Tuesday, September 29, 2015

While I Was Waiting

Since I was there anyway, and the main attraction had ducked away, I didn't want to come away empty handed. It was a beautiful, mild autumn evening, and the city was lit before me.

One of my favourite views of Parliament Hill is seen from the Québec side of the Ottawa River, from the Museum of Civilization*. The beautiful buildings are placed on a pedestal, a symbol of what should be good of our great nation. The river, below, strong, steady, unceasing in motion. And the Château Laurier, a castle in our city.

The harvest lunar eclipse may have been bashful, but our city was hiding from no one. I may not have captured a perfect image of the blood moon, but I could certainly capture what lay below.

* Yes, the museum in Gatineau is no longer called the Canadian Museum of Civilization, but to call it by its new name, for me, would be giving legitimacy to the millions of tax dollars wasted in renaming a perfectly good museum.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Super Blood Moon

I stood on the walled lookout, above the gentle hill that sloped down to the Rideau Canal, which was obscured by the foliage of the trees that weren't yet ready to admit we were in autumn. Looking east, the apartment buildings of Billings Bridge were the only evidence that we were in the city.

I set my tripod on the wall and pointed my camera east. Near me, two women had their own tripod, the camera pointed more towards Dow's Lake. She saw me set up my camera and ask, "Do you think the moon will rise more over that way?" Her hand pointed in the direction that my lens faced.

"Somewhere between those twin apartment buildings," I indicated, "and that parking garage."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm 98-percent sure."

"It's not going to rise where those trees are?" her hand gestured in the direction that her camera faced, a giant tree from the Arboretum blocking the view of the horizon."


"Are you sure?"

"I'm 100-percent sure."

The moon rose within a couple of degrees from my camera's field of view, but almost exactly where I predicted.

Thank you, Photographer's Ephemeris.

I watched the moon climb for about 10 to 15 minutes, and then packed up. Watching the moon rise above the trees, climb over the apartment buildings that stood in the distance filled me with joy. With so many lost opportunities for night shots of astral phenomena, I needed one to go right. With last night's moonrise, I did just that.

Later in the evening, I moved to the back of the Museum of Civilization. The last time that I watched a moon rise from this vantage was in 1989, during another lunar eclipse. Just as I had done back then, I shot the moon as it ascended, from the Arboretum, and then moved downtown and over the Ottawa River, to the museum, where I captured the eclipse as it occurred over Parliament Hill.

Just as I had done 26 years ago, so did I do again last night: this time, during a Super Blood Moon.

Except, the weather didn't cooperate.

As I set up to catch the moon, just as it was being swallowed by Earth's shadow, clouds rolled in, as if to say, "Show's over."

I searched for the moon, which would periodically show itself, only to hide again behind the clouds.

I packed up and headed home. But as I left the museum grounds, the moon showed itself one last time. I hastily set up my camera and took one final shot.

In my haste, I forgot to refocus.

There was blood on the moon, but the moon wasn't sharp.

And so I fudged it.

Close enough.

The next one is in 2033. With any luck, I may be around to do it again.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Photo Friday: A Private Story

The path grew dark, the bright sun hidden from view by the thick overhang from the trees along the path, which had been trodden upon by the bovine and equine residents of the nearby farm. Only the scant light between the leaves, and the light at either end of the woods provided any natural illumination.

The intermittent flashes from photographers provided the rest.

Her movements were delicate, contrived, deliberate. She paused with each motion, making sure each of us had an opportunity to capture her. She would flit her light skirts, which seemed to hang, seemed to take their time in their eventual, inescapable influence to gravity.

A story was being told in her movements, would never be put into words, would never be written on paper. All you had to do was look, and the tale was revealed. To you, alone.

It's a private story, yours to interpret. Don't speak it: just look, and you will understand.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Acting Stupid

When you're in front of your boss, at the office, you want to put your best foot forward, want to show that you're an expert in your field and on the ball, that nothing gets past you.


Not. One. Single. Thing.

