Background: Coronation, Canada (pop. 999), celebrates its centennial and I’m invited to speak. I confide to anyone who will listen, including the postman and gardener, that I’m the keynote speaker and guest of honor.
My wife, Kate, has her doubts, plus it’s going to cost us a bucket of bucks to get back to my hometown…more expensive by the moment….
And, a questionable way for us to spend our 30th anniversary.
Kate has incessantly pointed out that 999, when viewed upside down, forms 666. Perhaps a bad omen?
I tell her to look at things as they are, not standing on her head. (I sleep on the couch that night.)
We fly to Edmonton from California, rent a car and drive two hundred+ miles, headed for the curling rink in Coronation.
There I am billed as a funny guy who will talk about the town history for an hour. I’m the son of the town’s only dentist in the 50s. Apparently I will have hilarious tales to reveal concerning root canals, double billing and what my father did with the gold he mined from patients’ teeth after he told them it was not worth keeping.
Coronation is so far off the grid that our GPS confuses it with the home of Santa Claus and pinpoints the nearest eating house featuring caribou cutlets.
Many settlers who migrated to Coronation in the early days gambled that things could not get worse.
Most lost that bet. Some starved to death, others were eaten by crows — many simply became terminally confused and passed that single gene onto their offspring who were then eaten by crows.
Hundreds are expected to hear me speak at the town’s centennial. More than thousands will not show up as they will participate in the three-legged race or end up drunk out of their minds.
First prize is a pound of goose grease.
Second prize is a kilo of goose grease.
Two one-legged men demand to enter the race. They are told they will need a third man with one leg. They grab a chain saw and terrorize the town trying to find a “volunteer” before they are arrested.
I have known the one-legged pair for decades. They bicker constantly but always go shopping for shoes together.
Since the accommodations in Coronation are infested with bedbugs, our lodging will be a hunting lodge, about twenty miles north of Coronation. Clean sheets and no vermin. Cold and colder running water.
As we near the lodge, my cell phone rings and it’s yet another VP from the Coronation Centennial Committee. The bad news: The article I wrote is in the local paper but it’s been edited to remove the humor.
The good news — someone will keep a newspaper for us and we won’t be charged for it. Extra copies can be ordered for a dollar each. I can order as many copies as I want to pay for.
We spy a post office. Kate and I paw thru the trash and discover dozens of copies of the newspaper with the article about me.
My hometown newspaper is now a giveaway and most people simply toss it. I was planning on buying a dozen copies. How many times do you get your mug on the front page of your hometown paper?
Maybe when you’re dead.
But when you’re alive? We stuff the throw-away papers in our trunk and I feel good as I’m 12 dollars ahead.
An hour later we arrive at the hunting lodge which is at the end of a dangerous gravel road.
Most of the glass on our rental car has escaped flying stones, except for the windshield that has a tiny crack in it the size of a small banana.
A phone call to the rental agency reveals we will only be charged $500 for a new windshield but there will be a $250 penalty for taking the car off road.
We are on a road, I say.
No, you’re not. You’re off road. Gravel roads are off roads. Read your contract, Sir.
Kate rolls her eyes. Yes, yes, I realize that my talk is getting more expensive by the country mile. I ponder wishing her happy anniversary. Later, perhaps. But perhaps not.
The hunting lodge accommodates a dozen hunters, mostly rich Americans who come to murder geese. (Coronation’s claim to fame in the fall — and the rest of the year — is that it’s the stop off point for zillions of geese that migrate from northern Canada to somewhere in Chesapeake Bay or maybe the French Riviera if they are into gambling.)
In hunting season the lodge charges a mere thousand dollars a day, not for the geese but for the guides to find the geese and bribe the local farmers who make more money illegally renting their lands than working the soil.
Cost of A Goose
Mighty hunters can blow their dinner apart with .12 gauge shotguns. Cost of goose — less than a hundred dollars a pound. Only a few bucks a gram, and Canada is on the metric system.
It’s a win-win deal for all but the geese.
Canada geese are known as honkers. They attract hunters from all over the world. Hookers, aware of the rich hunters, also flock to Coronation.
(Could fluck be the past tense of flock? Perhaps when applied to flocking hookers.)
