We played up in Whitehorse one time

My roommate plays banjo. He moved into the house in January. I saw his banjo case on moving day.

“Hey Gabe, cool, you play!”

“Yeah,” he smiled. “You?”

“Guitar and woodwinds,” I answered.

“Nice. We’ll have to play sometime,” he said.

“Mos def!”

We did play shortly after that for about twenty minutes one day, spur of the moment. I was headed out to a gig and Gabe had plans too but we played a few songs in the time we had, just to get it going. Then we set a time to play for real, when we’d have a few hours to hang out together.

Gabe’s never played professionally but he’s played banjo for twelve years and he’s good. Gabe Stratton. He’s a fisherman. He works on a boat out of Cedar Point. He’s thirty years old. He’s gay. No big deal, I just mention it because it’s part of him and I’m writing about him for the first time here. Would I mention it if he was straight? Hmmm, gotta think about that.

He moved here from Langley but he’s originally from Smithers in northwestern B.C. We’ve played together several times either in the living room or on the back deck. That second time we played together was when he’d only been living here for a little while and we hadn’t had much chance to talk. It was a good way to get to know each other.

We set aside two hours to play on a Saturday, late in the afternoon, we’d have supper together afterward. Our other roommate, Martelle, was away so we had the house to ourselves. With Gabe on the banjo, I played acoustic. I never play my acoustic guitar on a gig, it just hasn’t come up, I usually play it in my room, practicing.

That afternoon we played a bunch of country and bluegrass, the kind of stuff you’d expect to hear on the banjo. I’m not that familiar with a lot of those kind of tunes so I just followed Gabe. We had a good time. Gabe even sang a couple.

Afterward, we made and ate supper together and talked about music and playing. I’m always interested in talking to people about what music means in their life. You learn a lot about people from that.

Over spaghetti and meatballs, I asked Gabe how he got started.

“My grandfather taught me when I was a teenager. His father played the banjo on the radio in Vancouver in the 1920s. Grandpa taught me on a tenor banjo, that’s the four-string, when I was eighteen,” Gabe told me. “I’d been messing around on guitar for a couple years, like a lot of teenagers, but I wasn’t serious about it and I wasn’t really into rock and that’s all my friends ever played, so I didn’t play that much. But playing rhythm on the banjo, just strumming it like a guitar, with my grandfather doing the fancy finger-picking, that was fun! He was a good guy and I liked spending time with him. After a few months, I bought an old 5-string. He showed me a few things to get me started but I picked up a lot of it on my own. And I’d surprise him with some new trick I’d learned or some new way to play an old song.”

“What do you know about you great-grandfather?” I asked.

“In the 1920s, My great-grandfather was known on Vancouver radio as “Singin’ Stan, The Banjo Man.” I don’t know many details but he was popular, he played for several years on one station, then he played a few more on another station. And he did appearances around town, mostly to promote his sponsors. My father has a recording of Singin’ Stan from 1927 or ’28. He sings and plays ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ which was a fairly new song then, only a couple years old.” Gabe smiled as he recalled the recording. “It sounds…like the 1920s, you know? It’s a little funny to hear today, the style and all, but you can tell he’s a good player.”

“You have musical genes, I guess. Did your parents play?” I asked.

“Not really. My mother’s not musical. My father played guitar when he was young but he wasn’t into it that much. He didn’t play after high school. I saw him play once at a family reunion in Smithers, I was thirteen, it was the only time he’s played as an adult. It was just one song. A few people brought their instruments, they didn’t call it a jam, they just played. It was country and folk and bluegrass. Anyway my Grandma says to my father, “Joe, sit next to your father and play a song so I can get a nice picture of the two of you.” I don’t think he wanted to but he wasn’t going to argue with his mother in front of all the relatives. Somebody handed him a guitar and he strummed a couple chords and said, “Tennessee Waltz” and he started playing the chords. My grandfather jumped right in on the banjo. My cousin was playing fiddle and she sang that one. My uncles were playing, my aunt too. I’d seen them play before. It was fun to see my father join in. There were about forty relatives there. They’d been talking and the music was kind of off to the side, a couple people had been listening but you know, it’s a reunion, people are catching up with each other and eating and kids are running around. The musicians in the family were playing for themselves. But when my father started playing the guitar, the talking stopped and everyone watched and listened, it was a rare thing, probably brought back memories for some of them. The last verse, we all sang it. Everyone applauded at the end. It was a nice moment.”

We both smiled, me at the story, Gabe at the memory. I told Gabe about how I started playing. Then we talked about the musicians we listened to growing up who inspired us as players.

When we were done eating, we cleared our plates and cleaned up the kitchen. Then we went outside and shared a joint in the backyard, up against the house so no neighbours would notice. Afterward we settled in the living room. I was still nursing my beer from supper, Gabe got a refill from the fridge and cracked it open.

“So your grandfather who taught you, did he play professionally?” I asked from the couch.

“Oh yeah,” said Gabe as he settled into a comfy chair. “He had a day job but he was a weekend musician. Played all around Smithers and the nearby towns.”

And then Gabe told me the most amazing and funny story…

“My grandfather played banjo in a duo, the other guy, Phil, played guitar. They’d play and sing and tell a few jokes. They called it ‘good time music.’ It wasn’t a fancy show, just a couple guys playing for you and talking to you like you were in their living room. They just billed themselves as Phil & John. They weren’t related but they looked like could have been, people would always ask. After awhile they called themselves The Smithers Brothers.

“In the late 1960s, a reporter from a San Francisco newspaper came up to Smithers, doing an article about the environment. He liked the area and he wrote a second article about the town, the people and the growing arts community. He saw Grandpa and Phil play and included a couple of paragraphs about them in his article. A few weeks later, Grandpa got a letter from some big law firm in Los Angeles. A big TV network in the States was demanding that Grandpa and Phil stop using the name, The Smithers Brothers. They said it infringed on The Smothers Brothers TV show. It was a pretty popular show in the States in those days. You ever see it?”

“I don’t think so,” I said, “I’ve heard of them though.”

