Friday 23 December 2011

Christmas with Dad

My dad was a church elder, so we were always there early...especially on Christmas Eve.  I'd sneak out and linger by the doors and wait for French, Pancake, Sweaty and Bruce Fish.  Pancake's dad never came near a church, Bruce Fish's dad was out on the road; French and Sweaty's dad was a different case altogether.

Every Sunday he'd drive up to the front of the church and drop off his kids and his wife.  He always insisted that they attend.  Then he'd drive over to the Tim Horton's or some days to the Lee Hotel if he could convince them to open the taps.  He was always late picking them all up afterwards.

One Christmas he drove up and dumped the kids out, but this time French just stood on the curb and looked in the passenger door window.  French's dad looked back at him, he looked back at his son and eventually I could see him sigh.  He parked the car around the corner, and then walked back to the church.  He was wearing jogging pants, and a leather jacket over his Montreal Expos t-shirt. 

French's dad came to that service and sang every carol.  I've never seen them all look happier.

Friday 16 December 2011

Pond Hockey League

As soon as we could find a frozen pond, or even a big puddle, we'd start the annual Pond Hockey League.  We usually played on a pretty small surface, so it remained pretty exclusive. 

In one of our most memorable games French beat me, Sweaty, and Pancake.  It gets worse; the day he beat us he had his arm in a sling.  He'd broken his collar bone in a wrestling match.  He showed up with one arm tucked inside his jean jacket.  He was just too fast on his skates (and Pancake was a brutal goalie).

Bruce Fish usually sat on the sidelines, as he'd often get hurt.  When he did play with us he'd use really beat up skates, and he'd shove phonebooks up his pant legs then tape his jeans.  Most days Bruce Fish would forget about the game and just skate around.

French showed up to one game with a whole bag of extra gear for Bruce Fish.  He'd gone to a couple of local rinks and rooted through the lost and found.  Everything was mismatched, but Bruce Fish looked pretty sharp with shin pads, gloves, Bruins socks, and proper skates.

I believe that Bruce Fish and French were the champions of the Pond Hockey League that season.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Fred Eaglesmith - Johnny Cash

I have learned how to play virtually every Fred Eaglesmith song.  I have a large binder bursting with his lyrics and chords.  Somedays I'll pull it out and sing song after song.  My kids could sing the lyrics as toddlers.

I first saw Fred because I went to the Edmonton Media Club to see Willie P. Bennett.  He was playing mandolin and harmonica in Fred's band.  I ended up buying two CDs and seeing Fred play many more shows over the years.  I started to learn how to play his songs the next day.

On his new album, 6 Volt, there is a song called "Johnny Cash".  I love the song, and want to learn to play it, but in the song Fred sings "that we let Johnny Cash down, and where were we in 1989?"  There is truth in those lyrics.  I was in high school listening to heavy metal.  When Rick Rubin partnered with Johnny his popularity soared.  I bought all the American CDs, and went back to the older catalogue too.

Fred also sings "too bad about all that religion."  Johnny led me back to God with his lyrics.  Johnny's faith is so steadfast.  I don't find him "religious" as much as "relational". 

Religion is a tough sell these days, but what about faith...Johnny Cash faith?

Fred Eaglemsith - Johnny Cash

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Ribera Steak, Jackets and Karaoke

One summer French got a chance to go to Japan to wrestle.  He had a great amateur background, but was just getting into pro-wrestling.  He had met a promoter in the winter, and he'd liked French's style.  He had called French a real shooter.  French thought that it was total bullshit until he got a plane ticket to Japan in the mail. 

When he got to Japan he wrestled two matches and then the promotion got shut-down.  He went to the dojo on the third morning and there was a chain around the door.  French barely any money, and no way back home.

He went next door to a tiny karaoke bar.  French was wearing a Ribera Steak House jacket.  The shady promoter had taken him there on the first night.  French made the promoter buy him the iconic jacket.  With the satin jacket he looked like a big time wrestler.  One of the locals bought him a drink.  This lasted all day.  French eventually started singing karaoke.

He knew all the songs, and was a pretty good singer; and with a few drinks he became a performer.  People started asking for requests.  French said: "nothing says request like 20 bucks".  For a minimum 200 yen he'd sing any song.  French ended up staying on from April until September.

A lot of people I know go to Japan to teach English.  French went there to wrestle, but ended up being a karaoke sensation. 

French must have been good.  He paid that years university tuition up front.  Every now and then I'll see him out with his blue satin jacket.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

secular fundamentalism

This picture has been doing the rounds out on the Internet.  Rose saw it and she was so upset that she left the room.  She slammed her door so hard the frame popped.

Bruce Fish said: "Ah hell she's just fed up with the whole world some days".

Pancake was pretty sympathetic.  His dad has always been a mystical guy.  Currently, Pancake's dad calls himself a Zen-Christian.  Good thing Rose had left.  Pancake is perpetually in her bad-books.

I said my standard line: "Never let religion get in the way of your faith".  Standard, yes, but I mean it.  The people promoting this idea seem to be against religion and doctrine; so we might be at a stalemate.

Sweaty shrugged and said, " it was all bullshit."  He was as ambiguous as usual.

French had this to say before we changed the subject:  "It puts forward some tough ass questions, but these secular fundamentalists are a worrisome bunch".

What do you say?

Tuesday 22 November 2011


Tough guys don't cry - they make people cry. Sounds like a t-shirt that Mean Dean would wear. Words to live by right?

Once Pancake came up to me at my locker and said that French had "lost it". He said that French was sitting in his shed crying. That sounded a bit off. I couldn't imagine French crying. Something really bad must have happened.

I cut class, yet again, and walked over to French's place. Sure enough he was in his shed. There was music playing: Johnny Cash. I knocked and he let me in. I went in and shut the door. He didn't say anything. French just sat slumped on his handmade bunk. When the tape ended he'd flip it over and listen to the other side. We listened to the same Johnny Cash tape all afternoon.

I guess on some of the songs his eyes looked a bit moist.


