Before you read…
This is a tale from my early 20s. I especially wanted to write it, if only to get it on paper for my sons to read to their grandkids, a little tale of their crazy great-grandmother from when she was young. The story may wend its way into my book, but if so, it will be a more fleshed out version.
Sometimes, I seriously wonder how my friends and I made it through our early 20s. We lived in happenstance and the moment, often a hair’s breadth away from falling off the rails. Somehow though, whatever was happening always seemed to right itself at the N’th hour and all was well.
The crew I hung out with were motley, but good, with just enough spit, shine and well-mannered courtesy for me to bring any one of them home for dinner, provided my mom did not take offense to their muddy construction boots at the front door or the standard, unchanging uniform of jean jacket, Levis and flannel shirt.
Early 60’s babies, all of us, we were too young to be bona fide Baby Boomers, and too old to benefit from as yet to arrive parenting indulgences. Our parents were pre-war babies who didn’t get the 60s and firmly subscribed to the adage that children were better seen, and not heard.
So we perfected the art form of living under the radar by doing well at school, keeping up with part-time jobs, and no matter what we did on Friday or Saturday nights, retaining the wherewithal to make it home for the requisite family dinner, Sunday morning church appearance or to do household chores involving mowing, raking, or in my case, getting dinner on the table for younger siblings.
What I mean is this—we weren’t all that watched, let alone guided. And that had a major upside, the space and freedom to live in happenstance and the moment, every now and again.
This is one night of a long weekend story.
It could have been Canada Day or the May 24 long weekend. I don’t remember for sure, and how the word got around without cell phones, email or texting, I don’t know either. But it did. Call it the old 2-tin cans on a string style of he tells her and she tells him, and bosh-bam-boom, a couple dozen or more friends are busy figuring out how to get to Sauble Beach on the Friday night of a long weekend.
Sauble Beach is situated on the Eastern shore of Lake Huron. It’s white-sanded and its waters are warm and clear, a triple Ontario rarity. Two thousand plus people live there year-round, but during the summer months, when the sky is blue and the sun is warm, rumour has it the numbers swell to near as many as 100,000 on a single day.
The rules of engagement at Sauble, back in my 20s, were simple:
- Parking on the beach—Allowed (FREE).
- Throwing food to the gulls—Not Allowed.
- When the sun sets—Relocate to Sanders, giant bar on the beach.
- End of night—Stumble to tent or cottage.
Goddess knows who found or rented that cottage. It was un-ideally located a couple streets from the water, close to the town proper. The annoyance of its location was that partying in beach suburbia meant we couldn’t really spill out and into yard or deck without being conspicuous.
Course, was there even a deck? You can bet if there was, the weather was probably too rainy or too cold to sit outside anyway, pre climate change and melting ice caps that changed Ontario weather patterns to their current hot, hot and more hot. Could have used some of that back in the day
Anyway, the cottage had two bedrooms and one single, small room combining kitchen, dining room and hang out area. It was a box with a few partitions, really, hardly 20’ X 20’ if that, and about the same size as The Cave, except above ground. Six or seven people are a tight squeeze in the cave, so how four times that number fit into that cottage, I don’t have the faintest.
I parcel coiled cables into plastic bags and pack them into boxes, 8 hours a day, Monday through Friday.
When the horn finally blows to signal the end of the day, through the ringing left in my ears from the high-pitched blast, I hear my name.
Not far from where I’m sitting, the supervisor is staring at me and waggling his come ‘ere finger. When our eyes meet, he flicks his head to the left and saunters down one of the aisles that house the pallets that hold the cables that I’ve been packing all day long. I get off my stool and follow him.
Halfway down the aisle, he stops, turns around, crosses his arms, and lets his weight fall sideways, oh-so-casually onto the boxes piled on skids. My eyes are riveted on his dark, swoopy moustache, circa 1977, a leftover from his yesterdays of disco dancing or abandoned hopes of better days ahead.
He clears his throat with an ‘ahem,’ and follows that up with a pause.
“Karalee,” he finally says.
Now, I figure that he figures, just in case I don’t get how serious this is, that I need to suffer through a second, painful pause to ensure I hop-to his attention.
It’s so quiet, I could probably hear the second hand of his watch ticking, if he didn’t have on one of those digital ones, with luminescent green numbers instead of working parts.
“Karalee, there are people here who have families. They need jobs.”
