Monday, May 09, 2022

Lucky floof


If you've been following my social media feeds you've probably been bombarded with pictures of the two latest additions to our family. Sully, a F1B Goldendoodle, who can best be described as a "galoot" and Wazowski, a Coton de Tulear, who is an imp-and-a-half. 

Here's a picture of the furry fuckwits looking adorable and innocent.

Sully and Wazowski being cute,
not evil.

Since we got the two of them last fall our lives have immeasurably improved. They're a delight to have around the house, even when we want to strangle them. Remember, for all their playfulness, energy and cuddliness, they're still puppies. For example, I have no idea why, after ignoring it for weeks Wazowski woke up one morning and decided that volumes 2 and 3 of the Complete Calvin and Hobbes needed to die, but he did his best, and now a very expensive and much-beloved hardcover is toast.

I'm not thrilled about it. I'm not saying I didn't momentarily consider shoving him an express envelope and sending him back to his breeder in Nova Scotia, but this is the price you pay with puppies. You love them and they love you. But they will also fuck up your shit because that's what they feel like doing at that moment.

They're coming out of most of their destructive phase now (I wrote this a couple of days ago. Since then Sully destroyed a pair of prescription sunglasses that were on a ledge over 5 feet off the floor). Sully is 7 months old, and Wazowsk is 8 months old. I think they're settling into being great dogs. 

That doesn't mean they're there yet.

Allow me to tell you a story of the past week involving the floofs.

Two of the lingering problems we have with them I don't think are going to be solved anytime soon. Sully is a jumper and has also discovered that she can access pretty much any flat surface in the house. The latter she won't do while we're home, but we have returned after work to find things in the hallway and utter the phrase "how the fuck?" before collecting picking it up. We now have to keep most flat surfaces meticulously clean and free of temptation.

Wazowski could have been named Roomba. I know some little dogs are garbage guts, but Wazowski operates at a whole other scale. That little dog has puked up some truly terrifying things in the six months we've had him. Again, we're doing better at this, but the two of them are a tag team now. Sully finds something on a counter, knocks it over, and then Wazowski finds out if he can eat it.

Last Monday I joked that it was a miracle he hadn't ended up at the vet yet. Then I knocked on wood.

Turns out knocking on wood doesn't actually work.

On Tuesday morning, Cathy and I were scrambling a bit to get out the door in the morning. Just one of those mornings where we weren't firing on all cylinders. It happens. And in our haste to get out the front door, we forgot to close all the doors in the house. We left one open. Normally, they have the run of the living room, kitchen and hallway. Plenty of room for them. Previously, if we've left a bedroom or bathroom door open, the worst we've suffered for our sin of negligence is dirty laundry in the hall, a chewed roll of toilet paper, a gnawed on shoe or perhaps some cardboard that got eaten.

When we came home at lunch, Sully greeted us at the door, but not Wazowski. Which was weird. Then I glanced down the hall and noticed a completely destroyed pill bottle. I scooped it up. There was nothing on the bottle to say what it had been. I looked back at Cathy and we both said the same thing at the same time.

"Oh fuck."

I went down the hall and entered the living room to find Wazowski there.

Now, let's flashback here a minute.

What we think happened is that we forgot to close the bathroom door. You have to understand the next few hours are pretty blurry. Normally not a problem. The worse Sully would find on the counter would be some toothpaste or deodorant. But the night before Cathy had a headache. And as we all do, went into the bathroom, popped out a couple of Advil, swallowed them and went on her way. But she didn't put the bottle away. Normally, not a big deal.

Except for Tuesday morning, we didn't close the bathroom door. And Sully decided to check out what might be found to chew on and found a plastic toy that makes noise. She took it out in the living room and chewed on it until the contents spilled out. Sully has the redemptive quality of being the least food motivated Goldendoodle in history. She probably tased one of the pills, decided it wasn't to her liking and spat it out.

As we've established, Wazowski is a garbage gut. He ate every single pill in the bottle. Every...single....one. And there were dozens of pills in that bottle. We can't be sure how many. It wasn't a full bottle. But it was also far from empty.

If you're a dog owner, your hands are probably on your mouth right now and you're going "oh holy fuck". Which is what we were doing at that moment.

