Thursday, July 17, 2014

BITING OFF MORE THAN THEY CAN REPAIR

EXAGGERATING THE PROBLEM

I have a marvelous bit of news. The Royal York underpass at Dundas, which has been under repair since Noah's time, seems to be finished.
There are still cones and signs and bits of construction garbage here and there but there is a good chance that it's done.
I wish I could say the same for the underpass on Eglinton just east of Weston Rd. which has had the same confusing restrictions for as long as the Royal York affair but I suspect has been under repair longer.
I spotted a construction truck there the other day and some lounging workers but it's hard to tell if they were actually supposed to be there or had just drifted in some other road repair because they could hide out of the sun.
There is nothing unique about these two projects. There are thousands of other examples throughout North America of perennial road repairs where after a decade or two, you kind of just accept them as part of the scenery.
There are almost as many ghost repairs. You know, traffic is merged into one lane and the marker cones stretch off to infinity like some art school lesson. Bulldozer are clumped together with other equipment as if they're having a picnic except there is not a worker to be seen.
Gee,  you wonder, did the company go broke, or did the workers get lost wandering from repair to repair without a GPS to guide them, or do they work for some brief hour, such as 3 a.m, just to keep the machinery tuned.
Believe it or not, I have a message buried somewhere inside the frustration and the anger at the fact that our governments, whether municipal, state or provincial, seem to allow the road construction companies to play them for fools just like the poor homeowner who hires a contractor and find he only shows up one day a week because he has five or six other projects on the go at the same time.
I was pondering this the other day near Peterborough where all the traffic had been merged into one lane for ten kilometres or so and then I came across a couple of pieces of equipment with the workers yarning inside. I had to applaud their chutzpah. Why not shut down as much of Highway 7 as you figure you can get away without a rebellion even if you don't intend to work on parts for days.
Just who is paying attention to this? If there actually are officials in Toronto or the counties or with the province who are supposed to ensure a quick and efficient use of road closures and narrowings for repairs, they should be disciplined or fired or reinforced because the companies take their own sweet time and to hell with motorists.
Shouldn't there be performance clauses built into the contracts, that if some outfit wins the deal to repair the Royal York underpass, for example, the work must be finished in our lifetime.
I am not talking here of the horrendous examples of major construction projects that went crazy, like the Big Dig in Boston, but simple renewal of infrastructure that drags for more than a year, if you're lucky.
There has always been a notorious laxness in supervision of road crews. My newspaper proved that one morning. We rented some rudimentary equipment and scraped away at Yonge St. south of King, closing more than a lane with our sawhorses.  And then we went away, unchallenged.
City officials were furious the next day when we printed the story and demonstrated there is a form of anarchy out there.
 I suspect though that someone might have noticed if we had been there for weeks and not just hours like all the other work crews on our streets. But then again, maybe not!

