A Moment at Stinky Tim’s

You may recall (perhaps through the magic of hyperlinkery) that Spouse and I are firmly of the view that Stinky Tim’s never fails to deliver a memorable Horton’s experience.   Having both been brought low earlier this week by illness, and being both more generally afflicted with a less virulent but no less consequential sloth, we decided to make Stinky Tim’s our breakfast destination this morning.  Stinky Tim did not disappoint.

For a while there, as I sat munching contentedly on my Bagel B.E.L.T., I thought that the organizing narrative around which today’s trip to Horton’s would revolve is the repeated transformation of our breakfast order by one of the counter staff.  I won’t use the name on her name tag, but let’s call her “T”.  T. is in her late teens, thin as a rail, pale as a ghost and (as I complete an impressive trifecta of tired clichés) quiet as a mouse.  She wears a ton of eye make-up – all black – and though she herself never raises her voice above a single decibel, her entire demeanour fairly screams out that she is shy and profoundly uncertain of herself and her place in the Stinky Tim’s universe.  T. struggles mightily to recede into non-existence even as she stands at the register receiving a customer’s order.  By the time you’ve made it through “large double-double, bottle of orange juice and an apple fritter,” you’ll wonder who the hell you thought you were talking to because T. has somehow managed to dissipate entirely into the ether so completely, you’ll find yourself unsure about who took your money and made change on that twenty. T. may be emo, she may be goth, I don’t know, but whatever T is in her civilian life and among her friends and peers, she is not at all at ease with her role in the ranks of the Horton’s team.

I am keenly aware that I am far from breaking new ground with my ironically detached superior observation – shock and opprobrium, alert the national media – that a teenager, one working in a fast food establishment no less, has been found to be awkward and uncertain.  The only reason I mention T.’s difficulties at all is because her far from uncommon existential struggle seems to have spilled over into her work performance,in such a fashion as to make her almost invariably unable to correctly  translate the “variety of donut ordered by me” into the “variety of donut received by me” without exerting some substantial degree of authorial licence.  Do you see the irony in this?  T. herself acts and speaks in such a manner as to make one doubt her very existence, her very presence being a quiet denial of individuality, yet – at the crucial moment in the customer-service industry transaction where common expectations would include submission, servitude and compliance with externally imposed demands – she instead exerts her own personality and influence with surprising and disconcerting results upon the encounter.   I don’t know much about the criteria by which the work performance of Horton’s counter employees are evaluated, but I would have thought that – like foreign language translators – substantial points would be earned by those who manage to remain transparent and essentially invisible in the process, removing themselves from any obvious directing role in the production chain.  A skillful interpreter allows the words of Dostoevsky (though written by him in Russian) to enter one’s consciousness conceptually unchanged via the English language without the reader becoming aware of the intermediary through whom they have passed.  Likewise, at Horton’s, I would expect that a skillful counter employee would allow the “chocolate toasted coconut donut” ordered to enter my consciousness conceptually unchanged by providing me with a “chocolate toasted coconut donut”, rather than something else.  This type of interpretive transparency is not what T. believes in, or at least it is not what she achieves in relation to my breakfast order.  At her behest, donuts without jelly have spontaneously acquired it;  those with coconut have had it dispatched in favour of sugar or coloured sprinkles; at times, donuts have been entirely and completely transformed into a different foodstuff entirely, and dutchies or fritters have come out the other end of this creative process.  This has been happening with regularity and for some time now, and it happened again this morning when the “large steeped tea with one milk” that I ordered was transformed into a “large coffee with one milk” unbeknownst to me at some point during the transaction.

As I munched on my Bagel B.E.L.T., pondering the mechanics of this process, the morning’s real memorable moment unfolded right in front of me.  There was quite a line at the counter (evidently, the particular creative process described above is one that requires a slight bit of additional time to undertake, as compared to a more conventional “fill the order that’s given” type of Horton’s).  I watched as a lady entered the store pushing a stroller and joined the back of the queue.  She had another child with her, one that I took to be her young son, a boy about three years of age.  The boy was obviously excited to be going in to Horton’s (he must share my fondness for transformative and creative counter service) and was chattering somewhat loudly and without a sense of being overheard, as young children will do.  In front of him and his mother in line, there was a man in his late twenties.  The man happened to be a black man.    The child chattered about a number of topics in rapid fire serial fashion- what he wanted to order, events that had taken place on the way to Horton’s, the toy he held in his hand – and he seemed to say the things that he said the moment they came into his mind.  You might already see what is coming, but I certainly didn’t as I sat there chomping away on my bagel.  Just like that, the kid turned to his mother and asked her, gesturing towards the man in front of them, “Why is he black?”

