Where Giants Roam the Earth

Sam and I spent the weekend in New York, mostly so we could see musicals that end with the shows’ titular characters dying by gunshot wounds. We also went to our favourite bookstore, the Strand, on three separate occasions, and during the second visit something genuinely surreal occurred.

Some context. We were staying at an Airbnb on St. Marks Place, just down from #96-98 – which feature on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti record (as well as the Rolling Stones video “Waiting on a Friend”). We’d actually sought the buildings out during a previous trip, and when we walked passed them on Friday we wondered aloud why Zeppelin had chosen those two seemingly nondescript apartments from the tens of thousands of other ones in New York. Later in the Strand, perhaps subconsciously searching for an answer, I made my way to the music section and…

I ran into Jimmy Page.

Again: I ran into Jimmy Page. The context made it even weirder, but…I mean, it was Jimmy Page and he was book-browsing at the Strand like a normal person, which he is not, because he is Jimmy Page. I very casually walked upstairs, found Sam, put my arms around her neck, gazed deep into her beautiful eyes, and whispered: “Sam. Jimmy Page is downstairs.” Are you sure? she asked. Two thousand percent, I told her. And so back down we went–and sure enough there he was, now browsing in (I’m not making this up: it’s too perfect) MYTHOLOGY & OCCULT – Divination – Mythology/Folklore.

Sam and I spent the next fifteen minutes mulling over the appropriate move. In the end we decided no move was the best move: he was with his girlfriend, and it would’ve been obtrusive, and besides which neither of us is the world’s biggest Zeppelin fan (although her dad might be). And then Jimmy and his girlfriend – Scarlett Sabet – ambled over to the record section…and he pulled out a copy of Physical Graffiti and inspected the cover.

We were both too flabbergasted to react.

I’m usually able to play it pretty cool around famous people: they are, after all, just people, and I’ve worked around them off-and-on since I was 21. Of course, only three people on earth were in Led Zeppelin. One of them was standing next to me on Friday, and for one of the few times in my life I was rendered completely speechless.

And we still don’t know why they picked those two buildings.

How I Got Stranded in Frankfurt

I will generally defend Air Canada. I know this makes me an awful Western Canadian, where hating Air Canada’s a virtual civic duty, but it’s a perfectly adequate airline, it’s part of an extensive network of global carriers, and it doesn’t use “our flight attendants tell jokes!” as a marketing tool.

But I can’t defend what happened to me in Frankfurt last week.

A lot of you saw the Faces of Steve Facebook posts from Frankfurt, Dubai, and an airplane in between the two. Here’s how they came about. My initial flight from Toronto to Frankfurt turned around inside an hour due to a mechanical failure. I will never complain about a flight being aborted for safety reasons: sure, it sucks, but I’d much rather it suck and be safely on the ground than, say, on board a plane whose flaps couldn’t fully extend (which, as it turns out, was the issue). Stuff happens, y’know? Every single flight is a miracle; it’s a wonder more flights aren’t affected by in-air mechanical difficulties. The real problems began in Frankfurt. I’d been seated in 34C – the 34 was deliberate – and was therefore one of the last people off the plane. Those of us with connecting flights were then shepherded to the Air Canada desk, where we were forced to wait up to three hours for information. We had no access to food or drink, or even to water: we were still technically “plane-side.” In Toronto, where some of the airport’s restaurants were still open when our initial flight returned, Air Canada plied us with free food and drink at the departure gate. In Frankfurt I ate a handful of almonds I’d packed in my carry-on.

And so we waited. It took me three hours to get my new itinerary, which had me flying to Dubai by way of Rome (and on an Emirates A380, which was a major win). The agent then scribbled the name of a hotel, the InterCity, on the back of my boarding pass. It took fifteen minutes for my luggage to re-appear; it took almost an hour for the hotel’s shuttle bus to show up and then another fifteen minutes to actually arrive at the InterCity Hotel. At this point I was delirious, but I was also nearing the end of the line.

And then…and then I got to the reception desk and was informed there weren’t any rooms left.

Wait a second: what?

I asked the desk clerk to repeat herself. Turns out Air Canada hadn’t set aside enough rooms for us, and so those of us who were late getting to the hotel were literally turned away. When we asked what we should do, the hotel suggested going back to the airport. The shuttle would leave again in 45 minutes. And would cost €7.

