Monthly Archives: August 2011

Ottawa Memories III

Unusual things happen when you’re on vacation.  Your brain sometimes goes places it hasn’t gone in years and mine is no exception.  We’ve done some of the Ottawa Memories before and had some reaction from others who have remembered some of what came floating out of the brain case.

The Auto-Sky Drive In:  Right on the edge of the Experimental Farm, the Auto-Sky partially backed onto a housing development at the corner of Fisher and Baseline.  I always thought it would be cool to have your bedroom back onto the drive-in, because you could watch movies every night, but you couldn’t hear the sound track, because the speaker wouldn’t reach your house.  However, the Auto-Sky was a pricey place, our family would only go to the Star-Top Drive-In as it was cheaper.

Miss Carlingwood/Miss Westgate:  These were two restaurants that were at the Carlingwood and Westgate shopping centres respectively, out in the depths of the west end of the city. 

They served traditional diner fare, including the ubiquitous grilled cheese sandwich and french fries.  Waitresses in uniforms complete with the paper tiara and white aprons.  Back then malls were open front shopping malls, meaning there was a common roof so your could get out of the rain, but the storefronts were open to the planet.  The 61 Carlingwood bus took you there for 35 cents. 

Blackballs, 2 for 1 cent at the Elmvale Candy store.  Elmvale Shopping Centre had a candy store that sold all kinds of hard candy in little paper bags.  You would place your order after carefully scrutinizing the incredible panoply of sugar confections, trying to divine the best return on the empty pop bottles you had collected at various construction sites.  After cashing in your empty bottles, the long-suffering clerk would count out the number of jujubes, blackballs, toffees or jawbreakers that you had ordered, into a little paper bag not much bigger than a seven-year olds’ hand. 

Blackballs were the size of a marble.  The flavours ran from licorice to some sort of berry concoction, but you never bought blackballs for the flavour: Blackballs were designed solely to turn your mouth black, so you would look like a sooted kerosene lantern with a tongue.  As the colour wore off, you would take the confection out to see what colour it had changed to from your relentless sucking.   

If you were truly prosperous you would buy a package of Thrills gum.  Thrills still exists and although technically the flavour is rosewater, it smells like and tastes like old fashioned school bathroom pink soap.  Thrills were purple and if you sucked the coating off the gum before you chewed it, your mouth would go purple and blotchy.

When the Giant Sweet Tart came out, the ultimate dare was to put the entire Giant Sweet Tart in your mouth and hold it as long as you could without puking, drooling or disintegrating into a foam and sputum puddle in front of your friends.

Pure Spring Beverages:  They were an Ottawa concern who made good, as the bottler of Pure Spring Ginger Ale, at one time the most popular ginger ale around.  As kids we didn’t care much for the Ginger Ale, as that was what the grownups used for mix, usually with Five-Star Rye, or Palm Breeze. 

We were more concerned with Swiss Cream Soda or Honee Orange.  The Swiss Cream Soda was purply-pinkish-red and the Honee Orange was the kind of orange that made your eyes bleed if you looked at it too long.  Swiss Cream Soda foam would permanently stain any clothing, so it was usually rationed by the grownups. 

Occasionally we’d have Gini, which was a lemon concoction in a curvaceous green bottle, but mostly that was for the grownups as well.  We suspected the Gin went with the Gini.  

To recreate the taste of Gini, tape a lemon to a two-pound bricklayer’s hammer and hit yourself in the face four or five times.  Hires Root Beer was also well-regarded as a source of the joy of foam and burping later.

Donald Duck Bread:  Morrison-Lamonthe Bakery used to deliver bread to your door.  They had green painted panel trucks that cruised their routes, looking for the little square of cardboard in the front window that said “Bread Today” in Morrison-Lamonthe green.  You could get a loaf of “Donald Duck” bread that was round, exactly the same diameter as a slice of bologna, but the same length as a conventional loaf of bread.  Morrison-Lamonthe also made cinnamon buns with icing that could be used to patch a canoe, it was so sticky. 

Delivered directly to your door, any morning you put the little cardboard sign in the window, the delivery man always wore the Morrison-Lamonthe uniform with the peaked hat and Donald Duck emblem as our personal guarantee that our bologna would fit the bread.

GEM Department Store:  If you were a government employee, as my Father was, you could apply for membership in GEM.  It stood for Government Employee Merchandising and was a private label, membership-only limited-service department store just for Federal Civil Servants.  It was out on Baseline Road, near Merivale and carried only one brand of things you would find in a store like Sears or Simpson’s.  Occasionally there would be a special purchase, like the three ring high inflatable child’s pool.  The colour was whatever package you grabbed first.  Ours was green, not the girly pink one that we might have gotten. 

GEM was the genetic precursor of Sam’s Club cross-bred with a PX, with all the merchandising flash of a store run by government bureaucrats.  Imagine a Soviet-era department store in a backwater town in East Germany. 

Ogilvy’s was the posh department store in Ottawa.  Owned locally with the five-storey flagship store downtown, Ogilvy’s was the place where a proper lady could get dress white gloves, any time of the year, in any size, style and design you could imagine. 

