Drive, He said.

I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 21 years old. There are a couple of reasons why it took so long: my father insisted on being the one to teach me, and although he himself, was a good driver, he was not a good teacher – at least not with family members. I was also scared witless about highway driving (still am, if I’m honest).
Every year, from the time I turned 16, my New Year’s resolutions included “Get my license.” Every year, for 5 years, my resolution would get blown, either through my evasion of the dreaded lessons, or my failure to perform to my father’s satisfaction. You see, my dad thought he was an expert driver and no-one could possibly teach me as well as he could, so while all my friends went through Driver’s Ed, got their licenses at 16 and 17 and enjoyed that unparalleled sense of freedom you can only get from driving off your street and away from your parents, I was chauffeured around town by my father and occasionally, even my mom.
It was quite humiliating to be taken to school in the morning and dropped off, when everyone else was pulling into the parking lot in either their own cars, or their mom’s, old bangers. I usually chose to walk or ride my bike to retain some sense of dignity. I think this may be why I started to dress to gain attention; my inadequacy as an independent traveler would be eclipsed by my cool hair and my outlandish dress sense.
The most memorable moment of my driving lesson history went like this: My father and I went out in the ‘75 Impala (see above), with me at the wheel. I was cruising along nicely through the familiar, suburban neighbourhood where we lived and I was feeling pretty good about things. It was at this point that my dad got it into his head that I should go on the highway. I was not keen, to say the least. My father, had the classic “Irish temper” complete with irrational expectations and a stubborn streak to like the proverbial mule. When he decided I was going to go on the highway, he directed me toward the service road that led to the on-ramp and I could feel my own temperature rising. You see, I have that Irish in me too. Where do you think the word, “ire” comes from anyway?
Something took over in my brain – a little donkey of my own, perhaps, and I slowed the car to a halt and pulled to the side of the road–to a dead stop.
My father was at first perplexed and wanted to know why I had stopped. When I tried to make my case for not going on the highway, he would brook no excuses. His face got red and if he had been a cartoon, you would surely have seen smoke coming out of his ears. (Yosemite Sam comes to mind.) I held my ground and would not budge. No yelling, or bullying was going to make me drive that behemoth of midnight-blue metal onto that on-ramp to the Queen Elizabeth Way.
Enraged, my father jumped out of the car and ran over to my side to the driver’s window. He was intending to berate me from a different angle in order to get me to change my mind. That was his fatal error.
I put the car in gear and tore off down the road leaving him standing on the verge. Just then, it started to rain—a few drops at first, but then it really came down, hard. I was well on my way now and I just kept driving. I was trying to think: What should I do? Where can I go? I knew that if my dad caught up to me, I would be flayed alive.
Suddenly, I had an idea: I drove deep into my neighbourhood and pulled into a long driveway. Parking the car, I ran up to the big wooden door and banged loudly. The old priest who answered recognized me right away and invited me in. I was in a panic! I thought, churches have to give sanctuary, right? They’ll protect me from my mad, drowned rat of a father, won’t they?
popedrive Kidding!
Well, it turned out, they had other ideas. The priest and his associate, talked quietly to me and tried to convince me to go home. I’m sure they were pretty terrified themselves, come to think of it. They knew my father and he had a reputation for being, shall we say, a tad unreasonable on occasion?
Basically, they turned me around and told me to go home. I got back in the Impala ( a car I had once appropriately nicknamed “The Getaway Car”) and headed back.
When I reached my house, I jumped out of the car and approached the front step. Hesitantly, I opened the front door and was immediately met by mother who was none-the-wiser. My dad wasn’t even home yet! This was bad! He was going to be even more angry when he got back. On the other hand, it gave me an opportunity to hide, but not for long, because suddenly, my mom said, “Here’s you father now. What’s going on? Why isn’t he with you anyway?”
I didn’t wait to hear anymore. I quickly dashed into the main bathroom on the upper floor of our bungalow and locked first the door into the hallway, and then the back door leading into my parents’ bedroom. I cowered inside the glass doors of the shower stall.
jackgiant Click for source.
My father entered the house like the Ogre in Jack and the Beanstalk after he finds out his golden egg is missing. He was yelling at my mom and then came charging down the hallway and started banging on the bathroom door.
I was terrified! Mom was on the outside going to bat for me, so I had a chance – and I seriously doubted my dad would go so far as to break down the door of the bathroom. I just had to stay safe until he cooled off.
Eventually, my dad did simmer down. His yells got weaker and I think my ace-in-the-hole was telling him (from behind the safety of my door) that I’d been to the church. Even MY dad would see sense if you brought the church into it.
I don’t remember how it was resolved. It’s all kind of a blur. I must have finally come out of hiding and after promising not to beat me within an inch of my life, I’m pretty sure my dad kept his word.
Maybe this is one of the reasons why I’m still a Catholic.
Here’s a clip from the movie “Happy Go Lucky” which brings back so many memories of my own “driving lessons”.

