Just a short entry from me today. Not even four thousand words.
It's barely a stutter.
It's a Cheeseburger Brown quickie, all about an evening many years ago, brought to the front of my mind by a dream I had the other night. It's about Hallowe'en. Why write about Hallowe'en in spring? I don't know. Shut up.
A full transcript of this diary can be obtained for a small fee by writing to the address below. Cheeseburger Brown's diaries are filmed in front of a live studio audience.
In stereo where available.
There were six of us altogether that Hallowe'en: Ishmael, Kitkat, Ninja, Nerdlinger, Cowboy and me. Only one of us would wear a costume (Ninja, dressed as a ninja), for this was a night of stalk and stealth not candy-rattling doorway jingles. This was a mission. We wore black pants, black sweaters, black toques...
We were good boys, back then. We didn't need to liquor up or smoke weed to get ourselves revved for mayhem -- our natural boyish exuberence was sufficient on its own. We had one can of warm beer tiefed from Kitkat's dad's bar, to share in celebration at the evening's heel. (This can of beer would spend the better part of the night juggling around inside of Kitkat's black knapsack, so when we did get around to opening it, fully one third of the can will be lost instantly in a frothy geiser.)
Ishmael and Kitkat are the first to arrive at my parents' Leaside home, an inseparable duo. Kitkat shows me the can of beer in his knapsack, and Ismael tells me he's invited along a friend. "We have to meet him at the bus-stop, because he doesn't know the way to your house," Ishmael explains.
Ishmael is a skinny, pale kid with lamb-chop sideburns and a sharp nose. His sidekick is heavier and meatier, but neither simple nor mean. They are a sweet heterosexual couple of boys in love, with a teenage friendship that will stand the test of decades. (I envy them that, and always will.)
Next comes Cowboy, who had been my best friend until I changed schools and we started to drift apart. Cowboy is from Texas. He is handsome and strong, with a Superman-like lick of dark hair across his brow. When he tries, he can sing like an angel. He has brought his black clothes with him in a bag, and he goes into the washroom to change. Cowboy doesn't do this because he is modest, but because his chest is still raw with welts from his last beating from his father, a rotund homosexual gourmet chef with a dangerous temper with whom I would have my own set of unfortunate encounters (but that is another story, and shall be told another time).
"Where the fuck is that idiot Ninja?" snaps Kitkat impatiently.
Ninja is new to Butcher-of-the-Somme Secondary School, and new to our friendship. He is short and tough-looking, and full of self-aggrandising lies about unprovable exploits...usually involving the martial arts. During his first week, Ninja claimed that his "Master" cut down mature trees with his hands, and kicked boulders in half as a form of improvisational landscaping.
Despite his lies, we have invited Ninja along. Ishmael figures that if he feels accepted, he's less likely to fib.
It has not improved his punctuality, however.
"I took the wrong bus," Ninja explains when he does arrive.
"The ways of ninjitsu are velly mystelious," I whisper to Kitkat in a mock reverential tone. "Rike a cat in the night, a long bus taken!" Kitkat stifles a giggle.
Ninja is wearing a baggy black paijamah with a simple black belt, into which is tucked several weapons -- a wooden sword, a short dagger, a pair of nunchuks. "I'm ready for anything," claims Ninja, his earnest seriousness reminding me strongly of Steven Segall. I'm not very impressed.
But there is no time for chatter. Ishmael is sure that his pal will have already abandoned the bus-stop and gone home, so it is a brisk mob we form as we scuttle down the broad and busy avenue of Eglinton. The night is cold, but the side-streets crawl with costumed children.
"Nerdlinger!" cries Ishmael happily, jogging up to his friend loitering in the bus shelter. "I'm so sorry we're late."
"Nice to meet you, Nerdlinger," we each say in turn, shaking the new boy's hand. Nerdlinger is a childhood friend of Ishmael from Hebrew school. He is thin and tall, his shoulders habitually stooped and his narrow neck extended somewhat in front of him, like an ostrich. He wears thick glasses, black-rimmed. Nerdlinger holds my gaze, and speaks crisply -- his confidence is surprising to me, given his round-backed posture of self-effacement. "You must be CheeseburgerBrown," he says. "Which way to the pharmacy?"
"Pharmacy?" I echo.
"Nerdlinger is a chemistry whiz," explains Ishmael. "And we're going to make smoke bombs!"
We're all very enthusiastic about this, but the pharmacist is unwilling to sell salt peter to our black-garbed motley crew. Obviously a chemistry buff himself, the pharmacist informs us darkly that he'll not be willingly contributing to anyone's smoke bombs this Hallowe'en.
