Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Longest Day

Friday, February 28, 1997

I remember the sunshine and how it illuminated the landscape, so far below.

The Rocky Mountains—how they looked close enough to touch, the jagged ridges and snowy peaks. Up the Alaskan Panhandle, following the shoreline of the bay, the water was so clear and clean. The snowy land came to meet the water and plunged into the emerald depths, still visible on that sun-soaked day.

Approaching Anchorage, the horizon to the north became blanketed in low, feathery clouds, through which the peak of Mount McKinley—Dinali—rose like a resting giant.

On the long journey, from Vancouver to Tokyo, there was lots to do besides stare out the starboard window. Having been seated in the centre aisles of the oversized but under-filled Canadian Airlines flight, the only time in which DW and I could capture a glimpse outside the cabin was when we got out of our seats to stretch and wander to one of the portholes of the exit doors.

We had plenty of time to do that. We had plenty of time to do lots of things.

Watch three movies. Read. Nap. Eat. Watch another movie.

When the meal tray arrived, I was offered chicken or beef. I wasn't particularly hungry but asked for the chicken anyway. When the attendant realized that the last chicken had already been given, I was offered beef, instead. I declined.

"Are you sure?" I was asked.

"No, thanks."

"Can I bring you some cheese and crackers? I can bring you some after I finish with the cart."

I expected one of those miniature packets of Kraft cheddar and saltine crackers. "Sure, that's fine. Thank you."

I dozed off before the attendant returned. DW and I had an entire centre aisle to ourselves, five seats upon which we could stretch out. I took off my shoes, lifted the arm rest between two seats, and curled up.

When I awoke, one of the trays to the seat at my feet was open. On it, a white china plate with gold edges sat with an even whiter, cloth napkin, which covered an assortment of cheeses and high-quality crackers. Obviously, brought from first class. After my nap, it was a treat that made me glad that we had chosen this carrier.

(I miss Canadian Airlines.)

The sun followed us on our westward journey, slowly overtaking us. As we crossed the International Date Line, we jumped ahead to Saturday afternoon, skipping Friday night, though in our minds, it was still Friday. And though we napped, off and on, our bodies and minds were beginning to feel the effects of fatigue.

On our final stroll around the cabin, we looked out the window to see Tokyo, sprawled out like a scar on the natural landscape. We took our seats and buckled up as our plane began its descent.

Our journey wasn't quite over, yet.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Twenty Years Ago

One of my colleagues and close friends didn't think we'd do it.

I believe that Phil was projecting his own reluctance to pulling up roots and beginning a new adventure. "You're not going," he'd say. Maybe, he wanted us to stay, wanted me to continue working side-by-side with him. But that wasn't the path I wanted, wasn't where I wanted to continue. If I didn't go, I knew I'd remain in a life that I hadn't carved out for myself, but rather had fallen into.

And I wanted out.

I don't know why my buddy thought I wouldn't do it, wouldn't leave the country and head to the other side of the planet, to start a job that I had never done before, never trained for. Throughout our friendship, everything that I said I would do, I had done.

I said I would fly to England, Wales, and Paris. I did that. I said I would hike from Frontenac Provincial Park to Kingston (a 60-kilometre walk). I did that. I said I would backpack out to the Gaspé Peninsula. I did that.

True, those were temporary excursions, ones that weren't life-altering. This new adventure was a big leap, would definitely alter my life.

When he had raised his doubts, however, I had already gone past the point where I could just say, "you know, you're right, forget it," and go on with my life in Ottawa.

I had already quit my job. I'm sure that I could have gone back, if I wanted, but I had wrapped up any loose ends, had said all of my goodbyes, had closed the books. Customers had given me gifts, coworkers had thrown farewell parties.

DW and I had already given up our apartment, had most of our belongings in long-term storage, with the rest divvied up with family members. Our car was sold. We were homeless, taking up temporary space in my parents' guest room, relying upon them for transportation.

The tax people already had us registered as non-residents, with mounds of paperwork signed and filed.

