I arrived on the outskirts of Winnipeg with little other than what I could carry in my backpack and that amounted to personal effects, some more valuable than others. Things like clothing, a bar of soap, shampoo, a razor, and shave gel were personal but mostly supplied by the prison. Other things like my grandfather’s pocket watch, a wrinkled up copy of a picture featuring Marilyn Monroe’s famous skirt blowing shot, and the petty cash I had on hand were profoundly more personal. On one hand, I would cleanse daily and rid myself of the foul world around me as if that was why I was a screwup. On the other hand, I would not forget my family and their place near my heart. I horded the little money that I had earned behind bars and spent it despairingly. Marilyn personified the woman I’d like to meet one day, rather the life I thought I could live. I inherited my grandfather’s pocket watch from my father when he died and kept it near to me at all times, except in prison.
The Canadian National Railway gave the still accurate Elgin G.F. pocket watch to my grandfather when he retired as a conductor in Nineteen Twenty. My father kept it before me and kept it wound up as I do. Tightly wound ourselves, that may be why I was in trouble often, the way of our family is to punch when needed. I was like the spring in the pocket watch, steadily releasing its energy until the last few unreliable moments. Finally, letting loose with erratic motion until properly wound up again. The men in my family were all loosely wound but were mostly gentle. We would once in a while find causes to stand up for and there would be nothing to stop us from following our hearts. I’m not the only one to pop off a punch or two in the heat of an argument. I take after my dad as he takes after his dad before.
Some say family is all you get in life, especially when poor. My father was a mechanic. A good ‘ole grease monkey from the golden days. He owned a garage in Piney, Manitoba. I was born and raised there in that small Manitoba border town. The best thing about growing up were the frequent trips to Pinecreek, Minnesota. We would go shopping and have lunch every second weekend in the United States. They always provided me with the best of both Countries, leaving me to think my parents spoiled me because of the American foods I ate for cheap and the American clothes I wore. I was not really a spoiled child, but well loved and fairly treated by my parents and this was just one of several rewards I earned. I was also an only child and my father stressed education to me. He hoped for me to go to college and improve family life further than him, but I ended up in the army when I was nineteen.
I joined the American Forces during the Vietnam heyday to prove that I was a man. I thought the intended violence and slaughter of innocent Vietnamese would make me more presentable for the ladies to the objection of my mother and her protests of my dripping sarcasm. I may one day marry and wanted a woman who would personify Marilyn Monroe, who reminded me of my mother. Everybody’s kind of girl, the girl next door, the lady that makes youthful men swoon when they meet her in person. I often dreamt of meeting the deceased lady at one of the military events I attended. I was still a small boy who remembered her comedy movies best. One of my favourites was The Seven-Year Itch staring Marilyn and Tom Ewell, directed by Billy Wilder.
The title comes from a part of my life I dreamt, a seemingly insecure marriage and the non-monogamous relationship it may inspire. I would find the playboy bunny type of girl who was carefree and ready to teach me that there was life in the death sentence I thought I was in. I could be her Creature from the Black Lagoon and drag her to my lair only to have her hit me over the head and drive me off. In other words rebuke my unwarranted advances. I thought nothing would be better than to find The Girl, only to return once again to my wife to prove to my father that I was filled with fidelity. He would be proud of me, as a grandfather, and a great grandfather for the child I already had. I would make an excellent partner for such a renewed relationship as I would have learned that I do have suave. None of it will happen anyway, but there would still be a storm, and need to find a port of call in which to find The Girl.
Like in the tumult of the monotonous relationship I have dreamt, there would be a storm to end all storms in my life if I did not act quickly. The Girl was metaphoric of the life I thought I wanted, while the life I already had was more than validated through The Girl. The weather, hot for mid-July, was threatening rain and there were clouds forming. Not just any clouds, but the ones that led to the big boomer storms, the Thunderclouds. When it unleashed, it would be loud and violent with lots of thunder and lightning, suiting to my personality. I was ill-tempered, but for good purpose most of the time. My shirt stuck to my chest, and sweat drenched my socks, but I walked all the way from Headingley Prison to the first bus stop along Portage Ave where I waited for my fate to unfold.
