Coughing up dough left, right and cêntre-ville

Eat and sleep, lather rinse repeat. The holiday continues.

Today came the family brunch I’d been low key tentative about. I didn’t know who’d be there, who I’d know and how many people I wouldn’t forgotten. Part of me feared discovering that I had a bigoted or racist streak in my extended family. I still may, but it certainly didn’t surface at brunch. Brunch was nice, actually. A love of food permeates our lineage and, as we’re in Montreal and everything here is bread, there was an abundance of delicious bread. I may have eaten my weight in beer bread, flanked by sharp cheeses and preserves. The wild salads had been harvested at their peak, whether bean, potato and bacon, double tuna, egg or… salad (?) salad. Goddamn tasty is what they were. I ate twice my fill, then out came dessert. Baked apple pie, chocolate cake, scroggin muffins (chocolate chip, pumpkin seed, squash and whatever else fits in a trail mix), two ice creams and a baked blueberry scramble that didn’t manage to find purchase amongst the many other bread based dishes. You can only throw so much bread at people before they burst, Montreal.

It was sweet. I got to see my parents catch up with old friends, hear about mountaineering adventures and the local birdlife. I’m not gonna hazard a guess at what you’d call them in relation to me, but my uncle’s grandchildren were nice kids. The younger one showed me all his garbage can (something like that) toys, the older one had just gotten his D&D player’s handbook/DM guide and told me about the campaigns he was planning. Another of my cousins (?) was in his second year at McGill and loving it. I met my uncle’s ex-wife and heard about her theatre experiences. We all got together for family photos at the end, then my girlfriend and I went home to food coma out in bed.

The trip seems to have been defined by a mix of experiences new and familiar. We had an astoundingly good time last night catching up with friends who’d very, very recently (several days ago) moved to the city. We all got cocktails at Bootleggers L’Authentique and shot the shit. We headed off to Le Majestique Montreal for fries and further drinks. I asked the staff what happened to the toy train that used to run along the higher shelves, only to be informed that there had never been a toy train. It was all in my head. “Toy train, eh?” muttered one of the staff, jotting down notes. Look out for a toy train there next time you visit. There SHOULD be a next time, the bar kicks ass. Trendy for all the right reasons, the cocktails are delicious and the food is immaculately presented. Go there and tell the tale.

As always while on vacation, I feel like someone inside of me emerges. Like I give myself tacit permission to be myself. Living outside of routine, the stresses of appointment oriented existence fade into the background and I can breathe in experiences. It feels like it’s a hard but necessary line we tow. We have shit to do to make it through each day, week, year. Driving ourselves like taskmasters keeps us running to schedule, but at what cost? Concurrently, for all the joy that comes with bring unhinged from demands, I’m not sure Vacation Leon could last forever. The glee is in part because if its transitory nature. It’s special because it’s the exception. If it were to become the rule, would that really “rule” in the 90s sense?

Or would it actually be all kinds of phenomenal, but pretending the alternative makes for a tight little coping mechanism?

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Here in Montreal they call me Jean Reno

It’s only 9am, so I can’t be sure, but I think I’ve decided what I’m gonna do today. A variation on yesterday’s “going into town” plan. I’ve resolved to get day drunk and wander the underground.

I tend not to enjoy writing drunk, unlike some of the greats, so here I am in the kitchen with a mediocre cup o’ joe and a dream: to put something remotely legible and entertaining down on a page. Ready to embark on that quest with me? Let’s go go go with a recap. My plans yesterday were ostensibly to “go into town”. I was gonna get coffee and some jeans, then see where my mercurial proclivities would take me. Thinking of coffee, I looked up my friends’ suggestions for thing to see and do to find a great cafe. Caffe In Gamba, was my well learned Montreal friend’s recommendation. I looked upfrom Facebook and it was across the road. A beautiful little cafe with an assortment of highly regarded beans for sale. I ordered a mocha and came away with a beautifully smooth, warm beverage. Parfait!

