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Chapter 11

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 8 months ago

Chapter 11

 

The Club 140 - drawing by David Jenneson from his book "The Helping Hands of Christmas"

 

 

 

 

 

The owner of the Big O was a rube named Larry Stepanik, more commonly referred to as Larry-O by the young intelligentsia of the hotel.

 

Larry had slicked back black hair, black horn rimmed glasses and a goatee. He looked like a misplaced beatnik from the 1950's, yet he wore dark slacks, and short sleeved white shirts with a plastic pen protector which made him look like a business man. In fact he was neither. He had inherited the Big O from his father, who clearly didn't have a smarter son as a heir and hopefully was not spinning in his grave having left it to Larry. It was not only a thriving hotel with a steady clientele of lowlifes but a huge chunk of real estate. The pinkish orange dump with its huge parking lot stood on one-third of a city block, worth big money even back in 1970. The place had been going since the 1920's when it was a hotel for sailors and shipyard workers called The Olympic Athletic Club. In the ensuing years it had firmly established itself as a low rent blood bucket. Housewives in homes and apartments on the steep hills above the Big O stared mournfully down and waited to catch sight of their husbands - often responsible men in suits carrying briefcases - staggering up across the vast, pitted asphalt parking lot and homeward at dusk. The Big O was famous for ruining lives, had done so for two generations, and now a new generation had showed up wanting theirs ruined also.

 

In other words it was perfect for us.

 

Larry had inherited this empire and before approaching him I did some research. The first thing he did on getting the hotel from his father was to buy a red Lotus Elan, an incredibly expensive sports car so fast it was almost undrivable, and then had ten dollar magnetic signs plastered on the doors reading The Olympic Hotel, Larry Stepanik, owner. This he parked every morning outside the coffee shop, which was still refusing service to anyone in a suit and tie other than Larry on the suspicion they might be a narc.

 

The next morning, a Saturday, I got up early and had the last of my food - a sardine and margarine sandwich. I privately marveled at how I could have so many dirty dishes while having so little food with which to dirty them. I walked a block down the hill and lurked in the Big O coffee shop waiting to ambush Larry. Teddy Rogers' wife was behind the counter, wearing high heels, dressed up a tight black mini-skirt revealing her ample thighs, a frilly white blouse and her hair coiffed up in a towering beehive, as if she were planning on attending some important greaseball function later in the day. Presumably Teddy would escort her, perhaps dressed in a tuxedo, where, after a light lunch, he would beat the shit out of a guest or two. Or maybe she was only trying to raise the tone of the place, which she ran with an iron hand.

 

This was good since the coffee shop, with the unlikely name of Guppy's, was filled with speed freaks. In 1970 there was no crystal meth. Speed consisted of a pocketful of pills like perludin or escatrol, and aficionados sat up all night in some dank hippie basement or happily drifted around the warm, leafy streets like toy balloons until sunrise. They committed no crimes, but simply ran out of gas around nine in the morning and showed up at Guppy's ravenous, hollering for eggs. As I watched Teddy Roger's wife was dealing with the speed freak breakfast rush when Peter Campbell, the six foot seven giant and Vice President of the Lynn Valley Society of Smiling Crabs entered. The Burner Boys and the Smiling Crabs had earlier formed a pact which I hoped still held. People often underestimated Peter Campbell's intelligence and thought he was a dumb lumbering giant. The truth was he was far more savvy and intelligent than almost everyone around him. He was fond of standing in the middle of the intersection of Lynn Valley Road and Mountain Highway stopping all traffic while he downed a family size Coke in one long gulp on a hot summer day. He had run away from home when he was around 15 without telling his family where he was going and didn't communicate with them until he returned eight years later. He had taken a job on a freighter and travelled the world and was finally kicked off for beating one of the crew almost to death. He wandered around Europe until Fellini found him and cast him as one of the sentinals at the pass in Satyricon. Fellini apparently searched all over Europe for remarkable individuals as extras.

 

Peter Campbell too had been up all night, was starving, and wasn't prepared to brook dawdling service. He quietly picked up a menu. Instead of reading it he began eating it. With quiet concentration he tore hunks from it with his teeth and swallowed, like an Englishman chewing on his dry breakfast toast. He ate with gusto. The other speed freaks waiting for breakfast watched this with cowering respect. He had finished nearly the entire left hand page, the one with the breakfast specials on it, when Teddy Roger's wife hurried up and slid a plate of ham and eggs in front of him. She calmly took back the half consumed menu with as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Peter Campbell had got served in about three minutes while everyone else waited.

