36 for 36 at the Turn

I had my official unbirthday last week, which means I’m half-done being 36. That means it’s time for the big, official 36 for 36 update. Here goes!

First, here are the things I’ve completed:

  • I kept score at a baseball game between the Detroit Tigers and the Baltimore Orioles on September 11 at Comerica Park. Buck Showalter used Zach Britton in this one.
  • I saw a football game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, though part of me wishes I’d picked a different game/team, period. (At least the Vikings scored an offensive touchdown; in fact, they scored two. Incredibly–or perhaps not so incredibly, since Vikings–they hadn’t scored one the previous three times I’d seen them.)
  • I listened to the Tragically Hip song “Bobcaygeon” in Bobcaygeon, Ontario on my way to see the band in Kingston on August 20.
  • I’ve hunted down a live recording of Stratford’s production of Tommy. Bri Monster suggested contacting the Stratford Festival’s archives; my copy can’t actually leave the archives, but I can go to Stratford to watch it to my heart’s content which, you can reasonably assume, I’ll be doing frequently.
  • Sam and I went to the Shaw Festival in October. We saw their production of Sweeney Todd, which was superb.
  • We also saw a movie at the Toronto International Film Festival: The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America. Alas, we weren’t at the screening where Keith Richards and Ron Wood showed up.
  • I watched Frozen, which was great. Up to three bonus points are still up for grabs if I re-watch it with my friends Jon and Lindsay’s kids, two of whom might literally think they’re Elsa and Anna.
  • I got a new putter for Christmas.

Here are the things that are in progress or that have completion dates:

  • Sam and I are seeing Hamilton in New York on April 29.
  • I’ve begun reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. It’s a doorstopper-of-a-book. Right now I’m on page 65 of 731.
  • I’m on track to read 35 other books. As for Lord of the Rings, which I began reading for 35 for 35 but didn’t complete: I put a bit of a dent in it on the Inca Trail and I’m hoping to put in an even bigger one when I spend 40 hours in the air in mid-March. Track my progress!
  • I’m still on track to be debt-free on August 16, 2017, although whether or not I succeed will depend largely on how planning for mine and Sam’s forthcoming nuptials evolves.
  • Kevin du Manoir, Jon Thompson, and I will be crossing the finish line of the Ontario Ride to Conquer Cancer on June 11. We’re also working (together with our fourth teammate Heather Gardiner) to raise $10,000 for the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. Click here to donate!
  • I’m running pain-free for the first time since 2013…and I’ll be running a race, the Sporting Life 10k, on Sunday, May 14. It’ll be my first in almost exactly five years.
  • My friend Jen and I have penciled in a ski date for March 12. It won’t be at Sunshine Village, unfortunately; “ski the Rockies” will be a 37 for 37 item.
  • I’m planning to see a San Francisco Giants game in late June or early July. Or early May, should circumstances dictate.
  • I’m planning to see Marco Estrada pitch in April. This item was a late addition to 36 for 36: bizarrely, I haven’t seen Estrada pitch yet as a Blue Jay.
  • I’d planned on entering the ticket lottery for Super Bowl 52 the day after Super Bowl 51; then I discovered it’d cost $26 to send my entry via registered mail as per NFL requirements. So instead I’ll send it from the States when we’re there in late April.
  • I think I’m doing an okay job of exploring Toronto
  • I’ve seen 5/6 Wes Anderson directed movies. All that’s left to watch is Fantastic Mr. Fox.
  • Sam’s seen 1/3 of the original Star Wars trilogy. She didn’t fall asleep and claims she liked A New Hope more than the first time she allegedly watched it. (Sam can’t make up her mind whether she’s seen the original trilogy or not, hence this item’s inclusion.)
  • I’ve taken one cooking course…and it involved learning how to use knives, so I get a bonus point for this one.
  • I’m working on volunteering at the Hospital for Sick Children.
  • I think I’m doing an okay job of growing as a leader

And here are the things I’m working on. Feel like helping me out? Drop me a comment!

