The Academy Awards do the right thing, again!

I don’t watch awards shows, as a whole. They’re mostly dull and boring. They feature people whom I don’t care about, and subjects that I couldn’t care less about.
But then there’s the Academy Awards.
I haven’t missed the Oscars since … well, since so long, I honesty can’t remember how old I was when I first saw the awards, but I’ve been addicted for years. Be it for Billy Crystal’s wit (Billy, please continue to do the show — you are without a doubt the best host since Bob Hope), or for the speeches, the surprises, the goofiness, it’s kept me captivated for years.
This has been a hard year for the movie industry. Not only plagued with piracy on a public level, the industry has faced the loss of talent on a level that hasn’t been felt before on a such a level during my life. Unlike years previous, there were tributes specifically for two of the Academy’s greatest starts, Bob Hope and Kathryn Hepburn. But when the tribute to the rest of the stars came, there were names in there that forever changed the way we watch movies. It was far too many names to see lost within such a short period of time.
The hard part of this is that the older I get, the more names I recognize. I suppose this is the way of things to come. The names in the future, I’ll know more often than not. One day, I’ll probably know them all. It’s almost like losing good friends, even if they’re ones I’ve never met.
And once again, like last year, I need to thank the Academy for doing the right things. This year was not really a year of surprises. Pretty much everyone who was pegged to win, won. There were no real upsets, no surprises, no shockers. Okay, yes, that is a little boring. But it means that those responsible for voting didn’t make political decisions — they went with the right ones.
Well, yes, the fact that Lord of the Rings swept every category could be construed as political, especially because it didn’t really win in previous years. But let’s look at reality, here. Let’s realize that the Lord of the Rings trilogy is the most influential set of movies seen in the last decade. And nothing like that had ever been done before. The people nominated were those who’d worked on all three movies. Certainly there were other movies deserving of awards, but given the sheer scope of work, and the body that it represents, not to mention the quality of the final product, there is no question of who is deserving.
Best Actor. Sean Penn. Perhaps I would have preferred Johnny Depp, but I can live with Sean Penn. There are a number of people who say he is the Marlon Brando of our age. With all due respect, Sean Penn is far more talented than that — I can actually stand to watch Penn’s performances.
Best Actress. Haven’t seen Monster yet, but if Charlize Theron is willing to go that far for the sake of a role, then she’s deserves it.
I could go on with the other awards, but let’s be honest. When Lord of the Rings wins all 11 of its nominations, there’s no reason to even bother mentioning the others. (Okay, maybe I should, but simply put, if you haven’t read about them, I’m not about to shed any light here — there’s plenty better places to see it all.)
Thank you, AMPAS. Thank you for realizing that Lord of the Rings isn’t just a bunch of fantasy-obsessed teenage boys who need to see wizards. Thank you for seeing that it’s more than just some interesting words in a very long set of books. There is something powerful to this, and only a mind like Peter Jackson could bring it to life.
And thank you for getting Billy Crystal back. Please make sure you keep up the good work.

Flying home to Calgary

I woke earlier than usual — about 8:45 or so. Craig was still up, but not nearly as tired as when he’d scared the bejezesus out of me.
Turning down his offer of a beer (for Craig, this was still the end of the day), I got a glass of orange juice. Craig and I took the opportunity to have a chat about his career. I guess I forced the issue. I’m worried about him. I don’t know Craig as well as perhaps I could — he’d family, but aside from a few visits, I don’t know him even remotely as well as I should for a brother-in-law. For what I do know, though, Craig works too hard. I know the desire, though. I know what drives him, what pushes him forward. I had that drive once. It’s died off in recent months, mostly due to recognition of my own faults.
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Friends from university

Pretty much keep with the trend, I woke late again. When I walked out of the bedroom, though, I found the door to Craig and Cathy’s bedroom open. Given the time of the morning, I assumed Craig would be asleep. I peered in to see if perhaps he had simply not closed the door.
“Good morning, Geoff…” a voice from behind said. I damn near had a heart attack.
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Computer repairs and financial advisors

I woke late again. I could get used to this.
Mom came to pick me up after getting myself all cleaned up. We went down to her place, where I took the time to try and bring her computer up to snuff again. It seems that every time I’m out, I need to do something to her computer. Sometimes it’s something simple. Other times, I spend a couple of days trying to get it to cooperate with me. Such was the case this day.
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VIA Train from Montreal to Toronto

Morning came early. (When your hosts have to get up early to go to work, you get up early, too.)
The plan was simple: on their way to work, Therese and Stuart would drop me off at Central Station where, like when I arrived in Montreal, I would proceed to kill a couple of hours before my train boarded (around 11:00).
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Touring Montreal, Schwartz's Deli

I slept not as long as the previous night, but enough to feel suitably rested. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t sleep too long — this was my last full day with Therese and Stuart, and I didn’t want to waste it.
We had originally planned to do the breakfast thing, perhaps find a nice dim sum in Chinatown, or make use of one of the French cafes. But after a bit of discussion, we realized that it wasn’t breakfast that we were particularly interested in, it was lunch. And not any ordinary lunch, we needed one of Montreal’s legendary delis.
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Shopping in downtown Montreal

