Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Back to Normalcy

I managed to get out of North Carolina before the mini-blizzard hit.  I had wanted to try to move my flight up a bit, but everything was sold out.  In fact, when I checked in, they said that they were oversold and wondered if I would switch my flight.  I declined politely.

While they went through my bags pretty carefully (and they were pretty heavy), I did manage to get through without paying any over-weight fees.  The trick is to carry a duffel bag through security (so they don't weigh it at that point and it doesn't appear to be particularly heavy) and then to gate check it.

When we got to the gate, they were still looking for volunteers.  They even tried to convince some poor soul to cab it to Charlotte (paid for by United) and then to catch the flight to Chicago.  I probably would have at least considered it if there was a chance of making a connecting flight, but it really wasn't going to work out for me.  I was frustrated that the food options in the airport there were so limited, but once in Chicago I was able to grab a slightly more substantial dinner.

While there was some turbulence at the end of the flight, we actually got into Pearson a bit ahead of schedule and customs went super-smooth.  That was good, since it meant that I could still catch the UP Express rather than the 192 Rocket, which basically goes the wrong direction for me.  I didn't get home until a bit after 1 AM, but, as I said, I was really glad not to get snowed in.  High Point/Greensboro ended up getting about 8 inches, which is pretty crippling for them.

I slept in a bit.  My daughter was feeling a bit under the weather, so we agreed to postpone the movie one more weekend.  I ran off to work to try to get a bit caught up, though I had been able to stay on top of emails.  The main reason I left the house was that there was a free organ concert at St. Paul's on Bloor where the organist was going to play Messiaen's La Nativit√© du Seigneur, and I headed there after a couple of hours in the office.  So it did feel like picking up right where I left off before the terrible news.

I'm still extremely sad and more than a little depressed (of course I was already depressed about work), so it will be a real challenge not to overeat through the holidays.  I did make it to the gym on Monday evening, and I'll probably go Wed. evening as well, since I am skipping the work holiday party (I just have no patience for chit-chat right now).  I think it's fair to say I am feeling pretty brittle right now, but I'll probably start adjusting/coping and hopefully end up in a slightly better frame of mind by the spring.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Road-tripping w/ Steven Dietz

This should probably be titled Road-tripping for Dietz* (or rather to see his plays).  Steven Dietz is actually one of the more successful American playwrights, but I have not managed to see any of his plays.  I did read a few of his scripts while in Chicago.  The Nina Variations is a little bit like running Chekhov's The Seagull through the blender.  It's not quite as purely absurdist or consistently funny as Durang's effort (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) nor as "faithful" as Posner's Stupid F*ing Bird.  It's more of a cubist piece.  I'd probably like seeing it live, though it's a little hard to tell of course.

I decided not to read Yankee Tavern, since the reviews suggested it had some creepy twists at the end which were better not spoiled.  Somehow I missed out (finding out too late) about a short run in Milwaukee, which I could have made via Amtrak train.  Then it ran in Chicago, but after I moved away.  I've kept my eye on DPS, however, and it will be performed in Rochester in February.  I'm quite likely to bus it out there, so I hope it lives up to my somewhat inflated expectations.

If I do like it and perhaps read a couple other of his plays (and like them), then I'll decide how much effort to make in tracking down and watching the others.  A relatively short list of the other ones I'd like to see includes:
  • Bloomsday (indeed inspired by Joyce's Ulysses)
  • Lonely Planet (an AIDS-era play)
  • This Random World 
  • Private Eyes (though not quite as sold on this play about trust and misdirection)

I actually have this crazy idea of staging Lonely Planet as a site-specific in this odd bookstore up the street.  (The play is set in a crowded map shop.)  Given that this bookstore isn't truly accessible and may not have any bathrooms at all, I couldn't do it under the Fringe umbrella.  However, given that the play involves bringing in a bunch of chairs over and filling up the space, it would quickly become completely claustrophobic, as well as a fire hazard, so I think this will remain an unrealized dream.

Many of these other plays are being performed in quite out of the way places, but Bloomsday will be in Chicago from mid May through mid June.  Interestingly enough his new play about the Beats (Mad Beat Hip & Gone) is also playing in Chicago from late April through June 1.  I had sort of been toying with idea of going to catch both.  Now I just found out that I sort of should be in Vegas in early June (never thought I would say that), I might work out a quick trip to Chicago, immediately followed by a flight to Vegas.

I probably won't completely knock myself out to see the others, but I will keep my eyes open (and keep checking DPS), as well as encourage Toronto theatre companies to put on some of these pieces.  As it turns out, Private Eyes played Toronto in 2010 so may not be returning for a while, but I don't think any of the others on the list have come through.

