Wednesday, March 26, 2008

T.O. Story

It's occurred to me more than once that many Americans harbor some unrealistic views about Canada. They see it as a perfect land with no crime, no accidents, free health-care for all and the Prime Minister makes sure everyone is tucked safely into bed every night at 9:00 o'clock. Well, none of that's true except for number 3 and to illustrate (good God, a pun!) here's a true story from the late 60's:

At the time I not only had a full-time job but was attending art classes and rehearsing a play so it seems the last thing I'd want was more employment. I've never spent any time under one of those trees that money falls off and since I had a trip in mind I figured since I was young and healthy, why not take a job that began at midnight? To this day I can't remember who offered it to me but one night after rehearsal I found my way to an unmarked street door on Dundas and climbed up a long staircase to the 4th floor where I found an after hours nightclub. I'd always thought that once the clubs closed all the musicians went home to bed like everybody else but I learned a lot of them aren't the least bit sleepy and prefer to go clubbing. The place itself was more than a bit tacky with unmatched broken chairs, peeling wallpaper, permanent nicotine and beer fug, and cockroaches. Then again, few nightclubs could pass the good housekeeping standards of our mothers and that's why we like them.

The idea was that I'd stand behind a little counter at the top of the stairs and collect the admission fees until around 3am. It was a private club but only in the sense that whoever came by could just say they were a member and the Toronto police turned a blind eye to the fact the owners made their money selling drinks the same as at any other bar. Round about 1am the place would start getting busy as musicians, their girlfriends and various other night people started to arrive. Of course, there'd be a lot of jamming going on as old friends who were playing clubs like the Brown Derby and Le Coq D'or actually got to spend some time playing with each other. The music was very cool and I didn't mind the fact I wasn't getting paid much. Nevertheless, there I was with an open cash box that nobody showed much interest in and the pay really was very bad. Ross, the bouncer was also very badly paid and since he acted as my bodyguard when required I decided to amend our income directly by taking some money every night and splitting it between us.

As an example of why I might need a bodyguard I remember one night when I heard the door crash open at the foot of the stairs followed by the sounds of shouting and stomping as the new arrivals got closer to the club entrance. All of a sudden a crying woman screamed, "You're gonna hit me! I know you're gonna hit me!" The next sound was a terrific SLAP! Then the footsteps continued. On arrival, if I hadn't already suspected, it turned out to be a pimp and some of his ladies - one of whom apparently hadn't earned her keep that night and the guy was mad. The weird thing though, was that she kept describing her own punishment since the next thing she screamed was, "You're not gonna pay my way in!" So the guy said, "Pay your own way in, Bitch!" There she is all boo-hooing but out of the sobs came some fatal words, "You're gonna push me down the stairs! You're gonna push me down the fuckin stairs!" Oh dear. Everything seemed to go very quiet as he let go of one of the other girls and turned to move toward her. Next thing he'd grabbed her by the shoulders and gave a mighty push down the long stairs that had no landings. There were loud bumps, yells and finally a crash as she hit the bottom. I think I'd stopped breathing. Then a minute or so later we heard the door open at the bottom and the sounds of her still crying as she left.

The next night when I arrived the owners had left a roll of tickets that I was supposed to give half of to the customers and keep the other half in the cash box. It seemed they'd been counting the patrons and had found a discrepancy in the entrance fees. I stayed and did my shift without handing out any tickets and at the end of the night I took all the money. I gave half to Ross and kept the rest.

A few days later I ran into Ross on Yonge St. and we walked a ways together. He told me 'they' were looking for me and said I probably shouldn't go back. I wasn't planning to. The criminal was me.

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