Monday, May 21, 2018

Sepia Saturday 419: Safe on a Rock!




The photo prompt this week shows a daring group seated on a precarious rock. 

My prairie-bound family liked things flat—the flatter the better. A mere mound in the landscape made my mother nervous. When she visited S. California and the mountains blocked her views, she was like a skittish cat. The only time she fully relaxed while visiting was at the beach, where she could see the open ocean. 

There are no photos of ledges or lookouts or mountain climbing in my photo boxes. No thrilling moments were captured either. For our risk-aversive family, the Tilt-A-Whirl at the Royal American Shows was skirting the edge of dangerous. Reasons for not riding it included the possibility of it flying off the rails, tipping over and crushing somebody; vomiting; permanently damaging your equilibrium.  




What I do have is this photo of me and my fellow CGIT'ers, Canadian Girls in Training, on a rock, at the Brereton Camp, Whiteshell Provincial Park, 1955. We were thirteen. I'm in the front row, left, looking like a ten-year-old. 

It was probably this camping experience that turned me into a hotel gal for the rest of life. Using a stinky outhouse and hauling water wasn't my idea of a good time. The water in the morning for face washing and teeth brushing was shockingly cold. Night noises from the bush were scary.

This cartoon comes from the Alberta CGIT website. A new body image for the girls? Our leaders wouldn't have tolerated drooping socks. Our middy blouses had to be clean and neat. The friendship knot in our ties had to be correct. In my memory, the guides were leaders, but not tyrants. 








I had to get a special dispensation from our priest in order to attend the camp because it was a Protestant organization—as if my Catholicism was so tenuous that I could be co-opted in a week.  Actually, they were right! All my friends were Protestants and could take care of their religious duties in an hour per week. I envied them. No confessions, no Holy Days of Obligation, no fasting, no penance. At church, no kneeling, no Latin, no suffocating incense. The United Church, where I attended CGIT, was light and airy compared to our Catholic Church, dim and scary with curtained confessionals, strict unsmiling nuns and stations of the cross hung with bleeding, suffering Christs. As I recall, I was excused from the religious ceremonies at the camp.

At this age, I rarely smiled in pictures. A cousin told me I was going to be buck-toothed and I may have been trying to hide whatever it was he saw. Almost fatally homesick; this was my first time away from home for a week. My life-long friend Linda is at the other end of the front row and she looks happier than me. Looking happiest of all, is Fish—aka Mary Ellen Cuthbert—back row, right. Look at her upturned collar; her hand on her hip; legs jauntily crossed in a studied pose.  I've written about her before. She was an outstanding character in our midst. A gal with a reputation later on in our teens. I can't imagine she was a bad girl at thirteen, but maybe. The photo here portrays a great deal of self-confidence, the exact opposite of me. I hope that confidence worked well for her for the rest of her life. 

The Ode came from the camp website and brought back a lot of memories. 



Ode To C.G.I.T. Camp Brereton, 1937-2007 

Way back in the ‘30s this camp was begun 
By women and men, who, when they were done, 
Had built here a lodge, and a cabin or two, 
For campers and leaders like me and like you. 
To get here the campers then traveled by train, 
They walked from the tracks in the sun and the rain. 
In the 40’s they bused it right up to the door – What an improvement; could they want more? 
In the 40’s and 50’s the lodge was quite small, 
Can you believe, there was no dining hall! 
We ate in the lounge, and then should it rain, 
We’d collapse all the tables, then set them again! 
The water, we hauled it all up from the lake, 
No showers or flushes, and make no mistake 
We extinguished our lanterns when time for “lights out”, 
And we needed our flashlights to wander about! 
In the mornings we hurried to be first in line 
At the biffy – no privacy – three at a time! 
A wall at the end gave the leaders their side, 
“Twas just a two-holer- they sat with pride! 
Below the rock ledge you can now reach with stairs 
The cabins were arranged mostly in pairs, 
Please take the time to check out old Cabin 7, 
It’s just storage now – we thought it was heaven! 
Six bunks to each cabin arranged ‘round the wall, 
Each cabin with one leader, her whistle and all, 
Our leaders were given affectionate names, 
And mostly they all went along with the game. 
The ledge where your cabins now proudly reside 
Was called Council Rock, where our Pres. would preside 
Over meetings; and then, Bible Study was shared, 
And much more, as for campers and leaders we cared. 
If we wanted to paddle our own canoe 
We had to swim to the island and back again too, 
Off to the Ridge we would hike as we sang, 
And our voices would echo, and all the woods rang! 
International Camp Council was here in ’85, 
With 72 or us on site, it really came alive! 
From Nigeria and Trinidad, and yes, Bermuda too – Our “pathways” crossed at Brereton, and friendships came and grew. On our 50th we had a ball with campers re-uniting, 
The singing, laughter, fun and all was really quite exciting! 
And Cabin 1 has been improved, it’s own bathroom and ramp 
Have helped to make our Brereton a fully accessible camp! 
New roofs, and walls, and holding tank, a pump, canoes – a “Tree” Have all been added to this place – most, of necessity! 
But these aren’t the things that matter most, there’s a Magic that we see 
As girls and leaders share and grow into the persons God wants them to be. 
For 65 years at Brereton, we all can give a cheer 
In joy and praise and gratitude, that we still gather here. 
Our Tree of Life, and the names upon it, is a symbol of love for this place, 
God has blessed us richly ‘thru the years – we say “Thank You” for this gift of grace. 
So take your neighbor by the hand before the evening’s end, 
We want to bow and say a prayer to our never-failing Friend… Thank you for the Past… Thank you for the Now. Be with us as we grow to become the persons you would have us be. Amen. Addie Thoroski, Pat Finlayson July 1997, June 2002

