Saturday, January 15, 2022

My late brother Tom's trustworthy water craft

If I were going to phone Netflix and sell them a screenplay based on the the life of my older brother Tom, who passed away two years ago tomorrow, I'd call it "Striped Paint."

Here's why: 

When I was a kid, Tom--probably 20 at the time--brought home a second-hand aluminum canoe, and it was a beaut.

The canoe was called a SportsPal and was like no canoe you've seen. 

A lot of  stuff  Tom brought home fell into that category. I suddenly remembered a record called "The First Family;"  a whole LP of a guy impersonating characters in JFK's White House. I was around six when that showed up at our house and I'd sure bet it came courtesy of Tom. He also arrived home one night with a dog he won in a poker game. We named it "The Grump."

Back to the boat.

The SportsPal's most distinguishing feature? Bolted along either side were 10-foot long black styrofoam floatation thingies; sort of like noodles. You couldn't swamp this boat if you tried.

The craft measured 12-feet, tip to tip, which is unremarkable until you know that across its middle, the SportsPal was at least a yard wide. You couldn't tip the canoe either.

Flat-bottomed and aluminum, we ran the SportsPal over weeds and sand and rocks sticking out of the river and it emerged undamaged. And the SportsPal weighed about the same as a case of beer.

At some point, somebody decided to take a black magic marker and write, in block letters, on either side of the SportsPal's bow, "Titanic II."

Another feature was Tom's own innovation. I forget how, but  on the back of the SportsPal, Tom mounted a small electric motor powered by an actual car battery that sat on the bottom of the canoe.  

I'm having a hard time believing this myself. 

The unsinkable untippable unwreckable SportsPal that we had so many good times with was not only perfect for Tom, it was a lot like Tom.

He loved water but never learned to swim. He told me if he was on a boat and it sank, he'd just drop to the bottom and run.

Which brings us to why Tom's biopic should be titled "Striped Paint." 

SportsPal canoes came with a distinctive paint job. Tom's was blue-ish, with three-quarter inch long black flecks. Hard to describe. (See what I mean about Tom and the SportsPal sharing traits?)

Tom was generous with his boat too. He let me and my pals fart around with that canoe as much as we wanted. We probably got as much use out of it as he did. 

He was like that with everything. Fact: When I was in the early grades of school and Tom worked at a copper refinery, almost every day he'd arrive home after work, hand me his lunch pail, I'd open it and find money he left in there for me. Maybe he loved me so much because we shared a bed for many years and you should love the one you sleep with but that's a different blog altogether. I also trusted Tom and believed him when he told me that the composers Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey were born and raised in Levack, Ont., which is a tiny village north of Sudbury.

After a few years of being paddled, beaten up, thrown around and left out in the bad weather, the old SportsPal started to show its age.  Tom said it was time we touched it up.

I hate to admit how old I was when this occured but Tom handed me a bunch of money--I already knew I was going to get to keep the change--and told me to go to Cochrane's Hardware and ask for striped paint.

I did.

Tom also once told me there was a restaurant in Toronto that was so exclusive that after the server brought you food  but before you took a bite, a person from every country in the world had a tiny taste of the meal to make sure it was prepared correctly. 

I've been in Toronto since '85. I'll let you know when I find it.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Three-ring journalism

"Sixty-three days ago, I shared with my daughter Ria, 16, an important driving lesson. I taught her which swear words to use when you back up into a police car."

Ria's now 30. I wrote about the cop car crash in 2008.  

I know because last week, my wife Helena used a three-hole punch and old school binder to assemble and present me with all of the columns I wrote during the 12 and change years I was editor of Today's Trucking magazine, and the constable's car was among them. (Driving lessons learned the hard way. A crash course, but you were already thinking that.)

We're talking over 120 columns.

One of them was called Playing the Fuel Game, a diversion I invented driving Ria, her sister Ewa and Michel to high school en route to my office.

I tuned the radio dial to whatever number I saw on gas station price signs: "It started at a Shell near our home. Gas was $1.07.1 a litre. That's also the number for the classic rock station Q107. A block further, a PetroCan sign said 107.5, which, I discovered, is the freqency for 'Cool FM.'" 106.5 played hip hop. And..."At one point, the posted gas price took my radio dial to a station broadcasting the Roman Catholic Mass."

