Monday, June 16, 2008

Drinking Buds

I was at a pal's apartment drinking margaritas, and we were have a great time. He was getting pissed with me for throwing limes off the balcony, but other than that it was great.

Margaritas are civilized. They're not like tequila puffs. Do you know tequila puffs? You mix tequila and 7-up in equal parts in a plastic cup. Then you slam the cup down on a picnic table and shotgun it. It's like inhaling sweet foam. We got into them and then walked barefoot into the desert, down a gravel road where rattlesnakes warm themselves at night. Then the indian wouldn't let us ride his horse. But that's another story.

We ran out of tequila, but my pal happened to live across the street from a liquor store. Call me impulsive. Maybe I'm adventurous. Whatever character flaw you want to blame, I scored a bottle of mescal.

Back at his place we cranked up the tunes. We were feeling good, singing, laughing and checking out the moms around the swimming pool. I didn't even care that we ran out of limes - I was drinking mescal straight out of the bottle. Mescal is like Cracker Jacks, they put in a prize. When you finish the bottle you get a worm, which I ate.

Even a bottle of mescal, which probably tastes like turpentine if you ain't hammered (I wouldn't know), doesn't last forever. We were out of booze again, so we went to the bar.

Drinking mescal makes you ask the deep, philosophical questions. Like, did the mescal make me to it, or deep-down am I really that much of an asshole? For whatever reason, for no reason, as we were walking down the street, I swung around and punched my buddy's nose.

"Enough of this bullshit," he said, and stomped away. Who could blame him?

I went to the bar and had a couple of beers. But it was a country and western bar, and I got bored. I hopped on the bus back to his place.

No matter how much I pounded on his door, my buddy wouldn't answer. I walked downstairs, out onto the lawn, stepped over the limes, climbed onto a fence and then reached up and pulled myself onto his balcony. I went inside but didn't see him around. I found a pizza. I ate it. Then I stretched out on the couch and fell asleep.

The next morning, he walked through the living room, and muttered something like, "What the hell are you doing here?"

I took that as my cue to leave.

But then a funny thing happened. A couple of days later, he phoned and asked if I wanted to come over for a few beers. Who the hell would want me coming over? I wouldn't want me coming over.

I went, of course. We didn't drink beer. We drank martinis until his wife kicked us out. We went to "The Princeton" on the waterfront, but they kicked us out for being too drunk. I remember being insulted - it's not a high class place. Then we went to "The Marr," a stripper bar, and then "The Drake," where I ran the pool table. And then we went to "The Coach House" where my buddy got up on stage with the band, playing air guitar. That was okay until he fell off the stage and rolled across the dance floor.

The bouncers rushed out from behind the bar. They grabbed him and ran him like a battering ram, his feet barely touching the carpet, and threw him through the swinging doors. The next day he accused me of deserting him. I was in survival mode.

About that time, I started thinking. Sure, I like to drink. But the only time I went on truly marathon drunks, it was with my buddy. I thought about my bad behavior - the limes, punching him, eating his pizza. And was doing exactly what he wanted me to do: acting worse than him.

He liked to drink, and he had his reasons. But he liked having someone around behaving worse than him. Then he could always say, "I'm not as bad as that guy." I was giving him carte blanche.

To my way of thinking I was killing my liver for his reasons. It would be bad enough if I was doing it for my own reasons. But his reasons? No way. I cut back and probably pulled myself out of a downward spiral. I even tried to get him to stop, which failed.

Since I stopped drinking and started nagging him, we don't see each other that much. He occasionally phones and complains about the drunks who come around.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Be Prepared for the Unexpected

Years ago - I forget the reason why - I went into the wilderness. I drove to the northern tip of Vancouver Island. Then I walked thirty kilometers through a bog, out to Cape Scott.

Cape Scott is a lonely place. The bog is forbidding. It can only be passed during summer months. Horseflies, lots of them, circled me the whole way. There were so many I had to stop and let them land, swat as many as I could, and then run.

When I arrived at the beach the wind blew the flies away. I saw breakers far out to sea. You wouldn't want to come to the Cape from the sea either.

Danes settled the Cape a hundred years ago. They were tough. They built a dike so they could farm the tidal flats, but a storm blew the dike away. The Danes didn't give up, they built another one. It's still there.
The Cape's a place for tough things. The wind twists the trees. Cougars haunt the forest. But even the Danes failed. The isolation was too much for them. They abandoned their homesteads, leaving their dike, broken-down cabins, and a pink granite headstone for a boy, William.

