Friday 29 January 2010

Being Tragically Hip

I've been into the Tragically Hip since the first time I saw them live. Getting to see them live, for the first time, was a beautiful accident.
Sweaty and I played on the basketball team together, and we had a tournament in Kingston. This was perfect, because French had moved down there in the summer to live with his girlfriend; a 23 year old nursing student (he was 19).
We played our games versus KCVI and Regi - I don't remember the scores, but I do remember the coach talking about a curfew, sleep and good eating habits. Sweaty and I, regardless, snuck out to see French.
French had lined up a great night. The Queens nursing students were having a pub-night and this local band called the Tragically Hip were playing. French knew the bouncer and got us in and we started to bend taps. Sweaty was double fisted all night, as usual.
I was really psyched about the wall to wall nurses...then the band's set really got rocking. This dude with really long hair started to lay down some hard driving chords. His hair totally covered his face and dripped down over his guitar. He never looked up and I never saw his face. The other band members joined in to create an oceanlike wall of sound. Their sound just filled every space.
The lead singer was very intense - he would sing the lyrics of Highway Girl or Cemetery Side Road, then bust into a stream of consciousness story/poem in the middle of a song. The band would just have to follow along, and be ready when he finished up his story. In the middle of one song he told a 10 minute tale about being the guy in charge of cleaning killer whale tanks. Awesome story.
Part way through the show someone threw a hockey helmet on stage; only in Canada. Gordie, the lead singer, put it on and started to sing Werewolf Baby - then another nurse threw a suit coat on stage, he put that on too, and he sang about how much he liked, loved, and needed this jacket.
We drank a few more beers, chatted up some nurses; then Sweaty and I hitched back to the hotel at 3 am. French had disappeared a couple hours before.
The next morning we played Bayridge Secondary - I kept smelling booze out on the court. We really lost that game bad.

Friday 22 January 2010

The Dump Guru

Life would get a little boring without French. One summer he went on a Motorcycle tour of the States with his cousin, and his current girlfriend (he dumped her, literally, in New Mexico). I took a job at a summer camp; not quite as exciting as French's summer.

On my days off I'd usually go visit Bruce Fish. Once, I picked up Sweaty in my old Honda Civic and headed out to the dump. Sweaty thought it would be better to "screw the dump" and head right to the cottage.

Regardless, we popped in at the dump with a lot of complaining from Sweaty. Bruce fish was sitting by his little shelter using an old railway signal lantern to read by. There was a red light being cast over his face from his lamp. I noticed that there was a young lady with him. Bruce Fish said, "Allow me to introduce my lady friend, Rose". He added, with a big grin, "she is the rose of the dump". 

Sweaty said, "G'day, whatcha reading?"

Bruce Fish responded, "I'm reading the Bible...the good book...Revelations."

Sweaty started to laugh, but we all joined in the study as Bruce Fish read from his ragged Bible. He got to this part and got kinda stuck on it and kept reading the same part over and over: "He'll wipe your tears away...He'll wipe your tears away".

Rose had been quiet up to this time, but chimed in: "I like that part".

I agreed.

Sweaty and I said good-bye. As we were heading out Sweaty hung half his body out the moving car window and banged on the car door yelling: "See ya later ya old dump guru". Plus a couple "yeah babies!" for good measure.

Years later, I still see Bruce Fish and Rose Fish walking up the road heading for a days work at the township dump.

Story posted - check out these redemptive tales.

Thursday 21 January 2010

Where's French?

French missed a lot of school back in the day; and like me, took an extra year to finish up High School. In grade 14 we called ourselves the Oldtimers Club. Both of us ended up being on the honour roll, but we sure took the long path to get there.
Once he was away from school for a couple of days. Every teacher asked the class: "Where's French?" A couple of them even added comments like, "He's just skipping again." or "He is throwing his life away". As a teenager, I thought they shouldn't talk so much shit.
I went to check on him; in person (massive paradigm shift when compared with today's kids). His dad was smoking on the porch, as usual, and said that French was "out back". I knocked on his shed door, and French yelled "come". He was sitting in a lazy boy chair with a burnt arm that Bruce Fish had brought by. French was reading a book called Big Sur by Jack Kerouac. He had a couple dozen books in a stack of milk crates. He was smoking an America cigarette and taking short pulls from a bottle of Crowne Royal.
He tossed me a book called Dharma Bums, also by Jack Kerouac, and said: "Read this, it is good shit".
I read for a while. Pretty cool book. I could see why French liked it. Good tales of parties, poems, and big jugs of wine. French was like the characters in the novel (dharma bums), but he sure had more of an edge.
My mind wandered at one point and I asked: "Why do they call you French?".
He replied: "Read your fucking book".
I missed school the next day reading with French, and I finished my first Jack Kerouac novel.

