The Stan Jones Autobiography (Draft) volume 1. I find this to be an interesting challenge. Interesting mostly because it's my life – so I can't imagine anyone else actually reading this. But it's also a writing challenge to make it readable if only for me. Naturally I do go off on philosophical tangents here and there but I try to recall actual events as best I can in some kind of cohesive way.
My family lived, throughout my single digit years, in a crumbling Insulbrick-clad semi-detached house at 98 Munro Street located next to some dirty industry in Toronto's Riverside. My Mom called the neighbourhood Cabbagetown, but that was actually on the other side of the nearby Don River. I had two older brothers, Art and Ron. And a younger brother, Ken, who was five years younger. The area was very much working class and was considered quite slummy and dilapidated by Toronto standards, even back then. Most of Munro Street is gone now – gobbled up by the second large urban renewal project since the days I lived there. A common example of the permanence, or lack of it, of contemporary architectural standards that has marred this city for years. The better built Victorian houses on Hamilton, the next street east is still pretty well intact looking not much different from what it did well over sixty years ago. Moving up in the world was relocating to the suburbs back then, Don Mills or Scarborough. As it turned out we never made it – thank goodness. Baseball Place, and the venue for some of the first baseball games ever played anywhere, was just down the street from me. So was Bruno's grocery store. Johnny Jennaro Bruno was my best buddy and his family was very Italian. We would sit around in his father's Buick for hours trying to figure out what the hell the world was all about sometimes looking up, awestruck, at the stars. His place smelled ethnically Italian. If it were ten years in the future they would probably be in the pizza business. He had a substantial big sister named Rosa and they had chickens in their backyard. The colour red was dominant.
When I was about four I would go out grocery shopping every week on Queen Street with my Mom. We would walk past Albert Jewellers on the way to Pickering Farms, the neighbourhood supermarket. I got to know Albert, the jeweller, a couple of years ￼ago just before he retired. He was a friendly old Jewish guy who put a lot of time and effort into the neighbourhood. In fact I'd say he was the unofficial mayor of Riverside. Without fail, my Mom would buy me a little toy car or truck on these trips. At home I would neatly line up these toys in a row from one end of the house to the other. I certainly had a lot of them. I especially liked trucks and fire engines. The more detailed and elaborate the better. I would decorate them further with assorted lights and any other accessories I could think of. One day my Mother thought she had had enough of this – she felt that she was spoiling me with these little gifts and decided to, as she would say: 'put my foot down'. This, of course, brought on a massive tantrum on my part. I can remember all of this quite well. I experienced a similar situation with my daughter, Ashley when she was about the same age when I refused to buy some little thing in a mall.
My parents came over from 'the old country' during the roaring 20's. They never talked at all about what it was like growing up in Britain during the early 1900's. I'm sure it was quite harsh, probably not unlike the Britain of George Orwell as expressed in his book "The Road to Wiggen Pier". Sadly, I hardly knew a thing about my parents history. I don't think any of their siblings came over here as far as I knew. Of my three brothers, Ken, was the youngest. I didn't have that much to do with Ron, the stock trader, or Art, who was in the shoe business – they were ten plus years older – so they occupied quite another world.
I certainly didn't have the perfect artistically nurturing parents – but they didn't get very much in the way, either so I did have opportunity. I would spend many hours at the dining room table drawing cars and buildings. Gravitating eventually to a path of original design to which I thought was aesthetically correct. I became and continue to be a eager critic of automotive styling and design. I was also interested in architecture, civic planning and maps. I would design complete towns inspired by vacation trips to towns like Bala and Cobourg – two quite nice towns close to Toronto. There was a bit of utopia in my concepts that still excites me. I was into the idea of control through central planning as far as visual aesthetics were concerned. My mind was not much into economics. Today, however, when it comes to centrally planned aesthetics, I think that individual ownership, or at least individual control, creates the most viable and interesting neighbourhoods. I'm sure those early perspectives revealed and nurtured my inclinations toward the collective. This sounds contradictory I know but it does not need to be. Even under a collective, socialist system I believe a sense of individual responsibility is important. We all need to take care of the space that we occupy. And from a visual aesthetic perspective individual responsibility creates a more diverse, visually interesting neighbourhood. But if the majority agree on an initiative – such as building a subway line or a standardized streetlight design that should usually win out. Admittedly my anarchist/socialist approach to community would be complicated. But as a society becomes more sophisticated and more advanced these complexities will be easier to deal with. Fundamentally I see many problems with hierarchical social structures but even in a utopian anarchy there will always be individuals that will stand out. That should not be discouraged but these individuals must not be allowed to become kings and their ideas must not be allowed to become unquestioned dogma.
From an early age I loved cars or anything with wheels and/or a motor. I have always loved to drive, too – look at that deft grip I have on that little hot rod in the picture. And never mind the cute knees. I ￼remember some interesting cars in the street back in the early 50s. And some spectacular Indian motorcycles too with huge, flared fenders and crazy wide handlebars.
