mental health

#868: Insomni-omni-omni-a

GETTING MORE TALE #868:  Insomni-omni-omni-a

It happened again.  Insomnia.  The battle rages on, win some lose some.  I’m so wired on Friday nights.  Fridays, being the last night of the work week, are the only night I allow myself to enjoy a couple cups of coffee.  That’s part of it, but what really gets me wired is this burst of creative energy that comes with the weekend.  That’s been amplified recently with the Friday night live streams.  Those who have participated know what it’s like.  You get this charge; this burst of adrenaline after a good show.  I’m up for four hours after a decent one, let alone a great one.

Eventually I go to bed but my head rattles all night: ideas, worries, creativity.  The next day is Saturday.  That’s my day to have fun, work on enjoyable projects, and spend time with my wife.  I’ve had problems sleeping in on Saturdays since I was a kid!  It’s a real thing.  I get too excited to get up and at ‘er.

It’s especially unenjoyable when I’m tossing and turning in bed with a song I dislike stuck in my head.  Radio often repeats songs I don’t like.  The Cornell version of “Patience”, or The Wild.  Or even J.J. Wilde.  (I know, I know, she’s local, I shouldn’t say bad things.  I love her voice, just not her song.)  The best thing for me to do in that case is get up and listen to something else.  I have to think carefully about what to listen to, because it’s likely going to be the next song that will be stuck in my head for the rest of the night.  Something old and familiar that feels like good times will work.  It has to be familiar though.  If not, my brain will skip like a record when it can’t remember how parts of the song go.

I have a few strategies in my war against insomnia.  One is to burn off some energy by going for a late night walk, although in recent days this is…not the best option.  Not anymore.  Not since Covid.  A shelter was opened down the street.  We’ve seen an uptick in crime and drug use.  A few weeks ago, a car was on fire in the middle of the night.  I’m not kidding.  This is across the street!

Instead of a walk, I’ll go out on the porch, watch some Youtube, listen to some songs, and eventually go back to bed.  I try not to rise before the sun does.  If the sun is coming out, then I give myself permission to get up.  This does not always work out, but it’s a guideline.  I have also tried turning my clock around so I can’t see the face.  That keeps me from counting the minutes until it’s a good time to get up.

Maybe I’m not the best one for giving advice, but it’s important to talk about this stuff.  I’ve said it multiple times — we are all in this together.  Interrupted sleeping patterns is part of living through a pandemic.  Maybe you can give me some advice.  I’ve tried a few different earphones for sleep but nothing has been comfortable enough to wear longer than an hour.  Do you have any sleep earphone recommendations?  Leave in the comments.  Must be wired — no Bluetooth.  Helping each other is the way we’ll beat this pandemic and the war on insomnia!

 

#866.5: Right Now, I Am Happy

A spontaneous mini-chapter as I navigate a November weekend.

 

 

GETTING MORE TALE #866.5: Right Now, I Am Happy

As of right now, 10:39 AM on a beautiful Saturday morning in early November, I am happy.

It might not last.  It might be a moment as fleeting as the breeze.  But as I remove my mask in the open air, and breath it deep, I feel good.

We’ve had a hell of a week.  A Wednesday kitchen accident left us without a functioning stove and a hell of a mess.  We are working hard and cleaning up.  Just one more thing, right?  But not the end of the world and nobody hurt.  Well, not too badly; I’m sporting a cut hand from some broken glass in a kitchen corner.  It just makes me look tougher!  Hah.

I am learning that it is OK that I can’t do all these home projects on my own.  Somebody is coming to haul the old stove away in about an hour.  On Monday somebody else will be delivering the new one.

I am enjoying my beloved music collection.  This week I have delved back into Judas Priest.  I currently have five Judas Priest reviews ready to post, just awaiting final revisions.  I intend to finish all the Judas Priest reviews before the end of 2020.  It’s going to happen.  It feels good to achieve a goal, trivial to others as it may be.  I am learning not to judge myself too harshly and to recognize my worth.

Priest were a really important band to me in my younger years.  Listening now, even to their more recent music, I still get a huge kick.  “Revelations” from Nostradamus might not sound like the Priest I knew back in 1987, but it gets my head a-bangin’.  My air guitar is tuned and ready to rock when I hear it.  My old bones still creek, but my young heart still pumps molten blood when I have the mighty Priest in my ageing ears.

