Best of Toronto Mike

Maple Leafs 4, Senators 1

Go Leafs Go!I would like to bottle this euphoric feeling I have right now in order to preserve it for moments in the future I'm feeling less joyous. What a fantastic night. For the fourth time in five years, the Ottawa Senators are going home early from the Stanley Cup playoffs thanks to my beloved Maple Leafs. Ottawa is 0-4 in series against Toronto and 0-4 in Game 7s overall.

Lest we forget Daniel Alfredsson's promise to win this series tonight at the ACC. Alfredsson, like the rest of his teammates, were all but invisible tonight. They have proven time and time again that they aren't built for the playoffs and can't win when it matters most. At the trade deadline, there was much speculation the Senators would upgrade between the pipes as Patrick Lalime was showing himself to be rather inconsistent. Staying with Lalime would prove to be their downfall. Tonight, in the most important game of the season, Lalime was horrible while Maple Leaf goaltender Eddie Belfour shone bright. Belfour was brilliant throughout the series and is the biggest reason I'm sitting here right now with a huge smile on my face.

Eddie! Eddie! Eddie! Eddie! Eddie! Eddie! Eddie! Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!

Toronto wins series 4-3

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Kurt Cobain

Kurt CobainI intended to write a lengthy piece about Kurt Cobain, his musical genius and his tragic demise ten years ago today, but there has been so much coverage of this in the printed press, on the radio and on television that I decided to spare everyone the details you all know too well. Instead, I'm going to revisit my teenaged self and briefly recount how Kurt's life and death touched my spirit.

When I was a teenager, there was no bigger band on the planet. From the moment I spun Nevermind on my portable Phillips CD player for the first time on the strength of "Smells Like Teen Spirit", a single getting heavy airplay on CFNY, the desires of my ears changed forever. Prior to this, I was a guy listening to Guns 'N Roses, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi and other such 80s rock bands. When I needed an edgier fix, I would spin Public Enemy, probably my favourite band at the time. I was desperate for a musical movement to devour me whole, a musical movement that seemed far more organic than the contrived sounds of Warrant, Poison and Skid Row. Nirvana turned me on to a scene that offered me everything I was looking for. The media anointed it grunge.

I was 19 when I first heard that Kurt was dead. I went numb. He had it all. He was a huge rock star with lots of money and a baby girl. There were other options, weren't there? Couldn't he have just quit the business? Was it better to burn out than fade away?

At 27, Kurt Cobain had produced a great deal of genius. I loved Bleach, I loved Nevermind, I loved Incesticide and I loved In Utero. I remember going to Sam the Record Man at Yonge and Dundas the morning In Utero was released. I remember reading the liner notes during class at U of T...I couldn't wait to get home to give it a spin. I had a similar love for the music of Pearl Jam, but Nirvana was #1.

What I remember the most in those days and weeks following Kurt's suicide is listening to nothing but Nirvana. It's how I fed my sorrow. All Nirvana, all the time. Shortly thereafter, Alan Cross did an "Ongoing History of New Music" on Nirvana and Kurt's suicide and I still have that episode on tape. Unplugged in New York and From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah would follow, and both were as awesome as I expected them to be.

It was ten years ago today. The music Kurt Cobain produced during the short career of Nirvana is as relevant to me today as it was then. He was pained, vulnerable, screaming for help. He was ours and I miss him.

I am now 29 years old. That's two years older than Kurt was at the time of his death. I often wonder how he was able to look his daughter in the eyes and still want to end it all. Clearly, he felt his daughter would be better off without him. That, in a nutshell, is the saddest note in his final, tragic song.

Peace, love, empathy.

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In The Beginning

In The BeginningI was just thinking of how far we've come with regards to the way we use the Internet. Today, I use the Internet to do all my banking, purchase concert or sporting event tickets, remotely connect to my work's network to gain access to various servers for work purposes, use email as my primary method of communication, transfer large (and small) files, listen to radio stations from all around the world, surf the web for news, entertainment and various other points of interest and I maintain the site you're reading right now. It's a very large part of my daily life.