There seemed to be a lot of what I saw as large parades which shuffled along my little side street for what seemed like any occasion or reason. Big brass bands with brightly uniformed Orangemen and such. In the lane-ways at the back it was common to find old, bearded junk collectors – we called them 'sheenymen' in their rickety mule drawn wooden carts with big, wood spoked wheels. Those strange Jewish guys were infamously tough to bargain with. Lots of everyday staples were actually delivered right to the front door in those days. There was the milkman, the bread man, and yes the iceman who came around with huge blocks of ice. The coal man was scary as those fellows were covered head to toe with black soot. They resembled some white actor playing a black guy in an old film. I didn't know any real black people back then. Toronto did not have today's cultural diversity. It was all White/AngloSaxon/Protestant. Still, life was pretty colourful in those days. However, nobody seemed to have much money even though it was typical to sustain a family – in our case six people -- on a single income! We were so well off that we were one of the first families in the neighbourhood to get a TV set. It was a big pale wood combination thing with a pull out radio/record player and the television had a huge 17 inch black and white screen. We bought it at Danforth Radio. My dad gave up on car ownership before I was born because of a traffic accident. So outings in a neighbour's car was a rare and big treat. Some guy and his wife up the street took us out a few times. I remember driving down the big hill on Don Mills, north of O'Connor where there was a large, flat park which is now occupied by the Don Valley Parkway next to the Don River. I don't remember anything about the neighbour but his car was an army green coloured Hillman. A very high, old-fashioned British car that had a weird arm on the door pillar that swung up and blinked to indicate a turn. In the 50s I was an expert at recognizing the year and make of every car that I would see in the street. I held this skill well into the sixties and I'm still pretty good at it, especially with 50's vintage cars.
I do recall quite a bit from those old pre-teen days on Munro Street. Many nights my brother Ron would play his Dizzy Gillespie records like "I Can't Get Started", over and over. Jazz was the popular music of the day and I really liked a lot of it even as an eight year old. My brother Art was a huge Frank Sinatra fan and I can't argue with that either. A few blocks east on Queen Street was the LaPlaza Movie Theatre, now The Opera House, a new, alternative music venue. It was a grand, old movie show with a perfect balcony. Along with "The Crown" on Gerrard Street LaPlaza was where all the local kids took in the matinees every Saturday. I remember going to the LaPlaza on my first 'date'. Actually I was just seven and my date was the little sister of my babysitter. I can't recall the girl's name but what I do remember was that she wore glasses, which just I hated but didn't let on. The movie was one of those 'love' movies with plenty of smooching. As it turned out, as the movie went along every time the actors kissed up on the big screen the girl and I, like a game, also kissed. She was definitely the more assertive and it was really weird, but I loved the whole thing as I put up with the glasses. Regretfully, my mom didn't ever use that babysitter again. Mind you it was also a relief as the thought of doing this again was a bit intimidating because I didn't have a clue what I was doing.
Sundays gave me the creeps back then. I hated that day. In the fifties you could look down any street for miles on a Sunday morning and not see a car – or a person for that matter. Everything was closed to accommodate the church going public. There were no Sunday sports – you couldn't even go to a movie. Sundays were deadly quiet except for some occasional dictatorially imposing church bells. I found it eerie. Toronto today is a totally different place, mostly for the better. Everybody was assumed back then to be either Protestant or Catholic and God fearing. No one would ever admit to being an atheist. I was party to the indoctrination too, but it never did sit right with me. Even back then I found the grip that religion had on society unsettling and stifling. Still, I didn't fully abandon my 'faith' until my mid teens when some of my friends began speaking out as non-believers. Even though religious belief was a given at that time it was not, thankfully, shoved down the throat by my parents. We hardly ever went to church.
My mother was born in Glasgow, Scotland. Her name was Margaret but everyone called her Madge. She came over to Canada as a lass immediately securing a job as a chambermaid at the colourfully romantic Hotel Tadoussac in Quebec. The old hotel is still, I'm sure, exactly the same now as it was when she worked there. I checked it out myself back in the 70s and it was, indeed charming and timeless. I always liked my Mom's Scottish brogue – about was aboot – and I admired her toughness. She really had a hard time with her daughters-in-law. None of my brothers could deal with her much of the time and would often go months, even years, without talking to her. But I got along with her fine without really getting all that close. Although her marriage with Dad was essentially over – there was plenty of bickering as I recall – they continued to live together as was the norm along with Ken and I at an apartment at 1200 Kingston Road until Dad had a stroke and was permanently hospitalized. I went off and married my first wife, Mary and Mom moved to her own apartment. She eventually moved into a cheap, sleezy hotel room on Jarvis Street with her boyfriend George who was a nice guy from Transylvania. He had a drinking problem and ended up knocking off well before my Mom did – even though he was quite a bit younger.
Up the street near Dundas Street was 'Bruder The Mover' with their big, distinctive green, red and yellow trucks. Their property went right over to a big open area where we kids would dig forts. It was rough and totally undeveloped as it slopped down to the Don River which was even more polluted than it is today. Sometimes it was red from the Brickworks up stream. We all believed that toilet shit emptied right into the Don. At times it was smelly yet interesting though somewhat dangerous place for a kid to hang out. At the back of the moving company was an abandoned storage shed. With a bit of effort a kid could squeeze under the dilapidated door and experience the luxury, for a young child, of complete privacy. It was a bit of a dark thrill going there. Especially since my mother, uncannily, always seemed to know where I was. Spies I thought. Being there made me nervous and I had a sense of doing something wrong. I didn't tell anybody about this private place, that is except for a little girl I knew up the street. One day I took her there and she was just as interested in this refuge as I was. We were both maybe six and somehow we found ourselves in that dusty, old hideout completely naked. I had no idea what we were doing. Or what went where. I was purely driven by the thrill of it all. We kind of touched and snuggled. Of course there is a limit to what you can actually do at that age but whatever -- it certainly did feel good. My instincts told me that there was nothing really wrong with this innocent little experience yet I nevertheless held a bit of guilt for the longest time. I kept thinking of seeing some dogs in the throws of sexual intercourse and somebody tossing a pail of water on them to break them up. These were uptight times and the prevailing view then was that anything sexual was dirty. However, I don't think this experience was in any way damaging and, in fact, I looked to it as giving me valuable insight. One thing I learned, for sure, was that girls like this sort of things just as much as boys. This view was confirmed to me as true most assuredly in many future relationships.
