Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Best Job I Never Applied For

It begins with one of my favourite lines from a song that isn't actually part of the song:
I don't know, I was really drunk at the time—from Money by Pink Floyd on Dark Side of the Moon
I used to drink a lot in my journalism days. I even remember my first day in journalism school, when the teacher first walked into our classroom, looked around the room, and asked, "How many of you drink?"

Almost every hand in the room went up.

"And how many of you would consider yourselves to be alcoholics?"

Many hands dropped like stones. Some were lowered slowly. One hand went down, and then, a few seconds later, that hand went back up. No, it wasn't me: my hand went down with the second question.

"I give you two weeks," our teacher told us, "or you'll never make it as a journalist."

In the years that followed, I never became an alcoholic, but I sure did try my best. I came so close. At best, I learned how to hold my liquor. In my second year of journalism, I was what you might call a functional drunk. I could be too impaired to drive but I could walk and talk like I only had one drink in me.

Shortly after I started taking photojournalism and bought my Minolta X-700, I started working in a camera store to supplement my drinking habit. It allowed me to go out to pubs and clubs with my journalism buddies; it also allowed me to do something that I continue to this day: to sit alone in a bar and write.

Some of my best writing has been done in a pub. With a few drinks in me.

At the time, my favourite bar was also a restaurant, but I was always there after the dinner hour, when it was quiet. I always had the same seat, at a table for two, out of the way, off from the bar, near the washroom.  I wasn't easily spotted from this location: the only time you would see me is on your way out of the washrooms.

The place was Tramps, in the Emerald Plaza on Merivale Road. It's long gone, but when I was scanning slides I came across some old photos I snapped one night, after many drinks, during a snow storm, and it all came back to me.

Most of it, anyway. I don't know, I was really drunk at the time.

I was a regular at Tramps. All of the servers knew me. I was friends with one, who had previously worked at a small pub near my old high school. When he moved to Tramps, I followed him, even though he never served me. He always worked in the dining section, while I stayed closer to the bar. I would still always say hi when I came in, would chat with him when he wasn't busy, before I took my own seat. I sat where I sat because it was secluded, and that's what I needed when I was writing.

The server who covered my section was a beautiful woman named Christine. She had wavy blonde hair, bright, intelligent blue eyes, and a smile to die for. She quickly learned my name, would acknowledge me as soon as I came into the bar, and would have my drink ready for me before I asked for it.

I drank Pimm's and 7UP when I was at Tramps. It was a change from the beer I drank in the college campus pub, Bert's, and the wine that I often brought to house parties. Pimm's and 7 was sweet, could be sipped, and never gave me a hangover.

When Christine brought me my drink, I thanked her and got to my writing. I wrote short stories about Roland, who was still new. I wrote my first novel, JT*. Christine never asked me if I wanted another Pimm's and 7; when she saw that my glass was empty, she'd replace it with a fresh one. The only time I would speak to her would be to thank her for the new glass or to add, "This will be my last," when I had had my fill. I would wrap up my writing and savour my final drink of the evening.

I hit on Christine a lot. It became a ritual. She would see that I was finished writing and would come by the table to ask me how I was doing, how was school, and what was new. I couldn't count the number of times I told her she was beautiful. Every night, before I left, I would ask her if she would marry me.

She always said no. One time, she asked, "What would you do if I said 'yes'? If you're joking, you'd break my heart."

"Would you ever say 'yes'?" I countered.

"No," she smiled.

And so it went.

One evening, when I was at Tramps with a couple of my journalism buddies, we sat at the opposite end of the bar. It was a non-writing night, a time to enjoy ourselves. I wasn't drinking Pimm's and 7. It was a beer-swilling kind of night. And in short order, I had a pretty good buzz on. But you wouldn't know to look at me.

We were sitting close to the DJ booth, near a small dance floor. The DJ had just arrived: a tallish man it his 30s, with thick dark hair, permanent stubble, and a beer gut. He started setting up, turning on amplifiers, mixing boards, turntables, and other devices. The first thing that my friends and I noticed was that the music he put on was really bad. Being the 80s, it could have been any number of songs, but I don't remember precisely what songs were playing. Maybe Wham, maybe Rick Astley.

