Toys For Every Girl And Boy

I’ve never found it difficult to become besotted, and re-besotted comes just as easily, be it one month or fifty years later.

The musicology of this little 1965 masterpiece—its Baroque origin, its since-corrected misattribution to Johann S Bach, its inspired Motown arrangement—is fairly well known, but I offer A Lover’s Concerto here simply as a 2:45 minute respite from despair, cynicism, affectedness, and things masquerading as love that aren’t love at all.

The song has been covered many, many times, but so far I’ve heard no one but Barbara Harris and The Toys do justice to the disarmingly straightforward lyrics. The song is not about sex, and yet, of course, the Supremes’ version is dripping with the stuff. Cilla Black’s recording was strident, bossy, hurtful to the ear… am I allowed to say Germanic? The Divine One, Sarah Vaughan, seemed to miss the point with a swingingly pleasant but overly sophisticated reading. And even Barbara Harris herself, all grown up and professional twenty-odd years later, was a little too streetwise to convince as a wide-eyed romantic.

The lyrics by Denny Randell and Sandy Linzer lie sufficiently well upon the page for me to provide them here, sparing you the bother of picking them up from some execrable karaoke screen. As you can see, they are hardly sassy or brazen.

How gentle is the rain
That falls softly on the meadow
Birds high up on the trees
Serenade the clouds with their melody

Oh! See there beyond the hills
The bright colors of the rainbow
Some magic from above
Made this day for us
Just to fall in love

You hold me in your arms
And say once again you love me
And if your love is true
Everything will be just as wonderful

Now, I belong to you
From this day until forever
Just love me tenderly
And I’ll give to you
Every part of me

Oh! Don’t ever make me cry
Through long lonely nights without love
Be always true to me
Keep this day in your heart eternally…

Occasionally I’m asked if I’m staying busy and not letting the head go soft in my retirement, and just lately I’m inclined to answer that my days are pretty much taken up with the composition of a single sentence which doesn’t run on, and yet deals fully with the notion that the above lyrics, although displaying the writers’ familiarity with the works of the 19th century German Romantic poets whose hydrologically, botanically and ornithologically charged banalities were often set to music in the Lieder of Franz Schubert et al, by earning and parking their nature study merit badge in the first six lines, deftly avoid an effete, faux-innocent obfuscation of what is, after all, a love song to a human being, not to some winged halfwitted critter flitting in the foliage and fouling every brook and pond in sight. But I don’t.

L-R June Montiero, Barbara Parritt, and Barbara Harris

The Castrato Cowpoke of Kingston County

In Stephen King’s Joyland, Devon Jones mentions in passing, “…another summer mopping cafeteria floors and loading elderly Commons dishwashers with dirty plates didn’t hold much charm for me…”

In the summer of 1969 that prospect held all kinds of charm for me, though, because it meant I could have two months of complete independence for the very first time. My after-school job as busboy at the University of Manitoba would become full-time for the summer, and as a full-timer I was allowed to rent a bedsitter in the bowels of Mary Speechly Hall, the big hall of residence. There was a medium-security special wing for The Lifers: the full-time and somewhat damaged cafeteria staff who chose to live on-site. So for a summer I lived among the The Lifers. I came out of it unscathed and unsullied, possibly because I was utterly oblivious to what I now assume was going on down there.

Across the corridor was the self-nicknamed Fat Barry. “Howdy! Ah’m Fat Barry an’ ah’m from Texas,” he would say in a very high-pitched drawl from….well, if there’s a town called Kingston, Ontario in Texas then that’s where it was from. Occasionally Barry would slip out of character and lose the drawl, but the falsetto never failed him. When I became an opera fan years later, I wondered whether perhaps that wasn’t a falsetto at all, but actually his real voice, and how in demand he could have become had the baroque revival begun twenty years earlier. Of course he’d have needed to drop Texan in favour of a few European languages including English, and the ability to carry a tune—which he couldn’t—would have been a bonus too, on most if not all opera stages.

He spent most his spare cash on amazing satin cowboy shirts in mauve, sky blue and gold, festooned with embroidered lariats, spurs, guns and bullwhips. These billowed in shimmering rolls nearly down to his knees, so that no one including Fat Barry could see exactly where he hitched up his too-tight jeans with the rolled-up cuffs, or indeed whether that voice of his had been achieved surgically. Of course they hadn’t been performing that particular procedure down Texas way for, oh… decades!

