12 Dec Steve Anwyll
YOU MOVE AWAY FOR ALL THE RIGHT REASONS BUT CAN’T BE SURE UNTIL THEY CATCH UP WITH YOU
Eric and I haven’t seen each other in awhile. Haven’t really been friends in awhile. We both come from the same small town. Went to the same high school. Had all the same friends.
After school we saw each other around. He sold weed for a spell. I bought weed for a spell. He helped me move a couple of times. I threw a martini on his girlfriend’s Chihuahua.
We ended up with different ideas about life. Where to go. What to do. I was bored out of my mind. On the edge.
He was digging in. Looking for the life we’d been promised. Something easy. A comfortable ride. A job in a factory.
Just like our fathers.
To me it sounded fucking awful. A real slow suicide. I wanted my end to come a hell of a lot faster than that.
So I ran off to Toronto with a girl. For a kick. To run as far away as I could from that shithole. To burn it from my memory.
Neither was really much of an option when I think about it. Just different.
He liked his life.
And mine suited me just fine.
He landed the job. Hauling trash in the same dismal steel box as my father. Puffed his chest out when he talked about it. Pride all over his face.
For as long a I can remember. Any type of brotherhood gave him a boner. And the Canadian Auto Workers union was the biggest family he could ask ever for.
He emailed me out of the blue. Told me he was coming to town. There was a national convention. All the union bigwigs were coming. And so was he.
This was exciting stuff in his world.
To him these union bosses were celebrities. Superstars. He adored them. Worshiped at their feet. Blindly believed in the things they said.
A day before he gets into town he starts texting me. Telling me about all the people he’s going to meet. Gives names. Ones I’ve never heard before.
I don’t give a shit but do my best to pretend. So I send back answers like wow and great. Hoping that maybe he’ll be calmed down by the time we meet up. Even though I know it’s not possible.
The plan is to go for dinner. He doesn’t have a lot of time. Lots of big important things to do he texts. This is the national convention after all. And who am I to argue?
I catch a streetcar. Sit at the back. Watch Queen St. East turn into Queen St. West. Think of places to take him. He’s going to want to see something. Make some kind of memory. Expect me to know all the good spots.
But I don’t.
It’s rush hour. And the street car is moving slowly. I’m running late. I send him a text. He gets back. I read it. He tells me again. That he doesn’t have a lot of time.
The son of a bitch. He reached out to me. Now he’s giving me shit. Burning my ass.
Well. We’ll see who gives who shit.
The convention is at a swanky hotel across the street from city hall. I get off out front of the Eaton Centre. Walk the rest of the way. I want to get a little fresh air. See the guy who always sleeps on the grates on the corner.
Wonder how he survives.
I go into the hotel. Look around the lobby. It’s strange. I know I’m in Toronto. But no one has the look. Instead it’s like being transported to an Optimist Club fish fry. It’s too much for me to take in.
I pull out my flask. From the breast pocket of my jacket. Tip it up. Take a drink. Put it back in my pocket.
The floor of the lounge is surging. Overweight men in faded blue jeans. Worn work shirts. They come from doors on every side of the room. They weave. They cross.
They occasionally swear.
I see Eric. Sitting on a sofa in the middle of the lounge. Checking his phone. He looks nervous.
I figure it’s all the people around. He’s used to a small town. Having space. The luxury.
He hasn’t noticed me yet. I take another sip from the flask. The only advice my old man ever gave me. You can get away with anything in a crowd.
I walk over.
Eric see’s me. Smiles. Gets up. Walks towards me. We don’t shake hands. Touching not a part of our ritual. Which doesn’t involve anything at all.
Just small talk.
‘Um Stan. I’m sorry. But we have to go back up to my room.’
‘Why? I thought you were in a rush?’
‘Yeah. I know. I forgot my wallet though. My boss might be there. You might get t’meet ‘im.’
I don’t need to meet him. I already know him. He’s some fat fuck fifty year old. Boot cut jeans. His enormous fucking gut hanging over the strained leather belt.
He’s a piece of shit with a large red nose. He’s loud. He thinks he’s still scoring touchdowns in high school football.
There’s a boat in his laneway. A pool in his backyard. He thinks anyone who doesn’t work in a factory is a fucking retard.
And Eric is training to be just like him.
‘Yeah. Meeting your boss doesn’t really make me want to come up. Honestly I’d rather not meet him at all. I’ll wait here.’
‘He’s probably not there though. I have some cold beer.’
I follow him to the elevators.
We stand outside the hotel room. Eric searching his pockets for the swipe card. I pray to the universe. To time. To anything that’ll listen that his boss will be long gone.
I get lucky.
But not too lucky
‘Nice room. Where’s those beers?’
‘Oh. Let me check.’
