Saturday, June 4, 2022

Roman's chariots: The most trustworthy car-care advice you'll ever get

PHOTO BY Roman's sister in law Brenda 
My friend Roman Stankiewicz said cars have souls, just like people. 

Roman was like, "If you say nice things about your car when it's within earshot, it will hear you. Your car will perform better and require less maintenance." He's right. People who gripe about their cars have more problems with them.

My trusty 2011 Malibu, about which I've never uttered an unkind word,  treats me very well.

Roman knew what he was talking about. More than once, Roman was named the top new car salesman in Canada. Imagine!

I asked him what his secret was. He said, "Know what it is Pete? Total honesty."

And I just figured out, approximately seven minutes ago, why I believe him so easily.

I first met Roman so long ago I don't remember; it was probably before grade one. We've stayed friends since. 

But here's something that has never been documented before. When we were in, like, grade five,  I, Roman, and two other guys, Mike Blondin and Trevor MacIntyre, invented and played a game in our front yard that we called knee football.

Knee football is played like real football but instead of standing up and running or walking, you stayed on your knees. 

DRAWING OF  KNEE FOOTBALL GAME BY THE 
AUTHOR: I'm not in the picture because I was on
the sidelines, sketching.
I can only imagine what our moms thought of the idea. We played knee football so frequently, on a 15 foot by 15 foot plot of grass in our front yard, that it's one of the things I remember doing most with Roman. 

Imagine four already short kids  trying to actually pass throw,  run and tackle each other, but on our knees. It sounds like one of those dreams you're really glad to wake up from. Or an acid trip. 

Here's a weird coincidence. We four knee football stars were also altar boys together, at St. Clement's Church. It sounds like we had a kneeling fetish but we didn't. It's just something I thought about now.

We also shot a lot of pool. 

Get this: In the Stankiewicz living room, where other families might have had their best dining room furniture, often with plastic protecting the chairs and tables, the Stankiewiczes had a regulation sized pool table. And an upright piano.

What else does a family need? 

The Stankiewiczes have their priorities screwed on straight. 

Roman grew up in a house one city block behind ours and to get there, we'd cross our back yard,  across the alley and then trespass though we never called it that, through Quinns' yard. 

I don't think I ever went to Rome's house via any other route. (Yeah, we often called him Rome.)

FOUR STAND UP GUYS WITH  KNEES STILL INTACT:
Me, Trevor, Roman & Mike
But here's why I think I believe everything Roman ever told me. 

Roman's older brother is named Peter. Peter was in my brother Ed's grade at St. Albert's school. 

Roman's other brother is Ed. 

Roman's oldest sister's name is Pat. My oldest brother's name is Pat. 

I don't think Roman's big sister Mary ever met my big sister Mary but they were not only "sister" sisters they are two of the smartest, most generous and funniest people I know. 

Roman's older sister Theresa was in my brother Alex's grade, and my brother Alex's wife is named Brenda and Roman's sister in law is also Brenda but not the same one.

See where I'm going here? When you're linked like this; you're not just locked together you're welded! 

I trusted Roman like one of my own brothers.

Anyway, long story cut way too short: Roman died this past April 4. Leukemia. I'm welling up with tears as I write this; And everybody who knew him loves and misses him.

But this is not an obituary. 

It's a story about how to get your car to last longer. From a very trusted source.




Thursday, May 5, 2022

Edisms

My big brother Ed died Feb. 1 and I miss texting him because the following is the kind of thing that happened a lot.

A few years back I was in my seat on a plane heading for Vancouver from Toronto and we were still on the Toronto tarmac. I looked around at the other passengers and texted Ed: "Not only is there a school hockey team on board, there's a guy with an acoustic guitar and a nun.Wearing the old fashioned nun habit! This flight's going down for sure."

My text had barely left my phone when I got his response. Ed was that fast. 

When I read what he wrote I laughed out loud and the man sitting beside me asked what was so funny. 

