I was sitting alone in the large empty dining room with a solitary fried testicle and was trying to put on my happy smile. A weekend earlier was the 26th annual Round The Bend Steakhouse Testicle Festival and the room was packed wall to wall with farmers, mechanics, attorneys, and accountants; weekend bikers in studded leather jackets and red bandannas were spilling outside into the just set up beer garden. It’s claimed that about twenty-two hundred pounds of testicles are shipped in from around the country for the festival. Years ago there were beef, pork, lamb, and turkey testicles to feast on; all you get now are thinly sliced, breaded, deep-fried bull testicles. The testicles come ten or twelve on a paper tray with a pickle and a little dipping sauce. I had decided to spend a little time at the Round the Bend Steakhouse’s annual testicle festival and so I stood at the testicle fork in the road.
The longer I sat alone in the large empty dining room the more I thought about the Testicle Festival. I could faintly hear the band playing, taste the ice-cold beers, and feel the gristle of a testicle between my teeth. As I waited for the Ranch Dressing, so I could dip my battered fried testicle, I thought about some of the other forks in the road I could have taken and the two parallel lives I would have had.
Several years ago I spent a little time on holidays in the Finger Lakes region of central New York state; it’s known as Finger Lakes because of the eleven lakes running parallel to each other. According to Native American legend, the lakes were formed when the Great Spirit laid his hands on the land to bless it; his fingers left imprints that then filled with water. Most people who visit the area marvel at the lush vineyards and small wineries, the scenic rolling hills, and the natural beauty of Watkins Glen State Park; I was more in awe hearing about the area’s salt production and the salt refining process. But then I became aware of The Watkins Glen International raceway; its annual calendar includes NASCAR, an Indy Racing Series, and Vintage Cups. Visitors to The Glen can drive their own cars for three laps around this storied road course. And for me that far surpasses the history of salt mining and refining; I was In like Flynn. My money, voice, and hand were shaking as I asked for tomorrow’s ticket; the reply came unexpected.
As I laboured two miles climbing up the rock steps and trudging over the wet stones of Watkins Glen State Park Gorge Trail, I thought of what could have been. The trail snakes over, under, and past 19 waterfalls; you climb 800 plus stone steps. The rental car sat low to the ground and its wheelbase was wide for stability; it sat like an animal waiting to run. Taking it to the track was the right thing to do. As I pressed down on the accelerator the motor went from purring to revving. It was engineered to be powerful and untamed. I started off slowly at the bottom of the trail and the stone stairs were an easy climb. The trail meandered past creeks and through waterfalls, and I was walking with a rhythmic freestyle motion. Before long my shirt was damp with sweat and clinging to my back, and there was a sting to my eyes; the stone path was damp with the spray of the water cascading over the cliffs. My legs were now moving with slow robotic precision, and the muscles that once worked so smoothly were now struggling to hold my weight. It hugged the turns on the track as if its wheels were glued down, and I felt my face being tugged backward by the g-force. It was all about the journey, the feel, the momentum.
In the early seventies when I set off searching for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary I used London as my starting point. During that first long hot London summer, I worked as a lifeguard at an outdoor swimming pool; Brockwell Lido was nestled in the corner of south London’s Brockwell Park. I was one of five lads hired as lifeguards. Peter the university student, and John the part-time Herne Hill criminal were the experienced lifeguards returning from last year; Mick the Irishman, sympathetic to the troubles and a supporter of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and the young London lad whose name I can’t remember and I, were the newbies. During the long hot summer, we plucked quite a few little ones from the shallow three-foot end of the pool and dragged a few teenagers and adults from the deep end after they’d jumped off the high diving board, and discovered they couldn’t swim.
As the end of summer approached I started to wonder if it was time to wander through Europe, or if I needed to ferret out some other short term work in London. John the part-time Herne Hill criminal helped with my decision; he asked if I wanted to join him, and some other lads who were training and practising to become a wrestling troupe to tour small European towns. The first stop of the tour was Italy.
The room could have been in any small Italian town. It was crowded with loud wrestling fans and the air was thick with cigarette smoke. I took a deep breath; all I could taste was the salt from sweat. My heart was pounding as I approached the centre of the ring and my opponent. The crowd grew louder as we came together. He stood like a colossus but I knew he was my equal; we had practised the storyline and plot, and the moves and holds, so many times in the South London makeshift gym. A few months earlier I decided on the type of wrestler I would become; I knew that no one wanted a babyface emotionally complex character; I became the mischievous Flying Kangaroo. My finisher was the flying dropkick followed up with an elbow drop from the top rope; I’d enter the ring wrapped in an Australian kangaroo design beach towel and wearing a pair of Australian boardies. I’d resort to every trick in the book to gain an advantage. Most of the matches were scripted so before I applied the finisher I’d deliver a scoop slam and an inverted atomic drop, and then look out into the screaming faces. I was confused when I woke. I looked out through the frosted back windows of the Ford Anglia panel van and saw the soft, out of focus, German countryside.
In the late sixties and early seventies, Khatmandu was an untouched city in the Nepalese Himalayas. It promised enlightenment and cheap plentiful drugs. Durbar Square, Freak Street, and the narrow roads of old Kathmandu became the haven for the backpacking travellers of the seventies. In the mid to late seventies, Khatmandu was transforming from a hippie mecca to a tourist destination; express tourist coaches with reclining seats were beginning to replace public buses, and the Khatmandu international airport terminal was the new bus station. It was a long bus ride across the Terai plains from Darjeeling to Kathmandu. The plains are nestled against the foothills of the Himalayas so the 20 plus hours bus journey is mostly over flat fertile land. The bus was slow, noisy, crowded, and uncomfortable; most males preferred to ride on the roof with the luggage. Toilet and food breaks seemed to be unplanned; sometimes they happened when the bus stopped in a town. And food could be bought when a food seller jumped on and off the bus. I think I remember the bus climbing the mountain road before it began its descent into Khatmandu; it lurched and swayed around sharp bends, passed trucks and other buses when there was no room to pass, and balanced itself on the edge of the road to avoid the sharp drop-offs. The ride reminded me of Luna Park’s scenic railway.
Then came the time to leave Kathmandu. I walked the worn paving slabs of Freak Street, sat casually in Temple Square smoking local cigarettes, and stared at the home of the little goddess; all the time pondering how to leave Khatmandu. Would a lurching, swaying ride in a crowded bus wandering close to a drop off of hundreds of feet on a potholed gravel road, be better than riding in a Nepal Airlines, or Air India plane, being buffeted by turbulence and updrafts as it tries to fly over the high peaks and mountains of the Himalayas. The pilot took the plane to the end of the runway and swung it around. The engines were racing and the plane began to shudder, and strain against the brakes; I wondered how much stress could the engines handle before they’d break off their joints. The pilot released the brakes and the plane bounced down the runway. As soon as we were in the air the plane headed for the mountains on the side of the valley. A twisting road clung to the mountainside, and a colourful small bus was bouncing recklessly close to the edge of the road and the drop off into the valley below.
If you’ll excuse me. I think it’s time to open the fridge door and bide my time waiting until a cold one chooses me, but then again I could choose the beer. That would be an interesting premise for a film. The juxtaposition and adjacency of what happens when an everyday occurrence, or decision, is split in two and we see it both ways.