Thursday, June 26, 2014

Life's a Beach: Excerpt #5

June 22nd 2013

What is the average lifespan of a toothpick?

Gary is always munching on one, swishing it around from side to side. It takes a certain confidence of character to chew a toothpick. Spaghetti armed geeks and sissy boys don’t chew toothpicks. You got to earn that pick.
Toothpicks generally remind me not of a thin, double-edged wooden instrument used to poke out impossibly wedged in tendrils of corn and/or steak, but of Razor Ramon, the suave and ruthless Cuban-American WWE character from the mid-90s. That’s what toothpick means to me. 
            Men who constantly chew on things like gum, toothpicks, and pen caps tend to be high strung. They don’t know how to detune. Which reminds me of a phrase my uncle, who is a great pianist, often says: “Old musicians don’t die, they just decompose.”
I want to tell Gary to mellow the fuck out, but it’s no use. Like telling a tiger to drop a buffalo leg. Gary is alternately nice and laid back and then intensely aggro, creating scenarios out of thin air and asking vague, misleading questions where you’re bound to give the wrong answer and then be berated for giving the wrong answer. I’ve already seen him get right in people’s faces and scream at them, spittle dancing through the sun beams and sprinkling some turnt-up kids’ face. The mighty pines look down upon the proceedings, stoic as ever.
For instance, Gary barked at three harmless seventeen year old wimps without wristbands talking to their friends—who were Stillwater guests--on the edge of the property. Big deal. It’s the middle of the day, they’re peaceful teens on the cusp of adulthood, chatting in the summer sun. Let them be unless they walk deeper onto the property towards the cabins and out of eyeshot. But they won’t--because Gary and myself are here, and they know we’re here. A child won’t stick a hand in the cookie jar with Momma staring. Nonetheless, Gary duck waddles up to one of them and lays a paw on what little fabric there is at the back of his tank top, and like an elastic band stretched it until the boy inside reached the limits of the stretchiness of fabrication and flung backwards towards Gary.
            “Hey!” The teen yelled, “the fuck you doing, man?!”
Gary drags the guy to the road begging him, or anyone of his friends to “Punch me in the face and see what happens next.” I stood there, a few feet away, hands on hips, flexing my neck muscles to seem bulkier, hoping the situation didn’t escalate, but putting up a front that said otherwise. The teen stoners took off down the one way street abutting the property muttering insults towards Gary. Gary just smiled, his tongue juggling a toothpick back and forth.
            “I’ll be at the office,” he said, climbing up and plopping himself down into his white Ford truck.
The girls were taken aback by Gary’s iron fist.
            “What the fuck is his problem?” One of them asked me after Gary left. She was definitely stoned on weed, most likely on MDMA, and possibly drunk. She was wearing a neon pink hat with Wasaga, Bitch scrawled across in white capital block letters. “They’re from our high school; they just wanted to say ‘Hi,’” she lamented. Often, after I explain the simple wristband rule, how their friends haven’t paid to stay at Stillwater, they’ve paid to stay somewhere else--a resort with its own wristband policy, generally less stringent than Stillwater’s, enforced but with less zeal than us.
            Twenty minutes later I’m patrolling the front of the property looking down at the footfalls of my black shiny dress shoes, alternately crossing my arms for one go round then dipping them into my pockets for the next. I look up and see the same boys that Gary manhandled are walking up the street towards me. Ah, Christ. The gals are still out front drinking, too, smoking Belmont’s and listening to Drake. A confrontation was all but inevitable. I quietly curse under my breath and saunter up to the approaching gang. You got to lean into a hurricane, right?
            “OK guys, here’s the deal--I don’t give a shit if you stand around drinking and talking, but if you go into one of the cabins I’ll call the fat man.”
            “Nice--” one says.
            “Sweet--” another one says.
            “You rock, bro,” said a third, giving me a bro-hug, which is simultaneously a handshake and a half-hug. The other two then hit me with their respective fist-bumps.
            “He’s sooo cool, our security guard, huh?” the girl with the neon hat cooed.
            “Fuck yeah,” one of the guys agrees, lighting a Belmont off his buddies’ Belmont.
            “All in a day’s work, gentleman . . . ”

