The Bongo Pad

Posted on February 15, 2014 under Storytelling with no comments yet

Bongo Pad 5

My old haunt in Victoria, B.C.

When you think of all the places you’ve lived in your life, there’s always one that stands out.  And, if most of us are honest, we will confess that at one point or another in our quest for the perfect place to put our heads at night, we lived in a dive.  Very often, this is the place we remember most, even if the memories aren’t the best.

Victoria, British Columbia is one of the most beautiful cities in Canada.  I lived there for the better part of three years back in the mid ‘70’s.  It is commonly referred to as the city “for newlyweds and nearly deads”.  So why, pray tell, was I amongst this populace?

It certainly wasn’t because I was on the threshold of wedded bliss.  That would come a decade later.  So there could be only one other reason …

Now, the reference to death is the fact that Victoria is the retirement capital of Canada.  At 25, I wasn’t quite ready for a condo on the ocean or a nursing home.  But I was pretty worn out.  Coming out of the Woodstock era and three tumultuous, fun filled years at university, I was damaged goods … definitely needing resuscitation.  We had way too much fun at my alma mater, St. Francis Xavier University.

I arrived penniless and left in much the same state (other than paying off my student loan), but for three years, I discovered a place that still tugs at my heart.  If I could find words to best describe the chief attribute of the city (besides it’s temperate climate) they would be: healthy, active lifestyle.

The first place I lived was a log home on Noble Road which was as idyllic as it gets, but those accommodations were short lived.  I soon found myself living in apartment in the heart of the city.

The primary reason for choosing this particular spot was that friends lived there, and the rent was very cheap by Victoria’s standards.  The executive suite (2 bedrooms) went for $65 per month.  It only took one visit to realize why.  The building had seen better days.  It was obvious that there hadn’t been a single upgrade in fifty years or more.

Besides the charming ambiance of the building, the other attraction (like going to a zoo) was the denizens of the building.  You would have to go long and far to find such an odd assortment of people.  And “odd” is being charitable.

Hank loved to drink whiskey.  His mix: milk.  I wondered if he subscribed to the notion of milk building strong bones and teeth.  That was until Hank opened his mouth for the first time.  The total number of teeth could be counted on one hand, without using all of your fingers.

Bill fancied himself a short wave radio specialist, and I believe that he spent many hours in covert operations, communicating with the enemy or aliens.  He was also an early adopter of recycling.  On one occasion I relegated one of my STFX t-shirts to the garbage, as it was in bad shape.  During one of many trips to Bill’s apartment to complain that his short wave messages were coming through my new stereo system, I noticed him proudly wearing the aforementioned t-shirt.  From that day on, he considered himself an X alumnus.

Our landlady was Lily Bell.  Her apartment was an overgrown jungle of plants and flowers.  And she chain smoked.  Smoke detectors were not in vogue back then, but then again, when you are young you don’t worry about things like that.  From time to time she would go away for a few days, leaving us in charge of the building, but more importantly, her plants.  We quickly discovered that monitoring the plants wasn’t all that demanding, as 95% of them were plastic.

To maintain the proper asset mix in the building, there were actually people my own age who were also finishing up university studies.  Brown Dog, Gusser, Val and Moses occupied rooms on the penthouse floor of this uber-deluxe complex.

Gusser had a part-time job at a neighborhood grocery store, and one day he arrived home with a huge box of slightly overripe oranges.  You know, the big ones that you sometimes get when a charity is selling boxed fruit.

As I recall, it was a Friday evening and there is a good chance that we had spent some time at the Colony Inn, a popular local watering hole.  We arrived back at paradise, and Moses and Gusser decided to go out in the hallway to pass an orange from one end to the other using hockey sticks.  At first the passes were gentle, bordering on silky smooth.  Things quickly got out of control.

The first orange was quickly turned to pulp after an errant slap shot.  In a matter of minutes, everyone was out in the hallway and oranges flew through the air like missiles.  The entire contents of the box ended up on the walls, ceiling and floor.

It took Lily Bell a few minutes to realize what was happening and she was not amused.  At one point, as mayhem reigned supreme, she threatened to call the cops … or Orange Julius.  We all gave her a hug and promised that we would clean up our mess … when we were done.

The bad news is that we didn’t get to eat one orange.  The good news is that the walls, floor and ceiling got washed for possibly the first time in fifty years.  The first layer of gunge was removed with a fire extinguisher.

I continued to live there (I use the term “live” loosely) and eventually moved to an apartment on the ground floor, right at street level.  Despite rent controls in the city, my monthly payment skyrocketed to $85.  When another brother moved in a year or so later, the rent crested the century mark and settled in at $115.

My bedroom window was maybe twenty feet from the sidewalk.  It wasn’t uncommon to have one of my friends stagger home and, having forgotten his keys, simply open my bedroom window and step directly onto my bed.

The Bongo pad is still there.  If you drive by, don’t be surprised if you still see some orange rinds near the bushes at the back of the building.


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