There was a little park about a block away from my house where I played when I was about six. Really it was more of a dump, just off Dundas behind Brooder The Mover near the Dundas bridge which crosses over the Don River. It was only the river under there back then as it was way before the Don Valley Parkway was built. My Mom always seemed to know what I was doing -- those spies again -- and it was frustrating because I could't figure it out how she did it. It was as if she had an extra sense. When I got to be about eight I had a couple of friends who would cross the entire Dundas bridge on the outside of the railing. Not a big chance taker myself I would never do such a thing but I did admire their courage. Little eight year old boys seemed to have a lot more freedom to explore the neighbourhood in those days unlike the over-protective paranoia of today's parents. A few times I'd go down to the Don Valley just myself to look around. Under the Dundas Bridge, the way it was constructed, it formed several room-like cubbies. A few times I would go there and strip off all my clothes just because it felt so good and it was private enough to get away with it. I did this several times but I can remember once an older guy was there who was maybe twelve. I can't remember if he stripped down as well but I do recall him telling me that I looked really good naked. It was all very innocent and there wasn't any touching at all that I can remember. Must admit though that I held a little bit of guilt because of these adventures but thankfully it seemed outside of my Mom's radar.
I was ten when we moved in 1953 to 61 Roseheath Avenue still in Toronto's east end. It was my first move after those ten years on Munro Street in South Riverdale. Starting grade four at Earl Haig Public School was a scary experience. I didn't much like school. In the fall of 1954 hurricane Hazel hit Toronto mostly messing up the west end as we just got a very heavy rainfall on my street. In grade six I was on the school hockey team and got all of one goal. The coach said he wished he had me earlier as if to suggest that I had some potential. I never thought of it at the time but tennis was much more my game but, other than hitting the ball against a wall, I didn't get serious about playing tennis until many years later. One winter I remember some of us, just for kicks, sticking our tongues on the bare metal swing-set supports. Typical ten year old stupidity. I also had a girlfriend, sort of, that I hung out with at recess back the in grade six named Bev Turner who lived on Coxwell near the school. She was pretty I thought and I can remember the electricity I felt just touching her in any way. Girls sure were a mystery in those days and still are.
My Dad worked downtown at the iconic Royal York Hotel as a beverage waiter for over forty years. He came over here, as was typical, by steamship from Liverpool as a young man and watched the hotel being built across from Union Station and said I will work there. His name was Alfred but everyone just called him Alf. With his Beatles accent he insisted in calling a flashlight a torch, a wrench was a spanner. He played the accordion – rather poorly. But Dad was quite good at drawing portraits with an eyebrow pencil. He did a really good one of Winston Churchill. Those days we lived in the Beach at the foot of Leuty Avenue, overlooking the iconic lifeguard station and we had a great view of the lake. Quite often, in my teens, he and I would go over to the park to play catch. I would throw the ball at quite a decent velocity – as hard as I could sometimes and he would usually handle it. There is something about his look that today I also see in my daughter.
I always thought Dad drank too much – though it seemed that everybody did in those days as it appeared to be the social norm. Likewise his smoking too, was instrumental, I feel, in shortening his life. I would awake every morning to his awful coughing. This went on like that for years and years. In his job serving drinks at the famous Imperial Room my Dad got to know quite a few celebrities like Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett and politicians like former Toronto mayor Donald Summerville. I had a connection myself with the mayor. Before he was elected as the local alderman, Sommerville managed The Prince of Wales Movie Theatre at Woodbine and Danforth.
In my early teens me, my buddies, or the occasional girlfriend, took in the weekly double feature. One Friday night I was there to see Hitchcock's great "Rear Window" starring Jimmy Stewart and an incredibly lovely and young Grace Kelly. At intermission I went down to the washroom to have a smoke (everybody smoked in those days) – and as I butted out my cigarette in one of those big, sand filled ash tray things there was a huge explosion. Some smart aleck had planted a giant firecracker well hidden in the sand. As soon as I saw the sparks I ran for my life only to be greeted right at the door by a very angry future Toronto mayor. He grabbed me as he was under the impression that the whole thing was my doing. "Why would any innocent person run in obvious fear?" as I tried to tell him it wasn't me. The real culprit would be looking la-de-dah. Summerville wouldn't listen to me. The idiot. But eventually he did, reluctantly, let me go. From then on I thought he was a bit of a dumb, stubborn prick. A few years later, as mayor, he was playing in a charity hockey game, had a heart attack, and died right there. He was very highly regarded as mayor and many thought he was destined for higher things. Too bad the elevation happened sooner than he had hoped. I still think he was a stubborn prick.
At six foot four my oldest brother Art, was even skinnier than I was. He had long since moved away and was on his second marriage. He was quite a good minor league hardball pitcher and could throw an unreal curveball. Art was a lot older so I didn't have much opportunity, regretfully, to participate in sports with him. He was in the shoe business and I had been to a store he managed up on the Danforth. I got along well with his outspoken and very British girlfriend who worked at a veterinary hospital. Art died way too young of cancer in his early forties.
