east hamilton, 6am

I walked to work today as the weather was pleasant and cool. As I approached the bar at the corner of King East and Tisdale, I saw a cab pulled over with a haggard, tired and weathered-looking woman leaning into the back window.

Oh boy! Let the games begin.

As I got closer, she was intensely talking to the balding middle-aged passenger in the back of the cab, then she opened the door and kissed him. The passenger got out and handed the driver a filthy and ragged twenty dollar bill that was a mottled brown – almost camoflage in colour. He then passed an equally disgusting fifty to the woman who, after tucking the specimen into her bra, had begun to neck with him with a furious passion of the kind that can only be bought. The driver took the money between the tips of his fingers and threw it on the passenger seat. He made change and handed it to the passenger, who was busily romancing his new “friend.”

The cab driver rolled his eyes at me and sighed, brushed the $20 into a tupperware container with his newspaper and grabbed a bottle of Purell. The loving couple – now known as “Baby” (he) and “Honey” (she) – made their way around to the patio of the bar – I guess to consumate their new found relationship.

At the stop light at the corner, the cab driver muttered to himself “The shit I gotta put up with to make a living.” He sighed again and drove off into the misty Hamilton dawn.

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inspired by david sweet, MP

I continue to be inspired by the recent controversy over Member of Parliament David Sweet appearing in an “It Gets Better” video, telling young gay people that things get better.  The controversy is that Mr. Sweet is a conservative evangelical Christian who has publicly criticized homosexuality, saying homosexuality was a bad sexual practice and that it was a sin.  He was head of the Canadian Chapter of Promise Keepers, who publish and sell a book called “Leaving Homosexuality” which deals with abandoning “on ongoing struggle with same-sex attraction” and likens homosexuality as a “sexual addiction.”

This is the first draft of a song that pretty much fell out of me last night and I dedicate it to Mr. Sweet!  Yes there is music to it and it will eventually be recorded and shared publicly!

People Like You

I see you on the screen telling me it’s going to get better;
that there will be a happier fate.
But if I recall right, just a few years ago
it was you that was spewing the hate.
I’d like to think you’ve turned over a new leaf but your history and politics have me wondering
what truly caused this change of heart?

People like you
are the root of the problem.
People like you
don’t always live like you should.
People like you
are blinded by your faith.
People like you
cause more harm than good

Your “good book” tells me my love is an abomination,
that people like me should be put to death.
But you seem to pick and choose what laws you follow,
ignoring those that inconvenience.
But if righteousness could only be gained through those laws,
your own saviour died for nothing

People like you
are the root of the problem.
People like you
don’t always live like you should.
People like you
are blinded by your faith.
People like you
cause more harm than good

Your past works ask me what steps can be taken towards
leaving my life and identity?
That I am struggling with my love and who I am.
The only struggles I see are when people like you try to change me –
saying it is not an acceptable lifestyle.
Acceptable to whom?

People like you
are the root of the problem.
People like you
don’t always live like you should.
People like you
are blinded by your faith.
People like you
cause more harm than good

You keep saying that I haven’t seen the light.
But I can truly see shadows that it casts.

don’t give me that old time religion

Today’s controversy over a local Member of Parliament appearing in an anti bullying “It gets better” video.  The controversy is that this seemingly opportunistic gentleman appears in this video despite the fact that he has made public comments about homosexuality being a sin in the past and the organization he used to be president of produces and sells anti-homosexuality materials such as the book “Leaving Homosexuality.” This controversy has led me to revisit an old piece about organised religion, particularly my experiences with Christianity that I wrote a couple of years back.

Okay folks, I think the experiment has ended. Keep in mind that this does not change my overall values and beliefs, however it definitely changes how when and where I choose to express my beliefs.

Some of you may know that my maternal grandfather was an Anglican Minister and I was raised Anglican (Church of England/Protestant for my American friends). My parents were quite involved with our church, Parental Unit 1 taught the First Communion classes and Parental Unit 2 was a warden of the church. Both my brother and I were Altar Servers for years and I was in the youth group for a couple of years as well.