IN YOUR FACEBOOK: Month after month of trucking fun

Another column? Getting a colonoscopy without anesthetic. I mistakenly had the procedure done without any pain relief and it hurt like hell and in my column afterward,  I advised against it.  Truck drivers have to know.

Clearly, leafing through the three-ring binder  I figured they also had to know about:

* The old Night Rider pinball machine I've been carting around with me for 40 years;

*  How we learned to fight the French kids at St. Albert's School in Sudbury;

* Why, if you're getting a tattoo and you're, like, 18, you should anticipate the aging process and maybe have the tattoo designed like a MAD fold-in so what looks like an eagle when you're 18 might resemble a butterfly at 45, when you have extra skin.

*  How many years I shared a bed with my late brother Tom, and how that affected the decisions I make on a day-to-day basis;

* How much time I spent practising "Vegetables on Parade" on my accordion so I could play it at the truck show in Winnipeg.

If Pete's Blog&Grille conducted a 23& Me, it would discover it is a direct descendent of the column. I'm really grateful to Newcom Business Media the publishing company for letting me keep the name even after I left the outfit; a fact that, you'll be glad to know, brings us to the reason I'm writing this. 

Yesterday, Jan. 7, 2022, I received a message from my successor at Today's Trucking, John G. Smith. After wishing me a happy new year, John G. handed along the following message.  

Hello Mr. Carter,

I'm sure this may be a tough or impossible request, but I was recently made aware of an article you did focusing on my late Uncle, Wayne Johnston. He was a trucker from Cardigan, P.E.I., and worked for Kings County Construction (which happens to also be my current employer). I was able to turn that into a gift for my father, his youngest sibling, this past Christmas. It was without question the most moved I've ever seen my old man, and many of the rest of the family has reached out to me about being able to have their own copy of it. While I can copy it easily enough, I know everyone loves having an original, so I thought I would reach out to see if backissues/old copies are even a thing that can be tracked down. Worst case scenario, I wanted to let you know how much the article meant to his family and friends. It stirred up a lot of wonderful memories and for that, you have the thanks of so many people. Lastly, I've attached a copy of how it turned out framed, just so you can see the great gift it led to. It only seemed fitting to have it framed in his Kenworth blue. Thank you so much, Tyler Johnston

Nice letter, huh? The column Tyler's referring to is the 18th page of this wonderful collection. It was called titled "Wayne's Real World" but it's also an eye opening peek into Peter's real world. I love this letter and I never use the word love lightly. 

Which reminds me. Here's one final indisputable shred of  evidence that planet Peter's a place I wanna stay.

Among the 120-odd columns is a story about how to mismanage business, and it begins "I was in bed with the missus." 

Read that again.

I wrote an actual business magazine column with real information in it that began with "I was in bed with the missus."

She stuck around!

And years later assembled this mind-blowing collection of magazine columns. For me. Life is one miracle after another.

(One final note: This entire adventure could not have happened without the assistance of  Today's Trucking Art Director Frank Scatozza, who was on staff when I was editor and -- to the  company's credit -- is still in charge of making everything work. If ever anybody wants to meet the emodiment of diligence, creativity and accommodation, ask and I'll introduce you to Frank.)

Friday, December 24, 2021

Victoria wins Christmas, Iris makes herstory

My learned pal Victoria
Meet  lawyer Victoria Shroff.  

You'd like her.

Victoria's specialty is animal law.

From her Vancouver base, Victoria acts on behalf of all creatures furry, scaley, and feathery. 

She has fought to get an elephant out of jail and a dog off death row. Whether they're warm-blooded, cold-blooded, four-legged, two-legged or no-legged, all creatures big and small have the good-hearted Victoria in their corner.  

And this year, at least around these parts, she won more than a court case. She won Christmas.

Before I tell you how, we gotta go back almost four years. I'd landed a job at The Lawyer's Daily and my wife Helena celebrated by announcing "Congratulations on the new job Peter!" on a sign in our front window. 

