Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Night Johnny Ace Died by James Lee Burke

The March issue of Esquire has a short story by James Lee Burke to whet our appetite for Jesus Out To Sea, his forthcoming short story compilation. The Night Johnny Ace Died introduces a pair of World War II vets turned rockabilly musicians who find themselves on the outs with the music establishment in the south, and the honky tonk angel who helps drive a wedge between them. Here's an excerpt:

"When Eddy Ray and I first saw her, she was singing at a roadhouse called Buster's in Vinton, Louisiana. The heat had started to go out of the day, and through the screens we could see a lake and, beyond it, a red sun shining through a grove of live oaks. We were at the bar, drinking long-neck Jax, eating crab burgers, the big-bladed window fan blowing cool in our faces. Eddy Ray's attention was fixed on the girl at the microphone and the way her purple cowboy shirt puffed and dented and changed colors in the breeze from the floor fan, the way she closed her eyes when she opened her mouth to sing, like she was offering up a prayer."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Review: The New PJ's Restaurant

PJ’s Restaurant & Dining Lounge in Arnprior was recently renovated with bigger windows, fresh paint, and beech furniture that have made it an unquestionably cheerier place - kind of like a Swiss Chalet in New Mexico. Acknowledging its past, the waterfall has been resurrected at the entrance, but gone are the dim yellow lighting, red spode china, and the 1960s era place mats. I had tears in my eyes when I opened the menu, expecting to find a quarter chicken dinner with a side of antojitos, and I was certain that I'd be giving my beloved PJ’s a “no-go” for the loss of its charm and character that made it such a fond Ottawa Valley memory. But my emotional descent was halted when I realized that PJ’s eclectic menu had survived and that no renovations could put an end to exchanges like this:

Grandma: I’ll have a turkey sandwich with extra mayonnaise and some cranberry sauce.
Waitress: Okie dokie.
Mom (flipping furiously through the menu): Where are the salads?
Waitress: At the front.
Mom: Shoot, they don’t have a small salad.
David: But you always have the turkey sandwich…
Mom (flipping through the menu again and pointing to “barbecued back ribs”): I’ll have the chicken salad.
Waitress: Okie dokie.
Mom (still pointing and looking at “barbecued ribs”): Does that come with fries?
Waitress (pensive): Sure…
David: Mom, you’re pointing at the ribs.
Grandma: Order the turkey sandwich.
Mom (closing the menu): I’ll have a hamburger.
Waitress: Okie dokie.
Beloved Great Aunt: And I’ll have a turkey sandwich with no butter and mayonnaise.
Waitress: Do you mean no butter and no mayonnaise?
Beloved Great Aunt: No butter and mayonnaise.
Grandma: The turkey sandwich is buttered?

With patience like this and the best buttered turkey sandwich in Ontario, I have no choice, on a go/no-go scale, but to give the new soulless PJ’s a “go”.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Omniscient Webber

Gambling is a degenerate habit, but the CFO, the Webber, and I have traditionally wagered dinner on Academy Award picks. Suffice it to say, the Webber, the king of prognosticators (he did not forecast that Stockwell Day would be Prime Minister, as I did), basically swept every single category in the Super Bowl for Women, including those for "sound mixing" and "short animated feature filmed in an 8000 year-old language." I think he should have to take a urine test or at least give me a ride in his time machine.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Chili Festival: 321 Earl St. Chili

Chili legends evolve with the taste, experience, and wisdom of their chefs. As an undergraduate at Queen's University, living at 321 Earl Street, my housemate AC and I combined the best elements of our mothers' recipes and then added, subtracted, tweaked, and overhauled the dish, eating about 147 pots during our fourth year. The result looked nothing like either of the original recipes and, according to my dad, nothing like chili either. We entered the Clark Hall Pub Chili Contest in 1999, where we were robbed like Kelly Gruber on a triple play when the Clark Hall nerd herd, sensing they had a ringer in their midst, relegated us to a darkened corner where the judges would find us only after the competition had them running for the head. 321 Earl St. Chili fueled the Iv'y Rod & Gun Club on Lake Simcoe today, receiving rave reviews from our international panel of judges. Bottom line: meat, potatoes, and Old No. 7 - it just doesn't get any better than this. Here's the recipe for 321 Earl St. Chili. Next up in the Parking Lot Chili Festival is Brad Suisham's Asparagus Chili.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Colin Cowherd on Blogs

