Saturday, November 29, 2014


If you ask anyone under 40 who John Fogerty is, you are taking a gamble.  Most people don't recognize the name.  In fact, a small portion of people would also get angry and demand that you "stop phoning them at 2:00 am".  Well I am sorry, I was having trouble sleeping, random person in Newark.  Anyway, John Fogerty was the lead singer of the band "Creedence Clearwater Revival" and he also had a few solo hits in the 1980s.  If you have heard "Proud Mary", "Fortunate Son" or "Centerfield", then you have heard of John Fogerty.

One of the first records I ever heard my parents play.

I went to the concert with my mother, who is now retired so what better way to celebrate than to sit in a big hockey arena and smell other people's weed.  I think that is why you work all those long hours in an office.  Now that she is officially a senior citizen, getting to the Saddledome via C-Train was risky business.  I resigned myself that I would either show up and see her waiting by the West Entrance, or she would have talked to a stranger and I would never see her again.  50/50.  Luckily she was at the Dome so I put my phone away, did NOT dial the police and weep uncontrollably, and went inside.

Fogerty played a couple of years ago at the Corral (a much smaller venue) and did not sell out, so I knew there was no way that he was selling out the 19,000-seat Saddledome.  Lucky me!  Here is my strategy: buy the cheapest possible ticket and then scoot over to a better section.  The ushers act all put out, but secretly they love the challenge of spotting who paid good money and who just squatted like a hobo in an abandoned apartment.  We  found a nice empty section and stretched out.  Let there be rock!

The lights went down and we were treated to a 35-minute music film about the year 1969—Woodstock, other bands, The Beatles, San Fransisco, etc.  It was a cool movie but to be honest, I found it a little long.  I started to wonder: was this the concert?  Had Fogerty died a couple of weeks ago and this was the whole show?  Luckily the lights dimmed, people started screaming like they were being cattle prodded by security and eventually the 69-year-old Fogerty came out rocking "Born on the Bayou".  He looked half his age and sounded great!

You ever have one of those songs that you hear and it instantly takes you back to a certain time in your life?  When I was three years old, I had a ViewFinder, which is a kid's toy (like binoculars) and you can watch a comic book or a movie through the ViewFinder.

somewhere between cave man drawings and the iPad, 
there exists The ViewFinder

I had a DC comics reel and watched Aquaman.  Meanwhile, my dad was playing "Bad Moon Rising" (by CCR) on the record player.  This is one of my earliest memories.  So when Fogerty busted out "Bad Moon Rising", I was in heaven.  I was three years old again.  (I didn't drool or pee myself, in case you were wondering—it is a legitimate question.)  The only way it would have been better was if Aquaman had suddenly shown up on stage and maybe played an instrument.  Anything.  Keyboards.  Tambourine.  Even an actor playing Aquaman would have been awesome (I am not picky).

new base player?  Just an idea.

All in all, it was a great concert.  He played a ton of hits and the crowd seemed really into it.  Well, okay, maybe a little too into it.  My only complaint was the guy sitting behind me who whipped out a harmonica during "Lodi" and started playing along.  Really?  Um... this is not a jam, old guy who smells like warm beer and marijuana.  I am pretty sure I know the exact number of people who paid money to hear him play harmonica, and it rhymes with hero.  We picked up our coats and moved to another empty section—I couldn't believe security let riff raff like that into a section that we had snuck into. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

CGC Comics: How Much Does It Cost From Canada?

I wanted to document exactly how much it cost to ship my comics to CGC and get them back (I live in western Canada).  This is not a rant about CGC itself, or their grading process, or their holders, or any of that stuff.  I did, however, want to document the slabbing process (partly because of my own bad memory) and partly because I had a bit of a difficult time finding out the process and the cost (the REAL cost) when first starting out.

For those who are new to the whole process of "slabbing" comics: there is tons of information online about CGC (Certified Guaranty Company, found at  So this blog is a tracking of the cost for me, a Canadian, shipping my books down to Florida and back to Canada.  How much does it really cost?