When the booze gets to flowing the locals have fun sorting out hookers and honkers and what kind of goosing is going on.
My father anticipated, with glee, hunting season because so many of his patients shattered their molars on birdshot that was imbedded in the carcasses of geese and other water fowl.
At the lodge we’re informed we will have a private bathroom. It’s actually a communal bathroom but there are no hunters so it’s all ours. For the moment.
The affable owner regrets that we will not be getting a ten percent discount because it’s against the rules. No requisitions have been filed and notarized.
And, the wifi we were promised is on the premises, but in the main and comfortable house, not in our Spartan hunter’s quarters that comes complete with a unleveled pool table and many heads of trophy deer sticking out of the wall.
I consider hanging signs under various deer heads: Blizter, Donner, Rudolph.
“Not a good idea,” says Kate. “You may enrage our heavily armed hosts.”
The room comes with a free breakfast. Here is what the breakfast looks like in my mind.
Here is what we got:
The guest book reveals that many hunters from around the globe have enjoyed fine dining and hunting at the lodge — intrepid and fearless hunters have been on geese and even gopher safaris.
There are lists of trophy animals — moose, deer and bear. Great fun to zap these creatures with a high-powered rifle and scope at 500 yards.
Zebra and Lion
I list a number of zebra, lions and elephant we have slain on the property. And how pleased we are, having used only a slingshot and spear made from a broken fence post, after all we’re sportsmen. (Later this page will be removed by persons unknown from the guest book.)
Much to Kate’s annoyance I go over my keynote speech. I require absolute silence while I rehearse as I stride around the deserted lodge, interrupted only by barking owls and hooting dogs.
And much to my annoyance I still don’t understand where I am going to speak or what kind of sound system will be available.
This after dozens of phone calls and emails over the last months to the various vice presidents of the Coronation Centennial Committee.
I do not want to come off like a prima donna but it’s essential for me to understand “the room” I’m going to deliver my incredible humor talk in.
No one knows how many people will show up. Comedy requires timing and an understanding of the audience.
I’m getting worried.
Weeks ago this exchange took place:
I am having posters made up with this information as well as a picture from you from your website advertising your appearance at our Centennial. I am hoping to have them up on Monday along with the others who are performing throughout the weekend as well.
I have you speaking on the main floor of the curling rink and there will be a stage in place as well as a PA system and microphone.
If you want I could take a picture of it and email you so you have an idea.
You are speaking at 2 pm, I cannot say for sure whether or not people will come and go, but they probably will as it is a relaxed atmosphere and we have lots going on so people may try to take it all in, which means it may be a revolving door, well I guess we could tie everyone to their chairs and lock the doors once you start but I don’t think that will go over to well.
If you need anything else in the meantime please let me know and I will do my best.
Boy I can’t wait for it to be over!!!!!
Talk To You Soon.
Hi VP #299:
Thank you very much. I appreciate your efforts. It’s the last week that matters. And that begins this Monday.
Is there a radio station(s) people listen to in the area? It would be most helpful for me to be on it/them and talk to some hosts/DJs — let’s create some excitement!
Yes, I would like a picture of where I am to speak. What is the seating capacity? The lighting? How about the inside temperature and acoustics.
All I hear is that there is going to be a parade before I talk.
Print up several thousand flyers with my photos and credits on it. It’ll probably cost you fifty bucks. Hell, I’ll toss fifty bucks in the pot.
Have people on the floats, cars or wagons toss the flyers to the crowd. Pass out the posters at registration. No time to be shy. This only happens once every hundred years. Give people something to remember.
As far as people coming and going and so forth while I am talking.
Not a good idea!!!
A very bad idea.
A Horrible Idea
I don’t mind flying a couple of thousand miles, I don’t mind renting a car and driving there, I don’t mind paying for my lodging and my food, I don’t mind paying for my posters, but I DO MIND having an open door REVOLVING policy while I’m talking.
On the poster say: “Please be seated five minutes before the performance. No one allowed in after that! (You of course may leave anytime.) Please turn off cell phones and pagers.”
You don’t have to lock the doors. Simply post someone at the entrances and latecomers can wait outside until the half hour mark. At that point I will pause for a few minutes and let stragglers in. And I may make fun of them if they are quite small.
