It Happened to Me

Quotes, Part 1

Here are some of the more interesting quotes I’ve heard in the past fortnight, and the stories behind them.

“You’re the happiest unemployed person I know”

Friday, March 22nd: Walking into salsa night at the Courthouse is like walking into a movie.

The Courthouse — so named because it actually was a courthouse built in the 1800’s — has a gorgeous 19th-century ballroom with high ceilings and a balcony, lit only by chandeliers, a couple of fireplaces and dozens of candles. The floor is packed with well-dressed dancing couples and spectators lounge in large and comfy couches by the fireplaces at either side of the room. The musical selection is mostly salsa, with a little cha-cha and merengue thrown in now and again. Unlike most dance clubs, this is one place where strangers walk up to you and ask you to dance.

We were invited there by our friend Sue, whom we’d met at one of the “Singleton” parties organized by our friend Marichka. (The Singleton gatherings are rather yuppified affairs held at a chi-chi resto-bar called Fat Cat, where twenty-, thirty- and forty-something professionals — mostly journos, from the look of it — gather to meet others of their ilk.) It was a little send-off for Sue; she was due to move to San Diego to start a new job in a week.

Paul and I have been to a couple of salsa nights. Paul has ballroom danced for years; he’s even been in competitions and won. He tends to seek out the women who know how to salsa, take them to the floor and then transform himself from dairy country rube to dancing machine. Paul takes dancing seriously and complains that he keeps forgetting all his steps, but as far as my uneducated eyes can tell, he does just fine.

I, on the other hand, can barely waltz. I tend to ask the wallflowers staring longinly at the dancefloor:

“Would you like to dance?”

“I’d like to, but I really don’t know how.”

“Neither do I,” I’d say and then dancing — or a cartoonish approximation thereof — would ensue. There’s a lot of “so what do we do next?” throughout the dance, I tend to turn my partner more times than the legal limit and I’m sure Arthur Murray spins in his grave every time I take to the floor. The “I don’t know what I’m doing but I don’t care” approach to ballroom dancing is cheesy John Hughes movie behaviour, but so is carrying an accordion everywhere, and that’s done me nothing but good.

After watching me, our friend Valerie told me as we watched Paul the Midwestern Mambo Machine, “You’re the happiest unemployed person I know.”

“My brothers would kick your ass”

Saturday, March 23rd: It was like Coyote Ugly, except with better dialogue and an accordion player.

I thought I was going to have a relatively quiet Saturday night — a little coding work until midnight, and then down to Velvet Underground, the alt-rock dance place down the street. Instead, I got a phone call from my friend Anne, who invited me to join her and her cute friends from her PR class at a resto-bar called Seven Numbers. She also mentioned that there was someone she wanted to introduce me to.

(Having your ex try to set you up with someone is similar to getting a letter of recommendation from an employer who fired you. Both will recommend you to others, the fact that you were let go makes the recommendations seem a little odd, you think that your being let go was a colossally gross error in judgement, the severance pay/nookie is never enough and you gracefully accept the recommendation anyway because it’s the polite thing to do and hey, you never know where it’ll lead.)

I arrived at Seven Numbers and met a table of several women and one guy. I’d met Anne’s equally hyperkinetic friend Tanya before, but the rest of them were new to me. She introduced me to her friends as “the infamous Accordion Guy”. I’ve been getting introduced to people that way, complete with “the infamous” or “the notorious”. Most people would probably be embarrassed, but I feed off that kind of thing. It’s called rock and roll, kids.

The restaurant was more like a movie restaurant than a real-world one: the waiters constantly flirted with the girls (when the girls first entered the restaurant, one of them carried Anne to the table); people were doing body shots — drinking sambuca out of each other’s navels — on the bar, and when the music came on, I played along on the accordion and we all climbed up on the bar to dance.

I phoned Paul, who’d stayed home that night. “It’s like Coyote Ugly here,” I told him, “and you’d never forgive me if I didn’t call you.” He arrived about a half-hour later.

A couple of pretty women bought me a drink and asked all kinds of questions about me and my accordion. Have I mentioned how much I love this instrument? (It was a good thing that one of them mentioned that they’d put their kids and husbands to bed before going out. I really need to remember to check for wedding rings.) An older Italian woman walked up to me and pinched my cheeks, saying “It’s-a so nice that a young guy like-a you still plays the accordion.” Grazie, ma’am.

Drew, a friend of the girls, arrived around last call and invited us back to his apartment for more drinks. Drew lived in Yorkville, a boutique-y part of town filled with pricey restaurants, small art galleries and overpriced designer clothing stores. He had an apartment above Gabbana and beside a dance club that had a gaggle of Mexican guys outside, staring each other down with what Laura, one of the girls, called “the look of death.” (Later that night, a fight would break out, there would be lots of screaming in Spanish, an old man would get knocked onto his ass, followed by screams of “El Viejo!“. We’d watch the conflagration from the balcony above.)

I had a feeling of deja vu as I walked into the apartment. Paul Oakenfold playing on the stereo — the same track that the fratboys in San Francisco played at their apartment, where just like now, we’d left a bar and gone back to some guy’s place for more drinks. To my relief, the guys weren’t obnoxious at all, and I didn’t hear the word “dude” all night.

Tanya told us how she’d been kicked out of a bar the week before. Apparently she’d been talking to some guy who called her a “whore from Halifax”. Tanya decked him and was promptly ejected from the bar.

Drew told us about his trip to Mexico and showed us some badly-painted Mexican wrestler dolls he’d bought at the airport. I’ve seen shoddy Third World workmanship before, but who ever painted these wasn’t even trying. They wouldn’t even pass muster in the Land of Misfit Toys.

