Monday, January 13, 2020

And the band played Wake Up Little Sushi

TANKS FOR THE MEMORIES: Keep your friends close,
your anemones closer.
Here’s something I just learned. 

When a giant red sea cucumber  --  one of the 450-odd creatures that make their home in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Aquarium in downtown Toronto -- feels threatened, it frightens off its predator by ejecting a portion of its gut out through its anus. And I totally get that. When I'm scared who knows what might happen?

But that’s not my point.

My point is, that giant red sea cucumber factoid is just one of the countless important things I learned this past Friday evening, when my wife Helena and I visited Ripley’s aquarium for its monthly Friday Jazz Night. 

You heard right. Twelve Fridays a year, the aquarium features live jazz, from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. Visitors can wander among  more than 16,000 marine critters sipping wine or beer; specifically,  Lagoon Lager, listening to live jazz.

It’s even more fun than it sounds. It's like you're dancing with the fishies!
Horn player and singer

And you want to talk educational? 

The red sea cucumber intel was just a tiny sample of all the stuff we learned. Here's six more take-home gems.

6. English is weird. Not only did we see several rock bass and striped bass, I saw a bass clarinet. Bass and bass. What are ESL learners supposed to do with a situation like that? I'm sure glad I was born knowing the language and didn't have to, like, learn it.

5. The bass clarinettist was one of the Sonny Balcones, the jazz combo that outshone even the most Finding Nemo-ish creatures at the aquarium Friday. I'd say the Sonny Balcones were worth the price of admission. At centre stage: A laughing trumpet-playing lead singer named Corry Ouellette. When we first got there, Ouellette wore a long silvery sequined dress that looked like it could have made from the same sparkly stuff the school of shimmer fish in the tank directly over Ouellette's head were wearing. For the second set, Ouellette changed into a flappers-style mini -- get it? flapper? oh never mind -- and her third-set look was long, slinky and if you really used your imagination could be seen as mermaidy. The Sonny Balcones not only took the gig seriously, they had serious fun and even had people up dancing. Imagine! At the aquarium! The Sonny Balcones: Two fins up! Four starfish out of four! Catch them if you can. Tell me to stop making fish puns!
preps you for being under a shark.

4. The glimmering fishes wearing the same look as Ouellette? They're "alewives". Why isn’t the person who named these fish famous? Another winner? Hands down the biggest fattest laziest and by my reckoning the contentedist critter in the place -- an underwater Jabba The Hut--is the Potato Grouper.

3. Speaking of inventive, I’d love to have been at the meeting where somebody came up with the idea of mixing live jazz with live fish. It's like pineapple on pizza. Who would have thought it would work? At Ripley's Friday, everybody in the joint was laughing and joking. It was a fish party. 

2. Walking under a two-metre long shark with its teeth bared is simply not an activity that human brains have evolved to handle with ease. It didn't matter that we were safely separated from the sharks by what I'm sure was thick plexiglass, it felt just a tad unnerving; very easy in fact to identify with that giant red sea cucumber we discussed back up there at the beginning of the story.

1. Finally, Jazz at the Aquarium would be a marvelous first date. Unless you're a sea cucumber.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

How to Get an F in French

EH VOILA: My first peek at the Far Side
Photo by Chuck Swinden, first published in Northern Life
When I was growing up in the west end of the Northern Ontario mining community of Sudbury, I attended St. Albert's Catholic Elementary school for exactly eight years and one half day.

Yup. An extra half day.

On what was supposed to be my second day of kindergarten, instead of heading up the hill to St. Albert's, I snuck around the house and hid under the back porch where I remained until it was safe to come out, certain that I wouldn't have to go back to school ever again.

Here's why:

We Carters — and there were lots of us — lived a block south of St. Albert’s, on Eyre Street. I was the youngest of 10,  so was the last to go to school. 

My parents Tom and Huena were extremely progressive and thought it wouldn’t be bad if we were bilingual so they gave us a choice: St. Albert’s had two streams; one French and one English. Most took the easy route and went English though my sister Mary wisely opted for French and is now fully bilingual with I believe two university degrees; one in either official language.

