An ode to the old ‘hood by a one-time, would-be mayor of East Kildonan

Once upon a very long time ago, when I was no taller than a picket fence and weighed less than a bushel of grass clippings, I used to tell the other five people in our East Kildonan household three things:

  • I would one day be elected mayor of E.K.
  • I would one day become a world-renowned photographer.
  • I would one day play in the National Hockey League and be in the Hall of Fame.

Snickering always ensued whenever I would spew my impish bravado, but, to me, it wasn’t pie-in-the-sky dreaming. It all made sense in my tiny mind, which did not include boundaries or restraints.

Melrose Park CC

After all, I was the best little hockey player my age in E.K. (won the Little NHL scoring title at Melrose Park Community Club with eight goals in the final game of the 1960 season), so it wasn’t a fanciful notion that I one day would follow in the skate marks left behind by someone like Terry Sawchuk, an E.K. lad whose goalie pads I once wore until a coach wisely determined that our team would be better served with me playing centre and scoring scads of goals than stinking out the joint by standing between two red, metal posts and allowing scads of goals. More to the point, it was pure fantasy that I wouldn’t get to the NHL.

Similarly, I could think of not a single compelling reason that would prevent my photographs from being displayed in renowned galleries hither and yon. “Photog of the year,” I would tell the others, weekly.

Being chosen mayor of E.K. and its 25,937 citizens (1960) was more of an iffy bit of business.

E.K. City Hall

I mean, what did I know from politics? But I remember reading once in the Elmwood Herald that there were 48 homes in E.K. that still had outhouses in 1959, and I didn’t think that was right. Seemed to me, even at my tender age, that everyone should have been in full flush. I also took note of various rat infestations and trouble with delinquent teens. You know, hooligans who ran in packs and got their jollies busting into schools and businesses, or just hanging out in large numbers prepping for gang rumbles.

It all made for an appealing Triple P platform: I would flush out the Poop, the Pests and the Punks. Vote me.

Except it never came to a vote.

East Kildonan merged with numerous municipalities to form one big Winnipeg in 1972 (Unicity, we called it), and that gathering of bits and pieces ended my political career before I could take my notions to the people.

That meant Stanley Dowhan served as the final mayor of E.K., and I have no recollection of his worthiness for the job. Ditto Frank Dryden, George Suttie, Mike Spack and Mike Ruta, although I recall that my dad didn’t think any among them was worth a lick, perhaps because they failed to rid the various neighborhoods of the outhouses, rats and teen punks, but more likely because he didn’t seem to like anything.

At any rate, I never became mayor of East Kildonan.

Bronx Park

Never made it to the NHL or the Hockey Hall of Fame as a player either. Turned out that the Manitoba Junior Hockey League was my ceiling, although I had a flirtation with pro hockey when I took up John Ferguson’s offer to suit up with the Winnipeg Jets in the final exhibition skirmish of their inaugural rookie camp in Sainte-Agathe, Que, in 1979. I set up the first goal in that game, then picked up my pen, notebook and tape recorder to resume a 30-year career in jock journalism, one that took me from the outdoor frozen ponds of Melrose Park and Bronx Park to Maple Leaf Gardens, the Montreal Forum, Madison Square Garden and all the finest shinny barns on the continent. I wrote about Pee Wee champions, Junior champions, World Hockey Association champions, Stanley Cup champions and global champions, so I took a different route to the NHL.

As for photography, exactly zero galleries made room on their walls for my work. The best I could do was an honorable mention certificate in the North America-wide Kodak International Photo Contest, and a cover pic on a golf magazine.

I don’t view those as failings, though. Not even missteps. It’s life. It’s the journey.

And I can’t imagine a better starting point on the journey than our middle-class neighborhoods in East Kildonan, tucked into the northeast section of Winnipeg.

89 Helmsdale Avenue

E.K. was very much a work in progress when our family put stakes into the ground in the mid-1950s, initially in a very modest story-and-a-half homestead at 429 Melbourne Ave., then at 89 Helmsdale Ave., a grand house that stood majestically where Helmsdale and Kildonan Drive intersect, just four dwellings removed from the banks of the always-rushing Red River.

The first traffic lights weren’t installed until 1955, at the intersection of Henderson and Melrose (now Kimberly), work crews were still paving my block on Melbourne in spring ’56, telephone booths were located at various street corners, and we weren’t connected to the bustle of downtown Winnipeg in a significant way until October 1960, when the Disraeli Freeway opened to traffic.

Until then, we lived in our own little world, and everything we needed was within walking distance.

The Roxy

The Roxy Theatre was a 10-minute scamper from home, and we often spent our Saturday mornings there watching cartoons and horse opera. Once Porky Pig told us “that’s all folks” for the final time in May 1960 (last movie, Sleeping Beauty), it became Roxy Lanes. If my dad needed nails or other handyman supplies, Melrose Hardware was two blocks away, a few shops removed from Ebbeling Pharmacy on Watt Street. If they didn’t have the right goods, Kildonan Hardware was just a whoop and a holler away, next door to Helmsdale Pharmacy where us teenage kids would hang out and sample Mrs. Anderson’s banana splits and ice cream sodas when we weren’t in frolic at Bronx Park.

Mom could do her shopping at a variety of markets, including Safeway, Nell’s Grocery, Zellers and Petty’s Meat Market, which served the tastiest corned beef east of the Red River. Corned beef on rye was often a Saturday afternoon treat.

Fast food joints and restaurants were plentiful, from Dairy Queen to Champs, which served Colonel Sanders’ Kentucky Fried Chicken, to Gondola Pizza and its its nine-inch pies (with a drink) for $1.25.

Again, everything in walking distance.

But if my parents wanted a one-day getaway to, say, Palm Beach just north of E.K., corner filling stations were in abundance and gas was sold by the gallon, not the litre. And my parents didn’t require a loan from one of the neighborhood banks to put an Esso tiger in the tank.

St. Alphonsus

Not once did I take a bus to any of the three schools I attended but didn’t like—St. Alphonsus, St. Clements, Munroe Junior High—and the one I did like, Miles Macdonell Collegiate, and we came home for lunch. Every day. Sometimes my mom would be there to make soup and sandwiches for us, otherwise we’d whip up the peanut-butter-and-jam sammies on our own. When we returned to school after chowing down, we didn’t bother to bolt the doors, even though E.K. was not without nogoodniks.

Our top cop was Chief Constable Einfeld, who once was in hot foot pursuit of two two bank robbers only to hopelessly watch them flee to safety when he tripped on a curb and did a face plant, like something us kids might have seen in a Keystone Kops film at the Roxy.

Rossmere golf course: Hold the onions!

