Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Come On O-62 Come On Come On Let's Go O-62 God Damn It

It was a difficult and unsettling transition from Winnipeg to London when I first arrived out here, not knowing who anyone was or where anything is or what to wear in a winter environment that doesn't involve a constant bombardment of minus fourty-five. But what helped me find my feet and get acclimated were the similarities between the two cities, of which there are quite a lot despite London being half the population.

Both Winnipeg and London have sad, crumbling, decaying downtown cores of empty (but architecturally fascinating) old buildings; they both have thriving outside pockets of sprawl that centre around gigantic malls, any of which require a good half an hour of bus ride to reach from downtown. Both cities feature brazenly inconvenient transit systems, uninspired Quebecor-Sun Media owned newspapers, and very new arenas downtown that host NHL exhibition games in the fall. And both cities play a significant role in the history of Labatt Blue beer, London the hometown of the company and Winnipeg the city that had the beer named after its football team. (A shame how badly Labatt Blue sucks with all of that in mind, but alas.)

That list established, I recently turned on my television and found one more similarity that I wasn't expecting:

Television bingo! Oh, well, sure!

The local Rogers station is very committed to community coverage (actual tagline: "Local Matters"), when it isn't mocking lawyers or whatever, so naturally it hosts Optimist TV Bingo each Monday and everyone gathers around their television sets with glee.

Winnipeg is, of course, the Bingo capital of Canada -- maybe it's one of the only games we can afford to run, I don't know -- and the city's televised bingo has been a popular local institution for over twenty years, as ludicrous as that idea sounds.

I never quite understood the appeal of the... sport?... but I have to admit that the old television commercials always kept my undivided attention, when I would see them as a kid, so I imagine these people must know something about maintaining an audience.

Yes, old television commercials. You know I wouldn't be nearly as likely to bring it up if I didn't have an example handy, because people often openly disbelieve me when I say something like this without proof immediately at hand. Well, disbelieve this:

STILL ON THE AIR. It might even still be in the exact same timeslot, for all I know.

It's the little homey touches that make a visitor comfortable in a new city, it really is. If I ever need to play some bingo in the comfort of my own home, I know what to turn to!

I'm off to volunteer at the Ontario Library Association Super Conference, later this week, which will coincidentally put me in Toronto for only the second time ever. (I was once there for a week and barely ever got out of downtown, although I don't imagine I'll get much farther this time.) The library and publishing conference in question is usually described as 'gigantic' when I ask about it, but beyond that I really have no idea what I'm in for. So drop by next week, gentle readers; I'll be sure to let you know how it went.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Liveblogging the Inauguration of Barack Obama (or, Wow That's a Lot of People)

I got up comparatively early this morning! And since I'm going to be watching the entirety of the inauguration ceremony anyway, I figured I may as well be typing about it while I'm doing it.

Those of you who've seen me liveblog before know what to expect, so you're probably rolling your eyes at me right now and going off to grab some food instead. That's fine! Not going to argue with you. In fact, that's a pretty good idea; I'd better grab myself a bowl of cereal or something before the thing legit starts at the top of the hour. Liveblogging to begin shortly!

9:45 AM

Oh, wow. Yup, that's a lot of people out there.

I'm watching the CNN coverage of the event, at least for now; I can usually only take a small dose or so of CNN at a time, so if they try and trot out a studio hologram of will.i.am or whoever I am totally flipping to somewhere else. I have a hunch they might be showing the event on other channels!

Shots of the motorcade puttering towards the site; Wolf Blitzer rambles about the choir brought in from San Francisco to sing for said motorcade. I assure you this is more riveting than I'm making it sound! (haha not yet it's not)

9:53 AM

I forgot to mention -- just before I went to grab breakfast, they showed a close-up shot on the crowd wherein Don King was milling around, looking very excited and wearing what has to be one of the ugliest jean jackets I've ever seen. I mean, yes, Don King, but even still. The jacket has this gigantic American-flag-and-eagle on the back, like he's been taking fashion advice from Billy Kane, and then it has faux-fur frill around the collar and... oh, dear. Well, so long as he's warm out there, I guess that's the important thing.

Shot of Joe and Jill Biden exiting the limousine and entering the White House; Jill Biden's choice of red coat, exposed legs and thigh-high black boots is sort of an unfortunate look. It's a weird combination.

