May 30, 2007

The End Of An Era In Toronto and Yankee Panky

Remember records, kids? Shiny black discs you spun under something called a needle to produce music in your very own home. Magical, they were. And people used to buy them by the truckloads. My weekly trip to the local record store, no matter which city we lived in at the time, was a highlight and I built up quite the collection, I must say (see my Celine, Elvis, and Elton, oh my! blog entry for the gruesome details of what happened to my precious vinyl).

My formative teen collecting years were spent in St. John's, Newfoundland, where I discovered a little Fred's Records outlet at the mall by our house. Good to see they're still around. But, one of the all-time best, a true icon in this city, what we affectionately called Sam's, was Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street. I say "was" as they announced yesterday that the flagship store (seen below) is closing next month. Such a sad day for music and neon lovers.

Thanks to Wikipedia for the first image and a great local photoblog, daily dose of imagery, for the other two great shots.

When I moved here in 1979 (after four years in beautiful, but boring for a teen then, St. John's, Nfld.) I had two things on my to-do list: tune in 1050 CHUM, which my friend Kim and I did as soon as we landed (on my Lloyd's AM/FM/8-track Portable, which went with me everywhere, even strapped to the handlebars of my bike, cranking up "The Eagles' Greatest Hits" and Cher's "Dark Lady" tapes) and see the Sam's sign.

Sam and his glorious flashing neon oversize records had come to represent Toronto to me in all its teeming life. Any movie or TV scene set on Yonge Street had to include the giant discs. I had finally arrived in the Big Smoke when I looked up at those hypnotic, throbbing lights as the crowd all throbbed around me.

And I'm not the only one who's going to miss it. After the story broke on Breakfast Television, the only morning news show we watch (Kevin Frankish is a cutie, Dina Pugliese is a hottie and very funny, all of them make a great team), viewers rushed to their computers to protest.

So far, two big groups have been formed on Facebook to voice your concerns: Save The Sam's Sign with over 5,000 members, and Save Sam Record Man Sign with more than 3,000. Good on ya, guys.

In even better news, although it hasn't been made official yet, today's BT reports that the Ontario Heritage Trust is getting involved (after overwhelming public input) and that should do the trick. Not exactly sure *where* it should be saved, but the sign has to be preserved as the integral part of this city's past that it is.

It's not all about a sign either. The CBC has an interesting look at Sam himself, Record Man: The Life and Times of Sam Sniderman. He was much more than a record peddler and had an enormous influence on this country's music in general. Nothing could commemorate him better than that iconic neon sign.

Like many others, I remember lining up for concert tickets at Sam's, both for sale and the odd giveaway from 1050 CHUM radio. The two were very much connected for me. Many trips were strictly to buy the latest singles listed on the CHUM Chart that week. They had a special section set aside near the front of the store with a blow-up of the chart and all the 45s arranged in order for sale beneath it. That always made an impression on me, so ordered. I bought scads of singles back then, kept them all alphabetized and everything, very hard core I was. Still have a bunch of the charts in my scrapbooks, too.

In keeping with the birthday week theme, here's a scan of the CHUM Chart from the week of May 25, 1964, from CHUM's own archives (not mine):

The Top 10 (as it's not easy to read):

1 - Gerry & The Pacemakers - I'm The One
2 - Peter & Gordon - A World Without Love
3 - Louis Armstrong - Hello, Dolly! (13 weeks on the chart!)
4 - The Swinging Blue Jeans - Hippy Hippy Shake
5 - Elvis Presley - Kiss Me Quick
6 - Lucille Starr - The French Song
7 - Dave Clark Five - Bits And Pieces
8 - Betty Everett - The Shoop Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss)
9 - Dave Clark Five - Do You Love Me
10 - Mary Wells - My Guy

Almost all classics today. George and I were sent a neat birthday link for fellow chart fans, Number 1 Billboard Hits On This Day In History. According to them, the big chart-topper in 1964 (for me) was "Love Me Do" by The Beatles, and George's date, in 1962, had "I Can't Stop Loving You" by Ray Charles on top. Pretty cool tunes. I did have to laugh when I saw the biggie for 1965, "Help Me Rhonda" by The Beach Boys :-)

In totally unrelated news, just a little something I have to get off my chest.

I've been a Toronto Blue Jays fan since they were born in the '70s (we lived here for a few years back when they were running the Name The Team contest in The Toronto Star).

I've been in the bleachers of Exhibition Stadium with my Dad, behind home plate, in the rafters, in the Hard Rock Cafe, and even had the thrill of seeing a World Series game at the Skydome (neither myself nor the Hard Rock can come to call it by its new name).

I'm a full-fledged, hard core fan that never says die no matter what the standings say. As such, I dislike the New York Yankees with an intense passion one normally reserves for the bedroom. Just hate the rich, spoiled, overrated bums and the horses they rode in on.

