Thursday, March 27, 2008

Unsolved mysteries involve 'humming' in my head

IT'S TIME for the mystery tour. In past the Ol' Columnist has "explored" mind-boggling questions concerning UFOs, the Bimini Road, the Bermuda Triangle, the Loch Ness Monster, Big Foot, crop circles and even the Okanagan's very own mysterious creature, Ogopogo.
Of course, since we're neither a scientist nor a mind-reader some must be relegated to the unexplained category.
Just in the past few days, a new list of unsolved mysteries came to the forefont.
And one happened to be this striking headline: "Whatever happened to D.B. Cooper?"
That's right, back in November, 1971, D.B. (obviously, not his real name) jumped out of a Northwest Orient plane between Seattle and Reno with $200,000 (in $20. bills) along with four parachutes.
And then Cooper vanished. The cops labelled it an unsolved crime even though over the course of time, rumours have circulated that D.B. was spending that loot somewhere, most likely in Mexico.
Well, just a few days ago some kids found a rotting parachute stuck in the mud on their family's property in rural southwestern Washington and the speculation began once again.
Another mysterious disappearance is less than a year old. That's when famous American adventurer Steve Fossett disappeared while flying his own small plane over the Nevada desert last September.
Now, the 63-year-old Fossett had been noted for his daring-do. He made his fortune in the financial services industry and then took off, setting world records in a balloon. He appeared invincible.
After six months of intense searching, it was called off and Fossett was declared "legally dead."
Strange. Strange, indeed.
There are other mysteries which keeps me as well as countless others wide awake in the middle of the night.
One happens to be the Shroud of Turin, which is housed in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy. Is it really the burial covering of Jesus Christ? There have been countless tests concerning it and still the controversy remains as to its authenticity.
Another one which has held my interest involves a ship called the 'Mary Celeste,' which was launched as the 'Amazon' in Nova Scotia in 1860.
It seems the ship was repaired and re-launched and on Nov. 7, 1872 it set off from New York to Genoa, Italy.
Then something strange happened.
The 'Mary Celeste' was found floating in the middle of the Strait of Gibraltar. Neither the captain, his family and crew were found and what happened to them is still a mystery.
And then there's another mystery, which has affected me and possibly you.
It's commonly known as The Hum. That's right, that low-pitched sound heard by millions.
Have you been kept awake by it? I know I have and it's been a constant annoyance throughout the years.
At first it sounded like static from the radio. However, it continued even after my radio was turned off. Then I covered my ears and it remained.
Perhaps, it was something I had to endure as the aging process set in.
However, in the past few days, I decided to explore this all-too-common mystery.
Apparently, it has a name of the Taos Hum throughout North America.
In 1997, the U.S. Congress had scientists check out the town of Taos, New Mexico where it was most noticeable.
However, a so-called scientific study of this low-frequency sound proved inconclusive.
The Hum, of course, has continued throughout the U.S., Canada as well as in Europe, Asia, Africa and even as far away as New Zealand.
Just what is this mystery?
Some have considered it emanating from microwaves while even others have claimed it to be the "work" of little, green men in UFOs.
It's a real humdinger and I'm tired of it. After all, I'd like to get some rest without this constant low-frequency "humming."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Most Unforgettable 'Teacher' In My Life

