Category : Reader Friendly

A bishop, a belcher and Stevie

I love reading. The seed was sowed –whether I had liked it or not– when I was a wee lad, no older than four I think. I was curious about the colour of the sky, so I went to my father, the fountain of all my knowledge back then and asked why it was blue. His answer still resonates loudly even today: ‘We have a library, go look it up.’ Damn.

Whether he was too busy with whatever dads do when their kids ask them strange questions or he was teaching me a life lesson about the innate power of books has escaped the grasp of my memory and now, I will never know for certain. But after his passing, the seed he had so subtlety planted had matured not only into an adult but also into a very avid reader.

Now, let’s fast forward to two and half months ago. I was enjoying myself at a bar on the Queen Street strip called the Bishop and the Belcher, catching up with a few friends and discussing photography. A few pints had tagged along as well. We were there until pretty late and whether it was alcohol, forgetfulness, tiredness or just my propensity for mixing all of the aforementioned options, I ended up leaving a book on the booth we had been at. Realizing it the moment I got home I phoned the bar. ‘Yeah, it’s here.
Drop by anytime to pick it up. I’ll leave it behind the bar’s register.’ Said the man on the other line.
I felt much better as I was well one third into it and was curious to see it through.

What’s the name of the book, you ask? It’s ‘Stephen King On Writing,’ by, well…duh. But first allow me to tell you just how much I normally dislike Stephen’s main body of work. In the books of his that I have dwelled in, I always come out with the same conclusion: ‘overly populist,’ and by that I mean too mainstream. So, what if he has millions of fans and doesn’t need to work another day in his life? No, that’s not it.

I simply can’t relate to horror novels in general, and partly because I cannot relate to the general subjects he picks, particularly his later work. Yes, I am unfairly shooting a horror genre messenger here, I know. That’s like saying that I hate the colour white because I dislike zebras. Yet I would never dare say the man lacks talent. In fact, I have yet to read another writer alive who has honed the craft to such capacity where his words seem to so effortlessly flow from page to page like a mountain stream pouring down towards the sea. He is that good.
That is why I bought the book in the first place. In it he describes not only his take on writing, thankfully avoiding his usual clichés like poltergeists, socially awkward youth with startling mental powers and viruses wiping out 99.9% of the human race and talks candidly about his childhood and how he got into the craft.

Imagine my surprise to discover he begun writing due to his frail heal which kept him indoors for a good chunk of his early years. This book is simply full of surprises. It is really one of his best works and I cannot recommend it enough, especially for any would-be writer. Like they say, ‘if you love to write, you’ve got to love to read.’
Okay, back to the present, my apartment and the issue of the lost Stevie. I thought of dropping by on that weekend and pick it up. ‘No worries,’ I thought. I mean, they found the book, is not like it was going to go anywhere, or so I thought.

I ended dropping by the following Monday night. Looking forward to finishing those two thirds left. Just as if I was continuing a dish that I had saved in the fridge for when I was really hungry.

‘Sorry. Can’t find it.’
‘Excuse me? The guy I talked to last Thursday said that it would be in the bar.’
‘Sorry. Checked already. It’s not here. Maybe it got moved to the office. I don’t have keys for the back. You are gonna have to come during the day when a manager is in, but call first.’ With that he resumed pouring a draft.

So I called a few days later. ‘Yes, its here,’ said the manager. ‘When would be a good time for you to pick it up?’ I was a little annoyed, but figured the weekend seemed like a good bet. I said I would be there on Saturday morning to pick it up. ‘Sure, ask the bartender, it will be at the bar.’ Okay, no big deal, the book is there, is not like someone took it, this sort of thing happens I told myself.

