I had a plan for what to do when my rights were returned for both of my traditionally published books, but due to a not-so-author-friendly contract, it was still a year away for one and almost two years away for the other. I did have a plan, though, and I was all set to work on it. Then, as the saying goes, the game changed.
With apologies and a tip of the cap to James Fell…
–-On This Day in History Shit Went Down: January 4, 2022–
The email was unexpected and brief. I was unceremoniously dropped by my publisher. The plan I had in place had to change. The first order of business was to get the nonfiction book about my daughter’s struggles with spinal fusion surgery out ASAP.
I’m happy to report that less than four months later I released Bent But Not Broken: One Family’s Scoliosis Journey on my own. It was one hell of a learning curve, but I did it, and I’ve never been happier. The cover is better, the layout is better, and I’m in complete control.
ALL royalties from that book are being donated to charities (Canadian Blood Services and Ronald McDonald House). That would not have been possible with a publisher taking a majority cut of the already small slice of pie. You can find your favourite retailer here if you want to buy it (don’t ask me what’s happening with the Australian paperback, that’s an Amazon “quirk” for which I have yet to see a resolution).
I shelved Hard Truth and wanted to turn it into a quadrilogy of short novels (about 175 pages each) and planned on doing that last year in advance of the midterm elections (the characters are all flavoured similarly to some of the names you hear in the news and the stories are them getting their comeuppances), but then a friend came to me with the idea for my #MisfortuneMemoir and that shiny object captured my attention (the newly minted Reprisal series is slotted to hit the shelves, at least in part, before the 2024 election in the U.S.).
I put all the things I’d learned getting BENT out into the world into action and as I hope you are aware, Near Death by a Thousand Cuts: A Humorous Memoir of Misfortune will hit the shelves on April 1st. I’m beyond excited about bringing this book to you and am proud of myself for taking control of a challenging situation.
Am I done with publishers? Partly. Yes, my experience was definitely tainted due to one bad apple, and I’ll continue to self-publish, but I do have a few novels finished that I think would be a great fit for a traditional publisher (I think one, in particular, is damn good and I promise it will have a shorter title than my nonfiction). More on that after I get past this upcoming release.
So, happy January 4th, everyone, and remember the saying about doors closing and windows opening or something. I don’t know, there are lessons in there. Or not. Do with this information as you will.
Peace, love, and penguins, Andrew
P.S. I made a conscious decision to not call out my former publisher by name here. Aside from them having an itchy trigger finger from a litigation perspective, I don’t think dragging a company publicly over these differences is cool beans. If you message me directly though I’d be happy to share my experience. Onward and upward, friends.
James Burke had this splendid television series called Connections. Every episode he would walk you through a weird and wild chain of events and inventions that led to some modern technological advancement. Imagine the Moon landing of 1969 only being made possible because of some fourteenth-century monk’s desire to make beer more efficiently. That’s the type of story he told week in and week out, and it was fascinating.
So, let me take you on a similar journey about why tomatoes make me think of persecution.
Way back in late 2014 I was quite active on Twitter. I amassed a following of seven or eight hundred people and I followed about six hundred. Not a huge sphere of influence by any stretch, but not nothing either. In addition to people I knew in real life, I followed all the political parties and their leaders for Canada as well as Ontario. I am active politically, I care about democracy in my country (and elsewhere) and want nothing more than for it to be a fair and representative system for the people participating in it.
That said, I can be very passionate in my opinions and I acknowledge that sometimes that emotional investment does not always positively further debate and some find it offputting. I can be talked off my outrage cliff easily enough, but if someone doesn’t have the energy or desire to call me out on that and instead just walks away I understand.
With that in mind, let me tell you about this person we’ll call “Pierre”. I was introduced to him at a regular social event and he seemed like a nice enough fella. We decided to “do lunch” after a couple of times running into each other at this event. Not halfway through the lunch, he busts out a multi-level marketing scheme.
I took his materials and gave him the token, “I’ll for sure look into this,” before tossing them in my recycling bin as soon as I got home. We did keep in touch though and saw each other around town a few times. Even then I wouldn’t have said we were friends but instead would have defined us as friendly acquaintances.
Then the prospect of a Canadian federal election happened. At that time, Stephen Harper was the Prime Minister and he was behaving like a real piece of shit, leaning into very anti-democratic ideals (muzzling scientists whose research contradicted Conservative ideology, limiting voting rights, committing and defending election fraud, and my personal favourite, destroying science and research books because they didn’t have anywhere to put them). He was also into heavily divisive politics (keep in mind this was right as the U.S. election was set to turn the political landscape on its head).
One day we got into it and after a little back-and-forth, I made the jump and invoked Godwin’s Law.
Instead of addressing the merits of my claim (which I was fully prepared to argue properly since I know well enough I was being hyperbolic in my comparison), he replied with a “very fine people on both sides” sort of comment. This was a couple of years before the village idiot Oompa Loompa used the phrase but that was the underlying argument he came back with and it was then I decided that this wasn’t a person I wanted in my life. So, I unfollowed him from Twitter and took him out of my friend list on Facebook.
Immediately thereafter he sent me a message on Facebook railing about how he was being persecuted, which tracked rather nicely with all the other “arguments” he attempted since there is this tendency for certain people to extend the definition of “persecution” to include individuals who simply don’t want to hear their crap anymore. It’s laughable that his sense of entitlement led him to believe that every other human on the planet owed him an audience.
“Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.”
Here’s a pro tip for anyone improperly playing the persecution card: No one owes you shit, you’re not being “cancelled”, and you’re certainly not being persecuted simply because a random citizen decides to remove you and your bullshit opinions from their line of sight.
To say that Pierre isn’t a fan would be a gross understatement. I’ve never seen anyone hate a specific food with the intensity of this guy. My son’s deathly allergic to peanuts and I’ve never even seen him emotionally collapse the way Pierre does at the mere mention of tomatoes. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen anyone hate anything as much as he claims to hate them. His is a completely unhinged, visceral reaction that legitimately has me concerned for any wait staff that mistakenly hands him a plate with so much as a single cherry tomato on top.
