Rabid Dogs…3

….It wasn’t long before I was out of that place. Appendicitis will do that to someone. Yet I almost died from that infection.  I was laid up in the hospital for over a week.  Lots of time to think about my future under the cloudy haziness of morphine. Weird but oh so wonderful dreams. Suddenly I could relate to my hippy brethren and their Last Chance Saloon.

Then out of the blue my sister from the wet coast called me. Seems that her husband had bought a 35 foot sailboat with the intent or dream of sailing it to Japan, his homeland. Indeed he had already made plans and departed with a Brit companion, who was a professional sailor. Together with George, his girlfriend, frigate birds and flying fish Sid made it to Hawaii in 19 days. Unfortunately this trip was a wake-up call to reality for Sid in that his dreams of maritime lore, Pacific blue and Japanese pride came crashing down on him drowning him like an emotional tsunami on his psyche, his self confidence and his personal well being.

Sid realized that he did not like open ocean sailing. He was seasick most of the time during the crossing from the west coast to Hawaii. He missed his wife as well as their first newborn child. Consequently he decided to pack it all in in Hawaii but still wanted George, the Brit, to sail the boat to Nagoya Japan, a Pacific port town that was close to Sid’s birthplace. George needed some help to achieve this as his girlfriend had split. Thus the phone call to me.

Sail to Japan? You bet. I quit my job, said goodbye to family and friends off I went to Honolulu. The Ala Wei Harbour and Ala Moana Yacht club near Waikiki would be my home for the next 6 months, then off into the wide Pacific expanse to Japan via Micronesia: the Marshall, Caroline, Gilbert and Marianas island archipelago was beckoning.

That excellent adventure is the subject of another story. Suffice to say we only made it as far as Saipan in the Marianas as the boat was taking on water as its seams were opening up under the strain of pounding seas and surf. There was no way on earth that we could sail her from Saipan to Japan as it was a “beat” all of the way up to Nagoya. Sadly I said goodbye to George, who would end up sailing the boat south from Saipan to Guam to sell her to some American sailor.  I flew to Tokyo where I proceeded to my sister’s place in a section of Yokohama called Totsuka. That was the end of this journey. Ever try speaking or learning Japanese? No wonder “hara-kiri or seppuku” was so popular. I returned home to my shit city of a city by plane about a month later.

I really enjoyed that experience and found that I was drawn to the maritime life.  By hook or by Captain Crook I had to find a way to continue on this path. Without a hesitant breath I began surveying the quays, the berths, and the jetties of the waterfront area of my home town within a nano second of arriving home. I read the local maritime shipping newspapers to see if I could some how worm my way into this profession. No luck. A longshoreman perhaps, or a deckhand, a boatswain, maybe a third mate, whatever, anything at all to belong to the maritime brotherhood. No luck. The maritime employment doors in this city at least were slammed shut on me like some battened down hatch on a ship in a storm. The union was as tight as a dolphin’s ass and was, in the vernacular, a closed shop. Unless someone died of nepotism, not likely, my chances for employment in this profession were about as slim and as ornery as a sailor’s fart upwind…

Rabid Dogs…2

….That particular trip to the wet coast was a bust. Don’t really know why I went. We stayed with Timmy at Mrs Redfern for a while but I soon left, never to return to that abode ever again. I do know that I decided to drive back by myself, late September. O’Grunts stayed out there for a short while returning on his own at a later date.  It was raining hard, of course. The rain then turned into snow, which morphed into a blizzard just as I was heading into the mountain passes. Surviving on nicotine I drove for hours through that blinding blizzard. Finally, after what seemed an eternity I could take no more. I had to stop so I parked the car outside of a flop house on the main drag of a small mountain town where I stayed the night. In the morning I couldn’t find my car as it was under about 6 feet of snow. Finding it then digging out, I headed east through the foothills and into the western prairie landscape where my car broke down just outside of a small prairie town due to a faulty voltage regulator. It was about 20 below zero. First week of October! Yikes.

It took about five days to fix that car as they had to order the part from back east. On my way again I picked up a hitchhiker on the outskirts of another prairie town who I had hoped would be able to share in the driving. That was fine except he didn’t quite grasp the finer points of driving, no licence per se, as I found out the hard way in a multi-circular spinout while he was driving that almost killed us. Shaken and stirred but recovering from the shock I drove the rest of the way dropping this lad off somewhere in the northern expanses of the wilderness at a highway crossroad. It was in the same area of trees and lakes, and trees and lakes with more trees and more lakes. Finally, I arrived home and back to the normal grind of a normal living with a normal career and a resume worthy job cleaning out subway cars in the subway yard at night, which was located just down the road from a local Subway sandwich shop. Serendipity do dah!

We cleaned these cars at night, 11 pm till 7am. Four cars from top to bottom. Four, as it took almost the entire shift for two of us to make these cars shine. Four per day, 20 per week, 80 plus cars per month. Funny what goes through one’s mind when employed in such a mind numbing career enhancing occupation such as this. But the pay was good for the time.

