Sydney Academy 3

When I was in Sydney recently my sister asked what did I do to ‘hang out’? At the Academy I was fairly active in some of the ‘clubs.’ One was the Junior Red Cross that devoted its energy to raising money – I guess the money went to the Red Cross. One year we sold ballpoint pens with, I think, Sydney Academy & the school logo printed on them. I remember this because I the group bought them from a company my father’s business used for similar office stuff.

If the order was large enough the company threw in an extra bonus: a coffee percolator one year, a wrist watch the next. We also sold raffle tickets for those bonus items. One year there was regional Jr. Red Cross conference held at Riverview (I think). There was a dinner& dance. 

I also joined the Chess Club, even though I wasn’t all that good at it. I barely remember anyone in it. The same for a short-lived ‘Record Club’ where we brought our favourite lps & played a couple of tracks & talked about why we liked them. My selection ‘The King & I’ wasn’t deemed serious enough. The teacher behind the group wanted to hear serious music not pop, show tunes or jazz. The club didn’t last.

My biggest involvement was badminton. We had the gym every Saturday & played round-robin. Singles, mens doubles, girls doubles & mixed doubles. I was a fairly accomplished player & did win a few trophies. There was also competition with other schools.

The best part of this became music! We were allowed to play records, usually 45s, while the play was going on. I quickly gravitated to this & became a sort of dj as mt pop music interest increased. Popular stuff was the Lovin’ Spoonful, The Beatles, Dave Clarke 5. I recall playing The Gates of Eden, which was the flip side of Like A Rolling Stone & being asked to play less serious stuff. When the Monkee’s I’m Not Your Stepping Stone was first played everyone went nuts for it & we had to play it over & over again.

I was pretty serious about badminton though. A bunch of us also played at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, (now home of HAT) which had a couple of courts in its semi-basement auditorium. The space was also used by the Rotary Club for rehearsals & set building. It was great as we got to practice without the rest of the school around us. I was quite taken by one of the other guys who played. He was hairy & sometimes sported a beard until someone at the school would tell him it was time to shave.

The one non-school organization I became involved with was DeMolay, but that’s another post 🙂

The Whitney Pier Museum

 

is dedicated to the industry of the area

steel workers miners

displays about the various ethic groups

that created the community

Jewish Black Ukrainian

old high-school year books

pictures of teams hockey basketballs

rows of mothers knitting for the war

soldiers returning 

those lost

churches that have come gone

business that survived then faded

as economies rose and dipped

the first black owned store in the city

 

families in fields picnics outings

Christmas parties in church auditoriums

faces turned to cameras

leaden in front of raging blast furnaces

or smeared with cold dust at a mine entrance

men in groups workers comrades

sometimes everyone named

who’s your father 

takes on a tree of discovery

 

I sift through these

wonder about the real lives of these men

wonder where is my queer history

I’m assume each of them

had a wife and kids somewhere

they sweated and worked for that classic dream

a house a garden 

 

no way to find out if any of them

sought out something in each other

no mention that 

this is Jack and John 

who lived happily together 

in this house on Lingan Road

everyone knew but no one cared

 

I’m happy to know the lives

of famed homos of the past

Radcliff Hall Alan Ginsburg

the list gets longer 

as we allow history to reveal

what some historians once thought 

too sordid to bring to light

the sex lives of heteros are fine fodder mind you

 

I look at these photos and wonder

what truths are hidden 

unrecognized

no display of the same-sex inclined

it is as if only the famed were queers in history

no ordinary folks

in these little local museums 

of the closeted

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every Tuesday 2019

September

Shaw Festival – Sex (Mae West)

Stratford Festival – Little Shop Of Horrors

October

Stratford Festival – The Crucible

December

The Secret Handshake Gallery – feature – date TBA

June  – Capturing Fire 2020 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

Hey! Or you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2020’s capfireslam.org – sweet, eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

Cape Breton Reflections

My visit to Cape Breton had me living in many worlds – my memories, my sister’s memories, the present day & the fictional worlds of Emile Zola’s amazing Au Bonheur des Dames, & Aliette de Bodard’s Servant of the Underworld, set in the fifteenth-century Aztec Empire (which I was reading alternate chapters from on my Kindle.) Both of which I’d highly recommend.

