Dream Raffle (a Christmas story)

“Happiness is for pigs and wishes are for children,” Trevor announced to all and sundry a year ago to the day. His deep baritone cut like a foghorn through the smoke and noise at ‘Gramma’s Pub’, which is located just across from Molly’s Reach of Beachcomber fame and right around the corner from ‘Coast Books’. It is a pleasant place to culminate a days work over a pint or two.

“That’s not true”, quipped the pretty young woman who was standing at the bar beside Trevor Buck, who straddled his favourite barstool. “Happiness is there for everybody and wishes can come true”, she declared with conviction. “Isn’t that right Jack?”

Jack, her boyfriend, seemed like a nice enough guy, except he wore the ugliest tie I’ve ever seen. He was quick to answer.

“Yeah sure, I think so too.”

The imposing figure of Trevor Buck who was also known as the human dinosaur turned a few degrees south in the direction of the young couple: An ancient warlord addressing the rookie foot soldiers from his horse.

Everybody that frequented ‘Gramma’s Pub’ knew better then to argue with Trevor especially after he had a few. But the unsuspecting young couple didn’t know that. They were new in town and just here for a drink and to make a bit of friendly conversation. After all it was the merry time of year. Trevor’s cynical views of the universe were common intellectual fare to us regular patrons and he wasted no time in unleashing them unto the heads of Jack and his girlfriend.

From the opener that ‘happiness is redundant because it is always confused with pleasure’ to the two dimensional perception of global misery which is brought on by ‘greedy white trash’ to ‘our inconsequential way of life’ and on to ‘mass neurotic social behaviour’ and last but not least he expounded the evils of pre-packaged religion. After demanding a refill from ‘Fast Eddy’, the bartender, he thundered on about ‘the curse of the electronic mindless hole into which we stare for an average of seven hours daily’.

He covered it all including fast food and mind numbing television. But as even Trevor condescendingly admitted: “The public gets what it wants. They want to elect a grilled cheese sandwich for Prime Minister, they get it.”

Trevor liked to compare popular people, particularly politicians to food. Trudeau is a grilled cheese, Scheer a dill pickle, Horgen was tripe, Weaver a fortune cookie, Trump is a meatball while Harper was tripe and Hilary jelly.

Depending on Trevor’s mood or the politics of the day the menu was apt to change.

Jack had his hands stuck in his suede jacket, which clashed with the purple tie like a fist on the eye and was staring glumly into his stale beer. Daisy (that’s her real name) in her cowboy boots and her ponytail turned to stone as if confronted by a gargoyle, which isn’t a bad description of Trevor.

She looked up and said tartly: “You don’t have to be so bitter. It’s not our fault. I happen to like the world I live in and make the best of it. I don’t think we’re from the same planet.”

Trevor immediately offered to buy her a drink. He completely ignored Jack, who kept nudging his girlfriend in the ribs. Daisy politely refused and headed for the ladies room while Jack strolled over to the other side of the pub leaving Trevor grumbling into his empty beer mug.

Trevor’s life wasn’t exactly a bed of roses but then whose is? A shot in the hip covering the last days of the Vietnam war, gave him a permanent limp and a small disability pension. When the building, where he published the ‘East End Chronicle’ burned down in 69, it also left him some insurance money that he invested into an ‘alternative publishing venture’, which went bankrupt five years later. A lucky connection landed him the job as assistant editor at the second largest newspaper in the city. He lasted two years, which was mostly fighting over policy with his superiors. His only son Bradley, from his first marriage, died of a heroin overdose in 79. A year later, Trevor was divorced from his second wife. He then moved to the Sunshine Coast. For the last ten years he spent most of his evenings at ‘Gramma’s’. He does a bit of freelance writing and hangs out. He likes being around people but avoids direct contact unless it’s by argument. Sitting at the bar, surrounded by a noisy crowd was his idea of a swell time.

His brain is lodged inside a head of a bird of prey; large beak of a nose, sunken black eyes, permanently overshadowed by a protruding, high forehead, arched eyebrows in a constant expression of incredulity and a thin lipped lopsided mouth which leaves Trevor talking out of the side of his face. Picture this atop an awkward, ape like body constructed of a six foot eight inch frame with arms like propellers and feet like outriggers. All that was topped off with an unruly grey mop of hair. Surely not a beauty of a man, but with a presence that leaves an impression, and is not easily ignored or forgotten.

The arduous task of always trying to appear smaller then nature also resulted in a stoop. Watching Trevor, bent over and limping along with his hands buried deep in the pockets of his tent like trench coat, always reminds me of a wounded primate striding through the jungle.

