Monday, March 27, 2017

For Customer Use Only

   Years ago when I was in the motorcycle business, I liked to arrive early to give myself a chance to get organized if that was possible, and enjoy a little quiet time before the day started. One morning not unlike any other I unlocked the business and walked in, the door making a 'ding' as it contacted the small bell we had attached above to warn us of approaching customers, and I took a moment to poke a code into the security system on the way by. Walking around the front counter I turned on the cash register and back in the parts-room I flicked-on the lights for the service area, checked the fax machine, and jabbed the switch on the coffee maker.
   I was standing there back at the front counter, with a fresh coffee, looking up some parts on the fiche reader. After a few minutes I was surprised to hear the front door go 'ding', that was a good sign I figured, usually a customer doesn't come in before opening unless they were going to buy something. 
   "Hey, how you doing this morning!" I said looking out from behind the fiche reader.
"Just fine thanks." he says politely, then looking about and sniffing the air oddly he adds "Nice store!"
That was a good sign too I thought to myself, beginning to speculate on how much of his wallet I could relieve him of before opening for the day. He wandered past a line of motorcycles, stops and admires an outboard motor, then zeros in on a new Honda 4-wheeler. 
"I've always wanted one of these." he tells me, which brought me out from behind the counter.
"You'd look really good on one of those." I told him hopefully,
"Hop on there, and I'll show you some of the features." 
He looked like he was going to get on and straddle the machine, then hesitated,
"I don't know that's such a good idea right now." he says, his face taking on a subtle anxious look. 
I realized I was going to have to work for this sale,
"Did I mention it has electric start?" I said, trying to get the ball rolling again. 
"Say." he says looking about with a certain amount of urgency,
"Have you got a washroom I can use?"
"Why certainly." I told him, "Its right there behind the counter."
   The building had originally been a small town bus depot, and whoever designed it had placed the washroom near the front of the building, that may have been convenient for a bus station, but the way we set up our dealership, the washroom ended up being right behind the front counter. I mean it was right there, within reaching distance. This had it's advantages, though I can't really think of one now, and it had some drawbacks too, of which I can think of several.
   One of those drawbacks became apparent after he had been in there for a minute or two, and I discreetly moved out of hearing range as best I could, although that wasn't entirely possible. The cacophony eventually subsided for a stretch, and then started up all over again with equal ferocity.
Finally, it got real quiet in there, and I heard the toilet flush, ...twice. 
"I bet he's glad to get that load off his mind." I chuckled to myself. 
   The washroom door finally opened and I picked up a brochure in anticipation of continuing our conversation where it had left off when nature called. 
"It's a 4-speed with an automatic clutch." I started in,
"You see right here it's an easy matter to engage the..."
"Thanks." he says staring straight ahead as he bolts past me for the door.
'Ding!' went the bell, and he was gone that fast.
I stood there for a moment, wondering about people, chuckled about the experience and started back for the counter.
   Then I walked into it, taking my breath away, the noxious cloud that followed in his wake. 
"Oh you rotten bastard!" I hollered after him, flapping the brochure in the air which only tended to spread it around the showroom with no sign of dissipating. I could see going back to the counter was out of the question for awhile.
Then the phone rang.
The phone was attached to the wall in a convenient location to the sales counter, right next to the washroom door. With an arm over my mouth I fought my way there and picked it up.
"Williams Lake... Honda" I managed to gag.
Some calls take longer than others, and this one under the circumstances was going on longer than I liked.
"Let me call you back." I said and hung-up the phone.
   I made the mistake of swinging the washroom door back and forth in an attempt to dissipate the aroma. Instead, it was like a cloud of green smoke rolled out of there, nearly knocking me off my feet, re-charging the offending cloud filling the showroom, and wafting clear out to the street I'm sure. 'For crissakes' I thought to myself, I needed to get this place aired out because I'd hate to be standing here if someone happened to walk...
'Ding' went the door-bell.
"Hey!, how are you today?" I asked the unfortunate soul that came in to pick up a part for his lawnmower. It seemed he was stuck for an answer, and with both our eyes watering, I tried to carry on the transaction like nothing was wrong, and to his credit was polite enough not to bring up the bad fragrance to the supposed source.
"Keep the change." were his parting words as he rushed for the door.
"Come again!" I called after him, although I'd be surprised.
   "Oh hell" I said, seeing the courier guy's van pull up out front.
'Ding' went the door.
"Delivery!" he calls in his usual cheerful voice, but by the time he got to the counter, any of that cheer had drained from his face.
"Here, let me sign for that quick and you can get on your way." I told him, scratching out a close rendition of my signature.
"Thanks" he mumbles from behind his elbow before making a quick exit.
 'Ring' went the damn phone again.
I had no sooner got off the phone when I hear the door go 'ding' once more, and I see one of the local ranchers walk in.
"Howdy" he says laconically.
"What can I do for you?" I asked, again making like nothing was wrong.
"Well...," he drawls, "You could start by hauling that dead cow out of here."
 So it went for several hours that day until finally the place got back to it's usual bad shop smell. About a week later I stopped in at the gas station down the road, and while filling the tank the owner and I were chatting about business, the weather, and the price of gas.
"Speaking of gas!" he suddenly exclaims,  "Watch out for the Phantom!"
"The what? I asked.
"The Phantom, he comes around chats you up and asks to use the bathroom and smells the place up something terrible! He graced us with a visit and hit the muffler-shop down the way, they chase him out of the McDonald's on sight, and he dropped a bomb at the coffee shop one morning, nearly shutting them down for the day. The owner is going to put the boots to him if he ever sees him around."
It wasn't long before a sign went up on the washroom door that read simply,
'For Customer Use Only'.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

