Life and death and camping in Canada

And I feel like I’m gonna die
I don’t feel so good inside
Why baby-why, why, why?
But I had a good time
You know I had a good night

RamonesDeath of Me

You’ve heard that expression, I’m sure, about the person who’s never on time? The one that goes something like, He’ll be late for his own funeral?

Yeah. That one.

I think it’s okay to talk about this next thing I did. The statute of limitations has run out on it by now. Hopefully.

When I was a teenager in Barry’s Bay, my friends and I had a bit of a summer tradition. There was a core group of us, Pat, Dennis, Bob, brothers Dale and Dean, and myself. Occasionally others would come out for a day or two. We’d find someplace to camp for a few days. Really, for some of us, it was simply an excuse to get absolutely hammered. For others, such as myself, it was to simply remember all the details and relate them back to the sobered up ones a few days later.

A two-four

A two-four

I’m not kidding here. I think the general rule of thumb was a two-four (for any Americans out there, that translates to a case of 24 beers) for each day of camping.

Anyway, on this particular camping trip, we somehow managed to pick some of the shittiest, wettest weather we could manage. Most of the time, we spent huddled in an old canvas tent that leaked moisture like dew, small glassy beads of water slowly swelling to heavy globs that could no longer cling to the roof of the tent, and fell in great, freezing splashes on exposed body parts.

If we weren’t in the tent, we were learning the futility of trying to maintain a campfire in the rain. I have a dim, fuzzy memory of one of the guys propping a canoe up on an angle, wedging the top between two trees, then huddling under it, trying to light a fire. I don’t think it worked.

canada ehAnyway, there’s a few stories that came out of this weekend. I’ll leave you with three.

In the garden of Eden

The first was the sight of seeing one of our group catastrophically drunk, popping open the doors of his pickup truck, selecting a specific song on the cassette player, then proceeding to…well, really, there are no words, however I’ll try.

Picture a tall, blond male encased in jeans and a t-shirt, both damp from the rain. On his head is a slightly battered cowboy hat. His face is brushed with a light dusting of hair under his nose and under his chin. He’s got a loose, boneless motion as he first bobs his head, then eventually jerks his body back and forth, a staggering, zombie-like creature, completely attuned to, and drunkenly grooving, for the next seventeen minutes and five seconds, to Iron Butterfly‘s In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida. The primary picture I have in my mind is him desperately clutching the tailgate of the truck as he shoots his head forward, the cowboy hat somehow resolutely holding on for dear life.

That’s a memory that will never go away. All the more fitting, as it’s sort of a drunken anthem. The song was originally titled In the Garden of Eden but the singer got drunk and slurred the words into In a gadda da vida. True story.

Four quarts will open her

The second memory is several of us playing poker in the tent. One of the brothers wasn’t able to hold his liquor all that well. He became not just drunk, but obnoxious. So when he raised his head and proudly declared he “hadda piss,” we all looked to his brother. Genetics always trump.

The older brother helped the younger out, then walked him around behind it, a safe distance away from the tent. Interested in how he was being managed, we watched through the small window.

The older one grabbed his brother by the back of his jeans. The younger, taking meticulous care, finally got his fly open, and proceeded to relieve himself. How, guys can hold a remarkable volume of urine. And he seemed to hold even more. The peeing went on and on. And on.

And on.

A couple of times, the older brother, getting wet holding his brother up, would say, “Are you almost done?”

“Yeah, yeah…”

And on he would piss.

Finally, he finished up. By this point, the younger brother, still being held by the back of his pants, was leaning forward at a startling angle. He got everything packed away, and zipped up. “Done now?” his brother asked.

“Nope!” the younger said, then opened his jaws and threw up spectacularly. This, of course, did nothing to improve relations with the older brother, who turned away and grimly held on.

Thankfully, the puking went faster than the pissing, but by now, the older brother has pretty much had it with the younger. After the final hacking and spitting, and still at that rakish angle, he said, “Done now?”

Wiping his mouth, the younger said, “Yeah.”

“Good,” the older said, then let him go.

Yes, he dropped forward, straight into his own bodily fluids.

The older left him there, came back around, got in the tent, resumed his position, and said, “Okay, whose deal is it?”

A little while later, the younger eventually gathered himself together, dragged his sodden body over to the tent, stuck his goo-encrusted face up to the screen window and said, “Open up! Lemme in!”

