Saturday, December 26, 2020

A love story. In small pieces

Dear Anne Bentley:

never know where the 
 important lessons are

Anne, I live in Toronto, Ontario, with my wife Helena and our 14-old-cat Iris. 

I'm writing you this Boxing Day morning not only to wish you and yours a Happy Christmas and all the best for 2021 but also because on the coffee table in front of me sits a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle titled Love Lives Here that you designed the original art for. (I got your website info off the box.)

Anne, Helena and I are not jigsaw puzzle doers. 

Love Lives Here arrived as an out-of-the-blue gift from our good friend Bernadette Gillen a few weeks ago (no-occasion presents are the best) and when we initially unwrapped the parcel, my response--I think it's safe to report--was "Really? A jigsaw puzzle? I wonder who we know would like a jigsaw puzzle."


LIKE SNOWFLAKES: No two puzzle pieces are 
identical, but when they're piled high and deep...
Maybe the thing that's going around is getting to us or perhaps we're just ageing plus we really don't have much else to do, but we cleared all the other stuff off the living room coffee table and dumped out the contents of the box. (I, to Iris, and channeling the late American comic Mitch Hedberg: "There are one thousand items sitting on our coffee table. Literally. One thousand and one if you count the box they came in.")

To me, they all looked exactly alike. 

Well now.

Where to begin. 

Helena, who not coincidentally has a masters of science from the University of Toronto, suggested  starting with the edges. We separated every piece that had one straight side. (There's 126 of them! I counted after we were done.)

I'm not kidding when I tell you that when I first found two pieces that interlocked fluidly and perfectly, it felt destined by God. 

An adrenaline hit. (I know. I need a life.)   

entire household was 
Seriously. Three years ago, a man named Tim who I shared office space with was marketing a nicotine inhaler. Shaped like an asthma puffer, Tim's dispensing device let you blast the unadulterated drug right into your lungs without that tar and smoke that cigarettes also deliver. 

He gave me a crack at it. 

Believe me, Anne, one hit on that puffer and you know why folks get hooked on butts. Total body relaxation. War could have broken out at that moment and I would have been completely calm. Even though I asked for another hit, Tim warned me off. It was the right call.

In a sort of baby-steps way, that's how it felt when two pieces of Love Lives Here came together. 

That's why, for 10 days, Love Lives Here took over our lives. 

Before work in the morning, at lunch, after quitting time....we used up entire weekday evenings. 

Any given morning, you could find me in my old blue housecoat with a cup of black coffee in my left hand and a completely beige angel-shaped puzzle piece in my right, poring over a pile of four or five almost identical completely beige angel-shaped puzzle pieces, but suddenly notice another, green and black puzzle piece over in another corner and reaching over to try it and I'd find it slips in seamlessly.  And then two of the beige jobbies would meld. 

I'd stare at the puzzle for 14 long minutes, thinking I'd never find another perfectly shaped piece with a tiny strip of black along the green poking out part and just before giving up--presto. So I'd start in again.

Better'n nicotine.

I wasted a considerable amount of my co-workers' time with Love Lives Here updates. 

"Sometimes," I told Yvette who I work with, "the pieces are so close I'm like, 'if I only had a small hammer..."

We ate supper around Love Lives Here, we laughed a lot around Love Lives Here, we told each other  little stories and we ignored small problems and avoided meaningless chores because of Love Lives Here. 

FEET UP, RELAXED: Love Lives Here, for now.

This might sound weird Anne, but that silly Love Lives Here puzzle helped bring pure joy and serenity into our home this Christmas season. 

In fact, when that last piece fell into place Christmas Eve (honest!), as pleased as I was to finish the thing, it felt like the end of a good friend's visit.

And speaking of...

Our plan now? 

Break Love Lives Here up into the original tiny little pieces and send them home in a box. 

To Bernadette. Now it's her turn.

Except, if you look really closely at the picture, you'll see that somewhere between us dumping the 1,000 pieces of Love Lives Here on our coffee table and Boxing Day, four pieces--one white, one green and pink, and two others that are blends of black, green and another shade of green--have gone missing.  

Let's not tell Bernadette. It'll drive her nuts. 

Isn't that what good friends are for? 

Besides. She started it.

Merry Christmas.



Friday, December 18, 2020

Stupid Pete tricks

thought we sounded like Harleys, of 
that I'm sure.
Who do you suppose first figured out that if you clothespin a playing card to the rear fork of your bicycle, your ride would sound vaguely motorized?  

Wonder if it was the same genius who--a few years older--determined that if you get the foil from the inside of a cigarette pack and very carefully separate the tinfoil part from the tissue that it was adjoined to, and then you form the foil part into a tiny chalice-shaped vehicle all the while chewing on the tissue part, in all its disgusting tobacco-tasting yuckiness until it's a saliva-soaked ball, you insert it into the top of the chalice thingie and with a quick wrist motion, flick it upwards so it sticks to the classroom ceiling.

Forgive me for assuming it was a guy, but on this topic, I'm like Jeff Foxworthy, who I heard observe,  "I bet there's not a man in this audience who at some point in his life has not taken the time out of his busy day to light a fart on fire." 

On the other hand, I'm betting it was a woman--a French woman of course--who invented the extremely sensual art of the French inhale, which is when a cigarette smoker lets smoke exit her mouth so gently that it magically and sensuously flows gently up and over her lip and,into her--sigh--nostrils. Pretty sexy, I know.
SMOKIN' HOT: The French they knew how to 
 kissing and inhale.

Speaking of really healthy activities that are lots of fun, who doesn't like watching your buddy hyperventilate for about 10 seconds and putting your arms around him so he falls to the ground unconscious, coming dangerously close to suffering permanent brain damage. 

