There were, too, people doing parkour. Seemed apt.

I’ve never been great at relaxing. Something about the idea of sitting and doing nothing stresses me out. If I’m not thinking, why am I awake? I have a constant need to be engaged in an activity, even if that activity is merely hanging out and chatting with others. Given this borderline anxiety over relaxation, the beginning of my weekend was going pretty damn well. Friday I was home sick, learning the intricacies of Watch the Skies‘ ruleset as best I could. Saturday I was constantly on my feet, putting the ruleset into motion for paying customers. By the time the game had wrapped up I wasn’t far from falling into bed. If I was at all afraid of getting appropriate amounts of sleep however, our cat has been going apeshit for the past week or so. As such, it’s been a while since I slept well.

Whatever my feelings on relaxation, both my brain and body needed a break.

Cue the perfect summer day, but in spring. Temperatures going up to the high 20s. A cloudless sky and light breeze blowing through. After a morning spent lugging a microwave around Koreatown, my girlfriend and I decided a park day was not only desirable, but necessary. We put the call out, but didn’t get much back in the way of responses. A few hours later the temperature had dipped to an ideal mid-20s. Some friends posted about hang outs in Trinity Bellwoods. Deal. We strapped on shoes and hit the road.

First stop was Bakerbots. I’m always loathe to mention Bakerbots too much, but figure my readership is small enough that this won’t spread the secret too far. Bakerbots is a boutique bakery that partners with the outrageously popular Bang Bang Icecream. In a one-two punch operation, Bakerbots make the cookies and Bang Bang cream the ice. Bang Bang routinely has a 30+ minute wait time in the summer. Bakerbots takes five minutes at a stretch. Same ice cream, but a slightly smaller range of flavours. I had a cone of burnt toffee and double chocolate, while my girlfriend grabbed burnt toffee and Sam James espresso. Holding the napkin-less cone and feeling drops of delicious dairy melting onto my hands brought me back to childhood beach trips. We’d hang out in the sand and sea for a few hours, then nana and papa would take us to grab massive ice creams. Hokey Pokey and Goody Goody Gumdrops, always. On a sunny Sunday in Toronto, a cone was no less of a treat.

We wandered down to Bellwoods, noticing just how many people were out and about. Over the winter months, Toronto can seem like a ghost town at times. Strange, for a city. Spring typically has more hours of rain than sun, as locals chomp at the bit for patios to open. As soon as they do, the floodgates open and if the patios are full, everyone under 40 goes to one of the many, many parks (seen here in green). Bellwoods is a great spot for dog watching, slack lining, capoeira, calisthenics, frisbee, a few local beers on the down low and assorted musical jams.

We laid our blanket down with friends and watched the world go by. Everything mentioned above and then some. There was a good nature in the air (and obviously all around, trees softly swaying in the breeze). One of our friends had a Hang, which he proceeded to play for us. I’d never seen or heard a Hang before. It looks like an inverted Steel Drum, but could also pass for a large viking shield. It’s gentle and melodious, a sound akin to wind chimes or the motion of a waterfall. Gentle, soothing and tough to play well. Lying back in the evening warmth, listening to the symphony of life going on all around, relaxing started to make more than a little sense.

Why is it so hard for adult toys to harness the same creativity?

It’s been my long-standing belief that toy design is the coolest. There’s so much that goes into it. First and foremost it’s sociological. How do kids behave? What kind of activities would excite and stimulate them? Can you provoke learning opportunities? Is it possible to make small challenges and tricks inherent to their design so that kids can overcome them and feel mastery? Then there are visual and tactile components, what kinds of colour design can you throw in to make your toy a must have? Do children naturally understand the colour wheel? Or is it possible to invert these supposed rules for a younger audience? How extensively is a new product play-tested with real children? Is it hard finding the balance between something kids would want and parents could see as suitable?

I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS. Is toy design reactive or proactive? Or perhaps a combination of the two? Is there a delineation between those dreamers who imagine novel products into being and those who create within the boundaries of supplied creative briefs? Do designers shelve some designs in the hopes that an apt IP will come along? Are their tiers or hierarchies within the industry? How does one even get into the industry? What education streams lead towards a life in toy design?

I had innumerable awesome toys as a kid. This is no treatise on the state of toys today. I have no idea how toys are these days. I assume they’re just as great as ever, or even more advanced. I’m sure design technology has come a long way. I always thought Transformers were unbelievable. Not only did each toy have multiple forms with which to play, but there was a fun puzzle involved in working between them. I couldn’t believe that a robot could also be a T-Rex or a McDonalds meal. Just trying to conceive how someone’s brain could visualise the conduit between both modes was insane to me. All those twists and turns, clicks and snaps. It was contortion on a robotic level that still had to obey the laws of physics. I loved not only alternating between modes, but playing with different combinations between full transformation. A T-Rex body with a robot’s head, for instance.