My partner in this endeavour was a young man from India. He was probably in his mid to late twenties, and considered himself upper class within the stringency of the Indian caste system. Why he stooped so low as to work here, or live here, was beyond my comprehension given his arrogance and holier than thou attitude and superiority complex. Yet he conveyed to me a disclosure that I would not soon forget. In my mindless Catholic indoctrinated but naive mind I perceived India, Pakistan, Bangladesh as extreme poverty stricken nations. They needed our help, our financial largess and our compassion.  Yes, he agreed, they had their social ills and problems that were for the most part insurmountable. But he and his kind couldn’t have cared less. The Indian aristocracy, middle classes, governing cadre, the caste system couldn’t give a rat’s ass as to the societal plight of the majority of their countrymen. The peasants were just that, peasants; peons who were lower than the lowest on their social ladder. They were for the most part dirt, vermin, scum, societal scabs, the great Indian unwashed, to be avoided at all costs.

Worse than the Catholics in this shit city of ours? I thought to myself

I was shocked at this admission. But he just laughed it off and told me that western countries such as mine and other western nations were being duped by the rhetoric of the United Nations. For the most part they were ill informed, idiotic, and delusional to think that our collective good will was being directed to where it was needed the most. All of that money and foreign aid coming into the country to help the poor was being siphoned off for other things. It had to be that way because the biggest threat to the survival and longevity of the Indian, Pakistani, Bangladesh caste system was compassion.

“Yeah, but what about that lady on TV?” I asked him. “You know the one wearing the brown army uniform, Unitarian Church of Canada I believe, asking, no pleading, for donations to alleviate the wretchedness of the slums in Calcutta”

“A huge scam.” he said “But keep on giving because we sure as hell won’t! In fact our government doesn’t have to do anything but keep the illusion alive in countries such as yours.” It’s a business this poverty thing.

That was that. Wow. All that talk about the poor over in India! Just talk? Or the starving people of Bangladesh? Just talk? Was I growing up or was I being conned by this disgruntled immigrant of Indian migration? Was this the beginning of my indoctrination to adulthood, real life and all the cynicism that goes with it? Or was this the slow but steadfast erosion of my innocence? The end of my sunny ways? Don’t know but a scary, uncomfortable feeling nevertheless.

Rabid Dogs

Returning home I took stock of myself. Almost 21 years of age with no real prospects, no real future. I had been out of school now for 5 years and was no further ahead than that first day after graduation. My parents and most of my associates thought of me as some sort of restless loser: an undergraduate of the University of Hard Knocks and Bad Experiences. Nonetheless, I never regretted anything that I had done thus far and was quite defensive when vocational criticism was thrown my way. I just didn’t have a clue at the time and lacked direction in this very adult course called living 101.

I returned to the normal everyday grind. Jimmymum has established himself in corporate finance and accounting. Good for him. He was steady, mature and had good prospects. In that regard it seemed as if life was programmed for him. Graduate high school. Check. Now what? Get a job for life. Check. Now what? Get married. Check. Now what? Get a house. Check. Now what? Have some kids. Check. Now what? Slit my wrists. No, not Jimmymum. Me!

O’Grunts was still living the hippy life without regrets; at least he couldn’t remember any in that fogged out mind of his.  Bruce, our lead guitarist, was still caught up in self discovery only this time in Nepal, trying to find himself among the Himalayan Mountains.  Unfortunately, they had to call out the Sherpas to find him. Timmy was still asleep out west and me? Well, I found employment with a national railroad and spent the next year or so unloading freight from an endless line of box cars only to reload said freight into an endless line of local delivery trucks. Great job! And, horror of horrors, I didn’t quit right away.

The sickness returned, eventually. Believe it or not O’Grunts convinced me to head back west yet a third time.  Only this time in my own car – a 64 Chevy Impala. I loved that car and it survived that west coast excursion returning safely to this shit city of a city only to be impaled by another good friend of mine on a brick wall.  I needed some money so I sold it to him for a song. Shortly thereafter he came by my place in my old ride, which now resembled an accordion, as the back end of the car was thrust up and back in mangled folds almost to the back seat. “What happened” says I, incredulous? Seems he drove home in the early hours quite inebriated from a night a drinking and debauchery, parked the car in the lane beside his flat, turned off the engine, managed to find his bed, passed out with sweet alcoholic dreams to a reality of a throbbing headache and jungle mouth a few hours later. He desperately required some hair of the dog and with cupboards bare he decided to head to his local for the requisite nourishment. Going down to his car he found to his astonishment that the car wouldn’t start. Being the industrious lad that he was he popped the hood and seeing nothing really amiss decided to jump – start the car. Now those cars may have been ancient relics of a distant past and different era but they reflected mechanical simplicity, technical beauty and dependability through their classic, masterful and graceful lines and design.

