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Thursday, 16 January 2014

Those High School Dances 1962-1964

Was it that long ago?

If the 1960s ever come up in a conversation these days most people tend to think about the Beatles and the British invasion, long hair, bell bottom pants, the war in Viet Nam, peace marches and student protests, LSD and pot, the assassinations of JFK, his brother Bobby and Martin Luther King. Other than the JFK assassination most of this stuff happened after 1965. The Beatles may have turned up in North America in February of 1964 and their music may have been different than what we were used to but their songs were not about social commentary at the time and lyrically not much different than what the US music industry was pumping out.
If you were a baby boomer born a few years after the Second World War you found yourself in your last 2 years of high school somewhere between 1961 and 1965. It was in those last 2 years that many of us went to Friday night high school dances. By 1961 most parents had loosened up a bit compared to the ultra-conservative 1950s when many they often looked at rock and roll as some kind of twisted evil foisted upon their sons and daughters. Times were slowly changing and some parents even got into doing the twist.
As baby boomers we had grown up with rock and roll, sort of. For every song like Yakety Yak or Runaway there seemed to be an equal amount of The Lazy Hazy Days of Summer and Moon River on the Hit Parade. There were only certain parts of the day when we could find rock and roll on the radio, after school, and in the evenings.
Before we ever went to our first high school dance many of us had checked out Dick Clark’s American Bandstand on after school TV. None of us thought that we were being manipulated back then. I recently watched a clip on YouTube that was about Dick Clark’s “rate a record” segment. A guy and a gal got to rate 2 new songs from 35% to 98% as to how much they liked the tunes. Saying something “sucked” was just not polite back then I guess. The first song was forgettable but got high marks by both raters. The 2nd song was by Frankie Lane and was about a cowboy called Rango. It might as well have been “Rawhide”. The kids couldn’t dance to it. Still one of the raters thought it might be a hit. After this bit the studio audience hit the dance floor again and this time the tune was Mame played by Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass. “You coaxed the blues right out of the horn….Mame.” Yuck! Good old Dick was selling us out. This wasn’t rock and roll.
American Bandstand
Elvis finished his hitch in the US army and was making one crappy movie after another. The new Elvis didn’t have side burns anymore, the greasy hair was gone, and swinging his pelvis around was a thing of the past.
If we went to the movies we could see clean cut Frankie Avalon and large chested Annette Funnicello in beach movies with harmless biker type guys or the almost 40 year old virgin Doris Day being chased after by Rock Hudson.
Frankie & Annette
You might say we were living in a sexless world when it came to entertainment. But what did we know? As teenagers we weren’t in control. If you were a guy about the closest you could get to sex was slow dancing and feeling a couple of bumps through a sweater pressed against your chest. Sexual activity was fairly limited in high school back then. The pill was still a few years away. One of the benefits of going steady for a guy is that just maybe you might get proficient at unhooking a bra but that was about the limit.
So there we were, inching our way past Mr. Puberty and getting an interest in the opposite sex. We were like ripened fruit. Some of us were in all boy classes that made girls our age seem only more distant. Going to a high school dance was like a ritual of arriving at some sort of maturity. Not totally being an adult but on the path. We kind of had to figure it all out for ourselves. There were no elders we could count on to tell us what was expected of us. Dancing was something foreign to most boys unless we had a sister who taught us some moves. If we had any kind of plan at all when we first went to our first dances it might be trying to look cool with the always available option of needling one another.
The gym in the school was where the dances usually happened. It was fairly dark in there with most of the light coming from the hallway. It took a second or two to adjust our eyes. Once in a while we would spot some guy or gal from our high school that we didn’t expect to see at a dance. This was a whole new deal. Most of us stuck fairly close to our friends.
I went to 2 high schools in Montreal when I was growing up, West Hill High and Westmount High. High school back then meant grades 8 through 11. After my first year at West Hill I was informed at the beginning of the following year that I was persona non grata (not welcomed) and that I would have to find another school that would take me. It is kind of a long story but I ended up in The Boys Home of Montreal (Weredale House) where I attended Westmount High for 2 years. I then returned to West hill for 1-1/2 years before dropping out altogether. The following are some remembrances of those high school dances long ago.
Westmount High
I went to 2-3 Friday night dances at Westmount High when I was 15. I think the school held them about once a month. As Weredale boys we were allowed to go home on the weekends on Saturday mornings so getting out of the institution for part of a Friday night was kind of a bonus. Many of the Weredale boys had 2 fears, the first being what would we do if some gal asked us to dance (we didn’t have a clue about dancing) and the second being what if some babe asked us where we lived. Explaining that we had come from dysfunctional families and weren’t really juvenile delinquents could be a mouthful.
Of the 3 dances I went to I think I danced with a girl once and she did the asking. The rest of my time was spent on the sidelines with classmates and other Weredale boys watching couples on the dance floor.
The style at the time for boys was tight continental pants (cuffless) with white socks. The pant bottoms were a couple of inches from the tops of our shoes. Michael Jackson later recreated this look. The girls wore flowing dresses that were a few inches below the knees. Sometimes the girls also wore sweaters with little buttons down the front.
There was one dance at Westmount High that I remember in particular. All of sudden the dance floor seemed to part and everyone gathered around to watch a twist contest. The twist as a dance was having a second go around. A few years earlier Chubby Checker had introduced it and he was back for an encore with “Lets Twist Again”.
One of the participants was a guy named Norman Walker who had recently left Weredale and gone off to work. The other guy’s name I think was Michael De Tomasso and I think he was also at Weredale at one time. Both guys were dressed in tight suits, the shiny kind, and both wore polished pointy Italian shoes. No detail as to their appearance had been ignored including their meticulously coiffed hair with just the right amount of Brylcreem or Vitalis.
Chubby Checker
The twist contest looked like a man-o a man-o kind of deal right out of West Side Story. Instead of one foot coming off the ground an inch or two these guys were twisting that one leg well above chest level. The crowd was enthralled. It was hard to pick a winner. And then….it was over as quickly as it had started. The guys wiped their foreheads off with handkerchiefs and let the crowd try to figure out what had just happened.
Some of the Weredale guys must have thought that it was a win for our team. A team we sometimes didn’t want to be identified with. Everyone in our class knew who the Weredale boys were. On this one night, for a few brief moments, we were represented by two guys who were….too cool for school.

