Sunday, February 17, 2019

Finally... after all these years... 10 Uncle Commandments

my mom's brothers, Alex and Stellie
The first dirty joke I ever heard a grownup tell came courtesy of my mother’s brother, Angus Joe MacIsaac. It happened more than 50 years ago but left such an impression that even today, if you phone me, I can tell you the joke. It was about women wearing burlap undies.
I was probably six. We were in Angus Joe's living room, just me, him and his brother — my Godfather — Hugh.

Not only was it the first dirty joke I’d heard an adult tell, it was the first sign I got that there exists—in the same book of universal truths that says “No April Fools’ Jokes After Noon” — An Uncle’s Code of Conduct.
I know this because I had the best uncles possible. My father Tom’s super generous brother Ed was a constant in our life growing up in Sudbury; and my mom’s brothers Angus, Hugh, Alex and Stellie were always there for us, in body as well as in spirit.  (And spirits,  plural, if you catch my drift.) Also, we had my aunts’ husbands. I won’t list them here because it’d take up too much space. They weren’t related by blood but still — uncles we could count on.

With that, and in recognition of Monday, February 18th being the Province of Ontario’s annual “Family Day Holiday,” I have produced the following:

 The Uncle’s 10 Commandments.

1.       Thou shalt see no faults in thy nephews and/or nieces;

2.       Thou shalt brag about thy nieces and nephews whenever thou gets a chance;

3.       Thou shalt keep thy nephews’ and nieces’ secrets, if they want you to. Like if they smoketh cigarettes and desireth to not let on to their folks, you must let them. 

4.       Thou shalt give nephews and nieces money if they need it;

5.       Thou shalt lay a little cash on them even if they don’t need it, too, sometimes;

6.       It goeth without saying that thou shalt always pick up the tab when you go out with them;

7.       Thou shalt allow your nephews or nieces the useth of your vehicle;

8.       Thou shalt aid and abet their artistic endeavours. When I was in university and living with my aunt Leona, we were at her kitchen table one night drinking beer and I happened to be doodling on a piece of paper. She said “Peter! You’re an artist.” Nobody before or since suggested I had any flair for drawing. I’ve clung to Leona’s comment like a drowning man clings to a life raft.  And yes,  I know, Leona wasn’t technically an uncle. But turns out these commandments are gender neutral. Leona — my dad’s sister — was the Nadia Comaneci of aunting; she by whom all other aunts should be measured and deserving of not only her own blog entry but maybe a book on how to aunt. But I digress.)  

9.       Thou shalt NOT expect nephews or nieces to pay any attention to you unless they want to; they have more important things to do for Pete’s sake and are not obliged to worry about their old uncles and aunts.  

10.  But and this one's most important of them all on the off chance that your nephew and/or niece pays any attention to you whatsoever — thou shalt consider thyself the luckiest S.O.B. on the planet.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The only sound Mom could hear was the clock ticking

These days I spend my workdays as an editor at a publication called The Lawyer's Daily. I
OLD HABITS DIE HARD: I swiped this photo from the web.
enjoy the job so much it's not fair to call it work but my point is that I am immersed in the Canadian legal system and although it's probably among the best on the planet, there's one thing wrong.

The wheels of justice turn slowly.


This very morning, while I was driving to work, I thought about some other wheels that just might make everything work a lot faster.

The wheels were on a Roll-Royce. A silver one.

A Rolls that I, in fact, stole.

True story.

A great friend of mine who shall remain nameless and I swiped silver Rolls-Royce Dinky cars from the Zellers Store on Elm Street when we were growing up in the mining community called Sudbury.

We were probably 10.

I can still remember where the store shelves that held the toy cars were; in the Zellers basement along the north wall, right near the exit that led out on to Elgin Street. That's how etched on my brain my career as a robber is.

I can't remember shoplifting much else; much else, that is, except in a lead-up to the Rolls-Royce heist--there was a job in the IGA grocery store up the street from our house...

IGA was the name of a well-known grocery chain. It stood for Independent Grocers' Association and I've since learned that some new Canadians thought the store name was pronounced "EE-GAH" which makes a lot of sense.

Anyway, the IGA stores had a customer retention plan called Gold Bond Gift Stamps; a precursor to Air Miles and Petro-Points.

The more IGA groceries you bought, the more stamps you got. You licked the back of them and put them in little books and once you collected a certain number of Gold Bond Gift Stamps, you could send away for cool stuff.

My friend who shall remain nameless and I conducted our first job at an IGA store. We each shoplifted--or as we said back then "used the five-finger discount"--a couple of "Gold Bond Gift Books."

