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from A Squandered Life / Telephone Poles '68
….with Bobby's entourage looking on as if they were watching a couple of princes.
Somehow or other, I guess through the Labour Exchange, I got a job measuring distances between telephone poles. There were six of us working in teams of two. We were issued with orange implements which looked like snow shovel handles attached to a small bicycle wheel. These had little clicking odometers attached and would simply clock up any mileage along which they were pushed.
One guy would set the thing to zero at one pole, walk it along in a straight line to the next pole, and read out the number to the other guy who would enter it on to a clipboard. Zero the thing again, march to the next pole, read out the number, enter it on the clipboard, and repeat. Ad infinitum. Day in day out.
If it looked like rain, we would sit at drawing boards in a down town office and draw each and every one of those poles on to street plans of the area we'd been surveying. This is probably why I got the job - on the strength of my course in Technical Drawing at High School. You had to place the poles, draw the connecting lines, and enter the precise distances as substantiated by our orange wheelie things. And no smudging....
As luck would have it, the area we were surveying was my old stomping grounds out on the Lakeshore.
There were two younger guys I alternated with in the two man measuring teams. One was a slightly pudgey Italian Canadian called Neil. He lived not far from me in the city centre and I used to give him a lift out to the measuring grounds on my 250 Starfire. By this time I was getting cocky on motorcycles again and would throw it around into curves and between lines of traffic. I used to take sadistic delight in hitting about 80 mph and then ducking down suddenly so that the full force of the wind hit Neil square in the face, causing him to shriek and clutch wildly at anything to hold his place. He would curse and punch me hard and painfully in the kidneys but it seemed a small price to pay for the evil pleasure.
The other guy was an appallingly good-looking and self-assured blonde athlete called Greg who hailed from one of my old competitor high schools on the Lakeshore. He was so good-looking that when he mentioned he had a twin sister, I immediately and without thinking expressed a lustful interest with an animated and unguarded “Really?”. And he was so self-assured that I was constantly trying to come up with ways of unsettling him. One time we got into a crowded lift in the drawing office building. I turned to him and said, deadpan and conversationally, “When did you say your dad was getting out of jail?” He regarded me casually for a moment in the mildly tense silence which followed and, equally deadpan, responded, “Week after next. He's been asking about you.”
In all the time we trudged around those suburban estates I only once encountered anybody I knew. His name was Bobby and he was a year or two behind me in high school. We came across him and a small entourage outside the drug store I used to frequent in search of stolen comic books and “athletic supports”. I'd always known Bobby as a bit of a clown and when I greeted him he initially responded in character, but then he looked over my shoulder and saw Greg standing behind me. In an extraordinary sleight of manner he serioused up and morphed into a man about to enter a man to man situation.
Mildly surprised, I turned to Greg and saw that he too had morphed. It turned out that they were both top wrestlers in the same weight class and had the utmost dignified and cautious respect for each other. They ignored me as they shook hands and, looking straight at each other, said, “How's it going?” with Bobby's entourage looking on as if they were watching a couple of princes. I realised I was catching a glimpse of how far the sport of wrestling had come, in terms of cool-ness and prestige, since my dalliances at the fringe of the sport with Coach Foster. I had clearly missed a boat (the first of many) which subsequently went on to great things.
My envy was inflamed when Greg used to tell me about the teen-age orgies they used to have, with panty-clad high school girls wandering around parentless Lakeshore mansions ready to submit to the wills and lusts of wrestlers. The only problem he seemed to encounter was one of the guys throwing used condoms casually around the place. Greg and his mates had to form a posse to get the guy to clean up and ship out. I finally managed to unsettle him by asking innocently, “Was your sister there?” Why that should have stung him more than any of the other things I'd been saying I don't know but, to my shameful satisfaction, it did.
© 2013 Deacon Martin