A Descent Into Madness, or The Time Prime Video Sucked Me In and Spat Me Out

A Descent Into Madness, or The Time Prime Video Sucked Me In and Spat Me Out

I’ve spent most of July in a fugue and I blame Amazon Prime Video for all of it.

It started out innocuously. I had seen the first episode of the first season of Fleabag and laughed myself sick on the couch, despite not actually being able to hear any of it. I do this sometimes, just lie on the couch following the captions on the screen, mentally giving the characters their voices. When something is especially funny, no sound is needed to appreciate it. And that was Fleabag.

I’d thought nothing of it. It was a random, fly by night quickie, meant to while away half an hour cheating on my Roku by figuring out how our new Android media box works. It doesn’t, by the way. Not really. It’s a shitty, earnest, horribly un-intuitive attempt to support piracy. Everything moves like molasses, there are pop-up ads galore, and I quite simply do not speak its language and probably never will. It’s probably the wrong media box for me or anyone, but I digress.

Late June was where the confluence of events came to a head. The bestie brought up Fleabag again. He couldn’t quite stop quoting from the show and so, simultaneously inundated with Twitter ads for Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens, I decided to hit two birds with one stone. I bit the bullet, and got Amazon Prime for a month.

Alice followed the white rabbit and started falling down a tunnel into Wonderland. My descent was closer in spirit to Wile-E Coyote, walking off a cliff and free-falling into a canyon, except it felt like I was never going hit the bottom.

wile-e bye

I blazed through the entirety of Fleabag in the course of a weekend. It’s a great show, with outstanding levels of exquisitely placed shade, the humour as black as the grounds left in the office coffeemaker at the end of the day. It deserves all of its eleven Emmy nominations and I would recommend it to anyone casting about for something to watch. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is an insanely talented writer and she’s so good I could almost hate her for it. But I can’t, because I love her work in (and as) Fleabag so much.

And then it was on to Good Omens. What is in the water these Brits drink? How do they come up with these fantastical flights of fancy? I’ve been a longtime Gaiman fan, and as a TV show, Good Omens is the yang to the yin of American Gods. It’s light, it’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s uplifting and it’s witty beyond measure. I hadn’t yet gotten around to reading Good Omens and didn’t know if I was going to like the show, but I was a goner the minute they introduced Sister Mary Loquacious of The Chattering Order of St. Beryl. Sister. Mary. Loquacious. Terry Pratchett has gone on to the great beyond, but Neil Gaiman still breathes and is a national treasure who must be protected at all costs.

That was supposed to have been it. I was supposed to have gone on with my life, maybe having blithely ordered a few things to take advantage of the free two-day shipping all Amazon Prime members get. But no. Oh no. No, no, no. I started to watch Lost. I had survived the mid to late aughts having never seen Lost, and  now my luck had finally run out.

The free-fall continued.

loki

Lost has six seasons. The first three seasons have at least twenty episodes apiece, each clocking in at almost an hour. The last three seasons vary in length from fourteen to eighteen episodes, and the devil of it all is that it is very, very, very hard to stop watching Lost. It is the kind of show that raises more questions than it answers and never really resolves anything. Like a charismatic cult leader, it is maddeningly opaque at times, colourfully inventive in others and always, always, keeps the viewer wanting more.

I wasn’t immune, gamely going along for the ride, feeling the days and weeks slip past alternating between work and Lost and work and Lost and work and Lost until it finally, blessedly, confusingly, ended.  The famous finale, the one that the conclusion of Game of Thrones is most frequently compared to, that divides the fandom to this day. That ending. And all I could think was, it’s over. It was finally over. I had nothing more to give, no energy left to come up with a coherent reaction to the Lost finale, because I was just so glad to have finally hit the canyon floor.

No, no one held a gun to my head and made me do it. Yes, I really only have myself to blame. But oh, the feeling of freedom, the satisfaction I felt terminating my month-long Amazon Prime subscription. I’ve come out on the other side. I don’t want to put myself through that again.

Arroz a la Cubana: Sorta Kinda Havana Good Time

Avoiding the sunshine. I’m laughing at my past self circa a day ago gloating about staying out in the sunshine, because why then did I sign up for a day tour of Havana, which meant a full eight hours in such heat, I came home with a massive migraine?