Well, I’d better split, the junk lady will be here soon to pick up this old stove.  If it’s nice and sunny where you are then I recommend you go outside for some nice air.  It’s a beautiful day and right now, I am happy.

REVIEW: Storm Force – “Breathe” featuring Serena Pryne (2020 music video)

STORM FORCE – “Breathe” featuring Serena Pryne (2020 Escape Music video)

Our rock and roll friends Storm Force have released a new video for “Breathe”, and a good one it is!

These days when a band drops a new video, are you often disappointed?  Many videos today are low budget slideshows of still photos, or crude animations.  This was the trend even before Covid.  Unless you’re AC/DC, few go to the trouble of actually filming a concept/performance music video anymore.  Storm Force did a good one with “Pretty Vegas”, and now they are back to blow minds with “Breathe”, one of the strongest tunes on the new album Age of Fear.

“Breathe” deserved a proper video, and Storm Force deliver.  Lead singer Patrick Gagliardi sings from behind bars, but is it the prison of the mind?  He is joined by vocalist extraordinaire Serena Pryne, who has the grit and power of people like the highly respected Sass Jordan.  Although the lyrics are open enough to work with many interpretations, the song is about mental health, and having someone there to support you.  The video has the right tone and passion for this serious subject.  But if you want, you can just enjoy it as a mighty power ballad.

Of course, guitarist Greg Fraser has plenty of experience with music videos.  His solo on “Breathe” is cool because you can hear that it is him by the tone and technique.  Drummer Brian Hamilton and bassist Mike Berardelli create a really cool groove on this track, and Hamilton looks imposing and fearless in the video.

One must also credit Gagliardi for a collection of increasingly cool hats.

5/5 stars

#861: Fall(ing Down)

GETTING MORE TALE #861: Fall(ing Down)

The air is cooler, the leaves are changing colour, and I am sort of keeping it all together.

Six months ago we all went into lockdown, with the optimism of summer still ahead of us.  We didn’t know what summer would look like, but it had to be better than lockdown, right?  For most of us, it was.  We got outside, basked in some sun, watched the numbers go down, and dared to have some hope.

Now the days are shorter, the sleeves are longer, and the numbers are climbing once again.  As it gets colder, our options for getting out of the house are fewer.  Some people love this season.  They love the leaves, the sweaters, the blankets.  I dislike the cold, the dark, the misery.   Now we have to deal with the uncertainty of the future too.   Thanksgiving?  Halloween?  No guarantees.  Some will participate, some will be unable.

Fortunately, music will be there.  It always has been and always will be.

There are plenty of albums that I consider “autumn albums” even if they are not.

Savatage are a good band for fall and winter.  They might be from Florida but albums like Dead Winter Dead and Handful of Rain have a cold, dark aura.  Early Sabbath fits the mold.  Queensryche’s Rage For OrderRadiation by Marillion.  It’s all very subjective but as much as summer music really activated my memory circuits, the same can happen with winter tunes.  This is something to look forward to.

Yes, there are some things I can look forward to.  When I’m hunkered down indoors staying dry and warm, the VHS Archives will return.  I find this to be a good project to work on in the colder months.  Pulling out old VHS tapes, converting them and putting them on YouTube just seems to work better in the winter.  It’s also a good time for buying and trying new tech.  I’m going to try and teach myself some Photoshop this year, so I can give you better images for this site.  This winter I’ll also have live streaming.  That will continue as long as necessary.  I look forward to it and so do the viewers.

I’ll try to focus on what I can do during the winter, and not what I can’t.  Not the traffic, not the wet, not the mess, not the inconvenience.  I will try.  I never believed in what Yoda said.  “Do.  Or do not.  There is no try.”  I understand the point of it — don’t let failure enter your mind, focus only on completing the task.  I just never bought into it.  I’ve given myself some goals, and I will try.

Maybe I can even use some of that negative stuff that I hate.  Do you want to see videos of driving around in the snow to the music of Max the Axe?  Do you want to see me attempt to live stream outdoors from a snowy porch?  It’s likely that both will happen!

There’s one last brick in this fortress of mental health that I am attempting to build that I have not mentioned.  And that is you.  For almost nine years you’ve been there waiting for the next chapter, review, or video.  You’ve shared your thoughts and ideas, and opened your hearts.  Without the loyal reader (or lately, viewer), I might have given up writing a long time ago and done something else.  I am grateful.  So thank you!

