Just Like That Old Time Rock and Roll

I got my first radio when I was four. My father showed me how it worked, then tuned it to a Classical radio station and marked the station on the dial with a permanent marker, so I’d always know where to find it. But within about a minute I’d discovered the local AM Rock ‘n Roll station, and there was no going back.

If you don’t recognize these, These are CHUM Charts. 1050 CHUM AM was a Toronto radio station—supposedly Canada’s first rock ‘n roll station, one of the longest running, and my first radio station.  At a certain point it became uncool to listen to CHUM AM, as the more cutting edge stuff was being played on its sister station, CHUM FM, but for several years CHUM AM was transistor radio heaven. 1050 AM was eventually put to rest in 2009 after various incarnations, but during my childhood it was something of a cultural phenomenon in Toronto, not only playing the latest hits, but also hosting concerts and other events. For many years (starting in the ’50s, long before my time) they published a free, weekly pocket-sized Top 30 list, based on Canadian record sales, airplay and listener requests—the now famous CHUM Charts.

CHUM Charts were free in record stores and other locations, including our local Five and Dime that had a wall of 45s for sale (I’m not going to explain what those are for the young’un’s… you can look it up). I was obsessed with CHUM Charts. Every Saturday I couldn’t wait to head down to the store, not to spend my allowance on candy, like my brothers, but to get the latest CHUM Chart, hot off the presses. It somehow seemed really important to know that, for the week of June 22, 1974, the number one song was “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero” by Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods.

Apparently, my musical trivia collection/obsession awarded me the status of some kind of Super Star:

I vaguely recall getting this button at an event at the C.N.E., some kind of contest or something, but I have no idea now what I did to get it, or why it has my zodiac sign on it. I wasn’t just any Super Star—I was a Cancerian Super Star. Huh…

Maybe I was…while I can’t remember my own postal code now, I can still remember all the lyrics to all the songs in these charts. Even some I really should forget.

Endorsed by Sterling Cooper

My parents didn’t drink at all, but they were obliged to entertain, so they had a well-stocked bar.

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At some point it seems there was something of a Mad Men vibe going on. I don’t know where they got this corkscrew, or when, or how. It’s not really their style. Even as a young child I found it unsettlingly sexist—without quite knowing what sexism was— and yet amusing. I can only imagine the bad puns that went sailing over my naive little head. I now own this corkscrew. Is that bad? I don’t know if  this thing is awesome or aweful. Or awefulsome.

Puzzle Rings: The Finale

The optimists have spoken in my puzzle ring poll, so I took up the challenge and attempted the puzzle ring. The results: I’ve still got it. Take that, younger self! (Details below, if you want the solution.) Sorry to disappoint the 25% of you who were rooting for my cognitive decline.

I also did some digging about the puzzle ring’s history (no, I didn’t look for the solution online). There are various theories about the puzzle ring’s origins, but they appear in a lot of cultures, dating back centuries. They were often used as wedding rings; they were meant to ensure that the couple stayed together, because the wearer couldn’t take the ring off without it falling apart, or they symbolised the effort required to keep a relationship together, depending on who you read. One widely circulated (and rather cynical) tale says that a Turkish nobleman gave one to his betrothed to ensure she didn’t stray, because she’d have to take the ring off to cheat, and he hadn’t given her the solution to the puzzle.

All three of my rings, while different in style, are based on the same basic 4-ring puzzle. You can get them in 6- , 7- and even 12-ring puzzles. If your ring looks vaguely like mine, here’s a step-by-step guide to assembling it:

Step 1: Remove the mummified tape that’s been holding it together since the first incarnation of Starsky & Hutch:

Step 2: Drop it on the table so there’s no hope of cheating. It will now look like this:

Step 3: Locate the two rings that are roughly the same shape. They’ll be sort-of “V” shaped, but one will be slightly smaller than the other. These rings will be opposite one another if you spread out the four rings. Align the two “V”s so that the smaller one nestles in the larger one, with the other two rings hanging between them:

Step 4: Try to hold them as above without dropping them and having to start all over.

Step 5: Of the two remaining rings, locate the one with the bumps (the other remaining one will be smooth). Turn the bumpy one sideways so it aligns with and encloses the V’s:

You may have to experiment to find out whether to twist it clockwise or counter-clockwise – that will depend on the next step.

Step 6: Twist the last ring so it fits into the groove in the previous ring. They should fit together neatly. If they don’t, try twisting the third ring in the opposite direction. You should get them looking like an “X”, like this:

Step 7: Drop the outside rings down. They should slide into place easily. If they don’t, you probably have to reverse the alignments of rings 3 and 4, as in Steps 5 and 6 (or even rings 1 and 2, in Step 3. Confused yet?) If you’ve done it correctly, you’ll see the completed ring appear:

TA-DA!

Oops.

