Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Eggy Eckler

Eckler recently (September 24) got hoaxed by Jesse Brown -- posing as Stuart Neihardt -- a fellow wanting to start a magazine for the average guy:

The target audience for Stu are men aged 18 to 55, with a personal income of $18,000 to $40,000 or a household income of no more than $55,000. "The Stu reader," says the release, "knows he'll never date a model or have rock-hard abs, and he's OK with that."

The first issue (with the super-low cover price of $1.89) features stories such as "No-Maintenance: The Stu's guide to dating the hot girl's less-hot friend," a feature on "High-pleasure positions that let you gratify her without breaking a sweat," an interview with Wayne Knight, Seinfeld's Newman, and a feature on how to get your dream wheels for under $600

Double trouble alert: Colby Cosh, writing one day previously, in the September 23 Post, also got taken in by Stu.

Most journalists have been tricked (myself included). It happens. What I would like to point out however, is that Brown has hoaxed before – he has a column in Saturday Night, replete with photo, detailing his antics. Now obviously Eckler doesn’t read Saturday Night (which is inserted free inside the Post six times a year) but someone proofing the National Post should be. The Post sent a photographer to Montreal to clicksnap Stu Neihardt, nee Jesse Brown, and surely one of the folks involved in overseeing the article should have recognized him.

That or nobody at the Post likes Eckler, and decided to let her wear some egg. McLaren was close to being fooled too, but -- tragically -- was tipped off by Eckler, according to Antonia Zerbisias in the September 26 Toronto Star:

Neihardt/Brown almost got CBC Radio's As It Happens and The Globe and Mail's Leah McLaren, who had planned to meet up with Brown/Neihardt next week in ordinary guyville, Scarborough.

As It Happens figured it out after pre-taping an interview yesterday with "Neihardt" when producer Mark Ulster made phone checks to one of the advertisers and the printing company that Stu was supposedly dealing with.

As for McLaren, she got saved by me, at least indirectly.

(Believe me, this would have been a much better column if she too got conned. Brown practically begged me to hold off on writing this so he could reel her in, calling her "the great white whale.")

But, because I called Eckler for comment yesterday — "Oh my God no! You gotta be joking! Whatta weirdo! Whatta freak!" — and she's close pals with McLaren, she phoned her and tipped her off

The funny, kinetic Brown, by the way, is the best thing in the moribund Saturday Night, a publication that most people think is still dead. I was at Word on the Street two days ago and was relieved beyond belief to see that the magazine will be redesigned as of next issue, since it’s currently an uninspired visual jumble. I know every issue of SN contains good journalism, but the layout makes it exceedingly difficult for me to leap into an article and start reading.

A redesign? What’s that lapping and slapping at your heels SN? I believe it’s the slow, methodical but deadly sound of the Walrus.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Tofu Phooey

This week I learned that in March of 2001, there was a Jeopardy question (well, to be precise, a Jeopardy answer) about tofurky, the mock Thanksgiving meal created by entrepreneur Seth Tibbott. I also discovered references to the bland, overpriced product (don’t me started about my one and only culinary adventure with that jaundiced tofu blob) have appeared on Jay Leno, Just Shoot Me, Felicity and the X-files.

Tofurky is advertised as America’s Number One turkey substitute. As I like to joke: Quick, what’s the runner-up?


Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Coffee Talk

Had a chance to watch Best in Show again recently, and since I rented the DVD, I was able to pause, transcribe, rewind, transcribe, pause, etceteras, a wonderful little scene that goes a little something like this:

Meg Swan: We met at Starbucks. Not the same Starbucks, but we saw each other at different Starbucks across the street from each other. And Hamilton got up the courage to walk across the street one day and … approached me.
Hamilton: Yeah. I’d seen you at law school before.
Meg Swan: Yeah.
Hamilton: And I know that sometimes I’d be in one Starbucks and then you’d be in the other Starbucks and then I’d think maybe, you know, I should go over to that Starbucks the next weekend and then you’d be at the other Starbucks so we kinda crossed paths.
Meg Swan: [Cackles]
Hamilton: I know it sound so stupid now.
Meg Swan: He’s so good.

As the scene continues Meg and Hamilton (played by Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock respectively) discuss what they were drinking at the time. We learn that Meg was drawn to Hamilton’s choice of Grande espresso, which she thought was "sexy." On the fateful day, Meg was working on her Mac, and Hamilton had his under his arm, and he spotted her J. Crew catalogue and it was brand-name love at first sight. As Meg puts it: "We were so lucky to be raised amongst catalogues."