Only later did I learn that the books themselves--empty of stamps--were free.

But never mind that, that was where we sharpened our thieving skills in preparation for the Zellers job.

I wonder if big-time criminals remember their every caper as clearly as I recall slipping those Rolls-Royces into our pockets.

I also wonder--in awe--at the economy of a town like Sudbury.

One the same block as Zellers was a Kresge's which was kittycorner to Woolworth's which in the other kittycorner direction was across from a department store called BoniMart. Further to the west was another huge store named Eaton's, which I really liked because they had in one section ride-em lawnmowers. Us little boys loved climbing on those and pretending we were driving something.

Imagine. All those competing department stores within spitting distance of one another.

There was also a motherlode of special interest joints.

Melody Music sold instruments and sheet music as did its competitor Prom!

And Wolfe's Bookstore, was in Sudbury's version of a flat-iron building.

Wolfe's was shelf upon wooden shelf of wonderful reads. I can still, if I close my eyes, remember what Wolfe's smelled like and it's one of the reasons I love books so much. I'm pretty sure it  had a spiral stairway joining the main floor to the second and Wolfe's is the standard by which I've measured all bookstores since.

We didn't have video games but we sure loved exploring downtown Sudbury.
FORGET SUPER MARIO: Running from department store to 
department store was our entertainment.

But never mind that either. I'm here to tell you about stealing Rolls-Royces.

There we were, in the Zellers basement, very certain that none of the salesfolks could see us, as we pocketed our Dinkys.

And we made a safe getaway.

I have to admit I--because I grew up in a house virtually buried in toys of one kind or another--was pretty surprised when  few days later my mom noticed I had one tiny little extra Dinky car and,  out of the blue, asked me where I got it.

She never asked about any of the other stuff I played with.

I told her my friend (who shall remain nameless) gave it to me. She let on she believed me.

Then I told my buddy how I almost got busted.

He said the same thing happened to him.  His mom--who also happened to be a Maritimer who'd seen a thing or two--enquired where his Rolls came from and he said he got it from me.

I'm sure she was like,  "as if." But that was the end of the discussion.

Fast forward to now.

The Canadian legal system could save a whack of money and time if we just put moms on the judges' bench.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

A Hill of a Place to Grow Up In

UPHILL FROM HERE:  If we didn't have hills we
wouldn't have known where anything ended.
Sudbury, the mining community I grew up in, is very hilly. When we were kids, almost all our friends lived in houses on hills of one steepness or another. We Carters walked up a hill to school and church and down the hill to where my dad's bus garage was.

Our street, Eyre, was a north-south incline and because of that, I still sense that if a place is south of me it's down a hill and whatever's north is up. East and west are flat. I used to think that's why ocean-going ships travel those directions mostly.

In Sudbury, there are quite a few places in town where parts of streets are literally staircases.  My sister Bertholde lives on such a street.

I like to think those hills prepared us for whatever ups and downs life tossed our way. Guys like me know when climbing is required but we're also just as happy to throttle back and let--when it's possible--gravity do the work. 

STOPPED TO STAIR: Yes, I actually drove to
 the Douglas Street stairs to shoot this picture.
The Sudbury landscape is full of hundreds of sizeable rock outcroppings--small mountains, in our kid eyes--and these were our playgrounds and hideouts. 

We called them "the rocks." 

Closest to us were the "Little Rocks," a rockpile about half the size of a city block beside my friend Roman Stankiewiecz's house. North across the street from them--the "Big Rocks", virtual Himalayas where we could go and hide and play army 

and practise mountain climbing. 
GEM AMONG THE STONES: Google-searching
this beaut was no walk in the rocks, I'll have you know.

A few blocks to the southwest? The Princess Anne Rocks, named thusly because they were adjacent to the Princess Anne protestant school. They were big enough to toboggan on. The Princess Anne Rocks were also the gateway to  the scary and dangerous "Pit"--a private industrial property belonging to INCO, the mining company most of the town's dads worked at.

The Pit was mostly sand and rock and  home to a few small reservoirs which we weren't supposed to hang around because legend had it there'd been some drownings, which of course made the Pit all the more alluring. 

Which reminds me. It was in the Princess Anne Rocks where I first saw porn. 

I was probably seven.

A classmate named Joe and I were farting around in the Princess Anne Rocks when we found one of those old "natural living" magazines and Joe, who was a few months older than me, said I was too young to look at the pictures. He even had the arrogance to suggest I didn't know what girls' parts were called. 

However. When Joe said I didn't even know the names of things, I outwitted him. The first thing he challenged me on was--get this--plural. "You don't even know what ____s are," he said. Clearly, there must have been two of them. So I knew what to point to.

