Bits ‘n pieces

I fly a lot. About 70 segments last year. That being the case, I don’t waste a lot of time at airports. I get there when I need to be there, not any sooner. LGA is part of my extended nervous system. But JFK can still be a bit of a mystery. It’s the damn traffic, you see. Unpredictable. I can swing arriving at the gate at 6:00 pm for a 6:10 flight, like I did on Tuesday. But I don’t recommend you try it.

I love those moments. Those, “here I am in Seattle, eating dinner at the bar at Trader Vic’s, 10:30 local time, 1:30 am my time. Had another funny experience there two nights later. Ducked out of a (non-vegetarian-) catered business event to have some semblance of a proper dinner. This time, I sat in the dining room, which was packed to the rafters with wealthy ladies of a certain age. They were all dressed up, but everywhere I looked, people had their coats over their chairs. Washingtonians look somehow Canadian to me. I ducked back into my event. Later that night, I heard the most interesting story of the visit. Over a nightcap at the Westin, PB told me the story of how, 20 years earlier, he and his girlfriend had been attacked on a beach in the Caribbean. The two young attackers were after their passports, which they got and then started shooting, intending to kill the both of them. PB, shot, with more bullets flying at him, turned on his attackers instead, and probably would have killed them had he caught them. As the two teens were running away, they both emptied on PB, missing him a dozen times between the two of them. PB showed me the scars on his arm where the one bullet entered, then exited.

Some like it hot. And that someone’s a-gonna be me. I got my start with Thai food in Toronto, and back then it was the kiddie version. Pad Thai at the Queen Mother. Or sticky rice with a sauce that honestly could have been one of those President’s Choice “Memories of…”. Bland, bland food at Young Thailand. Canada’s first Thai restaurant (that what’s the food tasted like, too). At the time, Salad King, a little Ryerson hole-in-the-wall was our favourite. They had this spicy squid that really did it. NYC, on the other hand, is very different. An embarrassment of riches–so many smokin’ places to choose from. For a long time, Jaiya was the reigning champ. Naked Shrimp. The Tom-yung-koong is even hot to me. The “special sauce”. Wow. Zero ambiance and questionable service. But, wow. Recently, we found that Holy Basil was a worthy addition to the repertoire. But now, we have a new contender, Pam Real Thai. Two Clinton locations two blocks apart; the original 49th Street location has the decor of a typical IHOP, the 47th Steet Pam Real Thai Encore aims at a hip retro modern style and attracts a younger crowd. Either location could be the best Thai food we’ve ever had. On my first visit, I had a catfish fried in chili sauce. It had the kind of heat that I often plead for, but rarely receive.

Pan’s Labyrinth is excellent.

Professor Downie is coming to town.

PD sent me Mike Watt’s bass-eye-view of a tour with the Stooges. I think I just picked up some new lingo.

Rejoined the Vanderbilt Y today, after a lapse of a few years. In the past, Tina Louise was one of the regulars. Didn’t see her today. No sign of the professor, either.

The Tait Ball Buster is a really nice value in a $20 wine.

Now we’re all caught up.

I’m IT!

Antoine Doinel

Brunobaby done tagged me, and now I’m it. I didn’t even know I was in the game! But I’m a good sport, so I’ll play along and, nouvelle vague-style, submit to the interview. Please picture me as a 14-year old Antoine Doinel as I respond.

1) Name a book that you want to share so much that you keep giving away copies.

I usually don’t give away books on purpose, but it, ahem, happens sometimes. Instead, I’ll link to something nice on Project Gutenberg. Something sweet that matches my current mood. How about this?

2) Name a piece of music that changed the way you listen to music.

Schoenberg’s Three Piano Pieces, op. 11. I remember listening to these pieces over and over and then finally, a switch flipped and I heard them differently. Something changed in the way I was perceiving the music, opening the door to what would become my work for the next 10 years.

3) Name a film you can watch again and again without fatigue.


4) Name a performer for whom you suspend all disbelief.

In the age of freedom fries, willing suspension of disbelief is pretty much a pre-requisite for getting up in the morning. If enough people don’t stop believing pretty soon (on a geological scale) and start thinking, we’ll be history.

5) Name a work of art you’d like to live with.

The beautiful Mark Wiener painting we recently acquired that now hangs over our bed. Apart from that, there are any number of Rothkos, de Koonings, Klees, and heck, pretty much anything from the rose and blue periods that would do nicely.

6) Name a work of fiction which has penetrated your real life.

Sorry, I don’t like the patriarchal tone of this question.

7) Name a punchline that always makes you laugh.