My brother Ron is still kicking as I write this. He's ten years older than me and quite different in a lot of ways. He did alright with money as a trader on Bay Street retiring in his forties. He owned a house near the bottom of Lee Avenue for many years so his son Scott and Ron's two daughters grew up there. I seldom see Ron's kids but I get along with them fine. Ron split with his incredibly weird wife Jackie and bought a house with a big TV dish in Peterborough. I pretty well get along with everybody but I found it hard to deal with Ron. He's so anal. My brother Ken and I drove out to see him in Peterborough one day and he and Ken almost came to blows. Part of the problem was they're were both drinkers. Ken never saw him again but I drove up to his new condo in Waterloo a few years later. I think I offended Ron by suggesting that reading The Globe & Mail, which he reads daily, is not the best thing to read if you're interested in the truth.
He can't seem to handle anyone tampering with his world view. This saddens me because I think he's a bright enough guy but he's really bought into the system so you really have to be careful of what you say around him. Scott, his son, has his own problems but at least he seems to have a kind of street wisdom which Ron lacks.
To tell you what I mean about Scott this little story will tell you a lot. Scott and his girlfriend, Sandy decided to get married and the reception was to be at Ron't place on Lee Avenue. It was a nice day and things were going well until we noticed Scott was nowhere to be seen. He was way down at the back of the yard doing drugs. Next thing we knew an ambulance pulls up and carries a very overdosed and dead looking Scott out on a stretcher. He survived this but it sure was a day to remember.
Living at 61 Roseheath Avenue I spent a lot of time drooling over British made Matchless and AJS motorcycles in the window of Firth's Motorcycle Shop on the Danforth. My palls at Earl Haig were Paul Pascaris and Bob Bennett. Paul was Greek and worked every summer in a restaurant. He gave all his money to his family so I guess that's why he was so darn cheap. I remember he ate every bit of an apple but for the seeds. In 1956 and 57 along with some of my friends I went to Earl Beatty for junior high grades seven and eight. Here I met what turned out to be my best friend for many years Jim Wilson. We all struggled and hated school as I recall although I did like my art teacher, Mr. Lawrence, who was also my homeroom teacher.
It seemed that everybody especially hated science and history. These days It's hard to understand how young minds can hate science and history. I'm sure that somehow it was because of the way it was taught. Mind you Mr. Baker, the science teacher was keenly into his subject. He would even take students out on field trips to "Baker's Acres", some plot of land he owned out in the country. I still don't fully understand why the school system is so distasteful to young kids, especially boys. It sure wasn't just me. Right from as early as I can remember I had an artistic bent. My best year at school was, without any doubt, kindergarden because it was all about art and tying shoe laces. You could even take a nap. In later grades I routinely did really well at art and, because of of my interest in drawing maps I did well at geography as well. One year at a parent/teacher interview I overheard the word 'gifted' dallied about. Even then I thought the idea that anyone being 'born with a gift' was absolute non-sense.
It also discredits the efforts of years and many hours spent on art as inconsequential compared to simply being born that way. This recognition of my artistic abilities, I felt, was something I earned. I worked long and hard for it. And I instinctively desired credit for the work not for a lucky accident of birth. This insight instilled a preference for nurture as opposed to nature as the main determinate in human development. We are all, essentially 'gifted' -- but we do all require opportunity. And most of us here in Canada do have some degree of opportunity compared to people born in countries where energies are spent mostly getting enough food to eat. I have always felt that what little difference there may be between all of us at birth was not all that important. My Dad was the principle reason I was inclined toward the artistic. And it wasn't because of his genes. It was by having him around. The occasional little help. The things I saw him do that gave me a leg up on other kids as far as art is concerned. I believe that the bud of creative genius is within us all. As I see it, people are held back by the notion that we just don't have that elusive born talent. That's a pity and a waste of human potential. I also see this as a more sophisticated, more inclusive, less elitist view of genetic determination. I think it is crudely simplistic and somehow selfishly comforting to believe our children are born to become just like Dad because of our passing of genes. Oh, such careful breeding. What a load of crap! Even if I am wrong as far as to the degree to which genes determine our inclinations -- and that degree seems to be an ongoing debate among geneticists -- can there be any argument that careful nurturing by good, involved parents is far more important than any perceived inadequacies or advantages at birth. So as I see it, we should all be on the side of nurture if we are interested in the advancement of the human species. You elitists out there all wrong headed as far as I'm concerned.
Paul Pascaris was my best friend in my Earl Haig days. He liked Cpt. Morgan Rum and was a big fan of Pablo Picasso. He was born in Greece and lived near the bottom of Bastido Avenue where we started doing a little bit of drinking some of that Cpt. Morgan Rum and also Canadian Club whisky on weekends but this didn't really amount to much. I certainly never even flirted with any kind of substance addiction issues throughout my life. I did smoke cigarets like everyone else in the 1950s but I quite cold turkey right after the first American surgeon general's report in 1964 that made it clear that smoking was a stupid thing to do. I never really went back to smoking except on those rare occasions that I would go to a party and drink – then I would also smoke cigarets and got dizzy more on the nicotine than I ever did from the booze. A few years later Paul worked at the Ford plant and bought a brand new red Mustang. At fourteen in 1956 we spent most of our time just hanging around restaurants like The Monarch, which was a little Chinese place on The Danforth near Bob's house. We drank Cokes and ate coconut cream pie. When we had money we would splurge on a hot beef sandwich. None of these get-togethers were all that productive. Unlike most of us Bob Bennett, originally from the east coast, was an avid reader of novels especially science fiction. He also ended up working at Ford for a while. His mother was kinda glam from eastern Europe I think. She bought a restaurant on Kingston Road. I think she did some modelling when she was young. Bob's brother was in the auto-body shop business but I didn't really know him. Bob's family lived in a big house on Monarch Park Avenue.