 

#859: Big Water

GETTING MORE TALE #859: Big Water

When I was really small, just a toddler, I can remember having a couple names for this place:  “Big Water” and “Lake Water Stones”.  48 years ago was my first summer at Lake Water Stones, better known as Lake Huron.  Lorne Beach is the exact location.  These patches of land have been in my family for many decades.  The original cottage that Grampa Winter owned is still there, now occupied by Dr. Kathryn.  A lot has changed but not our family’s long roots in that dark sandy soil.

There were several times in my younger years when I didn’t want to be there.  In those foolish years I’d rather be here near the telephone line and creature comforts.  I can remember in the mid 80s at the cottage, my dad had to drive into town to make a phone call.  I had to tape all my precious wrestling matches at home and pray that they recorded.

Perspective changes and so does technology.  Now there’s no place I’d rather be than Lake Water Stones.

2018 changed everything for us.  That was the year Jen’s mom died.  Almost like the year without a summer.  We spent the whole season in hospital rooms and corridors, and hotels in Toronto.  After she passed we spent the whole fall cleaning out her house.  When we finally got back to the lake in spring 2019, we had learned to cherish and savour it more.

As if we needed a reminder how uncertain life can be, 2020 gave us a whole new perspective.  “Essential travel only.”  No road trips to cottage country.  They were wary of outsiders stealing their toilet paper, or spreading disease from the city.  As time wore on, we questioned whether we would be able to go at all.

I kept a positive attitude and I made the most of our time stuck at home.  I took advantage of my little patio, listening to tunes out there and doing several live streams in the fresh air.  Better than nothing.  A small patch of outdoors sure beats staying in all the time.  A little bit of blowing wind feels good on the skin.

Ontario was still on shaky ground and not yet in Phase 2 of re-opening when Jen and I finally returned to the lake at the end of May.  We missed the long weekend, usually a reliable starting point for a happy summer.  Instead we had a cold, dark weekend highlighted by the ominous “Premises Closed” signs posted at the beach entrance points.

I remember walking into the cottage and taking a breath of the woody smelling air.  You don’t notice it after 10 minutes, but it’s so strong at first sniff.  We were having a quiet weekend, no stops in town and we didn’t even tell anyone besides family that we were going.  Only when I tested the internet connection with a live stream was it obvious where we were.  Non-essential travel was frowned upon but I looked at this trip as essential to the mental health of two people who were quarantining pretty strictly.

Phase 2 began in early June and at that point we tried to make it up every other weekend, working around my parents’ schedule.  We wanted to maintain some distancing.  I had some goals I wanted to accomplish this summer.  Tossing out the planned accomplishments for Summer 2020, the new goals were attainable in an altered season.

  • I wanted to live stream outdoors from the lake — and we did this many times.
  • I wanted to eat steak every weekend we were there — and we did.
  • Swim as much as weather permitted — we did.
  • Mental health being the theme of 2020, I wanted to have a virtual counselling appointment from the porch.  I did two.  The setting was incredible.
  • Create as much photo and video content as I could to remember the place by in the winter.  Mission accomplished.

Setting realistic goals helped me make the most of this summer.  I feel more prepared for the fall.  And I’m really looking forward to 2021, when I might be able to add some more goals to the list.  (Still hoping to cook a wagyu steak on my own grill.)

Here’s gratitude for a great 2020 season regardless of the obstacles.  Hoping for better next year.

#851: Freestylin’ 8 – Back to the Future

GETTING MORE TALE #851: Freestylin’ 8 – Back to the Future

“May you have interesting times.”  Have you heard that saying before?  They call it the “Chinese curse” but there’s no evidence it originated in China.  There is little doubt that today we are living in interesting times.  Historic times, too.  The days we are living through now are the days that your children and grandchildren will be studying in school.  Remember asking your grandparents what World War II was like?  Kids one day will be asking you about the great pandemic of 2020-2021.

In recent days we’ve seen some worthwhile attempts to get “back to normal”, specifically with entertainment.  Concerts are a thing again, albeit most of them are different from the ones we remember.  Drive-in concerts could help get us through this period.  Live-streamed concerts have also started.  Bands have used the downtime to jam, write, and record.  It is reported that the Scorpions and the Cult are back in the studio working on new albums.

