Category: Uncategorized

This freezer is for my head

Uncategorized November 17, 2011

Of the 40 years I’ve been around, I’ve lived about 33 of them in or around Montreal. The times I was away occurred in two stints, and mostly in California: 1971-1973, my first two years of life, and 1982-1987, from the age of 11 to (nearly) 16. During the latter stretch, I missed Montreal something terrible. Over time, I found some ways to soothe my homesickness. Better libraries had telephone book collections. I’d find a quiet table and pore over the Montreal Yellow Pages, perusing advertisements for familiar restaurants and stores like Chenoys and Au Bon Marché. When I learned you could call long-distance Information from payphones for free (remember Area Code + 555 +1212?), I dialled up Montreal and asked the operator for the score in the Canadiens’ game. She told me I wasn’t supposed to call for this purpose and proceeded to let me know the Habs were up 2-1 in the third period.

I also used to stick my head inside freezers. They smelled like winter. I detail the discovery of this home-channelling method in “Bay Area Freezers,” a piece I wrote for CBC’s Canada Writes’ True Winter Tales challenge. It’s on their site today as “Pick of the Day.”

On a cold, grey November day in 1982, a week after my eleventh birthday, I stood at the top of our walk and watched my family’s stretch-wrapped belongings get loaded into a big Bekins moving truck. We were leaving Montreal for northern California. I was sad and nervous. I was also, apparently, very fortunate. Maybe it was the time of year, the weather growing ever colder, full-blown winter a mere meteorological dip away, because, as we said our goodbyes, everyone spoke jealously of how I’d be soon sitting on a beach while they’d be soon shovelling driveways. 

Read the rest here.

Dan Duquette is more knowledgeable about baseball than I am

Uncategorized November 10, 2011

On November 19, 1993, Dan Duquette was the general manager of the Montreal Expos and I was a 22-year old know-it-all fan of the Montreal Expos. On that day, Duquette traded Delino DeShields to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Pedro Martinez. DeShields was the Expos’ very popular but very replaceable second baseman. Martinez was a young fireballer, buried in the Dodgers’ bullpen, in the very early stages of what would turn out to be a fantastic career that saw him win three Cy Young Awards (one with the Expos) and a World Series championship with the Boston Red Sox.

Of course I thought this was a terrible, terrible trade. The worst, perhaps, in my entire baseball-watching career.

So, as any self-respecting know-it-all 22-year old should do, I fired off a letter to Dan Duquette. I don’t have a copy of my letter, but suffice to say I let Duquette have it. Culling from every corner of my vast array of knowledge, I let the Expos’ general manager know why it was a terrible idea to trade his starting second baseman for what I thought at the time was merely a middle relief pitcher. I also accused him of lying, because Duquette had stated publicly that he would not break up the core of the team, and I considered DeShields to be as much a part of the Expos’ young, impressive core as Larry Walker, Moises Alou, John Wetteland, and Marquis Grissom were. To Duquette’s everlasting credit, he wrote me back, and promptly. It’s a letter I still have. His reply to a raging, passionate Expos fan was concise, courteous, and absolutely spot-on:

Dear Mark,

Thank you for your letter and concern for the Montreal Expos.

Let me remind you how vital pitching is to a championship team. I think you will feel a lot better about our trade after you see Pedro Martinez pitch for the Montreal Expos.


Dan Duquette
Vice-President, General Manager

Hearty congratulations to Dan Duquette, who, yesterday, was named executive vice president of baseball operations of the Baltimore Orioles. I wish him nothing but the best and hope that he can pull off another stellar, cunning trade like the one he made for the Expos back in November of 1993. It’s the trade that put that edition of the Expos over the top, making them a team that, if not for the work stoppage in 1994 and all of its consequences, had the potential to win multiple championships. I never wrote him back to let him know, and it’s not as if he doesn’t already know, but, nearly 18 years to the day, let me say it: Dan, you were right.

And thank you.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Uncategorized October 19, 2011

Happier Times: This photograph by Tedd Church appeared on the front page of The Montreal Gazette on October 9, 1981, the day after the Expos won Game 2 at Olympic Stadium to take a 2-0 lead in the NLDS versus Philadelphia. I was at the game, sitting some five or six rows in front of the sign-wielding Gauthiers, who made a positively educative impression on my 9-year old self. "Bill Lee For Mayor" is a sentiment arguably just as applicable today as it was 30 years ago. And file "Next Stop Houston" under Antiquated But Forgiveable as, at the time the photo was taken, the Astros were up two games to none in the Division Series they'd eventually lose to the Dodgers.

Fuck Blue Monday.

Fuck that 30 years ago today the Expos were but one win away from advancing to the World Series. Fuck that I stayed home from school, only to watch Rick Monday and the Los Angeles Dodgers put end to that dream and to the Expos’ one and only post-season appearance in their history. Fuck that I cried my little 9-year old eyes out. It’s time for some positive thinking for once on October 19th.

Blue Monday was so devastating that it has, deplorably, come to symbolize almost everything about 1981 Montreal Expos. The loss on Blue Monday was so bad, so ruinous, that apart from the image of Warren Cromartie waving the Canadian flag in Philadelphia, we tend to forget all the games the Expos won in the 1981 playoffs. There were three against the Phillies to take the strike-necessitated NLDS (what, at the time, we charmingly called the “mini-series”). And there were two against Los Angeles, two wins in a best-of-five series; as close as they could come without actually taking it.

