Monday, October 26, 2009

they're out there... for real

I just returned home -- and straight to bed -- after a nice 14.5 hour work day, featuring a commute to and from the North's puppet-master headquarters, Ottawa.

It was my first trip to the nation's capital, but unfortunately I didn't get to experience much of it, as I spent the entire day on a roof and top level of an 11-floor building. Did peer over the edge of the building and have a look down the canal and imagined what it must be like to skate to work each day, as I've heard the story told.

Perhaps I'll get a better look at the city tomorrow, since I'll be heading back again for work, bright and early at 6:30 a.m.

One interesting thing that's flashed back to me from the brief visit though was the image of a company's logo, emblazoned in bold, flashy orange on a building we passed on our drive to the worksite. The stone building was modern, with large windows, looking like a headquarters for a tech company, or perhaps even the site of an upscale car dealership.

Now I thought all the talk recently in newspapers about the marches and all the facebook groups that had popped up about the day-long gatherings were jokes, but now I'm starting to wonder if it's all part of some conspiracy.

I ask this because the company's name was Brainhunter. I did a search and apparently it's the world's biggest online job search engine (I was recently poring the internet for weeks searching for work and never once stumbled upon Brainhunter.)

Here is a link to the site. (Try and tell me that guy isn't logging onto the internet to try to find the nearest helpless brain to stick his fangs into.)

I want a background on all Brainhunter's Corporate Directors and if any of them have died in the past 20 years, I think we should have them locked up.

I think all the pro-zombie treatment in the media are making these brain-sucking leeches too comfortable. I know we all elected a good number of lifeless vegetables who are now sitting in the House of Commons in Ottawa and even more far-gone specimens in the Senate, but is this company's brazen openness a sign of a larger movement afoot, like some sort of zombie think-tank forming, bolstered by all the zombie appreciation sites and sympathy from the general public?

Just got a call from one of my supervisors. It appears I will be spending the next few days and nights in Ottawa. Sounds a little fishy. I may have to bring my rifle. (I don't really own a rifle, but you know, you have to talk like that, in case there are any around.)

Judging from the way I feel though, I think they may have already gotten me. I'm guessing it probably happened when I took a couple minutes and ate my disgusting KFC meal in zombie-like fashion, staring at my feet cross-eyed, with drool falling from the corner of my mouth.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

shelia - atlas sound

Last Friday, I had tickets to a show and didn't wind up getting to the venue until late, meaning I missed the first two bands. I wanted to check the concert out because I've been wearing out a couple of Deerhunter albums for the past six months and I wanted to see what Bradford Cox's other band -- Atlas Sound -- was like. Unfortunately, I missed them, since work ran about a zillion hours longer than I was expecting. I was a little bummed at not seeing the band, but c'est la vie, right?

And I was feeling great today until I decided to look up some songs by the band I didn't see and now I'm thoroughly depressed because I can't stop listening to these beautiful songs and would have loved to have heard them live the first time.

And I probably would have told the man to eat a hamburger or a steak or something too.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

snap back to reality -- back to work

I can't remember where it was, but some time in September, a person I met dropped one of those pearl-of-wisdom lines that rung so true at the moment and has lingered with me ever since. I was talking about how I would have to start working after my trip to pay off my snowballing debt and the guy said there's always one of two things keeping people from truly enjoying themselves, "time or money."

The last six days I've dedicated to pursuing money. I have come home beat tired every day, aching on the subway, but I can't say I didn't enjoy myself a little.

Late last week, when my puzzle pieces just started to fall into place after nearly two weeks of frustrating and fruitless forays into the housing and job market, I got called by a telecommunications company about work. I had no experience at all in telecom (does a B.A. in Communication Studies count?) but said I was willing to work long hours, I was a quick learner and 'strong.' I started Monday and was told we would be driving off to Ottawa for the day. I had to meet the group in Dorval at 7:30 a.m.


Woke up at 5 a.m., hopped a bus to the airport, ran around looking for another bus to the Dorval station when I got there, found one, couldn't find the apartment I needed to get to, and eventually panicked and took a cab -- arriving at 7:31 a.m. and ringing a doorbell. And getting no answer.

Fifteen minutes later, my knocks produced a person, and I was let inside a complete stranger's house in a Montreal suburb, waiting to start a job I knew absolutely nothing about. My co-workers started filling in slowly. Turns out they all speak Spanish. What am I doing?

Anyways, we didn't wind up in Ottawa. Plans changed, which I now have come to expect. I spent most of the day driving around picking up parts with my project manager and ended the day doing some minor work atop a Jewish Hospital. My boss, it turns out, is a great guy who told me about his theories about the mafia still running Montreal and some insightful thoughts into Franco-Anglo relations in Montreal and Quebec. (Basically, it came down to, if you're not at least making an attempt to learn the other language, you're shutting yourself off -- literally and symbolically -- from a dialogue with the other group).