Back in 1994/1995, I was a student of the University of Toronto. We were each given an email address and our student card granted us access to a number of Internet-connected computers scattered throughout the St. George campus. I remember lining up to use a terminal so I could log in to my account to send a message to one of my few friends who had an email account, one of whom was my wife. Nothing was more exciting than logging on to see you had a few messages from a few friends. It was so new and so instant. By the way, at this time, all messages were sent and received in plain text without attachments. I was excited about words!

These same terminals we used granted students access to the world wide web. Visiting sports pages changed the way I could monitor stats. I remember visiting pages for news outlets like CNN and The Toronto Star to access the latest news. There were also a few free web-based email options sprouting up and gaining steam, and I made sure I grabbed the username mikeboon from Yahoo!. It would be my primary address for years. The world wide web was awesome, and I knew I had to bring this connectivity into my bachelor apartment on 30 Charles Street West.

This is my favourite part of this particular trip down memory lane. A telecommunications company called ACC was always on campus pushing their unlimited dial-up Internet access on students. They offered a decent rate and bonus gifts for those who signed up on the spot. Inheriting a new computer through marriage, I decided to bring the web home and signed up. Are you ready for this? We never, ever received a single bill for our Internet access. We used it daily and it became a huge part of my life but the goofs at ACC goofed up the billing and this hard working part-time grocery clerk wasn't going to alert them of their error. We surfed for free until we left that apartment over a year later.

We've come a long way but I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg. One day we'll laugh at the way we streamed audio and video. One day we'll be telling our grandkids about how we used the Internet in 2004 and they'll roll their eyes and think we were in the middle ages. I'll just call up this entry and show them I predicted it would be so.

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Where You Come From

Where You Come FromWhen it comes to the music you like, where you come from will always play a role. I'm not talking about your favourite music. You'll really like what you really like. I'm talking about the tunes that bring you back to a simpler time when you hear them. They aren't of a genre you typically listen to, but they are songs from your youth you remember fondly.

For me, I need look no further than Kenny Rogers. As a wee lad, my mother would play Kenny Roger's Greatest Hits over and over again on the turntable. We would dance to the up tempo numbers like "The Gambler", "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town", "Coward of the County", "Lucille" and "Reuben James" and then bellow out the ballads like "Lady", "Don't Fall in Love With a Dreamer", "She Believes in Me" and "You Decorated My Life". I would guesstimate I heard this album in it's entirety five hundred times before I turned 7.

I remember many good times with this record playing in the background. I remember how much my mother loved "Lady" and I can still hear her singing it. Every once in a while I still play a Kenny Rogers MP3 that appeared on that album because it still feels good.

When it comes to the music you like, where you come from will always play a role.

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Seein' Conan

Conan LiveI'm back! I promised I'd share all the details from my visit this afternoon to the Late Night with Conan O'Brien taping here in Toronto, and here it is. I warn you, it's a long one.

The Wait
I joined the line up to get into the Elgin Theatre at approximately 12:30. By this time I had already blown my first major decision of the day. When leaving my car in a parking lot at Church and Shuter, I had to decide whether I needed my gloves and hat or not. The weather seemed pretty mild, so I went without. Big mistake.

The end of the line at 12:30 was on Victoria Street. It wrapped along Yonge Street outside the Elgin Theatre and along Queen Street before snaking around Victoria Street where I parked myself for over 3 and a half hours. Every ten minutes or so I could feel the temperature drop. At this point I really wished I had taken my comfy gloves and Leafs touque.

Steve joined me in line at about 14:00 and we were finally shuffled into the theatre shortly after 16:00. I secured our tickets earlier in the day by showing a couple of NBC staffers his email stating we had won the lottery and the right to two tix. We entered the theatre, subjected ourselves to a brief pat down by security and a metal detecter surveyance and were led to the balcony.

Finally we were able to thaw in a seat of our very own in the well-heated Elgin Theatre. We were lucky to get the seat. Had I joined the line at 13:00 we'd have missed out. Our seats were in the balcony but fairly centre with a great view of the entire stage. It was time for the show.

The Warm-Up
A gentleman hit the stage to warm us up while we were literally warming up. I felt he did a great job of getting us loose and in the mood. We collectively gave a big F.U. to those who missed out because they didn't line up early enough and proceeded to make fun of those from Oshawa. This guy was pretty funny as he gave us some basic rules. Don't watch yourselves on the monitor, don't scream things at Conan during the show, etc.

