Fixing Mammoliti

A lot of ink and bluster have been spilled over yesterday’s confrontation between Councillors Giorgio Mammoliti and Gord Perks. I won’t add to it other than to say that Jack Lakey, the Star’s Fixer, wrote a blog post detailing a spat between his younger self, when he worked the City Hall beat,  and Mammoliti:


At one point [Mammoliti] told me – in front of other people in the council chamber – that I wrote the stories because I was anti-Italian. And then he walked away.

I was livid, not just at the comment, but at his timely evacuation of the danger zone.

In those days, I was a lot more jumped up and charged with testosterone. It was a serious challenge not to chase him down.

I called aside his executive assistant at the time, a good guy named Anthony Cesario, and asked him to pass along a message to George: If he ever said anything like that again, I’d drop him.

I was quite capable of it, and George knew it; he never came near me for months afterward.

If he’d followed through, Lakey would certainly have come to be known as The Fixer, but different reasons than he is now.

Nothing to steal here. Move along.

Nothing to steal here. Move along.

The Ten Thousand Villages store on Danforth really wants you to know that there’s no cash in the store to steal after hours. So much so that they don’t just leave the empty till open behind the counter, but they put it at the front door so you can see for yourself that it’s completely cash-free without going to all the bother of actually breaking down the door to look. Unless, of course, it’s just a ruse and all the cash is still sitting in the real till behind the counter.

That time I sorta kinda worked for Sam the Record Man streetcar ads

Originally on the side of a streetcar, these ads haven’t seen daylight since they went into my basement in 2001.

Way back in the Internet dark ages of 1999, I applied for a job as a system administrator at, AKA Sam the Record Man. After a few years of building my skills through slave labour, short-term contracts, teaching, and one-off projects, it would have been my first honest-to-goodness 9-5, on-the-payroll, full-time permanent job. I was over the moon when they called back for an interview. Not because the job ad posted to seemed terribly interesting, but because, come on, it was a chance to work for Sam the Record Man! My temperament just isn’t cut out for retail, so sitting in a dark closet running their computers would be perfect.

Almost from the time I was old enough to stand, I’d tag along with my mother on her regular trips to Sam’s. For ten years, she’d emerge with an armful of Max Bygraves and Al Jolson, and I’d bounce out with anything ranging from a sound effects album (do I want the one with train pulling into the station or the lion roaring?) or a single coveted blank cassette to Bob & Doug McKenzie’s Great White North album. When we moved back to East York after three years in Scarborough, I started making my own weekly pilgrimages to Sam’s. For fifteen years, I’d been heading down to Yonge Street to buy the latest Metallica, ferret out an old John Lee Hooker album, or just to browse aimlessly. I’d almost always walk out with a CD or two—often many more—whenever I walked through the doors and entered the maze. I barely noticed HMV’s arrival down the street, A&A shutting down next door, or the various comings and goings of Cheapies. Sam’s, with its ever-growing and rambling layout, was my place, and I didn’t really care about the others. Going down to Sam’s was, and remains, the only Boxing Day shopping I’ve ever done. So yeah, I wanted to work for them.

I walked into an interview in a Toronto Carpet Factory office with fourteen-foot windows, twenty-foot ceilings, and two guys who were completely cluefree. The technical questions were so softball that someone who had never seen a computer could have answered them. I impressed sufficiently to progress to a second interview with a manager who was not only very clueful, but offered me my choice of jobs: take the SamsCD position, which he assured me would be boring and below me; or take a position at a sister company that was more challenging and (he may not have known this at the time) way beyond my previous experience. What a dilemma: take a job at a company I’d always wanted to work for, or take a job that I’d actually like. After thinking about it for a couple of days, I opted to take the more challenging job. It was a tough decision to make at the time, but ultimately the right one.

Although I wouldn’t be working at Sam’s directly, I’d still be providing administration services through the sister company. Among other things I did for them, I got to upgrade Sam’s hardware and software, recover the primary server when their pseudo-admin mounted a blank partition over /usr on a running system (if you know Unix, you know that’s no good), sit in a handful of meetings discussing the server load and performance problems, and ultimately power off their four servers when the ecommerce venture was shuttered. Sam’s would eventually re-launch with a new website, but the damage from HMV, Amazon, and Napster was already done. So although I never worked directly for Sam’s, I can say that I had a small hand in keeping their systems going for a while. And I ended up with the two streetcar ads above. Maybe this will be the year that I finally mount them for display.

I’ve only been into record stores a couple of times since Sam’s finally closed five years ago. Sure, I still buy music, but only online; HMV and Sunrise are pale imitations of the Sam’s experience. I’d like to think that if Sam’s was still around, I’d still be making regular trips to pick up the latest blues releases, get my hands on an Edgar Winter album, or just see what’s on the racks this week. I never browse Amazon or Chapters, I just search for the thing I want and add it to my cart. There’s no sense of discovery, no joy. Just consumption. Although the passing of music and many other traditional businesses into the online world has largely provided me with a career, it’s a shame that so many kids will grow up thinking that the only thing worth lining up for is this year’s iPhone and will never experience a Boxing Day crush at Sam’s.

