Things that make me smile, Vol. I…

It’s easy to put on a pair of grumpy pants these days.

Physical distancing, social distancing, isolation, quarantine, health care workers under siege, empty parks, streets, beaches and churches, businesses going bust, lost jobs, lost lives…COVID-19 is overwhelming.

And it doesn’t help when you step outside on to the battlefield and realize that some people just don’t give a damn.

For example, there’s a sign in my seniors residence building that states there are to be no more than two people in the elevators at any time. So what did I see on Friday when the doors slid open on the eighth floor? Three people staring at me. And that was on the smaller of our two elevators. Oh, and did I mention that the two-people-limit sign is also posted inside the elevator? Yup, two signs that three people chose to ignore. And these are seniors, supposedly the most at-risk group.

So much for keeping your distance.

Meanwhile, I had to pick up meds that prevent my heart and other body bits from going kaflooey, and there was banking to do.

No problem with securing the meds at the Cool Aid dispensary. I confirmed that I have no coronavirus symptoms, so it was in, out and on my way to the bank, which was a different matter. There was a lineup outside Coast Capital, 23 people stretched single file down the street, standing in an on-again, off-again drizzle. It was a smile-free zone. Except for one moron, who recklessly approached people and got right in their faces. He was a close-talker. I decided that paying bills would have to wait for another day, and began to trudge home, dismayed and discouraged.

But as I strolled up Quadra Street, it occurred to me that plenty of things still make me smile even in these dire times. Such as…

Dr. Bonnie Henry

British Columbia’s top doc, Dr. Bonnie Henry, makes me smile. Her unfrayed voice and unfrantic directives are the calm in the COVID-19 storm for those of us who reside on the left flank of the land. She is a blessing and I just wonder if this remarkable woman finds time for zzzzs. I hope she doesn’t burn out before we make it to the other side of this thing.

Picking up a book written by Thich Nhat Hanh makes me smile. I’m not sure how many of Thay’s books I’ve read, but I started with Peace Is Every Step in the 1990s and now I’m 46 pages into One Buddha Is Not Enough. Next up will be a third re-read of No Death, No Fear. The Vietnamese Buddhist monk might be the most peaceful man on earth.

A good neighborhood pub makes me smile, and it doesn’t have to be located in a neighborhood to make it good. Patrons and, of course, staff/ownership is what makes a pub, not locale.

Mike the cab drive makes me smile. Mike is one of the regular elbow-benders at my favorite watering hole, Bart’s Pub, and he’s among the coolest people I know. An old jazz and blues man who plays a soulful clarinet, he’s in his early 70s and still believes every woman who walks into the joint is after his body. I suppose that makes him sound like a dirty, old man, except he isn’t. Mike’s solid.

Women who succeed in a man’s world like major league sports make me smile. Katie Sowers of the San Francisco 49ers became the first female to coach in a Super Bowl game this year, and I suspect she won’t be the last.

Western movies make me smile, although they probably shouldn’t. I mean, as often as not the cowboy rides away at the end, leaving a pretty, heart-broken, teary-eyed damsel staring off into the horizon and wondering if she’ll ever see the cad again. I cuss those cowboys who make their women play second fiddle to a horse and tell them that “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, pilgrim.” But there’s a romanticism to those old dusters that draw me back every time. Giddyup.

My movie collection makes me smile. I’m not sure how many flicks sit on the shelves of my modest dwelling, but between VHS and DVD I reckon I have 300 to 400 titles.

In the past week, I’ve re-watched To Kill A Mocking Bird, Fried Green Tomatoes, Finding Forrester, The Great Debaters, The Illusionist, Steel Magnolias, The Help, Gospel Hill, The River Niger, Ocean’s 11 (Sinatra and the Rat Pack version), Papillon, Thelma and Louise, and Angel and The Badman.

