I Can’t Wake Up…3

…Speaking of the hippy lifestyle, Woodstock had just occurred this very summer. August 15-18, 1969. It was all the buzz among the hippy counterculture, but even more so with music fans like Timmy and I. Not to be outdone by the East Coast, some copycat festivals began to spring up here on the wet coast, everywhere it seemed, every weekend, on some non descript farm in the farmland east of here.  It had to be on a farm you see. Such originality! Most were abject failures, but it provided hippy food for thought and something to talk about.  It must have been tiring for the hippies to talk about the alphabet all day long.  As it turned out that there was a music festival planned for a farmstead not too far from this coastal city.  I believe they were calling it “Strawberry Fields,” or something equally profound like that.  Timmy and I decided to check it out.

We drove out to the prospectus. And just like Woodstock it was automotive gridlock. We decide to park our car a few miles away and walk in. Turned out to be a good plan as many of the autos became bogged down in the mud and sludge. Yes it was raining, just like Woodstock.  There was a great deal of cussing, yelling, pushing and shoving going on among the various drivers and bikers, especially the bikers. It was automotive pandemonium, definitely a frightful, fitful, love-in man as the fists came out from every which way from Sunday. And this was only Saturday.

We skirted around the problems, found the main gate, paid our fee and walked in. And what a sight to behold. Utter chaos. The end of the world as we knew it. This must be what Armageddon is going to look like. A sparse, barren, rain soaked, mud caked, garbage strewn landscape. Passchendaele couldn’t have been worse. Probably around 10 thousand hippies all gathered together in one place. All smokin, all tokin, all jokin, all smilin with their coke-ins and love-ins.  Stoned out of their ever lovin minds. And the music hadn’t even started yet….

I Can’t Wake Up…2

…The jobs just seemed to come our way: by chance, by rote, or by sheer luck, perhaps madness, although Timmy could really put on the charm. One homeowner, happy with the job we did for him, owned a strip mall in the local area. Would we be willing to take that on? You bet. And on and on she went. Just like that. All the customers that we landed wanted us to come back regularly, say every four to six months. Before long and by word of mouth we had quite the catalogue of clients, our own body of work.

We were working, making money, growing. We would leave our digs every morning around 7am, drive down 4th Avenue by the local am radio station and the Last Chance Saloon, a favourite hangout for the local hippy clientele. I always wondered how they stayed in business for most hippies I came across were always broke, panhandling, begging for loose change. One of my future naval colleagues, he himself a hippy at the time, used to sell pencils in the downtown core of this same west coast city. He was pure Officer material for sure.

Yet here they were hanging out at their Last Chance Saloon, appropriately chilling out in their drug induced Purple Haze of life. The real stoners would crash on the front lawn and terraces of the radio station, which was adjacent to the Saloon, which fronted 4th Avenue. We would pass them every morning on our way to the north shore, stoned, crashed, bellies up toward the heavens, like sea lions on the rocks except there was no squawking, no squealing, no cawing from this crowd as they appeared to be comatose. On our way back to our flat from a hard days work these same stoners, these same dudes, these same mans, were still laid out across the green expanse of the radio station. “Hey man, what a life man. Want a toke?” Good gawd. And if they were really bored or stoned they could go up one block, turn left, walk about a half mile and crash at the local Kool-Aid. Man, what life has to offer to a stoner: from Kool-Aid to the Last Chance Saloon. “What a trip man, dude, toker…yeah smokin dude!” And if they were really, really lucky they could catch up on the morning’s children’s show at the Kool Aid, and tune into the show sponsored by the letter “M:” “yeah man, cool man, hey man, what’s happenin man, chilling dude. No man, the letter “D” doesn’t come on til tomorrow man. Far out!…

I Can’t Wake Up!

…With Scotty gone a new tenant appeared. He was young, brash and a few years older than Timmy and I. He was also a drug user and an abuser of alcohol. Consequently he was often sick and soiled himself many, many times along with the second floor hallway carpet and a great deal of the washroom itself.  He always missed his mark. For me it was getting a bit too much and would soon be time to leave.

What of Timmy and I? Well, our window cleaning business really took off. I could not believe how successful we became in a very short period of time. Perhaps it was because nobody like us had ever canvassed this neighbourhood up until now, given its propensity for rain and heights. Or perhaps other purveyors of our trade felt that there was really no point. When we began canvassing and cold calling potential clients they seemed to come out of the woodwork on our behalf.  Then again, perhaps there was something about these homes that was didn’t quite grasp.

