Thursday, May 20, 2021

The 3 Amis Go

ROSE AMONG THORNS: Pépé, Mateus & Pete

Last Sunday, Mateus Remy Carter Chaignet, 5, bravely and singlehandedly led both his grandfathers, (never mind their ages) on a two-and-one-quarter-hour adventure through the woods along the banks of Upper Don River in central Toronto. 

Hard on Mateus’ heels, I — Grandpa Peter — and Vincent Chaignet; a.k.a., Pépé,  marched up grassy hills and around a lot of fallen as well as healthy trees. 

We picked our steps gingerly along narrow mud trails. We hiked high above the flowing waters of the Don and descended once in a while to the slippery rocks on the riverbank. 

We climbed precipitous slopes and tailed Mateus down inclines that he warned us in advance were “wriggly” and in fact “wobbly.” 

Wayne & Shuster led the way
We pushed branches and logs out of our way and remained mindful of the poison ivy patches. I mentioned to Vincent how fascinated I was as a kid by the idea of a plant that was poisonous and he said he was just as curious about bug-eating plants; even moreso, he added, he actually bought some and fed them flies, “Just like in that play, what was it called again?” 

Me: “Pet shop boys?” 

Vincent: “Little Shop of Horrors, I think.” 

At one point, 40 minutes in, I enquired if Pépé remembered the old Canadian comedy TV series Wayne and Shuster. 


Me: “They, [deep breath] did an episode, [puff], where they went [deep breath again]
looking for the Source of the Mighty Don. That’s what I, [two huffs followed by a puff] feel like.”
Fearless leader knew where he was going.

Mateus must think his grandfathers doddering old farts indeed. 

As he led the charge, Mateus was forced to bark over his shoulder course correction after course correction.

Sometimes, to make life easier for his France-born Pépé, Sgt. Mateus addressed us in Canada's other official language, making me — the only unilingual member of our crew — feel inferior indeed. 

At one point, in a clearing, Mateus decided we should have a quick round of a game Mateus invented and calls “Lava Monster.” 

Pitifully, neither of Mateus’ acolytes could get the Lava Monster rules through their thick skulls. 

Lava Monster a blowout, Mateus shook his head and resumed the long march. 

For a couple of old guys who hadn’t trained, Pépé and I held our own. Also, had I known Mateus was going to put us through these paces, I would have chosen alternative footwear. Cowboy boots are not designed for hiking. The more I think about it, the more I believe old west cowpokes didn’t probably wear cowboy boots, especially ones they got at a discount store in Mississauga. 

Why he calls it a Ninja Tree.
I remember at one point, with Mateus in the lead, we were on the riverbank, about 10 feet above the cool Don, I was actually using the nearby trees as a handrail. 

“I bet he read The Road Less Travelled,” I breathed to Vincent as Mateus marched us through yet another in a countless series of tangled branches and weeds. 

“Looks like,” agreed Vincent.

Oh wait. I forgot to tell you about our goal. 

We were not wandering aimlessly. 

At the beginning of our trek and then every 15 minutes or so, Mateus reminded us that we were headed to his “Ninja Tree.” 

I had never seen one and neither had I any idea how long it was going to take to get there, but who would refuse a two-hour trek through the woods on a hot May afternoon if they thought they’d see a Ninja Tree? Nobody is the answer. 


After a 70-minute trek. A lone tree, sitting in the middle of a patch of grass, surrounded by a smoothly tarred parking lot half full of cars. (Yes, we could have driven but what’s the fun in that?) 

The Ninja Tree. 

Worth every step. 
he'll learn us.

Mateus ran to it. He climbed. He swung from the lower branches, hurdled the trunk, did complete flips over one of the larger arms and at one point, while perched high above his two grandfathers, attempted to orchestrate yet another round of Lava Monster. 

I can’t speak for Vincent, but I suck at Lava Monster. 

Mateus showed no disappointment though. 

