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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Forgotten Songs of the Canadian Top 40

Happy Day Before Canada Day, everyone!

And on this, the last day of June, I've decided that I'm going to have a little bit of fun with this Sunday Jukebox for today.

As you well know, I've decided to make this Canadian holiday long weekend completely Canadian themed. And, when I was looking back at all of the Canadian artists who have graced their singles on the Billboard charts, I really had a difficult time choosing just one artist to focus on.

I mean, we have Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot, Paul Anka, Bryan Adams, Celine Dion, Michael Buble, Joni Mitchell, Shania Twain, Sarah McLachlan, Avril Lavigne, Burton Cummings, and k.d. lang, just to name a few. And, certainly every single artist I have mentioned here deserves their place in Canadian music history from Mitchell's “Big Yellow Taxi” and Murray's “Snowbird” to lang's “Constant Cravings” and Lavigne's “Complicated”.

But what about all of those Canadian artists who were more or less one-hit wonders? Or what about Canadian artists who have had several singles hit the top ten in Canada, but only managed a couple of Top 40 singles in the United States? Or how about Canadian artists who eventually became successes in the United States, but released several albums in Canada that were rarely heard outside of Ontario and Alberta?

Well, this blog entry is for all of you. Because for this edition of the Sunday Jukebox, I've selected songs and artists that were born and bred here in Canada that you may have forgotten. In the case of a couple of these songs, the songs were recorded before these Canadian singers became huge stars.

But in all cases, these songs are the Forgotten Songs of the Canadian Top 40.

I'll be completely honest with you though. This list will mostly be featuring songs from the 1980s because many of these songs I remember hearing on the radio throughout my childhood. You have been warned.

So, let's begin with the chronological order.

ECHO BEACH – Martha & The Muffins (1980)

Yes, believe it or not, there was a group in Canada known as “Martha & The Muffins”. Not exactly the most edgy of names out there, but the group did score a huge hit with their 1980 single “Echo Beach”. The group was founded by David Millar, Mark Gane, Tim Gane, Martha Johnson, and Carl Finkle, and the song “Echo Beach” was contrary to what some people thought, is not based on a real geographical location. Instead, it was meant to be a 'frame of mind' to escape the mundane aspects of life while on the job. It was written by Mark Gane at a time before he joined “Martha and the Muffins” when he worked a job checking sheets of wallpaper for printing errors.

No wonder his mind drifted to a place where he spent happier times.

Anyway, the song was so successful that it went gold status in October 1980, and it won a Juno Award that same year for Single of the Year. Unfortunately, the band's success following “Echo Beach” trailed off just a few years later, with the band's last Top 30 hit charting in 1986 with “Song in My Head”. But “Echo Beach” will always be a permanent reminder of the band's success.

MAKING IT WORK – Doug and the Slugs (1983)

Sadly, the band Doug and the Slugs lost its heart and soul in October 2004 when band founder Doug Bennett passed away from an undisclosed illness just days before his fifty-third birthday. But Doug's legacy will forever live on with this 1983 single, which was nominated for a Juno Award in 1983.

You have to admit that the song is a nice and catchy song with a great message behind it. Sometimes you have situations in which things might seem incredibly challenging, but you just have to find a way to keep your cool and make it work, no matter what.

That's the reason why I chose this song to feature by this band, even though “Who Knows How To Make Love Stay” was a slightly bigger hit. Both did make the Canadian Top 30 though.

I WANT YOU BACK – Sherry Kean (1984)

Many of you probably have never heard of this singer before. I know I didn't know of her until I became a teenager in the 1990s. Back in those days, MuchMusic (think MTV for Canadians) used to play nothing but music videos, and one thing that the station did was have theme weekends in which all the music videos were linked to that theme.

This song was one that was always played on the 1980s themed weekends, and you have to admit that it is a rather catchy song. Unfortunately, it was Sherry's only pop hit on the Canadian charts, even though she did win a Juno Award in 1984 for Most Promising Female Vocalist.

She attempted a change of style in the late 1980s by reinventing herself as a country music artist, but has not put out any commercial releases since 1989.

KISS YOU WHEN IT'S DANGEROUS – Eight Seconds (1986)

If there was ever a song that could be described as the quintessential Canadian one-hit-wonder, one has to look no further than the Canadian band known as Eight Seconds.

Bet most of you have never heard of this band, have you? That's because their success on the Canadian charts was almost as long as the band name they chose for themselves.

