“Swinging it”

Remember when Swing was a fad back in the nineties?  Everyone was getting back into old time swing and swing dancing.  I was living in Edmonton and I was fancy on girl who worked at Ernie’s Chicken Wings.  She used to wear bobby socks and them big swirley skirts.  She said she was in a swing dance group.  So I thought I’d surprise her and learn how to swing. 

The only number I found in the phone book was Alberta Swingers, a club for “consenting adults.”  I sure wasn’t going to dance with kids so I was glad it was for adults.  I called my old buddy Chubby from back home and we took a cab over to the hall where the Alberta Swingers met on Saturday night.  Man, we had to fill out a long form with about a hundred questions.  I don’t know what my favorite sexual position had to do with swing dancing but I filled it out anyway.  Plus we had to pay twenty bucks apiece to get in.  They gave us each a towel and a locker.  Man, they must have expected me to work up a sweat.

When we got in, the music was low and people were milling around.  The announcer came on and welcomed everyone to the “Anything Goes” night.  They were playing the BeeGees, which I thought was funny music for swing dancing.  Me and Chubby were standing around when two guys dressed in leather vests and leather chaps came up to us.  They introduced themselves as Klaus and Frederick.  They had a really strong German accent.  They asked us how long we had been swinging.  I told them this was our first time.  Then they invited us to their room. 

I thought it was funny that two guys dressed like that would be into swing dancing.  Me and Chubby didn’t know what to think but we agreed anyway.  Maybe they had partners in their room and we could start learning how to swing dance.  But when Klaus and Frederick turned around, I noticed neither of them was wearing any underwear or pants under their chaps.  Me and Chubby didn’t know what to do but followed them anyway.  I guess we were too polite to tell them they forgot their pants. 

They opened the door to a large room with one big bed in it, nothing more.  When we got in, Klaus invited us to get comfortable.  Me and Chubby sat on the bed.  They asked us if we’d like to watch first.  We said sure, not really knowing what they meant.  I thought their dance partners were in the room and they were going to show us how to dance.  But instead, they started kissing.  Boy, me and Chubby didn’t know whether to wind our watches or chew bubble gum. 

When they started taking each others vests off, we tried to sneak out.  But Klaus locked the door and pulled out a whip.  He started whipping at us and we had to hide under the bed.  Then they turned the lights out and put on really loud Heavy Metal music.  I could feel someone pulling me out by my legs.  Then I heard Chubby yelling, “Fuck off!”  Klaus wrapped that whip around my neck and asked me if I like it rough.  I stomped on his foot and elbowed him in the mouth.  I turned on the light just as Frederick was trying to pull off Chubby’s pants.  We took off running, me pulling Chubby by the arm while he tried to pull up his pants.  We got out and ran all the way to the cops and reported them.  I showed them the copy of the form I filled out and they said that we’d consented to anything in that club, including “rough play.”  I’m sure not crazy about swinging anymore.  I can’t even get Chubby to come our for coffee.  He doesn’t trust me I guess.     

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Uncle Gabe

I’m pretty busy these days and I’m trying to find time to write about Chubby and the boys.  But I get caught up in all the hoopla of modern day life and forget sometimes where I come from.  That’s why I like to visit guys my age or older wherever I am.  I was just visiting a guy the other day.  Chubby’s Uncle Gabe.  He lives in a little log house by the river.

I brung Gabe a pouch of tobacco and a stack of old Two Gun Kid comics I had laying around.  One thing Gabe likes to do is smoke rollies and read comics.  Especially after a long day of stretching rats. 

Gabe was ratting out of his house in town; padding around the sloughs and cricks running down from the lakes.  Gabe been around as long as two horse kickers.  He talks about them like they were hotrods.  “Boy we sure took off when he opened it up, let me tell you.” 

Gabe said he was looking for a skinner and wanted to know if I knew how to skin rats.  I said sure why not, I’ll try anything once.  He showed me once and told me to try.  When I was done I had thirteen individual pieces of skin.   I was supposed to only have one.  Gabe took his knife back and laughed real slow, like a guy in a western.

Then he asked me if I remembered his dad’s first wife’s brother.  I had to shake my head and ask him to repeat it.  When I couldn’t, he said, “ah, you were probably still sap anyway.”  And laughed to himself.  “Anyway” he said, “he was a real crack shot with a twenty-two.  He could kill two rats with one shell.  Even if they weren’t lined up.  He would bank the bullet off one rat’s head, knocking it out, and hit another in the throat.  He got pretty good at it.  I guess he played pool quite a bit too so that helped him out with his shooting.”  Boy I was just about sitting in his lap at this point I was so into his stories.  He rolled another smoke and drank his tea in silence after that.

