Tuesday, March 12, 2013

See Monsters

            Mid-winter 1957 brought heavy precipitation to the Wingham area. Extending north, well past the tree line and down into Southern Ontario, the cold of this Canadian reality covered the fields and roads with proverbial blankets of snow. At 18 years of age, Ivan found himself defying the season and heading out into the storm. He had prepared the day ahead for his journey, filling the gas tank and checking the engine in order to avoid any complications along the way. His black Volkswagen Beetle had made the trip to Toronto several times before. He left his parents’ farm, believing the white curtain of  falling snow had dissipated, at least long enough to make a good start.
            His sister Joyce lived in the metropolitan Toronto area with her new family. Although the travelling might not have been as favourable as he would have liked it to be, he knew the way and that would have to do. He left Wingham behind him and travelled south on Country Road 86, cutting east on County Road 178 towards Newmarket, Markham and eventually the big city. Just west of Orangeville, it began to snow again. With country music on the radio and condensation forming on the rounds of the windows, he drove on. It was a heavy storm and he was glad that he did not have to be walking in it, facing the roar. 
            It wasn't bravery, or even stupidity, that made him stop for two hitchhikers. With frozen thumbs begging for comfort, they lingered on the side of the road.  He knew what it was like to be abandoned to this kind of nature, standing while praying that a ride might come along. His compassion had him pull over and welcome them into reprieve. They looked like regular joes, and seemed friendly as they thawed in the heat of a German-built sanctuary. Ivan thought to himself how odd it was for a pair of men to be out in this weather. From the looks of them, they were ill prepared for a blizzard. 
            North Bay is a lovely place to visit, but I wouldn't want to be kidnapped and forcibly taken there, no matter the season. If the car had not run out of gas, there is no telling what might have happened. The distance north, and banishment to the back seat, made for uneasy travelling. Little was said as they took control and forced him down into the rear of the vehicle. The black vessel became a prison, and a trip to Toronto turned into a journey into fear. In North Bay, just before the attendant pumped gas into the car, Ivan managed to escape and find a telephone at the adjacent garage. Before the days of 9-1-1,  explaining what had happened seemed almost as long as the ordeal. Eventually, the police arrived and held both culprits to determine what had occurred.  
            A modern tale might find both men imprisoned for their actions, but in the 1950s, the cops let them both go without so much as a ticket. If the police had their way, they would have charged Ivan with picking up hitchhikers. The end of the misadventure found him stranded in a strange city, with an empty tank of gas and freedom, sweet freedom. Any money he had brought with him was in the hands of his attackers, with no one to help him get it back. A call home and a $15.00 transfer managed to fill that tank of gas and returned him to Wingham. Despite the inaction of the police officers, the Wingham Advanced Times reported "local man kidnapped."

My Dad has never picked up a hitchhiker since.

            Monique was cute at first, and her long black hair and French appearance only added to the illusion. We became fast friends and decided to find a place where we could live together. Even though we had only met, we took rooms in the same house, along with 3 other students. Radio Broadcasting seems to attract the strangest and most unique of personalities into the fold. As a first year student of the art, I too was burdened with distinctive qualities, but I tried desperately to hide them. Five roommates got along well enough and familiarity eventually led to party mania. I was always good at throwing a wild shindig. Food fights, Win Lose or Draw on the walls, and blind hedonism always made for the most thrilling of events. The next day, it was hard enough to remember the night before without having to attend a class on Radio Programming.
            In trying to appease the second year students, and kiss some major ass, Monique and I decided to have a gathering for all the Radio scholars. The evening would have been well worth a ticket to see. From turning my cat Opus into an alcoholic, a visit by the police and a 13 foot Opus the penguin, from Bloom County, drawn to perfection across my bedroom wall, it was historic in its debauchery. Come Monday morning, it was not a challenge to find someone still recovering from Saturday night. By the lunch hour, it was clear our plan had worked. It's interesting how puke and unlimited weed can bring a people together. The new bond was very visible and it seemed that everything was right with the world.  Just when you start to tell yourself that, something always comes along to prove you wrong. Often, it proves you a fool.
            I had no idea that Monique had a crush on me. I hardly noticed her, the consequence of a homosexual heart. If I had known her motive, I may have seen things a little clearer. I might well have questioned her claims before acting on her word.  Apparently, sometime after the police left, on Saturday night, Monique and Tim, a second year student, wandered downstairs for a little hankypanky. The next time I saw her that Monday, she took me aside and accused Tim of sexual assault; "He raped me," was her greatest condemnation. With no reason to doubt her, I approached the head first year instructor, Ray Wilmot, and shared Monique's confession. Of course, procedure would need to be followed. He would have to talk to Monique, determine the severity of the event, and contact the police if so warranted. I was content that I had done my duty as both a friend and citizen. No means no, pal!!
            Come Tuesday morning, the whole world had changed overnight. When the police were to be called, she changed her story completely, defending the same man she had accused only a day earlier. She claimed that I had read into the entire situation and went forward without her permission. The police would not need to be called because no rape had occurred. Although I later spoke to Tim and apologized, no other mention of the occurrence was heard over the entire time I attended Fanshawe College. He understood that I had been misled. I just wish I had recognized it while it happened.