I try not to listen to too much Johnny Cash (Rick Rubin days, or My Mother's Hymnbook) when I know I'll be in public.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

The Guitar Lesson

French can play guitar.  He often says: "I don't remember a time when I didn't know a C chord."  I believe him.  His dad had him and Sweaty jamming all the time.  There was an abundance of musical instruments in their house: drums, guitars, a bass, a piano, a banjo, a mandolin, and various other small percussion instruments.

French's dad loved nothing better than to pack his kitchen and jam out.  He would hand out cold beers and instruments.  If you couldn't play, he'd hand you a shaker or a pot to bang on.  These were totally great moments.  If his dad was too tired, we'd do the same thing in the shed.

There came a time though that I wanted to play guitar; I'd had enough of pot and pans. I tried to get French to teach me.  He wasn't the most patient guy, but he finally gave me a lesson.  He took my pick and tossed it into my guitar.  I looked at him in disbelief.  This is my lesson?

He then showed me how to get it out in seconds.  I have to admit it works every time.  So my first guitar lesson was a damn fine one.

This video reveals the method:

Wednesday 9 November 2011

French's Amp

I bought my son a Bass eh?  French caught wind of this and said he had an amp for him kicking around somewhere. 

First we went to his parent's house.  We looked around his basement and even in his legendary shed.  His dad came home and found us rooting around.  He said: "what in the flying fuck are guys looking for?"  French said his old bass amp.  French's dad said, "that hasn't been here is a good god-damned dog's age." 

French thought that Sweaty had it, so we checked in at his place.  We found out that Sweaty had used it for a few years, but lent it to Mean Dean for gig up in Lanark about six or seven years ago. 

We called Mean Dean. He swore, "he gave that fucking thing back." 

We were shooting pool with Pancake and we were talking about the bass amp.  Pancake said, "oh shit, your old bass amp from high school?  That is at my grandmother's house."

Turns out Mean Dean dropped it off at what he thought was Pancake's house four years ago.  It was actually his Grandmother's house.  It was near the High School and we'd sometimes hang out there and eat her baking at lunch. 

So we drove over there to pick it up.  Pancake's grandma said: "some drunk guy dropped it off years ago." 

We found it in her garage.  Sure enough, there it was...well some if it.  It was really beat up; in fact, most of the interior was missing.  It was basically just the cabinet.  We turned it around.  There was a nursing cat with three kittens inside.

I thought French would be pissed, but he just said: "I coulda sworn this amp was bigger."

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Remembrance Day

Back in High School...

We all went down to the Remembrance Day assembly.  French was already there setting up chairs.  I was sitting with Pancake and Sweaty.  The ceremony was brutal: a couple of poems were read, the mic kept buzzing, the trumpet solo didn't work out, the Veteran that was coming to talk to us didn't show, and the students got bored and started talking.  It got really rowdy really fast.

French came up and said, "let's go."  Our lockers were right outside the door of the gym.  We grabbed our coats and started walking, almost running to keep up with French.  He didn't say where we were going.  I realized after a while that we were going to the cenotaph.  The town's ceremony was in full swing.  It was freezing, windy and the snow started up during the last post.

The town's veterans all marched to the Legion.  French followed them all the way inside.  The four of us really stood out in this group, but they sat us down at a table.  We talked to the vets of World War II, Korea, and some Peace Keepers too.  They brought us coffee, hot chocolate and heaps of sandwiches and cookies.  It was awesome, just awesome.

Thursday 27 October 2011

No Small Town Bringdown

I hated my small town. In high school I used to drive to Ottawa on the weekends to see my girlfriend or to party with some Nepean lads.  Or I'd drive to Kingston when French was going to college.  I don't hate my town anymore.

The only guy that never left Smiths Falls was Pancake.  On Thanksgiving weekend he drove me around to see some of the other guys that were home to see their parents.  He still drives the Honda Civic that he had in high school.  It has over 250 000 kilometres on it.  Pancake doesn't know exactly because the odometere doesn't roll anymore.

We had to drive a bit outta town to see Sweaty - we were meeting him at his in laws.  Pancake reached under his seat and pulled out a battered blue CD case.  It was the Tragically Hip's first album.  He said most of the songs still work; despite the scratches.  Like his car, this was the same CD he'd owned for over 20 years.  I was surprised to see it in a case.  He also still had about 10 more CDs tucked in his sun visor; all of them were familiar from the old days: Def Leppard, Van Halen, Blue Rodeo, Neil Young, Bryan Adams, two more from the Hip, Johnny Cash and Stompin' Tom Connors.

We listened to Last American Exit and then Small Town Bringdown.  We sang every word.  I started to think about how soulless my city is, and the community I left behind.  Just a burst of nostalgia?  Temporary?  In the meantime I'll listen to Gord Downie's rock n' roll warble.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

My Dog Job

Bruce Fish has spent the last three weeks trying to coax a dog out of the ditches of South Frontenac Township.  He finally had success.  The same dog he'd been chasing showed up asleep under his porch.  Bruce Fish gave him some bacon.  My guess is that him and that dog are friends for life.

Turns out the dog loves nothing more than to climb up and sleep in the truck when Bruce Fish goes out on his garbage runs.  They love to tour up and down the roads. I hear the dog is a true mutt.  He is now all cleaned up; after living in ditches he needed it.  Rose tied a red bandanna around his thick neck...pretty cool.

I forgot to put anti-freeze in the water line at the cottage, when I closed up originally.  So I took the two hour drive up to get this done.  It was also a good excuse to see Bruce Fish and his new dog.   I visited with Rose and the baby until Bruce Fish came home. 

He jumped out of his truck and the dog followed.  Bruce Fish was grinning ear to ear and the dog's tail was wagging and it kept looking up at his new master. Good looking dog...bit of shepherd to be sure.

Bruce Fish shook my hand and said: "meet my dog Job."

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Mean Dean and Bruce Fish

Mean Dean did the rounds as long as I can remember.  He'd stroll around school shoving people into lockers, stealing milk money (45 cents from everyone), and every Halloween he seemed to terrorize the whole town.  I got off paying him my milk money because of French, but I still had him bully me from time to time; before French and I started to hang-out more regularly in high-school.