I was supposed to work from 6am until 12pm--the cleanup shift--but ended up working from 6am until 5:30pm. The cleanup shift is the least desirable of all the plebeian jobs at Stillwater because you actually have to work, like, hard; like, actually, actively making a difference. Cleaning up half-eaten, beer soaked vomit burgers, and making tens of trips to the dump lugging heavy, extra large, extra thick garbage bags with shards of glass poking through, leaking a murky brownish mix of vomit and stale beer onto your shoes.
But there are so many fun little goodies to find at 6am in the aftermath of a wild beach party!
Today’s leftovers consist of . . .
One red bra slung over an Adirondack chair; one full twenty ounce bottle of green tea alcohol, the cap sealed; one half full mickey of Jagermeister; three cans of Miller Genuine Draft; one crumpled pack of Belmont’s with four cigarettes left; and one half full forty-ouncer of Grey Goose with--unfortunately--no cap. I can’t go for that, no can do. 
            I don’t give a flying karate kick if anyone is manning the cameras, however unlikely that is at this hour. I take the Belmont’s and cans of MGD and put them in my car, on the floor of the back seat and drape a golf towel over my booty. I’m drinking one right now as a matter of fact. Wearing the bra, too.
            Gary told me I was going to have to work until around five or six pm. It would be another twelve hours spent mainly on my feet, patrolling in the blazing summer sun. These third world problems in the first world are that much harder on the soul. I could try to weasel out of things but I’d end up on Gary’s shit list. And I need the money, of course. Just from an organizational and professional standpoint, a schedule should be worked out with some modicum of accuracy and consistency. Isn’t that what schedules are for? Isn’t that a cornerstone of what successful companies are founded on? What was even stranger and more disconcerting was Gary seemed to relish the power and control of messing with the work schedule and by extension, our personal lives. He longed for control over the Edgewater dominion and all the plebeians therein.
            Last week Gary called me at 9:58pm to come in for a 10p - 6a shift. He wanted the staff to live in fear of his call to arms. The staff, most of whom, unlike me, actually had personal lives in and around Wasaga, Collingwood, and Barrie endlessly bickered about him being disorganized and lost in a fog of obfuscation. I bickered along with them, too, though, not because of the social disruption it caused in my life, but my inability, or hesitancy, to drink on some nights for fear of being called in to work. That’s the way this Stillwater ship is run.
            That night, like most nights, I was a few pints deep when the inimitable Gary called the home phone. My Mom yells downstairs that the phone is for me.
“Taylor!” She wails until I meet her half way and she passes the cordless baton and I go outside to speak in private.
            “What’s sh-sh-sh-shaking man?” Gary asks. “You want to come in for 10?”
            “Tonight? In two minutes? Oh man, I’ve been drinking, I can’t drive!” I tell him. Considering I only live a couple kilometres away from HQ, Gary gave it a long hard thought, I’m sure, but he didn‘t put up a big fuss, perhaps for legal reasons. “Alright, go to sleep. I may need you tomorrow, so call me.”
Click. Okay. What does that mean? I work tomorrow? I don’t? Call you at noon? Call you in the evening? Who the hell knew.
            The problem was coming back inside the house. “So . . . are you working tonight?” my Mom asks.
            “Uhh, no. He just wanted to check in and confirm for tomorrow night.”
            “Oh,” she said.