Rest in peace, Sam.

Hoarding for Humanity

Hoarding for Humanity

“Hoarding for Humanity” sounds like a joke at first, possibly yet another depressing show exploiting people with psychological problems on formerly-good channels like A&E or TLC. Yet there’s the sign, staring at me from the hoarding in the mall, all but begging me to make fun of it.

It turns out that Hoarding for Humanity really is a thing, an offshoot of Habitat for Humanity that sees construction hoarding reused instead of being tossed into the landfill. Locally, the Scarborough Town Centre and Square One malls are participating in the program.

Love the concept. Love the name even more.

The scent of a blogger

Blog pour homme eau de toilette

Now you too can smell like a real blogger without all the effort of sitting in a chair and typing.

If you’ve ever wanted to smell like a blogger (and honestly, who hasn’t?), your wait is over thanks to Shirley May’s newest budget-conscious fragrance, Blog pour homme. Sorry ladies, no Blog for you! Joining Shirley May’s signature men’s fragrances Hunk, Army Fight (your very own chance to smell like napalm in the morning!), and Obama, Blog’s blend of “rosemary, Artemisia, lavender, basil, lemon verbena, bergamot and lemon” is the olfactory equivalent of snark, humour, bemusement, passive aggression, cycling, and love of signs.

Todd Morden Mills

It’s a pretty remarkable coincidence that just a few steps from Todmorden Road in Todmorden Mills in the Todmorden neighbourhood of East York—all of which were named after Todmorden, England—is a pumping station named after someone called Todd Morden:

Todd Morden pumping station sign


Now you might think that this is just another careless spelling error, but Google tells me that there really is a Todd Morden, and he’s this guy:


Google can’t tell me why he has a pumping station named after him, but I’m sure he deserves it.

And just in case you still think it’s merely a spelling error, I can assure you that although there is a Todmorden Mills pumping station, it’s a completely separate facility. In yet another remarkable coincidence, the two pumping stations share a single cabinet:

Mind you, I’m just assuming that these are two separate facilities and that surely the City of Toronto wouldn’t misspell the name of one of its heritage properties on a prominent sign inside that property. And surely workers tacking up the sign would have sent it back to the sign shop with a note as soon as they noticed the error, instead of just blindly posting it. Right?

Happily ever after

Happily Ever After booklet by Julius Schmid, Inc.

Happily Ever After: Allow Julius Schmid, Inc. to explain the secrets of a happy marriage to the new couple.

This booklet on making a happy marriage was produced by Julius Schmid, Inc. in 1956 and comes from the big treasure trove of stuff accumulated by my family over the last century.

Happily Ever After booklet by Julius Schmid, Inc.

The booklet is ostensibly a guide that steps a soon-to-wed couple through an initial consultation with their doctor, where the MD will explain the proper sexual role and expectation of each partner in a happy marriage, as well as moderate discussions about frequency and duration. It’s published by the makers of Ramses and Fourex condoms and is obviously a subtle marketing vehicle, probably distributed solely in doctors’ offices, and almost certainly the most direct birth control advertising that was allowed at the time.

Looking back through old documents like this, it’s hard for the casual observer to tell for sure whether the era was really so wildly different from today, the author was hopelessly naive, or the company was winking and nodding while playing along with the sensibilities of the time in order to market its product. I suspect it’s a combination of all of the above, though it’s mostly nodding and winking as Julius Schmid surely would have expected most of these to end up in the hands of curious teenagers. Either way, it’s interesting to compare the condom marketing of 1956 with the ads on TV today.

Incidentally, if this booklet came to my family at the time of its publication rather than being a later novelty acquisition, it dates from the time when my mother was nine years old and my grandmother was embarking on her second marriage. Which, in either case, ewww.

Scans of the complete booklet are below the fold.

Read More …

Toronto Police Mounted Unit trading cards

Spencer's trading card

Did you know that horses in the Toronto Police Mounted Unit have trading cards? One of the mounted officers at the East York Canada Day celebration had a giant wad of cards for Spencer, one of the horses attending the party, and was going through them quickly as dozens of kids (and Risa) mobbed him. The front, above, has a formal portrait taken at the top of Riverdale Park. The reverse has short bios for both human and horse officers:

Reverse of Spencer's trading card


And here’s Spencer (on the right), his colleague, and their riders shortly before they were surrounded by horse lovers and card traders on Canada Day:

Spencer (on the right) and partner at the East York Canada Day party.

Spencer (on the right) and partner at the East York Canada Day party.