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From William Thomas: Twenty Years of Hosting Reduced to a Top Ten List

Almost a quarter of a century ago, I raised my hand at a meeting to offer my services as a volunteer. The meeting of Port Colborne citizens was so contentious, it had to be moved from city hall to a larger venue at the Canadian Legion.

I was part of a core group of culturalists determined to turn the flagging Port Colborne Club into a theatre for the arts. Against us were naysayers and business people who opposed the use of tax dollars to compete with their private entertainment establishments.

The guy who spoke before me Joe of Joes Bar got so worked up he ended his pitch by saying that he was not going to kiss Shirley Coppens ass! Shirley was the local provincial government rep. I began my pitch by stating that Joe was playing dirty pool because the mental image of kissing Shirley Coppens has sent 15 guys running for the Belmont Hotel and they were my supporters!!!

Having just come off the book tour with Hey! Is That Guy Dead Or Is He Skip!?! I was only too anxious to see the clubs curling rinks ripped up. So I raised my hand and offered to start an author series in Port Colborne if the club became an arts theatre.

We won the day, government money arrived and the ol boys club was converted into a beautiful 300-seat theatre, with the bar and salons of the circa 1860 stately homestead nicely preserved.

Last Tuesday evening I raised my hand again but this time it was to wave goodbye to the theatre and almost 300 patrons who had come to my last author evening to hear the amazing story of Olympic sensation Silken Laumann.

But what a wonderful, 20-year literary ride it was! I did the first reading of Malcolm And Me Life In The Litterbox and the next author I brought to the stage was Stephen Red with Jackrabbit Parole. Stephen had just been released from prison for robbing banks, a lot of banks and all but one successfully.

When Maeve Railton could not find a sponsor for the evening, I suggested she try the four banks in town.

No, really, I persisted, it would be educational for the employees to hear how the mind of a robber works.

Maeve retuned a few days later and began her sponsorship report with You A$$!%#*. They all said no and one of them escorted me to the door. And they all want you to call them!

Why?

They want to know exactly when Stephen Reid is arriving and when hes leaving town.

Mike Bullard did an unforgettable two-hour, stand-up comedy routine, Sandra Shamas broke the record by using the F-word twelve times and Joe Pistone, the original Donny Brasco almost got us both arrested at the Buffalo border when, as a former FBI agent he tried to pull rank on a customs official. Our first lady Margaret Trudeau tore a strip of skin off me and Roger Abbott of Air Farce showed me its possible to be the funniest man in Canada and also the nicest man in the world.

Twenty years and 189 author evenings later, here then is the laugh track and highlight reel: My Top Ten List Of Two Decades Hosting Readings At The Roselawn.

10. Having dinner with the great Pierre Burton at Lucys when a drunk staggers over, slaps him on the back and says: So Peter. Have you written anything good lately?

9. Watching the face of Talwood Manors Judith Boroniec as author Wayne Johnson did a detailed and passionate five-minute tirade on how much he hates B&Bs.

8. Being on stage with David Gilmore with his wife in the front row as he stumbled into a matrimonial mine field and talked his way out of the third marriage.

7. Instructing the sponsors at dinner that Conrad Black must be addressed as Lord Back Of Crossharbour only to have John Marsh lean over and say: So Connie, whats this Lord Black bullshit all about? (John Marsh hereafter to be addressed as The Earl Of Cedar Crest.

6. The nightly challenge of trying to get the author to the microphone before two ladies in the second row started snoring.

5. After all those author evenings the thing Ill miss the most is when I hear Marty Parr introduce me, then I hear your warm applause, then I beckon the house manager with: For Chrissakes Roberta, the door to the stage is locked again.

4. Having a drink with amazing Alistair MacLeod at Winchesters when another guy staggers over and tells him a really raunchy Rolling Stones joke that ends with: Hey MacLeod, get off of my ewe.

3. Standing next to legendary Mordecai Richler in the Q&A as Margaret Barker rose to announce she had purchased every book hed ever written for her husband and after he thanked her profusely she added: And he hated every one of them.

2. Calling my publisher and that evenings author Anna Porter three hours before the event to make sure she was clear on how to get to Port Colborne only to have her get snippy with me by saying: Of course I dont need directions. I happen to have a summer home in Port Carling.

1. And the number one moment was years ago in the signing lounge autographing copies of Margaret And Me when someone in line asked my mother to sign her name, which she did, again and again, with her signature getting bigger and bolder until there was no room for my signature until finally we got into a fight over who wrote the damn book anyway.

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