Like Frank, I reached a similar crossroads in 1980. I wasn't even burnt-out from casino work yet when the epiphany for a more suitable way of life shined down on me. I reached for my destiny and gathered my entrepreneurial resources. While doing my homework, I discovered that I had the right stuff to buy an "EASTERN ONION," singing telegram franchise in Vancouver, British Columbia Canada. The only thing I lacked was the gumption to drop everything (which was good) and take my shot.
|A SINGING TELEGRAM IS A GAG-GIFT OF A PROFESSIONAL ENTERTAINER (IN COSTUME) PERFORMING AN APPROXIMATELY TEN-MINUTE MUSICAL COMEDY SKIT.|
I chose Vancouver because when I went cross-country in 1976, (sixty-eight days of hitchhiking and Greyhounds), it was the only place that grabbed me enough to ever think about relocating to.
My attraction to Vancouver started on the way into town. In the outskirts, at a red light, in a gap between two stores, I saw a moose step out of the bushes.
|UNTIL YOU SEE A MOOSE IN THE WILD...YOUR BUCKET LIST CAN NOT BE COMPLETE.|
This ultra-modern city was crammed with young, friendly and cool locals. I liked the cultural diversity spearheaded by a huge 30% Chinese population as well as more from other Asian countries. Plus I loved the Native-Canadian influence.
|VANCOUVER WAS SETTLED ON THE TRADITIONAL TERRITORIES OF THE SQUAMISH, MUSQUEAM AND TSEIL-WATAUT PEOPLES. INUKSUK (above) AT ENGLISH BAY, TYPIFIES THE ART OF INUIT INHABITANTS THAT GOES BACK 10,000 YEARS.|
I befriended other back-packers when I hit town. There were three buddies from Ulster, Northern Ireland, an Englishman, a South African and an arrogant French Canadian guy from Montreal, (we later found out he was reallly a hick from tiny Drummondville Quebec).
We combined our information and formed a seven-person team. Within our group, the three guys from Ulster, (Paddy O'Furniture, "Silent" Murph and "Killer" Cadugan) kept to themselves.
The South African, (a skeevie schemer named Neelish) gravitated to the know-it-all from Quebec (Frenchy). I hung out with the Brit, Gerald "Don't Call Me Jerry" Simmons. Our first stop was a youth hostel, a thirty-minute city-bus ride into the countryside.
|OUR YOUTH HOSTEL WAS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (foreground) WITH DOWNTOWN VANCOUVER IN THE BACKGROUND.|
We reserved a spot on the gymnasium floor for four dollars, (which was kind of expensive). But Gandhi, the skeevie South African schemer was right, by doing morning chores, you received a full refund.
The seven of us took the bus back to town. Our first stop was the zoo at Stanley Park. The funniness of Vancouver started when Gerald and I realized that we were both MONTY PYTHON fans.
|MONTY PYTHON WAS A HIP, BRITISH, SKIT COMEDY TROUPE WHOSE HALF HOUR TV SHOWS WERE BROADCAST IN MY TEENAGE YEARS, ON NEW YORK'S PBS STATION, WNET, CHANNEL-13.|
Gerald and I splintered from the group and entertained ourselves by incorporating Python humor to our traveling companions, particularly the Quebecois (Frenchy) and South African (Gandhi). We were at the otter enclosure (those cute buggers were extremely funny them self) when Gerald said, "Frenchy is forcing me to fart in his general direction and Gandhi's mother was a hamster." I said, "If Frenchy became a criminal, nobody's lupins would be safe." Gerald laughed, "The only thing more lethal than the world's funniest joke, is the abysmal body odor radiating off the Ulster blokes." I said, "You mean the three finalist in the 'First Class Twit of the Year Contest.'"
Above our laughter, we heard the roar of the lion. We headed towards a large mass of spectators that included the rest of our team. The king of beasts' admirers were so thick that we couldn't get near the wire mesh fence. While we waited for another roar I whispered, "Frenchy is so full of himself that I wouldn't be surprised if he stuck his arm through the fence and tried to pet the lion. Gerald was saying, "Then we'd have to call him Lefty," as the lion started gagging. I motioned Gerald away and said, "Holy hair balls, this doesn't sound good." Then there was a nauseating wretch. The crowd gasped in disgust and fled. But it was too late, the king of the jungle spray barfed his fan club.
God, I don't know what was funnier, Paddy O'Furniture getting hit by some projectile flak or him screaming like a twelve-year old girl and running to the restroom as if he took a bullet in the shoulder.
|EVEN AFTER PADDY O'FURNITURE CLEANED-UP, WE ALL AVOIDED HIM. OUTSIDE THE ZOO, IN FRONT OF A MUSEUM, I TOOK A PICTURE OF KILLER CADUGAN (left) AND MURPH.|
Our next stop was Gastown. Gastown is the artsy part of Vancouver. The other five weren't interested and detoured into a hotel's bar. I joked, "With the bits of puke shrapnel on Paddy's shirt, I bet they won't serve him until he takes a shower." Gerald said, "No, the bigger joke is that in Canada, none of them will be served in a hotel bar until five."