“O-kay????” I say because I don’t have a clue what point he is working towards making.
His gaze shifts above my right shoulder, in a glassy-eyed, off in the distance stare.
“Look. Slow down,” he says. “Ssssslow down, Karalee, just slow down. What do you think is going to happen if you keep working at your pace?”
I don’t answer because I know whatever I say won’t be right.
“I’ll tell you what will happen. It’ll get noticed, and down the line, someone will have to speed up to your pace, and a full-timer will get bumped out of a job.”
I pick up what he’s trying to put down.
“Oh. You want me to slow down packaging the cables????”
So sure, it’s factory work, and a union shop to boot, but it’s a job, which I now understand I might be hanging onto by the skin of my teeth unless I wise up, fast.
There’s a slow burn creeping up my neck about how this world works, but I stuff it away because I still have a job and my best friend Meg’s probably out in the parking lot waiting for me, anyway, and we’re heading to the beach.
“Screw you,” might be what I’m thinking, but “Okay, no problem. So sorry about that and won’t happen again,” is what I say with a big fat smile.
Sauble Beach, Ontario, 10pm…
We get to town, and Meg wants fries. I’d rather go straight to the cottage and chill after my work lecture and the drive. But it’s her car, so we have to stop at Jerry’s, Sauble’s famed fry joint.
The minute we get our fries, on cue, the gulls start to circle.
No matter how many signs are posted saying “Don’t feed the birds,” some goofy, drunk teenager or eight-year old kid always thinks it a great idea to toss out a few fries and watch the birds dive-bomb for them. The birds know this, and they’ve learned patience and perseverance delivers french fries.
But though the sky rats are wise to the waiting game, they’re not wise to me. I bend down and grab a few pebbles and aim them at the birds who’ve landed on the ground and are edging closer. I fire a couple of stones at them, and they skitter away on skinny legs.
Meg and I hoover our fries, consuming them mostly whole, burning our lips and tongues in the process. Hard to say if we are legitimately starved or unconsciously feeding some errant, undiagnosed eating disorder, absorbed osmosis-like from our current Atwood bible, The Edible Woman.
Fries eaten in minutes, we toss our empty containers and get back in the car.
After we arrive, a river of various alcoholic beverages swiftly follows our fries.
I’ve never been much of a drinker, so while Meg embraces the alcohol, after my first couple beers, I sit on the floor and nurse a third bottle of Blue, with a plan to sup on it for the balance for the night.
I am sober and keep my eye on the cottage door, which opens up to one latecomer after another, and eventually, my boyfriend.
Meg’s migration across the room involves chatting people up and laughing way too loud. I can tell she’s totally loaded, since normally, she’s quiet and sticks close by me. I see her semi-stumble over a couple of people, half-passed out and splayed across the floor, and then she runs into one of the bedrooms.
“Kar, come quick,” I hear her say in a voice that really says ‘hurry!!’ I get up, poke my head into the darkened room and hear retching. I do the math: Jerry’s fries + binge drinking = pukefest.
Before the fries and booze can complete their second coming, I dash out to the kitchen and rifle through the cupboards for a bowl.
“Tommy,” I holler. And when Meg’s boyfriend finds me, I shove the bowl into his hands and point him to the bedroom. I’m no Florence Nightingale, and I don’t do puke at the best of times.
The crowd has moved into the kitchen. The temperature is about a thousand degrees, and the swarm of bodies is plastered against the walls. All eyes are on a very large, half eaten ham, sitting in the empty space in the middle of the room.
In one corner, wearing a tacky green track suit, arms and legs shorn off, is my boyfriend, Mickey. Bony and skinny, his customarily hair-sprayed coif has fallen across his forehead and keeps flopping over one eye. On the ground on all fours, he paws the tile flooring with hands and feet, sinewy muscles snaking under the skin of his bared arms. A low growl escapes his throat, and every now and again, he barks.
My boyfriend. Half comedienne, half manic-depressive, the funny half why I’m dating him, and the other, well, it came with the package. He looks exactly like Jim Carrey, same lop-sided grin, same physical comedy, same wicked sense of humour, and we are all entranced with this new game he’s invented.
Connor and Tommy are holding Mickey, to keep him from racing to the ham, while in the other corner of the room, a real dog, Dylan, is being held back by Ross.
“Go,” someone screams, and dog and boyfriend are released.
