When customer service isn’t

It’s time to write about something other than death. I’m not sure when this blog became a sad tribute to those we have lost, but looking back, I’ve realized that five of my last six blogs are all about people who have died. So, on to other topics.

What I’d like to talk about today is customer service, or the lack thereof. From about 1988 straight through until about three years ago, so a solid twenty-four years, I was involved either directly or indirectly in providing service to customers. I was in retail camera sales, I worked for a small photocopying and print storefront, I addressed letters directed to Columbia House, and I worked both on the phones and as a manager to those on the phones at TELUS. I’ve trained people in customer service, and I’ve coached them.

All to say, I know what good service looks like, and I know what bad service looks like.

HOME DEPOT

We’ve had our ups and downs with Home Depot, but for the most part, they’ve been good. We’ve likely spent $15K with them over the years, from purchasing appliances, to the supplies to complete our basement, to services like getting our garage door replaced and our roof done.

About eight years ago, we paid a sizeable sum for them to replace the shingles on our roof. We were provided with a 10-year warranty on the labour and 25 years on the shingles. It was noted that we also had protection on our shingles for up to 115 km winds.

Back around mid-November, we experienced heavy winds one day and I was dismayed to find a couple of shingles from our roof sitting on the grass, obviously torn loose the previous night. We figured we’d have to go through home insurance, but pulled out the paperwork from Home Depot and reread the coverage. When I saw the wind thing, I went back and looked up the windspeed for the night in question. 82 km. Great, I thought, we’re covered.

So I called Home Depot’s customer service and explained my issue. At the same time, I figured I might as well get someone to check my eaves troughs for replacement. I was told that was two separate things, and that I would hear back on both within 48 hours. Of course, I heard back on the sales side in less than 24. He came, he quoted. Again, a couple thousand dollars, and I told him I’d discuss with my wife and call him back.

In the meantime, I waited for Home Depot to call back about the roof. Silence. After three days, I called again, explained the urgency about it, as a section of my roof was bare to the elements. The person acknowledged that, empathized, and swore someone would call within 48 hours. Four days later, I called again. Same acknowledgement, same empathy, same promise. Then it snowed. Fantastic. At that point, I took to Twitter and Facebook, outlining my issue.

It's sad when you have to shame a company to get them to respond to you.

It’s sad when you have to shame a company to get them to respond to you.

Within four hours, I’d gotten a call back. Funny what a public shaming will do, huh? Anyway, the guy was nice, and asked me to scan the docs and send them over to him. He called back the next day and the conversation when something like this:

HIM: So, I checked with someone else who knows more about this than me, and I’ve got an answer. It’s not often I win one of these, but this time I will.

ME: Okay.

HIM: The wind guarantee on those shingles is only five years. So, unfortunately, we can’t help you.

ME: But the paperwork says ten years.

HIM: I know. But if you go to the website for the shingle manufacturer, you’ll see, it plainly says five years. And since yours are eight years old…

ME: It may say that on the site, but wouldn’t I go by Home Depot’s paperwork?

HIM: No, we have to go by the manufacturer.

ME: Okay, well, I guess I can’t argue with you, can I?

HIM: Not really. It is what it is.

ME: Fine.

HIM: By the way, you aren’t going to write something else on Twitter or anything, are you?

ME: I guess not.

So now I had to contact another roofer, which turned out to be another Herculean task in Itself. In the end, it was the nephew of a writing friend that came and helped me out. It cost me $200. He was fast, he was courteous, and most of all, he gave a shit. And this wasn’t even his profession, he just had some skill, as he’d done it previously.

And those eaves troughs? Yeah, for the sake of a $200 repair, Home Depot lost that $2200 job, as well as all future business. No more appliances, no more home repair services, nothing.

And it wasn’t necessarily of hewing to the manufacturer’s warranty. I don’t necessarily like that, nor do I agree with it as it’s not spelled out (at least that I can find) on the paperwork.

