Friday, June 26, 2009

An Angel Returns to Heaven

If Michael Jackson's music evokes happier times in my life, then Farrah Fawcett evokes scenes of death by fiery retribution.

"I'll never pick on girls again!", I said wide-eyed.

It was 1984. My mom and I had just finished watching the world premiere of "The Burning Bed" on TV. It definitely left an impression, and permanently changed my attitude toward women. Which is why, I suspect, she let me stay up past my bedtime to watch it.

Good on her.

Its star, Farrah Fawcett, lost her battle with cancer yesterday.

Rest in Peace, Farrah.

See also: Mr. C!

The King is Dead. Long Live the King.

I remember the first time I heard the name Michael Jackson.

"Is he a baseball player?" I asked my friend Martin Ruppel.

It was 1983, and I was more concerned with filling my hockey sticker album and playing my Atari than I was with the music world.

"No, stupid," Martin said, "He's a singer. You know...'Beeeeaaaat iiiiiiitt, beeeeaaaat iiiiiiiitt!'? That guy."

"Oh, him," came my enthusiastic reply.

Martin and I were neighbours. We hung out nearly every day during the summer holidays, which we spent playing board games, riding bikes, swapping hockey stickers & cards, and Atari games, and more importantly, listening to music.

The radio played constantly at Martin's house. With the album Thriller having topped the charts, with many hit singles off that album, it also meant that Michael Jackson played constantly at Martin's house. Of course, in short order we knew all the words to every song...

At my birthday party that year, my dad rented a VCR and the Thriller video. It was a blast... imagine a room full of ten-year olds, hopped up on sugar, clumsily trying to emulate the King of Pop's moves!

In 1983, what kid didn't want to be Michael Jackson? That Christmas saw a lot of sparkly gloves, red leather jackets (covered in vestigial zippers), and instructional videos on how to "moonwalk" appear under the Christmas trees of my friends. There were moonwalking contests at school, both impromptu schoolyard affairs and officially sanctioned contests in the school gym. Kids were warned they weren't allowed to wear their sparkly gloves while school was in session, and any-and-all Walkmans (Walkmen?) would be confiscated until the end of the school year.

"Weird Al" Yankovic's parody "Eat it" came out not long after, which took my elementary school by storm. I remember I was eating lunch at Martin's house when I first heard the song. Martin had just made us some corned beef & mozzarella sandwiches and was bringing them to the living room when the song came on. He grabbed a sandwich and started eating it while singing along with the radio, hopping on the furniture like a ten-year old Tom Cruise. I never laughed so hard in my life.

Twenty-six years on, and I remember it like it were yesterday.

I was listening to my shortwave radio last night. The portable antenna I bought arrived in the mail yesterday, and I was keen to try it out. Wow, what a difference from the antenna I'd made from an alligator clip, fish hook, and speaker wire! Most stations were coming in clear as day, and I was able to pick up (however faintly) stations I'd never heard.

I thought it odd that a Bolivian station would be playing Billie Jean in the middle of the night, but shrugged it off. It's still one of my favourite songs (love that bassline!).

Spinning the dial further, I caught the name "Michael Jackson" in the midst of a Chinese broadcast. Wow, weird coincidence.

I caught snippets of Billie Jean on a couple of more stations, and the full enormity of it hit me when I found Radio New Zealand International. The King of Pop has passed on. Cardiac arrest at age 50, just before his world tour.

I was stunned. Wow, Michael Jackson is dead... it's hard to believe, but it's true.

I'm not sure how I feel. On one hand, his music reminds me of a happier, more innocent period in my life. On the other hand, I remember the person he became later in life. Whether troubled, ill, or perverse, "Wacko Jacko" was too weird for words, and an object of much scorn and derision.

I guess I want to remember him the way he was when I was ten. Michael Jackson's Thriller still evokes memories of happier times of bike rides and best friends, of bad dance moves and worse fashion, and for that, Michael, I say thank you.