He is a fool for women and his acrid composure dissolves into a puddle at the slightest hint of a smile from any female. He could be a most charming and devastatingly funny man, but all he ever got out of it was the bill at the end of the night.

Like anybody else, he was his own worst enemy.

Being a beer parlour philosopher of some stature, Trevor’s opinions and views were daily updated for the common benefit of all who cared to listen. He did not read newspapers silently, like most people did, on the bus or in the privacy of their homes. Trevor read his tabloids astride his favourite barstool with a running commentary like a sports caster.

He read: “The birds are dropping dead out of the sky in Mexico City because of the pollution! – Imagine 20 million people all farting at once…              -Listen to this: ‘A blind senior is mugged.’ – Hell, blind the muggers !   ‘shoes and Tuna fish for war torn Somalia’ – Hell, why not bow ties and rubic cubes. – Rain tomorrow, the next day and the weekend. Thank God, at least the weather is reliable. – Fill’er up Eddy, will’ya.”

He did not care who agreed or disagreed with his comments nor did it make any difference who the target of his gallows humour and cynicism was. It could be the Queen of England, the local hockey team, the favourite murder or rapist of the day or for that matter even Fast Eddy, practically biting the hand that fed him. Fact is: Trevor Buck had nothing much good to say about anything or anybody alive (sometimes the dead were ok) and his rather jaded views got worse around Christmas time. Neither God nor the Devil had his respect and as far as human beings were concerned he proclaimed them a miscarriage of nature not half as fascinating as the dinosaurs, which at least commanded great presence with little ambiguity. As you can see, no good cheer and merry making in Trevor’s corner of the world.

* * *

 

It was the last Thursday before Christmas an for once Campbell, Camp as he is know around here, and I, not wanting to be old curmudgeons, joined table Bear and Judy at their table inside. Camp is the owner of ‘Coast Books’ the local book store, a non-profit enterprise as he called it, while Bear works in Hollywood North as a special effects coordinator and when he’s between shows he spends a lot of time at Gramma’s. Judy, his wife, eight months pregnant, calls him ‘honey phoo’ and the boys call him ‘Bear’ or ‘Grizz’ because that’s what he is, in temper and appearance. Nice and easy going, when in good humour, but watch out when he get’s pissed off.

The pub was abuzz and our conversation revolved around the usual peeves around this time of year like the shortage of money, another mediocre season for the Canucks and as always, the weather. I was just finishing my pint when Bear put his glass down, burped and leaned across the table towards Camp and myself. “Let’s do something special this year,” he said.

“Like what?” I yelled back over the general din and Trevor’s voice.

“Dunno, just sumthin different.”

“What? send somebody to Hawaii ?”

“No, no that’s boring. It’s gotta be sumethin special, like make a dream come true.”

”        “Yeah sure, whose dream?” Camp asked, always the cynic.

“Dunno, pick a winner I guess. That’s it kiddo, we’ll have a raffle and the winner get’s his dream.”

Bear was all excited, his red cheeks and orange beard inches from my face, his hands balled into fists like he had a bull by the horns and his formidable Molson muscle wedged firmly against the table.

I hate to be the realist all the time but somebody has to remain on planet earth when everybody seems to be in outer space. I said in my calmest, loud voice, probably sounding patronising: “Come on Grizz, it’ll never work. How do you make somebody’s dream come true? Most peoples dreams are way out, total fantasy stuff.”

“That’s not true,” countered Bear, genuinely affronted. “Most dreams are simple, not everybody’s head is in the clouds like yours and Camp’s. We’ll have Santa draw the lot. It will work, you’ll just wait and see.”

‘Santa !” I said incredulous “Where do you get a Santa at ‘Gramma’s’?

“Easy we’ll draw lots for that too.”

I shook my head, finished my beer and wished Bear the best of luck. I should have known that if Bear gets an idea in his head it stays there.

I resisted like hell but to no avail. After all, I did partake in the draw, although reluctantly, and my uneasy intuition proved me right. I was in the backroom with Bear, my lovely wife Clare who controlled a fit of the giggles while I got dressed in red sweat pants, probably Olga’s, telling by the size of them, black rubber boots and a red hoody with ‘Gramma’s’ classic logo on it: “Drink thy Beer with joy !” Judy, looking about ready to pop, plastered a grey beard to my face and after some fuss I agreed to a top hat, which had been enhanced with golden foil, and that completed the goofy Santa outfit.

