Make Way for the Lady Georgina checked her watch, glossed her lips, grabbed her bag off her cluttered desk, and threw in the latest New Yorker for the ride home. Instead of making a bee-line for her bus, she swung into the Dog and Paddle and headed straight for the pool table in the back. She placed her quarter on the mahogany corner, alongside the other one. She would have to wait one round for her turn.
Georgina sauntered up to the bar and ordered a double scotch — her usual. No ice. The first sip burned. She made a face at the bartender and let out a loony-bird laugh that almost set the glasses a'tingling. The bar was full and everyone turned to look at her. She smiled back at a room already pulsing with the din of Friday night worker bees eager to drown the week’s bullshit and vent about their bosses, co-workers, husbands, wives, the government.
Georgina wanted only one thing — to beat someone at billiards. She almost managed it last Friday, but the sonofabitch got the better of her. Not this time though. Not tonight.
Someone waved her over. She drained her glass and strode across the room. Rack ‘em, she barked, choosing her own cue. They tossed a coin, and the shark took the break shot, sunk the first ball — solids. She was stripes. Good, she liked stripes. She sunk one, then another, and another. Perspiration glistened on the shark’s forehead. Good — sweat, you sonofabitch. Tonight’s my night.
She missed the next shot. The shark took his turn, pocketing one after another. Georgina reminded herself to breathe, inhaled a long slow one, exhaled. The shark was now on the 8 ball. He missed when it grazed the intended pocket. Her turn. She looked long and hard at the green felt surface, tossed her auburn hair over her shoulder, chalked the tip of her cue, then pocketed the rest of the stripes in short order. Now for the 8 ball.
Silence claimed the room. Georgina took in another slow breath through her nose, releasing it through slightly parted lips. Now refreshed, she indicated the far corner pocket, chalked her cue again, poised to take the shot. She bent over the table, her eyes fixed on the cue ball. She took in another breath, slow and with purpose, then whack, she hit her target straight into the far pocket. A shout broke out, followed by whistles and wild applause. Georgina stood up straight, returned her cue to the wall rack, brushed the chalk off her hands, grabbed her bag, and waved to her followers as she headed out the door. It was time to get home and feed the kids.
* * *
Laying It Bare
Wreck Beach, Vancouver, 1972
Jack was starting to irritate Valerie. For weeks he’d been putting pressure on her to go with him to Vancouver's famed Wreck Beach.
“Come on," he said, "everyone’s going these days. It’ll be fun.” An annoying whine was creeping into his voice and Valerie felt like slapping him.
“I just don’t want to go and look at a bunch of naked bodies,” she said (although she had to admit to herself that she was more than a little curious about the whole scene down there).
“Let’s just go and check it out,” Jack pleaded. “If we don’t like it, we’ll leave. But let’s take a picnic – some sandwiches and beer. Apparently, no one cares if you drink on the beach, and the cops don't go down that far. And I hear most of the people who go there are professors from UBC, so it’s not like it’s a den of iniquity or anything like that.”
The following Saturday, Jack and Valerie climbed down the steep and treacherous path through the forest to the beach. The hike was even more challenging with all the paraphernalia they brought with them. Jack had made a list of everything they’d need for the day, in case they decided to stay.
At the bottom of the trail, they surveyed the scene with their mouths agape. The pale-grey sand, blindingly bright, embraced the sparkling sea. Jack and Valerie lived in East Van where they'd lived all their lives. There was no beach there. Trout Lake was the closest they ever got to a shoreline.
Wreck Beach was crowded on this blistering hot summer afternoon. Many people were wading in the ocean, and Jack and Valerie were gobsmacked to see a hodgepodge of brightly coloured towels and blankets, beach umbrellas, and naked bodies spread out as far as they could see along the beach. Valerie kept trying to avert her eyes, but sensed everyone was staring at them. They found a spot near the top of the tideline where there were logs to lean against, and spread out their blanket.
