RSTs Mk II: Getting More Tale

#708: The Perfect Roll

Expanded from a segment in Part 18:  Klassic Kwotes III

GETTING MORE TALE #708: The Perfect Roll

I once read a quote from Keith Richards in the late 80s about the state of rock and roll.  “I hear a lot of rock,” he said, “but not much roll anymore.”

I thought I knew what he meant.  You heard a lot of rocking, but not a lot of that Stones-y jangle.  None of the rhythm & blues.  None of the subtlety.  That’s what I read his quote to mean.

Then I heard something else a decade later that made me wonder if “roll” meant something else.

 

WHAT IS “ROLL”?

A knowledgeable rock guy named Neil was working that day.  The Verve were still popular, and for good reason.  1997’s Urban Hymns was a phenomenon brought on by “Bitter Sweet Symphony”, which has since become a classic.  The song even has a Stones connection.  The famed string section is a sampled from Andrew Loog Oldham’s cover of the Stones’ “The Last Time”.  The lawyers had a field day with that one.

On this afternoon, a guy came in and started asking lots of questions (including “Do you believe in Jesus?” but I digress). One thing we always hated was when customers would ask to listen to music on the store system even though we had six listening stations. (Granted, only four worked at any given time, but again, I digress.) This guy asked to listen to The Verve.

Because we tried to be nice and not dicks, we put The Verve on the store system and skipped through the tracks for the guy.  He told us, “There’s rock and roll, and then there’s rock, and then there’s roll. This CD supposedly has the first ‘roll’ performed since the 1960s!” That’s what he was listening for.

We went back and forth through a few tracks. Then he burst out, “Did you hear that? Did you hear that! That was a perfect roll! The first roll performed since the 60s!”

To this day I have no idea what he was talking about.

Rock and roll is an amalgam of different influences, including gospel and R&B.  None of those influences have gone extinct since the birth of rock.  Whatever it was that this guy heard, something that hadn’t been performed since the 60s, I still cannot figure out.

Oh! And the “roll” guy? He didn’t buy anything!

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#706: Additional Complaint

GETTING MORE TALE #706: Additional Complaint

I used to tell the store owner and his second-in-command, “We are only using about 10% of what these computers are capable of doing.”  They were great for inventory and point of sale.  We eventually started using them to print out header cards for CDs.  It seemed like the owner and those beneath him weren’t interested in getting the most out of our computers.  I think they saw potential abuse as “toys” — gaming and chatting etc.

That wasn’t what I was driving at.  I used to have to maintain a sales log.  It was a big blue book full of pages for bookkeeping.  It was handy because the boss could open it up and have a quick look at what sales were last night, last week, last year, and so on.  We kept track of our purchases and free CD giveaways in the log book.  At various points in time, I was maintaining multiple log books.  I had one when I was in charge of the store website.  Whenever there was a staffing issue, and I had to cover at another branch for an extended period, there was another log book.

It always irked me that we were not permitted to use Microsoft Excel instead of (or even in addition to) the sales log.  There is one thing I have always sucked at, and continue to suck at:  adding up a large column of numbers.  The reasons for this are two:

  1. My big stupid fingers are always mashing the wrong buttons on a calculator, and
  2. When I stare at numbers too long they all start to jump around.  2112 looks like 2121, and so on.

My suggestions to use Excel for the log book were always shot down.  For all I know, 12 years later they could still be using the big blue log books exclusively.  We did use Excel to calculate the values of our inventory, so I didn’t get what the big deal was.

It really pissed me off one afternoon in the store, when I was struggling to add up the numbers for month end.  The weekly totals were off, so I had to find where.  I had a system for finding these kinds of problems and part of it was manually adding up all the days’ sales.  Every time you start adding a large series of numbers and the phone rings or someone asks a question, I tended to lose my place.  So it took a while.  And every time I added the numbers, I was getting different results.  I’d been at it forever and couldn’t figure it out.

They’d just given me another staffer who would be helping in the afternoons when I used to be alone.  I asked him if he wouldn’t mind checking the sum, to see what total he would get.  He did and that’s exactly when the Store Bully walked in.

“Mike, why are you getting Dave to do the books for you?!” she yelled.  Of course, out of context, it probably looked that way.  But she wouldn’t even let me finish a sentence, and when I finally did, she said my story was “bull”.  She made her comment that the new guy wasn’t to be my personal servant.  Is that what she thought of me?  And of course this went on my annual review.  I protested it again, but she didn’t want to listen.

Dave didn’t get to finish adding that column, so I never found out what total he would have got.  Imagine how easy it would have been if it was just Microsoft Excel.

Some of the people at the Record Store who were in positions of power were, unfortunately, troglodytes.  They didn’t use computers regularly and were closed to ideas that didn’t come from preferential personnel.  It was a rock and a hard place for me.  They didn’t want to use computers to do the books, but I got “caught” getting someone to check my math.  As if it’s highschool.

Actually, it was a lot like a highschool.  And I wasn’t in the popular clique.

#705: Extra Hands

GETTING MORE TALE #705 Extra Hands

Today we discuss perhaps the most controversial subject ever broached on mikeladano.com.  In the past we have fearlessly tackled bands without original members, whiny fanboys, the far right, and the plight of natives.  Now we go where no one has dared.

Readers here may think that my sister Dr. Kathryn and I have lots in common.  We both love music, schnauzers, and Star Wars.  That’s everything, right?  You’d certainly think so.  We disagree more often than we agree.

Some spans are simply too far to bridge.  This is one of them.

Here is the controversy.  Don’t judge until you’ve heard us out.

My sister and I disagree, strongly, when action figures come packaged with extra hands.

Say what?  I’ll explain.

This issue first arose in 2012 when the Star Wars 6″ Black Series was launched.  This was a series aimed at collectors, packaged to display.  Many increased in value quickly.  Each character was numbered.  The larger size (standard Star Wars figures were 3 1/4″) enabled more detail, better facial sculpting and way more articulation.  Some of these figures look like the actual actors for the first time.  Though quite a few are less than perfect (#03 Luke Skywalker has weirdly bright blue eyes) they were, by and large, exactly what nostalgic fans wanted.  Eventually just about every major character was released (though we are still missing a Padme) with lots of the minor ones too (bounty hunters, Jabba’s minions).  Fans were peeved that it took until now to get an original Lando Calrissian figure, while we already had such dubious characters as “Constable Zuvio”, plus about a dozen Rey variations!  From Star Wars ’77 to Solo, most of your favourites are now available in the Black Series line.

