Posts from the ‘Stuff I like’ Category

Bread and Circus XLVII – NFL Style

superbowl47

I am writing this while watching Super Bowl 47 (or EX-EL-VEE-AYE-AYE if you prefer), so my thought streams might be a little more convoluted than usual.  Add in the stupefying pre-game show, I am unable to concentrate well as I am caught up in the high tech, sternum-thumping music and sensory overload that psyches us up for the game to come. All I can say is, “Wow”… do the Americans ever go big!

Is it me or is the Super Bowl way more than a sports event; I feel like a 21st century Titus or Maximus preparing to watch full-blown Roman theatre.  Based on the hype and pageantry,  I keep expecting to see Joaquin Phoenix lower his thumbs as the vanquished gladiators prepare to retreat from the field of battle – a panem et circenses sort of thing. (Sorry, still justifying that Grade 11 Latin class). I guess that is why it is XLVII instead of 47!

Gladiator

I am convinced the Super Bowl is fantastical. It is no longer a game – it is a Major Event (note the caps). It is a  stunning (not like “holy cow” stunning… more like a “taser” stunning), mesmerizing festivity that keeps us hooked with the promising potential of a  “train-wreck”.

Really, who even cares who is playing? Maybe fans of the two teams (who are the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, if you care).  As for me, I‘ll just root for whoever loses the coin toss – I love the underdog! (By the way,  in keeping with the sheer extravaganza, did you notice the coin toss also included a laudatory speech from the Referee…reminding us how America provides great opportunity for anyone who is willing to work hard… or has a spare $124,707, 285 to payroll a NFL team).

The game is one thing, but if you ask me, most could really care less about who is playing or who will win.  I betcha that most of us are hypnotised by the prospect of gorging on gluttonous volumes of food and gallons of alcohol.  According to msn.com, the stats are staggering – we will consume 51.7 million cases of beer, 6.2 million pounds of nachos (that is a mere 3 million kg for my Euro friends…), 2 million pounds of chips (crisps, old boy…) and who knows what else. After the binge, I am sure all of us will look like NFL linemen on Monday…

NFL HEAVYWEIGHTS

The Super Bowl is simply an excuse to party; a chance to enjoy our first post-Christmas celebration.  Think about it; it has been a proverbial 40 days and 40 nights of roaming the wilderness since our last festival of merry-making. And it is so friggin’ cold and cheerless, that we need something vaguely positive event to justify our want to drink ourselves into forgetting it is only February and Punxsutawney Phil or Wireton Willy has seen his shadow… SO why not drink like a bunch of honey-badgers?!

punxsutawney-phil-photo“But. but, but…” say the football purists among you.  This is really about celebrating American Football!

You sure about that?

I will admit that the Super Bowl is more modestly named than the major league baseball finals, humbly dubbed “The World Series” (in what atlas are the continental United States and Toronto featured as the World? – what about Japan or Korea and Cuba?).  No one pretends that the Vince Lomabrdi trophy is a World Trophy (though it probably has more right to do so than baseball’s).  Football takes the moral high ground and posts for the simple and plain adjective, “Super” (and funnily enough the trophy is not a bowl either, not like the CFL’s Grey Bowl).  I am surprised that the game is not called the Most Fantastic Marvellous Tremendous and Terrific Bowl of the United States of America. “Super”, in comparison seems quite sedate.

But how Super is it?

Well, a 60 minute game is tightly jammed into a closely choreographed 5 hour-long spectacle, showcasing all that emotion, glitz and “over-the-toppedness” that only the US of A can generate. It is a showcase…and why not? It is watched by 11o million people worldwide. I think that is roughly the same size as the seating capacity of New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome (Mercedes-Benz? Is that even American?)

jhud_sandy_hook-600x450I admit that the spectacle started poignantly, with a Celebration of America…Jennifer Hudson and the Sandy Hook Childrens’ Choir. And though that was a touching moment. that made me think back to the horror and how resilient kids are/ With a nice version of America the Beautiful, I couldn’t help but think of the subliminal and manipulative message it heralded: children who have experienced horrific gun violence singing with an adult who has also suffered through gun violence. A tribute to America or an indictment of the Gun Culture? I am not sure that was all about the pigskin…

And then it moved to Alicia Keys…a great artist for sure. But her stylised US anthem, “a 45 rpm song delivered at 33 rpm”, must have frustrated everyone. Those waiting for the game and those ad execs who were robbed  of an extra ten 30-second commercial spots. And what about her ad-lib at the end? Why don’t our singers do that on Hockey Night in Canada? Oh wait, our singers  know they and the anthem are merely foreplay; get it over with, let’s get to the main event!

So now, 35 minutes after flipping on the TV – the TV guide did say “Super Bowl XLVII @ 1800” – and the game has just started…and now at 1838 hours, it has been an exciting three minutes of football – two plays!

And then on the 39th minute, CBS created the commercial. Lots of them.