More than announcing my cool new position, the sign was also a non-nuanced telegraph to the neighbours. Helena's mate got a real job! We also still have a land line. I think H is partial to it because gets me off the couch,

But that's beside the point.

Her honour Judge Iris presiding

For years before the new job and weird sign, the front window was our white cat Iris's purview. (Purr view. Can you believe I haven't used that before today? Me neither.) 

For as long as I can remember, Iris watched the world through that window. Then, after the sign arrived, Iris worked it, for more than two years!! (See here.)

At one point, Iris referenced Victoria the animal-loving lawyer.  

Meanwhile, in her spare time (ha-ha) Victoria penned a real law text called Animal Law in Canada. It's the first of its kind and I'm sure the book will be consulted broadly. (Animal law today is where environmental law was when I was a kid--in its infancy but about to explode. Just you watch.)

Yesterday, Victoria emailed me a picture of the cover of  the book and its acknowledgment page. I was thrilled to be named as somebody who played a small role in helping her bring this project to reality, but as she mentions in the kind message, others were involved. 

Including .... "And to Iris who years ago endearingly called me the Dr. Dolittle of Animal Lawyers.'"

Barely had Victoria's email arrived than I was like, copying and pasting and texting it all over the place. Sending it to my sister Charlene on Manitouin Island. Messaging co-workers. Telling my co-worker Adrian who works graveyard shift in freaking Manila!

 En route to the bank I met my dog-loving neighbours Steve and Rita. They were like "Hi Peter. How are you?"

IRIS THE MUSE: Victoria's clients could teach us
all a thing or two.
Me, pointing to their beloved four-legged pal whose name escapes me: "That red coat he's wearing reminds me of my favourite longjohns!" Then I hauled out my iPhone. 

"More importantly, check this out. Iris has made history." 

I plan on framing the message and book cover. 

And now I'm blogging about it. 

And you know why it's so great? 

Victoria's timing was perfect. 

This surprise playful message came at a time when almost everybody I know has just about had it with this thing that's going around and all the stresses it brings. We need all the diversion we can get.

That said, for all the excitement surrounding Victoria's citation, when I pointed it out to Iris, she was  surprisingly nonchalant.  
Come to think of it, not only did Iris not get excited at this news, neither have she or any of the other other cats and dogs of my acquantance let COVID get them down. Through it all, they just got on with business as usual.  

I think they're on to something. 

Thanks Victoria;  thank you Iris and all the other animals; and Mewy Christmas everybody. 

Monday, November 22, 2021

Huena verses the world

My late mom Huena Carter (nee MacIsaac) was a singing machine.

Huena sang. All. The. Time.

She had a pretty voice, too. Probably soprano. She wasn't trained, and I don't recall her, like, you know, ever belting it out. Huena simply sang  just loudly enough that anybody within 15 feet of her could hear. 

But she sang all the time.

Huena sang as she baked gingerbread cookies; she sang when she threaded sheets and other laundry through the wringer washer; when she rocked babies. And probably as she was knitting her trademark ambidextrous mittens, which of course could be worn on either hand.

Seems to me Huena sang as much as she talked

I also know that after she left her home in Cape Breton in Nova Scotia and migrated as a single woman to the city of Sudbury to study nursing, she sang to fight off loneliness. I know that because for a few years near the end of her life, she kept a sort of a diary, in a notebook my wife Helena bought for her and in which Huena made mention of that very fact. 

At one point in the early 1940s some officious hospital supervisor told Huena that if she insisted on singing while at work she'd be sent home and wouldn't be able to finish school. Singing  in the hospital, he said, was just wrong.  

Happily,  Huena reported, a local physician who I figure probably had a crush on her, came to Huena's rescue and defended her right to sing. 

She sang on.

Her repertoire was vast and ribald. And she adapted her favourites. 

To wit: In Nat King Cole's hands, the song Honey went like this:

"I'm in love with  you, Honey,
Say you love me too, Honey
 No one else will do, Honey,
Seems funny but it's true.

