Monday, June 30, 2014

MIKE TYSON: Undisputed Truth (Book Review)

What does it mean to be a fan of Mike Tyson?  Growing up in the 1980s, I thought Mike Tyson was the greatest fighter ever—being able to knock out another professional fighter in 8 seconds sounded like a great skill to have in junior high school.  The book is called "Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth).

After having won the heavyweight championship of the world at age 20, Tyson was synonymous with power and terrifying behavior in the ring.  Unfortunately, the wheels of his life fell off the rails, and he was convicted of rape and served some prison time.  Unfortunate for him—but great reading for the rest of us. 

If you like "the dirt" books—you know, where someone achieves fame and fortune and then bites off a piece of someone's ear and spends 300 million dollars and has nothing to show for it—then this book is for you.  It is a highly-entertaining romp through Tyson's childhood (filled with criminal behavior), his fanatical dedication to training and then the fall off the wagon including some pretty heavy drug use and indiscriminate sex.  A highly entertaining read!  

He also discusses the "ear biting" incident (where Tyson bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield's ear during a boxing match).  I always found it funny that Holyfield could take punches to the face no problem, but someone biting his ear off was suddenly "a big deal".  Don't teenage girls get their ears pierced?  Isn't that the same thing?  This book does not answer those questions, but they do explore Tyson's view of "what was he thinking" during these and many other ridiculous incidents in his life.  (He once misplaced a duffel bag with a million dollars cash in it—hilarious!)

Normally I don't like autobiographies, primarily because the protagonist is always telling the story from their point of view.  Yes, I was arrested.  Yes, I got that girl pregnant.  But hear my side of the story!  Tyson does not try to sugar-coat the stories—when he screws up, he says so and I found that refreshing.  

Overall, if you are a fan of Mike Tyson, boxing, tell-all books, or even the old 1980s Punch Out!  video game, then you will enjoy this book. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Karl's European Vacation: The One Hour Flight

I left Berlin tired and happy.  I had the choice of a 7 hour train ride, or a one hour flight.  Obviously I chose the one hour flight.  After all, I am in a hurry to get somewhere and relax.  Hurry up already!  The problem with the one hour flight is that it still takes six hours.  Bus stop, bus, airport, pre-check in, check in, post check in, security, stop to celebrate your birthday because it is taking so long, and finally the flight.  But we aren't done yet-- you still have to actually get to the apartment at the new destination.  

It was rough right out of the gate.  I researched exactly how to get to the airport.  I had my Google Maps.  I was ready.  About 2 minutes in, I realized this was going to be a long day.  For some reason, the streets in ancient Berlin are made of uneven cobblestones and paving stones.  So my suitcase on wheels kept falling over like Muhammed Ali was punching it in the face.  Wobble, wobble, and suitcase is down.  Suitcase is down!  (Howard Cosell reference for anyone over forty.)

I finally lugged/carried/rolled/dragged my life in a box to the bus station.  Google Maps said it was the corner of two streets-- but there are four corners at an intersection, and each intersection had a bus stop.  Come on man!  I could literally still see my apartment and I was already fumblin' and stumblin'.

I was looking for bus 128 Tegel Airport.  Got it.  128.  128.  I finally found 128... But it said 128 Nordbahnoff.  Zuh?  Why is Google Maps lying about this one detail?  Why would it go through life so beloved and then choose to dick me around on this?   I was confused and quite frankly, a little hurt.  Google Maps, you son of a bitch.

128 was rolling up.  Great, we are off to the airport--or so I thought.  A nice German guy wearing a McDonald's uniform suddenly emerged from the shadows.  (Or he was also waiting for the bus.  I wasn't paying attention).  He asked me where I was headed.  I said "airport".  He pointed across the street.  Not this 128.  I needed... The OTHER 128!  Thank you, kindness of strangers!  Especially ones that smell like freedom fries and cigarrettes.  I found the other bus and was at the airport in no time.

The flight itself was non eventful, and suddenly I was in Frankfurt.  I needed to get to my new apartment, and quickly too; the guy I was renting it from was waiting at the place to let me in.  It was 10:00 pm and I was hoofing it from the airport terminal to the train into the city.  I was completely lost.  I spotted an info kiosk (manned by a human) in the terminal.  Yes!  Okay, time to turn on the charm.  I patiently waited as the info guy watched the World Cup Soccer game.  I could hear the crowd cheering and his eyes were fixed on a tiny TV above my head.  I stood there for a couple of minutes, literally staring at him 2 feet away.  Was I invisible?  Was this a Bruce Willis thing?  Were we "Sixth Sensing" it?   He picked up the phone and started talking.  Screw this.  Can info kiosk employees be tenured?  I guess they are in Germany.  I ran over to a map on the wall and figured it out.  Info kiosk guy was no help-- he put the weiner in Frankfurt.  (Hot dog SLAM.)

