Essays

These aren't academic essays. These are the fun ones!

Sorry about the format. I will work on fixing it!
2.
06/07/2012

Edgefest '08

The queue stretches for half a kilometer. More fans join the line-up near 11 AM. AJ and I have been here for three hours already, which is totally worth it. We stand a mere fifteen feet from the gate, fifteen feet from the first Edgefest concert in a decade. Sam Roberts, USS, the Stone Temple Pilots, and Linkin Park. Easily the best birthday present ever.
It’s July 12th, it’s hot, humid, and there are storm clouds over head. A bald guy in front of us looks like the kind of guy who takes off his shirt in the middle of the show.
“Yo, dude, I think those two girls are checking us out.”
Typical AJ, concentrating on girls instead of the more important matters at hand, and there are more important matters at hand. I’m in line to see three of my five favourite bands.
“Yeah, they’re definitely checking us out.”
The gates open and people are being let in. Security guards frisk everyone as they file in. A pile of confiscated drugs and bottles on the security table. Gross. Two more steps inside and
now a full view of Downsview Park. Small kiosks and stores undertents line the perimeter of the field. The main stage stands massive at the back of the park.
“AJ! AJ! Check it out!”
“No way. No way!”
The Batmobile is being rolled out, not 30 feet in front of us. The same Batmobile that was used in Batman Begins. We three-sixty around the Batmobile, paying special attention to where the rockets were shot from and singing “Na-nanana, Na-na-nana, Na-na-nana, Na-na-nana, Bat-Man!”
I want to be right up against the stage, so we head over and lean against the front rail. Third ones there. Sweet.
“So, who’s first to play?”
“A local band from Hamilton, The Arkells. I think this is their big break, they have a
pretty popular single out right now called ‘Oh, the Boss is Coming’.”
A mere twenty minutes pass and the crowd is already pushing us right against the railing. The Arkells come out and make their introduction. They’re nervous, this is their shot, and no wonder. Look at who they’re expected to open for. I like these guys. They’re sort of a mix of indie-rock and classic-rock. I can tell some of the crowd doesn’t share my appreciation, but the Arkells’ perseverance through the ten or so people booing them is admirable.

Oh, the boss is coming, better look busy,
Because your ass is on the line.

