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Toad In the Hole Reflections, Volume 2: A cast of crazy, crazy characters

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patti dawn swansson

patti dawn swansson

In celebration of the Toad In the Hole Pub & Eatery’s 25th anniversary on Oct. 3, I salute some of the characters and good times I shared at my favorite watering hole in Winnipeg’s eclectic Osborne Village…

 JOHNNY CANOE

Every time I walked into the Toad and saw Johnny Canoe sitting at the bar, I would smile and say to myself, “This is going to be fun.” And he seldom disappointed.

He was a delightful bit of business, was our Johnny Canoe. Quick to smile and most approachable, he had a nervous right leg twitch, which lessened in intensity and scope with each bottle of beer that agreed with his lips.

I very much liked Johnny Canoe, a carefree sort who, while between more profitable assignments, worked as a cook in the Toad kitchen. His passions were Sharon, beer and golf, although not necessarily in that order, because, based on adjusting moods, he liked beer more than Sharon, Sharon more than beer, golf more than Sharon and Sharon more than golf. In the final reckoning, however, he liked Sharon more than anything, because he asked her to be his bride and she accepted. But, overall, he was very good at two portions of his troika of passions: liking Sharon and beer.

We worried about Johnny Canoe. He would get properly soused, then, much to our protestations and well-intentioned counsel, he’d plop himself behind the wheel of his vehicle and drive home. To him, it was all part of the process.

“I’m so good at driving home drunk that I’m thinking of giving lessons on it,” he declared one night.

I was sitting on the Toad stool to his left.

“Will you be drunk or sober when you give the lessons on drunk driving?” I asked him.

“Drunk,” he replied. “You have to be drunk to give lessons on driving drunk.”

JASON

toad sign2Whenever I think of Jason, I am reminded of the Kramer character on Seinfeld. That is to say, he never seemed to have a job, but he always seemed to have money.

On one particular evening of recollection, Jason was listing badly and leaning on the bar with his right elbow to prevent his flushed face and the floor from meeting in an unfortunate collision. He and two other guys were (surprise, surprise) discussing women. In particular, women they believed to be physically agreeable.

One of the boys, Robert, allowed that he was quite smitten with Nancy Kerrigan, the former U.S. champion fancy skater and victim of infamous knee-buster Tonya (Crowbar) Harding. This revelation was, of course, met with ridicule.

“Nancy Kerrigan?” the third member of the party yelped. “Good gawd, man, she has more teeth than the entire Osmond family.”

“Doesn’t matter,” insisted Robert. “She’s a babe.”

This is where Jason joined the fray with vigor.

“You know who’s a real rocket?” he managed to slur. “The Queen.”

“The Queen?” Robert reacted with an audible gasp.

“Ya, the Queen.”

“You mean Queen Elizabeth? Queen of England?”

“Yeah, that’s the one.”

“What do you mean she’s a rocket?”

“She’s a babe. A real knockout.”

“You’ve gotta be kidding. She’s 80 freaking years old, she wears frumpy hats, frumpy frocks, frumpy shoes and she hasn’t smiled since 1952. And you think she’s a babe?”

“She’s a real rocket.”

“You sure you don’t mean Lady Di? Now, she’s a babe.”

“Nope. I mean the Queen.”

“Geez, man, where can I buy me a pair of those vodka goggles you’re wearing?”

THE WHINING WALLABY

I have no idea what section of Australia he was from, nor am I certain at what point in history the Whining Wallaby drifted to our shores. I’m just glad he did.

Not unlike the core of the male population at the Toad, he liked a good time, a good game of golf and a good wager. He came equipped with reddish-blond hair, a thin, pointy nose and sharp opinions. It always struck me that the Whining Wallaby was a schemer. Not in a nefarious way, understand, but there was always an undercurrent that suggested he was cooking up some sort of get-rich-quick gimmick.

He came by his nickname honestly, in that he inevitably had an excuse for fouling up on the golf course. It it wasn’t “Me toe, me toe is sore,” it was “Me arm, me arm is sore,” or “Me head, me head is killing me.” In truth, his limitations on the links were due to one very simple reality: He was a crappy golfer. Figuratively and literally.

The Whining Wallaby etched his name in Toad folklore one year at the pub’s annual golf tournament, both for his woeful play and a post-round mishap…

It had been a long day. The lads had gathered at the Toad early in the morning, tossed back a quick pint, then made the trek to Kingswood Golf and Country Club near La Salle, a tiny community nestled on the southern hem of Winnipeg. They golfed, guffawed, guzzled copious quantities of beer, then retreated to the Toad for the ritualistic post-tournament feedbag and prize-giving. It was a grand time. Eventually, the party began to thin as a number of the lads grew weary and took their leave. But not the Whining Wallaby, the Ol’ Turnkey, Robert and Johnny Canoe, all of whom sat in the Booth from Hell and cackled as they exchanged the day’s war stories.