You know that scene in the movies when the guy rolls up to the train, and the doors close in his face?  And then there is sad music as the girl on the train cries and the train speeds off?  Well, that really happens, except it was just me and my broken down suitcase missing the train by literally 3 seconds.  Huff, puff, slam, chugga chugga.  Wah.

I spent the 30 minutes waiting for the next rain wisely--mostly cursing and wandering around.  A half hour later I got on the train and headed into Frankfurt.  Now I was really stressed-- this poor guy was waiting for me at the apartment and he probably had to work the next day!  I hiked over to the apartment and at 11:45 pm started apologizing.  He said "is no big deal".  Is no big deal?  It was almost midnight on a weekday!  I apologized profusely that I kept him up and he had to travel all this way.  I felt awful.

Then he explained that he was a student and he didn't have anywhere to be tomorrow.  Well, yeah, okay... but he still had to travel all the way over to the apartment!  "Is no big deal," he said.  "I live next door".  Yes, his apartment is 4 feet down the hall.  Mellow German guy then threw me some keys and let me settle in.  Welcome to the big city!

So remember, travelling sometimes can be a pain, but sometimes is "no big deal".

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Karl's European Vacation: Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

There is a weird disconnect when I visit places like The Tower of London or a medieval dungeon that is centuries old.  People wander around and talk about creepy things--but they usually do so with an indifference.  After all, no one we know today was around back when King Henry The VIII was running the show.

It's not the same feeling visiting Sachsenhausen Memorial, located in the northern community of Oranienburg.  The people here were relatives and neighbours of people still around right now.  (The town of Oranienburg is literally a 5 minute walk away, and was here during World War II).  The Nazis built this central camp just north of the capital city, and today it is a huge museum dedicated to those who were imprisoned, tortured, and executed here.

I travelled on the train S1 to Oranienburg) and from central Berlin it is a quiet, 30-minute train ride.  If you are interested in avoiding crowds, go on a Saturday and go early in the morning (8:30 am).  There was virtually no one there until around 11:00 am--people sleeping in on the weekend means more solitude to soak in the atmosphere.

It is strange to see World War II from the losing perspective--the site has fallen into disrepair over the years, as obviously Germany had other priorities in the 1950s and beyond (like rebuilding their country).  As a result, pieces of the camp have completely rotted away.  There are markers, plaques and loads of reading to see, as well as speeches and interviews to listen to.

After World War II, the camp was used by the Soviets until 1950, and so mass killings and forced labour continued.  

From a "hands on" perspective, it was fascinating to walk the grounds, touch the walls, sit in the barracks and visit the crematorium (and the ruins of the gas chambers).  A regular museum can be interesting, but it is visceral to enter the infirmary, walk down into the cellar, feel the day turn from warm to cool, and to smell the dank, rusty rooms.

There are multiple buildings here (like more modern museums built specifically to house artifacts and show movie footage.  There are many different rooms and buildings that showcase personal artifacts and documents.  Not every historical building is available to wander through, but many are open or are in the process of being restored.  Wandering around and exploring is encouraged--there are lots of multiple ways to get somewhere, and often a quick diversion leads to a whole different discovery. Despite this being one of the Nazi's smaller concentration camps, it is still massive-- walking it takes at least three hours, and there are lots of places (like benches) to just sit, take a moment and think.  I highly recommend this half-day trip from Berlin if you are looking to see, hear, smell and feel a piece of modern history.

Tip:  bring some rain gear and/or sunblock-- it went from sunny to torrential downpour to scorching hot and sunny all within 45 minutes.  

Friday, June 13, 2014

Karl's European Vacation: Biking Berlin

I left soggy Amsterdam and arrived in blazing-hot Berlin.  It had reached 37 degrees the day before, so people were excited it was only 32 celsius.  The apartment I rented has a bicycle included, and I had a 10:00 am appointment the next day in downtown East Berlin with a hop on hop off bus.

Biking in Berlin is easy-- the trick is to say goodbye to your loved ones before you leave, so that you have no regrets.  I merged into rush hour traffic heading into downtown.  Helmets?  People here didn't wear helmets when the Soviets invaded with tanks in 1945, so they aren't going to worry about helmets just because a dump truck is 18 inches from you on a cobblestone road.

