When the Eastern forests of the North perform their dazzling dance of colour as Winter approaches and the Snowbird is up and away, human beings and animals acknowledge the occasion by observing traditional customs in accordance with Nature’s Plan.
An example of this occurred in the Ottawa area. It all began when The Honeyman approached the front door of the small downtown house of his old, old friend, The Real Article and his wife, The War Department.
He shivered in the cold November wind and wished he’d never left his dirty little trailer by the river.
His dog, Go’Way!, braced by the cool air but resentful about being dragged into the city and away from the beach and the yacht club where he scavenged a daily harvest of dog victuals, paused to deposit a grumpy intestinal objection in the middle of the walk which led to The Real Article’s front door.
The Honeyman was concerned that their welcome might be worn out before they arrived and kicked the offending object off the walk.
He reassured himself with a quick pocket check for the presence of tobacco, honey-whiskey, and
honey, knocked on the door.
Thus continuing a tradition of reunions which he and his old, old friend had established when they met pursuing Dutch girls while the rest of the world was chasing Germans across Holland.
Reunions which continued through battles with frostbite and venereal disease in Korea and were observed with less frequency once the pair became separated on The Rubby Route in Western Canada.
In the latter days it had taken The Real Article several reunions in single men’s hostels, seedy bars and fleabag hotels to adjust. When he encountered The Honeyman he had to deal with Go’Way! too.
The dog was just a pup then and suffered repeated nauseating attacks of dizziness caused by his performance of a series of stutter step starts and stops because The Real Article invariably greeted him by yelling, “Go’Way!, C’Mere!” or, worse, “C’Mere, Go’Way!”.
The Real Article was dressed, as usual at four in the afternoon, in his lime green terry cloth dressing gown and rubber boots. The latter acquired from a late night garbage can and handy for keeping the feet dry in the soggy living room which suffered occasional floods in the wetter seasons.
The old, old friends greeted each other with jocular salutations in the vein of,
“Y’ole bugger, yuh never looked worse!”
“It’s a wonder yer not dead or in the can!” while they punched arms, faked head butts and knees to the crotch.
Go’Way! affected his usual show of emotion upon seeing The Real Article by tearing off a piece of terry cloth sleeve and further shredding the bottom of The Honeyman’s coat.
The separation had been long and this, combined with The Real Article’s tendency to repeat things after his first sexual encounter with The War Department in the back seat of a Voyageur bus, let the occasion overwhelm him, causing him to yell, “Go’Way!, Go’Way!” at Go’Way!
Naturally, the dog responded with increased affection by demonstrating his famous Large Cat Attack impression. He jumped up and down three times, wrapped himself around The Real Article’s neck, like a mink stole.
The Honeyman calmly removed Go’Way! by yanking on his tail and commanding in firm tones, “C’Mere, C’Mere, Geddown, Go’Way!” while thrusting his other hand deep into one of his raincoat pockets.
To which Go’Way! responded by descending in a leap. On the way down, he snatched a small fish from The Honeyman’s hand.
The old, old friends repaired to the living room to recline on orange crates in front of a large t.v. screen as Go’Way! discovered the remains of a half eaten anchovie and pineapple pizza among a flotilla of boxes and packages on a puddle.
He reminisced about his riverside home by rolling in the pizza, ignoring the old, old friends as they toasted each other and the world in general with a bottle of The Honeyman’s Special Spatial Honey Brew.
Hoisting his used MacDonald’s milkshake container, The Real Article smacked his lips, licked his moustaches and offered up a traditional toast,
to which The Honeyman replied,
“Up yer Geester fer Easter!”
to which The Real Article rejoined,
“Up yer nose with a rubber hose!”
And all these tried and true toasts were followed by noisy guzzling and other memorable salutes like,
“Up alla them!”
“Up, up and away!”
Which they were, by the time they detected a loud roaring emanating from another room followed by the appearance through a door of a cascade of chocolate bar wrappers, apple cores and a Laura Secord box.
