Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Little High from Shawinigan

The following is an excerpt from the Little High from Shawinigan by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Consolidated Bathurst Books in February 2009


I don't know what is marijuana, Perhaps I will try it when it will no longer be criminal. I will have my money for my fine and a joint in the other hand."
- Jean Chr├ętien, Oct. 2003

It sounds like a cop knocking at the door. They knock a cop knock; three short distinct raps that seem to say open up now or I’m kicking the door. Nobody else knocks that way. Not Greenpeace canvassers. Not even thieves.

They are definitely cops. The fisheye lens of the peephole eye stretches their cop moustaches across their lips and make their cop sunglasses lens look like oversized eyes of a housefly.
I open the door.

“Can I help you officer?” I say

“What made you think I was a cop?” the first one says and they both walk into the apartment. Their heavy boots clomp on the hardwood floor.

They aren't cops. They tried to look like them at the door coming but they don't try so hard now. Cops don’t use the word ‘cops’ and cops ask to come in. If they have a warrant they show it. I think. I don’t really know but they do on Law & Order. Any other time a cop entered my house he had probable cause and didn’t need a warrant.

“Sit down.” Says the other one.

I don’t want to sit down. I'm not sure if I am being robbed or what but I have enough sense to know that acting tough guy or defensive or giving up any power only makes me look scared. I sit down on the ratty Sally Anne armchair; put my feet up on the coffee table real relaxed, pick up the remote control so I can shut off The Joe Schmo Show as if I have something important to say.

“Who the hell are you?” My voice wavers and my stringy hair drops in my face and I brush it out of my eyes as I ask so the whole thing seems a lot more fey than powerful.

The one guy that never says anything remains standing but the other dude sits down and smiles at me. He seems like the friendlier of two but the smile is actually a pretty sarcastic smirk and he only seems friendlier because the other guy says nothing at all so he sort of defaults to friendliness.

“We are from CSIS.” he says and holds up some sort of I.D. It isn't a badge so I don't know what it is. It's his Driver’s licence for all I know.

I stare at him with a look as empty as my bank account. He says “It’s Canada’s spy agency.” He is used to CSIS needing some sort of explanation.

Oh yeah, this is a work of fiction. My lawyer insists on this part. So any similarities blah, blah, blah. Hopefully we are good. Besides, even when I say this is true people won’t even listen so it’s fiction okay.

So I say “Canada has a spy agency? Do people ever have paranoid delusions that CSIS is following them. You know, they way crazy people talk about the CIA or the KGB”

He takes off his sunglasses and says “yes” very coldly. I thought he was being sarcastic before but that was actually him being friendly. This is him annoyed.

“As you know,” He says not giving me time to say another dumbass thing.”The Right Honourable Jean Chretien retired about 3 days ago.” I don’t know this. I feel like he’s been retiring for so long that didn’t pay attention anymore but I appreciate that he assumed I was up on this stuff.

I just nod. My voice wavered before but now I have two government agents in my apartment, one not talking and just looking at me, and they are asking me questions about the Prime Minister. By now my voice would wavering like a Theremin in a Beach Boys song.

“You may or may not know that before retiring Mr. Chretien has made attempts to decriminalize marijuana.” He continues

I don’t know much about this. Amongst my buddies there is some confusions about the legality of pot and play it safe and assume it is still illegal. I do know that I have a previous marijuana possession charge and the direction of this conversation is unnerving.

“Mr. Chr├ętien would like to consider the possibility of full legalization but he needs to do a little research. He would like to try marijuana in order to reach a fully informed conclusion.”

This is the worst sting ever.

“Well Sir, I have been reformed. I have paid my debt to society and changed my ways. The narrow road sir, and no more reefers.” That summer I watched the Shawshank Redemption on TBS enough times that it informs my speech.

“Knock off that shit. We have enough statistical proof to know that one doesn’t stop consumption after a possession fine. That’s one of the reasons that we favour decriminalization. We will pay $200 to cover more than the cost of the marijuana he smokes plus we will reverse this any future possession charge you might obtain. You traffic it and you’re on your own.”

“The government is going to pay me to smoke up with the Prime Minister?”

“Yes.” He says with as much comedic timing as a tumour but I start laughing anyway.

“Sure, you bring Chretien here and I’ll get him high.”

The quite one taps his lapel and in enough time to brush your teeth there, is a knock at the door.
In person he looks less like a politician. Politicians seem desperate, begging for votes and approval ratings. But retired politicians take on a different air. Nothing says ‘vote for me’; everything says ‘You can’t fuck with me’

He wears a dark overcoat with the collar was flipped up. His hair slicked back. The wrinkles in his face seem cut in granite. He resembles a gang boss in many aspects

“You’re for real!” I say

“Yeah, I am for t’e real!” He barks. The sarcasm in this room is getting out of control.

