PART ONE – Darkness to Light (cont.)
A little tidbit: Randy Bachman and the rest of The Guess Who occasionally came through our Basement Housewares department for chocolate malts at the Bay Malt Shop in the late sixties. This was when they were already famous and popular.
On a visit home from Winnipeg, my father and I went fishing at the Waterhen, north of Dauphin, where he had a trailer and often spent his leisure time fishing. I was seated in the boat behind my father. As we were casting for pickerel and perch, my father’s hook flew within inches of my head, more than once or twice. I warned him and even protested, but he paid no attention. Suddenly, there it was, a hook lodged firmly in my scalp, through my hat. Thankfully, it was not in my eye.
While there was very little pain or blood, my father panicked and sped off with me down a gravel road to the nearest clinic in Ste. Rose du Lac.
Walking into the doctor’s office, he asked me how he could help me. “I can’t get my hat off,” I replied. I pointed to the fish hook; he smiled, gave me a local anesthetic, cut the hook, pushed the remainder on through my scalp (you can’t pull a hook out against the barb), gave me some painkillers (which I didn’t use), and we were off.
They say sons should listen to their fathers. Just as the direction of a hook needs to be reversed at times, so fathers need to listen to their sons.
One day, a woman came frantically knocking on my Martello apartment door, begging me to let her in. I knew her – she was the wife of the caretaker for the block, Bert Paling. She was urgently seeking shelter. I let her in and locked the door behind her. She warned me that Bert could be entirely irrational and violent. She told me he had once or twice deliberately broken her fingers and taken a knife to her luxurious fur coat he bought her as a gift.
What does one do in such a situation? I knew that getting in the middle of a squabble could be unwise. I knew that in trying to help her, Bert’s jealousy and rage might know no bounds, to the point of murder. And I didn’t know if he was jealous for a good reason or not.
He came banging on the door, shouting a demand for her to come out. He was about to break down the door. She didn’t want to call the police. I advised her that she needed to get away from him. While I don’t recall what happened, I believe he realized that with others involved, he had better change his ways, at least temporarily. She consented to leave, he was friendly later, though sheepish, and I heard of no more trouble.
Bert had been a carnie (one who travels and works with a carnival). He once held in his hands an invention, the Veg-O-Matic food slicer, which was a winner at carnivals. I don’t know why, but he gave it to the Kives Brothers, Phil and Ted, one of whom, he said, had also been a carnie. They promoted it on television nationwide under the name K-Tel, and thus began creating their fortune. They were known for their fast-talking record promotions.
They bought the Westminster Hotel, among several other investments, and Bert took me down to meet them. They thanked him, as they had done at other times, saying they were indebted to him for their success, and asked him again if they could do something for him. He refused any reward.
Bert later explained to me that a code of conduct among carnies was that they did not accept favors or payments if there was no deal made for something they did for someone (something like that; may a carnie correct me if I am wrong).
Perhaps the Kives brothers felt safe in asking, or is that too cynical of me? I understand they later suffered huge losses due to inexperience and error.
Phil’s riches did not make him generous. He gave Bert nothing, and he would not even pay for the single drink I had with them, though they owned the place. I always marvel at the fact that more coin seldom loosens the purse string, unless the coin is entering the purse. Indeed, the weight of the moneybag seems to tighten the string.
Gerry McClintock, Don McLeod (his cousin), Dave Miller, Dave Adams, and a supplier of marijuana gathered with me in my apartment to smoke; it was my first time. Girls came to the door, smelled the smoke, and wondered what we were doing. I sent them away with some phony explanation, afraid we would get reported.
Don McLeod was divorced and of a rather tough countenance. He was often rather sarcastic with, and ignored, me. This night while high, however, he was absolutely sincere, if not genuinely interested. As we smoked, he asked me questions about how the pot made me feel. I was pleasantly surprised. It almost made me wonder if it would not be a much happier and more peaceful world if everyone did weed. I was at great peace. Nobody seemed to want to fight or argue or be sarcastic. I found everyone unpretentious and considerate. It was amazing.
It seems many have found grass greener on the dry side.