It was one of those moments in which time kind of stops.  It would be wrong of me I suppose, as a white guy, to say that I have any real idea how the fellow in line felt about the child’s inquiry, about having to deal with this situation in the middle of a crowded Horton’s.  By watching him and his body language though, he seemed initially at least to be a little uncomfortable, wondering how to handle the situation.  The child’s mother certainly seemed more than a little uncomfortable too at first, though only for a moment.  It was as if both she and the man decided in an instant and without speaking that this encounter was not going to be awkward.  She leaned down, gathered the child up in her arms and picked him up, holding him at her own (and the man’s) eye level.  The child seemed to study the man’s face for a split second, then turned to look at his mother as she said something to him along the lines of “because that’s the way that he is, just like you” (though I confess I could not hear the exact words that she said.  The man answered the child’s question too;  I think he said something like “that’s the way God made me” and smiled at the kid.  There was neither embarrassment nor discomfort obvious in either his voice or body language, and the young mother too seemed not to be flustered by the situation.

The moment passed just like that.  The kid’s question had been answered, and he moved on almost immediately.  He certainly seemed to accept the man in line;  the child held out the toy in his hand, a little R2D2 figurine, and asked him a question that I couldn’t quite hear.  “I don’t think he wants to play robots, dear” said the mother, as the man smiled but declined to take the figurine.  “He just wants to get a coffee.”

Good luck with that.

Stinky Tim’s, a Called Shot and Spouse

Last evening, I had to take a trip in to Cambridge to pick up some suits that I had purchased there a couple of days before. Spouse had been off work for most of Monday and all of Tuesday (she has apparently spontaneously developed a case of the Bubonic Plague). She claimed, despite the occasional hacking cough and her generally mucous filled aspect, to be feeling much improved in the early evening hours last night . She insisted on coming with me for the drive. It was a beautiful sunny spring-like day, and I didn’t see a distinct difference, from a medical treatment point of view, between “Spouse slumped on the couch in front of the TV, oozing phlegm” and “Spouse slumped in the passenger seat, oozing phlegm”, so I agreed.

Stop one on the way to “oore’s” (the “M” had blown down during Sunday’s windstorm) in Cambridge was our local Tim Horton’s. Those of you who follow me on Twitter (where my user name is warwalker) may have some familiarity with this particular location, as it seems to be a recurring theme in my “tweets.” We call it “Stinky Tim’s” because the neighbour’s property seems to have some sort of a problem with their septic tank, with the predictably odiferous consequences; the stench is greater or lesser, depending upon the prevailing meteorological conditions, but it is usually only problematic when one is sitting in the drive-thru lane, which borders directly on the property in question. Despite its olfactory woes, we quite like Stinky Tim’s, and will regularly bypass other Horton’s locations en route to our home to go to that specific location; I can’t explain it other than to say that it’s in the neighbourhood, feels like it’s the meeting place for all our neighbours, and it seems to otherwise provide us with endless entertainment. One night, for example, on the way home from some work related function, Spouse and I stopped in much later than we ordinarily would. Things were different right from the start: it took an unusually long time for the attendant to greet us and inquire as to our order; it took an inordinately long amount of time to explain, re-explain and further re-explain my order of “two steeped teas with one milk in each and a medium-sized box of Timbits”, which the said attendant had somehow garbled (twice) to relate to two medium coffees and a Boston Cream donut. When I had completed walking the attendant, step-by-step, through the list of items desired for the third time and was invited to “drive up”, Spouse and I looked at each other doubtfully. In the time between leaving the place where we placed our order (peeps with knowledge of drive thru terminology – is there a name for that place?) and arriving at the pickup window, Spouse and I concluded that our server was likely intoxicated. A quick conversation at the pickup window – during which it was revealed that there was still some profound uncertainty on our server’s part as to the items desired – did little to revise our opinion. Very shortly thereafter, he delivered to us the aforementioned two steeped teas and a medium-sized box of Timbits that was absolutely stuffed with Timbits. I’m not kidding, this box – which customarily would contain something on the order of 40 tasty little doughnut holes – had been packed, stuffed and jammed beyond belief, to the point that there were really no longer individual Timbits inside, but instead a multi-flavoured doughy brick weighing some four to five pounds. It was ridiculous. I tweeted to my followers that the pickup window at my local Tim’s was “paying off like a loose Vegas slot machine”, urging those interested to depart post-haste for the location in question.