No, the thing that will stop me from ever spending another cent with Home Depot was the statement, “I don’t normally win these things.” He looked at his company NOT helping a longtime customer as “winning.”

He’s got a skewed, fucked up idea of what the two words “customer” and “service” mean when pushed together.

Congrats, buddy. You won.

FUTURE SHOP

On the Saturday before Christmas, I checked online and found out Future Shop opened at 8:00 am. Fantastic. I had some running around to do, and had to be somewhere by 10, so I rushed over there, arriving at 8:12. Surprisingly, for the last Saturday before Christmas, the place was quiet. All the better.

I walked purposefully over to the Apple section and found the computer I needed to buy. Then I looked for a salesperson to help me. There was no one.

I walked into the next section. “Can you help me?” I asked. I was told that laptops weren’t his section, and he went back to whatever he was doing. No offer to find the right person. I went back and fiddled with the laptop for a bit, figuring someone would show up to see if I had any questions.

At 8:20, I went over to the service counter and asked if there was anyone working in the laptop section. I was told Jeff should be there. The woman I talked to at least offered to find him. So, I went back to the laptop again.

At 8:25, I went back to the service counter again. “Jeff still isn’t there?” she said. I told her he was not. I told her that the easiest $2000 sale they were going to make that day was going to walk out of the store in two minutes if someone didn’t show up. The other guy behind the counter said he’d help.

I showed him the computer and he retrieved it. As he was about to punch it in, a guy I could only presume was Jeff came waddling up, coffee cup in hand, in absolutely no hurry, even though he’d left his entire area of business empty for almost a quarter of an hour. He couldn’t have been on break, because the store had only been open for a half-hour. “Guess I got here a little late,” he said.

“I guess you did,” I said. “I was going to walk out.”

So, now the sale was turned over to PolkarooJeff.

Polkaroo! Where are you?

Polkaroo! Where are you?

He then tried to sell me an extended warranty package that was about 20% of the cost of the machine…on sale. I told him I didn’t think so, but that I knew the drill and had 30 days to get it after the purchase. He told me that wasn’t the case anymore, that the warranty had to be on the same receipt as the purchase. So it had to be purchased now or never. I said, fine, forget the warranty then. I’d already had a bad experience with a previous Future Shop warranty that ended up costing me $700, so I figured I’d take my chances.

He wrung up the purchase, I paid, and he handed me the receipt. Then he said, “Make sure you hold on to that, because if you change your mind about the warranty, we can return the purchase and then just re-sell the laptop with the extended warranty anytime within the next thirty days.”

“So you totally lied to me earlier when you said it was now or never,” I said.

“Well, no,” he said.

“Well, yeah,” I said. “You show up late, almost lose the sale for the store, get someone else to do the work, then lie to the customer, then collect your commission.”

“No, that’s not…”

“I’m done with you,” I said, and walked out of the store.

The sad thing is, I can’t even go to Best Buy, because they’re owned by the same damn company. And I won’t even go into the bullshit we went through with them last Christmas.

But I’m done with Future Shop. I’ll take my business to any other electronics place I can find. Again, a customer that’s likely dropped in the tens of thousands of dollars with your company.

BELL

On January 1st, our modem died, taking away all internet to our house. I called Bell customer service, who took me through some troubleshooting steps that I’d already told him I’d gone through, but, no big deal, I get it. He has to do his due diligence. He quickly determines that the modem is dead. “Okay,” he says. “We’ll send you out a new one.”
“When will that get here?” I said. “Because both my wife and I work from home, and we rely on the internet, so we really need it up and running no later than Sunday.”

“It will get there tomorrow, Friday, January 2nd,” he says.

“That seems awfully quick, especially at this time of year,” I say, but he assures me it will be here by tomorrow. Fair enough.