I look around. The place is a mess. There’s clothes and take out containers everywhere. Empty bottles. Everything has a shine like wet grease.
I notice a full pint of whiskey on the dresser.
‘Christ. What the fuck have you guys been up to?’
Eric hands me a beer.
‘My boss hasn’t stopped drinking since we got here. He’s letting his hair down.’
‘He must have some realy long hair. You guys get along?’
‘Oh yeah. I like him. He’s a cool guy.’
The phone starts ringing. Eric picks it up. Starts talking. I wonder how cool his boss can be. Maybe I got it all wrong? I open the beer. Take a sip. I’m not sure it’s ever been cold.
‘That was some of the union guys. They say my boss is with them. He’s obnoxiously drunk. I have to go get him. You can come with me?’
‘But you can meet some of the union guys.’
‘You wanna wait in the lobby?’
Before we leave I open the bottle of whiskey. Take a drink. Offer it to Eric. He shakes his head. We leave.
Eric goes off to another wing of the hotel. I sit down on a couch. Look across the lobby. Over at the bar. I’m thirsty.
The whiskey and the beer I had in the room didn’t do the trick. I want another beer. Cold this time. I search my pockets.
I know it’s a waste of time.
I think about leaving. Giving up. Fuck it. We had our small talk. I don’t want to meet his boss.
I don’t need this. I can just walk away. Cut Eric right out of my life.
I stand up. Take a couple steps to the door. And there he is. Eric. One arm around his boss. I pretend like I’m walking towards them.
Not about to run away.
And my premonition was true. He’s fat. Old. Drunk. Barely able to hold himself up.
A complete and total disgrace. I walk over to them. Eric is struggling. Looks to me for help.
I’m not putting my hands on that fat asshole. That ape. He looks like he’s the source of the greasy shine upstairs.
And I don’t want that getting all over me.
Instead I follow them into the elevator. Listen to Eric’s boss mumble. Spit all over the front of his work shirt. We wait. I’m not sure if he knows I’m with them.
This guy is a fucking pig I think. His thick body odour reminds me of home. I should’ve made a run for the door. Head down. Avoid all eye contact.
When the elevator opens I get out. Wait for them. Have to hold the door. Eric’s boss is having a hard time with gravity.
I hope that he falls. Smashes his face into the thick carpet. Has a deep red rug burn across his chin to explain in the morning.
But it doesn’t seem like I’m getting what I want tonight.
He makes it back to the room. Safe.
Eric pulls out his passkey. Tries to swipe it. His boss grunts. Lurches forward. Swats Eric’s hand.
‘I’ll open tha goddamn door. Ah’m the fuckin man ’round ‘ere.’
Christ. I take a step back. This is the first coherent thing he’s said. I look at Eric. His eyes are lowered. Shoulders slumped.
The fucking pussy.
His boss is fucked. Puts one hand against the door. Steadies himself. Digs in his pocket with his other hand. Stops. Wipes the sweat from his confused face on his sleeve. Tries the other pocket. No luck again.
His eyes squint. He thinks about it. Smiles. Pulls the passkey from his shirts breast pocket.
He holds it up in the air. Like a trophy. Like a false god.
Something we should praise.
He holds himself with the air of a champion. Instead of a sweaty bag of human trash.
Eric looks up at the card.
His eyes welling.
The fucking pussy.
I need a drink.
Eric’s boss brings down his hand. Swipes with vigor. Repeats. But nothing happens. A red light and a loud buzz indicate his ineptness. I laugh a little. He notices me for the first time. His eyes in and out of focus.
‘Jesus fuckin Jesus Eric! Whata ya doin jus standin there? Open tha door. Like ah tol’ ya!
Eric hops to it. Like a trained chimp. Obedient. Sweat now running down his face. Praying he gets it right on the first try.
So do I.
I don’t think I can handle another outburst.
The light flashes green. The door opens. Eric sighs. His boss pushes him out of the way.
Before the door closes I can hear a jet of piss. But it doesn’t sound like it’s hitting water. More like running down a bathroom door.
Eric gets up. We go in the room. I can’t bring myself to say anything to him. What could I?
I get it. He’s his boss. But how can he put up with this shit?
Someone should put a pillow over the asswipe’s mouth when he passes out. Anyone who’s ever met him would never ask any questions.
I walk straight over to the bottle of whiskey. Open it. Take a drink. Then another. Then another.
‘Dude, watch it man. That’s my bosses. He’s gonna notice.’
‘Ah fuck off. Seriously? This guy’s a fucking dick. You should push him over the balcony.’
‘Don’t say that. He’s a good guy. He’s got a family.’
‘Then they’d owe you a favour.’
I take another drink. Put it down.
Just as I do his boss comes out of the bathroom. His fly undone. Piss down the leg of his jeans.
