Never never? Call me JaPeter JaPan.

Hi there. I’ve got no idea where this is going, so keep your hands inside the cart and let’s all enjoy the ride.

I haven’t been to an amusement park in longer than I’d like. Last time I went was to Canada’s Wonderland. The weather was borderline scummy, which was great. The park was sparsely attended through threat of rain. My cousin and I cleared every ride in under two hours. At one point they closed the rides for all of 15 minutes, so we got lunch. The rest of the afternoon was spent doubling/tripling back on all the rides we loved (I got to take Behemoth six times!). Pretty much ideal. I’m a big fan of roller coasters or basically anything that allows me to get as close to g-force in my extremities as possible. I don’t typically get scared on rides. It’s no brag, but a faith in rigorous safety testing and statistics. Discounting that horrific freak accident at Dream World (on a fucking benign river ride of all things), large scale amusement parks tend to be pretty safe. If I feel like I’m not in any danger, extreme rides feel fun, not frightening.

It makes sense for me to be thinking about amusement parks. A friend of mine just came back from a holiday to LA, which naturally involved a trip to Disneyland. I did the Disney parks in Orlando as a kid and had the time of my life. When I think of stuff I’d like to do on vacation, going to a bunch of theme parks would be right up there. I’m still a child (with larger limbs) and the thrill of going on a bunch of rides, but with the executive decisions and flexibility of being an adult, is palpable.

Good thing, because once again I’ve got vacation I need to use.

I don’t know how I ended up with another five days. It looks like I miscalculated my vacation days over the past six months and I still had a few to take. They allowed me to roll over the five days on the proviso that I use them up over the next few months. So once more I’m in the enviable position of having to decide where I’d like to travel.

To be honest, I’ve always wanted to travel to Japan. Since being a child obsessed with anime, Disney and video games, it’s been top of my list. As kids, we had a succession of Japanese au pair who stayed with our family. It was a pretty neat cultural influence that left me with fond memories. Visiting Japan has been a dream of mine ever since. Financially I haven’t been in the position to follow through, but I’m fortunate for that now to be a reality. For the next two months it’ll be Spring there, which seems the perfect time to visit. I could do a Tokyo trip, visit Disneyland, check out some beautiful old temples and finally tick it off the bucket list. There’ll be sake and sakura and everything. What’ve I got holding me back?

Right now? Logistics and planning. I’d love to do the trip with a friend, to have someone I can bounce ideas off in a foreign country. I don’t speak or read the language (though I’m sure that hasn’t stopped others before). I don’t know my way around Toyko, the transport system, the best spots to visit and how much things should generally cost. Trip planning has never been a strong skill of mine. As always, there are endless resources on the internet and I definitely have friends who’ve been there. So really, it’s on me to get off my arse and look into it. Dreams rarely come true without a lot of hard work.

Still, that’d be one hell of a ride.

How far do I want to push this metaphor? If I tried hard enough, could I cash in on the lucrative key ring sponsorship market?

At what point do you decide that something has given you all it ever will?

Okay, that’s way too wide a question. I’m not sure how you’d define that into a focused answer. So I’ll start rambling instead. We had two bands play short two song sets at work today. The New Pornographers and Cold War Kids. Both are bands that I used to listen to with some regularity. I had TNP’s Mass Romantic and Electric Version on repeat for months. Fun, poppy hits with excellent harmonies and toe tappin’ tunes. I listened to Twin Cinema and Challengers, but neither impacted me as much as their initial albums had. When Together failed to deliver, my enthusiasm for the band petered out (a phrase which I only just read may date back to the depletion of mineral refinery. The mORE you know, eh?). I haven’t as of yet listened to their 2014 release Brill Bruisers and it’s unlikely I’ll hear the follow up in two weeks. I got from this band what I wanted, which has served me well. No regrets, but neither am I mining their subsequent albums for new, fresh material. In my mind, they’re petered out.

Even if you weren’t, I was pretty impressed with how I turned that etymology around. Self love, people.