Having established where I stand, I know I'm not alone in labeling Alex Rodriguez's actions in last night's Yankees/Jays game a disgrace.

This is nothing but sandlot baseball kid stuff, taking advantage of the rookie (our third baseman, Howie Clark, was making his debut in the majors last night, in for an injured Troy Glaus) by yelling "Mine!" behind his back.

According to him, as seen on this YouTube clip (from the post-game interview), he shouted "Hah!" and was "nearly past third base" when it happened.

Lies. Both of those statements are lies. No video proof yet, but I watched the incident in slo-mo on BT this morning. That ain't no "Hah!", I agree with Kevin on this one.

I also watched the game itself. Wish someone could upload the part where A-Rod was smirking on third as the kerfuffle unfolded, mouthing the words, "F**k 'em." No class, he doesn't deserve to wear the Yankee uniform (which has been worn by much better men than he).

I take no credit for "Yankee Panky", got it from this morning's Toronto Sun cover story. Ironically, it's for a completely unrelated A-Rod tale (his outing with the mystery blonde). Just no damn class.

May 29, 2007

Birthday Shenanigans and A Nature Break

Howdy-do! I have returned from the wilds of Ontario (Carrying Place, to be precise, near Trenton) with a spring in my step on this the 43rd anniversary of my birth. Yes, 43 years ago today, my mother spent 22 hours bringing me into this world, so I figured the least I could do was house-sit and pet-sit for her for a few days. Riel and I spent five days enjoying this view from the front deck:

That's Lake Ontario across the street; how close can ya get, huh? Lovely spot to sip your coffee, as I did every morning, watching the seagulls noisily swooping and kamikaze diving for fish. I took a whole whack of seagull action shots, but this turned out to be the clearest:

Turned out very "Jonathan Livingston Seagull", I thought. For you young pups out there, JLS was quite the seminal movie for my generation (I was 9). Certainly one of the first times I became aware of the real beauty of wildlife and our place in this world. Yeah, I know, pretty hippy-dippy stuff these days maybe, but it awakened a part of me I hope still lives and breathes. Neil Diamond's soundtrack just made it that much more indelible:


Lonely Looking Sky

Dear Father


Loved that movie! Forgive the birthday inspired flashback, let's get back to Mum's place, shall we? Here's the view from the other side of the front deck with a small pond in the right corner:

I've pointed out the pond as it was the best spot to get close-ups of the other birds we were all keeping an eye on. Every year some Mute Swans and Canada Geese appear with their youngsters in tow. All together now, awwwww. The numbers change every year and the fate of some unfortunate swans has been sad to hear, but the adults that do make it keep coming back. Here's this year's pair heading for the pond (I only saw two adults and possibly two cygnets paddling close behind while I was there):

Watched the swans and geese glide gloriously in and fly out of the lakeside area from afar. I kept from getting too close to either of their nests or their lake outings (didn't want to startle them into attacking), but the rare pond outings by the fenced off road were fair game for pics, the geese and goslings in this case:

Here's an artsy shot of the geese and goslings just behind some reeds:

Right before the swans spotted 'em, uh oh!

And they're coming for 'em. Look out, geese!

I'm not kidding, these guys got into a few tussles and feather-flapping to-dos when they got too close to each other, but I wasn't close enough to get photographic proof. Trust me, feathers flew!

Here's another fella in abundance in the bird sanctuary that is my mother's front lawn (sheesh, some people have all the luck), a Red-Winged Blackbird:

And here's another artsy-type shot of the lone Whooping Crane I spotted:

After being warned to keep away from the various nests, Riel took Bonnie, Mum and Ray's golden retriever, for a run by the water every day:

And she came with us when we all walked to the local store. I love Riel and Bonnie's nonchalant attitudes in this pic of their encounter with a severely ticked-off kitten they snuck up on:

The other master of the house ... I mean, pet ... would be Apples, seen here posing on the back deck:

Riel's two favorite activities during our visit were reenacting the "Star Wars" trilogy with the closest "giant stick, mother!", as seen here:

And drawing on the front deck. Who can blame him with that inspiring view! Here's the artist at work:

Whatcha drawing, son?

Oh, that would be the Nintendo version of "Star Wars", or at least Riel's version, where Mario and Darth battle it out on horseback:

I have at least a hundred and twenty-two thousand variations of this scene. So much for your inspiring view, Nana! :-)

So, we soaked up the sun and scenery for a few days and, when Mum returned, we attended a terrific evening I wasn't allowed to take pictures of. Inspired by the Famous People Players, we went to see a very entertaining performance by The Light Magicals at the Brighton Barn Theatre. The whole evening was quite the experience and I was inspired by their enthusiasm and talent. The only pic I could grab was before the theatre went dark. Seems we have a chapter of the Red Hat Society in town. Nicely done, ladies!