In 1957 I was living down in the Beach at 5 Leuty Avenue but I continued to go up to The Danforth every day because all my friends hung around there. I took the Main Street bus or the Coxwell streetcar everyday to Earl Beatty and later to Danforth Tech. We spent plenty of time hanging around the 'waiting room' which was a little brick building where the Coxwell streetcar looped. This was before the term 'street people' but there often were a few old guys sitting in there too. None of us waiting for a streetcar. This is where a few of us got into a scrape with the law. There was a pay phone in there and we found that if we stuffed something up the coin return it would hold back a considerable amount of change. We simply waited a couple of days -- and with a tool that we crafted we cleared the stuffed hole and scooped up the money. It was easy. We set up a few other phones that way. Inevitably though, one of the guys, that suck Billy Ward, got caught.
And he squealed on the rest of us. I ended up spending an all expenses paid weekend in the juvenile lockup downtown on Jarvis Street rubbing shoulders with real juvenile delinquents. 'Wardo', the guy who got caught had it worse. He was sixteen and went to that archaic dungeon the Don Jail. That's certainly the the most serious incident that happened to us back then. However we were often harassed by the police and even hauled off to "number 10", the police station on Main Street plenty of times. I can still describe in perfect detail the door and seat upholstery in the back of a 1957 Chevy. The cops seemed to operate on the idea that they could scare us into making some kind of confession as they wasted a lot of their time harassing us. And for what? Some of them were rough buggers, too. I still have very little respect for cops today because of the unprofessional treatment that teenagers routinely endured at the hands of those bullies. In 1956 and 1957 we lived at number one and later at number 5 Leuty Avenue right across from the Leuty life saving station on the beach. While I was there I had an old Fargo van. To deal with a leaking break cylinder on one of the wheels I solved the problem, believe it or not, by cutting and crimping the fluid line to that wheel. I remember taking that beast to Mosport and standing on the roof to watch a race. Those were the days before safety checks or emission testing.
In 1958 we went to Danforth Tech the high school on Greenwood. I was enrolled in the art stream. We all still hated school and couldn't wait to leave and find some job, any job, just to get out of school which was allowed if you were at least fifteen. My first job was not that bad and a good experience delivering small stuff on a bicycle downtown at a small bureau that served the print industry on Camden Street just off Spadina. I was what you might call a bike courier today. It was one of those places that prepared artwork for printing presses. They produced the camera ready art for the CHUM chart. This was the top 40 music station in Toronto. Actually I didn't do much that was interesting as the "strippers", as they were called, did all the real work preparing film for printing plates. I recall one of the strippers there, an older guy of maybe thirty, was obsessed with buying a Morgan Plus 4, a rare and rakish British sportscar. Myself, I was nuts about the very sculptural 1958 Lincoln at that time. I didn't stay at this job long enough to learn much but I really liked the physical demands of getting out there on a bike everyday. And I learned to get over phobias like a fear of elevators that I still had since childhood. One of the delivery locations was around the 30th floor of the Bank of Nova Scotia building where I had to take the elevator. I ended up quitting that job or I was canned, I can't remember. I did have a hard time getting in there on time every morning.
After that I was on the "pogy", unemployment insurance, for about six months so I broke down and took a job at Maitex Industries, a little industrial laundry on Carlaw Avenue. We washed grose, sometimes bloody hospital uniforms and smelly diapers in huge, hot and noisy industrial washing machines. But the worst part was filling the truck with folded linen. That was ridiculously heavy, backbreaking work. It was pure hell. The only good thing I can say about it was that it was certainly an enlightening experience. I know from personal experience what it's like have to do a really hellish job. I barely lasted a week. Then I was hired by a necktie manufacturer downtown on York Street, across from the Royal York Hotel, another fairly hellish job. If I'd stayed there I would have become a "cutter". These were usually old Jewish guys who cut material for neck ties. The worst thing about this job was being around the shop manager who was an arrogant and abusive British twit who spoke, quite openly about English superiority. That job didn't last long either. Nobody should have to do these kinds of jobs here, or in the third world for that matter, unless they are adequately paid. So what if our so called standard of living depended on it. Even back then we were all quite aware that our much lauded 'standard of living' was very much on the backs of the vulnerable and exploited.
Even though some of us were buying cars a bunch of us decided to ride up to Jackson's Point on our bicycles. We were going to stay with some people that one of us knew up there. So one early morning -- bikes fully loaded -- about six of us, including Jim Wilson and Mike Jonhson, set out in tandem along Don Mills Road for the fifty mile trip north to the little town on the south shore of Lake Simcoe. The twelve hour ride was arduous and felt like it would take forever. Certainly, none of us were used to this sort of thing. Sore and tired we got to Jackson's Point safely. We spent a few days mostly hanging around the big dance hall. I didn't dance at all – none of us did, really – but it was a cool place and the music omitted by the massive, colourful Wurlitzer Jukebox was fantastic. Little Richard singing 'Heebie Jeebies' was my favourite. I know it's from his great 1958 album "Little Richard" but I tried to come up with that song on the web a while ago with no success. I have everything else though: 'Over The Mountain', 'You Beat Me To The Punch'. I do love a lot of that old R&B stuff.
