The Buckskin Blonde is Into Blood Part I I'm old enough to think of them as 'girls' females, that is, ten
or more years younger than I. In this case, I'll resist the lapse into
fatherly incorrectness, and say that a woman in her early twenties
stopped, for no obvious reason, in front of a table occupied by Carl and
me. It was a solid round table I'm tempted to say "oak" for the sake
of the allusion but it was pressure- treated cedar, which means (I think)
cedar soaked in a greenish chemical preservative, then dried and hardened
in massive pressure cookers. Our rot-resistant table could have seated
another three or four, but we'd long ago granted our extra chairs to polite,
youthful emissaries from the herds nearby.
The Lakeside Hotel's patio was about 15 steps wide, 20 steps deep and
25 feet above lake-level, like a royal courtyard commanding the lower reaches
of Port Dalhousie from foreground to background, a small hillside parking
rectangle, a much larger parking lot, a grassy park barely visible behind
the glare of electric lamps, and finally the unseen but implicit lake,
its existence signalled by the faint smell of rotting seaweed and the pulsing
beacon of a lighthouse, round bursts of white light dwindling to little
points of red.
Am I allowed to say that she took a provocative stance? What the hell....
When I looked up at her, she met my eyes and smiled, a thin cool smile
on a hot and thirsty August night. I dropped my gaze to her white, buckskin
jacket, her breasts thrusting against cream-white Levi's cotton, her bluejeans
tight around voluptuous thighs, her white cowboy boots etched with floral
With no small difficulty, I returned my gaze towards Carl's doughy,
bespectacled, non- practicing-Catholic's face, and resumed our discussion.
We were talking about existentialist or Nietzschean denials of Christianity,
and about the arrogance of using words like love, justice
and courage when they were asserted as nothing more than individual
'values'. The woman turned away from us with a shudder of leather tassels,
like a Riding Mistress choosing not to saddle the lard-ass mares, and struck
a pose in front of another table.
"Time out for a second," said Carl. "Did you see, I mean, did you
see that woman?"
"Did I see that woman? Did I?"
"Well?" boyish giggle "Whadja think?"
"There is danger afoot, my friend. However, I'm married; I'm restricted
to commodifying women in my head. You, on the other hand, may pursue your
inclinations as you wish." Carl ordered another round.
Ten minutes later, she was there again, looking hard and very sure,
but then shading into lost, lonely and inviting. "The kind of woman who'd
cut your balls off," said Carl, sotto voce.
"Indeed," I said, "but imagine..." I cleared my throat "imagine
how good IT might be before such an eventuality came to a head."
Carl had a range of laughs, from diminutive giggle to hearty guffaw to
a crescendo of delighted, husky, tenor "haws". My strained puns were rewarded
by something between the giggle and the guffaw, but even this was worth
the pain of buying most of the beer.
I feel sorry for Carl. I'm almost positive that he's still a virgin.
Women like his conversation, but he rarely, if ever, makes it past the
proverbial first base, usually because he rarely, if ever, presses either
his need or his advantage. As a loud friend told him three or four times
one night at The Lion's, "Ya gotta start swingin' at them pitches, Carlo
Our conversation had begun, in actual fact, on the subject of sex.
Carl had scored, sort of, about a month earlier. Several beautiful women
had hung out with him during a party for Niagara Artist Centre types and
a pack of philosophy majors. Carl listens well. Women like that they
like it enough sometimes to forget about a fat ass and swelling, spreading
Later in the evening, Carl took up battle aginst the philosophy students'
happily drunken arguments about the meaninglessness of existence and the
death of God. He was saying, "How can you say you love your girlfriends?
How can you mean anything by the word LOVE when you grant no ontological
ground for asserting its value over against another person's valuation
of hate, or indifference? You need to say that a God exists, or something
like a God, perhaps a fundamental condition from which concepts such as
love and justice derive their ultimate, triumphant
meaning." The majors lost ground Carl had the attention of their women,
he was drinking them six feet under the table, and he seemed to
But the end result was always the same. The hot bods went home with
the hot bods, and the young rivals read their books quickly and got essays
in on time, and the great referees of the universe ultimately put the GAP-dressed
young cynics into the winner's circle. Carl long ago had to drop out. It
took him a month to read a book. He couldn't get essays done on time. He
had a pathological fear of examinations.
We heard a loud crack, like a thick twig snapping, and a short, skinny
kid I mean, 'young man' sprawled to the ground about seven feet away
from us along the patio wall. "Did you see that?" Carl asked.
"The guy passing out?"
"No, no the punch. Some guy standing right there beside him just
hauled off and suckered him."
"What were they arguing, or what?"
"I don't know. The little guy was talking up that blonde, eh? The other
guy, I don't know, he just kind of showed up, and KAPOW!"
"Where's the other guy? Point him out."
"He's gone. No, wait that's him, hopping the wall ... over there."
I didn't want to think I was in a Monty Python skit or something, quaffing
my beer, chewing peanut cud and talking existential theology while people
around me were being dropped by round-house hooks and uppercuts from the
knees, bleeding without attention on the concrete. So I ran to one of the
bartenders inside the Lakeside, and he whistled up the bouncer.