Barack and Michelle Obama arrive immediately afterwards, both dressed very sensibly, and Michelle -- carrying a nice white box with a red ribbon -- very nearly trips on the stairs as she walks up to hug Laura Bush. Watch that first step! It's a doozy!

9:58 AM

The CNN scrollbar at the bottom reads the following:

"FACT: The Obamas and Bidens are having coffee with the Bushes in the White House."

I would have believed you if you just said the coffee part, dude. You don't need to arbitrarily blurt out 'FACT', you aren't the internet.

"We've got a lot of new technology that we'll be showing our viewers," Wolf announces, basically warning me in advance that they are going to annoy me today. Another wide shot of the National Mall and, yep, lot of people. A pocket of Canadian flags is visible off in the left background, which is kind of funny.

10:06 AM

Not much happening yet. More crowd shots, including a funny spot at ground level where a bunch of flag-waving people whoo-ed a bit at the camera in their faces and then began saying the word 'Obama'. Not chanting it, like you'd expect; just blurting out the word 'Obama' amongst themselves, like a lost take of Being John Malkovich.

Holy shit, Muhammad Ali in the VIP section! Awesome! WAIT A MINUTE WASN'T HE A SECRET MUSLIM OH GOD

10:14 AM

Another shot of the White House front doors, and another declaration from Wolf Blitzer that yes they are still having coffee as though it is the most important thing in the world. This is why they pay him the big bucks.

Dustin Hoffman in the VIP section? I liked Wag the Dog as much as the next political junkie, but I don't know if I'd put him on Ali level. One announcer, as if reading my mind, blurts out "Why Dustin Hoffman?" right after I finish typing that. Whoever handled the VIP invitations must still really like Tootsie!

10:18 AM

Jimmy Carter arrives, apparently with the Clintons expected close behind him. Oh, Jimmy! Poor Jimmy. Historians always love to make a specific point of pooping on him from a great height, don't they? You try negotiating with Iran sometime! And the part where he had been attacked by a deadly swimming rabbit, well I mean that could happen to anyb--pffffff ha ha ha ha okay the swimming rabbit thing was really funny. Sorry, Jimmy!

Speculation about the future makeup of the Supreme Court goes on for entirely too long, as we watch what must be the entirety of the Court walking towards the building. CNN then--goes to commercial? Again? Okay, maybe I didn't need to wake up this early.

10:25 AM

"Get your CNN.com inauguration t-shirt today! At CNN.com!" Okay, that does it, I'm switching channels.

I flip over to CBC and am greeted with xylophone music and a very close shot of a seahorse as small children discuss their love for it. "I think seahorses are really special!" "The beautiful seahorse!" "The beautiful seahorse!"

So I flip over to CBC Newsworld, right, and they're interviewing some kid in a suit who looks kind of like Chris Nowinski. Guy runs a Canadians for Obama group, or something? I don't know, I just got here.

A short report follows to note that the New York Stock Exchange opened on the steps of Capitol Hill, as Obama-mania grips the stock market! Then the market numbers are shown immediately afterwards to indicate that the Dow has dropped a hundred and eleven points so far today, because the market cannot be bothered to behave in a way that anyone expects or wants.

10:34 AM

Quick shot of the military orchestra practicing, including a zoom on what appears to be another xylophone. This better not be my enduring memory of the event! When my children and grandchildren ask me about this day, because according to the media they are guaranteed to ask me about this day, they are going to be bitterly disappointed in me if all I can remember are xylophones and Jimmy Carter.

10:39 AM

Fred Burton, of Strategic Forecasting Inc., explains to CBC Newsworld how the giant crowds represent an administrative and security nightmare and how the streets are swept for 'chem-bio hazards' and all the counter-sniper measures set up for each inauguration, and blah blah blah. The CBC scrollbar at the bottom sums it up as "THE INAUGURATION: Washington under state of emergency until tomorrow", which doesn't really make it sound like something you would want to attend.

10:45 AM

They're still talking to Fred Burton, which I'm sure is deathly interesting to somebody somewhere. Could we please just put Don Newman on the air for a while? This ceremony needs a good "KABOOMBA!" or something to fill all the downtime.

