equivocality — Jeff Ngan's collection of thoughts, experiences, and projects, inspired by pretty much everything
29 Sep 06

Vacation With John '06: Part 4

Thumbnail: Becky cries 
Thumbnail: Me with gramma Currie 
Thumbnail: Becky tickles John 
Thumbnail: Going for a dip 
Thumbnail: John's birthday present 
Thumbnail: Parade pairs 
Thumbnail: Swimming doggie 

300 km, Windsor to Kincardine, from the bor­der of Detroit to the doorstep of the cot­tage. Due to the break-up, John was too jit­tery to drive. I took the wheel until he could com­pose himself.

This week­end was espe­cially impor­tant for John; it was his birth­day and an over­whelm­ing num­ber of fam­i­lies wanted to visit in cel­e­bra­tion, includ­ing his father. Being the mater­nal cot­tage, Dr. Lea hasn’t been up since his wife died, and this was more impor­tant to John than any­thing else.

By May, the week­ends are already booked past August at the cot­tage. It’s filled with rooms, beds, cots, couches that can accom­mo­date more than a dozen peo­ple. Families come and go, and only Gramma Currie remains con­stant. For most of the year she lives in an apart­ment in town, but when it’s warm enough to live by the fire, the cot­tage is opened for lodging.

This time there was Ross, the cousin who’s since fin­ished pay­ing off his tat­too. There was Ray, hus­band of Fran, father of Heather, uncle of John, who eats his hard-boiled eggs by reg­i­mented rou­tine: dash of salt, dash of pep­per, scoop of mar­garine, scoop of yolk in sequence. There were all the asso­ci­ated fam­i­lies, about five in total, and even a few kids run­ning around, mak­ing four gen­er­a­tions of the Currie family.

I couldn’t even remem­ber the last time I was here, but my last entry in the vis­i­tors log shows that it was three years ago.

Thumbnail: Ballon garden 
Thumbnail: Beach front 
Thumbnail: Beach bench 
Thumbnail: Clear water 
Thumbnail: Carcass 
Thumbnail: Monarch butterfly 
Thumbnail: My pasty feet 
Thumbnail: Praying mantis 
Thumbnail: Beach shells 
Thumbnail: Rock shells 
Thumbnail: Watery log 
Thumbnail: Yellow butterfly 
Thumbnail: Stormy beach 
Thumbnail: Stormy waves 

The best cot­tages are off the beach, and the begin­ning of fall is the best time of year to appre­ci­ate such things. Even though the wind com­ing off the water keeps the area rel­a­tively cool, the sum­mer heat can still over­whelm such delights.

There’s nowhere else like this.

My house was 650 km away, nine more hours on the road by car, bus, and taxi. On Sunday night, it was good to be home.

25 Sep 06

Vacation With John '06: Part 3

Thumbnail: Hamilton Market
Thumbnail: John and Sandra

A short detour, 80 km, Toronto to Hamilton.

We met up with Sandra for din­ner. Prior to this, I only knew Sandra as John’s “best friend from school”, the one he spends most his time with when he’s not with his girl­friend. On the drive up my curios­ity was killing me. Was this Sandra per­son a threat to my friend­ship with John? Would she even­tu­ally replace me as the one he goes to with his prob­lems, his inse­cu­ri­ties, his excite­ments, and would I lose my best friend in return?


Social graces dic­tate that you don’t strike up a din­ner con­ver­sa­tion on which not every­one can opine, but when you get two legal-minded peo­ple together, there’s isn’t much non-law-student can do but lis­ten and observe.

They got along well, but there’s a cer­tain level of inti­macy miss­ing. They still feel each other out, whereas John and I have con­ver­sa­tions with a sin­gle look. When we left, I was reas­sured of my posi­tion as best friend, and felt silly about how I could be so inse­cure about a bond so strong.

Thumbnail: Iced tea
Thumbnail: Club sandwhich
Thumbnail: Club 29
Thumbnail: Lounging in the club
Thumbnail: Serious John
Thumbnail: Julie
Thumbnail: Laura

300 km, Hamilton to Windsor.

I had never been to Windsor before. It’s always remained a place in my head, never tan­gi­ble, because it’s always John who vis­its me. Windsor is where he goes to law school, where he spends the major­ity of the year, and where he works. This was the first chance I had to sub­merge myself in his life and lifestyle.

