Sunday, June 1, 2014

First annual Ray Guy Day: 'Giggle the bastards to death'



The 1st annual Ray Day, a celebration of the man and his work, was held Saturday (May 31at) at the Republic bar in downtown St. John’s. The following was my contribution to the readings:

Ray Guy wrote a column (A Poke in the Eye) once a month for The Independent newspaper, which ran from 2004 to 2008.

And he often made quote of the week.

Quote of the week three times in 2005:

 (Mel) Gibson belongs to a splinter Roman Catholic sect much given to wearing barbed-wire jockey shorts because it feels so good when you take them off.

 It is the flesh and blood of exiled Newfoundland, the bodies and souls who must still face the sad exodus, which must command the thoughts and efforts of any Newfoundland administration. It’s the people, stupid. The Rock never cries.

 I detested his (Joey Smallwood’s) intestines when he lived and I’m still not sure he’s dead right now due to the absence of a wooden stake and a burial at the crossroads.

Quote of the week three times in 2006:

On the week The Independent closed (the first time) … “Over the years I’ve had, I don’t know, 10 or a dozen horses shot out from under me and … I’d really like to offer some cheer to people at The Independent who figure all is lost and this is it. I know how they must be felling. Who was it said: ‘I feel your pain.’

 A recent review … noted that while 50 per cent of columnists concentrated on how to fix the world in three easy steps, the other half writes about nothing but the pimples on their own arses.

 Flash not around thy fridge magnets and thy knickknacks. Keep the whoredoms, idolatries and fornications down to a dull roar.

Quote of the week twice in 2007:

 Didn’t I spend enough time already kicking nine whole premiers in the goolies for good of themselves and the commonwealth.

 My safest bet for housing, I sometimes think, would be a large cardboard box on the Health Sciences parking lot.

Quote of the week once in 2008:

So rally on and be brave, my journalistic comrades! … Pilferage of the public pot is bad enough but infinitely worse is the political battlegab that goes unchallenged.

•••

The Northeast Avalon Times celebrated its 10th anniversary in Mary 2010, and Guy raised his glass to the paper in a column headlined Gutsy newspaper stands guard.

If huge tree killers like, say, The Globe and Mail concentrate on the dithering fools in Ottawa and local chained puppies like The Telegram go through yappy motions about the House of Assembly … then who will watch the dozy dolittles on small local town councils.

In that same column Ray wrote about how his “guts flop” over today’s news:

Not the nasty news, since it has always been the nature of news to be nasty. No, it’s like being hit in the face with news pies, one after another. Global warming we have always with us. We’re all going to die! Swine flue. Half of us are going to die! Danny Williams, gone off someplace for some time to have something done. Will he leave us to die?

•••

Kathryn Welbourn, editor/publisher of The Northeast Avalon Times, also edited the 2008 book of Ray Guy columns, The Smallwood years, a collection of 167 of Guy’s columns and articles from the old Evening Telegram between 1963 and ’70, the latter years of Joey’s ridiculous reign.

 The headlines for Ray’s old columns were entertaining enough.

Here's a taste:

Cabot made a boo-boo;

Newfie, Nigger, Frog, or Wop;

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s the saviour of his people;

Partridgeberries: A great new industry;

Wise virgins. The Big Bang Theory;

and, one of my favourites, You Rain Knee Yum.

Yet another memorable column is headlined There’s Clark Kent and he really is Superman! about life in The Tely newsroom, which he called the “boneyard of broken dreams.”

•••

Joan Sullivan wrote a May 26th, 2013 Globe and Mail feature about Ray.

On being funny, and how it’s a “terrible thing”:

This satire business, that was one of the worst things that ever happened to me. I was certified funny. From then on, I had to be funny – people expected it. Twice the work for the same pay.
Needless to say, He raised some hackles.
“Got a dead cat in the mail once,” he told The Herald.
“I still get a few dirty looks over the racks in the supermarket, but nobody kicks me in the shins on Water Street. I’ve made sort of a point, apart from being a social dud, not to fraternize with the people I write about. Sure we’re all decent human beings and kind to dogs and children, but I think I’ve kept some objectivity by not rubbing shoulders with these people. … It also made it easier … if you’re going to try and cut somebody’s throat you don’t want to know that their mother is dying of cancer or something. It kind of cramps your style a little bit.”
Of his craft he said, Writing is like hitting yourself on the head with a hammer. It always feels good when you finish.
Of appearing on TV, in skits on slows like All Around the Circle:
 I call it making faces. I look it as therapy, better than making baskets or key tabs, to try and get over this almost pathological bashfulness I’m cursed with.

•••
More quotes from Independent columns:

Of rolling out of bed at 4 a.m. to catch a flight:

The last time I committed such an unspeakable outrage to my delicate system was several years back. On that occasion, our old cat, Sleeveen, uttered a filthy insult to our 100-pound dog, Mugsy, who jumped her right there on the bed in the early hours.

Ray was up early to take an Air Canada flight to Vancouver. Would he do it again?

Only if I can be medically stupefied and go through the Panama Canal.