‘Sorry. Can’t find it.’
‘Wha? I spoke to your manager on Tuesday. I was told it would at the bar.’
’Sorry. Can’t find it.’
‘The manager said it would be at the bar.’
‘Who did you speak to?’
‘Didn’t ask. How many managers do you have on a Tuesday?’
‘Well, the woman.’
‘They are both women.’
‘You are gonna have to call back and speak with whomever you spoke about it.’
‘But if I don’t have their name how am I going to know unless I call until next Tuesday?’
‘Then you are going to have to wait. Look, I am really busy and I looked. I am busy and it’s not here. I can’t help you.’ And with that she turned and ignored me away.
So, I wait until next Tuesday and I speak to Jennifer, the manager.
‘We can’t find it Mauricio.’ How could that be? She told me she had it only a few days before. I felt like someone was playing me for a fool.
‘I saw it, but we are in the process of moving. Maybe it got packed into one of the boxes by one of the owners.’
I sighed.
‘Alright, when are you moving?’
‘Two weeks.’
‘Sorry,’ I said as I bit the %$^##R$#@ hell out of my tongue. ‘I am just thinking what my options are here.’
‘You could try calling after we move.’
‘That’s fine, I’ll call in two weeks.’
‘Sorry.’ She said as she gave me the new address near Bloor and Church streets.
‘Thank you anyways, Jennifer.’

Alright, I bought the book on sale. I did not even pay full price for it. The book went for $37 Canadian when it originally came out –yeah, for real— I paid $6 at a used bookstore. I could just get another copy, and get it over with. But no, I liked my copy. I liked the way I folded the pages to keep track of where I was. No, no cheap cop-out, I was going to get my book back. If anything I was going to do it for the principle of it. But, if they ultimately lost it, is not like the world was going to crash and burn. Right? Right.

To be honest, I forgot about the entire affair after the first week. I mean, it was just one book and if anything it was probably in one of Toronto’s landfills by now. Ready to be enjoyed by a flock of seagulls as either nesting filler or toilet paper.
So the weeks went by. Sometimes I would remember and call but kept getting the same message, the phone did not exist. Strange since Jennifer told me they would keep the same number.

Another week or two flew by. The week after that one I tried again. Bingo! Someone picked up and apologized, it seems Bell Canada had messed up the line transfer and had finally gotten around to correct it. ‘Look,’ I said, ‘I left a book at your old location…’ As was getting ready to fill her in, ‘You mean, the Stephen King book?’ She interrupted.
Great! She knew about it, which would save me a good ten minutes of my life I would otherwise not get back.

‘We lost it.’
You had got to be kidding me! How could they loose it? I mean, come on!
‘It was packed on the move. I saw it here, but I can’t find it anymore. Maybe someone trashed it.’
‘Why would they do that?’ I asked in surprise.
‘Well, it had been here for over a month, maybe the individual figured you would not be back for it.’ Sadly, she did have a point and I think she could hear my disappointment.
‘How about if you call in a week, maybe it will turn up.’
‘Yeah, sure,’ I said.
Yup, seagull-toilet-paper, for sure.
‘I will call. Thanks either way.’

A week went by and I did not call. I was in the process of doing some packing of my own as the entire floor in my apartment was going to get redone and had to move everything from my living room and into the bedroom and move out for a few days. Besides, I had lost hope in the book. It was gone. Out of my head. Finito, Adios! Or so I kept telling myself. But from time to time the thought had a way of cropping up through the proverbial “what if…” scenario. It bothered me and I hated it.

I am one of those who have trouble biting the bullet when it comes to this things –okay— maybe I am a little stubborn, so after another week I found myself making the time to get off at Yonge and Bloor subway station. I hadn’t called the new and improved Bishop and the Belcher but it was only a few minutes away from the subway and at least this way I would know for sure.

The new place is located at the bottom of an office building and has a somewhat sombre feel to it. Guess some of that ‘office building vibe’ managed to ooze its way into it. It had a quirk-ness about it before when it was on Queen Street, but now it looked like a strange green-carpeted-Firkin bar. If you know what I mean by the word ‘Firkin,’ then you know it is no great compliment.
I got there in middle of the afternoon, way after the beehive lunch hour and the establishment was deserted.