The weather was perfect – hot, sunny & not overly humid. The Travelodge was the right distance from the downtown – I could walk where I wanted in 40-50 minutes – which is my usual daily walking routine so I certainly got my steps in. I deliberately didn’t use my iPod so that I was present for the walks. Only listened to my airmac iTunes when I was writing & even then I enjoyed working in ‘silence’ most of the time.

I did a couple of my school walks but retracing those steps wasn’t the point of this trip. The same with meeting up with a few old friends – it was more about today than reflecting on the times we spent together. Though the past did provide a few highlights in my sister’s house, which is the one we grew up in. The old dictionary was sweet to leaf through, the silver set was similarly sweet to see & handle. The chest it was in was enough at first then we opened it up! The Singer 🙂

Visiting the Fortress of Louisbourg is always fun, taking pictures was even more fun. Seeing the wind turbine farm at Lingan was a totally new memory. Finding a bunch of original Whitman YA novels on my last full day was a treat too. I can’t wait to read them 🙂

The flight back to Toronto was trouble free, as it should be right? There was a team of young athletes from the Ontario Track & Field association heading back on the flight – wearing red, white jackets. I had opted to wear the red hoodie I’d bought so I did get some interesting reactions as they wondered why they hadn’t seen this guy at their events.

I didn’t get to do everything I set out to do, which is a good things – I’ll have stuff to do on my next visit.

The Colliery

The Colliery

while white sun simmers 

ocean’s edge 

we enter the colliery 

follow the guide 

metal basket jostles us down 

down 

smell coal seeping ocean 

light becomes dark then black 

 

thin beams from helmet lamps
graze without illuminating 

faces arms
fire fly flash of teeth tongue
the guide’s words roll out over echoless drips
a silence that stifles our breathing
the chilled walls absorb everything
wooden struts hold the earth from us
coal buffering the echo of our shuffle
as we crouch lower to fit

tiny lamp light glances off rock surfaces
jagged caroms of cold flashes
was that a face an arm
embedded between strata of earth
a zig-zag white trace
slipping in the endless squeeze 

from above below 

the passage narrowing even more
as we scrabble along hunched crabs
feel the ground 

hope for traction 

ache to stand but can’t
air thicker presses on all sides
can these wooden splints 

keep us safe 

 

a pressure in the lungs
the scatter of the fear 

is this the way I want to go
squished in a tremble of tectonic plates
hugged by the earth’s crust

 

we turn a corner catch our breath
the guide filling in gaps
stunned that so many men
spent their lives down here
ate slept shivered exited eventually
to return day after day
did they dare seek comfort 

in one another’s arms 

 

we shiver from black to dark to light
brought to the surface 

to life 

to summer 

where heavy clouds have formed
lightning races the horizon
rumble of thick thunder
blanket of rain falls
to wash us clean of the abyss
we never have to return to

 

This piece goes back to my visit to Cape Breton in 2012. One day we went to the Miner’s Museum in Glace Bay. I took that opportunity to visit a coal mine that was part of the facility. They gave us rubberized ponchos to wear and we waited in the change room for a while. from he high ceiling there were actual miner’s work clothes hanging as they would have when the mine was operational.

 

We wore modern helmets with small lamps on them & that was the main illumination for our tour. The beam was quite forced so, as the piece, says they only illuminated what you looked at. I half expected mine to fall on a face in a dark corner, or on a hand that was reaching out for me.

It was stressful to see the wooden stavings, that held up the ceiling & the walls knowing that that was all that held up the tons of earth over our heads. One clearly got the feeling what it was like down there & it made the sense of camaraderie the miners felt for each other very real.

The tour didn’t include us actually digging for coal though. We did get to sit the lunch area. We did get to steel the air, feel the floor, touch the walls, get dripped on by the sea. It was here that the idea for Coal Dusters was fully formed. Looking at the pictures of the men, some in early teens, who worked down here I wondered about their lives. We know all about their families but there was never a hint that their camaraderie might have been more than just that. 

 

When I have performed this piece people have told me it gave them chills, made them feel that suffocating claustrophobia. For me it was profound & haunting experience I was happy to share.

 

previous Brown Betty posts:

Man With A Past 1 https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3B3

When I Was A Young Boy  https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3By

Home (not of the brave) https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3Cg

Nailed https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3D9

Unmasked https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3EE


Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet 

Cape Breton Day 11

For my final day I kept it simple. I’d seen enough scenery for one visit & it was time to send some postcards. But that was not so simple. The past few days I’d kept my eyes open for those revolving racks, hoping for iconic cards of pipers over-looking the Canso Causeway. But these racks have vanished 😦 People are sending so many selfies & Instagramming that the postcard industry has about vanished. But I did find some at CB Curiosities that were too tasteful but did the job.