It’s my favourite few minutes in the film, in no small part due to the fact that there are kitty-corner Starbucks at Robson and Thurlow, in Vancouver. (Best in Show was shot in Vancouver – coincidence?) The scene has a certain deftness in conveying the idea that you are what you own, a No Logo moment, only, like, funny. The whole Starbucks thing dovetails with something Harry Shearer, the voice of Mr. Burns (among many others), said in a Salon.com Q&A interview last year:

HS: You see a yearning to get more of that again in these Main Street-style malls that are being built, which are trying to summon the semblance or a simulacrum of community without actually the essence of it. So there's clearly a feeling that we need more of this but we don't know how to get it at this point. "Let's all read the same book" is as close as we can come.

Salon: And wear the same clothes, and drink the same coffee. Yet you've bemoaned the lack of a Starbucks in an airport when you're stuck there for an hour and a half waiting for your luggage.

HS: I sure do. Because Starbucks is not the problem. The problem is the fact that the only place in town where people sit for any length of time and maybe talk to each other is Starbucks. That's the problem. The problem is that Starbucks filled a hole -- Starbucks didn't invent that hole. There might not be so many Starbucks if there were more plazas, if there were places that older cities discovered were good ideas for people to hang out, where they don't have to spend $3 to get in.

I struggle with this idea, because occasionally I visit the great Satan, even though I hate myself (briefly) afterwards and have chided Naomi Klein for doing likewise.

Unfortunately, the big ol' plaza at Yonge and Dundas has yet to solve the problem. More on that in a few weeks...

Monday, September 22, 2003

Cubist Prose

In all the excitement of Toronto hosting the World Rubik’s Game Championships at the end of August, I forgot to link to an interview I did with Patrik Bossert, who wrote You Can Do The Cube when he was only 13 years old.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Metrosexual Redux

Remember when Douglas Coupland was prescient? It would be easy to joke that he never was, but read the sidebars in Generation X (not the fiction, which may or may not burn your eyes, depending on your sensibilities) and witness the precision with which he nailed the very late 80s, early 90s ethos. (Fact: Generation X was supposed to be a non-fiction guidebook, as it happens, sort of like the Preppie Handbook).

Anyway, Coupland was an extremely profound 28-year-old back in 1991, but his wisdom hasn’t exactly kept up with age inflation. However, I’m not here to beat up on him -- something we’ve all been guilty of – but rather, to point out something lost in the scramble to discuss the metrosexual trend. Feast on this from Shampoo Planet, circa 1992:

Which shampoo will I use today? Maybe PsychoPath, the sports shampoo with salon-grade microprotein packed in a manly black injection-molded plastic motor-oil canister. Afterward? A bracing energizer splash of Monk-On-Fire, containing placenta, nectarine-pit extract, and B vitamins. And to hold it all together? First-Strike sculpting mousse manufactured by the pluTONium hair-care institute of Sherman Oaks, California. It’s self-adjusting, with aloe, chamomile, and resins taken from quail eggs.

Coupland didn’t put a clever label on the condition(er) back then, and main character Tyler lives in Lancaster, a town of 50,000, hardly an urban centre, but I smell proto-metrosexual here, with his "gels, mousses, foams, lotions, salves, conditioners [and] rinses." However, the shampoo fetish wasn’t supposed to be the main insight of Planet, but rather, "Global Teens." Critics Jason Cohen and Michael Krugman in Generation Ecch! lambasted Coupland for his concept of Global Teens, a demographic non-entity ("Have you ever seen a news article, glossy magazine cover or Dateline NBC story on the phenomenon of "Global Teens?")

These days there are global nomads (a herd of rich meandering types primarily interested in sleeping in boutique hotels, and with each other), and Pico Iyer describes a global soul, but the closet analogue to global teens would be trust-fund kids, a repellant species of undeserved, unearned wealthy tykes that Robert Lantham dissected in The Hipster Handbook.