Go’Way! barely acknowledged this commotion, finding himself in the midst of a floating canine smorgasbord featuring a selection of boxes and containers drifting in all directions.
He produced a tidal action by flopping his tail. This caused the remnants of Chinese, Italian, and Indian takeout meals to pass gently under his nose for sampling.
But his moveable feast was disrupted when an empty sugar bowl propelled from the other room struck him on the snout just as he was about to test the flavour of a passing container of mouldy Moo Goo Guy Kew.
The Real Article, realizing that the distant hubbub signified The War Department’s uncanny ability to detect the supper hour and her suspicion of a lack of attentiveness on his part, signalled The Honeyman to follow him into his wife’s presence.
Which he did. Cautiously. In case of a continuation of the barrage.
Straightening his tuft of red hair, extracting a bottle of Very Special Buckwheat Honey from his raincoat, smiling the irresistible, brown toothed smile which had earned him his name long before he entered the bee products business.
The War Department had her gigantic bulk perched daintily upon a huge waterbed, parts of which were indistinguishable from her own corporate entity. Her purple hair grappled in agonizing clinches with lime green curlers. Her breath was bellicose, her bellow bull-like.
The Real Article performed formal, if hurried, introductions, dodging hard buns and several plastic knives sent in his direction by the spouse he called Petal in intimate moments.
The Honeyman bowed and proffered his bottle of Special Buckwheat Honey before ducking behind a cardboard dresser to avoid a semi-fresh chocolate drink whipped with a wicked sidearm motion by The War Department who was in full cry,
“Where’s supper?…Who’s this?
Whatcha good for?What kinda name is Go’Way?”
Triggering an enthusiastic response by Go’Way! which landed him on the waterbed and spilled the Special Buckwheat Honey all over the pile of Saltine crackers spread out on The War Department’s lap.
Causing her renewed roaring and lashing about which sent waves throughout the bed and catapulted Go’Way!, who now resembled a tar and feather victim of the good ole days, back into the living room, but allowed The Honeyman to edge into the open to continue his litany of smooth talk and compliments while he fished around for another bottle of Special Spatial Brew.
And this stratagem seemed to do the trick.
For The War Department’s bellowing subsided when they ploughed through the second bottle. The flow of foodstuffs aimed at them dwindled as she realized that her husband and his old, old friend were experiencing far too much ecstasy of the mind to do anything about getting her supper.
A problem she solved immediately, after washing down the last of the honey soaked crackers with the dregs of the Special Spatial Brew, by announcing that they would all go out on the town.
To The Lafayette Tavern. In the heart of the Byward Market.
Through which she and the cracker covered Go’Way! marched ahead of the old, old friends, the dog biting tourists and shoppers protectively when they objected to his new found friend roaring at them and hitting them with hands full of the breadcrumbs which she carried in her large purse.
While the old, old friends watched them affectionately, content to tag along behind, and, in the spirit of reunion, play one of their old Rubby Route jokes on the well heeled customers of a fancy tea room. Wherein The Real Article picked his nose and held up his finger to the light to examine the results as The Honeyman produced a syncopated rhythm of loud belches with flatulent accents and a seductive wink for the ladies over whose table they were standing.
And the pair were already out the door, strolling with a chuckle, toward the next trendy spot to repeat their little prank, by the time waiters and management were summoned to comfort their distressed customers.
At The Lafayette Tavern, The War Department and Go’Way! were strategically positioned in a corner table with another couple, The Stunned Rock and his wife, The Wayward Incident, when the old, old friends arrived to join them and order quarts of beer and microwaved onion and cheese sandwiches.
The first were consumed and being replaced by their waiter, The Nose, when two more old cronies of The Real Article arrived, just finished their appointed rounds of delivering beer in a Brewer’s Retail truck, Old Bargie and The S Turn.
