Friday, September 29, 2017

Where we learn how to truck the dog

After a long and selfless career making people healthier,  my friend Pete's father Jim had recently closed his medical practice. My wife Helena and I visited Pete and Jim at their family cottage.

We were on their dock when I asked Dr. Jim what he'd been doing with all his new-found free time.

Without a moment's hesitation, he said, "I just pretty much truck the dog all day."

Except he didn't say "truck".

He--a physician--utilized a verb that sounds a lot like "truck" but starts with "f."

I chuckled a bit and glanced at Dr. Jim. He was looking at Helena. Helena was looking at Jim's dog, laying peacefully on the dock. Less than one second had passed since Jim finished the word "dog"  before it became abundantly clear that my wife Helena had never heard the expression "truck the dog" (but not truck) before.

Imagine hearing a man you really don't now that well say he's just been trucking a dog but rather than truck he employed a verb that rhymes with it.

Come to think of it, Helena might have even got a little scared.

And so it fell to Jim and me to quell-- as fast as humanly possible--what could have morphed into a-- worse-comes to worst--life-changing perverse legal crisis. "Which of these two men" the prosecuting attorney would ask, "is doing WHAT to the dog?"

"Trucking [except, you know] the dog," we told Helena, is an extremely common industrial expression that means to do nothing. Goof off. Take it easy when the boss isn't around.  In virtually every workplace and community where I've spent time, from working as a truck driver to editing news stories at one of Toronto's biggest newspapers, The Toronto Sun, I've heard the expression "truck the dog."

Just last year, a colleague from New York asked me to describe somebody we both know. I said the man was a "serious dog trucker," and ONLY AFTER TWO WEEKS passed did I learn that  the New Yorker was talking to was not conversive with the "dog trucker" expression. Who knows what went through his brain?

I have no idea where the expression "dog trucking" comes from. I could Google it but I'm such a lazy dog trucker I'm not going to.

So widespread is the phrase,  to my ears, dog trucker doesn't even sound like a swear.

Shortly after the episode on the dock with Dr. Jim and his hound, I remember asking a very close friend who grew up in a mining town in British Columbia and then attended some seriously frou-frou universities where she earned all sorts of degrees in classical music before eventually becoming one of the top radio producers at Canada's national broadcaster, if she knows about "dog trucking." 

Her answer: "Doesn't everybody?"

This very morning, I found myself schooling my older sister Mary, who claims to have never heard the phrase before today.

We were walking up a street near my house and moments after I first expressed my surprise that she wasn't familiar with "dog trucking" we were passing a couple of gentlemen sitting in the doorway of a construction job. Without losing stride, I asked, "Hey you guys truckin' the  dog today or what?" (But I didn't say 'truckin'). One laughed and said "you betcha" and the other: "And gettin' paid for it."

In my world, trucking the dog is so commonplace it has become de-fanged. It holds neither rancor nor prejudice. It sounds like neither a swear nor, now that you mention it,  an act. Indeed, trucking the dog is the opposite of an act. It's doing nothing.

To my ears, the phrase has reached such milquetoast status that I shouldn't be surprised to hear Prime Minister Trudeau drop it. (I wish other words could become so defanged. This all reminds me of one of my favorite Carleton University Journalism school lectures, led by the late Wilf Kesterton, who said "In Canadian newspapers, you're allowed to write 'I've pricked my finger' but not vice versa." Or something like that.)

It just occurred to me that maybe the reason my sister Mary doesn't know about dog-trucking is that she never stops working.

I, on the other hand, was surprised Helena wasn't familiar with "dog truckers" because her husband is a past master.

I've known about dog-trucking since I can't remember. 

I do, however, recall in close detail when and which of my four older brothers told me the following joke when I was working in the mining town of Elliott Lake, Ontario, which is where he was living, too.

"A British truck driver pulls into a factory and meets a couple of Canadian guys working there. He asks them what they're doing and one of the guys says, "Nothin', just sittin' here truckin' the dog." And the second guy says,"Yup. Been truckin' the dog all mornin."

And the Brit says, "Good Lord you Canadians are honest. I trucked a goat once but I never told anybody."