‘Hi,’ I said to the pretty brunette near the bar. ‘I know this is going to sound strange, but I left a book here a long…’
‘The Stephen King book?’
‘Uh, ummm…Yeah. It got packed. Jennifer told me it might have been boxed in the move and that I should drop by…’
She went to the back, behind the bar.
‘I guess you found it?’
You got to be kidding me.
She came back wearing a very cheerful smile.
Here. It’s Mauricio, right?
‘Umm, yeah, thank you.’
‘No problem,’ and with that, just like that she turned back and disappeared into the kitchen. Ok, that was anti-climatic and a half.

On my way home on the subway, it suddenly hit me, this book had been out there for quite a long time, months even, how did it get lost? Had it been misplaced in some drawer along with some steak and chicken condiments? Used as a doorstop? A paperweight? Where had it been? I felt like I aught to be angry or pissed off.

Well, wherever it had been, now that I had it back, I sure wasn’t going to let it out of my sight. Yes, I might have gone a bit overboard, but we are talking about a good book here. One that had picked my curiosity out of countless other books, one I wanted to get to read to its last page: It was MY ‘Stephen King on Writing.’ Albeit I felt a little silly for feeling so interested, even a little too passionate –or bloody stubborn, some would say— about it. In the middle of all of this, I noticed a small bulge within the hardcover; it was a piece of paper; a neatly folded white piece of paper, right in the middle of the book, and this is what it said:

‘To the owner of this book,

I would like to offer my sincerest apologies for taking your book home. It sat in the back for a few days and the book had pigeon(ed) my interest, so I figured I would take it, read it, and bring it back. I meant no harm and I am sorry. Enjoy it Sir, for it is rightfully yours to enjoy.

The Book Thief’

I had to smile. How could I not? I couldn’t be upset. After all, the individual brought it back. Besides the curiosity of a good book, a good read, is what kept me going back and not just for Stephen’s tome, but to every single book I have ever picked up after the day I was old enough to question the colour of the sky. I could honestly relate with this person and I was not about to get pissed off at the fact that he was also an avid reader just like me. If anything, I felt an odd camaraderie with this stranger…amazing the power of books, isn’t? It left me thinking and remembering for a moment, ‘Thanks for the great lesson dad,’ I thought to myself.

I smiled again as I folded the piece of paper into my pocket.
Whomever the Book Thief is: Apology accepted.

An ‘Enlightened Heart,’ for men.

In one of my many adventures as an organizer of a social group I found myself at Insomnia, a trendy lounge in downtown Toronto a few weeks ago next to someone who was wearing a shirt that read: “Remember my name, because you will be screaming it later.”
Never having even heard that comment before, I could not restrain myself from commenting on it: “Very funny,” I said with a hint of friendly sarcasm in my voice. Then asked if it ever worked. “It worked while I was in Vancouver” he responded.
He was funny and he didn’t strike me as the shy type. Actually he seemed like the type who would benefit from a little shyness.

We quickly got into conversation. The usual thing you would talk to a stranger at a bar. He had just moved to Toronto from aforementioned Vancouver –hated the weather, by the way—and he had just gotten a new job at a computer firm. My job as a computer analyst gave us more than a few things in common but being a Friday, we non-verbally agreed not to speak about our jobs. ‘So what else do you do?’
Ah…here is where things got interesting.
“A have a side business…” he said before continuing.
“I am just starting it.”
I could tell he was hesitating. It was understandable, I was a complete stranger and we had talked for less than five minutes. He reached in his jeans and pulled a business card and handed over to me. The main caption read ‘Enlightened Heart.’ Printed in calligraphy not much different than what you would find on a turn of the 1800’s cover of a Harlequin novel.
His name was below this. Wha?
‘I teach shy people how to get women.’
‘Really?’ I said without disguising the doubt in my voice.
‘What are your credentials?’
‘My life.’

