I was sitting in the bar watching Sean tend to a few patrons from behind the counter. One of our notorious drunks showed up, and Sean decided to torture him, like you might torture a dog that wanted a treat, I guess to break the monotony. When the guy asked for whatever was his poison, Sean said “Sure, but only if you beg for it”.
“I want you to beg for it. Tell me you need it, and I’ll let you have it.”
“Ummm…hokay, I need it.”
“Once more with feeling.”
“I need it!”
“One more time.”
“I NEED IT!!“.
“No. Now get the fuck out of here.”
The poor drunk stood there, his mind working in slow motion, sort of swaying, and staring at Sean as if he couldn’t believe it. Sean made an elaborate show of cleaning the counter, moving things around in the fridges, and otherwise ignoring him. The guy was just standing there. I started to tense up. Was this going to turn into another hassle? Would the drunk pitch a fit? Were we going to have to drag yet another one up and out, kicking and screaming? On the percentages, that was more likely than not, but no, the poor bastard who needed it just turned around and wobbled off to find it elsewhere. I had a sense that Sean was disappointed, and it occurred to me that Sean was changing; I suspected he’d actually wanted a hassle. Not me. Enough. I thought we got lucky.
We were always lucky, though, weren’t we? Even when we were unlucky, we were lucky. We’d emerge from even the most bat-shit crazy situations scot-free, either because something that should have devolved into a total disaster somehow set itself right, or because some fluke, some random bounce, would occur to save us. Did Domus have a guardian angel? An anti-calamity force field? Sometimes, when I bore people at parties with stories of my misspent youth on Seymour Street, the response will be “You should be dead”. Yeah. I know. From alcohol poisoning, if nothing else.
Whatever it was, angel or mysterious force, it even seemed to follow us around when we were out on excursions. The automotive exploits of the various car-owning Domophiles supplied ample evidence of that, since in those days, no one thought all that much about impaired driving. That was all soon going to change. Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, founded just a couple of years earlier in 1980, were beginning to raise consciousness, but they hadn’t raised ours yet, and anyway, we were so used to being buzzed 24/7 that most times I don’t think we even knew that we were, by all conventional standards, loaded. We should have been dropping like flies.
I remember Kevin, years before he became Bar Manager and moved into the upstairs apartment, routinely drove home to Dartmouth after drinking all night, and this meant crossing a long suspension bridge over the harbour. Jason, who eventually moved in too, first had a place in the Halifax suburb of Clayton Park, or Fairview, somewhere off the peninsula, and Halifax and its environs aren’t that easy to navigate. It’s all hills and twisty roads intersecting at all angles, there’s no grid like you see in Toronto and other big cities. There’s plenty of opportunity to miss a turn, fail to stop, or hit one of the city’s many stout old trees.
Yet nothing ever happened. They always made it home and dry, even on nights when, had you been looking at things through the proper lens, you’d have bet the mortgage that the disappearance of those receding tail lights was marking the last time you’d ever see anything of the driver. It was nuts. Jason awoke one morning at home, with only a dim memory of how he got there, and found his big Plymouth parked halfway up the embankment between his sunken driveway and his front entrance, leaning there at an angle on the slope with one door hanging open. Not a scratch on it.
I’m not saying any of this was clever or humorous. I’m just sayin’.
You want to talk random luck? Gather ‘round, kids, as I regale you with the story of when Kevin borrowed his brother’s 60s vintage muscle car, yet lived to tell the tale. The auto that bid fair to serve as his final conveyance to Hell was a big, brawny, 1966 Malibu SS, or something just like it. Long, low, and wide, the sort of vehicle that looked in the rear view mirror like it intended to run you down and eat you for dinner. Cars of that genus were hugely over-powered by big-block V-8s, and boy, could they move. They were designed to reach and sustain speeds up around 100 MPH and even higher, and Kev was cracking to get the Malibu out on a nice long stretch of highway and wring her out a bit, see what she could do.
He knew just the road, too: there was a new one that had just been laid in the area up behind the peninsula, Dunbrack Street, all long and fresh and ribbon smooth. Ooooooh. It would be his own personal autobahn. Kev reckoned it’d be almost free of traffic when it was past midnight, so one early morning, after the clock struck twelve, he strapped himself in and made for the open road. Now, was Kev a little bit in the bag? Yes. Yes he was. A lot in the bag? Er, well, maybe not a lot, O.K., more than a little bit, sure, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say a lot, he was still more or less good to go. Sort of.