I managed to keep my Halloween candy one year because I held on for dear life to my extremely full pillowcase of candy.  Luckily a police car swung by and I sprinted home.  Another time I was fighting Mean Dean and pushed him over a chain that surrounded a garden.  He fell into some juniper bushes.  I was on the run from him for the next coupla months.

Mean Dean eventually became an ally, but he was not a fun guy to be around in Junior High.  I asked him once why he never beat up or bullied Bruce Fish.  I thought it was because of French's protection.  Mean Dean said that that was not the reason.  He said, "The real reason is that when we said the Lord's Prayer in class Bruce Fish was the only one with his eyes closed and his head bowed. I just couldn't beat up guy like that."

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Of Church and Parking Lot Smokes

This was a very different Thanksgiving than usual. Everyone came back home; from Ottawa to Kingston and beyond.  (Everyone: French, Sweaty, Bruce and Rose Fish, Pancake and even me.)  There has always been at least one of us missing in action over the last twenty years.  Even more impressive is that somehow Rose got us all out of bed and to Church for a 9:15 service.  Ouch.

All us lads had been in Renfrew at a independent wrestling event and had gotten home just after 1:00 am.  Rose must be a saint.

This old church holds a lot of memories, but it was so strange to look around the congregation and see faces that were now twenty years older.  I did the usual routine of standing, sitting, and saying Amen at the appropriate times, but mostly I tried to see who I knew from the old days.

Around 9:45 I realized that French was missing.  He must have ducked out during one of the hymns.

The pastor seemed pretty stoked to have such a big turn out and made the most of it by preaching until 10:36.  Man I was tired.  When he finally said the benediction I went outside to look for French.

I found him in the parking lot. He had the tail gate down on his truck and was sitting there having a smoke.  I asked him if he was bored waiting for us he said, "no."


He explained: "Yeah some guy, called himself an elder, followed me out and we had a chat."

I asked: "What about?"

French exhaled then said: "community."

Tuesday 4 October 2011

sit the fuck down

I'd looked for French in the shed; it was empty.  I saw a light in the kitchen through the screen door.  I went up the cement steps.  French's dad was sitting at the kitchen table changing a guitar string.  A cigarette was dangling from his mouth.  He looked up and said: "take a picture, it lasts longer".  He then told me to come in. I asked him, "if French was home"?  He shook his head no and tightened the string a bit more.  I then said: "Sweaty?" He just said: "naah".

I stood there like a typical awkward teen thinking about what to say.  French's dad looked up again said: "sit the fuck down".  I did.  He put a tea cup in front of me and poured in some really dark tea.  It looked like coffee.  He then tipped in a healthy splash of Amaretto. 

He picked up his guitar and finished tuning the string that he had replaced.  He opened the fridge.  There were hundreds of bread and milk tags hanging on a rod inside.  He picked out a larger than normal plastic bread tag and started to pick out a little tune.  Soon the pace picked up and he blasted into several songs by Neil Young; mainly from his Crazy Horse years.  Every coupla songs he'd hot up our tea and splash in some more liqueur.

He was singing Cinnamon Girl at the top of his voice when his wife came in.  She smiled and put the kettle back on.  He packed up his guitar and said: "I'll tell French and Sweaty that you came by".

I wandered home with a lingering warm buzz.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Old School MMA

MMA UFC all those tough acronyms these days.  I grew up in a town nicknamed Little Chicago.  Every Friday or Saturday there would be fights down at the Burger King, or out behind the Lee Hotel.  French was often challenged to fight at these little rumbles.  French usually tried to avoid these places: he disliked the chaos because these events often became all out brawls.  "Too many cops", he always said.

French was unstoppable one on one.  He was pretty good about it though.  French knew he could "whoop" anyone: to use Bruce Fish's favourite word.  Once a really big lad in our school gave French a shove in the lunch line.  French gave him a warning, but the guy said "fuck you dickhead".  French put both his hands in the air.  The big guy looked at them, French ducked quick and did a wrestling shoot.  He twisted him over backwards and started to wrench really hard on his leg and ankle.  The big lad yelled "stop" and looked like he was going to cry.  French let him up. Pancake wasn't reading the situation too well and smashed a lunch tray over the big lad's head.

French gave Pancake a dirty look and helped the now whoosy big lad up again.  They sorted it all out; they even shook hands, and parted friends.

This was French on a good day.  He didn't want to fight, but he wasn't going to get pushed around.

Another time French was having a big fight with his girlfriend in class.  She actually dumped him in the middle of math. This caused a big ruckus, and French got sent to the Vice Principal's office.  At lunch he was still seething.  Some dude came by our table and knocked his hat off.  French's hat fell into Pancake's gravy.

I'll always remember what Bruce Fish said: "Hey tough guy - you better be a track star".

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Bruce Fish Sr.

I asked French if he ever met Bruce Fish Senior?  He said that "he had once or twice, when I was a kid".  This is more or less what French related to me:

I was biking up the road, and saw a strange truck in Bruce Fish's lane way.  There were a coupla big lads out front.  I decided to check it out.  There was a guy at the kitchen table with his hair combed back in a pompadour.  He was drinking a coffee and smoking a cigarette.  Bruce Fish's mom wouldn't even look at this man.  Bruce Fish wouldn't take his eyes off him.

Bruce Fish Sr. was a professional wrestler, but he spent most of the time down in the States in various promotions.  There was a long awkward silence, but I eventually asked him about wrestling.  He said: "yeah I gotta story".

I was wrestling outta St. Louis.  I was hot, young and didn't know shit, but I thought I did.  I didn't respect all the dumb marks who paid to see our shows.  Worse, I didn't respect the older workers who had never made it big.  I was gonna be big.  I talked a lotta shit behind a lotta backs.  One night we drove to Fargo.  The promoter stiffed me, said that the "draw was short so no payday".  I was depending on that money to get back home.  I went into a diner to stay warm, and the oldest beat up worker; the one I made fun of more than any other was in there.  He called me to his table, we talked, he bought the meals, and lent me some gas money.  Being humbled....that's wrestling.

With that Bruce Fish's dad ruffled little Bruce's hair, kissed his wife and drove off to the next show.

