My Vancouver Apartment

IMG_5418

After I moved out of the Kitsilano Hell Hole, I moved into an apartment on a main street in Fairview with a friend from my program, Stephen. When Stephen first showed me the apartment, I thought it was nice enough that I would happy living in it and it was shitty enough to remind me that I haven’t hit the peak of my prosperity yet. I still feel the same way about it. The apartment is dilapidated and it makes me happy, though admittedly, a new kitchen counter and hardwood floors would only increase my affection for the place. The apartment has high ceilings and a lot of windows, so it gets great light. The kitchen and living room windows look out onto what has been dubbed the courtyard. The courtyard is a four by six foot square of black tar with poor drainage bordered on two sides by our apartment’s windows and on the other two sides by fifteen foot high cinder block walls. I could probably get onto the courtyard by way the window, but the window is only two feet wide and I’m afraid that I would either get stuck in the courtyard and have to ask the people above me to lower a rope so I could climb out the top or that the tar floor would collapse and I would end up in middle of the cafe below me. The bedroom windows look out onto what would function as a balcony if the space wasn’t occupied by a staircase. My view of the back alley and the people rifling through the recycling isn’t unobstructed by the staircase, but based on the staircase’s position, anyone coming down from the floor above has to make a turn that puts them directly in front of my large bedroom window. Essentially, if I have the blinds open and I’m sitting at my desk in my Perry the Platypus t-shirt, I’m looking out onto the people walking down the stairs like, ‘Hello there, friends! Thanks for stopping by!’ Needless to say, I close the blinds when I’m sleeping, dressing, eating granola with my fingers and practicing yoga inversions.

IMG_5497

Our apartment is surprisingly well furnished. Nearly everything in the apartment came from IKEA. It was either from the trip out to the Richmond IKEA Stephen and I made or it was purchased from the Icelandic man who lived here before us, Arnie. I refer to Arnie as our Icelandic benefactor because in addition to supplying us with a TV, light wood IKEA living room furniture, a rocking chair likely salvaged from the aforementioned alley and half a table certainly salvaged from the same place, he provided us with most of our IKEA dishes and cutlery. I got to meet Arnie before he moved to Sweden, so I find the traces of our Icelandic benefactor to be a source of joy in this apartment.

I don’t know my neighbours well but everyone I have met has been really friendly. It seems like everyone in the building is a student, a tattoo artist (a tattoo parlour operates out of the building’s first floor) or is unemployed. In the summer, my tattoo artist neighbours said, we’ll have a party up on the roof of the building. It’s easy to get up, they said. You just have to climb up a ledge and onto a table.

IMG_5294

At the start of January, Kelly came to visit me. I had given her advance warning about the shape the place was in, but she found the apartment to be nicer than the average European hostel. I also warned her that we can usually hear the people above us at night. On her first Saturday in my apartment, we heard the sounds of an acoustic guitar playing Neil Young, Nick Cave (I love when they play “Rye Whiskey”) and Iggy Pop with vocal duets. When Kelly remarked upon it, I told her they make music on the weekends. We enjoyed their music until they played variations on “The Passenger” by Iggy Pop for two hours and I said they were trying my patience.

A few days after Kelly arrived, Stephen’s friend Ivan arrived, which meant that for a  week we had four people living in a two bedroom apartment. Stephen and I gave Ivan a briefing about the place but there wasn’t any sound from upstairs to emphasize our point about our neighbours. “Just wait until Tuesday,” Stephen said. “We hear a lot from them on Tuesdays.” Generally, the people who live about us play video games late at night on Mondays and Tuesdays, accompanied by the sounds of profuse swearing and bass heavy music. All four of us were sitting in the living room on a Tuesday night when we suddenly heard the sounds of blistering heavy metal music. Yes, out of the silence of a Tuesday night, we heard the sounds of “Raining Blood” by Slayer. I have nothing against metal — Kelly heard more than she ever wanted to when I took her to see Fucked Up — but even my peace was disturbed. Luckily,  after an hour or so they were listening to “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne and the music that came after was comparably soothing. We still haven’t figured out where the people fit within the categories of student-tattoo artist-jobless. They either have schedules that make Tuesdays their Saturdays, or they are unemployed and are passionate about keeping routines.