“Yeah, me too, I learned their name when I first heard this story in the family but I’ve heard of them otherwise over the years. I watched some clips on Youtube a few years ago. They were funny, the parts that I got. A lot of political humour, U.S. politics from 1968,” he laughed, “I guess it was funny, the audience sure thought so.

“Anyway, those big companies figure regular people will be scared off and just do what they say. But not Grandpa, he thought the whole thing was funny. He thought it’d be even funnier if he put up a fight. So he went to court and sued CBS! He claimed The Smithers Brothers were working before The Smothers Brothers and he demanded they change the name of the TV show or pay him and his partner a thousand dollars a piece, U.S.”

I was laughing. “A thousand dollars!”

“Yeah,” Gabe said, “People were like, ‘John, you should have sued them for a million.’ But it was all part of the joke to him.

“My grandfather was a printer. He did a lot of work for the courthouse and local law firms. So he bartered. He gave a lawyer he knew a cut rate on all his printing for two years or until the law suit was settled if it took longer than that and the lawyer didn’t charge him anything for legal services.

“A date was set for a settlement conference and a bunch of high-priced lawyers from New York and Los Angeles came up to Smithers. It was a big deal in town. It got big coverage from the local newspapers and radio. A bunch of musicians and local artsy people showed up at the courthouse with signs and they chanted and marched and they booed the CBS lawyers when they entered the courthouse. The protesters were just kidding, having fun. They were all friends of my grandfather and they wanted in on the joke.

“The CBS lawyers wanted the case moved to Vancouver and brought to the Supreme Court. But Grandpa had filed the case in Small Claims Court and the judge saw no reason for it to be sent to another court. That’s part of why Grandpa only sued for two-thousand dollars. The idea of taking a multi-million dollar international corporation to Small Claims Court in the middle of nowhere in British Columbia was a riot!,” Gabe laughed and I did too. “At that point, CBS wasn’t interested in settling the suit, they were playing tough so Grandpa would give in. But that was fine with my grandfather, he was having fun. The judge set a date for a trial.

“When the date was coming up, CBS tried to get it postponed. The judge denied it. Then something happened that changed the whole situation, one of the actual Smothers Brothers got involved. He gave an interview to The Los Angeles Times and mocked CBS for trying to strong-arm two regular guys for no good reason and he offered to pay the legal fees for my grandfather. He said The Smothers Brothers might come up to Smithers to watch the trial. And he said they’d bring their instruments so The Smothers Brothers could jam with The Smithers Brothers. Probably every newspaper in North America ran that story. Grandma says when Grandpa read the story to her, he was laughing so hard, she couldn’t understand him, so she had to read it herself.

“It wasn’t the kind of publicity CBS wanted. They asked to meet with my grandfather before the trial and he agreed. This time they only sent two lawyers. They met at the office of Grandpa’s lawyer. CBS wanted to settle. They wanted Grandpa to drop the suit and agree that The Smithers Brothers would never use that name outside of Bulkley Valley. CBS would pay the two-thousand dollars and cover my grandfather’s legal fees.

“But Grandpa didn’t like those terms. My grandfather – he was around my age at the time – he’d only been to Vancouver once in his life and didn’t really have any plans to go there again. But he told the CBS attorneys about his father, playing banjo on the radio in Vancouver in the 1920s. He said if a Vancouver radio station ever wanted him to play the banjo, he’d want to say yes and play with Phil as The Smithers Brothers. He said it would be important to him, to do something his father had done over forty years earlier.

“The CBS lawyers wanted to make him happy, make him go away, so they agreed to allow The Smithers Brothers to use that name within the borders of British Columbia. Then Grandpa says, “We played up in Whitehorse one time…..”

I burst into laughter. Gabe paused, laughed, and continued…

“Grandpa says, “Phil’s cousin was getting married, so we played their reception. Their tenth anniversary is coming up next year and Phil already told them we’d go up to play it. I’d hate to disappoint them. I’d hate to disappoint my wife too, we were planning to make a holiday of it.”

I was rolling on the couch now, I was laughing so hard. Gabe was laughing too as he continued…

“The CBS lawyers missed the point so Grandpa’s lawyer explained that Whitehorse is in another province. So they changed their offer to allow The Smithers Brothers to perform under that name in British Columbia and Yukon Territory. Grandpa agreed.”

“Oh my God, this is great,” I said, still laughing.

“Then they negotiated the financial settlement,” Gabe said.

“Grandpa said he thought two-thousand dollars in damages was appropriate to compensate for the suffering he’d been through after receiving the original letter demanding they drop The Smithers Brothers name. “But I’ve been through a lot more suffering since,” he said. He told about all the reporters who called him at home asking for interviews. He had turned every one of them down because he wasn’t interested in being famous. He pointed out that CBS would have looked a lot worse if he’d granted those interviews and spoken his mind. He thought they owed him something for that.

“The lead CBS attorney offered him five-thousand dollars, U.S. Grandpa thought that was fair, to a point. “That’s okay for me,” he said, “but I got a partner.” As he said it, he realized it was a line from a Marx Brothers film and it was all he could do to keep from laughing. “What about Phil?” Grandpa said, “He suffered too.” The attorney offered another five-thousand dollars for Phil. My grandfather agreed.

“Grandpa accepted the CBS offer to pay his legal fees, then he explained those fees would be the cost of print work for his attorney’s practice for the next two years. The CBS attorney offered another five-thousand dollars. “How much printing you planning to do, Tom?” Grandpa asked his lawyer. “Well, we do need new letterhead…” Tom began to reply. “Seventy-five hundred,” the CBS lawyer said, “Final offer.” Grandpa looked at Tom who nodded. “Okay, Mr. Kuppman,” Grandpa said as he extended his hand, “we have a deal.”

“When it was over and the CBS attorneys had left the office and were on the street, out of earshot, my Grandpa and his lawyer laughed their asses off.”

Then I did the same thing, Gabe was laughing too. But he wasn’t finished.

