The first thing you'll comment on is the name, so we'll get that out of the way right now: Canadian, Texas. Yeah, it's a real place, no, it's not in Canada. Any jokes you think up, I've heard them, and they aren't funny. It's an odd name, I get it, can we move on?
No? You need to know why it's called Canadian? Because it's on the Canadian River, which used to be a real river, until they built like a million dams on it. Now it's just a fine line of twisting water bordered by ugly, foul-smelling mud that runs under the bridge. It's a good place to hang out if you like the prospect of snake bites or malaria.
I don't know if it comes down all the way from Canada, because I've never cared enough to find out, and it irritates the hell out of people when they ask you about that and you don't have an answer for them.
It's best if you come in to town from the south, if you ask me. You aren't greeted by that bridge without a river that I was telling you about, but who cares. It's not that impressive, anyway. Although if you're going to be staying long, you should probably plan on coming in from the north--that's where the beer store is, out on the county line, because Canadian is in a dry county. If you're planning on staying a really long time, go ahead and come in from the south like I told you before.
South, there's Pampa and Amarillo, and not only do those towns have beer, they actually have liquor. And if you're going to be staying in Canadian for an extended amount of time, you're going to need liquor.
Look, I'm not saying it's a bad place. I'm just saying that if we're gonna do this thing, you and I, if you're taking this tour, and if I'm going to be your guide, we're going to need some booze.
So we're coming in from the south, which is the best way to do it anyway. You and I will probably notice different things first. If I was guessing, I'd say that the first thing you'll notice is the dinosaur.
I guess it's still there--it has been a while since I was home.
The name of the thing is Aud. It's a big-ass metal dinosaur that stands atop one of the many plateaus that surround the area. It's a what, brontosaurus? Hell if I know--I didn't research it any more than I researched the river. It looks like a brontosaurus. I know that one time, a friend of mine got all messed up and climbed on to the thing's back and shot it in the back of the head with a .45 because he hated the little town of Canadian so much.
"I thought if I killed it, I could kill the town," he told me one night while we were drinking beers on some dirt road out in the middle of nowhere.
"That dinosaur hasn't really been around that long," I told him. "I think if you're serious about killing this town, you'll have to start with the people."
Anyway, if you're paying any attention at all, the dinosaur's probably what you'll notice first. Me, I'll notice the cattle yard first.
It's right there on the right, and it smells pretty bad, so you really just want to drive past it as quick as possible. On dry days--which is most of them, really--the dust will whip across the highway as you pass, and all you can think about is how much cow crap you're breathing.
Unless that's where you lost your virginity, right under one of those metal tower things with their red blinking lights. In that case, you'll probably be thinking about how your heart was beating so hard that you could barely steady your hands enough to work her zipper. About how her breath felt in your ear as she whispered she wanted you to do it, do it to me. About the fear as you suddenly realized that you had no idea what you were doing, about the stupid lie that popped out of your mouth in a moment of panic, about how if she really wanted you to, she'd put it in, that's the only way you'd really know she wanted you to. About the further humiliation ten seconds later, when you're done, both of you left unfulfilled and awkward.
And maybe you'll think about how you looked into her eyes and said, "Hey, I know that sucked, and I'm sorry. But I'll get better, I promise you." And instead of soft moans and secret whispers in your ear, there was laughter, and she wrapped her arms around you and hugged you close and kissed you up and down the side of your face, and accidentally told you she loved you. It was one of those things, like how people say they love tacos, but she said it right after she took your virginity, so you believed her. For a while.
Maybe that's what you'll think about, how should I know?
Anyway, you keep going, past the feed yard and the dinosaur, and you'll top a hill and there it is in the valley below you. Canadian.
A nice place to visit, but I'd never want to live there.
Here we are. What should we do? What do you want to know about? Over there to the left, that's the transfer station. See, there's no town dump, so what happens with all the trash is, it gets collected and brought to this building, this big steel warehouse-looking thing, and the truck dumps all the trash out onto the floor.