I was surprised how it affected my sense of time. I looked at my watch and it was 8:30. What seemed like an hour later, I looked again, and it was 8:32! What was wrong with my watch? I asked others what time it was and, sure enough, my watch was fine. Maybe I red it wrong the first time. I checked it an “hour” later to find it had progressed only a few minutes more.
We went to the bar and loved everybody there. No wonder pot, flowers, love, and cynicism of the establishment that demands a “respectable” lifestyle go together. I enjoyed the experience, but I also knew that I didn’t want to make myself at home there. I sensed it would lead me deeper, into places I didn’t wish to go; places from which, perhaps, there might be no return? I might have done pot one other time, and that was it. I have never used any other drugs. Alcohol was my pleasure, mostly beer.
This is an “aside” particle, likely the only one you will find here. Using the word “red” instead of “read” in the past tense was deliberate. At some point, logic dictated to me that if one has “lead” and “led,” or “feed” and “fed,” or “meet” and “met,” then we ought to have “read” and “red.” After all, does one say, “Yesterday, I meet the new neighbors,” or, “Yesterday, she feed the kids,” or, “Last year, they lead the parade”? So, yesterday, I “red” a book.
Of course, I am being somewhat silly because the English language is full of incongruity and contradiction. Sew, Latin wuzz knot maid inn a dey, and English is an evolving peace of art.
We visited the pubs and bars many nights (we didn’t wait for weekends), and we pursued the entertainment around town – Dianne Heatherington, Wayne Walker, Pat Riordon, and many others.
Beer was a big part of our lives, a substance most people hate at first taste, like smoking or chewing tobacco. Why do they persist until they get to enjoy that which once contorted their faces?
Brand recognition played a big role. My preference was Labatt’s Blue. In the US, Dave’s preference was Schlitz, a joke with us. Why? Was it better? If one served me in a blind test, I wouldn’t know the difference, especially after having one or two. In the pubs, we drank draught beer from the tap. Who knew what went into those dispensers? More to the point, who cared?
I now smoked a large pack of cigarettes a day. Many times I tried to quit and failed. I tried cutting down on numbers gradually; I tried smoking at only certain times; I tried smoking the cigarettes halfway and snuffing them; I tried cigars to wean myself from cigarettes; I tried smoking a pipe for a while. None of these partial measures seemed to help. I finally succeeded in breaking away by quitting cold turkey.
It was not easy by any means. I had to replace the habit with something. I tried chewing gum or candy, but I had a weight problem and didn’t want to do that continuously. I resorted to toothpicks, and I realized they helped because I had something in my hand; addiction associates with many things, even the hand that serves the body’s cravings. While toothpicks were rather crude for me, seeing I was managing staff and dealing with the public, they did help me quit.
Within days of quitting, I felt better. I didn’t wake up with a yucky throat and cough in the morning, my head was clearer, I had more energy, I didn’t stink as much, and others were not annoyed with the secondhand smoke.
I quit, but not without some backlash. I could now taste my food and enjoy it that much more – which was a problem because I liked food and began to put on the pounds. I also had nightmares of having started smoking again. I felt awful, thinking, “I was on my way to recovery – clean for a week, a month, a year! Why was I so stupid as to start again?” Then I would wake up, realizing it was only a dream and feeling so relieved that I had not caved to the addiction.
This went on for about three years. In those days, smokers often offered one a cigarette when they were lighting up. I stalwartly refused. “No thanks, I quit,” I responded.
“Good for you,” they would say, sometimes adding, “I should, too, but I can’t seem to kick the habit.” Seldom did they ask how I did it, and seldom would they insist that I join them, unlike with alcohol. (Curiously, I don’t recall saying, “No thanks, I don’t smoke”!)
One day, sad to say, I did accept a cigarette from someone. I deliberately did not inhale, not on that one or the next, but soon I was taking it in, wondering if I might not get sick as I did the first time ever. I didn’t, but I was hooked again.
Soon, I was smoking OP’s (other people’s). I still resisted going back to my bondage (as though I wasn’t there already), so at first I only smoked what was offered, but it wasn’t long before I was bumming a smoke. I resisted buying my own, thinking I still had a chance to win the battle, until people began to get annoyed with me, and it became embarrassing to ask. I recall the time I took change from my pocket, walked over to a cigarette dispenser, slotted the coins, pulled up a pack, broke the seal, borrowed a light, and lit up. I was back at it.
