Friday, 31 May 2013

Why Hockey?

As everyone knows, I'm a big geek...I love comic books and toy collections, Star Wars and books about wizards and plans for this afternoon include watching an episode of the '66 Batman series while building a Lego how did I suddenly become this big Toronto Maple Leafs and NHL fan after literally decades of eschewing all things jock-like in nature?? 

Well, there are a few answers to that question.  It all started back in 2010.  That was the year the Winter Olympics were held in Vancouver and Canada played the United States for Gold (spoilers...Canada won!).  Well, at the time I could care less about hockey, but my buddies were into it and I enjoyed two of the things associated with watching hockey...those being BEER and CHICKEN WINGS.  During the Olympics a nearby bar was selling double-sized pitchers and half-priced wings during the games and thus I began my hockey watching career.  Don't get me wrong, it's not the first time I ever watched a game in a bar, but this time, for a change, I actually paid attention!  With a little help from my friends and their patient explanations, I started to learn some of the rules and figure out, after years of just seeing the players skating back and forth, exactly WHAT was going on!  As my understanding increased, I began to get sucked in...

That same year, my parents gave me a Christmas gift that helped cement this new-found understanding of and interest in the game of hockey...they knew I'd recently gotten an Xbox 360 and so picked me up EA Sports NHL 10 for the Xbox.  Since you can play it with up to 4 people, my friends and I ended up spending a LOT of time with that game.  Suddenly I understood icing rules, offside, the differences between a center and a winger or a defenceman...basically ALL of the rules of the sport!  Everything became so clear!

Well, that was enough for me to begin paying attention to the 2010/2011 NHL season and start taking an interest in the Maple Leafs.  I didn't watch every game that year, but caught more and more of them as time went on.  The 2011 Stanley Cup finals were a big deal with the Vancouver Canucks having a good chance against the Boston Bruins...sort of a replay of the Canada vs USA match-up from the Olympics the year before.  Even though Canada lost that one, it still kept my interest up!

2011/2012 was the first year I really followed the entire season...The Leafs were a struggling team for sure but I saw a lot of potential.  I didn't understand why so many of my fellow Torontonians were so down on the Leafs!   They started so strong that year!  Of course it didn't last at the time, and now I get that it was the first season for the Leafs with even a glimmer of positivity in a long time.  For me it was a great jumping-on point to really start learning the team. 

Then there was a big annoying lock-out.  It almost killed my enthusiasm...BUT when the game finally DID return?  I was more pumped than ever!  This year I paid attention to every Leafs I had to watch on PVR and once I had to listen to first period on the radio in my car...but still...I was there for EVERY game!  Suddenly I found myself extremely dedicated and committed! 

But...WHY?  What makes it so captivating to me at this late stage? 

Originally I just wanted to fit in and not miss out on what was a big event amongst my friends and co-workers. Then as I learned more the game became more and more interesting simply because it's an interesting game!  Not to mention it's the only thing I watch on TV where I can honestly say I don't know what's going to happen.

Of course, one could make that point about any sport, and yet I can't stand football and find baseball and soccer rather yawn-inducing at the best of times.  Other sports don't even blip on my radar (unless you count professional wrestling from the 80s and 90s).

Hockey means more to me.  I love the intricacies of the game...the skill required, the difficulty and high-speed...the strategy and the pure dumb luck that sometimes makes or breaks a team.  But even more than that, I love the way that I feel when I watch hockey.  I picture my own dad watching Leafs games (and watch along with him, for that matter!)...or my Grandfather...or HIS Grandfather...all the way back to the original 1917/1918 NHL season, and even before.  Hockey is part of my nation's heritage and identity and it's a worthy part!  I feel a deeper connection to my family and my culture in some way by makes me feel like I'm a tiny part of something much larger than myself.  I love that!

In the end though, the main reason that I watch Hockey is just because the game is extremely entertaining!  It snuck up and surprised me but the more I learn about it, the more I become invested not just in the Leafs as a team but in each individual player's career and story...basically the more I know the more invested I become!  Hockey sucked me in, spoke to the Canadian in me and won me over, and boy am I happy about it!  It really is the best game you can name!

And that's all there is to say about it...except, of course: GO LEAFS GO!!!!! 

Saturday, 25 May 2013

So...The Toronto Maple Leafs...

I know, I know...everyone's still traumatized.  Yes, the Toronto Maple Leafs were up 4-1 in game 7 against Boston and yes they blew it in the last 10 minutes.  They thought they had the game and relaxed just a little and Boston came back strong and won.  It was a crazy, dramatic hockey moment and if you were cheering for the Maple Leafs, it was truly heartbreaking.  (For Boston fans, it had to have been one of the highlights of the year)!

