Friday, September 23, 2016

Sing Out Your Dead!

Just for fun, I once wrote and posted on Youtube a song called "All of My Good Friends Are Dead."

In it, I name a bunch of real guys.

A few people have asked me why I chose the ones I did.  Here's the answer:

The song starts with "All of my good friends are dead. Tommy and Alex and Ed."
NOT DEAD YET: Alex, of first verse fame.
Those are my three surviving brothers.

I don't think they were offended by being named in the song but who's asking? It's not my fault Ed rhymes with dead.

Next line--"Pat and Gerard are in the graveyard" refers to my late brother Pat, who in fact, died far too young some 27 years ago and his drinking-buddy and our first cousin the late Gerard MacIsaac. I know they'd give my ditty four nicotine-stained thumbs up.

Plus Gerard rhymes with graveyard.

Next to go? After the line
"All of my buddies are gone," I take out "Trevor and Michael and John."
Trevor is Trevor MacIntyre, and Michael is Mike Blondin, whom I've known since we were altar boys together in Sudbury. Trev and Mike are both still alive, last time I checked.
ALTAR BOYS: 40 Years hence but still on the outside of the coffin looking in.

Ditto John. That's O'Callaghan and unless something happened since Tuesday when he emailed me about a trip to the dentist to share this-- "after he pulled a tooth, I told him I felt light-headed, by about half a gram"--he's still fine thanks.

After O'C., we hear that "Nigel and Clyde, they both up and died." Nigel is my close friend and colleague Nigel Simms, who is very alive and very well in Winnipeg.
MIRROR FOGGED UP? CHECK: Simms is still here. 
In addition to copious other good qualities, Nigel is an extremely deft joke-taker, which is a rare and underappreciated personal trait, don't you think?

Clyde is Clyde Donnelly. He and I were pages together when we were in grade seven and that summer, my dad put me on a train from Sudbury to Sioux Lookout to visit Clyde and I was only 12. That was the last time i saw Clyde and I've always wondered what he got up to. I hope he's not really gone. Plus he rhymes with died.

Next comes a truly sad part.

"Some of them died in their sleep. Mike Lynch he just swam out too deep."

He really did. He was I think 16 when he drowned in a Sudbury hotel pool. He was on staff at the place and having an after-hours swim, I believe.

Everybody who knew him, including a few of other guys I mention in this song, loved Mike Lynch, and he was his parents' only child. I get teary eyed thinking about their loss.

I should also mention that when we visit Sudbury these days, we frequently stay at that same hotel and think very fondly of young Mike Lynch. So it's with no disrespect that I sing about his tragic end. I hope he'd approve.

That said...

What happens next is, "Joe Quinn crashed the car after leavin' a bar."

There is no Joe Quinn. At least as far as I know. What I meant to sing was Pat Flynn, a very alive and breathing Toronto man who owes me a phone call but I was too superstitious to use his real name. If this doesn't get his attention, nothing will.

"Some of them drank way too often.
Got carried away in their coffin.
Tom and Joe smoked
They smoked til they croaked;
And all of them drank way too often."

Every Tom and every Joe smokes and drinks.

For the record, I was singing about my brother Tom and his lifelong pal Joe Nichols who used to come to our house in Sudbury and play the guitar and sing. I bet he didn't know he'd be an inspiration to Tom's kid brother.

The best part about the next line "They're gone and they're not coming back" was when I first played this song in front of my neighbour Baxter Naday, no sooner had I finished the line than he responds, "how do you know?"

Good question.

I think he was 12 at the time and already way smarter than me.

"Not Jason, not Tim and not Jack"
were three guys I worked with when I wrote the song. I'm not saying my song was, like, foreshadowing or anything, but I don't work there any more.

I've actually changed the lyrics--but not in the uploaded version--to "Kevin" as in Kevin MacLean, "Roman"--another Sudbury altar boy whose surname Stankiewiecz rhymes with precious little on this side of the ocean, and finally, Mac, as in Macbeth "Mac" Swackhammer, who I also haven't heard from in ages.

I really should thank these guys personally for letting me exploit them, but if you can't exploit your friends, who can you exploit?

If you want to hear the actual song, click here.

Finally, speaking of composing songs and de-composing friends, did you know that you can cure earworms by chewing gum? Click here. You're welcome.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Carter Sisters’ Kook Book

Here's what my friend Alfy Meyer generously suggested last week: "You really should start compiling all your various short stories, anecdotes, observations, etc., for a book titled 'Pete's Blog and Grille." 

