Thursday, May 29, 2008

Friday Diversion

Here are some of the interesting things I've come across in the past few weeks to help you get through this last Friday in the month of May:


The BS report, with Chuck Klosterman

- Some of you may know "the pride of North Dakota" from his narrative documentation of American culture in the likes of Killing Yourself to Live and Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs; or from his column in Spin magazine. If you don't much care about Kobe Bryant and the rest of the NBA playoffs, fast forward to the 43:30 mark, where Simmons and Klosterman get into a fascinating discussion about how money and fame may or may not change what and how you write, and whether or not a writer gets better with age.

My personal opinion? I think that your writing doesn't change because of how much money you make, but it certainly changes as you become aware of the fact that you're writing for a bigger audience. For example, there are some pieces on my website (the early stuff in the Road Trip Recaps section) that I wrote with the intent of literally having the five or six people from that particular road trip reading them, and that's it. But when I started putting the website together, I got some requests that those emails be included, and they've been there ever since. To say that they are graphic and off-colour would be an understatement, and it's pretty unlikely that you'll see that type of writing from me again any time soon, particularly when I have people telling me that their 13-year old daughter is a big fan of the blog. That type of consciousness will invariably influence the way you write.

As for the money, I think that if you use it properly, it can improve your writing (not that I would know anything about having money). Because for me, writing is all about relaying and describing experiences, and in theory, the more money you have, the more fun you should be having with that money, which in turn should result in better writing.

As for getting better with age, I think it works in the same way as money, except inversely. You definitely get better as a writer with experience (technically, thematically...), but chances are, your life is getting less and less exciting the older you get, meaning that no one will be interested in those boring sentences (that just happen to be perfectly crafted) you're writing about walking to the corner for a cup of coffee and the morning paper.


Bird-Watcher, by David Remnick

For all of the jazz-heads out there. Or for anyone with an unhealthy obsession.

This is the piece about Phil Schaap, the Columbia University radio DJ who just happens to be the authoritative voice on all things jazz. His knowledge is mind boggling. As is his all-consuming passion.


Bigger, Stronger, Faster

Michael Moore's fingerprints are all over this, but the trailer is totally worth watching for two reasons: the world's most jacked up cow, and Hulk Hogan's fanny pack. (Thanks to Flats for the tip)

Speaking of steroids, I knew that Jose Canseco was out there, but I didn't realize he was that out there.


Cannonball Guy

When I think of golf, this is who I want to be. Not the guy draining the put, walking away with the prize money, and going home to the trophy wife; but the drunk guy who bets his buddy $50 he can get on Sportscenter with a perfectly timed cannonball, and then delivering with aplomb. To me, that's the sign of a true champion.

And if I can't be cannonball guy, I want to be shirtless, shoeless, heater-in-mouth, teeing-off-on-my-own-course guy. And failing that, I guess I'd settle for being this guy.



And finally, here is a copy of Bruce Springsteen's speech, on the occasion of his induction into the New Jersey Hall of Fame (Thanks to Buffalo Blake for the heads-up):

Bruce Springsteen was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame on May 4. Here's a transcript of his speech:

When I first got the letter I was to be inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame I was a little suspicious. New Jersey Hall of Fame? Does New York have a hall of fame? Does Connecticut have a hall of fame? I mean, maybe they don't think they need one.

But then I ran through the list of names: Albert Einstein, Bruce Springsteen... my mother's going to like that. She's here tonight. It's her birthday and it's the only time she's going to hear those two names mentioned in the same sentence, so I'm going to enjoy it.

When I was recording my first album, the record company spent a lot of money taking pictures of me in New York City. But...something didn't feel quite right. So I was walking down the boardwalk one day, stopped at a souvenir stand and bought a postcard that said "Greetings from Asbury Park." I remember thinking, "yeah, that's me."

With the exception of a few half years in California, my family and I have raised our kids here. We have a big Italian-Irish family. I found my own Jersey girl right here in Asbury Park. I've always found it deeply resonant holding the hands of my kids on the same streets where my mom held my hand, swimming in the same ocean and taking them to visit the same beaches I did as a child. It was also a place that really protected me. It's been very nurturing. I could take my kids down to Freehold, throw them up on my shoulders and walk along the street with thousands of other people on Kruise Night with everybody just going, "hey Bruce...." That was something that meant a lot to me, the ability to just go about my life. I really appreciated that.

You get a little older and when one of those crisp fall days come along in September and October, my friends and I slip into the cool water of the Atlantic Ocean. We take note that there are a few less of us as each year passes. But the thing about being in one place your whole life is that they're all still around you in the water. I look towards the shore and I see my two sons and my daughter pushing their way through the waves. And on the beach there's a whole batch of new little kids running away from the crashing surf like time itself.
That's what New Jersey is for me. It's a repository of my time on earth. My memory, the music I've made, my friendships, my life... it's all buried here in a box somewhere in the sand down along the Central Jersey coast. I can't imagine having it any other way.

So let me finish with a Garden State benediction. Rise up my fellow New Jerseyans, for we are all members of a confused but noble race. We, of the state that will never get any respect. We, who bear the coolness of the forever uncool. The chip on our shoulders of those with forever something to prove. And even with this wonderful Hall of Fame, we know that there's another bad Jersey joke coming just around the corner.

But fear not. This is not our curse. It is our blessing. For this is what imbues us with our fighting spirit. That we may salute the world forever with the Jersey state bird, and that the fumes from our great northern industrial area to the ocean breezes of Cape May fill us with the raw hunger, the naked ambition and the desire not just to do our best, but to stick it in your face. Theory of relativity anybody? How about some electric light with your day? Or maybe a spin to the moon and back? And that is why our fellow Americans in the other 49 states know, when the announcer says "and now in this corner, from New Jersey...." they better keep their hands up and their heads down, because when that bell rings, we're coming out swinging.

God Bless the Garden State.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hard Luck Death Wish



Will some philanthropic millionaire please buy this poor bastard a new balloon? This has to be one of the hardest luck death-wish tales I've ever heard. What would be the everyday equivalent? I'm thinking that tying yourself to the train tracks only to have Via Rail go on strike for a year would be pretty close.

As a side note, I'm totally pulling for this guy. I hope he makes the jump, and I hope he lives to tell the tale. It's one of the most fascinating stories I can remember coming across. But after all of these setbacks, wouldn't you at some point; whether you believe in God or not; have to consider the possibility that something out there is trying to give you a sign? That maybe jumping from a helium balloon at an altitude that would literally make your blood boil because of the pressure might not be the best thing for your health as you approach the age of 65?

Some Guardian Angel up there is trying to tell Michel Fournier: "Give it up, Morty. It isn't worth it."


To read more about the inherent perils of this prospective jump, click here.





NORTH BATTLEFORD, Sask. - A massive helium balloon drifted aimlessly away into the sky over the Canadian prairie Tuesday, taking with it the dream of a French skydiver who had hoped to set a new free-fall record.

Michel Fournier planned to ride in a capsule attached to the balloon and soar into the stratosphere, where he would jump 40,000 metres to Earth.
The scene at an old airforce base in North Battleford, Sask., appeared perfect for a launch Tuesday. The sky was clear and the wind low.

Fournier, 64, was suited up and in the capsule on the tarmac. The balloon, like a translucent white teardrop, slowly inflated as the sun rose behind it.

But just after 5 a.m. local time, the balloon drifted away into the clear sky - without the capsule attached.

