I made my pit stop back at the motel a quick one. I took another thirty minute power nap, changed my guitar strings, put on black jeans, black shirt, black boots, black belt (with silver belt buckle) and mentally morphed into Jake Rivers during the short drive over.
Upon pulling up the building, I noticed they’d taken the time to update the flashing marquis above the door.
DUCKS UNLIMMITED CHARITY ACUTION AND MEAT DRAW
FEATURING OLD TIME COUNTRY MUSIC BY JAKE RIVERS
When I walked in, Big Eddy immediately introduced me to the volunteers who were setting up the various items for auction around the hall. He had a crew of guy’s help me set up my PA and I had the sound check over with in twenty minutes. He then introduced to the main coordinator of the event from Ducks Unlimited who made immediate inquiries as to whether he could use my microphone throughout the night to announce auction winners and make the occasional speech about how we should protect our wetlands.
“You betchya sir. The microphone is at your disposal. You just tell me when and I’ll step back and let you speak!”
So pleased was he with this arrangement he responded “Jake, I’d like to offer you to spot at our head table to dine with us tonight. How does that sound?”
“That would be a true honour sir.”
And so it was. One short hour later I was up at the long head table setup on risers overlooking the rest of the circular tables below. They sat me at the far left where I was treated to a great view of the Blue Jays game on the small TV perched behind the bar. I felt like misplaced Johnny Cash at the head table of a Dean Martin Roast. After dinner, I stood up at the bar with Big Eddy and my new friends of the dais and pretended to inhabit my Jake Rivers persona as the talk turned to moose hunting. We all mainly listened to Big Eddy hold court:
“Yeah, so there we were getting skunked after three days. I was hungover and standing in two feet of water when my young lad said he wanted to take the shot. There she was, right in our sights. He started shaking and then shaking some more. By Jesus he had some bad buck fever. He couldn’t pull the trigger!”
The conversation went around the circle until all eyes turned toward the man in black.
“Hey Jake, this ever happened to you?”
By that point I’d heard the word ‘buck’ and was already thinking about John Candy’s superb turn in the hilarious John Hugh’s film Uncle Buck. Just thinking about Candy’s laugh and face made me drift into a world far away from shooting animals.
“Oh hell, this one time up north, we had to quarter some road kill. Now that’s a story for another day!”
Although a true story, I was really hoping they would let me off the hook without further questioning.
Noticing a five second pause, I took a look at my fake skin watch and said “Well boys, I think it’s time for some music!”
“Knock’em dead Jake! Just tell us what you’re drinking and we’ll take care you from the bar!”
“Eddy I’ll take a cold pitcher of your finest swill. Let’s get this party started!”
The night rolled along as predicted. I offered a standard assortment of old time country cover songs with the occasional Rodney Dangerfield joke thrown in for good measure. The Ducks Unlimited spokesman came up at the end of the second set to finish his part with the auction. He thanked the volunteers and then said “I like to extend a very special thank you to our friend Jake Rivers for providing this top quality entertainment tonight. I think we can all say what a great surprise it’s been to have you grace our stage Jake.”
I walked back to the microphone and said “I’d like to thank all of you for being such a great audience. From the volunteers who cooked that amazing pork dinner to our server Linda behind the bar to Big Eddy who booked me tonight! We’re two sets down and the night is just getting started.”
With those words I announced that I’d be taking a thirty minute break.
I met the same guys circled around the bar for another discussion. I was definitely feeling like I’d already had a bit too much to drink, so without wasting any time, I ordered another pitcher to steady myself. I was holding court with the gang as the topic of conversation was now about music. We were finally in my wheelhouse. After five short minutes I realized I had these guys in stitches.
“One of the days I’m going to marry Loretta Lynn. Just don’t tell Dolly boys. I don’t want to break her heart.”
“If I had Johnny’s Cash and Charlie’s Pride I wouldn’t have a Buck Owen on my car.”
And on and on and on. Basically I was copping lines from the 1970’s American TV show Hee Haw.
“Well, I gotta go for a smoke. I’ll be back for set number three in fifteen minutes.”
“I didn’t know you smoked Jake?”
“Only when I’m drinking. I’m up the three packs a day!” (Another pilfered Dangerfield line).
And with that, I stepped out to the front of the Legion doors to hear the fading laughter and general good time noise of a fully packed Legion Hall at 11:45pm on a hot summer Saturday night in Nowhereville.
As is the case with the outdoor smoking set, it’s generally a scene unto itself. I met a wife pushing her husband in a wheelchair down the ramp to the sidewalk. Once they were settled, I offered them a light and we shared a brief quiet conversation about the starry night while slowly inhaling carcinogenic sticks sanctioned by the same government who issued the Surgeon General’s warning on the packaging.