At two o’clock the next day, I phone Bell and tell them the modem they promised for today has not yet shown up. The person then runs me through the exact same troubleshooting on my modem as the person did yesterday. I put up with it. Then I give them the tracking number for the new modem and they tell me it will be three to five business days, which means somewhere between Tuesday and Thursday of the following week. I explain that that’s not acceptable, based on what I was promised the day before. I can almost hear the shrug of her shoulders all the way from India or the Phillipines or wherever the hell she is. So, it’s left up to me to then do the problem solving. I suggest that they can perhaps use a different courier and overnight it? No, that can’t be done. I suggest we can go to the nearest Bell store and pick up the modem, and bring the other one back when it’s received. No, that’s impossible.

How is that impossible?

Anyway, she’s doing nothing for me, except shutting me down, so I hang up. My wife says, “You want me to call? Wanna sic the pitbull on them?” I agree, then leave the room, because I’ve seen her in action. She’s not mean with the agents, as she understands they’re often handcuffed by procedure, but she’s tenacious, and it’s often painful to watch as she lovingly flays their logic, strip by strip.

Almost two hours later, I finally hear her hang up. I go back up, and she relates the entire sordid story. She moved up the chain from first level care all the way to Executive Level complaints. She had a manager actually hang up on her partway through the ordeal.

It really is

It really is

And this is what I need to point out: the ordeal. A company’s product doesn’t work. A promise is made to replace it within 24 hours, then that promise is rescinded and the customer is told there’s nothing the company can do. My wife heard that comment several times through the two hours.

Interestingly, as she was telling me all this, the phone rings. It’s a woman named Asia from Bell and she’s calling to set up a tech service call for tomorrow, Saturday. Did I want it between noon and six, or six and ten? I chose the earlier one, and didn’t say anything about how my wife had suggested this very solution quite a while ago and was told it was impossible. I did ask if this would cost us anything, and was told it would not. I confirmed that again.

The next day, at 11:00, so even earlier than promised, a great tech guy, nice as anything, showed up, replaced the modem, improved the connection, and left me with a smile.

So, why did my wife have to argue, berate, badger and beg for two hours, only to be told it was all impossible, when it obviously was possible? That’s the problem here.

And in the case of Bell, don’t get me wrong. Overall, Bell is a pretty good company. And I can’t say I haven’t experienced a similar level of frustration with my own company at times. And, of the three examples above, only Bell stepped up, clued in, and fixed the issue. So, good for them.

My point here is, outline a process for the agents to confidently make decisions on the company’s behalf to keep the customer happy while not giving away the store. I know customers still run on the misguided and completely erroneous guideline that “the customer is always right.” That’s bullshit. I know customers will often try and take a company for every penny they can. But an agent should also be able to look at a long-standing customer’s file, their purchase history (are you listening, Home Depot?) and make a quick, educated decision on whether that customer is trying to soak you, or they are simply frustrated and trying to get some answers. I don’t care if it’s Home Depot, Future Shop, Bell, TELUS, or any of the other customers that want your repeat business.

I mentioned I used to do training for customer service. One of the first questions I asked my agents was, who are we in competition with? They would quickly answer all the other companies that share our particular industry. I would tell them there’s more. Who are they? Eventually, I would give them the answer. As a company that offers customer service, we are in competition with every single other company that offers customer service. Banks, car dealerships, phone companies, furniture stores…all of them. The ones that do it well will win the loyalty of the customer. The ones that do it poorly will lose it.

It takes years to build loyalty. It takes one bad experience to lose it.

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A quiet nobility

Last night, we got the call we knew was coming, but didn’t ever want to get: Marilyn was gone.

Marilyn was my mother-in-law, mother to Kim, Chris and my wife, Karen, and married to Bill Richardson for over five decades. It’s easy to sum her up by the numbers. Mother of three, grandmother of six, wife of 54 years… but that’s not a fair or accurate assessment.

I met Marilyn back when I was about seventeen. I’d gone to school with her oldest daughter, Kim and had stopped by their house with a friend. I know I met her then, but I have no memory of it.

But if we skip ahead ten more years, that’s when I had started dating Karen, the middle child and Kim’s only sister. I was a cocky ass back in those days–something that hasn’t changed much in the intervening twenty-five years–and I met Marilyn again, for the first time.