It was the delay that might have raised Phil's doubts. We were packed and ready to go at the beginning of January, but our work visas had been delayed on the far end. Our flight tickets were delayed and re-issued three times—taken care of by our future employer. For more than six weeks, we waited, keeping a low profile so that we wouldn't have to say our goodbyes again.

It was a foggy morning and the roads were covered in slush, as freezing rain threatened to delay our departure. As my folks drove us to the airport, we passed my manager as she was driving, in the same direction, on her way to work. We waved furiously and I called out the open window, "We're finally leaving!"

Ottawa to Toronto, and then to Vancouver, where we would spend a 24-hour layover before we continued, to Tokyo, and finally to Seoul, South Korea.

The weather delayed our liftoff from Ottawa, added to the stress that already filled DW's and my chests. As we sat on the tarmac, wondering how long we would remain in Ottawa, a real fear of missing our Toronto connection became evident. The Canadian Airlines flight attendant who took care of us sensed our anxiety and checked the conditions at Pearson International. Our connection was on time.

By the time we lifted off, we were more than 30 minutes late, when we had only an hour between connections. As we were preparing to land in Toronto, our attendant drew out a plan of the airport, showed us where our plane would rest and where our next flight would await us. Our crafts would be on opposite ends of the terminal.

He handed us a litre bottle of water. "Take this," he said, "you'll have no time to stop once you enter the terminal and it could be a while before you have a chance to hydrate." We thanked him for his kindness and prepared for our sprint with our carry-on baggage, not knowing if our large suitcases, which held most of the possessions we would need for the next year, would follow us on our connecting flight.

At the very least, we thought, our stored luggage would have 24 hours to get to Vancouver.

It made it on to our flight.

We arrived in British Columbia on Thursday, February 27, 1997. It was the furthest I had been from home, in Canada. Not the furthest I had ever been from home—as of that date, the honour belonged to Berlin, Germany. That time, not only had I been so far from home, I was totally on my own.

And now, I was about to travel further from home than I had ever been before. But at least I wasn't going to do it alone.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Photo Friday: Better Than Real

On Tuesday, as I was getting ready to leave the office for the day, I began to think of my upcoming evening. I had my stand-up comedy class to go to and I would probably pay a visit to the Arrow & Loon, where I would try the latest February seasonal from Beau's.

And, there was still the matter of my POTD project.

At more than 50 days, I'm looking forward to a change in season. I'm running out of ideas for winter shots and there are plenty of images that I'd like to capture as soon as the snow is gone. I have some springtime ideas, summer shots, and autumn images lined up.

Because I can't take a photo of the same subject, I'm finding that I'm running out of ideas. I do have some leeway—if I take a picture of Parliament Hill, for example, I can still shoot the site again, as long as I don't capture the same angle, the same time of day, and so on. I've already taken a photo of downtown Ottawa, from the Gatineau side of the Ottawa River, in which Parliament features. I still feel that I could take a shot of the Centennial Flame, with the Peace Tower in the background, or the Snow Birds flying over The Hill on Canada Day, streaming coloured smoke.

Like I did last summer.

I've already taken a picture of my drone, as it lifted off from a darkened room. It's not a great shot, but I've captured my drone and I won't do it again.

So, on Tuesday, I was thinking about where to drive, in Ottawa, on my way to the Arrow & Loon, before I went to my stand-up class, to take my daily photo. And it occurred to me: why drive south when there are places to the north of me. Working in Gatineau, along Highway 5, I'm at the doorstep of Gatineau Park. It's only a 15-minute drive to Wakefield.

That's where I went.

On an overcast day that threatened to rain, I thought I'd try my luck with the covered bridge. I didn't want stark shadows and wanted a mix of the river and snow, so the light of the day was perfect.

I took many shots at each end of the bridge, as well as inside, but I knew that I wanted to make my way down to the river's edge, and that's where I got my shot.

My photo of the day, aptly entitle, Covered Bridge.

When I returned home, tired, after my class, I processed the photo and posted it to social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Flickr. But then, I decided to play with the photo some more, and ran it through Prisma. Again, I shared it, but only on Instagram and Twitter.