Some of us knew a few girls up there but I didn't get anywhere with any of them. Believe me, being one year younger than most of the other guys at that age felt like a decade. And it was not helped at all by the fact that I looked even younger than my fifteen years. I did better with girls when I was six or seven. After maybe a week with no money, and resorting to eating catfish that we yanked out of the nearby river I wanted to go back home to Toronto. My good friend Jim left on his bike a few days earlier. He wanted to go north to his home town of Orillia but as we found out later he was hit by a car on the way and ended up in the hospital. He was okay but he was quickly earning the nickname 'Crash'. I had a big problem too. We seemed to be down to just one bike between me and the crazy and reckless Mike Johnson who was a bit of a renegade, a kid who breaks into stores, and somebody I didn't like all that much even though Mike and I were like a pair of bullies in our grade seven classroom as we cruelly picked on a couple of heavy-set guys across the aisle one of them we called Rhino. It was hard to contemplate how we were going to make this trip two on a bike and all but in reality though, it turned out pretty good. Sure we had some angry moments in such tight proximity taking turns on that crossbar as he liked to spit a lot which was gross and it irritated me. But we sure seemed to get the job done in spite of it all. The trip back down to Toronto was completed in just six hours – half the time it took to go up there. And I have to admit I had a bit of respect for Mike after that ordeal like soldiers get for their mates in a foxhole.
Sure was anxious to get my driver's license as soon as it was legal for me to drive -- which back then was 15 as long as you were accompanied by a licensed driver. All my buddies were 16 and I teamed up with a couple of them to buy a series of vehicles. Our first was a black, 1947 AJS motorcycle which was about ten years old but in okay shape with a 500cc single cylinder engine. We all learned to ride on that bike. There were no real disasters except for a few gas line fires that were due to backfiring through the carburetor which set them off. Luckily we contained the fires and we all managed to get out on the open road a few times. It was serious fun.
The first car we shared was a huge, black 1947 DeSoto with massive front fenders and fluid drive – a kind of crude semi-automatic transmission. We hardly drove the big monster at all. I remember one time in the car driving up Victoria Park Avenue, just north of Queen – my best friend Jim Wilson driving – when he successfully changed gears on the steep incline – it seemed like a big achievement. That car ended up as a permanent, non-moving fixture in my driveway on Leuty Avenue for about a year. Then we got into Fords.
We burnt out the clutch in the first Ford pretty well right away so that one spent the winter in my backyard. We fooled around with bodywork and eventually we crawled underneath the car in icy weather to take out the transmission in order to get at the clutch. Jim and I had dreams of going into a custom car business as we dabbled with these machines. Jim was inclined to be the mechanic while I was the dreamer spending many nights over the kitchen table drawing futuristic cars. In those days we envisioned cars that would levitate and would have no wheels. What ever happened to that future with the those flying cars anyway?
I got interested in becoming an auto mechanic myself and joined the Ontario apprenticeship program working first at Hertz Rent-a Car downtown and at a transmission repair garage on Raleigh Avenue. I hated both of these jobs and decided I would go to night school so that I could enroll at George Brown Collage to upgrade my high school and later graphic design.
By now we were all working regular jobs so it was feasible for each of us to buy our own wheels. My first car was a nice, blue and rare 1949 Ford Coupe. My buddy Jim, later to be called 'Crash', wrote that one off at an unmarked intersection just up from The Danforth. We salvaged the motor and transmission which ended up for the longest time in the trunk of my next car, a wine-red 1951 Studabaker. The car was real super in the rain. Stuck like glue. Actually I always loved Studabakers -- Jim's Mom had a long series of them. But that was the only one I owned. I thought the styling was way ahead of the Fords or GM. I especially liked the 53 Studabaker Champion Starliner coupe. The Studabaker pick up truck is another one I liked. The styling was way before its time.
Drove across Lake Simcoe pic
Danforth Avenue during the late fifties was a continuous series of new and mostly used car dealerships. It was really a strange, overwhelming sight, there were so many car lots. Danforth was almost exclusively car lots. In 1961 I bought a 1958 Morris Mini from one of those dealers and set off pretty well right away, along with my girlfriend at the time Mary, for a nice trip to beautiful Watkins Glen, New York, for the Formula One race. Unlike today, you could really rub shoulders with the drivers in the paddock area in those days. Jim Clarke was there. Graham Hill and Bruce McLaren as well. McLaren was to be a bit of a hero of mine. Both he and Jim Clarke died in their race cars at too young an age. The cars were just getting fatter tires and none of the cars were marred with ugly logos in those days. It was a beautiful October weekend and it was memorable sitting in a long slew of race goer traffic along the scenic Finger Lakes on the way home in that bright fall sunshine.
Jim Wilson working at the Ford plant was into Triumph TR3's in those days. It was a real sportscar but very old school. The back axel hardly had any movement so the ride was harsh and the dashboard moved side to side when the car went over a bump. Crude but fun, that car would be great to have today. Jim and I would often race home through the side streets, sometimes joined by my girlfriend Mary in her Chevy II, after many evenings of hanging out on The Danforth at either the A&A, the Monarch or the Madison Restaurant. We spent years hanging around these places hardly ever drinking booze – well maybe on a weekend – or getting into any serious trouble. Mind you, we didn't accomplish much, either as it was as if we were just killing time. It seemed to me that most of us didn't drink much compared to the previous generation and there were certainly no drugs that I was interested in or even aware of. Pot was rare, though we all tried these things at one time or another.