I really like his idea.

Some other Canadian journalists have pulled it off. A copy of the late Peter Gzowski’s “This Country in The Morning” made for great browsing and in fact maintained a place of honour in our basement bathroom for years.   

I think Alfy is on to something.

Except then he went on to suggest that because I write about my family so much, I could include some of my sisters’ favourite recipes. With pictures.

I love all my sisters. My mom gave birth to five of them. The middle girl, Mary Leona, died in infancy.

And I suppose there’s a chance that as I type Mary Leona is up in heaven turning out all sorts of tasty delights for her friends and family.

But beyond that?

When Helena and I got married, my sister Norma gave us a book full of her favourite recipes. It was a big fat text that, when we opened it, we found that she had removed all the pages and replaced them with take-out brochures.

Carter family legend has it that before Norma's wedding, she and her fiancé Paul played the following game: He placed a kitchen appliance on the counter and she guessed what it was used for.

I don’t know how she scored, but she married well. Paul is a splendid chef. He produces all sorts of great curries and cabbage rolls and delicious hearty specialties.

Ditto my sister Charlene. She also married a very good cook; namely, my brother in law Al.
My other two sisters, Mary and Bertholde, are single. I suppose they just never found partners with enough skills in the kitchen.

I credit my mom, Huena, with this phenomenon.

My mother was a very enthusiastic person in the kitchen. She had a great attitude. She never forced anybody to eat anything they didn’t like. She was not one of those parents who insisted we finish everything on our plates, and she tried really hard to please everybody’s tastes.

In fact, my sister Charlene once wrote a little poem about our mom’s generosity. It went something like: “Chicken salmon, beef or pork, she’ll cook what you desire, just visit Huena’s kitchen, it’s at 195 Eyre.” (Even though Charlene might insist on keeping her culinary skills under a barrel, she's not letting her literary ability suffer the same fate.)

195 Eyre, incidentally, is the address of the house in Sudbury that we grew up in. Mary still lives there. I’d wager it’s on the Caller ID of every takeout joint in town.

By the way, none of the Carter boys can cook worth a pinch of salt either. My brother Alex has some skills in the area, but I’m sure they’re only remarkable compared to those of his brothers. And stay tuned for my next blog post: “The Carter Brothers’ Top-10 Wood-(definitely not)-Work Projects.”

But back to my mom. Her cooking was what you might term legendary. 

When she died,  my very funny nephew Al MacNevin (Charlene’s son) cited Huena's memorable kitchen skills in a lovingly delivered eulogy. I seem to recall Al saying that even though her trademark gingerbread cookies might have been a little over-cooked, she was consistent. One batch of cookies was burnt to the very same degree as the previous batch, and in fact Al came to prefer the taste of burnt gingerbread. 

One day in her later years, in a conversation I'll never forget, my mom shared with me the following story that explains her philosophy, insofar as domestic sciences were concerned. 

She told me that when my father Tom and she were first wed, she told him, “if he wants all those children, I was going to need a housekeeper.”

Because Tom and Huena were devout Catholics, that translated to: “if he wants to so much as come close to me, we're gettin' a maid.” 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

My Last Burning Man Blog. Maybe.

My 25-year-old daughter Ria and I attended the week-long Burning Man arts and culture event in Nevada two weeks ago.
THE FRAUDSTER WAS IN: I sure looked like I knew what I was talking about. 

Because of its awe-inspiring desert location;  the devil-could-care-less dress code; the mind-tingling array of artistry and talent, and finally, the fact that Burning Man is the very first event I’ve ever attended that lets me use the word “bacchanalian” in a sentence, I’ve certainly had lots of Burning Man stories to share since returning home to Toronto.

As recently as three hours ago, Ria said something along the lines of, “Dad I keep telling myself I’m not going to talk about Burning Man anymore and then the next minute I’m like, ‘Burning Man this; Burning Man that.’”

So many interesting people; so many surprises.

I promise. This will be my final blog about the event.

Ria and I arrived at Burning Man in the very early hours of Monday, Aug. 28, separately. We didn’t mean to, it just happened.  So we spent the first night apart.  

I wasn’t sure how we were going to meet up again, but shortly after dawn on Monday, I found myself at the official Burning Man Information Booth.

