France , of course, has been in the news lately.
What this has done has brought back memories of my year in France. It was 1995-96 and it was a teaching exchange.

If it was a trip then it was my wife Brenda’s idea. We were living in Lindsay, Ontario at the time and had two sons, ages two and four. She probably brought up the idea while I was watching the Montreal Canadiens play hockey on the t.v., when I quickly agree to anything. I never want to miss a second of the action.
“I’ve been reading up on the possibility of overseas teaching exchanges. How would you like to live a year in France ?”
This was something that had to be stamped out immediately, lest any hope be allowed to fester.
“No way.” I was adamant. Montreal had just won a Stanley Cup the year before, the team was still strong, and I had dreams of attending the next parade as Lord Stanley’s celebratory march took its usual route through the streets of downtown Montreal.

But after a second’s reflection I didn’t want to seem totally dismissive. I knew Brenda and this idea would not disappear gently into the good night. I decided to throw her a bone.
“If you want to go on an exchange, I would consider Edmonton, Alberta. Al Veltman, who I coached soccer with, went there and thoroughly enjoyed it.”
I snickered to myself. I had worked twice previously in Canada’s oil kingdom, once on construction and another winter toiling for the Hudson’s Bay Company. I had often regaled her about the brutally cold weather in that area of the world and especially about the short winter days.
She said nothing but moved away from blocking the t.v. and I was left in peace. Another bullet dodged.

Two weeks later I was bouncing my two year old son Adam on my chest. Brenda must have figured that it was best to deliver the news while I was lying down.
“I just got a letter from the Ontario Teachers’ Exchange Society. They have a likely candidate for us in Nimes, France.”
Adam stopped bouncing. The universe must have sent him the vibe that I was about to explode.
“There’s no way. Jesus Christ.”
As usual my wife was not intimidated. “Nimes is in the south of France, just on the edge of Provence.”
Young as he was, Adam already knew who would win this encounter. Just the day before, as I was driving him home from daycare, I announced that he wouldn’t be able to watch his favourite show, ‘Dark -Winged Duck,’ as he had to go down for an early nap.
Adam was unimpressed. He took his thumb out of his mouth and voiced his rebuttal. “I’m going to tell Mum that you were trying to boss me around.”

Two months later all the plans were made. The French exchange family would trade jobs, homes and cars with us for the year. I asked, but wives were not included. We had been advised not to exchange cars by the Ontario Exchange Federation. “It never turns out well. For instance, there is usually a discrepancy in the value and the condition of the vehicles. If something major breaks down, who pays for it, for instance ?” Good point, but both sides figured there were enough logistics to iron out without having to buy a new car in a foreign country as well. An 850 c.c Honda scooter would also be available for me to take to school, leaving the Peugeot Cinq for Brenda and the kids. Brenda would not be teaching, leaving that pleasure up to me. The French couple’s names were Philippe and Annie and they had an eleven year old son named Bruno. I would be teaching English in a lycee, a technical high school, which included Grades 10, 11 and twelve and two years of college. The school specialized in electronics technology.
“Jeezus murphy. Will I be expected to teach that too?” I asked Brenda. “All I can do is change a lightbulb.”
We were packed up and ready to go on August 10, 1995. At least Brenda was excited. The boys, still aged two and four, didn’t really know what was going on. To be frank, neither did I.
“At least the winters in Provence should be milder than those ones in Edmonton,” I said to myself as I put the car in gear and started towards the Toronto Airport. (to be continued.)

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An Unexamined Life

In my last years of teaching some of my younger colleagues liked to call me the “the Old Dog.”
I liked to think it was because of whatever wisdom and experience I had gathered over my thirty-one year career, but more likely it was because of my propensity for falling asleep very easily, especially during staff meetings.
Since that time, I’ve never deluded myself that the advancing years bring a perspective that anyone I know wants me to share with them.
I’m out of step with the times. I still eat white bread, Big Macs and french fries.

I’m not one to listen to tales of woe and I’m even worse for giving advice. Occasionally, very occasionally, my wife or daughter seeks me out to provide a listening ear. My wife does it more than my daughter.
It never ends well.