Now Super Bowl commercials are legendary and there have been some very good ones over the years. But then again, they should be good at $3.8 million per 30 second spot (that equals $456 million/hour – or  I am guessing, about one minute’s interest on the US national debt).  But I am pretty sure that the Super Bowl advertising revenues subsidise all the CBS Executives’ annual Christmas bonuses. Why else would there be a commercial break every 12o seconds?!  How do you keep up our interest with such a choppy game flow? How do they possibly hope to stoke my competitive fire? Or is it a conspiracy to keep me drinking more Anheuser-Busch and scarfing down Chili Heat Doritos.

kia-slow-walk_s640x427

Anyway if you care, at the half Baltimore has bitch-slapped San Francisco. It has that disappointing feel of another Super Bowl blow out…

BeyonceSo now, I am sitting here having watched two hours of commercials and a bit of football waiting impatiently for the Halftime Extravaganza – Beyoncé…in all her Bootyliscious glory. Now if you have not been tracking Beyoncé – I have to ask why not? (Kidding.)  Seriously,unless you have been stuck under a rock for the last two weeks, you have to know that she is still reeling from that Inauguration scandal – LipSynchgate! The question asked ridiculously often the past week has been “Will she sing live, or will she pull a Brittany?” It was big news on the major news channels.  Guess that civil war in Syria was just too dull.

And because I was not going to make the under-over spread on the game now that Baltimore is kicking ass, I checked NFL.com for the stats to get a reasonable betting line on the Halftime Show.  I found that for Super Bowls played in February in the Southeastern US, where one of the teams is named for a Bird, or if one team’s uniform has gold as a supporting colour, the odds of a lip-synch performance by an act of two or more performers was 83%. Gambling on an NFL trifecta of “lip-synch, wardrobe malfunction and arrest of a starting linebacker for a concealed weapon”, the payout would have been 3800 to 1.  Mind you, those are the odds is in the pre-NFC/AFC unification era – today’s odds might have been less. Unfortunately I could not get that bet into Sports Line before the 6pm deadline.  For once I wished there was a British bookie shop nearby; that bet would have been a nice pairing with my betting stub on whether the Queen would wear Lime Green during the Royal Jubilee Flottilla or whether the new Royal Baby will have 11 toes…

Anyway, all I can say for the half time show, and the much vaunted togetherness of Destiny’s Child, is that after all the hullabaloo, Beyoncé should have lip-synched. It was no Janet Jackson…

And so we move to the last half. Looks like it is might be boring…oh wait, the lights have just gone out. Seriously? Well half of them anyway.  Jeez, why didn’t I put money on that? Wearing my tin-foil hat, I am thinking that SanFran may have paid off some the Mercedes-Benz staff  to turn the lights out – maybe they are hoping for the game to be called off on account of “dark”.  Or maybe it was just good old Mercedes-Benz engineering and a German-manufactured switching transformer blew; don’t worry they can get the parts at the nearest dealer…on Monday!

And so the minutes tick by…and during the glorious 31 minute delay…I witnessed the best of American Sports Journalism. (Okay, I sat and watched it…Loser)  Interviews with the sideline crew, replays of the first half low-lights, detailed analysis on Beyoncé’s “dress”, and explanations on why the Forty-Niners still haven’t showed up for the game. 31 minutes to figure out the lights…amazing that the most technologically savvy country in the world, the one that is the envy of the undeveloped world in terms of infrastructure and wealth, can’t figure out how to play football with only half the lights on.  Anyway, in the stadium there was still enough light for every kid in Africa to read a bedtime story; just not enough for a professional football player to catch a ball. Did these guys never play sports in the dark as kids? Maybe they should have asked all the fans to turn on their cell phones and turn them around – it worked for the half time show. Ummmm….sorry, was that my internal voice?

Super Bowl 47 Power Outage

….Sorry, I was transfixed for the second half. Who knew a power outage would kick start a 49er? Okay the game is over; it turned into a good game. 34-29 for Baltimore…and San Francisco made a game of it.  After 5 hours and 10 minutes of  TV coverage – or 60 minutes of game play –  EX-EL-VEE-EYE-EYE is over.  I hope that I am not the only one who watched it all!

But is it really over?  Wait, here comes the onslaught of post-game analysis. Baltimore will be applauded for their effort and SanFran will be consoled for their bad luck and misfortune;  Beyoncé will be heralded as a great entertainer, and everyone will comment on the ocean of tears shed for brave kids from Sandy Hook.

And for one more year, the Super Bowl will have served its purpose of rejuvenating the Stars and Stripes and reinvigorating America’s love for manufactured goods, food and alcohol.  And for a brief evening I forgot it was the middle of a cold, snowy winter…regardless of the score.  Perhaps like the Roman theatre, maybe that is what it is was all about in the first place. The Super Bowl,  just like the panem et circenses, cures everything.

Can’t wait for EX-EL-VEE-AYE-AYE-AYE!

Later,

ASF

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1 January 2013

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Hung over this morning? If so, sorry…if not, you must be either very young or getting older!!

new_year_hangover_800w_600hFunny how we fixate on New Year’s.  The night before, we are partying with friends and family – eating and drinking as if there will be no tomorrow. And for some, perhaps the morning of 1 January does feel like the end of the world.  No worries – they’ll feel better on 2 January!

