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11.18.2011

You Pedal, I'll Steer.

I'm going to start something a bit different today. Every Friday for the next little while, I'm going to serialize an as yet unpublished novel I wrote a couple of years ago called "You Pedal, I'll Steer". It's a recollection of the fall of 1967 when I was 9 years old in Toronto. Ninety-nine percent of it is true. I hope you enjoy it.
This first installment is a bit long just to set the scene...


You Pedal, I’ll Steer
CHAPTER 1

“Alec. Wake up.” I tried to whisper loud but I knew he wouldn’t hear that. I pushed his shoulder and he shrunk away like a slug under a shower of salt. “Come on. We’ll be late.” It was the same every day: the alarm goes off at 5:30, I climb down off the top bunk and spend five minutes rattling him out of his sleep. If you think it’s easy waking your brother up, you don’t know Alec. You could strap an alarm clock to his ears, it wouldn’t matter.
“Go away. I’m up already.” he’d always say and then roll over and start snoring again. If that didn’t work, he’d call me names and tell me if I didn’t leave me alone he’d pound me. I didn’t mind. We were best friends.
I shook him again. The rest of the world could sleep on but no matter if it was a blizzard or a summer day itchy with stuff to do, we had papers to deliver. He finally sat up like a shock just went through him which meant I could go to the kitchen make us instant coffee with canned milk and six sugars. Mom doled out sugar like it was gold dust - one grain at a time - so this was the only time of day to get a clean shot at the bowl. My favourite part was spooning up the milky syrup from the bottom of the mug. No wonder grownups liked coffee so much. Alec appeared at the door grumbling that he’d get a job delivering The Star so he could sleep in. But he never did. I mean, who wants to give up their afternoons? Not me.
 We pulled the red sacks over our shoulders and headed down the hill towards Queen Street, the rush of cold air finishing off any last thought of sleep. It was early dawn and the streetlights were still on. “Ever notice how there’s always a drop in the temperature right after Labour Day?” he said, while he zipped his jacket right up to his nose. “Like starting school somehow makes the world colder.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Goodbye Summer - pow - hello school.”
“What are you going to wear for Halloween this year?” he asked. I was ready to dig right into one of our daydreams about being small or living on a deserted island. I hadn’t given Halloween any thought. It was miles away.
“I don’t know yet. What about you?”
“Me? Eighth graders are too old for trick or treats. It’s for kids.” He said it like I was stupid or something. “Everybody knows that.”
I didn’t. I couldn’t imagine being too old for trick or treating. That’s like saying you don’t want Christmas presents. Before I could talk him out of being that crazy, my eyes got drawn into the dark windows of a little brown gingerbread type house with crisscross white latices. In the middle of the front lawn was a  sign hanging on a chain. ‘The 66 Bells’. I loved that sign. I loved that house. It had eyeball magnets that made me look every time I walked past. Debbie Bell lived there. She had blue eyes and a pink bow tie barrette in her brown hair. We’d been in the same class for three years and every morning when I passed her house I imagined her getting up and having her breakfast and I got goose bumps. She probably didn’t remember my name but that was okay.
Alec start singing under his breath, “John and Debbie sitting in a tree K. I. S. S. I.---”
“Shut up,” I hated that tease. “I do not.”
He laughed. “Then why do you moon at her house every day? It must be love. Poor Wendy will be heartbroken.”
I slapped his arm and looked back down the street hoping I wasn’t turning red. “Shut up. Wendy’s just a friend.”
“That’s not what I heard.”
“Shut. Up.” I slapped him again and he pretended that he was mortally wounded. He was thirteen I was nine and we probably looked funny going everywhere together. But we didn’t care.
“We could invite Debbie trick or treating...”
“Ha. Ha. Why don’t you just tell me why you’re not going out on Halloween?”
“I told you already. I’m too old. You’ll know you are too when the time comes. But I have a plan. I was thinking I could be your manager.”
“Manager?” I didn’t even know what that meant. “What for?”
“The way I see it, if we get some business sense into this Halloween thing, we could clean up. I could design your costumes and plan out the best route for you to go. Like up on Glen Manor Drive where the big houses are. They give out those huge chocolate bars, not just candy kisses and apples.”
“You don’t think I can do that myself? Why do I need you?”
His look showed me why and I didn’t argue. “You need really good costumes to go up there. They don’t give away all that good candy to just anybody. Think about it. Every year you go up and down this same street and come home with the same crappy loot: spotty candy apples, mini Tootsie Rolls, Sweet Tarts, and stale break-your-jaw caramel kisses. I’m talking about a real big score. Full sized Coffee Crisps, packs of Juicy Fruit, Smarties, you name it.”
“They give away stuff like that?”
