Jack Williams - The Literary Tug Boat CookFriday, January 04, 2008
It was sometime in December, 1990, right after I photographed Jack Williams in a garage building a boat from scratch (he was the consumate craftsman) that I went to the Vancouver Magazine editor with the idea on a profile on Jack Williams. I was rebuffed with a terse, "He is a nobody. We are not interested." And that's how his negatives languished in my files until today as I read pages and pages of nobodies in today's Arts & Life section of my daily newspaper.
I felt a bit of rage reading (a glance, only a glance) about the latest trend in the top 10. This is, "Top 10 cool movies we're looking forward to in 2008". In defference to my literary friend and movie critic, I would give him a gun, before banishing every movie critic in town to a desert island. "And then there was one," John Lekich, I would hope.
For at least two decades my friends (including John Lekich) and I held a weekly (Thursdays) lunch at Vancouver's The Railwayman's Club (a.k.a. The Railway Club). Food was plain, almost inconsequential to compensate for the rich conversation. We conversed (now that chatting has that other dreadful meaning, converse will do wonderfully). Not being yet that famous (they), we conversed with William Gibson and Evelyn Lau. Buck Cherry was not quite John Armstrong and exotic dancers from the nearby Hotel St. Regis sometimes slummed at our table. My ritual was pouring a small glass of Tio Pepe into my soup. Most of us have scattered here and there and we sometimes meet at the club. The food is very much better but the conversation, dutifully nostalgic is not quite in the realm of conversation.
One man who would appear, every once in a while was Jack Williams. If there was some way of defining the man in a short sentence we would say, "He is the father of Vancouver starlet Barbara Williams." It was only around 1993 that we would have added, "and she is married to Tom Hayden."
But there was much more to Jack Williams. His face was a blend of Spencer Tracy, William Faulkner and Dashiell Hammett. His face was the kind of face you might see at the end of a steep climb on a mountain, you know, your cliché guru.
Williams fancied beer and tomato juice and on some days you might have suspected that he had breakfasted early with such a concoction. His voice was almost pure diction with only a hint of a slur. He would look at you with that permanent little smile of his eyes and would begin, "I read this thing in Harper's..."
Williams had been in logging camps and one of his many jobs was of cook on a tug boat and a logging barge. When he didn't cook he read or conversed with such friends as logging poet Peter Trower whom he called, "Pete."
My favourite Williams quality was his placidity. He made me relax. The world was just fine. And if it wasn't, it would soon be. Except for once.
We were visited one Thursday by sex crimes cop Steve Pranzl. Williams developed a instant liking for the handsome policeman. I could see the gleem in Williams's eyes and I could see what was coming. I didn't know what to do until Pranzl told us he had to make a call and got up. As soon as he was gone I whispered to Williams, "Don't offer him that special weed of yours, he's a cop."
Williams died sometime in the late 90s.