Anyway, the point being, despite the overdone satiric elements – "Hairhenge, containing follicle-maintenance secrets devised by the ancient druids" – Coupland was sorta there first, metrosexually speaking ("Regardless: clean hair; clean body; clean mind; clean life") although this precarious observation could quickly devolve into that nasty tic of music historians who love to find antecedents for various movements, arguing that punk rock began with Iggy and the Stooges, instead of the Sex Pistols.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Flirting Life

Wrote about the urban wink and nudge for the last issue of Toronto Fashion magazine. A month after my deadline, I finally rented and watched Waking Life and became irked after discovering a germane little moment in the film that would have been perfect for the article. And so, to partially rectify my inability to ingest the must-see movies of my generation at a reasonable rate, I offer a transcription of the encounter in question. Backstory: the main character is walking down some steps to get to the subway, and he bumps into an ascending woman. They both say excuse me and continue burrowing. Then the woman turns and stops and says:

Hey. Could we do that again? I know we haven’t met but I don’t want to be an ant, you know? I mean it’s like we go through life with our antennas bouncing off one another, continuously on ant autopilot with nothing really human required of us. Stop. Go. Walk here. Drive there. All action basically for survival. All communication simply to keep this ant colony buzzing along in an efficient, polite manner. Here’s your change. Paper or plastic? Credit or debit? Want ketchup with that? I don’t want a straw, I want real human moments.


Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Bad Cop-Out, No Doughnut

I was pretty close to checking out the Krispy Kreme job fair yesterday at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Toronto (or rather, according to the ad, a holding pen located beside the Hotel). The starting wage of $8 an hour wasn’t very appealing (although I’m not exactly getting rich off blogging) but the dozen free doughnuts per week caught my eye.

[Editor’s note: 12 Krispy Kremes cost $5.99 plus tax.]

I wonder if there was a line-up overnight to try and get a job, much as there are nutbars who spend two weeks camping out in the parking lot of Krispy Kreme so that they can be first in line:

Annie Lewis' mission came to an end at 5:28 a.m. on Tuesday as she landed a spot in the record books with a sugary confection as her reward.

Lewis waited excitedly with hundreds of eager customers as the doors opened and her 12-year-old son, Gregg Pullano, turned on the store's famous Hot Light, indicating to doughnut lovers that it was finally time to sample the sweet confections.

Lewis, a registered nurse, isn't the average customer. She and Gregg camped out for almost two weeks on the Krispy Kreme Doughnuts parking lot, 2129 Lake Lansing Road, breaking the previous national Krispy Kreme camp-out record by one day

So, yes, the KK job fair. A few years ago I wanted to do a short squib for Saturday Night, back when they had The Passing Show section, a cobble of small "magazine-y" bits curious, funny, and meant-to-be-funny. I suggested covering the Taco Bell job fair at the mall two blocks up the street from where I lived at the time. After walking by the empty store Taco Bell had converted into the "fair" -- which consisted of a few chairs and scuffed folding tables, along with badly photocopies application forms -- I felt more than a little uncomfortable. Poking even gentle fun at those who genuinely want a terrible job is not something I felt I could effectively pull off.

In the case of yesterday’s Krispy Kreme employment expo, I was more interested in the size and shape of the cattle call. The ad says they’re looking for "40 enthusiastic individuals" for their retail KREW. So what I want to know is: how many people showed up? (As I write this entry it is Tuesday evening, and I’m willing to bet that either the Post or the Globe or the Star, maybe all three, will mention something about it tomorrow – which is now today, if you follow me.)

Still, had I been whisked off my feet by magical powdered sugar dreams at the fair, perhaps I could have applied for a management position with KK. Doughnut King has a nice ring to it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Scientific SPAM

Liz sent me more SPAM poetics this morning. Titrate? Dilogarithm? Chloroplast? Toss on a white lab coat before reading this one:

Date: Tue, 16 Sep 2003 02:01:51 +0100
From: Susanna Kurtz
Subject: Her Secret, Didrex

[m1.php] [m2.php]

Un-Sub fuzzy bismark coxcomb armata dilogarithm depletion annalen triac
fiske stenographer converge bark assemble giovanni formate revving jude
capstone metalwork armour bounty diminutive coliform erodible tamale
roost adelia guaranteeing inhabit stomp physic conciliatory delmarva
profound severe expect newel starch voiceband decompress chloroplast
bail purr traceable mesenteric finitary acm gibberish beg bandstop
diplomat illicit peregrine puppet shasta vietnamese automat dissociate

Monday, September 15, 2003

Blad Tidings

Last Monday, at a book launch, I learned a new publishing term: blad. Short for Book Layout and Design, a blad is sort of like a chapbook (hopefully you know what that is, or you’ll only be further confused) designed for marketing types, who can show it to bookstores and the like. A blad usually features a book jacket and some sample text from the upcoming book.