I finished my tea and told Gabe I had to pick up Chubby cause he had an appointment with his P.O. in town.  He gave me a bag of smoked rats for my mom.  She sure enjoyed them.  When we were driving into town, I asked Chubby if he ever listened to them old timer stories.  He said he grew up listening to them cause he was raised mostly by his granny and his step parents.  His granny was damned near ninety-five and still scooting around in her little house.  She like to play bingo and stop anybody on the street to go buy her bingo cards for radio bingo.  And even the thieves in town don’t try to steal from her.  Even if they’re blasted on something or other, they always come back with her cards.  She always gives them a little piece of drymeat.  I think they like it too.

So Chubby knows a lot of stuff too.  He even knows how to make what they call that
“witch brew,” from shoots and berries.  It’s a wine actually.  If you let it sit for six days you get a real buzz from it.  It’s supposed to be just for medicine man, but me and Chubby have a little bit now and then.  His “Granny Boots” sure like it.  Boy she could swear after she have a few swallows of that witch brew. 

Yeah, I guess life gets too fast some times.  Gotta slow it down I guess. Quit using hundred horse and use two horse, like Uncle Gabe.  Have a little bit of witch brew once in a while.  Nothing wrong with that.  I think I’ll unplug my phone tomorrow and sit around, drink tea, and talk to the birds.

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Ball slappers

While I was studying filmmaking in Calgary, I answered an ad in the newspaper for actors.  They were looking for downhill skiers for a commercial.  We use to fly down Suicide Hill as kids so I figured that man made hill, Calgary Olympic Park, would be a cakewalk. 

I filled in the application and under skill, I checked expert.  I sure as hell wasn’t going to put novice, whatever that means.  They liked the photo I’d sent in and they called me for my shoe size and preferred ski size.  I said the shortest ones you have, not knowing that you actually go faster with shorter skis.  

I arrived at the shoot and was fitted in a downhill racing suit and one of them space age aero-dynamic helmets.  They had a camera rigged on a guy-wire that ran from the top of the hill to the bottom, to follow the skier.  I took the gondola to the top of the hill.  When I got up there, I must admit my knees got weak looking down at the run.  I’d already pawned all my jeans and was basically living on chicken neck broth.  You could get a ten pound bag of chicken necks in Chinatown for two bucks.   The hundred and fifty bucks they offered was going to come in handy when I run out of grub.

I was fourth in line at the top of the hill when the director called action.  The first guy did the sign of the cross and jumped off.  By the time I blinked, he was just a dot at the bottom of the hill.   The second guy wasn’t so lucky.  He wiped out about half way down.  I lost count at sixteen tumbles.  It reminded me of a cartoon the way he was flipping through the air.  After seeing that, the third guy quit. I was weak from hunger and I sure as heck wasn’t going to let a little fear come between me and two double quarter pounders with cheese.

The director called action and I froze.  “Action” he yelled in my ear.  Then he pushed me.  Well let me tell you Suicide Hill had nothing on a double black diamond run on an Olympic sanctioned ski-hill.  I didn’t want to but I couldn’t help but scream.  I don’t know how the hell I made it to the first corner without wiping out but I did.  But instead of turning, I went straight.  They had recently re-planted that part of the hill and the little saplings were just the right height to ball-slap me on the way down.  I was seeing dots from the pounding on my sack.  I crossed right over to the next run and was going so fast I couldn’t close my mouth because the air pressure kept it open and my cheeks were actually flapping.

I was headed straight for the parking lot.  I didn’t want to die and I knew if I didn’t turn I would.  I closed my eyes and leaned left.  I hit the snowbank on the side of the highway so hard my skis came off.  The G-force pushed the skin from my eyelids back and all I saw was a truck with a sign that said, “Hay for sale.”  By then I was airborne with my arms at my sides.  I knew I was dead meat.  The moment I hit, my entire life flashed before my eyes.  The next thing I knew, it was dark. 

My legs were free from the knees down but I couldn’t move my arms, or turn my head.  I was waiting for the voice of the Lord when I realized I had straw in my mouth.  Then I could feel someone tugging on my legs.  It was then I realized I’d hit the bail of hay and was stuck inside.  They eventually had to unroll the bail to free me.  I didn’t make it on the commercial but at least I got paid.  It still hurts when I walk but I’m eating good this week.   

