Archive for January, 2009

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

So that title was supposed to be in reference to the arrival of my folks (which happens later), but it actually works fairly nicely with the first big thing to have happened since last I wrote: the inauguration.

The cast all huddled together in one of the rooms watching CNN, and while there are very few moments that Wolf Blitzer can’t ruin (Yo Yo Ma and Yitzhak Perlman aren’t your backup band, you tool!), it was all very lovely. Mind you, I remain all jaded and cynical about each and every politician, but I get pleasure from the hope of others, and I am genuinely grateful to see a world leader who values rhetoric and the spoken word. I suppose there’s cause for a rant about how sad it is that a politician who’s able and willing to articulate a viewpoint is a rarity, but I’ll let lying dogs sleep. For now.

Other than that, a fairly uneventful five-day, a long walk in Cozumel notwithstanding. I seem to recall being asked at one of our rehearsals what interesting had happened to me that day, and I seem to recall my answer being that my shoelace had gotten caught in a stationary bike. It was true, and it was funny, but still…

I did manage in one of the shows to get everyone on stage but me to corpse, which is always fun. (In fairness, some of it may have been chain reaction, but it started with me.) We were doing “Sing It,” Ashley and I were astronauts (I couldn’t love her because Russians during the Cold War weren’t allowed to feel love), and Mike, who had been our monkey Sputnik II, unzipped his monkey costume to reveal that he was actually a NASA commander sent to spy on us. Upon this reveal, in my best mix of incredulous and hurt, I cried “You threw your feces at me!”

Ta da!

Moving on…

And then with the nine-day, the parents! I met them in Miami, where we were promptly ripped off by a cab driver. (Grrr! Everywhere else, I have my guard up, but I still expect in major American cities for the social contract and the rule of law to be in place. Ah well, live and learn.) After a quick acclimatizing and tour of the ship, my worlds collided over dinner at Tango’s, the onboard Mexican restaurant. As far as I recall, no embarrassing revelations were made by either side, but it’s possible I’ve repressed it.

Inspired by my parent’s arrival, I made my first visit down to the excursion escort signup, and it’s definitely something I’m going to keep doing. It’s pretty incredible. Crew members get to accompany excursions for free, and the expectations for what we have to do are pretty low: keep count of the passengers to make sure no one gets stranded, help people as necessary, fill out some quality-assurance paperwork when you get back…Suffice it to say, pretty great deal, and they seem to like the Second City folk.

Here’s what we’ve done so far:

Samana, Dominican Republic: I accompanied Mother on a walking tour of Samana. This was a mistake on my part. Samana is known for being quite poor and bleak, but I assumed that a walking tour would find the nice parts. I was mistaken. Or possibly misled. If you read the description “La Churcha was built in England where it was unassembled and then reassembled piece by piece in Samana,” would you be expecting sheet metal? Me, not so much. But hey, who are we to hide from the reality of life in Samana?

Tortola, British Virgin Islands: The family went to Virgin Gorda. It was gorgeous. Of course, shortly upon arrival, I made the arguably selfish but fully sanctioned decision to go to another beach through caves that I was the only Hershfield capable of getting through. Of course, most of the day was spent in transit, so no guilt here, sir! The snorkeling was great, with the water very clear and all sorts of great boulders and caves to explore. It was just over far too quickly, so the plan is to go back with the cast, leaving early and coming back late (on time, but late.)

Antigua: We did the Fort James and Beach tour. Fort James is a close relative of Nelson’s Dockyard, and we saw both. Of course, the historical feel is somewhat obscured by a preponderance of gift shops, but still some very nice views to be seen (you can definitely see why famous people dry out there!) Then the beach, which was nice and laid-back.

There were two moments of note at the beach. The first was my mother was reading some health magazine, and she hands it to me and says “Is that a picture of the Jewel?” (our ship) To which I reply, “Well, I can’t tell the ship from the picture, but that’s Jennine standing in front of it, so I’m going to say ‘Yes.’” It is a small world after all!

