The Lost Weekend
The plan is to make this story the "lost chapter" of Twelve Stories: it will be printed only once (in the sixth printing of the novel, the one with the orange cover) replacing the story "A Two-Car Funeral". It might appear again as the first chapter of something I am currently working on, a novel called Different Times, but who knows what the future will bring? I'll just keep writing...
He got on the bus just outside of Ottawa.
He got off the bus just outside Sault Ste. Marie.
His ticket was good until Winnipeg, but I don’t know if he ever reached his destination.
For all I know, he could still be stuck in Northwestern Ontario.
The first thing Butt said to me was: “Where’d you get the hat?”
Ah, my Kim Mitchell phase: the summer of 1986.
It was the last weekend of the summer I wore my O.P.P. baseball cap for eight weeks straight, as a way of keeping people away from me while out in public; the most aggressively anti-social period of my life: I thought that baseball cap made me look like a bad-ass.
The old guy flagged down the bus where the highway turned the corner between Kanata and Arnprior. He wasn’t really that old (not even as old as my stepfather, who’d sent me to spend the summer with my grandfather in Ottawa) but old enough: when you are fifteen years old, even guys in their 30s are old guys; old enough that you don’t want them sitting beside you on the bus.
As he climbed on board the Greyhound, I looked around and saw my suitcase was occupying the last available seat, so I didn’t have a choice: I stood up, and jammed my luggage into the overhead compartment, allowing the old guy to sit down beside me with his case of beer.
Before the old guy sat down, he took a step back, visibly alarmed, and asked why I was wearing the triangular logo of the Ontario Provincial Police.
I didn’t tell him I’d been sent away by my stepfather to spend the summer with my grandfather because I’d stolen a foot-long pink dildo from the back room of the local sex shop, then waited until my stepfather’s Aunt Rowena was scheduled to visit for Sunday brunch; as Rowena walked past my bedroom, I began slapping the dildo against my doorless doorframe, muttering “Oh, this is GREAT! Oh, this is WONDERFUL! This is fucking great! This is UNBELIEVABLE! I always wanted to BEAT IT OFF THE DOORJAMB!”
To knock him back on his heels, I told the old guy, I stole the baseball cap off a cop.
“Well, I’ll drink to that. What’s your name, brother? I don’t like partying with strangers. You want a beer? Let’s start the day off right.”
I hadn’t touched a drop of liquor all summer, terrified of showing my grandfather (picnic, lightning) that I was no better than he was when it came to alcohol.
When my father’s father had passed away, it was like I boxed up all my emotions and put them in a storage locker; but I wouldn’t allow myself to identify with my mother’s father.
I had spent my school vacation sober, building up my body at the swimming pool, rather than sitting around his porch sunroom with him in the rain, getting shit-faced each afternoon.
Something about the long bus ride in front of me brought out a weakness in my character, though: I started drinking again that morning, and never looked back for the next few years, after accepting the old guy’s offer to hoist a few cold ones on the return trip to Nipigon, Ontario.
“My name is Emmett, and I am an alcoholic,” I tried to make a joke of the situation.
As we shook hands, he said his name was Butt. Not Buddy, or Budsy, or Bud, but: Butt. You couldn’t argue with that: he looked like a Butt. Outside professional wrestling on Saturday morning television, I had never before seen a dude wearing bandages wrapped around his knees, looking more like Hulk Hogan or Andre the Giant than a rehab patient in swim shorts.
By the time the bus pulled into Sault Ste. Marie, we’d been friends for over twelve hours.
I had the idea I wanted to slide off the bus back in my hometown completely loaded, falling down drunk, just as a big fat fuck-you to my stepfather for taking away my bedroom door at the start of the summer, and sending me to live in Ottawa, after terrorizing his Aunt Rowena.
It came out in conversation that Butt was an ex-high school substitute gym teacher. I mean, who the hell would lie about that? His sunglasses were tied to a shoelace around his neck.
Between Renfrew and Sudbury, we talked a lot about high school girls, and high school boys: Butt had some great drinking stories about living in a panel van, and making a month-long run from Toronto out to British Columbia each winter, partying right across the country.
We used the 90-minute stopover in Sudbury to find a Brewers Retail, return our empties, and cash Butt’s last traveller’s cheque to purchase another case of beer for the road.