Somehow the topic drifted to Judy Blume books, and being the pop culture aficionado I am, I mentioned how her books used to be more relevant to school kids and how she went down the slippery slope and ended up writing incredibly cheesy soft-core porn. Stephanie was quite appalled that a guy would know shit from shinola about Judy Blume.

“My brothers would kick your ass,” she said.

“They’re welcome to try,” I replied, “but I’d make sure they limped back to their trailer.”

She either didn’t get my quip or took it extremely well.

It Happened to Me

Springtime, Synchronicity and Soapy Women

(Nice title, eh?)

It was a springlike day in Toronto: bright and sunny with temperatures around 14 degrees (that’s almost 60 degrees in that antiquated scale for my American friends). I decided to take a break from work at around 4 p.m. to finally do what I’d been meaning to do since getting fired: join a gym.

I was going to join the Premier Fitness Club down at Skydome. My friends Anne and Adina work out there, it’s nice and big, and it’s pretty good for peopel watching. My friend Rob once asked me: “Why would you want to work out there? It’s just full of models!”

Duh. (Nice kid, but sometimes he’s as sharp as a sack of wet kittens.)

Rob suggested that I get a membership at the Jewish Community Centre. I said it was too far away, and besides, being Filipino, they’d think I was the houseboy.

The real problem with Premier is the price. The best deal they could offer me was a $90/month membership, with some fairly hefty start-up fee. It would be cheaper if I were working for “The Corpse” — Frank Magazine’s nickname for the CBC — or any other firm with whom Premier had cut some kind of employee rate deal. I couldn’t afford Premier’s on my current salary, which in financier’s term is referred to as bubkus, so no models for the Accordion Guy.

Luckily, I had a backup plan: GoodLife Fitness on McCaul. It’s smaller and definitely less glamourous than the SkyDome club, but it’s also closer to home, being only a few blocks away (more incentive to go).

I walked into GoodLife and was immediately greeted with “Accordion Guy!” It was Will, a guy I know from Kick Ass Karaoke. It turns out that he did membership sales there. He gave me the grand tour — a little cramped, but the equipment was nice, and all the classes were free — and then we got down to talking money. I told him that I was currently unemployed and working on Peekabooty for the learning experience and the exposure. It turns out that he runs a couple of Web services on the side, and in an act of solidarity with a fellow geek and karaoke performer, he cut me some very nice deals that blew Premier’s best offers right out of the water. Another lucky break, thanks to the accordion.

While going over the contract, he called over a woman who turned out to be the bassist for the local band The Rockertits. “Look! It’s the Accordion Guy!” Shortly after, my friend Danielle walked over.

“Hey, Joey! Are you signing up here?”

“Yeah. I didn’t know this was your gym.”

“Not only that, but this is where we had that shower conversation about you,” she said, walking into an aerobics-with-weights class.

“Shower…conversation…?” Will asked.

“It took place last year,” I explained. “Danielle told me that she was in the shower after one gym session, and she asked her friend if she knew me. She was in the middle of describing me — Filipino, plays the accordion, takes it everywhere — when another girl pipes in and goes ‘I know that guy! I see him all the time on Queen Street!’ So the three of them, in the shower get into this conversation about me. Danielle e-mailed me because she wanted me to know that three naked women, all lathered up in the shower, were enthusiastically talking about me. She thought it might brighten my day.”

Will just arched an eyebrow in response.

“Accordion, Will. It’s the future.”

Accordion, Instrument of the Gods It Happened to Me

They’re Not “Strippers”, They’re “Naked-Americans”

North Beach

north beach

Photo by Weegee010, and under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 license.
Click to see the source.

Friday, February 15th: North Beach is one of San Franscisco’s most lively neighbourhoods. It’s a strange mix of date-worthy Italian resto-bars and strip clubs, as if New York’s pre-Disneyfied Times Square and Little Italy had merged. The sidewalks are crowded with people eating tiramisu at cafe tables and passers-by taking in the sights. The road is packed with cars looking for places to park and limousines and buses full of partygoers toasting each other and people on the sidewalk with cans of beer.

Paul, Scott Hardy and I were being led to The Lusty Lady by Annalee Newitz, sex-and-tech writer extraordinaire, whom we’d met at CodeCon earlier that day. We were joined by her friend Charles Anders, who wore a smart little skirt uniform (Meter maid? Police? I don’t recall.) and sensible red flats.

A little aside: I have a theory that the “Gay Disneyland” part of San Francisco’s Castro neighbourhood stops where Castro Street turns into a steep hill because it’s impossible to climb it in a pair of pumps.

It was the kind of group you might only see in an ensemble cast movie: cross-dressing Charles, Annalee in indie-rock olive drab, Scott (who looks as though he could’ve been a member of Steppenwolf), Paul the tall guy from the Midwest, and the mop-topped Asian guy with the accordion on his back (“…and together, they fight crime!”).

The Lusty Lady

lusty lady

Photo by “Noodle”, and under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
Click to see the source.

The Lusty Lady is no ordinary peepshow theatre. It was the setting of a documentary film called Live Nude Girls Unite!, a story about the struggle to form first exotic dancer’s union. In order to supplement her income, comedian Julia Query started dancing at the Lusty Lady and found the work arrangements appallingly bad. Dancers had to pay stage fees — the exotic dancer’s equivalent of the musician’s onerous “pay-to-play” contract, were being asked to “date” the owners’ friends and were being videotaped for porn without their knowledge or being paid. The end result: the Exotic Dancers Union was formed. The Lusty Lady is, as I understand it, the only unionized strip club in North America.

“Do they have a good dental plan?” I asked Annalee. “I’m unemployed, you know. And is it, you know, empowering? I don’t want to be exploitive. I mean, I’m like that guy from the Chris Isaak Show, the guy who had the line ‘You give me a boner…with respect.'”