Who were veterans of The Rubby Route of Eastern Canada and joined the table, soon consuming enough of their own product to be persuaded to perform the trick they were famous for all the way to Newfoundland, the eating of the mugs and bottles which had contained their beer.
This display had earned them a pretty penny in their younger, gambling days but was now reserved exclusively for entertainment at gatherings of old friends and family and religious holidays.
Old Bargie learned the trick in a dream and The S Turn learned it from his father, The U Turn, who likewise learned it from his father, The Hairpin Turn, and so on, even unto the first generation.
The War Department, in her cups and pleased to be conducting such an interesting tour of the attractions of the nation’s capital, launched into a jolly harangue of the rest of the customers who remained polite until she began to punctuate her discourse by flinging fists full of breadcrumbs and uneaten quart bottles at them and prodding Go’Way until he attacked several of the more vociferous complainants.
By the time The Nose arrived to protest what he termed “antisocial shenanigans” and demand payment for the missing bottles and glasses, The Honeyman had established a warm camaraderie with The Stunned Rock, The Wayward Incident, Old Bargie and The S Turn, treating them to a taste of Special Spatial Brew.
The Real Article sat back contentedly, pondering the simple pleasures to be found in the gathering of small groups of friends and their pets.
But exception was taken to The Nose’s interference and lack of service and a hell of a brawl commenced during which the group acquitted itself admirably, the majority hiding behind The War Department and Go’Way! who were on the front line.
Fortunately, all but the drunkest of enraged customers and most determined of the staff were sufficiently wary of Go’Way!’s painful nips and the whirring purse and ear splitting battle cry of The War Department to keep a prudent distance. Except for one unfortunate waiter who later likened The War Department to a Sumo wrestler on speed and venturing too close in trying to hit her with an oar, was caught up in The Bear Hug of Infinite Sorrow.
From which he escaped only when The War Department noticed an innocent and terrified third party knocking over her quart in an attempt to vacate the premises with Go’Way! attached to his Achilles tendon.
The Real Article spied the manager heading for the phone, presumably to summon the local constabulary. The group fought its way to the front door, piled into the Brewer’s Retail truck, made good their escape.
In the direction of the trailer down by the river. The Honeyman and his bottomless pockets acting as navigator for The S Turn in the cab, the rest sprawled in the back, happily pillaging the province’s liquid property.
The plan was to stop by The Honeyman’s home long enough to pick up a supply of Special Spatial Brew and honey and go touring. But it was forgotten when they arrived and soon deteriorated into a celebration of the departure of Autumn, the arrival of Winter, Remembrance Day, and an epiphany experienced by The Stunned Rock who swore he had been granted a visitation by The Powers while peeing outside the trailer and looking up into the star filled sky.
The War Department shook the little trailer to its foundations as she roaringly took on all comers at leg wrestling.
Old Bargie and The S Turn gobbled up the few glasses in the kitchen while The Wayward Incident served up large portions of beans and cabbage.
Go’Way! scavenged happily on the dark beach.
The old, old friends kept a sharp eye on The Stunned Rock in case, as often happened to susceptible Special Spatial Brew drinkers, he had a revelation.
And they were not surprised to be rewarded.
After The War Department despatched him through the window at the end of the trailer with a triumphant hoot and a lightning leg hook.
For by the time they found him, he had climbed onto the roof of the trailer and was declaring prophetically that they should depart to follow the Star of the East.
Which they did after they adhered to the established routine of old, old friends’ reunions and burned down the trailer, The Honeyman miffed at his shortsightedness in allowing the group to end up at his place, making him last host of the night and, according to ancient reunion rules, obligating him to provide his abode for the burnt sacrifice.
So it was, that they loaded up the Brewer’s Retail truck with supplies of honey whiskey, honey, fish for Go’Way!, a pile of beans and cabbage, made a side trip to store The Honeyman’s beehives in the deserted yacht club, and set out for the East Coast. Following whatever star happened to appear above the road when they looked up.
