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Ross Murray's Border Report
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Ross Murray
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is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at ross_murray@sympatico.ca
Posted 11.24.05
Stanstead, Quebec

ROSS MURRAY

Malcolm Stone: What a character

Here's the kind of guy Malcolm Stone was: He would have been appalled that in his death notice The Record in Sherbrooke, Quebec, hyphenated the word "mensch."

"Those morons," he would have said.

And then he would have obsessed on the topic for another five minutes before relating some quip from The New Yorker.

In reference to this column about a "deady," he'd have said, "Blee-ecch!"

And he probably would have laced into me for writing without knowing all the facts.

Malcolm StoneI can't say with certainty, for example, how Malcolm left Montreal in the seventies to settle in his pond-side home in Stanstead East. Nor do I understand, really, how he paid for food and El-Stinko Brand cigarettes when his income seemed to consist of winnings from bridge games and the pittance we paid him as The Stanstead Journal's proofreader.

Short on facts, I could always pull the editorial trick that Malcolm got such a kick out of whenever we had some unproven allegation: the good old question-mark headline. "Stone Had Fortune Buried in Garden?"

Malcolm was already the proofreader when I arrived at The Journal in 1992. I quickly learned that this guy with the dirty fingernails and coat of many odours was loquacious, funny, thrifty, crude, distracting, and knowledgeable on so many matters.

It was Malcolm, for example, who showed me where the dented tin stores were stateside.

It was Malcolm who brought me up to speed on How We Saved the Cassville School and How We Almost Saved the Rock Island Post Office and How Fisher Made Night Deposits.

It was Malcolm who introduced me to Calvin Trillin, Roy Blount Jr., Bob Dorough, "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me" and sour tomatoes. He taught me that "pipik" is Yiddish for "belly button" and that there are cheap laughs to be had in teaching kids to say, "Do you want to see my pipik?" He showed me that you could get by in life without functioning plumbing.

Mostly, though, Malcolm showed me that small-town journalism could soar if you cared about clarity, that obsessing over hyphens paid off, that irreverence could be a powerful weapon, and that if you use the word "challenge" (as in, "the mayor said there were many challenges ahead for council") you deserve to be mercilessly mocked. Lewd gestures might be involved.

Make no mistake. Malcolm was not always easy to work with. He had no patience for reporters whose hearts bled too readily. He had particular issues with women's centres, for reasons I won't even attempt to psychoanalyze. And he lost hours of work chatting. How many times did I have to say, "Malcolm. Please. Just proofread the copy." And how many times did I have to intervene when differences of opinions became too heated, personal, and downright ugly.

I felt his full fury only once. We had done a story about some bonehead move by local Canada Customs officers and had received a letter in support of Customs from a woman who failed to identify herself as the wife of an agent. Malcolm suggested, then insisted, that we add an editor's note exposing her as a spouse. I thought otherwise, arguing that doing so implied she had no identity or ideas of her own. I've never been yelled at so viciously in my life.

And then it was forgotten. It might not have been.

Once after telling me for the umpteenth time about... well let's just say he had issues with certain Anglicans, I said, "Boy, you hold a grudge!" He replied, "Friends come and go but a good grudge lasts forever."

When we last spoke a few weeks ago, Malcolm was jolly and combative and obsessing over Canada Post's efforts to move his mailbox. (And yes, his version of events did involve a lewd gesture). Part of the problem was that he was on a 70 km/h road. The solution, he said, would be to reduce the speed limit to 69 km/h, which, he continued, would have the added bonus of titillating the local teens.

And then last week police found him dead in his ramshackle home. Maudit Malcom...

Even here, I don't have all the facts.

Maybe by this Saturday (Nov. 24) when we gather to remember him, I'll be able to fill in the details of this strange and wonderful friend who's come and gone.

As for those of you who think we should have expressed how we felt about Malcolm when he was alive, I'd like to quote one of his favourite expressions:

"Chew my rubber bum."

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