Kathleen Mortensen©2009 Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape


Driving Lessons



I learned to drive in a 1975
midnight blue Impala
made by Chevrolet – in the U.S. of A.
The kind with settee-seats so big
you kept a beat-up box of 8 trax
beside you with your purse;
your old man’s Mantovani,
in there with Irish pub songs and
a copy of the Eagles’ Hotel California.
The kind with a trunk so big
it could hold a couple of marked men
in cement shoes, goin’ for a cruise 
to  the end of the road.

And Daddy, he was out on a Raleigh
ten-speed;  blowin’ with the wind
on those back roads;
tryin’ to erase those days
of civil servant-servitude ;
hopin’ for a fresh start
in the Import-Export biz,
that was never gonna happen.

I was sittin’ in a schoolbus
on a patched green leather seat
readin’ a Miracle or Mystery play;
headin’ home from 4th year Uni;
when he was lyin’ in a ditch
or being lifted by a chopper
pointed towards I.C.U. —
black and blue and bloated
as a blowfish on a Tokyo platter.

Some shithead hit him
with a side-mirror he never saw comin’ ;
Left him for dead,  just like that episode
Of Mannix or maybe Barnaby Jones?

Only this one never got solved.

I sailed midnight blue Christine –
that’s what I called her – from that King book –
tryin’ to have a look down dark,
country roads I didn’t even know–
Came up with nothin’ and went home.
Mom and me, and little sis,
we were sittin’ on the piano bench
in the front room. Two cops, nice as pie,
their walkies cracklin’ with the cacklin’
of some stranger sayin’ some guy’d
been found on Sixth Line
and they’d taken him to “Mac” —
a  hospital attached to that university
where I’d been to see Martha and the Muffins
and drunk shots of Tequila for the first
and last time, cuz there was nothin’ else.

Well, you don’t want to hear it
and I don’t want to tell ya about
those years that followed.
Let’s say it was “Hell” and leave it
right there.

I remember feelin’ so free
each time I took Christine
up the street and turned right —
headin’ out for a night
Of dancin’ and drinkin’ —
no seatbelts, no MADD, no sense.
Lucky I didn’t get killed
once or twice.

One time I was seein’ a sous-chef
workin’ in a restaurant
that served up escargots
with chablis and crème brulee
for afters.  He smelled like garlic
all the time, but he made a mean
plate of eggs, scrambled, just
like my daddy used to.

He was workin the afternoon shift
so I met up with a girlfriend
at a place called “O’Tooles” .
We bellied up to the bar
and ordered some cocktails.
Mine was a “G and T”
and I swear I only had the one ,
but when I got out to the mall lot 
my head was just fuzzy enough
to forget that rule of thumb
I’d heard too many times:
“Straighten your wheels”.
So when I pulled out of her spot
the Imp’s big nose nudged the
Hot-off-the-belt beauty beside
With the pristine red paint
–Hoisting her up off the ground!

I spun those wheels to the right
so fast – edged Christine back
and watched the little deuce coupe
drop slowly to the ground.
I’m a moral person, honest I am;
in other days, I’d a got out and
left a note beggin’ for forgiveness–
phone number, insurance – the lot, but
I had a post-coma, paranoid father,
prone to rages and near-suicide,
so this ride was going to have
to stay quiet. Forever.