Timmy was good with the gab so I left him to chat things up with potential clients, that being the housewives. When we won over a customer it was my job to look at the place and provide an estimate. Normally I was way under. Inexperience perhaps. On some occasions I estimated a job just by looking at the front of what appeared to be a one floor bungalow or a rancher only to find out later that the house went down three levels at the back. All glass with a cedar beam for separation at all levels. No wonder these people were so anxious for us to take on these jobs. Then again it wouldn’t have taken a rocket scientist to ascertain how these houses were built on the side of a mountain for heaven’s sake. I must admit there were many times where I took my life into my hands, hanging there on the top rung of the ladder, holding against all hope that the ladder would not give way. I operated like some circus performer, acrobat and contortionist all rolled up into one. Often I had to balance myself on the top rung, holding on for dear life on the one side while attempting to wash down, squeegee and dry each of the window frames with my free hand. How on earth I didn’t fall was beyond me. I survived. But my life was only worth about ten bucks!…

House of Horrors…5

…Scotty was well turned out, at least his hands and forearms were. His face was round and jovial looking, clownish perhaps. His eyes were of a dull grey, probably a reflection of the grey matter and visual reality of his mind. His hair was cut very short in a crew cut fashion, well groomed actually. I wondered who cut his hair. Why I wondered that I don’t really know but I dearly hoped that he didn’t have the tools to try this on his own, or to shave himself or anyone else in this house for that matter. Sweeney Todd kept coming to mind.  Was this the Barber, the Butcher of Fourth Avenue?

And through all of this Mrs Redfern held her sway. I watched in amazement as she orchestrated and dished out the various portions of soup, salad, main course, then dessert. She could hardly handle the various pots and pans over the stove with her dangly, fragile arms and extremely dainty hands. How on earth she never burned herself of take the house down and all of us with it I will never understand. I would also learn afterward that she only ate by herself after all was said and done, cleaned and put away.

This was my home for the foreseeable future. I gave Scotty a very wide berth. Robert was harmless until the one evening at dinner when he lost it, big time. His passive aggressiveness exploded into an onslaught of verbal bile the likes of which I have never seen. It all started when Scotty, in one of his rare and lucid episodes of thought and clarity, wormed into Robert’s high sense of personal importance by insinuating that his job at the paper was irrelevant, miniscule and gratuitous in the overall scheme of things, and that he only kept his job due to the good graces of the Newspaper’s hierarchy. They felt sorry for him. That may have been true but it incensed Robert to such a degree that his animosity at what had been said about him by Scotty turned him into a physical pile of mush and with that he lost control of his senses and his propriety. He burst into tears, crying uncontrollably as they took him away to settle him down. We didn’t see him for a couple of weeks after that incident.

Then Scotty lost it.  One day when Timmy and I came home from our day of work we arrived to witness another verbal onslaught at the front of the house. Something had set Scotty off to such a degree that he was now in the middle of Fourth Avenue ranting and raving at the top of his lungs to anyone who would listen about the injustices of the Nixon presidency and its impact on his own sense of well being.  He was calling on all of his conspiracy cohorts, especially the ones from the planets Argon and Anus to come forth and castigate this curse of a human being, that being Nixon, off the face of the earth. I could not really understand much more of what Scotty was yelling about but before long the police and paramedics arrived to take charge.  As the police distracted Scotty the paramedics executed a flanking manoeuvre, caught Scotty off guard, then injected him with something that immediately made him as docile as a lamb. They took Scotty away in the ambulance and I never saw him again. What caused this rant and personal breakdown? Not being absolutely sure or knowledgeable of these things at the time but I was told that Scotty went off of his meds.

This black comedy went on at various times throughout my stay at this House of Horrors. Some were quite hilarious like the time I came home on my own accord only to hear screaming and wailing coming from the front room. I was in my room at the time so I couldn’t be sure it was another wrestling match on TV that was setting Mrs Redfern off. But the timing and day was off so I bolted up the stairs and ran into the drawing room to see what was going on.

It was Mrs Redfern but in a dire state of panic. There she was standing just about upright in her chest freezer with her head holding up the lid and preventing it from falling down completely. She was a frightful sight standing there looking about in all directions, her small tiny hands holding on to the sides of the freezer for dear life. She was screaming in fear at no one in particular but hoping against all hope that someone like me would hear her and show up to rescue her.  It was a good thing too as she was beginning to shiver and turn blue it would seem from mild hypothermia. Apparently, as she leaned over the front side of the freezer to grab the evening’s main course, she fell in. And she couldn’t get out as she was not tall enough or strong enough to leverage herself out of this predicament. I ran over, grabbed her by the arms and lifted her out. What amazed me more than anything else was how light she was. It was like pulling a feather out of the depths of the freezer’s chest. Once I had her settled on the couch, I found a blanket to keep her warm and made her a hot cup of tea.  I then proceeded to scold her for what she had done. I made her promise me, no us, that she would ask someone ahead of time to retrieve the next day’s morsels. I must admit though, when looking back on this that it was a hilarious sight to behold.

