John Chidley A blog about reading, writing, pop culture and sports.


Why I keep my cell phone ringer on on Sunday mornings

John W. Chidley-HillIt took a while, but eventually I learned to turn on my cell phone ringer every Sunday morning.

I can’t remember when it started, but you got into the habit of going to the antiques and collectibles market on Sundays. It was the perfect place for you.

Some weeks you’d find depression glassware. Other weeks it’d be books on chess. I’ll never forget how proud you were when you were able to use your rusty Grade 13 Spanish to get a deal on pre-Castro Cuban League baseball cards.

Every so often you’d find comic books for sale at the market and call to ask if I needed them for my collection or if they were a fair price. Unfortunately, I usually keep my cell phone on silent. Between all the texts I receive and my insomnia, I keep the ringer off so I can sleep undisturbed.

But Dad, you were always so disappointed when you couldn’t get a hold of me those mornings. Sometimes I think you were more than disappointed. Sometimes you seemed upset, even angry, when I didn’t answer because you were so keen to get a good deal on the comics.

To get a good deal on comics for me, so you could relate to me and my interests.

Eventually I took the hint. I started turning the ringer on before bed on Saturday nights.

You bought me special comic book database software so I could keep track of my collection and you asked me for a list of comics I needed. In particular, we were on the hunt for John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad and Denny O’Neill’s The Question.

Every week you’d tell me about the things you’d see at the market, something you’d bought or an interesting piece you'd describe for me.

The last time we went out to dinner together you told me about one of those auction shows on the History Channel or Discovery Channel. A guy was trying to sell an entire skid of baseball cards. Hundreds of thousands of baseball cards stacked in a six-foot high cube. If he sold each card individually, or even a hundred at a time, it would be worth millions.

I was shocked and couldn’t stop laughing when you told me it had sold for $3,000. Three grand! What a tool.

The morning I found you my first call was to 911. They started giving me instructions on how to give you mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t. I knew you were already gone.

Even then, I didn’t start crying until a paramedic told me you were dead. For some reason I needed someone official to tell me. I wanted to believe there was still a chance. That maybe I had saved you.

Then I called Mom to tell her you were gone. She couldn't recognize my voice because I was so upset. She left work immediately and drove out to my condo that night to be with me. You’d been divorced for almost a decade, but in some ways I think she was more upset than me.

My next call was to our minister Steve. He drove down from Richmond Hill to sit in my ZipCar with me on your driveway. The police didn’t want me to leave until they’d completed their investigation, so I had to stay there. They needed me to answer the coroner’s questions about your heart medication and arrange storage for your body.

While he and I sat in the car I made phone calls to family and friends. We sat there in the driveway for nearly six hours and talked. Talked about me and my divorce, about you and your divorce and even Steve's divorce.

He said that as he was getting divorced you’d told him about our weekly dinners. Rain or shine we’d get together to catch up and talk about what we were doing.

You'd told Steve about searching for comic books so we’d have more in common. How the comics had been your bridge to me as our little family split up.

You suggested he do the same with his kids, so that they would find a similar bond through his divorce. He said you’d brought him and his kids closer, that’d he’d always be grateful to you.

That’s the bittersweet thing about your death, Dad.

Somehow, you dying has helped me understand you better. We were always close. You were my best friend, someone I could always count on. To chat with or to help me move or to give me a lift. You even offered to play dodgeball when my team was short players. You were always there.

But as I sorted and cleaned out your house, I really came to understand you as a person. I read letters from your friends when you were in university, read notes you’d kept for yourself, saw pictures you’d held on to. Every birthday, Father’s Day and Christmas card I’d ever given you. I even found an angry letter you’d written to a video distributor in California in the early 1990s. You’d bought a Three Stooges tape hoping to show me one of your favourite routines, but the distributor had cut out the crucial pie fight.

I got a better sense of the real you, your strengths and weaknesses, by cleaning out that house.

And, of course, I went through all those antiques and collectibles you’d bought at St. Lawrence Market. Record albums, baseball cards, chess books, the depression glass and, of course, my comics.

The last room I emptied in your house was the baseball card room in the basement. While I was packing binders and John Farrellboxes of cards, a Donruss 1991 fell to the ground. It was John Farrell, planting his foot down on the mound as he pitched for the Cleveland Indians. He looked so young and skinny with his eyebrows dominating his face. We were both mixed on his performance as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, so I laughed and set it aside to show you later.

It was only as I took one last survey of the house that I realized my mistake.

There was no point in keeping that baseball card on the kitchen counter for our weekly dinner. There would be no weekly dinner.

That’s a feeling I just haven’t been able to shake. It still feels like you’re not dead, that you’re not gone.

It just seems like we’ve been too busy to see each other. Our schedules haven’t quite lined up so we’ve fallen out of touch. I still watch the Leafs and think, “I wonder what Dad thought of that play?” before realizing I’ll never know. It’s not as acute as it was for those first few months, but it’s a feeling that still lingers a year later.