I went to work with him at the com­mu­nity law office. It’s here that he shares an open office with a dozen other stu­dents, who defend clients from bad land­lords, ten­ants, par­ents, chil­dren, shoplifters, or any other type of liv­ing thing.

Law stu­dents are a dif­fer­ent breed. They’re peo­ple who have ini­tia­tive, who can be extro­verted at the right time. After work, they meet at a pub, sit on the patio, and talk about their cases, about the crown attor­neys who have vendet­tas against them, about moronic clients who speak out of turn and plead guilty to a charge before a bar­gain can be reached.

I was a fish out of water.

Thumbnail: Hall handles
Thumbnail: Room number
Thumbnail: Stair arrows

Given a short tour of the University of Windsor, I took a few quick snaps.

Thumbnail: Helen sign
Thumbnail: Helen dies

The first night we arrived in Windsor, John noticed the win­dow was open, with a note from his girl­friend about car­ing for the hibis­cus just out­side. He stuck his head out the win­dow to see. “How fit­ting”, he said. “The plant has fallen over, and died”.

Minutes before leav­ing for the next part of our trip, they broke up.

22 Sep 06

Vacation With John '06: Part 2

Thumbnail: School piano
Thumbnail: Baseball plaque
Thumbnail: Baseball bleachers
Thumbnail: Board of officers
Thumbnail: Front hall
Thumbnail: Graduating photoset
Thumbnail: Jackson's logo
Thumbnail: Lockers
Thumbnail: Music stand
Thumbnail: Student centre
Thumbnail: Old windows

Before leav­ing for the next part of our jour­ney, John and I revis­ited our old stomp­ing grounds: the high-school where we grew to be friends. We didn’t get to know each other until we had to share stor­age lock­ers in com­puter class, even though we had already met four years before that another ele­men­tary school. Everyone else paired up for the lock­ers, but being the lon­ers that we were at the time, we had no one else with whom to share, so we resigned our­selves to being alone together.

Turns out things worked out for the best.

While we were there, we found a photo mon­tage of a trip the band took to Hungary back when I was around 15 or 16, prob­a­bly in ’95–’96, and not ’98 as I say in the video. They needed more flutes to fill out the wind ensem­ble, and there so I was invited to come along for the three week trip. The framed mon­tage still hangs in the music room, next to the dou­ble basses.

We also vis­ited his mother’s grave. It was fresh with flow­ers, laid there for the anniver­sary that week. We stood in the mild rain, and John told me the story of her death for the first time: how he cried, how it affected his father, and how long it took them to get over it. I had never brought it up until then; it took nearly ten years until I was com­fort­able enough to say anything.

18 Sep 06

Vacation With John '06: Part 1

Taxi, bus, car, 500 km from Ottawa to Toronto.

John, com­ing from a week­end wed­ding, took a flight from Thunder Bay to pick me up. We spent the first three days at the house of John’s par­ents. Circumstances like these always put me on edge; with adults around, we tend to behave, and I’m gen­er­ally obnox­ious when I’m with John.

The step-mother rules the house with an iron fist. No noise after ten. No noise before seven. No using the guest tow­els or soap.

One morn­ing, I was hav­ing toast with some mar­malade when I real­ized that the orange, unla­beled spread in the back of the fridge had a rather sharp taste, sig­ni­fy­ing that it was either offal or expired. John stopped me as I opened the kitchen garbage bin.

You can’t throw that out”

Why not?”

It’s food. Food smells.” John pointed to the dish dry­ing rack. It was filled with milk bags which were used, emp­tied, washed, and dried before being thrown out.

What am I sup­posed to do with it?”

We’ll throw it in the back yard for the birds”

What if the birds won’t eat it? A piece of toast cov­ered with mar­malade would be harder to explain than food in the garbage.”

Eventually, we put the toast in a Zip-Loc bag and dis­posed of it in a pub­lic trash bin four blocks away from the house.

Thumbnail: Flower 1
Thumbnail: Flower 2
Thumbnail: Flower 3
Thumbnail: Fly
Thumbnail: Garden birds
Thumbnail: Garden

The beau­ti­ful gar­den in the back pre­sented some great photo opportunities.