It comes up because I can’t look at a tomato without thinking about Pierre, his watered-down whiny definition of persecution, and his pyramid scheme. It also happens that this past weekend I made salsa. I sliced, peeled, crushed, and drained close to 150 tomatoes and with each one I giggled maniacally at the thought of Pierre sitting in front of a plate of them while being forced to watch clips of Justin Trudeau.
Persecution salsa for the win.
Edit: I dug up the original email he sent me and he used the word “prosecution” instead of “persecution”, which just makes this even more hilarious. Just thought I would share.
The most formative twelve months of my life happened between August 1989 and July 1990. When digging around in the basement more than thirty-two years later, my wife uncovered a box filled with cassettes containing a veritable treasure trove of nostalgia and some pretty awesome music.
Therein were dozens of purchased cassettes, mixed tapes, and bootlegs recorded tape-to-tape or from these newfangled digital compact discs. Included in this musical ark were my first two attempts at making mixes with meaning that documented those magical, formative twelve months and ushered in a new era of my human development.
Before we get into a rundown of my autobiographical mixes, let’s first take a minute to appreciate the sheer eclecticism of this collection. If you know me and my wife, you’ll be able to pick out whose are whose, but there is some definite and in some cases surprising overlap (I’ll leave it to you to guess what that is). On the top layer alone we have the following artists represented:
REM, Steve Vai, The Mighty Lemon Drops, George Michael, The Northern Pikes, RUSH, They Might Be Giants, Billy Bragg, Sting, Concrete Blonde, James, Bootsauce, Pink Floyd, Beastie Boys, 54-40, Yaz, The Grapes of Wrath, ABBA, Sarah McLachlan, The Pursuit of Happiness, Tori Amos, Culture Club, The Jam, Depeche Mode, Rage Against The Machine, Aerosmith, Pachelbel, The Cure, L7, Sinead O’Connor, Lenny Kravitz, Tom Petty, Faith No More, House of Pain, Lava Hay, Voice of the Beehive, Bananarama, National Velvet, Violent Femmes, Ride, The Murmurs, The Watchmen, Jane’s Addiction, Pearl Jam, and Michael Jackson
I don’t think there’s a playlist in existence that contains all of those acts and I suspect that iTunes’ or Spotify’s algorithms wouldn’t have the foggiest idea what to do to come up with a “recommended for you” list.
It’s worth noting that with all my wife’s (clearly superior) tastes intermingled with mine in one fantastic pile of music there was but a single cassette requiring pencil surgery!
Challenge: Create a playlist with one (1) song from each of the above artists and share the link. I want to see what you come up with.
Here’s mine (minus National Velvet because they aren’t on Spotify)
Let’s start with a look at the music I put on those tapes back in the middle of 1990 and I’ll walk you through the reasons they’re on there after you’ve had a chance to absorb the list:
Mixed Emotions – The Rolling Stones
Hold On To Your Hat – The Rolling Stones
Rock And A Hard Place – The Rolling Stones
Get Off Of My Cloud – The Rolling Stones
Paint It, Black – The Rolling Stones
Ruby Tuesday – The Rolling Stones
You Can’t Always Get What You Want – The Rolling Stones
The Joker – Steve Miller Band
Swingtown – Steve Miller Band
Rock’n Me – Steve Miller Band
Here I Go Again – Whitesnake
All Join Our Hands – White Lion
Love Ain’t For Keepin’ – The Who
Pour Some Sugar On Me – Def Leppard
YYZ – Rush
My Generation – The Who
Pinball Wizard – The Who
Hello, I Love You – The Doors
In My Life – The Beatles
Revolution – The Beatles
Imagine – John Lennon
What A Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
Welcome To The Jungle – Guns N’ Roses
My Michelle – Guns N’ Roses
Fallen Angel – Poison
Baba O’Riley – The Who
Money – Pink Floyd
With A Little Help From My Friends – Joe Cocker
YYZ – Rush
The Spirit Of Radio – Rush
Limelight – Rush
Tom Sawyer – Rush
Red Barchetta – Rush
Take The Money And Run – Steve Miller Band
You Shook Me All Night Long – AC/DC
All You Need Is Rock ‘n’ Roll – White Lion
My Michelle – Guns N’ Roses
Red Red Wine – UB40
Blowin’ in the Wind – Bob Dylan
It Ain’t Me Babe – Bob Dylan
Paranoimia (feat. Max Headroom) – The Art Of Noise, Max Headroom
Mr. Tambourine Man – Bob Dylan
Legs – The Art Of Noise
Peter Gunn (feat. Duane Eddy) – The Art Of Noise, Duane Eddy
I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – The Proclaimers
Sunday Bloody Sunday – U2
Magic Carpet Ride – Steppenwolf
Wild Thing – The Troggs
Piano Man – Billy Joel
Three and a half hours of music, 50 tracks (48 unique), and very little of it current for the time. So what exactly was going on?
The Rolling Stones (7)
In late 1989, at the age of 15, my good friend Jon who was a year older than me, got tickets to see The Rolling Stones through a contact of his grandfather (I think he played cards with a concert promotor). It was the Steel Wheels tour and it was my first ever concert. Forget the fact that it was at Skydome (now Rogers Centre) before they figured out how to make the sound work well. Forget the fact that we were a mile away in the lower bowl. I was with my longest-standing friend watching the Rolling Stones and it was freakin’ awesome.
RUSH (6), Billy Joel (1), Louis Armstrong (1), Joe Cocker (1)
Two words; High school. More specifically, Jer, Shelby, Nicky, Melissa, Michelle (more about her later), Deborah, and Heather.
For reasons I cannot remember, Louis Armstrong and Joe Cocker songs were popular, but all those friends were who I hung out with so I’m just assuming they had something to do with them being on the tape.
Billy Joel is on there because he was definitely a favourite of all the girls I mentioned above. I didn’t go to his concert with them but they did surprise me with a concert t-shirt the next day and that was really cool.
As for RUSH, that’s entirely Jer’s doing. I was sitting in the hallway with him one day and he gave me his headphones and pressed play on his Walkman. The opening riff of Limelight blasted into my ears and could do nothing but sit there, mouth agape and in complete awe. I was hooked and they remain one of my favourite bands to this day (RIP Neil).
From late 1988 to the summer of 1990 I worked as a bus boy at a place called The Firefighter’s Club. My dad, not a firefighter, had a membership and put in a good word for me with “Coop” (John Cooper) and got me the job.
