Wednesday, October 12, 2011


It's funny what we remember from our childhoods. So much happens and most of it we don't realize until much later the role that it plays in our future. We aren't savvy enough at that age to take in all that information. Cartoons are just cartoons. Sports are just sports. Wounds are just bumps that heal. But as we grow older and reflect on it, we realize that those hobbies, incidents and experiences mold, shape and transform us in ways we may come to understand. Sometimes we never do. Other times, it all starts to make some sort of sense to us.

  When I was younger bowling was always a big part of my life. Every Saturday morning we would go to the big bowling alley, The Recreotech,  which was ten minutes from my house and bowl in a league. For years we did that. Then we would go to McDonald's just across the street for lunch. At that time McDonalds was in its heyday. You always felt lucky to get to eat out there. It didn't matter that the actual food was terrible and very bad for you. As kids, it was the place you wanted to be.  
When lunch was done it was then home to watch American Bandstand and professional bowling on ABC. There was no MTV or All Sports channels in those days, so it was a major treat to get to see the big name stars and professional sports you otherwise would never get to see. My first viewing of major acts like The Bee Gees, Johnny Rivers, Andy Gibb and many more was on American Bandstand.

I guess it was the time when kids did that sort of thing. We didn't have video games or the internet to play with. The closest thing you had was Pong in the bowling alley. Other than cartoons, there wasn't much to keep you busy around the house.  You always made sure to never miss a show like that. You could go play with your friends later. You had to see American Bandstand and bowling, or baseball if it was summer.

In addition, my dad had been a professional bowler about 15 years previously, so there were always pictures and trophies everywhere around the house. At some point though my dad stopped bowling altogether. I had never even seen him bowl once or at the alley when I went. My mother was always the one to pick me up or drop me off. I remember a few times when he did pick us up over the years, but he always dropped us off  or waited outside the alley and never went in.

When I was young, it was a family ritual to go to a place called Grossinger's in the Catskill mountains of Central New York. We went every year or two for a week. It was where all the Jewish families went for vacation. There was lots to do there, but after the fourth or fifth day you got tired of the doing same old thing. You can only play Simon Says and take swim lessons so many times. Ping Pong gets boring after a while too. They did have the biggest swimming pool and dining room I have ever been in.  
One year in the Catskills my father and I went bowling to a small out of the way alley in the middle of nowhere in a town called Jefferson that barely anyone would notice. It was the first time I ever remember bowling with my dad. We always played catch and baseball together, hundreds of times from the time I was old enough to pick up a glove, but I had never seen him bowl. At that point even then I could see how great he was at it--still--after all those years. I was pretty good myself but I had never bowled with anyone that could bowl like he could.
One day a few years later, when we were back in Montreal, for some reason, the whole family decided to go bowling. Other than going out for dinner, or to major events like weddings and bar mitzvahs, the family rarely did anything together.  My dad was a workaholic so there was rarely time to do those types of things. This particular time though my father came with us and it was at night and not in the morning. He didn't want to actually bowl. I never really understood that, but I guess he had some sort of bad memories about it. In hindsight I suspect he resented that he had to give up that life when he married my mother, so he completely abstained from playing.