When we arrived at the Lusty Lady, we were met by more of Annalee’s and Charles’ friends, making our combined group an almost even mix of men and women. How different this scene was from what it was like ten years ago, when many of my women friends shared Catherine MacKinnon’s and Andrea Dworkin’s views: “pornography is the theory, rape is the practice”.

The Lusty Lady’s front desk is in a room painted a very lurid red with cheesy furniture; it would look right at home in a Russ Meyer film. A little weasel of a man sat at the front desk.

“Are the art films still in the video booths?” asked Annalee.

“Art films”, I thought. Yeah, right.

“Yesmam!” he said in an cartoonish Spanish accent with an even more cartoonish sing-song cadence. He sounded like a less gravelly-voiced version of “Cheech” Marin’s character, Chet Pussy, in From Dusk Till Dawn. “De regular pooooorno feelms are on channels hwone t’ru twenny-seven, wit’ the art feelm on channel twenny-h’eight.” He said pooooorno feelms and art feelm with particular gusto, and cupped hands pantomiming the squeezing of breasts. “An’ don’ forget ’bout de nekkid ladies!”

The back area was painted the same lurid red. It was a hallway with closely spaced doors, each with a number and a light overhead that was lit up if the room was occupied.

“Let’s get the corner booth,” said Annalee. “There’ll be more room there.”

The five of us piled into a triangular shaped room with a bench built into the wall. On one wall was a machine that accepted bills. The wall that the bench faced had a plexiglass window that was covered by a shade on the other side. The booth was stuffy and had a vague, mushroom-like odor.

“I just stepped in something slimy,” Paul said.

That’s when I noticed the paper towel dispenser on the wall.

Someone fished out a five-dollar bill and fed it into the machine. The shade on the other side of the plexiglass rose, giving us a view into a small room lined with animal print faux fur and lit by several chaser bulbs. Five women, some completely nude, others wearing tiny pieces of gauzy lingerie looked inside our booth and seemed a little annoyed that we were “cheaping out” and cramming inside.

I raised the accordion so that they could see it.

“What’s in the box?” one of them asked. Oops. I was showing them the back. I turned it around and put it on.

“Let me play you a little song,” I said, and started into Wild Thing.

One by one, they gathered around our window. Three of them lay down on their stomachs, their heads propped up in their hands, as if they were kids watching Saturday morning cartoons. The other two did a sexy dance along to the music.

When the number ended, they appluaded and asked for more. I could not possibly turn down five naked women asking for more. All the women, save the cute blonde one with glasses, took turns dancing; she stayed by the window, watching the show. I smiled at her, she smiled back.

“Take your clothes off!” she yelled.

“I will, but first you have to put money in the machine on your side!” I answered.

We kept feeding the machine for another five songs and left the booth afterwards.

“I tell you, that blonde was checking me out!” I told Paul.

“Yeah, right.”

Paul and I tried one of the video booths next. We opened the door and Paul checked the seat for gooey substances before we sat down. I gave Paul a couple of dollar bills to put into the machine. We cycled through the first twenty-seven channels, which were standard run-of-the-mill porno: anal, vaginal, fellatio, threesome and posing.

“Not much variety,” Paul noted.

The twenty-eighth was quite different. It was a reel of student- and “artist”-produced short films. The first was a close-up of a woman’s mouth licking a one hundred dollar bill, which we found hilarious. The next segment showed a naked woman standing in the woods, with two men in soldier’s uniforms running at her from her left and her right. As they approached her, she raised her arms to face each of them, revealing that she was carrying two handguns. She shot them dead before they could reach her. This repeated in a loop for about a minute.

Pavlov Video Chicken One,” I said. (You’ll have to ask a fan of the old Saturday Night Live about that one, it doesn’t appear in Google.)

Someone knocked at the door. “Joey,” said Jesse on the other side. “Your presence is requested.”

One of Annalee’s friends, a rubenesque woman with a low-cut black shirt was going to strip for the strippers and wanted some accompanying music. She, Annalee and I piled into the corner booth. I played a blues progression in C minor while she pulled up her top, presenting her breasts for the dancers’ viewing pleasure. Such reciprocity!

I could feel the love in the booth. I just hoped I wasn’t standing in any of it.

After the call-and-response peep show in the booth, we returned to the hallway, where we gathered to talk about what we’d just seen or done. We were interrupted by the guy from the front desk, who spoke over the public address system.

E’scuuuuse me! I just haf an announcement for all the people jus’ standin’ in de hallway. Eef chu wan’ to talk, please do it outside an’ don’ block de way for de people who are tryin’ to spend their money on de poooooooorno feeelms!” He said poooooooorno with particular gusto and spoke so comically we couldn’t help but laugh. We walked outside.

Hotel Metropolis

Photo: Lobby of Hotel Metropolis, Tenderloin district, San Francisco.

We went to a cafe on Columbus street and occupied the sidewalk tables. Jillzilla arrived and joined us.

She and I looked through Charles’ book, The Lazy Crossdresser, a copy of which he’d just received from the printer. It starts with a chapter titled Matter and Panty-matter and continues to be hilarious to the very end. I’m definitely going to purchase a copy and have it on my coffee table to put The Fear into some of my more timid guests.

After some cake and coffee, we all parted ways. Jill and I were still in a partying mood, so we gave Brandon a call and headed towards his hotel. We caught a cablecar, where Jill noticed that someone had altered one of the signs within.

no igorThe sign had four of those red circles with the red diagonal bar cutting across an image within the circle.

Three of them were what’s you’d expect: no smoking, no food or drink, no leaning out of the cablecar. Someone had altered the fourth one so that the pictogram and text said “No IGOR”. Apparently lab assistants aren’t allowed on board.

