Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Me, I'm a Thief*

Pint glasses.

Salt and pepper shakers.

Beer pitchers.

Shot glasses.


Coffee mugs.

Cloth napkins.

Those coloured jars, like molten glass, filled with wax, that set the atmosphere at a dimly lit table. I carried them out with me; sometimes, while they were still lit and glowing.

I carried all of these things out of the pubs and restaurants that I frequented in my early 20s: mostly on or near university campuses.

A lot of them, in Kingston or the Byward Market.

I did it for the fun of it, just to see if I could get away with it. The small stuff was easy; the bigger stuff took skill. If I could throw a jacket over it, I could make like I was just carrying the jacket in my hands, that I would put it on once I was outside.

I swiped two burning candles, stuffed one down each coat sleeve, and made a hasty retreat. Either the coat would snuff out the flame or would catch fire: that was the thrill of it.

There was only one time when I got caught, was unsuccessful in my thievery. I was visiting some friends in Kingston: it was a Friday night and we had done some heavy drinking. As the pub was clearing out, I got up and grabbed my long coat, which had been draped over the back of the chair.

I lifted my coat—and the chair—and made my way to the door. As I traversed the bar area, no one gave me a second look. My friends led the way, me following closely behind them, my coat seemingly dragging on the floor.

As we reached the door, the bouncer held it for us, bid us a good night. I got all the way through the door and had stepped out on the sidewalk, just on the outer side of the threshold, when I felt some resistance.

The bouncer was hanging onto my coat. Or, rather, he was hanging onto the seat of the chair, through my coat.

"We'll be needing that," he said in a gentle but persuasive tone. He could have got angry, he could have hauled me back into the bar and called the police. But he was fair. He knew I'd be no trouble.

"So that's what was weighing my coat down," I chuckled, sheepishly, "I thought my coat got wet but, no, there's a chair stuck to it." I set the chair down gently and lifted my coat off it. "Too much to drink to notice." Another chuckle.

"Yeah, that must be it," the doorman said, lifting the chair and setting it inside. "You get home safely." And never show your face here again, his eyes told me.

I used to be a thief that way, when I was young and foolish. I still have some of those items today, to remind me of my reckless youth, to show me that, should one of my kids get crazy in their 20s, that I was like that once.

Also, the salt and pepper shakers are great for camping.

And I still use the shot glasses: I make a mean Manhattan with them.

* Stealing is bad. You shouldn't do it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Music Monday: Become

It's been a very long time since I've heard anything from Midge Ure. The last time I bought one of his albums, I wasn't even married: that was more than 20 years ago.

Which is sad, because I idolized the man when I was a teen.

When Ure became the front man for Ultravox in 1980, my life changed. I went from listening to Led Zeppelin, Yes, and The Who to New Wave and Alternative Pop (Depeche Mode, The The, Eurythmics, and U2). I still liked my rock, and Peter Gabriel was king (still is), but I listened to Ultravox every single day.

I had earlier albums by Ultravox (Ultravox!, Ha!-Ha!-Ha!, and Systems of Romance), when John Foxx led the band, but I wasn't really into them, only liked a track or two from each.

With Midge Ure and Vienna, it was a whole new band with a completely different sound, and I couldn't get enough of them. I would buy every album as soon as they hit the store shelves, without hearing a single track. And I would play them over and over again.

Ure went on to put out a solo album in 1985, The Gift, before he and Ultravox released their final album together a year later. His hit single, If I Was, solidified him as a top artist around the world.

I saw Midge Ure play twice in Ottawa; the second time, I managed to sneak back stage and meet him, although briefly. When one of the security guy at Barrymore's noticed I was where I shouldn't be, he moved in quickly to bounce me out, but Midge said, "that's okay," and I was spared a rough departure. But we shook hands, I told him I was a huge fan, that I hoped he would return to Ottawa, and that was pretty much that.

He hasn't been back, and I blame the bouncer.

When I was first creating Roland Axam, I modeled his appearance after Midge Ure. Brown hair, dark eyes, thin-faced with a high forehead. A good looking man who could easily fade into a crowd. Even though my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary, is based on my experiences in South Korea, I always pictured my character, who has a much darker past than me, who lived a past life as a spy, I have always pictured Roland Axam to look more like Midge Ure than like me.

By the time I left Canada to live in Korea, in 1997, I hadn't seen a new album from Midge Ure since his 1991 release, Pure. He had a UK release in 1996, but it hadn't reached Canada before I left the country. And any time I checked a CD shop, I never found anything by the man I idolized (the Internet wasn't as robust back then).

I assumed Ure hadn't produced any more music, had turned his attention to charity work, such as Live Aid. I also learned that he and Ultravox reunited for a tour in 2009, but they never came to North America. And so I stopped looking for more from Midge Ure.

Until earlier this year, when I learned he was on Twitter. Naturally, I began to follow him, but by then, I was so busy with other things in my life that I didn't go digging, didn't check to see what the man was up to.

At the beginning of July, he started tweeting about his new album, and I got excited. I thought that he would have a UK release and that shortly thereafter, there would be distribution in Canada and other countries.

Being old-school, that was my thinking: and then I remembered we now live in the digital age. Yesterday, I performed a quick search on Google Play, and lo and behold, I discovered Midge Ure's full library. I immediately downloaded his new album, Fragile, and one from 2001 (re-released as an expansion in 2006), Move Me.