The Hampstead Hops

Back in the 60s Hampstead was an upper middle class area that bordered on the district of N.D.G. which was middle class. N.D.G. is where I grew up. Some distance away from where I lived was Hampstead School. Although it was a primary school for some reason it had Friday night dances. It might have been because Hampstead didn’t have a high school of its own.
Because it wasn’t actually a high school it seemed to draw teenagers from various backgrounds including Catholics and Protestants who went to different high schools. I know that the dances were chaperoned but I can only vaguely remember a few parents at the dance ticket table.
On some Friday nights there was a live band up on the stage. They usually played for about a half an hour. My guess is most of the bands didn’t have a big repertoire of songs that they knew. The rest of the evening the music came from a record player hidden behind the stage curtains. I don’t remember any disk jockeys.
I have to say I was always impressed with the confidence some young guy my age could have to stand in front of a band and sing to an audience. Where did they learn how to do that and where did the other guys learn how to play guitars? One night the singer was a guy who had grown up a few blocks away from me. I think his name was Tommy Angel. Another singer I remember was a guy in a slick suit with a cane with a silver handle. There is only one tune that was sung that I can sort of remember…..”I like, I Iike the way you walk, I like, I like the way you talk….”
The gym and stage at Hampstead School
I was about 16 at the time. Some of the girls had discovered make-up including eye shadow and whatever that pinkish stuff was that they put on their faces. Beehive hairdos or a facsimile there-of were common. As at most high school kind of dances the girls were crowded in one side of the room and the boys on the opposite side. Some of us boys were too scared to ask a girl to dance. Getting shot down could travel around the gossip mill pretty quickly. Some of us had our first dance as the result of the Sadie Hawkin’s dance which was announced on the PA system. A Sadie Hawkin’s dance was where girls could ask a boy to dance without looking too forward.
It could get a bit uncomfortable if some girl tried to teach us some dance steps. We guys could see the eyeballs on us from the sidelines even in the darkened room. The waltz seemed the easiest of the dances and often it wasn’t the boys who were doing the leading. After a while the boys kind of got the hang of things a bit and with our new found talent our confidence grew. We got to a point where we could do the asking.
There wasn’t any marijuana around back then but some guys might have a beer or two before turning up at the dance. Good old Mr. Courage. Once in a while there would be a fight out on the grass near the parking lot. One Friday night a guy named Morely, who I had gone to grade school and high school with, wanted to fight me. I think he had had a few beers. I tried to avoid his request a few times but found myself kind of in a spot. I wasn’t sure about my chances. Physically I thought he was stronger than me. Luck was on my side and I ended up punching him around for a few minutes before he gave up.
There didn’t seem to be any question about girls liking guys who could dance and had some smooth moves. Although kids were doing the monkey and the twist the jitterbug was still the dance to do to most of the faster music. Some guys were smoother at the jitterbug than others. I remember a dude named John Curtis who had the jitterbug down pat. That twirl thing when you look the other way or when you stick your hands out waiting for the gal to grasp on to them.
Mostly I hung around with a group at West Hill and they would all turn up at the Hampstead Hop. I would also see other kids from West hill at the dances, some of them from my class. For a while the group expanded to include some girls that lived in Hampstead and went to private schools like The Study and Miss Edgar’s and Miss Cramps. I went out with a girl from Hampstead for a month or so.. One night she invited me to a dance at the MAAA (The Montreal Amateur Athletic Association) in downtown Montreal. It was an old money kind of deal in that members of the MAAA were pretty well all wealthy. I remember we did the bunny hop from the ballroom into another large room and back. It was kind of surreal to me considering I had been living in The Boys Home of Montreal the year before.
I had a friend who met a Catholic girl at one of the Hampstead Hops. They sort of started to go out with one another before she had to tell him that she couldn’t see him anymore because he wasn’t Catholic. One night I met my own Catholic girl. She knocked my socks off. She lived with her mother and I think her dad had passed away. We went on a date to the movies one night and we had a great time but for some reason I never followed it up.
I don’t know if it just me but for some reason when I was younger and in my teens and early twenties something used to come over me when the fall weather appeared. There was some kind of adrenaline thing going on. My heart seemed to beat faster and there was some kind of anticipation. In some ways I thought I was in a trance and living partly in a fantasy.
I remember walking a gal named Debbie home one Friday night. It must have been about 20 blocks. She wasn’t my girlfriend but had asked me to walk with her as a favour as she didn’t want to walk in the dark by herself. We talked about a lot of things. What we wanted to do with our lives, her unhappy home life. I kind of felt like a young Jimmy Stewart. We seemed to pass the lamp posts in slow motion. Just two people sharing our thoughts unaware of where our lives would lead us.
The last song played at the Hampstead Hops or any of the other high school dances I went to for that matter was always a slow dance. If you weren’t dancing to the last dance chances were you weren’t walking anyone home. Often the last song at the Hampstead hops was something like Roy Orbison’s Blue Bayou or the Beach Boy’s In My Room.
The Beach Boys
Roy Orbison
In November of 1963 JFK was killed and it was like the air was let out of a balloon for a while. In February of 64 the Beatles turned up on the Ed Sullivan Show. We didn’t know it at the time but changes would be coming rapidly in the next few years. We were kind of witnesses to the last of an era of innocence.
 The Campus Club
Sometime around 1963 there was a teen club just off of Decarie Boulevard in Montreal called the Campus Club. A local radio disk jockey, I think his name was Bob Gillis, was one of the partners in the venture. My guess is like Dick Clark, Bob thought there were ways to make a buck off of teenagers. I think I went there twice and both times the place was packed. The building was pretty modern for the times and had a wall made of large rocks. I don’t remember any live music happening there. It seems to me that the admission was fairly steep and they charged a lot for a coke. You don’t get rich selling cokes and the Campus Club wasn’t around for long. A few years later the building became a mob owned joint called The White Elephant Pub.
Montreal West Town Hall
I only went to one dance at the Montreal West Town Hall and I didn’t stay long. The reason that that dance sticks in my mind is that I ran into a guy who was in my class in grade 4 or 5. His name was Wayne Simmonds (Simmons). In grade 5 he seemed bigger than most of the other kids. He also had a bit of a cruel streak. One day when he was sitting behind me he was scraping his shoe back and forth on the floor. I asked him what he was doing and he asked me to pick up a piece of metal off of the floor. Unbeknownst to me Wayne had been making the metal turn hot by pushing it back and forth with his shoe. I burned my hand when I tried to pick it up and he thought it was very funny.
As Wayne got older he developed a reputation as I guy who liked to scrap. He was certainly out of my league. A few weeks after seeing him at the Montreal West dance I learned that he had died in a car accident in a stolen Jaguar XKE. It struck me at the time that his short life was like some songs that were popular at the time, Dead Man’s Curve or Tell Laura I love Her.  Wayne died too fast and too soon.
Victoria Hall
Victoria Hall
A few guys I knew and I went to one dance at Victoria Hall in Westmount. When I was a kid my grandfather took me to a number of children’s plays and musicals that he directed at the same venue. The night of the dance there were only about 2 dozen people on attendance and we bailed after an hour or so. For some reason I can remember the song Sugar Shack being played.