One of the comics I did NOT submit to CGC.  Sigh. 

(Note: these are 2014 prices—if you are looking at this from the far-reaching future, these might look great in 200 years.)

CGC Membership: $140.14 Cdn
This was the "premium" $120.00 US per year.  What this gets me is 4 free CGC submissions and access to the website to look up CGC census data, access the forums, etc.  What I personally cared about was the coupon for the 4 free submissions.

Shipping My 4 Raw Books: $30.00 Cdn
You can use Canada Post, Fed Ex, Purolator, etc.  I chose Canada Post.  It cost about $30 to ship the books from my home and native land to sunny Florida.  I always wonder why they would have a comic-book-grading company based out of the one place nearby that can get a hurricane, a flood or invaded by the communists.  Every time the weatherman says it is windy or rainy there are comic book fans getting ulcers. 

Even if it is a relatively tiny package, you have to ship "Expedited Parcel" which has a tracking number (good) and insurance (very good).  You also should ship the 4 books in a box (not an envelope) and stuff it good with paper, bubble wrap and extra sheets of tough cardboard).  I didn't have any problems and the shipment arrived right away (around 7 business days). 

Grading: Free
Well, kind of free... remember to include the coupon in the box and the books get graded as part of the premium package that I already paid money for.

Return Shipping To Canada: $72.78
Hello!  Be on the lookout for the priority shipping back to Canada.  Good news is that it gets back to you quickly—the bad news is that it is a bit more expensive than it was to send it down there.

Total Cost for 4 CGC Books:  $242.92 Cdn
This works out to about $60 per book (Canadian).  So if you are going to get only these 4 books graded, make sure to have the books be either a) super in-demand, b) super high grade, or c) books that you personally really want to get graded.  Typically, people will send in 4 "high end" books (like silver-age Marvels, or expensive 10 or 12-cent comics) for this tier.

Because I had already paid the annual fee, I figured I would give it a shot and submit 30 modern books as well to see if I could average down the costs.  My logic: I had thousands of comic books, at least 30 (hopefully) worth CGC-ing from the modern era, and I already had the annual membership, so that gave me a slight discount (and the ability) to submit more books.  Same deal, but this time I was submitting 30 modern books.

Shipping 30 Modern Books To Florida: $30.00 Cdn
Again this was through Canada Post as an Expedited Parcel and it worked out to about 30 dollars.  Here's a tip I learned: open up a PayPal account and ship the books through the PayPal account.  You can get a small discount (like 5 to 8 per cent).  Also, knowing what I know now, I would have submitted the 4 higher-end books along with 30 moderns.  Just fill out 2 invoices and send them together all in the same box.  Live and learn!

CGC Fees for 30 Modern Books: $660.01 Cdn
The fees worked out to $22 per book (Canadian) to get them CGC'd.  Now this will no doubt change over time (exchange rates, etc) so again this is 2014 prices, with exchange, with a credit card.  This apparently includes the return shipping as well.

I had heard horror stories about CGC taking forever to grade books.  The total time spent between shipping the books and getting them back was 62 calendar days (so about two months).

Return Shipping:  $22.78 Cdn
The package was shipped back through Federal Express.  It arrived in one huge box that looked like a 28-inch TV screen had arrived.  It was heavy (30 books).  So exciting!  This was the big question mark in the whole process—the return shipping was included in the CGC charge.  The only thing I actually paid was the customs "brokerage fees".

I personally did not get hit with any duty, and I didn't fill out any special forms.  CGC indicated on the shipment that the books were being re-imported and I guess the customs guys liked it.

Fed Ex has to stay in business somehow, so they charge a "brokerage fee" to get your books from the United States through customs into Canada.  It's not technically duty... it's more like a "service fee" to ship it. Grumble grumble.

Total Cost for 30 Modern Books: $712.79
This does not include the membership (because I already paid for it).