If you're not a dog owner, allow me to clarify for you....Advil is really fucking bad for dogs. There are two components that make it bad. One will accelerate the dog's heart rate for about 12 hours. That's treatable. The other is ibuprofen. Dogs can't metabolize this well and it can severely damage the liver and kidneys. Eat enough and it can put the dog in toxic shock.

A single pill contains 200 mg of ibuprofen. For a dog Sully's size, she probably could have to consume as many as eight pills before she would be in serious trouble. Wazowski currently weighs about 7 kg. One pill would be bad for him.

He ate all the fucking pills in the bottle.

So when I turned the corner and looked in the living room, Wazowski was sitting there, panting, eyes dilated surrounded by piles of vomit.

This is when the freaking out began. This is where things begin moving fast.

We tried to clean up the mess and quickly Googled how bad this was. We discovered that this was really, really bad. Phone calls were made. We spoke to an animal poison control in the US who gave us some advice, but as we couldn't say how much was consumed or when (sometime between 8 am and noon is not helpful), there were limits to what they could suggest.

We have a local vet, but they close at lunch. Also, we weren't sure they were open Tuesday. They keep odd hours. But at 12:55 I scooped up Wazowski, drove to the vet clinic and hoped for the best. Fortunately, they were just coming back from lunch, knew and loved Wazowski and quickly admitted him and said they would do their best.

At 2:25 I was sitting back at my desk at the office, trying to work when the vet calls. They'd given him activated charcoal and started an IV on him. But there were limits to what they could do. He needs 24 hour monitoring and they closed at 4 and didn't reopen until 8 the next morning. He couldn't stay there overnight. The best they could offer was to take him back the next morning and continue treatment.

I spoke to Cathy and we quickly decided to take a chance. We decided to fly him to Ottawa so he could be treated at Alta Vista Animal Hospital, where he could receive 24-hour care. We decided that there was no way we were going to look at each other and ask did we do everything possible to save the little idiot. The risk was we might never see him again.

More scrambling. Alta Vista agreed to take him. A pet taxi was arranged to transport him from the airport to the vet. Canadian North graciously agreed to cut us some serious slack on the deadline for dropping off pets for the late afternoon flight. At one point while running around I glanced at the spedometer of my car and noticed I was doing 70. You have to work to do that in Iqaluit. Then again, I really wasn't completely in my right mind at that point. 

Wazowski got on the plane and arrived at the vet in Ottawa by 9:30.

They had to give him two doses of sedatives to get his heart rate back to normal. They hooked him up to an IV and continued to flush out his system. Initial bloodwork came back and showed normal kidney function and slightly elevated liver function. But that was the baseline test. It can take 24 hours for the real damage to kick in. They'd have to wait for the next one on Wednesday afternoon to see if was going to be ok.

So we sat and waited. Sully got some serious love. Throughout all of this, Sully was incredibly chill. She didn't misbehave and was very cuddly. I think she knew her humans were freaking out and needed love. I was concerned without Wazowski around to burn off excess energy she might get destructive, but no, she was a happy, playful dog. She also showed no signs of having consumed any of the Advil. A huge, lucky break.

We were beginning to think maybe we caught another break. On Wednesday morning the vet told us she'd only call back if he took a turn for the worse. She was off at at 8 pm, if we didn't hear from her, assume he was stable. Cathy was very deliberately trying not to get her hopes up. I was trying to be positive because he had clearly vomited up a lot of the pills. Hopefully, it was enough, even if a little voice inside me was saying that they clearly had some impact or he wouldn't have been panting the way he had.

The vet didn't call back by 8 pm. When we called to check in, the assistant couldn't talk about the bloodwork, but said Wazowski was doing fine, but being a bit stubborn about where he would eat his food. He would only do it out of his kennel.

So when the vet called back on Thursday morning she said his latest bloodwork remained unchanged. Normal kidney function, slightly elevated liver function, but within norms. She said Wazowski would have been discharged Thursday afternoon, but recognized we needed to make arrangements to fly him back. Which we did at noon on Friday we picked up a very confused and tired puppy. His stomach was upset on Friday, but he's pretty much back to normal as of Saturday. He still had meds to help with his stomach until Tuesday and we have to do a follow-up with our local vet to make sure nothing else crops up. But Alta Vista thinks he's free and clear.