The landscape has also been devastated.  Venues are closing at a blurry pace, with Rhapsody Barrel Bar being the latest local casualty in a dizzying series.  When this is all over, I believe we will see demand for sports events, movies and concerts as if Covid never happened.  In the meantime, people have to put food on their tables.  There are no easy answers.

I’ll tell you one thing, though:  I’m glad for once that I’m not a parent.  I have enough to deal with.  Talking to my folks the other night, my mom said “I don’t think I would have sent you back to school if this pandemic happened when you were kids.”  I don’t think I would have wanted to go back.  Right now all I can do is cross my fingers, say a prayer and hope that the kids going back now will be safe.  In Canada, we just don’t know yet.  We’ll be finding out soon enough.

It’s true that I have a lot on my plate.  I don’t need to get into the work details — you all have problems, too.  But here we are in late August and I haven’t missed a day (except for scheduled vacations of course).  There were many times I didn’t think I could finish a whole day, but I did it.  But the hard times are relentless.  On August 14, Jen lost her grandfather, a proud Air Force veteran with the wisdom of a sage.  Yet another loss for poor Jen, who nevertheless keeps on getting up and going at it every single day.  This in the same year I lost my Uncle Don.  It’s been hard on our family.  My grandmother turned 96 and is just aching to get out of the house.  She still lives in her own home but can’t go anywhere except out onto the driveway, due to the dangers of Covid when combined with her age.

I’ve talked about this a number of times already, but my 2020 was stressful well before Covid hit our shores and I decided to get some help.  According to my records my first counselling session was February 7.  I’m very lucky that I had good support already setup when lockdown began a little over a month later!  All of this coincided with deep desire to delve back into childhood memories, and music.  I’ve been focused on music I used to enjoy in my teens.  Kiss has dominated.  Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Europe, Frehley’s Comet.  Stuff from happy summers of the past.

It’s incredible how, in the correct mindset, these albums have created aural time travel for me.  I don’t even have to close my eyes, but all the feelings and images and words from that time come back to me like pictures on a screen.  When I listen to The Final Countdown, all I can think of is spring, 1987.  With Frehley’s Comet, suddenly it’s July.  The last time I played Frehley’s Comet, I was at the cottage.  I yelled over to my sister (she’s two lots over to the left), “Hey!  I’m playing the album you gave me for my birthday in 1987.  What is it?”  Without hesitation she yelled back, “Frehley’s Comet!”  She remembered!  That’s pretty cool.

You know what?  These have been interesting times.  I’ve been on my own personal journey, and it probably wouldn’t have taken the same path if it wasn’t for Covid.  As shitty as 2020 has been (and make no mistake, this has been a shit show of a year) I cannot deny that it came with some personal good.  The only thing better than discovering new music for the first time is rediscovering it with fresh eyes, ears and soul.  Take it in anew.  Relive the experience and rejuvenate.

#816: Escape

GETTING MORE TALE #816: Escape

 

Depression is a bugger.   I’m a fighter but even a fighter can’t keep it up all the time.  We all have our struggles.  Mine are usually against myself.

Can’t write.  No words.  No interest in words.  No fresh ideas.  Nothing worth putting down on paper.

So much to do.  No energy to do any of it.

Talked to someone for a bit.  Felt better for a bit.  Wrote something for a bit.  But it was temporary at best.

The couch called.  And them something interesting happened.  I ran across a Youtube video.

“I could use this bit for the Sausagefest countdown this summer,” I thought.  It’s usually best to get the idea down right away before I forget it.

I went to my work station, downloaded some audio clips, recorded some dialogue and started editing.  Had something to eat.  Came back to it.  Tinkered and tweaked.  Listened back.  It’s good; it’s funny.  It just needs some more originality.  Went back at it the next morning and finished it to my satisfaction.  Then I started work on the next one.

In my mind, it was already July.  I closed my eyes and imagined my fellow Festers’ reactions to the bits I was recording.  I was blissfully unaware of the snow coming down outside.  There was no slush on my sidewalks.  Just sun and Sausagefest.  Eyes closed, I pictured the scene.  When are they laughing?  When is the bit dragging?  Tweak and tinker some more.

I managed to escape, if only for a little while.

Escaping to the summer.  To the happy place.  Not just escaping though, but also working on making the 2020 event happen.  An escape, but a productive escape at least.

Paint on my cruel or happy face,
I hide me behind it,
It takes me inside another place,
Where no one can find it.