(Dave, please pass along to Jennine (unless Jennine’s reading this independently, in which case, “Hey there!”) that I’ve actually managed to lose weight onboard, but the method probably isn’t ideal. Basically, it involves spending the year before going living like a gluttonous shut-in, so that even a moderate amount of restraint and exercise causes weight loss. That said, I have gone up a level in my recombinant stationary bike hill program, so while it’s not exactly like I have to check my nutsack on a regular basis to make sure I’m not Lance Armstrong, progress is being made!)

The other moment of note was the polishing off of Rick Mercer Report: The Book. (That’s right, it’s Book Report time again!) A good read, but somewhat defeated the purpose for it I had in mind. I was hoping for laughs (which there were, to be fair), but forgetting how much Canadian politics generally piss me off. All the more when you gather up and compile all the stupidity. In the time Rick Mercer’s show has been on the air, we’ve gone from a Liberal government interested only in power with just a pretense of concern for public welfare to a Conservative government who differs only in that they don’t even bother with the pretense. (Oh, and the NDP piss me off too, lest it seems like they’re being left out. Not that they’re unaccustomed to being left out, mind you…)

Things I miss about Canada: Poutine. Being able to piss and moan about Canadian politics to people who might care. You. (Not necessarily in that order.)

I don’t know what I’m going to read next. It should be The Source, but it’s daunting, both in overall and chapter length. I’ll keep you posted.

Also, I finished the first season of Friday Night Lights. I really loved it. I’m thinking it might be a good series for me to write an hour-long spec for. (My 30 Rock is coming along, thank you for asking.) Mind you, I’ll have to see the next season, as I’m somewhat worried about diminishing returns, but so far, so good.

Barbados: Father and I took in the Turtle and Shipwreck Snorkel Excursion. It was pretty good. It was great snorkeling over the Hawksbill turtles, though it was somewhat irritating being surrounded by other gawkers and more than one jerkass who felt entitled to dive and grab at the turtles, despite specific instructions not to. One was even pulling at the shell. It’s pretty incredible: it’s one thing to not care about ruining the experience for the people you’re with (as it scared the turtles off, after having coaxed them over), it’s one thing not to care about future tours (as endangering the turtles, which are already endangered, could, among other things, lead to the cessation of tours), but what kind of person sees an endangered species and thinks “Hmmm, I wonder what it would be like to hurt it?” It takes all kinds, I suppose. As for the shipwreck, also pretty funky, with fish swimming in and out of it like nobody’s business. Of course, it being a smaller focal point, people were really on top of each other there, but it’s a short distance from The Boatyard, so I’m thinking I might give it another gander when the mob’s not there.

So that’s where we are now. Couple more days with the folks, in which they’ll see me perform improv for the first time in years (I’m warming up to the idea, though I still don’t want to make a habit of it!), and then five days of rubbing elbows with Canadian royalty, knock on wood. The revolution will be photographed.

Ummm, and then I’ll come up with interesting things to do for the month and a half (and beyond?) following.  TTFN!

So I was eating this madeleine…

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

No, sadly, it’s not innuendo. It’s a Proust reference, which I’m probably getting wrong. (The improviser’s gift and curse: referencing things that we have a cursory knowledge of like we actually know them.) At any rate, it’s my way of saying I know these posts are crazy long, and thank you for indulging me. (The writer’s, or at least my, gift and curse: writing’s fun, editing’s work.)

I’ll start the week that was in Tortola. Usually a jumping-off point for trips to the beach, this time, Megan and I ended up exploring the city together. Which was very nice, because she’s delightful, and also because the way my social patterns have developed, things tend to be solo or in groups, so one-on-one was a pleasant break in the routine. And, as mentioned, delightful.