I thought of myself as a racer with my new interest in Formula One and CanAm racing as I painted a racing stripe down the car and added a CDN sign – it was pretty cool. I wore out a lot of those tiny 10 inch tires on that car. Not so much from driving hard but the fact that those little tires just wore out really fast. On my way to work every day at Master Paint I would take Pottery Road which wound over to the Bayview Avenue extension. It was one of my favourite bits of road. I would take the section by the railway tracks invariably on three wheels because the Mini was prone to lift the inside back wheel when pushed hard through a sweeping turn. It was during that time that Mosport was being built and a few of us drove out there one afternoon and walked around the track before most of it was even paved. During the 60s I took in quite a few motor races like club races at Edenvale, the big pro races such as the Players 200 at Mosport, the Indy race at St. Jovite, and Formula One races at that lovely Watkins Glen track in New York again. Often with Jim Wilson – or with Mary.
At that time I had a regular job at Master Paint Supply. We liked to answer the phone with "masurbate supply". We supplied automotive finishes to auto body shops throughout the city and suburbs. I mixed paint, did shipping and drove one of the delivery trucks. I even manufactured auto-body filler in a big ice cream machine which was a dusty, unpleasant job. I simply loved the driving part though. The small stable of vehicles included a terrible slug of a Volkswagon flatbed pickup – going around a highway 401 interchange in this thing was real ugly, but I pushed it pretty hard anyway – there was a rare French built Simca that reminded me of an old covered wagon, though it did have some sporting characteristics as it was so European. My favourite though was a brand new Ford F-150 pickup truck that was bought just for me to drive.
It was big and flashy in its shinny black and orange company colours. It felt tough and agreeably spartan and truck-like. Most unlike today's trucks that try to be like cars. I loved this machine! It had a lot of poke and after the VW it felt like a big sportscar. I spent a lot of very acceptable time in that truck often singing along to tunes on the radio. It was mostly CHUM AM top 50 stuff in those days but I never-the-less preferred jazz, listening to people like Astrud Gilberto and her "Girl From Ipanema", or Sergio Mendes with his Brazil 66 band which I had the pleasure of catching a couple of times at Ontario Place with that great revolving stage.
Master Paint also had a Plymouth Valiant wagon with a slant six and a floor shift. It was the boss's car and it was pretty good to drive. It was with that car I had a pretty bad accident. I was on the way back to the store when a car drove right into me at an unmarked intersection. The law being that you had to give way to vehicles on your right it was considered to be the other guy's fault. Those unmarked intersections – which you never see today – were really dangerous because they place accident avoidance into the realm of chance. That's not good. Fortunately no one was hurt this time.
On another occasion in the same car I was just leaving a delivery and going at quite a clip, as usual, when a big boxy delivery van entered my path from a side street, I saw him right away but if I had slammed on my breaks I would have slid right into him. I instinctively steered around him which produced some spectacular noise and dust. A little way along the street I thought I should get out to see if I did any damage to my boss's car but it looked fine. Just then the guy I missed caught up to me and heaped praise on my driving. He was raving as he told me I should be driving at Indianapolis. I felt really good after that. It was a real confidence builder, that's for sure. Successfully steering clear of something that would be really bad is one of life's greatest highs. It happened to me a few years ago on my bike. Going down a fast paved hill on the Don Valley trail I caught some sand on my back wheel which started to slide. Happily I did not over-correct as I staightened it out – but then the front started to slide – again I handled it perfectly. It was a very close call. If I had whipped out at that speed I would have surely done myself serious injury. It was like the world slowed right down as my whole life flashed before my eyes. It also felt like divine intervention or something. Afterwords I felt like Superman.
Another place we lived at south of Queen in the Beach was Glen Manor Drive. While I was living there I had the Mini and got the garage up the street to change a wheel for me, a flat front tire I think, but they went and broke the wheel nuts on that front wheels which really pissed me off. Aside from that the Mini was a hell of a lot of fun to drive. Minis were very popular at the race track at the time as well. At Mosport Bill Brack duelled in the 60s with Corvettes with his black Mini Cooper.
While at Main Square I still had this white Ford Econoline van which I ended up painting in my bike's Can-Am colours. One day in the underground parking somebody stole the starter motor. I also needed Jim's help to get a wheel off one time. Here I also had the Can-Am motorcycle that I kept under a tarp in the underground parking or in the back of my Van. The van turned into scrap a couple of years into our place on Fairmount. After that I had a green Audi which was too costly to repair so I didn't have it for very long. Then I bought another Sunbeam Alpine, a blue one with mag wheels and fat tires that aquaplaned something awful.
Living at 507 Kingston Road I had the Ford Van and one day while I had the van stopped on the hill leading down to the garage after I got out to open the garage door the van came rolling down the hill crashing into the garage. Those old parking breaks didn't work very well.
I was at Main Square for nearly ten years, first on the tenth floor facing north. I split from there when Jeff was about seven and I wanted to go out on my own. I had a place in the larger building for a couple of years before moving to Fairmount with Karen in 1979.