  • Visit Cooperstown
  • Watch a hockey game at Ted Reeve Arena
  • Skate at Mattamy Athletic Centre, a.k.a. Maple Leaf Gardens (I’d planned on doing that this weekend, but then I wrenched my back to the point where getting off the couch is difficult)
  • Go canoeing in Algonquin Park so we can chase Tom Thomson’s ghost
  • Advocate passionately for mental health on behalf of Partners for Mental Health and Michael Landsberg’s #sicknotweak project
  • Join the November Project Toronto tribe
  • Climb outdoors
  • Get PADI certified
  • Create a podcast
  • Jam with Brian Bevilacqua
  • Begin creating something – a book, a play, anything – that’ll impact one person as much as Tommy has impacted me

Six months to go. Let’s do this!

Riding to Conquer Cancer, 2017 Edition

It’s that time again: time to saddle up, bike a whole bunch of miles, and kick cancer in the teeth.

r2cc

Some immediate resources for you:

  1. My personal page. I’d be grateful if you can spare a few bucks.
  2. Our team page. Once again I’ll be part of the Tragically Clipped. We’re a quartet this year. On the road, Kevin and I will be accompanied by none other than Jonny T, who has the distinction of being the only person to have authored guest entries for Stuff and Nonsense. This is his first-ever ride! We’ve also got our very own crew member: Heather Gardiner, who’s a friend of Sam’s and a nemesis of Kevin’s and who’ll be playing the role of “Bridesmaid” in mine and Sam’s wedding later this year. Together we’re going to raise $10,000 for the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
  3. “The Courage of Jill Costello” remains an almost indescribably potent piece of writing. I read it every once in a while to remind myself why things like the Ride to Conquer Cancer are so important.

There’ll be lots more to come in the months ahead! On the amazing journey together we’ll ride.

My Putter

I got a new putter for Christmas (whaddup, 36 for 36!). When I bust it out this season it’ll be the first time I’ve had a new putter since the late-80s.

Not the late-00s. Not even the late-90s. The late-80s. As in the 1980s. When I was still in the single digits.

Some context. I’ve been golfing since I was seven, and when I started playing I was using a spare set of women’s clubs which, if memory serves, had previously belonged to my grandma. But on August 16, 1988*, my dad and my grandpa (mom’s dad) took me to a place called Madgicals Golf Kingdom to buy me my own set.

(* – You might recognize that date: it’s my birthday! But it might’ve been August 16, 1989; I don’t think it was later than that, so we’ll settle once again on “the late-80s.”)

Upon entering the store I went straight for the putters. About five minutes later I heard arguing–and so I turned around, just in time to see the owner storming out of his own store.

I soon found out what’d happened: the owner, a guy by the name of Brian Madge, had (wrongly) accused my grandpa of coming into the store, busting up a set of demo clubs, and then fleeing. My grandpa wasn’t about to take that, so he fought back. Arguing turned into shouting, and then Madge walked out of his own store. He then refused to come back in while my grandpa was there. So my grandpa walked out as well, and sat down on the curb outside.

While this was happening I found a Northwestern Tom Weiskopf signature putter. I couldn’t put it down: it felt like it’d been made just for me. Meanwhile, Madge (who’d since come back in) came over and explained to me that I was too young for my own set of clubs–that there was no point in me getting one because I’d outgrow it within a couple years. I didn’t care: I wanted the putter. My dad saw the putter as a reasonable consolation present, and I walked out of the store with the putter and feeling like I was floating. We got my grandpa from the curb on our way.

I used that Tom Weiskopf signature putter for almost thirty years. It’s been obsolete for at least half of them. I never cared: it still felt good, and after a while it became a nostalgia thing as well. A postscript: a few years after the incident between him and my grandpa I played a round of golf with Brian Madge. He turned out to be a pretty affable dude. I told him about the putter; I left out the bit about the argument with my grandpa and the two of them taking turns storming out of Madge’s store on my eighth (or was it ninth?) birthday. It’s one of my favourite childhood memories. And it’s one I’ve relived every single time I’ve golfed for most of the past three decades.

The Best Goals He Ever Scored

Wayne Rooney broke Manchester United’s all-time goal scoring record last weekend. I’m starting to lose hope of ever scoring once for United, let alone 250 times–but his goal got me thinking about the best goals I did manage to score for various teams. Two in particular stand out. One was genuinely good. One wasn’t.

The good one occurred, ironically, during what had been up until then the worst game I’d ever played. I know, I know: Captain Exaggeration and all that. But I’m serious: I was awful that night, which was an indoor game between my former high school, Westgate Collegiate & Vocational Institute, and our rival St. Pats. Every touch was heavy, every pass misplaced. And at one point in the middle of the first half, after yet another loose pass, I turned and ran towards the bench, barking: “Get me off.”

