The house isn’t large, and it’s old enough that the odd leak or dent is not a pressing issue. It’s comfortable. There are dahlias. You can walk from the covered porch down to the water. There is wireless signal on the beach. There’s an Airstream in the yard.
I don’t want the responsibility or the expense of an Airstream. I don’t want to learn how to back one into a campsite, or have to perform regular trailer maintenance or be the guy holding up a two mile line of traffic on the highway. I would just like for Debbie and I to wake up together in our own place and be the only ones in the world who know for sure where we are.
They’re unreasonably expensive and it’s not like we need the Rolls Royce of trailers, but I think it has to be an Airstream. It’s a romantic notion that’s worked its way deep into my mythology. I’d like to “fix it up”, whatever that means.
There’s nowhere in particular I’d like to take it. Lord knows I’ve traveled enough and seen enough. I think a WalMart parking lot would be fine - or someone’s back yard. I’d want the retractable awning. Here’s the picture:
It’s raining but warm. We’ve got the awning deployed and we’re sitting under it in folding chairs. We’ve just returned from a long walk and beat the rain. Maybe we have Coronas. We’re watching the WalMart shoppers going to and from their cars and we’re discussing their purchases.
I don’t remember how old I was: older than twelve and probably younger than fifteen. I know I had reached puberty. It was the topic of the conversation.
There were three boys and a girl in my Dad’s family. Jack, Dad, Fernie, and Ray, in that order, age-wise. There was a nine-year difference between Dad and Ray. Ray was the baby brother, and my Dad loved him fiercely.
Grown-ups were very different in the sixties. There was a clear and dramatic difference between childhood and adulthood. Demeanor, attitude, sense of humour, point of view, clothing, hairstyle - all different. Not at all like today where that line is blurred. Uncle Ray was a singular grown-up. He didn’t talk down to us kids. He told us jokes. Best of all, he could belch louder and longer than anyone we knew - and would bust out these spectacular prolonged burps at impressively inappropriate moments.
I remember thinking later that I’d been set up. That Dad had arranged for Uncle Ray and I to be alone together in his car. He was self-consciously squirmy in a way that I’d never seen. His face was red and he was having trouble kick-starting the conversation.
Maybe we were on our way to a motorcycle rally. Dad and Uncle Jack gave up their bikes when they married, but Uncle Ray continued to ride his Harley, and our family would attend GVMC events to watch him compete. I can’t imagine how Dad arranged for the two of us to travel together alone - Ray was married with a family at the time.
They used to call it having a talk about “the birds and the bees”. When Uncle Ray stammered into his introduction, I remember feeling a little annoyed that my Dad had passed off this right-of-passage duty to someone else. Uncle Ray was clearly not enjoying the experience either, but he gamely forged ahead.
Dad was an introvert. He expressed himself with his art, or when he played his mouth organ. He could tell good, dependable stories with beginnings and endings. He prepared follow-up stories so he wouldn’t be caught short without one. He was charming and kind with people but essentially shy and uncomfortable in the spotlight. I think Uncle Ray shared Dad’s core shyness, but he blustered on through with courageous bravado. The jokes and the funny stories broke the ice.
Dad named me - his first child - after Uncle Ray. Uncle Ray named his first child, Harry, after my Dad. Their great love and admiration for each other was obvious to anyone who saw them together.
“So, uh … how much do you know already?” Uncle Ray was looking to minimize the discomfort of the task at hand.
“Uh, you know … pretty much everything.” I lied.
“Ok, well, is there anything you need to know?”
I scrambled. There were many things sexual that were still a complete mystery to me. I needed to pick one and put us both out of our misery.
“Uh …” I muttered hopefully, “what’s a hickey?”
At the ‘celebration of life’ that we held after Dad passed away, Uncle Ray spoke about what a great brother Dad had been - how most kids would shun a sibling that was nine years younger but how Dad had taken him everywhere with him - made him toys - helped put together his first motorcycle. Listening to him speak, I was reminded once again that he was my favourite relative.
My Uncle Ray died suddenly of a heart attack on July 19th. He was seventy-six.