It's a goofy job I have, with a mind-boggling accountability structure. We're a subcontractor for a subcontractor for a subcontractor. Each day I meet a new boss, from increasingly more southern U.S. states. One guy is from Georgia and sounds and looks exactly like Freddy Roach (I think) the guy who trains Manny Pachiao. One is from Texas and has a gigantic white beard, and would have a Yosemite Sam moustache if the beard didn't exist. And these bosses tell us to do the job one way and to fit things with certain gear. Then the next day, the new boss tells us to take it apart and do it this new way, because they had a meeting the day before. Then the next day, it's the same... after a new meeting.

I help install systems for a small, up-and-coming cell phone company. The company in a nutshell -- from what I've gathered in six days thus far: we do all sorts of work enhancing this new company's cellular network, but all the bosses who co-oridinate and plan the work use Rogers.

The job requires me to pull cables, split wire, set up and install surge protectors, build cable trays to run the lines and all sorts of other odds jobs. It has been pretty overwhelming, trying to remember how everything is put together while learning the basics of electrical grids and things, but it's definitely exciting to look at something you completed at the end of the day, knowing how much work went into it. I missed the feeling of working with my hands -- and working up a real appetite.

The best perk of the job is the locations I get to work. We work predominately on roofs. It sucks when it rains all day, like it did today. Or when it's windy. Or snowing. But the Jewish Hospital had a view of the largest church in Montreal -- the name escapes me -- and endless lines of red and orange trees changing colour in the fall. The sounds too -- the horns, the laughs, the recess bells, the sirens which you can follow for five minutes -- really painted a vivid picture of the city for me. You get a really unique perspective of how things work and what's important to a place when you can look and listen to it from above. I'm finding this job has been a great way for me to get to know the city, since not only am I seeing so much of it, but every job requires me to explore a new area on the map, since I have to find a new spot each morning via public transportation.

On Tuesday, we worked atop the Church St. Zotique in Notre Dame, beside gigantic church bells, which I punched with my fist to create miniature ding-dongs. We got to climb up these really old ladders into the bell-tower, and the location provided a nice view of an adjacent park and the Montreal skyline. The whole area was steeped in the smell of pigeon shit -- one of my bosses said the last time they cleaned the bell area and attic, they hauled off garbage bags full of dead birds.

We worked some long hours -- I think I've worked near 65 hours this week so far -- and Tuesday it was neat to see the church in the dark and whistle into the darkness and hear the impressive echo. It felt kind of spooky.

During the day, there were other contractors working on the church, which is undergoing reservations -- the maintenance guy said it was being used as a dorm for international students. The most interesting reno project I'd have to say was the cross, atop the structure. A man on a crane was refurbishing it, covering it with bronze or copper panels. Of course, I had to make a few jokes about how uncomfortable, I said, I was seeing some one putting nails into a cross. I said "You know what happened the last time." But I had to have a laugh with the way the guy was working on the cross. There he was, fearlessly on a swaying crane, six storeys high, with one leg over the rail, leaning out precariously, enough that I wondered if I'd see him splat on the pavement by the end of the day. But it was like he felt there was no chance he could fall. Perhaps he felt there was no way in the world God would kill him while he was working on a cross. I couldn't tell you.

Wednesday, we worked on the 14th -- should have been 13th, but us humans and our goofy superstitions -- floor of an apartment building in McGill, just across the street from where the Alouettes play. We had an amazing view of the hospital, downtown, Mont Royal and the whole rest of the goddamned place.

Thursday and Friday we worked mostly inside, where I was given my nickname of 'hero' for my quick action in keeping a phobic woman from overloading. Me and a buddy were bringing our gear upstairs when the elevator opened on the second floor and a old, grey-haired, Coke-bottle glass wearing woman -- who I'd heard talking up a storm to herself (I swear, I've heard more people talking to themeselves in Montreal in three weeks than I have anywhere else in the world in 26 years) -- was beside herself.

"Help," she cried. "Please, young men. Help me."

We went into the hall and there was a little black creature in front of her apartment.

"What is it!?!?!" she cried.

I walked over slowly, and finally saw it was a rubber rat. Some people in the apartment, playing a trick on the lady, had placed it there to freak her out. She was a wreck and got into the elevator, saying she was phobic, talking and not making sense, completely irrational with panic.

Well, she kept on and on and on.

(I took the rat home and put it in my roommate's bed. She said it didn't scare here.)

We work in a lot of government apartments and there are some strange people. Like the guy who knocked on a door for one hour straight beside a room we were working on. Or the guy who pushes himself around in his wheelchair with his legs. Or the guy who it takes 10 minutes to drive his motorized scooter into the elevator, because once he's inside, he gets back out, because he doesn't think the door will close. It's entertainment.

The next day, an old lady, upon seeing me walk into an apartment with a box of tools, asks me in French to go to her apartment and put in a cabinet. It's too high for her to do herself and she'll pay me. My friend starts laughing.

I'm a hero to the old ladies. One guy called me Enrique.

We spent the last two days and nights on a roof on the North end of the island -- a good hour commute on public transportation. I'm getting up at 7 a.m. and getting home at 10:30 p.m. some nights. Anyways, on Friday, I was supposed to meet a friend at a concert downtown -- Broadcast and Atlas Sound (Deerhunter singer's other band) -- and I was set to leave work at 9:30 while the rest of the guys finished the job.