With the New Plan. To descend upon other old, old friends and continue the customary celebration all the way to The Atlantic.
This was not an exception to the rule that the reunions of The Real Article and The Honeyman invariably concluded with rousing traditional choruses in accordance with Nature’s Plan.
For many an Autumn dog walker and suburban leaf raker has since turned a puzzled head, in the Eastern Canadian evening, at the sound of an invisible choir roaring and barking the harmonies of “Up, Up and Away” when the only apparent activity in his quiet street was a lone Brewer’s Retail truck trundling along in the direction of The Dawn.
When the Eastern forests of the North perform their dazzling dance of colour as Winter approaches and the Snowbird is up and away, human beings and animals acknowledge the occasion by observing traditional customs in accordance with Nature’s Plan.
It was the last time I would go to Finn, I swore to myself as I searched for him in the Elmdale Tavern. He was around one of the regular spots. I needed to see him fast.
At the Carleton Tavern I found Finn with a quart and money coming out of every pocket. I sat down with him, ordered a pint. It was still early in the day.
I hit Finn up for fifty bucks to pay Murphy. Finn charged a fee for even handing you the loan. It cost sixty to borrow fifty for a week, but it would be worth it.
Finn copied phone numbers and odds as he readied himself for a busy day ahead. Sunday, of course, was his big day because of the NFL betting. This was Saturday when college football and pro baseball took most gamblers’ attention.
I finished my pint, said goodbye to Finn, caught Murphy at the Prescott Tavern, gave him a lift to Mary’s.
Murphy and Mary had been engaged for twenty years. He still visited her little flower shop every morning. We stopped so he could pick a bouquet of flowers for her in a city park.
Murphy didn’t believe in paying for flowers. When they were in season, he helped himself.
It was a bone of contention between them.
Murphy believed that flowers were given to man by the good Lord, shouldn’t be bought and sold.
Mary believed that people gladly paid for the little ray of sunshine they purchased with a nice bouquet of flowers.
Murphy had a friend named Calhoun in Montreal who could, for a price, buy a block of tickets in a provincial lottery which would produce winners.
All I had to do was give fifty dollars to Murphy. I didn’t follow the whole scam back to the actual score, but I questioned Murphy enough to know that it felt like a winner.
He assured me that fifty dollars would produce five thousand for me. Added to some others and passed through the right hands, it would yield twice as much, for him.
This guy, Calhoun, had an in, was sharing the wealth.
Murphy did it for me out of the kindness of his heart and good business sense. He didn’t have to include me, but he saw me as a good luck charm.
I dropped Murphy off, went home to a weekend of sports on t.v. and too much beer. It didn’t cheer me up, to hear, on Monday morning, that Murphy had died on the weekend from a heart attack.
I drove to Mary’s which was above her flower shop. It isn’t decent and polite to speak ill of the deceased, but getting lottery tickets was another matter.
He always wore the same suit, his best, for giving and taking payments, more taking than giving, it always seemed with Murphy as he did his weekend rounds, careful not to exceed his booze limit.
The lottery tickets had to be in his suit.
Mary was in her shop with a short, dark, Scottish lawyer named Jack Scullion. She introduced us without mentioning if the man even knew Murphy. I listened with polite sadness, shook my head regretfully. Mary described Murphy’s last moments.
It seemed that he died in her arms. Just after they had named a date. They had been engaged now for twenty years, so they were celebrating the twentieth year by marriage. She was as good as his wife anyway, Mary said.
I agreed and inquired about Murphy’s “effects” as diplomatically as possible. Perhaps it was a little too vaguely phrased. Mary didn’t respond.
Jack Scullion walked around the shop like he was looking for something suspicious. He kept an ear cocked in our direction though. He was trying to figure out who I was, where I fit in.
Margaret, Murphy’s sister, appeared with her husband, Ralph, a used car lot owner. It was safe to say that the vultures were circling.
