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Chapter 6

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 6 months ago

Chapter 6

 

The Burner Boys live - possibly the Pender Auditorium - Photo Copyright Ian Smith

 

 

One thousand Chinese Legion Halls could not have prepared Walkinshaw for his first gig as a Burner Boy.

 

With our new big band presence our confidence swelled. The huge pumping Farfisa gave our sound the bulk it needed. For me as front man it was like changing from driving a tiny compact car to steering a huge city bus. We were itching to get on stage. We talked it up in the bar. We were approached by Terry Salo, a commercial fisherman and stock promoter with an entrepreneurial zest who wanted to be our manager. We had cards printed and sent Salo out to drum up business. Before he could get out the door I got a call. The Capilano Rugby Club was hosting a dance for their arch rivals the Barbarians– and offering us $300 to play.

 

On a rainy February night we pulled up outside The Rod and Gun. It was a funky clubhouse set amid the seafront playing fields of Ambleside Park in West Vancouver, the richest community in Canada. As I walked in I realized it was the perfect venue. There would be big tips and lots of giggly, easy-to-impress rich girls. The building was about the size of an old fashioned road house, the kind of place Hank Williams might have played in 1950. Exactly right for a charged up jug rock band to blow the place apart, with the added drama of a wall of sound from Walkinshaw.

 

But there was no Walkinshaw. He was not, apparently, familiar with the wealthier residential neighborhoods outside Chinatown and had lost his way. In the meantime I paced the stage in my dark suit and tie with the band behind me, laying down my patter and trying to keep the crowd calm.

 

“Come on, PLAY SUMTHIN’ came an irritated ex-Brit voice from the crowd.

 

I continued to talk and walk, pacing back and forth on the stage. A large thick form approached. “Do you think yer too good to play us? Is that it?” he demanded in a heavy Scots accent. With his ginger hair still caked in mud from the rugby field and surly bovine eyes he looked like one of those terrifyingly primitive Highland peasants who had hurled thick wooden stakes at the English in Braveheart.

 

“No sir,” I assured him. “We just want to give you your money’s worth.” I truly meant it. I saw him as a smouldering human bomb who would become a real menace unless quickly appeased.

 

The side door banged open. Walkinshaw entered. It was still pouring rain out. He hauled his Farfisa up to the stage in three loads and quickly assembled it. I turned to look at him. His hair and glasses dripped. He nodded he was ready.

 

They say rugby is a gentleman’s game, where participants treat each other with the utmost civility after the game. That’s true, but they only treat each other that way. Otherwise The Rod and Gun had now taken on the aspect of a bad tempered British Ex-Pats Club. Ninety percent of the host side – the Capilano's - were émigrés from the British Isles who had a personal axe to grind against their native land - Britain, South Africa, New South Wales, or wherever they came from. Some hated Canada as well. That was the good part. The guests – the Barbarians – had named themselves well. They looked like representatives of various organizations like the Huns, Goths,and Visigoths. Some were daubed with mud from the playing field. They were ready to fight over anything.

 

I took a step forward on the stage. In a single stroke we simply blew them away. Nothing prepared them for the wall of sound that hit them. They had demanded a band that could rock their bones and now they had got it.

 

The rich young West Vancouver debutantes immediately clustered around the stage and started dancing among themselves, leaving the rugby players cooling their heels. The problem was we were now too confident. I kicked and bowed to the ladies and felt I was actually dancing with them all, controlling their moves on the dance floor with swirling forces. Perhaps I was. The song ended. There was wild clapping and cheering from the pretty young things around the stage, followed by an isolated grudging applause from the seated rugby players. We had stolen all their women. They didn’t like it.

 

Then, from a table halfway down the room to the right of the stage came a keening crackling laugh. There was no mistaking it.

 

I turned around to the band, eyes wide.

 

“Fuck me, look who’s here,” whispered Steve.

 

It came again. Hysterical laughter followed by isolated mad applause in the now silent room. Everyone stopped. I peered down the tables. I could just make him out – a black turtleneck, shaggy hair parted in the middle, a boyish face and permanent grin pasted to his face that made him the caricature of a lunatic. He was the ultimate drug casualty.