‘Eric. Who tha fucks this guy?’
‘It’s my buddy. Stan. Remember?’
The son of a bitch starts eyeing me. His age and intoxication an advantage. But if he gets a hold of me…I’m done for. He’s too fat. There’s no stopping it.
I edge my hand. Slowly. Towards an empty bottle on the table. Never breaking eye contact.
‘I told ya. We’re gonna hang out for a bit tonight. Stan’s gonna show me around. He lives here.’
‘He lives here? Oh. So you must be some kind of fucking faggot then?’
‘Yep. I must be some kind of fucking faggot.’
I laugh. Eric jumps between us.
‘He’s just joking man. Trying to get your goat.’
I’m not sure who he’s talking to.
‘They got any fucking pornos on this tv? Eric. Ge’me somethin a eat,’ his boss says. Moving on.
‘Probably. But you’re gonna have to order some room service. We’re going out.’
“Wha the fuck I wan’ room service. I need someduddy a drink wit’. I’m gonna goin back a Larry’s room.’
‘They just kicked you out. That’s why I had to come get you.’
‘Then I’m gonna goin go out. Find some whore t’ suck my cock.’
‘You are not doing that.’
‘See. The fuckin queer ge’s it.’
I do. I should’ve run.
Eric convinces him to settle down. Order some food. Get into bed. Relax.
‘Well. I gotta get outta ‘ese clothes. And I don’t wanna no fucking faggot looking at me while I do it.’
I roll my eyes.
‘Ok. Then go to the bathroom.’
‘Gimme a hand.’
Eric helps him up. Walks him to the bathroom.
This is a mess. I pick up the bottle of whiskey. Take a drink. Hide it down my pants.
‘Alright man. Lets get out of here,’ Eric says from the bathroom.
‘Are you sure? This has been a lot of fun.’
We get out into the hall. The door closes behind us. Plush carpet under our feet. And the library style quietness of a hotel hallway.
‘Well. Thanks for having me up. That was a blast. Your boss seems like a great guy. Cool. Just like you said.’
‘Yeah. He’s usually not that bad. This is like some vacation for him. He let’s loose. I hear he was worse last year. I’m sorry he called you a fag. He thinks everyone who lives here is a queer.’
‘Well. That makes sense.’
We’re not even at the elevator yet. Eric’s checking his phone. Making sure his boss hasn’t already texted him. Or gotten loose.
He’s sweating. There’s no color in his skin.
So this was how he got asked to come to the convention.
No one else had the strength. To look after the lump of shit back there. To make sure that he made it back to his wife and kids.
Eric the sap.
In the elevator I ask Eric where he wants to go. What kind of food he wants to eat. He barely answers. Keeps checking his phone. Leaves it up to me. Just like I thought.
I take him to a place I think he’ll like. A shitty hip fake dive. Punk bands play upstairs. The waitresses are all too good to talk to you. Let alone take an order. They’re just what he looks for in a woman.
He looks over the menu. Can’t find anything he likes. I forgot. Or never knew. He’s a picky eater. Hasn’t heard of guacamole.
I get a beer. Order tacos.
He gets a coke. A plate of fries.
I try and talk to him. But he can’t concentrate. He keeps looking at his phone. Waiting for the message. The one we both know he’s going to get.
We eat. Pay the bill. Leave. The night’s still early. I’ve had enough of Eric. It’s time to get rid of him.
‘You can catch a cab back to the hotel from here.’
‘You’re not gonna come back with me?’
‘Ah no thanks man. I think I’m gonna stay out a while. Walk around.’
‘Oh. What if I get lost?’
‘It’s easy. Just tell the cabbie where you’re going. Then he’ll take you.’
‘Well it was nice seein ya.’
‘Yeah. Real nice.’
I wave down a cab. It stops. Eric opens the back door. I hear Eric’s phone start ringing. Look at his face. He looks like he’s going to cry. I slam the door shut as he answers.
And I think to myself what wonderful timing.
The cab drives off. I look around. At the lights. The people. Pull the bottle of whiskey out of my pants. Have another drink.
I walk to the corner of Bathurst and College. Stand at the streetcar stop. Wait. Hear one come rattling down the tracks. I hop on. Walk to the back. Sit in a single seat. Look out the window. Watch College St. become Carlton St.
Put my feet up. Drink.
I think about Eric. We didn’t say much tonight. It was kind of a waste. Except for the bottle of whiskey.
God he was so proud to be at the convention. And he was just some fucking babysitter. He just wanted to be like all the men he was meeting.
These men he looks up to. Men whose only escape is once a year. Tying one on. In the confines of a swanky hotel.
I know that the two of us aren’t going to be friends anymore. And it won’t be long before Eric starts thinking I’m some kind of faggot too.