lost ironies

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Month: June, 2014

Horoscope of the Apocalypse – The Canada Day Edition

why not read them all

For Fire Signs (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) Oooh yeah, fire signs! It’s Canada Day. The day when you drop everything and express your undying, never ending, ever lasting love for the country that gave the world Pablum, canola oil and standard time. There’s excitement and dynamism for you, eh? Oh yeah, and Canada’s also the nation that gave the world the cardigan-wearing hell spawn we know as Stephen Harper, who celebrates every Canada Day by sacrificing kittens at his alter to Margaret Thatcher. Actually, did you know ol’ Steevo likes to dress up like Baroness Thatcher and play Pokémon in the basement of 24 Sussex Drive? For real, there’s a picture of him here — oops, wrong picture. I once observed Stephen Harper eating Taco Bell in a shopping mall food court in suburban Calgary, where he sat gorging himself on deep fried burritos. It was really gross, man. I mean he was really digging in. Anyway, this ten year old kid with a Hello Kitty notepad comes up to him and asks for an autograph, and Harper’s bodyguards wrestle her to the ground, and arrest her. The kid’s eighteen now, and she’s still doing time at Guantanamo Bay where she participates in a CIA run program that has inmates test McDonalds Happy Meal toys for choke hazards. The PMO doesn’t like to talk about it. And now I guess you want some kind of prediction based on my observations of how the planets align. What am I, your private astrology monkey? 

For Earth Signs (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn) In 1812, Canada, a colony of Great Britain, was swept up in a war with America. It was called the War of 1812, even though it lasted way longer than that, because War of 1812 just kind of roles off the tongue, doesn’t it? And who doesn’t like a well named war? Like the War of the Quadruple Alliance, the Napoleonic Wars, the Ottoman-Wahhabi Revolt, the Mexico-Yaqui Indian War, Viang Chan-Siamese War of 1826-1827, the Farroupilha War and the Chinese Pirates War of 1849 – that’s a good one, eh, eh? Then there’s Star Wars, the franchise that strangely enough started out being called Attack of the Killer Cabbage Aliens from Planet Porno. That was really just a working title back when George Lucas thought he could still work some leather corseted Amazons into the script. Fortunately, friends and family intervened and Lucas was detoxed, received extensive ECT treatments and had his medication changed. That’s how we ended up with Darth Vader instead of Imelda the Vinyl Cabbage Queen – now wouldn’t she have made an awesome action figure, eh? And hey, I really don’t know what any of this has to do with astrology. I mean, to be honest, I’m really baked on some oxycodone they gave me for a kidney stone I had the other day. So, just take care of family matters this week. That’s my advice. And since your partner’s probably cheating on you, it’s okay to put on your fat pants and stare out the window like a grumpy tabby cat.

For Air Signs (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius) Remember Bob and Doug McKenzie, that fictional pair of Canadian brothers who came up with the Great White North on SCTV. They’re the ones who started putting “eh” at the end of everything they said, as if that was what all Canadians did, which they don’t, eh. Okay, that was a slip, eh. Alright screw it, eh. Maybe Canadians really do put “eh” at the end of every sentence, eh. Like in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, where it says…

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms, eh:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion, eh;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication, eh;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly, eh; and
(d) freedom of association, eh.

…and where Prime Minister Stephen Harper says, “No way, eh. Who came up with this Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms shit, anyway, eh? It’s getting in the way of me ruining the country, eh. So that Enbridge and ExxonMobil can rule and take over all the aboriginal land, eh.” And then the Supreme Court of Canada says, “To bad Steevo, no way, eh. The doctrine of terra nullius [that no one owned the land prior to European assertion of sovereignty] never applied in Canada, eh.” And then the aboriginals said, “Ha, eh! Sit on this, Steevo, eh.” So now I guess you want some astrological monkey slush, eh. Ok, so stay indoors this long weekend and snake your drains, eh. A clean drain means a healthy mind, eh. This advice is gold, eh. Don’t never say I didn’t give you nothing. Eh.

For Water Signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) It’s shameful to admit that some forms of torture actually originated in Canada. Like five pin bowling, and the 56k modem that was invented by Dr. Brent Townshend in 1996. Hopefully you’re too young to recall this hateful little contraption. To get on the internet, your computer would commence dialling up a server somewhere in Tanzania, and then you’d have time to walk away and build a box girder bridge while you waited for a connection. Then once you had a connection, your internet porn would take all day to download, line by line on a cathode ray tube, so it was a good thing you had some Hustler magazines under your mattress. That’s a real Canadian Moment, babies. Believe me. I was there – and I’m Canadian, although my actual birth records were lost back in 1957 in a highway accident involving a moose and a Winnebago near Saskatoon. Since then, to be honest, I’ve sort of felt a little alone and without a country. And lately, I’ve been drinking a lot of stolen hospital hand sanitizer, too. I thought of moving to Qatar once, but the architecture looks too much like a FIFA Google Doodle. You know, it’s not easy being an astrologer. Your friends are always waiting for you to say shit like: Avoid controversial subjects today, like politics, religion and recreational amputation. When all I want is some compassion and normalcy, and to be smeared with honey and left to the humming birds – you’ll get it later and weep.

I am a Vancouverite

I admit to being a little bit different than most people who live here – I can parallel park.
I was born and raised here, too. Yes, there are a few of us.
And we wish everyone else would bugger off,
instead of moving here and spending the rest of their lives
whining about how much they hate it
because people in Vancouver are soooo unfriendly,
except nowadays nearly everyone in Vancouver is from somewhere else,
so it’s not the Vancouver people who aren’t friendly,
it’s the imports who whine all the time.
It is true, however, that when I say have a nice day,
I probably mean go F*** yourself.
I don’t live in a leaky condo, because I can’t afford one.
And I don’t drink multiple daily cups of what ever slop Starbucks is flogging,
just so you know.
And it rains here,
and when it’s not raining it’s cloudy,
and when it’s not raining or cloudy it’s night.
So, if you suffer from any form of affective disorder, then just stay wherever you are and take your medication.
There’re already too many suicidal bastards out here from somewhere else.
And no, Lululemon isn’t the name of some over the hill stripper with a heart of gold.
It’s the name of an incorporated, yoga-inspired athletic apparel company,
which produces yoga clothing that some women should never wear,
but you’re in the shit if you ever dare to point this out.
And it ain’t cheap to live here.
In fact it’s damn expensive.
So, you have to have two jobs, which means there really isn’t time for yoga class, anyway.
So don’t be fooled, those yoga mats you see people packing round are just for show.
And I don’t have any flag sewn on my backpack,
because I don’t own a backpack or anything to carry around in it,
because it’s really expensive to live here – have I mentioned that yet?
We embrace multiculturalism, and have the Korean restaurants and falafel joints to prove it.
And though beavers are cool, it’s crows and coyotes that really make it in this town.
A toque is indeed a hat and a chesterfield is in fact a couch,
but I don’t have either one of these things because it’s really expensive to live here.
We’ll never win a Stanley Cup, but we’re happy to riot instead.
In spite of all this, this is the best place in Canada.
But don’t tell your friends!
This is not the geographical solution to their problems.
My name is [insert name], and I am a Vancouverite.

don’t be evil

Google Corporation Convention, Vancouver Convention Centre, May 2027
Google Enterprise is a subsidiary of Google Corporation

Address to the 2027 Google Corporate Convention on the Progress of Google Corporation’s Convict Personality Erasure Project, Presented by CPEP Project Manager, Dr Dagmar Winslow.

…after quiet, polite applause…

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. It is indeed a pleasure to be here with you in this lovely city.