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Now hear this: 5 musical lessons learned on the great Upstate New York Motorbike Tour

LULLABY FOR A HARLEY: It's gettin' on. Sometimes it needs a nap. Now.
When my twin daughters Ev and Ria were tiny babies, my father Tom, who lived 300 km north in our hometown of Sudbury, called them the "tough girls from Toronto."

Tom died before Ria and Ev were even able to walk, but I know he would be thrilled that this past August, I and one of those tough girls, Ev, took a five-day motorbike trip around northern New York State; she on her 2002 BMW 650 GS and me on my aging but still reliable 1993 Harley-Davidson Sportster 883. The trip was unforgettable and as I mentioned to my neighbour Pierre only yesterday, sometimes, just recalling certain moments of our week make me feel good inside.
EARS LOOKIN' AT YOU KID: Earbuds took biking to a whole new level.

Among the grace notes: the soundtracks. 

During much of the ride, Ev and I wore earbuds and motorcycled to carefully compiled playlists. (Ev helped build mine, which led to quite a few wonderful surprises.)

Cruising around well-paved winding two-lane roads to music you love is a magical transcendent experience and it just occurred to me that I've never used the word transcendent before so I must have been subconsciously saving it up for a special occasion and this is it.

While I won't bore you with a play-by-play (get it?) account,  I want to share five musical highlights. In ascending order of emotion.

5)  Not sure whether it was Ev or me that added AC/DC's Thunderstruck to my mp3 player. And I'd never listened to the song closely before but here's what I learned on the bike.  Remember Pierre from a few paragraphs ago? Turns out, when his family's dog, Junior, fetches a ball, he makes a sound that is a lot like the growling noise you hear in the first few bars of Thunderstruck,  Turn up your speakers and here's Junior, fetchingAnd here's  "Thunderstruck." 

4)  One of the pieces I downloaded was the "William Tell Overture"; a.k.a. "Theme from the Lone Ranger and some Bugs Bunny shows, too."  What I didn't know was that you don't get to the Lone Ranger part until about 8.5 minutes into the 12-minute piece but leading up to it is some simply breathtaking meandering meadow-driving-past music. Lesson being, not every motorcycle song has to sound like Thunderstruck.

3) Which brings us to John Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane" and it was on our trip that I first noticed that he sings the following heartfelt sentiment to his girlfriend: "All those times I've fooled around; they don't mean a thing."  I wonder if she was like, "Okay John. Since you put it that way."

2) Is a twofer: Two of the finest road songs are both called "On The Road Again;" One by Willie Nelson; another by Canned Heat.  I can't decide which is better. So it's a tie.

1)  Finally, I still remember which stretch of New York highway we were on when--moved by the scenery, the joy of being with Ev, the thrill of the bike, and well, hearing for the very first time this song that Ev managed to sneak on to my playlist, I started, well, crying. Behind my visor, real salty tears. Just a-streamin.'

Ev might be a tough biker girl from Toronto but she sure knows where her old man's soft-spots are. The song, which has stuff about biking with her dad, is performed by Beyonce and the Dixie Chicks; is called  "Daddy Lessons"  ; and  I hope I keep on learning them until I die.  

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Watch as Pete wins his political "Participant" ribbon

MY MAN STAN: He's never fails to entertain.
I'm so proud of myself that I'm going to brag about what just happened and then--for the remainder of this extraordinary day--just goof off.

Here's what happened.

I just spent a few hours at a Canadian Business History conference at the University of Toronto which I wouldn't have otherwise known about except my friend since grade 10 Stan Sudol was presenting so I wanted to go cheer him on. Stan killed it--he even managed to quote Stompin Tom Connors. I'd go see him again anytime.

After his presentation, we got a free lunch consisting of delicious pulled pork sandwiches and huge piles of desserts and then, Stan and I left the conference to get back to our real lives.

Out on the street, we were talking beside my motorcycle when suddenly, the guy who'd just given the lunchtime keynote exited the building and crossed towards us.

I said to Stan.

"It's Perrin Beattie!"

The Honourable Perrin Beattie is currently the president and CEO of the 200,000-member Canadian Chamber of Commerce and while I was enjoying the chocolate cake dessert, he was speechifying about the relationship between Canadian industry and our country's prosperity. He is also a former career politician, federal cabinet minister and--among people who care about things like this-- a household name. He's the kind of guy who gets doors opened for him.