Did I feel badly at that moment? Not really. I think it was more like a war of attrition I had been conditioned to lose for some time.
I had enjoyed about three years of victory, waking from many nightmares with relief that my victory was intact. Then, as a dog, I went back to my vomit. Red-faced, they saw I was back at it (though in the sixties it was not as repugnant to smoke as it is today). It was now a nightmare from which I could not awaken. I recalled kissing girls that smoked while I was abstaining. It was awful. Now those kissing me that didn’t smoke would get the same taste. “Kissing a smoker is like licking a dirty ashtray,” the saying goes, not overly far from the truth – depending on how one kisses!
In one of these years, I recall talking with my mother because I was concerned about Dad smoking and wanted him to quit. Her reply: “Don’t take smoking away from Dad. It’s the only pleasure he has.”
“What?” I thought, with the same kind of shock I had when Uncle Fred Hafichuk spoke of the little that could be expected from life, only he was talking about a lot more than what my mother was now declaring. “Is she telling me that life wouldn’t be worth living for him without smoking? How miserable an existence! Surely, she can’t mean it.”
What about her? Was she no pleasure to him? What about children, friends, religion, food – anything? Was she his reason for being reduced to seeking pleasure in some miserable smoke? I really could not believe my ears. I also thought that if it was true that all he had left in the whole wide world was smoking, surely it must have some kind of value after all, above so many things.
Gerry McClintock, Dave Miller, Dave Adams, Merv Onyshko, one or two other fellows, and I tried to take our annual fishing derby in some remote place on May long weekend. We got drunk and stayed that way for the whole time. We did very foolish things that make me shake my head in shame and wonder that we did not kill ourselves.
One day, we got to the town near the lake (near Kenora, Ontario), bought the beer, brought it into the car, opened the case, and the police were right there to confiscate the beer and fine us, having been watching for that very kind of long weekend activity. Did that stop us? Of course not; we didn’t drive that far for nothing!
I recall driving drunk through winding rocky passes on wet pavement in the Lake of the Woods area near the Manitoba/Ontario border at about 50 miles an hour, in the rain, rushing to get to our cabins in Ontario.
On another occasion, we were out on the lake with two boats, and we were drunk. Now this is a lake with ice cold water at this time of year. We were splashing each other with our oars and gently ramming each other on the lake. We were fooling around, and anything could have happened. Do I deserve to be alive?
While we were out on the lake, Gerry had to pee. He knelt at the edge of the boat and began. I don’t know what possessed me, but I gave him a slight nudge on the back, not expecting it would affect him. I suppose I, being drunk, didn’t know my strength, and he, being drunk, wasn’t very stable. He went head first into the icy waters.
He came right back up, freshly sobered, and out – out of the water and out for bear. Your guess is as good as mine as to where he was going to find a bear in the middle of the lake. In his inebriation, I must have looked like one, because he came straight for me. He grabbed me to throw me in, while I grabbed the seat of the boat with all my might, instinctively knowing that if I remained upright and defended myself, we could all soon be goners. Fortunately, Dave Miller had a cool head and brusquely hauled Gerry off of me, hollering that we would capsize and all perish, being far from shore in frigid waters. It was so true.
We got Gerry to shore immediately, and he was much chilled, but he forgave me. Gerry did not seem to hold grudges, even if he did develop a W. C. Fields nose for days afterwards.
One evening, I picked Pat Dennis (Bob Southam’s ex-fiancée) up at her parents’ cabin at West Hawk Lake in my ‘65 Ford. On our way to the bar at Falcon Lake, I turned to kiss her, and the car left the road and entered a deep, reedy, boggy ditch. We had some difficulty opening the doors, but we got out, wet, and hitched a ride to town where I got the guys to come and help me get the car out.
We knocked on a farmer’s door, asking for a chain with which we could pull out my car. The farmer brusquely dismissed us and threatened to call the police. We left, but we were offended that he would not help us in a time of need, so we went back to his shop, stole the chain, and headed out, intending to return the chain when done.