Total Cost for 4 Silver Age Books Plus 30 Modern Books: $955.71 Cdn
Let's call it an even $950 Canadian dollars, after it is all said and done.

$950 Cdn
34 books total
$27.94 Canadian per book to get slabbed

This isn't meant to persuade anyone to CGC their books or not—simply an accounting for Canadians to figure out what the real fees are if anyone in Canada is interested (and obviously this is a ball park amount since shipping rates could be different depending on where people live and what service they use).

I think that some people see $18 listed for a modern book on the CGC website and so we factor in maybe $20 for the book when making a purchase.  However, shipping (especially to and from Canada) can be very expensive, especially if someone doesn't ship stuff all the time.  The actual price to CGC the books was more like 150% of that, at around $28 per book.

Tips to save money:
  • If you have a bunch of stuff to send in, consider waiting and do it all in one year (rather than send a little over multiple years).  It costs a lot of money (like $30) to send one item, four items or twelve items—the postage is not much more for each additional book on a "per book" basis.
  • Really a take a super-critical look at your books.  If there are any defects whatsoever, the grade of the book will fall (and often fall a lot).  Remember, each book is going to cost you about $30 (Canadian) so be very critical.  ANY fold, crease or tear, or scuff, or anything will bring it down.
  • Consider opening a PayPal account to create a shipping label—the difference between sending one parcel through PayPal ($25) versus two Canada Post "at the counter" parcels ($60) is definitely worth the time and effort.

Good luck and happy hunting for that great comic!
One of my actual comics.  Yay!  Something came back  higher than a 5.0.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


English is a difficult language.  I work with people who know multiple languages—Russian, German, and many others.  One lady even knows Swahili!  (Or so she says… it really only works if there is another person around who can vouch for it.   

One Swahili-speaking person = not impressive.   
TWO Swahili-speaking people = awesome!

These multi-lingual people are running around having multiple conversations and meanwhile I can barely read and write English.  However, me like words.  Me like words long time. 

Speaking of language: one annoying phrase is the old “I know, right?” This in and of itself is no big deal, but when used in a conversation it makes me want to jump off of a tall building.  Quick example:

Me: Hi there.  You look busy!

Person: I know, right?

Me: Yes.  Yes I do.  You look busy.

Person: I know, right?  I’m so busy.

Me: Are you almost finished the Johnson project?

Person: I know, right?

Me: No… no I don’t.  I need to know, hence why I’m asking.

Person: I know, right?

Me: Please find a toaster and a bathtub so I can end this.   

Okay, so a slight exaggeration for hilarious comedic purposes, but you get the idea.  The other one I don’t like is when someone says “you’re not kidding!” Again, this does nothing to add to my life in any meaningful way.  I make a witty observation and people will exclaim, “man! You’re not kidding.” Well, in fact sometimes I am kidding, but I’m not about to point it out now.  Now I feel all stressed out.  I’m busted.  What if they find out at a later time that I was in fact, kidding?  WHAT THEN?  Best just to hide in the bushes until they leave.  Problem solved. 

There are all sorts of parts of language that we use that are annoying, but only if you are aware of it.  I will now destroy your life for the next 40 years by bringing up the word “Um”.  Not really a word, um.  Before, you might not have even noticed “um”.  Now, you will hear it every time you listen to the radio, you’re your mouth, or hear any other humans speak, ever. 

Is “um” really a word?  Sure, you can play it in Scrabble, and you might even place the “Um” on a triple word score, but that doesn’t make it a real word in my opinion.  (The same goes for “Muzjiks”—not cool—I know that Russian peasants are people, they are real, and they deserve human rights, but it is annoying when people beat me at Scrabble using weird words.)  So, ummmmm, where were we? 
I ask again: is “um” even a real word?  Well, um, “um” is considered a “filler” word by the wordanistas, also known as people who are English professors.  They went to school.  Braggers!  According to the interwebs, it is typically used to denote a pause when talking.  In other words, “um” translates into “I’m not finished!”  I will also throw “uh” into this category.  Um and Uh are pretty much the same thing as far as I’m concerned—they both mean, “I am thinking, so please shut your pie hole until I can get my words out.”  On the other hand, “ugh” is totally different—“ugh” is what most people think when they hear the words “pie hole”.  See?  Words are fun!