IMG_5404

All in all, things are going well in my Vancouver apartment, in spite of — or perhaps, because of — the series of oddities that surround it. Though my life would start to feel kind of sad if I stayed here for the next decade reading Silvan Tomkins’ studies on affect while my neighbours played Pantera, I’m happy to be here right now.  Ivan is leaving after a month as our temporary roommate to move into his own Vancouver apartment that I hope for his sake is less of a character apartment than this one is. That means it will just be Stephen and I and our heavy metal neighbours, sharing a view of a back alley in Fairview until our next guests come to experience life in Vancouver.

My Song of the Day: Mona Lisa by Dead Sara

Stephen’s Song of the Day: Still Into You by Paramore

All photos were taken within five blocks of my apartment so while the view from my bedroom is over the alleyway pictured above, I’m only five blocks from water and mountains.

Live Review: A Night With Jack White

IMG_4620

Our plans had all the makings of a normal Thursday night when my mother and I unexpectedly found ourselves with tickets to see Jack White in Toronto. Being the wiley man he is, my father managed to win tickets for us just over twenty-four hours before the start of the concert. On the night of the show, my mother and I made our way to the Air Canada Centre where we encountered a large group of dissimilarly dressed people. People going to the same concert tend to be similarly dressed, the previous Friday’s One Direction concert being an extreme example of this, but this time it was hard to tell the kind of music that was going to be played based on the attire of the crowd alone. There were typical metal heads, hipsters and even a few people who were dressed like they were ready for a Brad Paisley concert. I didn’t know what to expect walking into the concert, but I certainly hoped we weren’t going to be faced with country music.

When we got into the ACC, we were directed towards what was essentially a private elevator. We talked to a friendly elevator attendant who took us up to the fifth floor, all the while lounging on a stool with his blue cotton girth facing upwards. When we arrived at the box, we were greeted by a perky blonde woman who told us that dinner was a forty-five minute wait but drinks could come immediately. We settled into the cushioned seats with our Caesars and waited for the opening act to come on. After the opening act finished, my mother ordered us both another Caesar while I went for an unsuccessful hunt for a burrito and got a little lost when I insisted on taking the stairs back to our section. A few minutes after I returned to my seat, the lights went down and the show began.

Truthfully, I know more of Jack White’s recent conflicts than I do of his recent album. Given what I had seen of his enthusiasm when he was recently photographed at a Chicago Cubs game, I expected him to be a miserable host for the evening. I was pleasantly surprised by his audience interaction. Given that Bob Dylan was one the solo artists I had seen in concert most recently, I was also pleasantly surprised by Jack White’s intelligibility. Though I could understand what he was saying, I didn’t know what the hell Jack White was playing half the time. Within the first seven or so songs, he covered nearly every musical genre one could reasonably play on a guitar. My mother and I started a bit of a country dance when he started to play what sounded like a square dance song. His guitar solos were often three times longer than the songs themselves but I didn’t mind. I was watching a vampire Jimi Hendrix rock out however he pleased. I wasn’t the only one excited about the show. The teenager boys in the box beside us were on their feet for most of the performance. I even saw a five person mosh pit down in general admission.

By the end of the show, Jack had played nearly every song off of his new album and played a number of The White Stripes’ and The Raconteurs’ greatest hits. He even somewhat inexplicably sang in a fake accent at one point in the show. To mark the transition from the main set to the encore, he came out and played “Icky Thump.” He closed the long encore with an arena singalong to “Seven Nation Army.” It was a great show that surpassed all of my expectations, but the best part of it was his closing words: “You’ve been amazing and I’ve been Jack White.”

Song of the Day: Lazaretto by Jack White

Festival Review: Looking for the Story at NXNE

image

I walked in through the alleyway door of Tattoo and was immediately hit by a wall of sound. The sound check had already begun for the show that night. I arrived at the venue early in the hopes of getting some instruction for the days ahead but it was too loud for any conversation. I sat in a booth with the venue’s other volunteers, mute on account of the volume of the drum test. It seemed the drummer’s playing style was beating the shit out of the drums. A moment of silence came after fifteen minutes of booming, only to the broken again by the Sleigh Bells sound check. Their set up instructions read “The Sleigh Bells show is LOUD.” The sound check was certainly true to the show description. Finally, I was waved into the entrance way to get some instructions about the night to come. I was working the door as a NXNE volunteer at a Queen West bar that was the focus of a Red Bull showcase. Having been given provisional instructions, I stood awkwardly behind the closed dooring waiting to direct people. I looked like the festival’s female Huck Finn, wearing ripped jeans and Birkenstocks. At half past eight, the bouncer leaned into the doorway and said, “We’re ready.”