At no point should you ask us how much this all cost. No, we don't have pet insurance. But we're hugely fortunate to have good jobs and a decent cash reserve for emergencies. I will say that the cheapest part was flying him to Ottawa and back, weirdly enough. But also our local vet, Canadian North, EmBark Pet Transport, and Alta Vista are all rock stars. I am convinced he's not here without their efforts. We're profoundly grateful to them.

So, to sum up, Wazowski consumed and vomited enough toxic drugs to fuck up and kill a dog 10 times his size and has walked away unscathed.

He is the Keith Richards of Coton de Tulears.


Last Five

  1. Blacklisted (live) - Neko Case*
  2. She's thunderstorms - Arctic Monkeys
  3. Let's fall in love (live) - Diana Krall
  4. Midnight to Stevens - The Clash
  5. Sonny got caught in the moonlight - Robbie Robertson






Sunday, January 23, 2022

Proof of Life: 52 (Plus a few days)

Me at 52.The Godzilla hockey jersey and Snoopy
at the typewriter were birthday gifts from Cathy.
The Bluetooth mechanical keyboard and iPad are
how I write lately. I love it.
Look, when you have two high-energy puppies, sometimes finding the time and the mental energy to sit down and write eludes you. Plus, I've been nitpicking at this for days. Time to get it out the door.

First of all, thank you to everyone who left kind words on my Facebook wall wishing me a happy birthday. There are many, many evils to Facebook, but it's always nice on my birthday to have friends and family take a few seconds to reach out and wish me well. My apologies for taking so long to say thanks.

I didn't do one of these last year, but perhaps because we kicked off my birthday weekend by putting our dog to sleep, I wasn't exactly in the best frame of mind that weekend.

But I'm in a better head space now. So how was 51?

Earlier the year, there was a meme where people were asked to post how they would rate their pandemic so far. A "1" meant things had gone really, really well. A "10" meant that something had gone pretty catastrophic for you.


Cathy and I thought about it, and we'd honestly have to give it a "3" for us. We've been hugely fortunate. Iqaluit has been mostly spared the worst of the pandemic*. Yes, there have been times we've had to work from home and take preventative measures, but I've rarely felt like I was taking my life into my hands if I wanted to buy groceries. We've been able to get our vaccinations and booster with no problem, frequently ahead of older family members. There have been work disruptions, but we're doing fine.

And just as importantly, close friends and family all appear to be doing ok. If anyone has gotten COVID, they don't seem to have got a severe case (Then again, they've almost all been uniformly smart enough to get vaccinated as quickly as possible). 

We could even get a trip back to Newfoundland and see people. I can't begin to emphasize what a recharge that was. There was a moment sitting on Cathy's father's front deck at dusk when I heard this amazing, relaxing noise, and it took a moment to process what it was....it was the wind blowing through the leaves on the trees. It had been almost two years since I last heard it. Once I stopped laughing, I marvelled at just how good that simple sound made me feel.

So yes, hugely fortunate. And yet, there were times when we really struggled this year. When we'd get depressed or disproportionately aggravated at something. I genuinely feared for my sanity a couple of times when I listened to anti-vaxers. And that's just part of the pandemic mental health process. If we struggled at times when we have it relatively easy, I could only begin to imagine what medical professionals are going through. Or people in the service industry.

And that's the see-saw that we, and I suspect many others, went through -  "Well, we have it much better than many, so I shouldn't feel bad." Then you still feel bad anyway, then you feel guilty about feeling bad. Spin, rinse, repeat.

But we had each other, and I think Cathy and I have levelled up in our communicating experience. You have to in these times. We got the puppies (more on them in my next blog post) which were a massive boost at the end of the year, even when we wanted to strangle them. And I did a lot of writing, which helped a lot.

(No, it wasn't blog posting. Blogging is, unfortunately, a very limiting way for me to write these days. I did other kinds of writing. No, you'll never read it, but it made me happy and that's the important thing).

So what's the plan for 52? As always, continue the work of being a better husband and friend to Cathy. I'm happy with how the writing went last year, so I'd like to keep the momentum going on that. Continue to work towards finding my zen in a world determined to shake it. And seriously, if the dogs don't get me moving a lot in the coming months, then I'm going to have to start getting serious about the gym.