West Hill High
I probably went to about ½ a dozen dances at West Hill High. I don’t recall those dances ever having bands. I do remember that some of the teachers were chaperones. The last dance I went to at West Hill was after I had quit school. I had an interesting chat with one of my former teachers. He didn’t give me a hard time for quitting school and wished me luck. I was going to need all the luck I could get in the next few years.
The gym at West Hill High
Those high school dances were only a part of our lives for a few brief years. What “sweet” years they were.
To remember the times you have to remember the music.
If you are around my age here is a bit of a refresher.

1962


Mash Potato Time – Dee Dee Sharp
The Loco-motion – Little Eva
Baby Its You – The Shirelles
Soldier Boy – The Shirelles
I Know – Barbara George
You Beat Me To The Punch – Mary Wells
 

The Wah Watusi – The Orlons
Duke Of Earl –Gene Chandler
Once Upon A Time – The Lettermen
Town Without Pity – Gene Pitney
What’d Your Name? – Don & Juan

Sherry - The Four Seasons

Bobby's Girl - Marcie Blane

 
 
Sherry –The Four Seasons

Twist And Shout - The Isley Brothers

You Belong To Me - The Duprees

Sealed With A Kiss - Bryan Hyland

Let's Dance - Chris Montez

Don't Hang Up -The Orlons

Up On The Roof - The Drifters


  



The Peppermint Twist - Joey Dee & the Starliters
Hey Baby – Bruce Channel
 
Dream Baby – Roy Orbison
All Alone Am I – Brenda Lee
Palisades Park – Freddy Cannon
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do – Neil Sedaka

Twistin The Night Away – Sam Cooke

 
 

 1963
Sugar Shack – Jimmy Gilmore and the Fireballs
The End Of The World – Skeeter Davis
I Will Follow Him – Peggy March
Blue On Blue – Bobby Vinton
Deep Purple – Nino Temp & April Stevens
Be My Baby – The Ronnettes
You Can’t Sit Down – The Dovells                                   

 

I f You Wanna Be Happy – Jimmy Soul
Popsicles, Icicles – The Murmaids
Louie, Louie – The Kingsmen
Talk To Me –Sunny & the Moonglows
Just One Look – Doris Troy
The Night Has A Thousand Eyes – Bobby Vee
  
                                                         
 
 

                                               

 In Dreams – Roy Orbison
Surf City – Jan & Dean
Denise – Randy and the Rainbows
Wipe Out – The Safaris
Easier Said Than Done – The Essex
Surfin U.S.A. –The Beachboys

Hello Stranger – Barbara Lewis


 Hey Paula – Paul & Paula

Two Faces Have I – Lou Christie

Sally Go Round The Roses – The Jaynetts

Then He Kissed Me – The Crystals

Its Mt Party – Lesley Gore

I’m Leaving It Up To You – Dale & Grace
 

Sukiyaki – Kyu Sakamoto

My Boyfriend’s Back – The Angels

Rhythm Of The Rain – The Cascades

Ruby Baby – Dion

Blue On Blue – Bobby Vinton




 1964

 

I Want To Hold Your Hand – The Beatles

Oh Pretty Woman – Roy Orbison

My Guy – Mary Wells

Do Wah Diddy Diddy – Manfred Mann

Look Homeward Angel - The Monarchs

 Dancing In The Street – Martha and the Vandellas

Under The Boardwalk – The Drifters

Chapel Of Love – The Dixie Cups

Suspicion – Terry Stafford

Glad All Over – The Dave Clark Five

Dawn Go Away – The Four Seasons
 

                                                          Bread And Butter – The Newbeats

Baby Love – The Supremes

My Boy Lollipop – Millie Small

Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying – Jerry and the Pacemakers

Do you Want To Know A Secret – The Beatles

Because – The Dave Clark Five
For You – Ricky Nelson


Leader Of The Pack – The Shangrilas

Surfin Bird – The Trashmen

What Kind Of Fool – The Tams

You Really Got Me – The Kinks

Needles And Pins – The Searchers

Walk Don’t Run 64 – The Ventures


She Loves You – The Beatles

Last Kiss – J. Frank Wilson

House Of The Rising Sun – The Animals

I Get Around – The Beachboys

She’s Not There – The Zombies

I Saw Her Standing There – The Beatles

Going Out Of My Head – Little Anthony and the Imperials

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Club Med


My Club Med card.