There was supposed to be an initiation that involved being wrapped in an extension cord and hung upside down from the balcony of the pump house beside the pool or dunked in the grease pit or something. I don’t remember exactly, just that as the new guy it was a rough introduction to my first job outside of delivering newspapers.
Everyone had a nickname: Pig, Der, Smurf, CC… I didn’t have one for the longest time but eventually, a couple of the others started calling me “Bat Butters” on account of the fact I had a 1989 Batman t-shirt I wore in the mornings when we’d be cleaning up from the night before and setting up for that evening’s events.
Anyway, the job sucked. It was incredibly long hours with little pay. I may have even been promoted to washroom cleaning at some point. However, it had its perks. Most notably, open bars at weddings from which the bartenders would slip the bus boys and girls drinks. If you were lucky enough to get the pump house as your assignment it was a veritable free-for-all, which was nice.
The kitchen where the dishes were done was separate from the kitchen where the food was cooked and that was where Pig lived. I think his actual name was Dave, but he was the resident dish pig, and so he was named. He was a metalhead, a super nice guy, and played music, loud music, while he washed the dishes. Whitesnake, White Lion, Guns N’ Roses, Poison, and AC/DC were all bands that he played that had some tunes I enjoyed – even if they weren’t as heavy hitting as the songs Pig preferred.
Missing from my tapes that Pig liked to play: Metallica, Motley Crue, Iron Maiden, and Black Sabbath.
It’s also worth noting that the GnR song I included in the mixes was there because I was into the aforementioned Michelle. It’s not a song one would normally associate with a teenage crush, but the title aligned, and so on it went.
Pink Floyd (1), The Doors (1)
I won’t go into too many details here, but suffice it to say that it was Smurf who introduced me to a beer bottle with a hole in the bottom and that had a lot to do with my sudden interest in Pink Floyd and The Doors.
Def Leppard (1), Led Zeppelin (1)
Toward the end of each academic year, my high school had a big dance. Everyone got to vote on their favourite songs and we’d have a Much Music (the Canadian equivalent of MTV) Video Party to count down the top 100 songs. They’d write them on a big thing of packing paper and unroll the list until they got to #1.
For both Grade 9 and 10 (1989 and 1990) Pour Some Sugar On Me was still hugely popular, in spite of the song coming out in 1987. Stairway To Heaven was the perennial number one, mostly because it was a song you could dance slow to (for most of it, at least) and was like thirty-seven minutes long, so you knew that so long as it hadn’t played you still had some time to work up the nerve to ask someone to dance (I was supposed to dance with Shelby but Evan swooped in before I could work my way over to her and I’ll be honest I’ve never really forgiven him for it).
Steve Miller Band (4), The Art Of Noise (3), Bob Dylan (3), The Who (4), Steppenwolf (1), The Troggs (1), The Proclaimers (1), The Beatles (2), John Lennon (1), U2 (1)
Two words: summer camp. More specifically, Rhett, Doug, Matt Zinner and an incident that simply became known as “The Belt”.
In August of 1989, I was in my last year as a camper at Sparrow Lake Camp (SLC). It was my fourth or fifth year there and as I’d have to apply for the counsellor in training (CIT) program next year nothing was guaranteed. My counsellors, Doug and Rhett, either took this into consideration or were just awesome guys because they gave me the most memorable two weeks of all my summer camp experiences.
While the Art of Noise and Proclaimers were in general popular around camp, it was Rhett and Doug that made sure Bob Dylan, The Who (Magic Bus was our lip synch contest song that year), Steppenwolf, The Troggs, The Beatles, and John Lennon were firmly entrenched in the soundtrack of the summer. Rhett and Doug also helped me through the traumatic belt incident. They helped me “lean into it” and taught me more about human nature in those two weeks than I’d ever learnt to that point.
My one cabin mate, Sean, whom I’d shared a cabin with in previous years was a huge U2 fan. At one point the year prior he’d written the lyrics to Sunday Bloody Sunday on the cabin ceiling (seeing as it was a United Church camp it was his little piece of rebellion). There was also another counsellor named Roop that, when I first met him a couple of years prior, wore a Joshua Tree concert t-shirt. Both of them were cool cats and remarkably nice and the prospect of getting to see them again in the summer of 1990 was exciting.
Lastly, we have the Steve Miller Band. At that time, his Greatest Hits 1974-1978 album was experiencing a resurgence, especially at summer camps for some reason. At SLC there was this one particular counsellor, Matt, who was the absolute shit. I can’t remember if it was 1989 or earlier, but Matt was the reason I wanted to become a counsellor myself. He was remarkably well-liked by the campers and treated everyone really well. I wasn’t one of the “cool” kids, but in the presence of Matt it didn’t matter, because he made me feel like I was. One day I was in the communal washroom taking a leak and Matt sauntered in (he was too cool to simply walk) and stepped up to the urinal beside me and just started singing Steve Miller’s The Joker at the top of his lungs, adding extra emphasis on the “midnight toker” part and then giving me a wink.
UB40 (1) and Guns N’ Roses Reprise
Remember my high school hallway hangout crew from earlier? Well, this is where shit gets teenage angsty. Heather’s Sweet 16 party was held on a boat that cruised the Toronto harbour and Michelle was there. For months I’d been working up the nerve to make a move and with the school year winding down and summer camp on the horizon (I was accepted as a CIT and would be gone for all of July and Michelle was going to be away at her camp as well), Heather’s party was my chance. She wore a red dress and we danced to UB40’s Red Red Wine and either shortly before or after that song (it’s all kind of a blur so many years later) we kissed.
A couple of days later her brother drove her to my baseball game where afterwards she took me aside and explained that her parents forbade the relationship because I wasn’t Jewish. I was devastated and as I watched them pull out of the parking lot, her brother turned and gave me this shit-eating grin before driving away (like Evan with Shelby, I haven’t forgiven him for it, not that I hold 30-year-long grudges or anything). So, UB40 made it onto the second mix along with My Michelle (again) in an effort to help process (read: wallow in) my grief.