The next girl part he mentioned? Singular. This was easy.
THE STEPS I TAKE:  I, too, am just as amazed as you that I went to the trouble of taking this
photo just for this blog.

"Wow Carter!" Joe said, "You know!"

But back to the rocks.

These hilly streets and rocky playgrounds made us all very surefooted. 

Here's proof.

We now live in a three-storey house in west Toronto. 

I sleep on the uppermost floor, which is connected to the second storey by a precipitous but still legal stairwell. We've lived in this house some 17 years. I've successfully navigated those stairs perhaps a twice a day, which adds up to something like 6,000 ascents and 6,000 descents. And I've done so:

* late at night;
* so early in the morning it could count as night;
* three-quarters asleep;
* bare-footed;
* sock-footed:
* hungry;
* on the verge of barfing;
* after awakening from a bad dream;
* trying to single-handedly carry an unwieldy mattress; 
* carrying a child;
* in a silly mood;
* listening to an iPod;
* halfways through a crossword puzzle with a pen sticking out of my mouth;
* mad at something;
* laughing at a joke that I was the only person who thought it was funny;
* drunk.

And I still haven't brained myself.

If I hadn't grown up on a hill in Sudbury, I'd be dead.


Monday, December 31, 2018

8 More Iris Cat FAQs

Except for the few weeks she took off from active duty in the summer, Iris the Cat messages have been appearing in our front window for almost 10 months.

Early on, we published these answers to our most-common made-up questions. But since then we've made up eight more. Here they are:

8) A new sign every day? Really?

No. Every two days more like. Three sometimes. Which is still way too often.

7) How does daylight saving time affect Iris' signs?

Never thought you'd ask. What with full time jobs and very short winter days, getting a brightly lit photo is a crap shoot at best. We've actually called in outside help on occasion. If the government needs any more reason to get rid of daylight saving time, this is it.

6) Speaking of freelancers, does Iris accept other people's suggestions? 

You bet. But don't expect attribution There's no room on the sign. Plus I hope you're not surprised she steals. Iris is a cat. They're all master criminals.

5) All of them?

I believe so, but Victoria Shroff might disagree. She's an Iris fan and a real honest-to-goodness animal-law lawyer in Vancouver and if Iris ever sues us, she'll probably hire Victoria as her agent. Victoria likely thinks cats aren't felons.

4) How long do you think you'll be able to keep from making a felon/feline pun?

Next question.

3) What's one of the most surprising responses you've gotten to an Iris sign?

Ha! My sister Charlene said the following and I quote: "People love Iris because she's so pretty and wise." My own older sister called "Iris" wise! Reminds me of how people used to think that Charlie McCarthy was really funny.

2) Charlie who?

McCarthy. He was late ventriloquist  Edgar Bergen's sidekick. And no, I never made the Charlene/Charlie link until right this minute.

1) Do you ever think you'll get tired of this immature word-play?

Maybe when I'm punning for the fjords

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Jesus Mary and Joseph

Everybody recalls their nativity role
 (Photo by Chris Sowder on Unsplash)
Hands up everyone who remembers what role you played in your grade-school Christmas pageant.

Hah! Just as I thought.

You all do! Rather, we all do.

Never mind that it was way more than 50 years ago, I still recall me dressing up as Saint Joseph and keeping watch over Baby Jesus.

I remember the brown cloak I was wearing and how nervous I was.

I also remember another really important part: And that is the little girl who played Mary.

She was stunning.


"Mary" had long dark hair and big brown eyes and I remember that when she visited our house before the pageant, my late mom Huena commented on her beautiful dark skin and "Mary" attributed it to a diet that included lots of olive oil. Or pasta. I forget which. But I still think those two food groups are good for your complexion.

I was six.

Here's why I'm telling you this.

Yesterday, on my way to work, I heard a couple of  local deejays toying with the idea that we all grow into the characters we played in the Christmas pageant, and I think they might be on to something.

"Shepherds?" the female announcer said. "All of them are serious stoners."

One of the guys on the show said he was jealous of his older brother who upstaged all the other kids because he played a dog in the stable and raced around the stage licking the other characters and lifting his leg to pee against the stable wall. Sounds inspired to me.

When I got to work, I told my pal Richard about the deejays.

Richard--and he's a few years older'n me--said that he had been Joseph in his pageant but things went off the rails early. Milliseconds before Richard delivered his one big line--"my wife is with child and we need a place to sleep," the joker playing the innkeeper leapt out from behind the door shouting "No room at the inn!" Joseph started giggling and couldn't stop for the rest of the show.

