I was finally moving into my new apartment and it had only taken me a week to find it despite the numerous ‘No Vacancy’ signs hanging outside most of the high rises in the West End. It was located on Alberni Street, a few feet from Stanley Park and it had an awesome view of Coal Harbour and the north shore mountains. It’s probably a lot easier to find an apartment or condo to rent in Vancouver today than it was when I first moved here from Etobicoke, Ontario in 1973. Back then, the vacancy rate in downtown Vancouver was less than 1%.
We had just started a business in Toronto and I would be living in Vancouver, Bobby would be in Montreal and Jack, the senior partner would remain in Toronto where our office and warehouse were located. Basically, we were a textile company that sold to department stores and fabric stores. Jack, the senior partner, was somewhat famous because he was the person who first brought polyester to Canada from Japan. Back then, polyester was known by various names such as crimplene, crimpknit, trevira, dacron, terylene, and others, depending on country of origin. We were importers and converters of textiles but most of our fabrics came from the United States. But this story isn’t about fabrics… I just wanted to explain why I had moved to Vancouver.
I had been a manufacturers’ agent (self-employed salesman) that represented a number of companies in the textile industry. I had a button and zipper line (HA Kidd & Co); trim and lace line (Morgan Uster Ltd); velvet line (Martin Fabrics) and my territory included Central and Northern Ontario. I called on all of the established customers as well as constantly looking for new customers. I was on a draw against commission – which means that each of these companies sent me a monetary advance on the first of each month. I had to pay all of my expenses (living and work-related) out of that draw and hoped that my commissions for the month covered the advances. My work-related expenses included leasing a vehicle, gas, meals, hotels, entertainment for others and dry cleaning bills for the suits I wore. My living expenses were the usual – rent, utilities, clothes, and girls. It was those combined expenses that made me become the best possible salesman I could ever be – I was too terrified of not covering my monthly expenses!
I can remember filling my car up with gas in Toronto and paying 39 cents a gallon! I didn’t have a CHARGEX credit card at the time, so all of my purchases were in cash. My monthly draw worked out to $175 per week – with no deductions for income tax etc. And it used to cost me one hundred dollars to travel on the road for a week – gas, hotel and food. Now you can better understand the source of my financial worries. But I was happy – and within a few months – making good money!
Over the course of a few visits, I became friends with many of my customers in northern Ontario. Later, when I went into business I decided to give my customers a phone call to thank them for their business and advise them of my upcoming move to Vancouver. One store owner in Timmins became a close friend – she was like an aunt to me. She said that although she was sad to see me moving, she did want me to know that her best friend had a daughter who now lived in Vancouver and she knew that the girl would really like me. But I wasn’t interested – except – how do I say no to my friend (and customer)? So I agreed and was given the girl’s name and phone number. My friend, whose name I forget, said that she would call the girl and tell her to expect a call from me. When I arrived in Vancouver, the last thing I wanted to do was call this girl – after all, I didn’t believe in blind dates (for both’s sake). Besides, I had to get a new vehicle and find an apartment to rent in the West End – where the vacancy rate was less than 1%.
My priorities were like any self-respecting single guy – car first; pad second; business third; romance fourth. I walked into BOWMAC – if you’ve lived in Vancouver – it used to have this huge sign on Broadway. It was a GM Dealership and that’s all a kid from Oshawa would ever drive. Anyways, I met Jim, a salesman about my age and within minutes, I had leased a ’74 Trans Am. He invited me to his place on 10th Avenue – it was a large house and he shared it with three other guys. Did I mention that it was a stone throw from the nurses’ residence? Each of his roommates were also salesmen, so we had a lot in common. And the nurses’ residence was nearby – but I probably already mentioned that.