I’m not a big fan of being super-picky on words.  Words, phrases, and what has been commonly used by the average “layperson” has changed over the past millennium.  Imagine sitting in the Globe Theatre back in the Middle Ages and listening to a Shakespeare play.  First of all, I wouldn’t understand any of it—English was way different back then.  Too many thees, and if you throw in a “wherefor art thou” I am pretty much finished.  Secondly, I would question why I was able to travel back in time only to sit in a theatre watching a play.  Aren’t there any Hitlers around to murder?  No apple to drop on Newton’s head?  Give me something constructive to do please.

My point is that words and phrases have changed over the years, so I am not inherently opposed to weird new phrases like “LOL” (Laugh Out Loud) or “ROTFL” (Rolling On The Floor Laughing)—come to think of it, there is a lot of laughing going on these days.  Enough with the Ls, everyone. 

Now before I start sounding all zen and centered, I do want to point out that there is one thing that I cannot stand under any circumstances—and it’s more of a numbers thing than a word thing:

The 0.99 cent sale.

This really irritates me.  The seller means to put 0.99 DOLLARS on a sign, not 0.99 cents.  0.99 cents is almost one whole penny.  One big fantasy in my life involves me buying 100 “0.99 cent” items, dropping a dollar at the checkout till and telling the cashier to keep the change.  Dammit that would be so awesome!  They would call the police, and when the officer showed up, I would calmly explain that the 0.99 means it is almost one penny.  Then I would get tazed.  Then I would soil myself, because electricity will eventually lead to paralysis.  But THEN, and only then, would I be able to go to court, plead my case to the judge and jury, and “0.99 cents” would be struck down for all time. 

Then who would have the last LOL?

Sunday, September 7, 2014


I got home from my first stint as a cat sitter, humiliated in my attempt to be the cat whisperer.  My two cats at home greeted me with indifference—one thought it smelled food on me but it turns out that I just hadn't showered.  False alarm.  I slunk onto the couch and replayed the morning over in my mind. 

Quick recap: I showed up at the friend's house, the friends' cat freaked out and then the cat ran away.  And then I wandered around the friend's house for a half hour, shaking a bag of cat treats.  I mean I was wandering around the house.  Like outside.  I was circling the house like either the world's worst burglar, or maybe one of those super-old people who look for Mr. Pickles, but Mr. Pickles died like 17 years ago and they still think that they punched Hitler in the nose last week.  But more importantly than all that... was the cat going to be okay?  And more important than even that... would I have to give back any money if the cat never showed up?  This is why all cat sitting should have an eight-page contract that is reviewed by a team of notaries.  

This had all happened on Sunday.  So later that day I texted the friend (who I was thinking was "the client"—as in, "don't get sued by the client"—and I explained that I sort of, um, lost the cat.  Apparently this was no great news.  This was expected.  The cat apparently just needed to "get away" once in a while, and as such would saunter off into the neighbourhood and do whatever wild, feral cats do.  I am guessing activities included chasing mice, sitting on a fence and singing with other cats, and possibly playing the accordion—or maybe I am thinking of a Disney movie.  

I had trouble sleeping Sunday night, because I kept wondering if the cat was going to come back home.  I know what you are thinking—I got up in the middle of the night, got dressed, got in the car, drove the half hour across town and stood outside the house with the ghetto blaster like John Cusack in Say Anything

 "In Your Eyes... Kitty Lies... Kitty come home..."
- Peter Gabriel

Well, big surprise—that didn't happen.  I did, however, get up in the middle of the night.  Yes, I am that caring.  Actually, I just had to take a pee.  I drank too much iced tea.  It has nothing to do with the story, but I get the feeling that you wanted to know.  So, really, shame on you for being so nosy. 