I latched onto anything modular (Construx, Capsela, Iron Man, Centurions, Dino Riders, etc), but Lego was on another level. It’s pretty gratifying to see that these days it’s the world’s largest toy manufacturer (no doubt licensing with colossal brands did a wonder for them). Having a toy that encouraged uninhibited creativity (and nailed the advertising to boot) meant there was no wrong way to play. Assembling a cluster of weirdly coloured bricks or a sleek, chic, colour coordinated robot were both viable options. Inevitably (or perhaps because most of my hand-me-down stuff was 80s space Lego) I became Benny every time. Even when I bought new 90s Lego, it was mostly to re-up on cool space stuff (and to obtain those sweet, sweet translucent orange chainsaws for maximum carnage).

Imagine how cool it would be to see kids adoring something you designed. The joy you brought to others on full display. That’s some prime time personal fulfilment. I may have gotten older, but my admiration for toy designers has only grown.

Number one on that list is swimming in jelly. What else would it be?

You know what? I like being an adult. I was primed to abhor all the responsibilities and stress of taking care of myself, but on the whole it’s better than it isn’t. I get to make up my own bedtime, eat whatever I want, manage my money on a larger scale and pay the consequences of failing all of the above. What’s not to love? Being a kid was rad too though. Even the ‘oft maligned’ school wasn’t a big deal for me. I got to see friends, sometimes we did field trips and failing anything else I had a jawsome lunchbox with segmented spaces for different kind of foods. Every day was basically a low key bento day.

I dunno, maybe I’m just a happy person?

I’m not one of those peaked-at-12 adults whose lives I assume consist of leaning on one elbow, looking to the upper left and sighing loudly ad infinitum. I don’t see the point in wistfully wishing for another era. I’m one of those fortunate snake people born without the spectre of military conscription on the horizon. Our forebearers died for just that reason. I make a point of going out and doing things that I enjoy. I try to spend time with friends when I can. I may have less of that time to go around, but I’ve got a shit ton of freedom to shape my meagre waking hours as I see fit.

Well, almost. If I truly had my way I’d spend more time playing Magic than reading about it.

I’m not a robot though. I can’t emphasise enough the extent to which I adored being a kid. I wouldn’t be the oversized child I am today without yearning for past experiences. Nigh universally it’s a lack of time that’s the issue. I’m sure if I had less of a life I’d find more space for excellent, intentional goofing around. What things did I do before adulthood that I wish I still did?

  • Reading. This has to be number one on the list. As a kid I’d read voraciously. I had a minimum wakeup time of 6am and I remember staring down the clock from 5am onwards so I could flick my light on and read. After discovering Roald Dahl I’d walk the half hour or so to school with my face buried in James and the Giant Peach or Danny, Champion of the World. I devoured generic fantasy novels. Anything with swords/dragons/magic really. These days I’ll read a book or two per year, that’s it. I get these brief resurgences of reading from time to time, but unless something really catches me I break from the fever dream.
  • Video Games. The hobby that defined so many of my childhood friendships. If they liked “spacies” then I liked them. Back when Sega/Nintendo were practically gang affiliations, I straddled the fence, playing anything I could get my hands on. At a time when the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis was all the rage, I still wouldn’t look past the simplistic Smurfs on ColecoVision. Ironically at a time when online gaming is gargantuan, I don’t have the time to get good at anything, so instead I skip it entirely.
  • Sports. Oh how I hated running at age eight. Now that I’m actually fit, I can’t find room in my life to join a league. I don’t have the gear to get casual games together. Plus I’m oh so much better at making excuses than I was as a child. In a truly dumb situation, the time I would spend playing sports is devoted to maintaining fitness instead. It costs money to join a league and the emotional energy of organisation to mobilise friends outdoors. I can’t just get my parents to pay for my entry into a space where everything’s sorted for me these days. Then again, I’m in Toronto now. People here love sports and probably own enough gear to get a pick up baseball game going. If I build it…
  • Being carried home from parents’ friends’ places. Of course these ran well past bedtime. It’s hard to forget the feelings of total safety and love that came with that floating sensation. I’d wake up somewhere between the house and car, barely conscious of anything but the knowledge I was cared for. I probably could’ve gotten up and walked myself, but why mess with serene catharsis? André the Giant is long gone, so I’m way too big for anyone to carry me like this. If anyone decides to make a functional shrink ray, a re-enactment of this will be on my shortlist.

