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.)

Yo! Cam Newton! Some of the women who escaped from the kitchen actually watch football

Cam Newton must think Katie Sowers is funnier than a barrel full of Three Stooges.

I mean, she’s a she who talks about the “routes” receivers run in the National Football League, and that, to Cam, is high comedy. A real knee-slapper. A regular riot. Why, it’s Seinfeld-worthy.

Jourdan Rodrigue

Oh, yes, a “female” discussing the intricacies of the manly enterprise that is professional football is such a gut-buster that Cam simply could not contain himself on Wednesday when a “female” fed him a query about one of the people who catch the passes he throws for the Carolina Panthers.

I know you take a lot of pride in seeing your receivers play well,” said Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer. “Devin Funchess has seemed to really embrace the physicality of his routes and getting those extra yards. Does that give you a little bit of enjoyment to see him kind of truck sticking people out there?”

As soon as the word “routes” passed Rodrigue’s lips, Newton closed his eyes and began to smile and sway, waiting for her to finish.

It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes, like…it’s funny,” the Panthers quarterback said, flashing a toothy, dumb-ass grin like he was in the front row at a Chris Rock stand-up show at the L.A. Improv.

Ya, funny Cam. That must be the reason the San Francisco 49ers hired the aforementioned Katie Sowers as a full time coach to work with their receivers. For comic relief. And, say, Sowers is one of those lesbians, isn’t she? A lesbian teaching receiver “routes?” Even more reason to yuk it up, right Cam?

Hey, come to think of it, maybe Jourdan Rodrigue is a lesbo, too. Ya, that must be it. That would explain everything. No straight girl would ever talk about “routes.” If straight girls talk football, it’s about the color of the uniforms or the tight tush on Gisele Bundchen’s hubby, Tom Brady. Only a gay girl would get into specifics like a go route, a hitch screen and slants. And it’s sooooo darn funny when she says it.

I wonder what else Cam Newton thinks is funny to hear females talk about. Car engines? Power tools? The payload on a Chevy Silverado pickup?

Poor Cam. Apparently he missed the memo about women being allowed out of the kitchen. One of them, in fact, strayed so damn far from the kitchen that she almost got herself elected president of the United States last November. Hmmm. Wonder if Hillary Clinton knows anything about football. Probably not. Otherwise she’d have punted Bill to the sidelines when he brought Monica into the huddle.

Annabel Bowlen with the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

At any rate, ol’ Cam has put a whole lot of knickers in knots with his antiquated, offensive stereotyping of women, and you’d think he’d know better. A whole lot better. He is, after all, a black quarterback and, once upon a time, many, if not most, of the deep-thinkers in football were of a mind that African-Americans were, well, just too dumb to play QB. You know, like Cam believes a female reporter is just too dumb to talk about pass “routes.”

Supposedly, we weren’t smart enough or had the leadership qualities or whatever it took,” says Warren Moon, the sole black QB in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “At every position, for African-Americans, conquering that myth at quarterback was so important.”

It wasn’t until Doug Williams delivered a Super Bowl championship to the Washington Redskins in 1988 that the tall foreheads became convinced black quarterbacks actually knew the difference between an X and an O, a go route from a corner route. Even at that, there remain holdouts to this day. The New York Giants, founded in 1925, have never started a black man behind centre. In 92 years.

Apparently, that’s where Newton is re women. In 1925.

Remember, though, this is the guy who was too dainty to get his hands dirty and his uniform wrinkled in Super Bowl 50. He totally flatlined and the Panthers were beaten by the Denver Broncos that day. And to whom did NFL commissioner Roger Goodell present the Vince Lombardi Trophy? Annabel Bowlen. Yup, a woman.

Ain’t it funny how that works, Cam?

Humble beginnings in a small, second-floor mail room

For those of you, like Amelia, who have asked (and keep asking), yes, it’s true, I once worked as a sports scribe. But please don’t hold that against me. I’ve reformed. I don’t write about jocks anymore. Quit cold gobbler just last week.

I began my journalism career in the mail room of a Winnipeg newspaper in 1969, the same year man first walked on the moon. The moon is still there. The newspaper isn’t. I would lug two, sometimes three, large sacks of mail from the post office across the street to the business office at the Winnipeg Tribune. Twice a day. Then I’d sort it and distribute it to the various departments of the six-story structure. It was my baptism in a career that stretched across three decades, followed by an after-life as a freelance writer/blogger.

I might write a book about it—Mail Room to Menopause: That’s all She Wrote after 45 Years. Here are the gory details…

Winnipeg Tribune—1969-80: Mail room, editorial copy runner, sports reporter.