If the organizers don’t take me seriously, then no one else will.
I look forward to meeting you.
Again, thank you.
P.S. — of course we will make exceptions for anyone who really wants in and really wants to see me and is sincere and has a hundred dollar bill.
I am easy to reach on my cell phone. I will need to talk to any DJ prior to my interview.
By the way, we found several dozen copies of my front page article in the trash. I won’t be buying any from you. Nice try.
Someone calls to inform me that the wrong posters have been printed. I am going to speak at the hockey rink, not the curling rink.
Curling vs Hockey
Note for non-Canadians and those Canadians who have only attended the ballet: curling and hockey are similar because both happen on ice.
Hockey is composed of two opposing teams, each with five men. The men are given sticks to smack around hockey pucks on a sheet of ice 85 × 200 feet.
In curling there are two opposing teams, each made up of four men. They are given brooms to “sweep” a large hockey puck with a handle (called a stone) along a 150 x 15 foot sheet of ice.
The hockey puck weighs about 6 ounces and the curling stones are around 45 pounds. So much for the metric system.
The idea is to employ the puck or the stone to kill members of the opposing team. When no one is looking it is permissible to drop a curling rock on the head of your opponent. You may not drop the stone from a height of more than four stories.
In hockey you are encouraged to “shoot” the hockey puck at an opposing team member’s head or gonads. You shoot the puck by slapping or spanking it with a hockey stick.
You would think that dropping the stone on someone’s head is more dangerous than hitting him with a six ounce puck. You would be wrong because even five year old Canadian hockey players can shoot that puck at a playmate’s head at escape velocity.
There are some other subtle differences between hockey and curling but the goal is the same–destroy your opponent and then get drunk. Not always in that order. You pick the order.
The basic rules are similar for woman even though they do not have testicles (in most cases) and it’s difficult for them to lift stones higher than knee level.
Nevertheless, there have been 1,045 female curlers (comatose from too much Scotch) crushed to death…when opponents positioned curling stones on their triumphant faces.
I digress. Sorry.
I try to get my venue changed from the acoustically challenged curling rink to any of a half dozen halls with proper sound system.
All vice presidents of the Coronation Centennial Committee are busy filling out expense accounts and applying for future funding for the town.
A crocus festival has been planned. A gopher hunt (snare and release) may become an annual event.
To shut me up, I’m promised a sound engineer will be on hand and all will turn out great.
Later that day reports flood in via my cell phone from friends who say they are at the curling rink and it’s impossible to fathom what anyone says.
The inside of the curling rink resembles a large airplane hangar. The PA system is on the fritz. The back door is open. That door is able to accommodate one of those giant earth moving machines with twenty foot wheels like they have at the tar sands.
I panic but five VPs assure me that all will be fine. Just go to the parade, then saunter to the curling rink – everyone is eager to hear a very funny talk.
But they won’t hear me, I say. My timing will be off if anyone opens the back door.
We promise to shut the back door and long before your talk a sound engineer will meet with you. Come ten minutes early for a sound test.
We ask about food and the pancake breakfast that involves Saskatoon berries.
Another VP says that as the guests of honor my wife and I will meet with various VPs for a super pancake breakfast at 8 AM the next morning. I mention that according to my schedule the breakfast starts at 7 AM.
“That’s true,” says another VP, “but we don’t know how many people are showing up. Be there exactly at 8 AM so you can present some of your novels to the town for free.”
(I hear that two VPs have read one of my short stories. Both claim the story is not short enough.)
I’m told If there are pancakes left over, then we’re welcome to as many as we can eat and we’re free to carry off as many as we can as they don’t keep that long. I must register online.
I tell Kate we are in for a treat. Saskatoons are better than blueberries and very healthy.
We Register for Breakfast.
The cost is only $49 each. Kate finds this unacceptable but I tell her that by registering she can listen to my one hour talk.
She is past rolling her eyes. She seems to be hissing. She has already heard my talk five times. That’s six times too many. I tell her I will make the jokes, thank you very much.
The following morning we have pancakes. There are enough left over for me, but Kate is late so does not have any, she says she does not feel like eating.
I think she’s pouting. She’s not a very good sport. But I don’t tell her that.