The Hotel Metropolis is on the edge of San Francisco’s notorious Tenderloin district. I was expecting it to be a complete fleabag, but it turned out to be the one of the nicest hotels I’d ever seen. It looked as if it had been decorated by Asian readers of wallpaper* magazine, complete with a glass wall waterfall behind the concierge’s desk and Delirium being played instead of standard Muzak. We went to Brandon’s room, where he, Bram, Jane, Steve and Liza were relaxing. I told them about our evening at the Lusty Lady.

“I refuse to believe it happened!” said Brandon with a smile. “It’s all lies, Joey! Lies!”

“I want to believe,” said Steve.

“I want to sleep,” said Jane.

Somehow Jill and I managed to convince them to go out for a bite to eat at a nearby restaurant, which made for a lovely end to a fun and unusual evening.

Recommended Reading

Book cover: The Lazy Crossdresser, by Charles Anders.

The Lazy Crossdresser by Charles Anders. Be sure to check out Chris ‘site.

A little cross-dressing humour: Transvestites are cross-dressers who hang from the top of the cave, while transvestmites stand on the cave floor. Ha! I slay me!

Annalee’s card says TECHNOLOGY * POP CULTURE * SEX on the front and Must…East…Brains… on the back. How can you not visit her site now? Be sure to check out some of her articles:

I get mentioned in the latest Techsploitation column, which appears in today’s San Francisco Bay Guardian. This column covers blogs and CodeCon.

Thanks, Annalee! You don’t know how much this means to a skanky accordion ho like me!

Accordion, Instrument of the Gods It Happened to Me

San Francisco and I are on Speaking Terms Again

A Bone to Pick

I had a bone to pick with San Francisco. The entire damned seven-by-seven miles of the city from the yuppie ghetto of the Marina to the no-man’s land known as South San Francisco. (Don’t get me started on the Valley — especially San Jose.)

It’s not any one thing that brought about the rift between me and what I like to call “The Richest city in the Third World”, but a combination of its many annoyances:

And let me tell you, even the lowest of the low in the shantytowns surrounding Manila do not take a dump in the middle of the sidewalk the way San Francisco homeless do.

It’s all that, along with what happened to me during my abruptly terminated stay in the city.

Westward ho!

Like most of my stories, it starts with an accordion. One of its many powers is to attract job offers, and in 2000, it got me promoted from programmer to programmer-and-developer-relations-guy. In a fit of needing to be where the action is, the company decided to open a San Francisco office and send its best or loudest spokespeople — namely Cory, me and our white-guy-who-drops-a-lot-of-black-urban-lingo-for-street-cred Chief Strategist — down there to shill our not-yet-existent and often-changing product. There was a short period, maybe a day or two, where I was leaning towards turning down the transfer when my then-girlfriend sagely pointed out this important fact: if I didn’t at least give it a try, I would regret it later.

I moved to San Francisco on December 28th, 2000. I was put in charge of taking care of the corporate apartment, a two-bedroom townhouse in a complex right by Alamo Square Park, whose Victorian houses you’ve probably seen in San Francisco pictures and postcards, as well as the opening shot for the intro to the TV series Full House (brr). The company was constantly sending people from Toronto to San Francisco, and the bean-counters figured that it would be cheaper to maintain a corporate apartment than to book them into hotels. My caretaker role meant that I lived rent-free in a new place equidistant from Soma, the Haight, the Marina and downtown. It was an arrangement not unlike the way Higgins looked after Robin Masters’ estate in Magnum, P.I., the differences being that I was not a stuffy Englishman and my Hawaiian shirt collection puts me in the Magnum fashion camp. (I suppose that Cory was my Robin Masters.)

By February, we had moved to the best damned office I’d ever worked in, made a big splash at a major conference and were being courted by the Beast of Redmond. It was all going accordion to plan.

The E! True Hollywood Story Turning Point, or: It All Goes Wrong

My girlfriend at the time and I were maintaining a long-distance relationship and had decided to shorten that distance considerably. She moved from Brooklyn to San Francisco in early March. About a week and a half later, horrified at everything about the city that makes Cory refer to it as “San Fran-scarcity”, she told me how much she hated the place and that she suddenly had some very serious doubts about the relationship. I asked her to think it over. After all, she hadn’t been there two weeks and it may just be a case of homesickness. I tried to tell her that although it’s not New York — no city is — it wasn’t as if she were suddenly moving to a cardboard box in downtown Calcutta. However, after a couple of hours of talking it over with her, it seemed that she was determined to flake out and I was resigned to the fact that she was going to move back. She booked a flight home for the following Monday.

That weekend could’ve been a miserable one, but it wasn’t. I “officially” broke up with her on Thursday, thereby demoting my status back to “um friend“, a role that made her considerably more comfortable. We spent a very debauched St. Patrick’s Day weekend weekend painting the town red. The bars were serving Irish whiskey, Guinness and green beer, the street parties were great raucous affairs, and playing The Wild Rover on the accordion got us a lot of free drinks. It was one of my better turn-lemons-into-lemonade moments.

Monday was difficult, to say the least. I took her to the airport, said goodbye to her and watched her plane disappear, A few hours shy of two weeks after she’d arrived in San Francisco, she was gone. It was the lowest I’d felt in a very long time.

I didn’t even get the chance to take a couple of days off to cry in my beer; the company had scheduled a series of very important meetings with to-die-for clients: an on-line auction company of some repute and a portal whose name is an expression of glee. I’d written some user interface prototypes that I would be demonstrating at these meetings, as well as talking tech with their developers. I spent the rest of the week putting on my happy face and burying my woes with demos and work.

At the end of that week, it was decided that I should fly back to Toronto for a couple of weeks to meet with the rest of the team that would be developing the 1.0 version of our software. About a week into my visit to Toronto, the company laid off a dozen people in Toronto, cancelled the lease on our San Francisco office, and downsized the San Francsico team to just me and Cory, who would work out of an office at our VC’s headquarters in Palo Alto.