Suddenly, the Whining Wallaby sat up straight, as if pricked in the backside by a scorpion. His face was shockingly white, a mixture of distress, fright and grief. Even his freckles had abandoned him.

“I gotta go!” he announced in an urgent tone.

“Gotta go?” the Ol’ Turnkey said with no slight level of disdain. “Sit down and have another pint!”

“No, no, I’ve really gotta be going.”

“Wimp.”

So, the Whining Wallaby, who hung his hat a mere four blocks from the pub, headed for the front door. And he was walking rather gingerly.

“Wait up,” said Robert, “I need smokes. I’ll walk you to the corner.”

As they trundled toward the intersection of River and Osborne, Robert made a futile attempt to convince the man from Down Under to stay.

“Everybody’s having a great time,” Robert pleaded. “Why you leaving?”

“Because,” the Whining Wallaby said sheepishly, “I shit me pants.”

“You what?”

“I shit me pants. I thought it was a fart, but then I felt something wet. I shit me pants.”

“You’re kidding me, right?”

“I wish I was…I really shit me pants. That was no fart.”

“So what are you gonna do?”

“I’ve gotta go wipe meself and change me gitch.”

“You coming back?”

“Yeah.”

And he did return to the scene of the crime, by which time Robert had made all others privy to the true reason behind the Whining Wallaby’s sudden vanishing act. Sourcing the humor in his own misadventure, he absorbed a vat full of ridicule with admirable dignity. But it now truly was drawing late. They’d been going at it for a good 12, 13 hours and tomorrow was a work day.

“I’m going home,” a sagging Whining Wallaby said wearily.

“What’s the problem this time?” asked the Ol’ Turnkey, still very much in party mode.

“I’m pooped.”

“Pooped? Oh no, you didn’t shit yourself again did you?”

TRANSCONA SID

Did you ever see the Seinfeld episode where Jerry dated a woman who wore the same outfit every time he saw her? Well, that’s Transcona Sid. The sole difference between the two is gender: Sid is a he, not a she.

I cannot begin to guess how often I swapped lies with Transcona Sid in the Toad, but let’s say it was more than once and less than 500 times. And, on each occasion, he was wearing a tacky white tank top underneath a black leather motorcycle jacket. Winter, spring, summer, fall…it didn’t matter; Sid had the tank top (with a thick thatch of blond chest hairs sprouting forth) and the leather jacket going. Vertically challenged and with all the sinew of the Pillsbury Doughboy, he didn’t really have the physique to pull off the tank top thing, but this was a reality that he either didn’t recognize or, more likely, chose to ignore. It was Sid being Sid, which was fine with all others because he was such an enjoyable, non-argumentative fellow.

For the most part, Transcona Sid was a night owl who, depending on the whims of Mother Nature, traversed the streets of Winnipeg on a Harley or in a Corvette or jeep. He also had a most peculiar ritual. That is, he would order one final post-midnight bottle of beer, tuck it under his jacket and head out into the darkness. When he returned the next evening, he would bring back the empty.

I cannot say that I ever saw Transcona Sid act drunk. I did, however, hear him say things that gave rise to the notion that the wobbly pop had kicked in and was messing with his mind. There was one exchange, in particular, that convinced me of this. A few of the locals were discussing boxing and, when someone mentioned Muhammad Ali, Transcona Sid weighed in with a most astonishing bit of baffling babble.

“Ali wasn’t so great…George Chuvalo knocked him out,” he announced.

“Chuvalo never knocked out Ali,” I countered. “They fought twice and Ali whupped him both times. Quite badly, in fact.”

“Nope. Chuvalo knocked him out in a fight in Canada.”

“Sid, they fought twice in Canada, once in Toronto and once in Vancouver. Ali won both fights. It’s on record.”

“Ah, but the third fight was kept a secret because Chuvalo knocked Ali out and they didn’t want anyone to know. It would have ruined future promotions.”

“When did this supposed bout take place?”

“When Ali was a draft dodger.”

“Ali never was a draft dodger. He refused induction into the U.S. military, but he didn’t flee to Canada.”

“Yup, he came to Canada in secret, fought Chuvalo and got knocked out.”

I looked at Sid, who was standing near the bar (I never once saw him sitting on a stool or in one of the booths; he was a standup guy and a standup drinker). I studied him closely.

“Tell me you’re kidding,” I said, almost pleading.

“Nope, it happened,” was his quick response. “Muhammad Ali was a draft dodger. He came to Canada, fought George Chuvalo, got knocked out and the government covered it up.”

“The government? What government?”

“The U.S. government. They didn’t want it known that their most famous draft dodger was up in Canada making a living.”

“Did anyone actually see this fight?”

“Only the government authorities.”

I threw in the towel. Transcona Sid ordered another bottle of beer, tucked it under his black leather jacket and walked off into the darkness to hop on his Harley.

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