Red Twenty-three

Image of Dave Elliot raising a glass It was nothing short of good fortune to have made Dave's acquaintance when, back in 2005, he moved onto Normanation Street, a Lilliputian two-block concourse which runs between Booth and Preston in the heart of Ottawa's Little Italy. Given Dave's jovial mannerism and malleable nature, it was inevitable that such a great friendship would develop from our otherwise chance encounter: a friendship which would last a decade until his sudden and untimely death on June 18th.

I am not so presumptuous or self-absorbed as to assert myself as one of Dave's closest friends for he had many. That was apparent to anyone who attended the remembrance service held at the Beechwood Cemetery the other evening. It was clear from the large gathering of individuals who were able to pay their respects that Dave had touched as many lives as the ones he lived: Dave the father, Dave the brother, Dave the dancer and Dave the friend.

It was comforting to hear Gordon speak, recalling his late father's tenacity at building ice-slides for them as children. I'm convinced that Dave would have approached ice-slide construction much in the same way he approached stop signs while driving: with a modest degree of caution focussing instead on the final destination. Given that I'd fixed problems on Dave's computer about a dozen times over the past decade, I now know, thanks to his brother Bruce, why Dave had so many problems with his computer. Microsoft Windows is, in some respects, like a Lawnboy mower; if you don't understand its basic operating principles, you're bound to have problems.

Image of Jeff with Fat Cat's mascot taken by Dave Elliot Dave and I used to go for breakfast at least once every couple of weeks. No excursion with Dave was brief. Breakfast was generally followed by a whirlwind tour of the local thrift shops. (I fear I've just revealed the secret source of Dave's extensive and colorful Hawaain shirt collection to the swing dance crowd who were such an important part of his life.) But our get-togethers weren't just limited to breakfast/bargain adventures. When the ILB's Ottawa Fat Cats played at the Ottawa Stadium, more often than not, I'd be sitting with Dave in the stands cheering on the home team. Or, from time to time, we'd venture out to Rideau Carleton Raceway to place small wagers on slow horses or to toss a fiver on the roulette wheel. Dave was convinced he could develop statistical probability charts to pedict the winning ponies and that 23 was the number with the best odds of winning. (More on "red twenty-three" in a bit.) There is, howver, only one Dave Elliot story I'd lke to pass along which not only encapsulates Dave's generosity and optimism but also his faith in others. It's unfortunate he never shared it with the local papers before he passed as I thought it was a touching story that should have been shared. I can only hope I give it the justice it deserves.

* * * * *

While standing in front of the laundromat having a smoke, a slovenly dressed man approached Dave asking for money. The man, emphasizing his honeless and jobless state, asked for a few dollars to buy some food claiming he hadn't eaten in a few days. Dave, reluctant to be conned into a scheme to support the predilections of someone who was quite possibly an addict, questioned the man a bit to establish the veracity of his tale. Dave was by no means a man of wealth yet this did not, in any way, detract from his generosity. Concerned that any monetary gesture he may offer might sustain the homeless man's addiction, Dave offered an alternative solution to address the man's immediate hunger.

"There's a restaurant right across the street", Dave motioned, pointing towards the diner. "I was just about to go have breakfast after I put my clothes in the dryer," he continued. "Why don't you join me?" The homeless man accepted Dave's offer, managing to mooch a smoke just as Dave was about to go back into the laundromat to place his clothes in the dry cycle. Upon completion, Dave emerged from the laundromat and the two proceeded across the street and entered the restaurant. After being seated, they were promptly served by a pleasant waitress and in a short time, breakfast was placed on the table in front of them. It became apparent to Dave, over the course of breakfast, that the man's lack of employment and a home was, in all liklihood, a consequence of observable mental health issues. During breakfast the man would occasionally become anxious and utter loud outbursts of verbal incoherence. Dave would calm him down and reassure him that the dark sedan parked outside the restaurant was not surveilling their movements. The homeless man, according to Dave's iteration of events, claimed to have been discharged from his duties in Her Magesty's Royal Guard.

As unpredictably as the homeless man had stumbled into Dave's day, he departed. He thanked Dave for breakfast before mooching another cigarette, headed straight for the exit and proceeded west on Wellington. The waitress returned to Dave's table, refilled his coffee cup and thanked Dave for showing the man compassion when so many others would have simply walked away. Dave explained to the waitress, and to a few patrons within earshot, that he did not know the man. Dave explained that feeding a hungry man was a moral imperative, but that handing an addict money was a cowardly way to deal with a moral dilemna. And his apology for the sometimes peculiar behaviour of his breakfast guest was generally accepted by nods of agreement. Dave finished drinking his cofee and reading the newspaper as his laundry finished drying across the street.

Before leaving the restaurant, Dave took a moment to use the restroom. A short time later, he presented himself at the cash to pay the bill for the two breakfasts which had been consumed. "The gentelman who was sitting over there, the watress said, pointing behind and to Dave's left, "paid your bill when he left a moment ago." Dave's laundry experience, as it came to be called, re-affirmed his conviction that there's inherent good in all of us and that sheer circumstance, more than anythng else, is often responsible for unveiling that quality.

* * * * *

On Tuesday, June 24th, Lisa, Sonya and I decided to go to Rideau Slots for breakfast. As both had joined Dave and I on many a breakfast/thrift shop excursion in the past, it seemed fitting we hold an impromptu Dave vigil at one of our breakfast haunts. On the way out of the dining room, and through the gaming room, I stopped to feed a fiver into the roulette machine. This is something I would have done with Dave. As the machine's digital voice, in an obscure yet familiar British accent blurted out "Place your bets please", I placed a $1 bet on "red twenty-three": Dave's FAVOURITE number. Looking up towards the ceiling I hollered "Okay Dave... red twenty-three... this one's for you buddy!"

The shiny ball rolled, fast at first, in a counter-clockwise direction to the spinning roulette wheel, gradually slowing down until it came to rest in its final destination: red twenty-three. It was, of course, as much coincidence that the ball landed on that number as it was that I met Dave on Norman Street over a decade ago. A windfall of $39 is something I'll remember for a day or two. The windfall of meeting Dave Elliot, and to have had the privilege of calling him a friend, is something I'll remember for a lifetime. "Goodbye my friend... red twenty-three!"

Submitted by Jeff Dubois, 23 June 2014