Too many days showing World War I battleground videos to my Grade 10 History classes. What it comes down to is that I have no sympathy for anyone who wasn’t gunned down and permanently maimed while running across the muddy swamps of No Man’s Land into a barrage of machine gun fire. Today’s problems, whether it’s dealing with a colleague who’s off their meds or an unsympathetic classroom teacher, seem to pale in comparison. So don’t take any marital advice from me. After most of our conversations my wife is ready to take the axe to me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve never undergone great suffering myself. The worst discomfort I’ve ever felt is freezing my feet while playing outdoor shinny hockey in -30 Fahrenheit weather. After a couple of hours of that I’d run home and roll on the living room rug, rubbing my thawing feet and screaming. My father would be in his favourite chair, reading the Montreal Star, having a beer and smoking a cigarette. He’d briefly look over at my misery, inhale deeply and then exhale in an exasperated manner. Then he’d snap his newspaper. It was all to let me know that enough was enough. It would all end when my mother called everyone into the kitchen for supper.

So don’t blame me for my tin-eared, awkward, useless, non-advice. It’s a combination of nature and nurture. I’ve learned that from keeping up with all the media reports on the latest psychological studies. I’m probably suffering from one of the many new ailments that are being discovered every day and I’m just waiting for the proper medication.
So I’m mentally ill. At least that’s what I’ll tell my wife.

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Knee- Capped

You’ve gotta love those military guys : plain-spoken, politically-incorrect, no bullshit. I’ve been playing hockey with a smattering of members of our armed forces for a few years now. But this is the first time, every Monday afternoon, where I’m the only one in the dressing room who isn’t formally signed up to protect our home and native land.

I was just bending down to untie my skates when one of the younger members of the group asked a question of our organizer:
“Is the old gentleman gonna play with us all year ?”

Ah, I thought. How very Canadian. Even the comments that sting are delivered with a polite overtone. An insult with just the right amount of respect. As Henry David Thoreau observed, time stands still for no man. (Ladies, I’ve always admired older women; it’s just that there’s not as many of them as there used to be.) But the reminders of the passing years are not just apparent when I look in the mirror every morning these days; it’s also there when I glance out the window. The fall season is bittersweet. The leaves are only beautiful for a short time until they are past their peak, falling to earth and becoming mulch for a new generation of foliage. The calendar pages turn, the days get colder and the nights longer and for those who don’t like winter the outlook is bleak.

Which is why I have always avoided doctors. This is sometimes difficult to do because the block I live on is full of them. They seem to come in pairs; a lot of them are married to each other. I was walking my dog the other morning when one the specialists who live nearby greeted me. “It looks to me like you have osteo-arthritis.” I can never remember what speciality this particular physician possesses; they all sound alike to me. But he seemed quite confident in his dire diagnosis.

Which is why I’ve always avoided him and his ilk. Until now. I’ve made an appointment with a doctor four times in the past forty years and two of those times were to get my shots for overseas trips. Even though my oft-injured knees have hurt for the past twenty years I’ve managed to avoid doctors’ waiting rooms, those sacred sanctuaries in which the other inmates avoid eye-contact and read outdated magazines. To make matters worse, I had already prepped the good doctor with more evidence of bad news; my first- ever X-Ray had already been sent to his office. It was like handing the finger-printed murder weapon over to the prosecutor.

To me every member of the physician’s guild looks pre-occupied, harried and humourless. I guess working 120 hours a week as an intern is a contributing factor.

We nodded to each other and shared a perfunctory handshake. The Grim Reaper could not have looked more, well, grim.

The good doctor was too busy to butter me up with small talk and probably after one look at me he decided I didn’t have the time to waste anyway.
“The news is not good.”
I nodded. I was already picturing him wearing a hood, his scythe hanging over my head.
“You’ve got moderate-to-severe arthritis in one knee, severe in the other. Take a look.”

I glanced at the black and white evidence. I was never much of a science student, which is probably why I didn’t like those science-nerd types that got accepted into medical school. The photo looked to me like a shark’s open jaws, ready to bite into an unsuspecting surfer.

“What can I do about it ?” I asked. His answer echoed my neighbour’s pessimistic prognosis.
“Nothing. Arthroscopic surgery wouldn’t help, injections would only last a month or two, physiotherapy might help a very little bit.”

I gulped.

“Here you go.” He lifted two cumbersome braces onto the table between us. They looked a lot like what I remember Tiny Tim wearing in the 1930s version of the movie ‘Scrooge-A Christmas Carol.’ I could already picture myself moving with the agility of the Tin Man after Dorothy had misplaced his oil can.
“They’ll cost you $1400 each. Do you have insurance ?”

Avoiding such a fate is why I’m now almost addicted to turmeric, devil’s claw and shark cartilage. (Package disclaimer – Shark bones/cartilage was a previously thrown away by-product of the food industry. No sharks are caught for their cartilage. Don’t let any activist confuse you.)