I totally get that.

I work alongside Richard every day. Pretty much all we do is try to make each other laugh.

I've always had lots of time for St. Joseph. Here's a guy married to a beautiful woman; she has a Kid  (upper-case K cuz it's Jesus) and even though Joe had nothing to do with the "making" of said Kid, if you catch my drift, he loves Mary and the child all the same and he's a good dad, trying to keep everybody happy while his wife and Kid make all the big decisions.

You don't have to be a biblical scholar to know that his biggest moment is when he asks for a room at the inn and gets turned down.

God knows we've all been there. You've been driving all day; everybody in the car wants to stop but the road is one no-vacancy sign after another so you power on, hopeful that around the next bend, something will be available and for some reason this is all your fault and you're thinking everybody in the car loathes your very soul. But I digress.

In real life, I happen to know that Mary from my pageant left St. Albert's shortly after grade one then later in life went on to do some runway modeling and when I ran into her in mid-high school, it was almost as if she'd forgotten me.

St. Joseph should be patron saint of the friend zone.

So I ask. Did you grow up to be your character in the pageant?  My son Michel did. He was Jesus.

Monday, December 10, 2018

In the chess game of life we are but pawn (ers)

TIED UP WITH A BOW. It was a very good
 deal with strings attached.
That fiddly thing in the picture?

It's a viola da gamba.

The photo was taken at 1:18 last Thursday afternooon, minutes after I--the world's worst bargainer--wheedled and dealed for the instrument with a tough-minded clerk in a pawnshop near my house.

That--believe it or not my first bargained-for purchase--was what I was celebrating in the pub.

And if that isn't a load of hogwash I don't know what is. I was going for a beer with my friend John O'Callaghan anyway;  it just happened that I did the pawnshop deal first. John took this pic.

But still. I did bargain for the instrument. Except not on my own behalf.  The viola da gamba belongs to Teilhard Frost.

Teilhard--one of the most colourful gentlemen on the planet--is a man you couldn't possibly do justice to in one single blog entry. When you're done reading my story, click here to get Teilhard's.

Teilhard is also the Sheesham part of the travelling minstrel show Sheesham and Lotus & Son. I've known him since he was a kid and he's never asked me for anything, ever.

Until Thursday morning.

I was at home goofing off when Teilhard Facebook messaged me to ask if I could visit a pawnshop a few blocks from my place. Teilhard, who lives about four hours from here in a boonies locale called Wolfe Island, had  been in the store recently and had seen this viola da gamba but didn't have time to deal with it so asked if I could, you know, go down and pretend I knew how to dicker and buy the thing.

Free time I had!

So down to the pawnshop I went--taking texted instructions from Teilhard all the way.

I actually asked him what I should do for openers. "What," I asked, "should my viola-da-gamba gambit be?"

"Haha," he texted back.

I asked if he had any tips. When they cooked up Carter DNA, they forgot to put in the bargaining gene. My wife Helena once told me I bargain up.

"Look tough." Teilhard advised. "And disinterested. Lots of shoulder shrugging!"

I entered the cluttered shop and found my way around to where the instrument was hanging. My first bid, from the woman serving me--got laughed at.

I left the store.

I texted that fact to Teilhard.

He said I should go higher. I asked a nearby panhandler if he'd had any experience with this store. He said they'd alway been fair with him.

I made another offer. She wouldn't budge. I stood at the counter and wondered how I was supposed to act. Should I look broke? Or suspicious? I am not wired for this.

I left. Talked to the panhandler some more. He lives near me.

Texted Teilhard. He gave me permission to make another offer.

In I went.
RESIN D'ETRE: When Teilhard plays, he doesn't fiddle around

Out I went.

The panhandler probably hadn't had such a good laugh in ages.

Teilhard gave me his final offer. I walked back in. (I am now very familiar with the inventory of this pawnshop, btw.) 

Our fourth bid won! I was thrilled.

And from among a blizzard of back-and-forth texting, here's one of Teilhard's messages: "I can use it in my educational program. I refer to them [violas da gamba] all the time I will now be able to actually demonstrate!! How exciting. Thanks so much for sweating through that!!! And sorry for all the exclamation marks."

The pleasure, dear Teilhard, was all mine.

Then he asked me if I'd measure it when I got home and I said "whattaya mean home? I'm going busking. If, that is, I can fight off the viola da gamba groupies."

To which he replied "Good luck. They are very good at the art of disguise as people who don't care."

Teilhard will take delivery of this treasure in the new year.

Me, I learned a few lessons.