The figure that sparked the controversy is #08, the excellent Han Solo in his 1977 getup:  Black vest, white shirt, cool holster and blaster!  The Black Series also occasionally threw in some bonus accessories.  #08 Han has some of the best.  He comes with his regular gun and holster, plus a Stormtrooper’s gun and belt so you can duplicate the look he had when he was running around the Death Star after escaping the trash compactor.  He also comes with an extra set of gloved hands, so you can have Han as he looked when he was fleeing TIE Fighters aboard the Millenium Falcon.  The hands snap in and out easily with no fear of breakage, still maintaining full wrist articulation.  One of the gloved hands has fingers outstretched, as if Han were hitting buttons on the Falcon’s dashboard.

So what’s the problem?

My sister likes to keep her figures sealed.  She displays them around her desk in her music room at home.  I, on the other hand, put my sealed figures in storage, and sometimes buy a second one to open up and display.  #08 Han is one such figure that I opened.  (My sealed one is in a Cantina two-pack with Greedo!)

I’ve displayed Han in all sorts of ways:  With and without vest, with and without Stormtrooper gear, and sometimes with the gloved hands.  Meanwhile my sister’s boxed figure gets quizzical looks when she has friends over.

“Why does Han have two dismembered hands in the box?”

My sister finds the hands to be an eyesore she’d rather do without.  For me, they are just another display option.  I’ll bag up whatever accessories Han isn’t using right now.  (Currently, my #08 Han is put away, while I have “Old Han” from The Force Awakens on display with Chewie.)

To me, a bigger offender is actually R2-D2.  R2 is loaded with accessories (which is good since he’s half the size of a regular figure but still the same price).  R2 is packed with a sensor scope, an antenna, and a Luke lightsaber that he packs in his dome.  There are also blue dome covers for when you want R2 all closed up looking normal.  But he also comes with jetpacks for his legs.  Many fans consider the “flying R2” scenes to be among the worst in the prequel trilogy.  I’d rather pretend it never happened.

“Those are stupid too,” says my sister of the leg rockets.

Han isn’t the only figure in the series with alternate body parts.  Qui-Gon Jinn has a bonus hand doing a Force movement.  Anakin Skywalker came with two heads so you can do him with two looks:  mopey or angry.  My sister considers all of these to be very poor display pieces.

I guess we will never agree on this issue.  I think the extra hands are a bonus.  If her friends can’t figure out that sometimes action figures come with alternate parts, then maybe she needs new friends.

 

 

#704: Battle of the Bands

A kinda-sorta retelling from a different perspective of Part 258:  Uncle Meat

GETTING MORE TALE #704: Battle of the Bands

Poor George.  He really wanted to be in a band.  Rob Szabo had a band.  He was just starting out with one of the neighbour kids.  He even had two original tunes (I remember one was called “The Stroll” and I can still hum it).  George really wanted to be in Rob’s band.  He hung out at their basement rehearsals and watched them play.  Rob would teach him things.  They needed a bass player.

George secretly saved his money, and eventually bought a bass.  Rob was horrified.  He didn’t want George in his band, he wanted a musician who already knew how to play music.  He didn’t want to have to teach the bass player how to play bass.  He also felt terribly guilty, because George bought the bass specifically because Rob needed a bass player!

I can remember George playing Rob’s tape to the girl he liked.  “That’s us!” he said.  “That’s my band.”  He wasn’t on the recording at all.

Like a kid who didn’t know how to break up with his girlfriend, Rob took a while to tell George he was “out” of the band.  When he did, George was not deterred.  He just went it alone.  He taught himself how to play by playing along to records.  He studied Steve Harris and Gene Simmons who quickly became his favourite bassist.  He practiced all the time.  I know, because we could hear him from our house.  We laughed about it, because George also attempted to sing.

He eventually got pretty good at bass; good enough anyway for the bar band scene.  He would never be any good at singing, although that hardly stopped him, and you have to respect that.

In the summer time, George took his amp outside and played for anybody who happened to be around.  He loved to play, “Guess this song from the bassline!”  Not an easy game when I didn’t know many songs yet myself.  I had a few albums, but I’d only been into rock and roll for a couple years.  Every bassline sounded the same to me.

“Guess this one”!  Durm durm durm durm.  Durm durm durm durm.

“Uhh, I dunno, ‘Shout It Out Loud’?”

“No, it’s ‘Love Gun!'”

George finished highschool, but I was just beginning.  It was there I saw my first Battle of the Bands.  I sat with Bob Schipper, Rob Daniels and the gang at lunch watching the bands play.  Rob Szabo had a band called Under 550 — the total body weight of the four members.  Even in highschool, it was obvious Rob had real talent.  There were all the other bands, and then there was Under 550.  He was levels above the others.  He could play “YYZ”.  I’d never even heard of “YYZ” (though I’d seen those letters on my parents’ luggage tags).  There was only one clear winner and that was Under 550.  It was obvious to everyone.  They would be going to the regionals at the Humanities Theatre.

Rob Szabo on the left

Bob and I got our tickets.  We went with neighborhood friends Scott Peddle and Todd Meyer.  The four of us sat together and waited giddily.  Not only was Rob Szabo playing, but so was George.  He joined a band called Zephyr (no relation to the other Zephyr), and they were on the bill.  I planned my catcalls.

George always told me he wanted to play “I Love It Loud”, and introduce it by saying to the crowd:  “How do you like your music?  Well I love it loud!”  I hoped and prayed he was going to do that.

Each band got two songs.  We waited through noise bands like Stomach Acid and F.U.H.Q., who had the plug pulled early for swearing.  We waited through boring acoustic and pop crapola.  There was one group that rocked really fucking hard.  I wasn’t into thrash, and these guys were heavy.  A group of bangers came down to the front row and started banging their heads to the thrash!  You could see the long hair flailing.  I didn’t know the singer, but many years later I found out his name was Eric.  But nobody calls him Eric.  Today they just call him Uncle Meat.  The Legendary Uncle Meat.

Meat

Truth is, his band was too scary for a 14 year old me!

On came Zephyr.  “You suck George!” I yelled, with Scott joining me.  He ignored us, or couldn’t hear us.  It didn’t matter, Scott and I were laughing so hard!

Sadly, George did not play “I Love It Loud”.  Zephyr disbanded a little after, with George again going solo.

Rob stacked the deck for the regionals.  Under 550 added a lead singer, and became Over 550 for this one night.  Though they didn’t win, they ranked high.  Uncle Meat and George went home empty-handed, but with memories etched forever.

The winners of that event? The now-somewhat-but-not-really-legendary Gordie Gordo and the G Men, featuring Sausagefester Scottie G, on the not-very-well played guitar! $100 dollar first prize which went promptly towards a mic stand.

We laughed on the way home at our witty catcalls like “Don’t fall over George!”

