Digging through boxes

Posted on March 12, 2012


My wife, whom I'm calling "Samantha" in this blog. And the reason Avril Lavigne has nothing to fear from me.

I’ve been cleaning out the locker lately. It acts as a safe haven for things we don’t have room for, but can’t quite get rid of. We’ve had it a long time, and some of the stuff in there I haven’t seen for decades.

Stuff like the Zube Tube, which we picked up at the CNE around 1989.

The Zube Tube, according to its manufacturers, is “The Ultimate Cosmic Sound Machine.” It consists of a cardboard tube with a wire spring stretched down the centre from one end to the other. A small hole in the side allows the user to pluck the spring. Doing this while speaking into one end of the tube makes your voice all weird and alien. This is perfect for saying things like, “Surrender, Earthlings!” You can also shake the tube, producing a weird metallic “zinging” sound, which is exactly what you want when sending sub-space messages to the Space Patrol.

From the manufacturer's website: Fun for all ages – children and adults. Chosen as one of the BEST TOYS by Parents Magazine, Creative Child Magazine and Dr. Toy! No electronics or batteries! Creates an amazing array of "out-of-this-world" sounds!

Sadly, not everything is as useful as the Zube Tube. Half the locker is taken up by our disassembled King-size, four-poster, captain’s water bed. We bought it when we had an exceptionally large apartment, but since then, every bedroom we’ve had has been too small.

The rest of the locker is filled with boxes of papers. In descending order of of bulk, these consist of (1) stories and articles stretching back to my days with the Tribune, (2) drawings, and (3) photos.

The photos are a welcome find. Before I got a cellphone camera two years ago, we seldom had a reliable way of taking pictures, so there are very few photos of our earlier days together. Running across another small stash has been a godsend.

As a result, in lieu of writing a blog post, I’m going to simply present a few items we’ve rediscovered while digging through boxes.


Hamilton Christmas

We only lived in Hamilton for a year, but our Christmas there turned out unexpectedly nice. Initially we weren’t going to get a tree, but then someone cut down the tree in their front yard and left on the side of the road, so we salvaged it. That wasn’t easy, considering we didn’t have a car and had to lug it several blocks before maneuvering it up the fire escape into our apartment. Still, it was worth it. The tree was slightly too tall for the room, so it kind of bent over at the top, but it had a wonderfully interesting “swoosh” to the branches, unlike the normal, cone-shaped tree.

This, of course, is Samantha contemplating one of the presents. While most of the ornaments that can be seen here are official Christmas ornaments, I think a few are from our first Christmas.

Our start together was a bit rough, since it involved me becoming suddenly unemployed (from a profession I’ve not yet admitted to in this blog — but probably will in the coming days). As a result, we had very little to live on and often had to improvise our entertainments. (A few cold cuts and half-stale bread are quite palatable when turned into a romantic picnic in High Park — the only kind of picnic I’ve ever really liked.) For our first Christmas, Samantha used items from around the studio to decorate our tree. It turned out beautiful. There are photos, and I’ve even found them in the locker, but they’re so dark they won’t show up, damn it.

Neither Sam nor I can remember what was in that blue box. I’m sure it’s still around somewhere, but we haven’t seen it for a long time.

The Gray Cat

Here Samantha is holding “The Gray Cat.” We got him during our “Studio Days,” as we call our first years together when we lived in a studio near High Park. After getting a new kitten, we had trouble naming him. I called him Luang Tzu, Samantha called him Pussywillow, and Flo called him Lamont (after Lamont Cranston, “The Shadow”). In the end, he just became “The Gray Cat.”

Sam looks oddly sad in this picture, although to the best of my knowledge there was nothing particularly bad happening, and it’s unlikely I would have been snapping pictures if there had been. Still, I feel like a gas station attendant is waiting just out of frame to step forward and tell her, “There’s a storm coming.” To which, of course, she will reply, “I know.”

(Okay, enough geek movie references.)

The ad agency

These are the two women with whom I shared light flirtations throughout my time at the ad agency. That’s “Nadira” on the left, and “Charlene” on the right. I believe this photo was taken the day we went out after work to see a movie, taking along Charlene’s young son and daughter.

The young daughter, at whom I’m looking somewhat askance in this photo, was the cause of an amusing incident shortly after our movie night. Charlene invited Sam and I over for dinner, and when we arrived at her apartment, her daughter answered the door and happily ushered me in. When she saw Sam behind me, however, she said, “Who’s she?”

“That’s Samantha,” her mother told her, “Frank’s wife.”

“No!” yelled the little girl. “You can’t come in!” Whereupon she physically shoved Sam back out into the hallway and slammed the door.

Charlene was a little embarrassed, but we managed to get her daughter to allow Samantha in and the rest of the evening went well. After a time, the girl even came to grudgingly like Sam.

Along with my two sweethearts, Nadira and Charlene, there were two other women working in the data entry department next to my office: “Kory,” and “Lydia.” This photo is of Kory, who kept to herself a lot, although she enjoyed the hijinks that went on around her (of which there were plenty in an ad agency back then). Lydia was far more outgoing, but avoided cameras. On the other hand, Sam and I often went to her place, where I’d spend the night on my violin, jamming with her husband and his friends, while everyone else sat around and talked. One of these sessions is described in my post, “Company enough: A phenomenology of playing the blues.”



From the date, which appears to be April 12, 1989, this must have been done when we shared an apartment with our friend, Richard, on Vesta Drive, just above Eglinton off Bathurst Street. I would have been working at the ad agency, and all thoughts of commercial art were long gone, but I went through a phase of occasionally getting out the pens, pencils and pastels. I haven’t seen this one in over 30 years, and certainly don’t remember drawing it.

Normally I view my old drawings with great embarrassment, but you know, looking at this one now I really have to say — why the hell did I draw her head so small?!


This disproportioned mess comes from our studio days near High Park. The year is hard to make out, but it can’t have been later than ’85. There was a tavern in the mall at the corner of Bloor and Dundas West called “The Crossroads Tavern.” I think I was only in it twice, but on one occasion I must have done this sketch. There’s a torn-out page in the sketchbook next to it. A note on an adjoining page explains that the missing page contained another sketch I did while at the tavern. This one was of a woman who had given me a “much-needed cigarette.” I guess I tore out the sketch and gave it to her. No memory of it, though.

And yes, it appears that I’ve combined my initials into a tiny sketch of a teddy bear or something in the bottom right corner. I assure you, that was not at all typical and I have no idea why I might have done something like that.

Now imagine this picture eight long by four feet high

This one is from the ’70s, back when I was painting really bad murals. It’s a full colour preliminary sketch of a mural I did for some institution or other. It’s been shellacked and the paper is very brittle now. The edges are cracked, but since the scanner is smaller than the paper, they don’t show up here.


While I may have been the official (albeit failed) commercial artist, Sam has also done her fair share of sketching from time to time, and generally with a much lighter touch than I manage to achieve. This portrait probably comes from the later ’80s, judging by the sketchbook I found it in. We have no idea whether it’s taken from life, a photo, or her imagination.

And that’s it for now.

Wow! This is so, so much easier than having to actually craft a post, with all that thinking and stuff.