"Loved you from the start, Honey'
Bless your little heart Honey,
Every day would be so sunny,
Honey, with you"

Here's Huena's rendition, which I like a heck of a lot more: 

"I'm in love with you, Peter
Say you love me, too, Peter
No one else will do, Peter
Seems funny but it's true.

"Loved you from the start, Peter
Bless your little heart, Peter
Every day would seem much sweeter,
Peter, with you." 

Speaking of, another of her favourites, she didn't have to adapt. Eddie my Love was made to order for my older brother. "Eddie my love, I love you only only.." 

Another Huena hit? A delightful item about a soldier with a severe stutter. Goes something like this:

Beautiful Katy
You're the only g-g-g-girl 
That I adore.

"When the m-moon shines
Over the c-cowshed
I'll be waiting for you by the k-kitchen door."

Remind me to ask my wife, a speech and language pathologist, if she finds that one as much fun as I do.

Many of mom's go-to's were old Scottish ballads like Donald where's your Troosers? 

"Let the wind blow high let the wind blow low, through the streets in my kilt I'll go;
All the lassies say 'helllooo' Donald where's your troosers?"

I'm thinking my eldest brother Pat named his youngest son Donald only so he'd get to hear Huena do that one.

What's really important is that when I needed all those lyrics for the purpose of this blog, they were right there where I needed them at the forefront of my brain. I started writing this about half an hour ago. Not one lyric did I have to look up. 

My singing mom engraved lyrics to Wild Colonial Boy and Bell Bottom Trousers in our brains right beside the words to the Our Father and the St. Clement's church Sunday Mass schedule. (9:00 a.m., 10:30, noon. If you slept in past noon you'd have to go to a suppertime French mass up at St. Eugene's.)   

Sometimes I think my mom had so many kids just so she could come up with songs for each one of us. 

Then again I'm such a slave to science I recognize that one of the reasons Huena had so many kids was that my equally Catholic dad Tom really liked when Huena sang. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

One hal of a hallowed evening

BROTHERS IN ARMS: Or in cigarettes, which 
can be just as important.

My daughter Ria to me: "How was Halloween on Grenadier?" (That's our street. Grenadier Road.)

Well now.

I figure between 100 and 125 trick or treaters showed up. Began as a trickle at about 5:30, grew to a steady flow by 6:30  and by seven, things were slowing down. Then around 7:20,  a neap tide of taller, slightly calmer kids revived the spirits for a bit.  That crowd, I can relate to.

So busy did the street get that, at the height of the trick-or-treating--during those extremely rare moments when the four shelling-out alleged grown-ups on our porch managed to stay silent long enough--you could hear ambient laughing and squealing from up and down the street. The air was electrified.

We hadn't heard anything like this for, well, 18 months or more.

Imagine experiencing this junk for the first time!
And the costumes? They get better every year. 

One of my favourites this week?

A kid, in the second batch who looked like he might be in grade five or eight (how would I know?), had a slightly beat-up tin saucepan for a hat.

My brother Eddie, who has been a Halloween fixture at our place for as long as I can remember, said, "Lemme guess. A pothead." The kid nodded.

Best new thing?

Eddie, me and my wife Helena had help shelling out from our neighbour and friend DaJing.

DaJing's about my age.

He and his wife Yan Ping immigrated from China a year and a half ago. But since nobody tricked or treated in 2020, this past Sunday was DaJing's first Halloween ever.


The costumes, the laughing families, the excited kids scurrying up the steps screaming "trick-or-treat" and their moms and dads, also dressed up (my hands-down fave was a mom wrapped in what must have been a few kilometres of cloth disguised as--what else?--a mummy) reminding them to be polite from the sidewalk with, "what do you say?" All this amid  a sheer ka-ka-storm of candy candy everywhere. 

Then imagine being DaJing seeing this for the first time from the vantage point of our eight-foot-by-eight-foot porch having beer, smokes, jokes, snacks and plain nutsing around with me, Eddie and Helena all competing for attention. I don't know about you, but at times like that, I just can't shut up. 

