A very good friend, I have found out of late (but in time to help in what is left of my life) is not one who allows you to know him well. A good friend, those rare and very good ones, is the friend that points you in the opposite direction and that is to know yourself. That was the man that was my friend Sean Rossiter.
For most of my life I was surrounded by women (that is still the case) so my concept (and I almost believe that this concept is purely North American) of what a man is and what it is to become a man and stay one is something that came to me in very small quantities.
It was in Nueva Rosita, Coahuila, Mexico in 1955 that I met a most manly mining engineer called Juan Jaime. He was from another town so he stayed at the American Hotel where my mother and I were living. My mother taught the American children of the mining engineers. Jaime was subscribed to True, Argosy, Esquire and Playboy. He would leave his already read copies in the hotel library. It was in one of those magazines (not Playboy but Esquire) where I spied my first almost complete female nude. It was In True or Argosy where I read of a young boxer called Cassius Clay who said he was going to become the heavyweight champion of the world.
Looking back now at those times today during the Epiphany of January 6 I can ascertain that the manliest man I ever met was Vancouver journalist, political columnist, airplane enthusiast, etc, Sean Rossiter.
While as St. Edward’s High School at Austin, Texas in that second half of the 50s I was exposed more to this idea of the manly man. One of my dormitory friend’s father had an Aston Martin DB-4. He taught me to pronounce the car brand Peugeot. From him I found out that the only car magazine worthy of the sophisticated North American man (one who even at that age read Esquire) was Road & Track. From him I discovered the manly humour of Shelley Berman and a lifelong distaste for buttermilk.
I learned to shop for Bostonian loafers that had to be made from cordovan leather, blue button down shirts and Hart Schaffner & Marx sport coats at Reynolds-Penland on Congress Avenue in Austin.
Looking back now it seems that I never ever appeared (or felt) half as good or even half as manly as Sean Rossiter.
By the time I married my Rosemary in Mexico I was living in a macho culture that felt alien to my more “sophisticated” South American ways. Even the ranchera women (who sang ranchero songs) seemed more manly than I was. In fact I felt a tad confused about all that manly thing. I was preoccupied with the idea of always appearing to be a gentleman which I defined as a man in the presence of a feminine woman. What did I know? Rossiter would have set me straight.
Now in this 21st century, Rossiter’s brand of manliness may be in jeopardy. His was a life of fast English sports cars (no sophisticated Jags for him) he loved in spite of their electrical troubles. His life was about quaffing beer (almost always in moderation) in strip bars surrounded by this three architect friends, his journalist friend and occasionally this photographer. His was a life about airplanes, and hockey and politics. His was a life of talking to architects (and in this city mostly men). His was a life of looking at the city he lived in, which he loved, to see how it was changing for the better. If it was not he would have posted himself in the office of Malcolm Parry at Vancouver Magazine or Charles Campbell at the Straight to voice his concern and offer and essay on the subject.
His was the life of checking into a Vancouver VD clinic and write about it in his 12th & Cambie political column for Vancouver Magazine.
Rossiter occasionally smoked, but not often, as he had to make sure he could breathe for his amateur hockey goalie gig.
In this present atmosphere of misandry in which men seem to have to recede into a background and be quiet about affirming any intimations of manliness I know that Rossiter would have been the man to have written the essay that would have explained this curious phenomenon. No woman would have been offended by any of his remarks.
Once I had gone to the Vancouver Board of Trade to photograph Carole Taylor ( a person Rossiter often wrote about in his political column, 12th & Cambie for Vancouver Magazine). He asked me, “Was she wearing that little red dress of hers?” I answered in the affirmative and he countered with, “She always looks sensational in that dress.” There never ever was a hint of lewdness in his appreciation of a woman.
Rossiter would have known better than to ever have indulged in social media. The only social media he would have practiced would have been the one so familiar to me. Rosemary would tell me upon my arriving from a photographic job, “Sean called. He and the architects are meeting tomorrow Thursday.” I always suspected that Rosemary, while perhaps in silent disapproval at the fact I would be meeting Rossiter, the architects and the journalist over beer (and strippers) at the Marble Arch, I also knew that she somehow approved. She approved at my going to a situation in which I would be surrounded by men who were men, who had convictions. They always knew when it was time to go home even if Tony, the man at the Arch, offered up another free pitcher of brew.
Only today did I find that curious b+w 35mm frame of Rossiter washing his Austin Healey. Across the street you will notice my Fiat X-19. Rossiter in his curt and polite manliness never ever commented on what I perceive might have been his thought that the Fiat was not quite the manly car that I made it out to be. But I do remember him riding shotgun as I drove up the ramp to the Granville Street Bridge and that he said, “Time to floor it and clean those spark plugs.”
It was that sort of thing that I know always separated the professional man from this vile amateur.
Of all this he would just almost smile and I would know that all was well with the world. Now I am not quite sure with him gone.
He was the perfect Esquire man.
He was the perfect Esquire man.