I can still recite the Nicean Creed and Apostle’s Creed by memory and know most of the Book of Common Prayer’s Eucharist service by heart.

I was baptised an Anglican and had my confirmation in grade 7 or 8. My exact memory of this time has been blurred for a very good reason that I don’t want to get into in a public forum. Let’s just say this is when the cracks in my faith in some of “God’s people” had begun.

When the minister of our church retired my Parental Units were on the selection committee and went to the churches of those who were shortlisted to take over. A young, charismatic minister was selected and he took over our church and changed everything. The regular Sunday service was taken from a nice time of worship and fellowship into a full-blown production worthy of a Catholic Cathedral complete with choir processionals and enough kneeling and standing to give everyone a good workout in the two to three hours the services took. Thankfully the early morning service at 8am was left intact and my family began attending that. My brother and I rarely minded helping set up for the 8am service and assisting with the communion each morning, it was a pleasure to do those items and participate in the service.

However the minister had plans, he shifted the hours of the later service earlier as it began to get longer and more involved, grumblings were made about putting a big addition on the church, despite the old church was beginning to get worn down. In fact the church hall was no longer up to code and we could not rent it out as it didn’t meet fire safety standards – thus cutting into the lucrative wedding and reception market. My dad soon quit as warden as he kept being stonewalled, he got his way as he directed our donations to the church to specifically fireproof the hall and perform maintenance on the rest of the building proper.

We were asked to donate money towards this new addition, which would add meeting rooms and modernized office space. The Parental Units refused to go along with this, saying that the money should be spent on renovations to the existing building and noted that the renovations took away from the original architectural designs – the church was built on a traditional crucifix layout. The final blow came when The Parental Units offered to donate 300 stacking office chairs which they were able to get from a local company that our neighbours worked for, who had a surplus, this donation was turned down because the seats and backrests were yellow.

Disillusioned, we stopped going to church. The addition went on and due to faulty engineering of the original church (due to the hubris of the founding family who had to have the tallest church), the walls began to crumble from the added weight. Emergency repairs were taken, however the damage was done, the church and the new addition was deemed unsafe for occupancy so the remaining congregation moved to a local industrial plaza. The building eventually partially came down, the rest was demolished and now the land is home to townhouses.

There is no longer an Anglican church in my home town, most of the old time Anglicans grew weary of worshipping in a mini mall and went to churches in neighbouring towns.

The minister responsible for this moved on and now carries the rank of Archbishop and is now the Senior Bishop of the Province of Ontario. Congratulations to him.

Around a year and a half ago a good friend of mine, whom I knew had gone to divinity college, contacted me wondering if I knew where a particular church was. Interestingly enough, it is literally around the corner from my house. He confirmed that he had recently been installed as the minister there and was wondering if I would be able to offer him a place to sleep while he searched for permanent housing so he didn’t have to commute to Toronto on some nights.

I was hesitant at first as he is a conservative Christian and, well, I’m openly gay and in a committed relationship. However I acquiesced and offered my guest room. He stayed several days over a period of months while he attended meetings, retreats and had special services to prepare for, until he found a suitable apartment for his wife. He also seemed accepting of my relationship.

I commented to him that I didn’t even know that the church was operational as it always seemed to be dark, and you couldn’t see into the building as the part that faced onto the street is a three story brick wall. The only way DH and I could tell the church was a working community was due to their annual Christmas bazaar.

He invited me to attend services, and I was hesitant at first noting my prior history and distaste for the politics of faith, however I began to attend services to support my friend and also see if and where organized religion fit into my life these days. I attended and found, despite the large size of the church, a rather small and aging congregation of folks that were deeply committed to their church, despite all that was going on around them. It was refreshing at first.