The question we set out to answer with the Google Corporation’s Convict Personality Erasure Project is a simple one. Now that the Corporation has taken on the task of running the nation’s prisons, what steps could it take to more effectively manage them?

A massive image of Google Corporation’s Baffin Island Penal Facility appears on the screen behind Dr Winslow, as she calmly shuffles index cards on her podium. Across the image in bold lettering is the Corporation’s motto, Don’t Be Evil. Dr Winslow waits a moment, and then continues.

Over the past decade, prison populations have risen precipitously, presenting ever increasing management challenges. The health and security of both inmates and prison staff is always a principal concern.

The image on the screen changes to that of a cell block populated by grim faced prisoners and stern guards. The words Don’t Be Evil no longer dominate the image, but occupy the bottom right hand corner instead.

But the cost-benefit question must never be ignored solely in the interest of protecting lower echelon employees or the criminals they’re paid to guard. It may be incorrect to say in some circles, but profit and share holder satisfaction must be our two primary goals.

Now the image on screen is a bar graph indicating profits generated by the Convict Personality Erasure Project, or CPEP, increasing over the past eight quarters. Dr Winslow pauses a moment for her audience to appreciate the figures. There is a delighted but dignified murmur from the audience. Dr Winslow continues.

The previously state run prison system failed for two reasons. First, politicians, with little or no understanding of the role of the prison or judicial systems, and with little or nothing to offer voters, planked their platforms with tough-on-crime promises. And when elected, to fulfill their promises, they criminalised an ever-increasing range of human behaviour and activities, while imposing a staggering array of mandatory minimum sentences, thereby eliminating the concept of natural justice and the flexibility for which the western judicial system was known. As a result, prison populations soared and conventional prisons became impossible to fund.

The screen image changes to a long list of recently legislated criminal offences.

The second reason for the failure of the state run prison system was that the same politicians I have already mentioned gave in to, and conspired with, private enterprise to create, what is fondly referred to by detractors, as the prison industrial complex, while still attempting to enforce state control. This created massive conflicts of interest within the system, and domed it. In the end, this proved that governments lacked the fiscal discipline to run efficient operations, a discipline that only the private sector can deliver.

The image now changes to a prisoner strapped into a chair, wearing an opaque pair of goggles and a pair of headphones. Though his eyes are masked, he is obviously grimissing in pain and his fists are tightly clenched. Once again, the words Don’t Be Evil are large across the screen.

The personality erasure procedure takes place in a safe, controlled environment using the apparatus you see the convict behind me wearing. Multiple subjects can be processed at once.

As we are all aware, Google began with a mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. But other opportunities to expand on this mission soon presented themselves, in the area of communications, other technologies and logistics.

Now that the nation’s prison system has been handed over to Google, via its subsidiary Google Enterprise, the Corporation has sought to harmoniously dovetail technology and prison reform, thereby further broadening opportunities in research and development to refine behaviour modification technologies and techniques.

Old prison models such as token economies, where daily attendance at educational programs resulted in rewards such as small amounts of money, toiletries, extra internet time or some other benefit, were intended to encourage good behaviour. They were meant to provide direct material rewards for good behaviour, but failed by creating grey and black markets within prisons, and classes of haves and have-nots, resulting in court challenges, and animosities amongst the prison population, leading to further violence.

Although severe punishments, such as extended solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, stress positioning, sexual humiliation, mild to severe non-injurious physical contact and even death, remain necessary in certain circumstances, the new emphasis for Google Enterprise will be to eliminate the need for these primitive forms of punishment, and reduce costs, by creating a docile and easily managed prison population, eradicating prison violence and recidivism. Government can continue its trend toward criminalising every aspect of human existence, and increasing prison populations, and Google will be there to reap the profits.

The image on the screen now changes to a prisoner, presumably the same one that was in the previous slide, now no longer wearing the opaque goggles or headphones, sitting strapped into the same chair, in a catatonic state. The words Don’t Be Evil continue to dominate the screen. Dr Winslow pauses for a moment and looks out onto the audience.

It is true that personality erasure has its critics, who consider the premature cognitive ageing, permanent flat affect, neurogenic motor immobility and behavioural abnormalities manifested by the destruction of the ego as negatives. But the procedure has been proven humane and highly effective in creating Pro-social behaviour in inmates and mental patients, as defined in the 2025 UN – Google Corporation Personality Erasure Charter. And CPEP is a demonstration of Google Corporation’s enduring commitment to compassion, integrity and justice.

Image changes now to a vast, open yard of catatonic individuals, wearing identical striped beige uniforms. The words Don’t Be Evil have once again returned to the right hand corner of the slide.

Integration of Convict Personality Erasure Project subjects into the community after release from prison has an 80% success rate, with a 14% rate of severe, untreatable psychosis, a 4% death rate and a recidivism rate of 1.5%. The remaining .5% of subjects succumb to other unspecified outcomes. Upon release, a subject is no longer the responsibility of the Corporation and no longer represents a liability burden. They are housed and monitored in the community in mass state-run dormitories, staffed by medical personnel, including psychiatrists specialising in personality erasure. Though post-erasure subjects are very low functioning, with intellects in the range of six to twelve years old, resulting from the procedure, they live full and satisfying lives under state care and do not re-offend.

The screen image now changes to a slowly spinning globe with Google, unmoving, suspended in its atmosphere. Beneath it, once again, is the motto Don’t Be Evil.

The privatisation of the state run prison system, and the effectiveness of the Convict Personality Erasure Project, represent a model for the rationalisation of traditional worldwide state run operations, and proves that no service or program, now run by the state, cannot be successfully privatised, resulting in greater profitability and efficiencies. Indeed, this model is representative of libertarian/technocratic exceptionalism in a world weary of the failings of the long-established, fatally liberal, system of democracy.

Though Google began as nothing more than a simple internet search engine, our drive to diversify and innovate has now brought us to a place of maximum profitability, tapping one of the greatest sources of potential corporate revenue. The bulk of federally collected tax revenue, once thought the sacred property of the nation state, is now fully accessible by whichever private entity has the wherewithal to reach out and take it. Ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you that Google is that entity.

Good night, and don’t be evil.

once upon a time on the Downtown Eastside – repost

Loosely based on possible past events 

It’s the Tuesday before Welfare Wednesday. The hungriest day of the month for the hungriest people in the city. My name is Darren Hornsby. I’m in my office at Mission United Church on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. I’m a Legal Anti-poverty Advocate, and I’m using a ruler to catapult sharpened pencils into the acoustic tiles above my desk. The phone rings.

In my line of work, a ringing phone is almost never a good thing. It usually means someone’s ass is falling off. People know that that’s my intervention criteria. Don’t even think of calling unless your ass is falling off. I usually let the phone ring seven times before picking up. It helps to weed out the unmotivated. On the Tuesday before cheque issue, however, I always let it ring eight times.

It does. I pick up.

“Darren here.”

“Hey Darren, ol’ buddy,” the caller says. “Guess who this is.”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Is your ass falling off?”

“Darren, pal. It’s Hal from the Food Bank. How you doing?”

I say, “I’ve got a feeling things are about to change for me.”

Hal’s a Food Bank employee. A broker really, responsible for foisting large amounts of the world’s most unwanted food onto the world’s most unwanted people. Hal and people like him are the dirty little secret of food banks everywhere.

People like Hal are the go-betweens for contributors using the food bank as a dumping facility. Donors delivering rotten or near rotten perishables by the truckload, and behaving like it’s manna. The Food Bank has rules, but these donors are usually large companies who provide monetary donations as well. They think not accepting their two hundred pounds of decaying chicken wieners is the same as not wanting the all important charity cheque come Christmastime. So, what’s the Food Bank to do? They get a guy like Hal.