Well, turns out the landlord had other plans. She was getting complaints from all these old-timers in the building (at 8:30 p.m.) that all the drilling we were doing were keeping them from going to sleep. One of the guys that I work with was getting worked up, calling the people who pay little-to-no rent, lowlifes, who do nothing but complain. It was kind of funny. All the guys I work with, without exception, are from South America and speak Spanish all day, unless they are explaining a procedure or a joke to me in English. They're all really nice guys and funny, and I'm picking up Spanish more it seems than French, because I'm surrounded by it the majority of my waking day. (One guy was taking pictures like crazy when it started to snow Thursday. It was the first time he'd seen a snow flurry before. Ah, imagine that -- excitement coming from snow.)

The guy I work with most of the time has a good take on the Quebecois accent and does it sometimes and I just crack up. "Twey" instead of "toi." "Mwey" instead of "moi." And a whole lot of "la"s inserted into the sentence. "Tewy la, la, la." He did it a couple days early in the week and I was in stitches and then this landlord comes upstairs -- a lady around 50, heavier set -- and just has the accent so over the top that it hurts me to think about it even now. "C'est fini la, les gars la. Neuf heure trentre (whistling) it's done."

After some resistance, we get out of there, but not before the lady tells us to come by early tomorrow for some breakfast. A group in the apartment apparently puts on a little kitchen Saturday and Wednesday mornings. She puts her fingers to her mouth and kisses. That's her take on the breakfast.

So we assemble the next morning and the government apartment's community room, with it's flowered-sofas, and work-out bikes, is now a makeshift diner, complete with laminated, homemade, hand-written menus with clip art on them. The landlord lady who was so cold the night before is our straight-shootin' waitress and takes our orders like we were in a truck shop. It was so cute. A few of the apartment's residents -- the regulars -- sat and talked about what they probably sat and talked about all the time and me and the four other guys, ate some delicious omelettes, had coffee and orange juice. All for $3. (I'm telling my friends about this place.) The lady came and filled up our coffees and had some small talk and friendly waitress banter, and she gave us our bills on ripped up pieces of paper (I later found out were pharmaceutical papers, with someone's prescription on the back) like it was very official.

I was so charmed by how proud the band was of their breakfast and, although I don't really know the legality of their endeavor, I will definitely be hitting it up again if I'm anywhere near there. Although I'll never be there again.

So two thousand words about how I'm a working stiff again. Why?

I don't know why I wrote all this here. But have you ever had one of those days where so much happened, and so much that was new, or unexpected, and you lay in bed at night and process it and wonder if that was really you that lived that day and you start to think about your life in general because the previous day's activities didn't conform with what you have grown accustomed to? Well I've had that feeling for a few weeks now when I rest my dome before sleeping and it's exciting to not know what to expect the next day.

I think I wrote all this down just to help myself process these new things I'm experiencing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

where do our tax dollars go?

I was sent a link to this story and feel it's similar to something I wrote a while ago.

I suppose I didn't go after the story the same way, but it sort of did illustrate the relationships these people have throughout -- and after -- their political lives.

I really am so happy Bob Bromley brought this forward. Outing these sorts of contracts takes real guts, because really Bob doesn't have much to gain from doing this. I'm clearly assuming, but I don't believe he's realistically considering running for a Cabinet position and, no doubt, he will meet Todd and Bell, and their friends, in the near future, who will not be happy these contracts got headlines, especially with the ever-pending federal election.

But these truly are the types of conflicts the Premier should have to justify to the public that foots the bill -- and from his answers, at least in the story, I don't see what exactly the NWT gained by giving Bell $180,000. Some MLAs are frothy in the mouth to oust the Premier and his Cabinet, and we now have to endure the never-ending affair story: a stumble which the Premier clearly does not believe has any bearing on the public perception of his credibility as a leader. I'd be interested to see who else speaks up about these 'gifts,' or if it just gets left at this.

Perhaps the contracts were worth the money and that's how the game is played, but the explanation provided doesn't give much to appease us. If this story proves anything, it's that our leaders are loyal and generous friends.

I'd like to see exactly where this $180,000 wound up. (How many meetings does $180,000 buy exactly?)

"The contract with Mr. Bell, for example — or the Northern Strategy Group, more proper — was one that, because he was very well-connected to the party, and we needed to get established and get our business case in and get as many meetings with the appropriate ministers as possible, it made absolute sense," Roland said.

When asked if his department's contract with Bell fulfilled its purpose, Roland replied, "I think it worked out very good. We got a lot of meetings initially and it served its purpose."

Well I suppose Bell -- and the "Northern Strategy Group" -- was well-connected with the Party. He lost an election under the Conservative banner. The annual salary for a Member of Parliament in Canada is $155,400. Bell lost the election and made more money than Bevington... and in just a few months.

I really had no idea how lucrative losing could be.

(Note: I'm looking to start my own Northern Strategy Group. Anyone want to join? We can talk about how we need devolution, and more sustainable communities, and increased oil and gas development but we'd never do anything but eat and drink and talk amongst ourselves or to our friends.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

i have been convinced for years that ants will one day rule the world

And this is even further proof...

