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By Jason Schneider, Michael Holmes
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2005 Jason Schneider
All rights reserved.
Marcel La Forest: September 6, 1994.
Like everyone else, I'm leaving town after another Labour Day weekend. It used to be that I couldn't wait for all the idiot tourists to get out of here and stop pretending that they're communing with fucking Nature. Whatever. I don't even know why I'm wasting my energy thinking about that shit now. I don't have to say I'm from here anymore. Pretty soon, I'll be bitching about big city people. Even though I'll probably become one of them.
Don't get me wrong, there are many things to love about La Forest. One thing I'll definitely miss is the woods. City kids get the street, we get a bunch of trees. It's all still survival of the fittest. That must be why I hate the summer crowd so much. This is our turf, we earned the right to live here. Not like you shitheads who get in your parents' cars, bribe someone to buy a couple cases of beer and then floor it for three hours without caring about anyone else on the road. Your only reason for being here is to see who can drink the most and shoot the most stuff.
I've seen it every year and still can't figure out why it's such a big deal. But fuck it, like I said, I shouldn't be wasting my time thinking about it. Today I'm leaving my parents' house on Ste. Marie Street. They're not taking it very well, but they know, after all that's happened, I have to go. It won't be long before they're back to their routine—drinking and playing bridge with the Delormes. Anyway, they've got my little brother to worry about. He'll be following in my footsteps soon, I'm sure.
I don't go for most of that Indian spiritual shit, but I believe I'm at the point in my life where I have to take a journey. Otherwise, there's not much point in going on. I sound like such a fucking jerk saying that, after what they did. I never approved of it, but in the last few weeks, at least I've come to accept it. Everyone's looking for some kind of way out, but most of the time when we find it, we're too scared to open the door. Now, when I think of those guys, I remember the nights in the woods when we'd take our girlfriends there and lay on the banks of the creek, just listening to it trickle by. I never appreciated that creek until I heard a song with a line about the sound of rushing water in the dark that really got to me. I think the best I've ever felt was when Monique and I were there one year at the beginning of May, before the mosquitoes got too bad, feeling her warmth in the middle of the night while the water drowned out our nervous laughter.
There were never enough of those nights, though. Labour Day would always come way too soon, which meant just one more bush party, and maybe a bigger bonfire to mark the occasion. Our parents even wanted to get in on it. Then, almost overnight, the trees would be a different colour and we'd begin numbing ourselves for the long winter ahead. The process would take hold when we went back to school, reverting to our natural roles: the headbangers, the stoners, the slackers, the bullies, the nerds, those-most-likely-to-succeed. There weren't many in the last group, and there was a little bit of the rest in all of us.
No one from our town ever really accomplished much, because everyone always had to work so fucking hard for next-to-nothing. The town started as little more than a logging camp, back in the days when guys worked in the bush eight months of the year and the rivers carried logs downstream to the big mills that made furniture, roof beams and hockey sticks. Someone finally decided to build a mill right here so families didn't have to be separated and, voila, La Forest was born.
Everybody worked at the mill when my father was my age. He hasn't worked in five years but he still goes down there to chat with the guys during their lunch break. All the older folks talk about the mill constantly, but I don't think it's ever seriously come up in a conversation I've ever had with someone my age. That's because when we were born, the mill didn't need people anymore. It's not that I'm bitter, I couldn't imagine myself working there anyway, but after the mill stopped hiring I think everyone knew things were going to be very different.
The mill still can't be ignored, though. First, there's the constant noise. And it mostly makes paper now, so there's a lot of chemicals, something that made people uneasy when I was a kid. Some old-timers started getting cancer, and there was a lot of talk about organizing a lawsuit, but nothing came of it. They were all too spineless to bite the hand that fed them, and that broke everyone's spirit.
The worst part is still the smell. We're all used to it, except in the summer when the plant shuts down for two weeks. We wake up one morning and realize what fresh air is. That's the best time of the year, when we can finally get away from our families and enjoy life a little. But the smell always comes back. It creeps up on us while we sleep, waiting to ambush us when we open our windows in the morning. The night shift starts to pump it out all over again, twenty-four hours a day, until the mill shuts down again at Christmas. When my relatives come up from Montreal, their first reaction is always, "Oh God, that smell! I don't know how you can live here."
We just do. My father came home with chemicals all over his coveralls, while cousins and neighbours died of cancer.
None of it mattered. This was our home.
