Monday, 26 October 2009

Hugh's Room is Toronto's Hidden Gem

Several year's ago, an old camp friend introduced me to the music of a fabulous indie artist from Chicago named Susan Werner. I have been hooked ever since. I purchased a couple of albums and she has been a prominent part of my iPod rotation. Her musicianship, songwriting skills and voice just floored me. The woman is immensely talented and I am a sucker for talent. Last February, I included my version of her anthem May I Suggest in a Shabbat Shirah service in song at synagogue. The haunting lyrics, including the brilliant tag line "May I Suggest this is the best part of you life", struck the perfect chord for a song before the Mourner's Kaddish. Much of the congregation was moved to tears and, believe me it was Susan Werner, not me, who was able to induce the emotion. Our Rabbi loved the piece so much that he suggested we include it as part of our Yizkor service on Yom Kippur. The reaction was much the same.

Just before the holidays, that same rabbi noticed from an online ad that Susan was coming to Toronto to play Hugh's Room and he suggested that we go. Torontonians!! If you have never heard of or visited this gem of a club in the north part of the Bloor West Village, you are truly missing out. The intimacy of the surroundings is not to missed, and the musicians who frequent are amongst the world's best in the folk/rock/indie scene. Local artists also showcase their talents at Hugh's, and it is impossible to guess who might pop in for an impromptu session on any given evening. Joni Mitchell has been known to skulk in the shadows when in town, as have Sylvia Tyson, Gordon Lightfoot, Ashley MacIsaac and the like. Other than its inconvenient location from my home, I love everything about the place, so it was an easy call to agree to an evening with Susan Werner. We enlisted the company of some friends who feel much the same about Hugh's as do we. They were not familiar with Susan's music, but I played them a couple of tracks and they readily agreed. We were blown away. Not only was she musically brilliant, but she was funny, engaging and warm with the audience. She sipped local wine between songs, and included the crowd in some comic banter. She was irreverent, fiercely loyal to her hometown, and refreshingly unapologetic. What truly stunned me, was the music from her latest album Classics. She has taken old favourites from the likes of Cat Stevens, Marvin Gaye and Paul Simon and rejigged them with snippets from classical composers like Vivaldi, Chopin and Bach. The results are brilliant. The five of us were blown away and desperate to purchase the new disc following the show.

We were not disappointed. Susan hung around the lobby signing CDs and posing for photos. When our turn finally arrived, my friend the rabbi told her of our performance of her piece at Yom Kippur. She was visibly moved and truly taken aback. She spent a good five minutes chatting with us and even asked the rabbi if he would email her regarding a question of faith. He took her address and was planning to do so this morning. She was everything that I had hoped for and more. The pictures are a bit fuzzy because I couldn't use flash, but they aren't bad. If you are ever in this part of the world, make it your business to visit Hugh's.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Dolphin Football!

Yet another reason I love dolphins! These beauties were captured playing football using a few unsuspecting jellyfish as their game ball. They could teach the Rams a few things. Fantastic!!!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Zeitgeist, Balloon Obsessions, Rush Limbaugh and Other Forms of Hot Air!

It has been a while since I have posted. Mostly there has been very little to discuss or share, but this week provided all manner of ridiculousness, both from the newsmakers and the imbeciles that bring us the news. It was impossible to separate the gasbags from the windbags so I decided to roll it all together into one hell-inducing fart on the world.

The week began with that purveyor of women's fashion Ralph Lauren. Poor Ralph got himself and his company caught up in a major fail episode. It seems that Polo Boy got his mallet in a knot over some criticism leveled at his marketing campaign by BoingBoing. Ralph and company apparently digitally enhanced model Filippa Hamilton almost out of existence. The poor woman resembles a broomstick with a head! To add insult to injury, after the exposure of their experiment in emaciation and a half-assed apology, Lauren seems to have quietly parted ways with their signature beauty because she was thought to be too heavy. Lauren and company contend that it was the result of a contract dispute and had nothing whatsoever to do with her size four figure. It might be easier to take Ralph at his word if this photo hadn't cropped up a few days later from an Australian Lauren campaign. Honestly, Ralph! Who do you think you're kidding and who do you think might take the greatest offense to these horrific pictures? How about the very customers that you depend on for your livelihood-WOMEN! Maybe if you stopped trying to make us all into some perverse ideal of what your warped mind believes a woman should look like, we might be more willing to drop a few bucks on your over-priced and over-valued image of the country club.

