Articles

IT’S A TOUGH TIME TO BE A KID

SIDNEY KATZ December 15 1950
Articles

IT’S A TOUGH TIME TO BE A KID

SIDNEY KATZ December 15 1950

IT’S A TOUGH TIME TO BE A KID

PART ONE

To many adult Canadians, worried by what they read about other people s children and often confused by what they know of their own, the teen-ager is a national problem. Are they young hoodlums who need to be taught respect for the law? Are they just muddled youngsters seeking their own path in a world made chaotic by their elders? Maclean’s sent Reporter Sidney Katz, himself a sociologist, across the nation to find out. THE EDITORS.

SIDNEY KATZ

MANY ADULTS think of the 11/2 million Canadians between the ages of 13 and 20 as a race apart. They are frequently pictured as being irresponsible hoodlums who

spend most of their time making a nuisance of themselves. It is often said that the younger generation smokes too much, drinks too much, is illmannered, promiscuous, and perhaps criminal as well.

In support of these opinions the average citizen can draw on what seems like an ocean of evidence.

On a lonely Ontario highway recently a species of gangster many newspaper readers have learned to recognize from the headline “SPRING-KNIFE ZOOTERS” robbed and manhandled a motorist at knife-point and stole his car. In Kitchener police caught 19 youths boarding a truck to “war” with a rival gang, armed with home-made billies, loaded slings, improvised knuckle-dusters and chains. In Quebec City a teen-age gang broke into a wealthy home, stole many articles of value and destroyed others that they didn’t want. In Vancouver (where Halloween damage was said to exceed $10,000) two University of B. C. students were arrested for playing strip poker with two girls, 16 and 17. Both girls had been losing heavily and were nearly naked. In Winnipeg a group of adolescents kicked a dog when he was being walked by his master and hit the man on the head with a gun when he protested.

How accurately do the vicious or merely misguided kids who’ve been hitting the headlines represent the kids of Canada at large? Is it true, as some people are beginning to maintain, that the spirit and behavior of our adolescents and post-adolescents have undergone a drastic change for the worse?

In search of at least part of the answer, Maclean’s asked me to make a

seven-week 8,000-mile trip across Canada and back. As a social worker with special training in psychiatry I did my best to find out not only how teenagers are really behaving on the average but why they behave the way they do. I wanted to know what sort of adjustment they are making to a bomb-shadowed world and what emotional conflicts they are having with regard to parents, religion, sex, the business of choosing a career and getting along with others.

I talked to a lot of kids.

In Montreal I talked to 17-year-old Marielle Blais, who has a boy friend named Buddy and who collects match folders and wants to be a spy; and to Denise Mosse, who has worked since she was 15, never goes out with boys and wants to be a nun.

In Winnipeg I interviewed Jean Fuga, a Ukrainian girl who is 16 and works as a part-time waitress and hopes to earn enough to go through college; and Dolores Swanson, whose grandparents came from Iceland and who gets up at 6 a.m. to practice figure skating.

In Regina I saw Herb Powell, a lanky 17-year-old who works as a printer after hours, has no time for dates and is trying to decide whether to join the Army and learn a trade; and I saw Joyce Kerpatrick, a self-possessed girl of 16 who belongs to the swank Wascana Country Club and already has had several steady boy friends.

In Calgary I met Evelyn Grimes, whose life centres around the South Calgary United Church where she sings mezzo-soprano in the choir.

In Vancouver I interviewed Dan Steer, a huBky 17-year-old with a brush cut who makes $700 a year selling papers and employs three others to help him.

The firmest conclusion I came back with is this: Individual kids differ from each other about as much as they’ve ever differed. And they differ from adults more than ever. The conflict between the older generations and the new has never been greater or more apparent.

In Montreal, Andy Wolf, an 18-year-old Rumanian, has to meet his girl friend Betty at a

corner several blocks from her home because her father refuses to let her go steady. In Winnipeg, Roy Vincent finds a date can cost him as much as $8 and he has arguments with his father about it. “He worked for every cent he had and no one ever gave him anything,” Roy explains staunchly. “But times have changed and perhaps he doesn’t realize it.” In Vancouver, Ronnie Con, a Chinese teen-ager, told me of the conflict between the old generation which believes in Oriental “arranged” marriages and the younger ones who have adopted Occidental ways.

The acceleration of 20th century life has sparked this conflict between teen-agers and their parents. The teen-ager today has a great deal more freedom than his parents had. Since his parents finished growing up we have become a nation of city dwellers. (In 1901, 37.5% of Canadians lived in cities; in 1950 it’s 54.3%.) The city tends to grant anonymity and with it a loosening of the check-

8 Maclean's Magazine, December 15, 1950

reins of public opinion. Even those teen-agers who live in smaller places have been granted some anonymity and privacy by the ease of transportation.

