Road Stories: Home Away from Home, Highlight Reel

photo by Ilijc Albanese
photo by Ilijc Albanese

Spent the month of June in Ontario. Had me a weekly gig — a “residency” they call it, though no accoms were provided so I flattened the cushion of hospitality with all the friends I could.

I tried to spread myself around to share the burden of me.

We had the 8-10pm spot at The Cameron House every Tuesday. I think I would choose the 6-8pm spot next time. Having to switch over between two bands and do your own sound is kind of stressful. If you played at 6 you could take your time setting up and maybe aim for better sound than just “on.”

Vancouver country legend Rusty Ford joined our tour for a couple of weeks. I played three sets at a barn dance in Prince Edward County and kept the fire burning out back by the band trailer the whole time, while simultaneously stoking the crowd. Had to use all my super powers.

At a second barn dance two weeks later, I hit my head on a board they had nailed over the entrance and bawled uncontrollably in front of the opening act. I am an ugly crier so they just looked away until I was done.

Saw double rainbows over Dennis’ folks’ resort upon arrival, and after a couple of days of family dinners, reverted back to teenage-hood with the advent of parents.

Okay. I have to dye my hair and pack the van and go pick up Joel. Give me a second. Oh yeah, and pay the rent. Shit.

And we’re back.

Stuffed the van with camping gear, badminton equipment, musical instruments, and Joel and made the 1pm boat. I’m at the tables near the gift store. The air conditioning is punishing and while the cone-lickers look for whales, a baby wails rhythmically over the electronic gurgling of the video game zone. A hippie thinks someone has stolen his cell phone.

Played Hamilton and had a good time, actually. I stayed away for seven years until the treatment improved. It turns out I have way more bargaining power in places I don’t actually want to go to. People always say to do what you love and the money will follow, but in my case, as with most things, it’s the opposite.

We were totally over-hosted by my friend and nightclub owner Bernard in Waterloo, and over hosted again the next night in Guelph by Miss Tarah, where Joel happened upon a lesbian orgy on his way to the can. “It was a sea of vaginas!” he reported the next morning grinning from ear to ear.

En route to Elora, we had to drop Rusty Ford off at the Fergus Hospital Emerg, as he had grown a fist-sized boil on his back. While the doctor sliced into Rusty, we went into town; the boys went fishing and the girls went shopping.

When I went to pick up Rusty they had me go back into the bowels of the hospital to go get him. Through the holes in the paper curtains I saw sick people. Sick old people, sick kids with their parents. None of it looked fun. Found Rusty and saw a massive pile of blood-soaked gauze on the counter and felt a little queasy. “Let’s get the fuck out of here!” I said.

Rusty told me the doc said, “Where there’s pus there must be steel.”

Back to  pre-show outdoor dinner at Kylie and Tim’s before we rocked the basement of the Legion. There was a cover band upstairs that had the hugest drum kit with all the pieces. Our drummer Pat Phillips plays the tiniest kit with brushes because he knows. 
He sings, too.

He just gets it.

I went to bed after the show with some mint tea from the garden, a book (and the most bed-hogginest Rottweiler you ever did see!) I was half-dead and approaching organ failure. The others went to a solstice party with our hosts.

But If anyone asks, I raged all night!

The next day, I took Rusty back to the hospital to have his dressing changed and then Joel, Dennis, Pat, and I went swimming in the quarry — $6 to get in, huge stone walls, turquoise water.

Collected Rusty and then drove to Dunedin, which is near Creemore. Beautiful green country with dirt roads and a little hall by the side of the road. Our opening act was the legendary B.A. Johnston. It was one of the best sets I’ve ever seen. He had pyro, he serenaded ladies table-to-table like a demented white trash lounge singer, he did the worm, he drank people’s drinks. It was amazing.

We stayed at Jay and Juliette’s brick farm house. They have broken up apparently, but we couldn’t really tell.