Covered: Winnipeg Jets in the World Hockey Association and the National Hockey League, Manitoba Junior Hockey League, Western Canada Hockey League, Canadian Amateur Senior Hockey League, Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League, amateur and professional boxing, tennis, high school football, university football, junior football, provincial curling championships, figure skating, auto racing, horse racing at Assiniboia Downs, Manitoba Junior Baseball League, high school track championships, bowling, Canadian national tennis championships…

Toronto Sun—1980-82: Sports columnist.

Covered: Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto Argonauts, Toronto Blizzard, North American Soccer League, National Football League, Super Bowl, Grey Cup, Major League Baseball, world championship boxing, world curling championships, minor league baseball, ATP tennis, Virginia Slims tennis, Canadian Open tennis, Canadian Open golf, horse racing at Woodbine, Harlem Globetrotters, 1981 Canada Cup, world junior hockey championships, world hockey championships…

Calgary Sun—1982-85: Sports columnist, sports editor

Covered: Calgary Flames, Calgary Stampeders, Grey Cup, Super Bowl, Pacific Coast League baseball, Pioneer League baseball, World Cup skiing, Stanley Cup final, local tennis, the Brier, Calgary Stampede rodeo, horse racing at Stampede Park, Seniors PGA tournament…

Toronto Star—1986: Sports copy editor.

Winnipeg Sun—1986-99: Sports columnist, Jets beat writer, sports editor (twice)

Covered: Winnipeg Jets, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Winnipeg Goldeyes, the Grey Cup, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, world championship boxing, local boxing, the Pan-American Games, horse racing at Assiniboia Downs, the Brier, world curling championships, provincial curling championships, Olympic curling trials, Morris Stampede rodeo, Manitoba Open golf tournament, junior golf, ladies’ Canadian Open golf tournament…


  • Only living sports reporter to cover both the Jets final game in the WHA and first game in the NHL.

  • Only living sports writer to cover Winnipeg Jets’ first rookie training camp in Ste. Agathe, Que.

  • Only sports writer to ever play an official game for the Winnipeg Jets (as a replacement for Patrick Daley in the final exhibition of rookie training camp in Ste. Agathe).

  • Only living sports writer to cover the last three Winnipeg Blue Bombers Grey Cup victories.
  • Only living sports writer to cover the 1975 World Junior Hockey Championships in Winnipeg.

  • One of only a handful of sports journalists to cover the Don Lalonde-Sugar Ray Leonard title bout in Las Vegas.

  • One of only a handful of living Canadian sports writers to cover Muhammad Ali’s final fight in the Bahamas.

  • One of only a handful of Canadian sports journalists to cover Canada’s first World Junior hockey championship gold medal victory, in Rochester, Minn., 1982.

  • Covered Edmonton Oilers’ first Stanley Cup championship.

Major events covered: Super Bowl-6

                                                Grey Cup-10

                                                Stanley Cup final-2

                                                World Hockey Association final-2

                                                World Hockey Championships-1

                                                World Junior Hockey Championships-2


                                                World Curling Championships-3

                                                Olympic curling trials-1

                                                World boxing title fights-2

                                                World Series-1

                                                Special Olympics-1

                                                Canadian Open golf-2

                                                Canadian Open tennis-1

Radio: Color commentary on Winnipeg Jets broadcasts, WHA and NHL; Host of Prime Time Sports on CJOB; daily sports commentary on CJAY in Calgary.

Television: Regular guest on Global late night sports, Sports Hot Seat (Calgary).

Freelance sports writing: The Hockey News (Winnipeg reporter), MVP magazine, Calgary Magazine, Canada History magazine, Tankard Times, Heart Chart, The Huddle magazine, Manitoba Hockey News magazine.

Work has appeared in: Every major daily newspaper in Canada, plus the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Seattle Times, the Denver Post.

Freelance work: Statistician and PR for Canadian Amateur Senior Hockey League.

                               Statistician and PR for Manitoba Junior Baseball League.

Post-mainstream media career: Copy editor, Canwest News Service in Winnipeg.

                                                                    Sports reporter, Victoria News

                                                                    Copy editor, Victoria Times Colonist

                                                                    Freelance writer, Monday Magazine

                                                                    Author of 10 books, including five with sports-related themes and one based in Winnipeg/St-Pierre-Jolys

Writing awards: 2012 Q Award for writing on LGBT issues in Victoria.

In the Community: Represented Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun at countless charity functions.

                                         Bi-weekly contributions to Harvest food bank.

                                         Played for West Kildonan North Stars of the MJHL.

                                         Most valuable player in 1969 Greater Winnipeg Minor Hockey Association Juvenile tournament.

                                         Played for various teams in local slo-pitch and fastball leagues.

                                         Coached Peanuts League baseball at Bronx Park Community Club.

                                         Coached Midget hockey team at East End Community Club.

                                         Refereed and umpired kids’ hockey/baseball at Bronx Park.

Now you know the rest of the story.

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