It’s hard to figure out any specifics of the weekend schedule until Thursday. For a regimented man, the lack of cohesion drives me nuts, but what can you do but suck it up and earn an honest buck when the phone call comes in? It’s either that, or find yourself another gig.  
I put on my best professional guard face and dive right into my duties, whether it be running around changing propane tanks, or kicking people off the property without wristbands, or mingling with drunken teenage girls in bikinis. I can do it all--I’m your man.
            Gary is like Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused, plus two hundred pounds. I get older and they stay the same age, heh-heh. If I call him for scheduling information he’s tends to comment extensively on all the pretty things that he‘s ogling, like a play-by-play colour announcer, and I’m the only audience, staring forlornly at the Blue Jays and Song Sparrows in my backyard. The most oft used phrase in his repertoire, which he says to me each time with the same vigor as if it were the first time is: “I’d eat her pussy for three days before I even showed her my dick.” Yep, that’s it. That’s the line. I stopped even the half-hearted chuckles long ago. When you have about twenty employees operating below you, I suppose it’s easy to forget which person has heard which line and Gary is always getting his lines tangled, retelling the same phrases and stories over and over. The guy has a paucity of material and doesn’t do much with what he’s got.  
            Man oh man. I’m not exactly the leering, caveman type like Gary, but when you’re a zilch who hasn’t been laid in years who’s living in his parents’ basement, and all of a sudden there you are among scantily clad, boozed up young women in a unique position of authority, it’s nothing less than overwhelming. It’s like Rob Ford with a gift card to the local WC & V-Mart (Whores, Crack, and Vodka).
            Now, I’m nothing if not one of the most professional security guards at Stillwater--aside from the booze drinking/stealing. Professional in this context means not dealing drugs or taking monetary bribes from guests, or having sexual relations with guests. I don’t do any of that (except maybe once or twice accepting a twenty and looking the other way to let someone party with friends).
I’m just a run-of-the-mill addict piece of scum. Hardcore addicts only want to be left alone to consume their poison to the point of sweet, sweet oblivion. Other humans are mere props in the charade that is the life of an addict.
And I’m depressed as all hell, and the effort to seal the deal, in a sexual sense, with a woman, is so far beyond me at the moment. Sometimes it gets so bad that boiling an egg is like climbing Mt. Everest. I know, I know, somebody call a wahhhmbulance.
Everything beautiful is so far away.
I’m certainly no shill for any pharmaceutical company (though any representatives are free to contact me) but the pills I take really do help. SSRI’s don’t exactly turn me into a numbed out zombie, or a fully functioning happy worker bee. What they most certainly do, however, is mitigate the tendency to dwell in dark places. Before I was taking meds I could easily wallow in such outrageous self-pity and self-hatred for hours on end: I’m so fucking worthless, such a scumbag, so selfish and narcissistic, just die already, etc., etc.
Before taking anti-depressants, my emotions were more hysterical. I would cry during commercials, and not the really sad, sponsor-this-starving-African-child-for-the-price-of-a-cup-of-coffee-a-day; or an adopt-one-of-these-sad-eyed-caged-animals-or-they’ll-surely-be-put-to-sleep types.
I’m talking TP commercials.
There’s this one Just For Men ad where the single Dad comes home after the big job interview and the two young daughters run up to him anticipating the news and his toothy smile lets them know he got the position and they’ll be able to keep the house, and Dad, who is in his late forties, runs a hand through his lustrous, thick chestnut brown hair with a touch of grey.
It’s not like crying is out of the question just because I’m on Cipralex. The name Cipralex was, no doubt, endlessly fretted over in a pharmaceutical marketing boardroom. It sounds like an evil genius drug;  like something a villain in a Bond movie injects into our hero’s arm with a cartoonishly large syringe to get him to spill his guts.
The name also reminds me of an insect. I can picture a Cipralex Scorpion scuttling about the desert, or a Cipralex Beetle climbing a tree.
Thankfully nowadays, instead of tearing up during thirty second videos of multi-national mind control propaganda, I cry at more tasteful televisual works of art: the end of a Woody Allen movie, say. So, I’m not emotionally dead. It only takes a little more to get me to spill the salt water. I’m balanced.
There are, however, some side effects. Namely, harder to fall asleep (that’s where the weed really earns its money), and harder to reach climax. Aside from those two niggling biological effects, the drugs work pretty well. The warning on my the pill bottle should read: May cause difficulties extracting bodily fluids during masturbation and/or crying.
Depression, on the surface, really is a wimpish problem. Nobody cares if you have ‘depression’. Is that even a real thing, some ask. I don’t want to get up on Monday mornings and go to work, either, but I do, some say. And it’s true, to a degree depression is a cop-out, but to a very real degree it’s not. I’m not arguing about where the line should be drawn, only that there is a very real battlefield. It’s pervasive and debilitating. One of the problems of depression is that the very symptoms of the disease—lethargy, ennui, hopelessness, anhedonia, anxiety--make the patient forego seeking treatment in the first place. Imagine if your shoulder is strained and possibly dislocated, and it hurts like a mother. Though it throbs with pain, you think maybe it will get better after a couple days. After day three it’s a no brainer. All your friends are saying, “What is wrong with your shoulder? Go see a doctor already!” And you’re pretty much convinced there’s a basic bodily problem. Your shoulder aches when doing nothing, and lightning bolts of horror shoot through your nerves when you use the shoulder in any meaningful way. A call is then placed to the doctor’s office, and an appointment is booked (if you’re lucky), and off you go. There is nothing inherent about shoulder pain that would prevent anyone from seeking medical help.
That’s one of the painfully ironic loops of diagnosing depression: Pain screams for a cure, but depression’s scream is always in search of a mouth. The very symptoms of the affliction prevent the afflicted to seek help to stop the affliction so they retreat further into the affliction.
There are thousands of Canadians already on mind altering psychotropic drugs and thousands more holding out; grinning and bearing it. In a macro sense, the structure of modern North American life is to blame for the rise in depression along with the millions of dollars pharmaceutical companies spend promoting SSRI’s. It’s both of those converging factors that fuel the rise in depression. The industry is plugged in and now pretty much runs itself. My doctor prescribed Cipralex after speaking to him for two minutes. I told him my hands were always tingling and I felt faint, especially after smoking a cigarette.
“I’m going to give you a prescription for a thirty day trial period, and we’ll see how you like it, OK?”
And that was it. This was five or six years ago; only missed one or two days since.
            Like any intangible, ethereal, mental health issue, it’s difficult to describe the feeling of depression to someone who doesn’t constantly battle with it. Can someone without paranoid schizophrenia really understand what it’s like to be a paranoid schizophrenic? Or a synesthete? Or Lyme Disease?  
There’s a wide spectrum of depression, too. Some got the bug worse than others. Some can’t eat, can’t get out of bed for days on end. I’ve never had the beast dig its claws that deep into my back. I’ll take a steak and stuffed peppers on my worst day. Though I will occasionally starve myself and then binge eat. That’s fun. What depression feels like to me most of the time is more like a soft buzz that echoes through all thoughts, interactions, and teeth brushing; happiness sporadically sprouts forth like a dolphin leaping out of a deep sea of torment, its concrete coloured body shimmering in the sun for a second before disappearing again into the void.

