A Year Without Sports

couch-potatoI didn’t watch sports on TV for an entire year.

I did that because I thought it would be something interesting to write about. At the end of the year I would have a story to tell, like the guy who lived by Old Testament laws for a year.

And I did it because I wanted to find out more about what the business of sport is about, and what the real cost is to those who participate.

But in the end, my initial feeling was that all I really found out was this one thing: I didn’t have much to talk about with guys. And that really bugs me. Because there’s a lot more to talk about, and, as I learned over the course of this year, there’s a lot more to talk about when it comes to sports.

Sports has been such a big part of my life that not being able to discuss sports was more difficult this year than just not having anything to say. It’s not just the looks I got from guys who would ask, “Why?” after I announced that I wasn’t watching sports for a year. It was knowing that something amazing happened and I hadn’t been a part of it.

Being left out is not completely foreign to me. I remember quite clearly putting the key in the lock in my apartment on Oak Street in Vancouver as Joe Carter hit a grand-slam home run to clinch the World Series after my girlfriend at the time demanded that I take her out to dinner instead of watching “more of that ridiculous baseball crap you’ve been watching all summer” and hearing the entire condo complex erupt in cheers, screams, peals of laughter.

I saw the highlights. It’s not the same. You know as well as I do that it’s not the same.

I also missed Sidney Crosby’s gold-medal winning goal in the Olympics as we had to get to my wife’s grandmother’s 92nd birthday party on time. My brother-in-law texted me: “Wasn’t that crazy!!!????”

I don’t know, jerk, I’m on my way to your grandma’s party. When we walked in she said hello, then turned to my wife and asked, “Who’s that?”

But what I found out over the course of this year was that, with each passing week, I cared less and less. I began to not regret missing sports on television in order to take part in the rest of my life. I began to enjoy spending Sunday afternoons doing something with my wife instead of having to be in front of the TV for an entire day in order to watch several football games, frantically changing channels during the commercials to watch games that I really didn’t care that much about, but felt obliged to watch because, well, because football!

But it had been coming for a while.

My true love affair with hockey ended the year The Moose was traded to the Rangers. I grew up in Edmonton in the 80s, and have some of the best hockey memories imaginable. I stuck with them as Gretzky weeped his way to L.A., and sat transfixed as Tikkanen annoyed the hell out of everyone around him, and Messier led the Oilers to their last Stanley Cup.

Losing your team is one thing, but in the last few years I’ve completely lost my religion when it comes to hockey.

It seems like every time I watch a game I get to watch several minutes of hockey followed by a player intentionally injuring another player.

And while hockey pundits have been busy lauding praise upon Shanahan and his new, tougher regime, I can see little to no incentive for any NHL player to do anything differently when the average time of suspension is around 3 games.

Even Shawn Thorton, who recently drew a 15-game suspension as a result of a vicious hit on Brooks Orprik will lose just 18% of his salary for the year.  That’s not insignificant, but he’s also left with another $800,000 for this year, which is also not insignificant.

And players are standing up for him. Even Andrew Ference, who, you’ll remember, gave the Montreal Canadiens fans the finger after scoring a goal, said, “He’s broken up about it.” Which is great, but it doesn’t change the fact that it happened, and it happened because the league allows it to happen.

Cam Neely defended Thornton’s actions by saying, “If Orpik just would have dropped his gloves and grabbed on – he’s a strong guy – grabbed on, held off Thornton, maybe took a couple [punches], and threw him down or whatever the case it, then it’s over. Then it’s over. Then it’s done. You fought. You stuck up for yourself. If you don’t do that, somebody else on Orpik’s team, somebody on Pittsburgh has to do it for you because of what you did.”

Which is to say, if Orpik had just allowed himself to get the %$# kicked out of him, this wouldn’t have happened.

And I can’t support it. I can’t support the actions of players who willfully injure other players for our entertainment, and those who would defend their actions as ‘the norm.’

Even super-famous superfan, and Montreal resident, Jay Baruchel sounded off recently in an interview with Jian Ghomeshi in which he stated that hockey players are “soldiers,” that they know what they’re doing and accept the consequences of what they’ve gotten themselves into.