I have an excellent last memory of him - jamming with Connor and I and my brother Gary in our living room. He was playing his heart out on his harmonica as we played along on guitars - broad smiles on all our faces.
My sad, but perfect, memory of him took place a few days before Dad died, as he sat at Dad’s bedside and played him ‘Old Shep’ and ‘Danny Boy’ on his harmonica. ‘Old Shep’ and ‘Danny Boy’ were my Dad’s two favourite songs.
Alex wasn’t nuts about me when I first showed up - and I was just scared shitless of him. He was a strong, athletic Police Inspector who looked like Mr. Clean and I was a skinny longhaired rock singer who looked like Charles Manson. It’s ironic that the cop ultimately taught the hippy all about adaptability and flexibility.
Alex was a shining example of what a man could do if he set his sights, and his forthrightness and honesty inspired me. He also made me laugh. A lot. He was a powerful and profound influence on my life - a second father and a trusted and beloved friend. I cannot believe he’s gone.
Alex Andrascik, my father in law, passed away on July 2nd, 2006 at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster while awaiting heart surgery.
In just twenty-four short hours, the high-intensity rock-and-roll adrenalin of Toronto has subsided to the point where recalling events and impressions will be difficult. As the green and peaceful countryside rolls by my passenger seat window, I’m fighting a strong resistance to the idea of re-visiting the events of the past few days. And that’s as it should be. I am here now. In New Brunswick. In that world so eloquently and lovingly documented by David Adams Richards, one of my favourite living authors, in his magnificent novels.
Many years ago now, I bought David’s first book, “The Coming of Winter”, and was stunned by the power and depth of its intimate human drama. Several years later, In an uncharacteristically audacious move, I called up my literary hero, nervously suggesting we get together for a drink.
“Why don’t you come over for dinner?” he replied.
One of my personal highlights of 2005 was the brilliantly written Globe and Mail story about Trooper, “The Long Good Time”. As a consequence of his week in the van with the boys in the band, its author, Peter Cheney, - one of Canada’s most respected feature writers - became a close friend and the honourary sixth member of Trooper.
I invited Peter and David Richards to join me for dinner in Toronto on Wednesday night. Thanks, in part, to the hospitality of our excellent hosts, Dave and Jane Doherty and the delicious food and casually classy ambience of their ‘Town Grill’ in Old Cabbagetown, the evening became my favourite of the tour. Although the two writers had never met, I had a feeling that they would hit it off - and they did.
Cheney is an outgoing and dramatic character who speaks and thinks like he writes. He is nearly always funny, even when he’s serious.
“I met the Devil at the crossroads …” he often solemnly admits as an introduction to his next story.
David is quiet and deeply thoughtful but can also be equally hilarious.
I had a wonderful time. I think they did too.
Dinner was the welcome antidote to a pressure-filled day that included a live performance with Kim Mitchell on Toronto’s Q107 and a national interview with ET Canada’s Rick Campanelli. The next day I met with Shauna MacDonald (Officer Erica Miller on the Trailer Park Boys, Promo Girl on CBC Radio One) to talk about my possible involvement with a new TV show, and Tom Kemp and Jeff Craib from the S. L. Feldman and Associates Toronto office, with whom we drank a few beers. My book reading was at 7:00, where my old pal Stu Jeffries (97.3 FM EZ Rock in Toronto - ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’) brought me on … followed by a riotous (and particularly excellent) Horseshoe Tavern rock show with my awesome band, Trooper.
Across the intersection, in the middle of the sidewalk, sat a lone wheelchair. Its occupant, a man in his eighties, put me in mind of my Dad. He was casually smoking a cigarette and seemed more than comfortable relaxing, stationary, in the midst of the morning hustle. As I watched, a younger man, long hair spilling from under a backwards army hat, stepped up holding a white two litre container of Tropicana Orange juice. He leaned close and spoke to the man, smiling as he offered him the juice, which was accepted and quickly maneuvered to a spot behind the old man’s back.
I recognized the red star on the green army hat. Gogo had bought the hat in Kingston at the surplus store on Princess Street. Once I had identified the hat, his familiar smile came into focus. I watched as he then produced what looked like a can of pop, which he also gave to the grateful wheelchair occupant.