Out of respect for the deceased, comments are closed. If you want to make pedophile jokes, do it on your own fucking blog. You know who you are.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Scream, bloody murder!

So, I'm on holidays for the next eight days. I intend to spend that time getting back at nature.

That's right, getting back at nature.

Not having a pile of money at my disposal, I elected to spend my week off work at home, doing my yardwork, playing with the cats, cleaning the house, and barbecuing with my buddies.

Things went well until 5:30am Saturday.

Ethin woke me up at 5:30 in anticipation of his daily 6am feeding. Ugh. I got up, shook the cobwebs loose, walked to the bathroom, stepped in a hairball, put my contacts in, walked to the cupboard, and remembered I was supposed to buy cat food the previous night.

My little gray buddy was getting a tad impatient. Here it was, five minutes before din-dins time, and no food to be had. So, I had to run to Mac's to buy him a tin of the "cheap stuff". Off I went.

As some of you know, I live in West Kildonan. One of the most prominent (and spectacular) features of West K are its trees. Thousands of beautiful green trees, in the parks, in yards, and lining both sides of our streets. Thousands of trees also means thousands of those fuckin' cankerworms hanging down at sidewalk or street level - just enough to cover a pedestrian in webs and crawling worms...

By the time I reached Mac's, I was covered head-to-toe with the fuckin' things. They were in my hair, on (and in) my shirt, everywhere. I vowed to have another shower once I got home...

I grabbed the cat food, a newspaper, and a cup of coffee at Mac's, then psyched myself up for the walk home. I walked along the street instead of the sidewalk to minimize contact with the worms (it didn't help)... and once I reached my street, a whole new problem developed.

Something whizzed past my head.

I heard a loud "caw", then it whizzed past my head again, cawing as it went.

I looked around, and caught sight of a big black shape less than a foot from my head - then I felt it claw my shoulder.

It was the grandaddy of all crows.

This bird was HUGE! And it was out for blood!

My first instinct was to wait for it to attack again, and hit it when it got close... but it quickly dawned on me that the bird was probably trying to protect its nest.

I turned my back on the crow, and calmly (but cautiously) resumed walking the remaining half-block home. It buzzed me a couple more times, but nowhere near as close as it had before... confirming my suspicions about a nest.

I got home (dropping my coffee on the landing's carpet in the process), fed Ethin (who showed his displeasure by pooping on my bedroom carpet while I was out), and headed to the bathroom to grab that second shower (I was covered in cankerworms). The crow's attack left little more than a scratch on my shoulder, but I dabbed a little Polysporin on the wound, just in case. These things kill rats with their claws, y'know!

I thought briefly of suiting up and exacting swift and brutal revenge on the crow, but gave my head a shake and decided that avenging my wounded pride by taking out a mere bird would make me look pretty damned stupid... besides, it was probably protecting its young.

Anyhow, life marches on, and that yardwork ain't gonna do itself (as history has shown).

Out of respect for my neighbours (and certain noise bylaws), I grabbed my push-mower and sickle, so the sound of me doing my yardwork wouldn't wake everyone up. A nice gesture perhaps, but the Heavens have decreed that no good deed shall go unpunished... as I trimmed the tree-like dandelions at the side of my house (some were three feet tall!), I realized a bit too late that the alarm cable running to my garage had become unburied at some point over the winter...


The resulting cacophony woke the whole neighbourhood. Barely 6:30am, and I'm public enemy number one (which, incidentally, normally takes until noon!). After calling the monitoring company (and later explaining to two of Winnipeg's Finest what had transpired), I went back to my yardwork.

The yardwork went smoothly after that. I grabbed the garden hose to give the yard & patio a good rinse, only to have the spraygun self-destruct in my hand (soaking me in the process).

What a day! And it's only 7am at this point!

"That does it!" I yelled, and stormed off into the house to towel off. I made a mental note to head to Canadian Tire around 10am to buy a new spraygun... To kill a bit of time, I flipped on the shortwave radio. I figured it'd be deadsville (as daytime propagation is supposedly limited in this neck of the woods), but was able to pick up a few stations such as Radio Marti, Radio Havana, and China Radio International.