John Wayne was the leading man in Angel and the Badman. He was 40 at the time and looked every day of it. His leading lady was Gail Russell, 21 in real life and looking as fresh as morning dew. Why this gorgeous, thee-and-thouing Quaker girl fell hard for a crusty gunman almost twice her age is the real mystery of the movie. It wasn’t until the Duke became Rooster Cogburn that he picked leading ladies his own age, and Katharine Hepburn always makes me smile.

My VCR makes me smile, because every time I mention it to someone under 50 they laugh like hell. I realize a VCR is old school, but the bad guys are just as dead whether the Duke shoots ’em on VCR as on DVD.

Willie and a beat-up Trigger.

Willie Nelson’s guitar Trigger makes me smile, because it’s every bit as beat up and scarred as Willie himself.

Print newspapers make me smile, because they were supposed to be dead and buried by now. The rag trade hasn’t been kind to a lot of old friends in the past few years, but some have survived all the layoffs, buyouts and shutdowns. May the -30- on their careers arrive on their own terms.

Seeing someone under 50 holding a newspaper in their hands makes me smile. It tells me they’re old souls.

The King, Eddie Feigner, pitching blindfolded.

Knowing I have something in common with Willie Mays makes me smile. The Say Hey Kid might be the best all-round player in Major League Baseball history, but he was no match for legendary fastpitch hurler Eddie Feigner of the King and His Court fame. King Eddie whiffed Willie one night in an exhibition game at Dodger Stadium in L.A., and he whiffed me one night in a fun game at Renfrew Park in Calgary.

So, Willie and I were two of Eddie’s 141,517 career strikeout victims. Ditto baseball Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Roberto Clemente.

The King sat me down with a knee-buckling changeup after I had fouled off two of his fastballs on my first trip to the plate, but I also swatted a single off him my next time up. Alas, that base knock came with an asterisk: The King and His Court, you see, took the field with just four players—the 60-year-old Feigner, a catcher, a first baseman, a left fielder. My soft, looping hit fell just beyond the reach of the first sacker, into an empty right field. And, yes, it was a total fluke.

Festus Haggen

Festus Haggen makes me smile. I watch Gunsmoke every afternoon and I’m not sure there’s been a quirkier character in the history of television than Ol’ Whiskers. Maybe Archie Bunker. Maybe Barney Fife. Maybe Aunt Clara, who collected doorknobs and entered rooms by coming down the chimney on Bewitched. But Festus does it for me. And did you know that Ken Curtis, the fellow who played Festus, succeeded Frank Sinatra as vocalist with the Tommy Dorsey band? True story. Festus was a crooner. Curtis also was the son-in-law of legendary western film maker John Ford and a lead singer with the Sons of the Pioneers of Roy Rogers fame.

Watching videos of Alison Krauss and Vince Gill perform together makes me smile. She has the voice of an angel, and he makes magic with a guitar in his hands. His voice is syrupy sweet, too.

Bob Dylan

Discovering at 5 a.m. on Friday that Bob Dylan had released a new song made me smile. I mean, what a great way to spend a bit of down time. Then I listened to Murder Most Foul and stopped smiling.

I can’t speak to the entirety of the tune, because I shut it down when my ears began to bleed after 6½ minutes, but I can tell you that it’s Bob’s way of reminding us that bad guys with guns splattered John F. Kennedy’s brains on the seats of a limousine in 1963. Dylan’s never been a songbird, so it’s easy to forgive his flawed voice, but this is nothing more than 17 minutes of shaky narration with a lot of rhyming and name dropping.

I’m a huge Dylan fan, so I’ll be kind and suggest it isn’t his best work, but you can judge for yourself.

(After giving him the hook at 6½ minutes, I dug out my Infidels album to remind myself what Dylan used to sound like. I smiled the moment the needle touched vinyl.)

Baby Blue and other songs that take me back to special people and places

patti dawn swansson

So, I stepped out of the shower the other morning and I could hear country legend George Strait crooning. The song was Baby Blue and I immediately thought of my beautiful daughter, Krystal.