Which came in handy, because without our delightfulness, it could have been disappointing. It started off with a trip to the botanical garden. We found it really easy, which was a real coup. The botanical garden itself, less of a coup. Or maybe a coup if you were the one being overthrown. I was actually less disappointed than Megan (it had been her idea to go), who has since taken the group’s Frommers guide and put quotes around words like “nice” and “scenic.” There were actually prettier flowers on the walk there, and of the thirty some-odd things to see noted on the Xeroxed map, one of the trees was now a stump. Actually, the Banyan (?) tree was nifty, but not quite enough to justify the trip.

An aside for the family: There was a moment when one of the chickens which run wild in every city we visit passed in front of the tortoise at the botanical gardens, and knowing a certain uncle who would appreciate a picture of such a happening, I took out my camera, only to find out that my batteries were dead. (At least, I’m hoping it’s the batteries! We’ll find out when I replace them!) Disappointed at the missed opportunity, I decided to pay homage by signing the visitors’ book and putting as my comment “The tortoise was so demonstrative!” It wasn’t, really, and I can only hope this esoteric tribute doesn’t result in tortoise soup.

And we’re back. So Megan and I continued to wander Tortola, looking for the Sunny Caribbee Spice Shop. Which we found, and actually without going particularly out of our way. The only thing that made our route funny is that we were plagued by uncertainty the whole time and ended up coming through the back door, only to discover as we were leaving that if we’d come directly from the ship, there were signs every two feet. I will let you discover it for yourself, if you see fit: Personally, I was intrigued at the Caribbee Hot Sauce (I’m thinking it’s pretty hot) and amused by the fact that their hangover cure and love potion were sold in combination (Hey, sober up and find love already!).

Having accomplished something and nothing, we decided to cap off the day with some afternoon drinking, the height of sophistication. A very nice day.

The next day was Bridgetown, Barbados, and I finally opted to join the crowd for The Boatyard. It’s a crew hangout that had been described to me as “Spring Break”, and being a crusty old man and generally worn out from Tortola the day before, I had up until now taken it more easy. But not this time, darn it! We walked down as a group, which was nice, and gave me a chance to see more of Bridgetown than I previously had, and whet my appetite for future seeings. And a good time was had, though I stayed away from the more decadent events like drinking contests and bar-dancing contests (unless “Footloose” is playing, I tend to prefer my dancing on the floor.) But I did kick around a soccer ball some, throw a football some, and rode some waves with my floating body, so who parties harder than me? (And I drank! I mean, the drink was included in admission, but it got finished…with authority!)

And then St. Lucia, which was fairly uneventful, with me just meandering around. I got caught in the rain in Derek Walcott Square, Derek Walcott being, I believe, a Nobel Prize winner in Literature. I spent much of the time thinking that if I want to win a Nobel Prize in Literature, I really should get moving. But then the clouds went away, and I was content to make witty comments to myself (for instance, as I walked by the KFC (yes, the KFC), I thought “Wow, and I thought a plantation owner was a bad mascot in Canada!”) The highlight of my day was probably the most Caribbean-Canadian conversation in the history of the world, and it went something like this:

Me: (bumping into Caribbean Guy on the street) Sorry.

CG: (offering me what looked to be pistachios) Here, have some.

Me: Oh, no thank you.

CG: They’re fine, see. (opening his mouth so I could see he was eating them.)

Me: Oh, I’m sure they are. I’m just not hungry right now.

CG: They’ll make your dick hard.

Me: I think my dick’s hard enough for right now, but thank you.

CG: (hardy laugh)

Me: (polite chuckle, mini-wave, turning of the corner)

So that was land. At sea, the big event was the White Party (the party where everyone wears white), where I experienced a time warp and found myself dancing in public again. (Okay, it hadn’t been that long, but I think it was the first time the ship had seen a sustained effort on my part.) I was prodded on to the floor by Skinner, beat-box master of the Cat’s Pyjamas and an awesome fella, and while I’m fairly certain the soap which was occasionally spitting onto the floor was at least a little toxic, fun times were had.

