Brief and Casual

Drinks with Leslie on Wednesday was inspirational. The trip to Airdrie was surprisingly short. I’m guessing the expansion of Calgary is rapidly closing the gap. It seemed I wasn’t on the open road for more than a minute before I had to suddenly cut across four lanes to make my exit.

Leslie and I haven’t seen each other in decades and I was graced with the unique position of drinking with a friend who hadn’t heard twenty years of stories. We talked about Chad quite a bit. And writing. Hence the inspiration.

The ride home was a little melancholly. The night air was warm and traffic was light. I could have ridden away for days if I’d had the opportunity. The glacial progress of the setting sun gave way to the brisk flicker of streetlights whipping past at 150 kph. I have a terrible time keeping to the speed limit on my bike these days. If I don’t get out of third gear it feels like a wasted trip. Plus the bike just rumbles happily at that speed. It seems to be made for it.

Thursday was cleaning and rearranging. It was supposed to be all cleaning but I got the majority of it done anyway. And I like the layout of my bedroom better. Now I just need to get rid of the last few pictures and my two ammo boxes stacked in its corner. Not sure if I’m going to hang the pictures or throw them out. They’re all too large to fit into the trunk for storage and I have to put them somewhere. So many of them don’t fit into how I want my place to look, though. Putting them up would just look wrong.

The ammo boxes are my tool boxes now, so I need to keep them … somewhere. Not sure where yet.

Friday was more drinks with good friends and laughter. Some faux pas on my part for talking too much, but I never do know when to stop. Discretion never was my strong suit. Part of that comes from living a life where few if any consequences would matter, and part of that comes from my philosophy of straightforward communication. I confess some of it comes from my love of pulling triggers and pushing buttons as well. I do need to learn more caution, however, when it’s more than just myself in the story.

I have, in fact, been making apologies this weekend for saying too much. Yes, that’s apologies plural. I’m really not very good at discretion.

But Friday night was good. Really good. I was able to talk with a new friend about things she already understood without my having to go into entire libraries of background information and a glossary. It was fantastic to just talk without having to stop and clarify every two sentences.

It was also excellent seeing the Dargies again after too long an absence.

I just have to remember there are discretionary points at which I should probably just stop talking.

Saturday was the rest of the cleaning and a much larger shopping trip than I had planned. In Thursday’s rearrangement I finally decided to get rid of the floor lamp that’s been balancing precariously in my living room for the past year. The top was completely free floating and stayed put only so long as there wasn’t a stiff breeze. The light had to be turned on full brightness or there was this metalic, electronic hum that made my eye teeth ache. And full brightness was far, far too bright for my little condo. It had to go.

Which meant I had to find a replacement. So I went in to Ikea Saturday morning for a little shopping. I found two replacements in the form of a pair of holmos. Don’t look at me funny, that’s the Ikea product name for them. But I have to say, there’s nothing like a pair of holmos to brighten up a room.

And the holmos were cheap, too. I got them for $20 each.

The trip itself wasn’t cheap, however. I came away with two dozen new glasses for other people to drink out of. My original Ikea glasses are Joel sized, just over a liter each. Numerous people have given me raised eyebrows and casual comments about “size” that got me thinking people other than me might feel a tad uncomfortable about drinking from a half pitcher. So I purchased a dozen relatively “normal” sized glasses for other people to drink out of.

And frames. I bought frames as well.

After having hung most of my pictures and putting away the rest I knew I needed to cull the frames and pictures that I already have. But then I also have all these Paul Chadwick prints that are being wasted by sitting in storage all the time, and I found a set of frames that might just fit them and get them out. So, yeah, after struggling to figure out which old picture frames I wanted to throw out because I don’t have room for them I brought five more home.

People should not allow me to shop at Ikea by myself.

Saturday’s party was pretty good. Not wild or crazy, but still fun. I got several drawings done up on my couch but there’s still tons of free space to work with. I’ve decided that drawing on my couch is now going to become the casual activity for future gatherings. When we start gaming again any unconscious or otherwise disabled character will result in the player picking up a couch cushion, shuffling through my bucket-o-markers, and drawing something new. I already love the stuff I have now and I’m dying to get more. It’s kind of like tattoos for your home. Each new image you receive has you yearning for more.

