Just back from the casino. He's down $50, me, $65 - American. Sixty-five dollars my unemployed ass won't be getting back, except for pity handouts from my mom, or my new career move of writing crossword puzzles, professionally. I was five words into my first one; fitting "basso continuo" with "zither" was proving difficult. Month two of my three-month "non-traditional employment" quest, and I was already resorting to casino tactics. I had just dropped out from university and moved back home; he, only a month away from starting studies of his own. Our Venn Diagram intersected that summer, only briefly, for a glorious two months.
The short, pockmarked, deeply creased truck stop wench takes our order, month 147 of her 292 month food-services stint under her leather belt. She exudes all the enthusiasm one could muster at 4:00 am while describing the thick, juicy, rich back bacon that adorns the O Canada burger. It's 1:40 am. I get the O Canada burger, no pickles; he gets the O Canada burger, double fries (to put inside the O Canada burger, you see). Now we wait, starved and broke, while the various Heinz condiments taunt us, daring us to down them a la carte.
In retrospect, crossing the border with a nine-month growth of beard and a healthy tan is a poor idea in this post-9/11 world. But these, like employment, were worldly concerns not relevant to my staggering intellect, and I took a sort of detached, martyric glee when the mustachioed border services guard took one look at me in the back seat, and ordered us to "pull over". Which is a synonym for, you will sit on a bench and stare at a remarkably well colour-balanced portrait of George W. Bush while we disassemble your vehicle with a series of mini-screwdrivers, each more mini than the last. I was hungry, and came close to asking our friendly border services friends for some al fresco dining opportunities; my friend held me back, likely sparing me the indignity of having my starfish intimately viewed by a part-time reservist.
I suppose when the border guard shimmied out a Colt Mild from the Jeep's velcro padding was when we should have turned tail and got the flying fuck out of this anal, retentive, anally paranoid post-aristocracy, but the bright lights of the Mohawk casino promising us Anowarako:wa-style hospitality proved too tantalizing to refuse. The Wheel of Surprise penetrated us back-ways, though, and our attempts of redemption on the slots were spat back in our faces. We emerged from the bright, pulsating lights and rapid sonic dinging shells of men; having wagered our hard-earned money in the hopes of prosperity, we each had a paltry green bill to our names for the ride back.
Enough left for a meal, though.
We received our respective burgers, his as ordered, and mine with pickles. Each satisfying, grease-infused bite sent a rippling wave of contentment over our brains which washed out the shitty night. We chatted, nonchalantly, under the diner's fluorescent glow. I glanced to my right; there, sitting at the bar, was my mom's landlord, sitting with two X chromosomes he was not betrothed to. I pretended not to see him, and he refused to acknowledge my presence in turn. He, sitting there with a hooker; me, in a Jihad beard and stained, torn shirt; a gentleman's agreement, if ever there was any.
My friend dropped me off home, sated, in his van. "See you later?" I yelled.
A nod and a big grin. "For sure, man! Definitely!" He took off with a squeal, no doubt to pack and get ready for the big move into adulthood. I didn't see him again that summer.
I turned around, sighed, trundled up the steps to my mom's apartment and slept on her couch.