Tag Archives: Montreal

Post #135: An Open Letter

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An Open Letter to the Hotel Pool Lifeguard in Montreal who Suffered From the Delusion That She was on Baywatch While I was There Swimming With my Kids and Not Doing Anything Wrong and in No Danger of any Kind:

First off, and I’m not just being hyperbolic, I’ve never seen a lifeguard at a hotel pool in my life.

Second off, we were here last night and the lifeguard then was so hands off and on-her-phone-the-whole-time, that I honestly thought she just liked the sweeping view the penthouse floor afforded of the Montreal skyline or was maybe hiding from her annoying family or dealing with a text-based spat with her boyfriend. It wasn’t until my sons and I were toweling off and slipping on our shoes and I was reflecting on how weird it was that this girl had been sitting there playing on her phone for over an hour that it occurred to me: she’s a lifeguard. This small hotel pool has a lifeguard. This small hotel pool has a lifeguard? She was so non-lifeguardish, and rightfully so–hell, it was just me and my two sons in the pool–that I felt bad for her afterward, wondering what they paid her to sit there all day while moms and dads brought their kids up to the pool to swim, and hoping that they threw in the free continental breakfast to make it worth her while.

Third off–this is not Baywatch. Okay, I know you’re a lifeguard, and therefore you are actively being paid to guard lives, which means you should be on your game and ready to intervene if and when a life needs to be saved, but let me break this down for you. Your hotel’s pool is like 20×20. The deep end claims to be 7 feet, though was more like 5 1/2 because I am under six feet and could stand up flat-footed and have my entire head out of the water. Same goes for the shallow end, which claims to be 4 feet, but is not. I am here with my two sons, and am actively swimming with them. I am a visibly capable swimmer. As is my eldest son. There is another family here with three small children, but both parents are present and they are both in the water, and no more than three feet from their children at any given time. And yet, you feel the need to walk the perimeter and glare down at us like you’re huffing the fence line at Guantanamo, ready to shoot the first thing that moves. There were moments when my youngest son Leo climbed onto my back for a “dolphin ride” and I could feel you walking over in your creepy slow-motion footsteps and hovering over us, your arms interlaced behind your back, that I was sure I was doing something horribly wrong. Had I kidnapped these children? Had one of them hit his head and was bleeding out into the chlorine and I hadn’t noticed? Was I a horrible parent? Oh, no. Wait a second. That’s right. We’re in a tiny fucking hotel pool and I’m swimming with my kids.

I have to wonder, which of you–the night before hands-off life guard, or you–was better living up to the job description outlined for you? Because your approaches to the job couldn’t be more different. I picture the lifeguard interview process, candidates being grilled like Jason Bourne before they throw that bag over his head and water board him to test his allegiance in The Bourne Ultimatum. What are you willing to sacrifice to keep these guests safe, even though they are in no apparent danger, nor will they be?

“Do you swear to protect and serve the guests of the Residence Inn Marriott even though they don’t need protecting?”

“Yes!”

“Don’t swear unless you mean it soldier!!” (slap across the face)

“I mean it!”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes…wait, what’s the pay again? Seven-fifty an hour?”

“Let’s not mince details soldier!” (slap across the face)

“Wait…how deep is the pool? Under six feet?”

Perhaps I’m being unfair. Perhaps you suffered a mis-hap earlier in life, or a water-based tragedy and you’re committed to making sure that never happens again. If that’s the case, you’re the best, and I take all this back.

Perhaps you’re bored and lonely in your personal life, and so goose-stepping across the wet tile and gesturing with your index finger at the too-large splash my son has just made playing Marco Polo, helps fill in the gaping hole in some way.

Perhaps this is your small contribution to making the world just a tiny bit better.

Either way, lady, you’re freaking me out. I’m here swimming with my kids. If one of them starts to drown, please feel free to jump in and save them. But since that’s not going to happen, fuck protocol and let’s see that cannonball, eh?

**PS…this is my second recent post which would seem to disparage Canada, Canadiens, and Montreal specifically. Let me just say for the record that I love Canada, Canadiens, and Montreal in particular. But c’mon, we bloggers have to use the material life throws as us!

Post #134: Concert Etiquette au Centre Bell.

14jjpxpxSo, my wife and I ventured up to Montreal last weekend to see John Mayer at the Bell Center. Mayer shredded, wailed, crooned, and serenaded us at one point with a fake Japanese garden projected behind him while he sang songs solo acoustic. It was a great show, featuring Mayer’s full band and his blues trio, and I recommend catching Mayer on his current world tour, but that’s not what I want to talk about. If you’re interested, here’s a review of the show from the Montreal Gazette. Or, if you want to read up on John Mayer and his current goings on, including various non-sequitors and narcissistic ruminations about the nature of celebrity and the strangeness of the modern condition, here’s a recent profile from the New York Times.

