On paper the drive was supposed to be two hours long, but as per usual in my case it only took a little over one hour and a half. It was uneventful, with the usual traffic coming out of the big city being anything but excessive. There had been no cops lying in wait on the side of the highway to ambush me either: a notable trait of those particularly unfrequented stretches of highway such as the one leading to my hometown.
All this to say, I was finally here: home. Or at least, what used to be home for innumerable years. I spent my entire childhood here; even in my present adult state these quaint houses and quiet streets were undeniably familiar. It didn’t seem to matter that I had been dwelling in the big city for over two years; this little hamlet of mine was still awash with that particular warmth which I constantly felt was missing in the frantic metropolis.
I stopped briefly at a gas station, one of those irreplaceable yet incredibly mundane places that I used to frequent as a kid. It was so long ago that I would go there to buy candy and soft drinks while out biking with my buddies. Only now things were a lot less innocent and sugary; it was all beers and smokes, although I omitted the latter purchase this time. While I didn’t have any qualms about buying some in the big city, it felt like an unforgivable, unspoken faux-pas down here. I reckoned that it was still deeply ingrained in the fibre of my being that smoking was an unpardonable vice, harkening back to the olden days when cigar-totting Englishmen owned all the businesses and ruled over the Frenchmen with a dreadful air of draconian arrogance which the latter still resented to this day.
Funny how such things persist over centuries. After all, those days were long gone; as a half-bloke, I was no more important than the sassy teenage French gal at the cash register. Don’t get me wrong, that was a good thing indeed. But equally good, perhaps even more so, was the six-pack of Heineken that I hauled back to the car with me. Thus, with social justice and beer in tow I was off to the house where the party was supposed to take place.
It took no more than five minutes to find the address. Having passed it by, I eased the car into one of the myriad free parking spots in the deserted neighbourhood. This wasn’t unusual for a twenty-fourth of June like this one; I reckoned that the townsfolk were all attending the big celebration going on in a nearby village. Indeed, today was probably one of the most important holidays in French Canadian culture: St-John’s Day, heralded by parades, massive open-air concerts and even bigger fireworks displays.
Having turned off the car, I got out and lit up the last of my Viceroys before entering the premises. As I paced to and fro on the sidewalk, I made a point of exchanging wary glances with a young woman my age sitting on her porch a few houses away. To some metropolitans it would have been impolite for her to stare me down like that, but I knew all too well that it was customary to have suspicious reservations about foreign visitors around here.
Thus I glared back at the woman, taking in the sights of her brown ponytail, white camisole and microscopically sleeved jean shorts before turning my attention toward the modest house in front of me. Sighing exasperatedly, I double-checked the address that my brother had texted me earlier. It checked out with the number stuck on the mailbox but even then I remained unsure of whether or not I was at the right place.
Then I heard familiar voices guffawing out of the backyard, and at that moment I knew that it was the right place. Having thrown my smouldering stub in the gutter, I cautiously approached the house with beers in hand, the girl next door monitoring my every move.
As I strode up the driveway I noticed that the garage door was open, revealing a passage leading to the backyard. Heeding the open garage’s invitation, I shuffled through and emerged into the backyard in plain sight of the other party-goers. Immediately my apprehensions were swiftly dispelled by the sight of my old friends, gathered around a barbecue on the porch.
First to greet me was a somewhat heavy-set, head-shaven chap who quite visibly already had plenty to drink. He fell direly short of toppling off the porch as he stumbled down the wooden steps to greet me, a bottle of Rickard’s Red in hand.
It didn’t take long for Rickard’s loud exclamations to draw glances from everyone else present. My impossibly long-limbed, lanky brother, with his neutral, laid-back eyes and a Perrier in hand (he was never much of a beer drinker), came up to shake my hand as well. As I plopped my beers down on the porch they asked me how the road went; I told them all about the ordinary trek. Rickard produced a bottle opener for me to pop open Heineken number one. All it took was the right leverage and a quick flick of the wrist for the cap to rocket off into the green grass; thus commenced my official involvement in the festivities.
Just then, Rickard Red’s partner in crime walked down with a blond Sleeman. He was the muscular hunk as always, with long curly hair and a seemingly permanent cheeky smile etched on his face. I smiled broadly back; the fact that we four chaps were reunited at long last filled me with a thoroughly enjoyable sentiment of nostalgic elation. Sleeman, Rickard and I were particularly close, given that we had stuck together in college through thick and thin while slaving through our computer science degrees.
We were just getting into swapping anecdotes from our respective workplaces when my childhood church buddy joined us. Again, I was very pleased to see him with his colourful arm tattoos, shaved head and wild, unkept beard. He was even accompanied by his lovely wife, with whom he had already been married for a good six or seven months.