And in conclusion, my entertainment reviews. (Yes, I know my book and TV reviews are less interesting than my dating details, but dammit, I’m trying to be Oprah here, not Maury! That said, I am planning a “Who’s my Baby’s Daddy?” post for Sweeps, so stay tuned.) The first season of Gilmore Girls was good, but I don’t know if I’ll go back to it. I do sort of want to see where things go, but the problem with those family and relationship shows is they almost by necessity have to be two steps forward, two steps back, because if anything really ever got resolved, you have nowhere to go. Oh, and I finally (FINALLY!) saw Sling Blade. A good flick, would make a great double bill with The Man Who Wasn’t There. Next up, I think I’ll be giving the first season of Friday Night Lights a go. If nothing else, I’m presuming it’s not girly.

The Crying of Lot 49 was good, though it took more concentration than was ideal for this particular week. It’s the kind of book where you can’t miss a sentence and have to read several of them over to catch their meaning. Think Tom Robbins for smart(er) people. That said, it had a pretty cool symbol at its core, so if there’s anyone out there who’s thinking of getting a pretentious tattoo, I can draw you a picture. (Be the first one on your block to have a pretentious tattoo that isn’t in Japanese!) The plan now is to have some quick fun with the Rick Mercer Report: The Book, and then finally take the plunge into The Source. (Which should somewhat dry up the book reportage, because while I may on occasion give progress updates, damn, that’s a lot of book!)

And lastly in entertainment news, I had completely forgotten that The Daily Show is shown on CNN! Which we get onboard! One less void to fill!

Which segues nicely to a preview for you all: my parents will be joining me onboard for the next nine day cruise! There will be stories, if only about the testing of my newfound eating restraint! (Plus it inspired me to learn about volunteering for excursions, so I’ll be doing that more from now on, so more crazy adventures, knock on wood.)

Shine on, you crazy stars.

Barenaked fun?

Monday, January 12th, 2009

Alright, so I should probably wait until there are details or even confirmation, but having established that interesting changes in my emotional state are blogworthy, there was an interesting development last night.

The new cruise director asked us if we wanted to perform with The Barenaked Ladies.

Apparently, and details are foggy and fourth-hand, we’ve been asked if we want to perform with them. Now, that might just mean doing a show (or our regular show) during their cruise, but it also might mean (and this was the cruise director’s impression) doing some kind of “bit” with them or some sort of shared performance. Which, let’s face it, would be kind of awesome.

And, as long as I’ve got one foot in the Candyland of the Mind, I may as well take the leap and add that if we’re on the roster of performers for “Ships ‘n Dip,” might not some sort of performance with Kevin and Dave also be a possibility? (That’s right. In the Candyland of the Mind, I’m on a first-name basis with the Kids in the Hall – and they with me!)

I’ll keep you posted as reality unfolds (stupid reality, would it kill you to stay folded just once?!?), but for now, giddy!

Long post’s journey into yikes!

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

Well, the week that was got off to a bit of an uneven start. Without getting into too many details, suffice it to say that I remain a strong proponent of the “Don’t shit where you eat” rule of dating. Of course, it’s harder to pull off when everyone in your world lives in the same place. (I realize that last sentence loses the metaphor, but I think to keep it, I would have had to say that we all live in the toilet, and given the context, I thought it best to avoid the dark imagery. Apologies to the metaphor. Oh, and as long as I’ve already got the brackets going, let me assure the gossip mills I was the only Second Cityer involved.)

As it turned out, not too big a deal, though I did indulge myself in a quick session of teen-style wallowing, only with more irony, with a soundtrack of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks and The Decemberists’ Five Songs. It wasn’t until the second time hearing “Oceanside” that I realized the lyrics I was voicing were “Oh, if I could only coax you overboard…”, which, while normally beautifully poetic, becomes wickedly funny in the context of girl problems on a cruise ship. Having laughed at myself, I was back on the Road to Wellness, with fond memories of and anticipation for all the detours and roadside attractions on the way. (Satisfied, metaphor gods?)

