Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Life's a Beach: A Summer Portrait Excerpt #2

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”

-The Metamorphosis


In the summer of 2012 I found myself freshly unemployed and hemorrhaging my meager savings at an alarming rate.            
Up until then I had been living a good version of the Canadian Dream: a decent apartment on Bloor St. in Toronto (okay, Etobicoke) working nine to five in Mississauga at a soul emulsifying office sales job, but if that’s what it takes keep beer in the fridge, so be it. There was something building inside me for quite some time; a difficult to define life urge to switch paths, almost like I was powerless over it. I could not keep the façade going any longer and a crash was imminent, though I tried to fight it and trudge through everyday telling myself I had it so good and I would be crazy to leave. It was getting harder and harder to hide my unhappiness beneath a façade of normalcy. One day, of a will not wholly my own, I snapped. Nothing in particular happened. I wasn’t in danger of losing my job. It was a regular day, but a switch had been flicked and there was no way to unflick it.
            The five G’s in my bank looked like a fortune, taunting me to cut the cord. I left my job without a plan for the future. I figured the money would afford me enough time so that I wouldn’t have to drastically change my T.O. bachelor lifestyle for a few months, until I landed another gig somewhere.
            Of course, though, I wasn’t looking for a job. I was busy getting drunk and stoned, playing guitar, reading books, watching movies, listening to music and radio shows. Any form of entertainment/art/noise to fill my time and burn the bridge to the real world.
            Most days I spent alone in my apartment. The radio shows and podcasts kept the seedy theatre of my mind open all the time. Silence was the enemy. External silence meant internal screaming.
It wasn’t total anarchy, though. I had rules. I wouldn’t allow myself to crack the first beer before noon. I figured it seemed normal enough to begin drinking in the afternoon. If you drink in the morning you most definitely have a problem. The afternoon? Come on! That’s when everyone drinks! It’s practically the evening.
            Does it matter if you drink four or five pints every day what time you start drinking them? Whether you have eggs for breakfast or eggs for dinner, you’re still eating eggs, are you not? Some days I’d look up at my digital clock and it would read, cruelly, 11:56am. There aren’t any minutes that go by slower than the next few. But then, sure enough, the last minute number in the sequence would faithfully turn into a 9, the sun would be high up in the sky, a gentle breeze fluttering my drapes, and my internal bartender would towel off  a pint glass and pour me a cold one no questions asked. Is there anything more satisfying than watching all six numbers on a digital clock change at the same time? The four larger numbers and the two smaller number’s all go boom!
            Every day was like New Year’s Eve at noon.
            The money in the bank was magic. Number’s on a screen. I swiped my cobalt blue Bank Of Montreal card into all manner of bank and debit machines around my neighbourhood and poof! I had what I wanted. Money only became real when I couldn’t pay next month’s rent. I pushed the real world away until finally it could take no more and began to push back.
            I didn’t know what else to do except move back in with my parents. I was thankful to even have that card in my hand to play. Not to say that my parents’ love and hospitality are cards, they’re human beings, my flesh and blood. There’s nothing worse than seeing your mom and dad, both well into their sixties, do manual labour in the middle of summer--lugging out coffee tables, boxes and chairs, huffing and puffing, taking multiple breaks to stretch their aching backs, sweat pooling through their shirts. My wonderful parents are being worked like donkeys and the whole cause of this ignominy is me and my inability to swallow hard and maintain the semblance of an independent life. I’m still trying to worm my way out of the cold, wet shame blanket on that one.
            For the duration of the summer until the following spring 2013, I continued on, unemployed, living in my parent’s basement, a depressed wastrel trying to figure out how to figure out how to put it all back together. How should a person be? What did I want to do with my life? Such difficult questions to navigate while sober, never mind soused to the eyeballs!