I don't post my photos, seeking gratification from viewers liking the shots, though it is nice to see. But what I found was that more people liked the Prisma-filtered shot than the original shot (which has been enhanced, but not by much).

I don't know, what do you think?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Summer of '68

One of the things that I plan to do, this year, is to go back to the old neighbourhoods that I lived in, in Montreal, before my family moved to Ottawa. I haven't seen them since we left, though one of them, I've passed countless times as I've driven to Montreal, for family visits and vacations.

I was three when we left for the nation's capital, for our townhouse in Parkwood Hills, in Nepean. Before then, we lived in an apartment building, in Dorval, across Highway 20 from the airport. At the end of our street, where it ended at the highway, a giant held a muffler.

In the summer of 1968, I remember playing on the lawn outside our building, with my older sister, Holly, and her friends. One day, my folks set up an inflatable pool on that lawn, and Holly and I spread out our towels and lounged the afternoon away.

In the fall, she would be starting school for the first time, in our new city. The school was new, too.

Until then, there was the summer.

I wonder what that neighbourhood looks like now. This year, I plan to find out.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Where My Education Began

It looked so much bigger, then.

It was only a couple of years old when I first attended, first lined up on the far end, where the roof lines sloped, where the kindergarten section, with its one floor but high ceilings were separate from the mainstream classrooms. I remember the door being so much bigger, the entrance wider, able to allow several people to enter at once.

Little people, perhaps.

We lined up along this wall on my first day. Through the door, turn to your right, and you were in kindergarten.
Opened for Canada's centennial, the hallways and gymnasium floor still showed fresh paint when I first walked its halls, in the fall of 1970.

Can you recognize me in this kindergarten photo?
I remember the classrooms, the gym, the library, the different doors that you went through, depending on your grade. I remember all of my teachers: Miss Ash, Mrs. Sainthill, Madame Archambault, Miss Summers and Miss Ryan, Mr. Meredith, Mr. Fulcher, Mr. Townsend.

I remember the librarian, Mrs. Redmond, who, when I returned for a visit, three and a half years after I left, remembered me as I walked down the hallway. "Ross Brown, long time, no see," she said, as I stepped into her domain. I was one of the few boys in my grade who liked going to the library, liked reading, would consume any book that she pulled out for me.

I remember the principal, Mr. Gordon, who was famous for quieting the students in the auditorium by placing his index finger to his lips and softly calling into a microphone, "Shh... shh... listening... listening... ." We would shush and we would listen.

I remember our vice-principal, Mr. Gouge, who was the enforcer, who disciplined those who misbehaved. I spent a week in detention, with Mr. Gouge, because my friends and I threw snowballs at a school bus, and when the driver came after us and my friends scattered, I was the one who got caught, but I wouldn't give up the names of my accomplices.

When I heard that Century Public School was slated to be closed at the end of this school year, many memories returned. Over the coming months, I hope to share those memories. I hope to talk to the principal, to explain that I'm an alumnus, and ask him if I could capture photographs of the hallways, stairwells, classrooms, library, and gymnasium, before the school shuts its doors.

I have a lot of history inside those doors. It's where my education began, where, by my final year, I had decided that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, even though I had written stories before then and had continued after I left.

In a way, it will be my coming full-circle on who I was, and who I have become.

It looked so much bigger, then. And in my mind, it's still an enormous place.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Dreaming of an Old Friend and a Past Home

One of the people from my childhood days and I still keep in touch. She's one of my oldest friends, and every time I say that I feel as though I'm insulting her.

She's younger than me, by more than three months.

My oldest friend, who I've known for more than 20 years, is in his 60s. Yeah, he's old.

I saw my younger, oldest friend, last night, and even though we don't see her nearly as often as I'd like, we do still keep in touch and make an effort to get together whenever we can. She and her husband don't live in Ottawa, and so I only see her when she comes to visit her mother and sisters, who are still here, or my family and I make the rare trip to Guelph, when we can.

It's funny that my friend was in town this weekend. It was only a couple of weeks ago that she was on my mind, in a dream. Not one of those types of dreams: she's my friend, one of my oldest friends.

Despite it being winter in Ottawa, my dream took place in the summer, where the trees were in full growth, full of dense, green leaves. The roads were dry and people were out in droves.