With a newly warmed belly, it was time to get my booty into some denim. Onwards to my destination: Jeans Jeans Jeans. As I’d remembered it, walls upon walls of cascading pants. As I’d forgotten, half of their stock was half price. High quality post season jeans costed to move. I started fishing through the racks, looking for some green and burgundy replacements for my lacklustre fast fashion. After a frustrating 15 or so minutes trying to work out how to find my size in this warren, a staff member helpfully pointed out their colour based sizing system. The coat hangers were different colours for each size. I asked about length and he informed me that it didn’t matter, they altered to any length free of charge. WIth renewed vigour, I hustled together seven or so pairs of assorted colours then headed to the changing rooms.

As I sat and waited for a room to open up, I saw a scene unfold. Unlike most any other changing room I’ve been to, there was an emploee confidently calling the shots as his little dog circled around his feet. A woman walked out of her room and looked in the mirror, unsure. The guy stepped over. “We can find you something better. I’ll be back in a minute.” True to his word he returned shortly thereafter with a couple of pairs in hand. She went back into the room and came out wearing one of the new pairs. She looked into the mirror and smiled. “I love how they sit on the hips”, he smiled back “of course you do, honey. It’s not my first day.” A room opened up. He took the jeans in my hand and dumped them on the floor. “Go wild. I’ll be here”.

I tried each pair on, walked out and looked in the mirror but only one of them took. To be fair, I really liked the fit. I came out and told him I’d be back with some more pairs. He looked at the pair I’d chosen and those I’d discarded. “You wait right there. What colours do you like?” I told him I liked bright and bold stuff. True to form he came back a few minutes later with an armful of jeans. He was absurdly on point. Like some kind of Jean Genie, he’d made my wishes come true. Nice slim fits, comfortable and stretchy. Some burgundies, blues and an outlier tan pair. It wasn’t like he’d just gone for the most expensive pairs either. He’d included a bunch of the 50% off ones too. They were all snug and looked pretty great. In and out, in and out, I narrowed down which ones i really loved by looking in the mirror and gauging how they looked/felt. I separated them into two piles, and in the definitely yes pile I had identical green/burgundy pairs, a deep blue pair and the tan ones. One by one I put them back on and he pinned them for alterations. I got four numbered tickets to pick up my order and I looked at belts while I waited. Last time I visited I picked up a black belt with a blue trim. This time I picked up its sister, with a yellow trim. Plus I figured I was an adult. I needed to finally own a quality brown belt for fancy dress ups. By the time I’d picked out the belts, my alterations were all done. I went up to the counter and racked up a $300 bill for four tailored pairs and two belts. It wasn’t the cheapest purchase I’d made, but y’know what? Fast fashion can get fucked. I’ll keep these for a few years.

With that out of the way, is it time for day drinking yet?

Colour them surprised

“You’re hard to shop for, because I know you don’t like colours.”
“Nope, I like colours now.”
“But you don’t really wear them out, right?”
“Yeah, I do. I wear colours a lot.”
“But not during the day…”
“My basic dress code is pretty colourful. It’s pretty much some colourful trousers and a colourful shirt on rotation.”
“Well I guess I don’t really know you anymore.”

My parents are here and, by this point in my life, I’ve become my own person. It’s not like I haven’t been an adult around them before, but it feels different this time. They’re in unfamiliar terrain and it happens to be my turf. They’ll always be my parents and have that above me, but it feels the closest to even footing it’s ever been. Which is nice. For all of us, I think. We’re all old enough and ugly enough to take care of ourselves and they no longer need to parent. Their job is done. I mean, it’s not like they’ll ever be able to totally let go of it, but they’re more hobbyist parents now. They do it for their own fulfillment, not obligation.

The best part is that now I’m the one who gets to introduce them to new experiences. Last night they got to try Korean cuisine. They weren’t working from a totally blank palette. New Zealand has a burgeoning Korean population and they both have Korean friends. But they’d tried Korean BBQ, rather than standard Korean fare. I figured starting them off with bibimbap was a safe bet. It’s hard to go wrong with meat, vegetables and rice. I got to enjoy my usual pork bone soup at my favourite place. As always it was an effortless, quick meal (effortless was a weird choice of words. Aren’t most restaurants effortless? Isn’t that the point of *not cooking*? -Ed) with the usual friendly staff. We got to shoot the shit. I heard how their holiday has been going and we kind of caught up. Ish. They’re here for two weeks. There’s no real rush.