And so I took a deep breath and began making contingency plans. The Sheraton at Frankfurt airport was available – for a cool €391. But the Holiday Inn Frankfurt Airport – North was both available and affordable. The cab ride over cost almost €25; my meal, a surprisingly edible bar pizza, cost another €12 (it later doubled as a surprisingly edible breakfast). I’ll be sending the receipts, along with the cost of the accommodation and the shuttle back to Frankfurt airport the following morning, to Air Canada.

Again, I get it: stuff happens. But last week’s misadventure weren’t a consequence of the technical difficulties that led to the initial delay. Rather, they were the result of gross incompetence by, and apparent indifference from, Air Canada’s Frankfurt staff, who seemed to view us as an inconvenience and who made such basic screw-ups that some of us were literally turned away by the airline’s hotel. Sam lodged a complaint on my behalf, quite literally, while I was in line at Frankfurt. I’ll be following suit if (when?) I’m denied Altitude points because Air Canada rebooked me on non-Star Alliance carriers. No matter what, though, it’s a lot harder for me to defend Air Canada than it was this time last week.

Stuff I’ve Seen at the Air Canada Centre

In honour of absolutely nothing, here’s an updated list of all stuff I’ve seen at the Air Canada Centre. I sat in the platinums for both Leaf games I saw this month–I was on the boards for the second one–and it cost me a grand total of zero dollars. I know the best people.