And then, just as I was arriving at the bench, the ball appeared in front of me. A defender was closing me down quickly. So I said to the bench, “Just a second.” Then I flicked the ball over the defender’s outstretched foot, stepped around him, and hit the ball as hard as I could. I wanted to hit it into the corner so I could finish the line change. And, well, take out my frustration on the ball.

But remember: I was playing the worst game I’d ever played. So I aimed for the corner of the field, hit the ball as hard as I could–then watched it fly into the net off the underside of the bar. The ‘keeper had no chance. Never before nor since have I hit a ball so sweetly. The technical term, I believe, is “thunderbastard.”

And it was pure, dumb luck.

Naturally, I scored on each of my next two shifts and was named man of the match. We won 8-5.

The not-good one happened in an U-18 indoor match. My team that year was (warning! Captain Exaggeration again!) the best I’ve ever played for; we waltzed to our league title, winning our semi-final 16-1 and the championship game 8-2. Anyway. Before the game my friend Rob dared me, for no particular reason, to celebrate any goal I scored by doing a faceplant. Again, this was an indoor game; the old Soccerplex in Thunder Bay used thin artificial turf overtop concrete. I’d actually scored earlier on in the game, but I’d stabbed the ball into the net at full stretch and, therefore, couldn’t do the planned celebration. A few minutes later, with the game long since won, I chased an opposing defender into his own end. We reached the end boards at the exact same time, which resulted in the following sequence of events:

  1. “Oh, shit!” he said
  2. He hoofed the ball straight up into the air; it hit the netting that covered the field and bounced straight back down
  3. He wheeled around and kicked the ball as hard as he could
  4. The ball proceeded to whack into, well, my balls
  5. As I fell over in agony I somehow managed to bundle the ball past the ‘keeper into the net

I got up, barely able to breathe–and then I remembered what I’d promised Rob. So I stood as straight as I could…then flung out my arms and did a full-on faceplant into the Soccerplex turf. Face met thin-turf-covered concrete. And then I was helped off the field.

Wayne Rooney’s scored some spectacular goals, his latest included. But I bet he’s never done that.

Your Bell Let’s Talk Challenge

I have a Bell Let’s Talk challenge for you:

Stop saying “I’m so OCD.”

Lots of people do, but speaking as someone who actually has OCD I have an important message. You’re not OCD. And you almost certainly don’t have OCD, either, because if you did you’d never describe yourself as being “so OCD.” (Unless you were being ironic. And even then.)

OCD isn’t something you are. It’s not a quirk, a transient personality trait, or a general appreciation of fastidiousness (regardless of what Monica Geller taught you). It’s a mental illness, and it ruins lives. OCD traps people inside their own worse nightmares and makes escape virtually impossible. It takes, on average, seventeen years to be diagnosed. And it increases risk of suicide by a factor of ten.

I’ve written a lot about OCD over the years. I’m subclinical these days, meaning OCD’s essentially a non-factor in my everyday life. I haven’t had a flare-up since July. These are very good things! But I’ll never stop advocating for mental health. Today, while you’re trying to bankrupt Bell Canada, challenge yourself to change the way you talk about mental health. Stop using OCD as an adjective. You are not OCD.

My Favourite Concerts of 2016

2016 was a good year for me and live music. In fact, there’s a reasonable chance it’ll end up being my best year ever. Among other things, I saw each of my big three (Pearl Jam, the Who, Bruce Springsteen) at least twice. I saw a band about whose potential reunion I once wrote, “This could still happen; then again, pigs could fly.” I saw a show whose opening act was 20 minutes of lucha libre. And I saw the Hip five times, including what might have been their final concert.

How to rank all this? Simple: I can’t. So here’s an unranked top five for you instead:

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, 2/1 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. I’m not a fan of this recent trend of bands touring old records. In the case of Bruce Springsteen, for instance, I’d much rather see him do a regular show than perform a thirty-five-year-old double album in its entirety. Except…it’s The River, and this tour (which I also saw in Buffalo) made a convincing argument that it’s his unvarnished masterpiece. And when he got to the hits, I got to stand next to Sam when she heard “Born to Run” live for the first time. (We also witnessed an incredible fistfight during “Born to Run,” which put a weird bow on the experience.)