Check out other Sepia Saturday stories HERE

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Myself at 75

 At 75, you don't volunteer for the close-ups. But I liked a recent photo of Nancy, Barbara and myself, cropped myself out and fiddled on Lunapic in an attempt for something acceptable for a new Facebook Home photo. I'm going with the cellphone photo.





Friday, May 04, 2018

Sepia Saturday 418: The World's Largest!


I love this rendering of the Woolworth counter—so neat and tidy without customers wo mess everything up. There's a sense of anticipation as if someone out of the scene stands at the door, hand on the handle, waiting for the clock to strike 7:00 a.m. when the store will open. I imagine a line of men wearing fedoras, smoking and reading the newspaper while they wait. 

The scene reminded me of my own involvement in a "World's Largest" record-setting event. 


Depicted above is was the World's Largest Creme Brulee. An official Guinness World Record, it was established through the combined efforts of the California Egg Commission, students at the Art Institute of Los Angeles and the Bel Age Hotel.  The Guinness record used to hang on my office wall but has long since been consigned to a box along with other work memorabilia. 

Here's how the "Big Brulee" got started. I used to give lectures about eggs on behalf of the commission ( I was a consultant)  to companies, culinary schools, universities - basically whoever wanted me. Because the audience was usually young and fidgety, in order to keep them interested, I would try to work in a story and object lesson about Howard Helmer, World's Fastest Omelet Maker.

Howard established this Guinness record when he was about 30 and built a career around it.  He recently retired, but had a marvelous time for 35 years or more working for the American Egg Board, traveling around the world, making omelets really fast, on television, at trade shows and state fairs.  The purpose of his presentation was to teach the audience that eggs are the fastest food you can possibly imagine. He would teach, through a zany funny presentation, that in 40 seconds, you can have an omelet on the plate. After he completed his demonstration, typically he'd have a cooking set-up so that everyone in the audience could apply the lesson right away. I watched every imaginable kind of person walk away delighted with themselves and of course with Howard for teaching them this wonderful technique. nbsp;

The point I would make with the story is excellence. If you become the best you can be at something, the goodies in life are highly likely to follow: money, fame, respect.  If you become the best in the world at something, even better. Depending on the audience, I would offer the commission's financial support for the group to make a Guinness attempt at any culinary record containing eggs. 

This group of kids at the Art Institute of LA starting talking about what they could do better than anyone else. They told me they would "cook something up".

A week later, they came up with the Big* Brulee idea. The effort was spearheaded by their inspired teacher, Rick Royal. It took a lot of work: engineering to get the frame to support the weight, a special recipe which could be cooked in a huge steam kettle and a myriad of small details, certifications, insurance waivers, special witnesses required by the Guinness people.  Most importantly, the young people had experiences they will benefit from for the rest of their lives. Determined to succeed, they hurtled forward despite bureaucratic red tape and various roadblocks. Worst of all for the students to overcome was the negative energy generated by the naysayers, skeptics and the ever-present lazy-ass people in life who sit on the sidelines chewing a toothpick and finding fault with the brave and gutsy people trying something new. Like fleas on a dog, these annoying kill-joys show up whenever there's something new afoot.   

The event was held in 1999, on the rooftop of the Bel Age Hotel in West Hollywood and was an operational and public relations success. At the end, all of the chefs and students hitched up their blow torches and flamethrowers; brown sugar and raspberries were thrown all the surface by on-lookers, and the chefs blasted away at the top, fire skittering over the surface, scorching the sugar and making great caramelly bubbles. It was a dramatic grand finale. 

