Monday, February 5, 2018

Facing up to Hadfield, a real McCoy

"I think you'd like this book," my wife Helena said, adding, "it's inspirational." And then she felt obliged to add, "he has accomplished so much!"

Helena was referring to a "An Astronaut's Guide to Life," by Canada's favourite regular guy, Commander Colonel Chris Hadfield.

And my response was: "What is the possible upside to my reading Hadfield's story?" Not that I have anything against Canada's most notoriously terrific man, per se. It's just that he happens to be, like, perfect.

Chris Hadfield is:

A) A astronaut: When you're a astronaut you don't have to follow rules, even grammatical ones. Hadfield also creates art so pretty I'd put it up on my wall.

MINI-ME: And the mini missus
B) Funny as heck: The following's from his website: "A moustache can tell you a lot about a man. When properly administered, it can say 'this man has commanded spacecraft', 'this man escorted Soviet bombers out of Canadian airspace,' or 'this man lived in a research vessel at the bottom of the ocean.' These can be tall orders to live up to--having a moustache is a big responsibility;'"

C) Everything else, besides:  Husband, dad, athlete, the whole megillah. He's written a children's book called The Darkest Dark. He has an album out, "Space Sessions; Songs from a Tin Can," which contains the Neil Youngish  "Beyond the Terra."

D) So maybe I'm Just Jealous: Moi? Envious of Monsieur Perfect? I know what you're going to say. "Pete you've written songs, too."  And I thank you for that, but did I mention the line of mini-Commander Hadfield toys?

E) Don't you remember the bobble-head of you and Helena that your daughters Ev and Ria commissioned? Still.

Once a knight's
F) Hadfield's younger than me: Not that much younger...

G) So you're probably doing okay: Seems so. Maybe the astronaut's not flawless after all. Helena might be right. I hate when that happens.

H) Richard Branson: Why'd you have to go bring HIM into this conversation? Just when I was coming around on Hadfield.

I) Still ain't reading his book.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

7 Reasons Why I Like Doing Dishes

VINTAGE DAD DOING DISHES: That's the original caption of this
pic that I Google-Image Swiped.
My writer colleague Debbie Fein-Goldbach just Facebooked me this following message: "I'm curious why you love doing dishes."

She asked because I'd mentioned, on Facebook, that a few years back, I had suggested to a couple of magazine editors that they buy a story from me called "Why I Like Doing Dishes." but none of them bit, probably because: a) they didn't believe me; and, b) it was a dumb idea.

So here--free from the interfering hands of professional and wise editors--I present:

"7 Reasons I Like Doing Dishes. Not as a paid job mind you but in my house. After we eat.)" 

7) When you're doing the dishes, you own the moral high ground;

6) Dish doing has definition and it's dead easy.  I like jobs that, once they're done they're done. Few feelings compare to the satisfaction that comes with stretching a damp dish towel out on the counter after you've dried and drawered that final fork. Plus we squeeze our way out of the womb knowing how to do the dishes;

5) Mind you--over every corner of life, advice givers must hover--so if and when a busybody suggests an alternative method of drying (yup, I've been given tips on this very matter) you're required to hand him or her whatever towel or brush you're holding and say, "Here. You do'em;"

4) Doing dishes gives me the right to NOT participate in an after-dinner conversation in the living room in which somebody and I could name names who knows bugger all about the craft of journalism feels free to rant on as if he were Anderson Freaking Cooper explaining how news is processed;

3) But never mind him. Doing dishes is, I'm happy to report, one of the only chores that falls into the following category: "Jobs that you can drink while doing";

2) Doing dishes also taught me one of my go-to life hacks: "If you don't like doing dishes but get asked to do so, break one or two and you'll never be asked again;"

1) If you have dishes to do, it means you got food.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Where we learn to play the new hit game: Rib-A-Sib

Two days ago.

I had just scrunched up my serviette and tossed it onto my plate after a laugh-a-minute lunch with my big sister Charlene. We were at a place called Fran's in downtown Toronto. And at the exact time the server placed the vinyl folder containing our tab on our table, Charlene's cell rang.

She looked at the phone and then at me, and smiling a smile so bright I could almost hear it, Chuck--as we sometimes call her--showed me that it was her youngest son Jesse calling. Chuck took the call. (I'd have done the same if it had been one of my  kids.)

I handed the bill folder back to the server with a couple of 20s folded into it and asked her: "Do you have any older sisters?"

