Friday, April 29, 2016

College Application

I've been helping the elder daughter with her college application. And I have to say: I find it rather gratifying to see that, even with all the giant leaps in technological interactivity, admissions bureaucracy remains as bafflingly arcane and in need of direct human-to-human communication as it did in my day.

Much -- much -- has changed, of course. As late as 1989, getting admissions applications ready was a matter of pulling your file from a filing cabinet and assuring not just the admissions officers but yourself that the requisite paperwork had been satisfactorily completed and received.

Nearly the entire process is digital, by now. However, the concern remains the same -- and so the applicant and the officer once again "pull up your file," only this time on a screen. And face-to-face gets things done faster and with greater assurance than p2p, or over the phone.

"Hit 'Enter' again! Again, again!"
For the kid, it's just an early lesson in how post-secondary works. Get used to being the final word in Quality Control -- 'cos that's just how it's going to be, for the rest of your life.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Vintage Whisky, 2014

2014 -- I wrestled with my inner Pagan. In fact, I committed so much public energy to the matter, I felt compelled to apologise. It's still fresh to me, so the matter gets its own category.

Prajer's Paganism:

  • Good Writers Being Good People -- okay, just one, really: Carol Shields
  • My reaction to a reaction to the terrorist attack in Ottawa




Friday, April 22, 2016


"You're gonna miss me....'
"I'm done performing," she said. "I'm going to take my best crack at song-writing, and if that doesn't get traction in the next 18 months, I'll go into real estate."

She was in her early 20s, and already a stand-out blues singer. I was a pup, and quite smitten, but in this early conversation she revealed an unsettling, steely resolve toward life's difficulties -- steelier than that of yours truly, by quite a margin. Several health episodes left her hearing badly on the wane, so she was finished with the stage. As for the song-writing . . .

"You write a song that's good enough, anybody can sing it and sound brilliant," was her take. Case in point (she said): Cyndi Lauper singing "True Colors."

A couple of years later, I was working next to a guitarist-by-night. The radio was on, but not too loud, and my normally taciturn work-mate suddenly blurted, "God, but that Prince knows how to write a song, dun he?" I stared at him. We were listening to Sinéad O'Connor.

Prince was the full meal deal, no question. I was never a fan, but I've yet to meet a musician who wasn't in awe of him. Prodigiously talented, with an inerrant ear for staying accessible, possessed of one of those staggering personalities that changes the mood of an entire room -- even one the size of a stadium -- the only reason I bother acknowledging the obvious is . . .

. . . now that he's dead I find I'm wishing I'd made the effort to see him in concert.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Vintage Whisky, 2013

2013 -- the year of Donald Duck, Sylvester Stallone -- and Anneken Heyndricks. (It's all spurr-chall.)


Friday, April 15, 2016

Lovecraft Country, Matt Ruff

Lovecraft CountryLovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Matt Ruff's theme becomes clear very quickly in this novel twist on Lovecraftian motifs -- when it comes to existential peril, Americans of colour face direr consequences when confronted by their country's white citizens than by any encounter with the Ancient Ones and their various ephemera. Ruff's juxtaposition is persuasive -- so much so that his characters' experience of Lovecraft's tropes is almost blasé by contrast. This strikes me as an opportunity lamentably missed, but emotional mileage will vary from reader to reader. In the end it's thought-provoking entertainment, akin to the better episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series.

View all my reviews

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Vintage Whisky, 2012

Yikes -- what was I drinking in '12? There's heaps of posts that seem to stand well -- and this is but a smattering that's been culled as mercilessly as possible.

Highest of the Highlights: The Prairie Cemetery, parts I, II, III; Postcard From Maine; Father(s) and Daughter Gone Haywire; The Monks' Bad Habits.

  • Carnivàle -- the first viewing. BTW, my speculation regarding the series' narrative direction? Completely wrong.
  • TV Hits (And Misses) -- it's a family affair.
  • Father(s) and Daughter Gone Haywire -- Soderbergh, Dobbs, Carano: I loved it (would, in fact, add it to my list of 15).
  • Skyfall -- words cannot convey my disappointment in, and final loathing of, that movie. But I gave it a shot.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Dineen Building, at Adelaide and Yonge Street

The Dineen Building in Toronto is emblematic of the challenges facing the city's most aesthetically contentious commercial strip -- downtown Yonge Street. This is what it looks like (as of last Saturday):

Clearly, someone has invested a great deal to bring this heritage building into the current millennium.

That "someone" is Clayton Smith of the Commercial Realty Group. I'm not fond of the glass enclosure at the top of the building, but otherwise I'd say Smith's architects (George Robb/George Popper) have done exemplary work.

Here's another shot (different digital "filter"). Notice the closed discount shoe place to the right (the north side of the building, both facing east).

If we continue south down Yonge Street, we see further restoration/upgrade efforts of a similar commitment under way.

Crossing the street and facing east, we have this to look at:

This is typical of this portion of Yonge Street, which begins at the south at Front Street and extends north to Bloor Street. The majority of store fronts suggest relatively low rents, and shelves stocked with goods that have "fallen" off the back of a truck.