I guess another thing I'll miss is Sergio's, makers of the best pizza I've ever had. There isn't much fast food here, so Sergio's is the most popular hangout, and he deserves it. One time, I was eating there with some friends when a half-dozen motorcycles pulled up. The place was packed, and everyone got really nervous because we'd all heard of the gang wars that go on in the city. But the riders turned out to be three men and three women, and they immediately searched out Sergio. He treated them like long-lost family. I understood one of them say, in English, "We came all the way from Ontario for one of your pizzas."
Andre was with me, but he didn't know much English so he didn't laugh. He seemed genuinely uninterested in the scene as it played out.
"What the fuck's with you?" he asked.
I translated, but he still didn't laugh. As we each took another bite, I heard him mutter "Fuckin' animals" under his breath. I stared at him until he noticed, then quickly turned my attention back to the bikers. I realized I'd never had an opinion about outsiders until that moment. The summer mostly brought families on camping trips, while the other seasons brought hordes of hunters and fishermen. We were always told not to stray too far into the woods after that fall when Robbie Delorme was accidentally shot by these guys from New Brunswick. They thought he was a quail or something. His family did all right in the end, the hunters paid them off in exchange for not pressing charges. Actually, I think a lot of people got jealous about it. Every now and then I'd hear my friends' parents say, "You behave or I'll send you out in the bush with antlers on your head." The first thing Frank Delorme did was quit his job at the mill and cash in his pension. Then he bought a new car, a new stereo, a satellite dish and every other cool thing you can imagine. He got Robbie some stuff, too, after he recovered.
It was normal for Andre to not be impressed by unusual things, like having bikers invade our favourite hangout. We'd been friends forever, and not once did I remember him ever being surprised. He wasn't an overly negative guy, he just never seemed interested in anything outside our little world. Even when it came to girls, I never saw him go out of his way to make a play. Then one morning, I came to school and Sylvie was on his arm like she'd been born there.
Andre never talked about his family either. His father worked at the mill but wasn't really part of the regular crowd that hung out at the Lion Rouge on weekends or went fishing in the summer. The family lived in one of the small, wooden houses a few blocks from the main street on Cartier Ave. and kept to themselves. From the few times I'd gone over there, I remembered only a rusty Chevy Malibu on blocks in the front yard and a collection of old snow-mobiles littering the back. I assumed Andre's dad was a mechanic, but when nothing ever seemed to move at their house, my perception changed. I couldn't imagine how they survived.
Andre did have an older brother who was pretty cool. Michel was in Grade 12 when we started high school. He and his friends tolerated us since there weren't many other kids to hang out with. My parents already hated Michel because of something that happened when I was eight. I'd heard him recite an obscene version of "The Night Before Christmas" and asked him what a few words, like "cunt" and "rape," meant. He told me to ask my mother. She nearly killed me and I couldn't understand why. Michel would also bring porn magazines to school and explain to us what everything was, and how it worked, while his friends busted their guts. After a few years we all wanted to grow our hair like him and wear leather jackets. By then he'd moved on to telling us about Gene Simmons spitting blood and breathing fire; Alice Cooper puking on stage and eating it; Ozzy Osbourne biting the head off a live bat. The priest couldn't hold our attention anymore.
Those of us who were lucky to have cheap stereos started hanging around the only place to buy records, which was the big supermarket where everybody shopped. Every few weeks, Andre would grab one of his brother's metal magazines and the two of us would search the bins for any name or title we recognized. Nobody had to tell me my parents would disapprove of this music, I knew the first second I heard it. I decided, then, to keep my listening confined to my headphones, and the tapes carefully stowed away in my bureau. Everything was fine for several weeks, until I brought home an LP of Iron Maiden's Number of the Beast and my mother freaked out over the cover, the same kind of hellish doodle I was trying to create myself in my schoolbooks. I tried to explain that I wasn't serious about what she thought was Satan-worshipping, and my father must have convinced her that it was only a phase.
The scene at school was changing, too. Michel and his friends no longer merely tolerated us, and it felt great to see the shocked faces of the teachers the first time we walked into the classrooms with our newly customized jean jackets stitched-up or magic-markered with the names of our heroes. Until then we'd all been obsessed with the Montreal Canadiens, and the names Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden and Larry Robinson dominated our conversations. I can look back now and see how we were all conditioned to believe that our greatest accomplishment would be to become a soldier in the endless war against the Maple Leafs.