New Pornographers were a band I enjoyed. Cold War kids were a band I adored. I thrashed Robbers and Cowards. A distinct vocal sound combined with innovative production and refreshing songwriting. “Hospital Beds” (which has an excellent Florence and the Machine cover), “St John”, “We Used to Vacation”- fuck, I’ve gotta stop or I’d be quicker to say “the whole album”- hit me hard. I fell in love with all of these tracks and they found their way to every contemporary mix tape I made for years. Loyalty to Loyalty had a couple of neat songs too. The ones I liked worked into my constant rotation. “Mine is Yours” bombed hard for me. The sound, more stadium oriented, was no longer what I wanted from them. Much like The New Pornographers, it wasn’t for me, so I stopped cold (War Kids?). So it goes.

I could name a stream of bands who followed a similar pattern for me. The aforementioned Florence, my almost eponymous Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys, TV on the Radio. I don’t know if this is more a comment on the effects of wider audience reception, fame and success, or that I have specific tastes. All I do know is that at some point, these bands have taken a fork in the road where I’ve refused to follow. The journey to that tangent was fantastic, but we’re clearly not meant to go down every road we see.

Seeing Cold War Kids in particular today, the band sounded great. Previewing new material off their forthcoming album, the experience of seeing them live (and shaking the lead singer’s hand. They awkwardly didn’t know what to do after the short set. He’d seen me kneeling on the ground during the performance, walked over and extended his hand) still had a stirring effect on me. While things may have changed, the seeds of that which had called to me were rooted fast. I don’t know how I feel about the new tracks, but I loved them in that context. Would I feel the same with the mixed versions? I’ve got no idea. Are there gems hidden in their past two albums I ignored? There may well be.

There are some messages in here about persistence, trust and faith. Like Cold War Kids’ past two albums, I haven’t decided if I’ve got the energy to search for them right now. Maybe though, just because I’ve pushed a door close, it doesn’t mean I need to lock it.

If I was a contender, I’d go by the name MeLeeon.

When I was around seven or eight years old, I thought medieval stuff was the coolest. I still loved super heroes and transformers, dinosaurs were right up there, but medieval anything was a newfound obsession. It started exactly where you’d expect: Reading King Arthur. Here was a person who came to rule through exceptional circumstance. He started with nothing and ended up a king. If that wasn’t enough, he surrounded himself with a bunch of badass knights who all had their unique skills and attributes. To an eight year old, Arthur was pretty rad, but Lancelot was where it was at. The greatest swordsman in the land, but not an infallible hero. Even at that age I was drawn to characters with flaws, anti-heroes or those whose moral compass veered slightly off due north. I thought the whole affair with Guinevere thing was a bit shit, but created an interesting conflict. Then along came Galahad, who seemed too righteous to be any fun.

Finishing the book caused me to dive deep into fantasy novels. Courageous heroes wielding swords, shields and axes. Grizzly monsters and fire-breathing dragons. Magic and back-stabbery galore. I fucking ate it up. I fell hard for Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf series and its diverse skillsets of magika and mental abilities. I loved Diablo and Warcraft, tried Dungeons and Dragons. I devoured Song of Ice and Fire, which went on to become the biggest fucking thing in the world. To this day I still play Magic the Gathering heavily. As it stands though, there’s still one thing I have yet to do to really harness my love of fantasy. In three hours, there won’t be.

I’ve never visited Medieval Times.

I first saw it on the 1996 Jim Carrey film The Cable Guy. It looked amazing, but also didn’t seem real. I was convinced that it was just invented for the film. Keep in mind that this was pre-internet and I lived across the other side of the world where it certainly didn’t exist. A friend and I took a trip to Chicago once and found out they had one. Without a car though, it would’ve been way too far out of the way. Disappointed. We then did a road trip across America, but still didn’t come close enough to one. Then I moved to Toronto and discovered that not only was there a Medieval Times, but they did birthday discounts. HOLY SHIT.

Three years have passed since then and I still have yet to go. Tonight however, tonight is the knight. I get a 45% discount through work, which makes it pretty damn reasonable for a night out. I’m pumped. It’s not logical how stoked I am right now. Friends are coming over, we’re gonna have drinks then go out to see the fantasy world of my childhood come to life. You know those moments where you’re reduced to that state of youthful wonder? I feel like that already and I’m not even dressed yet. Thing is, I don’t even know what I’m in for. It sounds dumb, but I’m not actually sure what the show contains. I assume jousting and sword fights. People have said you get a crown. I know that one of my co-workers used to play the executioner as a part time job back in college. We’re gonna get a big meal and drink beer. I may go hoarse from cheering on our very own Lancelot. I’ll likely be amped up from a little pre-drink before we go.