This one time though, after a while, for some reason, he decided to bowl a game with us. My dad was a good guy, easy going guy, but he did have a temper and you didn't want to be on the wrong side of that. When he got that way, you could see the fire and anger in his eyes.  It was scary. I inherited that from him, and I have had many women I know tell me when they see that look in my eyes it scares them. I know the look, so I understand what they are saying.
Being a former professional bowler, he knew bowler etiquette. Even in the league on Saturday mornings we knew that. But on a casual Sunday night not everyone followed the courtesy. I remember that we were next to two teenage boys who were not very bright and a bit arrogant. As my dad was in position to bowl one of them got up and just took his turn, thereby distracting him. This pissed my dad off, but he let it go. They did it a second time. He was angry, but he was with his family so he let it go again. The third time, my dad went to bowl, when they got in his way, he made his shot then veered his body into one of them and collided and knocked the kid over. One of the kids was about to say something when he got up, but he looked at my dad and thought the better of it. That was a very wise move.
You didn't want to mess with my father. He was a very tough customer and would never back down. I remember one time when we were going to a crowded mall and there were very few parking spots. My dad found one and was waiting for a guy to pull out. As he did, my father prepared to back in because he always liked to back in. As a kid, one of my most vivid memories was the red tail lights backing into the opening garage which was just below my bedroom. Our two dogs would run into my bedroom then would hear the engine shut off and tear off downstairs to greet my dad.  My dad was habitual about always backing into a parking spot. I don't recall one instance in my life when he went in forward.
Just as he was about to back in another guy just decided to steal the spot and drove right in. My dad was fuming. I saw that look in his eyes. So did my mother. For whatever reason I don't recall my sister being in the car, so it was just us three. He went and found another spot and then we got out of the car. My mother sensed what was going to happen next and told him not to do it. He was going to do it. To this day, that guy that stole my fathers parking spot will never know how lucky he was to get out alive. My dad was not above searching that guy out and beating him to within an inch of his life. He was literally steps from the guy when my mother convinced him not to hurt him.
As we move from being a young child into becoming teenagers we learn and grow. The biggest part of that is moving from elementary school to high school. The friends we had in Elementary school are not, for the most part, the ones we will have once we start high school. That was very true for me, but for reasons that are very different than most.
In 1977, for many reasons, my family decided to move from Montreal, where I was born and had always lived, to Ontario, and more specifically Toronto. My mother was from Ontario and many of my relatives from her side of the family lived in Toronto. Her brother--my uncle--and my cousins, who we visited at least once a year lived there.

Times and life had been tough in the last couple of years in Montreal, so we basically left Montreal with nothing. Our timing was not good because Toronto at the time was becoming an expensive place to live. One weekend we came from Montreal and started looking for a place to live. However it became clear that we could not afford to move to Toronto at that point. It was the dead of winter and a very cold late November day. I remember that for other reasons, but I do remember slipping on ice as we went to house after house. It was also about -40 degrees out there. It was not a pleasant or fun day. We expanded our search and ended up finding a place in Burlington, which is about an hour from Toronto.
In March of 1978 we made the move to Burlington and I started school there.

I made friends there, as I always could make friends anywhere. My sister had a much tougher time. Although I made friends, I just didn't really like the type of kids I met in Burlington. Being Jewish, we were very much different from the waspy type of people we met there. I had not really come across this type of culture growing up in my little isolated section of Montreal. We just didn't fit in and we knew it. It wasn't the worst time in my life, and as always I do have some happy memories, but mostly it was forgettable and I was glad that it was only a year and a bit that we lived there. Part of the reason we picked the housing complex we did was that my cousin Debbie, who we knew very well from Montreal, and her family lived in that complex. At least we had someone familiar to associate with. That probably got my mother through that year. It was a very tough year for various reasons.
One of my most vivid memories of Burlington was going bowling one summer day with my cousins. Kids in Burlington had an arrogance about them. There were always many fights in the schoolyard and even in baseball league a friendly game was never friendly. On that day, when we bowled, somehow some older kids decided to bully us. We were about 12 or 13 and they were 16 or 17 and they were much bigger than us. We just let it slide and didn't fight back. We had our own bowling balls, and they took them and would not give them back. They began to walk away and we noticed what direction they went. A few minutes later my dad came to pick us up. He asked us where our balls were and we told him what happened. He immediately drove in the direction of those kids. They were walking down the side of the road and he pulled the car up beside them. He got out and they still had that arrogant attitude. That was until they looked in the car and saw us. I don't know exactly what was said, but I know those kids were scared shitless. They cowered in his presence and were obviously very scared. I did hear one thing though. My dad told them that if he ever saw them again,  and they ever did anything like this again, he would hunt them down and kill them. And...he meant it. He would do it. When you say stuff like that, you better look like you mean it and would actually do it, and he was good on both counts there.
That was the kind of person he was. You never messed with him and if you did you would regret it. I never did mess with him, I was smart enough to know better. Others weren't so fortunate. But that is a story for another time.