Unfortunately, this moment also gave us Torontonians yet another outlet for all the cynical, negative crap that people in Toronto just LOVE to spew all over everything they can, whenever they get a chance.  Man, I hate that.  

Take this picture that's been circling around the 'net for a few days.

Ok yeah it's darkly hilarious...and don't even get me started on Mayor Rob Ford...just remember that he won the election with a RECORD BREAKING majority...I didn't vote for him, but who would admit it now even if they did?  Someone must have wanted him as mayor!  A LOT of someones!

But this is about hockey, not municipal politics...and more than that, it's about attitude.  I look at the above picture and I see a city that's too proud to admit that they just feel bad so they have to crap all over the convenient targets and play "tough".  You know, Toronto, we can just admit that it hurts...we don't have to cop this world-weary, cynical bullshit's not fooling anyone, anyway.  It's okay to be hurt without being ashamed.  It doesn't make you weak.

The secret is simply in the way we view things...we just need the right attitude!  So here's my take - the Toronto Maple Leafs had an amazing season!  The best they've had in years!  They finally have a real identity, they finally have a really great goaltender in James Reimer...a lot of the missing pieces from the last decade are finally starting to come into place to make them a team to beat!  A team that other hockey teams dread having to play!  It's great!  I watched every game this season and after only two weeks off I already miss them.  I can't wait to see my team play again come Fall! 

 So yeah, everyone wants to blame the Leafs for losing in the last 10 minutes of their come it feels like I'm the only one who wants to give them credit for GETTING to GAME 7 against the BOSTON BRUINS...a team that they hadn't won a single game against in nearly 2 years before this season!?!  People literally try to make me feel stupid or foolish for being happy about this.  Why?

A young, inexperienced hockey team goes farther than anyone expects them to and more than accomplishes all of the goals they set out to meet for the year, and yet gets put down as if they failed miserably.  I don't understand that at all.  I had a great time watching the Leafs all season and give them FULL CREDIT for a job well done!  I'm proud to call them my team and I don't care what all the cynics in this city or anywhere else think.  I won't let other people's negativity ruin my good feelings!  I'm taking a stand!

That last bit may go for a lot of things in life, aside from Hockey...

Thursday, 16 May 2013

On The Road Again...

At first I was going to write about the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs and...well, I need a little time and distance first.  There's still too much to process!

Speaking of time and distance, I haven't the time to write much of anything because in a few minutes I'll be going the distance!  Well, some distance from here...I'm on vacation and so the compass is pointed firmly North!  So's my car.  See ya next week!

Friday, 10 May 2013

My Dad's Old Acoustic Guitar and Me.

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with the guitar.  Ever since I was a small child, I remember being excited when my dad would bring out his old acoustic guitar and somehow, magically, use it to make a song!  Even the case for the guitar was magical to me...and made a great hill to send hot wheels cars down, too!  

Well, I've owned lots of guitars over the years, and played even more, but if you were to look into my mind and DEFINE the word guitar, the one that I would picture is that old acoustic that my dad played.  A big old "Texas large body" sunburst acoustic guitar...gigantic and older than me, purchased from my uncle for a set of golf clubs sometime in the 70's...

I'll never forget the rainy day at the cottage in the Summer of ' 15th year...I was there with my parents and bored, stuck mom suggested that maybe dad could show me a couple of chords on the guitar since we'd brought it up with us.  I think both dad and I were a little too shy to bring that idea up to each other, but we both said "Sure!" as soon as mom suggested it.  Beats yet another game of Monopoly, right?  Mom must have known how much I wanted to learn guitar, and maybe how much dad wanted to show me, too.  That day marked the first time I ever got to pick up that old guitar and play it for real, in a meaningful way...the first step on the path from being a curious kid to being a real guitar player!  Dad taught me 9 chords that day, A-G and Em and Am...I couldn't really get F or B right away, but I learned the fingering at least! 

Mom helped out too, with an old chord chart she had taped to the back of a notebook of church songs...I practiced those chords all day long and wrote my first 3 or 4 songs right then and there just to help me learn.  Played until my fingers were sore and bleeding and then played some more...I just never looked back.  Withing a year I was 16, had my own guitar, (a Fender Strat with a little practice amp), and big big plans to be a rock and roll star!

Of course, even after I got my Fender I still played dad's old guitar all the time.  Carried it around my high school every day.  Serenaded the smoking spot out back during break, along with all the other would-be rock stars, pretending I was too cool for the little 9th grade girls who watched us play and wrote our names on their 3-ring binders (surrounded by hearts and smiley faces, of course!). 