Not only did I learn the term last Monday, but I now own a blad, courtesy of a certain Mr. Andy Brown of Montreal’s Conundrum Press. Andy (who is a friend of mine) is about to have a collection of short stories (I Can See You Being Invisible) published by DC Books. He was hoping his new tome would be ready for his jaunt through Toronto (he was ostensibly in town to promote a story he has in Career Suicide, a collection of contemporary literary humour, also from DC), but the blad was the best he could offer me.

I like his three-story blad (I love that word, despite its sonic proximity to blah, which these stories are not) quite a bit. It’s sharp and funny and urban and blad, blad, blad, blad blad…

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Rear-View Reportage

Ouch! Last week’s Virtual Culture column by Russell Smith, about blogs, was launched into the media ether at roughly the same time as Maclean’s wrote about the phenomenon. (Wednesday, September 3 versus Monday, September 8 respectively). I must admit that Maclean’s certainly looks and (occasionally) reads better since their redesign back in goodness knows when (last year? The year before?). However, they are not particularly well-known for setting the popular culture agenda. To be rude, they’re often behind the times by six months to a year.

Granted, Michael Snider in Maclean’s spent most of his article explaining what a blog is, while Smith tried his valiant best to be philosophical and profound:

In fairy tales, protagonists with terrible secrets whisper them to the grass or to a hole in the ground. In the absence of such a poetic sensibility -- and in the absence of actual priests -- the Internet serves as a neutral receptor for yearnings and anger and confession: It is a cosmic ear.

To quote Alfred E. Newman, "Ecch!"

Monday, September 08, 2003

Brand Skanking New

Eons ago (Fall of 2001), Billeh Nickerson (a fellow Arsenalian) sent a letter asking me to contribute to Skank: a Book of Questionable Tastes, an anthology that he was co-editing with Michael V. Smith. The project, initially scheduled to be published in Spring of 2003, was first delayed before eventually being declared kiboshed, meaning the only way my little prose poem submission will see publication is here. For your enjoyment:

The Tail of the Tape

Sluts spoon; skanks spork
Sluts rehearse; skanks improvise
Sluts are frizzy; skanks are greasy
Sluts are needy; skanks are greedy
Sluts are fleshy; skanks are skinny
Sluts rinse clean; skanks leave stains
Sluts project auras; skanks emit odours
Sluts rent costumes; skanks build wardrobes
Sluts prune hedges; skanks neglect shrubbery
Sluts endure carpet burn; skanks suffer shag rug burn
Sluts are citizens of Slutsville; skanks roost in Skanksterdam
Sluts are too young to know better; skanks are too old to care
Sluts wear spandex pants; skanks squeeze into acid-washed jeans
Sluts earn frequent flyer points; skanks receive lifetime achievement awards

Ryan Bigge’s memoir Slunk: Trapped Between Slut and Skank is currently being fleshed out.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Pulp Friction

Ladies and gentleman, we once again have a newspaper war! Flip through today’s Toronto section in the National Post and feast on extra pages, newish columnists (welcome back Gord McLaughlin, we missed you) and actual new columnists (The Big Picture: inside the art scene with Catherine Osborne). There appears to be much more life and heft in the section today (either that or I’m in a good mood and giving it a bigge hug for no reason) and a few new packaged bits, including The Burning Question. Most importantly, the section looks fun and inviting, unlike the debut Globe Toronto section, which looks more capital "S" serious (they trumpet the "one-two punch" of John Barber and Blatchford on page one) and spends great lengths to explain its reason for being:


The Globe always seems to focus group or overthink its lighter bits, making the end result feel like a scientist trying the explain the physics of mirth. The Toronto section of the Post, meanwhile, probably errs too much on the side of fluff first, think later, but in this case, I think it’s going to work to their advantage. I will assess one demerit to their tally sheet, however, for their page A2 lameness in explaining the changes:

"Because periodic change is healthy, we've introduced several new features in today's Toronto section that we'd like to tell you about."

