Let’s Go to the Ex (including “Ballad of a Well-Known Guitar”)…..and New York

Hello, dear fellows on the Internet! It’s time for our first real post here after having had this site active for over three years. We never really got around to doing anything with it, mainly because a few months after our dear wife and mom Francine (may God bless her) established it in 2012, she was diagnosed with cancer, and our attention had to be diverted towards helping to take care of her during her year-long fight with her illness, which she stayed very strong through but unfortunately lost back in May 2013.

Let’s Go to the Ex! (oh baby)

Anyways, on to the first real reason why we are writing. On Sunday, the 17th of August, 2014, my dad and I paid a visit to the 2014 CNE fair in the heart of Toronto, and it was pretty much as fun as when we went last year. A few weeks prior, we bought Ride All Day passes, which we used to get in the Ex this weekend; after we exchanged them for ride wristbands to enjoy the brilliant Sky Ride, we unfortunately didn’t get to using them to our advantage as we had wanted to, mainly because we were primarily shopping at indoor vendors in the Arts, Crafts & Hobbies and International pavilions, but at least we brought home a variety of interesting items from around the world.

For instance, my dad bought numerous leather items, wooly blankets and natural hand-crafted wooden watches by Mistura Timepieces and Patina – both watches were stylistically customized on-site to his own preferences.

As for what I wanted at the CNE, I took a look at the selection of records that mini-guitar replica seller Worldbeat Crafts had on sale – nice variety, almost like that you’d find in a good record store, but maaan, a lot of them were just outright overpriced… astonishingly, the cheapest ones they sold were for $20, so I didn’t end up taking anything home from them.

But my primary interest above all was that new/used musical instrument vendor I visited last year: Kensington Melody. Being a budding singer-songwriter with a desire to become an independent “DIY” artist – a la Todd Rundgren, who just so happens to be among my biggest musical inspirations – recording material entirely with analogue equipment, my dad surprised me by shelling out $450 to help me complete my basic guitar set (a Stagg Stratoclone, a Yamaha BB300 bass, and a Tanglewood TW12 twelve-string acoustic) with a prestigious high-quality instrument that was cleverly tucked away in the vendor’s inventory, separate from the more middle-of-the-road entry-level guitars by no-name brands on display at the forefront: a lovely American-made six-string acoustic hand-crafted in Nazareth, Pennsylvania by the venerable C.F. Martin & Co. complete with gig bag.

Erm, at least I thought the instrument was a Martin until I took it home and played it to notice some aberrations that didn’t reveal themselves when I tried it out in the noisy, crowd-dominated environment of the CNE. I noticed a bit of fret buzz, which was strange, because I imagine the previous owner must’ve taken good enough care of it to at least keep it set up properly. At that point, I did a slightly more in-depth visual inspection of the guitar, and some suspicious details started to become obvious – telltale signs which were soon to convince me that I had been ripped off of my dad’s hard-earned $450!

On the headstock, located right where the familiar Martin & Co. name was, there was a faint silhouette of another name in a script-like typesetting. This other name was only really visible if you held up the headstock to a light source, and even then the spelling was not very discernible, but it could be interpreted as either “Payche”, “Patache”, “Poyche”, “Poryche” or “Paracho”, spellings which didn’t yield any helpful information about similar guitars when Googled. Even so, it kind of convinced me that this was not actually a Martin, but rather a no-name brand guitar that was cosmetically “retooled” by (one or more of) its previous owner(s) (and who knows how many times it’s changed hands before) to look like a Martin so as to make it a quicker sell. Another important piece of evidence was the sticker underneath the sound hole, which looked to be a bit “homebrewed”/amateurishly done and had no model number. Research revealed that authentic Martins, whether they have a model number under the sound hole or not, have at least a serial and/or model number engraved on the neck base inside the guitar body – my guitar had none of these.

After some Internet research, my dad decided to take the instrument to work to have one of his fellow employees, who used to work at Long & McQuade, inspect it and confirm that it was indeed a forgery as I thought it was. Alas, even though he did comment that it had a nice sound for what it was, he proved my suspicions correct. And so we returned to the Kensington Melody booth at the CNE later in August to exchange the guitar for something that played well without the need for an additional set-up job. The lady there spoke by phone to the person we talked with when we first bought the guitar on the 17th – Jin Tao – and told us to come over to Kensington Melody’s full-blown store location to exchange the instrument.