I hit the 'Last' button on the remote control to check the CNN footage, completely forgetting that I had ended up on CBC a while back, and now there are Doodlebops on my television screen. Oh. Huh.

Just as I flip back to Newsworld the Obamas emerge from the White House, hop into one of the Cadillacs and drive away. "THE INAUGURATION: Obama leaves White House after coffee with President Bush", the bottom bar announces. So far this is an hour of my life that I will never, ever get back.

Steven Harper, we are told, sent a couple of ministers in lieu of attending the ceremony himself; Margo McDiarmid then talks about what a great opportunity this new administration is for Canada, although clearly not that great if our Head of State would rather sit around and tidy things around the house or whatever he's up to right now. (Parliament isn't even in session. What in the hell.)

10:54 AM

"We're about thirty-five minutes away from the inauguration ceremony," oh dear. Maybe I should start cooking a frozen pizza or something.

The inauguration bar at the bottom helpfully contributes "Barack Obama will be sworn in as 44th U.S. president today", oh man have you seen this have you heard about this

Commercial break, trying to convince me to leverage the equity that I don't have on the home ownership that I don't have either. Thanks, CBC.

11:00 AM

Top of the hour, and a montage finally rolls Peter Mansbridge into the event. "He (Obama) faces two major wars and the worst economy in at least seventy-five years," Mansbridge's voiceover reminds us; he's apparently holed up in Washington's Canadian Embassy right now. Mansbridge, that is, not Obama.

I don't mean to harp on the point, but Jesus Christ there are a lot of people at this ceremony.

Something looks... off about Peter Mansbridge today. Maybe it's the change of lighting from the studio to the embassy, but he's looking decidedly pink today. And has he always worn a gigantic metal ring on his pinky finger? Has that been there his whole career and I'm only just now noticing it?

A politics professor from Princeton (blurt that one out five times fast) gushes about how amazing it is that a black President was elected just three years after the Katrina disaster. Okay, sure, but we're three weeks into 2009 and we've already had one American city break into race riots after an unarmed black man was restrained and shot in the back by police; let's not immediately assume that everything has been solved here, and--



Dan Quayle, Al Gore and Walter Mondale all just entered the ceremony in quick succession, forming their own little line of politically unsuccessful former Vice Presidents. Quayle and Gore are practically Bizarro versions of each other, so I'm left to assume they threw Mondale in with them to keep the opposites from clashing and destroying reality. (He likes to think that he's somewhere between the fire and ice, like... lukewarm water.)

11:12 AM

CBC reporter Christine somebody is at a Toronto high school, interviewing the principal and then a seventh grader. The seventh grader says something that I'm sure she thought was poignant but will inevitably make her cringe when she rewatches it decades from now.

To hear Mansbridge tell it, it turns out the high school principal they just interviewed is the father of PK Subban. Small world! Go figure.

There's Jimmy Carter again, looking both very happy and very old; Bill and Hillary Clinton follow him down the hall a short time later, and neither of them remember to smile until they're almost to the stairs. Then the both of them wait around to go hug George and Barbara Bush, which is nice of them. George Senior ain't looking so hot today, wearing two scarves and walking with a cane and looking very gray indeed.

11:21 AM

"It's probably going to be a while before they estimate the number of people here," Mansbridge announces. Well, hell, I would imagine so! I know I would go mad if I had to try and count them based on the crowd shots.

Retrospective montage of Presidential inauguration speeches; Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton. Three of these four men are quite dead, because President is not a job for pantywaists or sissies.

Exiting Vice-President Dick Cheney is in a wheelchair today, apparently having hurt his back while packing his shit into boxes and moving out. "I would have thought they had people to do that for him," Peter Mansbridge half-laughs. Peter Mansbridge is awesome.

11:29 AM

Directly related to Peter Mansbridge being awesome, he trots out one of my favourite Presidential-history anecdotes. (And I did an Honours in History, so you know I have a bunch of them.) The longest inauguration speech on record was that of William Henry Harrison, who insisted on delivering his speech in the deadest cold of winter; he didn't bundle up very well, delivered the longest speech in history without wearing proper winter wear, came down with pneumonia three weeks later, and died within a month of his taking office. William Henry Harrison, you magnificent bastard.

