Clay And Liston In The Kitchen

radio

My mother and I had this special time when we’d listen to the radio together in the kitchen. I miss that.

We listened to music and the news and even the odd earth-shattering thing, like that morning when we heard about four fellows in Liverpool who wore their hair down on their foreheads, and who could sometimes sing high notes like women. The announcer, on Orillia’s CFOR, then played a record, and suddenly the Beatles were now in our lives.

We listened to something else pretty darn big too. The two Cassius Clay – Sonny Liston fights, when Clay was young and over the top motor-mouthed, and who was probably going to be smashed to smithereens by the big, strong ex-con Liston.

Liston was mean, powerful, and the World Champ, and he looked like he’d done his share of dumping bodies into deep lakes. Clay was gonna be in big trouble, like the Russians would be in the 1972 Summit Series.

I suppose it was Howard Cosell telling us through the radio that Clay was quick, how he danced and confused the big thug, and we realized that the young fighter was basically putting his money where his mouth was. It was a huge surprise.

Just like that, the young fellow who bragged, “After the fight I’m gonna build myself a pretty home and use him (Liston) as a bearskin,” had skinned the big bear, like he said he would, in February of 1964, the same month the Beatles played the Ed Sullivan Show.

A year later, in the rematch, with mom and I back at the radio, Liston refused to come out of his corner in the first round after the phantom punch, when he may or may not have been tagged by Clay and which kept him in the corner, and which officially made the guy a bum and Clay a hero.

Two big fights, the legend of Cassius Clay/Muhammed Ali was born, and now it’s sad to hear of his passing. He was larger than life, a great boxer, a great man.

But it’s also bittersweet to hear this news. Because remembering the kitchen table with my mom and the radio makes me happy.

 

 

 

Toilet Door Pride

The next time you see metal toilet doors like the ones below, please keep in mind that Bruce Traviss and I used to put doors like these together, and we were good.

We were good and we were fast, and there were certain ways of doing things. Those things didn’t just assemble themselves you know.

We made those doors at an Orillia factory called Porcelain and Metal, and sometimes it was almost hard work.

But I wanted the best doors for you, because you were worth it. If you were alive then.

Hopefully modern day toilet door people show the same pride.

I was also motivated, because I was saving to go to England where I hoped to get a job making sure all the Beatles wives except Yoko were comfortable while the boys were in the studio.

What goes into toilet door making?

As the various parts of the doors came down the assembly line from the paint room, Bruce and I would spray the insides with black glue, attach a bunch of cardboard strips, fit the fittings, put it all together, and send it on its way. Then we’d do another and then another and then a whole bunch more.

We were so good at it that we had our night’s quota finished after a few hours and were able to smoke a lot and catch mice in barrels for the rest of our shift.

We always let the mice go of course. We liked the cute little bastards. I still like them and I hope Bruce does too.

I did this job for a year or so, saved my money, and in November of 1968 took the Empress of England ocean liner to England with another friend, Robin Metcalfe, where we stayed for much of the winter and spent my washroom door money on beer, fish and chips, rent, and a cool John Mayall show in a dingy club called Klook’s Kleek.

Hopefully the next time you feel like kicking a metal washroom door or writing terrible and sometimes funny things on it, please keep in mind that somebody out there worked hard putting your door together so you’ll have a comfortable and private stay as you empty your innards.

Always remember – buried inside those metal doors are a bunch of cardboard strips and a lot of black glue, which you can ponder as you sit.

And if the lock doesn’t work, it’s probably not the door assembler’s fault. Although it could be I guess, if the assembler isn’t as good as Bruce and I were.

Below, the Empress of England that Robin and I sailed on to England. My ticket was bought thanks to the doors.

Three Stories From Way Back

Three short stories on this April day as we enjoy all the Canadian teams in the playoffs.

Beef cattle, farm pond, Oklahoma

My friend and I (he doesn’t like me talking about him so I’ll just call him Fred), stuck out our thumbs in Vancouver back in the fall of 1969 and began to slowly make our way across the country to Orillia.

Late at night in Swift Current we hopped on a boxcar and rode for several hours until we saw the lights of Moose Jaw in the distance. We’d been warned that if yard security caught us we would end up in jail and that would’ve sucked, so we needed to jump off before the train reached the end.

As we began to slow down, Fred said we should jump and off he went, right into a cow pond that got him drenched from head to toe and smelling like a sewage plant.