Back at Stillwater, I’ve never so much as pecked the cheek of a young lady since I started almost two months ago. A couple of hugs, but that’s as far as it goes. That’s it for the lurid sex stories. I’m a professional, or something. Why would you want to read about that, anyways? Who cares if I took advantage of some eighteen year old or she took advantage of me (yes, there’s always one woman in the group who is quite aggressive, sexually. They don’t mince words, they just blurt it out in no uncertain terms. The other day a snookie-esque girl with a voice hoarse from screaming said she wanted to get a “Cock injection”).
This summer story is a quiet one. Or at least I’m trying to make it one. Somewhat like the main character, William Stoner, from the novel Stoner. Instead of Oklahoma, our setting is a small beach town in Southern Ontario. Instead of a professor of English, we have a security guard. Instead of an entire life, we have three months.
            Stoner is one of those books that stays with you long after you read it. Essentially, it is the story of one man’s simple, ordinary life told chronologically; its attendant ups and downs, detailed in sparse, tight prose. Just the right amount of detail. The result is a life rendered poetic despite its ordinariness, like most of our lives are in the end. Outside a handful of friends and family (if we’re lucky) we’re all nobodies with different sized egos.
That previous thought may sound easy when reduced to a simple sentence, “ . . . rendered poetic despite its ordinariness,” but in practice it is obviously not, or there would be tons of these books to choose from and enjoy. In John William’s semi-autobiographical book there are no superheroes, or guns, or mysteries, or post-modern trickery, or drugs (despite the title), or government cover-ups, or the deciphering of ancient symbols, or really much of anything that is typically considered entertaining. After all, the beginning and the end of the book are revealed in the first paragraph. William Stoner was born in 1891 and dies in 1956 at a typical age, late in his adult life from a common disease. The author does not want you to pay attention to those types of details. There is no mystery to figure out, so the reader relaxes and enjoys each line for what it is: perfect sentences that float along at a tranquil, steady pace behind your eyeballs. Who’d believe that a middle class man’s regular life in the middle of America, to his death in the middle of the 20th century, could be so engaging?

Man, guys can‘t get enough of the pussae. We just can’t stop staring at a tight, bubbly ass in cut-off jean shorts. The most refined gentleman can be reduced to a drooling, dimwitted, dunderhead in the presence of a beautiful woman--never mind teenagers. I see family men, in their forties, fifties and beyond who stare at Stillwater guests like pork chops and apple sauce as they pass by with the wife, dog, and kids. I guess the old adage is true: age really is only a number.