Michelle and I stayed friends, which is good because she was a beautiful human and we shared a lot of common friends, one of whom was Jer (remember, he was the one who introduced me to RUSH). I forget when, but she started dating him at some point, was crowned prom queen with him as king our graduating year, and then they married. They’re still together and they’re both still beautiful humans that I am fortunate to know.
So, there you have it. My memory isn’t what it used to be, but the ones I shared above are about as permanent as they get. As I look at the other mixed tapes I created in the years that followed I can clearly see not just the evolution of my musical tastes but also the evolution of me as a person. The twelfth mix was done sometime in 1995 and with the exception of one Hootie and the Blowfish song it still holds up today.
I’ve created Spotify playlists of the first two in the twelve tape series (sadly, I’m missing #6 and #10) and will create more for the remaining tapes when I get the chance.
In 1993 I was accepted into the Applied Physics program at the University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada) and in the fall of that year, I began my post-secondary educational journey. It was a co-op program, which sometimes meant job placements during the “normal” school year and studies in the summer. Add to that terrible showings in a few classes (curse you, Electricity & Magnetism 2!) and by the summer of 1996, instead of heading into my fourth year and polishing off my degree as an Astrophysics major with the minimum allowable GPA, I was languishing in the middle of my third-year course load.
Enter Calculus 3.
The year previous, I want to say it was in my Classical Mechanics class, we did a walk-through of Newton’s “invention” of calculus. Newton’s Principia was the culmination of more than 20 years of work and we covered it in three, 3-hour lectures (as our prof pointed out, “He had other things going on, so it took him longer.”) I was a big fan of the class and it pretty much cemented my interest in the field. Little did I know that this would lead me to Calculus 3.
Calc 3 sucked. It melted my brain and was impossibly hard, especially for someone scraping the bottom of the academic barrel. Even those with a lot more mathematical know-how than me found the course a challenge. However, it was a necessary part of the gauntlet an undergrad physics student had to run to get out with a degree.
Dr. Paldus was our prof and he… wasn’t the most engaging professor in the school. Smart? I’m sure of it. Thoroughly knowledgable in all things calculus? No doubt. Teacher of the year? Not quite. He wrote a mile a minute and filled up the chalkboard so quickly you had to scramble to take notes before he erased it. He also mostly kept his back to the class and spoke straight into the chalkboard, mumbling with his thick Czech accent.
No one could understand a damn thing, so we’d scribble down the equations when he eventually stepped out of the way and then review them after.
As a result, a small group of us took a casual approach to the class itself and play euchre in Waterloo Park before class, have some food, enjoy the local flora and fauna (especially the flora), and meander in (on time) relaxed and ready to write down equations with our bellies full and our hands nimble from the card playing.
In one class early on, Dr. Paldus started putting extraordinary emphasis on one particular phrase. He’d be writing at near-light speed, mumbling into the chalkboard, and then every now and then would yell, “Nablaoperator!”
No one would know what in the ever-living hell he was talking about because his body would block whatever symbol it was he just drew. He assumed we would know what the hell this was, but it had even the class smartypants stumped.
Keep in mind, this was before the internet had anything useful on it (it was mostly just slow-to-load porn and not even close to real-time sports scores), so a Google search wasn’t possible. Dictionaries, encyclopedias, and textbooks were where we found answers and this is where one savvy investigator in the glass figured out that “Nablaoperator” was actually two words “Nabla operator” and that his was another word for the “del operator”, or to put it in lay terms, an upside-down triangle.
So whenever he yelled “Nabla Operator” that’s what he drew, and he clearly thought it was important enough to yell it at the top of his lungs. Because he did this whilst blocking our view, no one knew what he was writing until way later and there was all this other shit on the board.
Now, all of us studying astrophysics had to take Calc 3 with Paldus. Given that most astrophysics was just complicated fancy math this is not a surprise. It was also not a surprise that all the astro students shared more than that one class together. Suffice it to say, that after a few lectures the lore of the “Nabla operator” had grown and was being discussed by many in the physics building.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there used to be this wholesale food store not too far from the school called Knob Hill Farms. It was like Costco before there was Costco but from what I can tell it was only for food.
Their logo was this steer-looking thing with a maple leaf on top:
Why do you care about this? Well, I’ll tell ya.
One day I walk into my Astro 4 class (taught by the excellent Dr. Gretchen Harris, who faced the class to talk and didn’t yell random mathematical operators at us), and one of my classmates had this drawn on the chalkboard:
I received a scholarship out of high school. It wasn’t much, $500 per term, but it was something. The conditions of maintaining the scholarship were simple: achieve an overall average of 75% with no core physics classes under that percentage. At the end of my first term, my overall average was 74.8% – and they took away my scholarship (I guess rounding up 0.2% wasn’t a thing when big bucks were involved.)
In my second year, when it became clear that first-year marks in the mid-seventies were not a strong enough foundation to excel in my field, I went to my undergrad advisor, Dr. Brandon, and asked him for his thoughts. He told me to quit. “Science, and in particular physics, is not for you. Reconsider your choices.”
I said, “I’ll take this under advisement. Thank you.”
Well, I was 20, full of piss and vinegar and not a hint of self-awareness, so I promptly declared astrophysics as my major.
Fast forward to the summer of 1997. It was a year after the dreaded Calc 3 debacle (which I passed, but only barely). I was taking one class at that time and working two part-time jobs. As I registered for my last full-time semester and started picking my classes I wondered what the hell I was going to do with an astrophysics degree.
As mentioned, I wasn’t in the top 5% of my class (more like the top 95%) but I didn’t feel too bad about it because being in the bottom 5% of an astrophysics program still had me in some pretty good company (I’m only as dim as some far-off galaxy when compared to some people with pretty big brains.) Nevertheless, a future in the field wasn’t looking good.
Enter this third-party travel medical insurance company based in Richmond, Virginia, with its Canadian headquarters in town. A fellow struggling physics student friend of mine (who a little more than a decade later would sell his company to RIM for a dump truck full of money) worked in the call centre there and noticed they were hiring junior programmers. He knew I could program a little and suggested I apply. So I did.
It turns out that the hiring manager was a graduate of the University of Waterloo and saw my resume and that I was a soon-to-be grad and he brought me in for an interview. The interview went really well. I was honest with him and said that if I got the job I would not be continuing with my honours astrophysics degree and would instead pull my registration and fill out an intent to graduate form for a general bachelor of science. Since I wouldn’t be doing much astronomy in my day-to-day he was cool with that.