About twenty seconds later, the train came to a complete stop and I walked off.

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tooth

My friends and I used to drink Four Aces sherry (95 cents) and other such marvels, down in the bush with the hobos. These old hobos would sit in their clearing deep in the forest, grumbling and cursing but not really talking a lot, with their campfire burning and bottles emptying, and we’d join them because it was safe as we were usually underage at that time.

After guzzling my Four Aces on one of these visits, I threw up and staggered out of Hobo Jungle, but minutes later realized that I’d lost my false tooth and plate. So I staggered back through the bush in complete darkness, and somewhere along the line put my hand down on the ground.

Although I couldn’t see a thing and was blind drunk, my hand landed right on my false tooth.

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school-trip-1-638

In grade ten my school organized a class trip to Ottawa, but students had to have half-decent marks to qualify.

I didn’t qualify.

But I really wanted to go on the class trip, so I rounded up my friend Craig Ortiz and we hitchhiked there instead.

At the start, just outside of Orillia, we hid in the ditch as the school buses with all those students who were smarter than me passed us, but because we were lucky with rides, we beat those buses to Ottawa. At the Lord Elgin Hotel, where they were checking in, we surprised everyone and were allowed by the teachers to sleep on the floor of someone’s room.

It was good fun I think, but hitchhiking back sucked and Craig and I ended up at the Lindsay police station where we asked a cop if we could sleep in a cell that night because it was freezing cold, and he obliged.

Back at school, Craig and I were each given a month’s detention.

 

 

The Dream Is Dead

About this year’s Montreal Canadiens?

I don’t wanna be stick boy anymore.

My idea of doing just that for one game only, thought up when I was a kid and kept alive all these years because I’m an idiot, is now dead. This team doesn’t deserve my stick boy skills.

I don’t want to ride around as a passenger on the Zamboni or be a flag boy anymore either, regardless of the fact that these things seem to be reserved for kids.  I always thought the kid thing was unfair and a slap in the face to old bastards like me.

Molson beer sucks, although it’s neither here nor there because I’ve given up drinking. But if I still drank, it wouldn’t be Molson. If I walked in to a bar and they only served Molson, I say gimme some prune juice, it’ll do the same job.

The Bell Centre sucks too, and I wouldn’t care if it sank into one of Montreal’s medium size sinkholes. There’s no memories there, maybe just the 2010 postseason, and it happened mainly because of a Slovak goaltender named Jaroslav Halak.

The Bell rocked that spring. But so would’ve the parking lot of Mundell’s Funeral Home in Orillia if the games were played there.

I’d like to say I wouldn’t care if it burned to the ground but concrete doesn’t burn well. And I’d hate to see Jean Beliveau’s old seat get torched.

And people say, oh, the wonderful Bell Centre, soaked in atmosphere! We’re looking at an ordinary rink like all the other ordinary rinks in the league, where fans for the most part sit on their hands, empty their wallets, and put up with music so loud that people in Europe shut their windows.

Have you been to the Bell Centre? If you have, you’ve probably noticed all the old photographs lining the walls in the corridors.

Guess what, kids. Those pictures are cheap photocopies. The originals, hung with pride at the mighty Forum, were auctioned off to collectors with deep pockets. There’s even some originals left if you’re interested. Big beauties sold by Classic Auctions, ready to be hung in man caves instead of the Bell Centre where they belong.

Ownership was too freaking cheap to use the originals from the Forum. Another kick in the groin to passionate fans.

Management of course sucks. Coach Michel Therrien needs to steal a propaganda poster from a North Korean hotel, and the only thing I can think of that Marc Bergevin has done well was buy out Scott Gomez.

I was proud of Bergevin that day. But you or I could’ve bought out Scott Gomez with Molson money too, so it’s not that big a deal I guess.

And I know I’ve shown the letter below a half dozen times or so, but it’s sort of related to the story and maybe some of you haven’t seen it. So I’m just going ahead and posting it because I don’t care.

And this was centre ice at the Forum, before the league mandated that all centre ice circles have the rink name wrapped around the circle to remind us where we are in case we forget.

Forum above

Below, a smaller Montreal sinkhole.

hi-Montreal-sinkhole-852

 

 

Hollies At Hidden Valley

My sister Kerry was very good to me when she worked as a copywriter at radio station CFOR in Orillia. And I’d been such an arse as a little brother when we were kids.