It's then pushed onto a conveyor belt, which transports it up to the top of a baler. It falls down into the machine, where it's compacted. This giant metal ram, smashing it over and over. Once there's enough, it's tied with wire and loaded into a trailer. An eighteen-wheeler then hauls it down that road you and I just came in on, down south to the landfill in Pampa.
In the summer, that building gets hot like you wouldn't believe, it's like being in an oven. The sun hits it, cooks everything inside, including you. But you can get used to it.
It smells like week-old garbage and diesel fumes and dead animal. That smell works its way into your clothes, into your skin, so that no matter how many showers you take, you always kind of smell like that. Maybe you'll take a vacation, go away to Amarillo for the weekend, whatever. Somewhere that smells nice, and you'll get new soap and buy new clothes. You get back to your house, the first thing you can smell is that underlying stench of everyone's garbage. But you can get used to it.
There are flies everywhere, buzzing around, laying eggs, landing on trash and then landing on your face, your lips. You swear you can taste the garbage for the rest of the day. But you can get used to it.
The heat, the stench, the flies, you can get used to it. What you never get used to are the maggots. They're everywhere. On every surface, covering every inch of the floor. When you walk, it's like stepping on brittle branches, snap snap snap snap, rapid-fire, little white tubes of nastiness popping under you by the dozen. Squirmy little fuckers everywhere, no matter where you look, no matter what you touch. You should probably plan on having the occasional nightmare, no matter how tough you are.
Sometimes that ram in the baler I was telling you about, it breaks. Then you have to get right down in that shit, inside the machine, on the floor under it, hoping that all the shit dripping down on you doesn't get in your mouth, in your eyes. Sometimes, you'll get down in there, and you find things that were in the dumpster when it was emptied, things that aren't exactly trash. Sometimes, when you get under there, you're yanking and scraping, and a dead-ass cat will drop down all covered in maggots, and you'll just about puke, but you don't, because that would make it smell even worse.
That's not the town. For such a small place, it has so much.
There's the Palace Theatre. That's how you spell it, with the last two letters switched like that, like old times or whatever. It's only got one screen, and there's only one movie that plays, all week. Then there's a new movie. They have matinees and stuff. Maybe they do it different now--like I said before, it's been a long time since I was back home.
I grew up in that theater. I can't remember if it was spelled old timey then. When I say I grew up there, I'm not being figurative. My parents owned it. After the movie ended, we would go in and flip all of the seats up (they weren't spring-loaded, so they didn't close by themselves), and we'd pick up any popcorn and soda cups that were left on the floor. We called them Coke cups, even if they were full of Sprite or Dr. Pepper.
A lot of times, when people sit down, the change falls out of their pocket. Sometimes, it would fall in the little nook between the cushion and the metal divider that held the cushion. Little fingers are perfect for getting in that little nook. On a good night, you could find about two bucks in those little nooks, and on the floor. We got two dollars a night for cleaning, plus any change we found.
The first night we opened, after the theater had been closed for years, I found thirteen dollars in change. We showed one of the Rocky movies and 101 Dalmatians as a matinee. I found an old box of Whatchamacallit candy bars back in the store room, from way before, from the previous owners, and I ate like five of them before I started feeling sick. Those things must have been five years old, but they still tasted pretty all right.
The theater got remodeled later on, after I was pretty much grown. My step-dad, who was no longer my step-dad, he let me move with him into the apartment above the theater. We used to have parties during the remodeling, and we'd sit down in the lobby, which was mostly just concrete and windows with no glass and plywood propped up everywhere, and we'd watch traffic from Main Street drive by, and we'd wave to people, and a lot of times, they'd stop in for a beer or two. The theater was closed at that point, it was changing, growing into a theatre, I guess.
It was a good summer.
Things changed after the theatre re-opened. People changed.
I moved out not long after that.
So that's the Palace.
There's a recycling center just down the street, and maybe you worked there, too, if you were working at the transfer station. The recycling center was much better, although it got just as hot. You don't have all the maggots, though. What you have instead is a building that smells like cardboard and spoiled milk pretty much all the time.
