The Year was 2011 and my mind was soaked through with ascetic ideals. Thoreau had been dead 150 years, Kerouac 40 and McCandless 20. But not to me. Between them, they’d been pissing into my skull and it was now overflowing with the romance of their wanderings. I knew I must travel the roads and tracks and wooded trails as they had, tread my boots as they had, and see what kind of immutable truth might seep out of the earth and up through my toes. Whatever might happen to me I knew I would come to the end of it standing on the same shore that they did, looking out at the same sea and knowing my eyes were just a little more like theirs.
Day 1: The Lake
Wednesday 24th August
Getting off the plane at Toronto Airport- I’ve reached the extent of my planning. From here I can go anywhere. The plane was a diceman’s hand and with an atlantic shake of that hand, he’s rolled me, the pair of dice, along his fat celestial fingers and onto the playing table of continental America. I was flying through the air laughing, but now I’ve felt that first bump on the felt it shakes the realisation into me that this is actually happening. It was a fun idea back when it was just an idea, when I was reading beat tales and imagining my romantic ego draped in a cloak of vagabond prose, drifting through pages of soil and dust. Now that I’m standing here, knowing I have nothing solid, nothing to fall back upon, the seed of doubt and worry starts to creep around the back of my skull. But that thought is skittered away with a gust of wind from behind, pushing me forwards and filling me with giddy excitement of being able to go wherever I please. All I have to do is step in a direction and my body will follow, and neither foot nor body has any idea in what direction it is moving, just that it is moving. Already, the sun is showing little hints that it wants to set and I decide my best bet in finding a sleep spot will be somewhere on the shore of the great lake. So after a quick survey of the bus map, I hop on a bus that takes me straight down the grid system and spits me out within skipping distance of the water. It looks green and lush and free and inviting, but in actuality I’m still pretty close to downtown Toronto, and this not a place to settle. I mean there’s a fairly solid stream of dog-walkers and love-talkers and nowhere even remotely realistic to string up a night cotch. I start walking along the shore, away from the city in hopes of finding a quiet little tarp spot for my first night. As soon as I get out of the park I find a big chunk of suburbian housing that looks purpose built to illustrate a picturesque lakeside community. Mid-size wooden houses with wholesome, if slightly artificial, architectural flourishes. Project yachts and leisure boats on the driveways. Lifejackets hanging from the decking, dripping the last of the days fun out into damp Rorschach’s on the concrete. Plants under the windows and a watering hose not quite turned off, giving birth to a wet snake slithering away into the grass. There’s signs of water everywhere, the living lake that can’t be resisted. It sneaks out of the ground and up through the house, with veins of water that give it an unshakable dependence on the giant body it sits so close to. The sidewalk soon spits me out into a big park, a short winding path leading to a communal washing building. The kind with little cubicles for changing into your beach clothes and outdoor showers for washing the sand off of you. There are a couple scraggly looking tramp guys around, one washing his hair and another hunched over a basin, drinking his fill of it’s life juice. Seeing them, with their great unwashed locks and army surplus backsacks, I know I’m getting near the right spot. Dirty beatniks line the road to dirty beat-dom. I walk on, to scope the place out, walking through the willows and over a classic troll bridge, crossing the river that divides this park. Divides the city side and the forest side, it looks like. In the far corner of the park I find what looks like a ripe cotch. About 10 metres of beach angled up from the lakeside, five friendly trees standing over the sand, grass stretching out behind them in a clearing before the forest gobbles it up. At first it looks like I have this all to myself, but hiding in the sand under one of the tall trees is a man and his tent. The man’s crouched in front of the tent, tying his long hair into a ponytail and staring out at the lake like the tent is his lakehouse and he’s sitting on the decking watching the last of the day’s sun make it’s dying dance across the water. Seeing this guy’s righteous set up, I think, ‘Damn! This looks like a fine place to set up camp.’