That weekend, Jim and the guys and me did a little pub crawling – it was the first titty bar I’d ever been in and I was somewhat shocked. It also gave me a sudden attack of loneliness. But I was staying in a hotel and needed to focus on getting myself a place to rent. Jim or one of the other guys would drive me around the West End, looking for a ‘Vacancy’ sign outside, until one night we found the place on Alberni, close to Stanley Park. I paid the rent and security deposit and waited until my furniture arrived before I could truly feel I was now a resident of Vancouver!
Sometime later, while sitting alone in my apartment, I pulled the paper with the girl’s name and number. I fumbled with the paper – staring at it and wondering – should I call? I gave into the loneliness and called her.
Although it’s been many years, my memory only seems to remember important events and personal incidents – as opposed to remembering people’s names. But I always remember a face and the memorable experiences things that I associate with that person. So, if you asked me what this girl’s name was – I couldn’t tell you. But I remember a number of things about her and I certainly remember that phone call and the date that followed.
She answered my phone call with a pleasant sounding voice and our conversation went something like this:
Girl: Oh Danny! [Timmins store owner] told me all about you. I was expecting to hear from you weeks ago – I assumed you weren’t interested in meeting me.
Danny: Oh no, I’m sorry but I’ve been busy getting some wheels, finding a place to rent and conduct business at the same time. I would like to get together with you – if you’re interested – but I know that blind dates are scary and …
Girl: Yes, how about Friday night?
Danny: Okay, yes, uh-duh, what’s your address?
She gave me her address and then quickly said goodbye. She didn’t ask me anything about myself – which I thought was a bit weird. And that’s when the doubts and fears started to ebb and flow inside my tiny brain.
‘She’s probably desperate’ I thought, ‘maybe I’m the first guy that’s even called her in months! Why did I ever agree with [Timmins store owner] to go out with her friend’s daughter? I am such a ‘mark’ for a sob story! But what the heck did I have to lose – being stuck with someone with whom I have nothing in common with?
My new friend Jim almost answered that question for me, when I told him about the phone call and pending blind date. Because after I told him that she lived in Surrey, he threw his arms up into the air and screamed that it was geographically impossible to have a girlfriend, who lived that far away from downtown Vancouver. (Remember, this was 1973 – before the new bridges and skytrain!)
I bought a city map from a gas station and looked for her address. I gauged the distance to be the equivalent of driving from Oshawa to Toronto (30 miles), which was a ‘piece of cake’ for a kid from Ontario!
I parked in the parking lot of her complex and then rang the buzzer to her apartment.
In the background, was the sound of either a baby crying or fifty fingernails scratching down the blackboard at school! Now, don’t get me wrong – I love kids! It’s just when the pitch of their crying is so high that it breaks windshields, that I get a little uncomfortable.
Danny: It’s Danny… uh, duh…
Girl: I’ll be down in a minute! I’m just giving the babysitter instructions.
I stood in the lobby and waited for the elevator door to open. It did several times but not with anyone resembling a twenty-something-year-old girl. After about ten minutes, she appeared – and I was shocked – she was nothing like what I had imagined.
I’d almost talked myself into believing that my blind date would appear wearing a t-shirt with a ‘eat your heart out – I’m married’ slogan; a cigarette hanging from her mouth; her hair in curlers, no makeup, and no front teeth. Was I ever wrong – because the girl that appeared in the lobby was as beautiful as any girl I’d ever dated. And although I still can’t remember her name – I can remember her face and body, and both were stunning!
She appeared to be surprised as she gave me the once-over, but her eyes seemed to light up and suddenly she flashed a beautiful smile – and she had teeth, too!
Girl: Hi Danny.
Danny: Hi (Girl).
I didn’t want to appear too interested or anxious, but I couldn’t keep from smiling – from ear to ear.
Danny: You’re the prettiest girl I’ve seen in 3 weeks!
I cringed immediately after saying it – even though it had always been my most effective ‘opening line’. You should never let a person know you’re interested in them by acting too anxious. ‘Try to maintain a little mystery, you jerk!’ I mumbled to myself.
Girl: You’re not what I’d envisioned.