You have this building full of cardboard and aluminum cans and newspaper. And soda bottles (but you call them Coke bottles, no matter that they're Pepsi or Mountain Dew or whatever), all piled into these pits. Those concrete dividers on highways? That's what you use to fence in all the different kinds of recyclables. Sometimes, on a slow winter day, when you're bored as hell and crazy cold, you might climb up to the top and without thinking, do a back flip into the Coke bottles, it's like a giant ball pit, and it's so crazy fun that you can't stop laughing, and you'll spend a good two hours doing it over and over. By the end of the day, you barely feel the cold, but you realize that you're completely covered in sticky, because not everyone rinses out their plastic bottles, and most of them don't even finish off the last quarter-inch of drink. So you're covered in about a million different kinds of soda, all of it syrup sticky, but so what, that was an awesome afternoon.
Maybe you'll try it again sometime, but with the milk jugs, because the soda bottles have been all bailed up, and when the explosion of stench encompasses you, you'll realize that this was a terrible idea.
There's the Jackson Park, just across the street from the public swimming pool. There's a big tunnel that runs under the street, so you can get from the pool to the park without crossing the street. Maybe when you're a little boy, that's where you go to look for frogs, and maybe when you're a little older, that's where you go to kiss girls. And when you're even older, maybe that's where you go to smoke cigarettes or drink beer. You have to be quick, because there's always a chance you'll get caught--it's not a secret place.
One thing that's great about Jackson Park is that it's bowl shaped, and in the winter, it's pretty much the most perfect thing ever for sledding. Even when there's no snow, you can slide down that hill pretty fast. Another great thing about it is that it has the best swings. You can go down there even when you're a teenager, and you can swing a little bit next to your girlfriend, and the moon shines down like it wants to make everything just perfect for you. You can talk about how you love her, you can talk about your dreams, about how you want to be with her for forever, because you're too young and stupid to understand how long even fake forever is.
Another good part about that bowl shape is that later on, when you and your girlfriend have broken up, and you accidentally drive by and you see her current boyfriend's truck parked there, you don't have to see them sitting on the swings, holding hands, talking about love and forever.
Remember that bridge I was telling you about, on the north side of town? They put a walking bridge out there now, and I guess that's all right. There's like three bridges over that river, is that right? One for walking, one for driving, and one for the train.
That train bridge, you aren't allowed to mess with it. Like you aren't supposed to go down and paint some half-ass mural on the concrete base with the cheapest spray-paint you could find (No Walmart in Canadian, they have Alco, instead. Or Dollar General, if you're not picky about your product quality). Which is probably for the best, because what might happen is that you'd get lonely one night, and you'd call that girlfriend, the one from the park, and you'd ask her to meet you there. You'd lead her through all the brush, with your backpack full of spray paint, and then she'd sit on the broken concrete pillars and watch you paint, and you'd sort of fall in love with her again, with your young, fresh heart, that doesn't mind doing things like falling in love.
And then, when it was time to go, you'd realize that her boyfriend saw her car parked by the river, but couldn't find her, so he popped her hood and swiped her distributor cap as well as two spark plugs.
So you tell her, hey my car's parked on the other side of the river, I'll give you a ride into town, but when you get to your car, there he is, sitting on the hood. He's drinking a beer and you're pretty sure that a couple of his friends are somewhere in the brush. You hear twigs snapping somewhere. Maybe just deer.
You aren't allowed to mess with the train bridge, and that's probably a good thing, because something like this might happen. He might slide down off your hood, and come at you, calling you names, saying whatever. But you're kind of happy, because you've got a five-inch blade in your backpack, and you're too young and too stupid to understand the way you'd have to live with the consequences of your actions.
All you know is, you want to see him scared, you want to see him hurt.
Her hand on your forearm, she goes Don't hurt him.
He thinks she's talking to him--he outweighs you by quite a bit, he plays football, he would probably win in a fair fight. But she's looking at you, because she knows you would never fight fair.
