Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween: Summit & Crosby Edition

Everybody in the Spicer household takes part in the Halloween festivities.




Now for bonus points, do you see what local establishment is getting some free press?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sneak Peek Of The Latest Hit Coming To Broadway: Terminator

Finally, I know the Terminator's true feelings about having to hang out with Edward Furlong -- through song! And really, if you had a life like the Terminator, then would you be able to express yourself any other way?

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Value In Horror: Why Bloodcurdling Screams Protect Your Sanity

This morning when I was walking Summit, a sea of Canadian geese enveloped the entire sky, and their horn like squawks surrounded us. I could sense Summit tensing up, because he had never experienced anything like this during his 15 months of life. I'd have to admit that even though I knew the geese were only doing their yearly migration to the south, I felt a bit of fear rumble inside me. The moment I saw the geese army trumpeting its way over us, I immediately started thinking about Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. I could easily see how Hitchcock was able to turn these seemingly harmless creatures into flying monstrosities. You've got these animals with sharp beaks and piercing claws that can come at you in any direction. Now, I realize when you look out into your backyard that the chickadee and goldfinch are far from frightening, and the local farm's duck doesn't have feet you could confuse for claws. Not all birds are scary, and most single birds lack what it takes to cause shivers to go up the spine. But when you see a large swarm of them up in sky, where their sounds completely drown out everything else, then you can start seeing them as a bit more frightening. You then wonder, what if the birds did decide to team up together and attack the human race? Or on a micro level, what if that flock decided to drop down for a snack before taking the long trip south? You can now see where the possible inspiration for The Birds came from, and how a seemingly harmless thing can be petrifying.

Fear is a natural instinct that is likely in all living things, and one that is most definitely intimately acquainted with all humans. Every person has a greatest fear that resides in the back of their mind, and is always subconsciously there to taunt. It could be anything from being buried alive or being evicted from your house or being abducted by aliens or giving a speech in your underwear. Some fears can be rational and very real ("Am I going to find enough money to feed my family this week?") and others are quite the opposite ("If I dangle my legs over my bed, will the boogey man snatch them and drag me under into his cavern?"). No matter what is the catalyst for your fear, the emotion is still very real.

I think the fact we all have a very strong instinctual fear, is a large part of the reason entertainment that exploits our fears are so common. It is the reason that almost any time a group of boys are camping out in the woods and are sitting around a campfire, that one of the first things they want is to have a ghost story told. It is the same reason why almost every person has purposefully hidden or sneaked up on someone for the sole purpose of shocking them. It is the reason that during Halloween a large portion of people like to dress up as a zombie or vampire (non Twilight version) or a werewolf or a witch or anything else that allows you to look spooky or gory. It is why you willingly pay money to walk through a haunted house or go on a haunted hayride, because you expect to be scared or disturbed. There is a part of you that wants to embrace the fear, because we get a powerful emotional release from it.

I know that some absolutely hate to be scared and despise forms of entertainment that involve horror. Emily dislikes horror movies and usually has no interest in ever watching them. She would probably classify it as the genre that she is the least interested in. Despite this fact, I remember a few years ago that she would occasionally ask me what the original Saw was like. Then one night it came on television, and since I knew she absolutely detested horror movies, I made sure to flip the channel over to something else. But it was Emily that kept on turning it back to the film, and it was Emily that ended up staying up late in order to watch the whole movie. Now, Emily will never become a rabid consumer of horror, but that night she was drawn to the scary movie (and I actually think the first Saw was quite good and scary -- it is all the sequels that are complete trash). When it comes to horror, be it a scary movie or a ghost story around campfire or a novel about zombies, there is a visceral release that one has while experiencing it. There is a rush and a natural high. It is an environment that is safe, but still allows you to get your heart pumping and your goosebumps popping from your skin. It allows you to explore a part of your instinctual nature, without causing any genuine risk to yourself.

There is a part of us that is just drawn to the macabre and morbid. It is the part that causes us to slow down our car so we can get a better look at the tragic car wreck. When you look upon that wreck you legitimately hope that everyone is okay and that no serious damage has been done, but if you're really honest with yourself, that isn't the instinctual reason you slowed down and took a look. You wanted to see if there was a dead body or the very least, some blood. In the deep part of your mind, there lies a very dark and sinister subconscious that wants there to be a dead body. It is the same part that make you think, "I could push this person who is peering over the edge of the cliff" or "Wouldn't it be fun to drive on the sidewalk for a few minutes and see how many pedestrians I could hit." Now, you're far too good and connected with reality to follow that little dark voice, and frankly, I wouldn't want to hang out with you if you did listen to it (those people get a extended stay at a place with padded walls). The voice is there though, and it is the same one that also causes you to have a thrill when you see the morbid and macabre.

This is why horror fiction is such a valuable thing, because it provide that visceral release and feeds that dark side in a way that is safe and healthy. You not only get an emotional release from being scared, but you also get to explore a sinister side that you'd never want to engage in real life. It is an instinct and desire that is in all of us, though that doesn't mean we all follow it (hence, the folks who detest and avoid horror films). I think, at some point everyone is drawn to something that scares or disturbs them. Horror fiction is the perfect way to remain safe, but also get yourself a few sleepless nights.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Day I Was The Hero

It was Grade 2, and it was winter time. I know it was winter time because we were surrounded by snow, and believe it or not, there are times up here that snow is absent. I know it was Grade 2, because some of the players involved in this tale didn't go to my school before or after that grade. I also know that memory is a funny thing, and even the events that you can still visualize, taste, smell and feel are likely distorted in some way thanks to the passage of time. I am not saying this is exactly how it happened. But it is how I remember it.

I was a small kid during the first few years of my elementary school experience. I was so small that I usually had to sit in the front row for picture day, which were the spots normally reserved for the petite and pretty girls. I also wasn't your 'typical' boy. Now, I hate the descriptions like typical or normal, because my experience shows they're about as real as a pink, dancing, farting, top hat wearing, singing block of cheese. But I know that I did not easily fit into certain people's definition of a normal boy. Those certain people happened to be my Grade 1 & 2 teachers and the bullies that started making picking on me a daily hobby.

Who were these bullies? Well, don't worry, because they're going to play an important part in this tale. I first want to focus a few sentences on what made me an atypical boy in the eyes of the teachers and bullies. First of all, I was a massive daydreamer. I was constantly coming up with stories or pretending I was in a magical world, while my teacher was trying to explain what happens when you take away three of the four apples -- I already knew what happened, you ate them because what else do you do with apples? I wasn't incredibly focused and definitely wasn't prepared to answered questions when called upon. We can spend hours going on about if my teachers handled me properly, and how this experience lead to some unfair labels that emblazoned themselves to me for far too long. The fact remains my lack of focus and propensity to daydream caused me to not earn my first degree black belt in school learning, and also allowed me to be directly targeted as the prime object of ridicule. This decreased to an extreme extent in Grade 3 because the teacher seemed to actually understand me much more, and used my imagination and daydreaming as a way to help me excel in school. But this isn't about how to properly teach a child who doesn't fit in to specific boxes (not that I endorse stuffing children in boxes, even though it makes them easier to keep track of), so I'll focus back on what it was that made me stand out in a rather detrimental way for elementary school social progression. The other major problem was that I was not athletic and I was uncoordinated (okay, I still can be described that way). You add that up with my bursting imagination, and while most boys spent the recess playing baseball, I was off on a life or death treasure hunt or trying to save the school yard from a horde of ogres. Now, I actually was able to drag in several kids to play with me, and on certain days, even the bullies wanted to join in on my adventures. The fact remained, I had been pegged as different, and so it only made sense in bully logic that I should get picked on.

So, this was my life for Grade 2. I was either being yelled at by the teacher or mocked by the meatheads. I'd usually gain my revenge by either writing little stories where they were swallowed by dragons, or I'd imagine a world where I was the most powerful super hero ever known. For the most part, I just took my abuse, because after it becomes a daily routine, you accept it as something that is just as common as brushing your teeth or hiding your peanut butter sandwich in a hole in the old tree (every does that, right?). Like I said, sometimes the cruel kids actually decided they liked me that day, and wanted to take part in the little world I created for recess. I just always hoped that each day would be the one where they decided I was fun and cool, and not a living and breathing punching bag.

On this winter day, I was not deemed to be someone worthy of playing with by the thugs of Grade 2. I am not sure why they chose this day to be cruel, but I never really knew to begin with. I remember they were being especially tough on me in the morning during classes. I was being called 'Pisstopher', and they threw out insults that included my family or my own appearance or numerous other things that are hurtful for a 8 year old boy to hear. It isn't that there abuse was new, but this day seemed like it had been overly aggressive and in abundance. I sometimes missed the first class of the morning, because I went to a special learning centre to try to figure out why I couldn't focus in class (25 years later and I have the answer -- the lessons were boring). I think the bullies were jealous I got to miss the first part of the day, and so they constantly ragged me for going to the 'Stupid Factory'. By the time lunch finally arrived, I was really hoping that a space ship would land in the field, and the aliens would willingly take me to their planet. I was done with Grade 2, and I had my fill of the verbal abuse.

It was during this time that my very best friend was not allowed to play with me, because his parents were too afraid that he'd turn into me (oh no, my child has an imagination!). So, I was especially down because not only was I being picked in tripled doses this day, but I didn't even have my fellow adventurer to join me on the noon journey. At recess I decided to retreat to the very far corner of the playground, and would play house with two girls from my class. These girls had also been deemed strange and different, and so they had set up a sanctuary in this corner of the field where they didn't need to fend off abuse from the lugs and bugs of the school.

It wasn't as exciting as finding treasure or risking your life against a army of monsters, but I was having enough fun playing house. Even though they wanted me to be the father, I was able to convince them it would be better if I was the dog. I was entertaining myself by leaping on all fours in and out of the snow dunes. It was during this time that my 'pick on me' tracking device was activated, and two of the cruelest from the bully clan decided to crash the house party.