But, darn it if their eight seconds of fame didn't make one stunning piece of pop music. This was a song that I heard a lot of when I was in my kindergarten years, and the song did help the band get a Juno nomination in 1987. By all accounts, the reason the band didn't seem to take off was due to management issues with their record company, which lead to the band's second album being released almost four years after 1986's “Almacantar”, which is a shame, because I think that they could have done a lot more with their music than they were given the chance to.

ANGEL IN MY POCKET – One to One (1986)

This group was made up of the duo of Leslie Howe and Louise Reny, and their 1985 album “Forward Your Emotions” was released in Canada at a time in which dance music was starting to become all the rage on music charts all over the world. And, the success of “Forward Your Emotions” lead to a couple of smash singles. One was “There Was a Time”, which peaked at #14, and the other was this single, which made it to #24 on the Canadian Charts AND #92 on the Billboard charts.

True story: My hometown's AM radio station (now known as 104.9 JRFM) was obsessed with this song, playing it at least four times a day well into the 1990s. I often joked at the time that this record was the only one that the radio station owned! But, I didn't care much. It was a decent song! And following the demise of the group in the early 1990s, Leslie Howe became a record producer, most notably producing the debut album for Alanis Morissette (which you'll hear a song from a little later in this entry).


Ah, Candi. These days, she's reportedly teaching music studies in the Toronto area, happily married to the drummer of her band, “Candi and the Backbeat”. But back in the days in which walkmans, Skip-Its, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were all the rage, this sweet faced teenager was making sweet, sweet music. I suppose that you could call Candi the Canadian Debbie Gibson.

Candi certainly did have quite a few singles charting in her native Canada. I can still remember hearing the songs “Under Your Spell” and “Love Makes No Promises” playing on the radio during my second and third grade years. But the reason why I chose to feature “Dancing Under a Latin Moon” in this space is twofold. First, it was the only one of Candi's singles to chart on the Billboard Charts, peaking at #68. And, secondly, I remember hearing this song playing in the background when I had my first ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl at a summer carnival. Funny how some songs can trigger such interesting and fond memories, huh?

EVERY LITTLE TEAR - Paul Janz (1990)

These days, he's working as a professor, but back in the days in which he had long hair and rocked it out, Paul Janz had quite the long list of hits.  The one above just happens to be one of my favourites by him.  And, don't quote me on this one, but the scenes filmed at the train station were likely filmed at Toronto's "Union Station".  Having been there many times in my childhood, I recognize some of the scenery.  I could be wrong, but still...there's something familiar about it.

WALK AWAY – Alanis Morissette (1991)

Alanis Morissette is probably one of the most famous artists to come out of Canada. Her 1995 album “Jagged Little Pill” was one of the highest-selling albums of the 1990s, and she is still touring and recording music today. But “Walk Away” was recorded during a time in which she had outgrown getting slimed on “You Can't Do That On Television”, but before Dave Coulier broke her heart and she penned the angst-filled single “You Oughta Know” (allegedly). This was the time period in which the seventeen-year-old from Ottawa was still going by Alanis.

Sure, the song only managed to peak at #35 on the Canadian charts. But the single did have future Friends star Matt LeBlanc in the role of Alanis' thoughtless boyfriend. And, it was featured in the soundtrack to the 1991 film “Problem Child 2”. But, yeah...seeing Alanis Morissette trying to be the next Paula Abdul is always entertaining.

JANE – Barenaked Ladies (1994)

Long before the days of “One Week”, “Pinch Me”, and the departure of long-time lead singer Steven Page, the band was recording dozens of singles in their native Canada, all of which did incredibly well. Of course, most of the singles that the Barenaked Ladies did were not really the most serious of songs. One talked about how they wanted someone to be their Yoko One (complete with Yoko Ono singing), another talked about all the things they would do if they had a million dollars, and another was about some girl named “Enid”.

And then there was “Jane”, a nice ballad that peaked at #3 on the Canadian charts. And, there's actually a funny story about how the title character was named. Apparently, songwriter Stephen Duffy was doing some brainstorming during a songwriting session and happened to be staring at a road map of Toronto, where his gaze happened upon the intersection of Jane and St. Clair.

Hence the creation of the character “Jane St. Clair”. Neat story, huh?

OOH IT'S KINDA CRAZY – soulDecision (1998)

Okay, so I'll make a confession here. On one of my days off, I went shopping at a store in town, and this song was playing on the loudspeaker. It was a song that I hadn't heard for a while, and it was also a song that I didn't exactly gel to when it first came out on the radio, but it reminded me of the time period between high school and college as it was playing on the radio during that time.