So if you see an old gentleman hobbling by don’t stop and introduce yourself. You’ll only listen to another pensioner’s long tale of woe. Before you know it I’ll be introducing myself along the lines of.. “Hi, I’m David Perras and I’m gluten-free.”

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My Most Unforgettable Character

Back in the day the Reader’s Digest regularly featured an article written by a luminary figure who recounted their memories of a very prominent, usually an American, icon. Examples of the ‘character’ might be the famous writer Ernest Hemingway, the legendary New York City tough-guy cop Johnny Broderick or the C.E.O. Bernard Gimbel of the famous Gimbels Department Stores.
My Most Unforgettable Character was not rich nor famous nor even an American and whose name never made the news except for his death notice in the Sherbrooke Record in December of 1983. But he had a profound influence on me whether he was recounting stories about unfaithful farm wives during the two world wars, showing me the best places to hook speckled trout in the nearby creeks or spitting an endless stream of tobacco juice into the empty milk carton that he used as a spittoon. He grew up on a rock-strewn farm in between Lachute and St. Jerome, Quebec, ten kilometres from Morin Heights. This farming hamlet, named Mille Isles, was so small that I’ve since met inhabitants owning cottages nearby who have never heard of it. The isolation of the vicinity, however, pleased him so much that after briefly working as a carpenter in Montreal as a young man he bought a farm in an even more obscure, remote area; another hamlet that was twenty five miles east of Sherbrooke deep in the hills of the Eastern Townships named Island Brook. No one has ever heard of it either, so I explain that it is about twenty-five miles from each of the Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire borders, and that same distance from the now well-known town of Lac Megantic. That’s about forty- one kilometres to you young-whippersnappers who might not know what I’m talking about. His grandfather sailed to Canada in the midst of the Irish Potato Famine and his uncle was born on board the ship. He always told me that the English who made the decisions in Quebec at that time didn’t like the Irish and so gave them the un-farmable land north of Montreal in the Laurentians. He comes from another time and place and belongs to a Canada that doesn’t exist anymore. That was a place of one hundred acre farms, men who hunted and fished on their own land, women who made every meal from scratch and also helped out in the hay fields and neighbours who not only knew each other but also visited every night, played cards and then laid out refreshments for the whole group. His name was William John Dawson but he was universally known as Jack, but I called him Grandpa.

It may be hard to believe for those of you that know me, but I was young once. I can never remember my grandfather as being anything other than what I considered to be an old man. After all, he was born in 1889 and was sixty-seven years old in 1956, the year of my birth. He had once been just a shade under six feet tall with hair so thick and dark that he had been nicknamed ‘Black Jack.’ (No offence intended !) But I remember him as slightly stooped and also bald, but he could pitch hay, and later on bales of hay, all day long. There had been no organized sports in the late 1800s when he had had been a youth, but he still had two pairs of boxing gloves filled with horsehair with which he, his brother and their friends regularly boxed. They were ripped and of course the horsehair was falling out, but my brothers and I used them to pound each other into what we hoped was oblivion. There were no Neighbourhood Watch groups or politically-correct, overly-protective neighbors to report us. In fact the nearest neighbor was almost a half-kilometer away. We were always too busy to notice.

Despite the fact that he had never lived regularly in any area that had more than a small number of locals, he wasn’t going to be content just marrying some local-yokel. A visiting schoolteacher from Hudson, Quebec, caught his eye when she took over the local educational institution and my grandfather dated her all that first year. He later went to visit her in the summer in her hometown and when he got off the train he asked the first bystander he saw how to get to the Wilson family’s farm. “Which one ?” asked the local. “There are two. One has a family with nine girls.”
“That’s the one I want to go to,” replied my grandfather.
The habit of marrying out of the local gene pool was passed onto his two children. His son married the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants who had settled in Montreal and his daughter, my mother, married a French-Canadian raised in the slums of St. Henri in downtown Montreal. The man who became my father had lost both his parents by the age of six and had been raised both in an orphanage and by relatives. I asked my grandfather once what he thought when he found out that his only daughter was going to marry a Frenchman.
He reached down to the floor where he kept his milk carton/spittoon. “No comment,” he said, but he was smiling as he said it.

My grandmother wanted to move the family to Detroit in the Roaring Twenties, as so many of their hardscrabble neighbours were doing. But working in a factory never held any appeal, even if Henry Ford was paying an exorbitant five dollars a day. Being your own man and doing things your own way was the only way to live and although Grandpa had long since put his homemade still out of business by the time I reached adulthood he still kept its remnants in a place of honour.

