January 17, 2016 § Leave a comment
“You’re late.” Dwayne Barnaby lifts a combat boot to the stool behind his shop front display case and sucks back a power smoothie. “You just missed the bingo rush. You would have been swamped.” He grins. “They would’ve victimized you.”
10:35 p.m. 20 minutes into my first (and only) shift at Dwayne’s Convenience, Fort Good Hope, NWT’s only after-hours candy shop. I’ve sold a pack of cigarettes, two slushies, four cans of pop, a Mars bar and four gummy tree frogs. Barnaby, a buzzcutted health nut in a wide-striped golf shirt, is belly-laughing—harder than he’s belly-laughed in years, he says.
In the 20 years Dwayne’s has been in business, he’s never had an employee on the payroll. When he’s out of town, his dad runs the shop; otherwise, Dwayne’s is a one-man show, 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., seven days a week, 365 days a year. So when I came in asking questions one February night, Barnaby said, “Why don’t you come back tomorrow night. Work a shift, you’ll know everything you need to know about this place.” Seems more like a set-up for his own Just-for-Laughs. Locals freeze when they see anyone but a Barnaby behind the counter. One boy giggles so hard he just points at a cherry slush and a bag of chips, shoulders quaking on his way back out.
“If you Google me, the first thing you’ll find is that my house burned down,” says Barnaby. Actually, his house burned down twice, in a 2010 arson mini-spree. Barnaby had no insurance, but didn’t press charges. He took the opportunity to move from his old lot (two houses over from the candy shop) to a new one, right next door, so he can watch over Dwayne’s 24 hours a day. “Of course I know who did it,” says Barnaby. He downs a handful of chia seeds. “I know everyone in town.”
11:30 p.m. The bell hanging over the doorway chimes; Dwayne ducks behind a wall of organic soups in the corner. “I’m not going to help you this time,” he says. It’s three teenagers. “Orange Crush, a Snickers and four Double Lollies,” says one.
“Sure you don’t want Double Bubble?” I ask. (The Double Bubbles are older and Barnaby wants to sell them before they expire.) “They’re five for a dollar.” The teen shrugs and takes a handful of Double Bubbles. Barnaby’s thumbs-up emerges from behind the soup.
Next up is a whole crowd, sweaty yet flushed from the cold. “Rap band at the high school,” says a boy in a windbreaker. “Called Second Generation, I think. Pretty good.”
A man in his early 20s keeps his snowmobile helmet on until he gets to the counter. He says he’s been driving the high cliffs outside of town, Old Baldy and the Ramparts. He just came in for a pop and he’s on his way back out again. “Wanna come?” He asks. I look back at the soups.
“Nah, gotta finish my shift.”
12:30 a.m. Dwayne’s has been silent for almost an hour. Barnaby goes back to reminiscing. “One night,” he says, “I was at home in my old place, next door to my new place. It was raining. There were a couple girls—just little girls, maybe 12 or 13. They came around, trying to break through the side door, but since it was raining, they thought I wouldn’t hear them. So I snuck around the bushes to the back and threw a rock at them. One girl got scared, she said, ‘Somebody hit me!’ But the other two didn’t believe her. They said, ‘Stop it. You’re just imagining things.” So I hit them again and this time, they all went screaming. They ran off and I stepped out, said ‘Shop’s closed, come back tomorrow.’… You have to be forgiving in this place,” he says, referring to both town and shop. “Most of the kids around here, they’re just bored.”
12:50 a.m. Barnaby flips the switch to the open sign. He empties the cigarette drawer and the cans of Copenhagen chewing tobacco into his backpack, leaves the popcorn in the roaster. He cashes out the till. $930.
For my hours, I get a travel mug and a salute—“Watch out for the wolves. They’ve been picking off the dogs.” He bolts a heavy-duty padlock shut on the steel door.
Barnaby disappears inside the one-room house next door and I set out for home along the snowmobile paths in the dark, -40 with the dogs howling.