There is no more tender soul on earth than a scribbler, one who ekes out a living by proffering his weak witticisms before an aloof public. The alcoholic wards of the nation and the psychiatrists’ couches are overflowing with bruised and wounded writers who have been rejected, rebuffed, insulted and spat upon. You are gazing upon such a wretch, a man who has taken abuse over the decades that would fell musk-oxen, insults that would stab Khadafy to the quick, foul epithets that would reduce Henry Kissinger to tears. Nothing, however—nothing experienced in a lifetime of developing a skin that would repel heat-seeking missiles—compares with being booed off a stage in one’s home town.
They know how to hurt a guy. It is as a spear to the heart. The occasion, strangely enough, was a love-in. Several of us—740 to be exact—gathered recently in Vancouver to honor The Oatmeal Savage, known in some semicivilized circles as Jack Webster, aka Haggis McBagpipe. The B.C. TV broadcaster, who shouts for a living and daily frightens the children and horses in the streets, is not suffering from any dreadful illness (save a fattening of the wallet), nor is he about to retire. He has reached the age of 67 while smoking five packs of fags a day and undoubtedly will hit 107, since his heart is pure and his ego is as the strength of 10.
His friends, meaning those 740 who could afford a $100 dinner and thought it was a good idea that the Canadian Club wanted to use the money to establish an annual Jack Webster Foundation Award for a deserving young journalist and potential successor (never fear, God; they broke the mould), knelt at his stubby feet. When it came time for your hero to emote the usual clichés into the microphone, I observed that the genius of Webster, the unlettered Glasgow lad who at 15 was delivering milk and held down three newspaper jobs, was that he was a synthesizer.
Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.
Plowing on manfully into my grave, I continued along the line that the reason he made such obscene amounts of money was because “he could take extremely complex subjects and issues and reduce them to the level that even a Burnaby housewife could understand.” At that point, mother, my life began to dissolve before my eyes. A wave of hisses and boos, larger than the highest surf off Maui, wafted over the podium, completely destroying the Shakespearean rhythm in the final paragraphs of my tribute to my despicable, egotistical, unspeakable friend.
Knowing my audience, and from which tax bracket they found their way into the Hotel Vancouver ballroom, I dug myself deeper, with a backhand reference to “and Shaughnessy housewives also.” The Maui wave became tidal. While I tried to express my unrequited love to Webster, shouts of “Sit down,” “Forget it, you’ve lost it” and “Go home” reverberated from feminine voices that sounded like Casey Stengel and tinkled the champagne glasses. I slunk to my head table, a prophet without honor. Pat Carney chuckled into her scotch. Past and present B.C. Supreme Court justices beside me raised not a hand in protest.
Past and present millionaires like Nelson Skalbania and Peter Brown snorkled in their giggle juice, gazing sideways at their wives, housewives thou never wert. Now just one thing bothers me, tender soul that I am. Burnaby, a Vancouver bedroom community that started out as a blue-collar preserve, now contains the usual quota of
carpenters and fishermen who own sailboats and Whistler Mountain ski cabins, the birthright of all B.C. residents.
But since when did “housewife” become a dirty term, right up there with “nigger” and “wop” and the rest? I thought the whole philosophy of the Sisterhood was to exalt all the work of women. That a female who raised children was just as exalted as one who become a brain surgeon or a nuclear physicist. Did I miss something?
That a “housewife” in Burnaby, with 2.5 children, a dog and a lawn mower, who didn’t have time to join the trendy professional women’s Jane Fonda exercise classes downtown at lunch hour was somehow demeaned because she listened to the Great Synthesizer Webster every morning between 9 a.m. precisely and 10:30. Gazing out over my expensive audience, dodging the hard buns, I noted the cheerleaders of abuse heaped upon my innocent and weary shoulders. A prominent national radio broadcaster. An influential CBC producer. A prominent lawyer with a
0 national reputation. Sev| eral favorite Shaughnessy 1 matrons who haven’t seen * a Hoover since they left
home for university and others whose main worry is arranging work permits for their Filipino maids.
Are these really the defenders of the mythical Burnaby housewife? One suspends judgment. I’m not so sure that the $100-a-plate ladies who are offended at hearing the word “housewife” emitted from a podium at a black-tie spree really care all that much about housewives. The point is that Jack Webster is fabulously successful because he has a program—the early morning slot is not by accident— that explains political crises and strikes and tragedies and authors and visiting cabinet biggies to the people who happen to be available to watch TV between 9:00 and 10:30 each morning. They are called housewives.
Businessmen can’t. Lady lawyers can’t. Housewives, who are no worse and no better than the above, can. The only thing they can’t do is afford $100 for supper. Oh, it’s hard being one of the few card-carrying male feminists.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.