Observers were left wondering what happened.

"My guess is they released the envelope on purpose, they disconnected it on purpose," said Jim Whitesell, a veteran balloon pilot for almost 30 years who was on hand for the event.

"My guess is there was a technical issue that could not be overcome. Once the helium is in the balloon, there's no way to recover the helium and the envelope cannot be reused, so this is the safest way to scrub the flight."

Fournier's spokeswoman, Francine Gittins, was not able to immediately provide an explanation.

However, an advisory issued a short time later on Fournier's website said the balloon was found about 40 kilometres from the launch area and technicians are "studying the malfunction." More details were expected at an afternoon news conference.

Fournier appeared disappointed as he left the capsule and walked to the hangar. He was hugged by members of his entourage along the way.

Tuesday's setback was the latest in a string of failures that the 64-year-old former French paratrooper has endured in his dream to set a record.

On Monday he had to scrub a planned launch due to unfavourable wind conditions.
Fournier's two other attempts to break the records, made in 2002 and 2003, ended when wind gusts shredded his balloon before it became airborne.

He hoped to free fall for 40 kilometres, plummeting back to the Earth in just 15 minutes and screaming through the thin air at speeds reaching 1,500 kilometres an hour.

The descent would break four free-fall records.

Fournier wanted to bring back data that would help astronauts and others survive in the highest of altitudes, and has made the jump his life's work. He sold his retirement villa in France and his antique gun collection to help finance the project.

It's not clear when - or if - another attempt will be made.

The balloon cost about 250,000 euros, or just over C$390,000.

The team had only one in Saskatchewan, according to Gittins. Whitesell said it can't be reused.

"They're so delicate that once it lands it will be damaged beyond repair," he said.

The SeanMcCallum.com Guide to New York City


Maybe I'll go to New York
I'll drag you there
You said 'no one drags me anywhere'

- Gord Downie
Flamenco

There really is no better city in the world than New York. No matter how many times I go there, I never cease to be amazed by its overwhelming size and vitality. Unlike in Toronto, where you can only find action along the major streets (Bloor, Queen, Dundas, College, Yonge...), it seems as if you can walk down any street in New York City and find it teeming with life; bars, restaurants, tiendas, delis, cafes; and all of it seems so novel, so much the quintessence of what a city is supposed to be that oftentimes the only entertainment you ever need is to walk down the street in the morning and to watch life unfold in that cinematic way that it does only in New York.


It has so much to do with the city's geography (it is an island with limited space) and its near flawless design (every street is lined with buildings containing commercial space and at least 6 stories of living space: the perfect density for creating that city setting - the excellence and efficiency of this design is captured beautifully in David Owen's Green Manhattan). And it also has a great deal to do with the fact that NYC is one of the financial and cultural centres of the world. It has been the cradle and the setting for incalculable works of art, and it continues to evolve and redefine itself to this day. And because of this fluidity and this constant reshaping and renewal, you can travel there a thousand times and always find something new.


Despite the fact that the city is constantly changing, there are still some places that deserve to be visited time and time again. On the occasion of my 10th visit to the world's greatest city, I figured it was time to put together some kind of a list of the best places I've come across over the years.

As anyone who has been on a roadtrip with me before can attest, there will invariably come a time when I pull out a list of must-hit places in whichever particular city we happen to find ourselves. Over the years, this list has come to be facetiously known as Danny Tanner's Clipboard of Fun, in reference to that great Full House episode where Danny takes the gang to Hawaii, but ruins all of their fun with his regimented schedule. Despite the ribbing I take for my notorious lists, nowhere is the Clipboard of Fun more prevalent or more pertinent than in NYC. The way I see it, New York is too great a city; with far too many great restaurants and bars; to waste a meal or a drink at some awful place that you could just as easily find anywhere else.

By no means is this list complete, and by no means am I an expert. But through a combination of research, killer recommendations, and stumble-into-it serendipitous dumb luck, these are what I consider to be some of the must-hit places in New York City. Feel free to think of this list as your incomplete, uncomprehensive, completely biased, and entirely subjective seanmccallum.com clipboard of fun.


How to Get There


I almost always drive to New York. The trip takes about 9 hours, and you can always find free parking in NYC if you're willing to do your homework and you're willing to leave your ride on a busy side street for 3 days. If you're not comfortable driving in big cities, or if the constant blaring of car horns offends you, you may want to look into alternative modes of transportation.


I'm not necessarily the biggest fan of flying, but I have to say, if you're going to New York and you're planning on flying, take Porter Airlines out of the Toronto Island Airport. It was the easiest and most stress-free flying experience I've ever had. It takes about 2 minutes to check in, and when you're waiting for your flight, you get to hang out in this swanky lounge with free self-serve lattes, cold drinks, and snacks. And they have wireless internet as well, so I was actually able to post this while waiting for my flight. As an added bonus, they offer free booze in flight. What could possibly be better?


(Porter flies only into Newark, so you have to make your way to Manhattan from there. I would suggest taking the express bus for $12.50 {it takes about 40 minutes} to avoid The Wire-like crackheads on the Amtrack {we had guys separating units of crack into ziplock bags in the seat in front of us, and that isn't even close to being a joke - sketchbag city})


Where to Stay

My past two times in New York, I have stayed at The Sohotel (341 Broome St. @ the corner of Broome and the Bowery). The first time we stayed there, they were doing renovations on the place, and there were eight of us piled into one room. This last time, the renovations were complete, so needless to say, it was a slightly more pleasant stay this time around.

The rooms are all hardwood and exposed brick, the staff are friendly and helpful, there is free coffee and tea every morning, and the place is hooked up for wireless internet access. But the two major draws of the Sohotel are the neighbourhood (located in Nolita, two blocks from Mulberry Street, two blocks from Lombardi's, two minutes from 2nd Ave. and Houston Street, a five minute walk to Soho, and within walking distance of every conceivable bar you could ever want to hit); and the price (less than $200 per night for double occupancy).

Needless to say, The Sohotel is my go-to accomodations for NYC.


A couple of other great places I've stayed before include:

Second Home on Second Avenue (221 2nd Ave., between 13th and 14th) - Second Home is a funky little Bed and Breakfast, minus the breakfast. It's a boutique hotel with only 7 rooms, each decorated uniquely. Some have private bathrooms, some don't. It's a little bit like staying in a European guest house, except in the East Village (two blocks from Union Square). Rooms range from $105-$220, and you definitely have to have been there before to be able to find it (there is no sign).

East Village Bed and Coffee (110 Ave. C, between 7th and 8th) - EVB&C is the sister hotel to Second Home, so you have the same deal with some shared facilities. The first time I stayed here, Alphabet City was a considerably cooler; though arguably less safe; neighbourhood than it is today. The EVB&C is a converted loft space, and many of the rooms are built up on stilts. Easily one of the coolest hotels I've ever stayed at. Anne, the owner, is one of the coolest people you'll ever meet, but she has a big, scary German Shepherd, so if dogs aren't your thing, you might want to look somewhere else. Rooms range from $105-$160, and reservations are absolutely essential. This place is also impossible to find if you've never been here.


Some other solid budget-minded options that I haven't stayed at:

Off Soho Suites (11 Rivington St. @ The Bowery)

Chelsea Savoy Hotel (204 W. 23rd St. @ 7th Ave.)


Places that look ridiculously cool that I can't afford:

Abingdon Guest House (21 8th Ave. @ 12th St.) - This hotel is located 4 blocks from 66 Perry Street, which is where the scenes for Carrie Bradshaw's apartment were filmed, for those female readers who care about that sort of thing.

