Camping in England

 

I was driving around England on sulphate. Everyone was doing it. Housewives, carpenters, people who worked in the London Zoo and the parks. Everyone I knew. Everyone was into it. My other major concern was the horses. Yes, I was hooked on the ponies.

One Scottish woman made a pointed remark about her friend, “the bookie’s boy” when she obliquely criticized my obvious weakness for gambling on the races.

To me there was nothing like going down to Ladbroke’s on Saturday mornings and placing a few small wagers on combinations and parlays then walking home to eat breakfast while watching the races on tv. Leisurely gratification. Not many winners but many hangovers were nursed that way. I know it happened in England and Scotland and I suspect it’s still the same in Ireland and Wales as well.

To be able to afford the life I was living on my two weeks onshore and in preparation for the upcoming two weeks offshore on a drilling rig, I started sleeping in the white Ford van I bought. Not a big van, a small one. An Escort I think.

 

With Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA and Bruce Cockburn’s Lovers in a Dangerous Time on my tape deck, I drove around to different races.

The sound of horse’s hooves on cobblestones as I parked and the sight of the sleek hind end of a thoroughbred disappearing around a corner as I ducked into a pub in Newbury or Cheltenham stuck in my memory. It didn’t help much with the feelings of disappointment as I tore up the last of my losing bets at the end of another day, but as I followed the stoic bookies into the parking lot while they carried their signs and platforms and bulging briefcases. I realized that I was certainly doing something different. If I was at home I wouldn’t be doing this.

Sulphate was called “the poor man’s coke”. It had a energetic buzz and, like coke, it enabled you to drink all night without getting sleepy.

It was probably crushed up speed of some kind. It came in aluminum paper and everyone was doing it.

Two guys in Aberdeen, a Dutchman and a South African, quit their roustabout jobs on a drilling rig because they could make much more money selling sulphate to the welders who worked long shifts for big money on pipe laying barges. They had a connection in Amsterdam and captive customers.

For  North Americans in England learning how to drive on the opposite side of the road than the side you’re used to is easy once you’ve negotiated the first stop sign and then the first stoplight then the first roundabout. After that it’s easy. Once you begin to drive in England or Scotland, you are convinced that Monty Python is alive and well and exists every day, all around you and it is like a weight lifted off your shoulders. There is less pressure to be perfect.

It was probably a race which drew me to the south of England but it could have been an escape from the urge to spend uncontrollably when I got to London from Aberdeen and the North Sea.

 

Robert, a Swedish derrickman I had worked with, lived somewhere in the south. He wasn’t home when I called so I gave the tip I had for him to the woman I talked to and he later got a job out of it.

I was savvy enough by this time to find a campground near the Newton Abbott track and set up my one man tent before I found the nearest pub.

I had entered Scrumpyland.

That part of the country was known for its Scrumpy Cider and I vaguely remember one pub which had seatbelts on the barstools for the customers’ safety.

Naturally I overindulged in the Scrumpy and when I was too drunk to care, asked a few of the shadier looking characters if they knew where I could score some sulphate even though I still had some. I was lucky: everyone ignored me.

I later heard the saying “Beer on cider makes a good rider but cider on beer will make you feel queer’. It’s true. Queer meaning ill.

Somehow I drove to the campsite when the pub closed and prepared to read Aleister Crowley’s Moonchild by the light of several candles in my pup tent.

I woke up with a headache and burped up the smell of Scrumpy cider. It had defeated the sulphate in my system and knocked me out.

When I opened my eyes I was looking at the sky. Then the bent aluminum tent pole appeared. I looked upward down by my feet. Another tent pole arching over me. The skeleton of my tent.

I sat up when I realized that only charred pieces of fabric hung from the poles. The candles were pools of wax. Somehow the candles had lighted the tent around me, burnt it up and died out as I slept. There was not even a burn on my sleeping bag.

 

I staggered to the Escort and drove away silently in the dawn.

I drove North, glad of a hangover for a change. If I didn’t see it for myself, I wouldn’t believe it. This wasn’t what camping in England was supposed to be like.

Forget the races. I knew a sign when I saw one.

The image of the tent skeleton and the perfect pile of ashes circling the spot where my sleeping bag had lain kept recurring as Dancing in the Dark and If I Had A Rocket Launcher played on my tape deck and I headed for Scotland.

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The Man With Two Hats

 

Randy Hornsby arrived at the country club in his Rolls Royce. He parked beside his wife, Gwen’s, found his way to the dining room. This was the weekend they traditionally celebrated his birthday. It was tomorrow. This morning was a little brunch to say hello to his sons, Chris and Steven. They’d got into town late last night. Steven had his family, Pat and the kids. Chris had a good looker hanging on his arm as usual.

Randy was accorded respect from the staff as he made his way to the Hornsby table. He gave Gwen a peck on the cheek, hugged Pat and each of their little kids, Ross and Emma. He listened to Pat talk to them to catch their names. He shook hands with Chris’ date, Stephanie, then embraced his sons.

Becky Chisholm stopped by the table, said hello to everyone, made the usual flighty cackles when she heard he was a year older. She and Gwen were trustees at the prep school which the boys had attended. They got into a discussion about the school, Randy focused on his sons.