If memory serves a real, live, Ogilvy-tartan clad full-dress bagpiper would pipe the store closing.  Or was it tea at 4 pm?  Any gift that was in a tartan box was from Ogilvy’s.  If it had that modern graphic F, it was from Frieman’s. 

At one time the Advertising and Merchandising Department was on an unregarded corner of the fourth floor at the Rideau street store, where jacket and tie-clad graphic artists did the layout and pasteup for the Ogilvy ads.  Employees who were women were not allowed to wear slacks, end of discussion.

The RA Center was near the Ogilvy’s store at Billings Bridge Plaza and was the Recreational Association for the Federal Civil Servants only.  There was a bowling alley, archery classes, ringette, and the mammoth outdoor pool at the RA.  I’m certain there were other things going on too, like a chess club and a Toastmasters group, but I didn’t care. 

Five-pin bowling on your birthday was about as good as it got.  In the heat of summer when the public beaches were closed for E.coli, Salmonella, Bubonic Plague and General Stench, the RA pool was the only game in town.  The RA is still there, but it has expanded beyond all recognition. 

The Train Station:  No, not that time capsule out on Alta Vista (Hello, 1966 is calling and it wants its’ train station back) but the original at Elgin, Rideau and Wellington streets, right across from the Chateau Laurier. 

At one time the now Federal Conference Centre was the Union Station.  Tracks ran along the Parkway, to such distant, exotic metropoli as Smith’s Falls, Brockville, Kingston, Belleville, Oshawa, Guildwood and Union Station.  Or to Montreal, or Detroit, or Chicago and Points West.  You could even get on the Canadian and travel as far as Vancouver on rails. 

It was very much a mammoth sandstone Cathedral to Transportation of soaring columns with Gothic capitals and stained glass windows illuminating the ten provinces.  The brass was polished every morning to a glowing shine and red caps would help you with your luggage.  Everything smelled of diesel from the engines, while the floor vibrated from the cars being shunted below you.

Ottawa’s Union Station predates the Toronto Union Station, with the same designers and construction company, so the look and feel still live on.  In Toronto.

That’s about all the brain is letting float to the surface right now.  As more comes up, I’ll write it down.

Jack and Irene

We’re behind in our work so we’re going what is called in the printing business, two-up.  The first is Jack.

Jack Layton that would be.  Jack lead the New Democratic Party, the Official Opposition after our Federal election of a couple of months ago when we gave the Conservatives the keys to the joint.  Jack passed away Monday after a short battle with cancer.  He’d had prostate cancer before, but this was a new one and he didn’t survive.  Those who saw his last press conference when he stepped aside temporarily, surmised that things did not look good. 

His legacy, aside from getting the NDP into Official Opposition, is his final letter to Canadians.  If you want to read the whole thing, this link leads to the whole text, but we’re going to excerpt the last ‘graph as it perhaps the most telling.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

All my very best,

Jack Layton

(Translation for Americans:  Jack Layton’s role would be sort-of like John Boehner down your way.  The NDP has been Canada’s Third Party for decades and is an honest-to-God Socialist party.  Yes, we can vote for a Socialist party and have put them in power several times in our various provinces.  No, they’re not full-tilt nationalize the toilet paper industry next Tuesday and you must drive a Volvo while wearing Birkenstock sandals kind of socialists.  More left than the left side of the Democrats, but still have a sense of pragmatic policy.  Social Democrat is the closest political term you can use, like Germany’s Social Democratic Party.)

Irene, or to use her proper name, Hurricane Irene, was our other story of the last while.  The various media outlets dusted off all the old bumper, interstitial and theme music from Hurricane Katrina to play Irene as the Storm of The Century, battering the East Coast to a Certain Death. 

Which brings us back to Jack too.  He did deserve and get a full state funeral last Saturday.  Both Canadian networks went wall to wall as well, but what was more telling was the comments of Persons In The Street who were interviewed after his passing.  One would have thought that not only had Jesus returned and died again, but he was joined by the Pope, Richard Gere and Celine Dion in the tragedy. 

The last high water mark for mawkish, media-manipulated, inappropriate, insincere mourning was Michael Jackson.  The reaction to Jack Layton’s passing came almost too close to that mark. 

Which is where the question resides today:  Are we getting the media we need, covering things that are actually important in our lives and informing us, or are we getting a media that sees an easy to cover fixed-length story with dramatic pictures as the only news story of note?  Not only do the media tell us it is important but they tell us how to react to the story and if we don’t react appropriately for the media, then we don’t exist. 

Jack Layton’s passing was sad for his family and for Canadian politics.  He did some very remarkable things with the NDP in federal politics as well as his long career in Toronto city politics, but it wasn’t the passing of Gandhi, or Churchill.  Judging by most of the streeters, I doubt a third of them would have ever voted NDP, even at gunpoint, but there were tears-a-plenty from people who wouldn’t know Jack Layton and his politics from a bag of brown rice. 