My friend and I were cycling around Ottawa—the dream had us near the Portage Bridge and the Ottawa River Parkway. At the start of my dream, I wasn't as surprised by my friend's presence as I was wondering whose bike I was riding, and why I wasn't on my own.

My real-life bike was so much better.

As quickly as we had found ourselves on the western edge of the downtown core, we had somehow whisked ourselves to the east-end suburbs of New Edinburgh: specifically, on Douglas Avenue. We cycled down the road that I haven't been on since I lived there, in the summer of 1990, when I had a basement apartment in a three-story house that was owned by the sister of another friend, who I've known since journalism school.

(I keep friends for a very long time.)

As we cycled down Douglas, I didn't recognize the houses that lined the avenue. Many of the houses on that street were more than 50 years old, but the houses in my dream seemed more modern. As we approached the halfway point, between Beechwood and Putman Avenues, we rolled past a vacant lot and I realized that this was the spot where my old house lay. Instead of the three-story house, a rectangular lot, where the foundation had been filled with gravel, marked the once-grand structure. Only a recess, where steps led down to the basement door, was recognizable.

I tried explaining to my friend the layout of the basement, walking over the gravel to map out the corridor from the interior basement steps, past my bathroom, and down a hall to my bedroom.

It was at this point where the dream began to fade and I began to return to the real world, as my alarm woke me from my sleep.

The dream is foggier now. But what remains clear is my old friend, the bike ride, and the vacant lot.

An old friend, who is still very much a part of my life, and an old house, which lasted for only a brief time in my past and hasn't been thought of since.

Dream analysts: fill your boots.

Note: when I started writing this post, I consulted Google Maps to get a street view of my old home, where I lived in a basement apartment for about four months or so, in 1990. The house is gone, replaced by a modern structure, as have many of the houses down Douglas Avenue. I haven't seen that street in more than 25 years, but in my dream I somehow knew that everything had changed.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Photo Friday: Light Bright

I always think that historic buildings should be lit up at night. Sadly, not all of them are.

I pass this old school on Slack Road from time to time, and I often think that if I ever won millions of dollars, I might buy this building and turn it into a brewery. I'd call it Old School Brew House. I'd ask my good friend and brewer extraordinaire, Perry, to let his imagination soar.

Assuming he would be interested in working with me. (Oh, the arse jokes would fly!)

I have no idea who is using this building now, but I do feel it should be lit at night.

Until then, if I want to capture it, I'll have to rely on my car headlights. On a snowy night, they'll do in a pinch.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Booth House

It's been a while since Where In Ottawa has been solved in such a short period of time. The record of six minutes still stands but there are few who can say that they've solved it in less than one hour.

DaniGee is one of those few.

Booth House is a building that she used to walk by regularly, when she worked downtown, and she would often wonder about what it might have been like when it was used as an actual house, rather than its current state.

Located at 252 Metcalfe Street, where it meets MacLaren Street, this Queen Anne Revival house, built in 1909, was the residence of Ottawa's lumber baron, John Booth. Today, it's the Laurentian Leadership Centre Of Trinity Western University.

If you're looking for a career in politics, this is the place to be, in the heart of Centretown.

DaniGee solved the photo challenge in only 39 minutes from the time that the contest opened. She must have studied the ornate stone gables closely. And, with the street number carved in the stones that hung above the front door, there was a way to confirm her suspicions.

Or, perhaps, she just plain knew. Congratulations, Dani!

When I saw this house, I too wondered how it looked in its original setting. What buildings and residences surrounded it? Who were Booth's neighbours?

The next Where In Ottawa is Monday, March 6.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Family Hour

I am by no means a prude.

There is very little that makes me uncomfortable as a topic discussion. I can think of two issues that make me uneasy: children and women being abused. But even then, I can talk about them—though my opinion is simple: hang the abusers.

And while I do think we should be able to talk about anything, I do believe that there is a time and place for that discussion.