. So I string my tarp up between a branch and a trunk. As he sees me doing this, he immediately comes over and introduces himself. He’s friendly as anything, happy to find a neighbour on his once lonely stretch of nature. “Hey man! I’m Anthony.” “I’m Ed. Nice to meet you.” “Where’s that accent from?” “England, I just came over today.” “Cool! I’m from Malta. Well, not like, FROM Malta. I’m from Toronto. But you go back, and someone I’m from is from Malta.” “What are you doing down on the beach?” “Oh, I left my house and my wife and thought- the beach, ey?” “Woah!” “Yeah, I love being down by the lake. And, well, it was kind of a shitty situation back at my house. Well, it’s not really my house- it’s my wife’s, and her brother live’s there as well, and me and him don’t really get on. And he has like, a pretty major drug problem. So I thought I’d get out of there and cut it at the beach for a bit.” So we small talk while I put the finishing touches and adjustments on the tarp. “Hey bud, you’re sleeping under that tarp, ey?” “Erm, yeah. That’s my tarp!” “You know it’s going to rain up something holy tonight?” “Well… no, I hadn’t really thought of that. But this tarp’s pretty waterproof I think.” “Maybe dude, but it’s gonna RAIN. Like, there is a storm comin’ through that might change how I even think about rain.” “Yeah? How do you know?” “The lake, man. I can see it in the lake.” “What?” “Look at those ripples. Look at that colour up in the sky. I can feel it. And dude, it’s all over the weather forecast. Everyone’s been talking about it all day.” “Shit. Well, I think I’ll be okay under here. I’ve got good coverage. And I’ve got all this tree over me. Look at those pegs. I’ve hammered them in right and good.” “Yeah, if you think so, but you’re totally welcome to stay in my tent with me. This is going to be some true lake rain.” And sure enough, just as he says it, the water starts making a beeline for the ground. The type of start to a rainfall where you know you’re in for the heavy stuff. Brief moments of spit oil up the clouds before the big stuff comes down. Droplets fall with a friendly reassurance that they ain’t piss spit. Reassurance that they’re what make up your blood and keep you alive, but in no way does that mean they won’t play rough. The big drops arrive fast, coming down while the sand is still a sparse polka dot of wetness. Drops that make tiny sprays of sand when they hit. Baby mortars from above. I feel the sharp sting of that tiny shrapnel on my ankles and I know i’m taking him up on that tent offer. We sit there in the mouth of his tent, his belongings pushed up against the back wall so we can only fit in up to our knees. We tuck our legs in like two cross-legged voles, a wall of rain across the mouth of the tent. And from there we look on in awe at nature’s wildest brouhaha yet. Twisting flashes of purple split the sky right down the middle, tearing down from some unreachable point to stab at the very heart of the lake. Crooked blue knife edges jump in every direction, moving faster every time they change heading, blindly scrambling in a mad rush to strike at the water before disappearing the instant they reach it, burnt out from having spent every last ounce of energy to finish their dive. Whatever’s down there in that lake must have done something truly despicable to rouse the ire of what’s now throwing it’s unknowable power down with all it can muster. Yet, as much as the creature throws down, with as many cruel shapes and blinding colours, the lake lies sleeping- unaware or indifferent. The beast soon realises this and moves his wrath onwards- to the city. The great spire of the CN tower sits lordly and comfortable above the lesser surrounding buildings, and I know it’s this outright arrogance that really offends the sky demon. His focus is now on the tower and he lets loose on it. All his colours and all his shapes, conjuring them in the most ghastly combinations to bolt down upon it, before wrapping around and frying it in a burst of light that illuminates the whole city and the spit of land it sits on, skittering beams of colour across the lake. “That’s not a lake. It’s a fucking ocean, man!”
Day 2: Wine & Fire
Thursday 25th August
I wake early. The sun’s up, half my body’s hanging out the tent and there’s a dog licking my big toe. As I lift my head up he ceases the licking and looks straight into my eyes. We understand each other. We’re two beings crossing paths, doing our own thing, sharing our own space. I start to develop warm, spiritual feelings for my canine brother, but he gets bored and wanders off. As the great mass of slobbering fur departs my vision, he clears up a sprawling tapestry of the lake, other dogs of all breeds wandering around in the foreground, their owners ambling between them, sloops and dinghys floating around in the distance. There’s not much of a wind blowing, so the boats take on the same lazy morning energy as the dogs and humans. Everything’s on the same trajectory. I can’t really deny that kind of universal relaxation, so I take it unto me. I stand up and stretch, sucking a big gulp of lakeside air into my lungs. It tastes a little like dog. I look to my left and see my big blue tarp still strung up amongst the trees. Interested in how my abandoned shelter fared in the storm, I go over to assess. The mainline’s still strong and the ground pegs well and