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A Manly Agenda

August 10, 2008

It ended with Vanessa and I getting hosed down in the yard before my mother would allow us indoors. It began on the rooftop of our friends’ Main Street apartment, under the influence of beer, testosterone, and extreme July heat. It was a plan hatched by lunatics. No matter. Whatever the catalyst, whatever the means, in the end we were both Real Men.

The apartment roof was a precarious hill: its slope angled up toward Main Street; a roll down it would deposit you in the parking lot of police headquarters. That roof saw a lot of action as every punk-rock hippie skater-freak in town hoisted themselves out the kitchen window to lounge beneath the stars. Every Friday, Jason S. (all the Jasons—at one time, there were as many as seven—went by initials) would wriggle through the tiny window, staggering from as many beers as there were Jasons. It was a point of pride that his stumbling never ended with a fall. He would pitch and sway, arms and legs splayed, yelling that he was “still standing! whoo-hoo!”

The already-dicey roof boasted an amplified minefield of hazards after dark: mushy pits into which you might plunge leg-first, weird humps over which you might fly head-first. The greatest obstacle was the narrow tin chimney jutting from its center, anchored by wire in four places. Only memory and caution—both in short supply—would prevent a headlong pitch over the wires, which were at best shimmying blurs against the dark.

In fact, the summer’s greatest adventure was inspired by the little chimney’s remains, the night it finally came down. A round of square-dancing had just begun. Dodging and weaving through the wires, our dance took on the orderly chaos of a May Pole whirl, to the tune of the Dead Milkmen’s “Punk Rock Girl”. That night, Jason S.’s singing had special flare. Reaching the line where “she began to squeal”, he snared a wire between his legs, soundly sacking himself. Squeal he did as he wrenched the chimney from its roots and flailed to a finish, “still standing—whoo-hoo!”

As the soot settled, every boy on the rooftop descended upon the problem like a swarm of handyman locusts. The four wires were still tethered to the roof, with the chimney crumpled flaccidly at their point of convergence. From our perch, Vanessa and I watched as the boys tried to solve an engineering problem like it was a piece of cake. With just the right tool—perhaps a ratchet thing or a really big drill—they could certainly restore the chimney to an erect state! Man, if only there were some tools lyin’ around!

Up close to the chimney, everyone’s body language changed: speech punctuated with aggressive hand gestures, shoulders hunching, torsos thrusting. Next to the chimney, boys grew loud and swear-y, and tools were the reigning topic. Evidently this was a sooty shaft of masculinity and so, if Vanessa and I stood nearby, then we, too, would become Real Men. Right?

Not so fast, ladies. Why, the boys asked, did we want to be real men? Because, we replied. Why not?

Mistaking us for give-uppers, the boys rattled off a list of Real Men membership criteria, determined to put us off. Were we card-carrying members at Adults Only? Had we broken a wild horse? Stolen from a construction site to build a skate ramp? Slept outdoors two nights straight without brushing our hair or changing our underpants? And the ultimate trial: could we each put away a two-four of beer in one sitting? Each? Confident that Manland was immune to our cooties for another day, the boys stood smugly, arms akimbo.

“Pshaw! That’s it? That’s all we have to do?” we scoffed, no-flies-on-us girls till the end.

That night, snug in a tent in Vanessa’s backyard, we drew up a contract as the sun rose through the little mesh window. The penmanship stank, but it was a beautiful document. It smacked of as much common sense as guys debating tools on a rooftop would have, lending it a nice, gritty authenticity. Satisfied, we passed out, only to rocket awake an hour later when a neighbour gunned his lawn tractor and set about sheering his grass. Despite hangovers crushing us like a full-body tackle, we got up and got down to business.

Trading in our fancy costumes of the night before for gruffer attire (flannel, big boots, one-piece longjohns with an escape hatch at the bum) we headed for Toys R Us. My Little Ponies are pretty wild-looking, pink and purple with stars on their butts, and cut into pieces with scissors, they don’t work so well. Definitely broken horses. Done.

A swagger crept into our stride as we headed for the nearby porn shop. This stop was less fulfilling. Vanessa was only sixteen, and not only couldn’t get a rental card, but wasn’t allowed past the front door. We swore and hawked loogies at the window, confronting injustice like boys denied access to tits and lewd screwing. Counting spitting in public as the next best thing to a porn-shop membership, this was two tasks down.