In terms of cast of characters, there were cameos, some new additions, and a couple of exits. Mike had some guests, two fellas by the names of Danny and Sly. They were a lot of fun, charming fellows both, and they will be missed. For those potentially interested in visiting, Danny proved to us that those seasickness bracelets only have limited success in preventing seasickness (though who knows what would have come out of him without them), but are useful for pretending to be Spiderman. And for those interested in modern history and politics, Sly is going to be at Obama’s inauguration, so if you’re reading this, the most degrees of separation you are from that event is two. Pretty nifty, no?

Joining the entertainers onboard, we now have the Cat’s Pyjamas, a capella group extraordinaire. Very nice guys, but mostly I’m excited because I think I’m finally going to get the basketball game I’ve been hankering for. Man, am I going to get my ass kicked!

And in terms of goodbyes, we lost cruise director Rich to vacation this week. We gave him the royal sendoff, inviting him to play Hero Freeze with us in our last show. A pretty unsatisfying show for me all in all (the crowd too drunk and too dirty for my tastes – yes, I’m old), but everyone left happy, including Rich. Haven’t met the new cruise director yet, and don’t know if anything will change for us, but if it does, I’ll let you know.

Alright, on to funny interactions. We’ll open with a faux pas. So there’s a party, and one of the guests, a flamboyant young man in a pink vest, has been hitting on the male dancers all night. Later on, as I’m talking to his sister, I notice that he’s got Ashley cornered. Thinking of the irrepressible Pearce Visser, I ask her “Hey, does your brother get straighter when he drinks?” To which she replies “My brother’s straight.” Now, clearly she’s wrong, in denial, or in possession of an excellent deadpan, but either way, I backpedaled like a triathlete near the end of Superman. Awkward!

There was also an encounter with a passenger with great comedic timing, who deserves to be immortalized here. So I get onto an elevator, and this man’s wife was futzing with his hair, as he protested “It looked better before.” He then turns to me, and with perfect timing, says “Don’t you hate it when a woman messes with your…never mind.” Luckily, I was going to 13, and the only button pushed when I entered was 12, and the timing worked out so that just as he said that, the doors opened on 12, and I was able to deliver a perfectly calm “Get out.” Laughs all around, my one regret being that I was unable to tell him that he was awesome.

Wow, this post is long! But damn it, I’ve been keeping you up-to-date on my readings and watchings so far, and I’m not going to stop now. In terms of watching, I finally made a trip to Jewelbusters (the onboard DVD collection) and snagged the first season of Gilmore Girls. Yes, I’d be judging me too. But I was also scared of the girliness of Buffy and Veronica Mars, and was proven wrong there too. So far, Gilmore Girls isn’t quite at that level of superbness, but it’s definitely watchable. Seven seasons watchable? I’ll keep you posted.

In terms of reading, I finished The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat. Interesting cases, but the writing was too academic for my tastes, i.e. it made me feel stupid. (Yes, yes, “there’s a difference between ignorance and stupidity.”) But hey, at least now I know (vaguely) what “proprioceptive” means. Though I’ll probably forget…it’s not like I’ve got hypermnesis! Then I spent a day reading Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love, which was good, but certainly no cure for feeling stupid. Next up, Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49. (That’s right. Pynchon. I’m going to have to read Twilight after this just to keep my brain cells from revolting!)

Also, a sad note in terms of my reading. I saw that Ron Asheton, guitarist for The Stooges, died just the other day, at age 60. He was one of my favorite “characters” in Please Kill Me, and I remember thinking as I was reading that I was glad he was one of the ones who survived. Gather ye rosebuds while you may, folks.

Which reminds me of a lovely moment I had at the internet café, as I was uploading those pictures. So I’m chatting with a friend from high school, a friend from Vancouver, and a friend from my return to Toronto, and visiting the wedding announcement site of a friend from McGill, and it dawned on me that every chapter from my adult life was represented. And while I’d never claim that life has all been puppies and whipped cream, it made me appreciate how lucky I’ve been to know the people I’ve known in my life. And if you’re reading this, chances are you’re one of them. Thanks for existing.