Video by Brian Gay

Pearl Jam, 5/12 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. I hadn’t seen Pearl Jam since late 2013; it was a deliberate break, a chance for me to recalibrate my relationship with my favourite band, and by the time their 2016 tour rolled around I was ready to have them back. The second Toronto show, which got bumped back by a day to accommodate a Raptors’ playoff game, was actually my least favourite of the three I saw–that’s obviously a relative statement–but I’m putting it here anyway for a, being Sam’s first Pearl Jam show; b, us (including Sherkin and Pearl Jam Heather) having GA; c, the Oceans/Inside Job/Breath sequence; and d, Ed’s bizarre mid-“Better Man” rant about a Miami limo driver that was awkward at the time but that now seems remarkably prescient.

Video by Len Anaquod. Watch through till the end!

The Hold Steady, 9/18 at Toronto Urban Roots Festival. I’m not a fan of this recent trend of bands touring old records. In the case of the Hold Steady, for instance, I’d much rather see them doing a regular show than perform a ten-year-old album in its entirety. Except…they absolutely killed Boys and Girls in America. Their set was the highlight of TURF for Sam and me (a weekend which also included, among others, the Hives, the Dropkick Murphys, Whitehorse, Julien Baker in the rain, and the New Pornographers in the blazing heat). Plus, the mini Boys and Girls tour brought Franz Nicolay back into the fold. The Hold Steady are so much better for it.

Video by The Low Lifes

The Who, 4/27 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. The Who’s “final” Toronto appearance (I bet it wasn’t!) got postponed not once, not twice, but three times: from October 21 to December 1, 2015 to April 26, 2016, and then, thanks to the Raptors, April 27. I wasn’t sure how I’d react to seeing “my” band for potentially the final time. I needn’t have worried: I was too busy screaming along to every single word to feel sad. Plus, when the final two songs are “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” it’s hard to feel anything other than euphoria.

Video by Dave Olsen. No relation!

The Tragically Hip, various arenas across Canada. I saw the Man Machine Poem tour five times–once in Calgary, three times in Toronto, and, thanks to years of good ticket-buying karma, Kingston–and it’d be impossible for me to separate the shows from each another. The fact the band even toured this year was miraculous; that the shows were as good as they were made the Man Machine Poem tour something the likes of which we’ll never see again.

Actually, I can separate one from the pack. The Kingston concert was, along with Pearl Jam in Thunder Bay, one of the two most special shows I’ll ever see (and I can’t imagine a third that’d take its place alongside them). A lot of you watched the broadcast–according to CBC at least a third of Canada tuned in–yet while the overriding impression among those who watched it on a screen seemed to be how sad the concert was, those of us who were lucky enough to get a ticket experienced it much differently. This was rock n’ roll. Yeah, there were parts that were difficult–the line “it’s been a pleasure doing business with you” at the end of “Scared” hit all the feels–but for the most part it was much less wake and far more triumphant homecoming for a band that’d spent the past three months walking through hell and come out the other end with heads held high. It was celebratory. It was raucous (I’ve never sang/screamed the words to “Fifty Mission Cap,” “Twist My Arm,” and especially “Grace, Too” like I did that night). And it was moving…moving, but very rarely sorrowful. None of us knows what’ll happen to the Hip next. I went into the Kingston concert thinking for sure this wasn’t “it.” Now I’m pretty sure it was, because how on earth do you top that? One thing we do know: if there’s one band that can, it’s the Hip.

2016

With 2016 nearing its (merciful, some might say) conclusion, it’s time for the annual Stuff and Nonsense year in review that’s still based on a long-lost internet template! Here’s a list of 61 things that made 2016 great. (And it was a great year. Really.)