We tucked back home to drink and brainstorm on what to do today. Man oh man, is Toronto ever crammed with options. There are places to walk, endless things to look at whether indoors or outdoors. There’s history and newer developments. There are activities and vistas, or activities based on vistas. So many local neighborhoods ooze with flavour. There are infinite restaurants and at least thousands of good ones. The hardest part is just making your mind up. We had a shitter of a time deciding where to brunch, primarily because there are too many appealing spots. We worked out a rough plan of coffee, brunch, a walk around the Scarborough Bluffs, afternoon lunch then maybe recuperating before seeing Chris Gerhard perform in the early evening. By any metric, that’d be a phenomenal Saturday. Even better when I get to show off my home to my parents.

I mean, I’m basically a whole new person for them to meet. I wear colours now and everything.

Love yourselfie

I’ve developed a tradition. After each Tough Mudder I’ll post some kind of shirtless vanity shot on Facebook. I don’t know if it’s a case of diminishing returns, but I don’t think so.

The first time was nerve racking. The notion of taking up space, putting myself bare (well, with pants) in front of people was really fucking tough to do. As with anything else, practice helps. A few years in it’s become incredibly empowering to have something to look back on, to soak up the sensation of feeling strong and capable in my own body. I don’t know if it’s a matter of growing old and finding it harder to give a shit, but with each passing year it’s getting easier to push away that little negative voice that comes from decades of regressive body issues. Of course it’s a push for validation, but I’ve learned enough in life to know that Tall Poppy syndrome is bullshit. It’s okay to feel proud about progress. You’re not a piece of shit for enjoying the kind of acceptance that others can provide.

With each passing year it’s also getting increasingly difficult to reach the same peaks. Getting old is definitely a thing. This year in particular was miserable. Most years I have a three month training period leading up to the event. This year, three months prior, I fractured my wrist and sprained both ankles. It was not ideal.

Two weeks after the accident I was champing at the bit to get physical again. I started adding in jogging, little by little. I’d run around the block and feel exhausted, betrayed by my own body. I worked up to a slightly longer run day by day. Eventually I got back to my regular lunchtime 5kms and I’d run 3-5 times per week. Saddled with my cast, it would accumulate sweat and a few km in I’d be carrying the weight of that on my right arm. With each stride I’d fling sweat ahead of me. It was gross as hell, but I wasn’t taking any movement for granted.

I still couldn’t really open jars or chop vegetables without pain, but I gradually worked more exercises into my repertoire. Eventually I got back to the gym and did anything I could. Everything felt like a godsend. Picture some dude with a rainbow cast doing one armed assisted pull ups. It was a pretty nutty sight. I didn’t care. I was single mindedly heading towards my goals.

This year, more than any other, was a reminder of how I physically felt for so much of my childhood. Incapable, insufficient. It brought back a lot of those unhelpful emotions and patterns. Physically and emotionally, the past few months were a ton of work. It felt like I had to relearn a heap of simple movements that I’d always taken for granted. I’d look at a couple of dishes and be overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness. I’d be on the TTC trying to stand while holding onto a pole, wracked with pain. I was far too proud to take a priority seat away from others who needed them. I felt worthless in my own body. I’d look at chopsticks and sigh.

So y’know what? I’m quite okay posting a picture showing the muscle tone I managed to build up. I’m happy to saddle myself with whatever amount of vanity that takes, with no sense of guilt. Why should anyone feel guilty about enjoying the way that they look? Isn’t it kinda fucked up that society has instilled that sense in us? It’s more than alright to like yourself, right?

So right now I feel pretty damn great. I like that.

It’s a bumpy ride, but someone’s gotta do it

I’ve spent enough hours procrastinating that if I don’t start now, I never will.

Do you think if a Power Ranger was in the hospital having an injury treated they’d be all “It’s Morphine Time”? Thank you. I’ll be here for the next 30 minutes.

It’s a long weekend and we’re going on a road trip. My girlfriend and I are renting a car with our friend and driving to Stratford, Ontario. By the sounds of it, Stratford is a cute little town with a thriving theatre community. Touristy, but non-offensively so. My dream is that we’ll find a homey diner where a matronly old waitress will call all of us “darling”. The portions will be both gratuitous and delicious, especially flanked by a spearmint milkshake. We’ll walk around thrift stores and antique spots, seeing weird and slightly odd relics. Maybe we’ll walk around and read a plaque or two, then grab a quick last bite before driving back to Toronto. We’ll listen to something we all know and sing along on the ride back. By the time we return to the city, the sun will have set and we’ll feel comfortably pooped from the long day.

