Monday, March 10, 2014

Excerpt from "Life's a Beach: A Summer Portrait"

The following is an excerpt from Life's a Beach, a comedic memoir to be released later in 2014 of my time spent as a security guard for a resort in Wasaga Beach, ON during the summer of 2013. Names have been changed to protect identities because those involved have no idea of their involvement. Except mine, of course.

Aug 12th, 2013

For summer, it’s a cold and windy day. The sun ducks in and out of a series of evenly spaced clouds. I am patrolling the front of Cottage Court with purpose, though there isn’t much of one. Walking east the hands are in the pocket. Walking west they’re crossed. It’s midday and our guests are relatively sober, which is a euphemism for ‘not completely out of control drunk.’

I’m the only slice of law on the land.

My radio crackles to life and Gary yells at me to tell the people in cottage thirteen, the one down by the docks, to move their cars back up the hill to the where they should be parked.

I stride down into the guest’s inner space, where girls in bikinis are playing beer pong on a fold out table and guys are swaying to the electro dance beats with alcoholic energy drinks in their hands. They all look at me as I say in a Southern U.S. accent: “Okay. Who’s the most sober person here? Because we got to move some vee-hickles.” They laugh politely.

I have watched way too many episodes of Cops.

These kids seem friendly and they have fun pointing around at one another until the two most capable drivers are officially decided on. Some of those who come to the beach are paranoid to high hell about driving drunk and some could give a shit, flaunting it around like urban daredevils. These folks are in the prior camp.

Thirty minutes later, two of them get into a pickup truck. The same one that was moved from the dock. It‘s a nice ride. A menacing steel beast, high off the ground with large shimmering rims. This baby was well maintained with tender love and care. I stood my guard at the mouth of the street, right by the famous blue bridge, glancing at the two men, careful not to stare in their direction for too long. Hard drug users are like skittish doe’s and will flee at the first sign of danger. They were sitting there, commiserating, with seemingly no intention of driving anywhere. That’s a red flag. My throat went dry. I could sense drug activity and I continued to watch them discretely. I patiently stood there with my hands in my pockets, waiting for the move: The Lean Down. It’s a dead giveaway. If any one of the occupants bend over at the waist as if they dropped a cell phone and then pop right back up, something’s going on.

I decide to make contact. They eye me with a cup of suspicion and a teaspoonful of fear as I sidle up to the passenger side window where the black guy is sitting and tap the window ever so gently. I have a mega-wattage, ear-to-ear smile plastered on my face to show them I come in peace. The window electronically lowers itself halfway. It’s a  social scenario that I’m all too familiar with this summer: disarming strangers sniffing drugs so that they know I’m on their side, despite my position of authority. If I feel like they’re holding out, then I’ll threaten them with eviction, their safety deposit be damned.

I’m the Bad Lieutenant of Wasaga Beach, bitch!

“Don’t worry, guys. It’s all good,” I say through a toothy smile. The passenger and I were now face to face--he was a young black man with unnatural looking forest green contacts, like an extra straight out of Spring Breakers.

“Hey, guys, don’t worry,” I reiterated, “I don’t care what you’re doing, I‘m with you all the way,” I said. With you all the way. Ugh. What a dumb thing to say. The longer this summer drags on while I break the rules with impunity, the sloppier I get with the guests. Once you go too far down a hole, there ain’t no way to get out on your own. I don’t care what I say to them anymore. They’re not even real. Tomorrow they’ll be gone and it’ll be some other group of ne’er-do-wells in ironic t-shirts and barely there bikinis.  

My life is the opposite of a touring musician--I simply stay put--yet very similar in the endless revolving door of characters coming and going each night. Everyone you meet will eventually disappear, they just disappear a lot faster in Wasaga.