So there I was, with a gang of other happy, sunburned retirees headed to Havana. I booked a guided tour for a day trip to Cuba’s famous (or infamous, depending on perspective) capital, just to see what it would be like. Because Varadero is two hours away, I didn’t want to chance going into the capital alone on buses I was unfamiliar with. My imagination, always fertile and ready to go for the worst case scenario, was in overdrive, waiting for the guardia civil, the policia, the men in uniform come to drag me away, lock me up and attach electrodes to my tender parts for every minor infraction, because well, communism (and I am an ignoramus) so I was on my best behaviour.

Here’s what I found:

1. There are barely any Asians in Cuba.

2. About 80% of everyone visiting is white, and the locals automatically assume – not mistakenly – that they are Canadian. (Cuba is to Canada what Boracay is to the Philippines.)

3. I don’t think I’m cut out for guided tours after all.

It was a tour designed to check all the boxes, and we were led from tourist spot to tourist spot to a shop for rum and cigars, kind of like kids in kindergarten on a field trip. I’m used to planning my own itinerary ahead of time, and I like to try and go where the locals go and poke around, so if that is your thing, don’t do a guided tour. I didn’t get to take a lot of good pictures because we passed quite a few sights (El Capitolio, Morro Castle, etc) while still on the tour bus and didn’t have the time to take quality shots. I was also disappointed because I thought we would have some time to get into museums and browse, not just stand outside buildings while the guide drones on about how Hemingway lived in this hotel and how Hemingway drank at this bar. Eh. Yay? It really is my fault, I should have done a lot more research  but I only have myself to blame for the last minute decision to go.

The Havana I envisioned was a city that comes alive in the evening, strung about with fairy lights, air filled with salsa music, laughter, the chatter of a people letting loose and stumbling out of nightclubs. The Havana we saw was Old Havana, bleached by an unrelenting sun, occupied mostly by tourists goggling at the state of disrepair. By day, the decay of the city is revealed, its buildings crumbling, paint flaking off of edifices built in the 20’s, mold and water stains caked on like a woman who had staggered to bed after a night of debauchery, fallen asleep without removing her makeup and woke up in the bright light of day. Many of the buildings are gutted with only their facades left intact, and many are in an ongoing state of construction that seems to have been undertaken with gusto but half-heartedly left in disrepair when time, money, or energy ran out.

And it’s quiet. It felt like the only people out were the tourists. We drove through one of the neighbourhoods on the way to having lunch and I wondered where the locals were, because I didn’t see very many of them on the streets. Where were the street vendors? The food carts? The hustle and bustle of the everyday? Nowhere. Havana is clean, almost unnaturally so, and the quiet juxtaposed with all the buildings with paint peeling off is almost eerie.

I am glad that the government of Cuba took steps to preserve and restore many of the buildings in the heart of Old Havana. My favourites are the palaces of stone built by the Spanish, some as far back as the 1700’s, their cathedrals and seawalls imposing and engineered to last. Unlike the buildings that flourished in the early 20’s, theirs don’t need paint, only a thorough scrubbing. Through some mysterious alchemy the Spanish made buildings that stood the test of time. It’s their architecture that gives Havana a sort of quiet, solid strength, and contributes to so much of the city’s character. I felt awed by their achievement, and thankful at being able to witness it. Incidentally, Old Havana is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who is interested in architecture and history. Maybe just don’t do a guided tour. You’ll have a lot more fun discovering places all by your lonesome!

Campañerang Cuba

Campañerang Cuba

Dear Elly G,

I wanted to type this out to you using the portable, made in Japan circa 1969, piece of classic machinery I insisted on bringing with me, but my pretentious wannabe little self is doing this at five in the morning. Even though the good Lord saw fit to take away my hearing bit by bit, my neighbours may not be as fortunate. I know, I know, I should’ve factored in my weird circadian rhythms, but oh well. The day is young. I might just re-type this and mail it to you because we’ve already established that I can be pretentious as all get out.

If I really end up sending you snail mail, I wonder what the outcome might be. Will the Cuban government see fit to censor a letter? Will you get this with portions blacked out and redacted like it’s a top secret CIA case file? Not that there’s anything in here that may even be remotely close to threatening state secrets, but you know how my imagination works. Nabag-ohan! Because I’m in Communist Cuba and viva la revolución!