"Yes, one," she said.

"Did you see what mine just did? She pretended to take a call from her son at the very same time as the bill arrived so you-know-who gets to pay it."

Server: "Sounds like something my big sister would do, too."

I'm kidding of course. It was a terrific coincidence and we all laughed and laughed and I know if it had been my phone that rang Chuck would have picked up the tab. But still.

We Carters have teasing brothers and sisters down to an art form. I think that's what they're for, now that I give it some thought. After all if you can't make fun of your siblings, who can you rib?
WANNA MAKE FLIES LAUGH? Feed spider a Timmie's double-double

Not your spouse, that's for sure.

And you'd have to be a pretty bad dad to tease your sons or daughters.

Then again, I do recall one incident, a long long time ago. I was probably eight maybe 10. And I built, out of scrap wood, one of those downhill go-carts. Only problem was, I didn't have tools, help, or brains enough to ask somebody how to do it.

The first of many  obstacles: I couldn't find four same-sized wheels so three of my wheels came off an old tricycle and the other from a grocery cart. And who knew how to build like, an axle? Or a brake?

I persevered.

When it was done, I dragged my creation down to the garage where my dad worked.  Funny that we were always made to feel welcome around our father's workplace, even though much of the time all we did was get in the way. And I wanted to show off my new hand-crafted vehicle.

I remember where Dad was standing when I pulled my go-cart up to his side and while he didn't quote unquote comment on my craftsmanship, I recall him telling a co-worker, "Don't you let me hear you say Carter boys aren't good with their hands."
LUMBERJACK SOCKS: An elegant addition

If you've ever seen one of those videos about a spider web created after the spider was fed caffeine, you'll get an idea of the end results of my go-cart building effort.

That said, I'm forever grateful that he and Mom gave me so many brothers and sisters to write about and make fun of.

Which brings me back to the point of this story, and I forget what the hell that was.

All I can think is I can't believe my dad let us hang around his workplace so much.

P.S. Remember what I said about not teasing your spouse? While I was writing this, my very own spouse Helena noticed I was wearing these beautiful new socks, which I got as a Christmas present from my sister Mary. Helena mentioned that they make an elegant addition to my already sophisticated outfit (jeans and a hoodie).

I think she was being sarcastic.

Now that's a street that only goes one way.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Another brother to the rescue story; and this one long-gone!

GHOST OF A CHANCE: Me, my brothers Ed and Pat, in a very very old photo
My oldest brother Pat died far too young, almost 30 years ago. He lived in Toronto, in the same west-end neighbourhood in which I and my new wife Helena began our marriage adventure. In fact Pat passed away around the time we bought our first house.

I'm the youngest of 10; he is the oldest. IQ-wise, Pat might have outscored the rest of us, and he was a huge reader. Had Pat lived, he would have devoured every word I've written: every paragraph, tweet or blog. After all, I'm his baby brother.

Anyway, I want to tell you how, just a few months ago, despite being dead, Pat saved my professional butt.

I was on assignment for a business magazine and had to interview the CEO of a huge and well-known Canadian company.  After to'ing and fro'ing with the CEO and her public-relations people, they agreed to give me three hours of her time.

When I told my brother Tom (the third oldest of us), he estimated her annual salary and said, "That's pretty expensive time you're getting there, Peter."

I know. I did not want to mess up.

I always want whatever story I'm working on  to be my best, and this  was no different.

Before the interview,  I submitted a list of questions and took to the meet-up not one but two audio-recording devices.

Fast forward to the event. I was in the boardroom, with the CEO and two of her aides. Before we got to the business of, well, business, I asked, "Do you have any brothers or  sisters?"

Her: "Yes, a couple of sisters."

Me: "Are they executives, too?"

Her: "No.. one is a teacher and the other"...long pause..."died two weeks ago."

And she started crying. Not sniffling like somebody reporting a lost wallet to police, but sobbing, because her much-loved sister had just died. Between sobs,  she said, "sorry, I'm so sorry," and her assistant handed over handfuls of Kleenex.

I'm not a psychopath. I felt really badly. At the same time, I knew this could go way off the rails fast, and I had a story to write. I wasn't about to say, "Enough about your sister. Let's get back to interest rates."

I was stuck.

Something occurred to me.

"Actually," I said, "I kind of know where you're coming from. My oldest brother Pat died when I was about your age."

