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Cardhouse
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1997jun29. It’s sum-sum-summertime! Everybody’s out bicycling! Everybody’s Rollerblading®! Everybody’s getting hit by semi-trucks and attacked by squirrels®!

This being summertime, it is a time of renewed commitments to exercise all that winter chubfat off before the women suspect a thing. I choose dancing as my main calorie-burning activity because you can do it in the dark, nobody’s really looking at you, and you don’t have to figure out how to pull levers or yank on ropes or whatever those Skinner-box freaks over at Bally’s have cooked up for us lardbutts. So I headed off to a Detroit dance club one night with Lisa and Cathy, with plans to meet Max at the club. Some kind of asphalt operation on I-75 narrowed the freeway down to one lane; Lisa merged some distance ahead from a semi-truck. The traffic was stop and go for at least a mile and a half. We were dead stopped behind a line of at least six cars when the semi rammed into the back of Lisa’s car.

BOOM!
And then again, and again, and again, and some more.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOMBOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

Semi-trucks are crafty that way. Just when you think there’s a reason for them to stop hitting you, they just keep on doing it. I couldn’t see Cathy, because she was in the passenger seat, but I looked at Lisa and we’re both kind of dumbfounded and then I looked back and it’s all metal, just a metal wall of some sort OH MY GOD! THE SEMI! We checked all around to make sure everyone was okay, we were all just sort of shaken up and wondered what the hell was the driver’s problem. We pulled over, the semi pulled over. The car’s taillight was smashed, there was a small dent in the trunk. Lisa went up to the truck, jumped on the running board, burned her arm on the exposed exhaust pipe, and the driver says she had cut in front of him. After a mile and a half of one-lane stop-n-go traffic, pretty neat trick on her part. They both agreed to call the police, and the trucker added that “the last time I ... the last time this happened, I had to wait five hours for the police.” We only had to wait three, but we were able to make the time pass quickly by staring into all of the oncoming headlights. We all thought the trucker was drunk. Lisa told us about a guy she knew who got pulled over for drunk driving. He blew his way through most of the alphabet, then wrapped it up by saying ...

“ ... T ... U ... V ... WHYT!”
The cop missed his addled reference to a local top-40 radio station and let him go.

Passing motorists honked their horns or yelled expletives, offering us moral support. The car battery died, and a young couple pulled over to help jump the car. A taxicab lost control of his oddly fishtailing vehicle and almost careened into the two of them, but regained control at the last minute. The good samaritans flooded Lisa’s car and left. The cops then pulled up behind Lisa’s car, and a car from New Jersey lost its hubcap. The NJ driver pulled up between Lisa’s car and the semi-truck, got out and looked around. Bad area of Detroit, construction/asphalt crews all over the place, a cop, a semi, and us, and he’s looking for his stupid damn hubcap.

“I think I have a good idea where it is, you freak! Can you guess?”
He ran over to the cop car.
“Great. I wonder what it feels like to have the police right there when you need them most ... you know, like when a hubcap falls off.”

I’m not sure what transpired between the NJ guy and the cop, I’m guessing it was something like

“Excuse me, officer? What’s just about the stupidest question I could ask you right now?"
“How about something along the lines of ‘Where’s my hubcap?’“
“Thanks. Where’s my hubcap?”
The cops took the trucker’s story first, so they were a bit taken aback by Lisa’s accounting of events. The first time she told the story, she banged on her notebook five times to illustrate the multiple-collision nature of the crash; the next time, she started smacking her notebook on the cop’s shoulder.
“BANG BANG BAN--"
“Please don’t do that, ma'am.”

The cops called for a tow truck, and between that and other crazy-ass adventures that night, I got home at around 5:30am. Max was pleasantly nonchalant about our no-show. The next day I went white trash go-kart racing with Max and other friends; I pretended I was a drunken semi-truck driver.

The other half of my summer is going to be spent on my rental’s second story deck, reading things and spying on people. It’s cozy, a tree is sort of wrapped around it. It’s like my little secret hidey-hole treehouse thing. I was sitting out there reading a book about zines and waiting for Chet to show up; he had big plans to go watch the Freedom Festival fireworks from Canada. I heard a rustling noise above me. I craned my neck back, and there was a squirrel on the roof about five feet above, looking over the gutter down at me. Feeling jovial, I started doing my “squirrel call” which causes squirrels to do one of three things: run, become immobilized, or scamper toward me. This particular squirrel found a tree branch to jump onto, and then ran along it until it was about two feet away from the deck railing. It started flicking its tail madly, as if it only had to flip one more bit in its tiny squirrel brain to jump on me, so I used the book to protect my most valuable asset – my mouth. At this point, my housemate, Von Fredrick, came out and surveyed the situation.

“I wonder what that noise means to them.”
Personally, I think the call means “sex, sex ... here sex sex sex ... ” More tail-flicking. I could have probably stood up and shoo it away, but I want to see how close it would DARE! About ten years ago, one of ’em ran up my bare leg, so I’m a little more cautious about this sort of thing. I could tell that this squirrel was getting ready to jump on my head. At this point, I was glad that squirrels do not drive semi-trucks. I just let it sit there and think about it for awhile, then I went inside. Perhaps when you get up the nerve to attack my head, squirrel, it will happen. But not today, squirrel. But ... not ... today!