            I had a couple interviews at full-time, career oriented jobs but didn’t get a call back. Secretly, I was afraid. These jobs seemed like so much work and I just wanted a vacation from life, to retreat into a subterranean drug and alcohol coma. I worked hard for the last seven odd years. I played the game of life and now I wanted to cash out. As a man with the faculties to appreciate the finer things in life, I only wanted to be left alone to luxuriate in aesthetic leisure. So I started applying to part time, low-hanging fruit shit jobs, the ones an ever growing number of Canadians are taking to make ends meet. Eventually I landed one as a--wait for it--  
            --Drum roll, please--
            A security guard.
            Technically, I wasn’t even a bona fide security guard, I was a customer service representative. No qualifications necessary! The company that hired me, Stillwater, had three main properties that required multiple on-site guards to ward off teenage interlopers. I quickly found out on any given night visitors staying at the beach get so drunk, it was as if I was the only human amongst the walking dead.
            This is a snapshot, a portrait if you will, of the summer of 2013 through the lens of a man trying to keep the devil way down in the hole. 

June 2nd 2013

P-A-R-T-Y is the only show in town and it sells out every night. 

Tonight the party is at full tilt. The Party Meter has been turned up a notch because it’s this batches last night in town. And in Wasaga Beach that means pouring some hammer drinks, cueing up a Two Chainz album on the old iPod stereo, and commencing obliteration.
            Dozens of passersby and friends of friends of friends were trying to get on to Stillwater property with either no wristband, or wristbands from neighbouring properties, which is strictly verboten. Alexei, a nineteen-year-old from Barrie by way of Belarus, and myself plugged the holes on our front; we did all we could to stop the heathens from crashing the party but there’s always more just around the corner. While my attention is taken up with kicking off a couple twerps, a few more sneak in behind my back. An untold number of enemy soldiers breached our positions and were now inside the wire--possibly even hiding out in rooms.
            It was a tense evening.
            This role as a sergeant in the Party Police is not something I’m even remotely familiar with. I’m used to being a fellow reveler. I’ve been that guy at innumerable parties. The guy who runs down the street naked, or pees in his own mouth and gargles with it. What can I say? Alcohol and cocaine bring out the bon vivant in me.
            It is a rite for young people all over Canada in the summer, a nihilist credo: party until you can’t remember who you are on the “Longest stretch of freshwater beach in the world.” This place is a paradise on Earth, the type of which promised to suicide bombers after they hit the switch.
            In Wasaga, you don’t need faith.
A prom celebration has occupied all twelve rooms at the Bayside Motel. The joint is a typical, one story motel except that the largest room is setup like a three bedroom apartment and sleeps ten. The other eleven hold five.
            The kids are from the same school, the same group of friends and acquaintances all graduating from high school and celebrating this milestone in their lives. I arrive at 7pm for my shift and the fifty or so kids are starting to get hammered. Forgive me if I’m a little nervous. I’m not used to being in wild party conditions with random teenagers whom I don‘t know, while in a position of authority, and while sober. 
            There is a little person among the hordes of revelers and someone in a green tank top and sunglasses tells me he’s the president of student council. I can believe it. This wasn’t a woe-is-me type of little person. The guy is a mover and a shaker; clearly popular with everyone. He moves in and out of the clusters of cliques with grace and aplomb. He is not marginalized or bullied as far as I can tell. Quite the opposite, actually, he appears to be one of the apex predators in his high school food chain. By ten pm he’s heavily intoxicated. A pretty blonde girl in bikini bottoms and a tight pink halter top sidles up to me and shakes a twenty-sixer of Grey Goose with only a swill or two left and says with a lilt, “He drank all of this.”
            Little people don’t run like we do. They hobble-wobble along like penguins. Christopher was no different--except that he was perhaps more akin to a baby penguin just learning to walk, for in his intoxicated state he was face planting every ten feet. It’s so stupid and cliché and LCD, but drunken midgets are funny. They just are. I’m telling you, if you were there to see four friends carrying Christopher around the motel while he splayed his stubby little arms out stiff like an airplane and made a puttering, prop engine sound, you’d laugh--simple as that. It reminds me of the W.C. Fields quote: “If you want to make an audience laugh, you dress a man up like an old lady and push her down the stairs. If you want to make a comedian laugh, you push an actual old lady down the stairs.”