Would he or anyone he knows repeat such behaviour today? No. No he would not. Nor would they. No.
I think neuroscience has reached the conclusion that the cost-benefit/risk assessment module in the male brain is still wiring itself together at that age, and is generally non-functional. If they’re still looking into this and need any extra data points, they should give me a call.
So Kev gets her on to Dunbrack and puts the spurs to her. It was fantastic. Could it go a hundred? I guess it could go a hundred. It gobbled up asphalt like nobody’s business, he was up there just whipping along, Warp 7, Warp 8, Warp 9, it was fantastically exhilarating. He’d guessed right about traffic, too, there wasn’t a car but his on the road.
Well, there was one other car. It had flashing lights on top, sadly.
I don’t know how Kevin felt, exactly, sitting there pulled over at the side of the road, while the cop swaggered up to the driver-side window with that gait that cops seem to affect when you’re in real trouble, and they’re going to be just so happy to slap the cuffs on you. I can guess. Totally feeked. The cop tapped on his window, and when Kev rolled it down, it went more or less like this (for effect, the scene works better if you add the embellishment that the Halifax cop was really an Alabama State Trooper, you know, some guy with a Southern drawl named Buford):
“Well now, son, did you realize you were going 163 KPH in a 100 zone?”
“A bit past the acceptable margin of error, wouldn’t you say? I sure would. Tell me now, have you been drinking tonight, son?”
[Heavy Sigh] “Unh-huh. Unh-huh. O.K., then, I’m gonna need licence and registration, and I’m gonna need you to step out the car, slowly now, so I can administer – wait – shit – Kevin?”
Of course. The cop knew Kevin. The prior summer, Kev had participated in a program between the law school and the HPD under which law students did ride-alongs with the police, and for a couple of months he got to experience law enforcement from the perspective of the guys in the patrol cars. The cops came around to liking Kevin, first because just about everybody liked him, but second, because Kev identified immediately with the cops and what they had to do most nights. There usually isn’t a lot of high drama. Usually, it involves corralling drunks, breaking up bar fights, dealing with derelicts – kind of like Domus on a bad night. Sometimes it involves domestics, and suicides, and attempted suicides. There was one episode on the McDonald Bridge, with first responders talking a girl out of jumping; Halifax has two world-class suspension bridges, and jumpers weren’t uncommon. It was all very sad, really, you were confronted with a great deal of anguish and human tragedy when you were out on patrol. Kind of like Domus on a bad night.
Probably, the cops had been expecting their law student companion to be a pain in the ass, quoting the brand new Charter of Rights at them and complaining about civil liberties violations, but Kev, invariably fascinated with the systems, procedures and protocols by which we maintained civil society, gave them no guff at all. In some ways, he already thought like a cop, and as the summer passed, he even started to look like one, he was often mistaken for a plain-clothes detective when he was in the company of the officers, with whom he developed an easy rapport. One of Kev’s oldest childhood friends had become a Dartmouth cop, and they were still close, so he even knew a bit of the lingo, and understood the mind-set. They were all pals in the patrol car by the time summer ended.
Now there he was, still pretty drunk, having been pulled over for truly excessive speeding. Had you been there with him, you’d have had to think Kevin, you lucky, lucky bastard. For Kev had been pulled over by one of his former ride-along buddies.
The cop was torn, because Kev had really crossed the line this time, and anybody else would probably be clapped in irons already, and riding in the back seat towards a stay in the five-bar motel, but of course it was hard to do that to your old ride-along buddy, the nice kid who’d shown such surprising sympathy for what the police had to deal with. So Kev was told to drive slowly towards home, and the cop would follow him, and if it looked like he could navigate safely, he’d be allowed to go on his way – straight home, and no speeding, understood?
By now, Kev was a whole lot closer to sober than when the joy ride began, and he passed muster.
So, it seemed the Domus force field was still up and running. Living under it, though, had side effects, and we lived under it for years, in a sort of parallel universe where almost every abnormality was normalized, each of us immersed in a sort of group-think through which we mutually reinforced our attitudes and ideas about sensible behaviour. I think that after a while, we all started to go mildly off our gourds.