One of the highlights of Saturday was having Julie visit, someone I also haven’t seen in over a decade. Although I could have done without Leslie and Julie bringing their nineteen year old “kids” with them and making me feel incredibly old. (I jest, the kids are great… intelligent and quirky just like their parents)

Another highlight was the gift of two road signs created by Mike Dargie himself. A pair of his own road side variations, one “caution: pirates” and one “need head”. The Pirates, I think may find a home on the washroom door. The “need head”, of course, makes the most sense on the bedroom door. I know, it’s terribly college-dorm-room in it’s theme but the signs are fun.

Sunday morning was cleaning all over again. More than just cleaning up from the party I also found myself vacuuming all over again. I’d only just vacuumed on Thursday night and here it was, less than 72 hours later, and I swear the dust bunnies were breeding giant mutant offspring because there were rolling tumbleweeds of fluff collecting in the spaces I know for a fact I’d vacuumed clean on Thursday.

I had the place completely cleaned by early afternoon, though, and it felt great. All the garbage was gone, all the laundry done, and the dishes either hand washed or clean and drying in the dishwasher. All the tech and pens and whatnot was put away. My refridgerator is now packed with food and booze, however, and while I can bring the food to work the booze is just going to wind up staying there until someone comes over to drink it. I’ve been taught that drinking alone is pathetic. I tried it once, just to check, and yeah it’s pretty sad.

Sunday afternoon was divided up by the brief visit of a friend in my dark cool hiding place. Conversation was had and ice chilled beverages were consumed. No sooner did I drop friend off at home than my continued reverie was interrupted by yet another call. Scott offered his apologies for losing his battle with tequila Saturday afternoon and thus missing the party. By way of consolation he offered to ride with me to Cochrane for ice cream and I readily agreed. I’d been trying to think of a good excuse to take my bike out and this was a perfect opportunity.

Like a good Doctor with his Tardis our grizzled badger had a companion with him, a young lady who’s name I’m very embarrassed to admit I’ve forgotten, and keep forgetting despite having met her three times now. She’s a good foil for Scott, as any Doctor’s Companion should be, and we paired up for a volley of “poke the badger” with reasonable coordination. Badger retaliated with a debasement of Simon Pegg movies and Douglas Adams books, the humors of which he apparently finds tiring. We rebutted with a simple defection and she rode back to Calgary with me. That’ll teach the grizzled tuner to besmirch the names of such luminaries.

It was pleasant having a rider for the trip back. While I barely know the woman her presence was notable and welcome. Legs against my hips and arms around my chest, it was the most physical contact I’ve had in months. It’s kind of sad when something so brief and casual actually becomes noteworthy.

It probably would have been a lot more relaxing if the bright yellow “low fuel” light hadn’t been glaring at me for the latter three quarters of the trip. There aren’t any gas stations that I’m aware of on the number 8 highway, and when I took a brief detour into Lakeview for the one gas station I knew was there I found, much to my annoyance, it was closed. I wasn’t terribly worried. I’d managed a good half hour into Golden with that yellow light glaring at me last summer so I knew I actually had plenty of fuel left. It was just embarrassing to have forgotten to fill up before embarking on our trip in the first place.

I feel bad for having just dropped her off and not stopped to chat a while, but I wasn’t entirely sure how much longer my bike would keep running.

Monday was a test of my reserve, and I cracked a bit. I was curt with a few customers and outright stoic to one in particular. I think I’m definitely ready for a vacation. The weekend was very nice and relaxing, but the two days were far too short. Sixteen days off won’t feel much longer, I fear, but I’m ready for them all the same. Just four more days to get through without scaring or scarring any more customers and I will finally be able to relax.

Just four more days.

The Condo is clean again, now that I’ve cleared away dinner and washed the pans. The stove is wiped, all debris put away, and I’ve reduced the lights down to two holmos and a candle. My little netbook is barely visible on my dining room table even as I type away at it. Radio Paradise has been delivering some lovely Morcheeba, Black Keys, Pink Floyd, and Dengue Fever tonight.

The home is dark. The home is light. The home is soothing and serene. The home is mine, and sleep awaits.