We got to the young man just as he came to and started bellowing. He'd
fight anybody, all of us. "Hey! Ur you the sonofabitch? I'll clean yer
fucking clock, pal!" The bouncer talked him down, and our ten minutes of
communal excitement shaded back into the business of the evening: alcoholic
oblivion or Dionysian revelry for some, seduction or rejection for others,
and, for Carl and me, determining the boundaries of ultimate meaning and
I was telling Carl about a crow-feather at my feet after a prayer for
guidance, and Carl was telling me about the Sufis, his conversation tailing
like a comet into the impossibility of pure random-ness resulting in a
world as complex ... profound ... beautiful ... and as terrifying as this
one was. Then, crashing to earth, he said "Look. Look at that." He nodded
toward a blond/blonde couple necking passionately in the middle of the
big patio. A lot of people were staring at them. What was next? Heavy petting?
"What's the big deal Carl? You still into that weird chick when she
was making eyes at you?"
My friend sounded weary now, as if the combination of beer and sex-fantasy
and violence was altogether too much for him. "The guy," he said. "The
guy whose tongue she's sucking on. He's the one who suckered that little
guy." He took four deep-throat slugs from the second bottle he'd ordered
at last call: "That's gotta be his reward."
I didn't quite get it, so Carl added: "She set that little guy up for
the sucker punch.... You know, standing around like a hurricane lamp for
the gypsy moths."
I broke in with a gasp of appreciation, "Carl where do these, where
DO you get these similes from?"
Carl chuckled with pleasure, "Hey, sign me up for Creative Writing
at the back of the matchbook.... Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that
chick's boyfriend cuts into her dance with the little guy, you see, and
draws blood. When he gets back to the scene of the crime, the buckskin
blonde loves him up."
"Aha," I say. "The buckskin blonde is into blood." I swear I could
hear dramatic thunder the moment I said "blood", rumbling faintly above
the Toronto lights on the northern skyline.
The slim-hipped, swollen-lipped little warrior, meanwhile, was talking
a mile a minute at the table next to us, entwined with a woman just slightly
smaller than he was: "God almighty, I'll clean that fucking asshole's clock
the next time I lay eyes on him." She nodded a lot, drank the beer he bought
for her, and decided she'd go home with him, if he asked ... I believe.
Buckskin Blonde Part II I told this story to a bunch of the boys at the Lock Street Café
on a cool November evening, the leaves of the maple and chestnut trees
rusting into powder between sidewalk and curbside. Half the town called
this place Lonely Libby's, because you could often see balding Libero Fratangelo,
the owner, bartender and cook, watching TV all by his lonesome. Tonight
the TV was off. It was Sunday. The sports world was temporarily becalmed
not even a hockey game.
My brother-in-law Matthew Neufeld, an optometrist with a practice in
Niagara-on-the-Lake and a home three doors down from mine in the "Old Port",
ordered a round of Hennepin Draft. We liked the stuff, partly because we
wanted to like it. It was locally made, it wasn't Labatt's or Molson's,
and it wasn't made with the usual shit-load of chemical additives. Matt
himself never had more than a couple of drinks, except at wine tastings.
There, the spirit of wise stewardship to preserve in one's own mouth
and gut all those wonderful vintages usually won out against the taster's
imperative to gargle and spit.
Beside him, to my left, was Charles Boudreau. We called him Gus or
Gusto, from his middle name, Gustave. He liked that. A lot of other people,
especially his fellow high school teachers, insisted on calling him "Chuckie"
or "Charlie", which he hated from the moment he emigrated from the south
of France twenty years ago. Even worse was to be called "Goose", which
somehow caught on for about five years in the early 80's because of "Goose"
Gossage, ace fireballing relief pitcher for the New York Yankees in a sport
which Gus Boudreau didn't even try to care about.
To my right was David Tompkins, a school librarian with an attitude,
as the expression goes, and the only one in our group of five who I am
tempted to call, with an immigrant son's mock innocence, an echt
Canadian. Dave can trace his family tree back to the foundation of St.
Catharines, his ancestors having come to the area during the potato famine
in Ireland to get a living wage, which his great great great grandfather
found with the construction of the first Welland Canal. Unfortunately,
great great great Grandad fathered six babies in seven years, and then
his back gave out, and half a year later he'd drunk himself to death with
the last of his life's savings.
Libby Fratangelo was listening in, as usual. We were his only customers.
He liked it that way it was like a living room with your friends in it,
which is why he wanted to run a café in the first place. Libby took
a lot of flak. Customers believed it was their prophetic duty to show how
a good entrepeneur could pack the joint. Libby hated advice he
just wanted people to come in, have a few beers, eat a few mozzarella sticks,
tell a few stories or sick jokes, then go home happy.
Just now, at the moment of writing, I become aware of how Libby is
my kinsman. My readers and listeners are my customers. I am keenly aware
of my limitations, not as a story-teller, so much, but as a truth-teller.