In keeping with the "women aren't really beautiful unless they look like an eating disorder poster" theme, comes this little gem from Karl Lagerfeld at the House of Chanel. Reacting to the news of German fashion magazine Brigitte's decision to forgo runway models in their publication and instead focus on "ordinary and realistic women" in their photo shoots, the openly gay, 71 year old Lagerfeld spewed the following invective.

The decision by Germany's most popular women's magazine was "absurd" and driven by overweight women who did not like to be reminded of their weight issues.

"These are fat mummies sitting with their bags of crisps in front of the television, saying that thin models are ugly," Lagerfeld said in an interview with Focus magazine. The creative director of the fashion house Chanel added that the world of fashion was all to do "with dreams and illusions, and no one wants to see round women".

This coming from a man who has had his own well-documented battles with the bulge. It is starting to become obvious to me that these designers (many of whom are gay men) who claim to know what the ideal of a beautiful woman is and continually pontificate to the masses so as to push this ridiculous fantasy, are actually showing the world what their personal fantasy is--that is flat-chested and curve-less teenage boys. Nothing wrong with that if you are selling to teenage boys, but we beautiful women come in all shapes and sizes and have curves and cellulite. It is time that the designers started catering to us and not some image that even they have to create via photoshop. Major hot air alert!

Speaking of hot air. Here is the latest from Rush Limbore. The self-proclaimed leader of all things "right" once again showed his true colours this week when the big boys at the NFL refused to let him play in their exclusive game of pick-up. It seems that Rush had wanted to fulfill a childhood fantasy and become a part owner of my beloved St. Louis Rams. As if an 0-5 start, no offense, very little defense, a rookie head coach and a quarterback who can't stay healthy aren't problems enough for the moribund franchise, they actually entertained the notion of selling to the mouth that roared! When word leaked out of Limbore's possible bid, players, the player's association, the Reverends Al and Jesse and even the commissioner expressed some misgivings about some of Major GasBag's previously documented comments on race, race relations and black football players in particular. "Look, let me put it to you this way: the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it." Here's another gem. "The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies." And of course, there is the infamous Donavon McNabb epsiode on ESPN. "I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well.  They’re interested in black coaches and black quarterbacks doing well.  I think there’s a little hope invested in McNabb and he got a lot of credit for the performance of his team that he really didn’t deserve."

Now to be fair, the owners and the commissioner never let Rush's foray toward the elite circle get very far. Dave Checketts, the owner of the St. Louis Blues and the lead man in Rush's team bounced him before the bid even made it past the drawing board stage. He was too polarizing and certainly not the image that this hopeful ownership group wanted to project to the citizens of St. Louis or to the NFL. Rush blew like a volcano. Blaming a left-winged conspiracy and socialism on a scale not seen since LBJ introduce Medicare, Limbore huffed and puffed with self-importance as to the menace in his midst and how his situation was in his words "about the future of the United States of America and what kind of country we're going to have." Give me a break. We are talking about a group of people who have supported more conservative and right-wing causes then most of America. Jack McCallum at CNNSI said it better than I ever could.

In point of fact, however, l'affaire Limbaugh -- which was inarguably a public relations disaster for the group that first invited him, and then disowned him -- exemplifies two quintessential realities of America, ones that I have to assume Limbaugh himself embraces. Namely:
• When you become a business liability, your once-chummy fellow businessmen will turn on you.
• Actions have consequences.

McCallum continues.

No, Limbaugh was a red flag, trouble from the start, which Checketts (who in the past has been a sharp guy) and his group should've realized. Why? Not because Limbaugh is a political conservative, a designation that no doubt describes the great majority of NFL owners (and probably owners in all the major sports). But because when, given the chance, he devolves into a race-baiting provocateur.

Well said, Mr. McCallum and may this be the end of Rush in a Ram's jersey.