I thought I would live on food from the sea. I brought no food with me, except for a half loaf of bread. I brought cigarettes. I brought a mask and snorkel so I could dive for shellfish. I didn't know the cold of the north Pacific. I stuck my toe into that water and my toe burned. I was a bigger dreamer than the Danes. And I was alone.

I gave up my diving ambitions and went sight seeing. I hiked along the beach, thinking that it would take me to the Cape. But the beach ended and I began to scramble over the black rock. Pink snails filled the tide pools and other beautiful things lived there.

The rock became steeper and soon I was scrambling over cliffs. I thought the cliffs would level out but they got steeper. I looked back and seeing the steepness of what I had crossed I became afraid. I kept going. I couldn't see any way off the rock. Ahead it looked too steep. I couldn't turn back. The freezing sea water crashed against the rocks below. Thick salal and brush formed a barrier along the cliff top.

I hung on, thinking about my family. How sad my mother would be if I disappeared into the wilderness. I began to pray. I asked God to save me. I promised Him all kinds of things... I don't remember all the things.

But when I looked up I noticed a hole in the brush on the cliff top. I was sure it wasn't there before. I saw I could squeeze into the hole. The rock was black and hard and smooth, but I found a way up to the hole. And then I grabbed onto the brush and pulled myself in.

I found myself in a tunnel under the salal. It was an animal trail, I thought. I didn't care. The tunnel twisted and wound up the slope from the cliff. I crawled up through dirt and leaves. But I felt safe. I couldn't fall.

And then the ground leveled out a little more. I came out of the tunnel and into the salal. I walked through it, up the slope, and I found a trail. This is where I should have been all along, I thought. This path was here for me, to take me out to the Cape.

So you see. I prayed, and I was saved. Even though I didn't go to church - and I still don't. And I've never prayed a lot, unless I really need something. And still - I think - God helped me out of that bad spot I was in. And I'm not making any of this up. It's exactly how I remember it.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

What's So Fresh About Green?

We live on the edge of a rain forest in the North Vancouver. Friends visiting from the city have commented on how fresh the air smells here. I know what they're talking about. I have noticed a crispness in the air at our place that is lacking on city streets, and even city backyards. I'm wondering if this perception is based on the air's make up.

It could be that all the green around just makes you think the air smells better. We have a lavender bush in the yard so perhaps we're experiencing a pleasant smell. Trees consume carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Could the trees be pumping out enough oxygen to makes the air around our house oxygen rich, creating a natural hyperbolic chamber? Are we receiving a health benefit from that? The thought is tantalizing.

I'd like to talk about the "freshness." Advertisers call everything from laundry to fruit juice "fresh", so the word has become almost meaningless.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Hill

When I was in high school the really cool thing was I owned a big, old Chrysler with a 383. I had bought it with money I had earned helping out in my dad's machine shop. One summer, a friend of mine and I decided we'd go on a road trip. His parents had a cabin up in Willams Lake, 550 Km (340 mi) from our home in Vancouver.

When we got to his parent's cabin, he asked me if I wanted to drive out to Bella Coola. Bella Coola's on the coast about 450 km (280 mi) west of Williams Lake. I said sure. Before starting out, we stopped by the liquor store and talked someone into buying us a jug of wine and a couple of cases of beer.

We had a blast driving across the Chilcotin, drinking and looking at amazing scenery. The rolling grasslands and distant mountain ranges made us think we were traveling in Africa. We played with the electric windows and laughed and sang. We saw almost no one except an old guy with Fedora in a black Cadillac. He looked like "The Godfather" of the wilderness. We laughed a lot about that.

But we hadn’t counted on "The Hill." Where the Chilcotin plateau ends and the Coast Mountains begin, the road goes from three lanes of gravel down to one. It snakes through mountain passes and plunges from its height at 5000 feet down to sea level. Some cat–skinners built it on their own because the government said it couldn't be done. They put up signs telling drivers not to get out of their cars.

The other thing we didn't count on was the effect of two hundred miles of steady drinking. At the beginning it was all laughing and singing, but when we hit "The Hill" we were getting... emotional. I was driving and crying and slugging my buddy over stuff going on in high school, and he was slugging me.

After a mile or so, we realized how horribly we would die if I drove us off the road. We forgot about high school. The only thing we talked about was getting down "The Hill." I eased off the gas, and took the switch–back turns like I was threading the Chrysler through a needle. By the time we reached the bottom of "The Hill" we were acting sober, even if we weren't.

We pulled into Bella Coola and stopped at the cafe for pie and coffee. When we came out, I noticed all the Chrysler's tires were flat. I didn't care much, I was just glad to be alive.

