Looking down at the blood-smeared counter; I was repelled by what dripped from Skinigin’s tobacco-stained fingers. Was this really necessary? The old fisherman was too drunk to roll his mangled “makins” so I handed him a tailor-made and ushered him to the nearby bench. Thankfully, the tire bell’s call drew me out to the gas pumps where another intoxicated smoker was attempting to shorten his life by reaching for the self-serve nozzle with a lit smoke dangling from his lips. “No, no Malky; please don’t do that. Just go over and sit down-I’ll get it. How much do you need?”
This scripted formality was one of our little rituals because every three days; he obsessively purchased ten dollars worth of regular gas for his battered pickup. The last time this happened, he tripped over the hose and sent gas spraying into his car and all over his girlfriend and himself. I have no idea how the deadly fluid missed his lit cigarette.
As I stood pumping fuel into the dry tank of his vehicle, I suddenly remembered that today was a provincial election day. This work day would be a freak show but I secretly relished the lunacy because my job at Cyril’s Garage was the envy of my teen-aged peers. I think I owed my position more to religion than mechanical talent since Cyril and I were members of St. Belial’s Parish. I guess he figured a pure Catholic boy could be trusted but the situation later reminded me of the Biblical tale of the foolish man who hired a stranger passing by. While I was more interested in guitars than cars; I did appreciate the social utility of the automobile and acquired a driver’s license at the earliest opportunity. On the bumpy road to that accomplishment; I aged my Uncle Alec at least 10 years.
I finished pumping Malky’s gas and re-entered the station to ring up his purchase on the primitive cash register. I then turned my attention to Jerry Weeden’s muddy truck. My co-worker John McNeil and I had recently faced a major shit-storm for forgetting to wash another muddy truck so I was determined to avoid a repeat. Besides that, Jerry was a little crazy and while generally genial; was also capricious. I turned on the hose and directed the warm jets over the crusted length of the truck prior to soaping and scrubbing the filthy thing. “At the car wash, yeah-you can pay the fool!” That stupid song entered my head as I applied the soapy sponge to the entire surface of the vehicle. At least Jerry didn’t smoke. The local native Chief, Donald H. Goo-goo; smoked so much in his big Dodge that we had to use a whole can of Windex on the interior windows; caked as they were with a thick layer of tobacco tar. Donald was a good guy, though; and not a bad goalie. Finally I was done, and without interruptions. I was known to turn the hose on kids who overstayed their welcome in the grimy old edifice. Not very nice; I know, but I had suffered the same fate.
Now to move the clean rig outside to the parking area. Climbing into the cab; I gunned the engine and waited for John to raise the rolling door. He had just arrived for the second shift and I anticipated an evening of merriment in his company. Unfortunately, John directed a jet of hose water at my closed window just as I was passing through the door. Distracted, I winced at the sickening sound of the oversized rearview mirror ripping out of its door moorings with a metallic shriek. “Oh man, he’ll kill us! I hope he’s drunk today.” John was doubled over in laughter, obviously ferociously stoned on the killer weed we found under the seat of the freshly-washed RCMP cruiser drying in the parking lot. RCMP “carwash salvage” was one of the secret fringe benefits of working at Cyril’s. Frightened arrestees were forever shoving their dope under the rear seats of the police cars. I had performed this subtle maneuver at least once and always wondered why the cops never searched their own cars. We regularly harvested high quality weed and hash but said nothing lest the original owners attempt repossession of their abandoned stashes. We were always bemused when a gracious Mountie offered us a modest tip for our services. We felt like that guy in the country song who had his marijuana fields burned by the police. He sang, “But I didn’t mind and waved goodbye; sitting on my sack of seeds.”
John and I loved election days since; as Cyril’s pump jockeys, we enjoyed front row seats for the day’s inevitable shenanigans. The event was really just a huge drunk fest, since the incumbent Tory Sangster Swann was almost guaranteed re-election for all the wrong reasons. He more or less owned the riding and was a consummate master of palm-greasing and glad-handing. Swann had once attempted to help one of his friends cheat my uncle Felix in a land deal. That little episode destroyed my youthful faith in politicians and inspired my habitual cynicism.
