Vanderhoof. Hockey. Wildlife.

Vanderhoof Bar.

I love how hockey playoffs stretch into the spring. There is usually a lull then, between school and summer jobs, that gives me a chance to embrace our national sport again. Its kind of an annual fling. The Crosby – Ovechkin clash is in full swing, and the last Canadian team still in the runnings, the Vancouver Canucks are in peril of elimination. Dinner is over. I’m sprawled in a lawn chair, looking out over treeplanter camp. I’m a python, digesting my days feast – immobile, with two enormous beef fajitas forming the pronounced bulge at my midsection. 
Neils is making my anxious. He keeps getting text updates of the score on his phone. Its the 2nd period. Tie game 3-3. He jumps up and down out of his chair and paces around the fire. He’s a BC boy and noticeably upset by the tight Game 7. Does anyone have a radio? I ask, So we can follow the score? I’m excited to follow the game, but I’m still not moving much. Pro-activity is not a big part of tree planter evenings. I scan the circle of beleaguered faces around me. A few people grumble disinterestedly that No, they don’t have a radio. Its a panglosian solicitation. Everyone is too busy doing important things – stretching, pulling off soggy boots, tending to flesh wounds – to deliver me a radio on a silver platter.
In a flash of inspiration, I suggest we drive into town for the final period. We’ll be home early enough, I petition. Come on, its do or die. Nick the Driver replies compliantly: I’m down. But inertia keeps us glued to our canvas chairs. Neils is too anxious to even reply. I let the proposition simmer for a moment. I’m about to give up when Nick catches my attention. A quarter rests profoundly on the top of his balled up hand. Call it, he says. I smile, I like the idea of letting chance decide. I call heads, enjoying Nick’s easy-going impulsivity.
Heads it is. Hockey time.

Spurred to action, we rush to the tired white Suburban and rumble into town. Vanderhoof. Population, very low. But even the furthest outposts of civilization in Canada can be trusted to have a hockey bar. The game turns out to be an exciting rout. 5 goals are scored in the third period alone, unfortunately not many of them by the Canucks. But the real entertainment of the night is the crowd at the Grand Trunk Inn and Sports Bar. 

A pleasant, well-kempt Indian man casually offers me weed the moment I walk in. No thanks my friend, I answer and smile at him apologetically. He makes a pass at Neils too as we search for a table. We plop ourselves down in front of the high def TV and silently urge on the home team. A rowdy table of tradesmen say their hellos and then resume their banter about the slow work at the lumber mills and the appealing attributes of each other’s mothers and sisters.
Then the waitress comes round. Heavy-set and weathered by too many years of bad habits, she leans skeptically over our table. She doesn’t bother to introduce herself, or to ask what we want. Her impatient, judgmental expression is her attempt at honesty, a blatant dismissal of formalities. We order beer. She pours it. No funny business. But the ominous clouds of tomorrow’s hard labor has cast a shadow on our desire to indulge in alcohol. So I clear my throat and innocently pipe up, Um, do you have any juice?
Fuck. Her reply is simply this: fuck. She rolls her eyes, even chuckles to herself at the absurdity of my order. Its the first word we hear her utter. Her entire personality is encapsulated by her voice and her first word. Her voice is deeply masculine, gravely, the product of a lifetime of cigarettes and sarcasm. She decides to ignore me and turns to my crew. Solara, with her blond dreadlocks, orders a small glass of Molson Canadian. Later, she rushes up to the bar to cancel her order. The reply of the waitress? She firmly drops the glass on the bar and sternly responds, well who’s going to drink it then? Solara cowers, takes a meek sip from her glass and retreats to our table.
I end up getting a Pineapple juice. She doesn’t charge me because no one has ever order a juice before and she is too lazy to make up a price. As if we have caused her great encumbrance, she sighs and declares that she is going out for a cigarette. 
The hockey game flies back and forth as the Vanderhoof village bicycle approaches our table. She is a bear of lady who eclipses the TV. She wobbles drunkenly and slurs her icebreaker: You must be the bad boys. Nick fearfully points at me randomly and replies that I’m the bad boy. I freeze in fearful contemplation. Should I climb a tree? Back away slowly? Play dead in hopes that she marks me with her urine and buries me but leaves me alive?
She is around 40 years old. Her bulky thighs are unnaturally forced into a tight pair of jeans. An image pops into my mind when I see them: the throats of force-fed geese destined to be fois-gras. Her short blond hair is styled into the mushroom cut, popular amongst the teenage boy demographic. I smile apprehensively. She smiles at us drunkenly, hungrily.
Fortunately, she wobbles off and plops down on the lap of a man half her size. He has long greasy hair that flows from underneath a dirty hockey cap. She teeters back and forth on his skinny hips. His head bobs back and forth to get a glimpse of the game. All of a sudden, a naughty flirtation erupts from her lips for all the bar to enjoy: Oh! You touched me there!
Thanks for sharing. A lean back mirthfully in my chair, shake my head in wonderment and ponder if I’ve truly arrived: Into the Wild.
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One Response to Vanderhoof. Hockey. Wildlife.

  1. Jonas Saari says:

    A game of chance, the bartender, the awkward juice order, the village bicycle bear, love it! Very insightful and delightful writing on your part. When did you return to Canada? Good to hear that the tree planting is doing good to your heart and soul. :-J

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