 

I watched all this over a watery coffee

 

Just then Larry's Lotus buzzed up. He climbed the stairs to the coffee shop and entered, slicking back his hair, humming and whistling, ready to start another day presiding over the biggest eyesore in town. He sat down at the counter for his morning coffee and I slid up on the stool next to him.

 

"Hello Larry, I'm Dave Jenneson, with the Burner Boys," I introduced myself, hoping to open the way with our reputation, or at least our notoriety.

 

Larry's face registered a disappointing blank. He may have thought I was a tradesman looking for stove repair work.

 

I tried another tack. "How would you like to make money in the Club 140 for a change?"

 

His brow knit. "Its never made money," he replied with a defeated shrug. His management style seemed to embrace an Islamic fatalism, where believers are told to accept what they cannot change.

 

"We're the hottest band on the North Shore. We can pack the place."

 

I could see him trying to wrestle with this concept. It was as if it were God's will that the Club 140 should would not turn a dime from his father's time onward and never would. This was a cross Larry had been given to bear as part of his birthright and out of his hands. Perhaps it would change one day, but only through God's intervention, not his.

 

"At least give us a chance. How about an audition tomorrow?"

 

"Let me think about it,"

 

Any salesman will tell you that 'let me think about it' is just a wimpy way of saying no. I could see this slipping through my fingers. I appealed to Teddy Rogers' wife, who had just swept up Peter Campbell's empty breakfast plate.

 

"What do you think of Bob Huish and the Playboys?" I asked her as she passed.

 

"Their music sucks and they owe a big bar bill. They also got the only bar bill. No one else drinks there."

 

Larry stirred his coffee. "Yeah, we could think about that," he replied carefully, as if venturing onto intellectual thin ice.

 

"Deal," I shook his hand before he could change his mind. As I left him he had a perturbed look, as if he was being swept up in events he didn't entirely understand.

 

The next afternoon we put aside Bob Huish's sad little collection of amplifiers to make room for our own. There wasn't much to move. Using cheap home electronics and speakers the size of toasters was part of his secret for achieving their signature tinny sound. We cranked up with our best material while Larry sat at a middle table. I took it for granted we were going to overwhelm him. Soon it was evident he possessed neither the mental equipment nor adequate information to conduct a proper audition. Instead of kicking back and letting himself feel the music his face wore a look of confused concentration, like he was tying to solve a difficult math problem in his head. We plunged on. Halfway through the sat Al edged up behind me.

 

"Watch his right foot," he whispered. "It's moving."

 

It was true. Despite Larry's apparent bewilderment his right foot tapped in time to Goodbye Holy Roller, although he was probably unaware he was having fun. We finished. He still looked confused. A bad sign. I could tell he was going to wimp his way out of a decision again.

 

We walked down from the stage and joined him at his table.

 

"How do you like us so far?"

 

"Yeah, well, it was okay," said Larry, master of non committment.

 

"Give us a try," I pleaded. "One weekend. One night"

 

Larry clicked a ball point pen. He tapped it on the Formica table top, a nervous sign he thinking when he really wasn't. He was double clutching on indecision. I couldn't believe I was begging to get us into a club that was as much fun as piss on a plate.

 

"Think of it this way. It can't get any worse than it already is."

 

Larry clicked his pen. Non committal people are frustrating one on one, but are infuriating when they dig in their heels, donkey like, and won't commit to five people facing them down across table. Tension and angst built in the air. I worried that at any moment Tim or Peter might break out with a string of expletives ending in calling Larry a blind, deaf jackass

 

Suddenly there was a loud clapping from behind the bar. Teddy Roger's wife materialized from a passageway linking the club and the café. Still dressed in her standard trim - big ass miniskirt, white frilly blouse and beehive hair, she obviously had given us a hard listen.

 

"That was right on!"

 

Larry turned around.

 

"Hire 'em, Larry!" she shrieked.

 

At that moment I knew we were saved. Larry sagged with relief. At last a decision had been made. "Tell you what," he replaced his ball point back into its plastic pen protector. "Come in this Thursday and do three nights. We'll see how it goes."

 

I now saw the Big O for what it was - a huge, dangerous and rudderless ship where the captain always agreed with the last person he talked to. Ten years later Larry sold the Big O which was bulldozed without a hint of protest from customers or the general public. In its place a high rise condo rose up. Larry made a fortune off the sale, and invested it with a slick operator named John Pozer for a Goodstuff Games store, an adult games franchise. Larry lost everything. A bankrupt, he ended up working at a Chevron station. By contrast Teddy Roger's wife won the lottery and set up her husband and family for the rest of their lives.