I remember two other incidents when I was young. My dad came to own and operate a bakery and one day he was being robbed. He told the robber he would not give him the money. The robber pulled a gun, and my dad dared him to shoot. The robber would not and was stunned at my fathers attitude.  Of course it was stupid of my dad to act that way. But that was him.
A second memory is of my dad and a restaurant/bar he owned and operated.  Again, the place was being robbed.  My dad was in the back, and when he came to the front he had found that they had just been robbed. He went out, unarmed, and chased the robber who had a gun.

By late 1978 our lives seemed back on track and we had saved up enough money in 1979 to buy a house in Toronto, and more specifically, Thornhill. Thornhill was basically a suburb on the fringes of Toronto to the North. Toronto was rapidly expanding and this was the new area to grow. It was a new neighborhood, just being built and somewhat cheaper than the rest of Toronto. Every night my father and I would head from Burlington to Toronto to work on the house, which was brand new. We pretty much built the basement from scratch.
Come spring it was time to move. I had gone away for the summer to stay with some relatives, so I arrived back in Toronto just a week before school was to start. New school, fresh start. I made a few friends on the street I lived on,  but none were actually my age and those friendships didn't endure more than a few months.
Being new to the neighborhood, I knew no one. Other than my cousins who lived about 10 minutes away, I really did not know any young people at all. In Montreal I knew every kid on my street, and for many years. I had been in every one of their houses, many times. I knew their parents. My parents knew their parents. This was all new to us. A fresh start, but also a large task to start all over again.
I attended Thornlea Secondary School and made many new friends right away. To this day, 4 or 5 of them are still close friends. We may not speak often or see each other that much, but we are still very good friends. I did make one friend, however, who was a bit different than the rest.

In our lives, we all have a friend who does and says things that are out of our element. Sean Abramsky was just such a friend for me. Despite all we went through, he is still one friend I know to this day. Many of my other friends who were in our circle have distanced themselves from him. I never did. However he tested that on many occasions.
The following story is about just such an occasion.
By the time this tale begins, it is 1982 and we are now in grade 11. Most of us have our drivers licenses. However, not many of us had our own cars. Sean did. His dad had a big blue Lincoln Continental, the kind you used to see in Florida all the time. The kind they don't make anymore. His dad was also sort of bedridden, and when he wasn't, he was glued to the living room sofa. He was overweight and unhealthy. This meant we had 24/7 access to his dads car.

As I came to learn when I was older, Sean had a personality disorder. He had to always be the center of attention due to his insecurity issues. This meant overeating, excessive drinking, some drug use and manic behavior sometimes resulting in rude and outrageous public outbursts. I remember many times when we would cruise down Yonge Street, which all teenagers did in those days, when he had to honk at every sexy girl or girls that we drove by. That was a bit rude, but it was tolerable. He was also the life of the party and liked to show off.  

Having a father who had issues as well, I recognized another one of Sean's traits. He was a pathological liar. Some of the lies were so outrageous that he couldn't maintain them, and many of my friends disowned him and would never hang around him after high school because of it.
One in particular, where he claimed to be related to a very famous and rich family came back on him when the head of that family died and there was a huge funeral. One of my other friends--who was close with him at the time--suggested they go to the funeral. That funeral was very private, for only family and friends, and when he tried to maintain the lie and his bluff was called he was outed. That was the last day my friend ever spoke to Sean. I was not involved in all that, but I know of the story and it was not out of line with how he acted.

Sean did the type of thing that would get him beaten up by my father. At some point that was likely to happen to him.

