Port Arthur, Thunder Bay, Ontario. Late October, 1987.
2nd Month, First Semester/First Year Forestry Technology.
When I studied Forestry Technology, at Lakehead University, in Thunder Bay, I made a few friends. Mosty of our class was friendly with one another, there were only a handful of classmates that were quiet and kept to themselves.
Our initiation into the program, was just like a 'basic training' obstacle course. You know the muddy course, where they put you through your paces? Under barbwire fencing, down the freezing cold creek, up to your thighs in water? Meanwhile, the 3rd year senior students, hurl insults at you and assign demeaning 'nicknames'. Not only does this immediately exclude weaker kids, but it creates bonds of instant friendship between some of the others, the rest are the like minded people in the junior class. For instance, you'll generally find the streetsmart rebel types (yes including me), tend to group together, create a band of people that aren't afraid to push back, or get a bit mouthy with the 3rd year students. We swore, curt and surly with authority figures and most commonly smoked cigarettes and drank beer after class (sometimes before) and especially weekends. These were the 'tough kids', or so we think...cuz half of them will be at home with their Mom and Daddy by next weekend. Quitting, with the oft used, standardized, rebellious complaint, that "IT..." was "...just a bunch of bullshit." A lot of the goody goodies who survived 'Basic training', or hazing, hung on and stayed in the program.
Like I said, the initiation, however harsh it felt to a lot of us 18 and 19 year olds, would actually weed out the weaklings and create tight bonds with the remainder of students. Who, after clearing the two and a half hour intiation into Forestry technology, ended up getting their own back on the seniors that coordinated It all. We laughed, swore and smoked and had a whole lotta fun tracking mud all through 'Residence', or smearing clay from the creek and woody debris from the obstacle course on the walls of the stairwells. We did this gleefully, knowing it was some of the senior students who were responsible for cleaning residence during the school year...
For the fall and winter of '86/'87 up in Thunder Bay, my two closest friends couldn't be any more different from each other. Peter Langes, was a big tall guy with a handlebar moustache but easy, genuine and toothy smile. Biker type dude, with the red and black lumberjacket and big clumpy motorcycle boots. Friendly, but strict and no punches pulled. Favorite saying? "Hey. Don't be stupid." My other buddy, Shawn Beaumannis, saw himself as a cool, 'Don Johnson' type. His favorite thing to do, besides smoke American cigarettes at a Canadian University, was to run his left hand through his hair. As if everytime he did, it made his hair perfect. His favorite saying? "What." With a shit eating grin. God, I can picture him now and all I see is, him with a Winston cigarette smouldering away between his fingers and him running his left hand through his damn hair. Everytime he'd drop me off late at night (read: Early morning), he'd squeal the tires of his brown pickup truck on the street just out front of my Pop's house, where I was staying, while I went to school there. Every morning the day after, my Pop's wife, Carol Ann, would ask me,
"Was that Shawn, squealing his tires last night?"
And everytime, I'd have to answer,
She would either shake her head, or roll her eyes. Sometimes she'd do both and say,
"Wow. He's so cool eh?"
"Yeah, I know."
Even when I told him not to do it anymore...he would squeal his tires, each and every time. That's how cool Shawn Beaumannis was.
That fall of '86, we had a few unseasonably warm days in late October. We'd just resigned to the fact that our northern Winter was pushing it's way in and any hazy summer memories of home and our far away friends, were about to be gobbled up by loads of Snow, loads of Schoolwork and subzero temperatures that most of us had never even imagined. Then the Sun seemed to look back over it's shoulder at us as if to say, "Oh. You guys are still here? Alright, I'll give you a few more warm days, but then I'm Effin' off for good." They were Sunny and bright alright. Summery, bringing new friends together, all the while, we were badly missing our old ones that we'd left behind. Them and the still fresh memories of summer, from back home.
So the one Saturday saw Peter, Shawn and I playing frisbee on the roof of the four storey apartment building that Peter lived in, with his young native wife and two babies. Of course Shawn had brought a case of beer in the back of his pickup. It's not that Peter, or I objected to the idea of a couple of beers on what'd probably be our last warm Saturday in months, but maybe just a six pack, or a twelve would've been enough to do the trick. Shawn had brought a case of beer and of course it had to be 'The King of Beers', Budweiser. For playing a little Frisbee on buddy's apartment roof... Anyway...
Now clearly, the idea is to NOT let the frisbee go off the roof, otherwise, somebody's running down the fire escape and back up, to fetch it. You don't have to be a Wizard at frisbee to prevent it from sailing off the roof every other throw, but Shawn had other priorities. Smoking Winstons and running his hand through his hair were the top two, frisbee I don't think, even ranked third or fourth place. His throws were sloppy and halfassed, the frisbee biting the dust five meters away from your feet, or rolling across the roof on it's edge. Peter and I would sigh and be like, "Oh come on Shawn! Gimme a break." And he would say something like, "What?! I don't know...I don't 'play'...'frisbee'..." as if the idea was so fucking foreign to him and he'd be much more at home, either surfing in Miami, or smoking the tires of his Ferrari all along the sunset strip. What the hell was he taking forestry for? We'd wonder this every now and then.. And look at each other, shrug, was the only explanation available for that one...