There was another oddball legal snafu in the 1950s, whereby a nearby resident thought it would be a swell idea to plant onions on one of the fairways at Rossmere Golf & Country Club (oh, yes, we had our own golf track and a couple of curling clubs). Apparently the guy had been given the okie-dokie to onion-up the golf course, and I’m guessing that members, albeit annoyed, were grateful he hadn’t planted a tomato or potato patch.

We read all about these goings-on in the Elmwood Herald, which was our go-to source for local news, even as most homes subscribed to either the Winnipeg Tribune or Winnipeg Free Press. I don’t recall either the Trib or Freep publishing the scores and goal-scorers from our Little NHL games at Melrose Park or Playground A-B-C games at Bronx Park on a weekly basis, but the Herald did, and that included my eight-goal gem, which I mistakenly assumed to be the first step on my path to the NHL and shinny immortality.

So many good memories, including the arrival of color TV (Ronny Cruikshank was the first of our group to get it), cable TV, and both CJAY TV (CKY) and KCND signed on. Those of us who didn’t have cable could bring in the KCND signal from North Dakota via wonky rooftop antennas and TV-top rabbit ears (and maybe a wad of tin foil.)

One entrance to Fraser’s Grove

It all sounds so quirky today, but it was my childhood and I loved E.K., even if I ran away from home numerous times (I never got any farther than the railway tracks that separated us from Morse Place). I’ve owned two homes in the old ‘hood, one on Leighton and the other on Kimberly, and I’ve long imagined myself living on Kildonan Drive, near Fraser’s Grove, where us Catholic kids would have our once-a-year school picnics.

That isn’t part of the picture now, though. Just like the NHL/Hockey Hall of Fame, the photo galleries and the political career that have faded from focus.

Hey, stuff happens, but sometimes stuff doesn’t happen, and even I can giggle about my impish impulses now.

My beautiful friend Beverley Southgate is gone and I want to remember her with smiles instead of tears

It was a lovely, nothing-but-blue-sky Saturday afternoon in the mid-1990s, and I had taken refuge from the high heat by ducking into the Toad In The Hole Pub, a small, charming watering hole tucked away in Osborne Village.

I had just moved into the area, which sits a hoot and a holler across the Assiniboine River from downtown Winnipeg, so the shops, the eateries, the bustle and the faces were as fresh as morning dew. I liked it. Very much. It had a small-town quaintness, yet also the vibrancy of something bigger brewing.

Inside the British-themed Toad, there were only a handful of patrons, all speaking in down-low tones while the barman, an impish Scottish fellow named Des whom I grew to love quite deeply, filled ketchup bottles and swabbed at his gnarled bar with a ratty cloth, sweeping away what was left of the previous night’s spillage.

“Service at the bar when you’re ready!” he shouted, as was his custom whenever an unfamiliar face walked in and sat down.

I looked up from my table and could scarcely see the top of his balding head. I approached to discover this gnome of a man had what was left of his silver hair tied back in a ponytail, and I ordered a pint of Kokanee Gold, then retreated to my table.

I sat there for the next hour and a half, lost in thought and reading the Globe and Mail, all the while blind to the gathering mob of locals.

Then two women arrived, one short and blonde, the other tall and elegant and stylish and intriguing. She was the first person I truly noticed that day, because it was impossible not to notice Beverley Southgate when she entered a room with her sexy, Lauren Bacall vibe.

Bogie would have loved Beverley. I certainly did. Totally.

Beverley and her companion Linda took root at the table nearest mine, and engaged in a deep conversation that I tried not to hear but couldn’t help but hear. It seemed Linda was experiencing a spot of difficulty in her life, so she talked while Beverley listened, as a good friend would. In time, woe gave way to levity and, quite unexpectedly, Beverley invited me to join them.

“Why would you want me sitting with you girls?” I asked.

“Because you look interesting, and I like interesting people,” Beverley replied with a warm, melt-butter smile.

Given my shyness, taking up an offer to sit with strangers was not among my habits, but I picked up my chair and positioned it at their table. Two hours later, I was still perched there and, by the time Beverley left, I had decided this South African woman was someone I would rather have in my life than not.

Apparently, it was a mutual feeling because, in the ensuing few years before my departure and relocation in Victoria, we shared many giggles.

Sometimes we would hop in my convertible and toot around Osborne Village, hoorawing and waving at “the peasants” on the sidewalks. We would spend a night or afternoon at Assiniboia Downs and bet on the ponies. We would dine together in the Village. We would spend time at my place, listening to vinyl albums while she sang along with Ella or Miss Peggy Lee or Shirley Bassey—quite loudly and with a to-hell-with-the-neighbors attitude—at 3 o’clock in the morning. Nobody filed a complaint, likely because her singing voice leaned heavily toward the favorable side or the musical ledger. Once she tagged along with me to Winnipeg Blue Bombers training camp in Portage la Prairie, where her mom lived. Judging by the popping of eyeballs, the football players were quite taken by her looks.

But to suggest Beverley’s substance was limited to physical appearance would be to say a raindrop or a wave is wet. There was so much more to her than that. Beverley’s beauty ran as deep as a coal pit. She was the rainbow after the storm. She had the earth-tones of a commoner yet, at the same time, her’s was a regal-like bearing. Classy. Yes, that’s a word I would use to describe her. And fun. So much fun. And real. So very real.

It has been less than 24 hours since I learned that my dear, beautiful friend Beverley is no longer with us in the physical realm, and I have yet to fully take grip of the notion that I shall never see or talk to her again.

We communicated regularly, sometimes by phone (we would talk at great length) but mostly via email, and we last connected on July 3. We discussed the absence of live music during the COVID-19 lockdown—“No live music yet, boo hoo,”—because one of her pleasures was spending time at the Times Change(d) High & Lonesome Club on Main Street. She loved the blues and jazz. She mentioned she’d been listening to Bobby Hatfield and his “beautiful voice.”

She confirmed that, at age 71, she was now retired, and she surely had earned her warm corner of the room. She also mentioned that her immune system had been “compromised.” That gave me pause for ponder but, since she didn’t elaborate, I let it go.

“Need to give you a call soon,” she said.

Six days later, she was dead.

Beverley was a blessing in my life, so this hurts. It hurts like hell. And I have spent the last number of hours reminding myself of something I had written in the latest volume of my Songs of Life series of books: “Try to remember that when a dear one passes on, it shall not be long before each memory of her brings a smile to your face instead of a tear to your eye.”

I’m still at the teary-eyed stage, but I know I shall arrive at the smiling stage. That’s one of the things Beverley Southgate did for me. She made me smile. Me and many others.

I shall miss her as deeply as I love her.

