Tuesday, November 22, 2022

This is where I came in

NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY IMBECILIC: I never doubted the existence of 
The Shelter 

When I was a kid, if I or one of my nine brothers and sisters was being particularly troublesome, my mother Huena threatened to call "The Shelter."

Without having details explained to us explicitly, we all knew it worked like thisFed-up moms called The Shelter, somebody came and took the misbehaving kids away. Simple, huh?

What's really funny is that until a few minutes ago, I have: A) Never given The Shelter a moment's reconsideration and B) Never once thought it was conceivable that The Shelter might not exist. And yup, I'm a working journalist.

Huena's shelter sounds like a Children's Aid Society in Bizarro World. 

BURT OFFERINGS: Where I learned everything I know
about banking.
There's a reason I'm telling you this. I just finished reading John Cleese's autobiography So Anyway, and one of my favourite parts is when Cleese discusses his parents' movie-going habits. Mr. and Mrs. Cleese didn't care what time they got to the cinema. If they arrived midway through a movie, they simply stayed in their seats until the next screening and watched up to the part where they came in. 

I thought, "that sounds weird." Then I thought, "we did the exact same thing, a lot."

Growing up in my hometown of Sudbury, Ont., we regularly showed up 15 or 35 minutes into a movie then stayed for the first part of the next screening. This meant waiting in the dark theatre for however long was between shows, watching the coming attractions and with luck a cartoon or two, but then settling in for the part of the movie we missed. Sometimes, we stayed to the end but mostly we walked out over and in front of the other patrons before the show was done. That doesn't happen much these days.

I just googled my brain to see if I could remember specific titles where I did this but no luck. Though two very important early cinema experiences did show up. 

The first? Mary Poppins. It's the only movie my dad ever took me to. And he did so only because my mom was hosting (hostessing?) a bridal shower for my cousin Anne at our house and all the menfolk had to skedaddle. 

BARROWS OF FUN: A feast for a nine-year-old's eyes
I'd seen the wonderful movie before; I believe with my older sister Charlene or Norma. And that was a good thing because I knew to wake my dad (who had nodded off) so he wouldn't miss the scary part. (Something just occurred to me. I bet that's why, years later, when I proudly informed him that I had not one but two real bought-and-paid-for Carleton University credits in something called Film Studies, he was a tad skeptical.)

The other early
cinematic memory? Bonnie and Clyde featuring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, as what would later be described as one of the sexiest couples in cinematic history. 

Bonnie and Clyde! The sensationally sexy couple who died in a visual orgy of blood and machine-gun fire. I was nine. 

I'm pretty sure I remember the older person who brought me but I'm not 100 per cent certain so I won't name names.

But to this day, I am in total debt to whoever it was signed off on that baby-sitting assignment. 

Not quite sure why it made me think of the Children's Aid thing though.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Welcome to the All-Saints Motel

AT DUFFY LAKE:  I can't see this picture without thinking of
 my late mother-in-law Ria's eponymous dog or my pal Duff McCutcheon.

This story begins with me screaming. 

Calling out to my daughter Ewa to save my life. 

And it's true. 

And it's got a moral. Or two.

Late August of 2019 found Ewa and me motorcycling around British Columbia; her on her marvelous single-cylinder BMW f650 and me on a borrowed 600 cc Honda Shadow. We'd left Vancouver at about 8 a.m. and spent the next eight hours riding through some of the most scenic country on the planet.

First up the Sea-to-Sky Highway past Whistler then along Highway 99 to Pemberton. We're talking a twisty hilly road that sometimes had a mountain on one side and a cliff on the other, frequently with no guardrail. We stopped at a place called Duffy Lake and then rode near Lillooet, one of the towns worst hit by forest fires that year. About suppertime, we landed at Cache Creek.  

I was tired, hungry, thirsty and very pleased with myself.

The day before, in Vancouver, I used some computer program to help reserve a motel room in Cache Creek. Because of the fires that year, I thought most space would be rented out to firefighters and others and I was right. Vacancies were scarce, but I did manage to locate one roadside place in Cache Creek. I filled in all the little boxes and my credit card number and the three-digit number on the back that I have to check no matter how many times I use it. 

EWA: Burning up the scenery

The motel was right on the main highway and when we pulled in, the only other vehicle in the lot was a white pick-up. Everybody else, I figured, was out firefighting. 

Ewa and I entered the lobby; the man behind the counter asked what we wanted; we told him we'd made reservations. He looked at his computer and shook his head. He couldn't find our names in the system. And he added that he was full up. 

Some people, in a situation like this, demand explanations. I go the other way and it usually works. I do not show how frustrated I am. No matter how steamed I might feel, I try to never react angrily. 

My M.O: Smile, like I did, and say a quick prayer to St. Gabriel the Archangel, the patron saint of diplomacy. (Look it up! He's the guy whose job was to tell Mary she was a few months gone even though she had never, well, you know.)

You'd be amazed at what you can accomplish with a bit of well-delivered malarky.

I once arrived at the United Airlines check-in gate at Pearson International Airport on my way to Houston, Texas, for work, and realized I'd forgotten all my documentation at home. No passport, no ticket; just a driver's licence. In less than a nanosecond, I channeled Gabe and miraculously came up with a busload of blarney that included the fact that if I didn't make the flight I'd get fired from my new job and even worse I'd be looking at 15 to life in the doghouse. Whatever I said worked. I made the flight. 