And that, friends, is why my highschool years were better than yours.

 

 

#703: The Lost Chapters – “1986”

GETTING MORE TALE #703:  The Lost Chapters – “1986”

 

Part 1:  Easter holiday

Easter weekend has always been one of my favourites of the year. While working at the record store, it became much less so. I often could not get away for Easter, plus Easter Monday is only a bank holiday, not a holiday for stiffs working retail.  But that’s the life of a grown-up, not a kid.  In 1986 we still had the innocence of never had worked an honest day in our lives.  Oh sure, we mowed the lawns.  Big deal.  That was kind of enjoyable.  I loved starting our mower’s old gas engine.  I loved filling it up with gas.

Aside from lawn mowing and a few winters of forcible shovelling, we had no idea yet of the horrors of the Adult Life.[1]  I mean, we kind of knew.  We knew that glorious childhood would not last forever.  Our teachers ensured this with the constant hammering of, “If you want a good job later, you better do your home work tonight.”  We understood, with gloom, that somewhere down the line would come a time when weekends were not free.  When we would be out working while Gilligan’s Island was on TV, and how could you go without Gilligan’s Island?  How could you live your life without Gilligan, the Skipper too, the millionaire and his wife?  It really didn’t seem possible.[2]  [3]

In those days, we loved a little bit of an extended holiday.  Summer holidays were best, followed by Christmas (two weeks), March break (one week), and Easter (four days).  Not only that, but the last day of school before a holiday like this was usually a write off, or at least half a write off.  The teachers let you goof around.  It was almost like a four and a half day break.  This made Easter a pretty significant holiday, and we spent a lot of our Easters doing fun stuff.  We were either at the cottage, visiting relatives, or both.

Many happy Easter weekends abound in my memories. I can remember spending Easter of ’85 in Ottawa with my family, and our Uncle Gar and Aunt Miriam. I can distinctly remember getting Quiet Riot’s Condition Critical cassette that Easter, as well as a Transformers Insecticon (Shrapnel).

It was Easter of ’86 that was the best of them all. At least, Easter ’86 is the clearest in my memory.  I remember it much more clearly than any other. None have had that impact; it was just that magical time of our lives.  It was the Age of Discovery.  That year, I discovered girls pretty seriously for the first time.

1986 was a turning point in my life. I had spent the previous eight years in a crummy Catholic school populated by all the main subcultures:  nerds, jocks, dicks, ugly kids, and girls who listened to Duran Duran. Grade 8 was particularly hard. I was being bullied in a serious way that winter.  Not by today’s standards.  By today’s standards, this is nothing.  By 1986 standards, this was a big deal for a kid.  I can remember snow being stuffed down my shirt every Thursday after shop class. Every fucking Thursday.  I fucking hated Thursday so fucking much.  I can remember kids who I thought were my friends laughing when it happened.  Earlier that same term, I can remember Kenny Lawrence volunteering to be my science lab buddy. I was suspicious of his motives, so I asked him why. He said, “Because I think you’re cool”. I let it slide because I needed a lab partner too, but it was soon evident that the real reason was because he knew I’d do all the work and get us a good mark. I was a nice guy even then; too nice, and that’s a trait I still have.

I didn’t fit in with anybody. I was into rock and roll, I was into books, and I knew nothing about sports or Duran Duran and Mr. Mister. Most importantly, I didn’t want to know. Even back then I was true to who I was. I refused to be a fake. Metal on metal, was what I craved.  I was going to sell my music soul out to Duran fucking Duran and get a fucking Corey Feldman haircut just because it was the way to get girls into me?  If a girl wasn’t into me as I was, Motley Crue and all, then she wasn’t worth it.

Of paramount importance to me was the fact that this was the last year of school before we all took the leap into high school. High school presents one tantalising possibility: The chance to switch school systems, and get away from the Catholic dicks. For anybody who was there, I will testify that the Catholic schools in the 80’s hosted the most and worst dicks you could find back then. Whether that is still true I do not know, but it certainly was true in 1986. I jumped at the chance to get out, and sent in my application to Grand River Collegiate Institute (GRCI).

GRCI presented freedom, but also for the first time ever, a chance to attend school with my best friend Bob. Bob was two years older, and we’d never have a class together, I knew that, but he always tried to get us lockers side by side. Bob was popular, smart, creative, easily the best influence on my life at the time. Most importantly he was tall, physically strong, really cool, and just an absolutely good person.  He would protect me from any dicks I might run into. He’d also bring me into his circle of friends; older kids, which was great for me because I fit in better with them.  We had similar interests.  One of Bob’s friends was a kid named Rob Daniels.  Today he’s the host of Visions In Sound on CKWR and a frequent collaborator.

Easter of 1986 represented the end of that dreadful winter, and the beginning of a new hopeful spring. As with many Easters past, we opened up our cottage and went up for the long weekend. We probably didn’t even have the water hooked up yet, because Easter fell in March that year. It was warm, but ice still covered Lake Huron. We have a photo of me, trying to negotiate ice floes out on the lake on our canoe. Much like Ernest Shackleton 70 years earlier, I rowed that canoe through the leads, trying to find open water. Unlike Shackleton, I found myself in the drink, or as we said back then, I got “two soakers”. It was a glorious time to be alive.

At the cottage, my sister and I played board games. A favourite was called Crossbows and Catapults.  It had no actual board, but the idea was pretty simple. You built a castle wall out of the bricks provided, focusing on strength and protection of your castle courtyard.

The game came with one crossbow and one catapult per player, as well as discs to fire. The weapons were powered by elastic bands. We still have the game; the elastics dried out but are replaceable. Each player took turns firing at their opponent. Aim was crucial! If you could weaken or destroy your opponent’s wall, you could then try to fire the “King” disc into your opponent’s castle courtyard. If you did, you won. But if you missed, your opponent could capture your King disc. Your only hope then was to rescue him by knocking down your opponent’s tower.

You could also buy expansion sets. One we had was a spring-powered battering ram that was hard to aim but packed enough punch to destroy a wall with only one shot. Another one was a set of castle outposts that had their own built-in catapults. However, they could also be captured with a single well-aimed shot, and then turned against you.

We played for hours, taking up the entire kitchen floor (you needed a smooth flat surface). While we played, we listened to music. My memories are of Motley Crue’s Too Fast For Love cassette – the original Leathür Records mix. We also played the two Quiet Riot cassettes that were out at the time, Metal Health and the aforementioned Condition Critical. My sister loved Quiet Riot and the Crue, but didn’t think much of my Judas Priest or W.A.S.P. cassettes. The previous weekend, MuchMusic debuted the new Judas Priest video, “Turbo Lover”, and I taped that and cranked it outdoors on the back porch. I was also listening to two Christian rock bands called Rez and the Darrell Mansfield Band, which Bob had taped for me.  For years all I had of Rez and Mansfield was that crappy sounding cassette (actually unlistenable) until the advent of Amazon and iTunes.