I managed to find out that Murphy would be dressed in his best suit tomorrow at Ralph’s showroom.
They were having the wake there. Ralph told me, in confidence, that it was his idea. It seemed a bit greedy for Ralph to take advantage of the crowd of potential customers which would gather to send Murphy off, but I wasn’t one to judge.
There didn’t seem to be much of a chance of getting at Murphy’s suit pockets until the next day so I drove home and waited.
I joined the line of people entering Ralph’s showroom.
The place had a western theme, the staff were dressed as cowboys and cowgirls. They wore black armbands while Ralph himself was resplendent in a black western suit with tie and boots to match. He had probably considered wearing his black, ten gallon Stetson, but decided against it in case of misinterpretation by the mourners.
There was a good mixture at Murphy’s wake. A crowd of children were the offspring of Murphy’s family. The older ones were Murphy’s cousins, uncles and aunts. When Murphy had mentioned his family at poker games or at the end of late night pub crawls, he gave the impression that he was the black sheep. His own opinion was that the family disliked him because they were jealous of his money and freedom.
The people grew noisier as the booze flowed freely. Their presence was welcome. I needed as much attention diverted as possible while I sought the tickets.
Most of the sniffling and crying came from Mary and Margaret.
As I shuffled along toward them in the line, I could hear Margaret declaring that Murphy looked like himself.
Mary’s voice rose over Margaret’s, in grief stricken tones, to tell someone that her brother had called to extend his condolences. He added that it was nice to think about old Murphy finally laying quiet with his big yap shut.
People in the line who heard it at first looked puzzled, then made clucking noises. They agreed that it was a down to earth, honest assessment of the deceased, rest his soul.
I eyed the coffin, snuck a peek at Murphy within.
He did look like himself, I will say that.
The dark, pinstriped suit, Murphy’s best, with the vest done up, decorated his body. His face was pinker than normal, but I only saw him in bars or restaurants so maybe this was what he really looked like. He had his hands folded peacefully over his pot belly and, all in all, looked like he had just exhaled and forgotten to inhale.
There was no doubt about it, the life had gone out of Murphy.
I could smell the gin on Margaret when she hugged me and the rye on Mary’s breath as she looked at me with red rimmed eyes and running mascara
I managed to nod sadly and escape her while giving Murphy another quick, visual once over.
Jack Scullion hovered in the background, watching everyone, especially me.
There was plenty of drink and some sandwiches which the ladies had made. I helped myself to the food, found the coffee. It would take a clear head, whatever I did.
Ralph was giving a sales pitch to a couple beside a beat up old clunker which looked like it had recently been retired from delivering pizza. He made the mistake of leaning a little too hard on the front bumper when he pushed it to demonstrate the shocks. The bumper fell off, barely missing his cowboy boots. Ralph never lost a beat. He made a note to see the mechanic about “bodywork problems”, kicked the offending bumper under the car. The pile of sawdust beneath it was turning black, absorbing oil.
Jack Scullion approached me with a beer in one hand and a smoke in the other. He had jet black hair, scars on his nose and around his eyes. He bore all the signs of a fighter feeling no pain. He stood spread legged in front of me and asked if I was in Murphy’s will. When I told him I didn’t think so, he seemed to relax. As much as a short, Glaswegian lawyer can relax. His shifty eyes wondered how I could benefit from Murphy’s death. He turned and stood by my side with a wide stance. He gestured alternately with the beer and the smoke while he surveyed the room.
“Ach, it’s a right shower here, just noo, Jimmy”
I nodded, but I didn’t really know what he meant. He didn’t notice, went on with his monologue, sometimes addressing the room, sometimes confiding to me.
“Aye, they’re aw here noo. The vultures’re here. Look at em circlin, look at yersels, ach. See em? They’re after his money. The poor old boy isn’t even cauld yet. See em? They’re a right shower a bastards”
No doubt, like most of his race, the Scottish lawyer was a little crazy and extremely violent. Rather than point out that he, too, was in attendance for strictly financial reasons, I managed to escape back to Margaret and Mary.