The teen-agers of Renfrew, Ont., for instance, can whisk across the Ottawa River to the Quebec side to spend an evening or a week end. A carload of high-school students in Selkirk, Man., needs barely a gallon of gas to get to Winnipeg Beach.

In comparison with the generation ahead of them today’s youngsters have an infinity of things to do, both for pleasure and for profit. The movies, dance halls, bowling alleys and restaurants stay open longer—and there are more of them. If his or her taste runs to “higher” things there are more libraries and art classes, not to mention more radios and, in a few places, a chance to look at television. In the matter of jobs the U. S. Occupation Directory listed 338 vocations from which a youngster could choose 80 years ago. Now it lists more than 20,000.

It’s Easy to Find a Bad Kid

The resulting confusion over what a kid can do and wants to do is often aggravated by an honest doubt about what it’s right to do. At what precise point does a “good girl” become a “bad girl”? What is a “gentleman”? Is marriage enough for a woman? Are children more important than a career? How important is chastity before marriage, fidelity afterward? Is drinking an unqualified evil or merely a pleasant social custom which some people abuse?' In most homes it’s not so long ago that the answers to these questions were built right into the hearthstone, and in most homes the answers were the same. Now social attitudes vary widely, not merely from district to district and from class to class, but from house to house.

Is it any wonder the 1950 teen-ager is a little mixed up? Is it any wonder that he’s a far different person than his father or his grandfather at the same age? Is it any wonder the gulf between old and young, which has never been completely bridged, is now greater than ever before?

In this article I’m speaking about the normal individual. During my trip I had no difficulty finding the abnormal. If you go looking for kidB who are bad or on the verge of turning bad you discover that they’re tragically easy to find.

In Toronto I drank beer with a 19-year-old boy who had been lashed twice and jailed five times and whose philosophy still boiled down to three harrowing sentences: “Most people are suckers. The smartest ones are the easiest ones. All you have to do is put on a big front.”

One midnight in Arnprior, a quiet town in eastern Ontario, I saw three boys, none over 18, all drunk, sitting in a café and arguing with a bootlegger whether they were going to pay $2 for a 60-cent bottle of wine, $4 for a $1.75 mickey of rye or $8 for a case of beer.

I spent a night prowling around Montreal in Radio Car No. 181, of the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Bureau. We picked up a 14-year-old boy at the request of his father and delivered him to his home in the heart of the city’s worst red-light district. The father, a fat man who smoked a cigar, met us at the door, excitedly waved a roll of bills and shouted: “This boy’s no good. He’s a thief. He’s a criminal. He’ll die on the gallows.”

In Winnipeg’s North End I spent an evening in the block where the Dew Drop Gang originated and found a place where for $1 I could buy a pop bottle filled with strong colorless vile-tasting home brew. “You can get all you want,” I was told. The young roughnecks in this gang made a habit of raiding teen-club dances and beating up attendants or any youths who opposed them. Police finally rounded up the ringleaders and a few got jail terms.

To say this sad gallery is truly typical of today’s rising generation would be as unfair and inaccurate as to say that jazz and gin were truly typical of the 20’s. But the kids who don’t, can’t or won’t live within the law and respect both themselves and their neighbors are by no means so few that they can be dismissed from any discussion of kids in general.

Later we’ll take a closer and longer look at the teen-age underworld. But to bring their whole world into focus it’s necessary to look first of all at its core— at the hundreds of thousands of boys and girls who aren’t getting their names in the papers, who aren’t going to jail, to hell, or even—so far as the naked eye can see—to the dogs.

No error the adult world has made in judging this teen-age world has been more naïve than its attempt to judge individuals by their dress and speech.

Outlandish clothes and cryptic language are not the exclusive badge of the juvenile criminal or roughneck. They’re still the badge of a generation, of good kids and bad kids alike, just as it was when boys in baggy pants helped girls in unbuckled galoshes to draw pictures on their oilskin slickers and invited them to “drag a weed.”

Whisky Label on Girls’ Purses

The folkways of the growing-ups seem to change faster now and they vary more sharply by locality. In the Ottawa Valley you’ll hear “lumberjack” used in a strange context and you’ll probably have to be told that it means someone who doesn’t dress fashionably. In Montreal if one girl says to another, “Sacha-sacha,” it means: “There goes a

dreamy-looking guy. Look fast!” Ishka-Lashka-bo says: “This guy bores me. Let’s get rid of him.” “Juking” is playing hookey.