But what do you do when your boss, the CEO of the company, is having an affair with one of your co-workers? When they believe that they're being secretive, that no one in the office knows.

Only, everyone in the office knows, everyone in the office knows that everyone knows about the affair, except for the two adulterers.

I saw them, almost daily, taking their lunch break together. In of itself, that's wasn't suspicious. Lots of colleagues become friends and take their lunches together. But for the CEO to have lunch with the receptionist raised eyebrows, especially when their lunch break exceeded an hour.

Nearly every day.

My suspicions were confirmed when the CEO and receptionist (who also took notes at meetings) arrived late for a meeting in which I was the only other attendee. They rushed into the office, out of breath, aware that they were about 30 minutes late. They had clearly skipped taking the elevator and had run up the stairs from the underground garage.

Her hair was tousled and could have used a brushing. His balding forehead glistened from a bit from perspiration.

We sat in the boardroom, the three of us sitting at the same end of the long table: the CEO at the head; we subordinates flanked each side.

While we talked, the receptionist busily scribbled notes, I, maintaining eye contact with my boss, couldn't help but notice something on his lips. Some food, perhaps, from the lunch? Did he always pay for her lunch, I wondered. It seemed unfair, ignoring the other people who worked very hard for him. Did they dine at expensive restaurants or fast-food joints?

Was it a rosé sauce on his lips?

I looked at the receptionist, eyed her lips to see if she had also been a messy eater, to see whether she had also eaten something with a rosé sauce.

Her lips were pretty. She did have a beautiful smile. An attractive woman: her husband was a lucky man. And she was a neat eater. There was no leftover food on her perfectly applied lipstick.

Her rosé lipstick.

I looked at her lips. I looked at the CEO's lips. I went back and forth, casually, so as not to arouse suspicion. The colour was identical.

As I thought about the adultery, of how these people were betraying their vows to their sponses, people I had met and admired, I realized that I wasn't listening to the meeting.

"Did you get that, Ross?" my CEO asked.

"Sorry," I said, thinking of a way to hide my discovery, "I was calculating how much documentation would be needed."


"I'm not sure yet." Way to sound stupid in front of your employer.

As the affair became evident to all of the employees, we would whisper in secret about how despicable these two were behaving. "If they truly loved each other," we once discussed, "they should leave their respective partners and make their relationship official."

That didn't happen.

But one night, when a bunch of staff members were socializing, after hours, one of our proposal writers, who had consumed a couple of drinks too many,  told the receptionist that she knew about what was going on with the CEO (who wasn't there). I heard about the exchange, a few days later, from the writer, as a bunch of us, minus the receptionist and CEO, met at a pub to say farewell to the woman, who had been laid off the very day after she confronted the receptionist.

The proposal writer tipped her hat to the receptionist, and the very next day, she was out of a job.

The rest of us were on edge, knew that we had to keep our mouths shut or face the same fate as the proposal writer.

But the adulterers didn't stop; in fact, they didn't seem to behave with more caution or restraint.

The CEO's office looked out toward the kitchen and lounge, where we had a fridge, sink, cupboards, coffee maker, and a few chairs around a foosball table. As I turned a corner to enter this common area from my desk, I had a second-long view into the CEO's office, where I could see him at his desk.

On one trip to the kitchen, on a Friday afternoon, all I had on my mind was a can of beer. We had a shelf in the fridge that was always stocked with beer, and we could help ourselves as long as we were responsible and got our work done. Every Friday, I helped myself to a can of Boddington's—sometimes, two.

I rounded the corner and saw the receptionist, her body bent over the desk, toward the CEO, her face leaning in to him as if to offer a kiss as he sat in front of his monitor.

They both heard my footsteps and spun to see me, our eyes locking on each other. My face went blank as I worked hard to show ignorance. I wanted to look as clueless as possible. To my CEO.

I nodded, moved to the fridge, retrieved the can of Boddington's, and walked back to my desk, a vacant look on my face.

