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During the long, grinding lockdown here in Canada, so many have had and still have it way worse than our family. All four of us (including the dog) are healthy, and Marcia and I remain gainfully employed. I thank our lucky stars that we’ve been, so far, unaffected by anything other than boredom and monotony. All I have to gripe about are the first-world problems of the affluent.

I remain conflicted about my Vault subscription with Third Man Records (TMR). Four times a year, TMR ships me a release for around $70 (all prices in USD). The title is generally announced a month or so before it’s shipped, so there’s never really a surprise when it arrives. The albums are beautifully pressed and of exceedingly high quality, and the packaging is truly deluxe. The package usually includes at least two LPs, often with a 7″ 45rpm bonus disc, and some sort of glossy booklet. For some inexplicable reason, TMR often includes a DVD of concert footage. Given that I haven’t had a DVD player hooked up for years now, I don’t get much satisfaction from this inclusion.

You’d think the Great Pandemic of 2020 would create the perfect conditions for getting some writing done. Well, if you lived in the Thorpe household, you’d be wrong. Back in July, we decided to invite risk, expense, and chaos into our lives and start some major home renovations. We bashed down some walls to make our first floor into one large open-concept space, re-doing the kitchen at the same time. The second-floor bathroom became a full-on gut job, and the basement powder room (a small room with a toilet and sink, in case that euphemism isn’t shared by the rest of the world) also got some love.

“You’re the writer I want to be when I grow up.”

That’s how I introduced myself to Art Dudley when I first met him, in 2005, at Le Festival Son et Image de Montréal.

The moment I heard of the death of Neil Peart (1952-2020), sorrow set in. That Peart was the drummer and lyricist of one of my favorite rock bands, Rush, would have been enough to set me into a spiral of introspection, but there’s more to my connection with Peart than the music of Rush. Like me, he was an avid motorcyclist, and many of his explorations of this continent mirror some of my own choices of bike and road. I’ve read a number of Peart’s books, many of which center around motorcycle riding and the mindset it engenders. His memoir Ghost Rider is a painfully honest description of a 55,000-mile motorcycle trek throughout North America, during which he tried to outrun his grief over the deaths, within ten months of each other, of his daughter and his wife.

Way back when, before the age of computer audio, about the time of the ascendancy of the Compact Disc, my expanding collection of records became unmanageable. Milk crates no longer cut it. I ended up buying a five-by-five Expedit shelving unit from IKEA and proceeded to at last sort my records.

As I write this, it’s back-to-school time at the Thorpe household. Little Toni is starting third grade, and Marcia the special-needs teacher is heading back to her class. The house gets a little crazy the day before school starts. Tensions run a touch high.

In my younger, poorer years, I spent an inordinate amount of my free time scouring garage sales and rummaging used-record stores for LPs. In those days, the early 1990s -- God help me, nearly 30 years ago -- used vinyl was plentiful and cheap.

A few months ago, I commissioned a new audio rack -- a double-wide, overbuilt, steel-and-wood monstrosity. Well, I recently got a call from the craftsman, Jason Trauzzi, who told me it was nearing completion. He was building the rack from 2” square-section steel tubing, a top shelf of 2”-thick walnut, and three lower shelves of 1”-thick walnut. The smartphone photos he sent me were stunning -- I figured I’d better get the rest of my ingredients in order.

Last February, my mother died. Her passing wasn’t unexpected -- she was 84 and not in good health. Still, it took me by surprise, and shook me up far more than I’d anticipated. The two years and more that I’d had to prepare myself didn’t mean squat. I’d thought I was ready, but -- there was no way to be ready for the death of my last remaining parent.