“Heay, what time is it?” Gene asked. “Hell if I know, ask her” I suggested, pointing to the girl in the seat in front of us. The wife (hereafter titled “the girlfriend”) tells me that was the first time I acknowledged her existence. It was our first semester of our first year at Canadore College in North Bay, Ontario, Canada. The Course was Technical. There were Medical, Food Science, and Environmental Lab students all gathered in room B303. Scared, excited, apprehensive, you name the emotion, you could see it in someone’s eyes. Our Program Coordinator/Microbiology Professor once looked at our class and smiled lovingly, saying, “You are the biggest bunch of misfits I’ve ever seen”. That’s not something you say every day, to just anyone. We were indeed the biggest bunch of misfits anyone would ever see. Our class was composed of high school virgins, mature students, and married men and women with children. The girlfriend was the first description, and I was the second. Not that it would be any different in any other time, but the year was 1975 and I … was a College boy (who would ever have thought?).
Yeah, sure, I remember the pressure of exams, lab reports, tests, quizzes. All those things that get in the way of enjoying College life. I also remember walking into the moonbeam reflecting off the ice on Lake Nipissing. The rifle-like bang! as 4 feet of ice shifted under my feet. The jagged, snakey crack opening as the ice pulled apart revealing the black water below. The momentary terror as I leapt over the opening, and beat a hasty retreat to the shoreline. Once back in my apartment, I drifted off to sleep to the tunes of Simon & Garfunkel. I awoke with The Stampeders. I partied with Manfred Mann, Don McLean, and Pink Floyd. Not to mention, the gang of friends who sincerely believed we could play guitars and sing.
I remember how we`d torment the afore-mentioned Program Coordinator/Microbiology Professor by removing the spring from his phone dial (if you don`t understand the humour in that, you’d best go find a younger man’s blog to read). We also came across the gymnasium’s monster ball one afternoon and wondered if it would fit in the same unfortunate fellow’s office, just to add to the phone thing. Well, the girlfriend, myself, and another couple of cohorts (I think it was Gooch and Morabito) managed to stuff it into the elevator, but we couldn’t get it out on the 3rd floor to deliver it to Peter’s office. So, well, we had to leave it when someone hit the button down on the 1st floor. The girlfriend and I ran to the lab and played “busy students” until we got hungry and had to leave. We probably looked guilty as Hell as we walked past the cursing janitorial crew trying to pull the ball out of the elevator. Peter had taken the girlfriend and I under his wing since we were so cute a couple. He once tried to explain how difficult it was to have visitors take him seriously in his position of Program Coordinator. While he explained, we could hear fellow student Frank S. running down the hall shouting “Squeal like a pig !” and a dozen or more fellow students doing exactly as requested (the movie Deliverance had just been released). The girlfriend and I agreed that Peter’s task would indeed be challenging. Then all three of us laughed our asses off.
For a short while I shared the apartment with another fellow by the name of Olev. Olev was an awful nice guy. A little … unique shall we call him ? But an awful nice guy. We shared the apartment right about the time I started to make my intentions clear and obvious with regard to the girlfriend (before she was my girlfriend). Well, apparently there went up a hue and cry. Everyone was appalled! What was the World coming to ?! A dirty, rotten, womanizing, hood from the big city attempting to taint a sweet, innocent, nice girl from the virgin northlands ? Actually, Olev quoted them, saying “What’s he trying to pull?” I suggested they consider what I might try to pull from their chest cavities. That pretty-much shut ‘em up. I have never tolerated demands to explain my private life actions, and I never will.
Canadore College had a lovely pond around the West side and trails running back into the Northern Ontario bush behind it. These trails were particularly fun in the Winter. I’ll never forget seeing a set of cross-country ski tracks coming down a hill suddenly ending, one on each side of a 45 gallon drum garbage can. Someone (with a very sore set of nads) had straddled the big, frozen-in drum spread-legged. Turned out, it was either “The Beuk”, or “The Drape”, they’d never admit to which one it was. Duscheney Falls was at the end of the longest trail and many an hour or two was spent reflecting there.
Always so much fun were the damned Canada geese. They’d be, well, goose-stepping about the picnic area like disorganized Nazis in a “B” grade film. New students would get their lunch from the Caf and wander out to the picnic tables to enjoy their lunch outside. If they dared lower their food, regardless of what it might be, to anywhere near lower chest level … HONK ! WHOOSH ! Gone ! Their sandwich would be headed for the pond in a flurry of wings, feathers, and honking. Just when you thought every goose in the World was chasing the one with the poor guy’s sandwich, you’d let your guard down and HONK ! WHOOSH ! Gone ! Your lunch would be joining the other guy’s in the pond. ‘Course, every Winter someone would walk out onto the ice on the pond, punch a hole, and leave a toque on the ice beside the hole. Then, they’d post a sign stating “Thin Ice”. Either that, or someone would spell out “DANGER, THIN ICE” with their footprints in the snow on the pond ice. As you can well imagine, “monster” tracks were regular sightings in the snow.
