Unreasonable Expectations

There’s no sharp “point” to this post.  It’s just another gentle Remember When story about my growing up, although it does have a quiet comment at the end about how we sometimes dig our own trench to experience tunnel vision.

My little 1800-resident home town swelled to about 15,000 in July and August, with the influx of tourists.  They came in two basic types, the one- or two-week temporary vacationers, and the more affluent cottage-owners where mom and the kids came up as soon as school was out, and dad visited on weekends.

I don’t remember any townie–vs.-tourist rivalries, and my little circle got along with both batches well.  Perhaps it was because of the lack of size of the upper crust, but even the well-to-do group often associated with the commoners.

I was friends for years with mother and kids of the family who still run a large Kitchener wrecking yard.  I hung around with son and daughter of a couple who owned a well-known car customising/detailing shop in Oshawa.  Both these families were a bit unusual, in that they had hauled a small trailer to town, and permanently placed it in the tourist camp.

Our group was sometimes joined for bowling, or a bush party, by the daughter of the C.E.O. of a large Kitchener firm where, seven years later, the wife got her first job as a receptionist.  The summer I worked at the convenience store, I also had a two-month romance with the daughter of a minor scion of the family whose name graces a fourteen storey office building in downtown Uptown Waterloo, five floors of which constitute the City Hall, and where her uncle sat as Mayor.  Her “summer cottage” was probably worth five times what our year-round home was.

I/we also made many temporary, one-time friendships with kids from the cabin-renting crowd.  These folks paid good money to live in little wooden buildings that chickens would have rejected, just to be near tons of warm white sand and cool blue water.  Unlike the others who were around for two months each summer, these evanescent visitors were only with us for a week, or perhaps two.

And so I met Danny.  A first time visitor, he had not been in town an hour when I ran into him early Saturday afternoon on the main street, looking lost.  Probably to get him out from underfoot while his parents unpacked, he had been told to walk the four blocks to the retail area, to familiarize himself with the stores.  By the end of the day he was part of our pack.

He was thrilled.  You can only hit the beach so much.  He had envisioned two lonely weeks stuck with only his parents, but we included him in everything we did.  We got him rental skates and took him roller-skating.  We took him down to the river harbor to swim, and I taught him to dive off the fishing boats.  Despite the age limit of 18, I got him into the pool-room and taught him several games.  Where he was from, pool-rooms were dark, dirty and dangerous.  We took in a couple of movies.  All in all, the entire group spent more time and energy on him than we ever did with any other tourist.  He was a nice kid.

Sadly, all vacations must come to an end.  Two Saturdays later, he walked uptown while his parents packed, to say thanks, and good-bye.  The leaving was lonely enough but, as he got ready to walk away, I sensed something else, and asked what was bothering him.

He said, “Somebody told me that there was an Indian Reservation just outside town.”  “Yeah, so?”  “Well, in my entire two weeks here, I never saw an Indian.”  I was stunned!  “You’ve played pool with Donny Kewgeesik, and his older brother Ronny.  You roller-skated with Nathan Akiwenzie.  You swam and dived with Frank Shobadeez.  John Petoniquot took you fishing in his boat, and you took his sister Laura to a movie.”

Now it was his turn to be stunned.  “They’re Indians?”  “Of course!  Did you expect the Indians to ride into town on horses, wearing feather headdresses, and war paint, shaking spears?”  The empty expression on his face told me that that was exactly what he had been expecting.  In the entire two weeks, hardly anyone had used last names.  These “ordinary people” he had met didn’t meet his expectations of what Indians looked and acted like.

We said our last goodbyes, and I never saw him again.  I often wondered how much effort it was for him to re-integrate his understanding of what and who Indians are.  It’s occurrences like this that taught me early, not to judge a book by somebody else’s cover.

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Bowling For Summer

Teenage rites of passage, every town/city has one or more places where the kids hang out.  Places like Pop’s Diner in the Archie comics, or Arnold’s, on Happy Days.  Places to go to talk, to hang out, to learn social skills, contention, co-operation and independence.  My little home town had a couple of them as I grew up.  Owners and ambience of a couple of restaurants in town changed.  The kids used to hang out over there, but now hung out over here.