 

We were elated with our new gig. It gave us a chance to prove ourselves, once and for all. Like kids on Christmas morning we almost sprinted into the bar and spread the word. In fact we lied, telling people we were the new house band so the news would have more impact. I took the approach that this was an historic event and the Big O had turned a corner. No longer would it be regarded by the public as a settling pond for human sewage, but rather as a very hip venue for the exclusive few who were inside the loop. Unlikely as it sounded it very nearly turned out to be true.

 

The first night was eerie. Less than a dozen somewhat surprised Bob Huish fans showed up. They were expecting a bland night of Roses Are Red, My Love and Louie Louie In that would let them brood and nod off over their hi-balls. I took it as an opportunity to jolt the squares into the twentieth century.

 

"Hey out there, we're the Burner Boys," I announced. "We're going to fill your head with cannonballs and powder your behind!"

 

This had no effect except to make one dour looking man in a severe crew cut shift uncomfortably in his chair. I realized I knew him. It was strange to see him wearing a scruffy suit and tie. His usual garb was a 1930's night watchman's outfit. This was heavy, black knee length jack boots, black pants, a red plaid mackinaw jacket and a long billy club which hung from his right wrist by a leather thong. Dressed thus he patrolled the night time streets around The Big O in all weathers. He was often seen in the wee hours, standing legs astride, slapping his billy club into his palm and guarding a fenced in construction site which in another day and age might have needed a night watchman. Now, however, there was only him living out his night watchman's fantasy.

 

Worse, I'd been to his house. Visiting a friend in another Lower Lonsdale slum several months earlier I went next door to see if I could borrow the phone and The Night Watchman answered. He let me in. It was like visiting Boo Radly from To Kill a Mockingbird. Inside were several hundred empty Bon White gallon wine jugs, cleaned so they sparkled and stacked in rows five deep along the far wall. The rows were so neat he must have used a measuring tape. Above them two dozen varnished, lovingly hand tooled billy clubs hung like trophies on the wall. I summoned up the nerve to ask him about this. He told me he had been a master wood lathe operator until one day he'd slipped on a band saw and cut all the tendons to his right hand at the wrist. He held up his right hand. It was constricted like a claw. He pointed to a small lathe in his dining room and said all he could make now were billy clubs. I used the phone, thanked him and left. He was quite mad.

 

Now he stared at us in a haunted way and muttered to himself. This was the kind of customer we were dealing with on the first night.

 

We played to a sitting room only crowd until the third set, when a few more people drifted in from the bar. These were not the young dancing fans we'd hoped for but the second wave of Bob Huish people - dysfunctional fifty plus couples with serious drinking problems who were on the second stage of a three part journey. First they would go to the pub, have a dozen beer and start arguing. When the fight was established and well underway they would take it across the lobby to the Club 140, where they turned to hard liquor and continued, croaking and hissing at one another across the table like alligators. The third stage was when the Club 140 closed and they staggered across the alley to The Green Jade, a Chinese hole in the wall café so bad the batter on the deep fried prawns had a green tinge to it when you bit into them. There they would yammer and burp at each other over two dollar plates of oily chow mien, happily finishing one more night on the town.

 

The second night, a Friday, was marginally better. Teddy Rogers, the alpha male appeared and clapped his approval. On our first break we went into the pub, walked from table to table and urged people to come to the Club 140. It was a tough pitch since booze was twice as expensive there, but we increased the number of fans by an exponential factor since we had a zero base to start with. There was even scattered dancing. The Bob Huish fans watched this with puzzlement, as they had only ever considered the Club 140 as a dark, quiet place to sit and rue their miserable lives.

 

On Saturday night Martin O'Brian appeared. He was a local drug dealer - a spindly hook-nosed pirate who, despite his unsightliness always had a fresh young squeeze on his arm. He ruined the life and looks of every woman he ever went out with. Nevertheless, he was already a loyal supporter of the Burner Boys, went out of his way to attend gigs and supplied free drugs whenever he could. He later became a roofing contractor and died of stomach cancer in 2003, having to abandon a large grow-op. When he walked through the door his eyes lit up. For him it was a dream come true. His favorite band had just arrived at his main place of business. He could drink and deal dope all afternoon in the bar then get it on at the Club 140 at night. Better still he came with his entourage. This was a gaggle of eight to ten weasels, wannabe's and dope sluts who followed him everywhere he went. They constantly muttered, "get it on, Martin, get it on, Martin," like Tibetan Buddhists chanting a prayer in a background chorus, urging him on to ever greater excess. He was accompanied by his current girlfriend, Karen Giskey, a dark haired 18 year old with a feral beauty so wild it was like she had been raised by wolves. Now the Club 140 saw, for the first time in its history, an outbreak of frenzied dancing.