Sounds ideal, right?

I used to love owning a car. Sure, it meant semi-regular maintenance and uncomfortably regular fill ups, but that kind of freedom on tap was amazing. If we wanted to drive 40 minutes out of town to visit a neat cafe, we could. We had the ability to go somewhere for an excuse to hang out in motion. Changing scenery meant there was always something to talk about. There’s something reassuring about the exact kind of privacy a car affords. It’s your own space where you can freely see the world around you, but you’re out of earshot. I guess it’s like how houses protect you from the elements, that sort of security. Except a car is security you can take with you. I don’t miss having to think when I’m stuck in traffic. I actually quite appreciate public transit in Toronto. Still, having unlimited access to an automobile was a delightful privilege.

It’s also swell just to pursue a different location. It’s a journey, an adventure, like all those 80s family movies I was talking about the other day. Who knows what strange phenomenon we’ll uncover. Maybe we’ll run into a local urban legend, or find ourselves high tailing it from the police on a high octane misadventure. Maybe we’ll accidentally kill a guy, flay him and dissolve his skin in acid. Who knows where the day will take us? Maybe we’ll even find that matronly old waitress who’ll call us “darling”. The opportunities are nigh endless.

It’s so easy to get stuck in your habits (like clumsy nuns) and it’s easy to get stuck in a rut when life is nothing but habitual (like workaholic nuns). I’ve found over the past few years that breaking up the norm a little here and there often releases tensions I didn’t realise I was carrying. It’s like we have our defences up about certain things at all times, because that aspect of auto pilot helps process the world around us more efficiently. Toronto is very busy. Automatically filtering out people who’d impede your route makes it easier to get around faster. In Stratford though, I Have My Doubts it’ll be as hectic a pace. Maybe having the time to smell the roses will also be time to reflect. Maybe I’ll reflect on roses, or get mirrored rose tinted glasses to make my view of the world that much more insular and palatable.

Maybe I’ll even check up places to buy acid in Stratford. Just to know, y’know?

I Don’t Give A Friday

I don’t know how your day is going, but I heard a man ask his pregnant acquaintance what “kind” of baby it was. I dearly hope the answer was “goat”.

My day has actually been going swimmingly for once. I woke up and asked myself what day it was. I think it’s Monday, my brain replied. I looked at my phone, which told me it was Friday. I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced that sensation, but it’s freedom incarnate. Instead of facing a heavy uphill slog, it’s like boarding a hydroslide. Nothing but the sweet rush of leisure at your behest. It entirely transformed my day. Nothing seemed like an obstacle when I was mentally cartwheeling ad infinitum. I cycled through artists until I landed on Anderson .Paak and practically bounded out of the house.

It was hard to feel down when my brain was filled with helium. It’s amazing what a good sleep and a positive mindset can do. All my public transit seemed to align and I waited no longer than three minutes for any vehicle. Before I got to work my stomach was rumbling, so I hopped off the bus early to grab coffee/a snack. Crossing the road I saw two friends walking towards me, so I wrapped them in a big hug mid cross and went on my very merry way. The flat white was perfectly poured and went down terrifically with the breakfast biscuit kind of thing I got. It was basically a glorified firm breakfast muffin condensed into a puck. It was a great pairing with dance-walking my way to work in the morning sunshine.

I had very little work to do today, so I took the time to help train a co-worker. I also drank excessive amounts of coffee, which only added to my helium mentality. I started furiously writing dumb jokes on Facebook. I listened to the sublime Harmontown episode 300. I helped another co-worker find restaurant recommendations and events for her Chicago trip. I got to leave work at around 12.30pm and go to physio. I went for an afternoon gym session and it wasn’t totally crammed. I came home and played some Magic. I’d be hard pressed to find a more ideal day.