In Wasaga, subtlety does not exist; you go all the way or you go home.
            Once Christopher landed, he began stammering around like the town fool and it came to my attention that he lost his pair of $250 sunglasses. Sunglasses and phones are lost/stolen on an almost nightly basis. I watched as he futilely scoured the sandy patches of grass. He was in the throes of a drunken rage, the kind one gets locked inside when you lose a personal item and can’t think of anything else until you find it, accusing friends and strangers alike of possessing the lost item. Upon seeing my tucked in, buttoned up shirt, complete with crisp collar, epaulets, and radio clipped to my hip, thought I’d be more help than his hopeless friends, and he drunkenly implored me to help him. I whipped out my flashlight and turned my head upside down to check the underside of all the parked cars. No luck. I felt bad. I wish I could have been the hero who found the glasses, it would have given me instant hero status, but it was not to be.  
            Thirty minutes later and Christopher’s barely conscious, too drunk to give a fuck about anything let alone his beloved glasses. The guys are taking turns hoisting him above their heads like the Stanley Cup, pumping him up and down. He comes to long enough to give a halfhearted thumbs-up and the crowd cheers, then goes limp again.
An hour later the boss man, Gary, radios and yells at me to run into room four. He saw a kid on one of the cameras weasel his way in through a back window and was hiding inside. The door to room four  was ajar so I walked right in. The lights were on and the room was empty except for the bathroom door--it was closed. I knocked and said, “Dude, you gotta come out, you’re not allowed to be here.” There was a brief silence. For all I knew I was talking to no one, but the door clicked and out came a meek, pimply faced kid with Bieber bangs. “Sorry, sor--”
            “Just get the fuck outta here,” I said.
I walked outside and Gary hollers at me to check room five, too.
I knock on the door and say “Security” before letting myself in, flashlight cocked and beaming the white hot light of justice. Five guests were huddled around the kitchenette table in the semidarkness laughing at something I couldn’t see. More or less ignored, I bypassed them and proceeded into the back bedroom. I flipped over an inflatable mattress leaning suspiciously against the wall at a seventy five degree angle, half expecting to see some boozed up scallywag take off running like a frazzled deer. There was no one under the inflatable mattress. I breathed a sigh of relief and went back into the main room.
            There was Christopher, still barely conscious and now handcuffed to both a chair and a leg of the table with a belt, trying to wriggle himself free. The five kids stood around and laughed. I joined in, too, at the absurdity of the scene, of life, of everything. I got a degree from a reputable university to do this with my life?
They weren’t mock-torturing Christopher in a vicious way, or else I would have put a stop to it. They were doing what most teenagers do: fuck with the drunkest of the lot. Last night Christopher was indistinguishable from the others, just a face in the crowd. But tonight he was drunk as fuck and thus ripe to have his eyebrows shaved, or mustard squirted on his face, or cuffed to the chair and table. Even Christopher was laughing about it, his eyes lolling about in their sockets.   
It’s fucking Wasaga, bitch!
Another guard, Zach, asked me for a cigarette. Zach was a short, yoked up twenty-two year old fitness nut with spiky blonde hair. He was a good looking club going type who looked like Kurt Cobain on steroids.
Acting on some anonymous tip filtered through multiple people, Zach and myself plowed into another room, number eight, our flashlights on, little spotlights roving around the darkened cabin. I didn’t see anyone hiding; only a couple of passed out teens in an otherwise quiet room. Then Zach made the international ‘Shhhhh’ sign with his index finger in front of his mouth, and with one sweeping arc yanked the sheets off the bed, like turning over a large rock to see what disgusting insects were crawling underneath. On one side of the bed a girl slept peacefully in an oversized t-shirt, and on the other lay a fully clothed guy with baseball hat and shoes still on.