 

This was Ross – the partner with whom I mailed all the drugs home with from Europe. Hardly more than a year ago we had been on a train from Belgrade to Munich and met a thin Frenchman named Cheer who had promised us huge supplies of hash to send back to Canada as a final score. He gave us an address in the worst part of Paris – a working quarter filled with Algerians and bums. A young woman named Michele lived at the flat in poverty and squalor. With Cheer’s note of introduction we dropped our belongings in a tiny, windowless room, camped out and waited for him to show up.

 

During the first week as Cheer failed to show we were drawn into the strange ritual of this hovel. Around eight every night a half dozen young university students arrived. After sitting in the tiny candlelit dining room for half an hour Michelle would make tea. Once everyone had a cup they produced a strange drug – a white powder.

 

“Cocaine?” I asked Patrice, one of the students.

 

Non ceci n'est pas la cocaïne. C'est le beaucoup d'améliorer.”

 

I couldn’t speak French so turned to Ross, who could. He sat in a corner, back to the wall, legs crossed and foot waggling nervously. “What did he say?”

 

“He said it’s not cocaine, its better,” Ross replied suspiciously.

 

Instead of snorting it they took a small amount, rolled it into a bit of tissue and swallowed it with tea. After about 45 minutes the effect came on. I found it exhilarating. It made me feel like the smartest person in France yet without the jangled, self centered edge of cocaine. I was totally at ease. I cruised through my journal for hours, writing and drawing while the conversation in French whirled around me. Occasionally I’d look up to see Ross staring darkly from his corner, taking part in no conversation, his foot twitching furiously. I felt bad he was so isolated.

 

“Why don’t you talk to these guys?” I asked. “You speak French, and they’re all as stoned as you are.”

 

“I’m relaxing,” he said darkly.

 

He looked anything but relaxed. The drug seemed to have turned around on him and was boring into his brain like a drill press. He needed something to do. It was then I made my first mistake. I went to my ruck sack and got my copy of The Nova Express by William S. Burroughs.

 

Burroughs was a contemporary of Beat Poets Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg from the 1960’s. He was a coldly intelligent, bi-sexual, alcoholic, drug addicted genius who’d killed his wife in Mexico in a game related to Russian roulette. This and his other activities got him cut off from an inheritance from the Burroughs Adding Machine Company. I loved Burrough’s earlier books such as Junky and Naked Lunch but Nova Express was different. The characters were nebulous creatures, sometimes resembling human beings, but in a mutant or deviant form appropriate for the constantly shifting sense of reality that defines the novel. The dominant characters were an intergalactic police force whose agents had the ability to talk to someone, absorb all their thoughts and memories back to birth, then morph into that person. Even so the book was so dense, bizarre, and paranoid I found it as boring as a manila envelope. But it was all I had.

 

“Here,” I tossed it to him. “Read this. You’ll love it.”

 

I may as well have thrown him a bottle of poison.

 

For the next week, sitting in his same corner of the darkened room and taking the same drug along with everyone else he concentrated on The Nova Express as if it were the scriptures. I asked him about it. The drug we took every night, whatever it was, provided such bewitching mental energy that he was burrowing down through the layers of meaning to where he was taking the fictional ravings of William Burroughs as fact. Ross and William S. Burroughs were now getting their information from the same dark part of the universe.

 

After two weeks Cheer showed up. He had no hash for us to buy but promised he would be back in two days with a score. Two days turned into another week, during which we descended into a lifestyle where night became day. We’d get up after dark at five in the afternoon and dash down to a dirty worker’s dive. Its clients were ragged Algerian laborers. The place opened at six and served only one dish once a day. Although we were nearly broke it was amazingly cheap – steaming heaps of cous cous covered in spicy lamb, raisin and garbanzo stew, with pots of hot paprika sauce to add zest. Plastic bottles of wine were 5 Francs – approximately fifty cents, so we could dine in a civilized fashion. By seven they ran out of food and so closed. We’d go back to our hovel.