San Jose has a great big rat and Winnipeg has a Golden Boy with great big balls

So here’s what I’m thinking about three members of the San Jose Sharks bashing good, ol’ Hometown…

First of all, Tomas Hertl, Justin Braun and Tim Heed could have been a tad more creative in dissing Winnipeg. I mean, describing River City as “cold and dark” is so much meh. Same old, same old.

The Golden Boy: Tall, proud and buck naked.

It’s frigid in Winnipeg, you say? Well, duh. So wrap yourself in a parka and trundle to and fro in those subterranean tunnels and above-ground test tubes that connect the downtown corridors. And it gets dark in Winnipeg? Ya, like, after the freaking sun sets, dudes. A setting Sol is not peculiar to Pegtown. At last report, River City was still part of the Solar System, so, ya, they have to deal with that pesky dark-of-night thing.

Second, if you hang your hat in El Pueblo de San Jose de Guadalupe, you might want to trigger the filter between your brain and tongue before opening your gob.

Technology aside, what’s San Jose really known for?

Well, news outlet FiveThirtyEight named it “the most forgettable major American city.” Economist and migration blogger Lyman Stone ranked it as the “weirdest city in America” in 2016. On WalletHub’s listing of the most fun cities in the U.S., it comes in at a distant 95th, behind notable good-times spots like Akron, Lincoln, Omaha, Grand Rapids and Des Moines.

Little wonder the mayor of all 1,042,094 people, Sam Liccardo, says, We’re not big on bluster.”

Apparently, Mayor Sam and other civic leaders have been trying to come up with a fresh slogan for San Jose. Hmmm. The city has this quirky law which prohibits animals from publically fornicating if within 1,500 feet of a church, school or pub. Might make for a catchy slogan—San Jose: We never screw the dog.

A better question would be: How do those horny critters know if they’re inside the 1,500-foot, no-humping zone? Do they post doggy signs?

Whatever, San Jose is not without its selling points.

Reportedly, more than half the adults in the self-proclaimed Capital of the Silicon Valley have a college education. I assume the other half voted for Donald Trump.

Joey Chestnut

And, hey, San Jose has celebrities. Like Joey Chestnut.

Nobody on this planet eats more hot dogs in less time than Chestnut, the renowned face-stuffer who’s been known to scarf as many as 72 Nathan’s tube steaks in 10 minutes. What city wouldn’t be proud of a world-class glutton?

I’d say Chestnut’s achievement is admirable, except I’d be more impressed if he could gobble down 72 Salisbury House cheese nips in 10 minutes.

San Jose also has notable landmarks. Like the world’s largest rat. That would be a 30-foot Chuck E. Cheese. The thing is, they keep the rodent caged. And indoors. Wimps.

Bay way of comparison, Winnipeg has the Golden Boy—all 17.2 feet and 3,640 pounds of him—and he stands outside (even when it’s dark), proudly atop the Manitoba Legislative Building with his bare balls hanging out. Try that in minus-40 weather.

Winnipeg can even match San Jose school dropout for school dropout. They have Stevie Nicks, who left San Jose State University and eventually found fame with Fleetwood Mac. But I’ll call their Stevie Nicks and raise them a Neil Young, the Kelvin High dropout who joined Buffalo Springfield, then Crosby, Stills & Nash.

But, listen, I’m not hear to trash San Jose, even though trash talking the other guy’s town is as old as a Bob Hope joke. Happens every day. And Winnipeggers definitely do it, too.

Think about it, when was the last time you heard anyone in River City say something warm and fuzzy about Regina? As if. I recall a former Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach, Professor Mike Kelly, describing the good folks of the Saskatchewan capital as the “toothless, green, watermelon-helmet-wearing people from the crotch of Canada.” And Ol’ Lefty, Bombers place-kicker Troy Westwood, called the flatlanders “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.”

Others in Pegtown have used different parts of the human anatomy to describe Regina, and each of those body parts leaks and emits foul odors.

So there’s that.

Chuck E. Cheese

Legendary jock journalist Jim Murray, meanwhile, seldom squandered an opportunity to have sport with his many ports of call as columnist with the Los Angeles Times.

On Cincinnati: “They still haven’t finished the freeway…it’s Kentucky’s turn to use the cement mixer.”

On Baltimore: “The weather is like the team. Gray. Colorless. Drab. The climate would have to improve to be classified as merely lousy. It really doesn’t rain, it just kind of leaks. You get a picture of Baltimore as a guy just standing on a corner with no place to go and rain dropping off his hat. Baltimore’s a great place if you’re a crab.”

On Minneapolis-St. Paul: “They don’t like each other and from what I could see, I didn’t blame either of them.”

On San Francisco: “It is so civilized, it would starve to death if it didn’t get a salad or the right wine. It fancies itself Camelot, but comes off more like Cleveland. Its legacy to the world is quiche.”

Thus, when Hertl, Braun and Heed went off on Winnipeg, describing it as “dark and cold” and, at the same time, suggesting it was a horse-and-buggy burg that had yet to be introduced to the dot.com world of hashtags and tweets (“I don’t know if they have WiFi there yet.”), they weren’t exactly breaking fresh (frozen) ground. People have been taking frost-bitten cheap shots at good, ol’ Hometown since the first Red River cart blew a tire (what other reason could there have been for stopping and settling there?).

Remember old friend Ilya Bryzgalov? The former National Hockey League goaltender wasn’t afraid of anything in this entire world. Except “Bear in forest.” And living in Pegtown.

You don’t want to go to Winnipeg, right?” he once advised news snoops. “Not many people live there. Not many Russian people there. Plus it’s cold. There’s no excitement except the hockey. No park, no entertaining for the families, for the kids. It’s going to be tough life for your family.”

Bryzgalov made me laugh. Hertl, Braun and Heed not so much.

If you’re going to trash talk, boys, come up with some fresh material.

About the Curling Whisperer, Moosie Turnbull…mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa from Cam Newton and Jourdan Rodrigue…letting women-beaters into the CFL…and Kitty Cait is sorry, too…

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

Canada didn’t invent curling. That’s down to the wee Scots. But we acted as if the game was ours, winning 12 of the first 14 men’s world championships.

Then Ray Turnbull had to go and stick his long, thin nose into other people’s business.

Moosie Turnbull

Our Moosie couldn’t leave well enough alone. No sir. He just had to take his Manitoba tuck delivery and show it off for all the world to see. Next thing you know, the Swedes, Swiss, Norwegians and Americans were kicking our hoser butts. Most years they still do on the women’s side.

And that’s the legacy Turnbull leaves behind. He was the Curling Whisperer.