In the 1990s I spent 4 different winter vacations at Club Meds in Mexico. I was at Playa Blanca twice and Cancun and Ixtapa once each. I was about 46 years old and married when we visited Ixtapa and in my early 50s and single when I went to the other Club Med resorts.
Club Meds first came into being in Europe in the early 1950s. Some French guy came up with the idea. The resorts kind of morphed over the years and expanded to the Western Hemisphere. Those French guys really found the most glorious spots in Mexico to build their clubs. 9/11 kind of killed off a lot of their business and a number of Club Meds closed their doors for good over the past decade including the one in Playa Blanca.
I look back now at the times I spent at Club Meds as a single “older guy” in a bit of a haze. Everything seemed to have happened so fast, lots of vivid colours, lots of noise. A week in the sun with strangers then back to the Vancouver rainy winter.
I don’t have any photos of those trips as I was using a video camera to capture the moments. Maybe it is just as well. You don’t need to really see a drunk guy in a polka dot ball cap.
So here’s a toast to all those guys I stood at the bar with years ago pretending we were interested in each other’s stories when we really were using one another so that we didn’t appear to be alone and desperate. We might as well of been bookies in the way we figured out our odds of getting lucky.
Ixtapa
Ixtapa
My first wife came up with the idea of going to Club Med, Ixtapa. It was one of those kind of “save the marriage” type of things. We were leading a fairly fast paced life. I was running a relatively new business I had started and my ex was working in outside sales for a tile company. We had 4 year old twins at home, a boy and a girl, who were taken care of by a nanny during the daytime. There was also pre-school and our kids were starting to get involved in activities. Our daughter had just started ballet classes. We were primed for a vacation in the tropics.
At the time I had only been to Mexico once before, about 12 years earlier. We went over the brochures about the club on the flight down to Mexico from Vancouver, BC. It was suggested that we pick one special activity to concentrate on for our week long holiday. My ex chose the trapeze for some reason. She looked at bit frightened at times way up at the top of a pole. I can’t remember exactly what she accomplished high over the net. I don’t think it was a triple summersault.
I chose tennis to concentrate on. I had played tennis off and on over the previous years and would later join a tennis club in Richmond, BC. Tennis, to me at least, isn’t like riding a bike. It takes a while to get the feeling for the game back if you have been away from it for a while.
The tennis pro at the club was from all places, Alaska. He was in his thirties and had done hitches at other clubs. There was a rumour at the time that he had an alcohol problem. He would also have a smoke when he thought nobody was looking.
Tennis lessons started at about 9:00 a.m. By 10:00 a.m. it was blistering hot. The class was made up of mixture of ages from teenagers to middle agers who were mostly women. Towards the end of the week there was a tournament and I was matched up with a 14 year old boy. The score was pretty close and I was leading the first set. The heat was becoming unbearable for me. The court had no protection from the sun at all. In between volleys I tried to hide in the meager shadows of some overhead leaves of a tree. Finally I walked across the court and shook hands with the 14 year old lad and quit. Spending time in a Mexican hospital with heat stroke just didn’t seem very appealing.
Anyone who has ever been to a Club Med or has seen the old TV advertisements is familiar with the “Hands Up” song. It is kind of addictive. Every night the club staff would put on an outdoor show and the finale was always almost every guest dancing to fast moving songs including the “Hands Up” one. The more experienced would clasp their hands together and pump those hands over their hearts like it was beating wildly.
The Chef de Club at Club Meds seemed to usually be some guy in his 30s who might look a bit like Jean Paul Belmondo, perhaps a little on the swarthy side with some mid- eastern background (Algeria?) They were always from France. The Chef de Club always had some underlings who kind of promoted the idea that he was the king and deserved respect. You might have thought he built the resort by himself with his bare hands? His main job seems to have been greeting guests at dinner.
The staff at Club Meds (GOs) came from all over the world including Canada. The pay for a 6 day work week was something like 600 bucks a month. Not a lot of money but the memories later in life would be priceless. Unlike other resorts the staff could mingle with the guests.
Club Med Ixtapa also had a Mini Club where you could dump your young kids for the day if you had brought them with you. My ex and I thought it would be a great idea to bring our kids to the club when they got older but that never happened.
A middle aged single woman who worked as a sales clerk at Woodward’s Department Store in Vancouver somehow latched onto my ex and we had a hard time avoiding her. She was kind of relentless and I recall her finding us at a secluded area under some palm trees. We hung out a bit with a French Canadian couple who both worked for one of the airlines. My ex had been a stewardess at one time for Ward Air so they had things in common. We split a taxi into town one day.
The food was great and the beach had nice white sand. I hadn’t sailed in about 30 years and I took my ex out on a laser.  I was kind of proud of myself that I landed the boat on the beach with the rudder up.
As the week wore on I became less and less enthusiastic about watching the nightly amateur entertainment put on by the staff. My ex, on the other hand, was really into it. I found that most of my interest was in those young gal’s bums up on the stage packed into their leotards.
We flew back to Vancouver and felt we had really enjoyed the break. I didn’t know it at the time but within 2 years our marriage would be over. On the upside I had a renewed interest in sailing and a few years later joined the Locarno Sailing Club in Vancouver.
Playa Blanca First Trip
Playa Blanca
I had been separated from my wife for about 2 years when I decided to visit another Club Med. I don’t know what I expected at the time. I was now 50 years old and single. I did know I wouldn’t be chasing any 20 or 30 year old women. Back then Club Med had something called “The Wild Card”. For a few hundred dollars less you could take your chances on which club you ended up at. I think this deal was rigged because I ended up at Playa Blanca not once but twice.