Good lord! I'm never stepping on an ant again, mon!

I'm not so sure we should keep doing things like this, you know, like completely murdering an entire ant colony. It's just going to piss them off.

I just want to go on the record and say I do not support this kind of anti-ant aggression.

arctic monkeys - cornerstone

Saturday, October 17, 2009

slingin lingo in halifax

So rideshare turned into a ridescare, but in the end, Halifax wound up being a great time.

My original 'plan' --I say 'plan' because there really was never more than a few seconds of forethought that went into creating my itinerary -- when returning from my trip was to visit Montreal for a few days then book 'er off to Halifax and make a go at it.

After a couple days in Montreal though, with its ridiculous amounts of restaurants and things to do, I decided I'd stick around here, and make a little stop in Halifax to visit the Dog Whisperer and Caro.

I'm humiliated to say it, but the trip would mark the first time I'd ever been east of Montreal in Canada.

In other words, I'd be popping my Maritime cherry.

While online, searching for jobs and homes -- both of which I have found temporarily, as I write this -- I came across a couple rideshare offers to Halifax. The rideshares were scores cheaper and much more convenient than flying and busing respectively. One person responded hours later and after consenting to the fee, I was to be on the road to the East Coast by Friday 12p.m.

After a couple hiccups with insurance, we were on the road, heading out of the city around 2p.m. A girl from Montreal, whose family is from Lebanon, and another from Lebanon, rented the car, and I was along for the ride with another girl from Halifax, in Montreal working.

We punched the Dog Whisperer's Halifax address into the GPS and set off, on the supposedly 13.5 hour drive, which would get us into Halifax sometime around 3 a.m. The first few hours on the road were beautiful despite the rain, as the hills and horizon were splashed with colour as the leaves on the trees, before dying, gave off one last flash of life. There were oranges, yellows, and fiery red and pink to the horizon. It was almost mesmerizing at times. And maybe that was what distracted us, and was the reason we wound up at the U.S. Border, around 5 p.m.

How we missed the signs, the warnings, the lights, I don't know. But there we were, at a crossing of the world's largest 'unprotected' border, and deciding whether we should risk trying to get in. Apparently, the GPS gives you the quickest route, which in our case included a dip into Maine. We had no idea. And we had no passports.

We went up to the Canadian border guards and asked them what we should do. The lady said this GPS thing happened all the time and said we had about a three-hour detour back up to Quebec City. We asked: "Should we give it a shot?"

She responded: "You might as well."

So we drove up to the U.S. Border patrol, kind of laughing, fully expecting to be told to turn around and go back home. It quickly became apparent this would not be a short visit.

The lady at the window asked for our passports, and I was the only person able to produce one. The rest of the girls had a myriad of I.D.s -- student cards, credit cards, work I.D.s, drivers' licenses -- but no proofs of citizenship.

So the lady asked her supervisor what she should do and he comes out and grills us a little longer, learning that one of us is a Lebanese citizen, and is in Canada with a student VISA -- except she doesn't have it on her.

We learn that he is going to have to go through this long, drawn-out process to try to prove the citizenship of the three ladies in the car. 'Dammit,' I think. We ask if we can just turn around and pretend this all hadn't happened. He says no.

"You can't prove you are citizens of Canada. What if you drive over there and they say they don't want you?" he asks, looking at the Lebanese girl. "Then we have to deport you back to Lebanon."


We look back to the Canadian side, not more than 20 metres away, and say, 'come on, they know us, we just spoke with them. They'll let us in. ' He says his job is on the line and it doesn't work that way.

We get dragged inside for questions, questions, questions. They take out all our bags -- or so the girls told me later. I had a bottle of Brennivin's from Iceland for the Dog Whisperer, and the lady took it out of my bag, I guess, held it up, thought a second, and then put it back in the bag (around all sorts of dirty socks and boxers) realizing perhaps the trouble of reporting it wasn't worth it.

Anyhow, we spent another 2.5 hours in purgatory, answering the same questions over and over. I'm rolling my eyes, frustrated that it's taken us nearly 6 hours to make our drive 30 minutes longer.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, the three girls are given their refusal to entry papers, and we set back to the Canadian side. We are let in and then head back up to Quebec City. I kind of wrestle the driving away, and drive from 7:30 p.m. to Fredericton in the rain and fog and then pass out and wake up just outside Halifax, with the metallic taste of Red Bull and coffee stained onto my teeth and Red Bull burps making me gag.

We rolled into the city just before 10 a.m. -- 19 hours after leaving Montreal.

Good times.


Had a grand old time with Dog Whisperer, Caro and Umiq though. They had a bed made up for me and I passed out like a baby after a quick meal.

On Saturday, we went out for sushi with some of the Dog Whisperer's dog-lover friends. I've never claimed to be a sushi man -- more of a California Roll guy -- but now, I'm in love with that stuff.

Later, we wound up at this rocking party at Gus' Pub.

It turned out it we were lucky enough to show up at a Hoser party, where everyone was dressed up in flannel shirts, toques and goofy mustaches. The party was thrown as a fundraiser for a college radio station and it was one of the coolest ideas I've ever heard of.