Hal doesn’t get rich doing what he does. Like most of us living off the avails of the non-profit sector, he brings home just enough to avoid using the Food Bank himself. What makes Hal so annoying is that he loves his work. He gets off on making his mouldy cheese your mouldy cheese. No one else in the mission office will talk to him. Only I’m capable of saying no.

“Sounds like you’re burning out, Darren,” Hal says. “It’s time to go to Disneyland.”

“I already work in Disneyland,” I say looking out the window. On Hastings Street there’s five uniform police holding down a struggling, emaciated woman as they go through her backpack. “What’s up? Spit it out.”

“Okay, but you take all the fun out of this job, you know.”

“Don’t care,” I say picking up a sheet of paper, flapping it noisily in the air, providing audio evidence of the frenzied pressure I’m currently under.

“Whatever. Look, you ever been to Mexico?”

“That file’s been sealed by the authorities, Hal.”

“Huh? Okay look, what’s the tastiest fruit they have in Mexico? And here’s a hint: you use it to make a sauce for nachos. What is it, Darren? C’mon, what is it?”

“Cilantro,” I say. I’ve stopped catapulting pencils, and have begun mindlessly pumping staples into an eraser. Talking to Hal is like this sometimes. Past mission employees have gnawed off their own limbs.

“No, no, you crazy nut. It’s the avocado. Cilantro’s an herb, not a fruit.”

“Okay.”

“Now listen carefully, Darren.” Hal is nearly whispering, for emphasis. He’s not sure I realise how lucky I am that he’s called. “You want avocados; I got avocados. You with me so far, huh?”

“You don’t have to whisper, Hal. The United Church of Canada has this office swept for bugs on a weekly basis.”

“Okay, but pay attention. I have five thousand avocados at their peak of perfection waiting in a reefer truck outside. Safeway over ordered. Running the reefer is costing us something like $75 an hour. That’s money we ain’t got, and I know you ain’t got no avocados, so why don’t you do your part and take these puppies off my hands.”

“Do we get the nachos and sour cream, too?”

“Take the avocados, for Christ sake.”

“What are we supposed to do with avocados, Hal? People here need ready-made – canned and bagged. Send over some Chef Boyardee.”

“Take the damn avocados, Darren. Or do I have to come down there personally and feed all 5,000 of them to you through a hose?”

Hal’s a little more reactive than normal today. If I push a little harder, he might burst like a haggis piñata in the sun. Here’s hoping….

“Hal?”

“What, Darren?”

“We don’t want your 5,000 avocados, or any portion thereof. Our customers are homeless, Hal. Or they live in slum hotels where the only refrigeration comes during a few weeks in the winter. You know all this, yet you continue offering me your putrid rib roasts, green cold cuts and composted vegetables.”

“They’re nice and firm, Darren,” Hal says, changing his tone.

“I doubt it.”

“They’re just coming ripe and ever so lithe to the touch. “

“Lithe?”

“They’re dark with antioxidants. The pits nearly jump out of their own volition. They’re ready to be gently cubed in their own peel and spooned out onto a dish of baby romaine. Serve ‘em up with a little bit of slivered red onion, a sprinkle of toasted sesame, some freshly cracked pepper, maybe a trickle of fruity extra virgin olive oil and a not too sweet, slightly acidic papaya salsa. Would that be so damned bad, Darren?”

“Sounds great, Hal,” I say. “But this is a frontline street mission functioning in the poorest, nastiest neighbourhood in town. It ain’t a tappas bar. On today’s fresh sheet is soup, the same soup we ladled out yesterday and the same soup we’ll be ladling out five years from now. It’s the kind of soup people line up round the block for because it’s hot and ready to go. It’s the kind of soup we serve to-go because we respect that our customers aren’t good at sitting still.

“In our own puny on-site food bank there’s only space for tea bags, instant coffee, peanut butter, crackers, canned baby food, pasta, rice, baked beans with pork, baked beans in tomato sauce, baked beans with those crappy little cocktail weenies you never know what the hell they are and wouldn’t feed your dog, infinite cans of light flaked tuna, canned sardines in tomato sauce, canned sardines in mustard sauce, canned sardines in marshmallow sauce with chocolate fucking chips, canned corn beef, Spam – real and generic, canned mackerel, canned salmon, even canned goat, for God’s sake. But there is no room for the gourmet inspired wanking of people who can afford kitchen appliances. This is not the bloody food channel. When you presume to flog this shit off on my customers for reasons that benefit you alone, you dismiss their plight as meaningless. You treat them like they’re your personal garbage disposal. And no matter how praiseworthy your agency, buddy, you’ve got no right.”

Now Hal’s gone quiet, but I can hear him breathing. He hangs up. This is routine, but it may not be a good thing. He’s probably thinking up a plan B.

After taking a suicide call later in the morning and sitting through a meeting with a low level civic official connected to the Mayor’s initiative to create a homelessness diaspora to the suburbs called Operation Share the Pain, I go for lunch. When I return, I pick up the scent of avocados on the air. I ignore it, believing it to be the result of the joint I just smoke with Harry Nathan, a plain clothes cop behind the Ovaltine Café.

Back in my office I rummage for munchies, but come up empty. There’s a knock at my door.

Gracie Dorn, the receptionist and Goddess of Office Dysfunction, walks in uninvited. “This is for you,” she says holding out a bill of lading. “The driver says you have to sign it before he can deliver the avocados.”

Stoned, I take it and say, “Fine.” I sign it, and Gracie leaves with it, slamming the door behind her. I check my agenda for the rest of the afternoon. There are four overlapping first priority, hour and a half long appointments. There’s another knock at my door. Gracie again, this time with a cc of the form I’ve just signed.

“There’re now several flats containing approximately 5,000 avocados on the loading dock, Mr Hornsby,” she says.

I’m having trouble understanding her, and starting to realise it may have been a mistake getting stoned at lunch. Cops always have the most wicked weed.

The phone rings. It’s Hal.

“You get ‘em, ol’ pal?” he says.

My jaw drops. Out of the corner of my eye, on my desk, I see the cc of the bill I’ve just signed—“Bastard!”

“Don’t be a loser,” Hal says.

“I’m going to invade your AGM, Hal. I’m going to raise so many points of order that you and your board will be busy ‘til hell freezes over.”

“I’ve already had you banned from our next five AGMs, Darren.”

“You can’t do that, I’m an associate member. I get your crappy little rah-rah newsletter every month.”

“Not anymore, pal. I just hit enter.”

“Send your boy back and get those avocados.”

“No way, man. He’s gone back into detox.”

“I’m renting a truck, Hal. I know where you live, you shit head.”

“You stay away from me, you law school washout. It’s only Tuesday. That’s plenty of time to get a restraining order.”

“Fuck,” I yell and slam down the receiver over and over, seeing Hal’s face in the cradle. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.”

The phone rings again. “What,” I yell. It’s Mary, a support group facilitator.

“The Mission United Battered Women’s Support Group is gathering out here, Darren,” she says. “They’re waiting for their meeting room to come free.”

“And?”

“Well, we can hear you in there. You’re scaring some of the group members, Darren. And the ones that aren’t scared are looking for a rope.”

“Okay, you’re right,” I say. “I’m calming down.” I hang up and ring Gracie at reception. “Cancel all of my appointments for this afternoon.”

“Now, Darren? It’s a bit late, isn’t it? One of them is already here.”

“Just do it, Gracie. Tell them I’m dead. Say it was the Ebola Virus, that everyone on site is contagious.”