A couple of news helicopters hovered around filming the event and we got pretty good press. The dessert was sold to guests for a nominal fee which was donated to a charity for homeless teenagers. Over the years, we (the commission) got a lot of mileage out of the event - for instance, we used a video loop of the event in the commission's booth at every trade show for years. The return on our investment was splendid. 

In 2005, I got a call from a newspaper in Orlando where their Culinary Academy broke our record of 23.25 feet in diameter, by 2.75 feet. They used exactly the same format; copied everything- even selling plates of the dessert to raise money for charity which was their primary reason for the effort.  As they say, imitation is the highest form of flattery. The reporter wanted to know if I had any comments to make. I offered the group my heartiest congratulations and told him while we'd enjoyed being Largest, records, like eggs, are made to be broken.

*Later I found out that being listed as the "Largest" anything can be dangerous. Occasionally we ended up on a curiosities list next to something like the world's largest tumor. Yuck.


Thursday, May 03, 2018

Sepia Saturday 417: The Joy of Summer Swimming



I like to think the two ladies in the center of the photo, in bathing suits—we'll call them Katherine and Louise found themselves up to their knees in cold water. Cheesed off and full of repressed anger because of their itching and stretchy bathing suits, they lured the others in:

 "Come on in, it's heavenly in here!" said Louise, lying through her teeth. It was damn cold and muddy on the bottom. Icky goo was squishing through her toes. "Tickety-boo," she said, in case her first remark wasn't sufficiently enthusiastic. 

Katherine shaded her eyes and faced the camera so everyone could see her shirt bearing the logo of ...

  • Women's Auxilary Mounted Police?
  • Western Australian Marmalade Producers?
  • Winnipeg Automobile Motor Patrol?

Let's go with the Western Australian Marmalade Producers. 

Katherine stenciled the initials on her shirt for the annual picnic and plunge. The letters wouldn't come off after the big event and she certainly didn't have $5.29 for a new suit, so WAMP it was, crooked even, until time and wriggling in the mud, wore the letters off. She was soooo tired of explaining it to everyone. 

(Or has that lettering been added to the photo post-printing? Could it be the initials of a frustrated photographer that couldn't resist plastering his name on everything?)


When Gregory, his wife Anne, and sister-in-law Charlotte with their three children pulled up from the road and saw the ladies in the water, Gregory said impulsively, "Oh, what the hell. Just hike up your skirts. I'll roll up my pants.We can leave our shoes on the shore. C'mon kids!" And in they all ran.

Abbie, the young daughter flung herself in dramatically and flopped onto her stomach. Little Binky and little Earl screamed in fright at the cold and tried to get out. Gregory felt like a fool but he wasn't apologizing for his haste, nor was he letting the little ones off the hook. He grinned through clenched teeth. 

"Just smile into the camera and let's get this over with," he said.  
Anne, his long-suffering wife, slowly raised her right hand every so slightly, carefully folding her fingers into a fist which she subsequently used to sock Gregory in the kisser—knocked that silly tam clean off his head. Later she said, "It felt like the right thing to do."

A good time was had by all. 

                                                                *************

My best match for the prompt this week. 
Jill Fortier, Addie Fortier, Jeanne Fortier, Hector Fortier.  1929-1930?

My family of Fortiers is simply sitting in the sand posing for the camera. I'm sure their suits itched too, but they remained calm. No story here.

While googling for information on those bathing suits I came across this ad. 

1926 Men's and Women's Swimwear, Belts, Caps Shoes. www.vintagedancer.com

The advertiser, Charles William Stores, New York City, didn't waste an inch of space. "All wool worsted" is the most important sales feature. It's repeated over and over and over. Couldn't the copywriter have been more creative? 

I think the sketch artist did a great job on the models and I love the dense layout with the almost-diving gent, front and top, who gives a feeling of action to the whole page. Plus the roiling clouds on the horizon add to the mood.   

I can't make out the rest of the background. The lady in the front left in the bathing suit that "dries quickly" (my eye!) seems to be sitting on a wave. 

With my interest piqued about the store, I found a couple of Charles William Stores ads for other items online, mostly being sold on EBay. The Japanese pongee (a silk fabric) ad says "Quality Guaranteed by the Japanese government." I like the stockings with the dramatic vees up the heels. 



A few more simple beach scenes featuring my family. 



Grand Beach. A hot summer day. Grandmere in the water!! 

Me, my mother Jill, Eilleen, Hector Fortier—my grandfather

Hector, my grandfather, would often be shirtless with suspenders, on hot summer days as he worked on the farm. His skin was leather-like, burnished from having been burned and peeled, burned and peeled. I have photos of him working shirtless with his beloved team of horses in the blazing sun. He'd be exposed all day. No skin cancer.