Jorge, our tour guide on the airport shuttle bus, asked “Who here is Canadian?” and was met with a loud chorus of yeah, and yays and what’s uuuuuppps. “Who here is American?” Complete radio silence. “Not a single one, eh?” he said, to a smattering of giggles. And then, “Thank God,” to outright laughter.

Sure, it was probably canned and he likely does this bit a dozen times over to a different audience flying in from Toronto day after day. That  doesn’t make it any less funny to me. Speaking of cans, the shuttle bus came with a built-in cooler filled with the local canned beer, which Jorge was enthusiastically slinging. “It’s 3 for $10, but 7 for $20! Who wants some? Oh, 14? Great!” bagging up cans and enthusiastically passing them along to the crazy ones in the back. Methinks it’s non-stop drinking for everyone here but me, but what else is new? Some folks on the plane were drinking while waiting to board (me: wala pa gani!), they drank on the plane, and they drank on the shuttle bus to the resort, where I assume they drank some more.  I lucked into a  seat on the plane that was right next to the exit, so I got to disembark and get through customs quite speedily. I was the first one on the shuttle which was making scheduled stops at selected resorts (they have an impressive system in place, but more on that later), so I got to watch as the rest of the ones headed to my area of Varadero straggled in. Some came onboard holding cans of  beer, but I lost it after at least three grandmas clutching green bottles of cerveza passed me by and started giggling like a lunatic. I think the couple a row behind me saw my reaction and started laughing as well.

One thing is for sure though. This is not going to see the light of day electronically until I get back to the mainland. Yes, “the mainland” means Toronto. I just liked the way “the mainland” sounds, because again, pretentious. They were right about the wifi; even the cell service here is a bit spotty. I read somewhere that Cuba (Cubacel) licenses its signal or whatever from the Italians. It’s so exotic and I love it. Anyway, being unplugged is taking a little getting used to. I had this idea that to be unplugged I wouldn’t use anything electronic, but again that’s hard to do at five in the morning with everyone sleeping off what is probably a massive intake of alcohol.

 

Pour one out for abused kidneys everywhere,
Nikka

You, Me, and a Little Yellow Ball

You, Me, and a Little Yellow Ball

“Tennis is the sport in which you talk to yourself. No athletes talk to themselves like tennis players. Pitchers, golfers, goalkeepers, they mutter to themselves, of course, but tennis players talk to themselves – and answer. In the heat of a match, tennis players look like lunatics in a public square, ranting and swearing and conducting Lincoln-Douglas debates with their alter egos. Why? Because tennis is so damned lonely.”
– Andre Agassi, Open

Someone once told me she thought tennis was a boring sport. While tennis may very well look like giant ping-pong from a beginner’s point of view, to fully appreciate the game – any game, really – one simply needs to understand how it works. That’s the great thing about tennis. Like basketball, it’s ridiculously simple.

So, the basics.

The rules: the ball cannot bounce more than once. The ball must stay inside the lines. When serving, the ball must bounce within the specified service box, and the server is only given two chances to get it right (three, if the ball clips the top of the net). A point is won if:

– the ball goes out of bounds
– the ball goes into the net
– the ball bounces twice, or
– the player cannot return the ball.

The surfaces: tennis has three. Grass, clay, and hardcourt. Each surface impacts ball striking, movement and ball bounce differently, requiring the player to make adjustments to his or her technique. It also necessitates the use of warm-up events, called tournaments, that lead up to major tournaments (majors), which are also called Grand Slams.

The majors: tennis has four. The Australian Open (Asia-Pacific/hardcourt), The French Open (Europe/clay), Wimbledon (Europe/grass) and the US Open (America/hardcourt). A player’s ranking depends on the number of tournaments he/she wins. The bigger the tournament, the bigger the prize money and the number of ranking points earned. To defend their ranking, players must  either have the same results that they had the previous year, or earn more points than they did, for a higher ranking.

Game, set, match: a game is three points and a set has six games. The first player to win six games wins the set, provided the opponent is two games behind (i.e., 6-4). If both players win six games apiece with neither two games behind, the set is decided by a tie-break. A match, for men, requires best of three sets at the ATP 250 and Masters 1000 level. For Grand Slams, they play best of five. A match for women, regardless of tour level, is always best of three.