Then I read the back of the card, it read ‘Personal life and relationship mentor,’ and an uplifting quote regarding being able to get what you want out of life. I asked if he was any good with the ladies. No answer, just a sheepish smile.

‘If so, why come out to my social group?’ I asked.
‘Field research.’
Bruck. At least he was honest.

‘You know,’ I said, ‘ I give a lot of free advise. Doing it for over a decade now. Heck, you could say that I am giving away the business for free.’
‘The world is not short of misguided people.’ He said.
God, did I know that to be right. He made me think: What if I have gotten five dollars for every time I helped someone hook up with their crush? Ten for every time I set someone up? And, what if I charged by the hour for the long nights spent over the phone telling a friend who had just been dumped that he\she would be fine until four o’clock in the morning? Holy mother lode! Perhaps this guy was onto something.

From then on we jumped head first into many theories regarding dating and the mating dance. I have to admit, he had some good points regarding how to approach a woman: the avoiding of pickup lines at all costs, the importance of attitude over looks and other general things. Even though we came from different sides of the fence, which is understandable since points of views a based on experience. It was still interesting to see the similarities and not so similar takes on the opposite sex. Either way, “the scene” is biased towards the shy and the timid.

By the way, did I mention that there was a lady sitting practically between ‘Dale’ and me? Listening to everything we had said and I have to admit she did not seem very impressed with either of us. Not that we were being lewd, but I think she did not appreciate two guys trying to suck the romanticism out of romanticism by making it sound like some sort of hard science. By the way, Dale, if you ever read this, I am giving you free advertising, so don’t come complaining.

On a related note, haven’t seen it yet, but ‘Hitch,’ a recent summer movie starting Will Smith touches on the same subject. Men helping other men meet women, for a price… Generally, when Hollywood zeroes in on a subject, it is already at least six months too late to be on the edge of anything controversial. However, it is fascinating how ‘the scene’ has changed in the last decade. As roles and expectations evolve due to economics, social standards and with feminism inching forward, men may find themselves at a loss. Let’s not forget to add services and venues such as the internet and speeding dating just to mention a few which push the mainstream envelope on how people meet people, its is no surprise a few of us may turn to some sort of guidance to navigate the urban jungle.

A few hours later, Dale said he had another party to attend to but that he was glad that the dropped by. I knew he was in fact networking for his business but told him he was welcome to drop by anytime. After all I am the organizer of a social group.

’So is this what he really does?’ A girl in my group asked me at the end of the night after studying his business card.
‘So it seems,” I said.
‘Strange, he seemed kinda quiet.’

Update: Martini’s at Insomnia (I am back)

It was fun. But getting right to the point, how many showed up? Physically about 12.
But the funny thing is that our reservation got moved, so there is chance people might have showed up, gone right to the back of the place (where our location was supposed to be but was not), and then left. For example there were these two girl that came and sat on the bar, chilled for about two hours and finally approached us and ask: Are you part of the social group?
Well, yes. so they joined us. The fact is that I am still wondering how many people might have showed up. Mmm, the mind wonders.

Well, I guess I will find out soon enough whe people start emailing me. But as I said before, I surprised the manager since twenty people did not show. Ah, being an organizer can be such a variable.


The night Gentleman-hood might have lost a Believer.

‘She tried to make you feel guilty?’ I asked my friend Alex.
He nodded. ‘Wow, how do you feel about it?’ I could tell it was bothering him.
‘I assume that you’re not talking anymore?’
He nodded again.
It was peculiar –I had to admit it— but funny. In a horrible sort of way funny.

Okay, so here is what happened:

My friend goes to a birthday party of an old female friend at this place on Queen St. West called…well, let’s keep the actual name out, as you never know who might one day be reading this.

