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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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.

I might not be a vampire, but that was a steak to the heart.

I lived a pretty damn fortunate childhood. While we weren’t filthy rich (in anything but love. Say it with me: “awww”), we never wanted for anything that mattered. My parents didn’t care much for us having the newest flash toys, but we had a solid roof over our head, a stocked kitchen and clothes to keep us warm. Of course, being a child I bristled seeing what some kids got, but it’s not like nuance is easy to understand without a fully formed brain. As time passed, I stopped seeing the value in ostentatious material goods. I grew to enjoy experiential gifts and quality excursions. We were, however, spoiled for food. We got good home cooked tucker and had more than our fair share of nice meals out.

To this day I don’t place a ton of stock in fine restaurants. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, but the food here in Toronto is good enough that few occasions merit the higher price tag. I think back to my childhood with wonder, when we used to get entrees, mains and desserts, then leave the establishment clutching our bellies. I’ve gotten old(/boring) enough that I’m not really into that amount of excess anymore. I can’t fathom having three course meals when the portions are so plentiful over this side of the world. In the rare event that I go out for a decadent dinner, I savour it more than I used to. The cynic in me says that’s just ’cause I’m holding the price tag this time around. Or perhaps that’s what maturity does.

Yesterday was my girlfriend’s birthday. A couple of weeks back we realised we’d never been out for a nice steak since we’d been in the city. Her escape from the 27 Club seemed like the perfect excuse. Polling friends, Barberian’s had a solid reputation so we booked in. Dreams of sumptuously cooked slabs of meat floating through our dreams.

Barberian’s is a heritage steakhouse in Toronto that’s remained in the same building for the past 40 years. It’s high-end, with steaks averaging $50 or more a pop. Definitely a step up from the dilapidated soon-to-expire meat chunks I’d buy in my early 20s. Barberian’s is known both for their expertly prepared food and extensive wine cellar. If the steak weighed half as much as their wine list booklet, we were in for a feast.

It couldn’t be understated how different the service was at an establishment like this, verses some kind of chain restaurant. Our server was both extremely personable and knowledgeable. He seemed to be serving only a handful of tables and always managed to appear when a question popped into our heads. We admitted our ignorance when it came to high quality cuts of meat, so he took us slowly through the difference between each cut, how good marbling would change the overall taste. We queried about the optional extras and not once did he attempt to upsell or steer us towards more expensive choices. Instead he asked what kind of experience we were looking to have and offered suggestions on what he thought we might enjoy. While we walked in determined to stick with the steak, he made such a good case for the rack of lamb that it was hard to refuse. We ordered the 16oz Rib Steak and the full rack, with a side of baked potatoes and fries. He said it was no trouble at all to arrange the meal in a sharing platter so we both had easy access. He took the time to take us through wine options that would complement the meal, with generous sampling glasses to help us make the right choice.

Everything was lavishly presented and perfectly cooked. I mean everything, right from the iced pickled vegetables and bread at the start. I didn’t know it was possible for butter to have quality gradients, but that was some damn fine butter. The rack of lamb was a dream, with sumptuous medallions and adroitly seared exterior. The steak was perfectly textured, knives deftly sliding through. The contrast with your garden variety restaurant steak was staggering. The two of us blissed out as we took our time absorbing the myriad of tastes arising from the meal.

My girlfriend went to the bathroom and I took the chance to pay for our fare. I thanked our server for making the night as special as it could be. I explained how we’d been relishing the chance to finally enjoy a nice steak and her birthday had been the perfect opportunity. “Oh geez, why didn’t you tell me?” He asked. He grabbed our box of leftovers and remarked “pretend you haven’t paid yet. Does she like chocolate?” I nodded and he disappeared in a flash. She came back and we basked in the afterglow of a wonderful meal. Several minutes later our server arrived with an immaculately constructed plate. A small moulded white chocolate house sat in the centre, with a milk chocolate roof and mousse filling. It was flanked by a pile of fresh berries and mound of fresh cream with a single candle sticking out. Along the side in artful chocolate penmanship read “Happy Birthday”. It was a lovely (and delicious, I might add) touch to what’d already been a remarkable night out. We walked out the door filled to the brim with cheer, so thankful that the experience was everything we’d hoped for.

Sometimes nice things are just that.

I’m some sorta Cherishire Cat.