I had  her attention.  I--maybe Pat via me--continued:  "And you know what? I'm still mad at him. I am sure he did it to get out of helping us move into our new  house."

She laughed! I laughed. I swear Pat laughed. I also swear he salvaged my interview.

If  Pat showing up just in time to save his little brother isn't proof of an afterlife, I don't know what is and furthermore, I don't care.

The older I get the more I'm sure the people who preceded me will be there when I need them.

I fully intend to do the same.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Why older sisters sometimes seem snippy

My older and wiser sister Norma Fairman, who lives in my hometown of Sudbury, Ontario, reminded me the other day that when we were growing up together, one of the many holy days our late mother acknowledged was January 3, two days after New Year's.

Mom and Church officials called the day the "Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus."

Before I tell you why Norm and I were on that topic, I should remind you that I was raised in a Roman Catholic household, and that our mom, Huena, was as familiar with the church calendar as any one of her children is with the route to the nearest beer store.

Huena was so conversant with which saint gets revered on which day, she could have turned it into a party trick, or  a game of theological jeopardy.

Me (or better yet my brother Alex. Get it? Jeopardy?): "What is July 25th?"

Huena: "Feast of Saint Christopher, patron saint of travelers." (By 'travelers', I'm sure Huena wasn't referring to the drinks so many people took in their cars back then. Who knows?)

Huena, on a moment's notice, knew where to turn for quick assistance from heaven. St. Anthony could find your lost car keys. Or a quick prayer to the patron of music, Cecelia, might help you make the senior girls' choir, so you don't end up being asked to "turn pages" like what happened to your sister.

Then there was St. Blaize.

Blaize was an Armenian doctor,  monk, and--ultimately--martyr who died in 307 A.D., after--according to Wikipedia--"being attacked with iron combs and beheaded."

JUST SAY AHEM: Or should that be ahymn?
Blaize had something to do with respiratory ailments. On his feast (Feb. 3), Catholics across the world (at least on our street) traipsed to church to line up then one by one--sometimes I can't believe the stuff I write--and stand in front of a priest who held crossed candles under our throats and murmured some little prayer to St. Blaize to fend off throat disease.

Sounds weird, I know, but--and I never thought about this until right now--in all my years I've not  had so much as tonsillitis.

But let's get back on topic here. Just mentioning the St. Blaize ritual reminded me of another ritual and why Norma and I were talking about the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.

Here's what Norma told me. She was laughing about the fact that even though we called it "The Feast of Most Holy Name of Jesus," January 3 actually commemorates--I hope you're sitting down--the day Jesus got circumcised.

When she told me Norma laughed.  I, and I don't use the word literally loosely, literally squirmed.

I've lived a long happy life not knowing about the real meaning of January 3, but this year, thanks to my loving sister Norma, this coming Wednesday will be just a tad less comfortable.

One of the reasons we all remember Huena so fondly is that she had a way of editing the world for her kids. She worked hard to get us into heaven; and she shielded us from as many ugly truths as possible. God bless my mom.

On the other hand, as evidenced by her delight in telling me about Jesus' 'procedure,' I've long known that when it comes to Norma, I can always count on her to cut to the quick.

I guess that's what older sisters are for.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Confessions of a sacramental fibber

THAT SMELL: It's either incense or my pants on fire.
When I was five--maybe six--I knew what was right and I knew what was wrong.

Some people spend lifetimes searching for the answer to that question. I'm here to tell you that by that welcome June day when I graduated out of Miss Winnie Trainor's second-grade, I had reached the Age of Reason.

Here's why.

At five or six years of age, we Roman Catholics could receive Holy Communion but couldn't do so until we were in a State of Grace. To get there meant knowing right from wrong.

And once we recognized what we'd done wrong, off we went to Confession to be absolved of all our sins; the sins we committed when we were five years old. Five! Imagine. (I recognize now as I'm writing this that one of those sins must have been "not upper-casing all the right Catholic words like 'Holy' and 'Grace.'")

Barely big enough to cross the street alone,  every second or third Saturday, between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m., while Protestant kids in their Protestant houses watched complete Bugs Bunny cartoons, we Carters and other little Catholics in the 'hood marched up to St. Clement's Church to go to Confession.

And it was there, in the Confessional, that--and this sure won't come as a surprise to Catholics of my vintage--we made stuff up.

Yeah, although fibbing itself was a sin, we felt the need to have something worth confessing, so we lied in Confession. The logic and morality that went into this is noggin-numbing.