Steven always had been the more serious of the two. Now here he was, an officer. Thank God he’s finished with Iraq. He was needed here more.

Pat was a perfect military wife for him. Never complained, a God fearing Baptist girl and plenty fertile with it.

Steven had confided, in one of those father and son talks on the golf course, that they’d decided to stop at two. The kids were cute as buttons, but she’d have one a year with no trouble if they kept it up. So, by mutual agreement, Pat had her tubes tied.

Chris was the athletic one. No more than Steven when they were young, but Chris had dedicated himself to it. He was about to graduate from university, get drafted by the NFL for sure and make it in football.

Randy was confident that Chris’ good looks, charm and outgoing personality would provide a good life for him whatever it turned out to be. He always had girls hanging off of him, now he would have an even wider field to choose from.

He seemed determined to remain a bachelor, Gwen complained, but Randy thought they should step back, let Chris live his own life.

Gwen took Stephanie, Pat and the kids to see the garden. It was out in the back, a gift from Randy to Gwen. He gave it to her on their last anniversary.

It was a lavish affair and the staff took great pains to keep the secret hidden until it was announced. The crowd was impressed. A beautiful garden donated to the club in Gwen’s name. In perpetuity. For generations to come.

Randy’s only regret was that they were too old to really celebrate. They had long since taken to separate beds. Not that he did it for a reward. It was given out of love.

The men talked about work, football, the current war. Randy felt comfortable sitting with his sons. They were good conservatives like him.

The remains of the Eggs Benedict were whisked away, more coffee provided.

Randy felt that he had made the right decision each time that the political powers had begged him to run. No, he decided to stay in business. It was better to be out of sight. Better to be the puppeteer than the puppet.

Randy caught himself thinking ahead to the girls. Their names slipped his mind too at times. He brought himself back to the table when Spanky Reynolds stopped by. She oohed and aahed over Steven and Chris, how handsome they were and asked after Pat, Gwen and the kids. She would call Gwen later to chat about the philanthropic work they did together. She had laughed the loudest when Gwen told the joke about Alzheimer’s at that dinner party.

Gwen was at her effervescent best that night. She told them that a person’s memory was the first thing to go. The whole table went silent. Gwen paid attention to her plate. Finally, someone asked,

“Well, what’s the second?”

Gwen kept eating, cutting her meat carefully.

“Can’t remember” Gwen kept on eating.

There was another moment of silence before the table exploded in laughter. Effervescent and a superb actress. Gwen was admired, envied even, by many in the community.

Randy had to get Gwen to explain the joke to him later. He didn’t think it was funny to make a joke out of memory loss. He was forgetful at times himself. They all were.

When brunch was over they went their separate ways. The kids had friends to see, Gwen had a charity auction to attend.

Randy returned to his six thousand square foot home on the manicured forty acres of their gated estate.

He cooled off with some laps in the indoor pool, showered, changed into comfortable driving clothes and set out in the Rolls for the hour long drive north. His birthday would be celebrated at the club tomorrow. Gwen never questioned his schedule anymore, he would be there tomorrow. He knew that she had arrangements to make for the party.

Tonight there was another celebration.

 

Tommy Ryder pulled his Rolls into the four car garage, noting Sharon’s sports car in the lane. He looked over the two tarp covered cars in the middle of the garage to Kim’s Rolls Royce. It needed a good cleaning.

As he walked from the garage to the house, Tommy admired the lines of the sprawling mansion. It impressed him every time he looked at it. His first construction project was well thought out, well constructed. So well made that it began his construction company. Word of mouth carried news of the house to the wealthy residents of the county. Soon Tommy had more work than he could handle.

Good delegation and Kim’s help had made it a flourishing company. Tommy didn’t have to do much anymore. It was taken care of for him.

Kim was out in the back with the horses, Sharon with her. The horse breeding and show jumping was time consuming, but they liked it.

Sharon always was the daughter who shared Kim’s passion for horses. She had wanted to be a vet when she was a little girl and still, now, in her freshman year in university, she was sticking with it. Big, rosy cheeked, always cheerful, Sharon was their best daughter. Not that the others were loved less, but she was more normal. Kim was glad she wanted to be a vet but Tommy wished she could be a doctor.

Tommy grabbed a beer from the fridge in the glistening kitchen, wandered to the games room. He sat in the recliner and flicked on the huge tv screen. He grazed the stations for the latest word on the NFL odds. His account in Vegas was aching to splash out on a good parlay. Certain teams were always backed by the public and the bookies knew it.

When Tommy woke up later that afternoon, Sharon was sitting on the floor beside his chair, head leaning against his leg. She watched tv with the remote control in her hand.

“Hi Daddy”

Tommy stretched, sat up, was given a kiss on the cheek and the remote. Sharon uncoiled from her sitting position, kissed him and left for the kitchen.

“Sweetheart” Tommy stood and stretched again.

They went to the golf club together. They got Ronnie, the butler, to drive Kim’s Rolls, while they sat in the back and sipped champagne

Kim looked as classy as ever in her black, slinky dress with a lot of glittering jewellery.

Sharon looked sweet in her new pants suit with her hair done up.

