size. Then Venom had babies. One in particular survived and we named it Baby. Baby was a voracious little fucker and didn’t mess around at dinner time. It grew rapidly and soon was even bigger than Venom. We treasured our little arach-kids and continued to feed them for around eight or nine months, I’d help out whenever I was in town.

Then disaster struck. One of the flatmates, somehow not knowing that we’d been harboring pet spiders for the larger part of a year, freaked out at this so called “infestation”. It was a massacre. These little life forms we’d fed from infancy utterly obliterated. We were devastated and, despite the ludicrous situation, it caused a pretty significant rift for a while. We got over it enough to preserve the friendship, but the memory of our eight legged darlings has never left my heart.

So that sucked, but on the bright side here in Toronto we don’t get enough insects that we’d be able to keep spiders fed in the first place. I’ll miss Venom and Baby, but not as much as I love living in a relatively pest free environment.

Relatively. A cat lives here after all. At least the spiders were quiet.

I guess you could say I was paste off.

I have a headache right now, which thankfully has been a rare occurrence in adulthood. So this entry is likely gonna be disparate thoughts stitched together. It’s odd, because I used to get headaches all the time as a kid. Maybe I wasn’t drinking enough water or there was something iffy in my diet, but it was a nigh daily happening. I became used to having painkillers on hand as a matter of course. That dried up close to 20 years back though and it’s not something I think about until I feel that familiar pressure in my brain.

I put a status up on both my Facebook news feed and in a private puns group. “What’s it called when you find the sound of people sipping miso soup triggering?” I’d thought to myself that it was a fun little joke. I expected I’d garner a couple of likes, maybe a few comments of people who didn’t get that it was a “misophonia” joke. In both cases, someone made the misophonia connection early on and commented. Others went for plays on “misanthrope” and “misogyny”, which was neat. As I’d expected, some people just didn’t get it. A few dumb comments with people making unrelated puns like “miso hungry”, which reflects on the “miso” aspect but completely misses the set up. I don’t really know what I’m trying to say here, except that it was a pretty simple reminder that as soon as your message enters a public space, its meaning is up to others to determine. In a way it’s stopped being yours. I think about musicians and other artists whose texts are open to interpretation. It’s always seemed weird to me that they rarely come out and say “well this is what I intended to say with this song” or whatever. They often prefer to stay enigmatic and distance themselves from semiotic analysis. In this case I wondered if coming out and saying “welp, it was a basic misophonia joke that didn’t really need commentary” would serve any purpose. Was I better to step back and let it be its own thing? It was the path of least effort, in any case.

I was folding washing today and found myself messing up the folding of one of my girlfriend’s spaghetti strap tank tops. I looked at the misshapen lump and had a real “Once in a Lifetime” moment. How did I get here? I was co-habiting with someone else. Sharing a bed with them. Our lives intertwined. Hell, sharing food even. Flashes of memory: I thought back to how we’d met, our early dates, milestones, holidays, time with family. I flashed forward to future time with family, holidays, milestones, telling our kids about our early dates, how we’d met. At that moment it seemed simultaneously the weirdest fucking thing in the world that five years past I was half-way across the world with no idea who she was, but also the most natural thing in the world to be spending my life with her. In this moment between moments, the bizarre and wonderful duality of existing at all, of circumstance and co-incidence, of taking chances and following through, all flickered in and out of my mind, too quick to catalogue. What would my life be/have been without her? Isn’t it weird to have all of this inside of you at every moment and not constantly unravel?

To that end, isn’t it weirder that I’m not having headaches every day?

Happy T’ronahversary to me.

Happy Toronto Birthday to me. Four years to the day where I first wondered if I was walking into a hotbed of authoritarian surveillance. Four fantastic years where I’ve borderline Eat Pray Love‘d myself into a journey of self-discovery. I ate and had sex a bunch, anyway (though sadly never simultaneously), plus adopted a wide enough smile to make Julia Roberts frown with envy.

My path to Toronto wasn’t straight or direct. In fact it took many years before I even thought of it as a destination. Age five I decided that when I grew up I’d harness my citizenship and live in Canada. They say the grass is always greener on the other side, but with New Zealand’s famed agricultural economy, it was ironic I was so avid to head somewhere US adjacent. It seemed different and exotic, plus they sounded like people in the movies. At age 20 I begun to give it more thought. I’d recently watched Juno and fallen head-over-heels for the idea of Ellen Page. I decided I’d move to Halifax and miraculously stumble into some kind of meet cute. Roll the credits (complete with Hand Drawn Block Letters). Why not? It was a quietly hip port town with a ton of breweries. Sure, I wasn’t into anything quiet or port, but things would work out. Remember the meet cute I probably told myself every night before going to bed.

Then it was Vancouver. I had family in Vancouver and the transition would be easy. I’d lodge somewhere then make my mark on the city. It was a city, right? With my generic media aspirations, I’d slot in just fine. I’d be close to Whistler in case I wanted to… wait, I didn’t really like outdoorsy stuff. What would I do in Whistler? I’d work out the details later, that’s what I’d do. I told some dude at a party just that once and he shook his head. “Toronto is where you want to be, man.” Toronto? I hadn’t really heard of Toronto. “It’s the biggest city in Canada and if you want to get into the media, there’s no better place in the country.” This wasn’t some good friend, just some dude I talked to a handful of times. I’ve got no idea if he has any concept of how much that conversation shaped my life. In the few minutes we talked, my totally vague plans became slightly less vague.

***Several Years Later***

I was 26 years old and I’d just been through the biggest breakup of my life. I was on a short term contract with the local university and it was coming to a close. There was funding for an interesting new contract, but I thought again. I’d never put down the torch I was holding for moving away. It’d been a not-insignificant part of the breakup. As soon as it ended, things fell into place. I bought a one way ticket to Vancouver (with the goal of heading to Toronto via Montreal) a few weeks later. I’ve never looked back.

Starting anew in Toronto was both hard and not. Picking up the pieces is always gonna be tricky, but Toronto kept throwing opportunity after opportunity at me. I hit the ground and started getting out to all kinds of events. I needed people in my life and I found them with ease. Walking back from a concert, running from a bus, OkCupid dates, movie screenings and Magic the Gathering games. Employment was less forthcoming, but I took whatever came my way and rolled with it. I tried and learned things I never imagined: Teaching gymnastics, feeding kids in schools, being a test subject, working the election polling booth, trying my hand as a barista. Toronto meant discovery, excitement and eventually community.

Perhaps it was a matter of getting out what I put in. Reaping the rewards of saying yes to the call of adventure. Maybe I lucked out, or learned to see the potential in coincidence. Toronto has given me so much, including a new lease on life. Over the past few years I’ve changed in ways that I’m still realising from day to day. I hear people talk about how cold Toronto is and possibly I missed out on that because of Accent Privilege. In my time here though, I’ve learned something about this city.

Toronto’s heart beats in its inhabitants, who create something larger than their sum. Toronto is discovering just how much people can surprise and impress you. Toronto is about learning the importance of saying yes, because opportunity is waiting for you to find it. Opportunity might not look like an Ellen Page meet cute, but that’s not to say that your wildest dreams are out of reach.

I mean, The Pink Ranger lives here you guise.