At this point Max Weinberg and the Max Weinberg 7 were introduced and began to play for us. For those who don't know, Max Weinberg is the drummer from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. Their jazzy big band style sounded great to my ears and we heard them play for about ten minutes.

The Show
When they say Late Night is live to tape, they mean it. Sitting in the audience you see exactly what makes it to television. We saw the opening credits on the several big screens and heard and saw the announcer introduce this night's guests and host, Conan himself. The reaction to Conan was incredible. I've been to numerous rock concerts and this applause had that feel to it. It was loud and lengthy.

Conan's monologue is funnier in person than it is watching it on television. Everything seems bigger and funnier in person I think. He cracked off a joke about Dalton McGuinty saying Conan's presence made all Ontarioans glad they weren't American like him and we saw a funny visual of our five dollar bill with a gap-toothed Queen Elizabeth sporting a black eye and hockey helmet.

Seeing Conan's monologue live really makes you appreciate the physical aspect to his comedy. The man has a funny facial expression for everything. He was going on about how many Torontonians approach him and say "Go Leafs" and he delivers this information with quite the expression on his face. I agree 100% with his "Go Leafs" observation. It's sort of like "Hi" around these parts. It's become a standard greeting. I often say hello or goodbye by exclaiming "Go Leafs Go".

It was time for a couple of bits. First we saw a few dudes dressed as New York Mets parade out the Stanley Cup because it's the closest they'll get to a championship trophy. I think Conan's writers took the easy way out on this one. It would have been funnier to have Maple Leafs parade the cup around for the same reason considering we haven't won it since 1967 and the Mets have won their championship twice since then. I think they were trying to keep us friendly and on their side. Putting down the blue and white could cause the audience to turn on you in a heartbeat. The second bit involved a race between the CN Tower and the Seattle Space Needle from the lobby of the Elgin Theatre to the stage. We watched as the Space Needle came down the stretch with a healthy lead before a Mountie tripped him up allowing the CN Tower to win. We ate it up. There was also another round of "Canadian Small Talk Moment" which I think was butchered by Max Weinberg but the two proceeded as if nothing had happened. I half expected them to take another shot at it but they didn't.

Then, it was time for Triumph the Comic Insult Dog to take a poop on French Canadians. He visited Quebec City and gave it to Quebecers good. If French Canadians are upset at Don Cherry's comments wait until this segment airs tonight. It's bloody harsh.

It's interesting to watch during commercials. People are talking to Conan and the band is playing while the video screens display the talk show's logo. Then, suddenly the screens show a shot of the audience and we're back from commercial and ready to rock. At this point, Conan introduced the big guest for the evening, Adam Sandler.

Adam Sandler was funny. He made some hilarious comments about having much in common with co-star Drew Barrymore because of their teenage addiction pasts. She with alcohol and he with picking his nose and eating it. He also made some funny remarks about being a newlywed and some sombre remarks about his recently deceased father.

Following a commercial break during which I was enamoured by the passionate conversation Adam Sandler and Conan O'Brien appeared to be having, we were treated to a silly little bit where the announcer came out dressed as a bride with his Asian boy toy whom he had just married. It's legal here, ya know.

The final guest was Canadian legend Stompin' Tom Conners. He pleased the crowd by singing "The Hockey Game", a song we all knew by heart. He did, however, make a statement that's making me doubt his integrity. He said the song was a Stanley Cup game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New Jersey Devils. All good Canadians who love their hockey know such a Stanley Cup final is impossible. The two teams share the same conference. Nevertheless, it was a great performance and the whole crowd sang along.

Before saying good night, they showed more of Triumph the Comic Insult Dog's visit to Quebec City. This was the stuff they had to cut because of time contraints. This material was extremely funny and will never be shown on television, so it was nice to get the bonus material in. Following this footage, Conan thanked Stompin' Tom and said goodnight.

Both Steve and I had a blast and waiting in the cold was well worth it. It was a great experience seeing a live taping of a program like this and I'll always have this story to tell. Now I'm going to get a bite to eat.