I got up and approached the booth: "You got any good music?" The booze had obviously got the better of me.

"Come on in," he said, "see if you can do any better. This is wired for sound, so I haven't start my set yet."

I flipped through the stacks of vinyl. Huey Lewis, Cyndi Lauper, A-Ha!, Big Country, Wang Chung, Level 42. "If you were to start a set, what would you choose?" The DJ asked.

I stopped on one album, pulled the black disk out of it's sleeve. "This."

I had used mixing boards before. I was a DJ in high school, during lunch breaks, spinning my favourite records for the cafeteria crowds. Radio Woodsworth, it was called. Man, that brings back memories too, but perhaps I'll share those another time.

Without hesitating, I slapped the vinyl onto the turntable. As the less-desirable song faded, I switched channels, brought up the volume.

The song was In Your Eyes, by Peter Gabriel.

"Nice choice," the DJ said. His name, after more than 25 years, escapes me. Let's call him Rick. "What's next?"

I pulled out the next album, set it up on the other turntable. A-Ha! The Sun Always Shines on TV. The piano came in as the baritone voice of the previous song dropped off.

I stayed in the booth for a few more tunes. Rick showed me how to mix the turntables with the VHS players, some songs backed up with the music videos on giant TV screens over the dance floor and bar.

"Are you alright here?" asked Rick. "Can I leave you here for a bit?" The bar was starting to fill up. My friends gave me looks, letting me know that they were fine but were wondering what the Hell was going on. I shrugged my shoulders and nodded, letting them know that I didn't know what was going on but was having fun.

"Sure," I said.

Rick was gone for a half an hour, maybe more. I played If I Was, by Midge Ure; It's My Life, by Talk Talk; Everybody Have Fun Tonight, by Wang Chung. Dancing In The Dark, by Bruce Springsteen.

The server for that section, Nikki, continued to serve me, was wondering how I got behind the DJ booth, where Rick was. She wiggled her hips to the music.

"Wanna dance?" I asked her.

"No. Wanna fuck?" I had known Nikki pretty much since I had started going to Tramps. She sometimes worked in Christine's section when Christine took a night off. Nikki always flirted with me (she liked that I was a reporter and that I was writing a book).

"Um, how about we dance first, see how that goes?"

"You're no fun." Nikki walked away, feigning hurt.

When Rick returned, he offered no explanation for why he was gone for so long. No apology. Just a simple statement: "I talked to the manager. He's been listening. You're on the payroll."

"Um, I already have a job and I'm studying at Algonquin. I don't have time for another job."

"You're in here a couple of times a week, from what I've noticed. It would be casual work: you would be covering for me when I can't come in."

I considered it for a moment. "How much?"

"You work from nine to one: for four hours, you make $40." For 1986, that was pretty good cash for casual work.

"Okay, but on one  condition," I said. "I get to drink in the booth." It was a small demand: I had been drinking the whole time that I had been spinning the disks and no one had said anything. Certainly, Nikki kept them coming.

"As long as you don't get drunk, I doubt anyone would have a problem with that."

And so began the best job that I never applied for. For as little as it lasted. I didn't do it often: Rick called me in two or three times a month. Sometimes, when I came in to write, he would call me to the booth and we would trade off time over the evening, splitting the pay. But when Rick moved on a few months later and the manager wanted me to take over, I had to quit. I couldn't work every night. I still wanted to keep Tramps as my place to sit in seclusion and write.

When Tramps closed its doors, it was a sad day for me. I lost my writing spot. I lost a place where I could get a Pimm's and 7. And I lost the girl who would never marry me.

But I never lost my habit of sitting in a bar, enjoying a drink, and writing.
 


* When I finish writing Gyeosunim, I'm going to take another look at JT, which has been sitting in a sealed envelope ever since I got handfuls of rejection letters from publishers (there's another story in that, too). I'll let you know.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Grab Your Camera, We're Going For A Walk


Last fall, I participated in my first-ever Worldwide Photo Walk in the neighbourhood of Hintonburg. It was the first time I had walked with a group of photographers, stopping every now and then along our route, which took us through the back streets, under the Transitway, through the abandoned City of Ottawa waterworks buildings, and along the Ottawa River, to snap interesting subjects.

