The Price of a Free Meal
“You have to hook us up next time,” the three of us – Sam, Jordan and myself – begged Jim. We were sitting on the bottom bunk in a cramped six-bed dorm sipping cheap cider, discussing Jim’s most recent exploit. Jim was a notorious hustler. Whether it was petty theft, younger women or just an argument over who owes who what, he was consistent, tenacious and unrelenting, but this time he had truly scored.
“Well boys, good things happen to good people,” he said while taking a slow sip of his cider.
The day before, Jim had been sitting on his skateboard and smoking a pouch ciggie in front of our notoriously crappy hostel-cum-bar in downtown Vancouver when a black Mercedes pulled into the empty space in front of him. A young man, with slicked hair and a suit got out and walked to the parking ticket machine, knocking over a bicycle in the process. Jim laughed with the man driving the car and struck up conversation.
Slick Man was the nephew of the older man in the Mercedes, and it was the nephew’s birthday, so Jim was invited to dinner with the family and friends. Naturally, he accepted. That night he ate pork chops, which he described in mouth-watering detail, drank beers, did tequila shots, went to a Red Bull party, skipped queues, drank more and hit clubs, all of which was totally free: the meal, the drinks, the shots, and entry, paid for by the uncle, who owned every place they went to that night. And somehow Jim had controlled his excitement enough throughout the night to be invited back.
We wanted in. The cheap ciders we were drinking turned sugary under the cloud of free tequila shots. Nights out skipping meals to buy jugs of beer, or sticking to dank bars to avoid entry fees for the good places, seemed impoverished and unfulfilled compared to what Jim had experienced.
Those who travel for the luxury, who pay the extra money to fly at reasonable hours, or refuse to stay somewhere because the hot water only sometimes works, who eat where their appetite directs them, regardless of cost, and don’t systematically pre-drink before nights out, or sneak booze into clubs, won’t understand what Jim had found. But we all knew. He had found a legitimized, wealthy, alcohol-friendly benefactor. A Sugar Daddy. In hobo currency, he had struck gold. So Jim hooked us up.
The first night we met Blaine was at his penthouse apartment in the tallest building in Vancouver. We met him downstairs and helped him carry five cartons of beers into the elevator. As the four of us and Blaine stood close, climbing up the floors in the small metal box, swapping body warmth and smiles, I got a chance to ask him how rich he was. He had the lightest blue eyes I had ever seen. His bright blonde hair and his dark-brown wrinkled tan were incongruent with the minus-20-degree temperatures of Canadian winter, and made his teeth seem whiter. But fuck he was rich. He owned basically every bar on main street and property in all the wealthiest neighbourhoods where it was good to own property.
Inside his penthouse, with high glass walls, expensive statues, even a legitimate WWE wrestling belt, people were already partying. Well not exactly just people, fucking beefcake dudes, who, after little conversation, told us they played for the British Columbia football team – the BC Lions. The connection between the old rich dude and the Lions didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but I just wrote it off as rich people hanging with other rich people.
We sat around a table and cracked as many beers as we could. Blaine pointed to the food on the table — cake, deep-fried things and penis-shaped lollipops — and said we could eat whatever we wanted. He put extra emphasis on the lollipops, and not wanting to contravene our host, we indulged. Plus – we were scum, and took anything free we could get.
It’s weird now to recall us four boys sitting around the table sucking penis candy, surrounded by the laughter of the professional football players and Blaine, who stood while we sat. The laughter seems more one-sided in hindsight, his intent on the lollipops sinister, but at the time we were oblivious, blinded by the glare of wealth we had yet experienced.
After more beers and shots and conversation we headed out to the street, blurry, wobbly and excited. A five-minute walk connected the penthouse to his bar, the biggest in Vancouver – The Roxy. We skipped the line; the bouncers smiled. Inside the warm, packed club, lay a neat line of 30 Jäger bombs. And while the other customers stood four-deep waiting to buy overpriced beer, we smashed as many free Jägers as we could, and felt like kings.
The party gods and Blaine, who had taken to playing with my belt while we talked, smiled kindly at us that night. I got coke from a dude that was even more smashed than I was, and when he handed me the gram and said, “You’ve paid for this already, haven’t you?” I replied, “Umm…yes,” took it back to the boys and we railed it all in three lines. It should have been four, but Sam had disappeared.
Sam was prone to smoke bombing on nights out, and I had wasted enough drunken hours desperately searching, only to find him passed out in a cubicle, under a table, or on his bed fully-clothed, to not worry and know how to spend my drunk better.
Suddenly, a huge fight broke out in the Roxy. Chairs and tables were thrown while we waited at the bar with shaking coke hands and rattling feet for Blaine to hook us up with another free drink. But he was gone. So we left and forgot about Sam and Blaine and the football players and charged around Vancouver, partying our little faces off.
It wasn’t until I got back to the hostel at 4am and the bunk below mine was still empty that I became worried. Too drunk, coked-up and self-indulgent to really care, I climbed the rickety ladder to bed and left the matter for the morning.
When I opened my blurry eyes at 8am, sick, dizzy and rank, and looked down to find his bed untouched, I felt more confused than anything.
Sam burst through the door at 9am, his skinny jeans covered in mud and his shirt slightly torn.
“Dude,” he said, and sat down on the bed next to me. “That was hectic.” He took off his boots and socks, which were also covered in mud, and shirt.
“I woke up in the middle of Stanley Park, covered in mud, at like 6, and had to walk all the way back”.
“Fuck, did you get robbed?”
“Nah, I still have my phone and wallet. So weird.”
We calculated the distance from downtown Vancouver, where we had last seen him, to Stanley Park: a two- to three-hour walk. Despite his penchant for drunken mystery, it seemed like an unlikely detour. Plus, the distance meant that he was probably driven there.
“I don’t remember anything,” he said.
“You know Stanley Park is where gay dudes go to bang?” I said, remembering someone telling me about Vancouver’s beat the night before. “Did you get raped dude?”
“Nah, I don’t think so,” said Sam. “My butt doesn’t hurt.”
We laughed and went back to sleep.
The next week we were back in abject poverty. Poor and jobless, we walked between grocery stores handing out under-qualified resumes, or ate greasy $1/slice pizza for every meal, our only joy was conjuring up possible reasons why Sam had woken up in Stanley Park with amnesia. Which got old pretty quick.
So when, on Saturday night, Blaine invited us out to an Irish Beer Festival he was running, we happily obliged.
Cover by Patrick Tomasso