And so we trudge across Leaside to another pharmacy, where Nerdlinger goes in alone. He quickly acquires the three key ingredients, including the elusive salt peter. "Careful with that," he says, handing the bag to Cowboy. "It can make you impotent."
"Oh shit," says Cowboy, holding the bag at arm's length.
Nerdlinger constructs several small bulbs of tissue, into which are packed a simple paper wick and a mixed portion of three magic dusts. "They can't really be thrown," apologises Nerdlinger, "but you can set them down and light the wick."
We try one out among the empty milk-crates and cardboard boxes behind the pharmacy. In seconds, the little bulb of tissue disappears inside of a thick, roiling plume of dense yellow smoke. The bomb continues to pour out smoke for much longer than I'd thought it would, and then fizzles with a flash of blue flame. We cheer. "All hail discordia!" shouts Nerdlinger.
"Discordia!" we imitate him.
As we walk down Eglinton we sketch out a game plan for the evening: though we are all sixteen years old, none of us have the use of a vehicle -- I don't even have my licence, yet -- so we are obliged to confine ourselves to Leaside. (Next year, respectably becarred, we will have a Hallowe'en with a much broader impact, striking strategic sites on one side of the city and then the other, but that is another story and shall be told another time.)
We are still pondering our first foray when we spot a couple of trick-or-treaters being cornered by some menacing older boys. "Look -- bullies!" sights Ishmael, his voice darkening with contempt. Though we are fans of mischief, our efforts focus largely on authority -- we are out to terrorize adults, not little kids.
"Let's go," declares Kitkat, striding across the street without hesitation. We follow his imposing size in a scuttling clot.
As we draw nearer it becomes clear to us that the bullies are younger than we are -- the kids they're harassing are probably in elementary school. The bullies are holding the kids' bags of candy over their heads and out of reach, pawing through the contents while taunting. "Oh, do you want your candy back, babies?" they apparently want to know.
"Yes," says Kitkat, announcing himself. "They do."
The four tween hoodlums turn to face us -- a row of sixteen year olds in black, one of whom seemingly bristling with weapons. Ninja has donned his oriental-style balaclava, the only visible part of his face are his eyes. He advances a step, putting his hand on the butt of his wooden sword. "Drop the bags," he growls.
Ishmael picks up the bags of candy and hands them back to the kids. One of the kids is supposed to be a skeleton, and the other one is wearing one of those pathetic plastic smocks with a picture of a superhero on the front. Both of them are visibly quaking in their boots, and they seem only a little bit relieved to be handed back their bounty. Now, they are stalled, utterly uncertain what is expected of them. "Go trick-or-treat!" entreats Ishmael. "We'll deal with these punks."
The kids run away.
The bullies shuffle awkwardly, trying to look defiant. "You guys are fucking bullies," one of them spits, his grasp of irony still developing.
"Look guys," Ishmael begins, his tone soft-edged and parental. "It's not 'cool' to pick on little kids on Hallowe'en. They're just out to have a --"
"Shut up, ass face," suggests the beefy twelve-year-old on the right.
"You're a very rude fellow," says Ishmael with a whistle.
"Suck my balls," rejoins a punk on the left. The spell of surprise has broken, and they are regaining their confidence. "Faggot!" contributes another.
Ishmael shakes his head sadly, and moves away. Cowboy, Kitkat and I have already armed ourselves with eggs, and as soon as he's clear we let fly. Egg after egg splinters wetly into the pack of bullies, and after a few seconds they find the sense to duck and cower. The beefy one breaks into a loping run down the sidewalk, so we cover his back in stringy yolk. The other bullies run in the opposite direction.
"Well, that was satisfying," says Ishmael happily.
As we cross to the east of Leaside we come to the covered pedestrian bridge that runs from one side of Bayview Avenue to the other, connecting the bus-stop to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind in an apparent effort to discourage cataract patients from J-walking. The metal bridge features plexiglass windows, under which are the letters CNIB. "What's sea-enn-eye-bee?" asks Ninja.
"Boring," declares Ishmael. "This bridge needs a better slogan."
We are standing in the middle of the covered bridge, the sounds of the thick traffic below us muffled. "I have just the thing," volunteers Nerdlinger, pulling a small tube out of his knapsack. "It's model glue -- anyone want to write something in flaming letters?"
Deciding that what the drivers below would be most impressed to see spanning the bridge is the word penis, we write this first on one side of the glass and then the other. "Remember to write backwards," Nerdlinger says.