Toronto was our chance to relax. We just hung around and rented movies. When I’m with John I get to see the clas­sics that I’ve missed — every time it’s men­tioned that I haven’t seen a cer­tain title in the store, it’s always met with his button-pushing, “You haven’t seen that?!”. He already has of course, but his mem­ory is so bad that it’s like he never watched them in the first place. This time it was The Shawshank Redemption (very sat­is­fy­ing), Diner (a great coming-of-age film for guys), Four Weddings and a Funeral (ruined by Andie MacDowell’s deliv­ery of “Is it rain­ing — I hadn’t noticed”), and Sideways (fuck­ing amaz­ing). We also saw Out On Bail, which gar­ned many an excru­ci­at­ing reaction.

I still laugh my ass off every time I watch this.

14 Sep 06

Carlo The Crook

Edit: Carlo has taken down his site. I’ve put up a cached ver­sion. Thanks to every­one for the sup­port — goes to show that a voice can count for some­thing on the internet.

Carlo, who lives some­where in Metro Manila and some­times, not most of the time, in Pangasinan, Philippines, has stolen from me. There are oth­ers who steal my work, but this is usu­ally the pic­tures I take, which they use as back­grounds for their own sites (most com­monly the starry sky at Bancroft). I try not to take offence to this; the file sizes are com­monly small, so it doesn’t make much of a dent in my monthly band­width. There are also peo­ple like Sophia, who has made her pres­ence known to me, and uses my words every so often in her own writ­ing as a flat­ter­ing gesture.

Carlo is different.

He’s taken one of my entries and passed it off as his own.
Word for word.

This entry, which I strug­gled days to write, into which I poured my heart, was posted on his blog a day after mine. He did change the title, although I think this hardly ame­lio­rates his actions. He also used my Petal Game pic­ture (per­haps with­out notic­ing my water­mark in the lower right-hand cor­ner), as well as a line from my post inspired by Eternal Sunshine, for a dif­fer­ent entry.

It sad­dens me to think not of how eas­ily some­one can steal things on the inter­net, but how will­ing they are to do it. I can only won­der how many other peo­ple have stolen from me. Lorelle, who offers some great points on what to do if some­one steals your con­tent, sug­gests open com­mu­ni­ca­tion, in com­bi­na­tion with as a let­ter of cease and decist. And while I’m in com­plete agree­ment with this, I felt that for the first time I should write about it instead, to make it pub­lic, so that oth­ers may be aware of their own works. There are peo­ple who will quote with­out ref­er­enc­ing. There are peo­ple who will take with­out returning.

Because what’s the point of blog­ging, when one’s words aren’t one’s own?

11 Sep 06

Autumn Recall

Fall approaches. The trees have yet to shift their colours along the spec­trum, but the tem­per­a­ture has begun to drop. Even when the air is calm it’s a play­ful shiver down the spine.

One of my favourite things to do around this time of year, before I quit, would be some wake and bake to start the day. After smok­ing a joint, I’d open the win­dows, turn up the music, and let the breeze drift inside. Sometimes I would go for a walk with my iPod before the sun fully showed itself. When the beat was right, the hard­est thing to do was not to move my body to the music, to groove embar­ras­ingly, and grind and sing and twirl.

With enough weed in the lungs, any­one will dance.

I won’t say that I don’t miss that lifestyle, because it was a way I could view things from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. My thoughts would run freely on those early autumn walks. Music would sound bet­ter. Girls, cov­er­ing up in sweaters and long sleeves, would look nicer. It was a pre­scrip­tion I would need every week.

The expe­ri­ence isn’t the same until it’s this time of the year. Smothering sum­mer heat dulls the senses. Winter over­stim­u­lates them into sobri­ety, and even after a full bowl, all one can feel is cold. It’s only in the fall, in the per­fect weather, that brings one to ones’ senses. The green air, full of that cold con­crete smell, gives a rush to the head.

Until I walked out­side this morn­ing, with !!! pound­ing in my ears, I never thought I could feel this way again.

The approach of fall has brought this back to me.

09 Sep 06

To Steep

Thumbnail: Bacon grease

Thumbnail: Breakfast

Thumbnail: Dolly's milk treat

All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a lit­tle stronger with each year that passes.

—George Orwell

On Saturday morn­ings I wake up a lit­tle past seven, no mat­ter how late I was up on Friday. Get dressed, check the mail, read the news, go upstairs to cook break­fast in a pan of grease. Everything is timed per­fectly. The toast is started two min­utes before the eggs are bro­ken into the pan, but only after the bacon is done. The tea starts steep­ing two min­utes before that. Everything is ready and warm within 25 minutes.