While in prison I had plenty of time to read, and I loved reading. I read classics like Huckleberry Finn, Roots, and David Copperfield. I thought of Nigger Jim and his mysterious story. Why was he travelling down the river all alone when Huck encountered him? Why was Huck the only person to notice him? I do remember that Huck thought Jim was a criminal on the run, but Jim adamantly denies this and says he has nothing better to do. I thought of David Copperfield and what he accomplished throughout his voyage to midlife. He seemed to mature through his struggles and constant conflict with others. I thought of Kunta Kinte and his bold attempts to escape slavery. He endured whippings and the hotbox just to retain his identity. Those three characters underwent their metamorphoses during their respective stories and I believe that I would undergo my own Kafka-like transformation from vagrant to something fate had dealt.
I sat on the available bench, thinking I was the reason the city placed there it, or someone like me to rethink life until fate kicked in. I didn’t know when fate would arrive, but it was inevitable, wasn’t it? Fate should fall in our laps… Like a gift. The gift of life… Responsibility… Compassion… Even pain and suffering. It came to us all for whatever reason… Fate just shows up at our doorstep with a jug of milk. Fate is just another way to say destiny… The Grand Design… The way we live life. We all have our prescribed fate. It can be good or it can be bad and depends on the decisions we make in our daily lives. Be a high-principled person and fate will deliver you a reward. When bad principles show you may suffer at the hands of fate. I may be in trouble once in a while, but still display good moral judgement in most of my decisions so fate should reward more than punish me.
The Fates of old Greek lore, the Moirae, were responsible for the destiny of all noble heroes. Clotho spun the thread of human life, Lachesis dispensed it and Atropos cut it into lives… They predetermined when I would die and how. My complete life preordained, predestined, and I was to follow the path set out for me. All I had to do was keep appeasing the fates and they’d go on spinning my thread… Atropos would not cut it short. When combined they wove the fates of the surrounding people into a tapestry of life. When fates entwined we become each other’s burden… We carry each other and help one another through life… Like a family. The day I left prison, Jim, my prison family and workmate, mentioned he knew of a store that was hiring run by the King’s Horseman, a bunch of dope smoking, rough seeming, hard riding bikers.
Was it fate for me to become entwined with a bunch of bikers? Was it the Grand Design that dictated my turn to be somebody? Could I liken the one percent diamond I may wear over my heart to the phone number I carried in my breast pocket over the same? The longer I questioned, the better I saw my fate and the clearer my mind became. I looked around and seen a payphone on the other side of the road and thought it shouldn’t be a burden to cross to the other side of the road but thought that would be just like the cruel fates… To arrange an accident in my uncertainty… To kill me off with an accident because I rushed to a conclusion I should not have made. I checked my grandfather’s pocket watch and seen it was noon.
It was high noon, and I am on the street facing down my future like in the Stanley Kramer classic High Noon. The sun at my back like the hero almost always has in the grand finale of a Classic Western, the big gunfight. I am Will Kane and I must defend my honour and integrity by standing up to the Miller Gang. I could not, I would not let the townsfolk down… I would defy my wife and stay to fight. Risk it all, defy death herself, and take on the four villains to SUCCEED! I would be the prevailing hero, at least so I thought… I will conquer my own demons and fears. I will PREVAIL!
I had to make choices as I needed to eat. I thought about where I could get money, thought about it more, thought again, then thought about my dad. All I could come up with were illegal schemes. Things that would send me back to prison too soon, but at least I would eat, and the showers were nice, and the beds were clean. I thought I could rob a liquor store… Maybe a 7-11… Or the Robin’s Donuts across the street by the payphone. I would let down my dad, thought Derek as he put away his grandfather’s pocket watch.
Jim had mentioned that the number was a contact he had with the King’s Horsemen’s President. The King’s Horsemen chapter, a one-percenter club, were a collective of people who buck trends and don’t always follow the enactments of the land. They breathe life into themselves and live and die for each other and those they hold near, the Hang Arounds. Hang Arounds were those that believed in the organization but may not necessarily join the counterculture. The job opportunity was fate in action…. Philosophy in action… Entwined in a new counterculture not foreign to a fighting man.