I saw which way the wind was blowing and decided it would be better for me (and even earn me some points with management) if I volunteered to move back to Toronto. They thought it was a good idea, but said that they couldn’t spare me for enough time for me to fly back and pack my stuff. They dispatched our office manager Amy to pack up the office and my apartment and ship it back. About five weeks after I had come to Toronto for a visit, an moving truck packed with all the evidence that I’d ever lived in San Francisco brought my stuff to Toronto. Within the span of four months, I had moved from Toronto to San Francisco and back again.

I spent a week in an “I’m not supposed to be here!” daze. Having lost a girlfriend and then being involuntarily displaced, I felt as if I’d been harshly dumped by San Francisco too. The bitch!

From that point on, I associated San Francisco with unpleasant memories and heartbreak, as if I’d been through some kind of neo-Pavlovian negative reinforcement experiment in which the city was the gerbil cage (whose liner needs changing very badly).

The Return

Just over a week ago, I made my first trip to San Francisco since my abrupt move back to Toronto. I was there to present Peekabooty at CodeCon, do some developer relations with the various hackers who would be attending, and maybe even make my peace with the city.

(Yes, I realize I’m anthropomorphizing a seven-by-seven mile clump of hilly land, its people and its human urine- and feces-stained sidewalks. Don’t tell me you haven’t done something similar.)

Cory gave me the keys to his apartment, where I dropped off all my stuff save the accordion. I had plenty of time to kill before meeting Jillzilla for dinner, so I decided to spent the afternoon walking about the city that was supposed to be my home.

I stopped by Brain Wash, and old hangout of mine located across the street from the old office. Its back half is a laundromat and its front half is a cafe. I’ve eaten just about everything on their menu, spent many afternoons writing prototype software at their tables and even did a couple of accordion-assisted stand-up routines at their regular amateur comedy nights. (For the brave or the shameless, performing in front of an audience is a great way to meet people if you’re new in town.)

The place was silent. Normally, the sounds of the kitchen, stereo and washing machines fill the place. Something wrong happened with the power grid, leaving the entire block without electricity.

Amy, one of the cute punkish staff, was talking to a co-worker. I used to fantasize about her, wearing nothing but Doc Martens, softly kicking me in the head. But I digress.

“It’s too quiet here. If I don’t hear some music soon, I’m going to go crazy,” she complained as I walked in the door.

That was my cue. I switched the accordion from backpack mode to ready-to-rock mode, unstrapped the bellows and said “Did someone say music?”

“You! Free cookies and drinks if you play!”

That’s when I knew that San Francisco was about to make it up to me in many weird and wonderful ways.

San Francisco, you are forgiven. (Now, if you can do something about your personal hygiene…)

Next: The bustling metropolis known as downtown Mountain View, CodeCon, children trust me, matter and panty-matter and entertaining a room full of naked women.

Accordion, Instrument of the Gods It Happened to Me


Setting the scene

The second day of CodeCon was followed by a dinner at Don Ramon’s, a Mexican restaurant two blocks from the DNA Lounge.

After dinner, those of us who hung out on the #infoanarchy IRC channel decided to have our own little gathering.

Lisa did the legwork and found a place: Butter, which is across the street from the DNA Lounge. Butter is a cute little space with a “trailer park” theme with decor you’d expect, and the bar snacks are tater tots, TV dinners and marshmallows that you can roast yourself over canned heat.

That night, they projected the H.R. Pufnstuf movie, a couple of Land of the Lost episodes and National Lampoon’s Vacation onto the walls.

We went to Butter straight after dinner, so by the time 10:30 had rolled around, we’d already been there for three hours. Our party was winding down and people were making various plans to go elsewhere.

I didn’t know my evening had only just begun.

Note: The names of people who weren’t at CodeCon — namely the names of the stagette girls and the fratboys — have been changed.

“Can you play that thing?”

Even for me, this was kind of unusual.

“Can you play that thing?” she asked.

“Sure,” I replied. Oh mighty accordion, I thank you for sending me yet another victim. And so cute, too!

“Is it your birthday?” It was a reasonable guess. ” Can I play Happy Birthday for you?”

“No,” she replied. “It’s my stagette!”

Duuuuuh. I should’ve guessed that, judging from the outfit.

I played the first verse of Billy Idol’s White Wedding in response. She sang along, waving the dildo as if it were a conductor’s baton.

“You have to meet my friends!” she exclaimed, pulling me towards the other side of the room, where eight attractive and tipsy women were greedily downing blue Jello shots from a tray. They took turns posing with me for pictures and a couple even tried the accordion on.

Brandon walked up to me and said “My God, Joey, you weren’t lying about the accordion.”

“It has powers that science cannot yet explain,” I replied.


The bride-to-be took me by the arm and said “Hey, Accordion Guy, we’ve got a limo coming to pick us up and take us to a few more bars. There’s lots of free booze and I have cute friends as you can see. Wanna come along?”

Lisa overheard this and whispered in my ear: “I think you should go.”


The stagette’s timing was perfect. Our #infoanarchy party was winding down, with many people deciding to go home. Most of us were already standing outside Butter’s front door when the limo pulled up. I waved a triumphant goodbye to my friends and climbed into the limo.

All aboard!

Eight or nine girls, along with three other guys they’d picked up at Butter climbed aboard. Both girls and guys were cast from the same mold — the girls were skinny blondes and brunettes in party dresses and the guys were fratboys with brush cuts wearing Gap clothes. They could’ve easily been extras from the American Pie movies.

One of the girls had the last name Stiffler, which she was never referred to as until that movie had come out. I couldn’t resist the obvious joke: “This one time? At band camp? I took my accordion…”

It’s just like one of those old Tom Vu commercials!

