NEWFIE OR BUST by Bernie Howgate
( Chapter 9 )
The Maritimes have two main Ingredients that set them apart from the rest of Canada, humour and unemployment. I had been told that Boston had more Newfies working there than St. John's and that during Maine's berry picking season, Maritimers had been known to rise from the dead, go south and take on its seasonal work.
New Brunswick, as any student of geography knows, is the last province on mainland Canada as Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland separated shortly after a heat wave in the Ice Age, and Nova Scotia likes to think it's separated, as that piece of chewing gum that sticks it to the mainland is likely to snap any day.
New Brunswick is not for your urbanites. It has many more densely populated rural areas, as I was learning quickly. I had been taught in school that its main industry was the tree. All they had to do was watch them grow and cut them down, but one they had been able to raise besides forests, is rich men.
Take Max Akeman who went to England and sold newspapers until he became Lord Beaverbrook. Then came Jim Dunn McCain of potatochip fame and lastly, Casey Irving of Irving gas station fame. He's the fella that reinvented the game Monopoly and he's now resting in a tax-free haven called the Bahamas. Its a province of extremes, and stopping for the night in Woodstock, I was introduced to yet another form of employment. The underground variety.
"What are you goggling at?"
There aren't many experiences more embarrassing than being caught in the act of voyeurism. For twenty minutes, I had been riveted in curiosity, watching the young man across the street, as first one person then another stopped in their cars to talk to him. I had twisted and curled my imagination around the suitcase he opened during each encounter. What was inside? He looked out of place from the word go. Long, jet black, beaded hair, heavy build with a smart royal blue jacket, white dress shirt, jogging slacks and runners. He looked a cross between a smart businessman and a child of reggae. He just sat on the pavement bench wearing an expressionless look of boredom, like a young boy trying his best to ignore his surroundings. Then, for no apparent reason, he crossed the street towards me.
"Got a problem?"
He had a real look of menace in his eyes.
"Think ya' better than me do ya'?"
I was just forming a reply when he dropped his suitcase on my lap.
From the look on his face he wasn't going to take no for an answer and his size only reinforced it.
"That's what I do for a living, so what ya' going to do about it?"
Inside brand new, still with their custom seals, I counted at least thirty American 'Rothmans' cigarette cartons.
"Want a smoke, Eh?"
He certainly had a way with himself and turned out to be not only a man big in stature, but a man able to order drinks all around with one tiny motion of his finger. I got caught up in his coat tails, bar hopping and was enjoying every moment of it. He seemed to know everyone we met by their first names; it was either that, or he was related to everyone in Woodstock. His stories would start out at Jack's bean stalk height and get taller with every telling. He seemed to have this in built antenna that told him when he'd overstayed his welcome, then it was off to the next bar. It was getting dark and, I was looking for that all important opening to leave, when my prayers were answered.
"Come, you can stay at Doris's place. She'll have a meal ready at this time."
My friend wasn't exactly squeaky clean, but then I'm no saint either and after all, I owed him a round of drinks.
He strode into Doris's home like he owned it, then set about charming her till she was limp and putty in her hands. What the hell, he was an original. He just wanted an audience to watch his conquest, and today it was me. He looked equal parts devil and saint with piecing brown eyes and a swagger that only a good physique carried from childhood can give you. There was no grey matter in his character. The male came a poor second to this man and, except for the occasional wink in my direction, I wasn't even allowed the honor of a bit player to his dinner time conversation. You obviously got what you saw and Doris was impressed beyond words. In fact I can't remember her saying more than two yeses and one no.. Maybe it was the no. I can't remember when she said it, or to what end it was directed, but I do remember it altered the whole atmosphere and ten minutes later my friend left me to pick up where he left off with a nod and a wink and, "I'll see you tomorrow". I never did see him again and I never did get past first base with Doris. Once again, I ended up sleeping on a couch and woke the next morning to the pungent smell and delicious crackling of a bacon and egg breakfast.