The car came to life, jerked momentarily, and then thrust itself in a backward motion, reverse as it turned out. That beautiful Impala took on a mind of its own. Technically challenged as it hightailed itself out of the laneway in full reverse, where it crossed the adjoining roadway before becoming impaled into the brick wall of a building that was across the road, all the while with my friend in hot but panicked pursuit. Fortunately for him, unfortunately for the car, the brick wall won the day. Luckily, except for his wounded pride, no one was hurt. It was a miracle that the car still ran. Turned out that when my friend arrived home, pissed to the gills, he didn’t realize that he shifted the car into reverse and not all the way into park. Of course it wouldn’t start in reverse and being heavily hung over he didn’t realize this simple fact of car life at the time. He just instinctively opened the hood and crossed the ignition wires at the starter. The car came to life immediately and the rest as they say was automotive history. Imagine my dismay as he came by to pick me up a few days later in that accordion styled sedan. Sadly my friend had to put that car down and take it to the car cemetery….

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…

House of Horrors…3

…Timmy and I went below and took note of our new digs. A very large room in the basement, half completed and just off of an area where our landlady’s washer and dryer area were plus the furnace room and what appeared to be a cluttered workshop: mouldy and dusty, the air would choke an asthmatic horse. We did have a large bed and there were two dressers for our clothes. Comfortable enough. There was even a spot for my “Heath Kit” stereo system and my records, which we brought out with us from the East. Not much in the way of clothes mind you but definitely my tunes. We set all of this up then decided to leave, find a restaurant, and over coffee and smokes discuss our way ahead from here.

Timmy and I decided to go into business for ourselves: a window cleaning business. As we were discussing this fact I couldn’t help but look outside at the continuous rain, mist and greyness of the place. Well, the sun must come out eventually I thought.  No matter. Cleaning windows would have very low overhead. We already had a car, and a few bucks to tide us over for a month. Buckets, squeegees and sponges wouldn’t cost too much and we had all of the water one could possibly have. It was decided then. We also had to purchase a ladder:  a 20 foot extension would fit the bill.

We left and went out to purchase our inventory from a local hardware store. All in all I do believe the total cost came to about 20 bucks, the ladder being the most expensive item on our list. Ready to rock and roll, but where do we go from here.  We hardly knew our area. We’ll start tomorrow. Let’s explore our surroundings now, which we did that afternoon, bearing in mind that we had to be back at our digs for the 530 chow call.

We decided to focus all of our attention to the residential properties of this coastal city. The northern burbs would be our best chance of success as they had views to die for: panoramic vistas over the city, the English sounding bay, the straits and the gulf islands that were in situ haphazardly to the west and southwest of the city’s core. Added to that was the beautiful green suspension bridge that bridged the gap from the city’s main core and large green canopy of a park of old growth trees then over the city’s harbour approaches and narrows to the northern burbs. These burbs, located to the west and north of the city centre and separated by the extension bridge, skirted along the city’s northern harbour limits. In fact one had to be a mountain goat to navigate the streets of these burbs as they meandered uphill from the lower reaches of the harbours quays and wharves and bay. The area also appeared to be an affluent area of homes with small business strip malls. Although this area presented a considerable drive from our lodgings it was ripe for the pickings.

When we arrived back at our digs a very strange and weird occurrence greeted us. As we came into the house from the back alleyway we could hear a high pitched screaming, clamouring, yelling, wailing and shouting coming from the area of the drawing room. Then silence, for a few seconds followed again by a cacophony of rants and curses.  What on earth we thought as we looked at one another in shocked disbelief. Added to that, as we came into the house, the kitchen was a disarray of blazing, boiling and steaming pots and pans of varying sizes and shape strewn about on the counters, on the stove and by the old fashioned farmers sink. But there was no one there looking out and over this disorganized mess!

We called out. “Mrs Redfern, Mrs Redfern. Are you there? Is everything okay?”

Silence, then more screaming. Silence, then hammering of her fists down on the carpet it would appear.

We tip toed through the kitchen into the hallway that led to the front door and the entrance to the drawing room. We peered into the room itself.  In disbelief we saw a very small, frail Mrs Redfern on her hands and knees peering into the magnified screen of the television set, about two feet away: screaming at the top of her lungs at the inanimate characters emanating from the screen into her living room. It was late afternoon wrestling, early evening back east where the show originated. And there, in full physical dynamism, was the famous and legendary Whipper Billy Watson fighting and wrastling some unknown opponent. Or perhaps it was the Sheik, or Gorgeous George or even Bulldog Brower taking on this giant of a man. Regardless, I got the impression watching this bizarre scene unfold that Mrs Redfern was rooting for the underdog as Watson was the star attraction in those days and, what appeared to us, was annihilating his opponent.

Timmy and I just stood there watching, incredulous as what was going on. It was just too weird a scene to laugh at out loud. There she was, Mrs Redfern, our landlady, down on all fours yelling and cursing at every move and at every blow from the Whipper onto his opponent. Her high pitchiness of a voice hurt the ears while her language would make a sailor blush. I am sure they could hear her back east. Yet here she was, our frail and demur landlady, suddenly transformed into a lioness of fury at some indiscretion, misconception of wrestling insanity.  Added to that she held that same butcher knife in her left hand that we saw when we first met her, at the ready, to disembowel any threat to her sense of wrestling fairness and sportsmanship. Timmy and I retreated ever so slowly so as not to disturb this disturbing scene. We would come to learn that this was a weekly afternoon occurrence in Mrs Redfern’s House of Horrors…