Saturday, May 2, 2015

I Went for a Run

This morning I watched the voluminous white clouds, contrasted heavily with their blue-sky background, gently assail straight to God from the kitchen window and decided it was time to immerge from my self-imposed but necessary hibernation and go for a short run.

I gathered my iPod, Oakleys, Asics, and Nikes in their appropriate places and set out.  The light breeze was cold on my face and the calculated frenzied chords of Tori Amos’ “Cornflake Girl” set my pace before I quickly realized I needed to adjust for my lack of participaction through the winter.

To my right, across the street, was a young guy book ended by two equally young girls, looking as though they had just left some sort of debauchery-ridden all night party while a lone gull sat watching us at the corner of the rooftop of the ivied brick high school perched on the highest point of this peninsula, his spectacular ivory feathers beaming.

At this point the music shifted to the pulsing beat and arrythmic tempo of David Bowie’s “What in the World” and the architecture changed to rental units in perpetual states of renovation before I spotted a yet-to-be-claimed nest in a stoic, still leafless spring tree recently staked with surveyor's orange, as an unforgiving government attempted its ownership assertion of history and April March’s “Chick Habit” lifted the cloud of my reality.

I looped downhill, past Saturday shoe shoppers, straight into the view of the bridge that fittingly splits this town and will soon transport tourists through to their intended destination, then levelled onto the industrial road, filling my lungs with exhaust and wood chips as I continued precariously on the gravel encrusted sidewalks, as neglected as the residents of this city, dodging full sods that have immerged like glaciers from the dirt-speckled snow and ice.

Die Antwoord’s “I Fink U Freaky” coaxed me up the unforgiving hill and back onto the once opulent avenue, still marketed as desirable real estate in comparison to other city sections, and a greeting from a familiar leucistic pigeon, nervous atop its shingled roof.

I dodged three bicycles on the sidewalk flanking a rare bike path and eased into my cool-down as Jane Jensen’s penetratingly creative “Luv Song” entertained me.  We’re schooled that positivity is the foundation needed to fuel this city, but we need to feed ourselves on something with better sustenance than sugar – and I do recall being wisely told once not to drink the Kool-Aid.

Monday, February 2, 2015

City of Saint John Set to Improve Local Parks

Saint John - Saint John city council has announced plans to improve a number of the under-utilized parks around the city.  According to councilman Sherman Bugglesbee, the idea for the initiative came when he was surfing a popular Facebook page that shares historic photos of Saint John and he saw a comment referencing plans for an underground parking lot beneath King Square in the 1970s.  Disappointed that never came to fruition, “You can't have too much parking,” he started thinking about other ways in which the green spaces of the city could be enhanced.

“We’ve been using Queen Square in the South End in the summertime for a farmers' market, but that’s only seasonal,” Bugglesbee explained.  “Picture this, residents being able to stroll by Samuel de Champlain year-round, every day as they get their mail from huge new banks of super boxes that will be placed at the south end of the square.  Every Uptown resident will be forced to enjoy the park!”

The City plans to do the same in Victoria Square in the North End of the city too, “It's perfect.  That way the square will be used by everyone instead of just the feral cats,” exclaimed the councilman.

The pièce de résistance will be a new warehouse for the antiquated New Brunswick Museum on Douglas Avenue that will be placed in the barren Riverview Memorial Park, an ancient tribute to the soldiers that fought in the Boer War.  “Who remembers the Boer War anyway?” commented Bugglesbee, “Think of the jobs!  Jobs are what this city needs more than history or a place to let your dog relieve himself.”

The Saint John Public Garden will be a pet cemetery.  “We're going to have the cutest critters stuffed to add a special fun element to the wedding photographs taken in the park.  For a small fee, of course,” he added.

According to the mayor, who said he's practically falling over himself with enthusiasm for the project, they would have also loved to put a drive-in movie theatre in Wolastoq Park, but J. D. Irving Ltd., the company that currently maintains the park, wasn't open to the idea.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Jian Ghomeshi Thanks Us

Living anywhere in Canada, even Saint John, one can't escape the #JianGate (the hashtag that was trending that night) scandal that began, for most of us, Sunday with a Facebook post by Jian Ghomeshi - a post that would be immediately seen by people that literally "like" him - is a continuing nightmare of a roller coaster ride that has taken another turn with another Facebook post by Jian moments ago:

His now infamous Sunday post was met with a tremendous outpouring of support for the radio show host that was combined with an equally vitriolic condemnation for the CBC.  Since Sunday - a black Sunday in many ways - it would seem as though all of Jian's fans have experienced a slap, punch, choke hold, or something of that metaphoric nature, as shown in some of the comments from his latest Facebook post.  While there are still some showing support, they are in the minority.

Here are some of the highlights - remember, this is less than an hour since Jian posted.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Murder at the Saint John Free Public Library

We already know how much I like the Saint John Free Public Library, so it should come as no surprise that with them kicking off the Fog Lit Festival by hosting the event, Lunch and Learn with Debra Komar, I was there.  That and the fact that they had brownies.

