The mystery of why I like John Levesque
Over the fall of 1970, still living at home, in un-cool small-town Ontario, I climbed out of my too-small bed each morning, dressed up in a blazer, and drove my embarrassing beige 1964 Chev station wagon to catch the GO Train. During the commute into college, I stayed alert to read my textbook, prepare for classes, and look at the cute girl who got on the train in Scarborough every day. I knew who she was. She was cool. We were never formally introduced, and we never ever spoke to each other. But she made an impression on seventeen-year-old me because, at our first encounter, she was naked.
She was a performer in Hair, the Broadway musical that came to the Royal Alexandra Theatre for a long run that year. Seeing Hair combined rock music, rebellion, and, oh, yeah, female nakedness with my ambition to grow up and get away. Inexplicably, forty-four years later, I still think of commuter trains, repeatedly, when I see the word “Aquarius.” I can’t help it. I don’t think I want to help it.
My story hasn’t got much to do with Waiting for Aquarius, the 1993 Leacock Medal winner by John Levesque, but I don’t think I could give an honest account of my experience of reading the book without getting that GO Train admission out of the way first.
Waiting for Aquarius pulls material from Levesque’s column in the Hamilton Spectator. My catalogue of confessions now includes not knowing of John Levesque, another Southern Ontario hoser kind of guy around my age, before reading this book. But I really liked his stuff, got his jokes, and found it all consistently smart.
I am not sure why.
Levesque echoes a number of the Leacock medallists I admire. He sounds like a gentle humorist in the Eric Nicol fashion, but like Pierre Berton, he takes on politics, bureaucrats, the media, war, and finance. He also speaks of his family in the style of Gary Lautens. If I had to file his columns, I would put them under “Leacock Medal Miscellaneous.”
His book is a pretty loose collection for sure, matching the physical character of my copy of Aquarius. I have lots of Leacock Medal books that are older, but this one shows the most wear. The glue on the binding has given out, and I’ve stuck in packing tape that bunches up and pushes the pages out in a jagged pile that begs to be wrapped in an elastic band. I’m not sure why I’ve been so hard on it.
For some people, the book’s cover adds to its dishevelled look. It features a cheesy photo of the twinkle-eyed, grinning, bearded author. In it, he pours water Aquarius-style, but the liquid hits the table and misses the glass--just as we humans and the other residents of the universe keep missing the mark in the quest for the perfect, harmonic galactic convergence and planetary alignment needed to end the age of chaos and usher in the Age of Aquarius. But I like it, and when I call the photo cheesy, I mean it as a compliment. I’m cheesy. I have been the subject of several twinkle-eyed, grinning, bearded author photos as well. I’m not sure why I like Levesque’s style.
As I said, there’s not much holding the book together. Levesque jumps around a lot, regularly starting off his columns with reminiscences drawn from his childhood and teen years. When he reports on changing demographics, he leads into it with the story of a six-year-old friend who had to keep a back-pocket list to remember the names of his sixteen siblings; he talks about office politics by recalling a grade school exchange of valentines; and he ties Descartes to his dog, physics to sentient trees, and diapers to inventions.
For me, the personal stories give the pieces a genuineness that makes the facts that follow more human and effective. His humour and humanity reach a peak in the closing entry, which lists all the things that give him “Happiness.” Like me, Levesque avoids resolutions on New Year’s Day and, instead, pauses in the gratitude month of October to reflect. I’m not sure why I like his thinking.
All those personal recollections somehow work, and Levesque knows that he has no control over them anyway. When he reflects on the sacredness of Good Friday, he says playing football with his high school friend and “the arc of a football against a ceiling of deep blue” come to mind more than religion, adding, “I can’t help it. I don’t think I want to help it.”
Hmm. That’s funny.
In a paragraph or two, describe an appropriate but non-traditional way of marking November 11, Remembrance Day, that does not acknowledge war, the military, or veterans.
 A daily paper with a history of great writers and of punching above its weight class, likely because its competition was the Toronto Star, The Telegram, The Globe and Mail, and other heavies down the road in T.O.