Sipping away at their craft beers, the two additions mixed seamlessly into our reunion. Naturally the talk shifted to that of what they were drinking, as I was a fan of craft ales myself. Among other things, I inquired as to what exactly they had and took mental note of the eccentric name: “Mayfly”, or something of the sort. That way I would be able to try it when I was back in the big city, where even the most obscure of beverages were widely available.
We chatted jovially for a good hour at least. One by one we took turns cracking sardonic jokes, laughing heartily at those we hadn’t yet heard while sipping away at our respective drinks. Eventually Perrier, being ever the quiet type, retreated back to his seat on the porch and resumed the discussion he had been having with two other party-attendees prior to my arrival, concerning the details of the latest comic he was drawing. As for the rest of us, our attention was quickly captivated by the beer pong tournament kicking off at the folding table next to the swimming pool.
Still tired from the long car ride, I contented myself with spectating for now. As the first match unfolded before my eyes, I popped open Heineken number two; right at that moment, the party host appeared and greeted me. Here was a smallish yet energetic young man with a spotty beard and big cheeks, who was brimming with cheer at the prospect of seeing me again.
We were barely finished shaking hands before he gestured for me to follow him inside the house. As we shuffled past some other guests in the veranda and stepped into the kitchen, he grandly announced that he felt obliged to toast my arrival with an honorary shot of his choicest drink: a blend of spicy black rum, dubbed the Kraken. After all, this was not only the most important national holiday of the year but also my birthday, and this was his way to show me his appreciation.
I held up a shot glass of the stuff in anticipation as he prepared a serving of his own and instinctively thought of the long road that awaited me after the party. I was already having doubts about the many more drinks I could see coming my way over the course of the night. Of course the proper thing to do was stay here the whole night, but in this case I couldn’t because I was needed early at church the next day. However, I ultimately chose to toss all those silly worries aside as we clinked our glasses together and downed our shots in one decisive gulp.
Ahah! The rum coursed down my gullet, filling the hearth of my stomach with hearty cheer. I was slowly getting there: today was my birthday, in addition to being St-John’s holiday, and it was time to celebrate!
Just as Kraken and I emerged from the house, I was greeted by yet another friend of mine, who was also aware that I was celebrating my first quarter of a century. Thus he promptly ran over with a bottle of liquor of his own. Upon handing it to me, he sumptuously proclaimed that because of my honorary birthday status I had earned the right to be the first to drink from it.
The yellow dotted lines of the impending highway zipped through my mind as I unscrewed the cap, only to be smothered by a hefty serving of rum. As I swallowed the rum and winced at the concentrated dose of ethanol therein, the bottle’s owner informed me that it came straight from Cuba. It was his contention that this the best that money could buy. This surprised me, considering that I had never heard anyone speak this highly of a Havana Club before. But I thoroughly appreciated the gesture nonetheless and made sure to give him my sincere gratitude.
Having retrieved his rum, Havana waltzed back to the beer pong table, where he was up for the next match. Conversely, the victorioius duo headed back to the porch. Upon seeing me one of them lit up like a Christmas tree in December, nearly spilling his Corona into the grass as he wobbled over to shake my hand.
Corona and I chatted for a good while, our discussions revolving mainly around his studies and my current line of work. Contrary to his beer pong partner, who timidly stood near the edge of the yard with a Cooler in his hand while his girlfriend played at the table, Corona was quite the intellectual, which I must say was a refreshing change of pace from the dumb silliness coming out of most of the other guests.
We must have talked for a good hour or so when the beer pong tournament finally came to an end. Somewhat rudely interrupting our conversation came along Corona’s girlfriend; she had no qualms about disrupting our dialogue in order to reel her man in for a grudge match with the Cooler couple. Fortunately for her, the liquor and beer currently stirring in my system rendered me quite the gentleman. I mindlessly gave them my blessing and moved back to the porch, where the rest of my beers were located. Finding myself alone for the first time in the evening, I fell into a spontaneous bout of deep introspection as I popped open Heineken number three.
While watching the two couples blunder their way through a match of beer pong, I marvelled at how quickly everyone was getting matched up in my absence. Understandably, I went on to wonder if it ever would come to be my turn one of these days. The subject wasn’t just emotional or relational or sexual even; it touched on the much deeper core concept of identity. Indeed, by extension of my state of civil solitude I couldn’t help but feel out of place as a small town boy trying to make it big in the metropolis.
Call me melancholic, but I swear that it wasn’t in a sad or resentful way at all: it was a simple reflection on the fact that I had become too much of an outsider to have any attraction in the eyes of the small-town women, who generally wished for a grounded, simple, local soul. On the other hand, the stylish, picture-perfect dames in the big city often had little interest for my down-to-earth, small town demeanour. Which begged the question: what could my befuddled future possibly amount to? What kind of person was I right now, awkwardly stuck in between two worlds?