I was hemorrhaging what little trust these two guys had in me to begin with. The dark haired, olive skinned driver with spiky hair leans over to get a better look at me. like a Panicky Pete, the words tumble out of my mouth, a will all of their own: “Do you guys have any blow?” I was so excited,  thinking I’ll for sure get a line or a pill of MDMA. I was in the grips of the Pavlovian high before the high--crazy anticipatory neurological shit was going on in my brain that only someone like Gabor Mate could explain. My heart’s thumping and I’m about to open the back door or either jump through the passenger side window and maul these freaks. There is nothing but this moment. I don’t care that I’m thirty-one and I live in my parents’ basement, that I have no practical aspirations for a better life. That I’m hopelessly broken in some way because I only want whatever the fuck just went into old Green Eyes’ face. That everything will be better once it goes into my brain. This is for all the marbles, the key to unlock the door to enlightenment.

My heart sinks into my shoes when Green Eyes tells me they just did the last of their MDMA.

Liar whore, liar whore, and you know it!

The three of us collectively sigh. The junkie’s lament.

My premature high comes prematurely.

“Do you know where to get any coke? We ran out last night,” the white guy says, turning the tables on me.

I am asked to procure cocaine for Edgewater guests, as you might expect, and sadly I always disappoint. I honestly don’t know where to get any. Take me to Brampton and I can get it from five different guys but my coke radar is not attuned to any Wasaga Beach frequencies. I’m no fabled importer like Mickey Munday.

“There’s tons of it around, I just don’t know where it is,” I say forlornly. “It’s an elusive fish that won‘t take the bait.”

                                                                       * * *

I can’t score any blow in this two-bit town, but I do have a great marijuana connection--even if I don’t know the guy’s phone number. The only way to make contact is to knock on his door.

He never told me why I can’t call him and I never asked why.

In an illicit business that now almost exclusively relies on cell phones for logistics, it’s a throwback to drive up to your dealer’s house to score, hoping and praying someone is on the other side of the door.

Our lives are now pre-arranged. It’s getting tougher and tougher to disappear into oblivion with these honing devices in our pocket at all times.

Tommy’s his name. He’s an old craggily half native, half white guy with a long grey ponytail and a roadmap of hard living etched on his face. Tommy had the prototypical bulbous red nose. Old tattoos dotted his arms, so blue and faded that I couldn’t even make a single one out. He’s lived in the beach for the last fifteen years.

Tommy, in his twilight years, is a nice enough, laid back guy who doesn’t seem to do work of any kind. At any hour, he’s either at home or the bar. He’s the kind of guy you immediately sense has seen a few cells and eviction notices in his day.

When I am low on marijuana and need to shell out the forty bucks required for a half-quarter, I drive the two kilometres to Tommy’s place in the hopes that he’s home. He lives on the top floor of an old white house on a side street adjacent to the madness of Mosley Street. You have to climb an old rickety set of white stairs to his front door that bows and squeaks even with my 155lbs frame on it.

Tommy has a system. If the padlock is unlocked, dangling from its hasp, then knock away. If Tommy’s not home the door is padlocked, but there may be any number of succinct messages scrawled in black marker on a piece of square cardboard and placed in one of the doors’ small window frames. It may say, “Back at 11am,” or “At the bar,” in which case you know where to find him: around the corner at Studs Lonigan. The most dreaded message of all is the “X” which means there‘s no stock left. There‘s always a gut-wrenching moment of truth when I climb the stairs. Sometimes the lock is unhinged and I can hear a soccer game on TV, but my high spirits are quashed by the sinister “X”. I turn around and skulk down the stairs back to my running car with no pep in my step, back to the basement. Back to analyzing every little thing to figure out how I ended up here.

One time I was so desperate to score, I knocked on Tommy’s door anyways, even with the “X” in the window. I needed answers. A time frame. Anything. For all I knew he just got a fresh load delivered and was in his bedroom chopping the weed up and putting it in Ziploc bags, moments away from removing the “X”.

Tommy, though quite a short man, came stomping towards the door like an elephant and split apart a couple strands of his dollar-store blinds to take a look at the fool who dared knock with the “X” in the window, which communicated perfectly the simple- as-shit message to understand that he was out of marijuana. I could hear him muttering obscenities and braced for a confrontation. The door swung open and before I could explain he said, “Didn’t you see the X?!”