Blue Moon Hotel (100 Orchard St. between Broome and Delancey) - A converted tenement on the Lower East Side with huge rooms named after celebrities.

Where to Eat


Breakfast:

Shopsin's (120 Essex St. between Rivington and Delancey, in the Essex Street Market) - This hard-to-find East Village institution is bursting at the seams with New York attitude. I honestly thought that I misheard Kenny Shopsin when he took a look at the baby sitting next to us and said: "Whaddaya know? It's a fuckin baby!". After that, the F-bombs were flying like it was going out of style, highlighted by one of the cooks screaming: "WHAT THE FUCK IS WITH ALL THESE FUCKIN PEOPLE??? IT'S FUCKIN RAININ AND IT'S STILL FUCKIN PACKED!!! WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?! PEOPLE ARE SUCH FUCKIN ASSHOLES!!!!!"

But the New York attitude is only half the story. Because the breakfast menu is about the most extensive thing you'll ever see, and despite the fact that breakfast will probably run you $15, the portions are so big you won't need to eat again until dinner time. Most breakfast dishes are named after famous New Yorkers, like the Juju - essentially a Reuben sandwhich on eggs. The Heuvos Rancheros were brilliant (he asks how hot on a scale of 1-10 - I said 7, and was sweating), and the girl beside us had the "Blisters on My Sisters" which looked phenomenal. If you can dig the slew of obscenities (half the fun), this is one of the best breakfast places you'll ever come across, and as you step out into the East Village morning, you'll invariably find yourself shaking your head in disbelief and muttering: "only in New York"




Esperanto (145 Ave. C @ 9th St.) - The food at Esperanto is unspectacular, but the food isn't really the point. There are few better places to chill for brunch on a lazy Sunday afternoon than on Loisaida. Despite the fact that the neighbourhood has gentrified alarmingly in the past few years, the hood still has most of the same old charms, and nowhere is that Latino charm encapsulated better than at this wholly South American corner bistro. You can sit back in the sunshine on the patio and watch the world go by while listening to live Latin Jazz guitar and sipping on fantastic Bloody Mary's (they come with every brunch order along with a coffee for $10!). Just a great vibe every time.



Cafe Habana (229 Elizabeth St. @ Prince St.) - One day, I will sit down to write a magnum opus treatise about the top 100 places to get Huevos Rancheros in the great city of New York. And I'm pretty sure that Cafe Habana will top that list. (The great thing about Huevos Rancheros is that no two places make it the same. It was my breakfast of choice every morning in NYC, and not once did any place make it even remotely similar to any other joint). Unquestionably the best New York breakfast I've ever had. This is a perfect little Nolita diner with great Latin tunes and fantastic servers (my buddy M@ recommended this place and swears he fell in love here once), and sitting by the window on a Monday morning and watching the Soho workers going about their day is one of those quintessential NYC moments that you can't begin to describe.

Bonus: Cafe Habana operates a sister outpost in Brooklyn that is powered entirely by Solar energy. This Fort Greene community gathering place and eco-eatery will most certainly be on my hit list next time around.


Lunch:

Find a Deli. Step inside. Order a Pastrami or a Corned Beef sandwich with a side of pickles. Soak it all in.

There are hundreds to choose from. I would recommend Katz's (205 E. Houston St. @ Ludlow St. - famous for being "where Harry met Sally"); The Second Avenue Deli (162 E. 33rd St. between Lexinton and 3rd Ave. - no longer on 2nd Ave.); and Carnegie Deli (854 7th Ave. @ 55th St. - the cheesecake is ridiculous). My dad swears by the bagel and cream cheese at the Union Square Deli (857 Broadway @ Union Square).


For a great burger in the West Village, try The Corner Bistro (331 W. 4th St. @ Bank St.)


Dinner:

Lombardi's (32 Spring St. @ Mott St.) - As sad as this may sound, one of the reasons I continuously choose to go to New York City is so that I can eat at Lombardi's. I consider myself to be a bit of a pizza snob, and without question, this is the best pizza I've ever had. Try to get seated in the older part of the restaurant (it dates back to the turn of the century, and is widely considered America's first pizzeria), order yourself a bottle of the house Cabernet Sauvignon and a large plain pizza (mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil), and prepare yourself for a little piece of heaven. The secret is in the crust (some say the secret to the crust is in the New York City tap water). You will never look at pizza the same way again.


The Spotted Pig (314 W. 11th St. @ Greenwich St.) - The Spotted Pig is a Michelin rated restaurant masquerading as a rowdy English pub. There was an hour and a half wait for a table on Saturday night when we got there so we gave them my cell phone number and ducked out to the White Horse Tavern (notorious NYC writer's watering hole) for a couple of Brooklyn Lagers on the patio. They called us an hour later to let us know that our table was ready. You can't beat that.

We got seated in a surprisingly intimate corner of the upstairs while the party raged on in the rest of the place. They have a couple of Brooklyn cask beers on tap that are out of this world, and the perfect accompaniment for a gourmet meal. We started off with pan-seared Boston Mackeral with mint, and it was some of the best fish I've ever had. For a main course, I had the housemade Faggots (You read that correctly. And if you think ordering a plate of faggots from a gay waiter at a restaurant in New York is difficult, well, you're correct); a concoction made up of various parts of the pig's head that was easily the most delicious pork I've ever eaten. It was so good, in fact, that I enthusiastically recommended it to the guy that sat at the table next to us. Of course, when he tasted his plate he almost vomitted, and had to wash what little he could stomach down with multiple diet Cokes. To say that it was extremely awkward to sit there and watch him dry-heave on my recommendation would be a vast understatement, proving once again that no good deed goes unpunished.

(Now that I think of it, that recommendation to order the faggots could wind up being a metaphor for this entire piece, so please, proceed with caution).

Regardless of the inherent risks in making recommendations, factoring the quality of the fare (spectacular), the setting (pretention's antithesis), the service (outstanding), the neighbourhood (where the celebrities hang), and the price (the entire meal with drinks, dessert, and tip came to less than $150), I would recommend The Spotted Pig to anyone travelling to New York. It is officially on the must-hit list from here on in.


Where to Drink


The list of places in which to imbibe in "the city that never sleeps" is virtually endless. Here are a few of my favourites:

McSorley's Old Ale House (15 E. 7th St. @ 3rd Ave.) - One of the oldest bars in this fair city opened its doors in 1857--but women weren't allowed in until the 1970s. Today, this East Village institution still has sawdust on the floor, almost 150 years of history on the walls and only two kinds of beer--McSorley's Light and McSorley's Dark. (taken from Citysearch.com)

No visit to NYC would be complete without a pint or twelve at McSorley's. I've been going there since I was old enough to drink, and the experience never tires. They literally throw mugs of beer at you (the dark is far better than the light), and yer man who works the back section has been there forever and is as much a part of the New York City landscape as the Empire State Building and the yellow cabs. It is virtually impossible to walk out of Mcsorley's sober, as many a time I have gone in telling myself that I'm only stopping in for a quick one, only to walk out many hours later completely legless.

The bathrooms often make the latrines at Sneaky Dees feel like the Ritz-Carlton by comparison, and one of the great highlights is watching neophyte females drunkenly mistaken the men's room for the ladies (the women's washroom was added in the '70's as an afterthought and the door looks like it leads to a broom closet). If you show up with a small group, chances are you'll be seated at a table with a bunch of strangers, and within no time you'll be the best of friends. It's just that kind of place.