But, I should mention that this was during the song's second time on the charts. It was originally released in 1998, peaking just under the Canadian Top 40 charts. But when the song was re-released in 2000 following the success of the band's single “Faded”, the song rose up to #18 on the Canadian charts, and #26 on the Billboard charts.

And, to conclude this entry off...I have to post one more song.  One song that almost every Canadian should know.

Happy day before Canada Day, all!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Friendly Giant

Well, we are off to a great start this Canada Day long weekend. For those of you just tuning into this blog for this weekend, July 1 marks Canada's 146th birthday, and in celebration of the day on Monday, I thought that I would make the whole weekend Canadian themed. After all, I am Canadian myself, so I almost feel obligated to make this blog as Canadian as back bacon.

You know what I mean, eh?

So, for the last Saturday Smorgasbord of June, I thought that since it is the author's choice over what I feature in this space that I would feature a children's television show that aired on CBC for many, many weekday mornings.

But, here's a fact that might actually shock you. Although this program attracted many generations of Canadian viewers over several decades, you might be surprised to learn that the program (and host) originated in the United States!

Ah, well...the fourth of July is fast approaching anyway. Besides, this entry is MOSTLY Canadian content so I think that I can get away with it for today.

The year was 1953, and the setting was Madison, Wisconsin. Back in 1953, television was still a form of entertainment that was considered scarce in several households. Case in point, my mother's family didn't get their first television set until 1956. So, people still turned on their radios and listened to some of their favourite programs on the air.

One of those programs was marketed towards children, and it began on WHA-AM via radio. Production of the show would be later moved to WHA-TV sometime within the program's first six months on the radio. For the program's first five years, local audiences around the Wisconsin area were treated to this wonderful and magical children's show, not yet realizing just how huge a phenomenon the program would soon become.

Somehow, kinescopes of the television series made their way to the official offices of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in Toronto, Ontario, where then head of children's programming Fred Rainsberry invited the host/creator of the program to move his show to Canada, where it would air nationwide.

It was an offer that Bob Homme could not refuse. The then 39-year-old Homme was excited to have the opportunity to present his show to a wider audience, and he jumped at the chance.

Who knew that when he made the decision to relocate the show to Canada in September 1958 that he would end up hosting the show for an additional twenty-seven years, and would eventually become a dual citizen of both Canada and the United States.

All because he told a bunch of children to look up...look waaaaaaaaaay up.

I see the smiles of remembrance on some of your faces right now as you watch the above video (well, okay, not really. Just humour me here). Yes, we're going to be taking a look at the classic Canadian/American television series “The Friendly Giant”, the show that began SIXTY years ago (can you imagine?) in a little Wisconsin studio and grew into a Canadian cultural icon throughout the sixties, seventies, and early eighties.

And, I have to admit that I am giddy about the opportunity to talk about this program, because I really loved this show. Even though the show quit making new episodes when I was still a little boy (the series wrapped up production in March 1985), reruns aired frequently on a variety of different channels over the years. It wouldn't surprise me if episodes of “The Friendly Giant” still aired on some cable channel somewhere in the world, even though the man behind the “giant” passed away in May 2000 at the age of 81.

So, how did the show manage to eke out an extraordinary run of nearly thirty-two years combined in the United States and Canada? I have a theory.

When I was growing up, a lot of the children's shows that I watched constantly changed their styles, and their presentation. “Sesame Street” was always a show that kept changing their formula every couple of years, and while some changes were not well received, the majority of them worked. But, I think that “The Friendly Giant” remained very popular because of the fact that it didn't mess with what many called “perfection”.

Every episode of the show began almost exactly the same way. We would see a panoramic view of a small town, a farm, or a beach setting as we heard a narrator describing what was going on in the scene at the time. What was really freaky growing up was that as a little kid, I thought that the town set kind of resembled my hometown's main street. And, I think that was the idea...the town set was so generic looking that it was meant to represent everyday Canadian living in a neighbourhood that looked familiar.

As the camera panned over the town streets, the viewer would soon become surprised by a huge boot, which was a bit out of place, given that I didn't ever recall any buildings in town that were shaped like a boot. But then we heard that familiar voice telling us to “look up, waaaaay up”, and when the camera panned upward, we were introduced to a giant, giant man!

(Though, looking back on it, Bob Homme was really 5'11”...which is three inches shorter than I am now. But, he was still taller than the average man.)