Playa Blanca is out in the middle of nowhere. I believe it is about 1-1/2 hours south of Puerto Vallarta by bus. There are no cute little touristy towns around. The bus trip was sometimes referred to as “the bus ride from hell.” The bus driver would careen around blind corners of rough road that clung to the sides of the hills at high speed. You would often see the huge drop off from the road to the ocean below. The religious ornaments that hung next to the bus driver didn’t instill any confidence in his driving capabilities. It was always a relief to arrive in one piece.
Playa Blanca is a singles club. Supposedly this club could accommodate 600 guests, whatever the number, that’s a lot of people.
Like most other guys who are single and in their fifties I wondered what my chances were of getting laid in the tropics. Not that great,I would find out, unless I was willing to totally have no standards at all. Club Meds are not always what they seem, particularly if you are getting up there in age.
First of all about half the guests or more are men. There are quite a few married people and a lot unmarried couples. There are a number of people over 60 years of age too. The younger gals from 20-35 years of age are out of bounds unless you are a complete letch. And then there are the bow-wows and very overweight gals. I couldn’t get drunk enough to go down that path. You might run into a couple of gals more age appropriate who were travelling together but separating them isn’t an easy task. When all was said and done there would just be a few possibilities and those gals would get to choose the pick of the litter, usually a tall good looking guy with lots of cash in his jeans.
Somehow I found myself spending most of the week hanging out with a group that was from Toronto. I met them when I shared a table with them at dinner the second night. There were four of them, two twin guys in their early 20s who had received the trip as a Christmas present from their family to see if the brothers could bond again, a kind of sloppy guy who told some funny jokes and liked to be close to drunk most of the time, and a corporate head hunter gal who was about my age and quite pretty.
At dinner that night the sloppy drunk guy was coming onto the head hunter gal and she was clearly uncomfortable. The next day I got into a conversation with her by the pool where we were both reading books. My bait that I was using was leaving another book beside my lounge chair on the ground so that anyone who was curious could see the title and maybe think I wasn’t a complete moron. Unlike the sloppy drunk guy I had been working out in the gym back home in Vancouver and was in decent shape. The head hunter and I kind of hit it off and spent a fair amount of time together the rest of the vacation.
Here is the one joke I can still remember that the sloppy drunk guy told….”What is the difference between dog shit and an older woman?....The older they are, the easier they are to pick up.” Rim shot!  Not a joke a lot of woman would find funny but I did. Sue me!
I remember sitting around the pool one day and overhearing three gals from Buffalo, New York talking. Apparently they had been at a party hosted by some rich guy who lived off of the property the night before. At some point during the evening he pulled out his wiener and they described it as a 12” skinny noodle. Ah the lives of the rich and famous!
One afternoon I was asked if I would like to join something called “The Tequila Walk.” Tequila? I had sworn the nasty stuff off years before. The deal was we had had to hike up the side of a mountain to a bar/lounge that overlooked the ocean. Once we arrived we were allowed to drink as much free tequila as we wanted to for 2 hours.
A French Canadian guy with a mullet was leading the pack as we hiked up the hill. I got out in front of him by a fare way just to piss him off. Once we reached our destination we were kind of blown away. The bar had a balcony that looked over the ocean. The sun was just starting to set and the view was spectacular.
The music started and it was mostly Reggae and Latin stuff. Everyone was ready for a party and tequila kicks in pretty fast. It wasn’t long before most everyone was wasted. A limbo pole appeared and some fell flat on their backs trying to get under it. Next up was a conga line. 2 of the 3 gals from Buffalo started dry humping the wooden posts that held up the ceiling. I guess that was their “noodle” of choice.
I had something like a dozen tequila shooters in those 2 hours. I can’t recall ever being that drunk. How I ever made it back to Club Med is beyond me. It was now dinner time. Somehow I had lost my video camera, my passport, and my wallet. Fortunately I got them all back. I propositioned the head hunter from Toronto to no avail. I spent most of the next day in bed, alone.
The only booze Club Med provided back then for free was beer or wine with meals. If you wanted to hang around the bar you needed to buy beads to pay for your drinks. Beads had different colours that indicated their value. For easy access they were worn as a necklace. I went through a lot of beads that week.
Cocktail hour was just before dinner and it often looked like a stag line of mostly men. The bartenders were Mexican locals and not the biggest conversationalists. They sure put up with a lot in their jobs. Being called Pedro when their name wasn’t Pedro just might piss them off a bit.
I remember the last day at the club before the Toronto group went home. I left the next day. Earlier in my life I had spent time working in the resort town of Banff, Alberta. I was familiar with the idea that some women like to have a fling on their last night. No having to face the other party involved the next day and a punctuation point on the vacation. After dinner on the last night, the head hunter told me she had some booze in her room. I knew what she meant but let it pass. I was still hung over from all of the boozing. We settled for jumping into the pool with all our clothes on. Now I was cold and shivering…. and hung over. In the whole scheme of things I probably could have played my cards better and taken a pass on the tequila deal but what the hell.
Cancun
Cancun
The flight down to Mexico was delayed and I didn’t make it to the Club Med resort until about 2:00 a.m. There was hardly any of the staff around and I had to carry my luggage to the room. Then I had to wait for one of the staff to turn up with the key. It turned out that I would be sharing the room with a guy who was a member of the R.C.M.P. We did the “where are you from” stuff and I asked him if he was for legalized pot. He also found out that I smoked. He moved out the following morning. Being a smoker guaranteed me a room to myself on the 3 visits I made to Club Meds as a single guy.
On my second night at the club I met a pretty gal at dinner. She wanted to go dancing after dinner so we went to the disco. Later on she suggested we go back to my room. I was kind of bagged from the sun and suggested we get together the next day. This was probably a good decision because I never saw her again at the club. My guess is that she probably walked into the club off the beach to get a free dinner and was going to see how far she could stretch things. She might have stolen my cash or wallet in the room but then again they were in a safe. The clubs have coloured wrist bands to identify guests but long sleeves could hide not having a band.