Baby Blue was her favorite song for a time. Mine too.

Hearing it again served as a sweet reminder how music, perhaps more than anything else, links us to the special people and places that enrich our lives. Specific songs take us to a specific person, or to a specific place. This is the list of select songs that do that for me, and the people and places I recall warmly when I hear them.

Baby Blue, George Strait: I cannot hear this tune without thinking of Krystal.

If I Fell, The Beatles: Lynn, first high school crush.

Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain, Willie Nelson: Heather, owner of The Toad in Osborne Village in Winnipeg. We’d have what we called “Willie Nights” when the barman played nothing but Willie Nelson tunes after closing. Heather and I would dance.

Dance with My Father, Luther Vandross: Terry. This was played at the memorial service for his father.

Fanny Be Tender, Bee Gees: Colleen, my lifelong crush. She was 21 and married, I was an 18-year-old kid when we met. Nothing ever happened, but I wanted it to.

You Needed Me, Anne Murray: Colleen, Part II. I’m still crushing on her after all these years.

Lady, Kenny Rogers: Sheila, a special, amazing, beautiful woman. What was I thinking when I left her?

Songs of Life, Neil Diamond: Sheila, Part II. And I still don’t know what I was thinking when I left her.

Pretty Woman, Roy Orbison: Sheila, Part III. Obviously, I wasn’t thinking when I left her. Dumb, dumber and dumbest.

Stormy Monday, Eric Clapton (or any great blues singer): Rhonda, another ex. My goodness, that woman had a voice. I heard her sing this in Brandon shortly after we began dating, and I was blown away.

Since I Fell for You, Barbra Streisand (or any of the great lady singers): Rhonda, Part II. She sang this for me in the lounge at the downtown Sheratan in Winnipeg. I was gobsmacked.

New York, New York, Frank Sinatra: Joan was my landlady when I first moved to Toronto in early 1980s. Great friend.

Imagine, John Lennon: Stephanie was a lady from Liverpool whom I met the night John Lennon died.

From This Moment On, Shania Twain: This was played at the first same-sex marriage I attended, for Rob and Derek. Rob left us a few years ago, but I always think of him and Derek when Shania sings this tune.

Girl from the North Country, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash: My brother Mick. It’s the first song on the Bob Dylan classic Nashville Skyline. I gave that album to Mick long ago and he’s been a Dylan-ite ever since.

I Cross My Heart, George Strait: I always think of Harley Tucker, a fictional character and Strait’s love interest in the movie Pure Country, when I hear this song. I’d like a girl just like her.

Old Friends, Waylon and Willie: Johnny Murphy, late DJ at CFRY in Portage la Prairie, once took an article I wrote and read it verbatim on his show, playing the various tunes I mentioned in the piece. They included Old Friends. Then, when our mutual friend Friar Nicholson died, I played this song all morning.

Losing You, Alison Krauss: This is Saturday afternoons/evenings at Paparazzi, when owner/barkeep Terry allows me to switch the music to my favorite singer.

Till I Gain Control Again, Alison Krauss: I think of heaven, because her voice is angelic.

Roadhouse Blues, The Doors: Once upon a time, I hosted a talk show, Prime Time Sports, on CJOB in Winnipeg. This was my theme song.

Till, The Vogues: Glenice, my first. A truly beautiful soul who deserved better than me.

About Vietnam and Las Vegas…a president in Puerto Rico…Tom Petty and the Traveling Wilburys…rude noise on The Voice…learning about Will & Grace…October baseball…and shining in 2019

Random thoughts before the candle goes out and the sun comes up…

I spent the entirety of my Sunday watching the final six installments of the Lynn Novick/Ken Burns documentary The Vietnam War and went to bed emotionally spent and softly weeping.

Such atrocities. Such carnage. Such an unnecessary waste of human life.

I awoke 5 1/2 hours later, at 1:30 a.m. Monday, and clicked on my TV. I began weeping again. Another atrocity. More carnage. More unnecessary waste of human life, this time on our side of the world, in Las Vegas.