 

As the weeks passed the crowds grew steadily. We got our chops and played tighter. Now, every night, there were people on the dance floor. The Bob Huish fans watched all this from the sidelines in dull eyed bewilderment, like Neanderthals being edged out of existence by the coming of a wild, dominant species that lived on nothing but beer and drugs.

 

The steady money was good, but not enough and I desperately wanted to get off welfare. I'd come to realize that on welfare is like being abandoned in the wilderness where the only survival tool they gave you was a baseball. If you made it through the first month as a reward they gave you another baseball. It was a mug's game. If we could keep up the Big O as a steady baseline plus get other gigs it would more than make the nut. I was delighted when a high paying gig came through for Grouse Mountain. It would be a chance to show off our new tight bluesy rock sound to an influential upper demographic.

 

Grouse Mountain is a ski peak that overlooks Vancouver from the North Shore and still had snow. The event was the last night of the ski season. As we rode the gondola up I thought about the crowd of wealthy doctors and lawyers awaiting us. Cabinet Ministers and even Prime Ministers were known to frequent the place. I wondered if the very rich might tip a band as they would a waiter or bar tender. I had to admit it was a possibility. Leaning back against the gondola door I speculated on this pleasant thought. Suddenly it slid open. I felt myself losing my balance. In the next moment I stared down wide-eyed at my own death three hundred feet below. I felt myself getting sucked toward the dark void. A second later Peter's arm shot out. He yanked me back in. In was over in an instant. The horrified gondola operator dashed over. He slammed shut and secured the unlocked door. Stunned, and with a sickening sense of my own mortality I staggered back inside. For the next few moments I was stupid with shock. Finally able to speak I roared, "FUCK!" Then I advanced, white faced, and cursed out the gondola operator who knew he had screwed up. Tim, a martyr to the fear of heights, was appalled. It was an ill omen.

 

By the time we reached The Grouse Nest I had got my composure back. It was an old time ski lodge. The backdrop to the stage was an array of windows facing out onto the glittering spectacle of Vancouver's nightscape as far as the eye could see. As we got up to play we faced the bar at the far end of the room. We were supposed to start at nine and stood on stage, ready to play but one of the bartenders was running a dippy slide show of ski season highlights. Everyone ignored us like we like were donkeys standing next to a wall. The slide show went on for nearly three quarters of an hour past our start time. It was a bloody insult.

 

Finally we got to play During the first few songs I scanned the audience for signs of the wealthy doctor/lawyer/ Cabinet Minister types I had hoped for but no. It was their kids. In contrast to their parents who had worked for every dime, or the Big O crowd who made their own fun these people expected to have everything handed to them on a plate. As a band we thrived on feedback - after each song - but here we got nothing. It was a forest of spoiled rich kids in expensive ski sweaters so self absorbed they didn't have time to acknowledge us. Still rattled by my gondola scare my patience was thin. When we finished our first set I said, "We love playing for you and we want you to dance. But someone must have painted the floor because you're all stuck to it."

 

It was the kind of edgy remark I reserved for audiences like this. It walked the line between offending and breaking the ice. Nine times out of ten it got a laugh. Not here. Two hundred rich kids scowled and pouted.

 

"Booo!" yelled some brat.

 

Across at the bar I saw both bartenders sneering and giving us the finger. I fought the urge to tell them all to fuck themselves and walk off the stage for good. This was not possible as we badly needed to get paid. Instead I took solace in the bottle of Vat 69 scotch I had in my bag. We all went outside, stood in the snow, lit cigarettes and passed the bottle.

 

"This gig is fucked," I said, "I'm ready to walk."

 

"Before they were just bored," Steve observed gloomily. "Now they hate us."

 

"Even the bartenders are assholes," Peter remarked.

 

"They need to learn how to have fun," Tim added.

 

"What they need," I replied, "is a good licking and to be sent to bed without their dinner."

 

We passed the bottle again. Our breaths smoked in the chill night air. To be trapped on a snowy mountaintop where everyone hated you was vexing

 

Al had an idea. "Let's go back in and pretend it's a band practice. Then we can get off and still get paid."