When Stan and I spotted him, Beattie was trying, with no luck, to hail a taxi.
THE PERILS OF PERRIN: He sure didn't expect to hear from me.

"Wow," I said loud enough for him to hear, "Even Perrin Beattie can't get a cab in this town."

We headed towards him and Stan says something like, "We were just at your speech. Nice work."

We got closer. I stuck my hand out. "My name's Peter Carter. I'm a freelance magazine writer. We heard your presentation." I pointed to my bike. "I also have an extra helmet. If you have to be somewhere in a hurry, I can give you a lift."

Him: "Uh, no thanks."

Me: "I'm serious."

Him: "Thanks." He remained remarkably congenial, adding, "I have to be downtown but thanks."

Me: "Would it be your first time on a bike?"

Him: "Yes, it would."

Still. No taxi.

This was getting fun.

Stan asked if Beattie was from United Empire Loyalist stock, which is a certain part of the Canadian population descended from early American colonists who wanted no part of separating from England and immigrated to Canada after the American revolution. Beattie said he wasn't.

Then I did what I said I'm so proud of. And I took myself by complete surprise.

"Mr. Beattie," I said, going into double-barrelled sales mode, "I have something I think you ought to know about.

"My friend Alex McKee, he's a retired investment banker. He's launched this thing called  It's a not-for-profit designed to bring millennials together with older mentors...."

I went on and on and kept saying " this" and " that."

"I'll watch for it," he said.

Still no cabs.
NO BLOG has ever suffered by the inclusion of a motorbike
photo or two, no matter how gratuitous.

"Alex didn't start to turn a profit. He did it to help the country and get all those millennials working."

And I actually told him--lightning fast--how the business department at Brock University is involved. Both he and Stan thought it sounded like the interesting idea that is; and I said "you'll be hearing more about"

He said "there's probably a lot of senior people who'd want to give something back too."

I put the sales pitch on hold.

"Still no cabs. I do have that extra helmet you know."

"No thanks," the gentleman--and he was extremely friendly--responded. "I think the subway will present less risks."  With that, he smiled and walked away. As did--after he and I caught up with family stuff--Stan.

It occurred to me later that because I'd introduced myself as a journalist (not something I always do) I could produce a little story about the encounter.

But first, just to make sure I had the details right,  I emailed Stan the following question: "Based on our little conversation with the guy, I'd have to say that he thought the millennialxchange thing was an okay idea, right?"

Stan emailed me back: "Yes. He did."

Then I called Alex at to tell him how I had buttonholed the head of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to tell him how Alex was helping kids out of their parents' basements, one millennial at a time and that Mr. Beattie, the former cabinet minister and current head of Canada's national Chamber of Commerce, with more than 200,000 members, believes is a good thing.

And although he doesn't let on, sometimes I have the distinct impression Alex McKee believes I've lost it.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Oh write your own damn headline with "scoop" in it. I'm too pooped.

Sign number-one that we live in the wealthiest society of all time? We use real folding money to buy something called kitty litter, and that kitty litter actually comes with something called supplies.

Specially manufactured items for cat poop.

There's a pet-supply store on my block called the Kennel Cafe and when I entered an hour ago, without a hi-how-are-you,  I told the clerk I needed a new kitty-litter scoop and he pointed me to a door, saying, "through that door on the left--all the kitty-litter supplies."

Sign number two: There were at least eight different kinds of kitty-litter scoops on offer.

Three: I didn't just grab the one handiest to me; I actually compared the various kitty-litter scoops and hung the first one I picked up back on the display wall. It was a pretty blue and all but as soon as I had it in hand I realized it was a bit big and might not be perfect for getting at the lumps in the corners of the kitty littler box.

Four: I chose a smaller one that actually has a little kitty's face extruded into the scoopy part.

But it wasn't the cat-shaped grate that sold me. And neither did the fact that the label promised:   "CLEANS IN SECONDS!"

Or that it's

"WIDE! with more Triangular-Tines that quickly power through clean litter." (I ask myself, "Who writes this stuff? And then I answer myself, "Me, if asked!")