1 January.. Important to us, but not such a significant day in the Chinese or Islāmic or the Indian calendars, or the Ethiopian, Assyrian, Persian and Hebrew ones (there’s more than just the Gregorian and Julian calendars…poke around  Wiki List of calendars – there’s over 46 in use now, and a few dozen archaic and chinese_astrologyproposed calendar formats out there. Just don’t go all Mayan on us…)

But, courtesy the Gregorian Calendar and its benefactor Pope Greg the 8th … 1 January is the day that starts off  our new year and a new beginning for those in the “Western World”.

Forget the trouble, strife and anxiety of 2012…anything is possible and everything can be altered for the good in 2013.

Really, I don’t think it is that simple. If it was, I’d be thinner, healthier, richer, smarter, more productive, more organised, better focused than I am now – the perfect role model to whoever cared.

But, life is not like that.

The omnipresent New Year’s Resolutions have never worked for me. I do not believe that my resolve is any stronger on 1 January than it was on 31 December, or than it will be on 1 July or 9 October. Taking stock of the number of people who fade away from the cardio room ar the Gym by mid January, I’d say that sentiment is fairly universal.

ch-new-year-resolution

Personally, I have made very few resolutions on New Year’s Day.  I quit smoking, (the last time), on a March 29th  – okay  maybe the end /beginning of the fiscal year – but not really a New Year’s Day. And many other of my life defining decisions have been made on any number of Gregorian dates – I have not waited until the new calendar was placed on the refrigerator.

But 1 January feels important. It is the day that marks a clean sheet, a new start. And more importantly, new promise.

And that We, full of our positive energy from a happy Christmas, full of kinship and food and spirits, wish to spread our recent joy across into the new year. A time when focus all our well-wishes and optimism in the hope that it will make everyone’s lives better. When we hope that everyone has a happy, and healthy, and prosperous new year. That everyone gets a chance to realise their dreams, to succeed in the face of challenges, to feel secure and safe; to be free of fear, of worry, of pain, of anger, of disappointment, of distress, frustration, disillusionment, regret, panic, and apprehension.

And in this time of relaxation and repose, of reflection and thought – and before we return to our routine and obligations and livelihoods – it is the time of year to hope for lofty dreams. To hope that this is the year that people of different faiths show more tolerance andunderstanding so that their children

Tutu and Dalai Lamacan grow without seeing violence and hate as the only options. That this is the year that we figure out how to feed and water a growing population without wasting our resources or damaging our planet. That this is a year that we challenge and defeat a number of afflictions and diseases and syndromes that result in needless deaths – deaths that are either violent and unforeseen, or lingering and inevitable.

I know we all wish that for each other throughout the year – not just on 1 January.  But what better time to say it…then when we are all thinking of everybody?

And while the road may be rocky – with the help of friends and family, it is never impassable. I wish everybody a very happy 2013 – one of challenges and growth, of joy, love, fulfillment and fun.

Later,

ASF

Happy Christmas to all…and to all a Goodnight!

christmas-wallpaper47

Wooohoooo….It’s Christmas time!

What a great time of year.

Meisterburger BurgermeisterNow if you are one of those Burgermeister Meisterburghers who will begrudge Yule, complaining about the commercialism, the forced family intimacy, the loss of spirituality, the absurd political correctness that swirls around it all – all I can say to you is , “Bah…Humbug!”

Even though I am not Christian, I have been versed in the “Reason for the Season” courtesy of a knowledgeable and tolerant Dad. And if both he and I are not mistaken, the “reason” is the Bearded Fellow’s birthday…no, not the One in the Red Suit.  I mean the One in Flip-Flops. You know what I mean…Christmas is the day that the cute little baby Jesus, the one that Ricky Bobby loves so much, was born.  And alongside his birth come all the things recorded in song, like the Star of Wonder, and the Three Wise Men, the Little Drummer Boy, and most importantly Peace on Earth.

PEACE_ON_EARTH

And how can anyone argue against Peace on Earth?  Christmas…perchance originating from the Roman celebration of Saturnalia…has many cousins of all shapes and colours and sizes.  Not all of them fall on 25 December, but they fall conspicuously close to time of year known as the Winter Solstice. Hannukah, Kwanza, Eid, Diwali, Borodin, Mithra, Tree Festival are just a few of the diverse holy and significant days.  And though they do not all center on Jesus, they are all centred on celebration, togetherness, and generosity.

And all of them, I am guessing, at the very base of their being, have one common denominator … Goodwill to all Mankind.

So, given that this is the Season of  Goodwill, how can you possibly not believe in it?

So many things to love…the excitement, the happiness, the time to spend with family and friends, and to celebrate each other.

“But, but…”, says the nay-sayer…

Yes,  I’ll admit that I don’t enjoy the shopping or the crowds, but I do love my children’s laughter , the special look on my lovely wife’s face, the smiles on my parents’ and siblings’ faces when they open the gifts I have selected for them.

