Friday, January 27, 2017

5 Things You Oughtta Know about Preachers' kids.

I Google-Imaged Preacher's Kid and got this. Guess I  better watch it. 
I’ve never met a preacher’s kid I didn’t like. 

This occurred to me earlier this week after spending a few days and evenings with a long-time chum named Jan De Pater whose late dad was a Dutch Christian Reform Minister. 

Besides Jan, I can recall six others: Jeremy Mahood, Mac Swackhammer, Sheila Stewart, Steve Burgess, David Dorazio, and, most recently, an unpredictable and extremely good-hearted public defender named Rob I met last summer in Nevada. (If anybody reading this knows me and is a preacher's kid and I forgot to name you, I'm sorry but not worried because near as I can tell, PK's are big on forgiveness.)

THEE-OR-ET-IC-ALLY, Roman Catholics don’t have preacher’s kids. If they do, they don't talk about them. Except Tom Day, a priest in Toronto’s infamous housing project known as  Regent Park. He adopted a couple of Vietnamese refugee children kids back in the '70s because nobody told him he couldn’t. He died--and if ever there was a person who got to heaven it was Tom Day--in 2010. Then there was Catholic Father Ted Silaj, in Elliot Lake, Ontario, where my first newspaper job was. He was a Catholic priest with count'em seven PKs. He was also married for 40 years. The catch with Fr. Silaj was, he got ordained a year after his wife passed away.

But back to the Protestants.

There’s been a ton of research conducted on PKs. And I've not read a word of it.

And since I was raised Catholic, there’s probably nobody on the planet LESS qualified than me to prepare, off the top of his head, a list of 5 things you should know about PKs.

But lack of knowledge has never stopped me from tackling a subject before, so here goes:

* They’re really funny. Wikipedia calls Steve Burgess the “Garrison Keillor of the Prairies” A few years ago he published a loving and hilarious memoir about growing up a PK surrounded by loving brothers and sisters and called it “Who Killed Mom?” One review deemed it “A Delinquent Son's Meditation on Family, Mortality, and Very Tacky Candles” He’s a gifted writer, good looking, he's making a living by writing funny stories and he's younger than me. I hate  him.

* PKs all border on something like sleazy. I mean that in the most noble of senses. A few years ago,  I was in the room when one of them--who in his teens played in his dad’s church orchestra--was asked, “Is it easy to get dates with the girls in the church?” The young PK’s answer: “Like shootin’ fish in a barrel.”

* They’re probably too honest for their own good. I’d trust any of them with my P.I.N. or car keys. They also seem be attracted to jobs where the money isn’t.

* Take my neighbor Sheila for instance. She has a house with a hedge; she has two beautiful smart daughters and a tall quiet spouse Richard who walks the dog.  In other words, Sheila presents as normal; she has a PhD in something. Her profession? Poet. She—like her PK colleague Burgess—is also a published writer. Macbeth Swackhammer curated museums.

*  They treat life like an experiment. Remember Nevada Rob from the first paragraph? I met him at that hallucinogenic arts orgy in the desert called Burning Man and seconds after making his acquaintance, surrounded by partying hordes who were far less-clad and far less-high than I was, Rob and I got right into the big issues: goodness, badness, the meaning of life. They're all like that.  PKs simply do  not do small talk. Small walk neither. Earlier this week, the aforementioned Jan De Pater told me he is sometimes glad he’s not a kid anymore.

“If I did the stuff I used to do,” he said, “I’d probably be in jail.”

I’ll leave it to him to explain that to his mate Elizabeth and their four kids.

I just realized something.

Church attendance ain’t what it used to be. 

I think I'll call Greenpeace. PKs belong on the endangered-species list. The world needs more of them, not less.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Where you Winsome and lose some. But mostly win.

See that smiling lady in the photo? She's Winsome.

Google tells us winsome means "attractive or appealing in appearance or character." And Google uses, as an example, "a winsome smile."

I took the picture about two hours ago. But it was more like 10 years ago that I first spoke to Winsome and told her she had the perfect name.

That was also the first time I went through the take-out lane at the McDonald's where Winsome works. And that visit didn't come long after I started working in this office where I am today; where I'm spending  this final  day, in fact. Come Monday, I'll be working  from home full time.

Over the years I likely visited Winsome's McD's a few times a month. But  I should add this: I've heard  that when a doctor asks a Canadian guy how much he drinks, the doctor usually listens to the answer and then doubles it to get a nearer-to-the-truth amount. It's probably the same when you ask a guy how often he eats at a McDonald's.

I'd like to tell you more about Winsome but when somebody's working the McDonald's pickup window, they're seldom in a position to converse, per se (Get it? Converse? Per se? Never mind.)

There  always seemed to be somebody behind me in line and McD's staffers don't get a lot of free time. Indeed, it's maddening that the rest of  the world fails to run on my schedule. But I'm pretty sure Winsome doesn't know my name and that I think about her more than she does me.

But something very nice happened between me and Winsome today.

Like I said. Today's my last day here. I spent a good deal of time cleaning up. I didn't want to take a long lunch so at about 1:00, I hopped into my Malibu, drove six minutes to McD's for something to go. (That always makes me think of my cousin Joe MacDonald. He told me that the guy working in the  kitchen at Gus's Restaurant near our house must have been named Tugo, because the order taker at the cash register out front would yell "two cheeseburgers Tugo!" But I digress.)
Cleaning up  before taking my leave

I got to the order window and told the order taker I'd like a Greek salad. Tugo. McDonald's salads are quite tasty and I'll never forget the first time I had one. Yes, it was at Winsome's; in fact, the day I ordered it, I pulled up to the takeout window, you know who opened it, handed me the bag but said "Hey! Look at you! Having a healthy salad! Good for you!"