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Rubber Ooshooks

Before I became famous, I drove taxi.  One time I was taking a load of passengers between Inuvik and one of the outlying communities.  It was mid-Febuary and minus 45.  We took off after the bar closed so there was no other traffic on the ice road.  About an hour into the trip, the van started to overheat.  The thermostat had stuck.  Luckily I had a spare.  But when I was changing it, I tore the gasket and it wouldn’t work. 

We tried all kinds of other material to try and make a new gasket.  I even cut a gasket out of my leather dingo boots but that didn’t work either.  We sat there in the cold for about half an hour before it started getting really cold inside the van.  I didn’t know what to do.  I was shacked up with Bubbles at the time and she loan me her gym bag to pack some extra clothes in.  I was digging around for another pair of socks when I felt a round large object.  I pulled it out and it was a big rubber dildo.  I pulled it out and said, “Hey, this might work.”  One of the elderly ladies took offence to the sight of it and started hitting it with her cane and swearing at me in her language. 

After we all had a good laugh, we decided it would be perfect material for a gasket.  The girth was just the right size to fit over the new thermostat.  But we didn’t have a knife to cut a new gasket out.  The only thing I had was an axe.  And a dull one at that.  I tried once to cut it in half but the axe just bounced back.  All the guys were holding their privates and wincing in pain.  One of the elders pulled out her sewing bag and handed me an ulu, a traditional women’s knife.  And sharp as a razor.  The women all huddled together to watch.  But when I readied the ulu, they all shrieked in unison and I couldn’t concentrate.  All the guys were looking like I was going to perform the operation on them and the look on their face of pure dread.  I finally found the courage to make the cut. 

If you’ve ever tried an ulu, it’s not as easy as it seems.  Especially on rubber.  I was making a mess of it and finally the elder took it away from me, and sliced off a perfect size piece.  It looked like she was cutting a piece of quock, frozen fish, the way the ulu sliced graciously through the rubber.  It’s all in the wrist.  The gasket fit perfect and we made it to our destination an hour later and I dropped everyone off at their respective houses.  The last one off was the elder who gave me the ulu to use.  Her grand-daughter was with her and she spoke to her grand-daughter in her language.   The grand-daughter told me, “She wants to know if you need that rubber thing.”  It was just a rubber shaft by then so I told her “Not really, why?”  “She wants to make a plug for the sink,” she said.  I didn’t think Bubbles would want it back in its current condition so I said sure.  But I knew damn well she would make me go out and buy her a new one.  So I told her daughter, “Twenty bucks.”  Her grandmother didn’t have twenty bucks so she game me about seven dollars in change plus half a pack of cigarettes.

When I got back home I sat Bubbles down and told her the story.  Instead of laughing, she starting throwing things at me, telling me I’d never measure up to what that thing had done for her and demanded I get it back.  I eventually ordered her a new one.  I see that elder once in a while and I dread it.  Because she always asks me in her language, “How’s your ooshook? (penis)” and laugh like hell with all her women buddies.  And always in Effie’s Cafe, when it’s packed. 

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Tom Jackson?

I’m often mistaken for the North of 60 Actor Tom Jackson.  I don’t mind the mixup but I’ve had some pretty scary situations too.  One time I was driving home from Edmonton and stopped in Saddle Lake Alberta to buy some rat-root for a toothache.  I stopped in the store to ask around when this woman walked right up to me and just slapped me.  “You B*&^%$#, how come you never phoned?”  “What?”  “How come you never called me.  Remember, Poundmaker’s Pow-wow.  Don’t pretend you don’t remember.”  And she cocked her hand to slap me again.  But this time I ducked and wrapped my arm around her neck.  “Let me go you lying B*&^%%.”  “What the hell are you talking about?”  Then her girlfriend said four words that saved my life.  “He’s not Tom Jackson.”  I let her go and she shook herself to composure.  Her friend lent her a pair of glasses.  She squinted at me and apologized while picking up a box of pampers.  “Boy your lucky I was sure gonna beat the hell out of you.”  “You better start wearing those glasses cause if you do that to me again I’m gonna beat the hell out of you” I told her. 

Another time I was standing at the bar with my buddy in Grande Prairie.  This woman was leaning against the bar at the other end.  She was puffing out her “mah” (Gwich’in word for breasts) and grinning at me like she had something to offer.  She wobbled over and stopped about an inch and a half from my face.  “I want to have your baby” she said.  “Can you” I asked, backing away from her stale beer breath.  She closed one eye and focused real hard before she cackled to herself and covered her mouth.  “I thought you were Tom Jackson” she said, more to herself than to me. 

