This Flight Tonight
(I picked this Nazareth song because I recently learned that it was originally written and performed by Joni Mitchell. I thought that was pretty cool.)
Here’s Joni Mitchell
Nazareth reminds me of summer nights growing up in Ogden, a neighborhood in Calgary.
Summer nights in Calgary aren’t like summer nights in Nova Scotia. Summer nights in Calgary are more cool and crisp.
The higher elevation in Calgary forces the nighttime temperature to dip lower than it does here on the East Coast. There were only a few nights in the summer where I would go out wearing only shorts and a t-shirt. The cool nights usually forced me to put on jeans and a jacket.
I grew up in subsidized housing in Calgary where there were tons of kids. (and very few fathers. Like I’ve said in many of these blogs, there was very little supervision and we grew up like feral children).
Nazareth reminds of summer nights in Grades 5, 6 and 7, because it was these summer nights when it seemed that everybody’s door was open to everybody else’s door, and every home I visited seemed to have Nazareth’s Greatest Hits sitting atop their record collection.
There always seemed to be about five or 10 of us kids crammed into each other’s homes on summer nights, playing cards, eating chips, drinking pop and listening to music.
It was around this time that I took up smoking on a regular basis. I liked the idea of smoking. I wasn’t addicted to tobacco; I just thought it looked cool.
I remember the summer between Grades 6 and 7, strutting around the Calgary Stampede grounds huffing and puffing on cigarettes, probably looking like an absolute idiot, but thinking I was the king of the Stampede.
My days of smoking came to an abrupt end that summer.
After hanging out in each other’s homes on these summer nights we would often, maybe a few times a week, pile into each other’s backyards and sleep. We didn’t have tents, just our sleeping bags.
It was like a little party. We stay up late, joke around, and then lay our heads on our pillows and sleep under the stars.
One night there were about 15 of us piled in Donny’s backyard. There was a girl named Carol who lived next door to Donny. She was in Grade 10 and her and a couple of her friends were hanging out Carols’ back kitchen window when they called me over.
They asked if I’d taken up smoking and I told them that I had.
They said they didn’t believe me and asked if I would smoke a cigarette for them.
Being the stupid kid I was, I said, “sure.” I lit a cigarette, inhaled, and then exhaled.
They told me I had it all wrong. They said I wasn’t inhaling. To prove them wrong I took a long, heavy drag on the cigarette until the tobacco crackled to a bright red. Once again they said I didn’t inhale.
This game played out over and over until I smoked the entire cigarette down to the butt.
Next thing I knew my head was spinning.
I headed home across the street, went upstairs to the bathroom, threw up in the toilet, and then curled up beside the toilet in the fetal position for the next hour or two.
I never touched another cigarette. (Hangovers from alcohol never had the same impact) Besides, what was the point of smoking? The only thing smoking did was make me feel super-cool. I could live without feeling super-cool.
(My mom and dad were both smokers. My dad smoked Cameo cigarettes and my mom smoked Rothmans. They would often get me to run to the store to buy cigarettes for them, something kids can’t do anymore. My dad’s order was usually a bottle of Canada Dry Ginger Ale, an Eat-More chocolate bar and a pack of Cameo’s.)
One common ritual we went through these summer nights was raiding gardens.
Our mothers couldn’t force-feed us vegetables if our lives depended on it but we would jump over and under fences and outrun homeowners just to steal a carrot from a garden.
One night about five of us were walking down the street with carrots in our hands when one block ahead we saw four teenagers walking towards us.
We turned right, bolted up an alleyway and they came chasing after us.
We scattered to separate hiding place. I hid under a car.
It was a gravely alleyway, and they found me and dragged me out from under the car. I was the only one they caught.
One of them called for my friends to come on out unless they wanted me to get my face beat in but the only response was the sound of crickets.
I recognized a couple of the teenagers and they may have recognized me and I asked them not to beat me up and they took my carrots and eventually let me go.
After the teenagers left, my friends filtered out of their various hiding spots and we made our way back home.
On the way home we were almost caught by the cops.
We were just about to step out onto Ogden Road when one of us, Rickey, saw the cops coming around the corner to our left of us and said, “Get down.”
We laid flat on our stomachs in the ditch beside road. The cops drove slowly past, just a few feet away, and didn’t see us. I couldn’t believe our luck. We got back to Donny’s, dished out our carrots to everybody and then went to sleep.