We also played badminton. A picture exists of me playing air guitar on a badminton racquet from that weekend. The yard was big enough to do so, and we didn’t even need a net, we just used the clothesline. It was great fun, and the weekend was warm enough that nobody needed jackets.

Right; girls.  I wasn’t picky.  Any that would talk to me would do.

My dad’s friend Bill was interested in renting the log cabin next door. Sadly it’s not there anymore. It was owned by an elderly lady who couldn’t use it anymore, so she rented it out. (A year later, we purchased the cabin from her. Sadly we had to tear it down in 2001, as the roof had rot.) Bill had come up with his family to check it out. Bill had a daughter who was my age.  And she didn’t know me, at all.  She didn’t know I was the fucking loser of the school! She didn’t know my history of saying stupid things at the exact wrong time!  She didn’t know I didn’t give a fuck about hockey.  I could play up the rocker image.  I could be the bad boy.  The bad boy with a fucking Crossbows and Catapults on the kitchen floor, but somehow God damn it, a “tough kid”!

As I sat there that afternoon trying to look at her using only my peripheral vision, plans were set in motion. They reserved the cottage for two weeks in early August, giving me much time to formulate my plans. I needed to get her to like me by completely ignoring her!  Chicks love guys that are dicks!

That was the anticipation for the coming summer.  Not only would I be escaping the Hell that was Catholic school, but this girl my age was going to be spending two weeks at the cabin next door.  Now, I had never really spoken to girls before and I had no idea how to go about it. Most of my plans involved grossing her out with insects. [4]

 

Part 2: Musical integrity

“We gonna hand the microphone over to…ACE FREHLEY, SHOCK ME!!”

Anybody who’s paid their rock n’ roll taxes knows that this is how Paul Stanley introduces Ace Frehley’s vocal spotlight on the song “Shock Me” from Kiss Alive II.  During the winter and spring of 1986, my neighbour George (whom was the kind of kid that you socialised with only so you could access his music library) had taped the album for me.  He had also taped such albums as Love Gun and Double Platinum.  Best of all was the rare Animalize Live Uncensored video that he had dubbed onto cassette for me.  I was well armed with Kiss music by the time summer rolled around.  Back then I could scarcely afford to buy more than a couple cassettes a year, since I was still plowing all my allowance into GI Joe and Transformers forces.  Yeah, that means at age 13 I was still playing with toys.  No big deal. You’re the asshole for thinking so.

Anyway, the dubbed copies sounded terrible, but I didn’t know any better.  I had a Walkman, it was a piece of shit, but it was a Walkman.  I had a proper ghetto blaster that wasn’t loud enough and a turntable at home, but these were not exactly what you would call portable.  If I remember correctly, the ghetto blaster itself took something like nine D-size batteries, enough power for Ace Frehley to “shock me” at any place and any time.  However the juice wouldn’t even last for a whole day of music, and the batteries too expensive to replace regularly, so I never did that.

Finally, I graduated grade school.  Grade 8, the dicks, Mrs. Powers, and compulsory church services were behind me.  Grand 9, highschool, lay ahead in what was guaranteed to be better times.  Before that, the summer lay ahead as one final chance to be a kid.

Unfortunately, Bob was not around much that summer.  He had left in July for Calgary to stay with his older brother Martin.  We promised to correspond via lettermail.  This summer, I would be flying solo.  At the end of the month, Bill’s family truckster came up to the rented cottage fully loaded and daughter in tow.

I was packed and fully prepared.  I had my two cases of cassettes.  One case was massive; it held 60 tapes.  The other was much smaller, but I had about 100 albums on cassette and LP back then to occupy my time.  Many were dubbed, but by then a growing number were not.

 

Part 3:  Musical flashbacks

The way the system worked was brilliant and simple.  There was no file sharing.  If one of us owned an album, it was the right and privilege of all the neighbor kids to ask you to borrow it for taping purposes.  Or, if your equipment was superior they’d ask you to do it for them.  However, we all had crappy equipment with the exception of George Balasz.  George Balasz didn’t have cassettes either, he still had LPs, which sounded better.

George’s LP collection was very impressive.  His Kiss albums were virtually complete.  He even had such rarities as the Kiss Killers record, which was a European import.  He also had a complete collection of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest records, and I had access to dubbed copies of these whenever I wanted.  The only problem was that George was a little fucking creepy.

His family was Hungarian, and happened to be the token white trash family on the street.  His house had that awful Beef Soup Whif that Wayne Campbell speaks of.  When we were kids, he pissed Bob and I off by stealing certain rare Lego pieces from us.  He was older than any of us, so when he started to show us his Playboy collection, we labelled him as a perv rather than a cool kid, which was the opposite effect from what he was going for.  He had also stolen Bob’s brother’s bike.  He hid it in his garage, which had no door.  John simply walked over to George’s house, saw it, and beat the piss out of him.  This pleased everyone since nobody liked a thief, the adults didn’t care for George, and John had never done anything violent before in his life.  It was the kind of thing everybody whispered about.

“Have you seen John?”

“No, I haven’t seen him in days.  Why?”

“GEORGE STOLE HIS BIKE AND JOHN WENT LOOKING FOR IT AND HE FOUND IT IN GEORGE BALASZ’ GARAGE AND THEN HE FOUND GEORGE AND BEAT HIM UP HE PUNCHED HIM RIGHT IN THE FACE AND MAYBE GEORGE WAS EVEN BLEEDING BUT JOHN IS GROUNDED NOW AND GEORGE WON’T GO OUTSIDE BECAUSE EVERYBODY KNOWS ABOUT IT NOW AND PEOPLE KEEP CALLING GEORGE NAMES LIKE THIEF AND JAILBIRD AND HE’S SUCH A LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSER!”

George’s family was not smart with money.  Years later, after George had graduated high school, his father passed away.  He left them a sum of money which they squandered on new furniture and drapes.  My father managed the bank at the time, and counselled them to invest the money.  They didn’t.  As my father predicted, it did not last, and they were flat broke within a few years and sold their house.  It was all very sad.

George had the same affliction.  He couldn’t hold onto money or anything else for that matter.  This worked to my advantage.  I have quite a collection of rare, early GI Joe figures that I got for a buck a piece.  He needed the money to buy more records and I was happy to provide it for these figures.  I have no idea what the figures are worth today, but certainly more than a buck a piece.  I also acquired a complete collection of GI Joe comics in a similar fashion:  A buck a piece, maybe a little more for the early issues like 1 and 2.