“The icing on the cake happened a few weeks later after the settlement was in the news. The details of the settlement weren’t made public but it was obvious my grandfather had won, beating the huge corporation. It was pretty big news in B.C. A radio station in Vancouver paid for Grandpa and Phil and their wives to fly down to Vancouver for a weekend. They saw the sights, ate in a fancy restaurant, took in a show, all expenses paid. And on the Sunday night, The Smithers Brothers performed an hour-long concert that was broadcast live. The whole story had received so much attention that CBC Radio wanted to air it nationally but Grandpa’s attorney thought it might violate the settlement so he advised against it. Grandpa didn’t want to talk to any more lawyers from New York so he turned CBC down. He didn’t care about it anyway. He was just glad to be playing on the radio in Vancouver, like his father had. My great-grandfather was still around then, he was close to 70, but he was quite ill and could barely talk. He wasn’t aware of all the legal stuff or Grandpa’s big joke on CBS. But Grandpa played him a tape of the radio concert. His father tapped his foot to the music and hummed along to a few of the songs. When it was over, he took his son’s hand and held it tight and smiled at him and with his hoarse voice he struggled to say, “So proud.” My Grandpa had tears in his eyes when he told me that.”

I nodded, seeing the moment in my mind.

Gabe had more. “A couple weeks after the Vancouver trip, a big package arrived in the post, it was from Los Angeles. The Smothers Brothers had sent Grandpa a brand new top-of-the-line banjo.”

“Wow,” I said, smiling big. “How cool is that?”

“Over the years,” Gabe said, “whenever anyone would bring it up, “John, tell ’em about the time you sued CBS!” he loved telling the story. Most people would say, why didn’t you sue for more? I heard Grandpa answer once, “The whole thing was a joke. I never expected it to turn into that big a joke. The sight of this team of lawyers, coming all the way from New York and Los Angeles up here to little old Smithers, and making a stink about two-thousand dollars was more hilarious than anything! Imagine how much it cost just to send those high-priced lawyers here. CBS must have paid more than two-thousand dollars in legal fees before those lawyers even got here! That was enough for me, right there!” he laughed. “And then to actually get money out of it?…” he just shook his head, amazed at the silliness of the whole thing.”

“And that story, which has been told in the family many times over the years, it pretty much sums up my Grandpa. A good guy who enjoys a good joke,” Gabe said. He chuckled.

“That’s a great story, Gabe,” I said. “You really should write it down.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said, “you’re right. Maybe someday.”

The Girls

My Friday night gig with Jen & The Generics is at the Black Hole in Cedar Point.

I guess if Cedar Point was big enough, it would have a rock club and a strip joint. But since it’s not, it has The Black Hole, strip joint by day, rock club by night.

“The girls” is how everybody refers to the performers. Except me. I can’t refer to a woman as a girl. Even if everybody else is.

I don’t call them “the strippers” either. I don’t know why, really, I just don’t. Around the club, I refer to them as “the dancers.” Sometimes to a customer, I might say “the ladies,” though I don’t have much opportunity to talk to the customers.

It doesn’t bother me to hear the customers or bartenders or others calling them, “the girls,” ’cause that’s the usual way in their line of work. The dancers even refer to each other as “the girls.” But I just don’t do it.

It does bother me if I hear it outside a strip club. Men calling women, “girls,” has always bothered me. It’s right up there with, “the wife.” One of my Dad’s friends used to say that. It would make my mother bristle. It’s a respect thing.

I remember watching my grandfather and how he treated my grandmother. Gramps is just an average guy, worked in a cannery most of his life. He just has a way that he treats people – men, women, young, old, whatever color or background, he just blows right past all that and zones right in on you, who you are inside, your soul, your essence. When you’re talking to him and he looks at you, it’s like he’s touching you, holding your hand or putting a hand on your shoulder, mentally I mean, or spiritually. He listens. And he hears. I don’t know anyone else like him.

Anyway, when I was young, I noticed how he treated Grams differently than my father treated my mother or than other men treated their wives. He treated all women differently than other men did. I was a child, noticing this. I didn’t understand what I was seeing nor can I say now why it caught my attention but it did. Maybe it was because the women around him all liked him, they connected with him in some way that stood out to me. There was something different going on. It was a nice difference, something special about it. It made me feel Gramps was a special person.

My grandfather wouldn’t call the performers at the Black Hole, “the girls” either. He calls them “the exotic dancers.” And when he says it, I always smile. I can’t help it.

People don’t realize how hard those dancers work.

They’re finished working long before my gig starts but I drop off some of my gear in the afternoon sometimes, so I know a few of them to say hi to. I run into some of them backstage, sometimes just as they come off the stage and they’re naked or just wrapping a towel or robe around themselves. It could be embarrassing but I try to treat it like normal contact with co-workers. I know it sounds funny but hey, that’s what it is!

If I did it any other way, I’d just be one more jerk they have to deal with while they’re working. They all seem to like me, they always say hi.

I’m not saying that close proximity to naked women isn’t a turn-on. I’m not saying that at all. If they’re on stage, I’ll watch. And yeah, sure, I might have a natural reaction, I mean hell, it’s sexy! But no off-stage gawking. No way.

Anyway, Patti would probably chop it off if I ever thought otherwise.

Ouch.

Canada Votes

Sunday night I worked the overnight shift at the bakery in Cedar Point. I usually sleep all day Monday but this was Election Day. Had to set my alarm for three p.m. so I’d have enough time to wake up, go vote, and then drive up to Richmond to my brother’s.

The line to vote at the school was long, it extended outside to the street. I was glad I made the extra time. I would have done the advance polls but I’ve been working so much, it never worked out.

That’s why Mondays are good for me, even though I sleep all day. At least I know I’m going to be off. I need that. It’s rare that I’ll get a gig on a Monday night. I’ll take it if I do but if they came in all the time, I’d turn most of them down.

I do play in a rehearsal band that meets on the second Monday night of every month. Otherwise, I have dinner with my brother a couple times a month on Monday nights. Most of the time we go out to eat but since the Blue Jays were in the playoffs, Rich said he’d cook so we could watch the game and the election returns.