Tommy felt as if he was escorted into the club by the most beautiful women in the world. They had a six course meal with a large birthday cake at the end. Everyone applauded as Tommy and Kim took to the dance floor, shook and shimmied with the best of them. The only negative part of the evening was the appearance of Sally and Sonia, their other daughters.

It wasn’t really the girls, it was the boys they were with. Both Jason and Travis, or whoever they were, appeared obviously loaded when they arrived. The hugging and kissing of his daughters felt good to Tommy, but he watched the girls’ dates out of the corner of his eye. The one who hadn’t shaved, his shirt had a wine coloured stain and there were suspicious little burn holes in the other one’s sweater.

Tommy remembered taking Sheriff Wayne aside when Sally was dressing like a Goth in prep school. They told him later that it had been done quietly and firmly. A police woman had pulled Sally over when she was driving alone. She warned the rebellious teen about the people she was associating with. That Craigmore kid got a stiff sentence for drug possession soon after. Sally toned it down.

She was an adult now, beyond their reach. She was on her own, responsible for herself.

Tommy didn’t like her friends, but she was always loving and polite around him.

That’s probably why the girls only stayed for a short time with their dates. They wished him a happy birthday, hung around for a piece of cake and a dance, then left. Probably got their boyfriends out of there before they caused any damage.

Tommy was swept up in the dancing after that and they drank too much champagne.

He woke up in the big bed the next morning with a hangover. Champagne never did agree with his constitution. He was more of a beer man. He should never have had the southern sipping whiskey and the Havana at the end of the night in front of the big screen tv. But it was a tradition on his birthday. A few glasses of bourbon and a good cigar.

He knew that the girls would be gone when he descended the stairs to the kitchen. Kim had arranged her equine duties so that she’d be free to help him in the afternoon. He drank coffee and read the morning paper at the kitchen table.

Tommy could see the barn roof from the kitchen window. In the foreground was the Olympic sized pool, bright blue in the sunny morning. He refused to plunge into doom and gloom about Sally and Sonia. They were young. They would grow out of their questioning. Their finishing schools would cure them of that. If they turned out like their mother, everything would be fine.

He poured himself another cup, wandered out to the pool. A few good laps would help him shake the grogginess. Kim would make good Bloody Marys to go with lunch. He thought with fondness of their younger days together.

It was a classic case of Randy remembering Kim from high school, years before. She was working in the office of his fledgling company. She caught his eye, was available and thrown together with him by chance. The overtime seemed to never end in those days.

He saw more of Kim than he did of Gwen who was already his wife and the mother of his boys. But Randy and Kim and a few others in the little startup company had stayed the course and produced an invaluable microchip for the pork industry. The farmers were able to track each pig from birth to death. Their weight, their diet, who sold them, where they ended up; information contained in the little chip implanted in each pig’s ear.

The company made Randy a millionaire many times over and began his relationship with Kim.

They just seemed to click. It was long before the days of Viagra. Oysters were his only ally in surviving sex with both women.

Kim never mentioned the other family at first, but eventually she got used to the idea.

They decided to build their home on an acreage fifty miles out of town. The girls were born, it seemed, instantly. Before Randy knew it, he had two families. They talked and Kim had her tubes tied.

It was easier for him to change his name to “Tommy Ryder” than to go through the hassle of divorcing Gwen and changing Kim’s name. So he adopted her last name and they set up house in their magnificent new home.

Divorce wasn’t really a question he’d have considered anyway. He owed Gwen some loyalty and it wouldn’t have done the boys any good. Kim was happy with her house and cars and girls. He had provided everything for her that Gwen had. He had donated millions to the hospital for a wing named after her.

She was always the life of the party. The women of the community looked up to her, admired her unlimited cheerfulness. Her only comment on the situation was that if it made him happy, it was ok with her.

Usually, Tommy dressed in the clothes Ron laid out on his bed for him, but Kim had insisted that she would be there when he got ready to go. She fussed over the tie he wore, straightened the knot several times and dragged him in front of the full length mirror in their bedroom. She stood to one side admiring him as he turned in front of his reflection. She even had a special flower for the lapel of his expensive jacket which was placed carefully in the back seat of his Rolls. She wanted things to be just right.

He admired Kim’s devotion.

 

Tommy drove south. He had been increasingly concerned about memory loss recently. He sang along when the country music station played an old Hank Williams tune.

Dusk was a beautiful time of day. It would be good to see the girls tonight. No, it would be the boys. He couldn’t remember his sons’ names.

There was a shopping mall on the right.

He pulled in, didn’t remember the number. The speed dial was set on his cell phone. The familiar number was displayed.

“Hello?” It was Kim.

“Hello, dear. It’s me. I’m…uh…I’m…”

“You’re on the way to town, dear. It’s your birthday party tonight at the club”

Tommy heard the gentle answer. Kim was always more sympathetic. She understood. After they found the big wad of cash which he had hidden in the dresser drawer and they checked with both companies, they never did find out where those thousands of dollars came from or what they were for. He couldn’t dodge that one. He had to admit it and deal with it. Good old Kim.

Of course, my birthday. Randy Hornsby’s birthday party at the club.