The limo had a bar stocked with some terribly sour sparkling wine that the girls didn’t seem to mind. After a glass of that rotgut, I switched to the only other option: ice-cold cans of Bud, which was what the Frat Boys — my mental name for them — had also chosen.

“Dude,” asked Fratboy One, the tallest of them, “where’d you learn to play accordion like that?”

“I learned by playing for beer money and fun on the street.”

“Dude. That’s so sweet. I can tell it’s a real chick magnet. Dude, I gotta get me an accordion! That would so rule! The ladies love musicians. Look at fuckin’ Durst from Limp Bizkit; he’s like dating porno actresses an’ strippers an’ shit!”

“I’m soooo there, bro,” I answered, as I did a little conversational impedance-matching.

As the limo zigzagged through SoMa, we took turns sticking our heads out the sunroof in pairs and yelling incoherently. Some of the girls were drinking the low-grade champagne out of the fittest guy’s navel.

I should hit the gym more often, I thought.

Oh. My. God.

After my turn at the sunroof, I found a seat and seconds later, Lisa, the bride to be, sat in my lap, put an arm around me and asked what I was doing at Butter and where I got into accordion playing.

“I’m down here from Toronto to speak at a hacker conference,” I replied. I chose the phrase “hacker conference” deliberately; it has that certain bad-boy cachet that “programming conference” lacks.

“Whoo!” she exclaimed as she both arms around me and looked me straight in the eye. “You’re not dangerous or anything, are you?”

Suddenly the popular myth that all hackers are criminals didn’t seem like such a bad thing.

The bride-to-be bows out

The limo pulled up to the south side of the Metreon building and came to a halt. We left the limo and entered a bar with a packed dance floor playing Top 40 dance hits. We didn’t stay longer than half an hour, after which we piled into the limo and went to Asia SF, where we toasted Lisa with Jagermeister shots.

Forty-five minutes after that, we boarded the limo for the last time and ended up a a place whose name I believe was Cloud Eight. Lisa was looking a little rough.

“Water,” she croaked, while a friend supported her. She and two of her friends went towards the washrooms at the back of the club.

With the bride-to-be about to throw up and the limo’s contract over, it looked as though the party was going to break up even though it was only one o’clock.

“Dude,” Fratboy One said. “Lisa’s ’bout to call it a night, but some of these girls are still ready to go. I think Sara really likes you, dude. I’d be entering the dragon if I were you, bro.”

Thanks for the props for my mackin’ Asian style, dude.

After going to the back to check up on Lisa and hearing violent retching coming from behind the women’s washroom door, we decided to gather those who still wanted to party and go elsewhere. It was down to me, the three fratboys and three of the women — Stiffler, Cheryl and Max. The girls and one of the fratboys got into one cab, while I got into another with Fratboy One and Fratboy Three.

“Dude!” said Fratboy Three. “This rocks! A limo full of chicks!”

“Fuck yeah!” said Fratboy One, “And we got the Accordion Guy rockin’ the box! You made the evening, dude!”

“Sweeeeeeeeet.” I replied.

Fratboy One’s cell phone rang. It was the fratboy in the other car.

“Dude! Dude? No, dude. Aw dude, that’s like out of town. Aw, dude. Talk to them.”

He turned to the cabbie. “One-oh-one, dude! One-oh-one!”

“Where you want me to go?” asked the cabbie.

“Just one-oh-one! We’ll tell you. Just get us to one-oh-one!” Fratboy One turned his attention back to the phone. “Dude. Put her on. Dude. Just put her on. Hello? Who is this? Cheryl? Hey, forget there. Let’s just go back to my place. It’s in Nob Hill, we got a lot of booze, we can turn the music real loud. It’ll be great.”

Fratboy One tuned to the cabbie. “Dude! Change of plans. Washington and Leavenworth!”

Those round-eyes, they’re crazy

As we approached Nob Hill, Fratboy One told the cab driver to pull over at an all-night grocery.

He and Fratboy Three ran out of the cab to buy some beer.

The cabbie turned around to talk to me.

“Those boys crazy. You seem like nice Asian boy, not like them. You are Filipino?”


“I have many Filipino friends,” said the cabbie, who was Chinese. “They all musicians, like you. But that not your real job?”

“No, I’m a computer programmer.”

“That nice job, even in hard time like now,” he said, nodding. “You friend with these crazy gwei lo?”

“No, I met them tonight.”

Duuuuuuude!” Fratboy One yelled, coming from the store holding a 24-pack of Sam Adams over his head. “Let’s roll!”

“And gwei lo say we can’t hold liquor,” muttered the cabbie.

Nerds 1, Jocks 0

Fratboy One’s apartment was exactly the way I had envisioned it. Nice Nob Hill building with hardwood floors, hand-me-down furniture from the parental units, framed posters of beer and that cliched black-and-white poster of Grand Central Station, the one with light streaming through the cathedral windows. The entertainment altar was in the centre of the room and was probably the most expensive piece of furniture. The only reading material that could be seen anywhere was ESPN magazine and Maxim.

Fratboy Two made a beeline for the stereo and started flipping through the collection.

“Put on the Oakenfold, dude!” said Fratboy One, who motioned for the rest of us to join him in the kitchen. He started pouring tequila into wine glasses. “I’m all out of shot glasses, dude.”

Max and fratboy three danced to Oakenfold for a while and then disappeared into his room. The rest of us moved over to Fratboy Two’s room, which had a computer stuffed with MP3’s and a nice sound system.

The only other furniture was a snowboard and a bed.

Stiffler and Fratboy Two snuggled up on his computer chair, with her on his lap facing him, her leather-pantsed legs wrapped around him. That left Cheryl, me and Fratboy One, which meant that the math wasn’t going to work out for one of us.

“My feet are killing me,” said Cheryl, as she leaned back on the bed.

“That’s too bad,” said Fratboy One.

