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We’re Only BIG Kids…

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“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
—Flannery O’Connor

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Sleep is the new …

Do you ever wake up with library stack volumes of penetrating thoughts, insightful ideas, nagging worries… racing around the Indianapolis Speedway in your head?

Of course you do. We all do. Some to far greater extents than others.

The Speedway motor sounds are far too deafening to catch any more sleep and the racing cars keep knocking over the sheep you were counting jumping a fence.

Once the green START flag is raised, you might as well hold up the white flag of surrender and give up on any further zzzz‘s for that night.

I spent a good couple of hours during my “sleep time” a couple nights back reflecting, thinking foggy mountain circles on what I might write about this week.

This is a bit unusual for me. Tap tap tap.

More typically a blog topic idea comes fairly quickly at the start of each week; something catches my eye or my quirky imagination and then it’s my job to whip out a trusty lasso and wrangle the thought, the image, the idea into submission.

After doing this a couple of hundred times now, it’s rarely that difficult to electrify bright luminescence from the light bulb floating above my head.

My ADHD mind winds along the railway tracks, surmounting craggy hills, plunging down through lush green valleys, then presses through some dense Coquihalla fog as my writerly passageway gathers momentum and fills with a multitude of varying tangents… investing, running and other exercise modalities, gardening, writing, music writing and guitar playing, building things, Kama Sutra positions.

I try to read a lot of varied articles and book chapters to stimulate my thoughts, procreating the idea sex that directs me somewhere useful from a blog writing perspective.

This week the idea train had difficulty finding the station. I know it seems impossible, there being guiding tracks and all – clickety-clack – but nonetheless I struggled. A minor case of writer’s constipation?

Where did I end up when the train finally did pull into the station?

No dead ends.

1960 playground

CHILDHOOD

Back to childhood thoughts.

Eager boyhood dreams filled with impressions and memories about the innocent playfulness and the reality of childhood, then gazing into the grown-up future and living, loving and working as a big person.

I was virginally green, wide-eyed.

I thought big people were infallible.

Always right.

All knowing.

To be totally trusted.

Kind of like human forms of the God I heard and sang hymns about in church. I could have been abducted so easily, but then… who would have wanted me, this cherubic little hockey-playing paperboy?

It never occurred to me until years later – and it came as a shocking surprise I have to add – that grown-ups were… really… wait for it… little kids in big people clothes. Yup.

I could have written that 1988 movie “BIG” that starred Tom Hanks (I’m still dying to get a floor model piano that you play by jumping with your whole body) as a kid in a man-sized body playing in an adult world.

It hit the nail on the head.

We’re kids still inside, fallible, and nervously wondering if we have the right answers to the test questions.

big piano

The grassy playground beside my elementary school, Glen Echo, was a precursor, a SimLife preview of grown-up reality charged with more responsibilities and worries.

Years passed by and I grew bigger and older but I was still hopeful little Larry Green running around on the green park grass chasing after the Lucy-held football like Charlie Brown… chasing after the cute little Red-Haired Girl looking for love and affection… chasing after good marks in Arithmetic and Social Studies that would please my teacher Mrs. Putns… chasing after the excited crowd on the playground circling around one of the bigger bullies beating the bloody-nosed tar out of some poor pint-sized kid… chasing after a few dollars from my Hamilton Spectator paper route so I could buy that beautiful shiny bike with the banana seat (I soooo loved my bike with the banana seat!)

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What a gorgeous banana seat!

One day we wake up in an office cubicle or behind a cash register or computer keyboard.

Now we’re the grown-up. (Cue Elton John’s Circle of Life!)

The expectation and belief that adult-life is, would, be perfection and all-knowing is long gone in the realization that the playground grass has wilted but the players are pretty much still the same. It’s not a bad thing, rather only an eye-opening observation that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

We spend our years in cycles, patterns that replay from childhood to grave.

Within those patterns from time to time we experience the very human but mysterious deja-vu sensation, a memory of a flower’s perfumed scent from summer camp, a flush of arousal reminiscent of a teenage kiss, a catchy song chorus that transports us to Grade 9 math class.

Forget Elton John, cast aside the Pride Rock scenario.