Goddamn I’m excited and the more I talk about it, the more excited I’m getting. Is this how normal people feel about watching sports? Why don’t we go out to watch athletes joust and melee any more?

Who cares? I WILL TONIGHT!

Gland to be of some use.

I think the most exciting thing I’ve done in the past hour was get up to go to the toilet. Bleak. This isn’t the life I yearned for as a child. Then again, as a child I wanted to grow up to be a dinosaur or Wolverine. Hell, I probably would’ve settled for becoming a wolverine. I could go for having potent anal scent glands used for marking territory and sexual signaling. I’m sure it’d be preferable to this dim office job. I can blame the weather all I like, but truthfully not a day passes that I don’t rue my lack of a special upper molar in the back of the mouth that is rotated 90 degrees, towards the inside of the mouth. Now THAT’s something that’d make my CV pop.

As a kid though, outside of the desire to inhabit every pop cultural IP I could easily obsess over (and there were so many), I found it hard to latch on a Stanislavski style through-line of action with which to be guided. In short, I didn’t know what I wanted to be. Furthermore, I didn’t know what was within my reach. My parents were always encouraging, but grounded. Reach for that rainbow, but don’t expect the pot o’ gold to be waiting for you without working for it. For years I decided that I was gonna be an actor, almost purely because I shared a birthday with my favourite actor; Jim Carrey. At this advanced age of eight I hadn’t pursued acting with any zeal. I just thought it’d be fun. People would give you lines and you’d say them. Then you could play superheroes as a job and all would be right with the world.

I didn’t actually start drama until age 13 or so, and even then it was a pretty tepid toe in the water. For something I’d supposedly wanted to do my whole life (five years basically being that at 13), I kept myself from launching headfirst. To be honest, I was fine. Totally unremarkable. I could act, but without the spark of greatness that eludes 99% or people who truly believe they’ll make it. I knew it, and so the dream passed me by without any particular feelings of loss. It didn’t matter, I had potential. I could do anything. As the years went on, I did a ton more and my expectations of what the future held widened. I’d write a book, or articles, or a comic, or speeches. I’d act in movies, TV shows, voice act. I’d edit video, audio, music. I’d do something in media. Surely that was a more defined dream?

I hope nobody is expecting some profound discovery or declaration here. I have worked in media for going on ten years now. I’ve had a plethora of jobs that’ve certainly varied in satisfaction levels. Even if the only constant in my future careers is uncertainly, I know at least that I’m in the right industry. I am the very model of middle class angst. Having your life struggle surrounding the fact that you’re fine, but have yet to excel is the kind of privilege so many would adore to suffer.

I may not be Wolverine, but when the right costume party strikes there’s nothing stopping me. I might not have found my niche in media, but it’s better than clawing at the industry from the outside. Taking a shit might be the highlight of some days, but give me a cup of coffee or two and that’s one thing I do excel at.

Another life, a lifetime ago.

There’s this radio ad I keep hearing (given that the radio is played in the kitchen and toilets (ya rly) at work). It’s terrible. It’s one of those client voiced ads and every time I hear it, I cringe a little harder. It’s the sound of a production engineer giving zero fucks and wanting to be finished by 5pm. “Here at [insert disability lawyer’s name here] we ONLY GET PAID. when you get paaaaid.” Weird fucking line reads with emphasis erratically sprinkled throughout as if by some darkest timeline Salt Bae. It’s not Prod’s fault that the ad turned out awful. They no doubt got press-ganged into it. Some sales rep with no regard for the on air result wanted an easy sale. I get it. I know how these things happen because I’ve had it happen to me time and time again.

Why is a client voicing at all? Because it’s an easy sales pitch. Appealing to the ego is the lowest common denominator of pitches, it’s pretty gross shit. “Oh, you’d be great. You’re such a big personality and you’d sound amazing on the airwaves. Just think of how much new customers will love walking in and meeting that celebrity they’d heard on air.” Vomit. The only thing more disgusting is how easily it works. Then you as a production engineer have to deal with the fallout.

