The want-ad said nothing about a degree, but it’s good to give a bit beyond what they ask for. A degree says that I’m responsible, valuable. The ad told me exactly what they were looking for, and I invented a past that was just a little bit better, like they were getting more than their money’s worth with me. Everyone likes a deal.
“Where do you see yourself in five years?” the owner of the tour guide service asked. He looked up from the papers to meet my eyes.
“Developing tours of my own,” I said, and smiled. “I want to help shape people’s impression of Nova Scotia.”
“What do you think Nova Scotia has to offer that distinguishes it from the other provinces?” he asked, and I pulled my chair closer to the table, closer to him.
My smile was wide.
“I would have to say the people, first of all,” I said.
After the interview he shook my hand firmly.
In my car I pulled slowly into traffic. I found a country music station to listen to, even though I hate country music. Listening to music that I hate calms me down.
He called me early the next day. The job would be simple. Tourists would sign up for the tour, they would rent bikes from his company, and I would take them on a predetermined route along the Herring Cove road, through a national park, and then a picturesque fishing village. He had it all planned out.
My plan was a little different.
My friend David worked the video camera. I had the megaphone strapped to my back.
At Shelly’s house we clumped together in the road, still straddling our bikes, and I took the megaphone off my back. A thin brunette woman in the crowd wheeled her bike next to mine, and I turned to her with my smile as genuine as I could make it.
“Why are we stopping?” she said.
“This is the first stop on today’s tour,” I told her, and I pointed to Shelly’s house. “This is the home of Shelly Taylor,” I said, loud enough for even the couples at the back of the tour group to hear.
“Who’s Shelly Taylor?” I heard one of them whisper, a man in a bright red windbreaker. I was glad, then, that I’d not memorized a set script for this, that I’d decided spontaneity and improvisation would be more dynamic.
David was off to the side, making sure that he got everyone in his shot: me, the tourists, and the house itself. I hoped that the camera’s microphone was as good as he said it was. The preamble was important too.
“Let me tell you,” I said to the questioning man. “Shelly Taylor is my current girlfriend, “I smiled. “This is the home of Mister and Missus Taylor, her parents. Shelly, who lives upstairs, gave me a curious present this year for my birthday. She gave me a book called Oral Sex Tips for Men. What the hell is that all about?” I didn’t give them time to respond. They began to realize this wasn’t the kind of tour they’d expected. I lifted the megaphone to my mouth, and turned to the house.
“HEY SHELLY, IT ISN’T BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW HOW.” I said, my voice bouncing off the houses and echoing back to the group. “IT’S BECAUSE I’M SAVING THAT FOR A GIRL THAT I REALLY LOVE. YOU’RE JUST HELPING ME KILL TIME. YOU’RE LIKE INTERNET PORNOGRAPHY,” I said. “ONLY CHEAPER.”
A woman in the group behind me got on her bike, and started off down the hill. David filmed her as she biked away, and then turned the camera back to me. Everyone else was looking at me expectantly. I shrugged, watching her go.
“I hope she doesn’t get lost, with no guide,” I said, but now they were looking beyond me at Shelly’s house. I turned around again, and saw that Shelly and her mother were standing on the porch, staring at us. I lifted the megaphone to my lips again. “AND I’M KEEPING THOSE DVDS YOU LEFT AT MY HOUSE.” I said. “THEY’RE MINE.”
I got on my bike, not looking back to see if the tour group was going to follow. I knew they would.
The second stop was my most recent ex-girlfriend. I’d decided that reverse chronological order would be the best method, starting off with fresh anger, shocking my audience with the viciousness of my feelings, and then, as I worked my way back through time, we would visit the homes of old lovers that I’d had time to reflect over. In this way, an emotional depth would emerge over the course of the show.
“Michelle and I used to get in fights,” I said as we slowed down on her street. “I would accuse her of cheating on me with this call centre flunky, and she would call me jealous and paranoid.” The crowd pulled into her driveway behind me. “Two weeks after we broke up, I saw them coming out of the movie theatre, holding hands. Now, maybe she wasn’t cheating on me at all, and my paranoia and bitterness drove her away. Maybe she needed someone to trust and to be close with, and all I wanted to do was own her. Maybe that drove her to him.” I paused. “Now, I recognize that these are very real possibilities.” I said. “But let’s pretend for a second that they aren’t.”
I raised the megaphone to my mouth.
“HEY SLUT.” I said. “IS THIS A BAD TIME? I’VE GOT SOME PEOPLE OUT HERE WHO HAVE NEVER SEEN PURE EVIL. WHY DON’T YOU PUT ON THAT SARI OR SARONG OR WHATEVER THE FUCK IT IS THAT YOU NEVER WEAR A BRA UNDER AND COME ON OUT.”
