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the Gauntlet

The season has arrived

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I'm a complete sap for Christmas. I think The Bay on 7th Avenue blaring "O Come All Ye Faithful" all day long is fantastic. Catching the C-Train on a brisk November night couldn't have a more unique feeling were it not for what I just saw.

Try as I might, I can't pay my rent in buttons, so I took a job at a liquor store downtown. Without naming the store, it is about two blocks too far south to be in a friendly area and one block west of being in the seventh circle of hell or, as many know it, the Northeast. I love beer and whiskey, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to learn something about wine. Plus they're going to pay me, so I couldn't lose, could I?

I lost all right. Primarily what was, in retrospect, my fairly naïve view of alcohol and how it affects people.

Like clockwork, for four days in a row and then Sunday, the same people arrived. From the businessman with his king can and two half-mickeys of Bacardi White to the lower-middle class couple around 30, and their 12-pack of Bud. That's not so bad, I suppose, but what eats at you are the street people, plentiful around this neighbourhood.

They choose the truly finest lagers: Lucky Extra, Black Label Ice and AGD. Some go for the stereotypical 40 of Blackbull or any other God-awful concoction. With exact change to the penny, they load their backpacks and leave, often more polite than any high-end customer. Many already smell like booze, or worse.

One gentleman, who always wants his Old Stock triple bagged, has burn marks from using his crack pipe. Trust me, once you know what they look like, you can spot them anywhere.

One Sunday, a man with a French accent was pacing outside the doors before we opened. His six-pack over his shoulder, he left, only to return two hours later, with exact change plus a penny, for another sixer and tried to steal a promotional Coors Light poster. I grabbed him by the coat and pushed him out the door. My co-worker was in the back, so I just didn't mention anything. I didn't want to touch his coat, it was filthy, but I pushed a 50-something half-drunk eight feet, so I was satisfied.

The most disheartening incident so far came from a surprising place.

A young girl, 18, her identification says her first name starts with a 'J,' but I can't remember the rest. She is usually outside a nearby convenience store. She bought four 1.18L bottles of Blackbull in a period of just under five hours. I asked her if she thought I should sell her the fourth bottle, her response was, "yeah, I mean, I'm not drunk, am I?"

And she wasn't, so I sold it to her.

I couldn't believe I was doing my part in destroying a young girl's life. I can't think of the words to describe how it makes you feel.

Work ends, and I run to the train station. Fast. It's better than taking a second look at the scenery. As I get to the platform, a police officer is telling a young guy, no more than 25, he can't be within nine metres of the train platform. You can't panhandle near the platform. It might bug people, I suppose.

What bugs me is that I was a part of something much worse today. I'm the upstanding, employed, full-time student.

"It's Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas" comes over the loud speaker. It's just another chilly night in downtown Calgary. 'Tis the season, after all.

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