And that’s why I turn my ringer on every Sunday morning. Because I wish you’d call just one last time.

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Happy anniversary,!

Last Tuesday was the one-year anniversary of this blog's creation. For the past year this website has been a place to work on my writing, talk about things that interest me and show off my various professional projects.

I’ve been really pleased with this site and with how my career has developed over the past year. In particular, I’ve been touched by all the positive feedback I’ve received from people. I’m always surprised with how often friends or family mention that they love my writing here. It’s nice to see my hard work appreciated like that.

To me, the most incredible thing about this blog is all the people who’ve read my posts that I don’t know personally. According to my metrics, I’ve had 16,688 unique visits and counting. When I started this site a year ago I never thought I’d have that many visitors.

Thank you for all your support.

To celebrate this blog’s anniversary I thought I’d list the top five most popular articles on this website.

But before I do, I want to mention two in particular: "Bill Simmons’ Twitter idea might be a game-changer" and "Sandwich Review: KFC’s Double Down". These two posts are the two biggest spikes in readership I’ve had over the course of the year. In both cases my readership doubled or even tripled the day they were posted.

Here are the top five most read articles of over the past 365 days, in ascending order:

5. "Bill Simmons’ Twitter idea might be a game-changer" – May 14th, 2010
As mentioned above, this article was one of the first big spikes in traffic this blog saw. Collecting a total of 202 unique page views since it was first published, this was my first serious stab at discussing the evolving role of media in sports.

“An interesting experiment occurred on Thursday night as the Boston Celtics eliminated the Cleveland Cavaliers from the National Basketball Association’s Eastern Conference semifinal with a 94-85 victory.

As league MVP LeBron James stepped up to the free throw line in the second half the Boston crowd began to chant “New-York-Knicks! New-York-Knicks!”, referring to one of the more moribund destinations that the soon-to-be free agent might head to in the offseason.

Later, the Celtic faithful began to chant “MSG! MSG!”, the acronym for Madison Square Gardens, the home of the Knicks.

This was all part of a grand scheme concocted by’s Bill Simmons, Boston’s most famous sports fan, and it may just revolutionize spectatordom.”

4. "Sandwich Review: KFC’s Double Down" – Oct. 19th 2010
I’ve reviewed a lot of things on this blog: comics, books, the occasional movie and even some baseball stadiums. But my look at the controversial Double Down sandwich at KFC was the first and last crack at being a foodie you’ll ever seen in this space. That review was particularly timely, earning some buzz and a spike in readership, eventually tallying 214 reads.

“It took months to make it possible, but yesterday I finally ate a Double Down from KFC.

Normally, reviewing a sandwich is not my bag. After all, my good friend and neighbour John already does a bang-up job over at In Search of a Sandwich. Why would I want to compete?

But the Double Down - KFC’s bacon, sauce and cheese sandwich that substitutes the bread for pieces of deep-fried chicken - transcends a normal sandwich.  Just as the Double Down pushes the envelope of sandwich technology, I must expand my blogging horizons for this fast food delicacy.”

3. "Three ice dancing performances I’d like to see" – Feb. 23rd 2010
I blogged throughout the Vancouver Olympics, usually in response to a significant event at the games. By far, the most popular of these pieces was my suggestion for three ice dancing routines that would set the performers apart from the cliché-laden pack.

When I posted this link on Twitter it was quickly picked up and retweeted by many of my friends, making it as close to viral as this site has ever been. That buzz resulted in a total of 313 views to date.

Oddly, and somewhat creepily, “Princess Peach” is by far the most popular search on this website, all thanks to this article.

“Like many Canadians, I was thrilled by Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s gold medal ice dance performance on Monday night.

I would never call myself a figure skating or ice dancing fan – I find that too often the judge’s decisions are political – but I was impressed with the athleticism and technique of all the dancers in the competition.

What did not impress me was their lack of creativity or originality. Most of the performances bled together. Virtue and Moir stood above the rest of the competition because they didn’t rely on clichéd music like the themes from the Phantom of the Opera or Requiem for a Dream. They weren’t covered with sequins and feathers. Their performance truly distinguished them from the rest of the pack.”

2. "Toronto has two strikes against it for most professional athletes" – Mar. 9th 2010
I wrote this piece between Roy Halladay’s departure to the Philadelphia Phillies and the National Basketball Association’s free agency period that saw Chris Bosh take his talents to South Beach.

It’s a topic I’d like to revisit sometime, especially since one of my commenters pointed out that my math on the differences in taxes between the United States and Canada might be wrong. Despite the possible error, this post has been read 417 times.

“This summer could be particularly heart-breaking for fans of the Toronto Raptors as they face the prospect of forward Chris Bosh, arguably the best player the team has ever seen, leaving the city as a free agent.

Toronto Blue Jays fans can sympathize with their basketball neighbours – this summer they lost ace Roy Halladay in a lopsided trade with the Philadelphia Phillies and Seattle Mariners.