There's no real international travel planned for this year. We're still trying to figure out what we're going to do. Plans range from renting a cottage in Ontario for a few weeks, to the slidely madder idea of renting a camper fan and driving back to Newfoundland. It's a little harder to travel with a less-than-year-old Goldendoodle and Coton de Tulear, and flying with them out of Ottawa is likely impossible.

And, if the fates allow, I'd really like to get to New York and go to a Comic-Con. I haven't been to one since Seattle in 2019. If I got to do that this year, I'd be pretty happy.

So, modest plans for 52. But until things get sane again, I think modest is the way to roll.

* Iqaluit is finding many interesting ways to harm us other than the occasional COVID outbreak. There's frequent power failures, rabid animals, weeks of no fresh food at the stores, and, oh yes, the charm of being able to light our drinking water on fire. We're currently on our second water advisory. We're getting through, but again, hugely fortunate that we have resources some others don't.

Last Five

  1. Friendamine - Josh Ritter
  2. Space dog - Tori Amos
  3. East bound and down - Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies
  4. Leaning on you - Haim
  5. Seven Nation Army - Post Modern Jukebox (ft. Haley Reinhart)*








Saturday, November 06, 2021

Twenty years ago...

 It was the late show. My friends Susy, Erin and I decided to go see Monsters Inc. which had opened the previous weekend. I recall them being insistent on it seeing it on a Tuesday, even though it was a terrible night for me. I was assistant editor of The Express and we put the paper to bed on Tuesday nights. That meant I had to stay until the press started to run, normally around 7 pm.

Plus, Nov. 6 is my mother's birthday. So I hadn't seen her yet either as Tuesdays were nuts at the paper. So I finished at the paper, drove to Shoppers to see mom who was, of course, working on her birthday. Then I picked up Susy and we headed to the theatres.

One of the earliest photos I have of us, from
2002. We'd been dating a few months. I think 
it was Andrea's house on Signal Hill on St.
Patrick's Day.
I'm not saying I was in a crooked mood, although that wouldn't have been surprising. I was crooked a lot in those days. I am saying I was probably very tired and probably not in the mood to catch a movie just because it was cheap night at the theatres.

Still, Susy was insistent. And trying to say no to an insistent Susy is never a good idea for your long-term mental health.

When we got to the mall, we then had to wait, because Erin was being picked up by another friend who was coming along last minute. Susy had just forgotten to mention it. This likely made me more cranky.

In 2001 I was a pretty decent journalist. I'd won awards and I thought my star was a bit on the rise. I'd taken on the job of associate editor of the Express a few months earlier. So I'm going to choose to blame the fact it was at the end of a long day and I was tired that I missed the obvious set-up that was going on.

Erin and their friend showed up. I'm not going to say it was love at first sight when I saw Cathy. But I wasn't so blind or punchy as to not notice that Susy and Erin's friend was really cute.

There are three things I remember from that movie:

1. Susy absolutely lost her shit laughing during the opening cartoon "For the Birds". She was laughing so loud and hard that others in the theatre turned to look at her and started laughing too.

2. At some point, Cathy dropped some popcorn and it landed on her chest. Instead of using her hands to pick up the wayward kernels, she bent her head down and ate them off her chest, laughing while she did it. And I very distinctly remember having this thought: "Clearly this is a woman I need to get to know better."

3. At the end of the movie, I mentioned that a group of us were going to see Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone on opening night the following Friday. Would she like to come along? She said she'd love to.

Lisbon, 2017. Where I learned it was dangerous
to say "Just one more pic" to a hungry wife.
And that, as they say, is that. Not that there weren't a few early hiccups. I nearly didn't sit next to her at the Harry Potter movie. Afterwards, we all went to the Duke (which still allowed smoking at the time) to dissect the movie and she waited around for several hours in the smoke, with allergies, and was in the process of leaving before Susy punched me and said "For God sake, she's been waiting for you to ask her out again. Go!"

I asked her to go see the only thing that came to my mind at that moment - Voices of Avalon, a touring show featuring Pamela Morgan, Vicki Hynes, Anita Best and Colleen Power. I said I had reviewer tickets. She said she'd love to go.

In fact, I didn't have tickets. So I was sweating a bit at the Arts and Culture Centre box office the next morning.