March 15 My Birthday Today, And Others.

    Most folks consider this an important date in one's life, the one day of the year to celebrate your coming into this world, but after you have had a whole pile of them, they sort of loose their appeal I think. None the less, on March 15, this day back in 1954, in Mission BC, a child came into this world. His ambitious, studious nature carried him on to higher education, with great success in business affairs. Pragmatic, philanthropic, and a goal orientated member of his church and community.
A charismatic leader of men, and the desire of women.
   About the same time, over in the next room, my Mom had just given birth to me, and according to my older siblings, the doctor's words at the time range from "Good lord!", to "Good luck with that!". Mom says I arrived when I damn well felt like it, and still not sure if I was worth the inconvenience.
Truth of the matter was, I arrived before the doctor got there.
"Going to make his own way in life." were his actual words, before running off to catch up with his foursome back at the golf course.
Well, I never had much in common with that other chap, but all in all, things have worked out alright so far.

     I brought down a box and blew the dust off some old journals that I had almost forgotten about, and had a good chuckle seeing what I was doing on birthdays of past.
Just a few sentences, my entries brief usually, not much detail, and often understated.
I can still read between the lines though.

 Like this entry on my birthday in 1995, scrawled quickly by candle-light under a mosquito net out in the remote wild lands of Central America. I know I had a few Caribbean rums in me before hammock time, and was no doubt played out from the days activities.
    I see I had turned 41. I've drawn a little smiley face sun to signify the weather that day.
'Son of a bitch it hot today...' it starts. If it was hot and uncomfortable enough to mention right off, you can rest assured, it was.
'Accomplished quite a bit.' I state casually. That means I survived the day in one piece.
'51 guys on job today.' That's a lot of people running around the operation with no little amount of dangers, then feeding, entertaining and housing them all out there in jungle-land.
Never a dull moment for sure.

 Other entries, like 1991 when I was in the motorcycle business, are more mundane.
I see I just turned 37, and I thought I was getting old! I wish....
Coral Ann, the thoughtful and charming secretary had brought in a birthday cake she had made. I took advantage of the sunny day to clean up back of the shop. I probably would have gone out for a steak dinner that night, giving the bone later to my best girl Fang.