Best of all, in tennis, there is no team to rely on. There is no one else to pass a ball, a baton, a pigskin, or a puck to. There is no safety net. Boxing may be as solitary, but even in boxing, you have people in your corner, the guys who bring you water and wipe you down,  smear ointment on your lacerations, push you back into the centre of the ring, reminding you it’s not over until it’s over. You don’t get that in professional tennis. It’s a mostly solitary sport that demands utmost accountability. In tennis, if you fail, it is through no one’s fault but your own.

Tennis requires focus, willpower, courage and stamina. Most of all, it is a sport that requires control. Control of yourself, of your body, of your mind, and control of the ball. The player who controls the ball the best, is the one who wins the most. Think of the myriad different ways you can flick your wrist or twist your arm, rotate your torso, angle your body, stretch your legs. All of this in the quest to direct that little yellow orb. Where do you want it to go? What do you want it to do? What do you intend to create? Carve a laser down the line? Blast an explosion cross court? Draw a graceful arc in the sky to push an opponent back? Pull him forward with a short ball? Go right when he expects you to go left? The possibilities are endless.

There is nothing quite like watching two tennis players striving to out-think, outdo and outlast each other across the net, in a physically punishing environment, stopping short of actually drawing blood. When tennis is played by the best of the best, it is breathtaking. Suspenseful, Exciting. Brutal. Merciless. Graceful. Magical. Nuanced. And yet, at the end of it all, the players are expected to meet each other across the net, and shake hands civilly, to pretend they didn’t just spend the last few hours trying to grind each other into the dust – because yes, in tennis, your behaviour matters too. Players have gotten fined for bad behaviour, for smashing their rackets, for using foul language and abusing the referees.

There is so much more to tennis than running from side to side trying to hit a ball across the net. Tennis, boring? Not on your young, beautiful life.

What Books Did You Read in 2018?

What Books Did You Read in 2018?

Some people set goals for themselves, like reading fifty books a year. I don’t have a set number, but I would like to average more than three a month, which,  based off of my Overdrive history, was what 2018 was for me book-wise. This year, I want to read things more than I watch things –  a resolution that may be easier to say than to actually do, so crossing my fingers, knocking on at least two different types of wood and throwing a little salt over my left shoulder.

Anyway, here are all the books I finished last year. Because I have the same maxim for reading as well as eating – i.e. finish everything you put on your plate – I still feel guilty about not being able to finish a book. I am incapable of reading multiple books at any given time, preferring to finish one before picking up another. I’ve learned that life is too short, and if something fails to hold you in its grip a third of the way in, it’s best to just put it down very gently and move along.

As you will soon see, my choice of reading material doesn’t follow rhyme or reason, although I do have a weakness for books about historical figures, particularly royal ones. The following may hopefully give you ideas for what to read next, and I read them all through Overdrive, the digital arm of the Toronto Public Library. I do list three books that are an absolute punch to the gut – books I liked so much, I want the real thing on my bookshelf! To get to the  ones I would definitely recommend, skip to the standouts section.

Royal Pains
That Woman – Anne Sebba
Nicholas and Alexandra – Robert K. Massie
Catherine the Great – Robert K. Massie
Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch – Sally Bedell Smith
The Hollow Crown – Dan Jones
The Shadow Queen – Rebecca Dean
Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart – John Guy

Guilty Pleasures
Upon a Wicked Time – Karren Ranney
The Bride and the Beast – Teresa Medeiros
Valley of the Dolls – Jacqueline Susann
Rich People Problems – Kevin Kwan
Queen of the North – Anne O’Brien

Now Major Motion Pictures (and one lush TV show)
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
Annihilation – Jeff VanderMeer
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe – Fannie Flagg
Molly’s Game – Molly Bloom

I don’t care what you say, I’ll still read kid things
The Lie Tree – Frances Hardinge
Library of Souls – Ransom Riggs
The Trials of Morrigan Crow – Jessica Townsend

Mythic Proportions
Norse Mythology– Neil Gaiman
The Song of Achilles – Madeleine Miller
The Secret Chord – Geraldine Brooks
Fire & Blood: 300 Years Before A Game of Thrones (A Targaryen History) – George R. R. Martin

Autobiographically Yours
Sick in the Head – Judd Apatow
Wishful Drinking – Carrie Fisher
Meaty – Samantha Irby