Club Med had the best location in the Cancun area. I snorkeled a few times and saw some amazing colours on the fish. I also discovered that you can look very dopey trying to walk around on land with long flippers.
I found out that there was a separate dining room for smokers. Everyone in there spoke French so I wasn’t involved in any of the conversations. I made a few attempts to speak French but didn’t get any encouragement. I ended up going back to the regular dining room. I could wait to after dinner to have a smoke.
At the end of the property there was a wharf and the sailing area. I took a laser out about 5 times while I was at the club and went for a ride on a catamaran once. A few hundred yards off shore there was a floating bar that was owned by a private club on the next property which I believe catered to wealthy Mexicans. These folks would go back and forth in groups on jet skis for hours on end. The sound of the jet skis could drive you nuts if you let it.
I took a day trip to the ruins of Tulum. On the way we went to restaurant out in the jungle for lunch. The restaurant had a pool and we went for a swim before eating. I remember our tour guide asking me how old I was. I was about 53. He told me he would like to look as good as I did when he reached my age. I was flattered but he was the wrong sex.
The ruins at Tulum are quite spectacular. They are right beside the turquoise ocean and a white sandy beach. Back then you could climb the steep steps up to the top of the pyramid (you can’t now). You could get seriously hurt if you stumbled on the way up or down. When I was at the top of the pyramid my video camera fell out of my backpack and hit the stone surface. That was the end of my camera. When I got home I tried to get it repaired in Vancouver. After a while I phoned the repair place to see what progress had been made. I was told that it was not fixable and they had tossed it in the garbage. I didn’t even get my film back. What jerks!
I hung out with a divorced banker from Kelowna at the bar a number of times. He was a good looking guy in his early thirties. In the week we were at the club he never came close to getting lucky with some young babe. It may sound shallow but I thought if this dude couldn’t get any action I shouldn’t be disappointed in being in the same boat.
On the flight down to Cancun I met 2 guys from Vancouver who were also going to the same Club Med. They were in their early thirties and claimed to be doctors. One of them had a satchel full of prescription drugs. One of these guys was a bit full of himself. One night at the Club Med disco he jumped off a speaker and broke his leg. Bringing that satchel of prescription drugs might have paid off for him.
If you have read this far you may have thought to yourself that I might have been a bit of a drunk back in the day. In the 14 years I was married I was only drunk once. I’m kind of lucky when it comes to alcohol. I can take it or leave it. There was no way I was ever going to lose my driver’s license for drunk driving.
For the first 10 years after I split up with my ex I would get drunk about twice a year, always at some place where I could walk home from. Club Meds account for a number of those times. As it stands I haven’t been drunk in about 15 years now but I still like the occasional cocktail.
Playa Blanca Second Trip
This was to be my 4th and last trip to a Club Med. I took my chances with the “wild card” thing and sure enough ended up back at Playa Blanca. One of the things I found amusing at Club Meds were people who had an attitude and tried very hard to portray themselves as big shots back home. One guy from the Silicon Valley in California once told me I would be out of business within a year if I didn’t have a website. That never happened. I don’t think I ever thanked him for his concern. A 1200 dollar all-inclusive vacation isn’t exactly the lifestyle of the rich and famous.
I struck up a conversation at the airport with a gal in her late forties who was also about to share the long bus ride to Playa Blanca. We both smoked so we had that in common. Throughout the following week we would have little chats now and then. I never made a move on her because I just wasn’t interested. She kind of became the mother hen to 3 younger gals from British Columbia. I found out from her that one of the younger gals had an ambition of hooking up with a blonde beach boy type. I guess she was oblivious to the reality. She was quite overweight and had hair on her arms she could comb. I don’t know if she ever ran into bald, overweight, drunk, and desperate.
Being back at Playa Blanca was one of those déjà vu kind of things. It was very weird. Once again there was very little in the way of decent looking single women in my age range. I hung out a bit at the bar with a real estate agent from Port Moodie, BC. The guy was about 50 and looked like a strapping mercenary, the military type. He did the mating dance with gal in her late 40s. One of his “war stories” was about how he was broke and didn’t have a current driver’s licence because of drunk driving.  A real catch.
Each Club Med had its own disco joint and a DJ. For some strange reason Mexican DJs at all resorts think Gringos just can’t get enough of the trance-like music called “Techno”. "What Is Love" by Haddaway was a favourite. “Baby don’t hurt me?” No! Hurt me so I can be put out of this misery. You would be hard put to find anything more fake and unreal as a Mexican disco.
At all the Club Meds there always seemed to be someone walking around with crutches or with their arm in a sling. Usually these folks were in this state because of accident from being drunk on one of the previous nights. Head bandages were usually the result of trying to negotiate the stairs back to their rooms while being wasted.
I remember one older gal, about 65, who took part in every activity possible. She was maxing on the value at the resort to the extent the bus back to the airport had to wait for her. One day they had a sailing race that I took part in. My laser got tied up in some ropes and it took me some time to get under way. The old broad cleaned everyone’s clocks.
There was no “tequila walk” on my second visit to Playa Blanca. The bar up the hill had closed down a few years before. Just as well for me. Tequila would never be on my radar again in my life.
I had a beer at the airport with the mother hen gal I had chatted with a number of times at the club before we caught our plane. She said something about using birth control for no reason because she never had any action. I thought to myself that I was glad I hadn’t been “the one”.
I don’t miss being single and in my fifties a bit. I do however miss being twenty.
In 2 weeks Linda and I will be heading back to Mexico and one of our favourite spots, Cabo San Jose. We can’t wait!