THERE I WAS the other night and for whatever reason a thought popped into my head: "I wonder how Ol' George Gross is doing?"
Without any fanfare, I started to check the Internet. Did he have another Vaclav Nedomansky waiting in the wings? Of course, how could I ever forget those bygone days when he whispered on the phone about the most famous defection in hockey history. And as well, his admonition to me to keep it a secret.
While scrolling the Net these dramatic words hit me like a two-by-four: George Gross, the founding sports editor of the Toronto Sun, has died.
What? I blinked a half dozen times and rushed to wake up The Missus.
"George died," I said in a shaky voice.
"George is dead," I repeated.
The impact was immediate on both of us.
How could this be? A legend should give at least some advance notice of their demise, but to learn of Gross' death with only a few terse words on the Net was almost indecent.
How could this pupil of a sportswriting legend even sleep while burdened with news that brought tears to my eyes?
In the morning I was still shaken and wrote the following:
George Gross was one of a kind. He was wise sometimes. He was humourous sometimes. He was even hard driving at other times.
And I can say all these things, for I was his right-hand man at the very beginning of the Toronto Sun in November 1971.
Actually, I learned from this debonair man of the world during my days with the late and great Toronto Telegram. And what a learning experience that was.
When the Tely went the way of the dodo bird, Gross was an integral member of the team which began working on wooden crates in that early Canadian foundry -- the Eclipse Whitewear Building. And I was the fortunate one, being named the first assistant sports editor under his leadership.
Those days were filled with apprehension and wonderment at the Little Paper That Grew as it blossomed into a newspaper, which actually hit the streets every day.
It was a miracle.
There were nights at his home, planning the look and essence of those sports pages. It was like looking over the shoulder of a master at work.
Then there were the "chats," if his right-man man stepped out of line and words such as "okay, kiddo," which always seemed to conclude every so-called "lecture."
In those days, we were family, so when I decided to leave to become sports editor of the Edmonton Sun and later its executive editor, this man I considered to be my father in the business realm was mildly annoyed. And the communication between us became somewhat strained.
A few years late, in the mid-80s, Gross came back into my life after my relationship with the Edmonton Sun disintegrated.
That's when the "real" George Gross came to the forefront and he welcomed me back into the Toronto Sun fold, for which I will be eternally grateful.
While I retired in 1994, this wise and generous man continued to be such an influence with his writings and his generous ways.
When I heard of his passing last Friday, I went into shock, for he definitely was one of a kind.
Since then countless words have flowed concerning this man, who escaped Czechoslovakia from the Communists via a row boat or was it that he had walked on the Danube as someone once wrote?
In this day of cookie-cutter celebrities, Gross was larger-than-life, known from Prague to Moscow to Toronto to Vancouver to even Los Angeles as the stylish gentleman with the European charm and sometimes explosive temper.
The Baron, a name that most called him, was the last of a dying breed. He was definitely old school and he had been trained in the finer points of tennis, soccer, hockey and figure skating and wrote about each with style. In addition, his charity work, particularly, with Variety Village, goes unmatched.
While the deaths of sportswriting legends such as Dick Beddoes, Jim Coleman, Scott Young, Milt Dunnell, Jim Hunt, Ted Reeve and Jim Proudfoot have been dramatic, the demise of George Gross has made me feel very vulnerable, for he was not only my teacher, but my friend.
Incidentally, his scoop concerning Nedomansky's defection to the World Hockey Association in the 1970s earned him a National Newspaper Award.
Now this legend is gone at age 85, survived by his wife, Elizabeth, son George and daughter Teddy and his "pupils" of which I certainly was one.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Kenny Reardon: A true and brave Canadien

FOR THE YOUNGER generation, the name Kenny Reardon might not mean much. Perhaps, some might associate the name with hockey. And they'd be right.
According to Montreal Gazette columnist Red Fisher, Reardon was certainly a "fearless, rushing and crushing defenceman" in the 1940s with the NHL Canadiens.
In addition, the tough man for the defence, even went overseas and distinguished himself by being awarded the Field Marshall Montgomery's Certificate of Merit for bravery.
Later, he would become a respected club executive -- a man who carried himself with distinction on and off the ice.
So it was a shock when learning about his death at age 86 and the reason for it. For, you see, Reardon had the incurable disease, Alzheimer's, known in most circles as dementia.
Reardon like others before him had been devastated by the disease as I have detailed in past columns.
Even last May, I related that it has affected not only aging former athletes, but the younger generation.
If you'll indulge me, I'll repeat a number of paragraphs from a 2007 column:
"Ted Johnson has all the symptoms: Depression, dizziness, excessive drowsiness, fatigue, irritability, memory loss, poor concentration, ringing in the ears, acute sensitivity to noise. And he's only 34 years old and slowly the memory and the mind of the former New England Patriots' linebacker may be vanishing.
"He's almost a poster boy for an oft-dismissed disease and its advance stage known as Alzheimer's, which can claim not only the young, as Johnson happens to be, but stretches into those in advanced years, often blatantly tagged as "the Golden Years."
Actually, the above paragraphs were the essence of a lengthy article by Jackie MacMullan of the Boston Globe, who painted a sad portrait of a once-great athlete, who was felled by severe periods of stark depression.
Johnson, himself, has attributed his crippling disease to "concussions" which he numbers close to 30. That figure startled someone, who has only suffered a half dozen concussions.
However, non-athletes have also been ravished by dementia and Alzheimer's.
When trying to track down the disease, there was a report that about 23,000 Americans die from it annually. And athletes, who had suffered a series of concussions and head traumas, weren't the only ones to be relegated to the "sidelines," and these included some of the best and the brightest.
Of course, the final years of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan were sad, indeed. An also actress Rita Hayworth, the fiery performer from the 1940s, deteriorated and her affliction wasn't properly diagnosed until 1980. She died in 1987 at the age of 87.
Remember Burgess Meredith, the actor who growled his way to fame as 'The Penguin' and even later in the 1995 'Grumpier Old Men'? He died from Alzheimer's in 1997.
The sports realm, of course, has been most susceptible with every one from famed college and NFL head coach Tom Fears, major-league baseball star Mickey Owen, and, of course, Sugar Ray Robinson, one of all-time greats in the boxing ring, being victims.
While the Alzheimer's-related death of Kenny Reardon came as a shock to older hockey fans, the life of Vernon-area resident, Keith Vinden, has been an inspiration to the survivors of this dreaded illness.
Although the former teacher and principal could sink into deep depression, he maintains a great sense of humour and it showed with such gems as: "I met a guy in the gym this morning. He says, "Hi Keith, how ya doing?" "Great! Say, I don't think we've met before. My name's Keith." I make more new friends this way."
MYTH CONCEPTIONS (From Uncle John's Bathroom Reader): Fortune cookies were invented in China. Truth: They were invented in the U.S. in 1918 by Charles Jung, a Chinese restaurant owner, to amuse customers while they waited for their food. Only later were they served after the meal.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