Debra Komar is a retired Canadian forensic anthropologist with a specialization in genocide who has ingeniously combined her interest in her field with Canadian history, tapping into the morbid fascination we have with murder, and then she made it local.

She delivered an engaging, suspenseful talk, including everyone and everything from Billy the Kid, Anne of Green Gables, Jeffrey Dahmer, O. J. Simpson, and the US Presidential race to introduce her current, past and future books dealing with historic Canadian atrocities in which she has brought current forensic science to make the reader the thirteenth jury member.

Her present novel, The Lynching of Peter Wheeler is set in tiny Bear River, Nova Scotia and combines racism, the workings of the media, and a cop with his own agenda to weave a most intriguing story that, although set more than 100 years earlier, tells a story that echoes those of today.

The Fog Lit Festival continues in Saint John through October 5th, 2014 and features a slew of entertaining events and workshops.  Visit them on their website, Facebook or Twitter to learn more.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Support Your Local Library

The Saint John Free Public Library - the emphasis is on "free" because it is Canada's first free public library - is a golden opportunity to expand your horizons right at your very fingertips.  I don't intend this to be about the history of the library, but the hows, whys, whens and wheres are just too interesting to omit.

The idea first germinated in 1874, but was put on hold because of the Great Fire of 1877 - it's tradition to bow your head at the mention of this reverent event - so it didn't reach fruition until 1883 when it occupied a room at the City Market.  From there it went to the Masonic Hall on Germain Street and in 1904 it finally had its own splendid building - thanks to a donation from Andrew Carnegie, no less - on Hazen Avenue.

Increasing circulation is a challenge for all libraries and, apparently, the powers that be were enamored with the success of their idea to open the Maritime's first library branch in a mall on the west side of the city in 1967, so in 1983 the main branch was moved from this treasured bit of architecture to Market Square - a glistening modern atmosphere so perfectly suited that it seems it may possess the same interior as it did then.  As I said, they must have loved that mall idea because the east branch is in a mall too.

Now that our history lesson is over, let's get back to why it's in your interest to make use of the borrowing resources contained within the cement walls of your library.

First, it's important to note that the Saint John library is just a cog in the vast New Brunswick Public Library system. This means you can borrow from any library in the province.  Now for a wonderful annotation to this fact: until recently CDs and DVDs were not transferable within regions - I know, that made no sense whatsoever - and there were often two copies of the same album in one region, but none in any other region, let alone your own.  But now that restriction has been lifted, so rejoice!

Next, while the library system doesn't have the extensive inventory available in most of the modern world, you can take solace knowing that if there is something that you want, there won't likely be much of a wait - it doesn't seem as though anyone actually borrows from libraries in Saint John.  Before moving here, I used to make good use of my privileges at my branch of the Halifax Public Library where I would put items on hold, sometimes having to wait weeks for one of their scores of copies to become available, then having to find my name alphabetically amongst walls of shelved material that others had put on hold.  There's none of that here - my first trip to a branch in Saint John saw me asking the librarian to do all the work, having to find my name in the little shelf of requested items while all I had to do was wait and watch.

As an aside, I have The Essential Bruce Springsteen serenading me as I write this article, proving there is some fantastic material to be found.  This is relevant because in other library systems borrowing CDs or DVDs is often futile, having to hope the item isn't too scratched up to actually play - especially on the old, run-down equipment I employ.  Springsteen's vocals, put on this CD in 2003, come clear and unscratched - well, as clear and unscratched as a Springsteen vocal can sound - looking as though the item was just purchased yesterday.

The hours may seem a little odd for a city library, some may even think they would contribute to the lack of circulation, but they do have a drop box with padding at the bottom to try and keep the contents of that special CD together, even if you forget the rubber band it came wrapped in.

Finally, I'd like to let you in on my secret on how I do a little extra to support my local library.  It used to bother me if, when I was in Halifax where their financial pockets seemed a veritable bottomless pit of wealth, I managed to rack up a fine.  Here they will actually extend the due date by a few days, so don't fret if the due date seems too soon, but should I not be able to make it on time, I just view that as my little donation to an important community resource (even more important if it was actually utilized by the community) and know that the item will be waiting on the shelf for me the next time I'm in the mood for The Boss.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Meeting Justin Bourque at a Sport Card Show in Moncton

Moncton, the Hub City of the Maritimes, was recently terrorized by Justin Bourque, a resident of a local trailer park, and as I watched the story unfold from the unnervingly safe distance of Saint John, I became aware that this person was strangely familiar to me.  That’s when I remembered a conversation I had with this individual at a collectors show a few years ago.

CS (cowardly shooter seems an appropriate moniker, since I wasn’t aware of his name until recent events):  Whoa, cool!  [Pointing at a 1974 OPC hockey card of Larry Robinson] Check out the facial hair on that dude.  And that stare, that’s intense – you can see the determination in his eyes.  I wouldn’t want to run into that guy in an alley.  How much?

Me: It’s only $5, it has a couple soft corners.