Unlike the “packs of misfits” in Hollywood films, we never bonded together to miraculously defeat the jock fraternity on campus (just as a note to our US readers, that kinda stuff doesn’t happen up here, ‘cause we don’t got jock fraternity’s). However, we did organize a fishing trip one time. All the girlfriends wanted to come, so when we invited Beukelman, Gene said “Bring Annette” (his wife). So there we were, down at Sunset Beach waiting for The Beuk and Annette, when he drives up alone, and jumps out of the car. Someone asked him if he brought Annette, and the Beuk says “Oh Yeah, right here”. To our horror, he walked back and unlocked the trunk … then lifted out “a net”. A fishing net. Most of us were rather pleased that he didn’t have Annette locked in the trunk, but once she found out she’d been invited, and the Beuk failed to bring her … he might’ve wished he had.
There was some kind of a university attached to Canadore. It was called Nipissing University. Apparently, it’s still on the same grounds as Canadore. I have no idea what it’s all about. Macreau went there. He majored in History. Not the best choice of post-secondary study. Not a lot of opportunity in it I fear. Ah but those were the days of romanticism though. I’d sit in the library overlooking the pond, reading Grey Owl in warmth and comfort, while the World outside screamed and roared with all the fury that a Northern Ontario blizzard could muster. I’d imagine myself trudging along in his footsteps, tirelessly driving forward into the maelstrom, disregarding discomfort, danger, and better judgement. As the sun surrendered it’s precarious hold on the hours allotted, I’d catch the last bus into town, and Home to my apartment.
There was another place I liked to go in North Bay. It was called the Lakeshore Inn. It had a black and white sign on Lakeshore Dr (lakeside) in West Ferris. It was a favourite place of snowmobilers. You could race around Lake Nipissing for hours, then drop in for a hot toddy at the Lakeshore Inn. The windows looked out over the Lake, and there was a lovely fireplace. That was where I saw my first flying squirrel. A quick Internet search doesn’t show it in its former location. I’m sure it’s been gone for many years. However, I do know Greco’s Pizza on Lakeshore Dr. is still there. Every Friday Gene and I would give our usual dinner of pork chops and frozen mixed vegetables a break and we’d go get a Greco’s meatball sub because it was virtually next door. Yes you read that right. Six days a week we ate pan fried pork chops and mixed vegetables for dinners, every … single … week. Why ? simple, cheap and easy. Besides, there was rum. Lots of rum. Gene once told me he wasn’t a drinker, until he met me. HA !!! He was the best apprentice I ever tutored !
The girlfriend and I had a pet rock (remember them?), except this pet rock was glacial, 8 feet high, 12 feet across and weighed in the neighbourhood of 65 tons. We used to climb up on it and survey our domain together (as it was at that time). As I recall, it was between the College and the residences. The girlfriend lived in the residences. I had an apartment in town. It was around back of Polar Camera Studios (formerly OFL?) on Lakeshore Dr. I split the rent with a local student by the name of Gene. One of the family members who owned Polar Camera (Peter) was an old high school chum of Gene’s, so we got the place cheap.
Ken was another one of our crew. He wasn’t involved with the College, but he was another one Gene’s high school chums. We used to gather at my apartment waiting for train-time to catch a ride to Ken’s family cottage in the North end of Algonquin Park. The girlfriend and I, Gene and whatever girl he was with that week, Ken and Kaye (whom we often said would make a nice coffee table), and Macreau would climb off the train in the darkness, in the middle of nowhere and disappear into the night. I’m sure that’s how it looked to many Ontario Northland riders at the time. Ken’s cottage was within a hundred feet of the tracks. Don’t misunderstand the crack about Kaye. We adored the girl, but she rarely expressed an opinion, never took a stand, never stated a preference, and so it kinda seemed to us that, well, she’d make a nice coffee table. That’s all.
I mentioned Macreau again. Another of Gene’s old chums. He showed up at the apartment door one Friday afternoon asking for Gene. I told him Gene would be working late in the lab. He said “Oh”, and just stood there. So I said “All’s I got is rum”. He accepted, we had a good time, and became close friends. A lot of adventures and memories are wrapped around Macreau (not his real name, but he loved being called Macreau).
The wife and I travelled back, quite a few years ago, to see the College and North Bay again. I was surprised at the advancements made. In our day, the “transit system” was composed of beat up old decommissioned school busses. The damned things roared and belched fumes and all description of frightening things (other than heat), as they fought their way up Thibeault Hill. Now, I was a Toronto boy back then. However, even in those days, I was shocked to see the old LCBO where you wrote up a card with the code of what you wanted on it, and handed it through a cage to some guy who went in the back and got you your bottle of joy. You needed the warmth of that bottle too, lemme tell ya. Those stinking busses had one heater. It was under the 7th or 8th (I can’t recall precisely) set of seats back from the driver’s seat. If there were only 4 people on the bus, they’d be huddled around those seats trying to keep the Winter temperatures at bay. I remember far too many times standing at the Oak Street bus stop waiting for one of those cursed things in a temperature of – 40 with a wind chill of … God only knows. The windows were encrusted with frost 1.5 inches deep from November to late March, I swear it’s true.
Since I had so much fun in College, it took me an extra semester or so to finish, after Gene and the girlfriend. I was renting a different apartment (still behind Polar Camera) when Gene dropped in for a last hurrah. I had all my stuff packed up and piled at the door. My bed would be a sheet of Styrofoam for that last night. We reminisced about the 3 most significant years of our lives, and talked of our dreams for the future. Years later Gene told me when he left that night, his tape deck just happened to be on the ELO song “It’s Over”. He just sat there, and cried.