But, this giant wouldn't harm a fly. In fact, if you were really nice to him, he would invite you into his castle for a fifteen minute visit!

And, what a castle it was. To this day, I still have absolutely no idea how they managed to make that castle set so elaborate. I especially liked the drawbridge being lowered and seeing the words “Friendly Giant” written across the front gate. I still get tingled with excitement whenever I watch the opening titles of “The Friendly Giant”.

Now, once we were all inside the giant castle of “The Friendly Giant”, the giant was so friendly that he would make sure that all of us were comfortable. Though, I suppose that it seemed kind of strange that he would only have enough seats for four people when in all actuality, an average of several million people probably watched the show at any given time. But, at any rate, the giant would have little pieces of miniature furniture for us to sit down in. There was a comfy chair, there was a double chair for two people to share, and there was always a rocking chair for those who liked to rock.

(I always imagined myself in the rocking chair, as at the time, my family did have a rocking chair in the living room that I had the monopoly on during the majority of my childhood.)

And, once we were settled and comfortable, we would look up...waaaaaaay up, and we would be introduced to the friends of “The Friendly Giant”. We would meet Jerome, a gigantic blue and orange giraffe who would poke his head through the window of the castle. And, there was also Rusty, a rooster whose home was a bookbag hanging off the wall.  There was a reason why Rusty would choose a bookbag as his home inside the castle.  It was because his bookbag literally held all sorts of books, stories, toys, and games that he would share with the giant (as well as us at home).

TRIVIA:  I absolutely had no idea about this until recently, but practically every single episode of the series was ad-libbed!  The actors improvised their lines from a one page summary about the episode.  Learning that, I respect both Bob Homme and Rod Coneybeare (the puppeteer behind Rusty and Jerome).

In addition to the games and stories that were played and told, children were treated to the occasional musical performance as well.  In those performances, the giant, Rusty, Jerome, and occasionally the cat duo of Angie and Fiddle (the Jazz Cats) would play and sing various musical instruments.  It was a real live concert band at the castle!

TRIVIA:  The majority of the music composed for the show was composed by John Duncan, who played the harp during the opening and closing credits.

Of course, not all good things could last forever, and when it came time to end another visit with the "Friendly Giant", the giant would let us know that it was time to leave.  He would pack up the miniature furniture for another day, and we would go back home until the next time we paid him a visit.

Weirdly enough, I never quite understood how a fifteen minute visit could start when the sun was out, and by the time we were ready to leave, the cow was jumping over the moon in the middle of the night sky.  

(And, would you believe that viewers once responded with disappointment and anger when there was one episode that DIDN'T show the cow jumping over the moon?  And, that the incident spawned several hundred phone calls to the CBC?  Let this be a lesson to not forget to have a cow jumping over the moon.  Ever.)

As mentioned earlier, "The Friendly Giant" wrapped up production of new episodes in 1985, but it wasn't exactly Bob Homme's choice to do least depending on what story you believe.

The fact that CBC slashed their budget in 1984 was one hundred per cent the truth.  But CBC executives to this day maintain that the cancellation of "The Friendly Giant" had nothing to do with the budget cuts.  And when "Fred Penner's Place" was brought on to replace the show in the mid-1980s (admittedly another show I loved to watch), many people labelled Penner as a "giant killer".

Regardless, the show aired an impressive three thousand episodes, and is still widely respected among Canadians today.

TRIVIA:  I'll end this blog off with one more fact.  After the show wrapped, Bob Homme was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1998.  The problem was that Homme was very ill when the announcement was made.  Being unable to travel to Rideau Hall, then Governor General Romeo LeBlanc brought the honour to Homme at his home!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Degrassi: All The Way With Stephanie Kaye!

Many of you reading these upcoming entries this weekend might not be aware that this is a long weekend for us here in Canada, and frankly, I'm not even sure that I am aware that this is a long weekend, mainly because I happen to be working every single day of it.

(Though weirdly enough, I'm off the 4th of July. Strange.)

Anyway, this weekend is the Canada Day weekend. Nearly one hundred and forty-six years ago, on the first of July, 1867, a nation was founded and given the name of Canada. And, I am a proud resident of Canada, have been for thirty-two years, and cannot see myself living anywhere else in the world. I truly do love this country, and I actively encourage everyone who is outside of Canada to come and pay us a visit. There's lots to see and do from Vancouver, British Columbia to St. John's, Newfoundland, and everywhere in between.

Wow. I should really be a Canadian ambassador. Or at the very least make a travel ad for Canada.