Friday 16 September 2011


Bruce Fish is on Twitter.  Unreal...this is the same guy who still uses a rotary phone.  He was given all the gear: computer and wifi by French.  Who is no fan of modernity either.  Bruce Fish thinks it'll be cool to as he says "watch the youtube".  He also likes Twitter, or the idea of Twitter, so that he can follow wrestlers.

I asked him about the "Junior". He said that the username Bruce Fish was taken and the Bruce Fish Jr. was his real name.  He had never gone by this so I was surprised.  He explained that Bruce Fish Senior was his father, and also a wrestler and promoter.  His dad was rarely home, and eventually just never came home, because he was out working different territories.  I hope to dig a little deeper into this tale someday.

Bruce Fish is on Twitter, so if you want little updates from his world follow him: @BruceFishJr

Thursday 8 September 2011

King Nick

King Nick

Last May French and I were watching the Alumni Soccer Game with some of our students.  French was teaching Phys Ed to a class of students with Down Syndrome.  There was a light misty rain falling; everything was damp.  There was a broken chair in a tangled jumble by the fence.  The students all wanted to use it to keep them off the wet ground.

A couple of my students kept trying to put it together, but they all failed.  The chair leg kept slipping, and it would topple over with them in it...sorta funny; and maybe more entertaining then the game.  They heaved it back by the fence, and ignored it.

A few minutes later I took this picture of Nick from French's class.  He'd managed to fix it properly, and had the best seat in the house.  He struck this pose and said "I'm King Nick".

Posted To:

Tuesday 30 August 2011

French's Bible

French and Bruce Fish were having a pretty good day.  They had found an old suit complete with a sharp fedora.  They decided to dress up one of the robots from last summer as Frank Sinatra.  It was pretty great, lots of people swung by and complimented "the art".  Bruce Fish set up a record player and played some old Rat Pack records.

Rose Fish came by for her usual morning coffee and bible study.  She saw the new art project and said: "I Did it My Way" was the theme song of hell.  I've never seen French get mad at Rose before, but he just got up and stormed off.

He left his bible on an old crate.  I've seen it many times, but I never really looked through it before.  There were many photos, notes, poems, hockey cards and even dried leaves inside. There were also quite a few items from churches services of note: marriages, funerals, and baptisms (all of them from many years ago). One of the photos is us on Canada Day when we were still in our teens.

French picked it up later at the cottage; he shoved it under his truck seat.

Posted to Imperfect Prose

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Another Dump Summer

It is deep into summer and Bruce Fish's dump is a humming.  He has broken in a new employee the last few weeks: French. 

French doesn't have great prospects for a job this September so he socking away some cash and hanging with Bruce and Rose Fish at the county dump.  French is in charge of recycling.  He sorts and stacks tonnes of the cottagers recyclables.  When I saw him he was sitting on a stool flipping cans into a bin.  He had his own full can of Budweiser in one hand and was chucking empties with the other.  He was pretty mellow and buzzed.

Bruce Fish puttered around as usual.  This year his dump art theme is music.  I'll have to check out how that goes next weekend.

Rose comes over at 10:30 with coffee, muffins and Bibles.  French complained bitterly, but Rose lets him choose the book for the reading.

I'm sure he says "Job" every time.

Posted to...

Monday 1 August 2011

Church Parking Lot Patrol

The last few weeks there has been a rash of car break-ins during church.  The youth pastor's car was the most recent target.  There is nothing much to take, but the broken windows are costly.

I was telling French about this and he said that he'd do a patrol.  The next Sunday he was good to his word.  He ducked down low, sipped his Tim Horton's and waited.  I went into the service.

I couldn't wait for the service to be over and see how French's vigil went. 

French was still in his truck.  I asked him if his patrol was a wasn't.  Some lads had come by and were trying to bust in again.  I didn't see the beaten bodies of the thugs.  French filled me in: "Oh I knew them lads"...he started up his truck and rolled out.  As he drove out he said: "They decided to work the Catholic Church instead".

Posted to...Imperfect Prose

Tuesday 26 July 2011

that was you...

Still wrapping up some final thoughts on Camp IAWAH.  It is such a great place.  I seem to work harder and feel better the whole time I'm there.  Seeing French pounding away behind the scenes was excellent too.  You sure need guys like him to keep such a big camp running. 

There are the "upfront" people too.  These are the guys that give the place personality.  These are almost archetypal Camp People.  They have abundant skills, humour, energy, passion, and verve; plus they can keep this going all summer...unreal.

I was watching one of these lads entertain the 100+  boys campers.  He was just explaining the night's game, but the kids were in stitches...joke after joke, yet they all understood how to play when he was done.  Perfect.

French came up behind me, part way through, and said: "that is you 15 years ago". 

Here is a clip of IAWAH:

Tuesday 19 July 2011

IAWAH...summer nights

Evidence of French's Week at IAWAH

Just got back from hosting 107 boys at Camp IAWAH (Proverbs 3: 5-6).  This is a place where French and I spent many summers.  French always worked the maintenance side of things, and I worked as a counsellor, and in program.  He really had a knack of rubbing the camp admin the wrong way.  One summer he brought up his CD collection in an empty Labatt Blue 24 case.  He kept it in his window..."to prop it up"...he always said. 

I'd call his relationship with the camp ambivalent, so I was a bit surprised to see him up there again this summer.  I saw him one day just mowing lawn.  He'd popped up last year, but he had not mentioned that he intended to volunteer.

The first night I found him in his truck sleeping.  He'd mown lawn for 12 hours and he was beat.  I coaxed him to snag a bunk in my room, but he insisted on sleeping with no pillow, and only used a beach towel as a blanket; he called it his penance.

After spending the day mowing or washing pots he'd hide out behind the gym, smoke cigarettes and read his old Bible.  One day he broke this routine and manned the barbecue during a big rain storm.  French had always had affection for the old camp cook.  The two of them looked crazed flipping burgs amidst a howling storm.

I asked him about his week of "heavy labour".  He took a big draw from his smoke, stubbed it out, exhaled, closed his ragged Bible and said: "best week yet".

Monday 27 June 2011

the Squared Circle

French spent a lot of years wrestling in both the amateur and professional ranks.  He has wrestled in many different promotions around Canada and the U.S., but French hasn't been near a ring in a few years.  There was a wrestling show in Smiths Falls, our old home town, this past Friday.  I got tickets, and French reluctantly went along. 