Once a week, I had a meeting with a colleague who worked from an office in Gatineau. One warm autumn day, I jumped in my car and headed to this meeting, but I first wanted to swing by a local shawarma shop for lunch. The route took me through neighbourhood side streets but it was the fastest way to the restaurant.

As I drove down one street, I saw two people standing near a bush, standing close together, their faces almost one. It was the CEO and receptionist. As my car approached, they both turned to face me. They would have recognized my Camry, would have seen me behind the wheel.

My sunglasses were dark. I kept my head straight, made no motion to indicate that my eyes were anywhere but on the road in front of me. But my eyes had seen them, had seen that they had noticed me, had seen them watch me as I drove by.

As I ate my shawarma, I called my colleague to let her know when she could expect me. "And by the way," I added, "if I get laid off later today or tomorrow, this is why... ." I proceeded to tell her what I had witnessed.

Later, that afternoon, back at my desk in the office, I could hear whispering nearby.

"Go talk to him. See if he knows anything."

"What should I say?"

"I don't know. Think of something. See if he looks suspicious."

I heard the footsteps and looked up. It was the CEO.

"Hey, Ross, how's it going?" The words sounded embarrassed, contrived.

"Good," I said, "I had a good meeting with... ."



"Any plans this evening?"

"No, why? Did you need me to do something?"

"No, just wondering."



"So." I looked him in the eyes but they shifted from side to side. He looked like he needed something to lean on. I kept my face expressionless, clueless. I thought about the evening: what was I going to do tonight?

"Well, keep up the good work." With that, he walked away.

The receptionist was still standing where the CEO had left her. She, no doubt, had been listening to our conversation. "So?" she whispered.

"I don't think he knows anything," came the muted reply.

Not the words you want to hear from your boss. You don't want to know nothing. You want to be on the ball, want to let your boss believe that you're bright, you're sharp, you're aware of everything.

In this situation, it paid to act stupid.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Buy Me a Beer?

It's been more than two weeks since I've had a beer. Or anything alcoholic, for that matter. And I'm starting to get thirsty.

Actually, I'm handling it fairly well. I have a can of beer in the fridge, on a shelf that is at eye level. Though, with time, other things have filled the space and pushed that can to the back of the shelf, I can still see the pale-blue can poking through, reminding me that it's there, waiting for me, for when I'm ready to start drinking again.

When I head down into our basement, to bring something up from our deep freezer or to retrieve something from our overflow pantry, I can't help see our beer and wine, stored on shelves or standing in cases, on the floor. I see the fresh collection from my recent vacation, of the bottles that I collected at various craft breweries.

I can't wait to open one of those containers and drink its enticing contents.

I'm not desperate. I can wait.

It's been hardest when I'm sitting at the computer, writing a blog post. Sometimes, when I'm watching a TV show, I think that it would be nice to sip a beer while I'm being entertained.

I thought it would be tempting on the weekend, when I attended a dance party with a cash bar, but one look at what was being offered—Coors Light, Molson Canadian, Labatt 50 and Blue—and I was good. I refreshed myself with a Coke, a ginger ale, and countless bottles of water.

I want a beer, but not that badly.

I want a beer, but I can wait. I have 10 more days.

Want to buy me a beer at the end of my dry spell? You would actually be donating to a good cause if you do.

On Saturday, October 3, I will be cycling 100 kilometres, from Ottawa to Vankleek Hill, to raise money for the United Way. It's a good cause. In signing up for this event, I've already pledged $150, for which I receive a cycling jersey, entrance to Beau's Oktoberfest, and a drive back to Ottawa when I want to go home (with my bike in tow).

By sponsoring me, not only will you be giving to an organization that helps many people in our community who are in need, but you will also be buying me the beer that will not only reward me for a good ride, but will also mark the end of my month without beer (or rather, almost a month: September 7 to October 3).

With even as little as a $1 pledge (and I know you can do better than that), you will be providing me with three beer tokens and a food voucher. You just know I'm going to be starving, as well as thirsty!

With $51 dollars raised, I will also get a beer stein and a Beau's t-shirt. Those will be nice to have, but at this point, it's not about me, it's the help that the United Way so desperately needs.