Some of the other highlights include a ridiculous amount of history on the walls, a pet cat who will rub its weary back against your leg as you sit and swill, and a dusty chandelier with wishbones hanging from it (if it's quiet enough in there, ask the barman the story behind it. One of the most touching things I've ever heard). McSorley's is an absolute must on any trip to NYC.


Zinc Bar (90 W. Houston St. @ La Guardia Place) - Nestled in an easy-to-miss nook on Houston Street, Zinc Bar ushers guests through plush red velvet curtains to a cramped yet cozy front room that throbs with the band's every beat. Should it be romance you're looking for, the back room is an airy oasis where the music is muted and speaking above a whisper is akin to blasphemy. (taken from Citysearch.com)

We showed up here just after 1am on a Friday night and found a seat near the eight piece African jazz band (Kofo the Wonderman). Despite the fact that nobody really had any idea what the lead singer was singing about, the entire bar was completely captivated from the first note onward. Another one of those quintessential New York experiences that you simply can't find anywhere else. Their set only consisted of 3 songs, but each song was a twenty-minute session with Kofo working the talking drum to perfection. Just a magical experience. Apparently every Friday night is African Jazz night at Zinc. If you're in town on a Friday, do everything you can to get there.

As a side note, this place; as were many of the other places on this list; was recommended to me by my Unkle Mike. The next day, while talking about how amazing a performance we'd seen, I found myself wondering how a 50-year old man could be so cool. I wish I knew the answer.


Doc Holliday's (141 Ave. A @ 9th St.) - Nothing epitomizes the gentrification of Alphabet City more than the fact that there are now patrons frequenting Doc's wearing striped shirts and blazers. Now, don't get me wrong: I have nothing against people who wear striped shirts and blazers. In fact, I would say that about 35% of my friends own a go-to blazer that they'll don when heading out for a night on the town. But under no circumstances should the type of person who wears a social blazer be found inside one of the all-time dive bars. We're talking about a place that serves Pabst Blue Ribbon in a can ($2), and has Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson in the jukebox. There was a time when this place smelled of stale beer and urine, and your shoes would stick to the floor no matter what the time of day or night. But alas, this once pre-eminent watering hole has gone the way of the rest of the neighbourhood, meaning that frat boys in striped shirts and blazers are free to walk the streets without the fear of being shivved at any given moment. How I long for the good ol' days.

But even with that all being said, you can still get a can of Rolling Rock for $3, and the juke box still blasts whatever you want to hear (Etta James, Steve Earle, Loretta Lynn). I just wish the floors were stickier.


Ludlow Street - There are about 20 bars lining Ludlow Street between Houston and Delancey. I wish we'd gotten a chance to hit some of them because they looked ridiculous (particularly Pianos at 158 Ludlow St.)


Joe's Pub (425 Lafayette St. between E. 4th St. and Astor Pl.) - The pre-eminent place to see live music in NYC. Always check to see who's on the bill when you're in town.


Miscellaneous Entertainment

In The Heights (Richard Rogers Theatre: 226 W. 46th St. between Broadway and 8th Ave.)- I hate musicals. I really do. Ever since my sister started singing, I've been dragged to them, all of them, one after another, for as long as I can remember. Fiddler on the Roof. Guys and Dolls. Anything Goes. Grease. Les Miserables. Rent. I hated them all. Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge fan of dramatic theatre. Even dabbled in the drama program at University. And I when I was younger (read: 20), I went so far as to follow professional wrestling with an unhealthy enthusiasm. But my suspended disbelief can only be stretched so far, and when an entire cast breaks out into a seemingly spontaneous yet fully choreographed song and dance, that's where they lose me.

So of course it was just my luck that I happened to have been dating a former theatre school student at the time, who liked nothing more than to catch a Broadway Musical. So there we were, sitting on the plane, going through the listings, trying to find a musical that I might be able to tolerate. Jersey Boys was intriguing because what's not to like about The Four Seasons, but it sounded way too much like a musical revue in the traditoin of Mamma Mia. Spring Awakening had the words "raging" and "hormones" in the revue, so I probably could have gone for that one. But then we came across this play called In The Heights that was supposed to take place in Washington Heights. What can I say? I'm a sucker for gritty neighbourhood scripts.

We lined up at 5:30 and entered our names into the ticket lottery (they draw names at 6 o'clock to see who will get to sit in the front row for $25 - price of remaining tickets? $110. I think every sports team and rock concert should do the same). Miraculously, we somehow won the lottery, which meant that we'd be sitting front row centre for the most anticipated Friday night show in quite some time (it was nominated for 13 Tony awards earlier in the week, and we had America Ferrera of Ugly Betty fame sitting behind us. Yep, we're that big-time.) Despite all of the buzz, I was still completely skeptical. Because really: how good could a musical really be? The answer? Apparently, a musical can be really good.

I was absolutely blown away. And sure, it probably has something to do with the fact that we were sitting in the front row and could see the spit flying everywhere (the conductor who stands there with his head popping up should really be wearing a rain-slicker), but this was far and away one of the best theatrical experiences I've ever had the privilege of witnessing. The play was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda; who plays the lead role of Usnavi to perfection; during his sophomore year at Wesleyan University (it should be noted that during my sophomore year at University I was getting my ass kicked at Beirut and sleeping in the library), and the entire production is filled with that raw emotion and enthusiasm that you only ever get out of an artist's first work. The music is a mix of rap, hip hop, salsa, samba, meringue, cha cha, and jazz, and the singing at times verges on freestyle and spoken word, which for my money was where Miranda was at his best (when he's describing his street corner in the morning near the end of the play, it is one of the most evocative and poetic scenes I've ever come across).

I am not ashamed to say that there were times during this play that I was on the verge of tears. That's how powerful the acting is, and how moving the story.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you're in New York and you feel the need to hit up a musical, I would go with In the Heights in a heartbeat. So good was it, in fact, that I'd consider going again, even if I wasn't being dragged there.


Yankee Stadium - This is the final year for "The House that Ruth Built". Despite the fact that the place has been allowed to deteriorate in its waning years and the lines for the bathroom are absolutely insane (I'm actually amazed that more people just don't piss in their seats), there is something undeniably magical about sitting in Yankee Stadium. The history gives you chills, the fans are as die-hard as they come, and the dimensions of the stadium itself are a constant reminder that they just don't make'em like they used to. The tradition of the bleacher creatures roll call (chanting each player's name at the beginning of the game) is one of the most underrated traditions in sports.









Madison Square Garden - There are few places more electric than a buzzing MSG. If the Knicks or Red Storm ever work their way back to legitimacy, try to check out some hoops at the mecca.

Williamsburg (Brooklyn) - A great place to spend a Saturday afternoon. For much of our first two days in NYC, we found ourselves wondering where all of the young hipsters had gone... And then we crossed the Williamsburg Bridge.

Take a tour of the Brooklyn Brewery. Shop for vintage clothing at The Beacon's Closet (220 5th Ave., Brooklyn), which has a great selection for girls; if you're a guy looking for vintage threads, you might be better off perusing the vintage stores along 7th St. between 2nd Ave. and Ave A on the island. Go through the crates at the various record stores along Bedford Ave. (I managed to score Al Green's Green is Blues and The Meters' self-titled debut). Sip on microbrews and cask beers at the bars lining the streets. A totally different vibe from Manhattan, and worth the trip if you have the time.