I thought I could leave a message for Ria there, which might make meeting up easier

Unfortunately, the booth didn’t actually open until 9:00. I was there a good 90 minutes early.

Another important thing to know is the booth is an open-air sort of affair. There’s no door. A few chairs and church-basement table under a tarp; and that was that. I sat to await 9:00 a.m., and watched the first few hours of Burning Man come to life.  
ME AND: Somebody else's big mouth,  (just on the off chance mine wasn't capacious enough as is.)

I was just there a few minutes when a tall, slender man, looked to be in his mid-‘40s, walked up and asked me where the lost-and-found was. He had misplaced a cell phone. 

I laughed and said ‘man, there’s probably nobody on the planet who knows less about Burning Man than me. I’m just waiting for the real information people to show up. I’m trying to find my lost daughter.”

However, because I’d poked around a few moments earlier, I did know where the lost-and-found was. (It was where I met the bare naked lady in my first blog. Google "All for Naught Without My Daughter) I pointed him in the right direction.

The L&F desk didn’t open until 9:00 either, so he—Miles—grabbed the chair beside me. It was his first Burning Man, too. He was from Los Angeles. I told him if he lived in Canada we’d have to change his name to Kilometres.

Moments later, another first-timer, an East Coast professor named Chad approached Miles and me and asked if we had any advice for meeting up with some friends that he knew were on the site.

We told Chad that I had the same problem trying to find my daughter, adding the fact that Miles and I were really not the official information guys.  What we knew about Burning Man couldn’t fill a test tube.

“You sure sound like you know what you’re talking about,” he said, before taking a chair of his own.

And the parade of early-morning question askers began.

Who were we to stop them? Even though Miles, Chad and I warned each questioner that we were merely chair warmers, the information seekers were undeterred.

For 90 minutes, we were the Burning Man information booth.

The most common question that came our way, Miles handily knocked out of the park. I’m not sure what this says about Burning Man, but a surprising number of attendees simply wanted to know what time it was. Miles was wearing a watch.

One woman asked about Burning Man’s policy on Recreational Vehicles. Something about pump-outs.

Says Miles: “I know this one! I read it on Burning Man’s Wikipedia page.” So she actually got a real answer.

Because I had sussed out the lost-and-found booth, I was the go-to guy for people looking for stuff.
Somebody else had lost a bicycle. As it happens, burning man attendees rely on bikes the whole week to explore the kilometres of desert parties and exhibits.  However, the Burning Man site is also fenced off.  So it’s unlikely a bike will  actually vanish.
BIKE SPOKESMAN MILES: "A misplaced bike? At Burning Man? Qu'elle surprise!"

Over, again, to Miles. “A bike isn’t lost until Burning Man is over!”

And because Chad sat very close to the site map that was posted on the wall, he was our logistics expert. Visitor after visitor came up and asked where camp-site number such-and-such was.

Problems were being dispensed with with abandon.

Professor Chad proved he was a man of the world when, on several occasions, he channelled Monty Python with a version of “sorry, this isn’t the information department, we are the argument department.”

One client--by this time Chad, Miles and I were considering incorporating and offering freelance information services for any occasion--told me she had arrived at Burning Man unprepared and she was trying to replace some of her equipment.

“I should have planned more carefully,” she said.

My response: “As my friend and neighbour back in Toronto Kevin Healey says, take the word ‘should’ out of your vocabulary. If you’re going to do something, do it. And there’s no sense regretting what you didn’t do. Should is a useless word.”

Not exactly the answer she was looking for, but an answer.

At about 8:45, the regular information people showed up and told us to get out of their chairs.

And we did, too. But not before I was reminded of some important big-time Burning-Man style lessons.

Like this. Sometimes, just talking about a problem goes a long way to solving it. One guy put it this way:  “A problem shared is a problem halved.”

And this. Even though there’s no such thing as a dumb question, Chad, Miles and I proved there’s sure lots of dumb answers. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Hands-Down Best Part of Burning Man

YOU COULDN'T SEE US FOR DUST: Ria and I take our leave of the week-long event.
My 25-year-old daughter Ria and I just returned home to Toronto from the week-long Burning Man Arts Festival held annually in the Nevada Desert. It was her second and my first "Burn." Many people have asked me my favourite part.

* Some if not all the smart money's on the huge hug and kiss I got from a lovely young naked woman the first day of the event. (That's gotta be a contender.)
WHITE BADGES OF KLUTZINESS: The desert is no place for wusses.