“Hey look” I exclaimed “I got the one that says ’Smoking may harm unborn babies!’ Guess these ones won’t kill ME then!” They didn’t laugh.
They nodded, smiled and went back inside.
Standing there on my own, I realized it would be a good time for a two-smoke break. You know, collect my thoughts and catch some fresh air. Just as I fired up my second I heard some low mumbling from around the corner. It was a group of BC’s finest youth. They appeared like every other twenty-something in Canada. Wool toques, skateboard and ski logos plastered on every square inch of their clothes, long hair, short hair, nose rings, pierced eye balls, tattoos, ripped jeans. In other words, they were completely normal. They immediately noticed my black attire and pointed to the sign.
“Dude. You’re Jake Rivers! My aunt just texted us and told us to get down here to see you.”
“Yeah that’s me guys. Nice to meet you. Where you all from?”
The conversation meandered for a while and we all shared yet another cigarette. Then, I noticed one of the guys expertly rolling a cannon-sized joint with one hand while holding a lighter and bag full of pot in the other. He was obviously a trained professional.
“Hey Jake, you wanna try some BC bud? It’s the best in the world!”
“Funny you should say that. I was just thinking about weed today. I don’t smoke it really. It makes me paranoid. Besides I’ve had a few too many brews already and I’d better be careful.”
“Oh come on man. You can’t come to BC without trying a bit of our bud.”
I get that same come on everywhere I go:
“You can’t come to Memphis and NOT eat Gus’s Fried Chicken!”
“You can’t come to Quebec City and NOT eat poutine!”
“You can’t come to Rome and NOT see the Vatican!”
“You can’t come to Manitoba and NOT have perogies!”
“You can’t come to Nashville and NOT play at Tootsies!”
“You can’t come to Alma and NOT eat a sticky bun!”
So, with some perverse logic circling around my head I blurted out “What the hell. Fire it up!” And with that I proceed to smoke on this thing like I was Tommy Chong hiding out in his trailer on the set of Up in Smoke. It seemed to have lasted about ten solid minutes.
“Hey Jake, we’re gonna deek inside. Can’t wait to hear you man.”
Within about two minutes I felt a strange feeling come over me. It started with my heart. My heart was palpitating so fast it was draining the blood from my head. Then my eyes started to feel blurry and I was immediately dizzy. I looked over my shoulder to my name ‘Jake Rivers’ flashing on the marquis.
I was very stoned and immediately started questioning my authenticity as a human being.
“What are you doing Aymar? Where are you? A middle-age man in the mountains of BC pretending to be a guy named Jake Rivers? Get your shit together. Settle down and meet a nice girl! Get a job! Mom’s right! What have you become?”
And with that, I staggered to the side of the curb and put my head between my knees and closed my eyes. Suddenly I heard voices in my head. They started off very softly. Riiiiiiiveerrrssssss…..Riiiiveeerrrsssss….Jaaaaakke….Jaaaaakkke….” Then they grew louder and louder until I realized that someone was actually screaming out “JAKE RIVERS, where are you?”
Totally lost into a deep paranoid, panicked realm I thought to myself “Who is this Jake Rivers asshole and why does some guy keep screaming his name?”
“Rivers! Rivers! What’s going on man? It’s almost 12:30 and everyone’s waiting for your next set!”
It was Big Eddy who’d come out to find me. I’d forgotten who I was supposed to be. I’d forgotten just about everything. I looked up at Big Eddy and said, “Just give me another five, I need some air.”
Eddy left me to my own devices and I stood up and tried to walk around in circles to get some air and snap out of this awful state. It wasn’t working. I could barely stand. It was at that exact moment that I had an epiphany. If George (No Show) Jones could do it then so could I.
I stumbled back into the hall to cheers. As I wobbled toward the stage I heard uproarious laughter as I was assuredly pretending to play the town drunk. I staggered over to my guitar and strapped it on. I looked down at my guitar neck, placed my left hand on the fret board and totally blanked out. My guitar was melting. My hand look like it was made of plastic. I couldn’t move my fingers from the G chord position. I looked up to the crowd who were laughing less. I looked back down at my hand. I strummed one chord. I looked up at the crowd one last time to see Big Eddy walking toward the stage.
“Hey Jake, you’re putting us on right? You ok?”
“Eddy, call a cab. I’ll be back tomorrow to get my stuff!”
“What? You’re kidding right?”
“Eddy, can you please call a cab!”
I woke up the next morning to a knock on my door at 11:30 a.m. It was my friendly motel owner and her husband greeting me with a fresh coffee and asking me if I was planning on staying another day. It was a beautiful morning and as I stepped outside to join them I realized just how hungover I was. Ten minutes into our picnic table conversation, the events of the night came back to me. I ran back into my room to realize my guitar was not there. Where was my PA? Where was my gear?