Although he smoked all his life, breathed in various kinds of fertlizers, worked in the fields—hard physical work—ate as much sugar and salt as he could get, ate fatty meats and cheeses and dairy products and eggs, drank alcohol and had a lot of stress (married to a woman who never stopped talking). He lived to be 96. So did my grandmother. 

Ancestry: Paul-Hector aka Onesime Fortier died in 1979 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, when he was 96 years old.

Wade over to Sepia Saturday to read more stories of fun in the sun. 


Friday, April 27, 2018

Sepia Saturday 416: Leaving Home

Helsinki residents waiting for evacuation at the railway station. (1939)


This must have been a wrenching move for these people. Where were they going? Looking at the bags, there's one bag for each  person. You wonder if that was all they could take. 
                                ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
We travel frequently but have few photos of ourselves with suitcases. My husband packs meticulously and when he's finished after hours of careful folding and organizing, he's left something crucial out. I can pack in less than an hour and I rarely leave anything behind. His case looks like the ads for suitcases. Mine looks like a clothes explosion. 

Guess who belongs to which suitcase.

We've been evacuated many times when California bursts into flames somewhere, which has become a regular occurrence. It's no longer "if we have fires this year," but when we're in fire season. It's hardly the same as war, but it's leaving home behind. It's uncertainty.

Like everyone living here, we have our few precious possessions ready to go at a moments notice. Actually now that all our computer information is in the cloud, we've got back-ups for all. 


On a lighter note, our cats have finally connected cause and effect, brilliant as they are. When the cases open up on the floor, they start getting very affectionate. Life changes dramatically for them when we're not here to act as doormen all day. They are forced by the cat sitter to decide on IN or OUT in the morning and they have stick to the decision all day. Poor things.


Cashew supervising the packing


But, the main theme of the prompt this week is leaving home. 

My father's family moved from a farm at Lake Clear Ontario to Winnipeg Manitoba. They weren't evacuated and hardly under duress. But it was a huge change for them.

My Aunt Alvina Turner wrote this account of their move. She was about nine years old at the time. The family consisted of my grandmother Lucy, her much younger second husband Bertie (not mentioned here), Clem, George, Lorne, Hilda, Netta, Pearl, Percy, Joe (my father) and Alvina. They got busy in a hurry and everyone pitched in, got a job, sought out training. They worked long hours and I remember them talking (everyone got together after church on Sundays) about the pleasure they got from working hard. 
Some, not all. of the family.  Vina, the author of the below account wasn't born. Nor was my father. William, my grandfather, died in 1904.



Killeen Family Move from Ontario to Manitoba
by Alvina Killeen Turner
An Excerpt

Around this time 1908-09, the slogan was “Go West Young Man.” Many of the young men listened and read the newspapers of the day—“The Ottawa Journal” and “The Family Herald” and to find better things, left the province of Ontario for Manitoba.

A visiting journalist William Curtis of the Chicago Record-Herald, had this to say to his readers:

“All roads lead to Winnipeg. It is the focal point of the three transcontinental railway lines of Canada and nobody neither manufacturer, capitalist, farmer, mechanic, lawyer, doctor, merchant priest nor laborer, can pass from one part of Canada to another without going through Winnipeg. It’s the gateway through which all the commerce of east west north or south must flow. No other city in American has such a large area. It is destined to become one of the greatest distributing and commercial centers on the continent.”

No wonder on reading such a glowing account did many families give serious thought to moving west.

Toward the latter part of 1909, the farm was offered for sale, the machinery was sold or auctioned, as was the livestock etc. and the move to Winnipeg was made. Hilda, Clem, and George set out first.

They rented a house at 590 Ross Avenue where we all lived for a short time. The rest of the family came shortly afterward.

For some reason or other, I remember very little about the actual transition. I do however recall the vast difference from the wide open spaces, the winding country roads, with farmhouses here and there along the way as we traveled to town - a road I had never been on before. There were farm buildings and horses and cattle grazing in the pastures, and a flock of sheep here and there. Here and there were rows and rows of houses; buildings larger than I had before seen, long straight roads, with a web of the main thoroughfares covered with pavement. Everything was new and different, after all the only faces and people I was familiar with were neighbors or perhaps a peddler selling Bibles or statues - that’s how we came into possession of the large Bible and also the statue of St. Anthony bought around 1905. Occasionally I was taken to the church at Kilalve there I saw a few different people. It was kind of exciting getting all dressed up with your Sunday dress usually white with a ribbon sash of pink or blue ribbon on a starched hat with streamers of the same color ( I did like the smell of incense).