Everything Else
We Were Eight Years in Power – Ta-Nehisi Coates
Mrs. Fletcher – Tom Perrotta
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Dutch Wife – Ellen Keith
The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules – Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg
All the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella’s Stepmother – Danielle Teller

Maybe I’ll try again someday
Fear of Flying – Erica Jong
I couldn’t finish Fear of Flying, that seminal female-centric novel of the late 70’s.  There are moments when we as humans start flailing, but this one’s been in therapy since she was a teen, and is now conducting a flagrant affair right under her second husband’s (also a therapist) nose. Her paramour – who doesn’t bathe, calls her a c*nt, walks around in some weird Jesus-y man-dress and treats her like shit (which she kind of likes) is also a therapist. That’s as far as I got. Fear of Flying is erudite and intelligently written, but I found its heroine self-indulgent and tiresome.

2018 Standouts
Circe – Madeleine Miller
This had been floating around the edges of my social media feed as a hot read, and for good reason; Madeleine Miller is a Greek scholar who plucks a relatively obscure mythical figure from the background of the great Greek myths and gives her beautiful life. Read this if you need a little magic.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life – Samantha Irby
Oh the joys of finding a new favourite author in a used book store! I would normally never pick up a book featuring a bedraggled kitten on the cover, but something about this book just made me pick it up and boy am I glad I did. Samantha Irby is a descriptively hilarious tour-de-force, who lays her own life on an operating slab, vivisects herself and exposes all her gnarly insides to the world, tongue fully in cheek. Read this if you need a little humour.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup – John Carreyrou
If you think a story about Silicon Valley maneuvers is a boring premise, John Carreyrou is going to prove you oh so wrong. A book about former Silicon Valley darling Theranos and the people, events and broken promises behind the startup that imploded so spectacularly, this one was un-putdownable for me. Never mind why you need to read this, just do!

Khal Drogo Goes to the Beach

Khal Drogo Goes to the Beach

The problem with Aquaman is that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Half-hearted environmental PSA on the hazards of polluting our oceans? Showcase for all the kaiju that could be unleashed if given a higher budget? Tomb Raideresque adventure quest for a mysterious gold trident? Ridiculous over-the-top fantasy epic, à la Lord of the Rings? The answer shouldn’t be all of the above, but that’s what we’re getting, and we’re getting a LOT of it. At a runtime of over two and a half hours, Aquaman gets pretty hard to sit through, Jason Momoa’s rippling physique bedamned.

You’d think I, as the obvious target audience, would love all the swaggering braggadocio of Jason Momoa letting loose, but I didn’t. Aquaman sucked.  One of the reason’s Momoa’s turn as Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones was so effective, was that there was so little of him. He was spread out through seven episodes; here, it’s two and a half hours of nothing but machismo. That’s all very well, and I have to hand him points for being enthusiastic, but the dude seems to have embraced his Khal Drogo character a little too tightly, and is unable to let it go. It just gets… painful, after a while.

Surprisingly, no one in this movie can act, and there are quite a handful of established actors in this piece who come with cult and  Oscar cred. Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe and Patrick Wilson – often found in more highbrow, award-worthy work – as  Queen Atlanna, Vulko and Prince Orm, seem almost embarrassed to be in a superhero epic, and act accordingly. I expected more out of Patrick Wilson, who at least got to showcase a lot more of his skills as The Owl in Watchmen, but nothing can help his performance in this particular movie. The CGI is far too distracting, and perhaps the effort of trying to keep their faces straight began to tell.

Being an Oscar-winner is not a hindrance to doing a good job in a movie with a silly premise, as Robert Downey Jr. has demonstrated so often. It requires a sort of insouciance, and self-awareness, and without it the performance becomes tedious and flat, as Kidman, et. al., demonstrate. You have to really embrace being part of a superhero flick. There is no slumming it. Everyone knows the actors are in it to make money, but they need to project a sense of fun, which none of them end up doing.

Except Jason Momoa. That one is on the opposite end of the spectrum, having waaaay too much fun, like the drunkest guy at the party, capering about while everyone else awkwardly looks on. It might even have been fun if he wasn’t so aware of why he was cast to be Aquaman instead of some blonde, milquetoast boy scout. Do you know how many times he looks flirtatiously over his shoulder at the audience?