They got all these local bands to play these really cheesy 70s, 80s and 90s songs by Canadian artists. They ran the gamut from April Wine, to Trooper to Celine Dion -- performed by a girl from Ontario who knew half the words, over a Napoleon Dynamite score drum machine and synthesizer. It was example after example of embarrassing cultural exports. But I loved it. Then there was a group that played classic Neil, like 'Powderfinger.' It was fucking excellent.

I was a little choked there was no 'Boys in the Bright White Sports Car' by Trooper, but I guess there's next year. The night was supposed to be capped with 'Takin' Care of Business', and last year, I guess it ended with 'Tears are Not Enough,' -- Canada's version of 'We are the World.' (I used to know the words to the Tears are Not Enough -- French and English -- when I was a kid, because we seemed to watch it once a week in music class. "C'est l'amour qui nous r'assemble/d'ici a l'autre bout du monde/Let's show them Canada still cares/Ohhhhh! And you know-ooooo that we'll be thee-eee-eereee.") I would have killed a man to have been part of that sing-a-long.

The night was building up to the annual headlining contest: a Maple syrup chugging contest. I sincerely debated whether I should participate, but in the end, I made the wrong choice -- and decided against it. All the people I spoke to said the chug involved 1 or 2 L of maple syrup. I just didn't think I had it in me. To my shock though, it merely involved a cup of the non-too-viscous liquid, and nearly ten contestants shot it back, and we painfully watched it slowly slop down the sides of the cups.

Two people finished the syrup at the same time and so the contest went to a tiebreaker, where a guy beat a girl, shooting back a small glass of syrup.

The winner was treated like an Olympic champion for the rest of the night, with pats on the back and genuine adulation by all who crossed his path.

We ended the night with poutine and a donair that I can say was probably the best I've ever had. (The legend of the Halifax donair is true.)


The next night, we went to a Thanksgiving dinner without turkey. It was a great night though, picking the brains of the guys from the band Caledonia about touring. It made me a little envious, because other than like a sports team, I couldn't imagine a cooler way to bond with friends than going on tour. (Especially after reading Adam's tour blog.)

We shared the Black Death (Brennivins) with anyone who cared to partake and met some former Yellowknifers, people that kayak down waterfalls for kicks and I was schooled on the supposed differences between Torontonians and Montrealers ("They're living with a five-year plan, while in Montreal, they have six-month leases.")

And me and the Dog Whisperer, after indulging in more Brennivins, tried to convince the band to come up for Folk on the Rocks.


A few things dawned on me in Halifax.

First, after meeting people non-stop for nearly two months, I was getting sick of my little back story. It was almost like when you return home from school and you get the three stock questions. "What have you been up to? How much time do you have left? How long are you back for?" The first thing anyone ever asks you when traveling is "where are you from?" After answering the question many times every day, and getting the "it must be cold?" question right away, I began to tire of playing the game, so I would just say Yellowknife and then quickly ask that person another question.

But I figured out that answering that question and just letting the conversation flow naturally from there usually leads to an interesting time and, by blowing right over it, it kind of closes down the dialogue.

So I have stopped doing that.

And something else hit me while in Halifax. But I can't remember what it was anymore.


We went down to a cove Sunday and saw seals and an oil rig being pulled to harbour by three tug boats and I held a starfish. And a full moon.

The Dog Whisperer made the comment that if you stuck a lighthouse beside Great Slave Lake it would look just like Peggy's Cove. At the cove we checked out, Duncan's Cove I believe, I kind of agreed. The Canadian Shield juts out from small bushes and just outside clusters of diminutive, skinny pine trees, with the neon-green lichen you'd expect to see North of 60.


The drive home was much better. No U.S. border. We made it in under 12.5 hours.

Note: I am convinced that Jumpin' Jack Flash by the Stones is the greatest highway driving song ever written. Every time that opening riff started up, my foot got heavier.


Overall, Halifax seems like a hell of a good time.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

human rights watch: apartment search

I think I've found a place. My brain hurts, the arches of my feet are strained, and I've hit so much pavement, I'm calling myself the steamroller. But I've been given the thumbs-up at a cool apartment just off St. Catherine in French Montreal, and, after having a look at one more -- and much cheaper -- room tonight, I believe I will be calling up my two future 'colocs' and saying 'je vais le prendre.'

However, the past week and a half -- broken in half by a four-day jaunt to Halifax -- have not always proved so positive. My past apartment searching endeavors were so easy, by comparison. They consisted of speaking with friends or acquaintances, who would eventually tip me off to a place. But not really knowing anyone in Montreal (where the hell did everyone go?) I've been reliant upon,, and, along with a myriad of other classified sites for hints about potential places to rest my dome piece.

And as I sifted through listing after listing, crouched helplessly before the computer screen glow like a houseplant at a window, I was startled by all the discriminatory language from the ads. So much so, that I'm now considering legal action.