A couple of weeks later he called and told me I got the job. I officially started my first career and I didn’t even have a piece of paper from my school – yet. Life was grand.
I started filling out the intent to graduate form. I double-checked all my compulsory credits. Everything there was good. I double-checked all my elective credits. Everything was good there, too. Then, I get to the confirmation of my overall average portion of the form. It wasn’t very high, but I failed a couple of classes, positively tanked several others, and beyond my first year only had a few really good marks.
I checked my transcript, logged into my account and checked it on the computer, and called the registrar’s office and had them verbally confirm the number for me.
Turns out I was getting a bachelor of science from the University of Waterloo with 0.1% to spare.
Let me take you back to the first week of September 1993. I saw this girl during orientation week at university. We were on a school bus on the way to a bar for a drink fest (this was back when schools allowed and even sponsored these sorts of things). She was standing in the aisle, one hand on a seatback, the other pushing her hair behind her ear. She was talking with her friends, or maybe just some random people, it was hard to tell. She looked happy though.
I was sitting two rows down from her. I turned to the guy beside me and said, “I’m going home with her tonight.” He sized her up, then looked back at me and said, “No. You are most definitely not.”
He was right.
However, a short time later I was in the room of a friend across the hall, my new buddy Riaz, and she was there playing Sonic on his roommate’s Sega Genesis. We got to talking and I asked her if she wanted to see these new glow-in-the-dark stars I put on my ceiling.
She said, “Sure, why not?”
We went back to my room and hung out, and thus began a casual fling that lasted a couple of months. She did drive me to vote for the very first time, and my mom did make her a toasted tomato sandwich, but eventually, it ran its course. I won’t bore you with the details, but a few months after the end I was a Jerky McJerkface and she didn’t say much to me for the greater part of a year.
Then, I went to a house party she and her roommates were throwing (I was invited by one of them; I didn’t just show up). I met her brother. We talked and hung out. It was nice. As another year went by, we spent a lot of it playing pool, hanging out, and just enjoying each other’s company. We’d occasionally share a kiss or two, but it wasn’t a thing. What we were starting to notice though, was gravity appeared to be stronger when we were in proximity to each other.
Then one day in October of 1995, I’m working a student co-op job in a city about an hour away and I come up to the on-campus pub for Wednesday’s Rock and Roll night. She was there, playing pool (she and I could each own a table for the night and often did). We chatted, shot some stick, and then I asked her, “How about you come down and spend the weekend with me?”
Her friends all told her it was a bad idea, no good could come of it, and so on. Well, not too long after I floated the idea of a weekend get-together, the guy she was casually dating walked in, saw her, and didn’t so much as wave hello. He went straight outside to have a beer and cigarette with his buddies.
She turned to me and said, “Sure why not?”
We spent the weekend playing pool at Skyline Billiards (which, sadly, has since closed), hanging out with a med student friend of mine and his weird med student peers, and enjoying each other’s company. On Sunday morning we walked up the street to a local pancake house and had breakfast together (shoutout to the Maple Leaf Pancake House). She said she’d stay another night. She rode the bus with me to work Monday morning and was supposed to go home but when I got back she was in my house. I think she might have even made dinner.
She said, “I’ll go back tomorrow.”
She rode the bus with me to work on Tuesday and did go home. I called her that night to make sure she got back okay and mentioned that the weekend was really cool. She agreed. I asked her if she would like to be a regular thing. She said she would.
All our mutual friends gave it a month on the low end and a few months at best. A bit more than a year later I was taking her to the hospital to get her fingertip sewn back on after The Great Bagel Cutting Incident of 1997. Two years later we moved in together. Three years later I proposed. Four years later we were married.
For our first (paper) anniversary, I commissioned an art student from our alma mater (the University of Waterloo. Go Warriors!) to do a chalk drawing of my wife as a 19-year-old standing in the aisle of a school bus.
On November 6, 2022, we will celebrate 23 years of marriage.
A few years back someone asked us if there was a moment when we knew that the other was “the one”. For me, it was after we had moved in together and I was doing the prep for a barium enema (a hilarious story that’s going into my next book). Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but for sure it was shortly after we moved in together earlier in the same year (when I started the process of having her engagement ring custom-made).
For the first time in a long time, I clicked on an Instagram story of a friend. It was a video of a Kid Carson podcast who, from what I’ve been able to glean, is trying to be the Canadian Joe Rogan. Carson used to be a radio guy here in the Great White North until he went on a pro “freedumb convoy” conspiracy rant on-air and was (quite justifiably, in my opinion) fired.
Anyway, in this video of his podcast, Kid goes on about how all 190-something nations part of the World Health Organization (WHO) are going to vote to give the organization “limitless power” over how countries deal with pandemics. Don’t forget, dear listener, that the WHO is funded by none other than… Bill Gates! Jesus Christ on a cracker, I watched about 3 minutes of this 6-minute video and my head almost exploded.
As for my friend who posted it, at least some members of their family have been sucked down the FOX News rabbit hole, so I shouldn’t be surprised that they’ve gone and jumped in to see what all the fuss was about. I wanted to reach out to this person and try to talk sense into them, but I know it won’t work. They will have some fallacious argument or unprovable rationalization at the ready; parroting some talking point from a big-mouthed, right-wing batshit nutjob.
I was disappointed and sad. My friend is such a kind and loving person, as is their entire family, but they’re spewing this conspiracy bullshit like sprinkles on a sundae – and it’s dangerous.
Distraught and upset, I reached out to my dear friend and world-renowned skeptic, Gordon Bonnet (check out his blog, Skeptophilia. It’s what’s for breakfast). I said to him, “I have this nagging feeling that we’re witnessing the fall of civilization.”
Gordon, unfortunately, has experience with people who’ve gone off the deep end and I was hoping he’d have some insight on how to navigate these waters. At the very least I knew he’d empathize with my situation. His suggestion was to leave them be. Hard as it is to admit, sometimes the only play is to walk away. This is fine on a small scale, but the slow goose step towards a fascist hellscape continues seemingly unabated. What the hell can we do about that? We have to do something, right? Left unchecked, those incapable of reason and critical thought will steamroll right into the vault and rob the rest of us blind.
