Sunday, February 24, 2008

T.O. Story With Pictures

It's occurred to me more than once that many Americans harbor some unrealistic views about Canada. They see it as a perfect land with no crime, no accidents, free healthcare for all and the Prime Minister makes sure everyone is tucked safely into bed every night at 9:00 o'clock. Well, none of that's true except for number 3 and to illustrate (good God, a pun!) here's a true story from the late 60's:

At the time I not only had a full-time job but was attending art classes and rehearsing a play so it seems the last thing I'd want was more employment. I've never spent any time under one of those trees that money falls off and since I had a trip in mind I figured since I was young and healthy, why not take a job that began at midnight? To this day I can't remember who offered it to me but one night after rehearsal I found my way to an unmarked street door on Dundas and climbed up a long staircase to the 4th floor where I found an after hours nightclub. I'd always thought that once the clubs closed all the musicians went home to bed like everybody else but I learned a lot of them aren't the least bit sleepy and prefer to go clubbing. The place itself was more than a bit tacky with unmatched broken chairs, peeling wallpaper, permanent nicotine and beer fug, and cockroaches. Then again, few nightclubs could pass the good housekeeping standards of our mothers and that's why we like them.

The idea was that I'd stand behind a little counter at the top of the stairs and collect the admission fees until around 3am. It was a private club but only in the sense that whoever came by could just say they were a member and the Toronto police turned a blind eye to the fact the owners made their money selling drinks the same as at any other bar. Round about 1am the place would start getting busy as musicians, their girlfriends and various other night people started to arrive. Of course, there'd be a lot of jamming going on as old friends who were playing clubs like the Brown Derby and Le Coq D'or actually got to spend some time playing with each other. The music was very cool and I didn't mind the fact I wasn't getting paid much. Nevertheless, there I was with an open cash box that nobody showed much interest in and the pay really was very bad. Ross, the bouncer was also very badly paid and since he acted as my bodyguard when required I decided to amend our income directly by taking some money every night and splitting it between us.

As an example of why I might need a bodyguard I remember one night when I heard the door crash open at the foot of the stairs followed by the sounds of shouting and stomping as the new arrivals got closer to the club entrance. All of a sudden a crying woman screamed, "You're gonna hit me! I know you're gonna hit me!" The next sound was a terrific SLAP! Then the footsteps continued. On arrival, if I hadn't already suspected, it turned out to be a pimp and some of his ladies - one of whom apparently hadn't earned her keep that night and the guy was mad. The weird thing though, was that she kept describing her own punishment since the next thing she screamed was, "You're not gonna pay my way in!" So the guy said, "Pay your own way in, Bitch!" There she is all boo-hooing but out of the sobs came some fatal words, "You're gonna push me down the stairs! You're gonna push me down the fuckin stairs!" Oh dear. Everything seemed to go very quiet as he let go of one of the other girls and turned to move toward her. Next thing he'd grabbed her by the shoulders and gave a mighty push down the long stairs that had no landings. There were loud bumps, yells and finally a crash as she hit the bottom. I think I'd stopped breathing. Then a minute or so later we heard the door open at the bottom and the sounds of her still crying as she left.

The next night when I arrived the owners had left a roll of tickets that I was supposed to give half of to the customers and keep the other half in the cash box. It seemed they'd been counting the patrons and had found a discrepancy in the entrance fees. I stayed and did my shift without handing out any tickets and at the end of the night I took all the money. I gave half to Ross and kept the rest.

A few days later I ran into Ross on Yonge St. and we walked a ways together. He told me 'they' were looking for me and said I probably shouldn't go back. I wasn't planning to. The criminal was me.


Anonymous said...

I love this story. The pictures. Your subversive act. The after nightlife. All of it.

Mathman6293 said...

This story is really funny as you tell it. When I was in college my dollars were paperbacks. I worked for a book jobber.

If not for them, I would never have read the Foundation Series, Spoon River Anthology or the Lord of the Rings.

susan said...

Ahh! dcup and mathman first at the scene of the crime and welcome. Sometimes there are periods in your life where the regular rules don't apply. The city has a million stories and this was one of them..

grannyfiddler said...

"periods in your life where the rules don't apply".... food for thought. things are relative. being a musician, i'm also fascinated by the role music plays in setting the scene in many of the stories that make up our lives. great story; love the drawings, as always.

Scarlet W. Blue said...

I can't believe you! Great story, though. Again with the pictures, which I love.

Randal Graves said...

Everyone knows that all the money trees grow down here in shining cities on hills.

Great story, great pictures. And hey, you didn't push anyone down the stairs.

Gary said...

Yowser! What a story... and what drawings to go with it. Did Ronnie Hawkins really play there?

Hey, don't go destroying all the Canada myths. People might even begin to think it's cold here in the winter.

susan said...

GFid - I meant that with everything else being so crazy my act of larceny made no difference to the big picture... and the pay was VERY bad.

Scarlet - I got a million of 'em - til the carpal tunnel kicks in, that is.

Randal - Shining cities on hills? Ici au les Etas Unis? Formidable!

Gary - Rompin Ronnie indeed and the Band too. We named Garth after Garth Hudson.

Don't worry, I'll keep on telling people the Yukon really is the place to vacation - especially GW and Dick.

susan said...

from Scarlet

Randal Graves said...

Oui ! Les Etats-Unis ont tous les arbes d'argent !

Anonymous said...

Hello, Susan.
I seem to remember from my days in New England that most of the really violent beatings deaths that occured in the area had a Canadian culprit.
Very much unlike America, where we kill each other with firearms.

Perhaps it is that the Canadians there expected people to be wearing much heavier coats, and that the blows would not have done so much damage had the victims been layered properly.

Most excellent artwork, btw.

susan said...

Randal - Avez de plus bonne chance we may get there too.. eventuellement.

PT - Yeah, when I was young all the scariest people I ever knew were Canadian. The I grew older and learned there are scary people everywhere.

susan said...

btw PT - Thanks for coming by and letting me know you like the drawings. An artist can never have enough praise - esp. when there's no money involved.

Ben said...

I really can't say I blame you. It came time to get out while the getting was good.

Sounds like the pimp had really gotten inside that lady's head. I'm sure there's a science to it.

lindsaylobe said...

A great story that tell us a lot about your high energy youthful existence, rehearing for a play, whilst working full time and evenings that drifted into the wee small hours ! Did you ever fall asleep next day at work ? What plays were you in and what roles?

I remember a brief period when I was heavily involved in Musicals and after rehearsal’s you didn’t feel like going to sleep. At work people became concerned stating, I looked like “death warmed up”. I was only able to do that for a few years, the effort and time commitment was too much!!
Best wishes

susan said...

Hi Ben - That was definitely my attitude at the time and gone I was.

Lindsay - Nice to see you've been back. That particular play involved simultaneous poetry readings being done in counterpoint while moving in and out of spotlights and projection screens. It was very avant guard.

Yes, youthful energy levels can be very high indeed - never enough hours to try all the things worth doing.

fairlane said...

I already knew Canada wasn't perfect. After all, Gary is a Canuck.

fairlane said...

Shit, incredible artwork Susan.

You might want to consider doing something with art.

Gary said...

I represent that remark Fairlane!