* Indeed, one of his most successful plays is Becky's New Car, about a very odd road trip.  Ironically, this one doesn't particularly interest me and I would not road trip it to see it, but if it turns up in Toronto proper I'd probably go.  It appears that it has popped up in London and Cambridge but not Toronto as of yet.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Don't Look a Gift Book in the Mouth

I had been thinking the previous week that I did have quite a stack of books piling up at my father's house.  While the gap between shipping books to the US and to Canada is sometimes shrinking, it is growing for other bookseller sites.  The most annoying was this deal where a Canadian bookseller would ship to the US for free but charged a pretty penny to ship elsewhere in Canada!  More often I sent books his way when the (US-based) sellers flat out refused to ship to Canada.  At any rate, I knew there was a lot of stuff* and that I should try to pick up, but I was assuming it would be late spring or more likely summer that I made it back down.

When I saw the actual stack, my heart sank a bit, though I would pretty sure I could get it in my duffel bag, though of course I had considerably less space after buying some new clothes and shoes!  Very oddly, the hotel maid threw away my toiletries (including razor and toothbrush!), apparently thinking that since I had taken my duffel bag with me for the day, I was skipping town a day early.  Very annoying, and it's not like that even opened up that much space in the bag.

In any event, as I looked through the pile, I realized that there was a Mark Twain volume from Library of America that I didn't remember ordering.  This combined A Tramp Abroad and Following the Equation (which I was not familiar with). I searched my memory, but I simply couldn't remember ordering this book.  Later I checked my email (and Amazon account), and I hadn't ordered it at all.  It seems my dad had ordered a James Thurber collection from Library of America and most likely bundled this together.  Now either he had meant this as a present for me, or it just ended up in the wrong pile, but I decided to gracefully accept the book.**

My stepmom pushed us to take other books, simply to help her get them out of the house.  I really had very little room left, but I did take the Thurber LOA volume (given that it was on his nightstand it was one of the last things he had been reading, and so will be a keepsake for me, even though I have other Thurber collections).  I decided there was a small chance my daughter would want a learning to play guitar book, so I took that.  As I was almost ready to leave, I saw Howard Becker's Art Worlds, and I thought that would also be an appropriate link to my dad through our sociology connection and love of art.  I actually just missed out on meeting and perhaps being taught by Prof. Becker, as he had retired from Northwestern only a few years before I got there.  He was still a bit of a legend in the department and several professors talked about his tenure there and his impact on them. I decided to pass on a massive Sherlock Holmes collection, as that probably really would have split the bag open.

So now I'll just have to get it home tomorrow, but it should be fine.  Famous last words...

* Right now everything takes on a bit of a morbid cast.  One of the books is a posthumous John Berryman collection, and several of the books are signed by dead authors (Timothy Findley and Robert Kroetsch), where I won't be able to track them down at a reading in Toronto.  I also bought a couple of books signed by Salman Rushdie (fortunately still among the living), since I couldn't get tickets to his reading in Toronto and I just frankly didn't have the time (or patience) to stand in line when I heard him reading in Chicago.  I wouldn't mind getting an autographed copy of his latest novel, The Golden House, but I'm not quite sure how much I am willing to pay.  Probably not that much.

** The real question now is when (rather than if) having two of the LOA Twain volumes (I already had The Gilded Age and Later Novels) will induce me to get the two-volume set of Twain's shorter writings.  As I scoured the interwebs, I saw there were some absolute steals for each individual volume, though the set itself was fairly pricey.  While of course there is roughly a $5 difference (per book) to ship to Canada, this time around I'll just swallow it.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Shopping for clothes

I suppose it was latent superstition that led me to not pack any dressy clothing Monday night, i.e if I didn't have anything appropriate to wear to a funeral, there wouldn't be a funeral.  Needless to say, it didn't work out...

So yesterday, my brother and I went over to the mall in Greensboro (the one in High Point having closed last year).  While there are certainly malls in Toronto, with the Eaton Centre doing quite well, this did feel like a throwback to the malls I went to as a teenager, especially as there was still a JC Penney's.  I managed to pick up a couple of shirts (50% off), black pants and shoes (only 20% off).  My dress shoes at work are starting to give out, so it isn't a total waste.  While I am probably still a size down from last year, I am clearly regaining some weight, and I'll have to get back on the wagon when I get back to Toronto.  Between retirement parties and just too much junk food floating around due to the holidays (and now this funeral), I've been doing way too much stress eating.  This will have to stop...