It was not easy for him to go.  As a former in ring performer he was a little uncomfortable.  He believes that it looks bad to be at a show when you are not on the card.  He called it being a locker room loser.  To avoid this we kept a low profile and he stayed away from the backstage.  Just before we went in he said: "tonight I'm just a fan."  I agreed, but I knew he had slipped his old ring gear into the back of my van.

We ended up having a few laughs.  We recorded some of the matches and French pulled out some clips that he thought were good.  He called his little movie : Heel Clinic.

Friday 24 June 2011

Locker Art

French and I finished our report cards today, and then he had an idea: a photo-essay of the inside of lockers.  We grabbed the Nikon and hit the halls.  A couple of other teachers saw us and they were quite shocked:  "What are you doing?"  What are you looking for?"   These other teachers assumed that we were, or should be, doing something practical.  French told them that we were conducting an anthropological field exercise.  That seemed to satisfy them. are some of our findings.

Establishing Shot


This guy has left a legacy of stickers.

We named this locker: Candy Cane

Political Campaign

Charlie Sheen...
420 or Security Breach

The Love Tally


Keep it Simple

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Parkour vs Shortcutting

Ollie (great name) demonstrates a side vault.

Today there exists the lingering, mainly Youtube, fad of Parkour.  It is defined as: the non-competitive sport of traversing mainly urban landscapes by running, climbing and jumping. I heard a podcast recently that even named the founder: Dave Belle.  One day in the nineties he vaulted a mail box, thus Parkour was invented.  Hold up...really?...really?   I seem to remember vaulting in the seventies and eighties.  The big difference is that Dave Belle filmed, posted, and formalized this activity. What a weird media construct world we live in.

French and I did not invent Parkour either, but we had our own trend: Shortcutting.  We'd challenge each other to see who could get to school the fastest.  I guess this is the rule we broke: Parkour is strictly no-competitive.  To win you'd have to go through people's yards; this would cut entire blocks off the route. 
We'd vault fences, climb onto and over garden sheds, and sprint through lawn sprinklers to get to school the fastest.  Pancake had one secret route that went behind a garage, then across an old boat, then over a pool fence. 

French and Sweaty were pretty hard to beat.  They could really "haul ass" on the straight stretch.  The only time we'd win for sure was when French brought Bruce Fish.  He'd have to slow down and boost him over every fence. 

My sons have taken this up recently.  It is not 1979 anymore, when we got away with shortcutting, so I had to explain that in 2011 people call the police if kids run through their yards.  My sons have made some "fake" videos of  "Parkour" - consider them more about film making then Parkour.  Maybe they'll go down in history as the inventors of  Parkour 2.0, or Shortcutting 2.0, or ...?

Friday 3 June 2011

French and Fatdog

There was this huge guy back in high school call Fatdog (he actually liked the name). Fatdog was around 6'4, and he weighed at least 300 lbs.  He was a typical high school bully.  As he was walking down the halls he loved to push people into their lockers.  Then his little gang of buds would laugh.  Fatdog also slapped away kid's trays at lunch, or stole their food.  I once saw him with a huge pile of cookies, chips and puddings that he had taken from a table of freshmen.  He ate the whole pile.

Fatdog had the reputation that nobody could even move him, let alone beat him in a fight.  I saw him get the better of  Mean Dean (to Dean's credit Fatdog had 120 lbs on him). 

In September of grade 12 Fatdog did his locker bump into French's girlfriend: the little brunette.  French had had enough.  He decided to "move him".  Like Dean, French was 170 tops.  Fatdog was a beast, but French was determined to take him down.

French went right up to Fatdog, and told him: "I'm gonna move you three times this year".  Fatdog just laughed and walked away.

We had gym with Fatdog.  French made his first attempt during the wrestling unit.  Despite the weight class difference French took FD on.  French taunted FD and then fell down and nailed him with a toe drag.  He didn't pin him, but he technically moved him.  It was the talk of the school.

French got him one more time in gym class.  Fatdog was more wary now, so French had to be cunning.  One day French jumped up on some uneven bars, swung, and kicked Fatdog with both feet.  Fatdog feel down and he was pissed.  He got up swinging, but Mr. K sent them both to the office.  This event really created a buzz.

French didn't get another chance until June.  Fatdog just wouldn't go anywhere near French.  The finally met up in the smoking area after school one night.  French came towards him to shake his hand.  There were a lot of people watching so Fatdog felt pressured to end this year long feud.  French grabbed his hand and then executed a beautiful leg sweep.  Fatdog fell backwards.  French leaped on to him and actually sat on his chest, and ground his knees into this face.  He kept yelling: "who's the big man now?" over and over again. 

That was a long time ago.  These days we actually have beers with Fatdog from time to time.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Of Two Fours and Rapture

Talk of the rapture was a hot topic all weekend.  No earthquakes, no multitudes vanishing in the blink of an eye.  Just a typical May long weekend.  The lads and I stood our ground and acted like good Canadians and socked into a 2-4 as it was the sacred May 2-4 weekend.

French, Sweaty, Pancake and I were all discussing the good times we were going to have on the new earth or in Heaven.  We are a bit sketchy on the details, despite years and years of Sunday school.  Mostly we talked about how we were all going to hang out and jam with Johnny Cash, Bono, and John Bonham.  Or how we were going write poems and roam around with Kerouac.  And I'd take my little brother out fishing everyday. We laughed, we toasted and clinked beers.  Then we'd launch into another round of which old saints we'd be pals with in Heaven.

Bruce Fish kept silent the whole time.  A little after 6:00 Rose stopped looking up to the sky.  No rapture. She'd been alternating between looking skywards or glaring at us.  She picked up her Bible, and her baby and stormed off  to their dump truck.

French asked him what was up with Rose.

Bruce Fish took a last swig of his beer and said:  "she just wants to meet Jesus".

Wednesday 11 May 2011

French Fashion

Today's kids will head out to the mall and spend heaps o'cash on ripped jeans.  I laugh and tell 'em to "take them back".  You pay top dollar for pre-ripped and pro-ripped jeans.  It was so much cheaper, and more fun when I was a kid.

