Encounters With An Obituary

The young liquor store employee was earnestly marshalling his customers and repeating his instructions to each one. He looked eerily familiar.
“Did anyone ever tell you that you look like Charles Manson?” I inquired.
“No”, he replied curtly before launching once again into his required speech about no more than five customers in the store at once and maintaining proper physical distancing once inside. I was actually hoping that he had never heard of Charles Manson, the twisted mastermind behind the Tate-LaBianca murders in 1969 Hollywood. The whole chilling affair had been refreshed in my memory after watching the Quentin Tarantino production, “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” a few months ago.

I must say he handled my question well. Probably because of experience through meeting so many jerks while working with the public. My daughter, a summertime waitress, always enthralls me with her daily updates on rude and difficult customers. I shake my head and click my tongue sadly.

So there are a lot of us out there. My counsellor tells me it’s not my fault; it’s society’s fault. Who knows how poorly I would be faring in my daily interactions if I had not spent a lifetime reading and re-reading Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People.’

And if I can’t blame society, then there is always the coronavirus to blame for my cantankerous ways. That microscopic devil has given all of us too much free time to reminisce and let our minds wander. I don’t want to shock and abhor you with a lot of takes as to where my mind has gone. I’m just happy I made it back.

But without six hockey games to play a week, not to mention five or six trips to the gym, I do have a lot more time to ponder the meandering trail I have taken.

For instance, contrary to my blog’s nameplate of being a Grumpy Old Man, I was once a flaming socialist. And I was reminded of that fact when I read a full page obituary in April 11’s edition of the Globe and Mail newspaper. It featured Mel Watkins, “the backcountry Ontario farmboy who became Canada’s foremost socialist and nationalist intellectual of the past half-century…” He was also a professor of Political Economy at the University of Toronto when I had the privilege of interviewing him.

It was the spring of 1978 and I was struggling to get motivated and finish my thesis in Political Science at Bishop’s University in order to be able to graduate that spring. I can’t remember the exact title but it was about Canada’s economic history of being “hewers of wood and carriers of water”. My thesis was that we in this country are largely excavators of raw materials for huge multinational (mostly American) corporations who therefore control our economy and hence our political direction as well, keeping us in a subservient position. You know how you think when you’re a 21 year old Political Science student and you’re afraid of becoming just more grist for the American economic mill. Not to mention of soon having to go out and find a real job.

My thesis wasn’t going so well,probably because I had just blown out my knee in a game against McGill, been put in a full leg-length cast from my ankle to the top of my thigh, and subsequently spending most of my waking hours sitting around feeling sorry for myself and staring blankly into space. It was then that my brother came to my rescue, almost making up for a lifetime of both tormenting and tattling on me to our parents, by setting up an interview for me with Professor Mel Watkins in his office at the University of Toronto. It was arranged for the March break. Once there, I turned on my tape recorder and asked my questions. He was remarkably gracious and never let on what he must have really thought of my probably inadequately-researched, simplistic questions.

Which is not to say that I suddenly became an inspired intellectual. I still hadn’t written up my rough copy when I returned home in April near the end of the academic year, much to my mother’s bewildered chagrin. To show her I was not a totally listless, lazy loser I did go out and get a job digging trees at Sheridan Nurseries in Mississauga. She did, however, make me finish my thesis before I started work in order to graduate on time at the spring convocation. That was not my highest priority because I did love my time at Bishop’s and was not anxious to leave. Being ambitious and moving ahead in life has never been my trump card. But I did sit down and write my thesis. It took me almost the whole night. The next morning I sent it out to be typed and then on to my prof at the university. The rest is academic history.

Well, maybe not. But I was able to join my graduating class at convocation and and have eked out a living ever since. And a lot is due to Professor Mel Watkins.
Even if, doing my taxes at this time of the year, has cured me of my younger-days affliction of socialism.

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1 Response to Encounters With An Obituary

  1. KennethI Mehew says:

    Well written and enjoyed Dave, thanks

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