 

"Fine by me," I said. "I'll pretend they aren't there. I wish they weren't."

 

When we started the second set it was obvious the audience's petulance had turned to hostility. For the one time in my life I boycotted the crowd. I refused to speak, functioning like a robotic lead singer who approaches the mike to do his duty then retires to a spot left of center stage and waits for the next song. In any standoff, the rule is he who speaks first loses. I wasn't about to talk to them and they weren't about to applaud for us. The next two sets were a misery. We played woodenly. I had never seen such a nervy audience, and the fact that they were denied a performance was cold comfort.

 

Disgusted, I afterward went into the washroom to change out of my band clothes. The band had gone ahead of me. One of the bartenders followed me in. He was in his early twenties and had a nasty, preppy look.

 

"You guys are a shitty band," he said.

 

An obnoxious bartender was the last thing I needed, but I tried to remain professional. "We played badly," I admitted. "It happens. My apologies."

 

"No, you don't get it. You guys are really really shitty."

 

I eyed him as I changed into my jeans. "You've made your point."

 

"No man, you still don't get it. You're a bunch of rip off artists. You come up here, play like shit and still expect to get paid."

 

Fed up to the teeth I straightened up and faced him. "That's it. I don't want to hear another word."

 

"You and your crappy band stink."

 

"I'm warning you. Shut your fucking mouth."

 

"Rip off artists."

 

Perhaps the Big O was already getting in my blood because then I did something I have never done before or since. I swung on him. The blow cracked him in the nose. Blood poured out. In an instant he changed from a belligerent tough guy into a simpering wimp. He splashed water on his bleeding nose in the sink and muttered, "Okay, okay, you gave me a bleeding nose, you're tougher than me, that means you're a good band."

 

I picked up my bag and my bottle of Vat 69. "You pathetic amoeba," I said and left quickly. I was worried that giving a bartender a bloody nose might constitute some minor crime. I walked through the deserted Grouse Nest, down the snowy stairs and slowly picked my way across the icy, hard packed snow toward the gondola. I had the bottle of Vat 69 slung over my right shoulder.

 

Suddenly, from above me, someone shouted. "Hey you."

 

I looked to my right. On a small snow bank, perhaps three feet above me stood the other bartender, looking like a twin of the first.

 

"Hold it right there," he ordered.

 

I kept walking. He followed. "You just gave my friend a bloody nose."

 

"I'm sorry about that," I said. "He asked for it."

 

"You knocked his contact lenses out. Why don't you go back in and help him find them."

 

Personally I found the image of the first bartender's contact lenses flying off in opposite directions cheering. By now a large crowd surrounded us, anxious to see a confrontation. "I'm catching the last gondola down," I replied as calmly as I could and kept walking.

 

"Go back in and help him find the lenses," he grabbed me by the collar. Now I did feel threatened.

 

"Do it your fucking self."

 

"Oh yeah? Then why don't you give me a bloody nose?"

 

His grip tightened. He still stood above me. The bottle of Vat 69 was still slung over my right shoulder, between him and me. I got a sudden image of him striking a blow, shattering the bottle and slicing my jugular. Instinct made me drop bag and bottle and throw a blind overhand punch. It connected. Rocking backward, he held his nose in shock. Then he removed his hand. Two streams of blood poured neatly out. He had asked for a bloody nose and got one. A little panicky I looked around at the crowd, expecting to be set upon. To my surprise and relief they broke into laughter and cheered wildly. It was a stroke of luck.

 

I quickly decamped and dashed for the last gondola. When I jumped aboard I noticed my right hand was covered in blood evidence. It didn't look good. I approached the gondola operator. "I've got to tell you that I gave both bartenders up there bloody noses," I said confessed. "I hope I'm not in any trouble."

 

The operator looked at my hand in wonderment. "That's their blood?"

 

"I swear they both asked for it."

 

He gave me the upright hippie hand clasp. "Everyone hates those two assholes. RIGHT ON!"

 

Just then his two way radio broke in clearly. It was one of the bloody nosed bartenders. "There's been an assault on the mountain. Call the police and have them waiting at the bottom! Over."

 

"I didn't copy that. You're breaking up, over." replied the gondola operator and winked.

 

They repeated their message. The operator again pretended not to understand. As we descended the mountain the voices over the walkie talkie became ever more anguished as I slipped through their fingers.

 

At the bottom of the mountain the Burner van waited for me. We fled back down to the relative safety of Big O's lowlife society to which we apparently belonged, and where beating up the bartender took a tire iron and baseball bat.

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