By the time I got to his house, the radio was already saying the Liberals were going to win, the only question was by how much.

“Did you vote?” Rich asked, standing in his doorway as if my answer would determine whether or not I was allowed to enter. That was Rich being funny.

“Of course,” I said. “You?” I just asked that to tease him. Rich is Mr. Responsible, there was no question he’d voted. He just made a face. We both smiled and he let me in. We hugged. I took off my jacket and laid it over a chair next to the TV, which was tuned to the election news.

“I wanted to go Green,” I said as the TV flashed the results of a riding somewhere in Quebec, “but Harper had to be fired, so I voted NDP, like always,”

“You were supposed to vote Liberal to kick Harper out,” Rich lectured. He was just teasing too.

“Hey, this is B.C.,” I protested, “How was I supposed to know everybody joined the Grits overnight? Who do I look like, Peter Mansbridge?”

Rich looked me over and then turned toward the TV for a moment, then back to me. “A dead ringer, it’s amazing!” he said with a smile. “Heck, I thought you’d go Lib just because Trudeau wants to legalize marijuana.”

“That would be a good reason, I guess,” I laughed, “but in Kingfisher riding we have Judith Wilson. Well, we had Judith Wilson, I just heard on the radio that the Liberal guy’s probably gonna win. Too bad. I played a couple of campaign events she was at, heard her speak, she’s really smart. A professor of something. She’s nice too, after one event she shook hands with everyone in the band, the caterer’s staff, the coat checker, she thanked everybody personally. I voted for her last time, couldn’t see any reason not to do it again. Plus I agree with her on the issues.”

Rich nodded. “Hey Mitch, change in plans, I know I said I’d cook burgers but I was over at Grams’ yesterday and she was making her seafood stew and — ”

“No way!” I said

“Yes way!” he said as he led me down the hall toward the kitchen. With every step the aroma of my grandmother’s glorious seafood stew wafted over me and into my nose and my mouth and into each and every pore. I could smell and taste and feel it all over.

In the kitchen, a smaller TV was tuned to the election coverage. Rich went to the stove, where a large pot sat on low heat. He lifted its cover and drew a deep breath as the steam escaped. I leaned closer and took it in too. We smiled at each other, two brothers being hugged tenderly by an invisible but giant clove of garlic.

“When I told her we were getting together tonight, she insisted,” he said. “I didn’t argue with her.”

“You’ve always been the smart one, Rich,” I said, smiling.

“Speaking of which,” he brought the conversation back to the original subject, “I voted for Harper the first time but not since. I went Liberal this time….”

Rich was interrupted by Peter Mansbridge’s voice from the TV calling a majority for the new Liberal government. “Wow!” Rich said. I don’t know too much about politics but I was pretty surprised too.

“This is historic, we should celebrate!” Rich said.

“But my candidate lost!” I said in mock protest. I don’t drink much but I wasn’t about to stop a celebration, no matter what it was for. Rich walked into the dining room and opened the lower doors of the china cabinet.

“This’ll do nicely while we wait for the stew,” he said as he examined a bottle of bourbon. Rich opened the upper glass door to the cabinet and pulled out two whiskey glasses. He brought them into the living room and placed them on the coffee table. Then he retrieved the bottle. I took a seat and he poured while Peter Mansbridge and his panel talked about the Liberals’ big win.

“Dad gave me this,” Rich said.

“Dad gives you bourbon?”

“Yeah,” he nodded, “expensive shit too.” Rich raised his glass. “To the new government,” he said.

“To the end of the campaign,” I added.

“Hear, hear!” said Rich. We sipped. It was smooth shit. “Thanks, Dad,” Rich toasted. I repeated it and we sipped again.

“Dad voted for Harper as usual?” I half-asked, half-stated.

“Not this time,” Rich said.

“No?”

He shook his head. “I talked to him last night. He said he was voting Liberal.”

I sat up straight, somewhat stunned. “I thought he hated Trudeau’s father?”

“He did,” Rich said, “but that was later. He voted for him once. You know he met Mom at a Pierre Trudeau rally?”

“Yeah. I heard her tell that story to Mrs. Menard once. But I was like fifteen at the time, I didn’t really pay attention. And Dad never…well, you know.”

Rich nodded. All I knew about my parents’ relationship was what I could remember from when I was a kid and what Rich has told me in the last couple of years. Dad never talks about things like that, at least not for long or with any detail.

“So Dad wanted to fire Harper too?” I was still surprised.

“Yeah, he voted for him the other times but…well, just like me…you know, time for a change.”

“Well, I guess he couldn’t vote NDP.” We both laughed.

“He wasn’t going to vote at all,” Rich said, adopting a more serious tone. “He was pissed off about Harper’s attitude and the secrecy. He used the word ‘disgusted’ several times. He said Harper’s like Richard Nixon without the intellect, just the flaws.”

I nodded even though I don’t know enough about past American presidents to appreciate the point. Rich brought me right back when he said,

“He did it for Mom.”

“What?”

“He told me on the phone that he voted Liberal because he knew if Mom were still alive, she’d be voting Liberal because of Justin Trudeau. And since he wasn’t going to cast a vote himself, he decided to vote for her…like…on her behalf. He said he knows it would make her happy.”

Rich’s voice cracked on those last words. I nodded. Wow. That’s a deeper thought about emotions than anything I’ve ever heard Dad say.

“After we hung up, I kept thinking about it. Cried a little,” Rich said. I reached over and put my hand on his. We just sat there for a moment.

Peter Mansbridge’s voice filled the void, “…not only are the Liberals winning big tonight but, here in Toronto, the Blue Jays are winning big, as well…”

“Hey!!! YES!!!” Rich and I both let out a cheer and raised our glasses to Canada’s baseball team.

“Mom would like that news too,” I said. “Yes she would!” Rich agreed with a smile. “Hey, that stew must be ready. Put the game on, I’ll get supper. You want a beer with it?”

“Hell no,” I said, “I’ll be working on this bourbon for the rest of the night. How about a Coke?”