Shots of George W. Bush walking alone through the hallways, his wife having entered earlier; he slaps hands with one coordinator woman along the way, but nobody else appears to be willing to look him in the eye. Today's going to suck for him, oh man!

11:33 AM

Other fun historical fact: of the thirty-nine words in the Pledge of Allegiance, only the first thirty-five are officially recognized. "So help me God" was thrown in as an ad-lib by George Washington when he was inaugurated, and every single President after him has included it as a point of tradition. Go ad-libbing! Yeah!

Ooh, damn! The baritone voice working as the announcer for the inauguration ceremony stumbles over his own lines for a second, taking a second of sputtering before spitting out "S-Senator Mitch McConnell" as the Senator in question walks out. Bad day to get the jitters, dude!

Then Smilin' Joe Biden walks out and Mansbridge literally bursts out laughing when he sees him, musing aloud to himself that "Nobody in the world has looked happier for the last month than this man has all month." And he's right! Joe Biden is like a golden retriever, or whichever breed you prefer, one of those creatures that always looks really happy about something and makes you laugh and shake your head whenever you see him poking his head around something.

11:42 AM

Obama finally walks out, and the crowd goes batshit. Then he sits down and the entire crowd shuts up. Remember the old Looney Tunes routine where Bugs would appear on stage to thunderous applause, then everything would go silent again upon Daffy's entrance? That is exactly what it must feel like right now to be Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who walked out immediately after Obama sat down and the entire ceremony went dead quiet. No pressure or anything!

11:48 AM

Pastor Rick Warren from Orange County reads the invocation prayer; the cameras cut to a shot of the Obamas, particularly the two daughters shuffling in their seats and looking antsy. It's cute! They're eight and ten years old, of course this part is boring to them.

Hell, this part is boring to me. Speed it up, Pastor! You guys like Jesus, I get it. (lol i am being insensitive about religion on the internet what a tough guy)

Aretha Franklin! Yes! Now this I can get behind! She's wearing the goofiest hat I have seen all day, a gray beret with a gigantic sequined gray ribbon the size of her head on it. The instrumentation behind this rendition of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" leans way too heavily on the strings, and at one point the backup singers do this ridiculous chant of "ring ring ring ring ring ring ring ring ring ring ring ring" behind her, but it is god damn Aretha Franklin and she blows the song out of the water just like she is supposed to. Good ceremony so far!

11:57 AM

Joe Biden takes the Samurai Pizza Cat fanclub Vice-Presidential oath, on a bible that is really a lot bigger than it needs to be. A march follows! Everyone sits down again.

11:59 AM

Well, hello there! Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and a couple of other people that I don't recognize (somewhere my grandmother and aunt are being very disappointed in me) form a quartet to play an original John Williams piece composed just for the occasion.

It starts out simple and understated, very nice, but gets a little ridiculous a minute or two in where it employs the modern style of evoking percussion by having everyone else play structured squawks and bonks at once under the main line. Listen to that violin part in the middle and tell me otherwise! The piece comes together after that to function as a more traditional quartet arrangement before trailing off again to conclude. Not bad, but nothing really spectacular either.

12:04 PM

Everyone stands for Chief Justice John Roberts, to swear in Obama as President. Obama actually begins a little early and has to restart, then loses the second line and needs it repeated. Big grin when he does that, though! Aww, he's all nervous, look at him!

He takes the office, so help him God, and Hail to the Chief plays while cannons fire the 21-gun salute and everyone cheers their heads off. Hear tell from Mansbridge at this point is that the Chief Justice screwed up the reading, leading Obama to screw it up as well; I'll take his word for it, I guess.

12:07 PM

Inauguration speech! Polite applause for Bush at his mention; they cut over to him and he looks sad, probably for the obvious reasons. Obama reminds everyone about what a pickle America is in, vows to restore the confidence of the nation, hope chosen over fear -- nothing you weren't expecting, I imagine.

He quotes scripture, briefly: "the time has come to put aside childish things". My dad pulled that on me once to try and get me to quit playing video games, but I brushed him off and look at me now! Top of the world, ma!

"Starting today we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of rebuilding America!" So far that seems like the most likely quote for the future retrospective reels, but then again the speech isn't over yet.

