Friday, March 11, 2016



I was waiting out the final minutes before I was wheeled in to the little O.R. for my second eye surgery and listening idly to the nurse taking the medical history of the patient in the next bed.
I quickly learned a lot, including what he ate, when was his last asthma attack,  and that he really didn't know how heavy he was.
The fact amazed me that there were still people around who didn't worry about their weight as they grow older.
 I was also amused at how easily you can collect info on anyone even in an age when banks insist on checking your DNA before they return one of your dollars,  and a utility company will not discuss the  bill with you unless you're the person who opened the account.
The two of us ended up near each other afterwards as we waited to be cleared to go home. And I mischievously struck up a conversation and dropped in his personal tidbits.
He looked stunned. I explained I had been nearby when his history was being taken.
This didn't bug him as much as it would have some people, particularly women, when it came to age and weight, so we passed the time talking about life and the weather and inevitably, in Toronto,  the awful Leafs.
Turned out he was a sports fan, particularly of the Argos, and since I had briefly been a junior Argo and watched the Grey Cup several times from the sidelines, and once from the bench, we yarned and remembered the grand old days when the Double Blue won most games and the other city team then actually won the Stanley Cup.
Inevitably 1967 came up. The country remembers its centennial. Montreal remembers its Expo. And Toronto remembers the last time it won the Cup.
I told him of being in Montreal in charge of the Telegram coverage of Expo and getting a call from Tom (Windy O'Neill) who said would I like to come to the Forum for the Saturday afternoon game against the Canadiens in the Cup final..
You bet, I said.  The amiable lawyer was a great companion. He had been playing junior with St. Mikes and selling programs at the Gardens in 1943 and one year later, because of the war, was pressed into service as a small Leaf forward playing sort of defence. The joke was he was under orders never to venture over the other blue line or he would be fined.
Windy played two years for the Leafs and really got banged up. And bigger players were coming back from war. So he told the owner, the irascible Conn Smythe, that he was going to become a lawyer. And Smythe snarled that no one could go to school and play for the Leafs. Windy was just a no-talent slave and how dare he try to better himself.
So he quit, which was like parachuting out of Heaven for a hockey player. Off he went to Dalhousie, then played some senior hockey,  and then returned to practice law and Grit politics and continue to be, as Scott Young wrote, the best piano player in the NHL, especially when it was late at night in one of his haunts, the Toronto Press Club.
The Leafs won that afternoon, I reminded my new acquaintance. In the first period, one assistant captain, Bob Pulford, got into a fight with Terry Harper. So I stood in a hostile crowd and urged Pully on.  My excuses were that I had helped open the Jamaican rum display at Expo before the game and that I had played football with Pulford and gone to high school with him.
I didn't realize just how irritated the crowd had got until they started throwing stuff at me. A man behind tapped me on the shoulder.  He said he was Randy Ellis, father of Ron Ellis, the Leaf player, and he was sitting with Ron's wife, who was pregnant, "and you are starting a riot."
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Windy was not sitting with me. He had scored free tickets, but not together, so he was not aware of why the north-west corner of the Forum was in ferment.
So I sat down and tried to keep quiet. The last hot dog covered with mustard sailed over my head and then no one threw anything but words. Besides, the Leafs went ahead and won. It was our last Cup as the Leafs became better at making money than playing hockey.
 I finished my story rather pleased that I didn't have to explain who all the actors were in my anecdote, for example, that Randy Ellis had been a good player on a national senior championship team.
Not only did my new acquaintance enjoy yarning about Hawgtown sports, he demonstrated again that Six Degrees of Separation is more a reality than a myth.
You know, the theory that any person connects to any other person in the world in just six relationships. There is even a charity based on that, headed by Kevin Bacon, who is often used as an example of how he relates quickly to any other actor, but there have also been plays, books and movies illustrating Six Degrees for more than half a century.
 My new acquaintance said that in two day's time he was having dinner with a close relative of Windy's.  He said there once had been a restaurant with Windy's name and that posted on the wall for years had been a letter from Conn Smythe, whom I had just described in cruel fashion.
The letter praised Windy for helping the Leafs win the Cup in 1945, his final NHL year. At the end, there was a P.S. that summed up Smythe's rude dictatorship over his team. It informed Windy that he had made a long-distance call costing $1.40 from the hotel in Detroit during the Cup series and he must pay this sum without delay.
I hope the best piano player in the NHL, nicknamed that by Neil Young's father, told Smythe to go whistle for his money. After all, the sand and gravel magnate with the expensive passion for horses may have been great at charity in raising money for crippled kids, but there was a bully side  -also displayed by the rest of the bosses in the old league - that is only equalled today by chumps like Trump.  Imagine going after a young guy virtually playing for peanuts when you're so rich you can pay to take your own battalion to war.
Yet my message today is not that but advice on how to pass the time when you're stuck in a medical system that cares nothing about how it wastes time for patients/prisoners.  Next time you're in a clinic and can't rescue yourself with a magazine or TV, strike up a conversation with the other inmates. Who knows what connections will follow?

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