10am rolled around, and I hopped the bus to Garden City Shopping Center. Hit the Salvation Army Thrift store first, nearly got hit a couple of times in the parking lot (women driving while talking on their cellphones), and headed to Canadian Tire.

I swear, the place was absofuckinglutely packed with people - as though all of Winnipeg were there.

"Hmmph," I scoffed out loud, "They must have a sale on!", which got me the usual stares.

Now, I hate crowds with a passion unbridled by reason, so I tried to find the Home & Garden section as quickly as I could (they've remodeled & reorganized). I found what I was after, grabbed it, and made my way to the cashiers' area, hoping to beat the rest of the city there.

En route, I heard someone yell "Hey buddy!". I ignored it, thinking they were calling someone else.

"Hey, Schweini!" called the voice.

"Schweini" is the nickname of Bayern Munich's midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, my favourite footballer, whose jersey I just happened to be wearing at the time... noting that the shout was meant for me, I stopped, turned around, and saw a man running toward me.

"Where did you get that jersey?" he asked.

"FC Bayern's website!" I lied proudly (actually bought it on eBay. I think it's a knock-off.).

"Are you a Bayern fan?" he asked.

"Oh yeah!", I said excitedly, "They're my favourite team!" (They are.)

"Mine too," he added.

Turns out, Jurgen started Winnipeg's Bayern Munich fan club, and they get together Saturday mornings for breakfast, and to watch the Bayern matches. He spoke excitedly of going to Bayern's training ground in Munich, meeting the players (including Schweinsteiger), and asked me if I ever planned to go to Munich. I told him "it's in the works", and he told me that since they're an official fan club, to let him know and they'd make the necessary arrangements to have me visit the training grounds in session! We exchanged numbers, and I'm gonna be joining the fan club.

As you can imagine, having a dream come that much closer to coming true does wonders for one's mood. It almost made me forget about the day's prior events.

Feeling sorta celebratory, I hopped the bus and headed home. The fuckin' crow was waiting for me - buzzed me a couple of times, but not as close as he had before... looking up to jeer at the bird, I noticed he had a gang of followers - a murder of at least six slightly smaller crows, all perched on or near the same tree, at the foot of which lay the body of a large grey squirrel - left as a warning to the rest of us. My suspicions, it seems, were confirmed... they're protecting their nest.

Which put further the kibosh on thoughts of revenge. I did have thoughts of staging a guerilla-theatre version of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, but it'd have to be a one-off, one-time only event.

Another thought crossed my mind with some amusement. Usually, there are several skaters who hang out at this particular streetcorner, who can usually be seen falling on their respective asses while trying out some stunt on their skateboards. I haven't seen them around for a couple of weeks... I wonder if the crows have scared them off? (Good crows!)

I also noticed how quiet it was in the neighbourhood. It's noon by this point, and usually by noon on Saturday, the children a few houses west of me are out playing in the street, with their shrill-voiced mother a short distance away.

Usually, the mother sends the kids out when she's doing her yardwork ("Okay kids, go play in traffic, and I'll call you when it's time to come home!"), but not yesterday. I thought, "Meh, they probably went away for the weekend."

I found out from my neighbour (aka the neighbourhood gossip) that these same crows have been attacking the neighbourhood kids throughout the week, and that Animal Services have been called a couple of times. Until then, the kids have to stay inside, or in their back yard.

Cool, this means I can grab my lounger and sit on my front lawn, drinking a beer and basking in the sun without having to listen to a bunch of screaming kids all day (and believe me, they do scream all day). So I dragged out the barbecue, threw on a few European weiners, grabbed my lounger, an ice-cold sixpack of Paulaner, and my shortwave radio, and basked in the sun until dinner.

And after dinner.

And all day today, until I head over to my parents' place for a Fathers' Day get-together.