“Yeah, Tommy, I saw the X. I can’t even get a dime? A joint? I‘m dying here.”

“No! Didn‘t you see the X!”

“Okay, well, do you think maybe tomorrow?” I said, cupping my hand to make sure he heard me as the door closed in my face.

“I don’t know,” he said, yelling “Maybe!” through the closed door.

I walked down the stairs with the worst feeling ever. Tommy’s big, cute fluffy black cat, Betty, meowed curiously at me. I always gave her a good pet down before and after leaving.

“Piss off Betty!” I said to her, getting in my car, muttering obscenities.

                                                                     * * *

I went over to Tommy’s to buy a half-quarter and asked him if he had anything else. Pills, powder, anything. He didn’t. Doesn’t mess around with the coke or opiates anymore. Only drinks tons of Canadian and puffs the occasional joint, but as a younger man he was a devoted hard drug user.

An Arsenal game played in the background; the crowd was so big they sounded like white noise. Tommy told me about how way back when, he cooked up a speedball in a strip joint and promptly OD’d. It was the lounge in back of the club where the girls wound down before and after their shifts. For Tommy it was a regular hangout where he mainly shot dope and sold it to the seedy denizens in and around the club. When Tommy spoke of needles he always referred to them as spikes.

“Some of my friends were strippers and some of my friends were junkies,” he said, “and some of my friends were strippers and junkies. Haw haw!”

As it became clear that Tommy was OD’ing, the three strippers in the lounge who were on break ran to his aid, lugging him into the bathtub, running the bath alternately cold and hot, trying to jerry-rig his system back to life. The first three girls left to go dance and hustle and the other three girls took over, storming in, kicking off their vertiginous stiletto’s and getting down to the business of nursing Tommy back to life.

When he finally came to, whichever three strippers were in the lounge fed him bowls of chicken noodle soup and cans of ginger ale with a brand new straw for each can,  until he finally gained his strength back and subsequently made a full recovery--to pounding alcohol down his gullet. The whole ordeal in the stripper ER lasted two and a half harrowing days.

Tommy pauses to slug down the rest of his can of Canadian, it takes a good ten seconds of glugging and slurping. The clock above the window says 10:52am. How uncouth! I don’t have my first drink until at least after 12pm.

He also recounted the time was drinking and smoking a lot of heroin with some buddies in Nova Scotia twenty years ago. He had successfully kicked shooting and switched to smoking. We take our successes where we can find them.

A Hurricane roared through, one of the biggest ever to hit the province. It had an ugly, forboding alliterative name: Hurricane Hortense. Tommy explained that when he smoked heroin, he’d put it on the tinfoil, plug one nostril, and with a straw inhale the smoke through the other one like a line of coke, not through his mouth the way most people do it. “It gets to your brain faster,” he said in a gruff voice. My nose crinkled at the thought of inhaling smoke through one of my nostrils and my eyes began to water.

“So we’re in the rented house smoking dope up our noses, and I walk outside at night to get a pack of smokes from my truck and right in front of me I see this white stallion galloping into the woods. The wind was howling. I was so fucked up I thought it was a ghost! Ha-ha! We all nodded off and then once I woke up the next day and walked outside the barn next door was gone, and all the trees were broken in two like matchsticks. That’s when I realized it must have been a big storm.

For the rest of the day I couldn’t get the image out of my head of a white horse running through the woods during a hurricane, maybe even flying.

“We just loaded up our clothes and shit and took off in the truck, which had a cracked to shit windshield from the storm, back to Ontario without paying the rent cause the whole place took a lot of damage while we were fucked up. That goddamn hurricane saved us a lot of money we didn’t have, haw haw!”

Aug 18th 2013

This weekend the town hosts the annual event: Wasaga Under Siege--A War of 1812 Experience.

Schooners with large wooden masts recreate a battle during the war between Britain and America that took place right here in the Nottawasaga River.

In 1812, America and Britain were like two parents during an acrimonious divorce, fighting bitterly over custody of their young weak child, not out of concern for the child’s well being so much as for the possession of the offspring to consolidate power.