“Darren,” Gracie says. “I’m the receptionist, not your mother. You have to start taking more responsibility for yourself and your clientele.”

“I’m escaping through my window,” I say.

“What?”

“If called on it, deny you ever heard me say that.”

I hang up the phone.

My office is on the first floor. I open the window and look down. Mission United was built in the sixties, back when it wasn’t considered unreasonable for an office worker to want to open a window. Mine opens enough for me to squeeze out. I’ve done it before. The only problem is that my escape hatch opens over the ramp leading down into the underground parking, making the fall about one and a half stories. It all works out much better when I’m more stoned than I currently am, but my immediate escape is imperative. There’s no other way to get to the loading dock to confirm the reality of the avocados without walking through reception.

Thirty seconds after I hit the ramp, I’m behind the building on the loading dock looking at several massive flats of Mexican avocados. Sergio, the church’s Guatemalan born janitor looks at the flats with me and whistles. We share the same ominous and ugly premonition.

“We mus hide these, Mr Hornsby,” Sergio says.

“Yeah, yeah, Serge. Get some tarps.”

Sergio vanishes, and I pick up one of the dark green, hand grenade sized objects. It’s about the weight of a hardball, and rotting. If these make it off the loading dock and into the neighbourhood, it’ll be 2010 all over again, only worse.

In July 2010, the mission received a similar delivery – 600 kilos of decomposing strawberries. The mission did what it could to get the word out and distribute them. Some of them were even eaten or made into preserves. But the rest, almost all of the 600 kilos, became projectiles in a neighbourhood-wide strawberry paint ball fight.

That delivery was Hal’s responsibility as well. I crush the plump, pulpy piece of fruit in my hand.

Somewhere in the universe, Jesus wept again. Fat lot of good that did any of us, though. Here was food going bad, and no way to safely distribute it. The second word got out, there’d be mayhem. These weren’t small, mushy strawberries. Each one was like a snowball with a rock inside. When these items started to fly, windows would break and people would get hurt.

I hang my head considering the unfairness of it all. And then I hear the sirens.

I look up the back alley onto Gore Street, and see an Emergency Services onslaught. It’s headed up by the police. The mission is being surrounded by cruisers, ambulances and fire trucks. There’s even a van of SWAT types that stops on the corner a half block away. And this is when the Reverend Moses Hawser and Wilma, his ever-present border collie, appear.

“Jesus Murphy,” Hawser says. “What the fuck now? And what in the name of bleeding Jesus is that?” he says, pointing at the avocados.

Having come to Canada from Ulster, Hawser has a healthy regard for the destructive, wounding potential of anything so easily picked up and thrown as an avocado.

“They’re…” I begin.

“…bloody avocados,” the Reverend says, finishing my sentence. “What lowlife son of a Belfast whore put those there?”

“Guess,” I say.

“Food Bank Hal, eh? I’ll castrate the bastard.”

Then we hear an unexpected voice from the alley: “Okay, boyos.” It’s a female police sergeant. “You two get yer arses back inside.”

“What the hell for,” Hawser says. “What’s with you lot?”

“We’ve been called in by the City and the Centre for Disease Control,” the sergeant says. “They’ll have more to tell you when they arrive. For now, just get back inside.”

“Or what, Missus Policeman,” Hawser says. “Or you’ll arrest me for standing on the Lord’s own loading dock?”

“What did you just call me, Padre?” the sergeant asks.

“Padre?” says Hawser. “Did you say ‘Padre’?”

Things are suddenly starting to get tense. Hawser’s the Executive Director of the Mission, and takes his job very seriously. He’s also maniacally Protestant. I’ve seen him like this before. It never works out well.

“Let me tell you something, Officer Barbie Doll. I’m no Padre. I’m no child molesting papist stooge. I’m a Minister in the United Church of Canada, the Grand Old UC of C. The church Jesus himself will attend upon His return.”

I take Hawser by the elbow and attempt to guide him away. He doesn’t budge. Under any other circumstances, this was the bullet-proof old bastard I’d want in my corner. But we needed a subtlety now that he lacked.

“They look serious, boss,” I say glancing at the sergeant and her cohort over my shoulder.

Going over to the avocados and picking one up, Hawser says, “Fine, girly. I’ll keep the peace and retreat back into the House of the Lord. And to prove there’s no hard feelings, here’s a wee token of my esteem. Memorize its face, because if something isn’t done to keep these from getting out onto the streets, there’s gonna be trouble tonight.”

He tosses the rotting avocado underhand. The cops behind the sergeant jump back, but the sergeant holds her ground. She smiles as the avocado comes to rest a half meter away from the toe of her boot, and pulls a pale green latex glove out of her hip pocket. She snaps it onto her right hand, kneels and picks up Hawser’s gift. There’s an astonished gasp from the officers behind her as she drops it into an evidence bag. The word used and repeated, Ebola, Ebola, fucking Ebola.

Once inside, Hawser turns to me and says, “Darren me lad, you know when I hear words like Jihad, assassination, hostage taking, massacre, explosion, butcher the bastard, weapons cache, whites of their eyes, fire in the hole, electromagnetic pulse and Ebola, I think immediately of you”

“Well,” I say and etch out a nervous but invisible figure eight on the linoleum with the toe of my tattered black Chuck Taylor. “I guess I just, I don’t…. I mean I really don’t see….” I have nothing credible to say. I look up from the floor at Hawser’s sour mug.

“Oh dear, and what’s happened to our man of many words, Darren? The bombastic interrupter of important meetings, the pounder of desktops, the Mission’s own Men’s and Lady’s restroom graffiti artist – don’t deny it, boy, we’re short on time here.”

“It’s been a difficult day,” I say.

“Darren, my son,” and here Moses places his hand on my shoulder, and his tone becomes calm, almost angelic. “It’s a frontline street mission we work in here. We swim daily in the bottomless morass of human misery and calamity. We do it for the paycheque, sure. But we also do it because we’re called to it, no? And a calling isn’t set aside just because we’re having a difficult day, is it?”

“No?” I say.

“No, indeed,” Hawser says gently as he removes a sizeable piece of lint from the front of my shirt. “No Darren, and this is where I sometimes question the wisdom of the Grand Old UC of C bringing in dirty, filthy little pagan bastards like you to do God’s work. A calling is to be treasured and nurtured and held close to the heart, but never, never too far from the brain. And when we think we’ve lost our way, a calling is to be depended upon to guide us toward a better day. Do you see what I mean, Darren Hornsby?”

“I….”

“Don’t injure yourself,” Hawser says holding up a rock solid index finger. “It was a rhetorical question, you see. I really don’t give a shite what you have to say on the matter. But I do want you to answer me this. Did you tell Gracie in reception to call and inform your remaining appointments for today that you were dead from the Ebola Virus, and that everyone on site is contagious, and that as a result all your appointments needed to be cancelled?”

“Well, there’s more to it than….”

The index finger again. “Just a yes or no answer, Darren.”

I sigh deeply. “Look, Moses….”

“Now, now,” he says. “No more information need be divulged at this time. You see Darren, you’ve really started something. At some point in the very near future, the Centre for Disease Control is going to phone this mission, likely from a mobile command trailer out there on the street. They’ve practiced this scenario a thousand times over and are chomping at the bit to put what they’ve rehearsed to practical use. They have to justify their existence somehow, don’t they? And I’ll be damned if they don’t think that this might the place to do it. Here on the Downtown Eastside where no matter how honourably or dastardly they perform, they’ll look heroic against the perceived filth and decay. It’s like a blank canvas upon which they’ll be able to paint whatever malarky suits them when it’s all over. And to think they have a crusty old iconoclast like you to thank for the opportunity.