My BIG dream, once I finally fell asleep the other early morning was filled with another song.

Harry Chapin sang, “All My Life’s a Circle“,

All my life’s a circle;
Sunrise and sundown;
The moon rolls thru the nighttime;
Till the daybreak comes around.

All my life’s a circle;
But I can’t tell you why;
Season’s spinning round again;
The years keep rollin’ by.

It seems like I’ve been here before;
I can’t remember when;
But I have this funny feeling;
That we’ll all be together again.
No straight lines make up my life;
And all my roads have bends;

There’s no clear-cut beginnings;
And so far no dead-ends.

moon road

The Collector

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Miranda (Samantha Eggar): I’ve stayed the four weeks. 

Freddie (Terence Stamp): I just have to have you here a little longer. 

Miranda: Why? What more can I do? What more can you want? 

Freddie: You know what I want… it’s what I’ve always wanted. You could fall in love with me if you tried. I’ve done everything I could to make it easy. You just won’t try!

DEMONS …

When I was a kid I saw a movie called THE COLLECTOR (1965), starring Samantha Eggar and Terence Stamp.

It was an early version of the movie ROOM … a young woman drugged, kidnapped and kept prisoner in a small cellar next to her captor’s house.

For me, a young boy, it was pretty scary – disturbing really – and gave me nightmares about being stolen away from my family.

Making it even more real in my world were the trending Hamilton Spectator newspaper headlines about the actual abduction of a pretty little 12 year-old girl from a nearby town, whom I believe was, sadly, never located.

Terence Stamp’s character, a lonely, unbalanced young man, stalks, chloroforms and kidnaps pretty, young art student, Samantha Eggar.

Stamp is a butterfly collector and treats and looks at Eggar as if she is one of his collected specimens. Ewwwww.

He holds her imprisoned in a windowless stone cellar that he has prepared with a bed, some furnishings, and an electric heater.

Desperately seeking her freedom, Eggar tries to connect with Stamp, to bargain with him, and even finally to seduce him, but ultimately fails.

Many weeks go by, and the reality dawns on Eggar of just how unstable Stamp is and that she will never leave alive.

While being taken from the house to the cellar in the rain, she seizes a nearby shovel and strikes Stamp in the head with it. Wounded and angry, he manages to pull her back into the cellar, breaking the heater during their struggles.

For three days, Eggar remains locked in the cold cellar, soaking wet.

Stamp finally reappears to find her terribly ill, and he goes into town to get her medicine.

When he returns, Eggar lies dead.

The eerie final scene shows Stamp back behind the wheel of his van – collecting, once again – stalking a young nurse.

Collector Van

ANGELS …

As a kid, I was a collector too.

NO, not THAT type of collector. A far more innocent type of collector.

And not a hoarder either … a collector.

Stamps, coins, hockey cards, Leon Uris books, fluorescent wall posters, 1967 Centennial memorabilia, fireworks. My head was filled with excited dreams of riches and future palaces based on my shrewd collecting prowess.

I’m pretty sure I would have collected chocolate too but somehow it never seemed to escape my wee hungry eyes and tummy. Come to think of it, fireworks never seemed to stick around long either in my eager little pyro hands. BOOM!

I spent many hours organizing my coins into various collector books and albums with plastic paper bill slots. My “mint” condition olive green Canadian King George $20 bills were handled gently so as not to bend edges or dirty the cotton paper.

King George $20 bill

My hockey cards were alphabetized and grouped into singles, doubles and triples. The “traders” were set aside for taking to school for attempts at swapping Davey Keon for Frank Mahovlich, or Gordie Howe for Stan Mikita.

Those riches and palaces?

The coins and bills I thought would bring me future millions of dollars are currently worth only pennies more than their face value. The $20 bill above that I loved so much as an 11 year-old would probably fetch a full $25 at the local collector’s store today.

When I rummage through my old collections now, I reluctantly realize my “serious” attempts were really just child’s play. Collecting things was one small facet of my childhood fun and distraction from the devil’s work.

And it was far more productive and filled with imaginative substance than so many alternatives.

