Don't mind the naysayers

Rick Barnes
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I have corrupted a promise of one of our colourful former premiers as a mantra to keep my patience with the spring weather: “One day the sun will shine, and peeled paint will be no more.”

I am waiting for some dry weather to repaint my aging and weathered garage. But every day that I peek out at a grey sky and damp eaves, I am reminded of a neighbour of mine some years ago in Chamberlains. Whenever I appeared with a paintbrush, even on the hottest and driest of days, he would yell to me cheerfully over the fence, “Gonna rain today!” Now, this fellow was not mainstream at all. In fact, he later took to wearing only burlap and carrying a staff. But his concern that I was heading for defeat by nature or other forces beyond my control is shared by many.

Day after day, arriving at work by motorcycle I would be greeted in the parking lot by somebody climbing out of a car with that same cheerful prognostication, “Gonna rain today!” After centuries of hard-scrabble existence at the edge of the fierce Atlantic it is only natural we have developed a deep-rooted fear of the weather. Perhaps the notion that I might be enjoying my commute on a dull workday unsettled these people so much they felt obliged to remind me of my insignificance at the hands of the weather gods. But if the predicted rain didn’t fall these well-meaning folks became restless and unnaturally eager to share details they once heard about a horrible motorcycle accident.

But it’s not just about tempting fate on a motorcycle or risking the wrath of the weather gods by flashing a paintbrush. It seems there is a slice of the population unsettled by any whiff of freedom about others, or a sense that someone might be operating outside Fortune’s strict unwritten rules.

Recently, at a St. John’s discount fashion clothing store, I searched through racks of jackets marked with bold sale signs advertising “Jackets — $50.” I tried on several and eventually found a suitable jacket that fit pretty well and triumphantly brought it to the cashier with the comment that I thought it was a great deal for $50. She, however, believed that the sale didn’t apply to this particular jacket, and before I formed a response, whisked it away and engaged the manager in a discussion. Finally she returned and, flinging the jacket on the counter, said sourly, “I s’pose we’ll have to give it to you for $50. But it’s not on sale, it’s a $199 jacket!”

My reply of “Hey, that’s even better!” didn’t improve her mood any, and as she stuffed my purchase into a bag she sternly told me, “We don’t give refunds, you know!” I didn’t want to complicate her life by suggesting that, if the jacket was such a steal at $50, the vendor would have a chance to get the proper markup if I returned it and it sold for the asking price of $199. So I assured her I was happy with the purchase and not likely to seek a refund. I suppose it is possible that this employee was saddled with the blame for the jacket hanging on the wrong rack, or the lost markup had to come out of her wages, so she had a right to be sour. But I couldn’t help but suspect that her attitude was merely knee-jerk reaction to her discomfort that things were not unfolding as they should. Faced with my windfall of a good deal, the cashier felt compelled to smack me down by enforcing a strict no-return policy that hopefully, would set the universe right again. Another version of “Gonna rain today!”

Maybe this discomfort is a hangover from the days of Peter Fonda’s and the mercurial Dennis Hopper’s “Easy Rider.” In their famous 1969 counter-culture flick, a young Jack Nicholson in the role of the drinking lawyer George Hanson, explains the chilly reception Wyatt and Billy receive in rural Louisiana with: “… they see a free individual, it’s gonna scare ’em.”

But things now are far more complex than in the days when Fonda and Hopper hit the road in the American south — imagine a wrap party with Hopper, Phil Spector, et al! Today, even bikers don’t live up to the high expectations of mainstream culture. Once, a complete stranger manoeuvred his battered Chevy across a huge parking lot so he could tell me that, although he had never owned or even once drove a bike himself, he was certain that his buddy’s Harley was a far superior product and that even his Chevy would get better gas mileage on the highway than my bike. He was so convinced of my unhappiness at not being astride a Harley-Davidson, and so generous in extending his sympathy to me, it would have been unthinkable to claim otherwise. I agree the Milwaukee machines are fine, albeit overpriced, products but how could I explain to my sedan-bound friend that not everyone on two wheels is a HOG in training? After caring enough to empathize with me, it would be cruel to take up his time on that warm fine evening trying to shake his belief that every biker aches to be a part of the HD legend.

People everywhere get put off whenever there is a ripple in their well-ordered universe. I once presented my Newfoundland driver’s licence to a librarian in Richmond, B.C., who insisted on photo identification before giving me access to the library’s wireless Internet.

“Ah,” he said, “Newfoundland, where the rich kids eat Spam and the poor kids eat lobster.”

The poor fellow probably spent much of his career in a dark room with a bag of Cheezies watching old National Film Board films, so not wishing to challenge his vision of Canada I assured him that that sad state of affairs wouldn’t be a concern for much longer. The newly built public schools in Newfoundland were awash with an aggressive “Lobster Is Fit to Eat” program — known as LIFE, and I was happy to report the children of the newest province would soon be lunching on lobster, just like the more fortunate children of Canada.

He seemed discomfited by this news and eyed me suspiciously, only permitting me the minimum eight-hour password for the library wireless system after he cautioned me that my access would immediately be terminated if I didn’t follow the rules.

I’d better get my paintbrush — I see the sun coming out. Maybe I’ll put on my new jacket and go for a bike ride, instead.

Rick Barnes is perfectly

happy living in St. John’s

Organizations: Harley-Davidson, National Film Board

Geographic location: Chamberlains, Atlantic, Newfoundland Louisiana Milwaukee Richmond

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Recent comments

  • David
    June 09, 2011 - 17:32

    Newfoundland is a giant collection of sour pusses and generally petty people, worse than anywhere else I've ever been (even Torontonians know enough to mind their own business sometimes!) We' must be the real-life inspiration for SNL's Debbie Downer! Of course, they don't mention that on those tourist ads.

  • Ian
    June 08, 2011 - 11:30

    Great article! Keep that chin up, Rick. God knows you wouldn't want to have too much fun!

  • George
    June 08, 2011 - 08:10

    Great letter Rick, I guess the cliche works here,. " Misery loves company" Rather than be happy for our fellow man, a lot of people get some sense of justification and acceptance of their sad attitude towards life by trying to impose their attitude unto others... Well, according to the weather reporter, there is a 40% chance of showers today, but what I chose to hear is there is a 60% chance of sun. And, I like those odds, I'll think I will wax my car.