childhood, Culture, Sports

Down At The Rink 2

The Delhi Arena, In An Uncommon Quiet Moment

Down at the rink there was a constant stream of guys from youngsters to teens who slogged in and out, all winter, with bags of equipment, tapes, pucks, pads, skates and sticks.  They came at all the hours of the day and night.

In this small hockey-crazy town, how did I end up in the figure-skating club?

Of all the gifts my parents bestowed, this was the one that took the longest to understand.  But whether it was their intention to produce a figure skater, or just to keep me occupied, I eventually saw the light.  And it was dazzling.

Barbara Ann Scott, 1948 Olympic Gold Medalist for Canada

My parents moved to Delhi in 1948 and in a short time took a lead role in starting the Delhi Figure Skating Club. It was the same year Canada’s Sweetheart, Barbara Ann Scott, won the Olympics. This may have been Dad’s idea, but Mom would have pushed him along, and with the help of those many post-war friends who landed in this small tobacco-growing community, the DFSC was born.  It drew widespread endorsement, especially by parents whose daughters couldn’t play hockey.   Within a couple of years there was a long list of members aged 7-70 who came to the rink on Wednesdays and Saturdays to cut figure 8s, do steps, spins and jumps and dance in wavy processions around the rink.  You might say it was a little Arthur Murray mixed up with some chilly ballet.

CCM skates, built tough for hockey.

While all my friends went the hockey route, I went figure skating, primarily because it was my ride home.  So, I owned a pair of black, shin-high laced skates with long, slim silver blades with chiseled picks on the toes.  My buds all had CCM hockey skates: black with brown trim, yellow laces, reinforced tendon guards, and wide, hard, puck-stopping steel blades riveted into the soles. Their scarred and dented toes resembled miners’ helmets. Mine shone like OPP boots.  There couldn’t be a greater contrast between the two sports.

Or could there?

The girls came in numbers: a serendipitous awakening.

In fact, I discovered in figure skating that for every boy there were at least five girls. This may have been the unintended consequence of my membership, but it was a serendipitous awakening that I have never regretted, much less forgotten.

In the earliest of my stumbling skating career as a Junior, I wandered around crowds of other newbies on the ice, learning to push out for forward and butt-wiggle for reverse.  Once ice-friendly we graduated to Intermediates where we attempted three-turns and hops like little bunnies in the snow.  We raised our legs and arms for spirals, imitating clumsy birds landing on the feeder.  I perfected the nose-plant.

Paul Rapai, Marion Pitts, Suzanne Klein, Skip Lumley nailed it.

In the midst of my imperfect executions however, there were some real stars.  Paul Rapai, Suzanne Klein, Skip Lumley, Marion Pitts, Jack Kellum, Mary Ann Coyle, Nora Marie VanHove–these older kids were excellent skaters. Gifted with balance, strength and grace, they captivated their audience, both those of us on the fringes, and the adoring crowds on the benches.  They had nailed it.

But as a 12-year-old, I found the boy numbers had thinned, my skating buds had evaporated to the hockey track, and I was accompanied by a few guys who hung on, to witness like I did, that we were surrounded by girls. It was a stunning, magical, delirious moment for an addled kid who until then had been happiest with a pellet gun in the woods.

The girls always dressed up for figure skating.  They wore colourful toques, scarves, furry ear muffs, white gloves or mitts, smart tunics and on occasion, impossibly short skirts and tanned tights.  They had immaculate white skates with bows or jingle bells laced into the toes.  To a one, they had fresh rosy cheeks and bright eyes, lovely curls and some even sported earrings.  In the middle of a cold grey winter I had somehow stumbled into a warm, sunny bakeshop at Easter.

Chris Brown, Bunny Klein. Boys came at premium in the DFSC.

The task of serious figure skating still advanced however.  We were now instructed in drawing crisp, neat figure 8s on our outside and inside edges.  My 8s looked like shaky ampersands. We learned to launch into the air with 3-jumps.  Mine looked like 4s and scratchy 5s.  A simple cutback into a spin left me doodling aimlessly, slowing to a halt after one rotation.  In short, I was a figure skating klutz.

And I was treated that way, pretty much.  But still there were high points.  In the annual competitions I could draw a bronze medal for third place because there were only two other guys in the field.  But best of all, I was indispensable as a dance partner.  We needed boys to partner with girls to perform dances.  So I may have been a solo wash-out, but I truly learned to deliver a passable Dutch Waltz, a Swing Dance, or my favourite, the Canasta Tango.

These dances guaranteed a pairing, arm in arm, hand in hand, eye to eye, with some of the prettiest girls Delhi had.  We strode around the ice to orchestra tapes of Perfidia, Blue Moon, Wonderful Copenhagen… it was surreal, exciting and riveting all at once.  While I may not have ever shared a social word with these girls at school, on the ice it was a joint challenge to perform, and that seemed the winning ticket.

While my hockey friends were scrambling and whooping around the ice like scrappy junkyard dogs, slamming the boards and crossing sticks, I was gliding along smooth arcs, laughing and talking our way through a complicated foot-move in time to Andre Kostelanetz.  While the guys were groaning in the sweaty change rooms breathing the high-sulphur coal-heated air, I was enchanted by the occasional wafts of Breck shampoo, Noxzema and Juiceyfruit gum.   How bad was that?

The ice carnival, exciting, enchanting, memorable.