“When they call, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a tiny red light isn’t flashing on my desk phone at this very moment, they’re going to ask to speak to whoever’s in charge. That of course would be Our Lord Jesus Christ. But being the stand-offish sort that He is, and therefore unavailable to take the call, I’ll have to take it in His stead. And I’ll have to tell them that it was our Senior Anti-poverty Advocate who bullied our modest, retiring, underpaid, overworked receptionist into spreading, on his behalf, the lie that has lead to the havoc we are now witnessing. Isn’t that about right, Darren?”

“Yes,” I say.

“HA,” he claps his hands. “And here you see why I still pray for your sorry, lost, safety-pin-punk-ass soul, Darren Hornsby. Because redemption’s for them what needs it, not those who have it already. Now that’s a thought for you to meditate upon while you get those fucking avocados off Our Lord Jesus Christ’s loading dock before the whole wretched neighbourhood arms itself for the commencement of the apocalypse.”

Hawser turns a flabby one-eighty and walks away, preceded by Wilma.

Now Sergio comes to mind. Has he placed the tarps over the avocados? My right hand falls to the place on my hip where my Mission walkie-talkie should be. Nothing there. It’s crackling away in its charging cradle on top of a filing cabinet in my office—next to a tarnished brass effigy of Ganesha. Ganesha, the Hindu remover of obstacles. That’s the elephant-headed son of a bitch we need right now. Jesus could sit this one out, no harm no foul.

I yell out Sergio’s name. His voice comes back from down the corridor and around a corner.

“Mr Hornsby? Over,” he says, then there’s the electronic crack of his walkie-talkie key being released. “Mr Hornsby, that you? Over.” Crack.

I walk the few steps down the hall and around the corner, and there he is sitting against the wall surrounded by tarps. He’s looking like the Guatemalan peasant farmer he once was, caught between the guerrillas and the government death squads. He’s talking desperately into his walkie-talkie. “Mr Hornsby, please. Over. Come in, come in. I don know wha to do. I lock the doors, all of them. But I don thank tha will hold them. I wan to phone ma wife, Mr Hornsby, over.”

I kneel down beside him. He’s sweating and shaking, staring into space. He’s reliving something that happened a long time ago. Then he sees me and bursts into tears. He throws the walkie-talkie against a wall where it disintegrates, and grabs me in a bear hug. He sobs. “They shoot everybody, Mr Hornsby. They torture and shoot.”

“No, Sergio,” I say. “Those are just the VPD out there. They aren’t the same police you had back home. Just a pale reflection.”

He continues to sob, rocking back and forth. Then I feel him deeply sigh. There’s fresh cumin in his sweat and on his breath.

“Sometimes, Mr Hornsby,” he says. “I don know wha to do with the memories. I see a police, an I thank I see soldiers.”

“It’s okay, buddy. No soldiers today.”

“Ce,” he says. And somehow manages a game face. “We mus cover the avocados. I believe we can get the tarps over the flats before the troops can ge off a shot.”

“There won’t be any shooting, Serge. You can forget about the tarps, and to hell with the stupid avocados. Go find a phone and call your wife.”

“Thank you, Mr Hornsby.”

I walk up the corridor, and look out the window onto Gore Street. I watch the police, ambulance crews and fire trucks. After an hour and a half, they start to leave. The word has come down. The Reverend Moses Hawser has worked his profane Irish magic with the powers that be. The siege is over before it starts. He and Wilma are probably up in the Eagle’s Nest now, him smoking the raunchy end of a Cuban cigar and Wilma gnawing on a knuckle bone.

For what has to be no more than a second, just long enough for it to be recognised and then sorely missed when it disappears, I feel a peaceful calm come over me. I look down and describe an invisible figure eight onto the linoleum, similar to the one I had earlier under Hawser’s intense stare. Smiling, I look out the window at the emptying street.

And that’s when I see it, a dark green blur arcing over Gore Street like a spring league homer headed directly for me. Someone across the street has drawn a bead, and I’m the target. It hits the wire reinforced window with mushy green violence, and splatters like a bug on a windshield. I duck needlessly, and then look up. Across Gore Street is Marmot Tyler and the rest of the Eastside Tylers, the street gang even burnt-out malcontents like me love to hate. Mamot smiles toothlessly and flips me the bird. Then he points to his shopping carts full of rotting avocados as if to say, “Now look what you’ve done, you dumb shite.”

I just wave back and walk away. As I slowly retreat, I hear a barrage of avocados hit the side of the church.

Tomorrow would be welfare cheque issue day, light duties comprised primarily of reaming out malicious Financial Aid Workers who’ve spitefully held back cheques as a way of compensating for their joyless lives. I sit down at my desk, and look over at Lord Ganesha on the file cabinet. His stare is infinite. Either that or he’s ignoring me.

the Amazing Rubeni

His suspicions regarding the overall poverty of height had transformed from an abstract concern and into a genuine source of anxiety faster than he could ever have imagined. Would such a short fall adequately fill his needs? After all, he’d chosen the rooms on the fifth floor, from which he’d just jumped, for their gentle north eastern exposure and faux Rococo styling, not for their hands-down utility in the event of some desperate suicidal leap. He was also, in that instant, perplexed by the disturbing elasticity of time. Falling such a short distance seemed to be taking a very long while.

It was irrelevant now, but he knew from casual inquiry that the weight equation defined weight, or W, to be equal to the mass, or m, of an object times gravitational acceleration, represented by g, or W = m * g. The value of g was 9.8 meters per squared second on the surface of the planet, and gravitational acceleration decreases with the squared distance from the center of the earth. For most practical problems related to atmosphere, he knew he could take it for granted that this factor was constant.

The drag equation told him that drag, D, is equal to a drag coefficient, Cd, times one half the air density, r, multiplied by the squared velocity, V, times a reference area, A, on which the drag coefficient is based. In other words, he was being opposed by aerodynamic drag – that was the point; he was always being opposed by something, and he resented it.

Another thought he had, as the wind whistled quietly in his ears, was one he’d had several times before: Why was success considered the only logical outcome of perseverance? This was an unsolvable mystery. He had practised perseverance throughout his life, without success. He was diligent in his perseverance, painstaking. One could even say assiduous. Wasn’t that how his psychiatrist described Rubeni’s bipolar personality? Mania was perseverance and depression was empathy. The psychiatrist had said this as though it was the firmest, most fundamental of universal truths. Why wouldn’t have Rubeni believed it?

But now that he thought of it, the psychiatrist had never said that to persevere was to succeed. It was everyone else who’d said that. His psychiatrist had just written Rubeni a new prescription and told him that the appointment was over. That was no way to have ended what was supposed to be a therapeutic appointment, of course. But he’d always been unlucky with psychiatrists, their profession so undervalued by everyone but themselves. Who could blame them for being bastards?

As he continued to fall, Rubeni rolled round in space and looked up at the balcony from which he’d just leapt, and saw three faces looking down at him. It was the two plane clothes cops and the priest, his small personal choir that had, up until a moment ago, been singing a hymn called Don’t Jump. Why had they brought in a priest? Another mystery. Rubeni was Jewish.

“All things come to pass,” the priest had said when it was time for his choir solo, after the cops had recited their scripted homily of reassurance and acceptance. “These feelings you’re having, they will pass.”

“And I’ll feel better?” said Rubeni, his back to the priest as he pondered the pavement below.

“Yes, that’s the idea,” the priest said.

“And I’ll be able to cope again?”

“Yes, yes.” The priest was pleased with the idea.

“All things come to pass, then.”