Subway Buskers - I was blown away be the level of talent from these guys. On Friday night, we stood and listened to a five piece New Orleans jazz band; complete with tuba, trumpet, and drums; that could have been playing Preservation Hall the night before for all we knew. Let me tell you: the buskers of the NY subways system make Zanta Clause look like a schoolboy.


Century 21 (22 Cortlandt St. between Church St. and Broadway ) - If you like to shop for designer fashions at ridiculous discounts in a Winners-like atmosphere, this place will be heaven for you. If the only thing you despise more than shopping is shopping in a crowded store with the world's slowest checkout staff, either find something else to do for the two hours your better half will invariably spend in this hell hole, or bring along a sharp object with which to repeatedly stab yourself in the eye socket.


Soho (South of Houston Street, North of Canal, roughly between 6th Ave. and The Bowery) - The Cast Iron Historic District is one of my favourite neighbourhoods to stroll. Pop International Galleries (473 W. Broadway, between Houston and Laguardia Pl.) is like a museum for pop culture in the latter half of the 20th Century. When we were there, I spent the better part of an hour perusing the photography of Lawrence Schiller, who captured seemingly every relevent historical moment of the 60's and 70's. The best part about this exhibit is that every photograph has a detailed description of the event depicted and why the shot itself is so relevent. There is an unbelievable shot of Bobby Kennedy sleeping on his plane while campagning only weeks before his assasination, and countless spectacular shots of Marilyn Monroe. My favourite photograph, though, was one of Joe Dimaggio; along with his son; as the Yankee Clipper is on his way to attend the funeral for the love of his life. It was one of the most touching photographs I've ever seen.

The gallery also has some classic sports photography by the likes of Neil Leifer.

Another great place to check out photography in Soho is Morrison Hotel Gallery (124 Prince St. @ Wooster St.). Hands down some of the coolest music photography you'll ever come across. Everything from Jazz Giants and Dylan to Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen with his '60 Corvette. A must-see for any music enthusiast.

For a great place to duck in out of the rain, try the nameless cofee place on Thompson Street between Prince and Spring. Nothing but bags of beans, three tiny tables, and some of the best coffee you'll ever sip.


Some more relevant New York reading:


Street Life: Jerry Shore's New York, by Adam Gopnik

-We see New York, and sometimes, as Henry James asked us to, we “do it”—explore and conquer it—but what we see when we see it is so far unlike what we experience when we’re doing it that the difference itself can become a subject for art.


Brightness Falls (an article based on the week that changed NYC forever), by Jay McInerney


Brightness Falls (the novel), by Jay McInerney


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer


The Fortress of Solitude, by Jonathan Lethem

Monday, May 26, 2008

Le Grand Saut


Taken from The New York Times - May 24, 2008

He has spent two decades and nearly $20 million in a quest to fly to the upper reaches of the atmosphere with a helium balloon, just so he can jump back to earth again. Now, Michel Fournier says, he is ready at last.

Depending on the weather, Fournier, a 64-year-old retired French army officer, will attempt what he is calling Le Grand Saut (The Great Leap) on Sunday from the plains of northern Saskatchewan.

He intends to climb into the pressurized gondola of the 650-foot balloon, which resembles a giant jellyfish, and make a two-hour journey to 130,000 feet. At that altitude, almost 25 miles up, Fournier will see both the blackness of space and the curvature of the earth.

Then he plans to step out of the capsule, wearing only a special space suit and a parachute, and plunge in a mere 15 minutes, experiencing weightlessness along the way.

If successful, Fournier will fall longer, farther and faster than anyone in history. Along the way, he can accomplish other firsts, by breaking the sound barrier and records that have stood for nearly 50 years.

“It’s not a question of the world records,” Fournier wrote via e-mail through an interpreter on Friday from his base in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. “What is important are what the results from the jump will bring to the safety of the conquest of space. However, the main question that is being asked today by all scientists is, can a man survive when crossing the sound barrier?”

In the past two weeks, Fournier’s 40-person team has assembled at the launch site, about 90 miles northwest of Saskatoon. The remote Canadian plains were picked after French authorities denied permission because of safety concerns.

Fournier faces plenty of perils. Above 40,000 feet, there is not enough oxygen to breathe in the frigid air. He could experience a fatal embolism. And 12 miles up, should his protective systems fail, his blood could begin to boil because of the air pressure, said Henri Marotte, a professor of physiology at the University of Paris and a member of Fournier’s team.

“If the human body were exposed at very high altitude, the loss of consciousness is very fast, in five seconds,” Marotte said. “Brain damage, in three or four minutes.”

Fournier’s gondola will be sealed, pressurized and equipped with oxygen. He will be in communication with a ground crew on the climb and will be tracked by G.P.S. He will wear a pressure suit and a sealed helmet supplied with oxygen.

“Another problem is decompression sickness,” Marotte said. “You have the same problem with nitrogen as divers who go too quickly from deep to the surface.”

To prevent this, which underwater divers call the bends, Fournier will breathe pure oxygen for two to three hours before liftoff.

Marotte said Fournier would be in free fall for about eight minutes. He would exceed the speed of sound within the first 40 seconds and eventually approach 1,000 miles an hour. His fall would slow at lower altitudes amid increasing wind resistance. His parachute is designed to open at around 5,000 feet.

The gondola will be released from the balloon and is equipped with three parachutes to allow for a safe landing.

Fournier’s jump can set four records: fastest free fall, longest free fall, highest altitude for a human balloon flight and highest parachute jump. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, which bills itself as the world’s air-sports organization, sanctions jumps like this.

Fournier has attempted his stunt twice, but technical and weather-related problems foiled the efforts before he left the ground. The most recent attempt, in 2003, failed when his balloon ruptured before takeoff.

Fournier has been preparing physically and mentally for this moment for years, making more than 8,000 jumps and setting a French record from an altitude of more than 39,000 feet, his highest jump to date. By comparison, a standard sky dive is from 12,000 to 13,000 feet.

“I got to say that I’m so excited,” he said in the e-mail message. “It’s my dream coming true. It represents 20 years of work and sacrifices, and today I’m seeing the realizations of all my efforts.”

His quest began in September 1988, when the French space agency selected him to free fall and parachute from near-space. The mission was designed to test the potential for astronauts to escape without a space craft in an emergency. Only two years earlier, NASA’s Challenger shuttle disaster killed seven astronauts.

Fournier was a paratrooper, among other roles in the French army, and was among dozens of candidates subjected to physical and psychological tests before being chosen for the mission. But it never got off the ground; the program folded four months after he was picked to participate.

Yet his resolve only grew, and in 1992, he retired from the military to pursue the project privately. To pay for training and equipment, he has sold his house and most of his belongings. Together with private donations, he has spent almost $20 million.

For two decades, there were few serious competitors. But Steve Truglia, a 45-year-old movie stuntman and a former member of the British Special Forces, said he planned a similar jump over the United States in July.

“My plan is to take that record as soon as possible,” Truglia, a native of London, said by phone recently. “Whatever he does I can beat.”

Truglia holds a British record for an underwater free dive on a single breath (249 feet). A jump from near-space and a chance to reach supersonic speeds represent something more.

“I don’t think there’s a bigger stunt that I’m going to look for after this,” Truglia said. “I can’t think of a bigger stunt, other than perhaps trying to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere with just your body, and I think we’re a long way away from that.”