I told him. 

His response when I reported what Ed had written? "I'd love to meet a guy whose brain works like that."

But before I share with you what Eddie texted me , with not even two seconds elapsing between his getting my message and responding, I must tell you about a book that came out a few years ago, titled Edisms

Edisms was a vividly illustrated and perfectly bound collection of texts that Ed had sent my daughters Ewa and Ria. 

They, with the help of my friend and graphic artist Tim Norton, made the random assortment of ridiculous texts  (e.g., "In Honour of Your Success, I have opened the Holy Can of Beer. And Poured" and "Is your Mexican hairless or did you shave him yourself?") look downright poetic. 

Scriptural in fact.

I figure some day a future archeologist will find a copy of  Edisms in a cobweb-covered abandoned tavern and it'll become a legendary mysterious text, widely quoted and maybe even made into posters. Like Khalil Gibran's "The Prophet" (Ed of course would at this point be like, "I preferred The Profit, by Khelog Albran."

NUN ART BY THE AUTHOR
That reminds me. Who here is old enough to remember that "You are a child of the universe; no less than the trees and the stars you have a right to be here" poster allegedly unearthed in some church in Boston or some such? It was called Desiderata. All the hipsters had posters of it and it actually became a hit song. Cue Ed: "I liked the National Lampoon's version better. Deteriorata starts off  'You are a fluke of the universe, you have no right to be here.'"

That, Mr. Seat Mate, is how Ed's brain worked.

All. 

The. 

Time. 

And no better evidence of it is there than Edisms, which Ewa and Ria and Tim produced in honour of Ed's 60th birthday, seven years and three days ago. A memorable party was held. 

And yes, I do believe that someday Edisms might be scripture. 

Which brings us back to to my plane ride and the nuns. Ed's response to my doomsday message?

This: "At least when you crash you'll go out with a bang AND a wimple." (See artist's rendering above.)

He had "wimple" right there at the forefront of his noggin where other people have real estate prices and interest rates; wimple had been sitting there, on deck, for years, waiting for me to deliver that straight line.

I still have a bunch of texts from Ed on my phone and they'll be there as long as I own the thing.

 

 

 




Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Land of the midnight daughter

About a week and a half ago my 31-year-old daughter Ewa, who lives for the moment in Whitehorse, Yukon, fell off a bicycle, hit her head on the icy ground and had a concussion. (She's much better now thanks. As soon I was able, I flew to Whitehorse to do whatever I could, which wasn't much except make her laugh. But that I did, and I'm home again.)
WHERE THE YUKON RIVER MEETS THE ALASKA
HIGHWAY: Not far from where Ewa's head met the icy road.

When she had the bike mishap, Ewa, who I'd like to mention is fluent in American Sign Language, was on her way to a Whitehorse bar called The 98 to hear a singer named Paris Pick, a singer/songwriter I'd never heard of until last week but who now has, for a fan, me and, as it turns out, Ed the Sock.
  
The things you learn from your kids.

To whit: Sam, the the hero of the famous poem The Cremation of Sam McGee , was a real person though he wasn't from Tennessee. McGee came from Lindsay, Ont., which would have rhymed too but what do I know?
The poet, Robert Service, was working at a Whitehorse bank. McGee came to town as a road builder. Service saw his name on a bank ledger and decided it was perfect for the poem he was in the midst of composing. Then -- and I love this part of the story -- banker Service contacted McGee and and asked if could use his name. McGee said okay.
WHERE STRANGE THINGS ARE DONE: I couldn't
really get a good look in.

Sam McGee in the poem died by being willingly cremated in the woodstove on an abandoned barge on Lake Labarge.

McGee from Lindsay died at 73 at his daughter's farm near Beiseker, Alberta, which isn't far from Calgary. Of a heart attack. But not before at least once returning to Whitehorse and being approached by a local offering to sell the visitor a vial of "authentic Sam McGee's ashes."

True--at least as true as it has to be--story.