The difference, Jay, is that we don’t watch what soldiers do for entertainment. Nor should we.

I’m not squeamish. I’m not someone who is unrealistic about sports, about the entertainment value, about what it can do for economies, and what being involved in sports can do for young people in communities.

But it’s time that we all got realistic about the costs to players. It’s time we at least knew what it was that these people are doing for us while we eat nachos and drink beer. We should know that a full 5% of those who play in the NHL experience their first game as their last. That the average life expectancy of an NFL player is 58 years old and the average career lasts just four years.

Maybe our conversations need to be more about who these players are, and how we need to protect them

We’re not going to protect them by buying tickets to games or watching them on TV.

Maybe it’s time we got open and honest about what playing certain sports really means to those who play them.

Because until we, the people who pay to watch the games start doing something about it by not going to games and demanding better protection for those players, nothing will be done about it.

One can argue with Mr. Baruchel and say that they know what they’re getting into, but I don’t recall this being what they were getting into just a scant 20 years ago. Sure, this particular game, and many others, has always had its share of rule-breakers, but should we actually encourage these actions by giving these guys our money?

Much is being done to study and mitigate concussions in sports that should be applauded, but I, a regular guy, as well as people who make their living talking about sports, are quite sure that it’s not yet enough.

The question is, what has to happen for it to be enough? What will make them really protect players, and when will fans get on board and voice their opinions in more ways than just sounding off on the comments section of a sports blog?

What is it that needs to happen to force the average Joe, like myself, to stop watching sports?

I’m hoping very much that I don’t have to find out. I’m hoping that this new trend continues and that players begin to respect each other.

There’s a lot more going on here than can be summed up in these few words, but if there’s one thing I’d like to convey that I got out of a year of not watching sports on TV is that it didn’t kill me.

And it made me a better person. Not better than you, just better than me. It gave me the opportunity to assess my relationship with those around me, and with sports, and with the players who, quite literally it seems, are putting their lives on the line for my entertainment.

It’s time for fans to stand up and start doing more for player safety. And the only way that will ever be done is by making our stance known with our wallets.

Until then, it will be status quo with a sprinkling of sugar to make us feel like everything is okay.

Much Ado About Something – The Cover Story That No One Read

Somehow everyone forgot that this guy has been in the news for the last few months, on occasion.

Somehow everyone forgot that this guy has been in the news for the last few months, on occasion.

If you believe everything you read, then you might, at this point, believe that the editors (and the graphic designers) of Rolling Magazine are the devil incarnate.

Placing an image of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of their latest issue has sparked a firestorm not seen since Kanye West grabbed a microphone from a young Taylor Swift, a gal with whom he happens to share a PR firm and record label. But enough about that particular bullshit, on to this particular bullshit.

Conspiracy theories about government involvement long forgotten, the somethingsphere has moved on to demonizing Rolling Stone for putting this man on the cover of their magazine in conjunction with a story about who he was, accounts of his personality from people who knew him, and the bitter reality of who he became.

Interestingly, most of the discussion around this cover story (and it is a cover *story* as well as a cover picture) happened before anyone even had a chance to read the article. I wonder how many people spinning around in outrage like dreidels spun in anger during Chanukkah because holy-shit-what-a-fucking-shitty-thing-to-get-instead-of-a-real-fucking-Christmas-present have even read it now.

What you’ll find is an insightful and frightening look into one of the Boston Marathon bombers — a kid who many just can not, for the life of them, believe could have been involved in something like this. A kid who made every effort to assimilate, was accepted by his peers (how many kids born on American soil can even say this?) and ended up becoming the very thing we stay awake at night watching Fox News worrying about.

Essentially, the argument is that if kids who read Rolling Stone (do kids actually read Rolling Stone anymore? I’d have thought their target demographic would be more 40 – 70-ish at this point) will idolize him. That they’ll want to emulate his actions to become famous. The claim is that the cover picture glorifies Tsarnaev, that it shows a glorified image of the person who would claim the lives and limbs of far too many people who could just as easily have been us.

