In early 1972 I was a dazed and confused 21-year old living with a few friends and strangers in a rented house on Edith St. in Toronto. It was a fine party house, where we got our kicks from drinking wine, cranking up the music, and making immature wisecracks to the couple in the nearby bedroom who just wanted be alone.
It was also a serious dead end. I was a high school dropout with a pathetic grade 10 education, with no car, no girlfriend, no money, and no future. I had pretty well nothing, except for maybe a cool jean jacket and several face pimples.
One day, while walking along Bloor St., I saw a sign in a window that read ‘Toronto Bartenders School’, and within a day or two I was enrolled and shaking, stirring, and pouring like crazy. It was almost like going to college. A two-week long college. One that accepted bums.
We learned how to make about a hundred and twenty different drinks and cocktails, which seemed ridiculous, but that was the course and I was in it to graduate. But there wasn’t a chance in hell I’d remember more than about twenty in the real world. There was a reason I was a dropout.
It was a couple of interesting weeks, though. Our teacher added egg whites to the coloured water so it would make a foam head on drinks, and he dazzled us with the way he would demonstrate, because he’d been a bartender for decades and we were raw rookies.
When the course ended, I was asked if I was interested in working at the Holiday Inn in Sudbury, where a job had just opened up. I said sure, and away I went. Just like that.
One moment I was down and out on Edith St., eating cereal for supper, and the next, off to a job up north where I wasn’t going to get dirty, and with drunken females all over the place!
In Sudbury I rented a room at the YMCA across the street from the Holiday Inn, and soon after reported for work at the two bars in the hotel – Dangerous Dan’s, a raunchy and incredibly busy hard rock joint, while on the other side of the wall was Flanagan’s, an Irish pub that featured lounge acts. I wore a red vest with sparkles, a white shirt, black tie, and black pants with a red stripe down the sides.
The first thing the bar manager had me do was pour two pints of beer from an automated push button draught dispenser, and I confidently grabbed two mugs, held them under the taps, pushed the buttons, and checked out the ladies. Several seconds later the manager bodychecked me and grabbed the glasses, because I had them upside down and beer was all over the place.
That fall the 1972 Canada-Russia Summit Series unfolded, and through some serious switching of shifts I was able to see all eight games on various TVs. I bought my first car at this time, a second-hand Toyota Corona, and on my first date with the lovely Joanne from Flanagan’s, we got in the car and the piece of shit wouldn’t start.
Joanne was magnificent, with a body to stop traffic, but she ended up living with the bar manager for some reason. I still have scars.
I was eventually fired from my job after a carload of buddies from Orillia came to visit me, rented a room in the hotel, and caused so much commotion that the hotel manager, who was Italian, showed up with security, knocked on the door, and when one of my buddies answered, he shouted “Holy &%^$, it’s the Mafia!” I happened to be in the room at the time, which the manager wasn’t crazy about.
Months later, after being forgiven, I was back at it, but not for long. The hotel chef and I suddenly quit, hopped in his car, and for whatever reason, drove to Vancouver.
I came back (to Orillia) in a year or so and was busted for possession of marijuana, but remembered what a fellow bartender and his wife had said while in Sudbury. They were moving back to Ottawa and told me that if I was ever there, I’d have a place to stay.
So right after my court appearance, where I was given a conditional discharge, I hopped on a bus to Ottawa, stayed with my friends for awhile, and eventually found a job and a wife, helped produce two kids, became a tractor trailer driver (which I ended up doing for a big part of my life), and stayed in the nation’s capital for 17 years before moving on.
It all seems so long ago.
I wonder how Joanne is doing.