March 17, 2019

Patreon Video Greeting and WIP Excerpt

Greetings and Salutations


You can get excerpts like the one below, blog posts, lyrics, and videos like the one above over at my Patreon page a full two months before you will see them here. Affordable tiers ($1, $3, $5) and something for everyone. Don't wait to see it on the blog, check it out on Patreon!

Sometime in 2020 the first book in The "No" Conspiracies series, No Fixed Address, will hit the shelves. Here's your first look at the antagonist, Peter. Take note that this is an UNEDITED excerpt and may end up looking quite different after it goes through my editing team.



I am the only person in Dallas who has ever had this phone number. My dad pulled some strings for me when I moved here and he ensured that it had never before been in use. He also pays the bill. The only time it rings it when he calls me every Wednesday evening at seven PM.

The ring sounds like someone has let loose a compendium of three-year-olds with wooden spoons banging every pot and pan in the house. It is deafening. In the three years I have lived here, I have not been able to figure out how to turn down the volume and I am too lazy to replace the phone with something less obnoxious.

I am awakened from a deep dreamless sleep to the cookware cacophony that is my telephone. With my heart pounding like a bass drum in my chest at one hundred and eighty beats per minute my arm shoots out and knocks over my stack of bedtime reading comic books. Until that moment it was topped with my black hardcover engineering notebook. It makes a nice thwack as it slaps against the wall and slams to the floor.

I glance at the clock. Three PM. Four hours of sleep after writing code for the previous twenty does not feel like enough. I find and answer the phone without so much as clearing my throat.

"Hello?"

“Pete!”

The enthusiastic, high pitched squeal of my boss hits me like a steak knife on a stoneware plate. You have got to be fucking kidding me.

“Peter?”

At least the useless peon is correcting how he addresses me now. I am not a fan of short forms or nicknames. I empty my lungs with a long sigh. I cannot resist getting a quick dig in. The man loves to be called Rich.

“Yes, Richard?”

Incoherent mumbles come through the phone’s plastic receiver. Is he laughing? Heh. I hope he does not think I am being playful. The fact that an asshole as dim as a 4 Watt bulb is working that job never ceases to amaze me. The fact that he is an insufferable brownnoser makes it worse. The fact that I have to report into him makes me want to shove a Costco-sized bundle of sharpened number two pencils up his ass. Yes sir, one hundred and forty-four miniature graphite enemas coming right up. I should write that into the computer game I am working on.

“Pete—Sorry—Peter, are you there? We have a bit of a situation here. We need some WLCs to fill in for an Overnighter.”

WLC stands for Weekend and Leave Coverage; the Overnighters are the group that works the eleven P.M. to seven A.M. shift.

“How is this a situation? Our job is to cover off other people’s shifts. Why does it need to be me? Not interested”

“You’ve been specifically requested.”

“By whom?”

“You know how the hierarchical game is played, Peter. That’s not the direction this type of stuff flows.”

Richard is incapable of pronouncing hierarchical. Every time he tries, it comes out sounding like the name of some science fiction villain. Hire-arch-eee-cal. He uses big ten-dollar words all the time to make him sound managerial and important.

“I am intimately familiar with the office pyramid of accountability. How long are we talking?” Shit, I should not have asked that. Now I am negotiating. Never negotiate with terrorists or idiot supervisors. I look to my floor for my notebook, find it within an arm’s reach, and grab it.

“Well here’s the thing, it’s for the foreseeable future. Between you and me, it’s likely going to be permanent.”

I open my notebook with one hand and catch the pencil as it falls out from between the pages. “I am still not interested, Richard. I am not real keen on busting my ass as a full-timer and not getting any of the other benefits that come along with it.”

I am still not fully awake and my pencil leaves shaky scribbles of numbers on the page already cluttered with the last set of algorithms I am working on for a special assignment.

“You should be excited, Peter! Y’all are coming off weekends and leave.”

My grip on the handset tightens. The fake excitement in his voice makes me want to set my phaser a degree or two past stun and fire off a shot right at his throat. “You said ‘y’all’, Richard. Who is ‘y’all’?”



Thanks for reading!

~ Andrew

March 10, 2019

Opening From No Fixed Address

Sometime in 2020 the first book in The "No" Conspiracies series, No Fixed Address, will hit the shelves. Here's your first look at it. Take note that this is an UNEDITED excerpt and may end up looking quite different after it goes through my editing team.