Gogo’s brief random act of kindness lasted only a few moments. As he turned and walked towards our hotel, the wheelchair made its way along the sidewalk. As it rolled, the large plastic bottle slipped out of the chair unnoticed and landed on the pavement twenty feet behind where the chair again stopped.
A tall, silver-haired and bearded man in a well-cut grey suit appeared, smoking a pipe and walking briskly. He stopped at the orange juice and picked it up. He held it for a moment, and then turned and walked down Gerrard street, swinging the the bottle in the warm morning air.
I’m both Christmas morning excited and sky-diving terrified. When I was writing the blog entries that eventually became the book, I imagined my audience as a group of uncritical friends who knew me well enough to suspend judgment and cut me some literary slack. Now, in book form, those same words are exposed to anyone who cares to have a look. Critics will be reading it – and, probably, voicing their opinions about it. People I know and love, alerted to the book’s release, will now be obliged to read it to see what I’ve written about them. My 90-year old Aunt Lena in Quesnel will see all the F-words.
Erik Hodgson, the publicist for the book, says it looks “great” and my good friend and front line administrator Heather Uhl says it looks “fantastic”. She got her boxes this morning. So where are mine?
“They’ll come on soon.” He promised.
Five minutes before show time, my headphones were still eerily silent. As casually as I could manage, I made a quick second visit to master control.
“They were calling the wrong number,” he said smiling “I gave them the right one”.
I returned to my room and was shuffling through my notes when the Toronto producer said “hello”. He promised that the voice of Jian Gomeshi would soon join us and we went over some technical issues while we waited.
My friend Howard Mandshein, the outrageous and charismatic Winnipeg showbiz icon, had warned me that his week on the National Playlist had been challenging. Sitting alone in my tiny triangular studio I was about to enter into a debate, on national radio, with three people I could not see and did not know, all of whom were gathered in another downtown studio 4000 kilometers away. I reached for my volume knob and cranked it up loud.
What ensued was fun from the start. Jian Gomeshi, Tara Thorne and Dalton Higgins were enthusiastic and entertaining debate-mates and the show, guided by Jian’s innate professionalism, rolled out smoothly and confidently.
My headphones became my lifeline – the focus of my complete attention. My temporal Vancouver reality shrank to the space between my face and the black mic in front of me.
During a break the headphones went quiet again.
Moments later, they crackled, and a new voice broke the silence.
“Hey” I answered, confused.
“This is Joe, I’m your engineer here in Toronto. I just wanted to say … thanks for the music”.
I’m smiling as I recall this. I enjoyed meeting and talking to Joe - across the country, through the CBC’s phone lines. He told me he was going to blog about it. And he did.
There’s no business like show business.
Click here to visit Joe Mahoney’s Blog and read about our conversation.
It's going to be really hard to keep writing this blog, now that I know that what I write could eventually be published. My first attempt at writing a quick 'welcome back' post for the new site focused on what I had wanted to be when I grew up - and how, by imagining careers as a DJ or a newspaper writer, my adolescent dreams had undershot my eventual reality. That thread collapsed in navel-gazing confusion. The next two posts self-destructed as well. The writing wasn't good enough. This is my fourth try.
Since this is my first post since the completion of the long and painfully introspective process of editing a three-years collection of wildly uneven blog-writing for my first book, I'm sure I'll get over this self-conscious hump. If I write something stupid I can fix it in the mix.
The book will be released in April - not, like a new CD, on a specific day, but over the course of the month. There are, it turns out, many differences between releasing a book and putting out a new CD, not the least of which is the fact that the book - my book - is all about me and my thoughts and experiences. I have never felt so vulnerable.
Preparation for the book's release has helped to keep my mind off the terror of literary nakedness, and the resuscitation of this website has been a part of that. Mad props to Debbie and Connor who have been my daily (and sometimes, hourly) beta testers and aesthetic gurus, and my good friend and web co-conspirator Heather Uhl, who has once again wrestled PHP, CSS and HTML into submission, helping to create Rev. 2 of ramcguire.com.
(This is the post that followed the final post in the book - and the last entry before I shut the site down for the winter)
"You should know that there may be some weight issues on the way back."
The young pilot leaned close to me and spoke quietly.