No one can dispute I'm a CBC junkie. I've talked about it on occasion, on this blog. I follow most of the CBC Ottawa folks on Twitter, and I've met more than a few. I've been on CBC Radio twice and my photos regularly appear during the evening weather reports. And my Bate Island Project video was featured on a segment of the dinner-hour news broadcast and was also shared on their Web site. 

I love CBC.

But I wasn't thrilled with a particular article on a favourite Saturday-morning program, Day 6. It wasn't the subject of this 18-minute segment that bothered me. And in voicing my disdain, I seemed to get in a bit of a Twitter back-and-forth with one of the people behind the show.

The segment was the second in what I believe is a three-part series on the porn industry. In this segment, host Brent Bambury (who I really liked when he was the host of our local afternoon show, All In A Day) explored the economics of today's porn industry and why it seems to be losing money, hard as that seems (pun intended) in this age of electronic access.

I had missed part one of this series because my wife and I went to the gym for a spin class and then went grocery shopping before getting home in time to tune into Because News, which we both absolutely adore. We need a good laugh at the news these days.

So, we were home for Day 6 this week, and DW had prepared pancakes, sausages, and coffee, with fresh raspberries and orange juice. Both teenage daughters were at the table/island in our wonderfully redesigned kitchen, and the radio was playing.

Brent Bambury introduced the segment, Porn-O-nomics, and my ears went up. After a couple of minutes, DW chimed in, "what the Hell is this? This is not an appropriate topic at this time of day."

We turned off the radio.

We. CBC junkies. Turned. Off. The. Radio.

There are only a couple of times when we've turned off the radio: when we haven't wanted to hear the bullshit coming out of the mouths of certain politicians, such as Stephen Harper, George W. Bush, Kelly Leitch, or Donald Trump. We give them a few minutes to spread their garbage, and then we turn the radio back on.

Sometimes, when I'm driving, if a CBC host plays country music, I'll turn the volume down and then slowly bring it up to see if the song is over.

But I never turn a program off. Never. Until Saturday.

It wasn't because I was offended by the topic. Personally, I don't get much out of porn. It's not my thing. But I respect those who are into it.

It's not even that I wanted to shelter my teenage girls from the subject. I'm not stupid: I'm sure they've had various discussions with their friends, have maybe even seen a bit of it.

What I objected to was the timing of this show. It was Saturday morning, during brunch. A large number of families have a late breakfast on the weekend, and I imagine a good percentage of them listen to the radio during this time.

I don't want to hear about the porn industry while I'm biting into a sausage.

Day 6 has some edgy pieces, such as when they talk about the wars and violence around the globe. Often, my kids will hear and they will engage. They are bright young women who want to know about what is going on in the world. And I've never sugar-coated the news from them.

I draw the line at porn.

At breakfast.

If this show wants to do an exposé (pun intended) on the sex industry and other racy stories, perhaps they should move to a later time slot, such as later in the afternoon or evening.

You know, when my kids are off doing other things and aren't sitting with DW and me at the breakfast table, listening.

Not when I'm having a nice family meal.

Part three of their series airs this Saturday. I think I'll go to the gym and do some grocery shopping between 10 and 11.

But I'll make sure to tune in to CBC for Because News. I like to play along and laugh.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Where In Ottawa LXII

I'm a master of procrastination.

Last weekend, on the day before I was planning to prepare the latest Where In Ottawa photo challenge, I was feeling under the weather, and so, instead of going out to take a photo of a new location for the contest, I delved into my library of photos that I had shot in the past but had not yet used.

I have backups for this contest, just in case.

But as I was about to create the blog post, the wire that leads into my house and connects to my Internet and TV router failed, and I was unable to use my computer.

If only I had prepared in advance.

Nevertheless, I vowed to have a photo challenge in February, but only a week later.

Being a master of procrastination, I held off taking fresh photos until yesterday, and set out just as the snow storm started. I suppose I could have used the same photo that I was going to use last weekend, but I was feeling that I needed to get out of the house, and I wanted to save the other photo for a time when I was unable to go out.

Besides, it would have been a confusing photo to use, considering I had shot it during summer.

Braving the storm—witnessing one collision and narrowly evading a second—I set out and drove out all over the city. I didn't have this location in mind when I hit the streets, but as I passed it, it called out to me. And here we are.