There are lots of bikers in Berlin.  Everything was going fine--I was following a young lady who was all dressed up for work.  There are bike lanes (actual dedicted pieces of sidewalk just for bikes) so we were cruising along pretty good.  The problem was, she was in too good of shape.  I couldn't keep up.  Then the bike lane ended.   So suddenly I am "in traffic". Then I got squeezed inbetween a delivery truck and some parked vehicles.  Then, in an almost comedic absurdidy, but I swear is true, someone whipped open one of the driver's-side doors right in front of me.  Okay, okay, I tapped out.  I slammed on the brake, dismounted the bicycle and pulled it up onto the sidewalk.  In order to cope with the stares from the locals, who were wondering how I was still alive, I played it cool.  I meant to go up here and look at the fruit market.  I suddenly was very interested in nectarines.  Nothing more to see here, people!  What's next, two people carrying a giant pane of glass?  Is anyone delivering a piano to the third floor of an apartment building using distracted rope pullers?  When things got too busy, I just dismounted, walked my bike across the street and watched with respect at the 12 year old kid zipping along on his six speed.  Get to school, you crazy kid!

The middle of East Berlin has this giant, 1200 foot space-needle that looks very 1960s and Soviet-ish.  It's very cool.  My destination was right next to the needle, so I took a less busy sidestreet and chugged along.  

Head for that thing.

I highly reccommend the hop on hop off tour bus if you want to see a lot of something in a short time, or to get oriented with any large city.  San Fransisco, Los Angeles, London, Paris-- they all have this option and you just pay a one-time fee and then you can visit all the touristy stuff.  The ones in Berlin ran pretty well (not a long wait, and lots of seating).  They also have defferent languages (lots of them) so you can listen to 80s muzac AND a person with a British accent describe the sights.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Karl's European Vacation: Soggy Amsterdam

I was always envious of those people that bragged at dinner parties that they had backpacked through Europe when they finished high school.  I never did that.  I went straight to university.  I am boring.  Although, I am proud to announce that I did buy a backpack with my own money.  I backpacked all the way to the donut store to work the night shift.

Of couse, if you push for more information, these Europe-hiking braggadocios will sometimes reveal that it was not always so glamorous (they will sometimes mention sleeping in tents, blizzards, getting mugged, hitch hiking, getting arrested, overpaying for bananas at the market, etc).  I am proud to say that my day started terribly and now I feel like I joined the "bad story" club.  Did I overpay for fruit?  I wish.  No, I woke up in Amsterdam at 5:00 am to a torrential downpour with lightning.  And I had to go to the train station.  Right then.

Using the handy dandy internet, I quickly looked at the bus schedule.  The buses didn't start running until 6:00 am.  Hmm.  I needed to get to the train station now.  Then I looked up some pictures of cats.  Get focused!  I donned my rain slick and decided to walk to Centraal Station, which was ridiculously far away.  

A little into the walk, I realized that this sucked.  (It was about 5 seconds into the walk, give or take 5 seconds).  I was immediately soaked, and the winds were howling.  "Winds" as plural is never good.  I marched along with my suitcase on two rinky-dink rollers.  This would have been okay, except everything in Holland was built in the middle ages, so the walking paths are these cobblestone roads.  Great for Napoleon, not great for me.  It is amazing to think that 200 years from now, someone will stand at the corner of Haagendaas and Dokken where Wiebes had his meltdown and yelled at the inanimate suitcase.

That's actually one of the neat things about travelling solo - with no one around to listen to me complain, I kind of just got on with it.  It was what it was.  I snuck onto the bike bath (futuristic rubber) and booked it.  After about an hour of quick marching, I made it to the central downdown canals, the rain cascading down.  It was beautiful and quiet-- except for my suitcase, which sounded like I was dragging a dead animal with chains through the centre of town.  I took a breather on a deserted road, parked cars everywhere.  It was silent except for the rain.  I checked the iPad-- thanks Google Maps--I was almost there!

Suddenly a car alarm went off about five feet from me.  It was raining hard so no one would know if I peed my pants.  WAH WAH WAH BOOOOOP BOOOOP.  And suddenly the moment was over-- I was half-jogging, trying to look non chalant.  "No, officer, I wasn't trying to break into the car, honest!  No, actually I don't have a car, and I'm the only one out here.   Why, yes, I do look like a hobo.  I admit this looks bad."  This conversation was all running through my head as I scuttled down the street, a soggy traveller looking for a train.

I made it to the Centraal station, dried off as best I could and found my train.  I stood there for a moment, letting it all sink in.  I hiked silent Amsterdam, and it was terrible and cool at the same time.  I was going to take a picture and give myself a pat on the back, when the train guy walked over and asked me where I was headed.  He then pointed to the train about 40 yards down the track and said it was leaving in one minute.

