THE REAL TRUTH ABOUT THE GRIT LASKIN 'CAR SIPHONING' PRANK (PAGE 200 OF "MEM-WHA??)
In my book I tell the now legendary story of the prank pulled by the "Friends Of Fiddler Green" in Toronto as told to me by Tam Kearney. Was he exaggerating? Did I embroider? We'll never know, but the subject of that prank has a very different version of what happened. If you haven't read the book yet, don't read this story. Once you've read it, go ahead:
THE GRIT & TAM VOLVO CAPER
by Grit Laskin
Though Chris may be relating her version of this elaborate practical joke as told to her by Tam Kearney, here is how it really happened. Ah . . . I was so naïve . . .
When I was 18 I began hanging around Toronto's Fiddler's Green folk club, which at the time—1971 and 72—was the undisputed hub of the city's folk music scene. Soon, I had been given a full night gig and my repertoire and performance style was such that I was invited to be a part of the house band—the Toronto core of The friends Of Fiddler's Green (which I am still a member of, 38 years later!). I thus became a regular at the club, which in those days meant every Tuesday and Friday night.
About a year into this I made the decision to purchase my first car, and chose a used Volvo station wagon. I had heard much about Volvos, how they were the leader in safety features like the seatbelts, headrests and disc brakes, how their cars got great mileage, and who knew what else? Of course, I couldn't help but speak excitedly of my purchase with the people of my new music community, all the volunteers and regulars at Fiddler's Green.
Once I owned the car I decided to actually check the mileage, to see if it was indeed as great as I'd been assured. So every week or so, I'd do the math, and duly report my findings to my friends at the club. I clearly recall my amazement as the number kept going up and up and up. I hit 50 miles per gallon, it rose to 75, then 90, then crossed the 100 barrier. Week, by week I was reporting the absolutely astounding mileage I was getting from the car. "I'm still driving on my first tank-full!" I'd declare, a month after a fill-up. I'd routinely get equally astonished reactions from folks at the club: "really?" "amazing!" "wow!" "you really lucked out!". The mileage had crept up to over 500 miles to the gallon. Volvo's were brilliant cars!
All during this time, I had certainly noticed that my gas guage was erratic, was going up, down, up, seemingly at random. I made the obvious assumption that it was faulty—this is what one had to accept when buying an older car—and was determined to have it replaced as soon as I could afford the repair.
What I was entirely unaware of was that Tam Kearney, the genial host and primary operator of the club, was sneaking to my car every second evening, to where I parked it in a community centre parking lot, which at the time was behind the house I rented with friends, and was pouring gas into my tank. And, every single person at Fiddler's Green knew about it, was in on the deception. "500 miles to the gallon!", I'd say. "Amazing!" they'd reply . . .
The only reason I discovered the ruse was because Tam ran into a little difficulty with phase 2 of his plan. Apparently his wife Margot was growing annoyed with him for spending their weekly grocery money putting gas in my car so he decided to start siphoning. On the very first night he began to siphon gas from my car, a routine cop patrol pulled into the community centre lot, spotted him, and of course asked him what he was up to? He tried to explain—I'm told. The cop was skeptical and insisted they take a walk over to my house to get his story corroborated.
The doorbell rang, I answered it, and was surprised to find my friend Tam standing there, along with a cop. The cop wasn't smiling.
Now, I happened to know that Tam had a number of friends on the police force, some of whom were folk music fans who occasionally showed up at Fiddler's Green. I also was not completely unaware that Tam liked to joke around. So, when the cop asked his first question: "did I know this man (pointing to Tam)" I decided to play along with the joke. I immediately said I'd never seen him before in my life, and slammed the door shut.
I counted about 4 seconds, swung the door open again, and cried out "just kidding!" to their retreating backs.
That was when I learned about the joke that had been played on me, and that seemingly everyone else in the world had been in on it.
Two weeks later, I was heading to my car, parked, as was still my habit, in the community centre parking lot. Three teenage punks, dressed in the macho look of the previous era—tight jeans, packet of smokes in their t-shirt sleeve, greased hair, puffing away on their lit fag, were precariously seated on the edge of the wooden fencing. They looked over to me, through squinting eyes as I approached my car. One of them cracked a wry smile, elbowed his nearest pal and yelled: "Hey mister, how's yer mileage?"