Pretty scary, huh?
But you also have to know this: A few months back, DaJing and I realized we could bridge the language barrier with--wait for it-- Google Translate. Everybody with access to the Internet can use Google Translate and it's the kind of technology my late mom Huena would deem miraculous. It even speaks Latin and Esperanto. 

TOWER OF BABBLE: My mom would deem
Google Translate a gift from God.
Real life example: I typed "My mom gave birth to 5 boys and 5 girls. I'm the youngest."

On DaJing's computer, Google translates it into Mandarin. 

DaJing types his response: "So you're the baby!" 

I read the English translation out loud while DaJing grins and moves his arms back and forth as if he's rocking a baby. 

And at the exact same moment as Eddie says "And he's still the baby," Helena's like, "you wanna talk spoiled? You wanna talk spoiled?" 

DaJing's still giggling but now he's also reaching into the little plastic pumpkin for another handful of OH HENRY!s to hand out to the kids. And he's laughing like a stoned teenager every time he does so.

You wanna talk chaos on the porch? 
Ed had never seen Google Translate before Sunday evening. When he figured out what it could do, he said, "If they had this when I was travelling around Thailand, I would have met lots more women." 

Then, tap tap tap, I could tell DaJing exactly what his new friend Ed said! 

Our goofy little party lasted the exact right amount of time: A hair shy of 120 minutes.

Just enough time to walk away with a few memorable lessons:

First, in response to Ria's original question about how Halloween was on Grenadier.

I can't imagine it being any better. Part of me believes this was the first post-pandemic party we've all been waiting for.  

Another lesson? You wanna talk something that doesn't need any frikkin' high-tech translation gizmo?



Saturday, October 23, 2021

How I stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb shelters

dig bomb shelters?
Until yesterday, I had never laid eyes on what has to be one of Ottawa, Ontario's, must-see tourist attractions. A visit to Canada's capital that doesn't include this site rivals Rome without the Vatican. Nashville but no Opry. 

I'm talking the Diefenbunker.

It's a four-storeys deep underground nuclear bomb shelter conceived in the late 1950s (just like me) then operated as an actual military installation until the Department of National Defence decommissioned it in--get this--1994! The thing has been a museum since 1998. 

On the fun/educational/weird scale, the Diefenbunker rates 11.5 outta 10. If you're a boomer, you'll be inhaling the forced reminiscence and memories. (Black ashtrays beside every black dial phone do it for me.) Several of the rooms will remind you of the best scenes from Dr. Strangelove like the one where President Mervin Muffley, played by Peter Sellers, says "Gentlemen. You can't fight in here. It's the war room!" 

Younger visitors to the Diefenbunker'll come away with even more material to make fun of boomers with.

That's all the details you're going to get here. If you're looking for like, you know, facts, go here

Meantime, here's how I learned to love the fallout shelter.

For some reason, I feel connected to John Diefenbaker. Maybe it's because he was prime minister the year I was born. I know all the words to the old Stringband song Dief will Be The Chief. He's the one who thought this thing up, back at a time when lots of people thought communists would commence bombing any second. The Diefenbunker, Dief figured, would provide shelter for 400 officials and soldiers (including the governor general, thank goodness) for up to 30 days after the big one hit. But whoever turned the place into a tourist attraction went to great trouble to include other people's perspectives. During our tour I noticed one of the wall displays showed lyrics to a 1950s anti-bomb-shelter song that I've reposted in the photo at the end of this blog, so you, too, can sing them yourself, to the tune of Sweet Betsy From Pike

Barrie'n me emerge
I don't mean to brag but my wife Helena and I are now a two-fallout-shelter couple. In 2017, she and I spent a few hours with the colossally eccentric Bruce Beach. Beach buried 42 full-size school buses under a hill near his home near Shelburne Ontario and thus created a shelter big enough for 500 people, complete with children's bunks, dentist office, a giant septic tank and tiny jail. (I was profiling Beach for CPA Magazine, and on a September afternoon a few weeks after our visit, he called me to ask when the story would be appearing. Me: "November, I think." Him: "Oh dear. I hope there's somebody around to read it.")