But more than two streams, St. Albert’s actually consisted of two schools: the first floor was English; the second storey French.

And I just thought of something. We called St. Albert’s a separate school. Until 10 minutes ago, I thought that meant, separate, as in “not public.”

But what it really meant was that it kept two cultures firmly and distinctly and — I should add  unfortunately — separated. 

The French and English kids had separate classes, separate administrations, separate entry and exit times. Separate Christmas concerts. Separate everythings.

The French kids’ 15-minute morning and afternoon recesses were 15 minutes before ours, so we could hear them in the yard, having way more fun than us while we were still in whatever class we had before recess.

I’m sure there was a logical explanation for the separation but for the life of me; I mean literally —  for as long as I’ve been on earth — I haven’t been able to make sense of it.

All we knew was that the French kids were different and I’m certain it was a case of vice versa, too.

A few years ago, I was at a street festival in downtown Toronto and had a conversation with a woman that went something like this:

Her: “You’re from Sudbury, you say? My husband’s from Sudbury.”
PETIT CHIEN CHAUDE: Who thought he
could outsmart the system.

Me: “Really? What part?”

Her: “West end. Pine street.”

Me:  “Ha! I was raised on Eyre, which is very close. I wonder what elementary school he attended.”

Her: “St. Albert's.”

Me: “What year was he born?”

Her: “57.”

Me: “Me too! What’s his name?”

Her: She said a French name, that I remember but won’t use here because I didn’t ask her permission.

The thing was, he and I had never met. He was French!

She and I laughed and commented how strange it was and I was like, “to us English kids, all we knew was the French kids liked to fight; the boys were dumb and the girls were easy.” 

(I've not sure but I'm pretty sure my bilingual sister Mary is no easier than the other Carter women.)

We were laughing a lot by this time. 

Her again: “My husband thought the same thing about the English and he didn't find out until he was at university that English moms and dads sleep together, too, just like French ones.”

Here’s something weird. 

I had a friend in high school and then university named Raymond Cote; one of the coolest kids around. 

He rode a motorcycle, had more than his share of artistic ability and super taste in music. Loved parties. 

Get this. Ray was my age. He lived directly across the street from St. Albert’s, two houses west of my aunt Kaye MacDonald. He, like, me, was Catholic though I should add that the French and English Catholic kids attended separate churches, too. The English St. Clement's was kitty corner from the school; the French St. Eugene's was another block north. Sheesh!

Ray and I didn't even get to know each other until high school.

(Of course Ray Cote was one of the brightest kids I ever hung out  with.)

Decades after I had left Sudbury, Northern Life newspaper published that photo of St. Albert's being demolished and I realized that was the first time I got a look at the second floor of the building. 

I can’t believe I’m not making this up!

And that, to make a short story very long, is why on day two of KG, my mom found me under the porch..

When I was four, I thought I’d be smart and attend French school. So my very first day of school was spent in French kindergarten. surrounded by people speaking a language I couldn’t understand a word of.  I did not see an upside.

And my mom — who I should add spoiled me something perfect — never forced me to go back.

I missed kindergarten in either official language. 

So here I sit; unilingual and really bad at colouring inside the lines. 

Monday, December 30, 2019

Would I join any Hub's Club that would have me as a member?

SUDBURY, ONTARIO: It just occurred to me, after all these years,
what the "SO" stood for.  And you're surprised I still believe in Santa?

When I was a very young kid growing up in Sudbury, Ont., we had two TV stations: CKSO and CKNC. Three if you were French.

The two we Carters mostly watched were CBC and CTV affiliates and one of them — CKSO which I believe was the CTV station — was  broadcast out of a studio located at the very top of the street that I grew up on.

Twice in my life did I visit that mysterious and exciting place; both times to appear on TV.

One of those visits involved lining up to see Santa Claus to tell him what I wanted for Christmas. I and my pal who came with me were in the latter half of our elementary-school years; a fact not lost on the man in red.

When we got to the podium, he leaned in and whispered,  “How old are you boys anyway?”

We told him. Santa said, “You’re a little old for this sort of thing aren’t you?”  (He was a fraud. The real McCoy would never have said anything so klutzy.)