We attend the parade and many of the past mayors of Coronation drive by on wagons. At one point there are more mayors than spectators. Possibly more mayors than citizens. Everyone waves to each other. After 72 mayors we leave to check out the curling rink.
Many More Keynote Speakers
I run into half a dozen other “acts”— former residents whom the VPs and former mayors have cajoled into appearing in town. Each thinks he or she is the keynote speaker or musical act. None have been paid a penny for travel or expenses.
One man is in tears as the trip from Europe cost him his marriage and home.
Kate complains of hunger but the town has been closed down so everyone can clap for the passing old mayors. And old mares. A lot of kids ride horses.
Kate and I arrive two hours early at the curling rink.
One hour and fifty minutes later the sound engineer shows up. He is nine years old. But knows his stuff.
The young fellow warns me that the sound system sucks.
Worse, he confirms reports that my friends were right — no one heard a single word the night before. And that was when someone was inducted into the hockey hall of fame. For that the locals would have been most respectful.
During my talk, they will probably end up skeet shooting or drag racing.
I point out to the sound engineer that the cordless mike is malfunctioning.
“Do your best,” says a new VP — “We have billed you as a funny and entertaining guy. Do not let us down. Do you have any more of your books to donate to the town library?”
Kate rolls her eyes. Her eyes say, I told you so — and then her eyes ask a question — is this your idea of a fun 30th anniversary?
Another VP, in charge of stage props, has set up a wobbly table for me to stand on.
The speakers are behind me and on the floor.
I point out that such a configuration with the sound equipment will result in horrible feedback.
The VP says that the feedback they have had about me is fine.
The sound engineer has a solution – raise the speakers above my head and place them in front of me.
But that means the Coronation Centennial Committee will need several meters of wire – alas, they have run out of money. I offer to foot the bill.
No can do.
All the stores are closed so that everyone can hear me speak or participate in the three-legged race.
Four inebriated men, each with one leg, show up and leave.
Droves of people arrive to hear my talk and/or buy local products.
Vice Presidents have designed a “farmers’ market” in the rear of the curling rink. They are selling canned geese and packages of feathers. Perfect for making quilts or feather ticks.
One guy has a mike and is hawking honey. He has brought his own beehive to show kids where honey comes from. He has a better sound system than I do and has found the rink’s sweet spot.
The bees swarm, frightening away several hundred visitors.
The VPs are also marketing oats at four dollars a bushel. Museum quality Canadian “First Nation” arrows made with flint tips from China and India are available.
A table has been set up to sell my books that I donated to the library. One of the VPs has signed my name to the novels and gets five dollars extra for those.
My wife persuades the farmers’ market group to take a break for the next hour and the sound level in the curling rink falls to about 300 decibels.
Then the giant backdoor of the curling rink is thrown open and an old friend of mine chugs in with a contraption that he liberated from the Oil Sands.
Its treads are twice the height of a man.
My friend does a wheelie and honks — it’s a louder honk than the combined sound of all the geese who have ever flown through, over, into or around Coronation in the last millennium.
Two drunk American hunters and a hooker, having arrived early for goose season, fire on the digging machine.
They are arrested to thunderous cheers.
The hooker is raffled off.
I’m introduced, shoved up onto the wobbly stage table and launch into my talk.
No one past the fourth row can hear me.
Others who wanted to hear me end up in the skating rink and are imprisoned in the men’s locker room for ransom by the one-legged men who turn out to be real buccaneers.
No ransom is raised and those hostages are never heard from again.
I vow to the assembly in the curling rink that I will transcribe and post my talk on my website.
Someone hurls a tomato at me.
Then a loaf of bread and mayonnaise jar sail past me.
I duck to avoid a spinning ax and assemble a tomato sandwich for Kate who is really hungry by now while I deliver the finest humor talk — about the history of Coronation — ever given in the curling rink during the Centennial Celebration.
In the meantime if you want to read the short stories I based my extremely accurate recollections of Coronation on, please click here.
My dog, Cloudy, and me 50 years ago.
(Photo by Ken Summers, family biographer)
If you missed Part One, please click here.
And here is my latest novel. It’s about a religious nut. Me.
(You should be 18 to read it.)