I remember a few things about that meeting. Her friendliness, her openness, her immediate acceptance of this gangly, long-haired smartass…even when I found out she didn’t like the word “snot” and I then used it about twenty times. That was the first time I saw the look.

She got this look when someone would rib her about something. She’d set her mouth in a way that was somehow grim and yet smiling all at the same time. Her eyes would dance with a playful light, and the entire thing came together in an enjoy this now, because I’m so gonna get you later look.

She rarely did, but still, the look was delightful and terrifying. Because there was always that question of, what if she actually does get me later?

There was one time however, when she was quite proud of herself. Karen and I were over at her parents’ place and, as usual, I was being a smartass with Marilyn. To be honest, it was something the two of us shared, easily and comfortably. She was always content to be my straight man, and I loved her for it. Anyway, this particular time, I said something to get her goat, and she responded, uncharacteristically, with something like, “You better watch out, mister. I’ll get you for that.” This, of course, accentuated with her sharply pointing finger.

Of course I laughed it off.

We got home, and I got a case of the annoying ahems. This turned into a bit of a cough, and by morning, I had, for the one and only time in my life, a case of laryngitis. I couldn’t speak.

And when Karen called her mother to let her know, Marilyn was delighted, insisting it was her that put the whammy on me. You’ve got to admit, when I’m sassing her, the best revenge would be to steal my voice. She never forgot that, even though it was almost twenty-five years in the past, and she still threatened me with it every so often. And somehow, for all my bluster, it would tend to shut me up.

What I remember most about Marilyn was her mannerisms. I’ve already mentioned the look. I was the recipient of that many, many times. But there was also her true don’t mess with me look, that would come out when she related a story about a teacher being unfair to one of her kids, or any other injustice that she had to deal with. Marilyn never looked like a badass, but she definitely could be. It was obvious that there was a badassery about her. That was one look I never wanted directed my way and, thankfully, it never was.

There was that aforementioned wagging finger. She often told a story, and when she was ready to make her point, or give us the punchline of the story, she’d take a breath, pop the finger and start it with something like, “and you know…”

She also had this expression that she’d pop out as much as she did the finger. It became one of my catchphrases to throw back at her on occasion. She’d say, “Now, I’m not trying to be smart, but…” I loved that expression, and I hope she hears it when I use it going forward.

And then there were the birthdays. Whether it was one of her kids, the spouses of her kids, or her grand kids, she never forgot a birthday, and you could count on a call on your special day with her grinning rendition of the Happy Birthday song, all the way through, and sung loud and proud.

With her in the hospital this year, this was the first birthday since I was 26 that I didn’t hear that song. As delightfully torturous as it was to receive, I missed it horribly, and I’ll miss it until the end of my days.

Again, these are just small glimpses into the who Marilyn was. While she wasn’t always happy, having moods and bad days like the rest of us, she always seemed like a happy person. She enjoyed her kids, she enjoyed her grand kids even more. There were times when I know she didn’t have a bloody clue what they were talking about, but she was always interested, always delighted to spend time with them, and she would talk about it for hours and days later. She was proud of their accomplishments and she never missed a significant event in any of my kids’ lives. She seemed to soak up their youthful energy and radiate it back.

She was godawful horrible on a computer. I can’t tell you how many times I walked her through bringing back an icon that she’d inadvertently deleted, or navigating to a website, or showing her how to delete email. But for all of that, she never gave up, she never stopped trying, because her computer provided a window into the lives of those she loved. And though it could be frustrating for me to go through this, her gratitude afterward always made me feel guilty for ever being frustrated. And again, I’d give anything today to get one of those calls from her.

Even though I came into the picture after all this had passed, I know she was active in the schools her kids went to, and she made her home open to all the friends of her kids. I’m still friends with some of them today and they all have fond, warm memories of her.