Alternatives like walking my neighbourhood streets with friends Kevin, Renato or Jerome, searching for half-smoked cigarette stubs – cautiously avoiding any with lipstick residue –  pitched to the curb by the plethora of smokers of the day.

We’d gather up the barely-used cancer sticks and cart them off on our Good Friday hikes to the Devil’s Punchbowl for an afternoon of campfire beans, nausea-inducing but very grown-up smoking, and boyish chatter about the giggly pony-tailed sweeties from our Grade 5 classrooms. Devil’s work.

I often wonder sometimes. OK, occasionally. Rarely …

Do everyday people collect things anymore? Do you?

I know there are many avid collectors of one sort or another out there today given the sales of EBay and similar auction sites. But that is collecting of a more serious, adult nature with big bucks involved. Not kids’ play.

I don’t really encounter people of my kids’, the Generation-X or Generation-Y cohort, that collect things.

Maybe the all-encompassing phenomenon of iPhones and Xbox One’s and PlayStation 4’s just dug a big hole in the backyard and buried the pastime of collecting.

Moms of my generation were happy when we kids were occupied and out of their hair.

Kids disappeared after breakfast, showed up for supper, and again when the streetlights came on, and whatever we had been doing in-between was pretty much our own business.

So long as the police were never called, there was family and neighbourhood harmony.

We didn’t really know or understand it at the time but collecting stuff was a positive childhood way of making our demons dance with our angels.

Dancing angels

 

What Movie Plays In YOUR Head?

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To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering, one must not love. But then, one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness.”

   Woody Allen – Love and Death

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I’m a dreamer.

Sometimes my entire life seems like a movie – almost another dimension that I view from some heaven-like place far removed.

I spend a whole lot of time inside my head envisioning things I’ve done and enjoyed or things I’d like to do and enjoy.

Occasionally I relive the bad stuff too, but it usually gets nudged out by the positive thoughts. A baby’s birth seems to stick more readily than a loved one’s funeral. Isn’t the human mind great?

A little voiced narrative runs through my head as if Woody Allen was in there writing a screenplay for his next flick. I could be a little neurotic New York Jewish guy soooo easily.

My narrative sometimes involves a group of us pre-pubescent Canuck schoolboys dreaming of future lives as hockey stars with nubile little puck-bunnies swarming around.

We don’t really know what to do or say with these cuties yet – even if we feel a pleasurable stiffening in our jeans – but we know there’s something tantalizing and special about them and one day we figure we’ll know and understand the allure.

But until that time arrives the only stiff rod in our hand is a hockey stick.

For now, it’s enough to just feel the juvenile desire.

First we develop the talent and then worry about the puck-bunnies… Gretzky knew that at the age of 13 and was willing to wait another 15 years for his LA-model puck-bunny to materialize.

gretzky

So, from time to time, I’ll watch the movie of my life and see myself playing street hockey in the chilly winter air under the nightlight of Glen Echo School in Hamilton.

I look up into the inky winter-black sky and see the ivory snow flecks gently drifting down towards my pink-cheeked face. I’m wearing my PeeWee Parkdale Steelers hockey jersey with three clothing layers underneath to stay warm.

By the time my friends Rick, Jerome, Rick, Hugh and Larry and I finish our night game – the lively clapping sounds of hockey sticks hitting pavement turn silent – I’ll have peeled off all but the final ribbed-cotton t-shirt because of the heat built up by running and turning and jumping and slapshotting.

Future visions of becoming a Montreal Canadien or Chicago Black Hawk rattle around excitedly in our heads. I’m guessing we all wanted to become pro hockey players, but perhaps a stray thought of becoming a future ABBA singer was bubbling around, I don’t know!

…………………………

Fantasy is a huge part of so many of our lives…. I know this if only because Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, Luke Skywalker and Hugh Hefner have all thrived and flourished massively in the masses’ imaginations.

We love to spend time in other worlds. Worlds within our world or worlds galaxies distant.

But I prefer fantasies of my own making and choosing, not those of J.K Rowling, Suzanne Collins, or George Lucas.

For me, the best way to lay down the tracks for future “home” movies is by living in the moment with some focus and taking the daily actions that will create these movies…

That means I have to actually do stuff for my imagination to make stuff up …

My body craves movement and so most times I have to live the actions first that then synthesize the movie. I don’t want others’ fantasies occupying my head. I want the homegrown variety that involve me and enthrall me based on my own life experiences.

