Our dirt bikes bring all the boys to the yard. Damn right, they're better than yours.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Watching an Institution Burn

So, seconds after writing that stupid post about those boring books, a friend of mine called.
"So, did you start the North End Pub on fire?"
Me: "No...?"
"Well, it's been on fire for an hour and a half. You should go check it out."
What a horrifying thought. The North End Diner/Pub is this shitty old quiet wood-paneled pub/diner carved out of a pair of old buildings a few blocks from my house. It ... was... the cheapest place in Oceantown to go for a beer or nine.
I crawled out into the sunlight, I had only to look up to see the end of one of my favourite places. White clouds of smoke towered over the neighbourhood, while people trickled down the tree-lined streets, muttering in disbelief, converging at the pub. The guy who owned the pizza place across the street from the North End came running down the sidewalk, yelling in a panic into his cellphone in Lebanese. He'd already seen enough.
At just over a block from my house, the North End had a certain convenience to it. But I'd been going there almost since I first arrived in Oceantown, when I lived across the city from it. I learned two-step dancing there. I dealt with and enjoyed one of the first crushes I had on an east-coast girl there. Week after week, I'd attend Leroy Bennett's Sunday Jamboree, where he and his band of merry misfits would strum, violin, drum and bass guitar whatever random cover song would pop into their heads, but with a country two-step beat. And for the elderly-at-heart, it ended at 7:00pm, leaving loads of time to walk home half-cut before the sun went down. This was also fine for me, since I really didn't need to stay out drinking late on a Sunday. So many Sundays.
When I got to the corner of the block and looked over at the rear of the building, I still had hope. Smoke billowed out the windows, but I couldn't see any flames. Maybe there would be renovations, and then a grand, grand reopening. But time passed. The two-story structure lost battle after battle as flames finally passed through the roof, igniting the tarpaper, and as the interior walls burned, the roof caved in, drawing in the exterior walls, still painted their forest green. Around front, the whole cafe-end of the North End was almost completely collapsed. Only the marquee was left, hanging straight as before, one side melted completely away, the other still holding the sliding letters in it. It was sort of fitting that the only words left (though slightly melted) were institutions--tonight would have been Danny Banfield's Jam Session, and Sunday, bloody Sunday, you could have been Leroy's neverending two-step-a-thon, if not for the North End's faulty wiring and oh-so-flammable tinder-dry walls.
Standing outside today, I was surrounded by the people who made the North End Pub the community institution it was. Leroy was there, taking a break from his barber shop a block away to watch his band's home for the last 10 years burn. All the server staff stood in tears, watching their livelihoods go up in smoke. B.A. (Bad Attitude), one of the regulars, and a sometime employee, stood in an angry frown bigger than she was. "Well, I guess there's nothing left to do but go get a beer," she said to the bar staff and waitresses standing outside. Some followed her, but most of them couldn't take their eyes off the flames and smoke. They lasted for so long. Nobody could tear themselves away, despite the -30 windchill. Despite the choking smoke. Despite, most importantly, the fact that, once the fire was out, they'd never be back within those wood-paneled walls, waiting for draft beer that tasted like only unnameable kegs running eternally through uncleaned pipes, sitting at little wooden tables, in front of Leroy's little stage, waiting, once again, for another summer sunlit Sunday to pass unnoticed while we listened, and sat, and hoped for just one more dance with that one girl before the band played the same last song they played every Sunday at 6:55pm.
And it really feels ugly that I can't remember what that song was.
It's a loss like this that makes me realize that, despite my poverty, and despite my lack of ability to get anything in motion here, it's this community that took me in and welcomed me, far more than the ugly university area where I began my experience in Oceantown. Here is where I live. Here's where I call home. And the North End Pub; well, it was like our living room. Or our grandma's house. And grandma's gone.
Swill beer will never taste the same.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn, Neal, why aren't you writing a book? You're an amazingly descriptive writer. I've never been to Oceantown, nor have I ever seen the North End Pub, but reading your post actually made me sad! (Well, that and the intrinsic wrongness one feels at the loss of any decent watering hole). I haven't been this moved since I read your undergraduate honors thesis, "A Child's Eye View of Gonads."


4:47 PM


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