Gee willikers. What an ardently enjoyable weekend. After months of training, disengaging from social contact and staunchly monitoring my consumption, letting go has been such a release. Since Friday I’ve spent so much time in the company of others, appreciating delicious food and refusing to stress about most anything. I think my soul needed that.

Yesterday I put a Facebook call out to see if anyone wanted to join me for lunch. I was severely hungover and figured the best cure for what ailed me was a metric fuckton of meat, broth and rice. Pork Bone soup would be my saviour. I often post last minute plans to grab food and virtually never get anyone taking me up on the offer. It’s often a deluge of “wish I’d seen this earlier” or “just ate, sorry”. Yesterday, however, I had three people opt in. Plus it turned out that my girlfriend’s shift (a block away from the restaurant) finished up right as we’d planned to meet. It was a diverse group. One of my Magic buddies and two acquaintances I know through general community. Having this range of people opened the door for fun, varied conversations (with people offering viewpoints others wouldn’t have considered). We ate excessively with a lunch that ran for around two hours. Nobody was in a rush, we all just enjoyed being present and spending the time.

Our plans for the evening involved an Alice in Wonderland themed backyard bash. Costumes were mandatory and nobody disappointed. An array of colours and choices. Some went for specific characters, others took general inspiration from story themes. There were long dresses, corsets and bonnets. Most eschewed pants for leggings. Some opted for creative makeup or little accessories. Most of us ended up strangely flammable, which became all the more pronounced when we realised just how many tea light candles there were. The backyard had been wonderfully dressed, with fairy lights, deco light, little butterflies, streamers and an array of colourful accoutrements. Everyone brought treats of all shapes and sizes: Fruit, candy, chips, cookies, juices and soft drink. Peppermint tea in a big carafe. We came bearing blankets and pillows. The host had crafted a great playlist that lasted the entire night. It was a joy to settle in such a curated space.

Best of all, the social atmosphere was ideal. You know the feeling of walking into a room where the temperature has been perfectly set? It felt like that, but with mood and attitude. We were all there to enjoy one another’s company, to lift up rather than tear down. No aggression or bitchiness, just friendly positivity and joking around. As with the lunch earlier, I had a blast having the platform to just be funny. It’s understated, but being surrounded by people who’d yes, and… was bliss incarnate. Having that wavelength sustained through close friendships meant I could read the room well enough to know how to throw out good lines and bits to hearty group laughter. A night filled with solid pulls, deep cuts and callbacks. It also helped being surrounded by a bunch of clever, funny people who’d dish it back. My heart felt a warm tingle being surrounded by such a great crowd.

The misguided sentiment to pull from this weekend would be oh, I guess I just have more fun when I drink. That’d be missing the deeper message. The greater realisation is that it’s more about not feeling guarded. Back when I was monitoring my intake, I had to be hyper-aware all the time. I was thinking about calorie consumption, the ratio of exercise to downtime, whether I was keeping limber and stretched. Then if I was in a social space, being sober around those who weren’t meant that I’d notice too much. I’d see how people’s behaviour would change after a drink or two. I’d hear the noise level creep up. It’d be too much to take in and make relaxing impossible. What a relief then to let go of that and go with the flow. To not have to be so rigid all the time.

Golly gosh, it does lighten the load.

I’ll let you in on a secret. You could still buy the coffees anyway. That’s capitalism!

I’ve been ranting a lot of doom and gloom lately, so my goal is to push further towards positivity today. Is that too much to ask? Very likely. Let’s engage with some sunnier things!

I guess you could blame an overweight childhood if you must, but I’ve had body issues for some time. Go figure. I’ve also been in heavy (misnomer) training for Tough Mudder lately, working really hard to tone up. It’s been repeatedly gruelling. In recent years I’ve had help, whether in a group fitness situation or personal training. This year I’ve run off nothing but my own grit. Knowing what I’m capable of and making a point of not cutting myself much slack. So yeah, it’s been challenging, but also rewarding to see results. At this stage it’s become an annual summer tradition, which sucks only because cutting alcohol is a shit and a half when the sun is shining out there. Toronto lives for its patios and they don’t quite have the same glory when your beer goggles are instead filled with vodka-less cranberry juice. In an attempt to get the kind of gratification that only external validation from an echo chamber can provide, this morning I posted a shirtless selfie on Facebook. The “likes” and positive comments have flooded in. It was a cheap ploy for a temporary boost to self-worth and it’s worked. I’m chalking that up as a victory.

