The hidden years in Canada 8, the bossman

Door San-Daniel gepubliceerd op Wednesday 11 March 09:09

 

The bossman

It had become Thursday and wages would be paid in the little coffee room. Kurt, the man from the  office, where we as pariahs would not even think about ever going inside, walked up with linen bags. Each bag had a piece of paper with a name stapled to it. Kurt loved the show of power. You were called forward and ate the bread of charity. Depending on the hours you had worked, your wages were a bit more or a bit less. For what you deserved very little but you’d always go home with at least $ 100 per Thursday. You were just bought, your hourly wage was around two dollars an hour, so if you worked  10 hours overtime and not because you wanted to, but because you had to, you made only $ 10 with taxes paid, but you were broken the next day, and you had to put out again full force,  or you were fired. Gordon Lightfoot,  the Canadianfolk singer, made a song about it and you instantly understood it as a working man, because you were yourself in such a situation. It was called 'Bossman'  Bossman Bossman what do you say, gonna give you a piece of my mind someday and I know I can't say yes and I can't say no. Holes in my pockets, hole in my shoe, Bossman Bossman what happens to you. Bossman bossman pay my rent,'cause the dollar I earn is the dollar I overspent.

And that was exactly it, the dollars you earned, were the dollars you spent. You received money but you lived from hand to mouth. Troubadour and protest singer, Gordon Lightfoot had tapped perfectly from the evils of society, made songs about that and became a wealthy man. It were the excesses of the old society where the working man was enslaved. I was not as frustrated as the people around me, because I knew deep within that I would wrestle myself away from it. But the Louis the lips, of society had reached unprecedented levels in their lives, they had become foreman. The rest that was left over were lawless hoodlums and Kurt in his turn, squeezed Louis the lip again, because Kurt was an office man. It was a layered society. There arose in those people who were enslaved a lot of anger, but they could not articulate that, at most they could find an outlet in aggressiveness and drink.

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I stepped forward and Kurt held the bag next to his ear and shook it. Among the bills some coins made a ringing sound. ‘That boy,’ Kurt laughed, ‘are easy coins coming towards you.’ He had no idea what had to be done work wise, before we could step forward  and get our hard earned money. He felt the power over us with his neatly trimmed nails and hands without any calluses. I smiled a little smile. ‘What are you thinking about, boy,’ Kurt asked, ‘chicks, booze, you think about that, huh?’ But he did not say bitches, like we would, with a craving, he had a snooty posh way of speaking. ‘Actually, no sir,’ I said. ‘I think there can never be enough in that bag to justify my work.’ ‘So, do you think so boy, maybe you had better go somewhere else .. ' ‘Mr Kurt,’ said the lip, ‘please, this is one of the good guys, I'll talk to him.’ Kurt looked at me a moment longer as if I smelled bad. He tossed the bag forward and it fell to the ground at my feet. I looked at it, Rico bent down and picked it up and gave it to me, ‘do not be silly,’ he said. ‘I did not drop it, ‘I replied to Rico.

‘Is that a friend of yours,’ asked Kurt, looking at  Rico. ‘No sir,’ Rico, ‘I hardly know him, sir,’ replied ‘Keep it that way,’ said Kurt, ‘people like your mate get people fired. ' 'Hey you ', he felt supreme now. ‘Next time you button up, I don't wanna hear you anymore.‘ I smiled and walked eyeing him, backwards away. ‘Come on,’ said the lip, ‘you moron, for you ten others, man wake up, you almost had your ass kicked, man.’ Kurt likes it when your shuffle your feet a bit and look at your shoes and such that gives him a nice feeling. ‘ That's very nice for him, ‘I thought.’ Tonight in Queens you owe me at least a couple of beers. ‘ I shuffled my shoes  a bit and looked at my feet. ‘Like this,’ I asked? The lip laughed, ‘you crazy fucker he said, you owe me one, but beware because there are narrow-minded people who think that wages buy everything, it's the power they have over us. ' ‘Yeah, I said,’until we go away . I was angry that Rico had denied me.

In the car I said to Richard, ‘I just want to take a milkshake and talk to you.’ So we were a little later in our work clothes having a large milkshake. ‘Man,’ I said, ‘now we're here, why did you say you did not know me? I am not the Christ, but I was expecting the crowing of the cock, you know? I felt that you really sold me. ‘ ‘I saved you head,’ Richard said, ‘I picked your pay packet up because otherwise it would have escalated . I know you man, you would have let it lie there and gone home without pay. It was a trade off. This is the real world where others decide everything for you. ‘ ‘Richard,’ I replied, ‘you have sold yourself to a bugger like Kurt. In any world my answer would have been the same. ‘ ‘Man,’ Richard said, ‘what I said applies only to what Kurt thinks.‘ ‘Kurt does not think,’ I said,  he enjoys playing once  a week the Supreme Being. He is impaired. ‘What would you have said then,’ asked Richard? ‘I’, and I thought for a moment. ‘I would have said, yes, that's Rico a friend of mine and I'm glad because of it. It is not difficult.’

