I've always found a great conversation starter with people who are unaccustomed to each other is to ask, "What was your most embarassing moment?" and let the stories work around the table. Of course, having ample wine enough always lends a hand.
When I was 25 or so, I had the exciting and fun filled job of being the Manager of Sales and Marketing for Rodgers School of Truck Driver Training. For this position, I had left my job as being a sales manager for one of those crazy big six banks, who had just jumped into the foray of virtual banking. I had liked the idea of "free rein", you know, this would be MY project. The subsequent story of why this was one of the moves I still kick myself for, is, well, that's another story.
Anhyhow, I did have some latitude, a cool company car (without any dumb lame logo in it - I may have loved marketing, but wasn't into looking like a doofus) and as they had just opened up a fourth school in Toronto, I got to travel a lot, and have a base back in the city I had just spent seven years of my life going to school.
A further bonus was that I could hire my own staff, including a secretary, which was pretty sexy at the time. (She wasn't however, but she was great to work with) And since my friend Mark was out of school for the summer, I hired him too. There was an apartment (also paid for) across from my office, so Mark just stayed with me.
(Sidenote: Being a school for trucking, it was in one of those fringish areas, by the airport and surrounded by car dealerships and industry. This is relevant because there was only two places that were outside of a long commute, one was called the Landing Strip and one was called Candyland. And this is relevant, because it calls up that crazy time when Mark fell in love, with an imported stripper, named Lola (L-O-L-A, Lola), and had taken to learning Hungarian online, only to find out that he had spent $2000 in two months (sadly, I'm serious) to find out that she actually had no intentions of bringing him home to meet Papa and Anya. Plus, a big "I told you so", from me, and, had the word "dumbass" been in vogue, yeah, that too, then.
There was a truck show in a place called Sturgeon Falls, which is the type of industrial wrench type town where truck shows and plowing matches take second place only to impromptu challenges at bars of who can hit out of towners the hardest with a chair. You know what else I think is important? Sturgeon Falls is one of those northern towns where hard working french Canadian northerners like to pound le sel out of freshly shaved Sales and Marketing Managers who are full of themselves.
So, being full of myself, the day of the last night at the Sturgeon Falls Truck Show, I prepared myself for the Shania Twin concert by grabbing a couple of the promotional condoms from whatever company I had previously rolled my eyes at for having such a dumb gimmick. This was the deal. I was 25, sexy, successful, brilliant and honestly could not consider that there would be any girl in Sturgeon Falls that could resist tearing my pants off within two minutes of my company. And besides, the next day we would go home, and Mark and I both had a week off. Tonight would be a good night.
So, Hiram, Mark and I found our way from the concert (She actually looked and sounded like Shania Twain if you were wondering about the show) to the Sturgeon Falls bar scene, a place which everyone calls "the Hotel" and no one can remember when or if it was actually a hotel but instead went by the rule of, "A rose by any other name".
Hiram? Yes. Fifty seven years old, 350 pounds, perhaps five and a half feet high and harnessing a white beard, my first meeting with Hiram, the school's truck mechanic was assuming he was a member of a bike gang. Well, he wasn't, at least anymore. In fact, as he had explained, when he had decided that being a member of one of the most ruthless band of men in North America had becoming, in his words, boring twenty years previous, he had turned his attention to reading philosophy textbooks. What had transpired with Hiram in that twenty years after trading extortion for Socrates, before meeting me, is a collection of stories I regret having never heard.
With Mark being roughly five feet tall, his lack of weight in close proportion to his lack of height, having Hiram around made me feel safe as we squeezed through brawny truckers and local francophone roughnecks to find ourselves three seats at a long table nearly full up with men who seemed to have been conceived with grit and motor oil.
I liked blue collar towns. I was raised in one, and feel comfortable talking to anyone. Also, when I'm not aware that I'm completely drunk, I feel I'm best at learning things that are better left unsaid. Keenly aware that the gentlemen around me clad in leather jackets emblazoned with "Satan's Choice" were likely members of the notorius Bike Gang of the same name, I felt it best to warm ourselves to the crowd by initiating a conversation.
Hiram looked nervously around him. Hiram looked nervous. I got nervous because Hiram got nervous. Mark may have noticed and got nervous but I can't say for sure because I was busy watching Hiram trying to get his massive frame out of his seat without appearing obvious, while at the same time making those eye motions people make when they're trying to either tell you to head for the door or want you to look at something.
"What's Hiram looking at?", said Mark, causing those around us to look towards the door, sensing something was worthy of their attention.
"Don't know, I think he left"
"Hiram!", I called after making my way through the crowd and out into the empty street. Mark was behind me, wondering why we had left full glasses of beer. Hiram was far enough up the road that we had to run to catch up with him.
His brisk pace and refusal to turn around worried me.
"What's wrong with you?"
I had never wanted to see Hiram angry. In fact, just thinking of what the angry, intoxicated ex biker who may or may not have broken legs for non payment at some point in his life was painful.
"What's wrong with me?" Hiram had come to a full stop and his coke can index finger rushed towards my chest causing me an agonizing image of my throat being crushed. "What the hell is wrong with you?" His voice was a grizzly bear who's cubs were encroached .
It was then that full comprehension found itself part of Hiram's complexion. Outrage turned to annoyance at the realization that I honestly had no idea, that I was in fact capable of being beyond his interpretation of normal cluelessness.
It seems calling across the table as a form of group communion, "Hey, Hiram, weren't you once a member of the Outlaws?" doesn't make for good small talk amongst rival gangs. Had the word "dumbass" been in vogue, well, yeah, that.
I can only assume they spoke only French, which is why, I'm alive, to tell this tale.