Monday, July 14, 2014

DISCONNECTING TELEMARKETERS


REDUCING LIFE'S HASSLES

Several times a week around supper, we get the call from the duct cleaning company.
Always the same company, I think, but the call is so inarticulate, it's hard to tell.
I've tried every tactic. Hanging up. Cursing. Asking for the caller to wait while I turn on the tape. Demanding a name. Asking for the company's name to be repeated. Saying I don't have ducts.
Of course I point out that I am on the Do Not Call list but that makes no impact at all. No telemarketer pays any attention to that or of me threatening to report them or sue.
I get angry because this inane solicitor always takes a few minutes no matter what my tactic. If I just hang up, he or she call again within a few minutes or the next day.
My son Mark gets exasperated at my anger, pointing out that the call probably originates in some third-world call centre where the staff have minimal language skills to match their unconcern with Canadian law.
I dislike my Bell bill so much that I hate to resort to caller identification to block the telemarketers.
And just look at all the exceptions that the feds let wiggle through the Do Not Call screen.
I may be a journalist who made most of my living for 50 years from newspapers but I resent circulation subscription solicitations. I am embarrassed that Ottawa kowtows to the dailies in this fashion.
Of course politicians would make an exception for political solicitation but I find the increasing calls from the parties or the candidates to be just as annoying as that duct cleaning company.
Remember when we all bought in to United Appeal to reduce the charity pitches. I should say that most of us did until the Catholics broke ranks and then some of fhe big charities did too, including my favourite, darn it, the Sally Ann.
As someone who has never bought anything over the phone, and never given money to a charitable organization as the result of a phone call, I would be happy to support any political party daring enough to include charities with newspapers and themselves as someone no longer allowed to bug us just when the climax comes in the movie.
As a commentator, I have often paid close attention to telephone surveys. I used to participate myself. I used to quote them. Not any more. The dirty secret is that many people, probably most people, hang up on the pollster, no matter how major the issue may be, so they're worthless in gauging what the public really thinks about anything, including duct cleaning companies.
I find it ironic that in an age when electronic snooping has blossomed so evilly that governments, security forces and too often even the police know all the telephone numbers that you called for the last year or two, yet the garbled duct cleaning solicitations continue despite the federal pledge of the Do Not Call list.
The way things stand, the Do Not Call promise of protection is a farce. It would be so simple to improve it but no government has the guts.
Now if you'll pardon me, I have to answer the phone. Probably the duct cleaning company because it hasn't called for a day.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

ROGERS CRUMMY SERVICE


TED ROGERS MUST BE SPINNING IN HIS GRAVE

I was one of the doubtful when the latest head of Rogers Cable talked about a better deal, a more competent relationship, with customers.
My experiences keep proving me right. Now I just had a wasted hour from hell lost in call centre gimmicks and got nowhere.
I wasn't surprised. After all, Rogers is hardly noted for its customer relations. Some of that is due to the basic nature of the cable business, I'm sure, others to the giant size of the company, but its corporate philosophy has developed rot holes.
Ironically, I live in that Royal York and Bloor neighbourhood where the first pay TV experiment in the world was conducted. Indeed, our first cable service came in over the old Telemeter lines.
And I kept bumping into Ted Rogers as he grew from running a FM station that few listened to until he became the owner of the Sun newspapers and seemed slightly puzzled that this Editor had so few checks on what he wrote. He surprised me favourably by never complaining about an editorial in which I blistered Rogers billing practices. (I would like to write that one again.)
My son Mark, who works and spends most of his time in China, arranged a giant TV as a gift, along with all the extra paraphernalia from Rogers to record programs when we have fled to the cottage. Wonderful, except there are often brief interruptions in the recorded programs even though we've taken the box back and have had servicemen come for three visits.
Despite our rocky relationship with Rogers, we decided to go to a "hub" for access to the Internet at the cottage. Mark was persuaded by a smart staffer at the Royal York and Bloor store who really knew her stuff. So he paid her $200 for the gadget,  arranged for me to pay the monthly charges, installed it at the cottage, used it for two days, and returned to China.
Then the bill arrived in his name. First there was that $2 paper invoice fee which is a ripoff that I thought Ottawa was going to ban because many of the people without computers to receive email bills are poorer seniors. (Oh yes, the fee rises to $2.26 because of HST. ) Then there was a partial monthly charge of $20 for this "rocket hub internet." Then there was a connection fee of $15 which was never mentioned before the sale. Add HST. And the total is $41.81.
But why should the son have to pay when I am using it? Especially when he did all the nuisance work in dealing with Rogers.
So I phoned and waited in an electronic queue. After a few minutes, the computer arranged for me to be called back. So 20 minutes later, I get a human, sort of.  I explained. The company was told to put the monthly hub charge on my bill which is already over $230.  Can't do it, the human said. We need your son's permission. But he's in China and won't be back for months. Doesn't matter, the automaton repeated. Over and over.
These aren't huge sums we're dealing with, but I believe dads don't stick sons with even small bills. And it's not exactly as if we're harming the son when his charge is erased. No deal, the Rogers clerk said, not even pretending to be helpful.
I asked for a supervisor. Put on hold to listen to music for 25 minute. The alleged human returns to say no supervisor available. Says call centres are down in the Maritimes and possibly the moon. Puts me on hold again. Music still atrocious. Hang up.
I have been lazy and not arranged to use the same satellite service I have at the cottage at my home too.  Guess this is the nudge, no make that the kick, that will lead eventually to my cable/satellite/cellphone bill being cut in half and Rogers being cast adrift.
The irony is that everyone knows that Rogers - and BCE for that matter - are becoming lousy investments. Their current business is changing radically as people abandon their landlines and change their viewing.
 Future generations will look back on us and companies like Rogers like we now look back at wringer washers and daily dairy deliveries and indeed at the first radio that would operate without a battery that Ted Rogers' father invented.
Now that really was an invention. These guys in 2014 are just piggybacking on other companies.
                                                                       