Mrs Redfern’s life was a wonderful story. Born in Rochester Minnesota, she moved to Hollywood California during the silent movie era. She knew all of the famous starlets of the time. She was also married a number of times finally settling down with a local businessman whom she shared her life with up until his untimely death. He left her the house that we were now currently sharing with her. Mrs Redfern kept a picture of herself as a young woman on a mantle beside the door to the front hallway. She was a knockout.

She lived a long life dying sometime in her nineties. Mr Johnston also lived to 97. Robert left the coast and moved back east to live in a small town with his aunt. He’d be in his late 80s if still alive. I never heard of him again. Same with Scotty.

That house is now gone. Torn down to make way for monster homes and condos.

House of Horrors…4

…That evening, at supper, nothing was noted or said about what Timmy and I had witnessed. After what we had witnessed, the whole dinner scene was surreal in its normalness.  We didn’t dare say a word or question Mrs Redfern’s antics, especially with her butcher knife in hand. There we sat, somewhat self-conscious of our surroundings, as we were newbies here. So we sat there on one side of the large dining room table, silent yet polite in our countenance.

Being the first at the table, we could observe the comings and goings on of this household at dinner time. First came Robert. He sat at the head of the table. He introduced himself, we ourselves, telling us without us asking that he had a very important job at one of the city’s daily newspapers. Okay, we thought. But there was something off about Robert that we both sensed but couldn’t quite put our finger on. He was about 40 with a balding comb over scalp of thinning hair. His face was thin, angular, somewhat soft and feminine, but featureless with protruding eyes, a straight nose and pouting lips that surrounded a pouting mouth. We would learn in due course that he pouted a lot. He would never make eye contact when addressing or talking to you. He always seemed to shy away from confrontational opinions and conversations, or questions. Perhaps socially he was a passive aggressive individual although at that time I had no idea what a passive aggressive person was.  He was also extremely boring yet pretentious, the most dangerous type of individual to come across.

Then came My Johnston. He was a young 91. You could tell that he spent most of his life working outdoors in hard physical labour. He looked the part: a face rough hewn and full of wrinkles. Turns out he was in logging all of his working life, a “faller” by profession, extremely dangerous work. He had a thick cropping of snowy white hair, all of it there, but curly on top and on the sides. It was lowly cropped and made him appear years younger than he really was.  He had a square face, a tough and prominent jaw and the bluest of eyes I had ever seen. Indeed, his eyes were so blue and so deep and so crystal clear in their gaze and their outlook that they seemed to draw one into their aura, like some visual, virtual magnet, pulling one deeper and deeper into his soul. I had to give my head a shake. His hands were huge with long bony fingers with palms as hard as granite and as calloused from years of hard, tough, physical work in the bush.

Mr Johnston was of a very high intellect even though he lacked any formal education. What he learned or grasped from this world he acquired from books, from personal experiences, from relationships and from living a long and fruitful life. On the downside however, he had no family to speak of and all of his friends and associates were long dead and gone: just memorial blips or flashbacks of his past occurrences. It must be hard, I thought, to watch all of your friends and acquaintances fade away to a dustbin of personal historical record. And what must have seemed important at the various stages and moments of living a life soon become irrelevant in death in the overall fullness of time.

Finally there was Scotty. He arrived non plussed and took his place not at the table but at the kitchen sink. There he stood, forthright, upright and downright paranoid at something or other that was on his hands, his fingers, or his palms. Scotty only knew. He would turn on the faucet and let the water run over his hands and forearms all the while looking straight out the window mumbling something to himself or someone that only existed in his fragile mind.  Once in awhile he would look down at his hands, at the water cascading over his palms or the backs of his hands, rubbing them for what seemed to be an eternity. It was as if he was trying to eradicate some unknown scourge on his person. Something that only he could grasp or comprehend.  Timmy and I turned and looked at one another, in disbelief, incredulous; words that could not accurately come close in describing how we thought about this latest character in this House of Horrors.

Finally, Mrs Redfern walked over to the sink, leaned precariously toward Scotty then turned both faucets off. This seemed to snap Scotty out of his funk. He turned and took his place at the table. He sat there, looked straight ahead at nothing in particular. Feeling somewhat uncomfortable and not waiting for Robert’s introduction I introduced Timmy and myself to Scotty. He looked at me, then at Timmy, briefly, grunted an acknowledgement I think then returned to his own sense of a warped reality…