It was with some amusement that I watched CNN's coverage of Rush this week. They actually broke into a story about health care to announce Rush's dismissal from the Ram's bid. BREAKING NEWS?? Hardly. So I couldn't have been all that stunned to watch the cables all trip over themselves with the non-story of the balloon boy who wasn't. For over 3 hours, the newsnets followed the flying saucer over the Colorado skies, only to discover that the boy was hiding from and fearing daddy's wrath in the attic. While I can understand hoping for the safe recovery of the young lad, can we all admit that news networks have lost their focus and have taken their collective eyes off of the proverbial ball? Has October become that slow a news cycle that this is what now passes for a story? 3 hours, people! 3 frigging hours! Olympia Snowe only received 15 minutes and she actually did something newsworthy. When John and Kate are the lead story and balloon boys who aren't dominate the day, I believe it is a sign that the apocalypse is upon us. The press has truly stopped doing their job. When Ted Turner is wondering what happened to the network he founded, we should all take heed.

This shit is what passed for news this week. May we all see it for what it truly is--Hot air rising into oblivion.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Void of Good Ideas

The latest from the "what will Big Brother throw at us next" file comes directly from Japanese airline All Nippon. It was widely reported among the news jockeys yesterday, that this carrier has come up with a brand new way to make us all feel just a "wee" bit less human when we fly. All Nippon Airways is asking all of its passengers to visit the bathroom before boarding in an effort to...wait for it....reduce weight and thereby reducing fuel consumption. (You can't make this stuff up!) In other words they want you to take a leak before taking a seat. This "whiz-bang" of a theory is explained here in yesterday's Toronto Star.

Here's how it works: The average human bladder holds up to a litre of fluid, which weighs roughly one kilogram. All Nippon's most popular aircraft, a Boeing 777, holds 247 people. So, in theory, if 247 passengers all go to the washroom before boarding, they could lighten the plane by up to 247 kilograms – the weight of three average men.

Can you even believe this shit? (or should I say urine?) This from the very industry that starves you, freezes you or roasts you, charges you to carry your own luggage, makes you pay for water, crams this homunculus (look it up-or better yet, check out the Big Bang Theory!!) into a space that was truly designed for those of lesser (?) stature, shows no regard for schedules, shows no regard for personal plight, shows no regard for cancellations, keeps passengers crammed on planes for hours with no food, water, or bathroom privileges, has cut staff salaries to the bare bone so that customer service is a true oxymoron, and charges a fee for speaking with a live voice on the telephone all while increasing their fares. What's next? Are they planning on weighing us BP and HP to make certain that we have complied with the request to visit the loo? (before and after P!)

I tried to think of a more insulting policy or even a more ridiculous "waste" of resources, but honestly I believe that this one takes the urinal cake. I then tried to envision what could be next. While it is true that women and men have bladders that are the same size and carry approximately the same volume, it cannot be disputed that women tend to make more frequent visits to the lavatory than do men. This has something to do with the positioning of our female internal organs that tend to fold over the pubic bone, and thus apply more pressure to the cooker. If women plan to pee on a plane more often then men, can charging us more for the privilege be far behind? Don't laugh. Ryanair in Great Britain has recently floated the idea of onboard pay toilets, even though they have yet to implement.  Is it me, or do these policies seem slightly sexist in nature? Maybe women will be asked to pay more or maybe fly on different planes? It isn't difficult to extend the lunacy.

While I am certain that most of us already use the facilities in the airport before boarding simply out of self-preservation to keep us away from the germ infested closet that passes for a toilet on a plane, I find the invasion into my personal habits and the peeking over my shoulder while I go most unsettling. Yes, I believe that this is an idea de-"void" of real thought.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Is Rudeness the New Epidemic?