When we're done, Kitkat lights the trails of glue. Like primitive neon, the lines of cursive script come to guttering orange life, declaring to all who drive below: PENIS.
We fall over ourselves laughing as we sprint out of the east end of the bridge, pinwheeling down the short, enclosed staircase and then running across some lawn to disappear into the dense neighbourhood. At a threshold of trees we turn back to admire our work. Cars are slowing down to check it out, and others behind them are honking. "Beautiful!" beams Ishmael.
As we chuckle and gab our way down a narrow residential street, an adult man suddenly materializes out of the shadows on his lawn with a sharp threat: "Don't you kids even think of making trouble around here!"
Surely, there has never been a more ready cry for trouble.
"Pardon me?" I say, stopping.
"You heard me," says the man sternly.
"I'll have you know we've been spending our night rescuing children from bullies," I tell him indignantly.
"Sure you have," says the man.
"I am offended by your shameless slander, you mung-baron," I reply.
We walk on as the man sputters and rages, and come up with our plan. Nerdlinger and I wheel around and head back to the mouthy man's house, while the rest of our squadron slips into a backyard and cuts over to the rear of the target house. "I'm still watching you rude little pricks," says the man as we approach his lawn.
"You, sir, have an elegant air about you that impresses me," calls Nerdlinger. "Please, may I be your protege?"
"Why don't you get out of here before I call the police?" invites the man.
"Why don't you take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut?" I reply.
We sauce back and forth like this for a few minutes, until we hear Ishmael's whistle from behind the man. He turns around from confronting us just in time to see the carved pumpkins on his porch burst forth with opaque clouds of noxious yellow smoke, blue flames licking out of the eye-holes. While his back is to us, Nerdlinger and I let fly our pockets full of eggs. When he turns to rage at us, Cowboy sets off a firecracker that lets out of a high-pitched screech, and the man nearly jumps out of his skin. "My house is on fire!" shouts the man. "Jesus Christ!"
But it isn't. There's so much smoke, though, that one can hardly blame him for the mistake.
At any rate, we run away down the street in a cluster, pelting over the asphalt as fast as our legs will take us. Somewhere in there Ninja steps on the cuff of his own paijamah and trips head over heels, skidding across the pavement and coming to a halt against a boulevard of grass.
"Ever glaceful, the majestic ninja!" I quip.
This time Kitkat and I cannot help ourselves. We explode into laughter, and so does everyone else. To his credit, Ninja tries to shrug the whole thing off. "It's really dark," he says by way of explanation. (Apparently, ninjas disdain working in conditions of inadequate lighting.)
We go the library and rearrange the letters on the signboard out front to read BOOK BURNING, TOMORROW ONLY - 10:30 SHARP! Then we go to the pharmacy that refused us salt peter, and press our naked asses against the glass until the pharmacist gets up to wave a broom at us. With Ishmael's art supplies we create our very own pedestrian crosswalk with white paint, cutting clear across one of the busiest stretches of Eglinton. We set off more smoke-bombs, and toss the last of our eggs.
We are chatting and laughing as we walk back toward the CNIB bridge, passing through the last stretch of residential neighbourhood before Bayview. That's when a voice cries out of the darkness: "There they are!"
We are quickly surrounded by a pack of six boys, several years older than we are. "So, you like egging little kids?" one of them askes belligerently.
"Actually, we're very open minded," replies Kitkat. "We'll egg anybody."
"You fuckers egged our little brothers," explains the speaker. "You should pick on somebody your own size."
"Your little brothers were picking on elementary school kids. Is that what you call picking on someone your own size?" challenges Ishmael. "Is ganging up on us what you consider picking on someone your own size?"
"Shut up," says the speaker, clearly over his head as far as the art of debate goes.
Kitkat reaches into his bag and pulls out our lone beer. He opens it, and it jets upward several feet. He covers the hole with his thumb and shakes the can vigourously, and then aims it in a wide arc as it lets fly, a geiser of warm beer spraying spectacularly at our inquisitors. Instinctively, they stumble backward and attempt to cover their faces. "Run!" shouts Kitkat.
They are after us. We have only a small head start. "Bridge, bridge, bridge!" pants Nerdlinger breathlessly, pointing as he runs. We all veer to follow his lead, sprinting over the short run of grass before the stairs to the bridge. I risk a glance behind, and see the bigger boys bearing down on us. "Shit!" I exclaim. "Faster!"