And yes, it is true I don’t enjoy the hard work of “decorating”. But the look of a house all festive and resplendent with lights and snowmen and penguins and reindeer and holly, is unbeatable.  And then Die Tannenbaum, l’Arbre de Noël, Den Julgran, Joulukuusi, Pom de Craciun, Arbol de Navidad, the Christmas Tree … one chosen with special care…is adorned and aglow, filling the house with the fresh clean smell of evergreen and sparkling with decorations that remind me of Christmases and places past.

how_the_grinch_stole_christmasAnd I do enjoy the Christmas specials…all which remind me of a younger, innocent me who revelled in Rudolph, Kris Kringle, Charlie Brown, the Grinch, the Red Ryder Air Rifle, the Griswalds and a host of other Christmas characters like Yukon Cornelius or Cindylou Who or The Bumpuses.  They bring back a joy and happiness and a little bit of Christmas magic, the years when I tried frantically to go to sleep so that it could be Christmas morning.

And the music…Thumpety Thump Thump and Hark the Herald Angels and Good King Wencelas and Fa la la la. Many a school concert and wassailing evening have been filled with songs that make you happy.

Charlie Brown

Oh, and the food…the Roast Beast and the Who Hash. Kidding. Christmas dinner was and is a feast.  Roast turkey, and Italian Sausage and Apple Dressing, sour cream mashed potatoes, a golden cheese cauliflower globe, green beans, gravy and cranberry sauce, apple and pumpkin pies…all of us pushing away from the table, and waddling away with loosened belts… swearing that we will never, ever eat again. Until the next day, when the turkey sandwiches on fresh bread, and turkey a la king, and turkey soup lay waiting…yum yum.

christmas-dinner1

I love all these things.  But it is not what I love most.

What I love most  would be the kinship. The reconnection with friends, and with family, through cards and calls and Skype and in person is fantastic. And some large-hearted people move it to the next level, sharing their good fortune with strangers and the needy.  This time of year, many of us will give generously to charities and churches and community groups.  We give to the homeless, the lonely and the less fortunate. It is a kindness we should share all year round – but, out of Christmas can grow a generous spirit to last the whole year.

homeless-christmas-4

Christmas is a time of year to reflect on what we have accomplished and to recharge our emotional and spiritual batteries. To spend time with our loved ones and to remember all that is good amongst us.

The boxes and bags and wrappings and food are all extra.

So…

Welcome, Christmas, bring your cheer. Cheer to all Whos far and near.

Christmas Day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp.

Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we.

Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart, and hand in hand.

Whoville Christmas

 My best wishes, to you all, for a Happy Christmas full of love and joy and peace – especially for those who are facing hardship and strife. And for those that are away from home serving your country or your fellow citizens in dangerous places, know we are thinking of you and hoping for your safe return to your loved ones.

All the best in 2013…see you in the New Year.

Later,

ASF

Jingle bells, Jingle bells…

The No Hockey League. Give it up – the game is bigger than you…

The Glory Days...Probably gone forever...

The Glory Days…Probably gone forever…

Day 87 of millionaires squabbling with billionaires.  All the National Hockey League (NHL) games up to 30 December have been cancelled.  Other than shopkeepers and restaurateurs and the hundreds of other fringe businesses that have lost income for their livelihoods, who gives a hoot?

Not me.

Once upon a time I would have cared tremendously that the NHL was not playing. Not today. Save for the fact that a winter morning’s Sports Centre just isn’t the same when limited to only the latest Dog Show or Equestrian event highlights, I wouldn’t care at all.

I have fallen out of love with the NHL.

Why and When? Who knows?

ICheap Shot Torrest is not like it was a tragic “fall-of-the-cliff” event.  Nope, it has been a “death of a thousand cuts”.  It has been seasons of diluted talent, of absurdly high ticket prices, of mediocre hockey played by commercialised teams more worried about Third Jersey sales than hockey perfection. It was bringing in The Dump and Chase and The Trap, and how the size of the players has grown out of all proportion to the size of the ice surface and has suffocated the entertaining free flow game. Add to that the concussions and the cheap shots and the clutching and the grabbing, and this is not the game that I grew up watching. Add to that, this is the fourth lockout/strike in the last 20 years, and my patience is gone. And though I would be lying to say that I haven’t been entertained by the odd game over the past few years, the NHL does not mean the World to me like it did when I was younger.

1973...Leafs v Bruins...did it get any better for a 9 year old Canadian boy?

1973…Leafs v Bruins…did it get any better for a 9 year old Canadian boy?

My brother and I still reminisce about the “good old days” when we bled Maple Leaf blue and white and followed the League like a religion. It was a simpler time when the first two periods of the Wednesday night game on CHCH Tv11, and if we were lucky, the full Saturday HNIC game on CBC were the highlights of our week. It was a time when we sat in our pyjamas, glued to our 14-inch black and white television, fiddling with the rabbit ears, watching the double-ghost images of the players at Maple Leaf Gardens on a snowy screen, hoping (usually against hope) that the Hometown Heroes would win.

kendrydenI remember all the players…Sittler and McDonald, Turnbull and Salming, Ellis and Thompson. And I remembered their arch rivals like Cournoyer and Lafleur and Dryden and Park and Esposito and Cheevers and Vachon and Dionne and many others.