The highest previous recorded jump from a balloon was performed in 1960 by Joe Kittinger, a United States Air Force test pilot who leaped from 102,800 feet and exceeded 600 miles per hour before opening his parachute at 18,000 feet. He was down in less than 14 minutes.

Reached by phone last week at his home outside Orlando, Fla., Kittinger, 79, said he was surprised his record had stood for so long.

Fournier and Kittinger correspond through e-mail. “I told him many years ago, it’s very hostile,” Kittinger said. “You’re in a vacuum, and your whole life is dependent on the pressure suit working properly. If the pressure suit fails, you die.”

Kittinger is contacted regularly by others interested in breaking his record. “There’s a whole bunch of them out there that are just like Fournier and just like the guy in England,” he said. “Most of them don’t have the money to do it.”

Some say that with scientific information already gathered from this kind of jump, there is little benefit beyond learning what happens to the human body at supersonic speeds. Others suggest that the leap could generate serious interest in space travel, the way the Wright brothers helped inspire aeronautics.

“A front-row seat of space,” Truglia said. “I think that will appeal to a certain sector of society, people that want to adventure and live on the edge.”

But Kittinger expressed skepticism about tourists attempting to cope at such high altitude.
“It was definitely beautiful, but it’s also hostile,” he said. His right hand swelled to twice its normal size when his glove failed to pressurize properly.

From those lonely heights, the speedy return trip was a relief.

“Yes, it was nice to be headed back to earth, because it’s an environment that we can live in,” Kittinger said. “And it’s a beautiful planet, really.”


There is a very good chance that by the time you read this, Michel Fournier will be dead. I remember reading about this guy in The New Yorker about nine months ago, and that particular article went into excruciating detail to describe exactly what happens to your body at 130,000 feet. Let's just say that it isn't pretty. I've been at close to 18,000 feet, and it damn near killed me. So when you factor in that Fournier is 64 years old, I don't think he lives to tell the tale. Just one man's opinion.

By the way, I think that Truglia guy has to be the world's biggest A-hole for wanting to steal the old man's thunder.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Skinny Jeans for Men



I know I'm a little late to the party on this one, but is it safe to say that the mainstream emergence of "skinny jeans for dudes" is the worst fashion trend of all time?

Don't get me wrong: I think skinny jeans have their place. They look fantastic on most girls, and they look well enough on gay men because gay men can pull it off and they generally get a free pass because they're trend setters and know a hell of a lot more about fashion than I ever will.

But on straight men? Maybe I'm missing something, but I just don't get it. First off, it looks absolutely horrific, and I can't imagine any girl; emo/indie-scenester/skater-punk or otherwise; finding that look sexually appealing in any way whatsover. Really, isn't finding out whether the dude is circumcised or not half the fun for girls? I can't imagine they want to know that information upon first glance while standing around waiting for Dashboard Confessional to take the stage.

Secondly, those pants can't be comfortable to wear. There was some dude walking in front of me today wearing those nut-huggers and he honestly looked like he was about three weeks overdue on his hip replacement surgery. I guess the good news is that those pants will almost certainly make their wearers sterile, meaning that we won't have to worry about these people ever reproducing. Natural selection at its finest.

And lastly, the skinny jeans thing isn't even cutting edge anymore. When Joey Ramone and Sid Vicious were doing it, at least they were giving a giant F-you to the establishment. And when people began re-wearing them again in 2006, at least they were somewhat ahead of the curve, abominable a curve though it may have been. But Sandra and I were walking along in the rain in Alphabet City last weekend, and she started singing that Rihanna song because I was standing under her umbrella, and some little punk walking in front of us was wearing those hideous skinny jeans and didn't think we could hear him as he said to his skinny-jeans-wearing-friends: "that's soooo original to be singing that song right now". To which I obviously responded: "I guess we'd be more original if we were wearing those jeans". That shut the little poser up immediately.



For the record, the only fashion trend I can imagine being worse for humanity would be if these ever made a comeback, or if this guy sat next to you at the beach.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Running of the Urinals

2007



Vs.

2008



In all honesty, I didn't think anything could ever top the video of the guy from last year getting clocked in the head with a full can of beer (1:20 mark), but this poor-man's-Leaping-Lanny-Poffo may have just done it. Even without the sound (UPDATE: video with sound!), and even with the questionable frame continuity, this has to go down as one of the all-time headers. For my money, the only thing that even comes close is this (caution: if you watch this clip, you will never be able to look at an escalator the same way again. Don't say I didn't warn you.)


As a side note, my buddy Skeeter has been saying for years that if he ever gets married, he wants his stag to take place at the Kentucky Derby. If I have any say in the matter, I will be calling an audible, and switching our destination to the second leg of the Triple Crown. What could possibly be a better way to spend the last weekend of your life (as you know it) than running across hundreds of in-use-urinals while spectators pelt you with thousands of beer cans?

Gotta love Olbermann's play-by-play.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bill Simmons to write for SeanMcCallum.com?




Taken from Deadspin: 05/14/08


We're not the only ones who noticed that Bill Simmons hasn't written a column in two weeks — until today, anyway — and hasn't been featured much on the home page of ESPN.com. We figured it was nothing; the man has taken extended breaks before. But, just to be thorough, we emailed him and asked if anything was up. His response, on the record, surprised us.
Here's Simmons' complete remarks on his (relative) absence from ESPN.com over the last month or so.

"Yes, I still work for ESPN. No, I'm not writing for ESPN.com as much — my choice, not theirs. That's just the way it will be from now on, unfortunately. I'd have more to say, but I'd end up being profane and I don't want to offend Buzz Bissinger."

When we inquired further, Simmons went on:

"I still love writing my column and only re-signed last year because I really did believe that we had hashed out all the behind the scenes bullshit and come to some sort of agreement on creative lines, media criticism rules, the promotion of the column and everything else on ESPN.com. Within a few months, all of those things changed and certain promises were not kept. It's as simple as that."

So ... there's that. Suddenly, 2010, when Simmons' most recent deal expires, seems rather far away. Flipping around while researching this post, we stumbled across this, and some cursory Web sleuthing does seem to track it back to Simmons. (Hey, if Jemele Hill can have an outside blog, why can't he?) Simmons obliquely has played the ESPN-won't-let-me-be-ME card in the past, but this is the first time, in our memory, that he's plainly stated his frustrations in a public forum and actively written less for the site because of them. Not quite the end of an era, but certainly seems to mark something.


Have no fear, SG: you will always have a place on the payroll here at seanmccallum.com. I'm not sure if the compensation will put you in the same tax bracket as you may have been while at ESPN, but at least you won't have to worry about attending all of those pesky, time-consuming sporting events in person (you know, like The Superbowl, or the NBA All-Star Game... what a drag those things can be to have to sit in on...). You can just critique them from the comforts of your living room, like the rest of us here at seanmccallum.com world headquaters do. I'd even give you your own password so you could post directly, without having to worry about any pompous editors messing with your shit. It's like a match made in heaven!

Let the record show that there is a standing offer on the table...
Thanks to Flats for the heads-up.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Victoria Day Weekend Canadian Music Showdown

With the arrival of the first long weekend of the summer, I would be remiss if I didn't have my loyal dotcomrades ponder the age old question: what is the quintessential Canadian long weekend soundtrack?

I have the following to submit:



To quote some random kid sitting on my buddy Drummond's dock one warm summer night many years ago: "How about a little Rodeo?"





"Those patio lanterns, they were the stars in the sky..."