Today's fads, like today’s jargon, are both local and national. A boy I met in Renfrew wears a “love ring” on bis little finger. It has the name of his “steady,” Betty, on it. She gave it to him (price $1.25) after he gave her his class pin. In Regina, Marilyn Durnin exchanged class rings with her boy friend. If she forgot to wear it friends would assume that they had broken up.

In Toronto a lot of boys used to wear their hair long while others wore a brush cut. The long hair proved a nuisance, particularly for the active types. Then someone turned up with a “boogie cut”—brush cut on top, long on sides—and it caught on. When Vancouver newspapers featured stories of Toronto gangs, mention was made of the “boogie cut.” In no time at all it was the fashion with certain groups in Vancouver. A female variation, the “Murphy shag” (a barber named Murphy created it), was adopted by girls in Regina.

All across Canada some teen-agers still carry chains that extend from their belt to their pants pocket. Sometimes it’s a plain silver-plated chain for carrying keys, or it may be four chains con-

taining keys, pencils, bottle-openers, and so on.

In Winnipeg last year the “Chicago block hat” was popular for a while. The fashion was started by members of the Dew Drop Gang. It consisted of shaping the fedora into a high crown in front, low at back and having three parallel folds. In Brandon a few teen-agers wear two-colored pants—one leg yellow, one green. Girls in Calgary carried heavy flannel purple sacks about 12 inches long lettered “Seagram’s”—originally used to package bottles of liquor—for handbags. Many Vancouver girls are getting their ears pierced so that they can wear special earrings.

Disregarding the extremes, wearing apparel for school has been more or less standardized in most parts of the country. Boys wear draped trousers, sport shirts and windbreakers; girls wear tailored blouse and skirt.

As simple as the boy’s outfit may sound there are numerous variations. The trousers may be a conservative 24-inch knee and 18-inch ankle to an extreme 30-inch knee and 14-inch ankle—so narrow you have to take off your shoes to get the pants on or off. The pants can vary from a vivid green cotton gabardine ($6.95) to a moderate pale blue wool gabardine ($20). It may have outside

seams, scalloped pockets, pleats, dropped loops, etc.

By and large, though, teen-agers are dressing so uniformly that what used to pass for stodgy garb now appears wildly unconventional. Murray (“Slug”) Edmonds, of East York Collegiate in suburban Toronto, told me that only one boy in his class dressed in straight pants with jacket to match. “He’s very intelligent and we call him ‘The Brain,’ ” Edmonds commented. “He’ll probably grow up to be a statesman.”

A few years ago girls tried to be as unfeminine as possible and wore outsize sweaters, slacks and jeans rolled up at the cuff and saddle shoes covered with signatures of their friends. Now they have gone feminine again. The standard combination of blouses and skirts is often tastefully chosen with carefully selected costume jewelry to match. A girl in Regina boasted about the smartness of local girls. “Look around and you won’t find any girl wearing slacks. They’re all smart dressers here!” Not long ago a remark like that could only have been delivered in scorn.

Generalizing about their clothes is much easier than generalizing about the youngsters who wear them. Let’s be specific and meet some of the kids I’ve seen recently and tried to get to know.

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Slug Edmonds, who lives in Toronto’s east end, is a stocky handsome 19-year-old. He went to work the day after he graduated from high school, selling confectionery to retail stores. “You’ve got to have drive,” he told me. “Even if you have a university degree you’ll end up digging ditches if you haven’t got drive.” Slug goes out about three times a week with girls and falls in love almost as frequently. Because he has a hard time remembering what all his girl friends look like he carefully records after each girl’s name, address and date of meeting in his date book a careful description of her weight, height and general appearance. There is usually a succinct comment such as “Wow!” or “Maternal instincts aplenty here” or “Great possibilities.”

Slug, who says that the girl he marries “doesn’t have to be gorgeous—just beautiful,” likes to take his date dancing where there are name bands. At high-school dances he invariably ends up at the mike with his constant sidekick, Bill Atwell, singing duets and giving out with comic patter. “Before the evening is over everybody is our friend. It’s a great life. We got glory written all over us.” Ultimately, Slug hopes to become a professional entertainer. “It means everything to me,” he says. “I want to see people’s faces light up because I’ve made them happy.”