To sponsor me, go to my Oktoberfest Ride page and help the United Way.

And, in the process, buy me a beer, would ya?

Thank you so much!

(For more information about the Oktoberfest ride, go to http://www.beausoktoberfest.ca/ride/).

Monday, September 21, 2015

Getting Too Old

It's worse than a hangover.

With a hangover, my brain hurts and I feel dehydrated. With a hangover, I take a couple of ibuprofen tablets, drink a big glass of fruit juice and even more water, suck it up, and get on with my day.

I haven't experienced a hangover in a while because, while I may drink often, I don't drink a lot. These days, I'm not drinking at all.

But when the body wears out and fails you, there's nothing you can do except rest and take it easy.

This weekend, my wife and I attended a fund raiser that had us dressing up like it was the 80s and dancing to music from the 70s, 80s, and early 90s. The event raised almost $4,000 for the School Breakfast Program, which gives nourishing morning meals to kids who might otherwise have nothing in their bellies at the beginning of the day.

Good cause, successful achievement, great party.

My wife and I met up with our good friends, Bee and Marc, and we all dressed for the event. Marc dressed fittingly as John Bender, the "criminal" from The Breakfast Club; Bee dressed as she had in that era, ready to attend a Ramones show at CBGB's. Lori donned leg warmers, curled her hair and covered it in spray, added a hat and an 80s-style jacket (though it was severely lacking in shoulder pads). I wore a wig that was fitting for an 80s rock band (and added black eye liner for effect), dug out one of my actual jackets that I bought sometime in the 80s (complete with shoulder pads and turned-up lapels), white t-shirt, jeans, and white sneakers with the tongues turned up.

When I actually lived in the 80s, as a teen, I never dressed up like that. Of all the styles my hair has seen, big 80s hair was never it. I wore sweaters most of the time, and my colours of choice were often grey and black. Not Goth, but black jeans and a grey sweater was an outfit you were likely to see me in.

We danced to Simple Minds, Depeche Mode, Quiet Riot, M.C. Hammer, Bowie, and of course, the final song of the night was "Stairway to Heaven," though we left before the end of the dance. Because, though we danced like it was the 80s, my body succumbed to the 50s.

I did all the moves from when I was in high school, and I did them for about as long as I did them when I was at school dances, longer than I did when I went to clubs in Hull with my friends. When I was in my late teens and 20s, I could dance for a very long time. This weekend, I held out as long but when my body finally had enough, it had more than enough.

I overheated and had to take the wig and jacket off. And then, when I sat down to rest my feet, atrophy set in as my osteoarthritis took over. I could barely walk, let alone dance. As soon as I got home, I sank my feet in a bucket of ice water, and then into a hot tub. Lori massaged my feet and calves as I downed three ALEVE® tablets. I fell asleep with shooting pains that travelled the length of my legs.

I also slept until 10:30 the next morning.

For most of the next day, I was stiff and sore, and groggy. I napped in the afternoon. I did few chores around the house, making sure not to add to my pain. I walked around the house like a 90-year-old man.

Last night, as I typed these words, I was still tired and a little sore.

It was nice to relive my youth, but I'm too old to maintain it.

Would I do it again?


But next time, I'm leaving the hair behind, trading the wig for a good drink. At least that way, I can try to blame my pain on the booze.

I'm pretty sure ladies didn't keep cell phones in their back pockets in those days.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Photo Friday: Flower Pots

They are impressive rock formations, but they hold no flowers. Just some scraggly shrubs, with no blossoms.

They actually remind me of wine goblets. But Wine Goblet Island doesn't roll off your tongue quite like Flowerpot Island, just north of Tobermory, off the Bruce Peninsula, on Georgian Bay.

There are two of them, though. You could imagine sharing a generously sized goblet of bold, fruity, red wine. There's one goblet for each of you.

I'll take the big one, if you don't mind.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Mr. Shin

It's one of those moments where you look at a photo, grin a copacetic grin, remember good memories, and wonder about the present: what is he doing now?