When I walked in I noted that I was, possibly, the youngest person in the church and a few folks tentatively welcomed me after I explained who I was. The reception warmed somewhat and I was invited to various events and coffee hours and my minister friend eventually asked me if I would join the church. I eventually received my box of offering envelopes and when their organist became too ill to work, I put them in contact with a wonderful organist and choir director who lived a block away.

However I never felt truly welcomed as I was not raised in the church. I would be invited to coffee hours, however no one would sit at the tables I sat at, beyond the organist and a few others. The minister requested that I join a committee to determine what they could do to increase their congregation. My opinions and ideas were politely received and little else, we did a good spring cleaning of the church and then this committee fizzled out.

Many of you know that DH had major surgery in late 2009 due to cancer. Some of you know that I nearly lost him due to complications from said surgery that December. I did not attend church during this time as I was spending my time between taking care of the house, trying to keep some order at work and visiting DH in the hospital in Toronto. I was burning the candle at both ends and the middle and was on the verge of exhaustion and emotional collapse during this time. When DH went into the hospital, I contacted the minister and informed him that the surgery was on…

At no time did my friend AND minister contact me to see if everything was okay with either DH or myself.

At no time did anyone from the church, including the elder who was supposed to be looking after my spiritual care, contact me to see why I had not attended in weeks.

I dropped by the church the week before Christmas to drop off the Christmas card I had for the minister and his wife and we chatted about things. Until I brought up DH’s surgery and the resulting health crises (“Oh by the way, DH nearly died and I had a complete and utter emotional breakdown two weeks ago…”), nothing was mentioned.

I attended church that Sunday and aside from snide comments from the lady who organized the door greeters (I missed out on two weeks at the door and didn’t call her because, well, my partner was DYING and I was shuttling back and forth to the hospital), not one person asked how I was doing. The Parental Units and I attended the Christmas Eve service, I handed my collection envelope to the minister and walked out.

Now almost three months later, I have not returned. I got a phone message last night, reminding me that even if I do not attend, I can still send my offering envelopes to the church.

PARDON ME?

Once again, it seems that the messenger has failed the message. Again this does not change my views and beliefs, and it does not change my views of some of the people who DO practice what they preach – there are at least four of my evangelical Christian friends who truly live the values they espouse. The chaplain at the hospital where DH was treated was a remarkable help for DH and myself. These are remarkable people and a true testament to their faith. I aim to live up to the examples they set. I just wish that other people who proclaim the same values in friendly surroundings on Sunday mornings would do the same.

I have enough stress and strife in my life, I don’t need any more.

mumford and sons

Last month, it was announced that Mumford and Sons were planning to do an impromptu three date tour of Eastern Canada.
 
The news followed that they were playing arenas.  Being a fan since “Sigh No More” first came out, I was skeptical but lined up and got my tickets for the Hamilton, Ontario date.
 
The Toronto date sold out quickly, the Hamilton show was originally only going to be for the lower bowl of the arena but ticket sales were such that the full arena was opened up.  The show quickly sold out and scalpers were out in full force. Last night.
 
They brought two bands to open for them:  The Apache Relay and Nathaniel Rateliff.  It was obvious that Mumford and Sons invited these two bands because they were fans and not just label mates.  This was evidenced by the fact that various members of Mumford were seen out in the crowd listening and watching the openers.
 
Can a band with only one album and no arena experience do a big “arena rock” show?  Yes they can!  They used the show as an opportunity to test new material and (in my opinion) it is as strong as “Sigh No More” the audience danced, clapped and cheered along for the new stuff, as much as they did for the singles and album cuts they already know so well.  At times it seems as though the boys from Mumford were overwhelmed with the audience response and sheer size.  They were exceedingly apologetic for some of the rough spots and acknowledged that they felt they didn’t have the material for a large show, even covering Neil Young’s “Dance Dance Dance.”
 
It’s obvious that they are on the cusp of the next level and are working hard on doing things right while maintaining a quality that is up to their standards.  If they continue to treat their fans as well as I felt treated last night, they will continue their path of greatness.