What is that little rectangular pin he's wearing? Is that the American flag? The light keeps bouncing off it, so I never get a good look at it. (Colin Powell sighting in the VIP section, by the way.) Obama talks tough to the terrorists at this time, threatens the warmongers and the dictators, can't break the American spirit, that sort of thing; America is willing to work with anyone who wants to work with America, is the general thrust.

Brief exposition on the American character, as the camera pans around to show that there are even more people crammed on the rooftops surrounding the National Mall. (I hear he's popular, this Barack guy.)

Speech concludes at just over eighteen minutes long, standing ovation, Mansbridge dubs the speech a "call to action" and a "condemnation of the Bush years", both of which sound about right.

12:27 AM

Still more ceremony! Poet Elizabeth Alexander, whoever that is (yes, yes, I'm uncultured, I know), reads a poem that totally fails to grab me. Then it shows the crowd shots and you can actually see some people filing out of the Mall; sorry, Elizabeth Alexander!

Reverend Joseph E. Lowery, the old civil rights leader, is up next to preach a bit; "you got the whole world in your hands," he reads; "deliver us from the exploitation of the poor". He thanks and praises the lord for sending Obama as the President; thank God this isn't McCain, is what the speech basically boils down to.

Also some rhyme play about the yellow being mellow, and the red man gettin' ahead-man, and... what? Anyway, he concludes, and the Marines come out to sing the anthem.

12:38 PM

Hmm... yup. That's their anthem, all right.

You know what I love about the Marine Choir singing the anthem? They sing it with discipline, like it was written, the way it is god damn supposed to sound. Most every time you hear the Star-Spangled Banner it is being belted out by somebody who insists the procedure be all about them, about the embellishments and extended notes and stretched meter and cutesy tricks that they want to pull on an audience who specifically did not come to hear somebody take forever singing the national anthem. The Marines sing it, keep it short, and go about their day. Good. We need more renditions like this.

The Presidential Party departs, apparently bound for a ceremonial inaugural lunch; some milling around occurs amidst the VIP section. Some deconstruction of the speech is ventured; the Princeton politics professor from earlier describes Obama's inauguration speech as "Jeffersonian" with a lot of Greatest Generation influences shown.

We are told that Harper has extended his first statement immediately following the inauguration; he had time to sit on his duff and write up a welcoming statement, but he couldn't be bothered to catch a flight down to Washington? Are we just not being told that he's in Mongolia or something right now?

Mansbridge notes during a shot of Bill Clinton that he "rarely leaves an outstretched hand behind". Quick sightings both of John Kerry and John McCain in the VIP section; I've noticed that political failure crops up in bunches on telecasts like these.

"It was kind of a quiet crowd, for a crowd that ran upwards of two million," Mansbridge remarks.

12:48 AM

The incoming and outgoing Presidents walk down the stairs together, wave a little for the media, wait for their wives to join them. The Bidens walk past them on the way, and Jill Biden's bright red coat is still completely distracting. Cheney, I guess having taken a ramp somewhere, is at the bottom of the stairs in his new wheelchair. They roll him up to one of the Cadillacs and around the back of the car, leading me to briefly envision them stuffing him in the trunk -- but no, they wheel him all the way around to the passenger side and away he goes.

Hugs all around between the two Presidents and First Ladies, the Bushes wave goodbye to whoever is around, and away they go on the Marine One helicopter. Joe Biden shows up and his smile is gigantic and hilarious, because Joe Biden.

12:56 PM

George W. Bush's immediate post-Presidential plans are, apparently, to begin writing a book and make coffee for his wife. No, really.

Mansbridge notes that Marine One is a variant of the same base helicopter body that the Canadian Sea Kings use; he also notes that the American counterpart is far, far better taken care of. (In other news, duh.)

For reasons I don't understand, we go back to Christine whoever at the Toronto high school; she opens by asking the students what they thought of the speech and they all chorus "YES WE CAN" and urghhhhhh

A smaller boy claims that the speech has inspired him to be Prime Minister when he grows up, and the reporter just fawns over this precocious little statement, and then she asks another boy "Who's cooler -- Barack Obama or Kanye West?" Oh god I hate this woman and I hate these kids and I hate this entire segment.