I learned to drive in a 1975
midnight blue Impala.
When the day came she got carted away
there was a  gap in her front grill 
a  hole in the floor
and a door so stuck you had
to get in from the other side
to go for a ride.

She took my secret to her grave.

Kathleen Mortensen©2009

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Clubbing – Eighties Style

There was a time when I was oh, so much different than I am today. It was a time when I would thrive on late nights and long sleeps in, on getting dressed to leave the house at 9:30 or 10:00 p.m. and not returning until 1:00 a.m., or 2:00, or sometimes even later. It was the 80s.
I love music of all sorts. My taste runs the gamut from a serenade by Schubert to a Sex Pistols anthem. Granted, these days, I don’t listen to The Pistols as a rule, but if I hear it on the car radio, I won’t shut it off, and will usually sing along, belting out the “God Save The Queen” refrain, “No future, no future…now!” It’s just fun. On the other hand, I love to sing choir music at church – I sound really good with an organ – much better than without, actually. The point is, the vestiges of who I once was, still remain, but that doesn’t mean you’ll see me decked out Goth-style anytime soon, or doing anything on a Friday night other than getting into my cozies and watching the box.
I have to credit my university days with developing in me the tremendous urge to dance. I remember as a tweenie, doing some disco in my friend’s basement, so it didn’t take much to revive the impulse, but hanging out at The Blind Duck pub at Erindale Campus was where I really honed my skills.
I am part of that era that still bought vinyl records and listened to radio stations with Top Twenty Countdowns every week. I was a radio deejay at my college – I hosted my own program (listened to by about 20 people, most of whom worked at the station – not much has changed with respect to my audiences, come to think of it) on Friday afternoons. I became very good friends with the head of the radio station, CFRE Radio Erindale. This was a smart move on my part because he was also the night-time deejay at the Blind Duck, so come Thursday nights, I could virtually pick and choose what music I wanted to hear. In fact, I used to go record-shopping with Pete on Wednesdays to buy new stuff for Pub Night. I had it “made in the shade”.
It was at the “Blind Duck” where I realized for the first time that dancing without a partner was way more fun than dancing with one. I had freedom to move around, no one was stepping on my feet or invading my space and people found it fascinating to watch me out there by myself. I guess I must admit, I’ve always had a side that enjoys the limelight–“dancing with myself” as Billy Idol said, was a blast!
As time moved on in university, my musical tastes began to incorporate more Gothic influences, post-punk, new-wave and ska. I loved nothing more than to swirl around on the dance floor to Echo and the Bunnymen, Siouxsie and the Banshees, New Order, Depeche Mode and the like, but the kinds of music to which I really gravitated had ominous-sounding vocals, synthesized strains and a wicked beat. I spent many Thursday nights at the pub, dancing my head off and Fridays were great too because we had some terrific bands: The English Beat, The Diodes, Michael Jordana and The Poles were just some of the innovative acts that graced the small stage of “The Duck”.
I spent the entire decade of the 80s exploring all the best dance clubs in the Greater Toronto Area. In my final year of university, I moved downtown to a truly grotty bedsit apartment, but I didn’t care that all I had was a bed, a zip-up closet and a bookshelf with fold-out desk. From this H.Q. I could not only finish my degree, but also take a subway to my favourite hotspots. I went to my job with a head-hunter firm in the morning, took some classes in the afternoon and headed out dancing almost every night of the week. There was The Silver Crown,The Domino Klub, Nuts and Bolts, The Spectrum, The Diamond, The Copa (on Sunday nights there was a fabulous, free buffet with admission) and on Friday nights you could find me at the campus pub, Reznikoff’s (so named after a university ghost) which was just your average cafeteria with the tables pushed back and a deejay spinning his records. Beer was dirt cheap ($.75 a glass), the music was awesome and the people were pretty cool too!
On Saturday nights, I would head westward to Mississauga so I could do laundry, but also so I could get to my favourite home-town haunt: Raven’s.
Raven’s was originally a mid-sized bar with a small, elevated, panelled dance floor (a la Saturday Night Fever). The deejay booth was away at the back in an alcove that could only be reached by a ladder. I always made it my business to get to know the deejays since familiarity led to favouritism in those days and I had certain songs that I always needed to hear. It was a bad night on the dance floor if my top songs didn’t spin on the turntable.