You watch her apologize, you watch her lie about why she was at the river, you watch her tell him she was just walking along and came across you as you painted your mural. He doesn't believe her, but he pretends to.
Next time you go to paint, you'll see your mural covered in crude graffiti like FUCK YOU and RAY SUCKS COCK and you'll smoke a cigarette and leave, dropping the cans of cheap spray paint in the sand as you walk away. You won't need them anymore.
You aren't allowed to mess with the train bridge, and that's probably a good thing, because something like that might happen.
You for sure aren't allowed to walk on it, either. Which is perfectly logical, because when a train comes, there's nowhere to go. There's a thirty-foot drop, mostly into prickly brush or hard-packed sand. Every fifty yards or so, there's a spot you can stand, just off the tracks, a little wooden platform. It's about three feet by three feet--large enough for one person to stand. Two, if you stand jammed together. You stand on that platform, the train passes about six inches from your face, and you can't help but think about death.
The alternative is to hang, of course. If you can't make it to one of those platforms, you jump over the side, and you hang from the railroad ties. If you do that, I dare you not to think of that movie The Lost Boys.
It's scary, but only the first time. After that, it's almost like moving the goal out of the way when you play street hockey.
You don't do any of that stuff, of course, because it's illegal. If you went to high school the same time as me, you knew that the cops were really cracking down on that. But you didn't really care, because walking on train tracks is one of those things you grow out of.
Which doesn't matter at all, because it's one of those things you weren't allowed to do, anyway.
There's a bank. Quite a few, really. But there's one in particular, where every time you go to cash your check, they ask about your diarrhea. Because your mom is always telling people you have diarrhea. It doesn't matter if you have diarrhea. Half the time, you're just hung over, or high. If not that, you probably have a cold, or debilitating allergies. But your mom, she always tells everyone it's diarrhea.
So if you take a sick day, you make it count, because you know what the next day will bring.
What else is there?
About a billion things.
Churches. There are all kinds of churches, all them packed to the rim with hypocrites. Maybe not.
I'm a sinner, the dude yells. I'm a sinner, and I have sinned. He yells this every week. You open up your Holy Bible and make another mark. This guy, he confesses every week, he confesses to the same sins. He drinks, he beats his wife, and he sleeps with women who aren't his wife. Every week, you sit in this uncomfortable pew and you wonder who the hell is sleeping with this guy. He's gross and ugly and obviously crazy. Plus, he's married and hits women. Surely if he can get laid, you should be able to. You want to ask him, who's sleeping with you, dude? You want his mailing list.
My mom tried to ground me from church because I shaved my head. She tried to make me wear a hat. I told her no. I went to church with my shaved-bald head, and I dared people to judge me like they weren't supposed to, but mostly I was kinda hoping that the freaks in my church would give me a call. I don't have my name on my belt buckle, not like the guy who climbs the pulpit stairs every Sunday and cries to the preacher, but maybe I'll look broken enough to attract his crumbs.
There's a lot more to the town. I'm not doing it justice, not at all. There's the guy who has a spaceship in his front yard, right next to Jesus and the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, for example.
But I'm also not being fair. I'm not telling you about how in the fall, you can smell the change in the world, because it isn't just smog and smoke and oil air. I'm not telling you about how, at any given time, you can walk to whatever door, knock, and receive help. I'm not telling you about how you can see the stars, so perfect that you can barely breathe when you look at them.
The quiet nights, the security, the comfort, I'm not telling you about any of that.
It's like every other place in the world--good and bad. Hateful and loving.
You see it more, because there's less camouflage, there's nothing to hide behind. It's raw and real and it's all a lie, and it's all the truth, just like everything.
I guess the last thing I want to tell you about it is that it finally got street view on Google Maps. It took a long time, but it finally happened, and if you sit around thinking about things, and you start looking around, where you dumpster-dived with your best friend, where you got your first kiss, where you hid your first pack of cigarettes...it'll make your heart feel heavy, man. It's not a perfect place, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't love it.
Posted under The Rants on 10/14/10