  1. Apr. 30/99: Leafs vs. Flyers (2-1 OT) (Eastern Conference Quarter Finals Game 5)
  2. Oct. 30/99: Leafs vs. Flames (2-1)
  3. Nov. 13/99: Leafs vs. Red Wings (1-1)
  4. Jan. 12/00: Raptors vs. Magic (108-102)
  5. Feb. 1/00: Our Lady Peace w/the Stereophonics
  6. Oct. 5/00: Pearl Jam w/Supergrass
  7. Oct. 7/00: Leafs vs. Canadiens (2-0)
  8. Nov. 17/00: Leafs vs. Lightning (2-2)
  9. Dec. 2/00: Leafs vs. Rangers (8-2)
  10. Dec. 3/00: The Tragically Hip (“An Evening with…”)
  11. Feb. 10/01: Leafs vs. Wings (3-3)
  12. Mar. 3/01: Leafs vs. Senators (2-3 OT)
  13. Mar. 4/01: Raptors vs. Knicks (98-88)
  14. Sept. 18/01: Tool w/Meshuggah
  15. Oct. 9/01: Leafs vs. Mighty Ducks (6-1)
  16. Oct. 21/01: Music Without Borders Live with the Tragically Hip, Alanis Morissette, Our Lady Peace, the Barenaked Ladies, Bruce Cockburn and Choclair
  17. Mar. 1/02: Raptors vs. Trail Blazers (81-91)
  18. Mar. 2/02: Leafs vs. Sabres (2-2)
  19. Mar. 3/02: Raptors vs. 76ers (84-96)
  20. Mar. 30/02: Leafs vs. Devils (1-3)
  21. May 28/02: Leafs vs. Hurricanes (1-2 OT) (Eastern Conference Finals Game 6) 
  22. Sept. 28/02: The Who w/the Counting Crows
  23. Oct. 14/02: Leafs vs. Penguins (4-5)
  24. Oct. 16/02: The Rolling Stones w/the White Stripes
  25. Nov. 14/02: Leafs vs. Red Wings (1-2)
  26. Dec. 5/02: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
  27. Dec. 22/02: Raptors vs. Lakers (107-109 OT)
  28. Dec. 23/02: Leafs vs. Thrashers (5-1)
  29. Jan. 4/03: Leafs vs. Devils (2-1)
  30. Feb. 18/03: Leafs vs. Hurricanes (4-3)
  31. Oct. 13/03: Leafs vs. Capitals (2-2)
  32. Dec. 9/03: Leafs vs. Blues (2-3 OT)
  33. Dec. 20/03: Leafs vs. Canadiens (4-2)
  34. Dec. 23/03: Leafs vs. Panthers (5-2)
  35. Feb. 18/04: Raptors vs. Spurs (82-86)
  36. Jul. 7/04: Eric Clapton w/Robert Randolph & the Family Band
  37. Nov. 2/04: Green Day w/New Found Glory and Sugarcult
  38. Nov. 8/04: The Beastie Boys w/Talib Kwali
  39. Nov. 26/04: The Tragically Hip w/the Joel Plaskett Emergency
  40. Dec. 15/04: Raptors vs. Timberwolves (96-90) (Vince Carter’s last game as a Raptor; he didn’t play)
  41. Jan. 26/05:  Raptors vs. Heat (96-111)
  42. Feb. 6/05: Raptors vs. Mavericks (113-122)
  43. Feb. 27/05: Raptors vs. Lakers (108-102)
  44. Mar. 11/05: Raptors vs. Hawks (112-116 OT)
  45. Mar. 20/05: Raptors vs. Cavaliers (105-98) (LeBron James: 56/10/5/48)
  46. Sept. 1/05: System of a Down w/the Mars Volta and Bad Acid Trip
  47. Sept. 17/05: U2 w/Dashboard Confessional (Eddie Vedder guest appearance)
  48. Sept. 19/05: Pearl Jam w/Sleater-Kinney (Bono guest appearance)
  49. Oct. 5/05: Leafs vs. Senators (2-3 SO) (first shootout in NHL history)
  50. Oct. 22/05: Leafs vs. Flyers (2-5)
  51. Nov. 15/05: Leafs vs. Rangers (2-1)
  52. Dec. 23/05: Leafs vs. Bruins (2-1)
  53. Jan. 26/06: Leafs vs. Sabres (4-8)
  54. Feb. 7/06: Leafs vs. Thrashers (4-1)
  55. Mar. 4/06: Leafs vs. Senators (2-4)
  56. May 9/06: Pearl Jam w/My Morning Jacket
  57. May 10/06: Pearl Jam w/My Morning Jacket
  58. Oct. 4/06: Leafs vs. Senators (1-4)
  59. Oct. 14/06: Leafs vs. Flames (5-4 OT) (Mats Sundin’s 500th career goal)
  60. Nov. 21/06: Bob Dylan w/the Foo Fighters
  61. Nov. 25/06: Leafs vs. Bruins (1-3)
  62. Nov. 28/06: Leafs vs. Bruins (1-4)
  63. Dec. 4/06: The Who w/The Pretenders
  64. Dec. 5/06: Leafs vs. Thrashers (2-5)
  65. Dec. 19/06: Leafs vs. Panthers (3-7)
  66. Dec. 26/06: Leafs vs. Wild (4-3)
  67. Dec. 30/06: Leafs vs. Senators (2-3 OT)
  68. Feb. 8/07: The Tragically Hip w/Buck 65
  69. Feb. 12/07: Leafs vs. Islanders (2-3 SO)
  70. May 1/07: Raptors vs. Nets (98-96) (Eastern Conference First Round Game 5)
  71. Oct. 6/07: Leafs vs. Canadiens (4-3 OT)
  72. Feb. 2/08: Leafs vs. Senators (4-2)
  73. Feb. 5/08: Leafs vs. Panthers (0-8)
  74. Oct. 11/08: Leafs vs. Canadiens (1-6)
  75. Dec. 23/08: Leafs vs. Stars (2-8)
  76. Dec. 30/08: Leafs vs. Thrashers (4-3 OT)
  77. Dec. 1/09: Leafs vs. Sabres (1-4)
  78. Jan. 30/09: Leafs vs. Penguins (5-4)
  79. May 9/09: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
  80. Oct. 10/09: Leafs vs. Penguins (2-5)
  81. Dec. 19/09: Leafs vs. Bruins (2-0)
  82. Dec. 21/09: Leafs vs. Sabres (2-3 OT)
  83. Dec. 26/09: Leafs vs. Canadiens (2-3 OT)
  84. Apr. 6/10: Leafs vs. Flyers (0-2)
  85. Aug. 9/10: Paul McCartney
  86. Nov. 6/10: Leafs vs. Sabres (2-3 OT)
  87. Nov. 13/10: Leafs vs. Canucks (3-5)
  88. Dec. 20/10: Leafs vs. Thrashers (3-6)
  89. Dec. 28/10: Leafs vs. Hurricanes (3-4)
  90. Mar. 2/11: Leafs vs. Penguins (3-2 OT)
  91. Mar. 5/11: Leafs vs. Blackhawks (3-5)
  92. Sept. 11/11: Pearl Jam w/Mudhoney (Neil Young guest appearance)
  93. Sept. 12/11: Pearl Jam w/Mudhoney
  94. Dec. 22/11: Leafs vs. Sabres (3-2)
  95. Jan. 3/12: Leafs vs. Lightning (7-3)
  96. Jan. 5/12: Leafs vs. Jets (4-0) (first time seeing the Jets in either of its iterations)
  97. Oct. 25/12: The Smashing Pumpkins w/Morning Parade
  98. Nov. 23/12: The Who w/Vintage Trouble
  99. Oct. 6/13: Leafs vs. Senators (5-4 SO)
  100. Dec. 17/13: Leafs vs. Panthers (1-3)
  101. Dec. 19/13: Leafs vs. Coyotes (2-1 SO)
  102. Apr. 5/14: Leafs vs. Jets (2-4)
  103. Oct. 18/14: Leafs vs. Red Wings (1-4) (Sam’s first NHL game)
  104. Dec. 16/14: Leafs vs. Ducks (6-2)
  105. Dec. 20/14: Leafs vs. Flyers (4-7)
  106. Nov. 30/15: Leafs vs. Oilers (3-0)
  107. Dec. 19/15: Leafs vs. Kings (4-0)
  108. Jan. 2/16: Leafs vs. Blues (5-1)
  109. Jan. 18/16: Raptors vs. Nets (112-100)
  110. Feb. 2/16: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band (Sam’s first Springsteen concert)
  111. Feb. 23/16: Leafs vs. Predators (2-3)
  112. Mar. 1/16: The Who w/Tal Wilkenfeld
  113. Mar. 21/16: Leafs vs. Flames (5-2)
  114. Apr. 27/16: The Who w/Slydigs (Sam’s first Who concert)
  115. May 10/16: Pearl Jam
  116. May 12/16: Pearl Jam (Sam’s first Pearl Jam concert)
  117. Aug. 10/16: The Tragically Hip
  118. Aug. 12/16: The Tragically Hip
  119. Aug. 14/16: The Tragically Hip
  120. Nov. 11/16: Leafs vs. Flyers (6-3)
  121. Dec. 19/16: Leafs vs. Ducks (2-3)
  122. Jan. 23/17: Leafs vs. Flames (4-0)
  123. Mar. 7/17: Leafs vs. Red Wings (3-2)
  124. Mar. 28/17: Leafs vs. Panthers (3-2)

