I was in full veg mode the other day, lying flat on my loveseat, staring blankly at my flatscreen and wondering why, with so many channels on the menu, there was nothing worth watching.
It’s sort of like my wardrobe. My closet is full, but I have nothing to wear.
(Quick aside: I’ve long thought that Nothing To Wear would be an ideal name for a women’s consignment clothing store, because most women I know have peered into their closet and arrived at the damnable reality that they have nothing to wear, no matter how many frocks and accessories are staring back at them.)
The difference, of course, is that I always find something in the closet that satisfies my needs and taste du jour, whereas I more often than not can’t find anything on the flatscreen that will entertain, inform or humor me for more than five minutes. Also, the quality fare that snags all the Emmys doesn’t air until 9 or 10 o’clock at night, long after I’ve lowered my eyelids, which means I only get to sneak a peek when they’re featured on commercials.
It was during a fruitless channel surfing mission the other day when I noticed an advert for Blue Bloods, a New York City cop drama that features Tom Selleck’s mustache and the Reagan family eating dinner. They engage in much bickering between bites, and it’s usually eldest son Danny with the worst table manners. Since Danny solves every case and arrests all the bad guys, usually with one hand tied behind his back, he feels obliged to remind the rest of the clan that they’re all bunglers, and that includes his cop commissioner dad, Frank, his ADA sister, Erin, his cop brother, Jamie, his cop nephew Joe, and his cop sister-in-law, Eddie. Stooges, all of them.
Mostly spared from Danny’s bullying, however, is the patriarch of the Reagan brood, grandpa Henry or “Pops,” an old-school cop and now-retired NYPD commish with no appetite for the coddling of scofflaws. At worst, Danny might say, “Come on, Pops, you can’t really believe that.” Otherwise, the old boy is teflon.
Which brings me to the main point of this essay.
Pops Reagan is played by Len Cariou, and seeing him at the family table is always a reminder that I went to the same high school as Broadway’s original Sweeney Todd.
During my time at Miles Macdonell Collegiate on Roch Street in East Kildonan, I had no clue that I was walking the same halls of academia as a guy who would become a Tony Award-winning actor and tread the boards with Lauren Bacall and Angela Lansbury, among others. He’s also shared the silver screen with Liz Taylor, Diana Rigg, Viola Davis, Rita Moreno, Bruce Willis, Kevin Costner and Johnny Depp, among others.
Since Cariou has 11 years on me, we weren’t MMC Buckeyes at the same time, and it’s unlikely we had any of the same teachers, although I suppose it’s possible.
The thing is, I’m guessing there were certain teachers at Miles Mac who had a special influence on Cariou during his two years under their watchful eye (Grades 10 and 11), and perhaps that’s what sealed the deal for him: He would become a star on stage and screen.
I’ve never experienced the same acclaim as Cariou, and high hosannas are unlikely to fall my way now that I’m well into my dotage and far removed from a 30-year career in journalism, but I had two high school teachers whose words pointed me in the right direction in the 1960s, even if their methods were quite contrasting.
Literature teacher Mrs. Grieve planted the first seed, when she awarded me a mark of 29/30 for an essay on baseball. She did so hesitantly. She wasn’t convinced it was an original work, but, apparently unable to find evidence to the contrary, she gave me my mark of 29-out-of-30 and scribbled a note on the margins of my paper, saying, “If this is your writing, I recommend you pursue it as a possible career.”
But then there was Mr. Peters, a teacher with a favorable manner, but one who too often observed me with my nose deep into a sports magazine and/or book at my desk at the back of the room.
“I think you should concentrate on what the rest of the class is focused on,” he said one day, interrupting his lesson to scold me to the tittering of classmates. “You’re wasting your time reading all those sports books. It’s not going to do you any good.”
Not so nice.
Except Mr. Peters’ tsk-tsking served the same purpose as Mrs. Grieve’s encouragement, and sealed the deal: I would get into jock journalism. Not to prove him wrong, but because I admired the wordsmiths in Sports Illustrated and Sport Magazine and Hockey Illustrated, etc.
Scant months later, I was working at the Winnipeg Tribune, the start of a 30-year odyssey that would take me into a world that included Muhammad Ali and Wayne Gretzky and Sugar Ray Leonard and Bobby Orr and Gary Carter and Tommy Lasorda and Tom Seaver and Jean Beliveau and Gordie Howe and Vladislav Tretiak and Paul Henderson and Don Cherry and Vic Peters and Jeff Stoughton and Jack Nicklaus and Cal Murphy and Benny Hatskin and Dave Keon and Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her Special Olympics. I covered Gretzky’s first professional game and Ali’s final fist fight. I had feet on the ground at Grey Cups and Super Bowls and Stanley Cups and Briers and championship boxing in Las Vegas and World Cup skiing. Hockey took me to most major cities in North America, and to the world championship in Sweden, and a few outposts hither and yon that didn’t have traffic lights. I’ve been perched in press boxes at the Montreal Forum and Maple Leaf Gardens and Madison Square Garden and the Olympia in Detroit and Boston Garden and the Stadium in Chicago. That’s the NHL’s original six. I was sports editor at two major dailies.
I owe Mrs. Grieve and Mr. Peters no small amount of thanks for all that.
If they’re still around, I doubt they include me in their recollections, because there was nothing noteworthy about my grades, or time spent, at Miles Mac. But I’ve often thought of them. Still do.
And it’s never too late to say merci beaucoup.