I remember these bullies vividly. The one was a chattery parrot of a child that said and did whatever he felt the 'cool kids' would do. He squawked unintelligible insults more because he thought it would get others to like him rather than it being anything he believed. I also had the misfortune of him sitting directly behind me in class, so my ear had been assaulted all morning by shrieks of idiocy. The other boy was one who emotionally cut my heart and soul far deeper. My mom was working at the time, and so she needed someone to look after me until she could come pick me up. During this time, I was spending about 2 hours at this boy's house after school. We played and had a great time when it was just the two of us waiting for my mom to pick me up. When we were at school and he was surrounded by the clan of mean, then he was a real life monster of extreme hideousness. I am not sure if his words were especially cruel in themselves, or if it was the fact that I knew he could be nice to me, and felt betrayed every time he picked on me in front of the others. We had a lot of fun when the others weren't around, but when they were, it was his abuse that hurt the most.

At first, the jerks only hurled out the usual insults at me and the two girls. They made fun of me for playing with girls, because getting two girls makes you a loser when you're 8 years old (if only this happened in high school). The bullies wanted to give out equal helping of their venom, so the girls got cruel insults as well. So, we did what we were told by our teacher, and we ignored the cruelty, then took ourselves to a new part of the yard. Unfortunately, we all left our invisible cloaks at home, and so the meanies had a rather easy time following us to our new location.

It was during this time that one of the girls retreated to get help from the teacher. I hoped the teacher would be a rescuer and vanquish these evil minions. I imagined the teacher would send these demons back to the bowels of hell they came from. I remember seeing that girl return, and looking so defeated and deflated. She informed us that the teacher told us to stop being 'tattle tales.' If there is one major thing I remember about our Grade 2 teacher, she hated tattle tales. I think, it is mostly because she just hated to do her job. I am just glad she never decided to enter into the police force or become a part of police dispatch. "Oh stop your tattle tales about the 300 pound gorilla-man breaking into your house. Oh can you stop whining about him attacking your wife. Jeeze, play nice." It became clear the teacher was not to be the hero this day, and so we accepted the constant flurry of curse and insults.

After awhile, insulting someone is boring if they don't respond. This is part of the theory behind just ignoring the bullies. The hope is they would get bored and move on to running head first into brick walls. This isn't what happened. Instead, they suddenly realized they were surround by lots and lots of snow. It would be more fun to fling a barrage of snow along with the time tested insults. At first most of the snow balls and verbal assaults were directed at me. At this point, I just blocked out the world, and decided I was dancing on the moon with Lil' Orphan Annie. The advantage of an over active imagination is the ease you can tune out the world when you need to, and enter into a place that is far more comforting.

Even though I was securely off to another place, one of the girls was still very much firmly planted in reality. She decided it was time to give her opinion on this act of constant picking on me. It was one of the first times I ever remember somebody standing up for me (who didn't go by the name of mom). It was something directly out of one of those after school specials in the 80s, which was fitting because that happened to be the decade we were in.

"Will you just leave Chris alone!"

"No, we don't want to leave Pisstopher alone!"

"Why do you always pick on him?"

"Because he was made in the Stupid Factory."

"No way. You guys are stupid."

I'm not sure if that was the exact exchange, but my memory tells me it was really close to this. I do know that she stood up for me. I do know that she ended up calling them stupid for picking on me. I definitely know that they didn't like the insult, even if it was the same simple one they used on me. They showed their dislike by launching a hard, icy snowball right into her face. It was a very hard throw, and I remember the solid ball of ice and snow making a thud against her soft, delicate face. She fell to the ground and cried. The thugs thought it was pretty funny, and she deserved it for ever thinking she could use words like 'stupid' at them.

I don't know if was a constant diet of He-Man after school, and playing with super hero toys on weekends. It might have to do with being such a huge Star Wars fan, and really hoping that one day I could use the Force like Luke Skywalker. It could be glutton of movies I watched about heroes or the countless fairy tales that I forced my mom to tell me before bed. Whatever it was, at that very moment something clicked in me. The hero instinct came alive in me. I saw an innocent girl get abused for trying to help me. I saw something that was incredibly wrong and unfair. At that moment, I knew that justice needed to be done. These villains needed to pay, just like Skeletor or Darth Vader. So, I zapped off that moon, and left Orphan Annie to dance by herself. I had to spend some time in reality. I had a job to do. I had to be a hero.

I had never been in a fight in my life up to that point. I had been thrown to the ground, and spit on or kicked. I had been pushed and shoved many times. But I personally never engaged in a physical manner back to my attackers. I left the retribution to my imagination or if Batman ever decided to become real and protect me. I didn't really know how to properly fight or defend myself (though, I don't really want to know a 8 year old that does). I never really had a desire to be aggressive in real life. But when I saw the girl who tried to defend get a hard snow ball to the face, I had the sudden urge to protect her and to defeat what I saw as the real life villains.

It was something straight out of The Christmas Story; the bullies were laughing at their successful snow ball hit, while rage built up inside me. I remember running full steam ahead, or as full steam as an unathletic boy encased in heavy winter gear can go. I leapt into the air, and tackled the parrot boy into a large snow bank. I remember taking a handful of snow, and then shoving it into his face. It was at this moment that my after school friend/during school tormentor realized what had happened, and quickly came over to try to pull me off. Once he made it over, it was this moment that I threw my first ever punch. This punch found itself on the chin of the unsuspecting bully. I am not sure if was the adrenaline flowing through me or if it was the fact the bully wasn't suspecting it, but this one punch dropped him into the snow. It was at this moment that I did my best Incredible Hulk impersonation, and I grabbed bother their head and shoved them deep into the snow. It was at this moment the girls pulled me off, and asked me to let the vile villains go. Just like all the bad guys in the Saturday morning cartoons, the evil ones made a hasty retreat. I was left standing as the hero, and the girls showered me with their adoration.

Unfortunately, this wasn't a cartoon or action movie, and there wasn't a victory party waiting for me back at the classroom. Apparently, the teacher who hates 'tattle tales', decided to make an exception this time around. The defeated bullies alerted her to my vanquishing of them, but their version made me out as the bad guy. Since I was the strange kid, and since my rump was already used to several spankings the past two years (it was a private school that allowed spanking -- but usually reserved for those nasty daydreamers or imaginative types who couldn't focus enough to finish 50 addition/subtraction problems), it only made sense that my reward be another round of 'ping pong paddle meets my butt'. I hated being spanked, and usually I never really even understood why the teacher spanked me (that is the thing when you're in your own world, you don't notice what is happening in the real one). This time around, I hardly even cared. Sure, the bullies thought they won, because they caused my bum to get a little red. I am sure they saw it was them getting the last laugh. I knew the truth. The small and weak and strange boy got the better of two of them. I proved at that instant that I was stronger, and that I wouldn't take their crap. I knew that at that moment I was the hero and the good guy really did win in the end.

I don't remember being picked on much after that. Or at least, not picked on by those two particular boys. Shortly after, I know that my best friend was allowed to play with me again, and so I didn't need to be the dog during house anymore. I seem to remember that things started to get a lot better. I am sure it wasn't that one incident that changed everything for me. I do remember it as an incident that I was proud of as a kid. I remember it was the day that I was a hero.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Life After Being Poor

A few months ago, I referred you to the fantastic piece of prose 'Being Poor' by John Scalzi. At the time, I admitted that even though I thought the words were powerful, and that I knew people in my life that where poor, that I personally had never experienced it, thus could never properly relate. The closest that I had ever been to being poor is my post secondary years, and even then, I always had the giant cash sewn safety net that were my parents. I didn't ever feel the true panic and humiliation that being poor can be for many. My biggest issues where that I may have had to pass on the Friday Night movie or not buy that Goliath sized bag of cheese snacks rather than real issues like trying to brainstorm which bill you pay this month or how you stretch out a box of Kraft dinner to feed your family for the week. Despite not having any personal experience with being legitimately poor, I've known and know people who are really in that situation, and they're just trying to survive from day to day. But I also know several people who at one point in their life (usually when growing up) were in spots where they were truly 'this flap of cloth will have to do for shoes for now' poor. Being poor definitely gives you a different kind of perspective and appreciation for money. It really changes things once you are able to turn things around, and get in a spot where you start to become much more financially secure.

Based off the people I know who were once poor but eventually were able to better their money situation, I've learned there is often two type of people who are formed from the ashes of poverty. Now, what I am talking about here is people who were once poor, but through their own work did gradually drag them out of the abyss. I am not talking about an overnight tranformation such as winning the lottery. In those cases, I think the shell shock and massive overhaul can have entirely different effects on a person. What I am talking about here, is a person who over time starts garnering more and more money until it was abundantly clear they are the opposite of poor. Of course, people are not pre-programmed robots that follow a strict guideline, and thus there are definitely formerly poor people who don't fit into these two groups, but from my experience, these are the two groups that are most common.

The first group is the formerly poor people turned currently wealthy people who are close to the dictionary definition of frugal. I am not talking Ebeneezer Scrooge level here, but they are people who know were every single penny goes. For them, they lived a childhood and young adulthood where they had to be aware of the coming and goings of every single cent. The pinching of pennies and careful spending is a large reason why they were able to afford post secondary and maybe even buy their first house. They got to this point in their life because they were careful with money, and now it is a habit that is almost unbreakable -- or maybe even one that they have no interest in even trying to stop. They will occasionally buy a big ticket item (not a blender), but they will then use that item until the point it self destructs. And even before they make the purchase, they'll have done hours of research to make sure they need this item and it is the best value for what they are spending. They definitely don't buy things they don't feel they absolutely need, and every purchase is a very big deal. Even though they are well off, it is still ingrained in them to find the deals and sales, and so they will continually hunt for them. In the equation of time vs. money, money will usually win, because they grew up knowing that this was the commodity they needed to survive and get where they are now. When they were poor, they knew things would be different if they could just have a bit more money, and now that they have it, there is not way they will squander or lose it.