The only other time I remember visiting the studio, I did so as part of what might be called a gang.

Like a lot of local TV stations, the Sudbury broadcaster produced a live after-school kids’ show, featuring a local host who somehow entertained small groups of visiting kids, for 15 minutes or a half hour at a time. I’m talking versions of Razzle Dazzle or Tiny Talent Time, two big-time shows with actual budgets and paid professional talent. (Meantime, if anybody out there can remember what the local hosts did to keep the visiting audiences amused, I’d like to hear it.)

I recall two Sudbury versions of said children's shows: Hub’s Club  and  Cook’s Clubhouse.  The latter was hosted by a local personality named Joe Cook.
HUB-A-DUB-DUB: A recipe for success in Sudbury?
Good looks and hockey scars

The other host was Hub Beaudry, who before becoming a Sudbury TV personality, had a brief career as a kick-ass major junior hockey player, a detail that you should never forget makes a Canadian job seeker’s resume sparkle; as in, “Mmmm. It says here you played right wing for the London Knights? Was that the ’86 Knights or the later, more defence-oriented squad? Doesn’t matter. You can start as bank president Thursday.” And I know nothing about hockey. 
(But I digress.)

For me, far more significant than his hockey career was the fact that Hub Beaudry sometimes attended and took up the collection at St. Clement’s Roman Catholic Church, the parish we Carters spent so much of our time at. Yes, a local TV celebrity attended St. Clement’s.

And that gang of kids that showed up for Hub’s Club? Most of us were altar boys. (Now there’s a position it’s safe to leave off the old c.v.—ed.)

We were all in grade six or seven. Hub mentioned that we looked familiar.
NO ANGELS HERE: Beneath the surface of every altar boy you'll find a
a potty mouthed felon. Exhibit A: The Hub's Cub joke.
Exhibit B: I swiped these photos off the Internet

And we may have been altar boys, but we weren’t wusses.

Case in point:  Hub asked us if we knew any good jokes.

“What’s hairy,” one of my altar-boy colleagues asked, “and sticks out of your pajamas?”

Sensing danger, Hub quickly moved the microphone away.

But not fast enough.

The jokester — who I proudly add remains my friend to this day — yelled, “your head!”

Now that was entertainment.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

I is for Italian

Sometimes when I can’t get to sleep at night, I alphabetize lists in my head: Places I’ve flown to; models of cars I’ve driven; people’s names that go naturally together: Alex & Brenda (My brother and sister-in-law); Chuck &  Di, Eddie & Flo, and like that.
LITTLE ITALY: Cultivated gardens and lots'n'lots of wine

Invariably, I nod off before I get anywhere near the tail end of the alphabet.

And here’s something you might find surprising, the more challenging the list, the more effective it is at putting me to sleep.

One night a few weeks ago, I set the alphabetizing bar at an unprecedented level. Said I to myself:  “When you were growing up in the west end of Sudbury, Peter, you sure knew a lot of Italians.  I bet you could do an alphabetical list of their surnames.”

I’m not making up a word of this.


First one was easy: Anselmo. Tony Anselmo.  A few years older than me but from the same side of town, Tony Anselmo became something of a well-loved local character because he eventually owned a very popular hangout on Elm Street, the Records On Wheels store.

Second?  Easier.  Bortolussi.  Alfredo. My very first day in grade one, they sat us in alphabetical order and I found myself behind named a kid named Alfredo Bortolussi and then — I find this hard to believe — he and I not only finished grade eight at St. Albert's, we were altar boys at St. Clement’s Church; we both attended St. Charles boys’ school then switched to Sudbury Secondary school and then and then…Fred and I went to Carleton university in Ottawa!

I haven’t seen Fred in ages. I heard he's a teacher. Must have enjoyed school more than I ever did.

But I sure like him. Have since grade one.

C? Another minimal brainer. Ciccolini. Michael to be specific. 
 LPs them what LPs themselves
 I probably didn’t spell his surname right but wouldn’t be surprised if I did.