When he was almost eighty he used the sizable creek behind his barn to fashion a huge pond which he always kept stocked with trout. We spent a lot of time down there together and I would always fry up our catch for dinner, followed by one of the three pies that he could get at the local grocer for the exorbitant price of one dollar. Neither one of us worried about our cholesterol.

A bad case of pneumonia seemed to knock the stuffing out of him in his ninety-fifth year. We would sit in his kitchen in two rocking chairs with his latest dog in between us, a faithful canine that I had found as a puppy wandering in the wounds and which bore an uncanny resemblance to a coyote. He would still be chewing his tobacco and I loved smoking those rum-flavoured little Colt cigars which were the style at the time. “I don’t want end up in an old folks’ home,” he would tell me. “Some call them an old folks’ home, but I call them an old folks’prison.”

He never had to. We buried him on December 5th, 1983 on a freezing cold day. I left early, before the casket was covered. I couldn’t stand watching what I felt was the end of two eras, his life here and my life with him. But I know he died happy.

He never had to spend one day of his life in either a factory or an “old folks home.”

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Canadian Open (Part Deux)

I had never refused a freebie in my life, and I wasn’t about to start now, on my,um, final stretch. Back in the buffet line for a second go-round I found myself elbow-to-elbow with Jason Day, the Aussie golfer and eventual winner of the Canadian Open. I desperately wanted to say something witty, or at least look partially cool.
“Good day, eh ?” I stammered.
Really, that’s the best I could do.
To his credit Day, apparently a friendly and down-to-earth Aussie, looked briefly in my direction and nodded. Who could blame him for finding the roast beef more interesting ?

It was a hot day and I felt like Chester,the old deputy from the 1960s western ‘Gunsmoke’ as I limped after Richard, who was intent on following Jason Day, Bubba Watson or the Canadian who led most of the way before losing at the end, David Hearn. Chester had a limp, and in 1962 my grandfather called him a cripple. Fifty three years later I refer to myself and my chronic sore knee as ‘mildly disabled.’ I keep hoping that I’ll soon be able to put a sticker in my car window.

We had only the one day pass and a lot of the golfers were finishing up their round. “How far is it to Port Colborne and this hotel we’re staying at tonight?” I asked Richard.
“Actually, it’s a Bed and Breakfast”, Richard corrected me.
“A Bed and Breakfast?” That was a bit of a letdown. “Isn’t that for older married couples?”
“Don’t worry,” Richard replied. “It’s 2015. What? … Are you worried they’ll ask to see our wedding rings?”
My anxieties were not yet dissipated. “Port Colborne near St. Catherine’s… isn’t that where those two psychopaths, Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, did their raping and murdering?”
“That was Port Dalhousie,” corrected Richard. “That’s a ways away.” As a newsman and a near-local he had kept it straight. “He’s locked up for life now. And she’s down in the Caribbean somewhere, I heard.”
“Well, as long as it’s nowhere near the golf course.” I felt reassured as we climbed into the shuttle bus that would take us to our car in the Oakville parking lot. “How come you didn’t ask your old friend Muldoon to come ?”
Muldoon had worked with Richard for years as a colleague in the news business. They often golfed together. “Muldoon’s off golfing somewhere in the Maritimes.” He chuckled as he recalled a memory. “Did I ever tell you about the time we were at a black tie gala event on Parliament Hill when Muldoon and another guy came crashing out through the bathroom door, covered in blood and duking it out. I jumped in to try and break it up, as the other guy was a well-known real estate tycoon, but Muldoon was so incensed he just started throwing punches at me. It was a scene right out of Mission Impossible III, near the end of the movie, where Tom Cruise and Philip Seymour Hoffman come crashing through the door, intent on killing each other.”
It was hard for me to envision the likes of that happening today with ,say, Peter Mansbridge and Conrad Black crashing through bathroom doors in bloody tuxedos into the tables of the Prime Minister, respected journalists and wealthy fundraisers. “What did they do with Muldoon? Does that sort of stuff go on today ?”
“Naw…that was in the early ’80s. They just sent Muldoon away for a month, on full pay, to dry out. Nowadays they would have fired him.”

The sun had started to set by the time we pulled in to the B and B, located right on the golf course in Port Colborne and a mere seventy-five metre walk to Lake Erie. An older couple were being helped out of their car by the establishment’s proprietors. The man must have weighed three hundred pounds and his wife was a good match. They would end up sharing a bathroom in the hall with us. Richard and I nicknamed them ‘The Honeymooners.”