Anyway, to get back to the point of my pointless story, we stopped in to Stinky Tim’s last evening to pick up a couple of cups of tea for the drive to Cambridge. Those of you in Canada will already know that Horton’s is currently running their annual “Roll Up the Rim to Win” promotion (specially printed paper cups sold with coffee and tea purchases each include a chance for the purchaser to win prizes, with the result being revealed by unrolling the upper rim of the cup – prizes range from free product at Horton’s locations, to computers and vehicles).   Those of you who aren’t Canadian may have difficulty understanding this, but Roll up the Rim to Win is a very big deal up here;  most Canadians know at least as much, if not more, about when this promotion starts and ends as they do about the NCAA March Madness Tournament schedule.  Most of us also keep a pretty careful watch on our personal win/loss record at Roll Up the Rim.  This year, Spouse and I have been on a relative hot streak vis-a-vis this promotion; at one point, I had collected 3 winners in my first 7 purchases (for some folks, this would just be another line on the resumé, but I like to think that I am an ambassador of sorts for the competition) – all of which were for a free beverage. As we were going through the drive through this time (word to the wise Timbit shopper: all staff appeared to be sober on this occasion), Spouse opined that she wanted to “win something different.” In particular, she said as she received her steaming hot cup of tea, she wanted to win “a donut”.

I could not let this pass, despite her illness. I took her to task for addressing the fates and identifying, among all the possible prizes that might be delivered, a donut worth approximately forty cents (retail) as her desired windfall. “Attention, Gods in Charge of Dead Hockey Player Donut Store Promotions,” she had said, “I would vastly prefer to win a forty cent donut over a thirty thousand dollar car.”

I’ll give you three guesses what the Donut Gods delivered.  I’ll give you a hint: I’m thinking about making another late-night run to the Drive Thru and collecting that Boston Cream this time around.

Menagerie: Rogue Snake Department

Judging by the beret, this particular criminal must be French.

Let’s play a little game, shall we?  Why don’t you tell me what species of reptile you see coiled in the leaves in the picture below.  I should mention that the little cretin was, um, what’s the word, “rattling” his tail when discovered.   By “discovered”, of course, I mean “nearly trod upon” during a brief late-morning survey Spouse and I conducted of the western environs of Juniorvania;  tramping about in the brush is a lovely way to spend some time in the warm sun of a mid-November forenoon, cup of tea in hand – provided, of course, that one’s woodsy saunter is not interrupted by pestilential menaces and assorted blackguards of the animal kingdom intent on doing you in.    My perambulations seemed to disturb our most recently discovered visitor, as Spouse advises me that the vicious little scoundrel actually struck at my pant leg as I strode through his immediate vicinity, blissfully unaware of the potentially mortal threat currently attempting to assassinate me.

Let’s make an identification, you amateur herpatologists:  tell me what sort of a beast you think it was that made such a brazen attempt upon my life.   Take a close look at the markings.   Remember, if you will, the rattling of the tail;  it’s difficult to forget, I can assure you, for those who have had occasion to make the personal acquaintance of this little villainous bastard.   The taxonomic process ought to be a little less stressful for you to do in the comfort of your own presumably adder-free home than it was for me during my dangerous, death-defying afternoon stroll among the serpentine assassins concealed around the perimeter of Juniorvania with evil in their repitlian hearts.   It will be easier for you to summon up Google and tap-tap-tap a couple of keystrokes,  possibly noshing on a little snack, as you idly venture a guess about the identity of my would-be killer.

Things were considerably less serene here as we embarked upon the process, I can tell you.  It involved rather a lot more screaming than I suspect most professional biologists employ during the conduct of their work, which screaming was spiced with a liberal dose of anxious profanity.  Still, we managed to get the photo and avoid entirely a trip to hospital, so all’s well that end’s well I suppose.  Except of course that somehow, during the identification process, the pint-sized terrorist managed to flee the scene of the crime and remains at large, a fugitive from Juniorvanian justice.  No doubt the little miscreant is plotting his next murderous escapade, so visitors to these parts should consider security precautions and have an eye to the ground when travelling alone.

He may be small, but he's a criminal.
He may be small, but he's a criminal.
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If you look closely at the bottom of the picture, under the leaf in the middle, you can see the rattling thing on the end of the rattling thing.

Morning Visitors, Evening Intruder

I was up early Sunday morning and in a bit of a half-sleep reverie when it occurred to me that – most unusually – there was rather a lot of noise outside my bedroom window.

When you get right down to it, I sleep about eighty-five feet from the edge of a cornfield, often indoors.  Generally, there isn’t an awful lot of noise out there for the would-be sleeper or his next-day relative, the dazed and confused early morning riser, to contend with.  What little audio ambience there is would typically be of the pastoral background sort – birds chirping, wind rustling through the trees, that sort of thing.