For Beliveau, it's still a matter of class

IN AN AGE when bundles of currency and arrogance often define superstar athletes, Jean Beliveau at age 76 stands for class.
The former Montreal Canadiens captain, who retired from hockey in 1971, still ranks as a role model even for those, who never saw his superior skills.
On the Legends of Hockey website, the late NHL president Clarence Campbell was quoted as saying that Le Gros Bill "provided hockey with a magnificent image."
That was high praise indeed, but deserved. And it hasn't diminished even today.
The reason for such status through the years was that Beliveau always displayed an affection for his chosen game and still contributes to it in positive ways.
His name came to the forefront just the other day when I started flipping through a catalogue I received from, announcing the Jean Beliveau Foundation Auction on Tuesday, March 11.
While growing up, this would-be goaltender, who certainly deserved to be known as The Sieve, tried to emulate the moves of the late Toronto netminder Turk Broda. It was a futile effort, but loyalty to the Maple Leafs was imperative in Bass River, Nova Scotia, Pop. 301, in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
However, when my family moved to the Toronto area in the mid-'50s, I became a secret admirer of the Canadiens, well not the entire team, but of Beliveau.
Of course, it was an unspoken admiration. After all, Le Gros Bill was the enemy. And I definitely wanted to keep my pearly whites intact. So I suffered in silence. However, Beliveau's class eventually softened the hearts of Toronto fanatics and for 18 years he worked his magic for the Montrealers.
After his retirement he became an executive and the "goodwill ambassador" for the Habs, and out of that connection, the Jean Beliveau Fund for underprivileged and needy kids was established.
So that's the reason, the "classy" catalogue was a welcome sight in my mailbox.
On Page 7, there's photo of a game sweater Beliveau wore in 1969. An accompanying story read: "Our consignor was just a youngster when he won the sweater in a contest organized by the Journal de Montreal newspaper not long after Jean Beliveau retired from hockey ... The Canadiens' former captain personally presented the sweater to the excited boy."
Besides the sweater, there were other Beliveau "treasures" being auctioned off to benefit those less fortunate such as his 1972-73 Stanley Cup championship ring and even the 325th career goal puck in which he moved ahead of Nels Stewart and into fifth place on the all-time goals scored list behind Richard, Howe, Lindsay and Geoffrion.
It might not mean much to the diminishing number of non-hockey fans, but that Beliveau goal, assisted by Bobby Rousseau, was scored against Roger Crozier in Detroit's Olympia on Dec. 22, 1963. The Canadiens went on to a 6-1 victory.
Other items include miniature silver-plated Stanley Cups, rings, sticks and pucks and even a pair of autographed "reds" from the old Montreal Forum. These are two of the four seats which "belonged" to Beliveau.
Now wouldn't those "reds" look terrific in my office? The only trouble is there's already a reserve bid of $500 on them.
Besides, those "reds," other "treasures" connected to the likes of Henri Richard, Guy Lafleur, Rocket Richard, Howie Morenz, Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull, Bobby Baun and the Great Gretzky will also be up for auction.
Now, please excuse me, I'm trying to raise some dollars for, maybe, an autographed photo of Beliveau on auction day. It will be a birthday gift. That's right my birthday also happens to be on Tuesday, March 11.