Thursday, 24 April 2008

A moving story, chapter 3: Big events

Here’s what next: more work, at home and the office! But not for long. I wasn’t even back at work for a whole week before I was fired, what! (That was April 10.) I am not lying. I basically faced one of the greatest shocks of my life, and, justifiably, I think, the following days are unclear. I had been ready to work at that job for several years to finance my new domestic lifestyle; but, admittedly, I was not challenged by the work, and it left me wanting creative activities. Anyway, I got two weeks severance and a kick in the pants to move on with things, and it meant that I could spend the next while at home working on the house, in between looking for jobs, of course. So you don’t worry too much, the day after I left Caliper, I followed a good lead, which led to an interview and a job offer a week later, and I will be starting work again next week. All told, three weeks off between jobs. I won’t even get the pleasure of collecting an EI cheque.

But back to the house. Hmm. Well, about a week after we moved in, our electricians came along to start work. I believe I mentioned something about having to rewire the entire deal. All but one room, that is, and even that room needed the ground wires connected. So for the following two weeks they roamed through the house drilling holes in the walls and leaving piles of rubble and dust in their wake. We occasionally cleaned up after them only to have them come back the next day and leave another mess. It has been difficult to say the least (for us and for them!) to live in the house as it is under renovation. And if I may offer some advice to new home buyers, it is this: if possible, try to get as much structural work done as you can before moving in. That should save you some pretty major headaches. The electricians have had to get into the attic and under the house to do their thing, and if we weren’t here to get in the way and live with the dust and debris, we would all be happier! Nonetheless, it’s almost done, and they have been very good and fast, and we didn’t really have the option of living elsewhere in the meantime.

The weekend before last was a really big one. The biggest yet I guess. Danijela’s parents came into town on Saturday to do some work and spend the night and prepare for a big work day on Sunday. Also on Saturday morning, my dad came over to rearrange the plumbing for the washer and basin sink in the basement. Of course, the electricians had shut off the power down there, so we worked by flashlight. Of course, the basement is really quite far from our minds at the moment with all the important stuff to do above ground. (But personally, I can’t wait to get building a studio there.) Also that day, I pulled out from the garden all of the metal poles and bits that previously supported a vegetable garden. A couple of days later, I would get down and dirty and remove all the cigarette butts from the soil (in one section at least). On Sunday, several of Danijela’s uncles came down along with her aunt and cousin for a housework blitz that transformed the house in hours. Most of the work was painting, and that day we almost completed the upstairs, but we also extended the heating into the back room office and installed laminate flooring in there, we tore out the basement “bedroom”, and added heating to the basement bathroom. That was all very very promising, though again, after we cleaned up, the electricians left their little piles. And aside from the weekends, progress is slow. But it goes on!

Tuesday, the 15th, my friends Jon and Graham and I began carting off the junk in Jon’s pick up. I hadn’t been inside a transfer station before, and boy was that a treat. Needless to say it stank, and we tried to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. At the same time, shovelling garbage from the back of a truck straight onto the ground did offer some satisfaction. Jon and I went again last Saturday morning only to find a line stretching down the street and around the corner, maybe 100 cars long. In the end we waited an hour and some just to get in, then another 40-odd minutes to get out! I guess the dump is a popular weekend hangout.

Danijela and I have now spent several mornings racing to IKEA to eat elevenses before they stopped serving their dollar breakfast. Well, technically, we went to shop for various bits--light fixtures, curtains, and a desk the first time; I’m not sure we bought anything the second time; and the third time, a cupboard, shelf set, and a bunch of organizing boxes--but a delicious second breakfast is certainly an incentive. And I’m sure we’ll come up with another excuse to go before I start working again. We’ve also been making numerous trips to the renovation plaza at Keele and St. Clair streets. That is, the massive plaza with a Rona, Home Depot, Canadian Tire, Dominion, Staples, a drive through ATM, and, believe me, much more. It’s handy, and I get to practice my driving. A couple of weeks ago, I went with Danijela’s dad, and we had to return in a very illegal fashion, with Mile sitting in the back on the folded-down seat with no seat belt, because there was too much stuff in the car. I only worry about this sort of thing because I’ve only got my G1 license, and the penalty is worse than just a fine I think. Whatever, right? It won’t be the last time I do something like that (sorry Mum!).