Escape, I get out when I can,
I escape anytime I can,
It’s all escape, I’m crying in my beer,
Come on, let’s escape, just get me out of here.

Don’t get me wrong, don’t get me right,
I’m not like you are,
When I get home from work at night,
I’m blacker and bluer.

So I escape, I get out when I can,
I escape anytime I can,
It’s all escape, I’m crying in my beer,
Escape, just get me out of here.

But where am I running to?
There’s no place to go.
Just put on my make-up,
And get me to the show, yeah, escape.
Yeah, what are you waiting for?

My doctor said, just come around,
And you’ll be taken care of,
And while he ran my problems down,
I stole his mascara.

That’s how I escape, I get out when I can,
I escape anyway I can,
I escape, I’m crying in my beer,
Let’s escape, just get me out of here,
Escape, let’s get out while we can,
It’s escape, anyway we can,
Come on, let’s escape,
Nobody wants us around here anyway.

#814: Freestylin’ 4

GETTING MORE TALE #814: Freestylin’ 4

I’ve had a lot on my mind.  Thinking about the past, thinking about the future.

Every now and then, I’ll search for old acquaintances online.  Co-workers, customers, friends…many of them have not emerged in the new online world of social media.  At least not yet.  I continue searching.  Looking for a guy I used to work with, a coincidence of search terms led me instead to the obituary of an old customer.

I recognized his face immediately as that of “Surly Brad”, one of the very first customers I had when I managed my own Record Store location in 1996.  Brad passed away in 2011, but he wasn’t really very surly.  Is there a male equivalent of “resting bitch face”?  Brad looked grouchy but he could also pull a wide smile.  He was short and to the point, but eventually we got to know each other a little bit better.  Like many music collectors, he was picky about what he bought.  He could hear defects on a CD that I couldn’t.  I haven’t thought about Brad in years, but I don’t have any negative thoughts of him.  Just sadness.  Brad died age 47, the same age I am right now.

Rest in peace Brad.  I’m sorry we used to call you Surly.

Onto other trains of thought, I’m currently deep in the midst of my usual Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Long before I knew what it was or that it existed, I experienced it.  Ever since I was a kid.  The winters were a long, sad and lonely time.  The summers were much happier and more vibrant.  I thought for many years I just “hated winter”.  I do hate winter; don’t get me wrong, but there was more to it.  In the winter of 1998 I was explaining to a friend that I was in my “big blue funk”, a long period of (what I now call) depression.  The friend was taken aback because I was speaking of these things as if everybody experienced them.  “That’s not normal,” they said.  “Sure it is,” I retorted.

I’ve learned to deal with my big blue funks a lot better these days, though I still need to seek help.  One thing I do to try to stave off the blues is to give myself something to look forward to every day.  This can be anything from having some special food that I enjoy, to buying some new music, to watching my favourite shows.  I have to make some time to just enjoy myself a little bit every day.

Of course, buying music costs money and when you’re a collector it can get expensive!  When you can’t settle for anything less than “all the tracks”, you can expect to spend money.  Of course this is connected to another mental illness, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  I’ve had this forever too.  As a kid, I would try to collect complete sub-teams of GI Joes and Transformers.  I’d also collect music, but that was a lot more difficult in the 1980s.

The first group I ever decided I wanted a “complete” collection of was Quiet Riot.  I thought it would be easy.  I assumed they only had two albums.  How wrong I was.  There were no Wikipedia articles to refer to.  Eventually I learned about their early Japanese-only albums.  It took me about 15 years, pre-internet, to get copies for myself.

As I grew to like more and more bands, I wanted more and more “complete” collections.  Magazines like Hit Parader would run ads for mail order record stores.  They would list stuff regularly that I never heard of nor saw in stores.  All in US dollars of course.  Plus shipping!  Stuff like:

ALICE COOPER – THE BEAST OF

ALICE COOPER – DADA

ALICE COOPER – PRETTIES FOR YOU

JUDAS PRIEST – STAINED CLASS

These were not albums you could find in your local Zellers’ tape section.  I had never seen or even heard of Stained Class.