Another year older, another day wiser…

I now have some pictures to go along with some of this so I suppose it’s time for an update.

Well, long past time, I’m sure. I haven’t written a lot of blogs in the past couple of years and… that’s something I need to fix. I really just need to open up a text window and start typing away.

I turned 44 a few weeks ago. I’ll spare you the existential angst I went through at the turn of double four… suffice to say I didn’t think I’d be where I am at this age. Then again, I didn’t have any firm idea of where I’d be at all so the outcome really isn’t surprising. It’s hard to be surprised when you don’t have any expectations.

It is, however, easy to be disappointed when you don’t have any expectation. And that revelation… surprised me.

Where was I?

Oh, yes. Turning 44.

I have a wealth of friends, more than any man’s share I’m sure, and they all went to great lengths to ensure I enjoyed my birthday. Ronya, in particular, went to amazing lengths.

First there was a dinner party at Shane and Dianne’s place on Friday night with the tribe. Lots of candy and cake and a bit of Scene It: Disney style. We were all kind of curious as to why every single answer had to be prefaced with the word “Disney’s” until we got our first question about Toy Story, the answer to which was “Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story”. It pretty soon became a running joke that every answer was “Disney’s Something” unless the clue was digitally rendered in which case it was “Disney/Pixar’s Something”. It’s amazing how often copyright issues turn even the simplest things into lame jokes.

Playing Xbox at the Chinook Theater

Playing Xbox at the Chinook Theater

Saturday morning a small collection of us showed up at the Scotiabank Theater in Chinook Mall to play some Xbox. Ronya had rented out the the theater for a couple of hours and we got to play Left 4 Dead, Halo 3, and Dead or Alive 4 on the biggest projection TV screen in the world. DOA4 is even better when the jiggly bits are each bigger than you are, but Left 4 Dead was just creepy with zombies twenty feet tall and 130 decibels loud.

Playing DOA4 on the biggest widescreen ever.

Playing DOA4 on the biggest widescreen ever.

After the Xbox we transitioned over to my favorite pub, Limericks, for a lunch of my favorite greasy, cheesy food. It was a bit touch and go at first, though. It took me three tries to finally find a patio chair that wasn’t broken. The food, weather, and company very quickly made up for it, though.

After lunch… well, I had a nap, didn’t I? I’m not getting any younger, you know. An exciting day like that will take a lot out of a man my age.

After my afternoon nap we ventured up into the far northwest to Tony and Mary Ann’s’ place where we grazed on fine food and alcohol. My friends got to enjoy doodling on me like a curved, spongy white board for a while. Dianne had purchased me a plain white t-shirt and then made we wear it while everyone doodled on my with markers and fabric color pens. It’s an odd feeling being written on and it kind of made me appreciate what it might be like to be a notebook. Ronya drew epaulets on both my shoulders but many people felt they looked more like irradiated penises aiming for my ears. Others wrote across my back that I was offering free hugs… after a mail in rebate. I think my favorite bit was the pocket that got drawn on my chest, complete with pocket protector and a varied selection of pens.

Being a human sketch pad tickles

Being a human sketch pad tickles

As the dye dried on my shirt we then dove into Rock Band: The Beatles, drinks well in hand to best adapt to the mindset of the band. I have never, and probably will never, sing for Rock Band but I was given to understand that the addition of two other singers and the potential for harmonizing made the game both more interesting and more difficult. For me it was just cool playing with six people all at once.

We played through the storyline of the entire game. The best I can say is it’s definitely worth playing through once, but beyond that there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of replay-ability. Perhaps if they actually had the whole library of Beatles tunes instead of just the 35 selected tracks, or if they had even just built the game around all their chart-able hits, it might have been worth going back and playing some of them again. But some of their track choices, while providing and interesting perspective on the band’s development (you could actually *feel* the disintegration of the band’s normal cohesion throughout the last set) weren’t compelling enough to go back and play again.

That being said if they made the tracks available for download for regular Rock Band I’d be willing to download about half of them.

Playing Rock Band Beatles

Playing Rock Band Beatles

Last but certainly not least, Ronya’s family pooled money together to buy me the Carcassonne Big Box, a collection of the basic Carcassonne game and five of it’s more popular expansions.