truly wedged! I would’ve been fine after all. My hearts fills with pride for the stringy little tarp, and I feel a little bit ashamed that I rejected it so rashly. “Anthony, look! I would’ve been fine in there, it held up!” “Yeah, but the flies would’ve got ya anyway. It’s all open.” “Dude. Your tent has no door.” “Ah. Yeah. I guess the rain kept ‘em away.” He looks down the beach, and something in the distance catches his eye. “There’s my wife!” I follow his gaze and see a blond figure marching towards us. She walks with a familiarity of walking on sand, but doesn’t have that easy efficiency that some get. Her face shows the early signs of age, wrinkles gently peeking up like baby moles, sniffing around and getting used to their own presence. Still though, they retain the light of youth and her beaming smile shows no hint of age. She’s here to see Anthony before she heads to work, and offers to drive us into town. Which to us, means beer. I ask him if I can leave my bag in his tent while we’re there, to which he replies, “No way!” “You never leave your bag. It’s rule number one. If I can teach you one thing- it’s that you never leave your bag. Keep it on you always. Everything you’ve got’s in there, man. You lose it and you’re fucked.” So I keep it on my back and we go to her car. As we drive through the suburbs of Toronto, I sit back and gaze out the window. I love seeing new places like this, slumped in the back seat, free from the main stage of the front seats, in my own little world, observing whatever goes past my slanted television screen. We drive down sprawling main roads, 2 or 3 lanes each way but hardly any cars. Over great concrete bridges, bloated and round above the barrelling freeways. The roads are so wide and plain-like here, that it feels not like you’re navigating using the roads, but navigating the roads themselves. Drifting across their great expanse to reach a far away turning lane. In England, the roads weave and wind as they take you to your destination, almost alive as they twist between old buildings and older hills, searching out the next town. But here, the bitumen is straight and regimented, a grid upon which the city is designed. It’s on you to find your way amongst the strict lattice. Soon, we find ourselves at the beer shop. Buying beer works a little differently here. You can’t simply buy it in a corner shop or supermarket. It’s all sold through a government chain called 'The Beer Store’. They’re mini supermarkets all unto themselves, filled with all varieties of beer, fridges of lager lining the walls, great stacks of cans covering the floor, neon signs at their summit. Anthony’s choice is Molson, which by the looks of it, contains the distilled spirit of Canada. A great red maple leaf covers most of the can, 'CANADIAN’ in bold red type beneath, with just a small scribble of 'Molson’ somewhere in the midst. Tony passes me one of his four cans, saying, “hey, let’s drink one now, and save the other for back at the beach, ey?” He slides the backpack off his shoulders, drooping it over his hand as he puts two of the cans inside. He slings it back over his shoulder and puts his other arm through the strap, shruggling it into place. Once comfortable, he pops open his can and takes a strong gulp, immediately looking more relaxed. I realise he must have been waiting for that all morning. I follow his lead and open mine, drinking them as we walk back to the beach. Back at the lake, drinking our second cans, a man walks past us. He’s bald and has a strange shaped head, a bit like a melting egg. He wears thin wire spectacles and has a finely trimmed goatee around his mouth. His body has an oddness about it, small and ever so slightly misshapen. His clothes are oversized and ill-fitting on his thin body. Seeing us looking at him, he gives a camp wave and calls out, “Hi”- with a remarkable crescendo on the 'i’. Anthony returns the greeting with a genuine warmth, which he takes as an invitation to come on over. “I often see your tent when I’m walking on the beach, but I never see anyone by it.” “Well, we’re here now,” Anthony says, extending his hand and standing up in one effortless motion, grabbing his and shaking it. “I’m Anthony. From Malta. And this is Ed from England.” He gives a short wave like the flutter of a bird wing and quickly returns his hand to rest on his hip, like he’d been reluctant to ever remove it and disrupt his pose. His goatee is an immaculate circle of pepper speckle surrounding his lightly glistening lips. His mouth protrudes noticeably further than his chain, like it’s in the midst of being plucked from his face. The glasses resting on his nose have clearly been crafted delicately, the wire frame so thin it’s almost imperceptible, doing nothing to hide his harmless eyes. Eyes that can have never sheltered malicious thoughts. All his limbs are thin. A chunky gold chain bracelet hangs heavy and loose on his wrist. He stands with an unhealthy posture, his back hollowed between swayed hips and slooped shoulders. His belly