Not only did she arrange for me to go down to Toronto with a local disc jockey to see the Beatles in 1966, but she also got me to make a list of record albums I wanted and included them on the radio station order form. I got them for a buck each.

I scored dozens of albums this way, but in the end I traded them for a second hand 80cc Suzuki motorcycle which died a quick death not long after.

Regrets? I’ve had a few. Like that trade.

But she did one other thing too that I’m also grateful for. She gave me a ticket to see the Hollies in the spring of 1967 at Hidden Valley ski resort, just outside of Huntsville, Ont.

Were the Hollies good? They were way beyond good. Mind blowing three-part harmony with slick guitars and drums. With catchy tunes like Bus Stop, which was recorded less than a year before.

Tight as can be, those Hollies.

Tighter than Anna Pavlova’s leotards on Luciano Pavarotti.

I’d seen a lot of bands at the Club Pav in Orillia, bands that made a serious mark in Canada and beyond, like the Ugly Ducklings, Mandala, David Clayton Thomas and the Shays, the Paupers, Little Caesar and the Consuls, A Stitch in Tyme, the Staccatos, and a whack of others.

Great bands. Fantastic bands. Not to be messed with, these bands. World class.

But the Hollies….hot damn!

Graham Nash, who would eventually leave to become part of Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and Young), wore a black priest’s robe on this night.

And Nash wasn’t even the band’s best singer. Frontman Allan Clarke was.

I was in the front row of a very small place, about fifteen feet from the stage, and one of my favourite British Invasion bands were singin’ and playin’ up a storm.

You had to be there. Like me!

I saw other bands at Hidden Valley. The Young Rascals, the Association, the McCoys, BJ Thomas, and the Left Banke for example.

But it was the Hollies that took it to another level.

Thanks Kerry.

Postscript:

I used to hitchhike to these shows, usually by myself, with Huntsville only an hour or so north of Orillia.

And if you think hitchhiking was innocent back in the ’60s as people like to say now, I can tell you that on one of these trips to Hidden Valley, a man picked me up and started masturbating behind the wheel as we drove along the highway.

And when I told him to stop the car and let me out, he did right away and without saying a word, as if nothing was out of the ordinary, and then drove off into the sunset.

Hollies

 

 

Quarry Night

The Habs allowed three shorthanded goals during their tiresome 5-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night, and I don’t want to talk about it.

How about a historic acid party at a limestone quarry outside of Orillia in the late-1960s instead?

A party where we climbed the flat sides of the place in the dark with water and rocks 50 feet below, whoopin’ and hollerin’, with brains soaked with mind-bending chemicals, probably never considering even once that we could kill ourselves.

It was a grand party, just me and the rest of The Boys, doing what we did best. Partying. In fact, we were such good partiers that some teenagers in town weren’t crazy about us showing up at their doorsteps. Something about them trying to keep their parents’ house nice.

A few didn’t mind, I guess. At least I like to think so.

Yes, the quarry party was a beauty, taken to a new level when we saw the lights of cars coming in, cars filled with people a few years older than us, who had brought their own drugs and music, and we all bonded in a fuzzy sort of way.

I won’t go into too many details. There was that time when one of my friends saw a guy wander off, and when he came back, my buddy checked where he’d been and found a bag of pills that we all shared when the older bunch weren’t looking.

A couple of us sat in the back of an older guy’s convertible and listened to the first (and newly-released) Led Zeppelin album on his fancy 8-track car stereo, and after about the third listening, the guy yanked the tape out and we swore mightily.

We calmed down when he inserted Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, also a new release, and I fell in love with that album so much that when someone asked me if I wanted to go to town with them to get some MDA, I said no, Bob Dylan’s bringing me my MDA.

And just recently I found out from one of my buddies that a girl there that night with the older guys, the girl with the cowboy hat, was Cathy Evelyn Smith, who later on would serve time in California for injecting drugs into actor John Belushi, which killed him.

Me and the other Boys still talk about the quarry from time to time. And years after the fact, I entered a contest at CHEZ 106 in Ottawa, with a free CD of the choosing to those with good stories about the 1960s.

I told the quarry story, and they sent me Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline.

One final note; that quarry was where the limestone came from to build the old Catholic church in Orillia. The church where I was an altar boy. And where, as an altar boy, I set myself on fire lighting candles.

And when I look closely at my picture below, I sure have a long finger.

altar boy

me (2)

 

 

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