Essentially, Canada’s starring role in this historic war was mainly that of the battleground.

Lots of families and history buffs come out to watch and listen to the thunderous booms of the canons. Relax folks, they’re blanks! It’s fake violence, like fake porn. So bring the whole family!

Re-enactor’s are dressed impeccably in stuffy early 19th century war uniforms and they are all sweating profusely in the unrelenting August humidity. The soldiers balance muskets against their shoulders and pass nervously by the turnt up kids. The whole scene is full of non-stop cringe inducing moments of pity for the imitator war vets. These guys can’t pass a group of people dressed in twenty first century clothes without being made fun of and laughed at derisively. I felt sorry for the anachronistic warriors.

There’s not really much to the whole Experience--only a few old schooners and the occasional boom that echoes across the whole town. This weekend, Wasaga is a smorgasbord of 1812 war vets, drunken teens in the latest wigger wear, families, and old folks with Lego person hairdos. For the whole weekend the town is a George Saunders story come to life.

The actual battle that the Experience re-enactment is based on left me bemused. I am left scratching my head as to why it is being commemorated. I was always under the assumption that it was a glorious battle between the British and Americans, with some rogue battalion of scallywag Canadians stepping in to help the Brits win some penultimate battle. Maybe we were outmanned and outgunned, but through sheer maple syrup moxie we managed to defeat the Americans, their Yankee blood colouring (coloUring!) the southern shores of Georgian Bay a deep red, their guts sloshing around right in front of where the night club Bananas now stands.

No, it was nothing like that at all.

The re-enactment takes place in the narrow Nottawasaga River, where the sunken hull of Nancy, the centrepiece (centre!) of the battle lays after being bombarded by the American ships that were in nearby Georgian Bay. Nancy was a big fish in a little pond. Easy pickings for the Americans safely anchored a short distance away. The half sunken hull is now called Nancy Island and is a main tourist attraction in Wasaga. I’ve never been.

As the story goes, back in 1812 some American troops wandering through the woods essentially found Nancy hiding in the Nottawasaga, lying in wait to ambush or at the very least hide from the Americans docked nearby in the bay. There was only a thin strip of land separating the river from the bay--perhaps half a kilometre. The troops scurried back undetected to the U.S. ships with the good news and shortly thereafter the solitary schooner with an unimposing girl’s name was hammered with canons. Rather than let the Americans take custody of the ship, Lieutenant Worsley made preparations to burn the bitch and get the fuck out of Dodge (Dodge being the forests south of the river that are now a pleasant patch of suburbs). Before this last ditch effort came to fruition, Nancy took a direct hit on the blockhouse and started burning. Totally and utterly destroyed, her charred guts sank to the bottom of the Nottawasaga, only the prow jutting out of the shallow waters. The surviving troops scampered off into the trees. Thankfully the Americans didn’t pursue to finish off the job.

This is the battle thousands come to Wasaga Beach to celebrate? To honour with Canadian pride? I don’t really know. Nancy Island is symbolic of what? Being discovered by the enemy, being cannon-balled into oblivion, and then fleeing into the forest hoping the enemy does not follow? It’s goddamn embarrassing is what it is. And I’m a proud Canadian. Why are we re-enacting this horrendous abomination every year?

Think of Mel Gibson’s speech in Braveheart. It’s inspirational. One gets national pride goose-bumps. The Scots are defending their homeland from invasion by the more formidable English army. Sadly, nowadays, if I catch that scene on TV it’s like Mel Gibson is about to charge the HJA (Hollywood Jew Army). Hordes of writers are in the front lines with flimsy spears, like oversized pencils, while the scions of Hollywood sit back on their horses smoking cigars.

Did Lt. Worsley give a similar speech before abandoning the ship in the river? Before the troops fled into the trees, their plan sabotaged, outwitted by the Americans?

They can sink our schooner, but they can‘t sink our LEGS! . . . Which will now run into the woods!

Yes, Canada. We stand on guard for thee.

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