the true stories
On a beach in North Africa I discovered why olives are soaked in brine. The trees grew in profusion here almost right up to the sea. I'd never seen anything like it outside of southern California. They provided much needed shade and were heavy with fruit. I had tasted many a date while gathering my wild suppers in this region. The other plant I saw in abundance was my old friend, the oleander. This was a common plant in Louisiana and every child knew the leaves were toxic. I decided to supplement my sugary dates with some nice green olives.
I picked a bunch into my hat and went back to my tent. I popped one particularly fat one into my mouth and rolled it around. I'm sure they heard my cries of pain all the way to Algeria when I bit into it. The blisters went away after a day or so and it was at this juncture that I had a chance to take stock of my finances. Roughly speaking, I had squandered a thousand dollars since walking across the Port Mann bridge in Vancouver. It was only logical to start the long trek back.
After many adventures recrossing Spain and France and exploring the Pyrenees, I found myself in Dover. The fabled white cliffs were just like I had read about. The nearest other town was Folkestone. I really liked the name. In Dover I set about to find a safe free place to sleep. It was urban ground, which always kept me on edge compared to bedding down in the bosom of earth's wilderness. I walked along looking for a good home-cooked meal.
I eventually found a building that had been set up before my grandparents were born to house sailors between voyages. They served a proper plate of plaice and chips with mushy peas and I heard many a good tale round the landlady's table that afternoon. I walked away down the neat sidewalks and had to remind myself constantly that I hadn't magically been transported to Victoria, British Columbia. It began to grow dusk and the inevitable mist started to roll in from the sea.
I was too far inside the town to walk out to the skirts and find a bed in the bush, so I cast about with a practiced eye for cover. Aha! There was the spot. I was in front of a large stone building with several other smaller buildings scattered about. All were in a massive stone-walled yard and there was a tall hedge round the whole affair. On the grounds were some prodigious oaks. I love oaks and these were the prettiest I had seen since leaving Louisiana as a boy.
I walked around town until it was inky dark and returned. I jumped the fence lightly and crept along the side wall to an old oak I had selected earlier. I spread my groundsheet and sleeping bag in the impenetrable dark. It was a memorized routine and within minutes I had a nice nest. There was no need for the tent and my bag could ward off the dew and mist for the balance of the night. One must be up before daylight when urban camping.
I tied my bootlaces together and strung them through my hand. I clasped my knife in the other hand and used this as my pillow. I pondered the road ahead and sent my spirit on ahead to clear the obstacles. My breathing began to dissipate into the long droughts that herald sleep. An ear-shattering sneeze worthy of Sir Walter Raleigh himself had me up and in combat stance in the time it takes a snowflake to melt on a dog's nose.
I could barely discern a man in a white sweater also in a combat stance a foot away. “Steady, boyo. Sweet and holy fuck, you scared the bejeezus out of me! I'm trying to get some sleep.” I lowered my knife and lit my cigarette lighter. There in the glow I saw the Irishman's bag spread out head to head with mine about six inches away. We had chosen the same spot for the same reasons and after telling each other our stories we both enjoyed a deep worry free slumber. It was a miracle I hadn't stepped on the fellow while preparing myself for the night.
We took our leave of the Dover College grounds long before sunrise. Him bound for Ireland and me for Folkestone. I had reached England too soon for my liking and didn't want the trip to end yet. I have always believed in facing one's fears. It builds character. I had always had a fear of dancing. It was something that my sisters could do effortlessly and therefore wasn't to be trusted.
At best, I considered it unmanly and at worst, a possible contributing factor to chromosomal damage. It was the gateway drug to shiny shoes and uncomfortable clothes. None of the men I had seen who were good at it were married. I had done square dancing in elementary school in Louisiana and with the safety of numbers in a scenario of no choice, it was tolerable. I had polka danced with my mother at a Swedish Hall once and gotten so drunk, I fell into an empty swimming pool on the winding walk home that night.