The famed Leopard Skin Vest, salvaged from the lost and found bin, might have been a symptom of the progressive dysfunction. It sat there in the box for a long, long time. Then Kev decided to take off his shirt one night, and just wear the skimpy little vest with its faux leopard print pattern, and from then on, it became an almost totemic item for him, the Tartan of Clan Kevin. You knew the party had started when Kev appeared in the Leopard Skin Vest. That was fine in the basement, people ate it up, they were all go-Kev-go, but it was maybe less advisable out among the regular folk in civilization. Kev was determined to give it a try though, so off we went one Friday evening, Kev bare-chested in the vest, pulling off the look surprisingly well, to dine at a tavern known as the Red Fox. The Red Fox, of all places.
We often went there on Fridays. They had great wings. It was also, how to put it, a little rough around the edges, you know? Working guys went there. Truck drivers. Longshoremen. It was not the best place for a guy to flounce around in a skimpy little animal print number, and it probably isn’t to this day, if it’s still there; it certainly wasn’t in Halifax, circa 1983. The sorts of guys who filled the tables at the Red Fox had certain fixed ideas about certain matters relating to manly comportment, let’s say, and they were sitting there in their Greb boots and plaid shirts, incredulous, giving Kev the stink eye. There was that old, familiar feeling again. Barometer rising.
So Kev looks one of them in the eye and fires back with “What’re you lookin’ at?”. Smart. Mike looked at Kev almost pleadingly, beseechingly, as if to say look, Kevin, good buddy, aren’t we under enough risk of a beat-down on a routine basis? Must we really court one here? Can’t we just eat our wings, Kevin? Buddy? Well, Kev was having none of that. No sir. They wanted to look at him? Fine. He’d give them a real good look.
So he stands up and just starts doing a circuit of the bar, brushing closely past all the rig-drivers and dock-wallopers, making sure to mince a little in the way that retrograde straight guys suppose, in their nonsensical way, that gay men would mince, almost like he was displaying his wares. Mike and I grimaced and tried to sink lower in our seats.
Something was bound to blow. Hmmm…what was the blast radius for a 5 megaton H-bomb, “H” for “Homophobia”? A few miles? We were surely in the red zone, we knew that much. You could feel the seething hatred growing, it felt as if the temperature was actually going up, and Kev kept walking the circuit, like a model on the cat-walk, until he’d hit every table in the joint, at which point he just kept going and marched right out the door, leaving us there. He travelled on foot all the way back to Domus, about two and a half kilometres away (I just checked it on Google Maps), nothing but the Leopard Skin Vest to protect him from the winter temperatures.
The punch line? There was never anyone more firmly, and indeed successfully, heterosexual than Kev. He bedded beautiful women in a fashion those welders and concrete-pourers could only dream of emulating. He was just traipsing through the bar that way because some part of him wanted to piss them off, royally. He succeeded. Yet nothing came of it, nobody said a word, or grabbed him on the way by, though it was undoubtedly a good move to sashay straight out of the place at the end of the performance. That was probably what saved us.
Was it time, perhaps, to give our heads a shake and get a grip? Nah. We were fine, and anyway, there was so much fun yet to be squeezed out of the old house. Have a drink! Let’s do another theme night! We could do a beach party, maybe, or riff on a story in the news. Soviet fighter jets had just made an appalling hash out of what should have been a routine intercept, and shot down a Korean airliner, apparently by mistake – how about Russian Dead-Eye Pilot Night? Yeah! Oh, what fun. Not in bad taste at all. Remember that toxic punch we’d made for the Hallowe’en party, what did we call it – Pumpkin Piss? We could do up a batch like that, it’d lay ‘em flat on their asses. Oh, be joyful!
So much unadulterated fun! We were doing just fine! Maybe, I thought, it was getting a little strange in our repeated subterranean bacchanals, as I sat there and watched Sean, tending bar, look quizzically at the counter, upend his beer on it, and proceed to slurp it up like a dog lapping at a bowl. Maybe. Nothing to worry about, though. It was all just Domus.
Look, it was just Domus, that’s all. So we remained there, closed the place down every night, and left any sober reflection for later.