French and I were metal heads back in the day.  We'd see some crazy hair-metal band on MTV (back when they played videos), and they'd all have shredded jeans.  We tried all kinds of ways to rip them; my mom is still mad.  It was French who finally figured out the way to get them done right.

He'd hang our jeans on the clothesline and then we'd shoot out the knees with a pellet gun.  Sweaty, Pancake, French and I had the most hardcore jeans by far, and each pair was one of a kind.  French even started to provide this service, for a small fee, for the kids that didn't have a gun (girls had theirs done for free).

French told this to his guitar class...they all think he's lying...he ain't.

Sunday 1 May 2011

Phantom Shores

My cousin plays drums/percussion in a band called Phantom Shores.  They played a show last week at the Elmdale Tavern.  The same stage that my buddies in Graven played last month.  I was pretty keen to check them out.  French had a date with his on-again/off-again girlfriend: the Johnny Cash tattoo girl.  So I convinced Sweaty to go along; not an easy task.

He was concerned that these young hipsters would be swigging PBR all night and worst of all not play any rock n'roll.  To get him to go I had to pick him up, by him a pitcher of beer, and then drop him

Sweaty came around.  There was no Pabst Blue Ribbon to be found, and he actually liked the band.  He thought that my cousin Dave was a "crazy intense drummer":  High praise from Sweaty. 

Sweaty took a shine to both of the girls in the band.  He found out what they were drinking and had a round waiting as soon as they were done their set.  I wanted to leave early, and miss the second band.  He stayed on at the Elmdale and chatted up the girls.  Can't hardly tell that he and French are brothers.

Thursday 28 April 2011

The Cowboy Kid...thoughts...and confessions

I'm basing this totally, well almost totally, on the comments on the previous blog: The Cowboy Kid.

The sad part about that old ramp was that the Cowboy Kid used to be the one doing the tricks, before we had to take over the show.  When he got too sick he let me ride his amazing bike: slick white with trick pegs.  For a while, in his very early teens he was even well enough to play hockey.  This all ended too soon. 

The arc of his life was brief; just 17 years.  He knew and I knew it.  CK squeeze a lot into his life: riding that beautiful bmx trick bike over his ramp, ripping down the ice and potting goal after goal, and he was popular...he was the prince.

Over all this his disease hung over him: medicine, treatments, isolation and scaling back sports. 

The Cowboy Kid died young.  I begged off work for the funeral...then didn't go.  I was 19, but too scared to go.  I made up a lot of excuses for not showing up, none of them good. French did show up - Bruce Fish drove him and even attended; and Bruce Fish never even knew him.

French's bad moments were highly visible: blood, fists, waving from the back of a police car.  Mine are less visible, but there all the same.

Tuesday 26 April 2011

The Cowboy Kid

French had a friend back in junior high that everyone called the Cowboy Kid.  He was this little sickly fellow who always wore cowboy themed clothing: western shirts, hats and boots.  This was really rare in our part of Canada.

The Cowboy Kid had Cystic Fibrosis and spent a lot of  time at home; usually watching Westerns.  French used to ride his bmx bike down to the his house, set up a ramp, and then do crazy ass stunts in front of a picture window.  The Cowboy Kid loved this entertainment.  French and the bmx tricks was a short lived faze, but he was good...and fearless.

In junior high we had a house system - each house had a prince and a princess and they would form the student's council.  The Cowboy Kid was the Prince of the Blue Raider House.  That was our house.  It was corny as hell, but we took great pride in it.  We'd always try really hard to win banners for each house league sport.

The CF symptoms worsened when the humidity got bad one June, and the Cowboy Kid had to be hostpitalized.  The Principal had a real soft spot for him and let him choose a new prince. The Cowboy Kid went on the announcements and declared his successor for the last month of school:  "French".  French was the new Blue Raider Prince.

French was actually sitting in the office with Mean Dean when the announcement was made. They'd had yet another dust-up. Dean's nose was bleeding and French had his hand in a bag of ice. 

The Principal was so frustrated that he just told French and Dean to "just leave".

Monday 18 April 2011

7/4 Shoreline

7/4 Shoreline, by Broken Social Scene, is one of my favourite tunes.  So I almost knocked over a pitcher of beer when my pals in Graven started playing it.  BSS is brilliant. I recorded the song and then did some editing...maybe over baked the editing, but I'm learning.

We have all grown up learning songs and being in bands, so when our old buddies in Graven played a show in Perth we decided to take it in.  Sweaty, Pancake, and French and I all made it out.  Bruce Fish: " doesn't like loud music...or Perth", so he hung out at home with Rose.

French had a few beers and didn't get in a fight; so it was a very rare night...especially as we are all former Smiths Falls lads.   Gavin called French up for a song; he'll never admit it, but it made his night.

Truly a fun night; even if we did make the locals a little nervous.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

a few beers, a few songs...good times

Got the chance to go see JD Edwards and Tom Savage play a little gig at the Manx.  It was a good night .  French discontinued his hooting and hollering, because I was filming, for this one song. Then he got right back to it.  We worked on this video together a bit.  The editing is a little rough...'effin run time errors.

I first met JD back at camp.  French, Sweaty, Pancake, and JD all loved fishing.  We had some old beat up canoes out on a pond.  We'd get out there quick after work and catch some bass 'til the sun set.

JD wasn't the best fisherman, but he can play guitar, sing and blow a mean harp. 

Here is the Clip:  JD and Tom - the Manx

Monday 11 April 2011

Resurrection Suit

We dropped by the cottage to do a quick check: i.e. see if the beavers had felled trees, if the place had burned down, or been robbed (expectation management).  All was well; so we stopped into see Bruce and Rose Fish.

Bruce Fish had his usual stories to tell.  He'd found a whole garbage bag of suits: "still good".  We had a look, but we left them with him.  French snagged a tie.