I didn't drink behind the wheel after that.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Green Mystery

You tell me of all the trouble in the world
But when I look out my window
all I see
is a
green mystery

Light in the Shining Heavens

Submitted to 5 publishers yesterday:
  • Anvil
  • Ekstasis
  • Harbour
  • New Start
  • Thistledown

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Lightning's Mystery Revealed

I was driving to Selene with my buddy Shortcut. It was a long drive through the middle of nowhere, and he had been injured at work and didn't look too enthusiastic about anything. Then he sat up.

“Want to hear a story?" he asked. "A story my uncle told me when I was a little shaver.”


“I’ll tell you if you’re interested.”

“Yeah, why not?”

He eased back in his seat. “They say my uncle was a lonely kid who grew up set in his lonely ways. Not only that but he smelled bad. It wasn’t only that he didn’t like taking baths, but he had his own odour. He smelled like moose shit, if you ask me.

“But he liked to hunt. He’d go out with the other hunters then he’d set off alone, talking to himself, because he used to talk to himself when alone into the woods. Every time he went he’d get something. He’d find the guys again, and take them back to whatever he’d killed, and they’d cut it up and pack it out of the woods, and we’d have meat.

“One day he never came back. They looked for him, but nobody found him, nobody knew where he could be. We missed him because all us kids liked Uncle Jake; we used to follow him around and stuff. We got hungrier too, ’cause we never had that meat he was getting. But we got by. Then a couple of months later, just about when it was starting to snow, he showed up in the village with a hell of a story to tell.

“He told everyone he met a woman who lived in a hut up in the mountains with all kinds of children and no man. She invited him into her hut and he was surprised to find that she had beer, cases of it, and she offered him some and he began to drink with her. When he got to this part of the story, everyone laughed about my uncle finding a woman in the woods who was not only friendly but had beer!

“By and by, my uncle got drunk and the woman looked more and more beautiful, and he wanted to play jiggy jig with her. But when he got into her bed, he got tired from all that beer and fell asleep.

“And as he slept he had a dream that all the animals came out of their hiding places in the forest to be with her, and she knew them all by name, even the fiercest ones. He said he saw a grizzly bear walk up to her like a big dumb dog, lick her face, and let her scratch him behind the ears.

“When he woke up in the morning he said goodbye to the woman, came back down the mountainside, and started out on his way home. He was surprised when after walking all day he found himself back at the woman’s hut. This dumbfounded my uncle who figured he knew his way around in the woods better than anyone. But she offered him more beer, so he spent another night with her, and just like the night before he fell asleep in her bed.

“Except this time he got woken up at dawn by one of her kids crying. My uncle got the story from the kid that an animal had killed one of her brothers the night before. My uncle went to find the woman.

“He found her in a meadow on the mountainside. Her hair was all white and stuck out of her head like a storm cloud. Her eyes burned like fire. Her hands looked like claws as she reached to the sky. Dark clouds swirled above her and though dawn had broke the sky was black as night. She let out a howl and lightning flashed from the clouds, splitting into forks, each fork smashing into a tree, which exploded in fire. She howled again and more lightning flashed, setting more trees on fire, so that soon the whole forest was burnin’. My uncle ran, and he didn’t stop running until he reached a lake, and when he got to that lake he dived into the water.

“He stayed in the water a whole day. When he came out again, numb from cold, all that was left of the forest was black stumps, charred and smoldering, and not even the sound of a bird.

“Uncle Jake said he cried then. It was terrible.

“He had no rifle, not even a knife, so he had nothing to hunt with, and nothing to hunt anyway, so things didn’t look good for him. He managed to find a stream running out of the lake and threw rocks at little trout in that stream for something to eat, and then followed the stream to a river, and then followed the river to the coast. He followed the coast back up to our village.”

“Wow,” I said.

“Yeah. That’s my uncle’s story.”

“So he’s still hunting?”

“I don’t know. He disappeared a couple of years after that. Nobody knows what happened to him.”

“Maybe he went back to her. She could of put a spell on him.”

“You think maybe it’s true?” he asked.

By now were were driving through a clear-cut. The road cut across a side hill stripped by rain to clay and gravel, clumps of brush growing here and there among branches tangled like torn cable, tombstone stumps standing above it all.

“Sometimes in these mountains make you feel there’s stuff going on we can’t explain,” I said.

“You think maybe that witch’s got something in for my family?”

I smiled. “It’s a good story, anyway.”

“He just probably wanted to scare us kids.”

“I wonder where all her kids came from.”

“I don’t know. I was wondering where all the beer came from,” he said.

We laughed.