“Jack Frost kills your daisies and mums, your tulips and bums.”
— Bob Roberts, Jack Frost Blues
Jack started calling me his “little student” shortly before he died. He was 38. I met him while doing research for my school paper about the “homeless” that choose to sleep on the street. He was fascinating, so I decided to do a feature just on him. Kind of a follow-a-homeless-person feature.
He signed the waiver.
Those meals-on-wheels vans, or whatever they’re called, that come around? Their sandwiches aren’t that bad. Except they use margarine with balogna. The coffee’s pretty dismal though, so I switched to tea.
“Jack Frost” was his real name. He showed me his birth certificate. Jack Hill Frost. July 1st, 1959. Vancouver.
He had these creepy eyes, very pale, blue I think. He looked good though. You know how these outside folk get old before their time, all tanned and wrinkled. He preferred the shadier side of the street. He always kept his shirt tucked in. He kept good cuffs on his trousers, which he called his “slacks”. He took pride in his appearance. The photo editor almost didn’t want to run a picture of him.
“He looks too good,” said Alixe. “He looks like, really, he looks like he should be on the NOW fashion page?”
And that’s how it started. Alixe sent NOW a copy of his photo and called their fashion editor, a friend of a friend. It was highly unusual of course, but they went for it. The usual honorarium was doubled for Jack, who was bemused but not terribly excited or impressed about the whole thing. Jack Frost, 37, streetperson…Hair: the rough look. Pants: Bayclub, $4 at Goodwill. Coat: T. Eaton Label, “not very expensive”. Shoes: “I found them”. Sweater: “A gift from this woman who lives in my neighbourhood.” Upcoming: “Dinner at a really nice restaurant with some of this cash.” Turn-ons: “Good, strong clothing. It’s really important to me.”
“I like watching people interact and writing poetry about them in my head. My career gives me plenty of time to do both. I used to be a photographer in Chicago. I used to be a businessman. I have charming idiosyncrasies that the average person wouldn’t expect of a man in my current position. I used to sell cars. I used to be a guidance counselor at a high school.”
“Sure, Jack,” I said, not meaning to sound disbelieving.
“Fuck you then, my little student.”
He would get weird like that? But the next night he’d be cool.
The photo on the NOW fashion page was the start of an unexpected career for Jack. He seemed to somehow capture the look that many men aspired to — this was the mid 1990s, a time when men’s roles were being — reconfigured. “What do men want?” was the question on every editor’s lips, and, from the lips of fashion editors came the cry, “What do — or who do — they want to look like?”
Jack’s photo was spotted by an outreach worker for the GAP who jumped out of her seat when she saw it.
She called NOW. They told her to call me. She left six messages at The Varsity in one day.
“Christ Rick. Call this woman.”
“Okay all right.”
We met up at a café on College Street. Kapital. Gorgeous place. Excellent coffee.
We fell in love immediately
To this day we toast, “Thanks, Jack.”
As I understand it, the GAP has often used real people in their ad campaigns. Not that models aren’t real of course. But you know. Actually I’ve learned quite a lot about marketing from Trish, beautiful excellent Trish.
We left Kapital that night and instead of going to find Jack we went to the City to play pool. The City has only three tables so we waited at the bar, drinking and talking. She ordered Seabreezes. In the middle of winter! I practically drooled into my Creemore as Trish complained about the people protesting the GAP for employing people in El Salvador.
“They’re just racist.”
“For sure,” I said.
She was an ace pool player. I really like that in a woman.
I asked Jack once what he liked in a woman.
“A pulse, for starters,” he said, this weird look on his face.
“Kidding,” he said, lighting a “cigarette”.
We were at the Donut Hole on Queen. We were drinking this bilge coffee. I watched him crumple the tobacco out of cigarette butts into rolling papers. Gross. He then had to tell me this goddamn story about how he found this woman passed out on the street one night in Winnipeg. She was just wasted. He was drunk, too. They just curled up under some blankets and slept. In the morning he woke up and she was dead.
He said he spent that February in jail, “glad for the heat”.
So the GAP. Head office had thought of doing a streetperson campaign in New York City but they were so impressed with the Toronto scene, they gave the go-ahead.
“Hail the local” was the catch-phrase. The idea being to feature actual residents of a city in that city’s campaigns. Brilliant, I say.
So, they started it with Jack. The usual campaign: bus shelter and transit ads, local magazines and papers. They even bought a full-page ad in The Varsity, for old time’s sake. Me and Trish were doing great.
Jack went to Hollywood and became a famous activist actor and Trish and I made babies.
Actually, Jack moved into a Parkdale rooming house. My feature on him was picked up by Maclean’s magazine and threatened to turn into a book.
“Well, hon,” Trish smiled, “turn it into a book.”
So I did. I dropped out of Poli Sci and wrote the book, Jack Frost: Born on the First of July (not my title). It got picked up by Time-Warner. I made a nifty sum off the movie rights, and Trish and I, not Jack, moved to Hollywood, for a lark. She got transferred no problem. It was time for us to hang out on the sunny side of the street, for a stretch.
Problem was this: they wanted to fiddle with the story and either turn Jack into this genius serial killer or into a professor. No way, I said. His memory is sacred.
“Horseshit,” they said.
And you know? They were right. By the end of it, movie-Jack did the ad campaign and got rich alright but instead of pissing away his money and dying alone, they make him become this cross between a stand-up comic and a Socratic professor. The climax is he gets tenure; happily ever after.
But really? Real-Jack froze to death behind the Parkdale Blockbuster Video. Guys he had been drinking with said he forgot he had a room and just bedded down, right there, for a nap.
He had a will. He left his remaining money to his little student.
Trish and I lived off that money while we renovated our own pool hall on College Street. A very cool place. Hardwood floors, exposed brick, those old wood beams. A huge space in this old warehousey-type ex-sweatshop building.
We drink Seabreezes all year round and fuck on the tables after closing time.
We owe it all to Jack.