Once I’ve actually done something… gone swimming or canoeing, made a fancy dinner, run a Tough Mudder race, hiked into Machu Picchu …

… then my imagination can kick into gear and make my very own Walter Mitty fantasy world.

Imagination and dreaming are incredible human attributes. We all have a staggering ability to build worlds and stories from within.

My head fills with Olympic record swim times, Michelin Four Star meals I’ve prepared, war zones I’ve conquered with bravery, finesse and panache, and Incan kings I’ve encountered.

No matter what pain or suffering we encounter – and there are ample quantities of those – an engrossing book, a marvellously powerful movie, an incredibly real dream, have the breathtaking power to refresh and rejuvenate our minds with hope and joy and love.

Playing movies in my head works even better.

Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering – and it’s all over much too soon.”

Woody Allen

Childhood Pyromania and Idea Sex …

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fire fist

Why I’m not locked away in solitary confinement is beyond my understanding.

As a youngster, I loved fire.

Kumbaya Campfires, fireplace fires, smoky autumn piles of leaves and prunings, fireworks’ and firecrackers’ fires … sizzle fizzle… BANG!

Nothing made my pulse quicken more than to strike a match and set something … just about anything … aflame.

And if I didn’t have a match… well… a good little magnifying glass could substitute as an igniter. It was gloriously satisfying to see a little whisp of smoke rising from a scrap of paper where the magnifying glass had concentrated the mid-summer morning sun’s rays.

I cringed inside when a couple of friends thought it was cool to sizzle a live ant on the ground with the magnifying glass. The ant would try to run away from the pinpoint concentrated heat, but eventually it would succumb and an ugly, acidic smelling smoke arose from its flesh. The kindness of Buddhism hadn’t filtered into our little lives yet.

Those are the guys who are probably in solitary confinement these days.

On summer mornings, I could sit on the floor of my family garage – after Dad had driven our pale green Ford Meteor off to work – and make fire magic for a couple of hours easily.

The alcohol-based Aqua Velva cologne sent by my Aunt Lilian the previous Christmas was wonderful stuff for fueling flames … plus it smelled great at the same time. I think she sent it to me, her young nephew, to make me feel grown up. She would have had a cardiac arrest knowing the use I put it to.

Aqua velva

I’d pour a few fragrant drops of the blue-tinted cologne into a small jar lid sitting on the garage’s cement floor. Then I’d see how close a lit match needed to be before there was a small “woof” as the flame ignited a hot, almost transparent, blue-green flame that danced in the air over the jar lid.

It burned away for 5 or 10 seconds and I would hold small twigs or twisted wads of paper over it to see if they too would ignite. Those little round red rolls of “caps” for kid’s cap pistols were perfect to hold over the flame and listen to their sulphury loud “crack”.

It was fascinating, and now, looking back, maybe a tiny bit creepy at the same time.

That was then. My childhood pyromania has thankfully subsided.

I still enjoy the primal sense of a dancing flame in the firebox of my woodstove, but I save the cologne for splashing on my weathering grown-up face.

Now, as an adult, I’ve left that burning desire for real fire largely behind – the flames I long to see and feel now are those of creative spark.

Whether I’m crafting words in this blog post, or in creating music, I feel the same searing rushing blood in my temples that I experienced as a child pyro.

The heat produced now is a physics phenomenon of action-reaction.

creative spark

Occasionally, I write something as if someone else has occupied my body and is making up the words that flow from me – a magical mystery.

Or sometimes a melody materializes out of some ethereal spot that I’ve never been to or seen.

I know it’s all related to my active sub-conscious making connections and melding ideas – yup, IDEA SEX – in the brain’s underworld that is largely unknown and mysterious to us all.

But like Virginia’s Santa Claus (from New York’s Sun 1897 editorial writer Francis Pharcellus Church ):

The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world. 

Idea sex exists and it works like Santa’s little unseen elves, creating and cutting and pasting until a new combination of artistic phenomenon arises to the surface and erupts.