Traffic on Bayview is heavy, and loud. We can't hear the shouts from behind us anymore as we pile into the concrete stairwell and fly up the steps, two and three at a time. We charge across the bridge at full speed, but Nerdlinger stops in the very middle. Glancing up at the mouth of the stairs, he quickly unpacks all of our remaining chemicals and piles them on the bridge floor. In seconds his lighter is poised over the pile.
"Wait for it..." says Ishmael, eye on the stairs.
When our pursuers are a quarter of the way across the bridge Nerdlinger lights the pile, and we beat a hasty retreat to the far stairs. Before I head down the steps I have a brief moment to appreciate the look of surprise and fear on the bigger boys' faces as they stop short, a roiling cloud of yellow smoke rearing up before them, riding a ring of tall blue flame.
"All hail discordia!" shouts Nerdlinger.
At the bottom of the stairs we keep running. We run past the Bob Rumball Centre for the Deaf, and into the woods beyond. As we crest a small hill we dare to hesitate, and to look back.
Twin plumes of ochre smoke roil out of either end of the bridge, which gutters with dancing shadows and blue lights. The bigger boys are coming out of the bridge stairs, some on the far side, some on the near side. They are coughing and squinting. Covered by the wall of vapour, none of them have seen which way we've headed. We can just make out the blackened word PENIS on the side of the bridge, silhouetted against the strange blue glow of the salt peter fire. It is an awesome scene.
We slip down into the valley, disappearing from sight.
"Holy mother of shit!" says Cowboy, and we all have a good laugh. In the distance we hear the sounds of firetrucks.
"Don't worry, the bridge won't have caught fire. It's just because of all the smoke," says Nerdlinger.
The wail of police sirens is not far behind.
"Uh...that, maybe, we should worry about," comments Ishmael apprehensively.
He's right. The police are not stupid, and it doesn't take them long to begin combing the fringe of the woods with their flashlights. Carefully, quietly, we back further into the trees, circling around the long way to come out several blocks north. Scouting out, we spot a patrol car and retreat back into the valley. "We'd better wait it out a bit," says Ishmael. No one thinks to oppose him -- he is our captain on this mission, our rational Ahab.
We find some rocks to sit down on. Ninja slips off his rock and lands himself in a shallow creek, swearing. He is positively the clumsiest ninja I have ever know. "The freet footed ninja plefers to fry, not sit," I say, helping Ninja to his feet.
"Shit," says Ninja, wringing out his robes.
Kitkat offers up a pack of cigarettes, but I don't smoke. Cowboy, Nerdlinger and Ishmael take one, though. We settle in under the dark, half-canopy of denuded trees, and Cowboy suggests we tell a story. He even has one in mind: a misadventure he and I shared, involving activities about which I am largely ashamed. But once begun it cannot be left off, and so I take the reins of storytelling that I am handed, and spin the yarn.
The audience is captivated. Cowboy interrupts once or twice to suggest filling them in on this or that detail, but I shake my head -- he doesn't understand the order in which things must be told, to keep our friends on the edges of their seats. Cowboy doesn't appreciate the subtle twist and pull that must be applied, in order to make the story come out just right.
And so reluctantly, but with mounting confidence at my new found power, I outline the events of so many winters ago, when I behaved as badly as I ever have in my life (generally, most of the very bad things I've done have been in the company of Cowboy). My friends become attached to my words like fish to a hook: I can raise them to celebration, or dash them to tragedy, all by a craftsy whim guided by the facts of the way the events had unfolded.
I think to myself with surprise: storytelling is a hoot!
It is this part of the night that I will remember especially, for years to come. It is this part of the night that I think of, every time I sit down to tell someone a story.
What was the story about? Well, suffice it to say it doesn't reflect well on me, or on Cowboy. (It is another story, and has already been told.)
We depart in twos, breaking up our pack. Ishmael walks with Nerdlinger to the bus-stop, and Kitkat, Cowboy and Ninja head for the subway. "Great story," they tell me as we part. I walk home alone, whistling the opening movement of Scheherazade, as usual. By this time the streets are covered with smashed pumpkins, debris from teenage vandals playing more violent games than us. All of the kids have gone home, to bed.
I go to bed, too. I'm sixteen and carefree. I sleep like the dead.
Rapscallion Relish | What Art Is | The Wrap Party | The Barrington House
||IF YOU HAVE ENJOYED READING THIS STORY, PLEASE CONSIDER LEAVING A SMALL TIP. A PAYPAL ACCOUNT IS NOT REQUIRED. THANK YOU VERY MUCH. YOURS TRULY, C. BROWN.