On our own, we window shopped and watched street performers. We struck up a conversation with two hippie chicks and strolled with them a while. One of the girls bought a cup of strawberries from a pushcart and shared them with Gerald. The other girl got a colossal peach. She said, "I can't eat this whole thing. If I get him (the vendor) to cut it, would you have some?" I nodded and the fruit man sliced it down the middle. He gave the girl the half without the pit. When I was about to take my first bite, like a horror movie, a gazillion ants poured out of the rotted pit.
Gerald and I were laughing over the incident long after the girls went their own way. We had dinner after dark and later bumped into our teammates. "We're on the prowl for tarts," said Paddy. "Yeah, we heard there's an excellent bar on the next street," said Cadugan. Then Frenchy boasted, "I'll show you imbeciles how its done."
A couple of streets away, we found this dimly lit generic bar. It looked like a shoe store and an insurance agency went out of business and the two storefronts were combined to make one tavern. The left side had a long bar on the left wall and some bar stools along a ledge of the right wall. In the rear you could see the lady's room. The other side had rows of plain tables and chairs with the men's room in the back.
We carried our drinks from the bar, through the cut-out in the wall near the restrooms and sat on the other side. After the second round Cadugan said, "There's not too many lasses here." Gandhi said, "It's still early." Gerald excused himself and went to the restroom. He saw men inside openly "enjoying each other's company." On his way out, he glanced into the women's room and saw other men also enjoying each other's company. He came back to the table and said to me, "I want to show you something." I was stunned. Upon closer scrutiny, the only women in the place were dressed in drag. Gerald said, "Frenchy must have really annoyed somebody so they directed them here." I said, "In the states, we call that getting set up, to take the fall." We decided it would be funny to ditch the team. So hidden by the dividing wall, we left without being seen, through the bar.
In the morning, we got the cold shoulder from the others. Gerald was given the chore of picking up trash outside and I was given a giant, fuzzy broom to clean the dust bunnies off the gym's floor. We were not only refunded our four dollars but were also given a roll and butter, a packet of sunflower seeds, an apple and a small container of orange juice.
Gerald informed me that he was going back to Portland Oregon. I was heading east through the Canadian Rockies but I decided to stay another day when the other five said they were going my way.
|CONSIDERING THE BEAUTY, IT'S CRAZY TO THINK I ONLY TOOK TWO DECENT PICTURES IN VANCOUVER AND THIS, FROM THE COLLEGE LOOKING TOWARDS THE CITY, WAS ONE OF THEM.|
I spent my day alone, walking around gorgeous Victoria Island. On the bus back to the youth hostel, I got an intense urge to pee. But the ride was going to be at least fifteen more minutes. I was twenty-one and my bladder control was at the peak of its career so I was confident I could hold back the brewing tsunami. I twisted, turned and did the hucklebuck for an eternity but only around three minutes passed. That's when I became a realist. It was officially an emergency. I threw down my preconceived notions of my manhood and disregarded my stubbornness. I was ready to pee! But how? Where?
Both sides of the road had a brick wall that seemed to never end. Each ticking second that passed was drawing me closer to the embarrassment of all embarrassments. I looked out the window and there were no businesses, no woods, no privacy. Knowing my luck, I'd be forced to "go" in the street, get caught in this foreign country and have the book thrown at me for indecent exposure. Then as the bus turned, the bay became visible on the right through open fields and on the left there was woods. I was saved. I pulled the cord that signaled the driver to stop. I ran out but a woman was right there walking her cocker spaniel. This was no laughing matter until I spotted an Esso station in the distance.
|FOUNDED IN 1912, "ESSO" IS DERIVED FROM THE INITIALS OF STANDARD OIL, "SO." HERE IN THE USA, THE NAME WAS CHANGED TO EXXON IN 1972. PRETTY MUCH THE REST OF THE WORLD STILL CALLS IT ESSO...LIKE THE ULTRA-MODERN STATION (above), IN HOLLAND.|
I lumbered as fast as I could while controlling any leakage. When I reached nirvana, I couldn't believe my bad luck, the station was abandoned and boarded-up. I hustled to the side of the building. I saw the men's room door was tangling from one hinge. I kicked the door in so well that Bruce Lee would have been proud. But inside...I saw the most disgusting thing I EVER, EVER saw in my life. Apparently some knuckle headed vandal with a warped sense of humor put excrement on the toilet seat, stuck a cherry bomb (or some such weapon of mass fecal destruction), in and lit it. I saw the aftermath...and even people from Hiroshima would have said that THIS was the worst thing they ever saw...or smelled. The entire room was painted in shit. I hurried out and was glad that I didn't slip on the glazed-over broken glass. I scampered out back and released the hounds. Please bear in mind that in less than one second after peeing, I was laughing out loud.
Frankierio once told me that when I told him the Vancouver story that he knew, we'd be friends for life. So despite the miles and all that time, we have indeed remained good friends. A part of the reason why I appreciate him was he (unlike me) understood his disillusionment in New Jersey and rather than complain, made the change that improved his situation.
|FRANKIERIO'S GOING AWAY PARTY AT MY HOUSE (WITH THE POKER BUDDIES). WHEN YOU CONSIDER THAT PCSCHMEE TOOK THIS PICTURE...IT'S HARD TO BELIEVE, I'M THE ONLY ONE STILL AT THE OLD CASINO.|
Sometimes I wonder how my life would have turned out if I bought that singing telegram business and moved out of the country...but I never dwell on it because I have no regrets.