You wake up in the morning knowing the world will have changed overnight, but you don’t expect this kind of change. Fifty-eight people taken to the morgue. Approximately 500 whisked away to the ER at five different Vegas hospitals. That’s almost 600 people killed or cut down. By a man who, due to silent voices in his head and a disturbing, horrific sense of right and wrong, took a piece of pure Americana—a country music festival—and buried it in pure evil.

The physical toll is shocking, the worst human slaughter in modern-time United States. The emotional fallout is much greater.

Approximately 22,000 innocent, happy concert-goers are victims. Their friends and loved ones are victims. First responders are victims. Doctors and nurses are victims. Jason Aldean, on stage closing the Route 91 Harvest Festival when bullets from high-powered weapons began to rain down from a 32nd-floor room in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, and other performers are victims.

So the country to the south has been crippled. Again.

The Olympic Mountains

When I look out the main window of my humble home on a clear day, I can see the United States of America. Literally. The Olympic Mountains are off in the distance, standing tall and firm across the Juan de Fuca Strait in Washington state. It’s a peaceful, picture-postcard setting, totally at odds with the chaos, confusion and killings that occur far too often behind them.

It’s easy for us on the north side of those Olympic Mountains to feel smug and say these types of mass murders are “an American thing,” but do we really want to go there? Americans are our neighbors. Our friends. Even if we find them a tad loud and obnoxious when they visit, they’re North American kin.

Besides, it’s not like we’re immune to the depravity of minds that either snap or plot evil in Canada.

It was only nine months ago, remember, when a young man strolled into a Quebec City mosque and opening fired. By the time he walked out of the Islamic Cultural Centre, six people lay slain and another 19 were wounded.

It’s all so sad.

One of four students dead in Ohio.

The Vietnam War documentary, which aired on PBS, is a superb, enlightening and gripping work from Novick and Burns. It is a harsh reminder of the violence that prevailed during the 1960s and early ’70s—it definitely wasn’t all flower power, groovin’ and great rock ‘n’ roll like some Baby Boomers would have you believe—and I’m sure it opened eyes to the shameful deceit, cunning and flat-out criminal activity of people in the White House. The most heart-tugging and tear-inducing segment for me was the sight of students lying on the ground, dead, at Kent State after the Ohio National Guard had gunned them down. Innocent kids, killed by their own government. I can still hear the haunting refrain “four dead in Ohio” in Neil Young’s classic protest song Ohio. Sigh.

Speaking of government, did U.S. President Donald Trump actually tell people in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico to “have a good time” and toss them paper towels? Well, yes, he did. Oh my.

Okay, it’s about Tom Petty. My favorite Tom Petty stuff was the stuff he did with Nelson, Otis, Lefty and Lucky, aka the Traveling Wilburys. Now, with Petty’s passing this week, there are only two of the Wilburys left—Lucky (Bob Dylan) and Otis (Jeff Lynne). George Harrison and Roy Orbison had preceded Petty to the big rock concert in the sky. Petty (Charlie T. Wilbury Jr.), Dylan, Lynne, Harrison and Orbison only recorded one album together —Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1—and it’s brilliant. Those boys could really get after it. There’s a second album (I have the both on vinyl), but Orbison had already left us.

The Traveling Wilburys: Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison.

My favorite Traveling Wilburys tunes…

  1. Handle with Care
  2. End of the Line
  3. Rattled
  4. Not Alone Any More
  5. Poor House

Gave The Voice a try last week, but, sorry, I cannot watch if Miley Cyrus and Jennifer Hudson are sitting in two of the four judges’ chairs. They both seem to be of the misguided notion that the show is about them, not the contestants. The hokey Adam Levine-Blake Shelton bromance wore thin about six years ago, but Cyrus and Hudson make the show unbearable. Click.