Even after Queen Street "gentrified" into just another Mall of America, there is no shortage of these sorts of enterprises or commercial districts in Toronto. It could be argued that just about any North American down town is similarly populated, but what is notable about this particular stretch of Yonge is its proximity to Bay Street, and the vaunted TSX. It's been some years since I was last in NYC, so you tell me: are there discount shoe stores and sports nutrition franchises flanking Wall Street?

That building housing "Popeye's" caught my eye, as well -- though not for complimentary reasons. I wondered if, with its reliance on concrete as a means to an aesthetic end, it was an example of "Brutalism." If so, it would be a very early entrant -- this is the Lumsden (now "Dynamic") Building, built in 1910.

Here is some history of the Lumsden Building. I'm not as taken with the Lumsden as the author, but there's no denying its fascinating history (Turkish bath in the basement!), or the imprint it leaves on the immediate neighbourhood. As is, it poses direct aesthetic challenges to its surroundings, and the current attempts to rejuvenate aesthetic appeal and interest.

Here is a profile of Clayton Smith, prior to the Dineen's improvements. The restoration won honourable mention in the 2013 Heritage Toronto Awards. Here is the Dineen Coffee site.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Harry Rosen Building, 82 Bloor Street West

I was downtown Toronto earlier this week, walking from one old haunt (the bookstore) to another (the University of Toronto). As I gawped at the various changes taking place -- old buildings leveled and dug out, basically, to make way for new condos, etc -- my eyes settled on the recently renovated Harry Rosen flagship store, at 82 Bloor West.

I admire it. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures (this one is from da webz) -- so I can't quite communicate what makes this particular face-lift (via architects Ron Shieh and Tony Ng) so visually effective in its given neighborhood. But it stands apart from the surrounding architecture without being garish or thumb-in-yer-eye about it. It's handsome and up-to-the-minute in its lines, without being stylistically confrontational. Stately and snappy -- pretty much the physical embodiment of the interior contents, really.

I hope to get back to this, but for now I'll wish you a happy weekend -- WP/dpr

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Vintage Whisky, 2011

Much of 2011 was devoted to cobbling together a Grade 9 soundtrack that, when all was said and done, only a cobbler such as myself could love.
"WRONG! Awesomest. Soundtrack. EVER!!"
My favourite posts from this year are Pokemon, Herzog and Recording Artists v. Marginal Utility.





Friday, April 01, 2016

Weekend Long-Reads

Scads of long-reads to recommend, this week -- most of them from The Los Angeles Review of Books (when they get on a roll, hoo baby).

  • "I wouldn't mind dying, if dying was all" -- Perhaps, like me, you don't have much time for the last 15-30 years of Bob Dylan's catalogue. That's fine, because Max Nelson listens on our behalf, and uses Dylan's "loose tryptich" -- Time Out Of Mind, Modern Times and Tempest -- as launchpad into the weird and troubling aural soundscape of America's earliest Gospel singers.
  • "As one whom the Freedom From Religion Foundation would reckon among the culpably enslaved, I might not be expected to welcome Jacoby’s new book Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion, but welcome it I do, for in book after book this writer has been a paradoxically effective religion teacher, and this new book, her most ambitious yet, is no exception" -- Jack Miles is super-appreciative of Susan Jacoby. Miles wrote two books I've returned to several times over the past few years (but only mentioned once) -- God: A Biography and Christ: A Crisis In The Life Of God. Please, kids: take and read.
  • Someone else I frequently return to is Albert Camus. So much so, in fact, that I've thought it behooves me to roll up my sleeves and maybe just for once write something about the guy, already. Trouble is there are so many minds keener than my own who have gone and done so. Case in point, Robert Zaretsky's The Limits of Absurdity. Absurdity was, of course, the philosophical stance which Camus made his personal cause célèbre -- and which, in turn, made him an international intellectual celebrity. Camus later strove to change his stance. Zaretsky reflects, and wonders if that didn't occur the moment when America first confronted Camus, and he gently returned the favour.
  • So, yeah: I'm a dilettante. And I might as well admit, when it comes to the work of David Lynch I've consulted my watch through the duration of every film of his I've watched -- except for Blue Velvet. Dennis Lim pens an observant and wide-ranging appreciation of this film over here.
  • And finally, just for giggles: what's the point of being a freelancer for the glossies if you can't write a catty piece that sneers at everyone who's ever signed a paycheque for you?

Wishing you a happy weekend -- WP/dpr

"We call this pose, 'L'homme écartement.'"

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Vintage Whisky, 2010

If I had to highlight the highest lights from 2010, I'd give it to my Harvey Pekar obit and tribute, Woody Guthrie's guitar, and The Summer of Egress: 1980.

A hundred grand, give or take, should get you
a Socialist's guitar
(Debbie Harry photo not included).





Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Jim Harrison

There was a small piece of moon to light my way, and my walking meditation was full of pleasant thoughts about my limits. A horse could walk, trot, lope, canter, gallop, and run. As children we had scooted around with our cap guns, slapping our own asses as if we were both horse and rider. Of course a horse couldn't read and I was very good at that. Counting was a matter that could be pretty much ignored. Far off along the creek bed I thought I heard a whippoorwill, sometimes called a goatsucker, from the nightjar family (Caprimulgidae). The future was acceptable rather than promising. It was certainly my choice.
Jim Harrison wrote that. It's the concluding paragraph to . . .