The second formerly poor person is quite different, because this person will try anything to avoid the stigma of being perceived poor or financially tight. I am not talking about reckless spending, but this person would not be considered frugal. They probably have a lot of nice things in their house, and may be willing to replace items even when the previous worked just fine. They aren't going to bother spending time looking for the best deals, but would rather make a purchase as quickly as possible. If they want it, they will buy it. They aren't looking for bargains, but rather just for what they want. They may even make a purchase without ever even looking at the price tag or being aware of the actual cost (even after purchase). For this person, they can't forget what it was like to be poor, but they want to think about it as little as possible. They don't want to be reminded about it daily, and now want to make it clear that they permanently moved past that time in their life. They don't want to waste time shopping for deals or trying to find ways to cut costs, because they spent time doing that their whole life prior to being wealthy. They will blast the air conditioner and use up energy without any major worries, because they know they can afford it. Most importantly, they would never try to give the impression to anyone that they are trying to cut costs, but rather make it clear they can afford to live extremely comfortable without worrying about money. For them, they don't want to be reminded about what they were, and being frugal would be a nasty time machine for their mind. Instead, they try to make things like time and convenience as the most important commodity, and see money as a secondary item.

This is not an indictment or criticism on either type of person. And also, rarely will someone completely fit into the types I described. Because people are complex beings, and usually don't follow broad descriptions very well. I am sure sometimes the non frugal person will have moments where they do try to find a deal or even openly admit they got a great price on something. For the most part, finding a deal is a major achievement for the former person (and they will see it as a victory to share with others), but for the latter, such things are just seen as a painful reminder of a previous life. I don't think either person is necessarily wrong. I know for a fact that both will give to charities and be willing to help those in need. They can both be good people. It is just that their life has lead them to view money differently.

The interesting thing is that a similar childhood and young adulthood can effect people differently. Two groups of people both experience the humiliation and suffering that is being poor, but once they achieved the long desired wealth, they responded in very different ways. I am not sure if a certain response is inherent to a particular personality type. Or if each person gained their wealth in a different way, which caused the different views of how to handle wealth. I think, it is fascinating how people from similar financial backgrounds can end up having completely different worldviews when reaching similar levels in society. In both cases, I am sure they will always be incredibly influenced by once being poor.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's Not Okay. . .

It's not okay you're scared to hold hands in public,
Because every couple deserves the right to express their love.

It's not okay they're developing on that land without compensation,
Because it is and was rightfully yours.

It's not okay you have that black eye,
Because if he really loves you, he'll express his anger properly.

It's not okay that you can't find a job,
Because your skin colour should never be a detriment.

It's not okay you had to walk through spit and curses,
Because you have the right to decide what to do with your body.

It's not okay you are going to bed hungry,
Because it only reinforces that we all turned our back on your family.

It's not okay you overheard them say, 'He's pretty smart for a. . .'
Because that thought process is the reason we even have a problem.

It's not okay you have to constantly hear how you are ruining marriage,
Because committed love has never ruined anything.

It's not okay they yelled that you're the problem with this country,
Because bigotry and ignorance is the real problem.

It's not okay now that you heard the word 'sorry',
Because the harm was done by actions and can now only be fixed by action.

It's not okay you can't choose anywhere to hold your place of worship,
Because that is exactly what freedom of religion says you can do.

It's not okay he guilt trips you for making that difficult decision,
Because where was he when you first found out your life was about to change.

It's not okay you were forced out of your home,
Because bulldozers don't equal progress, especially if it creates more homeless.

It's not okay she clutched her purse when you passed by,
Because a criminal should be defined by their crimes not by their appearance.

It's not okay they filed court injunctions,
Because you just wanted to talk and discuss your rights to the land.

It's not okay your son is labeled the bad kid,
Because being bored and not having needs met is not the fault of the child.

It's not okay you heard someone say, "That's so gay!",
Because someone's lifestyle isn't an insult.

It's not okay you feel shame that you didn't have enough for that bag of milk,
Because community should mean support and compassion not survival of the privileged.

It's not okay you get stopped and IDed everywhere you go,
Because you are just as much a citizen as the ones who question you.

It's not okay you don't know what decisions are being made,
Because your government is responsible to you and not the other way around.

It's not okay they always remind you of the mistakes and demons of your past,
Because if they can't move on, then how can they expect you to.

It's not okay they won't let their kid play with your child because you're different,
Because we're all different, and we still need to live and cooperate with each other.

It's not okay when they tell you that they're taking back their country from you,
Because if they go to the 'reserves' they'll find out whose land it really is.

It's not okay if you have to wonder all day if he'll be angry tonight or not,
Because nobody deserves to live in fear in their very own home.

It's not okay you lost the social program that was helping you get by,
Because it isn't the stable and well off that need breaks and assistance.

It's not okay she constantly hounds you about the apparent sin in your lifestyle,
Because sin is harmful, and love is good.

It's not okay that my life has been privileged and blessed,
Because that just means I have far more responsibilities to better my world.

Monday, October 25, 2010

UFC 121: Brocked!

On Saturday night I got a few friends together, ordered some delicious chickens wings, and enjoyed myself a few hours of scantily clad men beating each other up. This is the first time in over 7 years I've plunked down some cash to watch a PPV event (pay per view). This was a ritual I had often partook in throughout the 90s and early '00s. Though back then, it was almost always wrestling cards. Though we were getting together to be entertained by men in their underwear, often a big part of it was just enjoying the rowdy company of each other. So, it was a pleasure to revisit a tradition of old, though this time it was watching men actually hurt themselves rather than pretend to (well, actually they often hurt themselves in pro wrestling too -- but that was more due to doing grueling maneuvers in a staged event).

Of course, this was an event I was actually really looking forward to seeing, and so it was nice to have people over to share the cost (an UFC card costs you $49.95 before tax to watch). If you have an interest in UFC then you know this was a loaded show, which had lots of big names competing in important matches. If you don't watch UFC, then you probably already stopped reading this post anyway. The night of wings and hanging out was awesome, but in the end, we were putting our butts down on that couch to be entertained for hours of man beatings. So, I'll now do a quick look back at the card, and if you plan to catch it at a later date then you may want to turn back now, because there will be spoilers.

Patrick Cote vs. Tom Lawlor: This was actually part of the 'free broadcast' (as in you don't need to pay extra to watch this portion, but you still need to plop down the bucks for cable) on Spike TV or Sportsnet One. I was rooting for Cote simply due to the fact he was Canadian, even though Lawlor would normally be someone I'd cheer for simply because he has the nickname 'Filthy' and is known to sport some rocking facial hair. On this night Lawlor didn't bring his best beard game, but that was the only thing he was lacking. Cote apparently has a weak ground game, and that was made clear throughout this fight as Lawlor would bring him down and Cote would use the 'dead possum' strategy of fighting. This produced a really boring fight which isn't how you want to kick off the television portion of a major card. It also demonstrated that Lawlor was a far superior fighter compared to Cote, and it was a dominating (and boring) victory. I do have to say my disinterest was the fault of Cote not doing anything once he was on the ground, and I would be interested in seeing Lawlor fight again in the future. I think, Lawlor definitely has a chance to start getting some recognition and maybe begin having his fights on the main card (the PPV portion).

Court McGee vs. Ryan Jensen:
This isn't a fight that contains any major stars or legitimate title threats, but it made it on television because McGee is the most recent The Ultimate Fighter winner (a show on Spike where they essentially have a tournament to win a contract with UFC). This was a really fun fight to watch because both guys really started out aggressively. Jensen was rocking McGee early with take downs, punches and knee, but to the credit of McGee (this was the fight he had to prove he was legit), he continually came back at Jensen. As the fight proceeded, McGee started landing a lot more shots and blocking lots of Jensen's take down attempts. Finally, in the third round, McGee took down Jensen then he delivered some elbows, which lead to an arm triangle for the tap out victory. McGee was able to justify his contract, and will hopefully get a bigger profile fight his next time around.

Mike Guymon vs. Daniel Roberts: This fight actually happened earlier in the evening, but was shown on television at this point. Guymon was the hometown boy and definitely wanted to put on a great performance for his family and friends. Instead, he ended up being the recipient of the coolest submission of the night. Roberts put him in a choke, but flipped his entire body over to get him on to the ground (I can't really describe it properly, but it was very impressive). Roberts got a cool looking victory, and Guymon lost in under a minute in his hometown (somebody got a better deal in that one).

Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Brendan Schaub: Gonzanga is sort of like a mixture of Frankenstein's monster and Lurch, or in other words, not the man I want to meet in a dark alley. Schaub is another previous The Ultimate Fighter competitor, and made it to the finals of his year. The fight started off really hot with Schaub unleashing with a flurry of punches and was keeping a really great pace that benefited him. I am not sure if Schaub's offense psyched out Gonzanga or if he gassed out early, but Gonzanga was doing almost nothing by the time the third round arrived. This meant the fight ended in a rather boring manner. Gonzanga is one of those guys that has such power, that you just assume he could knock out his opponent at any point, even when he is losing badly. Unfortunately, Gonzanga tried very little despite being in a losing position in the third round; I wondered if it was because he lost so many of the exchanges in the earlier rounds thus was mentally out of it. Gonzanga did have a burst at the last few seconds where he even almost got a choke locked in, but it was far too late in the fight (thought this didn't stop Gonzanga from inexplicably raising his own hands in victory -- maybe being alive was just a win for him?). Unfortunately, in the first fight where there was some 'stars' it ended up being a little boring at the end. Schaub proved he has a lot of energy, and was capable of hanging with the bigger stars, but he still has a ways to go since the heavyweight division is so stacked right now.

