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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Rez Stories: Bumper Pool

I tell people that I spent my "formative years" living on a reservation along the St. Lawrence River, where Ontario, Quebec, and New York meet in an insane patchwork of jurisdictions.

This is not a lie.

But it's not quite the truth either. I didn't spend time there, as one might spend money, exchanging it for something desired or necessary. I didn't really give over my time at all.

I let my time wither, desiccate, grow infected.

I didn't like to be there. We moved to the rez when I was ten, into an old family home that had a swamp (complete with frogs) where an in-ground pool used to be. The house was on an island: one bridge went to a smelly little industrial town in Ontario; the other went to upstate New York and the American side of the border-straddling reservation.

I had family on the rez. I had friends in Ontario, where I went to school. But summertime, and weekends, meant no free rides into town. So no getting into mild urban trouble with the blue collar kids I went to school with. No going to the mall to pretend we weren't there to be noticed by the girls. No wandering around downtown and slipping into the arcade. No going to the library or bookstore to let Tolkien show me what the real world was like.

What was a boy to do? Develop habits, that's what. Form. Be formed.

I had one friend on the rez. His name was Chris. He died stupidly a few years ago, long after we had stopped being friends. When he was a kid he lived stupidly, and I lived stupidly right alongside him. At eleven years old I was wandering around the island with him, looking for bottles to break, or to return to the gas station for the deposit so that we could accumulate enough recycling wealth to buy a can of Skoal.

Do you know what Skoal is? Chewing tobacco, folks. I didn't quite have a can ring in the back pocket of my jeans, but it was a near thing.

We'd buy a can and sit around his house dipping Skoal while his mom drank and ignored us. His youngest brother cut his toes off in the lawn mower one day. Life went on. We dipped, and dared each other to piss on the electric fence across the road. We broke bottles and set things on fire and played bumper pool at the place down the road.

I didn't have a can ring because I had several pairs of jeans; Chris had a can ring.

I learned how to play pool from my father and my grandfather, on the rez, in basements and in bars when I was a kid. I learned how to play bumper pool with a can of Skoal in my back pocket, being stupid with a stupid friend on weekends and during the summer when I couldn't get a ride into town.

Is there a memoir here? If so the next chapter begins, "When I was twelve I quit dipping and took up smoking. For the ladies."


for a different kind of girl said...

My formative years were spent hanging out with a group of girls I'd known since elementary school. By then, we all pretty much hated each other, but we didn't know what else to do, so we endured. I gave up trying to be the voice of conformity and peace between the warring factions of "Wants To Be A Cheerleader, Be Popular, And Dump Your Sorry Asses By Freshman Year" and "Screw You. I Just Want To Get Wasted, Make Out With Questionable Boys and Listen To 'Back In Black.' Again." We'd go to the mall and dare each other what to steal from the Walgreen's, then gather at one of our houses and bask in the bounty of Bonne Bell lipgloss, Wet & Wild make up, and random candy bars we'd culled. Sometimes we'd take inventory at the kitchen table while one of my 'friend's' mom would be nearby making dinner, never questioning the amazing expendable income five teenage girls with no discernable job skills had.

Nothing about it ever felt right, or particularly fun. Any of it. But I was terrified of not having it.

You wrote a great piece. You truly did. I'd add an exclamation point, but I'm being all humble before you.


greg said...

dipping made me light-headed and then i'd puke.

the can-ringers had great joy with that fact...

bejewell said...

I can't relate to any of this.

Except the part about being stranded outside of an urban utopia. And playing bumper pool. And doing a lot of really stupid stuff when you're a kid hanging out with your equally stupid friends.


Well, at least I never dipped chewing tobacco. Except that one time.

Leaving now.

Heather said...

I used to work with this guy who chewed, and he would tell me some awful stories about how you shouldn't use a soda can to spit in because someone always ends up drinking out of it. ~gag~

Jenni said...

I like this post. Really good writing - I felt like I was there. I hope you make Rez Stories a regular blog feature.

Goldfish said...

This is good stuff.... Made me smile, actually. Made me think that even if my little boys do stupid things they might still turn out okay. Anyway, I just wandered over here the other day and am very glad I found your blog. Thanks.

anna said...

I liked this piece a lot. The can ring and the one pair of pants v. several point is a nice touch.

I always preferred K-bear though.

Sam (TEOI) said...

I'll bet it was way cooler growing up as you as opposed to me.

Ali said...

um. ew.
i'm glad you kicked that one...

Momo Fali said...