protrudes under a sunken chest, pressing a round outline against his t-shirt. he introduces himself as Lloyd, and continues, “I walk this beach everyday, it’s my joy in the morning.” “Yur right it is! Where a-boots do you live?” “Oh, up in the apartment block by the main road.” “Yup, I know the one. I was up in them the other day. I met this girl on the beach and she invited my up to her apartment there. Said she couldn’t bare to think of me living on the beach like this, wanted to take care of me and all. Started to weird me out a bit, y'know? I got right out of there!” Lloyd isn’t fazed by this candid snippet. “I don’t think I know her. I don’t really know my neighbours. I tend to spend a lot of time in my apartment, but it gets lonely in there, and I don’t get out much due to my being unemployed. I get benefits because I can’t work.” “Why’s that?” “Oh, because of this,” he says, lifting his hand to show us the shaking rotating arc it makes of it’s own accord. “I have a constant tremor. I wish I could work because I want to help, I always want to help. I’m a very generous guy. My parents say I’m too giving, that people take advantage of me because I’m always offering things. But I can’t help it, I want to help people.” “Don’t listen to them. The world goes round on good intentions, you’ve got to keep it going.” To demonstrate this generosity, Lloyd drove us back into town and bought us potatoes, meat, and beer. Naturally. On returning to the beach, we found a great big 4x4 parked behind the trees, by our camp, Toronto Parks Service printed on it’s door. It’s window is open and as we near, a woman’s head sprouts from the window and beckons us. Large earrings dangle from beneath a mess of full chestnut hair, from which somewhere in the midst of, they meet the thick-rimmed black glasses that emerge from the same haven. She emanates the aura of a no-nonsense woman, but in the I-do-it-because-I-love-you way, not the I-wanna-bust-your-dirty-free-loading-balls way. Or so I hope. “Is that your tent there?” “Oh, that? Yeah, that’s mine,” Tony replies, quickly adding, “But we only put it up today, we just use it for shelter.” “Hey, don’t bullshit us, man. We work on this park a lot and we’ve seen it every time for the past couple weeks.” “Okay, I’ve been down here for a while, but it’s not permanent, I’ve got a house up in Missouri, I just can’t stay there for the moment. My wife’s brothers up there and I really can’t be round him.” “Why not?” “He’s into drugs, and he gets, like, a real fiery temper when he gets going.” “He’s violent?” “Mmm, not really. Just real vocal.” “Does he beat you at all?” “Oh, no, nothing like that!” “Good. We gotta make sure you’re okay, down here in a tent like this.” “Yeah, people do notice you living down here y'know,” another voice adds. It’s body is a man sitting in the passenger seat. He’s bald with a goatee. A big guy with a big presence. Looking further into the car reveals two more passengers in the back. Two young girls on the cusp of breaking out of their teenage years. One has an understated beauty. Beauty hidden perhaps by intention, perhaps by indifference. A single, thick, plaited blonde ponytail hangs over her left shoulder, a summer scarf to comfort her lonely neck until the cold returns to let her wear one in earnest. “We’re not here to kick you out or anything. We simply want to see why you’re here and to give you a heads up,” he continues. She adds, “The guys at the shelter have been turned on to you. You see we had to report that you’d been down here for so long. So you’re probably going to get a visit from them. They’ll assume you’re homeless and ’ve been forced onto the beach and into a tent by destitution. But given you’re here by choice, you should be okay. "Hey, I’m not going to one of those places, man. They’re dangerous, full of crack addicts. Way worse than down here.” “That’s why we came to give you the heads up.” “Well thanks for that. I’m Anthony by the way,” he says, smiling and at ease. “I’m Charlotte. Good to meet you,” she says. “And who are you? Are you living down here as well?” “No way! This is Ed. He’s from England- he only got here yesterday.” “England, ey? What brings you over here?” “I’m going to hitchhike to California. And then to Mexico.” “Mexico!? You don’t want to go there, kid. Terrible things are happening. The drug gangs are spiralling out of control. They’re taking over whole holiday resorts, killing tourists, it’s horrible. What you want to do is go West from here, get to Vancouver, over the mountains, it’s a wonderful place, and filled with Canadians!” “Won’t it be getting cold? I’ve only got a tent.” “You’ve got it wrong. Vancouver’s great all year round. You want to find The Sunshine Coast in BC. Robert’s Creek is a town on the coast up from Vancouver. Filled with artists. A kid like you would love it.” “Yeah?” “Yeah! Beautiful place, super laid-back, the sun always shines… Hey. I should be over there myself.” “Well, you’ve almost got me convinced.” “Take it from me. You want to go there. Not