And I can’t write about Marilyn without talking about her fifty-four year marriage to her husband, Bill. They’ve had a good marriage. They raised three great kids and watched them all become successful and happy. They’ve seen their grand kids grow up and become good people as well. They’ve traveled, in the last couple of decades heading down to Florida. They usually left in late September, and heading home before Christmas, with the long-running joke that they had to leave the country before my birthday in early October. So, yes, Marilyn could be a smartass when she wanted to be too.

But I’ve watched Bill and Marilyn closely over the past quarter-century. Yes, they’ve had their fights as all married couples do, but when it came right down to it, for all their differences, these two people became one. They had many of the same interests, enjoyed the same things, while still being very much their own people. Marilyn had her Young and the Restless, Bill had his fishing. Marilyn would play Wheel of Fortune on the computer, Bill would putter in his garage. They knew how to be together, and they knew when the other needed their space. But when they were together, they doted on each other, worried about each other, even told stories together, sometimes switching off between one another, sometimes talking over each other in their excitement to get the story out. That always left me wondering exactly who to look at. As far as I’m concerned, they had a wonderful, loving, caring marriage. I can only hope my own is as successful and long-running as theirs.

I was talking with a friend the other day about how Marilyn was doing. And the friend remarked that in all the time we’d known them, about eighteen years, they had never, not once, heard us say anything cross about Marilyn. She’d never said anything catty about anyone, she’d never gotten involved in drama or family politics, she’d never stuck her nose in where it wasn’t welcomed and didn’t belong. She never fought with anyone.

She was nothing less than kind, supportive, warm and loving. She was a woman of quiet nobility and understated support. She was always there if you needed her, but she’d never overstep her bounds.

She was a loving mother and grandmother, a good friend and a devoted wife and she was, in her own way, quietly extraordinary.

She was, on paper, my mother-in-law, but she was so much more to me. She was a friend, a sparring partner, my straight man, my biggest fan and a staunch supporter for anything I attempted. I know there was a couple of times when I inadvertently made her cry and I regret those with all my heart and soul. But there was other times when I made her laugh, sometimes wildly and unabashedly, and for those, I’m truly grateful. I’m glad that somehow, in my own clumsy way, I was able to bring some joy to her life.

She was my mother too, and I loved her. And I always will.

Nobody could ask for more than what you achieved in life, Marilyn: You were well loved. And you will be missed by anyone that knew you.

Goodbye Marilyn.

Bill & Marilyn

When laughter gets swallowed by the dark

So sad when the demons win. Connie Di Pietro-Sparacino

The creative mind houses all manner of demons, but those of a comedian have sharper teeth it seems. What a terrible loss. Dale Long


Robin WilliamsI remember it vividly, even though it was thirty-four years ago. It was the morning of December 9, 1980, a Tuesday, just like today.

And like today, that long-ago Tuesday was a supremely sad one. I heard from the announcer on the radio that John Lennon had died the night before. And my world changed.

I couldn’t imagine a world without John Lennon in it. Truth be told, thirty-four years later, I still can’t.

Last night, I picked up my phone, logged into Facebook and read

Jesus. Robin Williams died of an apparent suicide.

His family… Wow… I can’t deal with this right now.

And my world changed. Again.

In this day and age, it doesn’t take long to determine the deeper story. It’s one we’ve heard many times. A celebrity, seemingly someone who has it all: wealth, a rewarding career, a loving family, adoring fans…but is dogged by something darker. Addictions. Depression.

Robin Williams, the man that could make almost anyone laugh, couldn’t find enough light in the world to carry on. I can’t imagine that. I can’t conceive of it. Just like I can’t imagine a world without him.

Many celebrities die. God knows we lose enough that there’s website devoted to tracking the latest one to go. And each time, we shake our heads and say, “Gone too soon. So sad. What a waste.” And it’s the case here too.

Right now, I’m sad. I’m hurting. I’m grieving as though this was someone I knew all my life. In a way I did, if only through the television and movie screens.

But most of all, I’m angry. I’m pissed right off.