You can see photos from all participants on the group's Flickr site.

Although the weather was less than agreeable—it rained for most of the walk—I thoroughly enjoyed myself and wanted to do another photo walk. Soon.

With no one organizing a spring walk (none that I could find, anyway) and my periodic talk about starting one through Twitter, I finally put my camera where my mouth is. And so this Sunday, June 3, I'll be hosting a spring photo walk.

Rain or shine, we're going.

Just two days ago, I took my kids to the meeting place for the walk and wandered the area, plotting a route for our trek. It took precisely two hours, allowing for the girls to play, hide, and pose for photos. I figured it best simulated what we would be faced with over the course of the photo walk.

The event starts at 2:00 at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, on Prince of Wales Drive, between Heron Road and the roundabout at the Experimental Farm and the Arboretum. There is parking at the centre, near a baseball field, but parking is limited to 90 minutes. I strongly urge people to park along Prince of Wales Drive, on the side near the cherry trees by the Experimental Farm, and walk to the Fletcher Wildlife Garden. If you're really ambitious and know the area, park near the Dow's Lake Pavilion and walk to the wildlife gardens.

I will be waiting to greet photogs just outside the wildlife gardens building. If you've never been there before, continue walking past the baseball field, past a grey building. The centre is just past where drivers are prohibited. From there, I'll greet you and direct you to the gardens, where you can start shooting.

When I feel everyone has arrived, I'll join you in the gardens, where I'll start wandering and shooting too. I plan to keep moving through the walk, at a slow pace, so just keep following me and I'll try to keep us on schedule.

The route will take us back out to Prince of Wales Drive and across the street to more gardens at the Experimental Farm. We will meander through the gardens and pathways, slowly making our way toward the roundabout, where we'll cross and work our way into the Arboretum. I plan to follow the one-way signs for the cars, so if you fall behind, that's the route we'll take.

At the Arboretum, we'll stop at the first lookout and snap away. We'll then start working our way downward, following the path, to the bottom of the hill and to the stream that leads off the canal. Last Sunday, I saw a heron, but I only had my iPhone on me. Be ready for ducks, chipmunks, and plenty of squirrels.

Our route will continue on the path that follows the Rideau Canal, working our way towards Dow's Lake. There are lots of things to see and shoot, so keep your eyes open.

The path ends at the Dow's Lake Pavilion, and that's where our walk also ends. I'm hoping that everyone will stay and go for drinks at Malone's.

If you haven't signed up for the photo walk, please do so at Eventbrite. The site will send you a ticket, but you don't need to bring it with you to attend. And if time is of the essence and you don't want to bother with Eventbrite, just show up anyway. The only issue with not using Eventbrite is that I won't be expecting you; if you arrive late, I might not be there to greet you.

If you're on Twitter, you can follow news about the event and live tweeting by following the #SpringPhotoWalkYOW hashtag.

I hope to see you there.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Almost the End of May-Bock



As we prepare to say goodbye to the end of May and the end of spring, there is one more thing we must prepare to say farewell to, and that is the seasonal beer, maibock.

Almost, but not quite yet.

Earlier this month (actually, it was at the end of April), I went to Ottawa's Kichesippi Beer Company to try their seasonal beer, Maibock, which was brewed in limited quantities and is only available at select pubs and restaurants in Ottawa for the month of May. If you haven't tried that one, I'd find out who still offers it and get yourself some.

I've since also tried Mill Street's offering, its Helles Bock, which is not a seasonal and is available year-round. But I don't think you can get it at the LCBO (at least, I couldn't find it through the liquor board's Web search).

Another local maibock that is available for a limited time and in limited locations is Ottawa's own Clocktower Brew Pub's Maybock. And when I say limited, I mean limited.
Maybock
$5.97, 20 fl oz; 5.5 ABV
The Clocktower Maybock (spelled so that it's easier to pronounce?) displays a crystal-clear, deep amber colour with a beige-white, creamy head. On the nose, I detected an orange-citrus scent; when I breathed in deeply, I imagined hints of lime that tickled deep within my nostrils. The bouquet was clean and refreshing.

This is a light bock, at 5.5 percent alcohol. So, in the mouth, this maibock was light and refreshing. The mild hops cleansed my palate and left a slight nutty finish. This is a great patio-weather bock.