Remembering this stuff has been the biggest help for me in dealing with what went down. I'm nearly through it all, and it's plain to see how one thing naturally led to another. First came the music, then the drinking. The first time I ever saw someone really drunk was at Mario's house. He was a friend of Michel's and didn't mind people coming over to play video games in his attic. It was everything I wanted my room to be: the walls covered with posters, a big, loud stereo, bottles, pipes and pornography out in the open. A strobe light completed the effect.
The night in question wasn't out of the ordinary, except that Andre was getting ribbed a little more than usual by the older guys. It was the normal big brother/little brother stuff, which went on all the time, but that night Andre was in the mood to fight back. Empties littered the room, and a bottle of Canadian Club someone had stolen from their dad's liquor cabinet was almost gone. They were goading Andre into taking a swig but he just sat there sipping his bottle of 50, the rage visibly building on his face. The conversation started to drift, but Andre suddenly spoke, as if he'd been struggling with the words for a long time.
"Make me a fucking drink. Anything you want."
I swear he sounded like a cowboy and his eyes never strayed from the poster of Jimi Hendrix above his brother's head.
Some guys burst out laughing, as Michel eagerly obliged.
"Holy shit, this is gonna be fun! Oh no, don't get up, we'll bring it to you."
Andre didn't react to the sarcasm. He remained statue-like, and I asked as casually as I could if he knew that at the very least they were going to piss in it.
He shrugged it off. "Hey man, we came here to have fun, didn't we?" His brother and the others returned after a short time, Michel carrying a large German beer stein with a lid that concealed the mix.
I asked what was in it but was ignored. All eyes were fixed on Andre as he gripped the heavy mug with both hands. He gave a quick glance at Michel's stupid grin, popped open the lid with his thumb and then took a short sip. He recoiled, wincing, as the attic exploded in laughter.
"It would probably taste better with a nipple," one of them blurted.
"Come on, you didn't even taste it," another said. I couldn't laugh, and sat detached, trying to figure out why Andre was going through with this pointless exercise. He finally took a man-sized gulp and brought the stein away from his lips with what looked to me like a twisted gleam in his eye.
As he took three or four more gulps, I scanned his face for signs of a transformation. By this point, Michel and the others were being distracted by someone's brand new copy of Guns 'N Roses' Appetite For Destruction, and its cover, a cartoon depicting a ravaged and bloody young girl slumped against a wall. Mario had cranked up the stereo, and a loud debate had started about what tracks were best. I kept watching Andre's eyes, and saw they were nervously darting around the room. He began grabbing at unseen objects.
"I think it's time for a refill," he slurred to no one in particular.
The older guy sitting next to us heard this and laughed out loud, prompting Michel to return his attention to his brother.
"Jesus, he's fuckin' toasted! Mario, you gotta let him crash here tonight, I'm not taking him home like this. We'll both get killed."
"What was in that?" I yelled, before Mario could answer.
"Relax. Your little buddy's fine," Michel said. "He's ready to have some fun now. Why don't you join him?" I looked again at Andre, leaning back in his chair, his eyes glassy and heavy. I had never seen anyone get so wasted so quickly.
I didn't want to, but I left him there that night. This was Michel's handiwork, and I figured he'd pay for it somehow. When I called their house the next day, their mother told me tersely that Andre was still asleep and he'd call me when he woke. I didn't talk to him again until school on Monday when he shrugged off my concern. He did tell me Michel had told their parents he had food poisoning. I couldn't imagine them buying it.
Whenever we'd meet at Mario's after that, Andre came prepared with a hefty amount of beer and the two of us would try to drink it all. He'd hooked up with Sylvie during this time—and Monique and I began our brief infatuation—but they always avoided going to Mario's, probably for good reason. We couldn't hold our booze, and at least one of us would always end up puking on the street before we got home. When we weren't scheming ways to get booze, we were talking about music. Mostly it would be the Satanic references, until one day Andre mentioned in passing that he was buying a guitar. He had gotten his parents' permission to sell his hockey equipment, and they were taking him to Quebec City to pick one out.
He came home with an imitation Fender Telecaster, a tiny Peavey amp and a guitar-for-beginners book written in English. He told me he didn't have to understand the words, the finger positions were all he needed. I didn't hang out with Andre much after that. I really didn't see him anywhere but at school, where he and Sylvie were usually locked onto one another. He'd invite me to his house once in a while, when he had figured out some rudimentary thing on guitar, and I pretended to be impressed.
Excerpted from 3,000 Miles by Jason Schneider, Michael Holmes. Copyright © 2005 Jason Schneider. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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