I was having an out-of-body experience. Like my body had been hijacked and plopped down in the middle of an episode of Cops in some god-fearing heartland city like Amarillo, Texas. Unlike a cross-dressing, black crackhead plying her trade in the deserted, industrial warehouse part of town, our perp was a straight, white male who gave up peacefully. Zach and myself, the two hotshot guards, escorted him off the property and chucked him back into the arms of the night.
It was tonight, at this early juncture in my tenure, that I introduced into the House of Commons and quickly ratified into federal law, effective immediately, the Taylor Tax.  
After being repeatedly asked to unlock doors because the temporary citizen of Stillwater drunkenly left the keys inside or the key holder was not present, so I felt the need to balance out the relationship--I was doing all the damn work and not getting anything in return. I began telling the young man or woman that, “If I’m going to unlock your door, the price is one shot of vodka, okay?”
            The first thing you learn is that they always say yes; they’re thrilled to be drinking with the security guard. It’s another layer in the onion of their wet-and-wild, out-of-control, beach-living experience.
            “Hey dude,” they brag to their friends, “I gave the security guy a shot!”
            My little scheme was a win-win deal. Not only do I get a swig or two of free liquor, it’s the only way I can safely take a drink away from Sauron’s prying eye.
            “The toilet’s working just fine now,” I say to the guest, walking out the door with a wink and a smile.
            What a piece of shit I am. The moment I see where all the cameras are, I think, “How can I get away from their gaze if I want to do something against the rules?” I’m a terrible employee and will probably never be hired for anything ever again, unless there’s a company with a position for a truth-telling rebel who plays by his own rules.  
From 3am to 6am I found myself back at Cottage Court, the crown jewel in the Stillwater dynasty. The detached cottages and semi-detached townhouses dot the gently sloped land above the banks of the Nottawasaga River, adjacent to the locally famous bridge that leads directly to the strip. It’s a prime cut of real estate. On some nights there are hundreds of drunken teens and twentysomethings floating by. The streets turn into an absolute madhouse feasting on lawlessness. Their behaviour is typical of middle class teenagers from around the GTA, relishing a few days of new found freedom, but up close and personal it’s nothing short of astonishing. There are drunken, aggro marauders, and emotionally flabbergasted punks, all with terrible tattoos that I endlessly wince over because they’re only eighteen, man, and ‘O’Rourke’ in elegant calligraphic across the expanse of an otherwise unblemished back is skin pollution. I just want to slap half these kids--and I would, if only half of them couldn’t slap me back two times harder. 
             From 3am to 6am it was remarkably quiet. A few guests were sitting on their cottage porches, peacefully stoned and staring in silence at nothing in particular. When I’m nervous I can’t shut up, spouting out every possible thing all at once to push the relationship over the precipice of that awkward, jittery, just getting to know you phase. I force the natural progression of things into friendship overdrive. Things don’t always work out so well. Brianna may be talking and I have to tell myself listen, listen, don’t talk, listen, listen, don’t talk, shut your mouth, don’t talk, listen, listen, shut your mouth, don’t talk.
I regaled Zach, Brianna and the chirping birds with bad jokes and silly stories. Zach is twenty one and Brianna is twenty five, so I am the de facto elder statesman of the group at thirty two. These kids haven’t heard some of my generations’ most worn out clichéd phrases, and I seemed smart and funny rehashing them for fresh ears. Phrases like, “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims,” when discussing extremism, though I was quick to throw in examples refuting this point. They were supremely impressed by that one. People love a good sound bite.
Then I asked, “What do Catholic Priests and Red Bull have in common?”
            “What?” they said in unison.
            “They both come in little cans.”
            I let it sink in and we all broke out laughing. A success!