“Okay,” I say grasping for a moment of clarity before it disappears. “I want you two guys out of here. I’m paranoid enough. I know you have a job to do but wait outside. Money up front and nobody sees where my stash is.”

They pay me and leave. I enter the kitchen and roll the joint while the Prime Minister sits on my torn futon sofa and looks at the poster of the Blues Brothers on the wall.

My rolling is always terrible and I don’t like owning a pipe since the bust as it leaves paraphernalia around the house even when I nothing else is illegal there. The joint has a tragic lump in the middle and looks like a snake trying to eat an egg.

I light it and pass it to Jean.

“What do I do whit t’is?” he asks

“You ever smoke a cigarette?” I ask

He shrugs his shoulders and says “I am from Quebec, non?”

“Okay,same thing. Just hold the smoke in as long as you can.” I demonstrate.

He inhales so deep his lung could be ripped up and he holds it. Finally a cloud of smoke bursts from the side of his mouth. “T’is is not’ing” he says.

“Everyone says that at first. Keep trying” I instruct. He huffs and puffs like the Big Bad wolf and we pass it back and forth. Ashes drop off the end like it they are knocked from a guillotine.

Finally I break the silence. “So Paul Martin’s in charge now.” I nod as if agreeing to something “That’s good.”

“Are you kiddin’ to me? He is a jack ass. You know not’ing.” And his face turns as red as the cherry on the joint.

“What? I thought you were in the same party or something?”

“Not anymore. He stab me in the back and steal t’e party. He is a devil.” He has the French Canadian ability to add historic proportions to his insults.

He takes another drag off the joint and calms. “You seriously don’t know about t’e parliament, do you?” He says

I shake my head no. I should feel embarrassed for myself but I feel more embarrassed for him and the fact that his years as leader have little relevance to many citizens.

“You should know. It is sad.” He his eyes droop. “and because of what you t’ink. Not duty but protection. You need to follow politics because you are t’e criminal” he explains

Naturally I look insulted by the expression ‘criminal’

“It t’is true,” he answers my expression. “You are a felon. You could be put in jail. By some ot’er guy. A guy like me. Why? Because you let him be t’e government. You don’t even care about t’is guy. He is not’ing. He is just like me. You only like Martin because of the Bono.” He laughs

“First” I raise a finger “ I didn’t say that I liked Paul Martin, I said I knew who he was. Two” I raise a second finger “ The whole reason I dislike him is because he hangs out with Bono.”

Chretien laughs more.

“So calm down. I don’t want to get the Shawinigan handshake like that protester did.” Then he cuts me off

“Shut t’e ‘ell up. T’at guy ‘ad it coming. Just before t’at some nut break into my ‘ouse to kill me and t’e Mountie does not’ing. I ‘ave to defend myself and everybody make fun of me. Just like my voice. Every lousy stand-up comedian in t’is country talks out the side of t’ere mout’ and act like they ‘ave an impression. I got Bells Palsey. It’s an illness. Real funny. Ha ha” He pushes the ha ha as hard as he can.

He takes another drag off the joint, holds it in his lungs and relaxes.

“Sorry I will calm down. T’is is nice.” He looks at the joint in his hand

“Maybe I’ll put on some music” I suggest.

“Do you ‘ave any Dixieland?” he asks hopefully

I shake my head. “I have Kind of Blue by Mile Davis.”

“Of course.” He laughs. “T’at is the one jazz record everyone ‘as and t’en t’ey say t’ey like jazz.”
I laugh because it’s true and then put on an Elton John CD because it’s the oldest music I can find. We sit in stoned silence and listen to Rocket Man.

“Not bad” nodds the PM, looking at the joint. “you know I won t’ree majorities. Nobody did t’at. Not even t’e Trudeau. Not even t’e Laurier.” He recites the names with reverence, the way other Canadians talk about hockey players. “Do you t’ink, after the Queen is off t’e money, maybe I will be on some money.”

“I don’t care” I say “So long as they never make a $5 coin!” and smoke signal of laughter smoke billow out of our mouths.

“You are okay,” He says rising from the sofa. “ I t’ink I am going out to get t’e pizza now. It taste so good.”

I smile as he leaves. He craves pizza after inhaling the sweet smell of burnt oregano. That delicious spice just earned me $200 and a get out of jail free card.

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