That's what we called entertainment. 

And do you know that that if you take an empty Mr. Freeze bag and light it on fire, it drips blue yellow and green licks of fire to the ground?  At least it used to. 

First time I was ever in the back seat of a cop car was because a pal and I got caught burning Mr. Freeze wrappers. In case you don't know, a cruiser's back seats are hard and unwelcoming.

Paul (whose surname I won't mention because his mom's still alive and he might not have told her yet) and I were hanging out near the basketball courts outside King George school, which was two blocks directly east of our house in Sudbury. We somehow had a dozen or so Mr. Freeze wrappers and were lighting them one after another, trying to outflame each other, when  a pair of Sudbury Regionals drove their black-and-white right up on to the basketball court. 

The cops plunked us in the back seat almost literally scaring the crap out of me. Particularly frightening was when they told us there'd been some vandalism at another nearby school, Princess Anne, and they figured Paul and I were the perps.
I remember thinking  "I can almost see my house from here, but we're probably spending the night at Cecil Facer," which was Sudbury's juvie.  
So that's why they call them "MR. FREEZE!"   

They let us off with a warning. 

It was the summer between grade seven and eight.

One of the casualties of the Mr. Freeze affair was my favourite jacket, a bright yellow nylon zippered jobbie that I was so proud of because it had an embroidered Ontario Legislative Page patch on the right shoulder. I was the only kid in town to have been a page.

I had doffed the jacket to fart around with Paul (it was summer) and was so scared by the cops, the second they let us out of the cruiser I ran home. Next day, I went back to fetch the jacket but it was gone. Crime doesn't pay.

MEGA BITES of computer power were wasted 
to produce this graphic but 
the bite pun was worth it.
That said, not as much fun as burning Mr. Freezes but reasonably entertaining was folding an EAT MORE candy bar wrapper like a MAD magazine fold-in so it reads EAT ME.

Or better yet--and whoever figured this one out has Leonardo Da Vinci-esque vision--we could manipulate a $1 bill so the queen's neck and jaw aligned to form what we all agreed was an image of the queen's bum.  I'm sorry but looks like we don't have enough room for a picture of this one. You're welcome.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Running On Empties

WHO SAID: I'd rather have bottles in front of me
than frontal lobotomies

Correct me if I’m wrong but I think that when I was a kid, a regular-sized empty pop bottle was worth two cents.

I’m fairly sure the larger, so-called family-sized bottles got five, but it might have been 10 cents. Those tiny six-ounce Coke bottles were two cents, too.  But we mostly returned the standard 10-ounce-sized bottles.

By the dozens.

Here’s why it was such a thing: Not only did my dad let us retrieve and cash in empty pop bottles from the lunchroom at the bus garage he owned and where 20 or so guys worked every day,  but my parents had no objection to buying lots of pop for our house. I’m pretty sure mom and dad, namely  Huena and Tom, knew life was better if you didn’t force kids to eat and drink stuff they didn’t like.

I am completely, as my daughter Ria would say, down with this.

Honestly. Do you know any adult in the world who is, like, I don’t know, unfit for life or something because their parents let them have too much sweets?

No, you don’t.

On that topic, I watched Bruce Springsteen’s  Live On Broadway the other day and at one point, he talks about eating Sugar Pops for breakfast and looks at the camera and asserts that there was only one problem with Sugar Pops: Not enough sugar.

You had to pour more on.  Like we used to. 

You’d enjoy Springsteen Live On Broadway. The Boss talks about his childhood consisting of an endless cycle of family, school and church.  Family, school and church. He speaks  very lovingly about growing up “surrounded by God!”  “Surrounded by God ... and my relatives.” If you weren’t a Springsteen fan before, you probably would be after seeing his Broadway show. I’m also certain he’ll be thrilled to learn Pete’s Blog and Grille gave his Broadway show a glowing review.)

I’ve digressed so far I forgot what I was writing about.

Oh right. Pop bottles

Summed up in seven words, here is how pop bottles worked on the open market.

Six pop bottles equalled one comic book. Five got you a chocolate bar.

Pop bottles was the Bitcoin of the 1960s.

And like Bitcoin, some stores made trading in pop bottles easy; others not so much.

When I was 10, if pop bottles was your currency of choice, the variety store one city block east and half a city block south of our house, Pellis News, or Pellis’s, was the place you wanted to do business.

Other enterprises, such as the store half a block south and a half block west of our house — I could name names but won’t — were nowhere near so bottle friendly. They quote unquote accepted the bottles but they didn’t make you feel welcome.

At that enterprise, we could use empties to buy something, but no way would they just trade actual cash for the bottles.

Worse yet, at another operation, a few blocks south, the stated policy was “if you didn’t buy the pop here, you couldn’t return the empties.”

But at Pellis’s?  Empties were a good as money. Pellis people trusted kids.

We sometimes hauled the bottles in through the back door, then strode to the front counter and informed  whoever was working how many we had, and our word was gold. If we said he had 12 regular bottles and two big ones the clerk would calculate how much we’d delivered and—get this—if we asked, they’d actually fork over the cash equivalent.

Pellis’s treated us with respect.  

I just thought of something. Once or twice or three times in my childhood, I tried, lamely, to shoplift.  To use, as we used to say, the five-finger discount. It never once occurred to me to swipe anything from Pellis’s.  Any more than I’d swear in church.

And also, now, all these years later, every single time I return empty beer bottles to the beer store — and it’s happened a time or two — I  think of Pellis’s.

Pellis’s might be the reason I like beer.

I love that store.