This story, to my mind, is a true one, what we like to call 'literally
true'. But I'm shaping it; I'm changing the names, making alterations to
the cut of my characters, including my own, ordering some of the details
to echo a few big themes. I have to do some of this I don't want
I've even avoided the physical descriptions, but, what the hell I'll
make amends for that on the spot. Matt is exactly 6 feet tall, and is a
Rock Hudson look-alike. Libby, who is at least 10 years younger than all
of us forty-somethings, looks like Detective Whatisname on NYPD Blue, the
5 foot eight balding roly-poly played by Dennis Franz, but without the
mustache. Gus, about 5 foot 9, is a near dead-ringer for Julio Iglesias.
David Tompkins looks like Bruce Cockburn, with curly honey-blond hair atop
a well-muscled, 5 foot 10 frame, and with a belly suggestive of the no-
man's land between "Abs of Steel" and "onset of beer-gut."
Something else I am aware of how different my story is when I speak
it, as opposed to this writing. I've told the buckskin blonde story at
least twice already to Matt and Gusto, so I've been switching back and
forth between the faces of Libby and David Tompkins. But I've left out
the stylistic tricks, and most of the conversation I was having with Carl,
even though it contains, to me, the Big Ideas. After all, bumping
into deadly blondes at a bar is not so unusual. But having an idea
that puts the world into some semblance of order that is extraordinary,
isn't it? The intellectual stuff, though ... it's hard to get on that platter
and deliver it. As a friend once said, it gives lousy head....
Anyway, as I finished my story, Libby Fratangelo lifted his chin out
of his powerful, underused forearms and said, "No ... fucking ... shit!
She was rewarding that son of a bitch. I mean, she's the
son of a bitch when you really think about it." We were all laughing. Libby
could have made big bucks as a clacquer for comedians. You know, the guy
or woman who gets paid to laugh like a herd of hyenas, which gets an audience
I felt good my story had made the room explode with conversation.
It was like asking the right question, or speaking the right anecdote,
in the seminar-leading I do up the hill suddenly, a roomful of students
is ablaze with ideas.
Gus said he'd met a few women like my buckskin blonde. His smile, a
subtle mix of delight and slyness, implied that he was only too wise in
the varieties of womanhood.
Matthew said the only woman he knew like that was his ex, or soon-to-be
ex my wife's sister, in fact but he took it back immediately, aware
of the cruelty. "Seriously", he said, "Think of ALL the arguments you've
heard from feminists about men as the instigators of violence. Women
are always the victims, never the perpetrators."
Libby, appealing with his palms upturned, shouted out: "But we ARE
the perps, theperspitraitors, most of the time." Everyone was
laughing again, so Lib turned to me, "What'd I say? John, help me out here.
Your point is, like, this blonde is different, right? I mean, how
many women come on, be honest how many women really like to fight?"
Davey Tompkins now entered the fray, his first words immediately stopping
the laughing chatter of males bonding in a haze of alcohol and tobacco:
"Gentlemen listen to this.... I think I've met the very
same woman." Tompkins said it just right, with perfect timing. We got the little
shiver down our spines, then leaned toward this wild man of the library,
expecting another good tale.
"Platinum blonde, right?" Right.
"Down to her shoulders?" Yes it was.
"Bangs straight bangs across the middle of her forehead?" Yeah
I think so I'm not sure.
"Beautiful? Fairly big up top?" Oh, yes that's for sure.
"What did her boyfriend look like? About two inches taller than me?
Say, 5'11, 6 feet? Blond hair too, kind of like a cross between, mmm, mouse
"Dave, I'm impressed by the eye for detail. But, I must confess --
I can't remember very much about what he looked like."
"Well let me tell you -- I got a very good look at him.
This happens about a month after your story, and it happens at the Lakeside
again. This time, it's inside. I'm standing opposite that long bar they
put in a couple of years ago, near the door heading out to the patio. Got
the picture? I'm just hanging around Desirée was at that conference
in Ottawa I was telling you about and I'm just hanging around, looking
at these gorgeous strippers from the Welland House having some fun with
a couple of drunk American kids. This blonde mousie yuppie walks right
up to me and dumps a beer on my chest out of his big plastic cup. I'm telling
you: I was royally pissed off. I'd just washed and ironed
that shirt. My best going-out shirt, understand?
"So this guy starts bouncing up and down in front of me, saying, 'okay,
let's go. Come on asshole, let's go.' All I say is, 'I know what your game
is, my friend. It's not going to work.'
"He says, 'What the fuck you talking about?' And he has a fist half
ready to go from about waist level, not all the way up to his shoulder,
because he sees that I haven't even dropped my cup of beer.
"He says, 'Yer scared, arencha chickenshit?' And I say, 'listen, my
friend, I'll fight if I have to. But I'm warning you.' Meanwhile, a small
crowd's gathered round, and I'm feeling a bit of heat from all of these
... voyeurs. It's like the schoolyard, you know, when someone shouts
'fight' and then everyone's shouting 'Fight! Fight!' and no one knows why
the fight's happening but everyone wants to see some action,
to see blood.
"And this guy says again, bouncing up and down, 'Yer chicken, arencha
little asswipe?' I just say, 'If I fight you, my friend, I will kill
you'.... He says, 'bullll shee-it,' but he pauses a second before he says
it, and he doesn't throw the punch. Meanwhile, I'm leaning back against
the stucco pillar with a three-beer killer smile on my face and beer number
four in my hand. I say, 'I'm very.... Very serious.'