Then one day, a couple of years later, I was tuning that old acoustic guitar when tragedy struck!!  The bridge of the guitar (where the strings attach at the bottom) finally gave up and came free of the guitar's body!  I was flabbergasted!  I didn't have any money or even know that there were people out there that could repair a guitar, so I tried to fix it some wood glue and some clamps and reattached the bridge...crossed my fingers and hoped for the best!

And you know what?  It worked...sort of.  When I put on new strings after the glue dried, the tension proved too great or I maybe didn't quite attach it right or something...the bridge cracked and broke under the guitar stayed attached and it still worked!  As long as I used light gauge strings and tuned down a half-step, the guitar still played alright.  It was never the same though.  Rattly and just..."off" somehow.  After that, my dad's old guitar started to be more for show than for playing...neglected in favour of newer guitars that played easier...

Well this all happened 15 years or more ago.  When I left my parents house, I left the guitar too...bought my own acoustic and made my own life and moved on...until now!  This year, being debt free for the first time since I was in high school, and actually having a little extra cash,  I decided I needed to finally do something for this old guitar, my true first love.  I got the guitar from my parents place (my dad didn't mind...he plays a new 12-string acoustic these days and sounds mighty good doing it, too!) and took it to The Twelfth Fret, a guitar store at Woodbine and Danforth that had done some wiring and tuning work on my old Stratocaster last year.  I wasn't sure if they could do anything for this guitar but I figured it was worth a shot.  I was super nervous that any attempt at repair would make things worse after my amateur, botched repair job of years ago.  Still, I had to try!

Well, the guy at the Twelfth Fret said they should be able to fix the guitar, but it would cost way more than it was actually worth.  I told him that I didn't care about the money.  I might not get much for this guitar if I ever (God Forbid!) tried to sell,  but this guitar was priceless, nonetheless!  Not just to me but to my whole family.  The repair man understood, as anyone who's ever loved a guitar would...He said he'd do his best and give me a call when it was finished.

Well, just this Wednesday I got that call.  Not only was my dad's old guitar ready, but the man at the Twelfth Fret went above and beyond the call!   He got a chunk of rosewood from the lumber yard special and hand-carved me a brand new bridge!  He even managed to get the pearl inlays from the old bridge to keep the look of the original!  It looks so good I couldn't believe it!  Even more importantly, as I picked up this beautiful old guitar and strummed it the first few times I realized that it sounds better than it has in years and years!  As good or even better than it sounded when I first broke the bridge all those years ago!  I'd forgotten how nice and mellow and deep the tone could be...although I admit, I'm probably pretty biased.  Regardless, I couldn't be happier with the great new bridge and the old-school sound!  That man at the Twelfth Fret is a hero to me and I can't thank him enough!

I brought the guitar back to my parent's place yesterday to show it off to them.  My dad played it for a long time and so did was so happy to hear it sound so nice after all these years.  Then, something I didn't told me I should take it home with me again to keep at my place!  After all this time, after all of the blood and love and money and time that I've poured into it, he says the guitar is as much mine as his...he considers it the "family guitar" now and is content to play it when we get together.  So now here I am with this lovely old guitar, prominently on a stand in my living room, and every time I glance at it I smile.  It's hard for me to explain just how it makes me feel...this story just barely scratches the surface...but it means much and more to me.  Maybe some of you musicians and some of you sons out there will understand.  It's beautiful.  Thanks Twelfth Fret and especially Thanks, Dad.  I love you.

Friday, 3 May 2013

On Letting Things Go...

Old couch
So here I sit, waiting around all morning...waiting on guys to come haul away my old couches, waiting for my laundry to finish, waiting on OTHER guys to come and deliver my NEW couches!

You'd think with all of this time on my hands I would have thought of something more interesting to write about.'d think wrong...

NO Couches!!
I've always had a hard time letting things go.  One look around my toy-filled apartment proves that statement.  Even when my things are no good anymore and I'm getting much better replacements, I still find it tough to throw them away.  This morning was no exception, as it was surprisingly bittersweet to watch my junky old couches get hauled away...end of an era!

Perhaps I tend to confuse change with loss.  I guess that's probably because for the most part in my experience, the two have been synonymous.  It doesn't have to be that way.  Just a lot of times it is.

BUT not today!  The new couches have arrived! 

New Couch Number 1!  Zero-Zero-Zero...
 I wasn't expecting the weird divider thing in the middle of the love seat.  Seems like it might make it more difficult for said piece of furniture to live up to it's name.  Oh well, the part is removable, so for now I'll give it a chance.  Not like I've got a lot of opportunities that might make it in the way, anyway.  At least not right at the moment...

New Couch Number 2
 So there you have it!  Out with the old and in with the new!  Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to all of that important SITTING I had planned!