Ray on Danny Willaims’ $1,000 baby bonus:

Concentrate, gestate, procreate … do the nine-month shuffle, and your cheque for $1,000 is in the mail. “Up the government stump,” as the lower orders may so crudely put it. Will we soon see the bassinets lined up at St. Clare’s — little Dannys and Danielles, their hair parted in the middle, twitching their right shoulders adorably? Fornication for the nation. If it’s good enough for Quebec, it should be good enough for Newfoundland.

Then he got serious:

So far none of the great and colourful schemes to replace the dead fishery have caught on. In Stephenville, the old stack and buildings of John C. Doyle’s enterprise finally bit the dust. Some of those who’ve been in Fort Mac a while are sending home tickets for Ma and Pa.

Newfoundland crawls in on itself, forsaking the Bays, conglomerating on the Northeast Avalon. Clustering for comfort and hope when the only sign pointed out as hopeful is the price of St. John’s real estate.  Only a few more years say those who try to keep the gloom away, five more years at most.

Then Hibernia! Folks will flock back from Fort Mac — or will they? Surely they must because come the Hibernia boom the province will need 100,000 more inhabitants, easily. Or can you really come home again?

Placed beside the presumed boom in demographics, Danny’s breeding bonus looks especially whispy. I doubt if $1,000 per bambino is going to lure them here from Cape Breton, let alone the Punjab.

And if those Fort Mac Newfoundlanders have already got kids enrolled in junior hockey, where do you think they’ll stay? No wonder D. Williams and company are saying very little. What else is there left to say? Cowboys, cucumbers, crude … been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.

•••

In July 2008, Independent writer Stephanie Porter wrote a piece about what people were reading that summer (the No. 1 book was Ray Guy: The Smallwood years). Stephanie asked Ray what he was reading:

My wife drags home sacksful of library books, trashy novels for the ruination of a once fine mind. I prune out the chick-lit bodice rippers and read a portion of the rest. Murder most foul, the lot of them. Why? I enjoy the variations on a theme, no surprises about what but some suspense about how.

•••

Years ago Danny Williams used to go at it with former St. John’s Mayor Andy Wells. At one point Danny said this of Andy: What he needs is a good shit knocking.

Danny was premier at the time, but the House of Assembly wasn’t sitting. So Ray tried to imagine what cabinet meetings must be like:

HONOURABE THE MINISTER FOR SOAP SUDS: On one small point here I have to disagree with the Honourable the Premier but …

HONOURABLE THE PREMIER: Do you want me to come over there and give you a boot in the scrotum because you’re so full of shit you have to blink three times before your cross the street?

HONOURABLE THE MINISTER FOR DINKIES: I don’t understand why …

HONOURABLE THE PREMIER: You carry on with that attitude, minister, and you’ll be bringing home your teeth in a baggie.

HONOURABLE THE MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Perhaps I could ask the Honourable premier to put us all in the picture regarding …

HONOURABLE THE PREMIER: Put you in the picture? Jeeze, I’d put you in straight through that window quick as I’d look at you. Yes, quicker. Because compared to you  … a pig is Albert Einstein.

HONOURABLE THE MINISTER FOR DANNY’S COATTAILS: I think all of us here today owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Honourable the Premier who by his great wisdom, his wonderful fortitude and his outstanding foresight has steered this ship of state  into …

HONOURABLE THE PREMIER: Do you want the face bet off you or what? Do you think I need a sheep-shagging Bay noddy to tell me who I am? You’re so full of shit you blow khaki snots …

Ah gentle reader, I simply can’t keep up the pace. The teaching I acquired at my sainted mother’s knee will not allow me to wade through the municipal and provincial politics of today. Should some innocent child, blameless spinster or toothless grandsire pick up this otherwise-excellent newspaper I already fear what straightforward Danny-Andy reportage has done to them.

•••

Ray on writing:

Part of the reason I took up scribbling for a living is that I was useless at sums at school. By the time we struck algebra and trigonometry I felt like I had one leg caught up in the spokes and my head bouncing along a gravel road. The alphabet seemed easy by comparison and so here we are …

… I always feel that IF we in the journalistic racket, starting way back, had tried harder and done our sums, the public would have been BETTER served
In my own poor case, I finished journalism school in Toronto, came back and started with a St. John’s newspaper in 1963. I had learned all about how to dig up records, background, facts and figures. It wasn’t that I was ignorant of the way things should be done.

And yet I sometimes feel I was a cowardly failure. The first time there was a news story calling for some official background information, I went along to the basement of Confederation Building where the official files were kept … stacks of filing shelves behind chain-link fencing.

I asked for what I wanted, paid my 50-cent fee and got a folder with two or three sheets in it. Most of that had been blacked out. Useless, I threw down the folder and marched out in a fit of  (PEK) pique. Idiots! Didn’t they know what was taught at J-school in Toronto?

Even if I had ever been good at sums, there was nothing in those Smallwood files of use to any journalist. So I can’t really blame any newsperson for the fact that we were then started on the trail that leads us to where we are today.

For my part — and not having the sums for it anyway — I decided to giggle the bastards to death. IT worked, perhaps, but it took too long.

•••

I gave a statement in the House of Commons after Ray died, and I mentioned how he once wrote that the rock never cries.

To quote myself: And it doesn’t, but The Rock is drenched with the tears shed over the loss of such greatness as Ray Guy.

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