Monday, July 28, 2014

Life's a Beach: Excerpt #6

June 24th 2013

I’m a little bit of an alcoholic (is that like being a little bit pregnant?). I drink every day, but I don’t generally get drunk—not falling down, blackout drunk, at least. Nine days out of ten, it’s four or five pint sized cans of 5% Canadian beer spread methodically—occasionally with white knuckles—throughout the afternoon/evening. This is roughly a six pack of regular sized cans for those keeping score at home. Sometimes I stray from this formula and overindulge, though not often.
            The real problem begins when you start to analyze the stats: six (or more) beers a day . . .  that’s forty two beers a week . . . and one hundred eighty beers a month. One hundred eighty beers a month?! Are you kidding me? That’s a problem if I ever saw one. Where do I find all the time!?
I only go a day without drinking if I was totally sloshed the night before. Even then I may have a couple to tide me over until the four to five pint regiment begins again the next day. The thought of being without any beer in the fridge, or wine in the cupboard, is terrifying.  
If you internally scream Yes! when you come upon an unopened can of beer doing clean up, like the alcohol Gods have smiled upon thee, then you may be an alcoholic.
            If you go to either the Beer Store or LCBO 4-6 days a week, you may be an alcoholic.
            If you only walk with a gangsta limp when your gout acts up, you may be an alcoholic.
If you keep empty beer cans by your bed to pee into during the midnight hours (because there is so much beer in your belly and you don’t want to walk upstairs three or four times a night), justifying the behaviour with an environmental argument—less toilet flushes—then you may be an alcoholic. 
If you have $1.67 in your savings account and can’t afford any beer, so you pour a couple shots of mouthwash, thinking you’ll have both a solid buzz and fresh breath, then you may be an alcoholic.

There was a large melee out front of Cottage Court, and this one kid happened to get pepper sprayed—not by a cop, but by a fellow reveler, then sucker punched while temporarily blinded. A low-ball, yet highly effective play, if you ask me.
            I took it as my duty to find this kid and get his version of events.
            It wasn’t long before I found a short, mulatto kid with an angular haircut and a black eye. “Are you the one that got pepper sprayed last night?”
            Right away he launched into a terse explanation: “Fucking got sprayed then sucka-punched, yo.”            
            His topless friend in aviator shades and a straw cowboy hat took it from there, explaining how a larger individual first sprayed the irritant at the slightly structured mulatto boy, and while he closed his eyes, instinctually bringing his hands to his face to rub and soothe his burning eyes, he was punched on the left side of his face.
The wounded young man will leave the beach tomorrow morning with a badge of honour--for what can a man do after being pepper sprayed and sucker-punched? The teen did not cower, or get knocked during a fair street fight (if there is such a thing).
He was blind-sided, and everyone can sympathize with the guy who didn’t deserve it.

June 26th 2013

At this point, I meet Jackson, the figure skating sociopath. His words, not mine.
Jackson doesn’t work directly for Stillwater; he’s an independent contractor but Gary still runs the show. He’s the apex predator in the Stillwater ecosystem, overseeing all maintenance and management duties. Jackson is a trusted general contractor, jack-of-all-trades type. This week he is slopping concrete onto the base of the cabins, filling in the chips and cracks, then smoothing the concrete out. Touch-up work.
Upon meeting Jackson, my first impression was that of a calm, affable guy in his mid-thirties. From the moment I met him, he was very pleasant to chat with on the job site. Jackson was a physically well- proportioned man, tall and fit with good teeth and a head full of short cropped hair. The only unsettling feature of Jackson’s body  are the crudely drawn jailhouse tattoos covering all four arms and legs. The tats are now an unnatural bluish-green and fading fast; I could faintly make out one that read, “Harley Davidson” in the familiar orange and white logo. The rest were vague shapes and letters that were indecipherable. I comment on the Harley tattoo and Jeremy tells me he worked security for some biker bars in the past; also studied martial arts. He proceeded to dissect North American martial arts versus original Asian martial arts, engaging with me like we had been to hundreds of martial arts events together. He was committing a mortal sin of first impressions: talking about his interests in length and detail as if I, too, was also an aficionado. All I could do was smile, say “Yeah, cool,” and nod approvingly.
            Jackson told me I have a “good frame,” but for what I don’t know. Figure skating? Taekwondo? After I first met him, I came away thinking, “Seems like a nice guy.”