I saw one of my musician friends, Nick Teehan, perform on Saturday night and it’s reminded me how much I love his music. He’s a tremendous live performer with an enthralling vitality on stage. Between his vibrant energy and witty quips, he puts together an engaging show that pulls you right in. Not only is he a fantastic performer, but he’s a truly gifted songwriter. His lyrics are evocative and rich, drawing on personal experience, local sights and touching storybook imagery. “Mom Song” is an ode to the intrinsic link drawn between mother and son, a relationship unbound by temporal circumstance. “Boxing Day” nods its head to the disconnect of growing out of youth and the trappings of small town life. If you like what you’ve heard, you can get his album There is Not a Snake on Bandcamp for a mere $7 CAD (or more if that’s what you want to pay). That’s like skipping one and a half coffees to support a talented local artist. You’re practically losing money by not doing it.

All my favourite good television (that isn’t already on air, that is) is coming back. All hail the Fall television slate! You’re the Worst, BoJack Horseman, Better Things, The Good Place, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and everyone’s favourite 2016 hit, Stranger Things (which sadly is in no way affiliated with Better Things. I’d love to see Pamela Adlon taking down a Demogorgon). Not only that, but along with Fall television, it’s gonna be Fall! Sweaters and light jackets, pretty coloured leaves, pumpkins to carve, Halloween, Thanksgiving feasts, seasonal beer (/the return of all my Belgian style favourites). A season full of unmitigated joy before the Winter depression kicks in.

See, I’m practically walking on sunshine.

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?

Kinda surprised they didn’t play Freebird.

It’s getting harder and harder to tick bands off my live music bucket list. That wasn’t intended as gloating. The issue is that I’m not nearly as exploratory with music as I once was. It takes a shit ton of effort to keep on top of new releases, especially when there’s so much fucking content coming out all the time. How am I supposed to hear and absorb new music when every artist I loved back in ’08-’10 has a 2017 release? Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors, Broken Social Scene, Sigur Rós, Japandroids, Spoon, The XX, The National, Vampire Weekend, LCD Soundsystem, St Vincent and so much more. Half of these are already out and I’ve been so overwhelmed by content that I have yet to give them the ear-time they deserve. There are podcasts to listen to, things to watch and read. I’ve got hobbies and responsibilities. Being an adult takes up a lot of spare time.

However, none of that mattered the other night when Fleet Foxes took the stage at Massey Hall. I got into these guys a week after their 2008 performance at the Bruce Mason theatre. The next time they came to town, I was overseas. I think there was some music festival I meant to go to, but that never worked out. We’ve been passing like ships in the night (they felt my profound absence from their tours, I’m sure). Finally the universe aligned and came together under the roof of my favourite Toronto venue. One of the rare venues where the sound techs are so good I don’t need to wear earplugs. The lighting techs make the most grand displays. The acoustics are phenomenal and the whole building is gorgeous. If an artist I love has a show there it’s pretty hard to pass up that chance.

It took about ten minutes for the band to engage the audience. In my head I’d always had this picture of Fleet Foxes as uptight, pretentious artwank douches. I couldn’t have been more off-base. They were amicable and loquacious, taking time to banter with the crowd. A crowd that was strangely aggressive heckle-wise. Once again, I expected that the band would shut that the fuck down, but instead lead singer Robin Pecknold accommodated it. He’d listen and respond. They’d goof around playing snippets of covers (“Exit Music for a Film”, “Here Comes the Sun”) or in general joking around with audience members. That unfortunately encouraged a deluge of dickheads from the crowd to call out, but didn’t tarnish an amazing gig.

It’s something truly special when a band you’ve been waiting for delivers in stunning fashion. Everything sounded phenomenal and the choice of visuals brought it all to the fore. The harmonies were rich and bold. Their track selection was astounding. I can’t think of any songs I craved that they missed. The old classics scratched the itch I’d built up for years. The new material added a interesting dynamic. It played on a stronger sense of juxtaposition, something that was viscerally felt live. I can’t imagine them having performed a better gig, which is the most sensational feeling when it’s something I’ve been longing for. At times it’s easy to forget how much live music resonates deeply within you.

Like every good gig, it’s making me question why I don’t go out to concerts more often. It’s making me wonder how long I’ll have to wait until the next big one (September 18th, Father John Misty). Mostly though, it’s filling my mind with memories and my heart with goodwill.

In short, it’s about time I added more names to that bucket list.