The hours that followed were filled with a cacophony of noises and split second encounters as I gestured people towards the appropriate lines. There was no conversation, just a directions or a brief exchange of words. Glances, gestures, and at 1:15, I was allowed to leave. I walked out into the Queen West night, thinking. I signed up for this to find a story, but there was no story, just four hours of synth pop. No faces stood out, no sounds. I couldn’t even give an adequate review of any of the shows. It was all a mess, and the only thing I could think to say was, “I’m tired.”

I arrived later the next night, and the crowd came earlier. I was tired of the synth pop soon after it started. I stood out in front of the venue with two of the bouncers, Justin and Rob, who were feeling similarly unenthusiastic about the music. After some time contemplating the setting sun, Justin asked me why I decided to volunteer with NXNE. I told him I was a writer and I mainly did it because I was looking for something to write about. Rob came back from checking up on everything inside and said of the performer, “He’s got the rhythm!” At least someone was other than the performer and his father standing in the crowd was feeling the show.

I had caffeinated well for the Friday night show, knowing that the people at Tattoo expected a big crowd for A$AP Ferg. The night started as the previous two had, with an initial rush and a period of calm. Tonight was the hip hop edition of the Red Bull showcase. From eight until one, I heard nothing but hip hop. When I told Justin that I appreciated the change, he said, “Just wait.” It was 9:30 on the longest day of the year when the sun started to set and the line started to form. I hurried back to my position inside — in sneakers, rather than my Huck Finn sandals — and prepared for the mob to descend.

I was in South Beach as a fourteen year old on the night of a Ludacris concert, and even that night could not compare to the number of grills I saw the night of the A$AP Ferg concert. It was like something out of a Nelly song when the people started to roll in. The hip hop duo on stage was screaming out “Fuck the police!” while I tried to keep the line flowing. By eleven, the venue had reached capacity, and my fellow volunteers and I were free to watch A$AP Ferg. I noticed a remarkable mix of men who looked like old school rappers and men who looked like frat boys. (The women varied a bit more.) When A$AP Ferg actually came on, no one was going crazier than the frat boys. The highlight of my night was watching a short guy wearing Lacoste hop on one foot while he sang out, “I got hella hoes!” The discussion that ended our volunteer shift was whether or not A$AP Ferg wore his grills while he smoked weed. Grills or not, he certainly managed to hotbox the basement of the venue.

I arrived for the what was supposed to be the craziest night at the venue with a coffee in one hand and a free granola bar in the other. The bouncers high fived me when I walked up to the venue. I met with the team of volunteers, then took advantage of the quiet before Tattoo’s opening to stand outside. “How’s the writing going?” Justin asked. “I haven’t found the story yet,” I replied, “but I’m getting close to it.” The line up started at 8:30 and went around the block by nine. We reached capacity long before Future Islands began, so I was free to watch the shows that night while the bouncer dealt with the chaos outside. Future Islands put on a great show for the capacity venue, adding to their welcoming address that they felt really bad for everyone standing outside in line. When their show ended around one, the mob that had descended hours earlier streamed out of the venue. In the crowd, I saw a mix of artists from other venues, local and national celebrities, and guys who seemed to have finally stumbled out of the venue after too much time partying with A$AP Ferg. (Read: more grills.) My friends the bouncers continued letting people in based on priority, so I was free to watch the Mac Demarco show. When he stepped on stage, he gave an opening of pancakes, blue balls, good to see you looking well, Toronto, before he went into “Salad Days.” By way of introduction, he said he was Mac Demarco and this was his band, but for the evening, we could call them “the Poo Band.” I couldn’t make something like this up. My fellow volunteer and I agreed that we hadn’t made sense of a word he had said since he stepped on stage. After a few more chilled out songs, I said goodbye to everyone I had worked with and took off down Queen St. eating an apple.