Valerie shrunk down low, slowly pulling off her jeans and T-shirt, leaving her underwear till last. She felt pasty-white and obvious. Even though it was the middle of July, she hadn’t found much time to go to Trout Lake beach. The only upside to being this white, she thought, was the lack of tan line. She looked over at Jack, who was going through the same drill. He, too, looked as white as the underside of a spring salmon, not being the kind of guy who sunbathed. As he pulled his jeans off, he jumped up and down on one leg, trying to balance himself. When he climbed out of his jocks, Valerie stifled a scream. Jack’s penis was proudly saluting everyone on the beach.
“For God’s sake, Jack! Control yourself! Roll over, or something!” she hissed. By now people were noticing. Some were groaning, others were guffawing. Valerie heard someone say, “That’s pathetic. No one comes here to get their rocks off."
When Jack’s testosterone settled down and people stopped glaring at them, he and Valerie actually relaxed enough to enjoy themselves. Valerie rubbed Johnson’s baby oil all over Jack’s back, imploring him to stay face down. He did the same for her, with the help of a towel loosely laid over his lap.
After what seemed to Jack like an eternity of sunbathing, he rolled over and started to unpack their picnic. He laid out ham sandwiches, ripped open a bag of Old Dutch potato chips, and popped the tops of two cans of Molson's beer. Valerie stirred from her nap and they tied in to the feast; both were famished from all the fresh air and sunshine.
Now feeling confident enough with his surroundings, Jack announced he was going for a stroll down the beach. He threw on his backpack in an attempt to feel less naked. Valerie grabbed the book from her bag and settled in to read The Stepford Wives.
Jack hadn't wandered far when he met a nude woman carrying a large tray in front of her. Straps around her neck held it in place. On the tray, she displayed a variety of drinks — some beer, but mostly pina coladas. Lined up on the tray next to the drinks were some brownies. Jack thought something sweet would be just the ticket after the sandwich and beer, so he bought one for himself and one for Valerie.
Nibbling his confection as he strolled along the beach, he bypassed bodies shiny from suntan lotion and sweat. After a few minutes, his steps slowed and he felt like he was floating among the technicolor beach towels and umbrellas. Everything seemed somehow brighter, cheerier.
After a while, he came to another beach, this one also stretched a long way, forming a wide bay. Something was different, he thought, as he struggled to clear the fog from his brain. For one thing, there were no naked people — everyone was wearing a bathing suit. Jack realized once again that people were staring at him. Something made him freeze, and he felt he could no longer move forwards or backwards, or in any direction at all. He wasn't sure how long he stood there, but he could hear the whispers of people and what seemed to him like stifled laughter. He imagined people were pointing at him. Soon he felt a hand on his shoulder and, turning around in slow motion, came face to face with an RCMP officer.
"You've come too far along the beach, young man," he said in a stern voice.
"Sorry," said Jack.
"You've gone beyond the boundary of Wreck Beach. You're now on Spanish Banks. You'll have to go back."
Jack said nothing, could say nothing.
"And by the way, what's that in your hand?"
Jack looked down at his open palm, forgetting the brownie he'd bought for Valerie.
"It's a brownie for my wife. She's back at our blanket. I guess I'd better go now."
"Yes, I guess you'd better."
Jack turned and was now facing in the right direction at least, towards where Valerie was waiting, far away down the beach, probably wondering where on earth he'd got to.
Making his way back with the same floating steps that got him dangerously past the periphery of Wreck Beach, he finally spotted Valerie's blonde hair. He was so relieved, he wanted to cry. She was sitting up against the log, reading her book, just as he'd left her, after what now felt like a week.
"What the hell's wrong with you, Jack? You look weird."
"I bought us some dessert," he said, opening his hand to reveal a messy chunk of chocolate. Seeing the disgust on Valerie's face, he slowly raised his arm and flung the lump into the bushes behind the log.