The boots were absolutely real, really from Texas and glorious to behold. He didn’t need to tell me they were handmade, and I decided for myself that they had been custom fitted maybe a half-size too small, the better to facilitate a John Wayne-style pigeon-toed, mincing gait. I wondered how those beauties could be afforded on a busboy’s pay, but Barry confided to me that he did receive the occasional package of greenbacks from the family ranch. Oil, dontcha know…

I loved how Barry clearly got the joke that was his self-made persona. The occasional wink suggested that he knew I got it too, but that he was sure he had pretty much everyone else fooled, at least so long as he was the only Texan in town.

I could—won’t for now but will, soon—carry on about Fat Barry’s fellow Lifers, Crazy Albert and Little George Gage, but that would lead into a treatise on the mechanics of washing dishes for 1600 student diners in two hours, three times a day, and to a sidebar on the extended coffee break we all had one day that summer to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. And how much I loved to wheel steaming clean plates out to Sandy Schultz as she served up Salisbury steak on the servery line.


Crystal White Persuasion

If you don’t mind the odd brown-eye or worse, then a slow roll through town on an early morning train can be entertaining and is certainly educational. Without breaking any laws you can be a serial peeper across the back alley, into the back yard, and at the backside of a nation. The last time I had the experience was when passing through the outskirts of Poughkeepsie and other points south on the way to New York City. I can report that Americans are spookily similar to us when it comes to the early morning routines and rituals which reveal us as brothers and sisters under the skin. I guess there is residual sleep dust, otherwise known as rheum, which needs to be cleared before the daily epiphany of specialness and superiority experienced on both sides of the border and informing the conduct of our respective days.

There’s residual snow, too, in early spring upstate New York and it’s just like ours in the true north: patchy, grey and slushy, good for nothing but snowballs that really hurt. Dogs won’t even poo in it, and nor will boys bother “autographing” it, and even if they did it wouldn’t show. For those art forms, and for less damaging snowballs, you need the virginal white fluffy  stuff of December.

A fresh fall on top of a hard-packed base meant that in my smooth- soled moccasins I could slide up and down Somerville Street as quick as a flash, flicking up fabulous little Christmas-lit blizzards in my wake. That’s why I was sent on a mercy dash to Ringers Drugs on Christmas Eve 1962, for the life-giving Dr Pepper and Old Dutch BBQ chips needed to keep a family Scrabble session going.

This was probably also a ruse by my father to take me out of action for one game, so that he could escape for that game at least my evergreen challenge to his evergreen contention that the addition of pre or re to any old verb yielded a new Scrabble-legit word. Prezoom was his favourite (mine too), followed by prezip and requibble. But, ruse or not, I figured that a guy who’d voluntarily —unnecessarily, in my view— forsworn for life his beloved Scotch deserved to be indulged in the occasional small pleasure. So I bundled up and headed out for the three-block slide to my own personal Star of Bethlehem.

For a change I paid for the supplies, which seemed somehow appropriate on a holy night, and anyway it wasn’t my money. On the way home I felt a new sensation; had I known the term I would have thought to myself, “So this is agapé.” Every little bungalow was Christmas-lit in similar fashion: not a one was overdone, but every one was twinkling prettily. The night was crystalline and windless, and fresh illuminated snow was falling. Every front window emanated a gently glowing warmth and hinted at a quiet, harmonious tableau behind drapes drawn against the cold. Families just like ours—for that moment at least—doing family things. Somerville Street was the world, and the world was good.

I slid on home, unbundled myself, and sat back down, resolving in my newfound universal love state to let my father win the next game. But halfway through it he just had to proffer prezooming, and I just had to say “Challenge.” Agapé was agone, folks, and I never really experienced it again, though Poughkeepsie did come close.


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.