I knew it might in British Columbia, too.

After Mr. Clerk said he didn't have our names, I still did not challenge him. But asked if he could find some place please, for me and my daughter, to spend the night. (I know. You're thinking St. Joseph, right? I bet there's a saint out there for every desperate human condition.)

Whatever spiel I gave him worked and eventually, he found us a room and handed over a key. We parked the bikes and walked across the road and found one of the finest pizzas either of us have ever eaten at Manie's Grill and Pizza. While we waited at Manie's, I started telling Ewa about how every small-town mom and pop motel owner must hate the Hitchcock movie Psycho, because they all get compared, at one point or another to the Bates Motel.

THAT'S IT! Maybe all the other guests were 
Especially when guests are told there's no vacancies when it sure looks like there's vacancies. 

We returned to the motel, and I sat out front of the room with a beer, looking across the empty parking lot at the mountains, when around the corner comes Mr. Clerk, carrying a stack of towels to, he told me, the washing machines. He asked where we'd ridden from and told me how hard it is to get good trustworthy help. So he's doing everything around the place and his wife was at home and he actually gestured toward a house high up on hill across the road.

I could tell you lots more about the chap. He was extremely friendly and knowledgeable about world affairs and the United Nations but after 20 minutes or so it became clear that towel cleaning was not a priority. The man wanted to talk and even though we were having one of the most interesting conversations I had all week, it --and this is almost unheard of-- was me that ended the conversation. While we were conversing, I counted vehicles as they arrived at the motel and the total came to zero. 

I went in; Ewa and I laughed about the fact that I really believed there's a scene in Psycho involving Norma Bates delivering sheets but I might be remembering wrongly. But the Bates/ Cache Creek jokes ran longer than they should have, I guess.

One slender consonant away from Normal
Because at about 2:30 a.m., I woke up screaming. 

Calling Ewa's name. Mr. Nice Clerk had busted into our room and was coming at me with an axe. Typed on this computer screen, in little letters, the incident doesn't look nearly so horrible as it was. 

I was afraid down to my bones. Sweating maybe. Ewa was, on the other hand, being polite by not laughing too loudly.

Here's the thing: I believe that one's behaviour in dreams reflects how one would act in real life so now I know that if an axe murderer ever does come after me, I'm going to turn into the world-class fraidy cat that I am and might even call to one of my kids for help. Manly, I know.

Ewa is in fact very helpful; I had forgotten about that dream until Ewa laughingly reminded me of it last week. Another lesson here is, you never know what people especially your kids are going to remember and remind you of, sometimes years after the fact. So be careful. 

But finally, all that stuff about wanting all your dreams to come true? Buncha malarky.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

A peek at pre-recorded history

GIVE PETE A CHANCE: Embedded journalist.

How old are you by the time you start remembering stuff? Five? Four? 

One of my earliest memories actually has me in my parents' bed, lying between my mom and dad, so I must have been awfully young. 

Then again we're talking about a youngster who -- if you're like, "Hey Siri who was the most spoiled child in all history?" Siri would respond, "Peter."  I likely slept between my parents until an unhealthily advanced age. 

Not every night. Just when I had a scary dream or there was thunder or something. 

And this just occured to me: Is there a link between my trips to Tom and Huena's bed and the fact that I was the last baby they had?

But that's not what we're here to talk about. The night I'm recalling, when I was still awake between my folks, somebody else came into the bedroom. A grown up. 

It was either my big brother Tom or his friend (a guy who worked for my dad) Charlie MacMillan. Both they and my parents are gone now so I can't phone and ask if the memory's accurate. Besides, the tiny details don't matter.  

The important thing is, the visitor had with him a briefcase-sized thing with lots of switches, some lights and two big reels of what looked like film on the side. 

Turns out it was the first tape recorder I'd ever seen. 

To demonstrate the magic Tom (or Charlie) held a microphone up to my little face and I recited this following: 

"Do you want to hear a story about Johnny McGorry? Shall I begin it, that's all there's in it." 

Then Tom (or Charlie)  made the wheels whirr in reverse,  he hit a switch, and out from the speaker came my mousey little voice, reminding the world once again that I couldn't say my r's very well and to this day I believed I have too many r's in my name. I wonder if that's why I ended up marrying a speech and language pathologist. 

 JOHN AND YOKO'S COVER VERSION of Tom and Huena in bed.

I forget the point I started out to make here but the fact that my mom and dad talked to visitors in their bedroom on a regular basis makes them sound like John and Yoko, who hosted bed-ins in the Amsterdam Hilton in Holland in Montreal's Queen Elizabeth Hotel in an effort to bring about world peace. 

Having groups assemble in Tom and Huena's room at any time of day or night wasn't at all unusual. I remember on more than one occasion so many sisters, brothers and maybe cousins or the odd employee like Charlie MacMillan sat on and around the bed the frame actually broke and mom's mattress hit the floor.

The more I think about it, the more I know my parents had in common with John and Yoko.  

My parents were pacifists, they made babies and never fought and my dad and John Lennon were both born on Oct. 9. Also, somebody brought a tape recorder into the Yoko-Lennon bedroom too.

A couple of differences? My parents' pacificism predated Lennon's. And my mom sang beautifully.