For most of the trek home, Mateus deigned to let me ferry him aboard my very own shoulders. 

Little old Moi

I felt like the extremely privileged servant whose job it was to ensure that 5-foot, 2-inch-tall Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie’s feet never dangled from the throne, which meant the exact moment His Highness sat, the fortunate servant had to very quickly slip an appropriately sized cushion between Selassie’s feet and the floor so no Ethiopian would ever see what a shrimp their leader was.

I felt supremely lucky to have the important job of being Mateus’ human sedan chair. 

Blessed in fact.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Hair on my chest and other tall tales

HALIFAX ROSE:I used this picture to not only illustrate
 my dashing hairstyle but also in the 
hopes it'll get my darling cousin Roseanne to read my blog!

I cannot remember what a haircut cost at Gino's barbershop when I was a little boy;  $1.25 comes to mind.

I do remember though that I hated getting my hair cut. 

Not because I wanted to let my hair grow long either. (That came a few years later.) 

And not only because of the dorky haircuts we got: Shaved high up the neck and around the ears then left with a tiny 45-degree bang in the front which, after being dabbed with some kind of goop but never the cool-looking stuff, got combed back to the right.  (And then I went home and my mom would be like "what a handsome boy!" This is the same church-going woman who told me eating vegetables would put hair on my chest. The only time I ever had hair on my chest was when it fell there, during haircuts. I think sometimes my mother prevaricated, which is a word I just looked up, with considerable satisfaction.)

But not Gino. He never lied to me. And he always parted my hair on the left. Only girls parted their hair on the right. Girls also used one straw when they drank pop. Boys needed two. Zippers and shirts were also on different sides for boys and girls. Plus my sisters' shirts had darts. Why?

Timeless mysteries all.

Conversely the only mysteries around Gino's were the contents and purpose of all those coloured liquids on the shelf? Barbicide sounds like it belongs in detective movie.

only mystery at Gino's
Otherwise? No suspense at Gino's. My Gino haircut never varied. The style never questioned.

Not once did Gino, as friendly as he was, ask what sort of hair style I wanted. 

That's probably why I'm so bad at answering that question to this day. 

Hairstylist: "So what can we do for you today?"

Me: "I remember when this whole property was an Inglis washing machine factory."

Hairstylist: "Do you generally leave it long at the back?"

Me: "I don't know. You grow up around here?"

Stylist: "Okay we'll take an inch off and want it over the ears?"

Me: "Sounds good do you actually ever hear the radio that's playing or do you tune it out?"

Eventually the hair gets cut and the stylist holds the mirror up behind me to see the back of my head. I swear I look at everything else in the the reflection except the back of my head. A dead friend of mine, Peter Worthington, once said (before he died) "the only difference between a good and a bad haircut is three days." And the lesson here is, you never know what people are going to quote you saying so watch it.

Where was I? 

Right. It wasn't the style of Gino's haircuts that I loathed either. 

And neither was it the fact that the magazines and newspapers at the barbershop were all a: in Italian, and b: cleaner than the St. Clement's Church bulletin. The Argosys and Esquires my older brothers
In the Carter household

snuck into our house were way hotter than anything on Gino's barbershop table.

The worst part of getting my haircut at Gino's was that board about five inches wide and three feet long that he placed across the barber chair arms so we little guys could see the mirror. 

Our legs dangled and didn't reach the steel foot rests that the big guys put their feet on.

Our arms had to stay limp at our sides. We didn't get armrests, like the big guys got.

I hated being short. Especially because everybody in my house was taller than me. I was the youngest and shrimpiest of a dozen if you include my parents. 

That's a lot of people to be shorter than. Shrimp, squirt, short-stuff and Little Hitler were just a few of  of my nicknames. 

I believe I willed myself grow to six feet tall just because of all that teasing and Gino's kid board that I despised so much. 

Anyone who knows me will agree: determination and perseverance have been my watchwords.

And Gino's haircuts made me handsome.