* Then again, it'll take me quite a while to forget the fleeting brush with fame I experienced. I was  pushing a crippled grocery cart bogged down with 12 cases of beer from one camp to another with the help of an extremely good-looking and fit man who told me he recently performed at a casino north of Toronto but forgot the name.  "Could it be Rama?" I asked. Bingo! "And what show, huff, are you with, puff?" (Have you ever tried to push an empty grocery cart with a wonky wheel through sand, much less a full one?) Answers my fellow pusher: "I'm a back up dancer for Donny Osmond."   

* I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed explaining and then belting out Sudbury Saturday Night to a bright and surprisingly receptive public defender (in real life) whose Burning Man name was "Wonderstruck". Many returning visitors to Burning Man assume nicknames for the event. They call them playa names. Playa means desert.  My Burning Man name was "Moop". For an explanation, read on.
LOST-AND-PHONED: Just a few of the found items turned in after a night of playa partying

* One of the trademarks of Burning Man is its anti-litter-buggyness. We're all to ensure that we  leave no physical sign that we've been on the desert, so we all must watch for litter of all shapes and sizes. Even down to, say, belly-button lint and I'm not exaggerating. Burning Man calls litter "moop", which stands for "material out of place," Moop, you pick up and haul out. Mid-week, I told Ria I felt so out of place at Burning Man my playa name should be Moop, for "Man Out of Place," which prompted a fellow camp mate to add, "guess you'll get picked up a lot." (I wasn't.)

* Another highlight? The woman who told Ria and me that she thought I was "one of them rich CEOs with a beautiful young trophy wife." 

*  I'll never forget putting on the weeniest condom I've ever seen. Tuesday morning, Ria and I and a few others were helping prepare breakfast for our camp, which was so convivial and lively; it teemed with  fast-thinking articulate and funny campers and reminded me of the 4077th M*A*S*H unit but with a lot more cross-dressers.  I was on spud duty and sliced into my left thumb. Off to the medical tent I go, and the attendant patched my wound, adding, with a laugh "try to keep it clean." Nothing about Burning Man is clean. Everything is layered with desert dust and the nurse knew how difficult it would be to keep my digit sterile. To the rescue came our
MENTAL FLOSS: Some installations had more bite than others.
camp kitchen manager, "Textbook", who in the real world is a prominent Toronto sommelier and who, in his Burning Man survival kit, brought finger condoms because he knew there'd be injuries in the kitchen. I wore one all week to keep the dust off my cut. (Ria had to visit the clinic later because of a small injury and while she was being tended to, I asked--to much amusement, a lot of it mine--if the person tending to Ria was a medical professional or just a volunteer hippie with a Medical-Tent T-shirt on. Hahaha.)

* Hitching a ride to Reno after the event and being picked up by Reno-resident Tina in her beautiful clean Yukon. Meantime, Ria and I were like the Peanuts character Pig Pen on steroids. Tina never complained a minute. She told funny Burning Man stories all the way, including the one about the time their hippie friend was allowed to volunteer and serve patients in the medical tent.
VERY MOBILE HOME: Me, pedaling behind the moving house.

* That said, as much fun as it all was,  I've decided that--in competition with costumes, beautiful bodies, free bourbon and champagne, the crazily friendly atmosphere--anybody was welcome to join any conversation; you've never experienced anything like this--the broad range of  music including a barbershop quartet, intimidatingly smart "Burners" (I always felt like the dumbest guy in the  room), the ingenuity of the art cars and the overwhelming desert beauty that kept me thinking of every western I've ever watched especially Bonanza-- the hands down number-one, gold-medal-winning-by-a-long-shot best part of being at Burning Man 2016 was that I got to be with my daughter. 

I am the luckiest father I know.

Friday, September 2, 2016

All For Naught Without My Daughter

 The slender dark haired woman who stepped out from behind the lost-and-found notice board looked to be between 20 and 30 years old, she had long brown hair that fell past her shoulders and the only thing she was wearing was sunglasses. Otherwise? 
 RIA-UNITED: Spoiler alert. We found each other.

Nothing. She asked me if I was looking for something.

Yes, I said, not realizing until now how sort of creepy my answer might have sounded, I said" yes, my daughter."

"We arrived last night and somehow got separated."

I was trying to not pay attention to the fact that this helpful person was, in fact, naked. 