1:03 PM

Because we've run out of things to talk about, we're briefly whisked to England to be shown one of the eight wax Obamas newly created by the Madame Tussauds Museum.

Cut to live footage of Michelle Jean, giving a speech about the new President and the hope he represents and--where is this taking place? Oh, Rideau Hall. Anyway, she wishes Obama much success on behalf of we the Canadians, in both languages, and we transition back to Mansbridge (who is still looking crazy pink today). More from the Princeton prof (Melissa Harris-Lacewell, says the chryon) about the meaning and tone of the speech.

"Time to wrap up," Mansbridge intones, although he notes that there is still much more about the event to watch on Newsworld if I decide I have nothing better to do today.

Telecast ends at 1:10 PM. (Newsworld immediately launches into the news, and the first thing it re-broadcasts is the new President and the Chief Justice combining to screw up the Oath, but what can you do.)

Well! Big day so far. As fun as I'm sure it would be to sit and alternate between the different news stations all day to rewatch snippets of everything I just saw, I'm afraid I'm going to have to get dressed and actually go out and about today. Wish me luck!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Augh People Seriously

Weekly updates! Well, weekly-ish. I'll see if I can't give weekly (-ish) updates a try, at least until my academic schedule roars defiantly and drags me off into the night.

In the meantime:

Uptown Magazine! More bounce to the ounce!

I return this week with another fine column, and even despite my characteristic good nature and boundless optimism I am sometimes forced to ask myself just what in the stone damn is wrong with us. (As a species, I mean. I'm sure you're lovely, and I think it's usually pretty obvious what's wrong with me.)

The part about roughly half of all Canadians fifteen and older being staggeringly unable to name a single Canadian author is one of those rare times where I just run out of words to describe my exasperation; when the story originally dropped I was reduced to moving my mouth silently and holding my hands up in bewilderment any time someone asked me about it.

Seriously? A sample size of fifteen hundred and half of them come up with nothing? I'll cop to being a half dozen years or so removed from high school by now, but I clearly remember that they make a very specific point of putting their students in contact with the work of at least one Canadian author.

Which school does this, you ask? Oh, well, you know, ALL OF THEM


The news story linked above also insists on providing a short list of authors that nobody named, because the National Post exists to make me angry. Okay, I am reasonably willing to accept that nobody mentioned Leonard Cohen, what with him being known best as a singer and second-best as a poet. (Wait, do people even still acknowledge poets as 'authors'? Poetry is so dead now that it makes pinball look like a viable medium.) But, ye gads, Lucy Maud Montgomery? Michael Ondaatje? Well okay I guess Anne of Green Gables is only a definitive cultural institution, and it isn't like Ondaatje has ever earned a Booker Prize or won five Governor General Awards or seen the movie adaptation of The English Patient win nine Academy Awards or--

I actually won a game of Trivial Pursuit once by coming up with Michael Ondaatje as the answer to the last question; granted that we were playing the Canadian edition, but shut up that is not the point here. The point is, how in the world have so many people lived their lives in this country to this point without encounting a single Canadian author they can remember by name?

You couldn't remember the line about a Canadian being someone who knows how to make love in a canoe, or who the really old guy was that rolled a joint with Rick Mercer on the CBC a while ago? You never heard the story about the crazy author in Newfoundland who shoots at American planes flying overhead? You never had any Gordon Korman books in your school, or those lame Scholastic flyers that had maple leaves plastered on every available Canadian book? You weren't anywhere near a radio in 1993-94 when Moxy Fruvous made it big by singing a bunch of author names?

"Who's a funny fella? / W. P. Kinsella!"

"Who needs a shave? / It's Robertson Davies!"

Oh, that's gold and you know it. Don't give me that look.

And! And, this knowledge isn't even the lowest of the low points of human accomplishment mentioned in the column I wrote for this week. Bite down on something, this one is going to hurt.