“Oh MY GOD!” I realized what had happened. I didn’t have the heart to tell my new friends that my alter ego Jake Rivers had made a terrible ass of himself a mere twelve hours earlier. I jumped in the shower and did the long walk of shame back to the scene of the crime. Fortunately when I arrived, they were all new faces behind the bar. A younger server and an elderly woman were talking in the kitchen and prepping for the day ahead. The women came out.
“You must be Jake? You’ve come back to get your sound system I take it?”
“Yeah. Geez. Uh. Hmmm. Well. Uh. I’m sorry about last night. I don’t know what happened!” The two of them looked at each other and began to laugh. That one merciful laugh saved me. It was a gesture of pure kindness.
“Well, you wouldn’t believe it if we told you.”
“Please! Tell me what happened after I left.” The young girl took over the story.
“Well, my aunt Linda told Eddy that she’d texted some of the kids to come over to the show. Then after you left, Eddy and Linda brought a few of the boys outside to ask them what happened. They finally admitted to convincing you to smoke some weed. Eddy was really angry. He told them that they had stick around and pack up all of your gear and put it into the back store room. But before that, he used your microphone to apologize on your behalf to everyone. The old timers all know about this strong BC weed. Everyone was mad at the kids for ruining a great night.”
“Are you kidding me? I still take full responsibility for smoking it though. I made that choice.”
“Yeah,” she replied “but it seems to happen to everyone around here at one time or another. Eddy and everyone loved you. Oh, and here’s your money!”
I couldn’t believe it. I walked around the bar and gave both of them a big hug. To think that in a moment of complete fragility, I was offered mercy. I was relieved to find it was cash as I didn’t relish the notion of asking them to cut another cheque under my real name. I immediately pulled out $50 and said “Please buy Eddy and Linda, and everyone a round of drinks on me some night.” Oh, and if you see those kids again, tell them it wasn’t their fault.”
With that, I packed my gear into my car and drove back to the motel. My new friends awaited me with some more fresh coffee and a bowl of fruit.
“My husband would like to hear one of your songs.” It was perfect. I spent the next hour singing Jay Aymar originals and cleansed myself from the sins of my Jake Rivers past. What a great feeling.
“You know, if you like swimming there’s a nice lake about twenty minutes away. It’s where everyone goes on hot Sunday afternoons!” I took them up on their suggestion.
There must have been over two hundred cars in the vast gravel parking lot. People were barbequing, walking dogs, cycling, playing Frisbee and occasionally jumping off the rocks into the water. I walked down and claimed an open spot on the sandy beach, cracked open my half read copy of Carl Hiaasen’s Lucky You and daydreamed my afternoon away.
The next morning, the owners of motel left me a note attached to a small bag on my door.
“It was a pleasure meeting you Jay. Thank you for the music. Here’s a little something for your drive.”
I opened up the bag to find a little box filled with some grapes, a banana, a yogurt cup, a raisin bran muffin and small juice. I dug into my computer bag to fish out one of my Thank You cards reserved for just such occasions and wrote “I’ll never forget you and hopefully our paths will cross again!”
I drove back to the main intersection in town and kept driving for ten hours in an easterly direction -destination unknown. Suddenly, I noticed a small roadside saloon up in the distance. I checked my clock and realized it was already 9 p.m. As I approached this country bar, I saw a vacancy sign blinking in above the door entrance. I pulled out $50 cash from my wallet and walked in with a confident yet humble swagger.
“Hi there, I’m a touring musician just looking to spend the night. I want something clean and quiet and l’ll be leaving early in the morning. I only have $50. YES or NO?”
The girl young girl behind the counter looked a bit panicked. “Well, I’m going to have to call Judy. She’s the owner. Our rooms are usually $45 plus tax!”
“Well, you drive a hard bargain. No need to call Judy. I’ll take it!”
After checking in I came back to the bar for a bite to eat. There’s nothing like a Monday night crowd in remote country saloon.
“What are you drinking buddy?”
“Uh, I’ll have a ginger ale and a look at your menu!”
“Sure. You gonna get up and sing some songs for the open mic?” I turned around to see a house band assembling their gear on stage.
“Well, I think I’ll just sit back and enjoy it tonight!”
The bartender smiled “Yeah, I know how you feel. I can’t sing a lick either.”
I leaned in and asked him “I’m a little lost. For the life of me I can’t remember the name of the last town I was in and I don’t even know where I am now. Where are we?”
He looked at me with a straight face and said “We call it Nowhereville.”
“Wow! Change that ginger ale to a Labatt 50.”
“Labatt 50? No one drinks that around here!”
Here we go again.