Ever since I was a kid I had studied classical poetry, philosophy, and culture. Things like Foucault and the Greek Moirae stood out as being significant to me. A Dylan Thomas poem, Do not go gentle into that good night, was my favourite as my mother had read it to me while teaching me about poetry. It seems the three concepts combined into one being with an image of its own… A culture all to itself. The Thomas poem was personification of a rough, beer swilling biker who certainly did not go gently when the need arose for action and the King’s Horsemen seemed to be all three of the fates at once represented by their club’s patch.
Foucault stated once that an image represents its culture because the image exists and was breathed to life with intended meaning. The image behind these particular one percent clubs was the Twisted Knight’s Horse Head. A symbol of strain as though the horse’s head was symbolic of bearing the rider’s burden through combat standing for Protection, Honor, Dignity, Courage, and Integrity. They did not go gently… They did not take guff from anyone… They lived free and died free. Could it be fate entwining me with them? Is Jim the catalyst to my rebirth? What would my dad think?
Things weren’t well since my dad died and I lost my room in his house through the sale. The funeral cost a bundle, but the proceeds from his house covered all his outstanding debts. There wasn’t much remaining as my father long ago closed his garage and moved to Winnipeg. The shop’s clients died off one by one and all the younger crowd had gotten their cars and trucks fixed in Winnipeg at the major dealers. Eventually, to my mother’s objection, the garage was forced to close and my parents moved to Winnipeg as the bills piled up.
He died on social assistance, which amounted to barely enough to get by. He bought what he needed for food and paid his taxes yearly since declaring bankruptcy when my mom died. So much for the trips to Pinecreek, for the luxuries of life. They used their nest egg to buy the house and it was all they had left. They said they would always have a room for me when I left for Kent State in August Nineteen Seventy. Infuriated when the riots took place that following May, I wanted to prove the Americans were right to be in Vietnam, or so I thought then.
Just back from the ‘Nam in spring 1970, I was still all scrambled up inside my head. Not quite a nutshell, but still suffering from the strain. I found out in prison, shortly after going, I had what they called Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. I learned this was a delayed reaction from the trauma I had encountered while on active duty in Vietnam. It had led to my alcoholism as a coping strategy to deal with the stress of war. Charlie had done just about everything to kill me and hadn’t succeeded, so I figured our society might understand, but they don’t. Oh well, I went to college in the United States and enlisted in the United States Army, and was a Grunt. I humped the boonies and explored what it took to be a man. I would face up to it and suck it up and somehow survive.
There was no decompression. They forced me back into life expecting me to live like I once did. Expected to pretend that I hadn’t seen a kid’s head explode when a claymore accidentally went off during an ambush in the jungle. Expected to forget that I had lost thirty friends to the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army during the Tet Offensive and the attack of Tan Son Nhut Air Base. Expected to forget the dead look to some liberated Prisoners of War I had seen on the news in 1973. Then I recalled how I had gotten here, right here on this spot, at this bus stop. I had screwed up in a bar. Gotten into a fight with an American border jumper who had avoided the draft. He was mouthing off about his buddies and him loading up their families and doing the right thing. He called me a murderer and I snapped.
I served the full sentence for an assault charge and was released in spring 1975. Some punk impeded one of my swings during a bar fight and I had hit him a little harder than I wanted. Long story short is he fell over and hit his head on the bar and chipped a tooth. Arrested and charged, I pled guilty to aggravated assault. They would have released me a free man had he not chipped his tooth, but as it stands the victim wanted to press charges. Tried in court and sentenced to six month’s time and a year of probation as I had refused to apologize and there were other outstanding matters that had been before the courts from another time and another place. Jail was typical, I ate, I slept, and I mopped floors.
The cleaning crew they placed me on got to know me, but the guards watching us picked on me because I was a loner. One guy on the crew, Jim, took me aside one day and gave me a phone number to call when I got out of jail. He said the King’s Horseman were friends of his and had once helped him. All they would want back was some help for their businesses and stuff. He mentioned that they just had a major bust levied against them. They were shorthanded at one of their stores downtown because the employees were Prospects and detained as part of the bust. They would give me one chance to prove myself, a chance that nobody else will take. I was told to think it through as all I could hope for was to go to a shelter.