The ludicrously-named Colin Cowherd, host of ESPN radio's The Herd, in ridiculing Fuzzy Zoeller for his defamation suit against a Wikipedia writer, recently said:

Nerds used to write on bathroom walls, now they have blogs... Blogs are written by people who have bad jobs and too much time on their hands... I'd never sue a blogger who defamed me because it's not worth it... It's not like a blog is held to the same editorial standards as the New York Times... If bloggers had any real talent they would not be writing blogs...

Now take it easy all you blogging nerds - you might think that his dismissal of defamation suits makes it safe to write that Colin Cowherd is an alcoholic gambler, that Colin Cowherd snorts cocaine off urinals with a naked Paris Hilton, that Colin Cowherd wears dog fur coats, or that Colin Cowherd is a nasally Jim Rome without the wit - but all that would be viciously untrue and you'd have missed that he was once an alleged blog plagiarist reader.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Everything I Love: The Remote Control

In the mid-1980s, in a white rage over a CRTC decision limiting Toronto to one PBS channel, my father canceled our cable subscription and took his maul to our external converter. Deprived of the remote control, and too lazy to walk six feet to change channels (and re-direct the aerial), my brother and I slid our chairs in front of our Sony Trinitron where we could slump back and channel surf with our toes. Neither of us can now distinguish between black and white, but we gained an enduring appreciation for one of the 20th century's most meaningful innovations. I fondly recalled those days when I read this week of the passing of Robert Adler, inventor of the television remote. Despite an Emmy Award for his contribution, Adler probably never realized how much he improved our lives since he didn't watch TV. The Parking Lot salutes Robert Adler as a labour-saving device pioneer.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Rant: Staples - It's Never Easy

How come every time I approach the copy centre at Staples the employee eyes me like I've got some kind of pox? Irrespective of job size or time of day, there is at least 4-hour lead time at Staples and the word "expedite" is blasphemous. This morning, with the clock ticking on a tight deadline, the attendant hemmed and hawed before guessing my 100-page black-and-white could "probably, maybe" be printed by tomorrow morning. Who, pray tell, has the foresight to visit a print shop 24 hours in advance of a deadline? I felt like grabbing one of Staples' "That was easy" buttons and popping it maniacally until the attendant wet himself. Instead I found a Kwik Kopy that processed the job on the spot.

Photo credit: Stevster

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Protestant Lent

Two MBA students are doing everything possible to miss a critical deadline.

Uncle Al: It's Ash Wednesday, what are you sacrificing for Lent?

David: Effort and reputation.

Medicine's Dirtiest Job

Over dinner last night, conversation with a physician friend turned to the least appealing medical specialties. It turns out that – worse than even urology and proctology – otolaryngology, or ear, nose, and throat, is medicine’s ickiest job. Apparently, Unilever’s promotion of Q-tips for ear cleaning has unwittingly conned us into deafening ourselves. Our occasional cotton swab ear-drilling packs the wax into a wall that, over time, dams the ear canal and muffles the television. We're then subject to the indignity of the doctor power-washing our ears with, and I quote the good doctor here, “chunks of wax flying out”. This crude irrigation comprises a substantial portion of the otolaryngologist's day. Point taken.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Review: Pour House Irish Alehouse & Pub

It was on a rare Saturday night that I was carousing in the big city with my cousins Hee Haw and the Rubber Duck, and serendipity found us celebrating the Pour House’s fourth birthday. Judging by the disbelief of our fellow celebrants, it was probably touch-and-go in February 2003 when the Dupont Street pub launched on the eve of Toronto's SARS crisis.