French asked me to tell the story of how I once lost my brand new suit.  Bruce Fish hadn't heard this one, so I told them the story:

I went to my Grandfather's funeral in Edmonton.  He was in the hospital dying of cancer, and I slept in his vacant room.  He didn't make it, and we stayed on for the funeral.  On the day of the funeral my mom told me to get ready.  I couldn't find my suit anywhere.  I had to wear jeans and a rugby shirt to the church.  My mom was really mad.  My dad even told me off; which is really rare.

We walked by the open casket.  There was my grandfather looking pretty sharp in my new suit. 

My uncle had come home from the funeral home and gone through his closet. My suit was there and it looked new and also looked like it would fit him nicely.  He had lost a lot of weight and his frame was similar to my skinny 15 year old body. 

We were all chuckling at the crazy tale and Rose piped up: "You'll get it back."

We all looked at her...puzzled.

She continued: "at the resurrection."

Posted to: Imperfect Prose

Monday 4 April 2011

Dump Therapy

Every winter the dump is closed.  This year Bruce Fish made some extra coin ploughing for the county, but the dump is his "real job"; as he often reminds us.  Each spring he has to clean the dump.  Even though it is closed people keep dumping all sorts of trash at the gates.  Bruce Fish comes in sometime in April and has to move all the winter debris into the ravine.  He'll go through it first and take out anything recyclable, refixable, resellable, or reartable (these are the names of his sorting piles).  The rest we tip.

This year there was tonnes; the locals had really outdone themselves.  French and I went up to help him.  As a teen I hated to handle this smelly mess, but French finds it very cathartic.  He grabs a bag and absolutely heaves it.  Then he'll grab something else and smash it to bits by whipping into a tree a the bottom of the pit.  Usually, he aims for something that will shatter, smash and make the biggest noise.

Every year this becomes a contest.  Who can throw the furthest? Or who can lift the biggest piece of junk and chuck it down the pit?  French always wins.  He usually waits to the final round and lobs a dryer or other big appliance with a huge stream of curses.  It took all three of us to hurl an ancient freezer chest into the depths.

By the end we are all sweat matted and totally spent.  Rose came by shaking her head at us "crazy men".  Bruce Fish thanked us with a few icy lagers.  A fine day of dump therapy.

Monday 28 March 2011

Graven at the Elmdale Tavern

This is a little video that French and I made.  The Graven boys had a little show down at the Elmdale Tavern.  French's girlfriend bought him a Flip cam.  It is a little HD video camera the size of a cell phone.  I have a black one.  French's is pink.  Pancake was riding French all night about that one. 

Things didn't go south; even with all the cracks about the pink cam.  French was enjoying the tasty Beau's Beer that was on tap.  That does help to keep one's spirits up.  We shot a bit of footage and we hammered it out during lunch.  Bit of quick edit, but the gig was just last night - check 'er out.

French has missed a few of Graven's local gigs; so I'm glad he caught the show.

Monday 21 March 2011

Rum and Coke

I'm just coming off a nice March break.  Maybe a little too nice.  It is hard to get around the garage...too many empties.  Beau's Beer came out with a delicious seasonal called Beaver River I.P. eh.  That tasty India Pale Ale accounts for some of the empties.  Nowadays I have to keep myself in check when I'm having a few cold ones. Back in my more party oriented days we had a signal that we had imbibed too many.  When rum and cokes came in to play we agreed to pack it in.

If someone started drinking this mix we just knew something bad was about to happen.  Rum and cokes for us equalled:  broken noses, and broken hearts.   Once French made out with Mean Dean's girlfriend at a party.  I came upstairs and saw French and a girl called Buffy-Jo really going at it.  All the while French was drinking and spilling a rum and coke.

I had to head Mean Dean off at the stairs and and then I sent Buffy-Jo one way and then stumble walked French the other way; back to his shed.  A fight between these two heavy hitters would have wrecked the whole house

Bloody rum and coke.  It was always like that.  Pancake came up with the rule.  It was a good rule and I'm sure it kept us outta trouble. 

Then again, pretty much every night back then ended with Pancake buying a whole tray: "one for each of  yahs and couple more for the ladies."

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Of Short Hauls and Long

I was asked recently if I'd ever lived an adventure?  Who hasn't eh?  Taking a couple of rides with Pancake's dad in his rig comes pretty close.

Sometimes Pancake would have a "tricky back".  He'd limp around holding his lower back and screwing up his face. His back would get real tricky if his father asked him to come along on a haul.  I'd get to replace him; for me it was a treat.  Pancake's dad would swing by in his rig, hold his box of cassettes out the window and ask me if I could help him make a delivery.

Pancake's dad did a few little short hauls of food, but he also did some longer trips as well. 

The short hauls were fun because he new everybody.  You'd meet some real characters at 3 am in a grocery story loading bay.  Once we pulled up and four guys were singing "we are the walrus you are the egg man koo koo ka choo".  They sang it over and over again as they unloaded eggs.  One guy was singing it through the store's PA system.  They sang that every night when the actual egg man pulled up. 

The best part was the challenge.  Pancake's dad would challenge me to play any song and he meant any song, and he would name it and give you the artist to boot.  Bruce Fish would try to help.  He found this case in the dump and gave it to me for a trip down to Toronto. 

I'd bring my tape case as well.  We once drove to Sudbury and back and he got 174 in a row.  I'd be amazed, but he said  "it is no trick, just 25 years a driving truck".

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Skipping School With Pink Floyd

Lotta talk about skipping, and ditching at school these days.  Whadya do with 'em?  Why do kids skip?  What gives?  Kids are changing.  Teens are different today..the usual staffroom banter.

French and I laugh it off.  We once skipped due to Pink Floyd.  Try writing that down as an excuse.

We were standing around at lunch once when I was in grade 10; and I made a pretty dumbass, or at least naive comment.  The lads were talking about Pink Floyd the Wall.  I said: "who is Pink Floyd?  (At that point I was into Skid Row, Whitesnake, Cinderella et al. )  French scowled at me and said "you better be kidding".  I thought Sweaty was gonna smack me.  I wasn't just playing dumb.  The only classic rock I listened to was Led Zeppelin. 

French insisted that we ditch school and remedy this travesty.  Sweaty came along; he kept trying to kick me in the ass on the walk to French's shed.