                                                                ......

So Mark and I exchanged two emails on this subject. Then after I failed, Mark tried from the other side of the world in Dalian, China.  Used a Mac and then a PC and 20 minutes of coping with the perplexing Rogers system and in the end all he managed to do was get it charged to his card. And he with his two degrees actually works for a giant computer company.
 "I wish this could have been simpler," he lamented. So do I. And in the end, so does Rogers because this, of course, is the way to corporate failure.

ROBBERY AT THE PUMPS


INSERT NOZZLE IN WALLET

Like many Canadians, I have been happy at the growth of oil stocks like Suncor, which is now like buying a piece of the Shield, but what I hate is pump prices so high that you contemplate having to sell  stock, or take out a second mortgage, whenever you go to fill up the car, the boat and even the mower.
All the way back to my battles with Esso PR whenever I wrote an editorial thundering out about the increase in gasoline costs even when the price of oil had plummeted, I have had a healthy suspicion that oil companies basically have two purposes -  to make money for themselves and to screw everyone else.
I have never believed any industry expert trying to explain the relationship between the cost of crude and the cost at the pump, which is also rather crude. What the market will bear is the real relationship.  I confess that I do know a tad about the subject. Nope. not the economics classes I slept through. Years ago, I actually had modest investments in this area and was lucky/smart enough to be in at the birth of Baytex but unfortunately sold long before it floated up to $50 a share.
When it comes to being taken by the gas companies, Torontonians are the chump champs.
I had just filled up near my cottage country cranny and was grumbling at it costing $50 when the regular report came over 680 News that the price of gas the next day at most city stations would be $1.38 a litre.
No wonder the service station that I had just left was so busy because the price there was .20 cents a litre cheaper.  Now that was unusually low but most of the stations that I passed on the 190 km. trip home from the cottage were eight cents to a dime cheaper than what was said to be the norm in Toronto.
Now I have complaints about that AM station. I routinely run into large jams that it never warned me about in the traffic reports "on the ones." But I am sure it doesn't get that gas price report  wrong and there is never a day when I don't routinely see gas selling cheaper outside the city than what is given as the typical price inside.
I do not want to hear from any experts burbling about why this happens. The nice thing about semi retirement, or whatever the hell this state is, is I don't have to listen to PR people, especially from oil companies.
There's a story around that the reason our gasoline prices are so high is that the oil is located in provinces like Alberta and the dipstick is in Ottawa so no one has been checking our oil lately and we've run into this crisis.
I know it's not very funny, but at least a feeble laugh is better than what we will be doing at $1.45.