You can get excerpts like this, blog posts, lyrics, and videos over at my Patreon page a full two months before you will see them here. Affordable tiers ($1, $3, $5) and something for everyone. Don't wait to see it on the blog, check it out on Patreon!
The table in this exam room is gray. The countertop is gray. There is a thin slice of scratchy gray paper between my butt and a cushioned if you could even call it that, gray table. Heck, there is even a gray paper towel dispenser dispensing gray paper towels.

Everything on the counter is perfectly aligned except for the biohazard box. All the jars with gray lids filled with cotton balls, long sticks with cotton on the tips, and tongue depressors are lined up with their sides touching and lettering exactly parallel to the edge of the counter. The bright red biohazard box with that funky symbol on it, however, is skewed to the left facing away from the others. It’s probably embarrassed. Everything inside it is sickly, or dirty, or lethal to anyone who comes in contact with it. I'd be embarrassed too if I was a walking death sentence, which for all I know I am.

I clench my fists and shove them under my legs to help stifle the urge to straighten it and instead focus on the mystery breeze blowing on my bare ass from an as yet undiscovered vent. I complain about the open-at-the-back gowns every trip I make to a clinic or hospital. Doesn’t everyone? Of course, what is the alternative? Open at the front? Ugh. 

A young doctor enters through the gray door. Stereotypical white lab coat? Check. Stethoscope hanging around her neck? Check. Friendly but detached expression trying to convey concern the same way you see a television doctor saving lives 60 minutes at a time, minus the commercials? Double check. 

I stifle a laugh-cough, but all it does is sound like I’m suppressing a belch. She directs her attention to her clipboard and flips to the second page and then back to the first.

“Good morning Mister...Um… Mister…” 

I’m not baling her out. She is on her own. She hasn’t bothered to update her office with a computer so the least she can do is put in a little effort to learn my name. Even if it is a pseudonym. If I didn’t think I was dying I'd get up and leave. 

“Mr. Phillips. Right. Mr. Phillips. Hey, there's a doctor named Phillips on that TV show.” 

“He's my cousin.” 

The Luddite doctor cackles and it sounds like my kindergarten teacher on the army base where I grew up. I wonder whatever happened to her. She has likely passed on. Cause of death: Got too close to the biohazard box at her last check-up. 

“My name is Doctor Jordan. What seems to be the trouble today?”

“I've got what appears to be a growth on my shoulder. It's probably cancer. I'd like you to take a look and refer me to someone who can remove it.” 

“Well let's not get ahead of ourselves, Mr. Phillips. Take the top part of your gown off and we'll have a look-see. Where on your shoulder is it?” 

“Just around back near the top of the scapula is a gnarly looking brown lump. Asymmetrical, multi-colored, raised. Nasty looking.” 

“Hmm. Well, it definitely looks suspect. Let's book you for a consult with a dermatologist.” 

“Can't I just make an appointment to have it lanced, or scooped out with a grapefruit spoon or something and then sent for a biopsy? Wouldn't the most efficient path be to just lop it off and be done with it?” 

“It's not about efficiency, Mr. Phillips, it's about your overall health and wellbeing. We don't want to be any more invasive than we need to be. We'll have an expert take a look and we'll go from there, okay?” 

“Listen, one way or another, this thing is being cut out. I was going to do it myself but I thought it’d be worth the trip to see if you could recommend something less drastic than a fifth of Jack Daniels and my hunting knife.” 

“Do you often have the urge to cut yourself, Mr. Phillips?”

“No, I only have the urge to cut myself when I notice an abnormal growth sticking out of my shoulder!”



Thanks for reading!

March 03, 2019

Hard Truth Opening Chapter

This is the opening to my first fiction novel, Hard Truth. Available now from Amazon (.com or .ca), Barnes & Noble, Indigo, Walmart, iTunes, and Google Play

You can get excerpts like this, blog posts, lyrics, and videos over at my Patreon page a full two months before you will see them here. Affordable tiers ($1, $3, $5) and something for everyone. Don't wait to see it on the blog, check it out on Patreon and stay ahead of the curve!


Monday, July 10, 11:30 a.m.       