“You gotta go around to the front of the tent to get in,” we explained.

“Fuggoo! You hid th’ fuggin’ zipper! Yoo fuggin’ bassards!”

It went like this for a while, then his face disappeared. We heard rustling and muttering, then a snicking noise, then came the phrase that, over thirty years later, I still remember.

Apparently, he had a small pocket knife on his person. The snicking noise was him opening the blade up. Then, when he said, “Four quarts’ll open ‘er.”

Translated from Drunk, this meant, “Step off dear friends and sibling, I’m about to cut myself a new method of ingress.”

We all ran out and, in quick succession, stopped him, disarmed him, then dragged him around to the front of the tent. Yes, he got cleaned up before he was allowed back in.

Bloody tourists

However, it’s the final story of this ridiculous excuse for a vacation that I feel the most stupidity and shame for.

After a few days of toughing it out, we decided to stick a fork in it, pack it all up and head back home. By now, none of our clothes are dry, it’s been too cold to swim, so we haven’t bathed in days. We smell like damp and smoke and beer and puke and sweat and dirt. We’re tired, we’re miserable and some of us are hung over.

We just want to get home.

One of my chief complaints about Barry’s Bay after I learned to drive was the summer tourists. For ten months of the year, I could drive through the town virtually unimpeded. But come summer, the traffic would lock up at the three-way stop at the hub of the town.

It’s funny when I think about that now, after having been trapped on the 401 for hours at a time. Oh, the impatience of youth, right?

So, we were all piled into the bed of the pickup truck, and, once past that three-way stop, I was ten minutes from a shower, a hot meal, and my own bed. So, I was a little impatient. Then we came to a dead stop in the middle of town. We were at least five or six cars back from that stop sign where we needed to turn right toward my home.

And we weren’t moving.

I remember first leaning off the side of the truck, then getting out to look. I became virtually apoplectic. I remember looking into the truck and saying something like, “Some stupid bitch is letting all these cars through! Stupid goddamn tourists!”

Then, I made a decision.

“Screw this!” I said. Then I walked past those five or six cars in front of us. I walked up to that three-way stop, then I paused for a moment to observe exactly what was happening. What I saw infuriated me even further. Cars were coming up to the intersection, then simply driving through, taking up that lane that we needed for me to get home. My bleary, tired mind could find no reason for this.

Well, I wasn’t going to let this hold me up. I boldly walked right into the middle of the intersection, a dirty kid dressed in unlaced workboots, jeans, a t-shirt and a flannel lumberjacket (also known as a Kenora or Muskoka dinner jacket), hair wild and greasy, and an angry expression of hate for all things touristy.

Kenora dinner jacket

Kenora dinner jacket

I saw the next car about to pull out and into the intersection. I held my left hand up and stood in front of him. Then I turned around and, with my right hand, I pointed at the woman in the car sitting at the front of my line, then waved at her to proceed. I can still see her eyes, wide and staring at me. She did a small shake of her head, but I would not be denied.

“GO!” I roared.

She went. Then I turned and got the other guy to go. I basically directed traffic at that stop for the next minute or two until the pickup truck came into view. I waved him around the corner, then ran and dived into the bed.

A few minutes later I was home.

And then, as I came through the door, my mom said, “Oh, you’re home early. Did you run into that big funeral procession in town?”



Turns out a VIP in town had died while we were out getting soaked and drunk and singing In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida. And I came back to town just in time to make him late for his own funeral. Rush hour in the Garden of Eden.

I never ever told her what I did. But I remember there being a write up in the local paper a couple of days later about an “unknown person” that held up the procession.

Now, memory may be playing tricks on me here, because as far as I remember, it was our Member of Parliament, a man named Yakabuski, but I don’t think that’s right because the years are off. So, if anyone happens to know a bigwig that died in Barry’s Bay in the summer of 1980, let me know, huh?

And if you happen to be related to that person, I’m sorry.

God as my witness, I’d never really experienced a funeral procession before. Had no idea what headlights on in the middle of day meant.

Yes, I was a stupid kid.

But you know what? I probably wouldn’t be that upset if, at my own funeral–which I hope is not for many, many years–is held up by some ridiculous, impetuous teen. Because, I’d probably like that kid.


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