Postcards from the Edge

Between the ages of 7 and 11, I spent part or all of each summer vacation involved in that social experiment known as the Family Road Trip. We started small, with a trip to Montreal; then a longer trip, with a tent-trailer, to Boston and Cape Cod; then bigger again, going across Canada in both directions, and the mother of all road trips: 8 weeks, to California and back in a big loop. I collected postcards on all these trips for souvenirs.

We stopped at all the Greatest Hits of North America: The Calgary Stampede, Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, San Francisco…but also some lesser-known attractions. The Corn Palace in Mitchel, South Dakota was a bit disappointing, as it didn’t look like a palace at all, but rather a cross between a Russian church and Honest Ed’s, only decorated with corn.

Sudbury, of course, is famous for the Big Nickel. Everyone knows the Big Nickel. But no one talks about the Big Penny. Like its real-life equivalent, no one cares about the penny.
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We drove through this tree in Sequoia National Park, California, only in a more modern car:
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The State of Utah liked to sew things onto their postcards, like tiny bags of salt from Salt Lake and the Bonneville Salt Flats, or bags of copper ore from the world’s largest copper mine.

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I’m taking their word for it that these little bags actually contain what they say they do, and not just dirt or something. Of course, you could never mail these things now, especially over a border.

Some of the places we visited were spectacular and memorable, like the National Parks. Most of the places we visited were meant to be educational, and some were not-so-memorable (such as former homes of American presidents that we knew nothing about, being Canadian). But every once in a while our parents would cave and stop somewhere that had absolutely no educational value, and no interest to them.

Like Bedrock City, South Dakota.

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Apparently it still exists, if you’re thinking of a road trip.

Results of the puzzle ring poll

So far it’s about 2:1 in favour of me taking the tape off the puzzle ring to see if I can still figure it out. I’ll post the outcome later—mainly because I’ve discovered that fabric surgical tape petrifies after a couple of decades. This could take a while.

In the meantime, I’m sure I can find something else for Show & Tell.

Challenge From My Younger Self

Does anyone remember puzzle rings?

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They’re just what they sound like. They’re rings, and they’re puzzles. They’re made of four intertwined metal pieces that, when assembled correctly, form a single ring. The ring stays put as long as it’s on your finger, but deconstructs when you remove it.

I had three puzzle rings (and somewhere, still do): a dainty, thin wire one; a more solid, smooth, silver one reminiscent of celtic tracery; and this big chunky one that felt kind of bad-ass. I bought this one in the Hobbies & Crafts building at the CNE. I was a wiz at assembling them, unlike some of my friends who couldn’t figure them out.

I wore them for a few years and then eventually retired them. As you can see, when I put them away I wrapped tape around the bases to hold them together. My younger self was pretty sure my older self would pull them out years hence and be too addle-brained to remember how to assemble them.

I’m thinking of throwing caution to the wind and taking the tape off. What do you think? I think I’ll take it to the polls:

Home Sweet Home

This is a piece of 19th Century wallpaper, made in England, that I found in the most unlikely place.

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It’s a bit of a long story.

When I was 18, my cousin Corry talked me into going out to British Columbia for the summer. She’d moved there from Toronto a few years previously and was working as a cook in a lumber camp in the B.C. Interior. She was house-sitting at a little place on a mountain outside of William’s Lake, for a family that was away working with a travelling circus (for real). They had a pony that they left behind, so we’d take care of the pony, and I could find a job in town. We didn’t have a car, and it was a long, hot walk down the mountain into town. As I was only 18, I wasn’t old enough to work in bars, and the only other jobs were at fast food restaurants. After two hideous weeks working at a Dairy Queen for a man who ripped off his employees, I quit my job, Corry quit hers, and we spent the rest of the summer exploring.

Corry had a friend named Mike who was a prospector. Not the fancy kind that works for mining companies—a genuine old-fashioned prospector who supported himself by panning for gold. Mike knew the locations of old mining sites from the Cariboo Gold Rush (1860s). They were remote, only accessible by foot, but still had lots of gold in their rivers. Some of these sites still had old buildings and sluices and such. After Corry and I quit our jobs, Mike said he was going to take us to some ghost towns.

I’d been to Barkerville, which is a touristed-up gold rush ghost town near Quesnel. An interesting place, especially if you’re interested in Canadian history, but a tourist attraction nonetheless. It had Can-Can girls, a fake pan-for-gold attraction, and the requisite Olde Tyme Candy Shoppe. Mike’s ghost towns were authentic, abandoned settlements in remote locations unlikely ever to attract tourists, or in some cases any humanity at all. We drove for miles and then got out and hiked a few more. No sign of civilization anywhere. We followed a river until we came upon an old abandoned mill. It was here that Mike taught me how to pan for gold, for real, and I actually found a few flakes. (It was also here that I dropped my camera in a river, which is why the quality of my pictures is terrible.)

Then we continued on to one of his “ghost towns.” Following the river, we eventually came to a clearing where there was a group of several log buildings in various states of decomposition.