I mean, nearly every posting called for at least one of the following qualifications -- and in most cases, a combination of them: animal lover, vegetarian (or vegan), non-TV watcher, non-facebook user, musician, artist, creative person ONLY, gay, female, student, international student, French-speaker only, quiet, clean, does dishes, toilet-trained (housebroken) and able to pay rent.

Unreasonable, I know.

I think I'm going to file a human rights complaint, because how is a meat-eating, white guy who hates cats and poops on the floor supposed to find a place to live these days?


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

From the vaults

I was looking for essay ideas because I need to write two up for a job I'm applying for, and I stumbled across this clumsy editorial I'd written up while working at the Yellowknifer, in frustrated response to a fruitless few hours on Yellowknife's streets.

I had completely forgot about it. I edited it -- and am going to use it for the application, which explains why it is written in the past tense -- and wish I would have submitted it back when I was working.


I felt like a leper walking the streets of Yellowknife.

While working as a reporter for a local paper in the NWT’s capital city, I endeavored to complete a Street Talk column, where residents – their names appearing beside their photo – would be asked to rate the territorial government’s performance over the last 12 months.

Covering an often controversial and contentious legislative assembly, I had my own opinions, but figured I could have been a little insulated by spending too much time in the newsroom. With an important session set to start up the day the column would have gone to press, I wanted to get a sense of how people on the street really felt about the way the government was running.

I did not run out in naively. I realized it would be a difficult task because since I started at the paper – both in Yellowknife and Iqaluit – I had run into many an instance where a resident would refuse a comment based on their employment with the government.

It was frustrating, but I understood.

People open right up and then when asked for their name, they say: “You’re not going to use my name, are you?” or “I don’t know if I can say that. I work for the government, you know?”

I needed just six people to respond.

I spent a solid 30 minutes walking around with no success. I got polite ‘no thank yous,’ explanations and then retractions, and quick refusals. There were people I asked who said they depended on the government for program funding and could not reply.  I got comments from people presently or recently employed with the government – or people who hoped to work for them – who would gladly divulge their opinions after stating they wouldn’t give their names. Their criticisms were insightful, relevant and offered me something new. They’d be healthy for public discourse if they were published. There were ideas to save money, improve programming, save jobs, but no one would get to hear them.

On the flipside, I met people who were very much anti-government – and some whose job it was to be. Their views were very predictable.

I must have asked 25 people in those 30 minutes – old and young, employed, jobless, homeless – and not one person was willing to go on the record.

I’d cross a street and people on the sidewalk would beeline for the other side. They’d pick up their pace. They could smell the question.

It was getting dark and after an hour, I had four respondents – one was very critical, two seemed to have moderate approval and another who was not up on the issues.

The next morning, I showed up for work early and after about 45 more minutes, I found two more people.

I got back into the office, wrote out the column, uploaded the pictures onto the server and was proud to have at least gotten some sort of judgment from the people.

Then I was told four of my pictures were out of focus and were unusable. I gave up and asked Yellowknifers what style of moustache I should grow for an upcoming fundraiser. I found six people in 20 minutes.

I realized those were some tough economic times and everyone was a little worried they might show up to work on a Monday and find a pink slip on their keyboard, I knew Yellowknife was a small place and workers were afraid they could be reprimanded for criticisms. I knew all about the government’s code of conduct, where employees are prohibited from speaking out against their employer.

Where does that leave democracy and the free-flowing of ideas and opinions though? In a system that’s truly open and working and accountable, residents would feel comfortable giving their honest opinions about government, feeling free of reprimand.

With a government accused frequently of incompetence, it does one thing very well: stifle debate. There isn’t public discussion about policy because people are uncomfortable having it publicly. They're afraid some vengeful bureaucrat is poring through Yellowknifer street talk columns, looking to find anyone foolish enough to question the government’s action, to then sacrifice as an example to the rest of the flock.

As a result, no one says anything until something gets taken away from them. And then, as is often the case, it’s too late.

Monday, October 12, 2009

slingin lingo in iceland (illustrated version -- for the kids)

Just got back from a weekend of dinner parties in Halifax, and now faced with the prospect of job and apartment searching in Montreal, I'll take a quick break and -- with my laptop back in my possession -- post some shots from my tour around Iceland.

I'll do a little write-up one of these days, but I'm feeling lazy right now (Plus, I'm writing mock essays for some job applications I sent in. Weird, I know.)

(Note: With the hunt ahead of me and being a master procrastinator, I posted a buttload of photos.)

Sheep head, anyone?

Each time I saw a waterfall, I had to pee. Iceland has a lot of waterfalls. It got to the point where, if I started to feel my bladder expand, I'd expect a waterfall around the corner... and that's usually what happened.

No matter where you'd look, on sheer cliffs or outcrops, you'd see these tiny white dots -- grazing sheep. Sometimes you'd wonder how the hell they got up there.

Little foothills heaven.

I couldn't muster the guts to walk up on this natural bridge. Good thing probably, since the sea was a-ragin'.

Black sand beaches are the norm on the island.

Volcanic sediment that just completely overran an area of vegetation after a glacial burst in 1996 that took out bridges and stretches of roads. It's about 19km from the glacier to the sea, and the burst delta is even wider. It's all just volcanic sediment now.