Fratboy One was a good-looking guy with your standard all-American features; he probably wasn’t used to having to put in some effort towards getting the ladies’ attention. My own geekdom was about to pay off.

“Hey,” I said, unzipping Cheryl’s boots. I can fix that. “One foot massage, coming up.”

“Sorry if my feet stink. I’ve been dancing all night.”

“Awww, feet. Keep them away from me,” Fratboy One said. Strike two.

“That feels nice,” she said, as I kneaded her feet. They didn’t stink at all.

“So tell me, how’d you get into playing the accordion?”

I told her, during which time Fratboy One grumbled and wandered off into his room.

Nerds 1, Jocks 0.

“Thank you, Accordion Boy”

Stiffler and Fratboy Two were teasing each other in the chair while Cheryl and I lay back and I told her about how the accordion had saved me from a mugging in Prague and she told me about how she and her friends were ripped off by scam artists in Rome. We snuggled for a while until she started to fade.

Stiffler and Fratboy two looked like they were about to use the bed, so I carried her out to the couch, tucked her in and kissed her good night.

“Thank you…Accordion Boy,” she said.

“You’re welcome, Drunk Girl.”


The door to Fratboy Two’s room was still open and the couple were still (mostly) decent. I gave Fratboy Two a high-five goodbye and leaned down to whisper in Stiffler’s ear.

“Give him one for me,” I said.

“I will,” she answered, smiling.

I walked out into the streets of Nob Hill and began looking for a cab.

Accordion, Instrument of the Gods It Happened to Me


The VH-1 Photo Shoot

Last Sunday was sunny with spring-like temperatures, so I decided to do go out for a walk. I took the accordion with me and slung it on my back, just in case I decided to do some busking.

I was listening to CDs at the Queen Street HMV, when I got a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see two guys with large camera bags.

“I’m Mike, and this is Krush,” said one of them, holding up a VH-1 ID card. “We’re here taking stills for a documentary of people who are really into their music, and you look like one of them. Mind if we take some photos?”

“Not at all,” I replied, “but the clothes stay on.”

They got a picture or two of me at the CD listening bar checking out the new Nine Inch Nails live album. About five minutes later, I was busking on Queen Street, with Mike and Krush taking pictures of me. The commotion attracted a couple of curious onlookers as well as my friends Dera and Marshall, who were out shopping, heard the accordion and knew that only one person could be behind the noise. Once the shoot was done, I signed the release forms (pointing to Dera, I told the VH-1 guys “be careful, I have a lawyer here…”). Mike threw a fiver into my hat.

I decided to join Dera and Marshall on their stroll westward down Queen Street, chatting and checking out the many new places that had popped up over the past year. After the stroll, I returned to Threadz (a skater clothing shop) to play a couple of numbers that the staff had requested. On my way out, I gave the fiver Mike had given me to a high-school age girl huddled in sleeping blankets in an alcove.

The B-Side Gig (Thursday, January 31st)

It would be very uncharacteristic of this blog (and of me) not to include the gratuitous “cute girl” shot. So here it is:

That’s Lindi, whose party celebrating the release of her debut CD, The Taste of Forbidden Fruit, takes place this Thursday at B-Side in Toronto (Richmond and Peter Streets, above Fez Batik). Her music style is folksy, with Spanish chord stylings and an Edith Piaf feel. Unlike most people writing songs in the pop idiom, she tends towards waltzes with a French feel to them, which tend to set her songs apart from what you’ll hear from your garden variety singer-songwriter. I’ll be there playing my not-often-seen “club” accordion (as opposed to my very-often-seen “street” accordion); the “club” accordion has nicer reeds and a very Parisian sound.

If you’re in the Toronto area, please come and see the show. Tickets are $10, but if you pay $15, they’ll throw in the CD. Since the CD sells for $15, the cost of admission to the party is effectively free if you buy it. Neil Leyton will be the opening act, after which he will play guitar with Lindi, me, and the rest of her band.

Eclipse (Groundhog Day)

Last Saturday I got a phone call that started with the other person saying:

“Uh…is this the accordion guy?”

(Maybe I should get my phone number listed as “Accordion Guy”.)

It turned out to be a woman I met at the last Kick Ass Karaoke at the Bovine Sex Club. She organizes a night at Eclipse (College and Dovercourt) where musicians get together to jam and improvise. “Think of it as a licensed living room, she said, which I liked. “Musicians get free drinks and food,” she followed, which I liked even more. So I’m going to be there this Saturday, after which I think I’ll do some busking outside Amato’s, if it’s not too cold out.

Hangin’ with the neighbours

I was getting something from the car last Saturday night when I passed by the house two doors down from mine. Its occupants were smoking on the porch, and one of them called to me.

“Hey, Accordion Guy. Got a moment?”

It was Darren, whom I’d met after the second Chicks Dig It night. He asked if I had a little time to spare, which I did, so he invited in to check out the rehearsal space he’d made in his basement. I brought my accordion over and we jammed, playing some Beatles, Zappa, Captain Beefheart, twelve-bar blues, Clash, Presidents of the United States of America and I forget what else. His roommate — I forget her name — asked me if I could give her accordion lessons, and I told her she should come over for one of our movie nights, during which I could give her some pointers.

I mentioned the Lindi and Eclipse gigs to Darren and his housemate, and they sounded interested. Darren told me that any time I wanted someone to jam with, I should come over.

Neighbours to jam with. Cool.

More Lindi gigs (February and June)

I got a phone call from Lindi today, asking me if I would like to back her up on Wednesday, February 20th at Healey’s (blues guitarist Jeff Healey’s bar, Bathurst and Queen, right beside the Paddock). I said “yes,” after which she asked if I would like to back her up for her North By Northeast gig in June, to which I also replied “yes”. She then asked if I would come into the studio with her and lay down some accordion tracks for her new songs, to which I again replied “yes.”