Monday: me at work.  I was sitting at my desk trying not to think about the crazy cat.  I was planning on stopping by after work to put in my contractually-obligated visit, but I also wanted to.  Even if it was just to scrape a carcass off the road with a snow shovel, I felt that I owed it that much, after all we had been through together—her hissing, me getting angry and scared... okay so maybe there were memories that just hadn't been made yet. 

I left at lunch and swung by the house.  No sign of the cat.  I opened the door and slowly, carefully tiptoed into the house.  I know what you are thinking—why tip toe when the cat was not actually in the house.  Well, I can say this: if any cat was mean enough to learn how to jimmy open a patio door with a screwdriver, it was this cat.  

I peeked out through the patio door and didn't see anything.  Well, it was done then.  The cat was gone forever.  Could I still bill for two visits?  I swung open the patio door to water the plants, thus insuring that the client would have to pay me.  After all, I drove all the way over here and checked the mail...

Suddenly, from the shadows, a figure lept up onto the fence.  Okay, it was noon so there weren't really "shadows", but there was definitely a scary furry animal on the fence.  I stood there, paralyzed with either joy, fear or boredom.  Get in the house already.  The kitty sauntered back into the house, stopped at my feet to take a swipe and a hiss and then jogged inside to poop in the litter box.  

Welcome home, creep!  I locked the patio door and got the hell out of there.  The rest of the week was uneventful—there was some general hissing in my direction and I let her out once during the week, but I knew that the cat would come back.  Well, at least I hoped she would.  Well, at least I kind of hoped that she would.  

So if you need a cat sitter: I have experience dealing with difficult animals, as long as you are okay with me just letting them out into the neighbourhood and hoping that someday they come back. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014


I decided to do a little community service this summer.  Now before anyone  pictures me picking up garbage on the side of the road wearing an orange jumpsuite, stop!  (Too late—you pictured it.)  A friend of mine needed a cat sitter and I figured it was some easy money.  I like cats.  I like cats because they require about as much maintenance as a potted plant.  Basically make sure it gets some water, drag it out into the sunlight once in a while, and try not to get too dirty shoveling around in the dirt. 

The friend in question had gone away on vacation in the past and another, a DIFFERENT person had cat sat.  She had sat the cat.  After my friend came back from vacation, we heard horror stories about the cat—basically the cat was a terror or possibly the devil had possessed said cat.  I thought this was hilarious; after all, I knew all about cats (I had lived with cats my entire life AND watched LOL cats on the internet).  I figured that this so-called "cat sitter" had no idea what they were doing.  Why were they hiding in the bedroom, or holding out a broom in a defensive manner?  I heard the details and derisively shook my head.  Why were they cowering in the bathroom, praying that the "beast" would eventually leave through the open patio doors?  Was crying and threatening to phone the police really necessary?  

I scoffed and figured that I would be able to earn some easy money as well as help out a desperate family in need.  Yes, I am a charitable person, providing my services for money.  I am a giver.  (And a taker.)

The mission was simple: Sunday through Friday—six days of looking after the cat.  Easy.  I showed up Sunday to an empty house, ready to spend my hour playing with the cat.  The family had left the day before.  I opened up the door to the house and called for the cat.  I reached into my back pack and whipped out my cat toy on a string.  I was ready to play with the lonely cat.

Only there was no lonely cat.  There was a little furry beast with evil eyes hissing.  I was a little surprised—did the beast not know I was on her side?  I stooped down to clean out the litter box and heard a low, gutteral growl.  Umm... I scooped faster and tied up the bag.  Now the hard part—I had to somehow get past the cat in order to get to the patio door, which led to the patio, which led to the garbage can.  