“Coming right up.”

Just like the election, the baseball game was a blowout, so we didn’t need to pay close attention to either one. As we ate seafood stew and talked, Rich flipped the channel between the news and the game every few minutes.

We’d finished eating when Stephen Harper’s face came on the screen as he was about to give his speech to his supporters in Calgary. Rich grabbed the clicker. “We don’t have to listen to this guy anymore,” he said as he flipped back to the ballgame.

Later, we brought our plates to the kitchen. “Dessert?” Rich asked.

“Whaddaya got?”

He smiled. “When I stopped in to Grams’, she was getting ready for that Election Day bake sale at her polling station. Guess what else she’d made.”

My eyes lit up. “Not blackberry pie?”

“She sent me home with two huge pieces.”

“Oh man! Ice cream?”

“Got it.”

“This is great!” I clapped my hands and laughed.

We took our pie and ice cream to the living room and devoured it as we waited for Justin Trudeau’s speech. They switched to Montreal when Trudeau entered the ballroom to cheers and they showed him shaking hands as he made his way to the stage.

“Hey Mitch,” Rich said quietly, as if someone else might hear, “since we’re celebrating here and all…you got anything we might celebrate with?”

This was Rich Newmore saying this. Rich, not Mitch. Mr. Responsible. Mr. Straight. Mr. Take No Chances. Mr. Upstanding Citizen. Mr….well, you get my point. “Yeah. Of course,” I said. “You sure?”

“If I wasn’t sure, I wouldn’t be asking,” he said.

“Right.” I reached for my jacket and pulled a joint and a lighter from the left-hand pocket. “Got something we can use for an ash tray?”

Rich went into the dining room, opened the china cabinet and came back with a tea cup. Justin Trudeau began speaking and I lit the joint and took a long drag, then handed it to Rich. He took a long toke and then coughed a bit.

When Trudeau switched to French I spoke up. “What’s going on? You okay?”

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s this election. They called it a couple weeks before Mom’s birthday. She would have been sixty. I’d been thinking about her birthday for a few weeks already and then the election…and a Trudeau…and I don’t know. Every time I’d hear him talk or hear some news about him, I’d think how Mom would have reacted. She would have really been into it…a son of Pierre Trudeau!…plus, he’s handsome. I think she would have liked that too,” he said. Then he took a toke.

“I still can’t believe Dad went Liberal,” I said.

“Yeah, I know,” Rich said as he handed me the joint. “That phone call with Dad last night. And now this…” he pointed to the TV screen, “…this big victory. It’s history. Mom would have loved it. I can just picture her talking about it with Gramps…”

“Yeah,” I said, smiling at that image.

We stopped talking for a while but Justin Trudeau kept going. We just listened and smoked.

Rich held the joint for too long and it went out. He started to hand it to me but I gave him the lighter. He took it and paused for a moment, looking at the joint in one hand and the lighter in the other. It was almost as if he couldn’t remember what he was supposed to do. Then he lit it and puffed away. Rich used to get high when he was younger but only once in a while and, partly because he’s ten years older than me, we’ve only shared a joint maybe a half-dozen times…and not in years.

We finished the joint long before Trudeau finished his speech. It was a good speech, long but good. I don’t believe much of what politicians say but it was upbeat, positive…and they don’t have enough of those.

Rich was drinking a beer and I was still nursing that bourbon as Peter Mansbridge and the experts talked some more.

“That’s some good shit you’re getting these days, Mitch,” Rich was sitting back in his chair, it was obvious he was completely relaxed. “Man, I am zoned out. Mmmm.”

I chuckled and took the last sip of bourbon. “Hey bro, mind if I stay over?”

“Guest room’s all made up,” he said. “It’s yours, as always.” He smiled, a kind of trance-like smile.

“In that case,” I stood up, “I’m going to help myself to a beer.”

“Whoa,” Rich said as if in shock. “Two adult beverages in one night? Who are you and what have you done with the real Mitchell Newmore?” I laughed.

I came back from the kitchen with a bottle of some fancy craft beer. To me, beer is beer but Rich is a beer snob.

“Hey, you’re out of Labatt’s,” I said, teasing.

“I’m always out of Labatt’s, bro.” Rich smiled. “The last time I saw you have more than one drink or one beer was at that Grey Cup party at my old apartment. That was five years ago. You were slightly blitzed.”

“Slightly? To this day I still can’t remember who played in that game,” I said.

Rich laughed. “I’ll bet you remember that tall redhead babe who made goo-goo eyes at you all day.”

“Vaguely,” I said, laughing. “But I definitely remember her boyfriend, your buddy from work. He was built like a football player. He couldda been playing for whoever was in that game. He couldda kicked my ass if I flirted with his girlfriend.”

“Oh Carl, yeah he’s a stud, always with some lovely lady. And that was Montreal-Saskatchewan,” Rich said. “Alouettes, in a close one.”

“Well, I was wasted. And drunk. The only thing I remember about that game is the whole gang dancing in the living room, during the halftime show.”

Rich pointed at me and shouted, “Bachman-Turner Overdrive!”

We both jumped to our feet and started dancing, pointing at each other and loudly singing, “B-b-b-baby, you just ain’t seen na-na-nothin’ yet!” And then collapsed into our chairs in laughter.

“Now I remember that redhead,” I said. “At least, I remember her ass movement on that song.”

“She could dance,” Rich said. “I definitely remember her ass. I think about it from time to time. It’s one of the truly great asses.” We both laughed.

“I wonder what she’s doing now?” I joked.

“I wonder if Carl still has her phone number?” Rich was joking too.

“Hey, seriously, you should get that phone number. Or somebody’s phone number. You gotta get out man, meet someone,” I said, “Before you get too old!” I was joking but I wasn’t.

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Rich said. “I get busy with work and… I don’t know. I gotta get motivated, I know.”

“You gotta get laid is what you gotta get.”

“I do, yeah. You’re right, damn it!” he slapped his hand on the arm of the chair. “Seriously, I know. I’m lonely. I gotta do something about it. Now.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear you saying it,” I said, with affection.