The climax of the skating season however was the Ice Carnival.  This was the DFSC’s presentation to the town.  It was a top-tier war effort, and in addition to its spectacular performance, the carnival was, to many of us, the most exciting and enchanting event of the season.

More, next week.

 

 

 

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childhood, Culture, Sports

Down At The Rink-1

The Delhi Arena, our sports center year round.

If it wasn’t for the Delhi Arena, most of our youth would have been spent watching TV. But as it turned out, the “rink” was the birthplace of our skaters, hockey players, and curlers. It was also the winter playground where we grew up, showed up, showed off, fought, danced, laughed, spectated, spat, scraped, yelled, screamed and inexorably, became self aware.

The building was the largest and tallest in Delhi, a cinder block fortress with a vast yawning wooden frame roof. Below were two rows of wooden-backed  spectator benches painted in bold reds and blues. Sitting in these, one could look up and wonder at the ceiling. Massive multi-ply planking formed the immense rafters in a parabolic curve that supported tons of shiplap and asphalt roofing tiles.

A modular wooden track is installed for bike races.

Under the rafters, there were hangers and struts arranged in geometric, weight-sharing designs.  These were bolted into the 120-foot wooden joists that stretched the width of the rink.   The walls were held together by penetrating steel rods that crossed the expanse twenty feet above our heads. One could only marvel at the steeple jacks that created this edifice.   And suspended in the middle, at center ice was a four-sided game clock and score box, sponsored by Players cigarettes, that was large enough to house a two-story chicken coop.  Fully automated, it could record Home and Visitor teams scores, count to twenty minutes, and blast a brash game-over siren that was unmistakable.

Here was every Delhi kid’s excuse to get out of the house.  We had a raucous, robust minor hockey league that was a rite of passage for boys.  Typically, we were up before 7am on a Saturday, grabbing a breakfast, and then hiking down to the rink.

For most of us, standard equipment included flimsy little shoulder pads, hardly more protective than a grilled cheese sandwich.  Plastic kneepads, held up by rubber Mason Jar rings, were worn under our jeans, or if we were devoted to the sport, inside Canadiennes or Maple Leaf socks. Most of us had huge sweaters,  hockey pants and suspenders.  We stuffed the whole kit with our skates into a burlap potato sack, and slinging that over our hockey stick, shouldered our gear along streets, alleys and wooded paths, over Big Creek, and down to the rink.

One of Delhi’s many All Star rep teams, courtesy of Vandenbussche Irrigation and The Knights of Columbus.

The rep teams, the All-Stars, had company-sponsored jerseys and played their games in the evenings and weekends, at home and away.   Our rink hosted future hockey royalty too, when a championship match included a young 12-year-old Wayne Gretzky.   He glided across our ice like a jet, maybe aware of what was to come.

But the rep game was far beyond my mediocre skills, intuition or strength, so I spent my hockey hours on Saturday mornings chasing runaway pucks, bouncing off the boards, picking myself up, with occasional wobbling shots aimed at scrambling goalies.

The highlight was Sunday at the rink when our Junior B team, the Rocket 88s would take on a visiting team from neighbouring towns, like Simcoe and Waterford and Tilsonburg, all within 10 miles of Delhi.  The 88s were named for their sponsor, Wills Motors which proudly sold Oldsmobiles.  These games were the quintessential celebration of small town spirit.  500-600 fans would fill the wooden seats and cheer the 88s for every goal, upset and penalty called.

Wills Motors named their team the Rocket 88s for the classic Oldsmobile.

As kids, we ran up and down the concrete aisles, popping empty paper Dixie Cups under our heels, razzing the visiting team behind their bench, banging the boards with broken hockey sticks, scarfing down hot chocolate and cups of salted french fries.  The fans roared for our hometown heroes like Rolly Thibault, Bob Sabatine, Tony Benko, Earl O’Neil, Dan Barrett and Joe Kelly, who was rumored to be Red Kelly’s cousin, but we never knew for sure.  And beside home bench, sat Dr. Ron McCallum, the team’s very own, who eyed every shot, and high stick for a possible injury.

Worthy of note, the ice hockey back then was different from today: no head gear, including the goalie, and no fights.

Between periods there was a solemn procession that never varied.  A cadre of older teen age guys had earned the right to shovel the ice.  This was in the pre-Zamboni era.  About ten of them split into two teams, and would push heavy steel shovels up and down the length of the rink in formation like Canada geese.  The shaved ice would flow off the first shovel onto the one beside and back a few paces, until it had cascaded across 5 or 6 blades.

Hockey the way it used to be: no helmets, masks or fights.

The shovelers had a uniform, too.  Not with stripes or corporate sponsoring, but just as important.  They were on display.  It would be a flight jacket or heavy windbreaker, zipped half way up the chest to reveal a plaid flannel shirt open at the collar displaying a white t-shirt.  The jacket collar was always turned up.  Their hair was slick and groomed to perfection. The uniform called for jeans that were draped into black rubber wellingtons with orange trim, folded down to reveal about 4 inches of the boot’s canvas lining.  An acceptable alternative was the zipped rubber boot which by consensus must be unzipped down to the toes so that the boots’ collars flapped open like Batman’s cape.

The game clock, courtesy of Imperial Tobacco’s Players cigarettes.

After circling the rink, the two shovel teams corralled all the shaved ice into the middle lane.  There, in the grande finale, they would cup the snow into one pile and all ten shovelers would push the shavings out the back door of the rink.   They didn’t return, but it’s likely they paused for a smoke out back as the crowds waited inside for the next act.