So it went, and so there they were, at another closing time. Everyone was gone. It was just Rossi, McGillvary, Mike, and Kevin. They were playing what you might call Domus Basketball. This involved not hoops, but the far wall of the washroom and the tub beneath (yes, there was a tub in there for some reason), and not balls, but empty beer bottles. There was a target painted on the wall above the tub. The idea was to sit at a table in the bar area, and throw a beer bottle at the target. If your aim was good, the bottle would fall into the tub and shatter. Or, sometimes it would shatter on the wall, and its fragments would fall into the tub. Sometimes, of course, you’d miss the target by a wide margin, heck, you might not even get it through the door into the washroom, and that meant that the average game left nasty shards of brown glass all over the place, but what the Hell. Sean would sweep ‘em up. Cleaning was Sean’s job.
This went on for a fair while before it got old. Mike and Kev decided to pack it in, and Mike offered to give Kev a lift home. At this juncture, Kev was living in an apartment a-ways down the road, closer to the harbour. They began the drive down the empty street, South Street if the reader knows anything about the geography, amid the long shadows cast by the rising sun. It was tranquil, soothing actually. Mike cruised at a nice leisurely pace, like he was out for a Sunday drive in the countryside. He was maybe a little over the legal limit, but mainly he was dog-tired. So tired, these days.
Not tired enough to be sloppy behind the wheel, though. Mike never was. He always shoulder-checked, he always looked both ways, and he always came to a full stop at an intersection. That was good, because as they passed the Victoria General Hospital, and approached the intersection, the Reaper took another shot at them. Coming from the right, going at least 50 MPH, maybe more, was a hurtling panelled van, a Ford Econoline, duck-egg blue, they’ll never forget it. As Mike saw it, Kev, sitting in the death seat, had acquired it too, and even as he yelped something a little incoherent, like “Mike – the car!”, Mike, already braking slowly to stop behind the white line, now slammed on the brakes, hard. Just as they stopped, the van slashed across them, veering into the road on Mike’s side of the cross walk, making contact with the grille of Mike’s car, punching out the left headlight, then veering again and tearing away without slowing in the slightest. Mike and Len were rocked around as the car oscillated back and forth on its shocks. They were unhurt. Another couple of feet, another split second, and they’d have bought it, maybe, or been maimed, but it was O.K., they were just shook up.
They got out, and were just able to catch a glimpse of the van rounding a distant corner as its tires shrieked, and it came close to tipping over during the violent turn. It was as if whoever was driving was in the midst of a high-speed chase, but there was no other traffic, nothing to be chasing him. Mike and Kev just stood there, mouth-breathing, trying to calm down, when a couple of medics ran over from the hospital to check them out. Kevin wobbled over to the curb and sat down, and Mike talked to the medics. “Why didn’t you chase them?”, asked one. “And do what if I caught them?” responded Mike.
Soon the police were there. They took down their report, but at first seemed a little dubious about Mike’s account. It had approached from the right, but punched out the left headlight? The medics, though, had seen enough to confirm the story, and avow that the van had been flying by at ungodly speed. Satisfied, the cops did their paperwork. They could tell from the skid marks that Mike had saved the day by virtue of superb reaction time, and everyone confirmed that the van was at fault. The Police never even suggested a breathalyzer. A cop motioned his head towards Kev. “Is he all right?” “Oh sure” replied Mike, “he’s just a little fazed”.
Fazed? Jesus, he’d said fazed. Who said something like that when he was sober? Mike was worried the cop would suddenly think a breathalyzer was a good idea after all, but he didn’t, apparently “fazed” didn’t sound like a strange word choice to him, and everything soon wrapped up. Mike’s car was still drivable. So off they went. Like nothing at all had happened.
Later, Mike examined the front end of the car, and there was a sort of scuff-mark on the housing for the right headlight, and then a series of little nicks across the entire latticework of the grille, each filled with blue paint, as if a blue bullet had furrowed a shallow path as it grazed the front before it took out the left headlight. The hood ornament had been clipped off. There was no other damage, none at all. It had been incredibly close, but the Domus force field was still giving them its full extended protection.
Lucky. We always had luck. It was starting to seem, though, like we were pushing it.