Cabo

Thursday, 2 January 2014

On Being Electrocuted


 
It was the summer of 1973. I was working as a waiter on the rooftop restaurant in the Blue Horizon Hotel on Robson Street in Vancouver. A sign in the elevator said that anyone who came to the restaurant on their birthday or wedding anniversary would receive free Baked Alaska for desert at the restaurant and more than a few took advantage of that offer. It wasn’t the best restaurant in town but if you wanted to impress out of town guests or a gal on your first date this place just might do the trick with its spectacular views.
The restaurant specialized in “French Service” and I would debone a Dover Sole, make a Caesar Salad from scratch, cut up a Chateaubriand, and set fire to a Spanish coffee or the Baked Alaska in front of the customers.
The other waiters were almost all older than I was and were from various ethnic backgrounds. About 4 of them were Greek and they seemed to hang out together, one guy was a gay Italian and another guy was Yugoslavian, I think his name was Frank, and he liked to play the stock market. Come to think of it, I may have been the only Canadian born waiter in the place.
I remember one night serving a family of about 14 where I had to push a number of tables together. An older guy was paying the bill and he whispered in my ear that I must not forget the free Baked Alaska towards the end of the meal. Everyone seemed to have had a very good time but when the old guy paid the bill I found out that I had been stiffed on the tip. I was really pissed off. I caught up with the old guy in the washroom and stood at the urinal next to the one he was using. “You’re sure everything was satisfactory?” I asked him. “Yes thanks.” he said. I wanted to hit him over the head with a shovel. I had spent about 2-1/2 hours taking care of these folks, they occupied almost all of my tables, and he didn’t give a rat’s ass about how I made my living. It was all about the god damned free Baked Alaska.
One night I served what was left of the singing trio, The Mills Brothers. These old black guys had been in show biz since something like 1926. They introduced the song Up The Lazy River and had some hits in the 40s and 50s with tunes like Paper Doll, Glow Worm, Til Then, Cab Driver, and You Always Hurt The One You Love. A few of these tunes were also recorded by Bill Kenny and The Ink Spots. Bill Kenny spent his final years living in New Westminster, BC.  Dean Martin once said that Harry Mills were his biggest musical influence.
The Mills Brothers
The maître d’ at the restaurant was a Spanish guy named Raphael. He was a dapper kind of dude, probably in his mid-thirties, and wore rose coloured glasses. He was really smooth at schmoozing with the customers and charming the ladies. All the waiters were pretty good at what they did including me so there wasn’t that much interaction with Raphael other than when he brought the patrons to their tables. The place was busy almost every night of the week.
At the time The Blue Horizon Hotel was owned by Morris Wosk.  He and his brother Ben had been partners in a chain of furniture and appliance stores in and around Vancouver. Somewhere along the line the two brothers had a falling out and went their separate ways. The hotel was not originally a hotel but a high rise apartment building. As I understood it there was a local ordinance years ago that didn’t allow for high rise hotels but you could convert an existing apartment building to a hotel. The apartment building was built with small units with the plan of converting them to a hotel which later happened. It seemed like the two brothers were having a pissing contest when Ben later built a new high rise hotel a few blocks away on Robson Street. His hotel also had a rooftop restaurant but his revolved. One minute you would be looking at English Bay and a half hour later viewing the Lion’s Gate Bridge.
The Blue Horizon Hotel
I got the job at the Blue Horizon shortly after turning up in Vancouver after spending most of the winter working at the Banff Springs Hotel. A gal I had messed around with in Banff wrote me a letter asking if she could stay with me in Vancouver. We got an apartment a few blocks away from the Blue Horizon. It took less than 10 minutes to walk to work. The gal was nice enough but I wasn’t romantically interested in her and she headed home to Ottawa after a few months.
A friend I had met in Banff turned up in Vancouver in the fall and I put him up for a couple of weeks. By this time I was involved with a gorgeous red head. I tried to set my friend up with her roommate but that didn’t work out. The friend was a world traveller and had been to many exotic places. He brought up the idea of us skiing in the US for a couple of months in the coming winter. Sounded like a good plan to me. I started saving my money. For some odd reason I dumped the red head.
Eventually it was determined that we would head down to the US at the beginning of February. My friend was going to meet me in Banff after driving out to Alberta from Toronto in his van. For some time I had had my eye on cute Italian waitress who worked the day shift at the restaurant and I got up the courage to ask her out before leaving town. She was just about to head off to Europe. We had a great date and I would have liked to have known her better but it wasn’t in the cards I guess.
I got to Banff about a week before my friend from Toronto. I crashed at a mutual friend’s place. By the time the guy from Toronto arrived I only had about half the money left I had saved. Somehow I got sucked into some late night gambling, mostly shooting craps. I should have known better. They say never gamble with a guy who has the nick name “Doc”. They might add the nick name “Hollywood.”
At this point in my story I am going to ask you to be a bit patient. I will get back to Vancouver and the electrocution stuff shortly but you may just find the following interesting.
The mutual friend in Banff was quite a character. The guy from Toronto, the mutual friend and I hung out a lot together the winter before in Banff. Let’s just call the mutual friend KC. KC was engaged to a wealthy gal in Toronto and the wedding was to occur in the late summer after we had all worked together in Banff. KC was messing around with another gal even though he was engaged but was kind of discreet about it if that is the right word. The wedding took place and was attended by my friend from T.O.
The couple moved out to Banff following the wedding and into KC’s basement apartment. KC was working in the cabaret up at the Banff Springs Hotel but was fired when 100 bucks went missing from the till. Not long after the couple settled in Banff there was a knock on the door. It was the well-off dad and the bride’s brother. There was a bit of a conversation and then the dad pulled out a knife and stuck it in the coffee table. The dad and the brother cleaned out everything that the daughter owned and that was the end of the marriage.
During my stay with KC and before my friend from Toronto turned up I tried to get KC drunk a few times and see if he would tell me the truth about the missing 100 bucks and the dad with the knife and why they cleaned the place out but KC wasn’t forthcoming. Did he pawn the wedding ring? Did he give his bride herpes? It will remain one of those mysteries in life.
We took off for the US and ended up skiing in Sun Valley, Aspen, and Alta, Utah. When we first tried to get across the border we were refused entry. My friend went into a struggling student plea to no avail. I thought his plea was both sad and funny. He hadn’t been a student for years. We ended up having to travel a 100 miles out of our way and crossed over the line at another small border town.
The downside of the trip was that the van’s heater didn’t work. I also discovered that my travelling companion could be a bit moody at times. The upside was that he was well experienced at finding bargains. I remember him finding a motel for 6 bucks a night in Ketchum, Idaho. We were in the US for about 3 or 4 weeks. Oh yeah, I got stopped for speeding by the ski patrol at Aspen Highlands.
I can’t remember how I ever got back Vancouver or where I stayed after the trip. I do recall getting my old job back at the Blue Horizon and finding another apartment.
The crew at the restaurant were pretty much the same folks I had worked with before except for one new guy, a Czech named Andre. Andre sported a goatee which wasn’t that common back then. He had a kind of “devil may care” attitude, he was the kind of person who wasn’t fazed by much.
Andre had a very interesting background. He had been in the Czechoslovakian army and was a border guard. It was a Communist country at the time. One day he took a walk across the border and never came back. Somehow he later found himself in Hawaii. How he ever made it to Vancouver is beyond me. When we were both working as waiters Andre also had an apartment in the west end of downtown Vancouver. He was shacked up with a former Miss Hawaii. She showed me some of her trophies once.
As the summer approached I was once again thinking about packing in the waiter gig and looking for some other way of making a living. I was getting tired of just scraping by and I was 25 years old and still didn’t own a car. I thought that it might be an idea if I got out of town I might be able to save enough money to buy a car if I got a job in a mill somewhere. I wasn’t going to be able to buy a car waiting on tables.
I took a walk down the hallway in the apartment building I lived in and opened the chute to the incinerator. Remember those things? I tossed my white shirts and black pants into the chute. I went over to the Blue Horizon and quit my job. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do for work but my days as a waiter were over.