"That's revolting," she said. "And you've got chocolate all over your mouth. Here, have another beer."
Jack curled up on the blanket next to Valerie and slept. He woke up an hour later feeling surprisingly refreshed.
Not long after, the pina colada girl came strolling past, her tray now empty. "How'd you like them brownies, you two? Made 'em myself. Put in just the right amount of weed so you wouldn't get all fucked up."
Jack groaned and Valerie simply rolled her eyes and returned to her book.
As the sun slipped towards the horizon and the tide crept ever closer to their blanket, Jack and Valerie gathered up their belongings, clambered up the sharp path through the forest, and headed for home. Other than the sunburns they would nurse for a few days, they considered the trip a huge success and made plans to go back to Wreck Beach every sunny weekend of the summer. The experience had left them feeling somehow worldly and sophisticated.
* * *
"Charlene needs someone to look after Chase for a few days. Do you mind if I offer?" There was a long pause before my husband answered. "How long?" he asked. "Only about ten days." More silence as I saw a small cloud form over Doug's head. "He's not going to be a problem, is he?" "No! He's six months old already, and Charlene's had him at puppy training for weeks now. He'll be fine," I enthused. "And besides, her friend Gary has offered to be a back-up sitter in case we find it too much." "It's up to you," he said.
Charlene arrived early Thursday morning looking bright-eyed and excited about her pending trip. In her arms she held a doggy bed, two backpacks, and a duffel bag. "This is so great. I can't thank you enough." "He'll be fine," I said. "Don't worry about a thing." "I'll go get him." She piled the doggy paraphernalia on the floor and raced back to her car.
Within seconds I saw bounding up the sidewalk an enormous black and tan dog with astonishingly erect ears. He lunged through the front door, pulling Charlene with him, and went straight for my dog Tess, barking wildly.
"Whew! Well, thanks again. He'll be fine once he's settled in." Big hugs all 'round.
That was the beginning of pretty much five days of hell.
Later in the afternoon, Doug and I piled the dogs into the cab of our pickup truck and left for our island getaway. Rain pounded on the windshield as we headed for the ferry, our canine cargo posturing and snarling at each other for most of the trip.
At the terminal, facing an hour's wait, I braved the rain and took Chase with me to buy some tea and sandwiches. I attempted to tie him to a post near the deli, but he would have none of it. He barked frantically and strained so hard on his lead, I had trouble undoing my quick release knot. I had to lead him to the deli door, quickly decide what to order, and yell it out to the proprietor. A kind man, he soon arrived outside with a bag of sandwiches and two steaming cups of tea. In a thick Sri Lankan accent, he said, "That dog has separation anxiety." I thanked him, paid, and off we flew.
Back at the truck, we tried to eat our sandwiches but faced serious competition from the dogs. Hot tea splashed onto my rain-soaked jeans. I was getting cranky.
It'll be fine once we get to the island," I blubbered.
Arriving at the farm, I turned the beast loose. He had ten acres to call his own for the whole weekend. True to his name, he chased the llamas, the cat, and the chickens. Exhausted from all that, he ricocheted into the house and flopped down onto Tess' favourite blanket. She sat baring her teeth at him until I brought out another one for him.
At dinnertime, Chase vacuumed down his kibbles while Tess and our cat Shadow delicately nibbled their fresh ground turkey with peas and rice. He then raced over to their bowls, raising a chorus of barking, snarling, and hissing, and was put outside until dinner was over. The cloud over Doug's head grew darker.
That night as we read in front of a blazing fire, I looked around at a tranquil scene — one dog dozing on the rug, another on the sofa, and a cat curled up on a cushion. This is going to work out fine, I mused.
At bedtime I fell into a deep and troubled sleep. No longer an incorrigible six-month-old, large Boxer-Shepherd cross, I dreamt that Chase had morphed into a monstrous werewolf baring razor-like fangs and mutilating all of Tess' stuffed toys. I woke panicked, feeling a paw the size of a baseball mitt whapping me in the face. He needed to go out — it was 5:30 am.