The most important musician to ever come out of this great country.

"Blue, blue windows behind the stars
Yellow moon on the rise..."






The things in this world that are more Canadian than The Tragically Hip can be counted on one hand. They include:

1) Beaver Pelts
2) Milk bags
3) John A McDonald (before he played shortstop for the Toronto Blue Jays)
4) Sher-Wood hockey sticks
5) Maple Syrup

"She said you're gonna miss me
Wait and you'll see..."



Happy May Two-Four, eh!

Kearney, ON



It's funny when you haven't been back to a place in quite some time. You really don't know what to expect upon your return. Will it have changed in your absence? Will it seem smaller than when you were a kid? Will it even be the same place you remember? I was flooded with these questions, along with some mixed feelings about going back to that one place I didn't think I'd ever be able to get back to.

My brother and I spent a lot of time growing up in the summers at the cottage that belonged to my buddy Dunner's family. We'd go up for a week at a time, every summer, and it was the same blissful routine every time. Our dads would party their faces off every night (Dunner's dad had been my dad's best man in my parents' wedding), and in the mornings, all of the boys would pile into the van and head into the Town of Kearney to return the empties (all 48 of them), and purchase another round of liquid provisions for that night's festivities (another 48 cold ones). We'd buy a couple bags of ice, and then Dunner, my brother and I would hit up the town snack bar for an order of fries and a single can of Pepsi (of the 280 ml variety), which we'd slug back with three straws, our dad's timing us and pretending that this little three-way-split was a competition and not just a means of saving a $1.50 for two more drinks.

As simple as it sounds, those weeks spent up at the Dunn's family cottage were the only vacation we ever needed in those early years. And those hours spent in town, hanging around the snack bar and the beer store with our dads, were the undisputed highlights of our summer, and I wouldn't have traded them for all of the Disneyland vacations in the world.

When you're a kid, you don't know any better, and you just assume that that place and those times will always be there. But when we were twelve or thirteen years old, Dunner's grandmother sold the cottage, Dunner's parents split up, and I hadn't been back to Kearney since.



This weekend, we were up at the Clearview Cottages for my brother's, my buddy B*Rad's, and my buddy Dooner's birthday bash. It was just about the exact kind of gong show you would expect, with the usual amounts of debauchery, funneling, and bonfire ballyhoo. But the Clearview Cottages are only a hop skip and a jump from Kearney, so early Saturday morning, Ronnie, Dunner and I, along with Little Buddy for good measure, decided to take a trip down memory lane.

I was a little apprehensive on the drive over, and I remember asking Dunner if he thought the place would have changed. It was my ultimate nightmare to think that this little town of 700 people - an outpost for Algonquin Park - could have grown in the past 15 years the way other Ontario towns had. If there was a Wal-Mart or a Tim Horton's, I was pretty sure I was going to drown myself in the Magnetawan River.

It was with relief and joy then, that I saw as we rolled into town that virtually nothing had changed. All of the same stores were there, and even though some of the names had changed (the Kearney Snack Bar was now the Kearney Harbour Bistro), the place still felt the same. The only discernable differencew were the fact that they were building a row of townhouse timeshares along one end of the lake (to the universal chagrin of everyone in town), and that the retaining wall on the main street corner that used to be adorned with the words: PINK FLOYD - THE WALL ; was no longer in existence. For fifteen year's worth of progress, that ain't bad.

Dunner, Ronnie and I went into the snack bar and ordered one can of pop, three straws. We sat outside at the same picnic table we'd sat at as kids, and drank the soda in unisyn as Little Buddy timed us. I won't lie to you: it was weird. And it was uncomfortable... And the high school kids eating at the snack bar thought we were gay and on crack (when I explained our reasons; a long overdue trip down memory lane; they invited us to a big house party later that night). But it was good for a laugh.


Just like our dads had done years before, we walked over to the beer store and stocked up for the night's festivities. I bought a couple of bags of ice at the General Store, and we drove back out of town the same way we'd come in.

I'm not sure what the point of this post is, but I guess it's good to know that in a world that seems to be changing so fast and so often, it's good to know that sometimes you can go back to a place where things have managed to stay the same, and because of it, you can feel like a kid all over again, even if only for a brief, self-conscious, incredibly hungover moment.


The first thing I ever wrote was based on a weekend that never happened at The Kearney Regatta. I was 16 years old when I wrote it. You can read it HERE.
UPDATE: Photographic evidence found of the 3 Straws / 1 Can incident!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tuesday Morning Diversion

You know what? This blog has been pretty weak lately. No real original content. No real thought put into any of the writing. Little more than mindless, mildly amusing YouTube clips and cut-and-paste news stories. So I feel like I need to apologize.

The reason behind this recent slacking is that I've been devoting most of my sparish time to the editing process, and the blog has kind of fallen by the wayside as a result. Believe me when I say that if it were up to me, I'd be blogging rather than editing, but sometimes that's just the price you have to pay.

So here are a few of the interesting things I've been stockpiling of late. I meant to write in depth about all of them, but I guess you'll just have to settle for the links and a token word-bite for now. I'll be in NYC for the next five days, so this might be it for awhile.


(As a side note, I have been for years extolling the virtues of http://www.thesaurus.com/... I tell everyone I know that it's one of the top-five most useful websites on the internet, I happily link to them in most of my blog entries... Hell, I even subscribe to their sister site's word of the day! And then just when I need them the most; as in, when I need them to help me slash and cut the work I've been toiling with for the better part of the past five years; they go ahead and completely abandon me. Apparently now, thesaurus.com charges a nominal fee for access to their premium content, only giving the poor people like myself {read: cheap} the shitty dregs of what they have to offer for free. This goes against every principle behind the internet, and is depriving children the world over with access to highbrow synonyms and better diction. It's a complete travesty, and because of this premium content bullshit, I've actually had to resort to something I never thought I would have to again: using the paperback thesaurus I got for Christmas when I was 18... My God, I feel like it's the late 90's all over again. Is that the theme music to 90210 I hear?)



Letting Go, by David Sedaris

A great piece from the New Yorker about one man's steadfast refusal to give up the habit despite the overwhelming evidence suggesting that he probably should. I like the way he eventually thinks of his quitting: the cigarettes he was alloted in life have all run out, and as a result, he is finished with smoking.



Yankee Stadium - Old vs. New

Very few people know this, but I used to have an unhealthy obsession with classic ballparks. In fact, some might argue that I still do. In any event, this obsession has taken me all over North America in my attempts to visit some of the finest cathedrals our culture has to offer. In my opinion, it is a shame that the Steinbrenners are tearing down The House That Ruth Built. I was fortunate enough to catch David Wells take a perfect game into the 7th inning (four months after throwing his famous perfect game) in some of the most ridiculously good seats I've ever sat in (courtesy of my Unkle Mike), and the vibe in that stadium was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before in my life. The crowd standing and cheering everytime Boomer got two strikes on a guy; roaring thunderously everytime he mowed another down; a standing ovation every time he walked off the mound... Finally, I thought: now I know what a baseball game is supposed to feel like. It really was one of the highlights of my life.

So anyway, I'll be hitting up Yankee Stadium for the last time this weekend, and even though it will be sad to see the old yard go, I have to admit that the new digs look pretty special. And I love the fact that they're keeping the field's dimensions identical. Hopefully they can manage to keep that same Bronx charm that makes the stadium such a joy to visit.