Another thing I learned? Ewa is in better than excellent hands up there. Ewa's surrounded by a lively  commmunity of loving and fun-loving people, evidenced by what we had for supper the day after my return: Moose stew.

PREHISTORIC FACEBOOK: Another
Ewa adventure immortalized
Before I caught my return flight, Ewa's Whitehorse landlady, Mary Gottschall, and her son Chris, outfitted me with about seven pounds of frozen moose meat, which pretty much monopolized my carry-on. I think the airport folks were a bit freaked out when they saw the meat via the x-ray machine. It looked like I was smuggling small humans. I'm still working on a decent carrion pun.

Also, before leaving, I asked Ewa if she minded if I mentioned her sore noggin on Facebook. She said "No, go ahead," her voice sort of  resigned to the fact that I'd try to distill a week's adventure into a blog post. Probably like McGee's when the banker pal asked to use his name.

I then reminded Ewa: "Just be glad you weren't one of those kids whose moms and dads paste every little-league win and brownie fly-up and dance into a gloating Facebook post; you know, the way young parents do these days."

We didn't have Facebook in my day. 

We had to use magazine columns.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Ed's not-so-secret recipe for kickapoo cariboo joy juice

AND ON DECK...ED: Always up for an interesting time

My older brother Eddie died four weeks ago, and I won't bore you with how much I miss him, but I do want to share a story about something that happened a few years back.

Thing is, under other circumstances; i.e., if Ed weren't dead, I'd text him to fact check the story. 

The exchange would go something like this: 

Me: "Remember when we were at the Quebec winter carnival and you were kissing that woman and her husband showed up and knocked you off the wall and you pranged your arm?"

Ed: "Yeah."

Me: "Was his name really Kong."

Ed: "Yup. Kong. What's your point?"

We were in university--him at Laurentian in Sudbury and me at Carleton in Ottawa--and we'd decided to check out the famous Quebec carnival that happens in the week leading up to Lent. We arranged to stay at our aunt Della's place in Ste.-Foie, a suburb of the old city. 

Mid-afternoon, Eddie and I found ourselves standing high on a three-foot-tall ice wall, watching the parade and probably clutching those yard-long hollow plastic canes with the twist-off caps. You could fill the canes with whatever you needed to drink.  

At one point, filled with the excitement of Mardi Gras, Eddie and the woman beside him (whom neither of us had met before that instant) were laughing and passing the cane back and forth and, yes, kissing, when suddenly she pulled back and yelled "My husband! Kong!"

 CANES FOR RAISING 

A guy appeared from out of the crowd, took an angry run at Ed and either shoved or punched him so hard Ed fell off the wall. It was serious, too; i.e., serious  enough that he had to go to emerg but we waited until we returned to Ontario the next day because we were  young and stupid and thought our Ontario health care coverage wouldn't work in Quebec. 

Kong's name is just one of the quite-a-few story details I'd fact check with Ed. 

Another involves his 1957-era Fender MusicMaster guitar that I am, as of last week, in possession of. My daughters Ewa and Ria rescued the instrument from Ed's apartment and it still smells like Players cigarettes. 

Whenever Ed visited our place, our cat Iris predictably sidled up to him for skritching and I think she recognizes that it's his Fender and misses him, too.

Here's me fact checking the guitar story: Me: "You know that MusicMaster you got from Moe [Sauve, a friend of our brother Tom's]?"

PLUCK OF THE IRIS: She had a soft spot for Ed
Ed was probably 15. Moe hired Ed to play bass in a Sudbury bar band called The Kings' Knights. At one point, Moe was short of cash so gave Ed the Fender in lieu. To fact check, I'd text: "Did you guys really play in a strip club in Sudbury when you were 15?" 

Ed: "Yep. The Belton. (He'd be talking about the long-gone Belton Hotel.) What's your point?" 

My point is, actually, I just remembered that in my wedding speech, I said something like, "Eddie's done so many cool things that when it's my turn to go, I hope Ed's life  passes before my eyes."