But if I recall correctly, none of these players, though heroes, were ever greater than the crest on their jerseys. “Franchise players” did not exist back then. Multi-million, multi-year contracts did not exist either.  Rosters changed and players moved – but the very sight of Les Habitants versus the Blue and White, the Red and White versus the Black and Gold, the Blackhawk versus the Ranger, the Broad Street Bully at the Igloo…that was the essence of hockey…it wasn’t Ovechkin versus Crosby, or Gretzky versus Lemieux…it was team versus team. Loyalty to the team was much more important than idolizing a player.

Like most of my generation, so much of my childhood revolved around by major hockey events.  I recall mike_palmateerDarryl Sittler’s 10 point night (7 Feb 1976) – against the Bruins. I remember watching Brad Park, and Bobby Orr, and

Sittler's 10 point night Box Score

Sittler’s 10 point night Box Score

feeling sad watching Jacques Plante’s final NHL game with the Bruins in ’73. (He played for the Oilers in the WHA after that!).  I remember Hockey Night in Canada with the baby blue blazers.  I remember being able to draw every NHL goalies’ mask and name who was who.  And I remember the disagreements during the street hockey games as we all called out who we were – Mahavolich or Ellis…Dryden or Palmateer (which I modified to “PalMann”teer). It was magic.

Goaliemasks

It is just not the same on the Xbox or Playstation with EA’s NHL2013 video game.

edwards california golden sealsAnd I remember collecting the Loblaws stickers for my NHL scrapbooks. I remember the myriad of teams that

Every year we tried to fill in all the stickers....

Every year we tried to fill in all the stickers….

changed cities and names like The Atlanta Flames, or the California Golden Seals (to the Cleveland Barons), or the Kansas City scouts (first the Colorado Rockies and then the New Jersey Devils)…

And I remember the 1978 Playoffs.

The Leafs had a good start that year, knocking off the Los Angeles Kings in two games…back in the day when the first series was  best of three. We were chuffed.  Until we learned that the next team was the New York Islanders, an “up and coming” dynasty – Billy Smith, Resch, Trottier, Potvin, Gillies, Bossy…dammit…the Leafs would never take it. We were crestfallen.

But we held on to the dream, and the series did not disappoint. Game One to the Islanders 4-1; Game Two to the Islanders again, this time 3-2 in a crushing OT period.  You could not imagine the tears on our pillows…the dream was slipping away. But the next two games were at the Gardens! Two wins on home ice and the Blue and White evened the series at 2-2. Back to back games at Nassau Coliseum and the Gardens evened the series at 3-a-piece, which took us to the seventh and deciding game in the Dragon’s den. It was a nail biter…tied 1-1 after 60 minutes of hockey. And then lo and behold, against all odds – in an away game – Lanny Mcdonald scored the winner to take it 2-1 (6’43” mark)

It wasn’t quite a Game 7 overtime goal during the Stanley Cup Final, but to a City that had not experienced hockey glory since 1967, it was a big deal.

Lanny Scores!!!

But as good as that was, no season has lived in my memory as much as the 1978-79 season – the Season we saw out first live NHL game. My little brother and I were 12 and 14.  And as I said, we lived for the NHL.  Pooling our paper-route money together, we managed to scrimp and save up $37 dollars –a 1979 treasure trove. And with our parents’ permission we headed to the Gardens immediately after the last regular season game to try to get playoff tickets. Jumping on the subway immediately after school – remember that this was an era when parents were not fazed to send their kids by themselves into the core of Toronto – we joined a disappointingly long line for Maple Leaf Tickets. Two and half hours later, we made it to the ticket booth, only to be told that all that was left was “nose-bleed” Grey section seats for the second playoff SERIES.

What? The Leafs had to make it to the SECOND round in order for us to see a game?  We were stunned. Yet, after much gnashing of teeth, for the princely sum of $35.50, we managed to get two Greys, side by side, in row QQ, for the second playoff home game of the second series …we had a whole $1.50 to spare and we had two promissory notes for a live playoff game.

So with our pseudo-tickets in hand, we watched the ’78-’79 playoffs begin.  First round – the Flames (of Atlanta, not Calgary!)

Oh! And the joy on 12 April 1979! The jumping, the yelling, the hugging in our living room when the Leafs knocked out the Flames in two games.

And so, it came to pass that Montreal and Toronto would meet in the Quarter Final Series – Montreal with home ice advantage.  The continuation of an age-old rivalry! Game 3 of the Quarters was a Leafs home game – and we were a lock to go and watch it because there was no way that Leafs would not make it to Game Three in a Best-of-Seven series! No one really expected Toronto to take the series from Les Habs…but who cared. Watching this rivalry was a dream come true. Watching a game live was unbelievable. And even after the Leafs went down 2-0 in the series, we knew that April 21, 1979 was going to be a day to remember.