Six Say Yes to Drink

One of the earliest public appearances of the comedy team of Slug Edmonds and Bill Atwell took place at a Danforth neighborhood movie house during the time of the hydro cut-offs. Slug convinced the manager that it would be a good idea if he were allowed to entertain the audience during the blackout. The team staged an Olsen and Johnson act which consisted of leading 22 stray dogs on the stage, firing blanks out of a shotgun, having stuffed bears and alligators drop from the air, sprinkling a pailful of confetti on the audience, and messing each other up with lemon meringue pie. The slapstick misfired. An alligator landed squarely on a woman in the third row, the gun sent plaster pouring down on the balcony, a gentleman in a blue serge suit got most of the lemon pie and occupants of the first three rows were showered with water instead of confetti. After several people had threatened to sue the theatre the boys were told that their services would no longer be required.

Soon after, the manager who gave them their job was fired. “Too bad,” sighed Slug. “He was really a nice guy. He gave us our start.”

Slug and Bill also go to quite a few house parties. They consist mostly of dancing and joking. There may be the odd bottle of beer which both refuse. Of the 42 boys who were in their class at school about six drink if offered a drink at the appropriate time, they say. None drinks heavily.

Slug definitely isn’t going to uni-

versity. He’s anxious to make money and help out at home. His father, Fred Edmonds, who was formerly British Empire wrestling champion, has been ill for years as a result of wounds received in World War I. “Mom has worked like mad to keep us together,” says Slug. “I can remember when we had nothing to eat except soup. I’m going to try to work it so that Mom can stay home now.”

Dan, a student who goes to Upper Canada College in Toronto is definitely going to university. He hopes to be a doctor, like his father. In the meantime the life he leads is a little easier and more expensive than Slug Edmonds’.

Most of the girls Dan and his friends date attend St. Hilda’s, Havergal, Branksome Hall, St. Clements or other private schools. Their nonformal dates usually consist of a movie which the girl chooses, followed by a bite at a nearby restaurant. While Dan seldom gets the family car, because his father is a doctor and needs it, his friends can usually line one up. Some have two and three cars in the family so it’s seldom a problem. Most of the girls expect to be driven. “A guy with a red convertible has a lot of influence with the girls,” says Dan.

Sometimes Dan and his friends have wiener roasts at farms some of their families own. Their girls have a lot of parties, some of them formal. The music for smaller parties is supplied by Bob Gilbert, a printer, who brings along his own recording machine and records (cost of rental: $14). The kids like both square and popular dancing. For the special parties there may be a four-piece orchestra (fee: $50). For the real big affairs a tuxedo is required. Dan hasn’t got one yet but hopes to have one of his own before the end of the year (cost: $75).

Dan has never seen any of his crowd drunk. A few boys in his school like to drink, have big bank accounts and don’t know the value of money. “But they’re pretty unhappy guys,” says Dan. “Usually their parents are separated and they’ve been sent to boarding school to get them out of the way.”

Dan gets an allowance of $5 a month and feels he earns it by doing jobs around the large family home such as washing the car, fixing leaking taps and doing the odd bit of painting. For extraordinary occasions his dad gives him extra money.

In their attitude toward Canada and their own corners of Canada not all the youngsters I spoke with were as enthusiastic as Sheila Sandler, a Vaughan Road Collegiate student who wants to stay in her native Toronto and who thinks you have more chance in Canada because “everything is just opening up.” In some medium-sized towns I heard complaints, as there were in my youth and yours, about “not enough excitement.” In a Saskatchewan village of 300 a 15-yearold girl lamented with fierce solemnity: “Being young in a small prairie town is a fate worse than death.”

But Pat Leroudette, 16-year-old daughter of a barber in Arnprior, Ont. (pop: 4,400), said without qualification: “I’d rather live here than anywhere else. I go to Ottawa and like the excitement but you get lonely. You haven’t got friends near you all the time like here.”

And in Montreal Jacques Godbout spoke as feelingly of his country as a Papineau or a Laurier. “Ask a German what country is best,” Jacques said angrily, “and he’ll say Germany. Ask a Frenchman and he’ll say France. Ask a Canadian and he’ll say any country except Canada. Canadians

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will go anywhere to see the sights— U. S. A. or Europe—except Canada. I wonder how many Canadians have been from Halifax to Vancouver.”

Jacques and his friends hang outatLa Petite Chaumière, a soda fountain not far from the shrine of Brother André. Jacques says that he hasn’t as much time to spend in pleasure as the highschool crowd in places like Ontario. At Brebeuf Classical College, a Catholic French-speaking high school, he has a lot of homework. He’s not sorry the school is all male. “I hear that down in the States some of the boys and girls say that they can’t study when they are together in the classroom. I’m not surprised.”