As everyone knows, the best punchline ever written is, “It says sprocket, not socket!”

Red rover, red rover, I call The Old Style over! (Happy Birthday!)

To Daffodils

Fair daffodils, we weep to see you haste away so soon; as yet the early-rising sun has not attain’d his noon. Stay, stay until the hasting day has run but to the evensong; and, having pray’d together, we Will go with you along. We have short time to stay, as you, we have as short a spring; as quick a growth to meet decay, as you, or anything. We die as your hours do, and dry away like to the summer’s rain; or as the pearls of morning’s dew, ne’er to be found again.

Greed and Wickedness

Bert‘s travel piece in yesterday’s Globe and Mail on seven deadly sins getaways has a nice resonance with Orson WellesLady from Shanghai. To represent the sin of greed, Bert picks the Chinese city of Macau. This immediately brings to mind the classic exchange between Welles and his real-life estranged wife, Rita Hatworth:

Michael O’Hara: I bet you l´ve been to the place you were born.

Elsa Bannister: Cheefoo.

Michael O’Hara: lt´s on the China coast. It´s the second wickedest city.

Elsa Bannister: What´s the first?

Michael O’Hara: Macao.

Elsa Bannister: I worked there.

Michael O’Hara: You worked in Macao?

Elsa Bannister: Here´s your dollar. How about Shanghai?

Michael O’Hara: I worked there too.

Harlem Saturday Night

In “I’m Waiting for the Man”, Lou Reed heads up to Lexington and 125 with 26 dollars in his hand. Our night begins a few blocks over, getting a fix that only cost us 20 bucks. I can’t remember which jazz great it was who said of heroin: “if God made anything better, he kept it to himself.” Pshaw! He made something way better: Roti. Good Trinidadian Roti is not easy to come by in New York. We used to head over to Gloria’s West Indian food, deep in the heart of Brooklyn, to get our fix. Travel time on the subway, about an hour each way. Might as well just fly to Port of Spain. Well, now we know there’s no need for that, because Harlem has a great alternative: Roti Plus. For our inaugural visit, we stuck to the basics, chana roti and ginger beer. We asked for some doubles as well, but as everywhere, you have to get in early to get the doubles (which are traditionally a breakfast food). The roti skins were fresh and soft, with plenty of that great split-pea flour in between the layers. The potato and chana curry inside was also good, with just the right amount of pepper sauce. And without the oiliness that sometimes afflicts roti, it weighs in on the healthy side. I’m already thinking about the curried fish I’m going to have on our next visit.

With happy roti chemicals coursing through our veins, we headed over to Lenox & 125th for our destination: the storied Lenox Lounge. What a gem. The cool art deco facade gets your hopes up, and the club inside does not disappoint. Once inside, you pass through the bar. Signs on the tables ask patrons not to take pictures, and for good reason–it’s like a movie set. We’re there for the early show, so the room is not exactly hopping, but what a classic. After taking in that scene for a while, we head to our little wrap-around booth in the Zebra Room. Sitting under a poster of Billie Holiday, the singer most associated with the club, it’s easy to drift into a reverie, dreaming of all the great performances that have taken place in that little room. But tonight we are there to see the Houston Person Quartet. Person sets down his Starbucks and leads the band through a set of post-bop, soul-jazz and ballads. These guys are the real deal. Person has tremendous economy of motion, and when he breaks into sixteenth-note bop riffs, he’s barely moving at all. Drummer Chip White swings, with an aggressive, loud sound. I’m listening to Chip’s album Music and Lyrics right now. Nice–I’ll be checking him out again, I’m sure. I was also very impressed by Swedish bassist Per-Ola Gadd. This place is special and will definitely enter the repertoire, but next time, we’ll make the late set to cut down on the squares…


It was a late fall night in 1994. Living at the time in the cheerily dilapidated, spaciously boho upper two floors of a house on Concorde Avenue in Toronto. Not home long when the doorbell rang. Downstairs, the six-year-old girl explained to me that her kitten was trapped on the roof of the house next door. The little furball had escaped the girl’s bedroom window, and was strolling along roof-to-roof, down three or four attached houses. The problem came when she got to our place, which wasn’t attached. There was a two-foot gap between the house next door and our second-floor balcony. I ran back upstairs, straddled the railing and planted one foot on my side and one foot across the gap. I scooped up the tiny kitten and brought her downstairs to the little girl. This was how I first met Billie.