My collection of comics was pretty sweet, and my collection of toys even sweeter.  My music library was coming along nicely.  Most importantly, I had developed integrity in my musical taste.  I was learning to see qualities that I valued in music.  I rejected the bands that seemed like they’d sold out any balls at all to have a hit.

Musically speaking it was a pretty simple time.  David Lee Roth had just left Van Halen, and 5150 had just come out, with Sammy.  Kiss settled into a strong lineup featuring new guitar player Bruce Kulick and all the kids dug their latest album Asylum.  Maiden had dropped a double-live monster on us called Live After Death and we were all eager to find out what their new album would sound like.  Priest recently released Turbo which was completely modern sounding, with synthesizers, and most of us thought it was pretty cool.  On the rare occasion we could afford a music magazine, we’d read about how Bruce Dickinson and Steve Harris were feuding, but we were confident they’d be friends again and make the next Maiden album the best ever.

In summary, I felt pretty cool musically, though not in any other ways.

I knew I wasn’t cool by the standards of kids of the day, but I knew I was cool in the eyes of my true friends and myself.  Most important was the integrity factor.  If something was deemed uncool at school, such as comic books, I was only more dedicated in my collecting.  If a band, such a Quiet Riot, was condemned as being washed up, I still went to the store to check out their new tape whenever it came out.  I didn’t care.  It was a kind of loyalty; a loyalty to oneself.

 

Part 4:  Clueless

I was armed with the knowledge that I had musical integrity, and a character that was somewhat unique.  I was also armed with a BB gun. I was actually a pretty good shot; chicks should find that impressive.  That meant that if WWIII broke out right then and there, I could defend any girl’s life.  They appreciate that stuff, right?  Bob was in Alberta; I was going solo this summer.  I was ready as I’d ever be.

My dad’s friends arrived at the cottage and settled into the cabin next door.  The next morning I set out on my plans.  I figured that I needed a few things to get noticed by a girl.

  1. My Walkman, loaded up with Kiss Alive II.  I figured, she’d ask what I was listening to, I’d say Kiss Alive II in a cool disinterested voice.
  2. A magnifying glass.
  3. A plentiful supply of things to burn, both alive and dead.  Because nothing says, “come hither, baby,” like the smell of a dead ant.  (It smells a lot like bacon, by the way.)

There I was, wandering the woods between the two cottages, Walkman on my ears and magnifying glass in my heads, burning leaves and bugs.  She’d think I was cool; she had to, because this was the only idea I had.

As it turns out, I didn’t get her attention.  But her younger brother Mike came out to see what I was doing.  Together we bonded by pulling the legs off grasshoppers and then burning what was left.  We were the original Beavis and Butt-head.  We actually had a lot in common, like Transformers.  He came over to read my comic books and we became friends.

That night, our families had decided to have a marshmallow/weenie roast together.  They had a huge fireplace there, a cement monster that was slowly crumbling under the weight of so many winters.  It was a good time, and it was the first time a girl laughed at something I said in a good way.  I’m much funnier now (trust me) but back then I was absolutely useless at making girls laugh.  Whatever I said always just came out completely wrong.

I tried to steer the conversation to comfortable territory.  I brought up something I knew a lot about, and would impress her.  Obviously, I picked WWF wrestling.  She said something along the lines of, “Wrestling’s dumb, it’s so fake!”  I rose to the sports-entertainment’s defence.

“Wrestling’s not entirely fake.  Look at a move like a suplex.  You can’t fake that.”

“What’s a suplex?” she queried.

Not knowing how to describe one, the best answer I could come up with was “I don’t know.”

She  laughed.  Something about that was funny to her, in a good way.  I didn’t mean to make her laugh, and I thought she would laugh at me.  She didn’t.  A first!  I was a natural.

Making progress, the next obvious step was to return to my original strategy of gross-outs with insects.

We called them tree toads, but they were cicadas.  They look like huge fat grasshoppers, and their high-pitched song could be heard loudly all summer long.  It’s a great sound; it means summer is here.  That year, we found some tree toads for the first time.  We’d heard them but never seen one before.  First, we only found their empty shells.  Like snakes, they shed their skin leaving behind a hard shell, but they can shed their skins in such a way that the shapes are completely intact.  They are an exact duplicate of the insect itself, with a small slit in the back where the tree toad escaped.  They were intact right down to their clingy little legs.  These legs were clingy enough that you could hang several of these shells from your face thus grossing out any girl you liked.  This is what I did.  I even got my sister and the other Mike in on it.  We both had cicada shells hanging from our cheeks and noses.

For Mike, it was fun because we were grossing out his sister.  For me, it was making contact.  Any contact!  I did the ultimate gross-out when I found a live tree toad and hung him off my face.  She left.  Somehow, I thought I was being funny.

Having used up the insect strategy, I selected a new one.

 

 

 

Part 5:  Being excellent at something

I always knew you had to be excellent at something.  I could aim a BB gun and hit a dime.   I could also draw.

Death Team was my pride and joy.  Bob had shown me how to draw human figures and aliens, and I was good at doing airplanes and tanks.  Together we honed our skills.  My human figures were getting better all the time.  We’d created something called Death Team.  I liken it to a concept similar to GI Joe, with a couple modifications.  Our guys were all rockers or punks, it was a Canadian team, and it was on paper only.  We put together dozens of drawings of characters and vehicles and put them together in a binder.  We made some cover art for the binder, we even recorded an audio cassette of us acting out Death Team skits.  It was a totally real thing to us and we wanted to get rich by turning it into a toyline or movie.

Our “business card”

 

I decided to unleash the Great three-inch Death Team binder and casually be drawing some guy in a cool action pose while the girl walked by.

The nice thing was that even though she didn’t care about my drawings of guys with guns, I was having a good time drawing them.  Mike came over and joined us.  Then he showed us how to play a really fun adventure style game using just a pencil and paper.  You’d draw a dungeon, put some obstacles in there, and then verbally guide your friends through the dungeon you’d just drawn and see if they could make it past the obstacles.  My sister and I loved it, and the game became much more elaborate between the three of us.  Suddenly it wasn’t about impressing the girls anymore, it was about having a blast with this new game we’d invented.  We always invented our own games, and 1986 continued that tradition…and then an afternoon was gone.

Eventually the week was gone, too, and we had to go home.  My dad had to return to work.  I got home, and there was a letter from Bob.  He was having a great time in Calgary and asked about updates from home.  He was going to go and see Ozzy with some new band called “Metallica” but Ozzy cancelled.