My boyfriend reaches the ham first , grabs it and starts gnawing on it as if he’s not eaten for days. Weird as this may be, I laugh louder than anyone else, if only because humour makes it easy to love the bits of my boyfriend that I can love, and forget about those I can’t.
Dog and boyfriend finally retreat to corners for another go at it, and I hear a dozen or more “pfztttts,” as bottle caps are popped off before the next round begins.
The game repeats, three, maybe four times, until the ham is gnawed to bone, and the whole evening has become utterly crazed. The cacophony of noise inside the cottage rages so loudly, the walls seem to pulsate.
“Kar, grab me a beer,” someone yells, and just as my hand wraps around the fridge handle, but before I can open it, there is a tremendous smash.
The side door has been kicked open, hard. It crashes into the wall and bounces back from the kickback.
Through the open doorway walks a man. He looks mean, fury scoring his forehead. His eyes are slits, raking over the lot of us. Channeling recent memories of Jack Nicolson from The Shining, the man looks wild and crazy, and I half expect “I’m baaaack” will be the first words out his mouth.
Cottage yelling and laughter ends, full stop. Then someone kills the music. We do not know who this man is nor why he has blasted open our door. And finally, from of the silence, Connor calls out to the man.
“Well who the *uck are you and what the *uck are you doing in here?” he says, puffing his chest outward into full peacock bravado.
“I’m Larry,” says the guy, jabbing his stubby fingers in the air for added emphasis, “and I’m the law around here. My friend owns this cottage—and WHAT THE *UCK ARE YOU DOING?”
Someone, maybe Ross, reaches a hand out for the phone, as if he means to call the cops or 911.
Larry’s head whips Ross’s way, and he strides across the room. Then he rips the whole phone off the wall.
“I said I am the law, and you assholes are disturbing our peace.”
Three more guys and a couple of women walk into the cottage next, squeezing themselves in and amongst the rest of us. They look to be in their 30s, maybe a little older, but not quite old enough to be our parents.
One of the women edges her way closer to me. “I fight women,” she snarls into my face.
The phone is still hanging, half on and half off he wall, and Connor pokes himself right back into Larry the Lawman’s face, spewing out a litany of seriously creative *uck-inspired obscenities.
Instead of yelling back, which is what we expect, Mr. Lawman raises two mit-like hands up and places them on Connor’s neck, wraps his ten fingers around Connor’s throat, shoves him to the ground, and then sits, right on top of him and starts choking him.
Connor struggles under Larry’s weight and hands, trying to get free. Slo-mo paralysis infects all of us, and none of us are able to move or speak. When Connor’s face begins to take on a bluish tinge, I see it looks to be that Larry the Lawman intends to kill him.
While we all wait for either Connor’s death or his escape, I conjure up tomorrow’s headline, reporting on the aftermath of this cluster*uck occurring right in front of me: “Tourist and Resident Beach Face-off Ends in Tragedy.”
And then snap to fast forward. The spell breaks and calm erupts into chaos, with explosions of noise and screams, and though I don’t know who manages to peel Larry’s fingers from Connor’s throat, someone does and Connor jumps to his feet.
“You townies come here and think it’s party central. Well we live here. This is our neighbourhood, and you don’t belong.”
“Well, rented this place for the weekend, you crazy mother*ucker,” Connor screams back, “and we aren’t going anywhere.”
The stand-off continues. The two men yell back and forth in each other’s face until someone flicks a switch or pulls the plug on the drama of it all, and suddenly, completely and simultaneously all spectators are simply, bored.
We lapse into conversation, and at some point, the music gets turned back on and our enemies, except for Larry, light up a smoke or two, and then someone pops open beers and extend them forward in offer of peace.
Really, who wants to fight, really, when there’s still a fridge full of beer to consume?
Connor and Larry proclaim they will settle their dispute with a foot race. If Connor wins, Larry and his cronies will shove off, and we can stay.
No one much cares or even listens, and I don’t even bother going outside to watch. When they come back after the run, Connor the victor, it’s a rubber stamp verification of the obvious—no one needs to go anywhere, including Larry.
I’m tired, and I don’t have a clue where Mickey is. So I duck into the room where I left Meg and squeeze a corner in the single bed where she and Tommy have passed out.
Meg wakes up from her beer-french fry coma, and the two of us head into the kitchen.
We check out the room, littered with bodies, and she turns to me and asks, “Why is the phone is hanging off the wall?”