I didn’t have much money saved. I did have one last pay cheque coming to me and a few days after quitting I went over to the hotel to pick up the cheque from Raphael. I had no idea that fate would be taking over very shortly.
Raphael always seemed to have something going on the side. I once helped him out on a small construction job on house owned by his in-laws. When I arrived to pick up my cheque he asked me if I would be interested in picking up some cash by doing some painting. Somehow he had secured a contract to paint 2 office buildings on West Broadway in Vancouver. How hard could it be running a roller up and down some walls I thought? I could also use the money. Raphael told me that Andre from the restaurant would also be doing some painting. I was in. Andre was always good for a few laughs and this project just might be fun.
We were going to start off by painting the interiors of the vacant offices on the second and third floors of the office buildings. The bare rooms looked cavernous and it looked like this painting job was going to take some time. I soon found out that I was mostly on my own and that Andre was only making occasional appearances. I seemed to be getting nowhere fast. Time seemed to speed by. What really slowed me down were the areas that required detail like painting around the window panes.
In retrospect I think Raphael had a plan that he didn’t tell Andre and I about. I think he wanted to get as much paint coverage done by amateurs at lower hourly rates before bringing in professionals to finish up the job. One day Raphael dropped by to check on our progress and gave me a painter’s hat that looked like something a black American pimp might wear. I became attached to that hat.
It would be safe to say that there was nothing close to professional in the way this painting contract was being implemented. It was all about getting as much of the place covered with new paint as possible. One day Raphael informed us that we would be starting painting of the exterior of the buildings. There was no way I was going to take part in anything to do with a hanging scaffold. “Not to worry.” we were told. We were only going to have to paint the top 10 or 12 feet of the building and this was not going to involve scaffolds.
I remember the next day as if it was yesterday. In the morning Andre and I went up on the roof to survey the situation. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and we could see Vancouver City Hall a few blocks away.  Between the 2 of us we were going to have to come up with some kind of plan as to how to tackle the painting. We had some paint poles with 12 foot extensions and soon figured out that it would be dangerous stooping by the edge of the roof and trying to paint.
It was decided that one of us (me) would lie flat on the roof surface and dangle the paint pole and run it up and down the exterior wall. The other guy (Andre) would hang on to my legs for extra security. He would also take the paint pole from me and dunk it in the 5 gallon drum of paint when needed. After a while Andre was only holding onto my legs every now and then. He would wander off and have a smoke while I was painting. I was kind of getting the short end of this deal but we seemed to be making some progress.
We had lunch and resumed painting. It was now about 1 p.m. The last thing I remember saying to Andre was….”You know what the toughest things in the world are?.....those little birds that sit on the electrical wires.”
And then it happened, a number of things all at once. I heard a deep humming sound. I couldn’t see anything but a bright orange colour. I could smell something burning. I could feel the electricity running up my arm. Somehow I managed to stand up. My arms were limp. I started to scream in panic. I didn’t know whether I was going to die or be left without use of my arms for the rest of my life. I had never been this scared in my life.
Someone, maybe Andre, called an ambulance. I was whisked away to a nearby hospital within minutes. I’m not sure if it was in the ambulance or at the hospital, maybe both, that I was told about how close I had come to death. Apparently if high voltage passes by the heart area you are a goner. It seems that I touched a BC Hydro wire with the paint pole and the electricity ran up my arm and jumped to the tin border on the roof. At the same time the weight of the paint pole made it drop to the ground below cutting off the circuit. I was one lucky son of a bitch!
Andre never came to the hospital to see how I was doing. I wasn’t sure if it was because he just didn’t care or if he was concerned that if he identified himself he might get deported for not having any documentation. It would be a few years before I would see Andre again.
By the time I left the hospital it was about 4 in the afternoon. I was still in shock and didn’t have complete feeling in my arms. The burning smell I had experienced was my eye lashes and eye brows that were singed. There was a small hole underneath my left armpit where the electricity had jumped from my body to the tin border on the roof.
I got it into my mind to go over to the Blue Horizon and confront Raphael. At the least there should have been better supervision and safety measures in place on the jobsite. I was still wearing my painting clothes.
Raphael wasn’t at the restaurant when I arrived but a German hostess I knew was. She immediately asked me what I was doing at the restaurant dressed the way I was. I told her that I had been electrocuted. I also asked her if she wanted to screw me. (She wasn’t that attractive). She was kind of taken aback by my question. I remember telling her that I had come very close to death and being alive at all was just gravy.
I sat at the bar in the lounge until Raphael arrived. He kind of freaked out a bit. I think his biggest concern was what liability he had. I should probably have found a lawyer and sued his ass off but I didn’t. I wasn’t that wise to what legal action I could have taken. Raphael knew that I had planned on leaving town and I think he thought the sooner that happened the less likely there was going to be any legal actions occurring.
A few weeks later I found a job working in a mill at a remote place called Tahsis on Vancouver Island. I was hired through their head office in Vancouver. Before leaving town I needed some place to store my furniture, what little there was of it. My old pal Raphael told me he would keep my stuff in his basement. Moving day came around and I sat with my furniture outside of the apartment building waiting for Raphael to turn up with a truck. He never did and I ended up waking away from my stuff. Talk about leaving town with your tail between your legs?
Fate is a weird thing. I hitchhiked up to Gold River on Vancouver Island where I had to get on a boat that would take me to Tahsis. One of the crew asked me where I was going and when I told him he informed me that the mill in Tahsis was on strike. You might say I was having a streak of bad luck. I had some friends from Banff, a married couple who were working in Port Alberni that wasn’t that far away from where I was. I had attended their wedding in Calgary about a year before. I ended up moving in with them and found a job at the local pulp mill that was owned by MacMillan-Bloedel at the time. I stayed in Port Alberni for 9 months and saved enough money to buy my first car.
Later on I moved to Victoria and had my first experience in working in outside sales, a story for another time. My next stop was Kamloops where I worked in another pulp mill. I then tried living in Calgary but couldn’t find an apartment. By this time I was also through with working at manual jobs. I ended up back in Vancouver. I remember when I was working in the mill in Kamloops that I was asked to hose down a room that was covered in sulphur dust. I spotted some insulated wires and refused to do the task. There was no way I was going to mess around with anything that involved electricity ever again in my life. I had learned my lesson.
About 3 years after getting electrocuted I got hired by as a salesman by a Vancouver office equipment company called Benndorf-Verster Ltd. It was to be the longest job I ever held. Each year the company would have a Christmas party. One year it was at a seafood restaurant called Ondine’s on the old mud flats in False Creek where the Vancouver Expo 86 site would later be.
We were sitting at our tables when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around and it was none other than Andre, the goateed waiter I had waited tables with and painted with a few years earlier. He still had that silly grin and the goatee. He was our waiter for the night and during the course of the evening he produced a few free cocktails. Andre also knew one of my co-workers, a fellow Czech named George who was a technician with the company. It was the last time I saw Andre.
A few months later George pulled me aside at work. He told me that on the previous weekend Andre had been drunk and was involved in a head on collision in North Vancouver. I think it was on the steep Lonsdale Boulevard. Andre died in the accident along with an innocent couple.
Andre was a likable guy. He was fun to be around even if he didn’t seem to give a shit about much. I really didn’t have much empathy for him losing his life however. I might have been more sympathetic if he had just killed himself but I had a hard time knowing that two others had lost their lives because of his recklessness.
Life does move along in mysterious ways sometimes. Andre died about 37 years ago. I almost died but my life got better and better over those same 37 years. “Fate” is a strange word.