When Raven’s decided to renovate, they took over the empty Towers’ store next-door and made the entire thing into a huge, hardwood dance-floor. It was incredible! My sister and I and our friends spent many the weekend night dancing to the alternative hits of the mid-eighties at Raven’s. Unfortunately, someone decided to rechristen the bar and turned it into “Keester’s” of all things, but we kept going, until the bar was sold and became an R&B club called “Ocean’s 11” and I never went back.
We had to find a new place to dance. We had heard about a bar on the Lakeshore in “New Toronto” called “Crown 33”. It had originally been “Reflections” but it too was under new management. We were not to know it, but this was to become our new home.
Crown 33 was a seedy bar/restaurant owned by a Macedonian family. I never saw it in the light of day. Even now, as I write this, I feel the swell of excitement rise up in me – the thrill of getting dressed up, heading out in the car and going dancing at “The Crown”. Visualize Julie Andrews on that hill in Austria, swinging her arms and singing, ‘The hills are alive”… and you get close to the exhilaration I can still recall.
It’s Friday night. I’ve just awakened from my little nap and I’ve had a quick shower. What should I wear? I think the little black, lace-topped vintage cocktail-dress with taupe, silk lining (I just picked that up at my favourite second hand store, “Courage My Love” in Kensington Market), my black fishnets, my little studded belt, silver dangly ear-rings, dog choke-chain and black, pointy-toed, leather ankle boots. Perfect!
xia xiang
I put everything on and examine myself in the dresser-mirror – everything looks good. I paint my face—wine-coloured eye-shadow with a golden frost, lots of black eyeliner out to my temples, mascara, and lipstick to match the shadow. The final touch? A spray of Xia Xiang, the Orient-inspired cologne in the smooth round bottle. All done. I grab my black purse stuffed with Kleenex, wallet, makeup bag and my glasses (I wear contact lenses).
Who’s driving? Usually it’s me, in our huge midnight blue Impala (lovingly nicknamed Christine or The Getaway Car). Tonight, we’re all piling into Frank’s Lada like a bunch of circus clowns. It’s always fun in that car, except when it’s cold and you can’t get the doors open (especially when someone gets sick).
“The Crown” is about 1/2 hour away from home. We cross over a set of railway tracks on the Lakeshore and we’re not in the suburbs anymore. We’re in the big city: Toronto. Frank pulls into one of the slanted slots in front of the bar. It’s early – good timing to get those coveted seats at tables in the back by the dance-floor.
Rick, the deejay is a full-time punk. He has a 2 foot high Mohawk haircut and is skinny as a rail. He’s decked out in black jeans, studded belt and black muscle shirt. I find him irresistible, but he has a girlfriend and I can’t really see bringing him home to my strait-laced Catholic father anyway. I’m only punky on the weekends. It’s fun to flirt though, plus, I have a lot of pull when it comes to the music. Actually, Rick and I have quite similar tastes so it works out well all around.
Not many people are in the bar yet, but the music is already going and it’s a great opportunity to dance without being impeded by other locals who shuffle to the mainstream stuff. So, when the Specials The Beat’s (thanks, TFE) “Mirror in the Bathroom” hits the air, we leap out of our seats, leaving our beer bottles behind (because glasses are SO uncool) and take that first step up onto the hardwood floor. For me, it’s like coming home. I was born to it.
Mirrors line one wall of the dance floor where we surreptitiously catch ourselves in the glass, checking our new, innovative steps and arm movements (we don’t want to be labelled as “posers”). We are as one on the emotional scale; the excitement is high, the energy is full. We are whirling and swirling on the floor, bending and diving, sinuous and slithery, we are imbued with the song and the night.
It was an addiction. I’m sure it was the ego-boost over being watched and admired from all angles of the dark room. It was also the physical energy – the sweat, the adrenaline rush. Whatever it was, I was up for it EVERY single weekend and begged anyone who was around to go with me. When it didn’t work out some weekends, I’d be in tears–relegated to a night at home with mom watching Saturday Night at the Movies on TVO.
I often feel the old pull when I hear the music and can still recall what it was like to be up there in the spotlight, “tree-dancing” as one person once said. The night’s ends were strange. We were exhausted. I always punctuated my drinking with glasses of water, so I was kept hydrated, but the physical exertions were like 10 consecutive “20-Minute Workout” sessions.