I was getting desperate.
Mary and Margaret had been absorbing the alcohol at a rapid rate. They had run out of tears. Their mutual hostility emerged with each drink.
I addressed them with an eye on the coffin.
“Well, ladies, it must be tense waiting for the will to be read. To see who gets what of Murphy’s. I understand that Mary here was just about to tie the knot with poor Murphy”
Margaret frowned and produced many heretofore unseen lines in her face.
“Hah” She blurted out with a laugh.
“Tie the knot. He’s been engaged to her for twenty years”
Mary reacted with bug eyed indignation. Her truthfulness about Murphy’s last moments was being questioned.
“We were like man and wife. He didn’t spend time with his other family” she said before she found another glass of rye.
Ralph had finished his pitch, but had no takers. He threw regretful glances at the bumper as he approached us, beer in hand.
“Anyone got a few words to say?” he asked with a kindly smile.
“Ha. Family’s family. It’s his blood in my veins” Margaret asserted.
Jack Scullion had joined us. He had a fresh beer, stood spread legged with shoulders back. It was as though he was bracing himself on a heaving deck.
“The will overrides everything” said Mary pugnaciously in Margaret’s direction.
This hostility caught Jack’s attention, it was right up his alley. He looked around for an opponent, saw Ralph about to speak.
I sidled toward the casket as Ralph began what he thought was sort of a eulogy for Murphy, but which he never finished. He never really got it started.
Mary took offence at the look which Margaret gave her, hit the dead man’s sister with her purse. Jack saw his opportunity, gave Ralph a Glaswegian handshake which could be heard all over the showroom.
There was evidence of Jack’s nutting ability the next day in the taverns; quite a few black eyes and bandaids sported by the mourners who clashed with him
He made up for his lack of height by jumping straight at the other man’s face, applying the head, around the hairline, into whatever features were available.
With Ralph sitting in a pool of the blood which was spouting from his nose, the women shrieking as they rolled around in front of him, I made it to the casket.
Jack was taking on all comers. He seemed to be enjoying himself.
I searched Murphy’s vest and trouser pockets with one hand, the other still holding my coffee cup. I was about to try his jacket when the lights went out.
It wasn’t dark, but it turned everything in the showroom shadowy. The struggling figures in the brawl were being joined by others, the children shooed to the office. Maybe it was one of them who was responsible for the half light.
I checked one side of Murphy’s jacket pockets and found nothing. The noise of fighting and breaking glass became louder. I tried the other pocket, felt cardboard.
I pulled the lottery tickets out of Murphy’s pocket, squinted at them. They were the right ones.
I was saying a prayer of thanks to my dead chum and the good Lord when I dropped the tickets. They slid down on the other side of Murphy.
I panicked for a moment. Placing my cup between Murphy’s folded hands, I used one of my hands to shift his weight, the other to feel for the tickets. I grasped them just as a bottle crashed against the casket and a sliding body took my feet out from under me.
Ralph had provided a fold out table from the lunch room upon which to place Murphy’s casket. As my weight shifted, the casket slid off the table.
Murphy sat up with my coffee cup in his hands.
Crawling toward the door, tickets in my hand, I glanced back.
Murphy’s sudden rise from the prone to the sitting position, had caused a pause in the fighting.
I heard various opinions of this phenomenon.
“It’s a sign”
The words “miracle” and “resurrection”were mentioned several times..
When I joined Finn, the next day, at the Carleton Tavern and paid him back, cheerfully, he gave me a curious look.
He was totalling up the weekend’s action over a quart, asked me if I’d been to Murphy’s funeral after the donnybrook at his wake.
I confirmed that I’d attended the burial. It was a sad and solemn affair for all involved including Murphy’s family and everyone’s legal representatives.
We drank a memorial toast to Murphy that day before I bought everyone a round and placed a few bets.