I stared down the cat for about thirty seconds, but she wasn't moving.  Let me be clear here—this cat is like 18 inches long.  I stuck out my bag of cat poop and litter like Captain America's shield and pushed forward.  The cat didn't move—well, didn't move backwards, that is.  She jumped up in the air like Michael Jordan heading for a slam dunk.  This was Nike cat—and it was NOT all about the shoes!  (1990s reference for those who are younger than thirty.)  This cat arched her back and swiped at the bag of litter.  And connected.  

The explosion of stinky, urine-soaked cat litter into the living room of the family I was trying to cat sit for was definitely one of the low points of that day.  It wasn't the ultimate low point—that would be me yelling and running for the patio door, a trail of sand zig-zagging across the living room and dining room floor.  I opened the patio door and threw the bag outside, hoping I would not hit a random neighbour in the face.  It was a chance I was willing to take.  I prayed that if the authorities found my half-eaten carcass next weekend, they would be able to identify me by my dental work—or come to think of it in hindsight, my car sitting in their driveway (with my license plate).  Okay, so I didn't really think that one through.  

The devil cat screamed past me and bolted outside.  I took a deep breath and peered out across the yard.  She was sitting on the fence—literally, not figuratively—she definitely did NOT want to come back inside, so she was sitting on an actual fence.  I shut the patio door and she turned and ran away. 

I put my cat toy back in the back pack—I wasn't going to be needing that anymore.  I wondered about offering a partial refund if the cat never showed up again.


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.

Monday, May 26, 2014


Ben Stiller is back!  Yes the man who brought us Zoolander and Tropic Thunder has directed a film called "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty".  Stiller also stars in it as the title character—a guy who works at Life Magazine on the eve of downsizing, and suffers from a little too much daydreaming and not enough actual life living. 

This film has three big things going against it:

1. Ben Stiller: I personally really like Ben Stiller, but every time the guy tries to do a semi-serious movie or a drama, people just rail on him.  Yes, Zoolander was funny, but can't Stiller ever try to make a serious film without people dogging on him?  "There aren't many laughs," critics moan, but that is the point—he wanted to make a serious film with some funny moments, not a hilarious movie with a couple of heartfelt scenes. 

2. Feel Good Movie: I don't what the problem is with our society lately, but it seems that whenever a "feel good" movie hits the theatres or the DVD shelves, people are bent on knocking it.  This movie is one long "life your life" film, similar to Forrest Gump or Benjamin Button—so if you liked those films, then you will probably like this film too. 

3. Based On A Book (or Story): One of the biggest complaints about the movie was that it was not as funny as the original story, not as authentic as the original story—the original short story that was published in the New Yorker magazine in 1939.  If you can find twenty people who have read that short story, then that is more than I could find—about twenty more in fact.  Just a quick question: have you ever seen a movie that was better than the book?  Ever?  It is pretty rare indeed.  Just enjoy the film for what it is. 

So what is it?  No spoilers, but as far as romantic-comedy-dramas go, this one was a home run for me.  Stiller winds up on an adventure that takes him literally all over the world, and there is some mystery in the script as well.  I thoroughly enjoyed it—the story is outrageous, but that is the point of the film, and for that reason, I give Stiller credit for going "all out" to make a big, wide, loud film.  Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine and Sean Penn are terrific. (Sean Penn is always terrific in every film, from Mystic River to Fast Times At Ridgemont High.  Dude!)

If you are looking for a "feel good" movie with some great cinematography of Greenland and Iceland, and some inspiration about rolling with the punches and living an interesting life, I highly recommend this film.  