   My beat up 1981 diary describes my 27th birthday in the rough and tumble gold town of Dawson City Yukon, holed up in the Eldorado Hotel while I waited on parts for a gold drilling rig my partners and I were using to test some ground way in the hinterland beyond the Indian River. But for the meantime, I was cooling my heels in town, watching HBO in the room, writing in my journal and waiting for a reasonable hour to go down to eat before partaking in the real entertainment for the evening, the legendary Sluice Box Lounge.
   Anyone who was anyone in the gold mining business frequented this establishment while in town. More deals were made, more business was done, and more brain cells were killed there than anywhere else in town. I had a celebratory glass or two with dinner, so by the time I made my grand entrance through the swinging doors of the Sluice Box Lounge, I already had a pretty good dose of personality showing. Someone, I'd speculate it was probably me, let it slip out it was my birthday, bringing on trays of shooters and liquors from behind the hotel bar with attractive names like Sluice Juice, Moose Drool, and Sled Dog Milkshake. Names that are pronounceable, and easy to order, even when you have had too many.
   The Sluice Box Lounge at the time was home to a strange and well known Yukon tradition. As the story went, in the olden days out on one of the gold creeks a miner had froze his toes, one of which he self-amputated with the aid of his axe on a chopping-block out at the wood-pile. The shriveled toe eventually made it's way to town and sat for decades in a jar behind the bar at the Eldorado Hotel.
   At some point, a severely pickled customer decided to add the semi-preserved toe to his drink, thus, to the amazement of his friends, who probably came up with the idea in the first place, drank the first of what was to become the legendary Sourtoe Cocktail. Years later some character swallowed the toe, and believe it or not, someone else just happened to have a preserved toe and mailed it to Dawson City to keep the tradition of the Sourtoe Cocktail alive. 
It is that nameless woman that I have to thank for the following life experience.
   I don't know if the Sourtoe Cocktail was as much of a tradition, as another way to have a good laugh at the expense of some poor brute that has been primed just right. Back then you had to be sponsored by some well meaning person, certainly no self respecting inebriate would order one for himself. Debbie's parents worked out on the gold creeks, and she did the late shift behind the hotel bar. Over time she had developed a keen eye for young smart-asses in the proper state of mind for a good toeing. She had a consultation with Capt. Dick Stevenson, a local character, river boat captain, and keeper of the pickled toe. The revered jar was carefully brought down and set upon the bar, bringing a hush about the lively lounge patrons.
   For reasons I don't recall, my recollection gets a little murky around this point in the evenings festivities, but I remember the gang all gathering around while Capt. Dick fished in the murky jar with a pair of tongs from the hotel kitchen. Getting hold of a nasty looking blackened object he shook it off and plopped it into a fresh drink that sat before me on the Eldorado bar, pushing it down in the ice and giving it a stir with a tobacco stained finger. I stared snake-eyed into my refreshment, before leaning back on my bar-stool and addressing the crowd...
"Make mine a double!" I stated, getting a big roar out of them all.
   The enthusiastic on-lookers gathered around are to ensure you don't try to cheat and put your glass down before you get to the really good part with the old toe in it, and to give you the bums-rush toward the swinging doors if it looks like you might get sick, where the disgraced toe-partaker would find himself sticking head first into the snow bank out front.

    Rather painfully, I awoke the next day in my room, backwards in bed, older, and very much wiser. On the dresser I discovered a diploma for my performance the evening before, signed by the famous Capt. Dick himself, which I still have. Someone there knew how to spell my name properly, it sure wouldn't have been me, and it looks like the only diploma I'll ever get, so I display it proudly. 
In no few words, it proclaims me to be '...a person capable of almost anything.'
   At any rate, I hope to have plenty more birthdays, though I don't go out and celebrate them anymore I might have a birthday cocktail now and again, but no more drinks containing body parts.