Most people are getting into it now. It’s a pretty good song.
The Arkells’ set ends and I'm confident that they will do fairly well for themselves. Some
people drift off to see the Sony stand or the Batmobile. We stay where we are. I listen to almost
every band headlining, and I need to see it all. We only have to wait about fifteen minutes for the next band, so AJ heads off to grab some food. By the time he’s back with the pizza and hotdogs USS is almost done setting up.
“Who are these guys?”
“USS, Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker.”
“Wow, what a name, eh?”
“Yeah, they have really weird, entertaining music too.”
It’s true. USS has the most bizarre, yet enticing song titles. No normal person names a
song ‘Hollow Point Sniper Hyperbole’ or ‘Porno Star Trek’.
They take the stage, and all hell breaks loose. Before I know it, I'm almost falling over the railing, laughing. AJ is tearing up, everyone is laughing. Ashley Boo-Schultz is up on the Human Kebab’s shoulders playing guitar and singing while his feet are used to scratch the turn tables. The next song comes on and the Human Kebab’s doing back flips on and off the stage and running on top of people’s heads. During ‘Porno Star-Trek’ he raises a cardboard cut-out of Einstein and makes it look like the old physicist is scratching and rocking out. By the end of their set my stomach is sore and I need the banister to keep myself up.
“Yeah. Yo, those girls are checking us out again. Go over
and introduce us.”
I always get stuck as AJ’s wingman. We introduce ourselves to the two girls and the girl with blue eyes, as if by some wacked form of concert slut magic, instantly clings to AJ. I chat
with her friend about the music and bands playing. She has brown eyes. We’ll never remember their names, so we just stick to calling them Brown and Blue. Still, Brown is pretty cool and it’s funny because she and her friend are like AJ and me. Brown and I are here for the music whereas AJ and Blue are here as tagalongs, just looking for a hook-up.
“Sam Roberts is up next.”
“I really, like, loved Love at the End of the World.”
“It was a good album, but I think I like Chemical City better.”
As Brown and I talked I could hear AJ throwing painfully clich├ęd lines at Blue.
“Your eyes remind me of the stars.” Jesus. Shut up.
The Sam Roberts Band comes on stage, opening with the ‘Bootleg Saint’. A good
opening song. AJ and Blue run off.
“Brother Down” starts and I feel a wet, clammy body ram into my back. My belly squishes against the railing, and my stomach fights to keep control of the pizza I just ate. Behind me the bald guy from the line has his shirt off, trying to mosh to the music.
You don’t mosh to Sam Roberts.
People are getting pissed off, but this asshole is still trying to continue his one man pit.
Some guy in his early 20s beside me is getting irritated. I get pushed into the rail again and I instinctively throw my elbow back. I hear the thwack as solid contact is made with the bald dude’s nose.
“Shit!”
The guy holds his nose, blood flowing down from his hand to his forearm, dripping off his
elbow.
“Holy crap, sor-“
“Hey, get this guy over to the medical tent.”
A security guard hops over the rail and grabs the lone mosher and leads him out of the
crowd. I feel pretty awful about hurting the guy.
“Hey, good job, man. He deserved it. You don’t mosh to Sammy.”
A guy in his early twenties pats my shoulder.
“That was awesome.”
I still feel bad, but the praise feels good nonetheless. As Sam’s set comes to an end I feel
the cool prickles of light rain on my arms and neck. Sam’s guitar solo, which has been carrying on for a little too long now, wails in the background as it rains harder.

His set ends and the audience cheers for its favourite iconic Montrealer. The Bravery, some band from New York, starts to set up. I really don’t care much for them so I look around for AJ. On my third scan of the field I see him and Blue heading towards me. I raise my arm up so that he spots me.
By now the rain is starting to come down hard. I run towards AJ, Brown tailing behind me, and signal to find cover from the rain. Most of the crowd is doing the same. I catch up to AJ and Blue and keep moving past them towards shelter.