Now I can’t get our internet to work, so I have to hijack someone’s wireless. Thank goodness for those generous folk who don’t secure their connections! Read on..!

Friday, 18 April 2008

A moving story, chapter 2: Livin' the dream

Here's Danijela and Adam's house adventure after three weeks: things are a mess, but it's a mess in progress. (And I am a poet, and I don't know it.) For those who saw the house on our moving day, or soon after, you may remember a basically clean if very dated and colour-challenged house. Today there is dust everywhere, there are holes in the walls, bits of furniture everywhere, drop sheets hiding boxes, there is a TV on the floor, and one naked room awaiting insulation and drywall. But let me start where I left off.

In the first week, progress moved slowly. It took us that whole week just to get the kitchen in working order--that being the most important room for frugal people after a move. We took the highly varnished doors off of the numerous cupboards, scrubbed them with TSP, sanded down the bits of goo that wouldn't come off otherwise, then painted them all white, along with the cupboards themselves--inside and out. We soaked the hardware in TSP and found that they were actually brass, not sticky brown. (Only glazed meat products, generally found in Korean or Chinese restaurants, should ever be sticky brown.) Then we put the whole shebang back together and finally emptied our first boxes. Oh the excitement of that day! But remember that took most of a week, and that was only half of the kitchen. The other half still awaits attention.

I had begun preparing one of the upstairs rooms for painting--washing the smoke-stained walls. If you remember, they were brown from paint, but they were extra brown from various types of smoke. And I noticed something special the other day: I don't want to judge the people who previously lived here, but there are a few points that really annoy me. One in particular is that in each of the window screens on the second floor--where the daughter and son-in-law of the owner lived with two of their kids--there is a small hole cut to allow for easy cigarette ash and butt disposal. In fact, in the bathroom, they cut out half of the screen right to the edges of the frame. We found a nice pile of butts outside under that window, as well as on the front lawn and in the vegetable garden. No further comment. Anyway, Danijela and I decided to work together to get the kitchen done and to entertain each other. We actually listened to the radio for most of that week--mostly because we couldn't be bothered to dig out our CDs. Actually, we were better off then--our stereo is buried again now.

Then we were off to Montreal to surprise the young James Braithwaite and usher him into old age. I hope the attendants are treating you well at the retirement home my good friend. We had a great time there, though, as always, too short. And for the first weekend of April, there was so much snow still on the ground! I mean, there was still snow in Toronto--a lot for that time of year--but my goodness, Montreal, I hope you've recovered at last! I shouldn't talk though, Danijela and I have been past Yorkdale mall a few times recently on our way to Ikea North York (more on that later), and there are still piles of the brown stuff in the parking lots there. Anyway, the mood came down a bit on the drive home when we learned that someone had stolen our brand new barbeque from our garage. We discovered this because we had left our house key in there for Danijela's dad and uncle to come in and do some work. Some time after he found out, he called us, about four hours away, to let us know. The garage was unlocked because we had had trouble with the lock, so I suppose it was an easy target. But it is a pretty crap welcome to the neighbourhood. Still, we learned a valuable lesson--not "lock up your stuff, because your neighbours are all crooks", but "listen to your instincts": I had the idea on a couple of occasions to at least lock things up inside the garage if we couldn't lock the garage itself. So, while we will certainly warm the house this summer, I'm afraid that we will have to use a little $10 barbeque from Canadian Tire. I would still like to have a look around the neighbourhood pawn shops to see if I can find our lost beauty, but I haven't got around to it yet. The joys of home ownership!

