More Than Just a Variety Store

By David Menzies

It was organized chaos, every square inch of that store — jam-packed with the things you needed right away as well as the sort of stuff you wouldn’t use in an entire lifetime.

As a child, my visits to Dave’s Variety would begin pretty much the same way. I’d walk the length of the store, past the candy bar display and magazine rack and the ice cream freezer, finally arriving within a dark, scruffy storeroom realm. In my arms were several empty deposit/return refillable glass pop bottles. A 10-ouncer was worth a nickel and a long-neck 16-ounce bottle would fetch a dime. My stash usually meant I could score a small bag of Hostess Salt & Vinegar chips, a Big Turk bar, and maybe an Orange Crush. A nutritionist’s worst nightmare to be sure, but ambrosia for an eight-year-old scavenger nevertheless.

Standing at the cash register, diligently putting in those long, long hours, was Dave — the Dave in Dave’s Variety. Extraordinarily thin with a full head of white hair and intense blue eyes, he was always bustling with energy — long before the energy drinks category existed. Dave constantly cracked one-liners, suggesting his true ambition was perhaps to be on stage. Dave also had a smokin’ wife… which is to say, she wasn’t drop-dead gorgeous, but rather, was constantly puffing away on a Du Maurier cigarette when stationed behind the counter. (If Dave was still around today, I wonder what he’d say if told that not only is smoking verboten in stores but a shopkeeper isn’t even allowed to display his tobacco wares.)

The seldom-visited “gift” section of the store – truly a biosphere of the bizarre and the beguiling – nevertheless did bail me out of a jam once. On a class trip to Niagara Falls, I dawdled so much on what cheesy souvenir to snag I ended up buying nothing at all. Not wanting to return home empty-handed, I dropped by Dave’s and found an arrangement of faded multi-coloured plastic flowers in a small brown plastic basket. This … thing … was coated in a thick layer of dust, as if it were some ancient relic that had just been unearthed in an archaeology expedition. Truth be told, while this grotesque knickknack had absolutely nothing to do with Niagara Falls, my grandmother nevertheless pretended it was an item of staggering beauty when presented to her. Thanks for the save, Dave.

I also remember frequently going to Dave’s whenever my folks needed a pack of Craven “A” King Size. I’d tote along a handwritten note and a two-dollar bill, which was sufficient cash and adequate proof of I.D. for a child to buy smokes back when gasoline was sold by the gallon and the Toronto Maple Leafs were Stanley Cup contenders.

The truly great thing about Dave’s Variety– located just three bungalows away from our humble abode on Lawrence Avenue West – was the fact that it really was so darn convenient, back before the term “convenience stores” had entered the popular vernacular.

What’s more, when I reflect upon my chosen career path as a journalist (chosen, that is, because I’m inherently incompetent in every other facet of life), I think Dave had an early albeit profound influence on me. After all, there were many days I didn’t have the necessary funds to buy that latest issue of The Avengers or Mad magazine, so I’d sit cross-legged on the floor and read comic books and magazines. Without fail, Dave would remind me, “Hey! This ain’t the library, kid!” But his bark was always far worse than his bite and Dave would let me read until my eyelids grew heavy. Turned out Dave’s Variety was the library after all… well, for me at least.

Let it be known that Dave himself – given the time period – was a bit of an oddball in that he routinely jogged to his store even though he owned a car. Clad in a navy blue Adidas tracksuit, I’d often observe him trotting past our house. Keep in mind this was the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, just before the fitness craze for adults took off with the prodding, no doubt, of advertisements for ParticipACTION which shamefully admonished us all that the average 60-year-old Swede was in better shape than his 30-year-old Canadian counterpart.

One day my grandfather looked out our living room window and spotted Dave huffing and puffing en route to his store on a frightfully frigid February day and Pop mumbled how Dave must be nuttier than a Snickers bar. Only people who couldn’t afford cars travelled via foot, after all. Not long after making this observation, my grandfather would die of a massive heart attack, just three months into his retirement. What was left of my family packed up and moved to Newfoundland in August, 1975, which was the last time I set foot in Dave’s Variety.

Recently – for the first time in almost four decades – I returned to my old neighbourhood; specifically, to that little 10-store strip mall that once housed Dave’s Variety. The nearby BP gas station is now a Husky and the Fina station is a Petro-Canada. The above-store apartment unit where my good friend Clinton lived is now a massage parlour. A major arterial route, the Allen Road, slices through the grassy hills that I used to slide down on pieces of discarded cardboard. The bungalow I grew up in is still there, but the two enormous evergreens have been chopped down. Dave’s Variety is long gone, too; in its place is a payday loan joint.