The rules of Where In Ottawa are simple: below, you will see a photo that I shot somewhere in the Ottawa area. Your job is to identify the location by leaving a guess in the Comments section of this blog post.

You must leave your guess only in this post to qualify. Because the comments are time-stamped, everyone who plays can see the date and time that an answer is submitted. If you try to guess by any other means, whether you're right or wrong, I won't respond to that guess and you can't win.

For every day that the challenge isn't solved, I'll leave a clue in the top-left corner of my blog. Above the This is Me section. But for this month's challenge, the first clue is in the photo.

The first person to correctly identify the location wins the challenge. You can guess as many times as you like.

Ready for the challenge?

Think you know Ottawa? Prove it!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Photo Friday: Listen

I really don't know what this place is. It doesn't line up with the airport. I've never seen any activity at the place, any time I've cycled past it, on my rides to and from North Gower.

Six sheds. Six antennae. Out in the middle of nowhere.

Are they listening stations? What are they listening to? Who is listening?

I like to think that they're reaching out for signals, far beyond our planet, beyond our solar system.

I think they'd need bigger antennae.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Stranger Magnet

"Oh, it's so busy."

The voice was soft, almost reflexive, but I had a feeling that the words were directed at me. The gentle hand, grasping my forearm, confirmed that the voice was talking to me.

"I guess that means it's good."

It was hard to pinpoint her age. Anywhere from her mid 20s to early 30s. A pretty-enough face: it was all I could see. Her parka done up tightly, the hood enclosing her head, the fur trim masking all but a few strands of sandy-blonde hair. Her deep, blue eyes were far away, as though she were looking at another world.

She wasn't all there.

I smiled. "Yeah, it's good. At this time, it's always busy. There are three schools across the street." The Subway was the only fast-food restaurant on Boulevard de la Cité des Jeunes, close to the high school, Cégep de l'Outaouais, and Heritage College. It became busiest, I found, between 11:30 and 12:30. Closer to 1:00, it thinned out but there were always a half-dozen students in line. And it was a good Subway because of the high volume. The ingredients were replenished often.

Having answered her, I turned to face the line and kept moving closer to make my order.

"Hmm... I think I'll have a bowl of chili. What do you think?"

"The chili's okay," I said, only halfway turning toward her, "but I find it a little too salty."

"That's not good." She sounded utterly disappointed. "Hey, do you know if there's a bar nearby? I could use a hot toddy. I'm really sick."

If there was a bar near my office, I wouldn't be at the Subway. I thought this, but didn't say it. "No, I don't know of any bar in this area."

"We should look. Do you want to look with me?" Her hand was back on my arm. My eyes turned to her again, to see if her face showed that she was kidding. Her eyes were wide, beckoning, imploring me to go with her.

She was serious.

"I'm just going to grab a sandwich and get back to work," I replied, gently lifting her hand from my arm. I smiled, sympathetically, apologetically, and turned back to the line in front of me. It was my turn.

I ordered a foot-long steak and cheese sub. Honey-oat bread. Grilled. I said it in French, just to stay in practice. The sandwich guy behind the counter must have noticed the woman and me talking, so as he started building my lunch, he asked the woman, "Et, pour vous?"

She was so close to me that I could understand him thinking we were together. I could feel her proximity, entering my comfort zone. She ordered a chicken breast sandwich. She spoke in English to the sandwich guy, who was fully bilingual.

The next person in the assembly line asked what I wanted on my sandwich: "Epinards, tomates, oignons, et du sauce sud-ouest. C'est tout, merci."

"Ooh, they have spinach," the soft voice over my shoulder exclaimed, "that's new."

"About a year or so," I conceded, not looking back.

Our sandwiches were wrapped and lined up, side-by-side, waiting for the person that was ahead of me to finish paying for her meal. When my turn came up, the man behind the cash register saw me, looked at my shadow, and asked, "Êtes-vous ensemble?"

"Non," I said, "juste un sandwich."

"Aww..." she sounded crushed. I ignored her.

"A porter." (French for to go.)