The previous paragraph took place a couple days ago. Then today, my second time working around Jeremy, it was more of the same friendly, pleasant chit-chatting. Out of nowhere, as we were shooting the shit in between two cabins, me washing out bins with Quattro and Jackson smoothing out wet concrete with a small darby, he says, “I’m a diagnosed sociopath.”
            “Oh, yeah?” I ask. What else am I supposed to say to a declaration like that?
            Curious about this guy’s past, and encouraged by his friendly demeanor, I then inquired, “Ever been to jail?”
            “Yeah. Been in Penetanguishene for a couple a years a couple a times. Assault, stuff like that.” Jeremy maintained the smile on his face.
            The smell of a burnt roach, freshly put out, wafted from his truck; I said I was a fan, too. He offered me a puff, I declined.
            “It relaxes me,” he said. “It’s the only thing I do. I can’t drink anymore or I’ll get too crazy, ya know? You sure you don’t want to smoke a bone?” Jeremy asked.
            “Nah, I like to smoke after work,” I told him.
For me, marijuana is a late-night, private affair, dangerous liason kind of thing. Plus, I didn’t want to get too friendly with a potential violent weirdo.
            Jackson lives alone a couple kilometre’s away from Cottage Court in a motel owned by Stillwater that inhabits mystery and intrigue because it does not have any guards patrolling it like the other three resorts. The residents of Seawater Inn, which is quaintly located right on the banks of the Nottawasaga, is home to a much older crowd. Men and women in their forty’s and fifty’s sit around bonfires in Adirondack chairs drinking beer and fishing. There’s no beer pong being played here. Only serious hardcore drinking; the booze unable to hide behind their tired eyes. These are the folks of Wasaga that time has forsaken. They once had dreams like the teenagers down the road celebrating the completion of high school. It’s okay to act crazy when you’re eighteen because you have your whole life ahead of you. Sitting on the banks, drinking a twelve pack, watching the water flow along on its merry way, at fifty-two, is pathetic. Humans are always analyzing whether the behaviour of others is age appropriate.