I realized that some of the shops on Charlotte St had closed because they were family run businesses that didn’t have family to run them once the parents had retired or passed away.

I stopped in at Rita’s Tea Room, moved from Big Pond to Sydney, where I had a coffee & a couple of freshly baked oatcakes, while I filled in my postcards. I posted those & continued on my way. Stopped at Ed’s used book store & bought some Whitman books. These were YA of the early 60’s, many were authorized novels based on TV shows. These hold lots of memory – of the ones I bough I did have, at one time, the Tarzan, & The Rustlers Fort. 

I continued on my way up to my sister’s where she had lunch ready on the stove. She also had a couple of boxes so I could mail some things back to Toronto so lighten my luggage. One box was the books I just bought, which cost me more to mail than I had paid for them 🙂

After lunch we did a last hike through Rotary Park, which is now a nicely laid out set of trails. As kids, my pals & I would bike up to swim in the reservoir. Which it turns out still happens & even some of the original dam is there, complete with kids hanging out – though it didn’t look like they were there to swim. 

In the Park we also came across some wild blueberries, & even saw some people filling up bowls with them. I had a handful of the ripe ones. Not as good at Tim’s blueberry donut 🙂

Sydney Academy 2

 


I remember some of the teachers: Mr. Miller known as Jolly Miller behind his back who taught mathematics: algebra, trigonometry _ I excelled at the first & got lost with the second. Two English teachers stand out as well. Mr. Mould – an English gentleman whose accent we all tried to imitate. Rather staid & he always favoured the memorizers. Miss Laura Donaldson: perhaps my favourite English teacher who was sarcastic, challenging & stern. The English literature we were taught was never modern though. Dickens was as up to date as it got.

The other teacher I can’t forget is Mr. Mills who taught phys-ed at all grade levels. We had to have our gym shoes whitened properly for every class, we lined up for shoe & sock inspection, as well fingernails. Boys & girls got separate gym classes, to keep those raging hormones under control. We were never taught about how to control them expect avoidance. There was no sex ed that I recall.

I stumbled through basketball – never learned a lay up. Managed volley ball, hated gymnastics, found wrestling confusing – thanks to my raging hormones 🙂 After gym there were communal showers where I always washed as fast as possible, keeping my eyes on the floor to avoid slipping on soap suds. Our lockers were assigned so I changed next to the same boys each term. It was here I saw lots of different cocks, saw that some were darker skinned than the rest of the body, saw public hair, hairy chests, hairy legs.

There lots of taunting & bragging. Because I was crappy at every sport, except badminton, I was derided for not being good at basketball etc. There was no physical abuse though. In fact I experienced little of that but there was lots of verbal abuse in the halls.

My sense of style surfaced in high school. I had some paisley shirts, the first seen in the school. My hair was longish & Mr. Mills frequently suggested I get a haircut. I remember seeing a band on TV wearing shirts with cuffs & collars that matched so I had my mother cover the collar and cuffs of one my shirts with some polka dot fabric. I loved it. Another time I had her sew epaulettes on a shirt for me. The teasing increased & escalated to shoving. I didn’t back down.

Suffocating

me face down flat on the floor

me: fifteen

the floor: high school gym

pine slats and the smell of socks

 

lift from the waist

me lifting sweating

I could do this much of the class

I felt safe in one spot

not facing anything   anyone

 

now roll over

this was a little worse

I could see the other guys in my class

but I’m still safe

in one spot on the floor

 

I dreaded it all so much

I’d arrive at school in my gym clothes 

to avoid the change room

okay on your feet boys

we groaned up

jumping jacks

 

I was still safe in one spot

I could keep up with this

it was basketball that did me in

where I could never remember left from right

never could manage a lay up

traveling with the ball – whatever that was

I would pass whenever I could

sometimes I’d fall to get out of the way

 

but that fear was merely prelude 

to what I dreaded the most

the showers

I’d yank my glasses off right away

soft focus everyone

into naked fuzzy forms

I would slink in as small as I could

rinse down

dart back to my locker

keep my eyes to the floor – to faces

but there was always someone too close

someone I couldn’t keep from focusing on

when I was trying not to look

at hair everywhere on some of them

asses backs around their balls

 