Even Weird Al has pitched a hissy fit, tweeting that he has, apparently, been going about trying to get on the cover of Rolling Stone “the hard way.” Because no one before this person has gotten on the cover based on their infamy alone. I mean, come on. Britney Spears has been on the cover… how many times? Seven? Eight? And what the fuck did she ever do musically? She’s a stripper with a track that she can lip sync to on stage.

Well, here is a (non-definitive and entirely incomplete) list of some people that Rolling Stone magazine has placed on its cover to entice the young people of the world to be more like them.

Abbie Hoffman
Charles Manson
Tricia Nixon
Narc Agent Gerrit Van Raam
George McGovern
Crime Victim Dirk Dickenson
Jesus Freaks
Senator Sam Ervin
Daniel Ellsberg
Richard Nixon
P.O.W. Rick Springman
The Economy (for fuck sakes)
Evel Knievel
Patty Hearst
Jimmy Carter
Roman Polanski (AFTER the “incident”)
Sean Connery (He may not be relevant here, but it does remind me that I moustache you a question, but I’m shaving it for later)
Bill Clinton (BEFORE the “incident”)
Bill Clinton (AFTER the “incident”)
and on and on for another 20 years

It would appear as though Rolling Stone wants the youth of America to be… well, it’s a bit confusing, isn’t it? Maybe a murderous Christian with an aim for political power who jumps motorcycles over canyons, lusts after women (and girls) and suffers from a severe case of Stockholm Syndrome.

If we think that each and every one of these people had an aim towards becoming famous via a magazine (clearly, many of those in this list were after as much infamy as they could get, but MY GOD, what about the children who may want to become saxophone-playing philanderers who are smarter than just about fucking everyone they’ll ever meet in their entire lives??!!!!), then we’re probably going to need to go to our room and think about what we’ve done.

The real problem appears to be that they put a picture on the cover of a magazine that shows the man-become-monster as he actually once was.

His face is not irrelevant to the issues, no matter how much you may want that to be the case. This is the face of a human man. You may not like that he once looked the way he did, but it may just expose the fact that you prefer your villains to be more stereotypical for your mind to be able to grasp the implications of the acts committed by the person in question. You may prefer a long beard or turban or some other identifying feature that would label the person as “foreign” and therefore “dangerous.”

And do you really believe that someone will commit an act of this sort in an attempt to obtain the kind of infamy that comes with being on the cover of Rolling Stone? Do you really — I mean REALLY — believe that this cover photo is the thing that is going to push someone over the edge? Is this actually the first time we’re hearing about this guy. He was non-stop, 24-hour news for days and weeks after the Boston Marathon bombing.

This is not even the first time this image has been used in the press.

Rolling Stone is, and always has been, a magazine that goes after the issues of the day. It is, at its heart, quite obviously, a music magazine. It’s also more than that, and has had its pages graced by some of the most eloquent political writing ever accomplished. Make no mistake, what’s been done in that magazine is an accomplishment.

Dismissing this individual as nothing more than a monster smacks of nothing short of intellectual laziness, and in no way allows us, as a society, to look more closely at the issues that caused this act, and how a — by all accounts — a sweet, kind, friendly kid ended up causing so much pain and sorrow.

Dismissing Rolling Stone as an irrelevant, washed-up rag with hopes of days gone by is forgivable because, let’s face it, it is. But in this particular instance, it would seem that contempt prior to investigation would not only be unwise, but a thing that one might want to keep from doing in order to keep from looking like a complete fucking idiot.

Go ahead and read the article. If you still disagree, I’m willing to listen to what you have to say.

Just Keep Making Something, Edmonton

Make Something Edmonton,” he says, and that’s all he needs to say to get people taking action

It’s an initiative started by author Todd Babiak, and the thing has taken on a life of its own. It seems every single day I see someone else from Edmonton talking about what that means to them, and then putting something into action based on that idea, or demonstrating how their actions are, currently, accomplishing that very thing.

So, why even talk about what Edmonton should be or could be or wants to be or why people should give a shit about life in a northern town?

The whole thing is, to me, a great way for the people of the city of Edmonton to find out more about the people who are already making things around them.

