Wednesday, December 18, 2019

All the Pellis News That's Fit to Print

 LIFE IMITATING PULP: Why did Mother Nature give us
siblings if we can't exploit them?
Pellis News--or "Pellis's"--was a variety store precisely one city block east of the house in which we Carters grew up in the northern Ontario mining town of Sudbury.

About the same number of steps from our home in a northerly direction was the elementary school  that we Carters all attended--St. Albert's--but Pellis's was where a few of us got most of our education.

To whit: It was at Pellis's that I learned how to buy smokes.

After I got to maybe seven or eight years of age, my dad and later my older brother Tom sent me with some regularity to Pellis's to buy "large Export Plains," which meant when the time came for me to start sneaking smokes at 11 or 13, Export Plain was the only brand I knew how to buy.

Pellis's sold everything a human needed to survive: birthday presents, greeting cards, pop, ice cream and several hundred different types of candy, from two-cent paper straws filled with sugary something to boxes of Mother's Day chocolates.

The racks along the south wall? A magazine lover's paradise though young Peter had neither the height nor the nerve to reach way up there to the very back rows from where the Playboy magazine models smiled down at him.

But MAD and Cracked and Archie Comics Digests? Right at shin level and here's something: I don't recall any signs that read: "Buy'em here; read'em at home." (Speaking of Pellis's magazines, I just remembered something  that verges on the miraculous. I'll get to it in a minute.)

Pellis's was for hanging out at. It was west end Sudbury's pre-Internet version of  Facebook.

The store did God's work in many many ways

To Pellis's-purchased Classics Illustrated comics (and Bugs Bunny operas) I attribute much of the stuff I pretend to know about western civilization's finest art and culture.
 DUMAS FOR DUMMIES: Therein we studied
the canon

Right near Pellis's westernmost wall was a pinball machine with a sign that read "Restricted to 16 and over" or something like that.

I find this hard to believe but we little guys used to pay the older boys to let us share the machine. Using the nickel we provided, the older kid would, with his right hand, press the ball release and right flipper while I--feeling very grown up and somewhat sinister -- got to press the left flipper button.

To do this, we asked the older guys "to let us play a flipper," which now sounds really creepy.

That my dad sweated every day and night to earn those nickels that I then wasted in Pellis's pinball machines never ceases to astound.

I think I was a bit spoiled.

Perpendicular to the pinball machines hung row after row of paperback novels, many of them very--to a 10-year-old boy--provocatively covered.

Mickey Spillanes were my favourite.

I included that picture of the novel called Norma: How low can a woman sink? because of the following true story.

When she was a teenager, my older sister Norma actually worked at Pellis's. Many of the older guys had a crush on Norm and I remember exactly where I was standing when one of them--who went on to be a Mountie--picked this exact item from Pellis's bookshelf and waved it in my sister's direction, saying: "Norma. How Low Can A Woman Go?"

Mr. Mountie-to-be also had a lisp and I thought he sounded, well, worldly. The depths of my little-boy idiocy would challenge Jacques Cousteau.

Here's where we get to the miraculous part.

Much, much later in life, I grew up to be a magazine and newspaper editor.  A not-insignificant arrow in my journalistic quiver was my ability to write attention-getting headlines. One of my mentors, the founding editor of the Toronto Sun, Peter Worthington, said my facility with headlines could be attributed to the fact I was the youngest of 10 and learned early how to get attention. He might have been on to something.

Worthington and I were not the only ones who figured I had a flair for catchy titles. A bunch of  years ago, I won second prize in the "Best magazine headline writer in the country contest" (or something like that), held by the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors. I was thrilled.

SILVER-PENNED WALSH: He has headline writing
down Pat.
But pay attention.

The guy who won gold--and I hope you appreciate how painful it is for me to admit this-- writes headlines so sparklingly they make mine look like Ikea furniture-assembly manuals.

His name is Patrick Walsh and he is the editor of Outdoor Canada magazine.

But that's not important.

What's important is Pat's father Bud was born four houses north of me, on Eyre Street. Patrick's grandparents Frank and Mary were almost like members of our family.

And I happen to know that when Pat--empirically the best magazine cover line writer in the whole country--was a kid, he often visited his grandfather's house and from there, he would sometimes be sent on errands to--I'm getting all teary-eyed excited in a Lourdesy sorta way about this--Pellis's.

Where all the great magazines were.

Pellis News.

It's no longer in business. I'm pretty sure that its owner, Gino Pellis, has since died and gone to heaven.


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