Mexico. Stay out of Mexico. They’ll kill ya.” “Where’s your next step from here?”, the man asks. “Niagara Falls! Get myself statewards.” “How are you getting there?” “A bus, I guess. A train, maybe.” I hadn’t really thought about it. “Y'know, there’s a shuttle that runs to a casino there from a hotel downtown. The King Edward if I remember right. Costs 5 dollars and all you’ve gotta do is say you want to get down to the casinos in Niagara and do some gambling and they’ll let you right on.” The plan clearly appeals to Tony, who turns to me with a big grin on his face and between laughs says, “You’ve got to really act it up, man! Keep talking about how much dough you’re gonna blow. How you’re gonna gamble 'til you crumble! They don’t care about the cost of the bus. They think they’ll get it all back at the tables. But don’t go in. It’s a slippery slope.” he says, suddenly looking sober. “Hey Ed, does everyone in England wear green pants?”, Charlotte chirps. “Huh?” She points at my waist as the girls in the back giggle, and I notice the tops of my green briefs poking out the top of my shorts. The truck and it’s human cargo roll away, leaving me and Anthony standing there like two dirty lost boys. A while later, Lloyd returns sporting a bottle of homemade wine. Tart and sharp it tastes like a miniature lightspeed grape fermentation on the back of my lips, vines growing into my mouth and spouting tiny berries on my tongue, half crushing themselves before excitedly rolling and bouncing spirals down my throat. Not being one to resist such enthusiastic theatrics of the juice, I throw another wave down me and soon start to feel the grapes clambering around in my skull with soft, blurry feet, so gentle on my curling synapses. As the liquid settles in my belly, it awakes an urge for solid company. So we set about rebuilding and relighting the charred fire mound a few metres from our tents. In a short spell, after rooting round for logs, hacking at branches, and scrambling round with small logs, twigs and firelighters, the fire is roaring madly. “You’ve got to get it like this- hot! Raging! Then, when it calms- we cook,” Anthony chants, looking on transfixed. The tips of the flames are reaching up in a competition of height with our human bodies, flicking high before disappearing, replaced by new orange tendrils, shooting up to grab at the sky above- desperate attempts to succeed where their brothers could not. As our fire grows, the daylight fades and night falls until you can look back along the beach, it’s desolate black fading into the long, empty vacuum of night between us and the towering shapes of Toronto, lit by an innumerable peppering of tiny lights. Standing round the fire we feel like tribesmen, lighthouse men, stalwarts. Guarding and being guarded by the crackling bonfire, a beacon for those cast out from the electronic knot. People walk along the beach towards us, emerging from the night, the orange light of the bonfire growing and warming as they near, the speckles of the city lights an insignificant backdrop against the animal heat of the fire. Tiny lights from office windows stagnant and sterile amongst the wild embers thrown from the fire, alive and virile on a fraction of it’s glowing energy.
Day 3: Niagara Falls
Friday 26th August
Up and at ‘em! Got a border to cross today. I introduce Anthony to the day with a quick shake of his torso. They don’t hit it off instantly, but I can see them warming to one another. We pack up and walk to the park’s wash building. Tony fills a sink and scoops handfuls of water up, throwing them at his face. He runs his wet hands through his long, brown hair, stopping at the base of his skull to grab and twist it into a loose ponytail, dropping it to rest slack between his shoulder blades. I like the way it looks, so I do the same with mine. It’s only just long enough. We walk out of the park and up the road to the tram station. I have enough for the tram, 3 dollars, and I assume Anthony does as well. “Ed, I’ve only got 50 cents, but hopefully that’ll cover it.” “I’ve got more, I can pay for us both, Tony.” “Nah. Don’t worry. Just let me do the talking.” He gives the driver of the 501 the $3.50 and looks at him. “That’s not enough. It’s 3 dollars each.” “Come on, man! Have a heart. Help a brother oot! This is all we’ve got. Come on! Don’t shake me down. Don’t make me beg. I need this tram. I can’t walk. I ain’t a walkin’ man. Don’t do it to me!” The driver looks us up and down, checking our dirty hair, ragged denim cut-offs and worn boots. Well, my boots are pretty fresh. But Tony’s are worn out. Satisfied, he says, “Fine. But just this once.” “Also- can we get a token for my buddy here? He’s gotta change.” “Fine.” We move to the back of the bus and sit opposite each other. “Now, you want to get off at Queen, cross the road and get on the King. Then, get off at Yonge and you’ll be right by the hotel. Go in, ask for the shuttle and you’ll be golden. I’m staying on this line, but it doesn’t go where you need to go.” “Simple.” “Here’s