The City of Calgary looms on the borderland between prairie and foothill— a grey, industrial cloud.  Skyscrapers pierce the belly of blue sky above, square symbols of commerce strangle steeples with their awesome, awesome black power.  The city is straddled by two rivers, but is not contained by them.  Suburban dwellings sprawl across surrounding prairies: nature defiled and tamed by the calculated savagery of expansion.

Calgary’s recent rise to prominence among Canada’s urban centers was unlikely.  Lacking the cultural diversity of Vancouver or Toronto, and devoid of the culture of Montreal or Quebec City, Calgary started off as a hitchin’ post, a gateway to the Wild West.

Every year, Calgarians commemorate these western roots by holding what they refer to as, ‘The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth’.  The celebration lasts for ten days in early July when the sun shines most brilliant on visitors from around the world, mostly the Southern United States.  Calgary’s drunken carnival generates more business than the rest of the year combined.  Business meetings are held over tables supported by wooden kegs covered with beer, bacon and beans.  Free pancakes are flipped every morning: hungry, hung-over mouths wait in line for their syrupy sacrament.

Luc had always been ambivalent to the event.  He loved the idea of carnival.  He loved the taste of corndogs, the mini-doughnuts and, of course, the copious amounts of Big Rock Beer.  However, Luc hated the corporate world’s perversion of the fair.

Businessmen wearing brilliant, white cowboy hats preyed on unsuspecting patrons.  Upon paying the twenty dollar entrance fee, one was assaulted with unending mark-ups.  Luc demonstrated this greed to his friends. He compared the cost of making a corn dog to the amount of money the vendor’s charged for one.  His friends laughed; Luc seethed.

Faux-cowboy style angered Luc, as did the fair’s cartoon-like misrepresentation of First Nations Peoples.  White boys in red-face and braids ran around teepees by the river, making obscene noises.  Drunken businessmen, dressed as cowboys challenged these “savages” to reenact the childhood cowboy and Indian games: much blood was spilled on the Elbow’s silty banks.

Luc’s return from the desert coincided with the beginning of the fair; his car, a veritable greenhouse on wheels, was filled with the most precious, seed-grown plants. When he pulled into town, he was immediately held captive by deadlock traffic caused by the Stampede Parade.

In spite of his frustration, and disappointment about his poor timing Luc was rowdy, drunk on the feeling only homecoming can create in the hearts of men.  He and his friends started partying at noon, and then proceeded downtown to the fair.

Luc entered the turnstile and headed directly to the beer gardens.  He poured liberally from a flask of whiskey he had concealed in his sock, giving his watered-down Molson Canadian an added gravity. Luc sweat profusely in the 30 degree heat of the midway.

Luc surveyed the beer garden— fake tattoos, cowboy hat whistles, the debaucherous slurs of the uninitiated, all worked in unison further fuel his rage.  Young women were felt up by suitors and strangers alike as security stood idly by nodding in approval.  From time to time, hoses sprayed water indiscriminately upon the crowd effectively turning the swarm into a wet t-shirt contest.  Luc got more drunk and ornery.

He left the beer gardens in search of his friends. His rag, exponentiated when a carnie referred to him as a “frog” to challenge him.  His rage increased upon seeing the price of bottled water to quench his thirst, for there were no water fountains on the grounds.  He stumbled through the carbon pollution of the midway like a wild beast, in search of a free glass of water to quiet the blind thump of his dehydrated brain; his search was in vain.  Black rage pumped through blue vein.  Luc wanted to burn it all down.

Luc spied a tent surrounded by hay bales, and dug desperately through his pockets for his Zippo lighter, but it had fallen out of his pocket in the gardens.  He he wandered a bit further.

The midway swirled around Luc.  Women carried huge stuffed animals as their men groped them with exaggerated license.  Another carny called Luc a “frog”, challenging him win a cheap-bead necklace for “his boyfriend”.  Luc punched out the carny, grabbed a paw-full of necklaces, and descended once again into the midway’s sweaty din, braiding the necklaces into a makeshift whip as he walked.  By the time Luc got to the Dream Home’s ticket booth, his whip exceeded an inch in diameter.

The Dream Home Raffle has long been the Calgary Stampede’s most refined choice for gamblers.  Evangelical housewives, who otherwise never gamble, annually invest absurd amounts of money to add their names to the Dream Home’s ever-churning wheel of possibility.  They walk through the house, and even in its temporary, undesirable location amidst the heat and panic of the Stampede, find comfort in its artificial hearth. They nudge reluctant husbands, who would much rather be at a concession or at the Chuck-Wagon Races, and they dream aloud: “Can you imagine?”

An old woman named Ethel was among those working at the kiosk that afternoon. She shuddered as Luc approached.

Luc flipped over a plywood table, sending raffle ticket stubs and loonies flying.

“You fuckin’ cunt!  Do you have any idea how much money my mother wastes on this bullshit every year?  Fuck you!  Tabernac!”

Ethel ran from Luc’s make-shift whip, a bedazzled scourge that reflected light in a thousand different directions. It blinded all who tried to apprehend him. Luc left the Dream Home for the Casino.

As he walked through the Big Four’s automatic doors, Luc’s stomach churned. Save for the sound of slot machine, the casino was ominously silent: desperate, weary eyes searched lifelessly for hope and cherries. Roulette wheels spun, and frigid oxygen pumped through the smoke stained ceiling, rendering one both awake and hypnotized.

Luc was initially relieved to be out of the sun but his relief was short-lived.He grabbed the spinning edge of a roulette table and cast it off its ball-bearing-axis, and onto the floor where a craps table soon followed.

Calgary’s law enforcement was on high-alert at this, the centennial year of the Stampede.  Casino security guards are never rookies; a minimum of five years of experience is required to even be considered for the job, which many vied for to avoid the extreme temperatures of the midway: the Big Four Building, a jeweled center of heat-stroke insanity.

Security guards, alerted to the mayhem, ran toward the chaos equipped with walky-talkies. But Luc had disappeared, leaving no trace of his violence even on the security cameras above.

Luc’s rage was also invisible to the press.  The City of Calgary couldn’t afford to have their lone crown jewel tarnished.  The Calgary Sun and the The Calgary Herald were both bribed: apart from a handful of eye-witnesses, nobody ever knew about Luc’s destructive afternoon; it never happened.

Luc’s friends came to his rescue.  They, the lone rememberers of the event, were terrified by their friend’s irrational, destructive zeal.

“What the fuck was that all about, Luc?”

Luc, now perfectly calm in the back of his friend’s van, smoked a joint.

“Seriously, you coulda got us all arrested with that shit: they would’ve thrown you in the drunk tank, y’ know.”

“You think the fuckin’ drunk tank scares me?  I was once thrown in there for three days!  I was puked on, spat on, pissed off, beaten up, shook down and still, I walked out of there with a grin!  It’s happened to me before, and I’m sure it’ll happen again- I don’t fuckin’ care.”

As he spoke, Luc’s eyes, at once mesmerized and terrified his friends.  He was on a mission, and they were scared to ask him who had assigned it.

stampede

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