Apparently the gold really was at the end of a rainbow…

Closer to the woods were several other tiny log cabins that were in better shape, being slightly less exposed to the elements.

These cabins dated from the 1860s Gold Rush. On the door post of one of these cabins was pinned a note—it was written in the early 1970s by a man who explained that he had squatted in this cabin during the Depression, and had come back to visit several decades later. He may in fact have been the last person to visit this place until Mike discovered it.

Nearby the squatter’s cabin was another cabin, no more than about 6′ x 8′. Dark, cramped, with a dirt floor…

…and imported, flowered, gilt wallpaper.

Some patches had peeled off, particularly near the absent door, although most of it was intact. A few scraps littered the floor, and I couldn’t help taking one. I wish I could have taken a picture inside the cabin, but I didn’t have a flash. It was the most inconguous thing I’d ever seen. This was the roughest hardscrabble home one could imagine, and someone had attempted to civilize it with gold and silver, likely expensive, imported wallpaper. It reminded me of the Journals of Susanna Moodie—the part where she describes rather hopelessly trying to preserve her fine English bone china in the wilderness.

Maybe this miner had a wife he was trying to make comfortable. Or maybe he was a British gentleman sent to the colonies to make his fortune, and homesick for his previous life, or in need of motivation to suffer the harsh northern winters. Or maybe he just had an ironic sense of humour. (I say “he” because the miners were invariably men, but there’s always the chance a woman lived here, perhaps as a cook, or maybe an industrious madame setting up a one-woman brothel. Having since visited other abandoned mining towns, I am aware this is a possibility.)

I have no idea where these cabins are now, or if they’re still standing. I hope so. I also hope Mike is still panning for gold.

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Groovy Hippie Social Experiments

Here’s another curious item handed out on the street to an unsuspecting child (me).

It’s a Rochdale College Dollar (or Buck, or…nameless unit of non-currency for anti-capitalist folks who didn’t believe in money…oh heck, I have no idea what you’d call it).

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Rochdale College (1968-1975) was an experimental co-operative residence on the edge of the University of Toronto, established around the time that the now chi-chi nearby Yorkville was known as “Hippieville.” The College’s communal living spaces were known as “ashrams.” It was the kind of place that my straight-laced parents walked by very quickly (but not quickly enough to avoid having their kids handed fake dollar bills promoting the place).

This Rochdale currency just says “One.” One what? Dunno…but it says it is “negotiable for cooperative services,” so any attempt to quantify its “value” would be negated by its non-absolute nature. It’s anti-currency. Also, it has two different serial numbers.

Rochdale became a hotbed of counter-culture, free-thinking experimentation, and of course, drugs (if you look closely, there are pot leaves on the back of the bill).

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Rochdale’s demise has been blamed on a combination of an out-of-control drug scene and bankruptcy due to residents who didn’t pay their rent.

Since they printed their own money—with an attractive marijuana border—that had no actual monetary value,  you could probably have seen that coming.

Vegas Marketing

Souvenir of Las Vegas, circa…quite a while ago.

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This tiny plastic slot machine was from Bud’s Liquor & Gifts, Las Vegas. I know this because it’s branded on the bottom. When I was about 10 or so, on a family vacation where we briefly passed through Vegas, just to see what the fuss was about, this slot machine was handed to me by a man outside Bud’s Liquor & Gifts on the strip—perhaps it was Bud himself, although I’ll never know, as I wasn’t actually allowed into Bud’s Liquor & Gifts, due to my minor status.

This was from the era before Vegas was a “Family” destination. All the current Disneyish/Fantasyland hotels didn’t exist. Children were not allowed in casinos or anything with gambling (Bud’s Liquor & Gifts also conveniently had slot machines, as did pretty much every business in town). There was a line painted on the sidewalk outside of venues that children weren’t allowed to cross. Of course my brothers and I tested it a couple of times. The results were rather scary. Guys like Bud (or whoever he was) turned mean if you crossed that line.

But the kiddie ban didn’t stop industrious types like Bud from handing out toy slot machines to possible future patrons, or turning children into mini-marketers. “Tell your parents,” he hissed, as he handed me the toy slot machine. Creepy. The slot machine WAS fun to play with, but I definitely didn’t tell my parents they should go into Bud’s Liquor & Gifts. And I’ve never gone back to Vegas.

Mystery washed ashore

Here’s an item from the childhood treasure box that has been a mystery most of my life:

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It’s a stone with a hole in it. I picked it up on a beach somewhere (I don’t remember where), so it became part of my sea glass collection (see my post about sea glass). The hole is perfectly symmetrical. While the stone looks like it was subject to erosion, and I’ve seen sea shells with holes in them, the hole in this stone is too perfect and looks man-made rather than nature-made. But nature IS capable of symmetry, so I’m stymied.  What the heck is this, and how was it formed?

The Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore says that pebbles with holes in them protect against witchcraft. Good to know…but I still want to know how it was formed.