It was the real store location on Baldwin St. where we had tons more fun – of course, the stock in the CNE booth had absolutely nothing on the variety of different instruments from around the world they had for sale in the real store, and the best part was the owner! He’s a very nice outgoing and knowledgeable Chinese man, a devoted collector of exotic instruments from all over the globe and various other types of paraphernalia, music-related and not – we spent a good deal of our time enjoying stories of his background, past life experience and wisdom (it’s worth mentioning that he was the co-author of a Romanian translation of the Tao Te Ching, which just goes to show how noteworthy he really is). The conversations went so far as to leading us to consider study Chinese ourselves on a weekly basis…given the three years that my dad spent on studying Mandarin at university level!

Anywho, after wading through 5 or 6 acoustics in the crowded environment before I found one which had good intonation and action right off the bat without the need for set-up, I left satisfied with a decent Hofner/Woods guitar in my hands, along with a separate mountable magnetic pickup, and a nice 0.46mm pick that makes basically any guitar I strum it with have a very good crisp tone.

Creepin' in on the sound hole of the Wood's.
Creepin’ in on the sound hole of the Wood’s.

Then, at the tail end of August, came the biggest endeavour we’ve enjoyed since our week-long retreat to the Niagara Region, and the first time we ever left our own Canada to see the other things the world has to offer…

New York! New York!

Since we both just got our passports very recently and we’ve been talking for a long time about visiting other places in the world, we felt a good opportunity to put our passports to use in the summer of 2014 would be to book a guided bus tour with Comfort Tour Canada through the confines of gigantic, breathtaking New York City – a trip sure to make downtown Toronto feel measly and diminutive to us in comparison for good.

August 29

The four-day/three-night tour began on August 29, when we boarded the bus in the early morning at its first pick-up stop in Ontario (Scarborough Town Centre). We were introduced to our tour guide Carole who would, throughout the whole journey, tell interesting and often amusing stories about her past experience working as a guide for trips by various other tourist companies – sometimes the stories were so amusing that audience members would occasionally request another story from her!

In any case, the trip would be as fun as we had hoped it would be, and the amount of information and knowledge we got from Carole about various places in the path we were headed – not just in America, but before the border – was amazing. Our first real stop was the Corning Museum of Glass, where we unfortunately had little time to spend, but it was a very insightful educational experience nonetheless, no matter how little of the museum we actually got to take a peek at. The live glassmaking show was especially cool.

After that, we were destined for New Brunswick, NJ, where the luxurious Hyatt Regency hotel at which we were to stay was located. In the evening, we got to watch Tower Heist on the bus, and it sort of got us “psyched” for ooh-ing and aah-ing at all the different tourist attractions throughout NYC. Getting accustomed to the comfy environment at the hotel at night ended up being so intoxicating that we ended up doing the naughty act of staying awake there till midnight, something which would happen again – to a worse extent, going as late as 1 to 2 am – in the two times we returned to the hotel!

The Hyatt Regency New Brunswick, our designated hotel for the visit
The Hyatt Regency New Brunswick, our designated hotel for the visit

August 30

On the second day, we left the hotel for a guided tour through Manhattan headed by NYC-native expert guide Hardy. When we were on the way there, Carole treated the entire audience to a fun verbal brainteasing game to keep everybody occupied as they waited to get there. The answers to the problems presented ranged from the obvious (“7 D of the W” = seven days of the week and “1001 AN” = 1001 Arabian Nights), to the not-as-obvious (“4 Q in a G” = four quarts in a gallon and “29 D in F in a LY” = 29 days in February in a leap year), and all the way to the ridiculously mind-boggling (“1000 W a PP” = “one thousand words a painted picture”, a sort of “synonym” if you will for the idiom “a picture is worth a thousand words”). A little fun for a brain exercise.

In any case, you couldn’t imagine how amazed we were to be seeing some of the most famous and iconic tourist attractions in the entire world up close in person…..and learning tons of amazing factoids from Hardy about the various landmarks we passed, to boot. Of course, being the avid music fan that I am, my favourite stop that we got to walk through by foot was the man-made triumph that is Central Park – specifically the Strawberry Fields memorial near the Dakota (where John Lennon once lived, and, in one of the most shocking events in music history, was murdered).