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Have you ever been watching a movie and you remember that you have seen that guy before?  In another movie?  I had that experience about three times this past year with Jake Gyllenhaal.  I recently watched a movie called "End of Watch" which is amazing if you like South Central Los Angeles gang-related violence.  And who doesn't!  I went back and looked through his filmography and realized that he has a history of making some really high quality films.  Here are some that I really enjoyed:

Prisoners (2013): I thought this was going to be another "ho hum" crime drama, but with Hugh Jackman, Gyllenhaal and the great actor Paul Dano, it is above average.  It starts out with a predictable "girls go missing" plot, but Jackman takes matters into his own hands while the police (Gyllenhaal) are trying to figure out what is going on.  I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, although I have not taken candy from strangers since watching this film.

End of Watch (2012): Gyllenhaal plays a "normal" L.A. cop along with his sidekick/police partner played brilliantly by Michael Pena.  This is a super-violent and scary movie, and I absolutely loved it.  Not for the faint of heart.   Did I mention it was violent?  What I really enjoyed was that the two cops are normal guys—not heroes in the traditional sense of the word.  After seeing this movie I am so terrified of Los Angeles that I don't even want to fly over California on the way to Hawaii.

Source Code (2011): I am a science-fiction fan, and by that I mean real science fiction.  Light sabres and wizards are totally cool, and I am not dissing the wizards.  No spells please.  But there aren't many really good hard science fiction movies.  This is a really good science fiction movie.  Gyllenhaal places a guy on a train, and they keep reliving the same 8 minutes or so.  For two hours.  Okay, it is way better than I am making it sound. 

Brothers (2009): I figured if Gyllenhaal was teamed up with Spider-Man and Queen Amidala, you have a blockbuster right there.  Well, I thought this movie was going to be about some guy who runs away to Afghanistan and the other guy is "making whoopie" with the girlfriend, but that is not actually what the movie is about.  It is a tense, psychological drama and the acting was superb.  The lesson here: don't get caught by the Taliban and have a hunky brother.  

Zodiac (2007): I thoroughly enjoyed this movie.  It is long (162 minutes—almost three hours) so you may have to take a break to go to the bathroom, eat food or pay your electricity bill.  But it is worth it—there are some great shots of San Fransisco in the film, and the movie is actually scary (not "gory" but actually creepy and feeling real) plus it is based on a true story.  If you like smart detective movies, this one has some great plot points and will keep you guessing. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Recently the Calgary Human Society rescued numerous dogs in the neighbourhood of Acadia.  This is a really sad story, and many people were shocked that this "house of animals" happens in our city.  All too frequently, we are discovering a house where someone is housing over 50 cats, or a house with 30 or more dogs.  It seems to be that only after abuse or neglect has been clearly established that the authorities can get involved and rescue the animals.

I immediately recognized the Acadia situation—I bought the house right next door to this person and lived there from 2000 to 2006.  Simply put, it was awful.  If I was a renter, I could have put in my notice and left—but I was a home owner.  And as any home owner can attest, you are "married" to the property, at least for a while.  I can say from experience that there are no laws currently on the books that protect neighbours, or the animals, from anyone in Calgary owning any number of dogs or cats.

When I lived in Acadia, there were eleven dogs permanently housed next door.  I know this exact number because I talked with several Animal Services Bylaw Officers during the time that I was there.  

It was very frustrating.  I would never hurt an animal, so I couldn't get mad at the dogs—they were constantly barking, yipping and running around—basically being dogs.  It wasn't their fault.  One dog barking once in a while is no big deal.  Two can be a bit annoying, but hey, life happens.  But eleven?  It was literally a "barknado" of noise—one leaf would blow by and the dogs would wind themselves up into a frenzy.  One dog would excite the others, and it was incredibly loud.  Even when the dogs were all inside, and the windows and the doors were closed, I could hear barks.  I never slept in late during the five years I lived there.  From 7:00 am until midnight, every day, there were dogs scurrying around and barking.  Often they were crated up in the basement for most of the day.  What kind of life is that for these animals?