So, what was she up to while we were watching the seagulls? Why, Nana was suppin' by Niagara Falls:

And exploring the roar on the fantastic Maid of the Mist:

You really need to do the trip just once to *feel* the power of the falls, awesome sight and sound:

Nice pics, Ma! And thanks for nurturing me those initial nine months, and for the rest of my 43 years. My father had a bit to do with it, too, so thanks, Dad ;-) After all, I know I must have been named after him (Rhonda Fleming, yeah right!) and if I had a nickel for every two-bit Romeo that serenaded me with my song back then, I'd be a rich woman today. Enjoy this clip from 1965 of The Beach Boys' "Help Me, Rhonda" (gotta love the tight pants!):

And here's a bonus version I found. Surreal clip from a 1970s TV show with ABBA, Olivia Newton-John, and Andy Gibb (the Bee Gees' tragic younger brother, reminds me of how gorgeous he was), trying to sing "Help Me, Rhonda", "Barbara Ann", and a bit of opera to boot. Obviously not well rehearsed, but that's what makes it fun to me. And the talent contest Olivia mentions in the beginning is the one where my Mum came in second. That was the real birthday bonus for me, cool connection!

I can't discuss my life without mentioning Elton John, it would simply be unnatural. After "discovering" him a few years beforehand, the first album I bought with my own money was 1973's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and the opening track, "Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" was a revelation. Its music still swirls my soul. This version was recorded just this past March for his 60th birthday at Madison Square Garden. Rock on, baby!

In 1975, at the height of Elton's powers, I can remember sitting cross-legged on the floor, mesmerized by this vision in silver before me. From "The Cher Show", enjoy this psychedelic live version of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (he was so adorable then):

Over the years, I've been Ron and Joan's kid, Riel's mother, and many other endearing terms I can't repeat in public, I'm sure, and now I've become Tiny Dancer. So, I'll wrap up today's musical celebration with my man doing my song, again from the 60th birthday party at MSG.

I've also become known as George's wife (although we haven't made it legal yet), and that's alright with me. He has to share in the party as it's also his birthday today, how cosmic is that, eh? I'll never let him forget he's two years older than me, but he'll never have an excuse for forgetting my birthday ;-)

He's not quite up to snuff these days as he's injured himself (he suffered some nerve damage a couple of months back on his upper arm area). He's working on getting his strength back, maybe a month more to go, and here's a lovely shot of the contraption holding his left hand together right now:

Our cat, Doc, doesn't seem concerned:

Here they are in happier times:

I rescued Doc (aka Watson) from a life of misery a year or so before George came along. Doc's brother, Holmes (aka Sherlock), died in an animal rescue center I had to send him to (they were both malnourished after their owner dumped them), but this guy flourished and we soon became quite tight. He's a lapcat, loves attention, and attached himself to George as soon as he showed up. Even sleeps on his side of the bed now. And George loves to demonstrate how they communicate. I've never seen a cat told to come home by 11 that actually shows up at 10:55, it's infuriating! But, don't ask me to explain him ...

I just love 'im ...

As I do both of my boys ...

I'm a lucky woman indeed. Happy Birthday to us, George!

May 16, 2007

Mother's Day Weekend Shenanigans At BMO Field

Hope you all had a good Mother's Day weekend and treated or remembered your mothers with kindness. I had an awesome weekend myself (been too busy working on a big update for the Sesame Street site to blog about it, sorry!), thanks for asking. It started off with a bang on Saturday as we experienced something you don't get to do too often; we were a part of history, baby.

A while back, word started to spread around George's local, Gabby's (980 Kingston Road); Toronto had a
brand spanking new football club (aka soccer on this side of the Pond), Toronto FC, and they were looking pretty darn good. BMO Field, their new stadium on the old Exhibition Stadium grounds (where I saw Leif Garrett in the '70s, unwillingly might I add), sounded pretty tasty, too, what with their international food and their Carlsberg Pavilion. Hey, I know, let's all go see a game! Well, not all, but 48 of us ended up going, thanks to George, your go-to footy guy, and Gabby's cool managers, Larry, Danny, and Gus.

And what a game we saw!
My first football game turned into a whole afternoon of firsts. Most importantly, not only did we get to see the team's first goal (hey, we're young, we're still getting on our feet, so to speak), but two more to boot for our first win, woohoo! We also scored our first red card (Danny Dichio), our first streaker (he didn't make the field, alas), and our first fan ejection. I didn't capture them all on film, but let's get to the pics of this great day out.

Never did get a good group shot of the day, I concentrated on the game a bit much, but here's Dougie and Gavin, in his full TFC gear, before the game, outside Gabby's.

And here's Gavin waving his TFC scarf out the bus window like a lunatic .. I mean, like the level-headed super fan he is.

The hallowed ground, BMO Field.