Rich nodded. “Yeah, thanks, Mitch. I appreciate your concern.” He sat up a little. “There’s this woman at work, probably twenty-three, twenty-four –”

“Whoa, bro. You ARE taking action!”

“No, no,” Rich laughed, “no I’m not interested in her. I mean, heck, she’s very cute,” he laughed, “but too young for me, no, no…it was something she said the other day…about this very subject, me going on a date, getting out there. I had a meeting with a big client and I had to change ties. I got soup on my tie at lunch, anyway… I have two emergency ties in my desk. She just happened to come in, Ellie, she was bringing me some paperwork and I said, ‘Ellie, I got a meeting with Markiewicz, which tie do you like?’ And she says, ‘You should wear the brown one.’ Okay, I says. And she says, ‘But I like the purple one.’ That caught me be surprise. She says, ‘Save that one for the next time you want to impress a lady.’ Oh, I says. Okay, thanks. I was a little embarrassed. And as she’s leaving she turns and says, ‘Mr. Newmore, I probably shouldn’t get involved…but…you know the insurance company on the third floor? The office manager there is Donna. She would like that tie.’ Oh? I says. ‘Trust me,’ she says. And she walks out.”

“Wow, that’s…unusual,” I said.

“Ya think?” Rich said.

I laughed. “So…are you going to do something about it?”

“Well…yeah, I think so, if I don’t wimp out,” he said. “I made it a point to go to the cafeteria at the time that I’ve seen people from that office go in. I wasn’t sure who Ellie meant. I got my lunch and looked for a table.” Rich sipped on his beer.

“And…?”

“I sat down and had lunch.”

“That’s it?”

“Well, yeah. But I figured out which one is Donna.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, this one woman looked my way several times. She was trying to hide it. I’m sure she’s the one,” he said, “Attractive too.”

“Cool. So…?”

“Well, the last couple days, I’ve been trying to figure out some excuse to go into that office. Today, I thought of one. Tomorrow, I’m going in.” He said it as if he were embarking on a military mission. For emphasis, he saluted me.

I returned the salute. “Good luck, Captain,” I said.

“Thank you, Corporal,” he said, “that will be all.”

Peter Mansbridge had signed off awhile ago and the B team had come on to repeat everything for those of us on the west coast. It was after ten, Rich had to go to work in the morning, the night was winding down.

I was going to tell Rich about my run-in with the police but there was never a good moment for it. The whole thing was a case of mistaken identity anyway, there’s no record of anything. And they caught the guy they were looking for a couple days later. It’s almost like it never happened. There’s no reason to tell anybody about it. It freaked me out for a couple days. I told Patty and I’ll tell Rich next time. Otherwise, I’d just rather forget it.

Welcome to Cedar Point

Man, it’s been crazy, like a whirlwind.

My grands are closing up their cottage the last weekend of October, so I had to look for a new place. Thursday was moving day, sort of. My lease started yesterday. I’m all moved in, slept here last night.

I rented a house on a nice street, right in Cedar Point. Can’t afford it by myself — it’s a three-bedroom house — so I had to advertise for two roommates. I put an ad in the paper and on a website too. I got a few calls but only one person came to look at the place. But she took both rooms!

Her name is Oshi. She’s very nice. She’s from Japan, a photographer. She’s going to use one bedroom as a darkroom.

The house is owned by a college professor. She’s on a sabbatical, spending a year in Asia, took her whole family with her. They’re not going to live in this house when they get back, they’re building a new house in Vancouver. I guess they’ll sell this place then.

Anyway, they moved everything out a month ago. That’s why I say yesterday was “sort of” moving day. The professor agreed to let me move stuff in early, so I’d already brought most of it over. I did some last week and the rest over the weekend.

Tuesday night I brought the TV over. I put that off as long as I could because the cable hookup won’t be until next Monday, earliest appointment I could get. Sucks too, ’cause I have to work at the bakery Sunday night and I usually sleep all day Mondays. Now I’ll have to be waiting for the cable guy.

I also brought most of my clothes over Tuesday night. The deal with the owner was I could drop things off, not move in. That had to wait until the lease began, October first.

But I found myself unpacking a couple things. And then a couple more. Eventually I had all my clothes put away, I set up the TV so it’ll be ready for the cable guy Monday. Really, I was just hanging out in my new room, sitting on the bed, getting the feel of living in Cedar Point. I was really happy everything had worked out…finding a place, finding a roommate, getting everything moved.

I went downstairs to the kitchen and unpacked some of the boxes I brought over last week. I put away dishes, cups, glasses and other stuff I hadn’t seen for awhile. It’s all been in storage at my brother’s until I got my own place again.

I finished in the kitchen about 10:30. I opened the back door and stood on the porch for a minute, thinking about deck furniture. I walked into the yard. It’s nice, shrubs along the property lines – neighboring house to the right, town beach to the left. I walked along the shrubs on the beach side. The end of the property is at the foot of a tall hill. Where the shrubs end, you can walk right onto the beach. Cool.

It was a bit cool, actually. Eleven degrees. I hadn’t planned to come out here, my jacket was up in the bedroom. But hey,  I’d found an unexpected shortcut to the beach and I had a joint in my pocket. I wasn’t about to go back inside and upstairs for a jacket. Anyway, there was no wind, so it wasn’t cold, just cool.

I watched the moon through a light fog and lit that bone. I’ve never really hung out on this beach. Good place to get high on a quiet night like this, no one around.

I was sitting on a big piece of driftwood. After a few tokes, some headlights came down the street. The car slowed, then stopped. I heard a car door slam but the lights stayed on. I looked over my shoulder and one of Cedar Point’s finest was walking toward me.

I dropped the joint in the sand and covered it over with my shoe. Now a very bright flash light was shining in my direction.

“Evening, sir,” the officer said. He was a big guy, solid, built like a tank. In the foggy moonlight, it appeared he was bald but he seemed younger than me.

“Good evening, officer,” I said as I looked up at him.