Moosie, who surrendered to cancer at age 78 on Friday, has a resume that few, if any, can parallel. Yet it isn’t his Brier title and silver medal at the worlds in 1965, nor his tutorials to curling-curious nations around the globe, nor his 25 years beside Vic Rauter and Linda Moore in the TSN broadcast booth that I’ll remember most about Turnbull. It’s the person. He was a big, lovely man, full of enthusiasm.

Whenever I saw Moosie at the Brier, the Scotties, a women’s or men’s world tournament, or his home hangout, the Granite Curling Club at One Granite Way in Winnipeg, he was always quick with a warm greeting, a smile and a story. Moosie talked curling like Donald Trump talks about himself. All. The. Time. But it never got boring.

I last saw Moosie at a Brier in Calgary. I was writing for the Tankard Times and we had occasion to chat after one of the bleary-eyed, early-morning draws. Among other things, we discussed his ’65 Brier win with Bronco Braunstein’s outfit, which included the legendary Don Duguid and Ron Braunstein.

Unfortunately,” said Moosie, who threw lead stones, “we fell short at the world championships that year. We lost to Bud Somerville and his U.S. team in Perth, Scotland. I guess that’s the one regret.”

A single regret. I’d say that’s a curling life well lived. So long, Moosie.

Cam Newton

Apologies, which we’ve all been required to make, are wonderful when not forced or scripted, and most mea culpas you hear from professional athletes are exactly that—forced and scripted. Which, of course, lends itself to skepticism re sincerity. Cam Newton certainly sounded sincere when he delivered a mea culpa to women the world over for his dumb-ass remark about how damn “funny” it is to hear a “female” discuss receiver routes in football. “Don’t be like me, be better than me,” he said, scant hours after Dannon had advised the Carolina Panthers quarterback that he wouldn’t be pitching their Oikos yogurt anymore. Okay, Cam is sorry. Except that doesn’t put his genie back in the bottle. He said what he said about women. Just a bunch of airheads. Can’t scrub that stain away.

On the matter of ugly stains, it turns out that the target of Newton’s objectionable conduct, Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer, is, if not a raging racist, a big fan of racism. She sent out some truly disgusting tweets while in college, one of which was a salute to her dad for being “super racist as we pass through Navajo land.” Someone else, perhaps her dad, was “the best. Racist jokes the whole drive home.” And there was something about fast car driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. being a “bitch nigga.” Naturally, Rodrigue is “deeply sorry.” Probably not as sorry as she will be when the Observer hauls her tush off the football beat. I mean, the newspaper has no choice, right? It cannot possibly keep her on the Panthers beat when the great majority of the people she interacts with are black men. Her cred is totally shot.

Since apologies seem to be vogue, I’d like to take this opportunity to say “I’m sorry” for everything I’ve ever written.

Johnny Manziel

I take no issue with jock journalists sprinkling their copy with political commentary, but some scribes absolutely should stick to sports. Take Steve Simmons of Postmedia as an e.g. Last October, he wrote this: “Ray Rice lost his career to domestic violence. Shouldn’t (New York) Giants kicker Josh Brown have lost his already for similar reasons without video?” Yet here was Simmons just last month, writing about Johnny Manziel coming to the Canadian Football League: “Personally, I think the CFL is stronger, maybe more fun, possibly more fan-appealing, with Manziel playing or trying to play the Canadian game.” So, there should be no room in the game for men like Rice and Brown, both of whom have physically abused women, but let’s all open our arms to Manziel because it’ll be so much “more fun” having a woman-beater on a CFL roster. Earth to Simmons! Manziel twice beat up his former girlfriend and landed in court because of it. He threatened to kill her. She was granted a protection order that remains in effect. Manziel is cut from the same bolt of cloth as Rice and Brown. If they don’t belong (and they surely do not), neither does he.

Well, look who’s having herself a hissy fit. Why, it’s none other than Caitlyn Jenner, who, once upon a time, starred in a reality TV show that was a self-homage and a transgender train wreck. A very dense Kitty Cait, much to the astonishment and dismay or her hand-picked, paid trans posse, used her I Am Cait platform to assure us that Donald Trump, if elected president of the United States, would be very good for women and the LGBT community. So she voted for him. And now? Anti-trans Trump and his anti-trans sidekick, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, are “a disgrace.” Kitty Cait is absolutely shocked that the Transphobe-in-Chief continues to roll out an anti-transgender agenda. Like, helloooo. Anybody home, Cait? You really didn’t see this coming? Total ditz.

Kitty Cait cruising in her Austin-Healey and Trump cap.

Kitty Cait spent part of her summer sucking up to the transgender community. Seems she had a wardrobe malfunction, whereby she mistakenly (as if) wore a Trump Make America Great Again cap on a coffee run and, somewhere between Starbucks and the Malibu mansion, the paparazzi spotted her cruising in her Austin-Healey convertible (do all trans women drive those?). Click went the cameras. Not a good optic when the president and cronies are attacking the T in LGBT. She’s made a vow to never again leave home wearing her MAGA ball cap. Never, never, never. She even threatened to toss the thing into the dust bin. She has not, however, promised to do the same thing with Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

While reading about Kitty Cait’s great ball cap flap, I recalled her once telling a reporter that “the hardest part about being a woman is figuring out what to wear.” Ya, it must be such a hassle deciding between a Trump hat and something that might have a touch of class.

Just wondering: Has anyone on CNN ever said something positive about Donald Trump? I’m not a Trumpite. I think he’s quite the buffoon. A dangerous buffoon. But, really, the constant trashing can be overbearing. I suppose that’s why we have buttons on our remotes, though.

Brief review of the season’s second episode of Will & Grace: Not as good as the premiere. Not even close. I must make a point of asking my gay male friends if they find the show humorous.

I’m not afraid of things that go bump in the night…not even an earthquake

No, I didn’t feel the earth move under my feet late Tuesday night, only because I wasn’t on my feet. I was in bed.

newest pic
patti dawn swansson

Be assured, however, that I heard and felt Mother Nature shake, rattle and roll 21 minutes before midnight, because a 4.8 magnitude earthquake 17 kilometres north east of your sleepy head tends to attract one’s attention. Talk about things that go bump in the night.

Actually, I’m not sure if it was a 4.8 or a 4.3 shaker. The U.S. Geological Survey reported the former, while Earthquakes Canada indicated that latter. I guess the Canada-U.S. exchange rate applies to not only the loonie but acts of God, as well. Whatever the case, it was, at the very least, an interesting wakeup call. Literally, also figuratively, for those of us who live in Victoria or elsewhere on Vancouver Island.