Stephen King once said, “The effective half-life of evil is always relatively short.” The problem is they can do a hell of a lot of damage in a very quick amount of time. Just look at what happened with just four years of the tangerine shitgibbon in the White House. In the snap of a finger, the United States is on the cusp of rolling back reproductive rights that have been in place for two generations.
So what is there to do?
I have no idea, to be honest. This macro-scale stuff is beyond complicated (practically, not conceptually) but on the micro-scale taking Gordon’s suggestion and letting go is a good start – and that’s what this post is. Letting go. There’s an old saying, “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it is yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.”
I hope these friends come back, I truly do, but they’re going to have to do it on their own.
Being a writer is an odd sort of existence. You come up with these wild (hopefully original) ideas and slap tens of thousands of different combinations of the same 26 letters onto the page and bring them to life.
Katie Oldham famously wrote about the experience of consuming these ideas:
Creating the most effective hallucinatory experience takes a lot of effort. You need to know what you’re doing. You need to have a solid grasp of the rules and conformances – so you can break them properly. You need to be dedicated, not just to the execution element of the craft, but to the whole universe of storytelling. I will also argue it’s not enough to have merely existed, you need to have experienced something in life, either first-hand or vicariously through others. That’s not to say that young, inexperienced people can’t write engaging or even transformative stories, but I’ll assert that they are in the minority. Hell, the list of those who can is short enough as it is even if you don’t impose any life-experience criteria.
There’s also an expression out there, and I’m not sure who to attribute it to, but it goes like this:
Writers are readers.
I’ll take the quote a step further and say:
Writers are conscientious consumers of storytelling in all its forms.
Yes, books are storytelling but so are:
and screen productions (large and small, self-made or professional),
and live theatre,
and webcomics or cartoons,
and graphic novels,
and stand-up comedy,
and spoken (or signed) word,
and cave drawings,
and all the visual arts,
Recently, George Stroumboulopoulos (“Strombo”) interviewed the surviving members of Rush, Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee, on his “House of Strombo” show (you can watch the full YouTube interview at the end of this post). This segment early in the discussion really resonated with me.
Strombo:“Rush could have played 20 different genres. What were the things that you were being exposed to that led you to figure out that this is the way you wanted to be?”
Lifeson:“Listening to other things like Joni Mitchell, listening to the crafting of songs and what works and what doesn’t work and what really stands out in a song, and the pacing, and all of those things about the structure of a song, you learn about that through listening. You… maybe are not directly influenced by the music itself, but how it’s constructed and how it works… becomes the important thing, I think, and you carry that on forever.”
I extend the philosophy of Lifeson’s influencing experiences to my everyday existence. Sure, there are times when I just shut off my brain and enjoy various art forms for the sake of enjoying them, appreciating art for art’s sake, but more often than not I’m examining, as Alex said, “how it’s constructed and how it works”.
I pay attention to how whatever I’m consuming makes me feel and then I start thinking about whatever it is that’s making me feel the way I’m feeling. Naturally, if it involves words of any kind I examine the writing first, but what I’m really doing is looking for the fundamental elements of the story that are triggering the emotion, regardless of the positiveness or negativeness of it.
Ultimately, I’m constantly asking myself, “Why does the story make me feel the way I feel?” and when I sit down at the computer to write, I do my darndest to take those pieces, those elements of structure and construction, and craft the story I want to tell. In that sense, I’m (almost) always working, a concept that Misters Lifeson and Lee have understood since they strummed their first chords together more than fifty years ago.
I got no time for livin’ Yes, I’m workin’ all the time
– Workign Man. Songwriters: Alex Lifeson / Geddy Lee
But don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that everyone who creates should consume with the same analytical intent. It’s perfectly fine for anyone to enjoy art for art’s sake 100% of the time. However, if you’re a writer, if you’re a storyteller, I would encourage you to look beyond your chosen medium, see what makes it tick, and bring some of that into what you do.
At the very least, you’ll have a better understanding and appreciation for whatever it is you’ve experienced, and who knows, in the process, you might create a more engaging or transformative story of your own.
Check out Alex Lifeson’s new musical project, Envy Of None. It’s a departure from the musical stylings of Rush, but something any music lover will appreciate (Maiah Wynne’s vocals are so haunting and trippy you’ll find yourself immersed in the music). https://envyofnone.com/
Way back in the day I used to get up early and go to the gym. I got there around 06:30 so I could work out for an hour, shower, and get to work by 08:00. The gym at that time was always dead. Literally just a front desk person, me, and this badass woman (more about that later) about my age who always wore orange athletic shorts when she worked out.
She and I seemed to do our circuit in reverse order so she was always on the other side of the room or opposite me depending on where the equipment was. To this point, we hadn’t even said so much as “Good morning” to each other and it had been several weeks.
One day, I was doing an inclined squat and my back went out. I was literally being crushed by the weight and could barely speak. I mustered a weak, “Help!” and she ran over and hoisted the bar off me like it was a toothpick with marshmallows on the ends. She helped me up and got me into the changeroom. I said, “Thanks,” and she said, “No problem. Hope you’re okay,” and that was that.
Fast forward a couple of months later when I return to the gym. She waved at me when I got there and gave me the “thumbs up + shoulder shrug” sign language. I shot her back either a double thumbs up or finger guns, I don’t remember, and mouthed, “Thank you!” (I also did it in ASL because that’s one of the few words I know).
About a week later I started drinking protein shakes. I liked them, but there was a downside. They gave me terrible gas. I mean, windows down while driving in the dead of winter terrible. It was bad.
Anyway, one day I’m on the peck deck and Orange Shorts Wonder Woman was right across from me on the reverse-Thighmaster machine. I had just upped my weight and was trying to squeeze in one last rep, which I did, but I also squeezed out a very long but very silent (thank the gods) fart.
I thought I damaged my ass.
I expected to see a scorch mark on the seat when I stood up.
And then it hit her.
I’ve never seen someone’s face contort as I did hers, and that’s saying something when you go to the gym and see muscleheads trying to bench press the equivalent of a Prius.
She didn’t even finish her set. She just covered her nose with the sweaty towel she used to wipe the machines and left.
I never saw her again.