Wednesday, June 18, 2014

YOU CAN GO BACK TO THAT SMALL TOWN


THE ROCKY SAUGEEN RIVER RUN THROUGH MY MEMORY

Just another town in Ontario but special in my memory.
The homes may have changed with porches and alterations but inside are friends whose faces haven't changed since school.
 At least that's the way I remembered it.
A river runs through those memories even though since I learned to swim in it, I have gone on to the great rivers, from fishing for peacock bass on the Amazon far from civilization to floating through the Yangtze gorge. Now I know the Danube is not blue and the songs of the boatmen no longer carry over the Volga.
My river is humble in comparison. Yet once it was the reason people clustered along its banks. The river gave them everything, water for drinking and a sewer and to power the mills so there would be jobs.
Now that is past. The flour mill with the best dam isn't busy. The grist mill serves fewer farmers. The woollen mill burned decades ago and its wreckage sat wrapped in weeds until it became a bit of river park.
Then there was the sawmill. Stacks of drying lumber sprawled along the bank. A patient team sleepwalked to the big factory pulling wagons of sawdust to feed boilers.
When it burned, no one rushed to rebuild because the big factory closed. Solid Canadian maple couldn’t compete against curvaceous teak and build your own shelves.
Then the yawning expanse of an old low building that had dominated the town limped through resurrections as a flea market and museum before it was demolished for the scrap.
 Its last workers never had a regular job again as their grey turned to white.  All they could afford was to fish, and all that was left in the river was rock bass.
Because of the mills, the railway came and curled around an edge of town. Twice a day the passenger train whistled as it came up from the Big Smoke and then returned a few hours later. It brought the mail and the papers, and a few visitors who had fled away to a job.
The little bridge that harrumphed over the tracks just as they made the stretch run to the station was torn down for its timbers because when the trains stopped, a level crossing was safe again no matter how worn the pickup’s brakes.
And so was the big bridge where the railway crossed the river on black stilts of girders. Foolish boys used to put their ear to a rail to see if a random freight was coming, then run to the middle on a dare, the local rite of passage.
You can saunter across now without even looking around. The rails are rusted and the station is gone. There was talk of a museum, or maybe a restaurant, but there are too many similar empty stations as the steel network that crisscrossed Ontario is hacksawed by progress.
Just a town in my memory, but I know now there are new people in old houses, and my face vanished along with the rest when the mills burned or slowed, the factories closed, and the train and factory whistles no longer divide the hours of the day better than a $34 Bulova.
My classmates are forever young because I never saw them again. I can recite names and tell of their escapades as kids but what happened next is just a guess.
And I wondered. What about  Mary, who lived just around the curve of my street, across from the station? There was no shame in the location because the jealous divisions of bigger railway towns never existed. There was no other side of the tracks.
The bigger houses, which would never be called mansions, were scattered through more modest homes, so the gracious house of one factory owner sat beside a labourer growing vegetables on his second lot . He still had a stable/garage and even an outhouse that he hadn't felt obliged to tear down when they got town water and indoor plumbing, to his wife's delight.
The town was cheerfully democratic. There were more churches than real stores but none of them had  a fancier clientele
And just one big old school. It was a real journey from the concessions, almost painfully so in winter, so they weren't there, darn it they said, when the school burned one night, and the townies who had escaped their parents' vigil cheered as shop equipment crashed through the flames.
     Fires kept changing town life. None were as big as the fabled fires that leveled blocks in the big cities, but each was a funeral pyre for our hopes.
    When we sprawled with our bikes on those endless summer afternoons, yarning after a game where there were more squabbles than runs, fires and wars took second place to the latest Ford model. Then we would talk about our buddies who were lucky enough to go to a cottage. And eventually we would get around to girls, not that we knew that much.
I confided that my girlfriend lived just across my street. My chums didn't know that Nancy never really noticed me. She seemed safe, however, and there was a tingle of tension about other girls in the class, such as Ruth with great dark eyes, Sheila with flaming cheeks, and Susan, with a forbidden air that only a pastor's daughter in a small town could have wrapped about her like the perfume from a little bottle from Kresge's.
And then there was Mary. I never dared talk about her. She was slim as a boy even as we started high school, as mysterious as a pool in the river on a wilted summer afternoon.