We know the Big One has yet to arrive, but few, if any of us, live in fear of the island being ripped open like a big zipper. Shakers are part of the gig. According to earthquaketrack.com, we’ve had two in the past seven days, four in the past month and 54 in the past year. Do I hear 55 by the time we all raise our champagne glasses and sing Auld Lang Syne at the stroke of 12 o’clock on Thursday night?

So we get it. One day the earth will open up wide and a tsunami will have us scurrying for higher ground. If, that is, there’s any higher ground left to run to. It is, after all, quite possible that the Pacific Ocean shall swallow us whole.

In either event, we don’t really dwell on it. This morning, of course, many of us will discuss the Thursday night rumble, and perhaps shops that peddle earthquake survival kits will do brisker-than-normal business, but the natterbugs soon will turn their attention to more common quibbles. You know, like the man-made disaster known as the Vancouver Canucks’ defence or the weather.

Be advised that, despite being blessed with the most comfortable climate in all of this vast land, we whinge about the weather like no other peoples in Canada, most notably those among us who have never exposed their flesh to the 40-below bite of a prairie winter. Victoria lifers have this odd notion that, because a 40-below wind chill is a “dry cold,” it’s more doable than the dampness of our 10-above days in late January. Odd thing is, whenever I suggest to the chattering class that the punishment for dissing our winter weather is banishment to Winnipeg, they recoil in horror.

“No!” they yelp. “Anywhere but Winnipeg! It’s too cold there!”

Then put a sock in it, mook.

Anyway, I digress. Back to last night’s shaker, This wasn’t my first rodeo. I’ve lived to talk about a big one in Los Angeles during the 1980s (5.9 on the Richter scale). And a less-ruinous one in Ottawa, also in the ’80s. I’ve felt the earth move under my feet here before. Maybe that explains my ho-hum posture this morning. I haven’t even bothered to check my eighth-floor home for ruinage, because I can’t imagine there is any from a five-to-10-second earthquake. I mean, only Donald Trump can cause significant damage in such a brief amount of time.

The shakers I’ve experienced have never frightened me. They make me sit up and take notice, to be sure, but cats and rats and a run in my nylons are cause for greater dread.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get some more kip and, hopefully, Ma Nature has no more 4.8 or 4.3 wakeup calls planned.

Turning 65 makes me eligible to become a crazy, old cat lady

The number 65 doesn’t frighten me, because that’s all it is. A number.

There are those among us, of course, who make 65 out to be more than a number. The big 6-5 is their big, bad boogeyman, playing them like a fiddle. Messing with their minds. Making them believe they’re old. Too old for this, too old for that and too old for some other things.

Not moi.

I look at turning 65 this way: I’m not too old to do something—I’m old enough to do anything and get away with it.

Question is, what do I want to get away with?

In one sense, it’s sort of like being a kid again. Like when a parent or a teacher or a coach or an aunty or a neighbor would ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” You’d say stuff like a doctor or a fire fighter or a hockey player or an astronaut or a movie star or a princess. Some of us grew up to become what we dreamed of becoming, whether it be by happenstance, luck or design, while others settled for the dreariness of a clock-watching, 9-to-5 existence.

In either case, once past the working weigh station in life, it’s time to hop on another horse and travel a different trail, even if there isn’t quite as much giddyup in your getalong.

Much pause for ponder has been devoted to this matter and, scant days before I blow out the prairie fire that will be my 65th birthday cake, I have arrived at no resolution. At best, I have ruled out certain things. Like public toilets. I shall never again clean a public toilet. Ever. I spent eight of my final 10 working years applying spit and polish to porcelain, also scrubbing surrounding floors, and I’ve exhausted my supply of elbow grease. No more grunt work for this girl.

I have also discounted any possibility of becoming a crazy, old cat lady, even though turning 65 surely makes me eligible.

I suppose every town should have a cat lady. We had one in Winnipeg back in the day, Bertha Rand. She took in strays like the Titanic took on water. Estimates put her kitty count anywhere from two to four dozen, and she fought City Hall to keep them all. At one point, 73-year-old Bertha spent five hours in jail before an unidentified benefactor sprung her by paying a $250 fine for hoarding cats. When she wasn’t in the brig or cleaning litter boxes, Bertha often railed against the system on CJOB, shrieking at investigative reporter Peter Warren as if one of her kitties was clawing at her colon. In rare softer moments, she would call in to Red Alix’s morning show, Beefs and Bouquets, and offer a kind word to someone or something.

I can still hear my mom shouting to my dad, who’d be in another room, “Michael, Bertha’s on the radio again!” and us kids would have a bit of a giggle about crazy, old cat lady Bertha.

The thing is, everyone in town talked about Bertha for all the wrong reasons, and I’m not sure I want everyone in Victoria talking about me because my home smells like cat pee. Besides, felines and I long ago arrived at a mutual understanding that if we were to cross paths it’s best that we keep going our separate ways.

I truly do not know what I want to do with the rest of my life. Other than write, of course.

I enjoy early mornings with my muse. It is my preferred time of the day, from 1 o’clock, when the world is dark, still and silent, until the cock crows and the city streets begin to wear the bustle of a fresh dawn. Some days, the words are a challenge and come together grudgingly. Others, they laugh and dance and engage in playful pranks.

This morning, I find them in somber reflection, for this is a significant week for me, given that Nov. 25 marks the sixth anniversary of my gender corrective surgery and, two days later, I arrive at the big 6-5.

It’s been quite a journey thus far. And oh so interesting. I’m looking forward to the next chapter…I hope it’s the cat’s meow.

then and now

Manager, cashier at St-Pierre-Jolys food store put Christmas on hold—bravo, ladies!

I suppose some might be inclined to describe St-Pierre-Jolys as a one-horse town. A bit of a backwater burg. No traffic lights. A couple of stop signs. A frog on steroids could travel from one end of the village to the other in one hop.

patti dawn swansson
patti dawn swansson

It depends on what you seek in life, though.

I lived a few clicks down the dirt road east of St-Pierre-Jolys for three years, on a 15-acre hobby farm, and I harbor nothing but the fondest recollections of the tiny, tidy village about half an hour south of Winnipeg on Hwy. 59. If I were limited to just three words in describing St-Pierre, they would be “friendly and unhurried.” There is a Mayberry quaintness to it. The mind’s eye can see little Opie Taylor kicking a tin can down main street while Andy and Barney hold court on the sidewalk outside Floyd’s barber shop and Aunt Bea fries up some chicken.

There were fewer than 800 mostly French-Canadian, mostly Catholic folks living in St-Pierre when I called it home. It didn’t appear anxious to grow up to become any bigger than it was back then, and apparently it still isn’t—the latest census (2011) has the population pegged at approximately 1,100. That’s a growth of about 300, give or take, in 30 years.

Again, some might think that spells one-horse town, but I enjoyed the pace. I embraced it.