If it makes you feel any better, I grew up in a city and I did those things too (minus the Skoal)...and I'm a girl.

Wendy said...

Too bad you were too young to realize what a special place you were in. I've heard reservations can be terribly hard places to live, but the culture you were exposed to! Man, you were lucky!

MereCat said...

I had a girlfriend who dipped. I couldn't believe it. She quit smoking when she had a baby and started dipping instead. Beautiful girl, too.

Mike said...

I don't know if there is a memoir there (maybe!) but there is definitely more posts. Very interesting. If it isn't indecent to ask I'd be curious to know how Chris passed. I'd also like to know more about living on a rez as you call it. Good stuff!

Velma said...

Golly! Now I'm looking forward to my life with tweens/teens even more.

crazymumma said...

I love the phrase living stupidly. So apt. I am stealing it for myself when talking about my teen years. Thank you.

I look forward to the next installment, after all, there is nothing quite like kissing a guy who tastes like a smoke...

Aunt Becky said...

I think I might actually trade my arm for a smoke right now.

Never dipped, tho. Ever.

goodfather said...

Nice, nice post. The jocks at my high school dipped all the time: their favorite pastime was to leave their wads in the drinking fountain before class started. And in my town, they called it 'snoose', both as noun ('wanna have a dip of my snoose?') and verb ('I'm gonna snoose before class and the leave it in the drinking fountain, har har.')

Mandy said...

I can't relate, although when I drive by/through the reservations out here in BC, or when I taught kids living on them in when I was in schools, it breaks my heart. It's a sad environment.

peach said...

i love the small town posts. i can totally relate. although, i found it oddly harsh they way you wrote about the death of an old friend...

Redneck Mommy said...

My uncle used to dip. Out of curiosity and stupidity I asked to try it one fall morning as we rode around on his tractor cutting hay.

He looked at me, grinned a wicked grin and said I could try it but I had to keep it in my mouth for a minute and promise not to spit it out.

So I could get it good and juicy. Bastard.

I was eight so I agreed. Plus, how bad could it be right?

I ended up swallowing the huge amount of pinch and was sicker than a dog for the rest of the afternoon.

Never went near that crap again. Ew.

Backpacking Dad said...

FADKOG: I stole a pair of neon pink plastic 80's sunglasses from a Zellers once.

greg: dipping n00bs are hilarious :}

bejewell: are you my long lost neighbour?

heather: no, that's why you DO. but around my house you had to watch out for old Pepsi cans that had been used as ash trays.

jenni: thanks. I'm thinking about it :}

goldfish: or they could turn into insane SAHD's who fence!!! Ahhhhhh!!!

anna: oh my god. K-bear.

sam (teoi): cooler? hmm. You're going to think it was really cool when I get to the stories about the house.

ali: my wife is too :}

momo fali: including peeing on the electric fence?

wendy: well. sure. I suppose? it's hard to be anthropological when it's your family though.

merecat: well, I just don't understand that. that's the wrong way 'round.

mike: a few years ago he was a passenger in his friend's car and they were driving around town, drove into a construction site and drove into an open basement.

velma: yeah. kids are stupid.

crazymumma: girls were all up in my grill. not. (see that? that was a 90's cultural reference right there. Wayne's World, baby).

aunt becky: I have days like that.

goodfather: "snoose" is awesome.

mandy: some are worse than others. mine was pretty aflluent, in pockets.

peach: yeah. it was harsh. it was a harsh, stupid death.

redneck mommy: we all did that once.

anymommy said...

I also love the phrase 'living stupidly.' I definitely did that for a while. Stupidly and blindly. My first boyfriend smoked cloves. It's still an appealing smell in a bizarre, nostalgic way.

My_Dog_Is_Better said...

Brother, again stop alluding to some writing career you're aspiring to have. I AM THE WRITER and I WILL WRITE THE MEMOIR about life on the rez. Chapter 10 is all about my job at a cigarette factory when I was 12.

Seriously though, you were a bad kid even though you might not realize it because you played chess at the same time. There were lots of kids on the rez your age who never knew what Skoal was until way later than you, you just happened to befriend the roughest kid around and he seems to epitomize your view of rez life. And now all your blog readers think my rez is this hard-knock place with bad kids, or as Mandy said, a "sad environment."

Not saying it's perfect on this rez but your summertime trouble-making was not the norm.

Backpacking Dad said...

anymommy: yeah, cloves are very high school. :}

my dog is better: I clearly realize that I was a bad kid. In fact, some might argue that this post was all about me being a bad kid.