When the line-up to the toilet at the back of the bus got too crowded, Butt pissed into a coffee cup from Robin’s Donuts he found on the floor of the bus. He kept his empty beer bottles clean, because he planned to return them for the deposit in Winnipeg. At one point, I looked over and watched him manipulate the head of his cock into the paper cup, being discreet.
I had been there before. I was there, right then. When you have a beer in each fist, you can’t hold your breath to use the toilet at the back of the bus.
I got the feeling Butt had never been on a bus before: his 24 of Old Milwaukee was hidden wrapped in a beach towel, but still.
He carried a set of car keys, but only because they were attached to his bottle opener: the van was long gone, probably sold for scrap, or parked at the bottom of a lake, somewhere.
By the time the bus rolled into Sault Ste. Marie, Butt wanted to get something to eat: we’d been drinking since 9:00 AM, and Butt had a craving for pizza. (He knew a place where to get the best pizza in Sault Ste. Marie, so he said.) I would have preferred cheeseburgers, but we only had another 90-minute stopover, before the bus pulled out for Thunder Bay, the last leg of my journey home to Nipigon from Ottawa. The driver warned us: if we weren’t back on the bus by 10:45, we’d be spending the night in Sault Ste. Marie.
As we stumbled off the Greyhound, I turned to Butt and said: “Just let me leave my wallet here, so it can get stolen. It will be good to have no money for food, or accommodations, in case we get stuck overnight in a strange town. We can always sleep in a ditch, if they lock the doors of the bus terminal at 1:00 AM. I don’t start grade ten until Tuesday morning.”
I didn’t say that to Butt: but you get the idea.
We grabbed our beer, and went to get something to eat. I wanted to call a taxi, but Butt was vague about the address of the pizzeria. The place was within walking distance, anyway, so we started down a long hill that took us out of the restaurant strip, past McDonald’s, past Arby’s, across two sets of train tracks, past a high school, and a high school football field, and a bowling alley, and an A&P grocery, into a residential neighbourhood. That was OK, because the pizzeria was run out of a private home, according to Butt. I was skeptical, but he promised me, his friend made the best pizza in the city; something to do with being Italian, having started his business in Schreiber after the war, in the 1950s. Butt had known the guy since the ‘70s!
The further away we got from the bus terminal, the more I kept thinking about how long it would take us to get back uptown: at what minute would we cross the Point of No Return? If it took us half an hour to find the pizzeria, and half an hour for the place to get our order ready, we only had 30 minutes to walk/run back to the bus terminal, unless we ordered a cab, while waiting for our food to be prepared. And how long might it take us to get a cab, on a Saturday night?
We took a wrong turn into some trees, but pushed through the forest.
Butt argued going through the park was a short cut, but I didn’t believe him.
We walked, and walked, and walked, all downhill to the waterfront, by some trick going all downhill even when we started going around in circles (and going all downhill meant it would be all uphill, returning to the bus terminal.) Then (after several false IDs) we found the place: the Lakeside Pizzeria. But: it was hard to tell just when the place had closed for good, because it was boarded up behind a chain-link fence, burned-out, covered in garbage and graffiti.
Then, even though it was Labour Day Weekend, it started to snow in Sault Ste. Marie.
“Well, shit. I was really looking forward to grabbing a slice of Hawaiian.”
“So what’s the plan now? Head back to the bus terminal? I just realized, I left my wallet on the bus, so I don’t have any cash on me, anyway. Let’s just grab something on the way back.”
“Nah, let’s head down to the bridge. I know the Greek with his chip truck parked there.”
Somehow, we still had 75 minutes to make it back to the bus terminal; Butt insisted we push on to the chip wagon because we only had to walk another ten blocks to the border crossing with Michigan. It had been my idea to get burgers, so this was his offer of a compromise.
At the chip wagon, the Greek (sure enough: he was still in business) put on a hell of a show for us. The food took a while to get ready (we were the only customers in the snow) but, as owner-operator of the business, our man made the wait into an experience: he was determined to serve us the best cheeseburgers in the world, by sheer force of his charisma. Everything had to be just so: chargrilled patties, toasted buns, perfect fresh toppings (I’ve always been a TOM P. man -- tomato, onion, mustard, pickles -- but the Greek balanced the toppings in such a way as I have never again been able to replicate!) all served with a mustachioed smile…until the bill came, and it turned out my bus buddy Butt only had enough money in his pocket for his own food, not mine as well. (And the Greek wasn’t accepting empty beer bottles as a form of payment, unlike some.)