An hour later we were parked in front of Chebucto Heights Elementary.
“This isn’t what I paid for,” a man said, wheeling his bike next to mine. I nodded my head.
“I understand that sir,” I said, “and of course you’re free to leave at any time. I have no doubt that you’ll receive a full refund from my employer when you explain the situation to him. If you are interested, though, school is almost out, and Kelly will be here to pick up her daycare group.”
I don’t know whether he stayed with the group because he was afraid of getting lost, or because he was genuinely interested, but by the next stop, the vibe of the group had clearly changed. The people remaining were laughing and asking me questions. They stood behind me giggling as Sheri stepped nervously out onto her front step.
“I LENT YOU TWENTY DOLLARS THE DAY BEFORE YOU DUMPED ME,” I said through the megaphone, and I could hear the crowd snickering. “MAYBE YOU COULD PAY ME BACK NOW?” Sheri went into the house, and a minute later came out with a twenty dollar bill. The man who had complained about the tour biked up to her and took it from her hand. “YOU MADE STUPID FACES IN BED,” I said. We biked away.
By stop six, they were asking David if they could get a copy of the tape. I said that if they left us fifteen dollars, we could have it burnt to DVD and mailed to them. I said maybe you’ll see it this fall, on TV.
We pulled into the last driveway, and a man behind me was laughing already. He kept poking his wife in the ribs and saying “ONLY CHEAPER!” She kept responding with, “HEY SLUT!” and they would laugh even harder.
“This is where Enid lives,” I said quietly, and all of their chatter died down. “I pointed to the back door. “That door leads down to the basement, where I lost my virginity at the age of fourteen. We were both drinking. I’d never been drunk, and to be honest I had never even kissed a girl. Enid changed all that. She… hold on,” I said, as the front door opened, and Enid stepped out. “Here she is now,” I said as Enid locked the door. She turned to see the crowd of cyclists on the street. I lifted the megaphone to my mouth.
“WHERE ARE YOU OFF TO NOW, HARLOT?” I said. “OFF TO STEAL THE INNOCENCE FROM ANOTHER STARRY EYED YOUTH? OFF TO CRUSH ANOTHER CHILD’S ROMANTIC NOTIONS WITH YOUR DEMANDS TO HAVE YOU HAIR PULLED INSTEAD OF BEING GENTLY KISSED, LIKE HOW THEY THOUGHT SEX WAS SUPPOSED TO BE?” She just stood there, staring, and then turned and went back into the house.
“THANKS FOR RUINING MY LIFE.” I said as the door closed behind her. I turned, grinning, to the crowd of cyclists, and nodded. “That about wraps it up for today’s tour,” I said. “I hope that you come away from this tour with a newfound impression of what it’s like to live in our beautiful province, and the…” There was a sound behind me, the shriek of a megaphone turning on. I turned to see Enid standing on her porch again, megaphone in hand.
“YOU NEVER CALLED ME BACK,” she said. “YOU STARTED CRYING HALFWAY THROUGH, AND RAN OUT, SOBBING LIKE I’D STABBED YOU OR SOMETHING. I WASN’T ABLE TO HAVE SEX AGAIN UNTIL I WAS NINETEEN. I KNEW THAT I SHOULDN’T BE GUILTY, BUT I COULDN’T…” I lifted my own megaphone. “HARLOT HARLOT HARLOT,” I said, drowning out her words. “HARLOT HARLOT HARLOT.” I turned to David. “Stop recording,” I said, but he shook his head. “This is good TV,” he said.
“I COULDN’T GET THAT PICTURE OF YOU OUT OF MY HEAD,” Enid said, “YOU PULLING UP YOUR SWEAT PANTS AND SAYING ‘I’M A WHORE, I’M A WHORE’ OVER AND OVER AGAIN. FOR YEARS I HATED MYSELF FOR TAKING AWAY YOUR INNOCENCE.”
I got on my bike, and started down the hill, not looking back to see if the tour group was following me until I was almost a block away from Enid’s house. They weren’t following.
“THE TOUR IS OVER,” I announced through the megaphone, and I could see David filming me. There was no way I would give him associate producer credit now. He turned the camera back to Enid.
“HE HAD THE CUTEST UNDERWEAR, THOUGH,” Enid was saying. “BATMAN UNDERWEAR, AT FOURTEEN.” I turned the corner and biked another block before stopping.
This could still be salvaged. It was just another twist, another way my show was going to distinguish itself from the other reality shows. I just had to swallow my pride.
The first of the cyclists came around the corner toward me.
At the back of the crowd, a woman poked her husband in the side. “HEY SLUT” she said, grinning. Her husband laughed. “I’M A WHORE,” he crowed. “I’M A WHORE, I’M A WHORE!”