“Thanks dear. See you” Tommy pushed the off button on his cell phone and pulled the Rolls out onto the road leading south.

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Epiphany in Amsterdam

I was in Amsterdam because if you work on a rig in Dutch waters for an agency not based in Holland, you don’t pay any taxes. It worked out ok for me because it meant I could do a roustabout job for the same wages as for roughnecking in the UK. Roustabouting is easier than roughnecking. I got a job through the agency, caught a flight to Amsterdam, was at the heliport at the right time. I got to the rig, worked there a few trips before my knee went.

It was something I just knew. Sometimes you get pains in your legs during twelve hour shifts on steel decks. Sometimes you get them and accept them as part of the job. But this was different. This one wouldn’t go away.

I got through the shift, but when I woke up for the next one, my knee had swollen up to twice its normal size. It looked like a bag of fluid. I went to the medic, confirmed that it was a real injury, made arrangements to catch the next flight off.

I said goodbye to the boys, was helicoptered on a regular flight to Amsterdam. I saw the skaters on the canals from the chopper window. Ironic when you come from Ottawa and the mother of all skating canals and they haven’t had a cold enough winter in Amsterdam for years to enable skating on their canals. And I couldn’t skate because of my knee.

There had been enough cold, windswept shifts, big pieces of steel swinging my way on that job. It was time for a break. What better place to do it than in Amsterdam, on an oil company’s tab?

 

I got in touch with the proper doctor who was a chiropractor and physiotherapist. I had to go to him once a week, then to an orthopaedic surgeon.

I got a room on Huiderkoperstraat near Rembrandtplein. There was a sink, enough room for a bed and a chair. It was fine. I lived in that closet for months, drank large amounts of Courvoisier and beer. The smoke was legal.

I bought an electric guitar, a small amp, some earphones. I blew up the cheap earphones the same day.

It was a lonely time of freedom. I could lay in bed with my radio and guitar, read all the second hand books I wanted. I could make the rounds of the drinking bars or the stoner cafes or just wander around streets which were busy before North America was invaded by white men. I only had to show up at the doctor’s, once a week. I bandaged my knee in an elastic to walk around.

The red light district got old very fast. There were some bars there that stayed open around the clock, places with good, cheap, live music, but the streets themselves were depressing. It all made sense, having the prostitution and soft drugs legalized, but it was commodifying some things which were sacred, in a way. The authorities could keep an eye on it, control it a little. It was so sensible that it was impossible to imagine the whole system moved to Ontario.

The red light district was a nice place to visit when there was a special band or special dope or to play pool at the end of a drunk. There were so many blonde girls driving bicycles around Amsterdam that it was difficult to get enthusiastic about walking along canals after dark, seeing the groups of drunken men shopping in the windows. Some of the girls even had a rear view mirror reflecting their images out to the street when their windows faced the wrong way.

 

I spent many hours, many days on that bed in that room near Rembrandsplein. The BBC World Service at night reminded me of England and Scotland. I thought of my old friends, wondered where they were. I thought of my recent months in Crete.

There was an old theatre where I saw an African band. At the bar, a government approved house dealer worked out of a window on the second floor instead of coming around to tables. You could stand in the balcony, look down on the stage, drink beer and roll joints.

The African guy had fifteen people in the band, not counting the chorus line of white girls. He, himself, played a big, gourd stringed instrument. He rocked, played the blues. I saw Eric Burdon there. He admitted to the audience that Amsterdam “freaked him out”. He yelled at a guy who was wired, climbing his speaker columns,

“Hey man, do I show up on your work site and take bread out of your mouth?” The crowd was behind him, his band cooked, a good bass player.

With a permanent address, I was able to get some mail from home. In my little room on Huiderkoppestraat, I received the news of my uncle Earl’s death. He was “the sheriff” to us as kids, retired to Sand Bay from Northern Electric in Montreal. He was the last of the Wheeler boys, the four brothers. Now, he was gone.

In a few months, my leg was better, the doctors couldn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t go back to work. I played my guitar, drank, smoked and listened to BBC World Service.

One night, I was drawn into a bar by the music. It turned out to be Salsa, but at that time, I had no idea what it was. I knew it had some Caribbean influences, but the centre of it seemed to be Spanish. It was an occasion which all the expats from the Caribbean celebrated. I drank my beer, stood at the bar, watched the band. A black guy, older, danced in the crowd near the band. He was surrounded by beautiful women, Dutch and otherwise, all night. In the men’s room I asked him what it was he was doing on the dance floor.

“It’s Salsa, man. I’m not from there, but I lived in Cuba for years. I love it, man”

 

It was a good enough explanation for me. He knew what I meant. I remembered the way he shook so freely, like a matador, took it all so seriously and enjoyed it.

Above the sink in my room was a mirror. I shared the toilet and shower with some other people on that floor, took my clothes with me to wash in the shower. I stared into the mirror for a day before I decided to shave off my moustache. After that, I looked at myself without a moustache many times. I felt female when I saw the white slash of flesh above my mouth which had been covered for years. I felt naked.

It was time to go back to the rig. I owed the doctors, I owed some rent on my room and I owed Fritz, a Dutchman who lived in England, a mechanic on the rig. I packed my bag, stowed my guitar and amp in my room, took a bus to Schipol Airport. The chopper was leaving for the rig in another hour.