Thomas held his sleeping mother's hand as she lay motionless in her fancy medical bed. Her face wore an expression of pain and discomfort. Even with the oxygen mask, she had difficulty.
The nurse was singing a song and folding laundry. Sandra was putting a perfectly folded fitted sheet onto a pile of flat sheets and pillow cases forming on top of the dresser.
"Why don’t you take the rest of the day off?" Thomas offered.
"That’s very generous of you, sir, but it’s not necessary. Go to the office or go buy your wife something pretty, I’m sure she’ll appreciate that," Sandra suggested.
"Yes, I’m sure she would, but I want to spend some time with my mother during the day for a change. How’s she doing today, anyway?"
"Not great, but you know she’s been having ups and downs for a while now."
"I should have expected a downturn. She had a couple good days in a row and it was probably too much for her to put together one more. Go home."
"Are you quite sure?"
"Yeah, I’ll be staying here for the remainder of the day and at least until Mrs. Van Steen or Brittany get back."
"As you wish. I’ll just finish with this laundry and then be on my way."
"Sounds good. I’m just going to hop in the shower. If I’m not out by the time you’re done, just let yourself out and we’ll see you tomorrow."
He retreated to his washroom to clean up and throw on some casual clothes. It wasn't often he got to wear jeans on a Tuesday. When he came out of his bedroom dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of well-worn Levi’s 501s, the nurse was gone. There was a basket of perfectly folded laundry on the coffee table with a note that read, "She didn’t eat much breakfast so she might be hungry. There’s soup in the fridge. Thank you! Sandra."
Thomas took the note and threw it in the garbage and checked the fridge. There was a bowl of soup with a plastic lid and another note on top that read, "For Mother."
Thomas checked his watch and saw that it was just about time for lunch so he pulled the soup out of the fridge and microwaved it for a few minutes, which turned out to be entirely too long, as the bowl was too hot to the touch when it was done being nuked. He grabbed a dish towel from the handle of the oven door and wrapped his hands around the bowl before shuffling back the way he came with extreme caution. He didn’t spill a drop. 
He walked like a tightrope performer around the corner and into the room, nudging the door open with his knee. She didn't budge as he fumbled his way to her side, ensuring he took a wide berth around her bed to avoid a hot soup disaster. Setting the bowl down on the nightstand and pulling up the rocking chair, he sat down, closed his eyes, and rocked himself for a few seconds. The quiet was nice.
The cell phone in his pocket rang with the chorus to Sweet Caroline blasting through the faded denim. He jumped up to silence the phone and his knee caught the edge of the nightstand and knocked a glop of soup onto the hardcover copy of Dickens as well as the alarm clock. He pressed the answer button on his phone as he reached to the floor where he dropped the dishtowel after delivering the soup.
"What?" he whispered.
"Thomas? It’s Roger from Doodlepants Toys and Collectibles. I have some news about your costs."
"Yeah, it's me. Just dealing with a, uh, situation here." Thomas wiped the soup off the book. "Lay it on me, how bad is it?"
"It’s bad. After your up-front capital costs for basic materials and transportation…"
Thomas flinched and bumped the bowl of soup as he was trying to clean up his mess and sent more spilling onto the alarm clock, table, and floor.
"God damn it. Go on, but hurry it up. My situation got worse."
"Want me to call you back?"
"No, I need to know now."
"Well, after the up-front capital costs for basic materials and transportation it’s going to cost at least three times what you budgeted for the manufacturing and distribution."
"What? Did you say three times?"
"At least."
"Jesus Christ. What the hell happened?"
"An earthquake. It damaged the manufacturing plant. No casualties, but no production for a while either."
"Son of a—"
"Listen, if there’s any way to get out of that contract I’d find it. You’ll be lucky to make a third of what you were hoping."
"Fuck."
He ended the call, slumped down in the antique rocker, put his head in his hands, and rubbed his forehead. The flashing blue light on his phone caught his attention and the little envelope icon indicated he had a voicemail. He dialed and wedged the phone between his ear and shoulder to listen to the message. As he leaned forward to mop up the soup, his hand pressed a button on the alarm clock and the radio started blasting.
"For the love of—"  He scrambled to unplug the alarm clock as he listened.
"Thomas, it’s Stephen. I’m still waiting for the contract. I thought Jenny was supposed to make copies and fax them over before she left the office. Get me back with the status ASAP. I'll be in class so send a text or leave a message."
He looked down at his sleeping mother with a big grin on his face. "She hasn’t faxed it." His hand found a cord behind the night side table. He gave it a yank and his mother’s ventilator started beeping loudly. "For fuck’s sake." She stirred in the bed and he reached down and yanked the plug out of the wall for the clock and fished around for the cord to her machine. Soup was everywhere. His fingers found his target and he felt his way down the wall until they touched a wall plate. After two tries the machine's quiet hum and her labored breathing were the only sounds in the room. He checked his watch and calculated twenty minutes to get to the office—if traffic cooperated. He kissed his mother on the forehead and bolted out the door.
He waited only a minute for the elevator to arrive and in that time he left a voice mail for Jenny to not fax the contract. The elevator doors opened as he cursed Jenny for not being in the office or answering her cell phone. He stepped in and pushed the button for the lobby, the last floor for his elevator, and cursed the design of the building for having a separate elevator to take you to the parking level
He hammered on the door close button in false belief that this would result in the doors taking less time to shut. The automated voiced announced he was passing the ninth floor, the lights turned off and the elevator came to an abrupt stop. There was a moment of total darkness before the emergency light came on. "You gotta be fucking kidding me." He slammed an open hand against the elevator wall. "Fuck! Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuckity fuck fucking fuck!" He pushed the emergency call button and nothing happened. There was no beep or buzz or ringing or any indication at all that it was working.
He turned on the security monitors in the elevator and cycled through the floors until the image on the black and white monitor showed the lobby. It was a wide shot of the foyer with the security desk in the corner and Mitch out around the other side gyrating and twitching like he was having a seizure.
"Answer the call button, you worthless idiot."
He pressed the audio button and the blues-driven sounds of Keith Richards's guitar penetrated the steel box. The sound had a distinct echo, as if it were broadcasting out of a giant tin can, or say a small metal box eight-and-a-half floors above ground.
"Screw you, Mitch. You’re a terrible Mick Jagger."
Mitch ran to the other side of the desk and picked up the security phone, and Thomas, watching and listening to the conversation, tried something different.
Thomas took out his cell phone and checked for a signal and was immediately disappointed. There was no cell coverage and he was out of Wi-Fi range for his unit or anyone else’s. On top of that his battery was sitting at less than ten percent.
"Shit."
He closed his eyes and fought to remember if he plugged mother's machine back into the proper socket—the one hooked up to the backup power. He was so angry and flustered that he couldn't visualize where his hand was on the wall. Normally the alarm clock plugged into the regular socket so it would have been easy to tell, but with the phone call and the soup debacle both were unplugged. He furrowed his brow, squeezed his eyes closed more tightly, and rubbed his temples. Even plugged into the wrong socket the battery backup would last about half an hour.
He started to hyperventilate and his chest became tight. A bead of sweat rolled down his forehead and he pulled at the collar of his shirt. He checked his watch and his hand shook as he looked at the time. It was 12:02.
Mother had twenty-eight minutes to live.