 

 

 


We Need To Talk About Nancy

I turned 62 this week, and it’s been bittersweet. I got to thinking about 62, 1962, Linda Bay and Nancy Drew, did some mental math and …. O My Lord: Nancy Drew is 102! This assumes eighteen years of growing up before Edward Stratemeyer and a team of ghostwriters collectively known as Carolyn Keene committed Nancy to print in 1930 and locked her into the longest, most suspenseful and most lavishly funded gap year in the history of River Heights. So, my renascent but wildly age-inappropriate crush on Nancy must be nipped in the bud. Sigh…

Of course Nancy doesn’t look 102, because she gets a complete makeover approximately every generation—in human years—

and River Heights simultaneously gets a socio-technological upgrade. This is so that each new generation of readers is more readily engaged and retained. Fair enough, I suppose: this is not Great Art which is being interfered with. I’m not part of the target market, though, and I’m perfectly happy to stick with Nancy Mark II, introduced to the world in 1959, and to me by Miss Bay in 1962. A secondary intention of that series of rewrites was to eliminate racial stereotypes, anticipating the era of compulsory cultural sensitivity by at least a decade if not two. But, as Nancy Drew biographer Melanie Rehak tells us, “The series did not so much eliminate racial stereotypes, however, as eliminate non-white characters altogether.”  Efficient, even borderline elegant, if a tad hamfisted. Simpler times, I guess.

My excuse for this reawakened interest in Nancy is that I wanted to check on whether she really was “startled by a bloodcurdling scream” at every turn, or whether my memory was going all creative on me, as it does now and then. With two mysteries under my belt and a third in progress, it’s beginning to look like the latter. All I’ve had so far is one piercing scream and one shriek, also piercing. Not even a situation which could give rise to a bloodcurdler.

Never mind. Not only am I being carried back to a time and place which I remember as magical, but I’m actually enjoying these books. Although ghost-written to a formula by various hands, they’re really quite stylish, and Nancy comes across as arguably a fine role model for girls not only of my generation but of the two generations which have followed. I’m speaking here of the 50s/60s Nancy, generally regarded as “Classic” Nancy. Strangely,her later incarnations seem to have gone backwards vis à vis the evolving status of women in western society, so that the 21st century Nancy is just as boy-crazy and deferential to males as real girls were pre-1970, whereas pre-1970 Nancy was politely tolerant of males, but certainly not in need of their help, their attentions or even their presence*. Her relationship with her well-heeled, generous and ever-approving father was one of great mutual respect: his advice was sometimes offered and sometimes even solicited, but followed only if Nancy was in full accord. Daddy Drew was supportive of whatever course of action Nancy decided upon, because he had faith in her ability to handle negative consequences. Perhaps more fathers of daughters should read Nancy Drew instead of parenting manuals.

You may well ask why a man of 62 is making so much of a quasi-academic interest in Nancy, and I can only venture that I may be sublimating. The age gap issue, don’t you know.

I’ll leave it at that, then, not wishing to bore you further, and moreover not wishing to be thought a teensy bit peculiar. I will let you know, though, if and when I finally hear my long lost bloodcurdling scream. Please, Miss Bay, bring it on!

screamcontest

 

 

 

* From Mystery at Lilac Inn:   Later, as Nancy, Helen and Emily were talking, the two older girls suddenly stopped speaking on the subject of their forthcoming weddings. Helen said, “Goodness, Nancy, you must be tired of hearing us talk about steady partners when—”  Nancy interrupted. Laughing gaily she said, “Not at all. For the present, my steady partner is going to be mystery!”

 

 

 


A Beehive, a Bush Pilot, and My Favourite Martienne

 

The glorious and glamorous Miss Linda K Bay liked to tell her Grade Five class all about her boyfriend the bush pilot. She loved him a lot. He didn’t work down south, she was quick to explain, but way up north, flying over the wilderness around Flin Flon*, Thompson, and Lynn Lake. His name was probably Steve, or Brad, or Jack, or something similarly square-jawed. Not Gord. Gords are not bush pilots. Gords get rescued by bush pilots. There are Gordons all over the Scottish diaspora, but Canada seems to have a monopoly on Gords, which is a whole ‘nother story. This one’s about Miss Bay, mostly.

