The Mysterious Stranger
It's the middle of the afternoon and I'm cleaning my Cavalier in the driveway of my parents’ house. I'm in college and it’s maybe twenty-five minutes before class. Between the studio and classes, I was hardly ever home, so my car became a lived-in wasteland of garbage. My parents had a long driveway and I was parked up near the house with a shop-vac running for about a half hour before he showed up. The way the street is laid out, he would have been eyeing me for at least a five-minute walk down to the house. He's standing on the sidewalk at the end of the driveway, looking up towards me as I put the vacuum back in the garage. I turn around to, "Hey bud, how’re you doing today?" He had a leading tone like he was really going somewhere with his introduction. Where he went needs some explanation.
When I was in high school, I was a metalhead through and through. In the ninth grade, I wore a Metallica T-shirt every day of the week. In grade ten my hair started to grow, and by the time I had graduated I was branded with a Black Label Society tattoo on my arm and a good two feet of razor-straight hair. As I entered college, I drifted into a fat pseudo-hipster style and was fading away from the hair without cutting it. Hats, ponytails, whatever kept it out of my face. By this time, I was sitting on it in class and catching it in the car door on the way home.
So, there I am: cargo pants, ball cap and flowing locks, cleaning out a dumpy, red 1990 Chevy Cavalier. I'm nineteen and the guy is probably in his early thirty's. After his leading intro, he proceeds to ask me if I, quote: "smoke some weed." And as a matter of fact, sir. I do. And, you’re in luck! I’m also gullible and stupid!
I tell him this, without the gullible part, and he tells me that he knows a guy that can get me an ounce for a hundred bucks. For those not in the know, an ounce goes for a good two hundred and forty dollars. If this guy can save a broke college student a hundred and forty bucks on something frivolous like this, you know I’m going to be in. Poor, stupid, young Joel. There was a run-around to the whole deal, though. He needed two hundred. He was going to buy it for two and sell it to me for one. So, I'd get an ounce and a hundred bucks back from him. Makes perfect sense, right!?
I agree to this blindingly stupid plan and he says something like, "yeah, great man," and he nods at the car. "You wanna take a ride? My buddy's at the Crown & Anchor." I can still hear this jag-weed saying this stuff in my head, and in hindsight, I should have caught on here. But of course, I didn’t, I'm a dummy!
"For sure, dude. Jump in."
We get in and the engine barely had time to turn over before he was telling me about where the ATM was inside the bar. About how I'll go in and get cash, but he can't go with me—there’s too much heat for this guy to be seen with me in the bar—at two o’clock on a weekday. I pull up out front, and here's where I thought I was being the smart one: I pull the parking break and say to him, "you know, dude. I don't really know you and all, so, would you mind waiting outside the car?"
He replies, "Absolutely! No problem at all!" and I think to myself, “Alright, this guy seems legit.” Poor, poor, moronic, young Joel.
We both get out of the car and I go in to get my $200. When I come back out he's just standing by the car, patiently waiting for payday. I hand it over and he looks me in the eye to say, "Perfect." He counts it quickly and tells me to drive around the back, "I'll be out in like ten minutes."
While sitting out back, I'm staring at my phone, class starts in five minutes, and being late to a college class is a living nightmare. It's jarring to be the one who walks in while the professor is mid-sentence, especially because the door to the class was right beside where she liked to stand. It's been ten minutes at this point and there's no sign of the guy. I start to think about the situation:
Approached by a total stranger with a deal? Check.
Propositioned with drugs? Check.
Too good to be true? Check.
Sketchy circumstance? Check.
It began to sink in. He wasn’t coming back. For the love of God. It's twenty-five minutes past the start of class and I'm still sitting back there staring at the kitchen door like some sort of chump. I cut my losses and go back home to wallow in my mistake, school's a loss, and that was my only class for the day. I was duped out of my whole schedule.
The next morning is wet, grey and cold. I'm dead to the world and my mother wakes me up with a knock on my door, "Joel, there's a... man, here to see you?" The concern in her voice was palpable, I'm not sure I'll ever forget it. It was a mix of, "what is this stranger doing on my doorstep at seven in the morning," and, "what have you done now!?"
In my pajamas, I come to the door and what would you expect? It's the deadbeat from the day before. I step out of the house and ask him in a sweet, neighborly tone, "what in the fuck happened to you yesterday!?"