"There's a pause, and some woman in the crowd says, 'You guys gonna
fight or fuck each other?' My dancing partner looks over
to this voice with a look that's kind of angry and scared at the same time,
but I keep my eyes fixed on his face, and I say,
'I have a black belt. I'm insane.'
"He takes a step back. He's totally confused, sort of, but he's smart
enough to believe me. But that's not the end of it not at all. This platinum
blonde steps out of the crowd and starts yelling at me: 'What's your problem,
little man? You gay? Paul spills a beer all over your nice white poet shirt
and you wanna suck him, doncha little man?' Words to that effect, anyway.
Now it's my turn to stare her down, and I say with this same smile
that's on my face right now, I say, 'I don't want to fight your boyfriend,
little girl, because I would kill him.'
"You know, it's amazing what karate does for a guy. It even changes
your voice. I mean, I'm not that tall, and I wear these round John Lennon
specs, and people figure me for some kind of pacifist.
"This platinum blonde turns on the guy who spilled the beer on me,
and yells at him. It's not hard to hear what she's saying, because the
DJ is rounding up the bouncer instead of putting another song on. She's
saying, 'You're a loser, Paulie fucking loser.' "
Dave paused for a sip of his Hennepin, so I broke in to say, "Remind
me, gentlemen, never to offer David Tompkins an engagement in fisticuffs."
Libby and Gusto were laughing, and Matt Neufeld was saying "Unnnbelievable."
Dave wanted to get back to his original thought. "The point is, I think
John and I met the same woman and the same guy. This platinum blonde is
into blood. She wants guys to start fights, and she's sweet on them
if they do. Especially if they draw blood."
Matthew filled the room for about the fourth time with his big, deep,
conspiratorial laughter. "This is so unbelievably, politically incorrect,"
he said, "it couldn't possibly be told in a public venue. I mean, I'd be
crucified by the women I know if I tried, you know, to draw any conclusions
from this. About men and women, I mean."
Gustave said, "Oh for God's sake. All kinds of women like fights. They
start fights, they watch boxing on TV, they're half the audience for the
World Wrestling Federation, for thousands of years they've been mating
with the best warrior-protectors, etcetera etcetera." The old argument
was about to start, the one which took an hour of example and counter-example
to reach our usual, uneasy truce: women were obviously not violent in the
same quantity or degree. They were obviously much less likely to physically
kill or maim. In Dave's words, their forte in the violence mode was "emotional
Libby headed us off at the pass by asking, "Dave what's this about
being a librarian? I thought you were a teacher for Lincoln County."
"I am a teacher for Lincoln County. Librarian is a kind of teacher,
"Well, not really. I mean, librarians are supposed to be wimps, aren't
they? I mean, you have to admit...." Libby burst into raucous caws of laughter
"I mean, you're a black belt, but you're a fucking librarian, like Sister
Rosalita HAW! HA-HA! But then, you're a fucking black belt, and you don't
punch the shit out of this little asshole? HAW! HAH! I mean, what's goin'
Matt Neufeld cut in: "Libby think about it. Say it happens right
here, in your place, where your Dad's sunk all his money. Dave breaks this
guy's jaw. The guy sues Dave, and you. You waste years of your life
in court, and you lose all your money and your Dad's, because the other
guy's got a better lawyer."
"Lawyer!" shouted Dave. "You spoke the wrong word, Matthew. If that
little prick who threw the beer at me was a lawyer, he'd be a dead man."
We laughed at the contradiction. Dave insisted, "He'd be a dead man for
fucking sure, and I'd be in jail for a long time."
We settled back into another good story, a classic in the Divorce Court
genre. In this case, we have a heartless wife and a deadly female lawyer
that's an awesome combination worth any man's respect, even if
some of the details are, as a social scientist might say, beyond the limits
of probability. Dave's anger is still a bit on the hysterical side,
but the story is safely embedded, now, in the garden of fiction, and because
his nasty women are happily metaphorized into praying mantises, or killer
bitches, or castrating nymphos, each telling helps to diminish the rage.
Buckskin Blonde Part III Most of us had heard the story at least once. Seven years ago, Dave
and his wife Sharon had been worth 400 grand, based mainly on 20 years
of Dave's 'hard labour' for the Board of Education and clever investments
in mutual funds, including about 50,000 dollars' worth of spousal RRSP's.
They had two teenage kids. Sharon worked fulltime as a homemaker. Six years
ago, Dave suspected something, hired a detective, and found out Sharon
had taken not just one, but two lovers, including Dave's best friend.
For months, Tompkins tried to forget the 100% foolproof evidence. Sharon
had never said she was unhappy with him or with the marriage or with their
lifestyle. After several attempts at alcohol suicide, he sued for divorce.