“Little chilly out here, without a jacket,” he said. His tone was hard to read but there was a definite hint of suspicion in it.

“Yeah, a little.”

I figured he knew what I’d been doing, either he could smell marijuana on me or he just assumed. But he never said anything about it.

“Been out here long?”

“No sir, just a little while.”

“There’s no sleeping on the beach, you know?”

“Oh no worries, officer, I’ll be going soon.”

“I’ll need to ask for some identification.” The police officer took a step forward and held his flashlight a bit higher. In the glow, I could see he was light skinned with a heavy five o’clock shadow, deep-set blue eyes, intense. The light showed he was bald by choice.

“Oh. Okay. Uhhh…I don’t have it with me. I left it in my jacket. In the house. This yellow house, right here.” I started to raise my arm to point.

He shined the light right in my face and said, “Put your hands over your head, please. Stand up.” His tone shifted from calm to a sharp bark.

I was stunned but did as I was told. The officer came around the driftwood, light still shining in my eyes. He barked a series of questions at me, rapid fire.

“What’s your name?”

“Mitch Newmore.”

“Where do you live?”

“In Cedar Point. Well, on Route 75, near the town line.”

“And why were you in this yellow house? You know someone there?”

“No…uhhh, I’m moving in, on Thursday. I was just dropping off some stuff.”

“Uh-huh.”

The officer reached for his hand cuffs. “Turn around, slowly” he demanded.

I turned around, slowly. “Am I being arrested?”

“No. You are being detained,” he said, in a matter of fact way.

“Why?”

“Be still. I’ll explain in a minute.” He yanked my arms and secured the cuffs around my wrists. I felt and heard them click into the closed position. The officer then did a quick but vigorous pat down. He found nothing, my pockets were empty.

I heard him rustling some equipment. “This is Nault. I’m at North Beach. I’ve detained a man here who matches the description. He has no identification on his person. Over.”

The voice on the radio asked if the officer needed assistance.

“No, I’ll bring him in. Leaving now. Over.” I heard him put his radio back on his belt.

“What’s this about?” I could hear my voice tremble a bit.

“I’ll explain once you are securely in the car. Walk slowly toward the car, please.”

I continued to do as told but I was freaking out inside. I’ve never been arrested. Or detained. I’ve never been in any trouble, never dealt with the police.

He put me in the back seat and once he got behind the wheel, he looked at me through the rear-view mirror and told me that they’d had a call about a possible break-in in the neighborhood and another call that said that a man matching the description of a wanted criminal was seen in the vicinity.

I guess he looked like me.


Editor’s note: Special thanks to Jamie Anna Wright, creator of the Officer Nault character, for writing and editing assistance on this story. Check out her blog for more Cedar Point Stories which includes several installments directly related to the above story.

Gigs

My regular gigs right now…

I play lead guitar in Jen and The Generics, a four-piece rock and pop group led by Jen Sphere, who I’ve known since school. She calls herself Jen Atmosphere on stage. It’s mostly covers but a few originals. Jen sings lead and plays drums. She also plays trumpet, sometimes she plays trumpet and drums at the same time! We do Wednesday nights at Gummo’s in Surrey and Friday nights at The Black Hole in Cedar Point.

I play tenor sax in Benny Bright’s Band of Blue. It’s a rocking blues group, five-piece rhythm section and three horns. Benny plays piano and sings. His specialty is those loud, slow, raunchy numbers. He’s been doing Thursday nights at Helen Choy’s Supper Club in Burnaby for years. I’ve been on that gig the last three years. Benny always makes it fun and he treats his band well. He also does a four-piece blues gig three nights a week at Stephen’s Bar in Vancouver. He calls it The Bright Blue Quartet. I filled in on guitar for them last couple of Octobers when the regular man goes away on vacation. Hoping to do it again this year, haven’t heard anything yet.

I don’t have a regular Saturday night gig which kind of sucks sometimes, you hate to be sitting home, not working, on a Saturday night. It’s the biggest night of the week and you’re making nothing. And if you don’t want to be sitting home, you go out and you spend money.

On the other hand, I’m working with three other bands that get gigs here and there and then there’s pickup bands and fill-in stuff and having Saturday nights open means I can say yes more often than not. So I usually get a Saturday night gig every week, not always.

On the other hand having some Saturday nights off is important when you have a girlfriend. On the other hand, it’s not as important if your girlfriend sings in a band and usually works Saturday night. How many hands is that?

I usually end up with four to six gigs a week. Weekend afternoons I can pick up wedding receptions, Saturdays especially.

Right now, I’m booked on Sundays. Got a gig for the summer, doing a solo guitar thing at the bar at the Mariner’s Inn in Cedar Point for the Sunday brunch crowd. Three sets. Electric but quiet, familiar pop and standards, jazzy, instrumental only. I don’t sing, don’t ask me. They give me a mic but all I ever say is, “Thank you.” I’m not the emcee type, not at all. I just play music. The longest announcement I make is at the end of each set, “Thank you for listening. Thank you for your tips.” Unless I have to announce that there’s a car blocking the service entrance.

And of course, I’m in a rehearsal band. Isn’t everybody? We meet the second Monday night of the month. Molly & The Moles. It’s a sort of a folk-punk-klezmer band. And we do some reggae, a little bluegrass and a couple polkas. I know, it sounds horrible, doesn’t it? But it works! It’s the funniest/coolest damn thing you ever heard. We’ve only played two gigs – both freebies – but people freakin’ loved us.

Molly is a short, plump, middle-aged lady who sings and plays mandolin while wearing a red sombrero, sometimes leading her to introduce us as Molly & The Mole, as in the Mexican sauce. She’s pretty funny. The others play guitar, piano and bass and I play clarinet. And everybody doubles, that’s how we can play all those different styles. We can have mandolin, fiddle, banjo, acoustic and electric guitar, piano, accordion, clarinet, sax, trombone, baritone horn, harmonica, bass guitar, stand-up bass, cello, marimba and drums – not all at once but we got somebody who can play each of them.