Fresh off of my foray to the Kosher supermarket, I honestly didn't think that arrogance and rudeness could get any more blatant. We have all been faced with unacceptable behaviour from time to time, but I am starting to wonder if it is getting worse, or if it is simply my imagination. We instruct our children to treat each other with respect and dignity. We teach them how to share, how to lose gracefully, and we teach them to use appropriate words when confronted with challenging situations. And all of that seems to fly right out of the window when adulthood hits. Rush Limbaugh, Kanye West, Glen Beck and the like seem to have forgotten the lessons of their childhood. Road rage is an accepted part of our lexicon and the incidents of traffic anger are on the rise. A friend of mine recently posted this letter from her son's pre-school principal on her blog that outlined the outrageous and boorish behaviour of some parents. I was stunned, but perhaps I shouldn't have been. We are seeing examples of disgusting lack of manners and sense of entitlements everywhere we go. At a recent performance of their Broadway play A Steady Rain, Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig actually halted their scene in order to implore a rude patron to answer his ringing phone. I suppose that he thought that the message to turn off cell phones, that is a standard section of every performance, was for everybody except him!

I see it all the time. I haven't made it through a service in years without a cell phone clanging, in spite of our constant pleas. My trip to the grocery store was just the tip of the rudeness iceberg. Yesterday, I once again found myself smack dab in the centre of middle-aged tantrum.

I very much wanted to see the new Michael Moore movie last evening. The Husband and I were out earlier in the afternoon with friends and we all decided that we would head over to the theatre to purchase tickets for the 7:10 show. Given the fact that we were a full 2 hours early, we decided to procure the tickets and then go to the bookstore across the street for a coffee and some browsing in order to kill some time. An hour later, we were back at the theatre only to discover that we were still about 20 minutes ahead of schedule before the previous showing let out. We sat munching popcorn at a nearby table and then, as we noticed the people streaming out of the theatre, headed over. We were told by the very young ticket taker that the workers were cleaning the theatre, and could we please form a line to the right. Dutifully, the six of us followed directions and found ourselves at the head of what would very quickly become a substantial queue. As we chatted and waited to enter, a more than middle-aged guy comes over to the poor ticket-taker and starts railing and wailing at him. He and his wife were here long before any of us, and at that time there was no line. He absolutely and very loudly refused to line up with everybody else, and demanded (DEMANDED!!) to go to the front of the line. The only thing missing from this sixty year old's tantrum was the stomping of feet and the holding of his breath until he turned blue! The poor adolescent comes over to us and quietly asks us if the squeaky wheel can have his grease, and could he please take our place in line. Well, I lost it. I had been pushed around one time too many, and egged on by my friends I said a loud and firm NO! I told the boor that we had been there just as long as he had, probably longer, and we had our time-stamped tickets to prove it. The people behind us were none too happy either. Where did he get off thinking that he was owed the prime spot in line, simply because he yelled the loudest? Not only that, the theatre was not full. There were plenty of prime seats for all, no matter where you were in line. I stood my ground. Maybe it was the experience at the grocery store the day before, or maybe it was the sight of a kid being bullied by an adult that riled me, but I was not going to allow this asshole preferential treatment. The manager came over and quietly told the boy to take the boor's ticket while he dealt with the rest of us peons. We entered before him, but he still won his point ahead of 50 others.

The Husband remarked to me afterward that it was somehow ironic that Michael Moore's film dealt with an innate sense of entitlement and here we were witnessing that supposed privilege first hand. I am trying to understand it. I cannot for the life of me comprehend what it is that makes some people think that they are on this planet alone and that they deserve it all. Can anybody please explain to me from where that selfishness originates? It certainly wasn't what I was taught, nor was it what I taught my children. Are we doomed to forever treat each other with rudeness and disdain, or is there hope still for the boors of the world? I am quite aware that it probably would have been easier for me to capitulate and shut up, but it seems to never end. This guy has probably never been challenged on his behaviour before, but at least he would have one memory of a group of strong souls that refused to be bullied by his act. Score one for the good guys.

Friday, 2 October 2009

I Was Prepared for Busy, I Wasn't Prepared for Stupid.

I haven't written a Friday "Stop the Stupid" in months. Maybe it is because I have been too busy to be so cynical, or maybe it is as simple as people have been increasing their collective levels of intelligence. I suppose this is what happens when a Harvard grad gets elected president. Believe me, there is still a lot of stupid out there. It would be too easy for me to comment on the ridiculousness that is the "Birther Movement", or the over-the-top health care lies that have been flung south of the border. I could easily comment on the recent distractions that idiots like Jon Gosselin have been attempting to create, or even how obsessed the media seems with the David Letterman story. But instead, I will focus my pre-Shabbat version of Stop the Stupid on my local grocery store.