There's one more element to this story. Yes, it was a blind date. It was a set-up. But it was one that had been planned by some of our friends for at least two years. We were perfect for each other, but according to them, we weren't perfect for each other yet. Cathy had to dump a boyfriend and get some things out of her system (that would be going to Ireland and being drunk for six months). I had to ease up on the sarcastic asshole thing that I still, somehow, thought was charming even though I was 31.

Apex Beach, last month.
This used to drive me nuts. Susy and Erin dangled this mystery woman like a carrot, to the point where I was going to kill them. I recall venting to my friend Lori about this. She then spoke to Susy. Lori came back to me and said, "They're right, they know what they're doing. Suck it up. It'll be worth it."

It's absolutely been worth it. Every moment of the story for the past 20 years. There are ups and downs in any relationship over 20 years, but there have been far more ups than downs. I am a better man now than I was then, and she deserves no small amount of the credit for that. Anybody who knew me during my Muse days and who knows me now will say that.

In return, I've tried to be a rock for her, especially the last couple of years. The person that's always there when she needs them. I think I've done that. I hope I have.

I hope to write the sequel to this post in 20 years' time. And another one 20 years after that. I still have a lot more of the story I want to write with Cathy.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go make some popcorn for my wife. Because some things never get old, no matter how many times you see it happen....









Saturday, October 16, 2021

Water water

Apparently, the post about Boo took the good out of me, because I've gone 10 months without writing anything else here. And I only just noticed a bunch of comments that were waiting for approval. So, sorry about that.

I am coming out of semi-blogger retirement because we've got a lot of texts and calls asking if we're ok after Iqaluit's water woes went international. For the latest update as of this writing, try reading this.

So, short answer, we're fine. 

The longer answer, it's a bit of a mess.

From earlier on Friday, people lining up waiting for
bottled water to be delivered.


So what happened? Sometimes earlier this month a high concentration of fuel managed to get into a water storage area of the city's water treatment plant. Depending on where you lived, you either didn't notice it, or it was like bathing in unleaded gas if you were trying to get a shower. Some residents have been complaining about it for weeks, but today they finally got confirmation that they were right. So steps are being taken to fix the problem, flush out the pipes and get things back to normal. I'd say at the earliest it'll be next weekend before all residents will be able to drink tap water.

So were we affected? No. I don't think so.

Why? Well,  there are two ways you can get water in Iqaluit. You can be on the utilidor and have normal water and sewer services through underground pipes, pretty much like most houses in any city in Canada.

Except Iqaluit isn't a normal Canadian city. At least a third of the houses are on truck water and sewer. A truck comes to our neighbourhood once a day and delivers water if we need it. Another truck comes every day and takes away the gray water. Our house gets trucked water and sewer.

If that seems inconvenient, it's really not. We prefer it that way. Some parts of town have been hit with boil orders over the years, but not us. Some have had their pipes freeze, which can be frustrating, time-consuming and expensive. The worst we had was some moderate flooding when the water tank over-filled due to a contractor's neglegence.

Anyway, so far as I can tell, we haven't had any contaminated water delivered. I've stuck my head in the water tanks and don't smell anything odd. Cathy has sensitive skin, and I figure if there was petroleum in our water, her skin would explode; it hasn't. And we've recently acquired an aquarium with fish. We changed their water last Sunday. They're still alive. So I think we're good.

Right now, we drained most of the "old" water out of our tanks as recommended, and the city has delivered water from Sylvia Grinnel River, which is just outside of town. The river is clean and many Inuit prefer to get their water from the river rather than the treated water from the plant. The worst we're going to have to deal with is probably hiring someone to come in and clean our water tanks once this all settles down. It's been four years so they should probably get cleaned anyway.

Now, if you're on regular water and sewer, it is more inconvenient. And, of course, the further down the socio-economic ladder you are, the harder this gets. If you have a house and a car, it's annoying, but fine. You can't drink the tap water and, if you're pregnant or have kids, it's a challenge. But the city is flying in tens of thousands of litres of water, plus you can get river water if you provide your own jug. You might have to line up and wait, but that's a manageable annoyance.

But not everyone has a jug (more were being flown in, but the city is sold out currently, I think). Or a car. Or the money to get a taxi to one of the refill stations or water distribution points. There has been some tremendous volunteer outreach to help people in these situations, but still, you can imagine having to walk a kilometre or two, pick up some water, carry it home, and then wonder if you have enough for everyone in your apartment to last until the next day.