The Greek actually took back my cheeseburger and fries, when Butt came up short.
“Sorry, brother. I thought you knew I was down to my last nickel,” Butt shrugged at me.
I was staring at an old guy in a t-shirt that read FIREWORKS EXPERT: WHEN I RUN, YOU RUN, grinding two cheeseburgers down his throat, as I stood around empty-handed.
“You…fuck. Why did you have me walk all the way down here, when you knew I forgot my wallet on the bus? You…idiot! How am I going to be able to get something to eat, before we have to leave town? There won’t be anything open after midnight, in Wawa!”
“Why don’t you trade him your hat?”
“Why don’t you trade him your shirt!”
“Nah, little brother. This is my shirt. That’s just some hat you stole off a cop.”
“This is my hat, you fucking idiot! It’s worth more than a cheeseburger and fries!”
“You can always steal another hat, when you get home. It’s just a hat.”
“Yeah, I like that hat,” the Greek interjected, “And I’m feeling like Santa Claus, tonight.”
“See? That’s a pretty good deal, right there. You should take the burger and fries.”
After drinking an entire case of Old Milwaukee between the outskirts of Ottawa and the border of Upper Michigan, I suddenly realized, I should have been dead from alcohol poisoning, on my empty stomach. If I didn’t get something to eat, and soon, I was gonna start puking blood.
But it was that mustache that really did it for me: there was no beating that smile.
When the Greek handed me back my cheeseburger, there was a big dirty thumbprint on the wax paper, but I didn’t care: I was so, so hungry, I would have eaten the asshole out of a dead skunk, and still been happy to trade my baseball cap for the privilege.
For my O.P.P. baseball cap, the Greek even threw in 25¢ for me to use the payphone, and a couple bags of Old Dutch potato chips (dill picklers) to stuff down my throat.
By the time our taxi arrived, we walked away from the chip truck empty-handed (well, carrying an empty case of beer wrapped in a beach towel on Butt’s shoulder, but that’s another story: how we ditched the cab driver while juggling a case of empties!), and had to rush back to the bus terminal to reclaim our seats on the Greyhound, before they were given to someone else.
We were fifteen minutes late, but the bus hadn’t left yet. We weren’t allowed on the bus, because our new driver hadn’t shown up for work that evening, so we had to stand around in the garage sucking exhaust fumes until midnight. At which point the bus outright broke down, so we were told we’d be stranded in Sault Ste. Marie until 9:00 the next morning, at the very earliest.
“Go find your own accommodations for the night: we lock up at 1:00 AM.”
It turned out the bus stayed broken down for the next 24 hours. Butt and I slept in a ditch that night, but I can tell you, he slept on his side of the ditch, and I slept on mine. I used to think the secret of the universe was, anything you can do in life, can be better done in a ditch, whether it’s drinking, or fucking, or just having a nap, but then I spent the night sleeping in a ditch, drunk from the day before, and I learned, anything you might want to do in life is best done at the Hotel California, or the Four Seasons, or the Chateau Frontenac, rather than in a ditch.
That’s the hill an immature man goes to die on: there is no romance in the gutter, just like there are no atheists in a foxhole. But at least I spent the night looking up through the snow at the stars, rather than sharing a hotel room with the man who would turn out to be the most dangerous influence I had ever met, Butt Fletcher. That dude belonged in jail, for his lack of responsibility.
I got his last name when the bus driver confiscated his ticket to Winnipeg, as we kicked him off the bus just outside Sault Ste. Marie. I told the driver he was stuffing empty beer bottles down the chemical toilet at the back of the bus, to finally get rid of Butt: that did the trick.
I got off the bus in Nipigon early Monday morning, arriving home 24 hours late.
My stepfather was waiting in his cop car to escort me, lights flashing, siren turned off.
I tossed Butt’s luggage on the sidewalk, smashing it into pieces, waving his beach towel.
“There’s another case of empties, for whoever wants to pick the glass up off the road!”