So, because I am a proud Canadian, I have decided to make this entire long weekend all about Canada and Canadian topics.

From Friday, June 28 until Monday, July 1, every topic will be coated with a Canadian flavour (and I'm not talking about a combination of maple syrup, bacon, and poutine sauce either). The text will be entirely in red (the quintessential Canadian colour), and the topics will be one hundred per cent Canadian themed.

So, for those of you taking notes at home, the “What's On TV This Friday Night”, “Saturday Smorgasbord”, “Sunday Jukebox”, and “Monday Matinee” will have a Canadian twist to them. So, I hope you're all excited, eh, because it's “aboot” time I showed all the “hosers” out there some real Canadian content!

(Okay, I'll stop now.)

So, for the first topic of the day, I will be featuring a Canadian show that I have already done a blog entry on a little over a year ago. If memory serves me, it was in March 2012.

Here's the opening titles of the program in question.

Yes, we're going back to high school life in the Canadian 1980s as we're opening up the signed yearbooks of “Degrassi Junior High”. Debuting on CBC in 1987, the show managed to last a total of three seasons before ending its run in 1989. But, that was not the end of the Degrassi franchise. Later in 1989, the show changed its name to “Degrassi High” as the main characters transitioned from junior high to high school, and managed a run of two more seasons before wrapping up in 1991. The following year brought us the reunion movie “School's Out”, and since 2001, the show has found a new audience as “Degrassi: The Next Generation”, which originally aired on CTV, and now airs on MuchMusic.

Obviously in this blog entry, we're going to be going back to how it all began, as I have the fondest memories of the original series.

But, which character will I focus on? Truth is that there were several possibilities that I could have chosen.

Now, I immediately eliminated Snake, Joey, and Wheels, as they were the subject of the first blog entry that I did on the Degrassi series. Spike was a tempting choice, as she not only gave birth on the original series, but in the revamped series, her daughter Emma was one of the main characters for several seasons. But, I don't think I could do her justice in a blog entry.

Then I thought of Kathleen, the schoolgirl who treated all her friends like garbage because her mom was an alcoholic, her boyfriend was abusive, and she developed an eating disorder. But I passed on her, as she was probably the most damaged Degrassi character ever.

And, don't even get me started on Caitlin. The girl may have been one of Degrassi's sweethearts, and Kevin Smith's crush, but the gal was a major train wreck.

Of course, some may argue that the Degrassi alumni that I chose for this week's blog topic is just as much of a train wreck as Caitlin...maybe even more so. But, you have to admit that when I tell you exactly what this character went through, she would be a perfect character sketch for “learning things the hard way”, and “having to start all over again from the ground up”,

Today's featured Degrassi character is Stephanie Kobalewsky. Of course, you may remember her better by the name she used while a student at Degrassi Junior High, as well as the slogan that she used while she was running for a school election.

All the way with Stephanie Kaye! All the way with Stephanie Kaye!”

Stephanie Kaye was played by then fifteen-year-old actress Nicole Stoffman, and while Nicole only stayed on Degrassi for a relatively short time, she is now reportedly a successful jazz musician in Toronto, Ontario. I think it might be kind of cool to see if I can find Nicole performing some stuff online, just to see how she's doing today.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, I came up empty. All I could find was a clip of the Degrassi reunion that the CBC talk show Jonovision did a few years ago. At least I found something.

When we were first introduced to Stephanie, she was walking down the path leading to Degrassi on the very first day of grade eight. Much to Stephanie's disdain, her younger brother Arthur was also attending Degrassi as a brand new seventh grader, and Stephanie made it perfectly clear to Arthur that he was not to associate with her at school. Ever.

Yes, Stephanie Kaye was essentially the very definition of the phrase “mean girl”.

But, Stephanie also had a lot going on within her personal life that may have explained her sudden shift in behaviour. Her parents were divorced, and she was not very happy over the fact that her mother and father seemed to be moving on with other people. Stephanie tried to get over that pain by making a personal declaration to herself that eighth grade was going to be the best year of her entire life.

And, she had a great plan to make that happen. She had her sights set on winning the title of class president of Degrassi Junior High. And, with her best friend Voula by her side designing campaign posters and writing Stephanie's speeches, Stephanie really couldn't lose.

Well, that is...until she tried to change everything about herself.

You see, Degrassi's dress code was admittedly kind of lax back in 1987, so it wasn't uncommon for Stephanie to change out of the conservative outfits she left home in and put on the saucy, naughty outfits that she put on to flirt with all the boys at Degrassi. saucy and naughty as a fifteen-year-old could be, that is.