The thing is, none of those outcomes are especially unusual. Sure, my workload was light and it was a short day in the office, but it’s not like I’m normally unbearably burdened at my desk. The sunny weather wasn’t an anomaly. I overdo the coffee often. I listen to good music practically every day. Today was set apart from most others entirely because of my outlook. To that end, I’ve got a very open night that could go any number of ways. I know that I’m not pigeonholed into any outcome and all I need to do is follow my bliss. If I don’t speak to another human being until tomorrow, that’s fine by me. If I catch up with friends, also ideal. The only major concern I have is eating something delicious, and that’s both easily said and done. I have cooking skills and/or a bank account. The future is so bright it’s practically a critically panned Netflix original mash-up of Training Day and D&D.

Before my excessive positivity lingers like a bad smell, I’ll leave you with where I was at earlier today:

“For 63% of a second I seriously considered shitting into a urinal how’s your Friday going?”

It’s not the length of the wave…

I used to spend my summers mainlining music festivals.

It’s been a while, for no reason I can fathom. When I first got to Canada I started scoping out the festival lineups. For most of my time in NZ we just had one big festival. The Big Day Out. I went every year (since it was usually a day or two outside my birthday, it became a de facto gift), but always wanted more chances to catch an array of music in one day. I went to Lollapalooza with a friend in Chicago once and that kind of changed the scope. This was something larger with more potential than I’d dreamed of. Once I moved to Canada, I realised the density of large international acts was so much heavier. It was all I could’ve wanted. Then, strangely, I stopped going. It makes no sense.

My second day into Toronto I went to Grove Music Festival at Fort York Garrison. Sweet lineup. Girl Talk, Hot Chip, Phoenix and more. $30 tickets because Icona Pop cancelled last minute and some girl on roller blades no longer wanted to go. It was fantastic. The setting was an old historical garrison (hence the name), lush fields and some old brick buildings. Lots of colourful tents and food trucks set up, a couple of stages. The kind of place where people would bring kids and dogs. I saw some terrific music, crowdsurfed for the first time and met a good friend. Years later when I was writing for a food blog, I reviewed the food at Field Trip music festival, also at Fort York. Another stellar gig with a lot of Arts and Crafts label acts. Had an amazing time working with an ex who did the photography to my writing.

All of this was preamble to say that when my friend offered up guestlist spots to a festival he was shooting, I nigh offered up my hypothetical firstborn. It’d been too long and the opportunity cost was so low. Wavelength is a collective of artists that curate concerts throughout the year. They’ll have showcases and whatnot that give space for up and coming talent to be seen. In the case of Camp Wavelength (usually on the Toronto Islands), some names were less up and coming than established. Suuns, TOPS and Yamantaka // Sonic Titan are all reasonably well known by now.

The gig had an awesome flow to it. Incredibly relaxed, nothing was in your face. You could flow between the stage and all the interactive art projects volunteers had set up. There were the aforementioned food trucks and tents, there was even a comedy campfire with Chanty Marostica, Aisha Brown and a few acts I didn’t manage to catch. At the music stage, Zaki Ibrahim and Maylee Todd both really stood out to me. Zaki had this kind of smooth and funky R&B, with talented backing singers. Maylee used a harp and a bunch of loop pedals. I’m a sucker for anything loop pedal-ly. It was fucking swell.

I hadn’t realised one of my friends was setting up a Mystic Dream Tent. Tarot readings, massage, etc. It was a cute cushioned tent and a great space to relax. I got to catch up with her and get my first ever tarot reading. In doing so, I realised something I’d never cottoned onto before. Tarot is just therapy. There’s this whole thing in therapy about how you’re not supposed to tell people their problems, rather you lead them to finding their own answers. The idea being that telling someone what’s wrong is nowhere near as effective as them coming to their own revelations. If they feel like they’ve figured it out on their own, they’ll take greater ownership over effecting a solution. In tarot, the symbols are used to put down broadly relatable metaphors. The reader gives a loose explanation of what they could be, then the subject scans their past and finds their own causal links. Having those metaphors helps the subject to infer what issues are within their lives and consider how to resolve them. It’s brilliant. It’s all basically a big madlibs where the subject fills in the gaps to make the story relevant to their life. In doing so, they work through internal conflict and find resolve. I can totally see how in cultures past, tarot would have taken therapy’s place in easing emotional trauma.

Now the question is, with summer dawning, what festivals are still left for me?