I have missed you, Midge. And while your new album still carries the sound you had in the 80s and 90s, you have also kept with the times. You have evolved with the Pop genre while keeping your distinct sound, and you have shown me what I have missed over the decades.

Fragile is beautiful, filled with haunting joy. And while I love the album, I do find that Ure's vocals seem softer; on some tracks, slightly diminished, as though the album title refers to the man, whose voice does not have the strength and the power of The Voice from Rage In Eden.

For today's Music Monday (yes, I eventually got here), I am sharing a song from Midge Ure's new album. Though time has changed the man, it certainly hasn't changed him for the worse.

Over the next few days and weeks, I'm looking forward to reacquainting myself with the man who kept me safe from a bouncer.

Happy Monday!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Photo Friday: The Miller's Daughter

More than a month ago, I attended a model shoot at the Carbide Willson Mill, in Gatineau Park. We took advantage of the secluded woodland, waterfalls, and mill to create an atmosphere of isolation.

The location was great: sadly, the weather didn't cooperate.

It rained lightly as the photographers and model met in the parking lot near Meech Lake, and gained in strength as we set up. Throughout the shoot, the rain fell in torrents, drenching everyone and everything.

A tree fell along the pathway that brought us to the mill. Had we been 10 minutes later in arriving, it could have been catastrophic.

Our model was good natured about the weather, didn't complain about the thousands of mosquitoes that were relentless. Didn't get upset about being cold.

We had to stop when the rain started affecting our equipment. My shutter release stopped working—it would focus on my subject but wouldn't take the picture, or would delay by several seconds; another photographer's camera seized altogether.

Post production involved removing raindrops from fabric, which was darkened with spots, and smoothing skin, which was water-saturated.

I couldn't have been wetter if I had fallen into the waterfall.

But it was entirely worth it.

I have only edited a couple of photos from the shoot, have dozens and dozens to go through. Some are posted on my 500px site. Be careful: many are not safe for work.

Happy Friday.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


We didn't make eye contact. We couldn't.

If we did, we would start to laugh, and that would give us away.

And so we looked up at the sky, looked down at our shoes, looked at the flocks of students marching out from the school, away from the building, out to the back, near the football field and track.

While the alarm rang from within. While the sound of sirens grew louder, notifying us of the approach of the fire trucks.

"It is not," I said, standing under the conical disk that protruded from the ceiling tile. "It's too small. It's smaller than the ones we have at home. For a building this size, wouldn't it be bigger?"

"Size isn't everything."

The student lounge in my high school was called the Red Room, though it wasn't a room. But it was red. A second-floor hallway that linked the science classrooms to the music room, windows lined one side, overlooking the cafetorium—cafeteria during lunch hours; auditorium during special events—the other side with windows that looked out into a courtyard and beyond, the football field and the running track that encircled it.

Under these windows, wide window ledges with boxed recessions made for benches, and all of it was covered in a coarse, red carpet, which also ran along the same length of hallway floor. This is where my friends and I always met during our lunch and spare periods, and before school started.

I had a food tray from the cafetorium that I stashed away in the ceiling, where it was kept until I made my appearance, when I would retrieve the tray and spin it, endlessly, on the tip of my finger, like a circus performer.

Because I had been a regular fixture in the Red Room, I knew all the facets of the area. I always sat in the same spot, always hung out with the same group of friends. For years, I had noticed the ceiling fixtures that hung throughout the school, but I had never given them another thought, never spoke of them.

Until now.

I was standing in the hall, spinning the tray, looking up. "What is that thing anyway?" I asked.

"It's a smoke detector," replied one of my friends, his tone a little surprised that I wouldn't recognize the fixture.

"It is not, it's too small. It's smaller than the ones we have at home. For a building this size, wouldn't it be bigger?"

"Doesn't have to be bigger. There are plenty of them lining this hall."

"They aren't only activated by smoke," added another friend. "They work by pressure."

"Pressure?" I repeated, "Like, if there's an explosion?"

"Yes," he said, as though he were an expert on the subject. "If you hit one, the alarm will go off."

"No way," I said, "I'm sure some kids would look at it and think of it as a target. If they were so sensitive, wouldn't they be protected with a cage?"

"I'm telling you, if you hit it, the alarm will go off."

He said it like a challenge. I stopped spinning my tray and placed it on the bench, where I usually sat. I stood directly under the device, which now looked like a giant, white button. I crouched low, and then sprang up with as much strength as my short legs could muster. As I propelled myself upwards, I brought my right arm straight up, hand in a fist, and delivered a flying punch squarely on the centre of the smoke detector.

If you hit it, the alarm will go off.

"Holy shit!" my friend exclaimed. "It really does go off."

"You weren't sure?" I said, projecting my voice over the loud, menacing sound.

"I guessed."

"And I didn't believe you."

Students were now emerging from classrooms, making their way to the exits in an orderly fashion. All of my friends had witnessed the incident, all were as surprised as me. We collected our belongings. I tucked the tray back into the ceiling.

And we left the building.

We didn't make eye contact. We couldn't. If we did, we would start to laugh, and that would give us away.

We would never speak of this again.