I’m such a skanky accordion slut.

Recommended viewing/listening

There’s a Lindi/Neil Leyton video interview at Umbrella Music’s site (they promote Canadian music). You’ll need Windows Media Player to view it, and you can see it in either high-bandwidth or low-bandwidth format. She makes special mention that she’s got an accordion player!

You can hear samples MP3s of Lindi’s songs. Check out Misery My Love, Nothing At All and Sweet Jezebel.

Ann Gunkel’s Accordion Page. Check out how she got into accordion playing and her essay on the radical political history of the accordion.

It Happened to Me

“Unfinished Business” Week, Part 2

Another installment of stuff I was going to blog earlier, but didn’t.

Kingston’s Loudest Band

My sister recently found an old newspaper clipping I’d sent her from my university days almost ten years ago. It was an article written for an old Kingston paper called INQ (short for Independent News of Queen’s; it vanished after it was discovered that it was funded with money stolen from a charity organization) reviewing our band, Volume.

For the most part, we received good reviews. We were pretty good musicians, and I think at least two of us – namely Andrew and me – are still actively gigging; Andrew’s the drummer for a Vancouver band called Feisty, and I’m ready-at-a-moment’s notice accordion backup for whomever needs it (inlcuding Lindi, whose CD release party is this Thursday).

The article was written by Elan Mastai, who’s gone on to work on scripts for the big screen.

Mike, Chris, George and Andrew, this one’s for you.

Discovering the Length, Width and Depth of Volume

Elan Mastai
INQ Newspaper
Wednesday, April 7, 1993

My regular Thursday ritual of staring transfixed at the television screen absorbed in the intricacies of Seinfeld was abruptly disturbed on April 1st. The distraction came in the form of an invitation to check out Volume at the Carribbean Club. Fortunately for my friend, I was very impressed by Volume’s three-set performance.

Volume definitely has the “grunge” look down pat. All the musicians involved were repsectably clad in multiple layers of flannel, beer ads and rock band T-shirts. They primarily played covers of current Seattle-scene alternative rock.

Volume’s music is of a fairly loud variety, and their sound packs a solid punch.

Bar bands often seem to rely on the ability of their guitarist to carry the tunes, leaving drums and bass to establish the background rhythm (particularly in this age of pre-fabricated techno music). Volume’s drummer, Andrew Pirie, has an established stage presence. His thundering beat had much of the crowd bobbing their heads in synchronicity. Fortunately, George Scriban’s bass stood out as sound completely separate from Chris Walmsley’s guitars. Although the guitars were great, Walmsley wasn’t really allowed to cut loose on any solos until the third set.

Keyboardist Joey deVilla filled out the instrumental section of Volume. deVilla apologized early for his real keyboard having been repossessed. Regardless, I’ve never seen anyone actually play the keyboard with their forehead and still maintain the tune. I was suitably impressed.

They keyboards provided nice additional melody, although it was a real battle to hear them over Walmsley’s guitar.

Vocalist Mike List has a great edge to his voice. When he’s allowed to cut loose with one of his primal yowls, you can feel your brain quiver. List’s vocals on tunes like Alice in Chains’ Would? and Soundgarden’s Outshined are along the lines of what Janis Joplin would have sounded like, had she been a werewolf (and male).

However, Volume would do well to play to List’s strengths and stay away from his weaknesses. Volume has a tight sound, but they should steer clear of more melodic vocal material – ground upon which List is obviously uncomfortable. The only real disappointments of the night were covers of Epic and Nearly Lost You. (I know, I know, Faith No More and Screaming Trees are not generally considered melodic, but it’s all relative.)

However, this criticism is not meant to detract from the band’s overall appeal. They are simply better on the heavier material. Highlights of the night included bang-on covers of Pearl Jam’s Alive and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Suck My Kiss. On another of the more memorable covers, List borrowed from U2’s Bono stating “this is a song Black Francis stole from the Beatles, now we’re stealing it back”. The band then promptly broke into a killer version of Honey Pie.

Practically worth the three-dollar admission charge itself, was the hilarious rendition of Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy. List surrendered vocals to deVilla for the cover, giving himself an opportunity for a quick rest. deVilla went way over the top, yelping like a post-punk daemon of disaffected suburban youth and paying particular attention to the more socially stigmatized anatomical protrusions of the human body.

Another of the highlights of the show was Volume’s only original of the night, an incredible tune called No Wonder. If No Wonder is an indication of the original songs Volume is producing, I only wish they would include more originals in future sets. It is so difficult for independent bands to land jobs that often it is necessary to play covers. However, I think that Volume will find that original songs allow the band to evolve more fully and create their own sound. Originals also allow the band to play to their own strengths, particularly on the part of the vocalist.

The band actually played No Wonder twice, the second rendition as the last song of the final set. It was requested by two fairly large individuals who took it upon themselves to create a two person mosh pit on the Caribbean’s chessboard dance floor.

I spoke to deVilla during the break between the first and second sets. He tells me that currently the band is mostly working on gaining exposure around town and refining their original material. Volume will be playing semi-regularly over the course of the summer at the Caribbean with their next show scheduled for Thursday, April 8th.

While Volume hardly transcends the idiom of popular culture or any pretentious music-critic distinction like that, they are well worth seeing. Those of you who do not gauge their musical tastes by its obscurity (just because it sells a million compact discs doesn’t mean it’s not excellent music) and are into the sonic barrage that Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains have cashed in on should like Volume.

Volume is a band that is not only interesting to listen to, but between the hyperkinetic flopping of List and deVilla and the musical skill of Pirie, Scriban and Walmsley, Volume is a band that is also entertaining to watch. All in all a great show. Check them out.

Elan pounded his head against his computer keyboard in the deVilla style while writing this article.