It was very special.   A small, quiet, older gentleman with silver hair, Ivan, would apply a new surface to the ice.  Before Zamboni, ice makers rigged up a 45-gallon drum filled with steaming hot water.  It was mounted on two black rubber tires, and had two 6-foot-pipe outriggers that oozed hot water through toweling onto the ice.  Ivan wore steel cleats.  He would carefully pull his contraption along the scarred and riddled surface, and opening the valves a tad, create a smooth satin sheen before us.  Ivan could resurface the entire rink in about ten minutes, under the watchful eyes of impatient ’88 fans who couldn’t help but notice the “Vandenbussche Irrigation” sign displayed on a tent over the drum.

The rink was the town’s sports center, in use all year.  It hosted bicycle races, wrestling matches, roller skating, a little curling – and hockey, for sure.  But that was only part of the program.  The rink had figure skating too, which was magical, and wildly exciting in another way I can’t begin to tell you now.  A weird place for a guy to show up, but there I was.

More to follow, next week.

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Culture, Sports

Real Grit

Justify proudly, majestically pounds the dirt.

We watched the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, and came away with a shiver as Justify fiercely and powerfully pounded across the finish line one and three quarter lengths ahead of his closest opponent.

Why the shiver?

Was it because the 3 year old just won the Triple Crown?  Because he proudly stands 16.3 hands high and weighs in at an amazing 1,380 pounds?  The $1,500,000 purse? Because he’s a fifth generation descendant of Triple Crown Winners Omaha, Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Count Fleet and War Admiral?  His $3,798,000 winnings history?  Because he was loudly and jubilantly bestowed the laudable praise of immortal?

No.  We came away with a shiver because he almost lost to Gronkowski.

If you watched the race you may have lost track of Gronk as the race unfolded, and that is excusable, because absent the use of a wide angle lens, you would not see the trailing horse in the same frame as the 9 others.  He barely made it out of the gate.

At the gate, Gronkowski, ridden by Ortiz in white is delayed.

Gronkowski is a lesson in accidental fortune.  With a meager $79,496 in winnings to date, he did not inspire much confidence as a good bet.  12-1 on race day.  Nevertheless, on a whim, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski recently bought a share in the horse, solely because they shared the same name.  Ah, the joys of personal disposable income!  The football player weighs 265; the horse is over 1,200.

Barely 10 seconds into the race Gronk falls back.

As the race begins, Gronkowski the horse breaks out of the gate dead last.  Only a length behind, he is now eyeing 9 horses’ butts in front of him as he appears to awaken from an afternoon’s equine slumber.  This would be the moment to double back, and check if he is in the right race.

Instead, Gronkowski shuffles into a gallop, no doubt looking to see what the kerfuffle is up ahead.  For the next minute he meanders in the dirt backfield waiting for a sign from his rider, Jose Ortiz.

The gap widens. Can we point the camera elsewhere?

At the first quarter mile, Gronk is in 10th place, 14-3/4 lengths behind you know who.

Meanwhile, at the front of the pack, with intrepid speed and power Justify stretches his lead, thundering ahead of some hopeful contenders.  All the while Justify and Mike Smith, his 52-year-old rider, soar around the bend, never looking back, confident of their win.  They are truly a remarkable, thrilling sight.

“This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening.”

At one mile, Gronk is in 9th place, 8-1/2 lengths behind Justify.

Still, there is a change coming.  The message somehow got through to the colt that this was a horse race, and there are terrific upsides to winning versus heading back to the stable.  It is amazing to watch as one by one, Gronkowski slips into the middle of the pack, and nudges his way up the rail like an impatient Target shopper on the way to self-check out.

At mile one, Gronk creeps up on the inside.

 

As the mob of horses approach the final bend, there is a quarter mile to go.  Gronk has smoothly worked up to 3rd place, 2-1/2 lengths behind.

Then in the final straightaway, the crowds are on their feet, the announcer is screaming into the mike, and Justify stretches forward like a wild dragon on fire, closing on the finish.  While horse and rider don’t look back, they surely can hear amid the crowd’s roar the fierce pounding of another set of hooves.

The finish, hot on Justify’s tail.

Alas, Justify crosses the line, victorious, and doesn’t know who crept up behind him in the last few seconds. It was Gronkowski, who came in second, a third of a second behind Justify’s 2:28:18.

“What the..where did you come from??”

True, it’s a horse race that astounds: it is loud, hot, wet, dirty, fast, scary and dangerous.  Justify completed his race with a time speed of 36 miles per hour.  53 feet per second.  But Gronkowski only woke up half way through the race, so he actually sprinted faster than Justify through the last half mile.

These horses love to run, and some even love to win.

Gronkowski in socks, at a quieter moment.

Talk about grit.

 

 

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Sports

Knuckling Down

The Canadian Open finished at Glen Abbey Golf Course in Oakville yesterday, and the scoring amazed me for the strokes under par.  After 72 holes played, the leader board showed the winner, Jhonattan Vegas at 21 under par.  Put another way, for 288 recommended strokes, he only needed 267 to win $1,000,000 dollars.

21 under par is a pretty astounding number in the PGA Tour.  But it reminded me that I have played at Glen Abbey, many, many years ago, and I recall that I finished just the front 9 with a 57, or 21 strokes over par.  I have not been back.