Linda K Bay had the best beehive ever. The fact that it was flaming red was a bonus, and I just know that was her natural colour. If Principal Weber happened to look in and see thirty little heads lain on their desks between their arms, it wasn’t because we were shielding our eyes from Miss Bay’s fiery radiance: it was because she was reading us our daily dose of Nancy Drew, and eyes-closed was the only way to listen to Carolyn Keene’s suspenseful tales. Miss Bay was a magical story-reader. The way she delivered “Nancy was startled [as she was seemingly every other chapter!] by a bloodcurdling scream” was…. well, if any of us kids had known the term frisson we surely would have commented, “Nice frisson, Miss Bay!”

Between bloodcurdling screams, I sometimes snuck a peek at The Girl Three Rows Over (and Two Seats Down), also a redhead of sorts: hair of deep, mysterious, otherworldly auburn—almost violet—and every bit as big though not as vertical as Miss Bay’s.

Royalty-Free (RF) beehive hair Clipart Illustration #1052120

Today I am certain to be the only 60-something man on planet Earth reading a Nancy Drew mystery. I wanted to do a bloodcurdling scream count, and clearly chose badly, as The Secret of the Old Clock doesn’t have a one. There’s a piercing scream early on, and from then on diddly-squat, screamwise. Here’s hoping for a better result from The Mystery At Lilac Inn. Carolyn Keene was no more an actual person than Betty Crocker or Aunt Jemima, of course, but the ghostwriters did a good job; the prose is actually quite elegant in places. So I’m enjoying my important research, along the way being transported right back to 1963, receiving frissons from Linda K Bay while banishing from my mind the image of Steve the bush pilot, and deciding that the otherworldly auburn girl must be from Mars, the red planet, or maybe from another galaxy altogether.

 

* I’ve always been  fond of the name Flin Flon and its more sensible sounding uncut version: Flintabbatey Flonatin. Here’s a song, with my parental advisory that a man smoking a cigarette appears briefly on-screen. So you may wish to shield your children’s eyes, and your own, too, if you’re of delicate sensibilities….perhaps a Gord.


General Byng’s Lessons On Language, Life and Lunch

I don’t have the name-chart for Mrs Whitworth’s gang of seven year-old ragamuffins, but I can rattle off 22 of the 28, no trouble. It wouldn’t be very good manners to point out the six I can’t rattle off, so if you recognize any or all. please let me know, and with luck I’ll wind up with a full set of names, and, better still, renewed contact with old classmates. I will ID the shorties of the front row right now, since you’ve already read a bit about three of us, and may like to put faces to names. L to R: Billy Noble aka myself; Randy Ptosnick, Matchbox & Dinky Toy magnate; Gavin St Germain; the fabled Agnes Lachance; Kenny McGhie, sly little interloper standing way too close to Mlle L.

winnipegland_genbyng

You could not hope to meet a sweeter wee fellow than Gavin St Germain. He lived with his quite large family on 1000-block Southwood  just – almost literally – a hop, skip and jump from school. You wouldn’t catch Gavin hopping, skipping or jumping anywhere, though: he was just….there. Or…..not there.  And almost mystical in his apparent serenity and lack of extremes. Just a couple of years ago, when we General Byng second-graders were rising sixty, I had a look at the school’s staff list, and there, as Custodian, was Gavin. Fantastic. Who needs a memory, or a diary, or even a clock, when you can just stay where you are, timelessly and effortlessly? He had at some point moved away from the family home, though, exactly a schoolyard’s width away to a Gavin-sized house on 1100-block Somerville: still the same or slightly shorter theoretical hop, skip and jump from his evidently beloved school. I could show you a picture of Gavin’s fairytale cottage, but I guess I’ve already invaded his privacy enough by using his real name. A younger me might have scoffed at what one might consider a constricted or sheltered life, but then this whole series of memories has been by way of celebrating the modest joys and equally modest little travails of life on one’s own tiny planet, where the laws of time and space are suspended for a while, or perhaps permanently and pleasantly in Gavin’s case. So I envy Gavin, and apologize if I’ve misread him.