There was no one else on the platform, but had there been elderly ladies in my way I would have bodychecked them onto the tracks below.  I was NOT missing this train.  Out of breath, wet, tired, and mentally exhausted, I got on, and 15 seconds later the train chugged away.  

Had I pushed the imaginary ladies onto the tracks, it wouldn't have been so bad--they would have had a memory that, had they survived, they would have treasured forever.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Karl's European Vacation: RED LIGHT DISTRICT & BIKES

Okay, there isn't much Red Light action in this post.  I totally understand if you pull the chute and go check out cat pictures. 

I wandered around Amsterdam on the hop on hop off bus and wound up in the Red Light District.  Awwww yeah.  At 3:00 pm on a Sunday.  Awwww no.  I was expecting to see hoardes of naked ladies in the store windows, and all I saw was one lady in the window, wearing some underwear, sitting in a chair and texting.  Then I saw another in the next window.  Were they on break?  Were they texting each other?  If I want to see people inappropriately dressed and texting in a public place, I will visit Wal-Mart in the summertime thank you very much.

The Red Light District is only a couple of blocks, but it's the place that gets all the attention.  There were about 70 dudes walking along, all with Heineken beer cans and huge eyeballs.  They looked like they all belonged to the same army regiment or something. They stood around for about 10 minutes and finally went into a peep show.  Seeing a military guy giggling like a schoolgirl is a little disconcerting, although I knew that XXX LADIES wasn't going to be invaded by Iran in the next hour. 

I got back to the apartment after my 8 hours of hopping on and off the bus.  I then got a text from a couple of friends of mine who were in town but leaving the next day.  Natasha and Rory were in town.  Let's go to dinner.  What's that I hear?  The party alarm?  Awwww yeah.  I got on the old 21 Bus into Centraal and stood on a streetcorner like a male prostitute checking my iPod.  People were probably thinking "if you want to flaunt your body and check your phone, you need to go 5 blocks over."  P.S. I'm not flaunting, I am just ripped from hopping on and off a bus.

Natasha and Rory had both rented bicycles for the day-- they were incredibly bright green.  The bikes were so green that I saw a guy literally stop walking, whip out his camera and take a picture.  The tourists were taking pictures of other tourists.  We had a great dinner at one of the local pubs and suddenly it was one in the morning.

Since my apartment was 4 km away, the group decision was made to ride the bikes back to my place.  Fun fact: lots of girls in Amsterdam just cross their legs and sit on the back while the guy does all the pedalling.  You know the back shelf on the bike-- the one where the pencil case usually gets strapped in?  There are humans back there in Amsterdam.  No one is even holding on to the guy!  I guess the trick for the girls is to cross the legs and work on their core for ten years leading up to the bike ride.

We took off through the deserted streets of Amsterdam, weaving by people and ringing our bells with authority.  Bright green bikes coming through, people!  Natasha was on the front of the rental bike, because the rinky dinky shelf was on the front (was it safer)?  Rory was pedaling and gaining momentum.  I offered advice: if you go headfirst into the canal, Cross the legs. Two drunk German girls blew past us on bikes-- even drunk German women are pounding it out in fifth gear at 30 km/h.  

Near the outskirts of Haarlem, where my apartment is, the bike path ends.  I did NOT know this.  I was leading the parade, bombing along and feeling the night air in my hair.  Glorious!  Followed by "cla clunk" as the wheels are now bumping along a dirt path.  Uh oh.  How to warn Rory?  I wasn't sure.  I kept pedalling like a coward.

It all worked out--about ten seconds later I heard a high-pitched yelp as Natasha went flying off the bike.  It was pretty dark so I cannot confirm it, but her legs were probably crossed.  A shadow emerged from the weeds.  She was alive!  I felt bad about stealing their bike and her winding up face down in the dirten bikenpath, but we had a mission to complete.  We got me safe and sound back to Doggerstraat and everything was Hunken Duunken.  I highly recommend checking out Amsterdam by bike-- it's fun, healthy AND dangerous!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Karl's European Vacation: The Amsterdam Apartment

I arrived at the Centraal Station and it was midday-- the hustle and bustle of the Netherlands was in full force.  Or so I assumed-- I had never been here before so I have no idea what is normal.  There was some guy out front holding a cardboard sign and yelling about Jesus, 21,000 bicycles that all look like they are from 1965 padlocked to a bridge, and everything looks like a giant Ikea store.  I am hoping this is normal?  I had the sudden urge to buy a $10 table (called a Bokkenstocken) and a 50 cent ice cream cone.