As I write this there’s an adult diaper ad on TV. Clearly other people are already up on this reliving your childhood play.

More like nostaljerk.

Why is familiarity so comforting? I’ve been on a nostalgia kick lately (primarily because I’ve deep dived back into the Laser Time archive for my workplace listening enjoyment) and it’s been delightfully tickling my brain. I listened back to the early 90s “Mortal Kombat: The Album” (you’ll surprise yourself by remembering the absurd hit “Techno Syndrome“. The rest of the album is, if possible, even more cheesy. It features songs about the various characters (or in Sonya Blade’s case, a ballad she apparently sings about herself? And she’s been outfitted with a British accent?). The best part is how token most of the lyrics are. The Immortals were never given comprehensive background information about each character, so they had to write about what they know from playing the game. The result is a bunch of songs about assorted special moves each character uses, or in the case of Sub Zero…

“Whoah, Chinese ninja warrior
With your heart so cold sub zero
Whoah, your life is a mystery
Why you wear the mask? Sub zero”

Also a blatant rip off of Marky Mark’s “Good Vibrations”, but instead with the dubious line “Freezing Vibrations” (which makes no fucking sense, but I’ll go with it). AllMusic gives it a grand two star rating. It’s a festering piece of shit. Stock 90s techno coupled with the aforementioned flaccid lyrics. It should be a pain to endure, but instead it’s so fucking bonkers that it comes 180° to being a blast to hear. It’s not even a guilty pleasure for me and the only downside is that “Mortal Kombat: The Album” isn’t on Spotify, making me realise what a colossal waste my $9.99 each month is. If I can’t groove out to dancefloor suicide, what am I paying for?

It’s not new to me how much I adore nostalgia, but what is a recent revelation is how much I want the sensation without doing the work. Anime is a great example. I think so fondly of my years spent watching anime. I’d lounge around with friends into the early hours of the weekend and try to marathon an entire show. So many goddamn series. Casting my mind back to those days warms my heart, but whenever I think about getting back into anime, I realise how little I actually want to watch it. I’m way more critical than I was and getting into a new 24 episode series is a hard sell. I don’t have the time I once did. Much like video games, theory wins out over practice 80% of the time. Even knowing that, I still yearn for the underlying emotions they brought. The excitement of experiencing a whole new fictional world. Or in games, of facing and overcoming challenges coming my way.

Both industries were way smaller back then and I honestly think that was a large part of the attraction. Back in high school, anime and video games were super niche interests. We were the nerds and belonging to rare fandoms made it feel like we were venturing into unknown territory. We’d talk about them constantly, but they seemed like conversation topics only for our little group. When we found anyone else with similar interests, sharing those interests was a revelation, like we were sharing a central part of ourselves. We felt special somehow, because we were different. It may have been an illusion, but we clung to it tenaciously. These days fandom is all too easy to find. Hyperconnectivity means that others like you are only a few clicks away. Neither video games nor anime are particularly esoteric these days, they’ve expanded into normalcy. As dumb as it is, inside me there’s the sense that the experience is now cheapened. There’s nothing unique about them and with that gone, this remote concept of being special has dissipated. What’s more, the plots and character progression don’t feel like they’d live up to other available content. There are way too many clever shows to watch now, so why would I spend time on anything flimsy?

Wait, so I think I’m too cool for school now? That gives me freezing vibrations all over.

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!

Wait, I’m a “snowflake”? Have you looked outside?

With Toronto covered in a gentle blanket of snowfall, there’s very little that holds allure other than keeping cozied up inside. Retreat sounds like a fantastic word right now, seclusion from the world around. It’s a shitshow out there, but being holed up at home with central heating, food and internet is nothing of the sort. I’ve been thinking of the concept of retreat a lot lately, but divested of the notion of defeat. Retreat as a pre-emptive measure, taking time to reassess and recuperate. Seeking simple comforts, a luxury in this world where some people have so little. When comfort comes to my mind, however, there’s one sensation that rises to the top. Nostalgia.

As I’ve mentioned over the past few weeks, I’ve been falling back into old habits. Playing more Magic, listening to some of my more formative musical fixations. I’ve been thinking fondly of the video games/systems I so obsessed over as a kid. Sega Mega Drive, N64, old MAME style fighting games and side scrolling beat ’em ups. This regression feels symptomatic of a subconscious sense of loss, longing even. I’m casting my mind back to a time where I felt overwhelmed by the world around me, but excited rather than weary. Before cynicism kicked in. The future seemed so far away, but shiny and hopeful. Now that we’re in a future, it’s hard to look past how far the world has slipped. It’s hard to hold an unfettered hope for continual progress when the Netflix release of a Dear White People series prompts a #whitegenocide response. I guess nobody said we’d all evolve in the same direction.