No wonder on first seeing a Chinese man I was rather surprised. Their mode of dress then was a loose baggy suit - heelless shoes like thongs were worn. Their hair was in a long braid, and they were usually carrying a bag of laundry he had collected and was taking back to his place of business. The only thing they did in those days was laundry.

On occasion on the way to school we would see a negro, perhaps they were porters off the train. I don’t remember seeing any Chinese ladies then.

There were not many motor cars in the city then, most of the business used horses for deliveries, hauling coal and wood, groceries etc. This made it necessary to hire street sweepers to clean up after them. The sweepers were dressed in white and used large brooms and shovels.

I remember the first streetcars. They resembled the “Toonesville Trolly” like the one in the comic strip. They were used on Sherbrook to Logan and down Main Street around somewhere else and was called the “Belt Line”. I remember Arlington Street had a trolley car in 1914 - as I was going to St. Edward’s school then. One day a boy named Henry Jewel had been punished and he had a terrible temper so he immediately ran out of the school and lay down on the tracks. When he was discovered, two of the big grade 8 boys had to drag him off before the trolley came. This was quite a shocker for the kids that day and needless to say it was very quiet for 
1910 Main Street Winnipeg.
the rest of the day.

Now to carry on with the beginning after they had decided to move west and everything sold, Hilda, Clem, and George left first for Winnipeg. They rented a house at 590 Ross Avenue and got a few things settled - some of the furniture was shipped and in due time everyone had a spot to call his own.

Drewry Brewery
George brought a team of horses with him and found no problem in finding employment, as the building business was beginning to boom. Clem began work as a delivery man for the E. L. Drewery Breweries driving a team of their famous Clydesdales - which were often on postcards and if there was a parade they were in it - they were such beautiful animals.
(my Uncle Clem went on to start many successful businesses, mostly in construction. His first business in Winnipeg was a "skating rink." He cleared the snow off a patch of river and charged people to skate on it. It lasted a couple of winters until someone asked-"who is this guy and how does he get to charge for the river?" Some kind of ordinance put him out of business. For the moment.) 




Hilda started to work at Mr. Moss’ store on Isabel and Ross as a clerk in his grocery and fruit store. Till then I had never seen an orange or banana!

Lorne went to work for the C. P. R. freight a rather hard job for a young lad started at 7 AM and worked until 6 PM. I guess he got 25 or 30 cents an hour. He always gave me 10 cents on payday and I was happy with it. However, he found time and energy enough to enroll in a course at night school taking bookkeeping.

The rest of us started school at the Immaculate Conception Academy on Austin Street. It was quite a long walk about three miles.

The area where the school was located was known as the North end and quite close to the business district on Main Street. There were meat markets, grocery stores and a bakery --a few small hotels the Brunswick, Nugget and the West. One of the shops was owned by the Halperins, a wholesale meat co. - Monty Hall of Let’s make a Deal was one of them.
Monte Hall

From Wikipedia: Hall was born as Monte Halparin in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on August 25, 1921,[2] to Orthodox Jewish parents, Maurice Harvey Halparin,[3] who owned a slaughterhouse, and Rose (née Rusen).[4] He was raised in Winnipeg's north end,[5] where he attended Lord Selkirk School (Elmwood, Winnipeg), and, later St. John's High School.[6] Hall graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Manitoba, where he majored in chemistry and zoology.[4] He had hoped to go on to medical school, but was not admitted due to secret quotas restricting the number of Jewish students admitted.[7]


The beautiful CPR Hotel, “The Royal Alexander” has since been demolished.


Not the actual watch but just like it. 
By this time, Hilda decided to take a secretarial course and joined the gang at Immaculate. She completed the shorthand and typing course in three months and on finished the teacher sent her to the CPR terminals office for a position. This position she held for fifty years until her retirement in 1952 when she was presented with a Challenger wristwatch engraved of course. (I’m still wearing it).


Visit Sepia Saturday for more stories inspired by the prompt. 




Thursday, April 26, 2018

At the Two Dot


I've been working on a coming of age story, a short story of about 15,000 words. The location is White Fish, Montana and during the course of my research, I stumbled on the actual City Council Meeting minutes of White Fish dating from around 1950 - 1956. When I read the July 1952 minutes (below) I was surprised at how many bars were in the town! The population was slightly over one thousand. I was inspired to include a bar in my narrative which I used as "wallpaper" for the real story about the undertaker, Mr. Robinson.

The narrator of the story is Chad, a precocious eleven-year-old boy who knows everyone in town because of his paper route.