I’m told Will & Grace are back on TV. Hmmm. I didn’t know they had left. So, because I missed them during their first go-round on the small screen, I thought I’d give the new season’s first episode a look-see. I must say, that was a funny show. And imagine my surprise. There are gay characters. Who knew? Must check it out again. (Sidebar: Debra Messing has gorgeous hair. Love the color, which also happens to be my color.)

I love October baseball, even if I don’t have a cheering interest. Actually, I found myself root, root, rooting for the New York Yankees in their wild-card skirmish with the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night. I’m not sure what that means. I mean, I’ve always been an ABTY ball fan—anybody but the Yankees. So why was I cheering for them? I think I need to book some time on Dr. Phil’s couch.

If I was still in River City, working in mainstream jock journalism at the Winnipeg Sun, I’d be required to attend a hockey match this very night between the hometown Jets and the Tranna Maple Leafs and pretend it’s important. I’m glad I’m no longer in River City working in mainstream journalism.

According to my October horoscope, “2019 will be your time to shine.” Excuse me? 2019? What the hell am I supposed to do until then?

An Ode to Des, the world’s quirkiest barman and the sweetest man I know

The sun was high and stifling on a sticky Saturday afternoon and, as I wandered amongst the sweat-stained armpits of August 1996 in Winnipeg’s eclectic Osborne Village, I sought refuge. In a pub. And a pint. I gave glance to a sign on the opposite side of the avenue—Toad in the Hole Pub & Eatery—which beckoned seductively. I couldn’t resist its come-hither woo.

The Toad, I discovered upon entry, had a cozy comfort. There were half a dozen stools at the gnarled bar, a few scarred, wooden booths (which lent themselves to a level of intimacy, albeit limited) and a handful of small tables. The decore was a scattered and unusual mix of reptilian chic and U.K. football, with toad/frog artifacts keeping company with banners bugleing Man U., Spurs, Chelsea, Liverpool and others of their ilk.

Inhaling the thick British personalty of the pub, I took inventory and stationed myself at a tiny table for two, noting that the small TV at the opposite end of the room was blank and a Dylan album, Good As I Been To You, was playing on a dinosaurish tape deck in a cramped, cluttered room off the bar. I then waited for service. And waited…and waited…and waited.

Given that I was one of only four customers in the room, I found this delay in service somewhat baffling, if not borderline annoying. But, I was in mellow mode, as calm as the Dalai Lama on a sedative, so I cracked open that day’s edition of the Globe and Mail and became one with the moment. And I waited some more. Eventually, after what seemed a fortnight, a voice, unmistakenly Scottish, carried across the room.

Service at the bar when you’re ready!”

I glanced over the top of my newspaper, put it down and gazed upon a most interesting human head peering at me from behind the bar. What I noted first were the eyeglasses. The lenses, the size of two dinner plates, looked like a pair of cracked windshields and appeared to be glued in place. The frames were broken and held together with white tape. The head had thinning, silver-grey hair that was tied back in a ponytail, and there wasn’t a tooth in sight. That’s right, no tusks, real or false. Just a gummy grin. Meet Des, the planet’s quirkiest and most lovable barman.

As I approached the bar, I could see Des was no more than a pint glass taller than a bar stool and not much wider than a swizzle stick. I figured him to be sixtysomething (turns out he was mid-50s), and there was an impish bearing and folksy, Willie Nelson-type charm about him. I remember thinking he would make a wonderful garden gnome.

I asked this good man what he had on tap and, in something of an agitated, impatient tone—as if I was detaining him from a more imperative function than pouring pints (there were, after all, ketchup bottles to refill)—he rattled off the various brands of liquid refreshment available. I ordered a jar of Kokanee Gold, which Des wiped down with the same disgustingly filthy rag he would use to mop spittle, spillage and grime from the bar, and retreated to my table. As it happened, afternoon gave way to evening, which gave way to night, which gave way to last call. And I was still there. In part because Des was still there.