"Don't you want to stay and eat?"

If I'm in a crowded room, with hundreds of people, and one strange person seeks out somebody in that crowd, I will be that somebody. I can't explain it, but I'm a stranger magnet. I attract the weird folks on this planet. So far, it's never caused me harm. It's taken me outside of my comfort zone, made me interact with someone who is a challenge.

At the time, I always ask myself, why me? 

In retrospect, it makes for great storytelling.

"I'm sorry, I can't," I said to her, trying my best to sound as full of regret as I could muster. "I have to get back to work. Another time?" I backed away, toward the door, hoping that she wouldn't follow.



I'm never going to that Subway again. It's a shame: they have good staff and the ingredients are always fresh.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Funny Guy, Again

I do a lot of things that waste time. I surf the Internet. I watch mindless hours of shows on Netflix, often series I watched when they first aired on network television.

I write this blog.

I'm also taking a night class, once a week, for no other reason than it makes me laugh and it lets people laugh at me. The laughing kind, where they're not pointing fingers at me while they do it.

I'm taking a stand-up comedy class.

Almost a year-and-a-half ago, I signed up for a sketch comedy class, and I had a great time, bouncing ideas off my classmates, listening to their ideas. We came up with about 10 sketches, which we worked on over the eight weeks of class and wrapped up the course by performing these sketches in front of students from another acting class, family, and friends.

It was a lot of fun, and even though we had to read our scripts because we hadn't taken enough time to rehearse and memorize lines, our performance was well-received.

I video-recorded the event, and one of these days, I'll share it.

This time, the material is all ours. We own it, but our teacher, actor-comedian Pierre Brault, helps us develop it. We also provide feedback to the other classmates.

Over this eight-week program, we hope to have a five to six-minute set that we will perform on our last class. Some of us may even perform live, at Absolute Comedy, in March.

I may be one of those folks, but we'll see.

If anything, this course will push me well past my comfort zone, which is the ultimate rush. I'm a shy person, by nature, but I keep trying to break myself of that social handicap.

It's fun, if not a waste of time.

Monday, February 6, 2017

This Is Not a Blog Post

Yesterday, my Internet/TV modem stopped working. Luckily, I wasn't hosting a Super Bowl party, or we'd have been looking at a blank screen.

It did give the family to spend some time off our devices, and we actually played a family game, read books, and got some much-needed rest for our eyes.

Unfortunately, it also meant that I couldn't write a blog post. Today was supposed to be a Where In Ottawa photo challenge.

I'll be postponing that contest until next Monday.

Until then, enjoy this non-blog.

Enjoy, I think, is demanding too much.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Photo Friday: Sun Dog or Cat's Eye?

It's called a Sun Dog.

It's a type of halo phenomenon that occurs when ice crystals and light that is produced from the sun interact. It can sometimes look like a rainbow that circles the sun or it can just be a partial fragment. They are especially visible when the sun is close to the horizon.

As I drove to work, on Tuesday, with the temperature plummeting to the minus 20s with the wind, a thick fog was shrouding the Rideau River. As I drove along Prince of Wales Drive, the sun was just starting its morning climb, and was burning through that river mist.

I saw the optical apparition, and left the road, moving far off the shoulder to be well out of the way of my fellow commuters.

I ran to the back of my car and pulled my camera out of the trunk, and then moved to the front of my car, creating a barrier between me and the traffic.

They call it a Sun Dog, but when I saw the images played back on my little screen, they reminded me of cat's eyes. Or, possibly, of a snake's.

What do you think?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 2, 2017


It's enough to make me want to drop my landline.

We get them all the time, nearly every day: telemarketers. And while those that are set up in Canada comply with the CRTC rules regarding do-not-disturb policies, remove us from their calling lists, and we never hear from them again (until they change their name and start the process all over again), there are the overseas telemarketers who constantly call, trying to ply whatever scam it is their employer has concocted.

Like the duct-cleaning services caller.

From the get-go, they are dishonest: "Hello, my name is Jason..."—seriously, he sounds like a Jason about as much as I sound like a Choi Tae-ha. You would seem more sincere if he introduced himself as Pavan. Or Sandeep.