These noises, though were different.  My brain needed to assimilate and assess the information with which it was being bombarded.  First, I determined that there were noises of many varieties, and lots of them.  Whatever was happening out there was not taking place by stealth.   I decided to confer the status of “racket” upon what I was hearing.  With that taxonomic decision out of the way, I proceeded to consider whether there was possibly more to learn about the situation.   After some careful reflection, I decided that quite a number of the many noises were similar;  I decided to assume that there was a lot of something causing this cacophony.  But what could those somethings be?  Examining my audio memory banks, I could not recall ever hearing this particular sort of racket before.

Portrait of the Artist as a Wrung Man

I have been working all day on a writing project that is due shortly.  The “writing process” (by which I mean “staring at the screen wondering what the hell I’ve gottem myself into”)  was going painfully slow a bit earlier,  so Spouse convinced me to take a break to go into town.  We had dry cleaning to pick up and it just so happens that there’s this little ice cream stand right next door to the shop.

Admit it: you thought this paragraph was going to be about me getting ice cream all over the dry cleaning, didn’t you?  Sorry to disappoint – all clothing has successfully been retrieved from the cleaners and is safely back inside the house with little or no additional patina of melted ice cream.  I am an idiot;  just not that kind of idiot.

While we were driving back home, I mentioned that I needed to repair to Mission Control with all due haste, so that I could “art my writicle.”

Oh dear.  This might be tougher than previously expected.

Rocket Bye Baby

Artist's Depiction: Juniorvanian Sleep Lab

We had a little bit of excitement around the ol’ homestead last evening.  Well, more properly, “early this morning.”

Please understand that I can relate much of what follows, of necessity, not by way of a clearly-remembered first hand account, but rather by way of a careful post facto reconstruction of events worthy of the efforts of the FAA aviation accident investigation team.

It was approximately 2:30 in the morning.  Spouse and I were tucked away in our bed.  Spouse slumbered peacefully, recuperating from the trials and tribulations of another work day.  Meanwhile, I was having some sort of a nightmare.  I cannot now tell you the nature of my nocturnal torment;  perhaps I was under attack by a horde of irate rabbits; it is possible that I was being stalked by a murderous piano tuner; maybe, I dreamt that Curtis Joseph was going to start the next game in goal for the Leafs.   Whatever the particulars of the threats presenting themselves to my unconscious mind, I was clearly on edge and sleeping fitfully.

In an unfortunate confluence of timing and coincidence, it would seem that – at the exact moment, mind you, of some critical importance and mortal threat in the midst of my nightmare – either Spouse shifted in the bed or Henry jumped on top of me.   Something living touched my legs, and this event in the real world, taken in the context of the horrors unfolding inside my troubled little skull, was sufficient to provoke an immediate, determined and physical response.

In a flash, I sat bolt upright in bed and began literally shrieking at the top of my lungs.  At the same time, I whipped off the covers and began to physically bolt from my designated place of repose.

Poor Spouse was like a firefighter.  She went from snoozing quietly to emergency response in a heartbeat, grabbing me by the arm and holding firm to prevent me from sprinting out of the room and down the darkened hallway, yelling “What’s wrong?” to me and – it must be said – attempting to wake me up.  I have to confess that I more or less slowly became aware of the fact:

  1. that I was hollering bloody murder as though my hair were on fire;
  2. that I was attempting to flee down a darkened hallway for no apparent reason;
  3. that I had apparently been engaged in this process for some period of time prior to waking up; and
  4. that there was no way to pretend that the above-mentioned events had not occurred.

In case something like this ever happens to you – in case you ever suddenly and involuntarily begin shrieking in full throat while in close proximity to your gently napping partner or spouse – let me give you a piece of advice: in the aftermath of this incident, when your spouse or partner is attempting to gather together what little remains of her shattered nerves, clutching her heart and hyperventilating, do NOT attempt to consider the comedy inherent in the circumstances.    It may be somewhat insensitive of you to begin giggling about the whole affair until after your loved one’s recovery is full and complete and she too can begin to appreciate the extraordinary humour that one might perceive in these events, when safely removed from imminent danger by an appropriate length of time.

One little bonus feature of last night’s events:  Spouse and I now have reason to believe that, as a sprinter, I am remarkably quick off the line.

Less Moray is More, Eh?

Mike wrote about going to the Birch Aquarium the other day.  As is often the case, his post was accompanied by a number of photos he took of the excursion; others that he had taken while at the fish zoo were also posted on his flickr site. I took a few minutes to paw through them, and lit upon this image, which I hope he will forgive me for posting hereabouts without the usual “asking permission” formalities and so on.