 

Patrice and the students showed up at eight, we did the drug and stay up until six in the morning. Then Ross and I went out into the dark December morning and had a dinner/breakfast of a croissant and coffee in a worker's café. Blue smocked French laborers crowded the aluminum bar blasting back black espresso and cognac and filling the air with acrid smoke from their dark tobacco Disc Bleu cigarettes. Then we went back, sleep all day, woke up and start over. To me it was a rare Parisian holiday – a drug enhanced, free tour of the low dives Hemmingway or Orwell might have seen. But Ross’s brooding grew deeper. Showing a boundless lack of intelligence, I ignored it.

 

Then came the explosion. Ross was sitting in his corner while Patrice and his friends chattered happily in French. Patrice had become Michelle’s lover. I was breaking up furniture to keep the fire going and everyone sat on the floor. It was bare but cozy. Suddenly Ross erupted.

 

“That fucking asshole is a narc!” he shook a finger at Patrice.

 

“Huh?” I looked up from my drawing.

 

“And so is he!” Ross pointed at another.

 

I scrambled over to him. Sitting in his dark corner, knees up, he looked like a cornered animal. He positively radiated paranoia.

 

“What makes you think they’re narcs?”

 

“Because I can understand them, stupid,”

 

While I couldn’t understand French the idea that Patrice and his friends were narcs was preposterous. In fact they were scared shitless. Patrice was high strung to begin with, and now he jabbered uncontrollably. This made Ross even more suspicious. Trying to reassure Patrice that nothing was wrong I suggested he and I go to the kitchen to make tea. In my euphoric state I believed that tea, always a calming beverage, would solve everything.

 

Five minutes later we came back into the dim lit room with a tray of tea. Ross was waiting at the door.

 

“Where’s Dave?” he asked me.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“WHERE’S DAVE?!”

 

“I’m right here.”

 

“You’re not Dave. You’re a narc. You’ve kidnapped Dave. WHERE IS HE?!”

 

“Ross, I haven’t been kidnapped. I’m right here.”

 

“YOU’RE A NARC!”

 

Then the shattering truth struck me. Ross had dived into the paranoid reality of The Nova Express and locked both he and I inside it. It was a perfectly, hermetically sealed world. There was no escape. I was no longer David Jenneson, but my own perfect clone - a super narc with the power to sift through Ross’s mind for thoughts and memories as casually if I’d been shopping for a pair of socks. Anything I said from that point on could be attributed to mining his brain for everything I needed to know. It was self sealing. It was mad. The enormity of it made me feel ill.

 

“Ross, you’re just stoned,” I patted him on the shoulder.

 

“DON’T TOUCH ME!” He leapt away. He was a tough, streetwise little hood who’d hated cops all his life. His demeanor completely changed. He addressed me as if I were a cop. He was so vicious I almost believed I was a cop myself.

 

“You keep your fucking hands off me, asshole, and bring back Dave. Where is he? In the basement? Down in your car? If you hurt him I’ll kill you! BRING HIM BACK!”

 

The most insane thing of all was he actually still cared about me.

 

Patrice and the rest were wide-eyed with terror. They had drugs on them and in fact were in the most danger if Ross went completely amuck and the Gendarmes came. I took a deep breath, told Ross to sit down and gave him a cup of tea. Then I used every ounce of energy and concentration to explain to Patrice and his friends about The Nova Express and what had happened. It was like some assignment they’d give priests studying for Exorcism –‘Explain a metaphysical disaster to a group of terrified strangers in a language you do not understand. Extra marks given for hand gestures’. I was so panicked it was the only time in my life that I actually conversed clearly and fluently in French. It has never happened before or since.

 

But there was no solution in any language. Something bad and crazy had happened. One by one Patrice and his friends pulled on their long ankle length overcoats and slipped out. Michelle packed up and left too. They never came back.

 

That left Ross and I facing each other over coffee the next evening in a deserted dive next to a dark canal. By then I was angry. If we were going to score dope and send it back to Canada his behavior had truly fucked us. We hadn’t spoken since the incident.

 

“Do you still think I’m a cop?” I asked as calmly as I could.

 

He stared back at me. His eyes were slits of hatred. He carefully poured sugar into his coffee then picked up the spoon. He examined it in the most minute detail possible, turning it end over end, and finally gave a snort of derisive laughter. “Nice try,” he plunged the handle into the coffee and stirred, as if the spoon end had been dipped in strychnine.

 

Twenty-four hours later the scene was repeated in another gloomy café. By now I was pleading with Ross to snap out of it. In trying to deal with the madness I purposely talked about our high school experiences and a past about which only he and I could have known – trying to prove I was myself and not some clone. He answered in monosyllables but laughed a little. Finally I thought I had him convinced.

 

Suddenly he fixed me with a stare. “Am I going to die tonight?”

 

I was fed up and furious. Hours of meticulous persuasion had been for nothing. “Yes,” I said in dusgust.

 

He drank the scalding coffee in one gulp and sat, waiting to die. He didn’t. We went home. Life fell into an odious schedule. 1. Wake up at five in the afternoon. 2. Go to some dark, musty café and unsuccessfully try and convince Ross I wasn’t an alien cop. 3. Go home and wait for Cheer to show up. 4. Repeat.

 

One night I couldn’t stand it any longer. I went out and walked the streets alone, just to get away from him because I can tell you, when you are in the company of someone 24 hours a day who treats you like a cop you start acting like one. I could see the change in myself. I was giving him cursory orders like, ‘Get ready, we’re going out,’ and he’d meekly comply. It was bizarre, like one of those psych lab experiments where people play the roles of prisoners and guards and quickly take on those personalities.

 

Out by myself I found a café, ordered a coffee and began to write. I desperately wanted to talk to someone, anyone, as I’d become isolated and a prisoner in Ross’s lunatic world. Then I noticed a beautiful dark-haired French woman watching me from across the room. Our eyes met. She smiled and tossed her hair. She was interested. I wrote a bit more in my journal trying to think of something to say to her in French. I could feel her eyes on me. Just then a large bug fell out of my hair, landed squarely on the blank page in front of me with a soft but audible thwack, got its bearings and crawled off stage right. Shortly after the bug left the woman did also. I’d been crushed by an insect. I went home and spent the rest of the night trying to clear the bath tub drain, which had been blocked and backed up with fetid water for a month.

 

It was now the middle of December. I’d burned all the furniture and so we froze. Into this wilderness Cheer finally entered acting like he was a few hours late instead of a month. He produced some slabs of keif wrapped in white gauze, each one strangely stenciled with a picture of a 1953 Cadillac and Arabic script. We paid probably twice what it was worth. It left us with only a few Francs, but I just wanted to do the deal and go home. With the last of my money I bought an expensive package of bon bons and replaced the candy with keif. I wrapped and dumped it into the Christmas mail. This was the same package of keif that eventually found its way to Burner Mansion. How my buying, packaging and sending dope fit into Ross’s mad paradigm I will never know. His was a shifting reality.

 

I sat down and faced him across the empty, gutted hovel the next day.

 

“There’s no reason to stay here anymore,” I said. “I’m going back to England. Are you coming?”

 

“I’m not leaving without Dave,” he said defiantly.

 

“Very well. Then we’ll take this to an impartial third party. The Canadian Consulate will know if there are any secret police or narcs operating in Paris. Fair enough?”

 

To my huge relief he bought it. We took the Metro to the Canadian Consulate. The truth was we had waited so long for Cheer that neither of us had the ferry fare back to England. I could fend for myself, but by now I knew Ross was very ill and I had to get him home immediately. We stood outside the consul’s office like two litigants engaged in a cosmic dispute, waiting to see the judge. The man emerged and looked puzzled to see two very dirty, unhappy hippies waiting for him.

 

“He wants to talk to you,” I hooked a thumb at Ross.

 

The official took Ross into his office. About seven minutes later he emerged, the most rattled looking diplomat I have ever seen.

 

“What did he say?” I asked.

 

“That you are an undercover policeman. After that I couldn’t follow him.”

 

“Don’t you see he is really sick?”

 

“Yes, quite so,” he put his pipe in his teeth.

 

“He doesn’t have ferry fare to England and he doesn’t have a plane ticket home. I’m here to ask on his behalf that the Canadian Government send him home on the first Air Canada flight available so he can be with his family and get proper attention.”

 

“Sorry. Can’t be done.”

 

“What?” I exploded. “The Canadian Government sends sick Canadian citizens home on mercy flights if they can’t afford it.”

 

“We don’t do that anymore.”

 

“What if he had a gun shot wound or cancer?”

 

“Those are extreme cases.”

 

“This isn’t extreme?” I pointed to the wreck of Ross, hunched on a bench down the hall in his dark hood and parka, waggling his foot furiously. “He’s so crazy he could jump out of a window at any moment. You’re telling me he doesn’t have a life threatening illness?”

 

The consul placed his hand on my shoulder. “My young friend, it would take an Order in the Privy Council to get him a ticket now. It’s Christmas Eve. The Government is closed. I wish you the best of luck.”

 

The next morning I faced Ross again sitting on the floor of our hovel. Bright bars of Christmas morning sunlight illuminated the floor littered with trash and crud. “I’m going to England today,” I said, exhausted. “I want you to come with me but I can’t make you.”

 

“Get Dave and we’ll go.”

 

“Very well. Goodbye.” I stood up, hefted my pack onto my back and walked out on him. I rode clear across Paris on the Metro, a two hour journey, and actually found the highway signs leading to Calais and England. Then I paused. I knew I was wrong. I turned around and went back two hours across Paris to where I’d started and found Ross sitting in an entrance tunnel, leaning on his pack and smoking a cigarette.

 

“What kept you?” he sneered impatiently, as if it was all part of a master plan.

 

I eventually got him home, or what was left of him. I did it by hitch-hiking, panhandling ferry fares and giving him my own air ticket to go home from London.

 

Once home he’d lived in single, bare-lightbulb rooms and engaged in a one-man reign of lunatic terror across Vancouver’s West End, where the Men in White had literally chased him from house to house. He’d been sent to an asylum and, unbelievably, been diagnosed with ‘hysteria’, whatever that is. It shows how distant and primitive a time 1970 was that doctors would fail to recognize paranoid schizophrenia and leave it untreated. But now he was out, apparently free, and able to seek out Burner Boys gigs at the Rod and Gun Club, which he was now doing with a relish.

 

“YAHOO!” he yelled and slapped his knee violently, over and over – thwack, thwack, thwack – like a broken fan belt.

 

The rugby players didn’t know what to do. It was as if wolves had found a mad dog in their midst. I turned to the band. Walkinshaw rolled his eyes.. “What do you guys do, bring along your own lunatic?”

 

“Methadrine!” I yelled. “Play it loud.” Methadrine was a song I’d just written reflecting on my experiences with Ross and now seemed as good a time as any to debut it. It roughly followed the tune of ‘Put Another Nickle In’ and so was diabolically catchy – a satirical, bitter tribute to the whole experience.

 

**********************

 

Methadrine

 

Now I’m old I’m wise I’m smart

Just a man with half a heart

Wonder how it might have been

Without all that methadrine

Come and let me hold your hand

Got to make you understand

I’ll be yours ethereally on methadrine

 

Love me do, love me don’t,

Ask me to shut up I won’t

Idle chatter ain’t no sin

Hey and let me tell you when

Me and Al and Steve and Tim

Too burned out to play or sing

But we solved the problem, we took methadrine

 

Methadrine, methadrine

I can’t take nothing worse

Methadrine, I like you,

Because you always work.

 

I love you, you love me

I feel like I’m sixty-three

You look like you’re sweet sixteen

Come and be my crystal queen

Kiss me with your frosted lips

Kiss me with a thousand hits

I just want to die in love on methadrine

 

Do me out, do me in,

Do me with a safety pin

If you want to talk to me

I’ll be right up in that tree

Thinking about the things I’ll do

When this crazy night is through

Nights like this should never end on methadrine.