“Yes,” said the priest.

“Then these bad feelings will pass and be replaced by good feelings.”

“That’s right.”

“But then,” Rubeni said, “if all things come to pass, the good feelings you promise will also pass, and I’ll feel like shit again, or even worse, and want to kill myself all over again, maybe even more than I do right now. It seems very iffy, this theory of yours.”

“Our moods and emotions can be a burden at times, I agree,” said the priest. “Some of us are prone to dark thought. You must pray always, but even more strenuously and sincerely when you are struck by these extreme feelings.”

“Have you ever felt like ending it all?” Rubeni asked the priest.

“That is a weight God has spared me.”

“So,” said Rubeni, noticing his undone shoelace, “you’re really talking outta yer hat, aren’t you? I mean, this is something they taught you back at priest school, isn’t it? Not the all things come to pass thing. I mean your presumption that I will without doubt be delivered from this distressful circumstance to some peaceful equilibrium. It’s not anything that comes out of your own lived experience, is it?”

“Would my presumption be a more valid proposal if it did?”

“Yes.”

“Then I am sincerely sorry for never having been in a suicidal state, so that now my words would reflect that personal experience.”

“Thank you for saying so. I believe that’s the first honest thing you or 5-O has said this morning.”

“Consider me your student, Mr Rubeni.”

“Don’t ruin it, mister priest.”

“I’ll try no to.”

“Good.”

“Is there any material thing I can get for you?”

“No. Just back off for a while. I need to think.”

“Very well.”

It was nice when the priest finally backed off and Rubeni could breathe. He wasn’t a religious man, certainly not a Catholic. Who could be Catholic, anyway? A religion ruled over on Earth by a man they considered infallible. A man, therefore, who didn’t have the word oops in his vocabulary. A man who couldn’t, by definition, be implicated in any mishap or, apparently, even trip on a curb. Had they built Vatican City without curbs, he wondered. That would certainly decrease the chances of the Pope tripping and unintentionally saying oops.

And it wasn’t that he didn’t believe in God. Rubeni knew God wasn’t dead; God was alive and well, and fucking with the world constantly. It was just that he couldn’t connect the God of Exodus and Leviticus with the God of iPhones and Gangnam Style. Where was Rubeni’s burning bush? Where was God’s code whispered in the leaves and deciphered in Rubeni’s dreams? Absent, he deduced, as he fell, seeing Mrs Wilshire, the tenant who lived below him on the fourth floor looking out her window.

Their eyes met, and Rubeni felt slightly ashamed. There was good-bye in Mrs Wilshire’s moist, elderly eyes. He’d carried her groceries and had looked after her three cats when she’d gone to Saskatoon. Now she was witnessing him fall from above toward the merciless pavement below. There were nightmares in her future, all of them his fault. Perhaps he should have chosen another high spot from which to jump, but that was silly.

As he once more marvelled at the slow passage of seconds, Maria came to mind. Maria, the tall dark idol he’d worshipped and nearly married. There she was, vividly driving her Smart Car through the city with her yoga mat in the back seat and her bag of organic grapes riding shotgun. What could be the point of this new torture? He had adored her. It was Maria who’d called him amazing. The Amazing Rubeni, she’d said, as though he were a circus act. He didn’t know at first if he should resent it. Had she been laughing at him?

But she’d meant his poetry, his confidence and intensity in a world too frightened to correctly name its trepidation. She’d said she loved him, that she wanted to marry him. That was until she witnessed his mania, how it had manifested out of his artful sub-sanity into shambolic inner rage that tore him to pieces. Had she known about his bipolar disorder? Of course. There were no secrets. And she’d had the greatest of empathy, until he showed symptoms. Then it was no longer a conceptual thing defined in textbooks and hidden behind a curtain of medication. Then it was too much and she’d run away to her Buddhist retreat to count her breaths.

Hadn’t it always been this way? Wasn’t this the reason for him, in this moment, arcing out through space, compelled by the downward tug of the planet’s molten core? — the world always impressed by him in the beginning, then equally appalled as he imploded into confused, teary eyed calamity, again and again, as he wrote each suicide note in rich, cataclysmic pentameter? His irredeemable couplets tattooing the red brick back alleys walls that mapped out is volatile mind. There was no pill for this shame, no prayer. No nanosecond short enough or equation comforting enough. It was an episodic landscape of jagged slopes throughout adolescence and into adulthood, mountain ranges of mood with valleys deeper than the darkest imaginable stanza.

Wasn’t it all a comedy? If so, then surely there’d be good-hearted laughter any moment, no?

His mind returned to a second before, and saw the priest approach him once more.

“Have you had time to reconsider, Mr Rubeni,” the priest asked.

Rubeni looked down at his untied shoelace. “Tell me one hopeful thing, mister priest,” he said.

“If you choose not to jump,” said the priest, “this will turn into a story of personal strength and redemption.”

“Is that it?” said Rubeni.

“Where there is life, there is hope, my son. Your escape from this will bring hope to others.”

“That ain’t much, but fuck it,” Rubeni said, and commenced turning away from the empty space below. “Maybe that was the one right thing to say, mister priest.”

The priest smiled. If Rubeni came in off the balcony now, there still might be time for racquetball at the seminary, and a previously scheduled lunch appointment.

But turning round on that small ledge, on the wrong side of the balcony railing, was more difficult than it appeared, and Rubeni stepped on his loose shoelace. It happened just in time for him to make eye contact with the priest, and they both knew then that he’d lost his balance. The priest lunged forward and Rubeni reached out, never having wanted to live so badly. But the priests hands failed to grasp his, and the Amazing Rubeni fell.

W = m * g

 

Horoscope of the Apocalypse – The Full Moon/Friday the 13th Edition

why not read them all

For Fire Signs (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) Hey, Fire Signs, on this full moon Friday the 13th be cautious of anything orbiting Uranus. I mean, I’m not really that concerned about Uranus. In fact I never really think about Uranus, honestly. Those things people have been saying about me and Uranus are absurd! Okay, maybe I think about Uranus sometimes, but never in a way that could be described as unhealthy. It’s not like Uranus dominates my dreams or anything. Sometimes I dream about your elbow. Does that make me some kind of Uranus sick-o? I mean, really! What does Uranus have to do with anything? And that Twitter #Uranus campaign is pure defamation. I’ll sue the bastard that started it. My lawyer has an articling student researching civil court presidents related to slander generated by Uranus. Anyway, maybe the less said about Uranus the better. I don’t even know how you got me into this conversation.

For Earth Signs (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn) So anyway, this horoscope gig is really wearing me out. How am I supposed to come up with this shit all of the time? Reading the charts is useless. And do you really want me to write garbage like, Rely on friends in difficult times, or, A friendly stranger may be the romantic miracle you’ve been waiting for, or some inane crapolla like that? How about this: Beware of a friendly stranger that’ll kick your teeth in and steal your dumb-ass iPhone with that stupid pink Hello Kitty cover that makes you look like some middle aged poster child for Age Regression Therapy. You know, the one you have surgically stapled to the side of your head or that you’re using to text some other mindless consumer statistic as you cross the street against the signal and cause a massive pile-up when a driver tries to avoid hitting you and dies as a result, leaving behind orphans and distraught loved ones because you were looking at the screen instead of watching where you were going. Is that what you want me to write??? Well sooooooorrrrrrry, I can’t do that. I have integrity. I have a soul. And I can’t afford an iPhone. Now bugger off, I have to take my meds.