  1. Where did you begin 2016? Our friends Kim and PJ’s wedding
  2. What was your status by Valentine’s Day? Planning an engagement
  3. Were you in school (anytime this year)? On numerous occasion
  4. How did you earn your money? Doing international student recruitment
  5. Did you have to go to the hospital? Nope
  6. Did you have any encounters with the police? One! Sam and I got pulled over for making an illegal right turn onto our own street; we didn’t know it was illegal, and I played the “but I just moved here from Calgary!” card to masterful effect.
  7. Where did you go on holidays? Nashville, Ottawa, Calgary/the mountains (x2), Stratford, Niagara Falls, and, on December 30, Peru; plus, if you count work travel, I also went to Dubai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Columbus, Houston, Ecuador, Colombia, and Brazil
  8. What did you purchase that was over $1,000? I sure did!
  9. Have you kissed anyone this year? Yup
  10. Did you know anybody who passed away? Yeah
  11. Did you move anywhere? Sam and I moved in together in March. We’re ten months into living in sin and two months from becoming common law as far as our benefits providers are concerned.
  12. What concerts/shows/sporting events did you go to? Concerts: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band (x2), the Who (x2), Puscifer, Pearl Jam (x3), I Mother Earth, Guns N’ Roses, the Tragically Hip (x5), Prophets of Rage, Black Sabbath, TURF; shows: 12 Angry Men, If/ThenA Chorus Line (Stratford), Sweeney Todd (Shaw), MatildaCome From Away; sporting events: baseball games in Toronto (x18) and Detroit (x1) and, for the first time, a minor league game (in Buffalo), hockey games in Toronto (x4), an NFL game in Minneapolis, an NBA game in Toronto, and the Vanier Cup in Hamilton
  13. Are you registered to vote? I am, although I didn’t in 2016
  14. What was the biggest change in your life? Getting engaged
  15. Where do you live now? Toronto
  16. Describe your birthday? As usual, I don’t remember it. [Thinks.] I think I went to work, then to dinner at a place called Golden Turtle with Sam and my parents.
  17. What has been your favorite moment? Aside from getting engaged? This. This was incredible.
  18. What’s something you learned about yourself? I plan killer surprise engagement trips
  19. Any new additions to your family? Welcome (officially) aboard, Lindsay!
  20. What was your best month? July
  21. What music will you remember 2016 by? The Tragically Hip and the Hamilton cast recording
  22. Who has been your best drinking buddy? Can one have a “best drinking buddy” when one’s alcohol consumption’s as negligible as mine? Anyway, I’ll say J-What because it’ll make him happy.
  23. Made new friends? Always
  24. New best friend? Nah
  25. Favorite night out? The (last?) Hip concert in Kingston
  26. What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before? Flew around the world
  27. Did you keep your New Year’s Resolutions, and will you make more for next year? 36-for-36 is moving along nicely!
  28. Did anyone close to you give birth? A better question would be, “Did anyone close to me not give birth?” To which my answer would be, “No.”
  29. What countries did you visit? In chronological order: the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong (airport), the United States (several times), Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, and Darkest Peru
  30. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016? A wife 
  31. What date from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? July 1, because that’s the day I asked my soulmate to marry me on top of a mountain
  32. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Starting a new job
  33. What was your biggest failure? Observing Toronto parking laws
  34. Did you suffer illness or injury? Nothing beyond the occasional muscle tweak
  35. What was the best thing you bought? An engagement ring
  36. Whose behavior merited celebration? Gord Downie
  37. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? Donald Trump and his cronies and the almost 63 million Americans who voted for him to lead the free world
  38. Where did most of your money go? Mine and Sam’s wedding
  39. What did you get really, really, really excited about? Auston Matthews
  40. Compared to this time last year, are you: a, more happy or more sad? b, thinner or fatter? c, richer or poorer? Happier, thinner, and poorer
  41. What do you wish you’d done more of? Explored Toronto
  42. What do you wish you’d done less of? Watched the Minnesota Vikings
  43. How will you be spending Christmas? With mine and Sam’s families
  44. What was the most embarrassing thing that happened to you in 2016? I honestly can’t think of anything. Help, someone?
  45. Did you fall in love in 2016? More and more each day
  46. How many one-night stands? Sam has one of her side of the bed; I use the floor.
  47. What was your favorite TV program? Sports
  48. What was the best book you read? Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. Yes, I understand it was written a while ago.
  49. What was your greatest musical discovery? Fantastic Negrito
  50. What did you want and get? A fiancée
  51. What did you want and not get? To see Temple of the Dog
  52. What was your favorite film of this year? Uh…
  53. On your birthday, how old were you? 36
  54. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? A Blue Jays championship
  55. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016? Forever plaid
  56. What kept you sane? Trintellix
  57. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Gord Downie
  58. What political issue stirred you the most? The U.S. election
  59. Who do you miss? Calgary
  60. Who was the best new person you met? My new coworkers
  61. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016. A little effort goes a very long way.

Happy New Year, everyone!