He got out his box of tapes and pulled out a double cassette.  It was really beat up.  French slid it into his ghetto blaster and cranked it.  We listened to the whole album.  Then he made me listen to it again; just to be sure my lesson stuck.

Great album, and it sure beat the hell outta Math and Geography.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Pancake and the Early Morning Coffee Club

Back in school we had an club: the Early Morning Coffee Club.  We'd always get to school early because French would offer us a little drop of rye in our coffee in the wee am.  First, we'd swing by the caf, and order "a  cuppa joe".  We'd always say this is a very big over emphasized Lanark county accent.  The caf-lady did not like us; she looked slightly horrified everyday when we placed our order.  Then it was off to French's locker; he would top us up.  We'd stroll back to the caf and chat and sip this fine hot beverage.

On just such a day Pancake got his name.

Later the special coffee was done and we were bored.  French was silent.  Sweaty kept saying this girl or the other was hot, Bruce Fish played solitaire, Jimmy (the future Pancake) was hungry, I listened to the lads and observed a long line forming.  There was a group of teachers and  board of education bureaucrats at the school for a big conference, and pancake breakfast.  The smell was driving Jimmy crazy.

Jimmy said: "Fuck if I couldn't go for some a them fucking pancakes".

The line moved along a bit.

Jimmy said: "Ima fucking serious, I fucking love pancakes".

I said: "Go get some bud".  French sat up, laughed, and said: "Yeah Jimmy, go snag a stack".

Jimmy replied: "I fucking will".

He did.

Jimmy got in line.  Waited.  Moved  along.  Some of the bureaucrats looked at him quizzically, but he just smiled back, and kept hold of his tray.  Our old caf-lady looked really horrified.  She gave him two.  Jimmy gestured for more.  He came back with a huge stack, maple syrup, butter and seven sausages.

Bruce Fish said: "Hey Pancake can I have one a them sausages?"

Monday 21 February 2011

Last One in First One Out

The seniority list came out this week at school.  I'm up there; pretty safe from any forthcoming cuts.  French  is dead last on the list.  He read it over and said:  "last one in, first one out...whadya gonna do?"

He continued:  "Bureaucracy can be such a bitch".  French then went into the paint room in the auto shop and had a smoke.

To bad that job cuts weren't based on quality.  French is a great teacher.  Funny how the best teachers are often the ones that had a few struggles back in high school.  Right?

The best example of French's teaching ability was this fall when he got called in to cover a class of grade ten boys gym.  There was no plan, no class list...just 31 bored 15 year olds.  He told them to change and meet him on the back field.  French was waiting for them with a bow and a quiver of arrows. 

The boys all gathered around.  He'd show them an arrow, tell them the point value of that particular arrow, then fire it into some long grass and cattails by the soccer field.  He then told them there was a bonus hidden arrow.  All 31 boys took off into the grass; whooping and hollering.  A real Lord of the Flies situation.

Probably the best gym class those boys ever had; even if they never found the "bonus arrow".

Thursday 10 February 2011

looking into French's notebook

I read a page of French's notebook this morning.  It revealed an untold story of French and Bruce Fish; buried deep amidst the lyrics, poems and sketches.  I witnessed some of  this, but this one page showed another layer to the events.

The only money that Bruce Fish had in high school was from selling golf balls back to the Forest View Country Club.  This income source dried up, so things were really tight over the winter.  He showed up at school one really cold day with only a ragged windbreaker.  Bruce Fish was freezing after school and his bus was late.  A couple of bullies were harassing him and teasing him about his jacket.  Bruce Fish kept saying "I'm impervious to the cold - hell no it ain't even cold".  They then started to get on him about this..."There is the super human Bruce Fish".  They all scattered when French arrived to catch the same bus.

Bruce Fish put on a brave face, but he was suffering.

In the notebook there was a little scheme laid out.  French had a tally, in ledger form, that held an account of how many contraband cigarettes he had to sell to buy a winter jacket for Bruce Fish.  French sold 94 Ziploc bags of Benson and Hedges.

I remember wondering were Bruce Fish got that fancy Sun Ice ski jacket.

Also posted to Thursday's Tales:

Monday 7 February 2011

garage band

French, and Sweaty have played music their whole lives.  I've heard them both say: "don't remember when I didn't know a C chord".  Pancake is another natural.  He picked up guitar and drums in a matter of months.  Bruce Fish rounded out the gang because he had the most records and tapes.  All old - all a bit dump musty, but he had 'em.

The lads used to hand  me a spare guitar and teach me one chord, and a simple rhythm.  I never even had to move my fingers.  French would nod at me when to come in and nod again to stop.  I, in a very limited way, helped to fill out their sound when they jammed.

I finally bought a guitar of my own in second year of university.  Turned out I knew most chords, not by name, but by shape - from "jamming" with the boys back home.  I could watch people's hands when they played and replicate the movements.  Weird way to learn.

I've been playing ever since...barre chords, blues, power chords, open chords...still don't know the names.

This weekend French slapped  me on the back when we were jamming around the kitchen table, laughed,  and said:  "Dude it took yuh twenty years, but you're good enough to join our high school garage band".

Bruce Fish looked up from his National Geographic magazine and said: "Now all you need is a time-machine".


Wednesday 2 February 2011

Fancy Book Learning

One day I noticed that French wasn't at school.  He missed math and he was nowhere to be seen at lunch.  I thought he was skipping.  This was well before cells n'such so I small-town-walked over to his house and, sure enough, he was in his shed.

He let me in, but was a bit pissed off. French made it clear that I shouldn't bother him.  French laid down the rules:  I could stay and skip with him, but I had to read a book.  I laughed, (I was skipping English class) but he wasn't kidding.  Bruce Fish had found a large box of old books that had been thrown to the curb.  Bruce Fish had only kept one book: The Old Man and the Sea. French had unpacked the rest and set them up on a shelf made of milk crates, cinder blocks, and a coupla planks.

He was reading a huge book called Crime and Punishment.  I wasn't feeling that ambitious so I reluctantly picked one based on its thinness: Metamorphosis by some dude named Kafka.  I started to read the first page and said: "holy shit the guy turned into an 'effin bug".  French looked up from his cot and put his finger to his lips and shushed me.

I finished that novel that afternoon.