"Sorry?" I said.
"Well, with the gravel and all ..."
"Well, ya ... and the short runway. And the fact that the take off is over water. There may be some weight issues. You may have to leave some things behind tonight."
"We already left a bunch of stuff behind in Winnipeg." I said, thinking out loud. "And we play tomorrow night ..."
I paused, weighing safety against a potentially missed gig, "How much stuff?"
"No more than a hundred pounds ... but it's really up to the pilot ..." He thought for a moment, "and the wind".
Our tiny ten passenger Pilatus single engine turbo prop sat alone on the Big Trout Lake air strip - a ragged gravel swatch cut out of the lakeside forest - surrounded by the band, the crew, a small collection of gear and the community's welcoming committee.
We moved quietly through the gathering entourage, shaking hands and making introductions. Accompanied by Eno, the show's coordinator, Luke, our constant companion for the evening, and three teenage boys, we boarded a battered yellow school bus for the ride to the "resting place". We crashed and bounced through the trees on dusty dirt roads - I raised my left hand, like a rodeo bull rider, bouncing on my seat. We hooted and hollered. Glen the school teacher - obviously British, wearing a Tilley hat, steel-rimmed glasses, shorts and boots grinned from behind the wheel.
"Kish'n'mayg'sib" Luke delivers the community's name as though it contains no more than two syllables.
"A little slower, Luke. Who's got a pen?"
"Kitchen - aw - maygo - sip" I repeated the word over and over in the arena's basement dressing room.
"Kitchenawmagosip, Kitchenawmagosip, Kitchenawmagosip"
"You've got it now" said Luke, smiling.
"Kitchenawmagosip" I repeated, unconvinced.
Kitchenawmagosip, or Big Trout Lake as it's called on the map, is an hour and a half flight northeast of Winnipeg. It's not accessible by road in the summer, when the ice-roads have melted. They have two stores, a school, a police station with three policemen, a woman's shelter, and a small hotel with a restaurant. They are planning a youth centre and a laundromat. We were there as part of a celebration that also included square dancing, fiddle music and a $50,000 Bingo game.
"Take us there!" we said when we heard.
"Two Fifty a card" replied one of the buzz-cut teenagers.
"Two hundred and fifty dollars?"
"That's how we do things." Eno said proudly.
About a hundred people, in two rows of chairs, sat at the halfway point in the large dark arena. The six o'clock show-time had drifted to seven. Our high-intensity intro music exploded in the silent, near empty arena and the first show began. It is fair to say that first nations people have a general tendency to shyness. As an audience, they applaud appreciatively between songs but lack the animated interaction of a typical rock crowd. After I insisted that they move their chairs closer to the stage, the small audience began to warm up. They smile. Shyly.
We have flown from Vancouver to Winnipeg, from Winnipeg to Big Trout Lake and performed a ninety minute set. Our second show begins after a short thirty minute break - most of which is squandered signing autographs at the t-shirt table. We are already exhausted as we take the stage for the second time that day.
"That second show was on fire!" says Luke quietly as we make our way down the basement hallway to our bright yellow dressing room.
"Hey thanks." I say, shaking his outstretched hand.
By 11:00 PM we are assembled again at the airstrip. The warm, clear northern night is pin-drop quiet - headlights from a few randomly parked pickups provide enough light to load the gear. We talk quietly as we say our farewells. Luke promises to email photos. Eno's handshake turns into a hug. I step away from the group for a moment to discuss the weight issue with the pilot.
Ten minutes later, as we fly back to the tree-line, the copilot shuts off all the lights in the plane. We are high above the clouds and sharing the sky with a massive display of northern lights. Our tiny plane is surrounded by enormous curtains of shimmering and dancing light. Like children, we press our faces to the small windows - maneuvering our elbows to the seats in an effort to see higher into the night sky.
An hour passes before Winnipeg floats into view in front of us. We take turns craning over the pilots' shoulders as the city lights grow brighter. Soon, two clearly defined parallel rows of lights position themselves below and ahead of us. It still seems like a very long way down. Tilted at a slight angle to break our speed, but moving straight towards the runway, we descend smoothly to the Winnipeg tarmac.