In my opinion, the lumber heist reeked of ulterior motive. I mean, what better way to enlist help with petty crime, than to call in our participation on a peer-pressure dare? Nonetheless, we helped the boys haul 2 x 4s and plywood from a construction site, uphill through a field after dark. I justified our theft with politics only a teenager could muster: it was ok, because we were appropriating materials that would otherwise be used to build monster homes on once-arable land. Struggling beneath loads as heavy as the boys carried, we earned a third notch on our Belts of Manliness.

By this point it was August and our quest was spilling over into daily life. We cultivated uberguy personae, manhandling our privates and taking up as much space as possible with our slender shoulders. A performance this fine demanded a disgusting finale and we were set to deliver.

The remaining trials were incorporated into one sloppy ordeal over Labour Day weekend. We kicked off Friday night by scoring beer, meeting an of-age friend in a parking lot where we handed over linty coins and sweaty bills in exchange for two cases of Molson Canadian–a brand teetering low on the scale between piss and palatable. We drank rye from paper bags on the monkey bars in a park, then made our way to Sasha’s house. While his mother enjoyed a relaxing weekend at the cottage, he would host our shenanigans. Drunk and stupid and still only as far as Friday, Vanessa and I pitched our tent then fell asleep.

We awoke at sunrise to Bill and Alex rolling into our tent with the first of our beers. They tussled to generate heat, refusing to unzip the door and let us out till the bottles were empty, and making us just desperate enough to chug a Canadian before we’d taken a morning pee.

Saturday slunk by thick and humid. It must have been 35 degrees, and already staler than the muggy air were my underpants, which had to make it till Sunday. Of all the trials, this was most foul. Afraid that the temptation to cheat would be too much, we didn’t pack clean ones. This, I felt, deserved a bonus score, going against my staunch training that if you’ve got fewer than two clean pairs for each day of travel, you are unprepared. My lacy gitch failed to meet the demands of a Real Man, and I quickly decided the only solution was to man up completely and go commando.

Panties aside (literally), our apparel was a combination of function and foolishness: cruddy jean shorts, work socks, undershirts, plaid shirts, big boots with complicated laces. There is no trouble like shoeless-in-a-field trouble, and we men were having none of that. Once the boots were fastened, they, like our underwear, were on till Sunday.

Mid-afternoon, the rest of the rooftop crew arrived bearing sleeping bags, a keg, and an array of meaty delights for the barbecue. By this, I mean hotdogs. By nightfall, Vanessa had been lost twice—once in a ditch during a convenience store run, and then beneath the slide at the playground, where she had buried herself in gravel before attempting to remove her well-tied boots.

Around three a.m., I had drunk myself sober, and declared I knew exactly what I was doing, I was totally in control, man, see? In fact, probably I could walk a balance beam right now, if only one were nearby. Mercifully, there was not, although soon after, we coaxed Vanessa down from a swing-set, where she was straddling the top bar, determined to stand.

Piled carelessly in lawn chairs, we poked each other’s shins, cataloguing livid bruises and scrapes that had appeared up and down us, like magic. Five a.m. saw the boys lumbering into their tents. Vanessa and I had each put back twenty-three of our twenty-four Molsons and after deciding to save the last bottles for breakfast, we, too, called it a night.

This time there was no wrestling at sunrise. Heaped in our tent, we took stock of torn clothes, smudges, filth, and sticks and things snared in our long, burred hair. “Someone” had played hairdresser and our waist-length locks were gathered here and there in lopsided ponytails. It seems we were also braided together on one side. I won’t say what all we found in our pockets.

We were, however, in superior shape next to the guys, who had withstood a less grueling weekend, never mind their fresh-underpants advantage. Dragging indoors to the refrigerator, we pulled out our last tall, cool ones, uncapped, clinked bottlenecks. We were through, and so was our summer, all but one day. Vanessa was off to grade twelve; I moved away a few weeks later.

Once my mother hosed us down, we looked about the same as we had in June, not counting the fucked-up hair, but the bruised knees and knotted bootlaces belied our girlish exteriors. We were Real Men and if anyone was lookin’ to fight about it, we were ready, no-flies-on-us girls till the end.

One Comment leave one →
  1. looka permalink
    October 27, 2008 10:38 am

    I still need to read this story! I wanna take my time with it – punk rock always makes me melancholic in a nice way…

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