Sales rep walks into your studio at 4pm telling you that a client is coming in to voice. Notice the lack of the word “ask” anywhere in that sentence? Typically this “conversation” happens ten minutes before this client is due in the studio. You ask them why a client is voicing again. Was it really necessary for the script to have it client voiced? Of course, they assure you. You tell them they’re lying. They reassure you that you just haven’t met this person yet. They’re hilarious, they’ll be fantastic. You tell them they’re lying, that they’re always lying and that they’re scum. Scum who makes three times as much as you do. You tell them (notice the lack of the word “ask” anywhere in that sentence?) to leave your studio, that you have rules about Sales Reptiles leaving their slime around. Tell them it’s bad for the equipment. They leave and you briefly consider self-mutilation as a less painful experience than the one you’re about to undergo.

After they leave, creative (the writers) walk in to apologise. They assure you they ripped out 70% of the copy to make it workable. They said the original script they were given was abysmally overwritten. Also it made no sense, mentioning a plethora of irrelevant details, but the sales rep told the client it was fantastic, so they felt chuffed. Creative apologises, but you’re not gonna shoot the messenger. You briefly regret that it’s illegal to shoot sales. As you do every day.

Sales arrives at the door with the client. “I leave them in your capable hands.” You look down at your “capable” hands and wonder how quickly they could strangle the life out of the reptilian shapeshifter standing outside the door. You invite the client in. Sales thankfully stays behind the door frame. Outside arm’s reach. Next time.

You get them in the booth and give them a couple of notes:

  • Stand up straight, but relax your shoulders.
  • Smile as you talk, it comes through in the voice.
  • Don’t stress about getting it on the first try, we have the technology.
  • Don’t just read the words, think about what they mean.

They may get one or two of the four things, but three or four requires some arcane planetary alignment. Usually they mumble, slouch, emphasise the wrong parts, speak too quickly or slowly. You reassure them not to worry, that it’s going great. You look over at the pile of work already sitting in your In Progress tray and cry on the inside. After 15 minutes of audio for a 30 second ad, you tell them they nailed it. Good job. You know you’ll fix it in post. You take them back out to reception. Two minutes later Sales comes in to say thanks. You tell them to fuck right off. You mean it. Five minutes later Creative walks in, apologises. Asks you if you want to grab a beer after you’re finished.

You say sure. Tell them you’ll be finished by 5pm.

The ad is in the client’s inbox before they arrive back at the office.

I’ll be honest, this blows.

Honest Ed’s has closed its doors to the public for the last time. Non-Torontonians would find it hard to understand why the locals are finding it difficult to let go of a run down cheap department store. Hell, by now I’d be considered a local and frankly I’m not entirely sure what I saw in the place. Honest Ed’s was a landmark, not least because of it’s garish, carnival-esque signage. Orange, yellow and white, festooned with an array of flickering light bulbs. Honest Ed’s mantra seemed to be cheap goods at prices to fit. By no means was this a dollar store style enterprise, Honest Ed’s was slightly higher in price and doubtfully higher in quality. It also seemed to be the kind of place that was a rite of passage. No doubt if you were moving out of home for the first time, you’d get your mop, kettle or meat tenderiser from Ed’s. Then the summation of this rite of passage occurred if you managed to find your way out of its labyrinthine corridors. The place was like something out of Greek Mythology, wherein the terror of being trapped was enough to turn your heart to stone. It was enormous and comprised of so many sections. Dinky tourist stuff, kitchen utensils and appliances, children’s toys, exercise equipment, tools and cosmetics. Untrendy clothing galore. Legend says that if you ventured far enough in, there was a hair “salon” hiding out somewhere. There’s nothing you could tell me about the place I wouldn’t believe. Especially if it involved a real life minotaur.

Ed’s didn’t play a large role in my life, but for all the sub-ten times I went, it was memorable. I picked up a handful of things; a vegetable steamer I use most evenings, a sewing kit with a now broken zipper that has become a total nightmare in my ‘assorted’ drawer. The needles have spilled out everywhere and magnetised. The amount of times I’ve pricked myself trying to grab a hammer or Allen key are innumerable. There was the one time my ex and I bought adult diapers from Ed’s, but that’s a whole entry in itself.