Once outside, I watched as Chase did his business. But instead of bouncing back up the steps, he held his head high, sniffed the early morning air, and bolted down the hill towards the llamas, howling and yelping. I grabbed my gumboots and raced out the door, nightgown whipping in the wind. He dodged away from me, his barks ringing out in the thin morning air, but with the finesse of a football player, I tackled and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck. I rearranged my nightgown and dragged him off to the house. Nine days to go.
After breakfast, I made a plan to hang old CDs in our cherry trees in an attempt to keep the birds from pillaging our crop. Naively, I thought the flashing, twisting discs would scare them off. After hanging a few on the branches, I stood back and watched as a veritable light show took place. The CDs, stirred by the wind, caught the sun and flashed the colours of the rainbow onto the grass. I looked round and noticed that Chase was standing stock-still, head cocked to one side, enraptured. Then he pounced, first on one sunbeam, then another. In the late morning sun, I was captivated by a large puppy dancing to the flash of sunbeams thrown from a cherry tree. He attempted to catch the elusive beams all day long. And that night, he slept like the dead.
The weekend over, it was time to head back into town.
"He seems a bit calmer now, doesn't he, Doug?" His answer was a wry smile.
When we got back home, Chase seemed anxious. He grabbed Tess' favourite ball. She snarled and took it back. He barked furiously until I took it away from both of them. She grabbed his chewy bone, and he howled. I removed that too. This went on for hours until bedtime. Then, before dawn, Chase barked to the sound of a pigeon cooing outside the window. I took him out the front door, with Tess following behind. Suddenly, on the sleepy city sidewalk, Tess spotted an elderly woman out for a stroll, and our perfectly well-behaved dog went ballistic. Barking hysterically, she ran up to the woman, the sound of her fear and rage echoing off all the buildings in the neighbourhood. Then Chase decided, for the first time, to be Tess' protector, and nearly pulled me off my feet running to her side. By the time I got both dogs herded back into the house, my shoulder muscles were pulled and my hand was skinned and bleeding. I hoped no one had seen where I lived.
The final straw came later that morning when I opened the closet door and took out the vacuum cleaner. Chase flew at the thing, toppling the vacuum, the hall table, and me. A favourite pottery bowl on the table smashed against the wall. Enough was enough. I called Gary, the back-up puppy sitter, tearfully reporting that I could no longer cope and was taking Chase to the doggy daycare. He agreed to pick him up there after work and keep him until Charlene got home.
"Thank you, thank you, Gary."
That evening, Gary phoned me to share his tale of puppy woe. First of all, Chase was expelled from doggy daycare for upsetting the other dogs and trying to scale a chain-link fence. When Gary got him home and was preparing to make a cup of tea, Chase escaped through an open window and ran around the neighbourhood. It took Gary half an hour to catch him. Once inside, Gary discovered his kettle had melted onto the stove. In a barely audible whisper, he told me, "He almost burned down my house."
Charlene returned home a few days later, and listening to her voicemail learned that Chase had changed sitters. Gary was waiting when she knocked at his door — doggy bed, backpacks, duffel bag, and puppy sat in the hall.
"Take this dog," he said, trying to calm a rising hysteria, "and call me in a day or two, okay. I've got to get some sleep now. Bye-bye."
After we all recovered, we got together with Charlene for a kind of tribunal. Chase sat on the floor at his mistress's feet looking deceptively angelic. Gary and I faced them from the sofa, soberly relating the litany of charges against him. Charlene listened patiently, but looking skeptical, until we finished.
"It doesn't seem possible," she said. "He's been perfect for me. I don't understand how he could have been so bad." Then, bending down, she stroked his humongous pointy ears and cooed, "I guess he must have missed me. What a sweetie."