A common thing for me and my friends to do on a Friday or Saturday night was to go to moonlight bowling. The alley would be dark and the pins would be lit up, and you would bowl for two hours for a very low price. If the seven pin was red and you made a strike you got to bowl the whole night for free.  We did this often. We would all go, my whole circle of 4 or 5 friends, and by this time, some girls as well. Sean was always part of that. 
However this one time, Sean and I went by ourselves. He was in usual form this time. Being extra loud, and arrogant and to some extent rude. We bowled that night without incident, but Sean decided to hit on some girls who were with three other guys. He was just plain stupid like that sometimes. But when we got out to the parking lot, those guys were waiting for us. Somehow we managed to get in his car without incident, but as we pulled out of the parking lot we saw them. If Sean had just behaved, it probably would have ended there, but of course he didn't behave and it didn't end there. They began to approach the car, and Sean made like he was going to stop, then just as we got near them, he floored it, hit the horn and mocked them, gave them the finger,and then drove away. In 99% of the cases, this would have been the end of it. But for whatever reason, these kids were like my dad. They weren't going to leave it be.
As we got a block down the road I noticed they were following us. Sean began to get nervous.  I told him to speed up. He did. So did they. They chased us at high speed for about 5 minutes. Sean was getting more nervous. Finally, we hit a red light, and they caught up.  They pulled up along side of us. At this point we realized how serious these guys actually were. One of them rolled down the window and flashed a big shiny knife at us. Just at that moment, the light turned green and Sean floored it again. They followed. They were laughing and had a crazed silly look on their face, like Jack Nicholson did in The Shining. 

We hit another red light but there was less traffic at this one. I told him to go through the light and just keep going.  He did. So did they. By this point we were now in a neighborhood we didn't know and it was isolated and dark. They managed to steer us towards a side street with an entrance and no exit. We were now cornered. They parked their car at the exit back out to the main street and got out of the car. As they began to approach it appeared they meant business.
They all had big shiny knives and were coming right for us. Sean had no idea what to do. He had finally done it. His outrageous behavior had put him and myself in serious danger. These kids were like my dad. They seemed the type that would and could have killed us.  

I had seen this all before, many times in my youth,  as I described earlier. There is only one way to deal with people that won't back down. Attack them and don't let up. Kill or be killed. Those are your choices when you are faced with such a situation.
Sean had kept the car running. They were now about 50 feet from us,  knives out and coming right towards us. They had bravado and no concern for what they might do. I had seen that look, many times before in my fathers eyes. Sean never had.
"What do we do?" Sean screamed in a panic.
As always,  having been there and done that many times before already at my young age of 17, I told him to floor it and right at them.  No matter what, don't stop! If they want to die, they will die. I was not going to let a bunch of out of control punks take my life away for some idiot thing my now out of control friend had gotten me into. I would deal with him later on the way home.  For now, we were in survival mode.
These punks had to know that we would run them over. If they wouldn't respect that, then run them over we would have to do.
Sean was so scared and panicked, he did what I told him to. I don't think these kids had ever encountered anyone like me, like my dad, who would call their bluff and make them back down. We were now ten feet from them,  about to run them over and maybe kill them. Still, they would not jump out of the way. In this game of chicken, they were going to pay the ultimate price. I didn't care. If they wanted a gun fight to the death, it was going to be them who died. Not me.
At the very last second,  Sean veered right and they jumped left. If they had jumped right they would have been run over. 

In a split second, we were now back on the main road and had about 30 seconds head start on them. They got back in their car and began to chase us. I knew we were getting closer to the main part of town again and I told Sean not to get off the main road. If they cornered us again, they were likely to use their car to box us in completely. The car was the only weapon we had.  They had the knives, we did not.
They had almost caught up to us again, but now there were two police cars on the other side of the road. One kid smiled,  gave me the finger and then they drove off.  They must have had criminal records and figured it was time to give up.
It was 10 minutes drive back to my house. It was a quiet drive. I didn't say anything to Sean and he just kept his big mouth shut this time. We were just about 20 seconds from my house when I told him to pull over and shut the engine off.  He did.
I explained the facts of life to him. I told him the next time he ever did that, I better not be in the car with him. Or out with him.  If he wanted to risk his own life that was his business. I was not my father. I am brave, but I am not stupid. I don't go chasing robbers with loaded guns, and I don't start trouble with hoods that carry knives unless I have a gun to kill them with. I explained how if he did that, he better hope the kids kill him next time, because if they didn't...I would.
Sean and I have now been friends for going on another 30 years, and while he still lies and causes small amounts of trouble,  he matured and grew out of that extreme behavior. I have never had a problem with him after that day. My father never grew out of that and was in trouble until the day he died.
Sean and I were just lucky that day that we didn't die. If those kids had been carrying guns instead of knives, I might not be writing this tale to you now.

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