The Hamilton Spectator’s Review of the Show

do guitars have personalities? on naming a guitar.

A while back, MV commented on a photo and attributed a gender to one of my guitars, probably following my comment that it made me want to play Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls” due to its shape…

She postulated that the guitar was female. Perhaps due to the song I named.

Interesting, I’m not usually one to attribute inanimate objects with animate qualities, but it led me to question if I should, particularly with objects that I am very close to. I’ve always viewed my guitars as tools with which to express myself through, very much like a photographer does with their camera or painter through canvass, paints and brushes. I’ve never thought of them as distinct “personalities”, although they do have qualities distinct to them.

I know of a number of guitarists who have given particular guitars they are close to names. Steve Vai has “Evo” and “Flo”, both are obviously female and he does make love to them every night he plays them. BB King has his various versions of “Lucille” named after a woman who two men fought over in a juke joint, which led to fire which destroyed the bar and almost the guitar King was playing that night. Eric Clapton had “Blackie” and “Brownie”, both built from the best parts of various guitars and named due to the most obvious of attributes. Neil Young has “Old Black”, again named to the most obvious attributes and “Hank” named after its former owner – Hank Williams. Eddie Van Halen has “Frankenstein” (rather obviously named due to its construction), Stevie Ray Vaughan had “Number One” (obvious reason), “Charlie” (the man who built it) and “Lennie” (his ex-wife who gave it to him).

Heck – a friend of mine has named his iPhone, whose camera and photographic apps enable him to do remarkable things using both the power and limitations of his weapon of choice. The name he has given his iPhone is one of power, magic and mystery and sums up a lot of what he does with the camera phone.

Giving an inanimate object a name seems to grant it certain characteristics – Frankenstein did indeed sound monsterous and destroyed all within its path, Lennie was a seemingly delicate guitar that could scream. Brian May’s “Red Special” is the guitar he built with his father as a child and is indeed red and has a unique tone that has never been duplicated.

In his book “Skinny Legs and All”, author Tom Robbins has given inanimate objects names and in doing so imbued them with characteristics and personalities. The characters “Painted Stick”, “Conch Shell”, “Spoon”, “Dirty Sock” and “Can o’ Beans” act as a Greek chorus of sorts reflecting on the events of the story and in essence reflect man’s search to understand the soul and achieve oneness with the divine. Giving these inanimate objects names granted them with souls.

When it comes to naming their guitars, their owners all had close relationships with their instruments and used them to define their sound for an era. Each of these guitars became part of the image for the musicians, so much that in some cases, they have trademarked the shape and image. Brian May with his Red Special and especially Eddie Van Halen with his red, white and black stripes…

Stevie Ray Vaughan was interesting in that he attributed gender to many of his guitars, Charlie was always referred to as a male and Lennie, was always female. Most other guitarists seem to refer to their instruments in an off the cuff way as female.

The opposite is true of Pete Townsend who never seemed to idealize his guitars and at one point had a flock of Gibson Les Pauls so large that he used large numbers on the face of each of them in order to differentiate him. They, of course, got smashed if they served their purpose or he was pissed off.

To me, until recently, a guitar had always been an “it” as I view them as tools with which to do a particular job. Some have warranted titles to describe them – “Old Blue” (my first good guitar and yes, it’s blue), “Longhorn” (looks like an old Lyre with long horns anyone who has seen Balderdash and Humbug or Tabasco play live has seen it), “The Paddle” (Steinberger Bass – look it up folks) and I have always had a “Number One” around, which represents the main instrument I’m using at the moment. Until recently “Number One” hasn’t stuck to a specific instrument as it represents a set of requirements that suit what I need at the time.

This all changed when I met Ken Liscombe and commissioned the KL15, currently titled “Fifteen” (yeah I know, not very original) and current holder of the appelation “Number One”. This guitar represents everything I have wanted in an instrument and more and speaks with the voice that I knew I could. Now I have Fifteen’s sibling, the KL10, who has not been around long enough to earn a title, however is a strong contender for “Number One” based on initial trials, we’ll see how it rises to the occasion when I use it live.

