Friday, April 18, 2014

No Direction Home 

Today I dropped by my new place for a quick look around before I take possession.

The previous owners were still finishing up moving out so it looked messy and depressingly small. I had to feel for them as they weren't able to find another house by the closing date and are renting an apartment temporarily. The whole reason they sold their home was to get a bigger place as they are expecting their first child.

I was a bit trepidatious. As soon as the door opened I felt a slight chill. The rooms seemed smaller. The ceilings seemed lower. I felt like a giant in this tiny house somehow. I knew it would look bad – houses always look their worst in that state - near the end of packing with boxes strewn beside an orphaned mattress on the floor. The realtor asked me what I was thinking probably sensing disappointment and I lied and said I couldn’t wait to get it set up for myself. I even agreed it seemed smaller but that was okay as I was a little worried about having a whole house to clean. He continued to reassure me of how lucky I had been to find such a gem of a place at that price. Essentially, the scale of buying a house means the proportionate “Buyer's Remorse” is enormous compared to, ”I really shouldn't have bought those skinny jeans.” So, yes, I was a little deflated by reality.

In truth, all I could think about was running away. My mind drifted to thoughts of summer, not on my own deck, but on the bike, riding along a leafy, tree-lined country road.

Not too surprisingly, I had the same thought yesterday when I dropped off the frightening and massive cheque to the lawyer. It cost $7 to get a bank draft for what was an enormous sum of money (well, it is for me). I felt so vulnerable riding my bike through the streets with this cheque in my coat pocket.

From the lawyer’s office you can see the roof of the old Maple Leaf Gardens. He said he can hardly look at it thinking of what they’ve done to it. It’s now a Loblaws Superstore. Then I mentioned how my brother and I went to see a Cubs game in Chicago at Wrigley and how great it was. We talked about the Leafs and the Blue Jays and what the old field down at the Exhibition grounds was like. We both agreed we liked old shabby stadiums with history better than shiny new ones. Then we started to talk about how few old ball parks and arenas were left which led me to thinking about a road trip to Boston to catch a game at Fenway.

In my mind I was already skipping over the packing, the arrangements, the moving, the unpacking and that first uncomfortable night in a new place or worse, that feeling of the first morning not really sure where you are or if there’s any toilet paper in the bathroom – or where the bathroom is for that matter. Is there someone out there who would do all that for you while you just go away for a vacation? You could leave for two weeks and come home to your new address. Your books where you like them to be, your clothes in the closet, your favourite chair waiting for you. There probably is and they probably charge more than I paid for the house.

This is who I am. The unadventurous one. One of the not-so-crazy-ones. The boy who hated the first day of school. The man who hates the first day at a new job. I’m that guy. That guy who would rather just stay on the couch as long as that couch is somewhere familiar. But what is familiar? Nothing is familiar, until it is. Then you’re home. Here’s to home; a familiar place in the future.


Thursday, April 03, 2014

Absolute Beginner 

“My left leg became paralyzed by the sensation of nerve endings coruscating from my hip to my toes”
Tonight for the first time since January 18, I recorded a run. Before that, my previous run was on October 6, 2013. Following this pattern my next run will be sometime in June. Why the lapse of laps? Well, a few days after that run in October my back went into painful, movement stopping spasms. The kind of spasms you see people being shocked by a Taser having. This back pain was followed by a new weird thing whereby my left leg became paralyzed by the sensation of nerve endings coruscating from my hip to my toes. That’s right. Somewhere, the muscle inflammation in my back had compressed a rather useful nerve. Several massage sessions, countless muscle relaxants and heat & ice compressions later, my leg was useful again. About six weeks had passed. In that time the atrophy of the thigh of my left leg seemed only anecdotal. Following climbing up a set of stairs I’d think, “That’s odd, one leg feels fine while the other feels as though I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro.” Eventually that leg strengthened. Then again, strengthened for stuff like walking a few hundred metres or for sitting at a desk. Occasional attempts at exercise seemed frivolous at best. As an estimation of exactly what I was dealing with, I could measure the diameter of one thigh as about 3 inches smaller than the other. Still, time heals all wounds, I thought – except for the big open puss-filled ones that kill you from infection. Time doesn’t help those at all. As I’ve discovered and really should’ve known, given my history, time does not strengthen atrophied muscles. All time does is atrophy them some more. Time is a bit of a bugger if you ask me. The only way to un-atrophy an atrophied muscle is to exercise it.