"I know, I know man, it was messed up. My buddy bailed on me, but if we go for a ride right now, I'll get you an ounce and your money back." I tried staring a hole through him, but my empty pockets kept me from digging in.
"I'll grab the keys."
We start driving and he says to me that this guy is really important—a made man—and you need money to even go see him. I ask what that's about and get some sort of vague, non-committal answer. At this point, I've checked out of caring. I wish I hadn't gotten in the car with him, I wish I had buried him in the yard, to be honest. I wish I could accurately describe this man, because he's a real piece of work. No words I have will ever portray the slime that oozed from his mouth when he talked, and the worst part about him—he is incredibly average in every way. A man that would disappear in a crowd, someone you could easily see right past.
To cut to the point, he's saying he needs more money from me to even go see this guy. I'm too timid to lose my temper and just throw him out of the car, so I begin to tell him that I have no more money. He took it all from me yesterday, and he knows that. But still, he presses me and presses me. He looks around my car asking if I have anything he can offer as collateral or sell. My skin begins to crawl. I've pulled into my bank's parking lot by now and I head towards the drive-thru ATM. He's still chattering away when I pull out twenty bucks and throw it at him.
"That's the last of my money, you piece of shit. Now get out."
He didn't move. I figured the last $20 would buy his exit, but he was adamant that I take him to his buddy's house. His buddy is a "scary guy" and he could get "real fucked up" if he doesn't show. Like I said before, I was too timid to lose it, and my adrenaline was already pumping too hard for my liking after calling him a piece of shit, so I just started to drive back home. He pointed to a house maybe a block and a half from my parents and asked me to stop. In his search for things to sell, he noticed a small herb grinder under my seat.
As I pulled over, he picked it up and says, "this is gonna be rough, man. Do me a solid and give me this?" The little grinder held all the weed I had in the world at that point, and obviously I had none on the way, so I tell him this, and he starts to whine. Like a child. I tell him to take it and leave, which he finally did.
And that was the end. Kind of.
I didn't stick around to see if he was going to come out, I just went home and back to bed. After a few years went by, I told my mom and sisters this story. Mom said, "as soon as I saw that guy that morning, I knew it was drugs." I lost two hundred and twenty dollars because I was a fiend for the herb. But, I guess we're all stupid kids at one point. The most endearing part of this story to me are the unintentional bookends that I didn't even notice into until I thought deeply about this man.
Maybe about a year before this happened, I was drinking with my sister, one of my cousins and a bunch of their friends in the backyard. It was a parent-sanctioned limited booze event for some sixteen and seventeen-year-olds and, being of legal age, the party was a bit slow for me. My friend Tyler lived about six blocks over and was doing some drinking on his own and texting me out of the blue. I high tail it out the back yard and head down the ave when a red Ford pulls up to me with one of my friends from school, Rob, in the driver’s seat. It's Tyler's truck and he's hanging out the passenger window, speaking drunk to me on the sidewalk.
As soon as I had sat down in the truck, a man appears beside Tyler on the inside of the open door. It’s the man that’d go on to steal the little cash I had in college. Of course, I don't know him at this time, he's just a harmless guy asking for a ride up the road to Mission Heights. Tyler tells him to jump on in, and he sits down right next to me. He's talking about his buddy and how he has some sweet, sweet weed. Because he's such a great guy, for giving him a ride to the party, when we get there, he’s gonna go upstairs, roll one up and come back down to smoke with us. Can you guess what happened?
If you guessed that he went upstairs, and we waited for half an hour before admitting he wasn’t coming back, you my friend, are correct.
The story ends with me at twenty-one, heading to the IGA at two in the morning because twenty-four/seven grocery stores are the best thing to ever grace the surface of our planet. Unfortunately, though, tonight they were closed. As I headed into the store, unaware of their shut down, none other than that same man is walking away from the entrance. He smiles at me like he's helpful and friendly and says, "Sorry man! We're shit out of luck, they're closed!" I've cut my hair off at this point so I'm essentially a different person to him, and his face shows no recollection of me whatsoever. I glare a hole through him until he backs off awkwardly and gets in his car.
Is Grande Prairie so small that I was tied to one man, seemingly the whole time? Possibly at that point in time, yes. The moral of this story, kids, is this:
Don't do drugs, or you might be tempted to buy them from strangers in your parents’ driveway—or worse.