I want to talk to you this week about insecurities, of which I have a few … but FIRST

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The local YELLOWKNIFER newspaper announced that “Mitzi”, the infamous stripper who could propel ping pong balls from her inner girly works was coming to town.

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I was a young, unattached guy and this was northern excitement at its finest; I would not be denied the thrill of a titillating lifetime.

The only stripper bar I’ve ever been inside in my entire life is in Canada’s Arctic in Yellowknife, NWT. Yellowknife is a small’ish (about 20,000 population today)  northern frontier town famously replete with mosquitoes, blackflies, gold mines (when I lived there in the late 1970’s) and diamond mines (today).

I wandered into the dark, shadowy barroom with an old friend and hospital work colleague Jim Collette.

It was the Gold Range bar, although in Yellowknife it was referred to as a tavern. A nauseatingly strong stench of stale beer and years of accumulated cigarette smoke saturated the walls and air surrounding the dark wooden tables, knife-etched with names and phone numbers of past inebriated patrons.

The_Gold_Range

The Gold Range, affectionately called The Strange Range, was a fusion place for aboriginals, sourdoughs and rough-hewn miners. You could see your life coming to an end at the point of a knife blade or the ragged edge of a broken beer bottle at a place like the Gold Range.

It had a reputation and it wasn’t a good one. It was stereotypical Wild West, or in this case, Wild North.

The people populating this place had names like Stinky Pete, or Dirty Dan. They had long, stringy hair; dirty, frayed baseball caps with names like Weaver & Devore Trading or Giant Mine emblazoned on the front; and multi-hued teeth that hadn’t seen a dentist’s chair in … well, maybe ever! I was feeling pretty jangled and nervous sitting there –  the only reason I stayed was because my horny libidinous heart was quixotically stronger than my frayed nerves or common sense.

The Gold Range was not the natural habitat for this soft, southern boy. Jim and I sat and ordered a Pilsner and Alta 3.9 beer and waited with anticipation for the show to start. When it did begin, it was pretty anti-climatic (sorry, bad pun!). The strippers were mostly a bit older and kind of saggy. It wasn’t the erotic “hit” I was expecting, and the shared experience with a bunch of others was just kind of demeaning to us all. Honestly, I don’t even remember the ping pong ball part of it, just the sordid seediness that left a sour taste.

This is what "Good Girls" do with ping pong balls...

This is what “Good Girls” do with ping pong balls…

OK, you’ve been patient so now I’ll come to the part about my insecurities.

Bars come in classes. I was probably too classy for the Gold Range but not really classy enough for the Horseshoe Lounge at the posh Explorer Hotel; my self-esteem wasn’t sufficiently high to stroll into the Horseshoe Lounge. I’m just a middle class mid-range bar kind of guy I suppose.

My friends and my favourite drinking hangout in Yellowknife was called The Gallery. I would consider it a mid-range bar. It was a wide open well-lit watering hole with a shuffleboard table and a jukebox. The Gallery had no art and no shooting other than the drinks that were fired back in large quantity. They served the best kielbasa in hot dog buns with mustard and relish.

I always hated to enter The Gallery alone. There were those few hesitant, uncomfortable moments where I feared I wouldn’t spot anyone I knew, and everyone else in the bar would know that I was a lonesome loser. I’d stroll in with my eyeglasses all fogged and frozen up from walking off the -40 C streets in January and then try to locate a familiar face either through ice-glazed glasses or furry myopic eyeballs.

Either way, the little voice in my head would be saying, “what are you doing here by yourself, everyone else is with a group and having fun … there must be something wrong with you.

It’s crappy when we’re young and insecure (or worse still, older and insecure) and we worry about every little thing that others might think about us. We want to meld into the mix of others, not stand out as different. Conform or die.

Insecurity doesn’t come from an objective view of our ability but an emotional interpretation. Two people with the same capabilities or attributes can have entirely different levels of insecurity.

Hollywood Insecurity...

Hollywood Insecurity…

I know I’m a capable person on a lot of levels and yet even still I have that worried voice in my head that tells me I could be better or different. Fortunately, the voice has grown far quieter as I grow older, but it still talks to me and tries to bring me down. Rationally I know it’s a liar and a deceiver, but it takes a determined ounce or two of positive counteracting thoughts to stuff it away sometimes.

But you can’t outrun insecurity. A sad matter about Yellowknife was that some people came there for their last stand against inner demons. They were lonely, miserable outcasts who thought that when they came to the Arctic somehow there would be a mystical transformation and everything would be different from their life in the south. They would magically fit in. Rarely happens.

Soon after I arrived to work in Yellowknife, a nice guy named Perry came to work in the housekeeping department at Stanton Yellowknife Hospital. He would stop by as he mopped floors and chat with me every morning about cars and guns and other things that interested him. Perry was about 21 years old and seemed pretty normal by all appearances. Perry was sad and miserable inside, only none of us knew it.

I liked Perry but I never asked him to join in with any of our “professional” group of lab techs, nurses, physiotherapists, in whatever Reindeer Games we were playing. You know, he might not have chosen to come along because he wouldn’t have enjoyed our company, but would it have hurt me to just ask him?

One dark, early winter morning I walked into the Microbiology lab section where I worked and ran into John, the senior housekeeper boss guy.

–Perry killed himself last night, John said.

–Put a shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger. The RCMP found him in a ditch on the outskirts of town.

I had spoken with Perry in a normal fashion a day earlier and now his demons and insecurities had won the interior argument. Now he was dead, at his own hands. I was stunned. I was ignorant and stunned.

Insecurities come in different layers and different strengths. I try now to look for signs of insecurities in others, not to make myself feel better in comparison (another sign of insecurity), but so that I can understand their struggles with behaviours such as selfishness, arrogance, sulking, gossiping, over-competitiveness, defensiveness, excessive chatter, people-pleasing, excessive swearing. If there’s some small thing that I can do or say that will soothe someone’s negative inner voice, why not? It’s a Pay It Forward kind of thing, I suppose.

Insecurity wears a lot of different costumes.

Slack Alice’s, the local stripper bar in my area burned down about a year ago. And DAMN, I never saw the inside of it. I guess I was just too insecure to go inside on my own!

But I’m sure that every day there was a whole barroom full of strippers and patrons, nursing a beer or shot glass, and each, just like me, with their own beat-up lifetime suitcase filled with personal insecurities.

insecurity suitcase

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