“The only way to prepare for a trip like this, I felt, was to dress up like human peacocks and get crazy, then screech off across the desert and cover the story. Never lose sight of the primary responsibility.
“But what was the story? Nobody had bothered to say. So we would have to drum it up on our own. Free Enterprise. The American Dream. Horatio Alger gone mad in drugs in Las Vegas. Do it now: pure Gonzo journalism.” Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

I decided to volunteer for NXNE because I heard about the opportunity and thought, What would Hunter do? I concluded that he would get inside, see the show and find the story. It only took me a few hours at Tattoo to realize that Hunter wouldn’t have been volunteering at a music festival. He would have been in the green room with A$AP Ferg or finding a way to get on Mac Demarco’s level. At the very least, if the Fear and Loathing days are anything to go by, he would have chewed up a couple of blotters in the bathroom. But that wasn’t my story. I had to find the story when I was given the opportunity to find it. I had to immerse myself in the madness in whatever way I could. An event is made a story through the act of telling it. What was the story? I have no NXNE story except the one you have just read.

Song of the Day: “Seasons (Waiting on You)” by Future Islands

Story Time Wednesday: The Easter Egg Hunt Fiasco

Image

When I was eight years old, my family and I went to Niagara Falls for an Easter egg hunt. This wasn’t just any Easter egg hunt. It was the official Hershey Easter Egg Hunt, organized with the intention of breaking the world record. Hershey provided all the chocolate and candy, and the Niagara Parks Commission provided the prizes of roller blades and Razor scooters to those who found the lucky eggs. The grand prize, provided by Niagara Falls Tourism, was a family trip to Disney World. The event was going to be so big, it made it into the Toronto newspapers, which is how my parents found out about it. We saw in the event the potential for something legendary, so my mother called up her brother in Fonthill and convinced him that his daughters had to take part in the event too. On Saturday, April 14, 2001 — thirteen years ago Monday, for those who wish to keep track — eight of us hopped into my uncle’s van, and we headed to Niagara Falls.

When we arrived at Queen Victoria Park, there was already an enormous crowd gathered around the hay-strewn field. My aunt lined my cousins and I up in our pastel spring coats, and told us that we were to meet by a tree behind the field if we got separated. We stood behind the rope, waiting. There was still a half hour until the event was supposed to start, and the crowd was getting restless. One of the organizers though he would try to pass the time by starting the wave. He explained what he was going to do, and to start the wave, he counted down, “Three, two, one.” But something went wrong. Someone missed the instructions. Even it if was only one child who had misunderstood, nothing could stop the wave of chaos once it began. At one, the children pushed down the barriers and took off running. Just before my cousins and I took off too, my aunt called out, “Don’t forget the tree!” We, too, entered into the hunt, which had become more of a battle. Families were separated, and children were crying in the hay. I tore through piles of hay searching for the egg that contained the elusive trip to Disney World. I was unable to find it, and after fifteen minutes or so in the fray, I sauntered over to the designated tree with a plastic bag overflowing with chocolate eggs.

The Hershey Easter Egg Hunt was a disaster in the eyes of the organizers. Because the event had started before it was supposed to, there weren’t enough children in attendance to break the record. Children were lost, people were injured, and I’m pretty sure that the man who started the ill-fated wave was fired. To my family, however, the event was a grand success. We retreated to my grandfather’s in Chippawa, and took advantage of what turned out to be four months worth of chocolate.

Image

 

I apologize for my recent blog hiatus. I won’t bore you with the details of my final months of undergraduate assignments, but know that my life has been strange enough recently that I translated part of this story from French. For those who have been lamenting the absence of my blog, fear not, more chaos is to come. Until then, I wish you all chocolate eggs or unleavened bread, depending on which holiday you are currently celebrating. And to those who are celebrating neither, I wish you less snow than Southern Ontario is currently facing.

Finally, for those who are wondering how I managed to keep my Hershey Easter Egg Hunt sticker over a period of thirteen years, I’ll have you know that all manner of oddities exist on the top shelf of my closet. You just never know when an object from the past can become a source of inspiration, or the subject of a blog post.

Song of the Day: Call It Off by Tegan and Sara

Story Time Wednesday: The Sock Fiasco

Image

Most childhood aversions and fears are overcome with time. Bathing becomes routine, spinach becomes ubiquitous, and the dark ceases to be a terror. As I have learned, however, some aversions and fears are not overcome with time, such as my fear of clowns and dolls. But I am not here to tell you about the trauma I have endured since I watched Child’s Play as a twelve year old. Rather, I am here to tell you about my enduring dislike of socks. 