Before we ate supper there was some freshening up to do. Richard suggested a dip in Lake Erie.
“Wait a minute”, I objected. “Didn’t Lake Erie catch on fire in Cleveland at some point?”
“Yeah, well, that was in the 70s. It’s a lot cleaner now. Look, if it makes you feel better, I’ll text my son Jake in Toronto. He works for the Ministry of the Environment. He’ll have the latest update. But I’m going in. It’ll be refreshing.”
I didn’t want to be seen as a stick-in-mud. We received Jake’s return text soon enough, but just as we were toweling ourselves off after our dip.
Like most text messages, of course, it was brief.
“It’s been nice knowin’ ya !

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Canadian Open

The summer had been, well, uneventful. Our yard had been ripped up, stonework had been laid down, and our vacation budget was shot to hell. Then a friend of mine, a recently-retired news correspondent, gave me a call.
“What are you doing for the next few days,” Richard inquired.
“I, uh….” I didn’t want to admit it, but probably a lot of grocery-shopping, dog-walking and verandah-sitting. Plus trying to avoid the omnipresent chore-list, with which my wife waved in my face and chased me around the house, blackening my mood for hours at a time. We hadn’t been invited to many Glebe parties ever since I mentioned, at the last one we attended, that I was looking forward to the day that midget wrestling made a comeback.
“Never mind what you’ll be doing, anyway,” Richard interrupted. The former newsman in him was used to pursuing his agenda aggressively. “I bid on a golf package at a silent-auction fundraiser I was at. I won. I dunno… maybe I was the only one who bid. Anyway, what happens is that we’ll have one day at the Canadian Open. I know a vice-president at the Royal Bank of Canada that sponsors the event. Maybe she’ll get us V.I.P. passes and we’ll eat in the diningroom/clubhouse for free and we’ll get some swag, too.” Richard, ever the schmoozer, knew how to play the game. Way better than I did, anyway.

My ears perked up. With this kind of incentive it would be worth the effort of convincing my wife that I should be sprung from the work camp for the next few days. “When do we leave?” I asked. “Tomorrow ?”
“The next day.” But the retired newsman who had always pulled down a good salary but now collected only a meager pension from the huge broadcasting company, was ever practical. “The event I bid on includes thirty-six holes of golf with a cart on a course in Port Colborne, as well as two nights in a bed-and-breakfast. You can pay for the first night’s hotel in Oakville, near the Glen Abbey course where the Canadian Open takes place.” To soften the blow of not offering a complete freebie he added, “We can take my car.” He paused for a second, perhaps re-considering his generosity. “You can pay for half the gas.”

It was still a good deal. Although golf was not my passion, I had played a lot in my youth, and then not much for the past thirty years. It was hard to hide that fact with the evidence being my inconsistent game. My older golf clubs could have been used by Ben Hogan or Sam Snead, both of whom won tournaments in the 1930s.
And Richard was not yet finished. “See if you can replace that golf bag you have. It looks like you bought it at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.”

The drive to Oakville was as quiet as the first night was not. Richard and I were awakened at 12:30 a.m. by loud screams of anguish that sounded like they were coming from the next room. Richard was up and out the door before the piercing cries had subsided. “What in hell’s name is all the yowling about?” he demanded.
“I’m sorry,” came the reply from a woman’s voice in an obvious American accent. My son got his hand caught in the door when it was closing.”
“Yeah, well, what’s he doing up at this hour?” Richard retorted. He had not charged out of a comfortable bed in order to be easily placated. His point made, he barged back into our room. His years working abroad had seemingly not furnished him with much sympathy for a newcomer’s unfamiliarity with an alien country’s cultural mores. “These people bring all their bad habits into this country.”

The lack of sleep did not dampen our enthusiasm the next day as we made our way between holes at the Glen Abbey Canadian Open. The course had been designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus and I couldn’t help compare it to the cow pasture-like course in Quebec’s Eastern Townships where I had first started knocking around the dented golf balls that I had found in the woods. We were both wearing the V.I.P. passes that enabled us to bypass lineups and even worm our way into the dining room. A middle-aged woman working at the event squinted at me as I came through the door.
“Excuse me, sir,” she inquired politely. “Are you an ex-NHL hockey player?”
My chest swelled slightly as the filing cards in my head briskly considered many possible replies. Could I come up with a name of an ex-player who might resemble me slightly ? Should I smile indulgently and mumble something about that being many decades ago and I was flatted she remembered. Or should I admit that no, I was just a retired schoolteacher.
I couldn’t come up with a name quickly enough to avoid suspicion. I had to come clean. “Uh… no. ” But I had to claim some notoriety. “But I do play a lot of Old-Timers’ hockey.”