Not being afraid of the consequences, if there were any at all, I waited for the bus downtown and recalled that the number was for a guy named George Barrington. I should call as soon as I realized the potential for myself. I thought of the phone on the other side of the road and then thought of the heavy traffic and lady death stared me in the face once again. I boarded the bus when it came, feeling more and more confident that this mysterious George Barrington would come through for me. While the bus travelled down the city streets towards downtown, I thought of the possibility of something good arising from calling. After all, what did I have to lose? Freedom? I had already lost that once and jail wasn’t so bad. I needed money as I only had two dollars to spend, including my last quarter.
I couldn’t afford to rent a room, never mind the Northern, I couldn’t even afford the Occidental where murder and assault seemed to outdo the puking of the overdosed. Finally, the bus arrived at a stop near the Bus Depot on Balmoral and I got off the bus and walked into the terminal where I found a payphone and placed the call that changed me forever. I wondered what the job could be? There was nothing mentioned by Jim in particular, just the lure of a job. The prospect of something, but sometimes something can be nothing and I couldn’t tell what they would expect me to do.
I guess, rightfully so, that I wouldn’t know what they expected till there was an answer on the other end of the phone. One ring… Two rings… Three rings, and suddenly George Barrington picked up. He had a raspy voice, like he smoked a lot of cigarettes in a day, and asked who was calling. I told him my name and then explained that I had gotten his number from my friend Jim while in Headingley Jail. I was told that there was the prospect of a job, at least for a temporary position. George Barrington explained that it paid minimum wage and was at a place called ‘Planet of Fun’ right on the corner of Carlton and Portage.
Usually fully staffed with his friends, but because of the unforeseen circumstances that have arisen from a bunch of his club members getting busted yesterday, there were a few openings to fill. Not knowing when they were to return it may be one shift, or it may be a week of work. He explained that I was to print T-shirts and sell magazines, newspapers, head-rags and assorted band memorabilia. He had heard the guards hassled me in prison and he liked to help those who are down and out of luck, such as myself. A little pick me up here and there at another’s doing is the best way to coax life back from the brink of the abyss.
I had instant respect for this mysterious George Barrington for the way he talked and instantly called him Mr. Barrington. My father said showing respect to your peers could get you places. I thought I could handle the assigned duties, as described, and agreed to take the position. Mr. Barrington said over the phone I was to start immediately and was to report in to a man called Mike by one-thirty. Mr. Barrington would call ahead and confirm that I was coming, then he wondered what it was I had done to deserve jail. I told him, in all honesty, that I popped a troublemaker in the mouth and went to jail instead of him.
I found out he was an American Draft Dodger and told him I had enlisted in the American Forces as a Grunt and had gone to Vietnam serving with the 25th Infantry Division in Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment. I offered him a beer and told him the war wasn’t for everyone. I told him that there were more and more messed up soldiers coming home everyday just like me. I told him I had witnessed things during the takeover of Saigon, during the Tet offensive that will haunt me for the rest of my life. I told him I saw guys get turned to hamburger by enemy shrapnel, but had done it to enough enemy soldiers to feel bad. He told me point blank that I was a murderer. I resented the fact that the cowboy in front of me had called me a murderer and had popped him in the mouth for his trouble. He had insisted on charges being pressed and I had refused to apologize.
The courts punished me for standing up for myself. Mr. Barrington laughed on the other end of the phone and said that in this life there were those who stood up for self and others and those who put others in their place. He then told me he was glad that I was a stand-up-for-self type of person. He was glad to have me aboard and would call the store ahead of my arrival to let Mike know that I’d be stopping by. He knew a couple of other Vietnam Vets who lived in Winnipeg and would introduce me to them through time. They could get together and shoot the breeze and talk stories of their time in the ‘Nam with me in ways that only soldiers would understand.
He said his family was like that too. His charter of the King’s Horsemen was the only club in town as far as concerned and it would be good to have me on board. We said our goodbyes and then hung up the phone. I was ecstatic to have landed a job within two hours of getting out of prison. I felt like I was on the way to showing my father that I could do something other than cause trouble in life. I checked my Grandpa’s watch and seen that it was almost one o’clock and that I’d better get going if I were to be on time. I only had three blocks to cover and was feeling good about my life again.
