Lumberjacks!

image image image image image imageI was out with my wife and son on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago when we happened on a lumberjack contest. I know what you’re think, but that is exactly what we happened upon and I got the photos to prove it.

It was quite surprising and a total pleasure. These young men and women are in phenomenal shape.

Black History Month, Morgan Freeman and a little white guy

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Photo courtesy of blog.hemmings.com

Someone recently brought to my attention a 2005 interview in which Morgan Freeman calls ‘Black History Month’ ridiculous. In my opinion Freeman is one of those people who are bigger than life. He radiates that ‘something’ that makes people sit up and take notice, on and off the screen. So when I heard this I was quite curious. I am not going to recite the interview (if you have a moment, look it up, it’s worth watching) but in a nut shell he says not to “relegate” black history to a month. Black history is American history. Best part of the interview is when he asks Mike Wallace (the interviewer, who is Jewish) when Jewish history month is. Wallace answers ‘There isn’t one” so Freeman asks “Do you want one?”.

Although I see, and respect, the point Mr. Freeman is making, I am not quite in his camp on this one. Personally I think that any reason we have to drag racism out of the closet and discuss it, is a good reason.

That being said, I have never actually gone out of my way to do anything for Black History Month, other than maybe watch a CBC special on TV. My kids always came home from school and let me know they were studying Black History Month, and I would say “oh that’s nice”. I would go to the library and there would be a be layout of books about Black History and I would say “oh that’s nice”. I’ve read books on Dr. King and Malcolm X, but besides my own family’s history, that is about the extent of my knowledge of black history. I should know more, and I do plan to get around to it one of these days. There’s a reason that I am this ignorant about something so important, let me explain.

In the early 70’s my father went to California to apprentice as a blacksmith. At the time he was a young man, with a young wife and two small boys at home. I was quite young but I remember missing him. He would send us pictures of horses and cowboys he had drawn on toilet paper. I cannot express how happy these drawings made up, I would give a great deal to have one of those drawings today. Years later when he was telling me this story I asked him why toilet paper and he answered that was all he had. In addition to his apprenticeship, he was working as a gallop boy and mucking stalls to make money, most of which he sent back to us.

My father was a social man, he enjoyed life the best he could whatever the circumstances. He got along easy with people, enjoyed a laugh and a good story. So it did not take long for him to be invited to stop by the local bar after work for a beer by a few of the fellows he was working beside. Not that he needed the invite, I think he would have found it all by himself eventually.

As you left the gates of the racetrack, you walked onto a large parking lot. This is where my father found himself after a days work, with the sun going down, realizing he hadn’t a clue where the bar he was supposed to be going to was. As he walked to his car he could hear music coming from a small, rundown place on the fringes of the parking lot. Naturally he assumed this to be the place.

Perhaps it was because he was far from home, or perhaps he was dead tired from the long day he had just put in. But the way my Father told the story he never noticed any thing wrong until he got the bar and ordered a beer. The man behind the bar was a black man who towered over my father. My father was never a big man, but at the time he probably weighed about 130lbs soaking wet. The man behind the bar leaned down so he could look my father in the eye and asked him “What you want here boy?”. It was at this moment my Father decided to take in his surroundings, in his words “there wasn’t another white face in the joint, and everyone seemed to be looking at ME!”. He ordered his beer, maybe it was his accent, or maybe the gods were simply smiling on him that night, but the gentleman behind the bar asked him “where you from boy?”, to which he replied “Montreal, and quit calling me boy.” The bartender studied him another moment, grinned, shook his head and gave my father the beer he had ordered. My Father had every intention of finishing that beer just about as fast as anyone had ever finished a beer and getting his ass out of there. The patrons of the bar had gone back to doing what they had been doing, but people started to drift over to my Father. “Your from Canada?”, “How long you been here?”, “You speak French?”, “What the hell you doing coming in here?” The questions kept coming, he answered them all, with a smile and a laugh. He told me he had one of the best nights of his life. His beer was mostly paid for by people wanting to know about the Great White North. He told me the people were great but the music was better. Once again in his words “Those colored girls wouldn’t let me sit down. I could move pretty good for a white guy back then.”

In the early hours of the morning some of the gentlemen of the bar walked him back to his car, explaining to him that a little white guy shouldn’t be alone in that neighbourhood at that time of night. He thanked them and told them he would see them the next evening after work.

The next day the guys he was supposed to have met asked him why he had not shown up. He told them he had ended up at the wrong bar, the one over at the end of the parking lot. They let him know that he was lucky to be alive, and not to be caught in that area after dark. That day after work and many a day after that he went right back to that same bar, the people called him Frenchie and made sure he got to his car safely every time.

When ‘Cool’ was no longer ‘Cool’

Happy-days My favorite TV show growing up was a show called ‘Happy Days’. I watched it religiously. Sure as shit in a cat, Tuesday nights at 8 o’clock I had my ass parked in front of our television. As a kid, the whole 50’s thing was very romantic to me. I loved the idea of having a hang out where all the kids met. And the gang, well, everyone knew a Potsie, or a Ralph Mouth, and everyone wanted their family to be the Cunninghams, no? But the main reason it was my favorite show was because of one character (Oh you know what’s coming), the Fonz!the fonz Yes, the king of cool, the leather jacket wearing, finger snapping, slow dancing, jukebox banging, “step into my office”, “Heeeeeey” saying, Fonz. Fonzie kept me coming back, week after week for many a year. I spoke about Happy Days plenty to my kids, it was the old “that’s not TV, when I was growing up there was this show…”you know how that goes. Then one birthday, lo and behold, there is was, the first few seasons of ‘Happy Days’ on DVD (original and uncut, that’s what I am talking about). I could hardly believe my eyes, the Holy Grail. I could not WAIT to get it in the DVD player, and my daughters were right there with me, they had heard so much about it.