I was the orphan boy from around the curve, she was the lawyer's daughter, although I didn't know it was not a happy or even prosperous home, despite his profession, because he drank.
 And in the town so long ago, drinking was something the sweaty farmers' sons and young bucks from the factories did behind the pool hall where it was rumoured there were bloody fights after the black
ball was sunk in snooker games which took on all the tension of gunslingers stalking through a western.
There was a camaraderie between everyone in the class in public school that was easy to maintain when girls and boys were isolated in separate playgrounds and marched into school through separate entrances. No one strayed across the Maginot Line decreed by the principal and the trustees.
Yet puberty and the school fire arrived for all of us with equal warmth.  Our class was set adrift when the old school was destroyed and we moved to the unique setting of the council chamber in the town hall where the rows of desk were replaced with three students to each picnic table. Behind the screen of books at the front of the table, mischief flourished.
 The principal was a legendary tyrant who one day, after I made the mistake of trying to pass a note to a buddy – we never dreamed of writing to the girls - hammered me so hard with a thick razor strap that his buttons popped. Which made him madder until he glowed red.
When you entered the classroom through a ripe cloakroom, you looked at a portrait of Churchill who had a glint of mischief. It prompted giggles. But when you were making the trek in from the strap, you didn't dare giggle, not when hands stung and cheeks burned and you felt like crying, but not in front of Ruth, and Sheila and Susan.
And Mary.
There was our first class party in Grade 9 on a frigid day when we skied near the town dump and went back to Mary's for hot chocolate. Or rather they skied and I bounced down on an old sled because I couldn't afford skis. We played games, children's games, and then one girl, with a daring look at the others, suggested we play spin-the-bottle. There was a delicious pause. Mary looked around the eager circle, and then at me, and said that her father might be mad if he caught us.
 I was crushed by that look. I thought about it long into a night so chilly that frost had formed inside the bedroom window. My spirit matched the night.
My grandma tired of looking after me so I was shipped to a city school that equaled the town in population. The guys were friendly, sort of, after I played football for the school, but the girls were unfathomable. I had no history with them. And then university and work and wife and sons and the decades flew like the whirling calendar pages in a bad movie.
Then came the invitation to a class reunion. Of course I returned to the only class to which I ever felt an attachment, back to the accustomed streets. I drove every one, but now there were just strangers.
I stood on the main street bridge and searched vainly for new buildings.  But everything was as familiar as the red-winged blackbirds that whistled as they flew up from the rushes under the bridge, just as they used to when I crossed to the tiny Baptist church on the North Hill, the only "entertainment" I was allowed
That night in the Legion, a traditional gathering place in towns (but not for Baptists) we sifted and sorted memories and pretended we remembered every anecdote.
Mary came late. I had almost forgotten by then, but not quite. It was almost over when I sought her out.  She had become a nurse, she said, and married a surgeon and moved to a big state. He had been dead for years, and she was trying to find herself again.
Do you remember, she said, before the school burned, when you found out that my father wouldn't buy a Christmas tree because he didn't have enough money but he pretended instead that he really didn't believe in Christmas?
You insisted the principal give you the school tree after classes  finished for the year. He was mean and stubborn and you got flustered but you wouldn't leave and finally he gave you the tree, providing you removed the ornaments.
You dragged it up the big hill all the way to my house and left it on the porch. I borrowed some balls from a neighbour and bought some tinsel.
 I didn't remember.  And I wondered why. Are there some tales of childhood that you strive to forget because nothing finally happened?
You know I was in love with you even before the tree, Mary said. I know I never talked to you about what I found on the porch even after the others told me what had happened. I never seemed to look at you, but I loved you for years. I used to think about you after you left, and I thought of finding you when I came to the city to train. But I never did. It just got too busy.
 We stood looking at each other and wondered what might have been. And then she went away. Her ride was waiting.
Not even a kiss!
I drove back home that night, although some stayed at the old hotel that finally can serve beer. I looked down at the river, drove the street where I had lived and round the curve to Mary’s, and finally out the road south, knowing I would never be back.
 All the bittersweet clich├ęs flashed through my mind, such as you can never go home again. It’s really not true, you know. You can, but you find it not beside the river of the yearning days of boyhood but in your nostalgia.
It’s nice there, nicer than reality.