As for personalities, Old Blue has been around the longest, is ornery, noisy and finicky, but can sound refined if you take care of it, Longhorn has a rough and wild sound that needs to be tamed. This begs the question if the names occur due to the nature of the guitars or do the guitars take on the qualities the names attribute. I won’t get into this chicken or egg discussion at this point.

As to gender, I’m still not there just quite yet. Don’t know if I’ll ever be, although I guess you can say the cord does get stuck into the jack socket…

awesomesauce at Earth to Table

A few years ago, the Chef Jeff Crump and Chef Bettina Schormann from the Ancaster Mill published a cookbook entitled Earth to Table which was part cook book, part autobiography and part slow food, organic, locavore manifesto.  Chef Crump has worked with greats such as Heston Blumenthal and Alice Walker and has adapted their respect for ingredients and eating seasonally.

This is represented clearly in Earth to Table, where they have organized the recipes based on the seasons and what foods are readily available during these seasons.  The cookbook was beautiful, well layed out and, even more importantly – the recipes were good and worked well for the home cook.

Just a little prior to this Bettina could be seen at a local farmer’s market, selling pastries that she was baking using these ideals, including pies that were made with what local fruit was fresh, available and good.  More often than not, she sold out before the day was even half over.  She also began selling artisanal breads, some of which used the heritage Red Fife varietal of wheat , which they were growing on their own plot of farm land.

As I said earlier, these people respect their ingredients!

It became clear that a more permanent outlet for these remarkable baked goods was needed and a location on Hamilton’s burgeoning Locke St. was secured.  Earth to Table (also known as Bread Bar) opened and quickly became a hot spot for diners.

How much do I like Earth to Table?  After my gastric bypass surgery last year, it was the first restaurant I went out for a dinner.  In fact, that dinner was their New Year’s Eve and I spent the New Year enjoying a fine meal with DH at the Bread Bar.  (I still have memories of the mac and cheese they served that evening and hope it’s brought back this winter!)

Earlier this summer, the chef de cuisine at the Bread Bar introduced “Fried Chicken Fridays”, where they served their riff on a traditional southern fried chicken dinner with a half chicken (perfectly cooked and drizzled in honey), buttermilk biscuit, coleslaw and hot sauce.

The first few times we went, the hot sauce was good, but uneven.  However recent times, it has been PERFECT.  Just the right amount of heat and you can taste the peppers it is made from.

Last Friday, after DH had a spa day in Ajax, The Parentals drove him back to Hamilton because Parental Unit 2 (aka Dad) wanted an Earth to Table cheeseburger (which, by the way is perfection on a buttered toasted brioche roll).  I reminded DH that it was indeed Fried Chicken Friday and gleefully spent the day wondering what I was going to have (the cheeseburger, no bun, with side salad).

Both Parental Unit 1 (Mom) and DH had the fried chicken, PU1 does not like hot sauce and gladly gave hers to me, which I deliriously dipped my burger in as I munched happily.  I was also excited as I had checked in on foursquare and became the Mayor of the Bread Bar, ousting my friend @thefuzzymethod.

Now one important thing to note here:  Chefs Crump and Schormann are both on twitter.  Chef Crump is quite active, using his twitter feed to engage other food lovers and chefs in discussions about slow food, seasonal eating as well as a method of furthering the cause of eating well.  The chef de cusine at Bread Bar is also on twitter as well.

Jeff Crump on Twitter
Bettina Schormann on Twitter
Manny at the Bread Bar

I tweeted Chef Crump that if he ever jars the hot sauce for sale, I would be the first customer.  Because like another famous hot sauce, I’d put that shit on everything.