In 1964 I bought a new, bright red Sunbeam Alpine. It was a civilized British two seater sportscar. Many of my friends were now working at the Ford Assembly Plant in Oakville, making good money, and buying some pretty decent machines. Paul Pascaris bought a new, red, Ford Mustang. Jim had a new Triumph TR4, Bob Bennett had a Chevy. I can't remember what Chris Grosdanopolis had,a Mustang, I think. We were also getting married to our pregnant girlfriends.
After Master Paint in 1965 I took a job as a car jockey at the Royal York Hotel. I think my dad who was a waiter at the Imperial Room for something like forty years gave me an inroad to this job. It turned out to be the best job I ever had. For about two years I got to drive just about every make of car on the road. The job involved delivering and picking up cars from the hotel's front door and driving them around the block to the big, six story parking garage. The worst part was having to wear those mousy grey-blue uniforms and the creepy hats. I didn't like sticking my hand out for gratuities, either, but it was an important part of the job if you wanted to go home with reasonable pay. And the more cars you could deliver to their owners the more tips you would make. For that reason the driving got to be really aggressive. This suited me fine because it was a wonderful chance to hone up on my driving skills. It was like all out racing limited only by the tight space. Yes, there was plenty of tire noise. But customers stood there strangely and calmly waiting for their cars and hardly ever complained.
In 1967 I was working the night shift as we all listened on the radio to the Leafs beating Montreal Canadians for the Stanley Cup. In those days I was married to Mary and we would go to the Gardens to see the Leafs pretty well every week. I was there when Darryl Sittler had his five goal, ten point night. We also went on many road trips to follow the Leafs including Buffalo, the old Detroit Olympia, Madison Square Garden in New York, The Igloo in Pittsburg and of course the Montreal Forum. We also went to Chicago for a Black Hawks game which was really something. The fans used to smoke during the games back then. Toronto was one of the first places to ban smoking. We were all big hockey fans in those days but I've grown to be totally against professional big team sports like hockey. I sure wouldn't want my kid to play that game with the certainty of a short career and probability of serious head injuries. Also the pay that athletes get today is crazy. When the average person was making about $10,000 a year in the 60s players like Tim Horton of the Leafs were making about $80,000. And at that time eight times as much seemed like a lot. What is it today? Things like this that become all about money I can't be bothered with.
My favourite car to drive and pretty well the quickest car in the garage was any late model Chev or Pontiac with automatic transmission and power steering. They leaned over something awful yet they hung on and they had enough power. I found the best way to control the car was to hang on to the car with the left arm and to steer only with the palm of the right hand. Conventional hand over hand steering would quickly get you into trouble. In these automatic cars the most effective method was to lightly ride the brakes with the left foot. This gave me immediate breaking when needed. The normal method, using the right foot only for gas and brake is way too slow. The time it takes to move the foot from the gas to the brake in an emergency cannot compare to having your left foot poised over the brake pedal. Once you learn this method and it becomes natural you will also find it is easier to control the brake modulation when you don't have to quickly jump from the gas. Now when I drive any automatic car around the city I always use left foot braking. Surprisingly I found one of the worst cars I ever drove at the garage was an early Shelby Mustang. That thing might have been great on the track but for stop and go at garage speeds it was just too much of a handful. I drove plenty of Cadillacs, Rolls Royces, you name it. I even got to drive a Lotus Elan once, one of my favourite cars and I loved it. Very soft suspension for such a racy machine. But probably the car that most impressed me though was the Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman Limousine. It was huge and heavy but you could actually drive it with gusto. It inspired confidence far better than the "cheaper" Mercedes models which were a common drive at the garage. One of the worst was the Volkswagen Karman-Ghia. It was nasty just trying to get into the darn things.
I left the Royal York to pursue graphic design which is what I always felt I was best at. First I needed to upgrade my high school so I could apply to the Graphic Design course at George Brown Collage. I was actually paid for going to that school and I very much enjoyed my time there. The course was very diverse which suited me fine. I liked the teacher too, Hector Gravell. As he often reminded us he was not a professional educator but he certainly knew the advertising business. I learned a lot and was the first to get a job through the school. Maybe taking the first thing that was available was not the best idea however because I didn't like London Stamp & Stencil very much. But I did learn a lot there. In 1969, after about six months I applied for a job in the graphics department of Imperial Optical which I stayed at for seven years. I liked the job and the people but the work wasn't all that challenging and I couldn't see that much room for advancement. On my own I was building up a decent freelance list doing plenty of work for Corona, a manufacturing jewellery business in the same building as I worked. I did quite a bit of work for them for about ten years doing ring illustrations for their catalog and general print ad promotions. Most of this was pre computer. I enjoyed my chats with the owner just about every week. I was also doing just about all the graphic stuff for PCL, the contact lens division of Imperial Optical so in 1976 I decided to go out on me own and it worked out quite well as I still retained all of my PCL and Corona business which was enough to live on. Thinking back maybe I should have been more aggressive at getting work. Then again I was doing okay on working only about twenty hours a week. I don't think I was ambitious enough.
END OF VOLUME ONE
Regarding Volume Two
I decided to split my biography between two volume because I could see a couple of problems in speaking openly about more recent events in my life. Volume one covers my life up to my early thirties and I have nothing to hide with this. I see no problem with anyone reading any of it because it was so long ago that it's like writing in the third person it's all so remote. Volume two is quite different. It reads like somebody's private diary and I have no interest in exposing sensitive secrets or stepping on people's sensitivities. This does take a lot of pressure off me now that I don't have to worry about insulting anybody and I can concentrate on the writing.
I started this in 2005
Read Volume Two
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Gallery of images of my past