At any rate, while we were away in la belle province, eating delicious salads and basking in the beautiful early spring weather, some big things were happening back home in the Junction. On Saturday, my dad came in to enlarge the opening between the two front rooms on our main floor. He raised the doorway about half a metre or so, and it looks great. It will look especially good once it's framed and finished. Right now, and for the past two weeks, the opening has been covered by a plastic sheet help up by duct tape. On Sunday, Danijela's dad and uncle came in and tore down the plaster and lath on the outer walls and ceiling of the main floor front room, exposing the frame of this beautiful house of ours. This created about fifteen massive bags of dust and bundles of wood, which weighed down our already sagging porch for several days. (Did I forget to mention that one corner of the porch appears to have sunk about 15-20 cm from the time it was built?)

Danijela soon heard from a friendly neighbour that we had best not catch the eye of the local building inspector, so with the help of a go-ped left behind (probably in the crawl space) we moved most of the bags around the side of the house and left them to be rained on for a couple of days. Not surprisingly, then, they got soggy. Surprisingly, though, only one of them actually broke.

What next, what next? Read on..!

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Beautiful songs: Ceremony

Thanks to my big sister, Jane, I grew up listening to New Order and other great bands in the eighties. My early memories of NO come from the Substance singles compilation LP, in particular the songs "Bizarre Love Triangle" (of course), "True Faith", "Perfect Kiss", and "Blue Monday". But the very first song on this album is the one that today gives me chills from just thinking about it. One might find "Ceremony" unassuming at first. When it comes to NO singles, many will inevitably skip it in favour of the pure electro-pop joy of their other songs. New Order songs are (for the most part) danceable, uplifting, and upbeat, despite their often obscure and occasionally melancholy lyrics. But not this one.

The type of pop music that New Order creates is nostalgic. This is a pretty common trend since the seventies, when bands began to long for the blissful pop songs of the sixties. But that is not NO's nostalgia. Theirs is more the uncanny sort that makes you feel instantly comfortable (or uncomfortable), like you recognize the music, though you may not connect it with anything you've heard before. (Clearly I'm biased on this point, since, as I mentioned, I grew up listening to this music; but bear with me. I have felt this type of instant nostalgia with several bands since, both new and old, and I am certain that it points to a real phenomenon.) I think New Order reached the peak of this form with the song "Regret" from their 1993 album, Republic. In my opinion, that is one of the greatest pop songs of all time. But I digress.

"Ceremony" feels nostalgic, but it is hardly a pop song. It was written by Joy Division—meaning the members of New Order plus Ian Curtis, but minus Gillian Gilbert—but never properly recorded in studio by them. The only existing recordings of "Ceremony" by Joy Division are a demo and a live version from a show just two weeks before singer Ian Curtis's suicide. I was ecstatic when I discovered a couple of years ago that these recordings existed, and more so that I actually possessed one of them—the demo—on the Joy Division box set, Heart and Soul. It is beautiful and haunting, and it leaves me wanting a proper JD recording, not just the New Order version. Still, NO were faithful to Curtis's memory and voice, and I can't imagine that Joy Division would have created anything more beautiful than their successors did. As on their tribute to Curtis, "Blue Monday", New Order singer Bernard Sumner channels his predecessor and sings with his stirring monotone voice. That spirit would follow the latter band throughout their career. And today I discovered that there exist two versions of "Ceremony" by New Order also! It's like a strike to the heart. How could I not have known! How soon can I find and hear the other! Not soon enough.

Occasionally, this song makes me tear up, but they are not tears of sadness that "Ceremony" causes me, and the song does not make me feel nostalgic for any particular time or thing in my life. The shivers and tears are for the beauty of the object: the divine nature of music and the reality it exposes. Good, honest music bares the soul; and if we listen to it honestly, it frees us from our bodies and minds to connect with the soul of the creator—with life. And the nostalgia is the soul yearning for that connection: remembering a time when it knew no walls, when it was restricted by no mind or matter.