Mtl_Tor_1960_1969

We went to the Gardens early, watching the pre-game warm up, hoping for a stick or a puck.  No luck. And as we made our way up and up and up and up to our seats, I remember the formality of the 1979 Saturday night NHL game. Men in suits, women all dressed up and Ushers stopping movement until  an appropriate break in the action before letting you up.  I remember walking out of the corridors and into the seating – my breath taken away by the sight of the blue maple leaf at centre ice, the crisp, pristine and shiny ice, the monolithic scoreboard suspended above centre ice like the Star Wars Death Star…and all around the ice the colourful ribbons of seats – gold, red, green, blue, grey.  It was so different than our black and white TV…it was unbelievable.

Maple Leaf Gardens...unfortunately the Death Star Scoreboard did not last forever...

Maple Leaf Gardens…unfortunately the Death Star Scoreboard did not last forever…

And the game…oh my… what a topsy-turvy affair. To quote Danny Gallivan, it was “dipsy-doodling” and full of “Savardian spineramas”. After falling behind, the Leafs finally forced it to OT. The first OT ended and it was time for a second OT.  The Gardens was abuzz, and though we were excited, remember we were only youngsters and as midnight loomed closer, we worried if perchance we should go home before we got in trouble!!  But we stayed and “Oooohed” and “Aaaaahed” at every shot and two-on-one and every hit. It was truly magical. But the dream ended when Cam Connor …who you ask?…fanned on his breakaway, fooling Palmateer, and as if in slow motion, we watched Palmateer’s arm sweep backwards frantically, missing the puck as it slid in to the net…Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuudge! (or some other Queen Mother of a swear word…) It ended, disappointingly for the Leafs Nation.

And so it ended.  The first game we ever saw live. What a game, what an era of hockey!

I moved from Toronto a couple of years later to go to University, and while always a Leafs fan (mock me now), I have  only had a few moments of delight since the late 70s…like the Gilmore years and the Second Swedish Era (Sundin).

But it is over now – just like my childhood with its naivety and innocence.

Severe Weather Edmonton 20110901

If I  watch hockey I watch it with heavy  disinterest – occasionally marvelling at a hockey highlight, but overall despising the League. Watching the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup in June is just not hockey the way I want to enjoy it – and definitely not the way I remember it.

I doubt that they will ever get my loyalty back – not unless “pigs fly” or “hell freezes over” and the Leafs have a good run. And if that happens, I could care less about who is on the team roster.

I say scrap the League. Fire all the millionaires and save millions by putting the Toronto Marlies or the Brampton Battalion or the Peterborough Petes or the Oshawa Generals or the Hershey Bears in the major league uniforms. It would rekindle the spirit and the joy – just like the Boxing Day fever when the World Juniors start. That is hockey with passion…not hockey for profit.

But that will not happen, and we will still see millionaires squabbling with billionaires. A travesty when you consider that some Canadians can’t even afford housing or food and that hockey players make more in a day than the normal Canadian makes in a month – that the average Canadian will be lucky to earn $1 million in their entire working life.

And the owners? Their earnings are “private”.  What cost me $17.75 in 1979 would set me back $300 in 2012.  WTF?  Who but the corporations and over-privileged can afford to go to a game.

And still…

The average annual salary for a Canadian teacher is about $55K; a policeman’s is $65K; an infantry Sergeant makes about $70K a year.  The average NHL salary in 1978 was $90K or about $250K in today’s dollars; the 2012 average salary is $1.6 MILLION!!  All that money for an 82+ game season.  Yet still, the owners and the players are fighting over a bigger piece of the pie.  The only losers are us..

All I have is one word:

Bullsh*t.

End the NHL now. Start a new league with a new, realistic pay structure and affordable tickets. A game based on passion and honour.

Bring back the game I loved as a kid…

Later,

ASF

Happy 33rd Birthday to The Wall

pink-floyd-the-wall-movie-poster-art

On 30 November 1979, Pink Floyd released The Wall.  At that time, I was 15 and I didn’t know much about Roger Waters’ life…or life in general, for that matter.  When I first heard it, I just thought it had some catchy tunes, like Another Brick in the Wall…plus they used risqué lyrics like “…do you think they’ll try to break my balls?…”  People said it was deep. I just liked the fact that the album told everyone that “we don’t need no education.”

The Wall VinylMy brother bought that album soon after it came out – he was the family music freak.  And yes, the first version I listened to was the vinyl LP (you remember, a Long Play, a 33rpm… or what the kids would now think of as the grandfather of the MP3 – the son being the CD.  Oh, wait – your younger ones probably won’t even remember what those were.)

The album was fantastic. We had no clue what it meant, but we listened to it, and listened to it and listened to it.

Four years later, in 1983, I went to University. Soon after arriving, I bought a tape deck and one of the first cassette tapes I bought – yes, I said cassette tape – was The Wall.  And I continued my obsession with the album.  In my four years of university I went through four or five cassettes- finally having to replace the older one when I could no longer rewind the spools with a pencil, or the tape ripped.  I must have had about six empty The Wall cassette cases – cracked, misaligned,The Wall cassette scratched and with stained liner notes – when I graduated.  I just couldn’t bear to throw them out.