She counter-sued, pleading emotional cruelty, and pointing to the alcholism
for proof. She got $200 grand in the final settlement plus $15,000 per
year for alimony and $10,000 for child support until their second daughter
turned 21. She did not have to split the spousal RRSP's the judge likened
them to an insurance policy, or to a dowry. Sharon also won full custody
of the kids, and Dave was forced to sell the ancestral Tompkins home on
Canal Street part of the family for seven generations to raise the
The other two big winners were, as always, the lawyers on both sides
both women. But this was the capper Sharon's lover, Dave's ex-best-friend,
is also a lawyer a crown attorney and he buys her all kinds of stuff,
including a brand-new BMW, and pays for long vacations with her and the
kids, but he maintains a separate residence. That means there's no chance
of a reduction in the support payments.
"This is getting complicated," said Libby. "You musta done something
to turn your wife against you."
"I'm telling you everything I know. I did nothing to harm her. I didn't
cheat on her, I didn't beat her, nothing."
"Okay, then you didn't turn her on. Something like that.... I mean,
no offense, Dave, but... know what I'm getting at?"
"Then she must have been an awfully good actress. I mean awfully good."
I suggested, "like that woman in When Harry Met Sally?" Libby
and Matt didn't know the movie, so we took a five minute timeout to hear
Gus tell it, including an awfully damn good impersonation of a woman faking
Libby said, "I wanna get back to your divorce. Like, I'm still totally
fucking confused, you know what I'm saying? I mean, what IS the POINT of
Gustave Boudreau cut in with a sharp laugh. When I try to describe
Gus's mannerisms, I want to trot out the old clichés, like, he had
"a knowing twinkle" or a "wry sparkle in his eyes". Keep these in mind,
and then add terms like "dry" and "droll"and "packed with irony." Let's
call it a 'postmodern twinkle'. He said, "Dave is trying to say, there's
a lot of killer bitches out there."
"Killer Bitches!" said Matt, laughing his big, crazy laugh. "Great
title for a B movie."
"I will agree with you," said Dave, "as long as we keep this in proportion.
I would say 1 in 20 women are, as you say, killer bitches. But, let's face
it, every one of us I'm talking about guys, now every one of US
has a killer inside. Just plain killer."
Another happy argument. Matt stays on for a third draft of Hennepin,
although he only drinks half of it before heading home. He doesn't really
want to leave, but he's got an overbooked appointment schedule to start
on first thing in the morning. Dave, looking at the half-full glass, said,
"In the old days, you know, in the days of pass-the-bottle brotherhood,
one of us would have said, 'Saints preserve us there's a free dollar's
worth of booze in that mug, and down the hatch!'"
Gus said, "Yeah, but now it's, 'sanitation preserve us', hein?" We
looked at the mug as if it were a deadly killer, right in the midst of
our pleasant colloquy, in the midst of a clean, well-lighted, small-town
Gus and I head over to the Emporium. We say we're going to look for
the buckskin blonde, and that we want to hear the band, but mostly we just
hate saying good night at the responsible, suburban time.
Dave says he's got a hard day at the library coming up. He means that
Desirée is between the covers, waiting up for him. She's what a
lot of guys would call a free spirit, but she would love to hitch her Camper
permanently to Dave's Jeep. He's totally gone on her, too, but he will
never, ever again put himself in a position to 'lose everything'. He calls
it, "covering yer assets."
Earlier, I called David Tompkins' story a classic out of the Divorce
Court genre. Years later, two other terms that come to mind are "castration
myth" and "Apocalytic Terror story", when a man's world comes slashing
down like a guillotine on his loved ones, or his livelihood, or his manhood.
When someone tells a 'good one', we shake our heads with an odd mixture
of shivering anger AND quivering pleasure. I mean, think of the way you
felt when you read the climactic scene from The World According to Garp,
or, if you're into Shakespeare, when you read MacBeth or King
Lear. The worse the details, the greater the aesthetic roundness.
We're like a bunch of farmers who say, "Yessir... I remember 1982 very
well. First we had that drought. Then we got the praying mantis plague,
and after that the tornado. And then, when the Insurance Company went belly
up, the Bank came after us. We lost every last penny." The men (or women)
in the circle all shake their heads with memories of the quivering anger
they once felt for the malevolent face of both humanity and nature. But
it's safely in the past, now, and there is something satisfying in the
contemplation. The worse the disaster in 1982, the bigger and better the
shivers in 1993.
Buckskin Blonde Part IV April 16, 1992, Kristen French is kidnapped. That same day, a Thursday,
I travel with my hockey buddies to an LCBO tournament in Sault Saint Marie.
The following day, at noon, a total stranger at the arena says to me, "You're
from St. Catharines, eh? Whadja think about Kristen French?"
That's how big it was, how big it is. Something in this case taps into
our most profound fears, the ones that crouch deeper than the shivers,
the quivers ... the ones that smash the smooth golden bowls which safely
preserve our life-stories.
When police found Kristen French in a Hamilton ditch, and when they
tied it to the murder of Leslie Mahaffy, huge numbers of Ontarians made
conscious and unconscious alterations to their world-views. Most of us
lost at least some faith in the goodness of our neighbours, and most of
us re-doubled our protectiveness towards our children, especially our daughters.
My 12 year old Emily had a flyer delivery route that she had to follow
every Wednesday. The boundaries of the route did not go beyond two blocks
from our house in any direction, but that implied no safety whatsoever.