The same exaggeration held true for Hurricane Irene coverage.  Perhaps FEMA and the other emergency management organizations over-reacted a bit and I can live with that.  It is safer to err on the side of caution with mandatory evacuations, instead of trying inform the next of kin of several thousand unidentified victims who have washed up on shore in Long Island Sound.       

At one point, I swear I saw Anderson Cooper in full wet-weather gear, interviewing a stranger near a fallen tree branch the diameter of my thumb, during what could charitably called light drizzle.  Throw to John King in what is at most a strong wind with rain.  Oooh, the End of Days, as there is Sand On The Boardwalk in Atlantic City. 

Yes, it was a nasty storm in a few places and the clean up will take a while, but it was not, nor would it ever be, the Apocalypse as made out by the media.

Which speaks back to the media and our milliseconds of attention span:  Today’s Top Story?  2011 MTV Video Music Awards from last night with Lady GaGa doing reasonable drag as Joe Calderone.  Beyonce is pregnant.  Oh and clean up on the Vermont aisle of the American supermarket, as half the state has washed away in runoff from Irene.  Over to you Chad!

We’re Just Askin’

The question “why” is a double-edged sword that can lead the wielder of the weapon into madness.  Small children sometimes become enamored of “why’ as a way to stave off bedtime, starting with the basic “Why is the sky blue?” and devolving rapidly into assessments of grammar, science and sociology that the harried parent is unable to satisfactorily answer.

As a grownup, at least on paper, “why” has always been a personal means to an end.  So much contemporary life is utter foolishness imposed upon us by well-meaning, but moronic, process-monkeys who haven’t had an original thought since 1974.  Asking “why” and getting the moron in charge to admit he or she has no earthy idea why, usually results in no tangible changes, but at least you both know and acknowledge that the system is irredeemably pooched.

To wit:

If you’re economically oppressed and marginalized by your society, why would you trash your own economically oppressed and marginalized neighbourhood?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to go to the rich part of town to trash their stores, homes and cars?  They’re the ones purportedly screwing you over, so taking revenge on the wealthy would only seem to make sense.  Besides, the rich have nicer stuff than your next door neighbour, who is just as economically oppressed and societally marginalized as you are.  London rioters, are you listening?

Deserts are by definition, lacking in water with a concomitant lack of arable land to support the production of food or support of any form of animal husbandry.  Why do people insist on living there and why do we in the Western world seem all astonished that there is a drought that is killing hundred of fellow humans every day?  Perhaps all the well-meaning charitable donations should be going to a very large school to teach humans to not live in deserts.  This would include Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, a goodly piece of Texas, most of New Mexico and enough of Africa to make your eyes hurt.

If the rest of the market is offering 1% return on investment and some guy in a suit is promising you 12%, why do you think the guy in the suit knows more about things than five thousand other experts?  He’s either lying or selling heroin to kindergarten children.  Either scenario mean you are never going to see your money again, so don’t write the cheque in the first place.    If you have, take your lumps for being a dumb-ass and shut the hell up.  This would include those who decry the AAA ratings fall for the US and blame it on everyone except their own mindless greed.  It would seem that nobody on Wall Street is losing their job over it.  You can’t spend more money than you have and that applies to people, businesses and countries. 

When someone runs their shopping cart into your ankle, why do we apologize for being in their way?  They’re the ones being inattentive, boorish and stupid, while we’re hopping on one leg, trying to staunch the flow of arterial blood.  Perhaps they should be the ones apologizing for their own idiocy and we should be gracious enough to not call them the names we hear in our head.

Some would say I have a pleasant if lupine smile.  Why can I not smile during a passport or driver’s license photo?  I don’t normally look like I’ve just had someone forcefully insert an unlubricated 8-inch catadioptric telescope up my rear orifice, but that is the resulting photo.  However, with a little clever timing, one can game the transit pass photo process with a picture that actually resembles the bearer.

Our food is an endless series of questions.  How is a country half-way around the world able to grow, produce, pack, ship and distribute a simple allium, namely garlic, for less than half the price than a farm twelve kilometers away from my kitchen can produce it for?  They’re either growing it on a toxic waste dump, using prison camp labour, or a combination of all of the above, with mammoth government subsidies.  What possible political benefit can we possibly reap from putting our farmers out of work, aside from having to build more jails for their kids who will have no job prospects?  Why are we letting this stuff into our country?

Chocolately Coating.  At one time a chocolate bar contained chocolate.  Today, it is no longer a chocolate bar, it is ‘candy’ which means it can contain anything the manufacturer chooses.  If that means a combination of ski wax, Vaseline and corn husks, wrapped in Mylar, then that’s what we get.  The film of chocolately coating on a Crispy Crunch means you have to rinse your mouth with acetone to get rid of the taste.  Why do we let them get away with it, when we have the ability to exact fiscal revenge on the manufacturer by not buying their product?  If you can’t pronounce the first five ingredients of any packaged food and that includes chocolate bars, you are ill-advised to put your hard-earned money down on the counter, regardless of age.

As you can see, “why” is very powerful.  Remember to ask it.