The physics action/reaction I spoke of above is to think of a problem, a challenge or an idea that has me scratching my head seeking an answer or a coherent, interesting thought. Another analogy that might make sense to you is when you try to think of someone’s name whom you you’ve just bumped into after 10 years … it won’t come.

I set the challenge quest on a little floating boat, anchored in a safe harbour.

Then with a light shove off from its moorings, I set the craft adrift to go out on the ocean wherever it wishes.

I turn my head and walk away and let the challenge reside in the background, relaxing and trusting that my sub-conscious has sprung into action, searching and bobbing through my lifetime’s file of memories and experiences.

The magic sometimes takes 5 minutes … sometimes 5 hours … but usually an overnight passage is enough to bring the boat back to port and deliver the goods.

Toy Boat 3

It’s as amazing as it is mysterious and wonderful.

It’s comforting somehow to know that my enthusiastic desire for flames still exists after all these years, even in an altered form.

The metaphorical hot flames I create today are far less likely to send me into a locked cage than the real fiery ones of my youth.

And … in fact, the idea sex potential that lies inside us all produces a heat that can make us feel more powerful than we’ve ever felt …

…………………..

Before he goes into the water, a diver cannot know what he will bring back.” 
― Max Ernst

1967 … Back to the Future …

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Grade 5 Glen Echo School 1967

My Grade 5 class 1967 – Glen Echo School, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada … I’m bottom row, second in from right.

Yeah, I was bleeding alright … all over the driveway.

And I screamed bloody murder with monster salty tears streaming down my chubby little cheeks.

My brother Gord’s friend Ron had pulled back hard on the rubber band and shot a U-shaped fence staple from a slingshot into my exposed lower leg from about 6 feet away. But it was a game, and so this end result should have been anticipated. Is it possible that maybe we weren’t the brightest kids?

When I pulled the two pronged galvanized projectile from my leg, the blood poured out pretty profusely. Everybody was apologetic and concerned and all, but you know, this was 1967 and I was 10 years old; these were the sorts of games we played to cement our childhoods.

Where were the parents you might ask? Oh puh-lease

Parents and kids of the 1950’s and 1960’s led pretty independent lives — we met at mealtimes, and outside of that, we were all mostly free to head in whatever direction we wanted. From any age.

But remember, this was a naively different time when we were still just standing at the front door of the haunted house that held all of the understanding of the dangers of child abuse and abductions, drugs, war atrocities, and all of the other scary things that go bump in the night.

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My leg felt like this …

Boy's bloody leg

…but probably looked more like this.

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It was all normal stuff from an era that no longer exists.

Hell, as a 1990’s and 2000’s parent, I would never have dreamed of sending my kids outside to play at 8 in the morning, and then not expect to see them until they came running in starved at lunch time.

Not only would I have not dreamed this, but frantic neighbourhood watchers would have sent apoplectic police officers to my door before an hour had passed.

………………

Like a wistful Ken Burn’s PBS documentary, this blog post has me delving into ancient 20th century history.

And it’s truly unsettling from my perspective because the message that runs indelicately through my head is that this means my lifetime on our good earth is running low on ticks of the clock … and since we’re talking 20th century, that’s an analog clock, you know, the kind with hands that sweep around the circle.

Burn’s documentaries beautifully lay out history in sepia tones. Dreamy nostalgic music floats through while sentimental rivers of images appear like miniature puffs of smoke that recede into the pale blue sky. I like to think of my life’s experiences in sepia, it lends romanticism and import that would otherwise be absent.

1967 was a big year in the 20th century – for me, and the rest of the world too. I think that 1967 is the first year where I’m really cognizant of my being an individual person. This is striking because I was only 10 years old in ’67.

It was the year of Canada’s 100th birthday — or Centennial —  and there was a huge international party going on in Montreal called Expo 67. Across the land, Canadians spent the year wandering their streets, schools and businesses in geometric-striped or paisley shirts, and mini tent dresses, singing, “CaaaaaaNaaaaaDaaaaa… One little , two little, three Canadians … we love thee

I visited Expo 67 twice. I loved the awe-inspiring country pavilions — Iran’s brightly-toned blue tile walls, the Sputnik satellites hanging in the sloped-glass USSR building, the Buckminster Fuller geodesic-dome U.S. pavilion that had monorail trains gliding right through its middle. The breezes of the St. Lawrence River were filled with the intoxicating smells of foreign dishes with names we couldn’t pronounce.