Beer, sun, and peace & quiet. Does it get better than this?

Will I ever complain about the crows again? Quoth the raven, "Nevermore"*.

God bless you, murder of crows! Stay as long as you want!

*(CJ's note: Yes, as a matter of fact, I was waiting to use that line.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Musical Interlude

I'm in the middle of writing an excessively long diatribe about a certain social issue, to be posted tomorrow or Friday.

In the meantime, have a listen to the newly crowned Official Theme Song of C&S.

It was a tough decision, but Ganymed won in the end. The runner up is:

C&S would also like to take a moment to observe the 547th anniversary of The Night Attack. Vlad always had balls...

Friday, June 12, 2009

What's the Frequency, CJ? Part 2

So, my el-cheapo AM/FM/SW portable radio (a Kchibo KK-9803) arrived from Hong Kong last night. In terms of entertainment value, it's paid for itself at least a couple times over.

My expectations weren't that high, performance-wise. I was expecting decent AM/FM reception and SW reception that was mediocre at best. I figured, at best, I'd pick up the usual assortment of Christian stations, and maybe a few Spanish-language broadcasts from the west coast of the US.

Well, I DID receive both. I tuned into one of the clearer Spanish stations and heard the name "Morales" a lot. "OK," I thought, "This is probably a news program from California or nearby Mexico, and they're probably referring to Evo Morales, president of Bolivia".

I was half right. I listened to the station for about fifteen minutes - the program was indeed referring to President Evo Morales, but the show was being broadcast live from La Paz, Bolivia. Cool! But my Spanish ain't that good, so I spun the dial a bit more.

In the hour that followed, I picked up a few more Spanish-language stations of indeterminate origin, a number of Christian broadcasts, a faint signal in a language that sounded like Russian, a time station, a faint American newscast, and then came the payoff.

At 9:15pm, at 11665MHz came the following:

"pzsszszszzzzttt...(feminine laughter)...arigatou gozaimashita!"

A Japanese broadcast. "Alright!" I screamed, "This is what I was after!"

And it's true. When I decided to dive into the world of shortwave, I was mainly interested in picking up Japanese radio stations, in order to further my knowledge of the language. Finding NHK Radio was probably the most exciting thing to happen to me in days! However, I wasn't expecting to find one quite so quickly.

So I listened for an hour or so, then decided to turn in for the night. Finding NHK Radio was a rather exciting experience... but like I said, I hadn't expected to find my Holy Grail so quickly. I couldn't help feeling a bit empty (as success normally does), as though I'd "shot my load" rather early in the act.

I thought about it a bit more over my morning coffee. I guess the saving grace will be the element of chance inherent in the nature of shortwave communications itself - the fact that, owing to various circumstances, the station might not be there tonight. Case in point: I brought my radio with me this morning, and on the way to the bus stop, NHK wasn't there. Nothin' but static... I picked up a Chinese-language broadcast on an adjacent band though - a broadcast that wasn't there twelve hours previous!

Long distance communications (especially those not intended for your geographical location) are affected by all manner of things, such as weather conditions, time of day, atmospheric (ionospheric) conditions, sunspots, even conditions in space... meaning that circumstances can and will conspire against me and my little radio.

Which is alright in my book. The element of chance is what will keep me interested in SWLing.

Speaking of interesting, my prime targets right now are foreign newscasts. It's cool listening to things almost as they happen - and not have to be glued to a computer screen. I've been trying to pick up the Voice of Iran so I can follow their election, but haven't had much success... so far. Building an antenna would help (as would brushing up on Farsi), but I'm not that ambitious yet. I want to explore this radio's capabilities before going apeshit on add-ons.

I have a feeling it's going to be an interesting weekend, involving several foreign language dictionaries, and even more coffee...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Panhandlers and Jerks, or Set'em Up and Knock 'em Down!

So I'm walking along Graham Avenue the other afternoon, and as I reached the bus stop at Darwin's Corner, I'm stopped by one of the usual suspects who asked me if I could spare some change.