I slept nearly 12 hours. I woke up sporadically, hearing the odd noise of running water and cats playing. Simply put, though, I was too damn tired to care. I hadn’t slept that well in ages.
I woke up in time for lunch, which was convenient, since both Therese and Stuart were ready for additional sustinence themselves. It was the first weekend since Thanksgiving that they didn’t have specific plans, since they didn’t have to worry about something having to happen or having to do. No plans, no predefined ideas, no nothing. And it was driving them nuts to not have specific things to do.
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Flying to Montreal to visit friends

I honestly couldn’t wait for 5:00 to come this morning.
Today is the start of my first break longer than a long weekend in almost a year. I’ve been working away on my job, barely taking time off, slaving through one of the hardest Christmases I can remember, and wondering whether anyone’s really noticed.
I won’t even mention my lengthy list of non-work activities.
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Eeek! More cavities!

It’s been another six months, and that can only mean one thing — another visit to the dentist.
Normally, I wouldn’t mind so much. It’s just another trip to the dentist, right? It should be nothing more complicated than a simple check-up, right?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last couple of years, there’s nothing more serious than that.
I went on Tuesday to the dentist for my regular six month checkup. I had fully expected that this would be something simple. I had digured that this would be as routine as most of my dental checkups have been over the last 31-odd years. I had hoped that this would be nice and easy.
You’d think I’d learn, eh?
Part-way through my scaling process with the hygenist, Dr. Chen walked in and decided to conduct his inspection. What to my horror should he find than not one, not two, but *three* new cavities. *THREE*! What the hell?! How on earth can I get three cavities? That just doesn’t compute.
Let’s get realistic. My dental hygiene hasn’t really changed in the last 30 years. It’s pretty much the same from when I was a kid. For 29 years I went without a cavity. In the last three years alone, I’ve had *five* cavities. That’s an average that I’m not particularly happy with.
At the time, we discussed my imminent return, along with changes that have happened to my insurance policy. These are proving to be much larger issues than I ever could have dreaded for.
Let’s be honest. No-one really wants to deal with a bad insurance situation. Why? Simply put, because ultimately, the payments come down to your pocketbook, which is why you have insurance in the first place.
Once upon a time, I had a good insurance plan. That was what the dentist was planning on. He figured, along with the hygenist, that I would get at least eight units of scaling a year. That was the sort of thing that they considered normal. As I’m finding out of late, normal is far from it.
In the last round of negotiation, our dental plan went from once every six months to once every nine months. Our units of scaling (a unit is 15 minutes long) went from whatever the number was to a mere one. One solitary, single unit of scaling every nine months. I don’t know a single adult who uses less than two per visit.
So now I need to plan how to handle going every five months, which means part of it comes out of a health spending account I have, and the rest out of insurance. Especially if I’m getting that many cavities.
Which brings my back to my original point. So I’m sittting in the dentist’s chair, having Dr. Chin bury yet another implement of medieval torture to try and dig out the decay that apparently has entered into my mouth, despite all my efforts to prevent such a thing.
And did I mention no freezing this time around?
Okay, these are tiny little cavities. Next to not even worrying about. Except that they’re cavities, of course. That means having to pay *some* attention to them. Which means having to have them drilled out and filled before they turn ugly.
Vibrations are the only thing that do me in. I hate that. They make my jaw squirm, and my gag reflex really kick in. But nearly as much as having the ultraviolet light that’s supposed to set the gel that’s injected into the newly-drilled holes into some solid material. I gagged so badly that one tooth almost had to be competely reset.
It’s annoying. Dr. Chin has no real idea why this is happening. He says it could be a chain of events. I wonder if perhaps it’s an issue of lack of flouridation of Calgary water and that my favourite toothpaste of years past (Aim) is no longer being made.
But this is just a guess.
Either way, I’ve got more holes drilled in my head (peanut gallery can keep comments to themselves) and have to deal with the future. I just hope it means less drilling. I don’t think I can deal with that kind of pressure.