No, what I want to talk about is the Canadian crowd. Namely, I want to talk about their deference, their politeness, their near silence, their I’m-not-gonna-stand-up-ness, and their overall laid back and staid approach to seeing a rock show in a large venue, which they responded to with about as much gusto as you would muster for a street performer who you begrudgingly decide isn’t half bad before you drop a buck into the kitty, then go get some frozen yogurt.

Let’s start with contrast. Five or so years ago, I went to see Phish at a hockey arena in Albany, New York. There was no smoking allowed inside the venue. Did that stop the Albany crowd? Please. By the middle of the first set, the place was like a bar in Mad Men, washes of smoke clouding your vision, wispy swirls of it gray and pink in the stage lights. So thick you just knew you’d never quite get the smell out of your clothes and likely have to burn or throw them away. And, being a Phish show, at least half the smoke was not from Camels or American Spirits, but had a more, shall we say, herbal inflection.

I’m not saying I liked the smoke. I did not. I’m just making a point.

john-mayer-vaguely-teases-title-of-new-single-01John Mayer also played in a hockey arena. The Bell Center is home to the mighty Montreal Canadians. But there was not a single puff of smoke, tobacco or otherwise present. When’s the last time you went to a concert at a large venue and you didn’t see anyone smoking? Even indoors. In fact, I think if you’d lit up in that place, the locals would have smothered you in gallons of warm, overpriced Molson, then escorted you from the premises.

The couple to our left arrived late, mid-way through Mayer’s first whole band set. They sat down, settled for a moment, took a couple cell phone pics. After that, they did not move. At all. They clapped politely between songs, but otherwise stared down at John Mayer as if he was no more real than a vision on a television screen. They did not stand for the encore. They did not show any more animation following a wailing solo, or a song’s crescendo, than they did for a ballad. In fact, virtually nobody moved in the whole place. The crowd was appreciative and I think genuinely enjoyed the show–they were cheering by the end–but the lack of hooting, dancing, or any other kind of external pleasure or tom-foolery, which I’ve come to expect as part and parcel of seeing live music, mystified us. I’m not a rowdy concert goer, but I like to whistle and cheer and get my white man’s overbite on as much as the next guy. Usually, I follow the flow of the crowd. The crowd stands, I stand. They hoot, I hoot. But that night, the crowd was so mellow as to be almost sedated, and I kept looking around wondering if I was missing something. Wondering if I should lead the charge. But we were afraid to stand up since nobody else was and so kept our seats and clapped politely like everyone else.

A couple of times I went to the bathroom, only to find the beer lines empty, the hallways bare and silent, the souvenir stand abandoned.

I began to wonder if there are unwritten codes around concert  etiquette that are regional and perhaps even national. Thoughts on this? Was I witnessing some sort of national politeness that felt utterly foreign to my crass American instincts? Or was I myself that brash, noisy, hard drinking American that a Canadian citizen might be quietly judging as uncouth or uncivilized?

pere-lachaise_chopin_graveI was once standing near Chopin’s grave at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, admiring the weeping virgin atop it and the maudlin bust of the great man at its center, some of Chopin’s haunted and tinkling melodies dancing through my memory, when I heard a man shout, “It’s over here baby!” I shit you not that at that moment, my reverie was broken as an obese family of four ambled down the dirt path wearing matching American flag t-shirts on their way to Jim Morrison’s grave. I hid in the bushes until they passed, lest I be accidentally linked to their horribleness in the eyes of a local.

That’s not what I’m talking about.

I appreciate quiet and being able to sit and enjoy a show. I don’t talk at the movies and I’ll shush you if necessary. And generally, I’m not in favor of smoking at indoor venues because it’s gross, but the near capacity crowd at the Bell Center last weekend brought a Lay-Z-Boy vibe that I found wholly unfamiliar, and not a little disconcerting.

I believe in wearing it on your sleeve. Someone rips a sweet blues solo, how else are you supposed to show your approval save shouting into a crowd, whistling, or high-fiving the person next to you? You gotta let em feel you. Arms folded, dead eyed, and silent is no way to rock and roll, Canada.

But perhaps I’m being too harsh. Too judgmental. Dare I say, too American?

I still love you, Montreal. But you gotta loosen up a little. A $13 Molson should do the trick.

 

Post #109: Being There

I ventured up to Montreal last week to catch the third round of the Roger’s Cup tennis tournament. The Roger’s Cup is part of the Emirates Airlines U.S. Open Series and an ATP Masters 1000 tournament, which basically is a fancy way of saying that it’s a big time event at which players stand to earn serious prize money and ranking points and therefore attracts the best players in the world. It’s also only two hours from my house, which makes me having never gone seem really stupid. Montreal and Toronto both host Roger’s Cup tournaments simultaneously and the genders alternate every year. This year the men were in Montreal.