Which brings me to tonight. Tonight I donned my running gear and noticed in the dusty mirror (note to self: dust mirror), that I was fat. Not, you know, circus-fat nor even evening-news-program-story-about-obesity fat, but for me, fat. I won’t bore you with the numbers but I haven’t tipped the scales at this number since sometime in 2006 after months of recuperation and feeling sorry for myself when I broke my collar bone and had radial nerve damage in my forearm (which I presume is the only place you could have “radial nerve damage”). Not only am I fat, but I am in the worst physical condition in memory. With the daunting task of not only raising money for the Ride to Conquer Cancer on the horizon, but also having to ride in the Ride to Conquer Cancer, I figured it was about time I tried to conquer my waistline.
“Captain, my Captain and all that crap.”
I started a couple of nights ago. The first 20 minutes of the rest of my life. I got on the trainer (also dusty; I really should dust more often), and did an interval set of 2-2-1. I fully intended to ride again yesterday, but I fell back into my habit of knocking out a nap and waking so late as to make the whole idea ridiculous. Tonight, my feared rival, Couchie, beckoned again. I sat but did not succumb. Up I rose, up towards the challenge. Captain, my Captain and all that crap. Getting dressed was really depressing. I looked like I was wearing a down vest under my t-shirt. I decided to wear a jacket which helped a little (more likely, it offered little help). During some pre-run stretches I felt my back complain but I ignored it. I set out into the cold evening air and took the first tentative steps towards a full trot. So far so good. Except, you know, for my knees and feet (high arch pain which I’ve had for ages). Soon I was treading along, not easily mind you, but at least I was moving. My pace was slow by my standards but I was determined not to push myself so hard I wouldn’t survive the first short jaunt.
“I remembered what is so great about running: stopping.”
When it was done, my legs felt better and even though my breathing was laboured, I remembered what is so great about running and my favourite part: stopping. I’m only partly joking, because it’s when you stop that you get that feeling of all the bad stuff leaving your system, all the toxins course out of your skin, the lactic buildup floods out of your legs, the crud in your nose is loosened and ejected (by force if necessary) and all that stress in your shoulders and neck just evaporates up the chimney of your head. It felt good to shake off the cobwebs of a long unforgiving winter. The only thing that really bothers me is when you let yourself fall out of all of your good habits and exercise, the setback is immense. I’m not five weeks out of shape or three months behind in my exercise. It’s as if I had never been in good health to begin with. I’m back where I started years ago. Back at the very beginning. An absolute beginner.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Seen in March, 2014 

Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel, image via Uncut

In like a lion, out like a lamb? How about in like winter with continuing cold, freezing rain, snow and strong winds? March was a hateful, mean month this year but unfortunately I was travelling and being too forlorn to find much solace in nature, I looked to film or television to soothe the savage beast. Here is what little I managed to see.

A Young Doctor’s Notebook
Daniel Radcliffe plays the young doctor of the title who, having graduating top of his class in revolutionary Russia, is sent to a rural and very remote hospital. This four part series is told from the same doctor’s viewpoint from pre-war, post revolutionary Russia some 20 years later. Jon Hamm portrays the “senior” version of the doctor looking back at his days as a novice fish-out-of-water city mouse doctor, exiled to a country clinic. The novelty is that the senior doctor appears at the hospital to his younger self and attempts to offer advice and (sometimes) encouragement that maybe he had wished someone had given him so many years ago. For some reason it doesn’t see to matter that Radcliffe is several inches shorter than Hamm, or that Ham’s British accent sounds forced. The conceit is set and we buy it. There is plenty of bleakness and darkness but also plenty of humour which makes for some of the darkest comedy I’ve seen in years. An exhausting amputation begins as horrific but as it wears on becomes gruesomely funny.

House of Cards Season 2
First episode in and already a shocker. Frank Underwood is as evil and cunning as ever in this Washington based drama but now he’s become the Vice-President of the United States. The extreme level of deceit and scheming seems frightening, fictitious, and fascinating all at once. Claire Underwood has already proven the lengths she too is willing to go to achieve her own agenda. This season also sees Molly Parker as an equally steely and clever protege of Underwood enter the fray. Unlike other fans, I’m not “bingeing” on episodes but more like an masochist, I’m doing my best to extend and draw out the pleasure, no matter how painful.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
This may be the most “Wes Anderson” Wes Anderson film yet. M. Gustave H. is the legendary concierge of the legendary hotel, The Grand Budapest Hotel, located in a fairytale European country in a time when the world is on the cusp of war is full of bijoux dioramas and eccentric set pieces that remind you of a perfectly light macaroon. It’s a caper movie and a jail break-buddy-road movie all rolled in powdery icing sugar as sweet and pink as any precious cake that was ever made. It’s a lot of fun and there certainly is Anderson’s trademark bittersweetness that we’ve come to know but I didn’t feel that tinge of sadness you get when you really care about the characters. Still, I miss them already. I’ll have to see it again to be sure.

The Armstrong Lie
We all live with little white lies. “These jeans still fit.” ”I’m not losing that much hair.” but imagine living with a lie as big as the one Lance Armstrong did. Cortisone, testosterone, EPO, HGH and blood doping were all methods Armstrong used to maintain his dominance in pro cycling at the Tour de France. He just didn’t dope a little bit, he doped a lot. Of course he wasn’t the only pro cyclist doping. Many cyclists claim to have been coerced by their own teams into using performance enhancers just to stay in the competition. But nobody took the science of doping to the levels of Armstrong and his team. And no one was a more vociferous defender of his “clean” record than Lance Armstrong. He vehemently and viciously attacked his critics by bullying, slandering and legal action. In this documentary completed after Armstrong attempted his so-called clean comeback in 2009 you occasionally find yourself getting caught up in the Armstrong Lie yourself but by the end what you’re left with is what an incredible asshole Armstrong is. I use the present tense because no matter what contrition he shows you really can’t believe anything he says including any words of regret or remorse.

Thor: the Dark World
This made a lot of money, right? A lot of people liked it, right? I guess it’s just not for me. I especially hate the faux Shakespearean dialog and operatic fight scenes mixed with the corny humour and nods and winks. I’m a fan of these entertaining though formulaic Marvel films, but not this one. Thor teams up with his rogue brother, Loki, to combat an evil and vengeful blah blah blah who has control of a yadda yadda yadda that could end our universe as we know it. I’m not questioning the basic science but more the confusing and convoluted storytelling.

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