I watched people heading for their destinations in the sunny, cold morning. Holiday vacations, business trips, young, old, they were all going somewhere. I sat in a cafe in the main terminal, ate a Danish, drank coffee. There was no way I was going back to the rig. I changed that to include the North Sea on the bus back into Amsterdam.

Amsterdam was even better in the next few days. I could only afford a ticket to London so I spent what I had left over in Amsterdam. I bought a Gibson in a second hand music store for the price of my amp and guitar, squandered what little money I had left. London was in the near future but my time in Europe was up. I knew I was going home.

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Bull

On a pleasant autumn day, Mitch Reynolds stepped out of the Department of Agriculture, his briefcase packed with papers. He attempted to take a deep breath of fresh air, search his jacket for his bicycle clip, descend the stairs, all at the same time. He heard the door open behind him, a voice call his name. He turned and backed into a young woman coming up the stairs.

Suddenly, Mitch was stumbling, falling. The girl retained her balance but scattered her files, all over the steps.

“Oh…oh…sorry…” Mitch crawled around, helped her pick up the files. The woman stuck her silent nose in the air, resumed her climb.

Bob Fagan joined him at the bottom of the stairs, laughing at Mitch’s misfortune. They turned to watch the young woman’s behind.

“Ooh, look at that. Hey nice move, buddy. I’m tellin you Mitch, never get married”

They turned to walk toward the parking lot.

“Hey, how come you’re out early?”

“New job. I finally got an outside assignment. How about you?” Mitch  had found his bicycle clip again. Bob watched as Mitch gathered his trousers to apply the clip.

 

“Beth’s preggers again, I’ve got to take three of the kids to the dentist while she’s at the doctor’s” Bob waited for Mitch to unlock his bike. They walked through the parking lot.

Bob was a big man with five children. Beth was very fertile. Their brood seemed ever expanding. They parted at Bob’s van, Mitch mounted his bicycle. He took his time pedalling on the bike path, admiring the green fields in the autumn sunlight, giant trees blowing in the breeze. The path led him through the Experimental farm to the barn of The Beef Cattle Exposition.

The barn was surrounded by pens of cattle of different breeds, the office inside it. The walls of the small room were covered with posters about cattle. There was a rack on one wall which contained pamphlets, brochures and magazines about cattle.

A small desk, covered with more cattle information, stood, with two chairs, at one end of the room. There was no one around.

Mitch saw a door behind the desk which led further into the barn. He stepped through it. A  stronger smell of cattle hit him.

Mitch looked down the length of the barn. He saw that most of the stalls were occupied by cattle, one, halfway down, also contained a person. Mitch made his way to it.

The sign on the open stall door read, VENUS.

Walter James, the facility manager, stood leaning on one wall of the stall, beside a cow. He was a pleasant looking, balding man, much larger than Mitch, dressed in jeans and a work shirt, holding a brown, paper bag in one hand. He smiled, held out his hand.

“Mr. James?” Mitch, extending his hand.

 

“Walter. You must be Mitch Reynolds. Good to finally see who I’ve been talking about for the past few months” Walter James shook Mitch’s hand with his empty one. He was referring to the many conversations he he’d had with Mitch’s superiors concerning this new project.

“This here’s the star of your show” Walter indicated the cow.

“Venus”

Mitch stared at the rear end of the cow. He followed Walter toward the front of her, jumping into a cow pie, when she turned her head toward him.

Walter laughed. Mitch shook his foot in the air.

“Ha. You’ll have to watch out for that. Just scrape your shoe on some straw. Pistachio?”

Walter smiled at Mitch, offered the bag.

“Huh? No, no thanks” Mitch scraped his loafer on some straw, leaned against one wall.

“She won’t bite, but she might kick, so I wouldn’t stand behind her” Walter munched a pistachio.

“I take it you’re not really an expert on cattle” Walter watched Venus chew her cud.

“No” Mitch admitted. He was wondering at Venus’ big boned body.

“No, I could tell on the phone. I went along with all of them. Figured they’d send some poor junior clerk they wanted to get rid of, but this experiment is really dumb”

“Dumb? Is it? Why?” Mitch studied Venus chewing her cud.

“Why? Simple. We’ve already got a perfectly good breeding programme. No need for this” “Why didn’t someone mention that in all these talks we’ve had, then?”

 

“Ha, we all went along with it. It’s somebody’s plan to spend all the money in the budget. You know how it is. Government. If you don’t spend it, you’ll lose it. Ce sera, sera”

They walked out of the stall, single file, Mitch following Walter, watching his step.

“Importing foreign bulls to breed ole Venus there, that’s just plain dumb. Everything’s artificial these days. She’s a grand champion, mother of five other champions. She could get hurt with this fool experiment” Walter spoke over his shoulder. He turned to let Mitch get by, shut the door to Venus’ stall.

“Hurt? You mean physically?” Mitch stopped. Walter turned to him.

“Yeah. Physically. Sometimes cows get hurt, sometimes bulls, sometimes people”

“Jeez. This sounded like such a … safe job, back at the office” Mitch didn’t want anyone, even the cows and bulls, to get hurt.