Since then, my golf game has not improved.   Despite lessons, innumerable outings, new clubs, golf magazine subscriptions, disciplined score keeping, fastidious handicap calculations  (28.6), spiffy shirts, and an unbridled optimism, I still come up with a couple extra strokes per hole, delivering a consistent 108, +/- 5 strokes.  36 over par any given day.

The reason this occurs is obvious to me now.   After years of recording and analyzing  scores, yardage, accuracy, putts and penalties, my game is consistent.  First, short drives.  Second, wide drives.   Once in the rough, always in the rough.   If most holes require 2 strokes to hit the green, I will usually take three and maybe four.

Next, sorrowful putts.  Regulation calls for two.   My putts will usually be two, but I can make a three, even a four happen so easily that the gallery of geese standing nearby shake their heads in dismay.

I have reconciled and accepted my numbing under-performance.  And like a professional, I have studied it and dissected every misstep, and have now come up with a new way to measure and find success.

The Knucklehead Count

It’s not the lackluster shots that dampen my game.  Sometimes I get away with some brilliant shots which compensate.  What ruins my game is the knucklehead shot.

A knucklehead shot is a bizarre, inept moment of inattention enhanced by extraordinary clumsiness.  Knucklehead putts that are marred by a scuffed green or a bouncing putter.  Knucklehead approach shots are skulled wedge shots that rocket with malice waist-high  over the green and, nearly hitting a startled partner, end up in a bunker.  A knucklehead bunker shot is hit so fat that the ball barely rolls up three feet to rest under the lip.  A knucklehead fairway shot usually involves a 5-wood grinding the ball deep into the  turf before skittering 12 feet to a stop.

Knuckleheads generally can be validated by quickly taking a second ball, and repeating the stroke with consummate perfection.  In other words, lacking my inattention and clumsiness, the prior shot could have been brilliant.  Unfortunately, but to its credit, the game of golf requires physical and intellectual honesty, so the knucklehead counts, and the beautiful do-over doesn’t.

I break out scores on my card to show putts, fairway, yardage, accuracy and penalty strokes.   But the most important score is the knucklehead count.

Why?

Because I have accepted my game.  The only thing that changes is the knucklehead count.  When I finish up, I can look at my score, and have this quiet moment of calculation:  “I shot a 108.  But take away 9 knuckleheads and I could have had a 99.  Wow!

When people asked me how my game was, I used to respond, “Pretty good! I found three balls and only lost two!”  Now I measure success, and surprisingly, happiness, by low knucklehead counts.

It’s a great game, even for the knuckleheads.

 

Thanks for reading!  Please share with your earnest golfing friends who are still looking for that perfect game.

 

 

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Marketing, Sports

The Deal: With Six You Get Egg Roll

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In spring, a young man’s fancy turns to…testing.

It’s a sure sign that Spring is on the way. The March issue of Golf magazine arrived, and after the most dismal stretch of dull weather in recent memory, the green pastoral images of fairways and beach-like bunkers beckon irresistibly.

But among those pages floats another stimulant. Golf blew in 4 different subscription order cards. These 4 x 5-1/2 reply cards exemplify the art of mail-order merchandising.

One would ask, why do we need any cards? I am already a subscriber!

Golf Tees

 It’s all in the numbers.

True, for the longest time I used to let my subscriptions expire so that I could re-up and get the free gift. In the past our home was filled with calculators, phones, binoculars, hats, world maps and globes… all manner of stuff with somebody else’s logo on them. Not only did we like the goo-gaws, but it was fun to get them in the mail.

But Golf’s four order cards demonstrate the great science of offer testing. And there is practical beauty in that:  when you understand what excites the buyer’s brain, you make more money.

Analysis

Each of the cards has exactly the same deal. One, two or three years for hefty discounted pricing off of newsstand. With each, the same gift premium is offered: a “Golf Distance Finder”.

I couldn’t use the distance finder. It would be perennially set at “Too Far” with only occasional gauging at “Fat Chance”.

Anyway, the cards are all different.  The result of long, worried debates in Golf’s conference room about how to best wring a dollar out of a new sub, there are four gradations.  Each effort targets a different dark corner of the golfer’s bunkered mind.

Card One: It’s blue, with giant GOLF titling.  In simple fashion it provides the basic deal with a mention of the discounts off newsstand price.

For the unassuming habit-driven: "yep, sure, whatever."

For the unassuming and habit-driven: “yep, sure, whatever.”

A small un-captioned picture of the gift is featured with, “yours free”. This card is the control sample, and wins or loses on brand loyalty.  Ideally suited for the unassuming, doubtless, committed player.

Card Two: It’s grey, with a smaller GOLF title, same deals but highlights “Your Price $16.00”. Understanding that some may not know what the gift is, “FREE Distance Finder” is inserted below the picture.

"The distance between me and the cup, and between me and Jupiter is negligible."

“I may never hit the green, but I can see Jupiter.”

This card is for the cash-strapped grinder who is figuring one year is just long enough to suspend the inevitable realization: golf is just a good walk in the wilds ruined. Or they figure $16 bucks is the right price for a telescope.

Card Three: It’s powder blue and screams to the wealthy and permanently, irrevocably, hopelessly optimistic, driven player: “Tomorrow will be a better day and the BEST DEAL! is a 3-year commitment.”

"This will be my year. Well, maybe, then again, sometime in my lifetime."