Gary has great teeth, all straight and shining. He’s definitely had work done. They’re cute little rectangular testaments to the wonders of 21st century dentistry. To any sane, objective observer with eyeballs they look ridiculous considering his giant, egg-shaped mirth. His weight negates any serious attempt at physical attractiveness. You would think that he would have lost a few pounds along with the dental work to bring the whole package together. Instead, the teeth are like a dollop of whipped cream on a turd.
            On top of the teeth, the only other thing Gary has got going for him is a great head of hair--straight and thick, yet with whispy strands fluffing about his forehead. And this big fat oaf likes to yell and get angry. I tell myself I’m impervious to his condescension-laced rants, and for the most part I am, but there’s this fragile sensitive man-boy inside me which is shaking, curled up in the fetal position, futilely clutching his kneecaps for a semblance of warmth, the world storming around him.
            He’s the kind of guy whose attention is never fully on you. Comments are made and he just looks around, oblivious to the fact that a comment was uttered directly at him, intended for him to mull over and respond to. That is how us humans with our big, smarty-pants brains vanquished the animal kingdom: communication.
Gary is the Rob Ford of Wasaga Beach.  
            I went back to the Inn to grab a recycling bin to bring over to Cottage Court and he called to yell at me about it. It wasn’t even a yell, more like spewing white-hot vitriolic rage.
            “WHY DID YOU GO TO THE INN? I TOLD YOU TO GO TO COTTAGE COURT!” (Muffled frothing and possibly eating sounds.)
            “I went to the Inn to grab a bi--”
            “Yeah, but I went to the Inn, I was trying to be respon--”
            “Jesus Christ, dude, I--”
            “DON’T YOU ‘DUDE, JESUS CHRIST’ ME!”
            “Well, actually, it’s the other way aro--”
            “OK, then. See you soon.”

He is a brute force of a man that plows through life, through his managerial duties genuinely unaffected by any employee resentment towards him. This beast is five seven, three hundred and fifty some odd lbs. Chew on that frame for a minute. Short and stocky. His arms and legs and monstrous, his fingers like sausages.

It was a long afternoon. Carload after carload of people arrived. Some were mom’s and dad’s in mini-vans and SUV’s, and some were teenagers in souped-up Honda’s. But the age and experience gap between the two sets did nothing to stop their mutual inability to figure out where to park. Granted if you’ve never been to Cottage Court, it can be difficult to figure out the parking scheme due to the irregularly placed cottages. The cottages go north/south, east/west, thirteen is where you’d think four would be, one is at the far end of the property, etc. To further fuel this fire, both sets of groups are in no mood to deal with something as trivial as parking. Either they want to get the hell out of there (parents), or to start partying as soon as possible (teens/young adults). I have to speak with each driver and correlate their cabin number to a specific parking space, or, rather, parking area, because there are no ‘spaces.’ The layout of Cottage Court is not like a strip mall. It’s a lackadaisical beach resort and aside from the parking fiasco it’s actually much more pleasing to the eye compared to a cookie-cutter suburban strip mall or Howard Johnson.
I do my best directing cars around the sandy patches of land, the nooks and crannies between, behind, and in front of the cottages where an automobile can be wedged in for the weekend. Typically, it’s a nightmare, veering into a total anarchy until slowly I reign it in after much juggling and car switching.
I only have a limited window of time for the rearranging because after half an hour the drivers of the vehicles are slamming shots and Stillwater has a strict policy about operating guest vehicles. I’m supposed to receive explicit verbal and/or written consent to operate their vehicle. For the duration of the summer I dread this check-in shift. It is the most stressful part of this generally non-stressful job.
            During the chaos of signing in two prom parties from Mississauga, Gary remarked to me apropos of nothing, “I can’t believe I haven’t been in a fight yet this year. Last year at this time I was already in three or four.”
            “Yeah, I’m surprised myself,” I chuckled.
            Gary is a man prone to violence. A man who relishes punishing limbs and faces with his ham hock fists.
            I often day dream about fighting Gary. Not because of some outrageous hatred, though sometimes because of that, but more from a practical, could I do it? angle. Sure, he’s way thicker and stronger than me, that’s plain as day; the man has two hundred pounds on me. I’m a lightweight and he’s in the humpty dumpty weight class. But all that heft can work against him. On my side is speed and reach, mainly speed. I only need to land one or two clean ones on the button without letting his t-rex arms get a hold of me to win. Dance around him, tire him out, spin kick him in the mouth, destroying his dental jewelry. Basically treat him like a boxer in Mike Tyson‘s Punchout!: Figure out his pattern, bop him on the head during my small window of opportunity, and then get the hell out of the way, bobbing and weaving until the window opens again. That’s all there is to it! Let’s fucking do this bro!

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