January 27, 2019

Perspective

Today I'm going to write about perspective. Not in the artistic sense, nor even in the sense that on any given topic we each have our own, but in the cosmic sense. You see, there's a condition that afflicts all life as we know of and that has ever been. That condition is called existence, and as the only known species with the intelligence to comprehend what that means it can be easy to get full of ourselves and lose sight of the big picture.

As with any good conversation on this topic, it's probably a good idea to lead with a little Carl Sagan. Many of you have seen this picture before.

NASA - Image in the public domain

It was taken in 1990 by the Voyager I probe on February 14 at the request of Carl Sagan. It took a decade for the request to come to fruition, but after it did here's what he had to say about it.

We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.
Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It's been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.
— Carl Sagan, speech at Cornell University, October 13, 1994

To give you an idea of exactly how far away Voyager I was when it took that photograph, here's a picture, though it's not to scale. As we'll see in a bit the scale of the Solar System, and indeed the Universe, is staggeringly massive.

Joe Haythornthwaite and Tom Ruen [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

How far away is that? It's far. I mean, really far. The Pale Blue Dot photograph was taken 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles) away. If you zoom in on the above photo you will see a date beside the white line near earth. In September 1977 Voyager I was launched, and traveling at an average speed of roughly 60,000 km/h ( mph) took thirteen years to get that far away. Space is big.

Someone put together a fascinating GIF of the solar system and all the "stuff" in it. Here we see one Earth year of movement compressed into five seconds.