I found Roger digging into both the steak and the roast beef that was being served up to both the professional golfers and those wealthy or like me, lucky enough to wangle the free pass.
“I’m kind of a big deal,” I said to Richard. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Richard could only give me a sidelong glance as he rose to help himself again to the free buffet.
To Be Continued.

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“He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.”
-Rafael Sabatini from the novel ‘Scaramouche’

“All you’ll hear is a few seconds of a CBC radio station when you’re at the top of a hill and then it disappears quickly as you go down,” Liz’s brother-in-law Chris informed us as he blew cigarette smoke in my general direction. It was 1979 and Chris was an aging hippie, wanderer and electrician, in that order. He’d been out to Alberta once, which made him a self-proclaimed expert. That was the first bit of cross-Canada travel advice that we received. The second was to carry a bell with us while we were sleeping outside. The bell was supposed to scare away bears. I can’t remember where we heard that one. We’d probably be sleeping outside some of the time because we had just finished the school year and had no money. We were planning on striking it rich in Calgary.

Liz’s friend Cindy astonished me outside of North Bay when her bill of $5.50 came in for the hamburger and fries that she had devoured. She promptly informed the waitress that it was only worth $3.50 and that was all she would be paying. I left my payment on the table and as we said in Trois-Rivieres “fiche le camp.” (That means “got the hell out of there” to you anglophones.) Liz had also paid up and joined me outside the car in the cold spring North Bay air. She seemed nonplussed by the situation, as if it was nothing new.
“What the hell is going on with your friend,” I demanded. “Is she insane?”
Liz found the whole situation amusing. “Cindy spent a year-and-a-half in Africa before going to Trois-Rivieres and got used to the whole haggling thing. So now she tries it whenever she can. You’d be surprised how often it works.”
It didn’t work for me. “Jeezus Murphy. Tell her this isn’t Nigeria. I don’t want to spend the summer in a jail cell in Wawa.”

They say that you really don’t know someone until you travel with them. By the time we rolled under the railway trestle approaching Sault Ste. Marie that had been decorated with the claim that “This is Indian land” I was ready to scrap this whole trip nonsense and take my chances on the local reserve. We did find a hole-in-the-wall motel and I decided that I needed some freshening up at the bar across the street. I hoped that Cindy didn’t join me. I didn’t want to be there when she informed the bar owner and bouncer that the beer they had just served her was only worth fifty cents.

To this day I have never come across a better bar band. The lead singer could belt out The Rolling Stones and Billy Idol as well as the real McCoy even though the guitar he wore around his neck was just for decoration. I was joined at my table by a couple of young drug dealers who when I informed them I didn’t partake turned out to be better company than what I had spent the past couple of days with. One of the young fellows was in an especially upbeat mood. Turns out he had just been in court because of a misunderstanding about his livelihood of choice and all that he had received was a $50.00 fine in exchange for a promise that he wouldn’t do it again.

Wawa, Thunder Bay, Dryden. I had never been to Europe but what still stays with me to this day is the vast emptiness of our land. All those pages I had suffered through in my Canadian Lit courses in Cegep now made some sense, even if it didn’t make the reading any more interesting. By the time we reached Winnipeg I was ready to look at something other than trees, rocks and lakes and eat something other than greasy fries and burgers. Even if I was loath to admit it my system needed a salad. We decided to treat ourselves at The Keg.

I’ve run into some interesting characters down through the years and lost track of almost all of them. We were finishing up our coffee and I was eavesdropping into the conversation at the table beside us. The two guys finishing up their meal knew what was going on and didn’t take offence because like Rod Stewart with Maggie May I laughed at all of their jokes. They appreciated my good taste and invited me to pull up my chair alongside theirs’. One was a Metis and the other was an American businessman from Calgary who was in town to sell ultra-light planes. They had met when they both lived in the Manitoba town with the interesting name of The Pas. When they realized what a charming fellow I was and one look at me confirmed the fact that I was not as well-heeled as they were, they provided me with a steady supply of Grand Marniers, and the American summed up his life story in one succinct paragraph.
“I was an American Vietnam War draft- dodger from the state of Maine who found a job teaching the British heritage to Canadian Indians in northern Manitoba. It’s then that I realized life is absurd.”
Damned if I still don’t often wonder what the guy is doing now !

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