CS:  Don’t we all.  These old cards crack me up.  Look at the sideburns on some of these fuckers.  And the goalies didn’t wear masks, that’s real boss.  Men were really men back then, everybody fightin’ and shit – not held back by those pansy-assed pigs in stripes.  They can’t do nothin’ these days, they’ve even added an extra pig to suppress those players even more, but who’s watchin’ them?  [He looked up, making eye contact with me for the first time]  You know what I mean?

Me:  [A little unnerved by his stare] Well, the league watches them, I would imagine.

[Thankfully, he looked back down at the cards]

CS:  Yeah, sure, a fuckin’ whole hell-of-a-lot of good that does.  They need another player in that role, maybe some bad-ass retired fighter who knows what it means to have to be out there every game tryin’ to live your life without the man getting all in-your-face about it.  Fuckers.  You got a Claude Lemieux card?  He was a cool player.

Me:  No, I didn't bring any.

[His eyes see something in my case] Oh, fuck man, now we’re talkin’ – it’s a goddam Patrick Roy rookie card!  Can I see it?

[I hand him the card]

Here’s a real man, he goes about his job quietly, while others keep trying to humiliate him, show him up, but he keeps blockin’ that little fuckin’ puck and givin’ them the finger and, when they least expect it, boom!  He fucks them up – pummels some wimpy little American goaltender that’s too cowardly to even drop his gloves.  That dude's got his shit together.  [He looks up at me again]  His son plays hockey too, did you know that?  [I nod and he looks back down to the card]  What a great father, I wish he was my dad.  I bet he doesn’t slap his kid every time the little bastard does something stupid.  Some day I hope a girl will let me have a kid with her.  I’d be a great dad.  No stupid fuckin’ rules for my kid and I’ll teach him to hunt and fish and all the important stuff you need to survive in this fucked up world.

[He pauses for a long time, seeming to look at the card, but his eyes have glossed over and it’s clear he’s not exactly present.  Then he gives his head a shake]

How much?

Me: I need $200 for that.

CS:  Yeah, I thought so.  Some day I’ll buy all the Patrick fuckin’ Roy rookie cards I want and all those fuckers will wish they were me.

[He looks up at me]

I’ll show them, I really will.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Through the Wire

I'm a big music fan; it's vital to my mental wellness, my creativity.  I've been a music reviewer for a large website.  My tastes are varied - my favourite playlist may switch from Paul Robeson to Frank Sinatra to Die Antwoord and then Stompin' Tom.  Tori and Bowie are my heroes and I flew (Holly knows that flying is not something I embrace eagerly) to Montreal a few years ago for a Tori Amos concert.  I'm still kicking myself that I didn't join my friend, John, on a trip to see Bowie in Moncton so many years ago.

It's hard to believe it's been about ten years since I was first introduced to the music of Kanye West.  I saw a story on him and the terrible car accident he was in which led to the hit, Through the Wire.  I hadn't heard of him before that, so I bought the song, eagerly looking forward to that moment when you "discover" something great, a musician that makes you go wow.

I cued the song in iTunes after it downloaded and pumped up the volume and I still remember my reaction.

Hmm.  Okay.  Well, that was whiney.

I didn't play it much more after that and I missed the 99 cents I'd shelled out.

Kanye drifted out of any remaining consciousness, but I'd hear more about his passion and his Taylor Swift interrupting rants and would continue to give him a chance - yup, more iTunes purchases followed by more meh.  I saw him on the Commons in Halifax in 2006 in the rain.  Hey, his jaw was wired for that first experience, he deserved another chance, right?

Hell no.

There are times in your life when you need to stop giving chances and face the reality that the situation isn't going to improve.  That's what is happening living in Saint John - and I'm not alone.

This Sunday past, a young man in a wheelchair took a trip to the North End McDonalds for some treats for he and his family.  Leaving the franchise's Main Street location he overturned his wheelchair in an intersection and had to drag himself and his means of transportation off the road before the light changed, his food spilled all over the street.

What's awesome is that two ladies got out of their car to offer assistance and to make certain he was okay to get home.  It seems they may have even looked after the ruined food.  I learned about this in a heartfelt Kijiji post Cody placed to thank the women.

I do hope these two Samaritans know just how huge it was that they made a horrible situation better.

CBC picked up the story and in a subsequent interview I learned Cody and his family returned to Saint John after living in a city in Ontario where they actually realized the streets and sidewalks do not have to be like this - other cities manage to keep their citizens safe.  In fact they are questioning the ability to remain here and experience any quality of life.

Well, I learned via many experiences, including Kanye West, that there comes a time to cut your losses and move on.  I wish I could say there was hope that the conditions in this city will improve, but I don't see it.

I have learned that my experiences with Saint John have been echoed over and over by others spanning many years.

I hope and wish I will be proven incorrect, but I'm doubtful.  The constant automotive and pedestrian conditions back me up.  That doesn't mean I'll ever stop trying to make the most of any situation I'm in though.

Now, let me leave you with some lines from Kanye, so that you can compare the differences in character between he and Cody, the 20 year old that has gone through 74 surgeries with his condition and still remained as positive and grateful as he has:

When the doctor told me I had a um.. I was going to have a plate on my chin,
I said dawg don't you realize I'll never make it on the plane now,
It's bad enough I got all this jewelry on,
Can't be serious man.