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‘I really would not sell myself for a few dollars. I work for them, for my sweat and labor, I get money and I understand that. My thoughts and my life are mine. Man I would never have dropped you for such a nitwit ‘ ‘It was not good, huh,’ said Rico, and he looked a bit unhappy while saying it. ‘Oh man,’ I said, ‘it is not about good or bad, you must simply not sell who you are or what you think. ‘ Yes, ‘he said,’ I understand you. ‘ ‘We won’talk about it anymore,’ I said, 'we're going to change at home because the lip is expecting us and we have  a date with Beverly and Don when we’re done at the Queens. ‘ Rico reached out, ‘no hard feelings, ‘he asked? ‘Of course not man,’ I said, ‘and thank you for picking up my wages' and grinning we got in the car to go home.

In the whole city was only one bar where Indians could drink. The liquor laws were very strict and differed by state. We lived in Alberta and you had to be 21 to be allowed to go into a bar. In the doorway stood or sat mostly an RCMP officer, who could ask you for your ID when in doubt, and if you had an identity proof  and it turned out you were younger than 21 years, then you got a fine of $ 90 for ‘IP’ illegal possesion. The town where I lived had 100 000 inhabitants and there were only a few bars, but they were really very large. They were called Beer parlours gigantic premises that could easily hold 500 to 1000 men.

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As there were not so many waiters, the minimum order was always 2 pints. If you ordered a round with 4 friends then eight pints were put down and when everyone had paid a round, than you were 32 pints further and you had drunk eight pints yourself. After a second round you’d take the moon for a melon. Public drinking was not allowed and urinating on any road or highway beginning with ‘Q’ ‘Queen's highway number this or that, was considered an insult to the queen ’.

When you went for a bite to eat, you could not get a drink and ladies did not drink at the beer parlour they went to an addition called the lounge. In stores no liquor was on sale, you could only buy liquor at liquor stores and outside sat or stood another RCMP beside the doorway. Indians were excluded because they turn aggressive with liquor. In BC just over the state border it was another story, the drinking age was 18 and everyone that just looked like about 18 got booze. We often went out in BC and drove half sloshed back to Alberta .. we were lucky that we stayed alive. Sweet 1968.

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Indians and fire water, it is not a myth, just as Dutch have the saying ‘drunk as a Malay’  it was known quickly in the Americas that Indians and drink was a fatal combination. They did not know why, but it was the way it was. Queens was such beer parlour, it was ladies night and the 200 places would soon be occupied. People would be hoisting beer until they’d fall out of their seats or with their heads on the table asleep. In the latter case, the bouncer would come along and kick your foot. And if you did not wake up, than you were tossed on the street by two big blokes.

We were shaved and clean. New pants and new cashmere shirt and a peace chain. We were a difference from day to night with our work outfit. Rico was right, there were different worlds in which we moved. The Queens had no RCMP officer, Richard had been right. The bouncer glanced at us, 'Good evening gentlemen, are we going to see the li’l ladies? ‘ He held out his hand, but with the palm up, ‘we do not forget the bouncer? Both Rico and I looked for some coins and dropped them in his hand. ‘Ah,’ said the man, ‘You're too good, you can walk on. ‘There were already a lot of men gathered in groups and at the bar was a multiple of cowboys. Neatly dressed and clean shoes. Now they still looked like respectable hip figures or like an occasional  cowboy who had stopped for a drink. As the alcohol had its effect shirts would get soaked. At every turn you’d find a fistfight as someone crowded another one and the veneer of civilization would wash away with a swig of beer.

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We saw them on coming in, sat in the middle, at a table Louis lip, kept an eye on the  bar. Mama Fuzz sat next to him and someone who was obviously a drifter that at at times worked for us.'That is dangerous Freddy McCee, 'Scottish,’ I asked, expecting an affirmative answer. ‘No German,’ Rico said. ‘ German’, I laughed, ‘with a name like McGee? ‘He is actually called Freddy Kleinung, but they named him after the song by Janis Joplin,’ me and Bobby McGee '. ‘It does not stop, really hot everyone has a different name different from what you think.’ He does not look so dangerous out there, I thought, from a distance you could see that it was only a small slender man. ‘What makes him so dangerous, this Freddy McGee.’ ‘He's a knife fighter.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘great company.’ ‘He's very aggressive,’ Rico continued. ‘ I'm glad to know it, ‘I said and I stepped towards them ..

 'Hi Lip, ‘I said when we came close.’ Hi boys, ‘Lip greeted us, 'Sit down, you know Freddy McGee?’ ‘Who is that big mother,’ Freddy said, ‘what are you looking at me for, do I owe you money.’ ‘ A good evening, as well’ I said, ‘ are you all ready for a beer?’ ‘That,’ said the lip, ‘is indeed a big mother and that is what we call him.’ ‘Holy shit,’ called McGee out, "this looks like a gay club. Mama Fuzz and now a Big Mother.’ ‘Freddy,’ said the lip, ‘I do not know if you have eyes but  big mother is strong, very strong, and he does not bullshit about.’ ‘You're my man,’ said dangerous Freddy McGee and he held out his hand ‘and it is beer time.’ Our evening had  begun.

San Daniel March 2015

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