Tito Ortiz vs. Matt Hamill:
Tito is one of the 'bad guys' of the UFC where he tends to cut promos (interviews) that disparage the other fighter, and makes himself come off as a conceited ass. In the fight game, you never know for sure how close that is to reality, because your job is to sell fights. So, if people want to see your opponent beat you up but you then are able to win; you will continually convince fans to shell out money for your fights to see you eventually lose. Also, there is the whole strategy of trying to make the fight look like you legitimately hate each other, because the promise of two guys tearing into each other will draw a huge amount of fans. In this case, it was the teacher (Ortiz) v. the student (Hamill), because Hamill was formerly on The Ultimate Fighter and Ortiz was his trainer for that show. It was clear that both guys did respect and like each other, but in order to sell the fight, Ortiz had constantly made reference to how Hamill will be easy to knock down because he is deaf (not sure where Ortiz got his medical degree with such great knowledge of the human body -- aka his claim makes no sense).

Tito actually hasn't won a fight in over 4 years, but is such an established name he still gets used to sell a card. Tito seemed to know he had to put on a good showing because this was a really great fight. Tito immediately took it to Hamill, which hasn't been Ortiz's style in a long time. In the heavy exchange in the first round, Hamill was actually able to open up Ortiz, and this caused Hamill to continually concentrate on the cut. The first round was a series of kicks and punches to be exchanged, and each guy landed some really great blows, but it was probably Ortiz's round.

The second round wasn't as quick, and it was clear that Ortiz was starting to tire. A good portion of this round ended up going to the ground after a take down by Hamill. The third round saw the continuation of punch exchanges. Ortiz attempted a big take down, but was stopped by Hamill which seemed to show that Hamill had more strength and energy at this point. The end of the fight saw Hamill get another take down, and start to really show his dominance at this point (announcers remarked he was using the Ortiz strategy of ground a pound throughout). It ended up going to the time limit, and Hamill won the unanimous decision. At the end, both gave each other a hug, and a huge amount of respect was shown. At this point, this was probably the best fight of the night, and was the hottest the crowd had been (though they'd get much more excited and vocal for the main event).

Diego Sanchez vs. Paulo Thiago:
This was another really awesome fight. This was another one where the guys just went at it right at the start. Thiago landed the more dominant blows in the first round. At the halfway point in the first round, Thaigo took down Sanchez, and essentially was working for the submission for the rest of the round. It really seemed like this was Thiago's fight to win. He may have come out too strong in the first round, because the next two rounds really were Sanchez's. In the second round, Thiago attempted a few more submissions but Sanchez was constantly able to block him, and stay in the dominant position. Then in a moment that any pro wrestling fan would appreciate, Sanchez lifted up Thiago and gave him a powerslam. Though, it seemed like it did some damage to Sanchez because his head hit the mat hard. Though, in retrospect, this was the turning point of the fight, and Sanchez controlled it from this point on. This was another fight that went the distance, but was incredibly entertaining with lots of attempts for submissions throughout plus the awesome powerslam. In the end, Sanchez was the clear winner (which is probably why he won).

Jake Shields vs. Martin Kampmann: Shields is a fighter that UFC just 'stole' from their competitor, Strikeforce. The attempt was to use this card to showcase Shields, and build him up for a future welterweight title fight with George St. Pierre. I am assuming they spent a lot of money on him, and had hopes of making him a big star (he is talented and on a huge win streak, but was never a real draw in Strikeforce). If that was the hope, then this fight was a total flop. It was a painfully boring fight, and the most exciting parts were all Kampmann. In the second round, Kampmann dealt out two hard knees which dropped Shields, and allowed Kampmann control on the ground. The problem is, Shields is a good wrestler, and was able to get a few take downs and keep Kampmann in the guard. Shields won the fight because he was on top for longer, but rarely did he ever make solid attempts for a submission. I think, there could have been an argument that Kampmann should have won the fight too, but Shields is the bigger name thus probably got the benefit of the doubt. Either way, it was a really poor UFC debut for Shields, and can't see them justify a title match for him now. My friend suggest he'd probably be relegated to a free Spike show next (they rarely put the big stars on free shows, but you also don't want to put a guy who doesn't sell on a PPV show -- and a man who creates boring fights doesn't sell).

Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez for the heavyweight title: It was a loaded card, and up until this point (minus the Shields fight) it had been a really good card. The reality was we paid the money this night and the crowd packed the arena in Anaheim for one reason, everyone wanted to see the huge world title fight. The crowd was deafening during the entrances, and it was clear Brock was a huge star (maybe the biggest in the company). He got a lot of cheers, but the thing is, there is a lot of people that hate Brock too. That is partly because he plays it up, but I also think that he is a former pro wrestler makes people really dislike him. They seem to forget he was a successful NCCA amateur wrestler and has spent a the last few years really trying to perfect his skills in MMA. Of course, there is the whole thing that he is the world champion. Since Brock winning pisses off the MMA purist, I always have and always will root for him.

As for the fight, it was really short but incredibly explosive. Lesnar seemed to know that he couldn't allow this fight to go long, because Cain has unparalleled stamina and endurance. Brock immediately started throwing out punches and went for a huge take down. It did very little damage on Cain, and then Cain responded by one of the most explosive flurry of punches I had ever seen. Brock was cut open really bad, and blood was pouring all over the mat. The man who proved he had an amazing chin and could take a beating, was then TKOed by Cain. We saw a new world champion, and the crowd exploded with delight. Even though I was rooting for Brock, I was really impressed by Cain's performance, and plus he seems like a legitimately good guy (he does a lot of motivational talks among the Hispanic youth community). I was happy with his championship win.

At this moment, I want to make a comment about the commentary. It is so clear that the commentators have certain orders they have to follow. During the Shield fight, they wouldn't stop talking up his amazing ground skills and how he needs to finish off Kampmann, despite the fact Shields was showing very little in the fight (and in no spot to finish it). For the main event, they spent the whole night talking about how both guys were legit monsters and Brock was the 'baddest man on the planet'. Suddenly after the fight, the commentators stated Brock was 'exposed' and it was clear to them that Cain was far superior. It is stuff like that which is not only annoying but hurts the credibility of the announcers. I haven't seen enough shows, to know how often this type of stuff is done, but I felt it took away from the broadcast. It is silly to talk up a guy who clearly is not doing well in a fight, and you definitely make your biases clear by doing that. It is is even sillier to say one thing the whole night, but then say the opposite when an unexpected result happens. Yes, Brock was rocked, but I think the results still could have gone differently on another night, and he is far from being done with the title picture.

All in all, it was a really great night of fights, and I immensely enjoyed myself. If your a MMA fan, you should definitely try to get a replay or wait for the DVD. There is hot and explosive fights, and the wild main event alone is worth checking out.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Printers: The Bane Of All Living Things

Crosby just solves his technology hassles by sitting on it (actually, that is usually just laptops -- or my keyboard when I am typing on it rather than feeding him)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hey You! Yeah, You. Vote!

This Monday there will be mayoral elections throughout Ontario. This is often perceived as the broken tricycle of elections, because yeah it might be a form of transportation (election) but why use it when you have the sports car (federal elections) and the van (provincial elections). I remember in the last mayoral elections where I was talking to someone and they expressed to me that, "I don't ever vote in the municipal elections, because it doesn't really make a difference since a mayor doesn't really do much." Of course, this very same person then complains about the high property tax in this city, claims they never go downtown because there isn't anything for them, and remarks how it is unfortunate the unemployment rate is so high in this city. This makes me wonder how they think those things are going to be improved? I've tried out numerous of the sticks in my and their backyards, and none are magical wands that fix problems. So, it seems like another approach must be taken. If only there was a way for our voice to be heard in the city, and maybe someone we could have address our problems to, then have them put actions in place to fix these problems. Oh wait, that would be our mayor and council members. Hmmm. . . maybe voting in the municipal election is important after all,

I can understand why city elections are so poorly attended. The federal and provincial elections get far more attention considering they have far larger budgets to advertise their platforms. The issues discussed at the federal and provincial elections are clearly broader in scope, and are about laws and policies that effects a much larger group of people. When it comes down to the municipal elections unless you live in Toronto or a major city, then the major media outlets pay absolutely no attention to you (and I am not saying they should). Essentially, the issues being addressed at a municipal election can only be known if you read the local papers or watch the local community television channel. If you live in a small city, then there is a good chance that you're rarely aware you even have a community television channel (and Brantford does, by the way), or are more interested in reading a big city paper over the local paper (Brantford has only had the Expositor for over 150 years -- I can see how you would miss it). The fact is, that for many people the news and events in the big cities are far more sexy and captivating; many people largely fail to see the importance of a small city election. I don't have statistics with me, but I'd guess big city mayoral elections are far better attended than some in smaller cities. I think, this is due to visiblity and coverage of the campaigns and platforms available during the election.

The fact is, the municipal election is very important, and the council and mayor can make major decisions that effect your city. It is important to get a person that you feel is qualified for the job, and will do the things you know will positively effect your city (or town or county or village). It is true that CTV or CityTV or the Star is probably not covering the campaigns, if you don't live in Toronto (or Hamilton or other large locations), but that deifnitely doesn't mean there isn't information and news available to make you informed. We luckily live in an age where information is more accessible than ever before. There is a good chance that most of your candidates have websites. There is also a really good chance your local newspaper has a website that will have coverages of debates or meetings. And if you have cable, there is likely a community channel that has a lot of footage of the campaigns. You can be informed, and you definitely should be. In the best case scenario, your vote can help lead to a positive change to your city. In the worst case scenario, you're now justified in any complaining you unleash over the next four years. The most important thing is that you are allowing your voice be heard and trying to promote democracy (and the voice of the people) in your city.