Then I would browse down to the singles and start crying when I saw things listed like:

AEROSMITH – DUDE LOOKS LIKE A LADY / ONCE IS ENOUGH

BON JOVI – LIVIN ON A PRAYER / EDGE OF A BROKEN HEART +1

EUROPE – THE FINAL COUNTDOWN / ON BROKEN WINGS

Like a cruel tease, I became aware that some of these things really existed, but on a teenage allowance, had no way to acquire them.  Or even hear what they sounded like.  I was grateful that bands like Kiss never seemed to put our exclusive non-album songs as B-sides.  Not knowing any better, I thought that was very democratic of them:  everybody had access to every Kiss song – there were no exclusives only for those who could pay for them.

Boy, did I read those Kiss cards wrong!

Many of these tracks and albums never showed up in my collection until the internet age.  But now, with access to even more information, the want list continues to grow.  It’s an expensive hobby.

Whitesnake was one of those bands that had many albums prior to the ones I knew about.  The winter of 87/88 educated me otherwise.  Meanwhile I had just acquired Slide It In.  I can picture myself shovelling the snow in the dark of the morning listening to that warbling tape.  Geffen didn’t put out the best quality cassettes in the 80s.  My copy of Slide It In ran so slow that it was almost unlistenable.  I would try to fast forward and rewind the tape to loosen it up a bit.  Nothing really helped and I never heard the album properly until I got a CD copy.  But Slide It In is one of those albums I associate with winter, shovelling snow and all of it.

I’ll make it through this winter just like all the others.  But I can’t wait for summer.  That’s when I really feel alive again.

#696: Confession

TRIGGER WARNING:  Emotional material ahead.

 

 

GETTING MORE TALE #696:  Confession

Music is the most wonderful of hobbies.  Scratch that — it’s not a hobby when you love music.  It is your lifestyle.  It’s healthy, it’s fun, and it can open up feelings you didn’t know you had.  I’m glad that music is my life.

As much as I cherish music, and try to spend some time with it every single day, there is one huge hole in my life:  The concert experience.

You could argue that music is best enjoyed at a good concert.  There is magic in a live performance; a kind of telepathy that occurs between the players on stage.  Then their collective sound and vision is pumped at 120 decibels to the hungry audience.  The crowd is like a single entity with one voice.  There is no substitute for the live concert experience.  No Blu-ray could ever hope to match it, not even at 1080p with 5.1 surround sound.

Yet, I’ve seen only a few dozen concerts over the years.  I can’t even remember my last one.

I would love to have new concert reviews for you every single week.  The most popular post on this site in its six years of operation is a concert review.

It’s true that I don’t get out as often as others might.  Some of this is because my beautiful wife has been battling with uncontrolled epilepsy for the last decade.  Her health struggles have turned me into a bit of a homebody.  I’m not complaining.  Being her support is a privilege.  I’ve always been a bit of a homebody, but it’s certainly gotten worse as her health got worse.  The good news is that not only has Mrs. LeBrain beaten cancer, but she has also managed to reduce her seizures to one or two a week.  A regular week, anyway.  A week with stress or lots of travel can cause more.

How has she managed to handle her epilepsy so well?  Lots of self care.  Plenty of pre-planning for every outing, a few taxi cab rides, lots of caution, and a little bit of Canada’s best prescription marijuana.  I’ve seen it work.

She can’t go to movies and she can’t go to concerts, and we’ve accepted that.  It hasn’t been easy.  When Jen worked at Research in Motion, their free company concert was U2 in Toronto.  She wanted to go so badly.  She was willing to go blindfolded if she had to.  Every U2 Blackberry ad on TV was a bitter reminder that Jen could not do what other people take for granted.

But that’s no excuse for me missing out on shows.  Maybe I lost my concert wing(wo)man, but I’m a grown up.  Right?

So we get to the crux of it:  my confession.

I’ve never really gotten into any of this in public before.  A few friends know.  I’ve lived with it long enough.  I used to care what friends, random strangers, or potential future employers would think of me.  I was ashamed of myself.

Over the years I’ve developed a severe fear of crowds.  It’s always been there, but it got a lot worse in my 20s.  If I was with people I knew and trusted, I could control it.  I first confessed my fear of crowds to T-Rev back when we were roommates in 1998.  He used to like to go clubbing at the Flying Dog up in Waterloo.  I went with him twice, and it was OK.  I had a good enough time.  But I needed my wingman.  T-Rev was wise.  “The best way to beat your fear of crowds is just to face it.  Try to have fun.”  He’s right to a certain degree.  The Flying Dog just wasn’t the best place to try and beat a fear of crowds.  Packed with douchebags and girls that I thought were way too hot for me, anxiety piled up on top of more anxiety.