More of this world was Karen Grabowski, beaming away (third row left) behind Bobby LaFond of the Cosmo Kramer shirt. On first meeting, Karen asked me, in a spookily mature, hoarse contralto (think Linda Blair as The Devil Incarnate, but in a nice way), “Is you a good-kid or a bad-kid?” Something about her lunch/mud-encrusted mug told me that the correct answer was the latter, but I asked her anyway what the difference would be. “Well, what swear words do you know?” None, as it happened, so the verdict was, “Rmpf, good-kid.” Clearly I didn’t come back with, “And you’re full of shit.” Best I could do was, “Oh.”  So she gave me a few low-level cusses to be getting on with, and said she’d give me some better ones once I’d mastered these. To my painful cost I tried out, “What the hell is that?” on my mother a few days later, and never went back for my second lesson.

I did pick up one inoffensive but pretty neat word from Bobby LaFond some months later, during tuition on fractions from our wonderful and wise chainsmoking* principal Miss Weber.  Even though the term “numerator” appeared repeatedly and correctly in his textbook and on the blackboard, Bobby had a tiny linguistic tic which made him say “nooperator”. Miss Weber must have been as charmed as I was, because she only corrected him the once, and then let it go for the rest of the year. To this day, that word for me is “nooperator”, and I have to force myself to use the boring old “m” version when fractions come up in casual conversation, which, mercifully, they almost never do.

Maybe there’ll be a diamond jubilee class reunion in 2020. Gavin will have bought, privatized and renamed the school, Bobby will be an Emeritus Professor of Arithmetic, and, bad-kid at last, I’ll be able to greet the still-beaming dirty-blonde Mother Superior  with, “So, Karen, whaddabout those fucking nooperators?”

* Yes, of course while teaching, but also – more intoxicatingly and maybe even explosively – while refilling her magical spirit-fueled Gestetner.

.


How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

My dad used to say you could mend anything with library paste. I suppose I should have challenged him on this when, at age eleven, I found that no amount of library paste would mend a broken heart. But a broken heart wasn’t something to be discussed with a dad, or with a librarian, for that matter. And anyway, my dad wasn’t someone you challenged on anything, let alone his knowledge of the science and romance of librarianship.

Mothers are more receptive to questions about broken hearts, and mine suggested that time generally does the trick. She was right, of course, but it was to be another forty-odd years before I realized this, having in the meantime self-administered various other miracle cures (not all for that same heartbreak!), none of which was any more efficacious than library paste. Some didn’t even taste any better.

It is the Beatles’ fault that I find myself thinking about this today. Every day this year seems to be the fiftieth anniversary of Beatle this or Beatle that. I had hoped in vain that no one else would notice, and that memories of my 1964 would remain undisturbed by the banalities of others. Oh well.  My own contribution to the banality is to tell you that in matters of the heart, when your rival is a Beatle (and not just any Beatle, but the super-cool George, dammit!), you lose, chum.  Not so banal is Reba McEntire’s  If I Fell,  arguably the best ever cover version of a Beatles song. I may have to give up trying to nail the sublime guitar solo on my own bedroom-model Telecaster: if I smash it up in frustration, I have nothing but library paste for the putting back together again.

It’s Kenny McGhie’s birthday today, by the way. When I started writing about Winnipegland I expected I’d be offering you the occasional ripping yarn from the exploits of “Me & Kenny McGhie”, but after the first little story and a false start on a second, I realized that I have been delusional for decades; that in fact we were two extraordinarily well-behaved little boys. In my memory I’ve been persisting with a cute mythical formula by which he would get us into trouble and I would smart-talk our way out of it. Now that I think of it, though, it’s clear I was perfectly capable of creating trouble for myself, and, if caught, would be more likely to burst into tears than into unimpeachable cleverness. The same would have gone for Kenny, I guess, albeit with fewer tears and more cojones.  Happy birthday, my little pal. In Winnipegland time you are twelve today. I’ll catch up to you in a few weeks, and then it will be time for both of us to stop growing up.

 


Those aren’t mouse droppings on your pizza, sir. Those are capers.

 

This goes nowhere as a story, but I think it’s worth sharing with you now while I tidy up something more “windswept and interesting” to offer in a day or two.

Fort Garry was strictly La Gondola turf in 1965, so I don’t know whether Pizza Place was any good, but I do know that they gave Winnipeg the best radio jingle of the decade with this reworked excerpt from the famous Neapolitan song Funiculi – Funicula :

I go to Pizza Place to get the flavour of Italy (and so do we)                                     We know that Manitoba loves the pizza, so join the race, to Pizza Place                 They’re ready with spaghetti and they season it just right                                            So look for the tower and circle every night                                                                      Enjoy a meal at Pizza Place or even in your home                                                          There’s no better eating anywhere from Winnipeg to Rome!!!