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My New Year's Eve

My New Year's EveWhere were you when the New Year arrived? What were you doing? Were you at a party? Were you at a nightclub? Did you have a good time? This entry is about how I spent New Year's Eve 2003 and welcomed 2004.

James has been rather sick for days. About five days ago he awoke from his nap with a fever and zero appetite. The next day I took him to the clinic where he was diagnosed with a cold and we were instructed to manage the symptoms with Tempra and keep an eye on him. A couple of days later when he failed to improve, I took him back to the clinic to be seen by another doctor. This time, an ear infection was detected and we were given antibiotics to clear things up. The extreme lethargy James was displaying was so entirely out of character (even for a sickie) I found myself in the emergency room last night demanding he be reevaluated. This time, the diagnosis had evolved into something a little more serious. James has pneumonia.

There was the oxygen mask because his oxygen levels were low, there was the intravenous to keep him hydrated and to give him antibiotics, there was the withdrawal of blood and chest x-rays to determine the extent of his pneumonia. All of this in the pediatric emergency room and it was approximately 11:00 pm EST. James was admitted for a minimum 48-72 hours, but there were no beds available. The nurse blamed SARs, claiming new rules limited one child to each room, and the rooms that were previously used by four children were now holding one. So, James and I were stuck in the ER for the night, but were given a stretcher-like cot to sleep on. This cot was a little narrow for me, let alone a sick child in an oxygen mask and intravenous injected into his little arm. I managed to squeeze myself against the bars of the cot so that I wasn't interfering with the flow of the intravenous but could still keep James' oxygen mask on his face in spite of his attempts to rip it off every few minutes. At this point I glanced at the big digital clock on the wall and it read 11:51.

Nine minutes later, an announcement was placed over the intercom wishing all of us in the emergency room on New Year's Eve a Happy New Year. I leaned in and gave James a kiss on the cheek whispering in his infected ear "Happy New Year Sweet Baby James. 2004 is going to be a great year." And it will be.

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The Problem With Dubya

The problem with DubyaI'm not a fan of George Dubya Bush. I still can't believe he squeaked by Al "The Bore" Gore in 2000. His politics drive me crazy. As Governor of Texas, he presided over more executions than took place in the other 49 states combined during the same time period. I'm fundamentally opposed to capital punishment. Bush is allied with the bigoted extreme right who want to deny equal rights to homosexuals. I believe in equal rights for all humans, regardless of sexual preference. He refuses to sign the Kyoto Protocol agreement on global warming. Canada and 177 other countries did. Bush's record with the environment is abysmal. When Bill Clinton left office, there was a surplus of $235 billion. Since Bush took over, the surplus has been depleted and his administration's 2003 budget reflects a $400 billion federal deficit. Bush has no respect for the United Nations. I'm a fan of the UN. It's a democratic forum through which governments can debate issues, resolve crises and work our their problems. When Bush couldn't secure the necessary votes on the Security Council, he subverted the process and invaded Iraq regardless. There are hundreds of reasons why I dislike America's current President. I simply don't have time to document them all, but you get the picture.

In a recent interview with Fox TV anchor Brit Hume, Bush was asked how he gets his news. His answer frightens me. George W. Bush, President of the United States of America, gets his news from chief of staff Andrew Card and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. He doesn't watch the news on television, read newspapers or read the news online. Bush's exact quote was "the best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world."

Yikes. Does he really think his staff will be objective? Sure, the media is biased, so that's why it's important he get his news from several different sources. Card and Rice are two sources with a vested interest in telling the President exactly what he wants to hear. For all we know, Bush is under the impression the war in Iraq is very popular. Maybe he thinks his popularity is peaking and that Americans are happy with his performance.

It's vital that the American President be aware of world news. It's integral that this news be unbiased and unfiltered. True objectivity will never come from one's staff. Dubya is either naive or stupid. I suspect he's both.

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Touch 'em all Joe!

Touch 'em all Joe!My mother recently asked me why it takes so much for my brothers and I to get excited about something. I paused to ponder the question and realized that men in their 20s and early 30s rarely appear particularly jovial. Immediately I thought of Bart and Lisa's response to a similar question: "We're the MTV generation, we feel neither highs nor lows". When I thought about it further, I managed to localize this reaction (or lack thereof) and came up with another theory.