The evening was almost derailed when my Coors Light order was rejected – here we go again, I thought, another snotty pub that “doesn’t serve domestic” – but was quickly salvaged with the pub's offering of ice cold Bud Light. The evening see-sawed with our kilted waitress at one moment demanding the use of coasters on a table that had been planed with somebody's teeth, and the next moment steering us towards a delightful lamb burger slathered in tzatziki sauce. On the strength of the Budweiser alone, on a go/no-go scale, I would have given the Pour House a “go”, but these reviews would be pretty weak if I never got past drinks.

Hotties Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Two MBA students are reading the Globe and Mail when they should be studying transfer pricing.

David: When did curlers become so young and fetching?

Pastor T: When we became old and portly.

Monday, February 19, 2007

NASCAR Marketing: It works both ways

In the marketing bonanza of NASCAR, corporations pay upwards of $20 million to place their logo on the car's hood, the driver's uniform, and the team's hauler. Secondary sponsors pay $1 million for a small quarter panel decal. I don't doubt the effectiveness of some of these deals - last night, in celebration of Kevin Harvick's Daytona 500 title, I inexplicably filled my car at a Shell station instead of at my usual Petro Canada. NASCAR is all about personalities and intense fan loyalties and, for every couple of drivers about whom a fan may obsess, there are at least five or six whom that fan despises. Thus, while I'm likely to drink Budweiser and shop at Bass Pro Shops to feel part of the "team", there's no chance that I'll darken the door of a Lowes store (Jimmie Johnson is a weenie) or be caught dead drinking a Miller Lite (Kurt Busch is a boor). I'd like to say that I am conducting a complete boycott of DuPont (Jeff Gordon is a cheater), but it's difficult to peel back paint to check the label. Thank goodness that Wendy's doesn't sponsor Kurt's brother Kyle...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

"I Couldn't Possibly Comment"

Stage giant Ian Richardson passed away this week, closing the curtain on 40 years of exemplary theatre, television, and film. I was introduced to Richardson as Francis Urquhart in the BBC's political thriller, House of Cards and its sequels, To Play the King and The Final Cut. I'm not sure what it says about me, but Richardson was able to make the murderous Urquhart an easily sympathetic character for whom I cheered. In each of these series, his soliloquies gave chills while he coldly mused about the disposals of Mattie Storin, Tim Stamper, and Sarah Harding. The Guardian described Richardson's as "a voice that could cut like acid" and never was it on better display than when he would deadpan his signature line, "you might say that - I couldn't possibly comment". A few years ago I had the pleasure of seeing Richardson perform in The Hollow Crown at The Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto. Closing your eyes, Richardson's rolling "R" and smooth intonation brought to mind a man delicately speaking around a razor caught in his throat.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

From the Couch: The Great American Race

It's been an exciting, if controversial, Speedweeks 2007, concluding with tomorrow's Daytona 500. On the eve of the Great American Race, I offer a these thoughts: Juan Pablo Montoya will be much better than I had initially predicted and will win a race before the series returns to Daytona in July... Ricky Rudd will win at least two races and challenge for the championship, making him a legend among the 50-plus crowd... Welcome to NASCAR, Toyota... Kevin Harvick will complete Richard Childress Racing's return to greatness by becoming the 2007 Nextel Cup Champion.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Everything I Love: Surf, Sand, and Sea Shells

Turquoise water, white sand, and palm huts give us sandcastles, flats fishing, and Tiki bars. I recorded the above clip in the Bahamas over Christmas while I read fish lit on the Paradise Island beach. This weekend, if last week's Everything I Love hasn't made winter any easier, pick up a copy of Islands in the Stream, play some Kenny Chesney songs, and enjoy a pitcher of iced mojitos.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Casual Empiricism & Climate (3)

The winter storm that blew in from the American mid-west last night has people complaining about the cold. These are the same chicken littles and amateur climatologists who were detecting global warming four weeks ago. Environment Canada's Dave Phillips commented on the otherwise mild winter in today's Toronto Star (h/t, the Webber):

Only about 21 centimetres had fallen on Toronto this year as of last night. Normally, the total would have about 78 centimetres of snow at this point.

And until yesterday, Hamilton had also seen less snow, with just one-third of its normal snowfall this year. Further into southwest Ontario, London has had half its normal seasonal amount.