He’d written this letter and drawn a picture.  The picture was of me and him rocking out, and a picture of George Balasz at his nerdly best.  He wrote in his letter that he picked up a rare copy of Kiss Killers on vinyl.  It was the German pressing with the backwards “ZZ” logo.  [5]   He was having a good summer with his brother Martin, and Martin’s dog.  He wrote, “One thing for sure, I’m getting a dog when I come back to Kitchener.”  Maybe Bob didn’t know his mother as well as I did, because I knew there was no way in hell he was getting a dog when he got back to Kitchener.  He also said he was getting a computer when he got home, but that also did not materialise.  His mom put the kibosh on both.

I was so glad to hear from him.  The summer had been pretty quiet without him around.  Also, I needed his help.  Mike and I were coming up with new Death Team characters every day, and Bob wasn’t there to see them, and offer his own notes.  Grade 9 was swiftly approaching and I was worried that I wouldn’t be prepared.  I was hoping Bob could help me shop for supplies I’d need for highschool.

 

My mom, sister and I headed back up to the cottage without my dad who would catch up with us at the end of the week.  His friends were still renting next door.  When we came back, we had this huge bonfire in our back yard.  There was a lot of construction up by the county road, and a lot of trees down.  My mom sent me, Mike, and the girl into the woods to bring some of the bigger logs down to burn.  We basically stole logs from this construction site, but nobody cared about things like that.  We did a hot dog roast, marshmallows, and told jokes.

Saturday night, after my dad got back, we all went into town to see the parade.  It was a tradition.  Every Saturday night in Kincardine, the local Scottish piper band makes its way down the main street, and everyone follows.  When I say everyone, I mean it.  The entire town comes out to see it.  At 8pm, every Saturday night for the entire summer, the downtown came alive.  After the parade, ice cream was the traditional confection.

This particular weekend, there was a clown there, I have no idea why.  His name was “Bazo the Clown”.  Bazo had grabbed a “bad kid” and was giving him hell.  None of knew why, but the sight of Bazo the Clown grabbing this kid and scolding him was something we found absolutely hilarious.  We were in stitches.  We still speak of Bazo.

I had a few days left to try to make some sort of impact on the girl.  Insects didn’t do it, and drawings didn’t do it.  Switching back to the concept of making the girl laugh, I figured out a way to include the absent Bob.  Bob was funny, and we did some funny recordings together.  We recorded skits to audio tapes and we thought they were the funniest fucking things anybody had ever done in the history of comedy.

Bob and I had several hours of these comedy “gold” on tape.  Most of them involved us making fun of George Balasz, but he was a pretty easy target.  Some of them involved us making fun of Jimmy Swaggart or Oral Roberts.  We both watched TV preachers on weekday mornings while waiting for cartoons to start.  We thought they were hilarious.  Certainly, Ozzy would have been proud of us.  The only problem was this was all inside joke comedy that nobody else would get.

I invited Mike and his sister over to take part in a recording session.  The idea was to record a sketch that would play on our rivalry.  The real idea however was again to attempt to be excellent at something in front of the girl.  Also, I hoped to impress her with the size of my cassette collection (as you would).  Showing off my musical integrity would do the trick.  But, I found out later, you can’t impress a girl who likes Duran Duran with Kiss.

My cassettes were starting to overflow their cases.  What I had done to handle the overspill was hand-paint two ceramic bookends with Kiss artwork.  I used these bookends to store my Kiss tapes upon my shelves.  At least my artwork would have to impress her, if the music did not.  I painted all six Kiss masks and a logo. Far from being impressed the girl thought it would be funny to mix up the order of the tapes.  Nobody could actually mix them up permanently for my organisational skills were second to none.  I had them all back in order soon, chronologically by date of release.

Part 6:  Seasons end

It was an excellent summer.  It was an excellent time to be alive.  The lake was warm, the water levels were high, the waves were crashing on the sandy beach and we took advantage of that for as long as we could.

The summer drew to a close.  The days grew shorter.  Our games grew sillier.  My sister invented something, I guess you’d call it a game, called “The Poo Machine”.  Thankfully the details are lost to me.  It mostly involved pulling levers and making fart sounds.  It kept us occupied and outside.

When we returned home, Bob also arrived back from Calgary.  I showed him the Death Team drawings I had done, and hoped for his approval.

He showed me his Kiss record; the one with the German logo.  Things were moving back to normal.  We got the grade 9 supplies.  High school began.  I hung out with Bob every day and our friendship got tighter and tighter.  A new journey was beginning.  I was shedding the skin of the old life.  I was a high school kid.  Toys were soon gone, replaced by a ravenous insatiable need to collect music.  This was a quest Bob shared with me and we bonded.  Great music was just around the corner.  A new Iron Maiden album was about to come out.  The future was golden.

 

 


[1] From the moment your parent or guardian says “Get a job.”

[2] This is before PVR’s, kids.  VCR’s too, for those born before 1994.  Do try to keep up.

[3] I am using Gilligan’s Island as a matter of poetic license.  I actually had this thought when I was a teenager about the Beverly Hillbillies.  They were always on at noon and I realised one day, I wouldn’t be at home at noon anymore.

[4] I found out in later that this girl was actually my first kiss. When we were both like, three years old.  The deed was done. Her brother Mike, who was cool and I hung out with, dug up a picture of it, which was in his family’s photo album. I didn’t even know we had met before. Mike teased me endlessly. However, to me it meant that at least I had kissed a girl, once.  I didn’t remember it, but what the hell, I’ll take it.

[5] Kiss could not use their lightning bolt SS logo in Germany because it was too similar to the Nazi SS logo.  Therefore all German Kiss albums do not have the original lightning bolt SS logo, but use backwards ZZ’s instead.  The copy that Bob bought in Calgary that summer is the same copy that I own today.

 

#702: If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out

GETTING MORE TALE #702:  If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out

Summer is gone — it flew by.  We’ve said goodbye to our loved one.  Now it’s time to pick up the pieces, and also to try and get back to whatever “normal” is going to be now.  Time to write.  Not everything was bad.  Lots of tears, but some laughs too.

We stayed in a lot of hotels but I think my favourite is the last one we used, the Fairfield in Brampton.  We had a nice two room suite with a desk that I could use for writing.  I wrote the last instalment of Getting More Tale (#701:  Amazon You Bastards) at that desk at the Fairfield.  It was a really sweet spot!  Good wi-fi too.  We ordered Chinese food from one of Jen’s favourite places, and her cousins came over to visit.

Another hotel (I think the Edward in Toronto) had the most amazing shower I’ve ever experienced.  It had an overhead jet, three more on the vertical, and one of those hand-held shower heads.  You could combine them too.  It had enough settings that you could easily lose half an hour in there.