Perhaps you may have initially believed, as some incredulous London listeners may have when I told the story, that I was completely making up the part about people phoning in to 911 with whatever ridiculous bull pucky popped into their heads at the moment. But, ha ha, nope! Behold as I beheld and hear as I heard:

Winnipeg Police Service - AM or PM (CTV Winnipeg Presents: 911 Calls, 2009)
[alternate link | source]

That is majestic, isn't it? Holy smokes. (More calls are available alongside the CTV report, but there is really no topping that one.) The aforementioned Winnipeg 311 line is set to launch this Friday, and I can't decide whether I envy these workers their upcoming jobs or not. I know I would end up going completely and irreversibly mad if I had to put up with people like this all day -- and I have worked a lot of unfortunate customer service jobs -- but at the same time my unkillable curiosity is just longing to hear all of the otherwise unbelievable shit that is no doubt going to come over the wires right from the second the service starts up.

Anyway! Enough on this for now. I have class bright and early tomorrow morning. And since I just now discovered that Les Dales Hawerchuk will finally play Winnipeg -- while I'm not there to see it -- I figure I had better just go to bed before I end up punching holes downward through my desk. It has been a... long day.

Until next time, true believers!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Everyone Knows Birds Love Sports and Doughnuts

I'm flying back to London in the morning! My goodness, where does the time go.

My vacation time in Winnipeg seemed a lot shorter than it actually was; granted, this may be because I slept through a lot of it, but in my defense I really did need a lot of sleep. I was tired! This graduate school stuff can take a lot out of a guy.

Fortunately, I did get out and about from time to time to see some of the sights, haunt the old haunts, that sort of thing. I went to the city's premiere vinyl store, for example, and blew half of my GST cheque on goofy obscure records. Be sure to ask me about the records another time! This post is about something else entirely, but those are a good story too.

Anyway -- one of my favourite weekend curiosities in the city is Mulvey Market, a big ol' flea market that convenes every Saturday and Sunday south of Osborne Village to engage in the sale or trade of antiques and knick-knacks and memorabilia and paraphernalia and whatever else you might be looking for. (It's very quaint, to the point that it doesn't even have a website. Dude, I know! What century are we in? You'll just have to take my word for it that it exists, strange a practice as that is in our modern times.) Mulvey Market is an entertaining destination (to me, at least!) because the possibility always exists that I will walk in there and see something that surprises and astounds me with its very existence. That's the kind of possibility I like best!

Because I stared at it for a minute and ultimately decided that it was worth five dollars, I dropped five dollars on this thing:

Check out this handsome copper and plaster plaque! About a foot across in diameter and weighing as much as my little sister's dog, a stampprint on the back identifies its manufacturers as the "Modern Artistic Plaque Co.". (Whoever they were.) This is actually the third piece of Winnipeg centennial commemorative stuff I own, behind a very nice coffee-table book on the history of the city and a 'bumper sticker' that is actually like two feet long. This is the curse of an Honours in History, or of being interested in history to begin with: everything is god damn history, so it's hard to avoid getting wrapped up in things that any sane and reasonable human being would walk past without a second thought. Still a nice plaque, though! Very decorative, very charming.

"Oh, Jesus, that was thirty-five years ago," the greying gentleman behind the table announced absently, half to me and half to himself, when I lifted the large construction-paper '$5' sign off the plaque and inspected it. "I remember it like the other day. Wow."

The optimism of centennials is always a hoot, isn't it? All of your problems safely disappear well behind you when your age hits a round number! You can see the clean streets and thriving trees and streamlined skyscrapers rising from that second zero on the plaque, in contrast to the churches and oxcarts of the zero before it, because Winnipeg has finally shaken loose its humble agricultural origins to become a teeming megalopolis! A city of tomorrow! A true leader in global prosperity and inno--haha whoops we're bad at everything brb

I figure this was five dollars well spent, and when I one day have enough money to buy a house I'll be sure to hang this plaque with pride above wherever I keep the beer.

This, however, was not to be the biggest surprise of the day! No, my main source of shock and awe arose from another stall at the opposite end of the market, where I found myself staring dumbfounded at a pair of matching items that I had never so much as conceptualized before.

Behold as I beheld, then purchased for fifty cents a pop:

What? Wait, what? whaaaaaaaaat

I realize some among you may not recognize what this represents, so humour me my exposition. Pictured here are solid rubber figurines (in the grand old California Raisin style), about three inches high, produced as mascot-themed promotional material for a peculiar little C-list restaurant chain named Robin's Donuts. "Who?", some of you may be asking, which is sort of my point. Robin's Donuts had room in their promotional budget to produce toys? Robin's Donuts had money?