I guess I have listened to the Album over 5000 times in the past 33 years.  The playlist is etched in my brain.  So are the lyrics.  And as I grew older, I started to appreciate what Roger Waters was trying to convey.  One of my University buds could not figure out the hold the album had on me, calling it “slit your wrist” music.  “Depressing”, he used to say.

I couldn’t disagree more vehemently.

Yes, I will admit that it starts off with a spiral into depression and addiction with a generous splash and violence and racism to sharpen the softer edges.  But through the anger and confusion and isolation, the protagonist (aptly named Pink) manages to put himself on trial by inner judge, and sentences himself to try and face the world.

Does it work?  Who knows.The Wall CD

For those who have not noticed, the album actually ends off where it started. If you listen to the final words, they are the opening words to the incomplete sentence that introduce the album.  I guess it means that the battle never ends, it just keeps going on.

To cap it off, I was very 0fortunate last year. Just like in 1979,  my brother came through as when he bought the first album.  In May 2012, he took me to The Wall Live at O2 in London. There is still only one word to describe the experience…Amazing.

Over twenty-thousand people, singing along…and I am sure that with each song, they could not help but think of all the times, all the places and all the people that are intertwined with their personal memories of the album.

The Wall Concert O2 London May 2015

For me, each time I hear it, I feel a flood of memories: studying for exams, driving on the Trans-Canada, watching the campfire while sipping a beer, enjoying a cup of tea in my favourite chair, dozing on the couch on a sunny Sunday afternoon, listening to it on my Walkman while flying across the Atlantic, or falling asleep after just a few bars of Goodbye Blue Sky …

Good times…and great memories.  Thanks Mr Waters and Mr Gilmore.  And to your album, Happy Birthday!

Later,

ASF

25 Years doesn’t change a thing – Truth, Duty, Valour

In 1983, I set foot onto Canadian Forces’ Base Chilliwack, British Columbia and started an experience that still continues to this day.  At that time, I was a young dewy-faced, neophyte –

ASF circa 1983

and because I knew no one, I was alone. But, as it happens, so was everyone else.  And in our shared solitudes, we all tried very hard to ignore the shouting, the stress, and the discomfort, as we challenged every ounce of our beings to understand our new culture – in a new place,  far away from our homes.

We were 18.

And in that brief 6 weeks, in which we learned to wear the uniform, to march, to live in the field, to run long distances, to navigate and to lead small teams, we all made a few friends. But these friends were at a different level than  “friends” that share a few common interests, or say hello when they see each other in the street; nope, these were new friend that I would learn, and need, to depend on implicitly.  These were people I would trust with my life.

And for the next four years, we shared everything. Good times, bad times…happy moments and tears.  We took on challenges as a team, and we endured – not

The Collwood Eight

always victorious, but always together. We consoled each other, we encouraged each other; at times we scolded each other and offered life advice – offered from the vantage point of worldly young twenty-somethings.We played sports together, we studied together, we ate together, we watched TV together…and given the horrible state of the military buildings, we shared an intimacy that broke any barriers of self-modesty, as we showered and did our ablutions together in old World War II infrastructure.

RMC v Westpoint 1986

We shared clothes and smokes and beers and money. We were each other’s wing-men – taking on names like Carl Gustav and Tommy Gunn to advance the cause. And on occasion, we stopped fights and sweet talked bouncers or Kingston’s Finest for each other – the Cadets from the Institute.

We jumped into the cauldron with each other – not war – but preparation for it.  We were young, and we were Soldiers (and Sailors and Aircrew).  We were invincible, healthy and ready to take on whatever anyone threw at us.

We forged friendships that will last a life time. And in that bittersweet moment when we walked through the College Arch – no longer students, but full-fledged

The Troll, Spenny, Spud, ASF, Mitch, Miff. Grad 87

leaders – we spread to the four corners of the globe, executing our duties. And over time, we matured. We honed our crafts; we fell in love; we married; we had children, and we grew wiser. And as the hour-glass of our lives slowly filled, as happens to all close groups, we  drifted – imperceptibly – apart. But this separation was only physical.

Some of us left the military. And using the same self-discipline, courage and adventurous spirit that brought us together in 1983,  these brave ones struck out into fields unexplored, creating new paths and achieving new success.  And their success has validated us, and all we did when we were younger.

And some of us stayed in uniform – taking on growing leadership challenges to achieve success for Canada and her citizens.  And, again, our success has validated us all.

But no matter where we are, or what we are doing, every five years, most of us return to the Mothership. Like pigeons to the roost, or bees to the hive, we return to be with our Buds.  And be it five years, 10, 15…or as just last weekend, 25 years since Graduation…it was just like we were back in our youth.  The stories, the lingo, the memories are just as good today as they were then.  And though we may be older or rounder, perchance greyer or balder, the friendships have not yellowed or frayed.   In fact, the comfort, the ease, and the love are just as strong today as they were 25 years ago.  Time has not changed a thing.  It is uncanny. And I see nothing but the same for many years to come as I watch our Elders celebrate their 40th, 50th, and in some cases 60th reunions together.