Unfortunately, it's not around for long. And unfortunately again, it's only available at four locations in Ottawa: The Clocktower on Bank (where they brew the stuff), the Byward Market, in New Edinburgh, and in Westboro (where I had mine). And Maybock is only around for a couple more weeks, until Westfest wraps up.

So enjoy it while you can. Time's running out at the Clocktower.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Photo Friday: Urban


When Lori and I first started looking for a house, we looked in the Westboro area. We loved the old houses that were surrounding a small street that harkened back to old Nepean. The town's original town hall still stands, though condominiums are sprouting up around it. Westboro is the neighbourhood of Newport Restaurant and MEC; of Westfest.

We love Westboro. In hindsight, we still should have swallowed the larger mortgage and bought.

Last night, Lori and I visited the Clocktower Brew Pub, which recently opened amongst those new condos. As we sat on the patio, I looked up and saw the neighbourhood that could have been ours, and I snapped this photo (and then played with it, using Camera+):


Though I love our street—our neighbours are amazing—I still look to Westboro. Maybe when the kids grow up and move out...

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Better OC than STO


As a fairly active twit, I read a lot of activity with regards to what is happening in Ottawa. I follow quite a few City of Ottawa-dedicated services and local news agencies. I follow the mayor (he's a most-excellent mayor, by the way). I follow individuals—too many to mention—who love this great city of ours, who take an interest in their communities and the municipality as a whole.

I hear good stuff and bad.

One of the subjects that is foremost in the public mind is our transit system, OC Transpo. There are many tweeps who love to weigh in on the service: most of it, bad. I myself have been known to grumble from time to time; occasionally, I do it publicly.

There are a few who sing the praises of OC Transpo, but they are few and far between the rantings of the disgruntled. One of my favourite peeps, Ben Wood, not only loves his city's transit system, he also blogs about it.

Today, I'm here to echo Ben's sentiment towards OC Transpo. Overall, I think we've got it pretty good in Ottawa. Sure, the system isn't perfect, but I challenge any of you to name a system that is.

Go ahead: I'll wait...

Ottawa isn't the best-designed city. Through urban sprawl, we've grown well outside our greenbelt. There seems to be no end to that growth. We have communities that are separated from each other and the core by vast green spaces. And so we have some isolation issues.

Even within the core, we have suburbs that are separated by green spaces and industrial parks. Ottawa isn't massive like Toronto or Montreal, but it's still spread out.

And what the city has attempted to do is to create local routes within these isolated communities in an effort to bring the residents to an area where they can transfer onto a route that will take them swiftly into the downtown core.

It isn't perfect, but by and large, it works. By and large, you can get from point A to point B. Local routes aren't as convenient as transitway routes, but you will eventually reach your destination.

I live in a bedroom community outside of the greenbelt. In the dozen years that I've lived out there, I've seen the system grow from having one local route meet up with another local route that took me to the transitway (our rapid-transit system) to having the transitway come within a 10-minute walk from my doorstep. Years ago, I would never have dreamed of taking the bus to where I currently work; now, I don't even think twice about it.

In the nearly 40 years that I've been riding OC Transpo, I can maybe count the bad experiences I've had one one hand (I'm not talking about the assholes and lunatics that ride the bus; I'm talking about the long waits and less-than cordial drivers). Yes, the bus strike that we endured a couple of years ago was awful. People lost jobs and businesses closed. It really sucked. I feel for those who were affected. But our bus service isn't the only striking business that has done that to someone, somewhere, at some time.

I blame the city council of that time (that awful mayor, not our current mayor) and the heads at OC Transpo, who are mostly—if not all—gone now.

We move forward.

I've been on lots of buses in countless cities, and I can think of worse services. Kingston. Burlington. London, ON. Seoul and Chŏnju, South Korea. Bangkok, Thailand. These are the cities that jump out at me; I'm sure that if I took the time to think more about it, I would come up with many, many more.

Just across the river, in Gatineau, a far-worse system has buses that are constantly running behind or are not running at all. More drivers than I can count are rude, arrogant maniacs, who drive like they're shipping sides of beef rather than human beings. Buses don't run frequently. Many are older than the Ottawa buses. Riding the STO costs more than OC Transpo.