I initially wanted to do a large overview of the candidates for mayor in Brantford and councilors for my ward (Ward 1). I was then going to offer who I was planning to vote for. In the end, I decided that only a small portion of my readers would be involved in the Brantford elections, and I'd rather encourage Brantfordians to read the information for their self and come to their own conclusion for who is best suited for Brantford. I do want you to vote, especially if your from Brantford. This city has traditionally had a really poor turn out, and right now, Brantford really needs citizens to get their voices heard. This is a city that is truly at a turning point, but it is undecided if it will be turning in a positive or negative direction. The potential for this city is immeasurable, and now, it is just a matter of getting the right people to help steer this ship (to follow that metaphor, with a captain that will listen to his crew throughout the voyage).

I have been able to narrow it down to a few candidates, and I definitely know a few that I don't want. I'd rather not concentrate on the negatives, and rather focus on the things I want in my mayor. I want someone who isn't a career politician, but able to bring some fresh perspective (Brantford has had enough of the aging and decaying). I want someone who recognizes the value in a vibrant arts and cultures scene. I want someone who recgonizes that our downtown is more than just a univeristy centre; there is actually many people in this city that are long past graduation from post secondary. I want a leader who has clear strategies for lowering our property tax rather than someone who just has the empty promise. I want someone who has plans to attack the unemployment rate in this city, and has very distinct strategies, such creating job skill training programs or ways of bringing in business. I want a person who knows that injunctions are an awful way of fixing relations with Six Nations; the First Nation people deserve to be a part of the decisions being made with their land (along with compensation). I want someone who realizes that even though Brantford is a marvelous city, that what has been happening for the last several years hasn't been working and it is time for huge overhauls.

You may want completely different things. The only way to even get a chance at seeing them realized is to vote Monday. Do your part, and have your voice heard.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Skeleton Crew Review: Proof of Stephen King's Excellence

I've made my Stephen King love clear in the past, and declared that he is incredibly talented writer. I believe some of the criticism he has received from the literary scholar types has more to do with the fact he is a best-selling novelist (I am not sure if he's ever had a novel that hasn't been on some type best sellers lists) who is a legitimate celebrity and had numerous of his works adapted into films. I actually think the man's fame has probably been a large reason for his unpopularity among critics and scholars. I think it is partly because these types have a narrow view of what exactly literature is, and it does not allow for mainstream works (because they seem to forget that Charles Dickens was actually pretty popular in his time). It seems that there must be this elitist view that good literature can only be accessed by the few and anything consumed by the masses is useless pablum. Stephen King is definitely the epitome of mainstream. If you mention his name today, I am sure almost everyone at least knows who he is, even if they never read a word written by him or seen a movie adapted from his works. In the 80s, King was probably the rock star of the literary fiction world. He was in numerous ads, and made cameos in movies, and would have thousands of people show up for a book signing. That isn't to say he isn't still really popular today, but I do think his popularity peak was in the 80s.

It is this popularity that I believe causes his unfair reputation from the literature snobs (because really that is a better way to describe them). His critics like to peg him as a horror writer (well, actually some of his fans do too), but I really think that is short changing the talents and diversity of King. The man has never considered himself to be a writer of one genre, and much like me, doesn't really feel a good story can ever be properly fit into a single genre. It is true that much of his works focus on darker material, but many of his stories will contain elements, themes, plots or settings that would never be considered a part of the horror genre. Stephen King is a very well read and intelligent man, and is always reading novels and books from countless authors or genres. King has numerous influences and inspirations, which is extremely evident in his writing. His creativity and imagination is incomparable, when you factor in that he has written over 40 novels and 200 short stories (and this is only counting stuff that has been published or is currently available). Stephen King deserves respect even if he isn't your style of writer.

Skeleton Crew
was published in 1985, which would be right around the time King was at his popularity peak (which again is relative, because he is still immensely popular today). The book is actually a collection of short stories with the original publishing dates spanning from 1968 to 1985. It is a pretty good representation of how King grew and changed as a writer, since it shows stuff way before he was known by anyone and to where he was an established household name. What it really showed to me, was how talented and diverse King really was as a writer. The book contains numerous types of stories that use various writing styles and elements. The stories range from the scary to the thought provoking to the heart breaking to the funny to the sweet. Sometimes, he even pulls all those things off in one short story. The quality does vary throughout the book, but I can honestly say I enjoyed each one at some level. It definitely solidified for me what an amazing writer Stephen King is.

I'll now leave a few quick thoughts and critiques on each story contained in his book, because I really think that is the only way to fairly review a short story collection.

Introduction: No, this isn't a short story, and no, I don't normally make it a habit to review the introductions to novels or books. I really think this introduction is an example of how strong a writer Stephen King can be, because this simple six page introduction is riveting. He talks in such a formal and relaxed manner that you feel like you're just hanging out at a kitchen table drinking some beers and chatting it up with a buddy (except your buddy can't hear you because he's a book without ears). I think, this style of writing is actually quite hard to master, and really demonstrates the talents of King (because this is also a style that I attempt in my own writing).

The other part that makes the introduction so interesting is because it isn't merely King introducing his stories but he actually gives a quick explanation for why he writes in the first place. He admits that getting paid is a good thing (especially since at this point it is his career), and he also likes entertaining others or getting acknowledgment; these aren't the main reason he constantly writes on a daily basis. He writes because he won't get any peace or sleep if he doesn't. He talks about how an idea pops in his head, and it will constantly torment and hound him until his fully forms that idea into a story (be it novel or short story). Personally for me, I can totally relate to what he was talking about. For a writer (or other creative folks), you tend to have inspirations or thoughts, and they will stick with you until you finally release them, which is what you do when you write or paint or sculpt or direct or hop scotch. I've had those days where Emily will ask me what I'm thinking because I seem so distant, and it often involves a story idea that has latched on to my brain and will refuse to release me from its grip until I give it a fully formed body in the shape of a story. I definitely agreed with King, but also felt his explanation of it was very fascinating.

The Mist: This was adapted as a big budget motion picture a few years ago, and the film seemed to be fairly well received. I feel this novella (it is 130 pages long) does a much better job of showing how a life threatening situation can cause human beings to act in ways that they would normally never imagine. The story follows David Drayton who along with his son are trapped in a grocery store with several other people after a mysterious mist (which appears after a particularly violent storm) covers the town. The mist in itself can be a little spooky, but the most horrifying fact is that there is otherworldly monsters hidden in the mist, and they seem to have an appetite for human flesh. The interesting part of this story is that the focus really isn't on the monsters outside, but rather the monsters that form within the store. Mrs. Carmody, a crazy religious end times fanatic, is able to play with the fears and emotions of several people trapped in the store, and forms a dangerous cult within the store. This is happening while David tries to come up with ways to get home, so that he can find out if his wife is alive. The novella also explores the emotions and fear that are taking place among several of the stores patrons (as some step up to the occasion, while others completely freak out, and others just choose to live in denial).

The story is a very interesting critique of society, and how people respond to the traumatic events that always take place around us. In some ways, we are all trapped in on this world (much like the characters were trapped in that store), and there is horrific things happening around us (much like the monsters in the novella). The issue is about how we respond to our circumstance, and how the situations change us as humans. Some cope by relying on group think, while others decide to live in denial about the tragedy around them, and others find a inner strength that they didn't know was possible.

Even if you don't want to see the novella as a critique on how society or community functions, at a micro level it is good exploration on how the individual responds to a terrifying circumstance. The characters in the novel don't know if they will survive the night. They also don't know where the creatures came from. Some start talking about some mysterious project being tested by the army, and start wondering if the storm caused the mist and its monsters to be unleashed by disturbing the project. Mrs. Carmody focuses on this being a sign of the end times and the obvious wrath being unleashed by God towards all those who disobeyed him. Each character responds in a different way, and it is fascinating look at how the threat of death causes people to react. It gets to the point when you start wondering if it is more dangerous to remain hidden in the store with the growing paranoia and delusions than taking a risk with the unearthly monstrosities outside.

Another interesting part of this story is something King talks about in his notes sections at the end of the book. There is a scene in the novella that King says he never really liked and made him feel uncomfortable. I found this interesting, because the reader's first inclination would be to ask then why didn't he just cut that part out or avoid writing it in the first place. I think, it shows how the process of writing can be so organic. The story is hidden inside you the writer, and as you write, you are just uncovering it. You may have an idea of the overall plot, but the more you write, you start revealing things that you never planned or that end up shocking you as the writer. I am assuming this is what lead to King writing a scene that he doesn't like in this novella, but also can't find the strength to remove it. Personally, I think it is an important scene because it shows a glaring flaw in the protagonist, but also shows how the traumatic events around him have messed with his mind and caused him to follow instincts and passions he'd normally avoid.

At first glance, a reader might label this a horror story, but I think, it is so much more than that. The novella actually focuses very little on the monsters and gore, and puts a much greater focus on human emotions and response. Like many of King's stories (and will become clear in this collection), the important thing is how the humans respond to the supernatural events that are unfolding around them. It is a social commentary on how we relate and interact with each other when under extreme stress and panic. I do think the story is scary and will be enjoyed by horror fans, but I feel it can also be read at a much deeper level. It especially is a story that is more interested in the inner emotions and mechanics of the person rather than other world creatures. It was an extremely engaging read, and a great way to kick off the book.

Here There Be Tygers: I believe the title is in reference to the phrase "here be dragons" which cartographers put on maps to depict unexplored regions in the middle ages. This short story was written by King when he was in high school (but published in 1968), and is about a third grader who discovers a tiger in the boys bathroom and tries to find other means to relieve himself. I am not sure how much of it was revised for the 1968 publication, but I was impressed by how well written it was for a high school student (and shows the value in constantly writing and reading at a young age). The story seems to be a bit of a elementary school kids revenge fantasy against the nasty teacher, and doesn't involve a very deep plot. I did enjoy it as a humourous and far-fetched little tale.