All of this and just about everyone is aware that the inconvenience that we are going through, which will last a few weeks at worst and will likely have no long term health effects for most residents, is nothing compared to the hassles that too many First Nations have to go through with their drinking water.

So this is a long and rambling way of saying, we're good, but thanks for worrying about us.


Last Five

  1. Rollin' and Tumblin' - Bob Dylan
  2. Every little thing - The Black Keys
  3. Romeo and Juliet (live) - Dire Straits*
  4. White City - The Pogues
  5. Halfway to the Halfway House - Gorillaz




Friday, January 15, 2021

Farewell to a majestic floof




Boo's birthday was May 20 and I still remember when Corinna sent us the first pictures of our newborn puppy back in 2006. Corinna was a bit crazy in the way only the best dog breeders are....she wanted to make sure her baby was going to a good home and was very determined to make sure Cathy and I would be good parents. The whole "taking the dog to Nunavut" thing worried her a bit. But we reassured her we would take good care of him.

Never mind that the apartment we were living at that time didn't allow pets and that our request for a new place hadn't gone through yet. Details.

But it all worked out. We got a new place. Boo arrived and changed our lives. More than once I wondered if we would have stayed in Nunavut if it wasn't for him.

I am of an age now where myself, family and friends will look back and go "no, that was yesterday." The 50th anniversary of an influential record. I have friends who are horrified to learn they've known me for 30 years. Later this year people are going to deeply freak out when they realize that the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies are going to celebrate their 20th anniversaries.

And I sit here this evening in our very quiet house and wonder where 14 and a half years have gone. Poof.

This is at least my third draft of writing this. The others were just filled with too much rage and anger. That it wasn't goddamn fair that Boo, that majestic piece of floof as a friend called him today, was going to leave us. He was too good a dog. This wasn't right. Not when we still needed him so much.

But that's not how these things work. We've known for awhile that the clock was ticking very loudly for Boo. Coton de Tulear's (Fourteen years and his breed name has never not sounded silly to me) live between 14 and 16 years. And yes, his sight and hearing had gotten severely compromised. But he was still so strong, energetic and playful. He still loved going for walks. He was still taking short ones a week ago. Up until Christmas if you caught in the right mood he'd do one of his zoomies, where he'd run around the living room like a lunatic barking joyfully at his humans.

But his personality began to change. He became more nervous and dependent on Cathy. That escalated through the fall and fell off a cliff right after Christmas. We had to leave lights on around the house at night, even in our bedroom while we slept, otherwise he'd start to panic. He began shaking and panting for no reason and it would take hours for Cathy to get him to calm him down. And it just kept worse. I looked in his eyes on Tuesday and our Boo wasn't there anymore, just a very scared little dog that didn't know what was happening anymore. And we were helpless. We couldn't make it better.

So we made the hard choice that anyone who has lived with a dog and who truly love them eventually have to make. It was the right decision, but god today was hard.

I said my first drafts of this were filled with anger. I started writing this on Tuesday when I knew Friday was likely our last day. And then Cathy and I posted up on Facebook that Boo was gone and the outpouring of grief and sympathy was overwhelming. I likely will never thank all of you individually - I tend to cry whenever I do - but if you dropped a line of condolence then thank you. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.

But it helped ease away my anger and bitterness. It helped that if you met Boo you knew what an awesome dog he was. If you have or had a dog, you know how hard this is. But many of you never met Boo. It occurs to me that he was, of all things, a dog born at the start of the social media boom. Every now and then Boo would show up and light up your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. This little white fluffball. The majestic floof. He was a good looking dog. I suspect it was to Corinna's frustration that we never bred him. But whatever his looks, his personality and love were enormous.  We could not ask for a better friend and companion all these years. Whenever things might have gotten rough, Boo was there. The sadness will end, eventually. Then, hopefully, just the love remains.

I end with this story. Two years ago we came back from Christmas in Newfoundland just shellshocked. We'd been there for the holidays and to be with Cathy's mom, who was seriously ill. And then she passed suddenly. It was just a hard, hard Christmas.

So when we came back to Iqaluit I was genuinely worried Cathy might squish Boo to death. Cathy had gone back to Newfoundland in mid-November to be with her mom and hadn't seen him in almost two months. She just needed her dog and Boo, being Boo, was just happy to see his humans. But particularly the human who spoiled him the most. There was much wagging of tails and jumping on his back paws to say hello.