The reason?

"People say global warming, El Nino," Phillips said. But the fact of the matter is, he said, "sometimes the atmosphere isn't as active as it is at other times. Sometimes it's like nature is on steroids, and sometimes everything is just very quiet. That doesn't mean that next year will be another quiet year. It could be more active than this year."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Review: Babel

Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, and a whole lot of American guilt star in this film that ties together four interrelated plots centering on the shooting of an American tourist in Morocco by a peasant child. While her husband bullies anyone who can't speak English in Africa, back in California their children's Mexican nanny takes the kids to Tijuana for her son's wedding and a Japanese salary man raises his handicapped daughter in the wake of his wife's suicide. By the end of the film, many lives are in tatters, while Americans, who have presumably sown the wind, walk away oblivious. Frankly, I'm as tired of film makers with an anti-Western axe to grind as I am of the Dixie Chicks. On a go/no-go scale I give Babel a "no-go".

Monday, February 12, 2007

Tim McGraw's Last Dollar

On the drive back to London last night, I finally heard Tim McGraw's Last Dollar, the first single off his forthcoming album, Let It Go. Although my buddy the Road Hammer won't like the kids singing at the end of the song, it reminds me of the upbeat tunes McGraw was known for in the late 1990s on albums like Everywhere and A Place in the Sun, before he became addicted to Springsteen-esque introspectives. You can watch the video here.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

From the Couch: Cowboys & Toyota's Debut

Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones chose mediocre coach Wade Phillips this week to succeed Bill Parcells at the helm of America's team. In doing so he not only made Phillips the highest paid placeholder in football, but signalled to Cowboy fans that his megalomania is more important than winning... The NASCAR season begins in just over an hour with Toyota making its Nextel Cup series debut. The manufacturer starts on the pole tonight and watch for it to quickly fall back and spend the rest of the season buried deep in the field. The rag-tag roster of has-beens and rookies piloting Camrys just isn't good enough to win a single race for our Japanese friends this season.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Everything I Love: Canadian Winters

When I was younger I measured temperature by a progressively colder scale of: 1) the necessity of a hat; 2) the necessity of a scarf; and 3) whether my nose hair froze. This week's cold snap was decidedly in tier three and my shivering trudge to school became perilous when my tearing eyes caused my lashes to freeze together in the -35 degree wind. I don't subscribe to the cliche that cold weather is part of the Canadian identity - watching displaced Vancouverites in an Ontario February has disabused me of this fallacy - but our winters make the high taxes and black flies worth the stay. Treacherous highways, salt stains, and post-nasal drip aside, winter presents an annual celebration of ice fishing, beaver tails, and toque collections. I may only own blue shirts and khaki pants, but I have seventeen coats and fifty-seven sweaters that protect me in five-degree increments of temperature, and a toque for every sports team and bait shop that I support. If you find yourself complaining about winter over the next couple of weeks, buy yourself a balaclava, go outside, and throw snowballs at stop signs from your snow fort.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Rant: "Ifs" and "Buts"

There's no use arguing with the excuses of the losing team's fans after a big game. You've heard their counter-factual nonsense: "had the Pro Bowl safety not been injured...", "Had it not rained...", etc. Let's be honest, had the Giants, the Redskins, and the Cowboys gone home at halftime, the Buffalo Bills would have won four Super Bowls. To quote the great Don Meredith, "If 'ifs' and 'buts' were candy and nuts, wouldn't it be a merry Christmas?"

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Five Guys I'd Like to Fish With

  1. Dale Earnhardt
  2. Otis "Toad" Smith
  3. Cool Hand Luke
  4. Elvis Presley
  5. Dave Robicheaux

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Review: Grizzly Man

Bears have fascinated terrified me since a canoe trip on which my cousin Hee Haw and I trembled from midnight to dawn when we mistook the snoring of a fellow camper for the snuffing of a black bear. So it was with some anticipation that I finally picked up Grizzly Man, Werner Herzog’s documentary about Timothy Treadwell’s life and eventual death with grizzly bears. Treadwell, a failed actor and a deeply disturbed man, escaped his real world troubles by camping for 13 summers on the Alaskan peninsula where he observed, named, and even touched the bears. Herzog combines Treadwell's own footage with interviews to tell his story and determine how, after so many years without incident, he stayed one night too many.