your stop, buddy.” “Well, goodbye then, Tony. Thanks for everything.” “Good luck, brother! Remember, King to Yonge.” he calls as I step off the tram. The corner I get off at has me the closest to the city that I’ve been yet. The roads cut through a hodge podge of buildings. After a strict cut of pavement, brickwork drives up for a couple of stories before cutting back on itself. The pavement is crowded with people and benches and steel poles driven in like stakes. The shop fronts and assortment of buildings are covered in signs and posters and 3rd dimension street furniture. One corner is wrapped in stiff scaffolding, shooting out and down, right through the concrete. Like the mechanical guts of the building are spilling out all over the street. Trams and cars move amongst each other, squeezing between whatever gap they find. I wander to a tram stop and wait for my vehicle under a plastic dome. A streetcar arrives, '504 King’ plastered on it’s forehead. I get on and show the lady driver my token, asking if it goes to Yonge. It does. I sit near the back and rest my pack by my feet. The tram pulls away and after a few blocks makes a stop, where she calls out, “Shaw.” Not sure what I’ve heard, I jump up and ask if this is my stop. “No, kid. This ain’t Yonge. I’ll tell you when it’s Yonge.” The tram continues through growing buildings. Red brick and stone give way to marble and granite as glass and fresh alloy develop. More people get on at each stop, hardly anyone disembarking. Each seat is taken and standing passengers gradually flesh out the aisles. The tram comes to a stop in the heart of downtown and the lady driver turns and shouts down the length of the car, “Guy for Yonge, this is your stop!” The mass of passengers turn to look at me, a ripple of heads turning as if a communal mind bulletin has let them know it’s me she means. I shout, “Thanks,” grab my bag and squeeze between them, tripping out onto the sidewalk. All I see around me are endlessly nondescript financial-type buildings, so I stop a man and ask him where the King Edward Hotel is. He’s taken aback at being accosted by the one unwashed vagabond in a sea of clean suits, but happy enough to direct me. I go by his direction and can’t miss the hotel- 'King Edward Hotel’ is blazoned in great gold lettering above the entrance, each letter the size of a person, a small gilded army suspended above the street. I ask the doorman about the shuttle to the casino, and he tells me they stopped running it two years back. So I hop on the train instead. The train reaches it’s final station in a run down part of town. There’s an empty lot across the street. Long abandoned. Tufts of grass peeking up through broken slabs of concrete. The houses have taken on the states of their owners- dishevelled and vacant of the vital spark. They’ve given up and are sagging and crumbling. Getting ever closer to the earth in body and mind. The houses have been broken by the elements that surround them- the air, rain and sun; the bodies worn through by theirs- endless service in the name of empty tourism- dealing chips under vigilant neon lights, serving high flasks of fizzy drink and plates of greasy food to those hypnotised by the roaring falls and glittering slots. The American city layout means I simply have to walk in a single direction to reach the river. I get to it and find myself looking down a sheer, hundred foot rock face. Thousands and thousands of years of the waterfall relentlessly pushing backwards has scored a severe cut through the earth. It winds ever so slightly as it moves up river. Only slight variation exists in the mindless drive through the rock. I catch my eyes darting over the cliff face on the other side, sizing up flat juts of rock. “Could I sleep there?” I wonder. The thought hovers for a second before logic bats it away. Of course not! On the sheer banks of a river that stands as the border between two megaliths of anti-immigration? Madness. But it’s a compulsion I can’t silence. There since I was wandering through the park, on the train barreling along the coast- I’m constantly evaluating my surroundings, looking for spots I could sneak a tent into. I hope that I’ll stop actively considering it and the process will sink into the background. Still active, but on an unconscious level. Second nature. The Falls themselves make little impression on me. There’s such a build-up to them, so much celebration in culture that now I’m here, it’s a little underwhelming. What should be a glorious natural force to behold is sidetracked by the lurid casino town looming above the rocks. People swill around in tides on the flat concrete viewing platforms peppered with coin-operated binoculars and white shacks hawking cheap trinkets. Though this has been built around the Falls, it’s like the waterfalls have been extracted from their natural habitat and placed amidst the gaudy surroundings. A great beast put in a zoo to atrophy behind glass for customers who love it for what they’ve heard, not what they see. It’s