Quite possibly the coolest album title of all time: My Get Up and Go Just Got Up and Went, by Ass.


Best possible weapon to have in a riot? How about a bass drum:





Where was this kid when I was getting my ass kicked at flip-cup?





And finally, for anyone interested in the the dangers of greenwashing and the fascinating world of sustainable roofing, feel free to check out this piece I wrote for an Alberta Trade Publication... Yeah, that's right: an Alberta Trade Publication. No telling where things'll go from here.

Relative Sustainability, by Sean McCallum

Tom Waits - Glitter and Doom






As you all know, Tom Waits is going on tour from Phoenix to Hotlanta this summer. Aside from the guiding forces from above, Tom further explained the routing choice by saying: “We’re going to the deep south where they still love a man who wears red pants and they make him feel welcome.”


Waits will be touring with longtime musical ally Larry Taylor (bass), Omar Torrez (guitar), Patrick Warren (keyboards), Casey Waits (drums and percussion) and as yet named reed player; performing hollers, mambos and rhumbas.


As on his last tour, Waits’ U.S. booking agent and longtime tour director, Stuart Ross, has spent a great deal of effort to fight ticket scalpers. Along with Ticketmaster, he has worked out a plan he believes will make sure every fan pays face value (plus normal service and handling fees) for the tickets purchased for the “Glitter and Doom” tour, outlined thusly:


“In keeping with Waits’ longtime desire to allow fans the best possible access to his shows, the Waits’ organization is again implementing an anti-scalping program to assure patrons that their tickets can only be purchased at face value (plus normal surcharges and handling fees). At the majority of shows on this tour, Ticketmaster is introducing their Paperless Ticket™ system. Prior to entering the venue, fans must simply provide their credit card which was used to purchase the tickets, along with a government issued ID. The fan’s accompanying guest must be present at that time. An attendant will swipe the credit card and provide a receipt for the transaction. The entire process is quick, secure and simple. Tickets will only be sold via the internet and by phone and are limited to two per person.”


Tickets for all markets are due to go on sale Friday, May 16th. Check local venues and Ticketmaster for specific start times. Tickets will be available via the internet and by phone.
US tour dates are as follows:


DATE - CITY - VENUE - ON-SALE TIME



6/17 Phoenix, AZ — Orpheum — NOON Pacific

6/18 Phoenix, AZ — Orpheum — NOON Pacific

6/20 El Paso, TX — Plaza Theatre — 1pm Mountain

6/22 Houston, TX — Jones Hall — 10am Central

6/23 Dallas, TX — Palladium — 11am Central

6/25 Tulsa, OK — Brady Theatre — Noon Central

6/26 St. Louis, MO — Fox Theatre — 10amCentral

6/28 Columbus, OH — Ohio Theatre — 10am Eastern

6/29 Knoxville, TN — Civic Auditorium — 9am Eastern

7/1 Jacksonville, FL — Times Union Center — 10am Eastern

7/2 Mobile, AL — Saenger Theatre — 10am Central

7/3 Birmingham, AL — Alabama Theatre — 11am Central

7/5 Atlanta, GA — Fox Theatre — 10am Eastern





As if there were any debating who the coolest man on the planet is. There is only one Tom Waits, and I think this presser pretty well says it all. A tour route based upon the constellation Hydra, and then that ending? In a million years, I wouldn't have seen that coming.



Anyway, it is a tragedy that the Summer of Love (8 weddings over 7 summer weekends) will be derailing my attempts to get down to see Mr. Waits in action, because that June 28th show in C-bus looks awfully inviting. I implore you all, if you are anywhere near these cities roundabout these dates, do everything in your power to get a seat. It just might wind up being the best show you've ever seen.



Pesdtsckjmba, baby!





Thanks to M@ for the heads up.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Your Toronto Tax Dollars at Work - Update



A few months back, I posted a piece concerning the quality of service the people on my street were receiving with regards to garbage and recycling pickup. Despite the fact that most readers simply chalked it up to the fact that I was becoming a grumpy old man in my advancing years, it appears as though I have not been alone in my dissatisfaction with the performance of the Toronto G-force of late.


This article was taken from yesterday's Star, and just for the record, I was not the annonymous Bowden Street emailer:



When an inner-city street is messier after recycling pickup than before the collection crew came along, people get annoyed.

An email arrived last week from a resident of Bowden St., which runs south from Danforth Ave., east of Broadview Ave., that included many photos of the litter left behind last Thursday, after recycling boxes and green bins were put out for curbside pickup.

The photos show green bins and blue boxes scattered along the sidewalk – where they appear to have been carelessly tossed – along with newspapers, cereal boxes, plastic containers, cans and other stuff that should have gone into the truck.

The same email was also sent to city officials.

The sender of the email, who asked not to be named because "I don't want a brick through my window," said Bowden St. is often a trash-strewn mess after pickup, adding he's so fed up with the problem that he decided to send the photos to the city and media.

"It's typical," he said.

"Half of it gets into the truck while the other half ends up on the street. You just have to watch them to see what's going on.

"When they empty the bins, they throw them all over the place. They end up in the hedges.
"It makes the street a disaster."

We were somewhat surprised to hear about it, since we've had so few similar complaints.
On The Fixer's street, recycling and garbage collection is excellent, and it's been our observation that few city employees work harder than the collection crews.

STATUS: We obtained a May 1 email sent to the resident from Rob Orpin, the area director of collections. Orpin agreed that the situation was "unacceptable," adding that crews have been told "this type of workmanship won't be tolerated.

"I will ask the area manager to take the necessary action to prevent this from reocurring."



I should probably point out that ever since I voiced my complaint, the performance of the blue box guys on my street has been nothing short of exemplary, redeeming not only my faith in municipal services, but my pride in calling myself a member of the exalted G-force alumni.




Thanks to Richie for the heads-up.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Get Out the Salami and Cheese Mama...


Get out the salami and cheese, Chuck Swirsky’s career with the Toronto Raptors is over.

The team announced Tuesday that Swirsky, who had been the Raptors’ TV play-by-play man for the past seven years, has left the organization to assume the radio role with the Chicago Bulls.

Swirsky was the Raptors’ radio announcer for three years before moving to TV. His signature call for a Raptors victory called for the salami and cheese.

Swirsky previously worked in Chicago as the sports director at WGN radio from 1982-94 and the Raptors said Swirsky’s decision to return to the Windy City was based on personal reasons related to his family.

The Raptors praised Swirsky’s work in a statement released by the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the NBA franchise.

"There’s lots of good play-by-play guys out there, but only one Chuck Swirsky," Tom Anselmi, MLSE’s executive VP and chief operating officer, was quoted in the statement. "He is a big loss to our organization. His passion for basketball and passion for our fans, makes him one of the game’s great ambassadors. He’s leaving for the right reasons, and that’s to place the needs of his family at the top of his priority list. He leaves with our support, our deepest appreciation and best wishes for the future.

"Swirsky, who also hosted an afternoon radio show on Toronto’s all-sports radio The Fan 590, had recently become a Canadian citizen. He signed a four-year contract extension in 2007.




Raptors basketball will never be the same. No more Onions, baby. No more sick, wicked, and nasty. No more Salami and Cheese.

No more Swirsky.

Even though the Swirsk may have quite possibly been the worst daytime sports talk radio host on the planet (on the Fan 590 1-4), there is no denying his enthusiasm for the Raps and for the City of Toronto. He did a great deal for basketball not only in this city, but in this country, and he will be impossible to replace.