One of the nicest, and yet strangest places, where I invested ten years or more of my life, was the beach bowling alley.  I’m still doing research to see who owned it, and/or the land it stood on.  Only open for a couple of months a year, a lot of youngsters, both native and tourist, had fun and grew up in this establishment.

It was located about two miles from the main street, and sat even with beachfront cottages, but where a small point put the water more than a block away.  Did the town build it?  Was the property owned by the town, the province or the Feds?  I was born in 1944, and it was built in 1951, when I was seven.  It wasn’t much later that I ran free and discovered it.  I was perhaps nine or ten.

It was open on weekends from the 24th of May till the first of July, then seven days a week till Labor Day.  I didn’t know that there was a seasonality to insurance, but a local insurance agent and his wife ran it.  They had a daughter, and five years later, a son, both of whom learned to work with/for their parents.

They all lived in a tiny apartment above the snack bar.  You didn’t dare leave the place unattended.  The building itself had a square concrete pad as the floor at the front, ten lanes wide.  The rest of the building was constructed of wood, and none too tightly.  You could see openings between the lapstrake siding strips.

It had screened *window* openings with flap-down shutters which were closed and bolted overnight, and over the winter.  It had double, screened batwing *saloon* doors.  These screens kept out the worst of the insects, but were useless, because of the snack bar at the front.  Nothing fancy, they served hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries by the ton, bottled pop, milk shakes and ice cream cones.  To get the most of walk-by trade, there were non-screened windows at the front where they could deliver food outside.

The bowling lanes were up two steps, and sat on wooden pylons driven into the sand.  These were Canadian, five-pin bowling lanes, a surprise and treat for American tourists.  The five-pin balls are so small that even children easily learned to bowl.  Every day, the lanes and approaches were mopped for sand.  No bowling shoes were supplied, or required.  Bowl in running shoes, flip-flops or bare feet.

Ten-pin sets were available on two lanes, for those who insisted, but the games cost more.  No mechanical pinsetters back then. The place employed pinboys, who did it manually.  I never applied for the job, because it tied you down from 11 AM opening till 1 AM closing.  What I did was show up whenever I had some spare time, but no spare change.  I would make it known that I was available for a limited time to replace anyone who wished to go for a swim or visit his girlfriend.  I could get an hour or two of cash-paid work, then get on with my day.

There was a foot-operated treadle system which raised steel pins to locate the wooden ones, but that was awkward, and actually slowed the job down.  If you could set the pins really quickly, sometimes you got a tip on top of the standard pay.  Hazards involved with the job were errant balls.  Sometimes you would jump down into the pit after someone had thrown three balls, only to find a bowler who, (usually, but not always male) angered at missing a pin, would grab another ball and whip it down the lane.

The same kind of thing could happen with drunks who were obnoxious, or just couldn’t count, as well as muscle-bound jocks, trying to impress their buddies or girlfriends.  The No Lofting rule was often ignored.  I set pins for one guy who bounced the ball and smashed the light above the pins.  I had another who whipped the ball so hard it touched nothing.  It sailed past my head and went out the open window behind me.  I had to climb down the back of the building and locate it in a sand dune.

In the open centre of the floor, with its back to a steel support pillar, between a row of six or seven pinball machines, and the L-shaped diner counter, sat a jukebox.  The money the proprietor must have realized from those coin-slurpers!  The pinball machines got the occasional rest, but the jukebox was never quiet.  The guys came to meet girls, and the girls came to show off to the boys.  Somebody from one of the sexes was always feeding the music machine.

One summer, when I was about 16, there were two girls who liked to show up and dance.  Jeff Foxworthy claimed that any female who wouldn’t dance with a drunken redneck was “stuck up.”  These two would have nothing to do with any guy, townie or tourist, handsome or ugly.  They just plugged dimes into the jukebox and danced with each other, non-touching, of course.  Whether justified or not, they were soon labeled as dykes.  They came in one evening and put on their usual revue, and the audience, females as well as males, tossed pennies on the floor near them.  They left without retrieving the coins, and never came back.

Ah, the halcyon days of youth and summers.  I resent having to grow up.