Who turned out the lights?

Image of the hand of god reaching for light switch The young doctor, probably facing one of the most difficult tasks any doctor must face, had just informed my good friend Doc that he had a matter of days to live; a consequence of the cancer which had metastasized and ravaged his failing body. "Let me make this as easy for you as possible", Doc said, sensing the young professional's uneasiness in the situation. "It's been a real pleasure knowing you!". I recall his daughter Genna uttering "Oh Dad,", likely a conditioned response from having been raised by a father with such an outlandish character, and I recall the dichotomy of shaking my head in mild disapproval while simultaneously chuckling at Doc's off-colour remark. Later that afternoon, we found ourselves in Doc's hospital room planning his memorial gathering, "A LegendGerry Celebration of His Life", which would be held at the Prescott Hotel following his dispatch. (I suggested that a Who Turned Out The Lights motif, based on Michelangelo's Creation of Adam would have been apropos given the seemingly macabre nature of the situation.) There would be no funeral for Doc. It was his wish that his body be donated to the University of Ottawa medical school and used in the education of students. At the time, many of the interactions leading up to Doc's passing seemed surreal. But in retrospect, I've come to realize that Doc's nonchalance was precisely a reflection of his unselfish nature. With the fall equinox having just passed, and the anniversary of Doc's passing, it's high time I posted a proper homage to my dear friend. Gerald Doc du Plessis taught me many things over our quarter century friendship. And while the last lesson he may have shared was how to face death with courage and dignity, for the purpose of this missive, I'd like to share stories of mischief and shenanigans, which pretty much defined the final outcome any time Doc and I were together.

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THE GREEN CLITORIS: Doc was a Ford man. For the past few decades he demonstrated an obvious affinity for the Tempo and Topaz, models of Ford and Mercury lines respectively. He maintained that they were an inexpensive vehicle to run and repair since there were hundreds of them in every wrecking yard across the country. Ironically, by the time Doc was through with a vehicle, they were seldom able to make it to the scrapyard under their own power. His last vehicle was a Ford Taurus. It had been the demonstrator model at a local Ford dealership and subsequently purchased by an employee and used as a second car for their family. It was about ten years old when Doc bought it and it was mechanically sound, passing both the Ontario Safety Standards and Drive Clean tests. One late summer cottage morning I was puttering outside while Doc slept inside. As I passed by the back end of his car, I noticed that despite the heavy coating of dust on the vehicle, a prominent TAURUS insignia stood out in the morning sun. All of Doc's cars had nicknames: the Bondo-Buggy, the Flying Ashtray, the Antichrist and The African Queen, to name just a few. The recently purchased Taurus had not yet received an appropriate moniker.

Image of the green cliTaurus I searched through the kitchen drawer for a bottle of white appliance enamel I had purchased to touch-up a nick on the stove top. When Doc arose, much later in the day, we discussed the fact that his vehicle had not yet been christened with a new name. He did mention that someone had referred to it as The Green Legume though I didn't quite get the humour, or rationale, behind the name. "I think I've got the prefect name" I said to Doc, "Follow me!" I grabbed the bottle of Windex and a few paper towels, and we proceeded outside to his car. When we reached the back of his car I took my index finger and, in the heavy coating of dust from the dirt roads, wrote CLI on the trunk preceding the manufacturer's prominent TAURUS insignia. Doc immediately broke into his characteristic evil snicker, a clear sign he approved of the mischief about to ensue. I reached in my pocket, pulling out the bottle of appliance touch-up enamel and handed it to him saying "You get to be Van Gogh"

"Let me get a beer and roll a smoke" he said. An hour or so later, the task was complete and his ride was henceforth dubbed The Green Clitoris. The moniker provided several years of entertainment as he often noticed people, from his rear view mirror, pointing at it, sometimes in laughter, and sometimes in disgust. At last count he had noticed six people who had stopped to take a quick snapshot of it. Who knows how many he didn't catch....

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FROSTY MEETS DOC: My brother Glen, prior his passing, hosted an annual ice fishing gathering. I use the term ice fishing loosely because, on most occasions, it was more of a social gathering than it was an ice fishing event. It would ultimately end in a huge buffet dinner and garage party featuring guitars, fiddles, mandolins and banjos. Doc, renowned for his descriptive repartee, characterized ice fishing as "something to do when you were drinking beer".

Our plans were to return to Ottawa on Sunday afternoon, after the effects of Saturday night's libations had no remaining manifestations in our brains, but as it started snowing late Saturday evening, and didn't stop until late Monday morning, we were effectively snowed in for a couple of days until the plow cleared the roads. This was not problematic for we had ample provisions, both in food and drink, to tide us through the weather event. (For those who follow weather, you may recall that 1997 boasted significantly higher accumulations of snow.) When the snow ended Monday morning, we had been cooped up for a couple of days. And though the plow had not yet passed our isolated rural location, somewhat off the beaten path and always last to see municipal vehicles, it seemed like a good idea to go outside and do something constructive... like build a snowman.

As the afternoon progressed, and it became apparent we were snowbound for one more day, we proceeded to enhance our states of mind. Without elaborating, in any great detail, what happens when three guys with alcohol and gunpowder meet a snowman, I'll let the video speak for itself...

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Image of woodpecker door knocker NICKY NICKY NINE DOORS ALA DOC: Halloween was always one of my favourite times to get together with Doc. Over the years, I attended numerous Halloween parties at Norman Street, but my most memorable Halloween with Doc was the one we went out Trick or Treating. Well, to be more precise, we went out tricking....