Sangster’s flunky, Danny MacPhee; was kept busy all day distributing quarts and pints of liquid persuasion from the trunk of his car. If the Liquor Store manager was aware of this ugliness; he said nothing as he was in no position to protest. He, like most provincial employees; owed his job security to the whims of the province’s ruling party. These people and their minions were known to execute blatant acts of retaliation against the disobedient.
As an illustration of the Maritime patronage game; I offer this anecdote for the reader’s amusement. Upon turning 19, I approached Buddy Bartlett; the local Liquor Store manager to request a job application for part-time work. I had ambitions of securing employment at the county’s most profitable retail establishment but realpolitik intervened when Buddy said, “Happy birthday, Joel. You can’t have the application until I know you have the job. You’ll have to go see Danny.” Being naïve I initially protested but then the situation became clear. Sangster Swann was the real manager of the Liquor Store. Buddy just counted the bottles. Since my parents were on the wrong side of politics; knew I was sunk so I bought a symbolic pint of rum and exited the store to drown my sorrows. It was OK though; I would work at the garage until next July and then take a summer job as a lifeguard at the beach down the coast. Now there were some real socializing possibilities.
As mentioned before, I think Cyril l had hired me mainly for my trusty Catholicism and the supposed moral uprightness of our shared faith. Already a seasoned traveler on debauchery road; at Cyril’s I embraced a higher level of personal corruption and dissolution. We were permitted to drink and read Penthouse at work although Cyril didn’t approve of marijuana. As well, the premises were open for late night socializing
and certain initiation rituals. Surrounded by older men of the world; John and I served our bad boy apprenticeships with gleeful enthusiasm. Beyond the fun, we actually did our jobs fairly well and enjoyed interacting with the public.
John and I dreaded the return of Jerry Weeden; he of the squeaky clean but mangled rearview mirror. However, Jerry; an old friend of my father, arrived drunk on Tory rum and casually excused my crime with a boozy laugh and a wave of his huge lumberjack paw. I later worked for this man and was constantly amazed that any human being could consume as much rum as he did without rapidly losing all control of their personal affairs. His crew of Black Pointers and imported Newfie woodsman were kept in line by Jerry’s trollish girlfriend and her frying pan.
Upon Jerry’s departure we returned to our duties. Just then, the Madman entered the reception area wearing the huge black sunglasses that hid the massive shiner he had recently received from our avuncular but very tough mechanic Bryce Mackenzie.
When the Madman approached and asked us for a drink; we told him to vote Tory. The ill-tempered tool mumbled an epithet and shuffled back to his work in the mechanic’s pit.
Davis Acker had earned the Madman sobriquet after being arrested for wildly circumnavigating the RCMP detachment in his hotrod. Two days ago; Acker had made the drunken mistake of leaving his car on the hoist after he passed out. When Bryce tried to remove it for his work, Acker swung wildly at him and received a richly-deserved shot in the head.
“I have an idea, John. Let’s steal the rum from Danny’s car and spike the bottles with laxative. That’ll get them stinking as well as stinking drunk! What do you think?”
MacNeil was always game for mischief and readily agreed to the scheme. “Yeah, Sangster will blame the sabotage on the other candidates. I just saw Danny go by so we’ll have to wait until he goes to the Liquor Store for another supply, I’ll call Ray. He lives up there and I’ll have him watch for Danny’s car and call us here when he sees it. Ray is good. He’ll want to know but that’s OK. I’d love to put the gears to Sangster and I’m not the only one. God knows what he’s secretly done over the years. I bet we’ll get away with this.”
Since Cyril’s closed at five that day; we stood a good chance of catching the bagman with a trunk full of hooch. It being three o’clock; we still had two hours to plan our little scheme. The tire bell rang to interrupt us and an old truck pulled up to the bay doors beeping its tired horn. Two ragged “back to the landers” emerged and the older one said, “Hey man, can I borrow a blow torch? My gas cap is rusted in place.” Controlling our mirth, we told the stoner we would lend him the torch if he parked his truck out at the end of the government wharf before he lit the propane. Sudden realization dawned on his vacant features and the fellow declared, “Oh, right man. Ha Ha. I guess I’m pretty messed up to think that.” We fixed the problem with Liquid Wrench and sent “Cheech and Chong” on their way.