a sad, hydroelectric fate- the great waterfall churning away in the corner while the casinos beckon the hoards inside with a stretched smile under slick, sweat greased hair, coattails dragging in the discarded filth of paper cups and napkins stuck together with tomato ketchup and yellow mustard. They’re too great in scope to flee, the lumbering giant nevertheless pushing incrementally backwards in it’s bid to escape. Humans swarm around it with their tiny life spans, ants crawling happily above the huge force, able only to see minute sections of it’s vast existence. Oblivious to how they suffocate it, content in their urgent rush that is a but a blip in the course of it’s great drilling life. This great tableau is best viewed from the middle of the bridge spanning the lower river. You’re able to see the entire landscape, the gorge directly in front of you; the American Falls on your left, thundering over the side of the gorge; and the Horseshoe Falls closing off it’s end, a majestic curb to the tremendous gorge. To your right, towering over it all, are the casinos. The Falls look singular, standing in their set space, but the casinos spread wide, dominating the panorama with their overpowering array of geometry and chromaticism. Continuing along the bridge you inevitably find yourself in a queue for the pedestrian immigration control office. Directly in front of me is an older Scottish man who turns to me and says, “They can be a tricky bunch these lot, but if you put a smile on your face and keep it straight then they shouldn’t give you any trouble.” Us two, we’re a united front against the American border patrol, driving right back into the country they stole from us. As he’s summoned and walks to the desk, there’s the hint of a roar in his gait, the whisper of a noble redcoat’s charge. My turn comes and the woman standing behind the desk eyes me intensely as I stand before her. An officious queen on her bland throne of bureaucracy. I try and lift my lips into a smile as her gaze drills into me, but her face, devoid of any emotion, freezes mine blank. There’s not even the hint of a smile as her cold eyes look straight through mine, stripping the front of personality and grabbing my documented core. The sum of my existence as recorded through government census. “Your passport.”, she barks. I hand it to her and she flicks through it, finding the photo page and holding it up to my face. “Why are you coming to America?” “I’m backpacking through, to Mexico and beyond.” “How are you going to travel?” I tell her I’ll use the greyhound buses, not wanting to let on that hitchhiking is my goal. I’m not sure she’s the type to appreciate the noble art of travelling penniless. “You don’t have any of this planned?? No tickets? No itinerary?” “Not exactly. I want the freedom to go where I want, y'know?” “No.” she bluntly shoots me down. “You need tickets and a plan. You can’t travel like that. This is the 21st century. How long are you going to be in the country?” “No longer than 3 months.” “Why 3 months?” “That’s as long as a tourist visa lasts, right?” “Right. And you can afford this?” “Yeah, I got some money saved up.” “Any ties to your home?” “In what sense?” “A spouse. Property. A job?” “Well, not really, only my family.” “Mmm, a lot of people come through here like you. Coming to find a job.” “From the UK?” “Yes, from the UK. From everywhere. Illegal immigrants are a big problem here.” “Illegal immigrants? Isn’t that just, like, well, Mexicans and that?” “No. It’s people from all over.” “Well that’s not my game, lady! I’m just backpacking through.” “So you say. There’s no concrete proof as to that. You’ve no job, no wife, no house, there’s nothing tying you back to your home. You don’t even have a return ticket. I have no way of knowing you aren’t ever going to leave.” I don’t know what to say. I stutter the beginning of a few retorts but nothing evolves beyond the one syllable stage. She just stares at me. I lift my hands in despair. “What are you saying?” “I can’t let you through.” “Really? Come on… please. Please!” “No.” My visions and dreams are crashing our of the sky around my head. Romantic notions of hiking through deep green pines and bathing in rich blue lakes melt around me, evaporating into wisps of nothing. I reach to take my passport from the desk but she swipes it away before I can touch it. “Come this way. We need to take your prints.” “Wha? Why? I haven’t even done anthing! Can I object?” “Not at all. Standard procedure for attempted entry.” Attempted entry? Bloody 'ell! I feel like a waterlogged Mexican being hauled off to federal headquarters in the back of a dusty 4x4. She takes my fingerprints one by one, takes a scan of my eyeballs and sends me dejectedly back over the bridge. I can scarcely believe this early fate. I’ve been bounced at the first barrier. In a daze, I half form different ideas in my head, trying to cobble together a vague plan of action. Nothing sticks, so I wander back to the train station and make a hobbling retreat to Toronto.