I did better at small concerts.  There was a joint in town called The Banke.  A lot of our friends played there.  The more often I went, the more comfortable I was.  You start to recognise other faces, and familiar faces and places are soothing for anxiety.  It was good while it lasted.  T-Rev’s life path took him to a lovely wife and two kids, three hours away in Sarnia, Ontario.  He was a good wingman, because he understood me.

Having a wingman is really important.  A few weeks ago I went to TF Con in Toronto.  My buddy Jay asked me, “So how does this make you feel with your fear of crowds?”  I told him it didn’t bother me at all because he was my wingman.  (Also it’s not a very intimidating crowd.  I could bowl them over with a sneeze.)  I’ve had a panic attack at a farmer’s market, but not a TF Con.

There have been a couple incidents that happened at concerts.  Jen had a fall at Rush — that one was upsetting.  She had a seizure at Trailer Park Boys, which was the last time she went to any kind of show.  The association of these events with concerts just made me…more sour.

When Jen got sicker and sicker, so did I.  I became a tense, nervous mess, and it was almost all the time.  Something had to give, so when I couldn’t take it anymore I sought help.  Family and friends made sure that I did.  It took some pushing, because I am stubborn by nature.  Help is available, but you have to work at it.  Medication doesn’t fix everything, and it has its own costs on both your body and your wallet.  You have to unlearn what you have learned.  Then, you have to practice better ways of dealing with situations.  It’s hard work.  It’s also life long work.  You will stumble and there will be pain.

In spring 2016 I was in Ottawa visiting family.  By coincidence, both the Killer Dwarfs and rock journalist Mitch Lafon happened to be in town that weekend.  The Dwarfs were playing the Brass Monkey, and Mitch was going to check them out.  Knowing I was in town, Mitch asked me if I wanted to come and meet him at the show.

It’s painful remembering this.

Of course I wanted to go see the Dwarfs.  Of course I wanted to meet Mitch!  I have been a fan of both for a long, long time!  Mitch is the premiere go-to guy in hard rock today.  Not only would it be a personal thrill, but meeting Mitch and taking a selfie with him would have been a fantastic bonus to top off a Killer Dwarfs concert review.

I turned him down.

Out of respect for the man, I told him the truth.  I wasn’t prepared to handle a crowd that night.

Mitch promised to keep my secret, and he’s been really supportive to me.

It might be frustrating for some, but it helps me a lot to deal with anxious situations if I know in advance, and I can prepare myself mentally for it.  I admit I can be very frustrating sometimes.  I’m lucky that Jen gets me.  She’s one of the only people in the world who truly gets me.  Jen and my grandmother really know how my brain works.

It barely works, but it works!

I have my ups and my downs, and it’s largely dictated by how I respond to daily challenges.  I confess that I have not tried to challenge myself in a long time.  When was my last concert?  I used to love going out to see stand up comedy, too.

I’ve been itching to see live music again.  I think I can handle it.  I’ll go slow.  I won’t start by going to see Bryan Adams at the Arena.

Something smaller and more local would be good.

Hey!  Would you look at that?

It looks like I have to be ready by February.  Sasquatch is coming to town!  Sasquatch: The Opera that is, composed by Roddy Bottum of the band Faith No More.  Four shows, February 14th through to the 17th, 2019 at the Registry Theatre in Waterloo.  And I happen to know the promoter.  I’ve been promised an interview with Roddy about the musical, and ideally I would like to see all four shows.  I’m not worried about the interview, but I do need to beat my anxiety to go to the shows.

This is called having a “S.M.A.R.T.” goal.

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-based

Is my goal specific?  Yes.  I want to see the Roddy Bottum show.  Measurable?  Yes.  It’s as simple as go/don’t go. Achievable?  I believe a realistic goal would be to make it to, at minimum, one of the four shows.  Bonus points for anything more.  Is my goal relevant to my situation?  Absolutely.  It is a big part of it.  And is it time-based?  You bet.  Can’t procrastinate on this one, February is gonna come one way or the other!

I’m hoping to have Dr. Dave or Uncle Meat as wingmen for a show.  Dr. Dave is, in fact, a believer in the real Sasquatch!

I believe in baby steps so I think a good plan would be to try and see a small show in advance of the Bottum musical.  It’s exactly like building up a tolerance.  My tolerance has slipped a lot over the years so I have to build it back up again.  I’m trying to be proactive.