Later that night, after Cathy went to bed, I took Boo aside and had a chat. "Look, little buddy," I said, "I know this might get rough for you because you're getting up there, but I need at least two more years, ok? You just can't go anywhere yet. She needs you too much.

"You have to stay."

And he did. He was a Good Boy.



Monday, December 21, 2020

Maybe, sometimes, comics will keep your heart going

I'm not on Facebook as much these days. That, combined with Facebook's truly messed up algorithm, means I didn't find out that Jason Conway died on December 17 until today. Which meant I spent most of this morning absolutely floored. 

For many people in St. John's they knew him as the guy who ran Downtown Comics. My first encounter with Jason was in high school. Jason and I didn't run in the same crowds. I didn't have many friends my first couple of years at Booth and Jason tended to run with the recreational pharmaceutical crowd. But we did share one class together....Grade 11 math.

For dignity's sake, I won't name the teacher. Sometimes you get the teacher that inspires you to be better. Sometimes you get teachers that are meh. And sometimes you get one's who are clearly only doing this for the summer's off and punching the clock until retirement. Welcome to my Grade 11 math class.

It should have been intolerable. He was actively bad at teaching math. But several times a week, this slow, drawing voice would call out from the back of the class...."Sir, should x=3 and not 7?" Or, "Sir, doesn't 50 plus 33 equal 83 and not 88?"

The teacher hated Jason. The rest of the class found it hilarious and we were grateful for the break. Honestly, Jason could have taught that class and I would bet solid money my grade would have been better.

Somehow, through that, Jason and I discovered we were both huge comic book geeks. This was the late 80s so right around when Timemasters opened. And thank God, because the only other place in town to buy new comics was from a bookstore out on Topsail Road run by a real piece of work. But we talked comics, and I sometimes bought books from him because he had an amazing collection. (He grumbled for years about selling me Iron Fist #14, which featured the first appearance of Sabretooth, and Iron Man #55, which featured the first appearance of Thanos).

And that's how it went for a few years...running into each other on and off. Eventually, we also both had the same bright idea....that people would sometimes dump really valuable comics at used bookstores around town (this was when the 90s comic speculator market was insane). Someone would dump a Spawn #1 at Afterwards on Duckworth Street and get a dime for it. Afterwards would sell it for 50 cents (45 cents for me and my student discount card), and then you could go into the Avalon Mall flea market and sell the same comic for $5 or $10.

This was a good racket. We decided to pool resources and share a few tables at the Avalon Mall flea market and for 2-3 years we were in there most Sundays selling comics. We called ourselves Mercs, for our mercenary habit of hunting comics at used bookstores. I had a lot of fun weekends at that flea market. Jason had a dry, laconic sense of humour, and was insanely knowledgeable about comics.

In '96, with the comic book speculator market crashing and me wanting to try and do something to jump start my life, I went to South Korea to teach English. When I came back 9 months later, Jason had opened Downtown Comics in the basement of a building next to Fred's Record's on Duckworth Street. Of the two of us, he made the better choice by far. Although no one saw it that way at the time. Timemasters was just down the road and ruled the roost for comics in town. But Jason saw an opportunity and went for it.

I bought my comics from him until 2005 when Cathy and I moved to Nunavut. But every time I was in town I dropped in to see how he was doing, if he was around, and buy something.

I don't think it's a secret that Jason had mental health issues. And comics can be hard on you. One of the most famous artists in the business, Jack Kirby, is once alleged to have given the following advice to an artist -  "Don't do comics, kid. Comics will break your heart."

Running a comic book store is not an easy gig. There's competition from others stores. The market changes all the time. Back issues used to be huge, but trade paperbacks and digital did a number on that. You're competing with big chains when it comes to toys. And I can't imagine what it was like keeping things going this pandemic year. There was a couple of months this year when major publishers simply didn't put out anything for stores' like Jason's to sell. Keeping that store opened for 23 years was a goddamn miracle.

And yet, the outpouring of grief on the Downtown Comics Facebook page is immense. Hundreds of people expressing sympathy to his daughter and to Wallace Ryan, who has been helping Jason at the store for years now. Many are sharing stories about how Jason sold them their first comic or helped shape their lives by his love of comics.

