Saturday, October 29, 2011

Overplayed - 'Chess' at the Princess of Wales Theatre


I walked out of Chess feeling delightfully young. It had nothing to do with the cast, staging, direction or those retro tingles that a rousing chorus of One Night in Bangkok inflicts upon select souls who boogied to it at high school dances in their errant youth. I actually felt young because the rest of the audience consisted almost exclusively of men and women of a certain age; I'd put them at late 50s with a few early 60s among the throng, husbands obviously come straight from the office and their spouses wearing casual clothes and one or two pieces of expensive jewelry to give their subscription-series evening a sense of occasion.

I'm 42 with grey in my beard and I still felt positively adolescent by the end of the evening. This might explain why I wasn't one of the walkouts in the first act; I saw at least 10 people discreetly make for the exits before intermission. I might be just young enough to have the patience or simple grim curiosity to sit through a musical that manages to be verbose, complicated, overlong and overpaced, all told with a background of raunchy dancers dressed in campy chesspiece costumes (think Lady Gaga by way of an Elton John yard sale in 1976 or so).

A large segment of the older audience were probably too busy in the 80s to care about the Chess concept album and too old in 2011 to recognize the Strictly Come Dancing choreography. A few of them simply zoned out or politely stepped to the exit in a very Canadian this isn't my kind of play sort of way. Maybe they were expecting Mamma Mia, the other Abba-related evening out. And when you're expecting a singalong version of Dancing Queen and get dancers wearing gold lamé jockstraps in stylized Bangkok fleshpots, perhaps it's best to call it an early night.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Old acquaintance be forgot

The early 1990s. My mid-20s. A New Years Eve I remember little about other than I spent it alone. I had been dating a musician for a long time and was convinced that I had either become very boring or she had become very distant because spending any time alone with her had become pointedly infrequent. And New Years Eve is always too loud and never what you want it to be, but being at a bad party is still being together and the odds of that felt unlikely, even before she proposed something that formalized our separate ways into something that just didn't matter, at least not to her. That could be unfair, but that's how it all felt around a New Year's Eve sometime in the early 90s.
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“Do you want to do something together on New Year’s?” Louise asked over the phone. “Because I have an idea. It’s something we both could do.”

I hadn’t planned anything. There had been a few pub nights years before, and a Solstice party a few weeks earlier and I was looking forward to finding a spot with too many people and doing the 10-9-8 count before midnight and warbling Auld Lang Syne before replacing it with more drink or food or just giving into the ritual  for a few hours. New Year's Even hadn’t always been – ever been, really – anything close to exciting for Louise and I. Our usual routine of heading out to new bands or old bands in out-of-the-way places was always something fun. I thought she was going to offer the back room of yet another a club to see a mutual friend or a friend-of-a-friend for music and wine.

She said “I’ve been asked to sing backup at one of the High Park performances, maybe do some trios. There’s a family night there at first, then some jazz when the kids have all gone home. It’s on a 20 minute cycle, 20 on and 40 off. You could be part of it.”

I imagined a cold night sitting on a cold bench for long stretches while Louise performed. I said “How, exactly?”

Friday, October 21, 2011

Didn't see this coming

The guy beside me on the subway is in his early to mid-20s, wearing a Ralph Steadmanesque t-shirt with Picnic at Hanging Rock printed in the traditional freaky Steadman script (think about the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas cover). The shirt itself is black, the printed colour something between unhealthy yellow and khaki and there’s a stylized etching of what one assumes is the titular rock with a woman falling/flying/leaping off the top in a Victorian-style dress.

I can say with complete certainty that nobody else in our subway car has the same shirt under their jacket. I really wish I had a photo of it, it would have been worth the Why is this weird man taking pictures of a stranger on the subway? response from the locals. The t-shirt wearing guy himself is a clean cut sort and doesn’t resemble Hunter S. Thompson or Withnail or any of Steadman’s other grotesques, he just looks like a film major en route to class or his shift at a video store or whatever production house awaits his services as an underpaid production assistant.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A hot cup

You're supposed to write 1,000 words a day to be a successful blogger.

Not gonna happen. And I'd like to know that definition of 'successful' anyway.

Been quiet recently.
Haven't had a clear train of thought.

That hasn't...
...stopped me before. I know, I know.

Write about anything that's on your mind.
Nothing other than craving a cup of coffee. And I can't drink coffee anymore.

Write about that.
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A Starbucks morning. “I’d like a cup of tea please. Earl Grey.”

The cashier says “Okay Captain Kirk, would you like a baked good or yogurt with that?”

“No thanks. And I think it was Captain Picard who had a thing for Earl Grey.”

The cashier pauses, rolls her eyes and says “Huh. Geek. That’s $1.27 please.”

She smiles as soon as I do, realizing that I’ve taken it in the spirit in which it was given. I don’t have any particular brand loyalty to Starbucks, it just has the darkest roast of coffee around my office and since I can’t drink coffee anymore, I walk in from time to time simply to inhale. The management (and customers) would probably think it weird for me to stand near the espresso press huffing the drawer for the spent grounds, so I try to limit myself to buying a cup of tea and not looking too wistful.
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I involuntarily stopped drinking coffee around 18 months ago. I don’t have a solid medical rationale for this. Travis suggested it was psychosomatic and I don’t disagree with him, although such low-level psychosis tends to be accompanied by a discernible trigger. But I can’t find it. If I’d been beaten up by a cardboard-cupped double-double or large latte on the way to school as a child and buried the trauma for decades (only to have it sabotage my love of coffee in my early 40s), you’d think it would at least introduce itself at the threshold of my consciousness and explain how the aforementioned cups managed the trick of locomotion and street-fighting.

I’d been drinking black coffee since I was 15, since Robert Mitchum and Lee Marvin and Paul Newman drank it black and therefore I believed I could automatically count myself among their number if I followed suit (this was, admittedly, a stretch). My maternal grandfather reminded me of all of those people and as I child I loved the rich scent of my grandmother’s perked coffee on a gas stove. And my grandfather drank black coffee. I could steal a taste from time to time and, like most coffee, it smelled better than it tasted (especially so for my grandmother’s brew). But the association for me was formed: good coffee, properly appreciated in the right tough-guy fashion, had to be knocked back hotter than hell and black as sin.

This habit continued for 25 years or so, until a Friday afternoon when I realized that every cup of coffee I’d procured from the three local pushers to my office (a Second Cup, a Mmmuffins and a Tim Hortons) was nauseating swill to me. It smelled like coffee at first, but every mouthful of every blend would hang on my palate like coffee-flavouring that had been drowned in salt water or grease. I thought that my handy-dandy environmentally-friendly stainless steel mug was leeching residue from cups that had come before, but it was cleaned every night and stainless steel is usually pretty inert. Drinking from paper cups didn’t improve anything, and the coffee I made at home was worse.


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