Thrice.

Do you know how  many times he goes shirtless in Aquaman?

Too many, and I can’t believe I’m complaining.

The truth is, relying on that body can only take one so far.  It just isn’t enough to distract from the reality of things: although the movie is beautiful and the underwater scenes are a marvel (my favourite visual is of Aquaman and Mera diving into the trench with a red flare, pursued by a thousand sea monsters), it’s  still a disjointed, bloated mess with cringey dialogue, needless backstory and unnecessary exposition.

I’ve had it with these DC movies. They’ve had so many chances to get it right, and they still keep sucking ass. I have decided this will be the last time I voluntarily pay for a DCEU offering. Unless it’s by Christopher Nolan, I’m out.

 

The Day Before 37

The Day Before 37

This entry is borne along the strains of RuPaul’s Glamazon, the soundtrack to my weekend thanks to Netflix acquiring all the older seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race and successfully roping me back into the world of wigs, catty bitchfests, cinchers, blending and peanut butter peanut butter peanut butter, all the things my life never really was and definitely wasn’t this weekend.

While I wish my life was that of a glamazon, all makeup and sky high heels stomping around like I rule the world, those days are long behind me. I spent the last day being thirty-six doing laundry. It’s decidedly unglamorous, instead of doing what I’ve made a point of doing on my birthday for the past six years, which is be somewhere else. I usually snap up fall flight sales in August, but this year I spent part of August in the Philippines and the beginning of September in Hong Kong, so I blew my wad too soon.

IMG_0458.JPG
Japan.

The tradition started a few years ago, when we ended up with an unexpected overnight layover on our flight back to Toronto due to the mechanical shenanigans of Delta Airlines. I never really mind airline schedule changes, for as long as I get to wangle a free night’s stay and a meal out of it. Anyway, there I was. Pensive on the morning of my birthday, staring moodily out the window at a particularly depressing Japanese landscape somewhere in the industrial wilds of Narita when I realized I liked it. I liked the idea of being somewhere else on my birthday. I’ve since spent birthdays in other places. I think a big part of it is the unconscious urge to escape reality, to run away from facing the fact that I have another year behind me, that I’m not getting any younger and sometimes feel directionless, the usual frustrations that come with getting older, the biggest being the fear of being stuck in a rut, feeling like life is quicksand dragging you down and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s melodramatic and self-indulgent, things I rarely allow myself to be, but it’s my birthday goddamnit. I am entitled to feel this way because once upon a time on this very day, I was happily suspended in amniotic fluid minding my own business, when all of a sudden I was very unceremoniously evicted from my comfortable, rent-controlled apartment, dragged out into the light of day, naked, wet, and forced to start living. I didn’t ask for any of this! I was fine!

So anyway, I spent my last day being thirty-six doing laundry, and online shopping for robotic vacuums. Yes. This is what my life has come to, researching the merits of robotic vacuums and spending time actually reading what people say about Roombas.

This somehow led to an argument with Le Hubs about habits, which turned into an argument about the merits of letting robotic things into the household and the possibility of Skynet and ridiculous bullshit that happens when you’re up at three in the morning, which ultimately got resolved by hugging it out, which I promise is not a euphemism for anything. It’s hard to stay mad at him, he’s a giant cuddly teddy bear.  I hug him a lot.

We then ended up talking about going somewhere for breakfast and a birthday cake. If I can’t travel, I absolutely insist on having cake. It was a tossup between Dufflet, La Rocca, or something from Costco, which sounds ghetto, but isn’t. You haven’t lived until you’ve had cake from Costco, hunty.

We found Betty’s, a dive bar that does Sunday brunch buffets. It sounds a bit grimy and shady – and it is – but Betty’s has a character that makes you want to return. The walls are peppered with random posters and framed photos, the floors are dark and encrusted with decades of dirt, the lighting sketchy and the wall sconces are the metal halves of discarded colanders. It looks and feels like the shanty all the villains in Shrek hung out in to sadly play piano and stare moodily into beer pints that haven’t been thoroughly cleaned. It’s like the place hipsters emulate except it has zero pretension for anything other than what it is. That appeals to me. I wasn’t that big a fan of the brunch buffet – regular faves, eggs, bacon, benny, a make-your-own waffle corner, a carving area for ham and a smattering of fruit and what-have-you, nothing to write home about – but Betty’s is the kind of place I see myself hanging out in, playing a board game, nursing a beer (or some other drink because I don’t like beer) and just talking. Or not. Someone on Google reviews called it his own personal Cheers bar and I can see why. When we walked in, the barkeep greeted us with the warmest, most welcoming smile like a scene out of a movie. The servers were lovely and knew just when to leave us alone. None of that smarmy bullshit at most restaurants, the obvious drive-by with an “Everything okay?” that sometimes feels forced, or rote, or worse, disinterested in the actual answer.