The difference between these inhabitants and the ones at the other Stillwater properties is the Sea Breeze folks are permanent--or at least they’re trying to be, scrounging up enough cash for today’s beer and next month’s rent. Neither families nor high school graduates come to Sea Breeze. It is for those who live in Wasaga barely cobbling together a living, never quite hustling enough money to get out of the monthly motel rent game. A lot of them are hardcore alcoholics.
            “So . . .” I begin, “if I had an accident with the lawn mower and my hand was cut off, blood shooting out in arterial spurts, you wouldn’t feel kind of weird about it at all, and think ‘Hey, that guy Taylor I met yesterday seemed like a nice guy, I enjoyed talking to him on the site . . . too bad he had his fucking hand cut off! I’m going to have nightmares about the horror.’ Or something like that? You wouldn‘t feel bad for me?”
            “Well,” Jeremy seemed to consider, “I’d definitely jump right in and help you,” he said, not fully understanding the thrust of my query. Maybe he was just dumb.
            “No, I don’t mean actually when the horrific lopping of my hand and the subsequent screams and cries happen--I mean later, when you’re at home eating dinner, reflecting on the incident. Wouldn’t you think about it? Unwillingly replay the horror of it all in your mind? Would you not hope I was okay, that possibly my arm could be surgically reattached and I could again masturbate with both hands if I so choose?”
            “Well, yeah, I suppose I’d have to have dinner. If it was later.”
            I’m sure Jeremy could be bullshitting me for his own twisted pleasure. I couldn’t quite tell, but he did seem to be genuinely off; I sensed it. Using my own twisted pop psychology, there was must be a positive correlation between Jackson’s tattoos and the number of years he spent in prison. Why else would his limbs be festooned with such nonsense as skeleton bikers with bandannas on their skulls, wildly waving machetes? Nevermind the tattoos are drawn with the skill of a common crackhead felon.
Could Jackson be a sociopath as he claims? Probably not. Sociopaths generally don’t go out of their way to tell you they’re sociopaths—they prefer to hide that aspect, to fake it so that others think they have appropriate human feelings/reactions. That being said, the guy really didn’t understand and/or acknowledge the basic thrust behind my hypothetically gruesome situation. I dropped the issue and went back to spraying bins with a highly powerful disinfectant, getting rid of barf and burger residue, wondering where it all went wrong.
I have an honorary degree in Psychology from a reputable Canadian University! Good lord! What am I doing with the plebeians and ingrates amid the rotting stink of dumpsters in forty degrees Celsius! Oh, the injustice of spraying bins with a commercial level disinfectant! My hands! My soft, precious, writerly hands! They’re so smooth, as if God used his own personal darby to carefully sculpt them. Whatever happens, I don’t want to lose my velvety hands!
            We had trouble locating the trusty yellow nozzle that we shared, the kind with six different notches of varying modes of H2O dispersal. It was supposed to be with the hose at all times, and it was driving me fucking nuts because I needed to wash out garbage bins, and more importantly, my psychotic pal Jackson needed to wash out some concrete bins with the jet spray before the concrete dried and hardened. All he needed was the goddamn yellow nozzle, so he could put it on blast, but there he was, laughing about how we couldn‘t find it.
Ha-ha-ha! No matter. The yellow nozzle would turn up sooner or later. He wasn’t getting frustrated like me. Secretly, I was worried that his calm and cool exterior would hit the breaking point and all of a sudden explode into a psychotic rage if I didn’t find the yellow nozzle for the hose. I feared Jeremy’s nice guy façade was only a ruse, that all the DIY jailhouse ink had invariably poisoned his well.
            “See, that’s the problem with this place!” I ranted. “Other people come in and use our shit and then don’t put it back where they got it! I’m going to take a yellow nozzle and go over here and attach it to this hose and then selfishly carry on with my business. Stupid, selfish motherfuckers!” Maybe I’m the psycho.
Jackson told me he’s been single for fourteen years. An unusual and embarrassing tidbit to offer up to someone you just met. Though to be fair, I did let him know that I myself had been single “for quite some time.” (“Quite some time” being a euphemism for “Years.” “Years” being a euphemism for “At this point, I’d fuck a hole in the wall.”)
            He tells me that he, unlike myself, couldn’t work security at Stillwater, because he knows it would provoke him. Jackson is a general contractor, a jack-of-all-trades, master of none, his own boss, because he knows he has issues with authority. At the very least, he’s well aware of his violent tendencies and is proactive about taking himself out of those situations. Quite a civil sociopath, this Jeremy. 