Needless to say, Stephanie's dress sense turned off a lot of the female voters of Degrassi...but the male contingency was all over her. Things really intensified when Stephanie promised to give every boy at Degrassi a kiss if they would vote for her, so Stephanie sucked face with such classy males with the names of Joey Jeremiah, Wheels, and BLT.

(That's right...there was a character on Degrassi named after a sandwich. Hey, I didn't pick the names.)

And, when it came time for Stephanie to issue a thank you speech to everyone who helped her in her campaign, Stephanie decided that she would thank Joey Jeremiah – the man who was only using her to get smooches and pecks, over Voula – the girl who was her best friend since elementary school. And that betrayal caused Voula to drop Stephanie as a friend.

However, while Stephanie grieved the loss of her friendship for all of, oh, seven minutes, she did end up winning the election. Perhaps the prestige of becoming school president would more than make up for the fact that her selfish behaviour had cost her a close friendship.

It's just too bad that her presidency at Degrassi Junior High was almost as infamous as that of Richard Nixon's presidency of the United States of America. And, what was really amusing was that in both the cases of Nixon and Kaye, both suffered the ultimate indignity of impeachment (or, at least in Stephanie's case, near-impeachment)!

But before that, let's see some of the things that Stephanie did while she was president of Degrassi...

  • She got so drunk at Lucy's house before the school's first dance of the year that she couldn't finish her speech at the dance and almost threw up on stage!
  • She gets involved in a relationship with Wheels that ends up being one disaster right after another, including her own mother putting two and two together after she ends up selling Wheels some condoms! Whoops!
  • She almost ends up getting into some serious trouble after lying about her age to go on a date with an older man.
  • Stephanie knowingly causes a rift between best friends Joey and Wheels when she uses Joey to make Wheels jealous.
  • Stephanie freezes out the seventh graders out of the student council on purpose, just so she can appoint Joey as sports rep, angering seventh grade students Melanie, Kathleen, and Yick, and causing mixed emotions within Arthur.

This leads to the entire seventh grade class (sans Arthur) staging a revolution of sorts, protesting against the lousy job that Stephanie has done as presidency, which is also compounded by the Farrell twins (Erica and Heather) filling Joey in on the real reason why Stephanie is being nice to him, and Wheels telling Stephanie that he is no longer interested in her. It is probably the most defining moment in Stephanie's life. For the viewer, I can see how some might suggest that Stephanie was asking for it all along. For me though, I think that Stephanie's reaction to losing everything around her was karmic retribution. It's the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And, frankly, Stephanie didn't do that.

However, if there was one positive to it all, it was that she gained a whole new appreciation for Arthur. And, beginning from that day on, Stephanie no longer treated Arthur as if he were a virus, and Stephanie made a promise to Arthur and to herself that she would turn over a new leaf for the second term (or second season).

Yeah, that promise lasted all of five seconds.

Mind you, Stephanie TRIED to honour her own promise. She removed all the sexy clothes from her closet, and gave them away to Alexa...only for Stephanie to demand them back when new student Simon started paying more attention to Alexa instead of her. And, even when Alexa returned the clothes to Stephanie because her mother made her get rid of them, Stephanie was still unable to steal Simon away from Alexa, making her feel very self-conscious.

Add in the fact that she was at the center of a custody battle between her parents, and that her mother was set to marry another man after just sixty days of dating, and Stephanie was feeling like she just wanted to throw herself off of a bridge.

Truth is that Stephanie REALLY did want to throw herself off of a bridge, and she talked about killing herself constantly, which worried her friends and her brother. But, after a showdown with her mother and the man she was dating, as well as a long talk with Arthur, Stephanie began to feel better about herself. And by the end of Stephanie's eighth grade year, she had made amends with everyone she had hurt the previous term. She agreed to let the seventh graders attend the eighth grade dance (though it was only after the seventh graders threatened to stop decorating for the dance once they learned that Degrassi Junior High was adding a ninth grade curriculum to the school), and she also patched things up with Joey and Wheels by allowing their band “The Zit Remedy” to play at the graduation dance.

And, that dance was the last time we would see Stephanie again. By the beginning of the show's third season, Stephanie decided that she didn't want to come back to Degrassi for ninth grade, and she decided to attend a private school outside of the city instead.

(In reality, Nicole Stoffman had decided to leave the show to take on another acting job.)