The difference for me, I guess, is the person. In this case, Robin Williams. He wasn’t just a movie star. He wasn’t just a comedian. It wasn’t a job for him, it wasn’t his career. It was encoded into him. Whether he was on stage, performing for thousands, or standing face to face with one other person, he was always on. He saw the world differently from the rest of us. His brain worked differently from ours.

You could see it in his improv, especially when he shared the stage with someone else. If that other person was smart, they’d simply get out of the way and let Robin go. Because his mind was a finely tuned machine. He made connections where most of us saw nothing. He found humour where there was none to be found. He turned his performance into an Olympic-calibre sport. And no one could touch him.

But, of course, there was the dark side. He had his demons, like the rest of us. But some of us have bigger demons than others, ones that whisper in their ear constantly, always trying to get them into a room alone so they can hammer and beat them down. And there’s no escaping that demon. Many find a way to deal with it, but it never goes away.

Unfortunately, Robin’s demon finally gained the upper hand. A horrible, devastating way for a man that brought joy to an entire world to go.

He’s not the first to commit suicide. Or suffer from addictions. Or depression. He won’t, unfortunately, be the last.

A very smart man that I know once told me that anxiety and depression often affects the highly intelligent simply because they’re capable of reasoning out all the bad things that can happen. They can see the deeper levels of the world and be affected by them, instead of bumbling along, blissfully unaware, thinking all is wonderful.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying all happy people are stupid. They absolutely are not. And I think any of us would trade places with a perennially happy person.

I’m also not saying that those that are not as intelligent can’t suffer from depression. I know they can, I know they do.

All I’m saying is, I’ve seen a great many very intelligent people–those people who should “know better” and that should “snap themselves out of it” –dealing with depression and thoughts of inferiority and unworthiness.

All I’m saying is, we’re all worthy of being happy. Of not feeling inferior.

Ed Kurtz, a great man and gifted writer, said something profound in his blog yesterday. He said

ya’ll have only the very best intentions when you implore sufferers of depression to “reach out” or “seek help.” I appreciate that deeply and I can see how kind your heart is to make that statement. The trouble with this sentiment is that people like me don’t always know how, or don’t believe at a given moment that we can, or don’t even want to. We withdraw. We get trapped in our heads. We slink off into the ouroboros of our own solitude.

And, even though I have quite a few loved ones that suffer from depression, I was one of those kind-hearted fools. He’s right, of course. If Robin Williams could have reached out, I’m sure he would have. Instead, he withdrew. He got trapped in his head. He got lost. And we lost him.

I know Ed is right, because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the cries for help. I saw someone cry out on Facebook and no one picked up on it. I went to my wife and pointed out the post. She agreed it was a cry for help. And she was able to help in some small way.

But what if no one had noticed? I’ve lost cousins and friends and, I’m guessing, my father, because no one noticed. Or didn’t notice enough.

So I’m begging you. If you notice something that’s off with someone you love, ask. And keep asking until you’re satisfied. They might reach out if they need help, but if you reach out to them, it just might show them that whispering bitch of a demon is wrong and there is someone who cares. That there is a reason to push that demon aside one more time.

And for God’s sake, and for the sake of your loved ones, don’t treat someone with depression as a pariah. You wouldn’t push them away if they got sick, would you? Well, that’s what this is, it’s a sickness that’s harder to see, but just as real.

I am, by nature, a somewhat optimistic cynic. I expect the worst, but hope for the best, I guess. But there’s no upside to what happened last night…unless we can somehow lift the shroud and expose these demons to the light of day.

Robin Williams

Robin Williams not only made people laugh, he helped people. He helped Christopher Reeve after his accident. He did what he could to cheer the cast of Schindler’s List as they reenacted one of the darkest moments in mankind’s history.

Let’s try and turn this terrible loss into something that means something. Let Robin Williams be the face and the voice of those who find the courage to laugh in the face of depression.

And if you need help, try to fight it long enough to reach out.
Suicide Prevention – Find a Centre

Robin

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?”

What?

WHAT?

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.