"Postcard view" of the Dakota
“Postcard view” of the Dakota from Central Park

20140830_134902026_iOS 20140830_135323317_iOS

We also stopped to take a look at the brilliant fountains of the 9/11 Memorial and took home a pair of wristbands from there.

Dad posing under a tree near the 9/11 Memorial site

Our first period of free time in NYC started at 3 PM, and unfortunately, we didn’t end up doing all of whatever we set out to do, but then again it was a first-time experience where we were trying to get ourselves oriented with everything. After buying plenty of shirts and other paraphernalia at an NYC tour souvenir shop, we walked to Urban Outfitters where I bought myself a nice new Rhino vinyl re-release of Black Sabbath’s debut album. Another point of interest was the Museum of Modern Art, but we sadly missed out on it because by the time we were there (just before 5:30 pm), they were already about to close, a fact that surprised us a bit.

We then went to the Uniqlo location just one block south of MoMA; we spent over an half-hour there peeking through pop-art clothes and left with some neato finds. My dad came across Uniqlo when they first set up their online presence – he thought it was really interesting that it took them several years before they entered the North American market.

SPRZ NY shirts from Uniqlo, one of them accidentally dyed with a touch of bleach. (Silly me.)
My SPRZ NY shirts from Uniqlo, one of them accidentally dyed with a touch of bleach. (Silly me.)
We're big Keith Haring fans. I love the vibrancy of this jacket's message and graphics.
We’re big Keith Haring fans. I love the vibrancy of this jacket’s message and graphics.

After that, our main attraction for the night was the Top of the Rock observation deck at Rockefeller Center. Getting to the top was a ridiculously convoluted and confusing process – we were constantly asking the staff where to go to do what – but man, it sure was one hell of a picture-taking night!

Top of the Rock pano
Top of the Rock pano
All of a sudden... BAM! A wild Ryan Alexander has appeared!
All of a sudden: BAM! A wild Ryan Alexander appeared!

I used the viewfinders twice; the second time, I got a small glimpse of the mighty Statue of Liberty… something to prepare me for the closer view I would get of it the following day. We ended up staying beyond the time at which we were supposed to return to the bus pick-up location (8 pm), so we returned to the hotel in NJ ourselves by train.

August 31

Our return trip to NYC in the morning was for the Liberty/Ellis Island ferry cruise. Talk about WOW! Walking around the very grandeur and might of the world-famous thin-copper Lady Liberty herself was quite the experience. I loved the audio guide too – it made me think amazingly deeply about Lady Liberty, her history and the ideals of freedom she represents.

20140831_132424127_iOS 20140831_134955351_iOS 20140831_135146461_iOS

(Bizarre aside: the whole Liberty/Ellis Island cruise invoked some strange deja vu…..popping up in my mind throughout the trip was the weirdo non-sequitur intro to the Animaniacs short “Acquaintances”, in which the Warner kids arrive in Ellis Island as Russian immigrants, and Lady Liberty belittles them as “horrible puppy children!” and sends them flying to Manhattan.)

This day, our free time started at 1 pm. We did get a chance to walk through the MoMA, but it was sadly very brief because we, and especially I, wanted very much to use the remaining time we had left till 8 pm to our advantage.

Ryan wandering around in the MoMA, knowing that he is getting rather bizarrely caught in the midst of a pano shoot.
Ryan wandering around in the MoMA, knowing that he is getting rather bizarrely caught in the midst of a pano shoot. NOBODY else expected this!

That’s okay though, because we will certainly be visiting New York again during one of our future vacations, so we’ll try to get around to doing some of the things we missed out on during this four-day trip, including getting more accustomed to the layout of the MoMA.

At around 5 pm, we went to B&H Photo Video so that Arkadi could fulfill some of his tech desires: he bought a Nokia Lumia 1520, which he had been after for some time, a Boostcase for his iPhone 5S, and a new Sony Bluetooth display headset to replace one that had been causing a bit of grief for him mostly due to incompatibility with the so-called “most advanced OS in the world”, as marketing delusions will have you believe. (And it worked out fine with his iPhone….to some point, until that damn stupid iOS 8 update came out, which reduced the usability of the new headset by ANOTHER 50%! Wake up Tim Cook and smell the coffee! Lucky me, I’ve got an Android, so I get to use the old set.) Afterwards, we walked around a bit and I wanted to go to the LEGO store on Fifth Avenue, but by the time we were going to go there – after 7 pm – they were already closed.