July 1952. White Fish City Council Meeting
The Clerk next presented the following applications for City Beer and Liquor licenses: Cadillac Bar, Club Bar, Palm Bar, The Pastime Bar, Palace Bar, The Two Dot, The Great Northern Bar and The Town Pump Bar. The following applications were presented for Beer License only: Safeway Stores, Markus Grocery, and Snappy Service Store. The following applications were presented for Club Licenses:: V. F. W. Club, Logger's & Lumberjack's Club, B. O. F. Club, Railway Men's Club, Steel Rail Club, The Doghouse Club, The G. & N. Club and Flathead Benevolent Club. Evey moved, McDonnell seconded that a license is issued to all applicants as stated above. All voted "AYE".
~At The Two Dot~
Robinson’s Disgrace

Squirming in my chair, I rubbed my scar and waited for Robinson to hand over the money so I could leave. When sober, Robinson was nice and seemed to care and I guess it was hard for him to keep a distance from his grieving families. Once, when he was drunk and sad, he told me how relieved he was that Ricky survived polio. Drunk or sober, I could never guess how Robinson might be when I dropped by.
“When I remember that little casket I picked up for your friend, the Kolner kid, I still cry—the saddest funeral of my six years here in White Fish. Thank God I didn’t have to order one for Ricky.”
Robinson kept track of civic affairs and what he called “the tone of the town.” Everyone knew he’d served jail time in Missoula for drunk driving before he settled in White Fish. He said the experience made him more responsible, even when he was drunk. After he joined AA, he followed the twelve-step program which included admitting your mistakes and apologizing to people you’d hurt or damaged while drinking. I came into Kenneth’s once while Robinson was talking about his past. He told me about the twelve-steps and invited me to listen too.
“My family had enough of me and booted me out of their business. I looked around and figured I’d fit right in here in White Fish. Folks here seemed to understand that boozers like me aren’t all bad. I’d be fine and dry for weeks, once even for a year, and something would happen to start a binge, some trigger.”
“A year! That’s a long time,” I said. “Was that before you lived here?”
“Yeah,” Robinson said. “I was sure I had the booze beat then.” He laughed.  “I didn’t think the bars here would tempt me, but I didn’t realize there was one on every corner and if not a bar—then a club. How many bars do we need in a town of a thousand people? When you’re trying to ditch booze, it pops up everywhere!”
Kenneth sat on the edge of his desk, arms folded. I didn’t want to interrupt to ask for the money so I sat next to him and we both listened to Robinson.
“Last time, my binge started when I saw an ad for Seagram’s whiskey. My imagination raced to a bar stool in the Two Dot. In my mind, I pictured a glass of that coffin varnish in front of me. I could feel the weight of the heavy glass in my hand and the burning sensation you get in the throat when you swallow the hooch. My brain buzzed. I couldn’t think of anything else. Headed straight for the bottle—couldn’t stop myself.  Three days later, I woke up on my kitchen floor—three days, blacked out. What did I see when I woke up? Dead soldiers. Empty bottles: vodka, gin, whiskey, rum and a pint bottle of brandy. When I managed to stand up, I saw the rest: two windows and a lamp broken; the freezer door open; the phone off the hook. In my bed I found empty soup cans, a half-eaten can of Spam and sardines.”
“Sardines? In your bed?” I said. I could imagine the awful smell. Kenneth waved his hand in front of his face.
“Outside, my car was half-in, half-out of the garage with two flat tires. The house smelled like burnt wiring. Even though my brain was fried, I could smell myself—rotting meat, fermented fruit, and vomit. ‘Ah, I thought. This must be the famous bottom,’ I’m not going to list all the ridiculous things I discovered I did— but I apologized for days before I patched things up around town.” Robinson stopped talking and took a deep breath. Later, I learned he’d been around to everyone in town to tell them he was an alcoholic. I didn’t hear any of the worst stories. He told me he saved them for AA meetings.
“You don’t have to know the details about all those folks I hurt and let down, Chad. You know I’m an alcoholic and that’s enough, for now.”
But I did hear more about Robinson’s final drunken disaster, the one that led him to AA. Most of the legendary story came from Sam, the bartender and owner of the Two Dot. Even though I was underage and Sam could get into trouble by letting me stay, I’d play a few games of lightning cribbage with the regulars when I came by for the newspaper money. Good cribbage players hung out at The Two Dot, including Dad when he was alive.
“Sit down kid,” one of them would say. “Let’s play.”
Sam would put his beat-up cribbage board and a deck of greasy cards on the bar. It was usually the oldest guys, looking for a game. Sam had a beautiful old railroad timepiece he’d take out of his pocket and set the timer for two minutes. That was our maximum time for each turn. It was a slow pace for me—I could play a hand in thirty seconds—the time Dad gave me to figure out my discards.
Because I beat them at the game, the guys didn’t think of me as a regular kid. Chad, the kid disappeared and Chad, the cribbage player, replaced me. They didn’t bother to clean up their language or change the conversation on my account. I heard a lot in the Dot—fine points about when to curse what thing. Listening carefully, I learned the difference between horseshit and bullshit and that chickenshit is something else altogether.
It wasn’t the only place to drink in White Fish but something magnetic kept the eight bar stools full almost all day, every day. The other places downtown—The Cadillac Bar, Palm Bar and The Great Northern Bar had half the business. The Palm Bar had a funny sign outside with a changeable message, always good for a laugh.  The other day it said, “Soup of the Day—Whiskey,” but I never met the person with the sense of humor. I collected the newspaper money at those bars and left. I never hung around.
What was it about The Dot? Dad liked it—he said it was a man’s kind of place.
When I’d walk in the door, I knew from experience to breathe through my mouth and turn off my nose. The air in there was stale even though an old World War I veteran, Barry, mucked out the place every morning. Once, when I got there early, I watched while Sam was getting the bar organized. Pages from our newspaper, the White Fish Pilot, were in a pile next to him. He was standing on a step stool, rubbing Bon Ami cleanser on the back bar mirror.