I swished a mouthful of lager around my palate; the answer proved to be profoundly elusive. Ultimately though, these doubts of mine swiftly gave way to the present moment, which for some reason always felt incredibly intense and engaging after a few refreshments. The soul-searching would have to wait; even now Mayfly and Corona were moving in to rekindle our conversations from earlier.
Another hour flashed by as we discussed things like French Canadian economics, Islam in Europe, American politics and everything in between. While listening to Mayfly’s sage take on the dichotomy of good and evil, I put the Heineken to my lips and discovered it to be empty. This complication didn’t last long; I swiftly popped open Heineken number four in order to keep on nurturing the heady discourse at hand.
Out of the blue, Corona had a sudden epiphany and, pointing at the garage, proposed brilliantly that we climb our way on top. Mayfly and I looked at each other and shrugged our approval. It seemed entirely reasonable, especially considering that it wasn’t all that high up. Plus it was completely flat, practically eliminating the risk of anyone falling off; what could possibly go wrong? Not to mention that should the fireworks go off in the nearby village we just might be able to see them from there…
Thus Corona, Mayfly and I haphazardly grappled our way up there like sclerosis-stricken orangoutangs, taking turns holding each other’s beers as we pulled ourselves onto the grimy, soot-covered surface. With that we continued our colloquy.
Sooner than expected, Perrier came along to say goodbye. We did our best to try to persuade him to join us or at least stay a little longer but he politely declined, perceiving much more clearly than us that this might not be such a good idea after all. Seeing as we weren’t about to mock his reason or coerce him into doing something that made him uncomfortable, we good-heartedly waved our goodbyes.
Having reciprocated in kind, he left us to resume our deliberation on whether or not a profession can make someone happy on its own. I argued that working was simultaneously a vital exercise and a necessary evil, considering that no one job was perfect in this incomplete world of ours. Mayfly and Corona promptly agreed, at which point it struck me how incredibly level-headed and lucid we were in spite of the alcohol flowing through our systems. Upon realizing this, I felt incredibly thankful for this good quality time I was having with the knowledgeable Corona and wiseman Mayfly.
That is until Sleeman and Rickard barged into the backyard. They looked up and immediately noticed us. Mayfly and Corona gestured for them to join us and join us they did; just like that, the time for wisdom and reason went up in smoke.
Driven on by peer pressure (I dare say even more so than by whatever percentages of alcohol we had in our bodies), we all conspired to stomp around on the angled roof of the house proper. Just then, Havana and Cooler also climbed up to join in on the fun.
At this point, things started to derail a bit. Corona and I, stricken by painfully full bladders, resorted to relieving ourselves over the edge of the garage roof. Meanwhile, a dizzy Cooler somehow managed to spill Heineken number four all over the angled tiles as he haplessly stumbled about. As I zipped up my pants I could only chuckle at the chaos, figuring that as long as nobody threw themselves over the edge everything would be just fine.
Then, for a fleeting second I became stunned by my own recklessness. In my defence, we were all equally involved in this bizarre bout of drunken groupthink. I tried to rationalize the latter with the fact that such things were to be expected during a St-John’s party. After all, had it not been statistically proven that men were generally more prone to doing stupid and dangerous things? This was our nature, we couldn’t really help it…
Unfortunately, Kraken begged to differ. Like a fiery whirlwind from the deepest circle of hell he stormed out of the house and hollered at us to come down. For all his small stature his voice resonated with livid authority, the recklessness of his friends clearly bringing up every kind of insecurity to the forefront of his mind.
I must confess to being put off by the little, simple-minded man’s sourly attitude at first, while Corona and Mayfly immediately showered Kraken with every manner of contrite apology. But then I reckoned that behind every fear of that calibre lurked a distinct painful tragedy or deeply impairing complex, neither of which were worth trifling with any longer. So I joined the others as one by one we all hopped off and made amends.
Thankfully Kraken was not one for holding grudges; the incident was soon forgotten, although I must say that he remained somewhat reticent for the remainder of the evening.
Eventually the crowd shifted out of the backyard and ebbed through the house, onto the driveway and into the street. I lingered behind, fussing over the fate of Heineken number four, which as far as I was concerned was still lying on top of the roof. Seeing that the latter was off limits, I decided to move on to Heineken number five; just then, word came to me that the party was moving on to the nearby high-school: the infamous Val-Mau. Apparently, it was there that we would be treated to a private fireworks show engineered by none other than the invincible duo: Sleeman and Rickard’s Red.