Trying a dramatic cliffhanger pose. Actually, in setting this dopey picture up, the rock from the little outcrop crumbled out of my hands and from under my feet and I nearly bit it. Yup, that would have been a classy way to go.

Herbiberous at the smell factory. These sulfur pits just reeked, mon!

Mars meets moon.

I walked up to this caldera and could feel the heat coming up through the rocks, like this was the planet's stinky, heat-relieving armpit. (Note all the flakey white stuff.)

Run-off from a geothermic plant. Hot spring rivers, for Chrissake.

Can you spot the ogre faces?

What the Deh Cho Bridge will look like once the four piers petrify?


Dammit, now I have to get back to work again.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bibio - Cherry Go Round

(Sorry about the cheap link. I couldn`t find this song on youtube. Just play Cherry Go Round on this myspace page.)

Reminds me of that remix of Blur`s Tender by Cornelius. Listened to this alot during the drive around Iceland.

Bibio -- Cherry Go Round

Thursday, October 1, 2009

slingin lingo in reykjavik

So like I wrote earlier, I arrived in Reykjavik and went immediately to the Blue Lagoon, where I soaked in sediment until I ran into a wrinkly, old Chinese guy with a testicle on his shoulder and then I was outty.

From there, I bussed off to the hostel -- waking up sporadically on the 40-minute drive to one of my many mammoth snores -- where I crashed and burned for four hours, drooling into my pillow like a St. Bernard under dental anesthesia -- an amalgamation of not sleeping, jet lag and hot springs energy-zapping.

Being a Friday, I woke up around 8 p.m. and decided to walk downtown to check out the capital city´s nightlife. I had a pint here and there and eventually took up shop at the bar in a trendy pub -- one of the last spots where you can still smoke apparently -- called Hressi by the locals.

It was there that I started chatting up an anthropology student at the university who -- along with the rest of her classmates -- had just recently returned from a wine and cheese soiree at none other than the Canadian Embassy (can these ambassadors party or what?).

After a long chat about her travels and the state of Iceland, she invited me over to her table, where I was greeted by very friendly students who were genuinely interested in talking about their country and hearing about mine.

She told me that she thought Icelanders were snobby. I hadn´t had too much experience with them up to that point, so I couldn´t weigh in, but now -- after spending two weeks in the country -- it´s a somewhat fair assessment. I mean, Icelanders are super stylish and a guy like me, with ripped jeans and a ball cap (I was the only person I saw wearing a ball cap the two weeks I was here... other than a couple wannabe thugs) sort of stands out, so I can kind of see why people wouldn´t be coming up to talk to me.

However, when I needed directions or chatted with people at cafes or gas stations or hostels or whatever, the people were really nice and funny for the most part.

For instance, I met an old man my first Saturday who chatted me up and down the seashore about the history of Iceland, Leif Erikson, and Gimli, Manitoba -- a large Icelandic community -- and his travels around Canada, the U.S. and the world.

He was walked briskly.

'How old do you think I am?´ he asked, proudly.

´I don´t know...´ I said, opting to joke and say 18.

He laughed. 'No. I´m 84.´

Jesus. Icelanders do live the second-longest of any people in the world, with the average age being 81.

He shared his opinion that Icelanders were cold to foreigners -- until they had two beers. From the night before, I agreed. He said he didn´t drink much anymore and was kind of embarrassed of how the youth drank to EXCESS on Fridays and Saturdays -- which is apparently typical of all Scandinnavian countries.

Back to Friday. One girl I met told me about the island´s superstitions, particularly the widespread belief in elves and dwarfs. While she said she didn´t BELIEVE in elves persay, there is a prayer her family says before New Year´s festivities (or was it Christmas?) which welcomed all the people they could see into their house, along with all the beings they couldn´t see -- namely trolls and elves and the like. She said again, she didn´t really believe in the creatures, but there was no way she would ever forgo the prayer, in case they did actually exist. I laughed, but thinking about it, it made sense -- as I swear I´m atheist, but if I´m in a plane and it starts to drop from the sky, the first thing I´m going to do is ask God to get me safely to the ground.

Another student I talked to said Iceland could be far more sustainable, except the people have expensive tastes. For instance, the country could produce its own cheese and milk, but people want Swiss or French cheeses and things like that. The crash in Iceland has put a hold on a lot of that, though. Many people bought their mortgages in Euros and in mere months, as their currency -- the Icelandic krona -- tanked, their mortgages more than doubled. A lot of people lost the majority of their savings too.

Eventually the area we were seated in became a dance club and our table was the last hold-out. I ended up losing everyone and wandered out onto the street.

The stylish, composed people I saw earlier that night -- classy, beautiful blond women and scarf-wearing guys -- had now become completely shit-faced and most people were stumbling along the sidewalks down the main drag -- Laugavergur.

I wanted to see some live tunes and strolled down a hill where I heard music and talked my way in for free to watch this really great band, with a little tiny blond girl singing in Icelandic, in front of a hard rock, almost metal band.

Feeling a little tipsy, I staggered the 40 minutes back to the hostel, where someone was sleeping in my bed.