But, I think that in many ways, Stephanie Kaye was the perfect idea of a 360 turnaround. She was born as a nice young girl who was thoughtful of others. By eighth grade, she only cared about popularity, and she didn't care who she hurt to get it. When she lost it all, she hit rock bottom. But by the end of her time at Degrassi, she was more or less the person she was before she entered Degrassi.

Stephanie Kaye went all the way and back again...and I think the journey just may have been worth it in the end.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Let's Do The Job Change Again!!!

I'm opening up my diary to all of you today to let you all know of a brand new opportunity that is coming my way. A few of you already know what that is, but for those of you who are not aware, this entry should explain a few things, as well as what I think my strengths and weaknesses will be when it comes to that change.

June 27, 2013

I think that every single one of us has had years in which our heads have completely spun around trying to keep track of all of the changes that have presented themselves to us. Some of our most memorable years in our lives have been years in which we've experienced great change.

I may be a bit premature in making this declaration, but it's looking as if 2013 is going to be one of those memorable years, because once again, I'm going to be experiencing some great changes in my professional life.

As all of you who are regular readers of this blog probably know by now, I work retail. Do I see myself doing retail forever? No, I don't. Ultimately, I would love to make my love of writing into a full-time career, but this has not happened as of yet, so working retail is fine for now.

But this year has been one in which I've gone through quite a lot of shake-ups.

I started off the year in the dairy/frozen department – the same department where I spent the better part of several years. And, I'm sure that most of you have probably heard of some of the tales that I have told over the last few months about working in the dairy section. Tales of dodging produce, stocking egg nog, and kindly informing customers “please don't sit on our butter.”

It even inspired a parody of Barry Manilow's “Copacabana” entitled “No Tropicana”.

(I still have to figure out a way to bring my parody to YouTube without subjecting anyone to the horrors of my singing voice, as well as avoiding a lawsuit from Barry Manilow over bastardizing his song.)

But, right around April of this year, I learned that I was going to be transferred to a different department for the summer. And, since April 22, 2013 (appropriately enough, “Earth Day”), I have been in the seasonal department.

Yes, instead of selling people cartons of milk, I now sell them cans of insect spray. Instead of scrubbing the floors of the walk-in cooler, I now take a hose and water the various flowers, shrubs, and trees. And, instead of picking up fifty pound cases of butter, I am now loading upwards of fifty bags of twenty-two litre bags of topsoil into people's cars.

And, you know what? I'm okay with that.

I'll be completely honest. Would going over to the garden centre area have been my first choice? Absolutely not. I was going into the garden centre area not knowing a bloody thing about gardening at all. I couldn't tell you what a perennial flower was. I couldn't tell you which plants required part-sun, and which plants required full sun. And, as far as telling you which cords go with which weed-eater? You may as well have asked me the question in Japanese, as I would not have been able to tell you the right answer.

But now? What a difference three months makes!

Certainly, I wouldn't have chosen garden centre willingly. But ultimately, it was a learning experience. That's the way I see every opportunity that comes across my way. I see everything as a learning experience in hopes that everything that happens to me happened for a reason.

And, let me tell you, the first few weeks in the Garden Centre were a total shock to the system, let me tell you.

I mean, granted...the lifting of bags of soil, cedar mulch, stones, sand, salt for water purification, and the excrement of sheep, cows, and shrimp was not difficult for me. Anyone who was capable of lifting heavy items could do it. Same deal with loading up lawnmowers, barbecues, gazebos, and patio sets. As long as the customers had a vehicle in which we could easily slide the boxes in, everything was easy-peasy. And, even if they didn't, taking them out of the box was always an option (even though on a personal level, I would prefer not having to do that).

But again, there were some new aspects to the job that I had to learn that I was incredibly apprehensive about. For one, I had to develop a little bit of knowledge about the products that I was selling. I didn't always have the right answers to give to customers, and in my first couple of days, I had absolutely no idea where anything was or what the products actually did.

(Here's a tip for anyone entering a brand new job. Never assume you know everything about anything. Instead, ask for help.)

Truth be told, a lot of the things that I learned in the garden centre, I learned from standing out in the soil compound. When I wasn't loading gardening supplies into people's vehicles or working on my tan (speaking of which, my skin has never been this bronze...ever), I was spending the first couple of weeks of my seasonal stint reading the back of all the soil packages. I wanted to do this so that I had a better idea of what to tell customers who were just as clueless about gardening as I was, and the last thing that I wanted to do was mislead someone into buying a product that they didn't need. I learned all about what Moisture Control soil did. I could tell the difference between soil for hanging baskets and soil for lawn care (prior to going to seasonal, I didn't think there WAS a difference). And, I learned just what compost and manure worked best from customer input.