At every high school I had attended from Texas to Squamish, I went to the dances and stood by the wall like a man awaiting execution. I had only once performed the eagle dance properly and this was a result of a fortuitous mix of just the right amount of liquor, a hearty meal and the particular placement of the planet Jupiter on that evening. I had been taken to house parties by a new friend when I came first to Canada. I wasn't on my game and the peer pressure cornered me like a bobcat into a slow dance.
I had never had a girl count my teeth with her tongue before and it was there and then I decided that slow dancing was OK. It was not only manly, it was altogether pleasurable and the footwork was dead easy. By the time I graduated everyone was dancing five feet apart like spastic mannikins. I gave up. These thoughts came to mind as I headed for Folkestone. I was going to, by God do something to improve myself.
Got to town and went scouting for a dance hall. It didn't take long. The whole place was chock full of pubs, nightclubs and tattoo parlors. Every moving creature had tattoos. Children and old women included. I had never seen so many. My father and grandfather were both covered in tattoos as were most of their friends, but this was on a whole new scale.
These were big, bold colourful illustrations designed for maximum effect. I inquired at a pub as to where these works of art were being done. I was told, “By the Dutchman, of course.” After a few beers, I strolled out of the pub and went down the evening streets to the establishment I had selected earlier.
There was a lady at the entrance who politely told me that it was a members only club. She hurried away as I stood basting in the bad news. Another fellow took her place at the reception desk and called me over. He grinned and said he would sign me in as a guest. I shook his hand and proudly strolled downstairs to find a place to dump my rucksack.
This accomplished, I ordered a pint of black beer and started to scan the crowd. The evening was new and people were trickling in. There were pretty girls everywhere I looked, once my eyes adjusted to the tattoos. After the third pint I plucked up my courage and walked over to a beautiful lady and asked her if she'd like to dance. She looked at me like I had farted in church and simply said no. I had another pint while contemplating this turn of events.
No problem, there were tons of girls. The place was full now. Girls were dancing all over the place. They were even dancing with each other. That's what girl's have to do while they are waiting for the men to get up the steam to ask them to dance. I was facing my fear big time now. I wiped off my mustache and walked over to a table with two pretty girls and asked them both to dance! Hell, judging by the music there wasn't any footwork to bother with and not much touching either. That would come later when they played the slow dances.
The ladies looked at each other and then at me. Their expression was the kind a person has when they are walking on pavement and their foot sinks into something too soft to be good. The visual expressive precursor to the audible, “Ewwww.” I found my lucky spot back at the bar and ordered another pint. Well, fishing takes patience and I decided to see how all the other fellows were doing.
Maybe I could learn something useful from the local blokes. I started scanning the now jammed room. The lights were spinning around in many colours and the music was loud and kind of rough. Ha! There wasn't a guy who had gotten a dance on that floor anywhere yet. This boosted my confidence immensely. I sipped my beer, slowly now, so as to stay alert for the coming evening.
I returned to scanning the little tables. This time looking for the unlucky local males. Maybe we could swap methods and improve our luck. I couldn't believe the ratio of women to men. It was good fishing spot. How to find the ones that want to dance? It was probably something very simple. Usually is.
My bladder, in any other age, would have been kept after my death in a carved box and revered as a treasure, such was its prodigious strength and fidelity. But now, it called for release. I strode through the throng of whirling females, intoxicated by their sweet smells. I went to a set of swinging doors I had observed people going to all evening. I pushed them open.
I saw the lady's room directly in front of me. I looked left and right for the men's room. All I saw was broom closets. A lady came stumbling out of the loo. She had a large parrot tattooed on her upper chest. She stood wobbling on her high-heels and grasped my beard for support with two dainty fingers. She looked at me like a mother cat watching its kitten climb a tree for the first time. I stared deeply into her blue eyes. “It's a lesbian club, you daft boy,” she said.
Copyright © 2015 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.