For the first couple of hours before every home game, the parking lot's a sports playground for kids and adults. Looks like fun, but we didn't have time to investigate this time.

Our first look at the field and scoreboard/video screen as we headed for our seats in Section 110, lined up with one of the goals (which turned out to be the right place to be for the first goal) and right next to the infamous fan section, 113. You'll meet these guys shortly. They certainly did add to the atmosphere!

Some of the boys warming up. Don't ask me for names, the pics aren't close enough. I took most of the action shots with extreme close-up and just hoped someone would be in the shot. Hard to take outdoor pics with my camera as it has no viewfinder, I can only go by the screen where the image tends to fade in the sunlight.

Section 113 is starting to warm up and fill up.

The first of many flags takes flight.

My boys warming up for the game; Riel digging his Game Boy (he did put it away once the real game started), while George and his friend, Stewart, admire the facilities.

And Stewart enjoys the scenery (Charmaine and Wayne coming back with beverages, she's the blonde, he's wearing the blue jacket)

At this point, we hadn't managed to score a goal in our first four games, so this great flag of a John Lennon drawing with the words, "All We Are Saying Is Give Us A Goal", went down well with the crowd. We were all soon chanting along at the top of our lungs. Lots of fun.

The teams line up and the US and Canadian flags are held aloft as the anthems are sung.

Section 113 did us all proud by holding their TFC scarves aloft during "Oh, Canada." Gets ya right there *sniff*

A shot of the scarves from further back.

To commemorate the Grand Opening of BMO Field, they gave away seat cushions. Brilliant move. Didn't take long to figure out these puppies could fly! The first rain of cushions began as the game started ...

... took 'em 10 minutes to pick 'em all up. Which, naturally, slowed down the start of the game. As did each subsequent shower during the game. Twits. I shouldn't talk, really. I only have one of our three cushions left. Riel tossed the other two with joyous abandon once he saw them all starting to fly.

As the large, glorious, TFC flag started to wave in Section 113 ...

... the confetti cannons went off, woohoo!

Dusted the pitch on our end with confetti for the rest of the game.

Bit messy, huh? Bet the goalkeepers were thrilled. Check list for next home game: lose the projectile giveaways and the slippery confetti on the pitch.

Find the ball. Bet he had trouble, too!

Another action shot of the pitch.

Random action shot of the game. Note the birthday hat in the right-hand corner. Taken right before I was handed the only beer I had for the whole game ($8.50 a pop, yeah, right!), which meant my hands were full for ...

Our first goal, scored by Danny Dichio, yeeha! Sorry I didn't get the goal itself, but this fella's reaction says it all :-) Taken moments after the goal was scored, note the litter of cushions already on the field.

Section 113 went nuts for the historic goal.

Streamers added to the celebratory mess.

Before we had time to bask in the afterglow, there's a fracas in the net ...

I zoomed in for a closer shot, right before the man of the hour, Danny Dichio, was handed a red card in an awful display of the most horrendous, "The ref is freakin' blind!", officiating I've ever seen. The keeper should have been tossed, but let's not dwell on bygones, shall we? Oh, look, a distraction.

The owner of the birthday hat from earlier (note its angle after a few beers), party on, dude! Ya just gotta have shirtless guys at a footy match. Him and four of his buddies obliged us for the second half of the game, bless 'em.

George wasn't pleased with my taking these pics, but not for the reason you'd guess. Seems the cad was wearing AC Milan undies. Who knew?! Anyway, w
e went on to win the game, 3-1 (my batteries ran low, we went for food, so there's not a lot of blog worthy game pics to show), and the crowd went wild.

The team applauded the fans ...

... and an overzealous fan was led off the field, the first official ejection, I believe. He was but one of many. Probably screwed themselves out of any more home games for at least this season, but I'll bet it was worth it!

We left behind some seat cushion frisbees and empty beer cups. But, we left with a dose of hometown pride in our hearts and a lump in our throats from a thrilling game and day out.

Way to go, George! And a huge thanks to the Gabby's boys for their help and support for the team. So, when's the next one?!

After the excitement of the game on Saturday, I had a lovely, quiet Mother's Day.

It was a glorious day, as you can see from this shot I took down Beech Ave., facing Lake Ontario. Some girlfriends invited me to enjoy High Tea at the La Tea Da Tea tea room on Queen Street, which was quite the treat, as you can see.

Little finger sandwiches and scones on the bottom tier, cakes, pastries, and fruit slices on the top, with your own pot of tea (the tea menu has about 30 exotic choices, I had the Lady Londonderry). All the little touches added up, too, like real Devonshire cream for the scones and such unique and delicate tea services for each customer (a lot of them are apparently donated by local residents). It felt like such a decadent outing!

Otherwise, George and Riel amused themselves at the park and let me enjoy my day with the girls, which I certainly did. Hope your weekend was half as much fun!