I just remembered something else. 

Those drinking canes I mentioned a few paragraphs ago? The rotgut (I think it was a blend of wine, apple juice and rum) that we drank out of them during the carnival was called "Cariboo." 

It's 11 in the morning. I wish I had some now.



Thursday, February 17, 2022

Ed for president

THREE WISE GUYS: Me with my brothers Alex and Ed, 
in the front yard of the presidential palace. 
Two and a half weeks ago today I was goofing around on Facebook and a message popped up from a stranger named Howard Kennedy. 

He asked if I was a Sudbury Carter and if I grew up on Eyre Street. 

Affirmative.

Howard told me his grandparents Annie and Hugh Kennedy lived next door to us. I asked if his father was Charles or David. 

Charles.

I remember the late Charlie Kennedy vividly. A decade or so my senior, Charlie was Carter-tall (my four older brothers Pat, Tom Alex and Ed essentially forced me to grow to six feet tall; anything less would have been unacceptable) and he exuded friendliness. I remember Charlie having a great moustache and he was an avid player of the bag pipes. In fact my mom enlisted Charlie Kennedy to give my older sisters Norma and Charlene pipe lessons. (Which says something about how ahead of her time my mom was.)

I happily reported to Howard how fondly I recalled his pop, his grandparents and his great aunt Lila Brownley. Turn out Howard's twin brother's first name is Brownlee. 

I loved talking to this guy. You'll be thrilled to know Howard and Brownlee also play the pipes. Twin pipers. That's a lot of skirl, which is a bagpipe word we grew up with.  

And then Howard said this: "As a child I was alway in wonder at the fact that my grandparents were so privileged as to live next to Mr. Carter (I was about five years old). A child's wonder at the fact that the President of the United States lives in Sudbury, right next to my grandparents. Heck of a commute but he was right there in the big brick house on the street." 

I struck gold! When I hear a story like that, the get-the-word-out-gene I inherited from my late mom takes full control.

Moments later I was on the phone to my sister Norma recounting and she, too, remembered Charlie; she said Charlie struck her as a "homemade" kind of guy. Pretty sure Norma surprised even herself with that lovely description, which I later passed along to Howard.

Then, I texted my brother Ed, whose real first name is James as in Jimmy Carter. (We've had tons of fun with that.) 

"How're you?," I typed: "I just met a guy named Howard Kennedy on Facebook. His dad was Charlie Kennedy from 197 Eyre street. Howard said when he was five years old he was amazed to learn that the president of the United State lived next door to his grandparents on Eyre Street."

If Ed saw my text, I'll never know. 

GUITAR HERO: And you thought it was
a computer game?
 A day or two later it became clear that around the same time as I was chatting with Howard, Ed was taking his last breath (maybe inhaling a smoke even). He died January 31. I'm still a mess and prone to tears at any moment (like yesterday at about 4:30 p.m. when I heard, by mistake, Joan Baez singing I dreamed I saw Joe Hill Last Night) and I'm also mad at Ed for dying and I'll probaby write a lot more about him later, but I am pleased that I managed to tell Howard's story at Ed's funeral last week.

And a few things occured to me. 

First is, I'm sad about a lot of things right now, but grateful to report that my last text message to Ed was upbeat and not, like, an expression of annoyance that he hadn't shown for dinner or something along those lines. Cuz there've been times...

Put the following in the advice bank: "Write every text as if it could be the last. It just might be and that text'll still be on your phone after the person's gone."

Also. 

When I think back on how much influence Ed had on me (I'm listening to Jethro Tull's Aqualung as I write this) and how fervently I loved and admired Ed for his braininess, wit and determination to fight for what he thought was right, I honestly feel that Howard was sorta right. 

Ed could have in fact been president. But he had funner things to do.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

My late brother Tom's trustworthy water craft

GOOD PALS
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.  
SPORTSPAL

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.)