I have made it my mission in life to never be fooled like that again.

            I'm not a huge fan of the bar scene. I'm not entirely sure, but I think that may have something to do with my sexual orientation. I spent so much of my youth jumping from one saloon to another that I burnt out years ago. I spent much of my academic life, after high school, sitting in a bar with a few buddies or crashing at friend's place after a night of dancing with tequila. In my day, Joe Kool's was the place to be on a Thursday night. Located at the corner of Richmond St. and Central Avenue in London Ontario, for over 25 years it has held its place in the heart of Richmond Row. The Row consists of bars, high end clothing stores and restaurants, all up and down Richmond St. Students with Daddy's gold card keep this area alive. Across from Joe's place is Victoria Park, and just beyond the park on Wellington Road lies City Hall and Centennial Hall. Victoria Park is, for the most part, square. It might even be more rectangular if I really stop to think about it. Every Christmas season, hundreds of motorists clamour in a pseudo-circle to catch a glimpse of the season set to lights. The park becomes a winter wonderland. In the summer, the park used to house male prostitutes prowling all the cars as they drove around and around and around. A constant call of the wild. Late into the night, gay men cruised this area looking for casual sex. Occasionally, you would hear that someone ventured into the park by night and got bashed.
            I never thought it was a good idea to have a gay cruising park mere feet from the most testosterone-driven hangouts in the city. The university football team, known as the Western Mustangs, frequented the area and especially Joe Kool's. I never understood placing one's own safety after getting laid. I even believed that if you got caught doing your thing by some drunken hoodlums, then you deserved everything you got. Gay people are just like straight people that way. Some can be so stupid. I've had my share of casual encounters, but never once spread-eagle on a park bench. I certainly would never consider a place so conspicuous and close to an obvious threat to my safety. When my first partner worked next door to Joe Kool's, at the variety store, we would sit in the front window and count how often a car would circle the park. Almost every night you could spot someone trying their best to release their beast. As a closeted gay man, at the time, it made no sense to deny yourself to everyone then strut about a public park looking for someone to have sex with you. It was kinda gross, if the truth be told.   
            We had finished up our night on the town and the four of us spilled out of Kool's and onto the pavement. You could hear the screaming right away. High pitched roars rang across the street, from the monument located in the middle of the park. Being drunk only helped to convince us that a woman was in trouble. We scurried against the traffic light, and like super-hero wannabes, ran straight into a scene I have never been able to put out of my mind. The kid was so skinny and frail, and there was no question of the damage being done to him. He just laid there bleeding, his pants ripped, torn down to his ankles and his underwear barely holding by a thread. Three young men, not yet in their 20s, stood hammering their victim with physical and verbal assaults. The boy just kept screaming for someone to help him. When my friends realized that a faggot, rather than a woman, was in peril, they turned around and walked away.
            Sometimes you have to do what you have to do. I said that to myself when I laid out the leader with a kick to the balls. His friends disappeared faster than my foot. When he hit the ground, I hit him. I kept bashing his face like he had been doing to this child. Over and over I kept asking him how he liked it.  I couldn't stop myself, some rage within me proceeded to kick the shit out of him. Eventually he withered back into the hole he crawled out of. When the police got there, then the ambulance, no mention of my actions was made by either myself or the almost-man. I suppose it was a thank you for doing what I had to do. On paper, I had simply scared them all away, but you could see in his eyes that he knew I had saved him.  

It often takes a fiend to defeat a fiend.
            Out on the ocean we call life, we see monsters. They come in all shapes and sizes and they often look just like anyone else would. It's hard to tell a monster until they reveal their fangs. They jump onboard, with and without our permission, as our ship passes by. Quite often, by then it is too late to save ourselves. Should we escape, we never sail that way again. We may always remain wary and never trust. We may set out to never make the same mistake again. We may even turn into the very monster we are trying to destroy. It's enough to move past such encounters without facing your own inner beast. It is all we can do but to learn to live with it. We try to put the fear out of our minds, but you never forget when you have a run-in with the devil.

            As a spiritually conscious individual, I live by certain tenets of my faith. Above everything else, I must love God. Then I must love others, as I wish to be loved by them. The rest is all commentary. It's a challenge to love your enemy when they are holding you captive or punching you in the face. Exactly how does one turn the other cheek with a gun to your temple? We have a responsibility to treat the people who come into our lives with civility and respect, not to use them without any consideration whatsoever. Just because someone is a stranger, or oblivious to your ways, does not automatically make it okay for you to devour them. It makes me wonder if you can ever really trust anyone. The water is full of demons and they will come for you.

When we look, we see monsters.