I miss spending a quiet afternoon in Gord’s tavern (now Lucky Luc’s Bar & Grill) in the St. Pierre Hotel, or making the three-kilometre trek into town to sit outside in the soothing sun and enjoy a double cheeseburger, fries and a shake (I didn’t eat like a sparrow back then) at Le Bebe Rouge Drive-In. It was summertime serenity. Les Folies Grenouilles et Foire Agricoles (the Frog Follies and Agricultural Fair) was always a hoot, and a quick nine holes at the Rat River Golf Course was both casual and challenging for a once-a-week hacker.

There was never a shortage of activity in St-Pierre. It was just done at a slower pace. My pace.

I find myself in ponder of my favorite little big town this morning because of something Ginette Maynard has done. Or, perhaps more appropriately, something she hasn’t done.

Maynard is manager of Bigway Foods in St-Pierre and, at the urging of one of her employees, cashier Aurise McFarlane, she has refused to glitz up her store with Christmas gadgets and goodies. She’s put Christmas on hold. No ho, ho, ho items on the shelves. The way the two women have it figured, Christmas can wait until proper due and respect is given to our military veterans on Remembrance Day, Nov. 11.

“Christmas is two months away, and we just got past Halloween,” McFarlane told the Winnipeg Free Press. “We have to stop and think about these people who gave their lives for us.”

To which Maynard added, “We’re not afraid that we’ll lose business. If we don’t sell the Christmas candies, decorations and cards now, that’s OK. What’s important is everybody remember Remembrance Day.”

And this reminds me what I love most about St-Pierre-Jolys—the people. Well played, ladies.

Feeling pretty one minute and feeling pretty ugly the next

So, I was perched on a stool at the far right end of the bar in my favorite watering hole—the Toad In the Hole Pub—and I was enjoying a pleasant bout of chit-chat with a young woman named Gallea, whom I had met no more than 10 minutes earlier.

Engaging, energetic, touchy-feely in a non-offensive manner and with expressive, devil-may-care eyes that spoke to mischief, she was a delight as we discussed, among other things, the merits of country music, our initial focus being Hank Williams and Hank Jr. We agreed that, legend be darned, neither of us was particularly fond of either Luke the Drifter or his boy Bocephus.

“Not impressed,” Gallea said, dabbing at her short-cropped blonde hair.

“Now you take Emmylou Harris,” I said. “I love Emmylou Harris. Her voice is so soft and sweet. Sings like an angel.”

“She doesn’t seem to get older, either,” Drew the barman offered.

“Oh, she’s still a babe,” I agreed. “She’s as pretty as her voice.”

“You’re pretty, too,” said Gallea, changing the course of the conversation and arresting my attention on a fresh level. “You know who you look like? Janet Stewart.”

Drew the barman nodded in agreement.

“Who’s Janet Stewart?” I asked them.

“She’s that news girl on CBC here in Winnipeg,” Gallea advised me. “She’s really pretty and you look just like her.”

“I don’t live here, so I’ve never heard of her and I’ve never seen her.”

Janet Steward (right) and I: Separated at birth?
Janet Stewart (right) and I: Separated at birth?

Drew the barman did a finger tap dance on the keypad of his smart phone and Googled images of Janet Stewart.

“Here she is,” he said, brandishing a color photo (unairbrushed, I’m sure) of the local news anchor/reporter. “This is your lookalike.”

“Wow,” I gushed, peering at the pic. “If I was about 20 years younger, I’d say I could be her older sister. She’s very attractive. I’m very flattered.”

I’m not convinced Ms. Janet Stewart would be quite as embracing of the lookalike notion, but it was a high point for me because it isn’t every day that a 65-year-old granny is compared favorably to such a striking, lovely young lass. And, by the time Gallea took her leave, I was feeling properly pleased.

Then my friend Beverley walked in. Suddenly, pretty gave way to ugly.

Understand something here. Every girl has ugly days. No exceptions. Jennifer Lopez, Winona Ryder, Rihanna, Priyanka Chopra…they all have ugly days. Liz Taylor, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn…they had ’em.

Ugly days are not fun. You’re convinced the hair looks like an unruly bird’s nest. The makeup goes on like goop applied by a blind, one-armed chimp. You have nothing to wear, the outfit you eventually settle on makes you look 20 pounds heavier, and you’re certain you’re about as elegant and graceful as a peg-legged pirate who left his crutch back on the vessel. This is all most stressful.

Needlessly so, I might add.

I mean, really. Why such angst over the proper shade of lipstick, nail polish or highlights in your bird’s nest? Guys don’t hyperventilate over a bad-hair day, do they? Why should girls?

Well, because Coco Chanel told us so, that’s why.

“I don’t understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little, if only out of politeness,” the fashion diva once said. “And then, you never know, maybe that’s the day she has a date with destiny. And it’s best to be as pretty as possible for destiny.”

Coco was good at spewing that sort of stuff.

Anyway, I wasn’t having an ugly day until Beverley entered the room. She’s gorgeous, with smooth, almond-colored skin, enticing eyes and a regal carriage. She is as exotic as the big cats that roam the Serengeti. You don’t know ugly until you’ve sat beside Beverley in a bar with a group of men lurking nearby. Men like British Billy.

My gorgeous friend Beverley.
My gorgeous friend Beverley.

Beverley and I were giggling about various things and British Billy was gawking. At her, not me. He was a bit of an odd-looking duck, our Billy, with a wacky, Rod Stewart-like thatch of greased, blonde hair, earrings, a ratty Coors Light T-shirt and a ratty pair of trousers and shoes to match.

“He looks rather interesting,” Beverley said with a cheeky grin.

“You think?” I replied, at the same time thinking, “Don’t worry, Bev, he’ll be over here soon enough.”

He was.

“Good day, ladies,” British Billy said upon stepping forward. “I’m Billy.”

He took Beverley’s right hand in his and looked at her with lust in every fibre of his being. He then took my right hand and continued to look at Beverley with lust in every fibre of his being.

So, I went from feeling pretty to feeling pretty ugly faster than you can say “Coco Chanel is a prissy missy.”

It reminded me of the night I was sitting in a crowded room with my friend Derese, whereupon a fellow visited our table and chatted us up for a time. Once he realized his was a futile pursuit, he turned to seek other prey, but not without first passing closing comment.

“Nice tits,” he said to Derese, adorned in a dark blue top that made it abundantly clear that her breasts were ample.

He then looked at me, adorned in a frilly, flowery top that made it abundantly clear that my breasts were less than ample.

“Nice mind,” he said.

I took that as a huge compliment…then went to La Senza the very next day and bought the most uplifting push-up bra I could find.