I had started going to the gym again and was back up to twice a week, before this all threw me for a loop.  I should see if I can get back to three times.  And just maybe I'll get the bike out of storage and do some winter biking as well.  Though for that I would need to buy some winter gear, so I might need to head over to Mec when I get back.  It's always something...

Wednesday, December 5, 2018


Towards the end of the workday on Monday I received one of those calls you dread -- my father had been admitted to the hospital after suffering a heart attack.  They thought they could stabilize him and perhaps try some additional procedures in a day or two.  Nonetheless, the prognosis was not good.  In a way it wasn't a total surprise, as heart problems run in his side of the family and he was certainly overweight.

I scrambled and finally found a flight that would bring me down by 2 pm on Tuesday.  I had to decide how long to stay and compromised a bit with a Sat. return.  (It's a little hard to explain a one-way ticket into the States these days...)

I met my brother at the airport, and he gave me the bad news that my father had passed away about an hour or so before.  It probably wouldn't have mattered even if I had gotten a red eye on Monday, since he was on a ventilator and heavily sedated.  About the only mercy was that it wasn't a long, protracted illness.  Overall, it was a relatively painless, easy death.

Nonetheless, I obviously don't feel I have any closure, since I wasn't able to talk to him at the end.  We had had a chat right after Thanksgiving, and we did talk roughly every two weeks, but I hadn't seen him in person since the summer of 2017.

It's bitterly reminiscent of when my mother died (many, many moons ago), though in her case she suffered a massive aneurysm and hung on at the hospital for about a week (though probably not really in any pain either).  While I probably talked to her every week, it still had been a while since I had seen her, even though I could have taken the train from Chicago to Detroit, but just didn't until it was too late.

I can't say I have major, major regrets in the sense that we were on good terms, but one still wants some time at the end to say goodbye before it is too late.  And of course in the case of my mother, she never even knew my wife or children.  I'm a bit sad that I didn't find more opportunities to bring the grandkids to visit my father, but I brought my daughter twice and my son three times.  You just always want more time, particularly so long as one's parents aren't actually suffering.  I'm just really sad and feeling sorry for myself.  Tomorrow we'll have to start thinking about the service, but mostly I'll stay out of the way as my stepmother does what she needs to do.  I'll know soon enough if I need to try to extend my stay by a few more days.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Library - It Giveth and Taketh

I really do enjoy spending time in libraries, though I still find it odd how much of Toronto's collection is reference and thus materials cannot be removed from the library.  I suppose it is really more that I enjoy browsing in libraries (though more often now through their on-line catalogues) and then taking books home.

As it happens, I've temporarily let my UT library privileges lapse (after quite a splurge in the last few weeks).  I'll renew my card in the spring.  Of course, immediately after this, I found a book I wanted to read (Late Breaking by K.D. Miller), though fortunately this was available from the Toronto Library.  In addition, there was a new book on Vancouver housing policy (Mudflat Dreaming).  In this case, I requested it as inter-library loan, but if they won't loan it (or charge for the loan), I'll just hold off until the spring.  It's certainly not as if I don't have plenty to get through on my reading list.  Even though I've picked up the pace quite a bit (having gotten through DeLillo's White Noise and Boyle's The Road to Wellville and most of the way through McCarthy's Birds of America and finally launching into Updike's Rabbit novels), I have many, many books at home to plow through.  I don't really need to be getting more books out of Robarts, and my Toronto library branch is so much closer.

I was kind of excited to find out that one of the Ry Cooder soundtracks I wanted to listen to was in the Toronto reference library.  In addition, they had two plays by Steven Dietz I could peruse.  Now unfortunately, these were both reference copies, but I had a bit of time at the end of the day, so I headed over.  I was able to listen to the CD, but then Dietz's Lonely Planet was nowhere to be found.  I was fairly annoyed by this, since that meant I might have to wait until I head back to Chicago (perhaps in the very late spring) to give it a read.  And indeed, what's the point of all this material being reference, if it isn't actually there when you want it?

I was debating whether I should try to put a trace on the book, but then looked through the catalogue again.  It turns out that Lonely Planet is also in a collection of gay and lesbian themed plays.  (It should be the entire play, though it is a bit hard to tell from the table of contents.)  While most of the plays were pretty obscure, Paula Vogel's The Baltimore Waltz was also in there.  (I think I passed up a chance to see this, perhaps in Chicago, though if it comes back around, I'll most likely go this time around.)  In any case, I found a copy of the anthology super cheap and just ordered it.  While I would have preferred to get it from the library, at least I found out enough through the library to move forward and obtain a copy.