Later that evening, Chet showed up with mysterious strangers Len and Jean. Suddenly, in what seemed to be record time, we were in the trucks-only line to cross the Ambassador Bridge into Canada.

“How many traffic tickets have you gotten?"
“Eleven. Got out of all of them.”
The line part was my fault. Eventually we hunted down the correct entrance (wonderfully hidden and obscure) and finally got to Canada. Oh Canada! First stop, K-Mart’s for Kindereggs and Canadian umbrellas, the damn rain was crazy. We ended up having a stereotypical Rowdy American/Canadian discussion with the cashier.
“We know a lot about you, but I bet you don’t know much about us. Do you know what our prime minister’s name is?"
“Errr ... “
“Ummm ... ”

Damn Canadians! I didn’t know there was going to be a quiz. Just to make their point, they turned off the rain before we got outside. I swear I’ve had that conversation before. No more stumping the stupid American! I made a silent vow to learn more about Canada, about Canadian things like ... say ... Participaction, I guess, and those ketchup-flavored potato chips. We drove around and found a grocery-store parking lot attendant charging four bucks (Canadian) to park. We parked the car rather quickly and ducked into the crowd to avoid the fee until someone noticed that the attendant was giving everybody who paid a piece of pink paper to stick under their windshield. We plowed into 7-11 for more Kindereggs (a chocolate egg shell with a toy surprise inside), tasty snax (Avoine et Creme! Little Debbie has a cake for you!), and drinks. Found a good spot to watch the fireworks in front of the Windsor Casino and hunkered down. Then, the big time fireworks action, a good portion of them burning red and white to celebrate the Red Wings’ Stanley Cup win.

“Hey, how long is this thing going to last?"
“An hour.”
“An HOUR?”
Fireworks should last a half-hour, tops. If you’re thinking about making it more, just double up everything so it’s twice as exciting, not twice as long. Set ’em off on the ground if you have to, shoot ’em at the crowd, just don’t go over 30 minutes. After about 40 minutes, we wandered over to a jam-packed carnival. And wandered right out of it, to the Northern Belle Casino.
“The Northern Belle Casino, an authentic Mississippi paddle-wheel riverboat, offers a taste of the spicy south, with a festive atmosphere of genuine New Orleans. Every aspect of the boat evokes the madcap spirit of Mardi Gras, 24 hours a day.”

– Windsor Casino/Northen Belle Casino brochure

See, and here I was, just thinking that it was a place to lose money. I proceed in to do same with Len; Chet and Jean waited outside because Jean’s only 18 (in Canada, you have to be 19 to enter a casino because of all the drinks flying around). I’ve only got a Canadian quarter. I found one of the four quarter slots, put in the quarter, and it just ran through the machine into the pan. Because it was ... Canadian (rim shot). Actually, after you’ve exchanged your American money for Canadian, you have to exchange it all to casino tokens. Or you could just exchange your American money for casino tokens. Or you could just heave all of your money off the deck into the icy, unforgiving waters of the Detroit River. Freedom of choice. I couldn’t find anyone to change the quarter into a magical token, so we split.

After regrouping and walking back through the carnival, a woman asks us how many ferris wheels there are, as if they’re hiding a few behind curtains or something. There’s one, only one, and everyone wants to ride it. Except me. Emotionally scarred from a rather involving ferris wheel ride when I was eight, I sat this one out. Watching their car whiz by, I yelled out to Chet.

“HEY!!! Do you know what’s holding you up there?"
“One cotter pin, about this big.”
“This big” meaning about six inches long, it was surreal. Sure am glad I bowed out on that one. The line for the Zipper was too long, and it was getting late, so we left the carnival, ended up right outside of Casino Windsor. Chet said we should go inside.

“Nah, I don’t want to leave you two sitting around outside again.”
“It'd be good for the missive, though.”
“I don’t really try to set up things for that.”
“Here’s two bucks.”
“Okay, see you in ten minutes.”
Inside, I lost Chet’s two dollars in record time; Len finds two dollars sitting on a machine. I found two club cards that the casino uses to track your wins, losses, and who you’re hitting on. Think about it – you start getting chummy with a lady friend with a card, soon you’re hitting the same slot machines and tables. The computer tracks this, saves off some compromising snapshots from a few of the security cameras, checks your credit card, discovers you’re married, and mails you a few copies of the pictures for blackmail. Computers can do that. Even Canadian computers.

We exit with beaming smiles, passing several people sitting around the entrance.

“Hey, there go some winners!”
“Yep, please don’t mug us. Thank you.”
As we’re walking back to the car, I started thinking about doing this meeting-random-strangers thing more often. “It’s working,” I thought to myself, “it’s really working! People! Wow!” And then Jean half-turned around and addressed me for what seemed like the third time that night.
“Do you have a girlfriend?"
“Is it that obvious?"
“You seem sour and bitter. You have a very dry sense of humor.”
Well, chisel that baby on my headstone! I mentally ran through about twenty ballsy ripostes, including “you should pick up some tact on the way out,” and “screw you.” I picked what I believed to be the best one.
“Mmmmm.”
Sour. Bitter. Bitter, bitter, sour. Amaretto sour with angostura bitters. Can I get that to go? Of all the sullen teens in the world who would empathize with my apparently bitter, sour perspective, I had to get one of those endangered bubbly ones. Listen up, bubbly teens of the world! You want bitter? I got bitter, baby!

[pull back to reveal bitterness]

Hah? Hah? Showed those teens.