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/5a/a4/4c/5aa44c326b9d7e83f3c0b77852544612.gif

Take a look at Neptune (blue circle, top left). In one Earth year, it has barely moved. In fact, it takes Neptune 165 years to make a single trip around the Sun. When Neptunians say "winter is coming" and have a look of concern on their faces, it's for good reason.

But let's start a bit closer to home, shall we? The Earth in of itself is a pretty big chunk of rock and it's configured in the Solar System in such a way that at any given point in time half of it is in darkness. There's a neat map from our friends at Solar System Scope that shows you night and day across the planet: http://www.solarsystemscope.com/daylightmap/

If you want to be truly mesmerized then the International Space Station has a live feed from one of its cameras that you can watch. Flat Earthers beware, from these cameras alone there's sufficient evidence to put a hefty dent in your little "theory": http://www.ustream.tv/channel/iss-hdev-payload

Humans have also spent a great deal of time, energy, and money putting satellites and cameras and telescopes into space to help us understand not just our home, but our surroundings, and our place in the Solar System (and indeed the Universe). One of the coolest series of pictures I've seen is a solar eclipse as seen from beyond the Moon and the ultimate photobomb of the Moon getting in between a weather satellite and the Earth:

Image Courtesy NASA (via Tumblr)
Image Courtesy NASA
That last GIF makes the moon look pretty small. As it was, it took the Apollo space missions about three days to get there. Did I mention that space was big? Well, what if the moon were the size of a single pixel on your screen right now? It's a cool exercise to ponder and it gives us a real sense of the vastness of our surroundings. In fact, someone thought it was so cool that they created a model for it. Spend a few minutes scrolling (and scrolling and scrolling and scrolling) through it. It'll blow your mind.

If the Moon Were 1-Pixel: http://joshworth.com/dev/pixelspace/pixelspace_solarsystem.html

The folks over at Khan Academy have done this awesome video which also provides a bit of scale to our celestial neck of the woods:




This is all well and good, but what about beyond our Solar System? We orbit but one star out of hundreds of billions in our galaxy alone and our galaxy is but one of trillions in the observable Universe. To get a sense of what lies immediately beyond our Sun there are a couple of really cool, interactive sites you can visit:

Our Stellar Neighborhood, http://stars.chromeexperiments.com/, allows you to zoom and pan and view 100,000 of the nearest stars. Solar System Model, https://www.solarsystemscope.com/, is a similar tool, but this one has more features and also includes options to show spacecraft, constellations, dwarf planets, comets, and a lot more. Still, nothing we've seen so far gets us out of our galaxy, the Milky Way, at the center of which is a black hole.

Black holes sit at the center of just about every galaxy and if you thought things were big before, check out this video on just how massive some of these things get:



And there are more than a trillion of them. Most people don't have much of a sense of how big a trillion of something is. Let's put that number into context. I think everyone will agree that one second is pretty quick. If you string enough of them together though, you start to see how they add up. For example, a thousand seconds is roughly 16.67 minutes. A hundred thousand seconds is a little over a day (1.157 and change). A million seconds is ten times that or about eleven and half days. A billion seconds is 31.69 years. A trillion seconds? 31,688 years. So yeah, big.

A few years ago, while pondering the vastness of the Universe, some smart person at NASA decided that they would take the Hubble Telescope and point it at a small square of nothingness to see, well, what they could see. Suffice it to say they were not disappointed.

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/science/xdf.html
Every bit of light you see in that picture is a galaxy. In each galaxy are hundreds of billions of stars. This picture represents only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the sphere of our night sky. To photograph the rest of it you would need to take another 12,913,983 pictures. What would that look like? Something like this:

Wikipedia Commons

Note that the above image isn't to scale. Not even remotely close, to be honest. So exactly how big is the Universe?




Which is all fine and dandy, but again, people have a hard time comprehending the scale. All of our reference points are too small and too slow. Fortunately, someone at NASA put together something that shows that even if you travel at the upper limit for speed - the speed of light - it takes a really long time to get anywhere. One could say that the speed of light in that respect is rather slow. Put another way, space is huge.