            At the end of the day he heads back to the Seawater Inn, back to the true-grit Ontario folks. They’re funny, these local gents. One day I helped a colourful group of them, under Gary’s supervision “move some things,” as Gary described over the phone. I arrived at the Seawater and walked down a ten foot wide set of stairs into the basement where there was what appeared to be a long-defunct club from the late 70’s/early 80’s.  many chairs and tables, as well as a massive, L-shaped bar. Gary explained that this was the décor for a disco club on a houseboat that cruised the Nottawasaga in the misty ‘70s. When I walked through the basement doors it was like being transported back to 1977. I could feel the Bee Gees’ nasally falsettos bleeding out of the walls. I listened to the guys doing the grunt work, mostly in their forty’s, bust each other’s balls to pass the time. They were putting on a show for me, trying to make an impression on the young outsider. I stayed quiet and politely laughed at their jabs. I accepted a proffered beer, the gesture ingratiating myself to them. After all, it was only ten in the morning. It takes hutzpah to slug  cheap beer at ten am. Though considerably younger and not quite as weather beaten, I proved myself a trouper. Am I looking into the future?
            We spent a couple hours lugging all the chairs and tables carefully up the stairs and into a hatch attached to Gary’s truck. The whole load was to be hauled thirty minutes away to a 19th century barn converted into the dining/dance hall of a bucolic bed & breakfast, nestled in the peaceful farmlands between Wasaga Beach and Barrie. The B&B was owned by Ned, the owner of the Stillwater empire, and Gary’s boss. The only man Gary is deferential to. Ned is the boss to end all bosses in this story. He’s the Godfather. Ned walks unnaturally, and constantly has an inappropriate smile on his face.  
            After a light-hearted debate between Gary and a greasy haired man with silver flecked stubble, that was, underneath the surface, a clash between two alpha males trying to assert dominance and leadership during a logistical puzzle. It was the kind of conversation that could spiral out of control into violence if one party says the wrong thing, jokes too hard, or does not acquiesce. As for the rest of us, we stood there mute, not daring to offer up our private thoughts about how best to haul the humongous Tetris piece up the stairs; our theories played out in our heads alone, clashing silently with each other.
There was a complex set of belts looped around the right-angled bar for leverage. These belts looked like they were torn out of an Oldsmobile. Eight of us, four on each side, grabbed hold of either a belt and/or the bar. One of the guys, with a short cropped head of hair and a six inch long goatee, took the lead: “Ready? One . . . Two . . . Three . . .”
Our ragtag octuplet gave it everything we had and began hauling that fucker up the stairs. After much testosteronal grunting and straining, we reached the top, the bar safely intact. One rowdy guy with the city of Hamilton spelled out across the middle of his back in bold, arching letters, walked away flexing his arms and screaming in victory: “Yeah motherfucker!” He then tilted his head back and slugged what was left in his can of extra strong bargain beer, the sun glinting off the upturned concave aluminum rim, the liquid gold flowing down his gullet.   
            We then hoisted the bar, home to the ghosts of thousands of elbows, up into the hatch. I hopped up and helped secure the irregularly shaped wooden beast with more belts. The move was and it was now hardcore drinking time. High fives went all around. Mr. Hamilton bro hugged me so hard I thought I felt a rib snap. If I had to guess, the total number of years spent behind bars by this feral clan totaled well over the age of a common Canadian grandpa.
Gary pulled out a wad of colourful bills and handed it to Mr. Hamilton, who in turn peeled off a couple of green twenties and handed it to a buddy who pocketed the cash and dutifully hoped onto his ten-speed and took off towards The Beer Store. 
            The men grabbed their open beers which were sitting conspicuously in a row on the ledge of a nearby porch, and went back towards the river bank to finish them off. There was a mass of soot and ashes in a pile. One of the guys threw a couple logs on top and squirted the wood with lighter fluid. It was a plan. A fire, lots of beer, and perhaps a hard-boiled egg with some Mr. Noodles for dinner.
It was only noon so the guys were mostly sober. Who knew what kind of state they’d be in come nightfall. When you don’t live with these down-and-outers, they are mostly delightful to be around—less annoying, yet more set in their ways than the teenagers jacked out of their gourds on MDMA and hormones.
            In the early evening, Gary sends me back to Sea Breeze to round up a man named Derek, as well as his dog, to stay the night at HQ, The Stillwater Inn, while some renovations are done on his Sea Breeze room. A common event, this temporary reshuffling for upkeep and maintenance.