I know it is crazy, but being with my Buds makes me younger. It takes me back to the time when The Clash was new, when a new Ford Mustang cost $10,000, when shoulder pads were hip. Back to a time when I had my whole life, and the whole world ahead of me.  And when I am in their company, I still feel capable of wonderful things – like taking on our newest generation in rugby, or water polo – or partying like its 1999 (or earlier). It is rejuvenating, like drinking from a fountain of youth.

And as my wife commented after my 25th reunion weekend: I am so lucky to have friends who are timeless; to have friends with whom I have gone through “the shit”- friends whom without, I wouldn’t have made it through.

It is something to cherish.

And when we meet again – tomorrow, or next week, next year, or in five years – it will be like time stood still.  I will still love them just as much. Amongst all the people I know – probably thousands – there is no tighter circle than ours.   And while I do miss them when we are apart, I know that neither time nor distance does anything to diminish our bonds and our trust. I know that tomorrow, like today and yesterday, they have my back. And they know that I have theirs.

So until we meet again, stay well class of ’87.  See you at our 30th.

TDV

(PS. Miff – you rock. Figuratively and literally.)

Later,

ASF

The Canadian Army Run – way more than just a run….

This past weekend I participated in the Canadian Army Run.  Now, way back in February when I signed up for the run, I was full of good intentions to train hard and hopefully come close to meeting my personal best.  At least that it what I thought 7 months ago…that I could match a time that was achieved when I was eight years younger, 20lbs lighter and whole lot less arthritic.  (Roll eyes now…)

I started training and for three months I was doing really well. Speed work, hill work, endurance runs… I did everything that John Stanton recommended and I was feeling powerful.

But then life got in the way.

First the debilitating pinched nerve – the one I blogged about in May – then a house hunting trip from UK to Canada, and then a full-fledged move which included 30+ days in a hotel.  The latter was the killer: restaurants and beer and fried eggs and the occasional work out.  Any half-marathon discipline was wiped out by waves of stress-related hedonism! Time ticked away and I consoled myself that I had two months, then a month, then three weeks…blah blah blah.

And as 23 September loomed closer, the sinking feeling of “Man…this is gonna hurt. Hurt real bad!” started growing momentum. And while I wore the badge of “I am running the 21.3km Army Run”, I was a bit worried that I was going to embarrass myself and not finish. Instead of eagerness and impatience, there was a bit of unease and anxiety. And occasionally, I would think that the easy thing to do was to forgo the whole experience and take a “pass”. Everybody would understand that I was “not ready”.

But I couldn’t.  And with the exact same logic, neither could my wife. We said we would, so we had to.

So Sue and I sucked it up and headed off to Ottawa to do our bit.  To finish what we set out to do and to complete our respective 5k and 21k.

And during, and after, our respective runs, we both wondered what the heck we were worried about.  For among the 17,000 runners in both events, there was no thought of failure, no thoughts of poor performances, no winners and no losers.  It was a celebration: a celebration of an institution and its values.  Of taking on a challenge and sharing in everyone’s victory. Of cheering on everyone and applauding their commitment – whether they were Olympic calibre athletes or novices who wanted to show their support by taking on a huge challenge.

And mostly, it was humbling.  It was humbling to watch the disabled and the injured soldiers and fellow citizens take on the same challenge as us.  And honestly, nobody cared how fast they were. It was simply sobering to watch a triple amputee, injured in an IED attack, walking on two prosthetic legs holding a cane in his good hand. I can only describe it as awe-inspiring. It talks to the human condition – the drive and spirit that make us do things that we thought we could never do.  It put all of our challenges and worries into perspective.

And alongside this multitude of marvellous, amazing individuals, ordinary Canadians of all

His Excllency the Governor General particpates in the Canadian Army Run 5k

shapes and sizes, colours and creeds, ran, or jogged, or walked, defeating their own internal demons to make it across the finish line. And while their challenges may not have been as mountainous as the disabled and hurt, their victories are no less significant.

And after it all, the array of emotions that faces displayed were incredible.  Happiness, relief, tears, incredulity…the full gamut.  And why not?  It was a wonderful day full of personal bests and personal victories – of completing what you may not have thought was possible. And as I look at the pictures friends have posted, and the comments that they and all the people who care for them have made, I know that everyone feels the same.  It was so worth it!

And I feel a wisp of shame that I thought about avoiding it because I was not “ready”.  Because if I had not done it, I would not have been rejuvenated by the remarkable role models and spectrum of positive emotions throughout the course, and the valuable lessons it taught me.

No one cared if I ran slowly. No one mocked me for my slower finishing time. It was simply a celebration of what I, and We, achieved.  How we achieved the “objective”.  That we were a team focused on the same goal.  And that, in a nutshell, is how I would describe the Army and the Canadian Forces. How perfect is that?

So, if you have not attempted the Army run – 5k or 21k – join the thousands that have done it and will return for another year. It is a reawakening and a nice demonstration of what is right about sport and personal endeavour. Despite your fears and worries, you can do it just like others did.

See you on the course next year!

Go Army!

Later,

ASF