I’ve read reviews that focus on the tragic death of a gentle man and his girlfriend, but I felt the movie underscored Treadwell’s hypocrisy. He claimed to protect the bears, but he films photographers provoking a grizzly with rocks for a better picture and does nothing to intervene. Ironically, the recovery of his own remains necessitated the dispatch of two bears by park rangers. Far from protecting the bears, his actions are more accurately described as disturbing and, sometimes, molesting them.

As a character, Treadwell’s incessant baby talk and navel-gazing make him exceedingly irritating. I became so tired of his babbling that I (coldly) wondered why the bears put up with him for as long as they did. The Timothy Treadwell story is tragic – tragic in his wanton disrespect for the wild, tragic in exposing his girlfriend to a menace he didn’t really understand himself, and tragic in the failure of his family and friends to recognize the psychopathy that brought about his gory demise. Because Grizzly Man is certain to elicit strong emotions and more than a few Google searches, on a go/no-go scale, I give it a “go”.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Chili Festival: Rack of Chili Dogs

It turns out that, combined with Schneider's 100% beef hot dogs and cheddar cheese, Saturday's Rack of Chili makes the perfect chili dogs. You're likely, however, to miss a touchdown while looking for the Tums twenty minutes later.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Superbowl Ads (Canadian Edition)

I'm sure we're all pleased that our tax dollars have been used by corporate welfare case Bombardier to purchase Superbowl ads reminding us of how proud we should be that it makes planes and trains.

The Meek Will Inherit the Lombardi Trophy

Having once predicted that Stockwell Day would become Prime Minister of Canada, my forecasts should be ignored and ridiculed. That said, I predict the Chicago Bears will win tonight despite their disadvantage at quarterback. Exceptions like Montana and Bradshaw aside, the Superbowl seems to favour mediocre pivots and one-hit wonders. Rex Grossman will join other champions like Trent Dilfer, Jeff Hostetler, and Mark Rypien, while Peyton Manning will join ringless Hall of Famers Dan Marino, Fran Tarkenton, and Jim Kelly.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Chili Festival: Rack of Chili

This week I had planned to make the chili that my mom had clipped, but there was no cocoa powder in the Platt's Lane Palace in London. Instead, I combined ground beef and pork with the usual spices and added crushed tomatoes, beef consomme, and Bud Light for flavour. I also tossed in the ends of a leftover rack of spare ribs that were about to go into the freezer. I can't take the credit for this last ingredient, which must go to my former classmate and colleague Greg Niram who once advised me that simmering ribs in chili would cause the meat to fall off the bone and season the stew. Our panel approved of this improvisation, Lawrence inhaling two bowls of the dish right off the stove and Uncle Al slurping down a couple of cold spoonfuls the next day. My own feeling is that I went too heavy on the Frank's Red Hot Sauce and, having been spoiled with cubed meat on the last chili, I don't really like to go back to ground meat. Here's the recipe for Rack of Chili. A final note of caution - little bits of rib bone do fall off into the chili, so a spittoon may be useful

Friday, February 02, 2007

Everything I Love: The Economy Fair

I recently discovered a yellowing pad of paper with a price tag from the Economy Fair Drug Mart at the Arnprior Mall. The Economy Fair was once part of Arnprior's three-legged discount store stool with the Met and the Giant Tiger. My brother and I relied on the Economy Fair one summer for our supply of Mad Magazine and Cracked and, by end of summer, it was a reliable source for back-to-school supplies.

Photo credit: Free Delivery

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Guest Rant: An Irritable Reader

This week we have a guest rant from a testy reader of The San Francisco Chronicle. Listen to this phone call (audio file) to the Chronicle's editor in which the reader expresses his extreme displeasure with a redundant phrase. I'm all for fidelity to the Queen's English, but...