We just about fell into the arms of the guys who bucked up enough courage to ask us for the final dance. Often, I would head over to someone I’d had my eye on – someone who was mysterious and just propping up the bar,or someone nursing a beer at a table in the corner. We would melt into each other to the sounds of Sinead O’Connor singing, “Nothing Compares 2 U” or The Cult’s “Revolution”. Then the lights would come on. We would groan and blink at the blinding bulbs, look down to find the detritus of the night on the hacked up tables: empty bottles, chock-full ashtrays and beer-mats, overturned with phone numbers scrawled on them – if you were lucky.
Those were the days.

Kathleen Mortensen©2009 Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Roller Derby Queen? As if!

Photo borrowed from Flickr

The year was 1975. The city: Mississauga, The place: The Roller Palace at the foot of Southdown Road where it crossed Lakeshore Boulevard.

We hopped in the backseat of “Christine”, my dad’s new midnight blue Chevy Impala and he drove us the few miles down below the QEW (highway) to the latest hot-spot: The Roller Palace.
I was 14 and Jane was 13. She was always the pretty and popular one. She had thick, long blonde hair and a knockout smile. She was cute and bubbly and batted her eyelashes just so.
I was a couple of inches taller (I’m 5’4) and had dull brown, unruly hair and having been visually-impaired since Grade Five, I wore big, dark-framed glasses. The boys went gaga over Jane; they asked me how to spell big words.

I had an ulterior motive for getting up on roller skates. A tall, lanky blond boy who looked like Peter Frampton had caught my eye when I visited Jane at her school. I was in Grade 9 at a private girls’ school and didn’t see real boys very often, save for the mixed dances we had occasionally and when I saw Steve Holloway, I fell. Hard. Even his name was smooth! Steeeve Holloowaaay! How cool was that?

Steve was brilliant on roller skates and he just whizzed around that floor like he was born to it. I can still see him, in his skinny jeans, plaid shirt flying out behind him as he whipped around those corners like Elvis Stojko on the ice. I hung out mainly on the round, wood benches on the carpeted sidelines until at last I mustered up the nerve to totter out on the floor with the pros.

There were two songs I recall that were our favourites. The risque-sounding “Shack Up” was classic disco with a whole lot of soul. I don’t know who was spinning the tunes at The Roller Palace, but I don’t remember that song on the airwaves and I’m thinking perhaps it was being played in the big-boy clubs in Toronto.
When the Kool and the Gang-like opening riffs came over the loudspeaker and filled the hall, Jane and I couldn’t get to the hardwood fast enough! Even now, hearing the song after all these years, my shoulders start to shimmy and the inner Disco Queen comes out of hiding.

The other song we loved was Boz Scaggs’s “Lido Shuffle”. The pace was perfect for roller-skating and swirling around on the floor. As Boz sped up, so did we. Admittedly, my speed was hampered by fear of falling and I was definitely cautious as I approached the corners. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of Steve Allaway!

Prior to this, Steve did not even know I existed, but he certainly was aware of my good friend, Jane. All this was to change, but not in the way I hoped.

I had gradually built up supreme confidence in my skating ability and was proudly whipping around the floor in time with all the other roller royalty. I even got comfortable enough to start swinging my arms and putting a bit of oomph into it. Then, it happened. Just as I came around the back bend in the far corner of the room, my skate hit something sticky on the floor. The wad of gum stopped me dead and catapulted me forward like a character in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I hit the wood floor, but thankfully nothing was damaged except my dignity. Looking up, I was devastated to find Steve Holloway standing above me and trying not to laugh. He didn’t even offer to help me up.

I handed in my skates at the rental window and I never went back.

Kathleen Mortensen©2009

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Here’s Banbarra with “Shack Up”

Boz Scaggs with “Lido Shuffle”: