Champagne Super Novice

Happy Birthday to me!

On the 24th I turned 24. It will only happen once, so you'd better make the best of such an occasion. So, as any good boy would, I cut loose with reckless abandon and didn't come home until the sun went down. Er....

I will spare you the baloo-baloo-woe-is-me-melodramatic bullshit, just let me provide one episode to illustrate what kind of champagne birthday it really was.

I haven't worked a full day in a long time. My father would say in my life, and he'd be half right, but I am pretty sure that there were a few moments of weakness in my younger days when I got up before dawn and beheld the spectacle of the rising sun with a shovel or a hammer or the fragments of what remained of my broken spirit in my hands. I am fairly certain that most, if not all, of those days were because of my father.

If you are up before the sun is then it means you are on your way, or in the throes of, some shit work. People with office jobs (not that those aren't shit, just shit of a different kind, like the difference between excruciating and monotonous) watch the sun rise from their breakfast tables in their breakfast nooks eating breakfast cereal and watching breakfast television. People with office jobs eat breakfast.

The unemployed, on the other hand, watch the sun rise from the back. Maybe the were up all night trying to figure out the HTML code for their new blog back ground. Perhaps they needed to catch up on the plethora of nut-shot videos on You Tube. The unemployed eat breakfast cereal watching Conan at 1:30. Unemployment is bliss. Bliss doesn't pay worth a shit.

Labourers, bakers, and candlestick makers are up before dawn and stagger through their houses in work boots with an apple and a cup of coffee and a couple of soggy tomato sandwiches while they scratch their asses because they were too tired and forgot to do so when they first awoke. The clomping wakes their wife who doesn't have to get up for another two hours to eat a proper breakfast and make her way to her office job downtown. Labourers, bakers, and candlestick makers are in bed by 10 and up a few hours later. Just the thought of it makes me shudder. Shudder.

A word to the wise. Don't agree to make your first actual day of work in a long time coincide with your birthday, your champagne birthday at that. Going from unemployed and watching the sunrise to the sound of a sturdy shot to the gonads to up at 6 and having just enough time to scratch your ass on your way out the door is quite a jolt to the system. 3 hours of sleep followed by 3 hours oh heavy lifting, followed by 3 more hours of heavy lifting, leaves the distinct taste of plaque encrusted (shit, I forgot to brush my teeth in my rush for the door) death at the back of your throat tickling your gag reflex. No, you are not on the verge of death, it just tastes that way.

We were 5 minutes early, so I got a McDonalds muffin. The arrangement was last minute the night before so I lacked foresight and materials to make soggy tomato sandwiches. However, I was assured I could procure a lunch at a nearby burger joint when the time was right. All I had to do in the meantime was clear a pool hall sized room of rubbish and rubble. Move forty-eleven sacks and boxes and loose piles of lumber, concrete, lights, cameras, actions, from in here to out there because a guy with a truck would soon arrive to take it away. Blah, blah, blah...here, wear these here gloves. There was a hole in the finger. I should have known.

The champagne birthday was going smashingly thus far. As in I was smashing things with rotten, nail-filled, lumber and old bathroom floor broken up into pieces and put in ratty cardboard boxes. Tea time rolls around, I didn't bring a cup, I watch the others sip tea from dirty mugs for 10 minutes then get back to moving piles.

The truck was an hour late. Then two. Then three. Then it was lunch. Finally. Burgers. Mmmmm. But I made the mistake of looking out the window and seeing two senile old men moving my piles from the snow bank to the back of an old rusted out Ford F250 super cab. Lunch would have to wait.

I wish I could give you an accurate description of these two fellows. I know whatever I say, and whatever I show you, might bring a knowing smirk to your face, but in reality these two are deserving of a disbelieving grimace.

They were a team, the amount of verbal abuse (I assume) they traded gave me that impression. They were also Greek. Not that that means anything other than they spoke no English nor French, other than, "you guy..." point, nod, shake fist, Greek slur, Greek slur, Greek slur. One of them, Johnny, was the leader, the driver, the brains, the toque, and the mouth for the tandem. The other, Peter, said nothing, did nothing, contributed nothing, everything you could want in a loyal side-kick.

Johnny was skinny and like most men his age (ancient) his ass had long since left town and his pants hung like a theatre curtain from a belt and suspenders. He wore no name brand sneakers that were past their prime when he bought them, although they were still white then. Now they were grey and sometimes brown. He wore a large winter jacket (it was freezing) that he got as a promotional giveaway from a gas station in the early 80s (or maybe for employees). Of this I am fairly certain, as just before I left the land of milk and honey for this my grandfather from a similar curmudgeonly demographic gave me a similar coat emblazoned with an understated "Texaco" logo. But Johnny wasn't memorable for his theatre curtain pants, nor his grey-brown running shoes, or his early 80s gas station coat. It took me most of the afternoon before I noticed any of these minor details, as the rest of him was a lot like a crate of fireworks going off in your face.

Johnny had one of those Proust faces. The stories they told filled volumes. His long and pointed nose didn't point straight down, but rather just to the left of his left grey-brown running shoe. He wore a ratty black toque on the very top of his head. It didn't cover his ears. It wouldn't have kept the winter out if it did. It was simply a cat burglar/Relic relic. He looked a lot like the dad of all those Darryl's on Newhart probably did. He had a face that Johnny Cash would write songs about. Or, at any rate, the sort of face that Bob Dylan would write songs about and Johnny Cash would later cover.

Now this sounds amazingly hilarious, and it is/was. There were several points in the day where I found myself grinning dumbly and shaking my head in disbelief at what my life had come to. However, Johnny's personality didn't add any humour to the situation. Oh no. Johnny was the most humourless person I had ever met. In all my wanderings and half-assed half days of work for different cranks along the way, I have found that there is a time and a place for insane and irrational flipping out and verbal abuse because that gate is open or shut and should be the opposite or that bolt should be in that hole or this. I have been graced by ass-chewings by some sure fire Hall of Famers. Hell, I am a descendant of a long line of them. So Johnny's curmudgeonly demeanor was nothing new to me.

However, in the past, whenever I found myself in a situation such as this I have always managed to improved my stead with patience, a little soft humour, and a knowing grin and hard work. Usually that buys you a little reprieve, or at least a little time to redeem yourself. But Johnny was unflappable in his bitchiness. He wasn't having any of this bullshit patience, smiles, hardwork. He yelled, screamed, flapped his arms, and grimaced the entire time. All the while screaming what were either obscenities or "Buy" "Sell" "Buy" "Sell" in slurred old man Greek. Even when his trust sidekick Tweedledum would do something bumbling, as he was apt, and I would smile knowingly at Johnny and give him the "aw shucks, that guy..." eyes all I would get was a scowl and the sidekick would get an earful of "buys" and "sells" and a fist-shake or three.

But Johnny wasn't built for reliance or kindness or hard work or any of this. Johnny was built for one thing and one thing alone, speed. Behind the wheel of his F250 is where Johnny was meant to be. Red lights, he didn't give a shit. Speed limits, ditto. Punk kid in a Civic looking to race gramps in the beater, eat dust. Garbage cans in alleys, like pylons to a blind person on their drivers test. I dug my nails into the dirty back seat of that old F250 while Johnny careened, ricocheted, sped, bounced, slammed, scraped, skidded, and swerved his way around town. I have never been so afraid for my life. I have never wanted to burst out in laughter at the hilarious absurdity of the whole scene.

The driving highlight was the 37 point turn (forwards, backwards, forwards, backwards, etc.) in the narrow alley behind the house I had hauled all the piles of rubbish and rubble out of. That and the speed bump we went over half a dozen times just for the hell of it at 40 miles per hour. But, in the midst of that awkward and rammy turn in that narrow alley Johnny managed to crush someone's trash can between the back bumper of his F250 and the rear fender of their brand new BMW SUV. Johnny didn't break character for even a second. He just threw it in drive and rammed his snow plow into the fence in front of him. Naturally, 5 minutes later, the BMW owner came out and, without noticing the trashcan which shouldn't have been laying behind their rear wheels, backed over the smashed can and dragged it a few hundred metres down the alley while making a horrendous racket. Even then, Johnny maintained his scowl and "buy-sell" arm flailing.

Then there was the sidekick, Tweedledum to Johnny's Tweedledee. I think his real name was Peter, not that it mattered, he never said two words the entire 3 hours I was around him (I lie, he said 3 words to me once, it was a hybred of Greek, English, French, and Crazy-Old-Manese, I had no idea what it was). Not to me, not to Johnny, not muttered under his breath when Johnny was screaming at him for fucking up throwing garbage in a pile. Peter was frumpy, maybe humpty, definitely dumpy. He was a short rotund man. Not rotund in any jolly way, but rotund in a lethargic way. He moved slowly. Thought slowly. Slammed the door on me without moving the seat ahead to let me out ever time we got out of the truck (at least 10 times) causing Johnny to lose his shit even moreso. Even when a situation calling for rapid movement arose Peter steadfastly refused to take part. Like when a man-sized piece of old counter top I had tossed off the third story balcony ricocheted off a fence, a tree, a trashcan, another piece of man-sized counter top and was hurtling towards him, sure to break his leg. Peter just followed it slowly with his eyes as it came to rest inches away from his open boot he had neglected to tie. The most amazing quality Peter possessed were his hairy earlobes. Yes, earlobes. Who needs tacky, garish, bling when you can grow your own?

Tweedledee's and Tweedledum's, or Johnny's and Peter's, crowning achievement came when they couldn't get all the lose wires and rusty bolts to align right so the tailgate would stay shut. Johnny took to slamming the tailgate as hard and as frequently as he could muster. Peter, in his silent assessment recognized that the alignment of the tailgate was off kilter and it needed a hearty shove an inch to the left. Seeing that Johnny only communicated in buy and sell arm flaps, and Peter didn't communicate at all, it was only a matter of time before Peter's hand had been slammed in the tailgate with as much force as Johnny could muster. Peter looked at Johnny with the face a child look's to their mother with right after they slam their hand in the toy box. Big doe eyes with tears welling up, just awaiting any recognition of the accident, before the dam burst and the deluge ensues. Surprisingly, Johnny's reaction wasn't compassionate permission to be hurt, it was apathetic, even angry, not giving a shit, as he continued slamming the tailgate with all his might until it stuck long enough for us to get back into the truck and speed away. All the while Peter rubbed his hand and looked with his teary doe eyes at Johnny for any sign of anything. It never came.

After this episode the dynamic duo dropped me off at location number two where I was to continue working. Location two was in some sort of industrial purgatory, surrounded by bread and pretzel factories, but nowhere to buy lunch. I was starving. I had just been on an episode of the Twilight Zone: Geriatric Greek Edition, it was about 3:00, and it was my champagne birthday. My coworker looked up from something that looked menial and asked if I had eaten lunch. I said I hadn't. He gestured towards his half-eaten cold leftover leftover lasagna and mumbled something about the fork being somewhat clean having only been used to eat half a portion of cold leftover leftover lasagna.

So there I was, my head swirling from a combination of sleep deprivation and an afternoon with Tweedledee and Tweedledum, celebrating my champagne birthday by fighting off the urge to gag on the taste of plaque coated death and cold leftover leftover lasagna off of another man's dirty fork.

Eventually the pain ended and I got back home by the time the sun was down. In my email inbox were a hockey sock full of messages from friends and family wishing me happy birthday. My internet wouldn't let me open any of them for some time, just taunted me with the possibility of well wishes. But, when I did get them opened the final message was the most fitting capper to the day. It was a link to a news article explaining how January 24th was the most depressing day of the year.

Happy birthday to me!


My first record review found its way into cyberspace, check it out.

You may have noticed a whole new look for Caroline Area Man. Thoughts?


Johnny and Peter drawn by hand just moments ago by Caroline Area Man himself.


jillian said...

I think I saw Johnny on my way home on the metro tonight. Next time I'll say hi for you.

Also I couldn't help but point out that you blatantly ignored the fact that Mirah is the lead singer of The Blow. As a reviewer you have these sorts of responsibilities Murray.

jillian said...

Hmm also.. Nice work ignoring me until after your birthday.
Happy Champagne Year?

Tam said...

Awwwww, poor, poor MoMo. Now, lets consider that if you didn't hate your family and move to Montreal in a vengeful rage you would have been home, enjoying a week long celebration complete with the mandatory Morgazing Race and a shitload of over-the-top gifts and probably a freshly sacrificed goat kid. Oh wait, we did that for you before you left. Wahhhh, boo hoo. >:( LOL Love the play by play of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I'll bet all of that action made you real homesick for Dad and G. Bill. Perhaps you are really in a parallel universe. This sounds an awful lot like the recent exchange Dad and G. Bill had around the tractor with conversation (one way of course) being shouted in my face about that blankety-blank goat being nearly frozen half to death and this and that. We miss you, Bizarro Jerry.

Love ya,