Yup. I'd be lying if Winsome's heartfelt cheer of enthusiasm didn't affect my McDonald's buying habits from then on. I've eaten healthier since. And newsflash: McDonald's salads are just as palate-friendly as anything else they make.

You never can tell, can you?

So, after all those years, today finally arrived. I took my final trip to the drive-thru. I ordered a Greek salad, paid at the cash booth, then drove slowly up to the pickup window.

The sliding glass door opened, and yeessss!  Winsome!!

She greeted me like a long-lost cousin, albeit one that I was meeting in jail. We were separated by glass, after all.

I asked if I could take her picture. She asked why. I said I was moving on; that this might be the last time I visit her and I'd like to write about it.

She probably thought I was nuts but she said okay, then stood back and grinned a smile that I can state categorically was good for my health.

That is what I call winsome.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Biggest Story I Never Wrote

A GIANT OF A MAN: Me, I mean. The guy who  didn't make the obvious joke.    
The only time I've been in a recording studio--the kind you see in movies--was about 27 years ago. I was on staff at a magazine called Influence and researching a story about jazz pianist Hagood Hardy. Hardy--best known at the time for an AM-radio hit called "The Homecoming"-- invited me in to watch him record a track on his new jazz album.

I remember thinking, "Wow I'm in the studio! This is like writing for Rolling Stone."

Hardy--a very generous and interesting guy by the way--was at his piano surrounded by a handful of other musicians. I, on the other side of the glass, sat  on a comfortable leather couch. Beside me was a gentleman about my dad's age.

I asked why he was there.

He pointed to the bass player and said it was his son Richard. I asked if Richard might have been on any records I'd heard. The man said he didn't know but then added, "You've likely heard me."

He said his name. "Bob Homme." It sounded familiar, but he then quickly did me the favour of not making me guess.

"I was," he said extending his hand, "the Friendly Giant."

I was awestruck.

I had just shaken hands with The Friendly Freaking Giant.

On the off chance you have no idea what I'm talking about, I'd have to think an American equivalent would be finding yourself on a couch talking to Captain Kangaroo, in civvies. Or Big Bird.

Friendly--star of the children's tv show "The Friendly Giant" was that big. And of course he wasn't. He was shorter than me. But never mind that.

I just wish they'd invented Selfies. I would love to have had a record of this event.

Everybody my age in Canada--and I'd wager this is one of the few times where "everybody" means everybody--can recall with great detail the measured camera pan of  The Friendly Giant show's molasses-paced opening sequence, during which the castle doors swung open, his huge hand reached down out of the top of the TV screen and set out the furniture for his visitors.

"One little chair for one of you, and a bigger chair for two more to curl up in, and for someone who likes to rock, a rocking chair in the middle."

That's the hand I shook!  The one that put all the little furniture in place.

I could go into any bar, retirement home or AA meeting from St. John's to Tofino and find most people in the room of a certain vintage will know Friendly's theme music, the names of the main characters including Rusty the Rooster who lived in a bag hanging off the castle wall and Jerome the genial but goofy giraffe.

After the opening sequence, the next 13 minutes were taken up by Friendly telling stories and then jamming with Rusty, Jerome or whatever little critters dropped by. Rusty also had the ability to find huge instruments in his bag that had no right to fit. I don't know how they got in there. In fact, if I didn't know better I'd think this story was about an acid trip.

Here's something Friendly  told me. The musical sequences? The ones with the guitar-playing squirrel and other talented critters-- were performed by some of Canada's top jazz musicians, including Moe Koffman--who were at the beginning of their careers and looking for quick gigs.

I'm telling you all this now because as recently as two days ago,  I found myself in the position of explaining the Friendly phenomenon to my daughters Ev and Ria, my son Michel and his fiancee Zoe and listening in was Michel and Zoe's son Mateus, who's eight months but mature enough I think to hear this important information.

The older four--all in their early 20s--hadn't known about Friendly but seemed eager to learn.

After I whistled the theme song for them and explained the opening sequence,  Ev asked, "why would a giant's castle have tiny chairs? Wouldn't it make sense for them to be big?"

I thought a moment. She had me. I told her she was right. Sort of shook my world but I didn't let on.

Later in the day, I put the same question to my older brother Eddie who was on the Sudbury High School Reach for the Top team and holds a degree in philosophy from Laurentian University.

I believe he's a specialist in Kant--and if you knew Eddie you'd realize that his being a Kant expert is such a terrific play on words it qualifies for a blog all its own.

To the small-furniture-in-the-giant's-house conundrum, Eddie stood by Friendly. "It made sense to have small furniture because Friendly was having little people in to visit!" All that Laurentian tuition paid off.

And these are the kinds of discussions we have in our house.  .

I must also report that when I realized who I was sitting beside, I did not--repeat not--make a joke about expecting him to be much taller.

In fact I think I might put that on my epitaph. "Here lies Peter Carter who, when he met The Friendly Giant, refrained from making the most obvious joke ever."

And that's the kind of thing we are proud of in our house.

What I'm not so proud of is I waited until today to report this important story.

My Hagood Hardy profile turned out fine, but the real story, which I failed to report until now, was my close encounter with the big guy.

Reminds me of the young reporter sent out to cover a new soprano's operatic debut but when he returned to the newsroom after the show, he told the boss: "There's no story here. The show didn't happen. Singer committed suicide just before showtime."

For the record, I've yet to be called by Rolling Stone.