“Let’s call Danny with a request that he visit to some Tory-heavy location and we’ll do our thing while he’s inside. One of the many skills we had developed at Cyril’s was a method of opening locked vehicles with a set of smooth hacksaw blades much like those employed by car thieves. This technique had saved us much embarrassment since we suffered from the distracted habit of locking customer’s key’s inside their cars. “We will steal the rum and replace it with our special blend. The only complication will be knowing how many bottles he has and whether they’re pints or quarts. That’s where Ray will come in. He’ll scoot over to the Liquor Store and spy out Danny’s purchases. Then he’ll call us here. We’ll have to buy a case of quarts and a case of pints immediately and that means you going to East Sydley. If you leave now in that guy’s Porsche you can be back in 90 minutes. He’s won’t be back for a week and I’ll cover for you here. I’ll say you had to take the Porsche for a test drive before we give it back. Cyril will be drinking today and the story just might work. Anyway, we have little choice. You go now.”
John gleefully jumped in the sleek sports car as I opened the big sliding door and he proceeded to the highway by the back streets of Giscook wearing a ball cap and oversize sunglasses. The game was afoot and we could temporarily stash the booze in one of the myriad hidey holes that often contained a variety of contraband.
We chose a perfect hiding place for the rum in one of the coffins upstairs. Our body man; Sonny Ross used the shop to repaired used coffins for his father’s funeral home. I was always disturbed by the concept of used coffins especially when I remember the time Cyril tried to have me induce his funeral-phobic sister to pass through the darkened, coffin-filled body shop on her way to the garage office. The idea was that I turn on the lights and give her a scare. I couldn’t be a party to this macabre Halloween prank and excused myself. It was bad enough that she had caught us watching porno on an old 8 mm screen the month before. My luck had already been pushed to the breaking point.
Next, I put in a call to the local drug store and asked for Waldo Christmas. Waldo was our school mate and a real character. His worked in his brother’s drug store and would likely give me what I needed to complete the scheme. Waldo was no fan of politicos and was an ardent devotee of juvenile mischief. Thankfully, the man himself answered, sparing me the bother of subterfuge and I said, “Waldo, bring me a bottle of hospital-grade laxative and a package of hypodermic needles. Exlax won’t suffice.” Over-riding his sputtering questions, I continued. “No, don’t ask. You’ll have to steal them. Yes, steal them and bring them to Cyril’s as soon as you can. I’ll explain later and I’ll make it worth your while. I’m sure you understand.”
Fifteen minutes later Waldo entered the garage and handed me a brown paper bag. While shaking his hand I slipped him a foil packet containing a certain leafy substance and I told him he would have to wait for answers and that future events might negate the necessity of questions. “Don’t worry, Waldo, you’re doing a good thing,” I assured him as our co-conspirator exited the garage and meandered up the street to the drug store. Waldo was a past master of the five finger discount; owing little allegiance to the unpleasantness that was his older brother Jimmy.
We decided that voice disguise was required for the success of our venture and I began practicing my Charlie MacGoogal accent. I was certain I could lure Danny to the old apartment building above the Co-op store where many “Rum Tories”, Charlie MacGoogal chief among them; would eagerly trade their votes for free liquor.
The hallways and staircases of this rambling old structure would detain Danny long enough for us to open his trunk and do the switch. Since the polls would close soon after Ray called us; we hoped that Danny’s final liquor run would include plenty of extra bottles for the inevitable victory party. Thankfully, the old blowhard was one of the few locals to have a car phone and we knew the number; having washed recently washed his vehicle.