Toad In the Hole reflections, Volume 5: Where everybody knows your name

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…

I often thought of the Toad In the Hole Pub & Eatery as my home away from home for three plus years.

Upon further review, however, perhaps the Toad was my home and where I slept at night and awoke on the morrow was actually my home away from home.

Whatever the case might be, my Toad baptism took place on a sweltering summer day in August 1996 and, over time, it put me in colleague with a most engaging and endearing array of characters, foremost among them being Des McLoughlin, the garden gnome of a barman with the impish smile and Scottish charm. In the supporting roles were the likes of the Whining Wallaby, Fly Boy, the Ol’ Turnkey, Heather, Michael One Hand, Phone Bra Boy, Transcona Sid, Stan and Shannon, Irish Jimmy, Muscle Rick, Renee, Big Bill, Mick, Hey Jude, the Toad Diva, the Bug-Eyed Barman, Pinball Johnnie, the Sea Captain, Robert and Johnny Canoe.

It wasn’t the beer that kept luring me back to the Toad, because Osborne Village had a favourable menu of watering holes from which to choose. And it most certainly wasn’t the quality of service. Des was so slow he made a funeral procession seem like a high-speed chase, while Phil, the Bug-Eyed Barman, was an unmitigated disaster behind the bar.

The Toad was much like a dish of salted peanuts: You know you should stop eating them, but you just can’t resist. And why was that? Simple: the people. It was the locals. The regulars. The everyday folks who kept the place propped up. You had doctors and lawyers, actors and journalists, construction workers and social workers, cooks and meter readers, retail clerks and criminals, mosquito foggers and paramedics, pilots and politicians, Christians and atheists, gays and straights…all on equal footing (until the pints kicked in, of course; then the footing was somewhat iffy for the mosquito fogger). Going to the Toad was a journey of discovery, as the nooks and crannies of the sundry personalities were unearthed and exposed, sometimes to embrace and others to ridicule.

toad sign2For me, the Toad was, among other things, very much a giggle chamber, because I knew that I’d have myself both a belly full of beer and a belly full of laughs by the time I left. There were nights (like when ’50s/’60s heartthrob Bobby Curtola dropped by to sing karaoke) that I laughed so hard medics were required to perform emergency surgery on my face. It wasn’t that these people were trying to be funny, understand. They couldn’t help themselves. They were funny. Period.

I don’t recall with any clarity the moment I met the original proprietor, Heather, but it must have been a favorable occasion because I habor nothing but the warmest thoughts and memories of her. An unthin and extremely unshy woman (her red hair matched her fiery personality), she was the chain-smoking Mother Figure of the Toad. Heather carried on with a no-nonsense, don’t-mess-with-me tone, but, in reality, that was so much window dressing. Pierce the armour of bruskness, and you found a sensitive, loving, caring person. I adored that woman. Still do, as a matter of fact.

Oh, and did I mention that Heather’s taste buds were connected to her ears? Yes, the more Drambuie that tickled that lady’s tongue, the more she wanted to hear Willie Nelson croon.

Mick!” Heather would bark at her late-night barman, “put on Willie! Now!”

Mick, a musician whose leanings were toward hard rock rather than country, would wince ever so slightly, but play Willie he did.

This would be going on about an hour, or so, before last call and we called them Willie Nights, whereby there’d be nothing but the Red Headed Stranger’s music until closing and, on occasion, beyond. Heather and I would dance in the cramped quarters between the bar and the Booth from Hell, and we cared not if we were to get in anyone’s way. A handful of us would sometimes still be there to greet the sunrise, no longer drinking but unwinding with good thoughts and growing memories.

I’ll always feel a strong kinship with Heather, as I will with others such as sweet Jude, Robert, Stan, the sanest person in the place, and Shannon, a lovely lass predisposed to picking lame and orphaned horses to win the Kentucky Derby.

You’ll still find a lot of them in the Toad during after-work hours, but not Heather. She sold the pub to Michael Monk, a welcoming young man with big ideas, big brass and a big heart. He’s a worthy successor to the throne. He’s made a boatload of changes to the place, but when I was there in May it felt very much like the Toad that I knew as my home away from home.

It felt good to be home again. Well done, Michael. And, as Willie Nelson might say, thank you…you’re all too kind.

Toad In the Hole reflections, Volume 4: Even more crazy, crazy characters

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…

PINBALL JOHNNIE AND ROBERT

No one could ever quite figure out the brothers Temmerman from down Mordon way in southern Manitoba. Neither was married, neither had a girlfriend, neither appeared interested in taking a bride or a girlfriend, and they lived together in an apartment a few blocks stumbling distance from the Toad.

Based on appearance, you would never imagine they were kin. Johnnie looked like he was fresh from the Ozarks. A hillbilly. Tall and garter snake thin, he had loose, leathery skin and boney hands and limbs that spoke to an honest day’s work but made him look like he was on the 64th day of a hunger strike. His face was long, gaunt and worn, and you would guess him to be very much older than his fortysomething years. Robert, on the other hand, was a tall, strapping lad with freshly scrubbed, blond good looks. We all wondered why he never had a babe on his arm.

There was nothing about Johnnie or Robert that was hard to like. Between the two of them, Pinball Johnnie was the much more interesting study, in part because he got drunk faster than any man alive. I mean, he would get half ripped just by watching a beer commercial on TV. And, once wasted, he commenced to moaning about his lot in life and would end or begin every sentence with the words “yeah fuck” or “fuck yeah.”

Yeah fuck,” he would say, “I’ve gotta get out of this city. I can’t stand it here, yeah fuck. Fuck yeah, I’ve gotta move to the States or Victoria. Yeah fuck, that’s it, I’m not gonna spend another winter here, yeah fuck. Why does anyone even live in this shithole of a place? Winnipeg, fuck yeah. Yeah fuck, I’m leaving. I’m moving to Indiana, yeah fuck. Yeah fuck, that’s where I’m gonna go. Indiana. Fuck yeah.”

toad sign2Pinball Johnnie then would pause and bite down gently on the corner of his lower lip and pick at the label on his beer bottle, almost as if it was a mechanism for further thought. And that, of course, would lead to another gatling-gun volley of fuck yeahs and yeah fucks. In time, he would crash and burn and leave, which was a hilarious sideshow in and of itself. Once off his stool, he was like a cork in rough seas, bobbing to his right, then to his left as he sought to arrest his equilibrium and get all his gangly body parts working in concert. It was a losing proposition. His left leg would insist on going right and his right leg would insist on going left, the result being—ding!—off the Booth From Hell he would bounce—ding!—off the edge of the bar—ding!—off another booth—ding!—off the door jamb—ding!—off the wall outside the washroom—ding!—off the other wall. Tilt! Tilt! Tilt! Pinball Johnnie had left the building.