"Ceremony" flew low on my radar for most of my life. I was generally aware of it, but I hadn't connected with it the way I do now. I was one to skip past it to the "good stuff" on Substance, meaning the dancey party songs. I felt a more artificial nostalgia for the songs "Bizarre Love Triangle" (my childhood), "Temptation" (my mid-adolescence, caused by the film, Trainspotting), and "Regret" (adolescence generally); not that I don't think those are great songs. I'm just aware that my feelings towards those songs are very closely tied to times and events in my life. I was more connected to "1963", a rather odd and melancholy dance song about a man, Johnny, who only seems to be able to leave romantic relationships by killing his partner. Thinking about it now, it is a common theme among people who are unable to express themselves in relationships: one feels it is impossible for him to tell his partner that he wants to leave, so the only way out is murder. This is all over film, literature, and theatre. My point is that maybe the affinity I felt with this song was due to difficulties I have had communicating with people. Regardless, I now feel towards no New Order song like I do towards "Ceremony".

Now, perhaps I will contradict myself. I couldn't say precisely why I came to connect with "Ceremony". But it "started" like this: Several years ago, when I was still spinning records at Blow Up, the local indie-mod party, DJ Davy Love would occasionally play "Ceremony" later on in the night, often well after last call (2:00 in Toronto, for those who want to know). Unfortunately, my memory of this period is not entirely clear. I can't remember at which club this happened, though I'm fairly certain it was the El Mocambo, which places this event at least seven years ago. And I can't recall my relationship to the song at the time. I knew it and liked it very much, certainly, but let me go on. One night in particular, I remember catching the last bridge of the song, a rising three-note guitar riff repeating quickly over a beat driven by the hi-hat cymbal. I remember thinking, "I know this. What is it?"

Blow Up was the centre of the mod-britpop-indie universe in Toronto for several years around the turn of the millennium. It wasn't part of a scene; it was the scene, every Saturday for people from as far away as Hamilton, Buffalo, New York, and Detroit (not to speak of the boundless Toronto suburbs). In 2002, I went to our namesake mod party in London, England, and that was nowhere near as popular as our Blow Up in Toronto. Anyway, I attended as a partier, a fan, a young mod, nearly every week from the time I was 18 and a half (that's below legal age in Ontario, for the curious), and eventually I began DJing there, too, crystallizing my taste and feel for the unique and particular music that constitutes a scene like that. There is still an awful lot of music from that period that gives me strong feelings when I hear it, and if I were to compile a list of favourite albums, probably at least half of it would comprise things I fell in love with then. So clearly, I have a nostalgic interest here, and, if I examined more closely, I could probably find that "Ceremony" speaks to my state of mind and my feelings about the mod scene at the time the song struck me. Like, maybe the song is somehow the story of my life then.

It's sad to say that even at that point, in the middle of its tenure, the Blow Up/mod scene was dying in Toronto. (At least the scene as I had known it.) Or rather, it was having an identity crisis. This certainly mirrors my own experience at the time. If I remember correctly, this was soon before the El Mo closed (a sure and sad sign of trouble, though it has reopened since), and Blow Up moved to other, less felicitous venues. After it moved, my heart was no longer in it, and now I don't miss those times. I enjoyed myself, I made good friends, I honed my skill behind the 'tables; I dressed well, I danced hard, and I fell in love. But it's over now, and while very influential, I have no desire to return to that time or to relive it now. In other words, I'm not sad that that part of my life is over, and while "Ceremony" may be connected to an important time of my life, I don't believe that connection is nostalgic. In that "What is this?" moment, I heard the song afresh; it was new to me and out of place and time; it was a sign of things to come. I think that's what it was in the beginning and is still.

The ceremony is the act of recognition, acknowledgment, preparation, and, consequently, transformation. In the ceremony, we prepare to transform, to become new. Is that what this song is about? I don't know. Bernard Sumner himself had to put the early Joy Division recordings of "Ceremony" through graphic equalization to make out the lyrics. But a great song is more than the sum of its individual parts. This is a song written by a troubled man and a band in troubled times. It is a product of a certain time and space, though it persists across those dimensions. It is a credit to the remaining members of Joy Division that they moved on to form New Order and that they paid tribute to Ian Curtis with "Ceremony" (and its b-side "A Lonely Place", also written by JD). It seems to me that they understood the beauty of the song, and would not let death prevent them from giving it to the world. I am very glad that they did.
__

This is why events unnerve me,
They find it all, a different story,
Notice whom for wheels are turning,
Turn again and turn towards this time,
All she asks the strength to hold me,
Then again the same old story,
World will travel, oh so quickly,
Travel first and lean towards this time.