Having a good stay in a hotel requires several key things.  Add your own to my list:

  1. Music.  Usually in three forms.  I) Mp3 player.  II) Flash drive(s) for car.  III) Laptop.
  2. Headphones for said laptop.  This is both for music and Netflix.  I forgot the headphones on the Labour Day weekend.  I waited at a shitty Canadian Tire store in Toronto to find and buy a $30 pair.  Worth it though.
  3. Books.  I brought a Transformers graphic novel and a Rock Candy magazine given to me by Superdekes.
  4. Enough clothes.  I came short on this one twice this summer.
  5. Whatever personal hygiene products you require.
  6. Earplugs!

My fuck, are those hotel air conditioners loud.

Kiss is good comfort music.  At the Fairfield I spun Unmasked again, for what was probably the third time this week.  Uncle Meat’s words resonated in my head:  “You’re wrong on Unmasked“.  I listened, I enjoyed, I sang along.  Do I like this album?  I must.  It’s certainly problematic, with a lot of outside writing diluting the sauce.  But it also had an increased Ace Frehley participation factor.  Uncle Meat ranked it 4.5/5  steaks, I gave it 3.5/5 stars.  I might have to finally revise it again to 4/5 stars.  The jury will be back soon.

Back to my previous point though:  Kiss is good comfort music.  Many of those albums are time machines.  I can be 13 or 14 years old again, and very clearly so.  Most Kiss albums remind me of summer, but it’s not all just nostalgia.  Nostalgia alone is hollow.  You can’t listen to a song forever just because of nostalgia.  Whether you want to admit it or not, Kiss had the goods.  Barely enough goods, but they had ’em and they also had a style.  Today we say songs are “Kiss-like”, usually referring to the classic Kiss sound of 1974 to 1977.  Ace Frehley had an identifiable sound from day one.  He patented his own fretboard moves.  That’s why when Bob Kulick came aboard to play ghost guitars on Alive II, he was instructed to “make it sound like something Ace would play.”  As for Paul Stanley, there is no slagging the man’s voice in his prime.  He was the goddamn Phantom of the Opera fer fucksakes.  Kiss’ weaknesses are fairly obvious now that we know who really played what on what, but their strengths should also be clear to us.

I needed Kiss this summer.  Kiss helped.  That’s the bottom line.  If air drumming a little bit to “Anything for My Baby” takes my mind away to somewhere good for three minutes, then proceed.

I also had a re-connection with Cat Stevens late this summer.  I’m not sure why, but when “Mum” was sick in the hospital towards the end, I kept hearing one song in my head: “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” from the Harold and Maude soundtrack.  I don’t remember ever watching that movie with Mum, or even hearing that song around her.  I just had a very sudden, profound connection of that song with her when she was sick.

Maybe she was trying to tell me something.

Well, if you want to sing out, sing out,
And if you want to be free, be free,
‘Cause there’s a million things to be,
You know that there are.

It’s a message she might have wanted me to know?

Well, if you want to say yes, say yes,
And if you want to say no, say no,
‘Cause there’s a million ways to go,
You know that there are.

Whatever the connection in my head, I felt strongly enough about it to mix in with the songs we used for the visitation.  And it made me smile, and tear up at the same time.

Cat Stevens wrote some pretty good songs, didn’t he?

Here I am in my late 40s now, and I’m still learning new things about what music does.  Stronger than ever, I say again:  it’s in my blood!

 

#701: Amazon You Bastards

A big shout out to Derek Deke for bein’ around.

GETTING MORE TALE #701: Amazon You Bastards

This is the story of how 18 cents cost me $21.63.

I’m always on the lookout for cheap Star Wars figures.  I collect the 6″Black Series exclusively.  I keep my core collection sealed, but any time I can buy a double for cheap, I go for it.  May as well have an open one for play display.

The other night I was bored and browsing Amazon, as you do.  I noticed they had a couple Black Series figs for under $20 — usually a guaranteed threshold for buying a double.  I picked up Lando (Billy Dee Williams version) for $12.46 for my sister last week.   This week I noticed Liam Neeson, err, Qui-Gon Jinn, for $12.08.  After consulting my sister I decided to pull the trigger.  Qui-Gon isn’t the best character and for a Jedi he is pretty bland, but I like the little toy lightsabers.  He also comes with an extra hand that you can swap out to give him a Force-push kind of pose.

(I like the ability to easily swap out hands.  Dr. Kathryn does not.  Look for a future story on this called “Extra Hands”.)

“Go for it!” advised Dr. Kathryn and so I looked for something else to qualify for free shipping.  I went to my wishlist and remembered Tommy Shaw’s Girls With Guns album.  I’ve loved the title track for eons, but the CD was always somewhat rare.  In fact it ended up on a very primitive version of the old Holy Grail list.  It turns out that the quality label Beat Goes On Records has done a reissue along with the album What If in a single package.  I recently picked up BGO’s reissue of Styx’s Caught In The Act – Live and I was very happy with the audio and packaging.  I added Girls With Guns / What If to my cart at the price of $22.74, a solid buy.

Total:  $34.82.  A measly 18 cents short of free shipping.

Well, fuck!

There was only one copy of Tommy Shaw left in stock.  I wanted to keep it in the cart.  Only one thing to do.  Add another item to the cart to get free shipping.

I browsed and browsed a bit more.  Lots of Black Series figures under $20 (mostly from Rogue One), but I had doubles already.  There were a few just over $20 and ultimately I decided to buy a second Imperial Range Trooper at $21.63, far exceeding the cost of the original Qui-Gon figure that set me off on this particular shopping quest.  And here’s the kicker!  At first I decided I didn’t want to get any figures from Solo.  There are so many Black Series characters now that I had to draw a line somewhere.  But I broke when some of the new figures turned out so good, and Range Trooper is one of them.  He’ll be joining the rest of my opened Imperial troopers soon.

But:  Fuck you, Amazon!  I bet you have banks of computers spitting out algorithms to keep me just under the $35 minimum for free shipping!  Weird prices like $12.08…you think you’re getting a deal but then you buy three fuckin’ things!

I’m on to you, Amazon….

#700: How Are You Doing?

GETTING MORE TALE #700: How Are You Doing?

It’s been a week since we lost Mum…and we are doing OK.  Jen’s been focused like an electron microscope on getting things done for the funeral.  My job is scanning photos and preparing music…and catching up on laundry.  Attempting to put a dent into the pile of clothes I call “Sock Mountain”.  I’m assuming reality will hit us later.