Toronto’s Respite, Toronto’s Embrace
The sky’s dimming as train pulls into station. Walking back, I see Tony’s tent by the water, his scraggly self rummaging amongst it’s innards. “Tony!” “Ed? What are you doing back here man?” “They denied me. Sent me packing. Not allowed through.” “WHAT? Those fuckers.” “Yeah. They say I need plane tickets or train tickets. An itinerary for my travels.” “Woah, woah, woah. That’s no fun. What are you going to do now then?” “Well, I’ll get an itinerary, I guess. Something bogus. Then try again.” “You know, I’ve got a buddy I reckon could sneak you across.” “What? How?” “In a boat. Under cover of darkness.” “Yeah…? Wait. No! That’s kinda fucked!” “You’re probably right. They monitor it pretty tight anyway. You can’t even go halfway over Lake Ontario. They come out with helicopters and blow you back over.” “Okay then maybe I’ll stick with the road!” “Well then we’ve got to get you your artillery!” Artillery? I think I heard him right. I begin to correct him but think better of it. I like the way it’s occurred to him. Bus tickets and planned routes acting as paper artillery against the border police. The weapons I have to wield if I’m to break through their officious barriers of bureaucracy. Later, as we’re walking along the beach, we see an orange glow from within the trees at the top of the beach. The light spills out from behind the trunks, a whispered invitation spread across the sand. Lulled by the glowing trail, we venture in and find ourselves in a small clearing, where two men sit perched on camp chairs before a campfire. An open crate of canned beer stands to one side of them, torn cardboard hanging limply from it’s neck, empty cans scattered at it’s base. Next to it is a cooler full of meat and a pile of finely cut wood. The older of the men has messy grey hair poking out from under a tattered baseball cap above a face of pale, but hard and weathered skin. The sleeveless plaid shirt, denim shorts and hiking boots look as old as him, loyally worn as a uniform and a second skin. The younger man is huge. His body is swollen and massive but holds itself loyally round his frame, hulking up where it can and leaving room for his limbs to move freely. “Hey guys!” “Ey, ey. Who have we got here?” the older of the pair asks. “A couple young bucks found our spot? Our Friday night cozy. Every week we come here to meet, to drink and throw some meat down our throats. You see this big fucker here? Pops the scale at 280lbs these days. You wouldn’t know it, but he used to be a right tight 180.” “Yeah, I did. I climbed a mountain in Argentina like it was nothing. Ran right up it.” “Ha ha! It’s true. But now he just sits round guzzling beers and cock.” Hang on. Where did that come from. “Oh yeah, that’s half the reason we come here. It’s our rendezvous. We come down to Marie Curtis’ garden and give each other a lip roast,” the elder says. “I mean I downright love giving a blow job, getting my lip’s round this dude’s pecker.” He is absolutely nonchalant saying this. I’m not really sure what to think, but as I would later find out, this park is notorious for it’s homosexual activities. “That’s not all he’s good for though. Hey- show them the trick with your eye.“ “Sure,” he laughs, standing up and grabbing a beer bottle from the cooler. He jams the bottle cap into his eye and squints hard. Like a great hairy knuckle, his eyebrow clamps down on the end of the glass neck. One sharp twist of his fat wrist and the cap releases a cloud of mist over his forehead with the satisfying pop of a piston. He spits the cap to the floor with his eye. “What the fuck!” “Ha! Fuck yeah!” “Now down it- upside down!” “Ha ha ha. Yeah, yeah, look at this,” he says, passing the beer to the elder. He gets on all fours by a tree, flips himself up into a headstand so his body is flopped against the trunk and his head’s ground into the sand at it’s base. One h’s ready for the manoeuvre, the elder puts the beer in his mouth where he holds it with his teeth. He sucks the liquid into his mouth and up to his spastic and heaving Adam’s apple, traces of froth spilling round his lips while his face quickly reddens. Soon enough the bottle is empty and he drops it from his mouth. “Ye-preaghh,” he splurts as his body slips off the tree and crashes to the ground. He rolls and shuffles himself into a sitting position, laughing and coughing, froth still bubbling down his chin. “Ha ha ha, give me another beer,” he says, picking up the empty bottle and hammering it on the earth. His feat of true male power has bonded us all for the night and we sit round the fire drinking plenty of beer and talking plenty of tripe. I lose track of who’s who- the fire take’s on a persona, sitting in the middle, enchanting us with his ancient presence. The beer becomes a character, our trust in him so complete that he can bring out the truest versions of ourselves, utterly at ease with one another, even though we’ve only just met. At some point the elder presents a bulging joint of weed which serves only to increase the confusion. As we smoke, the shadows bounce across the trees, dip into the darkness and jump back out to dart between those bodies making grand gestures to one another and the flame, to feed it’s writhing, smoky dance. It’s becoming increasingly harder to tell what is what and I feel my tongue roll up inside my mouth and refuse to come out, unsure which beings it should be unrolling itself toward. Later, we leave them and set off back down the beach. My head feels entirely disconnected from my feet. I try and walk over the sand but my feet are obsessed by it, sinking themselves down so that I scoop big footfulls of beach up with each step. The more I try and lift them clear, the more entrenched they become. Sand burrows its way into my shoes, seeping round my ankles and sliding down the soles to hug my toes. Only when I give up, ignore them and leave them to their own devises do they start walking in a half-normal fashion. Luckily, Anthony is happy to walk at this traipsing pace, because if I tried to move any faster I fear my feet may plant themselves fully. Eventually, we find ourselves back at the camp and I crawl into my tarp, collapsing under it as the green queen strikes me with her gentle hammer.