Desmond McLoughlin, the wee Scottish barman without a tooth in his head, is the sweetest man I know and surely the most unforgettable barman.

Among other things, he had a fetish for plastic bags, he rolled his own cigarettes (sometimes with regular tobacco rather than the wacky stuff), he punished his patrons by force-feeding them Bob Dylan tunes and the banshee-like caterwauling of local lass Debra Lyn Neufeld non-stop for his entire shift and, if you were lucky, Des would pour you a pint and actually hand it to you, not some guy sitting three stools to your left (chances are the other guy would get your change, though).

Although in the hospitality business, he considered customers to be quite the inconvenience, especially if there were more than two at the same time. And you ordered food at your own peril with Des, most notably when he’d be refilling ketchup bottles, because he was the very antithesis of the multi-tasker. One more thing: You didn’t even think of telling him the score of a sporting event that was being shown on a tape-delay basis. Especially World Cup soccer. If so, you’d wait half an hour for your next pint.

So, how was it that Des managed to cling to his job? Simple. He was to the Toad what Johnny Carson was to late night television.

A most lovable, leprechaunish character, Des was a gentle, mischievous soul who spun fabulous yarns and told wicked jokes. He was 55 going on 18. And oh so quirky. Des owned no identification papers to prove he actually existed. No birth certificate. No driver’s licence. No social insurance card. If pressed to prove he was who he was, he would produce a copy of a Dust Rhinos’ CD. He was pictured on the cover. Any documention he considered to be of value, he hoarded in the right hip pocket of his black jeans, which, along with his mountain/winter boots, he apparently squeezed into 365 days of the year. That pocket was his filing cabinet.

Des was a huge baseball fan, the Winnipeg Goldeyes, a lower-level, independent pro outfit, being nearest and dearest to his heart. One year in June, I gifted him with a pair of ducats to a Goldeyes’ game in early July.

Brilliant,” he said gratefully, at the same time caressing and gazing upon the tickets much like an art fancier would the Mona Lisa.

He then dipped his thin, gnarled fingers into his right hip pocket, pulled out a wad of scrap paper the size of a Big Mac and tenderly tucked the tickets into the pile with, among other things, his Goldeyes and Winnipeg Blue Bombers schedules. Back into the filing cabinet they went.

Don’t forget those tickets are in your pants pocket, Des,” I cautioned.

Oh, I won’t.”

Good, because I’d hate to see them get ruined in the laundry.”

What day are they for?”

July 7th.”

That’s more than three weeks away…I won’t be doing laundry before then.”

The thought of Des not putting his jeans into a washing machine for another three weeks was a wince-worthy bit of business, but not at all out of character.

Everybody loved Des. How can you not embrace a man who refused to put teeth in his head because they made him a stranger in his own mirror? Des, for the record, had teeth. Once upon a time, Heather the pub owner, her hubby the Ol’ Turnkey and a few Toad regulars cobbled together some coin and arranged for Des to be fitted for dentures. A full, upper and lower set of tusks.

I think he wore them once,” the Ol’ Turnkey says. “But he didn’t like them because they made him look different. And I can understand. He just didn’t look like Des. Actually, he looked really stupid.”

Thus, he’s been gumming his food ever since.

But I knew those teeth were secured somewhere in his humble basement abode, because, being a generous soul, Des offered them to me one day.

I had come in to the Toad on a Saturday afternoon and, given that my face was frozen after surrending a good number of my bottom teeth to my dentist’s pliers that morning, I was rendered something less than the life of the party. The fact that Bob Dylan was bleating in the background did nothing to cushion my anguish.

Check it out, Des,” I said as I flashed my gums at him.

What happened?” he asked in a concerned tone.

Had my teeth yanked this morning. I look just like you now.”

No problem. I’ve got a set of teeth at home that you can borrow.”

Des approached life with a wink and a nod, but that doesn’t mean he was without a serious side. Just try nicking something from the Toad and he’d hunt you down like Lt. Phillip Gerard tracking Dr. Richard Kimble in the The Fugitive.