It wasn’t long before the police caught us with the goods. We explained our situation. They didn’t charge us, but took the chain back, informing us we would not succeed with it. They sent us on our way, advising us to get a tow truck the next day. So we went to the bar and laughed about what had happened.
The next day when we returned to get the car, we couldn’t find it. Had someone stolen it? Did we have the right road? We drove farther up the road to be sure we had gone far enough, but saw nothing. Turning around and returning, we spotted the car. It was so embedded in water and reeds in the deep ditch that we could only see it through the trail it had made when Pat and I veered off the road.
A special tow truck with a good winch and long cable did the job. My car was soaked halfway up the base of the seats with swamp water, but we somehow got it running. Such a fool I was, yet we all laughed about it, even Pat. Strangely, I seemed to impress her.
On another occasion, Rick Pinchen, Merv Onyshko, and I were driving south from Winnipeg to the Morris Stampede. We were already drunk. Rick pulled out into the oncoming traffic lane of a two-lane highway to pass a car. An oncoming vehicle was fast approaching. The car we were passing was not slowing down, passing was not likely, and it seemed too late to slow down and get behind the car we were trying to pass, so Rick took us on the left graveled shoulder.
Even while drunk, we could see the consternation of the driver in the oncoming vehicle, indecisively wavering, not knowing what to do or expect. As it happened, we remained on the shoulder, the oncoming driver remained steadfast in his proper lane, and we all survived.
Rick and I laughed nervously about it, but as drunk as Merv was, he was white as a bedsheet (when they were still commonly white) and quite shaken. He found another ride on the way back. Obviously, it left an impression on me, too.
One day there was a carload of us, drunk, with Ron (Ken) Ksionzyk driving down Portage Avenue at nearly 50 miles an hour, screeching to a halt at several lights in fairly active traffic, with the rear end of the car fishtailing upon braking so as to nearly hit the cars on either side. We did so many things that make me wonder how we survived or escaped the law.
Throughout much of my life, one part of me wanted to be free to do whatever I chose, not being told what to do. That is human nature. But another part of me wished to be advised, taken care of, guided, and protected. I had friends, yet I was on my own. I had a physical family, yet I was on my own.
Why could there not be a true social, communal (of sorts), harmonious existence with others, those with whom I could be a beneficiary, as well as a benefactor? Why are so many of us on our own? The Bible has these words:
“A father of the fatherless, and a defender of the widows, is God in his holy habitation. God sets the lonely in families. He brings out the prisoners with singing, but the rebellious dwell in a sun-scorched land” (Psalms 68:5-6 HNV).
According to those words, we are on our own because we are stubborn, independent, proud, distrusting rebels. So how are we to live in harmony with anyone that way?
Subconsciously, I wanted to belong somewhere safe and secure. I would not have that for many years to come…but I would have it. A barrier within me would be removed, and I would meet others who experienced the same thing, paving the way to true family status and values.
I recall only one time in the four plus years I worked at the Bay that my parents visited me there. Visiting me at work wasn’t the greatest of their desires or interests, and it was inconvenient for them, living 200 miles away, to set up a time to come downtown, when they would most likely have found me busy at work.
But I report this incident with chagrin. I was such a jerk. I think I introduced Mom and Dad to some of my staff, as those happened along, and then led them to my office. I was proud I was a manager, with an office and desk, though the plain office was no more than 12 feet by 12 feet and the desk a plain one. My office was one of eight or nine in the Basement Division. I recall proudly sitting down behind my desk, to what – show off my status, as my parents stood in front of me? I remember their silent embarrassment. I was suddenly sorry for the way I was, yet didn’t have it in me to correct myself or apologize. My nature was what it was in every aspect, cast in cement. I look back and hang my head in shame.
I also remember a sudden realization of how little I had to be proud of. So I was a manager. Of what? A small retail operation with a few staff members? Was I proud because I was a Bay executive? And what kind of executive? And my office – a tiny room not much greater than a cubical, one of many? What did I have to revel in? I suddenly realized I really had nothing to be proud of, whether of my status or, especially, of myself. In my pride, I was embarrassed and so were my parents, but neither of us said anything. They soon left as planned, and I went back to the work I was deceived into being proud of, and which now had an aspect of emptiness I hadn’t known.