So instead of spending the 30th anniversary Blue Mondaying all over again, spend some quality time today with, courtesy of, the boxscores of those wins.

And no fucking crying.

October 7, 1981: Expos 3, Phillies 1

October 8, 1981: Expos 3, Phillies 1

October 11, 1981: Expos 3, Phillies 0

October 14, 1981: Expos 3, Dodgers 0

October 16, 1981: Expos 4, Dodgers 1

If you must relive the whole thing, you can find those other games by following links found here and here.

The Day NoMeansNo Became Everything

Uncategorized October 17, 2011

Two older brothers.

NoMeansNo is the greatest band in the world. Lentil, incidentally, is the greatest soup in the world, but this post is about NoMeansNo. More specifically, this is the story of the first time my younger brother Mike heard NoMeansNo.

One day in 1989, I got home from whatever I was doing when I was 17 and went up to my room. Mike was in there. (Note: Had it been 1979, I would have attacked Mike on sight and choked him but by 1989 we were kind of like friends.) My record player was going and Mike was holding the jacket of my copy of NoMeansNo’s The Day Everything Became Nothing EP. “This is fucking great!” Mike squeaked. (In fairness, it is possible he did not actually squeak but he was 15 and he squeaked a lot in his younger days, so squeaking is definitely within the realm of possibilities.) I just stood there and laughed and laughed and laughed.

A technical note is in order here to understand what was so fucking funny. If you own or owned a vinyl copy of The Day Everything Became Nothing, you might have already guessed what it was. Maybe you had a similar experience. Maybe it happened to you or maybe it happened to a younger brother who, on occasion, came into your room to check out your records. The Day Everything Became Nothing was a 12-inch record, a size, in most cases, to be played at 33 rpm. The Day Everything Became Nothing, however, was a 6-song 12-inch requiring play at 45 rpm.

My brother’s folly was judging the record by its size alone, playing it at 33 rpm, a much slower speed than it was intended to be played at. What was coming out of my stereo speakers sounded like a drone metal band with Sam the Eagle from The Muppet Show on lead vocals. Through the magic of technology, and with apologies to the band, let’s all travel back 22 years to that moment when Mike first heard NoMeansNo:


When I stopped laughing I explained to Mike that he was an idiot and that he had proved, once again, that older brothers are much cooler than younger brothers. I proceeded to play him the record at the correct speed. “Wow,” he squeaked (Again, it’s possible.), “that’s even BETTER!”

And what’s even BETTER than that, Mike, is the fact that NoMeansNo is playing Il Motore this Sunday night. See you there. Again.

Bay Area Freezers

Uncategorized October 14, 2011

While I was somewhat disappointed when it was revealed that the 2011 Massey Lectures would not, in fact, be a comprehensive study of The Mad Dash and its influences on contemporary Canadian culture and society, I thought Adam Gopknik on winter was a pretty good second choice. To mark the start of this year’s lectures, Daybreak on CBC Radio One here in Montreal has been soliciting quintessential Montreal winter stories. For anybody who’s ever found me at a party, in the kitchen, with my head stuck in the freezer, this explains everything.

Bay Area Freezers

Where the pledges spent the night

Uncategorized May 18, 2011

I realize this will come as a great shock, but I use a thesaurus. Take for example my story “Hot Dogs on Everything.”  Here are the story’s first two lines as they appeared A Finely Tuned Apathy Machine:

High school students and anybody who was drunk made up the majority of Julio’s clientele. He put chopped up hot dog wieners on everything – pizzas, soulvaki, subs, hamburger steak, fish and chips. 

And here are those lines as they appeared in my first draft, with no help from the thesaurus:

Teenagers who were not dropouts and people who had had at least six beers or four glasses of wine or three shots of hard liquor were the people who mainly went to Julio’s restaurant. He put chopped up frankfurters on all the things he made – pizzas, souvlaki, subs, hamburger steak, fish and chips.

There are those writers who will claim they never open a thesaurus but those writers are full of excreta.

My thesaurus is the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus . I love it. We are very intimate, me and the Oxford American. We are going to see Water for Elephants together next Wednesday.

As if having Stephin Merritt as one of its contributing authors wasn’t awesome enough, the Oxford American also features helpful example sentences for each of the entries. This was something I was good at in school, with vocabulary words, so I can appreciate a well-crafted example sentence. I recall in Grade 3, faced with the task of using the word “Chinese” in a sentence, I was able to reflect the cosmopolitan nature of our suburban schoolyard with “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these!”

I think Mr. McCurry was blown away by that one because after I read it out for the class he put his head on his desk and left it there for maybe a minute.

All this to say today I came across what is my all-time favourite example sentence in the Oxford American. It’s for the word “crypt” and I shouted with delight when I read it. It’s so wonderful I took a picture of it. It’s the example sentence to end all example sentences. I’d rather read this sentence over and over than many novels. Behold:

At the end of this Hour

Uncategorized April 12, 2011

To mark the end of Hour as we know it, here is a clipping from their July 7, 1994 edition in which some bearded gentleman was Montrealer of the Week. On that date, the Expos were 1 game out of first place, Brasal beer was available in convenient 4-packs at the depanneur, and you could do really weird shit to pictures with computers. 

“The end of Hour” by Steve Faguy from the Fagstein blog.

“Weekly paper Hour’s fate up in the air” by Jan Ravensbergen in the Montreal Gazette.