But fear not, for NO journey to NYC is complete without a trip to the legendary Empire State Building, of course…

The glorious art-deco ESB lobby. Hmm... reminds me a bit of Hell Cab (the game), doesn't it?
The glorious art-deco ESB lobby. Hmm… reminds me a bit of Hell Cab (the game), doesn’t it?

Not only was the process of getting to the 86th-floor observation deck of the ESB a lot less convoluted than it was with the Top of the Rock deck, but the line-ups were not nearly as busy and dense as I ever thought they would be, and it also was a good opportunity for my dad to unbox his brand spanking new 1520 and put it to picture-taking use.

Wonderful Manhattan skyline view from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, taken with the Lumia 1520's mighty camera.
WP_20140831_19_43_55_Pro Wonderful Manhattan skyline views from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, taken with the Lumia 1520’s mighty camera.

We again stayed there past 8 pm, so we decided to¬†enjoy the nightlife in Manhattan for a little while. We walked to Macy’s only to discover that it was – of course, customary to Sunday traditions – CLOSED. Then came the walk to Times Square for some more delightful sightseeing and picture-taking.

Times Square Pano 1

There's a bandit out there chopping off the behinds of people's cars and shrinking them... Who could it be? The "Pano Bandit", of course!
There’s a mischievous bandit out there chopping off the behinds of people’s cars, shrinking them and just plain exploiting loopholes in the time-space continuum… Who could it be? The “Panorama Bandit”, of course! Or, for that matter, the crazy person who shot this photo – and who could it be other than my dad… playing with his phone(s) as usual? He’s got cellphones stickin’ out of his ears, he’s got cellphones comin’ straight out his butt, he’s got so many cellphones that there are some that most normal people would consider burdens from the Realm of the Imaginary Diseases! He’s so bad, he still uses a Nokia N95 8GB for its reception, and he still has the unmitigated audacity to keep a Nokia analogue brick phone from the 90’s in the basement! (Postscript: I would love to see Zappa as a president…)

Along the way, after we ate some delicious Mediterranean shish kebab from the street, we made our last real purchase in NYC before heading homeward with some nice (and funny!) photo booth picture prints from Walgreens.

Check it out: quick-witted world-famous cartoon personality Bugs Bunny's immortalizing me in this brilliant magazine cover!
Check it out: quick-witted world-famous cartoon personality Bugs Bunny’s immortalizing me in this brilliant magazine cover!
A bit of zaniness with the Slave, his trusty new Basquiat shirt, and the Master at his side.
A bit of zaniness with the Slave, his spiffy new Basquiat shirt, and (pictured right) the Master at his side.

After all that, at 10 pm, we took the train back to New Jersey and got some rest for the last day of our trip:

September 1

In the morning, our bus departed homeward and along the way we stopped at a little shopping plaza in Great Bend, PA so that everybody could have a little lunch break. We got ourselves some bottles of water from a grocery store and ate yet another one of those delicious gluten-free salads from Subway…they also talked about how crappy and cheesy the Family Dollar there was, and hearing that kinda intrigued me, but sadly we didn’t have enough time to explore there before we were to return to the bus. On the way to an outlet mall in New York, had a little fun watching We Bought a Zoo…..and shopping at the outlet mall was tiring and boring, because we were debating endlessly on whether to buy any clothing or not (and we didn’t, hey!) – because, y’know, a giant portion of the mall was occupied by clothing outlets and we didn’t think we’d really need to buy any clothing for the time being.

At 4 pm, we left for Canada and the border crossing went through in a surprisingly swift manner (we spent less than an hour there) given the normally-heavy Labour Day traffic. After re-entering Canada, they got that sort of Canuck spirit going again in the audience by showing us an episode of good ol’ Just for Laughs Gags (and one featuring the short with the ever-so-beloved Canada Post dog officer) to relieve us from the “denser” and overall different experience of American life for so long.

In the long run, we returned home happy and totally satisfied with tons of souvenirs on our hands.

Aaaaaaand, that’s about it. Phew, that was one heck of a writing job.

Well, glad we got to post something on here after talking about putting this blog to good use for probably over a year. Be sure to look forward to tons more exciting posts here – especially my in-depth music critiques (“Ryan’s Record Reviews”, of which I have posted numerous on Alltime Records during the past year).


-Ryan and Arkad! – also known as A&A