The first note of the opening song (One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock) by Bill Haley and the Comets and I lit up like a Christmas tree. I was ten years old again and I could hardly wait to get to school the next day to talk to my buddies about what the Fonz did the night before. We watched a couple of episodes, the actual look of the show seemed a bit old, maybe slightly out of focus on the outdoor scenes, but the old gang was there. It was like a visit from an old friend. We watched a couple more episodes and I started to realize that my girls were laughing at different parts of the show then I was. the gangThey weren’t laughing with the laugh track, they weren’t laughing at the crazy antics of Richie and the gang, they were laughing AT Richie and the gang! Specially the Fonz.

Sure they were enjoying the show, they thought it was hilarious. “How old is that guy?”, “why do all the boys go into the bathroom together?”, “What is, ‘sit on it’, supposed to mean?”. “Why does that guy refer to himself in the third person?” Just some of the questions from my girls.

After awhile they had me laughing too. Sure I guess a 30 year old man in a leather jacket, pretending to be a teenager, was no longer cool. Hell even the word ‘cool’ was no longer cool. But the show still made me laugh, and it was another piece of me that I got to share with my girls.

Let them say what they want to say Fonzie, I still think you’re cool.

Gus

 

Gus’s first Bar Mitzvah

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Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue, where Leonard Cohen celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. Courtesy of drhguy.com

I recently went to my first Bar Mitzvah, which seems to me a very strange thing to say. Purely because it was nowhere on my radar. There are some places you end up in life and you can say “Yup, saw that coming”, but other times you look around you and say “Wow, how did I get here?” This blog is going to show my utter and complete ignorance of the Jewish faith. Thank you to my Jewish friends for putting up with me. Shalom.

Where to begin? It was quite an enjoyable experience, however it was very, how should I say this, curious for me. Let me explain. It was like going to see a film because a friend has told you how good it is. You go, but you have no idea what the film is about, you have no expectations, you just go and wait to see what’ll happen.

For example, did you know that men and women do not sit together in a Synagogue? I didn’t, so guess who almost went in the wrong door. Thanks to a very nice woman who happened to be going in at the same time I learned this in the nick of time.

So I get seated, I have my kippah on, I’m good, until I realize that I’ve forgotten my phone in my jacket back at the coat check. That’ll never do. Up I jump, buzz back to the coat check and explain to the nice young man at the counter that I’ve forgotten my phone in my coat, which I would like. He looks at me like I have lost my mind! He says to me “It is Shabbat,” and stares at me. I look back at him, he looks back at me. Awkward pause. Blink, blink. I turn and walk away. I have no idea what he is talking about but I am smart enough to realize that I am not getting my phone right now. (Turns out Sat. is the holy day in the Jewish faith and they do not use electronics, found out later)

Back to the Synagogue with me.

As it turns out there is little to no English spoken during a Bar Mitzvah, well at least the one I went to, AND it’s a musical! Almost everything is sung, but it is sung in Hebrew. I will be honest, I spent most of my time wondering what was going on. I want to thank the three older gentlemen who were sitting behind me. Once they realized I was as out of place as a penguin on the beach, they gave me the heads up about a few things so I didn’t make a complete ass out of myself.

Getting back to the singing, it looks incredibly difficult. We’re not talking Church hymns here, where everyone jumps in and it really doesn’t matter what you sound like. We are talking one singer with the Rabbi directing, then everyone jumps in at certain points. It’s all very choreographed and cultured. So I sat there wondering how does everyone know when to jump in and stand up, what words to say, when to raise their hands, etc. etc. After about two hours I realized why. These people are here for the long haul!

I should have caught on when I asked my friend what time I had to be there.

I grew up Protestant United. If our Sunday morning services went over an hour the church elders started to cough politely and look at their watches while fanning themselves with the Service Handout papers. When I asked my friend what time I should be there for the service she said anytime between 9 and 10 AM. I thought ‘strange’ but ok. I got there at 9:30am, figuring right in the middle should be sweet. I think it was 1:30pm when we walked out. Jewish people do not mess around when it comes to Synagogue, let me tell you. I don’t know if it was only because of the Bar Mitzvah, or because the Rabbi had a full house (like I said, I had no idea what was going on) but we were there and the Rabbi was making it count. So yes it was long, but I have to admit they pack a bunch in there. There was singing (lots of singing), laughing, clapping, candy throwing, the list goes on.

The thing that stands out in my mind the most was the congregation, perhaps this is not the right word for the people that attend a Synagogue, but it what I was taught. They were beautiful. From the moment I walked into the Synagogue in my sweater vest and no tie (you think my friend would have told me it was a full on dark suit affair) I was welcomed. Almost every person who passed me, old and young alike, stopped to shake my hand, wish me peace, and welcome me. I left with the feeling that this wasn’t just something they pulled out of the closet once and awhile, dusted off and put back, this was what these people lived.

Truth be told it made me nostalgic for simpler days when I was part of a church, a congregation that cared about each other.

Gus