“Don’t worry about it. I won’t let them hurt her. If it gets out of hand, I’ll call it off and they can do it artificially” Walter was reassuring.

“That Texas longhorn they found in some rodeo? He’ll be here any day now. I’ll have to keep a close eye on him”

Walter answered the ringing phone on his desk. He got into a discussion about cattle.

Mitch opened his brief case, put some of the papers on Walter’s desk. Walter sat down when he’d finished on the phone. He motioned, with the bag, for Mitch to take the other chair, pulled the papers toward himself.

Mitch waited while Walter read through the papers.

“Hm. Yeah” Walter nodded his head with a knowing smile.

 

Mitch watched him. He didn’t look normal with the flimsy papers in his big hands. The granny glasses made him look even bigger.

“So, what we have to do is make sure that Venus gets bred by these foreign bulls”

“That’s it“ Mitch was happy with this job, away from the office politics.

“So you just take my results and make a report” Walter dug into the bag of pistachios. “Pistachio? Wife made me quit smokin. Now I can’t stop eatin”

Walter opened a shell with his teeth.

“And when she gets pregnant, we’ll wait and get another bull, when it’s time” Mitch could see this job lasting for years.

Walter gathered the papers together, opened a drawer in his desk, placed them in it. Mitch stood up to go.

“Don’t you worry. We’ve seen ‘em all here. Every crazy experiment they think of, it usually ends up here. Lots of ‘em end here too. Don’t worry about it. Keep in touch”

Mitch pedalled home with the satisfaction of knowing that his project was in good hands. Entering his house, on a west end street, he could hear the sounds of The Dating Game reruns. Mandy, Mitch’s fellow lodger, watched from the couch.

“Ok, now, Willie, the audience has met our three eligible bachelor girls. Now it’s your turn…go ahead with your first question…” the tv dominated the living room.

“Hi” Mitch passed through to the kitchen. He noticed that Mandy had an empty pizza box open on the couch beside her. He didn’t hear a reply, opened the refrigerator door.

 

“If I were the last man on earth and we were marooned on a desert island with just a little food left, would you give it to me so that I would make mad, passionate love to you or would you keep it for yourself and do without sex forever?” Sounds drifted into the kitchen.

Mitch searched through the fridge. He opened cupboards, looked in drawers. The tv audience applauded.

“I’d eat it and then take advantage of you, when you were weak”

Mitch gave up searching, entered the living room.

“Where’s all the bread?”

“Duane made sandwiches” Mandy stared at the screen.

“Sandwiches. That was my bread. Where is he?” Mitch, outraged.

“I’d give it to you and then murder you in your sleep. That way, you’d be fatter and I could live off you longer”

“Toronto. He’s gone for two weeks”

“Great. Why didn’t he buy his own bread? Did he pay his third of the rent?” Mitch was fed up with Duane. This was the last straw.

“Oh, yeah. This came today, too. The hydro bill”

Mandy held up an envelope.

“I’d just ask you to sleep with me, first. I’m sure that you’d beg me to share your food, after that”  “There’s nothing to eat. We share the house, we split the rent. Why can’t he understand that we’re supposed to buy our own food?”

 

Mandy wrinkled her forehead, sipped her soft drink through a plastic straw. She leaned over to pick up the tv remote.

Mitch was on a mission. He headed into the shopping mall to buy some groceries and a lock. If necessary, when he had his talk with Duane, he would give him an ultimatum. One more chance, that was all. If Duane didn’t buy his own food and keep his hands off of Mitch’s, he’d lock it up. A lock, a simple hasp and a few nails would get the message across.

Mitch pulled over to pick up two female hitch hikers. They giggled in his passenger seat until they alighted outside of The Haybale, a country bar. Mitch pulled away, their heady mix of perfume lingering in his car. They were young and cute, with tight jeans.

Mitch saw another female hitchhiker going his way. He pulled over to pick her up. She was Jasmine, a small, delicate yoga instructor who recommended yoga to him, gave Mitch her card. She said that yoga was good for everything, that she read in his aura that he was troubled. Mitch thought about Jasmine all the way home.

Mandy was sitting on the couch with a cigarette and a Coke when Mitch got home. He had a book in the grocery bag, in one hand, the lock, hasp and screws, in a bag, in the other.

The book was about success with women. It recommended the go – getter attitude to men who really wanted to score.

“I don’t see how you can just lay around all day” Mitch passed through the living room.

 

“Bite me. You don’t do anything besides work and drive in your car and whatever it is that you do in your bedroom” Mandy removed her eyes from the t.v. screen long enough to give Mitch a disdainful glance.

“You just don’t know. I’m out there making things happen, don’t worry”

Mitch got the call from the barn, packed his briefcase, mounted his bike. Nearing the Beef Cattle Exposition, he passed a truck going the other way. It had a stars and stripes logo on the door, a big bovine passenger in the back.

Walter sat at his desk, talking on the phone. He had a red welt below one eye and a bandage on top of his head. Walter gingerly extracted jellybeans from a bag which he offered to Mitch.

“Yeah, ok, tell him I’ll talk to him when he wakes up”

Mitch shook his head to the jellybeans. He looked at Walter’s eye.