"What does she look like?" she asked. My daughter's in her 20s, long blonde hair, tall and fit, which described only a few thousand of the people in the area.

"I'm sure you'll find her. What you need now is a big hug." Which she administerd, before walking away.

That was the first morning of my vsit. 

Now it's four days later. I'm writing this from a folding beach chair on Thursday afternoon. It's day four of an annual weeklong cultural and arts event held in Nevada's Black Rock Desert called Burning Man. If you're not familiar with Burning Man, google it after you read my blog.

There're lots of better pictures on the web than I could ever take and it's hard to describe, but fact is, if the sight of men and women in various states of dress, down to and including bare nakedness, offends you, ya might not like Burning Man.

My twin daughters Ewa and Ria attended a few years ago and this year, Ria--with her sister's full support--bought me and her flights to Reno and tickets to Burning Man.

Notice I said flights to Reno?  It's a good two hours south of here.

The plan was to cadge rides from the Reno airport with other Burning Man attendees, or "burners."

The Reno airport flies all sorts of Welcome Burners signs and a woman sitting at a special table near the luggage pickup was handing out "I need a Ride to Burning Man" signs.  The road from Reno to the Burning Man site Sunday was a parade of RVs, sedans with car-toppers and pickups carrying so much stuff I kept thinking of the Clampett family's move to Beverly. (I learned yesterday from some onsite researchers that your typical Burner sure ain't no hillbilly,  An admittedly rough survey showed the average attendee pulls in more than $50K a year and the vast majority have university degrees.)

Conversations here are never boring. (Ditto the dress code). And the philosophy around Burning Man
is one of  "radical self-reliance" but also leaving absolutely no trace of having been on the desert for a week. What you bring in, you take out with you. Hence the loaded-down vehicles. And hence the availability of rides from the airport.

So Ria and I did indeed get rides.

In separate cars.  Sunday evening.

And what day was I  at the lost-and-found? That's right. Monday.

Foreshadow much?

I got a lift in a half-ton camper with a California couple,  Daryll and Bee, Burning Man veterans who schooled me on etiquette and warned me about how desert dust finds its way into every nook, cranny, and other places the sun's rays never alight.

Ria went with somebody else in an RV, and we agreed that we would meet at the campsite that Ria
had previously managed to have reserved for us. Even though Burning Man is a temporary community, it is gridded off like a well-planned city. We were to meet at site 6:15-A. Whichever of us arrived first would start setting up camp and wait for the other.

Good plan eh?

Did I mention there are thousands of campsites? And that it was night? And even though Daryll knew the grid and agreed to drive me right to our site,  when we got near  we realized that you couldn't drive a vehicle into what I thought was the 6:15-A area. Daryll took me as close as possible and dropped me-- along with my 13 kg backpack with a sleeping bag bungee-corded to it plus four gallons of drinking water in two separate jugs and of course no cell phone or means of contacting Ria wherever she was--off. In the dark. Smack in the middle of a city of campsites, RVs, tents and thousands of strangers.

And for reasons I won't go into here except to say you'd think a guy my age would at least consider an occasional plan-b, and of course I hadn't, I got lost. In the dark. In a jungle of tents, invisible guy wires, dead ends.  Finally, at one point, after at least an hour of my impossible trek, I stopped at a campsite and asked  the woman--she looked about Ria's age-- for advice. Or help.
SO FA SO GOOD: Where I spent my first night

Her first response? "Mister, you need a drink." And then, "We have a couch, right there, that you can use til you resume your search in the daylight."

Confident that Ria was likely somewhere on the Burning Man site, and feeling in my muscles every inch of the trip that had started back at my house in Toronto earlier in the day, I accepted the offer.

I suprised myself by sleeping. Til dawn.

I left all my stuff beside the couch and headed down to the Burning Man public message centre. I'd tripped across it during the night but it was closed.

The message centre is also right beside the lost and found booth, which is where I ran into the woman  back there in the first paragraph.

I told her about losing Ria. And joked that describing my daughter -- a tall slender 25-year-old blonde woman--described about 10,000 other burners.

The naked lady's response? "You need a hug!" Which, to my suprise, she delivered. Then as she walked away, she glanced back and said "If I were you, I'd get myself another 25 year old."

P.S. Ria and I found each other about an hour later. And I could be wrong but I haven't seen the lost-and-found girl again, I'm pretty sure.