Does it lead to a sense of identity that isn’t already in place? Maybe, and that may be because it shows people that they are not alone in their desire to be better in the place where they are. It gives creators a chance to know more about what else is being created around them. I’m not sure it has anything to do with the place, but speaks more to the attitude of the individuals in that place.

I’m not sure a place can ever be summed up in a tagline, nor should it be, in the same way that a company can never be summed up in a tagline.

A tagline is just the thing that creates enough interest to read through to the rest of the story.

So, then, the issue seems to be the question, and the question is, “What is the story of Edmonton?”

For me, the best parts of Edmonton have never been about what is there, but rather who is there. While no one city has an attitude that is shared by an entire population, my favourite part of Edmonton has always been the fact that conversations I have had with people about things we might do have always led to the actual doing of the thing, as opposed to just talking about it and then passing out in a heap of exhaustive, lofty ideals that never see the light of day.

Of course, having some money kicking around to make things happen never hurts.

Perhaps the greatest part of the Fringe Festival in Edmonton is that it gives artists a license to fail. This sounds somewhat counterintuitive to the means by which success might be achieved, and may even sound like an excuse for occasionally wearisome programs, but you’ll find the best content at a venue like this is created by people who are unafraid to have their ideas fail. When you’re not afraid to fail, you can try new things, find out what works, and in that process one might even come across ideas that might never have seen the light of day without that permission.

This should extend far past the arts and lead to innovation in every industry, with the idea firmly entrenched in a city’s psyche that the arts are, in fact, an industry like any other. And to remember that it’s an industry that opens the doors to a life that is far more interesting and creative than one devoid of unimpeded creation.

I would never be able to do what I do without having failed, and sometimes spectacularly, many, many times.

There’s nothing more important than following through. A great idea is nothing but bullshit until someone puts that idea together into a plan of action, and then actually takes action to attempt to create something.

And failure is always an option. It’s not learning from that failure that should be taken off the table.

The great part about Edmonton, to me, is not that people may or may not “Make Something Edmonton,” but that the people there are constantly creating, innovating, and attempting new things.

Whether or not that leads to a municipal identity, I’m not sure. But, what I am sure of is that Edmonton is already making something, and is built, like most cities, on the idea that if enough people make something, the entire populace has the opportunity to thrive.

The mantra where I live, in Montreal, appears to be – at least for the moment — “Give us something,” which is completely out of step with the idea that this place was built upon.

That said, there are many, many people here in Montreal creating amazing art through just about every medium in existence. Somehow, this drive to create does not seem to translate to innovation in other fields.

All cities require the opportunity for its citizens to get something, but the process of how they do that will best be served by allowing those citizens to be great, to innovate and create, and exchange their best ideas for the best ideas of someone else, which results in real, sustainable commerce.

So, Edmontonians, despite the fact that I’m being somewhat semantic (and I am, admittedly, anti-semantic), and not quite following the line or reasoning behind the statement “Make Something Edmonton,” feel free to just continue making something, and don’t worry about whether or not it is “Edmonton.” This is the real path to continuing to maintain a city that already has an identity, like it or not, that screams, “We Make Things!” or perhaps even more appropriately, “We Make Things Happen.”

Which should be exactly enough to give people a reason to find out more about what makes Edmonton, and its people, so very compelling. Just keep making something, and it will continue to be Edmonton.

Tourtiere Australienne | Montreal Oasis of Goodness on Parc Ave

Tourtiere Australienne Montreal I work with several Australians. The other day, one of them handed me a sheet of paper that said something about Australian pie. Instead of going immediately to HR, which was my first instinct, I took a look to see what it was all about, and am reasonably pleased to have done so. It was an advertisement for Australian meat pies. Who knew that Australians made pies? Well, Tourtiere Australienne, Montreal Oasis of goodness on Parc Avenue is the home of the best damn meat-filled pies you’ll ever taste, this side of… some place in Australia, one would presume.

I would be even more than reasonably pleased if I knew that I wasn’t going to be eating so many of these damn things. Let’s face it, they’re not exactly health food, but they are damnably tasty.