For Air Signs (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius) So, I don’t mean to make this all about me, Air Signs. But I figure you’ll understand. I’ve been reconsidering a career in food services. But what’s that got to do with you, right? And wait a minute, anyway; what are you trying to do, get into my head!?! Well, back off. It’s a scary neighbourhood in there, Air Signs. You don’t want to go there. I’ll tell you that right now. Especially on Friday the 13th with the full moon and everything that means. What’s it mean, you ask? Well don’t look at me. I just write horoscopes. I deal in ridiculously obvious generalities. Let’s just say that basing life decisions on anything you see in a horoscope is mucho stupido, baby. You’re better off chewing on a balled-up wad of aluminium foil. How would that feel, huh? You don’t know? Give it a try and see where it gets you. And don’t get me started on how some people pronounce aluminium alumineeum. What the…!?! Aren’t there already enough syllables in the world. Do you get up in the morning and say, “Oh, today I’ll add another worthless syllable to a word almost nobody ever says.” That shit just makes me want to plunge a screwdriver into my hand over and over again. I have one in my tool drawer, you know? It’s made of stainless steel for some inconceivable reason, and stainless steel is an alloy that sometime includes aluminium. See how everything in the universe is connected. Gawd!

For Water Signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) There’ll be a full moon this Friday the 13th. And some of you are thinking that’s double trouble, baby. Are you in with that crowd, Water Signs? Well maybe you believe in rainbow coloured unicorns, too. Maybe even the tooth fairy. I got a quarter when I was eight years old for a tooth I left under my pillow. I used that quarter the next day to buy this really chewing kind of candy that I was forbidden to eat because it pulls out your fillings, and it pulled out a filling. My mother grounded me for two weeks for that. Being stuck at home for two weeks when you’re a kid can be really boring, so I started nosing round the house and getting into things. When I started poking round in the basement, I found my father’s stash of Hustler magazines. I opened up one of them, and dropped it immediately. I’ve never been the same since, man. No lasting friendships, no loving relationships. Just me alone with a vacant stare on my face that scares children away. I’ve sort of found peace since I started to read Guns and Ammo Magazine, and make my own bullets in the basement.

Eldorado

Vancouver in the eighties 

This is what happened.

Mildred Willard was nice enough, but a little flaky. We dated for a while back when. She had a little place above Falconi Restaurante at the corner of Commercial Drive and Second Avenue, and she kept it real nice. She drove this crazy old red Fiat from the fifties. I guess people were smaller then, because it had these two little midget seats and zero leg room. Which is kind of ironic, in light of her later automobile of choice.

Millie was a numbers girl, but with no university education. She was like one of those idiot savants, except she wasn’t no idiot. For her, every problem had a mathematical solution.

The made boys, who worked for Vancouver mob boss Malcolm Torrioni, down at Joe’s caught wind of this and wanted her to handicap for them. But she said no, that she wouldn’t work for a bunch of greasy men dressed in cheap track suits with switchblades down their pants, wearing way too much gold and bad cologne.

This pissed-off the boys at Joe’s something terrible, and they started going after her. They took baseball bats to her pretty little Fiat, and stole her mail. They told the merchants on the Drive not to sell her groceries, and they even swarmed her once as a way to intimidate her. But none of that worked. Millie was a brave girl, and the boys at Joe’s gave up. After a while, they were just sending out mobster wannabes to follow her and report back.

One day she came to me with this thing, like a theory she wanted to test out. She’d been thinking real quiet-like for a couple of months. I couldn’t even get her to go to the movies. I guess it all came out of what was happening with the made boys.

She said she’d figured out that every decent heist starts as an equation. That’s something people don’t get. The average mook on the street believes that every major caper is just a variant of some past caper that’s older than Jesus and His disciples. But a robbery that’s clean and true, one that takes the world by surprise with its elegance and appropriateness in time, is always based on an original and calculated manipulation of the mark’s surroundings and proclivities, and planning it requires a mathematical mind.

When it was discovered, it was found that the plan for the Vancouver Torrioni robbery was a string of complex calculus, written across the back of fourteen cocktail napkins, each one from a different Torrioni-owned barroom round town. The cops found them when they searched Millie’s apartment, after she’d split with all of the gold from the vault on Malcolm Torrioni’s estate.  A vault, by the way, that Millie never stepped foot in, and that was never cracked during the execution of the crime.

How could that be?

It took them three months to figure it out. A lot of the equation was about perception and control, the shuck and jive of the thing. But a lot of it also had to do with disparity and benefit, odds and handicapping, the reckoning of victim vulnerabilities.

They teach the Vancouver Torrioni plot in a lot of university business and physics classes now. Governments use variants of it to determine the outcomes of global conflicts, and to predict economic trends. Mildred Willard was a genius. They know she’s still working somewhere in the world. Her jobs always bear her signature. But they still haven’t caught up with her. She could be the Police Chief’s neighbour, but he’d only know it if she wanted him to.

Millie, however, was never the really interesting member of the Vancouver Torrioni crew. The guy who was really interesting was Sammy Davis. And, no, I don’t mean the Vegas lounge singer. I mean Samuel Roderick Mason Davis, or Sammy for short. Sammy Davis, who was white as Presbyterian snow, looked like a thirty-five year old boy scout, and was as vengeful, cruel and sadistic as a napalm soaked firecracker.

Sammy knew where his talents lay. He was all about logistics, and he was Millie’s leg man. Professionally, he never deviated form his role. If Millie needed a château in the French Alps or a 747 to pull something off, Sammy’d get it for her. Most people have no idea how much planning goes into a solid heist like the Vancouver Torrioni job. There’s always a huge investment in time and money. And though Millie was brilliant, it has to be said that she was a little disorganised. Think of Einstein’s hair and you’ll get the idea.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Vancouver Torrioni job – a job consisting of several remarkable aspects – was the Cadillacs. Sammy Davis was required to procure fifty identical 1973 Cadillac Eldorados, a car both distinctive and ubiquitous. Each one had to be painted in a flawless, gleaming factory coat of Shadow Taupe Firemist+(2550), have a pristine white vinyl top and 48-spoke Cadillac wheels with new, unblemished Vogue P235/70R15 Whitewall Tires. The interiors of each car had to be factory mint white leather, no after factory modifications and zero imperfections. Oh, and each one had to have a pair of those fuzzy dice hanging from the rear view mirror, red ones, all the same make. And Sammy had to come up with fifty sets of identical Ontario license plates. Millie had a sense of humour.

It was calculated into Millie’s formula that Vincent Gardenia, Malcolm Torrioni’s valet, would call the cops immediately upon figuring out what was going on. You see, Malcolm Torrioni was in Switzerland at the time, having his blood transfused with that of a young German virgin named Gretchen. Torrioni did a lot of weird shit like that. But what interested Mildred Willard most was the three hundred pounds of gold bars he had in his personal vault, each one stamped with the Torrioni name. Torrioni was convinced that society was about to break down any second, and that gold would be the only thing that mattered when it did. He had more gold stashed round the city, of course. But Mildred Willard wasn’t greedy. She knew she’d be content with what was in the safe.

One of Vincent Gardenia’s daily tasks was checking the contents of the safe twice a day, once at 7:00 a.m. and once at 7:00 p.m. And it was when he checked the vault at 7:00 p.m. on May 28, 1982 that he discovered that the gold was gone. The story goes that the safe had never been opened, except by him, and the alarm had never been tripped. The gold had just disappeared. The only thing that had happened differently that day was that Sammy Davis had come by to drop off a delivery for Malcolm Torrioni, like he was a courier. It was a locked satchel containing something that Sammy described as important papers, for Torrioni’s eyes only.