Right. Sure. Uh-huh.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Dead End Street

I bought the National Post on Tuesday for National Post Business Magazine (I normally purchase Dizzy Izzy product only once per week) and discovered that Avenue has returned to the Arts&Life section. For those who never experienced the joy that was the original Avenue, it was a double-page spread that explored a particular idea or new book or hot trend or weird discovery, all in full colour, heavy on the graphics or photos and light on text. It was big, bright, gorgeous and expensive, from what I understand. FYI: Ellen Vanstone discussed the section at length in her essay "Post Traumatic Stress," which can be found in Word Carving, an anthology of literary journalism from Banff Centre Press that was recently published. (The article was also published two years ago in Toronto Life, I believe.)

Anyway, Avenue was one of many casualties when the Aspers axed everything and everybody interesting from the newspaper back in September of 2001. So I was somewhat surprised to see it return two years later. After gutting their superior-to-the-Globe Arts&Life coverage, the Post quickly discovered people disengaged their subscriptions with harrowing speed, given that many people had been holding their nose and closing their eyes to the right-wing-wacko news section, instead skipping ahead to the Post’s amazing and youthful look at pop culture and artistic happenings. Take that away and what was the point of continuing to read the Post?

You might expect me to be overjoyed at the return of Avenue, but it’s being done on the cheap, which in my estimation is worse than not having it at all. (And I’ll avoid the creative dearth this kind of decision speaks of, not to mention the sloth-like speed of its return.) It’s now one page, not two. Bad idea.

Somewhat appropriately, the debut Avenue the Second shows how to make a perfect paper airplane, encouraging readers (returning students, to be precise) to fold the newsprint patterns and chuck them around the classroom. This somewhat neat idea (the planes bear a modified version of the current marketing slogan, reading: "Your Plane. Your Post") does have unfortunate optics, however. Converting hallowed newsprint into a flying projectile has the unintended consequence of making one think the pulp they were holding isn’t actually meant to be read anymore, but rather, converted into origami. I for one am waiting for the bird cage liner Avenue.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

2 + 2 = 5 (Orwell, not Yorke)

Three days ago, Edward Greenspon, the Editor-in-Chief of the Globe and Mail used up 1,126 words in explaining why there will soon be a Toronto Globe section every Saturday. He also noted that weekday T.O. coverage will improve. He could have saved himself 1,098 of those words by saying the following:

We are increasing our Toronto coverage to stay competitive, given that the Post publishes a Toronto section every Saturday and the Star has a Sunday supplement called Metropolis.

Instead, Greenspon informs his readership that:

As we examined our paper and talked to our readers, we discovered a void. Many told us they respect The Globe and value its reporting, but wished it would do for Toronto what it does for Canada. That is our goal.

Of course, we have always maintained a local presence. But as we grew in other areas, it's probably fair to say that we didn't keep pace in Toronto. The time has come to rectify that situation.

It would make me ill to quote more because the premise behind Greenspon’s Letter From the Editor (a weekly ink drain that Frank magazine long ago correctly ascertained is a complete waste of time) is that there is a dearth of Toronto coverage in the Globe.

This notion is so stupid I’d have to invent a new word to properly mock it.

Suffice to say, the Focus, Style and especially the Review section (which features Toronto-specific coverage the rest of the country never has to endure) are already dominated by T.O. chatter (e.g. Leah McLaren writing about Tim Hortons trying to open a franchise on Queen Street West). Why insert more of it? I live in the centre of the universe, and even I’m sick of hearing about what happens outside my apartment door.

On a somewhat related note, Greenspon strikes me as an incredibly dull human being – or, at least his Letters do. I cannot remember anything interesting I learned about him in his summer profile in the Ryerson Review of Journalism. The recent Globe "special examination" into Canadians under 30 was stunning in its lack of surprising and/or new info. (e.g. Mixed marriages? Here in Canada? No way? Get out of here.) One particular Saturday edition of the summer Globe was so bad a friend of mine declared it "a sack of crap." The woman at the convenience store who sold him the paper said (after informing him of the 50 cent price increase): "The kids today, they go on the Internet. They don’t read the newspaper. It’s not going to last." I cannot express how pleased it makes me to hear that a woman behind the counter of a Kwik-E-Mart thinks a newspaper founded in 1844 isn’t going to hobble about for much longer.

Final thought: most notes from the Editor are inherently lame. The only ones I like (e.g. Tony Keller’s monthly memo in National Post Business Magazine) are enjoyable because I’m familiar with the person writing it. It’s very difficult to strike the correct tone and topic in these things – trying to inform readers about behind-the-scenes gear-winding can too easily become lectures in The Importance of Journalism or nebbish tales of minutia gone wrong.