There was no such Keystone Kops routine from Robert, but the juice influenced him on a different level, which was also rich in humor. Although a beer drinker in the main, he never met a shooter he didn’t like and, with enough booze in him, Robert was vulnerable to the prodding of pranksters and would fall victim to his own fantasies. Like the night Mick the barman offered him a shooter if he could walk from one end of the pub to the other with a plate on his head. Robert actually swallowed that bait. Then there was the day he sat in the Booth From Hell and drunkenly sucked Kimber’s filthy toes after she had spent the entire day riding her bicycle. Ugh. It is to cringe.

Perhaps Robert’s most endearing quality was his wide-eyed innocence, especially as it relates to sports. Get a few pints and a mess of shooters in him and he’d believe Jesus Christ was a beer-swilling, salty-tongued lout who played goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs. A prime example would be this booze-influenced conversation during the NHL lockout of 2004-05…

Robert (teetering, glassy-eyed and slurring): “Did you hear the latest?”

Me: “I don’t know. Tell me what the latest is.”

Robert: “Mats Sundin is going to play for the Manitoba Moose during the NHL lockout.”

Me: “Mats Sundin? That would be Mats Sundin, as in captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs?”

Robert: “Yeah, that’s the guy. My buddy just called me with the news. He heard it on the radio.”

Me: “First of all, Mats Sundin is Leafs’ property. Second, the Moose have a working agreement with the Vancouver Canucks. There is no way the Leafs are going to let their captain play in the Canucks’ organization. If he plays at all, it will have to be in Europe. It will not be in Winnipeg.”

Robert (teetering even more and flashing that crooked, half-hammered smile): “Well, that’s the word. Don’t be surprised if it happens.”

Me: “There’s as much chance of Mats Sundin playing for the Moose as there is of you refusing that free shooter Mick is handing you.”

Robert: “It’s gonna happen. Wait and see.”

As it happened, Robert accepted the shooter; the only hockey Mats Sundin played that year was with a band of roving NHL stars in Europe.

PHONE BRA BOY

Where to begin? A very loud, chunky fellow who would have benefited from some time in the gym, he had a glass eye (to this day I have no idea if it was the right or left eye), he polluted the pub with clouds of thick, offensive smoke from his stinky, ol’ stogies, he claimed to have introduced the leisure suit to Europe, he wore a telephone in his left armpit in a bra-like gadget (hence the nickname), he talked about playing for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, he once declared the Swedish Elite Division to be the “best hockey league in the world” and, above all else, he was a weather freak.

Phone Bra Boy was forever prattling on about cumulus clouds and jet streams. He pooh-poohed every meteorologist who ever served up a weather forecast, tossing their predictions into the dust bin of irrelevancy. To Phone Bra Boy, they were (and are) foisting the greatest con of all time on the public.

You don’t need all those fancy instruments they use to forecast the weather accurately,” he growled one night. “All you need to predict the weather is a spinning rooster on your roof.”

As I recall, that’s when Mick the barman cut him off.

MUSCLE RICK

Muscle Rick came by his name honestly. He was built like a brick outhouse. As far as I could determine, the only muscle-free zone in his makeup was some of the grey matter between his ears. That’s not to say he was dumb. He wasn’t. It’s just that sometimes Muscle Rick let his imagination get in the way of logic, something that became painfully clear the night Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield fought for the world heavyweight boxing championship

A pirated feed of the fight was being shown at Carlos & Murphy’s, directly across the street from the Toad, so a handful of Toadstools strolled over to watch, myself and the Ol’ Turnkey included. Muscle Rick had already wedged his ample carcass into the cramped bar area, which was cheek to jowl by the time we arrived. He was feeling no pain and, by the end of the bout, he was of a mind to inflict some serious pain.

Nothing out of the ordinary occurred in the first two rounds, but Tyson went into animal mode in Round Three.

He bit his ear! He bit his ear!” someone yelped.

No way,” growled Muscle Rick, staring at the tiny TV above the bar.

Tyson just spit out a piece of Holyfield’s ear!”

No way.”

Yes way. Iron Mike had chewed off a chunk of Holyfield’s right ear, spat it out, then sunk his tusks into Holyfield’s left ear. For this light snack, he was disqualified by referee Mills Lane at the conclusion of the third round, and absolute bedlam ruled the night in Las Vegas.

Fixed! The fight’s fixed!” Muscle Rick bleated.

Fixed?” I said, trying to digest what I had just witnessed. “Tyson bit off part of Holyfield’s ear and spit it out. Then he tried to do it again. How can you say the fight is fixed?”

Because,” Muscle Rick said, “they want the white guy to win.”

I looked up at the screen. Tyson, enraged, looked very black to me. Holyfield, blood trickling down from where his ear was once lodged, also looked very black. I looked at Muscle Rick, who is also black.

So let me get this straight: There were two black guys fighting, but Holyfield would be the white guy, right?” I said.

Yeah…and he’s probably gay and Jewish, too.”

Muscle Rick fixed me with a menacing glare through bleary, beer-glazed eyes. Suddenly, I feared for my ears.

I went back to the Toad.

THE MYSTERY LADY

It was a very quiet Friday afternoon in the Toad, with only myself and the Bug-Eyed Barman in the joint.

After about an hour of listening to the Bug-Eyed Barman talk mostly about himself (that’s what Phil Kenrick did best), blessed relief surfaced in the form of a wee lass who walked through the doorway and claimed the vacant bar stool three shouts to my left. Very pretty, perhaps 20 years of age and attired in a black, low-cut summer dress, she was easy to look at, yet I sensed a very serious sagging of her spirit. I remember thinking that someone so youthful and so fetchingly attractive shouldn’t be bearing such an inordinate amount of sadness. I wondered what could possibly be troubling her so.

She ordered a beer, then slipped into silence…until a particular song drifted from the speakers and caressed her young, inexperienced ears. It was the Wings tune, Jet, from the highly acclaimed Band On The Run album.

Good song,” she said softly, as she gently picked at the label of her beer bottle with the third finger on her right hand.

You know who this is?” the Bug-Eyed Barman asked.

No.”

It’s Paul McCartney.”

I know him. He was the lead singer of Wings.”

He was one of the Beatles.”

No,” she insisted, with a hint of annoyance and a lecturing tone, “he was the lead singer with Wings. Who are the Beatles?”

I couldn’t resist joining the banter.

Who are the Beatles?” I gasped. “Are you serious? You’re asking who the Beatles are?”

Were they some sort of band?”

Ya, they were some kind of band like the Pope is some kind of Catholic.”

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