(Case in point. Sheep manure outsold cow manure by a 2:1 margin at my store, and red cedar mulch is clearly the most popular colour sold.)

And, perhaps the most interesting thing for me to overcome was my apprehension towards running a register. I'm not going to lie to you. My first week and a half on cash, I made a LOT of mistakes. But, you know what, I think almost all of us have done the same. We've all accidentally given customers back the wrong change, and I'm sure that anyone who has worked cash might make the register crash every now and then. But, that's all part and parcel of learning a new skill. And, considering that I only learned how to work a register a month ago, I'd say that I've gotten it down pat. Is there still more that I have to learn? You bet there is. But am I afraid of the register? Not at all.

Which is good, considering that when I wrap up my gig in the seasonal department next week, I'll be heading off to a location that does not involve cheese, butter, ice cream, and milk.

Effective July 6, I will be moving to my third department in less than a year! But, don't worry. I'm incredibly optimistic about this new area of the store.

I have a really ironic story to tell you first before I reveal where I am going to spend the next little bit of my career. When I was first hired at my current workplace, there was a section of my job interview that was asked to every new applicant at the time. I still remember that question clear as a bell, even though it's been a while since I was a brand new employee there.

The question was...”if you could pick three areas of the store that you would love to work in, which three areas would you choose?”

Amusingly, one of the choices I picked was the candy department. I mean, I have an insatiable craving for sweets at any given time of the day, and I probably know every candy creation ever created. The only thing that would have been bad was that I would have gotten hungry stocking the displays of Mars Bars, Butterfingers, and Skittles.

Another department that I said that I wanted to work in was the craft department, just because I was (and still am) an artsy kind of guy. Art class was one of my favourite classes in school, and when I was a kid, my toys in the toy box gathered dust while I played with sheets of construction paper, a bottle of Elmer's glue, and Laurentian brand pencil crayons. If anyone needed any assistance with finding the perfect pen, wanting to know which brand of construction paper was the most durable, and which markers last the longest (I recommend the Mr. Sketch brand ones myself), I was definitely your expert.

And, the third choice ironically enough happens to be where my new work home is going to be!

When I was applying for a job at my workplace, there was a part of me that was hoping that I would end up in electronics. It was a department that I certainly knew a lot about. I mean, let's face it. I run a blog on pop culture, and electronics is literally the pop culture capital of the entire department store. When it comes down to helping someone find a particular CD of an artist, or recommending a particular video game to someone, or being able to find a movie just based on the plot description, that sort of stuff comes naturally to me. And, besides, electronics is a department in which you are always constantly doing something constructive. I would hate to be in an area where I am sitting around twiddling my thumbs.

So, to be told that I am going to be transferred to a department that I actually wanted to be in eight and a half years ago is a fantastic opportunity for me, and I am fully embracing it with arms wide open. The staff in the department seems like an incredibly hard-working bunch, I have product knowledge on most things in there (well, maybe not so much the knowledge of how to set up a new television or computer, but I'll learn), and I'm really looking forward to the next chapter in my life.

And, then I think to myself...had it not been for my experience in seasonal, I probably would not have been placed in that department at all. I mean, for electronics, you most certainly have got to be cash trained. And, I am now!

But more importantly, I probably wouldn't be so gung-ho about moving to a new department had I not had the opportunity to move before this happened. I spent seven years on the food side, and I'll be honest with all of you...while I had a blast over there and met some very interesting people...I've come to the conclusion that seven years was long enough. I needed this opportunity to come around so that I could feel refreshed again, and so I could look forward to even more opportunities. I guess I was getting stuck in a rut for a while, and I needed to have this happen in order for me to start feeling good about myself again.

Not that I didn't beforehand...I did.

But, I gotta tell you...this opportunity to work in a department that I secretly wanted to be a part of...I'd be lying if I told you that I wasn't a tad bit excited about it. I've been reassured by people that they think that I will be a good fit for the area, and I'm really looking forward to hanging around my peeps Mario, Link, Donkey Kong, and Sonic.

Right now, the only thing that I'm fearing is the Black Friday sales and the Boxing Day bonanza...but hey, the way I see it, if I can get through those two days, the rest will be a cinch, right?

Just gotta stay positive. Good things will happen to those who wait. And, soon enough, they'll be calling my number and I'll be next in line for a great future.

Well, one can hope, anyway.