He, too, was an altar boy and I remember once many years later when I was home visiting from Carleton, my folks took me out to a restaurant called the Silver Beach Tavern, and Mike--I think he was the head waiter or owner or something--brought some wine to the table and said, “This is way better than that homemade stuff we used to swipe from my dad when we were kids, eh Pete?” (Just what my parents needed to hear.  Thanks, Mike.)

That’s one of the things about the Italians. All their dads made wine. Lots and lots of wine.  It was no big deal for the kids to have wine with meals.

Another thing? All of the Italian guys had terrific-looking sisters. In fact, my brother Alex married one of them. But I digress.



Putting a whole bunch of west-end Sudbury Italian names in alphabetical order was way easier than I thought. Maybe that’s why they call it the Roman alphabet. Hahahaaha!

Fabbro. Fabbros were everywhere. Joe Fabbro was mayor for goodness’ sake. And remember I talked about being an altar boy? One of the older altar boys was Ron Fabbro, who must have been the Kahwi Leonard of altar boys because he is now a Roman Catholic bishop, in London, Ont.

Galardo and Grottoli. I have to use two G names because according to the rules of my mental alphabetizing game, if you can’t come up with a name that corresponds to the next letter, you have to find two that work with the previous letter, and I’m pretty sure I'll never find an Italian surname beginning with H. 

Okay, Gallo, too, because I got nothing for I either.

Speaking of, I will be passing Roy Gallo’s house tomorrow when I visit my sister Norma who lives on the same street that Roy grew up on. It’s one of Sudbury's tonier (ha-ha) neighbourhoods.

Which reminds me of something else.

Not only did all the Italian guys all have pretty sisters, their houses and yards were meticulously maintained, with colourfully painted wood trim and flourishing gardens. Which is all the more astonishing because so many of their dads had at least two jobs: one at INCO, the huge mining company, and another at their own family business.

Did those guys ever stop working? When did they find time to make wine?

I bet that when they hit the sack, they never had to make up dumb head games to help them nod off.

I’m stopping here.

Not only do I forget what point I was trying to make but it was me I was trying to put to sleep, not you!

Buon Natale!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

All the Pellis News That's Fit to Print

 LIFE IMITATING PULP: Why did Mother Nature give us
siblings if we can't exploit them?
Pellis News--or "Pellis's"--was a variety store precisely one city block east of the house in which we Carters grew up in the northern Ontario mining town of Sudbury.

About the same number of steps from our home in a northerly direction was the elementary school  that we Carters all attended--St. Albert's--but Pellis's was where a few of us got most of our education.

To whit: It was at Pellis's that I learned how to buy smokes.

After I got to maybe seven or eight years of age, my dad and later my older brother Tom sent me with some regularity to Pellis's to buy "large Export Plains," which meant when the time came for me to start sneaking smokes at 11 or 13, Export Plain was the only brand I knew how to buy.

Pellis's sold everything a human needed to survive: birthday presents, greeting cards, pop, ice cream and several hundred different types of candy, from two-cent paper straws filled with sugary something to boxes of Mother's Day chocolates.

The racks along the south wall? A magazine lover's paradise though young Peter had neither the height nor the nerve to reach way up there to the very back rows from where the Playboy magazine models smiled down at him.

But MAD and Cracked and Archie Comics Digests? Right at shin level and here's something: I don't recall any signs that read: "Buy'em here; read'em at home." (Speaking of Pellis's magazines, I just remembered something  that verges on the miraculous. I'll get to it in a minute.)

Pellis's was for hanging out at. It was west end Sudbury's pre-Internet version of  Facebook.

The store did God's work in many many ways

To Pellis's-purchased Classics Illustrated comics (and Bugs Bunny operas) I attribute much of the stuff I pretend to know about western civilization's finest art and culture.
 DUMAS FOR DUMMIES: Therein we studied
the canon

Right near Pellis's westernmost wall was a pinball machine with a sign that read "Restricted to 16 and over" or something like that.

I find this hard to believe but we little guys used to pay the older boys to let us share the machine. Using the nickel we provided, the older kid would, with his right hand, press the ball release and right flipper while I--feeling very grown up and somewhat sinister -- got to press the left flipper button.

To do this, we asked the older guys "to let us play a flipper," which now sounds really creepy.

