Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

More From the Newspaperboy III

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Growing up in metropolises like New York, London, Chicago, Toronto, Los Angeles, Houston or Sydney is more challenging than maturing in a small town. But prowling the streets of a little city like North Bay offers the lessons of gotham without the concomitant perils.

Boy_SmokingAnd my times were different. Downtown dangers were not as brutal as in the Big City. There were plenty of guns in town, but they all huddled at home greased up for hunting season. Get into a scrape and the cop kicked your butt – hard. If a shop owner caught you shoplifting, he or she slapped you silly and then the cop kicked your butt – hard. If you got into enough of these, you were dragged home – dragged – and the cop kicked your butt – hard – before you got a licking from your parents.

But the things that went on in the alleys behind Main Street were a microcosm of – they just didn’t happen as often as —  what occurred in the after-dark recesses of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tijuana. It was exciting and exhilarating for a nine- and 10-year-old kid running loose along these streets. Billy Larochelle and I used to get free gawdawful soup to warm us up during sub-zero midwinter from the elderly Chinese couple that ran a sleazy and smell-of-vomit restaurant on Oak Street, North Bay’s slums draped around the edges of the Canadian Pacific Railroad station that was just a block and a half off Main Street..

I have no idea what kind of soup it was. I didn’t even like soup, and I never asked because it probably would have made me sick. The chairs and stools in that place were stickier than the floor with grease, grime and layers of dirt. But the old couple were as comforting as their lumpy soup was tasty as we sipped it slowly to let the freeze leave our fingers while the frost on the window kept the dark outside. Keep in mind, the winter sun goes down real early that far north.

One summer afternoon I heard a muffled boom from the CPR station and ran down when I saw some smoke coming out of everywhere. When I got there, I saw the men’s washroom smelled odd and looked like it had been stepped on, so I poked myself in. There was blood, bone and gore splashed all along the walls and packed solidly into the corners and crevices that worked their way up to the ceiling. I was the first person on the scene, which earned me a hard kick in the butt by cop who got there right after me.

I read in the paper the next day, a guy had sat down on a toilet, lighted a stick of dynamite and held it to his chest to blow the top half of himself all over the walls and ceiling. His bottom half was still left sitting on the can. I saw his boots sticking out under the battered bottom of the toilet stall.

That was exciting.

In the alley beside the Chinese couple’s restaurant, I watched Big Mary put on a show one evening. Her name was Mary Commanda and she was a large – over six feet six inches – raw boned Indian who just drank a lot. She could have been 20, 30, 40 or 50, had a gravel voice that was unmistakably hers and a glistening heart of gold. She always told me that if she ever got money to buy a paper, she’d buy it from me.  One late afternoon, during the beer-parlor closing hour, she was seated against a wall beside a pile of garbage behind the Chinese couple’s restaurant and using a beer bottle as a dildo while laughing raucously and merrily challenging any and all of the bums around her if they could match that.

That was funny.

There was the time we were almost on site when a guy we knew – everybody knew everybody in the Bay — pulled off something I could never have done. He was a clerk of some sort (timekeeper, I think) with the CPR and was walking through the morass of tracks when his boot got stuck in one of the frogs (a frog is an X-shaped chunk of rail that’s used in switching yards). As is always going on, locomotives were shunting tanker, freight and flat cars here, there and everywhere to assemble them into trains heading to the proper destinations. And a couple of the multi-ton cars had been shunted right at this guy. All he could do was lean over and let the loose-running freight cars run over his ankle and amputate his foot.

We – co-newspaperboy Eddie Walker and I – didn’t see that nor did we hear him scream but we did see him being carried to safety. His face was a white color I hadn’t seen before.

That was chilling.

 – 30 –

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Written by Cecil Scaglione

March 14, 2015 at 10:33 pm

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