May 3, 2002
Last week I attended the annual National
Newspaper Awards in Calgary.
No - I didn't have to clear a place on my
mantle. I wasn't in the running for an actual award. They're
reserved for people who write about plagues, famines and what a
two-tier healthcare system would mean for Joe Clark's eyewear.
I was asked to give the grace before dinner.
Since it's not a not particularly religious crowd, giving grace is a
bit of a challenge. You want to sound sincere and respectful, but
you don't want to come across like you're about to start speaking in
tongues and handling snakes. And it wasn't the right group for the
childhood favourite: "Good gravy, good meat; Good God, let's
As it was, I managed to stumble through a
short prayer that mentioned God the minimum number of times
necessary to actually qualify as a prayer.
The awards dinner itself was a wonderful
affair. The invitation said "black tie or fancy western
optional", which meant no one knew what to wear. There was an
odd assortment of everything from jeans and string ties to tuxedos
in the audience. After all, journalists are not known for being on
anyone's best dressed list.
Myself, I wore my tux. It's just easier to
throw it on than figure out what to wear. And besides, just
eighty-seven more wearings and it will have paid for itself.
As luck would have it, even though it was
the last week in April we got a last dump of snow. Rather than wreck
my good shoes on the walk over to the awards dinner, I decided to
follow that great Canadian tradition of wearing a crummy pair of
shoes and carrying my good ones in a bag. If there is one
distinguishing national characteristic of Canadians it's our habit
of walking around with our shoes in a bag for half of the year.
As it happens, my crummy winter shoes happen
to be brown, which looked nice sticking out of the bottoms of my
black tux pants.
It's just a thing of mine, but I shake my
head at men who wear shoes that don't go with the rest of their
clothes. You know - brown shoes with a blue suit or black shoes with
a brown suit. But I figured I could get away with my brown shoes
just this once, especially since they were coming off the second I
got out of the snow.
Walking through the slush to the dinner I
noticed someone coming towards me on the sidewalk. I don't know if
you'd call him homeless, since I didn't get to know him well enough
to find out whether had a home or not. In less gentle days he would
have been called a bum. One thing was for sure - he was drunk.
He spotted me a good twenty steps away. A
guy in a tux and bow tie is a sure target for a quick panhandle on
But instead of asked for spare change as I
expected, as he passed he stared down at my feet and said one thing:
I wanted to stop and explain that I had my
good shoes in a bag, and that I knew my footwear didn't go with my
ensemble, but he was already off into the night.
Whatever his problems might have been, he at
least knew how to put together an outfit.