We’ve played the game almost every day since we got it and I’m nowhere near tired of it yet. The game box itself contains an interesting feature that appeals to my detail oriented nature: the interior of the box is formed in such a way that each set of tiles ( the basic and each of the expansions ) has it’s own precision fit storage slot. This way you can pick and choose which expansions to use for the game you’re playing. (ie. if you’re feeling particularly adversarial you can put in the princess / dragon / fairy expansion) The tiles themselves are watermarked with a little symbol depicting the expansion they’re from so it’s easy to sort them all out later and put them back in their respective holes.

Yes, I’m so anal I’m gushing about the organizational packaging that came with the game more than the actual game itself.

But the game itself is great fun as well. So far I think I’ve only won two actual games but I don’t care, it’s just fun to play.

Big thanks to all my friends and family, and to my tribe, for setting up an awesome birthday weekend.

Remembering Danny

Sitting here trying to create some new discs for the house stereo. I’m trying to find new stuff, music to set and change moods that we haven’t all heard a million times…

So naturally I download an entire Gary Numan retrospective.

“Down In The Park” still takes me to places I’ve never been, and probably never will see beyond my own imagination.

I had a very odd friend back in high school. Well, okay, I’ve always had a lot of odd friends. It’s funny to realize I’m generally the most normal person in my circle.

Danny was… indescribable. A bum, quite likely, yet also a fine conoiseur of alternative music before there ever was Alternative Music. Hell, he was a massive collector of alternative music before anyone ever coined the term New Wave. David Bowie at his most Ziggy was just standard background stuff for Danny’s tastes.

Danny used to be a roadie for Pat Benetar, if you cared to believe him, before he wrecked his back forever. It was hard to believe him, of course, but he did have his ear and nose on some of the weirdest stuff to ever escape the depths of New York.

He lived on welfare and worker’s comp because of his various injuries. He rented a room from a gay landlord who was constantly trying to sneak in to his bed at night. He would have loved to have moved out but the rent was the cheapest anywhere so he just kept his door shut tight and alarmed the stairs to his bedroom with a random scattering of boxes and foil wrappers that were impossible to get past without making some kind of sound.

He walked everywhere and ate the cheapest food possible. He was socially awkward to the point of eccentricity but managed to avoid the line that crossed into offensive. Being slight of frame he managed to clothe himself from whatever he could afford at the salvation army.

All in all I suspect he managed to survive on about 100 bucks a month, including rent.

The rest he spent on records and, occasionally, gaming material. His room was like a hobbit hole dug out of a strata of vinyl, cardboard and paper. There was just enough room for him to sit on the floor next to his bed and stereo so he could make mix tapes.

Living in the small town of Saskatoon (city of 150,000, sophistication of a town of 15) we’d never heard of any of the artists he collected, like Nina Hagen and many other German punk imports. He never bought the regular commercial stuff. If there were any bits he liked he’s just borrow it from the city library and tape it for himself. He reserved his hard scrounged cash for stuff you couldn’t find anywhere else.

By the time I’d heard Gary Numan’s “Cars” and gushed with boyish glee about it Danny already had a half dozen of the man’s albums. When he found out I like Gary’s single hit he mixed me a couple of tapes of his better stuff. I immediately fell in love with “Are Friends Electric?” and set about trying to find original copies for myself. I think I managed three tapes in all.

For a couple of years Murray and I gamed with Danny, gathering in Murray’s basement every weekend. We’d start sometime on Saturday afternoon and usually finished up around six in the morning. I’d spend most of Sunday just sleeping to recover in time for school.

Good times, good times.

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My sense of community

I am resistant to so very many forms of community I often worry I’m actually antisocial or perhaps sociopathic. So little about traditional established communities appeal to me. Or, rather, their benefits do still appeal, but not enough to outweigh their costs.

Maybe I’m myopic or perhaps just plain evil but the idea of religious community has been repellent to me for as long as I can remember. Initially it was the simple resistance to the idea that I’d have to get up early every Sunday morning to prostate myself before some nebulous authority figure. Gradually it became increasingly due to the realization that any debate about religious doctrine inevitably came down to the infuriating excuse of “because it is written” without any worthwhile explanation of why one set of written word was more valid than any other.