After a couple of beers, the game started to become a bit more serious. Each of has had made a trip down four stories on the fire escape to the street below to collect the frisbee at least once. The effort to keep it on the roof was much greater than when we'd first started and the challenge was being well met. Shawn however, had proved to be so useless, to as not even being included in the throws anymore. Every now and then, we'd toss one Shawn's way, just to see if he was up for it. Usually though, he was more concerned with lighting a cigarette, or checking his hair to bother attempting to catch a carefully passed, floating throw. So Peter and I are throwing the disc back and forth easily, a beer in our hands. When all of a sudden, I toss one to Shawn and he defiantly states, "Nope. Not getting it." My mouth drops open, like "Huh?" Peter chuckles and dashes across the roof to snatch it outta the air, before it goes sailing off the roof and he does. He grabs it. Just before it floats out of reach, but his one foot is on the top edge of aluminum, where the siding starts and the tarred surface of the roof ends. He's balanced on his left foot in perfect equalibrium. A half full bottle of beer in his one hand and the frisbee clutched in his right, arms outstretched and wavering. I'm afraid of him falling off and down, fifty feet to the concrete sidewalk, where he'd likely die, head split wide open... Shit! And I'm too far away to be any good to him. Shawn's not though, he's about six feet from Peter. Peter is wobbling back and forth, still on his one foot, trying to keep his balance. And I'm like yelling to Shawn, "Grab him Shawn! ... Shawn! Grab him!" But Shawn is frozen. Standing stock still with his cigarette and beer, just staring at Peter as he fight's for his life. Peter is keeping his balance, but not for long...I see Peter's eyes swivel towards Shawn, pleading, "Are you? Can you? Save me?" But Shawn stands there doing nothing...all he has to do is take one step and he can even grab dude's shirt to keep him from going off...but he doesn't. Peter's looking down at the ledge as he wobbles, my brain is already racing through the scenario. I'm about to run for the fire escape so I can get to Peter's broken body first...I see myself explaining to his young wife that, "Yeah we were 'Stupid', but..." I'm also hoping he's going to survive the impact on the pavement below. When through some miracle of physics, or even a shift in his center of gravity, Peter stumbles back onto the roof breathing hard, panting.
. "Holy shit!" I exclaim. "Peter! You almost... Shawn! How come you didn't grab him!?" I'm not angry...yet...just confused. "You should've grabbed him, what if...?" Shawn just stands there, he doesn't grab Peter in a hug, or doesn't say anything like, 'Shit I'm sorry.' No, he takes a drag of his smoke, runs his hand through his hair and says petulantly, "I don't know. I just froze."My mouth opened and closed a few times, I laugh and say, "Yeah I saw that part." I'm baffled, how could you not take action when you're SO close? I probably would have even seen it coming from that angle and blocked Peter, just so we could let the frisbee go harmlessly off the roof. Peter is now staring at him, speechless... I can tell it's enough though and we both know it's getting to Shawn, cuz he's starting to pout. This is about the same time when he announces, "Fuck. I'm outta here." He'll climb into his pickup truck, squawk his tires and we'll see him Monday in class. I look at Peter, shaking my head like, "Holy crap dude, YOU almost fell!" and he's still casting glances at Beaumannis, who's just staring at the tarred roof and puffing on his precious American cigarettes. We know he'll take his Budweiser with him, but we don't care. The fun's over and it just got Very serious, Very quickly. All it takes is just a few seconds to pull your head outta yer ass to save someone's life, or a few seconds to keep on thinking how unimportant everyone else is in comparison to you...You and the image of yourself...
Yikes! His balance at the roof's edge was so tentative, it's my belief a simple gust of wind was enough to shift Peter's center of gravity more to roofside, than streetside...And where the gust came from? Obviously from above, the air my friend. The wind is air, and it's from above. Something else it seemed, other than just me, had considered his young family under our feet, in the apartment below and how it might affect them. How would it impact their future, if Peter's body had fallen past their window, while they looked out upon the lovely, sunny afternoon, in late October? A simple shift in the northern breeze. The smallest effort, but Shawn Beaumannis, who was actually within reach, had not done a damned thing for him. That was around the same time I started getting angry with Shawn. Angry, but also grateful that I didn't have to voice it yet. As he fires up his pickup tuck and peels out, driving off into the sunset, Peter and I breath a little easier. Before I go home, we collect the empties and head inside. It was time for him to have supper with his family anyway. I look skyward and thank our lucky stars that he was able to.
About the Creator
Raised in Ancaster, Ont. I write about what I know and survived. Apart from tales of my youth, I am writing a horror story for the Fiction-Horror section of the library. Met an old homeless guy He told me, "Everyone has their own story."