It’s a familiar story for Torontonians. One of their teams will draft a player who becomes a star, but the franchise player eventually begins to grumble and complain about greener pastures, eventually demanding a trade or letting their contract expire and moving on via free agency.”

1. "Book Review: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Wells" – Sept. 15th 2010
I try to review every book that I read, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with the general themes of this blog like sports and pop culture. But the incredible success of my review of the Glass Castle shows that maybe, just maybe, I should review literally every single thing I experience. Not just books, but music, food, furniture, public transportation, whatever. Although it is the second-most recent post on this list, it’s garnered far and away the most views at 1,106 and counting.

“I never thought that I’d enjoy Jeannette Walls’ "the Glass Castle", but I was wrong.

On the surface, it looked like it was more for stay-at-home moms. It was one of Heather’s Picks at Chapters-Indigo Bookstores and reeked of Oprah’s Book Club. But once I started reading it I appreciated Walls’ writing and was moved by her story.

Like Frank McCourt’s ultra-popular Angela’s Ashes, the Glass Castle is a dark memoir about a dysfunctional family crippled by the father’s alcoholism and the mother’s loose grip on reality.”


The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

As nice as Christmas is, as enjoyable as Thanksgiving can be, my very favourite holiday is New Year’s.

My affinity for it is partly genetic. My Scottish ancestors would, of course, go to church on Christmas but they wouldn’t exchange presents until Hogmanay– the Gaelic word for New Year’s Eve – and then they'd party until the early morning. New Year's Eve was the biggest celebration of the year.

In fact, my grandparents’ generation was the first one in my family to open presents on Christmas morning. I was raised with the annual tradition of first footing, a ceremony I look forward to every year.

But what I like most about NYE is that unlike other holidays it looks ahead to the future. Thanksgiving, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Canada Day, whatever, they’re all anniversaries or commemorate past events. They all invite retrospection and contemplation of the past. That’s good and necessary, but it doesn’t always encourage progress.

New Year’s, on the other hand, is filled with optimism.  Sure, you can reflect on the past year, but the emphasis is on planning and hoping for the best in the next 365 days. There’s a blank slate ahead of you and December 31st is your day to figure out what you’re going to create. On January 1st, you put that plan in to motion.

As you'd expect, I’m pretty crazy about resolutions. I probably average a dozen every year, covering every aspect of my life. I always make sure I’ve got at least one resolution for my health, personal relationships and my career. I like to be thorough.

Kathryn Schulz’s “Even absurd new year's resolutions do you good” in today’s Guardian reaffirmed my love of the resolution. 

“Our resolutions are not failed acts of the will, but successful acts of the imagination. You will not enrol in a doctoral programme and spend more time with your kids and lose 20 pounds in 2011 just by resolving to do so. But you will be far more doomed to fail­ - and far more emotionally impoverished - if you never even dream up those plans in the first place.

“That’s why our resolutions, even at their most delusional, strike me as the best possible way to start a new year. They bring us back in contact with all the phantom versions of ourselves, those reverse ghosts that haunt our future, waiting to be embodied. Just as other forms of wrongness as optimism propel us out of bed the morning after a wasted day, our annual resolutions propel us into a new year, hopeful all over again that we will be better people in the days to come.”

It’s that recommitment to one’s self that I find so appealing. It’s something that anyone can do. It doesn’t matter if you’re religious or an atheist. Your age, race, gender or sexual preference are inconsequential.

Refocusing and reconsidering one’s life are all-inclusive pursuits and healthy ones to boot. Unlike other holidays, New Year’s Eve transcends all the cultural divisions we place on ourselves. It’s more accessible than any other day of the year and an opportunity to create some positivity in our lives.

New Year’s is a universal celebration.

I love that feeling of renewal and rejuvenation and I hope that after reading this post you take a few minutes today or tomorrow to evaluate and plan your new year.

All the best to you and yours and have a happy and productive 2011.


Allow me to re-introduce myself…

Hello and welcome to John Chidley!

As you can see in several other places on this website, I’m a sports journalist living in Toronto, Ontario and I love reading, writing, and basically everything else that pop culture has to offer. I'll be using this blog to write about all those things, particularly sports.

But why spend time every weekday to write 400+ words? Check the bullet points:

  • First of all, it’s important to write every day. Just like a baseball player getting in batting practice, it’s good for me to work on my swing, whether it’s laying down bunts or jacking dingers. It keeps my work sharp and will make me a better writer.
  • Also, there are many, many things that I’d like to write about that really aren’t saleable. Either their relevance is too fleeting, I’m not experienced enough to handle such a large story, or it’s something that only interests me. Trust me, no one wants to buy a 600-word feature story on why I love Booster Gold. (And if you do, you can contact me at jhm [dot] chidley [dot] hill [at]!)
  • Finally, this will be my home base as my career develops. As my portfolio grows, I’ll provide links or other information on where my writing can be found.

Anyway, enough of this introduction. Time to get down to business.

I hope you enjoy this site. I know I will.

-          John