I don't blame the Animal Bylaw Officers—I asked them what they could do, and they can basically enforce the law.  The law in Calgary says that you can't neglect or abuse an animal.  So the bylaw officer would offer their sympathies to me—I was unlucky.  (Life lesson: if you are ever going to buy a house, peek over the neighbour's fence first!)  However, there was no crime against owning an unlimited number of dogs.  I would stack up the noise complaints, and every few months, they would knock on her door and talk with her.  The bylaw officer would then come over and explain to me that the dogs were all licensed, and that there was no neglect—and then they would leave.  

What can a neighbour do?  I was aware that the situation wasn't good (by my standards, anyway) but the house where the dogs lived wasn't my house.  It was only when there was excessive noise (barking that lasted for an "extended period of time") that I could complain.  I can totally sympathize with the City of Calgary Bylaw Officers—they have to enforce the law as written.   

My contention would be now that this has happened, yet again, I think that most people would agree that we need some sort of common sense legislation.  Whether or not there was abuse or neglect, I think that most people would think it is unusual (and possibly unhealthy to the animals and even other neighbours) to have a certain number of dogs.  Whatever the number is, there is a number in most people's minds that would be "the maximum number" that makes sense.  

Currently in Calgary, there are no laws that prevent any of us from owning an unlimited number of domestic animals (like cats and dogs).  I can own ninety cats if I wanted to.  Farm animals are generally not allowed as property within city limits—I cannot own a cow or a chicken and keep it in my background or my basement.  I can understand why (from a health & safety standpoint, or an ethical standpoint, or a noise / pollution standpoint).  However, dogs and cats are generally exempt from this law.  Why do we have laws for one type of animal and not for the other?  Wouldn't that same logic apply to any animal, if the number is eventually high enough?  Why can I own thirty cats, or eighteen dogs, but not one chicken? 

I am generally not a fan of the government telling me what I can and can’t do on my own property—I should be allowed to stack my entire living room full of old newspapers or empty jam jars if I want.  If I have 800 Sports Illustrated magazines in my basement, I’m not hurting anyone.  That makes sense.  But when there are living, breathing animals at risk, there is a moral responsibility to protect those animals not just from neglect and abuse, but from generally unacceptable living conditions. 

If a cat or a dog owner suddenly dies, the pet living at the house might also die too.  If the owner is gone, the poor animal might go for a week without water and eventually die.  As sad as that is, imagine if you had ninety or one hundred cats all depending on you (and only you) for their lives.  Is this ethical?  Is this necessary?  We can argue that we have the right to do it—but is there not also a responsibility to have an animal’s welfare also taken into consideration?  How many dogs can we ethically stuff into a bungalow?

It's not just the animals who suffer.  I'm sure that the bylaw officers are frustrated—they are seeing people living in dilapidated houses, surrounded by an extreme number of dogs and cats, and yet don't have the legal authority to do anything about it until abuse or neglect is clearly evident.  It's also a drain on public resources to have taxpayer money involved to now inspect and certify that the house where the dogs were taken from is healthy enough for human (and animal) habitation.  And from a property owner and neighbour's standpoint, this is like having a grow-op next door—the house is basically condemned.  Fellow neighbours cannot be happy about that.  It's an eyesore and a drain on the community's property values. 
Montreal has a maximum animal bylaw.  Winnipeg has a maximum animal bylaw.  London, Ontario has a very detailed maximum animal bylaw.  Lots of cities are doing it.

Regardless of what the number is—three animals, four animals, seven animals—we need to at least get the discussion going.  We need a maximum number.  Any number.  Infinity is not an acceptable number of animals to house in a residential property within the City of Calgary.  Having a law would at least give the Bylaw Officers something on the books so that they can remove cats and dogs from an owner when the number reaches a dangerous amount from a sanitary and animal-welfare standpoint.

What can we do?  Write your City of Calgary Councillor and explain that you care about the welfare of the animals, you would like to help give our Bylaw Officers a law with some teeth, and help stop these situations from going south very quickly.  Here is our chance to get involved and voice our concerns.  If we don't, it is a virtual certainty that this tragedy will happen again.