The Monkey: This contains a rather classic B horror movie like plot about a mysterious wind up, cymbal holding monkey doll that signals death every time it clangs its cymbals together. The main character is plagued by this doll throughout his life, which not only causes the death of many loved ones (or at least this is believed to be the cause by the protagonist), but it also is seemingly impossible to get rid of (which he attempts throughout his life). Again, a key part of the story's appeal is how this supernatural element affects the emotions and stability of the protagonist. The tale is more about the man's fight with sanity and attempt to keep his family together than about the hideous monkey doll. By the end of the story, it does become clear there is clearly a supernatural element, but much of the story is driven by the protagonist's growing paranoia and disconnect from reality. The story keeps up a great pace, and does a fantastic job of building to the major climax. It’s a great story that uses the supernatural as a way to explore friction within the family and the insecurity that plagues almost everyone.

Cain Rose Up: I am pretty sure if Stephen King was in University and unknown today and wrote this story, that several people would be shipping him off to a mental health facility. Even though the subject matter of a school shooting is very taboo and uncomfortable, this is actually a well written story. It is does not glorify the actions of the main character, but rather gives you a glimpse into his disturbed mind. The most interesting part of the story is the juxtaposition between the normal dorm life and the growing dark thoughts of the main character. It is extremely dark and disturbing, but also a well written piece.

Mrs. Todd's Shortcut: A major theme in many of Stephen King's stories (in this collection) is the exploration of the line between reality and delusion. Many times you question if some of the events that are being revealed our created within the mind of the characters, or if it is legitimate acts of the supernatural. This is a story about a woman who is obsessed with finding the shortest possible route to a destination, and how she stumbles upon some rather unnatural short cuts. The reader is left wondering what is reality and how much is delusions formed in the different characters’ minds to make up for either neglect or loss. The reader is then brought on a journey of fantasy, friendship and love. This tale is a great of example of King being able to use the supernatural without any real elements of horror. This story is more of an atypical romance then one designed to scare.

The Jaunt:
This story has Isaac Asimov influences written all over it. This is mainly a story within a story, because a father is trying to settle his kids’ first time 'jaunting' to Mars by telling the history of the Jaunt and why it was invented. This story obviously was written during the massive OPEC oil embargo that caused a mass oil crisis in North America, and takes the stance that oil basically became a rarity from that point on thus American needed a new form of fuel. This leads to the creation of a device called the jaunt which essentially is used to teleport people to Mars, where they drill for water which is the new sacred resource. This is story set in the future is a decent example of King's diversity because he is rarely known as a science fiction writer. This story is a bit more plot driven than some of his more character focused pieces, but it still does some decent exploration into human behaviour. The science in this story is pretty far-fetched, but it is more of a back drop used to explore corruption, insanity and greed. The story of the creation and misuse of the jaunt machine is a very imaginative one, and it builds towards an interesting twist ending.

The Wedding Gig:
King tries his hand at yet another different setting and genre. The story is set in 1927 and in the city of Chicago, which should give you good idea of what type of story it is (pssst. . . it’s about gangsters and crime). A really fascinating part of this story is that King obviously wasn't even born in 1927, but he does a fantastic job of getting down the language and slang of the time. When reading it, you really do think your reading a pulp fiction story of that era, and this really displays King's talent and knowledge. The story is essentially a revenge tale on the surface, but I think there is a much deeper truth. I think the biggest theme of the story is discrimination, and how certain people are treated unfairly for something they can't control. In some ways, the story offers a cathartic experience, because a character does try to take some control after being unfairly treated. It is a much deeper story than some may initially think, but it also just offers up enjoyable action for those who don't want to read between the lines.

Paranoid: A Chant:
A unique poem that chronicles the growing level of paranoia (and possible schizophrenia) building in the narrator. I like how not only the content suggests these things, but also in the style and structure of the poem.

The Raft: You are trapped on a floating raft, and a flesh eating oil like blob in the water is circling you. That is the premise of the raft, well, except it isn't you but four unfortunate University students. Students who are regretting they ran out to an abandoned for the fall beach in order to swim to a raft, because nobody now knows where they are. A classic talent of King is his ability to write able every day minutia and human activity while intertwining completely fantastic supernatural horror. The first bit of the story is just about four kids hanging out in their apartment, and how the one character is slowly becoming jealous of how his girlfriend is flirting with his roommate. Then all of sudden, the reader finds himself in a story of complete horror, but even then, the focus remains on the thoughts of the characters (and shows that things like jealousy still remain during times of horror). It is graphic and scary, but it is again a story that has more than that. My only criticism is that I find the female characters were depicted as a little too weak and fragile, and felt the men were written in a far more complex manner. I find King has done a good job of writing strong female characters, but felt that wasn't the case here. I still really enjoyed this story, and it is one of my favourites in the book.

Word Processor of the Gods: This title alone dates the story a bit. Today, if you hear the term 'word processor' then you think about MS Word or Word Perfect. Back in the early 80s, there were machines (essentially computers) that were specifically designed for writing -- so, like a high end typewriter. Even though that technology is absent today, I do think this is a very interesting story that many can relate to. It is basically about being stuck in a life you regret, and wish you could have done things differently or fix tragedies outside of your control; then, you're afforded the ability to do just that. What would you do if you could make almost anything in your life possible, but you have a limited amount of time to do it? Stephen King is often criticized for having open endings that leave a few issues hanging, but in the case of this story, I think that is a huge strength because that type of mystery leaves a great impact. The reader is left to decide if the ending is happy or inevitable tragic based off the decisions the protagonist makes.

The Man Who Could Not Shake Hands: This is a story within a story, and essentially, it is exactly about what the title says. This is another ambiguous tale where the reader is left wondering if the events are actually supernatural or a coincidences that feed the characters delusions and paranoia. It is also a story about guilt, and how it can follow and consume a man until there is almost nothing left of him. This is another very deeply layered story, and proof that King is just as talented as some of history's most heralded writers. The supernatural elements are quite imaginative, but again, the bigger focus is on the human emotions and how the characters deal with unexplained tragedies.

Beachworld: This is another science fiction story, but more like one you'd find as the B reel in a double feature in the 1950s. This is one of those stories that clearly has supernatural or alien elements, but the main focus is on the inner struggle a man has to maintain his sanity. The tale is about two astronauts stranded on a strange planet completely comprised of sand, and while one astronaut tries to find ways to be rescued, the other continually gets entranced by the roaming dunes of sand. The main character tried to save his friends, while also not falling into the same trap. It is a fun story, and one that showcases King's talents at description. The final moments of this story are quite disturbing, and left an image in my head for a few days (but it is not a graphic disturbing, but something much more cerebral).

The Reaper's Image: A collector wants to buy a rare mirror for its artistic value, but it has been hidden in a museum due to the belief it is haunted (guess by who). This is an interesting story about skepticism and how some skeptics tend to look down upon those who believe in the supernatural. The more interesting past is how a skeptic may stick to their lack of belief despite evidence proving otherwise (always finding ways to rationalize things). It is another story that would probably be discussed in classrooms for the themes it explores; if it wasn't for the fact King has the unfair label of a pulp or junk writer.

Nona:
An extremely dark tale, and undoubtedly the most ambiguous of King's stories in this collection. I don't want to mention too much because it will spoil the story. I think, it is safe to say it is a story of insanity. It also makes you question the honesty of the narrator, but not necessarily because he is liar but rather because his view and world is distorted. Depending the stance you take, it is either a tale of the supernatural or a tale of one person's drift into madness. A story that will leave you disturbed, but it is also incredibly engaging (but nowhere near the land of the cheery or happy).

For Owen: Another poem, this time written to his youngest son. It is a humourous little tale that describes people in the terms of fruit. It is sort of an example of King entering into the imagination of a young child who is coping with changes in his life.

Survivor Type: This is definitely a macabre tale, but something very different than the typical supernatural horror people associate with King. This is another story that deals with a descent into madness and insanity. It is also a story about pride. loss and stubbornness. It is about a doctor that got caught in very corrupt dealings, and made a very desperate move in order to keep his lifestyle. Dues to some unforeseen circumstances, he is now committing desperate actions in order to preserve his very life. The tale is a tragedy that is told in the form of a diary. It is an intriguing story because the main character is not overtly likeable, but as the story progresses, you can't help start feeling sympathy and despair for him. It is also a story where a man fights with his inner demons, and also starts failing due to his own over confidence in his self. It is a very dark story that almost reminded me of an amalgamation of Joseph Conrad and Ernest Hemingway story.

Uncle's Otto's Truck:
This is another story that the theme may depend on how you decide to read the tale. If you decide to read it as a supernatural story, then you'll see it as a story of denial and how society turns their back on those who act differently; If you decide the supernatural elements are lies told by one character, then it is a story of how guilt tears away at a character and actually slowly drags them into incurable insanity. Or you could read it a third way, where it is about one man's dark and cruel acts that haunt him for years, but eventually lead to his comeuppance. Any way you read it, it is a dark tale that is scary and disturbing, and once again, shows the strengths of King as a writer when it comes to conveying human emotions.

Morning Deliveries (Milkman #1): It is a story about a typical small town morning, and just the natural events that occur. But you see, the thing about small towns is there are usually some very dark secrets. This story has more than one very dark secret. I love the juxtaposition of the beautiful descriptions of nature against the very evil acts committed in the tale.

Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game (Milkman #2): It is essentially a continuation of events going on in the previous story, but now it is the evening of what I assumed was the same day. The story follows two guys cutting loose after work, and again focuses on the dark secrets that are being held by every single one of the characters. The more you learn about the characters, then the more disturbing and unlikable they become. The important point is that we are all capable of being just as dark and unlikable. There is one character in the story that seems like your only normal and relatable person, but then he goes on to commit one of the most horrific and unimaginable acts possible. I think, this displays how there is a fine line between insanity and sanity for all of us. This is why family and love and hope are such important things to cling to. I really loved this story a lot, even if it is full of despicable characters and activities (but I really don't think it glorifies or justifies anything that happens, but rather exposes the ugliness and the reality of it).