Now, I've been coming downtown virtually every day since I was eleven years old (that's just over twenty-five years, for those of you playing along at home) and as such have learned how to deal with the drunks and panhandlers one encounters while downtown. To me, they're a part of the flora and/or fauna (dependant on whether or not they're conscious), part of the experience if you will, and virtually unavoidable.

I admit that in the past, I've been less than polite with some of them (downright rude on occasion) and can be rather abrupt when I'm in a foul mood, but over the last ten years or so I've tried to be as civil as I can be, which (Lord help me) can be a rather onerous task when dealing with some of the more aggressive panhandlers.

Over the course of this civility, I've gotten to know a couple of the "usual suspects" who seem to haunt my haunts, and am on a first name basis (or rather nickname basis) with a couple more. The neat part of this is that they'll occasionally come up to me just to chat, with no talk of a "donation" at all. The downside is becoming friendly with certain individuals, only to see them passed out drunk (or high) in a back lane, bus shelter, or planter the next day.

So, as I'm walking toward my bus stop the other afternoon, my "buddy" "Steve" sees me, calls out "CJ!" and trots over.

"Hey bro!" he says to me, "can you help me out with some change? I'm trying to get to Kildonan Place."

"Yeah, I think I have some," I say, reaching into my pocket, "I have a twonie you're welcome to..."

"Awww, thanks bro!" he smiled, "That's another one I owe you!", then ran up Graham towards Vaughan, completely oblivious to the fact the Kildonan Place bus was waiting directly beside him... which amused me to no end.

I laughed and shook my head. Good ol' "Steve".

Witnessing the whole scene was the only other individual at the stop with us - a dour looking guy in (probably) his early fifties.

"Why did you give him money?" he demanded of me, "It just encourages them, and he's probably buying drugs right now!"

Now, my first instinct was to belt him one in the face and scream, "Don't you ever fucking question me again!", but ultimately decided it'd be more fun to talk down to him.

"I don't usually give them money," I explained, "but he caught me in a good mood."

"Humph. Really?" he scoffed.

"It's absolutely true." I said.

"I normally just tell them to fuck off," he sneered, "and to get a job!"

This guy's really pissing me off, and I want to hit him, but I switch tactics and try my best "Live and Let Live" act.

"And you know, mate?", I said, "I used to think the same way. There were times I'd get bugged for money twice by the same guy - on the same block within a couple of minutes! My record was getting asked for change nine times in three blocks!" - (which is true, by the way)

"Fuuuuuck!" came his witty response.

"Exactly," I added, humouring him, "It used to annoy the shit outta me."

"And it doesn't now?" he asked suspiciously.

"Not really," I answered nonchalantly

"Oh, bullshit," he again scoffed.

"Seriously, mate", I said seriously.

"Well what changed?" he inquired skeptically.

"I remembered an old saying, 'Never judge a man 'til you've walked a mile in his moccasins.'" I replied.

"Yeah uh-huh," came another brilliant remark.

"I'm serious," I calmly explained, "It's only due to the choices I've made in life that I'm where I am now, and not stuck begging for change on a streetcorner."

"Hmm," he said.

"If things had gone horribly wrong," I continued calmly, "that could easily have been me. So I try to look at things from that perspective. I mean, how would I feel about having to ask someone for a handout, to eat my dinners at a mission or soup kitchen, or worse yet, a dumpster? To rely on the ever-dwindling generosity of strangers in these cynical times, just to buy something to eat, or to feed an addiction that's ruined my life?"

His features softened a little.

I continued, "We often forget there's a very human, very personal cost to this sort of abject poverty. I mean, I'm a proud man, and I'd have to be at rock bottom to even consider begging for change. Do you have any idea how long it would take me to work up the nerve to ask a complete stranger for change that first time? Knowing that that first person may very well be an ignorant, judgemental cocksucker at a time when my self-esteem is already very low?"

He seemed to understand, his face showing a bit of humanity.

