Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Obscure Recollections

"Grey and obscure on the horizon rose a low island."

By an odd sequence of events today I was reminded of my acquaintance with several people more than forty years ago. We were at that time mostly young people not long out of graduate school. But three of our number were what was then considered "old" - anywhere from 55 - 65 years of age. They were either currently or recently retired from professional avocations as well. To be truthful however what aligned us was an animated social life - and perhaps more than a passing interest in distilled liquor and fortified wines. There was admittedly an element of lasciviousness which embroidered the congregation but it was generally considered sous entendu.

The first recollection was that of a chap to whom I believe I was originally introduced during my undergraduate studies of Philosophy at Glendon Hall in Toronto.  It wasn't however until years afterwards that I again encountered him in the By Ward Market in Ottawa where we each maintained apartments. His name was Charles. As one might expect of a graduate from Glendon Hall he was bilingual (English/French) and decidedly inclined to the fine arts (as opposed for example to sports). He lived in a new condominium building not far from my own.  His place was a home decoration spectacular - very New York City with yellow walls, strictly hardwood furniture and a separate music room. My initial clue to what later proved to be a burgeoning nervous disorder was his fascination with the music of Erik Satie.

"Éric Alfred Leslie Satie, who signed his name Erik Satie after 1884, was a French composer and pianist. Satie was a colourful figure in the early 20th-century Parisian avant-garde. His work was a precursor to later artistic movements such as minimalism, Surrealism, repetitive music, and the Theatre of the Absurd."

It was just days ago that I stumbled upon a YouTube performance of Gymnopédie No. 1, a celebrated composition by Erik Satie.

"The Gymnopaedia in ancient Sparta was a yearly celebration during which naked youths displayed their athletic and martial skills through the medium of war dancing.  The custom was introduced in 668 BC concurrently with the introduction of naked athletics."

Charles became friends with Frederick whom I coincidentally knew from the Health Club of the Château Laurier Hotel where we both regularly swam and afterwards enjoyed the steam bath. By further coincidence Frederick frequently went scuba diving in the Caribbean with Henry (one of the older members of our crowd). What is astonishing about that detail is that Henry was the father of Martha whom I had briefly dated while in my last year at Glendon Hall and for the summer thereafter. Martha however had much greater social ambitions than I could ever satisfy.  I believe her first marriage was to the son of the owner of Freiman's Department Store (later the Hudson's Bay on Rideau Street in Ottawa), the basement of which I knew primarily as the finest resort for malted milkshakes.

Henry occasionally invited our group for "Pimm's on the Patio" at his residence in the Village of Rockcliffe Park. Henry always managed to make everything grand (as one might expect of a member of the Privy Council). Reportedly his mother had her own train car which she hitched when traveling to the United States. When I once met Henry coming out of a gymnasium and offered him a ride in my new automobile, his comment upon ascending into it was, "Well, you don't have to ask if you're circumcised!" It was undoubtedly the red velour upholstery which convulsed him.

This seeming outlandish association was to become even more zany. At the time I was articling at Macdonald, Affleck, 100 Sparks Street in Ottawa.  My annual salary was $4,000.  In view of that Harvey's hamburger emporium was then my idea of dining out; and I willingly preserved my law school introduction to beer as a restorative.  My normal drinking hole was a subterranean dive beneath the Lord Elgin Hotel.  Upstairs on the main floor adjacent the lobby was a far more elegant bar and lounge with a piano player. One evening when feeling inquisitive I wandered into the lounge and met a distinguished gentleman named Doug at the bar. One drink led to another and early the next morning we ended back at his nearby apartment. There he called a black telephone number for a taxi and arranged to have the driver deliver another bottle of whiskey. The next morning was naturally cloudy.  It was a Sunday and I recalled that I was expected for Sunday luncheon at my parents' house in the west end of Ottawa. When I called my mother to beg off she asked (with her usual curiosity) where I was.  Thinking she could not possibly care I answered the truth and told her I was with Doug - whom she instantly recalled as the person with whom she had only recently dined with other friends in her neighbourhood.  Naturally I denied that they were one and the same person. But when I related the account to Doug, he squawked, "You're her son!" It turns out Doug (who had a PhD in entomology) was a highly qualified adviser to the Head of the Department where he and his principal worked and with whom my mother and father were friendly.

Through Doug my cronies and I were subsequently introduced to "Uncle Louis" who was a retired Queen's Counsel, Member of the Order of Canada, former naval officer and Chairman of the Tariff Board of Canada. I jokingly quipped that the only organ Louis possessed that still worked was the one in his bedroom.  It was a large, oak-cased pedal organ with two keyboards and real pipes. Between refreshments (or, as Louis used to say, when "going to check the children" - i.e., void one's bladder) I sat at the organ for my personal amusement.  Following Louis' death I was offered the chance to buy the organ at a reasonable price by his Executor (also a friend of mine) but I declined because at the time I owned a Steinway grand piano and the organ was in any event too large for most venues. Louis' greatest legacy to me however was his use of language. Once for example when he was dining with me in Almonte I mentioned to him that the Steinway should be relocated to another position in the drawing room.  Louis immediately agreed and championed the move!  To which I replied, "Me and whose army?"; to which he retorted, "You pusillanimous bastard! You and I!" Then to my utter amazement (granted, after yet another slurp of whiskey from our respective highballs), the two of us picked up the Steinway and moved it.  It sat in the same place unperturbed until the day the house sold.

The final person in this reminiscent tale is Ian, a former law professor at Dalhousie Law School. Ian went on to become a very successful advocate and high-level government representative.  The remarkable coincidence of these events was further insinuated by Ian's employment of Charles as an assistant for a brief period, effectively rounding the circle of friends.  Ian also became a close acquaintance of Louis and the other members of our troupe. I had originally cavorted with Ian during law school at the Piccadilly Tavern in Halifax, NS.  There Janet was among our companions. Her constant banter rendered her babbling like a television advertisement.

So where does this end?  Well, the older members - Henry, Doug and Louis - are now all dead. Charles, Frederick, Martha and Janet have fallen off the map, at least for me. My friend Ian has relocated to the South Pacific and we're still in touch. Oh, and Erik Satie, he's still around too.

No comments:

Post a Comment