“What happened, Walter?”

“Well, like I said on the phone, that Texas longhorn arrived, but he nearly killed my best hand. He’s ok, but he’s in the hospital. Had to save Venus from the damn thing. Big, ole Texas driver just laughed and loaded him back on the truck. We couldn’t control him” Walter pointed to his wounds. There was dirt on his shirt, scrapes on his forearms.

Mitch made sympathetic sounds, consulted a paper from his briefcase.

“So, the next one is Spanish? Yeah, he’s being shipped from Spain to Mexico and stopping on the way”

“Whatever “ Walter snorted.

“If he don’t behave properly, like we want him to, I’ll send him packin too”

Mitch stared at Walter’s closing eye.

 

Mitch glanced at the date on the Playboy calendar beside his bed, finished reading about success with women. Getting off the bed, looking into his mirror, he smiled a winning smile. He got a box from his closet from which he extracted a new pair of cowboy boots. They matched his new western shirt and jeans. He slapped some Lariat shaving lotion on his cheeks.

The Haybale was quiet when Mitch arrived. He asked for a Blue, at the bar, while he surveyed the scene. A girl was singing a country song on the stage with a guitar. She was surrounded by  band equipment, sang to an empty room.

Mitch climbed onto a stool at the bar, a few away seats from a single woman. He assumed the same position as the woman, back to the bar, facing the stage. He intertwined his new cowboy boots with the stool’s legs and spokes.

The woman finished her drink, put her glass on the bar, applauded the singer. Mitch applauded too, though he really didn’t like country music. He leaned over to the woman.

“Howdy, want a refill?”

The young woman switched her attention to Mitch. She gave him an appraising look, nodded, with a smile.

“Sure, two Black Russians, please”

Mitch relayed the request to the bartender who gave him a funny nod. When he turned back to the girl, she was standing, locked in a passionate embrace, with the singer. They accepted Mitch’s gift, toasted him, moved to their own table.

 

Mitch finished his beer, worried that he was in a gay bar. As he rose to leave, his cowboy boot heels caught in the legs of the stool and he fell. He rolled in front of the bar as he fought to get free.

Mitch approached the barn on his bike, the next day. He saw a truck leaving the barn with a Spanish name on it’s side. He could hear Mariachi music coming from the cab. The back of the truck held a large, dark occupant.

“Oh, he’s such an angel”

“He’s so knowledgeable about breeding.” he heard two female voices.

Mitch locking his bicycle, saw two good looking girls load a camera and a tape recorder into a small car.

Walter sat at the desk in his office. He had a black eye, a cast on one arm. Mitch sat down, shocked.

“Walter, what happened?”

Walter offered a brown bag. Mitch declined.

“Peanut? They sent that Spanish bull. He was a fighter all right. He was trying to climb into Venus’s stall, so I waved my jacket at him. It was a red jacket, he busted my arm. Damn fightin bull. Just shipped him outta here”

“Who were those girls who just left?”

Walter picked up a paper, read aloud.

 

“Semi formal gala. Radisson Hotel. 8 PM Saturday, if you want to go. They’re makin a film about breeding cattle or something. Cute little things. I don’t go to stuff like that. Me and the missus watch hockey or wrestling on Saturday nights”

Mitch took the paper from Walter. He looked at it, put it in his briefcase.

“So the French bull’s next, the Charolais?”

Walter extracted a peanut from the bag. He cracked the shell with his cast.

“Hm. She better be gettin a visit soon, she won’t be in season forever”

“Season? What?”

Walter got up from behind his desk. He moved to the wall where he looked through some brochures in the rack. He selected one, gave it to Mitch.

Mitch looked at the brochure, followed Walter through the door, into the barn. They stopped at a stall with HENRY painted on the door.

“See, that describes the basic process. Venus is in season like a dog or cat gets in heat. You know?”  Walter pointed at the diagrams in the brochure.

“See, what they need to do, is breed her with a nice bull like Henry, here. Not get all starstruck with these foreign bulls. Henry’s a grand champion himself, a real gentleman. He’s local. An Ottawa Valley Hereford. Good natured, as bulls go. Hmph. All these foreign bulls are no good for Venus. She’s local too”

Mitch laid on his bed reading about success with women. He reread the pamphlet Walter had given him about the reproduction of cattle. When it was time, he picked out a tie and jacket to go with his trousers.

 

A group of people hid the sign beside the door in the hotel which announced the Gala for the National Film Board, but Mitch was certain he was in the right place. He had just seen the girls from Walter’s office enter before him. They looked even better dressed up.

The people Mitch followed in, were dressed like him, talking about the National Film Board. He didn’t see many farmers but he thought anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of cattle reproduction would be welcome here. They might even be a celebrity.

Mitch took a glass of champagne from a waiter. He made for the group which contained the two attractive girls from Walter’s. He joined the circle who were listening to a distinguished gentleman hold forth. There were two older, expensively tailored women in the group as well as Mitch and the girls.

“I mean we need to get rid of this old process. We know the fertility’s there. All we need is the seed…” the distinguished looking chap spoke with fervour.

Mitch interrupted him.

