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!

Token 36-for-36 Update

It’s still November–barely–and you know what that means: time for a token 36-for-36 update so I can still say I’ve written at least one entry every single month since starting Stuff and Nonsense in September 2004! The list is still progressing nicely. This month I checked off a couple more items:

  • I saw a football game at U.S. Bank Stadium, new home to the Minnesota Vikings. As I remarked at the time: “It takes an awful lot to shut me up, but this place pretty much has me speechless.” And it did; it’s a spectacular facility in its own right, but when you consider it’s on the exact same spot as the H.H.H. Metrodome it’s almost hard to fathom how good it is. It’s a shame the Vikings’ secondary didn’t. The game itself was almost good…and then the Vikings put out a prevent defense with :23 left in the fourth quarter, and as a wise football man once said, the only thing that does is prevent victories.
  • I watched FrozenLET IT GO…LET IT GOOOOO!!!!! There: now it’s in your head, too.

The list itself is still evolving. The meal at Alo got axed; I subbed in a new item (see Marco Estrada pitch, which I somehow haven’t managed to do once during his two seasons in Toronto), but a few of the other items are still being evaluated. One that’s not, however, is buying a new putter. I’ll tell that story next time.

11/12

I didn’t technically wake up yesterday. My day started in São Paulo and finished (with me sound asleep) in Toronto. In the middle I was briefly in Colombia and, even more briefly, in Newark.

Fifteen years ago my parents actually lived in New Jersey. I’d become a full-time Kingstonian, but when I’d go “home” it’d be to a place called East Windsor, which is fifteen minutes from Princeton and about halfway between Philadelphia and New York. One weekend in November 2011 it was the launching pad for an epic Johns family Tristate adventure: The Producers on Broadway (with the original cast!), the Leafs/Devils at the Meadowlands, a Princeton/Yale football game, and the Vikings/Eagles at the old Veteran Stadium in Philly. (The Vikings were blown out 48-17, and afterwards Randy Moss uttered his infamous “I play when I want to play” line. Good times!) On Monday, November 12, after saying goodbye to my parents and our dog Chieftain (RIP), I took the train to Newark airport and boarded a 9:20 flight to Toronto. So far absolutely nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.

The first indication that something out of the ordinary was occurring–albeit unbeknownst to us–was when we sat on the airport’s taxi apron for twenty minutes without moving. A couple planes took off. We moved forward. Two planes from the front of the line we stopped again, and this time we didn’t move for forty-five minutes. This was the pre-cellphone era. No one knew why we’d stopped moving.

And then the pilot came on and made the following announcement:

Ladies and gentlemen. There’s been an air traffic accident over Manhattan. We’re returning to the terminal. Please be ready to evacuate the aircraft. Flight attendants, please assume the crash position.

Now…in fairness we were on the ground, so the chances of crashing seemed remote. But the rest of that announcement? Scary shit. This was two months after 9/11; we could literally see Ground Zero from the plane. And remember, no one knew what was happening. What was happening was Flight 587, which had crashed seconds after taking off from JFK. Meanwhile, back in East Windsor, my mom was cleaning the kitchen when the news came on the radio about a crash at “one of the three New York City airports.” At 9:20. In her mind, I was dead.

Back at the airport I called my dad, who was at his office in Newark. He told me to call my mom who, by this point, had learned that the downed aircraft wasn’t mine. Still, no one at the airport knew what was going on. While lined up at the Air Canada desk I met a woman who, in addition to being in the air on 9/11, was supposed to leave New York that morning on Canada 3000…which had gone bankrupt the previous weekend. The guy in front of her gave her his business card and asked her to let him know the next time she planned on flying. Eventually I called dad back; he told me that there’d been a bomb on board the plane and, I quote, “Get out of New York.” An hour-and-a-half later I was back at Princeton Junction train station, where my mom and Chieftain were waiting…and we drove the nine-and-a-half hours back to Kingston, listening to New York AM radio and the revival cast recording of Guys and Dolls. Remember, when we left we still didn’t know whether it’d been another terrorist attack or not; we had no idea when the airports might reopen. Before leaving I called my roommates, asking them to call my Queen’s Entertainment Agency manager and tell him I wouldn’t be making my shift that evening. When I walked in the front door of 396 Johnson Bob was putting up shelving in the living room. He looked at me, shook his head, and said: “These things only happen to you.”

The weirdest thing that happened to me yesterday was being charged 171,000 pesos for what was effectively fifteen minutes on Colombian soil. 11/12 remains, by some distance, the weirdest travel day of my life. I’ll be very happy if it keeps that title forever.

36-for-36 Update

36-for-36 has been live for almost a month, and already I’m two-and-a-half items to the good (which, if you do the math, is pretty much where I should be). First, the visual evidence for the two:

  • On August 20 I drove from Toronto to Bobcaygeon, pulled over in front of the town sign, and listened to the Tragically Hip song “Bobcaygeon.” Then I drove to Kingston and saw the band that night. (I promise I’ll write about it: I’m still struggling to articulate what that show meant to me. It’ll come.)

bobcaygeon

  • Yesterday Sam and I went to Detroit for the Tigers/Orioles game, and for the first time ever I kept score. If, like Sam, you’re wondering what that means, here’s an article by Jim Caple explaining the art of baseball scorekeeping.

detbalscorecard

The half: tonight I’m taking a cooking class at the Depanneur,which is one of mine and Sam’s favourite spots. It’s called “Intro to Knife Skills,” which means I’m getting a bonus point after taking another cooking class later on. (I’m still soliciting ideas for that one, by the way–hit me up if you’ve got one!)

Black Sabbath in Toronto

I haven’t been around a computer much these past couple weeks, which means that Hip/Kingston write-up’s still percolating someplace. I’m hoping it’ll come this weekend–but in the meantime, here’s the setlist from another “farewell” concert. Black Sabbath’s “The End” tour rolled into town Monday. I’d seen them in Calgary a couple years ago, on Easter Sunday of all days; that night still ranks as one of the great, unexpected pleasures of my life as a music fan. Monday…does not. I’ll get to the why in a second. First, the setlist:

Set:

  • Black Sabbath
  • Faeries Wear Boots
  • After Forever
  • Into the Void*
  • Snowblind
  • War Pigs
  • Behind the Wall of Sleep
  • N.I.B.
  • Hand of Doom
  • Rat Salad
  • Iron Man*
  • Dirty Women
  • Children of the Grave

Encore:

  • Paranoid

Note the asterixed songs. Sabbath tunes its songs down; I’m assuming it’s to accommodate their singer’s diminishing range. Ironically, though, Ozzy had a lot more trouble hitting the low notes. “Iron Man” and “Into the Void” (the latter’s probably my favourite Sabbath song) sounded awful. There were places where Ozzy wasn’t anywhere close to being in tune. He gets away with it because he’s Ozzy and he misses his notes while doing Ozzy things…but if you forget that for a minute, and consider instead the fact you’ve paid $60 to stand on a grass hill surrounded by tweekers from South Oshawa and listen to a 68-year-old zombie struggling at the bottom of his vocal register, it becomes a lot more difficult to stomach. I felt embarrassed for him, actually.

His bandmates are great, and Tony Iommi remains one of the best live guitarists I’ve seen. But it’s tempting to say they’d be better off performing with that Ronnie James Dio hologram. (And I haven’t even mentioned losing Sam, first to a washroom line-up and then to the crowd on the lawn, from “Black Sabbath” until “Hand of Doom.” That’s what data overages do to you!) I feel bad for saying this because, again, it’s Ozzy. The man’s a legend. And, well, it might be a blessing that that which stands before him now is retirement.