During the school year Jacques generally goes out once a week on dates, a movie, a house party or a skating party. A date usually costs about $1.50. “If the girl orders too much in a restaurant I take water,” says Jacques. “They generally don’t though. They know we’re not rich.” Most of the girls Jacques takes out are going to one or other of the convents in Montreal. Out of school the girls shed convent dress for more fashionable wear. Jacques complains that too many of the girls want to discuss popular movies and clothes—subjects which don’t interest him greatly.

Drives Beer Truck to Feed 14

Jacques, like most of his friends, doesn’t believe in going steady, has had eight girl friends in the past six months. He hasn’t found a girl yet who meets his ideal specifications: “Serious, yet of a gay and happy disposition. I’d like her to be good-looking and intelligent, yet an excellent cook. The heart is near the stomach.”

Jacques gets tired of girls so quickly because they don’t converse intelligently. “Most of the French girls seem to be bashful when they’re alone with you. They have to be in company with two or three couples before they’ll speak up. English girls are different. I took one out last year and she seemed to be full of noise and pep. I liked it for the time, but my liking might wear off after a few months.”

In the summer Jacques usually works at his father’s tobacco farm at Sorel, 40 miles away outside Montreal. This, combined with snow shoveling,

enables him to bank about $400 a year which he uses for emergencies. Instead of working on the farm last summer Jacques decided to make some money by drawing. He and a friend, Yve Massecotte, stationed themselves in the lobbies of the Mount Royal and drew caricatures of visitors, afterward trying to sell the drawings to them. “My best customers are between 30 and 40,” Jacques says. “Before 30 they are pro.ud of their appearance and say I have made them too ugly. After 40 they say I have made them look too old.”

A Roman Catholic, Jacques has had

frequent doubts about his religion, which he has discussed fully with his priest. “I don’t believe everything they tell me. I ask questions. If they can prove things for me I believe it. So far they have proved everything.”

Jacques lives a very different life from a 16-year-old boy named Gérard who lives in one of a long row of brick houses in Montreal’s crowded East Side. Gérard is one of 12 children. His father drives a beer truck and has to spend $300 a month to keep them fed. The neighborhood in which the kids live is old and rundown. Acrid fumes from a nearby rubber factory blend with cooking odors. A loud buzzing ventilator in another plant disturbs the family's sleep. Neighbors include a divorcee who works in a cabaret and comes home at 4 a.m. with various boy friends and a man who beats his wife.

Gérard is eager enough to work but like many of his friends who hang out on the corner he can’t find a job. In the year since he left school he has worked only three months — as dishwasher in a cafeteria. He reads one magazine, La Jeunesse Catholique, and goes to one movie on Saturday— usually a cowboy or detective film. He doesn’t go out with girls because his father says he’s too young.

Ronnie Con, an 18-year-old Chinese Canadian, lives in Vancouver. The Con household consists of 14 rooms on three floors on Chinatown’s Pender Street. (When one of the boys is married he comes to live in the family home.) Ronnie was immaculately dressed in light slacks and navy-blue jacket when I met him. He’s going into Grade 12 but isn’t sure yet whether to enter social work or law at the LTniversity of R. C. He seldom has a date but usually meets a girl twice a month at the teen canteen of the Chinese “Y.” He once took out a white girl, a friend of the family. He asked his parents first and then her parents and they both agreed.

The “Y” building where he likes to go dancing is woefully small. The “Y” has money for a new one but can’t get land in Chinatown. There are vacant lots but the owners won’t sell. The attitude of many of the older Chinese resembles that of Ronnie’s father and in many ways it is representative of the attitude of most adult Canadians to their offsprings. “There’s no co-operation between the two generations on social matters,” says Ronnie. “Dad thinks that at dances we just flop all over each other and that no good can come from it.”

For myself after doing my best to find how Canadian teen-agers live and act in their own surroundings I found it hard to take seriously the warning of the alarmists that “the younger generation is going to the dogs.” Most of the youngsters I spoke to were serious, articulate and frank. Compared with my own generation I found them more willing to take jobs and work at them. To be sure, a small proportion has gone astray. A separate article in this series will be devoted to these.

In the main the story of teen-age Canada is not a story of wild gangs and crimes of violence. It is rather the story of the schism between old and new that Ronnie Con speaks of. The gap has widened and, as a result, the family unit has been weakened.

Young people have less in common with their parents today than ever before. And on both sides there is less attempt at understanding the various problems and frictions that a modern industrialized society has thrown up at the old generation and the new. The next article in this series will be devoted to an examination of some of these problems together with some suggestions for solving them. ★