“This will be my year. Well, maybe, then again, sometime in my lifetime.”

The distance finder is featured, but it’s the 83% discount that grabs.

Card Four: This is the gutsy guarantee card. “Lower Scores. Lower Price.” is for the duffer who has journeyed through four painful levels of acceptance and will now  admit they couldn’t hit a basketball with a broom in a closet.

"This year I will not tear up my score cards."

“This year I will not tear up my score cards.”

They figure literature, technology and a little learnin’ might be the answer. If that still turns out to be a whiff, then they are ready to go for the money refund.

Results

At the end of the test, which could go on longer than the season, the Golf sales department will look at the results for each card, which got the most orders,  which deal worked best for each card, which got the most email addresses, and which got the most money up front.

This is not a double eagle fantasy for statisticians.  Rather, the results of this inexpensive test will predict which offer is worth rolling out in other media with the promise of the highest return on investment.

While solo direct mail may be proud of a $20 cost to get a new subscriber, the numbers may dictate that direct mail is still stronger than web display ads, email or simple on-page advertising.   Knowing which deal is strongest can shave a few pennies off acquisition cost.

Long ago, we used to puzzle over the best offer: “buy one get one free” vs. “two for the price of one” vs. “50% off”.

It isn’t easy, but you can test.

Thanks for reading!   Direct marketing tests are a way of life, and you never know when a new angle won’t build your margins unexpectedly.  I swing at the ball with the same giddy optimism.

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Culture, Sports, Wildlife

Paddles Keen And Bright

We have a fleet of canoes.  It was never planned that way, but nevertheless, fate, good fortune and the wish of one man made us canoe mavens.

Freight Canoe Honda

A typical sight along the summer roads of Ontario.

Just last week our son rescued one from the shaky rafters of a rustic, ancient boathouse on a lake in eastern Ontario.

The craft in question is a Chestnut brand Prospector with v-stern. It is a super-wide 16 feet feet long, and has a transom that could host a 3hp outboard if required.

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The Chestnut Prospector known as “Pickle” by our grandchildren.

Our grandchildren call it the Pickle, because it’s green. The Pickle is the last of three canoes which my late father-in-law bestowed upon his three daughters, fulfilling a wish that spanned over half a century.

Chestnut Canoes were an iconic boat company headquartered in Fredericton, New Brunswick.  It went under in 1979, victim of changing tastes.

1982 Canoe421

1983– Mabel’s Tremblay loaded down with our young family.

The class of canoe is cedar-canvas. That is, a cedar rib and plank hull, over which canvas is stretched and bound into place. You will find modern canoes made out of fiber glass, and the truly exotic craft are made from pure cedar strip.  Last summer we lifted a carbon-fiber canoe with two fingers.   It weighed 14 pounds.

In the heyday of cedar-canvas canoes, it was common that most cottages in eastern Canada had a canoe, or were in sight of one off their front dock.

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Camp was our training ground, and today it commissions at least one war canoe, seen above in their brochure.

Truly a Canadian legacy, the canoe today is still seen on the tops of vacationers’ cars speeding along the highways all summer long. But more often, you will see kayaks.  Hard fiberglass, ultra light, in hues of red and yellow.

When not on the road, or in the water, canoes are habitually found in the rafters of boathouses and garages, nation-wide. Which is where we have two, right now.

The Big Idea

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1996–Our boys ponder a launch of our Pal Chestnut off the front point of the cottage.

Tom Hamilton is my wife’s Dad, and from the time of his youth he had been an outdoorsman. Very much into camping and fishing, Tom enjoyed no greater release than to glide among the ripples of a quiet northern lake, trolling a lure in search of a hit from a bass or muskie. If he couldn’t experience that first hand, he was intent on passing the thrill along to his daughters.

So they went to camp.

1950 Hamilton702 copy

1950– Tom took his team to camp to build cabins. Here they are arriving in “Tough”, a war canoe.

The YMCA summer camp of our youth was built by service groups, in one of which Tom was a member. After WWII, he spent springs and summers cobbling together cabins, docks and dining hall for generations to enjoy.

The waterfront was well stocked with Chestnut canoes, donated by wealthy benefactors.

The skills regimen at our camp focused on canoeing and out-tripping. The requisites were quite firm for campers to canoe and out-trip.

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1989– Tom with his grandson and friend paddling the Grand River in his Pal, “Hochelaga”.

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2016– Tom’s Hochelaga now carries three great grandchildren on the Bruce Peninsula.

We graduated from Tenderfoot to Tribesman, Brave, Chieftain, and Chieftain Expert. A fully-fledged canoeist was eligible for out-tripping when they had mastered bow, stern, portage and solo.

The strength test was to hoist a canoe onto one’s shoulders, unassisted, and portage it about a quarter mile. The canoe weighed around 80 pounds, which doesn’t sound like much until you are swinging it over your head in one move.  The ultimate test was to paddle a “Figure 8” without changing sides.

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The beauty of river canoeing is to enjoy sights unseen from the highway. Grand River, Ontario.

This was the environment Tom treasured, we were raised in, and not surprisingly, it generated tremendous self confidence and pride. The dividend was paddling these sleek, quiet craft on waters through valleys of forest and granite, easily gliding up to wildlife unaware at any bend in the shoreline.

Among Tom’s three daughters, we have 5 cedar-canvas canoes.