It was so exciting that I hardly needed the extra adrenaline boost found in the amusement park area called LaRonde, it was that cool. At one point, I got lost from my parents and aunt and uncle in the park which really pissed off my Uncle Dwight. Come on, I was TEN!

Expo_67_Pavilion_of United_States_PC_004

Humankind began to grow up in the 1960’s. Incredibly, in 1967 many of us were just beginning to realize that war was a bloody miserable thing to march into. It really wasn’t the glorious, fun-filled tromp into camaraderie and dancing with easy local girls and drinking and singing we thought it was.

Television brought Vietnam into our living rooms each evening. There were terrible bloodbaths and chemical burns, and innocents shredded in the crossfire just like in World War 1 and World War 2 and every other war that had played out over the millennia, previously unseen in our living rooms. It was scary and painful and messy. We were all scared shitless of nuclear war annihilation.

We’d been Lee Harvey Oswald‘ed and Albert DeSalvo‘ed by now, but still had no signs yet of Richard Speck, Sirhan Sirhan, Mark David Chapman, James Earl Ray, Clifford Robert Olson, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer to name just a slight few. We were semi-naive babies taking one last delicious suck on our thumbs.

But despite any worries of the time that existed, I loved 1967 for a whole bunch of reasons.

  • There was a shiny new (alright, 2 years old) Maple Leaf flag flying over the Expo 67 celebrations in Montreal.
  • Elvis married Priscilla.
  • Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup.
  • The Mad Men era where men were men and women were subservient was in its final throws.
  • The summer of free love bloomed in San Francisco.

Maple Leafs 1967

………………

It might be strange to you but an even more important cause for my love of all 1967 was the movies that hit the theatres. It was a classic year in cinema.

  • To Sir With Love
  • In Cold Blood
  • Wait Until Dark
  • The Graduate
  • Bonnie and Clyde

All great movies. Thoughtful, serious, funny, emotional movies.

Remember at the beginning of this post I said kids and parents went their separate directions?

Here’s a perfect example. On Saturday afternoons, I, along with one of my friends Jerome, Renato, Larry, or Frank would jump onto the Main West bus that traversed Hamilton from east to west. It was about a 30 minute ride to the central core of the city. We’d hop off downtown and find our way over to the cavernous 2,259 seat Capitol Theatre, or the majestic Palace with its huge balcony, or sometimes the relatively plain-Jane Tivoli.

Give the lady at the front kiosk your 25 cents kids’ admission, head to the snack bar for popcorn and a big chocolate bar and you could ensconce yourself in the theatre for the whole afternoon.

Why watch Bonnie and Clyde get gunned down in bloody slow motion just once when you could sit and watch it again a second time? Faye Dunaway was just way too pretty to leave behind after just one performance. Jesus, even Warren Beatty was too pretty to leave behind with only one viewing. And it took at least two viewings to understand Buck Barrow’s joke, “And she called him over and she said, “Son, whatever you do, don’t sell that cow!

You could enter the theatre at 11 am and not leave until 11 pm if you wanted. Of course, we didn’t because I had to deliver the Hamilton Spectator newspaper to my customers by 5 o’clock or I was dead meat.

Bonnie-and-Clyde-1967

I think that if I could play out my own Back to the Future scenario, 1967 would easily be my year of choice.

I’d luxuriate in the warmth of my long-gone Mom and Dad, and the rest of my family. I’d eat lots of MoJo’s and french fries at Van Wagner’s beach on Lake Ontario. I’d spend hours playing football in the park across the street from my house, pretending I was a famous Hamilton Tiger-Cat receiver like Garney Henley. I’d ogle poor blind Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark for even more hours at the Palace theatre.

More importantly, I could make sure I ran far and fast away from Ron with that damn staple-shooting slingshot.

Then today, I wouldn’t have to look down at the two bumpy little scars on my lower leg when I happily reminisce about my youth.