Wow! I’ve had lots of great nights at the ACC, but if I were whittling them down to a top five–and I am–I’d rank them as follows:

  1. The second night of Pearl Jam’s 2006 Air Canada Centre run, which was one of the absolute greatest concerts I’ve attended
  2. The Who in 2006, which was also one of the absolute greatest concerts I’ve attended; I almost collapsed on my way out I was shaking so hard
  3. Leafs vs. Flames in 2006, when Mats Sundin scored his 500th career goal, shorthanded, in overtime, to complete his hat trick
  4. The second of the Hip’s three-night stand on the Man Machine Poem tour. I went to all three. The first and third shows were great; the second was a pantheon concert. I’ve seen the Hip seven times at the ACC…and counting, until we hear otherwise.
  5. Leafs vs. Carolina, 2002 Eastern Conference Finals, for reasons both good and bad.

I can’t wait to keep updating this list!

Discovering My Inner Jew, Part V: We’re Ba-ack

In 2012 I began digging into my mom’s family history, trying to get to the bottom of a mystery that’d been eluding us for generations: whether or not we’re Jewish. But then the trail, such as it was, ran cold, and the last time I wrote about the Jewish question I lamented:

The clues are there, but I can’t piece them together. I feel as though I need a lucky break.

The ultimate break would, of course, be a copy of the letter that my great aunt burned for its suggestion that we might not be what we thought. I wonder if that exists, or if the sole copy (and the information it provided) went up in smoke.

Well…I’m holding it. The letter wasn’t burned; the smoke it went up in was metaphorical. There’s a lot to unpack here, beginning with the author’s identity: her name is Ella Miriam Weiner (née Borschow), and I’d never heard of before today. But the letter itself is unequivocal: Ella Miriam Weiner was Jewish, and if I’m related to her…then so am I.

Proving that relationship will be difficult, if not impossible. But I’m a lot closer to doing it now than I was 24 hours ago.

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.


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.