Spurred on by the prospect of witnessing such a foolhardy enterprise, I made my way through the house, which I found to be empty save for myself, Havana and his friend Doobie. Despite not knowing them all that much, I hit it off with them quite well. The way in which such spontaneous friendships emerge during a well washed-down evening would always confound me: although I wasn’t exactly diving in a pool of liquor at that point, I must say that I was feeling the vibe quite well.
Thus, we the tanked trio set off lazily in pursuit of the others. In the meantime I managed to strike up a conversation with Havana. From the words we exchanged, I found him out to be a robust, good-spirited fellow, which fit well with the disparate shreds of background information I already knew about him. It was my understanding that he was a family man, with a steady girlfriend and a small child.
His fatherly status wasn’t readily apparent in the current circumstances though, especially considering his penchant for clumsy humour bordering on reckless. Amusedly enough, the latter became particularly clear to me when he smashed Heineken number five in half while trying to open it for me. We both burst out laughing, totally unfazed by the screaming idiocy of cracking open a cold one by banging it on the sidewalk.
It was a miracle that I didn’t slit open my lips as I tried to salvage a few sips from the crippled beverage. After a couple of tries I wisely gave up the venture, despite being egged on by Doobie. He was a rather big, eye-glass wearing fellow, who despite being completely unknown to me did have a somewhat skittish and mischievous air about him.
The exact nature of the dickens in question would not remain a mystery much longer. Having followed them under the long shadow of a nearby tree, I entered their huddled midst just in time to witness Doobie produce a crack pipe and a bag of marijuana. He quickly proceeded to fill the bowl with a pinch of the sticky plant matter, before coming to the horrible realization that he had forgotten the lighter. Thankfully, being quite the charitable bloke I promptly lent them mine.
I watched on curiously as they lit up. Havana seemed to relish the experience more than his compatriot. As a young father having no doubt come to be unexpectedly and at the wrong place and time in his life, he visibly felt the need to let go of his responsibilities for a few hazed moments.
Just as I mulled this over in my mind, a red-eyed Doobie extended the favour to me. Do I? Should I? I didn’t really feel like it to be honest. As a matter of fact, I had never been impressed with pot and its variants, neither by the smell and taste of the fumes or by the fleeting apathy it instilled in people. However, I was at Heineken four and a half; the struggle was a little more real than usual…
Doobie’s slurred enticements only bolstered the temptation; still, I firmly resisted. Thoughts of the long road ahead were back in full force and with good reason, as the hour was getting late. It goes without saying that the last thing I wanted was to end up having a late-night conversation with a highway trooper while being both slightly tipsy and high.
Besides, there were more exciting things going on at the moment; already the first firecrackers were going off behind us. Thus I left Doobie and Havana to their devices and hustled to join the others on the edge of the school grounds’ ski slope. Unfortunately, the show seemed to end as quickly as it had begun. After a final failed attempt to set off the rest of the fireworks, we all decided to go back to the house.
I soon found myself standing idly on the driveway, staring up blankly at the moon and stars. Everyone else was downright drunk by now, with Doobie and Havana looking more stoned than the pebbles on the sidewalk. As for me, I was in reasonably good shape. I had full control of my limbs and was able to walk in a perfectly straight line. It remained to be seen whether or not my reflexes were on point, however: while loitering on the pavement I managed to drop my phone on the ground, just on the right angle as to crack the screen.
Grumbling at my own negligence, I stooped over and surveyed the catastrophe. Even more dismaying were the digits flashing through the damaged surface. It was definitely time to leave, lest I be too tired and dizzy to attend my ecclesiastic duties the next morning.
The fact remained that a part of me wanted to stay. However, as I beheld the wandering clusters of party-goers staggering around me, this desire of mine was quickly turned off by the foolishness of the late hour. Seemingly possessed by Native American mole spirits, Sleeman, Rickard as well as one or two other guests were trying to crawl into the basement through a half-open window. Fortunately for them, Kraken wasn’t aware of their shenanigans just yet; he, Doobie and Havana were too busy hitting on Cooler’s girlfriend and her gal pal on the sidewalk. In the midst of all this madness, I found myself silently lamenting the absence of my brother Perrier. Ever the savant, he had taken off long ago, understandably bored to death by us happy fools.
Yes, it was time to go. I bid farewell to my good friend Mayfly and made my way back to the car. As I opened the door to throw my bag on the back seat, I quickly took inventory of the valuables I had brought to the party, anxious not to leave anything behind. While doing so, I remembered that I still had one Heineken left but decided not to take it with me. Even while sitting nonchalantly on the back seat it just might prove to be my downfall should the highway patrol decide to have a chat with me.
Chagrined by the thought of this unfinished business, I figured that perhaps next time I would make arrangements to stay longer so I may at least finish all six of them before heading back home…
But that would have to be another evening.