Monday, October 29, 2012

Peas and Carrots

My wooden Sherwood hockey stick stands guard behind our back door and, on occasion, I'll grab it and a tennis ball and head out to the driveway to fire a few shots at the workshop or the foundation.  I'm not certain of its age, but it's not new.  Do they still sell wood sticks?  In green felt marker, at the top of the shaft before the black, unraveling knob of tape, are block letters spelling the name T. Kerr.  Tim was my favourite player of the time, taking over from the man who sported the same number twelve with the Flyers before him, Gary Dornhoefer.

Most waking winter hours of my childhood were spent emulating the heroes of my youth playing street hockey.  Do kids play street hockey anymore?  I can honestly say I've yet to see it in my nearly two years in Saint John.

My fantasy hockey team name is a tribute to the "team" my friends and I formed - the Armdale Executioners.  I still have the old blue Duo-tang with our inked logo on the front containing the loose leaf that held our self-recorded stats.  Few of us had the money necessary to enroll us in organized hockey, so we gave ourselves a name and would play like-minded groups of kids from adjacent areas, most of whom were playing some level of "real" hockey.  This gave us the hunger needed to show that, even though our parents didn't chauffeur us to various rinks, we could play too.

My best friend, John, his brother Jeff and I were the main components of the team.  John and I often took on teams sporting lopsided numbers just to have the chance to play.  Sometimes we lost, but more often than not, we didn't.  I have the papers to prove it.

Akin to Forrest Gump-like peas and carrots, John and I had an uncanny ability to compliment each other.  Once a school year, our junior high gym teacher, Mr. Mackenzie, someone who avoided putting weapons into teenage boys' hands, would break out the plastic sticks and netted goals and break us up into floor hockey teams.

One year, for the first and only time, we were put on the same team.  Teams were then divided into three-minute shifts.  We were finally placed on the same shift for the final three minutes of the class and we made the most of that time.  Before Mr. Mackenzie's whistle, Webster, a classmate we often played against in our neighbourhood, told the opposing players to "watch out for John and Kevin."

Every time we took control of the ball, we scored.  I don't recall exactly what our total was, but it was legendary.  We knew this would only last three minutes and we played frenzied, focused hockey.  The other team didn't have a chance.  With time winding down, I set up behind the goal line to the left of the net.  One opposing player pressured me while the other two covered John, leaving our centre open in front of the goal.  I wristed the ball over their defence and watched it ricochet off Darren's stomach and into the net.

The next year Mr. Mackenzie did not put us together when floor hockey came up on his schedule.

That was more than thirty years ago.  Peas and carrots are a less-familiar dish these days too.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Shining Star

There are a number of singers that you know you should see, but for whatever reason, don't know if you will ever receive the opportunity.  Bif Naked falls into the category for me.

Her popularity soared in the late '90s, yet somehow escaped me until a number of years later and then I found out about her being diagnosed with breast cancer and, as with all her fans, was scared.  Respectfully selfish, I subconsciously accepted the fact that I may not ever get to see her in concert.

Imagine my elation when I happened to check the website for Saint John's Imperial Theatre's upcoming events and saw that Bif was scheduled to come here!  Without any hesitation I bought tickets - third row centre (because Holly doesn't like the front row!) - and anxiously awaited concert day.

Imperial Theatre
Bif Naked Supporting Saint John Animal Rescue

Her often brutally honest lyrics give insight to her personality and beliefs, but given that this show was to be acoustic, I did not know what to expect from the concert.  I didn't care.  What I did know was that someone overflowing with talent could not give a bad performance.  Her songs are normally hard and even angry sounding, which sets you up for the surprise of your life when you see her in person and discover there really is nothing hard or angry present.  Everything about her shines.  Bif's vulnerability is unsettling because you just don't expect it.

The stage consisted of two stools; one for Bif and one for Jacen Ekstrom, each with their chosen instruments - her voice and his guitar - and a small table beside Jacen.  Their chemistry is easy and fluid and a fine match.  That aforementioned vulnerability works with this onstage relationship to deliver Jacen as a sort of broken-family son to Bif - her protector even if she is calling the shots.  And it works.

I was awed by the quality and strength of her voice.   Knowing the acoustic aspect would highlight any weaknesses and having only really heard her behind the usually heavy, loud music on her albums, my preconceptions had me mistakenly believing this style would take something away from a 'normal' concert, but this was definitely not the case.  The focal point became her vocalizations and spotlighted the intended intimacy, allowing the concert goer to appreciate that this performer was showing us her therapy - ridding herself of her demons and, in the process, empowering herself right before our eyes - and instructing us to do the same.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Saint John shone and shimmered during its Saint Strut event to support the Saint John Regional Hospital's pediatric department, as five hundred gathered at the Delta Brunswick to celebrate fashion, film and architecture and I, in full support of my lovely Holly, played the fly on the wall while she toiled.