I never pretended to commit big sins like robbing banks or murder; just little ones such as having impure thoughts or swearing. If I had actually "taken the Lord's Name in vain" as often as I confessed I had, "Jesus" would have been the single most-often-used word in my minuscule grade-one vocabulary.

Still,  there I was, in my squeaky little-boy voice, confessing to Father O'Driscoll or Monsignor Salini, through the Confessional curtain, "I took The Lord's Name in vain seven times." It fell to us to keep tally.

I'm sure priests knew what we were up to.
Reminds me of a Steve Martin routine. Imagine if after you die it really is clouds and heaven and harps and some bearded guy meets you at the gate with his checklist.  He says, "Lemme see. You took the Lord's name in vain two million times." And you're like, "Two million? Jesus!"

But back to me. One of my go-to imaginary sins was "fighting with my brothers and sisters," which was weird because there's no commandment about that. Plus it never happened.

I was the youngest of 10. My parents had the same management strategy as the Chinese government uses and it is, don't dare let anything start or all hell rather heck will break loose.

Among the Carter-house rules was, "No hitting anybody smaller than yourself." As the runt of the bunch this was a regulation I could work with.

Except I never had to fight for anything. As the baby of a great and big family,  all I needed do was ask or whine or complain and voila! all my wishes came true. Every time. Same holds true to this day.

My mom and dad and brothers and sisters know a thing about unconditional love.

Did I mention that at the same time as I was making my first Holy Communion, my loving brothers and sisters nicknamed me?

Little Hitler. Yup. That was me. Little Hitler.

I've forgotten the point I was trying to make.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Secret Lives of Altar Boys

SEND IN THE CLONES: I just grabbed this photo off Google Image.
They're not St. Clement boys but they sure look the part.
I have decided that time has come to share, after all these years, the true story about my (far-too) lengthy career as an altar boy in St. Clement's Church in my hometown of Sudbury, ON.

There are reasons I haven't touched this topic before. You'll soon know what they are.

But first, for anyone who doesn't know what I'm talking about, altar boys (these days they're "servers" and it's not just boys, thank goodness) help priests during Roman Catholic masses.

When I was a kid, most servers were in grades four, five or six. The real senior guys we looked up to--the ones who got the important jobs like carrying the crucifix up the aisle during Good Friday ceremonies--were almost adults. Grade seven or eight even.

Here's confession number one: I was an altar boy way too long than was healthy.

There were times, on any given Sunday afternoon, my contemporaries were roaring around Sudbury in sup'ed up Chevy Novas smoking weed they kept in the glove compartments while Pete was at church.

My usual attire of blue jeans and t-shirt was covered by--I hope you've got Wikipedia open--my surplice and soutane. The surplice is the short lacy white part of the altar boy's outfit; the soutane the long black underpart. We also wore slippers. Clad thusly,  I was helping our parish priest Father Frank Farenzena do things like "the washing of the hands". (It's part of Mass, okay?)

Speaking of Fr. Frank, fast forward 18 years--from 1968 to 1986--until you arrive at my older brother Alex's living room, days before my wedding. Father Frank, still the parish priest, was in attendance.

And holding a  glass of Canadian Club whisky in one hand and a Peter Jackson cigarette in the other, Father Frank said, "Peter, until this moment, I was under the impression you were going to be joining us."

"Us" meant the priesthood.

I was, I believe, 29. Man-o-man had Father Frank ever not been paying attention.

So now you're probably like, "You had your wedding stag at your older brother's house? And the parish priest was there? Pete? I'm s-o-o-o sorry."

Thank you.

When I started this blog I was hoping to write about the secret life of altar boys but got distracted. Maybe next time. Puts me in mind of something one of my writer pals Debbie Fein-Goldbach posted on Facebook last week. It's a quote from one of Canada's funniest (and darkest) stand-ups, Norm Macdonald: "Hope is never good. Don't try it, it never works out."

P.S. Somebody once told me and I choose to believe it that the peerless and inspirational Canadian novelist Robertson Davies waited until a lot of his family popped off before he produced his best stuff. I sure get that. On that note, I'm not 100-percent sure that it was Canadian Club Whisky that Father Frank was sipping or that he smoked Peter Jacksons, but it could have been. But he definitely  was at my stag.  And it was at my brother's house. That was me all over. Just takin' a walk on the wild side.