 

***************************

 

I immediately called another song, and then another,with no breaks or time for applause - anything to drown out Ross’s mad cackle. Toward the end of the first set four or five rugby players gathered around his table. Suddnely there was a scuffle. Perhaps Ross had thrown a beer on someone. He was fond of doing that – suddenly hurling a full beer on a total stranger for some imagined slight to his status, for he now imagined that his initials – R.A. – meant he was Ra the Egyptian sun god. He was roughly escorted out and tossed into the rainy night. Tragically I never saw him alive again. Six months later he jumped to his death from Lion’s Gate Bridge.

 

With Ross gone from the hall we finished our first set, which had seemed like i took an eternity. The worst was behind us, I thought, but no, it was yet to come.

 

We took our break and gathered on the porch of the Rod and Gun for a well-earned beer and cigarette. Walkinshaw stood next to me on a lower stair, still shaking his head at the spectacle of Ross. Suddenly a large hand gripped his shoulder. I looked around. Up on the porch behind us a group of about ten rugby players had gathered. The leader - the same one who had bitched at us before - was at least six feet, and he now grabbed and squeezed Walkinshaw’s shoulder.

 

“You long-haired hippy faggots think you’re pretty smart.”

 

Walkinshaw gulped and shrugged. “We’re just the band, pal.”

 

“Yeah? Who told you to play a song about fucking drugs? You think methadrine is funny?”

 

To this the usually glib Walkinshaw had no answer. He was being accused of promoting a dangerous drug, the most destructive kind of anti-social activity, yet he’d had only the most circumstantial involvement.

 

“Answer me!”

 

“I don’t take it myself,” Walkinshaw stammered. He was a bundle of nerves.

 

“SHADDUP!”

 

Walkinshaw hunched his shoulders and tried very hard to disappear. The leader now tousled Walkinshaw’s long, stringy hair. “You stinking long-haired-hippy-faggot. I think you oughta suck my dick.”

 

The other rugby players grumbled in approval. The leader took a step forward. Because he was six inches taller than Walkinshaw and on the step above, he towered over him by a foot and a half, unfortunately placing the wretched keyboardist in good dick sucking position.

 

“Come on, faggot,” he poked Walkinshaw in the back of the head.

 

I grabbed my beer bottle around the neck, tensing for what must surely come next – a bloody brawl where all our uninsured equipment would be trashed. Suddenly, from behind a deep voice uttered a single word.

 

“NO.”

 

I looked up behind me, just in time to see the rugby player do the same. Towering above him from behind and gripping his shoulder was the biggest Native Indian I had ever seen. He stood six foot five, had the build of Arnold Swartznegger and had red hair. I had heard about him. It was Red Baker, part of the ruling clan of the local Squamish Indian Band. A longshoreman, he commanded the blind allegiance of every Native Indian tough for twenty miles around. Not that he needed it. He often carried a billy club tucked down the back of his pants as a kind of ceremonial head basher for white trash. Red frowned down at the rugby player in that way Native Indians have that indicates smoldering, deep rooted anger. None of the other rugby players were having any part of it. In an instant the tables had been turned.

 

“Hey, maybe you ought to suck his dick,” I said to the bully in an attempt to amuse.

 

“Why you smartass -” he started up.

 

Red Baker shook him. Violently.

 

“At the very least you should apologize,” I continued. “To the whole band.”

 

“I apologize,” he muttered.

 

“Sorry, we can’t hear you.”

 

“I apologize.”

 

“A little louder.”

 

“I’M SORRY FOR FUCK SAKE!”

 

We briefly conferred. “That will do.”

 

Red Baker turned the humiliated thug around and threw him back into the dance hall. I walked up to him and pumped his hand.

 

“Red, thank you. You saved our asses.”

 

He smiled with the dignity of his station in life – a high status, superhuman enforcer of whatever he chose to enforce. “You guys rock,” he said quietly and simply. “Get back in there and do it some more.”

 

I came away with the strangest feeling. It was like that Biblical parable where the shepherd boy removes the thorn from the paw of the lion and the lion becomes his friend for life. Red Baker was like that. He would either kill you or kill for you, with no in-between.

 

Thus Walkinshaw survived his first gig, but something more important had happened. The Burner Boys now had the blessing of the single toughest individual in a community of over 100,000 people. No one could beat him up. Even the police were afraid of him. It would shape events to come.

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