How long it takes for light to travel between the Earth and Moon

How long it takes for light to travel between the Earth and Mars

Finally, for anyone wondering where God and religion fit in, I will leave you with this (enlarge the photo when it loads and scroll):

http://img.gawkerassets.com/img/19eyi7t3h9ocnjpg/ku-xlarge.jpg

~ Andrew



Other Important and Interesting Links


December 16, 2018

Happy Little Accidents

I used to question the theory that every moment in a person's life has led them to the moment they are experiencing right now. I mean, how many throwaway moments have there been? Certainly a lot. We're not living a fictitious life within the pages of a best-selling novel. Not everything that happens moves the plot forward or develops our character. Sometimes the tip of your pencil breaking is inconsequential, and then sometimes a sequence of events gets strung together over twenty-five years to culminate in an experience never to be forgotten.

Like this one.

Back in my first year of university, I met a few people that, even at that early stage, I knew were special. My buddy Riaz, my friend-girlfriend-not friend-friend-girlfriend-fiancee-wife, Jodi, and my friend-lab partner-roommate-colleague-boss-friend, Jason.

Riaz introduced me to Jodi. I met her properly in his room across the hall from mine. She was playing Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis and he and I were listening to music, playing Ultima Underworld on his computer, and burning incense. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Jodi and Riaz introduced me to this band called The Watchmen. Jodi pushing their first album, Maclaren Furnace Room, and Riaz in love with their second one, In The Trees. Ri and I would take in as many of their shows as we could over the years and have more than a few stories to tell about those times.



Jay was a friend of some friends and lived on a rival floor in residence, and later became my lab partner and my go-to friend for a game or ten of pool, often played at the on-campus bar where this one album with the strange name, Shakespeare My Butt, by this obscure band called Lowest of the Low seemed to play on an endless loop.



Life was grand. Responsibilities were minimal. Parental supervision was non-existent. Our relationships were rooted in amazing Canadian music; the less mainstream stuff like Watchmen and Lowest of the Low, as well as the national heroes The Tragically Hip. Then, things started to change. Not overnight, though looking back it does feel like it was, but in slow motion over the span of years and decades.

Jodi and I married and a year later Jay married this wonderful woman, Tamara. Riaz moved back out West. Jay and Jodi stopped going to Watchmen concerts with me, but Tam was a big fan and stepped up and started being my "date" for shows. There was this one concert that all four of us went to one day. I think it was before kids were in the picture and we could all be out on a Friday night in Toronto (about an hour away from where we lived) without feeling guilty or tired. We saw Lowest of the Low open for Billy Bragg. Jodi's a huge Billy Bragg fan and we were all in love with Lowest of the Low from our days hanging out in the on-campus bar.

For me, though, it was The Watchmen that held my attention. In the early days of me falling in love with Jodi, they were there. We'd argue over which of their first two albums was better. I could pull a lyric from any song and relate it to something about us. Strangely enough, on a couple occasions Danny, the lead singer from the band, would sing a Billy Bragg song as his signature a cappella song during their concerts.

In 2011 I decided I would do something special for my anniversary. I took some singing lessons and got a band together, with Jay on guitar, and I surprised her with an a cappella Billy Bragg song (sadly, not a romantic one but the one Danny sang at his shows) and a rendition of The Watchmen song, All Uncovered, the chords and lyrics for which were really hard to come by. Enter in Facebook and the super talented and one hell of a nice guy bassist for The Watchmen and solo artist, Ken Tizzard. I sent Ken a message asking for help with the song and he sent me back, within a couple hours I might add, some photos of their songbook that was no longer in print. It was an awesome gesture and was the reason the performance went off without a hitch (or well enough, all things considered).

While this was going on I was working on my writing and meeting a lot of really cool creative types on the internet. One of them was this fellow by the name of Alex Kimmell. He writes creepy, mind-bending horror now but he used to be a musician until MS decided to send him a swift kick to the nards and take that away. Back in the day, he was a drummer for this grunge outfit Out Vile Jelly.  Korn opened for them at one point. It was then, through a connection at a record label that he was introduced and got into the music of The Watchmen. Alas, when I met him the MS prohibited extended travel and they weren't touring anymore, only playing gigs in Toronto and occasional other Canadian cities. That's when I got the idea that whenever I would go to a show, I would record his favourite Watchmen song for him so he'd get to experience the experience a little bit.

In the middle of all of that, like a gut punch from out of nowhere, we lost Riaz. It was sudden, it hurt like a sonofabitch, and it left a big hole. In the intro to my video tribute to him, there was Watchmen playing in the background. Hearing their music would never be the same. Every song would be bittersweet and carry a deeper meaning than I ever thought possible (more on Riaz in this blog post).