Dolly gets a treat on the week­end morn­ings: a bit of Fancy Feast, or half-and-half mixed with water. Cats are lac­tose intol­er­ant, so they can’t drink straight milk, but they’re drawn the fat that their noses can smell.

Bacon, bread, egg, bacon, bread, egg. I eat my break­fast in order, going clock­wise around the plate, but I always save a few sips of tea for the end. Even though I’ve given up the Hong Kong style milk tea, Orange Pekeoe is an appro­pri­ate black leaf sub­sti­tute, round­ing out the meal.

It’s a lit­tle rit­ual that keeps me sane. At the end of break­fast, sat­is­fied and full, I can reflect and recharge, down to the dregs.

Every year, as I grow older, I find that I let my tea steep a lit­tle longer. Maybe life has got­ten a lit­tle too com­pli­cated, and I need the tea as a dis­trac­tion, or per­haps life has become too sim­ple, and I need the com­pan­ion­ship of a rich mug to stim­u­late me.

Strange how a teapot can rep­re­sent at the same time the com­forts of soli­tude and the plea­sures of company.

And I’ve never needed this more than I do now.

04 Sep 06

The Beginning To The End

This was the week­end we first met.

The first time we kissed. The first time we held each other. The first time we slept with arms entwined, bod­ies bare and buried under the covers.

It was before the snow melted on the verge of spring, when I would open the win­dows to dry the sweat from our skin.

I put on a song that made me cry, because she said that it turned her on, and with the tears welling up in my lids, we stared into each oth­ers’ eyes.

From the moment we touched, there was never any awk­ward­ness. Only a com­plete trust, a com­fort­ing famil­iar­ity, as if we’d known each other for years, a gen­tle nuz­zle of the nose from my baby-faced doll.

And now it’s over.

Someone who saw this video sent me this very touch­ing let­ter about her story of rape and recovery.

01 Sep 06

Musical Context

For years, I lis­tened to music based on my mood. Playlists were well suited for this. I had one full of sad songs for my sad days, days that would last months at a time. I had one with only quick-paced, aggres­sive gui­tar riffs and lung-spitting screams, for the pock­ets of rage I’d encounter every now and then. One that was mostly elec­tronic inspi­ra­tion — songs that would move me when I needed to move. One for the par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult days, con­sist­ing of stoic melodies that could fill me with grit deter­mi­na­tion. There was even one for the bit­ter­sweet moments, per­fect for a post-show buzz. Every song served a par­tic­u­lar purpose.

This mot­ley group­ing of sin­gle tracks may have been the result of the way I dis­cov­ered new music. Tenaciously, with ears always open, I would record as much as I could that caught my fancy, jot­ting down any dis­cernible lyrics I could use as a basis for a search, and never stop­ping until I could find the song. Hysteria, by Muse, is just one exam­ple, which I hap­pened to dis­cover while watch­ing an awards show. For a long time, it remained a song I’ve enjoyed on my for it’s sub­tle build-up, and ener­getic, nearly chaotic, synth-inspired bass lines.

Things changed when I lived with Trolley. He exposed me to bands of dif­fer­ent gen­res, and being a musi­cal col­lec­tor, this expo­sure took the form of com­plete albums. One of them hap­pened to be Absolution.

Now that I have the entire album, Hysteria is known to me as track 7, com­ing after the pen­sive Interlude, but before the gen­tle, ethe­real, Blackout. In this con­text, pre­ceded and suc­ceeded by two equally sig­nif­i­cant tracks, the song doesn’t sound the same.

Eventually, none of my playlists were appro­pri­ate for what I was feel­ing. At first, I thought that this was the result of increas­ingly sub­tle or com­plex emo­tions, but I’ve come to real­ize that it’s sim­ply because I’ve matured, and as a result, my emo­tions have evened out. With the wis­dom and seren­ity asso­ci­ated with grow­ing older, came the loss of emo­tional highs and lows that would inspire me.

Now it’s become dif­fi­cult to lis­ten to a song in a playlist. Every album has an order. Every track has its place. Listening to a song out of its musi­cal con­text may be hard, but lis­ten­ing to music with­out the rush of inspi­ra­tion is harder.

And this has become my musi­cal context.