First, when you get a request from a young person you feel strongly about; you're likely to be a pushover. I love Teilhard like he's my nephew and when I use the word love I don't fart around;

Also, it's easier to bargain and/or ask for money on behalf of someone else. Think about that the next time somebody wants you to help them raise money for some good cause;

And finally, even though I didn't write this blog only because it let me make the viola-da-gamba gambit pun, that's as good a reason as any.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Karen feeding of a young guy's brain

I haven't asked the woman at the centre of this story if I can use her name, but here goes nothing.

Believe it or not, I am extremely cautious about how I employ names in this blog. I never use a person's first and last names without permission.
THE DEVIL YOU SAY: Imagine the
moment you learn you share a name
with a famous dictator.

With some exceptions. For example, if a guy is famous. Or dead maybe. And of course family members and good friends, I write about with abandon.

But other than that? No names.

Well except for this chap I once did some business with whose name tag told me he is "Victor Mao." Victor Mao. I'm going to tell you about him without asking his permission.

When I asked about the surname, he told me that he'd grown up in Canada and had no idea who Mao the Chinese ruler was until his opthalmologist mentioned it when Victor was 14. Imagine being a teenager in the the eye doctor's chair and finding out your surname is one billions of people associate with one of history's most famous and infamous people.("Okay Mr. Mussolini, what letters do you see on the chart?")

Me, I just started by asking about his first name--Victor. Were his parents expecting much or what? Can a guy named Victor be allowed to lose? At anything? Ever? (There are no Victor Carters, by the way.)

Victor Mao. Not only did he seem like a well-adjusted young man,  he appeared very happy when I left his office.

But I digress. The person I'm writing about today is Karen MacIntyre, and I did not ask if I could use her name.

Karen, you have to know, is my good friend Trevor's sister.

Trevor and I first started pal'ing around when we were eight or nine; and Karen would have been all of 15 or 16.  I haven't talked to her in ages.

But when I was eight or nine, in my eyes, just being in the same house as the beautiful Karen MacIntyre was reason enough to be Trevor's buddy. She has no way of knowing this but up until that point, I'm pretty sure I'd never been in a room with a woman as good looking as Karen MacIntyre.
a.k.a., the 'Old Spice Girls' 

That she was halfways nice to skinny little big-eared me was just icing. Karen also has no idea of the profound effect she had on me.

(Pause for breath)

Here's what I'm talking about.

Four days ago, my wife Helena and I were at Costco. We were heading for the check-out line when I realized I needed deodorant. Not like, then and there. Rather, I remembered,  I was running low at home. 

We strode toward the deodorant shelf.

The choices were--as always--almost overwhelming but frankly, I don't care what brand I use. It's all the same to me. Except.

There was one type on special: five sticks for $13. And because it was on sale, that was the brand I was going to have. Under any other conditions, I never would have given it a moment's thought.

But this was different.

Here's the thing.

The older I get, the more I realize you never ever know where what you say is going to land. And take root.

We stroll through life, having conversations here; making jokes there; offering one liners on all manner of topics, never thinking for a moment that somebody might actually be listening to what you're going on about. And they'll take it to heart and carry it around for the rest of their born days.

 A long long time ago--let's say 40 years--Trevor and I--a pair of pre-adolescent grade-schoolers--were lucky enough to travel from our hometown of Sudbury to visit the wondrous Karen, when she was a nursing student in Hamilton, Ontario.

A  few things stand out from the trip.

I remember Karen and her pals showed us around McMaster University; then they took us to the Stoney Creek Dairy for ice cream cones; and finally, I remember overhearing Karen talking to one of her girl buddies.

One of them was describing how some guy had been coming on to her. And, she said, he was okay looking, but a fatal flaw made his chances of having any success less than zero.

His felony?  "He was," she told Karen, "wearing Old Spice."

Ooo----ick. Old Spice after shave.

Who knew? A buzz-kill before the word was invented.

Up until that moment, for me, splashing on Old Spice aftershave was something I sort of looked forward to doing. (Okay, shaving was pretty high up there on the wish list too.)

SEND IN THE COLOGNES: Yup. The instructions came with the product
But with one up-turn of her adolescent nose, the pretty Karen MacIntyre's pal pulled the plug on Old Spice for me.

After that? Once shaving was a thing, it had to be Brut or Hai Karate, which came with instructions on how to fight off girls, or anything; even the celtic scent of Irish Spring.

But no Old--spit ptooie--Spice for me.

Until this past Sunday. I caved.

Seems like I crossed a bridge of sorts.

This very morning, when deodorant time rolled around? It was Old Spice.

Does this mean I'm washed up? Only  thing I know for sure?

Getting old is the pits.