Back to the Diefenbunker. It's situated in a village called Carp, Ontario, a few kilometres from the tiny community of Huntley, where my dad, Tom, grew up. Construction of the Diefenbaker was a massive job maker so I couldn't help wonder if I was looking at any old cousins or uncles in the vintage b&w photos of the bunker under construction. Probably the guys in the pic with the sign that warns "Do Not Urinate Inside Structure! Penalty dismissal."

Another thing about my father? In all the years he drove us from Sudbury to Ottawa--and then all around the Ottawa Valley from the Carter homestead to uncles' farms then to old cousins' gravesites, down little winding dirt roads that all looked all looked the same and through villages with no street name signs--Tom never: a) glanced at a roadmap or b) stopped to ask directions. Tom had a bloodhound's sense for following the right path. 

In painfully marked contrast, here's baby boomer me heading to the Diefenbunker, trying to not look too obviously illegal, with one eye on the GPS and one on the road signs.  I'll be like, "Helena. Pretty sure this is the turn; wait, there's a road." And she'll be like, "Why don't you stop and ask somebody?" It's never pretty.

Now that I think of it I wonder if Tom was lost too but just didn't let on. 

God knows he would have gotten away with it. My mom was always too busy with us kids and we  were never in a hurry to arrive at an aging aunt's house. 

Maybe my dad just drove around and around until he eventually found where we were headed but just kept his mouth shut. 

That sure would have minimized intra-auto-conflict. 

I think I just learned something really important about wartime strategy.

I told you the Diefenbunker was educational. 

One more thing. Speaking of directions, I should add that if the big one ever does get dropped, I know the quickest route to at least two bomb shelters. So stay in touch. It could save your life.

(And here's the lyrics to that song I mentioned.)

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Where we know from passwords

Eddie and me on the steps of bus #55
Halfway up one of the big trees in the backyard of the house we Carter kids grew up in, there was an assembly of boards and planks and sticks nailed into the upper part of the trunk where the bigger branches spread out from. (It's called the tree's crotch, btw.)

I and my brother Eddie and a few friends called this assortment of nailed together pieces of  wood a treehouse, which is like saying a pile of soggy old newspapers and ripped magazines is  a "body of research." But never mind that.

You had to climb a ladder to get to our quote unquote treehouse, and sometimes, to ensure that nobody who wasn't welcome got in, we would invent a secret password. Clever huh?

This next part's beside the point, but who knew back then that inventing passwords would become such a critical life skill? Ditto typing! I am a pretty fair typist, but it's because I took high school typing to get into journalism. Here's something even better: Once in j-school, I earned a real university credit in "shorthand." While other first-year students were studying molecular behaviour and, like advanced calculus, I was learning shorthand. 

Meanwhile, back at the treehouse...

Can you think of a more effective way to keep your treehouse safe from invading strangers than a password? 

Let's say a guy--let's put him in his 40s--climbs the ladder to where Eddie et al are. Just for fun let's say the stranger's wearing a white short-sleeved polyester shirt, clip-on neck tie and the sort of  trousers that reached down to just above white socks--my friend Roman Stankiewiecz used to call them "water in the basement pants." He pokes his head up out of the tree's crotch and asks to join us seven-year-old boys in our treehouse. 

OUR TREEHOUSE: (Computer simulation by the author)

We would say, "Do you know the password?"

Him: "No." 

Us: "Sorry, you can't come in" 

Him: "Dang!" and down the ladder he'd head.

I guess on the off chance Mr. Water-in-the-basement-pants somehow knew the password, we would have had to have let him in. But it never happened.

Something really weird unrelated thing just occurred to me. 

At various stages of my little boyhood, in addition to being a (lousy) treehouse builder, I was: 

  • a cub scout; 
  • an early morning newspaper delivery boy (which saw me visit all manner of strangers' doors);
  • an altar boy;
  • a 12-year-old pageboy in Toronto which meant regular commuting alone on Greyhound buses between Sudbury and Hogtown, which is what a lot of people call Toronto;
  • At one point, I spent a year at an all-boys school.

And nothing bad ever happened. 

I wonder if it's because I was really good at passwords.