Gardenia was later able to provide the police with a description of Sammy Davis, but it was the sort of description that the cops hate: six feet tall, Caucasian, blonde hair, blue eyes, thirty-five, no scars, no tattoos, no accent, dressed like an Amway salesman coming out of Walmart. The only thing Gardenia had to add was that Sammy had been driving a 70s vintage Cadillac Eldorado, sort of brownish, maybe dark beige. And the license plate number was GHD 776. He remembered the plate number out of habit. It was his job to keep an eye on things.

The Torrioni estate was situated on the high ground above Spanish Banks on the west side of the city, so the cops figured they’d have a pretty good chance at catching the thief as he drove through the city to get out of town.

But remember, Sammy had arranged for there to be fifty identical 1973 Cadillac Eldorados with the same license plates. Sammy showing up in one at the Torrioni estate was the shuck to one of Millie’s jives. They discovered later that the papers in the satchel Sammy delivered were back issues of Hustler Magazine.

Where was Mildred Willard while all of this was going on? She was on Malcolm Torrioni’s payroll, that’s where. And that’s because Malcolm Torrioni was a mob boss seeking redemption. He wanted to suffer for Christ so he’d be welcomed into the Kingdom of God when his degenerate life was over. One of the ways he did this was to hire Mildred Willard when she came to him. He knew how the Commercial Drive crew had been treating her, so he put the kibosh on that and he took her on as an employee. She falsely claimed to know about art, so he hired her as his Fine Art Consultant. Somewhere, he imagined, Jesus was smiling.

So, she’d been hired by Torrioni as an art consultant and buyer, and there was a Vermeer in Berlin that she’d been sent to scope out. In fact, there was no record of her being in Berlin during the robbery. She’d never boarded the plane at YVR, and had never shown up at the Grand Hyatt Berlin Hotel where she’d had reservations. In fact, by 7:15 a.m. on the day of the job, she was on a service road behind the estate, sitting in a lawn chair next a 1982 Chevy Van, reading chapter seven of OneHundred Years of Solitude. At 8:45 a.m., she was met by a private two ton maintenance vehicle, and the two man crew place several heavy packages into the back of the van. She gave them a lunch bag of tightly rolled hundred dollar bills, and she drove away.

So, back to Vincent Gardenia. He sees the gold is gone when he checks at 7:00 p.m., and pulls the alarm. The gates to the estate are closed and locked automatically, and the police are alerted. When the cops arrive and Gardenia tells them all he knows, they start searching for a Taupe 1973 Cadillac Eldorado, license plate number GHD 776. One is spotted in a back alley, near Hastings and Gore on the Downtown Eastside of the city. Cops arrive to check it out. The trunk is empty, and two cops are assigned to sit in a patrol car and wait for a tow truck.

As the two cops sit in their vehicle talking about how much they hate ABBA but love Pat Benatar, they see another Taupe 1973 Cadillac Eldorado, license plate number GHD 776, drive by. And as they call it in, another one goes by, and then another. The two cops are told to stay put, but all other patrol cars in the area are dispatched. By the time they’re able to start an organised search, however, the Caddies have disappeared. They could’ve have been anywhere.

The search proceeds and is expanded, and as a patrol car driven by one Corporal Gibson Iglehart crosses the Granville Street Bridge, northbound, a wave of approximately fifty Taupe 1973 Cadillac Eldorados, occupying both lanes, passes him by, southbound, on the other side of the partitioned bridge. Iglehart is incredulous, but calls it in. And when the parade of Eldorados reaches the south end of the Granville Street Bridge, it splits up with Caddies going off in every possible direction.

Nearly every police car in the city is redirected in search of the Cadillacs, and by 9:00 p.m. they’ve pulled forty-five of them over. Five were missing, one was with Sammy Davis and the other four were found parked without the drivers. They’d been driven by teenagers, no older than sixteen, each of them saying that he or she’d been given fifty bucks and a set of keys that morning. They’d been told where to find their respective vehicles, and been given instructions to assemble under the bridge on Pacific Street at 7:45 p.m. Each was to drive to a separate destination in the city, according to instructions taped to the dashboard. At 7:55 p.m., they were to drive over the bridge and proceed, each to his or her assigned destination.

The cops couldn’t arrest the kid drivers because of their age. When the kids were pumped for information, it was clear that the keys and instructions had been distributed by several different people. No two descriptions were the same.

So, it was mentioned earlier in the story that Sammy Davis was as vengeful, cruel and sadistic as a napalm soaked firecracker. And that’s true, and here’s why. While the Vancouver Police Department was dealing with a major robbery and fifty identical Taupe 1973 Cadillac Eldorados driving round the city, each with the license plate number GHD 776, Sammy Davis was boarding a flight to Lucerne, Switzerland. That’s where Malcolm Torrioni was scheduled to have his blood transfused with that of young German virgin named Gretchen, in the Burkhalter Clinic Resort near the lake.

Upon arrival, Sammy checked into the resort and started handing the cash. He was bribing his way into the backrooms of the place, and into the hearts and souls of the medical staff.

On his way to the Burkhalter Clinic Resort, he’d picked up a suitcase as prearranged, and it was one of three taken to his room by a bellboy. The suitcase contained several litres of fresh blood taken from a methamphetamine addict in Munich the day before.

It turns out that Samuel Roderick Mason Davis was once a rentboy who made his scene in several gay bars in Vancouver’s downtown. Malcolm Torrioni had been a customer, but a customer with a difference. It sort of went like this, Malcolm Torrioni had needs but was ashamed of what they were. And so, he sought to punish someone for them – anyone, of course, but himself. So Malcolm arranged to get Sammy addicted to meth, as a weird sort of revenge, and to control the boy who represented, in Torrioni’s philosophy, all that was wrong with the world.

When Torrioni witnessed what a mess he’d made out of the kid, he dropped him like a gas station toilet seat. When young Sammy Davis tracked Torrioni down to ask for some compensation, Torrioni had his thumbs broken.

So, now Sammy was in the transfusion room of Burkhalter Clinic Resort in Lucerne, Switzerland, masked and hooking up the transfusion bottles containing the blood of an unfortunate Munich methamphetamine addict named Heinricht Mueller. Meanwhile, both of Torrioni’s body guards were being driven, in the plastic lined trunk of a Mercedes, to a remote section of the lake shore to be disposed of with bullet wounds to their heads and chests.

“Everything will be fine, Mr Torrioni,” Sammy said in a fake Swiss accent, showing Torrioni smiling eyes.

The paid-off nurse in the room made eye contact surreptitiously with Sammy as she found the veins and inserted the intravenous needles. After the transfusion, Malcolm Torrioni was sedated and released to man posing as a private nurse, and driven to a walk-up flat on the fringe of the city. There he spent several weeks starving and being introduced to the joys of methamphetamine addiction. Then he was driven back into the city wearing nothing but a woman’s dress, and kicked out of the car that drove him there at a traffic circle in the middle of the business district.

I got a postcard from Mildred Willard a couple of months ago. I guess that’s why I’m taking this trip down memory lane. It’d been sent from somewhere in the world via a re-mailer in Illinois. She said the weather was fine, wherever she was. And that I should watch the mail. So, I watched the mail. But nothing unusual came until a month later, a Fedex parcel with no return address. It was heavy. It was a Torrioni gold bar with Torrioni stamp. It’s sitting on mantelpiece over the fire, gives the room a nice glow it never had before. I wonder, sometimes, what to do with it. But then work or something else comes up and I forget. It’d be nice to Millie again.

ode to a kidney stone

your name had always made me smile
it was nice that
some of you rattled in jars like
artefacts, things
made by humans
bearing their
tribal inner markings

rate your pain on a
scale of 1 to 10

I could only answer selfishly
17