You might be thinking that this is all fine and dandy but what does it have to do with my opening paragraph? Well, that's where Friday night comes in. All of what I just described (though it happened in much greater detail in real life) came together to give me the greatest concert experience I will likely ever have.

It actually started Thursday night when I got the last-minute idea to message Ken once again asking for a favour. I thought it would be cool if, before they played Alex's favourite song, they tossed out a dedication to him. So, I asked. Ken got back to me in rapid fashion again and had some bad news. They were swapping out that song for something else for this show. He did say he'd discuss it with the guys though. I thanked him for even considering it and wished them a good show.

Friday comes and Tam agrees to drive into the city and we arrive at the venue ten minutes before the opener hits the stage. Because we're old we got seats up in the balcony this time and were able to sit down for the show. It felt weird at first, having never seen the band from a chair before, but my aching bones would thank me later. The opening act? A fella by the name of Ron Hawkins. No, not the one from Arkansas currently in the Canadian Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Someone better. The Ron Hawkins who happens to play guitar and sing for the Lowest of the Low.

Ron opened the night with a close-to-45-minute set that included some solo stuff, some Lowest of the Low, some Rusty Nails, and a few snippets of some cover tunes just for shits and giggles. He even brought the LotL guitarist, Steve, on stage to do a couple of their classic tunes. It was a lot of fun, and the place was already close to capacity. The mood was set for more good times, and oh boy, were they delivered - in spades.



Due to curfew rules for the venue, The Watchmen came on at 9:02. Early by concert standards but to come on stage so soon after such a good opener turned out to be a great idea. Everyone was excited and feeling good, including the band, and from the very first chord, it showed.

Now, because I wasn't sure if they'd play Alex's song or not, at the end of each song I'd get my phone ready to record. It wasn't a big deal because I was sitting down. I just put my phone in my lap with my camera app open and clapped and cheered like everyone else while we waited for the next tune. Then, the band did something different. The bassist grabbed an acoustic guitar and the drummer grabbed some bongos. Sensing something special coming I started recording, and Danny gave a little intro and they kicked into a cover of a Tragically Hip song. It was emotional as hell.



For those who don't know, The Hip (as they are affectionately known) lost their lead singer, Gord Downie, a couple years ago (about a year after I lost Riaz). The nation mourned (I wrote about that, too), but Friday night when The Watchmen played one of their tunes, it was a celebration. I, along with every other person in the joint, was close to tears, but it was a celebration and a damn fine tribute.

Then, the band played my favourite Watchmen tune acoustic-style. It's the one I learned to play for my anniversary.



That was followed up by Danny's a cappella. It wasn't Billy Bragg this time, but it sounded like gold. His voice was like butter and while no live performance will ever be executed perfectly, it was perfect.



The whole show was fantastic. Every song was tight, the sound was clean, the audience was into it, and the band looked like they were having a blast. Toward the end of the show, they called out Ron to do a song: Billy Bragg's A New England. It was off the charts fantastic and because I was at-the-ready with my phone I captured it.



I didn't record every emotional moment I had, though. I started recording one of my favourite songs toward the end of the show but it was too much. It was one of Riaz's favourite songs as well and he would often quote the opening lyric to me randomly on facebook or via email. As soon as they played it I put the phone down and just sat and watched, and listened, and immersed myself in the moment. Even now, the emotions are overwhelming.


With the show coming to a close and one encore set already done it was clear that I had just experienced something truly special. Then, the guys go and outdo themselves yet again. There was a bit of a discussion on stage amongst the band and then Danny informs us that they're "calling an audible" and instead of only getting one more song to end the night that we're going to get two. Camera at the ready, I started recording and then I heard the telltale opening drums of Alex's favourite song, Say Something.



They played the last song after that, just Danny and the guitarist Joey, and the lights came up. Tam and I looked at each other and agreed that it was probably the best show of theirs we'd ever seen. We bypassed the main stairwell and headed down the side steps that led directly outside. Two paces to the right outside on the sidewalk I see a friend from high school that I interact with regularly on Facebook. I haven't seen him face-to-face in probably twenty-five years. He hadn't been at the show. He had been out with friends and was waiting for an Uber. He's a hell of a guy and a wonderful blogger, and it was the perfect random encounter to cap off the perfect evening, all made possible by a quarter of a century of seemingly random and inconsequential events. Bob Ross would have called them happy little accidents, and after Friday night I'd be inclined to agree.



~ Andrew