In a nutshell, OC Transpo is a far better service than the STO any day. If OC Transpo were a brand-new Cadillac, STO would be an old Chevy Cavalier.

When I take the bus to work, I start with an OC Transpo bus along the transitway. I transfer onto an STO bus, which takes me the rest of the way to the office. I dread that bus. If I miss it, I must wait more than 30 minutes before another comes my way. The same is true for the return bus that takes me back to Ottawa.

When I transfer onto the 95, I breathe a sigh of relief. I know home isn't far away. And if I just miss a 95, I don't fret: another one is only minutes away.

So the next time you cringe or grumble at OC Transpo, ask yourself: how bad is your problem? Why exactly are you complaining? Is it so much better somewhere else, or is your issue a first-world problem?

I'm still waiting...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I BOLO


I blog out loud, Ottawa. Do you?

Last year, I attended my first-ever Blog Out Loud Ottawa, an event that gives Ottawa-area bloggers a chance to let their voices out, rather than words on a screen. Twenty or so bloggers stand in front of a crowd and read one of their favourite blog posts of the last year. And they do it to a packed house.

Last year, though I submitted a couple of posts from the Brownfoot Journal, I wasn't picked to read at the event. Instead, the founder and organizer of the event, Lynn Jatania, asked me to be the emcee for the evening. And I have to say it was a lot of fun.

This year, the 2012 installment of BOLO is going to be held on Thursday, June 14, at the Arrow & Loon, in the Fifth Avenue Court (Bank and Fifth). And this year, I won't be acting as emcee.

I'll be reading.

If you can, come out to hear readings from some extremely talented writers. And from me.

For more information, go to the BOLO blog.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Long-Weekend Brew Review


It's the Victoria Day long weekend in Canada, the weekend where many Canadians tend their gardens and prepare for the summer. But because this long weekend brought more summer-like temperatures, the family and I packed up and headed into the Gatineau Hills to visit family and relax.

But that didn't mean I was going to slack off entirely and skip out of a beer review.

On the contrary. Being on the Québec side, I thought I would explore a local brewery to Gatineau. I popped into a corner store—a dépanneur—that was close to where I work, where I knew they stocked some 750-ml bottles of a local beer. I finally settled on the following beer:
La Corne et la Muse Scotch Ale
Gatineau, Québec
$12.99, 750 ml (plus deposit); 9% alc/vol
I know what you're thinking: a French-Canadian brewery producing a Scotch Ale? Well I say, why the Hell not? Les Brasseurs du Temps, or BDT, is a brew pub that is located in the old brewery district of Hull (a city directly across the Ottawa River from Ottawa, which has since been amalgamated with other towns in the Outaouais region and is now called the City of Gatineau). The brew pub lies on the river that cuts through the old part of the city that is known as l'Isle de Hull. It's an old stone building that may have been a mill or an actual brewery around the turn of the last century. I first visited the brew pub more than a year ago: they make a nice lunch, and their selection of a wide variety of beer, from a summer wheat ale to hearty, full-bodied stouts, washed down those lunches quite nicely.

This weekend marks the first time that I've actually purchased a bottle of BDT ale. It won't be my last.

Pouring La Corne et la Muse into my mug, I saw a rich caramel with a definite red hue. This is an unfiltered ale, so the murkiness of it gives it a warm glow when you hold it up to the sun (I enjoyed the first bottle on a cottage deck, overlooking a lake. The head is a deep beige foam that holds itself for much of the first half of its journey down the mug.

On the nose, I caught burnt toffee and toasted marshmallow. Even before tasting it, I suspected I was in for a bit of sweetness to this Scotch Ale. And I wasn't disappointed. In the mouth, I tasted rich, sweet toffee with a smokiness that blended with the alcohol and lingered in the finish. Though the alcohol content is high, at nine percent, it is not overpowering.

This was a delicious ale, though I don't know that it was the best choice for a hot day on the lake. The sweetness and headiness was more suited to cooler weather. This ale would make an excellent winter beer.

Though BDT is only available in Québec, I suggest you make the trip and give it a try. Visit the brew pub and see what else it has on offer.

Or grab a bottle at a dép and head up to cottage country. Summer's around the corner, after all. Cheers!