I would dress barely dried off 

rush up the stairs and outside

to breath

to keep from drowning 

in the damp desires

that were suffocating me

http://wp.me/p1RtxU-1dQ

https://wp.me/P1RtxU-2f6

every Tuesday 2019

August 2-13: getting back to my roots in Cape Breton
Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee on my trip to Cape Breton – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet 

September

Shaw Festival – Sex (Mae West)

Stratford Festival – Little Shop Of Horrors

October

Stratford Festival – The Crucible

December

The Secret Handshake Gallery – feature – date TBA

June  – Capturing Fire 2020 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

Hey! Or you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2020’s capfireslam.org – sweet, eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

Cape Breton Day 10

Another day of driving through coastal town around Sydney. Our first real stop was Fort Petrie – a WW2 bunker that has an amazing view of the harbour – there is another similar Fort directly across the way. Mom too the bunkers are sealed off to the public – but someone forced a grate so I took a few inside pics but resisted crawling in – I’m no Romy Romany 🙂 a meters away was another bunker directly on the shore but access was too steep for me to attempt. Broken bones aren’t the souvenirs I’m after.

Continuing along we passed through New Victoria into New Waterford where we stopped Tim’s for coffee & delicious blueberry donuts. We stuck to the coast & had to stop for the wind turbines around the Lingan Generating Station. They reminded me of War of The Worlds – very unearthly, tall. Not quite silent but taking pictures was fun.

Next stop was Dominion Beach, where we did go a few times as kids but I have no real memory of being here. I didn’t have to roll my pant legs up to walk in the Atlantic though. I can’t recall the last time I actually waded in the Atlantic Ocean. I figure once every 40 years is often enough 🙂 Dried my feet. Drove through Glace Bay & finally back to civilization in Sydney 🙂 Stopped at the Gaslight Cafe for a fine chicken pot pie.

 

Tomorrow? Rotary Park maybe, then packing for sure.

 

Cape Breton Day 9

A fun day of driving & dining that started with a morning walk to a great recovery meeting. Did my first Tim Horton’s stop of the trip. The coffee is no longer stronger than than Toronto’s. I like morning meetings as a way to start a day. Familiar faces are comforting. All the meetings I went to turned out to be topic-suggested-by-members meetings. I suppose there are some that discuss the literature. All started with the serenity prayer 🙂 & all ended with the Lord’s Prayer :-(. No hand holding to deal with.

Walked up to my sister’s & took the Terrace St. hills I used to walk to Sydney Academy. They seemed much steeper then. My sister had dug out some old photo albums, one that included some toddler pics of me. After a few minutes of looking though them & taking pictures of pictures we headed out on the day’s real adventures.

 

My Dad was fond of taking us kids for country drives and my sister has the driving bug in her blood too. our first real stop was in Sydney Mines so I could get pictures of the Municipal Region Police Station that was once a Customs House. An impressive building that dates back to the early 1900’s. It certainly stands out amidst the endless aluminium sided boxes that abound everywhere. Why does progress mean lack of architectural character?

 

 

Next we went to North Sydney. I was hoping to find out information about the German U-Boat that surfaced in the harbour – the local citizens jumped dirtier boats to defend out shores. North Sydney was a major communications hub & thus targeted by the Nazis.

Blank faces were all I got from the staff. I did get lots of pics though included some of a 1918 fire engine. We had a decent lunch at The Black Spoon. I was hoping the name referred to some naval jargon or iron smelting but Black was the last name of the owner.

Tomorrow Fort Petrie.

 

Cape Breton Day 8

After all the walking (nearly 10k) I did Thursday I opted not to hike about as much today & took advantage of my sister’s offer for lift up to St. Theresa’s in the morning for the recovery meeting there. Seeing familiar faces after a few meetings now. One is a man who was part of the neighbourhood gang that used to bully me. 

After the meeting he took a few private moments to make an amend. I remembering the bullying I don’t remember the bullies. He told that one of things, for him, was that he was jealous of the family I had. I replied, to the affect, that it was too bad we grew up in a culture where proving our manhood was done with violence to others but we both survived. 

In the afternoon my sister, my niece & I took in the Charlotte Street Fair. Charlotte was the shopping mecca of the region at one time, now it is empty shops & tourist trinket traps. Merchants with booths, some restaurants, a row of food trucks, some entertainment. My niece told me that nearly all the merchants were flea marker regulars, not Charlotte St retailers. I’m not interested in Keltic brass crosses, rings, pendants etc handmade in who know where. It was, to be kind, underwhelming.