Tuesday 19 January 2010

Lanterns, Dumps and Kim Mitchell

There is this massive dirty old dump out near our family cottage. The locals chose this huge ravine as a place to chuck all their refuse. Eventually it became the official township dump. Bruce Fish has worked there for 21 years.
French and I would sometimes swing by the dump on the way to the cottage to see how Bruce Fish was doing. Every time we went he would point at the rocky hole filled with and junk and he'd say: "That is the valley of death". Sure looked like it.
Over the years Bruce Fish has salvaged some pretty good stuff out of the valley of death. He built a little shelter and kept all the best finds inside.
We pulled up early one summer evening and he had put together a little patio, a lawn chair, a beaten up Molson Golden umbrella, and a huge cooler of beers. He asked us to lend him a hand with a project. We put up some poles and then he revealed a set of 1970's era patio lanterns. They looked to be in pretty good shape. Bruce Fish said: "these bastards still work, and they'll keep the bears away". We set them up and plugged them in to an old diesel generator; luckily we found a really long cord it was crazy loud.
Bruce Fish said: "it gets better". He popped a cassette tape into a filthy ghetto blaster. Kim Mitchell's song "Patio Lanterns" started up. French and I grabbed some old kitchen chairs and had an icy can of beer with Bruce Fish.
French kept saying: "this is art...fucking art".

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Bruce Fish

Pretty much everyone that I knew growing up had a nickname. It was just standard practice. There was, however, one exception: Bruce Fish. No one every called hime "Bruce" or "Fish". It was always the full "Bruce Fish". I guess people just like the ring of it.

Bruce Fish was weird. In today's education system he would have been labelled as Aspergers, ADHD, ADD...Fetal Alcohol...or something. But back in the eighties he was just "weird": Weird Bruce Fish.
French really liked Bruce Fish, so no one made fun of him...a second time. French would see someone making this mistake: teasing and mocking him; and that bully would get a good thumping. Often French would just sit with Bruce Fish during lunch so that nobody had the chance to harass the easy target. French kept a solid buffer zone in effect.

Bruce Fish would say odd things to draw attention to himself like: "I'm impervious to the cold" or "I seen an spirit in the forest". Kids would then egg him on to explain. French would just listen to his stories and tell everyone else to piss off. Bruce Fish also liked to show people the leather craft work that he would be doing. He always had deer leather with him and he would be sewing up something. He made purses, wallets, little draw-string bags, he made a briefcase that he always took with him,and he made a fringed jacket for himself and one for French too. Pretty sweet skills, but just too different to be appreciated by teens. The other teenagers would ask him what he was working on, or had he shot any deer lately? It never ended. If French wasn't around kids would crowd around and mock his every action and every comment.

Luckily, French and him lived up the same county line, so Bruce Fish was safe from the moment he got on the school bus, til he got dropped off at night. The times French was suspended from school were really rough on Bruce Fish. I sure was a poor substitute for French, but I did my best to keep the wolves at bay.
I teach high school now and I wish every "weird kid" like Bruce Fish had a ally like French at their side.

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Tuesday 5 January 2010

French Jim and the WWE

Whenever I mention wrestling (WWE) some genius let's me know that it is fake. No shit! These cerebral comments ain't the most profound. WWE is indeed scripted; but so are most visual mediums.

Anyway my buddy French let me know a lot about WWE. He never made it to the big time, but he spent three years trying to become a pro-wrestler. He did a summer in Mexico (where the water is more dangerous than your opponent). French also performed in Germany, Japan and did a couple of tryouts with the WWE in Florida and the Ohio Valley circuits.

He never got a truly great gimmick: he was French Jim (even though his name is Dave, and he is Jewish), the Wild Quebecer (French hails from Smiths Falls Ontario), and maybe his best the French Teacher (that got a lot of boos).

Back in the mid-nineties he fought some famous wrestlers: Chris Jericho, Haku and he got his face busted open (you should see the scar)when Lance T. Storm monkey flipped him onto a table filled with beer glasses in stint in Hamburg Germany. He also fought one of the Hart brothers, he won't say which one, in a big barn near Calgary.

French doesn't talk much about those days, but he said something this past Christmas as we watched Smackdown and he rubbed the big divot on his forehead: "Some days wrestling seems more real than my real life".

Next time somebody tells me Wrestling is fake I'm going toss a sleeper hold or a Belgian Arm Bar on 'em.