Friday, May 18, 2012

Photo Friday: HDR


I've had my slide scanner for almost six months now, and I've barely made a dent in my collection. I have thousands of slides, and every once and a while, when I find a free moment, I grab one of my dozens of binders that contains hundreds of slides, and start scanning.

I'm not scanning in any particular order, so it's a nice surprise to see what I come up with. This past weekend, I came across some slides from 1984 to 1986, and I've found photos of me in my last year in high school and my years in journalism school. You can see some of those photos in this week's Wordless Wednesday.

As I experimented with photography, I liked setting my camera on my tripod, setting long exposures, and manually zooming the lens. The result was an image that looked like it was moving at warp speed.

Here is one photo I took of the Thomas D'Arcy McGee building on Sparks Street:


This shot was taken in December, 1985.

And after I took that shot, I took another one; this time, zooming through the exposure.



Cool?

After scanning these slides, it dawned on me that because they were both fixed on a tripod that was in the same spot, I could technically combine the digital images and apply the high dynamic range (HDR) effect (I use the HDR tool in Corel PaintShop Pro X4) to them. I wondered what that would look like?

It looks like this:



I love this age of technology, don't you?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Did You Call Me 'Fat,' or 'Phat'?


A couple of weeks ago, my doctor's office called my home and left a message on my answering machine: "Dr. B— would like you to come in and discuss the results of your recent tests. There's nothing serious, but he'd like you to come in as soon as possible. Could you please give us a call..."

My mind went immediately to the tests I had been sent to earlier this year at the neurologist. For a long time, I have been experiencing severe circulation problems. My fingers, hands, and arms, as well as my feet and legs, go numb easily. Like, when I'm sitting with my legs crossed or lying in bed with my feet interlocked at the ankles. Like, when my arms are folded, or when I'm lying in bed, on my back with my hands gently resting on my stomach—my arms are the first thing to go to sleep, from the elbows to my fingertips. If, in my sleep, I roll onto my stomach (I should really say when, not if; it happens every night), my arms extend above my head and I lose feeling from my shoulders to my fingers.

It really sucks.

At the beginning of this year, after I suffered what seemed like an anxiety attack—shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, and chest pains—my doctor suggested that I was under a great deal of stress, but that I should have tests with a specialist to ensure I wasn't suffering nerve damage. We even thought there might be carpal tunnel syndrome, because my wrists were sore and I almost always experience a numbness in my fingers, especially in my pinkies.

At my appointment, electrodes were stuck to my extremities and a current was shot through wires. A computer displayed graphs that spiked during these jolts. Each time the specialist recorded the reading, he told me that the readings were normal. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing to worry about. No nerve damage. No carpal tunnel.

I was relieved for about a second, but the obvious question popped up: "So, what is wrong with me?" The neurologist had no answers.

And so I went home, not feeling any better.

That brings us to the phone message. When I heard about the test results, I thought that perhaps the specialist had found something in the readings after I had left. Perhaps, there was a problem after all.

Being a worrier, I assumed the worst. I would need surgery. I would be placed on more meds—I already take for pills a day to combat cholesterol and migraines. I don't even like taking multivitimins.

Last week, my doctor and I met. I should take a moment to discuss my relationship with my GP. Doctor B is a bit of an asshole. A tolerable asshole. As a doctor, I feel he takes my welfare seriously. It's his attitude I can largely live without.

I don't tolerate tardiness. If I book an appointment at 8:00, I generally expect to be seen at 8:00.  I am willing to wait an extra 15 minutes to be shown to an examination room and another 15 minutes to be seen, though if I'm made to wait that long, I complain. If 20 minutes expires before I'm seen to the examination room, I leave. If I wait in the examination room more than 20 minutes, I leave. If 30 minutes passes since my appointment is scheduled, I leave.

I understand that emergencies arise. I acknowledge the fact that sicker people take priority over my scheduled appointments. But I work as hard as my doctor does: most people do. Though I probably don't pull down as much income as Dr. B, my time, I would argue, is just as valuable. And so I'll walk out the door if the time that I've alloted my physician has expired.

Thirty minutes, or I walk.