“Where are we going?”
“To the Batmobile!”
Damn. That sounded cool. The Batmobile is under the closest tent, so we hurry over, soaked, hair matted, and clothes sticking to our skins. The Bravery carry on through the pouring rain. The girls are rambling about the designs on the shirts being sold. AJ and I aren’t really listening.
“Yo, Mark?”
“Yeah?”
“I just got hired.”
“What?”
“Ten minutes ago,” AJ winks, “I got hired.”
I realize what he’s saying and I'm not impressed. I don’t care what kind of job he got so I'm not going to bother asking. AJ is the reason that girls think guys are pigs.
“Cool.”
After half an hour the rain finally stops. Twenty minutes later The Bravery are done and we try and get as close to the stage as possible. We stand about thirty-five feet from the stage awaiting the arrival of the Stone Temple Pilots. We might not be against the rail, but we are still in great shape to see the show, considering there are about 10,000 people here. The STP are a great band, and the most of the middle-aged adults are here for them exclusively.
“And who are the STP?”
Jesus. AJ knows nothing.
“The Stone Temple Pilots….” His face still remains blankquestioning. “…’Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart’.”
“Oh! I love that song!”
The only reason AJ knew that song is because of Guitar Hero 2, but at least he wasn’t going into this band with blind expectations. After the third song, Buddy, the lead vocalist, starts taking off his shirt and throwing it into the crowd. All the forty-year-old moms go wild. The beginning of “Vaseline” starts and Buddy tries to yell a piece of prophetic wisdom to the crowd.
“Let the waves of our music wash like everlasting love.”
Is that what he said? I couldn’t understand him. The audiences’ reaction is the same everywhere. What? The Stone Temple Pilots end their set with the “Interstate Love Song” and inform us of the delay of the main event. Linkin Park is going to be delayed for forty-five minutes.
Son of a bitch.
All of the older people who came to see STP start to file out. All of us younger folk take the opportunity to get in as close as possible to the stage. It’s really too bad that their forty year old ears can’t handle the beautiful yelling that Chester Bennington is so good at. We end up about ten feet from center stage, packed tight,
but close to the music.
After what feels like hours, Chester and Mike walk out on center stage. It’s ten-thirty, so it’s completely dark outside. The only light is purplish and focused on the two vocalists. Chester
starts singing a soft version of “Breaking the Habit,” only vocals and piano. They follow it up with another soft version of “Pushing Me Away,” all the while Mike is backing up with vocals and keys. Once Chester is finished Mike starts an a cappella version of “Hands Held High,” but after the first verse he starts a slow build up, a crescendo of the keys, holding the last note so long that the crowd shifts uncomfortably, pining for something to happen, the tension building. The stage lights blare as the entire band appears out of nowhere, powering into “What I’ve Done”.
“Mark, are you crying?”
“Shut up!”
This is unbelievable, so well done, and so…perfect. It sounds at least three times better than on album. Almost everyone in the crowd is singing along. Chester throws his half empty
Gatorade bottle in the air and I feel small sprinkles of the cool beverage prickling my arms. I’m in heaven.
They play old songs, new songs. Mike raps a mash-up of “Petrified” from his side project, Fort Minor, with “Points of Authority”. The show ends, but the crowd wants more. Cries for an encore fill the park. “We want more! We want more! We want
more! We want more!”
The band comes back on stage and dives into playing “A
Place For My Head,” my favourite song.
“Dude, are you crying again?”
“It’s my favourite song, all right?”
The song ends. The show is over. I grab my fifty dollars and book
my way through the crowd to get my sweatshirt before they run out.