Danny: In a good or bad way?
Girl: I’m not sure. It’s just that I’ve never been on a blind date before, but my Mom’s best friend kept calling me and insisting that I go out with you.
Danny: I hate blind dates, too! So, do I pass the test?
Girl: I don’t know – it’s too early. But I’ll know soon enough – it’s my job to be a quick study on people.
Danny: Are you a cop?
Girl: No. I’m a customs officer.
Danny: ‘WTF! (Why That’s Fascinating!) I shouted out loud, [The other WTF hadn’t been invented, yet] my Dad’s a customs officer in Toronto!
Oops! I instantly regretted opening my big pie hole. ‘Try to maintain a little mystery, you jerk!’ I mumbled to myself, again.
But she liked my car and within minutes we were on our way downtown. I had found an awesome multi-level nightclub called Oil Can Harry’s at 752 Thurlow Street and it had live bands playing on each of the three levels. I was hoping that she’d be seeing the place for the first time – because I knew it would impress her – and that is what any self-respecting guy would do on a date. But as we entered the first level, the bouncer at the door – a giant of a man – suddenly started hugging my date and within a few seconds they were laughing and hugging and laughing and hugging and I was standing there like one of those wax figures you’d see in Madame Tussauds Famous Wax Museum. I wasn’t jealous – I’ve never been jealous – but I felt kind of left out.
We grabbed a table and ordered drinks, but it was too loud to carry a conversation – so we just drank and danced. I remember that she was a very good dancer and she smelled pretty good, too. I was hoping for a slow dance, but the band kept playing fast songs. But when they played the first slow song, I reached my left hand out to grab her right hand, but she instead put both of her arms around me in a hug – so I followed and soon we were standing alone, almost motionless on the dance floor. I’m sure that there were people watching us and thinking that we should leave enough room between us for daylight, but we were both oblivious to the surroundings. There’s something about a slow dance that if done properly, can be a green light to other, more passionate activity.
Suddenly, she stopped hugging me and grabbed my hand and led me off the dance floor. Within minutes, we were heading back to her place in Surrey. I don’t remember much about the drive, but I do remember what happened when we arrived at her place. How could I ever forget?
My date paid the babysitter and then put on some music. I remember that it was Barry White, her favorite singer – whose songs were perfect for the evening. Soon the living room was dark, with only the light of a single candle. I could feel the excitement and anticipation growing, as she threw a couple of cushions on the floor.
Soon our eyes locked and she began moving closer until our faces almost touched. Her eyes began to close, and I knew that she would be waiting for our lips to meet. As we kissed, a debate began inside my little brain – should I try for more or just be content with kissing and hugging? Most guys faced with this type of dilemma would think with their ‘other’ brain and make the mistake of trying to get to first base too soon (as though making out is like baseball!). Nope, a person once told me that you should wait until you’re both ready to make a commitment to each other – such as going steady or marriage. But just before our kissing got to the point of no return – she stopped and looked deeply into my eyes and said:
“Do you think I’m promiscuous?”
I stared back into her eyes, but I didn’t know how to answer her because I didn’t know what the word ‘promiscuous’ meant! I had never heard the word before but in the heat of the moment, and somewhat out-of-breath, I guessed that it meant someone who was attractive or desirable – so I said YES!
It was the first time that I have ever had my face slapped and I was shocked and confused!
‘WTF!’ (Why The Face!) I shouted, ‘I didn’t mean to upset you. To tell you the truth, I don’t even know what that word means.’
But she was already standing and soon all the lights in her apartment were on and I was driving back to Vancouver. She never told me what the word meant and we never saw each other again.
The other mistake I made that evening was telling my new friend Jim about what had happened. He couldn’t tell me what the word ‘promiscuous’ meant because he was laughing so hard.
And that, dear reader, is when I learned a new word. True story.
Dedicated to my friend Doug Jackson – The World’s #1 Salesman (Retired)!