I've walked out on my doctor twice. Once, I knew he had an emergency arise. He was busy and I never saw him. No problem. But I had a meeting to get to, and so I left.

Another time, I don't know what he was up to. I had scheduled the first time slot, at 7:30. When I arrived, he was already with another patient. No problem, I thought. Emergencies arise.

At 7:40, I was shown into an examination room, where his receptionist took my blood pressure (generally at about 128 over 60, heart rate at around 70 BPM). "The doctor will be with you shortly," she said, and I was left alone.

My doctor has only two examination rooms, which are side by side. The walls are thick enough to suppress words but thin enough to hear tones, especially when the doctor and his patient are speaking light-heartedly. A woman was in the next room, and she was laughing. The cadence of the voice told me she was chatting, possibly telling Dr. B. a funny story. His tone revealled that he was teasing her; her laughs proved it.

At 8:00, I got up and headed to the reception area and declared my departure. There were patients waiting to be seen and I told the receptionist that I was sure someone there had an 8:00 appointment and I was letting the doctor get caught up. I had the rest of my day to get to. As I discussed this, Dr. B. came out with his patient and he saw my exchange with the receptionist.

I wasn't angry. I didn't make a scene. I simply said I had a job to get to. I had used up the time I had allocated to my physician. I had no more time to spare. If my doctor wished to see me, he'd have to call and make an appointment.

I did remind my doctor that if I were to miss an appointment, he would expect me to pay him.

He has never made me wait more than five or ten minutes since.

When I do wait, I often check e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, and so on on my iPhone. Whenever my doctor enters the examination room and sees me on my device, he says the same thing: "Geek."

He then proceeds to pull out his smartphone, which is always the latest piece of high tech.

Super-geek.

Last week, he went through my file to tell me why he had called me in. It had nothing to do with my nerves. It was my cholesterol. Through genetics, my cholesterol levels are naturally high, and so we manage them with medication. I take Crestor, if you must know.

Over the years, my cholesterol levels have gone from a natural 8.8 to a 4.2, sometimes as high as 4.7. My latest blood tests, which I have twice a year, showed a level of 7.2.

WTF?

"I see one possible reason," said Dr. B, pointing to the floor. "Get on the scale."

I weigh 175 pounds. That's 10 pounds more than the last time he weighed me, when he said I should lose 10 to 15 pounds. He measured me around my belly (not around my waist, which has fit into size 32 pants for decades): it measured 37.5 inches.


(By comparison, in February of 1998, at the end of my first year of living in South Korea, I weighed 140 pounds. That's the lightest I've been in my adult life.)


"You're not a geek," he said. "You're a fat geek."

"Fuck you," was my reply. We have that kind of relationship.

"Look," he said, turning serious. "You're not fat. I wish I looked the way you do. But with your cholesterol, you can't afford to screw around. Are you taking your meds every day?"

"Yes."

"Bullshit."

"Fuck you," I repeated. "I might miss a day every month or so, but they sit next to my bed and I tend to take them before I crawl under the covers."

"You know, most patients aren't honest with their doctors," he said. "We'll see." He wrote out a requisition for a blood test and gave it to me. "Maybe they messed up the test. Promise me that you'll take your meds every day for four weeks, not missing a single night, and then get this test done. And then come back."

"Okay."

He paused, holding onto the form. "Promise me."

"I promise."

"And exercise. Lose 20 to 25 pounds. I can see it in your neck and jowls; you also have man boobs."

"Okay."

"Promise."

"I promise."

He handed me the form. "Okay. You're not fat, but you are a geek."

"Is that fat, or phat?"

"I don't give a shit. Just take your meds and lose the weight."

My diet—the first diet I've ever been on—started last Thursday.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tastes for Summer


Patio season has finally arrived in Ottawa! The temperatures, while not yet summer-like, are warm enough to drive the masses outdoors and bask in the glory of double-digits.

Many breweries across Ontario and elsewhere are introducing special beer to quench the thirst of the outdoor crowd. This is the time of year when flavoured wheat ales and other lighter brews flourish.