The best was when I was driving south one time.  I only had enough money for gas so I’d stop along the way and play my guitar and sing for change.  I was playing in front of the Northern Store in Fort Nelson one morning when this truck pulled up with about six Indians in the front seat.  They all spilled out and this old Indian couple looked at me with great interest.  They said something to their daughter in their language.  She told me they wanted my autograph.  I didn’t know what the hell they wanted my autograph for so I said sure.  I scribbled my named on a cigarette pack and gave it back to them.  “Is that a D” she asked.  I took it back and looked at it.  Then it hit me, they think I’m Tom Jackson.  “No, that’s a T, sorry.”  They were looking at me with the big question across their foreheads “What are you doing playing for change?”  “I’m ah, I’m…I’m just making money for poor people.  I’m going to give this to Salvation Armey.”  Boy a big smile just came over their faces and they said something to their two grandchildren who went and dug under the tarp for something. 

They gave me a big bag of drymeat and one whole bannock, plus a ziplock of bone grease.  Man I never ate so good.  I sat right on the sidewalk and ate half that bag.  They were just killing themselves laughing.  They’d say something and their daughter would translate.  “Is North of 60 a real place?”  “Oh yeah, it’s in Saskatchewan.”  “I thought it was NWT?”  “Oh yeah, sorry, I mean NWT?”  I sang them part of the Huron Carole was but was screwing it up so bad I just said I have to go now.  I asked them for a couple of smokes for the road and they looked at me really quizzical.  “Never mind” I said, not wanting to push my luck.  I thanked them for the grub and peeled out before they saw my NWT plates.

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How to get goosed.

While living in Vancouver, a friend of mine from back home was crashing on my couch.  He was between jobs and I was on between making films.  He wasn’t pulling in any dough and welfare wouldn’t help out either.  I had just enough money from my last cheque to feed myself but watching him day after day, watching me eat, was getting to me.  So I had to start giving him some of my food.  And a guy doesn’t get full doing that.  So I told him we need to find a way to get more grub. 

It was April and the geese and ducks were starting to show up in Stanley Park, swimming around the ponds where people fed them bread crumbs.  The Canada Geese were pretty fat and I could see one of them in a roaster with some spuds and onions.  So I made a plan to kill us a fat goose.  The next day we took the bus downtown.  I brought along my slingshot and a bag of marbles I bought at the dollar store.  When one got in range, I would shoot it with my slingshot and Lawrence would snare it with a long pole we’d brought along and pull it in. 

We hid in a bush and I called a fat honker over.  He came swimming by, feeding along the way with his head under water.  I pulled my slingshot back as far as it would go.  When he lifted his head, I closed one eye and aimed for his head.  I let the marble go and I nailed him dead on.  He slumped over and Lawrence snagged it and pulled it to shore with a long pole we’d found.  An old lady was taking a picture of the goose and she gasped in horror when she saw us stuff him in the gunny sack.  We tried to walk away like nothing was wrong but she was following us telling us that what we’d done was illegal and that she was going to the authorities.  So we ran.  We stole a bag of potatoes from a nearyby store and jumped back on the bus.  I was telling Lawrence about the best way to stuff a goose when all of a sudden the gunny sack started moving around on the floor by our feet.  All I could say was “What the…” before that goose stuck his head out of the gunny sack and let out a big honk.  His eye was swollen shut.  I must have only knocked it out because it sure wasn’t dead.  I started blaming Lawrence for not wringing his neck.  The goose wiggled out of the gunny sack and tried to get out the window.  He was huge and his wing span must have been at least four feet wide.  It was rush hour and the bus was full.  He hit the window and flopped back onto a woman’s back.  She was shrieking while I tried to grab it.  The goose pecked my private part and took flight toward the front of the bus.  It hit the front windshield and landed in the driver’s lap.  He slammed on the brakes and we ended up in a pile by his feet.  The goose took a big crap in some old guys head and flew back toward the back of the bus, slapping us with his wings as he flew.  Just as it was about the hit the back window, an old lady swung her purse and knocked the it to the floor.  I jumped on the goose while Lawrence got the gunnysack and we stuffed it back in there. 