SIX DEGREES OF OLD FRIENDS


WHY WAKES ARE MORE FUN THAN JUST THE BOOZE

Spoiler Alert!
I once wrote a column like this that not only mystified some faithful readers, it prompted friends to wonder if I hadn't gone a little weird after thousands of columns.
But I do like to discover and trace the connections between strangers and did so even before I found out about the theory of Six Degrees Of Separation which is credited first to Hungarian Frigyes Karinthy in 1929.
There have been movies, a Broadway play and TV shows built around the idea, and there was even a strange offshoot tracing actors to Kevin Bacon.
Basically, you are supposed to be able to connect every person in the world through just six people. There have been attempts to prove it mathematically but I content myself with a few surprises where I linked strangers even when they came from different countries, not just the same province.
The theory is one reason I go to wakes. I get to enjoy old friends and avoid older enemies. And then there are these surprises, people you never imagined knew the deceased.
The memorial service for Hartley Steward, the solid publisher and fine writer, was being held outside Collingwood near water and golf, suitable because that was Hartley's happiest habitat for 72 years.
It was scheduled from noon to three, so I knew I couldn't be there to savour acquaintances because Mary had an appointment at 11 at that giant parking lot also known as Sunnybrook Hospital.
For once in the Downing ordeal of sitting around countless medical offices, the surgeon checking up after an operation was on time and quick. So we were slipping back along Highway 401 when I decided that getting to the memorial was doable without speeding insanely.
Mary and I arrived just as the speeches ended under the direction of Ron Mitchell. Darn it. But the banquet room was filled with familiar faces, and the nice vista out the big windows was of waves and boats. I could imagine Hartley taking time out from playing a lofty game of golf to admire the setting and say that his Mary had done just fine.
Mitchell is a perfect example of the Degrees theory. His boyhood home backed on Doug Creighton's. He started as babysitter for the three Creighton boys and ended up decades later sweating through an exam at the ripe age of 60 to be in the insurance business with the oldest,  his buddy Scott. In between, he worked for Doug and with Hartley as a general manager and publisher.
So, you say, that's conventional. Except then the Degrees click in. Up came at the memorial, to my surprise, Val and Jerry Linton, who I last saw at a condo pool in St. Pete's Beach talking with Tony O'Donoue who ran for mayor against David Crombie. Turned out the Lintons are honourary aunt and uncle to Mitchell and through him were at Hartley's wonderful parties.
Up came Peter Clark to visit, who had been in the plastic board business in Mississauga with Mitchell. Before that, I knew him around City Hall as the long time head of the Metro Licensing Commission. We used to chat because my first real summer job was selling incredible expensive men's shoes, and, of course, Peter, of the Clark Shoes family, knows all about expensive shoes like Dacks and the old Scott and John McHales.
Stalking around the room, anger radiating like sweat from a horse that has just galloped for hours, was Mark Bonokoski. Bono was still on a high, or a low, from the election where he had been working with the Tory leader. I considered it safer just to say that I believe Ontario voters are nuts.
Andy Donato was sunny in an Hawaiian shirt and a new goatee. (The dress code must have been kicked out the door. ) You see, that's the advantage of being a talented and acerbic cartoonist. When disaster hits and the Liberals undeservedly win, you can content yourself with all the targets who keep crowding into your sights.
Of course we repeated the old stories. That's what writers do. So I told again about how Hartley's second wife, Mary, had told me how impressed she had been when she had met me the year before. I confess I swelled a little and then asked why. Because, she said, you were the only journalist I knew who owned his own tux. How, I stupidly asked, did you know it was my own tux? Because, she said, it didn't fit.
Hartley the romantic had a nice but sometimes confusing relationship with women, including five wives. Then there had been his early interesting relationship with Maggie Siggins, the author of at least 10 books, including the one on Riel who won a Governor's General award.
(It was certainly a golden time for Ryerson journalism since Hartley, Maggie, Ray Biggart, Kathy Brooks, Paul Heming, Glen Woodcock et al came out of the class of '65. Few classes can match their exploits, including the time as a junior Tely editor when I sprung three of them out of jail for being so drunk, Ryerson would have expelled them if it had been discovered.)
I complimented Ron Base, who keeps churning out interesting detective tales set in Florida, for a good blog read on how Hartley had urged him to come visit in London when he was at a low point in his life.  And then there was Lynda Schwalm, who practically invented newspaper promotion in our city, who was once married to Ron, and Jack McIver whose sister had pulled that tux gag on me, and Tom MacMillan who should have been running the Tory campaign, and strangers who said they had read me and knew a mutual friend and ....
Well, you get the point, I hope. We all talked fondly of the passing and hopefully about the future.
For some of us it was a little like the gathering of alumnae.  Why many of us go to the same doctors that Hartley did.
Then back to Toronto at a much slower rate. I didn't cut across country but took the lazy man's route  to 400 at Barrie. And I drove the roads where exactly four days later, a tornado left hundreds  homeless and with shattered dreams.
A raging reminder that I should spend more time chatting with friends and making new ones. Life can change in just seconds.








Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A STEWARD OF TALENT


SORTING THE GREATS FROM THE GOOFS

It ended well but it almost got derailed at the start. Thank heavens for luck and senior editors tough enough to tolerate the crap if they think you also can write and be a smart news operator.
When Hartley Steward died at 72,  and the list of his accomplishments in newspapers and magazines was recited, I thought back to the mid 1960s when it all may have died at birth for both him and me and there would have been reduced careers.
I didn't know who Hartley was that Sunday when I was Night Editor of the Toronto Telegram and he and a friend were third-year Ryerson journalism students working in sports.
Laughter drifted out of the sports department which I tried to ignore. I was the boss of the Tely night operation but not sports unless a major emergency flared.
I pieced the humour together like a jigsaw puzzle. John Robertson, a gifted scamp, had written a story about a Junior A game where if you took the first letter from each paragraph, Torontonians were told to "fuck off."
Since the gag was ruined if just one of the words was changed,  his usage was contorted.  Robertson told the humble part-time copy editors what he had done. They stupidly went along. And I was stupid too. As the senior person around. I should have stepped in.
What we should have realized was the obvious, that Robertson would never to be able to keep his mouth shut and would confide in his buddies and one of them would leak it.
A day passed. Safely. And I forgot about it. Except a  hostile account surfaced in the Varsity, the U of T student paper. Still the brass didn't know. The second day, there was a press club party honouring Ted Reeve, the garrulous and legendary sports columnist. I was standing with the three top editors when a loudmouth told them. They were horrified.  I kept my mouth shut. For once.
Doug Creighton, then the sports editor but later the key founder of the Sun empire, immediately called Maudie Stickells, the incredible head of our switchboard.  If you wanted, Stickells could get you the PM in just minutes. Maudie found Robertson immediately and Creighton yelled at him and suspended him for two weeks.
Just in time too. Minutes later, he got called by Tely publisher,John Bassett ordering him to fire Robertson after having him drawn and quartered. Bassett's arrogant temper was notorious in the publishing, social and sports worlds. Except Creighton talked him down because, after all, Robertson had already been punished. It was a management technique I never forgot and once used, to his disgust, against Creighton.
Both of us survived. No one knew my guilty negligence. And. Creighton and his colleagues found Hartley so talented in layout and writing that he was forgiven and rose through the ranks and became a junior news editor and noted freelance writer.
The very first issue of Toronto Life featured a marvellous cover story by Hartley. Once again Big John struck. He called me, not being able to get hold of Creighton, and demanded to know about the SOB who had just written for the enemy.
I pointed out that under the union contract, Hartley was allowed to write for media not in direct competition. Bassett bellowed me silent. He ordered me to fire Hartley. Before he hung up, he demanded "is this Hartley any good?" I said he was. Bassett then said: 'I hope he tells you to go fuck yourself."
I called Hartley who was shaken to his boots. Here he was a bright young hope being savaged by his publisher. He pleaded for advice. I told him from my past union experience as a Guild director and steward, he couldn't be fired. I said obviously he would want to continue and get the freelance gravy  but be careful. Very careful.
Hartley's early baptisms of fire obviously stood him in fine stead since he ended up doing just about every senior job in journalism after the Tely was sold out from under us, including starting new papers for the Sun. He had seen it all, and done a lot of it himself. Turned out, however, that journalists can have long memories.
Creighton packed Hartley off to Calgary after the Sun bought the celebrated Albertan title in 1980. Hartley told me of his first day as publisher of the new Calgary Sun. He walked into the publisher's office once occupied by such notables as a former Leaf goalie  nicknamed Ulcers.