“Yup. And here’s the beauty part, little brother. We’ll design two costumes so you can go out twice to the best houses that give out the best stuff. See, you go out early in one costume and then change into a different one to go around again and score a second bag of goodies. That way you get all chocolate and bubble gum and no apples or junk. Is that a plan, or what?”
A second bag of bars! I could almost feel the weight of it in my hands. Sometimes it took me ten minutes to decide which chocolate bar to spend my allowance on. Imagine having two bags full of all the best ones. “But what if I get caught? I mean...”
“Not a chance. I thought of everything. When you go around the first time, you wear a mask. If they ask you to show your face to get a treat, you don’t go back there the next time. If they don’t, you can go back for a second score. I’ll be waiting on the corner and keep track of which is which.” He smiled at me like he was offering to clean up our room for nothing. There was a catch, I just didn’t know what it was. Yet.
“Don’t you think that’s like cheating?” I asked.
“Naw. What do you think those people do with all the leftover candy they have? They just throw it away. Grownups don’t keep that kind of stuff around.”
I sure knew our parents didn’t keep it around. The only chocolate that stayed in our kitchen was the barf from one bite unsweetened baker’s stuff that Mom made cakes with. It was so bitter it could make a dragon gag. The only way I could eat it was to slobber up a square with spit so it would snag a gooey coat of sugar out of the bowl. Then I’d just sort of grind a layer off with my teeth. It was a lot of work for chocolate. “Why doesn’t everyone do that if it’s such a great idea?” I asked.
“Who knows? Why wasn’t the car invented two hundred years ago? Why did it take Einstein to discover the atom? You don’t question genius when it happens.”
That was a good point. Alec was a genius. “What do you get out of it?” I asked.
“A modest thirty percent of your haul. I’ll design and make the costumes, plan the best route, get you over there and hang around so you don’t go twice to the wrong places.”
I couldn’t think up a down side. “It’s a deal,” I said. “What costumes?”
“I’m working on that.”
At the bottom of Scarborough Road we turned along Queen Street. This was the main business street of the Beaches. Streetcars ran along here twenty-four hours a day and I knew every store, every alley, where all the gumball machines were, and just about every crack in the sidewalk from the Neville loop to the Fox Theatre at Beech. Our first stop was Cirrone’s market at the top of Munro Park.
During the summer and fall, Joe Cirrone just pulled a green canvass over his outside tables of fresh produce. At six in the morning, the store was still closed so I stood lookout while Alec reached under the tarp to grab some fruit. As soon as an empty streetcar clicked by to turn around at Neville, we laid a string of peaches out on the tracks to watch them get mowed down when it came back up.
I heard the Cachunkaka-chunkaka-chunkaka of the steel wheels coming up the hill and hollered. “Here it comes! Hurry up.” Alec was still balancing the last one on the rail. I grabbed his arm and we ran to the sidewalk to wave and smile at the driver as he plowed all the peached down. Poot-poot-poot-poot-poot-poot-poot-poot-poot-poot-poot-poot. What a great sound.
“Can I get you some freshly squeezed peach juice?” Alec asked.
“Is that with or without fuzz?”
All the pits but one got squooshed along with the pulp. I put it in my pocket and we moved along the street to peer in the window of the Willow Fish and Chip shop. They made the best potato fritters in the world: all greasy and covered in salt and vinegar and wrapped up warm in newspaper. Across the street was The Goof restaurant. It had a neon sign with a light out. Instead of saying GOOD FOOD it read GOO  FOOD. So everyone who was anyone called it The Goof. Just outside the barber shop, I took a shot on a penny candy machine, hoping to get a toy but got the usual handful of Hot Shots. I got Troll out of that machine almost a year ago. But he lost an arm during a battle with a Krag monster and I was hoping to get another.
Finally, we got to the corner of Beech where our newspaper bundles were waiting outside the Fox Theatre. There was a new James Bond film playing with a picture of Bond riding a tiny helicopter. Alec and I spent weeks dreaming of where we’d go if we had that chopper. He untwisted the wire around our paper bundles and stuffed thirty-five papers mostly for Beech and Willow in his bag and six in mine for Fernwood and Balsam. Most mornings my route took about two hours.
“I’ll meet you back home,” Alec said and we parted. “Don’t go too slow. You know what George said.”
“I’ll try.”
George was our boss and he said I lost two customers recently because they complained that they didn’t get their paper early enough. It wasn’t my fault if they wanted today’s paper last night. Besides, I couldn’t go any faster. I headed down Hazel and right into my favourite daydream about being rock star/super hero, Fantam. With my sidekick, Fleagle, we saved the world by day and sang rock and roll to crowds of screaming girls at night. The Fantam Mobile was a souped up E-type Jaguar loaded with so many secret agent gadgets the tires should have popped every time we jumped in. But my role model was Secret Squirrel and if he could stuff all those weapons in his hat, I could get them into my car.
That morning, I was working for Interpol to capture a gang of diamond smugglers...