            I did imitations of Mike Tyson (I’ll fuck you ‘till you love me, faggot!), a random guy from Chicago (Deep dish pizzer), a random guy from Boston (Pahk da cah in da harbah yahd), and George Bush The First (He’s a Hitler), all of which Zach and Brianna seemed to enjoy. It was a real hoot. We laughed like fools the way you do when totally exhausted during a long sleepover, giggling over every dumb comment.
            We talked of documentary movies, growing marijuana, and getting away from our families. At 5:20 Zach could not stay awake any longer and laid his forehead down upon his upturned flashlight. Brianna and I sat mostly in silence, each of us smoking a cigarette. Five am to six am is indeed the most solipsistic hour on planet earth. The streets are deserted and it’s just the two of us waiting for the world to wake up, like we are the only two people in on the secret. Was I complaining about this job earlier? I take it back. Shit, I’d be the CEO of hanging out and smoking cigarettes with Brianna.  
It’s shaping up to be a wet hot Canadian summer. 
Gary has one of the largest, most rotund bellies I’ve ever seen on a human being. He is so obese and portly, he, too, waddles like our friend Christopher, only on a grander scale. Gary’s got the kind of gut that hangs out underneath his shirt. The kind of gut that begs for familial intervention with personal letters read aloud detailing how Gary’s gut has impacted their lives. But no, his heft lurches on unchallenged and I stand before its wrecking-ball mercy.
            He’s the kind of guy who, in his mid-forties, likes dissecting teenage women’s asses out loud and ad nauseum, and pilfering as much free deep fried food as he can from the folks on the strip. Gary is so uncouth and rude, aggressive and confrontational, I don’t imagine he’s too well liked by many of the locals. In fact, I’m slowly learning from some business owners that they think he’s a dumb ass, too. His gut, though. I mean, wow! Did he eat a beach ball, or what?! It’s so mathematically round.
Say what you want about a direct, selfish and aggressive man like Gary, and I’ll say a lot, but you want him around when a rowdy group starts misbehaving. I’m built like Woody Allen after a hotdogs and pushups binge, not intimidating upon sight, so Gary gave me the inevitable heart-to-heart about what it takes to be a real deal security guard.
I was lectured for half an hour in the back office, standing at the altar of the motherboard—a dozen small squares on one large monitor that he can click on and enlarge to full screen, showing almost every nook and cranny of the four Stillwater properties. Gary pointed at various boxes, told me to stand here and do this; patrol over there and do that.
“Watch Al,” he said.
Al is a guy in his fifties with a weathered face and a white, handlebar mustache that always looks as though it should have been trimmed two weeks ago. He’s been working at Stillwater for an incredible thirteen years. In the midst of a chaotic party situation, Mike keeps a Zen-like attitude, never loses his cool, and seems to know what these kids are going to do before they do it. He’s been to more wild parties than you or I ever will. To him, these social expressions of collective human joy have become something else entirely, something antithetical to joy. 
            “If that commie Alexander gets attacked,” Gary continued, “you have to have his back and be willing to bust some heads!”
I tried to put forth my best busting heads face, instead I bit my lower lip, simultaneously telling myself to stop biting my lower lip. I kept saying, “Yeah, I hear you,” or “Yeah, I hear you, boss.” I babbled some more rote bullshit straight out of the first edition of Subhuman Worker Scum to appease him, and then went back to my post between cottages seven and eight at Cottage Court. I paced the curbside. I was a curbside pacer nonpareil. But I couldn’t quell the anger. Who was Gary to tell me I was inept and couldn’t handle a situation? I spent many years handling the situation How dare that fat bastard humiliate and talk down to me! Fuck him! I don’t need this! Take this job and shove it!
I wanted to go postal--
Canada Postal.
Oh, relax, relax. I wouldn’t do that. There’s no way I’m letting some rabid, out-of-control OPP-K9 monster maim my face, or more importantly, one of my digits. These digits are national treasures you slobbery fool!

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