“Sit down Chad. Just finishing up.” He wiped the milky cleanser off with crumpled pages of the paper.
He stepped down, pushed his wire-rimmed glasses back up his nose and had a look. Cocking his head right and left, he looked for missing spots. “Good enough for a galloping horse at midnight,” he said with a wink. Despite his efforts, the mirror looked the same—unsilvered in spots and streaked with bronze contrails. It would have taken a miracle to make it look clean. The two fluorescent bulbs attached to the mirror cast a dim light on the booze bottles and little on the customers. Sam smiled. “Romantic lighting,” he said. “Everything’s half-lit, just like my clientele.”
Every day Sam wore a white shirt and a red bow tie. His thin grey hair was side-combed over his bald head. Striped suspenders, ordered from the Sears catalog, held up his pants, baggy in the butt and loose around the waist. Sam would say he was made of chopsticks and guitar wire. “I started skinny and stayed skinny all my life,” he said.
“My gear’s a costume,” he told me. “The guys in here like a routine—they rely on me looking the same every day. The rest of their world may be shot to hell, but I’m here in my suspenders, the Two Dot’s open and the beer’s cold. It’s a safe haven for them.”
The only time Sam talked much was in the mornings before his customers began wandering in. That’s when he told me about Chicago, where he’d lived before he moved to White Fish. He’d been a high-wire ironworker.
“Worked on some of those skyscrapers and up that high, you watch your feet, every step. We didn’t have time for yakking.”
After he retired, his wife left him. “She told me there was too much me for our small house.” He moved to White Fish, where a few of his ironworker buddies lived and where he could manage to survive on half his pension, the other half going to Irene every month. Turned out he didn’t like having too little money and too much time on his hands. When the One Dot was almost destroyed by a kitchen fire, Sam borrowed money from his brother and bought the place from Mr. Graham, who said he’d just “had enough” and wanted to fish his old age away. At first, the regulars from the One Dot were wary of the reborn bar and the additional Dot, but they gradually warmed to Two Dots and Sam’s hospitality.
  As I watched, he dusted the clutter of bottles on the back shelf and arranged them in groups—whiskey on the left, and vodka on the right. With a flick of the bar towel, he shined the glasses, swiping them out fast. He’d shake the towel out after every swipe.
“Even the regulars like a sparkling clean glass,” he said, holding one up to the light for inspection.
While we talked, Barry pushed a big string mop back and forth over the cracked linoleum floor. “Jesus Murphy, you must have had a bunch of cowboys in here yesterday, eh Sam?” he said, wincing as he straightened up. He rinsed out the mop in a bucket full of bleachy water and pressed the dirty juice out with that squeegee attached to the rim. “Swabbing the deck,” Sam called it.

