Blockhead Billy

The season after my season with the West Fort Garry Little League Colts, our Major League namesake team decided that  Colts wasn’t such a good name after all, and thus were born the Houston Astros. They even moved to a new ballpark, presumably to escape the memory of Colthood. I took the blame for this at the time, but perhaps I was being a bit hard on myself.

I was after all a far better player than Charlie Brown, Lucy van Pelt, and the rest of the Peanuts team except for maybe Schroeder and the dog. Which is not to say I didn’t have my Charlie Brown moments, the worst of which is still, truly, too painful to relate, other than to say it was a fly ball to right field while I was thinking I’d rather be in left and out of the direct blaze of the setting sun. It was a game-losing miss, the game was a big one, and I credit myself only with my refusal to be consoled by our kindly coach, Murdo Morrison. “You lost it in the sun…” was no help at all. There are ways not to lose a ball in the sun, and I should not have forgotten them as I did that day.

I liked to catch for my friend the speed-merchant Clyde Merritt when he practised his pitching, and although I used one of those old-fashioned catcher’s mitts that looked and smelt like a cow-pie, catching still smarted when he really let rip.

Clyde Merritt was a name made for baseball. Curtis Small and Larry Lagimodière were names made for baseball. Larry Lagimodière! Good player, nice kid, perfect name.

Billy Noble: not such a perfect baseball name, but I did pretty much pull my weight—all 65 pounds of it—by way of my near-perfect on-base percentage. What with the tiniest strike zone in the league, and a two-sizes-too-big uniform, it was as hard for the ump to call a strike on me as it was for any pitcher—even Clyde Merritt— to throw one. Coach Morrison would say, “He’s gonna walk you, Billy Boy, so for chrissake leave the bat on your shoulder.”

And so I did, mostly. Very occasionally I’d get a rush of blood to the head and take a swing, and more occasionally still I’d actually make contact. It wouldn’t be until I played in a post-Summer of Love team out west that I finally came into my own as a hitter and fairly bewitching pitcher, but I have to be honest here and admit that the opposition in—I kid you not— The Kozmik League was ipso facto non compos mentis, often as not.

Back in Winnipegland now for my other Charlie Brown baseball moment, which was actually off-field, after a double-header on an empty stomach in the August heat. I blacked out on my bike and rear-ended a parked ’59 Cadillac, narrowly missing impalement on one of its glorious fins. As I lay semi-conscious on the road I heard familiar voices approaching: a couple of girls from school. Help, I thought to myself. One of them asked, “Isn’t that Billy Noble?” and the other answered, “Um, yeah, I think so.”

The 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz was the standard of the world | Hagerty  Media

Hallowe’en A$$#@les

Last week my foreign-born daughter was in country, and, but for being way too old, could have experienced her very first Canadian Hallowe’en, fifty years to the day I experienced my last one. You knew you were too old for what non-Winnipeglanders called trick-or-treat when you substituted assholes for apples in the “HalloWE’EN AaaaPUHLS!!!” chant. And if you did “play a trick”,  it was probably not so much a scampish prank as it was outright vandalism, arson or elder abuse. Or the pinnacle, the famous Flaming Bag of Poo.

Hallowe’en Apples wasn’t yelled much outside of Winnipegland, not at all outside of the Prairies, and even here began to wane in popularity following those (apocryphal?) late sixties stories of sadistic neighbours embedding razor blades and straight pins in them apples. They needn’t have bothered, because apples and other fruit were immediately used as missiles in inter-child combat or for window-pelting, what with weighing too much and taking up valuable space in our pillowslip candy sacks. That’s candy, lady, C-A-N-D-Y. Sheesh. Some kids’ well-meaning mothers gave us syrup-laden, lovingly home-baked  agglomerations of Rice Krispies, Cocoa Puffs and such which, while appealingly sweet, brown and gooey, usually gathered lint, dust and worse in our bags, so were bound for the toilet, where they floated maddeningly through four or five flushes. Toffee apples were the worst of all, carrying as they did the double threat of assorted detritus and razor blades lodging in one’s gullet.

My cousins in Carlyle, SK had a not-at-all apocryphal booby-trapping to contend with, in the form of the front yard of a local widow, presumably a witch, who every October placed an ad in the Carlyle Observer. The headline was “Children, Take Heed” and the upshot of the text was that Hallowe’ening juveniles would be considered to be trespassers on her property, and that traps had been laid.  I don’t know whether anyone ever called her bluff, or whether she had to die before The Observer would stop running her ad, clearly in malevolent breach of standards, if not laws, even those of that freewheeling time.

My last Hallowe’en, in 1964, was hallowed to be sure. It fell on the day I was caught shoplifting Doo Wah Diddy Diddy, and my punishment, in addition to the truly frightening opprobrium of my dad, was that I would not be allowed to dress up and go begging for candy that night, but would only be allowed to go out unmasked with my UNICEF coin box, which we Sunday School kids traditionally proffered along with our pillowslips. Leaving out the back-story, I piously informed the mothers that this year I was collecting nothing for myself, but only cash for UNICEF, and that they may therefore care to double their donation to that cause, which of course they did, cooing at my blessed sacrifice and general adorability. I collected and submitted (yes, unskimmed) $130-plus—serious money in 1964— and received Sunday School praise and a certificate for my winning effort.

So, crime and punishment, penitence and atonement, redemption and validation, all on the one day. Who needed candy? I was the Hallowe’en Asshole.