This next part was the clincher:

"Easily SAVE 30 to 72 hours a year!!" with two exclamation marks.

I took my new scoop over to the clerk and said, rather exclaimed, "this scoop is going to save me 30 to 72 hours a year!!"

I continued: "If I thought I spent more than 30 hours a year cleaning cat litter, I'm not sure it's worth going on any longer."

The clerk agreed.

And added; "That's a pretty big gap. Between 30 and 72 hours! How do you suppose they measured? Do you think they monitored people?"

Me: "I have a few Carleton University credits I earned with less time invested than that."

I bought it anyway. And as I walked home, a little discouraged at the thought that I might actually use, like 40 hours a year scooping up after our cats Kiwi and Iris who don't really contribute that much to my otherwise busy life, I stopped an off-duty security guard and asked her to take that lovely photo of me and my new scoop.

I asked her if she thought 40 hours on litter duty was a lot.

"You might," she said,  "be surprised, if you actually counted."

I'm not going to.

I will, however, heed the advice on the label and follow the scoop-manufacturing company--BEAMER--on Facebook and--with more enthusiasm--Twitter.

Under normal circumstances I'd take the opportunity to make some sort of joke about litter on twitter but it's been a long week and I'm a busy guy.

 I don't have time to waste on crap like that.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

How my father raised a bunch of (tea) potty-mouth anarchists

SONS IN ANARCHY: From left, Me, Ed, Pat, Tom Sr.,
Tom Jr., and Alex
When we were little, my brothers and sisters and I frequently rode around in various motor vehicles with my dad, Tom. Most often we were in the family pick-up truck but sometimes Dad drove a car and--because he and his brother owned a fleet of buses--we were frequently the only passengers in a 44-passenger motor coach.

Whatever we were in, Tom had a dad-thing he did: When he saw a police cruiser he said, "The police! Duck!'

It's not that we were doing anything illegal. He just thought it was funny.

And while this is not the point of my story, I think the "duck-it's-the cops" thing was in fact subversive because I realized the other day that my entire family is a bunch of anarchists. I discussed this with my sister Norma recently and we agreed that no Carter in history has ever obeyed the law just because it's the law. That many of the laws of the land happen to be more or less in sync with our own values is a convenient coincidence, but getting a Carter to play by the rules just because they're the rules? Forget it! But that's material for another day.

Back to Dad.

 FUZZ IN A BUS: In one of these units,
 our entire family could hide from
the cops
Another Tom/dad thing? When one or more of us did something that made him angry, rather than yell or lash out, he just hummed. A little melody. Always the same, it sounded like a slow, drawn-out version of the first few notes of that old folk song "Shortnin' Bread." All I do know for sure is that if we heard humming, Tom was steamed.

Other times, he signaled irritation by whistling. Very softly. Like a teakettle before it hits full throttle.

And until I wrote that last sentence, I had completely forgotten this: When Tom saw something that might make you say "holy cow!" or somebody else say  "well go figure!" Tom's go-to expression was--you'll like this: "holy ol' teapot, cream-jug and sugarbowl."

Seriously. How weird is that? He was the only person I've ever heard use that expression; and I just spent the better part of the last 30 seconds Google-searching to see if anybody else ever said it, and nothing.

I'm going to believe Tom coined "Holy ol' teapot, cream-jug and sugarbowl"  and if I ever form a band I'm calling it Holy Ol' Teapots.

Which brings to mind one of the first times I recall  Tom ever using what I considered a swear. (Which is probably why most of us Carters don't cuss much. I think the pottiest mouth of all of us is my sister Mary, and she used to be a Nun! Most of the others? They're so non-foul mouthed it verges on embarrasing!)

Anyway, Dad was talking about a passenger on his bus who'd had too much to drink and when they got to her stop, he opened the bus doors, she stepped down, tripped, and ended up --and I quote:  "ass over teakettle in the ditch." What a great description! And it begs the question--what part exactly is your teakettle?

Get this:  I just Googled "ass over teakettle."  And what I got was a message from my late mom in heaven.

About "ass over teakettle, the Urban Dictionary has this to say and I'm not making it up: "Used frequently by weird Canadian mother-in-laws. 'Damn, Tom got really wasted and fell out of his chair, ass over teakettle'."