We jumped off the bus and bee-lined it down the alley with the goose still alive in the gunny sack.  When I figured we were safe, I took it out and rung it’s neck.  We were still about sixty blocks from my place and I was starving.  I sure as heck wasn’t jumping back on the bus in case they knew about us.  And we didn’t have any money for a cab.  There was a Chinese restaurant across the street.  I had an idea. 

I went and offered the guy to trade the goose for two dinners.  He took it and felt the weight.  Then he said he’d  take it but he made us pluck and gut it first.  We were in the downtown eastside where a lot of street people live and we were getting quite the crowd around us.  I gave the gizzard to this guy who was wiped on heroin.  He just sat there examining it for half an hour.  When we were done I gave it to the owner.  I had the number three, sweet and sour chicken balls and chicken chow mein, and Lawrence had the number four, dry garlic ribs and chicken fried rice.  He still calls me and asks me if I have any more geese for sale.

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Cab drivers and bootleggers

Chubby’s foster dad finally passed away after about a hundred years.  Chubby got a three thousand dollar cheque from his estate.  That crazy bugger was going to put it in the bank so he could make sixteen bucks a year interest on it.  I told him “Hell with that, buy a car and we’ll go into taxi business.”

We bought an old car from Buster’s taxi.  I remember that car when I was a little kid.  He used to give us a ride after school from our house, down the road, and around the corner to Chubby’s, and charge us two bits apiece.  Boy, we sure used to love going for a ride in that car.

I don’t know what those numbers meant on the dash but this one said 499,976.  Somebody told me later that’s how many miles that car went.  I told Chubby that’s a pretty good car if it can go that far and not break down.  We painted over Buster’s name and put D&C Taxi instead.  Chubby taped his mom’s phone number on both sides of the door since we were both staying there.  We had a big party and Talil kicked us out of his apartments.  But that’s another story.

We were in a dead snore when that first call come in.  We were up all night watching movies and neither of us wanted to get up at seven in the morning to drive Gerty Swampy to work, but we had a business to run.  I made coffee and toast and had a shave.  Then I had to call Harvey Dogpot to boost me.  Boy, she was pretty mad cause I was so late.  Then Ida Scow called and wanted a taxi at the store with all her groceries.  She had about fifteen bags of grub plus her eight boys.  Gee them kids are bad.  They pulled the door handle right off and stuck bubble gum all over the back seat.  Then Old Phineas Tailbone waved me down outside the bar.  He been having a few beers I guess and he talk Indian language to me all the way home like I know him my whole life.  I only know few swears and a couple of body parts in Indian language.  Too boot he didn’t even pay me cause he pass out before I got him home and I had to carry him in.  Then I got a better idea for our taxi, we’d become bootleggers, like all them other taxi drivers.

I got my GST and bought a case of Appleby’s Sweet Cider to start.  My first customer was Harvey Dogpot.  He told me I owed him on account of him boosting my car day before.  Then Old Phineas call and I sell him one, but he only give me ten bucks and a bag of drymeat.  Amos Boots call and ask for three bottles.  Amos could talk the black off of a crow Chubby say.  He give me big story about how big cheque he’s getting from Alaska land claims and how many zeroes it’s going to have on it and how he’s going to pay me twice what he owes me, when his cheque gets in tomorrow or next day.  Boy, my head was spinning from all those words and I guess I forgot about Chubby’s number one rule, no credit.  Well, Amos cheque never did come in and consequently I didn’t recover my investment.  Chubby been having a tough day cause his girlfriend took off to Harvey Dogpot to party and left him with her six kids, all of them in diapers.  He dropped them off at her mom’s and call me to pick him up.  Both of us pretty bummed out about our business so we crack a bottle and sit by the river talking about getting out of the taxi business.  Bootlegging is no better either.  I saw in the paper oil company looking for dishwashers next week.  We get in the car so we can go fill out our applications but when I turn the key on the car it backfired and same time one tire went flat, just like in the cartoons.  We must have had half the town standing around us as we look under the hood.  There’s a big pool of black sludge under the engine that supposed to be oil but it look like thick molasses cause that oil never been changed since Buster bought it brand new.  We all push it to Art’s mechanic shop and he tell us he surprised it didn’t die forty years ago and what fools we were for buying it in the first place.  He call Ford and tell them about it and they call us to congratulate us on the first car to ever go half a million miles without an oil change and we get out picture in Car and Truck magazine.  Sure feel good to be famous for little while anyway.  Well, we gotta pack up to go wash dishes in camp.  I already got big plans for when we get back.  Chubby says big hello and quit phoning his mom’s for taxi.

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