Maybe I’m ungrateful or rebellious but the community of family has always been very elusive to me. I have never really felt like a member of my family, and I can’t put my finger on why. Perhaps I was treated differently when I was young because I was a bastard and that treatment sunk in a colored all future relations. Perhaps being an only child of a single parent left me without the experience of family, leaving me alone enough to develop more self reliance and a strong resistance to anyone infringing on my personal space. The few nights I’d had to share a bed with some cousin are edged in my brain not because of any closeness I might of felt, but rather because I never got any sleep. I’m assuming it’s something other people have gotten used to in their youth but personally I could never wrap my head around it.

So, while I might respect my extended family and grant them what social capital I’m told they’re due, I really don’t hang out with them. While I acknowledge the romantic ideal of “blood is thicker than water” my personal experience with it has been that the line is most often used by sketchy relatives looking for another loan. It’s a trump card used more often for taking than for giving.

Maybe I’m just lazy or anarchistic but I’ve never felt I could survive in the community of the military. While the promise of “no man left behind” and the confidence inherent in knowing a few thousand other guys “have your back” are both very appealing, I honestly don’t think I would survive the initiation. For one thing, I am physically lazy. If I’m not willing to get up early one day out of seven just to attend a boring lecture about some mythical directives how could I possibly be expected to get up even earlier every single day for considerably less lofty ideals? Plus my inability to keep my mouth shut when I think some tactic or plan is pure idiocy would have me shot within months of signing up. So while I salute our soldiers with respect and honestly hope they all get home safe and sound from wherever they’re stationed, behind that salute is the guilty feeling of “better you than me, pal.”

As for my local community… well, again, I may be just a tad antisocial. The only reason I know anything about any of the people in my neighborhood is because of what my wife has told me. I don’t venture much out of our yard. Hell, it’s rare when I’ll even venture out of our house. And it’s rarer still when I might start up a conversation with someone I don’t know. I’m terrible at small talk, and while I have a whole library of stories to share they’re not usually suitable for idle chit-chat. My conversations end up being the “lot of weather we’re having” and “hot enough for ya?” kind of cliches.

The internet has been as much a blessing as a curse in terms of community. While it has introduced me to thousands of specialized and rare communities ranging from the love a certain author to the enjoyment of a particular game, none of it has given me the feeling of any kind of connection. The depth of attachment tends to end around the point of “wow, you love Douglas Adams too? That’s great!” and not much further.

So what is my community?

My community is me, first and foremost. Sounds egotistical I know but anyone who says different is either kidding themselves or they need help, in my amateur opinion. But I’m the only person I genuinely can’t part with so I’d best be comfortable with who and what I am. Should be a simple thing but the closer you look at it the harder it becomes. In all honesty, I’m still working on it. After 42+ years I’m finally making progress, but the effort likely won’t end before I do.

Secondly, my community is those whom I love. Sounds obvious and, really, it is. These are the people who love me for me. As someone once put it a friend is someone who, once you’ve made a complete fool of yourself, doesn’t feel you’ve done a permanent job. They admire you for your positives, forgive you for your negatives, and will remember how you like your coffee, that you’re allergic to shellfish, and that they shouldn’t bring up that ill fated trip to Utah anymore.

Friends, it has been said, are the family you choose. Not being particularly attached to the family dynamic, in my mind your friends are the community that builds organically around you. Like a coral reef turning the crushed and rusted debris of your past into a floral panorama that takes your breath away.

Thirdly, my community is those people who believe in me. Tightly intersected with that second group above, and occasionally touching on the first group of “me”, are the people who know I exist and think this is a pretty good thing. Whether or not they’re friends usually depends on time and circumstance. But at least they’re not out to get me.

The problem with such a community is that it’s rather fluid. Other communities will back their members up such that when someone challenges them with “Yeah? You and what army?” their members can jab their thumb over their shoulder and say “That army.” (Particularly those, you know, in an actual army… but I’m bordering on the literal so I should let it go at that.)

So I can’t tell you who my community IS, per se. I don’t have a label for them, or any kind of commonality between them. But at least I know who they are, I know I can count on them, and best of all I know why I can count on them: they like me, and I like them. And that’s the best kind of community I can think of.