 

We did have a decent lunch at Luoanne’s Cafe. Decent coffee & okay menu. We did one last tour of the street. Next stop, after dropping the niece off, was the Mayflower Mall which has a great store ‘Island Fashions’ in the midst of Foot Lockers, Pendingtons, David’s Teas & other standard mall chains. This is where I spend the most at once & got a great sweat suit, a zipped hoodie & a subtle (for me) tee-shirt.

 

 

Back to the hotel to really relax, shower off my clown-white sunscreen, get my blog work done and get to bed by 10 pm for a change. Tomorrow adventures in North Sydney 🙂

Cape Breton (Liberation Army) Day 7

Such a busy day yesterday I didn’t have time for a recap 🙂 The morning was a nice long 45 minute walk from my hotel to St. Theresa’s Church in Ashby for a recovery meeting. I did a stop at Dillan’s for a coffee & muffin on my way. Also stopped for a few photos. Temple Sons of Israel was the synagog near where I lived on Cottage Rd. Then the United Church – now being repurposed, I hope. I went there for Sunday school as a child.

Meeting was good. Walked back to hotel – if I could have hailed a cab I would have but Sydney isn’t a hailer’s city. Got back intimate for a delivery at my room. Rested. Showered, shaved & dressed for theatre with my sister. She picked me up at 5. Great supper at the Olde Triangle – excellent seafood chowder, good lamb shank. Show was at 8 so we had time to walk off some of the meal. 

The show ‘The Return of the Cape Breton Liberation Army’, in the repurposed St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, is part of the Highland Arts Theatre‘s summer season. Inspired by ‘Old Trout Funnies’ the show is full of local, topical humour full of references to South Bar, a second docking port for Sydney Harbour & immigration. I have the original ‘Old Trout’ comics & was happy to see this is an update that kept their playful, anarchical sensibility intact.

Fun songs, great performances – I particularly enjoyed Diana MacKinn-Furlong as General Dixie MacVicar. I also loved the joke about the pronunciation difference between Mac and Mc. A great use of video & slides helped move the show along. It did have the flavour of past show such as the Rise & Follies, which is a good thing. It is clearly a show for the local as I suspect anyone unfamiliar with the Capri Club would fully get the humour. A great show well worth seeing. Check the website for dates, call your travel agent for airfares if you aren’t a local:-) It’ll be worth the trip.

Cape Breton Day 5 

Another day of purely tourist stuff took us (myself, my sister & niece) to the Fortress of Louisbourg. The Fortress was a summer day trip as our family got larger in the 60’s – we were lured out with the promise of ice cream because at that time there was only one building that had a model of the proposed reconstruction, a few artifacts & some cannons outside. Boring for children.

Now it is an amazing recreation of the original fortress with several buildings, a couple of streets – giving one a sense of stepping back into that time. The village is populated with people in period costumes etc. Much of the wear has been fabricated on site or near by. You can buy lace made right in the Fortress before your very eyes. Farms have plants that the settlers would have grown.

Though most of it is ‘look & photograph’ there are some experiential opportunities: firing a musket, or even a canon – one can be arrested, jailed & publicly humiliated (all for a fee). Having survived high-school public humiliation this didn’t appeal to me.

There is also a building devoted the the Indigenous people who were responsible for saving the lives of the first settlers to the area & also the defence of the fortress when the English attacked it.

There are cafes – one for common folk, one for the more well to do, & one for those afraid of the other two. Food served at the first two is what would have been available to the populace & is served on pewter dishes, with a single spoon – knives & forks for dining weren’t used at this social level. I had a great pea soup & grilled haddock. 

We walked part of the Ruins Trail to visit a site where they are preserving buried remains to move them before that side of the area is eroded by the sea. We did get to talk with the historian. Photographs were not permitted. The staff & the costumed were all eager to explain & prepared for questions like ‘were there blacks at the Fortress?’ Yes.

I was tempted to ask about ‘molly boys’ but perhaps on my next visit. Maybe by then they will have reconstructed one of the brothels but for now it is purely family friendly.

On the way home we stopped at the Train Museum – fascinating but run by teenage boys more interested in their cell phones & who knew nothing about the history of the train service between Louisburg & Sydney.