It got me thinking about my own adventures in icthyology, many years ago.

Before I tell you the story, you have to promise to keep an open mind throughout.   Here’s the dilemma: as a grown-up person, a responsible adult with a job and a family, I am a capable and impressive person.  A living embodiment of the frontier spirit, some would say, I am plucky and irrepressible; not the kind of fellow whose bold actions and decisive self-reliance might be derailed by something so insignificant and easily defeasible as “fear.”  But I was not born to this devil-may-care attitude;  it took time for me to evolve into the tough-as-nails quasi-commando with whom you are now so familiar.

Friday Night Blowout: Old Guy Style

Snow-mageddon“, the snowstorm of the year, has come and gone as promised.  Mother Nature behaved quite civilly, for an old lady throwing a meterological shit fit.  ‘Round these parts (he said, hitching his overalls up by the straps with both thumbs) the storm began at a reasonable hour – sometime around 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning, and really didn’t gather IMG_5413ferocity until after Spouse and I had safely arrived at work.  The teeth of the storm were mostly bared during the meaty portion of the work day – a frosty, face-full-of-cold-razor-blades undoubted inconvenience while walking around downtown Hamilton, but really nothing more.  At around 4 o’clock, as promised (such genteel behaviour!) and in plenty of time for us to journey home in the daylight, the storminess of the storm fizzled and we set out on our journey home.

The roads were snow-covered and generally somewhat slippery, but more than passable.  I think we may actually be in a better position than many folks, living in our current location, because we generally only have to travel over main roads to arrive at our destination – main roads that get prompt and careful attention from the plowing crews.  I suspect that folks who live in subdivisions and down residential sidestreets were having to negotiate thoroughfares that were much more generously covered with snow than we did.  We really didn’t reach any significant obstacle at all, until…

…we reached the driveway.

The path leading in to Juniorvania is about a hundred yards long, measured from the edge of the road on our northern border.  We need a path about nine feet wide to get the official Juniorvanian Transport vehicle up the drive.  The snow was about a foot deep.  By my calculations, assuming uniform distribution and depth of snow (an unwarranted assumption, especially at the roadside where the plows had wrought their special brand of hellish magic), 2700 cubic feet of snow needed to be moved.  It was a very physical and very intimdating demonstration of the last mile concept.

Introducing Wavy Gravy and Sebastien’s Theme.

HeroesinstudiotriptychIn 1998, it somehow happened that my band agreed to write some music – on a volunteer, we can’t pay you for this basis – for a movie that was being directed by a friend of a friend.  In truth, I do remember how this arrangement came to pass, but the story is boring, pointless and convoluted and involves far too many ridiculous characters.  In one of life’s clever little ironies, it so happens that one might say exactly the same thing about the script for the movie in question.  (Dammit, Joel Siegel, this game is easy!)  It’s more fun, therefore, if I decline to tell you the truth about how this composing engagement came to pass and simply tell you instead that Heroes in Rehab won this opportunity as a prize for placing sixth in a sack race at the Directors Guild of Canada annual summer picnic.  That is saying something, because even this last explanation is roughly as much fun as gum disease.

But I digress.

My point is that we had this job to do and people were depending on us.  Those of you in the working world will understand these concepts and identify them as something known as “responsibility”.  It is something that is entirely foreign to musicians, serious artists and other more highly evolved and important life forms.  Being a musician is not about producing things on time (except for musicians who actually get paid to do what they do because they’re good at it);  when you are a Serious Artist (please read: “unemployed”) working on a Weighty Piece of Art, you cannot be rushed, especially when you haven’t got a fucking clue what you’re doing or why (which is most of the time).

Blood on the Dasher: My Gardens Moment

The General and Norte have both written about Maple Leaf Gardens recently;  meanwhile Sean is in the middle of a series consisting of a Clark¹ of posts concerning the greatness that was the Man from Kelvington.   A discussion has been raging over at PPP about the proper placement of Mats Sundin in the Maple Leaf pantheon. My own view on this last issue is that the most obvious historical parallel to Sundin is Frank Mahovlich, another great player Leaf fans were famously hesitant to fully embrace – both were (relatively speaking) large men with long strides that many people wrongly perceived as slow, uninvolved or lazy; both had plenty of drive, offensive talent and finish around the net; and both men were men of class and character, quiet leaders who were not prone to dropping the gloves.

Right now, I am not liking Mats Sundin or Frank Mahovlich very much, because they are both getting in the way of my own Maple Leaf Gardens story.  So here it is:  I played hockey at Maple Leaf Gardens – once.