One wall was windows looking down on the presses.  It was a publisher's office right out of Citizen Hearst. There was a huge desk. And on the desk was one piece of paper, a photocopy of the Robertson "fuck you" hockey story that Hartley had allowed in the Tely 15 years before.
Someone around the building knew where at least one body was buried and wanted the eastern bastards come to take over a western institution to know they were watching.
Hartley never accused me of being involved. But he did snarl one day that it was bloody difficult to be a publisher when there was an Editor around like me who kept telling embarrassing stories about him.
He could be a tough boss. But then being a publisher can be rough when headstrong journalists are running around tilting at windmills that belong to your very own board of directors. Yet the most demanding part of being a newspaper boss is handling the talent, whether it is hiring, protecting, disciplining, nurturing or just saying the hell with it, go somewhere else.
The writers are more important than the ads in a successful newspaper. And Hartley knew that and worked at it with flair. It helped that he was the leader of the pack.
Of course, that is why John Robertson survived that stunt which almost put Hartley's career in the dumpster before he even graduated. Robertson was so gifted, he was once dispatched to write an early feature on the Astrodome in Houston and filed a hilarious series of one-liners on stadia from Philadelphia when he wandered there on a drunk. He only got suspended. Again!
The challenging thing about Hartley as boss is that his sins were magnificent and that he came with a wider rebellious streak than most of his staff.  For example, when Toronto finally ended all smoking in office buildings, our publisher's office still reeked of cigar smoke because Harley puffed defiantly away and occasionally didn't bother to close the door.
It was just part of his enjoyment of life, about everything in life, especially food and drink. Hartley may have come from a humble background in tough northern mining country but he certainly enjoyed the party scene. He loved women and they loved him, including five wives.
He also loved golf. I once asked him to write a full-page essay when he was our European rover and he turned in an intriguing piece on the joys of a good golf swing instead of a thoughtful piece on the British election. Once again we were lucky since Creighton loved golf almost as much as Hartley did.
The publisher as golfer led to some strange problems. Andy Donato plays golf daily and is also a great artist and cartoonist. Yet he never fails to let his game interfere with his talent. I was always being called on to defend profane and scurrilous embellishments to cartoons which I never had seen before publication because he had spent the day at the Hunt.
One afternoon he called in from driving to Brampton for golf instead of staying safely (for me) in the office to await the O..J. Simpson verdict. We were discussing this with loud curses over the phone. Turned out Andy had a secret ace in the dispute because riding shotgun (and keeping mum all the time) was his partner in playing hooky, Hartley.
When I talk about Hartley as the great shield for talent, something he learned over the martini glass from Creighton, one of the greatest publishers, let's not kid the troops that there wasn't a cynical perplexing edge. There were no illusions about rogue columnists. There was always a calculation as to value, just how bendable you would be.
Creighton and I were having a fight over a columnist who had a rich expense account that he fiddled like a Stradivarius. I pointed out that he was an asshole. "All great writers are assholes," Creighton enunciated carefully. "Where does that leave me?" I snapped. Creighton smirked and didn't reply.
Hartley certainly was a great writer. He loved to paint pictures of simple scenes, like birds at a feeder, as if he was a Monet using words instead of pointed dabs of oils.
His magazine essay on cottaging near Hanover should be in every cottage library because it captured the Canadian evening as the lake cools and goes to sleep.
 I'm not so sure about that soliloquy on the golf swing, but then Hartley was a much better golfer than me.  Except even now he is complaining that certain celestial beings are standing in his way as he lines up a putt near the Pearly Gates. His putter, you see, was never as fine as his keyboard.