I like Betty’s. So did Le Hubs, who said he would be back. I probably will tag along, but not for brunch. I’m trying the nachos.

Waddling out of Betty’s, we eventually picked up my cake (La Rocca, Cookie Butter) and parted ways because I wanted to see The Crimes of Grindelwald. I ended up not seeing the movie but came home with some Christmassy scented candles (White Pine! Juniper!), this years cards for my annual Christmas mailing list (want to be on it? Let me know!) and some loot from Sephora because it was a treat  yo-self kind of day and they were celebrating Black Friday week with a 20% off discount on everything.

And that was how I spent my last day being thirty-six. Just being my regular self, trying a new place to eat, a bit of QT with Le Hubs. All very low-key and pared down. I can’t say I won’t overcompensate next year with a jaunt somewhere, but I feel thankful to have reached thirty-seven. I spent the day trying to confront my issues with aging and adulting and I’m not sure I’ve really looked it straight in the eye, but I came out of it feeling like I’m okay. I think I really am. I may not be stomping around like a panther on the runway, but I’m still wild and still an animal, even if it’s more in spirit than in body. And that’s okay. I am thirty-seven. I came through the last year unscathed, I got to make more memories worth remembering with the people I care about the most,  and that is a phenomenon worth celebrating and being thankful for, sashay, chante!

Internet Sausage Links

Internet Sausage Links

If I had a penny for every Facebook status reminding me to wake up because September has ended, I would have enough to buy something at Tim’s. But coffee never works on me, so I use sugar instead. Which is awful.

You know what else is awful? The concept of free bleeding. I would’ve been perfectly happy not knowing what free bleeding is, but I am cursed with the need to know. This week, my pursuit of knowledge is a curse. Free bleeding is when women take going with the flow to an extreme in the name of freedom and the environment. In a nutshell, it’s voluntarily going without tampons, pads, period cups or liners because hygiene and basic human courtesy, like common sense, is on its way out the door – Vice

Another word I learned this week is “scumbro,” which is wonderfully self-explanatory. It’s the perfect term to describe the fashion sensibilities of Justin Bieber and Pete Davidson et al., who are running around in the most ridiculous outfits while remaining inexplicably attractive to women. I say inexplicable because as a nineties child, my idea of attractive is a healthy, corn-fed boybander with squeaky clean hair, non-skinny jeans and clothes that follow a complimentary colour scheme. To my eye, these kids look like everything they own is filched from the local thrift shop, rarely (if ever) bathe, and get dressed blindfolded in the dark. Except they’re mad rich, so the whole thing is purposefully not on purpose, the guy version of the no make-up make-up look. Behold, the rise of the scumbro – Vanity Fair

Apropos of nothing, here’s an interesting take on the Japanese psyche as influenced by the fallout of WWII, anime and the rise of technology. An oldie (2016) but a goodie – The Verge

Why do all my links start with a V today? Let’s go with a C, for children, who are cute, but are also the worst  – CTV

Speaking of C’s, my favourite Chris in the pantheon of Hollywood Chrises said goodbye to Captain America, setting off an avalanche of crying gifs as the internet weeps for its loss. Please, there’s three other Chrises left in the game, with one of them set to do a particularly revealing scene this November on Netflix (to Karen’s utter glee), so we’re all gonna be juuuuust fine. That said, he made for a splendiferous Cap, and the Captain America movies have always been among my MCU faves. You will be missed, Chris Evans.

 

Homecoming Queens

Homecoming Queens

I used to wonder why school reunions made adults so wistful. Why did they keep playing Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko at these things? Why would all the other oldies inevitably scream and enthusiastically make for the dance floor? I couldn’t grasp it. It was incomprehensible to me.