When I was a kid living in Indianapolis, there was a big tennis tournament downtown called the RCA Hardcourts that attracted marquee talent and I saw Courier, Martin, and Sampras back in the day, but not only has it been many many years since I’ve seen pro tennis in the flesh, I am a far bigger and more astute fan of the game now. I’m also writing a novel that’s largely about tennis, so there was a minor research component to the trip.

I bought tickets for both the day and night sessions and all told I saw nearly six full matches and watched close to ten consecutive hours of tennis. And in one day I saw Rafael Nadal, Jerzy Janowicz, Andy Murray, Juan Martin Del Potro, Milos Raonic, Laender Paes, and Novak Djokovic. Damn.

Here, in no particular order, are some observations on the day.

1. Even from a couple hundred feet away, you can see the intensity burning off of Nadal like steam off blacktop after summer rain.

2. Murray, great a player as he is, just ain’t that handsome. Trust me, I saw him play doubles from twenty feet away.

3. Tennis, though international, is seriously white. I saw players from all over the world, but India’s Leander Paes was the only player I saw the whole day with skin darker than a vanilla latte.

4. Beware the wrist watch tan! Never saw it coming.

5. I was foolish to think I’d be the only one there with a Roger Federer hat. They were as common as Yankees caps in the Bronx.

6. Quebecians seem not to get that more urinals would lead to shorter bathroom lines. They also seem not to get that walking faster will get you there quicker.

7. You have never seen anybody hit something as hard as Janowicz and Raonic hit their first serves. It looks fast on television, I know, though that idea of speed you get from TV does sparse justice to the cannons that these guys actually fire.

8. #7 makes you, then, fully appreciate how superhuman a top player’s reflexes and reaction time really are. Before watching for the day, I’d thought that the raw power, and seeing said power in the flesh, would be the most impressive physical thing on display. Wrong. The reflexes and timing are insane and absolutely shocked me.

9. Even watching a top player practicing is thrilling. I stood and watched Almagro for a while. (photo below) You’re ten feet away and they just pound the ball like a crazed metronome. Almagro is intense by nature, it seems, but was particularly angry seeming while I and others watched him practice. Nothing even in the vicinity of a grin out of this guy.

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10. Canadians are very cool for letting you bring your own food and drink into the stadium. A little old French Canadian couple in front of me during the day session had a whole picnic lunch they slowly devoured during the Nadal/Janowicz match.

11. American tennis is officially dead. By the third round, there was not a single American left in the tournament. Nor is there currently an American in the world’s top twenty. This is bad.

12. As cool as watching the marquee matches on center court is, it’s all about the outer courts. You’re basically court side and can even better appreciate the pace of the game and the athleticism of its practitioners. When I say you’re court side I’m not kidding. Here’s the coin toss moment before the Andy Murray/Colin Fleming VS. Leander Paes/Stepanek match. I took it from my seat with only a slight zoom.

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13. In doubles, rather than play a win-by-two style Deuce, in the event of Deuce, they play a single point to decide the game in which the receiving team gets to decide who receives. This speeds up play.

14. The players carry around their own towels. On TV, it just looks like the ball kids are feeding the players towels from a massive house stash, but actually the players use the same two towels throughout the match and carry them back to their chairs during breaks, and then to the opposite end during changeovers.

15. Many players change their shirts during matches, though doubles great Daniel Nestor was the only one I saw who changed into a different shirt.

16. If you tilt the camera right, you can actually put yourself in the same frame as Nadal doing his post match interview with Pam Shriver. I’m the Mount Rushmore like face on the left; Nadal is the tiny, navy blue clad fellow on the court to the bottom right.

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17. Those oversized autograph balls are way overpriced.

18. The gift shop swag is pretty crappy, and there’s basically nothing for kids.

19. There’s a lot of in and out during matches on the spectators parts. More, it seemed to me, than at other kinds of sporting events. I attribute this to the fact that there’s many matches happening simultaneously, and you can go see whatever you want at any time.

20. Because of #19, it can feel like you’re always missing something and wishing you could be two places at once. You often hear distant applause and wonder what you’re missing.

21. No line at the Canadian/US Border either coming or going = priceless.

22. I think next time I’ll still catch two consecutive sessions, though watch an evening session, stay overnight, and then the next day’s afternoon session.

23. It cost me around $200 to watch ten hours of elite level sport. If you consider that it would take four basket ball games to equal that quantity, the price seems pretty fair.

24. Though I was thrilled to see so many top players in person, Nadal, I have to say, inspired the day’s biggest man crush. Wow. I took a photo of him shirtless after the match for my wife. But I kind of wanted it too.

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25. I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to bring along.