Of course, most of you probably stopped reading paragraphs ago. “Oooh, sorry, we have to shovel our walkways…” Fine, go look at the pictures again, they’re worth a thousand words anyway.


They ought to put me in pictures!

Friday, January 9th, 2009

As promised, here’s a smattering of pictures that the great Joe Yannetty took around Christmas.  Plus my favorite picture of the cast, where we played/invented Toast Your Vacation; someday, it will be the equivalent of His Master’s Voice, I tells ya!


Paradise Lost

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

Alright, the title’s an overstatement (I was just feeling literary), but I’m back to the small room again. Not so bad, really, but I do quite miss the window. Waking up in darkness stinks. And I’m not playing my guitar as often, because I don’t want to subject another human being to that. But still, wearing shorts, so who’s complaining?

So since I’ve written last, holidays a-plenty! Christmas was pretty fun. The JARs threw a hall party, theme rooms and all. Good times were had, vodka was drank out of a peppermint cup, pictures were taken, I intervened to break up a fight that probably wasn’t going to happen anyway, and I slept the sleep of the righteous.

Boxing Day was spent in Miami, where they of course don’t call it Boxing Day, but still acknowledge its religious significance by having sales. I bought myself a basketball (they have some on board, but it was worth it for the quality upgrade), a printer (to inspire additional feelings of guilt to keep me writing, but of course, it was only after I was onboard that I realized I needed to buy a USB cable separately, so as of now, it’s only taking up space), and a mesh hamper (far and away my best return on money spent.) And it’s my understanding that due to his own splurge, I’ll be getting a hand-me-down TV from my brother (I prefer to think of them as hand-me-sidewayses), so all in all, a big shopping day for me.

Also that day, we got our first guest as a group. Caroline (apologies if it’s Carolyn), a friend of Ashley’s, joined us, which has been lovely. A breath of fresh air, she is, and she’s married to someone I went to high school with. Someone I barely remember, mind you, and he probably has all but forgotten my existence (apparently, before she came, she showed him a list of the cast, and my name was “familiar”, but he didn’t have the context, so maybe I’m worth a nod of recognition when she gets back), but it’s nice to be able to talk Toronto as well. (There’s also a hypnotist on board for this cruise from Toronto, and the four of us talked a little T-dot.)

On the 28th, the JARs hosted a party for the entire crew, and some passenger treated us all to free drinks, which was nice. They performed a number from Chicago. I can’t remember what it’s called, but it’s the one where a bunch of women recount the circumstances of the murders they committed. Long story short, big dance number in sexy lingerie. Suffice it to say, I think the crew is going to be pretty disappointed in our crew show!

I had to make my first set list for our improv shows. I threw a fair bit of new stuff at them, but everybody stepped up, and the shows worked out quite well. (Schwarzenegger killed!) After the show, I had some girl come up to me and say that I looked exactly like Napoleon Dynamite. Using my friendliest incredulous tone, I pointed out that that wasn’t exactly a compliment. She countered “No, it’s okay, I loved Napoleon Dynamite.” I thought “I loved Forrest Gump. Would you take it as a compliment if I said you reminded me of him?” I said “Thank you?”

Around this time, I finished The Great Gatsby. Short but sweet, a classic for a reason. Going through my books, I was torn between two books that had potential to be uplifting but also the potential to be horribly depressing: The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks, and Kasztner’s Train, by Anna Porter. In the end, I chose the former. I think my time with Mr. Kasztner will be best spent in a private room. I think I’ll be able to handle reading it, but I probably won’t want to talk about it much. So far, so good, but Dr. Sacks doesn’t shy away from the big, big words, so it definitely takes some concentration.

As for New Year’s, fairly anticlimactic, but I always feel that way about them. Highlights include someone asking me if my Humphrey Bogart tie was Barack Obama (what is this world coming to?!?), hugs and kisses (awwww!), and turning the first page on my X-ed out calendar. December, we hardly knew ye!

Happy 2009, everyone!