There were a couple of low-rent apartment blocks on the route, and who
knows what kinds of scum lived in those places. Perverts, rapists, killers
they were in the shadows of our own backyard.
Kristen French is a date, now, in Canadian history. We say, "Before
Kristen", and "after Kristen." In our case, we decided "A.K.F.", or "After
Kristen French", to accompany our daughter on her route. My wife and
I took turns, and rather than just follow her, we delivered half the flyers
ourselves. Our daughter got five dollars per run. The deal was that we'd
get an hour of free babysitting per delivery, which saved us all of two
bucks per hour.
Ten months A.K.F., on Feb. 17, 1993, Emily and I were just finishing
off the route. We decided to stop in at Avondale's, a store in the dominant
local variety store chain. A woman named Betty not only ran the store,
but was also the local news anchor. The first thing she said was, "Didja
hear the news? Some guy was in here ten minutes ago; he said they caught
I knew exactly what she was talking about. "Where?" I asked.
"Just down the road from here on Bayview. Apparently they had the
place staked out the last couple of days, and today they moved in. Geez,
there musta been twenty cop cars and an ambulance and everything but the
kitchen sink. But they got the bastard, it looks like."
Emily was very excited, "I've got to run home to tell Katie, Dad."
I didn't speak my permission, but I let her go, trusting her to the safety
of the 500 yards from the store to Matt Neufeld's house. Katherine was
Matt's daughter, and Emily's best friend.
Betty and I talked on. This was great, great news. They got the bastard.
They got the son of a bitch who killed Kristen and Leslie.
I said, "You know, I knew they had some kind of stakeout going on Bayview.
I was driving to Gracefield School yesterday morning, and I saw this guy
parked by the lover's bench at the corner of Anne and Bayview. His car's
right on the bend in the road, where no one ever parks, and he's standing
on the passenger side, staring down the road. I have to drive down Bayview
again at one o'clock and the guy's still there. I'm thinking, 'I've gotta
call the police. This guy might have his eye on the pretty little Grade
Sixers coming down the road, you know what I mean? When I drive by, though,
the guy looks me straight in the face I'm staring at him, eh? and he
smiles, and kind of salutes me with a half wave.' So, I don't think about
it any more, but I memorize his features, his license, and the make of
the car. I'm thinking, if I see him again, I call the cops."
Betty said, "Half the city knew there was some kind of stakeout, except
the guy they arrested. A guy I know Freddy Milosevic you know him?
Anyway, Freddy says half the fish in Lake Ontario are stoned, because all
the dealers and users up and down the road flushed their stuff down the
I run home to turn on the radio. We always listen to the CBC, but today
I turn to one of the local stations, certain they'd be covering the arrest
in greater detail. Sure enough, we get a steady stream of announcements,
although most of them say that further details will be announced at upcoming
My wife crashes through the side door about half an hour later. "Did
you hear the news?" she shouts. "They caught him!"
"Yes," I shout back, even though she's no more than three yards away.
"But have you heard where they caught him?"
"Well, you'd better sit down." My wife looked at me, scornfully, thinking
that I was being melodramatic. "Okay," I said, "don't sit down.... They
caught him on Bayview. Three blocks from here. A block from the
edge of Emmy's flyer route."
Marilyn had a stack of books in her arms, research stuff for her Ph.D.
at McMaster. Her knees buckled, and the books crashed to the floor. "You're
kidding. You can't be serious."
Later, it was one hell of an exciting night. Half of southern Ontario,
and hundreds of people from upstate New York, even, jammed the streets
named Bayview, Elgin, Anne, Dalhousie. Several dozen police officers were
on guard, making sure that no one crossed the yellow ribbon surrounding
the upper middle-class pink house. Reporters were stalking the neighbours
and anyone who claimed to know something of importance, and the bright
lights of the TV cameras were everywhere. A big mobile home, containing
the Emergency Task Force detectives, was stationed near the front boulevard.
Everyone was abuzz with talk of of the great, unfolding drama.
I have accompanied my daughter and niece, Emily and Katie, to the scene
of the crime. They, too, are both thrilled and horrified. My son, just
turned nine, did not want to come along, and was trying hard not to think
about what was going on. He buried himself in Lego spaceships for the better
part of not just this evening, but for three nights in a row.
Later, at home, I was boiling water for a coffee when the doorbell
rang a reporter and a photographer from the Hamilton Spectator. The reporter,
Bernard Duvall, asked if I was a friend of Paul Bernardo's, and could he
interview me. I laughed, and asked what kind of shoddy sleuthing had led
him to my door. It turned out he'd been directed to a house on Main Street,
not Dalhousie Avenue, so it was all a big mistake, but could he interview
me anyway for a local reaction?
Over hot coffees, and a hot chocolate for Sven, the mute photographer,
Bernie Duvall and I gossipped like a pair of old euchre buddies. We made
a deal he'd come calling on me sometime in the next couple of days, and
we'd trade stories. He'd give me some of the inside dope he hoped to get
from the cops, and I'd tell him what the neighbours knew about Bernardo
and this woman he was living with the one who'd turned him in.