Barry went out the back door to change his bucket water. We could hear the black lab growl and bark at him in the alley and Barry shouting,”Get out of here, goddammit! Go home...go home.” When he came in he advised Sam to call the new dog catcher.
“That mean mutt probably belongs to someone. He’s got the wrong pig by the tail if he thinks he’s scared me, but he’s bad for business. Some guys going to wander out there, full as a tick, and get bit.” Barry returned to the mopping.
The Two Dot reeked of that floor-bleach soup first thing in the morning, but by noon the true native aroma of the place broke through and hung, like a cloud, over the bar. Eau de Two Dot was a combination smell of cigarette smoke, Montana sweat, Old Spice aftershave and denture adhesive.
If you dropped your nickel on the floor and missed the jukebox slot, when you bent over to get it, you’d get a big whiff of old barf. The smell seemed stuck to the jukebox legs and lodged around the back where Barry never bothered to swab and the barf dried up to dust. One thing about barf aroma—it doesn’t fade with time.
Barf smell or not, I loved the Rock-Ola jukebox with the changing colored lights. Barry liked it too and kept the chrome grills and fins polished. Sometimes he’d salute the juke as he walked by. “The Rock-ola people made a fine carbine for our boys during the war, Chad. When Uncle Sam called, they stopped making jukes and started making rifles. We all pulled together back then.”
Sam would give me a few nickels to play my favorites: BotchaMe, BotchaYou by Rosemary Clooney A7; Glow Worm by The Mills Brothers B28. I liked to watch the records drop onto the turntable and the automatic arm swing over and down into the groove to play. Before the customers came in Sam turned the bass control knob up to the maximum so the floor would vibrate and the glasses tinkle. Barry mopped in time to the rhythm. Sam, mouthed the words and swiped on the beat.
And the customers. Most of the gnarly guys on the bar stools loved to talk and tell stories. Some I remember had lost their teeth during the depression from lack of dental care. Sam told me their gums and jaw bones wore down after years of denture abrasion so the teeth were loose and uncomfortable. When they got drunk, they’d take out the ill-fitting zoobs and rest them on the bar. Sam would often find a set left on the back of the toilet in the men’s room. Everyone in our town called dentures, zoobs, even Mr. Lawson, the dentist.
Sam kept a bottle of denture adhesive, PolyGrip, behind the bar for an emergency glue-job. “Just as important as my olives and pickled onions,” he said. One day when I came to collect he offered me a maraschino cherry on a toothpick. That was the day he told me about Robinson’s last toot when he hit bottom in his bare-ass Valentine’s suit.
“The Moose Hall looked great for the dance decorated with paper streamers and with the mirrored ball your dad installed turning around and around on the ceiling,” said Sam.
“Before Dad put it up, that ball lived in our garage,” I said, “when the sun shone through the window, all the shiny squares lit up on it. I was sad and kind of mad when Dad took it away.”
“Well, it was a good thing for us your Dad got it installed. All the dancers were having a great time that night. Willie—you know, Mrs. Jenkins—was on door duty.”
I climbed onto the empty stool because it was going to be a long story. My legs still dangled. When I pointed my feet down, my toes just brushed the metal part where the stool was screwed into the floor. It wouldn’t be long before my feet hit the floor.
“She was counting the money at the check-in table when Robinson staggered in, shouting in a slurred voice, ‘Happy Valentine's day to you!!’ She stopped counting and turned around to greet him. Then she noticed his weird clothes.”
Toothless customer at the Two Dot.


Hunched over the bar, one of the toothless regulars chimed in.
“That crazy bastard was wearing a suit tied onto his arms and legs. It was just the front of a suit!” His words were wet and sloppy. Without his zoobs, there was too much spit in his mouth, so he sounded like Gabby Hayes.
“The suit had no back, you see, and when he whirled around, his hairy back and his shorts were on display. He fell down and just laid there in front of Willie. She got Cover, Mr. Chief-of-Police, and Dog Catcher, and two other guys to get him home screeching all the way in a voice that could worm a sheep. He’s lucky they didn’t take him to the new dog pound and throw him in.”
While Sam wiped the bar around the cribbage board—he was good at wiping while he talked—he added,
”Those guys rolled him in his front door. I guess he stayed there, passed out on the floor. A week later, after he sobered up, he came in here and told us he’d been wearing the Funeral Half-Suit.”
“What? What’s a half-suit?” I asked.
“It’s an old-fashioned thing, left over from the depression days. Robinson kept it at the mortuary for people who couldn’t afford to buy a proper suit for the dead person. It’s one step better than a sheet wrapping—what do they call it? A shroud? What a brick head! He announced he was joining AA and we wouldn’t be seeing him at the Two Dot any longer. We wished him good luck, but we're not giving away his stool at the bar just yet.”
I guessed I was supposed to laugh, but the story made me sad and sorry for Mr. Robinson. Afraid of making Sam or the others mad, I chuckled, took the newspaper money, slid off the stool and headed for the door. Wagon Train by Frankie Laine, C11 began playing as I left.
I didn’t understand. They were supposed to be Robinson’s friends, weren’t they? And they were mostly drunks themselves. What gave them the right to pick on Mr. Robinson?  
And why did I laugh when I didn’t want to?