The birthday party was going well as pints, martinis, cigarettes and pictures were getting drunk, smoked and taken. Everyone was smiling and communal. It sounded like a pretty good party to me. Soon, after a few drinks everyone was everyone’s good old friend and it is normally then when some men, after having just a bit of ‘liquid-courage’ will approach the one girl in the party that might have caught their eye.

‘So, how do you know Suzanne?’ was his opening question to the cute blonde who was smiling with a welcoming smile reserved for only close friends or those who we instinctually find sexually appealing. There was obviously some attraction happening there. ‘And then what happened?’

They talked, laughed and flirted themselves from the rest of the pack and into a quiet corner of the lounge. He found out about her job, aspirations and even about her pet dog Mildred. It sounded promising.

Alex although not shy with women in the least, barely ever shares any info about his private life, even to me and I have known the guy forever. This girl, let’s call her Lisa, had really made an impression on him.

So it was no surprise when the party finally died down and everybody was outside wondering what to do with the rest of the night. They both agreed to take their leave together.

‘I was going east and so was she, so I thought me and Lisa could walk until we went our separate ways.’ That’s nice, walk with her and get to know her better I thought. We have all been there, you meet someone you get along so well you find yourself wishing for the night not to end. ‘It felt really good. At one point she said her hands were cold and put her right hand in my coat pocket along with mine. We were holding hands and hoping it no one would notice our connection. We said good-bye to the few smokers who were still deciding where to go and started walking.’

This was getting more interesting by the minute. ‘Aha, go on…and then?’

After walking for about twenty minutes, she decided that it was time to let me know she was married and her husband was waiting at home.

‘Just like that?!’
‘Just like that…’
‘Like that?’
‘Oh. That sucks. What did you do?
‘Aside feeling foolish and weird, well, nothing…I wasn’t sure what to do.’
‘So what did you do?’
‘We kept on walking.’
‘Ah. Not much talking then, eh?’
‘Unless you are into that sort of thing…’
‘Shut up.’

So kept on walking they did until the proverbial fork on the road came. Knowing Alex, I am sure he was happy when that happened –I mean— who wouldn’t? But the night wasn’t quite over yet. Lisa then asked since it was so late if he could be kind enough to walk her home, eight blocks away.

Which leads us back to what was bothering Alex. He felt bad for leaving a woman in the middle of the city at 3:00am even if she was married. I mean, technically that didn’t change the fact that he was leaving her in a deserted street. But what would happen if he walked her with her husband at home? Can you imagine it?

What did he do? You ask?
He refused. He declined and told her that he would only walk her if she needed to, but that she could now easily take a taxi. She wasn’t to far from home and it would avoid the possible serious consequences of the mixture of two men and a very flirtatious wife.
She in turn was said a cold ‘Fine!” and walked in separate directions.

But that wasn’t the end of it. A few days later…Alex told he had spoken with Suzanne and confirmed that Lisa was in fact married. He also told me he spoken with Lisa, as it turns out she had given him her business card too. In their short conversation she called him as being less than a gentleman and a looser for leaving her. I begged Alex to tell me if he reminded Lisa she had kept the fact that she was married until the very end. That would have been what I would call a counter-check, but no, our boy failed to do so. She also said that she was going to tell all her friends –Suzanne included— of his ‘fake’ behaviour towards women and then hanged up. Ah, the drama of today’s battle of the sexes.

Do I believe this whole story? Hey, why not? It sounds too good to be made up. All the facts came from the horse’s mouth, but of course for the sake off all involved I did change the names as in the end it takes nothing from it all. Also I did ask for permission to post this, what kind of friend would I be if I didn’t ask first?

In the end, what could I do but to tell my Alex that everything will work out? Will this change his ways? Well, I sure hope he doesn’t again to him or anyone for that matter. Since to all who reads this will know the underlying themes that were going on the minds of these two at least for some of the time. Do I agree with their actions? I have my opinions, but hey, I am just the messenger. Don’ shoot me.