On second thought, if you're a reader of his why don't you go ahead and guess? I'll tell you at the end of this.

A friend introduced me to Harrison's work in the late '80s, when he was penning a "food" column for Esquire. The above paragraph could just as credibly come from one of those columns as from any of his other essays or novels or novellas or even, with a bit of tweaking, his volumes of poetry. I can't speak to his Hollywood screenplays, as I've not seen any of the several credited to him. But I suspect they bear as much semblance to an actual "screenplay" as any of his novels do to what we commonly accept as "novel."

Harrison was both cussedly and charmingly determined to give his particular expression of his particular vision of things. His Esquire ramblings won me over immediately and for all time. But as the years progressed, he (like Doctorow) became more "collected" than "completed." I suspect my unwillingness to finish a given work was aligned with the epistolary nature of his prose. He had an aversion to conclusion. You knew, as a reader, he'd continue the meditation again, in another book to be released at a future date. He could have signed them all off with, "Things to do. Later, Jim." Would this have disappointed anyone but his editor?

That's his prose, mind you. His poetry is different -- that I can finish. And return to, again and again -- particularly his late-in-life stuff.
Seven in the Woods
Am I as old as I am?
Maybe not. Time is a mystery
that can tip us upside down.
Yesterday I was seven in the woods,
a bandage covering my blind eye,
in a bedroll Mother made me
so I could sleep out in the woods
far from people. A garter snake glided by
without noticing me. A chickadee
landed on my bare toe, so light
she wasn’t believable. The night
had been long and the treetops
thick with a trillion stars. Who
was I, half-blind on the forest floor
who was I at age seven? Sixty-eight
years later I can still inhabit that boy’s
body without thinking of the time between.
It is the burden of life to be many ages
without seeing the end of time.
I wish I was still hearing that silent, "Things to do. Later, Jim." But I'm not. He is gone now.

More Harrison poetry here. Tom Bissell wrote my favourite profile of Harrison, here. It is included with other fine pieces Bissell has written, in Magic Hours: Essays on Creators & Creation, which I highly recommend. Eleanor Wachtel bookends two interviews she did with Harrison in the '90s in this CBC podcast. Next to the poetry, Harrison's The Road Home and Brown Dog are my faves -- good places to start with him, I'd say. Then move on to his memoir, Off To The Side. The opening quote is from The Beige Dolorosa, the third novella in Julip.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Vintage Whisky, 2009




Pictured: not me (so far as I know).

Friday, March 18, 2016

What Sort of Mennonite Reads Playboy?*

*The confessional sort, apparently.

Hey, fella!

Wanna feel old? Decrepit? Skeevy? But mostly old? Rush out and buy yourself the latest issue of Playboy magazine!

Ask a stupid question...
In case you missed the news, Playboy is putting clothes back on its "bunnies." Also, the articles are (reportedly) worth reading. I gave my wife the heads-up (best she not discover the notorious magazine next to the book beneath the bed) then kept alert for the first opportunity to procure my copy of the newly-modest "men's" magazine.

In hindsight, there are so many things I wish I'd done differently.

I should have had my wife next to me when I bought it. Heck, I should have asked her to buy the damn thing. At the very least, I should have taken a look at the contents before committing to purchase.

Had I leafed through it, I'd probably have returned it to the rack. Alas, I was in Canada's Big Boxy Book Behemoth, and they situate the magazine stand right next to the coffee counter. It being March Break, the place was swarming with kids -- and their latte-sipping mothers -- and there was simply no way I could muster the required nerve to casually flip through what is still, at the end of the day, a girly magazine.
I mean, honestly...
So I grabbed a copy and quickly hustled over to cash.

The young woman behind the counter was civil. I didn't blush too profusely. But I probably took the exchange a step too far when I asked if the kids were anticipating a guest appearance from Captain Underpants.
"But think of the children!"
The articles are about as good as reported -- which is to say they aren't that good.

And the girls are about as clothed as reported, which is to say they aren't that clothed. They're all roughly the age of my older daughter, togged out in the fashion favoured by their randy and clueless generational peers. Perhaps there's a frisson to the glossy photographic proceedings that kids these days might get a thrill from. I wouldn't know -- I found it all gloom-inducing.

It occurred to me as I read Brett Easton Ellis and Karl Ove Knausgård -- both of whom are basically my age -- that they are what currently passes for "literary lions." I "get" and "don't get" them both, in equal measure. They're both confessional, finally, often to a degree that is discomfiting and can even seem confrontational. It appears that's what my generation specializes in. And for the most part I tend not to buy magazines (never mind books) devoted to that sort of exercise. Louis C.K. is our acknowledged master of the form. Beyond that, there's always blogs -- n'est-ce pas?

So you're welcome to my copy, but you'll have to rummage through our bluebox for it. Difficult times indeed, then, for men's magazines.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Vintage Whisky, 2008



Nobody looking? Time for some Mark Allan Powell...