I wasn’t happy at the Bay, yet I seemed powerless to do anything about it. I was so small, fearful, insecure, uninspired, and unimaginative. Hell has its occupants in chains, yet they, in their darkness, take pride in every link, which appears shiny to them and rusty to others.
When I thought to buy my first car, I could have bought one from my Uncle Bill Hafichuk, a car salesman in Dauphin, but I didn’t trust him. I didn’t know where to turn, so I went out on my own. The car I bought was a good one, a ‘65 Ford Galaxy, though I paid more than a skilled buyer would have paid.
Many things I did on my own, frustrated that I didn’t know what I was doing, didn’t know how to avail myself of help, and didn’t have willing helpers to assert themselves for my sake. Consequently, I paid for it, re-inventing the wheel, time and time again.
I tell this story as another example of my life of desolation. Still on my own, and feeling the pressures of debt, I decided to trade in my car for a more fuel-efficient one. I narrowed my attention to two dealers on Portage Avenue who sold imports. One sold Datsuns, the other was an Isuzu Bellet dealer.
I dickered with the two dealers. The Datsun dealer appeared frustrated that I was trying to get his car for as low a price as the Isuzu dealer was offering his. There was probably better value with the Datsun, but I didn’t know it. I bought the Isuzu from Bill Gershom, who sweet-talked me into it. He took my car on trade, dickering me down considerably.
And that was the good news. Once he had me, he would service my vehicle, because it was a new product and he was the only dealer in town. That is fine while one needs no parts or service, which doesn’t happen; not so fine if not.
One night, being drunk and driving home from the Fort Garry Hotel where I had been visiting and drinking with my father and a delegation from the Dauphin General Hospital, I hit the curb on one side of the street and then the other. My wheels folded inward at the bottom.
My car was towed to the dealership and parked there during the night. The next day I called them for servicing. When I saw Bill, he asked me if I had insurance. I said I didn’t. The service manager was going to charge me what the true costs were, but Bill intercepted, insisting I pay an inflated bill. This added up to a third the value of the car, for the wheels only. The service manager protested (apparently seeing I was being raped), but Bill ignored him and charged me. Knowing I was being robbed, yet not knowing what else to do, I paid it.
This was just another of those woeful experiences where I had no understanding and no heart for instruction, and I suffered the consequences of my foolish ways. I had no direction and was not ready for any.
Bill’s dealership was not there much longer. It seems I saw it gone after only a few short years, if that. His ways do not prosper anyone. I have spoken of Jews that helped me in my life. This was one that hurt, but I needed it. I eventually sold my Isuzu privately at quite a discounted price and rushed headlong to more folly.
David Miller and I decided to purchase a new home at 4810 Eldridge Avenue in Charleswood. My father strongly advised against a partnership, having had at least one bitter experience in his past with Henry Broccanier partnering with him in a bulldozer business, clearing land. Broccanier absconded, leaving my father with liability. As usual, I did not listen.
I now realize that Dad deserved what he got. He was forever breaking promises to his own children, and who knows what else he did? We only reap what we sow, and get what we need and deserve.
My friends and I decided to hire a lesbian couple to perform for us. Why the perverse entertainment?
And why do I write about it? So that you will know how I lived and the kind of person I have been. Furthermore, if I condemn homosexuals, then I must, of necessity, condemn myself, for I was there with them, paying them. The Bible says that homosexuality is an abomination to God, and though I was never a homosexual, I was still there with them. Therefore, I am no better, though I should have every right to say it is wrong, if nature, reason, and the Bible serve as credible authorities.
I also indulged in oral sex. People speak of it today as though it is normal, and I realize that passion at the height of sexual excitement can momentarily drive one to do many things. I think, however, that oral sex is disgusting and a filthy bestial act that altogether degrades our Maker. I was there, I did it, I am ashamed of it, and I want everyone to know that no one will be able to stand before God with innocence, having done such things without repentance. Plainly, it is sodomy.