I sauntered down the street looking at the tall buildings, the society, the humanity. It felt good knowing I had a bit of a reprieve from the executioner. The Governor had called and delayed my hanging at the eleventh hour and with my reprieve came newly invested responsibility. The responsibility to clean up my life. The traffic was heavy along the strip as people moved throughout their lives. At the next street I waited for the light to change so I could cross to the south side of Portage Ave. Car horns wailed as a pedestrian stepped off the curb and tried to dodge traffic in front of me. A bus almost hit that fool just because he was in a hurry. I was glad I was taking my time, even if they expected me.
There had just been a bust and I was leery to go back to jail as I had just gotten out. Checking my grandfather’s pocket watch, I saw it was ten minutes after one and I picked up the pace. Pigeons fluttered from the rooftops, cooing as they scoured for seeds in the street below. I guessed that even they needed to eat. Suddenly a crack of thunder hung heavy in the air and I remembered the storm. I had forgotten about its imminence when I boarded the bus, but now it seemed relevant to hurry, to make a good first impression.
I arrived at the address provided and compared it to the one Mr. Barrington had given me when I was on the phone. It checked out, and I went into the establishment just as the rain let loose. It poured like the monsoons we got in Vietnam. I felt it a good twist of fate that I had just missed the downpour. I approached the counter and saw a small but well muscled whitish dude who resembled a former criminal himself. He appeared to have his head wrapped up in a magazine, some month’s copy of Mad Magazine, and was trying to follow the Spy VS Spy feature. The White spy had cornered the Black Spy and was trying to start a chainsaw. It was apparently out of gas and would not go, so the White Spy tried to throw it at the Black Spy.
As I approached the clerk set down the magazine and asked if he could help me as he looked me over. I guess he saw me with my overlong hair pulled back into a ponytail, freed of grease as I had just shampooed, my clean-shaven face, and my feint smile. The luring kind that typically sucked people into conversations with me. I think he noticed my denim shirt with button up front and may have even noticed the oil stain that I continually tried to tuck into the waist of my oversized jeans to hide. I hope that he didn’t judge me for it. It happened the last time I worked on my dad’s old car, right before he died. He had told me I was a wild child, but would one day get settled down into a life that he could respect. If it hadn’t been for the drinking, my dad thought I would have long ago settled down and had someone pregnant.
“Yea, I’m looking for Mike.”
“My name’s Derek Turner, I was told that there may be a temporary job here by a Mr. Barrington.”
“Nice to meet you, Derek. I’ve been expecting you. You look smart and fresh, I’m used to the drug burnouts trying to work here. We don’t need the Hippies, they steal and are lazy, plus they smell like pot and attract too much police attention. If you can count change you’ll be fine and I see you already look presentable, so that’s not a problem. I think you can start immediately. I have other places to look after. I should have been at a bar today. I’m the manager there and I have to do up the books for the month’s end, you know, before the government gets their hounds involved and comes snooping. If it wasn’t for the taxes they wouldn’t care, they’d just let all them people get drunk and drive home. Anyway, sorry to rant. I’m under stress. Come back this way and I’ll show you around.”
“Okay, and no worries for the rant, I get mad sometimes too.”
Mike pointed to a silkscreen press .
“This is the serigraph machine. It uses a series of stencils, different colours applied individually, and a squeegee to place a fancy design on a shirt. Most commonly we do single colour prints as they are cheaper to produce so they are the most popular. Place the unmarked shit on the bottom, secure it and then put down the silkscreen blank. Pour out the ink and then squeegee it across the surface and back again to complete the process. Repeat with each successive blank and colour till finished. Takes about a half an hour to dry.”
“Got it. Piece of cake! I think I can handle that, now what about the till?”
“That’s even easier. Just punch in the price and it’ll calculate the taxes for you and come up with a final sale value. Punch in the payment rendered and then it’ll tell you the change owed. If you can count, the rest is straightforward.”
“Okay, I got it. I think this is about the easiest job I’ve ever had. When’s my shift over?”
“I’ll be back at eight o’clock tonight to close. I’ll walk you through the cash-out then. I bet it’ll be a cinch for a smart guy like you. The store is yours, see you later.”