This weekend has become a celebratory funeral for the store. A festival of art and local culture winding through the expansive lot. Friday evening held a craft beer guided tour. There have been farmers markets and trade bazaars going on over the past couple of days. Last night was the much anticipated closing party, complete with a mass of DJs, lighting and decoration. I’m not sure how that went, it sold the fuck out and last minute tickets could scarcely be found. I’m not bitter. Much.

My girlfriend and I explored the art maze yesterday, which was stupendous fun. Ranging from the pretentious to the weird, funny and stunning, it was an awesome send-off. As huge as I always thought the complex was, having the back rooms and offices open really helped widen my eyes to its gargantuan presence. Two separate buildings, four floors each, none of which seemed to link in a coherent fashion. Having a critical mass of art around helped disguise the fact that you were really just wandering blindly until you emerged into sunlight. Graffiti was openly encouraged and a ton of the pieces were interactive (like the light harp, an instrument you placed by running your hands through beams of light. As nifty as it sounds). A few exhibits involved creepy dolls, some of which were animatronic. Music, dance, scripted performance (including a fun piece about the last standing employee, written by a friend of mine). An array of kitch, as well as heartfelt tribute., To top it all off, it was catered by Collective Arts Brewing.

Soon the space will all be torn down for condos and another weird bump in Toronto’s history will be beaten into conformity. The Annex is being annexed. So it goes. Anyway, I’m off to go steam some veggies.

It’s Magic how time vanishes like that.

It sure is great that I’ve got some downtime for the next couple of weeks, because I’m about to have no time for the next year. I just rediscovered an old Magic the Gathering video game that’s been modded and upgraded. The 1997 game affectionately known as Shandalar, stands as the best Magic game to date. Not only because of its spectacular graphics, but because it’s a genuinely amazing game. I’m not being sarcastic, not even close. I have no idea how many hours I’ve sunk into this game over the years, but it’s in the hundreds. Probably not quite a thousand. Maybe.

Wizards have made efforts to replicate its splendour over the years, and while I’m sure they’ve been exponentially more fiscally successful, they don’t hold up to the quality of gameplay. Magic Battlemage and Battlegrounds were bizarre arcade style mash ups that never quite got there. Magic Duels of the Planeswalkers and Magic Duels were newer shells with better graphics, but no real form of storyline or progression. Magic Online seems to be the flagship product where you pump money in for digital cards. I surprisingly have never played it, but I hear nothing but complaints online. I’m sure it’s fine, but it’s just the game without added aspects. It doesn’t shine as a standalone narrative like Shandalar does.

So why is Shandalar excellent? Because it feels like an adventure. A lot of the game is played in an isometric world map view. You’re a mage aiming to free the land from oppressive rulers from each colour of magic. They all have a series of minions, from grunts to lieutenants, all with successively more powerful decks. You roam the world, doing missions for small towns. Along the way you’re challenged by these minions, some of whom have surprisingly powerful decks. They all play for ante, meaning winning or losing a match could mean you forfeit or gain powerful cards. You start with a pile of junk cards that eventually you can build up to impressive decks. You also begin with a hideously low life total that grows over time. That’s one of the defining aspects of the game, progress and growth. Sometimes you’ll narrowly win a match and win a card that makes your deck hum. It’s rewarding and feels like you’ve worked towards something.

There are also untold treasures to find. The kinds of cards you’d never be able to own in real life (unless you felt like sinking thousands into your collection. Black Lotus, all the Moxen, Time Walk, Ancestral Recall, etc. They’re found in hidden dungeons across the map. There’s a hell of an allure to use and abuse these combinations, cobbling together what you can and working towards becoming a dominant force. Get the Power Nine, free the land, ????, profit.

With all the upgrades, the game has only gotten better. There are so many bloody cards and finding the ones you want got even more difficult. It’s challenging, especially because the AI seems to have been given a major bump. Your opponents’ decks are far more powerful than they ever were, with clever interactions and themes. When you start with ten life and your opponent has a 2/3, a 3/3 and a 4/4 by turn four, it’s not an easy run. The more you play though, the more likely you are to be able to do degenerate things right back. A little dungeon crawling and BAM! You’ve put together a brutal suicide black deck complete with powerful modern creatures. Or some insane pile like this. So fucking great.

I don’t know if I’ve sold it well enough, but if you’re into Magic and losing the next couple of weeks of your life, be my guest.