Oh, I'll break them down, no mercy shown,
Heaven knows, its got to be this time,
Watching her, these things she said,
The times she cried,
Too frail to wake this time.

Oh I'll break them down, no mercy shown
Heaven knows, its got to be this time,
Avenues all lined with trees,
Picture me and then you start watching,
Watching forever, forever,
Watching love grow, forever,
Letting me know, forever.
Read on..!

A moving story, chapter 1

So, as some of you know, Danijela and I bought a house in January of this year. That gave us about two months to stew in that broth of responsibility before the sale closed on March 27. There was lots to do, of course. We knew that we would be doing an awful lot of work on the house, and we were willing. The electrical was mostly original and had to be replaced so that we could be insured (if not only for our peace of mind and convenience). The roof shingles will have to be replaced this year, the furnace soon after. There is some awful fake brick plastered on the front of the house—over the original brick, which looks in fine shape, from the few spots where the overlay has broken. That will have to go, along with the porch; the latter we'll replace in some form or another. Also, the basement is basically unfinished, and will take a couple of months of destruction and construction to create my ultimate man cave. Those were the things we knew about or were fully aware of.

It was an exciting time, those two months, and stressful, too. I began packing early in February, which created havoc in our old apartment. Of course that was inevitable with three persons living in maybe 500 square feet, with our belongings overflowing into the hallway/fire escape path shared with our downstairs neighbour. We had to transfer our utilities accounts and change all of our registered addresses. Credit cards, drivers' licenses, everything. And then dealing with the financial stuff: the mortgage and insurance, getting quotes, getting details, finalizing things, signing things, and on and on. Thank God, Danijela is amazing with this stuff. Without her, the whole process would have been a disaster. She managed somehow to keep track of everything that we had to do and when, and it all got done and nothing got lost (that we know of). If anybody wants to know more details about this stuff, feel free to ask me or Danijela.

When we got the keys, we were excited. Danijela went to visit the house with her dad right away. It was a Thursday afternoon, so I was working, but afterwards, we returned to have another look. Finally, we were in! That two months had felt like ages to me, and now, here it was, empty, silent, ours, full of potential. I could see how I wanted it to look, though I could also see the current state of it. I wanted to start right away. I couldn't wait until the weekend, and I had booked off the following week from work.

Of course, then came the surprises. The entire interior of the house needs repainting. Most of it is brown, including the ceiling in the upstairs bathroom, and most of what isn't brown is dark (blue and red), which, besides washing, will require several coats of primer and paint. The room we are planning on using as our bedroom was covered in fake wood panelling, which, once removed, revealed the original plaster, cracking and damaged and hiding a near complete lack of insulation. Elsewhere, the lighting is bad: in the upstairs bathroom, there is only one light; it's on the wall—opposite the mirror so it is effectively useless. Other rooms have equally ineffective lights, mostly failing to light anything beyond a metre-radius. A raised addition at the back of the house hid a pile of junk including nasty old shoes, a squash racquet, a broken shovel and shears, wires, soil, general garbage, and a plastic swan, which is probably the most useful thing in the pile. That same addition also lacks heating (at least it has a ceiling light).

Lest I sound like I'm just complaining, I love this house—our house. It has "great bones" and it is in a terrific "up and coming" neighbourhood, the Junction. With Spring here and warm weather on the way, I can't wait to throw open the windows and relax in the yard and clean up the lawn and maybe plant a garden (eventually—probably not this year). There's an evergreen tree right in front of the house now that we'll probably replace with something deciduous that we can watch grow. Joy. Read on..!
 
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The New Dilettantes by Adam Gorley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.