I picked up the jangling garage phone rang and found Ray on the other end with news that Danny had just pulled into the liquor store. It was now or never. “Stay on the line, Ray and listen to this,” I said. Picking up the other phone, I dialed Danny’s car phone and shouted into the receiver like the deaf old man I was imitating. “Danny boy, is dat you? Bring some over to the apartment, quick. We did right. OK, boy. We’ll wait; you’ll have to go to all the doors on the first floor, two on the second and tree at the top. You know who, right? Dat’s great, boy. See you soon. Oh, yeah. Bring some pop,” I said as MacGoogal. “Pretty good, aye, Ray? Thanks, man!” I said before putting down the second telephone. Just then, John pulled into the station and jumped out of the Porsche with a grin. ”I got it all; are we in business?” He asked breathlessly. “My conspiratorial look told all and we quickly took the cases to the back of the garage where I injected each bottle with a good dose of the clear, tasteless laxative and gave them all a good shake. After secretly loading our truck inside the bay doors; we locked the garage and roared off to the assignation.
After a brief drive we spotted Danny’s Ford parked behind the old apartments in the sheltered spot we had hoped for. Pulling in behind him; we checked the upper story windows for watchers and proceed to jimmy open the trunk of his big car. A few tense moment’s work rewarded our efforts and we quickly effected the switch; actually adding 10 extra pints to the collection. Danny, half-drunk himself by now; would never know the difference. With the trunk quietly closed; we hopped back in our truck with Danny’s clean rum in the box.
“The polls close soon and then its party time for the local Tories. Well, party time for everyone, really. Us too, but not until we see the fruits of our labor.” I said to John.
“I think that stuff takes about an hour to work and I put a triple dose in each bottle. I hope no one gets hurt.” MacNeil said, “Don’t worry about that.” I said.” Most of these people have been constipated for most of their lives anyway. We’re doing them a big favor.”
Another hour found us on the roof of the local fire hall; passing a joint back and forth and cooling our throats with shots of straight rum as we peered through the dirty window and waited for the festivities to begin. John suppressed a giggle as he looked over at me and his look said everything. We were about to score a major coup against the pompous bozos who had been treating the county as their private fiefdom for as long as we could remember. While tonight’s doings wouldn’t change that; what passed for Tory dignity was about to take a pasting. Putting cardboard sheeting on the gravel surface under the windows; we knelt close for a better view and suddenly noticed the shiny red faces of the celebrants begin to exhibit signs of ill-ease which were soon replaced by panic and the comedic gyrations of people badly in need of “the facilities.”
John clicked on the camcorder and we were in business. Unfortunately for the celebrants; there were only two bathrooms in the place and we had barred all the doors from the outside. By the time they were forced open all would be over.
John opened the titling window for sound effects and we actually heard a loud intestinal gurgle from twenty feet below as defeated candidate Duane Holly emitted an agonized moan and ran for the men’s room; shoving drunk Tories aside in his mad rush to avoid embarrassment. He never made it and a huge, stinking mess poured out of his pant leg and coated the floor with putrid filth. Mortified, but too drunk to be coordinated; he lurched for the exit but tripped and rolled in his own foulness.
At this point; the great man himself, Sangster Swann, mounted the stage in a vain attempt to restore order; instead simultaneously puked and shit his pants. Pandemonium erupted; with some men and women darting for the overloaded bathrooms while others pounded and pulled at the locked doors. Others were tearing at the small windows and attempting to shove their bulk through the openings. One fat lady in particular remained stuck in the window as a liquid mess soaked the back of her white dress while her friend pulled on her feet to free her.
Other celebrants were squatting in corners and under tables in a scatological bacchanal of repulsive proportions. Danny MacPhee himself suffered a severe loss of personal dignity while engaging in a heroic attempt to tear open the back door. Instead, a hot jet of filth erupted from his nether regions, soaking his trousers and shoes as he stood helplessly cursing his unknown tormentors, “Those fucking Socialists did this or the God Damn Communists. This is war. I’ll kill every one of those bastards!!”
It sickens me to continue so I’ll leave the rest of the sordid details to the reader’s imagination. We were never caught and we subsequently sold the footage to a number of interested parties. Of course, the legend of that night’s event continues to evolve; as legends do. I know it’s been said before; but, isn’t politics a shitty business?