I made my way to a deli where I met the lady I was renting the apartment from.  I needed to get keys.  It was all very James Bond, except instead of a tuxedo I was wearing jogging pants and a Raiders ballcap.  And I was eating a Big Turk candy bar.  Other than that, it was literally the exact same thing.  I explained that I was going to just walk to the apartment.  She raised her eyebrows-- who was this hunky Canadian who is going to show Europe how to walk!  Was I sure?  I nodded, confident and armed with my Google map app.  She offered to bring my suitcase right to the apartment, which was great.  I gladly took her up on the offer and began walking.  

I didn't realize the apartment is "in the suburbs".  It was a bit of a walk-- at one point, I might have crossed over into Belgium, I am not sure.  Time passed.  Young people rode by on bicycles.  Then old people went by.  They were the same people-- it was taking forever to get there.  I get that Terry Fox officially walked further, but it was still a hike, honest.  I finally arrived at the apartment, completely drenched in sweat.  My Canadian black joggers were doing a great job of keeping me warm in the now 32 degree mid-afternoon heat.  If only there was a way I could have known what the temperature would be, he blogged into his iPad that has access to the internet.  Oh well.  At least I could shower and change.  Oh that's right, there was no suitcase until later in the evening, when the landlady was bringing it home it home from the deli.  

What to do?  Well, after a nine hour flight, a mini-marathon dressed like a ninja and no clean clothes, it's best to just take a nap in your underwear.  That's what I say.   I got up 2 hours later and even stinkier than before.  Drenched in sweat, I figured a shower was in order.  I have one towel approximately the size of a Denny's placemat, and no shampoo or soap.  No problem.  I spied some apple scented dishsoap over by my microscopic bathroom sink.  Done deal.  I was clean, smelled like a Macintosh and no streaks on my wine glass if you know what I mean.  I don't speak Dutch so I am praying that it was actually dishsoap and not Dutch antique furniture wood stripper.

I heard a knock at the door-- or so I thought.  Had my luggage arrived?  Was my luck turning?

No luggage.  Maybe it was a woodpecker or something.  Then the cat got in.

What's that?  A cat you say?  What cat?  Well, how about the cat who lives in the apartment below?  He's friendly AND he likes to hide under my bed.  So the next 20 minutes was the Canadian wearing only his underwear, soaking wet, trying to grab the cat from under the bed.  Now if that isn't European, I don't know what is.  Film it and give me a BAFTA please.

The luggage showed up later in the evening and I am proud to report I am wearing clean underwear now (and I did not use the cat to dry off).

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Karl's European Vacation: The Flight

A few people asked-- no, DEMANDED-- that I blog about my solo trip to Europe.  Because I am a man of the people, and also because my favourite subject happens to be me, I will do it.

I am lucky enough to have a zillion weeks of vacation per year.  So instead of sitting at home during my 2 week holiday, I figured why not see Amsterdam, Berlin and Frankfurt.  The scariest part of travelling alone is not the getting mugged or robbed, but rather the idea that if I get lost, I cannot yell at the girlfriend for reading the map incorrectly, or more accurately, yell at the girlfriend for reading the map correctly while I wasn't paying attention.

The plane trip is always a terrible way to start.  The worst part of travelling is actually the travelling.  I am lucky in that I can't stay awake on the airplane.  It's impossible.  I am guessing I would make a lousy pilot.  

People always try to sound so worldly on these transcontinental flights.  One lady piped up as we were getting ready for takeoff.  "Is today Friday?  Is that today?  Friday?"  Wow, you are so caught up in your whirlwind adventure around the Earth that you do not know what day it is!  Was the connector from Vancouver to Calgary really that disorienting?  She screwed up next, however.  She said "hmmm... So I guess tomorrow is Saturday?"  She said it like a question.  Okay, so now you aren't a world traveller, you just don't understand how a "week" works.  Not impressed.  

The flight crew always tries to get the passengers to put down the window shades so we can get 2 hours of sleep during the flight.  Everyone does it-- well, everyone but the one person sitting between me and the setting sun.  He's peering out that window like a five year old who's lived in the basement their entire life.  "Look, THE SUN!"  He's all excited.  Of course, he's now casting forty-foot shadows all along the otherwise dark grey cabin, so no one can sleep.  Everyone has earphones now too, so handkerchiefs  and kleenex are out.  Don't need em.  Just keep sniffing for eight hours -- no one except the one guy trying to sleep can hear you!  He's really easy to spot-- the one laser beam of sunlight in the entire cabin is shooting on him like he's performing an opera solo.