One relatively minor annoyance is that it is getting harder and harder to donate books to the library.  Of course there are book dumping grounds, but if one has a quality book that should enter the collection (if it isn't in the collection), there is essentially no way for this to happen with the Toronto Public Library.  Ostensibly it should be possible at Robarts, though they are temporarily suspending all donations.  That said, I had a copy of a book by Barbara Comyns* that was fairly rare in North America, and I donated it a year ago.  As far as I can tell, it wasn't accepted into the system.  I'd like to donate a relatively rare Bohumil Hrabal book, though I suspect it will meet the same fate.  Obviously, this was all so much easier 20 or 30 or 40 years ago, when entire collections were gladly scooped up.  My books will just end up in the landfill.**  Ah, the price of living in the 21st century...

* Speaking of Comyns, of all her novels, the one I rated the best was The Juniper Tree, which is a moderate inversion of the Grimm fairy tale of the same name.  NYRB just brought this out a short while ago, so it is conveniently back in print.  Unfortunately, Robarts doesn't seem interested in acquiring this edition (it has Methuen from 1985) nor does Toronto Public Library have a circulating copy.  While I probably won't buy my own copy (as I'm relatively unlikely to read it again), I'll probably keep my eye out if the price drops significantly.  Somewhat unusually, the Vancouver Public Library does have the right edition, but I don't think they would loan it through ILL for at least a year.

** Actually I was making very good progress on building my own Little Free Library until I was called away on a family emergency.  I hope to wrap it up in a week or so, then start giving away a large stack of books I have accumulated.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Kid at the Candy Store

I was going to write a different post about the insidiousness of the "woke" outlook, particularly in the arts community, but it will definitely come across as far too hostile right now, so I'll save that for later.

I'm still coming to grips with the way that entertainment has become so dematerialized now.  Very few people buy CDs or DVDs, preferring to stream them.  A handful of people buy vinyl, but mostly for the wrong reason (as a fetish object that is looked at but not played).  This has had a profound impact on the retail sector, including the fact that you can barely resell CDs anywhere in the city any longer.  I had found one store that would occasionally touch classical and jazz, but that closed at least a year ago.  I just read that Sikora's Classical in Vancouver is closing, which is quite sad.  It was basically the only place in Vancouver that would take classical CDs, though they would only do exchange for store credit, no cash.  I spent a fair bit of time there, particularly as I was getting ready to leave and I was trying to slim down my collection prior to packing it all up.

But things change, and people move on (though there are definitely losers in the new economy including unfairly paid musicians as well as out-of-work clerks).  On the flip side, I am still amazed at just how much music is available on Apple Music.  Pretty much any mainstream recording I've ever heard of, and an unbelievable amount of world music (the whole run of Ethiopiques, for example) and a lot of jazz.  It is true that he Fantasy jazz catalog (Prestige, Riverside, Milestone, etc.) is not there (or if it is it is a public domain clone), but pretty much all of Blue Note and Atlantic and Soul Note and even Impulse is.  The Fantasy catalogue used to be up on eMusic (which sells mp3s, not just offering up streams) but they lost it several years back.  Interestingly enough, the Fantasy catalog popped up on Naxos jazz/classical.  This is a service that is basically European-based, but does operate in Canada, though not the US (or at least the offerings are drastically reduced).  This is one of the few things where Canadians have it better than Americans, probably because Canadian copyright is more in line with Europe than the US.  This is likely to change after all the NAFTA changes get pushed through, so I should enjoy it while I can.

It was only a few months back that I switched my allegiance to Apple Music from eMusic.  Somewhat stupidly I just haven't had the time to properly close out my eMusic account, so I have been paying for both for a while, but I will close the eMusic account before much longer.  I can understand the arguments that having practically all recorded music at your fingertips devalues music and certainly albums, though I don't think that is true in my case, probably because I have a lifetime of listening to music as albums and that is still how I prefer to do it, streaming the entire album (and not shuffling or jumping between a bunch of different tracks).  I have been indulging in some very deep catalogue dives lately, far too numerous to list it all, but highlights include Charles McPherson, Ali Farka Toure, Oumou Sangara, William Onyeabor, Los Lobos, Ry Cooder, J.J. Cale and Jackie Shane.  It's also a very good way to get acquainted with recent recordings of pop/rock artists where I wouldn't actually buy their newest recordings (Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney for example or even Alice in Chains).  So it really does feel like running around in a huge candy store with an unlimited account.