“Yes, I was just thinking about this the other day. It’s all in the testicles, of course. We all agree on that” Mitch paused for his pronouncement to have the desired effect. He couldn’t decipher the looks on everyone’s faces, but was sure he had got their attention, especially that of the two girls.  “Hormones from the pituitary give you those nice, big, full sized testicles” Mitch spoke with emphasis, remembering the tips in his book on women.

The older women looked shocked and amused. The distinguished looking gentleman’s jaw seemed to be dropping. The girls looked surprised. Mitch figured he’d keep going.

 

“We know that with one ejaculation of five cc.’s we can preserve six hundred doses of semen.” Mitch addressed the group with a modest smile. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the distinguished chap’s upper plate fall out of his mouth, into his drink.

“Now, in the female, it’s the anterior lobe of the pituitary, of course. Gives you that good, healthy mammary gland and that nice tone in the reproductive tract”

Mitch finished, rubbed his hands together, looked up. The group had scattered. The girls were giggling, walking away.

Mitch had been at lunch when the office got the call from Walter.  He sat with a black eye, a bandage on his head, a cast on his arm and a pair of crutches leaning on his desk. He offered a brown bag to Mitch.

“Walter. You ok? What happened?” Mitch, eyeing the crutches. He shook his head to refuse the peppermints.

“Peppermint? French bull, Charolais got here in the middle of the night. Had to try him out with Venus right away, so I put them together. Damn French bull wasn’t interested. Couldn’t get him to mount her at all. Tried everything. Finally, I sat down for a rest. The damn bull looked like his mind was on other things. Wasn’t Venus‘ fault. In fact, that’s how I got this.” Walter placed his cast covered lower leg on the desk.

“The French bull?”

“No. Venus got sleepy. She laid down on me. I couldn’t get out of her way. Broke my leg.” Walter sucked a peppermint.

“What’ll we do now?” This job didn’t look so long lasting to Mitch, anymore.

 

“Dunno. No doubt, the powers that be’ll have another brainwave”

“So, this is it?”

“Probably. Venus was up for it, this last time. She’ll be out of season any time now, though. Probably go back to the artificial programme. I guess you’ll be goin back to the office. We’ll kinda miss you around here. I think Venus liked all that attention. Me? I’d like to see you stick around, no offence meant, but I’d probably be a little safer, you know, if we did some other kind of experiment”

Mitch walked down the stairs from his room, through the living room to the front door. He wore a t shirt and loose fitting pants. He paused at the door.

“How can you just sit there all the time?”

Mandy was sitting on the couch, watching tv with an open bag of cookies.

“Bite me” Mandy stared at the screen.

Mitch wiped a towel across his red face, limped along beside Jasmine. They had just finished a yoga class. Everyone else seemed to gain something as the class went along. Mitch got a cramp at the very beginning. He struggled to concentrate on the exercises with all the female flesh stretching around him. He wasn’t sure that yoga was his thing, but Jasmine was cute. She had given him her card, said to drop in. He had.

“…and because the cause of all suffering is desire, we meditate to free ourselves of desire…”

Jasmine was explaining some of the intricacies of yoga to Mitch. Her eyes were bright blue.

“I seem to get distracted easily when we meditate”

 

“I know. It was hard not to be distracted when I was in Poona”

“Poona?”

“Mmhm, kundalini yoga” Jasmine wore a serene smile.

“Kundalini?” Mitch was absorbed in Jasmine. They walked down the sidewalk together.

“Mm, sexual yoga. It’s hard to ignore desire when you have some of the unions you can get in kundalini.” Jasmine looked over at Mitch who walked into a street sign.

Jasmine helped Mitch up, brushed him off. A motorcycle stopped behind her. She turned, waved. When the driver of the bike held out a helmet to Jasmine, Mitch saw skull rings on his fingers, tattoos on his arms. A bearded face smiled at him, Jasmine climbed on, they were gone.

On the way home from Jasmine’s class, Mitch parked his car at the Beef Cattle Exposition. He entered the barn from the back. He opened Venus’ stall first, then approached Henry’s.

“There you go, Henry, remember to be a gentleman, now”

He opened the door to Henry’s stall, made for his car.

Mandy sat watching tv with a Coke. Mitch entered the house with a large brown bag.

“Grasshopper, what have you seen?” the tv spoke.

“What’s that, Chinese food?”

“Yeah, want some?” Mitch looked at the screen, sat on the couch, placed the bag on the coffee table.

“Sure, whatcha got?” Mandy, sitting up, eyes locked on the screen.

“Master, I have seen desire”

 

Mandy opened the bag. She placed the containers around the coffee table while Mitch retrieved plates and cutlery from the kitchen. She watched him walk across the living room.

“And what did you learn of desire, Grasshopper?”

“Duane always tries to get me to go to bed with him. Why don’t you, Mitch?” Mandy filled a plate with fried rice.

Mitch hadn’t realized. He took some sweet and sour chicken balls from a container.

“Master, I have learned that desire is blind”

“I guess I never thought about it” Mitch glanced in her direction.

“Well, are you thinking about it now?” Mandy stared at the tv.

“Ok, after Kung Fu, then?”

“Sounds good, it’s a date”

“Pass the rice, please”

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