Yesterday afternoon a tweet came through my feed with the following image:

I left work in the pouring rain, anticipating a particularly tasty dinner last night.  Went out to Locke St. and ran into @thefuzzymethod who was getting take out pizza from Earth to Table.  The jar was waiting for me and I happily claimed it, rushed home and had a lovely sauced chicken burger with local Gouda.

Thank you very much Chef Crump!  You and Earth to Table (and the sauce) are truly AWESOMESAUCE!

Other Restaurants operated by The Landmark Group:

The Cambridge Mill
Spencer’s at the Waterfront

tempest in a tea room

Recently I was involved in a shitstorm that arose due to public comments I made about a great meal I had at a local restaurant (Hamilton’s Earth to Table), contrasting the experience I had with a number recent experiences with a competitor, located just down the street.

My comments were based on the fact that, over the last three visits I made to the competition, the food was cooked to the point of being inedible and was either returned to the kitchen less than 1/4 eaten or in the case of two take out orders, placed in my green compost bin.

Here’s the rub:  on ALL three occasions, I either told the waitress of the issue or called the restaurant to inform them.  The one time in person, I received a shrug and a “sorry”, no recommendation to re-cook my order or to “comp” my meal.  By the time the waitress popped around to ask how our meals were, my dining partners had completed their meals, tried mine and agreed that it was burnt to the point of being inedible.  Having a dinner re-cooked would have been out and I wasn’t hungry at that point any more.  With the two takeout orders, I wasn’t about to cycle half-way across the city to get a replacement meal for myself.

Regarding the comp:  I’m not out looking for free meals, I’m looking to have a decent meal with my friends and family in a pleasant and friendly atmosphere that clearly cares about its customers.

I have known the owners of this establishment for a number of years and have let them know about uneven and often awful service there on a couple of occasions.  This waitress’ indifference and lack of response highlighted this to me.  However, I like to give a place a second chance.  The two take out orders that were, again burnt to the point of inedibility (different menu items, no less) confirmed that I will vote with my feet and wallet and not darken the doors of this establishment until I’ve heard otherwise.

Now having worked in the food industry for over 10 years and living with a retired chef, I’d like to think that I have sympathy for restaurants.  It isn’t an easy industry to exist in and I heartily applaud those who can survive in it.

The main bugbear for any restaurant is consistency.  Consistency in food, recipes, service and atmosphere.  I’m not looking for a life changing meal when I eat out, I’m looking for something that is good, predictable and that I can ensure will provide me with the same level of food and service experience the next time I go there or provide the same to folks that I recommend eating there.

I simply cannot with this restaurant.  The food is uneven and with my experiences, the service ranges from hurried and indifferent to downright surly.  Which is a shame, because another restaurant owned by the same people is high up on my list of recommendations for local eateries as the food is consistently good and service is phenomenal.

And the owners know I am not one to suffer quietly; I WANT them to succeed and do well and inform them if there is an inconsistency or bad experience.  I have reported the issues to them honestly and openly.  They have responded appropriately and even offered to comp me a meal, which I refused because they are a small business and can’t really afford to do that.

I also don’t believe in letting them know when I’ll be in next because that will also allow them to make sure they go above and beyond their usual.  I don’t want that – I want to be treated as every other customer and KNOW that I will get a predictable product and service that I can feel comfortable recommending or bringing friends and family to.
That isn’t too much to ask for, isn’t it?  Customers are paying for a decent, edible meal in a comfortable atmosphere with attentive service.  One of their locations provides this, after several attempts eating at the other location, I cannot say I have experienced this.

I can’t (and won’t) apologise for my opinions, especially when they are based on multiple experiences and I had informed the staff and management of issues on a number of occasions.  Due to my taking this stand, I have been asked not to attend any of their locations.  I am, however happy to say these establishments are busy and will hopefully remain successful for years to come…so a lot of people disagree with me.  But that is what life is about – differing opinions.

So I will continue eating where I had the great meal and hope folks continue to eat at this place, while supporting the other restaurants if they find there a better experience than I have.