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2001–Mabel’s Tremblay under total rebuild. The red paint bled through an earlier canvas.

When he retired in 1985, Tom searched classified ads, read marina bulletin boards, and probably pestered a few motorists who were transporting a canoe, and eventually acquired three beauties.

They are all in Ontario. Mary’s Chestnut (a Pal model) canoe resides in a bay by her cottage on the Bruce Peninsula.   Bonney’s Langford is beside the Mississippi River in Pakenham, and Jane’s Prospector “Pickle” is just returning from a week on Silent Lake.

Many years before Tom hatched his acquisition plans, I had a well-travelled canoe given to me by a veteran cottager on our lake. Her name was Mabel Stearns. Her canoe was made in eastern Canada, around 1951.   I think it is a Tremblay.

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2003– Mabel, all spiffed up, trim and pretty.

It looked pretty rough. Coated in layers of chunky blue and green paint, it had dirty brown, peeling varnish coating its ribs and gunwales, and a hole in its bow, attributed to a fast speeding bullet.

Like most older canoes that live outdoors, its decks were crumbling and rotted from years of storage on the ground.

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Bonney’s Langford among the rushes in Pakenham, Ontario.

We were nevertheless thrilled to have the canoe, and that fall we put on a new canvas, reinforced the bow and stern stems, and painted it red. Not a professional job, but sufficient for the time being.

A couple years after that, in 1981, Tom found a red Chestnut Pal looking for a new owner, and convinced me to buy it from a childhood friend of his for $100.  For me, that was considerable, but at the time, a Pal retailed for $800 or more. This canoe was also broken, and I forthwith re-canvassed it, and painted it yellow.

The reconditioned canoes went to our cottage and traded places a couple of times when a more serious attempt was made to give them a worthy overhaul.

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2015– My $100 Pal after a major overhaul, complete with mahogany gunwales.

Ultimately, we sold our cottage, which is a not uncommon phenomenon in Ontario where tax law makes inheritance of family cottages a costly consideration.

While we enjoyed the convenience of the cottage’s stable location, we now appreciate the canoe for its portability to other lakes and rivers.

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2016– Tom takes his place on the Chestnut.

As a result, the Pickle has visited Silent Lake and awaits its next trip, now likely next year.  Mean time it rests dry in storage outside Toronto.

And our $100 Chestnut has been on numerous lakes and rivers before taking up residence behind our house.   Mabel hangs from the garage ceiling, waiting for her next outing.

For me, the pleasure in all of this has been the fulfillment of Tom’s wish, that the canoe stays front and center in our family.

It has done that, and more so.

 

Thanks for sharing our canoe story!  “Paddles Keen And Bright” is lifted from a Canadian canoeing song, written by Margaret Embers McGee.  The song is sung as a round, a supposed assist for paddlers.

My paddle’s keen and bright, 
Flashing like silver,
Follow the wild goose flight, 
Dip, dip and swing.

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direct mail, Marketing, Sports

Mail Order Magic: The USGA Doubles Down

golf_grip_1

Marketing: a good grip that doesn’t let go.

The challenge of any direct marketer is to hold the enchantment of the buyer from the moment of first interest until the next order.  Let me tell you how the United States Golfing Association had me firmly in their grip.

Mind you, I have always been attracted to mail order.

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First mail order purchase.

As a kid, my first experience with mail order was a Robin Hood hat off the back of a Quaker Oats box. I wrote them a letter with a dull purple crayon. Two box tops, a quarter, and four weeks later, I was decked out in a lincoln green cap complete with turkey feather.

Moments later I dissolved onto a path through the tree line behind our house, earnestly in search of rich people to steal from.

My brother and I followed up with another offer, this time, a potato gun from Nabisco Shredded Wheat. More box tops, more coins, more waiting, and our ordnance arrived: two shiny, plastic, blue and red hand guns.

Phil Cowboy825

The properly outfitted small arms mail order buyer.

Operating instructions were basic. Stick the front of the barrel into a potato, and pull away a small plug about the size of a pencil eraser. Choose a target. Pull the trigger. The little wad of potato would fly across the living room and roll to a stop under the couch.

After a couple of potato bits wound up in the electric space heater, the jig was up.

But the magic remains.   It’s important for cataloguers, mailers and weekend supplement advertisers that their buyer squeezes every bit of enjoyment possible from the order cycle.

The Hat: Mailorder Delivers!

The Hat: Mailorder Delivers!

There is an inexpressible excitement in opening a long awaited package sent by complete strangers, far off and away.   I had sent in my USGA membership renewal, and according to the letter I would receive a hat: an orange 2015 USGA Chambers Bay Open cap.  I already had one, but if it blew away, I’d have back up.

I am certain that the USGA Board of Directors convened a special meeting, extensively reviewing my  application before granting my membership extension for another year. A no brainer for them, this was an important symbolic order of business, for which they would levy a $15.00 fee against my credit card.

From there, I visualized urgent instructions hammered out on the teletype, dispatched to the membership fulfillment department, ordering them to rush a member package to our home, sparing no cost.

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The long awaited, hoped for package arrives.

Like a glistening white, dimpled Titleist, teetering on the edge of the cup, I waited by the mailbox.    This week, the USGA kit arrived.

Inside the lumpy plastic package I found my new member card, and a bag tag, branded with my name, and a framable picture of Chambers Bay, site of the 2015 Open.   And more…there inside the package was a new hat–but it was gray.