I realize that I sound a bit racist when I say this, and maybe the caller's name really is Jason, just as the other voices with an Indian or Pakistani accent, who have called me, are really named Peter, Michael, Colin, and Mark.

By now, I've heard the spiel: Jason is with a duct-cleaning service, aptly named Duct-Cleaning Services, and his company is having a special for households in my neighbourhood. I've let Jason give his entire sales pitch, have played with him all the way, agreed to have his company suck the crap out of my ducts, right up until he asks for my credit card.

"Why do you want my credit-card number now?" I ask. "I prefer to provide it when the services are rendered. If you like, I can give the number when your crew arrives."

"We ask for your number to ensure that you're committed to having the service done, okaaay?" Jason calmly explains, ending his statement in the form of a question, drawing out the last word, his voice rising in pitch as he stretches it.

"I have no assurances that once I give you my credit-card information that you'll actually arrive, okaaay?" I mock.

This is when I hear the tension in Jason's voice. He takes a deep breath and says, "Of course we'll come, okaaay? Now, please, may I have your credit-card number?"

"Nah, forget it," I say, and hang up.

I try to get more creative when another Jason calls. "Duck-cleaning services?" I ask, bewildered. "I don't have any ducks. I live in the city, not on a farm. And why would you want to clean ducks? Don't they groom themselves?"

Silence, on the other end, before a laugh. "Ah, no no, sir. I said ducts, not ducks."

"I told you, this isn't a farm. I have no ducks." I hang up.

Other times: "I have no ducts," I lie, "I have electric heating. Or water. Or a wood-burning stove in my little shack. Or whatever." (I say all of those options in the same call, just to confuse Jason.)

Sometimes, Jason hangs up without a word at that response.

I also get calls from Jason, this time claiming that he's with Microsoft. "I want to help you with your Windows computer and a problem that we've detected, okaaay?" Jason is stubborn on these calls, refusing to simply go away.

"I don't use Microsoft," I lie, "I use Linux. Or Apple. Or whatever." (I say all of those options in the same call, just to confuse Jason.)

A pause. "Sir, this is about your Windows computer, okaaay? You have a problem that is affecting your computer, okaay? But I can help you, okaaay?"

I let him walk me through procedures. I tap on my keyboard and click with my mouse, but my computer is turned off.

"You should see the Remote Desktop option, okaaay?"


"Please click it, okaaay?"


"Okay," I say.

Silence on the other end. Then, "Are you sure you clicked it?"

"Yes," I say. "Here, I'll click it again." I hold my phone close to the mouse and I double-click it.

"Are you sure you're connected to the Internet?" Jason asks.

"Internet? What's the Internet?"

Jason goes silent. I hang up.

I've run out of ideas. I've told Jason that I don't own a computer, that I don't trust them, that they are a means for Big Brother to watch you, that computers are the work of the Devil. I have feigned anger and frustration when Jason calls. "Not another problem with my computer! That's it! I'm throwing it out! I'm never buying another Microsoft computer again!"

I hang up.

(Remember the satisfaction we used to get out of slamming the phone handset down onto the cradle? It's not the same when you press the OFF button.)

Jason is getting to me. His persistence in phoning, trying to solve my non-existent computer problems or trying to sell me duct-cleaning services has made me tired. My creativity for dealing with Jason has run dry. And so, lately, I've tried another tactic with Jason, when I answer the phone.


"Hello, may I please speak to Mr. or Mrs. Brown?" (There is no Mrs. Brown.)

"This is he."

"Hello, Mr. Brown, how are you today?"


The scream is a long, deafening, blood-curdling screech. As Jason asks me how I am, I suck in as much air as my lungs can hold. I let it all out, at great volume, holding the wail until my lungs are depleted, until the sound I utter is lifeless, like a gravelly moan.

Doing it once, forgetting that DD15 was in the house, I scared the shit out of her. She came running, believing that I was in great peril.

Jason is silent. His ear, no doubt is ringing, he is caught off-guard, stunned by the horror on the other end of the line.

"Okaaay?" I ask, before hanging up.