For the unfamiliar or uninitiated, I would best describe Robin's Donuts as a palette-swap of Tim Hortons except smaller, sadder, brazenly downmarket, and completely irrelevant to the national discourse. The coffee and the food are unassuming, but really no worse than anything else you've ever eaten out of a coffee place; what usually comes to mind when I think of Robin's is that I don't believe I've ever found one that struck me as attractive, where I've walked in and gone "oh well this is nice". It always seems to be dark brown ceramic tile, depressingly low lighting, and impossibly garish yellow paint; I routinely eat in random street-corner diners, because I enjoy the ambience of little rundown eateries, and even I find Robin's Donuts dingy and unpleasant.

Claiming a hundred and thirty locations on its website, Robin's Donuts is a pretty common sight in Winnipeg and other areas across the country (particularly in northern Ontario where the chain was founded) -- but I suspect that many of this blog's readers will have never heard of it before, especially because there are a total of zero Robin's Donuts locations in London. Or in Toronto. Or, uh, anywhere in Quebec. A hundred and thirty locations don't go as far as they used to, I guess.

Robin's Donuts was apparently bought up wholesale in 2006 by Coffee Time [PDF], so its glory years clearly must be far behind it. Certainly they don't sell toys there any more, which brings me back to my original confusion -- when in the hell did Robin's Donuts sell toys? These aren't cheap-quality toys, either; these are some pretty well-made and respectable toys, which seems quite strangely out of character for the franchise.

So to recap, as you can imagine, I'm still quite surprised by the whole idea of there actually being Robin's Donuts figurines. The next mystery is why the hell they appear to be playing sports, but I think anybody who could provide me the answers I seek must be long gone by now.

Do you suppose the mascot is actually named "Robin"? And which of these is actually the mascot? There are two here, after all, obviously sculpted to represent different genders. If you look again at the franchise logo, the facial features and goofy white scarf are consistent with both models -- but the logo doesn't have prominent eyelashes drawn along the sides of the eyes, so I have to assume that the boy robin is the actual franchise mascot. What would the girl robin's name be, though? Would they both be 'Robin'? But then, if they're both robins named Robin, why is the "Robin's" in "Robin's Donuts" singular and not plural? And why did they even make two different AUGH I AM THINKING WAY TOO HARD ABOUT THIS

Here's a closer shot so you can better appreciate the detail on the male robin, who for now I will suppose is the mascot and then refuse to contemplate the matter any further. The sweatband is so we can tell he is playing basketball, because we are stupid and can't figure out why he has a basketball in his hand. Admittedly, the dude's got the Allen Iverson look going pretty convincingly, which is no mean feat considering that the toy might actually predate Iverson's NBA career. Well, that and he's an anthropomorphized bird rather than a black guy, but I figured you gathered that part already.

So if the boy bird loves basketball, what sport does the girl bird enjoy? Well, a lot of little girls are big into soccer, but both softball and volleyball have really taken off in the last couple of decades, but then again tennis has prominently featured women athletes for a long time now, so I guess the--

Ha ha ha ha, who am I kidding. Figure skating ahoy!

You can't see them, because my fingers are in the way, but the figure skates actually do have blades molded at the bottom. This would be a nice touch, except that -- ha ha -- the blades mean that the figure can't stand on its own, which is why my fingers are in the picture to begin with. This is a reasonable interpretation of actual skating, but is still bothersome to deal with. (The initial picture above of the two toys together was taken by propping this figure against the other one, which stands up just fine with no problems. The stunts I have to pull sometimes!)

Both figures are branded on the back, incidentally, in case anyone might doubt their legitimacy:

Is it just me, or does that ponytail look exceptionally painful? Why do these birds even have hair? Isn't that--no no shut up not thinking this over

It's more obvious in the first picture than the second one, but both toys are datestamped; each toy has "© 1996 Robin's Foods" printed on the butt in embossed lettering, which at least tells me when (although not why) these toys came about. I could have tried for a better picture of the copyright information, then I envisioned a scenario where I would have to explain to somebody why I have pictures of rubber bird ass on my blog and ultimately I decided to save myself the hassle.

Flight in eight hours! Perhaps I should finish packing.