That’s my confession, and I have to admit, it really does feel good to get it out!  Did I have to do it publicly?  No, but I’m sick and tired of lying to people every time the subject of concerts comes up.  Here’s the truth.  Think whatever you want to.  All I really want to come out of this is somebody out there to read it and say, “Hey, I get it too.”  There are bullies in the world who would pick on me if they read this.  I don’t care.  They can pick on me for a lot of things already.

I accept that crowds and I might never be good friends.  I just want us to get along.

#649: Denizens of “The Mall”

GETTING MORE TALE #649: Denizens of “The Mall”

Every mall has its questionable denizens.  I’m not talking about mall rats or bargain hunters.  I mean the people that are there every single day, not doing much of anything, just…being.

Stanley Park Mall in Kitchener, where I spent most of my childhood and early work life, had plenty of characters.

One of the first I was aware of was named “Butts”.  Nobody knew his real name, but he earned the nickname Butts by fishing cigarette butts out of ashtrays.  He was there frequently, and if not he was mining the ashtrays at Fairview Mall instead.  We left him alone, but one kid from school named Kevin Kirby decided to make fun of Butts one day.  Butts responded with a flurry of F-bombs.  It all seemed rather sad to me and not at all funny.  A kid making fun of this guy, and him telling a little kid to fuck off?  Why not just leave him alone?  I’m sure Butts was made fun of regularly, but Kirby was generally a dick.  (Any time he teamed up with me on a school project I did all the work and he coasted off my grade.)

Sue came along a little later.  She was in a bad car accident and was in a walker.  She really liked the Record Store I worked in, and had a bit of a crush on the owner.  We didn’t actually know about the crush until she gave him a Valentine’s Day card.  She used to park her walker at the front counter and talk to him for hours.  We didn’t assume that meant she had a crush, because there were lots of lonely people in the mall who just liked to talk.  It was one of the drawbacks of working there.  One day before leaving she gave him a card, and the owner didn’t realise it was a valentine.  He opened it in front of us, and we all saw it.  He was super embarrassed and really tried to avoid Sue after that.  I witnessed him taking a huge dive behind the counter to avoid her when she strolled by!  And that wasn’t an isolated incident.  I learned from it – I took a few dives behind the counter myself over the years.

The last regular denizen to discuss was the saddest and I don’t know what happened to him.  He was known as Johnny Walker.  Like Butts, nobody knew his real name although his first name may actually have been John.  They called him Johnny Walker because he would walk around the mall all day, every day.  The mall was like a big rectangle, and he would complete numerous circuits through the day.  He talked to himself as he did, mumbling away as he walked.  If you overheard him, it would sound like a normal conversation but with just one person talking.

I’ve been trying to find out what happened to Johnny Walker but nobody seems to know.  People at the mall said he was rich and didn’t work or need to work.  Maybe it was an inheritance.  Maybe an insurance claim.  Nobody knew.  His clothes weren’t ratty and he was clean shaven, but there was clearly something wrong with him.  It was no act.

The general rule of thumb was “just ignore him”.  Sometimes kids would make fun of him and he’d get loud and violent.  He’d been kicked out of the mall a few times after a violent or loud spell.  Then he’d go to a different mall to walk around, before finally returning to Stanley Park again.  He was never gone too long.

As told in Record Store Tales Part 6, I only dealt with Johnny Walker once at the Record Store.  He strolled in, talking to himself.  I took a deep breath and hoped nothing would set him off.  He walked, talked, and picked out a tape.  He came up to the counter and immediately stopped talking to himself.  I sold him the tape, gave him his change, and he walked out again, sharply resuming his conversation with himself.

All I really know about Johnny Walker is that at one point, he listened to tapes.

I hated seeing highschool mallrat kids following him around and shouting at him to “shut up”.  If Johnny got loud and violent, I have a feeling the kids were the root cause most of the time.  I’m sure they thought it was hilarious to harass this obviously damaged person.  But he was still a person, a human being.  Although it was sometimes startling to see someone walking around talking to themselves, it would have been nice if parents taught their kids a little respect.  We don’t know anybody’s secret battles.  Walker minded his own business any time I was present.

If anyone knows what happened to Butts, Sue, or Johnny Walker please drop us a line or leave a comment.  I hope they are all doing better.