Here in the north Jewish ghetto, grocery shopping on Friday is tantamount to admitting sado-masochistic tendencies. That pain is only acerbated when that Friday is also the evening before a holiday that will be observed throughout the entire weekend. Today I found myself in the most unenviable of all positions. I required a few essential items for a community dinner this evening, and a trip to the store was imperative. It is also a miserable day here, so shlepping around the city was a chore that I was eager to avoid. Hence, I found myself at the local grocery store that also happens to be the largest Kosher all-in-one in the GTA. Every Jewish household in the area must have been represented at this store. Women with children in tow picking up the weeks worth of Sukkot preparations, husbands sent out on last minute challah errands, elderly patrons eager to use this week's in store coupons before their expiry, and just average shoppers like yours truly attempting to get in and out without too much hassle were all part of the kaleidoscope of hell that I encountered. In short, it was packed, but busy I was prepared for. Stupidity is a whole other story.

I ran in to pick up carrots, broccoli and apples. Three bags of produce. That's it. Three bags. The store is wisely outfitted with three separate express lanes that are all supposed to be running at full tilt on Fridays. There is one aisle for 5 items or less, one aisle for 9 items or less, and one aisle for 18 (Chai? Coincidence, I think not!) items or less. As I had less than 5 items, I planted myself in the appropriate queue. Just as I was lining up, a man with a cart packed with 2 roast chickens, 4 packages of raw chicken, 2 babka, 3 heads of lettuce, a dozen or so yarhezeit candles, two packages of bottled water, and enough challah to feed the Israeli Defence Forces, forced his way into line directly in front of me. Ahead of him was a nice older gentleman with 2 challot, and directly in front of him was an older lady with 20 (yes I counted!) items. The four of us were at the end of a line that was at least 15 deep, so it was with some measure of raw irritation that I noted my companions complete lack of numerical prowess. As we inched closer to the Promised Land, I became more and more agitated. Who the hell did these arrogant individuals think they were? Were they simply too lazy to head down to the appropriate aisles, or was there an inherent sense of entitlement? Since we are only 3 days removed from Yom Kippur, I put my head down and engaged in my stress-relieving breathing. I choose not to get involved. Finally, the teenager behind the counter looked at the cart of selfish boor with the chickens and informed him that he needed to get out of this line. "Why?" he asked with distinct disdain. "Because you have more than five items in your cart", responds young girl. (For the record he had 6X5 items!) "Do I?" replied boor. He then proceeded to make a big production out of switching. All the while, older lady is now worried that her 20 items are over the allowed 5. BY A FACTOR OF 4!!! Nice Challah guy tells her to relax. It is just past Yom Kippur and he is ok with allowing her her place in line. He never asked me mind you, but stay she did.

After fumbling with her reusable bags, struggling with her cart, and pulling her store card and VISA from her purse, she belatedly remembers her coupons. She wanted to use all 4, but the disheveled check out girl informs her that it is one per visit. She proceeded to---ARGUE! AAAAAGHHH! She is finally persuaded and packs up her groceries into the cart and turns to leave. SHE HASN'T PAID YET! The girl practically leaps over the counter to corral her and to extract payment. Finally it is my turn.

My three bags are run through and I hand the girl a $20. As I do, the woman behind me engages my check-out girl in a conversation about her bag of milk. It seems that she doesn't want to buy it, because it is leaking all over the conveyor. "Go get another", says the girl. "Can't you send somebody over? It is too far for me to walk." Checkout girl then proceeds to climb on top of her station and attempts to flag down a co-worker. At this point, I lost it. "Excuse me", says I "Can I have my change and then the two of you can work this out." "Oh, OK", says stupid checkout girl. She handed me my cash and I bolted like the wind.

The entire escapade wasted over 1/2 hour. 3 minutes to procure the groceries and 27 minutes witnessing stupidity. Thank God for Shabbat.

Chag Sameach to all observe.