That my dad sweated every day and night to earn those nickels that I then wasted in Pellis's pinball machines never ceases to astound.

I think I was a bit spoiled.

Perpendicular to the pinball machines hung row after row of paperback novels, many of them very--to a 10-year-old boy--provocatively covered.

Mickey Spillanes were my favourite.

I included that picture of the novel called Norma: How low can a woman sink? because of the following true story.

When she was a teenager, my older sister Norma actually worked at Pellis's. Many of the older guys had a crush on Norm and I remember exactly where I was standing when one of them--who went on to be a Mountie--picked this exact item from Pellis's bookshelf and waved it in my sister's direction, saying: "Norma. How Low Can A Woman Go?"

Mr. Mountie-to-be also had a lisp and I thought he sounded, well, worldly. The depths of my little-boy idiocy would challenge Jacques Cousteau.

Here's where we get to the miraculous part.

Much, much later in life, I grew up to be a magazine and newspaper editor.  A not-insignificant arrow in my journalistic quiver was my ability to write attention-getting headlines. One of my mentors, the founding editor of the Toronto Sun, Peter Worthington, said my facility with headlines could be attributed to the fact I was the youngest of 10 and learned early how to get attention. He might have been on to something.

Worthington and I were not the only ones who figured I had a flair for catchy titles. A bunch of  years ago, I won second prize in the "Best magazine headline writer in the country contest" (or something like that), held by the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors. I was thrilled.

SILVER-PENNED WALSH: He has headline writing
down Pat.
But pay attention.

The guy who won gold--and I hope you appreciate how painful it is for me to admit this-- writes headlines so sparklingly they make mine look like Ikea furniture-assembly manuals.

His name is Patrick Walsh and he is the editor of Outdoor Canada magazine.

But that's not important.

What's important is Pat's father Bud was born four houses north of me, on Eyre Street. Patrick's grandparents Frank and Mary were almost like members of our family.

And I happen to know that when Pat--empirically the best magazine cover line writer in the whole country--was a kid, he often visited his grandfather's house and from there, he would sometimes be sent on errands to--I'm getting all teary-eyed excited in a Lourdesy sorta way about this--Pellis's.

Where all the great magazines were.

Pellis News.

It's no longer in business. I'm pretty sure that its owner, Gino Pellis, has since died and gone to heaven.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

My late brother Ed

This Saturday past, my older brother Alex and I spent a few hours visiting another of the Carter boys,
TOM'S KNEE: That's me sitting on it. It would also be
a great name for a bar. 
Tom, in the northern Ontario village of Elliot Lake where he lives with his patient, loving and very witty spouse Judy.

I love Tom a lot. Alex and Judy, too, but this is about Tom, because I'm very old fashioned and think it's good to love the person you sleep with and God knows I spent a lot of years in bed with Tom.

Historical fact? We grew up in a three-bedroom house. My parents had a room to themselves; one of the others was for the girls and Tom, Alex, Ed and I slept in the boys' room. (My eldest brother Pat had moved out of the family home by the time I was old enough to remember anything.)

And in that boys' room was a set of bunks and a twin bed. Alex and Eddie got the bunkbeds so I, the smallest, shared the twin with Tom who was the biggest.

And this is just eerie:  For some reason, I will never forget a poem I learned back then and it went like this: 

When my brother Tommy
Sleeps in bed with me.
He curls up
and makes

Interesting thing about sharing a bed with Tom was, by the time I started grade one at St. Albert's Separate School, Tom had put formal education on hiatus and was out in the working world and didn't keep the same hours as the three youngest boys. He was gone when I awoke each morning and seldom home when I went to sleep.

Which brings me to my late brother Ed.

He's not dead, btw; Ed's  just more comfortable than I am with being, like, you know, not precisely on time for some stuff.

For that, I blame my mom. Here's why:

When we were little, on every school morning that I can remember, my mother Huena would get us three Carter boys out of bed with a variation of the following.

From the bottom of the stairs that went up to our bedroom on the second floor, Huena called, "Alex Eddie and Peter get up for school!"