Shin Hoon had laughing eyes and a kind smile. I never saw him in any other mood than happy. He genuinely liked people—all people—but seemed to have an affinity for foreigners. He enjoyed engaging in conversation, what he called
"social intercourse."

Mr. Shin owned a small bar that was on the second floor of a small store that was always closed when Urban was open. It's steel, corrugated door shielded curious eyes. The sign, written in Hangul, offered foreigners no clues as to its business. The bar was simple, clean, with welcoming tables and comforting sofas. Light-and-tan-coloured wood covered the floor, walls, and bar; small halogen lamps hung above tables from the ceiling.

If you were lucky enough, you could get a sofa near the window that ran from the ceiling to the floor and looked out onto the narrow street below and the brightly, neon-lit signs from the buildings across the road.

When you walked through the door, into the warmly dim bar, Mr. Shin would smile and welcome you, greet you with a fresh basket of popcorn or, if you were what he deemed a special guest, a dish of plump cherry tomatoes.

He would laugh when he spoke, or so it might seem, as his voice was always happy. There was never any negativity with Mr. Shin. I never heard him speak ill of anyone.

It's been a long time since I saw Shin Hoon. It's been more than 16 years. I would think of him, often, as I wrote my novel. While many of the characters are fictional or loosely based on real people, I kept Mr. Shin as I remembered him.

It was because of another friend, someone I also knew in Korea, that my thoughts returned to Urban Bar. A photo that I took, sometime in 1997, captured that friendly bar owner, that master of social intercourse, to a T. My friend recently passed the photo on to me and it brought me to one of the few places in that city where I could truly relax.

I never called Chŏnju home, but Mr. Shin, welcoming me into his establishment, allowing me to call him Hoon, greeting me with a fresh bowl of juicy tomatoes, made me feel at home.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Funny Guy

"I'm funny," I tell my wife, too often, I'm sure.

"If you say you're funny," she replies, "you aren't."

"No, that applies to being cool. If you say you're cool, you aren't."

It's something I've experienced with my dear cousin, who is five years younger than me. It's a story he's said to me several times now; usually, in front of an audience: "When we were growing up," he'd say, "I used to think you were the coolest guy around. But when I grew up, I realized that I'm way cooler than you."

"If you say you're cool," I'd remind him, every time, "you're not." And now, I also think, and telling this story over and over again? Not cool. So not cool.

I've never seen myself as cool, but I do think I'm a good guy, for the most part.

And funny.

You can believe that you're a good guy, but you can only show that characteristic in your actions, and how you're perceived. You can also claim that you're funny and verify this quality by the reaction of others: if you're funny, people will laugh, especially when you want them to laugh.

I can make my wife laugh. I have also made friends laugh. And when people laugh much louder than you intended, without them forcing the laughter, you know you're funny.

Even with The Brown Knowser, I have tried to be funny with some of my posts. Nothing makes me happier to hear someone say, "I read your post, last night, and I couldn't stop laughing. It was so funny." The first thing I do is try to remember the post from the past night, and to remember if I was trying to be funny. If I was, my day is made.

For years, I've been telling my wife that I have wanted to try my hand at acting. I have been in a couple of school plays and a high-school talent show, and I remember the thrill of being on stage, under the bright lights.

When I was a Toastmaster, I loved being creative with my speeches, not so much delivering them as performing them. I would tell stories, supplying gestures with my words. I performed a one-man version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, paring it down to 15 minutes and assuming all of the roles.

The club loved it.

I also performed a scene from my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary, bringing my main character, Roland Axam, to life. In this scene, Roland summarized the five stages of grief: in my performance, I cried, I got on my knees and pleaded, I showed rage—even throwing a chair across the room. It was one of the best performances of anything I've ever done.

My best performance, to date, was when, for six years, I played the role of Roland in an Ottawa bar, fooling the employees and patrons with my fake Scottish brogue. I had them believe this identity and my character's history that, when I was discovered for the fraud I was, I was banned from the pub for life.