Apparently, this is something that is not at all uncommon in Australia. I suppose that’s why they’re called Australian pies. The sort of thing one eats when going to watch the football, or the rugby, or whatever else one does in Australia where one can sit and eat whilst watching other people do stuff.

My first trip to the shop, I didn’t know what to expect at all. I was thinking that Tourtiere Australienne would be something like a Quebecois meat pie, made by an Australian. This is not the case. These are personal-sized pies that come in many flavours. You can check their website for all the details. As I was “cooking” for three that night, I got four pies: two butter chicken, one spinach/ricotta and a steak and mushroom. And just because I’m such a good-looking guy, the fella behind the counter threw in a sausage roll.

First, the butter chicken: Imagine that your tummy is getting rubbed by an eight-armed Indian diety and she’s feeding you sweet savouriness lovingly placed in a crispy, buttery tart. Got it?

Second, spinach/Ricotta: An Italian woman tells you that she no longer loves you, but she will take you to bed one more time to comfort you. Pure, sweet comfort.

Third, the steak and mushroom: Been outside in the cold lifting shit all day? This is your pie.

And finally, the sausage roll:  Best. Sausage. Roll. Ever.

I’ve made a couple of more trips since then, and have also had the Lamb Roganjosh pie, which is a little slice of lamby goodness, and is not to be missed. I will make no complaints about the chicken, bacon and mushroom pie, either. Apparently, they also have breakfast pies, which I will be trying next.

Tourtiere Australienne, Montreal, Canada. Don’t miss it. They’re on 4520 Parc, just above Mont Royal and they’re generally open until about 8pm these days.

Go ahead and tell them I sent you, but they won’t know who I am, so it won’t do you any good. But go, and enjoy.

Le Poisson Rouge | Montreal Restaurant That Sucks

Le Poisson Rouge Montreal

I didn’t want to have to write a negative review of anything, but the experience that I had at Le Poisson Rouge, Montreal Restaurant on Rachel across from Parc La Fontaine was just so horrible that I cannot, in good conscience keep my proverbial mouth shut.

Once a month I’m able to take my girlfriend out for dinner at a Montreal fine dining restaurant, and I want for that experience to be a special one. Unfortunately, on this evening, it was not. Well, I suppose it was special in its way.

I made a reservation to Le Poisson Rouge a week before our engagement this evening. When we showed up, they offered us a table directly next to the door. Not a great start, but they did relent and allow us a table that was actually *in* the restaurant.

They promptly opened the bottle of wine that we had brought, a gorgeous little Pinot Noir courtesy of Kim Crawford, which, I must say, was excellent. We chose the table d’hote menu and we both ordered French onion soup, to be followed by mixed greens. The soup was good, based solely on the Gruyere cheese. The broth was grey and tasteless, except for the intense amounts of salt. Not a great soup.

The salad was presented in a very 90s presentation, but the dressing was pleasant enough. Very subtle balsamic vinegar dressing, but a little bit too much, I felt. And with the large portions of sugar in the dressing, it gave the salad a very sharp flavour. Still, not horrible; just not great.

My girlfriend ordered the mussels and fries, I ordered the veal, accompanied by spinach in a cream sauce. The mussels were okay, but not spectacular. They were, at least, cooked. The fries were sub par, served with what could only be a creme fraiche on the side. Not great.

The veal was not veal. The veal was a pork chop that was overcooked, dry, and horrendous. The cream that the spinach was served in swam around on the plate. In sharp contrast to the overcooked pork chop passed off as veal, the cream was just slightly warm, and kind of an insult to any developed palette, or, for that matter, any underdeveloped palette. I had four bits of the pork chop, and could not eat any more.

I informed our waiter that the meat was horrible and that the plate was overall incredibly unpleasant, which he said he would relay to the chef/proprietairre. I will say again, the plate I ate was an insult to my senses, and I shall never, ever, go back to this restaurant. It’s as though someone graduated from a cooking course and decided to become a chef. It was awful.

I do not recommend the Le Poisson Rouge Montreal restaurant. In fact, I would say, if you walk by it, just keep on walking. It is not worth the time, or the money that they charge you, even when you complain about the food and the fact that they are trying to pass off pork as veal. Give this one a pass. Seriously. Horrible.