Mill Street, for example, has launched it's summer sampler, a six-pack that includes not only its flagship beer, Tankhouse Ale (my all-time favourite), but also some other favourites like the Organic Lager and Stock Ale. It also features a summertime pleaser, the light-bodied, refreshing Lemon Tea beer. But what I like about this sampler is that this year, it is offering two beers that previously were only available at the Ottawa brew pub location: the Walker's Blueberry Wheat Ale (which I haven't yet tried) and Ambre de la Chaudière (my favourite of the Ottawa brews).

Run—don't walk—to your nearest LCBO store and pick this sampler up.

I've had this sampler in the past, and one beer that used to come with it was their Ginger Beer, a ginger-flavoured ale that still retained a bitterness with a clean finish. While this beer is no longer available in the sampler, I found it on tap at the Ottawa brew pub. The LCBO does not list it.

The other week, I was shopping in my local liquor store, looking for a summer beer to sample, and a bottle caught my attention, immediately reminding me of the Mill Street Ginger Beer. And with a thistle on the logo, I immediately and correctly guessed that this brew came from Scotland. That bottle was Crabbie's Alcoholic Ginger Beer.

A taste comparison was in order.

Here are the details:
John Crabbie & Co.
Glasgow, Scotland
LCBO: $3.65, 500 ml; 4% ABV

In all honesty, there should be no comparison. Crabbie's isn't beer. Indeed, the LCBO classifies it as a wine cooler. I didn't know that until I tasted it.

On the pour, Crabbie's is a deep brass colour: sort of a coppery gold. The head is a white foam, which dissipates after a few minutes. Looking at it in my glass, it looked like a beer to me.

It's on the nose that everything changes. With the Mill Street Ginger Beer, I get hops with a tinge of ginger. The ginger is faint, but there. On the Crabbie's, I was hit with intense ginger that tickled my nose and almost made me sneeze. And I thought, whoa... this smells like non-alcoholic ginger beer. I could detect a strong candy-like smell. No hops on this stuff, mates.

On the palate, it all came clear to me: the intense ginger beer flavour carried through. Crabbie's is sweet. There is nothing that remotely identifies this beer with the hoppy goodness of Mill Street's Ginger Beer. Mill Street tastes like a beer; Crabbie's tastes like pop. The alcohol in Crabbie's is totally lost in the sweet cloying richness. You could drink it very quickly, though the intensity of the ginger might burn your throat. Mill Street, at 5% ABV (I think), blends well with the flavours of the beer... actual beer.

Did I like Crabbie's? Absolutely, once I got over the disappointment of knowing I wasn't drinking beer. I love ginger beer: I love the bite and the aromas. On a patio this summer, Crabbie's would fit in nicely. The LCBO got it right in classifying this beverage (it actually says "Beverage" on the label, but without my glasses, I missed it in the store) with the wine coolers. It has that feel to it.

If you're looking more for a beer, go with Mill Street Ginger Beer. It's perfect for a hot day on the patio.

Bring on summer!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Solved At Last


It's been a long week of clues for this month's Where In Ottawa, but yesterday the mystery was finally solved. The location for the photo is the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa.


Congratulations to Nikolai, who figured it out. By request, he has claimed an electronic copy of Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary.

Here's a breakdown of the clues:
  1. One of four—the beam that appears in the shot for the game is a defining feature of the structure. There is one on each of the four corners of the roof.
  2. Meeting point—this clue has a couple of meanings: the Unitarian Church is a congregation of faiths, a place where everyone can meet; also, each of the beams flow up the spire of the building, meeting at the point.
  3. A river's view—not only do the rear windows of the building look out across the Ottawa River Parkway, but also out onto the river. And vice-versa.
  4. Calls itself First, but where is the Second?—this structure is home of the First Unitarian Congregation; as far as I know, there is no Second Unitarian Congregation.
  5. Do you see the POINT?—if you're travelling along the parkway, yes, you do.
  6. Lotta Hitschmanova—this was a givaway:  a Canadian humanitarian, Lotta helped to found the Unitarian Service Committee (USC) of Canada with the help of the people of the Ottawa Unitarian Congregation. A bust of her stands inside the church.
What did you think? Too hard? Too easy? Just right?


You know, if you want a copy of my book so badly, you could just buy it. That would make me very happy. Thank you.

And thank you again for playing along. I loved the enthusiasm and frustration I caused.

The next Where In Ottawa is June 4.

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