I’ll get to the bully part in a minute, but first, let’s talk about how great it is to have canoed two miles and hiked another two through the woods with three 8 year olds to a waterfall in La Mauricie, where it started to pour with rain, and the kids were wearing flipflops and somebody (me) had forgotten (neglected) to bring towels and warm clothes, only to race back through the woods, steeling yourself for the miserable canoe ride back through lashing rain with above-mentioned children soaked, hungry and tired, only to burst through the end of the trail and discover that the sun has come out at the same time, a rainbow is forming, and somebody (else) has thought to tuck your novel into the cooler, thus saving the last chapter from the last flood. Joy!
No less fortunately, we were travelling with some pretty brilliant children who knew how to pull their weight…
But now, let’s talk about camp ground bullies. So, who knew, right? That you could take your children out into the woods, set up camp in a national park surrounded by other well-meaning families just trying to provide some of that brain-enhancing piney air to their deracinated city kids. Who knew there’d be so many other people so close, but that’s a question for another time, having to do with overpopulation, urban dread, and why we go out of our way sometimes to haul potatoes from the supermarket hundreds of kilometres to a camp ground where they get wrapped in foil and cooked in embers (which tastes really good by the way).
Anyway… It was mostly other families, with cute kids racing around chasing chipmunks while they waited for their parents to clean up after the evening meal, and food was stowed away from bears and foxes, and the sun was setting somewhere beyond the trees and… The biggest psycho on the loose in the province of Quebec was gearing himself up for an epic torrent of rage and abuse a mere fifty feet from where our kids were roasting the last marshmallows of the day.
You see, we didn’t realize, but now that it was getting dark, the headlights of our rental van were coming on each time we opened the van doors to get stuff out or put stuff in. I’d gone off to wash some dishes, and as I returned I heard some shouting coming from our spot. I hurried closer only to discover that my friend was being yelled at by a very angry dude holding a flashlight inches from her face in an attempt to blind her as, he claimed, our headlights were blinding him and his strangely quiet wife. A French-Canadian Lou Reed look-alike, this rabid, slavering, maddened car camper was scaring the shit out of the kids, not to mention my friend and my sister as he shouted insults and invective having to do with our not having read the manual and…
I rushed over and began calmly (at first) to demand that he remove the flashlight from my friend’s face. Upon which he swung it toward me, temporarily blinding me. Now I was feeling less calm and more like I needed to yell back at him and require that he remove himself from our camp ground. I said we would be happy to take care of the problem once he had backed the hell off, but he really needed to back the hell off and stop with the flashlight and the screaming.
No such luck. His reptilian hind brain had taken possession of his senses and nothing could stop him now. As he rained more insults and threats down on us, accusing me and my little party of women and children of the worst kind of disrespect (hey, we hadn’t even brought out the guitars and beer yet and the kids were pretty damn well behaved), I raised my hand to shield my eyes from the flashlight. I guess this nutter had more than once found himself in situations of physical violence, because he reacted in a way that suggested he expected a physical rebuttal to his insanity. He pushed me. I started to shake. Who pushes women, in front of their kids, in a national park, unless it’s to get them away from a bear?
“Quittez maintenant”, I shouted more or less coherently. No quitting or leaving followed. “Si vous ne quittez pas je vais aller chercher de l’aide”, I continued. He scoffed. So I made good on my promise, and ran out onto the little road that wound through the camp ground shouting “Au secours, au secours!” I’m not sure if that’s how you’re supposed to call for help these days, but it did the trick and the next thing we knew a couple of burly men showed up to help us out with Lou Reed’s maddened doppleganger. Lou, his eyes widened by adrenaline, had a point to make, and no amount of back-up muscle was going to change that. I had the van key in my hand, but I was a little bit paralysed by the utter surreality of the situation. A woman gently took the key from my hand and turned the van around so that the lights wouldn’t shine towards the crazy man’s camp site, and then… It ended. He left. Not without muttering a few more insults, but still.
We crawled into our tents. We calmed the children down. We talked quietly and listened for the sound of tires being slashed, or Lou returning to our site with an axe. But nothing. So we started laughing, all of us, laughing our heads off, and we laughed for quite a long while. Because what else are you going to do?