It’s always good to have a regular job too, just in case. Even one shift a week, you can always ask for more work if you need it. I got a job one night a week as a baker’s helper in Cedar Point. Been doing that about a year. Third shift, Sunday nights. Monday’s always a washout, pretty much sleep all day. Fortunately there’s not much work for musicians on Monday afternoons, so I’m not missing much.

Family stuff

Okay, so my family.

My mother died ten years ago, when I was seventeen, but I’m not ready to go there yet. I’d rather talk about other things for now. She was a good person. My Mom would have turned sixty in a couple weeks.

So of course, everything else is about that. My brother Rich lives near our old neighborhood. He’d live in our old house if he could. On the other hand, my Dad moved to Ontario a couple years after Mom died, right after I dropped out of college and went on the road with Dick Parisi.

Rich lives in Richmond. Yeah. He’s ten years older than me. He’s a personal financial advisor. If it weren’t for Rich, I’d have been on the street at times. He manages my money, that way, there is some. And when there wasn’t enough, he let me stay at his house, for almost a year.

I could swing a place right now but my grands offered their cottage so I could save up some cash to have a little something in reserve when work is slow. I think Rich might have put the idea in their heads. Anyway, they’re always watching out for me, since my Mom died.

The cottage is in Cedar Point but it’s not at the point, it’s in the woods on the road back to White Rock, near the town line. It’s only fifteen minutes from town. They open the cottage the first weekend of May and close it the last weekend of October. It has heat, kerosene, but no insulation so you wouldn’t keep it open in winter.

My Gramps is from White Rock. He used to work at Kingfisher Cannery in Cedar Point, was on second-shift forever. My Grams is from the Maritimes originally, New Brunswick. She came out to Vancouver on a scholarship for art school. Never went back east.

They’re really good people, those two.

How I met Patti

Ed. note: Patti Preston is Mitch’s girlfriend of nearly two years.

I was playing a gig up in Chilliwack a couple years ago. That’s about an hour’s drive from White Rock if there’s no delay. That’s as far as I’ll drive for a job because of the price of fuel, it’s only worth it to go so far. This gig paid really well though.

It was a pickup band. That’s just what it sounds like, a band put together just for this date. The keyboard player, Bobby Harris, called me at the last minute. I used to play in a band with Bobby a few years ago. The gig belonged to the guitar player on this date, he’s the one who hired Bobby and the others. But he had to bail out that morning when his wife went into labour. So he gave the gig to Bobby, who called a couple guys who live out that way but he couldn’t find anyone available to fill-in on guitar. He got me on the phone about three hours before the gig, just enough time for me to shower, dress, pack my stuff, make the trip out there and set up my stuff.

But before I unloaded the car, I wanted to make sure I was in the right place. Bobby told me on the phone it was a rock gig with a hip, jazzy/bluesy feel to it, for an upscale crowd, a private party at a local restaurant. He said the place was called Harry’s and he gave me the address.

I drive an old car, I don’t have GPS. I have a flip phone, I just make calls, I don’t do anything on the internet with it. What I’m saying is, I still use maps. Paper maps. The kind you have to fold like eleven times but you still can’t put it back in order when you’re done. So it’s kind of a mess and a bit hard to read. I thought I made a wrong turn somewhere but I wasn’t sure. Couldn’t find a place called Harry’s but I did find a place with Harry’s in the name. But this couldn’t be it.

It’s always like that with these pickup bands, things don’t get communicated very well. And with the extra confusion of the guy who booked the date having to bail, it wasn’t any surprise that I was at the wrong place. At least I thought I was. Polecat Harry’s Fraser Valley Taco House, Bar & Grille sounded more like a honky tonk to me.

It was huge. No doubt they had a function room or two in there for private parties. I left my stuff in the car and went in to see if this was it and if it was, to see where we were playing and figure out where to park and which entrance to bring in my gear.

The restaurant was very crowded and loud. There was a country-rock band playing in the lounge and you could hear it on the restaurant side. A sign said “Function Rooms Upstairs” so I went up to take a look.

There were two large ballrooms or meeting rooms or whatever on the top floor. The first one I walked into, turned out to be the right one. A dark-haired woman, a few years older than me, was testing a microphone.

“One, two, three. Woof,” she said.

I smiled at her. She was dressed in black, a tight shirt and jeans, cowboy boots…cowgirl boots, I guess. She looked real good. I was about to ask if this was Bobby Harris’ gig when she turned off the mic and turned to me and said,

“Who are you?”

She surprised me a little. I kinda mumbled, “The guitar player.”

“Is that what I call you? Guitar Player. Or do you have like a regular name?”

She made me smile. “Mitch,” I said.

“Mitch. Well, now we’re getting somewhere. Where’s Dewey? I thought this was his gig?”

“I don’t know Dewey. Bobby Harris called me. He said it was the guitar player’s gig but he had to bail ’cause his wife went into labour.”

“Oh my God! Sue’s not due for another two weeks, I think, or ten days, something like that. Wow, wow, wow.”

“Well, I guess I’m taking Dewey’s place then.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Mitch Guitar Player. Or do you have some regular last name too?”

“Newmore. Mitch Newmore.”

“Well, Mitch Newmore, welcome to Polecat Harry’s Fraser Valley Whatever-it’s-called.”

I  just smiled. She looked me over.

“I gotta say, that shy thing works for you. You’re kind of cute,” she said.

“Can I buy you a drink after the gig?”

“Whoa, Mitch Guitar Player! You’re not so shy after all, eh?”

“I am really.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re making an exception in this case. Yes, you can buy me a drink after the gig.”

“And you are…?”

“I’m the singer,” she said. Then she turned and walked to the ladies room.

I didn’t find out her name until she said it on stage when she was introducing the band. Patti Preston. I like that name. She made it up. Patricia is her real name but Preston is…like a…well actors and musicians call it a stage name and writers call it a pen name, I don’t know what photographers call it. That’s her real job, photographer. The singing is a side job for Patti. She told me her real last name but I better not put it here in case anybody ever reads this stuff.