For music, Mum would have liked if we used something by my sister Dr. Kathryn.  I hope I can find something appropriate, perhaps from her Stealth CD.  At least one track.  For the reception after, I’m using Mike Slayen’s awesome acoustic guitar album DUDE.  Don’t let the title fool you!  If Mum was well enough, I know she would have been enjoying this album with us.  Probably in the car on the way to the cottage.  She would have loved it.  Me, I would have loved just having Mum with us.

This has been a very hard year for us, and I know the power of music is such that you always associate certain tracks or albums with periods in your life.  Music also has the power to raise the spirits, and it did that for me quite a few times this summer.  On every shitty drive to Toronto on the 401, to every dismal hospital parking lot, my stereo was on.  A lot of albums were repeat listens, and I worry:  “Will I always associate the Bosstones or Blotto with this shitty summer?”

I might.  And that might make the Bosstones or Blotto hard to listen to, down the road.  I think we have to try and make more memories of those bands later on.  Maybe when we finally do return to the cottage.

That aside, we sure did devour a lot of music on the road.  Just last week, between Toronto and the work commute, I polished off Marillion’s The Singles ’82-’88 (12 discs), its followup Singles Box Vol 2 ’89 – ’95 (12 more discs), and a third “box set” of eight more singles. A whopping 1.5 gig of music.  Basically all their singles and B-sides in one massive weeklong stretch.  Meanwhile, back at the office, I had my Kiss flash drive.  Basically, everything I own by Kiss in one place.  I’ve been focused on the studio albums, and each one has been spun more than once.  I realised this:  I never seem to get tired of Kiss!

Whether it was Lick it Up, Hotter Than Hell, Dressed to Kill, Love Gun, Rock and Roll OverDynasty, Unmasked, Creatures…even Asylum got multiple plays in the last couple weeks.  When a band has been your favourite for over 30 years and you can’t explain why, I guess you can just keep playing those albums in rotation.  The later albums…admittedly less so.  The emotional attachment isn’t quite there.

Get this!  While I was bopping to Kiss Unmasked one afternoon, the guy in the office next to me put on “Summerland” by King’s X!  How cool is that?  When was the last time you heard King’s X in the office?  The guy even knew the names of the members.  Said a friend recently turned him onto King’s X, but all he had was the Best Of.  Gotta start somewhere!

Thanks for checking in.  We’ll be OK.  I think we’ll manage to make it through this, but not without the support of friends and loved ones.

#699: Brief Encounter

On the dark days, you just need to find things to cheer you up.

This past weekend, caring for Jen’s mom in the hospital, I had a chance encounter that lasted just a few moments, but gave me something else to focus on.  “Mum” was staying in a very nice wing of a veteran’s hospital.  It was filled with retired war heroes, but also regular people who were fighting their final battles with cancer.  You can always sense the grief in the air.  It weighs down like a heavy, thick antiseptic mist.

Sunday morning we were making our way to see Mum, with other families to see our loved ones.  Walking in front of us was a tall guy carrying a guitar.  It was in a road case, which jumped out at me.  Most guitar hobbyists don’t need one, but professionals do.  He looked like a dressed-down star.  He held the elevator door open for us.  We got in and I had a closer look at his road case.  There was a laminated tag with his name on it, which I recognised immediately.  For his privacy, I won’t say who he was, but I Googled him to verify.  Sure enough, the guitarist in front of us was the guy who came up in my Google images search.

Seven solo albums stretching back 22 years.  12 more album releases as a sideman, for some pretty big names.  If I said them, you’d recognise them.  He has played on Leno, the Oscars, and the Grammies, and he also opened for two of my favourite bands (one of which, Deep Purple, is in my Top Five).

I didn’t bother him.  He was there for the same reason we were.  It would have been disrespectful for me to invade his privacy.

I did, however, stream some of his music on my phone.  Later on, I heard him down the hall, playing blues licks for his loved one.  It was an awesome, awesome sound.

My only real wish was, it would have been nice if Mum was well enough to come out into the hallway to listen.  Mum loved all kinds of music, including the blues.  But she was too sick.  We played some George Harrison in her room, instead.

I talked about this brief encounter all day.  I guess I was a little starstruck.

In the end, the bluesman did more than play some licks for his loved one.  He didn’t know it, but he helped me out too.  Thank you, bluesman.

 

Rest in Peace, Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom — “Mum”

Some people knew her as “Debbie”.  Some called her “sis”.  Jen called her “mommy”.  Readers here remember her as “Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom”.

As for me, she liked it when I called her “Mum”, so that’s what I did.

She’s been sick for a little while.  She was diagnosed with cancer at the same time as my wife, late last year.  Because Mum only cared about other people, she tried to protect us.  She did not tell us about it.  She lived with her secret, so we could focus on Jen.  We knew she was sicker than she claimed, but at the end of the day we had to trust her.  I don’t begrudge this.  She was right — I needed to focus on Jen, beating her own cancer.  When she did, Mum told us the news.

She’s so important to me.  We became much closer when Jen’s dad passed away in 2009.  When that happened, our little unit circled the wagons and held on to each other tight.  We invited her to come and stay with us on the weekends, and she did, probably two out of every three times.  She came and celebrated Christmas (and all the holidays) with my family.  She bought us dinners and treats and spoiled us.  She took good care of Jen.  We talked and laughed.

I already miss our talks.  I just wanna call her.

She even contributed to my website.  She co-reviewed Machete Kills with me.  She helped with two of my videos, always as comedy relief.  She was a great sport.

I miss her so much.

I could count on her for wisdom, for support, and she was always there when Jen needed her.  If Jen called, Mum would be on a train.  She just liked being here.  She wanted to retire in Kitchener.  Over the years she made a lot of friends. Lots of people here will miss her.  Her generosity won’t be easily forgotten.  She was good to everyone.

I have always tried to put on an optimistic face when it comes to health.  Until you’re done, you’re still fighting to win.  But as summer progressed, it was clear Mum wasn’t getting better.  She bravely tried a new experimental treatment.  The upside was that some tumors were shrinking, but the treatment made her incredibly ill.  She couldn’t continue.  Eventually the doctors just ran out of things to try.

The last thing she said clearly to me, many many times, was “I only trust Michael.  I only trust Michael.”

I will never forget that for the rest of my life.  “I only trust Michael.”

I guess she means to take care of Jen.  Hearing her say this, repeating it, was the heaviest moment of my life.

But it felt good at the same time.  I couldn’t have asked for the trust of a more important person.  She was a second mom to me.  I am a very lucky person to have even known her.

She fought that cancer, and fought, and fought.  She fought longer than any of the doctors said she would.

She was the toughest woman I ever knew.  I miss her like crazy.

Rest in peace, Mum.

Mrs. LeBrain’s Mom had a cameo in this video. She was a good sport and played the role well.