I was actually somewhat disheartened to discover Dave’s no longer existed. For it was only upon returning to this patch of nondescript real estate did it dawn on me that Dave’s Variety was really far more than just a convenience store. Rather, it really was a cherished childhood destination. Even if I didn’t quite realize it at the time, Dave’s Variety existed as a friendly harbour away from home. And even though there’s no shortage of such stores today, for some odd reason I found myself as an adult in 2012 impossibly longing to visit Dave’s Variety one last time.

As the sun began to set, I remained rooted in the small plaza’s parking lot, even though I had no business with any of the shops there. I closed my eyes, and in my imagination, Dave’s Variety was still a viable business. I was eating a Cadbury Bar Six and washing it down with Tahiti Treat and reading the latest issue of Daredevil. Dave was yet again employing the hard sell, which he did whenever a new candy bar debuted. As usual, he was praising the treat as being “the best bar known to mankind!” – until the next new candy bar came along, of course.

It all felt so astonishingly real that I briefly thought that when I opened my eyes, everything would indeed still be there again: the hills, the evergreens, and of course, Dave’s Variety – all those bits and pieces of that certain summer, that endless summer.

Of course, when I finally did reopen my eyes, everything that was part and parcel of my childhood was still long gone — Dave’s Variety included. But the memories… well, the memories remain.

Thanks, Dave – wherever you are.

Greek Far Right Politician Attacks Two Women on Live TV

Published: Thursday, 7 Jun 2012 | 6:15 AM ET

By: Matthew West
Associate Editor, CNBC

Tensions ahead of fresh elections in Greece on June 17 spilled over in a televised political debate on Thursday when a spokesman for the far right Golden Dawn party physically attacked two female members of parliament from opposing political parties throwing water at one and punches at another.

Video of the incident, posted on Youtube but since removed, shows Ilias Kasidiaris in heated exchanges with Syriza party deputy Rena Dourou. The video shows both politicians shouting over the other. Communist party member of parliament Liana Kanellis is also involved.

Toward the end of the footage, Kasidiaris picks up a glass of water and throws it across the table at Dourou. Kanellis then jumps back out of her seat next to him and throws a number of papers at him. He reacts by pushing Kanellis and then striking her multiple times.

The television station, Antenna TV, called the police immediately after the incident. It is unclear whether the Golden Dawn spokesman has been arrested. However, local media has reported that an arrest warrant has been issued.

Golden Dawn is a far right political organization that until recently was a political non-entity in Greece. However, the recent inconclusive general election saw them finish fifth overall with 21 MPs and a little short of 7 percent of the vote.

Charles Adler is back!

May I deviate from the continuing news headline of the week to tell you why I kissed Canadian soil this morning? I’ve just returned from a two week tour of Central Europe, with stops in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria and Germany. From a tourism perspective every one of those countries is rich in history and culture. Magnificent architecture that leaves eyes watering and lungs gasping. “How were they able to do that?” You ask yourself over and over again. But in each of those countries, there were reminders of darkness, not the darkness that CBC tries to go to when they try to blacken Canadian history and heritage. I’m talking pure evil. The kind that sets a country and culture back hundreds of years, the kind that generates fear and loathing and hatred that is never far from beneath the surface.

My eyes feasted on so much of what I saw in the last few weeks in Central Europe. But my mind and my heart was so proud to be Canadian where so much of the public rhetoric is about nonsense like Thomas Mulcair’s desperate attempt to divide the country against itself on the matter of oil sands. I cannot remember the last time I saw a political football being thrown that was all air and no leather. All pig and no skin. When you have been up and close and personal with the true demagogues, the ones with high political lethality quotients like Rene Levesque and Jaques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard, the Thomas Mulcair stuff by comparison is just a teaspoon full of political puke. But after two weeks of Europe where the gorgeous landscapes were at one time all bloodied by the evil ideologies of Communism and Fascism, where millions of families were murdered in the mayhem that followed the politics of paranoia, after witnessing that, I couldn’t help but feel once again like the luckiest guy on earth, with a Canadian home address, a Canadian passport and a Canadian audience that demands more than expensive words to deliver cheap shots.

Excellence is what I saw so much of. Excellence of workmanship, craftsmanship. Excellence in art and architecture and the preparation of food-My goodness. It looked so damn good you were ALMOST reluctant to have any of the masterpieces come close to your Canine Teeth. But you did and you always went back for more. Don’t go to Europe on a diet. Don’t do it. But once again you cannot take a look at everything I looked at without also knowing that his harvest of beauty in almost all things was at times soaking in the blood of tyrants. Canada on Canadian soil has never tasted this kind of poison and those who say we have are lying through their teeth. I kissed Canadian soil today. It was the least I could do as a grateful Canadian, grateful for the country that allowed my family to escape some of the planet’s worst political predators. Is this the best country in the world? You never have to doubt it. But if you do, take a trip far, far away from your comfort zone and then come back to Canada, and tell me whether or not you love this country more on the day you return than on the day you left. That is how I feel about my country and about you. Very grateful to be welcomed back by your ears and your thoughts and your hearts.