If it were a special saint's feast day, she had more ammunition. "It's the feast of St. Blaise. You have to go to Mass to get your throats blessed! Get up!"


Five minutes later. "Alex Eddie and Peter get up for school! Don't make me call your father!"

By this time of day our dad Tom Sr. had put in a few hours' work at the bus garage down the street from our house. No way was he was going to traipse home to scare us into getting up, but if you think  reality was going to stop her, you've never met Huena.

Every so often she'd go so far as to loudly dial the telephone and be like, "Tom? It's never been this bad. The boys won't listen to me. Would you please come home from the garage?"

More crickets.

In fact Huena never phoned, and EVEN IF SHE HAD, my dad wasn't scary. My parents didn't believe in corporal or for that matter any kind of punishment, another reality ignored at that moment by Huena. Believe it or not, she even on occasion faked the front door slamming as if Dad had arrived. I'm not making up a word of this.

Here's the thing.

What happened next always always always unfolded in the same fashion.

Me being the youngest and suckiest would eventually roll out of bed and into the bathroom (we only had one) first, allowing Alex and Eddie a few more precious moments under the covers. And then, as if we'd rehearsed, after I'd come out of the bathroom, Alex would relent, allowing Eddie to log more mattress time. I'm quite certain we always arose in the same order.

I think Ed owes me and Alex something. I'm not sure what.

I'm also not sure why I started telling you this story. Or if my sisters gave Mom a hard time in the mornings but probably not.  All my sisters are as flawless as the Blessed Virgin.

Wait now I remember.

Ed was so good at staying in bed longest that he  sometimes showed up at St. Albert's after the bell had rung.

My late brother Ed.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

How to not park your car

Photo by Peter Parker.

The late comedian George Carlin had a shtick about how confusing things should be when a judge instructs a witness to describe what happened “using your own words.”


Who besides tiny babies use their own words?  

What good would answering “in your own words” be if nobody else understands?”

Friday past, it occurred to me I know somebody who used her own words a lot. 

My mom. 

The late Huena Carter went through life employing a wholly invented purpose-built vocabulary.

Take, for example, “peeyohseeohdee.”

Peeohseeohdee is how Huena — a registered nurse — referred to private parts.  Funny though I’ve never written the word before and I think in our heads she was saying the letters P.O.C.O.D. Why we thought that, nobody will ever know.

She also sometimes called those parts “your doins’” which she frequently made plural so it came out “doins’s.”

Huena gave birth to 10 kids so she knew a thing about what doins’s did.

So why you ask, did I take time out of my otherwise busy day Friday to recollect Huena’s “own words?”

The answer is, because Friday evening I did a real non-bang-up job of parallel parking my 2011 Chevy Malibu.

As regular readers (as if ) of Pete’s Blog&Grille know, I  think parallel parking should be an Olympic event as long as they keep the technology out of it. Back-up cameras are to competitive parkers what steroids are to real sports.
And while I’ll concede that my next-door neighbor Delanie is the Kawhi Leonard of parallel parking, I am fairly certain I am the second-best parallel parker on our mid-town Toronto street.  

If you’d been here Friday night, you’d have watched me slip my aging Malibu into a slot tighter than where the money comes out at the ATM. But nobody was on hand, so I documented the event myself, and it was while doing that that I laughed out loud (really did! Standing there on the street!) because I thought of Huena’s “own words” again. 

For some reason Huena — and I’m warning you, this next part is pretty graphic — called having a bowel movement — “parking.”

True fact.

If  I — at five years old — was with my mom in, say,  the A&P store and announced that I had to “go to the bathroom,” Huena might ask “do you have to go number one” or “do you have to park?”

Ask any of my siblings. They know what parking means. 

I Googled “parking as a synonym for b-m’s” and Google was like, “the hell you say!”

A few years ago, I went and got scoped as men over 50 ought to do every once in a while. Everything was fine but for reason that I won’t go into here, the affects of the anesthetic weren’t quite as strong as I might have liked.

After I got home I was a little sore.

My brother Alex asked me how I felt.

I answered: “Like I just parked dad's Buick.”

I’ve changed my mind. 

You know what's a really bad idea for the next Olympics? Parallel parking.