If there’s one thing I know it’s that the internet can find anybody, so if you’re out there, really strong woman in the orange shorts who worked out early in the morning at the Goodlife Fitness on Columbia Street in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada sometime around 2000 or 2001, please reach out so I can properly apologize for my rancid ass ruining your gym experience, possibly forever.
Since moving from Southern Ontario to the southeastern part of New Brunswick (a quick 1600km [1000mi] jaunt) in August 2020 the most common question I am asked is, “Do you like New Brunswick?” and the second most common one is, “Do you miss Ontario?”
The answers, as it turns out, encompass more than a simple “Yes” or “No”.
Do I like New Brunswick?
Yes. There is a lot to like about his little maritime province of 800,000 souls.
All the people I’ve encountered are pretty chill and my biggest adjustment was to the pace. Everyone here moves around like they’re on a Caribbean island that just happens to have below freezing temperatures six months of the year. Spending 46 years in Southern Ontario, most of that within an hour of Toronto (~5 Million people), it’s a fair statement that I’m wound pretty tight, so I find myself tapping my toe, white-knuckle gripping the steering wheel, or yelling “MOVE ALREADY!” more often than I’d like to. Make no mistake though, I long for the day I can embrace the worry pas attitude of my neighbours.
Speaking of neighbours, the people here are known for being, well, neighbourly, and it’s true! That’s probably the thing I like the most (aside from the 110km/hr speed limit on the highway that never has traffic). For the most part, people here behave neighbourly regardless of your background, religion, or political stripe – until you give them a reason not to, at which point you’d better watch out or you’ll find yourself on the business end of an Acadian Throwing Star.
The province is also absolutely gorgeous. As you can see from the photo above the province is near water, bordered on two sides by the Bay of Fundy to the south and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. That said, it’s actually known more for its trees (and the Irving oil company, but I have nothing nice to say about them other than their rest stop washrooms are really clean). New Brunswick has a crap tonne of trees. So many trees, very little farmland. I was surprised at how hilly the province is. While there are relatively few freshwater lakes, the province boasts the best of all worlds. All it’s missing is a big mountain like Alberta or BC and a giant flat expanse of wheat like Saskatchewan and it’d be the geographical representation of the whole country in a tidy 72,908 square kilometre package.
Things are also cheaper here. Not everyday things like a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter, but big-ticket items like property and housing. The house you’ll see a picture of in the next section would cost me half in New Brunswick of what I would pay in Ontario. As it stands I went from a 40-foot-wide lot with a postage stamp for a backyard bordered by three fences to a 70-foot-wide one with a big-ass shed, screened gazebo, and a tree-lined rear property line backing onto an even more tree-lined crushed gravel multi-use path maintained by the city in all seasons.
The third-most common question I’m asked is if I plan on moving back to “Upper Canada”. While I can’t predict the future, one scroll through my Instagram feed should give you the most likely answer.
Do I miss Ontario?
Mostly not, but what I do miss I miss with an intensity that makes my heart ache.
I don’t miss the traffic. I don’t miss the default curtness or downright rudeness of a lot of the people. I don’t miss the rush, the hustle and bustle, and the traffic. Have I mentioned I don’t miss the traffic? I am fortunate that I get to work from home, but even if my commute was to the other side of the city it would be at worst a 20-minute drive.
It seems the Southern Ontario experience and its citizen’s default behaviour is the exact opposite of what you’ll find out east.
I really don’t miss the politicians, specifically Ontario’s Premier, Doug Ford (a.k.a. Drug Fraud, a.k.a. Trump North, a.k.a. Little Dougy). It’s probably no secret to anyone who’s read this blog that I’m not a fan of conservative politics, and the conservative politicians in Ontario are pretty much the worst. Even though New Brunswick elected a Conservative government a month after I moved here (damn you, New Brunswick, that was a real dick move!) it’s a different brand of politics. There’s still a lot of the same ol’ conservative bullshit about keeping the minimum wage low and a general disrespect to anyone that’s not: a) rich or b) a donor, but they’re neighbourly about it and have been known to listen to reason once or twice. Baby steps.
While I don’t miss Toronto and all the congestion and shitty transit services and throngs of people and the noise I do miss having access to baseball games and concerts. I really miss the music scene. My wife and I would go to shows all the time in Toronto and the surrounding area brings in every act you can think of. Since moving here we have made a commitment to attend as much live music as we can though it will never compare to what we had back in Ontario.
I miss my family’s cottage. Since 1938 my family has had a property on the water up at Wasaga Beach, the longest freshwater beach in the world. The cottage is smack dab in the middle of the beach which sits on the shores of Nottawasaga Bay, a small bay that sits off the quite large Georgian Bay which sits off the quite large Lake Huron. It was a two-hour drive from my house to the cottage and it was worth it. Soft sand, warm weather in the summer with a soft breeze to keep the temperatures sensible, decent skiing in the winter at Blue Mountain just 20-minutes away, and the best sunsets on the planet.
Most of all, I miss the village I spent 46 years building and making myself a part of. My entire immediate family, including all my nieces, nephew, and in-laws, resided within a 90-minute drive of my house. With one exception, the lion’s share of my closest and most trusted friends all lived within a couple of hours. I miss watching gold medal hockey games with some of my best buds or scooting down to Rogers Centre for baseball games. Making friends as an adult is hard, especially when you work from home and have a global pandemic wreaking havoc with outside-the-house activities.
The lack of a village to call upon and lean on was never more apparent than it was last week. My wife drove our daughter to her dorm room at the University of Waterloo, about a half-hour drive from our former home (both my and my wife’s alma mater. Go Warriors!) After a year and a half of remote university, our daughter was excited about finally leaving the nest, but wouldn’t you know it, the day after she unloaded her car, the damn thing wouldn’t start, stranding both her and my wife in the hotel parking lot on January 3rd – the day most places were observing New Year’s and were understandably closed.
Well, after a post by my wife on Facebook and another one by me a short time after we were inundated with offers of places to stay, rides to the mechanic and the airport for my wife, recommendations for mechanics, and even the loan of a car to use while her’s was in the shop. It was overwhelming the amount of support they had, almost instantaneously and with no expectation of reciprocity.