Now before you start thinking that I’m one of those people who wears sandals year round, let me assure you that I wear socks with my Docs. I have a utilitarian relationship to socks. I prefer wearing socks in neutral colours, and I prefer buying socks in multiples of three. I don’t wear socks with frogs or monkeys or colourful argyle patterns on them, and I certainly don’t wear toe socks. (The latter was a source of constant conflict when Becca and I lived together.) My dislike for funny socks started when I was eleven, with an incident that has been known ever since as The Sock Fiasco.

Image

It was Boxing Day, and I was in the Lambton Mall in Sarnia, Ontario. This was not a place where I wanted to spend a lot of time under ordinary circumstances, much less on Boxing Day. I was shopping with my mother, my aunt and uncle, and my cousins Nicky, Rachelle and Jacqueline, who seemed dead set on keeping me in the mall as long as possible. My family was having a very pleasant time browsing the stores, examining belts and commenting on sweaters as they passed through. I, on the other hand, was having a very unpleasant time, and grew increasingly alarmed as my family continued to move in and out of shops. I was in the middle of a period that can be best described as my Bambi phase. Though I was only eleven years old, I was over 5’6 at a time when many of my peers had yet to have their growth spurt. As I was the second oldest of the group, I towered above my cousins. There I was wandering around the mall on my skinny Bambi legs, inadvertently flailing my lanky arms in order to find something of interest upon the endless racks. To make matters worse, I was dressed for winter. I hadn’t thought to bring a change of shoes for walking around the mall, so I wore gigantic winter boots while my cousins wore sneakers. I say gigantic because I was already at the point when I needed to wear women’s size shoes, but I was not yet at the point when they fit me comfortably. Though my boots were a respectable colour, their size made it look like I wore moon boots. As we continued around the mall, my feet began to sweat and I felt a mounting panic. 

Image

My cousins sifted through ten for ten dollars bins in Claire’s, while I quietly asked my mother if we could leave soon. She too was wearing winter boots, and was ready to go home before we melted like snowmen brought indoors. I wore a tracksuit, with matching vest and wind pants. Unfortunately, this was past the time when tearaways were popular, so I couldn’t do anything about the heat wave that my boots had brought on. I was cursing my moon boots, when my mother asked me if I had seen my cousins. We were glad when we found them in Bluenotes because the store was almost at the mall’s exit. The store was filled with graphic t-shirts and ‘2 for’ signs. I was relieved when I saw that my cousins were over by a rack of socks. We’ll be out of here in no time! I thought. How long can it take to look at socks?! 

Image

My cousins had always been told by their father that they had to spend their money responsibly. Generally speaking, this is a great rule to live by. If our forefathers had abided by this rule, there never would have been a need for debtor’s prison. But certain things can be taken overboard, and frugality is definitely one of them. The rack that my cousins stood around was filled with coloured and patterned socks, with a sign on top indicating that three pairs of socks were ten dollars. I looked at the rack without much interest. Socks were the last thing I wanted to think about at a time when I just wanted to be barefoot. Even snowflake socks couldn’t have helped me at that point. My cousins were sharing and comparing design, showing me the most interesting pairs. “Look Court, frog socks!”

Image

I smiled and nodded and hated all frog socks. “Ooh, bunnies! Dolphins!” This process proceeded until all three girls had three pairs of socks. The trios had been finalized, that is, until my uncle asked the most dangerous question ever posed in a shopping mall: “Are you sure those are the ones you want?” Rachelle darted back to the rack, with Jacqueline in pursuit. “I wanted the zebra stripe, not the leopard print!” exclaimed one cousin. “No, I wanted the zebra stripe!” exclaimed the next. They had to sort through the rack again, considering animal kingdoms, complementary colours, and of course, which pair would look best with rainbow striped shoe laces. (An aside, at this point in my life I had my basketball shoes laced with Care Bear laces. I’m not sure I can ever forgive myself for that.) Seasons changed, global conflicts started and ended, I grew the additional four inches that took my to my full height, and finally my cousins were ready to buy their socks. I wept with joy in the arms of a mannequin when I saw they were at the cashier. I bounded to the parking lot in my moon boots, where their family van awaited us. When we returned to my grandparents’ house, my father, who had wisely taken shelter in a coffee shop in order to avoid this whole ordeal, asked me how the shopping trip had been. There was no way to explain the experience, not at that point anyway. All I could say was, “Never buy me a pair of frog socks.”

Image

Song of the Day: Don’t Call Home by July Talk

If you would like to read the first of my childhood cartoon stories, check out The Last Time My Family Went to IKEA.