Gramma: This is an homage of the classic tales of HP Lovecraft. I haven't read a lot of Lovecraft, but I know King has. He has written a few tales which follow the Lovecraftian mythos. He even adopted Lovecraft's creation of fictional New England towns (with King creating the infamous Maine towns of Castle Rock, 'Salem's Lot, Derry, and a few others). There has been a clear influence from Lovecraft, and then some outright borrowing from the Lovecraft universe. This is a story about dark religion (an actual type practiced in Lovecraft tales) and how it entirely consumed a person. It is a tale of the dark arts, and how a family tries to conceal a very evil past. King does a great job of building suspense and forming a rather terrifying story. The most impressive part is the story builds tension and remains thrilling despite that little actually happens for most of it.

The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet:
Is insanity worse than death? Can you recover from insanity? Or are you already dead, but the rest of the body doesn't know it? Or are you even insane, but instead, just more enlightened than those around you? If that is the case, is that any better than being insane when no one else can relate to you and or see what you can (even if it is real)? This is a marvelous story about one writer's decent into insanity, but again, King keeps it ambiguous at times. Maybe he isn't insane. And maybe others do see what he does, but won’t admit it. This was definitely another of my favourite stories in this collection and I highly recommend others to track it down. It is very unique and it is dark, and very quirky; this is the type of story that will display the talents and imagination of Stephen King.

The Reach:
This is actually a very sweet and warm story about the last days of the oldest woman on an island. It is about her reflection on her past and all the loved ones who have since passed away. She starts thinking about the island she had never left, and looking toward the mainland that she never desired to go to. The space between her island and the mainland is called the Reach, but as you read the story, you'll see it has some deeper meaning as well. Stephen King has stated that he hopes this is one of the stories he is most remembered for. It is far different than anything else in this collection.

If you think Stephen King is a hack, then I challenge you read this book. The collection is so varied and full of so much life. The characters have many personalities and the settings are extremely varied. This is proof the man has a far ranging imagination and is capable of telling many types of tales. If you read this, and still think he is a hack, then I question your bias. I am not saying you have to like it, and if you don't, then it is no indictment against you. In my case, there are many talented writers that I never really found interest in, but I'll still admit they are talented. I think. Stephen King deserves that recognition. He is talented, but might not be for everyone. But for the people that do like Stephen King, Skeleton Crew is an absolute masterpiece.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ferocious Fire Balls to the Nostril: One Man's Experience with TA Appliances

Husbands, listen to your wives. I am going to throw that out there right at the beginning, because if I followed that advice myself, then the horrific account I am about to present to you would have never happened. Then again, it would also mean I wouldn't have this story to tell (or at least, it wouldn't be a true story and get me all riled up at family functions). It is definitely a story I've shared numerous times, and to the point I've decided I mind as well just post this thing on my blog and refer people to it from now on. Because it is a story that must be heard; a story of a husband who dared to think for himself.

This story starts like many good stories have, on May 1st (or I assume lots of stories begin on May 1st, they don't always provide a date). We had been shopping for a washer and dryer for a few weeks now, and I was already being hit with a bad case of shopper's fatigue. I didn't want to replay the events of the previous fall where we found furniture we really loved at a Brantford store, but proceeded to numerous stores in the surrounding area before realizing our first stop had the best deal. My strength isn't price shopping and store gallivanting, and I was ready to wave the white flag that day. So, when we entered into TA Appliance, I was already in the frame of mind of wanting to make a purchase, and move on to the more important things in life like improving my slicing skills on Wii Sports Resort.

Emily had been very wary of dealing with TA Appliances because two of the homes in our neighbourhood had an extremely bad experience with them. I still wanted to at least check out TA, because they were a local store and I preferred to support them over the giant box stores that are swallowing up the soul of this nation (and I don't really like them). When we entered TA, we were immediately greeted by a salesperson. I am going to avoid mentioning his real name since this is a blog read around the globe (not by many, but still various countries -- Russia loves me!). Instead, I will know refer to him as Beefer, because beef comes from cows and everyone knows what comes out of male cows. Now, Beefer was incredibly out going and friendly, and more importantly, he was extremely knowledgeable about washers and dryers. The entire experience was an absolute joy, and as an added bonus, he showed a washer and dryer that we instantly fell in love with. It was a little higher than our planned price point, but we could still afford it, and it had some added unexpected features that we felt we could take advantage of. He told us if we order today that we'd be able to get the washer and dryer delivered in 2-3 weeks. That was a little longer than I hoped, but it also meant that if I was willing to turn my clothes inside out, I would only have to lug laundry to my parents' house one last time. I was sick of having to travel to do laundry and I wanted that machine ASAP. Emily was still apprehensive of going with TA because of others' experiences, but I assured her it must have been an anomaly because they seem really great now. We made the deal and paid our deposit and shook the hand of salesperson, Beefer. I left the store knowing that a washer and dryer would be in my home by the end of three weeks. Life was good, and Emily would be glad she listened to me (I thought).

The third week arrived at our door steps, and I had not heard yet from my new friend, Beefer. I thought, I'd call TA and get a status update on our appliances. A lovely women, let's call her Scrambled Eggs, answered the phone, and I politely asked her if she could find out the status of the Spicer's washer and dryer. Scrambled Eggs notified me that she was unable to do this for me, and that I had to speak to the person who sold me the products. I wasn't sure why my salesperson needed to be the one who checked the computer for inventory, but I gladly told Scrambled Eggs that my man was Beefer. Scrambled Eggs then notified me that Beefer was on his day off, but if I left a message for him that he would get back to me immediately the next day with my products' status. So, I did exactly that, and patiently waited for the prompt response I would get the next morning.

Three days later, Beefer left a message on our machine. Beefer notified us that it would be another 2 - 3 weeks, because apparently, there was a part missing. This didn't make much sense to me, because even though I am no expert of the washing machine business, I always assumed they didn't actually start making the product on order. Were they waiting for an order to be made, and then the mechanics immediately jumped to work, but in their excitement accidentally kicked a screw underneath a bench? Were they posting signs for my missing part and would it appear on my milk cartons across the land? Here I was, a fool, thinking they made a mass amount of washers and then kept them in a warehouse -- oh no, they apparently make them on order and then the parts proceed to play of game of hide and go seek.

I wasn't thrilled of the idea of waiting another 2-3 weeks, because I couldn't really get away with turning my clothes inside out for much longer. I wasn't really sure how honest the reason given by Beefer really was. I accepted it, and decided I'd suck it up for three more weeks, because then, I'd have my washer and dryer for sure.

I was now smack dab in the middle of week three and I had not heard anything from Beefer. So, I called again, and surprise, it was his day off. So, I left a message, and my optimism for a quick response was slowly wavering.

I believe it actually was the next day that I got a phone message from Beefer. It was not the lovely and sweet words about an impending washer and dryer that I was hoping for. It seemed that I would now be waiting 4 more weeks for my washer. It seems that they did find the parts under the bench, but now, the problem was that the product was so popular that Maytag was not able to keep up with production (they need to stop kicking parts under the bench). I was frustrated because not only was I now waiting four more weeks, but Beefer never once bothered to contact me about this delay and now it was the second story he gave me for the reason for waiting. Beefer did offer me the wonderful consolation prize of having my dryer be ready in the middle of June (remember this). Though I wasn't entirely sure what one really does with a dryer without a washer -- maybe it could be a amusement park ride for Crosby? So, I decided that he could keep the dryer until the washer was faithfully by its side.

This time, I was little more upset, and wasn't just going to accept that response. So, I called him to ask if there could be any compensation for this delay, and if he could give me a loaner washer and dryer (so I could stop the laundry trips that ate up an entire afternoon). Beefer let me know that the price was already at the best deal he could do, and unfortunately, he did not have anything that could be a loaner. So, I was now left with an empty space in my basement, and clothes that were starting to talk to me.

I decided at this point to ask around to other stores and see if they had the model that was apparently just too popular for its own good. At every store, I was told that if I placed an order now, that I'd probably have to wait at least 4 weeks. They also let me know that this was likely due to the fact Maytag product was so popular and they had underestimated what was needed. The story sort of checked out with Beefer's, except for the fact that I wasn't placing my order at that moment, but had done it almost 6 weeks ago. I also called a store called Goemans in Kitchener(the place I should have gone originally), which sold the same model for over $200.00 less (but outright told me they couldn't get it until close to August -- which there was no way I'd wait until then).

The exchange with Goemans did give me some leverage. I contacted Beefer, and let him know I was really disappointed with how things had gone down. I was frustrated that he never called me with status updates, so I could be informed. I was frustrated the story kept changing on why I had to wait for so long. I was also frustrated that he refused to offer any compensation. So, I told him that I would go to Goemans unless he price matched. To the credit of Beefer, he did quickly discover he had room to move his price point and now, was able to knock off the money to match Goemans. This now meant I just had to wait four weeks, and then, I'd definitely have my washer and dryer.

The beginning of July arrived, and I was ready for some washer and dryer delivery goodness. To my surprise and complete shock, I had not heard from Beefer. So, I called for a status update, and was informed by Scrambled Eggs that he was on vacation. But suddenly, I now could talk to a person who was not my original salesperson. This time I talked to Bacon Slab, who couldn't really tell me about the status of my washer and dryer, but felt it might be another week or more. He did tell me that he could give me a model that was available this very minute, even though it wasn't what I ordered. He also gave me the promise that there would be free delivery for my troubles. In the end, I wanted the washer and dryer I ordered, plus Beefer would be back in a few days, so I decided to wait.