1.
12/15/2011 - Walking the Death March

The portage between Diamond Lake and Willow Island
Lake is five klicks of mud, slippery hills, mosquitoes, and deer flies,
deer flies big enough to punch. After four days of bug-bites, we’re
red and swollen all over, under the dirt. It is warm, making it bad
mosquito weather—good for them, bad for us. Five klicks of bites,
five klicks of hell. We call this the Death March.
We pole our way through the swamp, using all of our
strength to pull our way through the reeds and yank our paddles
out of the mud, rupturing pockets of undisturbed methane gas,
releasing them in our faces. We can’t step into the water: too many
leeches. Ryan had his foot in for a few seconds and he ended up
having to rip four of the buggers off. We learn from one another’s
mistakes. No one is going in the swamp.
I think back to when I told my mom about the trip. When
she was nineteen, her older brother, Mark, died of hypothermia in a
canoe incident with the St. John’s School of Ontario. I’m his
namesake. This trip is only an hour’s drive beyond Timiskaming
where the accident happened. My mother was frightened.
“Mom, I swear, it will be fine. We will have prepared for a
month. The counsellor has a ton of experience. No mom, please
don’t cry. You aren’t going to lose me too, I promise.”
Unlike my uncle’s trip, we were ready, experienced, rested,
but there was still some doubt in me. If my Grandmother ever
knew I went on this trip I probably wouldn’t get those Edward VII
coronation plates in my inheritance. I’ve lived through dozens of
her rants about those plates.
“You little devil. Keep that up and you won’t be getting
those plates.”
Those bloody plates! I don’t give a damn. I’ll sell them on
eBay.
We reach the start of the portage. Quinnie is in the bow
and he’s the first out. He hops out of the canoe, and sinks knee
deep in mud.
“What the-“
He tries to move forward but his legs end up sinking a little bit
more.
“Quinn! Don’t move!”
“Guys, I can’t get out.”
He’s up to his chest in mud. We set canoes on either side of him
and stand in them so we don’t sink too. It takes six of us to pull
him out, grabbing his arms and under his shoulders.
“Okay, one…two…three…!!!”
Out pops Quinnie, the creature from the black lagoon with a notso-
pretty mug, minus a hiking boot.
We start to load up. Marshmallow packs and food barrels
for the little guys, Grummans for the bigger fellas.
“Jer, Marc, grab the broken Grumman.”
They call me Jerry—two guys named Mark and Marc make things
awfully confusing. Apparently I look like a Jerry. I don’t see it. The
other Marc stands six-four and weighs in at two sixty; no one
should be that big at fifteen. I stand in his shadow—and we are
supposed to tandem this busted Grumman. The centre thwart, the
yoke, is broken.
Marshmallow packs are easy, full food barrels can be a
challenge, and portaging a canoe alone is pretty difficult. I would
rather do any of those for twice the distance than tandem a
Grumman. They’re built so the yoke is the centre of gravity, and to
tandem it from the stern thwart and bow is incredibly painful.
“Front or back?”
“Back.”
“Wear your lifejacket upside down.”
“Why?”
“Just do it Marc, you’ll thank me later.”
This was a nifty trick I picked up on day two on a short portage
when the tandem wasn’t bad. This one’s a bitch. He will thank me
later.
The first kilometre of the portage is mud, uphill then
downhill. The stink carries. Slippery going up, slippery coming
back down, and patches of sucking mud on the flats. A single, footwide
log lies across the sticky mud. I’d hate to slip off. I’d hate to
see this place after a rainy day.
“You good, Marc?”
“Can we switch? I think my shoulders are bleeding.”
“Yeah.”
Sure enough, the thwart cut poor Marc right down the middle of
both shoulders.
“Should’ve flipped the lifejacket.”
“Heh. At least they look badass.”
I bruise faster than a peach, so I flip my lifejacket upside down,
protecting my shoulders. Already I can feel the thwart digging
through.
The second kilometer is dry, but there are ponds on either
side of the narrow path. Legions of mosquitoes breed here. I hate
those nippy mothers.
“Christ, Marc, my legs are getting destroyed.”
“Lucky you. If your head was above the canoe you’d get
your face bitten off like me.”
Apparently I’m not getting the worst. Because I’m in the back my
face is covered by the canoe. Marc on the other hand is attacked by
an armada of the tiny bloodsuckers. We later count, between us,
over one hundred and forty bites from the two hour portage.
The third and fourth kilometers are a nice change in
scenery. Spruce are spread far enough that we aren’t getting poked
by outstretched needles, but the path has turned to algae-speckled
rock. We have traded off bugs for difficult terrain and a better
chance of a sprained ankle or broken leg. A single log stretches
over a rivulet. It’s the only way over.
“Careful.”
“You don’t need to tell me.”
“I do. I am not falling. If I do, you’re coming with me.”
The log bends under the weight of us and the canoe. It creaks, it
groans, it strains to hold us as we cross. The cabin idiot, Brent, is
at the end waiting for us with his marshmallow pack, smiling, not
even breaking a sweat. I could kill him.
“Last k. guys! It looks pretty clear!”
“Shut it, Ass-Monkey, we’re dying over here.”
“Settle, Jer, we’re almost done.”
Marc and I switch places again, and this time he is sure to
flip his lifejacket. The final klick is all uphill. It’s a straight path,
trees snuggled together so tight it’s a wonder the roots have room
to spread. No light can seep through the branches above us, but in
the distance we see the light reflecting off the cool water of Willow
Island Lake.
“Want to run it, Marc?”
“Let’s do it.”
We barrel past Brent and run towards the end as fast as the
Grumman permits us. The last fifty meters are a blur. The rest of
the guys cheer as our pace quickens, roaring their pride as we
approach the end.
With a heave, Marc and I toss the Grumman aside, not
needing to worry about damaging the canoe, it crashes as loud as
thunder. Nothing to hold us back, we sprint into the lake. Cold,
cold, cold. Cold relief on itches and scratches, cold water on a hot
day.
We emerge from the water still bloodied and bitten, but
the death march is over. We have conquered Death.