"I never thought of it like that..." he said softly.

"Well, it's a sad reality," I explained, "but over time, they develop a sort-of sixth sense about who's cool and who's the ignorant, judgemental cocksucker!"

"Heh," he laughed, "Do you think..?"

"Absolutely!" I said, flashing an evil grin, "Case in point: There are two people standing at this bus stop. Which one of us did he ask?"

It took him a couple of seconds to catch on. When he did, the look on his face was priceless.

Some days, it's all too easy - like shooting fish in a barrel.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What's the frequency, CJ?

(CJ's note: I have to apologize for the lack of real "flow" in this post - I have a migraine coming on, so I've taken a few T3s and am getting a bit loopy. Good thing it's a slow day here at work!)

I have a(nother) new hobby. I've dived headfirst into the world of DXing - essentially trying to find distant stations on my radio.

I've toyed with the idea for a few years now, initially when I discovered my favourite radio show was available over shortwave in addition to the internet. I opted to listen via live stream or podcast instead, and enjoyed it immensely. Of course, that option is no longer available to me, now that I no longer have an internet connection at home (unless I wait for my neighbours to go away for the weekend, so I can use their WIFI connection surreptitiously... heh heh heh!).

Not long ago, my good buddy Jim revealed that he's been DXing the AM band for thirty years. I filed his post away in the back of my mind, and put it to good use this weekend.

For the last couple of months, I've been trolling the second-hand and thrift stores for a used shortwave radio and, while I haven't had any luck, this weekend I found an odd AM/FM radio can also tune the aviation, public, and weather bands... all for $3.99! So, I took a chance, took the radio home, extended the antennae, plugged it in and... static-y voices. I was tuned into a Catholic talk radio channel originating in North Dakota. It was nearing the top of the hour, so I waited a couple of minutes for the station identification. It was 1370 KWTL in Grand Forks. I grabbed a piece of scrap paper and noted the frequency, call sign, and city, then slowly started turning the dial...

I did this for a couple of hours (the reception on this radio is nothing short of phenomenal!), and ended up falling asleep to AM 1500 (KSTP) in St. Paul, MN, who were replaying older broadcasts (circa 1995) of a talk show whose name escapes me.

I'm hooked.

I've been DXing whenever I have a spare bit of time, and have been solidly entertained. In the absence of (ethical) internet access, I gotta do something to stay informed. Despite being a music buff, I find myself listening to a lot of talk radio. Weird.

Knowing me as well as I do, though, I'll be as bored of the American perspective as I am of the Canadian perspective (concerning current world issues) in short order. Thus, I purchased an inexpensive shortwave receiver from one of my reliably dodgy Hong Kong contacts (for $15 shipped) so I can hear things from an international perspective... in a limited capacity, until I can afford a more powerful receiver... and antenna... and amplifier... and so on...

Now, I wouldn't dive headfirst into hitherto unknown territory without doing my own due diligence.

I've been reading a couple of blogs related to shortwave listening (SWLing), as well as a couple of print magazines dedicated to the activity. I've learned a few very basic concepts, and have a pretty good idea of what I'm getting myself into, and perhaps most importantly how much I can expect to spend.

A decent shortwave receiver (new) will likely set me back a couple hundred bucks, while an antenna won't likely set me back much, as I can probably bastardize something myself with minimal financial outlay. However, at a time when money is tight (most of my incoming funds are earmarked for a certain project), I suspect I'll be making do with the el cheapo unit I bought from Hong Kong for at least another year. No biggie, as I'm not sure how serious I want to take SWLing.

I certainly have no intention of becoming an amateur radio hobbyist (HAM radio), I'm solely interested in different cultures, and "the foreign perspective" concerning today's world. I'm sick of TV and the internet (and bored with computers in general), so I figured "Why not take a step back in time, and do what your average hobbyist/geek did in the days before personal computers?"

Besides, it'll give me something to do when I'm not writing, chasing women, drinking, and/or working on the Speakeasy...