Author’s note: The material presented below is intended for a mature audience and some of it may be unsuitable for young readers. Discretion is advised. Thank you.
(A) Letters from God
The brochure said that Taché Hall had accommodations for some 500 students. In a crowd that size there will inevitably be a generous sprinkling of memorable characters — like the one on my floor who got letters from God.
Actually, he really didn’t get letters from God — he wrote them himself and forged God’s signature on them.
The reason for this practice isn’t all that difficult to fathom: at the time, our scribe wasn’t a very good student, being prone to distraction from his scholarly pursuits to the point where his prospects of passing his year were in serious doubt. He was well aware of his dilemma, and clearly he had to do something to motivate himself intellectually. His solution was to receive angry missives from the Supreme Being reminding him that, if he didn’t change his ways, he was in danger of flunking out (and presumably, given the “source” of these ominous memos, he was also at risk in the long run of being denied entry to the Choir Eternal).
So he would write these threatening notes from a wrathful God and put them in his desk drawer. When his conscience was getting the better of him he would read one of them, and theoretically this would spur him on to better things. Needless to say, he did it as a lark, and of course it was good for a laugh when he explained it to his buddies and showed us the paperwork.
Just recently, I took to wondering if the scheme actually bore fruit (the Almighty works in mysterious ways, does She not?), and so I checked the records to see if my friend did indeed graduate. No confirmation to that effect was on the books, so I must conclude that his exhortations from On High were to no avail.
He was an amicable individual with an easy-going manner and a clever sense of humour. The fact that I still remember him with fondness after 40+ years bespeaks of his pleasant and engaging personality. For all his struggles in applying himself to his studies, I hope that the years have been kind to him and that the failings of his callow youth have long been forgiven and forgotten.
(B) Sex with his wife
Unless you’re a complete pariah with chronic B.O. and rampant halitosis, chances are that sooner or later you’re going to end up making friends with someone in the dorm. In my BA graduating year at the U of M I was enrolled in an English literature course at St. Paul’s College. One of my classmates was a West Indian kid from Trinidad named Tony. Like me, Tony was a resident of Taché Hall, and from time to time we studied our course material together. Eventually we became close friends, and joking with each other became routine. Being a Maritimer, I had a litany of “down east” expressions that Tony found amusing, and it didn’t take much effort to get him laughing.
But better than my entertaining Bluenose mannerisms was my ability to perceive all kinds of profound double meanings, allegory, and brainy metaphors in the English literature that Tony and I studied together. On one occasion I came up with a particularly insightful interpretation that impressed him to no end. Clearly, this polished little nugget would bulk large when the time came for him to write his course exam; and so exuberant was he over it that he promised me that, as a token of his appreciation, I could at some undisclosed time in the future have sex with his wife.
Now, I frankly doubt it, but maybe in Trinidad a chap customarily repays a favour by allowing his benefactor to sleep with his wife. Much more likely, it was just Tony engaging in more of his collegial banter. Whatever the case, talk is cheap — we were both single at the time and so my generous reward wasn’t immediately forthcoming. Nor was it clear to me then just how, when, and where Tony might be in a position to make good on his promise.
My friend graduated that year with his BA, thanks perhaps in some small measure to my enlightening tutelage, and I personally never saw him again after that. But I haven’t lost touch with him entirely; all I have to do is turn to the right page in the university yearbook, and there he is in his graduation robes, quietly smiling back at me.
And of course his wife is still nowhere in sight . . .
Near the town of Gimli in the mid-1960s, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) operated No.1 Flying Training School (1 FTS), the purpose of which was to teach student pilots how to operate military airplanes. In those days, the fledgling aircrews were all male, and so the student body at 1 FTS was definitely not co-ed.
Located some 90 km to the south of Gimli was the University of Manitoba, another centre of higher learning; but unlike the aforementioned, it definitely was co-ed. Not only that, a large concentration of attractive young women resided on campus in the Mary Speechly Hall dormitory, aka “Mary’s Place.” Beyond the fact that they were all students, the 1 FTS trainees and the Speechly co-eds didn’t have a whole lot in common, and for 99.99 per cent of the time it stayed that way. What transpired during the other 0.01 per cent is the subject of this essay.
Gimli is situated in a rural area, and a bountiful supply of feminine companionship was not locally available to the pilot trainees after school got out. By contrast, Mary’s Place was located directly adjacent to Taché Hall, the main men’s residence at the U of M, so opposite-gender company was readily available to both parties if such were desired.
But compared to their counterparts at 1 FTS, the chaps in Taché Hall possessed a conspicuous handicap: not a single mother’s son among them was a flamboyant, gung-ho, high-flying caballero who earned his spurs by rocketing about the wild blue in a spiffy jet trainer. Given the choice between a dashing and daring jet jockey from the RCAF Station in Gimli and an earth-bound, down-home Romeo from Taché Hall, a gal could be forgiven if she opted for the former now and then, should the opportunity present itself.
Ideally, then, there would have been a way to introduce the handsome young men at Gimli to the attractive young women in Speechly for some pleasant evening get-togethers. As it turned out, that’s exactly what transpired from time to time. And why not? As Cyndi Lauper tells it, “girls just wanna have fun.” As for the pilot trainees, well, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and the last thing the Blue Empire wanted on its hands was legions of dull pilots.
And in fact, for decades the Air Force had a tradition of bussing groups of single young women from places like the Winnipeg YWCA and nurses’ residences to the air stations for an evening of socializing with the aircrew trainees. The Air Force was known as the “Gentleman’s Service,” and being wined, dined and made a fuss over was something the women would understandably look forward to with keen anticipation. Although I was in no way involved in any of this and am reading between the lines, I’ve long thought that the whole idea was absolutely brilliant.
Not so, to some of my colleagues in Taché Hall. Being a bit of a loner who lived on the fringes of residence society, I was rarely involved in the ongoing ruminations of my peers. Nonetheless, it was clear that some of the Taché lads were a trifle miffed at the idea of “their” women consorting with the boys in blue. We used to have talent nights in the res auditorium, and I vaguely recall a skit being put on by a few of the Tachéites. Its intent was to afford the upset/grieving coterie an opportunity to express to the audience — which included the errant damsels, by the way — just what they thought of the arrangement between Mary’s Place and the flyboys.
Needless to say, the aspiring (and of course absent) Top Guns came off rather poorly in the skit, which the ladies must surely have found mildly amusing. For my own part, I considered the “talent” night theatrics a bit lame — at the end of the day, about all the wounded parties could really do was cry in their beer and hope the pain would soon go away.
Because like it or no, when it came to showing a gal a good time, the Air Force was a hard act to follow.