Monday, 18 February 2008
Time Is A Bouncing Ball - more Renfrew stories
The article printed below is not new. I think I wrote it in the eighties. It was used in a now long-gone magazine called Valley. It was published by General Store Publishing House in Burnstown, Ontario. The faded clipping has been pinned to my corked lined office wall for over a decade and half. I wanted to post it on my website before the clipping (my only coply) fell apart and the story returned to be just a fading memory. I figured out the Optical Chararcter Reader on my printer this weekend and so Presto Chango ... another story in my ongoing series about Renfrew in the sixties is now on stephenweir.com.
Title: TIME IS A BOUNCING BALL by Stephen Weir
It's too long ago now to remember how we got on to the roof of the Howard Haramis restaurant. I can't imagine climbing up the fireescape, but 25 years ago there was only one building on Renfrew's main street with an elevator, and that was the O'Brien apartments, three blocks down the street.
Some of us felt queasy up there fear of heights? No, it was the fumes from Howie's BeatIe Burgers wafting out of the exhaust fans that hung between us and the street below.
A Beatie Burger, for those who missed Renfrew in the '60s, was a "special" designed by Howard Haramis, owner of the town's finest restaurant: a braised burger covered with frilly melted cheddar and curly leaves of lettuce, trimmed outside the bun to look, with a lotta poetic licence, like a mop-top haircut. A few months after he put the burg on the menu, Howie was elected mayor, probably due in no small part to the statement his hamburgers made to the community: Howard is Hip!
There were four of us leaning over the edge of the building, iooking down on Raglan Street, three storeys below. Ignoring the noxious vapours of John, Paul, George and Ringo rising in our faces, we cased the situation. We were concerned about the street action taking place around the two buildings we were looking down upon: the post office and The Renfrew Mercury offices.
The post office, with its stone walls and clock tower, was a picture-perfect landmark. On Friday nights it was a magnet, dragging bored teenagers out of their homes and onto its steps. From there they watched Renfrew's lone set of traffic-lights in action, and gawked at the bumper-to-bumper Highway 17 cottage country traffic crawling past.
The Mercury building was to the left of the post office. Editor Norm Wilson (another future mayor) knew his market well- he placed classified ads and the latest obituaries in the front window; On Fridays the "young" lads (anyone over 65) stood in front of the window or hours reading and discussing Norm's notice-board.
In the interest of science we were going to conduct an experiment and we wanted to avoid detection' by the teenagers who were busy making faces at passing motorists, or by' the young lads wa.iting for the latest death-notice to be posted in the Mercury's window.
A new toy had hit the market and we all wanted to test the truth of its advertising. The ad went something like this: Kids! We DARE you to Send this BALL into ORBIT!! SuperBall, Built With SPACE-AGE TECHNOLOGY, bounces HIGHER and FARTHER than any ball in history OR YOUR MONEY REFUNDED!
This Superball was something different: it lost so little energy when it bounced, it would almost return to your hand if you dropped it. If you threw it at the ground, the ball wouldzoom upwards seemingly towards the stars. We wanted to find out how far the ball would travel if we threw it from the roof of the restaurant.
The timing had to be just right.
Four things had to happen: the traffic had to be stopped, the truly young lads had to be occupied mugging at motorists, the truly old young lads had to be studying the obits; and there had to be enough light in the sky so we could track the flight of our round rubber missile.
We figured that if the ads were correct, the ball would clear the roof of the post office without a hitch.
I can remember the moment vividly: the traffic stopped, all eyes at ground level were looking the other way, our chosen strong man, standing with fist raised in the light of the setting sun, looked like a monument to struggling humanity in Red Square, the gigantic shadow of our roof-top blackened the wall of the post office across the street.
Whoosh, the Superball went screaming towards the pavement. It hit the street with a sickening splat, like a peach pit landing in a high-speed food processor, and zoomed upwards again. As it gained altitude we realized it wasn't travelling straight. It was arcing towards the post-office tower.
Time stood still. In unison, we slowly twisted our bodies to the right trying to steer our missile, like a curling skip wiman errant stone. It didn't work. With a plop and a tinkle of glass, the ball went straight through the clock's face, leaving a neat, round hole between the six and the seven.
We froze. We could hear the ball demonically bouncing around inside the clock tower, its space-age technology reluctantly surrendering kinetic energy. The driver of the car at the lights hit the floor thinking he had been shot at. The Mercury crowd started banging on the paper's front door, yelling for Norm to come out and scoop The Advance (the other local newspaper). The teenagers were cool: knowing instantly that vandals were at work, they started scanning the rooftops looking for someone to congratulate. The tedium of their lives had been briefly broken.
Before the ball stopped banging around the tower we had scattered. Each of us ran in a different direction, and to this day we have never been together again. Soon after, one went east and was jailed for bank robbery. Another moved north (if Pembroke is north) and became an artist. I headed south to pursue post-secondary studies and number four did likewise in the west.
The town took its own sweet time repairing the damage. The hole in the glass was still there when I left town in 1969. It was years before I could look at the post office without blushing.
Former Renfrewite Stephen Weir is an author, scuba diver and freelance writer.