The whole lot of them are wary when I pull into the driveway, collectively thinking Who is this potential bother and/or disrupter—until, that is—I get out of my car and they recognize me from the earlier move. Their faces fall into toothy displays of merriment. “What’s up, bro?” Mr. Hamilton said. Everyone was smoking at the same time, just like the kids at the beach, except these folks know the real monetary cost of long-term addiction and plan ahead, buying a lot of cheap cigarettes, the ones you buy in large Ziploc bags. Down the road, the kids mainly buy Belmont’s—generally the most expensive brand—mainly as a peacock display. The irony, of course being that the teenagers, compensating for their lack of manhood and financial stability, grasp at some of the lowest hanging cultural fruit (cigarettes!) to promulgate an image of refinement and wealth and overall badassery. Smoking a Belly is like a crack hit of cache. It’s not like pulling into the parking lot with a Porsche. The power of a Belmont is fleeting and ephemeral, yet it’s undeniable for a few minutes. And then juice is used up. Until you pull out another one.
Almost all of the Stillwater guests smoke Belmont’s. Do they have secret agents infiltrating this town? Every kid buys into this Belmont conspiracy. It’s about $14 a pack and you could trade a carton for a kilo of smack. Bravo Belmont. As a company peddling 1st class, downright tasty lung death in the 21st century, they’ve somehow, brilliantly, got a lot young Canadian adults on board even though they sell the costly cigarettes, and they’re not much better than any other of the decent smokes out there. I can remember it being similar in the late 1990’s when I was in high school. Only the cool kids smoked Belmont’s. They were expensive back then, too, a lot more than my brand, Du Maurier’s. It was uncool for a real, punk rock stoner teenager to be seen smoking a Belmont. Belmont’s were reserved for the nice looking, cookie cutter alpha jock types. The sensitive, artisanal snowflakes like me wouldn’t be caught dead with a Belly.       
I see a man sitting by himself on a log away from all the muckrakers, reading a book, while his large golden retriever sits in the shade, its tongue pleasantly lolling. He didn’t notice me as I walked towards him, his right hand holding a thick paperback in front of his face. He was an older gent and shabby looking. He appeared to be the kind of person that glory has no time for any longer; an unknown soldier in the battle of life.
            “You Derek?” I asked, the man setting his book down on his lap to look up at me.
            “Yep, sure am.”
            “I’m here to take you back to the Inn for the night.”
            On his lap was a small forest, written in fine print. The book looked like a serious endeavor.
“Whatcha reading there, Derek?” I asked.
            “Oh, just something about a captain, out at sea for many years,” he said.
Derek told me the author’s name but it eludes me now, not someone I’d ever heard of, so I didn’t inquire any further. He told me the dog’s name was Goober, that much I do know. We hopped in my car for the short drive to the Inn.
He was a pleasant man with a very Zen attitude. Not much of a talker, which I liked, because it’s tough to suffer fools and all those dumb sounds that spill out of their mouths.
 Derek did not seem like a current drinker, but he reeked of past abuse. Years ago he could have been at Cottage Court funneling an ice cold Molson Canadian, a crowd chanting his name. His whole life was ahead of him. Derek took some wrong turns, and now he’s ended up back at the party, thirty years too late. Derek has a story to tell, like anyone else, but I don’t know what it is. He remained silent. Was he abused by a creepy uncle? Did he have a family? A wife and kids? An ex-wife and kids? There were no answers, only questions that tumble into more questions. All he had was Goober.
We eyeballed the women walking in bikinis and hid the desire for our favourite girl. Goober’s head was far outside the window, a subhuman, goofball smile on his face, and he stared, presumably, at his favourite, too.
At a stop sign, I snuck a glance at Derek. He looked haggard and unkempt, the transient life clearly taking its toll. The eyes were clear, though. I imagined Derek flitting from hotel to hotel, barely keeping dog food in the dish. Not exactly homeless, yet still without a home. Like a light switch stuck in the middle between on and off, buzzing and flickering.

I left the two of them in the car and went into the office at the Inn to confirm the details. Jacky gave me a room key. I escorted Derek and Goober to their room for the night—the stock motel room laid out the same way as Sea Breeze. Goober was excited about the new accommodations, frantically inspecting and sniffing the room out. Dogs will love you just the same whether you live in a one room dump, or a house on the hill, and that’s more than I can say about some people.  

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