It was the 23rd of December and I helped out Camp at the bookstore, it being the second busiest day of the year at ‘Coast Books’. I was late and the pub was packed. They all came out. Big Olga and her skinny, watery eyed hubby who was silently plastered as usual; there was Boris and the Swede toasting each other with Vodka. The ‘Count’ (whose true lineage goes back to the Habsburgian empire but he lives here on the Sunshine Coast on welfare) was there in his best getup and so was Freddy, once a prominent sportswriter in Edmonton, fallen by the wayside and a steady customer at ‘Gramma’s’ like so many of us.

Mr. Milford, proud owner of the Coast’s oldest tackle shop and locally famed hobby astronomer was sitting in the corner, looking every bit like a lost space explorer. Even Jack in his suede tasselled jacket, and Daisy in her cowgirl garb, were huddled at the bar but a long way away from Trevor who was perched on his stool staring fiercely into his pint.

The jukebox was playing jingle bells by Springsteen and Fast Eddy was whipping up the drinks as quick and precise as only he can, while Vicky, the waitress in a red jump suite and a silver Santa hat was serving the tables. The one question in my mind was: “Whose dream are we all going to learn tonight and how on earth are we going to fulfil it?”

When I confronted the Grizz about this slight dilemma he looked at me like I was talking in a strange language. “Don’t you worry kiddo, it’s gonna be ok. Everybody knows that we’re not magicians. They’ll ask for something we can do or afford. Nobody is a fool in here.” That was really assuring.

The rule was that everybody wrote in ten words or less their respective dream on a slip of paper, signed it with their name and put it in my silly top hat. My dream was a bottle of Cognac. I hoped everybody was equally sensible. After I made the rounds, toasted everybody and said plenty of ho ho’s I sat the hat atop the bar counter and Eddy was elected by acclamation to draw the winning dream. For once ‘Gramma’s’ was silent. There was actually a certain amount of suspension in the air.

“Drum roll !”, somebody yelled and there was Boris and the Swede making their glasses jump of the table.

“There she goes”, said Eddy, stuck his hand in the hat and pulled out the winner.

Now all hell broke loose, everybody yelling: “Read it ! Let’s have it !” Boris and the Swede were doing stand up drum rolls now. With a simple sweeping gesture Fast Eddy silenced the unruly mob.

Eddy read solemnly: “If I had any dreams it would be to have my son back. Trevor.”

The stunned silence that ensued was filled with all the sorrow and pain, all the longing and loneliness, all the heartaches and misery humans have endured through the ages. To loose one’s child is surely the greatest tragedy that can befall anybody. Time stood still at ‘Gramma’s ‘ and everybody was paralysed. I felt like such a fool and I’m sure the feeling was mutual.

Trevor sat on his stool with his back to the crowd, unmoving, slumped over his beer. It was Judy that broke the spell. She walked over to the bar counter, climbed awkwardly on the stool beside him and put her arm around his big shoulders.

“Trevor”, she said. “We can’t bring your son back but I want you to be the godfather of this child in here. She took his large hand and put it on her swollen tummy for all to see. For an eternal moment Trevor didn’t move. When he did he reached up with his free hand and rang the bell above the counter and announced with his booming voice: “A round for the house and a Merry Christmas to you all.”

The pandemonium that broke out the instant the bell rang is hard to describe. Everybody jumped up and embraced whoever was next to them, and a party ensued that has no equal I’m sure as long as I live. Boris and the Swede drank each other under the table, Olga and her hubby were dancing to ‘Rudolf the red nosed reindeer’, the Bear and Judy were sitting on either side of Trevor who with vitriolic ardour proclaimed Christmas a racist, pagan holiday, insensitive to all other religions. Fast Eddy was forgetting who ordered the last round; the count was drinking beer out of a champagne glass and Freddy the sportswriter was happily collapsed over his table. Old Mr. Wilbur was dancing a jig and just for the hell of it the Grizz, good humouredly, sprayed everybody with a bottle of cheap bubbly, courtesy of the house. Camp was dancing with Muriel while Clare and Sophie, Muriels daughter, twirled with each other while everybody was buying Santa, or was it me, a drink. I don’t remember much after that but somehow I forgot to change back into my own clothes and ended up being practically carried home by Camp and Clare.

One month later Judy gave birth to a nine pound baby boy. The unofficial christening took place at ‘Gramma’s’ with Fast Eddy as master of ceremonies.

The baby almost disappeared in Trevor’s large arms while Eddy proclaimed the boy’s proud name: “Bradley Trevor”.

Everybody cheered and toasted the boy’s future while Trevor, totally out of character, was cooing and beaming like he was the proud sire himself.

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