With the outpouring of support from our Ontario village, it was never more apparent that it was something that didn’t exist here in New Brunswick. That, combined with my daughter leaving the nest, was an emotional moment and probably the most emotional experience I’ve had since I’ve been here.
But all is not lost.
As mentioned, making friends as an adult is hard. Everyone already has their group. Their villages are all built. Fortunately, I have a neighbour a couple of doors down that introduced himself shortly after I moved in and happens to be a member at the golf club I joined. He and I golfed quite a bit over the summer and have kept in touch in the off-season.
I also joined a curling club and play every Friday with a wonderful group of about 25 others. It’s a fun league and every week we do a “tag draw” for teams so we play with different people. COVID shut us down in December but as soon as we’re allowed we’ll be back at it.
My son played baseball this summer and toward the end of the year we found out that his teammate and his father the coach lived a few houses down the other way and across the street (funny aside: my wife pointed out the house with the basketball net and kids playing when we moved in but my son never got up the nerve to go say hello.) I see Coach walking the dog all the time and he gave me a bottle of wine in thanks for the jar of homemade salsa I gave him (made with tomatoes from my garden!)
Then, just the other day, as my wife was preparing her return from Ontario a funny thing happened. I texted my golf buddy neighbour and asked him if he could bring me back from the airport because I wanted to leave the car there for my wife. She was to get in late and I thought she’d appreciate not having to take a cab. So he said he would, and then drove me back. Not 20 minutes after I left the car for my wife she texted me saying her flight was cancelled. Golf neighbour was there to take me back so I could get the car (it was in short-term parking and leaving it overnight would have cost me a month’s golf membership dues.)
So the village is being rebuilt, one relationship at a time, but it is being rebuilt. We’ll see how things progress.
To my village back in Ontario, I miss you.
Worry pas, Andrew.
A day after I posted this we got hit with a big snowstorm. Our first nor’easter since moving here, and it was a doozy. It started in the late afternoon and for reasons only known to the Powers That Be my son’s shift at the grocery store wasn’t cancelled. He does shopping cart collection there so there’s no reason to have him working when there’s a foot of snow expected, but nevertheless, they persisted.
His shift was 5-10 pm and by 8:30 they made him clock out and we got the texts asking to come to get him.
There was only one problem:
So I got to work:
Only my wife’s 4×4 Pathfinder got stuck around the corner. One way or the other we were going to put our new village to the test. Golf neighbour didn’t know anyone with a snowmobile or a truck. I didn’t text Coach, but my wife and I both put out messages of assistance to our Facebook friends as well as the neighbourhood groups, my curling group, and my golf club group.
Just like with my wife and daughter last week, the offers of help came in one after the other. It was comforting and heartwarming. The people here, even the strangers who don’t know me from Adam, are truly good people. The plows came to our street, someone who knows someone who knows my wife was actually at the store where our son was and he met my wife halfway. By 10:00 pm everyone was home safe and sound.
Turns out we didn’t have to wait very long to find our village after all.
At first blush, you wouldn’t think that your local mom & pop pizza joint would have anything in common with Kanye West, but you’d be wrong because they both claim to be the best in the world, and just as you take the flyer that Vito’s Authentic Pizzeria (“The Best Pizza In The World Since 1982”) stuffs in your mailbox week after week with a grain of parmesan, so should you with this quote from Ye.
“I am unquestionably, undoubtedly, the greatest human artist of all time. It’s not even a question at this point.”
Kanye West, 2019
In both cases about the only claim they can reasonably make is having an exceptional skill at crafting unprovable hyperbole.
I bring this up because musicologist Eric Alper posted the Kanye quote with no additional context and I immediately hopped into the comments to watch the show. Suffice it to say, it was pretty hilarious, so I added a comment of my own:
I should have known better. Kanye is a Donald Trump fan and Kanye’s fans behave, well, a lot like Donald Trump fans. I was called a “Boomer”, which is funny because I’m solidly GenX. Someone else replied that if Neil Peart was alive he’d appreciate Kanye as a musician, which I thought was the funniest thing I’d read all week – until the commenter made it clear that he was serious. Okay… His justification was that artists like Paul McCartney and Lou Reed have all come out publicly and said they like Kanye. As if somehow “I like Kanye’s stuff” from someone with actual musical talent equates to “I hereby bestow upon you the indisputable title of Greatest Artist of All Time.”
Kanye doesn’t lead the world in more than a couple of objective categories, let alone all of them. Subjectively, I could name fifty other musicians across time and genres that I think have either had a bigger influence on the world or have honed their craft to a greater degree than Mr. West.
Listen, I don’t give a shit if you love Kanye and think he’s all that and a bag of chips. If his work brings you joy then that’s good. The world needs more joy. But for the love of pizza, blindly parroting a claim that at best is unprovable and at worst, as I already pointed out, is objectively untrue, makes you look infantile.
These days, and especially when Red Hats are involved, it seems that good-faith debate devolves into ad-hominem attacks and trading playful barbs into mudslinging, which is too bad. On other comment threads, there were more damning insults than me being called a “Boomer”, but I won’t repeat them. I will say that for every comment asserting Kanye sucked there was often a counterargument that involved a personal epithet. It seems that there will always be a group of people that have forgotten that it’s all subjective.
I actually love the “who’s better than who” debates that rage on the internet (and especially out with friends at a pub). It’s passionate people passionately defending something or someone they are passionate about. It can be educational (“Did you know…?”) and it can be a lot of fun, but some folks are hellbent on making it personal, completely ignoring the subjectivity and making it more about “being right”.
Off the top of my head, I couldn’t name a single Kanye song, but I know I’ve heard some of them before. To make sure wasn’t missing something, I listened to a few of his songs on Spotify:
Stronger (over 900 million streams)
Ni**as In Paris (over 750 millon streams)
Heartless (over 400 million streams)
My impression after giving those songs an open-minded listen? Meh. I can see people digging it, but it did nothing for me and I still 100% stand behind my “beats” meme comment.
It goes to show you though, it takes all kinds. It’s just too bad some people are convinced that disagreeing with someone’s musical taste means they can spread insults and hatred like Vito’s secret family recipe pizza sauce on a large thin-crust pie.
Besides, there’s a common cause out there that we should all be focused on: Making fun of Nickelback.