A day later, the citizens of Port Dalhousie and of the world see the
first pictures of the monster, Paul Bernardo, a.k.a. Paul Teale. A day
after that, we see pictures of a woman, Bernardo's wife, someone named
Karla, with the maiden name Homolka. At first, we believe she is innocent.
Then we find out she is involved, although we're not sure how, or to what
extent. The rumours are amazing, unbelievable, thrilling, horrible. The
few hard facts we're given suggest that Karla Bernardo Teale Homolka is
hardly an angel, but we're also led to believe that she was a victim. A
victim of abuse, of a terror campaign waged by the monster, Paul Bernardo.
When her picture appeared in the Globe, the Star, the Sun, the Spectator
and the St. Catharines Standard, I was stunned. I've seen that face before,
I think to myself. How could I not have seen it? she lived three blocks
away. "Aha," I think at last. "She looks a hell of a lot like the buckskin
blonde." The first thing I do is call up Carl. "Carl, did you see the pictures
in the Standard tonight? Okay, I don't want to lead you, but who does that
woman remind you of? Nobody? Come on, think a bit. Remember the Lakeside
"I see," said Carl. "You're thinking about the kid who got sucker punched
that night. You think the blonde was what's-her-face, this Karla chick.
I don't know, John. It could be. But I'm lousy with faces, you know? I'm
sorry, I've got shit for a memory. You might be right; you're a lot better
at this kind of stuff than I am...."
That was depressing. I was convinced, but I wanted confirmation, like
a UFO observer desperate for a camera. In the meantime, Bernie Duvall came
by for another "cup of java". Neither of us made any pretense about our
love of 'the buzz', the hot gossip, the late-breaking developments. Yes,
this is a confession. I feel guilty, but not entirely I know that I'm
mouthing incorrect sentiments, but I had them, I have them, and I will
continue to have them. I am one of the vultures, one of the vampires.
Duvall was talking about the links between the hacksaw filings in the
basement at 57 Bayview and the filings on Leslie's body. Then he started
into the soundproof room where Bernardo was working on his rap recordings,
and where he kept the two girls, which explains why no one, even visitors
to the house, could hear anything unusual. Then I gave him what I thought
was the really big news. There were connections between the French and
Mahaffy murders, I said, and a couple of murders in Merritton Ward, a few
miles south. How did I know this? One of my sisters lived near the Homolka
house, and she said everyone out that way was talking about Karla's younger
sister, and about another woman who knew Kristen and Karla, a woman who'd
been killed by some Italian guy.
Bernie told me the gossip about the infighting between the Toronto
cops and the Niagara cops, and I told him how the Bernardo house had recently
been fully renovated and painted pink by an ex-con. He was hired by a group
of real estate speculators, some of them Mennonites, and one of them a
cousin to Gus Boudreau's wife, Susannah. This fellow told Gus about how
they gave the ex-con a break, and how they let him live in the house with
his girlfriend during the renovations. They had a devil of a time trying
to find a buyer, so they decided to rent it out until the market improved.
When it came time to conclude the deal with Bernardo and Homolka, the speculators
did a brief inspection, and guess what Susannah's cousin found in one of
the basement rooms? A huge mound of pornography.... We're not talking just
Playboys and Penthouses here it was really raw stuff. Animals, S &
M, all ages....
Another great piece of gossip, which old Cassandra Pawling sent my
way, was that the original 57 Bayview was a "Dream House" from the Home
Show at the Canadian National Exhibition. The Home Show ran a contest each
year, in which the winner was awarded that year's version of the ultra-modern
Dream House, and could have it built anywhere in Ontario. Well, in the
early 1950's, a Scarborough woman won the contest, and wanted her prize
to be erected in Port Dalhousie, her favourite summering place from an
idyllic childhood. I said to my enthusiastic little reporter friend, "There's
your headline, Bernie 'From Dream House to House of Horrors The Tale
of 57 Bayview.'"
Duvall replied, while scribbling madly, "Interesting, very interesting
stuff. Another big irony, of course, is that bit about Scarborough. I mean,
Bernardo was the Scarborough rapist, eh? And the deal there is, they had
this guy dead to rights. I mean, they took some sperm samples, blood samples,
and they had his name on their suspect list, etcetera, but for some reason
they never put two and two together. Not in Scarborough, not here. And
yet the Toronto boys think the local boys are the idiots."
About a week later, David Tompkins calls me up and asks if I remember
the story I told about the blonde in the buckskin jacket. "Of course",
I say. Now I'm really excited I have some hope of proving that my buckskin
blonde was Karla Homolka. Dave asks if I would mind telling the story to
his sister in law, who is a freelance reporter. I say I can go one better,
because I wrote it all down back in '91, and it's even been rejected already
by Canadian Fiction Quarterly.
Tompkins and his relative know of about five stories like his,
and mine, in which a blonde with a boyfriend named Paul tried to set up
these fights in the summer of 91. The 'Tompkins Twins' are pissed off because
no one seems to be talking about Homolka's role. I say, "Now hold on
I never said there was somebody called Paul in my story." We talked a bit
further, and then I said, "I'm not as sure as you are, but yeah I'd
love it if the blonde in my story really was Karla Bernardo."