Fifty years later, that last line still slays me.  I wish I had audio for you, but the present-day Pizza Place people don’t appear to have an archival copy. If you’ve forgotten the tune, you could do far worse than to listen to Mario Lanza’s recording of the original, but perhaps more definitive is the 1965 performance by Little Italy’s favourite rodent, Topo Gigio, and his family. Stay with it till the end if you wish to see Ed Sullivan in disturbingly affectionate man-mouse mode. Topo was only Ed’s second favourite guest, though: top honours go to our own Wayne & Shuster, with 67 appearances. You all remember what they looked like, but perhaps not so their frequent sidekick, Sylvia Lennick, pictured (thanks, Foolish Earthling) beautifully and affectingly here some years before she appeared with W&S as Julius Caesar’s hilariously hysterical widow Calpurnia. To think all young Canadian women used to look like this!

 





Fords Neil Young Won’t Remember

Neil’s memory’s probably fine, but mine? Maybe not so much.  For decades I’ve been labouring under the misapprehension that the car in his classic Long May You Run was a 1956 Ford Customline. Today I thought I’d better check on that, and found to my alarm that it was in fact a 1948 Buick Roadmaster, and not just any old Roadmaster, but a   Roadmaster Hearse, for heaven’s sake! Well, I don’t know from Buicks or hearses. I’ve never even known anyone who owned either, so I’m just going to stick with those lovely Customlines. They came in a variety of colours, but most of them –  and I don’t why – were blue and white, like this one, lovingly restored by John Blasko:

 

I’m pretty sure my big brother and hero Cameron bought one late in 1963, drove it to death, which took 45 minutes; parked it under a seven-foot snowdrift in the backyard for the winter, and then paid to have it taken away after the spring thaw.

My favourite ’56 Customline belonged to my bonkers high school buddy Gene Brown.  He’s still bonkers, but now it’s for this lunatic boat, what with cars these days being strictly from automotive nowheresville. as boring as all get-out. What was especially not boring about Geno’s*  Customline was that the steering didn’t work at all – well, hardly at all. The last two inches at either end of the steering wheel’s lock allowed, if you applied sufficient force, a slight coaxing rightish or leftish but, in-between, that wheel would just spin free, to zero effect – what they call “play”. He still drove the thing, of course, and once he even let me drive it a mile or two down Pembina Highway. The wheel alignment and tracking were surprisingly good, and Pembina is dead straight, so you could actually get from A to B if you were brave and stupid enough, which we were. Problem was getting back to A again. It took an acre or two of clear space and about half an hour to turn that f***ed Ford around. But hey, who wants to go north anyway? Winnipeg is plenty north enough, right?  So, south it was, and if we’d had enough gas money we could’ve stayed on that very same ribbon of road clear through to Texas, so long as we avoided the tornadoes and Wicked Witches of Kansas and Neil’s gun-totin’, foreigner-hatin’ Southern Men of eastern Oklahoma. But no, we just ditched that piece of glorious junk, walked home and washed up for lunch. Canadians to the core, and nothing if not safe.

Between those two ’56s was the one owned by my too-pretty-for-words cousin Lorna. After I bribed her with several cigarettes, she let the under-age me drive it part of the way from uncle Marvin’s farm to the village of Manor, Saskatchewan (pop. c.350). She can’t have been aware of the depth of my highly inappropriate crush, because when we got to Manor’s finest greasy spoon, she bought me a Coke and then abandoned me in favour of the only empty seat in a boothful of slicked-back, acne-ridden yokels. It was the worst Coke of my   life.

Those Manor boys probably had BO and stinkfoot too, to go with their zits and greasy hair. When I put it to my daughter a while ago that men no longer got BO or stinkfoot after their late fifties, she said, “No dad, you just can’t smell ’em any more.”

 

Mr L.A.G. Brown, ultra-hip in his golden years, now styles himself “Geno”. Well, okely dokely, Geno: we’re all doin’ what we can.