I called on the day that Beefer was to be back at work, and found out that his vacation was so grueling that he was now on his day off. I left him a sarcastic message (at this point politeness was beginning to be pounded away by agitation), and asked him to get back to me ASAP. The next day I discovered a voice mail from him, and it essentially said that Beefer wanted to talk to me. I took that to mean I wasn't getting a washer and dryer that day.

I called Beefer and asked him what was going on. This is when he informed me that my washer wouldn't be available until mid September (it was the beginning to middle of July at this point) and my dryer (the one available in mid June) would not be available until November. But Beefer being the great man he is, was able to offer me a deal. He had been at a washing machine conference and he was shown this brand new LG product of non stop awesome. He told me that this product was available now and could have it delivered within a day to my house. The downside was that it cost $600.00 more than the washer and dryer I had purchased. Considering we went higher than we originally wanted, this wasn't really a small detail. So, I told Beefer that I needed to talk to my wife (and this time I'd listen to her), and I'd get back to him.

At this point, I was so sick of waiting for my appliances. I didn't love the idea of throwing out another $600.00, but I really wanted that washer and dryer (the clothes were now rumbling about a mutiny). We then went into the store to talk to Beefer. I asked Beefer why it would now be a several month wait. Beefer gave me story number three, about how Maytag had decided to completely redesign the product and thus it was pulled from the shelves. When I then asked if this meant I was now buying a new product, he assured me it would be exactly the same (which would seem then that Maytag doesn't understand what redesign means). I then told Beefer that $600.00 increase was really hefty, and was hoping that since I'd been so patient, that he could offer me some type of discount such as free delivery. This is where Beefer informed me that he had been offering great deals to me because of who my father was, and there wasn't much more he could do (apparently, greats deals is matching the sticker price). He told me that he could not offer free delivery, because it was a big ticket item with a high price tag. So, apparently I should have ordered a blender if I wanted free delivery. I needed a bit more time to think and went home with a head that was ready to explode.

I e-mailed Beefer that evening, and told him we would go forward with the washer and dryer even though it was far more than I wanted to pay. I also told him that I felt the customer service had been really poor and wish he had kept me better informed of things. I also didn't understand why he couldn't offer free delivery on the item, when a previous salesperson had said he could on another set of washer and dryer. I also asked why the dryer I ordered originally would not be available until November, when he had told me it would definitely be in the store in June (remember that?). I let him know that I would never even consider going to TA Appliances again unless he could offer me something, be it free delivery or a discount on the price. I let Beefer know that I wasn't all happy and go lucky anymore.

The Beefer immediately got back to me. He told me that he was wrong, and that actually it was the washer that was available in June, except it wasn't available anymore. So, that did a lot of good for me. Then Beefer assured me that if I ever came back to TA, that he would make sure that I got free delivery on my next item. But he couldn't do that now. I wasn't sure how he could guarantee that, because what if I got another high price item (like a really nice blender) or that it was a brand new model again (which was another excuse for this time). In the end, he did magically find a way to knock off a little bit of money, and then promised the product could be delivered that week and it would be completely installed for me. Unfortunately, we ended up going away for a bit, and so we couldn't have it delivered for a few weeks.

The delivery day finally arrived, and I was ecstatic about getting my washer and dryer. When they arrived at our house, I noticed that they were already out of their boxes. The delivery guys assured me that they just took them out of their boxes. They also let me know that the hose was missing on the washer, so they couldn't install it. This obviously just added to the comedy that was becoming my TA experience. I immediately got on the phone to talk to Beefer. Scrambled Eggs notified me that he was with a customer, but he would get back to me immediately.

While I was having that splendid experience, Emily found a fresh looking scratch on our brand new washer. Emily has this thing where she doesn't like scratches on newly purchased products. They offered to give us $50.00 back, but in the end, we decided for them to just bring back the washer. We kept the dryer though, and paid for it. During this whole time, I never heard back from Beefer.

It was over an hour later when I reached Beefer, and he informed me that he just got my message and was about to get back to me. It is crazy how I just happened to reach him when he finally found my message (it must have been hiding with that washer part). I told him about the missing hose, and Beefer let me know how shocked he was. He promised he would call his guy first thing Tuesday morning, which was nice except that it was Saturday. I wanted my washer before Tuesday, not a phone call about it on that day. Beefer said there wasn't anything else he could do, and that was the end of that conversation.

It was at this point that I started becoming a rather unpleasant person. Emily suggested I kept the frustration away from her and unleash it on the owner of TA. So, I called up Scrambled Eggs and asked for the e-mail addresses of the owner and the manager. Scrambled Eggs informed me Brantford didn't have a manager, but she would give me the e-mail addresses of the manager, Spilled Milk, and owner, Burnt Toast, who were in Kitchener. I was under the foolish assumption that I would get the addresses in my inbox right away, but two hours later I had to call again about their status. I was informed by Scrambled Eggs that she was just about to send them this instant -- the crazy coincidences that happen at that store.

It was around this time Emily and I decided to vent our frustrations to our neighbours. Our neighbours had their own bit of info to share. Apparently, they decided to watch the TA movers like hawks, since they messed them over in the past. It was during this time that they saw the appliances wheeled out in wrapped cellophane. The male neighbour had been a professional mover and had never seen a brand new product shipped that way. Of course, the kicker was that he saw how the mover cut off the plastic, and it was clear he was scratched the washer. At this point, I was a little less than impressed to find out that we had got floor models. We were always under the impression we were getting brand new appliances. I didn't want floor models, because I know that people mess around with them and they get more wore down. Heck, I always press the buttons when walking past one of those machines, so I know what people do to them.

This was enough information to inspire me to send off an e-mail to the Spilled Milk and Burnt Toast. It contained the entire story, which you've just been graced with. It also contained these lines, that have now become a favourite among many. "When I was one years old, I accidentally ate shit. It was awful. I promised myself that I would never eat shit again. Yet, you've been shoveling it in my mouth for the last 3 months." I thought it had a nice poetic quality to it. I also ended the e-mail with three demands: 1) the washer and dryer had to arrive to my house by the end of this week, 2) I get a real discount on this washer and dryer and not some $25.00 certificate for my next purchase, and 3) they pick up the dryer because I didn't want any floor models. I told them, if my demands weren't met then I'd never return to the store again (though at this point the products would need to be free and a parade thrown in my honour for me to ever be interested in returning).

I heard back immediately, and Burnt Toast and Spilled Milk apologized profusely, saying it was the worst customer service story they had ever heard. They said they would work to remedy things immediately on the Monday morning. Despite my shattered faith in customer service, I took them for their words.

I was at work, but Emily got a call Monday morning from the Brantford manager, Puck (the one that Scrambled Eggs told me doesn't exist). Puck profusely apologized for the horrible experience. He then notified Emily that the Maytag pair that we originally ordered had magically appeared in the warehouse (this is the washer not available until September and the dryer not available until November). He also promised an even larger discount on the pair, and that there would be free delivery (so, they can deliver more than blenders for free). Emily asked about a free extended warranty, but he said he would need to look into it. Puck was confused about us being surprised abut it being floor models since his invoice stated they were such. Emily looked at our invoice and it never stated that at all. It started to become clear why Beefer was able to offer a discount, but didn't want us to know about it. Puck assured Emily that these models were brand new. All in all, it was the first positive experience since we ordered the appliances back in May (it was August now).

I was overjoyed with this info, but curious what black magic they used to get the washer and dryer to suddenly appear (I'd never demanded the Maytag models, but rather new pairs of the LG models we now were going with). Of course, I was happy about getting what we initially wanted, but very suspect about how they came available.

I contacted Puck, and asked him how they got these washers and dryers. I wanted to know why they weren't available all this time before. I also wanted to make sure I got a complete break down of what I still owed. Oh yeah, I wanted to make sure a hose would be coming too, so it could be installed.

The response was an interesting one. Puck sent me an e-mail which broke down all the costs. He also informed me that the hose no longer came with this model, but being the amazing Puck that he is, would throw it in at no extra cost. He also showed me that pick up of the dryer normally costs a thousand dollars, but that was being scratched. He said we wouldn't pay delivery because we already paid for it that last time. As for why the washer and dryer were delayed so long, it was apparently due to Americans had under made the product compared to the demand, thus none were available for Canada (this was story number 4).

I then, sent out another e-mail asking how they could ever charge $1,000 for pick up and that I would never pay that price, especially since it was their screw up. I'd rather take a sledgehammer to the dryer and then drop the smashed parts off at their parking lot. So, he shouldn't really expect me to be impressed with him taking away the pick up charge. I also told him I was under the impression the delivery was completely free and the previously paid amount would be added to our appliance costs. After all, the first delivery was for things we didn't want, and there was no way I'd ever then pay for a second delivery. So, the free delivery wasn't anything special if they kept on the original charge. I also again pushed for the reason the appliances magically appeared. Puck then let me know that you can never know what is happening with these big companies and it is a mystery how it arrived so early (such a magical and mysterious business).

I didn't get my answer for the arrival of the appliances, but I did end up getting free extended warranty and entirely free delivery. In the end, we got a pretty decent discount.

This is where the craziness ends. The second delivery would go without a hitch. Well, at least for me. The delivery people were harassed by my neighbour who constantly let them know how much TA sucks, which he screamed from his lawn. The delivery guys alerted me that they had never been heckled before.

Later, Emily and I discovered that the hose does come with the washer (says so in the manual) and in their invoice, TA says they pick up old appliances for free. So, two of my discounts look like one that everyone should get.

So, I now have my washer and dryer. They are really great, and my clothes are now happy and clean. But not really sure if the washer and dryer are good enough to make up for the crazy journey I had to endure to get them. In the end, I got myself an interesting story, and a lesson that I should always listen to Emily.