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Surprise! A new hat!

Was there a mistake?

No!   This hat is for the 2016 Open in Oakmont.   I have no idea where that is, but according to the hat, there are squirrels, and acorns.  Perhaps there are groundhogs too.

But the USGA prize committee could not contain themselves by merely presenting me with a new lid.   They also sent along a USGA 40th Anniversary metal ball marker.

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Double surprise! A ball marker!

This little disk is used to mark the fictional place of my golf ball as it rests closest to the pin.   I have never had the pleasure of seeing that, but I hope to one day.

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But wait, there’s more. It’s magnetized.

Even better, however, the prize committee designated that the ball marker have a special place of its own: it attaches to a magnet on the visor of my new cap.   Wow!   Like many bad hooks off the neighboring tee box, I truly did not see this coming.

Of course, the cap is firmly held in place even on the windiest fairways as the magnet rests over the metal plate in my skull.

Just kidding.

Years ago we were introduced to the concept of lagniappe.  This is the art of giving a little extra.   It wins a customer for life.  Good marketers always work lagniappe, and the USGA has cultivated the technique.

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The course beckons; the marker is poised.

With luck, they may someday improve my game.

Thanks for reading!  Please share.  Oakmont is outside of Pittsburgh, PA.

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Entertainment, Media, Sports

The Peril of Cable

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Reconstruction goes on, with no traffic tie ups.

We are in the midst of rebuilding our house after extracting a 2007 Acura from the bedroom where it was abruptly parked, 9 weeks ago.

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Billy, our ATT guy sorting out phone lines.

The latest house renovation is re-connecting some of the ATT phone linkage which was damaged during the crash.   My hat is off to those dedicated techies who spend hours on their knees, on pea gravel in crawlspaces of 50-year-old houses, communing with spiders while they unravel nests of old wires, looking for a dial tone.

Cable and wires are my nemesis.

The current Stanley Cup playoffs remind me of my near cable undoing during the 1976 Canada Cup.

Forty years ago we had no television. We found great entertainment listening to the radio. But there was a new show on– M*A*S*H, and curiosity drove me to see it.

TV

Black & white: as good as it gets.

We had inherited a small black and white television, but its rabbit ear aerial could only bring in fuzzy pictures, even from the three local stations. I had learned that a new invention–cable– could pipe in perfect imagery.

All I needed to do was to subscribe. But reportedly, the cost was huge, so we stayed with radio.   Inspector Maigret on CBL Toronto was great theater.
At the time, we rented in a townhouse complex, one of about thirty 2-story apartments surrounding a common. Blue collar young families used the common as a play ground for their kids, who could run off their patios and into the parkland, well within the confines of the complex.

Cable

No amount of protective sheathing will resist a wire cutter.

Our next door neighbor Buzz was a truck driver.   Buzz wasn’t an outlaw, but you could tell by the look in his one good eye and the stitchery across his face that he met challenges head on, or at least, with his head.

Buzz

Buzz, on a good day.

We called him Buzz after we heard him holler across the common to a neighbor about a batch of turkey buzzard soup he was making.  -Not sure that he was a hunter, and it would not surprise me to find he was feasting on something from the grill of his rig.

On any warm evening we could wave to our neighbors who might be on the patio, barbecuing, or enjoying dessert outside.

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Guy Lafleur works his technique.

In September, 1976, the common discussion was about The Canada Cup series.  This was a fierce hockey competition between Canada, Finland, Russia and Czechoslovakia which were fighting each other on the ice for supremacy.

The game between Canada and the Czechs was starting soon, and the chatter all along the patios was about our chances.

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Gyro and his little helper.

On our patio, I was brewing a solution to the TV viewing problem. Gyro Gearloose, unleashed.

I had often seen in our basement the TV cable snaking along the ceiling, one wire going to each room upstairs.  In the living room was a cable outlet.   My figuring was, cut a length of cable from one of the unused bedroom lines, and use it to connect the TV in the living room.

After confirming it was a bedroom line, I deftly severed it to create a 3-foot piece of cable.   Marching upstairs, I connected it to the wall, and to the TV.

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Success! With 12 channels to surf, too.

Voila!!   Pure, crisp and pristine TV viewing, not on three channels, but on TWELVE channels.   And as I spun the dial, I found M*A*S*H.   Wow!   I was amazed by my brilliance.   Running through the channels, I also found The Game.  First period, and the Czechs are pounding Canada.

Pretty pumped, I went on to the patio to brag about our newfound cable reception.  I wasn’t expecting high-fives, because everyone already had cable, but still…

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Where’s the remote??

Outside there was commotion.  Unsettled residents were sliding open their doors, crossing over to their neighbors, assembling in groups.   There was a mild but growing grumble of discussion floating across the common.

“What’s up?” I asked.

Buzz growled.    He stood about 6’4″ and 260 pounds.  The devil tattoo on his forehead was pulsing.  “Cable’s out.   How about yours?”

“Oh, geez, no, hahah, mine’s fine!” I blurted out.  I hardly had seen the words float across to his pierced cauliflower ears before I realized my blunder.

“Good.  We’re coming over.  Got a bottle opener?”

gyro's helper

A better idea in progress!

“Well, let me just check the kids, first.”  I dove back in to the living room, slammed the door, and literally ripped the cable out of the television.  Unscrewing the wall plate, I pulled the piece out, and ran to the basement.   Minutes later, I had re-connected the wire.