My desire to reengage interests from when I last felt the world held nothing but promise makes sense, much as it disappoints me. I should be moving forwards instead of looking back. The answers aren’t gonna come from hiding away from the world. Still, this is why YA fiction has a massive adult fan base. It’s why we continue to watch shows with twentysomethings playing 16 year olds. A longing for a time when things were different, when responsibility meant that at the end of the day, your parents had your back. When the world was unfair because you might get roped into a family dinner instead of hanging out with friends. Seems leagues better than the potential of being refused entry to the U.S. because you won’t hand over your social media passwords.

I’ve been reading Max Landis’ leaked Power Rangers film script. It’s not perfect, but seems the natural evolution of the 90s franchise. It’s PG-13 material while still having an edge. It’s got humour and creativity while still paying homage to the goofy mess of camp that Power Rangers once was. It has unexpected twists and more characterisation than we’re likely to see from this solemn blockbuster treatment. I’m happy to be proven wrong (and they’ll still probably get my fucking money. Bastards), but outlook not so good. Reading the script of an IP I adored as a kid felt neat. I didn’t feel totally pandered to, more that I’d consumed a script written with deep enthusiasm for the subject matter. Landis may act a little entitled at times, but when he nails it he nails it.

I’m sure we could chalk this one up to SAD and leave it at that. At the same time there’s an obvious correlation between lack of direction and seeking out our anchors. What last made me happy? How do I bring that feeling back? How do I head towards it while still moving forwards? We live in that future now, surely we can bring the past along with us.

Maybe hum along, just tune out the lyrics.

How’s February going? Good ol’ Frosty February, Toronto’s equivalent of frigid fallout. Long weeks at work with nary a beam of sunlight. How is one supposed to bask? It’s not like there’s even reflected glory on hand, ’cause everyone’s so gorram miserable. Things so far have been pretty mild, which is to say that yesterday everything was covered in a slippery sheet of ice. One wrong step and your ass was glass (fragile, not transparent). Could we have a moment of silence for tailbones across the city?

Thank you.

I wouldn’t say I’ve been wallowing, but I’ve certainly been retreating into die hard creature comforts. Frankly I’m surprised I haven’t yet devoured the Goosebumps omnibus. Instead I’ve been spending late nights working on Magic decks that’ve been sorely missing some TLC. It’s been nice to ratchet down the amount of time planted in front of a computer, even if it’s for another sedentary hobby. What else am I supposed to be doing? The streets are ice!

Musically I’ve also regressed. Nostalgia’s tough to beat when things around you seem cold. Over the past week I’ve delved into Tool’s discography. It’s comforting to know that while I’m not chaffing for a brand new release from the band, I can still have a pretty good time cranking them up. The fervour is gone, the rabid enthusiasm of a teenager has long departed. That being said, it’s been a hell of a while since I last heard “Sober” or “Prison Sex”. It’s pretty fun charting the evolution of the band from the spark of their prog metal roots to the goliath stadium band they became. Plus metal is a real good time when the sky turns dark. I’m plummeted right back to late high school, early university. Moshing is suddenly covered in this shiny veneer, somehow forgetting that the shiny veneer in any mosh is other people’s sweat. It’s a little nudge in my side reminding me that even though I don’t seek it out, when I feel like hearing metal it’s a helluva itch to scratch. I know what you’re all saying, seek it out, right? Maybe I will. Maybe. I. Will.

We both know I won’t. Who do you take me for? George Washington?

I also took a deep dive this morning back into Sublime. Sublime’s an odd one for me. At age 12 you’d probably catch me listening to them for upwards of three hours a day. At age 30 it’s pretty tough to identify with their particular brand of West Coast bro ska culture. In that typical 90s way, the band had zero room for nuance (did the word “problematic” exist back then? Surely that word couldn’t co-exist with the board game Dream Phone). Still, it’s hard for a bunch of the tracks to not resonate, given the deep groves they’ve etched into my brain. Bradley James Nowell had one hell of a sweet voice (apparently he inherited perfect pitch from his mother, but that could just be internet rumblings) and it really shines on Sublime Acoustic: Bradley Nowell & Friends. The recordings are messy, assorted bar performances with background chatter/yelling. His voice, however, shines through. Tracks like “Boss DJ” or “Don’t Push” are reinvigorated, while “Pool Shark” is a whole new beast. Like Cobain, I’m not sure how gracefully Nowell would’ve aged culturally, but I’m hard pressed to not smother those years of listening in fondness. I know that every summer I’ll crank out their self-titled at least once.

Maybe summer will come early this year. Right in the cold, dead heart of Toronto winter.