We spend our youth wanting to grow up, and spend our adulthood wanting to be young again. There’s finally enough mileage on the old engine for me to think I get it.  Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko was to them what I Want It That Way is to us. Obviously cornball and ridiculously outdated, it’s the soundtrack to our youth – and sometimes music, like smell, evokes memories and emotions. It’s not so much being young, it’s feeling young, truly young, the way we used to feel when we didn’t have to pay rent and each day was an empty page to be filled with new and exciting stories, not a mindless slog to the office.

While I wish high school was the way it was in Clueless, the reality was a lot more grim. Thankfully, not Columbine grim – we didn’t fear school shooters as much as we feared mosquitoes that carry dengue – but teenagers always feel everything so keenly. High school for me was not always a fun time. High school is good to rich, attractive teenagers with seemingly effortless cool. It is very rarely kind to bepimpled, skeptical bookworms who don’t understand why always having the same things and going to the bathroom in packs are necessary.

I have always found it easier to befriend people with wills of their own, who have their own interests and aren’t afraid to pursue them. I felt fortunate to find people who – although way less awkward and bepimpled – were in their own way, iconoclasts. I like to think the friends I’ve made are all iconoclastic in their own way. We were all united in our shared respect for each other’s different interests. The main thing I have in common with all of them is a deeply twisted sense of humour, which we use as a crutch because life is absurd and laughter is the only way to get through it.

So our friendship, formed in our very early teens (and for two of us, childhood) and forged in the highly pressurized crucible we call high school, had miraculously survived the inevitable forces of growing up that cause us to drift apart. Things like college, career choices and immigration. Through it all we had stayed in touch and hung out with each other, but never as a whole. It had been almost two decades since our foursome had been complete, so like the first Avengers movie, we decided it was time. Boy am I happy we got together again.

What we don’t always realize is that high school forms the bedrock of our most cherished memories. The cruelty of it all is that we will never really get it back. One can only try to recreate it, which is why high school reunions are always a thing. We only decided to join this year because it was the 20th anniversary, and we all felt it was a milestone worth celebrating (i.e. join while your body still holds up to some extent and you still look relatively good in pictures.)

 

You can try to recreate a memory, but it will never truly be the same; the only way to get through it is to make new memories. And that, I think, we accomplished in spades.

Summertime (and the eatin’ is easy)

Summertime (and the eatin’ is easy)

And I was thinking this summer was going to be a bore. It’s been so hot, and the humidity is out the wazoo. I was spending quite a few weekends in because I’m a vampire and allergic to all that sun and UV rays. I’ve also had my share of humidity growing up in the tropics. As someone who’s already aging disgracefully, I don’t need any more help from this weather.

Just goes to show one must never say never, especially not when one’s favourite tennis player is in town for the Rogers Cup, aka The Canadian Open – the only ATP Masters 1000 event held in the great white north, one of the go-to warmup events for players to prepare for the hardcourt season which culminates in the US Open, and I’m pretty sure if you don’t follow tennis, none of that jumble of words will mean anything to you. So before you decide to just click somewhere else, here you go:

That was two weekends ago. In a heat wave. I braved a heatwave for that. If it weren’t for going to see Rafael Nadal practice on the hardcourts of the Aviva Centre for free, I would never get any sun. And now I’m kicking myself for not getting tickets to see the finals, because he’s just made his way into the finals of the Rogers Cup for the first time in a while. He’s also going to face the hottest thing on the #NextGen circuit right now, the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas who is having the run of his life!

Speaking of mouthwatering and speaking of Greece, I’ve been to Taste of the Danforth, practically a Toronto summertime institution, a few times now and have no idea how I missed out on the awesomeness that is Foodland’s fruit stand. Just juicy, beautiful fresh fruit on a stick begging to be eaten – and at a price that can’t be beat. Large wedges of watermelon and mangoes to be had (extra sriracha $1), but my favourite by far were the strawberry skewers, which get a lovely amount of chocolate drizzled on them. It is HEAVEN. Five fresh, plump, juicy strawberries with chocolate on them for $2? YES PLEASE, YES, NOW, HURRY! All caps and exclamation points because that’s how much I love them. I used to go for the lokoumades, but now I will go for strawberry skewers, hands down, the end, exit stage right.

PS:

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