Running back up to the patio, I found Buzz gathering his restive and frustrated friends heading in to our living room.

Out of breath, I put on my most disappointed face, “Geez.  Whaddyaknow..our cable is out too.  Crap. Shucks.  ‘Can’t get the game!”   I kicked the lawn chair for emphasis.

In the next moment, another hockey fan grunted across the common: “Cable’s back on. What the…”

Buzz retreated with his entourage, shuffling back onto his patio, tearing  off a prolonged belch as he slid open his living room door.

We retreated to ours as well.  The TV screen was an oatmeal grey with Hawkeye swimming through it.   I turned it off.  Out on the patio, the sound of distant cheers.

Mean time, we clicked on the radio, Inspector Maigret, surveying a footprint in the garden.  We leaned in closer to hear.

 

 

Thanks for reading!  It wasn’t for a couple more months before I learned that cable was free: it was in the rent.  Canada won the series. Go Hawks!

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Government, Politics, Sports

Performing Under Pressure

Pats & Pres

Number 12 couldn’t make it.

In the locker room~

“Everyone listen up! Step forward everybody who wants to go to the White House!

Scrambled scraping of chairs, shuffling and stamping of feet.  Clearing of throats and nervous coughing.

“Uh, not you Tom.”

Sometimes it’s just not in the cards, and my suspicion is that we didn’t get the whole story when the New England Patriots visited the White House, on their own, without star QB Tom Brady.

The official excuse from the Brady household was that he had a family commitment.  More likely, he was rushed to find one after a round of calls between the back offices of the NFL, Ted Wells, the White House, and of course, the Patriots.

Is there anyone who really believes Tom Brady blew off the President and the Oval Office for a family picnic?  This is the same NFL star who managed to leave town and his family for 12 games during the season,  including the SuperBowl.

Political writers suggested he was a staunch conservative and anti-Obama.  And would never show.

Really?

Keeping Up Appearances At The White House

My hunch is that the powers that be had set up their dance cards about two days after deflategate hit the news. There’s no way that the obsessive meeting planners at the White House only thought in February to ask the Super Bowl champs to visit.

More likely they cued the caterer and photographer last November, don’t you think?  They probably had brackets displayed across the kitchen wall for months.

And the adminions-in-charge would have their antenna up for any possible smudge that could sully a Presidential photo op.   Remember, Aaron Hernandez, another Patriot, was on trial for murder at the same time.

Without question, the President would have to tap dance a bit if the deflated football story didn’t turn out well.

And it didn’t.

Special investigator Ted Wells was assigned to the case February 14, and May 6 he delivered his verdict.

The timing was precisioned too. With the deftness of a Manhattan social maven, Wells stalled past March Madness. Got beyond the MLB spring opener. Stretched it through tax day. Slid through the White House visit.   Let the NFL draft event take place.  And then 4 days later dropped the hammer.

The President was spared the embarrassment of hosting a person who was under a cloud. But to be sure, they burnt his invitation.

Their hunch was right, and they probably had it confirmed by Wells, or NFL’s Roger Goodell, weeks before.

To save face everywhere, Tom Brady stayed at home to see the fam, because after all, when it comes to what counts, politics is definitely low  priority.

Or is it?

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Marketing, Media, Politics, Sports

We’ll Never Hear About Those Balls

Ball Pressure

Hypertense?

January 18, 2015 the Indianapolis Colts had their hats handed to them by the over-ripe New England Patriots. Moments later the incredible tale of the deflated game balls levitated the media for two weeks until the Super Bowl eve.

Sherlock1

“Quickly Roger! The game is afoot!”

By then, suspicions were suspended long enough for the NFL to crown Tom Brady, dispense Rings, get Bill  Belichick a new hoody, rush Roger Goodell back to his limo, hustle Katy Perry and her Sharks back into her bus, pack Lenny Cravitz into his box, and to astutely hire Ted Wells, locker room attorney, to chase down every possible lead to get to the bottom of this horrifyingly regrettable schmozzle, and effectively bring a calm rational end to the controversy that has rocked the very foundations of the NFL.

In other words, kill it.

Mr. Wells however has been diligent, and we have been able to get an inside look at his case book.  Dates are omitted, but you can follow the subject line pretty well:

Iron Ball

Volume X Temperature = Pressure

~ Pigskin or Naugahyde? ….  Steer hide!   Who knew?

~ Cage free steers… more relaxed?

~ Check laces.  Proper bow?

~ Left handed or right handed balls?

 

~ “Let it Go”… Roger singing this…why?

~ Bratwurst steamer in locker room.  Why?

Aaron Rodgers

“I had trouble getting these in so I bled them off a bit…”

~ BP station in Glendale.  Check pumps.

~ Gluten free steers… more relaxed?

~ State Farm “Pump You Up” commercial.  Code?   What’s with Aaron Rodgers?

~ Belichick… Ideal Gas Law??  Physics degree??

~ Mythbusters test lab– put in call 

~ Mental state of footballs?

~ Presidential PAC for Roger.   Too much?

Mythbuster Lab

“Yunno what we need to try next?”

~ Get plane tickets, sunscreen

~ Set up out-of-office voice mail

~ Empty shredder

   The report may come out soon, but it will be as light as the victimized footballs.   The next time we hear about the infamous footballs will be on Cold Case, or on Discovery Channel’s expose on Stonehenge.  Stay tuned!

 

 

 

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