A good Valentine's Day

I honestly can’t remember the last time I looked forward to Valentine’s Day, if I ever looked forward to it at all. I can’t imagine there was ever a time, but I have to admit that even my somewhat freakishly long memory develops gaps and loses snippets every now and then.
For as along as I can remember, I never liked Valentine’s Day. In grade school, I was forced by concentration camp-like authority, to give Valentine cards to everyone in the class. Even the guys. I never liked this idea. I had a couple of friends, to be sure, but these were *girls*, and I never hung out with them.
Over the years, my loathing of the particular day changed. Now there weren’t any rules … but there were no women in my life outside of family and a couple of friends. While most of the other guys enjoyed a day of close togetherness with a significant other, I wallowed in my own self-misery.
So imagine this year, when after a couple of months of “power dating”, I realize that for the first time in memory, I not only acknowledged that Valentine’s Day was coming up, but I was actually looking forward to it!
By now, you’ve probably figured out that there was someone whom I was interested in taking out that night — an object of my affections. In that, you are correct. But the trick here is to realize that despite being in a position of dating four women (Kristen, Alex, Simone, and Tanis), there was only one woman I was even remotely interested in taking out.
Luckily for me, Kristen ended up with a free evening.Thus I started the plan to experience the first good Valentine’s day in possibly my entire life.
It’s only taken 31 years…
I woke up a little later than planned for a Saturday, but not too late. All that was going to happen was missing going to the gym — annoying, yes, but not the end of the world. First order of business: create the “to do” list. On it were: car wash, hair cut, wine, strawberries, presents, rose, and mailing out a pair of cheques that had to be cashed.
Many of these little tasks were taken care of at the same time. I went down to the Eaton Centre downtown to get my hair cut at a barber shop I knew of (repeated attempts to get my hair cut at the office had all failed due to one reason or another). Luckily, the parking garage offered a car detailing service, which — lucky me! — was open and operational.
The haircut was, a little surprisingly, quite an experience. The cool weather (and a freakishly weird fog the night before) had kept the pedestrian traffic downtown quite light, leaving the barber and I to have quite a lengthy conversation. It was a good one for me, as the barber had a few good ideas for things Kristen and I could do that night. Leave it to a woman to give you the inside scoop when you didn’t even realize you needed it.
Presents, wine, fresh haircut, and uber-clean car in hand, I returned home to finish the remainder of my errands, including getting some strawberries from Safeway, and double-dipping them in chocolate.
Note to self: I need to find a way to soften the chocolate. It was a little difficult to eat like that.
By about 15:00, I was mostly done. Except for a load of laundry I needed, as I realized with a bit of a shock that I had no clean underwear. Heaven forbid you should go out on Valentine’s Day with anything less than fresh-smelling undies.
I arrived at Kristen’s just after 17:00, where we hung out for a few moments, exchanging presents. I had expected a one-way exchange, but was pleasantly surprised to receive a heart-shaped box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates — one of my close favourites.
And so we were off to Catch Restaurant. I’ve been there almost a little too often in the last few months. But admitedly, I don’t mind too much. It’s a bit pricey, yes, but in the end, it’s all about the experience, and the amazing food. Luckily, Kristen had never been in the dining room before, or experienced the sheer joy of exquisite cuisine.
Dinner was a pseudo-set menu. You had a choice of one of four appetizers, a bowl of soup, a choice of one of three entrees, followed by a custom dessert — themed white for women, and dark for men. The idea, of course, to share the experience.
The experience even went to far as to include an unusual wine that I’d never had before: a Vignonier. This peculiar vintage is from France, and has one of the most subtle flavours for a wine that I’ve ever experienced. Imagine the fullness of a cabernet sauvignon, but dial down the volume by about 60%. It’s not watered down, just not as bold. I was a little skeptical, and at first wasn’t even sure that the choice was correct. But after a few sips, I really began to understand the appeal of it.
Following our (fairly expensive, but well-appreciated) meal, we escaped to explore the other activities of the night. This led us down the street to Murrietta’s, one of Calgary’s primiere night spots.
If you want to go someplace after your meals, kick back with a good drink and maybe experience some outstanding music, this is the place you go. The live bands that frequent Murrietta’s make the sometimes-pricey drinks much more affordable.
We took seats along the west wall, a few tables away from the stage. It was an ideal location to engage in conversations, martinis, and some crowd-watching.
The conversation was our usual light repertoire of miscellany, peppered with humourous anecdotes and observations, not really amounting to anything specific.
The martinis, though a little more expensive than at other places, were quite tasty. Kristen had two chocolate martinis, while I started off with a caramel apple, followed by a chocolate. Both were very delish.
Crowd watching became our primary habit. There were some interesting people all evening. While neither Kristen or myself were in our finest, we were far more than just passable. Many of the patrons at Catch looked little more than fresh off the oil derrick with a spin through the laundry cycle. Murrietta’s wasn’t any better.
One particular happy couple caught our attention, specifically the male. He had a most unusual haircut that Kristen and I could only pass off as the result of a dare or a lost bet. The back of his head resembled … well, a pineapple. He looked right out of Archie and Jughead comics. It was peculiar to say the least.
The couple more than made up for the haircut in their ability to dance. It was swing-style, though not too exaggerated. The band, playing a jazzy kind of blues, seemed more than happy to endulge the couple by extending their tunes to quite a degree so that they would have more time to show their skills. Kristen and I, self-professed anti-dancers, both commented that we’d like to learn how to dance like that.
Yes. Me.
We left Murrietta’s after a while and headed back to Kristen’s. There, I pulled out the strawberries and a bottle of nicely-chilled icewine. We sipped and nibbled, reading questions from Mindtrap to each other, often stumbling on some of the questions (they aren’t always easy).
The game went until it became “Strip Mindtrap”.
And at that, dear reader, I must let you go. There are just some things that I will not write about.