Iceland´s language has not changed in a millenium, which is pretty much the original Viking language.


Cats rule the alleyways and streets here, although they all have collars. They stalk you down the streets and seem to play hide-and-seek with each other.


For the first few days I was here, my hands either smelled like fish or sulphur.

With all the volcanic, geothermal activity, the water here is steeped in sulphur smell -- or the rotten eggs stench. You take a shower, you smell sulfur. You brush your teeth, you can even smell and taste it. It´s a little strange at first, but apparently they say it´s good for your skin. And I´ll tell you what, my rosacea is receding better than it has in some time.


Ash was totally right about babies sleeping outside. Ladies -- and a good number of young ones -- push their babies around in these archaic, gothic looking strollers and then, when they go into the store or a cafe, they leave the babies outside, on the street, like a North American would tie up a dog. I´ve walked past a baby crying out there before, but like someone later told me, there is no crime in Iceland.


The skyr here -- a yogurt made from skim milk -- is outstanding. I´m officially an addict and am considering illegally becoming a skyr importer and selling it for outlandish prices in Canada.


Joedifferous was right about the hotdogs here. Delicious, especially with crunchy fried onions.


I´ve really become ashamed of how much coffee I drink. Here, the cups are smaller than smalls, and what I´m drinking in three or four cups in Iceland, is what I would pound back as breakfast at the paper. Someone said the portions are like that all over Europe.


I was here for the Reykjavik International Film Festival and saw three really great films. On Saturday, still reeling from my night of boozing, I watched a South Korean film called Daytime Drinking, which I highly recommend. It´s about a guy who gets dumped and then his friends drunkenly agree they should take a road trip. Only problem is the guy who gets dumped is the only one who makes the trip, and then all sorts of funny shit happens. Definitely recommend it.

I´d been reading One Flew Over the Cookoo´s Nest by Ken Kesey and when I heard Milos Forman´s work was being recognized at the festival and they would be showing that film, I could not resist going, even though I´d seen it before. Now I loved the movie, and it was nice to see it again, but it is totally a bastardized summarization of the book, which I already want to read again. I also thought Forman would be there for the showing, but it turns out an event was held the following Thursday, when I was on the other side of the island.

The last film I watched was a grainy Neil Young concert film produced the exact opposite of the showy, glamorous Heart of Gold, called Neil Young Trunk Show.

The old man still has it.


I had drinks one night with a guy from Brazil who was training for a cross-country skiing race on roller-skis. And he later mentioned he´d only seen snow twice -- one time being that day, when he raced a ski-doo around a glacier.

He´s never cross-country skied on snow before.


I´ve really started to get back into reading again. I think I could live without cable when I get back.


The kid didn´t bring a bathing suit to Iceland, so when I went to an outdoor swimming spot, I had to rent one and all they had were speedos.

When in Iceland...

So I slipped into the thing and immediately felt self-conscious and like the centre of attention. I walked out of the showers and toward the pool, avoiding eye contact with people, convinced one of my balls was dangling out or something.

I guess I know what chicks feel like now.


There is a very distinct and strong sense of identity in Iceland. When you are here, you feel it is bigger than it is and has a very big role to play internationally. Everyone speaks the language, the island has a lively culture, strong music scene and lots of local foods and customs.

There is a cartoon I saw that I thought was very fitting. There were two pictures. One had a picture of Iceland behind a microscope, making it the size of Greenland in the Atlantic, with the caption 'Iceland the way Icelanders see it´, the second was an accurate depiction of Iceland in the Atlantic -- a spot of southeast of Greenland -- with the caption 'Iceland as it actually is.´


I went whale-watching Tuesday and after two hours of nauseating waves and wind and rain, and having to boat all the way to Keflavik -- a good 45 minutes away from Reykjavik by car -- we saw some harbour porpoises, bottle-nosed dolphins and minke whales.

I thought I was going hypothermic when I got off the boat though and had an hour long shower when I got back to the hostel.


I´ve come to the realization that I will have to live somewhere to really get a sense of what life is like there. I find I´m learning more about the homes of fellow travelers than I am about the place I´m visiting.

It´s a little frustrating, but I suppose it makes sense.


So here I sit now in Reykjavik International Airport waiting for a flight back to Boston -- the boarding pass in my pocket is really the only concrete object pertaining to my future.

I figured I needed a break from work and to get out of town, where I was falling into predictability -- but not a good kind -- and that maybe some flash of inspiration would hit me in mysterious, magnificient Iceland. While I had a good time, nothing anywhere close to a revelation came to me and now I´m headed home but not home, because there is no home that I´m going to.

I´m thinking about tentatively heading to Montreal for a couple days and then probably on to Halifax, where I´ll meet up with Kelly and Caro and apply on some jobs. There was a reporter position open there and I´ll probably apply on that sometime tomorrow.

We´ll see how that goes.

I´ll put up some pictures and write about my trip around the country -- for those of you familiar with me and manual transmissions, you won´t believe how I got around.

And I guess there could be some crazy updates on here, as I try to sort this all out.

Ciao mein, dudes and dudettes. See you stateside.