Think about it. We believed we knew what kind of a person she was even
before the videos, before the trial. We were the gossips, the free exchangers
of information, a lot of it ugly, some of it untrue. The police and the
courts wanted secrecy, and publication bans, and nothing but facts to support
the operative theories. It was the Family Compact all over again the
elite, alone, were allowed to process the important information. The rest
of us were expected to rest in awe of the fearful workings of a mighty
system of justice.
Bernie Duvall and I once talked about this. We had started to feel
guilty, after all, about our juvenile enthusiasms, and we were trying to
work it all out. At one point, I said, "I can understand the cops and the
judges when I think of the French and Mahaffy families, and their close
friends ... when I see writers and photographers and ancient videotapes
literally repeating the molestations."
Bernie was all over me like a dirty shirt: "Yeah yeah, I hear what
you're saying but personally, the only way I can understand the silent
treatment is that they're all covering their asses up there. Lookit, we
need to know why they're making their judgements. I mean, if Karla gets
to walk in four years, we have to know why, right? Like they always say,
'justice must be done, AND seen to be done.' Not only that, but
I mean, Jesus! A society's got to know what happened, and we have to try
to figure out what's gonna happen."
I gave Duvall an example for his argument. There were several rapes
of young girls in the Port Dalhousie area in 1991 to 1992. Henley Island
was the scene of at least one of them. Only a handful of gossips knew about
these rapes, and were able to give their daughters suitable warnings. But
thousands of us were kept out of the loop by embarrassed families and sensitive
cops. The rapist, rumour now has it, was Paul Bernardo, and Karla may have
been with him. Another hot rumour is that she acted as both a lookout and
decoy in his Scarborough hits.
When the local police had identified Bernardo as one of about 20 prime
suspects in the French/Mahaffy murders, they sent a couple of detectives
down to 57 Bayview. They rang the doorbell, but Paul was sleeping. They
were about to leave, when Paul called them back. He figured he'd have to
face it out sooner or later, and he wasn't feeling too nervous. He had
a friendly chat with the detectives, and offered them tea or coffee, and
gazed honestly straight into their eyes at every question. How could a
polite good-looking kid like that, surrounded by family photographs, and
living in a nice new pink house in old Port Dalhousie how could a kid
like that have anything to do with murder? Saints preserve us.
The photographs that may have impressed them the most, the ones that
the Sun and the Star fought over, were the ones where a ridiculously happy
Paul is arm in arm or cheek to cheek with his young bride, whose beauty
seems buoyed by a creamy froth of wedding silks and blonde curls and baby's
Postscript: June, 1995
Right in the midst of yet another trial of the century, I am living
in a new city, North Bay, where the talk about Bernardo and Homolka is
about as common as it is in St. Catharines, the city that has "lost its
innocence" according to the would-be poets in the Toronto media. I am in
the Twin Pines Grocery Store on Trout Lake Road, and am moving towards
the cashier in Aisle 2. There, on the newsstand, flanked by the Star and
the Enquirer, is the Globe of June 27, 1995 not to be confused with the
Globe and Mail. On the front cover is a big bold picture of a blond and
a blonde. They are swapping tongues, as my buddy Carl would say. The man
is wearing a white sweater with a black sectioned diamond on the chest.
The woman is wearing a black slip of a dress, and both are looking very
happy, very much in love. The giant white and yellow words above the photo
NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH!
PAUL AND KARLA'S
All the shocking
Inside, on pages 36 and 37, are several more pictures. One on the right
side is a repeat of the cover shot, but inverted, so that right hand becomes
left hand, and the tongues are now at a 10 o'clock4o'clock angle, not
2 o'clock8 o'clock. An angled insert just below this shows Paul wearing
a T-shirt with a cartoon shark appliqué, and he's in a boxing pose,
both dukes up. The caption reads, "Paul muscles up for the cameras: He
likes to hurt women, say cops."
Way over to the left hand side of the total spread is a pool-side picture
of Karla riding bareback on Paul. She is wearing sunglasses, a white halter
top, and either a string bikini bottom or nothing at all. Paul, also wearing
sunglasses, is on his hands and knees, and bearing his burden with a wicked
grin. The caption reads, "Wife Karla playfully rides on hubby Paul but
in bed, he dominated her brutally and brainwashed her for his kinky escapades,
Just beside the Globe, crowning a mound of papers on my desk, is a
photograph of the Dijkstra family at our first party in North Bay. An interesting
juxtaposition, I think, the kind that can only be generated out of what
I like to call "a civilized mess", in this case lecture notes, short stories
in the fictional biography genre, and a poetry project entitled "Dijkstra
Family Album". At the left edge of the photo, I'm looking rather bleary-eyed,
but I've got an ironic smile. We're all smiling, looking relaxed in jeans
and denim jackets Marilyn, professor of English, 15 year old Emily, and
11 year old Johnny Junior in the middle, who is giving both Marilyn and
Emily two-fingered horns with a hand behind each head.
You look at this photograph, and glance over to the photos of King
Paulie and Karly-Kurls, and back again.... Look at the sunshine in our
eyes, all of us. There isn't a scrap of real proof that anything is in
any way, shape or form truly out of the ordinary.