“Do you want to keep her? We’re giving her away.” What was this, some kind of scam? NAM was getting home around then and we decided we would try it out the next night. See how she got along with Lulu, the mistress of the house. Well, they got along terribly, or at least Billie behaved rather rudely, arching her back and hissing in the classic Halloween cat pose. Lulu, who had the biggest soul of any person I have ever met, took it in stride. Billie stayed.

She wasn’t really named after Billie Holiday, or Billie Burke (Glinda, the Good Witch of the North), or Billie Whitelaw. And it didn’t matter to us that the unenlightened would forever mistake her for a boy because of that handle. Nope, the name fit and we all liked it.

She was always a little naughty. Back in the early days, I think she was always a little under the shadow of her older adopted sister. Acting out got her that extra bit of attention she sometimes needed. Lulu was friendly, calm, brave, graceful. Billie trusted no one beyond me and her mom. Where Lulu could traipse across the top of a Champagne pyramid without disturbing a single bubble, Billie knocked around and was known to break a thing or two. She once broke into a kitchen cupboard and trotted off with a bag of bonito flakes, scattering them about and having a great munchy fest. Got herself trapped in the fridge–twice!

A few years later, during a spell when NAM was the advance guard in New York, and Billie, Lulu and I were hanging back in TO, Billie and I  invented something great: the buddy position. Billie was sticking close to me during this interlude, never leaving my side. I could barely read a book without having her joyfully insert herself somewhere between the pages and my eyes. The buddy position solved this: I would be reading and Billie would snuggle up beside me, resting her head on my shoulder, looking up at me. Later on, she came up with the inverted buddy, whereby she sat on the pillow the other way around. That way she could read along with me. How many happy hours did we spend this way over the years?

All of Billie’s emotions were intense. Most of all, when she was happy, her whole being reveled in it. She would flop onto the floor with a thud, stretch her back and roll around. If I came to see her when she was sitting on top of the fridge, she would start to pace back and forth, purring ecstatically. If I stooped over to kiss her while she was sleeping in her little doughnut, she’d start purring and lick my ear. At night, I’d have Lulu sleeping on my pillow and Billie snuggled in around my legs. I could scarcely move; not always the most comfortable arrangement, but I loved it.

When Lulu died suddenly a few years ago, Billie took over the role as head of the household. She was happy to step up. She started running over to greet me when I came home. She kept Zachary in his place. And she loved all the extra time we got to spend together. So did I. When she got sick, I had a month to let her know how much I loved her. But she already knew.

Some RSS Evangelism

A while back, I wrote a piece singing the praises of CSS, a great technology for developing web content. Now, I’m passing on the tip about RSS, a great technology for accessing web content. RSS, and it’s first-born son, Atom, are feed technologies that generate updated XML whenever a web site posts updates. You can view this XML directly of course, but the real payoff is to aggregate all your favorite feeds into a single view. Now you can instantly scan all of your daily blogs in a single session.

How to do it? Well, for starters, you are using Firefox, aren’t you? Start out with Firefox’s Live Bookmarks. This may be all you need. You won’t see all your feeds in a single view, but you can do a very quick scan. Really want to see everything in a single pane? You can add feeds to both My Yahoo and Google. Or, you can use Newsgator (which adds its own comments section to your posts–definitely don’t like that).

Marion’s Gastrointestinal

Owing mostly to an administrative error, and, I guess, partially to my “only-dining-below-14th-street” edict that was passed as of late, we ended up having dinner at Marion’s tonight. Now, the thing you have to know about Marion’s is that it has always been a fun place to have a cocktail–a wacky cocktail, that is. I would never have a simple “Sapphire-martini-up-with-olives” there. But the menu has always–how shall we say, sucked. How far off the mark can they be? Well, let’s look to their cocktail menu as an example: the “Smoky Martini”:

Ketel One vodka straight up with a drop of laphroaig.

Oy gevalt!

What’s up with the blog, anyway?

As much as I was allured by the ubergeek appeal of running a site based on slashcode,  it  eventually became more trouble than it was worth.  For a couple of reasons, I needed to update my server to the most recent version of Redhat Fedora. Slash only runs on a very specific, and very ancient version of mysql–a version which is impossible to run on Fedora Core 6. Besides which, slash is written entirely in Perl, and makes no use of CSS. Hardly ideal. So, I had been thinking for some time about switching to a completely LAMP (Linux, Apache, Mysql, PHP) platform and, after doing some digging around, ended up choosing WordPress. It was a piece of cake to get up and running and, thanks to CSS, it will be simple  to re-design the site. Unfortunately, there’s no way to auto-import the posts from my slash site, so I will be re-posting some old chestnuts and may eventually get around to reposting everything.

And now, back to the krunk…