Doc's favourite Halloween prank was Nicky Nicky Nine Doors, a silly little game, generally played by children, wherein the pranksters knock on an unsuspecting victim's door, and then run away, leaving the victim to answer an empty door. As with most things, Doc added a little twist to make the game more entertaining and, arguably, stack the deck in his favour. "The secret,," Doc explained, "is finding just the right house with just the right door knocker." Doc was Germanic about such things, stressing precision in planning. Earlier in the day he had preselected a couple of neighbourhood potentials. "I found the perfect house," he said assuredly, "it's on a quiet street with little traffic, it has good access, good escape routes and the perfect door knocker. Be sure to wear dark clothes." In hindsight, it should have been clear to me that Doc's precision planning of the caper meant that it would be more than just knocking on someone's door and bolting down the street. Had we been teenagers, our dark burglar-like attire might surely have been a dead giveaway to a passing member of the constabulary. Clearly, an advantage of being middle-aged. "We'll set our stuff behind that hedge", Doc said, motioning to the right, "and then the fun starts." Our stuff consisted of a six pack of beer, which we'd enjoy between knocks, and as Doc rolled a smoke I surveilled the area, considering a couple of alternative escape routes. "Which way are you going to run?" I asked Doc, as he clearly had far more Nicky Nicky Nine Doors experience than I had. "We'll worry about that later," he replied, a statement which left me with some uneasiness. "Okay,", he said, after finishing his cigarette, prompting me to join him. Two dark figures emerged from behind the hedge and proceeded across the street to our target.

As we approached the house, and stepped up the three concrete steps onto the home's stoop, I noticed a prominent Woodpecker door knocker fastened to the house beside the door. Doc turned his head towards me, raised his index finger to his mouth to signal quiet, and with his other hand pulled a roll of fishing line out of his pocket. He tied off the fishing line to the Woodpecker door knocker, and motioned to follow him back across the street unreeling fishing line as he went. I giggled all the way across the street as I knew the entertainment would soon surely follow.

"TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP" the ornament summoned as Doc skilfully tugged on the fishing line, the woodpecker coming to life each time the line was taut. Moments later, a man answered the door only to find the quiet of the night. Quiet, of course, was relative because I fear had he listened more carefully he might have heard snickering from behind the hedges across the street. We laughed considerably louder as the door closed. "Smoke time," Doc pronounced, rolling himself another cigarette as we both cracked another brew. About five minutes later, the dance continued, "TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP" the woodpecker summoned once again. The outside light came on once again and the man re-emerged, again, finding no one. The man glanced up and down the street and shut the door once again.

The interval became shorter and shorter, each time the man emerging, each time finding no one, and each time returning inside. Finally, we noticed that the man had left the outside light on and was waiting, by the door, hoping to catch the culprits the next time the knocker sounded. A mere five seconds had passed, the man poised by the door and the light still on when Doc started tugging on the line, "TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP". Only Doc didn't stop when the man emerged. The woodpecker continued knocking, no one on the stoop and it was then, and only then, that the man noticed the fishing line.

"Okay, you got me you little bastards!" the man shouted, ripping the fishing line from the knocker as Doc and I rolled on the ground in hysterical laughter. The man would not pursue us. The game was over, and we had won.

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Image of cottage outhouse which looks like a space shuttle THE SPACE SHITTLE: Intended as a temporary structure, the original cottage outhouse, having stood for about 15 years, had to be torn down and replaced with a new building. Aspenite (chipboard) does not last when exposed to weather, even when stained or painted. Naturally, I counted on Doc's assistance in undertaking the construction of a new cottage outhouse; a task well suited for his keen sense of adventure.

As construction progressed, we had built the floor and four walls, and the unpainted building was completely assembled with the exception of the roof. Each of the two side walls sloped towards the rear from a 7 foot height in the front, to a lower 6 foot height in the rear, thus easily accommodating a single back-sloping roof. On the second morning of construction, I went outside to take a leak and, while relieving myself in the great outdoors, noticed that the two pieces of plywood that had been cut from the sides were leaning against the building, one on each side. Through the morning fog it looked like wings on an aeroplane. I commented to Doc when he emerged from the cottage later that morning with the same urgency, that the cut-offs from the sides of the building, leaning up against it, made it look like an aeroplane or rocket, ready to blast off. Doc's hamster wheel immediately started turning and five seconds later he blurted out The Space Shittle, a name which was immediately adopted giving the peculiar outhouse quite a bit of notoriety including coverage in the local newspaper and a dedicated webpage.

Not surprisingly, the architecture has even had a profound impact on morning conversation at the cottage spawning such classics as "ARSEtronaut", "catastrophic O-ring failure" for unscheduled missions and, during prolonged voyages, "Houston, we've got a problem". Who, apart from Doc, knew an outhouse could provide so much entertainment value.

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Image of Jeff & Doc at Rideau Carleton Raceway Of course these stories represent but a few of our many exploits. There were numerous other occasions which, no doubt, I will remember and share with others as time goes by. In the week of his hospitalization, just a few short weeks before he passed away, Doc joined us at Rideau Carleton Raceway for an evening of harness racing on a pleasant September evening. Rideau Carleton were kind enough to display "We love you Doc" across the scoreboard, the very least we could do for our dear friend who meant so much to us. As I was at Rideau Carleton the other night to enjoy some harness racing and witness the lunar eclipse, I couldn't help but remember my dear departed friend and thought a missive, in his honour, was long past due.

Submitted by Jeff Dubois, 28 September 2015