Just to clarify, we do get excited about things and feel positively about certain events and occurences, it's just that to an observer, we appear to shrug everything off as pure happenstance. Why are we so jaded? Blame Joe Carter.

Ten years ago Thursday, Joe Carter came to the plate in the ninth inning of game six of the World Series. My Toronto Blue Jays led the series 3 games to 2, but trailed in the game 6-5. With Mitch Williams on the mound for the Philadelphia Phillies and Ricky Henderson and Paul Molitor on base, Joe hit a 2-2 pitch over the left field wall at SkyDome to give the Blue Jays their second World Series in a row. Earlier this month, I posted Tom Cheek's call of this moment as my quote of the week.

I can't accurately describe how my brothers and I reacted to this moment. When that ball cleared the fence, the feeling was ecstatic. The joy was overwhelming and we all shed tears. Heck, just thinking about that moment is causing my eyes to swell.

Joe Carter's World Series ending home run for the team I had worshipped since the summer of '83 is the reason it takes so much to get a rise out my brothers and I. The bar was raised to such an extreme height, that feeling may never be felt again. Many of you reading this are probably thinking I should have had a similar reaction watching my wife give birth to my son. I was extremely happy when I first met James, but it's different. Although we had hoped and prayed Carter would pull through, he could have struck out on that pitch and we could have lost the series in seven. Instead, he created a moment in time of unmatchable intoxication. When my son was born, I saw it coming. There was joy and relief, but not a split second of "Yah!!!". My brothers visited James at the hospital that night, but there was no pile-on as there was that night of October 23rd, 1993 when Joe "touched them all".

Thanks Joe for providing an entire city with a moment of collective elation. Until the Leafs win a Stanley Cup with an overtime goal, I fear it may never happen again.

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I Am Steve Bartman

Steve BartmanI am Steve Bartman. Well, that's not entirely true. I am actually Toronto Mike, but I could be Steve Bartman. For those of you who either live in a cave or simply don't follow sports at all, Steve Bartman is the Chicago Cubs fan who tried to grab a foul ball in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the National League championship series. At the time, the Cubs were up 3-0 in the game and 3-2 in the series. They were five outs away from returning to the World Series for the first time since 1945. They haven't won a World Series since 1908. Steve Bartman's contact with the foul ball prevented Moises Alou from squeezing the second out of the inning. The rest, is history.

When I attend Jay games at SkyDome, it's all about catching the elusive foul ball. It is the holy grail for ball fans. I even cherish a couple of home run balls I caught during batting practice (off the bats of Richie Sexson and Shannon Stewart respectively). If you're ever lucky enough to have a foul ball land in your range, nothing else matters. You enter the zone to completely focus on the task at hand...catching the ball. There but for the grace of God go I. I am Steve Bartman.

While we're on the topic of baseball, much has been made recently of the two curses in the Majors. Cubs fans are once again blaming the goat for their loss to the Florida Marlins and Red Sox fans are painfully aware of the Curse of the Bambino. I don't buy the goat curse. The Cubs are suffering from a deadly combination of bad luck and poor talent, but not a curse. This goat curse wasn't applied until 1945 yet the Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908. The Red Sox curse, on the other hand, is for real. As I write this, they've yet to start game seven in the Bronx, but I'm 100% certain the Red Sox will lose. I fully believe in the Curse of the Bambino. The Red Sox are cursed for selling Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920. Bill Buckner will back me up on this.

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Blackout!24 hours and 12 minutes. That's how long the power was off at my humble abode.

Of course, the worst black out in North American history had to strike just when our food supply was at its lowest. Already due for a trip to the grocery store, it was quite the challenge putting together enough sustenance to satisfy a growing 18 month old and his two hungry parents. Barbecued fish sticks anyone? The bright side is we had very little to throw away when the power finally returned at 4:23 this afternoon.

I did learn a valuable lessen throughout this ordeal. I learned that we're entirely too dependent on electricity for our day to day lives. Heck, my phone wouldn't even work because it's a cordless. No air conditioning, no stove, no microwave, no street lights, no gas station, no lights, no refrigerator, no tv and no computer. How did we survive over 24 hours? Gotta jet...The Simpsons is starting.

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