Crawled back to Trawna the next day. Crashed with drummer Pat, his lovely wife Amy, and their boss Mr. Peabody (a long-haired Dachshund). Made some dinner and meant to only have a very little wine, but then, after we suddenly found ourselves calling dial-a-bottle for 2 more gooners, Amy (who is doing her PhD in pharmachemistry) put on a ballet and puppet show in which a lab rat lip-sync serenaded me to Harry Nilsson’s “I Can’t Live.”

Monday/Tuesday we moved over to former drummer Garth’s house. We played gossip badminton in the backyard and he made us barbecued chicken. I bought a cool little keyboard in Guelph from Dis-a-Ray and we fooled around with it after dinner. Sat on the front porch in the thunderstorm. Keeping our tops dry but holding our bare feet out in the rain. Ontario thunder storms are exciting!

At the weekly gig where the fabulous David Newberry was our musical guest, the young bartender told me that our band drank too much and that the bar was losing money on us.

Played the Garnet in Peterborough and stayed at Washboard Hank’s house. He made us spaghetti.

Arose early the next day to catch the ferry to Wolfe Island. The big boat is being repaired so they were using a smaller boat which doesn’t fit as many cars so it’s always backed up. Got there as instructed by Luther Wright at 1:30 to catch the 3 but ended up getting on the 2. Pat said someone had shit all over the toilet seat in the men’s room at the terminal building.

It was too early to start drinking at the bar so we went to my friend Virgie’s farm house. She was away and had mentioned in a text that she hadn’t been there in a while and was unsure about the state of the place. As we pulled the rental van onto the grass, the mosquitoes activated. It was raining slightly. A huge cloud of mosquitoes.  Like, so many we all screamed — even Pat and Dennis.

I ran into the house. There were several birds’ nests on the porch, one over the door even and the mothers dive-bombed me screaming because there were babies in them. I shut the door behind me, panting like someone in a horror movie.

Virgie’s house has always had spiders. This is the place where years ago Tolan woke up so swollen from spider bites that he looked like one of those rubber faces you press and the eyes pop out. But NOW they really seem to have taken over.

I made the bed upstairs and saw some sheets on a couch downstairs that I made the mistake of shaking. Musty. I sat at the kitchen table and saw our thank-you postcard from the last time we stayed on the floor. I played badminton on the road with Dennis (who is a saint, btw) and screamed when a big snake slithered into the grass. It was like a garter snake but 3 times as fat. I love love love Virgie’s house and I never want to be a pussy but I was thinking that it might have deteriorated a little past being habitable. Pat said later that it was a baby abandoned farm house. Like it was just starting to get abandoned. I’ve seen them fully abandoned in fields but I’ve never been present at the start of the abandonment. Huh. So that’s how it happens. Gradually.

Dennis saw me putting my suitcase back in the van and said, “Are you bringing that in case we don’t have to stay here?”

Found Luther at the house Chris Brown got for $10,000 near the bar and texted Jenny Whiteley to meet us there for a pre-show powwow. She brought me a polka-dot dress and everything. The boys went to set up the gear and let us not do that and hang out on the porch. I noticed 9 or 10 cats lurking around the yard and the deck. The bathroom’s still not finished but it seemed slightly more inhabitable than Virgie’s.

Went to the venue, drank all the wine, ate all the mussels. Luther had his whole band with him and ruled. Sean Kelly wore a dead man’s pants. Jenny and I traded harmonies. Burke Carrol on steel and all! Drank porch wine back at Brown’s after the show. Burke and Pat are both allergic to cats so I gave them my last 2 Reactines.

I think Pat ended up sleeping in the van.

When I woke up I heard a familiar voice out the window. Sarah MacDermott! I emerged from the bushes to say hello and ask her where the best place to get coffee was. “My house!” she said, “I do a café au lait. Meet you over there!”

We sat drinking our coffees on benches overlooking the water. Sarah told us 3 different stories about mud snakes. They swim in Lake Ontario. She said one chased her dog and then raised its head up out of the water to see what was in the canoe. Spooky action (hopefully) at a distance!

Played badminton in the ferry line-up instead of swimming for obvious reasons.


Words by Carolyn Mark

Photo by Ilijc Albanese

Published in analogue magazine’s August-September issue.