I even fooled a real Scotsman, who happened to visit the bar one night when I came in. He believed my explanation for my faded accent, that I had lived in Canada for so long that I was beginning to sound Canadian.

Excuse me while I take a bow.

Yes, I've always had dreams of acting. To that end, I have signed up for an acting class. But it isn't just a writing class: it's a comedy-sketch-writing and acting class. I'm so excited that I want to throw up. Also, I'm nervous as hell.

Being funny can be easy. Writing comedy, I find, is hard. Really hard. But this is an introductory class, and I feel that in it, I'm just testing the waters.

The class is taught by Ottawa actor, Pierre Brault, who I have admired ever since I saw his one-man show, Blood on the Moon. Since then, I've seen him in a few NAC performances, and I know that I'll be in good hands.

Wish me luck... I mean, wish me to break a leg!

Monday, September 14, 2015

For The Shot

I used to be a risk-taker.

I would climb to great heights, even though I was afraid of being up high, unsecured, looking over a precipice, to get the shot. I would climb through caves, even though I'm claustrophobic, spelunking in cramped quarters, wading through a dark cavern, where the frigid, black water came up to my chin and the cave ceiling scraping my chapeaued head, holding my camera above the water with one hand, steadying myself with the other.

I took chances, in my youth. I rode my bicycle, leaping down sets of staircases. I once soared from the top of a parking garage, landing hard on the grassy ground below, bursting both tires, bending the front forks, and putting my face into my handlebars, splitting my lip, the blood staining my shirt.

I would climb down balconies, holding onto iron railings, dangling off the platforms, feeling for the ledges below.

Okay, that one was pretty stupid.

As I've aged, I have taken fewer risks. I've settled down. I no longer put myself in jeopardy. But I see that playing it safe has prevented me from taking some photos that I have really wanted to capture. On my recent trip, along Georgian Bay, I stood at the sidelines, watching my wife and kids climbing over rocks, descending into a cavern that I once swam under the cool, clear water to access, years ago. I stood and watched because I was carrying three cameras and the accompanying equipment, and I had more than $7,000 worth of gear to care for.

I was wearing slip-on shoes with little tread, and the thick fog that washed over the Bruce Peninsula left a damp coating over the rocky crags. From high above the grotto, I stood and watched.

And then I remembered: I used to be a risk-taker.

I watched the hoards of people climb down the rocks, and back up again. I saw my wife and young daughters work their way down, stopping every once and a while, looking out for me, waving, telling me to watch them as they headed down. I watched the route they took, made note of where they stepped and how they held onto the ledges, and I said, screw it, I'm heading down.

I had two camera bags: my own, and my wife's. She wanted me to hold her camera while she made the descent. My sling bag would shift as I moved, so I'd have to take my time. Because I had a third camera with me, my father's old Minolta SRT-101, which sat in my bag, my new camera had to remain slung over my shoulder, unprotected. I looked at the other visitors to this national park, none as encumbered as I was, and I new I was adding extra risk in heading down. But I wasn't about to leave my equipment unattended.

I took my time, feeling each step below me, ensuring I had a firm grasp on a rock before lowering myself. If someone would come up behind me, wishing to get past, I would step aside, let him or her through. I wasn't about to be rushed. Where some people shuffled, I crawled, unafraid to sit on my butt to move forward. I was taking a risk, but I wasn't willing to risk falling by moving too quickly. I didn't trust my feet, riddled with arthritis, prone to rolling out from under me.

As I neared the bottom of the rocky cliff, I could hear my family exclaim at my attempt to join them, the cheer and excitement. With about another 10 feet to descend, my wife came up to meet me, to reclaim her camera. At this point, a fall would still hurt, the potential for broken bones a reality. But I had come too far to turn back.

I was willing to take that risk. And the risk paid off.

At the bottom, I removed my shoes, waded into the cold water, and carefully made my way inside the grotto.

I was a risk-taker once again. Older, a little wiser, and much more careful. But the risk was well worth it.

The ascent back up the cliff was a little easier, in part due to the confidence that I gained coming down to get these shots.