This actually happened:

Des observed a character of iffy moral fiber one day, so he tried to keep one eye trained on the suspect and the other on his priceless collection of ketchup bottles. At some point, however, Des’s surveillance mission was inconvenienced by, of all things, a patron, who distracted him by ordering a beer. Well, faster than you can say “Steve McQueen and The Great Escape” his suspect vanished. Des shifted into detective mode, convinced the ne’erdowell had swanned off with one of the Toad’s prized artifacts.

Inspector Deseau scoured the pub, hunting for a) the bad guy and b) evidence that something had been pilfered. He dashed down into the pool room, up into the restaurant, to the darkness of the back room, out the door into the back alley and, finally, into the women’s and men’s washrooms. Aha, Kato! Something is amiss! Des then completely abandoned his bar post and rerouted his manhunt outside onto Osborne Street, his mountain/winter boots trekking south, his eyes darting in all directions for the slightest sign of the culprit as if he was on the FBI’s most-wanted list. And there he was, in a neighboring eatery. Des approached the desperado like Gary Cooper staring down Frank Miller in High Noon, without the slightest whisper of trepidation.

You have something that belongs to me,” he said. “I’d like it back.”

The cad reached into his pocket and withdrew the stolen goods — one roll of toilet paper, approximate value 11 cents.

While the inclination is to file this behaviour in the ‘extremely eccentric’ category, it should be pointed out that the Toad had, on more than one occasion, run out of toilet paper. That’s right, no butt wipe.

This, of course, is never a good thing, but Des always had the solution: He would simply dispense paper napkins to any customer who needed to use the washroom, one napkin for men and two for the ladies. No more, no less (did I mention he’s Scottish?). Given this history, it is little wonder that Des would turn bloodhound and sniff out a butt wipe bandit. (I shudder to think what Des would have done had he run out of both toilet paper and napkins at the same time. Something tells me his filthy bar rag would have come into play, but that is a supposition that we simply do not wish to visit.)

The bottom line in all of this is that Des was a genuine, almost cartoonish character.

Indeed, I recall one Halloween night at the Toad when a good number of patrons arrived in a variety of disguises such as Dracula, Al Capone, Superman, Homer Simpson, Spiderman and the like. I went as Des and won the grand prize for best costume. Such is Des’s temperment that he laughed as loud and as long as anyone at my pantomime. At different intervals during the evening, I told Des that if he felt I was going overboard, perhaps making him a tad uncomfortable, I would cease.

No fucking way,” he said. “I’m having as much fun watching myself as everybody else is.”

That’s another thing about Des: He’s one of the very few people I know who can drop F-bombs all over the property and it doesn’t sound like he’s profane or vulgar. Davey Boy, for example, habitually entered the Toad through the back-alley entrance and would bleat, “What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here?” as he strode into the pub. One day he added a new wrinkle to his ritual by taking a few coins out of his pocket, slapping them on the bar and saying, “What can a man get for a buck 75 in here?”

A hard fucking time,” was Des’s immediate response.

Similarly, one quiet Saturday afternoon, the Sea Captain’s constant griping took aim at the music Des was dispensing.

Bob Dylan…why the fuck do we always have to listen to Bob fucking Dylan?” the Sea Captain ranted.

Do you have something against Dylan?” Des asked rather grumpily.

Yeah…he’s a one-hit fucking wonder.”


Bob Dylan? A one-hit wonder?” I said. “What tune out of his catalogue of about 1,000 tunes he’s recorded in the past four decades was the one hit?”

I don’t know, but there was only one of the fuckers,” the Sea Captain muttered.

Des stepped inside the small music booth and cranked up the volume on the stereo.

Maybe this is the one hit,” he growled. “If not, we’ll listen to Dylan until we finally hear his one fucking hit!

We all laughed mightily.

Des is among the most endearing people to have graced my life path. I love him and miss him.

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