My first comic book was at a drug store at the Avalon Mall. But for 23 years, kids have walked into that store and that's been their first comic book experience. It must have been overwhelming, seeing so many comics, so many toys and all their heroes in one place. I bet more than one kid was dragged out of there by parents before they had to buy the whole store.

I don't think you do that gig for 23 years just to make a living. There are easier ways of doing things. Sometimes, comics will break your heart, but you keep on loving it anyway. And maybe it loves you back in ways you never expect.

Rest in peace, my friend....






 





Monday, May 18, 2020

Comic Art Collection 12: Champions


Champions #25, page 23. Art by Max Dunbar.

So, let's keep it rolling, shall we?

The page above is from an issue of Champions and, among other characters, features Amak Aliyah who is an Inuk super hero called Snowguard. The reason I'm writing about it now is there was a little social media blip about her recently, courtesy of this tweet:


Anna Lambe is a promising young actress who starred in the made-in-Nunavut movie The Grizzlies and a lot of people think would be a good fit for the new Avatar, the Last Airbender series that is gearing up on Netflix. I don't know much about that franchise, so I can't say one way or another if she would be. But she would make a great Snowguard. I'm not the only one who thinks so, based on the number of reactions that tweet got. Including from Snowguard's creators Jim Zub, Nyla Innuksuk, and Sean Iszaake.

However, up until recently I would have said the odds of Snowguard making the leap from pages to the screen was small. She is still a new character with maybe 2 dozen appearances. But Simu Liu was politely teasing Marvel about casting him as Shang Chi, which they then did. Plus, Disney/Marvel clearly have plans for their younger heroes on the Disney+ streaming service. There's a Ms. Marvel show debuting next year and rumours exploded a couple of weeks ago that there's an Ironheart show in the work on the service. That's a chunk of the Champions team right there. So who knows? Maybe she gets a call from Marvel. I certainly hope so.

As for this page, ever since Snowguard debuted I'd been looking to get a page of art with her on it. Just one problem. A lot of the artists on the book during that first year were working digitally. I would have bought a page from her first story arc, but Sean is a digital artist. There was an annual featuring Snowguard returning to Pangnirtung by Toronto artist Marcus To. Except he also switched from pencil to digital a few years ago.

However, last year (or possibly 10 years ago. Time is fluid) when I was at Emerald City Comic Con I got the chance to meet Jim Zub and get a bunch of books signed, including a over a dozen copies of the Champions annual signed and personalized for Cathy's Grade 5 class that year (I just found out via Twitter it's also Jim's birthday today, so this is good timing. And Happy Birthday). Sitting next to him was BC-based artist Max Dunbar. Jim and Max share a massive love of all things Dungeons & Dragons and the previous year there was a Champions story arc where the characters get thrown into an alternate dimension (it happens) where they also change personalities and become people who closely resemble the type of characters you might play in Dungeons & Dragons.

It's a fun story arc, but what caught my eye was Max Dunbar. It was the kind of art that makes you wonder who the hell is this guy and where did he come from. Great detail, lots of energy, not afraid of big, complex action sequences and putting ridiculous effort into splash pages. I knew he was going to be at the con, and that he would have pages for sale. It took me all of about 30 seconds to settle on this page. Amak with a big ass hammer, a cool looking Ms. Marvel...it was a no brainer.

I don't pretend to know Max well, but he appears very generous with his art. I remember he gifted Jim with a stunning two-page spread from that Champions run. He recently gave away a stunning piece of Marvel mash-up art....all you had to do was prove you donated to a charity or that you were a first responder for a chance to enter the contest. 

Seriously, just look at this thing....

He quoted me a price for that page that was more than fair, and then added "But if you think that's too much, I can come down a bit." Jim and his partner Stacy were at the table next to him. I swear one of them was going to go over and shake him before I said "I don't haggle with artists. That's a great price."

I actually own another piece of Max's art, but that's for another day. That Champions page currently is hanging near my cubicle at work.

Last Five
1. Meeting in the aisle - Radiohead
2. Blue skies over bad lands - Matthew Good
3. While we were hunting rabbits - Matthew Good*
4. Restless - Alison Krauss and Union Station
5. My time is coming - The Hives