Being alone at a public event presents on opportunity for many things and I could have made myself extremely useful, networking our studio or making new connections, but it served more as a time for observation, rejuvenation and absorption - both of the atmosphere and, after paying the $40 ticket price, the complimentary glass of wine.

Vessel in hand, I drank in the many wonderful donations for the silent auction, noticing a couple familiar names on the bid sheet showing their "Kilroy was here," bidding early for recognition.  I bumped the price on the bottle of Chanel No. 5 a whopping fifty cents.

This wasn't the only area in this upscale event where those trying to look as though they fit in stood out from those that actually did.  All seemed to sport fine attire, but most did so effortlessly while those who pushed their club-wear to another level stood out in a way they were likely hoping they wouldn't.  Mel, I'm not necessarily talking about that hideous shirt - I don't think anyone would actually wear that to a club.

I settled into my chosen seat, as the majority of the crowd was doing, and took notice of one exotic couple that was working the room like peacocks, not really making contact with others, but making certain everyone saw that they were present.  She, younger than he, led the way, as their fingers formed a possessive bond that sent a message to the room - this one's mine - as though it was only this contact that held the relationship together.  Both were tall and attractive, she wearing a tight, stylish dress that ended just past her bottom, and he looking like an older Mike Bossy - distinguished yet athletic and powerful.

At the intermission I spotted the opportunity to check in with Holly (and claim possession of her wine glass) then, after resigning myself in error that dessert consisted only of cheese, grapes and crackers, found the holy grail of delectable sweets and was brought right back to elementary school class parties when my best friend and I would gorge ourselves so quickly and egregiously that we would spend most of the time in the hallway nursing our ridiculously upset digestive tracks.

My hat goes off to the organizers and participants who all had a hand in delivering a unique evening of fashion, film, architecture and fundraising.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Art has Power

Many emerged from their homes, eyes not used to that foreign orb in the sky, to an October Saint-John-summer-like-day making them amiable and thirsty for anything outside of the confines of their residences.  That meant many strolling the uptown sidewalks, alert for anything that fills more than their survival need, opening the space in their minds to the satisfaction the arts can provide.

Whether or not they realize art is a need, though not necessarily primal or immediate, they become more willing to entertain the thought of spending good currency that has accumulated in their bank accounts.  That's when they will enter such a radical place as an art gallery.

Early afternoon saw two young girls enter cautiously, skillfully scanning for the dangers new territory can provide, sporting backpacks and soft vinyl lunch boxes.


A smile lit the first girl's face and her posture became noticeably relaxed, "Hi."  They began to take in the treasures around them.

"Oooh," followed by some murmurs as the girl pointed to something on a shelf so her also-Asian friend would take notice.

They moved on past the boutique to the gallery section, drinking in the paintings.

Coming full-circle, the girl stopped at the cash to inquire about the item that first caught her attention.

"Is Meaghan Smith CD for sale or part of the display?" she asked quietly, in good, but somewhat broken English.

"It is for display.  If you really want it, I could probably sell it to you and order another from Amazon though, that's where I purchased that one."

"Oh.  Yes, please.  I tried to get it at HMV, but they said they don't carry any of Meaghan Smith's anymore.  They told me I would have to buy it from Amazon, but I don't have a credit card.  I could pay with debit?"

"The miniature paintings with the CD are also by Meaghan Smith.  Do you follow her on Facebook?"

"Yes, they are so cute.  She very talented."

"Is $15 for the CD okay?"  I couldn't remember how much I paid, but thought that should cover it... I ended up being off by 75 cents... I'm not going to make money this way!

 "Yes.  Thank you very much."

She left the store atwitter, like something you'd see in a '50's teen movie, with her friend, only having to return a couple hours later to retrieve the lunch bag she left behind.

"Oh, sorry," as I passed her the square case, "I was too excited," she explained apologetically.

In between her visit I was pleased to welcome a lovely lady we lease a parking space from to our studio.  Being the beginning of the month, she was nice enough to offer to come by for her money so she would be able to see this new entity.

As I offered information about our artists and artisans, we were both able to share some personal details and thoughts about our lives and the places and people that inhabit them.

"I like this a lot," as she paused at one painting.

"He's from Fredericton.  I like his work very much and that is one of my favourites."

Fingers to lip, as she took a slow step back to absorb the piece.  "Yes.  That is nice."

She turned and continued to take in the rest of the works as I tutored about the artists.

"I don't like that stuff," pointing.  "That sort of stuff doesn't appeal to me."

"No, art has to speak to you and they all have different conversation styles."

We were back at the front and I took out my wallet to pay for October's parking."

Almost surprised, she said, "I'd like to place that as a deposit on that painting I like."

Art has that power, that ability to touch you when you're not expecting it, but are mentally open to the possibilities.