With that the guy called Mike walked out of the door in a hurry and left, presumably for the bar he talked of. I was glad to have a job right out of prison and felt good about my immediate future. Now all I needed was a place to stay and with the money I earned I could handle that. The Winnipeg Men’s Hotel was on Main Street towards Broadway, south of Portage and Main. The Northern on the other side of the Main Street Underpass would have rooms, north from Portage and Main. For the next five hours, I stood around making shirts and selling magazines. I dared not read them, because I wasn’t told if I could and I didn’t want to screw up a magnificent thing. The store wasn’t really that busy, and I had a blast going through the stupid designs that some people wanted on T-shirts.
Dumb slogans like “I’m your ASS”, “Walk this Way” with an arrow pointing sideways, “I’m with stupid” with an arrow pointing to where your supposed to put somebody, “This Way Up” with an arrow pointing to the sky, and a whole host more sold that day. When Mike came back, he asked if I enjoyed my day. I didn’t even hesitate to tell him it was a blast and I was looking forward to doing it more and more every day until relieved of duty. Then he surprised me with a question that I did not expect.
“Where are you going to stay tonight?”
“I’m not sure, I was thinking one of the daily rooms at a local hotel.”
“I’ve got a better proposition for you. How about you come with me? Me and my friends have a group home of sorts to tide you over. All you need is to buy a bit of grub to start. You did well by us here today, and we’ll help you out of a tight situation. Jim says you were a decent person in jail and he felt kinda bad that he didn’t stand up for you when the guards pushed you around. George says you deserve a chance to make it up to society for whatever you’ve done wrong, so come with me and we’ll give you a chance to redeem.
If things work out, we’d like to have you hang around for a while, and that comes from George. I’m just an Associate in the grand scheme of things and lucky to not get caught up in the busts like half the others. They took three Full Patches in and about a dozen Associates went down with them. Some bullshit about drug dealing and ties to the criminal underworld. We keep telling them we are a social club and not dealing, but the cops won’t back down. They claim they have done all the surveillance and have all the warrants with crossed T’s and dotted I’s taking us down this time. Pure Bullshit! Anyway, it could lead somewhere, you may even earn your cuts… You do know what that is don’t ya?”
“Yeah, I’m no stranger to the bikers, there were a few in jail. I suppose Jim is a Patch?”
“Yup, he’s our treasurer. He got busted smoking a joint outside the Marion and the cops came down hard because he was on probation for assault, that’s probably why he feels for you, you and he are alike. Some moron tried to slap his daughter’s ass in the bar and he lost his cool… You can figure out the rest.”
“Yeah, I’d do the same thing. Anyway, I’ve decided, you’re on. Let’s go.”
I worked at that little store for six months and moved in with whom became my new friends. They were all talented guys who had a rough go at it. One ran away after being abused at home, others were stupid for a while and were straightening out, one was taking law at the club’s expense. He wanted to be a lawyer to handle the club’s charges exclusively because they had helped change his life around and he no longer smoked the Methamphetamine. I felt totally embraced by my new brothers and looked forward to living the future. Within another six months I was an Associate and was now running the shirt shop and made decent money doing so. Within another year I was still there but had moved on from the group home, into an apartment of my own.
Mike would still stop in from time to time and introduce me to the new temps, but I was told I would soon handle the recruiting myself and would move up to Prospect. After a while I became the manager of the shop and developed an eye for who could fill in around there. They were all like me with storied histories of mayhem, law-breaking, and possible drug abuse that led to their own downfalls. They, like I once was, were eager to replenish their cups and get another start at life, so we put them to the test, just as I once had been. Time flied by as the years past.
That was three years ago, and now I’ve earned my Patch, and completed something in life. Something I can take pride in again, again, and again. I thought it wasn’t bad for a person who had just gotten out of jail and thought of robbing a liquor store for more time to figure it out. Through time I bought some tools and then bought my fist bike, an old junker, one that needed work, but I had learned the basics from friends and eventually took mechanics in community college and now manage a family garage out on Henderson Highway. Whatever could have happened back then didn’t just because I took a chance and earned some Colors.