Small islands seem to attract their fair share of dreamers, spiritualists, creative types, rogues & non-conformists. Some come to escape the cacophony and rigor of urban existence, some come to build their alternative universe retirement dream, while many come to relax and play on this part-time fair-weather-friend holiday rock. The absence of police or any recognizable form of authority can add a lawless frontier edge to peoples activities and expectations. When you operate a small Gallery Café on just such an island – as I do – any and all of these people may walk through your door, and indeed, are encouraged to do so. On occasion they all arrive at once, and interweave into a lovely Felliniesque tapestry. I always consider it a blessing to be part of a notable absurdity.
It’s a warm & lovely Friday in July 2016. It’s late morning, all the windows of the Gallery are open as is the front door which offers an inviting access for all who wish to drop by for coffee & chitchat and a glimpse of Anita Edward’s art show, “Forgotten Gardens”. While I am otherwise engaged in pleasant mindless café duties, an off-island woman named Dralene wanders in, plunks herself down, and asks if it would be ok to play tunes on her ukelele for the smattering of guests. I’m always delighted when musicians show up unannounced so encourage her to play freely for as long as she likes. Apparently she was on Mayne to attend the annual “Bob-b-que” with friends – a celebration of the life and music of Bob Dylan at which she would contribute her ukelele chops. She sings a little Bob, a little this and that, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” as memory (and my Journal) attests, and generally proceeds to entertain my guests and I for the next couple of hours. Shortly after she began, my friend Paul G. appeared while on a bike trip from Vancouver followed by two island friends Angie & Tim. Tim – a truly admirable & remarkable fellow – had recently lost his vision with a sudden onset of blindness which, understandably, had thrust him into new challenges and steep learning curves, which he accepted without complaint in his good-natured manner.
I introduced he and Angie to Paul and Dralene while a few others sat sipping their drinks at outside tables. Just as Angie excused herself to go, another friend – Gail – wandered into the shop, also sporting a ukelele which she proceeded to play with Dralene. You can never have too many ukeleles at a farce. My musicians soon realized that maybe it was best to take their jam outside and allow inside guests to have quiet conversation if they were not so ukelele inclined. Paul & Tim and I began some important dialogue about issues and opinions (God knows what we talked about – Donald Trump wasn’t in office yet)…and then, the drunk showed up.
I don’t remember the drunks name and indeed it’s not important to the story. It’s shortly before noon on Friday and he’s noticeably pissed. He’s carrying a bottle of what seems to be Coke and what I gather was laced with rum – “for aye! He were a seafarin’ man” By his own braggadocio, “One of the best boat designers in Canada…came here by boat…just down at the dock” He slurred in his slightly wobbly aggressive way. It seemed that he’d either lost or forgotten his cell phone charger and was now on some kind of angry rampage to track one down on our island. Finding all islanders collectively responsible for his stupidity and our failure for not having an electronics supply shop for his needs. “This is a shitty island, ye can’t even buy a cell phone charger.” “Where can I get one? You’ve got one, I’ll buy it from you” “Uh no, sorry, mine’s not for sale” I said. “C’mon…I’ll give you a hundred bucks – how much do you want? I need it because I’m part of the Emergency Disaster Response team” he belligerently blurted. “Dude” I thought, “you are a disaster – how can you possibly be part of an emergency response team?” I was starting to get angry with this guy, and, as one does with unpredictable drunks, was sizing him up in case I had to physically evict him from the Gallery. Like I mentioned earlier, there are no cops on Mayne so people sometimes feel empowered to break the rules. Meanwhile the ukeleles kept playing and my dialogue with my friends became intermittent as the obnoxious comments and demands of the drunk kept superseding our collective rationality. Trying to be a nice guy I said, “Tell you what, you can charge your phone here with my charger and that will at least get you on your way” (and you can take your unpleasant tirade to some other island, I thought) When you are dealing with such an obvious out-of-control alcoholic you need to be on your guard though, for their thoughts and actions can be chaotic. This ramps up the stress level. After 20 or 30 minutes of annoying commentary, he asked me to give him my Social Insurance Number to show me how good he was at memorizing numbers. My level of tolerance was reaching it’s end, and this request tipped it over into mild anger “I’m not giving you my fucking Social Insurance Number” I glared. The ukelele ladies kept the background music steady and incongruous when suddenly, Tim changed the subject. “Do you know anything about Razors?” he asked. “Huh?” I turned to look at him, welcoming the distraction from the Drunken Sea Captain, “You mean like, shaving razors?” I said, “Yeah” said Tim as he pulled a little baggie from his pocket with a shaving razor in it. “Since I lost my sight” he said, “I can’t figure out how to open this up, can you show me?” We are now operating at max-Fellini. I take Tim and his razor outside because I’m afraid of dumping his beard hairs on my floor – preferring to do it on my front lawn beside the Ukelele Duo. Meanwhile the drunk is swigging and staggering his way around my gallery. Paul is absorbing the spectacle. I’m picking up pieces of my blind buddies razor off my front lawn, as Jeffery the quirky Karl Marx look-alike shows up with his rather demure Japanese girlfriend Meg.
I’m in some kind of strange inexplicable heaven – a conductor to all of these collective moments on the stage of my café. But like all moments, they must pass, the participants have to move on to new adventures. Paul had to hit the road to continue his bike trip. Tim armed with his new manageable razor picked up his white cane to walk home. The ukulele sisters collected themselves to rendezvous with the rest of their day and the drunk, with his newly-charged cell phone in hand grumbled his way out the door and down the street to his next misadventure. Like an unexpected summer storm, the players breezed in unannounced, gave a dramatic show and then left. I returned to the pleasant tasks at hand..greeting more guests…pouring a little coffee, and talking about the beauty of the art upon my walls.
Addenda: Later, over dinner on the lovely deck of the Springwater Lodge, my friend Paul and I commiserated on the days events when Paul pulled a book from his backpack “The Course of Love” by Alain de Botton, a book which he felt I might like. The premise being “the magnificent, sometimes frightening, developments we can make as we slowly realise that love is in essence a skill we need to learn rather than an enthusiasm we simply experience.” It was a glorious day. 🙂
6 thoughts on “The Drunk, the Blind Man, and the Ukulele Player”
Do you recall the jacket cover for The Basement Tapes? Your story calls it to my mind. Thanks.
Hi Amber! I’m unfamiliar with the basement tapes – just wanted to send this to you as I believe Dralene is a friend of yours who was on island for the Bob-b-que. if so, would you mind forwarding it to her? I have no way to connect with her😊 Cheers! George
Sent from my iPhone
A rare essay, George!
Recognition of and finding the metaphor for these ‘social squalls’ is one of your fortes.
Thanks a lot Steve – glad you enjoyed the piece. Praise from a wordsmith such as yourself is especially welcome 🙂 Cheers Mate! >